Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971 Debate

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Department: Home Office

Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 30th April 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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An inquiry may or may not be appropriate, but my focus is on getting things right for the people who have been affected by the current situation. There are lessons for the Home Office and the Government to learn for the future, and those lessons will be learned, but our focus now needs to be on righting a wrong that has happened and ensuring that the people affected get all the help and support they need at this time.

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Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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The hon. Lady makes a very good point and I shall go on to address it. I will just say that on this occasion the Home Office has been too slow to respond. There were warning signs about it and more should have been done sooner. I do not think anyone is arguing anything other than that mistakes have been made that have been deeply damaging to some people’s lives, that it should not have happened, and that we must put it right and make sure it never happens again.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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This relates to the core not just of the policy but of the practice. What is wrong with the Home Office? When it is quite clear that things are going wrong, why is there no overriding corrective mechanism? When senior officials are approached by Members of Parliament why do they not look at the matter again in the light of what has been raised with them? Why do Ministers not intervene to resolve it? Why has it taken so long, when it was crystal clear, in the press and in correspondence, that something was going seriously wrong? There is a deep structural problem in the Home Office immigration department that needs to be addressed.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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I would respectfully say to the right hon. Gentleman that I suspect that question is more for the Minister than for me. I think it is above my pay grade to answer for the Government on those issues. I recognise that there are such issues, but perhaps the Minister will respond or the right hon. Gentleman will raise the issue later.

We have a duty to ensure that the Windrush generation and their children know that they are welcome here and belong here. We do not want any Commonwealth citizens who came to this country between 1948 and 1971, and who made their life in the UK as law-abiding citizens, to feel unwelcome or to be in any doubt about their future in this country. It should be stated that the response from the Home Office to the situation has been too slow. Not only should the situation never have occurred, but once it was known about the Government should have spotted what was happening and reacted much more quickly. However, although they are late, I commend the actions that the Government are now taking to help the Windrush generation and their children to obtain their right to remain here. The clear apologies from the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have been welcome, but we need more than words. We need action to correct what has gone wrong.

The then Home Secretary first announced on Monday 16 April that she was establishing a new dedicated team to help the Windrush generation to evidence their right to be here and to access the public services that they need. The team aims to resolve cases within two weeks of evidence being produced. She also stated that the Home Office does not intend to ask the group to pay for their documentation. Last Monday she expanded on her initial statement by committing to waive citizenship fees for Windrush generation members who are applying for citizenship, to waive the language and life in the UK tests for them, and to waive the administrative costs for the return to the UK of Windrush retirees currently residing in their country of origin.

The former Home Secretary also announced other measures, which are of particular interest to the petition’s signatories. First, the petition called for Windrush minors to be given the right to remain in the UK; indeed, most Windrush generation children in the UK are already British citizens. However, should they have to apply for naturalisation, the Government will waive the associated fees. Secondly, the petition states that

“the government should also provide compensation for loss and hurt”.

The Government have said that a new compensation scheme will be set up for those who have suffered loss as a result of this issue. That is clearly the right thing to do, but I want to ask the Minister whether the Government have considered providing, as part of the compensation package, support and counselling for those who have suffered distress, stress and upheaval that has affected their day-to-day lives. It should not just be about recompensing them for costs they have incurred; it should also be about the support they need to get over, and move on from, their traumatic experience.

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Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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I shall make a bit more progress and then allow an intervention.

Ministers and Home Office officials must now focus on establishing the status of the Windrush generation and their descendents with all possible speed, and ensure that the administrative issue of missing documentation for our citizens is not a barrier. Windrush cases must be prioritised. The Home Office must also take a far more proactive approach; it cannot wait until a particular case has gone into the public domain before deciding to take action to resolve it. The Windrush generation are British—they belong here—and the task now is to provide them with a legal status that reflects that. I applaud the new team’s intent to resolve cases within two weeks after evidence has been produced. It is vital to keep to such commitments to restore public trust in the Home Office.

In the past week, since I agreed to lead the debate, I have been engaging with lawyers and volunteers assisting members of the Windrush generation to secure their legal status, as well as with church and community leaders who represent the group. Many of those people are descendents of the Windrush generation or have a personal connection to them. They have expressed concerns about the capacity and effectiveness of the dedicated helpline that was set up to deal with inquiries. They have also asked whether there will be a deadline beyond which the Home Office might not be able to give further help to those seeking it. Will the Minister clarify what her Department will do to ensure that the helpline can give help effectively to everyone who seeks advice and whether there will be a deadline or cut-off point after which people might not get the help they seek from the new helpline?

I am glad the former Home Secretary acknowledged that the burden of proof to produce evidence of their legal right has been too much for some and suggested that the Department will deal with those individuals in a more personal manner. They came as British subjects and were not subject to any condition or restriction when they entered the UK. As we now know, many have found the task of producing evidence of their continuous residency here difficult. We need to prevent the Windrush generation and their children from facing further uncertainty over their status in the future and to allow them to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

On 22 June this year, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of HMS Windrush. That is a great opportunity to inform the British public about the positive legacy of that generation of pioneers and to help younger generations to appreciate the sacrifices that they have made for this country. I ask the Minister whether there are any plans for the Government to commemorate that monumental occasion and to celebrate the contributions that the Windrush generation has made to British society.

With Brexit fast approaching, the Government must get things right for EU citizens. The Home Office must work now to ensure that the EU citizens who decide to stay here legally after Brexit know that they are welcome and that they will not face similar treatment.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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A couple of times the hon. Gentleman has referred to these issues as though they have blown up only in the last few weeks. There may have been massive press coverage in the last few weeks, but the issues have been going on for months and indeed years. There has been an almost complete failure to recognise that and to put the corrective mechanisms in, which is precisely why a full restructuring of the immigration directorate in the Home Office is required.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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I think I did say that there had been warning signs and cases for some time now that should have highlighted the problem. I do not know whether it is years or months; I have certainly been aware of it for months, but if the right hon. Gentleman says it is years, I am not going to argue with him. Whatever the period of time is, I think we all agree that action should have been taken sooner to address the issue, before it reached the state that it did in recent weeks. On that, we can absolutely agree.

To go back to the question of EU citizens, I commend the Home Office for preparing for a new form of identification that will be simple and straightforward, so that the 3.7 million EU citizens will have clear and secure documentation of their legal status. That is vital to avoiding similar mistakes. I hope the Home Office will be able to publish further details about the identification scheme in the near future.

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Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is absolutely right to say that the taskforce is prioritising appointments for people in vulnerable positions—those who are out of employment or at risk of falling out of employment, those with health conditions and those with problems with tenancies. There is a significant group of people with whom we must work, but it is right to prioritise people on the basis of need. We are working really hard. In Sheffield, it was great to see call-backs going on, appointments being made and people having conversations.

My right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary made it very clear that we will compensate people for loss, but it is right that we get the compensation scheme right from the outset. Members have raised interesting points about what should be included in that, many of which might seem really self-evident and straightforward—it should cover legal costs, loss of employment and housing, and so on—but there might be other aspects to it. A number of people have talked about counselling for stress and trauma. It is important that we have an independent person who enables and empowers us to get that right from the outset. That will take a little time, but it is important that we have someone independent of the Home Office who is able to engender trust.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Will the Minister give way?

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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I will take an intervention from the right hon. Gentleman, even though he has not been here long.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I thank the Minister for the welcome remedial measures she is outlining, which could help to deal with the outcomes, but does she not recognise that this issue comes from deep systemic and cultural problems inside the Home Office? Members of Parliament raised cases and pointed out the flaws in the Home Office’s arguments, but it utterly refused to reconsider them. This is not just about the computer, or the initial person at the end of the line, saying no; it is about a failure of management then to remedy things. That is why we are having to get into compensation, taskforces and everything else. The Home Office will still have those deep problems. What is she going to do about that?

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.