Windrush

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Labour, Wolverhampton North East 4:35 pm, 2nd May 2018

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.