Windrush

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 6:46 pm, 2nd May 2018

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.