The Windrush scandal exposed systematic issues in the Government. A year on, we still do not know how many people have been detained or deported, or have even died as a result of the hostile environment. The measures that the Government have taken so far to fix the Windrush scandal have been unsatisfactory.
The National Audit Office has criticised the narrow scope of the Government’s review thus far, saying that the Home Office has shown a surprising
“lack of curiosity about individuals who may have been affected, and who are not of Caribbean heritage, on the basis that this would be a ‘disproportionate effort’.”
When the question is whether someone’s fundamental rights have been grossly violated, no effort is disproportionate in identifying and compensating victims.
This situation comes about after the Government showed a lack of concern about the potential impact of the hostile environment when it was introduced, despite repeated warnings from organisations and Opposition Members.
The compensation scheme has yet to be set up. The Government only introduced an emergency hardship fund after months of lobbying by Labour, and shockingly, it only helped one person in 2018. Just this month, there was widespread outrage at the Government’s decision to restart deportation flights to Jamaica, after they were suspended at the height of the Windrush scandal. The Government have not yet shown that they have learned the lessons of Windrush. The lessons learned review has not even reported yet, so those flights were entirely premature.
Amendment 16 would redress the Government’s failure to fulfil their duty of care to members of the Windrush generation, and would ensure that 3 million more EU citizens were not subjected to an already broken immigration system. As it is, the Bill will subject millions more people to a detention and deportation system that we know is broken, as outlined by Liberty in our evidence session. It said that
“up to 26,000 people per year could be liable to detention as EU nationals come under domestic immigration law. At the same time, a parliamentary question revealed that there has been no assessment of the impact of the Bill on the detention estate.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee,
I entirely support the point that Amnesty made when it said:
“The dysfunction of the system can only be expected to get worse...given that it will be dealing with a much larger body of people—people already living here, and the European nationals who make future applications that the system will have to deal with.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee,
Another issue that we heard a lot about during our evidence sessions was the threat of a repeat of Windrush for EU citizens. Once we have fixed problems with our current detention and deportation systems, we must ensure that we are not creating new systematic issues that will cause a repeat of the Windrush tragedy. As long as the hostile environment exists, it is imperative that people have documentation to prove their right to be in the UK.
The Government have set up the settled status scheme, and I am glad that they have started registering people, but we heard during the evidence sessions that there are already some problems with it, and that is before we get to the difficult cases of people who do not know that they need to register, do not have access to a phone or computer, or do not speak English well enough to complete the application and understand their rights and obligations under the scheme. Those EEA nationals who are unable to obtain status are likely to be the most vulnerable and marginalised, such as victims of trafficking or domestic violence, and children in care.
The Government have no clear plans at the moment to demonstrate that they have successfully registered all eligible EEA nationals for settled status by the end of the implementation period, nor have they put any plans in place to attempt to measure the extent of their success in doing so, nor have they set any targets for numbers to be registered. If the Minister disagrees on this point, I would be happy for her to tell the Committee what her target is for registering EEA nationals for settled status.
In amendment 16, I referenced the figure “3 million”. That may seem simplistic, but unfortunately it was out of necessity. I have now asked the Minister twice, in written questions, how many people she expects will be registered for settled status by the end of the transitional period. I have received nothing but a stonewall in response. If anybody is interested, those were written questions 218366 and 221820.
Without an amendment such as this one or amendment 36, tabled by the Scottish National party, we risk a situation in which millions of EU citizens have the right to be here but cannot prove that right, and face being denied public services, detained and potentially deported. As outlined in new clause 15, tabled in my name, our preference is for a declaratory system, which will avoid a cliff-edge, where potentially millions of people are in the UK illegally.
Even if there is such a scheme, our preference is for amendment 16 to be enacted, because it will ensure that the maximum number of people will have registered for proof of their right to be here before free movement is repealed, making it less likely that they will be denied services, housing or the right to vote, even though they were their right.