With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the progress on the Windrush lessons learned review. As I have said in this House on a number of occasions, the Windrush scandal is an ugly stain on the face of our country and on the Home Office. Wendy Williams’ independent report laid bare institutional failings over several decades that let down so many who had given so much to Britain. It was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issues of race and the history of the Windrush generation. As I have told the House previously, that was simply unacceptable, and my response has been swift, strong and uncompromising.
I apologised unreservedly for the injustice, hardship and suffering of members of the Windrush generation at the hands of successive Governments. I promised to listen and act to reform the culture of the Home Office to better represent all the communities we serve. Last month, I announced that I accepted the review’s important findings, and said that I would come back to the House to update all Members on the progress in implementing the recommendations.
After years of injustice and countless warm words, the Windrush generation deserve to know that action is urgently under way. More than £1.5 million has now been offered by the Windrush compensation scheme. Bishop Webley and I launched and hosted the first meeting of a new cross-Government Windrush working group to address the wider inequalities affecting the Windrush generation and their families.
Three sub-groups have now been established to look at how we implement the recommendations, how to design the new community fund and how best to work with the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. That group is also advising on our new communications campaign to encourage more people who were affected to come forward. I put on record my thanks to Bishop Webley and to everyone involved for their ongoing support not only as we implement the findings from the lessons learned review but as we come together to improve our engagement, our communication and our outreach to the communities affected. This is just the beginning.
Urgent and extensive work is taking place across the Home Office and beyond on all the recommendations. Together, the permanent secretary and I are reviewing every aspect of how the Department operates, its leadership, the culture, policies and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the communities it serves. My ambition is for a fair, humane, compassionate and outward-looking Home Office that represents people from every corner of our diverse society, which makes our country great. That means confronting Wendy Williams’ findings head-on to deliver lasting change.
To deliver that change, we have divided the recommendations into five parts. Our approach, which Wendy Williams has welcomed, will ensure sweeping reforms to our culture, policies, systems and working practices, reaching across the entire Department. We are consulting external experts, community organisations and the very people the Home Office has failed in the past in an extensive programme of engagement to ensure that officials understand the change that is needed and that the organisation at every level learns the lessons of what went wrong. I have been clear to my officials that it is not a box-ticking exercise. A delivery plan has been drawn up to ensure meaningful and rapid action. We are embracing the need to change our culture across the board, and in many cases we are going further than the recommendations that Wendy has made.
I will now set out just some of the work under way on the recommendations under each of the five themes. The first is righting the wrongs and learning from the past. I have apologised unreservedly to the Windrush generation, but sadly, we know that their faith and trust in those who sit on both sides of the House has been badly damaged over many years. A series of reconciliation events will be held to rebuild the relationship between the Home Office and those who were affected. That is an essential step to enable people whose lives were shattered by Windrush to articulate directly the impact that this scandal has had on their lives.
We must learn from the past. Mandatory training is being introduced for new and existing members of Home Office staff to ensure that everyone working in the Department understands and appreciates the history of migration and race in this country. Every single existing or new member of Home Office staff will be required to undertake that learning. We are going further by introducing a new process to ensure that all new policies are developed in an inclusive way, factoring in the cultural and historical context, and with effective mechanisms to monitor and, where necessary, resolve any concerns.
Secondly, we will create an inclusive workforce in the Home Office. The Home Office must reflect the diverse communities that it serves at every single level. There are simply not enough black, Asian or minority ethnic staff working at the top in senior roles, and there are far too many times when I am the only non-white face in the room. Action must happen now, so I am introducing more diverse shortlists for senior jobs, specialist mentoring and sponsorship programmes to help develop a wider pool of talent and drive cultural change. While it is reassuring that the Home Office is on track to meet its aim of 12% black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in senior roles by 2025, my ambition is to go further, because the Department cannot truly reflect the communities it serves unless it represents the people within them. Protecting, supporting and listening to every single part of the community that the Department serves is a vital lesson to be learned.
Thirdly, I am changing the Home Office’s openness to scrutiny. Policy and decision making must be rigorously examined to ensure that any adverse impact on any corner of our society is identified and acted on quickly. To ensure that we better understand the groups and communities that our policies affect, we are overhauling the way in which we build up our evidence base and engage with stakeholders across the board. I expect my officials to engage with community organisations, civil society and the public, and I will be looking for evidence of that in every piece of advice that Ministers receive.
Wendy Williams was clear that a lack of insight into the community’s experience meant that the Home Office missed opportunities to anticipate the Windrush scandal. She stated that
“Officials could and should have done more”.
She effectively said that we must all do better at walking in other people’s shoes. I will overhaul the Department’s risk management framework so that we can identify problems sooner, understand the unintended consequences of decisions for people and communities and keep protection of the public at the heart of what we do. That will give officials the knowledge, understanding and responsibility to raise risks and concerns, rather than hide them, and ensure that they are listened to and acted on.
Fourthly, there will be inclusive and robust policy making. It is key that we build institutional memory and reflect past learnings and experiences when setting out new approaches. Mandatory training on the public sector equality duty and the impact assessment process is being rolled out across the Department, including for the most senior staff. As well as considering the equalities impact, all impact assessments and submissions to Ministers must address the risks to vulnerable individuals and groups.
The final and most critical theme is a more compassionate approach—people not cases. This is at the heart of ensuring that nothing like the injustices faced by the Windrush generation can ever happen again. The injustices of Windrush happened not because Home Office staff were bad people but because staff themselves were caught up in a system in which they did not feel that they had the permission to bring personal judgment to bear. I have heard from victims directly when they have spoken of decision making as a process—a process that ground people down and lacked compassion towards the very people who should have been supported. I have heard people speak of being dismissed as if they just did not matter and their voices were irrelevant.
Putting people first will be built into the reforms that we make. Everyone making decisions must see a face behind the case. We must feel empowered to use our own discretion and pragmatism in decision making. The overwhelming majority of the British public agree that it is right that those with no legal right to be in this country must not be allowed to exploit the system, but we must protect the law-abiding majority. To build and maintain public confidence in the immigration system, it should not be easy for those here to illegally flout the rules, but we must make sure that we have the right protections in place for those whose status should have been assured. We need a system that is fair.
What happened to the Windrush generation is unspeakable, and no one with a legal right to be here should ever have been penalised. I have tasked my officials to undertake a full evaluation of the compliant environment policy and measures, individually and cumulatively, to make sure that the crucial balance is right. I have asked them to evaluate the changes that were made to immigration and nationality laws over successive Governments to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today’s world. If those changes were not communicated effectively enough, we will act to make them so. Have no doubt that where we find problems, I will seek to fix them, but equally, be under no illusion that if people are here wrongly or illegally, then naturally we will act.
We are determined to get this right. We owe it to the Windrush generation and, of course, their descendants. Wendy Williams has asked that we carefully consider our next steps to deliver both meaningful and lasting change. I will deliver on that commitment and continue to update the House. In September 2021, Wendy Williams will return to the Home Office to review our progress. I am confident that she will find the start of a genuine cultural shift within the Department—a Home Office that is working hard to be more diverse, more compassionate and worthy of the trust of the communities it serves. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. I pay tribute to Wendy Williams and her team for their work and I welcome the further details set out today on changes at the Home Office, but the Windrush scandal must lead to real and lasting change.
The review powerfully exposed some of the terrible situations that people were forced into. Gloria, who had been in this country since she was 10, lost her job as a care worker as she was unable to renew her passport and prove her identity. Pauline, who came to the UK at 12 and qualified as a social worker, went on a two-week holiday to Jamaica that became an 18-month nightmare; she was detained and refused UK re-entry, losing her home and her livelihood. These are just two examples of the lives devastated by this scandal, and it is all the more shocking that just 60 people received compensation from the Windrush compensation scheme in its first year of operation.
Ministers must get a grip of the scheme. The review is clear that the Home Office should be more proactive in identifying people affected and putting right any detriment detected, with a focus on identifying people from elsewhere in the Commonwealth who may have been affected. Will the Home Secretary confirm today how many people the Home Office estimates are eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme? As of today, how many have applied? Of those, how many are from Commonwealth countries or related to them, and how many are from other countries—the category that arrived before 31 December 1988—and are now settled here? Will she explain why the published number of applicants seems so low, given the scale of the injustice? What does she expect the average turnaround time of a claim to be?
The Home Secretary mentioned in her statement that more than £1.5 million had been paid out. It is also the case that some people who were deemed eligible for the scheme early last year still have not received their compensation; for them, every day without that money continues to be a struggle. Will the Home Secretary also tell us which Minister is in charge of the scheme?
I turn to the other recommendations, of which there are 30 in total. Wendy Williams said:
“The department should publish a comprehensive improvement plan within six months of this report”.
The Home Secretary mentioned a delivery plan in her statement, but can she now confirm that, in line with the recommendations, she will publish it immediately? Another recommendation was that the Home Secretary should
“undertake a full review and evaluation of the hostile…environment policy…individually and cumulatively.”
The Home Secretary did mention that review, but can she tell us when she expects it to be completed? Wendy Williams’s review also recommended the creation of a migrants commissioner. What powers will the commissioner have, what budget will they control and when will the recruitment process for that vital post begin?
Nobody disagrees that the Home Office should be fair, humane and outward-looking, but the Home Secretary said at a recent meeting of the Home Affairs Committee that Wendy Williams was only a
“fraction away from calling the Home Office institutionally racist.”
Can I ask the Home Secretary how she felt about that? In view of that, what are her reflections on the decade for which the Conservative party has been in charge of the Home Office? The truth is that the Government are so little trusted in this area that it is vital that we maintain maximum scrutiny. The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the need not just to recognise the discrimination and racism that black people continue to face, but to demand action.
Given their failure to act on so many previous reviews, the Government are falling woefully short on action. That is why we will be holding them to account for delivering the vital changes outlined in the report with the urgency that is required. Is not the truth that the Windrush generation, who gave so much to rebuilding the country after world war two, deserve nothing less, and future generations deserve so much more?
I would like not only to restate my commitment to delivering the compensation for those who became victims of the Windrush scandal itself, but to say that it is absolutely right, and it is my focus, my determination and my resolve, to ensure that the individuals whose lives were blighted and shattered as a result of a series of measures that, to quote Wendy Williams,
“evolved under the Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments”
receive the compensation that they deserve.
It is a fact that the injustices will not be resolved or fixed overnight, and I have levelled with the House on that point on a number of occasions. The mistreatment that the affected individuals endured was simply unacceptable. I will continue to do everything within my power to lead the Home Office in delivering on compensation, and to ensure that through the lessons learned review and Wendy Williams’s work, we right the wrongs and properly compensate those who were affected. That will not happen overnight.
I have already expanded the compensation scheme so that people will be able to apply to it until at least April 2023, but we have to go beyond that, and I would be more than willing to do so. We have made the criteria more generous so that people can receive the maximum compensation that they rightly deserve. I have said that £1.5 million of compensation has been offered to individuals, but of course I want compensation payments to be sped up. The scheme has already received 1,342 applications. Final offers have been made to more than 154 individuals. Urgent and exceptional payments have been made to hundreds of individuals—in fact, more than 1,400 individuals have been supported by the vulnerable persons team—and a significant number of cases have been closed.
As I think I said at the Select Committee just last week, a vast number of cases—I will say it now: 1,000 cases —are not just led by the Home Office, but split across other Departments, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, in terms of ascertaining information and data. As I have said on previous occasions, outreach and engagement with people across a wide range of communities, including other Commonwealth countries, is vital. We simply, partly due to covid, have not been able to continue direct face-to-face engagement with community organisations and representatives in the way we had planned, but only by doing that can we identify others who have not even applied to the compensation scheme. More work needs to be done—I am very honest and open about that. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) speaks about scrutiny. He is more than welcome to continue asking questions and we will provide answers where we can. At the same time, we are subject to not full data and not full information and I would be more than happy to continue working with colleagues across the House, and all political parties, as I have done, to ensure that more people do come forward. That is something we should all collectively step up to and encourage.
The cross-Government working group has a key role to consider the changes needed to support the Windrush generation, as well as a wider scope to address the challenges faced by black and ethnic minority people across the country and society, in education, work and health. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on how she sees that group developing? Does she consider quarterly meetings sufficient to make good progress?
My hon. Friend asks an important question. Not just through my time at the Home Office, but even now, every time I look at Windrush cases and read the details and backgrounds of the hardship and suffering, I fundamentally believe that there is much more we need to do as political leaders, individually and collectively, to ensure that we celebrate our differences, but remember that we are one nation and one community. The outreach and stakeholder groups that we have established are critical to ensuring that we drive change in our practices and policies, and that we communicate in a compassionate and humane way and reach out to individuals in the right way.
My hon. Friend asked whether quarterly meetings are enough, but we do not just have quarterly meetings. I am in regular contact with representatives and chairs of stakeholder groups, and that will continue. I intend to leave no stone unturned, and although I appreciate that individuals in the House might focus more on the number of cases, I believe that we need to fulfil cases and deliver on compensation. We must also look at people, not just cases, which means that we can consider the wider policies that we need to explore—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is doing that through his new race and equality group, too—to get the right policies in place so that we can address many of the injustices that people constantly speak about.
I welcome this full statement, which contains some substantial commitments and aims, and I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of it. First, when Wendy Williams gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights earlier this month, she said that the Windrush scandal had highlighted
“fundamental cultural, political and institutional factors”
relevant to how the Home Office carries out its duties across the board. She said that those issues needed to be fixed and it seems that the Home Secretary has recognised that in her statement. But Wendy Williams also said that she had considered the Home Office responses to previous reviews and reports, and found that those responses tended to be characterised by a quick acknowledgement of the result and a focus on process, rather than on the fundamental issues identified in the respective reviews. She said that, in the past, the remedial actions taken by the Home Office were superficial to the extent that there was action at all, and that they did not have a lasting effect. She also said that many of the issues that were identified kept coming up successively, time and again, but in different contexts. So can the Home Secretary reassure me that the steps she intends to take will avoid the pitfalls that Wendy Williams has identified with previous reviews?
Secondly, the Home Secretary has committed to changing the Home Office’s openness to scrutiny, policy and decision making, and she talks about engagement. Will that include engagement with the devolved Government in Edinburgh? Thirdly and finally, the Home Secretary and I do not always see eye to eye, but I want to thank her for doing what she was unable to do last time, which is to confirm that she will carry out the root and branch review of the hostile environment policy that Wendy Williams stipulated in recommendation 7. In relation to that, I have a specific question for the Home Secretary. Will she tell us whether measures such as the right to rent scheme will be paused pending the outcome of the review of the hostile environment policy?
The hon. and learned Lady raises some very important points, quite frankly, about how the Home Office not just undertakes reviews but picks up on recommendations and enacts recommendations around reviews themselves.
It is fair to say that Wendy Williams’s “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” is a review like no other. Thankfully, it is a one-off review of an absolutely shocking scandal that took place. As I said in my statement, it identifies and marks a stain on the history of our country, but it also scars my Department significantly. As a result, the measures that I have outlined today—just the five steps alone, which are very focused on the Home Office itself, including encompassing policy aspects—are very detailed. They are detailed for a reason. They are not a tick-box response, and they are not a “quick, let’s fix this and pay lip service” response either. A great deal of work is required. This speaks to the hon. and learned Lady’s third point, about reviewing the compliant environment and the work that will need to be undertaken there, which will take time. Obviously, I will report back, and as a Department we will report back, on exactly how policies are effected specifically on that.
It is fair to say that my commitment on this issue, and more fundamentally with regard to the Home Office, is absolutely solid and firm. I have seen all sorts of practices, I have experienced all sorts of practices in the Home Office, and I have been on the receiving end of certain practices in the Home Office as well, which quite frankly speak to some of the points that came out of Wendy Williams’s review. Therefore, our commitment is solid, and it is firm.
The hon. and learned Lady also asks about engagement with the devolved Administrations. She should take that as a given. There is always more work that needs to be done on that front, and that is something that I am committed to doing.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Having compensation available that people are aware of is very important, but trust in the system also needs to be rebuilt so that people feel confident in claiming. What is she doing to ensure that people are not just aware of the funds that are available but confident to claim?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He will have heard my comment in my statement about rebuilding trust. For people to come forward, they have to have not just confidence but trust in the organisation that they are engaging with. That is fundamental to the work that the Home Office is now undertaking.
On a practical level—I have spoken before at the Dispatch Box about the practical steps that need to be undertaken—we need to do better in terms of our outreach. We have not undertaken engagement opportunities because of covid and, obviously, the problems with getting out and around the country. That will change. I have set up new stakeholder groups, we have a new communications campaign and officials will be going back into communities. I think I said when I came to the House the day after the publication of Wendy’s report, on 19 March, that I want to work with colleagues across the House to ensure that we are working in their communities to rebuild the bonds and bridges of trust—importantly, both to build those links and to reach out to individuals who have been affected.
I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper.
What happened to the Windrush generation at the hands of the British Home Office was deeply shameful. I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to fundamental reform of the culture and the processes in the Home Office, and her commitment to change the way the Home Office works. I also welcome the openness to scrutiny to which she referred. We on the Home Affairs Committee will welcome further details from her of her plans.
The Home Secretary referred to the Home Office needing to have a humane face, and that must start with those who have been most badly wronged. As she will know, there are still huge delays in the compensation process. I have had two more cases given to me this afternoon of people who have been waiting for over a year. They are still waiting, but are unable to get any response from the Home Office about what is happening to their cases. We are hearing of case after case where that is happening. Will she now urgently review the operation of the compensation scheme, so that initial payments can be made far, far more quickly? This is an ageing generation. It is urgent that they get support.
The right hon. Lady will be aware, from when we spoke at the Select Committee last week, of my comments on cases and the changes—new case- workers—that will come into place If she would like to provide me with the two new cases, I will take a look at them myself.
I welcome the very personal ownership the Home Secretary has taken of identifying and implementing solutions to the problems that Windrush revealed, particularly around people not cases, as she said. Windrush uncovered just how complicated, opaque and costly the whole immigration system is, with numerous and complex different qualifying criteria not just for citizenship under Windrush, but for indefinite leave to remain, child asylum applications and so on. Will she, as part of the people-friendly reforms, which I welcome, and the review of immigration legislation, make sure that the whole immigration system is simplified, streamlined and made much more affordable for all?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment and his point. He will know, through the work we are undertaking in the Home Office itself with reforms to the immigration system, including the points-based system, that we are looking at the Law Commission’s recommendations on simplifying the immigration system. It has become far too complicated, and this is the moment that we need to streamline the system and make it much more open, more transparent, much more flexible and much more agile—but, actually, much fairer.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but if we are learning lessons why will she not act now on looked-after children and care leavers eligible under the EU settlement scheme to ensure that they are all urgently processed? Otherwise, they are destined to end up in exactly the same position as the Windrush victims.
With respect, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s last comment. When it comes to carers and children in particular—who he rightly highlights, if I may say so—there is a great deal of effort taking place, not just in the Department but with local authorities, specifically on the groups he speaks about. It is right that we do that and, of course, we are committed to doing that, but obviously as he will know there are some complexities right now throughout the covid period that we, others and local authorities themselves have come up against. If he has particular cases that he wants me to look up, I am more than happy to do so.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the £1.5 million already offered by way of legal compensation will be the start of a proper and thorough process of compensation? Does she agree that justice delayed is actually justice denied?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I have highlighted, both today and in previous statements, it is absolutely my intention, my desire and my focus, and the focus of the Home Office, to ensure that we do more around compensation. These cases, I am sorry to say, are complicated for a whole range of reasons, but that does not necessarily mean that we should allow process to just consume these cases. We must make sure that we are getting support to individuals and the Department is absolutely geared up to do that.
Recommendation 6 of Wendy Williams’s review calls for an education programme to be introduced for all new and existing Home Office staff to make sure that all staff
“learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons.”
It is right that the Home Secretary has announced today that that programme is being introduced in the Home Office. Does she agree with me that if we are to avoid such a shameful scandal as the Windrush scandal ever happening again, that content is important not only for staff in the Home Office, but for every child being educated in British schools? If she does agree that that is important, will she speak to her colleague, the Minister for Schools, who has recently refused to meet me and campaigners from my constituency—young people—who are desperate to see reform in their education system, so that they can all say, collectively, “Our history is British history”?
I strongly welcome the statement and the lead that my right hon. Friend is taking on this hugely important issue. What steps is she taking to make sure that Wendy Williams’s recommendations are taken forward as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend will know that there are a vast number of recommendations. Wendy emphasised the need to ensure that we did not just fulfil them all immediately, but that we had the time and space to give all the recommendations the right consideration. That is why we are taking this phased approach right now.
I am focusing on two particular elements. One is the compensation; it is right that we go through case by case and look at the complexities behind individual cases. The second significant area is the culture and the Department. That is the focus and, as I have said repeatedly, I will continue to share updates on the recommendations with the House. I have also spoken about the Department now being open to more scrutiny. That will play into the review that Wendy will undertake next year with regards to the Department.
We have heard Members across the House express their gratitude for the Home Secretary’s commitment to dealing with this issue and her ongoing progress to address the failings identified in the report. Towards the end of her statement, she said that Wendy Williams will come back to the Home Office in September 2021 to reassess things. What will happen in the interim period? How will Ministers and officials look at progress or any potential lack of progress between now and September 2021?
First, I assure my hon. Friend that I will continue to work with Wendy Williams throughout the implementation of recommendations. It is important that I and the Department do that. We cannot just carry on without taking that external counsel and support and advice. I think it is right that next year, in 2021—over a year in—Wendy looks at the progress of the Department, but this will be ongoing. We have to take both a measured and a responsive approach, in terms of fulfilling the recommendations.
Concerns remain that even before the Home Office had responded to the lessons learned review, the UK Government were pressing ahead with plans to extend the reach of the policy to EU citizens in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. Given what the Secretary of State has said today, will she guarantee that EU citizens will not also become victims of the hostile environment created by her Government?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her compassion. Talking about the face behind the case, Major Lines is a constituent of mine in Bosworth. He was born in India in 1945, to British parents who were stationed over there when his father was in the British Army. He returned in 1947. He then went on to serve in the Army for 30 years. He has a British subject passport and would like to change that to a British citizen passport, and has had to pay £1,000 and have an appointment to promise his allegiance to the UK. This has similarities with the Windrush scandal. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to protect veterans who are being asked to make promises of allegiance to a country they have served?
My hon. Friend raises a very important case and an important point of principle about veterans who give their allegiance to our country and serve our nation and how we support and give justice to those individuals. I will update him and the House in due course on some of the changes that I am making in that area. On the specific case he raises, I would be more than happy to take a look at that in further detail.
The “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” recommends that the Home Office implements a comprehensive programme to educate staff about Britain’s colonial history, but the Prime Minister, in an article he wrote for The Spectator, said that the problem with British colonialism was not
“that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”
If we are to have trust in this Government to deliver that education programme, will the Home Secretary condemn the Prime Minister and acknowledge the brutal crimes that British colonialism inflicted upon millions of people across the globe?
My statement was very clear in terms of the needs of this Government, but also the needs of my Department—the Home Office—to learn from the recommendations of Wendy Williams. That is effectively what I am focusing on and it is right. If the hon. Lady heard my statement, she will have heard of my commitment, which is also a commitment by this Government, to ensure that we right the wrongs of the past.
This excellent statement puts the Home Office well on the way to establishing a culture of honour, which will ensure that we treat people so much better, and it will change how they feel about themselves and how they feel about our country. So I congratulate the Government on what my right hon. Friend has done. What will she do, though, to make sure that “people, not cases” is more than just a slogan?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a point of reflection, not just for the Home Office but for the whole of Government, when it comes to treating individuals not just with compassion, but with the respect that they deserve. As we are all honourable Members of this House and Members of Parliament, we are all familiar with people engagement—casework. It is important that in the Home Office, casework is not seen through the lens of process—that we understand the situation of individual people, that we understand their circumstances, that we treat them with respect, and listen to them, especially, and we support them. That is absolutely my aim and determination—that caseworkers in the Department who are working now to turn around compensation schemes and claims, spend time with individuals, learn of their backgrounds and give them the respect and the service that they deserve.
Callton Young was the first black senior civil servant in the Home Office and is a Croydon councillor; he contributed to the Wendy Williams review. Twenty years on from his appointment, the Home Office still does not have senior black civil servants helping to better inform policy development. Can the Home Secretary tell us more about how she will rapidly address that failure?
Lunar House and many of the Home Office buildings are in my constituency and a lot of my constituents work there. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about seeing a face behind the case. Some of the staff have told me that it is not just a cultural issue—that it is very difficult when they have so many cases to deal with. Is the Home Secretary confident that she has enough people to do the job properly?
The hon. Lady has raised some important points. She first acknowledged the lack of senior leadership, and diversity in senior leadership, particularly in the Home Office. If I may say so, that is a feature, sadly, across Government—across the civil service; it is something that the Government are collectively trying to change. As the leader of the Home Office, it is my responsibility to look at what more we can do to support diversity, even by mentoring—something that I feel very strongly about, from my previous career—individuals from across all backgrounds. Specifically, it is absolutely wrong—I have raised this at a senior management level in my Department—that our own staff members from black and Asian minority ethnic communities are stuck at certain grades in my Department. That is really not acceptable. We should find mentoring schemes to grow them and develop them and their careers. I absolutely believe in that and I want to achieve much more on that front.
The hon. Lady specifically references Lunar House and the remarkable work that individuals and colleagues from the Home Office undertake there. If I may say so, even in Wendy’s report, references to Lunar House were not necessarily made in a positive light. There are a lot of cases. We deal with people. The Home Office is a caseworking Department, dealing with thousands of people day in, day out. In terms of staffing, it is not just about numbers; it is about training and support around our personnel. That is really important, and that is why I need to do more, and my Department—my permanent secretary—needs to do more as well, in terms of investing in people. I fundamentally believe in that, and I think that is the right approach for the future. We will grow and develop our staff, so that we can work in a fundamentally different way with people who come to us.
Order. Just a gentle reminder: it is a very important statement and I would like to get everybody in, but that means just one question at a time, so that the Home Secretary can give brisk answers as well.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I thank her for the rapid way in which her Department has assisted some of my own constituents who have sadly been affected. Can she reassure the House that she will do everything within her power to make sure that those who qualify receive the compensation that they deserve as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he has heard me speak about the need to speed up work on the compensation claims. We are doing everything that we can. I am here to support anybody who brings a claim forward. My Department will look at how we can process claims far faster.
Put bluntly, the report shows that racism was allowed to infect the Home Office and its immigration policies, and visas are still tainted by it. The Secretary of State refused to believe me when I said that “no recourse to public funds” had left a Newcastle mum unable to feed her baby, but will she accept that I have constituents almost exclusively of black and Asian heritage who are left for years in visa limbo, and will she commit to improving access to the resources of her Department in order to give just and speedy decisions?
I am more than happy to assure the hon. Lady on her last point. Specifically, on the case that she set out, I said at the time that I would be more than happy to look at it. If she would like to share the details with me, I would be very happy to do so.
I really welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to openness, transparency and scrutiny. Will she let us know whether her Department will therefore publish equality impact assessments that it is committed to carrying out, and will she perhaps blaze a trail across Government by publishing the ethnicity pay gap that might exist within the Home Office?
My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. As I have already said, we are embarking on this work and I intend to look at all aspects of equality pay and diversity, and also at equality impact assessments as well. These are some of the key pillars of policy development that the Department will be looking at and, obviously, I will report back in due course on the steps that we undertake.
I also thank the Secretary of State for her statement, for her control of the Windrush issue, and for her deep interest and commitment. There are some 30 recommendations in the Wendy Williams report. How does she believe that these can be implemented to ensure that applications adhere not simply to the letter of the policy, but to the spirit of the policy, which would never have intended for this generation of people, who did so much for the UK when we needed them the most, to suffer so needlessly?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he touches on some of the sentiment that has already been echoed in the House around fulfilling the recommendations and not just paying lip service to them. As I have said, the report itself is a report like no other. That is why it is important that we have the time and space to give it the determined attention and diligence that is required to make sure that these recommendations are implemented in the right way, working not only with Wendy, but with other stakeholders, too.
“Windrush” used to be a name associated with great pride in this country, but because of the scandal it has become associated with failure on the part of the Home Office in letting down people who deserve better from this country. I welcome the statement and the Home Secretary’s commitment to the recommendations, but, given that the Government are about to end free movement and leave millions of EU citizens vulnerable to the same sort of failure, will she consider pausing the immigration policy until she has implemented the recommendations?
It is important to say, as I have said previously, that I am here specifically looking at the Windrush recommendations and how we apply them going forward. The hon. Lady alludes to the EU settlement scheme, which has already safeguarded the status of more than 3.4 million people. If I recall rightly, there are Members of this House who said at the time that that would never happen, and it has happened. We will continue to do everything possible to ensure that EU citizens in the UK get their status secured, and we have a separate scheme and a separate programme of engagement around that work.
The Home Secretary will appreciate the clear distinction between those who are here legally and those who are here illegally. Will she please confirm that our new points-based immigration system will allow us to welcome the very same talent, hard work and skill as that shown by our proud Windrush generation?
My hon Friend is absolutely right. I have spoken repeatedly—as has the Immigration Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster)—about not just welcoming the brightest and the best but being open and fair in terms of how we invite people over to our country, and about having a system that is fair in the way in which it will end discrimination between non-EU and EU countries. That is absolutely vital, as my hon. Friend will know, through the points-based system.
I remind the House of how many members of the Windrush generation and their children joined the armed forces. I served with a great number of them and I thought they were superb. Will the Home Secretary endorse that comment?
I absolutely will endorse that comment. I echo every word that my hon. Friend has just said.
The Home Secretary knows of my concern that the Department is still not engaging with the scandal of thousands of overseas students whose lives were ruined when they were falsely accused of cheating in English language tests. Today, destitution is being inflicted on hard-working families with a legal right to be in the UK because the “no recourse to public funds” restriction is being kept during this pandemic. They are being penalised, contrary to the Home Secretary’s statement. Does she recognise that this deeply troubling pattern requires changes of policy as well as of departmental management?
Specifically on the right hon. Gentleman’s point, I know that he has met the Immigration Minister a number of times to discuss the issue of English language testing. In fact, the former Home Secretary put down a written ministerial statement last year outlining his response to some of the responses and concerns that were raised at the time. The right hon. Gentleman also raises the issue of no recourse to public funds; however, he puts that in the context of people that he said are in need of support and funds. As I have already articulated and echoed to the House, if there are particular cases that he would like to raise with me, he is very welcome to do so and I will look at them directly.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that playing party politics over the Windrush generation is shameful? Given that the hostile environment started in 2007, will she join me in urging Opposition Members to work with the Government to right this wrong?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the responsibility that we all have in terms of learning from the past and trying to right the wrongs of the past collectively. He has sat in the House diligently over the course of previous statements, if I recall, and the most recent Windrush statement as well, and asked a question in a similar vein. He will have heard me say to all Members of this House that whether it is on individual cases or whether it is in our tone, our posture or how we address the issue of injustices, we have to work together. No individual, no Government, no organisation has the sole answer to this. It is important that we work collectively and together.
We hear that caseworkers have been told to demand of some claimants that they make their case beyond reasonable doubt—a high standard that many will struggle to meet. Why has the bar been set so high? Will that be reviewed as part of the evaluation of the hostile environment policy?
As I have already said several times with regard to the cases themselves, these are complicated cases and individuals need to provide certain amounts of information with regard to the processing of claims and not just payments. That is part of the scheme that was created before I became Home Secretary, with Martin Forde QC, and the scheme was developed in conjunction with members of the Windrush generation. I have said that I am prepared now to look at any complexities around the scheme, and I said this at the Select Committee last week as well. If we need to look at amending the scheme going forward to enable and facilitate quicker payments or swifter cases being turned around, we will absolutely look at that.
In a similar situation to the Windrush generation are the descendants of Chagos islanders, whose families were exiled from the British Indian Ocean Territory, and who now face citizenship problems. In the review of nationality law that my right hon. Friend just announced, will she commit to looking at the case of the Chagossian people?
As I have touched on, this will form part of the Home Office’s wider work on all sorts of aspects of nationality law and the complexities of immigration law and the immigration system. As I said, we need the time and ability to do this, which is what we are undertaking right now and will continue to do so. In due course, I will report back. We will look at all these issues, and I am sure that many more will surface in the weeks and months ahead.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her excellent work and for committing to right the wrongs done to the Windrush generation, but will she also consider further reforms to how the Home Office processes immigration applications? As someone who experienced the joys of Lunar House personally, I know it is a labyrinth of mismanaged records and cases. There are excellent civil servants, but we need to be people focused, rather than case focused.
My hon. Friend speaks with experience of process, which is a point that has been touched on already. There are many lessons to be learned, but on process there are also issues with the management of case files, technology, record keeping, data retention—you name it. These are long-term, long-standing issues that the Home Office needs to grip and are part of wider changes to the machinery of government that we are looking at.
The Home Secretary said in her statement: “If we find a problem, I will fix it.” Let me commend to her the work of my constituent Chrisann Jarrett and We Belong, young people who came to this country, some when they were as young as two. They are now on the long road to citizenship—10 years—and every three years have to pay over £2,500 in fees. These are young people who will become British citizens, but every hurdle is being put in their way. They are passionate about this country and are not going to live anywhere else. The Home Secretary could save herself resources and staff time, and support those young people, if she were to look at this. I am sure that Chrisann and We Belong would be willing to engage with her Department.
I look forward to that engagement if it is something we can facilitate.
My right hon. Friend will be all too aware of the multicultural nature of my constituency: not a day goes by without somebody coming to my office—at the moment, virtually —with a new immigration case. Many of these cases are complicated, stretch back several years and are in a queue in the Home Office. Can I urge her, as she progresses the reforms on the Windrush generation, not to remove resources from dealing with people in the backlog, but actually to concentrate more experienced caseworkers there to clear this backlog so that people who have been living in this country for an awfully long time can normalise their position?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I can assure him that the two are separate—obviously we have a bespoke team working on Windrush. I hear him completely on the wider immigration cases. The closure of centres over the last four months will not have assisted with the speed of processing, but now that we are getting back to work, the claims will be processed and people will be given the attention they deserve.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the support her Department has given to my constituents affected by this. Will she ensure everything is done to get them the compensation they are entitled to as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend makes a similar point to colleagues in the House about the scheme itself. Of course, I am determined to ensure that compensation does get out to individuals quickly. As I have already said—I will restate the point—where changes may need to take place around the scheme, we will look to undertake them.
The no recourse to public funds policy is another example of a policy that affects migrants and the BAME community, and it must be scrapped immediately. Will the Secretary of State show that she is serious about addressing inequality and scrap the policy?
As I said, all policies are under review in the Department, but specifically, on no recourse to public funds, it is right that those who benefit from the state also contribute to it. The policy is specific to migrants coming to our country being financially independent, which is also in the interests of British taxpayers.
First, I thank the Home Secretary for the tone and ownership she has displayed in the Chamber on the issues impacting the Windrush generation. Will she acknowledge that the Windrush scandal highlights how institutions can fail, with discrimination and prejudice against individuals. There is often denialism, and only after a scandal are they forced to accept the dark reality. What changes are the Home Office implementing so that issues such as racism can be raised and highlighted in a manner where they will be believed?
As I have already stated, Wendy’s review is important because she described a number of measures that evolved under Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments over decades. It is important that we all look at ourselves, because we must all be better at walking in other people’s shoes. We must all take responsibility for the failings that happened in the past. We are also one community who deserve to be treated with respect. We should therefore all learn lessons from the past.
My right hon. Friend referred to changing the Home Office’s openness to scrutiny, which will, quite rightly, lead to the Home Office better understanding the communities and groups it serves. What steps will she put in place to ensure that a similar level of understanding can be applied to the data that the Home Office holds and the impact that changes in policy might have on the people whom the data reflects?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about data, with the type of trends and information that comes through to the Home Office. In fact, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) also touched on data and processes. On scrutiny, we need to look at all aspects—not just policy but information, trends, flows, immigration data and all the sorts of data that come into the Department. We also need the skills to do that. That is part of the change we are seeing not just in the Home Office but across Government, with data analytics and information, in how we as a Government can respond on policy while treating people with compassion and fairness.