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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme. Copies of the response to the consultation are available from the Vote Office.
The United Kingdom has a proud history of welcoming arrivals from around the world. We have long held open the door to those who want to come and help build a better country, including my parents, for example, or indeed the parents of the shadow Home Secretary, and we have all benefited as a result, with the UK emerging as a stronger, broader, more vibrant and successful nation. We would not be the country we are today without the men and women who crossed oceans to come here legally, to make their homes, to work hard, to pay taxes and to raise their families, and we all know it, which is why the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment experienced by some members of the Windrush generation. People who have built their lives in this country, people who have done so much for this country, people who have every right to be in this country were told they were not welcome. It was a terrible mistake and it should never have happened, and that it did is a matter of profound regret to me, to my Department and to the Government.
That is why just under a year ago one of my first acts as Home Secretary was to stand at this Dispatch Box and say sorry on behalf of successive Governments: sorry to the parents and grandparents who suffered the trauma of being incorrectly ordered to leave the country they love; sorry to those who had paid taxes here for decades only to be denied the NHS care to which they were perfectly entitled; sorry to hard-working men and women who were unfairly refused the right to work, and even refused the dignity of a roof over their head. However, I know that words alone are not enough, which is why, 11 months ago, I did not just say sorry to members of the Windrush generation; I also vowed to right the wrongs that had been done to them. I sincerely hope that the compensation scheme being unveiled today goes some way to doing that. It has taken longer than I would have liked, but if we are to deliver justice for the Windrush generation and their families it is vital that we get this right.
Today’s scheme is the product of many months of work with affected individuals and their representatives, including well over 2,000 responses to our call for evidence and the consultation. We are also indebted to Martin Forde QC, who has provided us with invaluable independent advice and met with a great many of the individuals who were directly affected. His findings have contributed hugely to the final design of the scheme and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for his work.
As a result of this meticulous approach, I am confident that the proposals for the scheme are closely aligned with what affected communities wanted to see: namely, that it is simple, accessible and, above all, fair. Full information is now available online and via a free telephone hotline number. Guidance is being provided to help people to understand what compensation they might be entitled to and how to submit a claim, and the application process itself is as simple and clear as possible.
It is also important to note that the scheme is open not only to those of Caribbean origin. The Government propose broadly to align eligibility with the Commonwealth citizens taskforce. This means that Commonwealth citizens settled in the UK before 1973, along with certain children and grandchildren of theirs, are eligible to apply if they have losses to claim for. Other eligible groups include those of any nationality who have a right of abode or settled status or are now British citizens who arrived to live in the UK before
Of course the historical nature of the wrongs done means that some of those who have been affected throughout the years are, sadly, not alive to see justice being done. Where this is the case we propose to accept claims from the estates of individuals who would themselves have been eligible had they not passed away and from close family members of an eligible person.
However, justice will not be done if people do not know about the scheme, or for any reason are afraid to engage with it. So in addition to today’s media coverage we will launch an extensive programme of events with key stakeholders, community groups and faith organisations so that people across the country and overseas know about the compensation they can apply for.
Wendy Williams’ review will explore how members of the Windrush generation came to be treated like illegal migrants, and I look forward to receiving her recommendations, but there is no doubt that the roots lie in a historical policy that saw people given settled status without also being given the ability to prove it. Nothing we say or do will ever wipe away the hurt, the trauma and the loss that should never have been suffered by the men and women of the Windrush generation, but together we can begin to right the wrongs of Windrush. We can begin to turn the page on this sad chapter in our history and we can do justice by people who have contributed immeasurably to our country.
When the UK called out for help, thousands of people from the Caribbean and across the Commonwealth stepped up to help to get us back on our feet. Now it is time for us to step up and do what is right by those whom we have failed. I commend this statement to the House.