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Windrush Generation - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:02 pm on 23rd April 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 3:02 pm, 23rd April 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to make reparations for the harm and distress caused to the Windrush generation.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as a patron of the Windrush Foundation.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the Prime Minister has been clear that we will do whatever it takes, including, where appropriate, payment of compensation, to resolve the anxiety and problems which some of the Windrush generation have suffered. The Home Secretary will make a further announcement in the other place later today.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the British public are furious at the Government-created Windrush fiasco. It is a matter of national shame, and trust and confidence need to be re-established. So can the Minister reassure the House that the new task force is made up of experienced, compassionate immigration officers, whose objective is to ensure unconditional British citizenship for these vulnerable Windrush generation victims, and that it is not in the hands of a box-ticking outside agency? Can she also confirm that the records of cases dealt with by the task force will be open and transparent? Will the Government reimplement the legislation in the Immigration Bill that would have protected these British citizens?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

First, if I could go back to the 2014 legislation, which I assume the noble Baroness refers to, the Immigration Act 1971 already protected these people. The noble Baroness goes absolutely to the right point, which is that the public are furious with the Government. In fact, successive Governments have failed to deal with this, so this should not be an occasion—and she does not make it one—for political infighting. We need to deal with it, and we need to deal with it now. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out that we need experienced people in this task force, and there are. They are not dealing with this as a box-ticking exercise but in a compassionate and sensitive way, and are ensuring that people who come forward, not to apply for citizenship but to have it confirmed that they have always been citizens of this country, will have that dealt with very sensitively.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 18 January, on a Motion from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, the Grand Committee of your Lordships’ House debated the centenary of the arrival of the merchant vessel “Empire Windrush”? In that debate, I raised the cases of Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan and asked the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, if he could reply to me about the way in which they had been treated. Not surprisingly, he passed the letter to the Home Office, and on 11 April—almost three months afterwards—I got a letter from the Immigration Minister in which she said that the Home Office had acted appropriately based on the evidence. Would the Minister like to revise that view and possibly offer the apology to these two people, and the others, which I asked for in the debate?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, herein lies the issue the noble Lord has highlighted. I think the two cases he refers to were dealt with appropriately. However, what was deemed as, perhaps, a blip in the system is actually a far more systemic problem that needs to be dealt with. I had not been aware that the debate had taken place, but certainly this is a generation of people whose status now needs to be regularised and regularised quickly.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Members of another place regularly escalate immigration cases for ministerial attention irrespective of merit? There is no sift. Therefore, why is anyone surprised that we get a debacle like the Windrush episode when ministerial time is wasted on cases which have no merit?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, I have seen the Immigration Minister’s case pile—not case file—and it is true that many cases come in through the Immigration Minister’s box. It is really important, particularly in a situation like this, that those with genuine cases are dealt with quickly. I hope that there are not people out there seeking to capitalise on this situation.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the staff survey results published in the Independent today which show higher levels of discrimination and harassment among staff in the Home Office than in any other government department? Does this not prove that the Government have created a hostile environment inside the Home Office as well as in the country as a whole?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, as an immigrant working in the Home Office I cannot comment on the staff survey because I have not seen it. This Government want to create a hostile environment not for people who have every right to be here but for people who seek to pervert the system of legal immigration. Yes, we want to create a hostile environment for illegal migrants, but we want to make every effort to ensure that people who are here lawfully are supported, particularly the Windrush cohort in confirming their settled status in this country.