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Windrush Compensation Scheme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:18 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 1:18 pm, 3rd April 2019

I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of his statement. I also wish to place on record our gratitude to Martin Forde QC and his colleagues for the advice he has provided. I would like to say at this point that none of the delays in this process is attributable to him.

We have to remember in this House how much pride the Windrush generation took in being British. We have to remember that they came here in good faith under passports which indicated to them that they were indeed British. There are all the material challenges they faced as part of the Windrush scandal but, above all, having to spoken to numbers of these people, there was the humiliation of being told year on year by the British state that somehow they were not British, they were not worthy, they were not deserving and services they had paid into for years and years were not available to them.

The reality is that this is a scandal that should never have happened. It is a scandal to which the Government were initially slow to react and it is a scandal in which some Members of Parliament deliberately muddied the waters with talk of illegal immigrants, when, by definition, none of the Windrush victims is here illegally. It is a scandal that is set to continue unless and until the Government end their hostile environment. It is also a scandal that is set to multiply with the 3 million EU citizens because of the Government’s refusal to guarantee all their existing rights and, I am sorry to say, because of the lack of preparedness at the Home Office.

The Prime Minister told us that she would fight “burning injustices”. Well, the Windrush scandal was a burning injustice and it took place on her watch, first as Home Secretary and then as Prime Minister. Her successor as Home Secretary was obliged to relinquish her post because she incorrectly told the House that there were no numerical deportation targets. We have since learned that Amber Rudd had written to the Prime Minister promising to increase deportations by 10%. We also know that deportation numbers were a key performance indicator when she presided over home affairs, and that Home Office officials received bonuses relating to the numbers of deportees. It is hard not to imagine that these targets, performance indicators and bonuses did not affect the lack of care with which the Windrush generation were treated. The current Home Secretary told the House in April last year:

“I will do whatever it takes to put it right”.

He also said:

“We have made it clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status that they deserve: British citizenship.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018;
Vol. 640, c. 35.]

And yet here we are. We know that many citizens from the Commonwealth who have been here since 1973 have still not been granted British citizenship and are still not treated as British citizens.

On this side of the House, we welcome the fact that the compensation scheme will be open to the estates of deceased Windrush generation persons and also to their relatives. They were an ageing cohort, and it is only fair that their relatives should be able to claim. We also welcome the fact that the Home Secretary accepts that this is not just about persons from the Caribbean. The Windrush generation is so called because of that emblematic symbol, the Empire Windrush, but it actually involves anyone from a Commonwealth country who came to this country between 1948 and 1972. I believe that many more persons will need to come forward if we are really going to clear up this scandal.

Will the Home Secretary say a little about the hardship fund, which was set up in response to pressure from my hon. Friends to deal with the immediate issues faced by the Windrush generation? How much is available to the hardship fund as a whole? Is it true that thus far only two people have had payments from the fund? We are glad to have further details of the compensation scheme itself, but I believe that it still falls short of what is expected, what is required and what is fair. Is the Home Secretary able to tell the House how much is available for the compensation scheme as a whole? Is he willing to comment on the fact that the scheme will not compensate those who may have gone back to the Caribbean or elsewhere in the Commonwealth for a holiday or a funeral and who were not allowed to get back on the plane? The document states that it is difficult to ascertain

“whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.

Of course it is a loss. That is an extraordinary thing to say. We know that people were wrongly prevented from returning to their home here. The Home Secretary admits that. One of the reasons was that they were unable to provide documentary proof of their status. Now the Home Secretary proposes to exclude them from compensation. These people were British citizens, yet they were unable to return to their home here and in some cases they were separated from their families. This is not ending the scandal; it continues it.

The Home Secretary and the Government propose to make a contribution towards legal fees only up to a fixed amount and will not reimburse for fees higher than that amount. This is despite the fact that these legal costs, which are easily documented, were incurred in challenging wrongful loss of jobs, deprivation of public services including the NHS, loss of home, wrongful detention and wrongful deportation. We also note that there will be no compensation for private healthcare for persons living in this country who were unable to access the NHS care they were entitled to.

The remedies provided by the scheme will include an apology and ex gratia payments. The Government will make these compensation payments voluntarily, without necessarily establishing a formal legal obligation. Surely there must be a formal legal obligation. I do not think we can rely—