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Volume 646: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the Government’s policy on Windrush.

It is a pleasure to be back, Mr Speaker.

The Home Secretary has been very clear both that the Government deeply regret what has happened over decades to some of the Windrush generation and that we are determined to put it right. The Home Secretary laid a written statement in the House on 24 May to establish the Windrush scheme, which ensures that members of the Windrush generation, their children born in the UK and those 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, obtain British citizenship free of charge.

The last update on our historical review of removals and detentions was presented to the Home Affairs Committee on 21 August. The Home Secretary has written to apologise in the case of 18 people whom we have identified are most likely to have suffered detriment as a result of Government action. To the end of July, 2,272 people have been helped by the taskforce to get the documentation they need to prove their existing right to be in the UK under the initial arrangements put in place prior to the establishment of the Windrush scheme, and 1,465 people have also been granted citizenship or documentation to prove their status under the formal Windrush scheme. The taskforce is also working to help eligible individuals return to the UK.

The Home Secretary has announced a compensation scheme for those who have been affected as a result of not being able to demonstrate their status. The public consultation for that scheme was launched on 19 July and will run to 11 October. The Home Office is using a range of channels to engage with those who have been affected and to encourage people to respond to the consultation. We will announce details of the final scheme and how to apply as soon as possible after the consultation has ended.

Finally, the Home Secretary has commissioned a lessons learned review, to identify how members of the Windrush generation came to be entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants. He has been clear that the lessons learned review requires independent oversight and scrutiny and has appointed Wendy Williams as independent adviser to the review. I know that, across the House, we are united in our determination to deal with the problems faced by people of the Windrush generation. I therefore hope we can take a cross-party approach which recognises that the most important thing we can do is ensure the wrongs that some have faced are put right.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

Ministers might have thought that they had drawn a line under the Windrush scandal, but it continues to throw up new horrors. This summer I was in the Caribbean, and Ministers should not underestimate the concern that the Windrush issue has caused throughout the Commonwealth. We are preparing to leave the EU. At a time when we should be strengthening our trading links with Commonwealth partners in Africa, the Caribbean and south Asia, are Ministers aware of how much damage the Windrush scandal has caused?

Now we have learnt that three citizens have died in Jamaica after having been wrongfully deported from this country. This is something that ought to shame Ministers. Worse, we did not learn this from our own Government. This intelligence comes from Her Excellency the Foreign Minister for Jamaica, Kamina Johnson-Smith. Left to this Government’s own devices, we might never have learnt of those deaths.

The Government have been dilatory in fulfilling their repeated verbal commitments to find out who the victims are of this scandal and what they will do to correct it. Instead, we have the Home Secretary making an apology to just 18 of the victims identified who have been wrongly detained or deported. This is despite the fact that the Government themselves have identified 164 such victims. Were any of the three victims now deceased who have been identified by Jamaican Ministers included in the Government’s list of 164? If they were, what was done to try to remedy the situation before the deaths? If not, we are entitled to believe that the Government’s list of 164 is of little value, with gaping holes in its information.

The Home Secretary’s apology to the 18 is welcome. A sincere apology is long overdue, but why only these 18, when the Government have identified many, many more cases? What is the basis of the apology? Does it include an assurance to address the hardship being caused here and now, or will the 18 have to wait like everyone else until the Government finalise their compensation scheme?

We learned from newspaper reports that the Government are losing the majority of their appeals in immigration cases. They are still trying to deport thousands of people who are entitled to be here. The Windrush scandal lives, even while some of its victims have died. This scandal is due to the Government’s hostile environment policy, which is supported by the entire Government, including the Home Secretary, who has tried to rebrand it. Ministers need to abandon the hostile environment policy. Unless and until they do, the reek of the Windrush scandal will forever be associated with the Home Secretary and this Government, not just here in Britain but throughout the Commonwealth.

I was delighted to hear the right hon. Lady refer to the importance of reaching out to different parts of the world in a post-Brexit scenario. She will be aware, as I am, of the work the Prime Minister has done in Africa over the past few weeks. I agree that it is important that we foster relations right around the globe, which is why we have been extremely proactive in working with high commissioners across the Caribbean to make sure that the 164 people identified so far as part of our review are proactively contacted and that we can, as I said earlier, put right the wrongs that have been done to the Windrush generation.

The former Home Secretary and the current Home Secretary have been clear in their apologies to the Windrush generation, and those have been sincere and heartfelt. However, I would point out to the right hon. Lady that there have been policies under successive Governments to make sure that those who have the right to be here are able to access benefits, employment and services, but those who do not are correctly identified by a series of compliant-environment policies. The right hon. Lady speaks as if those policies were begun by this Government, but in fact right-to-work checks commenced in 1997, controls on benefits in 1999, controls on social care in 2002, and civil penalties for employers of illegal workers in 2008.

It is notable, as I said right at the beginning of my statement, that people from the Windrush generation who have had wrong done to them, for which we have apologised and will continue to apologise, have been affected over decades. The right hon. Lady might like to reflect that, of the 164 individuals identified so far by the review, in the region of half were impacted prior to 2010.

For how much longer are the Government going to refuse to publish the unredacted report by Sir Alex Allan on the whole Windrush situation?

The Government have of course commissioned the lessons learned review, and the permanent secretary in the Home Office commissioned Alex Allan to conduct that review. It is important that we focus very much in this regard on making sure that we put right the wrongs for those who are part of the Windrush generation, but also that we work proactively with the Home Affairs Committee to make sure that these mistakes do not happen again.

I commend the right hon. Lady, the shadow Home Secretary, for securing this urgent question on such an important issue.

Over the summer we have learned that wrongly deported Windrush generation citizens died before they could be repatriated. We have learned that the private firm responsible for removing Windrush citizens operated on the basis of incentives for exceeding its removal targets. We have also learned that the Home Office may be withholding crucial evidence from the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the wrongful detentions and deportations. Does the Minister regret any of those matters, and can she tell us why the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are still refusing to make a full and proper apology to all the victims of this appalling episode?

When will the Home Secretary respond to calls from the Scottish National party and others, which we have heard today, for a full and proper revisiting of the hostile environment policy, which led to this scandal and which may yet lead to others?

The Government’s compliant-environment policies, which were, of course, started under the previous Labour Administration, are an important part of our ability to make sure that those who have the right to be here and are entitled to goods, services and benefits can be correctly identified, and, equally, that those who are here illegally can also be identified. This Government do not intend to remove our compliant-environment policies; we believe that they provide an important part of our suite to address illegal immigration. The hon. and learned Lady referred to the private company that had a contract to enable those who had no right to be here to accept voluntary returns. It played no part in decision making and, of course, that contract was ended in 2016.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which she personally is getting to grips with this important issue? I believe she said that 2,272 individuals have had their documentation sorted. What is the total number of applications to the helpline to date, and what is her estimate of the likely number of applications before this whole sorry episode is brought to a successful conclusion?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that many thousands of people have received their documentation. We should be pleased that that has occurred, and in the vast majority of cases it has occurred very swiftly after they have provided details to the taskforce. That is crucial, so that they can access the benefits and services to which they are entitled. The taskforce has received well in excess of 8,000 calls, but only a proportion of them will be part of the Windrush scheme, and there is very careful triaging so that people receive calls back and the correct information is identified at that time.

We will publish today the Home Office’s response to our Select Committee’s Windrush report. The response rejects our cross-party recommendation to reinstate immigration appeals. Does not the Minister recognise that, in Windrush cases, people lost their homes, their residency and citizenship rights, their healthcare rights and their jobs because the Home Office got decisions wrong and there was no right of appeal and no independent checks and balances? Does she not recognise that, if we are to have any chance of preventing Windrush injustices from happening again, there needs to be the restoration of immigration appeal rights?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The Windrush taskforce and the review processes that are commencing and, indeed, will be ongoing for a considerable time show that, yes, absolutely, mistakes were made over a long period, for which this Government have apologised and continue to apologise, because we are very sorry for those to whom wrong was done. It is absolutely imperative that we learn those lessons, which is why Wendy Williams has been commissioned for the independent review, and that we make sure that we take account of the recommendations that come forward from that review and make appropriate changes.

May I thank the Minister for the rapid way in which her Department has helped to assist a constituent of mine who has been affected? Will she assure me that direct contact will be made with those affected so that they can receive compensation with minimum difficulty?

It is absolutely our intention that those who will be entitled to compensation should be able to access it with minimum difficulty. The public consultation opened in July and will close on 11 October, and it is absolutely imperative that we take into account all the suggestions and comments that come forward as part of it, and that we make sure that we have a scheme that works for those individuals affected.

The Home Secretary was right to apologise to the victims of the Windrush scandal, but if the Government want to end their hostile environment, which led to the Windrush scandal, is not it time to abolish their net migration target?

Given the commitment in successive general election manifestos that have been endorsed by the public, it is absolutely imperative to reduce immigration to sustainable levels. As part of that, we have a compliant environment, which makes sure that people who are in this country illegally are not entitled to access the benefits and services that those who are here legally can.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that analysis of the Windrush cases reveals problems over many years under successive Governments, and that this Government will resolve those problems?

My hon. Friend is right to point that out. These issues have occurred over successive Governments and many years. This Government are absolutely determined to make sure we put right those wrongs.

My caseworkers tell me that intolerable delays are occurring and that people in the pipeline are not being dealt with promptly, even though we were promised they would be. We had good experiences at the start of this process, but I am afraid to say that that has gone backwards. What is the Minister doing to deal with delays, and how many people are in that delayed situation?

The vast majority of cases have been dealt with within the two-week deadline after the receipt of full documentation; both the former and the current Home Secretary committed to that. However, I hope the hon. Lady will understand that some cases are extremely complex, that we are looking for reasons to grant, not reasons to refuse and that, in some cases, that has taken longer.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, especially the lessons learned review and the fact that a great many people have indeed been helped so far. Can she confirm that the children of the Windrush generation are able to apply to naturalise at no cost?

As I set out in my initial response, we are making sure that that is the case. I am very conscious of the issues with the children of Windrush, as well as of those of the Windrush generation themselves. It is important that those who have a claim under the Windrush scheme make contact with the taskforce, so that their case can be gone through individually and with the incredibly experienced caseworkers who are charged with making sure we get decisions right.

The Minister will be aware, as I have raised it before, that many of the Chagos islander community in this country are also seeking to establish their citizenship. We would not want any more scandals in the mould of Windrush. Will she therefore make sure that their citizenship is considered as the Government take forward progress on Windrush?

I am not sure if the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber for Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions earlier, when he would have heard the response by the Minister for Europe and the Americas on the subject of the Chagos islanders and the Government’s long-standing policy.

It is right that the Government have offered both an apology and compensation to those in the Windrush generation who have been affected. However, is the Minister aware that in many instances people feel they have to choose between being able to speak out and receiving compensation? Will she therefore confirm that no one who applies to the Windrush compensation scheme will be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement?

The Home Secretary has been absolutely clear: nobody applying to the Windrush compensation scheme will be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

It is worth noting that the 164 figure for those wrongfully removed or detained is still provisional and may change. Does the Minister expect the figure to go up? More importantly, the scandal goes well beyond the Windrush generation; this is about the impact of the hostile environment and of the lack of a right to appeal. Can she tell us how many non-Windrush cases have been wrongfully removed or detained in the last year?

The hon. Gentleman makes a specific point about whether we expect those numbers to change. It is really important that we have an independent assurance exercise once the review has completed. We are determined to find out the exact number and to do our absolute best to make sure that any people identified are encouraged to go through the Windrush taskforce and, if eligible for compensation, to apply for the scheme when it is open. The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about the number of people who may have been wrongfully removed in the last year. I cannot provide him with that information right at this moment, but I am very happy to provide him with the latest statistics that we have.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary for the leadership they have shown in righting the wrongs that have happened in these Windrush cases. Will she set out for the House the progress of the independent review and its anticipated timescale?

As my hon. Friend will know, Wendy Williams has been appointed to lead the independent review, which will be a thorough look at everything that has occurred and the lessons that we must learn. We expect her report to be available in March next year.

I thank my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary for requesting this urgent question. What I find shocking and disturbing is the fact that three people have died in Jamaica as a result of this hostile policy. We are hearing an apology, but I would like to hear more about action from the Government. I would particularly like to know what proactive action is being taken in the cases of the three people who have died overseas.

The Government are very appreciative of the work that has been going on with Commonwealth high commissioners, among others, to make sure that those who have been affected have been correctly identified. When people have subsequently passed away, our sympathies and condolences, of course, are with their families. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has written not only to those affected but to the families of those who have passed away.

The hon. Lady is right that a wrong was done, and the Government are determined to right that wrong, but I point out to her that a good number of these people were removed prior to 2010.

The appalling treatment of the Windrush generation and their descendants extends far beyond those who have come forward to contact the Home Office team to date. Many of my constituents are living in fear and deep mistrust of the Home Office—not least because of the continual conflation with illegal immigration in discussions of Windrush, which we have heard again from the Minister today.

There is an urgent need for access to independent confidential advice for Windrush citizens and their descendants, who are concerned about their status but do not trust the Home Office. So far, that work has been left to the voluntary sector, but the lack of funding over the summer has meant that Black Cultural Archives in my constituency has had to stop running advice surgeries. Will the Minister now acknowledge the far-reaching breach of trust that the Windrush scandal has caused and commit to funding genuinely independent advice for those who are too fearful of the Home Office to come forward?

The hon. Lady raises a really important point about people who might be afraid to come forward. We have given a clear assurance that no information provided to the Windrush taskforce will be passed to immigration enforcement and we will work extremely hard to assist all those with partial information to demonstrate their time in the UK.

Martin Forde QC, the independent consultant for the compensation scheme, has been working hard with outreach programmes, which are an important part of the process. The Windrush taskforce has held a number of surgeries up and down the country, reaching out to members of the Caribbean communities to engender confidence.

Some of the best advocates for the Windrush taskforce are those who have been through it successfully. There have been a number of reports from those who have found the process easy, and thousands have been granted not only documentation but citizenship.

Will the Minister explain why the Government are still failing to support those affected who are going through the process? That is the case with eight of my constituents, one of whom was left destitute, having lost all his benefits—evicted by the council and forced to sleep on the streets until my office intervened. That happened three weeks ago.

I thank the hon. Lady for drawing that to my attention. The Windrush taskforce has been working proactively with local authorities, housing providers and the third sector so that those in hardship are put in touch with the correct agencies to make sure that they are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. If she gives me individual information after this urgent question, I shall be very happy to take it away.

My constituent who got caught up in this carry-on has finally received his passport. He is both relieved and grateful for that, but has yet to receive any compensation for lost earnings, lawyers’ fees and NHS fees. This summer, things took an unbelievable turn when he finally tried to sign on for benefits and was told that because he had lost his job four years ago as a result of the situation, he was not eligible because he had not made enough national insurance contributions. If the Government are, as the Minister says, “determined to put it right”, is she working with her colleague, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to sort this out now?

When we first became aware of the scale of the Windrush problem, I chaired a ministerial meeting across Government, and the Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions was one of the most proactive Ministers there and determined to make sure that the DWP regarded somebody as eligible if they had an appointment with the Windrush taskforce. That important work continues at an official level. The hon. Lady has raised an individual case. She will have heard me say earlier that the consultation on the compensation scheme closes on 11 October, and we will bring forward a scheme as soon as possible after that, but we are also working with third sector organisations to make sure that advice and support is available for people.

The Minister is a fortunate woman—my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and her excellent Select Committee have done all the work for her. She should get on with implementing their recommendations; it will make her life a lot easier. Those affected in my community in Huddersfield, mainly from Grenada and other parts of the Caribbean, are mostly elderly. This is an all-party, all-Government muck-up, and we are not talking about many people, so let us be generous with the compensation and in giving free access to new passports and citizenship rights. That is what they deserve.

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have been generous in granting citizenship rights and have been determined, as I said a few moments ago, to find reasons to grant, not reasons to refuse. As I have said, the public consultation on the compensation scheme closes on 11 October, but I urge him to encourage all his constituents who may have been affected to take part in that consultation so that their voices can be heard.

The Minister and the Government claim that the hostile environment is over, but in Westminster Hall shortly we will be describing the situation of international students who are currently victims of the hostile environment. Is it not the case that the Home Office is in this mess because it continues to come forward with cases on the basis of flimsy evidence; it is losing appeals left, right and centre, trying to deny people access to justice; and, perhaps worst of all, at the same time as victimising people in a David versus Goliath contest in the courts, it is wasting taxpayers’ money hand over fist that should be spent on our schools, our police and our hospitals? Why will she not reinstate the appeals, as the cross-party Home Affairs Committee suggests, and why will she not genuinely end the hostile environment?

The hon. Gentleman is indeed leading a debate later this afternoon about English language testing. We are very conscious that there was significant fraud. Many thousands of cases were found to have been fraudulent and many colleges not only closed as a result but were bogus colleges that we had already identified problems with. Where there is systemic fraud and abuse in the immigration system, as we saw with some language testing, it is important that the Government take action, and he will be aware that successive court cases have upheld our position.

The Minister has said several times that she wishes to ensure that the wrongs done to the Windrush generation are righted. We now know that three people who were wrongly deported have since died. What will her Department do to right the wrongs done to those three families?

As the hon. Lady will have heard me say, the Home Secretary has already reached out to individuals impacted and the families of those who have passed away to offer his personal apology. They will of course be entitled to apply to the compensation scheme when that is open.

The Minister is aware of a constituent of mine, Paulette Wilson, a 62-year-old grandmother who came here more than 50 years ago from Jamaica and who was detained at Yarl’s Wood and Heathrow detention centre last year and nearly deported back to Jamaica. I ask my question on behalf of her and all those in a similar situation. I heard what the Minister said about the compensation scheme and the consultation, but can she give a commitment to the House today that the scheme will be operational some time next year so that Paulette and others can be properly compensated?

I would like to reassure the hon. Lady on this point. Her constituent’s case was one of those clearly highlighted, of course, and I was pleased that I was able to offer my personal apology to Paulette Wilson. It is imperative that we get the compensation scheme up and running as soon as possible, and I am determined to do that.

Forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I thought that the Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) was wholly inadequate. What analysis have the Government done of the hostile environment affecting the other communities, such as the Chagos community in my constituency?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government suspended the proactive sharing between Departments of data relating to those over 30 in the context of the compliant environment. It is important for us to ensure that we have a suite of policies that enable us to take action and correctly identify those who have no right to be here, but it is equally important for us to take the appropriate steps when we identify people who have a right to be here. As the hon. Gentleman will have heard earlier from the Minister for Europe and the Americas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), our policy on the Chagos islanders is long-standing. I have listened carefully to what has been said by both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady).

The Minister will be aware that confidence among Windrush families remains low, despite the efforts of the Home Office in recent months. As I have said, publishing Sir Alex Allan’s report in full would certainly provide some reassurance, but what opportunities will those families have to participate in and contribute to the independent lessons learned review as it is rolled out over the next few months?

That is an important aspect: individuals should be able to contribute to the lessons learned review, and in many cases it is the personal stories that are most compelling. The Alex Allan review was, of course, an internal review commissioned by the permanent secretary at the Home Office. An executive summary was shared with the House, but the Home Secretary is currently considering whether a redacted version of the report can be published.

In our sixth report on the Windrush generation, the Home Affairs Committee stressed the need for transparency on the Sir Alex Allan report. As the Minister has said, the Home Secretary has promised to consider that, as he has been doing for a number of months. Do those at the Home Office really not understand that if they want to rebuild trust following this fiasco, hiding things that they know is not a good way to start?

As I have just said, and as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the Home Secretary is currently considering this matter, and I would expect him, rather than me, to come forward with a decision.

I will take the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order now, because it relates to the exchanges that we have just heard.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker.

I have asked on a number of occasions—including of the Prime Minister—when we can expect to see the publication of the report on Windrush that was commissioned from Sir Alex Allan. That desire is felt across the House, and it has even been articulated by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. Each and every time, we are told that various Ministers are thinking of publishing it and making it available to Back Benchers, but there seems to be no real desire to do so.

I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, on how—other than by raising it again and again on the Floor of the House, which I shall continue to do—we can make progress on this matter. Until we can see the contents of the report in an unredacted form, we will not get to the bottom of what advice was given to whom and when.

I think that I must add to the many other qualities of which the right hon. Gentleman can boast—although he rarely does so—the quality of being psychic, because he correctly anticipated what would be my likely advice to him, which, in its purest and most succinct form, consists of one word: persist, persist, persist. If the matter continues to be raised by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government will be left in no doubt of the appetite of the House for the said report to be published. It is very difficult to come to a view of the merits of the recommendations in a report if one has not been allowed to see it. I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I urge him not to lack self-confidence, but to go forth with vigour and robustness.