Windrush

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Thursday 29th February 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is the 1950s. Ferdy, Bernie, Dennis and Lennie arrive in London from the West Indies full of optimism about their futures. That is the opening premise of the musical, “The Big Life”, which has returned to the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Life turns out to be harder than they expected.

I mention this because it is where Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” meets the Windrush generation. It is not just a great ska musical; it is also a timely reminder of how much we owe each other and how much we have all benefited in different ways, as was highlighted so strongly by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. Another reminder is the welcome decision by the Mayor of London to choose Windrush as the designation of one of the untangled Overground lines. Appropriately, the Windrush line goes through Brixton—we will leave for another day the unfortunate fact that it does not stop there—and, as has already been mentioned, there is a Windrush sculpture in Waterloo Station.

Recognition of the Windrush generation’s role in these different ways is of course welcome; equally, what would be even more welcome is fulfilling the promise of compensation for the British citizens from the Commonwealth who were wrongfully deported, detained and denied their rights. A promise made is not the same as a promise delivered. Much more needs to be done to address fully the harm caused by past policies and neglect, which is why I heartily welcome today’s debate and thank the noble Baroness for her excellent, compelling speech. I also welcome the strong speech from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. He mentioned many people who have been involved in this campaign but I particularly welcomed his reference to the work of Sonia Winifred. I look forward to the Government’s response to the powerful arguments being presented—although, at this stage, I must say that I do so without a lot of optimism.

The Government’s failures concerning the Windrush generation must be highlighted in five key areas. The first is legal status and documentation. Changes in immigration law over the years did not account for these individuals, leaving them without easy access to the necessary paperwork to prove their right to live in the United Kingdom. Given the passage of time and complexity of the issues involved, the burden of proof should be appropriate, which it clearly is not at the moment.

Secondly, we must account for the “hostile environment” policy that ruled for too long. Without documentation to prove their legal status, many were denied access to healthcare, housing, employment and benefits. Some were detained; some were even deported. These harms were not one-offs: they echoed throughout their lives and down the generations.

I mention here the case of the significant number of British citizens who were chronically sick and mentally ill but sent to Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean between 1958 and 1970. The policy was that each patient should have

“expressed a wish to return”

and be sent only if there would be “benefit” to the patient and “suitable arrangements” in the receiving country. In practice, it has to be asked whether vulnerable patients had the capacity to make such decisions, and it is far from clear that the receiving countries had the capacity to provide these people with adequate care.

The third issue is the lack of government support and action. Although the Government have acknowledged the injustices faced by the Windrush generation and established the compensation scheme, the process has been too slow, too complex and inadequate to address the losses and hardship experienced. This has already been explained clearly. A major problem is the lack of support for claimants. I understand from an excellent report in the latest edition of the Brixton Bugle that Southwark Law Centre is taking the Government to the High Court for refusing legal aid to a claimant through the Windrush compensation scheme, and I wish them every success.

Another concern, in the research from the King’s College legal clinic, is that, of comparable compensation schemes, the Windrush compensation scheme has statistically

“the lowest success rate and highest refusal rate for applicants, with only 22% (1,641) of those applying receiving compensation and 53% of initial applications being refused”.

We must ask how many of those are because of the sheer complexity of the process rather than the fact that they were not entitled. I hope that the Minister will address these concerns in his response. Additionally, are sufficient resources being provided to the relevant high commissions so that they can support claimants resident in those countries?

The fourth aspect is that this is part and parcel of the racial discrimination that the Windrush generation has had to face as part of the broader issue that all people from minority-ethnic groups have faced within the UK’s immigration system. The challenges continue to demonstrate systemic issues of racism and discrimination, which need to be addressed. A dedicated unit is the only real answer to that problem.

Then there is the impact on people’s lives. The Government’s failures have had a profound impact on the lives of many members of the Windrush generation, affecting their mental health, financial stability and sense of belonging to the United Kingdom. I highlight the mental toll on claimants and their families caused by the Government’s inadequate response. Even after the initial crisis, victims continue to face negative experiences because of these policies. The trauma experienced by the Windrush generation can be passed down to subsequent generations. Families must grapple with the emotional aftermath, affecting the mental well-being of children and grandchildren.

I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us some hope in his response that these issues will be addressed.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—they have made some very powerful speeches indeed. I start by offering my considerable thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for securing this debate of course, but also more widely for the outstanding work that she has done on Windrush—whether it is celebrating the enormous contribution that the Windrush generation has made to our society, something we did last year for the 75th anniversary, or whether it is highlighting the injustice of the Windrush scandal. She has been nothing short of a shining light on this issue. For my part, I would like to personally salute the contribution of the Windrush generation, and of course their descendants. I associate myself with the introductory remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, who earned much credit for them.

This is an issue of deep personal resonance to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, of course, but it matters to us all, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, explained very powerfully. It has been clear from all the other contributions as well, and for that I am thankful. I too use Waterloo station and, like my noble friend Lord Bourne, I commend the memorial statue there: it presents a powerful and vital image. We all wish we could turn back the clock and prevent the pain and suffering that the victims of the Windrush scandal have had to endure. I say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, that numerous events were held across all departments last year. He will know that flags were flown, No. 10 held a reception hosted by the Levelling-Up Secretary and the Home Secretary, and the largest-ever Windrush Day grant scheme was launched.

We cannot turn back the clock, but we can strain every sinew to provide the people affected with the help they need and the compensation they deserve, while ensuring that the failings that happened previously can never be repeated. The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, is right: the Government have a responsibility to all our people. Righting the wrongs is, has been and will continue to be a priority for the Government. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, that we are fixing things, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that there is an urgency to do this and to get it right. We are determined to ensure that everyone who suffered because they could not demonstrate their lawful status in the UK receives every penny of the compensation to which they are entitled. There is no cap on the amount that can be awarded, and our priority is to award the maximum compensation at the earliest point possible. I repeat the promises made by successive Home Secretaries that there is no end date for the Windrush compensation scheme, nor for the Windrush documentation scheme.

Reference was made to the 15,000 people and the figure of £200 million in compensation, but I stress that these are from the very early planning assumptions published when the compensation scheme was launched. It did not represent a budget or a pot of money to be drawn from. Despite extensive and ongoing outreach efforts, significantly fewer claims have been received and the Home Office has adjusted its planning assumptions accordingly. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, asked about individuals and their documentation confirming their status or British citizenship. The number who have been provided with that documentation is now more than 16,800 and our experience has been that many of them have not suffered losses or detriment owing to being unable to demonstrate their lawful status in the UK, so they have not needed to claim compensation, but the Home Office encourages anyone who wishes to make a claim to do so. As I said, the scheme has no end date and there is no cap on the amount of money the department will pay.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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Is there any estimate of those who are not entitled to compensation but would be entitled if pensions and future earnings were part of the scheme?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I will come back to the subject of compensation. I am going to attempt to address all the questions raised in the appropriate order. There is a lot to say and I have only 20 minutes to say it, so I ask noble Lords to bear that in mind when contemplating interventions. I will do my very best.

We have paid over £75 million in compensation. As of December 2023, over 80% of claims received had received a final decision and the majority of live claims were less than six months old. Payments to date include some very significant sums. More than 120 claimants have been paid over £100,000 in compensation. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about the 91% figure given by Laura Farris in the other place. As I said, 80% have had a final decision and 91% have had a final decision or have outstanding claims less than six months old, so that figure is correct.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and others raised the question of speed. As I said, the Home Office’s priority is to award the maximum compensation at the earliest point possible. The changes that the Home Office has made to the scheme since its launch mean that people now receive significantly more money more quickly—I referred to the 80% figure. However, in answer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, about blanket amounts, I say that there are 14 different categories and each person’s experiences and circumstances will be different, so it is right that the Home Office takes the time to ensure that each claim is considered and understood carefully, so it can offer people the maximum compensation to which they are entitled. That said, the Home Office continues its efforts to reduce the time it takes to process claims. The length of time that individuals must wait for their claim to be allocated to a substantive decision-maker is now less than four months, down from around 18 months a year ago, and the four-month period includes all essential eligibility checks, together with a preliminary assessment to make an initial payment of £10,000 wherever possible.

The department is committed to ensuring people receive the compensation to which they are entitled, in all cases, including those where, understandably, there is limited documentary evidence. The scheme operates entirely on the balance of probabilities, and decision-makers receive in-depth training to ensure that this approach is applied fairly and consistently. Decision-makers use all the data and information available to them, and exhaust internal and cross-government routes before asking for more information from individuals. The Home Office also gathers information from third parties, paying for this where needed so that costs do not fall to claimants. That can include information from employers, HMRC, GPs and so on. We have a quality assurance team and an independent review process in order to ensure that all decisions are subject to a very high degree of scrutiny.

The compensation scheme was designed to be accessible to anyone, without the need for legal advice or assistance. For those who want or need support to make a claim, the Home Office provides free assistance through its independent claims assistance provider, the We Are Group. It has extensive experience of dealing with isolated and vulnerable people, and the Windrush team is also available on the phone to provide information and to discuss the process. In 2021 and 2022, the Home Office published new claims forms, developed in collaboration with stakeholders, which are simpler and easier to complete. Were our applicants allowed to recover legal costs in applying to the scheme, this may serve to encourage organisations to take advantage of potentially vulnerable people, charging them for unnecessary support.

On feedback and engagement with stakeholders and the community about the effectiveness of the scheme, as evidenced in the changes to the scheme since its inception we have continued that process, because the overhaul to the scheme in December 2020 significantly increased the amount of compensation awarded, and indeed the speed at which it can be paid. In 2021 and 2022, we published revamped claim forms, to which many noble Lords have referred. They were developed in consultation with stakeholders and are easier to complete. They are longer, but they are easier to complete, because they include more targeted and closed questions. The new forms have a Crystal Mark from the Plain English Campaign. As I have said, the changes were made in consultation with stakeholders, including the Windrush National Organisation, key advocates in the community who work collaboratively. Considerable changes were made to the forms while they were being redesigned, but if anybody cares to add to the process and make observations about the forms, the door is open and we are happy to listen.

In 2021, we launched a package of support to help those making, or those who have already made, claims on behalf of a relative who has passed away to obtain the legal documentation required to process their claims. In 2022, we broadened the homelessness category to allow awards to be made to people who were already homeless and then continued to be homeless due to an inability to demonstrate lawful status. We also introduced a fourth “living costs” category for close family member claims for costs incurred while supporting someone who lost their employment or benefits because they were unable to prove their immigration status. Last year, we made changes to the employment category which mean some people will be compensated for longer periods and receive more money, better reflecting their unique circumstances. Whenever changes are made, they are applied retrospectively.

To come back to the points that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, about why the scheme does not cover loss of employment opportunity, it is because this is a highly speculative issue, stretching across many facets of an individual’s life. The scheme cannot make financial determinations of this nature, since they will vary significantly from individual to individual. They depend on a multitude of factors which will be difficult and timely to assess in a fair and consistent manner.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, the scheme does not cover occupational pensions because of the variable and complex nature of impacts on and future performance of those. However, through employment awards, individuals will recuperate the contributions they would have made into an occupational pension scheme at the time. Processes are also in place so that, where individuals were unable to work because they could not demonstrate their lawful status in the UK, their national insurance record is corrected so that their state pension entitlement is not affected.

On moving the Windrush compensation scheme from the Home Office, the Home Office firmly believes that moving the operation of the compensation scheme would risk significantly delaying vital payments to people. This was reinforced by Professor Martin Levermore, independent adviser to the scheme, in his report published in March 2022.

We continue to work to promote new applications to the scheme, and to engage with and gain the trust of affected communities. The scheme’s engagement team ensures there is regular dialogue with stakeholders from Windrush communities, who provide feedback and scrutiny. The compensation scheme engagement team supports events with external stakeholders from Windrush communities to provide the opportunity to speak to them about the impact the scandal has had on them and on their family’s lives. These engagement events also ensure that individuals and stakeholders get the correct information about the schemes—the Windrush documentation scheme and the Windrush compensation scheme.

Since February 2023, the Windrush compensation scheme engagement team has attended more than 30 events nationwide, including in the West Midlands, Bristol, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and London. This week, officials attended an event in Northampton which received positive feedback, commending the informative presentations and the benefit of over 120 conversations with Home Office staff. Events are planned during the first quarter of this year, including in London, Edinburgh, and Nottingham again. We are also looking at opportunities to work with communities in Wales and Ireland. These engagement events ensure that individuals and stakeholders receive accurate information about both schemes, and a large number of such engagements have taken place.

All noble Lords asked about scrutiny of the scheme and how the Home Office considers claims. As I have explained, we have a multilayered review process to ensure the compensation scheme has an appropriate level of external scrutiny. If I may, I will go into detail on those layers. The tier 1 review is conducted by a separate team that has not worked on the claim in question. The tier 2 review is an independent review process with the adjudicator’s office. The independent person, Martin Levermore, to whom I have already referred, regularly engages with officials and publishes annual reports on the scheme. His third report was published on 1 November 2023 on GOV.UK. The Home Office has published a fact sheet and granular transparency data on a monthly basis, which provides detail on a wide variety of aspects of both casework and review. The Home Affairs Select Committee provides external scrutiny and visited the department to scrutinise proceedings. The Home Office has also hosted other stakeholders, such as the Windrush Defenders Legal and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, on open visits, giving access to Home Office caseworkers.

On the subject of the Windrush programme and the lessons being learned, the Home Office is absolutely determined to deliver on its commitment to righting the wrongs of Windrush. That work continues at pace, and I am not ashamed to use the phrase. As one would expect, and should expect, in any government department organisational structures change over time to ensure that delivery for the public is effective and delivers value for money. It has been decided that responsibility for delivering various Windrush response projects and recommendations will no longer be managed through a dedicated team in the transformation directorate but will instead be embedded in our everyday activities in other parts of the department. I forget who, but someone referred to it as being part of the departmental DNA. I can confirm, albeit anecdotally from my experience, that this is something that is considered in pretty much every aspect of the work that we are currently doing.

Most noble Lords asked about the promises that were made in regard to recommendations 3, 9 and 10. Wendy Williams recognised the scale of the challenge that was set by her 2020 Windrush Lessons Learned Review and applauded the department’s response in rising to the challenge. As the former Home Secretary set out in her WMS of 26 January 2023, she did decide not to proceed with some of the recommendations in the original form. I am afraid I am unable to comment further because there are legal proceedings in train on that particular subject. However, as I have just said, work remains ongoing on the majority of the recommendations, by way of embedding them into the DNA of the department, and that work will not stop.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am in favour of the amendment and opposed to this disgraceful and odious Bill. Other speakers have addressed and will address the Bill’s many faults, moral and constitutional. I will try to explain why it is right and necessary for this House to refuse to consider it further. In making the case, I will echo the speech I made on the Second Reading of the equally abhorrent Illegal Migration Bill.

We all agree that the House of Commons has a democratic mandate and is entitled to pass whatever legislation it wishes. The issue before us today is the role of the second Chamber when presented with legislation such as this Bill, which is so dreadful and unacceptable. As my noble friend Lord Grocott reminded us earlier, we are a revising Chamber, but the reality is—and we all know this—that there is no way this Bill can be revised to make it acceptable. At any rate, the Government are opposed to any meaningful amendment. This Bill is not a serious attempt to address the issues raised by immigration; it is a cynical, political fraud.

We are not just a revising Chamber; we have the power, as set out in the provisions of the Parliament Acts, to also act as a delaying Chamber. Ultimately, we cannot veto the proposed laws sent to us by the Commons, but we can delay them either for a year or until after an election. A Government who have a majority in the Commons can overrule this House, but that does not require us to always accept their proposals. In cases like this, I believe we have a constitutional duty to use our powers of delay.

In support of this view, I refer noble Lords to the words of Sir Winston Churchill on 11 November 1947, speaking as Leader of His Majesty’s Opposition in a debate on a fatal amendment during the debate on the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill. His words set out clearly why and when, in accordance with our constitution, this House is entitled—even under an obligation—to refuse to consider a Bill any further, even when it has been passed by the Commons. He argued the case for this House to take such action on the grounds of democracy. He said:

“The spirit of the Parliament Act, and the purpose of that Act, were to secure the intimate, effective and continuous influence of the will of the people upon the conduct and progress of their affairs”.


He also said something that is particularly relevant in our current circumstances:

“Is the party opposite really to be entitled to pass laws affecting the whole character of the country in the closing years of this Parliament without any appeal to the people who have the vote and who placed them where they are?”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/1947; cols. 204, 214.]


Those words are particularly relevant in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield. In the closing remarks of his contribution to this debate, he said that if this Bill were passed, we would be living in,

“a different land, breathing different air in a significantly diminished kingdom. Is that what any of us really wants?”

Those are exactly the circumstances identified by Sir Winston as to when the House should say no and no further. In other words, the power of this House to delay legislation should be used in the interests of democracy. This Bill does affect the whole character of the country, and this House, to the extent allowed under our constitution, should delay its passage.

Rwanda Treaty

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Friday 8th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The answer is that I do not know. I will have to write to the noble Lord.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, for those who are a bit slow with their arithmetic, £8 million a day is £3 billion a year, added to the cost of the policy itself. Is it not clear that it would be better to spend that money on clearing the backlog and dealing promptly with arrivals? That would be a real deterrent. This leads to the suspicion, which the Minister can confirm or deny as he wishes, that the Government do not want these cases assessed because so many of them would be accepted.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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That is an interesting conclusion to draw. The simple fact is that we are also clearing the backlog; as noble Lords know, the commitment is to clear it by the end of this year. If we stopped spending the £8 million a day on hotel costs, what would the noble Lord suggest we do with those who are seeking asylum?

Legal Migration

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answers to the earlier questions. I shall avoid the temptation to discuss the proposals in general—I just wanted to focus on the significant impact that they are going to have on our higher education system. Perhaps I should mention that members of my family are employed in higher education. I am sure that the Minister understands that higher education is one of our success stories in generating public good and also, as an export, generating income for the country. Unfortunately, we have developed a system of funding higher education that depends on legal migrants; the education of UK citizens and residents depends on generating a flow of overseas participants in higher education who count as legal migrants. If the number of foreign students declines, that will have a direct and immediate impact on the education that we provide for UK residents.

My question was in a sense forestalled by the question from my noble friend, but the Government have to do more to indicate that they really stand by the policy of encouraging people to come to this country to benefit from the higher education that we can provide, because otherwise it will harm them and harm us. The policy is already having an impact; even the Statement itself will have deterred some foreign students from coming to this country, and the proposal to limit the number of family members who can come will have an impact on the students coming to this country, and hence on the education that we can provide for UK residents. Will the Minister assure us that he is seized of the point and that it is an issue that the Government will consider carefully in the light of the impact statements to which he has referred?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Obviously, the universities and the education sector provide an enormous amount of good to the country in many ways, including, of course, in terms of soft power. As the noble Lord indicated, it is an export industry. We have reconfirmed our intention to attract the best and brightest. Our manifesto committed to establishing the graduate route. More than 100,000 people last year to September 2023 were issued visas for the graduate route. We have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review this route to ensure that it is fit for purpose and prevent abuse, protecting the quality and integrity of UK higher education. However, as I said earlier, I note the noble Lord’s points and broadly agree.

Windrush Generation

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Tuesday 28th November 2023

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

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

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

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

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

Windrush Generation: 75th Anniversary

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Friday 7th July 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been such a privilege to take part in this debate. To hear the testimony and descriptions of earlier speakers is intimidating. It would be invidious to pick out particular speakers, but I have to mention the introduction by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, explaining how we got here. I also must pay regard to what was said by my noble friend Lord Rosser in his extraordinarily powerful explanation of why there is still so much discontent with the scheme, despite what the Home Office has tried to do.

I hope that I will be forgiven for striking a personal note. Britain, London and Brixton in particular owe a debt to the people of the Windrush generation for all that they have contributed over the last 75 years. It is entirely right that we should testify to that debt in this debate.

I mentioned Brixton because that is where I live and where my partner and I have raised a family, hence my territorial designation. For the avoidance of doubt, I make it clear that I do not claim to speak on behalf of the people of Brixton. We have three excellent MPs who can do that much better than I can. But I can speak for myself and testify to the debt that we owe the Windrush generation from my experience of living in that part of the inner city for nigh on 40 years—an area that offers so much to what London, the greatest city on earth, has to offer. It is truly a melting pot, mixing the full range of cultures and experiences. At the extreme, it even provides a home for someone like myself who started life in north London. It is a truly multicultural society at ease with itself. Brixton makes no great demands on those who live there; you can certainly be yourself.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark already mentioned, these things happen partly by chance. The arrivals on that epoch-making trip on HMT “Empire Windrush” were housed in Clapham, so it was to the labour exchange in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton that many came to seek work on their arrival. Later arrivals followed their lead. They sought housing in the area, which was cheap at the time. Much of it was run-down, in multiple occupation and still suffered the scars of the late war, but it was available in those pre-gentrification days. They did not come just to Brixton, of course, but nevertheless the result was and still is a special connection between Brixton and those of the Windrush generation. It has proved to be the centre of many events held to mark this special time.

There have of course been ups and downs—to say the least—over 75 years and some parts of the story are contested. Times were tough. The pioneers and the younger generations who followed had to cope with discrimination and poor living conditions. They had to battle for their civil and employment rights, and doubtless more still needs to be done. However, I believe that, in Brixton, we have created something special that would not have been attained without those who came on the “Empire Windrush” and those who followed.

In moving the Motion and paying tribute to the Windrush generation, the Minister chose the right words, but we are looking for actions not words. I am glad that we have been re-joined by my noble friend Lord Rosser, who made the point so clearly. What happened was shocking and has only been compounded by the difficulties that have arisen.

I want to raise an additional issue: the frozen pensions policy has had a deleterious effect on large numbers of those with a Windrush heritage—not all, of course, but that simply goes to point out the injustice of frozen pensions. I understand that I do not have the right Ministers here to get a detailed response, but it is important to understand that this is part of how people perceive they are being treated by the Government. The policy, for those new readers, is the arbitrary winners-and-losers approach to making increases in UK state pensions for those who choose to retire abroad. Recipients in some countries have increases each year in line with those granted to pensioners in the UK, but those in other countries, totalling half a million, do not: their pensions are frozen at the date they moved abroad and in real terms their state pension falls each year.

The impact is substantial. Simplifying somewhat, the basic state pension is currently £156 a week, but over half of those with a frozen pension are receiving £65 a week or less. That is lost income each year of £5,000 or more. British pensioners in all but two Caribbean countries have frozen state pensions. Those in Barbados and Jamaica are the lucky ones, but there are 300 people with frozen pensions in Antigua and Barbuda, 1,300 in Trinidad and Tobago, 900 in Grenada, 800 in St Lucia, and hundreds more spread across other Caribbean islands. The injustice of the policy is clear, but the Government and past Governments have hidden behind the need for so-called reciprocal agreements—we pay increases to our pensioners in country Y only if it pays increases to its pensioners in the UK. For many years, successive Governments have consistently refused to negotiate any more such agreements, leading to the entirely arbitrary distinctions we see today.

Just to remind ourselves, members of the Windrush generation were invited to live and work in the UK to help run Britain, and they devoted their working lives to this country. It is manifestly wrong to punish them so severely simply because they have returned to their countries of birth for retirement.

Fighting Fraud (Fraud Act 2006 and Digital Fraud Committee Report)

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Friday 30th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I was not a member of the committee but I very much welcome this report and the introduction to it from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. I came to the report afresh and of course the figures are shocking. It is astounding that people are placed under this sort of pressure. I could go through and repeat the figures that have already been given, but the central thing is that this is 41% of crime and is given 1% of the anti-crime budget. That is clearly wrong, particularly when the 41% is probably massively underreported. While this is a cyber problem, the report makes reference to analogue fraud, which clearly causes a lot of pain, suffering and financial loss. However, the massive growth is taking place in cybercrime: why would you go and knock on someone’s door when you can send them an email?

I have three substantive points to make. First, it would be interesting to know the extent to which the committee considered this: it seems to me that we need a specialist agency to tackle this epidemic. Reading the report, the general line seems to be that it should still be part of the mainstream police system, yet the task is so specialist and immediate, requiring massive action, that we need a specialist task force to undertake it, at least initially. I understand the objections to setting up yet another body, when we already have bodies that have a responsibility to sort this out, but the scale of it requires—at least for a period of time—a specialist action force of some form. That of course will need funding, and that clearly should come from the links in the fraud chain. The providers are providing the tools with which the fraud is undertaken, and it is reasonable to expect them to meet more of the cost of tackling it.

Secondly, I emphasise yet again the relationship between fraud and poor mental health. The report includes some interesting work on vulnerability to fraud, but that relationship has a special place. It is a relationship where there is a cause: many people suffer poor mental health because they have been victims of fraud. At the same time, people who already suffer from poor mental health are clearly more vulnerable. The figures in the report show how fraud is distributed but do not give the respective sizes of those populations within the population as a whole—so they do not tell the full story and it would be interesting to get some more figures on that. I emphasise that any action needs to take into account the specific position of people who have, or are at risk of, poor mental health. I hope that the Minister can at least make some sort of reference to the importance of tackling that.

My third point is about the alphabet soup of bodies that are rightly set out in an appendix. Unfortunately, one was missed: I can add to the list the Fraud Compensation Fund. It sounds pretty general but it does not compensate all fraud; it compensates a very narrow and specific form of fraud in relation to pension schemes. If a pension scheme loses assets through fraud and the employer is insolvent, the Fraud Compensation Fund, which is an offshoot of the Pension Protection Fund—the financing is different—has to provide the compensation. I highlight that point because, self-evidently, it is little known and there are still important questions that need to be pursued about people’s entitlement under that scheme and its funding. I raise that just to give it a bit more visibility, but it is clearly part of the fraud landscape and will need to be included in any further list of the alphabet soup.

Stop and Search

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Tuesday 20th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question, and I am delighted to hear him describe the police’s activities as exemplary. I have three points to make on this subject.

First, the police themselves, in particular the Metropolitan Police, have said that they need to do a good deal more in this regard, and I certainly trust them to do that. The Metropolitan Police, under Sir Mark Rowley, should be given time to make the changes we all want to see.

Secondly, I emphasise again that young black men are disproportionately more likely to be victims of serious and violent crime, but the 2021 report by the inspectorate concluded that the vast majority of searches were conducted on reasonable grounds. It is for the police to make sure that their powers are understood and to explain themselves carefully. The expanding use of body-worn cameras, to which we have referred, will go a long way to help that. As I said earlier, we should all accept and acknowledge that community support is there in principle, although it is contingent and fragile. These measures will go a long way to solidify that while trust is being restored.

Finally, I am pleased that my noble friend has mentioned Festus Akinbusoye. He is an excellent PCC, and I am sure that he will become an excellent MP in due course. He has long been a supporter of mine, and it is a great pleasure to return the favour.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I hope the Minister will agree with me that the all-too-common stereotype of knife crime being simply a black issue is dangerously counterproductive, and that when the Home Office says that stop and search works, it is a statement that is more in search of a headline and, in practice, needs to be heavily qualified. The figures show, I believe, that stop and search on its own is a blunt and ineffective tactic. What we need to do is understand better the root cause of this sort of crime and the reasons why some of our young people feel that they need to carry a knife. There are many causes, of course, but I would suggest that lack of faith in the police is an important one, particularly among those who suffer from this type of crime. In large part, this is driven by what the Independent Office for Police Conduct found to be the “disproportionate impact” of stop and search on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. When making a Statement about suspicionless stop and search, how can the Minister fail to make any reference to the well-evidenced racist and discriminatory use of it when we know that this leads to less, not more, confidence in policing?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Lord in his assertions. Earlier, I gave statistics on the number of knives that have been removed from the streets and the number of crimes that have been prevented because of stop and search. I will give some more examples. In Manchester, the chief constable, Stephen Watson, has said that a 260% increase in the use of stop and search over a defined period correlated with a 50% reduction in firearms discharges and a fall in the number of complaints. I think that there has been a concerted effort to improve; my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said this the other day in the House of Commons. We need to improve the way in which stop and search is applied but also understood; to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, it has to be applied judiciously, proportionately and legitimately.

On the proportionality side, I go back to my original comments. Young black men are disproportionately likely to be the victims of crime. There are disparities in the use of stop and search—they remain and we acknowledge them—but it is positive that they have continued to decrease from nine and a half times in 2017-18 under the 2011 census data to 4.9 times in 2021-22 under the 2021 census data. I also referred to the changing methodology in collecting these statistics, which brings the numbers down even further. However, as I say, that methodology is very much in its initial stages. We will work more on it and will, I am sure, hear more about it.

Hong Kong Military Veterans: Settlement

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Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Once again this proves the industriousness of the people of Hong Kong.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, clearly, this is welcome news. Can the Minister say anything about the pensions that these veterans will receive? I should declare an interest: I have advised the Gurkhas on their arrangements and I am aware of the problems there. Will the pensions be commensurate with these veterans’ new situation?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, that strays into another department’s area of responsibility, but I will look into it.

Independent Cultural Review of the London Fire Brigade

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Thursday 8th December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for promoting this debate on this important issue, which I very much welcome. As someone who lives in London, I start by paying tribute to the men and women of the London Fire Brigade, to whom we all owe such an immense debt. I am also appalled by this report. I do not need to speak extensively on this issue: it speaks for itself and previous speakers have made the points.

I congratulate the commissioner on his approach to this issue, which is to be welcomed in a public servant. I have to declare a sort of interest as a past member of the Greater London Council in the early 1980s, when the first serious attempt was made to confront these issues in the London fire service. I always regarded the changes we brought about—or at least initiated—at that time as one of our successes. I very much endorse what my noble friend Lady Thornton said about the role of John Carr. It was a group effort but he very much led the changes that we made at that time. There are, however, two important lessons to be learned from that. First, obviously, we did not do enough. The problems have continued and still need to be addressed. Secondly, dealing with these issues is not a one-off: it is not something where you make some changes, set down some objectives, say “All will be well” and that is it—the issue is dealt with. It is an issue that must be the unrelenting and unceasing focus until that golden day when all society changes. It must always be a priority at all levels of management. If you read the report, you can pick out where the key failures have been and where they need to be addressed. It is a report very much to be welcomed.

It has to be said that having this report in itself represents some form of progress. Clearly, there is more to it than just the prejudice that persists throughout society as a whole. I am pleased that, as already mentioned, the report goes out of its way to distinguish the situation in the fire service from that described in the recent report about the culture in the Metropolitan Police Service. Nevertheless, there are sufficient similarities, along with reports about what has happened in the Armed Forces, to suggest that there is a particular dynamic at play in the disciplined services. This obviously involves initiation ceremonies and the like, but there seems to be more to it than that. There is a common link in what the report refers to as the “tight knit team spirit”. Done right, it is an essential element of the service, but too often it has clearly become toxic.

I shall not attempt a full analysis of this today, but my first question to the Minister is: do the Government see any general pattern—any wider pattern—here and, if so, what are they going to do about it? What responsibility do the Government have to address those issues and pay them more attention?

Secondly, the two recent reports relate to London, but do the Government see the need to take the initiative in encouraging or facilitating similar work across the country as a whole? Obviously, this will be part of the ongoing work of the relevant inspectorates, but is there a need to take a more proactive approach?

Turning specifically to consideration of what work needs to be done in the light of the report on the London Fire Brigade, I pay tribute to the response of the FBU. This has been clear. It regards the reported incidents of racism and misogyny as extremely alarming. It believes that there is no place for such behaviour or attitudes in the fire and rescue service or its trade union. It has also said that it will review the effectiveness of its own rules and policies in the light of issues raised in the report, as well the issues it has itself identified through its members. This is to be welcomed, as any solution requires the involvement of all parties, not least the Government. Can the Minister tell the House what plans they have to support the work needed arising from this report?

A section of the report perhaps most relevant here is that on the level of morale within our fire service. Obviously, low morale provides no excuse for what has happened—absolutely not—but it makes it more difficult to achieve a solution to make the necessary changes. The national Government have significant power over the fire service, so it is reasonable to ask them to tell us what they will do to improve the morale of the fire service in London and, by extension, across the country as a whole.

Finally, I would like a response from the Minister on what specific action the Government might consider is needed around the effect that the report will have on recruitment into the service. Anybody hearing about this report or reading it could well think that this is not the job for them. That is an important issue which the Government could have an important role in addressing.