Windrush Compensation Scheme - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:02 pm on 23rd November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Dholakia:

Asked by Lord Dholakia

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in settling claims under the Windrush Compensation Scheme.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the Windrush compensation scheme was established in April 2019 to compensate members of the Windrush generation for the losses and impacts that they suffered because they were unable to demonstrate lawful status. The first payment was made within four months of the scheme’s launch and, to the end of September, over £2.8 million has been paid or offered in compensation, including multiple offers of over £100,000. More payments and offers are being made every week.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, there are serious allegations of racism and racial discrimination against those who are dealing with outstanding Windrush compensation claims. The injustice has lasted for over 70 years. The evidence from Wendy Williams has been accepted. We deal with contracts on Covid, awarding millions of pounds, without proper scrutiny. The Home Office cannot be the fit and proper body to sort out these grievances. Many people have died awaiting their claims while the Home Secretary’s mind is on other matters. I ask the Minister to set out a date when all the outstanding claims will be resolved. Failing this, experience proves that the anger of the community will spill on to our streets.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I will not give some sort of defensive response to the noble Lord’s point because, if serious allegations of racism are being put out, we need to take that extremely seriously. If the noble Lord can provide me with further detail, I will take that back. He also asked whether the Home Office is indeed the right department to deal with this. I think it is the right department to deal with this in the sense that people’s identity needs to be established—which, of course, is the purview of the Home Office—before the claims are looked into. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of deceased people: first, it is tragic that someone is deceased before their claim is heard; secondly, it says to us that we need to be quicker at responding; but, thirdly, where someone is deceased, that claim can be dealt with in the appropriate manner with respect to their next of kin.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Wendy Williams, who carried out the Windrush review, told the Home Affairs Select Committee last month that she was surprised that only 168 people—certainly, at that time—had been compensated. She also expressed concern that there had been so little progress in reviewing the hostile environment policies and said that the Home Office could either embrace her recommendations or pay lip-service to them, and not institute fundamental cultural change. There is clearly a lack of leadership at the very highest level in the Home Office. A culture change was promised; it still has not been, and is not being, delivered. It is actions, not words, that count. Do the Government agree, or has even Wendy Williams got it all wrong?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I totally agree with the noble Lord that a culture change is badly needed. A culture change does not come in a quick timescale but over time. On the figure of 168 people, we need to move faster in processing claims, and I know my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is looking at that. We have also enlisted more resource to try to help process those claims. On complexity, yes, it is complex; people have complex lives, and each case has to be taken on the evidence and information that is brought forward. We do not want people to go short on what they receive but to get the full amount they deserve—and all these people are very deserving of the compensation they get. Regarding the slow progress on the recommendations, I do not contradict what Wendy Williams said at all. One thing she said was that we should reflect, rather than jump to action, in implementing some of the recommendations. That is not to say that we should drag our heels, but we are going as fast as we can in what is a very sensitive area indeed.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, is it appropriate that, as reported, many officials working on the compensation scheme have immigration enforcement backgrounds, where the default response for so long has been to say “No”, rather than “Yes”?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I cannot substantiate the point that the noble Baroness makes; that is possibly my ignorance rather than anything else. First and foremost, however, we must assist people to get the compensation that they deserve for the wrongs that they have suffered over the past 70 years under successive Governments.

Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Crossbench

My Lords, as a result of the complaints about the way the scheme is being administered, the Home Office is reported to have launched an internal inquiry about racism and so on. Can the Minister please tell the House: what is the remit of this inquiry, when will it be completed and will the results be made public?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I shall provide the noble Baroness with more details, in terms of whether it will be made public and other details, because I am afraid that I have scant information on that at the moment.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative

My Lords, about 12,000 people are expected to claim under the compensation scheme. Nine have died before receiving any compensation and, unfortunately, there may be more deaths before the payments are made. Can my noble friend the Minister explain the Government’s plans to support the bereaved families?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I have to agree with my noble friend that someone dying before they receive compensation is absolutely tragic. Of course, we would work with the next of kin to ensure that any compensation due to that person is paid to the next of kin or to the designated chosen person. The point is that it is not acceptable that people die before they get the compensation they deserve. It is incumbent upon the Home Office to ensure that these claims are expedited more quickly than they have been.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

My Lords, the Windrush protests are a wake-up call to all of us and to every institution in this country. Indeed, the Church of England has set up an antiracism taskforce to look at this issue and to achieve change. Is it correct that the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is investigating this issue with regard to the Home Office, does not have a single black commissioner on the current board? What do Her Majesty’s Government plan to do to make the EHRC more representative so that it can undertake this work?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I do not think it essential that there is every protected characteristic on the EHRC. However, I take the right reverend Prelate’s point that—certainly in the current climate—BAME representation or indeed black representation might be a really good asset to the EHRC. I am sure he is correct, but I will check out the veracity of that and get back to him.

Photo of Lord Woolley of Woodford Lord Woolley of Woodford Crossbench

My Lords, this is particularly personal to me. My mother was part of the Windrush generation and gave the best part of her life, more than 50 years, to working for the NHS. The most senior black civil servant working on the Windrush compensation scheme resigned, citing racism and stating that there was a complete lack of humanity in dealing with applicants. Equally strong was Wendy Williams’ Windrush review, which highlighted that people were not coming forward because the burden of proof for their legal status was far too high. Given that trust in the system is at an all-time low, particularly among black people, and that things are still going catastrophically wrong, does the Minister agree that we should pause deportation flights such as the one to Jamaica scheduled for 2 December?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

On the last point, I understand that none of the people scheduled for deportation is Windrush, and actually there are some very serious criminals due to go on that flight. That said, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the fact that the most senior black civil servant made those claims is not something that I can stand here and be defensive about. We need to listen very carefully to what people are saying as opposed to dismissing it—although I am not saying that it is being dismissed at all. The scheme was designed with some of the claimants in mind, but it is something for us as the Home Office to reflect on in the weeks and months ahead.

Photo of Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Non-affiliated

My Lords, we have known since 2013 that there was a documentation problem regarding the Windrush generation. We have had years of trying to put this right but the progress we have made so far is clearly insufficient and inadequate. Identity is sometimes difficult to prove, but are we making that process too difficult? Will the Minister at least undertake to update the House, shall we say on the anniversary in April 2021, on what further progress has been made?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I would be very happy to update the House. Regarding the EU settlement scheme, the attempt was to make identity assurance very easy. The noble Baroness says that we have known about this since 2013; the sad thing is that we have actually known it for decades, and we all need to reflect upon that.

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench

My Lords, we are all aware that in situations such as this where a wrong has been committed, there can be a ripple effect and wider family members suffer as well. What is being done to ensure that everyone who has suffered is compensated in due course?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

As I said earlier, each case will be treated sensitively and each person who makes a claim will be assisted through that process—not to prove them wrong but to prove them right regarding the compensation they are owed. There is no cap on the level of compensation or indeed on the scheme itself. However, we need to encourage more people to come forward. There have been communications campaigns and money has been given out to community organisations to promote the scheme, but by this point we would have expected more people to have come forward for their claims to be processed.

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that many of the Windrush generation who have been treated so badly for so long are actually quite frightened about approaching the Home Office because they see it as an institution that has been responsible for many unfair deportations? Will the Home Office think about being much more proactive about going out and talking to these people, many of whom are now in the last stages of their lives? If we do not get this sorted out soon, it is going to be a real travesty of justice for all those people.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I totally take that point on board. I agree with the noble Baroness that they might be frightened and that any notion of “state” might be frightening to them. As I have said, we have done quite a lot of outreach through church leaders, faith leaders and community leaders, but I shall certainly take that back. I know we will be reflecting on how far we have got with people coming forward and trying to make that process better, because clearly, more people should be coming forward.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the time allowed for this Private Notice Question has now elapsed.