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Volume 641: debated on Thursday 24 May 2018

I have been very clear that the Government deeply regret what has happened to some of the Windrush generation and about our determination to put it right. Both my predecessor as Home Secretary and I have set out to Parliament the immediate steps that we took to assist those in the Windrush generation but were clear that this was simply a precursor for a more formal arrangement.

I have today laid a statutory instrument which will bring into force the “Windrush scheme” which will ensure that members of the Windrush generation, their children born in the UK and who arrived in the UK as minors, and others who have been in the United Kingdom for a long period of time, will be able to obtain the documents to confirm their status and, in appropriate cases, be able to obtain British citizenship free of charge.

The Windrush scheme, which will be a distinct scheme, will make it easier for those concerned to receive the support they need and to understand what is on offer. Those applying under the scheme will benefit from the services of the taskforce which will help people to navigate the immigration system and continue to take a sympathetic and proactive approach when assisting people in confirming their status.

The new scheme will come into operation next Wednesday, 30 May. Breaching the normal 21 day rule between laying a Statutory Instrument and its commencement is not something I have done lightly and I am very mindful of the need to observe normal parliamentary protocols. However, my judgment is that the imperative to get the new scheme up and running as swiftly as possible requires this course of action. The Immigration Minister has written to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to explain further our reasoning.

The new scheme will ensure that members of the Windrush generation—Commonwealth citizens who were settled in the UK before 1973—will be able to apply to become British citizens more easily. They will be deemed to have met the normal requirement for knowledge of language and life in the UK and will not be required to attend a citizenship ceremony, unless they want to. There will be no fees to pay.

Commonwealth citizens who were settled before 1973 but who do not wish to become British citizens, those who are not eligible, and citizens of other nationalities who were settled before 1973 will be provided with documents which confirm their right to remain permanently in the UK and to access services. Again, there will be no fees payable.

Children of the Windrush generation who were born in the UK will themselves be British, though in some cases they may want a document to confirm that status. Others will have the right to register as British. We will facilitate that through the taskforce and waive any application fees involved.

We are providing that a child of a member of the Windrush generation who was born abroad and who came to live in the UK before they were 18 and is still here is eligible for a free application for a document confirming their status or, if they wish, a free application for citizenship.

My predecessor undertook to consider the position of those who came to the UK between 1973 and 1988, when immigration and nationality law changed. Unlike the earlier generation, these people should have had documentary evidence of their entitlement to be in the UK but may no longer be able to prove it. Where they are lawfully in the UK, they can apply for the necessary documentation confirming that free of charge.

There is already provision in the immigration system for people whose permanent residence status has lapsed, through a prolonged absence from the UK, to resume their residence here, by obtaining a returning resident visa. It is limited to people who have spent most of their lives in the UK. I am adjusting the visa rules to ensure they are interpreted generously in respect of the Windrush generation, who spent a considerable time in the UK and who may have been unaware that they were forfeiting residence here when they left, for example because they considered themselves British. Again, that application will be made available free of charge.

Equally, there are those of the Windrush generation who retired to another country but want to return to the UK temporarily as visitors to see friends and family. I believe we should make a generous offer to them, recognising their special position and relationship with this country and those who qualify can apply for a visit visa free of charge, valid for 10 years.

In my written statement of 10 May, I announced the opening of the call for evidence on compensation. I am pleased to say that there has been a good response with almost 100 responses received to date. In addition, the Home Office has started an active programme of outreach to understand better the experiences of individuals and help inform the design of the compensation scheme. My officials have made contact with a number of community organisations and their representatives, and have attended events in a number of hon Members’ constituencies. This programme will continue and expand in the weeks ahead, working with Martin Forde QC, the independent person that is overseeing the design of the scheme.

All of this is about swiftly putting wrong the injustices that have been done to the Windrush generation. However, it is also fundamentally important that the lessons from this episode are learned for the future, so that this never happens again.

As I made clear to the House on 2 May, I will therefore ensure that a thorough review is conducted of what happened and why, looking particularly at:

how members of the Windrush generation came to be entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants;

why that was not spotted sooner; and

whether the right corrective measures are now in place.

I will also be taking steps to ensure that the review is subject to robust independent oversight and challenge.