With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme.
Yesterday, we celebrated Windrush Day, which marks the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks. The ship carried hundreds of people who had left their homes to build a new life in the United Kingdom, and to help this country rebuild following the destruction of the second world war. These men and women built their lives and went on to build their homes in the United Kingdom. They, alongside with many thousands of others who made similar journeys, and their descendants, have made an immeasurable contribution to the social, economic and cultural life of our country. When Britain was in need, they answered the call.
Yet as we all know, they were the very people who went on to suffer unspeakable injustices and institutional failings spanning successive Governments over several decades. I have apologised for the appalling treatment suffered and, on 19 March, I made a statement after I received the long awaited Windrush lessons learned review from Wendy Williams. I have apologised for the appalling treatment suffered by the Windrush generation.
The review was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the
“institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the…race and the history of the Windrush generation”
by the Department. There are serious and significant lessons for the Home Office to learn in the way it operates. I and the permanent secretary are currently reviewing its leadership, culture and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the community it serves.
These reforms are only the start. I was clear that when Wendy Williams published her lessons learned review, I would listen and act. I have heard what she has said, and I will be accepting the recommendations that she has made in full. I am committed to ensuring that the Home Office delivers for each part of the community it serves and I will come back to update the House before the summer recess on how we will be implementing the recommendations. I look forward to discussing the plans further with Wendy this week.
We have been working tirelessly to support the most urgent cases and those most in need. In April 2018, the Home Office set up the Windrush taskforce to ensure that those who needed documentation immediately could get it. A month later, the Windrush scheme was launched, providing free citizenship to those eligible for it.
The Home Office has a dedicated vulnerable persons team in place to provide immediate support to people suffering with a range of vulnerabilities, including the financial hardships and destitutions that have been well documented. The team also administers the urgent and exceptional payments scheme, which provides immediate financial payments. To the end of March this year, the team has made 35 payments, totalling more than £46,000.
Work is continuing unabated to ensure that those who suffered receive the documentation and the compensation that they need. So far, more than 12,000 people have been granted documentation by the Windrush taskforce, including more than 5,900 grants of citizenship, and the compensation scheme continues to make payments to compensate the losses and impacts that individuals suffered as a result of not being able to demonstrate their lawful status. The scheme was set up and designed with the backing of Martin Forde QC, in close consultation with those who were affected by the scandal, and in February I announced that I would extend it until April 2023 to give those who need our help as much time as they need to apply.
We are continuing to process individual claims as quickly as possible. The first payment was made within four months of the scheme launching, and many interim awards are being made where parts of the claim can be resolved more easily and more quickly than others. But let me be clear: it is not a blanket one-size-fits-all scheme. It was deliberately designed with community leaders and Martin Forde QC so that the claimant is at the heart of each and every claim.
Cases deserve to be processed individually with the care and sensitivity that they deserve, so that the maximum payment can be made to every single person. I simply will not call for targets when it comes to dealing with claims. These are incredibly personal cases—individual cases—that must be treated with the care, the dignity and the respect that they deserve.
I want everyone who has been wronged to get the maximum compensation to which they are entitled, and through this bespoke scheme, we are working to achieve that. This compensation covers a very wide range of categories—far more than any comparable compensation scheme. It covers immigration fees; it covers loss of earnings; it covers benefits; it covers homelessness; it covers destitution. Overall, it covers 13 separate categories. Assessing claims in this way is ultimately beneficial to those who are making them, but it takes time to assess them and it takes time to get it right. While claims are being processed in full, many interim and exceptional payments have been made to make sure that people have access to money—to the funds that they need now.
Clearly, I share the desire to see more claims completed. The rate of claims has already increased significantly in the past few months: as of the end of March, more than £360,000 had been awarded, and further offers have been made of approximately £280,000. I can confirm today that more than £1 million has been offered in claims so far, and more payments and offers are being made each week, but we can—and of course we must—do more. My determination to right the wrongs and the injustices suffered by the Windrush generation is undiminished, and I will do all I can to ensure that more people are helped and more people are compensated in full. If additional resources are needed, they will be provided.
Now is the time for more action. We all have a duty to help those affected by this terrible injustice. Individuals will benefit from the compensation scheme only if they are sought out and encouraged to apply. We are working extensively with community groups and leaders to raise awareness of the Windrush taskforce and the compensation scheme, including with vulnerable people through the vulnerable persons team. Anyone who needs help or support to make a claim will receive it. The Home Office has funded Citizens Advice to provide free independent advice and support, and has hosted or attended more than 100 engagement and outreach events throughout the United Kingdom. As Members know, my door is always open, so I urge Members of the House to ensure that their constituents’ cases or concerns are raised immediately with me and my team so that they are progressed and resolved.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, I have made sure that no one is left behind. Working with community leaders, I have launched a digital engagement programme so that outreach can continue despite the current social distancing measures. The first virtual support event was held on 21 May, and on 19 March I announced a dedicated new communications campaign to promote the Windrush schemes, as well as a £500,000 fund for community organisations to run outreach, promotional and support activities to increase awareness.
We know, however, that there are a range of other issues and injustices affecting the Windrush generation and their families. Yesterday, I announced a new Windrush cross-Government working group, which I will co-chair with Bishop Derek Webley. The group brings together community leaders with senior representatives from a number of Government Departments to address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants, spanning programmes on education, work, health and much more. The Prime Minister and I spoke to members of the group yesterday to discuss many of the actions needed and to deliver solutions. The first formal meeting of the group will take place this Thursday. I look forward to taking the work of the group forward, alongside the inspirational co-chair, Bishop Derek Webley.
Northing can ever undo the suffering experienced by members of the Windrush generation. No one should have suffered the uncertainty, complication and hardships brought on by the mistakes of successive Governments. Now is the time for more action across the Government to repay that debt of gratitude and to eliminate the challenges that still exist for them and their descendants. Only then can we build a stronger, fairer and more successful country for the next generation. I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it.
I would like to start by celebrating the enormous contribution the Windrush generation and their families have made. The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 was an important moment in our nation’s history: people from the Caribbean answering the call to help to rebuild the nation recovering from the second world war. Since then, the Windrush generation and their families have had a huge impact on every facet of national life: our NHS, our transport system, across public and private sectors, the arts, culture, religion and sports. But we also know that many who made new lives here did not get the welcome they were expecting. Many faced appalling racism, were locked out of jobs and homes, and were subject to terrible abuse in the streets.
We may have hoped that all aspects of that had been consigned to the past, but 70 years later we have seen an incredibly strong reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for change here in the UK and little wonder. Compounded injustices over generations have created deep frustrations and hurt. The brave testimonies black people have shared about the impact racism has on their lives and their family histories has underlined that there is an undeniable case for action. Addressing unfairness and injustice begins at the door of the Home Office, with the appalling mistreatment of the Windrush generation.
The Windrush scandal is a cause of national shame and the Wendy Williams lessons learned review is a damning indictment. It exposes callousness and incompetence that caused deep injustice, while making clear the impact of jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to many individuals and families. The review sets out 30 important and urgent recommendations, a number of which speak to a deeply worrying culture that has been allowed to develop over the past 10 years. Frankly, it is shameful that one of the recommendations called for the Department to develop
“a clear purpose, mission and values statement”
“fairness, humanity, openness, diversity and inclusion”,
and that such a statement was not in place already. There are also recommendations which show the work required on issues relating to race and the need for better community outreach and engagement. It is, frankly, shocking that it took a scandal on this scale to bring such core failings to light.
I welcome what the Home Secretary said about accepting all 30 recommendations, but the reality is that we need yet another statement before the summer recess before we even move towards implementation, when this report has been available since March. I welcome the commitment to appointing Bishop Derek Webley as co-chair of a cross-party working group, but that cannot be a substitute for action. The truth is that we have to see far more in the way of action from this Government to give the impression that they actually take this issue seriously. That is why we will be looking very carefully at the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Williams review. As with the Lammy review, I am afraid that the Government too often call for reviews; they are too slow to act and too slow to right the wrongs. The Government’s Windrush compensation scheme managed to compensate just 60 people in its first year of operation. The Home Secretary talked about more progress today, but she must know that that rate of progress is just too slow, given the number of years that have elapsed since the scandal first came to light and the fact that the scheme has already been in operation for over a year.
It is little wonder that the reception was so bad for the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of yet another review on racial inequality, when the case for urgent action and the steps needed are abundantly clear. The reality is that, yet again, the Prime Minister was found wanting; in an important national moment, it is always words, not action. The anniversary of Windrush is an opportunity to celebrate and thank the Windrush generation, but while injustices persist, this is not enough. To ensure that such a national scandal never happens again, surely the Home Secretary must accept that the time for action is now.
As I outlined in my statement, I have been unequivocal on the change that is required at the Home Office. When I made my original statement following the publication of the “Windrush lessons learned review”, the hon. Gentleman was not in his current role, so he would not have heard the full statement that I gave then, or the answers that I gave to the many questions. I apologised for the absolutely appalling scandal that took place and I will continue not just to apologise but to ensure that the Home Office in particular learns the lessons and fundamentally changes its culture, the leadership and the way in which it treats people, and becomes far more representative of the communities that it serves. I said that back in March and I will continue to say it until the Home Office fundamentally shifts its own way of working and ultimately learns the lessons.
Of course, that will take time. There is no silver bullet to do this overnight, but the first step that we can take is to ensure that we continue to work together collaboratively across our society and across Government to tackle the injustices that were suffered. That is my mission, that is my aim and that is why I am accepting the recommendations. I think it is right, as I said back in March and as I have said in previous statements, that I continue to speak to Wendy Williams, which I am doing this week, and to work with her and with people in the Home Office to implement the recommendations in the right way. In fact, when the report was published earlier this year, Wendy Williams herself said that we should not just come out and accept the recommendations, but work through them. That is exactly what we are doing. That is the right response. That is the responsible way in which we do this, to understand the delivery.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the compensation scheme, and I agree: the payments and the way payments have been made have been far too slow. I am not apologising for that at all. I have outlined in my statement that it is right that we treat each individual with the respect and dignity they deserve. These are complicated cases. In fact, last week when I was here in the House answering oral questions, the issue came up and I put the offer to many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches to come into the Home Office and to spend some time with our casework team in order to understand the complexities of the various cases, particularly constituency cases that they themselves may have raised. That offer is absolutely open to each constituency Member of Parliament. They should come in and look at the case handling. These are bespoke cases, and each one is handled in a sensitive way.
For the benefit of those Members who are not aware of this, when offers of payments are made to individuals, those individuals have a period to consider the payment they are being offered. If they would like to discuss the payment or if they decline it and want a review, that review is conducted not by the Home Office but by HMRC, an independent body. Again, it takes time for HMRC to do the review, but that is the right approach. It was agreed with Martin Forde and the individual stakeholders who were consulted before the scheme was set up.
My final point in response to the hon. Gentleman is that, although we know that the Windrush generation has faced many, many injustices, recent events have shone a spotlight on a whole range of injustices across many communities in our country. The Prime Minister’s new commission is very much looking at how we can level up and at how we can address and tackle those injustices. We should be doing that collectively as a House, working together in a responsible way to look at how we can support individuals, communities and minority groups of all faiths and backgrounds. That is the right thing to do, and I hope that all Opposition Members, including the hon. Gentleman, will work in a collaborative and constructive way to move forward on these issues.
I commend the Home Secretary for her typically robust, no-nonsense approach of taking control of this issue and for her personal dedication to righting the wrongs of the past, which is extremely important. I welcome the cross-Government working group. Can she confirm that the work of this group will complement the race equality commission, headed by the highly competent Munira Mirza?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That commission is absolutely complementary to the work that we are doing with the Windrush lessons learned review. We must look at all these issues in the round, in a consistent way, to develop the right approaches so that we can work together and solve the root causes of many of these issues and social injustices. I am here, with the Home Office, to work across Government, and that is our aim and objective.
The Windrush scandal brought shame on the United Kingdom and shame on the Conservative Government, who caused it to happen. Make no mistake about it, Mr Deputy Speaker, what happened was a direct result of the hostile environment policy. The Government must know that and yet, before dealing with Wendy Williams’ recommendations, they have pressed ahead with plans to extend the reach of the hostile environment policy to European Union citizens in the immigration Bill.
I am concerned that, in today’s statement, the Home Secretary does not unequivocally commit to the sort of root and branch review of the hostile environment policy recommended by the lessons learned review. It is all very well to agree that black lives matter, but actions speak louder than words, and the reality is that many of this Government’s immigration policies continue to have disproportionate impacts on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. If the Home Secretary does not carry out a root and branch review of the hostile environment policy, this will continue.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has correctly identified that policies such as the right-to-rent scheme, which outsource the enforcement of immigration control to untrained members of the public, cannot be adequately reformed in such a way as to avoid the sort of discrimination that we have seen result. It is these policies that have resulted in real suffering for people from the Windrush generation and beyond, with people losing their jobs, unable to rent their homes and denied hospital treatment, including for serious diseases such as cancer.
Can the Home Secretary tell us, in direct terms, that she will be carrying out the review of the hostile environment that was recommended by Wendy Williams? Wendy Williams said that the review should approach the measures of the hostile environment individually and cumulatively and demonstrate a plan to mitigate any particular cohorts impacted. She said that the review must be carried out with reference to equality law and the public sector equality duty. There have been calls for the right-to-rent scheme to be paused in the meantime and for the Government to consider pausing all other hostile environment measures until their effectiveness and impact can be evidenced. Will the Home Secretary state unequivocally for the record that this review of the hostile environment policy will happen, and will she give us a timescale today? Will she tell us whether the measures, such as the right-to-rent scheme, will be paused pending the outcome of the hostile environment policy? Finally, if assisting victims of the Windrush scandal is so complicated, why not extend legal aid to the lawyers who are trying to help them? That would be far more effective than inviting Members of Parliament into the Home Office.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Lady takes that tone. We have resourced third-party organisations, stakeholder groups and citizens advice bureaux to provide outreach and help and support. She may have constituents who have suffered from Windrush injustices, but I appreciate that she does not want to take up the offer to work in a constructive manner to find justice for her constituents.
The point that I make to the hon. and learned Lady is that Wendy Williams was clear in her report that lessons must be learned at all levels by all political parties. She described very clearly—I appreciate that the hon. and learned Lady is selectively quoting and reading from Wendy’s report—a set of measures that evolved under Labour Governments and the coalition and under Governments covering decades.
The reasons the scandal occurred are more complex and can be traced back not just to the Department. The root causes can be traced back to legislation from the 1960s and 1980s, much of which is complex. I appreciate that the hon. and learned Lady has not fully read the report and is quoting selectively. As I said, I will come back to the House before the summer recess to discuss the specifics as to how we will be implementing—
Answer my questions.
As I have said, I will return to the House to outline how we will be implementing the recommendations from the lessons learned review.
The UK has always welcomed those from other nations, and we can rightly be proud of our open and inclusive society. [Interruption.] We can also be thankful for the contribution of those who have chosen to make the UK their home and who add greatly to our society. I speak as somebody who is married to one such person who emigrated here to work for our fantastic NHS. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that improving the uptake and awareness of the schemes supporting those who were directly affected is a priority for her Department? Will she outline the steps she is taking to achieve that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and his questions, and he is right. I am really sorry that Members on the SNP Front Bench want to belittle my colleagues when they are speaking on these very important and sensitive issues.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right when it comes to the compensation scheme, which is complex. The Home Office is spending resources and time looking at how cases can be delivered and dealt with in a respectful way to ensure that individuals’ situations are fully assessed and that there is an accurate assessment of how they themselves experienced the injustices that took place through the Windrush scandal. It is right that we treat everybody with respect and dignity in the handling of their case. That is my objective, and he will have heard today that the money that has already been offered has now reached £1 million. Significant sums of money are being offered to individuals.
It is right that we take the time to provide the compensation in the right way. We have a good scheme in place. We have a scheme that was developed by Martin Forde, QC, in consultation with other stakeholders, and many of those stakeholders suffered the injustices of the Windrush scandal themselves.
May I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to accept all of Wendy Williams’ recommendations, but also ask her about the compensation scheme, because she did not include the latest figures in her statement? She will know that in our Home Affairs Committee report on Windrush two years ago, we raised four personal cases of injustice. Sadly, two of them have since died without receiving anything at all. I have heard from several people who were told in January that their case was near finalised and was in quality assurance, but have had no progress since, including Anthony Williams, who served in our armed forces for 13 years, and Andrew Bynoe, who was made homeless as a result of the Windrush scandal.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that keeping people in hardship and waiting in limbo like this compounds the injustice that they have already felt? Will she tell the House how many cases have now received payments? What proportion are still outstanding? Is it true that that is still over 90%? How many people have been waiting more than a year? Will she increase the staffing of the compensation unit, so that we can urgently get people support and compensation for the injustice that was so wrongly meted to them?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have seen her letter, which I thank her for, and she will get a response to the specific points that she has just raised. She is right about the two claims she mentioned, and I have the details of one of them in front of me. The claim is going through the quality assurance process, which has taken time. As she will have heard in my statement, where individuals are waiting for a final settlement through the vulnerable persons scheme, we are still able to release financial assistance and cash directly before the final claim is assured and accepted. But she is right in terms of the process. I am reviewing all the claims myself, and I have here a bundle of individual claims that Members have raised with me directly.
I have been specifically told by the permanent secretary overseeing this at the Home Office that additional resources are not required for the Windrush compensation claim team. I check that every single week. These claims take time, for the reasons that I have outlined. The right hon. Lady is right about the gap in time for people who need help and support, which is why we have the vulnerable persons team, who are resourced to effectively triage and provide support, equipment, help and funds in the way I have outlined. I will get to her the details for which she asked for her Committee, and if she wishes to raise any specific cases with me, which I think she outlined in her letter, I will be more than happy to look at those and see what stages those claimants are at.
We debate in this place how firm an immigration system should be and the exact parameters of it, and sometimes we take that debate out to the country, as we did in December. But I think it is common cause across the House and the country that an immigration system must be fair, and that is why what happened to the Windrush generation was such a scandal—it was manifestly unfair. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Can she reassure me and my constituents that, while the Home Office under successive Governments has failed the Windrush generation, it is her highest priority and that of the Government to put this right?
My hon. Friend is right. For all Members who have read the Wendy Williams report, it is devastating reading—there are no two ways about that. That is why we should all come together to understand the sense of injustice, because the cases in the report are absolutely devastating. It is my priority to ensure that we give people the justice and support that they desperately need and deserve. My hon. Friend touched on the future immigration system. We have to make our system less complicated; it is far too complicated. The review touches on immigration policy throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, as more legislation and more complexities were put in place. We need to start streamlining that, to make it firm but fair.
The Windrush generation gave so much to rebuild our country. The Government’s hostile environment policy, “Go Home” home vans and disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation, deeming thousands of them illegal immigrants, is tantamount to institutional racism. Is it not time that the Home Secretary called it out for what it is? Is it not time that she took urgent action to implement the review—not in the months ahead, but right away—and ensure that the many thousands who have not received compensation get it as a matter of urgency?
I refer the hon. Lady to my statement and the comments I have made already. I am sure she has heard my commitment to getting compensation to individuals—she sits there and shrugs her shoulders, but that is exactly what I am doing. She may have particular cases that she would like to raise with me. I am more than aware of what has happened. That is why I am here today, and that is why I have been unequivocal in my commitment to ensuring that the injustices suffered are addressed and dealt with. We have to right many of the wrongs. We cannot do that in a perfect way, but we will work hard to ensure that we get people the justice and compensation that they deserve.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the Windrush generation, and thank her for her statement and for the approach she is taking to addressing this matter. I welcome the emphasis on community engagement in this process. Back in 2018 when this appalling treatment first came to light, I met a group of church leaders who impressed on me the role that churches play in many of these Caribbean communities, and the way in which they can help their congregation members to find redress and closure. Will the Home Secretary confirm that church leaders—and other faith leaders, where appropriate—will continue to be engaged in the process?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have been humbled by many of the representatives I have met from community groups and churches. I mentioned Bishop Webley, who will be co-chairing the new working group with me. It is absolutely right that we work with communities. Engagement and outreach have to be from the bottom up, and I make no apology for that. When I came to this Dispatch Box in March to give my view on the Wendy Williams lessons learned review, I clearly said that there has been a fundamental and inevitable breakdown in trust between the Windrush generation and the Home Office because of the treatment that these individuals and the community received. To rebuild that trust, we have to work with the community—with the leaders of the community and with trusted representatives from the community. It is by building those bridges that we will achieve some justice for those individuals, and, importantly, address a wide range of inequalities and issues around social justice in addition to compensation.
The immoral Windrush scandal occurred because of the Tory Government’s hostile environment policy. Despite hon. Members and community organisations demanding justice for more than two years for the tens of thousands of victims, of the mere 1,275 people who have claimed compensation thus far only 60 payments have been made, and 529 people have had to wait for more than a year. Does the Home Secretary concede that this neatly sums up the attitude of the Government and the contempt in which they hold long-suffering individuals? Just like with the hapless victims of the deadly Grenfell fire tragedy, this callous Government have no intention whatever of delivering full, proper and timely justice for those who have been so unconscionably wronged.
I dispute and disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s tone and his comments. I am not sure whether he has read Wendy Williams’s review; I do not think so.
Cut the constant ad hominem comments.
Would the hon. and learned Lady let me respond to the question from the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi),without intervening?
There are plenty of examples in the report, as stated by Wendy Williams, showing that lessons should be learned by all political parties. In fact, the report contains quotes attributed as far back as 2009—to a previous Labour Government—on the hostile environment. There are many quotes with regard to members of the then Labour Government who expressed a desire to make the UK a hostile environment, including wanting to make those living here illegally ever “more uncomfortable” and the need to flush out illegal immigrants. That is the type of language that, right now, we should not be using. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, having listened to my statement, understands the complexities around individual cases, and how we are working to get justice and provide compensation to individuals. That approach is the right one. It has been based on stakeholder engagement with victims from the Windrush generation. I am very sorry that he has chosen to politicise the issue in such an unhelpful and unconstructive way.
I welcome the way in which the Home Secretary has acknowledged the seriousness of this scandal and taken personal ownership of finding solutions. I particularly welcome the fact that she is taking on board Wendy Williams’s 30 recommendations; her report was honest and robust. I note one comment from it, in which she said:
“What will make this review different is if, in 12 to 24 months’ time, we can see evidence of deep cultural reform, with changes in behaviour at all levels and functions throughout the organisation”—
the Home Office. What does the Home Secretary think that reform and change will look like? How confident is she of the capacity in the Home Office actually to deliver it, particularly with the other current pressures?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak specifically about the changes required in the Home Office. We have already set that work in train—we did so straight after the publication of Wendy’s review—primarily because the review itself is called the “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”. It was a very humbling moment for the Home Office, in which to reflect on the previous conduct and the approach that the Home Office has taken, even in terms of corresponding to individuals, the way people were treated, and the way in which the Department and representatives have spoken to people, whether face to face or on the telephone. There are many, many stories—too many—of individuals who have been treated appallingly. In fact, when the Prime Minister and I met representatives of the working group yesterday, we heard awful examples of individuals being treated in a really inappropriate way, with the wrong kind of language, and being dismissed and belittled. That is simply not acceptable.
There is a long way to go internally in the Home Office. The review will lead not only to culture changes but to changes in working practices. At a leadership level, I feel very strongly about ensuring that the Home Office is far more diverse and representative of the community that it serves. Sadly, at this particular stage, across all leadership functions, it simply is not. There is a long way to go in terms of making that change, and that is something that I am absolutely determined to make sure happens.
If anyone wants to see a masterclass in institutional racism, they should just go and watch “Sitting in Limbo”, a shocking BBC drama based on the experience of my constituent Anthony Bryan, who was wrongfully detained by the Home Office and threatened with deportation. Even with that treatment, he has received only a partial payment from the compensation scheme. Will the Home Secretary publish the criteria used by the Department to determine compensation claims? Will she announce a deadline by which all compensation will be paid up in full?
The hon. Lady refers to a dreadful programme that was aired just 10 days ago which, as she says, involved her constituent. I understand that an interim compensation payment has been made to her constituent and he has accepted it. I am sure that her constituent has discussed the process around the actual claim itself. I would be very happy to share the criteria—I think they should be in the public domain—and the hon. Lady is very welcome to come into the Home Office to discuss any details, if she would like to.
I come back to my core point: there is more work to do in terms of compensation. I am determined to make sure that people get the compensation they deserve, but to achieve that we have to work with each and every individual to understand the circumstances that have affected them.
Will my right hon. Friend join me, as one of the Members of Parliament for Thurrock, where the Empire Windrush landed, in expressing serious regret that this injustice was ever allowed to happen? Will she assure me that her Department is committed to ensuring justice for members of the Windrush generation, who have given so much and been so badly treated?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have clearly outlined today the work that is required, not only by the Department but culturally, in terms of leadership and dedicating the resource to and the focus on getting justice for individuals, not only through the compensation scheme but through our wider work in Government to make sure that social injustices and inequalities are addressed and that people from the Windrush community in particular are given the support that they deserve.
The banner that we saw flying over the Etihad football stadium in Manchester last night; the response of the hard right and even the Foreign Secretary to the legitimate Black Lives Matter protests; and the disgusting replies to the Conservative party Father’s Day tweet that showed a black father and son. In the light of the Prime Minister’s previous racist comments and the hostile environment created by this Government, deep cultural reform is indeed needed, and not only in the Home Office. Why should the public believe that this Government have really learned their lesson?
Because I am here today giving an unequivocal commitment to ensuring that the recommendations are implemented and to ensuring that we bring about justice for those individuals who suffered great injustice and hardship.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the tone that she is taking in this matter and the fact that she is taking it head on to implement all the outcomes of the review. I have a constituent who was involved in Windrush. She spent her life since coming to the UK working in the NHS. Fortunately she was successful in her case and has had compensation. However, it took weeks for decisions to be made. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made about the progress the Home Office is making with successfully resolving cases? What further measures have been identified to ensure that decision making and awarding compensation are done with minimal delay and minimal issues?
My hon. Friend has heard what I have said about the compensation scheme. He is right: there is a process. That process already has 13 separate categories where considerations are given to looking at every single claim. As ever, we can obviously try to speed up processes, but at the end of the day we have to work with the individual to provide background to the injustice they have suffered, such as issues around their employment or any financial hardship they have experienced. I know that my hon. Friend will understand that it is right that we have this bespoke process to ensure that the right level of compensation is awarded. We want the maximum levels to be awarded to individuals. That does take time. We are working through this right now to ensure that we can speed up processes to make them as fast as we can.
My constituent is a grandfather who came to the UK as a child. He lost his job in 2015 when he was asked to produce a passport. The Home Office’s prejudices were clear. It said that his parents’ marriage was a
“customary one, and not a legally recognised one”.
When it found out that his siblings had passports, it said:
“If it transpires that the passports were issued in error, then it will ultimately be a decision for Her Majesty’s Passport Office as to whether or not the passports can be retained”.
The Home Secretary blames consecutive Governments, but blame lies firmly at the feet of this Tory Government. My constituent is over £60,000 out of pocket. He has had his claim in for compensation for nearly two years. When will he receive his money?
If the hon. Lady would provide the details of that claim, I will look at it. My door is always open, as I have made quite clear every time I come to the House of Commons.
Members will know that a relatively small number of foreign and Commonwealth armed forces veterans have slipped through the net in applying for indefinite leave to remain, despite otherwise being entitled to do so. May I thank the Home Secretary for her gracious work to find a solution and ask, in the spirit of her statement today, whether she would be able to update the House on that when she is ready to do so?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, but also for the work that he is doing in support of our armed forces on this issue. I would be more than happy to follow it up with him. I know he has had conversations about it. There is work taking place on it. In due course, when we are able to progress it, I will of course update him and the House.
I welcome the recognition by the Home Secretary that the problem with regard to the Windrush generation is not a single decision or series of decisions but a cultural and systemic problem within the Home Office. We have all seen it for years in our own casework, right down to the attitude that entry clearance officers take towards applications in-country. The right-to-rent checks to which the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) referred were criticised in March last year in the courts, but they are still there. The arbitrary refusal to allow foreign crews from outside the European economic area to work on fishing vessels inside our own waters is a case that has been clear for years but just ignored by the Home Office. So when the Home Secretary returns, will she bring back the list of utterly irrational immigration policies that we now have, along with a commitment to get rid of them?
First and foremost, my priority is to implement the Windrush recommendations. As the right hon. Gentleman and the House have heard me say, there are many complexities in the immigration system, and I want to simplify it and ensure it is firm but fair. That is the Government’s objective with the immigration reforms that we are undertaking.
As the son of people of the Windrush generation, I have witnessed the huge contribution that they have made to our society. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking my parents’ generation for their contribution to this country? Will she assure the House that lessons have been learned so that the mistakes that were made in relation to that generation are not made again?
I thank my hon. Friend. As ever, he succinctly and clearly highlights the contribution that his family and his parents’ generation made to our incredible country. As Members have heard me say previously, we live in an open and tolerant society. It says a great deal that the children of immigrants are now represented in the House of Commons, given the hardships that our parents and previous generations dealt with when they came to this country. They made a great success of their time here. We should celebrate the successes of all communities, and yesterday Windrush Day was a celebration. We should not lose sight of that.
My constituent Dorian Green came to the UK 52 years ago at the age of nine. In 2008, the Home Office wrongly told his employer that he did not have the right to work. He has been in a battle with the Home Office ever since, and crucial documents were lost or deleted. I am pleased to say that he finally has his British passport, but only after suffering the shame of being unable to work and the indignity of being treated as a second-class citizen. Does the Home Secretary think that £1,000 is enough to compensate Mr Green for his ordeal in proving what was always true: that he was and is a British citizen?
The hon. Gentleman has just highlighted a case going back to 2008. If he would like me to look at it in further detail, I would be very happy to do so.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her commitment to this issue and her tone in setting out this statement. What happened should never have happened, and her commitment to righting wrongs is very welcome indeed. The reality is that this country has benefited enormously from the contribution of the Windrush generation and those who have arrived since. We have seen that in recent weeks in our health service, where the work of people from different migrant communities has been invaluable in fighting this dreadful virus, which has raised all kinds of other issues that need addressing. Will the Home Secretary confirm, for a more recent arrival to the country, the Prime Minister’s commitment that those who have arrived and are applying for visas will not pay the immigration surcharge on health, and that those who are already mid-application will get that money refunded?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That work is under way, as the Prime Minister instructed, with the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care. He is right to highlight the great contribution that individuals from migrant communities are making to the NHS. That work is under way right now, and we will be publishing more details on that and how the scheme of refunds will work.
People of the Windrush generation were deported as a result of the Government’s hostile environment policies, including the healthcare surcharge, no recourse to public funds, the illegal working offence, immigration detention and the right to rent checks, which have been found to cause racial discrimination. The Home Secretary has not answered the question yet: why are those policies still in place, and when will they be abolished?
I refer the hon. Lady to my earlier comments. I have already made it clear to the House that our immigration system is far too complicated. The work that we are taking forward in the Home Office is to simplify the immigration system, which will mean changes to our policy to make the system firm but fair.
I warmly welcome the statement from the Home Secretary. When we think of the Windrush generation, we naturally think of the arrivals from the Caribbean, but, of course, the generation was not limited only to the Caribbean—it included the wider Commonwealth. Will my right hon. Friend set out clearly that those from other Commonwealth countries who feel that they have been wrongly treated can also apply for the compensation scheme, and will she set out the numbers of people who have applied from other Commonwealth countries under the scheme?
My hon. Friend is right to recognise that this scandal affected people from Commonwealth countries. We do have that information, and I can confirm that people were affected from Pakistan, India and a range of Commonwealth countries. I would be very happy to share that information with the House.
His school had been demolished more than 30 years before and he had never been in trouble, so there was no record of him with the police either. We searched the archives at Kew, the central NHS and Brent Council. It was difficult going back 54 years, because most records had been destroyed or the systems had changed, but after three years, the Home Office accepted that Mr Breedy had arrived—as he said, freely landed—aged nine in 1962 and had paid his national insurance contributions for 45 years until the Home Office had written to his employers in 2016 and put him out of a job. I will accept the Home Secretary’s offer to come in and work with her officials, because it is unforgivable that after accepting that he was right all along, the Government have still not sent him the British passport that he applied for five years ago, and they have not even begun to compensate him for his lost earnings or lost pension entitlement, let alone his pain or suffering. If the compensation team at the Home Office does not need more staff, as the Home Secretary has just assured the House, why has my constituent still not been contacted? He is now 68 years of age. How long will he have to wait?
I would be very happy to work with the hon. Gentleman. If he can provide me with the background that he just shared in the House and some contact details, we will pick that up, and I will absolutely get some answers to his question.
First, the Home Secretary, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), conflated something that the previous Labour Government had apparently said about people who were here illegally with the Windrush generation. One of the reasons that what happened with the Windrush generation caused such public outrage was that they were all here legally, and it is important that we do not conflate those two matters. Secondly, on the time that it is taking, the Home Secretary is clearly committed to this and is taking on these cases herself, but can she do more to convince us that she has the resources at her disposal. Frankly, she should not have to have a file with all these cases on her desk; she should have people who are working for her who can process them.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the cases. I have been categorically told that by the Department, but I do feel, in terms of the scale of the injustices and the scandal that has taken place, that it is my responsibility as Home Secretary to look at these cases. It is simply not good enough for me to return to the House of Commons each time when we have these discussions to hear of further cases and further injustices. I want to make sure people receive the compensation, which is why I am giving this my personal attention. It is too important to delegate to others. I just conclude by saying that the Williams review goes back over several decades. It does refer to a previous Labour Government, but we should not conflate language at this particular time, and I think that was the point that I was trying to make. We want to get on and get justice for these individuals, and that is why I am giving this so much of my personal attention.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her hard work on the compensation scheme. She has acknowledged this afternoon that it has been too slow, but equally, she has made a very firm commitment to increasing rates of claims being decided, which has to be good news. I well recall that some of the most important, most moving and most difficult meetings I have had since I have been in this place have been with members of the Windrush generation. I hope that she will undertake to continue that engagement. It is absolutely crucial, and we have heard this afternoon about cases outstanding since 2008. Will she consider extending the scheme beyond April 2023 if it still looks like there are cases that need to be decided?
My right hon. Friend understands some of the challenges associated with the Windrush generation and the compensation scheme and the exceptional work of community representation and organisations whose passion and commitment is incredible. That work will absolutely continue, primarily because it is important for the Home Office to continue that engagement and dialogue with the community. If cases have not been resolved by the deadline of April 2023, of course we would look to extend it, but my objective is to ensure that we find these claimants. The rates are still incredibly low. Hon. Members have referred to individual cases they know of, but there are many we still do not know enough about, which is why we have this extensive community engagement. It is the right and proper approach.
The Home Secretary has just admitted that successive UK Governments were institutionally racist and that the hostile environment resulted directly in the Windrush scandal. What exact actions will she take to change the culture of government in Whitehall to ensure it never happens again, and will she unpick the odious and repressive hostile environment?
I refer the hon. Lady to my comments earlier.
I thank the Home Office and in particular staff in Sheffield for resolving the case of a constituent who came to the UK not long after he was born, not from the island of Jamaica, but from Tasmania, after his parents changed their mind about emigrating. Despite a paucity of documentation, not only was a face-to-face meeting quickly organised, but the Home Office even paid for the rail ticket to Sheffield. Does the Home Secretary agree that this clearly demonstrates that we have learnt the lessons of Windrush and that where such cases emerge we can react sympathetically and quickly?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a bespoke scheme. We have to treat individuals on a case-by-case basis and to understand their circumstances and the injustices. He mentioned the Home Office paying for travel. That also includes flights in some cases. Everybody has a different experience and story, so it is right that we work with every individual to make sure they get the justice they deserve and the support they need.
My constituent, Sarah O’Connor, one of the Windrush generation, came to Britain when she was six. At 56, having always worked, she was made redundant and told she had no right to live here. She lost the right to work and had no income. She sold her car, was issued with a notice to quit and even had to stop the precious swimming lessons that meant so much to the granddaughter she cared for. In 2018, she was finally granted British citizenship, but she tragically died last September, at just 57 years old. In one email, she wrote:
“I don’t think I have the strength to keep going any more”.
We have been pursuing her compensation claim for almost two years. Complexity is not a good enough explanation for the delay. Can the Home Secretary please tell me: is it a deliberate element of her Government’s hostile environment policy, or is her Department simply dysfunctional?
First, I am aware of the case the right hon. Lady refers to. I understand that the claim on behalf of the deceased’s estate is under consideration right now. There is nothing deliberate about complexity. She will have heard me say in my statement and in my explanations to other hon. Members that the compensation scheme was set up in conjunction with the Windrush generation based on the needs they themselves outlined. It is the right approach to have that bespoke scheme. It takes time, but every claim is handled in a very bespoke way by an individual case handler. If she has specific points she wants to make about this compensation claim, which is under consideration right now, she is welcome to speak to me directly.
Given what we saw in Wendy Williams’s report about the failings of administration, together with what we learned from the Post Office Horizon programme and, before that, Equitable Life, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should fully and fairly compensate all those affected, but remember with humility the limits to the effectiveness of Government and reduce the size and scope of the state wherever possible?
This compensation scheme is not comparable with any other type of compensation scheme that has been constructed by Government. I have explained already to the House how the scheme came about and what type of consultation was involved; obviously, members of the community were part of that. That was all led by Martin Forde QC. My focus is to ensure that this scheme works and that money goes to people. It is complex—that has been the basis of our discussion this afternoon—but fundamentally, we need to make sure that it is done case by case, that people are treated in the right way and that their particular circumstances are reflected in the final compensation that they receive.
I am pleased that the Home Secretary accepts Wendy Williams’s call for “major cultural change” in the Home Office. One of the things that needs to change is the over-dependence on immigration detention, which many Windrush victims experienced. It has been too easy to detain, and for too long. Will the Home Secretary update the House on the Department’s work on community-based alternatives to detention? Does she agree that ending indefinite detention, for which there is support on both sides of the House, would contribute significantly to that cultural change in the Home Office?
The hon. Gentleman makes a thoughtful comment about community-based detention and detention as a whole. Detention is there for a reason. Obviously, other discussions and debates have taken place around this, but importantly when it comes to the Windrush lessons learned review, the way in which people were treated and, through the Home Office and immigration enforcement, put in detention was completely wrong. We have to make sure that that does not happen again and that we do not have cases like that again. Clearly, that is part of the wider work with the lessons learned review.
The recommendations state that the Home Secretary should urgently review all “compliant environment”—in other words, hostile environment—measures “individually and cumulatively”. Will she apologise for the hostile environment’s role in this and follow the recommendation to review it to the letter?
I have spoken about the recommendations and implementing the report, and obviously I will update the House on how we will implement those recommendations.
Two years ago, the then Home Secretary promised that the victims of the Windrush scandal would get citizenship and receive compensation. We have heard today that only 60 people have received compensation, with thousands waiting. The Home Secretary agreed earlier that the compensation scheme is incredibly slow; it relies on lengthy forms and documentation without access to legal aid. What will she do to make it easier to access compensation? It must seem to the Windrush generation that the bureaucracy that was part of the hostile environment is now being used to delay or avoid compensating them.
The hon. Lady’s last point is absolutely incorrect. The compensation scheme was designed in conjunction with representatives of the Windrush community—the Windrush generation. They themselves contributed to the design of the scheme. That was the right way forward at the time. My predecessors worked very hard on developing the scheme with Martin Forde QC.
On how we continue to engage with members of the community, that is exactly why we have such extensive outreach work. We are supporting Citizens Advice and other third-party organisations, and funding community activities and groups to have outreach to ensure that people feel they can come forward. The House has already heard me say that, in addition to the cases that Members have raised directly, there are many other individuals who have yet to come forward. That is why we are doing extensive community engagement and outreach work.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the proactive approach she is taking. Will she join me in expressing serious regret that this injustice was ever allowed to happen to the Windrush generation, and will she assure me that her Department is absolutely committed to ensuring justice for all members of the Windrush generation who were so badly treated?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have spoken extensively about the scale of the injustice, the issues specific to the Home Office, the cultural change that is required and, importantly, the lessons that have to be learned collectively if we are to move forward and make sure justice is served.
I appreciate what the Home Secretary has said about the complexities of the scheme, but what assessment has she made of how much, on average, a victim can expect to have to spend on obtaining medical records, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs records, Home Office records and other documentation in order to support a compensation claim?
That is a legitimate point about the documentation and evidence that has to be provided, but every claim is different and so there is no one-size-fits-all or simple figure for this. Of course if we can find ways in which we can simplify the process, we will do that. This is an iterative process and if we have to make changes, we will look at that.
I find so many of these cases really sad and incredibly distressing. It is shocking and unacceptable that so many Windrush families were treated appallingly by successive Governments, so I urge the Home Secretary to make it clear that nothing like this can ever be allowed to happen again.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. The review shows so many aspects of every strand of the Windrush generation and the injustices that are just so awful. It is my priority to ensure that we can implement the recommendations, deliver compensation for the victims and move forward in a constructive way. That involves all of us working in a responsible way, to look at the number of injustices across society, which cover all communities, and how we can give voice to people who feel that they do not have a voice on many of these challenging issues.
The contribution of the African and Caribbean communities to my constituency is invaluable; our rich diversity is our strength and we are very proud of it. The review’s sixth recommendation sets out the need to accurately teach Britain’s colonial history, as part of a wider strategy to tackle institutional racism. What action has the Secretary of State taken so far regarding such a colonial history educational programme in the Home Office? How many additional resources have been committed? By what date will such a programme be in place? By what date will the annual review be available to Parliament?
First, I say to the hon. Lady that I will come back on the recommendations and the implementation. She makes an important point about the institutional thoughtlessness that Wendy highlighted in her report when it came to an understanding of race and history within the Department. Progress has been made since the report was published in March, and work has taken place on awareness, education and sharing history. That is being done internally with our staff, through all the usual channels, not only the internet, but engagement sessions as well, where we are able to put those on through this restricted period. That work will be accelerated, and will grow and develop going forward.
I thank the Home Secretary for inviting Bishop Derek Webley, a well-respected Birmingham church leader, to engage as co-chair of the working group. May I ask that as part of the group’s work people such as Bishop Desmond Jaddoo, a well-known Birmingham campaigner, will be reached out to, so that we can all work together to tackle the issues that so disproportionately affect those in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities?
My hon. Friend is right about that and we will do exactly as he suggests. Bishop Webley has a significant standing within the local community and he has worked on many issues, such as youth gangs and individuals, and a range of social justice issues. These are exactly the type of leaders we want to work with. I will continue to work with anybody who wants to make a difference and who leads the community as a figurehead in the community, because we absolutely need to pull people together at a community level so that they can help inform our approach, to ensure that we provide the justice that individuals are looking for.