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House of Commons Hansard
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23 June 2020
Volume 677

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Maria Caulfield.)

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In 2018, to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury, 22 June was designated Windrush Day, an annual day of celebration of the enduring contribution of a remarkable generation to the UK. Yesterday saw the third national celebration. I want to start by paying tribute to Patrick Vernon, who led the campaign for Windrush Day for many years.

I am proud to represent a constituency with one of the strongest connections to the Windrush. Around 200 of the original Windrush passengers made their way from Tilbury to Clapham, where they found temporary accommodation in the deep shelter on Clapham common. From Clapham, they came to the labour exchange on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton in my constituency, where they found work in many different occupations, including with London Transport, in the construction industry and in the NHS. Many then settled in Brixton and a community grew, bringing food and music, and establishing local businesses and churches. Their identity is inextricably linked with the Brixton we know today.

It is easy for celebration of the Windrush generation to become sentimental, commemorating the positive story of people who came at the invitation of the British Government and helped to rebuild a country decimated by the second world war and to establish the NHS. Yet that is to ignore the hardship and racism the Windrush generation suffered: the signs in homes to rent that read, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”; the humiliation of bus conductors, whose passengers would leave their fares on their seat to avoid contact—the pervasive, oppressive, grinding discrimination encountered in so many aspects of life.

The first official Windrush Day took place against the raw open wounds of the Windrush scandal. The Home Secretary had resigned and the Government had promised to right the wrongs that so many have suffered.

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I commend the hon. Lady for bringing this to the House for consideration. Does she feel the angst that many of us feel that in December last year only 1,108 claims had been made and only 36 people had received money from the £200 million fund? Does she agree with me and others that it is disgraceful that those who need the money most cannot get anything?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He makes the important point, which I will come to later, that as we celebrate Windrush Day we must also be mindful of the justice that so many of the Windrush generation are still waiting for. Two years on from that first Windrush Day, only 60 Windrush citizens, as he says, have received compensation from a Government scheme, which is complex and hard to access and far too slow to deliver.

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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way to allow me to amplify that point. My understanding is that the compensation claims of people who applied in November-December time are still outstanding, and that is inexcusable, six months on. Perhaps I might join with her and put my name to her remarks about just how extraordinary that generation were, coming over here in the immediate aftermath of war, when we had lost so many men from the population. They contributed so greatly to rebuilding this nation.

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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. That mismatch between the contribution that Windrush citizens made to this country, and their appalling treatment at the hands of the British Government and the wait that so many still have for compensation is something to which we must urgently turn our attention.

The Windrush generation are still living with the pain and devastation of the Windrush scandal. Stephen S. Thompson’s powerful drama “Sitting in Limbo”—based on the experience of his brother, Anthony Bryan, who lost his job, home and mental wellbeing as a consequence of the Home Office’s refusing to accept his status as a British citizen, despite his having been in the country since the age of eight—was devastating to watch. Even more excruciating was the news that Anthony Bryan still had not received compensation from the Windrush compensation scheme and was only contacted by the Home Office days before the drama was due to be screened.

Anthony Bryan’s experience mirrors that of so many of my constituents. The common experience of the victims of the Windrush scandal is that the Government’s compensation scheme does not function effectively or deliver the redress that they are due. I and other Opposition Members have voiced concerns about the scheme many times, and those have all too often been dismissed out of hand by Ministers.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I thank her for securing tonight’s debate. It is timely, and it is very important for me and many of my constituents across Newport West and across Wales. Does she agree that to show that black lives matter, we need the Government to show both urgency and compassion? They must right the wrongs of the Windrush scandal once and for all and pay those affected the compensation they deserve now.

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I thank my hon. Friend for her powerful intervention. She makes a very strong and important point—that it is hypocritical for the Government to offer warm words in celebration of Windrush Day when, of the many thousands who were impacted by the Windrush scandal, only 1,275 have even applied for compensation so far, and of those, only 60 have received any money. There is still so much that the Government must do to put right the wrongs of the Windrush scandal.

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The hon. Lady has just mentioned the figures for now. In the six months that it has taken for 100 claims to be lodged, only 14 have actually been processed. That underlines the issue, does it not?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I have sat with constituents and filled out the form with them, compiled the documents, gone through that process, submitted the application, and we are still waiting months and months to hear anything from the Home Office.

I welcome the establishment of the new, cross-Government Windrush working group, and particularly the involvement in the working group of the Black Cultural Archives based in my constituency. Black Cultural Archives is a trusted organisation with deep roots in the UK’s black communities, and it has done so much to support the victims of the Windrush scandal. I pay tribute to its work. It is absolutely vital that it is funded to continue to provide that support, yet it is still waiting for applications to open for the £500,000 fund that the Government announced to support grassroots organisations. I hope the Minister might mention a timescale for that fund in his response.

I also welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement today that she has accepted the recommendations of Wendy Williams’ lessons learned review.  However, the Government have been far too slow, not only in relation specifically to the Windrush scandal, but in delivering the much wider reforms that are needed to address structural racism, including implementing the recommendations of the Lammy review on the over-representation of black men in the criminal justice system. I hope that the Minister understands just how low confidence currently is in this Government to tackle racism and structural racial inequality, and that there will not be confidence until sustained and meaningful action is delivered.

This year’s Windrush Day is celebrated against the backdrop of a new and additional scandal: the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The stories of the Windrush generation and the NHS are intertwined. The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury just weeks before the founding of the NHS. In my constituency, that connection is embodied in a single street. At one end of Coldharbour Lane was the labour exchange; at the other end is King’s College Hospital, which was and is still substantially sustained by the commitment, skill and care of BAME nurses.

Yesterday, I took part in an event organised by the Runnymede Trust to mark Windrush Day by celebrating the role of BAME workers in the NHS. We heard from academic researchers who had captured the historic experience of migrant women working in the NHS. During the event, the chat bar filled up with devastating first-hand stories of racism and racial discrimination. They included the experience of migrant nurses who were prevented from training as state-registered nurses, meaning that they could only take the inferior career path of the state-enrolled nurse—effectively a structural limitation on promotion and pay—and stories of patients being allowed to wait to be treated by white staff instead of equally qualified BAME staff, reinforcing racist views.

In 2020, it is now BAME NHS workers who are dying from coronavirus in disproportionate numbers. The Government are once again being too slow to protect them: they have announced another review, which will report at the end of the year, rather than taking the immediate protective action that is needed and demanded now. Earlier this month, thousands took to the streets in a heartfelt cry for justice and reform in response to the horrific death of George Floyd in the USA, because his death resonated so powerfully with their own experience here in the UK.

This Windrush Day must be both a celebration of the contribution of the Windrush generation to our communities, culture, economy and public services in the UK, and a moment of deep national reflection. We must reflect on how, more than 70 years since those first Windrush citizens began to work in our NHS, BAME health workers have died in disproportionate numbers as they administered treatment and care during the coronavirus pandemic.

We must engage communities across the country in learning about their own history, even when it is painful, and find ways to ensure that our town squares and public spaces reflect the diversity of our communities, including by moving statues that glorify shameful periods of our history from public spaces to museums where they can be contextualised as artefacts from the past. We need reform of the history curriculum in our schools, so that every child is taught a truthful and inclusive version of British history, including colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.

The Government must deliver a functioning and effective compensation scheme for the victims of the Windrush scandal and urgently implement the recommendations of Wendy Williams and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). They must give confidence that such a scandal can never happen again.

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I am enjoying the hon. Lady’s speech. She mentions the Lammy review; I have just had an answer to my parliamentary question to the Lord Chancellor about the review, which I will tweet out in a moment. It tells me that

“of the 35 recommendations…16 have been completed … 17 recommendations are still in progress, of which… 1 recommendation is in the initial stages…11 recommendations aim to be completed within 6-12 months…5 recommendations will take longer than 12 months”.

I really think that the Government are making serious progress on the Lammy review, and I think that the Minister is to be congratulated.

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I think the test of the Government’s progress in this area is the experience of BAME residents up and down the country, and the protests in recent weeks tell us loudly and clearly that they do not have confidence in this Government. I hope that the Government will start to rebuild that trust and confidence, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise exactly how far they have to go.

We must see urgent, meaningful action to protect BAME frontline workers from coronavirus and address the underlying health inequalities that left them at risk in the first place. The Government must end the hostile environment and reform the history curriculum so that every child learns about British history as a story of migration and is taught about the UK’s shameful role in the transatlantic slave trade. Windrush Day is a national celebration, but also a day for asserting the truth that black lives matter and for redoubling our efforts to create a society free from structural racism and discrimination in which everyone’s contribution is fully recognised.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing this debate and the tone in which she has conducted it. I know that this issue is close to her heart. She laid out very eloquently at the start of her speech the story of how many of those who arrived on the Windrush took temporary shelter in Clapham South and then went to find jobs at labour exchanges, including, as she said, at Coldharbour Lane in her constituency. She raised issues that are so significant and so personal to Members of this House and to many of her constituents, and I congratulate her on the way in which she did so.

This is, of course, the second annual national Windrush Day, and the third year in which the Government have supported celebrations since the 70th anniversary. It absolutely right that the Government and this House celebrate the enormous contributions of the Windrush generation to our social, economic and cultural history. After the ship’s arrival back in 1948, those brave individuals helped to rebuild our country after the ravages of the war. They found work in sectors such as health and transport and formed the backbone of our national health service, as the hon. Lady said.

Today, as history repeats itself, we see a different threat, and many of the Windrush generation’s descendants continue to protect and rebuild our country in the midst of covid-19, carrying the legacy of many of their forebears. Their remarkable contribution to our national health service, to care and to many other key sectors during this crisis has been absolutely staggering—it has been integral to stemming the tide of this virus. The whole country is grateful for their contribution, and I certainly add my own tribute today. However, the hon. Lady is absolutely right that while we celebrate the Windrush generation and how they shaped this country, and most recently how their descendants have helped to defend it, we must candidly acknowledge the difficulties that many have endured. I wish to take this opportunity to explain how we have been working to try to right the wrongs.

Windrush Day this year did not look like Windrush Day last year. I thank the Windrush Day advisory panel for its support in ensuring that we could still mark the day with the enthusiasm and importance that it deserves. Preparations for the celebrations have of course been altered by the unique social and health challenges presented by the pandemic, but that has not stopped people and organisations holding events throughout the country and organising innovative ways to make sure that we can continue to celebrate the important contribution I referred to and the importance of this day, which has of course gained a huge amount of traction, interest and passionate debate. Most of the celebrations yesterday were digital—the hon. Lady talked about an event that she attended—but there were still plenty of them up and down the country. We had only to look at the media or social media yesterday to see the incredible variety of debates.

Our Department is still keen to support publicly the marking of the day: we provided a £500,000 grant to support some of the organisations that are celebrating and commemorating the Windrush generation, alongside educating people about them. Earlier this year, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government agreed that the funding would be distributed across 49 charities, community groups and local authorities. In the midst of some extremely challenging circumstances, that guarantee has demonstrated our willingness, passion, aptitude and innovation to deliver the events in the way that they have been delivered.

From Bristol, Birmingham, Leicester and Leeds, we have received some incredible feedback on the workshops, radio documentaries and Zoom meetings that have been held over the past couple of days. A children’s charity, Barnardo’s, launched an oral history project to celebrate the impacts of the achievements of the Windrush generation and their descendants, fronted by its vice-president Baroness Floella Benjamin.

Several projects funded by the Windrush Day grant were based in the hon. Lady’s constituency, including Reprezent Radio, which trains second generation Windrush individuals to develop a week of specialist radio programming shining a light on the impact of the Windrush generation. I have not managed to catch any yet but I will make an effort to do so in the next day. I know that that admirable local organisation is doing a lot of good work, and I was pleased to hear that Lambeth Council had its own itinerary to celebrate Windrush Day and get people involved locally. I commend it for that work.

The day was also very well recognised in local, national and international media, including on the BBC’s “The One Show”, and I think CNN was live in Brixton. There was a message from his excellency the high commissioner of Jamaica, and our great national institutions took up the call to commemorate the arrival of the Windrush generation. I believe that the National Theatre has made the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s “Small Island” free to view until tomorrow. I saw that the Church of England marked Windrush Day in an online service, I think very candidly reflecting on its troubling recent history, which once saw Anglican churchgoers barred from participating in worship due to the colour of their skin. I encourage anybody who is able to to head online and find out how they can continue to take part in some incredible celebrations.

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I am very grateful for what the Minister has said. There was a fantastic virtual celebration in High Wycombe over the weekend, and I was absolutely delighted to join it. I put on record how very proud I am of the Windrush generation in High Wycombe and their descendants. They make a fantastic contribution to our community and my eyes have really been opened to how people do still face racism in their lives. I am very glad that the Government are taking steps to implement the Lammy review, but, of course, there is much more that we all need to do.

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rose—

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I give way to my hon. Friend.

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I thank the Minister for giving way, given the shortness of time. The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) did well to secure the debate and gave a very moving speech. I am sure that like me, she is waiting for some timescales for when the cases will be dealt with, and I hope the Minister will address that shortly.

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I will turn to that in a second, and I add my congratulations to the organisation responsible in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker).

Of course, it is right that as we celebrate and recognise the Windrush generation and their descendants, we also have to reflect on the wrongs that they have experienced. It was nothing short of a moral failure that those who helped to lay the foundations of the country that we know and love today had to endure so many injustices.

On 19 March, the Home Secretary published Wendy Williams’ Windrush lessons learned review. It was an essential publication, and I hope that it will be part of a long healing process. The Home Secretary updated the House today by saying that she has accepted all 30 recommendations from that report. She has set up a Windrush lessons learned implementation team and will lead the response to the report, working with teams across the Government and externally. She will also bring an update to the House on implementing the recommendations before the summer recess.

To support this, yesterday, we announced the Windrush cross-Government working group and, as the Home Secretary aptly said, we know that the best way to make sure we reach all those affected is by listening to them and hearing their voices. Only in that way can we learn how best to address the wider challenges that disproportionately affect those from BAME backgrounds. This group will support the Government to deliver practical solutions across the themes of education, work and health, advising also on the design of the Windrush community fund scheme and the response to the lessons learned review. We will work together to implement these recommendations and make good on our commitment to learn from past mistakes.

The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood and a number of other Members have referenced the compensation scheme. We do think that this is an important part of the action that we are taking to address the injustices that have been faced. It was developed to ease the burden of the unacceptable mistreatment that some of the generation have faced, and so far significant progress has been made. We have helped over 12,000 people to obtain documentation confirming their status, including 5,900 grants of citizenship. In the Home Secretary’s remarks to the House earlier today, we heard that as at the end of this March, more than £360,000 has been awarded through the compensation scheme.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Maria Caulfield.)

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The Home Secretary updated the House today on the fact that over £1 million has been offered through the compensation scheme, and more payments are being made each week. While this is progress, and claims continue to be processed as quickly as possible, the Home Office is committed to getting more people to come forward and claim. That is exactly why we are setting up the new working group and community fund. We encourage all those who are eligible to apply for compensation to do so. We completely understand how integral this is to our work as we move forward to try to right the wrongs of the past.

We also want to publicly acknowledge how the Windrush generation have enriched our nation’s history, so we are constructing a permanent monument at Waterloo station that will be a tribute to the generation that has come to be defined more broadly than the original pioneers who arrived in 1948. It will be erected in London but will stand as testament to the contribution of Caribbean migrants in communities across the United Kingdom. It will create a permanent place of reflection and inspiration for Caribbean communities and the general public. It will be a symbolic link to our past—a permanent reminder of shared history and heritage.

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I appreciate that statues are lovely, but people who are watching outside want to know when they are going to get their money. They have waited a long time; they need to know. Will the Minister give a timetable?

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That is exactly the purpose and point of the measures that the Home Secretary has announced—to make sure that this work will be brought forward speedily and accurately. I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns, but I do think it is right to put on record the importance of things that can be done, like the permanent memorial. I know that the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood has been a passionate advocate for having the national memorial in her constituency. I hope that she accepts the Government’s rationale for having it at Waterloo station and the symbolic nature of that.

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I could not let mention of Waterloo as the location for the memorial pass without saying how strongly so many of my constituents and the Windrush Foundation feel that the proper location for that memorial is on Windrush Square outside the Black Cultural Archives—a location still within London and still within zone 2 that still has such a strong connection to the original Windrush passengers and to the community of so many who followed them here.

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The hon. Lady continues to make a passionate case and she is quite right to do so. There are a number of examples of more local tributes that are being set up. Hackney is a great example of a local authority that has commissioned a local public artwork to be placed in its town square to celebrate and honour its Windrush generation. I know that she does not quite see eye to eye on the location of the national monument, but if there is anything that our Department can do to set up conversations or to provide further advice about what could be done within the local authority, we would be very happy to do so at any time. My door is always open to discuss that further.

The hon. Lady referred to the Windrush generation overcoming incredible adversity. They and their descendants have proved to be some of the most inspirational role models. I heard some stories of those individuals yesterday. RAF veteran Sam King returned to London from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush and not only built a life here but volunteered as a circulation manager on the West Indian Gazette and supported the organisation of the carnival at St Pancras town hall in 1959. He was the first black mayor of Southwark—a position he took up just six months after being elected to the council. Euton Christian served in the RAF as well, and settled in Manchester. He was not only the first black magistrate in Manchester but helped to set up the West Indian Sports and Social Club in Moss Side and was one of the founders of the Manchester Council for Community Relations. Those are just two examples I heard yesterday of the incredible contributions that the hon. Lady has talked so passionately about.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the impact of covid-19 on black and minority ethnic communities, and she is right to do so. We have to acknowledge that these have been difficult times for so many people. Professor Fenton’s review, on behalf of Public Health England, on the impact of covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities highlighted some of these challenges so starkly to so many of us, and I know what an emotional moment that was for so many people. The pandemic has amplified long-standing inequalities; BAME groups have been found to be more likely to have pre-existing conditions that worsen the effects of covid-19. In response, the NHS has created a new centre to investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on people’s health. My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities is taking forward further work, following the PHE review, so that we can better understand the disparities, which I know we all agree should not exist in the 21st century.

As has been discussed, Windrush Day this year also took place in the midst of a wider social movement to challenge racism and injustice. As a south Gloucestershire MP, I saw the scenes in Bristol, just next door. I saw the passion of the communities in not only Bristol, but the surrounding areas. It is so important that we listen to the thousands of people who have marched peacefully for Black Lives Matter. That is why the Prime Minister committed to establishing that new cross-party commission to explore these issues, as well as to champion the success of BAME groups. That new commission on race and ethnic disparities will examine continuing racial and ethnic inequalities in Britain. It will build on the work of the Race Disparity Unit, but it will go further, to understand why disparities exist, and what works and what does not. It will present recommendations for action across government and other public bodies.

The Windrush generation answered the call to help rebuild our nation after the war. They and their descendants have inspired as entrepreneurs, nurses, musicians and athletes. The hon. Lady has said that she attended the Runnymede Trust’s virtual event on the contribution of BAME people to the NHS, and I wish to restate my personal thanks and the whole Government’s thanks to those from minority backgrounds who are working in our NHS, and in shops, delivery services, local authorities and other key positions around the country, on the frontline against this virus. Through this national effort, we are turning the tide and getting control of this virus. I know she has made a passionate case for the importance of making sure that the compensation schemes are delivered at the pace she has suggested. Of course, I will be discussing this with my colleagues in the Home Office.

Windrush Day has been a fantastic success in the past couple of years. I welcome the hon. Lady’s constructive comments about how we can make it a success in the future. I encourage everyone to find a Windrush Day activity to get involved with, either online or locally near them, later this year. I will certainly be looking at the radio project happening in her constituency, and I thank those involved in that. By taking part in Windrush Day, people will be playing their part in celebrating, commemorating and educating about the Windrush generation, their descendants and their contribution to Britain’s social, cultural and economic life, and of course, they will be helping to build a stronger and more integrated Britain for the future.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.