Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971 Debate

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Department: Home Office

Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971

David Lammy Excerpts
Monday 30th April 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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Mr Austin, I am very proud to stand here on behalf of the 178,000 people who have signed the petition. I am proud to stand here on behalf of the 492 British citizens who arrived on Empire Windrush from Jamaica 70 years ago. I am proud to stand here on behalf of the 72,000 British citizens who arrived on these shores between the passage of the British Nationality Act 1948 and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, including my own father, who arrived from Guyana in 1956.

It is a dark episode in our nation’s history that this petition was even required. It is a dark day indeed that we are here in Parliament having to stand up for the right of people who have always given so much to this country and expected so little in return. We need to remember our history at this moment. In Britain, when we talk about slavery we tend to talk about its abolition, and in particular William Wilberforce. The Windrush story does not begin in 1948; the Windrush story begins in the 17th century, when British slave traders stole 12 million Africans from their homes, took them to the Caribbean and sold them into slavery to work on plantations. The wealth of this country was built on the backs of the ancestors of the Windrush generation. We are here today because you were there.

My ancestors were British subjects, but they were not British subjects because they came to Britain. They were British subjects because Britain came to them, took them across the Atlantic, colonised them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them British subjects. That is why I am here, and it is why the Windrush generation are here.

There is no British history without the history of the empire. As the late, great Stuart Hall put it:

“I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea.”

Seventy years ago, as Britain lay in ruins after the second world war, the call went out to the colonies from the mother country. Britain asked the Windrush generation to come and rebuild the country, to work in our national health service, on the buses and on the trains, as cleaners, as security guards. Once again, Caribbean labour was used. They faced down the “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish” signs. They did the jobs nobody else wanted to do. They were spat at in the street. They were assaulted by teddy boys, skinheads and the National Front. They lived five to a room in Rachmanite squalor. They were called, and they served, but my God did they suffer for the privilege of coming to this country.

But by God, they also triumphed. Sir Trevor McDonald, Frank Bruno, Sir Lenny Henry, Jessica Ennis-Hill—they are national treasures, knights of the realm, heavyweight champions of the world and Olympic champions, wrapped in the British flag. They are sons and daughters of the Windrush generation and as British as they come. After all this, the Government want to send that generation back across the ocean. They want to make life hostile for the Windrush children—to strip them of their rights, deny them healthcare, kick them out of their jobs, make them homeless and stop their benefits.

The Windrush children are imprisoned in this country—as we have seen of those who have been detained—centuries after their ancestors were shackled and taken across the ocean in slave ships. They are pensioners imprisoned in their own country. That is a disgrace, and it happened here because of a refusal to remember our history. Last week, at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that

“we…owe it to them and to the British people”.—[Official Report, 25 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 881.]

The former Home Secretary said that the Windrush generation should be considered British and should be able to get their British citizenship if they so choose. This is the point the Government simply do not understand: the Windrush generation are the British people. They are British citizens. They came here as citizens. That is the precise reason why this is such an injustice. Their British citizenship is, and has always been, theirs by right. It is not something that the Government can now choose to grant them.

I remind the Government of chapter 56 of the British Nationality Act 1948, which says:

“Every person who under this Act is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies…shall by virtue of that citizenship have the status of a British subject.”

The Bill uses “British nationality” by virtue of citizenship. I read that Bill again last week when looking over the case notes of my constituents caught up in the Windrush crisis. Patrick Henry is a British citizen who arrived in Britain in 1959. He is a teaching assistant. He told me, “I feel like a prisoner who has committed no crime,” because he is being denied citizenship. Clive Smith, a British citizen who arrived here in 1964, showed the Home Office his school reports and was still threatened with deportation.

Rosario Wilson is a British citizen with no right to be here because Saint Lucia became independent in 1979. Wilberforce Sullivan is a British citizen who paid taxes for 40 years. He was told in 2011 that he was no longer able to work. Dennis Laidley is a British citizen with tax records going back to the 1960s. He was denied a passport and was unable to visit his sick mother. Jeffrey Greaves, a British citizen who arrived here in 1964, was threatened with deportation by the Home Office. Cecile Laurencin, a British citizen with 44 years of national insurance contribution to this country, payslips and bank account details, had her application for naturalisation rejected. Huthley Sealey, a British citizen, is unable to claim benefits or access healthcare in this country. Mark Balfourth, a British citizen who arrived here in 1962 aged 7, was refused access to benefits.

The Windrush generation have waited for too long for rights that are theirs. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over. There comes a time when the burden of living like a criminal in one’s own country becomes too heavy to bear any longer. That is why in the last few weeks we have seen an outpouring of pain and grief that had built up over many years. Yet Ministers have tried to conflate the issue with illegal immigration. On Thursday, the former Home Secretary said she was personally committed to tackling illegal migration, to making it difficult for illegal migrants to live here and to removing people who are here illegally.

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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I will not; I am just going to finish. Indeed, during her statement last Thursday, the former Home Secretary said “illegal” 23 times but did not even once say “citizen”.

This is not about illegal immigration. This is about British citizens, and frankly it is deeply offensive to conflate the Windrush generation with illegal immigrants to try to distract from the Windrush crisis. This is about a hostile environment policy that blurs the line between illegal immigrants and people who are here legally, and are even British citizens. This is about a hostile environment not just for illegal immigrants but for anybody who looks like they could be an immigrant. This is about a hostile environment that has turned employers, doctors, landlords and social workers into border guards.

The hostile environment is not about illegal immigration. Increasing leave to remain fees by 238% in four years is not about illegal immigration. The Home Office making profits of 800% on standard applications is not about illegal immigration. The Home Office sending back documents unrecorded by second-class post, so that passports, birth certificates and education certificates get lost, is not about illegal immigration. Charging teenagers £2,033 every 30 months for limited leave to remain is not about illegal immigration. Charging someone £10,521 in limited leave to remain fees before they can even apply for indefinite leave to remain is not about illegal immigration.

Banning refugees and asylum seekers from working and preventing them from accessing public funds is not about illegal immigration. Sending nine immigration enforcement staff to arrest my constituent because the Home Office lost his documents is not about illegal immigration. Locking my constituent up in Yarl’s Wood, meaning she missed her midwifery exams, is not about illegal immigration. Denying legal aid to migrants who are here legally is not about illegal immigration. Changing the terms of young asylum seekers’ immigration bail so that they cannot study is not about illegal immigration. Sending immigration enforcement staff to a church in my constituency that was serving soup to refugees is not about illegal immigration.

The former Home Secretary and the Prime Minister promised compensation. They have promised that no enforcement action will be taken. They have promised that the burden of proof will be lowered when the taskforce assesses Windrush cases. The Windrush citizens do not trust the Home Office, and I do not blame them after so much injustice has been dealt out.

I quote Martin Luther King, who himself quoted St Augustine, when he said that

“an unjust law is no law at all.”

I say to the Minister, warm words mean nothing. Guarantee these rights and enshrine them in law as soon as possible, and review the hostile environment that turns everybody in this country who is different into someone who is potentially illegal. Some 230 years after those in the abolitionist movement wore their medallions around their necks, I stand here as a Caribbean, black, British citizen and I ask the Minister, on behalf of those Windrush citizens, am I not a man and a brother? [Applause.]

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Ian Austin (in the Chair)
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Order. I am sorry, but we are not supposed to have applause. I understand how strongly people feel about this issue, but that is the rule.

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Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about trust, which is why I take her comment on the chin. We have a duty to rebuild that trust, and I am determined that we must do so through demonstration and through action, and through an assurance from me and those working on the taskforce that no case will be passed to immigration enforcement. When somebody contacts that helpline, we have absolutely undertaken that none of those details will be passed on to immigration enforcement.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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The Minister will recognise that the Government still say that there is a burden of proof, although they have lowered it. If there were Windrush generation or Commonwealth people who contacted the Home Office who did not meet that burden, so did not get their status, would they be subject to enforcement? That fear is very real.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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The right hon. Gentleman raises an important question. I give that assurance. People may well come forward who cannot not produce the proof. It is imperative, if we are to build trust, that we say, “We will not pass those details to immigration enforcement.” The message has to be what I saw on Saturday: we want to be able to help people to build their own story. We want to be able to use whatever disparate pieces of information they may have. A gentleman came to Croydon on Saturday morning who could produce his City & Guilds qualification in horticulture, I believe. That one certificate was pretty much the only evidence that he had of where he had been at school. We have to listen to people and use our own records.

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Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman takes me away from the contributions that have been made and towards the—I do not know how to describe it—somewhat drier technical detail provided to me by officials. I am happy to move on to that, but I would like first to respond to the points made by Members who have been here for the whole debate.

I have addressed some important points about settled status for EU citizens and the responsibility for getting that right, but I would like to highlight the history lesson and information provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). He painted a picture of how the Government can use evidence that is already at our disposal. That is really important. We can share data with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Work and Pensions, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—the list is long. That is exactly what the taskforce is doing. We are trying to lift the burden from individuals and place it on ourselves so that we provide the information and ensure we get it right.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) rightly started by thanking all those from the Windrush generation who have contributed so much. She raised difficult and important questions for me about how we stop this happening again, and she was absolutely right to do so. We have to stop it happening again. We have to ensure that the same cannot happen to future cohorts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) mentioned the Gurkhas—that Nepalese community —who are so numerous at their base in Hampshire, and we must be mindful the whole while that other communities may well be impacted. I have indicated time and again that uppermost in my mind is the truly enormous number of people from the European Union—3.3 million—who are already here. I do not underestimate the scale of that task.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East asked how we can right the wrong done to her constituent, Paulette Wilson. Mrs Wilson absolutely deserves a personal apology. I am not sure that me saying sorry today is adequate. If the hon. Lady would like me to do so, I would be very happy to meet Mrs Wilson. Every one of us was struck by the severe and cruel injustice that was done to her.

The hon. Lady and the Opposition spokesman raised questions about how many people have been affected, how many have been detained and how many may have been subjected to letters asking them to leave the country voluntarily, or potentially even to removal. We are trawling through the Home Office computer system—the caseworker information database, which goes back to 2002—and scrutinising cases very carefully, using both date of birth and nationality information to verify that, as one might expect. I do not wish to get into numbers until I can be confident that they are correct. We have an absolute duty to ensure that we get that right. To date, we have not found any single individual who has been removed from the country wrongly. However, I wish to ensure that we get it right.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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rose

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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Everybody is leaping to their feet. I will take a final intervention from the right hon. Gentleman, but I have to crack on a bit.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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There is an important group of people who may not have been removed but who are watching and listening to this debate and communicating with their families in this country. That is the group of people who went back to the Caribbean, most often to attend a funeral, and were not allowed to come back to this country. It is very important that those people have access to the hotline and to compensation—many of them lost their jobs and are still there—and that they are properly tracked and attended to.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point those people out, and I am very conscious—

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Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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The right hon. Lady has asked a specific question about bonuses, and I have said on the record I am not aware of any such system of bonuses. However, I will undertake to go away and find out, prior to Wednesday’s debate, when I look forward to being able to go over this issue in more detail, with more time, in the main Chamber.

I know, as everyone here and—I believe—everyone in this House knows, that we regard the Windrush generation as being of us and part of us. I believe the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green referred to them as being “part of the furniture”. We regard them as British, but we need to ensure that they have the legal documentation confirming that. Nationality law is incredibly complicated, and I want to ensure that their legal status is cemented as soon as possible. We have made it clear that we wish the process to be simple and that nobody should have to undergo a life in the UK test or attend a citizenship ceremony unless they wish to. Some may, and we would want to make that available to them.

Of course, some may not wish to be British citizens at all. We respect that position, but we still need to confirm their status here—free of charge—as someone able to remain in the UK and access services. This point was made earlier: there will also be people in the Windrush generation who, having worked all their lives in Britain, have retired to the country of their birth but obviously retain strong ties here. We should respect and nurture those ties. Should they wish to come back, we will allow that.

I sympathise with anyone who has found the process difficult, and I would like to assure hon. Members that we are doing everything we can to ensure that it is as smooth as possible. I am pleased that more than 100 people have now been issued with the documentation they sought, but please be assured that I am in no way complacent about that. We will continue to improve the service provided.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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There is another important point. The Minister will understand that some important Caribbean countries—St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia and others—got their independence after 1973, and a bunch of people are concerned about the 1973 cut-off. Will she say a little more about the situation for those people, some of whom may have come to this country as British subjects from countries whose independence did not come until later in the 1970s or early 1980s? Antigua’s was as late as 1981.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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Of course, my right hon. Friend the previous Home Secretary addressed how we solve the status and situation of those who may have come here between 1973 and 1988. I am aware of this issue, and, going forward, I want to ensure that we have a comprehensive package for those whom I am going to regard as the Windrush children, of whom there are very, very many.

As I have said, I was in Sheffield and Croydon over the weekend, listening to the calls being made and the quality of the conversations going on—they were conversations; they were in no way interrogative. In our process, we have a script that is evolving over time. At the end of every day, the script changes and the lessons that have been learned from those conversations during the day are used to ensure that things are better going forward. It is an evolving, iterative process.

I think I have addressed most of the questions raised. If important aspects have been raised that I have not addressed, I will make them very clear to the House on Wednesday. We are working hard to resolve the situation. The new Home Secretary has made his position, personal investment and commitment very clear, and we are working to ensure that it cannot happen again.

As we have heard, this year is the 70th anniversary of the Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury docks, which makes the situation all the more poignant and tragic. The Government will be celebrating Windrush day, and in the next few days I will have the opportunity to speak to the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about how we can use that occasion to build trust with those we have let down. It is not lost on me that our new Home Secretary has come to the Home Office from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and, of course, he introduced the paper on integration, which is so important going forward. He has a strong ally in the new Secretary of State in his old Department, which I am sure will provide a strong link.

I reassure right hon. and hon. Members that the Government are committed to righting the wrongs for the Windrush generation, to ensuring that those who have the right to be here in the United Kingdom are never treated in such a way again and to restoring trust in the Home Office to deliver the outcome that people deserve. I am proud of the work that has been done over the past fortnight to set us on the right course, and I look forward to working with colleagues and officials in the coming months to accomplish those aims.