I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Windrush Day 2021.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate today.
Windrush Day is a national day to celebrate the extraordinary and enduring contribution of the Windrush generation to the UK. I am proud to represent a constituency with a very direct connection to the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948. About 200 Windrush passengers travelled from the temporary accommodation provided in the Clapham Common deep shelter to Coldharbour Lane in my constituency, where many found work at the local labour exchange and settled in the surrounding area, putting down deep roots and helping to form and sustain the Brixton we know today. They include the late Sam King, who became the first black mayor of Southwark, and Aldwyn Roberts, the grand master of calypso, who performed as Lord Kitchener.
This Windrush Day, I joined members of the community in Brixton for a socially distanced celebratory lunch, and we were delighted that the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, was also able to join us at that occasion. We were privileged to hear a performance of a new song by the wonderful Pegasus Opera Company, “Rush”, which is described as a “Windrush anthem for Lambeth”. It is very moving, and I would encourage everyone to watch the recording on the Pegasus Opera website. The song captures perfectly the eager anticipation, excitement and aspiration of a generation who came to the UK at the invitation of the British Government as citizens of the mother country under the British Nationality Act 1948, and who met terrible adversity in racism, discrimination and poor housing, but nevertheless gave so much and became a part of our national DNA.
At the other end of Coldharbour Lane from the labour exchange lies King’s College Hospital. The arrival of the Empire Windrush coincided almost exactly with the founding of our NHS, and we know that members of the Windrush generation have been essential to our NHS from its founding until the present day. In 1948, there were an estimated 54,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS, and the Government worked actively to recruit nurses from the Caribbean and subsequently from across the Commonwealth. By 1965, it is estimated that there were about 5,000 Jamaican nurses working in the NHS, and there are more than 200,000 black, Asian and minority ethnic staff working in our NHS today.
We cannot let this year’s Windrush Day celebration pass without paying special tribute to the diverse workforce in our NHS and social care, public transport and other frontline roles, who have worked tirelessly through the covid-19 pandemic, often sacrificing their own health and wellbeing to provide treatment and care to others. We particularly remember those who have tragically lost their lives to coronavirus—including 28-year-old pregnant nurse Mary Agyapong and public transport worker Belly Mujinga—two thirds of whom were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude for their service. I hope the Minister will agree with me that no one who aspires to lead our NHS should ever suggest that those who come from overseas to work in our NHS are anything other than highly valued professionals without whom the NHS would struggle to keep going.
Windrush Day was established in 2018, in the same year that the horrors of the Windrush scandal were revealed—the appalling betrayal of so many of the generation who had come to the UK as British citizens, at the invitation of the British Government to play vital roles in our economy and public services, who were denied their status and suffered immeasurably as a result. A Windrush Day celebration that fails to acknowledge the ongoing hardship and injustice suffered by victims of the Windrush scandal would be sentimental, hollow rhetoric.
The Government promised to right the wrongs of the Windrush scandal, but are failing to do so. An evaluation of the Windrush compensation scheme published by the National Audit Office in May found that the scheme had paid compensation to fewer than 700 victims and had 2,000 claims outstanding. The report also highlighted mistakes and poor-quality assurance, the high proportion of the scheme’s funding that has been spent on staff, and the low number of victims who have come forward to make a claim compared with the estimated total number of victims. Appallingly, 21 victims have died while still waiting to receive compensation.
“Home Office still operates the hostile environment policy which contributed to the death of my mother. Before she passed, she was struggling with the forms and lack of support and respect from the Home Office. The scheme needs to be moved so there is proper justice to families like mine.”
Stephanie O’Connor, whose mother Sarah moved to the UK in 1967 and died in July 2019, said:
“For my mum the compensation scheme has come too late, and I am so disappointed that it is still taking this long for people to get what is owed to them. I just hope that people get compensated fairly for everything that they have been through.”
“The Home Office took away my liberty, livelihood, sanity, and fellow friends and campaigners…as a result of the hostile environment. They have offered me a compensation package which does not reflect what I need to build my life again and to move forward with my family. We need urgently an impartial and independent organisation to support all compensation claims and to provide mental health and wellbeing support. The Home Secretary is not righting the wrongs to sort out the Windrush Scandal.”
“The Home Office have no experience or track record in running a compensation scheme for people traumatised.”
These testimonies point to the urgent need for the administration of the Windrush compensation scheme to be taken away from the Home Office and handed to an independent body. Will the Minister commit to that today?
Yesterday was the deadline for EU nationals living in the UK to apply for settled status. In that scheme, the Government have yet again put an administrative barrier in front of people who have made their home in the UK and contributed to our country in multiple different ways. It risks making them illegal, with all the appalling consequences that would bring. The Government have not only failed to address the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal or to deliver justice for its victims; they are laying the foundations of the next scandal.
In response to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on black and Asian residents during the first wave, the Government set up the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell. It had been hoped that the report would provide a rigorous analysis of racial and ethnic inequality in the UK and a detailed action plan that could be implemented with urgency to address it. Instead, the Sewell report left many black, Asian and minority ethnic residents, including many of my constituents who I have spoken to since it was published, feeling that their own Government were trying to gaslight them by denying that there is structural racism in the UK. The report has been condemned by respected organisations, including the Runnymede Trust and Black Cultural Archives, which I am proud is based on Windrush Square in my constituency.
Black Cultural Archives, the only organisation dedicated to the collection, preservation and celebration of black history in the UK, criticises the report for its absence of historical context and selective quoting of evidence and concludes that a report so lacking in rigour cannot provide the basis for meaningful action to address racism and racial inequality.
One of the ways in which we can stop a Windrush scandal happening again is by ensuring that our children are taught British history in an inclusive way that tells the story of our complex history of migration and the painful reality and legacy of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. That is not rewriting history; it is our shared history. Many schools have already developed good curriculum content, including some in my constituency, but that now needs to be expanded to all our schools. The Government have, in accepting the recommendations in Wendy Williams’ lessons learned review, accepted the importance of the teaching of history in preventing a future Windrush scandal. The Government have accepted that as being necessary for all Home Office staff, so it follows that it is also necessary for our schools.
Finally, will the Government support the campaign to raise the anchor from the Empire Windrush, which currently lies off the coast of Libya on the Mediterranean seabed, so that it can be displayed as part of the 75th Windrush anniversary celebrations in 2023? It is a tangible piece of that famous ship, which could be used to tell the story of the remarkable Windrush generation for years to come.
We celebrate today the remarkable Windrush generation—British citizens and part of our national DNA—who have contributed so much and suffered such appalling injustice. Celebration, however, is hollow while injustice and inequality continue. I call on the Minister to mark this Windrush Day by committing to meaningful action.
I congratulate Helen Hayes on her introduction to this debate, and I hope that the Government will follow up her suggestion and see whether it is possible to retrieve the anchor from HMT Windrush off the coast of Libya. The history of the ship is interesting, but in six minutes I should probably not divert my remarks to that.
The article I was reading before coming to the Chamber is in The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, vol. 60, no. 2, June 2021, page 251. It is by Anthony Quinn, Nick Hardwick and Rosie Meek, and its rather long title is, “With Age Comes Respect? And for Whom Exactly? A Quantitative Examination of White and BAME Prisoner Experiences of Respect Elicited through HM Inspectorate of Prisons Survey Responses.” It is a serious analysis of the information available. It does not condemn people, but it shows that the experiences of those who are black or minority ethnic are different at all ages in our prisons. I look forward to the time when that is not so.
The overall question I put to myself is this: will I live long enough to know when the colour of my skin will be as important, but no more, than the colour of my eyes or my hair? I count a number of retired bishops among my friends, and I know of eight times that bishops or archbishops have been stopped by the police. Every single one of those times it was John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. He is now in the other place in his own right, rather than as an ecclesiastical bishop. We must answer our own question: is he the most curious driver there has been on the ecclesiastical Bench over the past 20 years, or does some degree of discrimination still apply to those driving while black?
I have spent a lot of time helping black police officers and doctors—or Asian; I am talking about people who are non-white rather than just black or Caribbean—and all the times I have taken up cases for black or Asian people, I found that they were treated by their employers, by employment tribunals, by the General Medical Council, and at one stage by the Information Commissioner’s Office, in ways that I regarded as inappropriate.
One good woman doctor was looking after diabetes patients. She was concerned about South Asian women being those least likely to come to advice centres. She wanted to set up a self-help project with them, supported by the trust. She sent their details to herself at another NHS address, and then got put in front of the GMC and the ICO for sharing patients’ details. She was doing what is now common practice, but 10 or 15 years ago it took the Information Commissioner’s Office a year to discover that she could not have committed an offence, and it took the GMC about the same amount of time. Her trust has never been held to account for the appalling way she was treated. I could go on about Dr Bawa-Garba, the paediatric doctor who was left by herself, and left to swing by the GMC and the courts, until people came together—white and black—to say, “This is unfair. Get it reviewed.” The case was reviewed, and her prosecution ended.
I have previously mentioned in the House the case of the very good Sikh sergeant, now retired, Gurpal Virdi. He spent a week and a half on trial in the Crown court, having allegedly put a collapsible police truncheon up the bottom of a young man in the back of a police van 26 years before. The thing did not happen. The so-called police witness contradicted every statement of fact by the complainant. The complainant forgot that he had been arrested by Gurpal six months later, and another police officer in his company was never interviewed by the Directorate of Professional Standards of the Metropolitan police. When Gurpal complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the case was referred by the commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick—who, by the way, had been a sergeant with Gurpal Virdi in Battersea—to the Directorate of Professional Standards, which said that its own investigation had been all right.
Will the Minister get the Directorate of Professional Standards of the Metropolitan police together with the CPS and the Attorney General’s office, and ask how Gurpal Virdi got prosecuted? Why will they not have a Richard Henriques-type inquiry—even a brief one—to learn the lessons from something that should never have happened?
I grew up—more accurately, my children grew up—in Stockwell in a mixed area, among people, black and white together, in their scout groups, Brownies, schools and confirmation classes. They did well. Many of them did well, whether they were white or black. I ask that we learn the lessons from the people of the Windrush generation, and other parts of the world, who try to bring their children up in a way that means they learn, play, and have the same kind of development as that described by Mr Lammy in his report. Give people chances, let them take them, and when we spot unfairness, do not leave it to the victims to sort things out, but decide that we should. If I am white, middle class, and in full-time employment—which I think I am; I cannot class myself as middle aged anymore—it is my responsibility. I hope to go on contributing to these debates until I can answer that question by saying that the colour of skin and place of origin do not matter in this country. It is merit; it is friendliness; and it is mutual support.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Hayes on having secured this important debate to commemorate Windrush Day 2021. Windrush Day is a day to redress the imbalance of injustice and sorrow our elders have experienced at the hands of this Government, and a day to pay homage and respect to the journey they took—many as toddlers—to what they thought was the motherland. The UK is where they call home, despite the stain of prejudice and racism they have experienced. Knowing as we do the huge contribution that the Windrush generation have made to this country, it is even more galling that so many members of that generation were so badly let down, and continue to be let down, by this Government.
The cause of the Windrush scandal was an institutionally racist policy and culture levied at the top of Government, dwelling in the underbelly of the Home Office. This, above all, was focused on whipping up hostility to immigration and posing as tough. Serving these ends resulted in the disdain for individual people that the hostile environment policy represents, and which tore so many lives apart. After hearing countless stories of people who have lived in the UK for decades—some of whom could barely remember life before living in the UK—losing their jobs and homes, being refused medical care, and even being detained and deported in the worst cases, it is obvious that the Government should have had great humility and sought to address this great injustice as soon as possible.
It took a year after launching the Windrush compensation scheme for the Home Secretary to finally agree to lower the burden of proof required from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “on the balance of probability”. Sadly, we recently learned that 21 people have died while waiting for their compensation to be paid. My constituent Anthony Bryan has only just received his offer of compensation, a full year after the moving drama “Sitting in Limbo”, based on his experiences, was screened. Even once an offer is made—many of which appear to be unacceptably low—there is no mechanism for an independent review of the sum. The Windrush compensation scheme only re-criminalises the Windrush generation, and continues to fail the victims of the scandal day in, day out. It is obvious that the Home Office has lost any trust that could be placed in it to operate such a scheme, and that independent oversight should be brought in to ensure that recipients are properly compensated in a timely manner.
I begin by referring to my unremunerated interest as chairman of the advisory board of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality. I am very glad to follow Kate Osamor, and I think it is time that we embrace the truth that she spoke: I certainly hope to do so. I do not think anybody could fail to be moved by the speech of my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley—I was particularly taken and moved by what he said—and I hope that both of us live long enough to see the day when skin colour matters no more or less than the colour of our eyes.
I am very glad to have co-sponsored this debate, and I am delighted to speak in it. I want to do three things: celebrate the Windrush generation, put a lament before the Minister, and then make some suggestions about what can be done. I really do celebrate the Windrush generation. About 5% of my constituents are black. They are overwhelmingly people connected to St Vincent and the Grenadines. They make a wonderful contribution to our community. No one who has listened to Wycombe Steel Orchestra could fail to enjoy it and no one could fail to notice the wonderful range of people involved in it—black and white together, enjoying themselves, celebrating their music and contributing to our community. The Windrush generation saved, rebuilt and contributed to our country, and have shared in our prosperity, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West said, all too often they have not been well treated. That brings me to my second point.
When I look back at that time, I do really lament the way that people were treated. The Windrush generation came off the boat, as it was, and can clearly be seen in the footage and photographs to be wearing their very best clothes, putting their best foot forward, and coming—in a spirit of good will, hope and optimism—to contribute to this country. But when I listen to the stories that people tell me, very plainly they were not welcomed as they should have been; very plainly, the United Kingdom was not prepared to welcome people as it should have done. People were not treated as I would wish. I am very sorry about that, but it is not an injustice that I think we can put right today. We can put right, though, the things that people suffer in this age.
I recently met a young woman and was surprised to hear her story, which she has given me permission to mention. She was schooled in Wycombe. She is not very much younger than me—perhaps in her 30s; I flatter myself, having just turned 50. She told me that when she went through school in Wycombe, a teacher actually put her, as a young black girl, in a separate room with Asian children and did not teach them. What unspeakable racism such a thing would be.
I am happy to say that it must surely be unthinkable that such a thing would be tolerated today. If it were to happen, surely children, on speaking to their parents, would find that their parents were today empowered to complain immediately; and all of us would move swiftly to condemn it. Yet the woman who told me this story was not that much younger than me and it happened in my town. Let me be very clear that it is not happening today. If it was, it would be rooted out. I am very proud of all our schools, which are diverse and brilliant, and give children the best possible opportunities.
I have been sitting here listening to the contributions, including the excellent speech of Sir Peter Bottomley. As Mr Baker will know, in Northern Ireland we have had 30 years of conflict. That conflict is over. We have an opportunity to build a future where we can have a shared society and a shared history, and there are many good things in Northern Ireland that I believe could be used for the betterment of people in this House and in England. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that we can all learn lessons from Northern Ireland, as our society has moved forward constructively?
There certainly are lessons from Northern Ireland, yes. I have occasionally visited Belfast to hear from people there. The hon. Gentleman reminds me that humanity’s capacity to find reasons for hatred is almost unbounded, and it is sorrowful, particularly in Northern Ireland, that people have hated one another on the grounds of theological matters, which should be matters of academic interest and certainly not things over which anyone should hate.
I want to touch on the Windrush Day celebration that we had this year. Somebody on the call complained, actually, that the first item we watched was a film—I think from the ’80s; perhaps the late ’80s—that related to a moment of tension in Wycombe, when some young black men and some young white men had come into conflict over football and an event going on somewhere else. When I watched the film, there were young black men in Wycombe complaining about how they had been treated, and one of the things I noticed was how justified they were. They were clearly intelligent, articulate and well-meaning, and completely dumbfounded and bewildered that anyone had so misconstrued their intentions and misrepresented the actions that had taken place. For example, the film covered an allegation that petrol bombs had been used, when no such thing had happened. It was a fiction, an invention targeted at these men—again, racism. I can see why black people would really resent being treated in such a way. People have long memories; they remember today how others were treated in the past, and they expect us to behave differently and to show some contrition, apology and humility, and I hope that I am doing so.
To turn to the Windrush scandal, I think the scheme is working. I have had a limited number of cases and I therefore cannot go into them, but it worked very well in one particular case that I hold in mind. I think that was perhaps because we were involved and that should not be necessary, but clearly the scheme is being improved. I am conscious that I should probably allow the Minister to describe later how the scheme is being improved, but I note in particular that the minimum award has gone from £250 to £10,000, and the maximum award from £10,000 to £100,000. I welcome those improvements.
However, I just want to say to my hon. Friend the Minister—he is my hon. Friend and a great man—that it is only by engaging with people and really listening to what they say and how they experience things that we can improve matters. For example, on a recent call to raise awareness of the Windrush compensation scheme in my community in Wycombe, I listened with horror and shame to somebody explaining that their mother had had to go through multiple hoops to prove that she was entitled to be here after decades of living comfortably in the United Kingdom, quite rightly, as a British person. Worse, her British-born children with British passports were worrying and anxious about their right to remain in the United Kingdom.
Why should such a thing happen? Inevitably, schemes have rules. What I would say to my hon. Friend the Minister and to officials listening is that I have great faith in him and I have great faith in officials. They are doing the very best they can in the spirit of good will. Yet the experience of the public engaging with the scheme is hurdles and bureaucracy and proof. For it to have provoked—in our age, today—the anxiety in British-born people with British passports for whom this is home, is itself, while inadvertent, shaming. I do not wish to spring this on my hon. Friend. I would not expect him to apologise apropos of nothing without looking into it, but I certainly want to apologise to those people. I will certainly always stand up for people who have felt like that and raise their case with Ministers. However they vote, it is my duty to make sure that—very much a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West—we stand up for people, those of us who are, if I may say so, privileged to be middle class, in full-time employment, white and not facing these difficulties.
Awareness, empathy, contrition and humility—they should be our watchwords. As we go forward, as chairman of Conservatives against Racism for Equality, I really want our whole society to choose, in a radically moderate way, to be much more positively anti-racist; for all of us to be living out a life that says, “I accept the moral equality of every person and the legal equality of people in all our institutions”. That speaks to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West. Of course, everybody is politically equal. From that follows equality before the law and equality of opportunity, and embracing one another, so that we can go forward in hope to live in a world in which our skin colour matters no more or less than our eye colour.
I really do celebrate the Wycombe Windrush generation. The community is a wonderful, gentle loving community and I am very proud that they are in Wycombe. I am very proud of them. I just say to my hon. Friend the Minister—I can see he has listened very carefully; he is a great and good man—that in time, perhaps very swiftly, we might see institutions that make sure that people never again feel undervalued.
I congratulate Helen Hayes on securing this important debate.
It is a rich irony that as we hold this debate to mark Windrush Day, another immigration scandal similar to that which affected the Windrush generation is potentially in the making. On Wednesday this week, the deadline for EU nationals to apply for settled status in the UK passed amidst worries that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, had missed the deadline. It is important for their sake, as well as for the sake of the wider black, Asian and minority ethnic community, that we do not miss the opportunity of this debate to address the reasons why so many of the Windrush generation and their descendants were wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.
It is important to be clear about what Wendy Williams identified in her “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”, in which she said:
“While the Windrush scandal began to become public in late 2017, its roots lie much deeper. Successive rounds of legislation and policy effectively set traps for the Windrush generation…Over decades, legislation progressively eroded the rights of the Windrush generation… The hostile environment was another step on the long road towards a more restrictive immigration regime, but it was also a departure in terms of the scale and seriousness of the effects which would be directly felt by individuals.
The department”— by which she means the Home Office—
“developed immigration policy at speed, impelled by ministerial pressure, with too little consideration of the possible impact of the measures”.
That is reflected in the evidence monitoring the impact of the right to rent scheme, one of the key measures of the hostile environment that the Windrush generation came up against. The evidence monitoring that scheme shows that it discriminates on nationality and racial grounds.
Many of the hostile environment policies operate by outsourcing immigration enforcement to people in the community such as health workers, bank workers and employers. That process carries the same risk as that identified in the right to rent scheme. Yet in the “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”, Wendy Williams found that the Home Office did not consider the risks to ethnic minorities appropriately as it developed the right to rent policy, and that it continued to implement the scheme after others had pointed out the risks and after evidence had arisen that the risks had materialised. Wendy Williams has said that the right to rent policy exemplifies the Home Office’s unwillingness to listen to other people’s perspective or take on board external scrutiny, and that that stems from
“an absolute conviction, rather than evidence”.
As a parliamentarian and a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in 2018 I was involved in a detailed case study of two of the Windrush cases. When we looked at the files of these people, we saw the way in which those acting on behalf of the Home Office had repeatedly ignored extensive documentary evidence that they had every right to live in the United Kingdom. These people were detained and were on the verge of being deported from the United Kingdom. Given that treatment, it is perfectly understandable that there is serious concern about what might become of those EU nationals living in the United Kingdom who have not met the deadline for the settlement scheme and may therefore find themselves, like the Windrush generation, without the paperwork to evidence their right to be here.
As ever, it is the most vulnerable who will suffer most. During the Windrush scandal, it was old people who were hit hardest. We have heard other hon. Members talk about that. Turning again to the EU settlement scheme, on Twitter last night a consultant anaesthetist set out the story of his 83-year-old German-born mother, who came to the United Kingdom in 1962. She has given a lifetime of dedicated service to the United Kingdom and now, sadly, like so many people of her generation, she has dementia. She has no understanding of the process to gain the settled status, and without her son’s assistance she would not have been able to follow it. What of the elderly and vulnerable people with no loving family to help them navigate our complicated immigration system? Just like the Windrush generation, they will be at risk of losing bank accounts, tenancies, access to the NHS and welfare benefits.
We need to use this debate to make sure that we learn lessons from what happened during the Windrush scandal. Its effects were felt far and wide. One of my constituents, a man in his 70s, returned from holiday a few years ago to be told by Border Force officials that he was an illegal immigrant. He had been born in Canada to a Scottish mother and had come to the United Kingdom as a baby and known nowhere else. He never though that he would be the kind of person who would be caught up in the Windrush scandal, but he was and he was extremely upset and had a genuine fear that he was going to be deported, until my office was able to sort out his status and paperwork.
Another constituent of mine, a British national from the Commonwealth who came here before 1988, has been unable to get work as a professional bus driver for the past few years because he was wrongly accused of hijacking someone else’s identity. Although his Department for Work and Pensions file was eventually cleared and his right to benefits was reinstated, the Home Office did not regularise his identity, he cannot get a new passport and he cannot get a driving licence. He came to see me as he was desperate to get his driving licence so that he could work. He was unaware of the Windrush scheme remedy, and the team in my office are now working with him to complete a Windrush application. I hope the Minister is listening and will ask his officials to look at this case specifically, to learn lessons of the devastation that can be caused by failing to properly resolve these types of situation.
As has been indicated, responses to parliamentary questions show that the Windrush compensation scheme is a lengthy experience, for some at least, with many waiting for more than a year. Shamefully, as has been said, 21 people have died waiting for a response. So it is time that the scheme was properly resourced and that legal aid was made available to help claimants through the bureaucracy. So my other ask of the Minister today is whether he can give us an undertaking to properly resource this compensation scheme, on which the Home Office has to date drastically underspent its budget, and whether he will afford legal aid for the more complicated cases.
Above and beyond everything else, what we should take from today’s debate is the lessons that should be learned from the Windrush scandal, and the title of Wendy Williams’ report refers to that. We should take them forward to make sure that no other people living in the UK suffer that sort of treatment in the future. If we do not address the hostile environment and its implications—through the right to rent scheme, in the workplace, in the health service and in the benefits system—we are at risk of going back to the days of signs in the window saying, “No blacks, no Irish need apply”, except that the signs will not be there because the system is more insidious and more covert, but it is still there. The Windrush scandal should have marked the end of the hostile environment, but the Home Office is forging ahead with it regardless. Its approach was recently typified by the carrying out of an immigration raid during a religious festival on Glasgow’s south side. The local multicultural community firmly and peaceably showed what they thought of the British Government’s conduct, and the victims of the raid were released. The shameful heavy-handed approach to immigration typified by the Windrush scandal should have no place in the modern United Kingdom. It certainly has no mandate in Scotland and no place in modern Scotland, which is one of the many reasons why the SNP wins election after election in Scotland. The responsibility to realise the means to do something about the hostile environment in Scotland weighs heavily on my party, but ultimately the responsibility for it weighs on the Minister’s party and I want to hear from him today that he has learned the lessons of the Windrush scandal and that steps will be taken to avoid it ever happening again.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Hayes on securing this important debate. It is absolutely right that today in Parliament we celebrate the Windrush generation from the Caribbean, from Africa, from Asia. These communities help make the UK what it is today and continue to contribute immeasurable amounts to every aspect of British society. I was very pleased on Windrush Day to join students at Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School on Brixton Hill as they played their steel pans and sang a rendition of “You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Desmond Dekker. They had spent weeks learning about the Windrush generation and were very excited to tell me about everything that they had learnt—this included teaching me some things. I was pleased to join the CARICOM heads of mission at the Windrush commemoration at Windrush Square, at the African and Caribbean war memorial that is there, which is a very important place, especially given this year’s revelation about how disrespected our former Commonwealth officers—members of the military—had been and how those who were involved in various world wars had been treated.
It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Arthur Torrington of the Windrush Foundation and acknowledge his organisation’s call, joined by many of the Windrush generation throughout the country, to actually have the Windrush memorial that is planned built at Windrush Square, where they believe it rightfully belongs.
After the Windrush scandal broke, the apology that the Government eventually gave was momentous. It was the first time that I know of in my history that the British Government have apologised so unequivocally on an issue related to a matter of race. The celebrations that we have had over years since then, the establishment of Windrush Day and the acknowledgement of the importance of the Windrush generation to this country are important, but they all mean nothing if we do not end the scandal that is very much ongoing; if we do not admit and tackle racial injustice; and if we do not end the hostile environment.
We have to remember that the Windrush generation were treated terribly and some of them have even died before receiving a penny of justice and many died before receiving that apology. People were denied driving licences and homes and made unemployed. They were put in immigration detention centres, some were deported, and others were refused re-entry to this country and are still finding difficulty getting back into this country. Some had their families broken up. They were British citizens and this happened to them and to their loved ones.
As far as many are concerned, the scheme remains unfit for purpose. Too many have died waiting for compensation and too many have been denied it. Since the scheme started in 2019, a total of 2,367 people have applied, 122 claims have been rejected and 22 have resulted in no compensation at all. To date, only 687 claims have received any payment.
Despite the Home Secretary’s statement that the scheme has fundamentally changed since December, it is clear that that has not been the case. The author of the scheme, Martin Forde QC, has even said that those who deserve compensation think it is a “trap”—what an indictment of this Government and the Windrush generation’s confidence in them.
The scandal continues. Jacqueline McKenzie—a lawyer based in my constituency who has been holding pro bono legal surgeries for those affected by the scandal at the Black Cultural Archives and elsewhere throughout the country—has extensive evidence of persistent Home Office failings in not just administering the scheme but registering those Windrush generation members who require their citizenship. It goes on.
It should be no surprise to the Government that a number of people have signed a petition calling on the Home Office to amend the scheme, and that the Labour party is rightfully calling for the scheme to be moved out of the Home Office. We do not honour the Windrush generation if we carry on like this.
We do not honour the Windrush generation if we continue to apply the hostile environment and continue with our broken immigration and nationality system. How can we say we have learned any of the lessons of the past if we are about to drive EU nationals into an effective Windrush scandal, with thousands of them probably having not applied for the scheme by yesterday’s deadline?
It does not honour the Windrush generation that in 2019 some 421,000 children were born in the UK who were not registered as British citizens—some of them, I might add, are the children and grandchildren of the Windrush generation directly—and that in that same year 177,000 children who had been raised in the UK for at least 10 years were also unregistered. These children are not migrants, just like the Windrush generation, and they have gone on or, if the issue of citizenship fees does not change, will go on to experience real-life difficulties, continuing to fall victim to the hostile environment when it comes to accessing healthcare, taking up employment, attending university, renting a home and opening a bank account—all things they should have access to.
It does not honour the Windrush generation if we continue to push issues of racism out of the way. The recent race report was an absolute disgrace in my view. It was a complete whitewash of the institutional racism that the Windrush generation and others have faced and continue to face. Even to imply that there may be no issues with institutional racism is a complete disgrace, in terms of people’s experience, but also I believe that it is an attempt to absolve the Government of the responsibility for tackling it: if there is no institutional racism, there are no duties for the Government to impose on institutions. This is just passing the buck as usual. We do not honour the Windrush generation and we do not respect their past when we do not have a plan to change this discrimination that ultimately and undoubtedly could, and will, impact on their futures.
We do not honour the Windrush generation if we do not educate people about the history of slavery and colonialism, which are very much a part of our history as Britain. It cannot be the case that we choose a history that acknowledges neither of these major events that are part and parcel of why we are the country we are today, part and parcel of why people in this country experience racism today, and part and parcel of why the Windrush generation and the Windrush scandal happened in the way that it did. It was because of this racism. It has been inspirational to see children, schools and teachers across my constituency taking up Windrush Day and black history lessons and actively doing it themselves, but they are not doing this with Government support—despite the recommendations in the Windrush lessons learned review—and that is wrong.
Yes, the Government have apologised with Windrush Day and have certain measures that may look like they are going in the right direction, but too many fall short of what is required. If the Government stand true to the apology that they made years ago, if they respect the Windrush generation, and if they respect the continued involvement and contribution that this generation and many others from migrant backgrounds continue to make to this country, they will take stock, remove the Windrush compensation scheme from the Home Office so it can be managed properly, listen to the Windrush generation about where they would like to have their memorial, and take active steps acknowledging institutional racism and working to bring it to an end.
The story of the Windrush generation is one of courage, determination, triumph over adversity and success. We mark Windrush Day to celebrate those who came into Tilbury docks in their Sunday best, as other Members have said, on that day in June 1948. We use Windrush to describe the wider post-war immigration from the Caribbean—those who came to Britain from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Granada, St Lucia, Dominica, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, and Anguilla. Indeed, my Slough constituency has the largest population of people of Anguillan heritage anywhere in the world outside Anguilla. I have had the pleasure on numerous occasions of attending events and dinners as we regularly host the Chief Minister of Anguilla.
Local people are well served by the Anguilla Community Group, Survival, the Slough Dominican Association, the Jamaican Association Slough and SANAS—the St Kitts & Nevis Association Slough—among many other associations and community groups. I am extremely proud to serve as the Member of Parliament for all these fine Slough Caribbean organisations and Slough’s Windrush generation and their descendants, who have contributed so much to the vibrancy and progress of our town.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his obvious involvement in the community that he represents, and I think the people of Slough are very fortunate to have him as their MP. Does he agree that Windrush Day 2021 allows those valued and cherished citizens to show the experiences of the West Indian people who have settled here and that their personal stories of migration also give a welcome representation of black British culture as it helped those of with working-class experience to connect with one another in this country—two traditions together under the British flag?
I thank the hon. Gentleman who, as we all know, is an assiduous and dedicated Member—hardly an Adjournment debate goes past without the pleasure of hearing an intervention by him—and I agree with him fully. We need to learn about the history of the Windrush generation. More widely, our curriculum needs to change, and our children and all schoolchildren must learn that history through the changed curriculum. Only if we learn from our history, our past—as a history student, I know that better than most—can we stop repeating mistakes and stop the racism, slavery and other maltreatment that many individuals endured.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not look on this as an abuse, but I meant to ask the Minister whether, before the end of the debate or certainly afterwards, he would find the letter sent on
We owe so much to the Windrush generation and their descendants. They contributed to business, medicine, engineering and science, teaching, nursing, politics, academia, the voluntary sector and the armed services. Who can imagine our public life here in Great Britain without the contributions of Stuart Hall, C. L. R. James, Tessa Sanderson, Zadie Smith, Kelly Holmes, Lenny Henry, Rio Ferdinand and Ms Abbott, among so many others?
I mentioned the contribution of people of African-Caribbean heritage to our politics, and I want to mention one person in particular: Lydia Simmons, whom I mentioned in my maiden parliamentary speech here in the Chamber and whom I am so fond of, especially given the warmth with which she greets me. Lydia is something of a Slough legend. She was born in Montserrat, came to the UK, and did the sensible thing and joined the Labour party. She was elected to Slough council in 1979. She was a council cabinet member and served until 2007. Lydia Simmons has the honour of being the first black person and the first Afro-Caribbean woman to become a Mayor in England. She has rightly been recognised by Her Majesty the Queen with an OBE.
When we hear the name of Windrush, we reflect on 1,001 stories of fortitude, sacrifice, bravery and service. We give thanks for all those who built communities, served our nation and strengthened our bonds of kinship and friendship with islands across the oceans. However, when we hear the name of Windrush, we also hear different connotations. Instead of gratitude, we think of cruelty; instead of recognition, we think of injustice; instead of service, we think of scandal. The Windrush scandal is a terrible blight on our recent past.
Wendy Williams’s lessons learned review stands as a terrible indictment of the Government’s so-called “hostile environment”. Williams stated that the cruel impact was “foreseeable and avoidable”. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the EHRC, said that the Government ignored its duty to equality. Even after Ministers admitted their failings and mistakes, the Windrush compensation scheme is a disaster: of the 11,500 people the Home Office estimates are eligible for compensation, a mere 687 have received their due. Justice delayed is justice denied and, tragically, at least 21 people have died waiting for justice. The need is there and the money is there. What is missing is the political will and the basic efficiency to get the cash into the bank accounts of the people who deserve it.
When the Windrush generation arrived, they were frequently met with hostility and racism. They were denied a fair chance in housing, education and jobs. Those infamous signs in landladies’ windows were used to stoke up division and dire warnings of rivers of blood. Yet that generation proved the racists wrong. They added immeasurably to our national story and continue to do so. They started out in the cities, towns and villages of faraway Caribbean islands, but they proved—through their intellect, determination and sweat—to be the best of British. We honour them today and in their names we demand long overdue racial justice and equality for all.
Last week, we celebrated the fourth annual Windrush Day. It is an important moment to celebrate the British Caribbean community—in particular, the half a million people who came to the UK after the second world war. As hon. Members have said, it is also an important time to reflect on the shameful Windrush scandal and assess what progress the Government have made in righting the wrongs they have perpetrated.
I pay tribute to Patrick Vernon, who has campaigned over many years for this day to be recognised. In 2018, he wrote about the need to remember that
“many aspects of British society today would be unrecognisable without the contributions that immigration and integration have made: from the NHS to the monarchy, our language, literature, enterprise, public life, fashion, music, politics, science, culture, food and even humour.”
This year, it is more important than ever to recognise the contribution of the Windrush generation and those who have come after them. Of course, 1948 was the year when both the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury docks and our national health service was founded. Ever since then, the story of the NHS has been entwined with the story of immigration from the Caribbean and more widely. For more than 70 years, the NHS has cared for us in our time of need—never more so than during the last 16 months. Today, I pay tribute to the nurses, doctors, care staff and health workers who have been on the frontline during the covid pandemic.
I now turn to the Windrush compensation scheme. We should be clear that no financial compensation can truly make up for the hardship, suffering and mistreatment that the Windrush generation has experienced as a result of Home Office policies and practices. Nevertheless, the launch of the scheme in April 2019 marked an important step towards achieving justice for the Windrush generation and their families. Since then, however, I have been very concerned by the progress that the Home Office has made to ensure that everyone who is eligible receives their rightful compensation.
A recent report by the National Audit Office raised a number of issues that Ministers need to address urgently. The Home Office has received significantly fewer applications to the scheme than it anticipated. By the end of March 2021, the Department had received just 2,163 applications. I repeat: 2,163 applications. Does the Minister accept that significantly more outreach work is needed to ensure that everyone who is eligible knows about the scheme and is supported to apply to it?
For claims received up to March 2020, the scheme made some form of payment within 12 months to only 10% of claimants residing in the UK and 1.1% of claimants residing outside the UK. Does the Minister think that it is acceptable that 90% of claimants had not received any payments a year after they applied—and if not, what steps will the Home Office take to improve the situation?
Tragically, many of the Windrush generation have died without receiving the compensation they deserve. A recent article in the Big Issue quoted several people who have lost their lives as they waited for a decision on the scheme. Natalie Barnes, daughter of Paulette Wilson, who died in 2020, said:
“The Home Office still operates the hostile environment policy which contributed to the death of my mother. Before she passed, she was struggling with the forms and lack of support and respect from the Home Office. The scheme needs to be moved so there is proper justice to families like mine.”
I also have several constituents who have been waiting for well over a year for a decision on their applications. One told me that he has been told to send the same documentation three times, despite calling the helpline multiple times, and he has been unable to receive an update on his claim. I am still waiting for a response to my correspondence on that issue. Other constituents have faced similar challenges in terms of getting basic answers from the Home Office about the progress of their applications. The Home Office must urgently improve how it deals with these cases from start to finish.
Finally, let me turn to the changes that the Government must make to this scheme. The “Fix the Windrush compensation scheme” petition has now received more than 100,000 signatures. It calls for three things: first, for the compensation scheme to be removed from the Home Office and managed by an independent non-government agency to provide trust, respect and confidence to the victims and their families; secondly, for the provision of substantial funding for outreach schemes to reach Windrush victims in the UK, Africa and the Caribbean; and thirdly, for the Government to include a full apology letter with every compensation award.
I urge the Government to consider taking these steps to put some dignity and humanity into the compensation scheme and to give those affected the justice they deserve. Successive Governments have failed the Windrush generation. The Government must now stop repeating the mistakes of the past and deliver justice to those who have been denied it for far too long.
This year marks the fourth national Windrush Day, commemorating the arrival, on board the Empire Windrush, of the first Caribbean immigrants to the UK, who played a vital role in rebuilding Britain after the second world war. After the ravages of war, Britain had to heal, rebuild and recover. It was a task that we could not and did not manage alone. This wonderful Windrush generation were the drivers, the nurses and the workers who helped not only to rebuild Britain, but to shape the Britain that we have today, and it is all the better for it. Towns and cities across the country rightly pay tribute to their efforts, including in Luton, where the Windrush flag was raised above our town hall. The ceremony was organised by young leaders in Luton and supported by the African Caribbean Community Development Forum.
I am proud that our town’s tribute and gratitude live on through the generations, but gratitude is something that a Government must not only show and express—at the moment, the only thing this Government are paying is lip service to the Windrush generation, not the compensation that is owed. That is simply not good enough. How many more people must die before they get the justice that is rightly owed to them? When will all the Windrush generation get the compensation that is owed to them? Until we start to see the words match the action, I am afraid that warm words will continue to be cold comfort to those who gave so much. The scale and depth of this injustice is huge: deportations, innocent people being detained, all under a Government who have moved so far to the right that the centre ground is barely visible, let alone the ability to see people as humans and fellow brothers and sisters.
I welcomed the Home Office’s apology, but an injustice on this scale needs to be followed with action. I will come on to the virtually non-existent compensation later, but I am talking about genuinely learning lessons from the past. Instead of taking a more humane, humble and appreciative, as well as economically sound approach to what people from other countries give to and do for this country, the Government have steered down an ever-more hostile and fiercely right-wing approach. Those who seek refuge in our country are now to be processed—such a horrible word in itself when we are talking about people who are fleeing famine, war or oppression in another country. We have seen “Go Home” vans. Healthcare workers who have given their all throughout the pandemic are subjected to immigration health surcharges to pay for the very health service that they are working in. The Prime Minister cosies up to divisive leaders and is himself yet to apologise for racist remarks about Muslim women and black people.
Since their apology to the Windrush generation of 2018, this Government have not learned from their past mistakes. In fact, the situation is getting worse. After I raised multiple questions on the compensation scheme, the Home Office refused to tell me how many people in Luton North, or even in the region, had been awarded compensation. It cited some nonsense about telling me the number of people who had received compensation—I just asked for a number—potentially identifying people, which it would never do. So I ask again: how many people in Luton North and in Bedfordshire are still waiting for what is owed to them? If the Minister will not share that with us, why not? Why has so little of the £200 million compensation fund been allocated to the people who deserve it?
Last year, I wrote to the Home Secretary on behalf of a constituent. I was days away from having my baby. I got a response when that baby was crawling, nearly eight months later. That is simply not good enough. I appreciate that we have had a pandemic and things will take longer for Departments to deal with than normal, but eight months is far too long for the Windrush generation to wait to hear an answer, particularly an older generation that has been left more vulnerable and disproportionately affected during the pandemic.
I hope that the Windrush generation’s wait for justice will soon be over, because far too many of their peers never lived to see the day and that injustice can now never be redressed. Now the Minister must act. The compensation owed to people must find its way to their pockets and their bank accounts as soon as possible, and we must know when that is going to happen. If the Government are to truly learn the lessons of the past, they must end the hostile environment that so many of our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have to live in every day.
I thank Helen Hayes for securing this important debate.
The findings of the National Audit Office on the compensation scheme for the Windrush scandal can only be described as catastrophic. As we have heard from many hon. Members across the Chamber, more than 21 members of the Windrush generation have died awaiting compensation, and far too little support has been provided to those making claims. These claims need to be processed quicker to ensure that no one else from the Windrush generation sadly passes away while still waiting. Joanna Cherry talked about the scheme needing to be properly resourced, and I agree. If one is to judge the UK Government’s commitment to amending the harm they have caused to black citizens of the UK and the Commonwealth by the efficacy of this compensation scheme, one may come to rather distressing conclusions.
Many members of the Windrush generation continue to suffer from another of the Government’s ill-judged and callous policies: frozen pensions. Successive UK Governments have pursued an approach to state pensions whereby recipients in some countries receive annual pension payment increments but pensioners in other countries, including all but two Caribbean countries, do not. Some members of the Windrush generation retired to their countries of birth only to find themselves at the receiving end of this harsh policy. That includes more than 300 pensioners living in Antigua and Barbuda, 1,300 in Trinidad and Tobago, almost 1,000 in Grenada, more than 800 in Saint Lucia and hundreds more across a number of other Caribbean islands.
One such pensioner is 90-year-old Nancy Hunte, who moved to the UK from Antigua with her daughter, Gretel, who is now 66. Nancy spent 33 years working in Leicester, while Gretel spent two decades working in UK factories. Due to their return to their country of origin, Nancy has now missed out on £70,000 in pension payments, receiving only £39 per week, which is less than a third of the pension she deserves. Gretel, who has now reached retirement age, faces the same fate as her mother.
Another pensioner in this situation whom I had the great pleasure of meeting virtually a couple of days ago is 82-year-old Monica Philip. She was born in Antigua and moved to the UK when she was 20 years old. She spent 37 years employed in the UK, including as a civil servant at the Ministry of Defence and in the City of London social services. She had to return to Antigua in 1996 to care for her ailing mother. Her state pension has been frozen at £74 per week, which is half what her sister Naomi, who still lives in Leicester, receives. How can that be fair?
The UK Government could choose to end this injustice at any time. All that it would take to put a stop to the frozen pensions policy is domestic legislation unilaterally uprating the pensions of UK pensioners in countries that the UK has no reciprocal pension agreement with. The Government do not take these steps, as they insist that they will only uprate pensions through such reciprocal agreements. That would be an almost reasonable position if it were not for the fact that the Government baulk at the opportunity when offered new reciprocal agreements, such as the one recently offered by Canada. It would be helpful if the Government could clarify why they take such a contradictory stance, where on the one hand they insist that they merely seek bilateral reciprocal deals, and on the other they will not actively seek such deals or seriously consider them when they are presented with the opportunity to secure one.
I understand that the Minister may not have responsibility for this, but has he had discussions with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions on the impact that these frozen pensions have had on Windrush pensioners who have retired to their countries of origin, especially in the light of the inefficacy of the compensation scheme? Nothing can excuse this lack of support for Windrush pensioners who put in decades of hard work rebuilding the UK after the second world war.
I congratulate Helen Hayes on securing this important debate.
I am a daughter of the Windrush generation. When my parents and my family arrived from Nevis and settled in Leicester, they made tremendous sacrifices so that they could contribute to our local and national community. The Windrush generation were part of a brief post-war attempt to reconcile centuries of extractive, violent colonialism by ensuring that members of the British empire could settle in the UK. Despite facing horrific systemic racism and discrimination, the Windrush generation helped to rebuild a country ravaged by war and made an immense contribution to shaping the country we live in today.
The British state has not held up its end of the bargain, and the mistreatment of the Windrush generation that ensnared UK residents in the Government’s callous, racist hostile environment immigration system is one of the most evil chapters in modern British history. British citizens who built our NHS, who worked in frontline jobs and whose actions define public service were criminalised. They were denied access to work, housing and healthcare for no other reason than their country of birth or the colour of their skin.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Government had failed to comply with their equality duties. Wendy Williams’ Windrush lessons learned review found a culture of neglect within the Home Office that created conditions in which British citizens were systematically denied their rights due to damaging, pernicious immigration targets. That review made 30 recommendations that the Home Secretary committed to implementing, yet progress has been slow—so slow that Wendy Williams accused the Home Office of paying “lip service” to the urgent reform that is necessary. It is utterly shameful that only 687 people have received compensation from the Windrush compensation scheme out of 11,500 people who the Home Office estimated might be eligible, although the National Audit Office found that 15,000 people might be eligible. That means that less than 5% of people whose lives were unjustly ruined by this Government have received the compensation they deserve. Tragically, at least 21 people have died waiting for justice.
The National Audit Office found that despite the compensation scheme needing 125 full-time caseworkers, when the Home Office launched the scheme, it had only six in post. Applicants are also forced to go through a complex, convoluted and tortuous process that includes at least 15 steps, and the wait times are unacceptably long. This derisory commitment shows how utterly unserious this Government are about making amends for their abuse of human rights. Frankly, it seems that this Government could not care less about the victims of their own institutionally racist policies. Putting the same Home Office that is responsible for the Windrush scandal in charge of the compensation scheme is like leaving a fox in charge of a henhouse. The scheme must be removed from Government and placed under the control of a properly funded, independent regulator.
The mishandling of the Windrush compensation scheme rubs salt into wounds, heaping insult upon injustice. Under this Government, citizenship rights have been deliberately obscured, and deportation and removal targets have taken precedent. They have made no effort to end the institutionally racist hostile environment policies that created this disaster. Indeed, the Windrush scandal is perhaps the definitive example of institutional racism, and the fact that this Government have embarked on a damaging crusade against the reality of institutional racism shows just how little they have learned from the suffering of the Windrush generation. I am very concerned by this Government’s denial of structural discrimination, as demonstrated by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ report, which sought to blame minorities for, and gaslight them about, the structural disadvantages they face. This is not a Government who want to learn lessons from the Windrush scandal; it is a Government who are cynically using culture war tropes that are designed to divide our communities against each other and distract from the real causes of inequality and injustice.
The victims of the Windrush scandal need urgent justice. The compensation scheme must be taken away from the Home Office and rapidly accelerated. Beyond this, the Government must recall the suffering of the Windrush generation and remember that the demonisation of migrants and African, African-Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic communities has devastating consequences for the lives of British residents. Ultimately, the Government must abandon their divisive agenda and commit to governing in the interests of all our citizens, regardless of the colour of our skin or our country of birth.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Hayes on securing this very important debate. Windrush Day is our chance to celebrate the incredible contributions made by the remarkable generation of workers who came at the invitation of the British Government and helped to rebuild our country from the ashes of the second world war and to establish the NHS. I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to their tireless work and to articulate our country’s massive debt of gratitude to them.
Our celebrations are marred, however, by the disgraceful way in which this Government have repaid these workers in creating the hostile environment. The Windrush scandal is a stain on this Government’s conscience and remains one of the greatest racist injustices of our time. Fewer than 700 people have received compensation to date out of the over 11,000 who may be eligible, and at least 21 people have died waiting for justice—as we know, justice delayed is justice denied. I call on the Government now to apologise for these atrocities, and to commit to overhauling the scheme and placing it under independent leadership to help restore faith in the process to get people the compensation and justice they deserve.
If this Government were truly serious about learning the lessons of the Windrush scandal and righting this wrong, they would review and roll back their entire hostile environment policy. That includes the EU settlement scheme deadline, which passed yesterday and threatens to create yet another similar scandal of the same proportions. Instead of lifting the deadline, as so many of us have called for, this Government have chosen to press ahead with a process that means many EU citizens residing in the UK who, for many reasons, were not able to complete the application process on time, today woke up without the right to rent, work or access free NHS healthcare. This Government’s response that millions have applied does not answer the question about what will happen to those who lose out. Will the Minister today give reassurance about his Government’s plan to ensure that the disastrous treatment of the Windrush generation and their families will not be applied to EU citizens who have not managed to meet this deadline?
This Government’s harsh treatment of those who already have the right to live and work in this country is a matter of reproach, but so too is their treatment of those seeking safety on our shores. Last month, the High Court ruled that the Government’s housing of asylum seekers at Napier barracks is appalling, that the crowded conditions were inadequate and unsafe, and that a major coronavirus outbreak there was inevitable. It also found that residents of Napier barracks were unlawfully detained there. This week, plans by the Home Secretary to dump asylum seekers in offshore camps in Rwanda were revealed. These unconscionable plans threaten rampant human rights violations against some of the most vulnerable people in our society who have come to our country seeking the help and compassion that they have a right to expect and receive. I call on this Government to think again and to reject this inhumane course of action.
Lastly, I turn to this Government’s plans for the NHS. This unparalleled institution, which got our country through this pandemic, was built on the backs of the Windrush generation. We now have a Health Secretary who, until just days ago, was on £150,000 a year from investor JP Morgan, a bank that is a major player on the private healthcare scene. He is also on record as being a strong advocate for the privatisation of public services. This year has shown more than ever the value of a public healthcare system that is universally free at the point of use. Today is a commemoration of the incredible contribution of the Windrush generation, and I take this opportunity to call once again on this Government to honour their work and the sacrifices they made, put right the wrongs the victims of the hostile environment have suffered and take the steps needed to put the NHS back on its original footing—publicly owned, publicly funded, free at the point of use and available for all.
First, I pay tribute to those caught up in the Windrush scandal for hanging on in there and sticking with this, and to the many campaigning community groups, activists, supporters, and friends and family of those who have suffered so badly. I thank them for campaigning, signing petitions and speaking to us, as well as for looking in on people and looking after people. Without them, people would have suffered even more greatly than they already have.
I also pay tribute to the hon. and right hon. Members who have stuck with this issue and fought tooth and nail for people. I make particular mention of Helen Hayes—I congratulate her on securing this debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee, too, for agreeing to it—and there are many more who have spoken today and in the past.
As the SNP’s immigration spokesperson, I also want to mention the consistent position that both my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald and my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry have taken over the years. They joined other voices in pointing out the scheme’s many flaws and suggested improvements, including making it independent. If someone is ordered to pay me compensation for a crime they have committed against me, they should not decide how much and when I will paid. They are the ones in the wrong, and just as it is taken out of their hands, so it should be with the Home Office.
My colleagues argued strongly for legal aid, but again they were ignored. They also argued for changing the standard of proof required in some financial claims away from beyond reasonable doubt to the normal civil standard of balance of probabilities. On that, at least, the Minister took advice from Martin Forde QC, who designed much of the scheme, and the guidance was changed. That is good, but the other flaws remain and, as we have heard, progress has been painfully slow.
As a new MP in 2015, I regularly felt frustrated at passionately arguing the case for someone or something but almost never getting anywhere in terms of policy changes. However, I underestimated the importance that people place on MPs speaking up for them and acknowledging their injustice. Therefore, as the SNP’s immigration spokesperson I will say again that what happened to those people who came here as part of the Windrush generation was utterly wrong. This Government should be ashamed of themselves and should be doing everything they can to make amends, in so far as is possible. They talk about it but, as we have heard, it is not happening for enough people and it is not happening fast enough.
When this scandal emerged, the Home Office claimed that it was a one-off admin error and that delays and complications with administering the compensation were also admin errors. I would argue, though, that it is too much of a coincidence that it all fits with this deeply hostile environment. There is a growing narrative from this Government about two types of immigrants: the good, compliant ones and the illegal ones, who are, it follows, according to this Government, bad, and bad for the UK.
That fits with the wider narrative that there is no such thing as white privilege when there absolutely is, that there is no institutional racism on these islands when there is, and that the British empire was a force for good in the world. The next thing we know, we will be hearing those on the Government Benches telling us that the British went around the globe because they had to civilise people, and they will not blink an eye when they say it, though I make notable exceptions for those who have spoken in this debate. That narrative is increasing and it allows things like the Windrush scandal to happen.
I do not want to spend too much time away from the specific issue of Windrush, because those people absolutely deserve the focus of this debate to be on them. However, I want to list a few other things that the hostile anti-immigrant narrative is allowing to happen right now. It is allowing people to be held in communal accommodation completely inappropriate to their needs, such as army barracks, hotels and hostels, and in Glasgow the dreadful so-called mother and baby unit where babies and toddlers have no space—and I mean no space—to do anything other than sleep and eat.
The narrative allows highly skilled migrants—another group of people we asked to come here because we needed their skills—to be thrown out of the UK on the most spurious of reasons. It has allowed the Home Office to go searching for ways to throw them out, asking the tax office to tell it of any who have ever had any discrepancies in their self-assessment returns. Then, despite Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs having resolved the issue years ago and being completely satisfied, the Home Office is being allowed to kick those people out.
I could not fail to mention today, on
As I have said, I do not want to take away today from the people we are here to talk about—the Windrush generation. They came here because they were invited. My partner’s family were among them, but thankfully we are not caught up in this. We needed them to help rebuild after world war two. While people in the Caribbean were well used to having white people in charge of their country, they were not used to the racist abuse to which they would be subjected when they reached our shores. They assumed they would be welcome because they were part of the Commonwealth, they had fought in our wars and, as I said, they were invited here, so it must have been a huge shock when they got here. Let us not forget that the 5,000 Jamaican nurses mentioned by the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood who came here to provide us with healthcare meant there were 5,000 fewer nurses in Jamaica, the country that had trained them.
I turn to the complexity of applying for compensation. The Home Office has said it is taking so long because it is very complex and that assessing financial loss and other profound impacts and consequences is not easy and cannot be done overnight. The fact that each claim takes not the 30 hours of staff time that were estimated but, according to the National Audit Office, 154 hours certainly backs that up. How can the Home Office also claim, therefore, that it is so straightforward that those applying do not need a lawyer? All the reasons that the Home Office gives for it taking so much time are the same reasons why legal aid should be allowed to support applicants. That would also make the Home Office’s task easier and hopefully build some faith in the scheme. That is why the Home Affairs Committee recommended it and why the SNP tabled an amendment to the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill to that effect.
The recent news that the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is teaming up with seven companies to give free legal advice was so welcome and such a relief. All I can say is: thank goodness for a legal profession that believes in access to justice for all. However, it should not be down to the profession and its resources. People must be given support by the perpetrators of this outrage, and the scheme must be independent of those perpetrators.
Finally, why on earth did the Home Office last year spend only £8.1 million of the £15.8 million budget allocated to run the scheme? The link between that and the lengthy delays is obvious. The solution is obvious, but my fear is that, for all the reasons I mentioned, the Government are not looking for solutions because their political ideology wants to make these islands as inaccessible and unwelcoming as possible to those they consider foreign, whether they are or not.
It is a privilege to close this crucial debate on behalf of the Opposition. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for it. I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Hayes on her work in securing the debate and leading it. I echo her praise of campaigners such as Patrick Vernon.
As my hon. Friend demonstrated in her speech, she is a powerful and passionate advocate for the Windrush generation. I was lucky enough, as she said, to visit her constituency for a lunch marking Windrush Day. Spending time in the company of people from that generation is a real honour, and it offered a unique insight into a remarkable part of our national story. The Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury on that Tuesday in June 1948—73 years ago—after travelling thousands of miles across the Atlantic ocean from the Caribbean. On that day, it would have been impossible to predict the incredible impact that those people who became known as the Windrush generation would have on our country.
The Labour Government of the time needed people to come and contribute to the economic recovery after world war two, and so many people travelled so far from home to help rebuild the country from the ruins of the war. They did that and so much more. The Windrush generation and their families have made a huge impact on every facet of our national life, from our NHS to our transport system, public and private sectors, the arts, culture, religion and sports—the list is endless. When I spoke to people at that lunch in Brixton, they gave me a powerful reminder of the appalling discrimination that generation faced when they arrived and the vile racism that made it hard to access work and homes or even feel safe on the streets, yet they persisted. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
We have heard many fine speeches about the Windrush generation, their experience and their continued quest for justice. We have heard moving stories in contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), for Luton North (Sarah Owen), for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) and for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe). It is a national scandal that the Windrush compensation scheme is the offensive mess that it is, because the impact of the Windrush scandal demands a timely, efficient, comprehensive and sensitive compensation scheme that truly reflects the gravity and scale of the injustice. That is so important because people who dedicated their lives to this country were treated in an unforgivable way. People were cut off from accessing the very basics of human life: work, housing and healthcare. Some were stranded away from home. Totally innocent people were forced into desperate situations—destitute and unable to work or receive financial support.
The Wendy Williams review came incredibly close to calling the Home Office institutionally racist. The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Home Office did not comply with its equality duty when understanding the impact on the Windrush generation and their descendants when developing, implementing and monitoring the hostile environment policy agenda. I take this moment to praise the campaigners who fought so hard to expose this injustice and for the rights of victims. Each and every one of them has shown remarkable dedication and care for others.
It was fitting that on Windrush Day a blue plaque was dedicated in honour of the late Paulette Wilson. Paulette Wilson came to Britain in the winter of 1968 after Enoch Powell’s infamous speech earlier that year. That her plaque is now on his former constituency office is a sign of progress, but it is also a powerful reminder that change never comes easily and always has to be fought for. It requires perseverance and keeping going when things are tough, and that is exactly what so many Windrush campaigners have done with great courage. We pay tribute to them today, but their deeds must be matched by action from this Government.
That is why the Windrush compensation scheme is such a crucial issue. It is not just a vital way to ensure that people have access to the funds they need as a result of the huge wrongs they have endured, important though that is; it is also an opportunity for those in power to show they have listened, appreciated the scale of the scandal and acted. Sadly, that has not been the case. In one of Britain’s most challenging hours, the Windrush generation answered the Government’s call for help, but when this Government were called on to act for them, they have done too little, too late.
Appallingly, we know that at least 21 people have died waiting for justice from the scheme. The Government’s own figures show that just 687 people have received compensation, of the 11,500 who the Home Office estimate might be eligible. That is nowhere near good enough. I have met people who have been offered derisory compensation payments—insulting amounts that come nowhere near recognising the scale of the damage done.
The Government say they have overhauled the scheme and increased some of the payments, but they have never explained why those measures were not in place from the start and why they are still inadequate. The speed of the scheme is totally unacceptable, and do not just take my word for it: the Home Secretary wrote to me yesterday to say that she agreed with me that
“claims need to be resolved more quickly”.
The National Audit Office has been critical of the Windrush compensation scheme.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the victims of Windrush who I have spoken to have lost faith in the Home Office to deliver this scheme. That is why the Labour party, along with voices from across society and especially in the Windrush generation are calling for the Windrush scheme to be overhauled, by placing it in the hands of an independent body away from the Home Office. That body must have the confidence of victims so as to restore faith in the process and to quickly get compensation to people who have been so appallingly treated. Ministers must come forward and give cast-iron guarantees on when each and every finding from the Wendy Williams review will be implemented, not just a promise that they will be; when will they be implemented?
The reality is that the time for warm words is over. There has to be a fundamental change: a fundamental change in the Home Office and a fundamental change in the compensation scheme. The time for platitudes is over. The time for action is now.
I thank Helen Hayes for calling this debate and my hon. Friend Mr Baker for his co-sponsorship. I also thank colleagues from across the House for their insightful and passionate contributions to this vitally important subject.
Last Tuesday, on Windrush Day, we came together to celebrate the Windrush generation. Events were held all over the United Kingdom and the sight of the Windrush flag flying above so many buildings, including here in Parliament—and, as we learned, Luton town hall—was a splendid illustration of what Windrush means to this country. The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks 73 years ago was a signal moment in our history. It has become a symbol of the rich human tapestry that makes this country great. The passengers on that ship, their descendants and those who followed them have made and continue to make a unique and enormous contribution to the social, economic and cultural life of the United Kingdom.
As someone who was brought up in the constituency of Kim Johnson and who has spent many years in city and local government in central London, I have shared triumph and tragedy, hate and love with the descendants of and members of the Windrush generation, and seen what an enormous contribution they make to our national life. As Abena Oppong-Asare and others noted, many have been at the forefront of the fight against covid, working in the NHS, our emergency services and in other key frontline roles.
The Windrush generation have helped to shape our country. This is their home. Without them, we would be immeasurably diminished; and yet, despite all that, some of them suffered terrible injustices at the hands of successive Governments of all flags. The fact that so many people were wrongly made to feel that this country was not their home is a tragedy and an outrage. I know that the scars run deep. This sorry episode will not be forgotten, nor should it be. This Government have done and continue to do everything in our power to right those wrongs. I will set out some of the steps that we have taken.
In April 2018, the Home Office established a taskforce to ensure that individuals who have struggled to demonstrate their right to be here are supported in doing so. Since then, we have provided documentation to over 13,000 individuals, confirming their status. In April 2019, we launched the Windrush compensation scheme to ensure that members of the generation and their families are compensated for the losses and impacts that they have suffered because they were unable to demonstrate their lawful status in this country.
I reassure Members that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that everyone receives the maximum compensation to which they are entitled. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe mentioned a cap of £100,000. There is now no cap on the amount we will pay out. Since April 2019, we have offered more than £32.4 million, of which £24.4 million has been paid across 732 claims. They have been accepted by the individuals and, as I say, paid. I reassure Members that everybody who accepts and receives a payment also receives a personal letter of apology from the Home Secretary.
We are determined to get this right and that means taking action to improve our approach, where necessary. In December, in response to feedback from members of the community, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary overhauled the compensation scheme so that people would receive significantly more money more quickly. The changes have had an immediate impact. Within six weeks, we had offered more than we had in the previous 19 months. Since the end of December, we have offered an average of £5.2 million a month and have paid more than seven times the total amount that had been paid out before then.
Despite this progress, as a number of Members have claimed, a number of people would rather see the compensation scheme moved from the Home Office to an independent body. However, taking such action at this stage would risk significantly delaying payments to people. The first stage in deciding a claim for compensation is to confirm an individual’s identity and eligibility. This is linked to their immigration status. It would be difficult to decouple that from the Home Office without increasing the time taken to process an individual’s claim and issue payments. There would also be considerable disruption to the processing of outstanding claims while the new body was established and made operational.
That is not to say we are operating without external scrutiny—far from it. For those dissatisfied with their compensation offer, an independent review can be conducted by the Adjudicator’s Office, a non-departmental public body that is completely independent of the Home Office. The scheme was set up and designed with the independent oversight of Martin Forde QC in close consultation with those affected by the scandal. Our approach was informed by hundreds of responses to a call for evidence and a public consultation. Earlier this year, we appointed Professor Martin Levermore as the new independent person to advise on the Windrush compensation scheme and ensure it is easy to access, fair and meets the needs of those affected. We continue to listen and respond to feedback about the scheme to ensure it is operating effectively.
We are not complacent, however. We recognise the need to resolve claims more quickly. Some people have been waiting too long for that to happen and that is not acceptable, as the Home Secretary noted in her letter.
As I outlined, the current total is actually 732 claims, but it has been too slow. That is why, as I said, the Home Secretary took direct action in December last year and we have seen a significant acceleration in payments thus far. We hope that that progress will continue.
As a number of Members mentioned, the death of 21 individuals before we were able to offer them compensation does weigh extremely heavily on all of us and is a source of sorrow and regret. We are working with their families to ensure that compensation is paid out, while recognising that doing so can never provide adequate consolation. Now we have completed the implementation of the December changes I referred to, we are committed to reducing the time between submission and decision over the coming months. To do that, we are recruiting additional caseworkers and directing resources to maximise final decision output, as well as improving the evidence-gathering process by revising our data-sharing agreements with other Departments on our forms, guidance and processes.
We also continue to do all we can to raise awareness of the Windrush schemes and encourage all who are eligible to apply. Last year, we launched a national communications campaign and the Windrush community fund, which was designed to reach further and deeper into the communities who were affected. We have now held 180 events, reaching 3,000 people.
Last year, we also published the Wendy Williams “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”, to which a number of Members referred, which laid bare the failings and mistakes that led to the Windrush scandal. Each of the 30 recommendations has been grouped into different themes that are being delivered across the Home Office to ensure the lessons from the review are being applied across the Department. Despite what was asserted, Ms Williams did not say that the Home Office was paying “lip service” to her review, and she will be returning to the Department in September to review our progress. Alongside that, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the permanent secretary are also leading an unprecedented programme of change to ensure the Home Office is representative of every part of the community it serves. Our ambition is to transform the Department into one that puts people before processes, an organisation that has fairness and compassion at the heart of all it does.
The Windrush scandal is a stain on this country’s conscience. We owe it to those who suffered as a result to deliver lasting and meaningful change, and to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. I am happy to say on Windrush Day, as we celebrate that generation today and hopefully in the years to come, that the Department for Transport is currently investigating whether the anchor from the Windrush can be recovered and restored to become a fitting memorial to that generation, in the hope that we will all aspire to the aspiration of my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley that in the future the colour of our skin will matter no more and no less than the colour of our eyes.
I extend my thanks to every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken in today’s debate. It has been a celebration of the Windrush generation and we have heard again the inspirational stories of people such as Lydia Simmons of Slough, the first black person to be elected mayor in this country. However, much of this debate has rightly been focused on the injustices that so many of the Windrush generation continue to face, the inadequacy of the Government’s response and the work still to do. I welcome, in particular, the contributions of the Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, and of Mr Baker, who both acknowledged the shameful, painful reality of racism still experienced today, and I hope the Minister took heed of their remarks. My hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy mentioned the important work of the Windrush Foundation and its chair Arthur Torrington, and I want to add my support, as I have done many times in this Chamber and in correspondence, to the calls for the national Windrush monument to be located in its rightful place in Windrush Square in Brixton, not at Waterloo station.
Disappointingly, the Minister refused to accept the need for the Windrush scheme to be independently administered. That is tone deaf to the experiences of many who have had to make a claim and completely ignores what victims of the Windrush scandal have said about the re-traumatising effects of having to engage with the same organisation that perpetrated the injustice from which they are seeking redress. I hope that when we celebrate Windrush Day 2022 we will be able to acknowledge meaningful progress in delivering justice for the Windrush generation and ending racism and racial inequality in this country. But there is much more to do and many of us will continue to fight for it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered Windrush Day 2021.
I will suspend the House in a moment, but I just want to say, as we go on to the next debate, when Rosie Winterton will be taking over from me, that I am really proud that we have more openly gay LGBT+ Members of Parliament in this Parliament than any other Parliament in the world. We have fought and won many battles—we still have a bit to go—but when I look around the rest of the world and see so many people living in persecution, with stigma and in fear, I know that we also have a battle to fight for them as well. We have a very important debate to come, but we will now suspend for three minutes.