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I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the following papers be provided to the Home Affairs Committee: all papers, correspondence and advice including emails and text messages, from
First, I congratulate the Home Secretary on his appointment and welcome him to his first full-scale parliamentary debate as Home Secretary.
That ship gave its name to a whole generation, who came to this country from 1948 to 1973, and this debate is about them—patriotic, courageous men and women who helped to rebuild this country after the war.
The history that my right hon. Friend tells is one that we should, of course, all be proud of. I was wondering whether she knew why Brixton and the area that I and the other hon. Members here represent became a hub for so many in the black community. First, we had deep bomb shelters, which were provided as the temporary accommodation for those who first arrived on Windrush, and secondly, they settled in Brixton to be near the job centre because they wanted to work.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of why Brixton was a focus for the Windrush generation. West London—Paddington, Notting Hill—was also a focus, largely because people got off at Paddington and looked for somewhere to live.
The Home Secretary has said that he “will do what it takes” to sort out the Windrush scandal, and I hope this afternoon’s debate will help him to understand the entirety of what it will take to revolve the scandal. This is not an issue that is going to go away.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the work that she has done on this issue for many, many years. This of course goes well beyond the Windrush generation, extending to many people from across the Commonwealth and former empire. The history of the Cardiff docks communities is very much one of strong Caribbean, African, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali and Yemeni communities, all of whom paid a huge contribution over hundreds of years. Does she agree that this goes much wider than Windrush?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I was going to make that point in the course of my remarks.
The Windrush generation were the first cohort to come here, but then there was south Asia, Sri Lanka—there is a whole series of Commonwealth migrants who, unless the Home Secretary does what it takes, will suffer the same humiliation as the Windrush generation.
At the moment the right hon. Lady has not said a word that I have disagreed with, and I thank her for how she has said it. She referred to an issue that will not go away. Another issue that will not go away is, of course, the issue of illegal immigration, which is absolutely embedded within this whole debate. Can or will the right hon. Lady be—
I am sorry; I normally am heard, but I have a very quiet voice, as you well know. Lots of people here have a very keen interest in this debate, and I want to make sure that everybody who has put their name in does speak. If we are going to have interventions, will those who are hoping to speak please try not to intervene? You will end up moving yourself down the list—and please, interventions must be short.
I listened with interest to what Simon Hoare said, but he will understand that this debate is being watched all over the Commonwealth, and being watched by the Windrush generation people themselves, and it is important that we all show a genuine concern, because they are the focus of the debate.
The Windrush scandal raises a number of issues of paramount importance. The first duty of the state is to defend the safety and security of its citizens, but under this Government’s policies we have a situation where citizens of this country are being denied their liberty through immigration detention, are being refused re-entry to this, their own country, have been made homeless or jobless, have been denied NHS treatment and have been left destitute. They have been, and continue to be, threatened with deportation. We have a situation where some citizens of this country do not have their security and safety defended. In fact, the agency undermining their safety and security is this Government and their policies.
Nobody on the Opposition side of the House supports illegal immigration, but the hon. Gentleman must appreciate how distressing it is for the Windrush generation to see the way that Members on the Government side of the House turn to illegal immigration whenever the subject of the Windrush generation is raised. They were not illegal. It is interesting how Members on the Government side of the House want to pivot and to talk about illegal immigration.
I want to talk about the role of the Prime Minister. Many people feel that, with the Windrush scandal, all roads lead back to her. It was the Prime Minister who was responsible for some of the worst aspects of the hostile environment. It was the Prime Minister who initiated the notorious go-home immigration vans. It was the Prime Minister who introduced the “deport first, appeal later” regime, and we know from documents in the public domain that it was the Prime Minister who set deportation targets.
It has been revealed that Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary, wrote a four-page memo to the Prime Minister on
“I will be refocusing IE’s work to concentrate on enforced removals. In particular I will be reallocating £10m (including from low-level crime and intelligence) with the aim of increasing…enforced removals by…10%...over the next few years”.
Ministers can try to dance on the head of a pin, but 10% is a target in any reasonable understanding of the term.
I feel I have to make some progress.
There is no question but that the existence of these targets put pressure on officials to hit those targets and contributed to the way the Windrush generation was treated. So the question is posed—
Let me reassure the House: it is up to the Member who is speaking whether they— [Interruption.] Thank you for the advice, but I am quite capable of speaking for myself. What I would say is that it is up to the Member who is speaking whether they give way or not. I want to make sure that everybody gets in. Quite rightly, if the shadow Home Secretary does not want to give way, she does not need to.
I am conscious that a number of hon. Members want to contribute to the debate, therefore I am anxious to make progress.
So given that the Prime Minister knew so much about the target regime, we have to wonder, when she heard the various denials from the former Home Secretary, did she not think to correct the record, or at least advise the then Home Secretary accurately to correct the record? Why did she not do that?
The Prime Minister’s record and her responsibility are clear. We have had go-home vans; the “deport first, appeal later” policy; targets for removals and for unsuccessful immigration appeals; protections against—
A number of hon. Members want to contribute to this important debate, and I am anxious to make progress.
Ministers now express their concern about the Windrush generation, saying that they came here, were invited and have contributed to this country’s prosperity. I might add that the Windrush generation enriched us in many other ways too, socially and culturally. That is what migrants do. Overwhelmingly, they come to build a better life for themselves and their family—wherever they are from, wherever they are going—and in building a better life for themselves and their family, they contribute to the prosperity of all. That is why it is time that we had a more positive narrative on migration.
As we heard earlier, Government Members and Front Benchers would far prefer to talk about illegal immigration than the plight of the Windrush generation. As I said earlier, no one on the Opposition Benches supports illegal migration. We are all in favour of the removal of people who are here illegally. We could start with the number of prisoners who judges have directed should be removed at end of sentence, but many are not removed because of an organisational failure by the Home Office in getting the paperwork correct.
For our part, the Labour party has pledged to recruit 500 extra border guards to deal with illegal immigration, people and drug trafficking, and smuggling. We do not want to support illegal immigrants; we want to prevent people who do not have the right to be here from entering the country. This Government and their immediate predecessors cut the border guards, so it is distressing to hear them talk about illegal immigration, rather than focusing on what is happening to the Windrush generation.
The Windrush generation are here legally, yet they continue to be talked about by some Government Members as if they were here illegally. The Government were warned that negative outcomes for Commonwealth citizens who had been here for decades would be a consequence of their hostile environment policy. Many people in the House warned them, including myself, as well as many others outside the House.
I am afraid not. I am trying to make progress.
The warnings from the Opposition and individuals such as myself, and from all sorts of stakeholders, were ignored. The Government ploughed ahead regardless, with the consequences that we all see.
I also want to point out to the House that the Windrush generation also includes people who came here as children before 1973. They have to be considered. In some cases, a lack of the documentation that the Home Office has only recently begun to insist on under this Government means that grandchildren may be caught up as well. All of this must end.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Is she as surprised as I am that, despite the national debate over the last two weeks, when my office called the Home Office MP helpline yesterday to support a Windrush-affected constituent and inquire about the process to support them, we were told that the helpline staff had been given no guidance on citizenship applications? My constituent, who has to prove that he has been here since 1965 with two forms of ID for every year, is in despair.
It does not seem that we have moved away from the Windrush situation altogether if somebody is being asked for two pieces of documentation for every year they have been here, as that was the problem for the Windrush generation—excessively rigid demands for documentation and no proper guidance.
So the children of people who came here before 1973 have to be considered, and as my hon. Friends have said, the scandal also includes those who came from many other Commonwealth countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and countries in west Africa. It is not just about the Caribbean; these cases arise now only because many of those people came here—were invited here—earlier than the others.
In speaking about the Commonwealth, I made this point in my urgent question earlier in the week: this is an issue that has resonated around the Commonwealth—it is front-page news not just in the Caribbean, but in a range of Commonwealth countries. The point I was trying to put over to the Home Secretary is that, when we are trying to build our relationships with the Commonwealth for trade and other reasons—post Brexit certainly, but I would support it in any event—what has been revealed about the way Commonwealth citizens have been treated is extremely damaging. That is not the most important reason to clear up this mess, but it is a reason to clear it up. I hope that the Home Secretary understands that.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for winding up Government Members even further by giving way to me. If passed, this Humble Address is binding on the Government to publish all the documents relating to this matter and to provide those documents to the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I understand that the Government have issued a three-line Whip to vote against the motion. Can she explain what possible reason they might have for doing so?
Order. Can we please have a little less noise from the Back Benches? Anna Soubry will be called to speak early in the debate and we want to hear her contribution, so I do not want her to waste her voice by shouting too much.
Do Government Members understand how voting against this motion will look to the Commonwealth and the Windrush generation here? Do Government Members understand how the laughter that we heard a few minutes ago will be seen by the Windrush generation? It is as if they do not take this issue seriously.
That is certainly not a point of order, but I can assure hon. Members that there was laughter from both sides of the House.
As I was saying, Windrush generation persons and people who live in Commonwealth countries will be watching this debate, and they will have heard Government Members laugh. They will get the sense that Government Members are not taking this matter entirely seriously.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Lady just referred to this as a debate. I seek your guidance on whether this can legitimately be described as a debate given that the right hon. Lady consistently refuses to take interventions from Conservative Members.
Dr Murrison, you and I both know that that is definitely not a point of order. I will repeat what I said at the beginning, which is that it is up to each individual whether they wish to give way. That is how the House works and it is how the House will continue.
I am getting very worried that somebody just might make a point of order, but that is definitely not one.
I said at the beginning of my speech that we should focus on the Windrush generation. It will not look well to them or any of our constituents if Government Members seek to go off on some kind of tangent.
I really have to continue.
We need to know the number of deportations and removals. We also need information about Windrush generation persons who are in immigration detention. The Government must know the number of people who are held in detention and why they are there. I have met Windrush generation persons in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, so I will continue to press the Government to provide that information. We also want information on the number of people who have been refused re-entry—people who perhaps went back to their country for a funeral or some such event, but were refused re-entry at the airport. These people have to face humiliation and separation from their family. We need to know the number of people in that situation. We cannot just brush it aside. Imagine what it is like for an elderly woman who has been home for a funeral to be stopped at the airport on her return and told that she cannot come home. We want to know the number of British people who have been refused re-entry.
I have to make progress.
I had a meeting about Windrush in the House of Commons about two weeks ago. Some 500 people attended and there were 200 people on the waiting list, and these people were extremely anxious. My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy had a meeting yesterday that the Immigration Minister attended, and the people there were also concerned and anxious.
At yesterday’s meeting I was pleased to meet Amelia Gentleman for the first time, and I want to take this opportunity to praise her for her work, because she came back to this story week after week. Her newspaper put it on the front page. She showed a commitment to this story that some journalists might not have; they might have walked away or moved on. Many members of the Windrush generation really appreciate her campaigning and journalism, and I am glad to pay tribute to that this afternoon.
A number of issues were raised at yesterday’s meeting, which was organised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham. These issues have also been raised with me. A number of people found themselves literally destitute because of the way in which this policy worked. What type of policy making results in British people being put on the street because of this so-called bearing down on illegal immigrants? These people, who the Government put on the street, were British. People have also been given biometric ID cards, but they want to know why they cannot have passports like anyone else. I presume that the Home Secretary will be able to tell me.
It was clear from the meeting yesterday that many people are still frightened to come forward. We welcome any clarity from the Home Secretary because until people do not think that they will be picked up and detained if they approach officials, people who have been harmed will not come forward. This is very important. No one wants British citizens to be afraid to approach the authorities.
People at the meeting were concerned about compensation. As soon as we can have more details on compensation, they will be welcomed. Windrush compensation could cover pain, suffering and loss of amenity. It could also cover damages arising from: loss of liberty; impact on private and family life; unlawful detention; loss of employment; past loss of earnings; travel expenses; moving costs; legal fees; healthcare costs; loss of state benefits; past loss of pension; care and assistance; future loss of earnings; and loss of pensions. That is to name but a few. People are anxious that the Government’s promises of compensation will be meaningful and will cover the issues that I have touched on. If I could say just one thing in this debate, it would be that it is really important that we get the process for compensation right. Only then will the Windrush generation feel that they have been treated fairly.
There are other substantive questions for the Home Secretary. He must surely understand by now how serious this issue is and how far-reaching are the consequences of his Government’s policies—policies that he has supported throughout. Has his Department been in contact with British embassies and high commissions in Commonwealth countries so that they can use their best endeavours to establish where people have been wrongly deported? I referred to detention and to people refused re-entry. Similarly, how many people “voluntarily” left under threat of deportation? What information has the Home Secretary’s Department requested and received from Heads of Government of Caribbean nations and others regarding people who have been deported or otherwise prevented from returning to the UK?
What is shocking is the way that the Windrush generation have been treated.
We want information as soon as possible about the independent means of establishing fair compensation. Has the Home Office issued written instructions to the call handlers of the helpline that they should not report cases for deportation enforcement where they believe that people are here legally? Did the Home Secretary’s Department issue advice to the immigration tribunals and judges on the changes in the Immigration Act 2014?
The new Home Secretary demurs from the term, “hostile environment”. We appreciate that, but of course he was not the architect of this policy: it was the Prime Minister, and she has not resiled from that policy. In May 2012, she told readers of The Daily Telegraph—
I have to make progress.
“The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.”
As I have said, no Opposition Member supports illegal migration, but the problem with the hostile environment that the Government set up was that it swept perfectly legally British citizens up with it. So the Home Secretary will forgive me if I wonder about his claiming now to be abandoning the “hostile environment” title. I say this with all due respect, but his predecessor never seemed to be in command of policy on this matter. She was used as a human shield by the Prime Minister. I would hate to think that he will find that he is not in charge of policy on this matter either, but the Prime Minister is. In any event, unless and until the Prime Minister announces the abandonment of the form of “hostile environment” policy that she instituted and demonstrates that that is the case, then we should all understand that the policy remains in place: the labelling and the spin do not matter. Unless the Government formally change their policies, Opposition Members will be clear, and this country will know, that their treatment of the Windrush generation was not an aberration and not a hiccup—it was the predicted consequence of a policy that they intend to continue with.
I am coming to an end now.
One of the important things about the Windrush scandal is that it is an opportunity to review immigration policy and the administration of immigration policy. We now have a situation where, because of the way that immigration is currently administered, this Government are preventing doctors from coming to take up jobs that they have been offered by the NHS. The NHS is in crisis. There is a shortage of 10,000 doctors, and the total number of NHS vacancies is in the tens of thousands. We therefore need to review immigration policy so that it is not only more humane but actually works in the interests of this country. We have seen a similar grotesque policy of wrongly removing overseas students from courses they have paid for, as this morning’s Financial Times reports. The NHS is suffering, our education system is suffering, and many others sectors are suffering: all because of a narrative on immigration that deems immigration to be toxic.
Finally, let me say this. The Windrush generation played an important role after the war. The Windrush generation are very meaningful to many of us who were brought up by that generation. They did not deserve to be treated in the way that they were. Ministers say they did not know, but there was a pattern in what was going on; they chose not know. As I said at the beginning, this issue is not going to go away. Opposition Members will not stop until we get, not promises and not spin, but justice for the Windrush generation.
Let me start by thanking Ms Abbott for what she said in her opening remarks in welcoming me to my new position. I appreciate her comments.
I know I am not alone when I say that there are men and women from the Windrush generation who have been seriously let down by the immigration system: men and women who have had their lives totally and utterly disrupted, and in many cases put on hold. As I made clear at this Dispatch Box on Monday, I will do whatever it takes to put this right. That means putting all of our focus and our resources into dealing with this issue and helping those who have been affected by it.
Bonuses are paid in some parts of the senior civil service. If they are, that is not a matter for Ministers. Ministers will not get involved. In the case of my Department, it would be the permanent secretary and other officials he would work with.
We want to make sure that we are putting all our resources into helping with the situation that has been created, doing everything we can. However, putting it right does not mean that we divert our time and effort into some massive, open-ended fishing expedition. The motion in the name of Jeremy Corbyn and others is disproportionate and distracting. It would take help and capacity away from where it is needed by reassigning more than 100 officials, and that would of course create significant cost for taxpayers.
With regard to officials, the Home Secretary did not, with the greatest respect, give an answer to my hon. Friend Catherine West on the issue of bonuses. Have senior officials, including Hugh Ind, Mandie Campbell—a former member of staff—Glynn Williams or Philip Rutnam, received bonuses related in any way to removals, deportation or detention targets: yes or no?
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am aware of some of the reports on that this morning. I have not personally had time to look into the particular issue of who may or may not have received bonuses. However, as I said, if there are senior civil servants who have received any bonuses, it is a matter for officials, not for Ministers.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is being very generous to the Opposition, when they were not to us. I notice the burdensome nature of what the motion requests. Why does he think the Opposition have picked documents from 2010 only and do not wish to look at 2009, when they were involved in some of the decisions?
My hon. Friend, as always, makes a very important point. A compliant environment has been put in place, and quite rightly; there should be a compliant environment. That is something that all Governments have supported, including especially the previous Labour Government.
I referred earlier to the motion in front of us. This Government recognise the importance of transparency. Members of the Windrush generation and Members of the House need to have confidence that everything possible is being done. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced earlier a package of measures to bring greater transparency to Members of the House and to people in our community who have been affected. Let me set out those measures in a little bit more detail. First, I will be writing—
Order. I cannot hear what the point of order is. I cannot make a ruling on something I have not heard.
I was just coming on to the greater transparency measures that I want to put in place. First, I will be writing each month to Yvette Cooper to give her and the House a report on progress. Secondly, I will also be writing to her each month on the latest position on detentions, removals and deportations. Thirdly, I will bring independent oversight and challenge to a lessons-learned review already under way in my Department. That review will seek to draw out how members of the Windrush generation came to be entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants, why that was not spotted sooner and whether the right corrective measures are now in place. I have asked my permanent secretary to give the review the resources it needs and to aim to complete its work before the summer recess.
I said earlier in the House that I am interested in a compliant, not a hostile environment. But, talking of a hostile environment, my hon. Friend reminds me of some of the hard left who have joined the Labour party ever since the right hon. Member for Islington North became the Leader of the Opposition and how their anti-Semitism has been tolerated—[Interruption.]
Order. I cannot hear a word for the shouting. My problem is that if I cannot hear, I cannot make a judgment on what is being said. We have to keep in order. This is making life very difficult and does not do us any favours.
I was talking about members of the hard left who have created a hostile environment in their own party and people who welcomed my appointment by calling me a coconut and an Uncle Tom. If that is something the Leader of the Opposition thinks is wrong, why does he not get up at the Dispatch Box right now and denounce them? [Interruption.] I did not think he would want to say anything, and we know exactly what he thinks about a hostile environment in the Labour party against people’s backgrounds. [Interruption.]
Order. The House must come to order. I want to hear this debate. We have constituents who want to hear this debate. This debate is very important to this country and the people of this country.
I thank the right hon. Lady for getting up at the Dispatch Box and making that absolutely clear. I thank her also for condemning the racism that I referred to. I know that she, like me, has suffered from racism. It is wrong when it happens to any person, whoever they are, wherever they come from, in our country. When it happens—particularly in political parties, including my own, where it has happened in the past—it is incumbent on all political leaders to stamp on it and to deal with it.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position. Does he agree that this was a chance to have a debate about people, and instead the Opposition have chosen a motion that focuses on politicking and procedure? As someone who represents Windrush constituents, I very much welcome the steps he is taking to address the real concerns that those people are facing day to day.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. She says that this is about people, and that is exactly what I want to come on to in more detail.
It is important to note that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Amber Rudd, had already started important work to help the Windrush generation, and I would like to pay tribute to her efforts. These are people who are pillars of our society. They are people who are doctors, nurses, engineers and bus drivers—people just like my father, who came to this country inspired by hope and motivated by ambition. These individuals have made a huge contribution to making this country the great place it is to live.
That is why this Government have been taking action. As Members know, a dedicated taskforce has already been set up to provide the support these people deserve. Each person who is identified as potentially from the Windrush generation is called back by an experienced and sympathetic caseworker, who then helps them through the process. So far, there have been more than 7,000 calls, of which 3,000 have been identified as potential Windrush cases. That group is being invited to service centres around the country for appointments. Travel costs are also reimbursed. So far, more than 700 appointments have been scheduled and more than 100 people have had their cases processed and now have the documents they need. Those numbers are increasing by the day, and we will continue to schedule those appointments as a matter of urgency.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. He is right about the contribution of the Windrush generation, but can he be absolutely clear that these are people who are here and always have been here lawfully? Will he also condemn the continual attempt, not just in the Chamber but in the country generally, to conflate legal immigration with illegal immigration? I am fed up, every time the Windrush generation are spoken about, of continually hearing, “Well, what about illegal immigration?” We are talking about the Windrush generation.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct on both counts. My predecessor said it, I have said it and I am happy to say it again: the Windrush generation are here perfectly legally. There is nothing illegal whatsoever about it. Because the Immigration Act 1971 did not lead to documentation for those people, which has now become familiar for many Members of the House, it is now right that we put that right and make it much easier to get them the documentation and formalise their status where it has not already been formalised. He is also right to point out the distinction between legal—the Windrush generation and many others—and illegal.
I thank the Home Secretary for his generosity in giving way to Members on both sides of the House. The Windrush generation helped to rebuild this country after world war two, and we owe them a debt. Governments of all political colours make mistakes. It is clear that, despite the motion, some of this problem goes back beyond 2010, but we are where we are. Now that he has responsibility for this, can he confirm that he will strain every sinew to see that we do right by these people who did right by us?
I say to my right hon. Friend that I can confirm that, and I will do so. I will come on to cover in more detail the point he has made.
I want to address directly any concerns that people might still have about coming forward. As I told the House on Monday, any information provided to the taskforce will be used for no other immigration purpose than that of helping people to confirm their status. Any information provided will not be passed to immigration enforcement.
Let me remind the House of some of the other important changes this Government have introduced in the light of the Windrush situation. A Commonwealth citizen who settled in the UK before 1973 will now be entitled to apply for British citizenship—the legal status that they deserve—free of charge. We have made it clear that we will make the process they need to go through to get citizenship as simple as possible. While it is right that we are swiftly progressing urgent cases, all of this needs a proper legal underpinning, as hon. Members have suggested. That is why I will bring forward the necessary legislation to cover fee exemptions, fee reductions and changes to the citizenship process as soon as possible. I also recognise that, in some cases, people have suffered severe financial loss, and I want to put that right. That is why we are setting up a new compensation scheme. It will be overseen by an independent person, and we will consult on its scope, because it is important that we get the detail of this scheme right from the moment it begins.
It is essential in this debate that we do not lose sight of the distinction between legal and illegal migration. Successive Governments, including the previous Labour Government, have put in place what I would call a “compliant environment”—measures to tackle illegal migration—and this is a perfectly sensible approach to take. I will give some examples. The first NHS treatment charges for overseas visitors and illegal migrants were introduced in 1982, as were checks by employers on someone’s right to work in 1997, measures on access to benefits in 1999 and civil penalties for employing illegal migrants in 2008. More recent measures in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, which were debated in this House at length, introduced checks by landlords before property is rented out and checks by banks on account holders.
As I made clear in this House on my first day in this role and as I have just said, I do not believe that the term “hostile environment” is in tune with our values as a country. This is about having a compliant environment. Measures over many years to tackle illegal immigration are of course a good thing, and we stand by those measures. They are designed to ensure that work, benefits and services in the UK go only to those who have the right to access them, and that is what the public rightly expect the Government to do. We are protecting our public services, and taking action against rogue employers, landlords and organised crime groups who exploit vulnerable migrants and damage our communities. We carefully balance the need to tackle illegal immigration with the need to protect those who are here lawfully from unintended consequences.
My right hon. Friend is making a very good speech, and I am glad that he has very clearly set out how we are going to put right this wrong and support those in the Windrush generation who are clearly British citizens and are here legally. Does he not agree that we must be very careful about the language we use in the House, because some of the language I have heard used by Opposition Members today is scaremongering and will lead to people affected by this scandal not coming forward to get the support they need and deserve?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is incumbent on every Member of this House, if we are all to be united in helping the people who have been affected by this situation, to be careful about the language that they use.
Recent events have shown that the safeguards we already have in place need to go further, so that is exactly what we are doing. For example, we have already put in place additional support for employers and landlords to safeguard members of the Windrush generation seeking jobs or rented accommodation. Updated guidance on gov.uk encourages employers and landlords to get in touch with the Home Office checking service if any Commonwealth citizen does not have the documents they need to demonstrate their status. The taskforce will contact the individual concerned to help them to prove their entitlement, and the employer or landlord will be issued with a positive notice.
My Department is working with other Departments and partner agencies from across the board to ensure that we have the relevant safeguards in place to prevent those from the Windrush generation from being denied the benefits and services to which they are perfectly entitled. Tomorrow, the Minister for Immigration will chair a cross-Government meeting to discuss this very matter with colleagues in more detail. We are also very conscious that ongoing immigration enforcement activity must not impact on people from the Windrush generation, and safeguards are being put in place to minimise such a risk.
The Home Secretary has announced the additional safeguards he wants to put in place for the Windrush generation, but will he apply those safeguards more widely? In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, we have heard that about 10% of the cases passed by the Home Office to banks are incorrect, and that the banks may therefore be taking action against people who are here legally because of errors by the Home Office. Will he put in place safeguards for everybody?
The right hon. Lady makes a very important point, and I am looking precisely at that. She used the example of banks that may be acting inappropriately or in error, perhaps through no fault of their own. I will look at that very carefully, and I will get back to her, because this is a very important issue and she is absolutely right to raise it.
I must now conclude to leave other Members enough time to speak in this debate. I am clear that all the measures I have outlined today will make a real difference. I will continue to assess what further action needs to be taken, because I know that I am not alone in this House when I say that this situation has made me angry. I know that I am not alone when I say that it is unacceptable that there are those from the Windrush generation who feel hurt and betrayed by the country they call home. That is why the measures we are taking, and will continue to take, are so vital. We must make sure that those affected get the support and attention that they so rightly deserve, so that something like this can never happen again.
Order. Before we continue with the debate, I must announce the result of the deferred Division. In respect of the question relating to tribunals and inquiries, the Ayes were 315 and the Noes were 202, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
Before I call Joanna Cherry on behalf of the Scottish National party, let me say that it is obvious that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon and, although we have a lot of time, the time available is limited, so there will be an immediate time limit of six minutes on Back-Bench speeches. [Interruption.] I do not know why there is always an exclamation of amazement. I cannot be the only person who can do the arithmetic. The time limit does not of course apply to Joanna Cherry.
Earlier this week, I welcomed the Home Secretary to his place and congratulated him on his appointment. I mentioned that it is a good thing he is the first BAME person to hold this great office of state, and I want to make it quite clear that the Scottish National party absolutely condemns any racist abuse he may have received from whatever quarter. As somebody who is on the receiving end of a daily diet of anti-Catholic and anti-gay abuse from the hard right in Scotland and across the UK, I know what it feels like to receive such abuse from whatever quarter, so he has my absolute support in resisting it. I thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy in explaining to me that he would not be able to stay for my speech because he has a very important Cabinet Committee meeting to attend. How much many of us would love to be a fly on the wall in that meeting.
Amber Rudd, for whom I have a lot of respect, resigned as Secretary of State for the Home Office on account of having misled Parliament about her knowledge of the removal targets, but nobody has as yet been held to account for the policies that led to the imposition of those removal targets and caused the Windrush scandal.
Others who have Windrush constituents will speak eloquently today about the details of their position. I want to speak about the real, underlying reasons why this scandal has occurred and to say to the new Home Secretary, as represented here by his Immigration Minister, that he will be judged by this Parliament, and by the public watching outwith this Parliament, on the degree to which he has the gumption to address the underlying causes of the Windrush scandal rather than just fiddle around with the outcome.
What has happened to the Windrush generation is not an accident, it is not a mistake, it is not an aberration and it is not the work of over-zealous Home Office officials. It is, in fact, the direct result of the Prime Minister’s imposition of a wholly unrealistic net migration target and of the contortions that have to be gone through to achieve that target, which, incidentally, has as yet not been achieved.
There is another dimension to the hostile policy, which I have seen in fishing on the west coast. It is not directly impacting on Windrush, but it is a similar aspect of the mentality at the Home Office. For eight years, we have been waiting to get non-European economic area labour in. Everybody wants the Home Office to give us a piece of paper that will keep the Home Office happy, but we just cannot get it. That is symptomatic of the Home Office that has led to Windrush.
I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. There are many people in the United Kingdom at the moment who make a great contribution to our society, but who are being made to feel very unwelcome at best and are being deported at worst, simply because they cannot evidence their right to be here.
These people have come to light as a result of another policy of the Prime Minister’s—the hostile environment policy, which is a racist policy. I say that quite clearly: it is racist. When people of a certain ethnic background, or with a name that does not look British, apply for a tenancy or a job, that is when they come to light, and that is when suspicion falls upon them. It is absolutely disgraceful. That is why, at Prime Minister’s questions this morning, despite the howls of derision from Conservative Members, I asked the Prime Minister to apologise for the policies that have caused this. I am still waiting for that apology, and I will be asking for it constantly. Policy has caused this problem, not mistakes—not mistakes by officials and not even mistakes by politicians. It is the direct imposition of policy that has caused this problem.
It is absolutely astonishing that people should be given bonuses for the number of people they can boot out of the country. It is disgusting. What has the United Kingdom come to? I may be a Scottish nationalist, but I also consider myself British, and there are many aspects of the UK—[Interruption.] Yes, I am. Actually, I am half Irish as well—thank God, because I am getting an Irish passport. I am not one of those people who says the UK has never done anything good, but, by God is this a smear on the UK’s reputation across the world.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister would not even speak to the heads of delegations from the Commonwealth about this issue; she thought she could get it swept under the carpet. Then she thought she could use the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye as her human shield. That did not work either. She thought she could come to the House this morning and get off the hook. Well, she is not off the hook. She needs to answer for the policies that have caused this problem.
We are hearing a lot today about how the Windrush generation will be sorted out. The previous Home Secretary gave us an undertaking that there would not be any more enforcement action against the Windrush generation. However, my question to the Home Secretary is this: if he cannot get the Windrush generation, which vulnerable group is he going to go after next to meet his targets?
Has the hon. and learned Lady seen the Financial Times today? There is an article about the test of English for international communication, which reveals that 35,000 people have had their status as students in this country revoked. In 20% of those cases, that was based on a system of voice recognition that has proved to be faulty. An estimated 7,000 Bangladeshi, Indian and other students, including my constituents, have been removed from this country, or are at the threat of removal at this moment, because of a policy introduced in 2014 by the then Home Secretary—now the Prime Minister.
The hon. Gentleman is describing the results of this policy. The Government and the Home Office have to go after low-hanging fruit. They went after the Windrush generation, but they have been called out on that and they are embarrassed—hence all the shouting, the spurious points of order and the attempts to shut us up for calling them out.
My hon. and learned Friend is making absolutely important points. This point about other vulnerable communities is hugely important, because more and more is coming to light. Does she agree that, in the light of the Windrush scandal, now is the opportunity for the UK Government to regularise the status of the Chagos islanders, who were forced off their land by the British state in the 1960s and 1970s? The second and third generations here are being denied British citizenship. This is an opportunity for the UK Government to put that injustice, along with so many others, right.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As I said earlier this week, and as I will be repeating this afternoon, what we need now is a root and branch review of the Prime Minister’s immigration policies, because they are not working—the Home Affairs Committee has heard evidence that they are not even working according to the Government’s own internal tenets.
The hon. and learned Lady is making a powerful case that the Prime Minister has many questions to answer. One of the key questions she needs to answer is, when was she told about the problems facing the Windrush generation? Was it when she was Home Secretary or Prime Minister? If it was when she was Home Secretary, she has many more questions to answer.
She does have many questions to answer. My hon. Friend Neil Gray, as he said in a point of order earlier, has laid down many written questions, which have yet to be answered. I suspect that the answers will be deeply embarrassing for the Government, and that is why those questions have not been answered.
I congratulate the official Opposition on having secured this debate on the Windrush scandal, but I make no apology for looking at the underlying reasons for it. I am afraid to say that they do not lie just with those on the Government Benches. There has been some unfortunate rhetoric from elements in the Labour party in the past. I realise that the Labour party is probably under new management now, and some of the new management had the gumption to vote with the SNP against the 2014 Immigration Bill. What I am trying to say is that a rather toxic rhetoric has grown up around immigration in both the Labour party and the Conservative party. It was, of course, Gordon Brown who famously spoke about British jobs for British workers, which the previous Home Secretary enthusiastically picked up on in a speech at the Tory party conference, promising tougher rules for foreign workers coming to Britain and taking our jobs. She suggested in an accompanying briefing that firms could be asked to publish lists of foreign workers. What kind of a union of nations are we becoming when it is seriously being contemplated that that sort of thing should happen?
The hon. and learned Lady is being very good in giving way. I agree with much of what she says, but she said that the Government “went after” the Windrush generation. The whole thing is a scandal, but would she accept and agree that nobody has deliberately gone after the Windrush generation? She is right about a culture—I will dwell on that in my speech—but nobody has deliberately gone after the Windrush generation.
I am sorry. Over recent months, I have found much about which the right hon. Lady and I can agree, but I cannot agree with her on that one. It was deliberate. There were targets; they were necessary to realise the Prime Minister’s policies. Until those on the Conservative Benches wake up to that fact and accept it, nothing will change.
As I said, the SNP position is that there should be a root-and-branch review of immigration policy and of the 2014 and 2016 Acts, and that review should be based on evidence—not on ideology and not on the need to blame somebody else for our problems. I say that because I have noticed since I have been a Member of this House that there is a tendency on the Government Benches to blame difficulties with public services in England and difficulties with the infrastructure in England on immigrants. In actual fact, the reasons—
No, I won’t give way. I want to finish my point—[Interruption.]
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier today I was shouted down in this House and I have received an overwhelming amount of messages from members of the public, and from some journalists, about how disgraceful that was. Many of them were not SNP supporters. I am very grateful to you for defending me.
My point is this: when somebody in England cannot find a home it is not because there are too many immigrants; it is because the Conservative party has not built any social housing. When somebody in England cannot get an NHS appointment or has to wait a ridiculously long time at accident and emergency, it is not the fault of immigrants; it is the fault of the Conservative party’s austerity policies. My goodness, earlier this week we heard that the Prime Minister would not even agree to pleas from her own Cabinet Ministers to let foreign doctors in to fill vacancies in the NHS. That is shocking.
That is a good try, but this is not something I thought up on the way into the Chamber. The toxic rhetoric around immigration in the United Kingdom is very well known. It is one of the reasons why there was a leave vote in 2016. Those on the Conservative Benches blamed immigrants rather than their austerity policies for the problems—[Interruption.]
I am calling for an evidence-based review of immigration policy. [Interruption.] I will very happily give evidence. [Interruption.] If I am allowed to speak, I will give Conservative Members some evidence. [Interruption.]
Order. There is clearly disagreement about a particular point. That is why we have debates. The way in which we deal with disagreement is that one person puts their point of view and then a few minutes later someone else puts their point of view, but everybody must be heard and have their turn.
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The evidence has been heard over a period of years by the Home Affairs Committee, the Exiting the European Union Committee, on which I sit, and the Scottish Affairs Committee. The weight of the evidence is that, in reality, immigrants are on average more likely to be in work, more likely to be better educated and more likely to be younger than the indigenous population. The overwhelming weight of the evidence heard by the Exiting the European Union Committee is that immigration is a net benefit to the United Kingdom. The director general of the CBI, no less—normally a great chum of those on the Conservative Benches—has called for an immigration policy that puts people first, not numbers. The CBI wants an evidence-based immigration policy, the Scottish Trades Union Council wants an evidence-based immigration policy and that is what the SNP wants.
In Scotland, historically our problem has been emigration—people leaving Scotland—rather than people coming into Scotland. By 2024—Madam Deputy Speaker, I guess we are both a part of the problem—the Scottish population is projected to grow by just 3.9%, as opposed to 7.5% in England. Some 90% of population growth in Scotland is projected to come from immigration. The time has come, in this review of immigration policy, to look seriously at the devolution of at least some powers over immigration to the Scottish Parliament, and to the English regions and Wales, to recognise the different requirements across the United Kingdom.
I know that these days we are, particularly those on the Conservative Benches, terribly inward-looking, but if we look outwards—
No, I will not give way. I am going to continue my point.
Canada, where its provinces have different immigration policies, is a shining example of what can be done in a federation. Conservative Members should leave England—if it will not turn them into a pumpkin—and go and have a wee look at what happens elsewhere in the world.
I am calling for the Home Secretary to do things differently from how they have been done before. He said that he does not want to use the phrase “hostile environment” any longer and I have heard people talking about a compliant environment. I would say to him that it is not the language that we need to change—although that would help—it is the underlying policies that need to change. We need an immigration policy that works for the whole of the UK, taking into account national and regional differences. We need an immigration policy that works to the benefit of the economy and to the benefit of society.
We have heard a lot of Conservative Members challenge the Labour party, the SNP and other Opposition parties by saying, “What would you do about illegal immigration?” What I would say is that every country has to have a sensible system of immigration control, but it needs to operate in line with the law, it needs to be just and fair, it needs to be human rights compliant and it needs to take cognisance of the rule of law. We do not have a system like that in the UK at the moment.
Any Member who holds constituency surgeries can provide examples of constituents who have been treated unfairly by the Home Office. The auditor has pointed out that the Home Office makes an awful lot of mistakes: it is a very poor performing Government Department. We know that 50% of appeals are successful. We also know that, thanks to the Prime Minister, most people are bounced out of the country before they can actually make an appeal. To my mind, that is contrary to the rule of law.
The problem is that we have a system that has elided the difference between legal and illegal immigration. We have constituents who come to our surgeries whose husbands and wives are not able to remain in the United Kingdom. My constituency has a Kurdish community centre. I have numerous examples of members of the Kurdish nation—people who have stood by Britain, fought alongside the British Army, worked as interpreters and so on—who came here expecting to receive a welcome but have been treated as illegals. There is something wrong with our policy and I am not afraid to say that I think it is morally wrong.
United Kingdom immigration policy has gone off the tracks. We need to acknowledge our mistake and introduce an evidence-based ethical immigration policy. Conservative Members shout about evidence and examples. There is a huge weight of evidence that a devolved differential system of immigration could work across the United Kingdom. That evidence has been given to the Scottish Affairs Committee and, in very detailed submissions, by my colleagues in the Scottish Government to the Migration Advisory Committee.
Let us have the guts to admit that the Windrush scandal is not just a mistake or an aberration. It is the result of policies that are wrong. Let us change the names of those policies, let us change the policies and let us have an apology from the Prime Minister.
I begin by putting on record how proud I am, as the son of economic immigrants, to welcome to the post of Home Secretary my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid, another son of economic immigrants. It is testament to the Conservative party, is it not, that only it would allow a Scots-Italian to be the Member of Parliament for South Leicestershire and a British Pakistani to become the Home Secretary? This demonstrates clearly that the Conservative party believes only in meritocracy and nothing else in terms of how one should serve the public.
Like many others in the House, I welcome the change in tone and approach that my right hon. Friend has taken in his brief time as Home Secretary. Recent events demonstrate the need for a human face as to how our immigration system works, as well as the need for exercising greater judgment when and where it is justified, and I firmly believe that the Secretary of State fits that profile well. As such, I very much look forward to working closely with him on the Government side of the House.
As we are aware, the Windrush generation, like many of us, have built their lives here and had their families here, and most importantly, this is their country and home. To that end, I very much welcome the steps that the Government have taken on this matter, but as ever—as with most issues—there is of course more to be done. In accepting that the state has let these good people down, we have to ensure not only that we build through the first steps that my right hon. Friend outlined, but that we continue to build bridges and repair relationships for the Windrush generation.
I am pleased that the Home Secretary has recognised that when people have suffered loss, they will be appropriately compensated. As a former lawyer in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, I had the privilege of representing previous Home Secretaries, and I am all too aware of the litigious actions, some of which are entirely justified, that are brought against them in terms of unlawful detention and similar issues. I strongly encourage the Immigration Minister, who I am sure has already done so, to speak to colleagues in the Government Legal Department and ensure that the appropriate teams are in place to help those from the Windrush generation to obtain appropriate compensation, as outlined by the Home Secretary.
I especially welcome the setting up of a dedicated team to work with Government Departments, such as HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions. I understand that this new team will include a dedicated point of contact and will aim to resolve most cases within two weeks. This is indeed welcome news. I am also pleased that the Home Office has recognised the circumstances in which some former Commonwealth citizens have been wrongly subjected to removal and detention. Of course that is entirely unacceptable, but I am satisfied by the Home Secretary’s comments that departmental processes will be amended accordingly to ensure that this or similar situations never happen again.
I turn briefly to the situation of EU nationals, because it is important for the Home Office to recognise one administrative problem with processes that we would not want to develop. There is an oddity for children of EU nationals born in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2006, in that they have to await their parents obtaining permanent residency in order to naturalise. I know that the Immigration Minister is looking carefully at the new settled status rules, but I ask her to look carefully at that issue to ensure that the Home Office adopts the right culture so that the documentation required for that category of EU nationals is appropriately obtained, with minimal delay and minimal inconvenience to them.
In closing, it is especially welcome to hear the Secretary of State’s assurances that the Windrush generation affected, who have given so much to our country, will be able to acquire their deserved legal status at no cost in an efficient and quick manner. Similarly and equally importantly, I am pleased that the children of the Windrush generation, who in most cases are already British citizens, will also be able to naturalise at no further cost, further enshrining the rights of the Windrush generation for years to come.
I welcome the speech by Alberto Costa, who raised important, detailed and thoughtful points.
We have heard too many heartbreaking stories and about too many deep injustices—of people told they were not legal despite being British citizens, who have been made to feel unwelcome in their own country despite having worked here, lived here and loved here, very often for most of their lives and for longer than many of us in here have been alive; of people locked up wrongfully by the British state in their own country; of people such as the pensioner I heard from who said his experience of simply trying to renew his passport had been so painful and brought back difficult memories of racism he had experienced as a child.
Many from the Windrush generation have told their own stories, and we should pay tribute to them for having the bravery to do so, even when, as some told me, they felt a sense of shame as a result. The Windrush families are not the ones who should feel shame. As my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy rightly said, this issue has brought a sense of national shame, and we must all now be determined to put it right. I welcome the new Home Secretary’s promise “to do right” by the Windrush generation. My right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who has been passionately pursuing this cause, is right that the Government will be judged on their actions rather than their words. We will need to see the progress of the taskforce, which the Home Affairs Select Committee will monitor.
The motion refers to documents being sent to the Select Committee. As with similar motions that have referred documents to other Committees, we have not instigated this call; nor have we had the chance to discuss or take a view on the motion, and we would of course decide how to respond. The motion itself is obviously a matter for the House, but we will continue to pursue our own questions as well.
The right hon. Lady served with distinction in former Administrations. Does she share my concern that this is a very wide-ranging motion? It lists papers provided to Ministers covering a huge area of policy. It appears to cover minutes of a Cabinet Sub-Committee and discussions about our relationships with other independent states. It is a very wide-ranging resolution and goes well beyond what the mover of the motion set out as information she required. What are the right hon. Lady’s thoughts on that as a former Minister advised by civil servants?
I am going to repeat what I said: our Select Committee has not had a chance to discuss this, but clearly we would be the recipients of the papers, if the motion were agreed to. It is for the House to debate the motion and for the Select Committee to decide how to respond, which we would do responsibly, as other Select Committees have done.
The right hon. Lady and I both serve on the Home Affairs Select Committee. Does she share my concerns about the Labour motion? As Chair of the Committee, she has requested significant information on our behalf from the previous and current Home Secretaries, which will be forthcoming, so I wonder why Labour is asking for even more. Did the Labour Front-Bench team discuss with her what information she had requested on the Committee’s behalf before tabling the motion?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we have requested a huge amount of information, and we will continue to do so, because we must continue our work on the Select Committee, which is separate from any decision the House makes. As he also makes clear, individual Committee members may take different views in this debate.
I want to pursue some important issues around the Windrush scandal. The Select Committee wants to know about the review the Home Secretary has announced. Who will it be done by? I would have concerns were it to be done by a Home Office official, given the concerns and questions raised by the targets and bonuses, which might have involved even the most senior of Home Office officials. We look forward to receiving more information on that, as well as on how the taskforce will respond, on the legal framework that will now cover the Windrush generation, on the compensation framework, and on other matters too.
I am concerned about our conflating the debate on the Windrush generation with the wider questions of illegal immigration. We all agree, I think, that the Windrush generation are here legally—they are British citizens. I also question the idea that the only problem is with a group of people who, because they did not get the right papers in 1973, have inadvertently ended up in the illegal immigration system, rather than the legal immigration system; there are, I believe, wider issues, based on evidence we have taken. The problem is that the immigration system does not have a good enough process for resolving who is here legally and who is here illegally. It is a system that makes too many mistakes, as has been highlighted in our Committee reports, in the inspectorate’s reports, and in our recommendations. The problem is that when people do not fit into the boxes, the system does not help them. Too often, its spits them out. As we said in one of our recent reports,
“urgent action is needed to address errors in the enforcement process.”
I hope that the Home Office will respond to our recommendations.
In cases in which appeals are still in place, half of them go against the Government because the Home Office has got it wrong, but in many cases there are no safeguards, independent checks or appeals. We heard last week that when people apply for “no time limit”, as many of the Windrush families may have done, there is no way of appealing if the system gets things wrong, even if it is the Home Office that has screwed up or there has been some other error in the system.
We also know that there are problems with the burden of proof. A letter from a Home Office Minister explained that Mr Trevor Johnson’s application had been turned down because
“He has…been unable to demonstrate that he has been continuously resident in the UK for the years 1989 to 1990, 1994 to 1995 and 1997 to 1998.”
That means that he had provided proof of his residence for the remaining 45 years, but not for those three years. I could not give four pieces of proof of where I was in 1989 or 1994. I hope that the Home Secretary will now address that issue of the burden of proof.
The system is also terribly complicated, and no legal aid is available. It is impossible for those who struggle with literacy or mental health problems to navigate. It is also hugely expensive, and too often penalises people for simple mistakes. It was reported in The Daily Telegraph today that 600 highly skilled doctors, engineers and IT professionals who may have been here for many years are being denied leave to remain because of minor errors in their tax returns. I hope the Home Office will take that up, because it obviously extends beyond the Windrush generation.
There are also the questions about targets and the way in which they have operated. All Departments have targets, such as key performance indicators, but the problem in this instance is the absence of safeguards or independent checks to prevent the targets from distorting individual decisions. That is how injustices arise. Underlying all this has been the overall net migration target, which our Committee’s report recommended should be replaced. It includes emigration as well as immigration, it includes people who are here legally as well as those who are here illegally, and it gives the Home Office as a whole an incentive to encourage people to leave whether they are here legally or not.
If something is to come out of this awful case, it must be this: we value and support the commitment of the Windrush generation, but we must also look much more widely throughout the immigration system at the things going wrong. An immigration system is crucial to any country’s national identity. We believe that we are a fair country and a humane country, and we must ensure that those values are part of our immigration system.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow Yvette Cooper. I agreed with everything she said. I will not be voting for the motion, for what I suggest to the House is a very good reason. Under the stewardship and chairmanship of the right hon. Lady, we can be absolutely certain that there will be exactly the sort of full inquiry that should take place, with a proper request for the disclosure of documents that will be relevant to that inquiry.
This is a fishing expedition the likes of which I have never seen before. It extends much too far. I was a Minister in three Departments, and I know that it is imperative for civil servants to be able to give robust, open advice to Ministers which would not be shared with others because of its nature. It is also important for Ministers to be able to exchange texts—and we should dig deep into the text in the motion to see the full extent of what would be disclosed, including texts between Ministers and Secretaries of State. That would be ludicrous and it would be bad for government.
I share absolutely my right hon. Friend’s concerns about what this does in terms of the relationship between Ministers and civil servants. Does she share my concern that when this information—policy advice—is put out into the public domain those very civil servants who have done their best to serve Ministers have no means to defend themselves in public and to explain what they were intending?
Absolutely, and it is imperative that we remember that, with very few, if any, exceptions, civil servants are some of the most outstanding workers in our country. It is too easy to slag them off but we should remember not only their quality, but the fact that often they cannot speak out and defend themselves. Therefore, I agree with my right hon. Friend Justine Greening that the Opposition motion really is not good enough. It is about process and procedure and it does not see people. That is what I want to address my comments to.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford was absolutely right when she said that the Windrush scandal has brought great shame on our nation, but some good has come out of this terrible episode in our country’s history. People are now at last seeing immigrants as people—as people just like them. They are neighbours. They are people who have come to our country to work and to do the right things. They have often worked in the most outstandingly contributing jobs in our economy and society. They are just like everybody else. They are not numbers; they are real human beings. I think we are already beginning to see a change in some of the opinion polls: thankfully, immigration is now going down the list of priorities as people realise that it is not some corrosive problem, but is actually a wonderful, beneficial thing that has occurred in our country for centuries.
The Opposition should have used this opportunity today to talk about the positive benefits that immigration has brought to our country over centuries. Opinion is shifting. My right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin was on the television and radio the other night saying very openly and bluntly that for too long in my party we have not talked about the positive benefits of immigration. I will go further and say that that has occurred in both our main parties: for too long we have shovelled this away and not talked about it, or we have kowtowed to people when we should not have done and we should have stood up for immigration and all the huge benefits it conveys.
I want to say to hon. Members in the Labour party and in the SNP—I have a lot of time for Joanna Cherry—something about the level of offence. I apologise for being cross and angry sitting on these Back Benches, but I do get cross and I do get angry at some of the comments and slurs that have been made. The idea that there are people on these Benches who have done the wrong thing and said the wrong thing—of course there will always be people who do not always get the right argument, but it is wrong to cast that aspersion. Laura Pidcock shakes her head, but she should tread very carefully. I am old enough to remember as a Conservative being a proud member of the Anti-Nazi League, going on the streets—[Interruption.] She can listen for once. I remember going on the streets of Birmingham and standing shoulder to shoulder—
In a moment; I always give way to the hon. Lady.
I remember standing proudly with members of all political parties, every shade of Trotskyist, communist, broad left, far left, liberals and other Tories. The huge change that has happened in our society is that members of the hard left who shout from sedentary positions have forgotten all that and engage at the level of tribalism on issues that should unite us. That does them and our country a great disservice.
I want to bring the right hon. Lady back to today’s debate and read to her from a message that the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has placed in my inbox:
“Nothing that the government has announced today in parliament will address the root causes of the Windrush scandal—namely the ‘hostile environment’ policy. Hostility is still very much in play, the government still plans to roll Right to Rent out further to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
I really do respect the right hon. Lady, but may I suggest to her that she should understand why we are pressing for a vote tonight and join us in the Lobby to tell her Government how she truly feels?
I thank the hon. Lady, but that is not what this motion addresses. It is a bureaucratic, procedural thing. If it had espoused her very good arguments, I would not have any trouble with it, because I want to see change and I absolutely agree with her.
I have been saying to the House for I do not know how long since the Windrush scandal broke that the problem runs deep into the policy. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, who chairs the Select Committee, made the point that the policy basically sees everybody as an illegal immigrant. The default position is that people have to prove they are here legally. This shift in responsibility—this shift in the onus of proof—is anti-British and fundamentally wrong. I said the other day that we should perhaps go back to a system in which the state had to prove that a person had no right to be here. There might be an in-between way, but it cannot be right to have a system in which someone has to prove that they are who they say they are, when they have been here for decades and have a right to be here. That burden of proof must fall on the state. We are certainly seeing a shift in attitude, and I agree that we now need to see a shift in policy.
I am grateful that, just like his predecessor, the Home Secretary has assured us that the Home Office will from now on see people as people, it will not treat them as numbers and it will not see immigration as a problem. I have mentioned the need to shift the onus of proof. I have been saying for a long time that there is a problem, with too many officials having a default position of simply saying no. That has to change. If we are to have a fair and right system of immigration, we need to ensure that discretion and common sense run through the whole culture, from the top right down to the very bottom of the Home Office, in all its work. Also, if I may respectfully suggest this, we need to look at some of the solicitors who deal with immigration cases. I have my own concerns about the level of competence of some of those solicitors, and about the advice they give and the fees they charge.
We should scrap the ambition of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands. Actually, the market controls immigration. People come here to work, and if we do not have the jobs available, they will not come. We need to take students out of the targets—that has been ridiculous—and we need an immigration policy that meets the needs of British business as we leave the European Union. I want an assurance, please, that the Home Office has the people and the resources to ensure that the Windrush scandal does not extend to anyone else, and especially not to European Union citizens.
Thank you for the warning, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to follow a former member of the Anti-Nazi League. I have always thought that Anna Soubry was a bit of a closet pinko; she obviously needs to be looked into by the Conservative Chief Whip. I should like to congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on bringing a proper level of scrutiny to bear on this issue, including the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper.
In particular, I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, who really kick-started this and brought the issue out into the public spotlight. I should like to point out that his predecessor was Bernie Grant, who was a friend of mine. He came here from Guyana—it was British Guyana when he was there—with his head held high, proud of where he came from and proud of where he was going. That is the whole point about this scandal. People like Bernie are now being threatened with deportation. I say “people like Bernie” because he cannot be threatened with deportation; sadly, he passed away some years ago.
I am dealing with between 30 and 40 cases in my constituency. I have a big Windrush community. As a proportion, I am dealing with a very large number of cases. These are people who have been threatened with deportation, and I will give two brief examples. The first is a woman, and she is a classic Windrush baby case. She came to Britain as a baby in the 1960s, and she cannot remember Jamaica, which is where she was born. She has a broad east London accent, and it is pretty obvious that she is as quintessentially British and a Londoner as anyone else, yet when she went to apply for a passport for the first time in her life, having brought up a family and worked here for all these years, she was told not only that she could not have a passport but that she was going to be deported back to Jamaica. As she said, it is a country that she cannot remember.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. A constituent of mine who came to Britain as a child in 1972 was recently detained upon his return from Jamaica after visiting his father, who has dementia. He told me about his humiliation and that he has had no recourse to public funds since then. He now cannot visit his father again for fear of being detained. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a travesty and that my constituent, along with his, should be afforded the same rights as every other British citizen without further delay?
Of course, I agree.
My second example is more unusual and involves a woman who came from Jamaica when she was a baby. She was abandoned by her parents and grew up in a nunnery, which—Members can tell what is coming—was closed down and demolished after she left, and its records were lost. Again, this is somebody with a broad east London accent. She is quintessentially British and has the right to stay here, but she was told, after she had been through all that, “We’re going to deport you.” That is the sort of culture that we are dealing with at the Home Office, and I suspect that it goes across Government, which I will come to in a minute.
I actually agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are aspects of this case that are deeply concerning, and I hope that the Government learn from it. May I suggest that, at the end of the day, we have to protect Government records and civil servants’ advice to Governments to ensure that civil servants can give advice with candour? Given that we will have an inquiry, which we all hope will go to the heart of the matter, we should look to it to take the issue back to where it began, which was before 2010.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the inquiry, but this is an issue of transparency. He and I agree about an awful lot of things, but we are on opposite sides of the fence here. The documents should be put in the public domain. We can redact certain things, such as civil servants’ names, but the names of elected people should not be redacted.
Both the cases that I mentioned earlier resulted in victories, but I am dealing with many other cases. Over the past two or three years—this goes back a long way—I have spent an awful lot of time writing to schools, former employers, colleges, the police and in one case I even had to write to the Army to try to check the records to prove that people who had every right to be here could assume that right.
This country has close ties with the Caribbean and with other Commonwealth countries, and we should bear in mind that this debate will be watched across the Commonwealth. Thousands of people will be watching us in countries such as Jamaica, India and Pakistan. Those close ties with the Commonwealth, and with the Caribbean in particular, have their roots in an appalling institution: the empire. It was built on piracy and slavery, but nevertheless the one good thing to come out of that poisonous institution was the Commonwealth, which has always given relatively small countries, often with little political and economic clout, a platform for their voices to be heard, particularly here and particularly at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.
After the war, a series of Governments in this country and in others worked to foster the bonds with the Commonwealth, but those bonds have now been loosened. It is not simply that communities in this country have been given cause to fear what might happen, which is bad enough; we have also undermined relationships with countries across the globe. I never thought I would see the Prime Minister of Jamaica standing in Downing Street, expressing his dismay at the British Government and their policies. That goes way beyond what any previous Jamaican Prime Minister has said, and previous Prime Ministers were fairly critical—I am thinking of Michael Manley and his father Norman Manley. Nobody has expressed such sentiments in the heart of the capital. This Government’s job now is to rebuild links with the affected communities and reassure them that they are safe and not under threat. The Government also need—this includes the Foreign Office—to rebuild links with the Commonwealth countries that have had their faith in Britain shattered.
This is a timely and serious debate. We have to acknowledge that the Windrush scandal is a scandal, and we have to acknowledge that mistakes were made. The Government have not been shown in a very good light.
There have been some excellent speeches by Members on both sides of the House, and it is right that we look dispassionately at the issue of immigration. This is not an immigration debate, and very few people on either side of the House would question the fact that immigration is of great benefit to the United Kingdom. My parents both emigrated from a Commonwealth country in the early 1960s, and they are at the centre of what this debate is about.
John Cryer mentioned some harrowing individual cases, and I have heard of other cases, not of constituents but of people in other parts of the capital. I have seen that this has caused a lot of heartache, and it is a very serious issue.
I feel, and many people feel, that the way this issue has been politicised is regrettable. There is a suspicion that not the entire Labour party—many Labour Members have been very honest, capable and sincere in their approach to this problem—but a number of people have tried to score political points on a national scandal. I say that because I cannot remember an occasion during my eight years in the House on which both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have issued full apologies for the treatment of British citizens—I cannot remember that happening.
Forgive me, but can I make a little progress?
With respect to the intervention by Marsha De Cordova, not only did the former Home Secretary apologise but she resigned over the issue. That is a significant event. It is rare in our politics today that Ministers pay the ultimate price and resign, and that is what has happened.
There is a great deal of contrition, and there have been apologies. Not only that, but a helpline has been put in place to make it as easy as possible for people to find the right documentation. We have also heard about a policy to compensate people who have suffered the excesses of the Home Office. There has been plenty of policy and plenty of speeches, announcements and contrition on the part of the governing party.
I am not suggesting that every Labour Member is exploiting this issue for political ends—I do not believe that at all. I have heard many compelling and sincere speeches, but there is a suspicion that one or two Labour Members are doing so.
I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points about contrition and about the resignation of the former Home Secretary, but surely the issue is the underlying immigration policies—the hostile environment. Can he enlighten us as to whether he and his Back-Bench colleagues challenged some of those policies? He is a Conservative Member and his party is in government. What did he and his colleagues do? I am sure that, like the rest of us, his mailbox is full of constituency cases of people who are being treated in a hostile manner.
It is no secret that the issue of immigration has been a matter of huge debate within the Conservative party. There is a wide range of opinions on the issue on the Government side of the House, just as there is on the Opposition side of the House. It is an issue on which both sides of the House are divided. Some Government Members want a very open, comprehensive, almost laissez-faire approach to immigration; others want to be more restrictive.
It should be put on the record that many of us who were elected in 2010, with the change of government, noticed that under the previous Government there had also been big problems in the Home Office in getting on and doing the right thing in relation to all manner of things—visas, applications and so on. This was nothing new under the Conservative Government.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Both sides of the House were complicit in this issue. Members have mentioned the Labour Government and a former Labour Prime Minister who suggested that British jobs should be restricted to British workers. If he had been a Conservative Prime Minister, that comment would have caused outrage and would have been widely regarded as a disgraceful comment. That was the environment in which many of us operated when we were elected in 2010. All of us have to take some degree of responsibility for this.
In my closing remarks, I want to talk about something that has been mentioned: the issue of illegal immigration. Many Opposition Members have suggested that Conservative Members were trying to conflate illegal immigration with legal immigration. We were doing the opposite; everyone said, categorically, that the Windrush generation had an incontestable right to stay in Britain, as they are British. No one on this side of the House has ever questioned their legal status. What we have said is that we have to have a strong policy on illegal immigration—after all, it is against the law. It is a principal job of Government to uphold the law, so any Government, of whatever stripe, would have to have robust and strong policies to counter illegal immigration. People should not be embarrassed about that, as we are talking about the job of Government. Many millions of people who live in this country—probably the vast majority of our constituents—would expect a rule-based system to regulate how one comes into the country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those with some of the loudest and most articulate voices in favour of a robust and fair approach are people who have come to this country and played by the rules in the first place?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I suggest we take a much more rounded approach to the issue. There is blame on both sides. I cannot condone what my Government have done in the past on Windrush, and I sincerely hope and pray that our performance is much better on this issue in the future, because the Government will ultimately be judged on how we resolve it. The whole country, like others across the world in the Commonwealth, is looking at us, and we have to acquit ourselves with dignity and competence.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this incredibly important debate. A lot has been said today and over the past week or so about this scandal, but I still feel that there are not words strong enough to describe how awful, appalling, heartbreaking and profoundly un-British this whole scandal has been. I associate myself with all the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary in her opening speech. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and, in particular, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy on the tremendous work they have done on bringing this issue to light.
This is a horrendous, horrible moment, not just for the Windrush generation and their children but for all of us in our collective national life, and it will have an enduring legacy. If we choose, and if the Government listen, it could be a positive legacy that helps us move forward in a way that is in the best of our British traditions of fairness, decency and a desire to do the right thing. In that context, I say to Home Office Ministers that they should take heed of our motion and simply release the paperwork. If there is an issue as to how extensive the wording of the motion is, they should work with either the shadow Front-Bench team or the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee to come to a wording that is acceptable and to bring forward the disinfectant that is sunlight.
I do not think the hon. Lady understands the import of the motion. If the motion is passed, the papers are required to be given; it is a resolution of the House. Then the Government would have to comply, I presume, with the orders of the Humble Address. It is not an invitation to treat or an invitation to discuss.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but as we all know in this place, there are always the usual channels for discussions to be had, and if there was ever a moment for the usual channels and for discussions to be had, I would say that in resolving this most important national matter, this would be the time. It is open to the Government at any point to work with those of us who want the paperwork released, so that we can get to the bottom of what happened and truly learn lessons, and move forward in a way that would honour the Windrush generation and put right what they have suffered. That is what needs to happen.
I welcome the move today to provide legal certainty about how the Windrush generation will be treated in their future applications, but I ask Home Office Ministers to consider giving those citizens access to legal aid and good-quality legal advice as they try to regularise their status. I say that because the absence of legal aid has pushed people towards rapacious and terrible solicitors who give bad advice, and because simply saying, “We have put this on a legal footing and now you can trust the Home Office” is not enough for people who are still too scared to come forward. The Government have lost the trust of a generation. I know people who, despite my personal assurances, are still too afraid to come forward. A simple legal and legislative change will not be enough. They need access to independent legal advice, and they need financial help for the purpose.
I shall make a couple of general remarks on illegal immigration. Some Conservative Members attempted to ask the Opposition, “What would you do about illegal immigration?” We dishonour the Windrush generation if we make this a debate about illegal immigration, and if we miss the point about the culture of disbelief that fuels the hostile environment, which, as the scandal has shown, sits at the heart of what has happened. It is that culture of disbelief that renders British citizens and British nationals as if they were not just immigrants but illegal too. It visits upon them the ignominy and humiliation of being deemed illegal in their own land. That assumption, which is made at the heart of our system, does not simply go after illegal immigrants; as we have said, it goes after those of us who look like we could be immigrants. We have talked a lot about illegal immigration sitting at the heart of this debate, but what we are not talking about so much is race.
I say to hon. Members who do not quite understand how these policies impact on their fellow citizens and their fellow British nationals: try making an application to the Home Office while having a name that is demonstrably African in origin. Try making an application, as a British national, to the Home Office with a name that is demonstrably south Asian in origin. I promise that the protection of a British passport will not help one little bit. People will have visited upon them casual humiliation upon humiliation. The system will treat them as if they were dirt on the bottom of its shoe, and that is not good enough.
That happens to British nationals on a daily basis when they apply for visitor visas or spousal visas. If they can get past the income threshold and prove the legitimacy of their love for somebody they fallen in love with and married, the system still makes them take a DNA test to prove that a child who might have been born while they visited their foreign-based spouse is in fact their child. That is not acceptable in 21st-century Britain. I say to Government Members: do not be complacent about what your system is doing on a daily basis to people that have the protection of a British passport. If you are in any doubt, come to see me in my constituency, which is 70% non-white. I have one of the highest immigration caseloads in this country and I see this daily. If you have illusions about this, I suggest that you disabuse yourselves of them straightaway.
This is a moment of national truth—of clarity. It is a moment when we can make a choice to have a better debate about immigration. It is a moment that we must not allow to be missed. We will honour the Windrush generation if we move forward in a way that is humane, that is compassionate, and that acknowledges the truth of the failures at the heart of our system and seeks to put them right.
It is a great pleasure to follow Shabana Mahmood, my fellow marathon runner. My remarks will share in the sentiment of the early part of hers, because I come at this debate considering myself very lucky to have grown up in a diverse community. In Wellingborough, I grew up with Afro-Caribbean families. I grew up with Asian families. They have played a huge part in our community; they have contributed so much. They are absolutely British, and they are here legally; let us be in no doubt about that.
I take great offence at any suggestion that not all Members of the House are concerned about this issue or that not all Members of the House take the matter incredibly seriously or want it resolved as quickly as possible. I do not think that anybody would say that something has not gone seriously wrong here—it is impossible to deny that something has gone seriously wrong—but I agree with my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry that nobody has set about deliberately targeting the Windrush generation. Again, it is wrong to give the impression that that is the case, and I take issue with it.
It is right, therefore, that a full and frank apology is made, and we have seen a full and frank apology made on numerous occasions. What matters more than any of that, though, is action. This is about speedy action being taken, which is why I welcome the package of measures announced by Ministers in recent days, because they are comprehensive.
Having had constituents contact me who are concerned that they have been affected by this issue, my experience as a constituency MP is that they have been dealt with thoroughly and speedily to reach a resolution in their case. I have seen a system that has been put in place being responsive to dealing with these cases. Of course, this should never have happened, but these cases have been dealt with in a way that I would like them to be dealt with, and dealt with properly. I do not want anybody to be worrying about this for any longer than is necessary.
When the statement was made last week, I pushed the former Home Secretary on the two-week target. She was confident that it would hold, which is really important. I will certainly be monitoring progress against that.
I also welcome what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had to say today about the new measures around transparency that he is going to introduce. I welcome the fact that the Home Affairs Committee is going to be getting the information that it has requested, and when we look at my right hon. Friend’s record, certainly in dealing with the Grenfell issue, we can see that he has been incredibly sympathetic, incredibly thorough and always incredibly forthcoming in dealing with the issues—not just those raised by Members of the House, but those raised by the survivors. That is absolutely right, and I know that he will pursue this with vigour, robustly and thoroughly.
The truth is that the motion will do absolutely nothing to help any of that. This is a procedural motion. I wanted to intervene on Ms Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary, to make the point that if we are serious about this, why refer to the date May 2010? The fact that certain policies were enacted under the last Labour Government has been well documented in the media, so why are Labour Members not interested in getting to grips with the information from before that date? It would have been a much more genuine attempt had that been the case.
That is exactly the point that I was trying to make. This is quite obviously a fishing exercise between certain chosen dates, and I have to say that if Labour Members were honestly trying to get to the truth, they would be looking at the whole number of dates covered by this policy.
I agree with that analysis, and the approach that has been adopted is disappointing. It seems to me that Ministers are thoroughly engaging with the Home Affairs Committee anyway, and were engaging properly with the Committee before the motion was even tabled.
I want to touch on immigration policy and will start by saying that, of course—I have made this point previously and I make it again—the Windrush generation and members of that generation should never, ever have been caught up in the measures that have, in the end, affected them. I come at the issue of immigration policy as someone who campaigned in the referendum to leave and as someone who, yes, wants to see control, but also wants fairness in our immigration policy. I think fairness is the more important point.
If we asked my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire, they would say that a common-sense immigration policy is one that treats people equally, regardless of where they come from in the world, and treats people the same whether they come from the Caribbean, the subcontinent or the European Union. That is where I would like to get to at the end of this Brexit process. That is the immigration policy that I would like to see, obviously with a big consideration of the skills that are required in our economy as part of it.
But let me also say that we have to deal with illegal immigration robustly and properly. Of course we have to deal with it humanely and speedily, but the main reason we have to deal with it thoroughly, properly and robustly is that if we do not do so, it penalises those who come here legally, follow the rules and go through the right route.
To my mind, we must, first and foremost, put right what has gone wrong—no ifs, no buts. As one House, we should all be united in that resolve.
At its heart this motion is about the hostile environment, and that is why so many of us are here this afternoon. The Home Secretary has committed himself to a “fair and humane” immigration policy. In my view, it is not possible to have a fair and humane immigration policy alongside the hostile environment. That is a paradox and a total contradiction in terms. He has said that he wants to move from a hostile environment to a compliant environment. Let us think about what compliant means.
Compliant means to obey rules to an excessive degree. Compliant means the action or fact of complying with a command. I say to the new Home Secretary: has he forgotten our history? I remind the House that I am here because you were there. I say “you” metaphorically. The Windrush generation are here because of slavery. The Windrush story is the story of British empire. And the Windrush community and its ancestors know what hostile and compliance mean. We know what compliance means. It is written deep into our souls and passed down from our ancestors. Slaves having to nod and smile when they were being whipped in a cotton field or a sugar cane field were compliant. Watching your partner being tied to a tree, beaten or raped on a plantation is compliance. Twelve million people being transported as slaves from Africa to the colonies is a compliant environment.
I will not.
Windrush citizens being abused, spat on and assaulted in the street but never once fighting back was a compliant environment. Black Britons being racially abused at work but never speaking up because they need to put food on the table know all about a compliant environment. Turning the other cheek when the National Front were marching through our streets was a compliant environment. Young black men being stopped and searched by the police, despite committing no crime and living in fear of the police, know what it is like to be in a compliant environment. And thank God that Doreen Lawrence defied that compliant environment.
As my right hon. Friend says, the terminology does not help. Does he agree that we also need a change of policy to get to the root causes of why this happened in the first place and to prevent it from happening again?
My hon. Friend is exactly right.
I want to make it absolutely clear that it is my view that this belief about a compliant environment goes all the way back to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. This Parliament provided compensation, worth £17 billion today and paid for by the British taxpayer, to the 46,000 British slave owners for the loss of their property. The slaves got nothing. And now their descendants are being shackled and chained, dragged on to deportation flights and sent back across the same ocean that Britain took their ancestors from in slave ships centuries ago.
As ever, my right hon. Friend is speaking with incredible words, as did my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood. Was my right hon. Friend as shocked as I was yesterday to hear the new Home Secretary say that he was not aware of any cases of wrongful deportation? Many such cases have been raised in public, let alone the incidents of wrongful detention. I have a letter here from the Home Office that admits that one of my own constituents—a British citizen—was wrongfully deported. Is he surprised by that?
I am staggered by it because there are thousands of people in the Caribbean who have lost their jobs and livelihoods, and are desperate to get back to their loved ones. But we still have no numbers from this Government.
I stood in this place five years ago and warned about the impact of the hostile environment. I told the then Home Secretary that her Bill was a stain on our democracy. In recent weeks, we have seen how the Windrush scandal has become a stain on our democracy and on our national conscience. I warned about the impact of a policy that would take us back to the days of “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs.” I stood in this place five years ago and read from Magna Carta, the foundation of our democracy, which says:
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled…nor will we proceed with force against him…except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”
Yesterday, in a Committee Room in the Palace of Westminster, we heard testimony from British citizens who have been seized and imprisoned, who have been stripped of their rights, who have been outlawed or exiled, and who have been treated like criminals in their own country. So I ask the Minister: how many more Windrush scandals do we need before this hostile environment, or indeed compliant environment, is scrapped? How many more injustices? How many more lives ruined? Because I will be back here in five years’ time if we continue down this road to great injustices in our own country.
In recent weeks, we have seen so many Government Ministers and Members of the House talk about the issue of illegal immigration, conflating illegal immigration and the Windrush crisis. This is symptomatic of the hostile environment and its corrosive impact. What we have seen in this House, with Members standing up to talk about illegal immigration, is a perfect metaphor for the hostile environment and how it works: a blurring of the lines between people who are here legally and illegal immigrants, scapegoating innocent people, and blaming immigrants for the failures of successive Governments. Toxic anti-immigrant rhetoric created the demand for the hostile environment. Then we got a divisive policy handed down by our current Prime Minister, pandering to prejudice and aided and abetted by a hateful dog whistle emanating from our tabloid press. This was all reinforced by politicians too craven to speak the truth about immigration and too cowardly to stand up for the rights of minorities. Conservative Members want to lecture us about illegal immigration. The hostile environment is not about illegal immigration. The hostile environment is about raising questions about the status of anybody who looks like they could be an immigrant. It is about treating anybody who looks like they could be an immigrant as if they are a criminal.
Where does the hostile environment get us to? Let me tell you. It leads to cases in my own constituency of people being dragged out of their homes, going to Yarl’s Wood, and not able to do midwifery exams. It leads to people losing their jobs and their livelihoods. So I say to Conservative Members and Members across this House, on behalf of the Windrush generation: keep in mind that spiritual and let freedom reign. It will only reign when this country turns back from the path it is on, ends the compliant environment in which I know my place, and starts along a humane path that has at its heart human rights. [Applause.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman has made a terrifically rhetorical speech and he deserves to be congratulated, but not by clapping. Could the House just say “Hear, hear”?
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I would like to address the motion on the Order Paper, because that is what we are here to talk about. Would that Yvette Cooper, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, were on the Opposition Front Bench. She actually spoke to the motion, and with great knowledge. I was disappointed that the shadow Home Secretary did not address the motion as the right hon. Lady did. She seemed to spend three quarters of her speech—
As I said, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford got to the nub of this debate. We have to ask ourselves whether documentation is needed for the Home Affairs Committee to do its business. I think that it probably is. I think she will be diligent in that task. As I said, I would like to see the information taken from the range of documentation.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I gently point out to her that the point I made was that it was not a matter for the Select Committee, but a matter for the House, to make a decision on the motion, and that we would choose how to respond. Although we have put our own questions to the Home Office, most of them are still unanswered. Clearly she will have her own points to make, but I ask her not to pray in aid my arguments.
I take the point, and I hope the right hon. Lady gets the answers that she deserves. I think that all Conservative Members feel that the Windrush generation have been done a huge disservice. To conflate this debate with other forms of immigration, slavery and whatever else people have chucked into the mix, including fishing, does a disservice to the debate we must have about the wrongs that were done in the processing of the Windrush generation.
No, I will not give way on that point.
We need to look at the process and truly analyse it. Heartfelt apologies have been made, which is absolutely correct. Anyone whose life has been disrupted—I do not dispute that many have been—deserves that apology, but we need to look at how it went wrong and what went wrong and make sure that compensation, if appropriate, is given. No Conservative Members would say any differently. The people of this generation are here absolutely legally, and we need to ensure that their position is corrected, so that neither they nor their children or family in future have any of these issues.
However, the motion before us is about how much protection is given to the people who advise those in government. This wide-ranging text, mentioning Ministers, senior officials, special advisers and so on, makes such an onerous and invasive request. If this request was taken to the nth degree on every contentious topic—for example, the invasion of Iraq—where would it end? How can a Government get the information they need and think outside the box, and how can text messages be sent between Ministers, if they believe that nothing can be said within Cabinet that cannot at any time be requested in an Opposition day motion?
If there are papers that show how this process came to happen in the way it did, I hope they are brought forward, as the Home Affairs Committee has requested, but this motion goes to the nth degree of asking for “advice” to be published—what sort of advice? Does that include oral advice, minutes taken, emails and text messages? The motion also mentions “all papers” and “correspondence”, but it is only for the selective dates that the Opposition feel may be helpful to their cause. This is not the way to sort out a problem that has occurred over decades. This problem must be put right, and I believe the Home Secretary has the passion to put it right.
The semantics and picking apart of the word “compliant” is ridiculous. Most Conservative Members would agree that the Home Secretary is a man of great compassion who cares deeply about—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have had to cope with the hon. Lady saying that we cannot link the Windrush generation to slavery. I have had now to cope with her suggesting that my “Oxford English Dictionary” definition of “compliance” in my speech was wrong. Can she correct the record?
I understand that passions are running high, but the right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a matter for the Chair. He has made his point. The hon. Lady may address it if she wishes to, but it is up to her.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply said that we have had everything thrown into this debate, apart from a discussion of the impact of what the motion would deliver.
As I was saying, I believe that our new Home Secretary is a compassionate and caring man. The fact that he has been called a “coconut”, and all the other things he has had to endure in the short time he has been in office, just goes to show that we do not live in the tolerant society that I would like to live in. The fact that he has the dignity to address those comments in the Chamber but still not be deterred from doing the right thing by the Windrush generation is to his great credit, and long may he do so.
I do not think that this debate has been characterised by good temper on both sides. When the shadow Secretary of State will not give way to anyone, it certainly does not make for a debate; rather, it makes for a one-sided monologue read from notes. The implication of the motion is so far ranging and so constraining on any future Government, that it would be very dangerous to go along this route. The Windrush generation has been done a great disservice, but apologies have been made. I hope that there is a swift resolution, and I believe that under the current Government there will be.
The Windrush generation came to our country in the post-war period to help to rebuild Britain. They have made our nation great, and they are part of us. They are British citizens regardless of whether or not they have the paperwork to prove so.
I first became aware of the appalling and inhumane treatment of the Windrush generation last October, when my constituent Paulette Wilson was detained at Yarl’s Wood and then taken to Heathrow detention centre, before being released at the 11th hour, after I had intervened, as had the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton. Paulette believed she was going to be put on a plane to Jamaica—a country she had not been to for 50 years, since she was 10 years old.
Paulette has worked all of her life in the UK, including serving food to Members of Parliament in this place, and she has paid 34 years of national insurance contributions. She has raised a daughter, and she now has a granddaughter. For weeks after her release, she found it difficult to sleep or eat. I want to press the Government on the compensation scheme. I know that they have to be careful and that it has to be got right, but I hope that they will bring it forward quickly and that she is properly compensated.
It pains me that it has taken so long for this scandal to come to light. Why did it take the detention of my constituent and the appalling treatment of many others—they thought they were isolated cases until somebody linked them together—as well as the work and determination of my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, the intervention of the Church of England bishops, the pressure from several Caribbean high commissioners and Heads of Government, and the work of a dedicated journalist at The Guardian to join up the dots?
The Home Secretary today announced an internal review into what went wrong. If that is to be meaningful, it must identify the root causes of this scandal. This is not about scoring party political points, but about focusing on preventing this from ever happening again and on rebuilding trust not only with the Windrush generation but with others who have come from the Commonwealth over the years and the EU migrants who have come more recently. I hope—I sincerely hope—that the Government will be honest and open about why what happened to Paulette took place, and why so many others have also been caught up.
I have heard some Government Members describe this as an administrative oversight, but I do not believe that to be the case. If it were just an error, why did it happen to so many different people in different parts of the UK? Others have tried to blame civil servants, as if what Ministers do and say has no bearing on their Department. The truth is that Ministers make policy and civil servants are there to carry out their policies. Ministers set targets and expect civil servants to deliver on those targets.
We have to look closely at the “hostile environment” policy introduced by the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary. This included making landlords, doctors and employers unwilling border guards, setting an unrealistic net migration target of getting immigration down to the tens of thousands and removing legal aid and the right of appeal on NTL—no time limit—applications.
We have recently learned that there have been internal regional targets for removal. The former Home Secretary denied their existence, and said to my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and members of the Home Affairs Committee, that
“that’s not how we operate”.
We now know that she was wrong about the existence of such targets—they do exist—but what she said about not operating in that way was absolutely right. It is absurd and immoral to have removal targets for migrants. It has fostered a culture of disbelief and of treating people as numbers, not human beings.
We need an honest appraisal of what went wrong, to prevent this from happening again and to have any chance of building a fair and humane immigration policy, as the Home Secretary declared he wants to build. Let us learn the lessons, and let us make sure that our immigration policy is in line with British values and the country in which we live.
I want to keep my words short. It is a pleasure to follow Emma Reynolds.
I would like to comment on the words of Mr Lammy because he said that it may be five years before he is back here fighting this cause. I hope it is not that length of time because, while I disagreed with some of the sentiments in what he said, it is important that the whole House pay tribute to the work and dedication he has put in to draw attention to an issue that should never have been there. Without his hard work and dedication—it was probably very frustrating at times—I certainly would not have known about this issue, and the Guardian journalist would not have known about it. So tribute has to be paid to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure his constituents are very proud of the work he has done on their behalf.
This is an opportunity for us to celebrate the rich diversity that the Windrush generation have brought to our shores. Regardless of whether we are talking about the first generation, their children or, in many cases, their grandchildren, we have to recognise them for the benefits they have brought. If we visit a health service in this country, it is almost impossible not to find examples of where those have been enriched by what has come to our shores. That is incredibly welcome.
It is important that we use this opportunity to learn from what has been a shocking example of failure. Whether it was deliberate or accidental, people were let down and betrayed. That was an absolutely shocking stain on a great Department of State. I really hope that Ministers and officials, regardless of party, reflect on the decisions they took and make sure that we learn from this, move forward and never make systematic mistakes again.
We are entering a period when we will be dealing with vast numbers of EU nationals, which, again, will potentially throw up lots of complications and questions. We have to make sure that we draw on what has happened, to ensure that the rights and protections for those people, their children, their spouses and so on are honoured and respected.
I would like to pick up on the remarks made by Shabana Mahmood about immigration solicitors, because a huge amount of work needs to be done. Many of these solicitors work honestly and openly and do a great job for those who come to see them, but there are others who do not. There are others who are not fully qualified. There are others who seek to charge exorbitant fees to people who often cannot afford to pay them. There are others who give people bad advice and who send them on a runaround. Very quick bits of advice could solve an issue, but some of these solicitors would rather look the other way and tie people into horrendous, horrific contracts that often leave them in penury. I would say to those on the Government Front Bench that, if there is no work being done on immigration solicitors, it needs to be done, because many vulnerable people are paying an awful price.
I hope that we are able to come together to sort the mess of Windrush and to ensure that immigration policy in this country is fair and balanced, regardless of the colour of someone’s skin or where they are from. I hope that we are able to ensure that it reflects them as an individual and the contribution we believe they can make to our country.
This is a moment when we can move forward. I encourage those on the Government Front Bench to continue in the way they have been doing in recent weeks. If we get this right, tens of thousands of people—not hundreds of people—will be grateful. We should be sorry for the people who have paid a horrific price, but we should be thanking those who have shone a light on what is an unmitigated disaster and who are putting a wrong right.
I thank Mark Menzies for the tone he adopted in his speech. That is exactly the tone that the House should have seen throughout this debate.
We have to learn from this appalling scandal. We have to think about what it means for our immigration system and how we treat people—I repeat: how we treat people. Legal or illegal, they are people and we should treat them fairly and with justice. I say to Conservative Members that, when Hansard comes out tomorrow, they should re-read the speeches by Shabana Mahmood and Mr Lammy. I found them very insightful. They spoke from the heart and from experience. I do not have the immigration case load of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, but I have a quite a number of cases and she talked about issues that I have seen in my surgeries far too frequently. There is a huge and systemic problem with the Home Office and it has to be got right.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham talked about what people are feeling out there: what real people are feeling, their emotions. If we do not hear that in the House, we will never get to the bottom of this problem. I say to Ministers and Conservative Members: just think. Yes, the motion is strong in terms of the amount of information it asks for, but that is right because it is proportionate to the level of scandal we are facing. It is proportionate to the work we have to do to get this thing right. I have faith in Yvette Cooper and the Home Affairs Committee to look at that information and use it with judicious skill. If we can come together, we can really learn the lessons and find out what has gone wrong.
I am pleased at the period of time in the motion. It includes a period of time when my party was in government. I am very happy for all that to be considered. I gently say to Labour colleagues that I wish the motion went a bit further, because we need to learn everything, but I will vote for it tonight. It talks about transparency and openness, and that is where we have to go.
I hope the Minister will say a little more about who it is we are helping, as it is currently too vague for my liking. The Windrush generation? Commonwealth citizens? Can we be more specific? We need to know exactly who will be helped by the unit and the new rules. Unless we do that, we will find other injustices. We need to get it right, so we need the detail. We know how much Home Office officials focus on the detail. If we are going to hold them to account for this system, we need detail from the Minister.
I urge them to not stop at Commonwealth citizens. There are people who have been in this country from all over the world for many, many years. I am dealing with a Moroccan who came to this country in 1973. His papers were lost in a fire in the place in which he worked in 1978. He is now homeless and suffering from cancer. He has no recourse to public funds and the Home Office does not take any notice of the letters I write. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] It is shameful. We really have to start thinking about these people as human beings. The Government have to realise that even if the Prime Minister is caught up in this and it emerges that she was told about the problems facing the Windrush generation when she was Home Secretary and did nothing, well that is too bad. She will have to be held to account for that. We need the openness.
We will be debating an amendment to the Data Protection Bill on
There are so many things wrong with our immigration system. We have heard this week about visas not being given to the NHS doctors we need to help our people. We have heard about foreign students who have been expelled against the rule of law. There is so much that is wrong. If the Government do not understand that and ignore what the editor of the Daily Mail says, I am afraid our country will not come together in the way that it should.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Edward Davey. On Monday this week, we had a first-class debate in the quiet environment of Westminster Hall. All of us who took part, including particularly though not exclusively, Mr Lammy, spoke to the heart of the issue and said what a number of colleagues on both sides of the House have said this afternoon: we are talking about people—people with aspirations, needs, family and commitments. Very often we reduce things too much by talking about a battery of statistics, telephone numbers and all the rest of it, and we lose sight of the fact that we are talking about people and their hopes and aspirations. Unfortunately, the motion and—I say this with the greatest respect to the shadow Home Secretary—the tone and manner in which she introduced the motion were not conducive to our seeing a replication of the debate that we had in Westminster Hall.
I say this not to be particularly partisan, but I think there is a very clear disconnect on this issue between the Opposition Front Benchers and their Back Benchers. Their Back Benchers are talking about people; they are talking about the principles that underpin their stances and objectives. The motion before us, which probably has very little to do with what many of our speeches have been predicated on, is all about politics and the process of politics. I would assert, I hope without contradiction, that most people who are affected by this issue really do not give a damn about the process. They just want to get it sorted out.
Legitimate questions have been asked, such as, “If we call up the Home Office number, and so on, will we compromise ourselves?”, and I hope that all of us feel that we have a duty to take back to our friends and constituents the fact that on this issue, the Government have recognised that there has been an error. The error has not necessarily been solely authored by this Government—it goes back to the end of the Blair-Brown era—but the people affected need confidence that the Government and the House are now on their side. They need to have confidence in the robustness, honesty and integrity of what Ministers say, whether that is in the media or at the Dispatch Box. If we decide, through narrow partisan political interest, to play politics with those people’s lives because we think that it might nudge us up one point or another in the opinion polls, that will let down our constituents.
Part of the problem, and I make no apology for rehearsing the point that I made on Monday, is that—
I listened to the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful words earlier this week as well, but I really would ask him to withdraw some of the things that he has said about the Labour Front Benchers and the approach that they are taking, and in particular, about the shadow Home Secretary, who has been a passionate advocate for individuals who have been badly affected by the Windrush crisis. By all means, disagree with the motion, if the hon. Gentleman takes a different view, but I strongly urge him to withdraw the points about the shadow Home Secretary’s motive and approach, given the speech that she made earlier.
I say to the right hon. Lady that nobody in this House would doubt—let us be frank about this—the sincerity with which the shadow Home Secretary has faced fighting racism and abuse in this country. She is a leader in the field. I say to Yvette Cooper, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, that if only the motion had reflected that, because it does not—it is about process.
As I said on Monday, at the back of all our minds, on the Government Benches and on the Opposition Benches, there is probably a little echo of guilt. Whether it was UKIP, the BNP or some of the more excessive narratives of our tabloid press, issues of “asylum” and “refugee”, “illegal” and “legal”, got conflated with “them” and “us, “foreign” and “different”, “alien” and “domestic”. All of us, looking to our political bases, became anxious about seeing our support nibbled away, and instead of making the positive, liberal case for the contribution that immigrants make—the case made by my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry and by my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, on “Newsnight” on Monday—we ran away from those uncomfortable conversations on the doorstep. All of us—all of us—probably wish we had been a little more robust in making that positive case. That we did not make it is no excuse for not facing it now.
The Windrush generation answered our call in time of war and in time of peace, and the Government will answer their call to find a solution to this issue. Members on both sides of the House with equal passion owe all their constituents a duty to support that endeavour and to get it right—for people.
I want to talk about trust and how it has been violated, and I want to start with the cases of my constituents Gem and Jessica, both of which I raised in Monday’s debate in Westminster Hall.
Gem arrived here from Jamaica, Jessica from Dominica. Both have worked here, paying taxes and raising families, for nearly 50 years, and both have fallen victim to the Government’s hostile environment. Jessica has served our community in West Ham, working for a charity helping refugees and migrants, so what an irony that in March she was fired from that job because she could not prove her right to work. The lesson of the Windrush scandal is that the hostile environment strategy is, in and of itself, a breach of trust. The betrayal of people like Gem and Jessica will not end until that strategy changes.
The hostile environment violates the rightful, reasonable, normal expectations that the people of Britain share. We expect not to be treated with suspicion, like criminals, without very good reason. We expect not to be threatened with destitution, or to be divided from our families or communities, without very good reason. We expect that our voices and our contributions to our country will not be dismissed by our Government without extremely good reason. But those expectations were violated for our British Windrush citizens—their trust was violated. These citizens were stopped at the GP reception, the police station, the bank counter, the workplace, the jobcentre—all those places became hostile environments for Jessica, Gem and many others.
Papers are demanded—papers that many do not have—and when Windrush citizens cannot produce these papers, they are plunged into a nightmare of hostile demands and constant suspicion, and behind it all is the threat of deportation and the destruction of their lives, with jobs, housing and healthcare yanked away. We all know the consequences: homelessness, detention, depression, mental illness, suicide and bereavement. People like Jessica and Gem have been denied the decent, dignified, fair treatment that all of us have a right to expect. They have been treated like criminals without reason and denied redress without reason. Legal aid, tribunals, access to justice—all cut. Their trust in their country has been breached and cannot easily be restored.
There is massive anxiety in my community about immigration removal flights that may have British Windrush citizens on board. In particular, I am told of flight PVT070. I have asked about this in recent days, as have my colleagues, but despite ministerial assurances, anxieties remain. Can Ministers at the Home Office imagine just how badly they will have further betrayed the trust of generations if they fail to get a grip on this and British citizens are again deported?
Let me finish by echoing what my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy said. The Windrush generation are British. They have always been British. Recognising their rights is justice. It is not generosity. I am tired of hearing that “they” came here to help “us”. In the community in which I grew up, there is no “us” of which Gem and Jessica are not a part. The Windrush generation did not come to help “us”; they are “us”. In serving our country all their lives, they have helped to build the communities that we share.
On Monday, in Westminster Hall, I spoke about how personal this is—and it is. Lucy and Cecil are my brother-in-law’s parents. They are good people. They are Windrush people. Lucy served for decades as an NHS nurse. They and their family, including me, are furious about the way in which the Government have treated British citizens. Sometimes when we are in this place talking about personal stuff, we struggle to find the right words and the right tone, but I hope that I have done them justice today.
Order. I want to make every effort to enable as many colleagues as possible to speak, so I shall now reduce the speaking time limit to four minutes.
It is a pleasure to follow Lyn Brown. I think that she found absolutely the right words to express the human tragedy of this case, and I congratulate her on her powerful speech. Like her, I have been in the Chamber holding the Government to account when there have been urgent questions and statements about this issue, and like Emma Reynolds, I am seeking—as my questions will confirm—the swift implementation, after consultation, of an effective and appropriate compensation scheme.
The House has every right, indeed a duty, to hold the Government to account. I hope that had the motion concerned the substance of policy, the mistakes for which the Government have apologised and the details of compensation and restitution, my contribution to the debate would have been no less sincere and no less demanding than that of any other Member in upholding the rights of our fellow citizens, to which I know the Government are also committed. However, that is not the motion that the Opposition have chosen to debate. Many speakers have not focused on the motion, but have discussed the Windrush affair more generally. I do not blame them for doing so—it is an issue that rightly excites fierce passions—but the House must be cognisant of what the motion actually says.
Ms Abbott set out a list of items of information, some of which I thought were quite reasonable, and most of which I thought she could access by means of parliamentary questions or freedom or information requests. However, she has resorted to a deeply archaic mechanism involving vastly wide-ranging powers and implications. The power that the motion invokes predates our Select Committees. It predates the routine questioning of Ministers on the Floor of the House. It predates freedom of information requests by centuries. It is not designed for a trawl through eight years-worth of text messages. In my view, it has been superseded by the freedom of information legislation introduced by the last Labour Government, with the checks and balances that that wisely incorporates.
I appreciate that neither the right hon. Lady nor the Leader of the Opposition has been a Minister with civil servants to advise them. However, having served on secondment in the civil service, I cannot emphasise too strongly how fortunate we are as a country to have a cadre of extremely experienced, independent civil servants, eager to do their utmost to provide the Government of the day with the best possible advice. I am deeply concerned by the precedent that the motion sets, not because of the position in which it places Ministers but because of the position in which it places decent public servants who do their utmost to support any incumbent Government.
The motion makes a number of demands. First, it demands the release of all papers, correspondence, text messages and advice on a set policy area over an eight-year period. I find it hard to think of a precedent that could be more injurious to good government and good advice. The motion makes it absolutely clear that through this mechanism, confidential advice destined for Ministers can be passed on. We are not talking about final policy, chewed over, discussed and determined by a Minister. We are talking about the range of options and recommendations provided by civil servants to aid the Minister in that analysis. The civil servants concerned have no means of defending themselves if this information is released into the public domain. I implore the House not to establish a precedent whereby our senior civil servants shy away from telling the truth to power.
Having worked in a Government Department and having had to produce papers for Ministers, does my hon. Friend agree that the failure to have any record to go back on means that there is no historical precedent, which affects future decision making?
My hon. Friend is right: it puts civil servants in an invidious position. I would never discuss any advice that I might have been privy to in those days, but this puts civil servants in the most horrendous position. As I said to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper, there are many Opposition Members who served their country with distinction in government. Before they vote to establish this precedent, I ask them to consider what the implications would have been for the men and women providing them with advice to the best of their ability, and for the advice that they might have received.
This wide-ranging motion would set a deeply damaging precedent. What makes it even worse is that it incorporates confidential advice directly relating to our relationship with other independent states, and its last line it might even be encroaching on the minutes of a Cabinet Sub-Committee, which risks undermining the basis of collective Cabinet responsibility.
We all want to ensure justice for the Windrush victims, but I do not believe this is a responsible way to go about achieving that.
The Windrush scandal has sent shockwaves through this country, and so it should. British citizens, men and women who were raised here, who built their lives here, who helped to rebuild this country—their country—after the devastation of the second world war, have been denied their basic human rights. They have been denied their rights as citizens to healthcare, housing, their pensions and social security, and in some cases they have lost their jobs. Some have even been deported in error—an error that has ripped apart lives, families and friendships.
Up to 50,000 British citizens have been too fearful of being deported or detained to even attempt to clarify their status. The Home Office does not even know the number of people it has wrongly deported, but even one person deported in error is one too many. So I ask the Minister to say in responding to this debate how many British citizens from the Windrush generation have been detained, and how many have been deported.
Whatever the answer, we know that a gross injustice has been committed against the Windrush generation, and those responsible for it must be held to account. The Windrush generation are owed more than that, however; they are owed the full restoration of their rights and compensation for the wrongs committed against them. But they are also owed a national discussion of how their country came to treat them with such inhumanity—a discussion of the history that led to the present day.
It is a history that my family knows well. My grandparents came to Britain in the 1960s. They were part of the Windrush generation, and their history and the history of the British empire are inextricably tied together. As my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy so proudly said, it is a history that begins in the 17th century when the European empires enslaved millions of Africans, taking them to the Caribbean in brutal conditions, subjecting them to cruelty and murderous exploitation and building the wealth of the British ruling elite on their enslaved labour. In the eyes of the British colonial rulers, they were unworthy of having rights. That is the Caribbean history just as it is the British history.
When my grandparents left Jamaica for Britain, they knew that history. When they arrived here, they were truly welcomed by some, but not all. They were confronted by fascists and racists, and they faced Conservative election posters that said “If you want a coloured for your neighbour, vote Labour”, signs in shop windows reading “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish”, and politicians such as Enoch Powell who whipped up racial hatred, blaming migrants for economic and social problems. Still my grandparents persevered. They built their lives here and raised their family here. By right, they are British citizens, but in the eyes of some, the colour of their skin says otherwise. By right, they are citizens, but they are not seen as such.
As a society, we must reflect on how we have allowed the British state to detain and deport wholly innocent British citizens and allowed our Government to pursue a “deport first, appeal later” policy. We must reflect, we must learn and, first and foremost, we must ensure that the Government give justice to the Windrush generation. Justice means compensation for the harms committed, the details of which the Government must fully spell out—
What has happened to the Windrush generation is completely unacceptable, and the Government must do all they can to sort out this mess as quickly as possible. I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Amber Rudd, who worked tirelessly during her time as Home Secretary and saw our country through times of unprecedented difficulty, including three major terrorist attacks. I also thank her for her response to the Windrush issue, during which time she acted without hesitation to put processes in place to correct past mistakes.
As the Government continue to right this wrong, I would like to seek assurances from the new Home Secretary on a few counts. First, we cannot underestimate the administrative difficulties faced by many in the Windrush generation, and indeed people from other Commonwealth countries, who came here prior to 1971, in proving their citizenship to the Home Office. Many simply will not have official documentation. I understand that the Government are accepting other forms of evidence, such as school records, but Ministers must not take their eye off the ball. We need the various arms of the Government—from the Home Office to the Department for Work and Pensions and from the Department for Education to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—to work together to help those people build a picture of their life here in the United Kingdom. This is complicated work, and the new unit at the Home Office must stand ready to assist people through the process.
The Government have already taken positive steps, with a new dedicated team helping individuals to identify and gather evidence to confirm their existing right to be in the UK. They have ensured that no one affected will be charged for the documentation that proves their right to be here. They have also created a new website to provide the necessary additional information, so that as many people as possible feel that they can come forward. The Prime Minister and the Home Office have met and reassured leaders, charities, community groups and high commissioners from across the Commonwealth. They have outlined the actions that we are taking to help people to evidence their right to be here.
The issue of compensation has already been mentioned many times today. The Windrush generation have given us decades of service and hard work, and helped us to rebuild our communities—communities of which they are now an integral part. Any compensation scheme must have those affected at its heart, but there is no doubt that we have failed them. This was a failure of the British state and we must make it right. That means compensation for all those who were blocked from accessing vital services, who were threatened with deportation or whose lives have in any way been adversely affected by this failure. Only then can we show the Windrush generation that we are sorry, that they are valued, and that we are determined to look after them as the British citizens they are.
This sorry episode was a failure of process and of the system under successive Governments. We have heard a lot today about the impact of the hostile—or compliant, to use another word—environment. We have been told that it is putting off foreign doctors and nurses from coming to the UK. We have heard how the Government’s migration targets must be dropped. However, I would remind the Opposition that the compliant environment has nothing to do with this. It is about tackling illegal immigration. I believe that that is an important job of Government, and that it is what the public want us to do.
As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I will work with Members across the parties to ensure that we examine what has gone wrong, that we scrutinise why it has happened, and that we work to find a way forward. We will make recommendations to the Government, and I look forward to working with Committee members on that. What has happened to the Windrush generation has been scandalous. It was a failure of the system, Madam Deputy Speaker, and those people are just as British as you or me.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, who is no longer in his place, on bringing this matter to the Government’s attention and my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott on her dogged determination in pursuing the issue.
I want to take issue with some of the comments made in this debate. Tom Pursglove, who is no longer in his place, spoke about the matter as though it were just a small administrative error, but my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood summed up the ignominy that many of my constituents have faced because they have a west African name or a strong accent. They come to see me for things that they should not have to see me about—not just immigration issues but, yes, those as well. I, too, have a heavy immigration workload, and I have some advice for the Minister, because another thing that has been said in this debate is, “Why aren’t we looking at the Labour years?” Well, I was the Immigration Minister in the last three years of the Labour Government, so perhaps I can help to bridge that gap.
Let me be candid: the Home Office has long had administrative problems on immigration. One of the issues that the Minister and her boss the new Home Secretary will face is that, to deal with the problem, we need proper investment in the right quality and numbers of people to be able to turn casework around in the necessary time, so that people are not dribbling through the system for a decade or bouncing backwards and forwards with decisions that require legal challenge. However, even with the current desire to tackle the issue, I bet that it will be a big challenge to secure the necessary money from the Treasury to deliver that.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I also have massive amounts of immigration casework, and I really have not benefited from the staff with whom I have been beginning to get a relationship, and who really understand the cases, being changed willy-nilly by the Home Office. We could do with some stability.
Tackling that is a huge challenge for the Department, and I agree with my hon. Friend. This was not just an administrative error. Dealing with the administration of immigration with never enough resources has been a challenge for the Home Office for years.
The hostile environment has bitten hard in my constituency. Discretionary leave to remain was reduced from five years to three years, meaning that people had to apply twice before they could get citizenship, and now to two years, meaning that people have to apply three times. The fee is £800 a time—it keeps going up; I lose track—before they pay over £1,000 for British citizenship. The costs are bankrupting my constituents who are working hard in this country, paying their taxes and paying their dues. They are being treated like second-class citizens. They are not yet citizens, but they aspire to be and they are doing everything right.
Turning to the people who are citizens, the Government have in effect declared an amnesty for those people from the Commonwealth who arrived here between 1973 and 1988, and I have another word of advice for the Minister. In declaring an amnesty—officials will be quavering at my use of that word, because they hate it in the Home Office—will she be clear, as other hon. Members have asked, about whether it applies to all members of the Commonwealth? Will it cover my west African constituents who are in exactly the same position? If I only I had the time, I would tell her about some of the horrific cases. One man is homeless, and another is about to lose his home because it belongs to his partner. They are frightened about ringing the Home Office helpline in case it causes them problems.
Those people are from the Caribbean, but I also have Commonwealth citizens who are in the same position. They are originally from Africa, but they are British, and yet they do not have the paperwork to prove it. The little paper Immigration and Nationality Directorate letters that people come to our surgeries clutching have been enough to get them a job and their entitlements, but their employers have suddenly said, “But you need a biometric residence permit.” Why did the Home Office—this happened strictly under this Government when they changed the rules—not write to everybody on the immigration lists and say, “You now need this new document in order to hold your job and keep your rights”? Had it done so, those people who are not yet citizens—those who have not chosen to go down the citizenship route, but have indefinite leave to remain—would have been in a better position.
The issue goes wider than just the Windrush generation, and let us hope that there is not just a quick fix for them, but a much wider review of the system. Let us not forget that this Government chose to abolish identity cards, which were being rolled out on my watch in the Home Office. They would have made a big difference to many of my constituents who very much wanted to prove that they had the same rights as other citizens.
I have little time to cover compensation and legal aid, but good-quality legal advice saves time and money for everybody in the long run, and justice is denied if justice cannot be accessed because someone cannot afford it. I am afraid to say that we have a real dearth of good-quality legal advice with legal aid—it is a desert in some areas—and many lawyers are charging high fees for, frankly, poor service. The Minister needs to take that into account, or we will see further such problems along the way.
It is a pleasure to follow Meg Hillier, and it is very reasonable of her to speak so candidly about the previous Labour Government and her experience as a Minister. There are some challenges that any Government would face, no matter what commitments they make, because of the scale of the task and the logistics involved, and so on.
Joanna Cherry, who speaks for the SNP, accused Conservative MPs of blaming migrants for the problems in our society and in our infrastructure. She attended a Westminster Hall debate in November 2017, called by my right hon. Friend Mr Harper, on immigration and the economy, in which I praised the east Europeans who recently came to this country and who have made such a contribution. The recycling plant in Suffolk serves the whole country, and it is kept going by Romanians—I praise them, and I will always praise them.
Today, on the Windrush issue, I am happy to offer the same praise to those who have come here from the Commonwealth. Although I now happily live in Suffolk, I was originally brought up in north London. I went to a primary school in Edgware that had many Commonwealth pupils, many of whom I assume came from families who were part of the Windrush generation.
Today we see the contribution, particularly from the Afro-Caribbean community, on the Front Benches, on the Back Benches, in this country’s public life—particularly in this country’s sporting life—and in the small businesses they run. My mother was a nurse for many years in north London. Nearly all her colleagues were of Afro-Caribbean origin and, of course, they made a huge contribution to the NHS.
Here is the thing, as terrible as the stories are—I do not defend any of it, and the Government certainly need to sort out the problems that have arisen—the underlying cause, about which the hon. and learned Lady and others asked, is the sheer scale of immigration, both legal and illegal, that this country has experienced in recent years. It is not a conspiracy. The scale is unprecedented, and I quote David Wood, the former director general of immigration enforcement, who told the Home Affairs Committee on
I very much regret what has happened, but a number of hon. Members have spoken about language and the rise of scapegoat culture. Well, let us be absolutely clear that, for the centre to hold and to govern in politics, we have to address those issues, even if they are unpalatable. If we do not, we will truly give rise to populists, UKIP will get back into the game and the fringes of politics will come back.
People have to see that we are dealing with the problems that matter to them, and our constituents want us to address illegal immigration. We have to find a way that does not involve this sort of outcome, in which people who are here legitimately are penalised. We all accept that, so it is about striking a balance, but let us be clear that part of the balance is a robust immigration policy that deals with people who are here illegally and, if need be, deports them.
I intervened on the shadow Home Secretary, and I am pleased that she is happy to confirm that she accepts the need to tackle illegal immigration. There is perhaps more consensus than we let on. We need to work together to build an immigration system that is firm but fair, as many Governments have pledged over the years. It is not easy, but we need to respond to the legitimate public concern that the level of immigration, and particularly illegal immigration, must be sustainable, otherwise we will lose the public’s support and they will turn to parties that are not so palatable.
In the past few weeks I have been encouraged by the level of public backlash on the Windrush scandal, which is a mark of how far we have come and of how we are generally a more diverse, more tolerant and more accepting society. As ever, we have much more to do, and I am sure the new Home Secretary does not underestimate the Government’s role and the importance of the tone set by his Department in how it treats people who come from other places to live in this country, and in ensuring that we continue to make our society more tolerant and more accepting.
That is why I am bitterly disappointed by the tone and comments of some Conservative Members, particularly during the early part of this debate. As my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott said, people from across the Commonwealth are watching this debate, and we owe it to them that the debate is conducted in the right way.
The public backlash also highlights just how out of touch the Home Office has been under the stewardship of the Home Secretary’s two immediate predecessors. I have not had any cases directly from the Windrush generation, but as a new Member of Parliament I can say that the Home Office has been the most difficult Department I have had to deal with. As a Scottish MP, I can say that many of the day-to-day issues that other Members will see in their casework are devolved to Scotland and are dealt with by MSPs. Immigration cases take up a large share of the matters my constituents bring to me, and just when I think I have heard it all, there is sure to be another example of an individual or a family in crisis because of the appalling treatment at the hands of the Home Office.
These are remarkable cases but it is clear to anyone who would take the time to listen to the people involved that they have every right to be in this country. I know the new Home Secretary does not like using the words “hostile environment”, but, whether he likes to call it that or not, that is what we have. Anna Soubry, who is no longer in her place, put it well when she described the default position as being the assumption that the person is here illegally. The numbers game is not working. My constituents are not numbers. They are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, hard-working families, some of whom are devastated at the prospect of being separated. They are people who want to put roots down and start families. In one case, a young couple were unable to undergo the fertility treatment they need because the Home Office is indifferent to their special circumstances.
My constituents who have settled in this country tell me that they are Scottish and they want to stay in Scotland. They love Scotland, and they want to contribute and play a full role in their community. These are people who have paid thousands of pounds, whether they can afford it or not, for the right to stay in this country, yet at every turn the Home Office has put obstacles in their way and treated them like they do not belong. We should be delighted that skilled people who want to come to the UK, to contribute to our economy and pay taxes, and to enrich our lives with their culture love this country so much that they are prepared to keep battling against the Home Office at every turn. But they should not have to battle. The Home Secretary must resolve the Windrush scandal, but if we are to prevent this from happening again, the “hostile environment” must end, and now is the time to do it.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. It was particularly welcome to hear the speech made by my hon. Friend James Cartlidge a few moments ago and his comments about the contribution that migrants are making to his community. In the same way, those who have come to make Torbay their home, to make their life there and to exercise their legal rights within the community have made my community a stronger and better place.
When I first saw the heading for this debate and saw that this is what the Opposition had selected, I thought we might see a motion that celebrated the contribution the Windrush generation had made and referred to the achievements of that generation, who are as British as any of the rest of us in this Chamber and have made this country stronger through their presence. Unfortunately, that is not what the motion does. It is focused on getting certain documents and paperwork. It is an interesting one to read, with the selection of the dates being the most interesting part. It contains yesterday’s date, stating
“up to and including
It makes sense to specify yesterday—I can see the logic there—but why the selection of
This motion could have been an opportunity to have pushed the Government for particular dates by which certain cases will be resolved. It could have specified compensation payments, but it does not do so. It is about getting emails and texts about policy discussions—I am surprised it did not list WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and anything else. I accept that government has to have a space behind the scenes, as any former Minister in this Chamber and anyone who has run their own local council will know, in which the discussion of policy can take place. Clearly, if there are differences of opinion, assessment papers might be presented later to back up policy coming through this Parliament, but that space is there. That says to me that the motion is the product of something rather different from a motivation to celebrate the fantastic contribution that the Windrush generation have made to this nation.
It was right for the Government to apologise for the handling of many cases. In my constituency, we have had only one email relating to Windrush, although it probably is not directly related, but it is right that the Government have apologised, as evidenced by some of the cases that Ms Abbott described.
It is probably worth saying that it is worth celebrating the fact—it is quite significant, thinking of the contribution that that generation has made to this country—that two members of an ethnic minority in this country, the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary, were the leading spokesmen for the Government and the Opposition. Despite obvious disagreements between the two, it is a significant moment for our country that that has been seen here today, particularly when we are discussing this particular issue.
It has been a welcome debate. As Meg Hillier said, it would be welcome to have clarity about whether the issue applies to the whole Commonwealth, because we should remember that the Commonwealth includes not only Caribbean countries, but many countries in Africa and in the Pacific, and other nations.
I welcome the opportunity to have been able to speak for a few moments and pay tribute to a generation that is British, that has done a huge amount for this country, that has not been treated well. It was right that there was an apology. The wording of the motion, however, reveals motivations other than the celebration of that legacy.
I start by thanking the Minister for Immigration for listening to my recent plea for the Merry family, whose mother, Volha, received a letter from the Home Office to deport her and take her away from her family home in Coatbridge, where she lives with her husband Derek and daughter Milana. The Minister admitted that the letter, sent in error, should not have been sent, and apologised to me for the mistake. Madam Deputy Speaker, can you imagine if you were sent a letter, to take you away—away from your family, your children, your neighbours, your home? Imagine how many people would run for cover if they received a letter similar to the one that dropped through Mrs Merry’s letterbox. The Minister’s admission came after weeks of chaos from the Home Office, amid the scandals of the Windrush generation and immigration targets.
The question remains: how many more letters were sent in error? How many people are in hiding, in fear of this Government coming to break down their door to take them away? Is it any wonder that we have people unregistered living in the UK, living in fear, living in pain because they cannot go to hospital, living in someone’s house that they cannot call home—mothers and fathers, frightened to speaking out for fear of losing their children?
I was glad that Mr and Mrs Merry came to see me; I was their last hope. They were ready to run. I could see the fear in their eyes; that young couple had tried everything to register themselves, so that they could live in peace, without worry, to bring up their daughter Milana, who was born in the UK, just as her father was. I saw a family who were desperate, who wanted help, and I was determined to keep that family together, to help them stay close to their friends in Coatbridge.
I came to this place to speak out for people—to speak out for my constituents, but I will not be the judge. The judge will be little Milana, who will see the tears that her mother shed every day turn to a smile when she has the chance to hold her daughter, instead of being held in a detention centre, ready to be deported, because of this Government.
It has been a huge honour to sit in the Chamber and listen to so many powerful speeches. I start by thanking the members of the Windrush generation, because time and again we have heard stories about how so many of those individuals have each helped to build the Britain that we know and love today. Like many others in this place, I regularly have constituents who come to me, asking for help with their Home Office cases. The Windrush citizens are British citizens and must be treated as such. As the new Home Secretary said as recently as Monday, this could have been his own family, and he and his team are right to be absolutely focused on getting help to those who need it now.
I am enormously proud to live in a country where people from all over the world want to come and live. I am enormously proud to be in a country where people can come from another place and sit in this House as a Member of Parliament. People can watch their own children sit on the Front Benches in this Parliament and rise now to become Home Secretary.
This is a fantastic country, and the rest of the world is watching how we act now and how we manage this situation. How we help the Windrush people will have huge precedence for how we then help the 3 million EU citizens who also have the right to be here, and how we expect other European countries to help the 1 million British citizens living with their families in Europe. We must get this right.
If the motion said the Windrush generation are British and have the right to be here, I would vote for it. If it said that many members of the Windrush generation have been treated abysmally, I would vote for it. If it said that the Windrush generation should be apologised to and compensated, I would vote for it. If it said that we must learn from this and make sure it never happens again, I would certainly vote for it. If it said that the Home Office should urgently put in extra staff to help sort out the problems, I would vote for it.
But that is not what this motion says. This motion says we should take staff off the frontline—staff who could be helping to sort out those problems—and send them into the archives, send them to seize computers and trawl through emails, and send them to grab people’s mobile phones to find out what their text messages say. As the Home Secretary said, that could take 100 people off the frontline—people who should be helping our citizens. That is why I will not vote for the motion tonight.
I have been a Member of the House for 26 years and I want to begin by talking about my experience with a Conservative Government when I was first elected.
In those days, Ministers were willing to meet Members personally when they had a case of somebody in difficulty. I remember a young woman who had won a newspaper competition for a free holiday in Morocco with her husband, but who had the misfortune to have been born in the northern part of Cyprus before Cyprus had its independence. There were all kinds of difficulty and she could not get a post office to issue her a British passport. I got Charles Wardle to overturn the decision of his officials. They gave her travel documents, but he said to me, “Please, please don’t make this public until after I have ceased to be a Minister.”
I remember the Secretary of State for International Trade, when he was a Foreign Office Minister, overruling officials: he was a doctor and he understood the compassionate case that I made for somebody to come here as a visitor and be able to care for someone. I remember Ministers in that time, and I say this because I am trying to get this Government to understand—there has been a change in culture.
In July 2013, the go-home vans were sent into my constituency. That sent fear into many, many people. There has been the development of a culture of disbelief within the Home Office. That has happened over many years. Between 2001 and 2002, I was in the Home Office as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister dealing with immigration and nationality, Lord Rooker. I can say there was enormous pressure at that time because of the political climate that we had had develop in this country.
I see the current crisis as an opportunity. If the documentation is properly made available to the Home Affairs Committee, which will then decide what is appropriate to be published and what is not—I am sure that the Committee can be trusted to do that, given the integrity of my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper—there will be a chance for us to put some things right. I am not just talking about the Windrush issue. There are other problems, including the English language test scandal exposed by the Financial Times, which I mentioned in my intervention on Joanna Cherry. There is a similar issue with the tier 2 high-value migrant visas.
There are people in this country today, in different categories, who came here perfectly legitimately, but who have now found that their status is being challenged and they are being told that they have to leave. As my hon. Friend Meg Hillier said, the coalition Government scrapped the plans for ID cards that were in the pipeline from the Labour Government. If that had not happened, the situation would not be perfect but we would be in a much better position today to deal with this culture of disbelief.
It is a pleasure to follow Mike Gapes.
I echo the words of the Home Secretary in expressing my profound thanks and admiration to those of the Windrush generation, who—almost 70 years ago to the day—came to this country to help to rebuild post-war Britain and to work in our public services. It is right that we recognise, reflect on and address what has happened to them, particularly in view of the fact that their journey here was one of hope. Their journey and subsequent integration into British life reflected their determination and aspirations to build a wonderful life here. It was also a testament to the open and outward-looking nature of our country. It is important that we go forward from here in that vein, recognising the value of the Commonwealth of Nations and the contribution that its citizens have made, and will continue to make, to this country and to the world.
The Windrush generation have built their life here and have contributed enormously to our country. I emphasise again that there should be no doubt about their right to remain here. Where harm has been done, it should be recognised, addressed and compensated. Members of the Windrush generation came from all over the Commonwealth.
I declare an interest in Commonwealth issues, as a number of my family members have emigrated to Commonwealth countries across the globe. My daughter Felicity emigrated to Australia and has settled down there with her family. My brother Patrick and his wife Sally lived in New Zealand for a number of years, after emigrating there more than 40 years ago. I am certain that Members from right across the House have relations living in all areas of the Commonwealth.
Last month, the UK was host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting—the biennial assembly of Heads of State from all 53 members of the Commonwealth. It has been argued over the years, particularly since our accession to the European Community in 1973, that the Commonwealth is an irrelevance on the national stage and with regards to our foreign policy. I believe that the opposite is true. As we begin to leave the European Union, our relationship with our Commonwealth cousins will become ever more important, and we must strengthen and build on our historical ties and friendships.
As we debate and address the appalling treatment of some of the Windrush generation, I hope that we can go forward positively. In considering how our country has welcomed and benefited from migration to this country from Commonwealth countries, we should also recognise and thank the wonderful spirit with which other Commonwealth countries have welcomed our citizens to settle and add value to their societies. We should do all we can to build on those mutually beneficial relationships. As we settle and move on from the Windrush scandal, it is important that we again look outwards, rebuild the bonds we have with our Commonwealth and make this work for us and them in a positive way.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I would like to add my support to the contributions made by my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott and many other Labour Members, particularly my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, who rightly said that the treatment of the Windrush generation has been shameful. I want to return to the central point of this issue, rather than discussing the nature of the motion, as some Conservative Members have tried to do.
It is now more than two weeks since my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham raised an urgent question in order to bring this serious issue to the attention of the House, and there has rightly been a lot of discussion and debate. Yet we stand here today still with a lack of clarity on how it will be resolved for all those affected, who, let us not forget, are British citizens. Serious questions remain about compensation, the burden of proof that we place on individuals, and what long-term protection there will be to ensure that the Windrush generation—and indeed others like them from other Commonwealth countries or the European Union—have their rights protected. This uncertainty adds to the anxiety and suffering of those affected.
The mistreatment of the Windrush generation is the key issue that many people in my constituency have been raising over the past two weeks prior to the local elections. People are very upset. There is very strong feeling across different communities, and across the whole of the town of Reading, about the wrong that has been done to people from this community. People are understandably upset that our friends and neighbours have been put in this position and have suffered wrong. The factor that has caused the most upset among my constituents is that these problems have been caused not by mistakes by officials implementing the rules but by the fact that this Government have promoted a hostile environment for migrants. The Government have introduced immigration policies that have created an environment that has placed a deeply unfair burden of proof on people who are here legally, have the right to be here, and yet feel that they are being asked to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they should be here.
The stories we have heard from people across the country of being detained, being denied access to NHS treatment, losing their homes, or suffering every other form of terrible pressure and abuse have sent shockwaves across every community in this country, including in my own constituency. I would like to put it on record that Reading has the largest Barbadian population outside the Caribbean island of Barbados itself, and is a focal point for people from that island who come to live in the UK. We have a very strong West Indian community in our town. I pay tribute to BAFA—the Barbados and Friends Association—and to community groups that represent other West Indian and Commonwealth communities across Reading. Reading is twinned with Speightstown in Barbados, and we have had visits from both the Prime Minister of Barbados and its high commissioner.
I therefore support today’s motion calling for all papers and all communications to be provided for the scrutiny of the Home Affairs Committee. With regard to next steps, assurances that there are no statutory or legal obstacles are not enough. The rights of Commonwealth citizens must be enshrined in law, so I would urge the Government to commit to restoring—
I wish to make some more progress given the pressure of time.
I urge the Government to commit to restoring the protections for Commonwealth citizens that existed prior to the Immigration Act 2014. I also urge the Government to confirm that those affected will be fully compensated for loss of income or benefits, legal fees, Home Office application fees, air fares, emotional distress, and any other costs that they may have incurred as a result of the mistaken hostile environment policy. The new Home Secretary has said that he does not like the word “hostile”. I think he will be judged on his deeds, not his words.
I am very pleased to speak in this debate and to follow Matt Rodda.
It has been very obvious today and in previous debates that there is justifiable anger over this issue. I think it is partly motivated by the fact that the contribution of the Windrush generation to building our society and economy in the post-war years has not been sufficiently recognised, or is undermined by what has happened. One element that we would do well to celebrate and recognise is the contribution of many members of the Windrush generation to our armed forces, prior to their arrival in this country in 1948, during the second world war. During the second world war, some 10,000 Caribbean soldiers served in the British armed forces across all three services, and many conducted themselves in a very distinguished manner.
That includes one Billy Strachan, who arrived in England from Jamaica in 1940 to serve in the Royal Air Force. He conducted himself with distinction, completing 30 missions as a part of Bomber Command at a time when the casualty rate in it was some 50%. He was made an officer and completed his training at Cranwell. The historian Ashley Jackson, in his book “The British Empire”, quotes Billy Strachan, who describes arriving from Jamaica as a new young pilot officer in his RAF unit and his surprise on meeting the batman he had been allocated:
“I was a little…boy from the Caribbean and instinctively I called him ‘Sir’. ‘No, Sir’, he hastily corrected, ‘It is I who call you “Sir”’.”
That is a very interesting vignette, and it reflects the remarkable role that serving in the armed forces can often have in advancing human rights.
I only wish I had known my hon. Friend was going to make that point, or I would have looked up the name of the very distinguished Afro-Caribbean officer from world war two who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and was one of many people from that background who were recognised for great gallantry in the fight against fascism and Nazism.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention, and I hope that, prior to the conclusion of my speech, another Member will intervene to give us that name.
Of course, it was not such a positive experience for every member of the Caribbean community who served in the British Army. Allan Wilmot, who also came from Jamaica, volunteered to join the Royal Navy in 1941 and served throughout the second world war. He described the sense of hostility that many felt on arriving in the British Isles after the war:
“Being British, you feel like you are coming home, but when we came here it was like we dropped out of the sky. Nobody knew anything about us.”
Those people had to display the same bravery that they had demonstrated during the war on arrival in this country, to overcome that hostility, and of course many of them overcame it successfully and went on to contribute very meaningfully to our economy and our society.
The distinguished service of Caribbean armed forces men and women is not confined to the history books. There is no finer example of gallantry in the modern era than Johnson Beharry, from Grenada, who served with the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in Iraq and was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2005 for his remarkable bravery in Amarah. Anyone who has served recently in the armed forces will have very positive experiences of serving shoulder to shoulder with members of the Commonwealth and Caribbean soldiers. I was very pleased to serve alongside Guardsmen from St Lucia and Jamaica.
My interest in the experience of soldiers from abroad who have come to this country and then go on to settle here also links to the experience of our Gurkha soldiers. They, like the Windrush generation, navigated the transition from service life to civilian life. Just as we are hugely proud of the distinguished conduct and contribution that the Gurkhas make, we would do very well today to be similarly proud of the distinguished service of a generation of Caribbean soldiers and the positive contribution they made in the second world war to guarding and defending our freedom.
It is a pleasure to follow the very interesting speech by Leo Docherty.
Among the many issues that have been raised today is that of the need to prove Britishness in this hostile environment. When Bevan set up the NHS, he said about distinguishing “visitors”:
“Are British citizens to carry means of identification everywhere to prove that they are not visitors? For if the sheep are to be separated from the goats both must be classified. What began as an attempt to keep the Health Service for ourselves would end by being a nuisance to everybody.”
It may be time to revisit that issue. Little did he know that some 70 years later, the people who were so crucial in building his NHS would be facing such struggles.
The debate about migration and proof of identity is not new, but what I hope is new is the voice and experience of many of us here today in this place. I grew up the daughter of Irish migrants who in the 1950s—aged just 17 and 21—came to a really exciting but alien and sometimes hostile environment. My contemporaries in west London, as well as the Irish, largely came from the Indian subcontinent but also from the Caribbean. We knew we were different, with our parents born of a different time and place—we were like the in-betweeners—but we shared our knowledge of our history, food, customs and religion. I learned about Amritsar, Indian partition, slavery, the Commonwealth, the world’s religions and customs, and the joy of those cultures not from history books, but from my peers.
This country is great because of the ebb and flow of people, their industry and their ideas and culture over centuries. What has opened up in the past few years is the hostility that we know our parents endured, but which we hoped had gone. Many colleagues, including my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, have reminded us all so eloquently of the debt that we now owe to those previous generations.
I have been contacted by some Windrush people, but the Home Office problems go much further. In my constituency I have an American husband in his early 30s who is married to a British citizen, but they have been unnecessarily split due to administrative errors. A man born and bred in Bristol South, who moved to Australia to find work, cannot now bring back his wife and child. Someone who has been a civil servant in Bristol for many years and his second wife, with a 15-year-old son, were refused a visa and did not receive any appeals letter.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Liberty have called for the appointment of an independent commission to review the workings of the Home Office and the legal framework of the hostile environment, and I support that call. They have identified many issues, including the culture issue and the fact that the Home Office is continually error-prone and often arbitrary in its decision making.
I want to make a further comment about the Home Office in relation to Brexit and concerns in Northern Ireland, which I recently raised with the Minister. The Home Office Border Force recently issued job adverts requiring a UK passport issued in Northern Ireland. Following pressure on the Home Office, including from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the adverts have been withdrawn and an apology has been made. However, given the delicate balance agreed as part of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement—that people in Northern Ireland can be British, Irish or both—this was a fundamental display of at best ignorance within the Department.
The problems within the Home Office go far—much wider than Windrush and what we are talking about today. The Government need to get a grip and, crucially, they need to change the culture from the very top.
It is a privilege to take part in this important debate, and to follow my hon. and gallant Friend Leo Docherty, who rightly reminded the House of the proud record of service and loyalty of people from the Commonwealth.
Let me start by taking a step back. In my constituency, I am proud to have a large number of people who came to this country from Uganda in the 1970s. They were given 90 days to leave by Idi Amin, and they came here with nothing but the shirts on their backs, but they have brought such a lot to my constituency, building fantastic businesses through their hard work and enterprise. They are just one community in which I see so much to admire in people who have come to this country. As I go around my constituency, I see a fantastic culture of effort and hard work in our schools, and communities that have a strong record of looking after older people in their homes. There is much to admire.
When I speak to people in those migrant communities in my constituency, I am also reminded that they feel very strongly that we must not lose sight of the distinction between legal and illegal migration. They feel that they have jumped through many hoops, done all the right things and played by the rules, and they do not want people who have not done the same simply to be allowed to come to this country illegally.
I would argue for balance. I feel very strongly that the Windrush generation have been very badly treated, and it is essential that the new Home Secretary puts that right. He should put in place a more humane system, in which we do more to help such people prove their right to be here. I also think there is more we could do to make our immigration system as a whole more humane. We could be quicker in processing asylum claims and make sure we are quicker with visa applications, so that people do not fear missing family occasions. I welcome the Government’s integration strategy, and I would like us to do more to ensure that everyone can take part in our society.
Even as we do all those things, we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I believe that we need to control migration, which does put pressure on finite resources such as housing and our infrastructure. Even today, a new poll has shown that the great majority of people in this country want tighter control of migration, and I think it is right to bear down on illegal immigration. Most illegal immigration takes place not as a result of people sneaking across borders but because people overstay in this country. So it is right to have measures in place that make it more difficult to be an illegal immigrant and that help us to reduce illegal immigration, which is unfair immigration.
If the motion was in favour of more humane treatment of the Windrush generation, I would vote for it in a heartbeat. Sadly, it would absorb huge amounts of resource, pursuing an agenda that will not help the people I want to see helped. I would like to see a humane system in which we do everything we can to help people who may not have much in the way of resources to navigate a complex bureaucracy. I would like to see a system that was less bureaucratic, more humane and faster. However, I am unable to support the motion, because it would distract us, rather than help us, in that important task, and it would make it more difficult, rather than easier, for the new Home Secretary to get on with the important work he is doing in ensuring a fairer deal for the Windrush generation.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. When the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, we saw immigration taken out of the scope of legal aid, and we have seen the effects over the last few weeks, as the cruel, inhumane and unnecessary treatment of the Windrush generation and their families has been revealed—people unable to defend themselves against the weight of the Home Office and the hostile environment it has fostered.
As a new MP, one of my first cases last year was Mr Robinson, a resident of Jamaican descent who came to me for help. He had been living in this country since the 1970s, working and paying taxes for his whole life here and making a valuable contribution. He is proud that his son became a world champion boxer. His son was working as a storeman in Cardiff and, with just two days’ notice, he accepted a fight for the world featherweight title and won.
Having never needed a passport since he lost his many decades ago, along with his naturalisation documents, Mr Robinson tried to apply for a new passport so that he could attend a wedding in Jamaica just last year. He was sent a letter saying that there was no record of him and that he needed to reapply for naturalisation and to pay the fees, which he did. Then the Home Office told him that he was not automatically entitled to citizenship. In the final letter, he was told that, because he had failed to register his British citizenship upon Jamaica’s independence, he had been relinquished of his British nationality in place of a Jamaican one, without his knowledge. At 85, and having been in this country for over 63 years, Mr Robinson is one of the oldest UK residents caught up in this fiasco and one of those who has been here the longest.
Just last week, I heard from an immigration lawyer representing students in Wales who are being rejected from university because their parents are from the Windrush generation. A student who got A*s in her exams wanted to be a doctor, but she could not prove she was in the United Kingdom legally, despite having been born here. When the university discovered that, her benefits were stopped and she lost her part-time job. That has meant that three generations of one family—one born here and the other two having been here for over 40 years and over 50 years—have been completely cut off from the right to housing, the right to benefits and the right to continue to be in their jobs. That is why I am calling on the Government to make legal aid available to all applicants who are now forced to prove their immigration status in the UK. They need that financial support and legal help to help them secure confirmation of their entitlement to British citizenship.
The Government cannot undo the trauma, pain and suffering that has already been caused, but they can ensure that people can access the legal aid, support, justice and compensation that they deserve as valuable British citizens.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr Speaker.
This debate touches the very heart of us. For so many of us, it is fundamentally about fairness. It is a debate about how people should be treated fairly. It is clear that all of us feel that a gross unfairness has been done to people who have been here legally, are part of us and are very much part of the fabric of our community. It is an unfairness that, sadly, started generations ago and has persisted for far too long.
Many Members have spoken, so I will not take up much more time. I simply want to say that that unfairness applies not only, as many have said, to the Windrush generation in the purest sense, but to a wider community who have come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the African nations, the middle east and all over the world. One community I would particularly like to highlight, because it is one that touches me personally, is the Jewish community, who have come over the years and have also suffered unfairness through immigration at various points. I realise that that is in many ways tangential to today’s debate, but the point about fairness in migration is that it must include everyone or it includes no one.
I celebrate the fact that we have a son of the Windrush generation representing Her Majesty’s Government—is that not an image of the British dream if ever there was one?—and that he is not referred to as a British-Pakistani. He is not referred to as a British-anything. There is no qualifier. Nobody here is referred to as a British-anything. We are all simply British. That is a huge enrichment for our national life. It has made us, as a country, so much stronger.
I will end by saying how proud I am that this House is represented by so many different communities and by so many people who have come here very recently or many generations ago. The fairness we speak of today—this aspiration of equality that we all seek and too often fail to achieve—is at the heart of Britishness. It is therefore at the heart of the duty of the Home Office to deliver it. I know the new Secretary of State will do just that.
The Windrush generation are remarkable for their resilience and their grace. Before the Windrush sailed from the Caribbean, many of its passengers had volunteered to serve in the UK armed forces during the second world war, making that extraordinary sacrifice despite the racism they experienced, and choosing to rise above it and to serve the cause of fighting fascism in Europe. The Windrush passengers were also answering a call for help from the British Government to come and rebuild Britain after the devastation of the second world war. They came, above all else, to contribute.
I am proud to represent Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, the location of the labour exchange where, in 1948, many of the passengers of the Empire Windrush came to look for work. They found it in our NHS, at London Transport and in other public services. They found it in factories, the construction industry and offices. Many made their home in Brixton, establishing the first large Caribbean community in London. Nothing about that journey was easy, from the separation from family and friends and the long sea crossing to the arrival in a cold and unfamiliar climate and the daily experience of racism epitomised in the signs on doors reading, “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”. But the Windrush generation found a way.
The Brixton we know today was made by Windrush citizens, from the shops and the markets to the music, the community centres and the churches. Windrush citizens made Brixton not only a place with a strong Caribbean community, but a place of tolerance where diversity is celebrated and where everyone is welcome whatever their background. I moved to Brixton in 1996, and for a young person from a small town in the north of England it felt like the centre of the world. Brixton embraced me and allowed me to call it home. I am proud now to have the privilege of representing our fabulous Windrush community.
That same community, however, has encountered an immigration system under this Government that has no grace and is devoid of all compassion. It is a system that is programmed to assume the worst of everyone—to ascribe bad motives to even the most innocent of errors and to look for every possible reason why anyone who has come to the UK from overseas should not be allowed to stay. It is a system that is loaded to saying no until it is forced to do otherwise, delivering injustice in many forms.
First, there is the injustice of incompetence: the hundreds and hundreds of people I see whose applications are delayed, whose papers have been lost, or whose decisions are founded on a mistake made by the Home Office itself. Secondly, there is the enormous injustice of a system that has proactively and deliberately used the lack of formal papers held by many British citizens who have been here for decades as an excuse to try to remove them from their home or deny them access to public funds.
The third injustice affects families seeking to travel to visit one another for a range of different reasons. I have lost count of the number of heartbreaking cases in which family members seeking to travel to a wedding, a funeral, to help out around the birth of a new baby or to support a loved one who is sick have been prevented from doing so, because the Home Office makes an assumption that anyone wanting to enter the UK must be trying to do so with the motive of staying here permanently. The most outrageous case concerned my constituent, Isaac, whose leukaemia stem cell transplant from his brother in Nigeria was delayed because the Home Office said that he might want to outstay his visa.
The final injustice I want to mention is that of having no recourse to public funds, which, right here, right now in this city, is causing a family with children and a heavily pregnant mother to sleep on our streets while two councils argue over who has a duty to look after them and put a roof over their heads.
A Department that is dealing with so many people in such appalling ways cannot command any confidence in its ability to deal fairly with the hundreds of thousands of EU nationals who will call the UK home post Brexit. We cannot allow this injustice to continue, and we cannot allow it to happen again. Nothing short of a root and branch review of the Home Office, a full compensation scheme for Windrush citizens and a radical change of approach will be adequate as a response to this scandal.
It is an honour to follow Helen Hayes, who made her case so passionately, and I would like to associate myself with many of her comments. We have heard that there is complete understanding from Members on both sides of the Chamber today that a wrong needs to be corrected.
Before I go on to the rest of my speech, I would like to add a brief moment of levity. There was some temporary excitement among my friends yesterday when they read a headline in the paper suggesting that the son of an immigrant bus driver had been elevated to the position of Home Secretary—they thought that the honour could have been bestowed on me already. However, when I explained that someone who holds that great position of state needs to be able to command a Department of 27,000 staff and a budget of £14 billion, handling millions of decisions every year, I think they completely agreed with the Prime Minister that it was probably best left in the hands of my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid, for the moment.
However, as I say, I am the son of an immigrant bus driver. My Irish parents came over from Ireland in the 1940s and I grew up in an Irish community in Birmingham. To go back to the comment made by the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, I heard stories of signs on bed-and-breakfast accommodation that said, “No Blacks, No Irish.” I have a complete understanding and affinity for that community, with which my parents shared so much of their early life. Indeed, my father never went outside of England and Ireland. He never travelled to another country and I cannot imagine how disturbed he would have been to be faced with the prospect of having to provide documents that would allow him a passport to travel to other places around the world to join and support family members, as the hon. Lady so rightly mentioned. I completely understand the difficulties that people will have faced and we need to put it right.
We also need to understand the context in which this debate can sometimes be framed. My hon. Friend James Cartlidge mentioned that we have approximately 1 million illegal immigrants in the UK. Clearly, this is a sizeable problem. Today, I read an article in the paper that said my hon. Friend Nick Boles had been talking about the fact that we need to reconsider our approach to our immigration policy in this country. In 1997, a poll showed that 3% of the people who were asked their view on immigration thought that it was the most important issue facing the country. Ten years later, 46% of people thought that it was the most important issue, so for today, we have a problem. However, it is best placed in the hands of a man who is a brilliant Minister, who will completely sympathise with the people affected.
What have the Government done so far? We have made 7,000 calls, identifying prospectively 3,000 people who have been affected; 600 appointments have been made and 100 people have already had their documents processed. As a party, we are taking this problem very seriously. We have deployed the resources necessary to address it, and I firmly believe that within months the Conservative party will have dealt with this issue.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this very important debate, but I am saddened that the debate is necessary. The Government assert that it is unhelpful to refer to their policies and the scrap of protections afforded in the 2014 Act as fostering a hostile environment. I am sorry but I do not apologise. This is not, and cannot be considered, a compliant environment. It is correct to call it what it is: hostile.
I find it increasingly frustrating that the Government seek to conflate the Windrush debate and debacle with illegal immigration. To combine two sets of information is to conflate, so let me be clear: we are talking about people who were here legally being considered illegal. It is too late for warm words and simple apologies. The architects of this crisis must now step forward to give an immediate, full and honest account of how this inexcusable situation has happened and answer questions on the compensation and legal protections for the Windrush generation.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about the need for honesty in this debate. She will be aware that one of her activists in Peterborough has called my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a “coconut” on Twitter. What is she and her party locally doing about that? Such abuse cannot be tolerated.
I advise the hon. Gentleman that the activist is not actually a Labour member, but I hear what he says. I disagree with any form of racism, especially racism pointed towards or coming from Members of this House, such as Conservative Members using the N word.
The Home Secretary must confirm that full compensation will be paid—compensation not limited to but including: loss of income, loss of benefits, legal fees, Home Office application fees, air fares, emotional distress and unlawful detention. Will the Home Secretary factor in such considerations as I heard when I went to a Committee Room? I heard members of the Windrush generation talking about how being held in a detention centre for nine months left them unable to pay their mortgage and that as result their home was repossessed? When will things of that sort be talked about and explained to us in the context of compensation?
This crisis was foreseeable and foreseen when legislation was being introduced. We have heard from both sides of the House that warnings were given to Home Secretaries but that nothing was done, no action was taken. In respect of action being taken, I also heard from a member of the Windrush generation in that Committee Room that they had a biometrics card due to expire in 2024. Why would a British citizen not be given a British passport? This is not about targets; it is about justice for the Windrush generation. Until we have answers to these questions, we will continue to seek transparency.
I wish a happy 40th birthday to Stuart C. McDonald, but I am afraid he does not get any longer than four minutes.
Your good wishes, Mr Speaker, and those of other hon. Members have certainly made facing up to middle age that little bit easier today, so thank you very much indeed.
I start, as I did in Monday’s debate, by paying tribute to the Windrush generation. They battled against hostility when they arrived, and it is a tragedy that they have to battle against hostility 70 years later. We have heard lots of thoughtful speeches today, but I am troubled by the emerging argument that this horrendous episode can be seen as a one-off administrative mistake. I am concerned by the argument that the world can be neatly and easily divided into good “compliant migrants” on one hand and wicked and nasty “illegal immigrants” on the other, and by the argument that the hostile environment will affect only the latter while everyone else carries on utterly unharmed. Those arguments are at best naive and at worst disingenuous, as the Windrush scandal has shown.
The key point that I want to make in the limited time available is that the disastrous impact of the hostile environment—which is, essentially, a half-baked, back-door ID card—does not start or end with Windrush. Others have fallen victim to it, and will continue to do so. Some are legally here and some are undocumented, but they are as far from the desperate stereotype of the wicked illegal immigrant as it is possible to get. Hostility is not the answer.
Among the victims of the hostile environment—as we heard earlier from my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford—are the tens of thousands of undocumented children in this country. Many were born here, and many of those have led most of their lives here. They are entitled to British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981 if they register, but few are registering. Indeed, few will be aware that they need to register until they are refused jobs, education, social security, housing or NHS treatment in exactly the same way as the Windrush victims. Then, despite their not being allowed to work or claim benefits, the Home Office will refuse to register them unless they can scrape together more than £1,000, more than £600 of which is pure Home Office profit. Why should those children be subject to a hostile environment?
Also among those cast adrift in the hostile environment will almost certainly be tens if not hundreds of thousands of EU nationals who, for whatever reason, do not manage to secure settled status by whatever cut-off time the Home Office imposes.
There are further victims of that hostile environment. One is the Afghan interpreter who was in the news again last week. He worked with the British armed forces in Helmand province for two years, but his asylum claim has been turned down. Does he deserve to be in a hostile environment? Also forced to face that environment are the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Eritreans who were wrongly refused asylum on the basis of the Home Office’s dodgy country guidance. Many of them are now street homeless and destitute.
As was pointed out earlier by Mike Gapes, among the victims of the hostile environment are several thousands of students who were wrongly caught up in the English testing scandal. They were presumed guilty on the basis of a spreadsheet from the company that had messed up the testing in the first place, and were then rounded up and deported without even being allowed to see or hear the evidence against them, let alone challenge it in a tribunal in this country. Thousands of careers were ruined before they had even started. All those people might be caught up in the broad and pejorative term “illegal migrants”, but they deserve a humane rather than a hostile response.
Also caught up in the hostile environment are those who—just like the Windrush generation, and just like every Member in the House—are perfectly entitled to be here. Among them will be 9 million British citizens without passports, because 43% of landlords and landladies say that they are less likely to let to such citizens now that the hostile environment has made them petrified of getting “right to rent” checks wrong. That applies particularly to those who are foreign, look foreign, or have a foreign-sounding name.
The hostile environment has brought no gain, but so much pain. We must not pretend that this starts and stops with Windrush, because otherwise it will run and run.
I want to thank the nurses, the teachers, the bus drivers, the plumbers and the bricklayers who came to my city to make it the great city—the greatest city in the world—that it is now. I particularly thank those who came to my part of the greatest city, south London. The Windrush generation have contributed so much, not only through work but in the community, in our churches, and in our political parties. The strongest supporters of the Mitcham and Morden Labour parties, those who will be out tomorrow knocking on doors and putting leaflets through the letter boxes, will be from the Caribbean. If I had time, I would tell the House their names and their stories, but I do not. Instead, I will tell the stories of three people who have no right to be here, although each of them has lived here for more than 50 years.
Ken is 64. He came to the UK in 1962, aged eight, to join his now late parents Herman and Ivy Ellis, both of whom were UK citizens. He still has his dad’s UK passport and his birth certificate. He went to school in Wandsworth. He was taken into care by Wandsworth Council for some time. He first came to see me in 2013, and I tried to help him to find evidence to support his application to stay. I am sorry to say that I did not know that he already had indefinite leave to remain. I contacted the Revenue; it would not give his details unless the Home Office asked for them. I asked Wandsworth for his school records, but was told, “We don’t keep records that far back.” I even requested his landing card, not knowing, of course, that that had since been destroyed. That means that since 2013, Ken, who has always worked, has been unable to do so. His relationship has broken down, he has lost his home, and he is staying at the mercy of friends.
I would like to tell the House about Neville. Neville came to Britain in 1973, aged 17, to join his parents, Thomas and Deslin, both of whom were UK citizens—and I am now holding up their British passports. A subject order request to release his file from the Home Office showed that the Home Office was entirely aware that he had come to Britain in 1973 and later informed anyone who wanted to read it that the Home Office had destroyed his file and that of his mother. So there was no way for him to prove that he indeed was a British citizen.
I first got to know Trevor on
I am ashamed that I did not understand their position. I tried to help them, and I have failed. I only ask that the Home Office no longer fails and that these men be allowed to work, as their parents taught them, and to lead the lives that they want to lead as serious citizens of this country.
My constituent was eight when he arrived in the UK with his parents and seven siblings nearly 50 years ago. He was schooled here, got a job, married, had children and then grandchildren, worked and paid taxes. A fear of flying meant that he never applied for a passport, in contrast to all his siblings who all hold British passports. Everything changed for my constituent, whom I will call Theo, when he applied for, and was offered, a new job in November 2014. He was required to produce a passport. Not only was his job offer withdrawn, but his existing employer was forced to suspend him.
Theo began a lengthy and expensive battle with the Home Office. It wanted his parents’ marriage certificate and his mother’s original passport. I would challenge any Member to produce their parents’ passports from 50 years ago, yet he did. The Home Office wanted evidence of Theo living in the UK; payment of tax and national insurance was not good enough. His citizenship was refused because of the lack of his parents’ marriage certificate, but, amazingly, this was found by a member of his family.
However, the Home Office refused to reconsider its decision, at which point I wrote to the then Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, about Theo’s case. She did not respond, but instead I received a letter from a civil servant. I raised the case in business questions with the then Leader of the House, now Secretary of State for Transport. He urged me to write to him, which I did. I received a response from the then Immigration Minister, now Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. There was no change to the Home Office position, but, chillingly, the final paragraph stated:
“It would appear, in this case, that Theo’s siblings may have been erroneously issued with British citizen passports. If their full details, including their dates of birth, can be provided then the Home Office will investigate the matter further. If it transpires that the passports were issued in error, then it will ultimately be a decision for Her Majesty’s Passport Office as to whether or not the passports can be retained, or should be revoked.”
Theo is a deeply private man; he is not seeking publicity or attention. This particular correspondence highlights why he wishes to remain anonymous.
When the new Home Secretary was appointed in July 2016, I wrote to her. I received a response from the Immigration Minister, now the Children’s Minister. The reason for my detailing all this correspondence is to show that this issue was known about long before the scandal broke, and that many Government Ministers have had their grubby fingers on it—in my constituent’s case, five different Ministers including the Prime Minister herself. The faux outrage from the Government Benches is simply not credible when we know how many people had previous knowledge of the situation and did not act. It is only right that the previous Home Secretary has resigned, but it would appear that she has committed this act of self-sacrifice to divert the attention from the true culprit: the creator of this “hostile environment”, the Prime Minister herself.
The impact on Theo has been enormous. This man who has worked all his life now finds that the impact on his mental health is so severe that he is unable to hold down a job. It is right that the Prime Minister has apologised for the wrongs that have been done, but how will she make up for the impact on his health, and how can she ever compensate Theo for everything he has lost?
I want to start by mentioning the patronising way in which Anna Soubry—who is no longer in her place—spoke to me earlier about countering the far right in her youth. Countering the far right should not be something that people can consign to their youth; they should make a lifelong commitment to challenging and countering those deplorable racist views. It is quite a privilege for someone to be able to leave it behind in their youth.
There have been many brilliant and moving speeches here today about the Windrush generation. I want to address the question of the “hostile environment” more broadly. It is clear to anyone who has had any engagement with the Home Office that our immigration system is broken. It is a shambles and, in its present form, it has been constructed on a premise that is solely negative and suspicious of our fellow human beings. There has been a culture on the right and the far right and in the printed press that places immigrants and immigration at the heart of society’s ills. That is both futile and inaccurate. I represent a constituency that has one of the lowest levels of immigration in the country yet, you know what, we still have hospitals that are underfunded, schools that are under immense pressure and a woefully inadequate transport system. None of those ills was caused by migration.
Returning to the question of our broken immigration system, I want briefly to outline some of the things that I think are wrong. People engaging with the immigration system have to wait far too long for a response. Deadlines for processing applications are not being met. The fees are extortionate, and there is little or no help or immigration advice. It is a complicated process. Passports, birth certificates and other important documents are lost. None of this has been created in a vacuum. The asylum process is degrading, frustrating and punishing, and many vulnerable, brave people are treated without respect.
The system is built on a presumption that everyone who wants to come to this country is a cheat and a liar who must be found out, and that their intention must be to defraud the system and to steal. Charges, borders, barriers, searches, detention centres, medical inspections, dawn raids, “go home” vans, charter flight removals and “hostile environments” therefore seem necessary, but that is a flawed assumption based on a superiority complex. You might think, from the way some people talk in the press, that we have open borders, and we hear the perpetuation of the unfounded myth that migrants receive preferential treatment. Everything that has been said in this debate shows that that is absolutely untrue. Was I surprised to hear about the treatment of the Windrush generation? Absolutely not. It is not a shock at all. British citizens are regularly treated with contempt by this Government; it is nothing new. But now the mask has fallen, and we need some truth and honesty, starting with the publication of every single document relating to this fiasco, so that people can see and understand the scale of the problem.
We should not be shoved down the path of the good migrant versus bad migrant narrative. That language is wholly unnecessary, and it leads to two difficult endpoints, in which only the richest and most privileged people have freedom of movement, and the others who come here are often those who come in servitude to those people. What kind of society have we created, when those are the only two options? Where is the humanity in our immigration system? We must find it, develop it, nurture it and place it at the centre of whatever is built next. Pathologising human movement as though it were an affliction is not a route to a healthy society or a peaceful world. We can do so much better than this.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Laura Pidcock. I speak today as an immigrant who has lived in Bedford—one of the most diverse towns in the UK—for 26 years. I was fortunate to grow up in a tolerant environment, and I have always loved my town, so much so that I wanted to work hard to give something back to my community. That why I first got involved in local politics back in 2005, when I tried to give something back to a town that had welcomed me, but society is changing. To hear about how the Windrush generation—British citizens—have been treated is chilling for anyone who has come to live in Britain legally from Commonwealth countries and from elsewhere, and now even for EU citizens.
Like most MPs, I receive a lot of correspondence about immigration issues, including from people who want to go overseas to attend important events in their relatives’ lives. Hearing the heartbreaking stories of British citizens not being allowed to leave the country to attend parents’ funerals or a wedding or not being allowed home has been appalling. I have seen the effects of the “hostile environment” policy since 2014 and have felt the effects of a shift in attitudes towards immigrants—personally and through the stories that my constituents tell me.
In recent years, the Home Office has forced people from parts of Africa and the subcontinent to endure increasingly long waits to have their cases considered, labelling them “complex” and refusing to offer timescales or reasons for the delays. Such cases sometimes involve unaccompanied child refugees who, having made the dangerous journey to get here, have been left in limbo for years with no certainty that they will not be deported when they come of age. Entry clearance officers overseas now seem routinely to refuse visas from certain parts of the world, even when people have visited and returned several times before.
Things have felt different and difficult in recent years. The “hostile environment” has had a profound impact on our health service and on the social care sector. A manager of a nursing home contacted me just the other day to say she cannot get visas for qualified nurses. Nurses cannot get visas to come and look after sick, elderly patients in my constituency, in an out-of-hospital facility, because of Home office policy. Meanwhile, our hospital is creaking at the seams and cannot discharge patients. The Government’s decision to make landlords, local authorities, schools, universities and every employer into an agent of Border Force by requiring them to check people’s status has created an environment of fear and suspicion. People have seen job offers withdrawn after incorrect information was passed from the employer checking service, and people have lost rental properties and university places.
Some of the Windrush victims have been detained in Yarl’s Wood—a terrible place that needs to be shut down. Let us not forget that it is Government policy, and Home Office application of that policy, that has led to so many vulnerable people being detained indefinitely in that dreadful place on the edge of my constituency—
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who have raised shocking cases this afternoon. They have shone a light on the impact that treating people as numbers has had, and have raised wider questions. I have huge concerns about the Home Office culture that has been fostered by such policies. If we treat people as numbers, regardless of their individual circumstances, we all lose out, as we are now realising.
As an illustration, I raise the case of a young man from Sri Lanka to whom I spoke today. I cannot give his name. He has anonymity due to concerns for his safety, as the House will realise. This young man was trafficked to this country as a teenager after his brother was taken from school by the army and never seen again.
The young man claimed asylum in this country and agreed to give evidence against the international gang that had trafficked him. He was promised anonymity in the trial. He was promised leave to remain in this country, as he would be in danger from the gang’s associates back in Sri Lanka. So he gave his evidence and helped the Home Office to put away the UK members of the gang. The Home Office even put out a press release to celebrate its success.
However, instead of protecting the young man whose evidence it had relied on over two days of cross-examination, the Home Office gave details of his asylum claim and his family’s whereabouts to the defence. Very soon after the trial was over, the Home Office sought to deport him back to Sri Lanka. The defendants, who had shouted as they were sentenced that they would take revenge on him, thought their lucky day had come.
In spite of the young man’s evidence, the Home Office’s submission to his appeal said that
“consideration has been given to the criminal court judgement in which he was a credible witness, however this in itself does not present as a very compelling circumstance to prevent deportation.”
Even though a judge had ruled against his deportation to protect his safety, the Home Office sought leave to appeal against that ruling at the Upper Tribunal. Just last week, it succeeded in getting the asylum decision overturned.
The young man now has to go back to the First-tier Tribunal to have his case reconsidered. Having helped this country to put away the criminals who help people trafficking, and having helped the Home Office, he is now terrified of deportation and the revenge of the people traffickers.
I thank the Immigration Minister for having sat through the whole of this afternoon’s debate, and I thank the Home Secretary for being here. Will they address why the Home Office is spending such vast sums of money on victimising people who have done their best for this country and who have done us a great service while putting themselves in danger?
What does it say to the victims of people trafficking? We need them to come forward if we are to convict those who continue people trafficking in this country. Will the Minister please look into this terrible case individually and see whether Home Office resources can be better spent?
I am afraid this is the result of a policy that treats people as numbers and that sets targets for deportations and net migration—that deports anyone it can. As we have seen, a huge effort is going into this, and that effort must go into a humane policy.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Ruth George. I pay tribute to her for all the work she has done on behalf of her clearly very vulnerable but incredibly brave constituent. I hope the Home Secretary has listened to what she said and will look into that very worrying case.
I have three brief points. First, we need to understand what has happened and who took which decisions, when and how. We need that information because we need to prevent people’s human rights from being overridden by bureaucratic fiat yet again—I am not convinced that will not reoccur.
My constituent Yvonne Williams is a Windrush generation daughter. She was kept at Yarl’s Wood detention centre for eight months, and she learned just last week that she was due to be put on the plane back to Jamaica that so many Members have talked about in relation to their constituents. Last weekend, the decision was rescinded at the last minute and it appears that my constituent may well be able to stay.
My constituent is very well networked. She is well known in Oxford, and I was on her side as her local MP, but I am concerned about the large number of people who are isolated, who are not backed up by their MP, who have not been picked up and whom the Home Office may be missing. The Home Office will not know about those people if it does not understand why and how these mistakes were made.
Secondly, I want to make a point about the need for the Home Office to liaise with the Department for Work and Pensions. I have another case of a late middle-aged man who came to the UK when he was very young and discovered issues with his status only recently, when he was required to transfer from jobseeker’s allowance to universal credit. I was grateful that the Secretary of State talked before about how he is going to liaise with other Departments, particularly to make sure people’s access to services and to benefit is not compromised. What I want him to do, with the Ministers from the DWP, is make sure they get that message out there to the jobcentres, so that they do not turn around to people and say they will cut off their support. Instead they must say, “Right, we are going to help you because we know you’ve got a right to be here and we need to give you that support, via government and via the Home Office.” Until now, they have been saying they are going to cut off the support.
I want to end by saying that the words of my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood need to remain with us and ring in our ears as we walk out of the Chamber tonight. She set out clearly how the Windrush case is not necessarily anomalous; it is, sadly, a hallmark of a Home Office that has been described by people on both sides of this House variously as operating in an “arbitrary” manner, in an “unfair” manner, in a “punitive” manner and in an “incompetent” manner .That has got to change. This has to be the clarion call that changes that operation of the Home Office.
Let me begin by thanking all the contributors this afternoon. The Windrush crisis has revealed something rotten at the heart of this Government: a blurring of the line between looking like an immigrant and being an immigrant. We can see now that race and immigration cannot be separated. Ministers have tried to claim that the Windrush crisis was a one-off. They have replaced the Home Secretary and pretended that that is the problem solved. Members have raised many individual cases this afternoon. For these people, the Home Secretary’s resignation did not put the issue to bed. We need to look back at what led to this crisis. We need to deal with what is urgently in front of us: justice for the Windrush generation. We need to look ahead, to make sure history does not repeat itself. If the Prime Minister orders her MPs to vote against this motion, it will expose the Tories’ crocodile tears on the Windrush scandal as a sham. The British public will not accept a cover-up.
Looking back, we see that the Government were well aware of the risks in 2014 when they designed the hostile environment. They were told by MPs, by campaign groups and by their own civil service, yet the Prime Minister went ahead and implemented it anyway. The Government have known about specific problems with the Windrush generation for a long time, too; individuals have been contacting the Home Office for years, and the media has been giving voice to Windrush cases for six months. As the former Housing Secretary, Sajid Javid knows that the independent inspector sounded the alarm about the Government’s right to rent scheme before Easter. They have known all this time, yet they cannot tell us how many people have been wrongfully deported, wrongfully detained, wrongfully denied healthcare and public services. Ministers have been reluctant to come forward with the facts, and we need to know these right now. If the Prime Minister is too weak to be accountable, Labour will have to force her to be accountable.
Now that people are in this awful situation, the Prime Minister must urgently confirm the legal status of the Windrush generation. Ministers have spoken of “granting” British citizenship, but let us be clear: these people are already British citizens. Their citizenship needs to be confirmed, not granted, and indefinite leave to remain is not good enough.
The Government have set up a taskforce. Does it have the capacity to deal with all the cases in two weeks? Can it expand if the case load demands? The Government have said that they will take a generous approach. What exactly will be the burden of proof and when will we get that in writing? Application fees have been waived. Can the Minister confirm that people will have more than two weeks to apply and have them waived? Will the Minister confirm that the waiver applies to all administrative costs associated with applying?
When the Prime Minister was establishing the hostile environment policy, there was a cross-Government approach. We need a cross-Government approach to solving the crisis created by this hostile environment. What communication has the Minister had with the Foreign Office, to train high commissions in the Caribbean to deal with Windrush cases? What discussions has the Minister had with the DWP and HMRC to ensure that, where there is evidence of residence and arrival, that is shared with the taskforce? What discussions has she had with the Justice Secretary on the re-introduction of legal aid for immigration cases?
The Windrush generation have suffered a great injustice. They must have access to legal aid. As part of the hostile environment, checks and balances on the Home Office have been removed. In 2013, the Tories exempted immigration cases from legal aid, so people cannot challenge wrong decisions. I hope the Ministry of Justice is paying close attention to this crisis. There will be other groups who are affected in the way the Windrush generation have been. There are highly skilled migrants in the UK now whose visas are being refused on the basis of minor tax errors. The Government must reintroduce legal aid for immigration cases.
Justice for Windrush also means compensation. The Government accepted that there must be compensation for all those affected, and their families. The Home Secretary has said that this will be an independent process. What is the timeframe? How much has been allocated for it? Can the Minister confirm that compensation will apply to loss of employment, denial of access to benefits, public services and healthcare, as well as any shortfall in national insurance and pensions? Will it also cover the trauma, pain and suffering caused by the Government’s reckless hostile environment?
Looking forward, we need a complete change of policy and approach in the Home Office. A change of face will not do. The Home Secretary has said he wants an immigration system that behaves more humanely and with a greater sense of fairness. That does not come about through warm words; it comes about through action.
The Windrush generation came to Britain to build our modern, global Britain after the second world war. In 2018, it is 70 years since the Empire Windrush docked, 50 years since the “rivers of blood” speech and 25 years since the death of Stephen Lawrence. The Windrush crisis is the shameful culmination of our history. We need to investigate what led to this crisis. We need to get justice for the Windrush and we need to correct our future course, so that history does not repeat itself.
This afternoon, we have had both thoughtful and passionate contributions from both sides of the House, which have reflected the public mood towards the Windrush generation, who have contributed so much to our country. We also had a debate on Monday, in which the tone was constructive; I listened carefully to Members’ contributions then, as I have today.
We know that the failure of successive Governments to ensure that individuals arriving before 1973 had the documentation they need is deeply regrettable. I have previously said that I am personally sorry, and I repeat that today, but I also repeat how important it is that we put this right, as a matter of urgency.
I am grateful to the Minister. Will she apologise for the underlying policies that caused this scandal?
The hon. and learned Lady made some comments earlier that I wish to respond to, but I really think it is important that I put it on the record how sorry I am that people have been affected, and how crucial it is to me that we make sure we get it right, and that, going forward, we make sure this cannot happen again.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, putting this right must not mean taking resources away from the teams who are already working so hard to help those who have been affected. I have seen them working and know their dedication and commitment, which I saw this last weekend in Croydon and in Sheffield. That is why the Opposition’s humble address motion is not the right answer.
We have announced a package of measures today to bring greater transparency to Members of the House and to the public. I would like to remind the House of those measures. First, the Home Secretary will be writing each month to Yvette Cooper with an update on progress. I have little time this evening to comment on her significant contribution, but I would like to say to her that it is important to me that we provide her with the updates and make sure that her Committee is aware of the progress. It is seldom that I say this on the Floor of the House, but I look forward to being called to her Committee as early as next week.
It is absolutely imperative to me—and indeed to my civil servants, who have been working incredibly hard—that the right hon. Lady not only gets the answers, but gets thorough and full answers. We will undertake to make sure that that happens as soon as possible.
Secondly, the Home Secretary will be writing to the right hon. Lady each month on the latest position on detention, removals and deportations. Thirdly, the Home Secretary will bring external oversight and challenge to a “lessons learned” review, which is already under way. He has asked the permanent secretary to give the review the resource that it needs.
Meg Hillier shared with us her experience as a former Immigration Minister. She made some observations that I, too, have reflected upon in my relatively short time in this role, and she made some valuable points. It is clear to me that there are resources needed to put this right, and also to look forward and make sure that there cannot be similar occurrences again.
There has been much debate about the impact of the compliant environment on the Windrush generation. We are taking steps—important steps—to safeguard those from the Windrush generation seeking jobs or rented accommodation. We have published updated guidance on gov.uk, which encourages employers and landlords to get in touch with the Home Office checking service if they are unsure about individual status. The taskforce will contact the individual concerned to help them to prove their entitlement, and the employer or landlord will be issued with a positive notice to enable them to employ or register the individual.
The Home Office is working with other Departments. Afzal Khan raised the importance of my doing so, particularly with reference to working with organisations such as the DWP, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to make sure that not only Departments, but the partner agencies across the board work to ensure that we have the relevant safeguards in place to prevent those from the Windrush generation from being denied the benefits and services they should be entitled to. Tomorrow, I will chair a cross-Government meeting to discuss those safeguards in more detail.
We have also been clear that ongoing enforcement activity must not impact on people in the Windrush generation. Immigration enforcement has put in place arrangements to minimise this risk.
Will the hon. Lady allow me to comment on some points that she raised at the end of the debate? It is important to me that I address them. It is absolutely crucial that we work very hard to make sure that we have immigration policies that are fair and reflect human beings—the people we know they are. That has been one of the most powerful elements of the Windrush crisis. I have seen and listened to the individual stories, and I want to make sure that they do not happen again.
The hon. Lady raised a case from Sri Lanka. I hope she will come to me with the individual’s details, because it is important to me—just as when I assisted Hugh Gaffney, who is no longer in his place—that we work hard to solve individual cases. I recognise how time-hungry and resource-intensive that will be, but it is imperative that we get this right, and I know that the Home Secretary shares that ambition. The previous Home Secretary—