With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the progress on the Windrush lessons learned review. As I have said in this House on a number of occasions, the Windrush scandal is an ugly stain on the face of our country and on the Home Office. Wendy Williams’ independent report laid bare institutional failings over several decades that let down so many who had given so much to Britain. It was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issues of race and the history of the Windrush generation. As I have told the House previously, that was simply unacceptable, and my response has been swift, strong and uncompromising.
I apologised unreservedly for the injustice, hardship and suffering of members of the Windrush generation at the hands of successive Governments. I promised to listen and act to reform the culture of the Home Office to better represent all the communities we serve. Last month, I announced that I accepted the review’s important findings, and said that I would come back to the House to update all Members on the progress in implementing the recommendations.
After years of injustice and countless warm words, the Windrush generation deserve to know that action is urgently under way. More than £1.5 million has now been offered by the Windrush compensation scheme. Bishop Webley and I launched and hosted the first meeting of a new cross-Government Windrush working group to address the wider inequalities affecting the Windrush generation and their families.
Three sub-groups have now been established to look at how we implement the recommendations, how to design the new community fund and how best to work with the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. That group is also advising on our new communications campaign to encourage more people who were affected to come forward. I put on record my thanks to Bishop Webley and to everyone involved for their ongoing support not only as we implement the findings from the lessons learned review but as we come together to improve our engagement, our communication and our outreach to the communities affected. This is just the beginning.
Urgent and extensive work is taking place across the Home Office and beyond on all the recommendations. Together, the permanent secretary and I are reviewing every aspect of how the Department operates, its leadership, the culture, policies and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the communities it serves. My ambition is for a fair, humane, compassionate and outward-looking Home Office that represents people from every corner of our diverse society, which makes our country great. That means confronting Wendy Williams’ findings head-on to deliver lasting change.
To deliver that change, we have divided the recommendations into five parts. Our approach, which Wendy Williams has welcomed, will ensure sweeping reforms to our culture, policies, systems and working practices, reaching across the entire Department. We are consulting external experts, community organisations and the very people the Home Office has failed in the past in an extensive programme of engagement to ensure that officials understand the change that is needed and that the organisation at every level learns the lessons of what went wrong. I have been clear to my officials that it is not a box-ticking exercise. A delivery plan has been drawn up to ensure meaningful and rapid action. We are embracing the need to change our culture across the board, and in many cases we are going further than the recommendations that Wendy has made.
I will now set out just some of the work under way on the recommendations under each of the five themes. The first is righting the wrongs and learning from the past. I have apologised unreservedly to the Windrush generation, but sadly, we know that their faith and trust in those who sit on both sides of the House has been badly damaged over many years. A series of reconciliation events will be held to rebuild the relationship between the Home Office and those who were affected. That is an essential step to enable people whose lives were shattered by Windrush to articulate directly the impact that this scandal has had on their lives.
We must learn from the past. Mandatory training is being introduced for new and existing members of Home Office staff to ensure that everyone working in the Department understands and appreciates the history of migration and race in this country. Every single existing or new member of Home Office staff will be required to undertake that learning. We are going further by introducing a new process to ensure that all new policies are developed in an inclusive way, factoring in the cultural and historical context, and with effective mechanisms to monitor and, where necessary, resolve any concerns.
Secondly, we will create an inclusive workforce in the Home Office. The Home Office must reflect the diverse communities that it serves at every single level. There are simply not enough black, Asian or minority ethnic staff working at the top in senior roles, and there are far too many times when I am the only non-white face in the room. Action must happen now, so I am introducing more diverse shortlists for senior jobs, specialist mentoring and sponsorship programmes to help develop a wider pool of talent and drive cultural change. While it is reassuring that the Home Office is on track to meet its aim of 12% black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in senior roles by 2025, my ambition is to go further, because the Department cannot truly reflect the communities it serves unless it represents the people within them. Protecting, supporting and listening to every single part of the community that the Department serves is a vital lesson to be learned.
Thirdly, I am changing the Home Office’s openness to scrutiny. Policy and decision making must be rigorously examined to ensure that any adverse impact on any corner of our society is identified and acted on quickly. To ensure that we better understand the groups and communities that our policies affect, we are overhauling the way in which we build up our evidence base and engage with stakeholders across the board. I expect my officials to engage with community organisations, civil society and the public, and I will be looking for evidence of that in every piece of advice that Ministers receive.
Wendy Williams was clear that a lack of insight into the community’s experience meant that the Home Office missed opportunities to anticipate the Windrush scandal. She stated that
“Officials could and should have done more”.
She effectively said that we must all do better at walking in other people’s shoes. I will overhaul the Department’s risk management framework so that we can identify problems sooner, understand the unintended consequences of decisions for people and communities and keep protection of the public at the heart of what we do. That will give officials the knowledge, understanding and responsibility to raise risks and concerns, rather than hide them, and ensure that they are listened to and acted on.
Fourthly, there will be inclusive and robust policy making. It is key that we build institutional memory and reflect past learnings and experiences when setting out new approaches. Mandatory training on the public sector equality duty and the impact assessment process is being rolled out across the Department, including for the most senior staff. As well as considering the equalities impact, all impact assessments and submissions to Ministers must address the risks to vulnerable individuals and groups.
The final and most critical theme is a more compassionate approach—people not cases. This is at the heart of ensuring that nothing like the injustices faced by the Windrush generation can ever happen again. The injustices of Windrush happened not because Home Office staff were bad people but because staff themselves were caught up in a system in which they did not feel that they had the permission to bring personal judgment to bear. I have heard from victims directly when they have spoken of decision making as a process—a process that ground people down and lacked compassion towards the very people who should have been supported. I have heard people speak of being dismissed as if they just did not matter and their voices were irrelevant.
Putting people first will be built into the reforms that we make. Everyone making decisions must see a face behind the case. We must feel empowered to use our own discretion and pragmatism in decision making. The overwhelming majority of the British public agree that it is right that those with no legal right to be in this country must not be allowed to exploit the system, but we must protect the law-abiding majority. To build and maintain public confidence in the immigration system, it should not be easy for those here to illegally flout the rules, but we must make sure that we have the right protections in place for those whose status should have been assured. We need a system that is fair.
What happened to the Windrush generation is unspeakable, and no one with a legal right to be here should ever have been penalised. I have tasked my officials to undertake a full evaluation of the compliant environment policy and measures, individually and cumulatively, to make sure that the crucial balance is right. I have asked them to evaluate the changes that were made to immigration and nationality laws over successive Governments to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today’s world. If those changes were not communicated effectively enough, we will act to make them so. Have no doubt that where we find problems, I will seek to fix them, but equally, be under no illusion that if people are here wrongly or illegally, then naturally we will act.
We are determined to get this right. We owe it to the Windrush generation and, of course, their descendants. Wendy Williams has asked that we carefully consider our next steps to deliver both meaningful and lasting change. I will deliver on that commitment and continue to update the House. In September 2021, Wendy Williams will return to the Home Office to review our progress. I am confident that she will find the start of a genuine cultural shift within the Department—a Home Office that is working hard to be more diverse, more compassionate and worthy of the trust of the communities it serves. I commend this statement to the House.