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Windrush Compensation Scheme

Volume 657: debated on Wednesday 3 April 2019

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme. Copies of the response to the consultation are available from the Vote Office.

The United Kingdom has a proud history of welcoming arrivals from around the world. We have long held open the door to those who want to come and help build a better country, including my parents, for example, or indeed the parents of the shadow Home Secretary, and we have all benefited as a result, with the UK emerging as a stronger, broader, more vibrant and successful nation. We would not be the country we are today without the men and women who crossed oceans to come here legally, to make their homes, to work hard, to pay taxes and to raise their families, and we all know it, which is why the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment experienced by some members of the Windrush generation. People who have built their lives in this country, people who have done so much for this country, people who have every right to be in this country were told they were not welcome. It was a terrible mistake and it should never have happened, and that it did is a matter of profound regret to me, to my Department and to the Government.

That is why just under a year ago one of my first acts as Home Secretary was to stand at this Dispatch Box and say sorry on behalf of successive Governments: sorry to the parents and grandparents who suffered the trauma of being incorrectly ordered to leave the country they love; sorry to those who had paid taxes here for decades only to be denied the NHS care to which they were perfectly entitled; sorry to hard-working men and women who were unfairly refused the right to work, and even refused the dignity of a roof over their head. However, I know that words alone are not enough, which is why, 11 months ago, I did not just say sorry to members of the Windrush generation; I also vowed to right the wrongs that had been done to them. I sincerely hope that the compensation scheme being unveiled today goes some way to doing that. It has taken longer than I would have liked, but if we are to deliver justice for the Windrush generation and their families it is vital that we get this right.

Today’s scheme is the product of many months of work with affected individuals and their representatives, including well over 2,000 responses to our call for evidence and the consultation. We are also indebted to Martin Forde QC, who has provided us with invaluable independent advice and met with a great many of the individuals who were directly affected. His findings have contributed hugely to the final design of the scheme and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for his work.

As a result of this meticulous approach, I am confident that the proposals for the scheme are closely aligned with what affected communities wanted to see: namely, that it is simple, accessible and, above all, fair. Full information is now available online and via a free telephone hotline number. Guidance is being provided to help people to understand what compensation they might be entitled to and how to submit a claim, and the application process itself is as simple and clear as possible.

It is also important to note that the scheme is open not only to those of Caribbean origin. The Government propose broadly to align eligibility with the Commonwealth citizens taskforce. This means that Commonwealth citizens settled in the UK before 1973, along with certain children and grandchildren of theirs, are eligible to apply if they have losses to claim for. Other eligible groups include those of any nationality who have a right of abode or settled status or are now British citizens who arrived to live in the UK before 31 December 1988.

Of course the historical nature of the wrongs done means that some of those who have been affected throughout the years are, sadly, not alive to see justice being done. Where this is the case we propose to accept claims from the estates of individuals who would themselves have been eligible had they not passed away and from close family members of an eligible person.

However, justice will not be done if people do not know about the scheme, or for any reason are afraid to engage with it. So in addition to today’s media coverage we will launch an extensive programme of events with key stakeholders, community groups and faith organisations so that people across the country and overseas know about the compensation they can apply for.

On 22 June, we will be marking the second annual Windrush Day, a celebration of everything that the Windrush generation and their descendants have contributed to the UK, and later this evening I will be welcoming community group leaders to Parliament, alongside some of those who have suffered and their families. It will be an opportunity to reflect not only on the mistakes of successive Governments that brought us to this point but on what we as a country can do to ensure such mistakes are never repeated.

Wendy Williams’ review will explore how members of the Windrush generation came to be treated like illegal migrants, and I look forward to receiving her recommendations, but there is no doubt that the roots lie in a historical policy that saw people given settled status without also being given the ability to prove it. Nothing we say or do will ever wipe away the hurt, the trauma and the loss that should never have been suffered by the men and women of the Windrush generation, but together we can begin to right the wrongs of Windrush. We can begin to turn the page on this sad chapter in our history and we can do justice by people who have contributed immeasurably to our country.

When the UK called out for help, thousands of people from the Caribbean and across the Commonwealth stepped up to help to get us back on our feet. Now it is time for us to step up and do what is right by those whom we have failed. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of his statement. I also wish to place on record our gratitude to Martin Forde QC and his colleagues for the advice he has provided. I would like to say at this point that none of the delays in this process is attributable to him.

We have to remember in this House how much pride the Windrush generation took in being British. We have to remember that they came here in good faith under passports which indicated to them that they were indeed British. There are all the material challenges they faced as part of the Windrush scandal but, above all, having to spoken to numbers of these people, there was the humiliation of being told year on year by the British state that somehow they were not British, they were not worthy, they were not deserving and services they had paid into for years and years were not available to them.

The reality is that this is a scandal that should never have happened. It is a scandal to which the Government were initially slow to react and it is a scandal in which some Members of Parliament deliberately muddied the waters with talk of illegal immigrants, when, by definition, none of the Windrush victims is here illegally. It is a scandal that is set to continue unless and until the Government end their hostile environment. It is also a scandal that is set to multiply with the 3 million EU citizens because of the Government’s refusal to guarantee all their existing rights and, I am sorry to say, because of the lack of preparedness at the Home Office.

The Prime Minister told us that she would fight “burning injustices”. Well, the Windrush scandal was a burning injustice and it took place on her watch, first as Home Secretary and then as Prime Minister. Her successor as Home Secretary was obliged to relinquish her post because she incorrectly told the House that there were no numerical deportation targets. We have since learned that the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) had written to the Prime Minister promising to increase deportations by 10%. We also know that deportation numbers were a key performance indicator when she presided over home affairs, and that Home Office officials received bonuses relating to the numbers of deportees. It is hard not to imagine that these targets, performance indicators and bonuses did not affect the lack of care with which the Windrush generation were treated. The current Home Secretary told the House in April last year:

“I will do whatever it takes to put it right”.

He also said:

“We have made it clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status that they deserve: British citizenship.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]

And yet here we are. We know that many citizens from the Commonwealth who have been here since 1973 have still not been granted British citizenship and are still not treated as British citizens.

On this side of the House, we welcome the fact that the compensation scheme will be open to the estates of deceased Windrush generation persons and also to their relatives. They were an ageing cohort, and it is only fair that their relatives should be able to claim. We also welcome the fact that the Home Secretary accepts that this is not just about persons from the Caribbean. The Windrush generation is so called because of that emblematic symbol, the Empire Windrush, but it actually involves anyone from a Commonwealth country who came to this country between 1948 and 1972. I believe that many more persons will need to come forward if we are really going to clear up this scandal.

Will the Home Secretary say a little about the hardship fund, which was set up in response to pressure from my hon. Friends to deal with the immediate issues faced by the Windrush generation? How much is available to the hardship fund as a whole? Is it true that thus far only two people have had payments from the fund? We are glad to have further details of the compensation scheme itself, but I believe that it still falls short of what is expected, what is required and what is fair. Is the Home Secretary able to tell the House how much is available for the compensation scheme as a whole? Is he willing to comment on the fact that the scheme will not compensate those who may have gone back to the Caribbean or elsewhere in the Commonwealth for a holiday or a funeral and who were not allowed to get back on the plane? The document states that it is difficult to ascertain

“whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.

Of course it is a loss. That is an extraordinary thing to say. We know that people were wrongly prevented from returning to their home here. The Home Secretary admits that. One of the reasons was that they were unable to provide documentary proof of their status. Now the Home Secretary proposes to exclude them from compensation. These people were British citizens, yet they were unable to return to their home here and in some cases they were separated from their families. This is not ending the scandal; it continues it.

The Home Secretary and the Government propose to make a contribution towards legal fees only up to a fixed amount and will not reimburse for fees higher than that amount. This is despite the fact that these legal costs, which are easily documented, were incurred in challenging wrongful loss of jobs, deprivation of public services including the NHS, loss of home, wrongful detention and wrongful deportation. We also note that there will be no compensation for private healthcare for persons living in this country who were unable to access the NHS care they were entitled to.

The remedies provided by the scheme will include an apology and ex gratia payments. The Government will make these compensation payments voluntarily, without necessarily establishing a formal legal obligation. Surely there must be a formal legal obligation. I do not think we can rely—

Order. I say very gently to the shadow Home Secretary that this is going to be talked out, as things stand, because we have only until 1.45 and about 20 colleagues want to take part.

I am grateful to the Speaker.

Let me say finally that there are some in this House who are the children of the Windrush generation. Whether we are on the Front Benches or the Back Benches, and whether we are in opposition or in government, we will not rest until that generation, one of the bravest generations, gets the justice to which it is entitled.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and also for what she said about Martin Forde QC and the work he has done to make this scheme a reality. She started by saying that this should never have happened. I absolutely agree with her and always have. I think the whole House agrees on that. Of course none of the people who were caught up were here illegally; they had every right to be here.

The right hon. Lady has referred to the compliant environment. Sadly, she talks about it as though it were an environment that had been put in place since 2010. However, she knows that the right to check whether someone is here illegally and a number of other rules and regulations were put in under the previous Labour Government. She talks about how people were affected, and we are all trying to deal with this issue and to provide justice, but it is worth reminding the House that when the historical review was done and it was determined that 164 people were the most likely to have suffered detriment, almost half of them had suffered detriment under the previous Labour Government. It is worth keeping it in mind that successive Governments have in effect caused this problem, and it is no good trying to point the finger at one particular Government.

The right hon. Lady talked about the EU settlement scheme. It is precisely because of the lessons of Windrush that we need a scheme that cannot just be declaratory in approach. We need to ensure that our EU friends who are here in this country are properly documented. The abiding lesson from Windrush is the lack of proper documentation. She has rightly talked about those who want to have UK citizenship, and she knows that we have set up a special route for that. Approximately 4,000 people have taken advantage of that, at no cost to themselves. She is also right to say that the scheme is not just open to people of Caribbean origin, and I am glad we agree on that. She asked about the urgent exceptional payments fund. This is not just another compensation scheme; it is supposed to deal just with urgent exceptional payments. It is not capped, and I understand that nine payments have been made so far.

The right hon. Lady also asked about the compensation scheme, and how much it was likely to cost. There is no cap on the scheme, so no one knows what the eventual cost will be. It will be based on people’s needs and the claims that are made by eligible people, but the baseline estimate from my Department is that it will be approximately £200 million. She also referred to legal fees and private healthcare costs. I can tell her that in both those cases, although there is a tariff structure, both allow for actuals being paid in certain circumstances where proof is provided.

My parents came to the UK in the late 1960s from Mauritius and Kenya, both of which are Commonwealth countries. They came with no one and with nothing except a desire to make their lives in Britain and to serve our country, like the parents of many in this room. They could have been caught up in this episode, so I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment and action and his statement today. Does he agree that the compensation scheme represents real progress towards securing justice for the Windrush generation and that the independent Wendy Williams lessons learned review is the vital next step in the process?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I want to take this opportunity to thank her parents and the parents of millions of others for their contributions to this country. I agree with her about the importance of Wendy Williams’s work, which will be a vital step to ensuring that we right the wrongs.

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Of course, it is imperative that the victims of the Windrush scandal are compensated justly for their outrageous and disgraceful treatment. If the scheme delivers some sort of justice, that will be welcome, but we need more information before we can finalise our judgment. I welcome what the Home Secretary says about there being no cap on the scheme, because the needs of victims, not the choices of the Treasury, must drive the total amount of compensation.

Will the Home Secretary explain exactly what the Home Office will be compensating? Is it only financial losses, or will the devastating impact on health, wellbeing, family relationships and other aspects of life that so many have suffered also be considered? Can he tell us whether claiming compensation will preclude victims from seeking other forms of redress from the Home Office, including through the courts, and will the nine people who have been able to claim from the hardship fund also be able to claim under the compensation scheme? It is welcome that the compensation scheme is not restricted to Caribbean countries, but why is the Department not undertaking work to find victims of the scandal from all Commonwealth countries, rather than restricting case reviews just to Caribbean countries? The Home Office has ruined the lives of citizens from all around the Commonwealth, so it should be taking steps to fix and compensate all those cases.

Finally, the Home Secretary referred to the shock felt by the whole country in response to Windrush, but it should not have been a shock to the then Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, or her Department because the Department had been repeatedly warned that it was an inevitable consequence of the hostile environment. We still need to know why the Home Office ignored its own warnings and pressed ahead with the hostile environment regardless. When will the lessons learned review be published, and when will the Home Secretary start rolling back on hostile environment policies such as the right to rent?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I reiterate again that, for all the right reasons, there is no cap on this scheme. He asked whether only financial losses will be considered, but if other detriment has been suffered—people may have been wrongly detained, for example—the scheme will consider that. He also asked whether people who have used the urgent payment fund will be eligible to apply under scheme. Absolutely, if they meet the eligibility criteria, and depending on the claim, there is no link between the two schemes.

The hon. Gentleman welcomed the fact that the scheme is not limited to Commonwealth citizens of Caribbean origin; it is broader than that. It is right that we have focused on those whom all the evidence suggested are more likely to have suffered detriment, but it is also right that the scheme is not limited to Commonwealth citizens of Caribbean origin. He rightly referred to the Wendy Williams’s review, which will be vital to ensure that we get everything right.

Order. Traditionally, there is slightly greater latitude for the Chair of a Select Committee, but in view of the time constraints it would be appreciated if colleagues could confine themselves to a single-sentence question without preamble. Otherwise, lots of people will be prevented from speaking.

My constituent was unable to work for a considerable period of time, but that situation was resolved thanks to Government action. However, he is now struggling financially again because his wife is suffering from cancer, so how soon will he be able to claim? The links on are not completely clear, so how easy is it to find the website? How soon might my constituent be able to get some money in his bank account to help him?

I am very sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent’s situation. The claims can begin from today, and the information has just gone up online. We have also set up a freephone helpline, and a number of people in the Home Office will be dedicated to the scheme. We want to process the claims and make payments as soon as possible.

The Home Office took six months to agree to the urgent hardship scheme, nine months to set out the policy for it and, within 12 months of the Windrush scandal, it had helped only two of the 48 people who had applied. I understand that the number is now up to nine even though there were serious, urgent cases in which help was needed. What will the Home Secretary do to ensure that we do not see the same delays with this compensation scheme, which will provide the welcome support that people need?

It was important to get the scheme right, so we wanted to ensure that we consulted as many people as possible, which is why we had the call for evidence first. Indeed, Martin Forde, the independent assessor of the scheme, asked for extra time to meet more community leaders and more people who were affected. I believe that we have got it right now, and I am committed to ensuring that those who are eligible receive their compensation as quickly as possible.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the work that his Department has done on the scheme. When he responded to the Home Affairs Committee report on 24 July last year, noting the end of the consultation on 11 October, he said he wanted this scheme to be implemented

“quickly and carefully after that.”

Will he explain the length of time between the consultation closing and this announcement, because some are concerned that it has taken six months? Was it correct to take that time to get things right?

We received some 1,400 responses to the consultation, which is high for any consultation, and we wanted to ensure that they were all considered carefully. We worked closely with Martin Forde and others and wanted to ensure that the systems were in place from day one when the compensation scheme went live. Now that it is live, we will be able to process claims quickly.

Will the Home Secretary undertake to publicise the scheme as widely as the EU settlement scheme? Will he ensure that there is no use of non-disclosure agreements around how much compensation people get? Many people were driven into poverty and therefore crime as a consequence of the scandal, so will he say whether people with criminal convictions will still be entitled to use the scheme?

We will absolutely publicise the scheme widely. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman, who is committed to providing justice for the Windrush generation, can help me by using his Twitter feed, and there are other ways of helping more people to know about this scheme. There will be no non-disclosure agreements under this scheme, and people with criminal convictions are entitled to use it. The details state that if individuals with serious convictions apply, the Government reserve the right to change the amount of compensation or not pay it altogether, but generally no one is barred owing to a criminal conviction.

I heard the dignified evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights by some of the Windrush generation. I was astonished that some were still put into this position despite providing huge amounts of documentation. What support is being given to those in the Windrush generation, or indeed anybody else, who have been dismissed despite having all this evidence in front of them?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. I remember looking at cases in which such outcomes should not have happened. We have made the compensation scheme as simple and as straightforward as possible. For example, some payments have both a tariff structure and an actual structure, because we are trying to provide as much choice as possible.

I represent the Windrush borough of Lambeth, where many residents have been directly affected by the scandal. The Home Secretary’s officials actually came down to help implement some of the measures introduced by his Department, but I have to say that his processes have been anything but simple and accessible. What confidence can he give us that this scheme will be any different?

We have looked carefully at how the scheme is going to be implemented. For example, that is why, along with the online information, there is guidance on how the applications work and how to make them easier, and there is also this freephone number. There will also be dedicated staff in the Home Office working on the scheme. The scheme will be open for at least two years, and I commit to consider any issues and whether improvements can be made. If hon. Members make any suggestions, we will absolutely look at them.

Victims of the Windrush scandal need to be compensated for all their losses. Can the Home Secretary assure me that that will include any trauma that has been experienced?

In our publication today, we set out carefully what type of eligibility and what type of losses can be covered. I believe that, with the consultation process and with the support of Martin Forde, it is a very fair process.

Given that the hostile environment is clearly one cause of the Windrush scandal, have the Government accepted the recent High Court judgment against right-to-rent checks?

Will the Home Secretary look at the case of my constituent who has been refused an exceptional hardship payment, which she wants so she can visit her 95-year-old mother with dementia and her father’s grave in Grenada? She was told by the Department to save up for it.

Will the Home Secretary extend the compensation scheme to highly skilled migrants wronged by the Home Office? Can he explain why the cases I have raised in the press have been resolved and those I have not raised in the press have not been resolved?

The eligibility for the scheme is very wide. I set it out earlier in my statement, and it will almost certainly include many highly skilled migrants.

As well as the publicity drive that the Home Secretary has talked about, will his officials be going through, with their fingertips, every case of other Commonwealth citizens who are caught up in this?

We want to make sure that no one is left out. We have, for reasons I have previously explained in the House, focused on those of Caribbean origin, but that process of trying to find those who may have been wronged continues.

Will the compensation scheme cover the huge distress caused to those such as my constituent Paulette Wilson? She was detained at Yarl’s Wood and then Heathrow detention centre, and she was very nearly deported back to a country she had not been to since the age of 10.

One category we have also included in the compensation is a discretionary category, because we are well aware that, although we can identify some of the most likely detriments to compensate, there may be some exceptional cases, and I want to make sure that nothing is left out by the compensation scheme.

Will the Home Secretary look into the case of my constituent Mr Espedy Alvester Thomas? He has once again applied for a passport, this time under the Windrush scheme, and he still has not had a decision. Will the Home Secretary assure me that he will take every action to make sure similar delays do not happen with this compensation scheme?

Will the Home Secretary publish a comprehensive breakdown of all those wrongfully detained or deported by his Department as a result of the hostile environment, on top of the Windrush victims?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that we regularly supply a letter to the Select Committee containing much information on the scheme, and I will take his suggestion into account.

Many, many victims of this tragedy will be pulling together complex cases involving heads of loss across many areas. Will legal aid be available to those who need it?

We are looking carefully into what kind of support is needed, because some cases will be less complex. In the kind of complex case suggested by the hon. Lady, we want to make sure that people have help, if they need it, to put their case together. We want to make sure that no one is denied justice and that people can make a proper claim.

Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that reassurances so far have not been enough for some people who are too afraid to admit that they have no status here? I know that from my constituency. Will he do more to reassure people to come forward?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. We want to make sure everyone feels they can, first, come forward to the Windrush scheme itself, in terms of documentation, passports and the work of the taskforce, and, secondly, make claims for compensation. For example, no information relating to those who come forward to the compensation scheme will be supplied to immigration enforcement, or in respect of any other issues and concerns that people might have.

Will a fixed address or a bank account be required to claim compensation? Some people will have been denied access to these under the hostile environment.

It would certainly be helpful if a claimant for compensation has a bank account, but we have set out to make sure that justice is done in the fairest way possible. If there are exceptional circumstances in how we pay compensation, we will of course take that into account.

Will the Home Office fund independent legal advice for those Windrush citizens who may not be able to navigate the Home Office website system or who may feel entirely unable directly to approach a Department that has so comprehensively breached their trust?

As I mentioned earlier, we have tried to make it as simple as we can to navigate, with guidance and a freephone number. If anyone finds themselves in that circumstance, I suggest that the first thing they do is call the freephone number.

Sixty-six of the immigrants carried on HMT Empire Windrush were, in fact, Polish nationals, mostly relatives of those who had fought for the allies from El Alamein to Monte Cassino and beyond. Have they, or their descendants, been involved or consulted in any way during this process?

I do not have a list of everyone who responded to the consultation—there were some 1,400 respondents—but the consultation was wide-ranging and we had responses from many different nationalities.

Is there a risk of a further Windrush, as hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who are applying for their rights risk missing the deadline? Will the Home Secretary accept the cross-party calls to enshrine their rights in law to avoid this situation?

It is precisely because we want to avoid another Windrush situation that it cannot be sufficient just to enshrine rights in law. What is needed with the EU settlement scheme is a proper process of documentation from day one.

Bill Presented

Employment Rights (Shared Parental Leave and Flexible Working) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Jo Swinson presented a Bill to entitle employees to request shared parental leave and flexible working on the first day of employment; to make provision for self-employed persons to take shared parental leave; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 374).