From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, many people came to this country from around the Commonwealth to make their lives here and to help rebuild Britain after the war. All Members will have seen the recent heartbreaking stories of individuals who have been in the country for decades struggling to navigate an immigration system in a way that they should never, ever have had to.
These people worked here for decades. In many cases, they helped to establish the national health service. They paid their taxes and enriched our culture. They are British in all but legal status, and this should never have been allowed to happen. Both the Prime Minister and I have apologised to those affected and I am personally committed to resolving this situation with urgency and purpose.
Of course, an apology is just the first step we need to take to put right the wrong these people have suffered, but before I get on to the steps we will be taking I want to explain how this situation has arisen. The Immigration Act 1971 provided that those here before it came into force should be treated as having been given indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK, as well as retaining a right of abode for certain Commonwealth citizens. Although the Empire Windrush docked in the port of Tilbury in 1948, it is therefore everyone that arrived in the UK before 1973 who was given settlement rights and not required to get any specific documentation to prove those rights. Since 1973, many of the Windrush generation would have obtained documentation confirming their status or would have applied for citizenship and then a British passport.
From the 1980s, successive Governments have introduced measures to combat illegal immigration. The first NHS treatment charges for overseas visitors and illegal migrants were introduced in 1982. Checks by employers on someone’s right to work here were first introduced in 1997, measures on access to benefits in 1999 and civil penalties for employing illegal migrants in 2008, and the most recent measures in the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016 introduced checks by landlords before property is rented and checks by banks on account holders.
The public expect us to enforce the immigration rules approved by Parliament as a matter of fairness to those who abide by the rules, and I am personally committed to tackling illegal migration because I have seen in this job the terrible impact it has on some of the most vulnerable in our society. But steps intended to combat illegal migration have had an unintended, and sometimes devastating, impact on people from the Windrush generation, who are here legally, but who have struggled to get the documentation to prove their status. This is a failure by successive Governments to ensure these individuals have the documentation they need—[Interruption.]
This is why we must urgently put it right, because it is abundantly clear that everyone considers people who came in the Windrush generation to be British, but under the current rules this is not the case. Some people will still just have indefinite leave to remain, which means they cannot leave the UK for more than two years and are not eligible for a British passport. That is the main reason we have seen the distressing stories of people leaving the UK more than a decade ago and not being able to re-enter.
I want to enable the Windrush generation to acquire the status they deserve—British citizenship—quickly, at no cost and with proactive assistance through the process. First, I will waive the citizenship fee for anyone in the Windrush generation who wishes to apply for citizenship. This applies to those who have no current documentation, and also to those who have it. Secondly, I will waive the requirement to carry out a knowledge of language and life in the UK test—[Interruption.]
Thirdly, the children of the Windrush generation who are in the UK are in most cases British citizens. However, where that is not the case and they need to apply for naturalisation, I shall waive the fee. Fourthly, I will ensure that those who made their lives here but have now retired to their country of origin can come back to the UK. Again, I will waive the cost of any fees associated with the process and will work with our embassies and high commissions to make sure people can easily access this offer. In effect, that means that anyone from the Windrush generation who now wants to become a British citizen will be able to do so, and that builds on the steps that I have already taken.
On 16 April, I established a taskforce in my Department to make immediate arrangements to help those who needed it. This included setting up a helpline to get in touch with the Home Office. Let me be quite clear that this helpline and the information shared will not be used to remove people from the country. Its purpose is to help and support.
We have successfully resolved nine cases so far and made 84 appointments to issue documents. My officials are helping those concerned to prove their residence and they are taking a proactive and generous approach so that people can easily establish their rights. We do not need to see definitive documentary proof of date of entry or of continuous residence. That is why the debate about registration slips and landing cards is misleading. Instead, the caseworker will make a judgment based on all the circumstances of the case and on the balance of probabilities.
Previously, the burden of proof on some of the Windrush generation to evidence their legal rights was too much on the individual. Now we are working with this group in a much more proactive and personal way in order to help them. We were too slow to realise that there was a group of people who needed to be treated differently, and the system was too bureaucratic when these people were in touch.
The Home Office is a great Department of State—[Interruption.]
It works tirelessly to protect us. It takes millions of decisions each year that profoundly affect peoples’ lives, and for the most part it gets these right. But recent events have shown that we need to give a human face to how we work and exercise greater judgment, where and when it is justified. That is why I will be establishing a new customer contact centre, so that anyone who is struggling to navigate the many different immigration routes can speak to a person and get appropriate advice. This will be staffed by experienced caseworkers who will offer expert advice and identify a systemic problem much more quickly in the future. I will also be putting in place 50 senior caseworkers across the country to ensure that, where more junior members of staff are unsure about a decision, they can speak to someone with experience to ensure that discretion is properly exercised.
There has also been much concern about whether the Home Office has wrongly deported anyone from the Windrush generation. The Immigration Act 1971 provides protection for members of this group if they have lived here for more than five years and if they arrived in the country before 1973. I am now checking all Home Office records going back to 2002 to verify that no one has been deported in breach of this policy. This is a complex piece of work that involves manually checking thousands of records. So far, 4,200 records have been reviewed out of nearly 8,000 that date back to 2002, and no cases have been identified that breach the protection granted under the 1971 Act. This is an ongoing piece of work and I want to be absolutely certain of the facts before I draw any conclusions. I will ensure that the House is informed of any updates, and I intend to have this data independently audited once my Department has completed its work, to ensure transparency.
It was never the intention that the Windrush generation should be disadvantaged by measures put in place to tackle illegal migration. I am putting additional safeguards in place to ensure that this will no longer happen, regardless of whether they have documentation or not. As well as ensuring that the Home Office does not target action against someone who is part of the Windrush generation, I will also put in place greater protection for landlords, employers and others conducting checks in order to ensure that we are not denying work, housing, benefits and services to this group. These measures will be kept carefully under review, and I do not rule out further changes if they are needed.
Now I will turn to the issue of compensation. As I said earlier, an apology is just the first step we need to take to put right these wrongs. The next and most important task is to get those affected the documents that they need. But we also do need to address the issue of compensation. Each individual case is painful to hear, but it is so much more painful, and often harrowing, for the people involved. These are not numbers, but people with families, responsibilities and homes—I appreciate that. The state has let these people down, with travel documents denied, exclusions from returning to the UK, benefits cut and even threats of removal—this, to a group of people who came to help build this country; people who should be thanked.
This has happened for some time. I will put this right and where people have suffered loss, they will be compensated. The Home Office will be setting up a new scheme to deliver this which will be run by an independent person. I will set out further details around its scope and how people will be able to access it in the coming weeks.
I am also aware that some of the individual cases that have come to light recently relate not to the Windrush generation but to people who came to the UK after 1 January 1973. These people should have documentation to confirm their right to be here, but I recognise that some will face similar issues in documenting their rights after spending so many years in this country. Given that people who have been here for more than 20 years will usually go on a 10-year route to settlement, I am ensuring that people who arrived after 1973, but before 1988, can also access the Windrush taskforce, so they can get the support and assistance needed to establish their claim to be here legally. I will consider further, in the light of the cases that come forward, whether any policy changes are needed to deal fairly with these cases.
I have set out urgent measures to help the Windrush generation document their rights, how this Government intend to offer them greater rights than they currently enjoy, how we will compensate people for the hardship they have endured and the steps I will take to ensure this never happens again. None of that can undo the pain already endured, but I hope that it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to put these wrongs right going forward.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. Many people, both in this House and outside, think that the events involving the Windrush generation are one of the biggest scandals in the administration of home affairs for a very long time. The Home Secretary said that the situation “should never have been allowed to happen”, but she is the Home Secretary and she allowed it to happen. These cases cannot come as a surprise to her because many of my Opposition colleagues have been pursuing individual cases for some time. She is behaving as though it is a shock to her that her officials are implementing regulations in the way that she intended them to be implemented. The Home Secretary must understand that the buck ultimately stops with her.
Ministerial maladministration sometimes occurs because officials act in error, and sometimes it is a question of unforeseen circumstances, but the problem with the plight of the Windrush generation is that it was foreseeable and it was foreseen. People inside the Department and Members of this House have tried to draw the Government’s attention to it. The key was the Immigration Act 2014, which removed protections for Commonwealth citizens, who had up until then been exempt from deportation. I spoke about that and explained the situation to Ministers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) voted against it, and the current leader of the Labour party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), voted against it, but Ministers paid no attention.
Four years ago, an internal Home Office memo found that the “hostile environment” could make it harder for foreign nationals to find homes and could provoke widespread discrimination. Furthermore, the then Tory Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said:
“The costs and risks considerably outweigh the benefits.”
Let me repeat those costs for the benefit of the Home Secretary: patriotic Commonwealth citizens treated like liars; benefits cut; healthcare denied; jobs lost; and people evicted from their housing. Whether they were deported, refused re-entry or detained, these people were separated from family and friends in breach of their human rights. This was a system where people who had come here, very often as young children, were required to show four pieces of original documentation for each year they were supposedly in this country. Who could have believed that that was a sustainable or fair situation? As I said, the situation we are in is not a surprise to Ministers or their officials because Member after Member has written to the Home Office to try to draw its attention to these cases.
There are elements of the Home Secretary’s statement that I welcome. I welcome the waiving of the citizenship fee; I welcome the waiving of the requirement to carry out the knowledge of language and life in the UK test—some of these people, having been in the UK all their life, would almost certainly pass that test with flying colours. I welcome the waiving of the naturalisation fee for children and, in particular, I welcome allowing people who have retired from this country to return, with the cost of their fees waived.
The Home Secretary talks about the problems of legislation, but she is not suggesting changes in legislation. It would be easy, for instance, to restore the protections for Commonwealth citizens that existed prior to 2014. There is no detail on compensation, but she will understand that Opposition Members will be pursuing the point. It is important that the compensation is not a token sum but properly reflects the actual costs and the damage to family life caused by this policy.
I am glad that Ministers have thought better of their early position of refusing to provide data on deportations. They told my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) in January that providing information on deportations and detention would
“require a manual check of individual records which could only be done at disproportionate cost.”
I am glad that the Home Secretary has thought better of that position and is now undertaking a manual check of deportations, but what about people in detention? I visited Yarl’s Wood and met women in exactly this position who have been detained for very many months.
The Home Office must know who it has in detention. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary shakes her head: you must know who you have in detention, and you must know why they are there. I am asking the Home Secretary to produce the figures on those members of the Windrush generation who are in detention.
As for the Home Secretary’s new customer care centre, we will see how that works. Will it have new staff, or will the staff be transferred from elsewhere in immigration and nationality? I share her care for illegal immigrants, many of whom are exploited by employers. The women are subjected to domestic violence. They live frightened and miserable lives. We are pursuing this issue because of our concern for our constituents who are Commonwealth citizens and legally here.
The Home Secretary need not believe this ends here. Coming up behind the Windrush cohort is a slightly later cohort of persons from south Asia. In the next few years, even though they have lived here all their life, even though their children are British and even though they have worked all their life, they will be asked for four pieces of data for every year they have been here, and they will be subjected to the same humiliation as the Windrush generation.
There was a meeting in the House of Commons on Thursday night for people in the community who are concerned about this issue. We had advertised the meeting for just two days and 500 people came. They packed out four Committee Rooms, and we had to turn away hundreds more. The Home Secretary must understand how upset communities are about what has happened to this generation. They feel it reflects something of the way this Government regard the entire community. [Hon. Members: “Rubbish!”] Well, let me say this: my parents, brothers, sisters and cousins have largely worked in the national health service, in factories and in London transport, and I always remember one of my uncles saying to me with tremendous pride that he had never missed a day of work. This is a generation with unparalleled commitment to this country, unparalleled pride in being British and unparalleled commitment to hard work and to contributing to society, and it is shameful that this Government have treated that generation in this way.
I am pleased to hear there are some areas on which the right hon. Lady and I agree. On this side of the House, as on the other side of the House, our appreciation of the value of these citizens, our admiration for the work they have done here and our respect for them remain undimmed. We are absolutely committed to that. I am pleased, too, that she has welcomed the substantial nature of the changes I have put in place to address the urgent problem of now: the fact that this cohort of people need to have their documentation put in place.
The right hon. Lady challenged me on some of the comments I made earlier. I just want to be clear again, if I may, that this group of people should have had their legal status formally given to them a long time ago. She will have seen, as I did, that some of the references of the individuals who have been so heartbreakingly let down were made before 2010; they happened when people tried to travel—[Interruption.] She may have voted against some of those provisions, but this has not just happened overnight. Unfortunately, the fact is that this group of people, whose proper, formal legal status should have been put in place any time from 1973, fell foul of that, bit by bit, more and more, as Government after Government took different and more formal steps to make sure that we protect people from illegal migration. There is legal migration and there is illegal migration, and the group we are talking about were part of legal migration. The steps I am putting in place now are going to make sure that they have the formal status that they should have had a long, long time ago.
My right hon. Friend has already given a heartfelt apology, which was exactly the right thing to do, but will she please outline again the steps she is taking to make sure that a situation such as this never happens again?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. One question that comes back again, which the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) also brought up, is how we make sure this does not happen again. I believe that this is a unique group of people who should have had legal status given to them a long time ago. One of the proposals that I am putting in place, to have a contact centre, will help to address the question of how we ensure that this does not happen again. By virtue of having a more personal engagement with a certain number of cases, the Home Office will see the shape of the problems that are emerging, rather than seeing them, as many of us did, as a small handful of individual cases.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and I welcome some of the measures she has announced today, but really these urgent measures are desperate firefighting, rather than dealing with the true causes of the problems she has faced. These problems are not about the implementation of a policy; nor are they about the mistakes of officials. These problems are about the policy itself. It is clear that this situation, which has affected the Windrush generation and which may affect others to come, has arisen from, first, the ludicrous immigration targets set by the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary and, secondly, the “hostile environment” strategy the Prime Minister designed to try to meet those targets. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Liberty is demanding that an independent commission be set up to review the workings of the Home Office and the legal framework of the “hostile environment” policy. I want to know whether the Home Secretary will accede to that demand.
Business, including the director general of the CBI, has asked for an immigration policy that puts people first, not numbers. EU nationals currently in the UK can see from the example of the Windrush generation that decades of contributions to these islands have made absolutely no difference to the application of the “hostile environment” policy and they are right to fear for their position after Brexit. What comfort can the Home Secretary give those EU nationals?
In the meantime, the Home Secretary has used Home Office staff as a shield to hide from criticism and, in turn, she is being used by the Prime Minister, not for the first time, as a human shield to protect the Prime Minister from the repugnant consequences of policies that the Prime Minister authored. The time has come for this Home Secretary to bite the bullet: will she emerge from the shadow of the Prime Minister, scrap her predecessor’s “hostile environment” policy and unrealistic immigration targets, and instead commit to an ethical, evidence-based immigration policy? Or, if, as a member of the current Government, she feels unable to do that, will she stop acting as a human shield for the Prime Minister, have the decency to resign and go to the Back Benches to fight against these disgraceful immigration policies, which are bringing these islands into disrepute across the world?
The hon. and learned Lady has raised a number of interesting points, which I would like to address. First, the compliant environment is there to enforce UK laws, and it is right that it does that. It is right that we have a system which, as I said in my statement, started a long time ago to ensure that illegal workers are not exploited in the UK. We must make the important distinction between what is legal and what is illegal. The compliant environment endeavours to stop illegal working being able to flourish.
The hon. and learned Lady asked about EU citizens. We have prepared a new form of identification that will be simple and easy to use and that anticipates the sort of problem that occurred in this case. All EU citizens will be able to have their own identification, so the more than 3 million people who will be eligible, as well as those who come during the implementation period, will be able to access that and have secure identification, which will be so important. I want to make sure that we can reassure those EU citizens that they are welcome and can stay and that this case has absolutely no bearing on what would happen to them.
I also reassure the hon. and learned Lady, and the rest of the House, that most other European countries have some form of registration system for other EU citizens. We do not have that in this country, but most EU citizens are familiar with the requirement to register in order to be part of the community and to enjoy the sort of rights that we do.
The whole House will have heard my right hon. Friend’s whole-hearted apology for this very regrettable incident, which quite clearly should have been dealt with a very long time ago. Does she agree that what most affects the interests of immigrants and residents of this country is that the system should work really well? Will she assure me that, in future and following Brexit, people will have the confidence in our immigration system to allow a full and generous regime, to the benefit of all?
I thank my right hon. Friend, and he is right. I recognise the importance of restoring confidence in the system. My Department makes over 3 million decisions a year on visas; 2.7 million are allowed. This is a substantial system, most of it operates quickly, effectively and efficiently, and I will oversee a system with European Union registration that is as quick and effective.
The Home Secretary will appreciate that everybody in the Caribbean is there because Britain and other European countries brought them from Africa to the Caribbean. That is the whole point of the Caribbean region. I and others are in this country because our parents were born under the British empire. When she says that people can apply for citizenship if they want it, does she understand that that citizenship was theirs all along? We, as West Indian and Caribbean, have given so much, over so many hundreds of years.
I welcome, of course, what the Home Secretary has said today, but I remind her that many others were also born under the empire. They are from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda. Many of these people have temporary leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain. It is unfair; they were born under empire; many have been here for generations. So in her review and in looking closely at policy, will she look particularly at all those Commonwealth people? If the Commonwealth is to mean anything, it is to mean common wealth.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, honestly, for the work that he has done on this issue. I welcome that he has brought such clarity and passion and so much to this. It is important to me that he accepts that and works with us on a satisfactory response. I do understand the citizenship point, which is why I tried to make a distinction in my statement between the legal status and the way that people understand their neighbours. As Home Secretary, I must engage with the legal status, and the steps that I have taken address exactly that point. It is in fact that legal status, and the steps to it, that have so put off some people from applying for it. I hope that we will be able to address that. The Windrush generation have brought this to our attention, but the steps that I have set out today will affect all citizens from the Commonwealth within that timeline.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and particularly for her tone in dealing with this very difficult situation. I also welcome her announcement that a team is being set up to ensure that the Windrush generation can evidence their right to access services. Will she provide detail on how quickly cases are being processed?
I was in Croydon today to see for myself the members of the taskforce and to talk to them about the speed at which this matter is being addressed. Although I made a statement last week that said that, from the point of getting information, we hope to deliver the outcome within two weeks, I am reassured that most of the cases—small numbers for now—are being turned round very quickly indeed. The approach that I have asked for, which is for the people who are working on this taskforce to lean in and to assist with the problem, has absolutely been acted on.
Of course the Home Office should be waiving citizenship fees and providing compensation for Windrush families, but I have been contacted today by someone from Kenya who says that they were turned away from the helpline because they were not part of the Windrush. There are many other people who came as here children with their families who are still having their legal rights denied.
The Home Secretary is also not addressing the wider problems. The Home Affairs Committee has warned repeatedly about failures and errors in decision making, about people being pursued who are legally here and about the fact that half of appeals, not just in Windrush cases, are being upheld because the Home Office is getting things wrong. There is a real and widespread concern that there is a culture of disbelief in the Home Office and that changes to the burden of proof have been created by the Government’s net migration target and the desire to get as many people to leave as possible. Will she remove all of that concern by saying now that she will get rid of the net migration target, as the Select Committee has advised?
Let me answer the first part of the right hon. Lady’s question. On engagement with high commissions internationally, that is exactly what I am doing. I recognise that it has not been completed yet, but I have met, for instance, the high commissioners from all the Caribbean countries to find out how we can work more closely with them. UK Visas and Immigration has offices internationally, and I will make sure that they all have the information that they need so that we can ensure that citizens who are in different former Commonwealth countries can engage satisfactorily with us.
The vast majority of children who were born here to people of the Windrush generation will have birth certificates and will be eligible, but we have a system in place to make sure that they are assisted as well. I encourage any MPs who have constituents who fall into that group to phone the taskforce as well.
The right hon. Lady asks me to talk more widely about net migration targets, but I will resist that at the moment. The key thing here—[Interruption.] Even though some Opposition Members would like to broaden this, the key thing is to make the careful distinction between legal and illegal. This has gone wrong where people who should be legal have not been treated as such, and that is why I am putting it right.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and also thank the Prime Minister for her apology, but may I make the point that my constituents in Kettering, while recognising the value of the Windrush generation 100%, want the Government to crack down as hard as they can on illegal immigration? Will she assure me that she will not take her eye off the ball when it comes to tackling illegal immigration to this country?
I agree that we must make this distinction and have a robust approach to illegal migration, which does not help people. I have met victims of slavery who have been trafficked here illegally. I do not want to have an environment where illegal migration flourishes. I remember that Labour once had some rather nice red mugs made that said “controlling migration” on the side, so I am sure that Labour Members would support us ensuring that illegal migration is attacked and treated completely differently.
According to the Migration Observatory, up to 50,000 people are too scared and anxious to clarify their own status for fear of being stripped of their rights, detained or deported. After the manner in which they have been treated, does the Home Secretary appreciate their scepticism? Will she re-introduce the provision that exempted those from the Windrush generation and which her Government removed in 2014, and legislate for any other assurances that have been made to the Windrush generation?
Let me address the two points raised by the hon. Lady: the 2014 issue and the matter of wider engagement with the community. I have taken advice on this. The exemption was removed in 2014 because it was not necessary. The people who arrived pre-1973 already had that right. [Interruption.] Before the Opposition take this any further, I ask them to have a look at the legal advice. The exemption was taken out in 2014 because it was not necessary; those people had rights under the 1971 legislation. It was the information to confirm it that was needed. That particular provision did nothing to solve the problem. The hon. Lady’s second point was about communication and ensuring that we give people the confidence to come forward. I want that to happen, so we are going to engage more with non-governmental organisations, citizens advice bureaux and groups that engage much more proactively with the target community. The high commissioners over here have been advising us how to do that. I will ensure that we go out and proactively find the people in that community who need our support so that we can get them the rights that they deserve.
I commend the Home Secretary for her statement and her actions, as well as for her openness and honesty, and the apology that she and the Prime Minister have given. But we are still not being honest in this place. The Labour party did not vote against the Immigration Act 2014. [Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) did because she has told us. We all know what she has done, but her party’s position was to abstain. Let us now have an open and honest acceptance of this point. What other conclusion can we come to but that we would have these problems with the Windrush people, when we have a whole media who stoke up and prey on the prejudices, fears and concerns of many of our constituents? This is the natural consequence. Both our parties have a position that we will not support membership of the single market, for no other reason than that we do not believe in the free movement of people. We are not being honest.
However, Mr Speaker, you do not want speeches; you want questions. Perhaps we should have that debate, though. My question to the Home Secretary is this: will she now ensure that there is a change of culture among her officials so that they now see people as people, not numbers?
My right hon. Friend makes such an important point. This is absolutely about a change of culture, which I will be trying to ensure trickles down the Department. Let me be quite clear that I am not blaming anybody else. I am saying that I want to ensure that there is more time, focus and resources so that there can be more engagement with individuals, rather than just numbers.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that compensation will be paid for loss of income, loss of benefits, legal fees, Home Office application fees, air fares, emotional distress and any other costs that have arisen from this debacle?
I can confirm that we are setting up a compensation scheme, and I will be consulting on what shape it should take, what it should cover, and how long it should be for. No doubt the hon. Lady will want to participate in that. It is too early for me to give any more detail because I want to get it right on behalf of the Government, but I can assure her that there will be an opportunity to let me know what she thinks.
This is just a brief question, Mr Speaker, and not a speech. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the members of the Windrush generation, who have done so much for this country—we are indebted to them—will now be able to become British citizens at no extra cost?
I can reassure my hon. Friend on that. I share his view about how much the Windrush citizens have done—and continue to do in so many cases—for this country, and there will be no extra cost.
I was one of the 18 Members of Parliament who voted against the “hostile environment” Immigration Bill back in 2014. It was a nasty, pernicious Bill that gave legislative ballast to the issues that we are dealing with today. Those of us who spoke out against that Bill warned of its consequences, and yet, for some inexplicable reason, Labour failed to oppose it. What other Home Office initiatives does the “hostile environment” culture inform, and how far does it reach within the Secretary of State’s Department? Given what has been discovered on her watch and what has been unleashed, does she not really think that the honourable thing for her to do is to consider her position and to resign?
The reason why the compliant environment is important—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may be aware that that is the phrase, for good reason, that the Government use to show that what we are doing is promoting compliance with UK law, but in a way that tries to protect individuals and is sympathetic. I want to make sure that we are not a country that allows illegal migration to flourish. If that happens, more people will be trafficked here, more people will be abused, and more people will be forced to work in really terrible conditions. It is an important, valid part of what this Government are doing. As for my position, I want to put this right. I believe that I can do that, and I hope that I will win the confidence of the House when I achieve it.
Will my right hon. Friend reconfirm that she will be putting in place a communications strategy that ensures that the welcome changes that she has made are broadly known, and soon?
That is exactly what I hope to do. I will make sure that we pick the sorts of communication and the sorts of engagement with people that are more likely to win confidence among people in the community who have not wanted to come forward. High commissioners have been giving me certain amounts of advice, and publications have been coming forward with advice. I am absolutely committed to making sure that people grow in confidence regarding their engagement with the Home Office. I think that the most effective way of people gaining the confidence I want them to have, and coming forward to the Home Office for a swift resolution to their status, is by hearing from other people that this is the case. Only last Thursday, two people got their papers and said they were going to go out and attend the event mentioned by the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), where they said they were going to speak and show their commitment and enthusiasm for the fact that they had got their papers. They also said that they would be telling their family members and friends that this was a proactively personal and helpful engagement.
The history of empire and Commonwealth runs deeply through the docks communities of Cardiff South and Penarth. The impact of the contributions of generations of Africans, Caribbean people, Somalis, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis runs throughout my communities for everyone to see. Does the Home Secretary accept that the “hostile environment” policy has affected not just the Windrush generation but generations of people from other communities? A constituent of mine was wrongly deported to Somalia even though he was a British citizen, and this was addressed only after documents were provided by my office. Will the Home Secretary commit to offering compensation and support to all those beyond the Windrush generation who have also been affected by her Department’s “hostile environment” policy?
I would gently say to the hon. Gentleman that there are two separate approaches—one to legal people and one to illegal people. The purpose of the compliant environment is to make sure that illegal people do not flourish here. Legal people—those we are talking about today, like the Windrush cohort—should have their documents put in place. They will be able to apply to be British citizens under the law, even though everyone considers them as British citizens as part of their communities. In terms of the particular case he raises, he had better write to my office with specific details and I will look into it.
Any attempt to lay any of this at the door of the current Home Secretary is plainly absurd and ridiculous. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there were examples going on and there was still a problem as early as 2000 to 2005, under a Labour Government?
I want to thank my right hon. Friend for his comment but also say that I do take responsibility for this, and I want to be the person to put it right. He is right—those of us who have seen the cases recently know—that there are plenty of examples of people who were not able to return when they went to Caribbean countries where their parents had lived from pre-2010. This is not something that has just suddenly appeared; this has been going on a long time. This cohort should have been dealt with a long time ago, and then we would not be in this position, but this Government will put it right.
Let us hope that this is a wake-up call for culture and practice in the Home Office, because as the MP with one of the biggest immigration caseloads in the region, I have to say to the Home Secretary that that culture and practice have changed markedly over the last two or three years. She is right to say that judgment is part of that problem, but in that context, can she reassure my constituents that the burden of proof will be changed? There are many people who are not fully legal but are not illegal, and the burden of proof is on them, rather than on the Home Office, to prove they are illegal. Can she address that key issue?
That is a very fair question. I recognise that there needs to be a cultural change in the Home Office’s approach to individuals. There are two steps I have taken immediately that will be coming into place. One will be a contact centre in July. The hon. Lady will know from experience that it is difficult to phone up to get advice. Everybody thinks they have to get legal advice. We will put the phone advice in place. I will also put in place 50 senior caseworkers, so that when junior caseworkers might think they need to make a certain decision, they will be able to refer up to a senior caseworker who has more discretion. Those two elements will be an important start in addressing her particular concern.
Having raised the issue of compensation with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the urgent question last week, may I say how much I welcome what she has added to that today? That will be welcomed across the House. Can she confirm two things? First, can she confirm that the telephone lines she referenced will be free for those who use them? Secondly, as some Opposition Members seem to be trying to rewrite the pages of history, can she confirm that the phrase emanating from the Home Office of creating a “hostile environment” for illegals was created under the last Labour Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the phrase “hostile environment” was used, I think, by two former Labour Home Secretaries. I welcome his point about compensation, and he is right that there will be no charge for the individuals who call these lines. That is an important part of making sure that people do not feel there is any barrier between them and the help and support and the papers that I want to make sure they get.
The Windrush scandal and the heartbreaking stories that the Home Secretary referred to a few moments ago are a direct consequence of the hostile immigration environment of the then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister. It started with the “Go home” vans and ended with the threatened deportation of British citizens. Can the Home Secretary guarantee that as the “hostile environment” is dismantled, hundreds of British citizens such as my constituent Mrs A, who came here as a child in 1960 from India and is currently stateless, will finally—no ifs, no buts—be granted British citizenship?
We are not dismantling our arrangements to make sure that illegal migration does not flourish. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman or his constituents would want us to do that. What we have is a situation where we have legal migration and illegal migration, and where there is illegal migration I believe that our constituents and our country expect us to enforce that. As for the individual case he raised, I cannot give immigration advice across the Floor of the House, and I advise him to write to me for further information.
Last week, the Home Secretary said that I should tell my constituents that they could trust the Home Office. I have arranged a community meeting this Saturday, and Home Office officials have been helpful, for which I am grateful. However, the Home Secretary leads a Department in which there is a culture of disbelief. I hold her, not her staff, responsible. How will she change that culture so that people in Bristol West can truly trust the Home Office, which I want them to be able to do?
I have spoken to my staff, and I am aware that they are going to assist the hon. Lady in Bristol West. As the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) mentioned, I hope that the hon. Lady will notice a difference in Home Office assistance going forward. Bristol West will have the benefit not only of the arrangement that she has put in place but of staff going to attend to provide support in that analysis. I hope that that will be appreciated by the people who need it in her constituency.
It is of course right that we listen to and compensate the people of the Windrush generation who made a peerless contribution, and who have clearly been put in a very difficult situation. Should we not also listen to people such as the Prime Minister of Jamaica who, after the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last week, said that he was confident that justice would be done?
That is a fair point. I am aware that many of the people who are leading the countries concerned are relieved and content that the Government have put in place the right measures. I recognise that we need to do more to convince individuals in MPs’ constituencies that that is taking place. This morning, for instance, I met another high commissioner who went out of their way to say how pleased they were with the new arrangements that have been put in place.
Ah, a choice between two distinguished chess players who are related. I call Maria Eagle.
It is clear that the Home Secretary has used the phrase, “compliant environment”, more frequently than she has used the phrase, “hostile environment”, but whether it is compliance or hostility, does she accept that that policy has led to this debacle? She mentioned people who came after 1973 but before 1988. Will it still be her policy that those people have to produce four original pieces of evidence for every year they have been here to get the status that is theirs by right?
No, it is not that policy. To be fair, I was in Croydon today talking to some of the caseworkers, and I challenged them on whether they would expect that before we put in these arrangements, and they said no, they would not. It has not been the case that people with this sort of evidence have been expected to produce that in the past. I hope that that message will go out loud and clear to the hon. Lady’s constituents and others: they do not need that sort of information and, yes, for the ’73 to ’88 cohort, they, too, will be able to access the new service, which will help to link in with other Government Departments to assist with swifter resolution.
I welcome the statement from the Home Secretary, particularly her personal commitment to resolving the issue and the steps that she has put in place. Does she not agree that it is sensible in principle that checks should be made on people seeking homes, jobs and healthcare?
Of course, those checks should be put in place—my hon. Friend is absolutely right. They were put in place by Labour in 2008, and other checks were put in place even earlier than that. It is the case in most European countries that if someone goes for a job or rents a property, they have to show evidence. The purpose of the accelerated, swift process is to make sure that the people who are so valued by this country have the evidence that they need.
My constituent, Suzanne Kavaz, was four months old when she arrived from Cyprus in 1959. Cyprus was in the British empire until independence in 1960. Her application for a passport has been in limbo for 18 months, and she has lost work because of a lack of identity evidence, even though she had a passport in the past. When does a “hostile environment”, combined with implicit tolerance of austerity-workload fatigue and a culture of concealment, become textbook institutional racism?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has chosen to interpret the problem in that way. I cannot comment on her individual case, but I simply advise her to ask her constituent—or she can do it herself—to contact my office so that we can make sure that the right steps are put in place and, if appropriate, she does not have to wait any longer.
Last week my right hon. Friend set out the expectation that all cases would be resolved within a fortnight. Will she update the House on progress, and does she anticipate that that timescale will hold?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I was in Croydon this morning to make sure that I could have full confidence in the timetable set out and that we have sufficient people on the casework team to turn it around as swiftly as our expectations. That remains the case. The number of calls coming in and the number of face-to-face interviews taking place are manageable. I hope that that will remain the case, but I will not stop putting resources in to ensure that this group are properly addressed and get the first-class service I want them to have.
It is estimated that 50,000 people—a relatively small number—are caught in this indignity, incompetence and “It’ll be all right on the night” policy. None of them have presented themselves at my surgery because they have instructed solicitors, so will the Home Secretary commit to reimburse in full the legal fees incurred by those people? Will she also ensure that none of the much larger group of 3 million EU citizens—13,000 of them in Ealing Central and Action alone—suffer the same demeaning treatment of being denied services or, worse still, receiving a knock at the door from deportation, as has happened to the Windrush generation?
I can reassure the hon. Lady on the issue of EU citizens. We have put in place a thorough, simple, effective system, which will go live later this year. We have extensively tested it with EU citizen groups and I have a team over at the European Parliament this week, engaging with European parliamentarians to make sure that it is right. It has been prepared in a way that will be very straightforward to use and it anticipates the need that was not anticipated in the case of the Windrush cohort.
On the compensation for which the hon. Lady asks, as I have said, we are launching the compensation scheme, but I need to consult on it first, appoint someone independently and make sure that it addresses the issues she raises. On the actual applications being made now to the taskforce, while I was there this morning I listened in to some calls and the way in which the callers are engaging with the border people helping them has been very constructive. They do not need to have lawyers: in this process we have put in place, there will be no need for lawyers to engage.
It is astonishing that, faced with one of the largest scandals we have seen in the way in which a specific group of British citizens have been treated by the Home Secretary’s Department, she has not seen fit to take proper responsibility and resign. Will she tell us, in the light of her failure to resign, what on earth is her concept of ministerial responsibility?
It is my committed intent to make sure that I put this right. I believe that the measures that I have set out today will address that, but I will make sure that it remains a priority. That, I believe, is what people would expect of me as a Minister.
May I pick up on just one of the policies brought in by this Government as part of their compliant, hostile environment, namely the right to rent, the measure forcing landlords to check the immigration status of tenants? The former Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, actually advised the Home Office back in 2013 that those landlords
“who are already rogues will not obey the law—and will make…money…by increasing rents/compromising on health and safety for tenants who cannot complain.”
Was it not clear then that that policy would never work, and should it not be scrapped now, along with the “hostile environment”?
The legislation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is in the Immigration Act 2014 and it is, of course, the case that Labour did not oppose it. We did a consultation on the back of some of the comments on it. A substantial consultation was done in the midlands, and as a result of that we had the confidence to go ahead with it.
This is what happens when we have a national debate and a Government mentality that always sees migration in negative terms as something to be feared and resisted. Any Government have the right to take measures against illegal immigration, but the point is that the Windrush generation were not illegal. They came here legally, they worked here legally and they have stayed here legally. What more can the Home Secretary do not only to address the legitimate grievances of the Windrush generation, but to prevent this from being repeated with legal migration from elsewhere, be it the sub-continent or the European Union?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. He is right that we need to make sure that systems are put in place so that, should this happen again, the Home Office spots that sooner than it did in this case. I recognise the fact that that needs to be done by a more personal approach, which I set out in my statement. I will also make sure that we put in systems that look at some of the group results. Sometimes what we have is a situation in which individual caseworkers see one thing and the consequences are not being compiled and reported on. I recognise the point he makes, but I believe that we are putting in place points to address it.
As a new Member of Parliament representing a constituency with one of the highest immigrant populations in Scotland, I have had the eye-opening experience of constituents coming to my office in tears because they are in terrible situations, with the Home Office essentially playing God with their lives and tormenting them for years in many cases. Is not that a repudiation of the Prime Minister’s calls to deport first and hear appeals later? That is at the heart of the Home Office’s toxic “hostile environment” policy and its latest manifestation. Will the Home Secretary take responsibility for the fact that she has disenfranchised British citizens through the changes to the Immigration Act 2014? These people do not need to produce paperwork: they are British citizens. When will she show some moral courage and resign because of the toxic legacy of this Home Office policy?
I simply do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of how the Home Office approaches immigration. Plenty of people who have tier 1 or tier 2 visas tell us that the UK visa application system is faster than any they have seen before. Many elements of our immigration system support business and are swift and effective, and we should all be proud of them.
A constituent with no papers was made to battle and spend thousands of pounds on legal advice before obtaining a biometric residency permit, but is now being told by potential employers and public bodies that they will not accept it. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that public bodies and employers know what to do in relation to ID requirements?
One of the missives that I have sent out already as a result of this is instructions to the type of organisations that would otherwise lead on assessing landlords and businesses to make sure that they take a more proactive approach to investigations. We have also told them that they will not face penalties where this group are concerned, so we have tried to lessen their sense of urgency about getting it right. It is important to make sure that we have a system in place where employers cannot employ illegal migrants otherwise they will face fines, but because of this particular situation we have given out particular instructions. As long as employers have done some due diligence, they should not treat these people harshly.
What message has the Home Secretary for my constituent, Nikita Wiggins, whom I saw in my surgery this morning? She came to the UK from Barbados 35 years ago aged three, with an indefinite leave stamp in her passport. Even though she was recently made to take a habitual residency test by the Department for Work and Pensions, she cannot take up a very good new job because the Home Office no longer recognises passport stamps for these purposes. This situation goes way beyond the Windrush cases and into every corner of many people’s lives. It is a product of eight years of institutionalised bullying and discrimination by the Home Secretary’s Department and her Prime Minister.
I would caution the hon. Gentleman not to use his constituent to make such a political point about the past eight years. If he wants me to look at his constituent, who sounds to me like she falls within the 1973 to 1998 cohort, I urge him to send the information through to me.
Since last week, I have heard of constituents who have been forced to apply for indefinite leave to remain when it is not clear that they needed to; who have applied for spouse visas when it is not clear that that was appropriate; and who have had to go to court to make the case for their right to live and work here. Some have had legal advice—sometimes poor-quality legal advice—and some have not been able to afford it. In addition to the measures that the Home Secretary has announced today, will she also look again at the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and the detrimental effect that that is having, when people cannot get good-quality, professional, legal immigration advice?
I recognise the concern that the hon. Lady has raised. The measures that I have put in place today will not require people to get legal advice. I believe that the new taskforce I have put in place has an approach to individuals that will enable them to have confidence that the process will work much better for them than having a lawyer. In one case that I was engaged with today, I was talking to some of the caseworkers and they described how somebody had asked their son or daughter to call up to create that first distance, and then they had taken confidence and were able to address it. This is a system I have put in place where people can have confidence in addressing and dealing with it and in getting a fast resolution.
I met a gentleman on Friday—a constituent, originally from the Caribbean, who has been here for 50 years—and in recent times, he has had to spend thousands of pounds unnecessarily to re-prove his right to remain here. I know that the Home Secretary has announced that there will be a consultation into process, but on behalf of my constituent and many others, when will he get his money back?
That is a very fair question. We are going to put in place a compensation scheme. I am going to consult on it first. I would like it to act with urgency and pace, and be able to engage with people such as the hon. Gentleman’s constituent as soon as possible. He must allow me a little time to do that, but I share his need for urgency.
If I write to the Home Secretary about my constituent, Mr Everton George Perries, who has been here since 1974, will she actually answer? I am not sure that she knows what is going on in her Department. I wrote to her on 4 August last year about a case in which one of my constituents was the subject of domestic violence from somebody who should be deported. I wrote to remind her in February this year that she had not answered that letter, and I finally got an answer to it in April, in what was essentially an urgent case. Has her Department not taken its eye seriously off the ball in relation to the real cases of illegal immigration? Is it not surprising to her that in that reply, the official said to me:
“From July last year we saw an unprecedented level of intake in Members’ written correspondence about immigration matters”?
That is hardly a surprise. Why is it such a surprise to the Home Secretary?
I see that the hon. Gentleman is making a general point about the Home Office. I am always interested in hearing the points that colleagues choose to make, but today I want to focus on the outcomes that I am putting in place for this particular cohort, who need to have their rights put in place.
What discussion has the Home Secretary had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the denial of social security support for some of these people? I appreciate that the Home Secretary has said that she is setting up a compensation fund, but could we have more clarity that they will also be compensated for denial of pensions, social security support for disabled people and so on? And will she finally publish the internal 2014 impact assessment that predicted these effects?
I have already put in place instructions to be sent to jobcentres to ensure that they also have an awareness of this cohort, so that when they might have been considering stopping people’s benefits because they do not have the papers, that is changed. I will engage with the Department for Work and Pensions on the wider issue. On the retrospective element, that is the sort of thing that I would want the independent person in charge of the compensation to look carefully at.
Two years ago in this place, I raised the case of my constituent who arrived 50 years ago as a child on his parents’ British passports. He did have all the documentation, but he has been put through three and a half years of hell. He has finally been granted settled status but has lost over £50,000 through loss of earnings and legal fees, and he is still not entitled to a British passport. How will the Home Secretary compensate him for the devastating impact on his mental health, and when can he expect to receive his British passport?
First let me say how sorry I am about the situation the hon. Lady’s constituent has found himself in and thank her for the work she has done for him. I suggest she engages with him to show him that we have now set up the hotline so that he can get his citizenship regularised, if that is what he is still in need of. On the timing of compensation, as I have just said, I will be setting up a compensation scheme and making sure it has independent oversight. When we have that information, I look forward to letting her know.
Our casework is a litmus test of the impact of Government policy, and my casework in the last week has shown family members denied access to weddings and funerals because of arbitrary decisions by the Secretary of State’s Department; international students who are victims of the TOEIC— test of English for international communication—scandal facing deportation on the flimsiest of grounds and at an extortionate cost to the taxpayer; and, finally, victims of domestic violence with British children facing deportation for no other reason than that the mothers cannot produce evidence from the fathers who beat them. This is totally unacceptable. Windrush is the tip of the iceberg of an immigration policy that is unfair, unjust and incompetently delivered. That is what the Home Secretary ought to be taking responsibility for, and the best thing she could do by way of an apology to the Windrush generation is to ensure that they and future generations of migrants to this country no longer face the injustices of the toxic immigration policy over which she presides.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to some really tragic situations, and if he sends me the details, I will look carefully at them and make sure they are addressed. I hope that the measures I am putting in place will allow the sort of personal contact that will enable such individuals to get a more personal engagement and a faster and perhaps more satisfactory response when needed.
The University of Oxford has estimated that about 120,000 undocumented individuals who either were born here or grew up here face a Windrush situation of their own. Why does the Home Office make it so horrendously complicated and eye-wateringly expensive for them to regularise their stay here?
There is a lot of misinformation about what documents are required and when. As a consequence of the assessments we have done since 2014 and 2016, the documents required are now easier for people to access than passports, which not everyone has, as the hon. Gentleman says. It is not unusual, however, for a country to have legislation that tries to combat illegal migration by saying that if someone wants to rent a flat, have a job or go to hospital, they need to show who they are. It is the right thing to do to protect people from too much illegal migration.
I have been contacted by lawyers representing constituents of mine who are members of the Windrush generation who have been phoning the new helpline the Home Secretary has established, and they report that the helpline is outsourced to a private contractor. They also represent constituents who are so fearful of the Home Office that they do not want to disclose all their details in that first contact but want to seek advice anonymously before proceeding. They are told by the helpline, however, that they cannot do that. When a lawyer queried this, he was told:
“should the department find they did not have a right to Citizenship…then…they could look at other possibilities”.
Does she understand the depth of the lack of trust in her Department among members of the Windrush generation, will she assure the House that no enforcement action will be taken on the basis of phone calls to the helpline, and will she say what she is doing to rebuild the trust and confidence of people who are so fearful that they do not even want to give their names to her Department?
I am sorry to hear that example. I can say, having today met the caseworkers operating the taskforce, that their intent when they say “Look at other possibilities” is to look at other possibilities to help. I ask her to convey that to her constituents, because it is their genuine endeavour. I made that point in my statement as well: there is no question of removing people. I know it is a fear, but it is not happening, and I urge her to communicate that back to her constituents and the lawyers. I should add that when I initially called—immediately—to have the taskforce and phone line set up, it was a phone line at a call centre for about 24 hours, possibly longer; it is now properly run and staffed by the Home Office and by professionals, as one would expect.
In 2015 my constituent Paulette Wilson, a 62-year-old grandmother who came to the UK from Jamaica 50 years ago, was sent a letter by the Home Office out of the blue—to her dismay—telling her that there was no evidence of her lawful entry into the country, and no evidence of her right to remain. Two years later, she was detained at Yarl’s Wood and threatened with deportation to a country where she had no surviving family, and where she had not been since the age of 10. I want to know why it has taken the detention of my constituent, and other cases raised by Members on both sides of the House, for the Government to get a grip on this issue and whether my constituent will be fully compensated for loss of income, loss of benefits, and the inhumane way in which she was treated.
I share the hon. Lady’s indignation about the way in which her constituent was treated. Her first application, which was rejected, was made in 2003. I am pleased that she has now received her documentation, which was sent to her in December. I agree that this sounds like the sort of case that would be eligible for compensation. However, I must allow the compensation scheme to be set up and the necessary consultation to take place, so that the scheme is right and people can gain access to it in a way that is fair.
Gloria Fletcher wept as she told me that, having lived here for 50 years and worked every single day of her working life, she had lost her job when her work was transferred to another company because she could not prove that she was British. She and her husband Derek are now struggling to pay the mortgage. The Home Secretary says that the state let them down. No, it did not; the Prime Minister let them down. The Home Secretary let them down. Will they both stop trying to blame their civil servants, and start taking responsibility for the pain that they have caused?
Let me say for the avoidance of doubt that I do take responsibility. It is because I take responsibility that I want to put this right, and I will make sure that my office does so.
Last week, the Home Secretary announced the establishment of a Windrush taskforce consisting of 50 staff. In less than a week, its remit appears to have been expanded to cover the entire Commonwealth. That not only demonstrates the mess that the Home Office is in, but potentially makes less than one member of staff responsible for each Commonwealth member state. How many staff members will the task force now have, and how many countries is it expected to cover?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman, because I talked to members of the taskforce this morning, that there are currently 20 staff members, and that they are managing their casework and calls. I can also reassure him, and other Members, that they are leaning in and finding the people who are appearing in our media.
Let me take this opportunity to thank not only the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for the good work that he did, but the various media outlets which relentlessly exposed the situation of which these individuals had been on the receiving end. It is their extraordinary work that has led to this sea change in the protection of the Windrush cohort, and the changes that will be made in the future.
We have heard the Home Secretary try to gloss over this crisis—a crisis that she and her predecessor, the Prime Minister, created—but is not the truth that the scale of the Home Office response is likely to fall far short of what is needed? Does the Home Secretary not understand the scale of the issue, or is she simply unable to manage her Department?
I am sorry to hear that from the hon. Gentleman. If he had been listening to what I have been saying, he would know that there is no glossing. There is a clear plan, and there is a clear commitment. I will take any opportunity that is presented to come back and tell the House what progress has been made, because it matters to me personally, and it matters to the Government, to put this right so that the people who have done so much for our country are looked after and respected as they should be.