Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971 Debate

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Department: Home Office

Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971

Leo Docherty 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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I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. [Interruption.] If she can wait to hear what I will go on to say, all will become clear. I hope that we can keep the tone of the debate constructive and positive and put right what has gone wrong for the benefit of those who have been affected. Those who want to score political points may feel free to do so, but I will not seek to do that. I will seek to address the concerns of the people who have signed the petition.

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty (Aldershot) (Con)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the calm tone he has struck in initiating the debate. Given the previous intervention, does he agree that it is important to remember that a Labour Government first coined the term “hostile environment”? [Interruption.]

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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My hon. Friend makes a good point.

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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.

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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My hon. Friend is laying out in useful terms the series of actions that the Government are taking. Does he feel, as I do, that the leadership provided by the new Home Secretary this morning will prove decisive? I have just come from the Chamber, where he said he will do whatever it takes to deal with the matter in a timely and decisive fashion. Does my hon. Friend share the confidence I have in the new Home Secretary?

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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Indeed I do. I would add that I think the previous Home Secretary was completely committed and was taking action to address the issue. However, I also have tremendous faith in the newly appointed Home Secretary and that he will get to the heart of the issue and make sure that things are put right and that the lessons that need to be learned are learned, and I shall come on to that point now.

Going forward, officials working at all levels of the Home Office must learn important lessons from the failures that have beleaguered the Windrush generation and their children. Those mistakes should never have happened, and there were warning signs, with Members coming forward in recent weeks to say that they were receiving casework relating to the issue.

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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.]

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Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty (Aldershot) (Con)
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I am grateful to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate.

I will speak relatively briefly, but first I want to declare that I entirely support the sentiment of the petition. My constituency has a significant population with a Commonwealth background across Aldershot and Farnborough, which are in the borough of Rushmoor: people who have built their lives in the borough and who contribute a great deal at every professional level. I am very pleased to put on record my appreciation of the contribution that that population makes. Aldershot, as a borough, shares an even longer history with our Commonwealth, going back to the late 19th century, when a great number of imperial troops were stationed in its garrisons. The contribution of our Commonwealth population has, as has been said, a long historical precedent. Today, members of our community with mainly Indian and Pakistani heritage live with a significant Nepalese community, and that is something of which I am extremely proud.

We have heard some eloquent and moving speeches, but rather than talking about the rhetoric surrounding the issue, I will touch briefly on the action that the Government have taken in the past few days and weeks. I am grateful that the Minister is here; I am sure she will offer further reassurance about the series of actions the Government have taken so far. It is important that the Government have waived the fee for anyone who wishes to apply for citizenship—for those who do not have any documentation and those who do. The waiving of the requirement to do the knowledge of language test is important, as is the fact that the children of the Windrush generation will be able to apply to naturalise at no cost. It is also important that those who have lived here for a long time and have then returned to their country of origin are able to come back, and that the associated fees will be waived.

I am encouraged that we have a dedicated team helping to identify and gather evidence to confirm the existence of individuals’ rights to be in the UK, and I would be grateful for any updates that the Minister might provide on that taskforce’s latest actions. I understand that, as of last week, 23 people had already obtained the documentation they needed, with nearly 100 appointments booked to help more people. I am encouraged by that, but any further update from the Minister would be much appreciated.

I am pleased, too, that no one affected will be charged for any documentation that proves their right to be here, and that anyone who wishes to obtain a formal residence card can do so free of cost. Given the emotions around the subject, which we have been described eloquently today, I am reassured that there will be no removal or detention as part of any assistance to help those citizens get their proper documentation. It is important that we put that on record and that it is clearly understood. I am also reassured by the fact that a new website will provide information and guidance for people who need support, and will give examples of the type of evidence required for the formal process.

In addition to that series of actions, it is important that the Government now get the tone right. That is why, earlier today in the Chamber, I was encouraged by hearing the new Home Secretary clearly outline that the matter is of the highest importance. He did so in personal terms, saying that “it could have been my mother, my brother or me.” The new Home Secretary gets this. He gets the emotional importance of the matter and the sense of justice that people associated with the Windrush generation want to see fulfilled. He also said, “I will do whatever it takes to get this right…we will do right by the Windrush generation.” He then went on to say, “Like her, I am a second-generation migrant”. He was referring to the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), and to the fact that she “does not have a monopoly” on anger. That is very true, and the only response from the Government now, while there is justifiable anger, needs to be one of calm, compassionate efficiency. I am reassured that the Government will resolve the episode in a serious and determined manner, but also in an empathetic and gracious one.