Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move,
That this House
notes the 70th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks carrying passengers from the Caribbean;
further notes the critical role those passengers played in the post-war reconstruction of the UK, and in particular their work to support the establishment of the newly created NHS;
and recognises and celebrates the significant social, political and cultural contribution that those passengers and ensuing generations have made and continue to make to communities across the UK.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate and to the many colleagues from across the House who supported my application.
Today is the first anniversary of the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower, and I want to say at the start of this debate that my thoughts—and those of every Member, I am sure—are with the families of the victims, the survivors, members of the emergency services and all those for whom the last year has been marked by the trauma of that dreadful fire.
The UK was desperate for labour to help rebuild following the devastation of the second world war. The ship’s records reveal that the passengers had a range of skills: they included mechanics, carpenters, welders, engineers, cabinet makers, housing domestics and scholars, and there was a hatter, a judge and a potter, along with many other skilled workers. There were also dozens of airmen who had volunteered to serve in the RAF during the war and had played a hugely significant role in fighting fascism in Europe, including Samuel Beaver King—Sam King—who became the first black Mayor of Southwark.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. In the London Borough of Ealing, on the other side of London, we have had a Windrush physical memorial and events for kids in schools since 1998. Does she agree that the word “Windrush” is meant to be a celebration of the kinds of achievements she is talking about, but that it has now turned into one we associate with tragedy because of failures in the Home Office? We see it week in, week out in our surgeries—for example, in the applications that take so long to be processed even when people have paid for priority service. Does she agree that now more than ever the words of Lord Reid from our side—that the Home Office is not fit for purpose—apply?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and will come later to exactly those issues, which she raises so powerfully.
“'I as a young man volunteered to contribute and fight Nazi Germany and by the Grace of God we won. It was a close thing, for example during Dunkirk a lot of people don’t realise that Britain stood alone, for nearly two years against tyranny… we as part of the former British Empire volunteered and contributed and I am glad I did that.”
I am drawn to the hon. Lady’s speech and delighted to be here to hear it. What she says is quite true, but of course Britain did not stand alone, and does not stand alone now; we stand alongside our brothers and sisters, who have grown up with us and with whom we have grown up, who came from all parts of what was once the empire and is now the Commonwealth and who have enriched our lives and our culture every day since our contacts were first built. The Windrush generation are not a foreign generation but our own generation and very much part of us. It is to that spirit of unity that she is speaking, and it is one of pride, not shame.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I agree entirely with his comments.
Windrush passengers from the Caribbean travelled as British citizens as a result of the British Nationality Act 1948, which created a new category of “citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies” for anyone born or naturalised in either the UK or any of the countries subject to colonial rule. Writing on the 40th anniversary of the Windrush voyage, Sam King described the mixed feelings of the passengers as the ship left Jamaica:
“In the cool afternoon breeze as the sun tilted towards the west, the ship gave out three or four mighty blasts and eased out of Kingston Harbour heading for the Mother Land. About half the immigrants would not look back. In their hearts they were leaving the ‘Rock’ to start a new life in England where, once settled, they would send for their children, brother, sister, mother and father. The other half gazed at the azure sky, the sparkling sea, the majestic Blue Mountain, the beautiful horizon as they disappeared from view, and pledged to go back to the ‘Yard’ within the next five to ten years.”
The arrival of the Windrush at Tilbury docks was captured by Pathé on a news reel, interviewing some of the passengers about their plans, including calypso singer Aldwin Robert, also known as Lord Kitchener, performing his specially written song “London is the Place for Me” on deck, capturing the optimism of that moment.
About 200 Windrush passengers found temporary accommodation at the Clapham South deep air raid shelter, from where they found their way to the nearest labour exchange, on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton in my constituency, to look for work and permanent accommodation. Many found accommodation from Jamaican landlord Gus Leslie, who had bought property in and around Somerleyton Road in Brixton, and they settled in the area.
The Windrush passengers found London still devastated by the war—undeveloped bomb sites were everywhere, many properties were still damaged and rationing was still in place—but the new arrivals found work. Many passengers were responding specifically to the call for nurses to work in the NHS, which was formally established in July the same year. In my constituency, they went to King’s College Hospital, further down Coldharbour Lane from the labour exchange. As we also celebrate the 70th anniversary of our NHS this summer, we must pay tribute to the enormous contribution the Windrush generation made in both building and sustaining our NHS.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the speech she is making. She notes the contribution made by the Windrush generation in her constituency and in London, but I am sure she will also want to recognise their contribution right across the country, including by the families who moved to my city of Manchester.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Many nurses trained in London and were then placed in hospitals all around the country. They were part of that outward move from London to all over the country, where they indeed made, and continue to make, such an important contribution.
Windrush passengers also found work on London transport and in the construction industry. Some rejoined the armed forces and many were entrepreneurial, setting up stalls and shops in Brixton market and elsewhere.
The lives of Windrush passengers and others from the Caribbean who followed them to Brixton were captured by commercial photographer Harry Jacobs, who set up shop on Landor Road close to Brixton town centre, providing photographic services so that people could send images to their loved ones back home. Many of Harry’s photos are currently on display in Lambeth Town Hall as part of the Windrush 70th anniversary celebrations. They capture, in a very poignant way, the hopes, dreams and achievements of people in the process of making a new life in their new home of London: a woman in her nurse’s uniform, families dressed in their Sunday best, showing off their prize possessions, the first image of a new baby or a new spouse.
In marking this important 70th anniversary, it would be easy to present a sentimental view of the Windrush generation, focusing only on their significant contributions to Britain, but that would not do their experience justice. The thing which makes the Windrush story so remarkable and so humbling is not just that those passengers came to the UK to work in the aftermath of the war, but that they did so despite facing many challenges: the experience of being far from home in an unfamiliar country with a colder climate and, worse than that, widespread racism, the most clear and ugly illustration of which was found on the signs on the doors of boarding houses reading, “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”, and which in many situations ran much deeper, often resulting in daily discrimination and humiliation. It is devastating to read the words of John Carpenter, who travelled on the Windrush aged 22, speaking in 1998:
“I know a lot about Britain from school days, but it was a different picture from that one”.
He went on:
“They tell you it is the ‘mother country’, you’re all welcome, you all British. When you come here you realise you’re a foreigner and that’s all there is to it.”
Despite these hardships and injustices, the Windrush passengers and those who followed them settled in the UK and put down roots, often clubbing together to buy property in order to circumvent the racist landlords, establishing businesses and setting up churches. Sam King became a postal worker. He was elected to Southwark Council and became the first black Mayor of the borough, an achievement that was also very brave since he faced threats from the National Front which was active in Southwark at the time. Sam was also instrumental in establishing the Notting Hill Carnival and the West Indian Gazette, and he later established the Windrush Foundation with Arthur Torrington, who still runs it today.
In my constituency, the Windrush Generation helped to forge the Brixton we know today, bringing food, reggae, jazz, calypso and Soca music, stories and songs, and working in many different public services and businesses. In doing so, they made a huge contribution to a community where everyone is welcome, where difference is not feared but celebrated. Talented young people from Brixton recently designed a beautiful logo commissioned by Lambeth Council to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush. It is based on the pattern of human DNA. The Windrush generation and subsequent migrants who have come to this country from all over the Commonwealth sparked the emergence of modern multicultural Britain. They are all part of the UK’s 21st-century DNA.
I am glad today to see Members in the Chamber who I know will speak of their families’ own direct experience of being part of the Windrush generation, including the shadow Home Secretary—my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott—my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, and my hon. Friend Dawn Butler. It is not my role to do that, but, on behalf of my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood, to pay tribute and to say thank you to those 1948 pioneers, and those who followed them, for helping to create the diverse and wonderful communities that I am so proud to represent—for helping to make Lambeth and Southwark, and communities across the country, some of the most open communities anywhere in the UK.
But saying thank you is not enough. It is a shameful fact that the injustices experienced by the original Windrush passengers have sadly not been consigned to the past. This has been seen most recently in the Home Office’s appalling systematic denial of citizenship rights to British citizens from the Windrush generation—the ultimate insult to those who came here responding to a call for help on trust that the mother country was their home. It is seen in racial inequalities that still extend through income and employment, educational attainment, physical and mental health, and the criminal justice system. It is seen in the horrific racism that is still to be found in the online spaces of social media. We need look no further than the Twitter timelines of some of my hon. and right hon. Friends here today for evidence of a problem that requires urgent action to address it.
I welcome the powerful tribute that my hon. Friend is making to the Windrush generation and the source of pride that the Windrush generation should be, right across the country. She has raised the injustices faced not just in the past but, outrageously, still today by some from the Windrush generation. She will be aware that the Home Affairs Committee is inquiring into the Home Office’s treatment of these people. Will she join me in supporting an urgent hardship fund for those in the Windrush generation who are being so heavily affected? This has been called for in our interim report and by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention. I am delighted to wholeheartedly support the call for action that she and her Select Committee have made. I have seen myself, through very many constituency cases, the hardship that this Government’s approach is causing. There is a need for urgent action in the interim as well as for compensation in the longer term for all who are affected.
As we acknowledge and celebrate the enormous contribution of the Windrush generation to the UK, we must commit to an enduring legacy of this anniversary which addresses injustice and roots out racism wherever they are found. To this end, I have some asks of the Government that I believe will help to turn the tributes of our words into a lasting commemoration.
First, I hope that the Minister will know of the work of the Black Cultural Archives, based on Windrush Square in my constituency. The BCA was established in 1981 by Len Garrison, who had come to the UK from Jamaica as a child in 1954. Len Garrison was an educator who believed that, in his words,
“collecting and structuring the fragmented evidence of the Black past in Britain as well as in the Caribbean and Africa is a monumental task, but it is a major agenda item in” the
“last decade of the 20th century” to create a
“better basis for achieving a fully multicultural British society.”
The BCA has an extensive archive documenting the history of black people in the UK, from the African Roman emperor who was stationed at Hadrian’s wall—Septimus Severus—to black Georgians, the Windrush generation, and much, much more. It is a national resource that is critical to our understanding as a society, and vitally important for the sense of place and belonging of many black British people. Unusually for a national archive, the majority of the BCA’s core funding is now provided by the local council, Lambeth. This is neither appropriate nor sustainable, particularly in the context of local authorities’ shrinking budgets. The BCA needs stable core funding from the Government, commensurate with its national role, to enable it to do the work of outreach and interpretation and to secure it for the long term. I therefore call on the Minister to work urgently with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to identify and confirm core funding for the BCA as part of the Windrush 70 commemorations.
In the climate of uncertainty forged by Brexit in which we are currently living, and which in some areas means that we are seeing an increase in intolerance and hatred, we need to be proactive and assertive in our celebration of the contribution that migrants have made, and continue to make, to life in the UK. I therefore call on the Government to designate
There is much more still to do to ensure justice for the Windrush generation from the Home Office. Much has been said about the scandal in this Chamber in recent weeks, and there is more to say. Today, however, I will simply say this: justice for the Windrush generation is to be found in confirmation of the citizenship that they have always had, and in financial compensation for the hardship and indignities they have suffered. It must also be in a resetting of the dial for both our collective narrative and Government policy on immigration. We must reassert the British values that do not treat others with fear and suspicion, and instead welcome those who come to the UK to seek safety or contribute their skills, wherever they are from.
Finally, wherever inequality is still rooted in race, we have more to do. We must with urgency address the terrible increase in knife and gun crime that disproportionately affects young black men, and we must ensure that all our schools are properly funded and that there is equal access to the best universities for young people from all backgrounds. The disproportionate incidence of mental ill health among BAME communities must be addressed, and there are many other areas to address.
The recently published report by the Women and Equalities Committee on the Government’s race disparity audit highlighted a woeful lack of data collection on race and ethnicity. That makes it difficult to analyse and reach conclusions on the actions that need to be taken to address race inequality. We do know, however, that the austerity of the last eight years has been bad for advancing equality. Therefore, my final ask of the Government is that they ensure that public services that play the greatest role in increasing equality and tackling disadvantage—schools, housing, policing, youth services and the NHS in particular—are funded properly to enable them to keep on doing so year on year. The Windrush generation are extraordinary for their resilience, dignity, commitment and creativity, and Britain is indebted to them. Let us make this 70th anniversary into a lasting legacy, by continuing to build a just, tolerant and equal society.
I am deeply honoured to follow Helen Hayes, whose passionate and fluent speech addressed so many of the questions that affect the way we are building our society today. Of course I will not agree with every one of her remedies, but the fact that she is bringing together a pluralist and multicultural society, and expressing that with such warmth and feeling, is a great credit not just to her and her party, but to the whole House and our whole nation. The voice that she expresses is clearly not just her own, but one of the British people more widely, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to follow her.
We are talking today not about a foreign generation or distant people but about ourselves. It may seem odd for me, with my background, to say so strongly that the Windrush generation are my generation, but they are. Just as they migrated from other parts of the world, so did my family. My grandfather came from Austria in the 1920s. He was a refugee in so many ways—in that case from a collapsing state: the Austro-Hungarian empire—and he travelled and found sanctuary here. In many ways he could have been called an economic migrant because that is what he was, as were many of the Windrush generation. What he brought with him was the energy, enterprise, imagination and creativity that helped to build the structures that allowed us to win the wars. He was not alone, and he was not dramatic or unique in that in any way—except that he was my grandfather, of course. He was part of a much wider generation.
Today, in focusing on the Windrush generation, we focus predominantly on those who are of Caribbean origin, but that is where I would like to expand this conversation. This debate is not just about one people; it is about the whole of the United Kingdom, and our United Kingdom is just that—united—because it is united from peoples around the world. Whatever we may think of the legacy of empire, the richness that it has given these islands is quite remarkable. We have here, even in this city, hundreds of different nations represented. We have many different languages spoken, and like all the best investment schemes, diversity is the strongest form of success. Today, in this United Kingdom, we have the diversity that ensures the richness and depth of our success.
While it is true that one of the better legacies of empire is the diversity of our nations and cities, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that a place does not need to have been an imperial power? In certain parts of Canada, for example, the diversity and richness of cultures is at least as much as we find in a place like London, and it has never attempted to be a colonial power over anybody.
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right, although one would be hard-pressed to say that Canada was not the legacy of empire. After all, the fact that there are so many Scots in Canada is a legacy of the English and French empires that stretched into Canada 200 or 300 years ago, but I appreciate the point he is making.
To come back to talking about the United Kingdom, when we look around the United Kingdom, if we focus solely on the Afro-Caribbean community, important though they are, we miss the wealth that we get from so many others. I would like to highlight some of the communities that are not normally touched on when we talk about the Windrush community, but are just as much a part of that generation. I want to talk about the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian communities. The subcontinent that for years—for generations—was seen as so remote brought with it, when it came to these islands, the heat, wealth and imagination of its people. It brought with it not only the spice that we now enjoy so much in our food, but the technology and imagination that its people have brought to all parts. If one looks today at Birmingham, one sees the imagination and creativity that is evident across that city. If one looks at some of those businesses that started from nothing and listens to some of the children and grandchildren of those migrants who came with £1 in their pocket, thinking that £1 might take them a little bit further than a week or two—only to realise that it would not even get them the train ticket to go to see their cousin who lived up country—one sees that the people who arrived here came with a drive and a determination that has really transformed not just us, but the world.
I apologise that I was not here for the opening of my hon. Friend’s remarks due to Parliamentary Private Secretary duties. Does he agree that there is also the entrepreneurial spirit that many brought from the Indian subcontinent? For example, I opened the National Federation of Retail Newsagents conference in Torquay on Monday, and we see the impact in that industry, in particular, of the many entrepreneurial people who came to this country from the Commonwealth.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will not know this, but I was a beneficiary of that entrepreneurial spirit. When I was learning to be a journalist, one of the papers that I worked for was Eastern Eye, a newspaper that was started by a couple of brothers in their bedroom, as it were, and is now an important voice for a major community in our country.
We are focusing on the Windrush gift to the United Kingdom, but there is a much wider gift here—a gift to the world of those people. Just as our own people, whether they come from these islands 1,000 years ago or come from these islands 10 years ago, have demonstrated the drive and energy to transform this part of the world, the connections around the world have also been transformed. This is where I think we have to focus now as a people, because too many countries today are looking inwards. Too many are seeing the borders, whether they be land or sea. They are seeing those borders as boundaries, and of course, they are not. Those borders are merely the front door to the rest; the front door to the other; the front door to our friends.
That is what we must start thinking about today as we change our relationship with our European friends, and as we change the way in which we interact around the world. We should be looking at the Windrush generation, and, of course, at all the generations, whether they are, like mine, emerging from a broken central Europe, or, like others, emerging from the heat, the sun and the light of the tropical climates from which so many came. Wherever they came from, we need to remember that the links that now tie this House of Commons, this people and these islands to the rest of the world are in no way a drag, but are, in a very fundamental sense, an enrichment.
This must be our new strategy. This must be our new approach: not just looking at the past, but looking at the future. If we can use these links of history, blood and understanding, reinvigorate them, and transform them again into the links that we all want to see—links of enterprise, energy, trade and culture—we shall have an extraordinary future for ourselves, built on a legacy that we all share, built on an enterprise that we all share, and built, fundamentally, on the memory that we are one people, one United Kingdom, and together we have a glorious future.
For, I hope, very obvious reasons, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. In so doing, I think of my parents, who are no longer with us, of my brothers and sisters, and of so many aunts and uncles; and I think of the life that we all lived in Dongola Road, Tottenham, in the 1970s and 1980s. I mention Dongola Road because at the top of the road lived another family, briefly. It was the family of our former colleague Paul Boateng. As I summon up those memories, I am so grateful to my hon. Friend Helen Hayes—my dear friend—for initiating the debate, and for giving Parliament a moment to reflect on a most exceptional generation.
Today I want to remember the contributions of the 492 West Indian immigrants who arrived at Tilbury docks on
Today, of course, I also want to think about the thousands of nurses who came to Britain before 1971, to form the backbone of our national health service—women like my aunts, whom I watched working late nights and early shifts with incredible pride and dignity; women who toiled for all Britain’s sick and injured. I think of the thousands of transport workers who were recruited directly from Bridgetown and Kingston, and who for 70 years worked as bus and train drivers, and cleaners and wardens, in Britain’s stations and on Britain’s streets. And in thinking of those transport workers, I think of my own mother, who did her own stint at London Underground, and of many occasions meeting her at Camden Town tube station, where she was based. I think of course also of Lord Bill Morris, elected general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, the first black general secretary of a trade union in Britain, who found his home in the movement after arriving in 1954—a British trade unionist for all British workers. And I think of great writers who have shaped our nation: people such as Andrea Levy and Zadie Smith, who have given us such moving insights into British life. And I am not sure that I would be able to be a politician were it not for the tremendous work of the scholarly Stuart Hall and CLR James, defining leaders in British political thought, but also the work of those who have been a little more of the street and the frontline: I think of my predecessor Bernie Grant and Linton Kwesi Johnson, whose language and tone always chimed with me.
Today I think of the descendants of the Windrush generation, whose parents and grandparents were told that there was no space under the British flag for them and that there was “no black in the Union Jack.” We tend when we celebrate to look at the positive, and nothing is more positive than Jessica Ennis, Daley Thompson, Linford Christie, Kelly Holmes or Colin Jackson draped in the Union Jack. And as I say that, of course our hearts are with Sterling, Smalling and Danny Rose, who will step out on Monday in the 2018 World cup sporting white, red and the three lions on their shirts.
But while reflecting on this great contribution there must also be a moment to think about the uncomfortable truths—the tough and the hard times—and to think about the struggles of those communities. as I stand here as the Member for Tottenham in London, I want also, as has already been touched upon, to think about communities in St Paul’s in Bristol, Chapeltown in Leeds, Handsworth in Birmingham and Moss Side in Manchester, and historical black communities in Tiger Bay in Cardiff and of course in Liverpool. These people formed the fabric of British society and today we remember them and thank them.
But we also remember the troubles that led up to the Notting Hill riots, the Brixton riot and the Tottenham riots, in which PC Keith Blakelock lost his life. We think also of the great injustices that lie behind parts of the pain and the stain on this country: the stain of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and those young people who lost their lives in the New Cross house fire.
Those on board HMT Windrush were invited here as a result of a Britain crippled by war: a Britain facing chronic shortages of staff; a Britain with a dream of healthcare for all but no way of making that happen. It was a Britain whose hospitals were barely functioning, whose trains were barely running, whose streets were reeling from the destruction and devastation of German aeroplanes that bombed this country, a Britain in desperate need.
Britain called, and they came. It is important to recognise why they came to the mother country, as they called it. They came because they wanted to take part in building Britain’s future, but they also came because there was little future left for them in the Caribbean. Like in Britain after the second world war, the homes of those on board the Windrush and the many boats that came after it had also been destroyed by a foreign power—a foreign power had left much of the Caribbean in a sorry state. Unlike in Britain, however, the siege of those countries had lasted for 300 years. Three centuries of colonial rule had stripped the Caribbean of much of its wealth and resources, and left behind an unsustainable plantation economy. Under the British, the French, the Dutch, the Spanish and Portuguese, the Caribbean region and Latin America and south America had become little more than a warehouse from which to extract profit.
In 1948, the societies that had once been made up of slaves and their owners were instead made up of rich planters and landless, low-wage labourers. People in the Caribbean had been emancipated from slavery in 1834, but they had achieved their emancipation in name only. Ten years before HMT Windrush arrived on British shores, labourers in Barbados were earning the equivalent of just £3.50 a day. Half the workforce worked in manufacturing and agriculture. Many were employed on sugar plantations and forced to work for extremely low wages. They worked in unbearable conditions, their children were suffering from malnutrition and they faced an influx of disease.
In Jamaica, searing unemployment ravaged society. Britain had closed sugar plantations in favour of cheaper labour elsewhere, and the consequences were devastating. Labour riots were commonplace as people became increasingly frustrated by the destitution that they faced. In Guyana, society was reeling from the Ruimveldt riots in the earlier part of the 20th century. Again, much of the economy was crippled, and people were working in bauxite mines and on sugar or rice plantations for very poor wages and in very poor conditions. People were rioting as a consequence. We cannot forget that Britain’s development was grounded in the underdevelopment of the Commonwealth. Britain’s industrial revolution relied on the deindustrialisation of India, and its profits were built on the exploitation of Caribbean plantations and on the backs of Egyptian cotton farmers and Barbadian sugar producers.
We cannot forget that those on board the Windrush came to Britain filled with the promise of the British motherland, yet this was the same Britain that had promised away all their riches and resources. It was the same Britain that has never faced justice for the crime of slavery, and that stole 12 million people from their homes in the dead of night and carted them like cattle across the ocean and into slavery. This had never before been seen in the world. Britain was still paying off its debts to slave owners in 2015, but it has never paid reparations to those who are the descendants of slaves.
This is the same Britain that, sadly, has recently failed the Windrush generation. It had failed them previously, and it has failed them again today. Many of the Windrush generation have once again been made destitute by the British state. They have had their rights stripped from them, and they have been thrust into despair and desperation. The injustices that the victims face today have a long history, and it is a history that Britain must never forget. I do not say that to evoke guilt. This is not really about guilt. If you do not know where you are from, you do not know where you are going. If you just teach your young people the very best bits of history and do not examine the tougher bits, as the modern nations of Germany and Japan have had to do, you will make the same mistakes over and over.
I am so proud to be a parliamentarian in this great nation, and it is the privilege of my life to speak in this Chamber, but I worry that the “great” in Great Britain is too often predicated on an inability to examine the truths of parts of Britain’s past. The heart of that past is colonial, and as we think about the Windrush generation we do not just think about the fact that they landed in 1948; we think about the umbilical cord between Britain and these people, because they were brought from Africa. The surname I have is not the surname of my ancestors, neither is Diane Abbott’s and neither is Dawn Butler’s. Those surnames were given to us by our slave masters. The language that we speak is a language we learned, because our ancestors lost their language and their culture. That is at the heart of the Caribbean tradition. It is an area of tremendous hybridity. In the Caribbean—I might say the same of Latin America—there is a meeting of the world’s people that is best explained by the carnival of Trinidad or the reggae of Jamaica. That is the area that I know.
Many of the Windrush generation have once again been left destitute in recent times. The injustices that the victims face today have a history that we must remember. The story began in the 1700s and today, most painfully, we have been forced back across the Atlantic by the British Government in unlawful deportations justified by the “hostile environment.” That environment told Windrush citizens that they have no right to the British public services to which so many of them had dedicated their lives and to which their ancestors had contributed. The nurses who toiled in our hospitals, the train drivers, and the other public sector workers upon whom Britain relied were told that their contributions were null and void and that they should leave this country immediately. Seventy years on, the Government thanked the Windrush generation for their service to this country by throwing them into detention centres and deporting them.
Those victims have still not seen justice, and the Government’s response to the crisis continues to be inadequate. Why is there still no hardship fund for the Windrush victims? Why are innocent British citizens who have been made homeless and jobless by the Home Office being forced to wait months for compensation? People have been pushed into rent arrears and debt by the Home Office, but they still have no financial support. Why are they still being punished for the failures of the British state? Why have 32 of the 63 Windrush citizens unlawfully deported as a result of the Government’s hostile environment policy been refused their right to return to Britain? Why has the Home Secretary decreed that they should be exiled abroad instead of facing British justice in British courts as British citizens?
Why has my constituent Oliver Hutchinson, who arrived from Jamaica in 1970, still not seen justice? He is a citizen by right, but for all of his life he has lived in fear of immigration enforcement and has been unable to get a job, access benefits or even have a stable home. He was arrested recently at a routine appointment with the Home Office on a bench warrant that was 20 years old.
Why has the Windrush taskforce, which has been specially appointed to support victims of the scandal, delayed its response time? Why are hundreds of victims who have contacted the taskforce regarding their citizenship still waiting for an appointment at the Home Office?
Above all, today I think of the victims of this crisis, victims who are still facing desperate uncertainty, and the Government’s subsequent response. I think of Oliver Hutchinson; of Balvin Marshall, a British citizen made homeless and jobless by the hostile environment; of Rosario Wilson, whose grandfather arrived in Britain in the 1950s and who has spent thousands of pounds trying to prove his citizenship; and of my 27 constituents with ongoing cases and the thousands of other Commonwealth-born Britons who live in fear and uncertainty.
I say to the Secretary of State, who has said of those Windrush citizens with criminal records who have been sent back to the Caribbean that he has no intention of bringing them back, that that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because they are British citizens first. This country has had no such debate on the deportation of criminals. This country stopped deporting criminals to parts of the Australian Commonwealth in 1868. How can it be that, with no debate and no discussion, it has been deemed acceptable once again to deport British citizens, even if they have a criminal record, back to the Commonwealth?
Can I say how badly this has gone down in the broader Commonwealth and how sad and embarrassing it was that we had this discussion and this debate during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting? This is not what the Commonwealth expects of the mother country. It has been a very painful episode indeed.
As we commemorate this epic contribution and we think of the joys and the heroes, I thank God for people like Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart entering my household on Dongola Road and lifting the spirits of my family and my cousins over so many weeks, months and years. As we think about all those great sons and daughters of this great region, let us also think of what further contribution we can give to these people, people who—I hope my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott will allow me to say this—in some ways contain a little fragility because of that slave history.
There was no reparation for those slaves, and the Caribbean nations have been united in wanting to put the issue of reparations back on the table at the United Nations as they think of their futures. Why do they do that? It is because, as they celebrate so many years since independence—Guyana celebrated 52 years of independence just a few weeks ago—and they look forward to the future, they think about the economies they inherited and they think about all they have achieved but, frankly, there is a sense in which they were abandoned. It is important that this country hears and listen to those calls for support, particularly against a backdrop of the Government making it clear that they wish to enter into trade negotiations with those countries once again. Let us consider: what do reparations look like for those Caribbean nations? How do we make that work? What dialogue do we as a country need to have with those people?
Can we also think about our heritage in this country? In the last few years we have seen the birth of the Black Cultural Archives, based in south London; the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool; and organisations such as the Stephen Lawrence Centre and the Bernie Grant Arts Centre. Many of these organisations are struggling today. Frankly, they are struggling for a handout from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. What they should have got was a proper endowment, from which they could derive interest, that bought them the security so that they could continue to make a contribution to this country. As we think about those landing cards that were destroyed, let us redouble our efforts on behalf of organisations such as the Black Cultural Archives.
Finally, let me say that we are having this debate against probably the most depressing backdrop possible, having seen the murder of 78 young lives here in the city of London. May I say most gently that there is something that connects these murders at this time with the sorts of crime that we see also in African-American societies and, sadly, in parts of the Caribbean, particularly in Trinidad and in Jamaica. That story is a story of dislocation. It is the story of a lack of fatherhood and role models, and it is a story that begins with those plantations. If you take a black man and you say to him that you can move him across the country to another plantation and strip him from his family, so that he does not own himself or his relationship with his wife or with his children, you create a phenomenon that is very real in those communities: the phenomenon of the babymother, where it is not my wife or my husband, but my babymother or my babyfather. That legacy lives on in our communities. It is a community that has been way too accustomed to violence. This is the dislocation of not seeing those role models in front of you and never hearing your history, and this is about how that affects generations years and years later. We are a community of tremendous resilience, but we cannot all be resilient. So in thinking also of that more painful legacy, let us think about the renewed support that this country needs to give.
I really do not know how to follow that outstanding contribution from Mr Lammy. When we remember where he has been earlier today and what he has had to put himself through over the past couple of days, we can see that it was an indescribably superb contribution. I hope Members will not expect me to reach anything like either the depth of knowledge or the eloquence he was able to deliver.
Let me also commend Helen Hayes for securing the debate and for her initial contribution, because she put the whole thing into context: possibly the most important thing we need to remember about the Windrush generation is that they came to the UK because the UK begged them to come. There was none of this nonsense we see now about how somehow we are doing people a huge favour and we have been a wee bit too kind in letting them in. The Windrush generation were begged to come. They were pleaded with to come. It was their duty to uproot themselves from everything they knew and travel halfway around the world to a place they had only ever seen on postage stamps and posters to do a job that the UK simply did not have the people to do.
At that point the United Kingdom incurred a permanent and non-removable debt, not only to the Windrush generation but to their children and grandchildren, and to generations to come, because had the Windrush passengers not come here, these islands would have taken decades to recover from the devastation of the war—and that was only their immediate contribution. As was said earlier, all the population centres where the Windrush generation eventually settled are what they are today because of the Windrush legacy. That is particularly true of London, but also of other great cities, such as Manchester and Cardiff. North of the border, there is a significant West Indian tradition in parts of Glasgow, not from the Windrush time but from times before and after it.
It is intensely sad that the racism experienced by so many of the Windrush passengers 60 or 70 years ago, which the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood referred to, has not gone away. It is perhaps a bit less obvious and less frequent—although I know perfectly well that there is a lot of racism that I do not experience, for obvious reasons—but it is still there. Only last week, Louis Smith, as proud an Englishman as many others present—I nearly said as proud an Englishman as me!—who has won world and European gymnastics championships for England and a string of Olympic gymnastics medals for Britain, was a passenger on a train, sitting in first class, which meant that he was entitled to free tea, coffee and biscuits when the trolley came around. The guy with the trolley was entitled to check that everybody in first class had a first-class ticket. He went through the entire carriage and checked the tickets of the two black men, but he did not check the tickets of any of the white men. We can perhaps take a tiny bit of comfort from the fact that it was a white guy sitting beside Louis Smith who first noticed and challenged it. Quite properly, the rail company issued an immediate apology and promised to investigate. Imagine, in this day and age, anybody in any employment at all thinking that it could be remotely acceptable to assume that somebody was more likely to be dodging their fare just because of the colour of their skin.
Today I saw a couple of tweets from ScotRail, the main rail service provider in Scotland. Somebody had tweeted ScotRail to express concerns about the safety of the train on which he was travelling, because he had just discovered that a Pakistani was driving the train. I am proud to say that ScotRail responded by telling him to get off and walk. If that person can be traced and identified, I am sure that it will be a long, long time before they are made welcome on any of ScotRail’s services. The fact that such naked racism can still find a place in our society is something that we should all be deeply ashamed of and deeply worried about, because we know where it can lead.
The hon. Gentleman is making the extremely important point that, of course, racism is sadly not dead in our society; in fact, it is not dead in any society in the world. It is a blight on the minds of humans who seek to divide rather than to unite, and it is a great tragedy that we as humans have not been able to overcome it. Is there not, though, a moment of pride—the hon. Gentleman speaks of it quite rightly—that ScotRail did not react as its predecessors may have done in the ’30s, but saw what had happened for the sin and the wrong that it was? Is it not also right that although Mr Lammy spoke so passionately, truly and rightly about the horrors, immorality and wrongs of slavery, we should also be proud that for all the sins and errors that this country committed in allowing slavery and ever tolerating it, it was this country—this House—that abolished slavery for the first time?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comment. The first place that made slavery illegal was actually Scotland, not England, but we will not argue about that.
None of our countries can be proud of the fact that slavery was there to be abolished in the first place. In fact, I said in a Westminster Hall debate not that long ago that although I was born just inside what is now the boundary of the great city of Glasgow and consider myself to be part Weegie—by birth if not by residence—and although I am intensely proud of a lot of what Glasgow is, I can never forget the fact that Glasgow became the second city of the empire based on slavery. Where do we think the sugar was produced so that ships were needed to bring it across the Atlantic ocean? Why do we think a lot of ships were needed to bring cotton into the mills of Manchester or anywhere else? The people who produced that cotton were not given a living wage or any kind of decent working conditions. They had no choice about where they worked or what hours they worked. They were not treated as human beings; they were treated as possessions. Sometimes the machines that they were working with were treated with greater care than they were.
It was the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those human possessions who then answered the call and came over to Britain to help put us back on our feet after the war. That was a remarkable gesture, because slavery was recent enough for them to remember it. Some of the older generation who they were living with would have been slaves in their younger days. They were enslaved by the white folk. They were enslaved by the mother country—or their near ancestors were—yet they still answered the call for help and came over to help sort things out. That is something that is simply impossible to comprehend.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is easy to say that this country has abolished slavery, but we do live in a country with modern slavery. It is important to keep that in mind.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for correcting me on that point.
Earlier speakers have mentioned some individuals who made an incalculable contribution to making London what it is, to making England what it is and to making the islands of Britain what they are. I want to mention someone who, in some ways, has nothing to do with Windrush, but whose story illustrates something quite important. His name was Andrew Watson. He was born in Guyana of a Glasgow father and a Guyanese mother. His father was almost certainly an administrator on a plantation, but probably not a slave owner, although I cannot be too sure. His mother had certainly been a domestic servant at best, and she may well have been a slave. Andrew came over to the UK with his dad—we think it was after his mother died or when she became too ill to look after them. As his dad was very wealthy and well connected, Andrew had a privileged upbringing. It was the kind of privileged upbringing that very, very few Caribbean people living in the United Kingdom at that time could ever have dreamt of.
Andrew was also an exceptionally talented footballer. In 1881, he won an international cap for Scotland. He was the first black person ever to play for Scotland. I wish that we could have him back now. He played only three games for Scotland, and the results were Scotland 6, England 1; Scotland 5, Wales 1; and Scotland 6, England 1. If only we could have him back now. The reason why he stopped playing was that, for employment purposes, he had to move down to London, and the rule was that if a player did not live in Scotland, they could not play for Scotland and if they had played for one country, they could not play for another.
Andrew was the first black player to win a major trophy in any area of Great Britain. He was in London for part of his career. He was the first black player ever to appear in what we now know as the FA cup. Ninety-three years after Andrew Watson, the second black player turned out to play for Scotland. I remember him—I remember watching Paul Wilson of Celtic on the telly when I was a teenager. I was surprised to hear that Paul Wilson was the second black player to play for Scotland, because I only saw the colour of his jersey; I did not notice what colour he was.
It is a sobering thought that Andrew Watson did not experience any kind of racism. People noticed that he wore a different colour of boots to the rest of the team—in those days players had to buy their own boots, and his dad bought him a different colour from the rest of the team—but he does not appear to have suffered from any kind of racism at all from the press, from supporters or from his colleagues. Paul Wilson experienced racism when he first turned out for Scotland, and experienced it regularly when he played for Celtic, as indeed did the first generation of black players to play anywhere in the United Kingdom.
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I am hugely appreciative of the fact that he has put on the record the link between Scotland and the Caribbean region. I took a DNA test not so long ago and it turns out that I, too, am a Scot. I am very well aware of my connections to the Blair family, and so potentially a former Prime Minister, and also to the Laing family, and so potentially a Madam Deputy Speaker.
I knew there was something about the right hon. Gentleman that I just could not put my finger on; all is now revealed. He might well find that he has more Scots blood in him than I have, because the more I look back at my ancestry the more I discover that a lot of it is actually from Ireland—Northern Ireland, rather than the Republic.
I am of immigrant descent. We all are. My ancestors may have come to mainland UK a few years before the ancestors of some hon. Members, but we are all immigrants. There is nobody left in the UK who can claim to be 100% indigenous English, Welsh, Scots or Irish. We would do well to remember that, because the question is not about who is an immigrant, it is just about how long we have been an immigrant for.
The last point that the hon. Gentleman made is, in a sense, the most profound. It is about not where we come from, but the shared identity that we enjoy when we are here. The Windrush generation in particular were deeply patriotic, and remain so. These were people who were actually proud of Britain’s history. Of course, they understood that it was a mixed history, but they were proud of it. As Mr Lammy knows very well, I chair the British Caribbean Association and I have formed close friendships with those people—people who called their children Milton, Nelson and so on. How many white British people have ever done that? That was a measure of their patriotism.
I am grateful for that intervention. My name is actually French—Norman—so my ancestors came over at some time along with the Norman conquerors and I have been trying to keep up with the tradition of upsetting the English ever since. That is not completely true, of course.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham makes an interesting point. It is possible to tell a lot about somebody’s background from their name, but sometimes that background has been broken. Sometimes the link has been deliberately broken to try to turn somebody into something that they are really not.
The important point about identifying with and celebrating a culture—being proud of who we are and where we are from—is that it does not all need to be one place and one time. It is perfectly possible to be proudly Jamaican and proudly English at the same time; it is perfectly possible to be proudly Scots and proudly Canadian at the same; and it is perfectly possible to be proudly Scots and proudly English at the same time.
Although it is vital that the contribution of black culture—however we define it—to the life of these islands is remembered, celebrated and taught in all our schools, we also need to understand that how we define black culture is no more static or set in stone than how we define any other kind of culture. When people are celebrating black culture in 50 years’ time, they will be doing it in a way that none of us would recognise. When they look back at celebrations of black culture today, they will not recognise it any more than they would recognise Italian culture, German culture or any other kind of culture.
The identity that people hold is up to each person to define for themselves. If we try to put people into boxes by making them exclusively black, white, brown, yellow, European or American, we are not doing them any favours. In fact, we are not doing anybody any favours, because the great benefit of the diversity that exists in humanity is the fact that each and every one of us is unique. None of us is 100% pure-bred anything. That is just as well because, as any dog breeder or horse breeder will say, pure breeds do not live very long. Pedigree dogs tend to be very unhealthy. Give me a good mongrel that is a mix of so many breeds that they can never be disentangled; that dog will probably outlive its master by quite a few years.
Although not many in the Windrush generation eventually found their way to Scotland, parts of the country do have some significant groups of people who are of West Indian and Afro-Caribbean descent. Scotland has had large waves of immigrants throughout its history. It is interesting to look at the ways in which the experiences of other immigrant movements into Scotland have been similar to the experiences of the Windrush generation, and the ways in which they have been different. Sadly, one way in which these experiences have been all too often similar is in the racism and discrimination that immigrants have faced.
As I mentioned, a lot of my ancestors came over from Ireland, as did a lot of the population in the west of Scotland. It is one of the things that Glasgow very much has in common with Liverpool. The racism that they experienced was turned into sectarianism because they identified as being Irish and therefore Catholic, even though they were not necessarily Catholic. That kind of racism in the guise of sectarianism still poisons too much of our society in central Scotland today. We could do with being rid of that, just as we could do with being rid of other forms of racism.
We have also experienced immigration from the other side. By far the biggest export that Scotland has had in the last 200 years has been our people. I remember going to the railway station on a number of occasions when I was a wee boy to see off another of my mum’s wee sisters with her family, as they took the £10 journey to Australia and became Australian citizens. I am delighted to say that the traffic was not all one-way and that my hon. Friend Deidre Brock made the journey in the opposite direction.
That is the way things are, and it is the way they should always be. When we celebrate the huge benefits that were brought to these lands by one single big—in fact, not particularly big—migration of people, we should perhaps stop to think about the fact that migration benefits the places that people move to. I cannot think of any instance where migration has not benefited the place that people moved to. That is why I have some concerns about not only the view that the Government are taking towards migration but the direction of travel in which they are taking us in relation to the free movement of people.
I think the hon. Gentleman needs to be clear that the people I described earlier—those patriots who called their children Milton, Winston, Gladstone and so on—take a very similar view of illegal migration, because they took the trouble to come here on an entirely proper basis. Outrage is felt by people in this House and others on behalf of the Windrush generation because they were legal migrants who should never have been treated in that way. They are Britons in the same way that all the rest of us are. We should not assume for a moment—I know you would not, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not either—that those people do not take a robust view on illegal migration and understand the need for controls on migration as a whole.
The great shame of the experience of the Windrush generation is that for far too many of them, assumptions were made about their legality or illegality based on nothing better than the colour of their skin or the accent with which they spoke, just as that ticket collector on the train made assumptions about the likelihood that the black guys were more likely to be dodging tickets than the white guys.
I cannot imagine my country without waves of immigration. I am delighted that in any school in my constituency that I go to, there are welcome signs up in 10, 15 or 20 languages, each one of which is the home language of one of its pupils or staff. I am delighted to live in a country whose national colour only exists if we take lots of different colours and mix them together. A tartan scarf made of a single colour is not tartan, and for me, a Scotland, an England and a United Kingdom where everybody was the same simply would not be the great countries that they are.
To those from the Windrush generation who are still alive, I say thank you, and I also say sorry, because the Parliament that I am part of and the Government that I am supposed to hold to account have done you an injustice that would be shameful in any circumstances, but when set against the contribution that you have made to so many cities and regions of these islands, to have treated you and your descendants in that way is a stain on the reputation of these nations that will take a long, long time to clear.
It is an honour to follow Peter Grant. I congratulate Helen Hayes on securing this debate and giving us the chance to reflect on the enormous contribution of the Windrush generation. I also want to pay tribute to my colleague in the other place, Baroness Benjamin. She is a member of the Windrush generation who has been a leading voice in both Parliament and the community.
The treatment of the Windrush generation is a stain on our society, as the hon. Member for Glenrothes said. Our hearts reach out to those who have been subjected to terrible injustice and who have been separated from family, refused the right to return home, denied healthcare or lost a job as a result of serious failings of the Home Office. There is no question but that these people deserve to be called British citizens and to be British citizens, and to question their identity and legitimacy was callous.
I believe that there is a much deeper malaise at the heart of the Windrush scandal, which is due to this country’s current uneasy relationship with immigration and a Tory Government who have gone all out on the “hostile environment”. Interestingly, however, the Government got it completely wrong in what they believed would be the popular response of our non-immigrant communities to such concerns. When the public heard about the plight of the Windrush generation, their immediate response was one of compassion and outrage. This is the tolerant and open Britain we live in, that we need to foster and that we need to protect.
Today, people across the country are sincerely and deeply mourning the 72 people who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy, many of whom were not born in this country. People respond to individuals as soon as they make a connection with them. It is the dehumanisation of immigration that has made this subject so toxic.
Inasmuch as we can gauge what different groups of the population feel about EU migration and the open borders we have endured with the European Union, the evidence suggests that minority communities—black and Asian Britons—feel just as strongly about this as white Britons. They do not take a more, as she put it, “liberal” view—I always use that term pejoratively—than any other Britons. They are proud to be here, and they understand that we have to have borders.
The point I am making is that people always talk in the abstract about curbing immigration, but as soon as they talk about individuals, they very quickly change their attitude. During the many discussions I have had and still have about the benefits or otherwise of leaving the EU—I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that subject—people only ever talk about the need to curb immigration in the abstract. However, as soon as they mention a neighbour or a friend who is an immigrant, the tone immediately and totally changes.
I am an immigrant—a first-generation immigrant—and I fully recognise that my skin colour makes a big difference; I cannot compare the discrimination I have faced with the suffering of Caribbean immigrants. [Interruption.] I wish the right hon. Gentleman would listen. However, the recent Brexit debate has turned attention to European immigration, and suddenly—[Interruption.] I wish he would listen. Suddenly, I understand what it means to be the target of anti-immigrant feeling, and it is not nice. People talk about curbing immigration only in the abstract, and I must say that I have never faced open hostility—except twice in a political debate—during the 30 years I have lived in this country.
I believe that it is the responsibility of politicians like us to encourage the inclusive and tolerant attitudes of our citizens. It is the irresponsible politicians who stir up and undermine the cohesion of our communities, including those of newcomers from the EU as well as black and minority communities. We must foster cohesion, not do the opposite, and we should not blame immigration for rising inequalities, job insecurity, the poor availability of housing or poor public services.
The Windrush generation fell foul of quite a lot of this malaise and of anti-immigrant feeling, but they are not the first to have suffered in that way. Only if the Government now completely change their attitude to immigration and stress the huge benefits of our immigrant populations—their hard work, their contribution and their loyalty to our country—can we make amends and the Windrush generation can feel fully vindicated.
On the 70th anniversary of Windrush, the Government must guarantee that every member of the Windrush generation will receive the support they need to claim their rightful citizenship and to live in their rightful home. The same must apply to all those who have fallen victim to discrimination, including Commonwealth citizens—the Kenyans, Australians, Indians and Pakistanis whom we have heard about today. Such people, and I include European immigrants, have established their lives here and put their trust in the UK Government to protect them. We should celebrate not bemoan the fact that many want to live in this country and call it their home. We should be proud of the open and tolerant society we have and that has welcomed so many in the past.
I have nearly finished my speech.
I call for the “hostile environment” created by the Government, which led to the Windrush scandal, to come to an end. By officially recognising
It is a privilege to contribute to this debate and to add to all the great speeches today. I thank my hon. Friend Helen Hayes for securing both this debate and the Speaker’s apartments for next week’s Windrush celebrations, organised in conjunction with Jamaica National Bank and The Voice. I agree with what she said about the Black Cultural Archives and making sure that the Black Cultural Archives receives funding, and about
I would like to paint a picture of an expat from Jamaica named Jeff. When he landed, he had his hat, he was pressed and dressed, as they liked to say—his clothes were very smartly pressed—and he walked with his grip, which to everybody else is a suitcase. When he landed, he was shocked by the smog that confronted him, that all the houses were so close together he thought they were factories, that there were no front or back gardens, which was very different from the green, green grass of home. And this was his motherland. As he passed the houses and the signs that read, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”, he made his way to a shared house in east London owned by a Jewish family who were great allies of the Windrush generation.
That expat was my father. His first job, which he got almost immediately, was working in a Matchbox factory making little toy cars. The factory no longer exists, but there might be some cars in the loft still that are worth some money. When that closed, he worked for London Underground. All that time, he also worked as a gigging musician. He used to tell me about singing in pubs where black people were not welcome or were scared to go.
My dad contributed greatly to this country, not only in the work he did but in breaking down so many societal barriers. Once he had made enough money, he rented a room and sent for my mother. She came to this country and was surprised at a number of things: that food was cooked without seasoning, that English people only bathed once a week and went to bath houses, and that children did not have school clothes, playing-out clothes and church clothes, which were an absolute must in a Jamaican household.
The contribution of the Windrush generation is vast and varied. They were proud not only of how they dressed but of how they were as a community, and they were proud of their motherland, as they called it. They did not know the Jamaican national anthem, because they came before Jamaica became independent. They only knew the British national anthem.
Can we imagine this generation of people, who came to this country to rebuild it with such pride not only in how they looked but in how they conducted themselves, now feeling, in 2018, surplus to requirements? After giving this country the best years of their lives, they have been told that they need to go back, that they are illegal or that they are no longer wanted. It is heartbreaking when I hear the stories of people who come into my surgery in tears, clutching as many bits of paper as they can find. It is heartbreaking when I receive emails from teachers saying, “I remember teaching the children of the Windrush generation. Is there anything I can do? Will the Government accept my evidence to prove that these people were here as British citizens?” And it is all the more heartbreaking because it was the Prime Minister who created the hostile environment. The Prime Minister was previously the Home Secretary and therefore shoulders full responsibility for the hostile environment.
I take the hon. Lady’s point and I hope she will take this in the spirit in which it is meant. I share passionately, as she knows, a desire for this situation to be addressed. I have written about the policy and I have condemned it very vocally, but one must recognise that this came out of a period when both parties were doing the same thing. I do not say that with any joy, but I think the shame is shared. It is certainly not with any joy, I am sure, that she will recognise that Home Secretaries under her own party also spoke about a hostile environment. Sadly, it is something the whole House has to bear, not just one party.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I take his point that parties spoke about a hostile environment. The big difference is that the Prime Minister, as Home Secretary, not only spoke about it but created policies that ensured a number of people then became complicit in creating the hostile environment: doctors, nurses, teachers and landlords. It is unusual, rare and dangerous that somebody in authority instructs people to create a hostile environment for their own citizens. We have to be very mindful of that.
It could just be a coincidence, Mr Speaker, but my decision to sit on the Back Benches and speak in this debate today has created a flurry of activity in my office. My office received a call from the Prime Minister’s office with regard to several letters I sent to which I am still waiting for a response. As I say, that could just be a coincidence. For the record, I would like to raise in the Chamber some of the points I have raised in those letters to which I am still awaiting a response.
It is very important that we know how and when cases will be expedited, what new pathways will need to be created and whether the cost of fast-tracked naturalisation—it can cost about £2,000—will be waived. We have been assured that it will. The “Life in the UK Test” also needs to be waived. The people being victimised at the moment are ageing. They are of pensionable age and they need access to healthcare. Some of that is being denied, so we need a clear timetable for when all of this will be achieved, as well as a clear timetable for compensation.
The other issue I raised in my letters is whether the Prime Minister was warned that her decision to tighten immigration controls and have a hostile environment would harm Commonwealth citizens who were here legally. I am yet to receive a response. I need to receive that response. It is very important, and not just because I am a daughter of the Windrush generation. Martin Luther King said that if you are not opposed to a system of detrimental actions or incarcerations, you then become complicit in it. I do not want to be complicit in the actions of this Government who have created legislation that is institutionally racist.
My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy spoke about the injustices of slavery and the people who were enslaved. I wholeheartedly agree with everything that he said. The Labour Government will create a slavery educational trust based on the Holocaust Educational Trust—because the international slave trade was the African holocaust. We have heard lots of contributions about slavery and enslavement, and how it ended. We need more factual talk, discussion and education on the issue. A slavery educational trust will enable that to happen and quash some of the misunderstandings and misnomers.
I do not think the Prime Minister is a bad person, but I do wonder whether she really understands the emotional and generational trauma that she has created with not just her words but her actions on the hostile environment. It pains me to highlight that these policies are institutionally racist, but they are. As the Prime Minister and her Government work through the race audit that she has instructed civil servants to deliver, I hope that she will also implement section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which talks about the socioeconomic duty of Government.
As we celebrate, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, the 70th anniversary of Windrush, we need not just to appreciate but to compensate. Martin Luther King said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.” I hope that the Minister will go some way towards talking about the right thing that this Government will do. I also hope that the Prime Minister will reflect on her hostile environment policies and do the right thing.
It has been a real pleasure to sit here and listen to the many excellent contributions made today. I particularly commend Helen Hayes for securing this debate and for setting out very movingly some of the experiences of the Windrush generation and their descendants. I want to celebrate another outstanding speech by Mr Lammy, which was, yet again, brimming with humanity, compassion and, quite rightly, anger. In his typically eloquent speech, my hon. Friend Peter Grant challenged definitions of identity and reminded us that in the end we really are all Jock Tamson’s bairns.
Wera Hobhouse made a very good contribution in which she pointed out that focusing on immigration statistics is dehumanising. We should be hearing the stories behind those statistics to truly understand the situation. We all have a responsibility as MPs to celebrate the enormous contributions made by immigrants to our society, and not to harass them constantly. I thank Dawn Butler for sharing with us the experiences of her father, illustrating better than any number of speeches what matters in this debate—the people behind the figures.
There is a real irony, as has been mentioned, in the fact that Windrush is such a poetic word and yet has now become the byword for a record of racism, intolerance, injustice and lack of compassion. People in general do not really want much. They want somewhere safe and comfortable to live, the means to put some food on the table and to keep the heating and lighting on, and the reassurance that they are not about to be lifted from their comfortable house and flung away to a country they have never known or have not lived in for decades. Arming them with a wee booklet that says, “try to fit in; pretend you’re from there” is not exactly a substitute for assuring them of a right to live here. Denying people health care—that has been mentioned already—and the opportunity to secure a tenancy on a house, have access to education or the right to work, just because they or their parents did not keep their payslips going back 50 years, is simply repugnant. It is not good Government policy, it is not good social or economic policy, and it does not achieve anything other than turning people into outsiders in their own communities. It is xenophobic, racist and it should end.
I was born in a Commonwealth country, but I have had none of the problems that other people report in our surgeries or in emails and letters. Perhaps that is simply because I am white and Australian, or because my English father passes on his rights to me—a privilege not extended to some people who were born here because their families chose to move here. Whatever the reason, I do not get the hassle, and I do not suffer the prejudice that others receive on what often seems like a daily basis. Such prejudice is simply horrific and can easily be described as base mob thuggery, but the horrific part is that the Government are the gang leaders. I applaud the Government for the small steps they have taken to address the issues faced by the Windrush generation, but they do not go nearly far enough. I encourage Ministers to gather their courage and plough on with getting a fair deal for people who have built lives here and contributed to society and the economy, as well as to Government coffers.
For me, the line in the sand is this: the old Immigration Act 1971 should go. Its arbitrary cut-off point has no sense—January 1 1973 has become an immigration shibboleth, and a new totem for staying tough on immigration. It is ludicrous. I have constituents—I am sure we all do—who arrived here with the same ideas as the Windrush people. They came to build a life and contribute to the economy. They had families, paid taxes and made this country a better place. However, because they arrived after the magic date, they are now in limbo. Many of them will be buried in graveyards on these islands without ever having officially become a citizen. They have children who are now adults, and those adults now contribute to society, paying taxes, driving the economy, and making their contribution to the patchwork that is society. They were born and educated in the UK; they work and bring up families in the UK, but they are not citizens of the UK. They may tend the graves of their parents in the land their parents adopted—the only land they have ever known—but they have fewer rights of residence than their parents did when they first set foot in the UK. It is a strange and unusual policy.
Leaving aside the daft hoops and labyrinthine processes that the Government have invented for people who need to prove that they have lived here long enough to be regarded as “one of us”, the arbitrary date is nonsense and exists only because that is the day some outdated legislation came into force. It is the new pale, and those who are beyond it, through no fault of their own, are regarded as “other” by the machinery of state. They are regarded as a problem to be addressed, or as an annoying inconvenience by the state that should be protecting and nurturing them, and utilising their talents.
The response is always that there must be a cut-off point. I disagree, but I hear the argument, so let us have a cut-off point. Let us make it the same as that for EU citizens. If someone can show that they have been living here legally for five years, they can be a citizen. Let people show that they have contributed to society in some way—perhaps by bringing up a family, volunteering, paying taxes or keeping a home for someone else who does those things. There should not be a fee for someone to become part of their adopted country. While we are at it, let us get rid of the stupid tests that people are forced to go through as if they are appearing in a theatrical farce. It is time to step up and sort out this maelstrom of stupidity, so I urge the Minister: let us have a bonfire of these immigration vanities, and let us have some decency for people who are part of the fabric of our communities. Let Windrush stand for something other than prejudice and mistrust; let it stand for the time when sense prevailed and humanity became the underpinning element of immigration policy.
I am proud to stand at this Dispatch Box and bear witness to the Windrush generation. I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Hayes on her excellent speech, and my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy and my hon. Friend Dawn Butler on their good speeches.
Nearly everyone in the Chamber this afternoon has seen the evocative newsreel footage of the men and women from the Caribbean who sailed to Britain on the Empire Windrush in 1948. Who were those people? I ask the House for a moment to put themselves in the shoes of those men and women. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham pointed out, they were young. Many of them may have looked a little older than they were, but that was because they were all wearing their Sunday best—the hats, the bonnets, the tailored suits, and the frocks—and they came to Britain so full of hope and enthusiasm. As many Members have said this afternoon, they genuinely thought that they were coming to the mother country.
Nowadays there is a narrative around migrants that claims that they do not understand or appreciate British culture, but I am glad to tell the House that no group of migrants was more enthusiastically British than the Windrush generation. Historically, the people of the Caribbean venerated the British royal family. They saw them as their protection from cruel local colonialists.
When the right hon. Lady refers to a British culture, would it perhaps be more accurate to recognise that there is not such a thing as a British culture? There are lots and lots of British cultures. All of us are deeply attached to some of them. Nobody can be fully conversant with all of them and it is perhaps time to realise that all of our many cultures deserve equal treatment.
At one and the same time, the Windrush generation were both anti-colonialist but deeply respectful of a range of British institutions, including royalty. It may surprise some Government Members, but if someone meets a West Indian who was educated in the West Indies between the war and asks them to recite some poetry, they will promptly and with enthusiasm recite a piece of Keats or Shelley. That was the nature of the education.
I am in an embarrassing position because I am having, for the second time in a week, to wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agree with everything that the right hon. Lady says—it is doing me no favours on these Benches, I can tell you. She is absolutely perfectly right about that combination. What she just described is one of the most profound things I have heard in this debate, leaving aside what my great friend, Mr Lammy, said. The right hon. Lady and I will perhaps disagree about this, but that is why it is so important to discuss the Windrush issue for its own sake. One of the risks of conflating it with the wider debate about EU migrants and so on is to miss the subtlety of the points that she is making.
The Windrush generation was both anti-colonialist and devoted to the royal family. As the years turned into decades of their settlement in the UK, their relatives all over the Caribbean had treasured photographs, in pride of place on their mantelpiece, of that generation together with their children in their Sunday best, posed against a country house background in an inner-city photographic studio. These photographs, treasured wherever people find them, were testimony to the growing prosperity of the Windrush generation.
As the House has heard, over 1,000 passengers arrived that day. They included a group of 66 Poles whose last country of residence was Mexico. The Poles had been granted permission to settle in this country under the terms of the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, which reflected the Polish contribution to the allied war effort. I will return to that point later, but the Polish settlement shows that there was a time when we were very clear, as a political class, who our true friends are, a time when we recognised our obligations of friendship, and a time when we recognised the valuable contribution that people from other countries make to our society and economy.
I stress that “the Windrush generation” refers not only to the 1,000 people who came off the Windrush but to all the people from the Commonwealth who entered this country between 1948 and 1973. However, the original Windrush generation is passing. Every week I hear of the death of a member of that generation who was a pillar of the community in my younger years. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood referred to Len Garrison, but there were many others who were so active and offered such leadership in the 1960s and 1970s.
Let us talk briefly about what the Windrush generation did and contributed. As the House has heard, they came to address a labour shortage. Very many came to work in the national health service, and they helped to build our national health service in its earliest years. My own mother was a pupil nurse, recruited in Jamaica. It was hard, back-breaking work. The nurses often found themselves working the night shift, or the early shift. Very occasionally, patients would refuse to be tended by a black person, but many more appreciated their care and nursing skills. Those women were so proud of their service in the NHS.
Many Windrush-era persons, whether from the Caribbean or elsewhere in the Commonwealth, came to work in transport. There was, for instance, Bill Morris, who rose to lead one of our largest trade unions—the Transport and General Workers Union, as it was then—but who had begun as a bus driver. It is no coincidence that Britain now has both a London Mayor and a Home Secretary whose fathers were bus drivers. Many other members of the Windrush generation worked in manufacturing and light engineering. Some of the most well-established Caribbean communities in London are in parts of London where, after the war, there were ample jobs in light engineering and in factories: areas such as Park Royal, Willesden and Brent, and Hackney Marshes, where the Metal Box factory was.
I must touch on the contribution of the Windrush generation to culture and music. Most people know about the Notting Hill carnival, but if there is a kind of music that I associate with my childhood, it is not just my mother’s beloved Harry Belafonte records, but ska, rocksteady, and the output of Trojan Records. I cannot end this section of my speech about the Windrush contribution without reminding the House of the earliest Members of the Houses of Parliament from the Caribbean: they were Sir Learie Constantine and Lord David Pitt.
The children and grandchildren of the Windrush generation are also part of this issue. In fact, anyone who came here from the former colonies—from the Commonwealth—before 1973 is here legally, and, in effect, part of the Windrush generation. That applies no matter what part of the Commonwealth they came from—the Caribbean, Africa, India, Bangladesh and many more besides—and it also applies to their children and grandchildren. Many of those people, however, are experiencing difficulties because the immigration department is saying that the immigration position of their parents and grandparents was not resolved.
Now, sadly, I turn to what happened to that Windrush generation after a lifetime of working hard, paying their taxes, bringing up their families, and contributing to a strong and stable society. They were treated shamefully. What was worst for many was not just facing material issues, but being flung into uncertainty and treated like liars. I have convened meetings with them, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, and they have told us that it is being treated like liars about which they feel most bitter. The Home Secretary says that 63 people have been deported, but the final total could be much higher. Our own citizens were deported.
We also still have no information on how many of the Windrush generation have been wrongly detained at immigration detention centres. I know that some have been, because I met them when I visited Yarl’s Wood earlier this year. The Government have provided no answers on how many people have been bullied or threatened into so-called voluntary removals. They admit that some people have been excluded—prevented from returning to their homes and families when they had just been on an overseas trip, perhaps for a wedding, a funeral or a family holiday. The Home Office still cannot tell us how many of those people there are and what it is doing to address their plight.
There are also those who were made unemployed. Perhaps their employer got taken over by a bigger employer and suddenly, after years of working happily, they were asked to produce paperwork that they simply did not have. Others have lost their homes because of the effect on housing benefit, have been refused bank accounts—although I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has moved to end the closure of bank accounts in that way—or lost their driving licences, and some, most shamefully of all, have had to pay for medical treatment and were refused treatment for conditions such as cancer. The list of outrages goes on, but the actions the Government have taken to correct them have been a little short-term.
Here I want to address an important issue. All too often when we debate the Windrush generation, Conservative Members start talking about illegal migrants, and some of us think it is wrong to talk about the Windrush generation and illegal migrants in the same breath. Let me say this very slowly for Members who refuse to accept it: the Windrush generation was not illegal. The whole problem of the Windrush scandal is that those who were legally here were treated as if they were illegal. There is a reason why they were treated as if they were illegal. It was not an accident or an aberration, it was not incompetent officials: it flowed directly from Government policy. It is the essence of the hostile environment.
Let me stop here to make a point. Conservative Members have said that Labour Ministers and Labour Governments talked about a hostile environment. I have news for Members opposite: the Labour party is under new management, and they will not hear from the current leadership some of the things they heard in the past about migration.
A whole string of non-expert agents, landlords, employers, NHS staff and others have been asked to identify people they suspect of being illegal immigrants. The person under suspicion then has the burden of proof placed on them: they must prove otherwise, requiring a series of documents stretching back decades—four for every year. Many of us in this Chamber would struggle to provide four documents for every year we have lived in this country.
I could not understand why the Government or their agencies could not say, “If you’ve been paying tax or national insurance contributions for more than five years, the burden of proof should be totally reversed and it should be assumed that you are fully entitled to have all the rights of residency and citizenship in this country.”
That is an excellent point, and many of the Windrush generation people I have met or tried to help have been completely frustrated by the fact that they had a whole ream of showing that they had been paying tax for all these years, but still the Home Office rejected their claim that they had been legally here.
I am afraid to say that this is a product of a system put in place by this Government, and if anyone doubts that, they have to answer this question: who was it who said we would deport first and ask questions later? Was that not announcing in advance that people who were entitled to be here may well be deported and treated as if they were here illegally, and then they could appeal? Anyone who has ever dealt with Home Office appeals procedures must know what that means: the chances of the removal decision being overturned are vanishingly small. Of course, it was the Prime Minister who said we would deport first and have appeals later. Why she was speaking in that mode I cannot say, but some say it was all about chasing UK Independence party votes.
In any event, the Windrush scandal was the consequence. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central has, I think, written to the Prime Minister asking whether she was warned. She was warned: I warned her here in this Chamber when we debated the Immigration Act 2014 that the consequence of an Act designed to catch illegal immigrants in its net would be that people who just looked like immigrants would be caught up, and that is what we are seeing with the Windrush scandal.
Looking ahead, the new Home Secretary clearly does not want to go the way of his predecessor, and he clearly wants to put the scandal behind him, but it is a product of policy, not accidents, and that policy will continue to generate scandals for the waves of migrants who came after 1948, all the way up to 1973, and it will draw in broader and broader categories of people from the Commonwealth. This policy will continue to do that until it goes.
The Windrush generation came here to see the mother country. Some came to rejoin the RAF. Others just wanted new and more prosperous lives for themselves and their families, and they were what are now sometimes called economic migrants. In coming here, they enriched this country in so many ways: culturally, socially and economically. In our own cafeteria here, one of the most popular dishes, week in and week out, is jerk chicken with rice and peas. I could never have imagined that I would live to see that.
In general, a more diverse society is a more interesting one, a more challenging one and a more prosperous one. There is, however, an unfortunate aspect to this history, as some of my hon. Friends have mentioned. Despite being invited here—my own mother was recruited in the Caribbean—the Windrush generation did not always receive a warm welcome. There is an unfortunate history in this country of sometimes defaulting to seeing categories of good immigrants and bad immigrants. For a long time, anyone from the Caribbean tended to be treated as a bad immigrant, with all the stereotypes that were ascribed to black Britons. I have lived long enough to see things move on, however, and we now sometimes hear people who are happy to say the most vile things about Muslims and eastern Europeans exempting black people from their vitriol. History takes some surprising turns.
The Windrush generation—including people from the Caribbean as well as people from Poland by way of Mexico, and all the people from other countries who got off that ship in 1948— came here for a better life for themselves and their families, and they all made a contribution to our society and our prosperity. We were literally better off because of them, and that is what their modern-day counterparts are also doing.
Before moving to a close, I want to mention someone who has not received enough public tributes. Patrick Vernon is a social historian and grassroots campaigner, and he has led the campaign for a Windrush day. I also want to add to what my hon. Friends have said about the importance of establishing a hardship fund. I have met members of the Windrush generation who have had to live on the charity of friends and family and who have run up debts because of all the uncertainty about their immigration situation. We really need a hardship fund to be put in place now. Those people cannot wait for the conclusion of the consultation on compensation. We also need to look at the workings of the Windrush taskforce, to see whether it is meeting the targets that it set itself to resolve cases. Some of the cases that I and my hon. Friends are dealing with seem to suggest that that it is not. Again, I join other hon. Friends in calling for an official Windrush Day.
Everyone in this House thinks fondly of their parents, but I can speak with confidence on behalf of myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham when I say that if it were not for the courage, the hard work and the vision of our parents, none of us would be in this Chamber this afternoon as Members of Parliament. The Windrush generation has had a number of important effects, but none has been more important than forcing people to look at migrants as people—people with families, people with histories and people just like other people. If we could only extend the humanisation of the debate on migration from the Windrush generation to migrants of all generations and all times, we would achieve what I am committed to seeing—namely, a very different type of conversation on migration. We could achieve a change in the debate on migration. It should not have to take 60 years for people to recognise the contribution of a group of migrants to this country. I stand here bearing witness, and hoping for a better future when we come to discuss issues around migration.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a great privilege to be at the Dispatch Box for the second time in front of your good self. I thank and commend Helen Hayes for securing this fantastic but vital debate. It has been incredibly powerful, and I congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members on sharing stories and memories of their families and those of their constituents. We have had passionate, brilliant and moving contributions not just from the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, but from my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat and the hon. Members for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). We also heard, yet again, an incredible speech from Mr Lammy. I hope to be able to address some of the points raised in the time that is left.
Seventy years ago, in 1948, Britain had just emerged from an exhausting, destructive but victorious second world war. The country was making key decisions about its future direction, its prosperity and its position in the world. We rose to the challenge in that year by creating the national health service and by hosting the global community at the London Olympic games.
I had the opportunity to learn about the Windrush generation at university. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should give children in schools the opportunity to learn about the contribution that that generation made to this country in getting Britain back up off her knees after the second world war?
That is a very fair point. It is incumbent on schools and on teachers to ensure that the Windrush generation is included in the curriculum, because children could learn an awful lot as a result.
As has been discussed today, another seminal and momentous occasion took place as the United Kingdom welcomed the HMT Empire Windrush at the port of Tilbury on
Many from the Windrush generation left their homes to answer the call to come to a strange, foreign and cold land in order to help rebuild the “mother country”. The welcome for many from that community, and many other communities that followed, was mixed at best. I would not do this debate justice if I did not mention and recognise the struggle to adjust and to put down roots, with many arrivals receiving a hostile reception. A well-documented phrase present outside many houses at the time was “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. As a white man brought up here, it is difficult for me to understand how terrible the Windrush generation would have felt as they walked the streets of London and other cities looking for accommodation. Many people have stories about that and other appalling discriminatory times in the UK. The unique challenges for acceptance, integration and recognition were most noticeable in the Notting Hill riots of 1958, the Race Relations Act 1965 and the Scarman and Macpherson reports, to name but a few, and this struggle has come to symbolise part of the story.
Earlier I mentioned the British Caribbean Association, with which a number of Members will be familiar. The association was formed following those riots in Notting Hill in the year of my birth, and it was formed precisely to foster good relations between the indigenous people and those incoming people—people with very much the values Ms Abbott tellingly identified in her speech. The welcome those people deserved but did not get does not mean the Government should now take an approach of unrestricted immigration, and it certainly does not mean conflating the Windrush issue with illegal migration. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that that conflation is very unhelpful, and very unhealthy, too.
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, and Ms Abbott made it, too. Conflating the two issues is deeply damaging to this debate, and we all have to be mindful of that.
Nevertheless, the enduring spirit of the Windrush generation to overcome this struggle, hardship and adversity must not be understated or dismissed. This is part of our history, and we should all be proud of the patriotic, courageous men and women who, in spite of adversity, helped rebuild this country after the war and have therefore enriched us not just economically but culturally and socially.
Several hon. and right hon. Members have rightly mentioned the Grenfell tragedy, which is particularly important today. The Grenfell fire was a terrible tragedy that should never have happened, and today is a time for reflection. My focus, and I am sure the focus of everyone in this House, is firmly on the community who were affected. Today we all remember those who lost their lives and the families and friends who lost loved ones on that terrible day. It is incredibly important that we respect the privacy of the community at this time.
The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, in her brilliant speech, asked whether we would be announcing an annual Windrush Day, which the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington also mentioned. The United Kingdom has long been a country of inward and outward migration. Post-war immigration, including of people on the Empire Windrush who were at the forefront of that migration, means we are now a richly diverse society. Members of our minority communities have made an enormous contribution to our social, economic and cultural life, and this should be celebrated.
To make sure that we commemorate the Windrush anniversary in the appropriate way, my colleague Lord Bourne has met key figures from community groups over the past few months to decide how best to celebrate it. We thank all those stakeholders for the excellent meetings and for the work they have done together. We are keen to continue these engagements to ensure that our work on the Windrush celebrations extends beyond the 70th anniversary and to ensure a lasting legacy of this celebration of British history.
It is important that we celebrate the contributions of the Windrush generation and their descendants each year, as they are part of what makes us the wonderfully diverse country we are today. Further information will be announced very shortly.
The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood went on to mention the Black Cultural Archives and the funding difficulties it has had. She asked whether we will work with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on tackling this fantastic facility’s problems. The financial difficulties of the Black Cultural Archives are well known to us, and we agree that more should be done to protect these vital archives. I am pleased to confirm that my colleague Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth has been speaking to colleagues at DCMS on this very issue.
My neighbour Yvette Cooper, who is no longer in her place, asked about her Select Committee’s interim report on the hardship fund for the Windrush generation. We recognise the hardship that some of that generation have suffered, through no fault of their own. Sadly, that Select Committee does not scrutinise my Department, but I assure her that the relevant Department will respond in due course.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham gave a typically passionate and eloquent speech, in which he touched on the shameful practice of slavery. The transatlantic slave trade caused extreme suffering to millions of people, who lost their liberty and were forced to work as slaves. We have expressed our deep sorrow for what happened and fully recognise the strong sense of injustice that remains. We firmly believe that we should always remember history, no matter how difficult that history can be. He also went on to mention the hardship fund for the Windrush generation. He is absolutely right to say that we should design a compensation scheme that effectively addresses the issues faced by the Windrush generation, and to do that we have to listen. The Home Office has completed the call for evidence, which has given individuals and community groups the opportunity to share their stories and experiences.
The hon. Member for Glenrothes had the tricky job of following the right hon. Member for Tottenham, but he made a terrific speech.
We have only a couple of minutes, but I can say to the right hon. Lady that I understand the Home Secretary has written to the right hon. Member for Tottenham to say that the hardship scheme remains under review. I am sure the Home Office will be coming forward with more on that. As I was saying, the hon. Member for Glenrothes made a fantastic speech, referencing his family history.
At this point, I wish to turn to the recent immigration issues faced by the Windrush generation. I would not want anyone who has made their life in the UK to feel unwelcome or be in any doubt about their right to remain here. I wish to conclude in order to give the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood enough time to finish off the debate, so let me turn to what the Government have been doing to celebrate the Windrush generation, as it is also vital that we show our appreciation for what they have achieved.
Lord Bourne responded to a debate in the House of Lords in January to answer the question of what we are doing to support the 70th anniversary. As he said, he has set out to work with stakeholders across the country to ensure that the Government celebrate the anniversary in the most appropriate way. He has done exactly that, meeting the relevant stakeholders. There will also be a suite of events taking place across the country in areas with prominent connections to Windrush, including Hackney, Tilbury and Lambeth.
So in this year of seminal commemorative events, Windrush 70 stands alongside NHS 70 and Vote 100 as a hugely important reminder of the progress and achievements this country has made over the past century. The contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants to Britain cannot be overstated—we would be much diminished as a country without their presence, and it is vital that we fully recognise the importance of Windrush communities to Britain’s history and present.
I wish to thank Members from across the House for contributing to this debate, but I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friends the Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and my hon. Friend Dawn Butler, because their contributions have been not only representation but very powerful testimony.
We are about to embark next week on a fabulous series of celebrations across the country for the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush. The debate today has set the context for those celebrations very well. It is a context not of sentimentality but of immense gratitude, held in tension with a sense of the injustices, both of the past and of the present.
It is, however, a matter of regret to me that some Members have made mention, again and again, of illegal immigration in this debate. Sometimes, in seeking to draw a distinction repeatedly it is possible to achieve the opposite. This debate was never intended to be, in any way, shape or form, about illegal immigration; it was a debate about celebrating the contribution of the Windrush generation. I welcome very much the encouraging comments of the Minister about Windrush Day and the Black Cultural Archives. I look forward to progressing those ideas with him and, I hope, to hearing more positive announcements next week. Once again, I thank Members, as we enter a period of genuine celebration of and gratitude for the contribution of the Windrush generation next week.
Motion lapsed (