House of Commons
Thursday 1 July 2021
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Tourism Industry: Covid-19
We recognise the impact of covid-19 on the tourism industry, which is why we published the tourism recovery plan to help the sector to return to pre-pandemic levels as quickly as possible and build back better for the future. The Government have already provided over £25 billion of support to the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks. As our plan sets out, we will continue to support the sector as it recovers.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and for his visit last week to my beautiful constituency of Eastbourne, where he will have seen no shortage of ambition or potential—only a shortage of new recruits to the hospitality workforce. What plans do he and the Department have to promote careers in hospitality and tourism, which is a vital sector in the UK and in Eastbourne? Would maintaining the 5% VAT rate help employers to offer ever more competitive wages?
It was a joy to join my hon. Friend in her incredibly sunny and warm constituency last week and see at first hand the hard work she has been doing on behalf of her constituents, and particularly those in the tourism sector. I know she shares my view that developing skills and careers within tourism and hospitality is vital for the sector’s recovery. As stated in the tourism recovery plan, we will work closely with the sector to ensure that businesses can employ more UK nationals in year-round better paid, high-quality tourism jobs. Regarding extending the temporary VAT cut, as we discussed last week, including with her constituents, the Government keep all taxes under review. I have noted her suggestion and I am sure that Treasury Ministers have, too.
Inbound tourism in normal times contributes about £28 billion to the UK economy. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with other Departments about reopening safe international travel so that UK tourism jobs can be protected and indeed grown as we go forward?
I know what a great champion my hon. Friend is for tourism and international travel, as we heard at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. He is right that inbound tourism is vital. A lot of talk has been about outbound tourism, which is also a really important sector, but, in 2019, 40 million visitors came to the UK, spent money and had a great time. We are having frequent conversations. I talk to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts)—the aviation Minister—and others on an almost daily basis. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also has an interest in this area. I can therefore assure my hon. Friend that we are having many cross-Government discussions about the importance of the tourism, international travel and aviation sectors.
As more people decide to holiday at home in the UK, we have a golden opportunity to improve the economy of our seaside communities, some of which have high levels of social deprivation. However, to direct visitors to those areas, we need more brown tourist signs on motorways and major trunk roads. What support can my hon. Friend give to the campaign in my constituency to get Highways England to put up a brown tourist sign on the M2 to showcase the many wonderful attractions on the Isle of Sheppey?
I commend my hon. Friend for his work on behalf of tourism businesses on the Isle of Sheppey. The purpose of brown signs is primarily to direct road users to a tourism attraction or facility to aid the efficient management of traffic. They are not meant to be billboards or adverts as such, but, as he articulated, they do fulfil a useful purpose. He will be aware that such decisions are for local authorities and Highways England, but I appeal to them to listen sympathetically to his request.
I have been speaking to leaders in the tourism industry who are distinctly underwhelmed by the Minister’s tourism recovery plan. An inclusivity ambassador, a rail pass and £10 million of vouchers is not the level of ambition that they were expecting from the much vaunted plan. In particular, coach operators, fairgrounds and tour guides missed out on support during the pandemic. What sector-specific support does the Minister plan to give to those areas that missed out on support during the lockdown and pandemic and had to suffer through three consecutive winters with a lack of support from the Government?
To date, as the hon. Member will be aware, the Government have provided more than £25 billion of support for the tourism, hospitality and leisure sector. That may not be appreciated by him but I know it has been by the sector as a whole. We are continuing to give support and that number will go up considerably. In terms of the sectors that have not automatically qualified for assistance, that is precisely why, as I have stated in the Chamber, the additional restrictions grants were out there—more than £1 billion of funding to help those sectors that did not automatically qualify—and we will keep the support under review constantly. Many in the sector welcome the ambition in the tourism recovery plan not only to get back to 2019 levels of tourism activity domestically and inbound, but to go well beyond that, and I hope that the Opposition will work with me and others to achieve that goal.
As part of our ongoing strategic review of the UK’s system of public service broadcasting, the Government are consulting this summer on the future of Channel 4, including its ownership model and remit, and we intend to engage a broad range of stakeholders to inform any decisions taken.
As part of its public service broadcaster responsibilities, Channel 4 does not have an in-house production function, relying on independent external production houses. Former Channel 4 commissioning editor Peter Grimsdale said that over 1,000 such production companies have been supported over the years. How do the Government mean to support those production houses if they sell off Channel 4, or do the thousands of jobs that would be destroyed in the sector not matter to this Tory Government?
The hon. Lady is right that Channel 4 does not have an in-house production company, which means that it is entirely dependent on advertising revenue, which is one of the reasons why we think it right to look at the ownership model, but it does support independent production right across the United Kingdom. That is part of its remit and we intend to preserve the remit, although we will be examining whether that needs to be changed—indeed, possibly strengthened in some areas—as part of our consultation.
Channel 4 is a great British success story and an iconic institution. It has invested £12 billion in the independent production sector and regional TV, given voice to local communities across our country, and exported content around the world; and it has recorded a record £74 million financial surplus. Despite all those successes, for the sixth time, the Conservative Government are seeking to privatise it, even though they concluded just four years ago that that was a very bad idea. Could that possibly be because “Channel 4 News” is doing a solid job, in particular, of holding an incompetent and crony-connected Government to account?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that Channel 4, which was, of course, the creation of a Conservative Government, has done an excellent job and it is our intention to sustain it into the future. That is why we believe that now is the right time to look at its future ownership, because it is coming under increasing pressure due to the changes taking place in the way in which television is consumed. While I may not always agree with “Channel 4 News”, I do believe it does a good job. I very strongly support plurality of news providers and would expect that Channel 4 will continue to feature a news service as part of its future offering, and that would remain part of its remit.
John McVay, the chief executive of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, has described Channel 4 as
“a catalyst for generations of entrepreneurs”,
“plays a critical role in the UK’s broadcasting ecology”,
“invested in hundreds of independent production companies over the nearly 40 years of its existence, enabling and improving access, skills, international activity and diversity.”
Would the Minister agree with me that selling off this precious public asset to an overseas competitor with no remit for commissioning innovative British content would be a body blow to the UK’s creative economy?
I agree that selling off Channel 4 with no remit would be a mistake and that is certainly not our intention. John McVay, who is somebody I know well and have a great deal of respect for, is right that Channel 4 has done an excellent job in investing in independent production, but it is up against competition from big streaming services that can make 10 times the kind of investment that Channel 4 is capable of. That is why we think it is the right time to look at its ownership in order that, potentially, it can have access to much greater capital, which it will need in order to have a thriving future.
My own personal view, and I stress that it is my personal view, is that the recovery of Channel 4 and the evolving media landscape warrant close consideration of privatisation and sale. Four years is a lifetime in the modern media marketplace. Does the Minister agree that this would be a good juncture at which also to consider whether Channel 4 could be bolstered by a merger with ITV or even by hiving off BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, which has often underperformed but has tremendous international potential to build scale for Channel 4?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I commend him and his Select Committee for the excellent report on public service broadcasting that they produced recently, which drew attention to the fact that the way in which we consume television is changing fast and that the switch from linear to digital is taking place even more quickly than some people anticipated. We have reached no conclusion as to the appropriate future ownership model for Channel 4—we maintain a completely open mind—but he raises a number of interesting possibilities and we look forward to seeing what submissions we receive as part of the consultation.
The case for the privatisation of Channel 4 was, of course, debunked by the then Secretary of State last time the issue reared its head. I think her assessment was that it would be too much grief for too little money. Privatisation would see profit put first, a slash in the £500 million that goes annually to independent production companies, a centralisation of headquarters—the antithesis of levelling up—and likely cuts to Channel 4’s brilliant news and current affairs programming. Channel 4 recorded record profits last year and it does not cost the taxpayer a penny. Given that this much-loved institution is profitable and free, why do Ministers want to do down Britain and sell it off to avaricious American investors?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on several counts. It is the case that Channel 4 recorded a profit last year, and I commend the management for taking the action that made that possible, but the reason they did so was because they cut the amount of money that they spent on content by £140 million in anticipation of a big fall in advertising revenue, which indeed took place. It is to sustain Channel 4 going forward that we are looking at the possibility of alternative ownership models, and it would certainly be our intention that Channel 4 would do more outside London and across the United Kingdom, not less.
“Countdown”, “Derry Girls”, “Gogglebox”, “The Word”, “It’s a Sin”, “Chewing Gum”—which gave us the astonishing Michaela Coel for the first time—“Educating Yorkshire”, “24 hours in A&E”, “24 hours in Police Custody”, “Location, Location, Location” with Phil and Kirstie, “Friday Night Dinner”—
I will simply finish with “Hollyoaks” and “The Secret Life of the Zoo”, Mr Speaker, which as you know have something in common with me—[Laughter.] They were both filmed in Chester. For four decades, Channel 4 has reflected and given voice to the diverse parts of the United Kingdom. Why do the Minister and the Government want to take that voice away and, as other hon. Members have said, sell it off to foreign tech companies that have no loyalty to the United Kingdom?
I am extremely impressed by the hon. Gentleman’s viewing habits, although I notice he left out “Naked Attraction”, which certainly does appeal to diverse tastes. However, I absolutely agree that Channel 4 has been responsible for some great programmes over the years, and it is our intention that it should be able to continue to do that in the coming years. It is precisely because it is going to need access to investment capital in order to maintain that record that we think now is the right time to consider alternative models, but we have not reached any conclusion yet.
Important Historical Documents
The UK’s export control system provides a safety net to protect our national treasures from being sold abroad, whereby Ministers can delay the issuing of an export licence to allow an opportunity for a UK buyer to acquire it. Between 2008 and 2018, 62 items were saved for the nation in this way. A recent example was the notebooks of Sir Charles Lyell, the renowned Scottish geologist who influenced Charles Darwin, which were acquired by the University of Edinburgh in 2019.
May I declare an interest as chair of the John Clare Trust, a charitable trust, and of course one of my daughters is a poet? May I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that we have discovered in recent weeks a beautiful treasure trove of letters from the Brontës, Jane Austen and Robert Burns? It is unique. If we cannot act now and raise £15 million to keep it in this country, it will be broken up and sold at auction in New York. Will the Minister and the Government help us? Could the National Trust, which has huge reserves, help us to keep it in Britain? Most of the literary houses have had a year of no income and are struggling to help and raise this money. We desperately need this collection kept in our country. Will she help and help soon?
The Government are delighted that a public consortium led by the Friends of the National Libraries has come together to seek to acquire the Honresfield library. We hope that the fundraising campaign is successful and is able to realise its plans to allocate parts of the collection to libraries around the UK, for the benefit of the public. We will, of course, keep a very close eye on this and I know that the Secretary of State is planning to meet the group shortly.
Electronic Communications Code
The Government are currently considering the responses to the consultation on the electronic communications code, which closed in March, and we will, of course, carefully consider the impact of our proposals on all stakeholders, including community organisations, which we all value so highly.
I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that thousands of farmers, churches and community groups who host mobile telecoms infrastructure on their land have faced financial hardship because of the 2017 ECC reform, with some seeing enforced rent reductions of up to 90%, as has happened in my constituency. What measures is he planning to support those who face losing these critical sources of income? Will he kindly agree to meet me and representatives of these impacted groups as soon as possible?
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this. It is important to be clear that those 2017 reforms were intended to cut the amount paid by operators and put them on a similar footing to other utilities, and that supports the roll-out of connectivity that we all want to see. However, it is important that the negotiations that take place are fair commercial ones and that landowners ultimately receive a fair price. The reason we are consulting as we speak is to make sure that the system works effectively and that those fair prices are delivered.
Digital Connectivity: Rural Areas
The Government are focused intently on improving digital infrastructure and connectivity in rural areas, both through the £5 billion Project Gigabit programme and the £1 billion shared rural network. That will deliver huge increases in connectivity across the whole country, while Project Gigabit provides fibre to at least 85% of the country.
I very much welcome Tuesday’s announcement on the shared rural network and the news that 98% of my constituency will receive some form of coverage. However, those who visit Great Snoring and many other villages in my constituency will find that they have to go outside to get a signal, if they get one at all. Will the Minister confirm to me that in order to claim this coverage people have to have a signal sufficiently strong to penetrate a normal building, so they can have a conversation inside and not only in the garden?
The target of the 4G shared rural network is based on outside coverage, but of course the effect of that outside coverage is a huge halo that brings signals indoors: into, as my hon. Friend puts it, normal homes and beyond. I think we will see a really significant improvement in indoor coverage, alongside an improvement on 45,000 km of roads and in 1.2 million businesses and homes across the country.
Tourism Recovery Plan
The Government have provided more than £25 billion in support to the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors over the course of the pandemic. We are continuing to support travel agents with, for example, restart grants and the extended furlough scheme. Our tourism recovery plan sets out a range of measures to support the sector, with the aim of recovering domestic tourism to pre-pandemic levels by 2022 and international travel by 2023, both at least a year faster than independent forecasters predict.
The headline numbers—that £25 billion—tell only part of the story. Unfortunately, because of the asymmetry of the Government support and the asymmetry of the travel recovery plan, much of that money has not found its way into the hands of travel agents such as Moorelands Travel and Travel Your World in my Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency. These family-run small and medium-sized enterprises have, like many others across the country, kept the lights on for the travel industry. They have given their all and sold the silver, and there is nothing left to give. They now face the possibility of going under. That will disrupt holidays and the travel recovery itself, so will the Minister explain to them—not to me—why their efforts and their businesses no longer matter?
The hon. Gentleman’s final comment is an unfortunate characterisation. He will be aware that many elements of the tourism sector are devolved matters, but we are working co-operatively with the Scottish Government on many issues. The Scottish Government have developed their recovery plan and we have developed one as well, and it does have UK-wide implications. For those sectors in England that have been unable to get grants and support automatically, we have put in place measures to help them, such as the additional restrictions grant. We will continue to assess support measures.
The Paralympic games are one of the highlights of the sporting calendar. In recognition of their special national significance, we added the Paralympic games to the listed events regime in 2020, meaning that they will remain available on free-to-air television. I wish all our athletes every success in Tokyo and very much welcome Channel 4’s plans to broadcast live coverage of the Paralympics throughout the games.
New research by Scope has shown that 69% of people with disabilities believe that the Paralympics help to tackle negative attitudes. This comes as three in four people with disabilities believe that the public’s perceptions of disabled people have worsened or not shifted during the pandemic. Scope and ParalympicsGB have teamed up to call for the Paralympic games to be a catalyst for change. The all-party group on disability, which I chair, asks the Secretary of State and the Government to commit to work across broadcasting to champion inclusion in sports and employment for people with disabilities, alongside celebrating the fantastic achievements of our Paralympians.
The Government absolutely share the ambition of the hon. Lady and her all-party group to increase the participation by disabled people in sport. The Paralympics have been an extraordinary success in demonstrating the remarkable achievements of disabled athletes. I share her hope that the Paralympics will again receive record viewing figures and that the UK Paralympic athletes will continue to do as well as they have in recent times.
Cultural and Sporting Sectors: Covid-19
We have provided unprecedented support for arts and sports and have only just opened up applications for the latest round of the £2 billion culture recovery fund. That will focus specifically on helping sectors to reopen fully. Our aim is, of course, to get everything—sports, live music and cultural events—back at full capacity from 19 July, and we are making good progress towards that goal.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that, if the direction of travel in respect of covid data is maintained, we will be able to have our terminus day on 19 July. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that terminus day means an end to social distancing, an end to compulsory mask wearing and a full return to normal, not just for the end of July but permanently?
As my hon. Friend rightly says, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has said, we are making very good progress towards 19 July. We are hopeful and, indeed, confident that we will be able to remove, as planned at stage 4, all the remaining legal limits on social contact, reopen the remaining closed settings and remove all limits on weddings and other life events. That is very much what I am working towards.
National Lottery Licence: Procurement
The Gambling Commission is running the competition for the next national lottery licence, which will come into force in August 2023. The Gambling Commission has undertaken several rounds of market engagement with prospective applicants, and I was pleased to note that the commission received the expected number of applications. We expect to announce the preferred applicant at the end of the year.
The Gambling Commission has turned down an invitation to appear before the gambling-related harm all-party group to discuss the upcoming national lottery licence procurement and the performance of the current provider. Many products developed by the current provider, such as online instant win games, have potential to cause serious harms, so will the Minister reassure the House that there will be proper scrutiny of the next provider and that appropriate harm prevention measures will be introduced?
The incidence of problem gambling is lowest among players of the National Lottery, but nevertheless the need for protection of players remains of paramount importance. It was for that reason that the Government recently increased the minimum age for purchase of national lottery tickets from 16 to 18, and I can assure the hon. Lady that we will continue to monitor, as will the Gambling Commission, whether any further measures are necessary.
I have announced ambitious proposals for broadcasting reform, including the equalisation of regulation of video on demand services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, prominence for public service broadcasters, and the potential change in ownership of Channel 4 in order to secure its long-term success.
We continue to work closely with all our sectors as we plan for the full reopening on 19 July, and our next wave of pilots is helping us to do so safely and permanently. One of those pilots will, of course, now go down in history after England’s glorious win at Wembley on Tuesday, and I know that the whole House will join me in wishing the team the very best of luck in the quarter finals in Rome on Saturday.
I want to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the issue of displaying the Union flag in the Welsh Parliament. As many will know, the Presiding Officer of the Senedd banned the display of the Union flag by Conservative Members last week. Yesterday, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, described it as “vacuous symbolism” by
“tea towel Tories of 2021”.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that people across Wales are proud to display the Union Jack because of their pride in the country in which they live and of what the UK stands for? What actions will—
I share my hon. Friend’s pride in the Union flag, because it unites us as a nation and a people. As he well knows, the Union flag is the national flag of the United Kingdom, and it is so called because it embodies the emblems of three countries united under one sovereign: the kingdoms of England, Wales, Scotland and, of course, Northern Ireland. It is quite extraordinary that the First Minister should describe it as vacuous symbolism by tea towel Tories. It really does show how out of touch he is with the people of Wales, and the Labour party is with the wider United Kingdom.
I remind the Secretary of State of the election results in Wales in May.
I too wish England all the best for the quarter finals. It was a fantastic game, and I look forward to a repeat of the performance in the quarter finals.
On 23 March, the Minister for Digital and Culture, when asked about Government-backed insurance for the live events industry, said that
“the decision is with the Treasury right now.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 309WH.]
We are three and a half months on, and there is silence from the Government. Can the Secretary of State say today whether the Government are going to underwrite time-limited insurance for live events? The industry just needs to know the answer—a straight yes or no, please.
I very much understand the industry’s desire for insurance, and I have engaged with it. I have said all along that, as with film and TV insurance, the first step is to get all the other restrictions removed. We are making very good progress towards doing that on the 19th. At that point, if there is a market failure, namely that the commercial insurance providers cannot insure for that, we will look at whether we can extend insurance with some sort of Government-backed scheme. We are engaging extensively with the Treasury and other Government Departments to see what that might look like.
Festivals continue to be cancelled, even those scheduled for after 19 July, such as Womad, because the Government still have not published any guidance about sector reopening. They were forced into publishing the results of the events research programme last week after our urgent question, but they are also briefing to the press that nightclubs, for example, are going to reopen with no testing or proof of vaccine requirements. Businesses have had 15 long months of this chaos. The Secretary of State will not confirm insurance now and he will not publish guidance, so will he explain how festivals and live events scheduled for after 19 July can go ahead?
As I have said previously, we are making very good progress towards 19 July. Given that the evidence is suggesting that despite rising infections, we are breaking the linkage to hospitalisations and deaths, I really do hope and expect that we will be able to have that full reopening from 19 July. We have always said that we would clarify and confirm that at least a week in advance, which would be by 12 July. Festivals have benefited from millions of pounds of wider support through the culture recovery fund, and, of course, at least one of our events research programme pilots is in relation to a festival.
The shared rural network will eliminate the partial notspots across huge swathes of the country, particularly in Yorkshire and the Humber; it will take the region from 95% to 99% coverage from at least one operator, and from 81% to 90% coverage from all four operators. I know how hard my hon. Friend has been working on this issue, and I look forward to working with him to continue that progress.
We are 100% aware of the importance of the UK’s creative and cultural industries, and the importance of musicians and performers being able to tour easily abroad. We have moved with great urgency to provide the clarity that they need about the current position. Through our engagement with member states, we have established that at least 17 of the 27, including France, Germany and Italy—some of the biggest economic contributors—do allow visa and permit-free touring. We continue to talk to the others.
I am afraid that I cannot promise the weather—I wish I could! I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in wishing all those participating in the Maccabi 24-hour football challenge the very best of luck. I have no doubt that the time will fly by if they keep top of mind the inspirational example of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling from Tuesday’s success against Germany. This is a fantastic opportunity for volunteers to raise money for their club to refurbish a local pitch, and I understand that the FA will be matching some of the money raised. I wish him the very best of luck.
Nightclubs actually fall within the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I am very happy to answer the question. The key thing is to get them to reopen. We are making very good progress towards doing that on 19 July. Many of the existing schemes—certainly the culture recovery fund—will continue to pay out for the coming weeks and months. Indeed, we have said that claims can be made in respect of the culture recovery fund until the end of this year, so a wide range of support remains available for our cultural institutions.
The youth investment fund aims to level up access to youth provision over the course of this Parliament, but £30 million has already been committed as capital funding in 2021-22. That will provide investment in new and refurbished safe spaces for young people so that they can access support from youth workers and enjoy beneficial activities, including sport and culture. We know how valuable these facilities are, and details of the bidding process for the next rounds will be announced in due course.
The Attorney General was asked—
Court Cases: Media Comment
In order to avoid prejudice to criminal proceedings, I may issue what is called a media advisory notice in order to inform and ensure responsible media coverage. I have launched a campaign called #thinkbeforeyoupost to promote awareness of the risks of ill-judged social media posts. It is critical that the evidence is tested before a jury—any evidence should be tested before a jury—in a court of law and not in the court of public opinion.
In a recent Scottish case, a High Court judge suggested that offences by a blogger were to be dealt with differently from similar breaches by mainstream media. Given that most, if not all, of the recent serious breaches have been carried out by the mainstream media, and given moreover that the press and media are evolutionary, with many of the current mainstream media once themselves having been radical outsiders supporting, for example, universal franchise, does the Attorney General agree that while bloggers rightly require to be held to account, they are equally entitled to the protections that apply to the rest of the mainstream media?
Everyone is equal under the law. In general, the media are responsible and are very much aware of reporting restrictions, the limitations on reporting of active proceedings, and what reporting might amount to a contempt of court. As I said, I do issue and have issued media advisory notices where that is not happening and in exceptional cases. The hon. Gentleman’s point about bloggers and others on social media is a live one. It is right that everyone is aware that whether they have training or not, they are responsible under the law for what they post. Interfering in, prejudicing or undermining court proceedings is a serious matter and can be visited with a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment.
Royal Albert Hall: Charity Tribunal
The disagreement between the Charity Commission and the Royal Albert Hall is long-running and raises complex issues of charity law. The parties have been asked to try to resolve these issues without recourse to potentially costly litigation. That process is ongoing. My officials are continuing to engage with the parties to assist them in working through the contentious matters raised by this case.
A face-value ticket for an Eric Clapton concert in May next year at the Royal Albert Hall costs £175, yet tickets are on sale on Viagogo at a 577% mark-up, at £1,185 per ticket. The seats in question are owned by a party related to a vice-president of the corporation. The Attorney General wrote to me last week to say that he wishes to
“move this matter towards a satisfactory resolution as swiftly as possible.”
Will he therefore take immediate action on this serious and clear conflict of interest at a British institution and permit the Charity Commission to take this to a tribunal?
I am grateful for that elucidation, Mr Speaker. The Royal Albert Hall and the Charity Commission have been working to try to resolve the matter that the hon. Lady refers to without recourse to litigation, and I am awaiting the outcome of that process. I have instructed my officials to continue to engage with the parties that the hon. Lady refers to, to assist them in working through the complex issues raised by this case. I will say, however, that no decision has been taken on whether to consent to the referral to the Charity Commission. I will approach the matter as a neutral umpire, commensurate with my role as Attorney General and as parens patriae.
Criminal Justice System Recovery: Covid-19
I frequently meet criminal justice partners to discuss this important issue. The covid-19 outbreak has been felt keenly by the criminal justice system. Recovery is a priority for this Government. I have been proud of the resilience that criminal justice agencies have shown. There is still more to do, but both the CPS and the Serious Fraud Office have been commended for their efforts at this difficult time. I thank them for continuing to support the delivery of justice.
I thank the police, Wrexham and Denbighshire councils and other authorities in Clwyd South, who have done a great job during the difficult days of the pandemic. How can my right hon. and learned Friend reassure my constituents of efforts to continue to deliver justice in Clwyd South, despite the pandemic?
I thank my hon. Friend for his generous question. I am proud that all criminal justice agencies have worked closely together since the covid-19 outbreak to ensure that essential justice services continue to be delivered. The CPS and the court service in north Wales have worked closely together throughout the pandemic to ensure that courts can be run safely and to maximise the flow of cases, while preserving public health. For example, domestic abuse cases in particular have been prioritised in the magistrates courts, so there are no delays or backlogs for those sensitive cases, where victims deserve our protection and support, but that goes in Clwyd South and it goes everywhere.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his answer. In Sussex, we have a backlog of over 800 Crown court cases—one case is now approaching four years without coming to court—and a rising drop-out rate. The Nightingale court in Chichester is making a real difference, but we still need greater capacity and pace. Can he assure me that every avenue is being pursued to address this backlog, so that we can ensure justice for victims in Eastbourne and in Sussex?
Yes, indeed. CPS South East in her region is working with all criminal justice partners to support the recovery activity within Sussex, including to ensure court capacity can be maximised and file quality improved—of course, the better the file quality, the speedier proceedings can follow. The latest levels of cases that I have seen flowing through the courts indicate that in recent weeks at least, outstanding case load in the Crown court has begun to reduce. However, there is still more to be done, and I should say at this point that there is no limit on the number of days that Crown courts can sit for the next fiscal year. That will enable Crown court judges to hold as many hearings as they safely can and as is physically possible, as we continue to recover from the pandemic.
As we come out of the pandemic, to restore confidence in the criminal justice system, the public need to know that the law will apply equally to everyone, irrespective of rank, job or title. It is clear from the footage of the former Health Secretary and his aide that the law on indoor gatherings was breached. This very same law prevented Her Majesty the Queen from sitting with her family at the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. Does the Attorney General agree that by failing to investigate the former Health Secretary’s breach, this Government are sending the message that there is one rule for Government Ministers and their advisers, and another for everyone else?
The hon. Lady will know that we do not discuss individual cases, putative or otherwise. The reality of the matter is that, as she will recognise, everyone is equal under the law in our system. That has always been the case and remains the case. We have an extremely pressing CPS case load, and a court system that is working very hard to bring justice to all, and that includes victims of serious crime, so I do not recognise the problem she raises. We have a system in this country in which everyone is treated equally, and it is a matter entirely for the independent authorities to investigate each and every case as they see fit, not for Government Ministers.
With a record 60,000 cases in the backlog of Crown court cases, past UK Government austerity is closing legal aid centres and now covid is impacting significantly on access to justice. Does the Attorney General agree that the justice system is vital to keeping cases moving through the justice system, and what does he plan to do to ensure that access to legal aid is available for everyone across the UK?
The hon. Member is right to raise this point. Of course, access to legal aid is very important in the administration of justice, and this Government have maintained funding for that purpose. She is also right to focus on the impact of the pandemic on the system. As I have already indicated, financial matters are being dealt with very generously by the Treasury and the Ministry of Justice. This Government have spent over a quarter of a billion pounds on recovery, as she may know, that has helped to make court buildings safe, including by rolling out new technology for virtual hearings, which of course is less expensive and less time-consuming. There is recruitment of additional staff, and there are Nightingale courts. Whether it be at one end of the criminal justice system or the other, this Government are funding the process so as to ensure speedy, safe and equal justice for all.
The Attorney General rightly referred to the work of the various justice agencies in this regard. The Director of Public Prosecutions gave powerful evidence to the Justice Committee on 15 June about the pressures that the backlog places on the Crown Prosecution Service. Every case that goes to court has to be worked on by CPS staff, and he is concerned that there is a real risk, in his word, of “fatigue” with case levels running at 50% above pre-covid levels. Can we make sure we have a whole-system approach of sustained investment in the Crown Prosecution Service and the rest of the prosecution service so that staff can cope with the demands of getting back on track and having cases brought forward timeously?
I thank my learned friend for his question, and he is right to make this point about the wellbeing of staff in the criminal justice system and, having had Max Hill before his Committee, in the CPS in particular. My hon. Friend will know that Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate’s reports have praised the Crown Prosecution Service and its focus on the wellbeing of staff during this period, because they have continued to deliver essential public service. In spite of the pandemic, staff have continued to attend courts, where necessary, to enable them to fulfil their public duty. I should say that the evidence his Committee has heard is correct: the total live CPS post-charge case load is 51% higher than pre-covid, which equates to 52,000 additional cases. In the magistrates court, there is an estimated increase of 3,800 cases that will require a trial listing, and there is an increase of 11,700—70%—in the Crown courts. So he is right to think about the wellbeing of staff and the fatigue that they are naturally enduring during this time.
Many of my constituents who are small business owners and self-employed are struggling with unpaid invoices and bills for work and services provided, and are threatened with losing their homes. They are not eligible for national support schemes and need to rely on courts to recover their lost money. What will the Minister do to help them get justice as quickly as possible?
The Government are very conscious of the pressure that businesses of all sizes—small, medium and large—have been put under by the pandemic. The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on small businesses, because losses occasioned by the pandemic and its exigencies put considerable pressure on small businesses in particular. Where they have to recover debts owed to them through the courts, the courts will process those matters, but there are prioritisations within the system. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that, to my knowledge, the Ministry of Justice is working hard to support the court process, so that all matters can be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.
Serious Fraud Office: Economic Crime
I recognise the significant work that my hon. Friend has done to protect victims in this area, both as a constituency MP and in his role on the all-party groups on fair business banking and for whistleblowing. In the past 12 months the Serious Fraud Office had brought a number of individuals and corporations to justice, including successful prosecutions in its Unaoil case, uncovering $17 million in bribes. A conviction against GPT resulted in £30 million of confiscations, fines and costs, and deferred prosecution agreements with G4S and Airline Services Limited have resulted in more than £47 million in penalties and costs.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer. The GPT case she refers to was one of the SFO’s rare successes in court in a proven case of corruption. I think there were £28 million of penalties, although it may be £30 million, as she said, including costs. My constituent, Ian Foxley, was a key whistleblower in that case, but he has been completely hung out to dry by the SFO, and has had 10 years without any financial compensation—10 years of lost income. What effect does the Minister think that will have on future whistleblowers, and the likelihood that they will come forward with key evidence? Will she meet me and my constituent to discuss the matter and see what can be done?
I reassure my hon. Friend that the SFO recognises the importance of whistleblowers to its work, and if appropriate I would be happy to meet him to discuss the case and perhaps the issue more broadly. In that particular case the judge concluded that it was not suitable to make a compensation order, and that is why the SFO concluded that it would not be appropriate to put Mr Foxley’s victim impact statement before the court. I hope to discuss those issues more fully with my hon. Friend.
End-to-End Rape Review
I recognise the need to restore the faith of victims of these horrific cases. The recently published rape review outlines the Government’s ambition to ensure that justice is served and more cases progress through the system. The CPS is fully committed to delivering actions under the rape review, and those will result in improved joint working between police and prosecutors, to build stronger cases earlier and with less intrusion into victims’ private lives.
The review includes setting the CPS targets of getting rape prosecutions up to 2016 levels. Labour has said that the Government should return to those levels by next year, not by the end of the next Parliament—something the Lord Chancellor said was “constitutionally illiterate.” Will the Attorney General confirm whether the Government intend to stick to those targets, or have they already U-turned on that?
The matter to which the hon. Lady refers is for the Ministry of Justice, but she is right to raise it because cases involving rape and serious sexual offences are some of the most challenging and complicated cases—I emphasise that—with which the CPS deals. That is why only prosecutors with specialist training manage these incredibly sensitive, time-consuming and complex cases. The CPS is committed to ensuring that specialist prosecutors are equipped to deal with the complexities and sensitivities of those types of case.
For example, in May, the CPS published revised rape legal guidance, following public consultation, including new content on challenging rape myths and stereotypes, and a trauma-informed approach. The reason I raise that is that speed is important, yes, but it is also right that the complexities and sensitivities of those cases are handled by highly trained and professional CPS lawyers. That is what is happening.
The Government’s end-to-end rape review has been a missed opportunity to address the systemic failures in our criminal justice system. In the Attorney General’s own words, rape victims “are being failed” by this Government. After a two-year wait, the review offers only piecemeal pilots, tinkering around the edges and next to no new funding. When the dire rape conviction statistics were raised with the Prime Minister last week in the House, he dismissed that as “jabber”—a disgraceful response. Will the Attorney General apologise on behalf of the Prime Minister?
The hon. Lady is mischaracterising what was said last week. The cross-Government rape review was published on 18 June. It has produced key actions: an initial ambition to return volumes of cases progressing through the system to pre-2016 levels by the end of this Parliament; an ambition to ensure that no victim is left without access to a mobile phone for more than 24 hours; the launching of pathfinder projects to test innovative ways for the police and the CPS to approach rape cases—so much has been included in the rape review.
I very much accept, as I said in the rape review’s opening paragraphs, that a great deal needs to be done and that we are not happy with where the process has been. A great deal of work is going into that, however, and increased support for victims throughout the criminal justice system is important. That is happening, including through increased provisions, for example, with ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisers.
I am disappointed by the number of questions we have got through today. In future, I hope, we might be able to get through quite a few more. I will now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 5 July will include:
Monday 5 July—Remaining stages of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Tuesday 6 July—Second Reading of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill.
Wednesday 7 July—Opposition day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced.
Thursday 8 July—General debate on fuel poverty, followed by debate on a motion relating to the implementation of the recommendations of the independent medicines and medical devices safety review. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 July will include:
Monday 12 July—Second Reading of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.
Tuesday 13 July—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of the Chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Wednesday 14 July—Second Reading of a Bill.
Thursday 15 July—Debate on a motion relating to the Northern Ireland protocol, followed by debate on a motion relating to the Peking winter Olympics and Chinese Government sanctions. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 16 July—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business, and we can discuss later the apparent absence so far of a motion to change rules about recall.
“It’s extraordinary. I don’t understand.”
“I think the social distancing rules are very important and people should follow them.”
Those words were spoken last year by the now former Health Secretary, when a scientist admitted to meeting his girlfriend indoors, breaking covid rules, and now we know that the former Health Secretary broke the same rules. He also flouted rules on procurement, handing out contracts to dodgy mates; he let down staff and residents of care homes with his not-really-a-ring-of-protection around them; and much more. For instance, what sort of Health Secretary hands out contracts for personal protective equipment to his pub landlord, from a pub called—I am not making this up—the Cock Inn? A few weeks ago at business questions, the Leader of the House referred to the former Health Secretary as a “successful genius”. Does the Leader of the House wish to amend that judgment?
This May, the rules were that there should be no indoor social gathering of two or more people from different households. We have all seen the CCTV footage of the former Health Secretary and the former non-executive director of his former Department—that is not a work meeting. However, does the Leader of the House know where Government cameras are in Departments? Is there a list? If not the Government, who put the cameras there, and how?
On “The Moggcast” this week, the Leader of the House said that
“if a man were to appoint his wife to be a non-executive director you would hope that the Cabinet Office knew that the lady was married to the man”.
He clearly agrees that it matters who a Secretary of State appoints to check his or her work, so will there be a review of the appointment process, and will the Government publish details of the appointment of this specific former non-executive director?
This week, the British people have felt the joy of football victory. Keen followers of business questions will know that football is not my sport, but even I witnessed both the goals and the joy. I am a great fan of joy, and may there be more joy on Saturday. However, in light of the concerns about covid outbreaks associated with Euro matches, what reassurance will the Government give about protection for the remaining matches, and does the Leader of the House understand the bemusement of amateur choirs, which are still not allowed to sing indoors, when they see football fans cheering indoors? Can he explain why VIPs and business execs are exempt from travel restrictions when others, who are very ill, cannot even get a response to an application to isolate at home, instead of in a hotel, on medical grounds? It is rules for all of us, and no rules for Government and their mates.
A year ago, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said that the review of the six-month rule for terminally ill people would be published “shortly”. Last week, the Leader of the House said that it would be published “soon”. On Monday, the Minister said that it would be published “very soon”, and then said the same about the disability strategy promised two years ago. Yesterday, the Prime Minister gave a “soon” about the Online Safety Bill. Will the Leader of the House tell us how long is “soon”?
Thanks to months of campaigning by steelworkers, their trade unions and MPs, yesterday the Government finally acted to protect steel jobs, but just saying “soon” does not help people who are worried about their jobs and livelihoods. Will the Government learn that lesson?
When Ministers break rules, the Prime Minister rewards them instead of sacking them. When the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government helped out a Tory donor mate, the Prime Minister did not sack him. When the Home Secretary was found to have bullied her own staff, he did not sack her. When the Education Secretary messed up, well, pretty much everything, he did not sack him, and that saga continues, owing to children missing months of school and a catch-up plan that does not catch them up.
And no, this is not just Westminster bubble stuff. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, it hurts people. They feel betrayed. People dutifully watched No. 10 press conferences to check rules, and in following rules, people struggled, some lost jobs, some could not hold the hand of a parent at the end of life or be at their funeral, but they stuck to the rules, even when that really hurt. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister cannot get his Ministers to stick to any rules. What consequences does the Leader of the House think there should be for Ministers breaking rules?
People hate hypocrisy. They know it when they see it, and they have seen it again this week: the man who set the covid rules breaking the covid rules, and the Prime Minister just waving his hands in the air. The Leader of the House will say, “There’s a new Health Secretary and the vaccine roll-out is great.” Yes, we are eternally grateful to scientists and the NHS for the vaccine—we are all queuing up—but that does not change Government rule breaking and why this matters. When will the Government stop breaking their own rules? It really is one set of rules for the people, and for the Government and their mates, it is no rules for them.
I think the hon. Lady’s fox was shot some time ago, because my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) is the former Health Secretary, and the word “former” is quite an important one. We have had references to association football, and my right hon. Friend has been replaced by the super-sub—the Jack Grealish of politics—in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), the new Secretary of State, who has come on with great effect and great panache.
The hon. Lady challenges me on what I said about the great genius of the former Secretary of State. I stick by that because he worked incredibly hard for 15 months. If I may resort to Dryden once again, the hon. Lady will know:
“Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.”
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend made a grave mistake, for which, because the rules are enforced fairly, he resigned. He resigned the day after the story was printed in the newspapers. Here we get the splitting of hairs between the resignation and the sacking. The man has gone. He has lost his job, as has the non-executive director in the Department of Health and Social Care with whom he seems to be closely associated. That is quite the right way for it to have happened. My right hon. Friend is no longer in office.
The hon. Lady complains about procurement, but that is not what the Opposition were saying a year ago, when they specifically asked the Government whether we would
“now commit to provide local public health services and Public Health England with ‘whatever it needs’ to build up the test, trace and isolate regime so obviously needed”.
The Opposition made a strong demand that that should take place very quickly. Of course, it was done quickly. What did the Opposition do? They very helpfully set out 10 proposals for the Government, and No. 3 was:
“Test, test, test. For testing to be effective, Government should provide capacity for widespread, regular community testing. Everyone showing symptoms should be able to access a test within 24 hours.”
On and on they went, asking the Government to do exactly what the Government were doing, but now, a year later, they complain that we did it quickly. What did they want? Did they want us to do it with torpor, inactivity and idleness? Well, we would not have got very far with it if we had. Last year they said we should do whatever it takes, but this year they say that doing whatever it takes was wrong. There is a word for that, Mr Speaker, but it is not parliamentary, so I will not use it. It was quite right of the Opposition to ask for what they did a year ago. It was right for the Government to do it and it had to be done at speed.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady wants to spread joy. As we all know, joy cometh in the morning and this morning is a morning of joy for us all. She asks about remaining matches. Now, I do not know the specific plans for football, but I can inform the House about the plans for anyone intending to go to the match between England and Pakistan at Lord’s, a one-day match on 10 July, which I will be going to. I got the circular from the MCC—the Marylebone Cricket Club—yesterday. One will be required to show either that one has been double vaccinated within a fortnight or that one has had a recent test, so there are procedures in place. This is one of the test events—it is actually a one-day match, not a Test, Mr Speaker, but you get the point—where things will be carefully kept in order to ensure the safety of people going there.
The hon. Lady thanks the Government for bringing forward the duties for the steelworkers. I am grateful for her thanks and support for the robust action the Government have taken. That is being done quite properly in the right way to ensure that the steel industry is protected where it needs to be.
Then we get into an obscure argument about the Westminster bubble. It is unquestionably true that there are some issues which this House is beset by. I think that deciding how many angels dance on the pinhead of a resignation or a sacking is one of those and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to say so yesterday.
Good morning, Mr Speaker. Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friend promised to chase up local government Ministers for failing to answer my questions about the consultation in Somerset. I know he has chased them and I do thank him enormously for that, but I am beginning to understand why the Ministry and the Government kept this a secret. The results of the survey attracted only 5,000 responses—a pathetic 1% of the Somerset population—but 111,000 people cast their votes in the referendum organised by the district councils and a huge majority voted in favour of the two unitaries. This referendum cannot be ignored by Ministers because of democracy and legality. They will damage themselves if they do. This deserves a debate in Government time to be able to talk about the land of King Arthur and what a marvellous honourable people they are.
Ah, Mr Speaker, your puns are getting almost as bad as mine.
What I would say to my hon. Friend is that he is tempting me in the right direction to have a debate on the great advantages of the county of Somerset and the fact that Alfred’s coming out of the Levels and defeating Guthrum is the foundation not only of England, but actually the United States and Australia. All that flows from that comes from Alfred defeating the Danes, otherwise it would have been a different kettle of fish. So I sympathise with his desire for a debate, but I think the specific issue is more suited to an Adjournment debate. The Government will of course take into account the responses that have come in to the discussion on how the county of Somerset should be administered, but what I would say is of fundamental importance is that actually bureaucratic boundaries are not what people in Somerset mind about. They care about their whole historic united county. That is what matters to my constituents and to his, and bureaucratic boundaries are comparatively trifling.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I suppose the first thing to do is to acknowledge this week’s sporting success: I am sure the whole House will want to congratulate Andy Murray on his stunning progress to the third round at Wimbledon. And apparently there was some football game on, too. Now that we are getting rid of EVEL, English votes for English laws, how about we get ESEV, English sport for English viewers, so that Scottish viewers of the BBC do not have to endlessly watch that Gazza goal scored against us and are spared the endless references to 1966 when we are watching Croatia or Denmark?
May we have a debate about ministerial resignations? After the departure of the Health Secretary, the public just do not know what it takes to get the sack anymore. This was a Health Secretary whose tenure was littered with unlimited disastrous policy decisions and riddled with cronyism, overseeing the largest death rate in Europe. But it was not that that brought him down; it was issues around having an affair. Does the Leader of the House not think that that is akin to Al Capone going down for tax evasion?
Today marks the beginning of the end of furlough, and there is no statement from the Chancellor. That will add thousands of pounds of costs to businesses across the country and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that it will lead to lay-offs and redundancies, so why no statement? We also need an urgent update on the settlement scheme, given that the Home Office is unable to cope with the outstanding backlog and that there is ongoing confusion and chaos. Sometimes, it seems the Government are more interested in sausages than people.
Well, haggis to that, I think. When the hon. Gentleman complains about references to 1966, I would say “pots and kettles”, because we often hear from the SNP about 1314. I think 1966 is a little more recent history than 1314.
On the furlough scheme, this was well announced and well planned, and we are getting back to normal. The date of 19 July is a terminus and, to carry on the railway comparison, we are on track. It is therefore right that businesses begin to get back to normal. Bear in mind that £407 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent supporting the economy. Fourteen million jobs and people have been protected through the furlough and self-employed schemes at a cost of £88.5 billion. There is not unlimited money and it is right that the scheme is withdrawn at the point at which the pandemic’s emergency provisions are drawing to a close.
As regards the settlement scheme, I think that through the scheme 5.3 million or so EU member state nationals have been dealt with, out of 5.6 million applications so far. A generous deadline was set and it has been handled extraordinarily well and efficiently by the Home Office. Officials there deserve considerable gratitude from the nation for handling it so smoothly considering the very much higher number of eligible people than the Office for National Statistics thought were in the country.
We recently celebrated UK National Marriage Week. As we come out of lockdown and welcome back larger weddings, may we have a debate about marriage, recognising that we do not want to price people out of marriage? That is not least because this week the Centre for Social Justice pointed out that those born into well-off families have a 96% chance of having two parents but, in our poorest communities, the figure is 28% and falling. While we all agree that single parents deserve all the help they can get and that so many do a great job, does the Leader of the House agree that if we as politicians are serious about levelling up, we should not hold back from also supporting marriage and the stability that it provides to give children a positive start in life?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and for the excellent work of the Centre for Social Justice, founded, of course, by our right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). Its findings are important and clear. My hon. Friend is right to be supportive of marriage, and it may not surprise her to hear that I am very supportive of marriage. It is a foundation stone of our society and has been for millenniums. It is fundamental.
I think the issue here is tonal as much as anything. The Government and politicians should support, encourage and foster marriage, but they must not be harsh on those who are not married. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in her tone to say, “Yes, we need to support people who are single parents but recognise the great benefits to children of being within a couple and a family.”
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business Committee debates for 8 and 15 July. On 15 July, as has been said, the Committee proposes debates on the Northern Ireland protocol and on the Beijing winter Olympics and the Chinese Government.
The levels of demand at the Backbench Business Committee remain high, but, alas, we do not have further time to allocate that we know of before the summer recess. We have pre-allocated all potential slots in Westminster Hall, and we have already pre-allocated subjects for debate on Thursday 22 July, should we be allocated that time.
Recently, I joined my local police for a series of visits around Blackpool. I was travelling in a car with PC Jeff Blincow and Sergeant Helen McLaren when we spotted a man carrying a foot-long machete and repeatedly punching a young woman. Without hesitation, the officers got out of the car. After a short chase and the use of PAVA spray, they were able to get the man to the ground and arrest him. The bravery and professionalism of the officers was second to none, and they deserve immense respect and admiration for their actions. Had they not acted so quickly we could have seen a serious incident, with the loss of life. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Jeff and Helen, and indeed all police officers, for the brilliant job they do, day in, day out, in protecting our communities. Does he think it would be in order to have a debate in this House to recognise the work of our serving police officers?
May I begin by wishing my hon. Friend a very happy birthday? I hope he will have a suitably covid-secure celebration later on today. What he has raised in this House is of fundamental importance. We are so lucky to have the police who serve us in this country. We know that in this House by the police who are here on duty to protect us, not knowing what risks they may face. Therefore, I do thank PC Jeff Blincow and Sergeant Helen McLaren, and commend them for their bravery, and I am glad to be able to bring to the attention of the House the fact that what they clearly did on that day is a model of good policing. We are improving the police and increasing their number, so that there will be more of them to do this work. There will be 20,000 extra police officers over the course of this Parliament, of whom 8,771 have so far been recruited, because police on the streets make us feel safer. As regards a debate, my hon. Friend may wish to raise this matter again during the Report stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Monday, so there is an opportunity immediately to hand.
Several of my constituents have had a frustrating experience when trying to book a driving test at the Stockport test centre. Sadly, this experience is replicated across Greater Manchester and England as a result of processing delays at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Will the Leader of the House urge his colleague the Transport Secretary to come before this House to make a statement and explain why Ministers chose to block a deal that would have brought an end to the industrial dispute with the Public and Commercial Services Union at the DVLA over health and safety? Is this not another case of this Government putting ideology ahead of the needs of the public?
Obviously, there is a regrettable backlog in tests because of the pandemic. That is being worked through. The number of tests being done at test centres is increasing. The number of tests being done by driving testers has gone up by an extra one a day, as I understand it, to try to work through this backlog. It will take time and this is, of course, unfortunate, but there are consequences of the pandemic, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the undeniable failure of the pubs code to stop unfair business practices that are continuing against tied tenants in public houses throughout the country? A clear example of this is the experience of Christian and Samantha Gibbs, the current tenants of The Major in Ramsbottom. Despite not owing a penny to their landlord, Stonegate, and running a fantastic community pub, they have been given notice that their tenancy will be brought to an end. In my view, that is a clear breach of the fairness principle in the pubs code.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this to the attention of the House. We want to support pubs across the country. As he knows, the pubs code is overseen by the Pubs Code Adjudicator, which is itself overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The code was put in place to help support tenant pub landlords, and I urge him to raise this matter with the adjudicator if he believes, as he does, that the code has been broken by his constituents’ landlord. The Government published their report on the first statutory review of the pubs code in November last year, which found that the code is consistent with the principles set out in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. The review also set out changes that the Government believe can be made to improve the operation of the code. I encourage landlords to behave well towards their tenants; that is how they make their profit and earn their living, and reward their shareholders, which they have a fiduciary duty to do.
Under the Government’s previous green deal scheme, more than 3,000 Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems customers in Scotland were mis-sold home improvement works, which were often unnecessary and always financially detrimental to the household. I have received assurances from various Ministers and Secretaries of State—who accepted that HELMS defrauded thousands—that it would be sorted. We now have households that have issues with these works, but as the six-year mark since HELMS directors dissolved the company has passed, there is no recourse for those constituents. Can we please have a debate on this important issue?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise an important and complex constituency issue. I am sorry that he has not received the information that he had hoped to. I will, of course, take this matter up with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on his behalf.
Our national health service has been under incredible pressure over the last 18 months, as we all know, and now it has a new Health Secretary. In April, the Care Quality Commission conducted an inquiry into and review of Northwick Park Hospital, which serves my constituents. The A&E department was given a glowing report and has shown dramatic improvement, which is good news for everyone. However, the same cannot be said of the maternity service. This is a very bad report indeed. I cannot go into detail at the moment, but clearly the CQC has published this, so could we have a statement to the House from the Health Secretary or a Minister on what extra support will be provided to Northwick Park Hospital so that the maternity unit is returned to the service that should be provided, and expectant mothers will receive the help and care they need to deliver healthy babies?
This is a deeply troubling matter. The House will know that there have been similar problems; the scandal at Telford and Shrewsbury particularly comes to mind. For the women, children and families affected, this is a terrible situation. I assure my hon. Friend that NHS England and NHS Improvement are spending an additional £95 million on maternity services to support the recruitment of 1,200 midwives, 100 consultant obstetricians and implementation of the immediate and essential actions arising from the Ockenden report. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s remarks to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary and ensure that the matter is taken with the seriousness that it unquestionably deserves-.
The Leader of the House will be proud, as I am, of the high animal welfare and environmental standards of British farmers. The Australian trade deal looks likely to betray those farmers by allowing lower standard Australian farm produce to undercut them. Given that this deal will set a precedent for every subsequent trade deal, will he allow time for MPs to debate it, as was done with the Japan deal last November, when his right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary said that that was the “first of many debates” about negotiated trade deals? Will he keep faith with British farmers and keep the promise made by his right hon. Friend?
I have more confidence in my farmers; I think they can compete with the best in the world. The Australians are fantastic farmers who have high standards of animal welfare. We should not be so frightened, nervy and feeble in feeling that a bit of competition from Australia will do us harm. It will do us all good, and our farmers will flourish and prosper as they get access to new markets too.
I need not remind anyone in this House about the scale and horror of the child sexual exploitation scandal that blighted Rotherham and affected many of my constituents, including courageous whistleblower and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse. That these children—because that is what many of them were when the abuse took place—were failed so monumentally by the system in the first place is horrific, but living as a survivor of sexual exploitation or any form of sexual assault is fraught with many issues, particularly for those girls and women who became pregnant as a result of their ordeal and are now trying to raise a family.
The children born to survivors of sexual assault should not, as currently happens, be automatically identified as being at risk of abuse, and their mothers, many of whom have been failed once already, should not be threatened with the removal of their children on the basis of no other evidence than that they themselves were once victims. Does the Leader of the House agree that these women and their children should be better supported by social services, and can we have a debate in Government time on the disturbing findings of “The Case for Change” report, published by the chair of the independent review of children’s social care, so that we may right this historic wrong, which is still victimising survivors of child sexual exploitation and sexual assault today?
What my hon. Friend brings to the House is really rather shocking. It should certainly not be the case that women who have themselves been abused should be deemed as being at risk of being abusers purely because they were abused. That is wrong, unfair and unjust and I am troubled that he should say that that is the case. I will take this up on his behalf with the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary, because the abuse scandal in Rotherham is one that has left many scars and troubles for families and for individuals who were abused, and they should not be suffering further. They should be getting the support that my hon. Friend talks about.
Can we have a debate about ministerial bad habits? When I was a Government Minister, it was unthinkable that we would have conducted Government business on private email accounts and absolutely unthinkable that, as a Minister, I could have held 27 meetings with companies that were seeking Government contracts, resulting in £1 billion-worth of contracts being awarded, and that those meetings could have mysteriously disappeared from my diary for a whole 12 months. The Leader of the House likes quoting Dryden. I remind him that Dryden said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” These bad habits of Ministers in Government will lead to a Government of grifters, cronies and chisellers, and they have to stop.
I am not sure that email was invented when the hon. Gentleman was last a Minister, but perhaps it had come into its early stages. It is absolutely right that Ministers had meetings with people who were going to provide personal protective equipment. I refer him to what I said to the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). It needed to be done urgently, the Opposition were encouraging us to do it urgently, and it was done urgently and effectively to ensure that supplies were brought in.
I join you, Mr Speaker, and others in wishing Mr Ian Davis MBE a long, happy retirement. He has been a magnificent servant of this House and has great musical talents. My goodness, if he ever wrote a book, it would be well worth buying and would be a top seller.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on proposals to allow the parents and guardians of disabled children access to their savings? Some 200,000 disabled children are locked out of the savings from children’s trust funds, and it is quite wrong that those parents have to go to court and spend a great deal of money to get those savings.
I absolutely agree about Ian Davis. He has been a fabulous servant of this House and a kindly and helpful figure to Members—particularly new Members when trying to find out how to approach the Speaker to ask to be noticed in a debate and so on—with a phenomenal knowledge of who the Members are, recognising all of us from a remarkably early stage in our parliamentary careers. He has been a model public servant, as you, Mr Speaker, set out yesterday, in both his military career and his service to this House, and he will be greatly missed across the House.
As regards the very important issue that my hon. Friend raises, I understand that the Ministry of Justice and HM Treasury are currently working together, as a matter of priority, to ensure that parents and guardians can secure the legal authority that they need to act on their child’s behalf as straightforwardly as possible. The Government have announced that those who need to apply to the Court of Protection to access funds in a mature child trust fund can access fee remission, allowing for the court fees to be waived, but I will pass on his concerns to both the Chancellors: the Lord High Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
On 27 May, in response to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme decision on suspending Members not being subject to a recall petition, the Leader of the House said that he would deal with the discrepancy in
“the most straightforward way possible”.—[Official Report, 27 May 2021; Vol. 696, c. 564.]
Will he provide a separate statement to the House about how he intends to resolve this issue? He will recall that, on 27 May, I praised him for his honesty about what should happen in these cases. I agree with him that it is frankly ridiculous that Members can technically be suspended and subject to recall for the misuse of stationery but not when sexual misconduct has been proven. I ask the Leader—I plead with him—to close the loophole and solve the problem as quickly as possible, because it is not fair to victims who make complaints when Members who are found to have conducted themselves completely improperly as Members can simply carry on regardless. It is not acceptable.
I fully recognise the widespread view across the House on this issue. I assure the hon. Gentleman that consultations are taking place—earlier this week I spoke to staff representatives—because the reason for not engaging recall was a bottom-up view, not a top-down view. It is really important that any changes are made with the support of the staff, which I believe is now there. It is a matter for the Commission rather than for the Leader of the House, but I will facilitate bringing forward the necessary motions required to put things into practice. There is also discussion with the chairman of the independent expert panel, Sir Stephen Irwin, about how best to do things. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the wheels are in motion and there is great support across the House and, indeed, from the shadow Leader of the House, with whom I have a meeting later today, to ensure that things are done in a timely manner.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his excellent response on schools last week, but may I please press him a bit further? Parents in Bracknell and beyond are telling me that entire classes and year groups are still being isolated because of one positive covid test; that extracurricular activities are being banned, not least for year 6 leavers; and that parents cannot attend sports days, even when they would otherwise be outside and distanced. Headteachers will be beholden to the unions for as long as they are permitted to use their judgment. Something has gone very badly wrong. Does the Leader of the House feel, as I do, that the only way to get children back to school and living normal lives is for the Government to mandate it?
I am, obviously, torn on this matter, because I believe in local decision making. I believe that headmasters and headmistresses throughout the country can show leadership. Some sports days are going ahead. I will be going, on 7 July, to the Hill House School field day, which is going to be arranged in a covid-secure manner. I encourage the leadership of schools to work with the regulations in a way that is allowed and that means things can happen. It is sometimes easier, administratively, to stop things and say no than it is to look at how to be positive and allow things to happen. I reiterate the point that I made last week: while in some cases a whole class may be required to isolate, many settings use seating plans and other means to identify close contacts in order to minimise the number of individuals who need to isolate. Yes, we should push from the top, but there should also be a response locally, from individual schools, to try to ensure that children get to school as often as is possible.
Campaigners such as Ailsa MacKenzie gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee two years ago and secured a commitment from the Department for Work and Pensions to place a remedial order to extend eligibility for widowed parent’s allowance and bereavement support payments to cohabitees with children. Given that 60 days—not including recess—are required to consider the proposal, will the Leader of the House liaise with the DWP to ensure that the remedial order is put in place as soon as possible, so that people such as Ailsa MacKenzie and their relatives and family get this state support?
Last week, I was at the excellent West Rise Junior School with Ms Somerville and year 6. They are super-motivated in their work on the environment, and I committed then to step up to the challenge of plastic-free July. Will my right hon. Friend publicise this initiative throughout the House, perhaps join me himself and, more importantly, allow time for a debate so that we can share our collective experience to understand what the barriers are to success in this initiative? We all know that making small changes can make a huge difference to our carbon footprint.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to campaign in this way. We all have our own private responsibility to reduce the amount of plastic that we use. I am not sure that I can guarantee a plastic-free July, because I might want a glass of water at the Dispatch Box and we have plastic cups here rather than glasses, but I must confess that my hon. Friend is pushing with my own personal preference. I have never liked those cups of coffee in disposable cups, which I think have a rather nasty taste; having it in china cups—preferably Spode china cups—is infinitely preferable. I encourage people to use glass, china and other things that may be used more than once.
Today, 750,000 businesses across England have lost their business rates relief, but, in Wales, the Welsh Labour Government have extended rates relief for a year and provided new support for businesses impacted by the pandemic. Can we have an opportunity to impress on Ministers the need to do more, help shops and businesses get back on their feet, and follow the Welsh example?
As I have mentioned already, £470 billion of taxpayers’ money has been given in support to business, and a 66% business rates cut for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses exists for the next nine months, so there has already been very significant support. The strength of the United Kingdom is that Wales has had £8.6 billion of UK taxpayers’ support, which is supporting more than 360,000 self-employment scheme claims and over 468,000 jobs in the furlough scheme. That is an indication of the strength of the United Kingdom, but the taxpayer has already been leaned on to a very considerable extent, and there is not unlimited money.
The Leader of the House was pretty clear at the Procedure Committee on Monday that he has converted—well, he has not converted, as it was always his position, alongside the SNP—to see the back of the EVEL Standing Orders. It seems that they will, nevertheless, be switched on when the Standing Orders for the procedure during the pandemic lapse at the end of term. He will switch them on only to switch them back off again at some point. Rather than that, can we not have a debate and a vote on all the hybrid proceedings before the summer recess so that we can decide what we want to retain and what we want to change?
The Croydon bottleneck is a major rail junction for the Brighton main line, but also serves suburban London, such as Carshalton and Wallington. Congestion here is causing massive delays and also prevents more frequent rail services from being run to outer London, which the Croydon area remodelling scheme is designed to fix. Can we have a statement from the Department for Transport about Government support for this scheme so that we can deliver additional rail services to Carshalton and Wallington?
Improving track layouts, remodelling the Selhurst triangle and constructing new tracks and two new platforms at East Croydon station would remove the bottleneck, which causes delays and disruption, improving the punctuality and speed of services. As I understand it, Network Rail has consulted on proposals to unblock the Croydon bottleneck and progress is expected later this year. I understand the concern that this must be to my hon. Friend’s constituents as so many of them are likely to be dependent on this service.
Let me say how much I enjoyed visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency recently, going to the Sutton vaccination centre and meeting Wendy, who was the subject of a Commons mention. May I say how surprised I am that he has managed to find something in his constituency that is not the fault of an incompetent Lib Dem-run administration? I hope that next week he will try harder.
In the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice Colton confirmed what the Prime Minister himself had repeatedly denied in this House, which is that the withdrawal Act, which we in the DUP rejected in this House on all three occasions, has repealed article 6 of the Act of Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are no longer equal partners in trade. The consequences for Northern Ireland from the Government deal are clearer than ever before. The Northern Ireland protocol has the potential to derail the democratic process. As summer approaches and opinion can potentially become inflamed, this House has a role to play, as the decision has emanated from the Government here. This House can and must change this for the sake of long-lasting peace. Will the Leader of the House agree to a very urgent debate in this House so that Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom can be clearly laid out?
The court judgment was unquestionably an important one, and it is clear that the protocol, as it is currently operating, is presenting significant challenges for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland. We will continue to work through those issues with the EU to try to find a way forward to ensure that the protocol is implemented in the proportionate way intended. That is how we hope to sustain peace and prosperity for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom is fundamental. It is just as much a part of the United Kingdom as Somerset is, and there is no court judgment or ruling that could possibly remove part of the United Kingdom from our United Kingdom. We must all do everything we can to support Northern Ireland within our United Kingdom and to ensure that the trade flows that go with it and that underpin the economic success of our United Kingdom work properly.
I have many major businesses headquartered in my constituency, and they have raised concerns about the inability of senior executives to travel to the US at the moment. Certain things often cannot be done by video conference call. For instance, many of them own subsidiaries in the US that they cannot go to manage and oversee, and many have major investors in the US whom they need to meet. May I stress to my right hon. Friend the importance of getting a US-UK travel corridor for business up and running? Would he contemplate a debate on that subject?
In my business life, I have spent a lot of time going back and forth to the United States for business purposes to see investors, so I completely understand the importance of the issue that my hon. Friend raises. The Prime Minister and President Biden have made it clear that this is important and look forward to bringing about the return of safe transatlantic travel as soon as possible. The newly formed joint UK-US expert working group is now under way, and we are working closely with our US allies on delivering on this important goal. Entry into the United States is, of course, a matter for the United States, but there is a clear business case for the need to solve this issue as quickly as possible for both the United Kingdom and the United States.
I have had emails from constituents who wish to seek exemption from hotel quarantine on the grounds of the serious ill health of themselves or their family members. They have mentioned the difficulty of booking a quarantine hotel, the splitting up of families and the substandard food and accommodation. Further, when I have written to the Department responsible for the exemptions, I have not had the courtesy of a reply. Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on this issue in Government time? Will he also pass on my observations to the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to meet me to discuss this issue, as I am not getting an answer from his Department?
If Members from either of the House are having problems getting answers from Departments, I will always use my office to try to facilitate an answer as soon as possible. In the cases to which the hon. Lady refers, getting answers urgently is obviously important, and I can give her the assurance that she asks for.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting my constituents Paul and Ruth Fisher, both of whom have played vital roles in our country as key workers. This young couple bought a new-build property from a large, well-known developer in 2019, but soon discovered that the property was substandard, although finished beautifully, with the ceilings not level with the floors and with outside walls also not level. The issues have yet to be resolved.
Sadly, soon after the purchase, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer and is currently receiving palliative care. My heartfelt best wishes go out to both of them and to her family. May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate in Government time to consider situations such as Paul and Ruth’s, paying particular attention to the need for an independent watchdog or ombudsman designed to help others like my constituents to reach a satisfactory settlement with large developers? That simply is not the case at the moment.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The House’s sympathies will be with Ruth and Paul in these appalling circumstances. It is quite wrong for developers to sell substandard homes. Developers of new-build homes must meet their responsibilities, resolve issues quickly and treat homebuyers fairly when things go wrong. I sympathise with my hon. Friend, because as a constituency MP, one has sometimes found that developers have not been good at responding when there have been complaints, and there has been very little recourse. The building safety Bill will include provision for the new homes ombudsman scheme to provide stronger and effective redress for new-build homebuyers and to hold developers to account. This reform is long overdue, and it will be welcomed across the House.
I heard the answer that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), but we have to have the right checks and balances in place.
The Health Minister Lord Bethell held a series of meetings with companies that went on to win contracts worth over £1 billion, and the week in question was omitted from his diary. That raises questions about the role of civil servants in the letting of these contracts. Where is the monitoring officer for the letting of these contracts, and who signs them off?
We need a statement in this House on the role of the civil service when it comes to such issues so that we can reassure ourselves that civil servants are not being bullied into silence and that they are holding Ministers properly to account and making them abide by the rules. I suspect that the only reason why we know about the meetings is that a civil servant leaked the emails because they knew that wrongdoing was going on.
I think that a fundamentally foolish point. There were 27 meetings, nine of which led to contracts being awarded by my noble Friend Lord Bethell on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government when we were under great pressure to act. That was exactly what the Labour party was asking for. It asked that whatever was necessary should take place—it wanted speed, urgency and decisiveness. That was what the Government delivered. The Government had to get on with awarding contracts to ensure that supplies were in place.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If normal procurement procedures had been followed, it would have taken three to six months to award contracts—we would have been halfway through the pandemic before we had had a single extra piece of PPE. Would he have wanted such incompetent service? Is that what the Labour party would have done? Would it have just fiddled while Rome burned or would it have got on with things, as my noble Friend did?
I championed town and parish councils long before the great Jackie Weaver made them go viral on t’interweb. But Nailsworth, Stinchcombe, Stonehouse and other councils across the Stroud district were quite dismayed at the removal of the option for virtual proceedings, and I would like to see that reversed. Will my right hon. Friend provide an update about the Government’s work in this area and let us know when Parliament will be looking at this particular issue?
We are grateful for the efforts that councils made to allow meetings during the period from 4 April 2020 to 6 May 2021, when the emergency regulations made under section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 applied. Extending the regulations to cover meetings after 6 May would have required primary legislation.
The Government carefully considered the case for legislation and concluded that it was not possible to bring forward further emergency legislation on the issue. We launched a call for evidence on 25 March, which closed on 17 June, to gather views and inform a longer-term decision about whether to make express provision for local authorities to meet remotely on a permanent basis. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is now reviewing the response to the consultation, and the Government will respond in due course.
I would say that we are all welcoming getting back to normal, and I think the whole of society wants to get back to normal as soon as possible.
When the Prime Minister’s chief adviser blatantly broke the rules despite the huge sacrifices made by the British people, the Prime Minister backed him; when the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code, he backed her; when the Housing Secretary was busy awarding planning permissions to Tory donors, he backed him; and when the Health Secretary broke the very rules that he had been passionately preaching to the rest of us, the Prime Minister backed him by saying that he considered the matter closed.
Would the Leader of the House be kind enough to facilitate a debate in Government time on integrity, British values and the ministerial code and to ensure that the Prime Minister attends the whole session, so that he can learn some of the basics?
We are fortunate in having a brilliant and effective Home Secretary who gets on with her job. We are also fortunate in having an extremely effective Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who believes in building the houses that people will be able to live in and in ensuring that we are a home-owning democracy. My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is no longer in office—a point that seems to escape Labour Members.
Radcliffe in my constituency is a proud town with a rich heritage and a strong identity that has unfortunately been forgotten for far too long by the Labour council, but this Conservative Government are delivering for the town. They have given it a brand-new high school, and hopefully the levelling-up fund will also go some way towards providing civic and leisure facilities in the heart of the town. Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on the benefits of the levelling-up fund for forgotten towns like Radcliffe?
The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund will spend taxpayers’ money to improve everyday life across the country, from transport projects to high streets. My hon. Friend does not have long to wait for a decision on the scheme; the decisions will be announced in the autumn. There is so much to do.
Even in our own Parliament, we have to level this place back up. I want to say how marvellously you have done, Mr Speaker, in saving 95% of the cost of doing up the Speaker’s House. People may not know this, but there was a proposal for a very lavish temporary home for the Speaker, and Mr Speaker, as a model defender of taxpayers’ money, has saved 95% of that cost. I hope that other people, when spending taxpayers’ money, will do the same.
I am now suspending the House for three minutes for the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 56), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Question put forthwith, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Windrush Day 2021
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Windrush Day 2021.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate today. 22 June 2021 was the fourth official annual Windrush Day, designated by the Government as part of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 2018, and following a long campaign led by Patrick Vernon. I wanted to ensure that, to mark Windrush Day, Members from across the House had the opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of the Windrush generation in their communities, and I hope that that is what we will hear in this debate.
Windrush Day is a national day to celebrate the extraordinary and enduring contribution of the Windrush generation to the UK. I am proud to represent a constituency with a very direct connection to the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948. About 200 Windrush passengers travelled from the temporary accommodation provided in the Clapham Common deep shelter to Coldharbour Lane in my constituency, where many found work at the local labour exchange and settled in the surrounding area, putting down deep roots and helping to form and sustain the Brixton we know today. They include the late Sam King, who became the first black mayor of Southwark, and Aldwyn Roberts, the grand master of calypso, who performed as Lord Kitchener.
This Windrush Day, I joined members of the community in Brixton for a socially distanced celebratory lunch, and we were delighted that the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), was also able to join us at that occasion. We were privileged to hear a performance of a new song by the wonderful Pegasus Opera Company, “Rush”, which is described as a “Windrush anthem for Lambeth”. It is very moving, and I would encourage everyone to watch the recording on the Pegasus Opera website. The song captures perfectly the eager anticipation, excitement and aspiration of a generation who came to the UK at the invitation of the British Government as citizens of the mother country under the British Nationality Act 1948, and who met terrible adversity in racism, discrimination and poor housing, but nevertheless gave so much and became a part of our national DNA.
At the other end of Coldharbour Lane from the labour exchange lies King’s College Hospital. The arrival of the Empire Windrush coincided almost exactly with the founding of our NHS, and we know that members of the Windrush generation have been essential to our NHS from its founding until the present day. In 1948, there were an estimated 54,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS, and the Government worked actively to recruit nurses from the Caribbean and subsequently from across the Commonwealth. By 1965, it is estimated that there were about 5,000 Jamaican nurses working in the NHS, and there are more than 200,000 black, Asian and minority ethnic staff working in our NHS today.
We cannot let this year’s Windrush Day celebration pass without paying special tribute to the diverse workforce in our NHS and social care, public transport and other frontline roles, who have worked tirelessly through the covid-19 pandemic, often sacrificing their own health and wellbeing to provide treatment and care to others. We particularly remember those who have tragically lost their lives to coronavirus—including 28-year-old pregnant nurse Mary Agyapong and public transport worker Belly Mujinga—two thirds of whom were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude for their service. I hope the Minister will agree with me that no one who aspires to lead our NHS should ever suggest that those who come from overseas to work in our NHS are anything other than highly valued professionals without whom the NHS would struggle to keep going.
Windrush Day was established in 2018, in the same year that the horrors of the Windrush scandal were revealed—the appalling betrayal of so many of the generation who had come to the UK as British citizens, at the invitation of the British Government to play vital roles in our economy and public services, who were denied their status and suffered immeasurably as a result. A Windrush Day celebration that fails to acknowledge the ongoing hardship and injustice suffered by victims of the Windrush scandal would be sentimental, hollow rhetoric.
The Government promised to right the wrongs of the Windrush scandal, but are failing to do so. An evaluation of the Windrush compensation scheme published by the National Audit Office in May found that the scheme had paid compensation to fewer than 700 victims and had 2,000 claims outstanding. The report also highlighted mistakes and poor-quality assurance, the high proportion of the scheme’s funding that has been spent on staff, and the low number of victims who have come forward to make a claim compared with the estimated total number of victims. Appallingly, 21 victims have died while still waiting to receive compensation.
Listen to the words of some of the victims and their families. Natalie Barnes, the daughter of Paulette Wilson, who died in July 2020, says that the
“Home Office still operates the hostile environment policy which contributed to the death of my mother. Before she passed, she was struggling with the forms and lack of support and respect from the Home Office. The scheme needs to be moved so there is proper justice to families like mine.”
Stephanie O’Connor, whose mother Sarah moved to the UK in 1967 and died in July 2019, said:
“For my mum the compensation scheme has come too late, and I am so disappointed that it is still taking this long for people to get what is owed to them. I just hope that people get compensated fairly for everything that they have been through.”
Anthony Bryan, whose utterly devastating experience, including two periods of detention in Yarl’s Wood, was the basis for the BBC drama “Sitting in Limbo”, said:
“The Home Office took away my liberty, livelihood, sanity, and fellow friends and campaigners…as a result of the hostile environment. They have offered me a compensation package which does not reflect what I need to build my life again and to move forward with my family. We need urgently an impartial and independent organisation to support all compensation claims and to provide mental health and wellbeing support. The Home Secretary is not righting the wrongs to sort out the Windrush Scandal.”
Anthony Williams, who served for 13 years in the British Army and was forced to remove his own teeth as a result of being denied access to dental care due to the scandal, said:
“The Home Office have no experience or track record in running a compensation scheme for people traumatised.”
These testimonies point to the urgent need for the administration of the Windrush compensation scheme to be taken away from the Home Office and handed to an independent body. Will the Minister commit to that today?
Yesterday was the deadline for EU nationals living in the UK to apply for settled status. In that scheme, the Government have yet again put an administrative barrier in front of people who have made their home in the UK and contributed to our country in multiple different ways. It risks making them illegal, with all the appalling consequences that would bring. The Government have not only failed to address the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal or to deliver justice for its victims; they are laying the foundations of the next scandal.
In response to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on black and Asian residents during the first wave, the Government set up the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell. It had been hoped that the report would provide a rigorous analysis of racial and ethnic inequality in the UK and a detailed action plan that could be implemented with urgency to address it. Instead, the Sewell report left many black, Asian and minority ethnic residents, including many of my constituents who I have spoken to since it was published, feeling that their own Government were trying to gaslight them by denying that there is structural racism in the UK. The report has been condemned by respected organisations, including the Runnymede Trust and Black Cultural Archives, which I am proud is based on Windrush Square in my constituency.
Black Cultural Archives, the only organisation dedicated to the collection, preservation and celebration of black history in the UK, criticises the report for its absence of historical context and selective quoting of evidence and concludes that a report so lacking in rigour cannot provide the basis for meaningful action to address racism and racial inequality.
One of the ways in which we can stop a Windrush scandal happening again is by ensuring that our children are taught British history in an inclusive way that tells the story of our complex history of migration and the painful reality and legacy of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. That is not rewriting history; it is our shared history. Many schools have already developed good curriculum content, including some in my constituency, but that now needs to be expanded to all our schools. The Government have, in accepting the recommendations in Wendy Williams’ lessons learned review, accepted the importance of the teaching of history in preventing a future Windrush scandal. The Government have accepted that as being necessary for all Home Office staff, so it follows that it is also necessary for our schools.
Finally, will the Government support the campaign to raise the anchor from the Empire Windrush, which currently lies off the coast of Libya on the Mediterranean seabed, so that it can be displayed as part of the 75th Windrush anniversary celebrations in 2023? It is a tangible piece of that famous ship, which could be used to tell the story of the remarkable Windrush generation for years to come.
We celebrate today the remarkable Windrush generation—British citizens and part of our national DNA—who have contributed so much and suffered such appalling injustice. Celebration, however, is hollow while injustice and inequality continue. I call on the Minister to mark this Windrush Day by committing to meaningful action.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on her introduction to this debate, and I hope that the Government will follow up her suggestion and see whether it is possible to retrieve the anchor from HMT Windrush off the coast of Libya. The history of the ship is interesting, but in six minutes I should probably not divert my remarks to that.
The article I was reading before coming to the Chamber is in The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, vol. 60, no. 2, June 2021, page 251. It is by Anthony Quinn, Nick Hardwick and Rosie Meek, and its rather long title is, “With Age Comes Respect? And for Whom Exactly? A Quantitative Examination of White and BAME Prisoner Experiences of Respect Elicited through HM Inspectorate of Prisons Survey Responses.” It is a serious analysis of the information available. It does not condemn people, but it shows that the experiences of those who are black or minority ethnic are different at all ages in our prisons. I look forward to the time when that is not so.
The overall question I put to myself is this: will I live long enough to know when the colour of my skin will be as important, but no more, than the colour of my eyes or my hair? I count a number of retired bishops among my friends, and I know of eight times that bishops or archbishops have been stopped by the police. Every single one of those times it was John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. He is now in the other place in his own right, rather than as an ecclesiastical bishop. We must answer our own question: is he the most curious driver there has been on the ecclesiastical Bench over the past 20 years, or does some degree of discrimination still apply to those driving while black?
I have spent a lot of time helping black police officers and doctors—or Asian; I am talking about people who are non-white rather than just black or Caribbean—and all the times I have taken up cases for black or Asian people, I found that they were treated by their employers, by employment tribunals, by the General Medical Council, and at one stage by the Information Commissioner’s Office, in ways that I regarded as inappropriate.
One good woman doctor was looking after diabetes patients. She was concerned about South Asian women being those least likely to come to advice centres. She wanted to set up a self-help project with them, supported by the trust. She sent their details to herself at another NHS address, and then got put in front of the GMC and the ICO for sharing patients’ details. She was doing what is now common practice, but 10 or 15 years ago it took the Information Commissioner’s Office a year to discover that she could not have committed an offence, and it took the GMC about the same amount of time. Her trust has never been held to account for the appalling way she was treated. I could go on about Dr Bawa-Garba, the paediatric doctor who was left by herself, and left to swing by the GMC and the courts, until people came together—white and black—to say, “This is unfair. Get it reviewed.” The case was reviewed, and her prosecution ended.
I have previously mentioned in the House the case of the very good Sikh sergeant, now retired, Gurpal Virdi. He spent a week and a half on trial in the Crown court, having allegedly put a collapsible police truncheon up the bottom of a young man in the back of a police van 26 years before. The thing did not happen. The so-called police witness contradicted every statement of fact by the complainant. The complainant forgot that he had been arrested by Gurpal six months later, and another police officer in his company was never interviewed by the Directorate of Professional Standards of the Metropolitan police. When Gurpal complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the case was referred by the commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick—who, by the way, had been a sergeant with Gurpal Virdi in Battersea—to the Directorate of Professional Standards, which said that its own investigation had been all right.
Will the Minister get the Directorate of Professional Standards of the Metropolitan police together with the CPS and the Attorney General’s office, and ask how Gurpal Virdi got prosecuted? Why will they not have a Richard Henriques-type inquiry—even a brief one—to learn the lessons from something that should never have happened?
I grew up—more accurately, my children grew up—in Stockwell in a mixed area, among people, black and white together, in their scout groups, Brownies, schools and confirmation classes. They did well. Many of them did well, whether they were white or black. I ask that we learn the lessons from the people of the Windrush generation, and other parts of the world, who try to bring their children up in a way that means they learn, play, and have the same kind of development as that described by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) in his report. Give people chances, let them take them, and when we spot unfairness, do not leave it to the victims to sort things out, but decide that we should. If I am white, middle class, and in full-time employment—which I think I am; I cannot class myself as middle aged anymore—it is my responsibility. I hope to go on contributing to these debates until I can answer that question by saying that the colour of skin and place of origin do not matter in this country. It is merit; it is friendliness; and it is mutual support.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on having secured this important debate to commemorate Windrush Day 2021. Windrush Day is a day to redress the imbalance of injustice and sorrow our elders have experienced at the hands of this Government, and a day to pay homage and respect to the journey they took—many as toddlers—to what they thought was the motherland. The UK is where they call home, despite the stain of prejudice and racism they have experienced. Knowing as we do the huge contribution that the Windrush generation have made to this country, it is even more galling that so many members of that generation were so badly let down, and continue to be let down, by this Government.
The cause of the Windrush scandal was an institutionally racist policy and culture levied at the top of Government, dwelling in the underbelly of the Home Office. This, above all, was focused on whipping up hostility to immigration and posing as tough. Serving these ends resulted in the disdain for individual people that the hostile environment policy represents, and which tore so many lives apart. After hearing countless stories of people who have lived in the UK for decades—some of whom could barely remember life before living in the UK—losing their jobs and homes, being refused medical care, and even being detained and deported in the worst cases, it is obvious that the Government should have had great humility and sought to address this great injustice as soon as possible.
It took a year after launching the Windrush compensation scheme for the Home Secretary to finally agree to lower the burden of proof required from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “on the balance of probability”. Sadly, we recently learned that 21 people have died while waiting for their compensation to be paid. My constituent Anthony Bryan has only just received his offer of compensation, a full year after the moving drama “Sitting in Limbo”, based on his experiences, was screened. Even once an offer is made—many of which appear to be unacceptably low—there is no mechanism for an independent review of the sum. The Windrush compensation scheme only re-criminalises the Windrush generation, and continues to fail the victims of the scandal day in, day out. It is obvious that the Home Office has lost any trust that could be placed in it to operate such a scheme, and that independent oversight should be brought in to ensure that recipients are properly compensated in a timely manner.
I begin by referring to my unremunerated interest as chairman of the advisory board of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality. I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), and I think it is time that we embrace the truth that she spoke: I certainly hope to do so. I do not think anybody could fail to be moved by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley)—I was particularly taken and moved by what he said—and I hope that both of us live long enough to see the day when skin colour matters no more or less than the colour of our eyes.
I am very glad to have co-sponsored this debate, and I am delighted to speak in it. I want to do three things: celebrate the Windrush generation, put a lament before the Minister, and then make some suggestions about what can be done. I really do celebrate the Windrush generation. About 5% of my constituents are black. They are overwhelmingly people connected to St Vincent and the Grenadines. They make a wonderful contribution to our community. No one who has listened to Wycombe Steel Orchestra could fail to enjoy it and no one could fail to notice the wonderful range of people involved in it—black and white together, enjoying themselves, celebrating their music and contributing to our community. The Windrush generation saved, rebuilt and contributed to our country, and have shared in our prosperity, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West said, all too often they have not been well treated. That brings me to my second point.
When I look back at that time, I do really lament the way that people were treated. The Windrush generation came off the boat, as it was, and can clearly be seen in the footage and photographs to be wearing their very best clothes, putting their best foot forward, and coming—in a spirit of good will, hope and optimism—to contribute to this country. But when I listen to the stories that people tell me, very plainly they were not welcomed as they should have been; very plainly, the United Kingdom was not prepared to welcome people as it should have done. People were not treated as I would wish. I am very sorry about that, but it is not an injustice that I think we can put right today. We can put right, though, the things that people suffer in this age.
I recently met a young woman and was surprised to hear her story, which she has given me permission to mention. She was schooled in Wycombe. She is not very much younger than me—perhaps in her 30s; I flatter myself, having just turned 50. She told me that when she went through school in Wycombe, a teacher actually put her, as a young black girl, in a separate room with Asian children and did not teach them. What unspeakable racism such a thing would be.
I am happy to say that it must surely be unthinkable that such a thing would be tolerated today. If it were to happen, surely children, on speaking to their parents, would find that their parents were today empowered to complain immediately; and all of us would move swiftly to condemn it. Yet the woman who told me this story was not that much younger than me and it happened in my town. Let me be very clear that it is not happening today. If it was, it would be rooted out. I am very proud of all our schools, which are diverse and brilliant, and give children the best possible opportunities.
I have been sitting here listening to the contributions, including the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). As the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) will know, in Northern Ireland we have had 30 years of conflict. That conflict is over. We have an opportunity to build a future where we can have a shared society and a shared history, and there are many good things in Northern Ireland that I believe could be used for the betterment of people in this House and in England. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that we can all learn lessons from Northern Ireland, as our society has moved forward constructively?
There certainly are lessons from Northern Ireland, yes. I have occasionally visited Belfast to hear from people there. The hon. Gentleman reminds me that humanity’s capacity to find reasons for hatred is almost unbounded, and it is sorrowful, particularly in Northern Ireland, that people have hated one another on the grounds of theological matters, which should be matters of academic interest and certainly not things over which anyone should hate.
I want to touch on the Windrush Day celebration that we had this year. Somebody on the call complained, actually, that the first item we watched was a film—I think from the ’80s; perhaps the late ’80s—that related to a moment of tension in Wycombe, when some young black men and some young white men had come into conflict over football and an event going on somewhere else. When I watched the film, there were young black men in Wycombe complaining about how they had been treated, and one of the things I noticed was how justified they were. They were clearly intelligent, articulate and well-meaning, and completely dumbfounded and bewildered that anyone had so misconstrued their intentions and misrepresented the actions that had taken place. For example, the film covered an allegation that petrol bombs had been used, when no such thing had happened. It was a fiction, an invention targeted at these men—again, racism. I can see why black people would really resent being treated in such a way. People have long memories; they remember today how others were treated in the past, and they expect us to behave differently and to show some contrition, apology and humility, and I hope that I am doing so.
To turn to the Windrush scandal, I think the scheme is working. I have had a limited number of cases and I therefore cannot go into them, but it worked very well in one particular case that I hold in mind. I think that was perhaps because we were involved and that should not be necessary, but clearly the scheme is being improved. I am conscious that I should probably allow the Minister to describe later how the scheme is being improved, but I note in particular that the minimum award has gone from £250 to £10,000, and the maximum award from £10,000 to £100,000. I welcome those improvements.
However, I just want to say to my hon. Friend the Minister—he is my hon. Friend and a great man—that it is only by engaging with people and really listening to what they say and how they experience things that we can improve matters. For example, on a recent call to raise awareness of the Windrush compensation scheme in my community in Wycombe, I listened with horror and shame to somebody explaining that their mother had had to go through multiple hoops to prove that she was entitled to be here after decades of living comfortably in the United Kingdom, quite rightly, as a British person. Worse, her British-born children with British passports were worrying and anxious about their right to remain in the United Kingdom.
Why should such a thing happen? Inevitably, schemes have rules. What I would say to my hon. Friend the Minister and to officials listening is that I have great faith in him and I have great faith in officials. They are doing the very best they can in the spirit of good will. Yet the experience of the public engaging with the scheme is hurdles and bureaucracy and proof. For it to have provoked—in our age, today—the anxiety in British-born people with British passports for whom this is home, is itself, while inadvertent, shaming. I do not wish to spring this on my hon. Friend. I would not expect him to apologise apropos of nothing without looking into it, but I certainly want to apologise to those people. I will certainly always stand up for people who have felt like that and raise their case with Ministers. However they vote, it is my duty to make sure that—very much a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West—we stand up for people, those of us who are, if I may say so, privileged to be middle class, in full-time employment, white and not facing these difficulties.
Awareness, empathy, contrition and humility—they should be our watchwords. As we go forward, as chairman of Conservatives against Racism for Equality, I really want our whole society to choose, in a radically moderate way, to be much more positively anti-racist; for all of us to be living out a life that says, “I accept the moral equality of every person and the legal equality of people in all our institutions”. That speaks to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West. Of course, everybody is politically equal. From that follows equality before the law and equality of opportunity, and embracing one another, so that we can go forward in hope to live in a world in which our skin colour matters no more or less than our eye colour.
I really do celebrate the Wycombe Windrush generation. The community is a wonderful, gentle loving community and I am very proud that they are in Wycombe. I am very proud of them. I just say to my hon. Friend the Minister—I can see he has listened very carefully; he is a great and good man—that in time, perhaps very swiftly, we might see institutions that make sure that people never again feel undervalued.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing this important debate.
It is a rich irony that as we hold this debate to mark Windrush Day, another immigration scandal similar to that which affected the Windrush generation is potentially in the making. On Wednesday this week, the deadline for EU nationals to apply for settled status in the UK passed amidst worries that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, had missed the deadline. It is important for their sake, as well as for the sake of the wider black, Asian and minority ethnic community, that we do not miss the opportunity of this debate to address the reasons why so many of the Windrush generation and their descendants were wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.
It is important to be clear about what Wendy Williams identified in her “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”, in which she said:
“While the Windrush scandal began to become public in late 2017, its roots lie much deeper. Successive rounds of legislation and policy effectively set traps for the Windrush generation…Over decades, legislation progressively eroded the rights of the Windrush generation… The hostile environment was another step on the long road towards a more restrictive immigration regime, but it was also a departure in terms of the scale and seriousness of the effects which would be directly felt by individuals.
by which she means the Home Office—
“developed immigration policy at speed, impelled by ministerial pressure, with too little consideration of the possible impact of the measures”.
That is reflected in the evidence monitoring the impact of the right to rent scheme, one of the key measures of the hostile environment that the Windrush generation came up against. The evidence monitoring that scheme shows that it discriminates on nationality and racial grounds.
Many of the hostile environment policies operate by outsourcing immigration enforcement to people in the community such as health workers, bank workers and employers. That process carries the same risk as that identified in the right to rent scheme. Yet in the “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”, Wendy Williams found that the Home Office did not consider the risks to ethnic minorities appropriately as it developed the right to rent policy, and that it continued to implement the scheme after others had pointed out the risks and after evidence had arisen that the risks had materialised. Wendy Williams has said that the right to rent policy exemplifies the Home Office’s unwillingness to listen to other people’s perspective or take on board external scrutiny, and that that stems from
“an absolute conviction, rather than evidence”.
As a parliamentarian and a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in 2018 I was involved in a detailed case study of two of the Windrush cases. When we looked at the files of these people, we saw the way in which those acting on behalf of the Home Office had repeatedly ignored extensive documentary evidence that they had every right to live in the United Kingdom. These people were detained and were on the verge of being deported from the United Kingdom. Given that treatment, it is perfectly understandable that there is serious concern about what might become of those EU nationals living in the United Kingdom who have not met the deadline for the settlement scheme and may therefore find themselves, like the Windrush generation, without the paperwork to evidence their right to be here.
As ever, it is the most vulnerable who will suffer most. During the Windrush scandal, it was old people who were hit hardest. We have heard other hon. Members talk about that. Turning again to the EU settlement scheme, on Twitter last night a consultant anaesthetist set out the story of his 83-year-old German-born mother, who came to the United Kingdom in 1962. She has given a lifetime of dedicated service to the United Kingdom and now, sadly, like so many people of her generation, she has dementia. She has no understanding of the process to gain the settled status, and without her son’s assistance she would not have been able to follow it. What of the elderly and vulnerable people with no loving family to help them navigate our complicated immigration system? Just like the Windrush generation, they will be at risk of losing bank accounts, tenancies, access to the NHS and welfare benefits.
We need to use this debate to make sure that we learn lessons from what happened during the Windrush scandal. Its effects were felt far and wide. One of my constituents, a man in his 70s, returned from holiday a few years ago to be told by Border Force officials that he was an illegal immigrant. He had been born in Canada to a Scottish mother and had come to the United Kingdom as a baby and known nowhere else. He never though that he would be the kind of person who would be caught up in the Windrush scandal, but he was and he was extremely upset and had a genuine fear that he was going to be deported, until my office was able to sort out his status and paperwork.
Another constituent of mine, a British national from the Commonwealth who came here before 1988, has been unable to get work as a professional bus driver for the past few years because he was wrongly accused of hijacking someone else’s identity. Although his Department for Work and Pensions file was eventually cleared and his right to benefits was reinstated, the Home Office did not regularise his identity, he cannot get a new passport and he cannot get a driving licence. He came to see me as he was desperate to get his driving licence so that he could work. He was unaware of the Windrush scheme remedy, and the team in my office are now working with him to complete a Windrush application. I hope the Minister is listening and will ask his officials to look at this case specifically, to learn lessons of the devastation that can be caused by failing to properly resolve these types of situation.
As has been indicated, responses to parliamentary questions show that the Windrush compensation scheme is a lengthy experience, for some at least, with many waiting for more than a year. Shamefully, as has been said, 21 people have died waiting for a response. So it is time that the scheme was properly resourced and that legal aid was made available to help claimants through the bureaucracy. So my other ask of the Minister today is whether he can give us an undertaking to properly resource this compensation scheme, on which the Home Office has to date drastically underspent its budget, and whether he will afford legal aid for the more complicated cases.
Above and beyond everything else, what we should take from today’s debate is the lessons that should be learned from the Windrush scandal, and the title of Wendy Williams’ report refers to that. We should take them forward to make sure that no other people living in the UK suffer that sort of treatment in the future. If we do not address the hostile environment and its implications—through the right to rent scheme, in the workplace, in the health service and in the benefits system—we are at risk of going back to the days of signs in the window saying, “No blacks, no Irish need apply”, except that the signs will not be there because the system is more insidious and more covert, but it is still there. The Windrush scandal should have marked the end of the hostile environment, but the Home Office is forging ahead with it regardless. Its approach was recently typified by the carrying out of an immigration raid during a religious festival on Glasgow’s south side. The local multicultural community firmly and peaceably showed what they thought of the British Government’s conduct, and the victims of the raid were released. The shameful heavy-handed approach to immigration typified by the Windrush scandal should have no place in the modern United Kingdom. It certainly has no mandate in Scotland and no place in modern Scotland, which is one of the many reasons why the SNP wins election after election in Scotland. The responsibility to realise the means to do something about the hostile environment in Scotland weighs heavily on my party, but ultimately the responsibility for it weighs on the Minister’s party and I want to hear from him today that he has learned the lessons of the Windrush scandal and that steps will be taken to avoid it ever happening again.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing this important debate. It is absolutely right that today in Parliament we celebrate the Windrush generation from the Caribbean, from Africa, from Asia. These communities help make the UK what it is today and continue to contribute immeasurable amounts to every aspect of British society. I was very pleased on Windrush Day to join students at Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School on Brixton Hill as they played their steel pans and sang a rendition of “You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Desmond Dekker. They had spent weeks learning about the Windrush generation and were very excited to tell me about everything that they had learnt—this included teaching me some things. I was pleased to join the CARICOM heads of mission at the Windrush commemoration at Windrush Square, at the African and Caribbean war memorial that is there, which is a very important place, especially given this year’s revelation about how disrespected our former Commonwealth officers—members of the military—had been and how those who were involved in various world wars had been treated.
It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Arthur Torrington of the Windrush Foundation and acknowledge his organisation’s call, joined by many of the Windrush generation throughout the country, to actually have the Windrush memorial that is planned built at Windrush Square, where they believe it rightfully belongs.
After the Windrush scandal broke, the apology that the Government eventually gave was momentous. It was the first time that I know of in my history that the British Government have apologised so unequivocally on an issue related to a matter of race. The celebrations that we have had over years since then, the establishment of Windrush Day and the acknowledgement of the importance of the Windrush generation to this country are important, but they all mean nothing if we do not end the scandal that is very much ongoing; if we do not admit and tackle racial injustice; and if we do not end the hostile environment.
We have to remember that the Windrush generation were treated terribly and some of them have even died before receiving a penny of justice and many died before receiving that apology. People were denied driving licences and homes and made unemployed. They were put in immigration detention centres, some were deported, and others were refused re-entry to this country and are still finding difficulty getting back into this country. Some had their families broken up. They were British citizens and this happened to them and to their loved ones.
As far as many are concerned, the scheme remains unfit for purpose. Too many have died waiting for compensation and too many have been denied it. Since the scheme started in 2019, a total of 2,367 people have applied, 122 claims have been rejected and 22 have resulted in no compensation at all. To date, only 687 claims have received any payment.
Despite the Home Secretary’s statement that the scheme has fundamentally changed since December, it is clear that that has not been the case. The author of the scheme, Martin Forde QC, has even said that those who deserve compensation think it is a “trap”—what an indictment of this Government and the Windrush generation’s confidence in them.
The scandal continues. Jacqueline McKenzie—a lawyer based in my constituency who has been holding pro bono legal surgeries for those affected by the scandal at the Black Cultural Archives and elsewhere throughout the country—has extensive evidence of persistent Home Office failings in not just administering the scheme but registering those Windrush generation members who require their citizenship. It goes on.
It should be no surprise to the Government that a number of people have signed a petition calling on the Home Office to amend the scheme, and that the Labour party is rightfully calling for the scheme to be moved out of the Home Office. We do not honour the Windrush generation if we carry on like this.
We do not honour the Windrush generation if we continue to apply the hostile environment and continue with our broken immigration and nationality system. How can we say we have learned any of the lessons of the past if we are about to drive EU nationals into an effective Windrush scandal, with thousands of them probably having not applied for the scheme by yesterday’s deadline?
It does not honour the Windrush generation that in 2019 some 421,000 children were born in the UK who were not registered as British citizens—some of them, I might add, are the children and grandchildren of the Windrush generation directly—and that in that same year 177,000 children who had been raised in the UK for at least 10 years were also unregistered. These children are not migrants, just like the Windrush generation, and they have gone on or, if the issue of citizenship fees does not change, will go on to experience real-life difficulties, continuing to fall victim to the hostile environment when it comes to accessing healthcare, taking up employment, attending university, renting a home and opening a bank account—all things they should have access to.
It does not honour the Windrush generation if we continue to push issues of racism out of the way. The recent race report was an absolute disgrace in my view. It was a complete whitewash of the institutional racism that the Windrush generation and others have faced and continue to face. Even to imply that there may be no issues with institutional racism is a complete disgrace, in terms of people’s experience, but also I believe that it is an attempt to absolve the Government of the responsibility for tackling it: if there is no institutional racism, there are no duties for the Government to impose on institutions. This is just passing the buck as usual. We do not honour the Windrush generation and we do not respect their past when we do not have a plan to change this discrimination that ultimately and undoubtedly could, and will, impact on their futures.
We do not honour the Windrush generation if we do not educate people about the history of slavery and colonialism, which are very much a part of our history as Britain. It cannot be the case that we choose a history that acknowledges neither of these major events that are part and parcel of why we are the country we are today, part and parcel of why people in this country experience racism today, and part and parcel of why the Windrush generation and the Windrush scandal happened in the way that it did. It was because of this racism. It has been inspirational to see children, schools and teachers across my constituency taking up Windrush Day and black history lessons and actively doing it themselves, but they are not doing this with Government support—despite the recommendations in the Windrush lessons learned review—and that is wrong.
Yes, the Government have apologised with Windrush Day and have certain measures that may look like they are going in the right direction, but too many fall short of what is required. If the Government stand true to the apology that they made years ago, if they respect the Windrush generation, and if they respect the continued involvement and contribution that this generation and many others from migrant backgrounds continue to make to this country, they will take stock, remove the Windrush compensation scheme from the Home Office so it can be managed properly, listen to the Windrush generation about where they would like to have their memorial, and take active steps acknowledging institutional racism and working to bring it to an end.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing this important debate to mark Windrush Day, and the Backbench Business Committee on making time available for it.
The story of the Windrush generation is one of courage, determination, triumph over adversity and success. We mark Windrush Day to celebrate those who came into Tilbury docks in their Sunday best, as other Members have said, on that day in June 1948. We use Windrush to describe the wider post-war immigration from the Caribbean—those who came to Britain from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Granada, St Lucia, Dominica, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, and Anguilla. Indeed, my Slough constituency has the largest population of people of Anguillan heritage anywhere in the world outside Anguilla. I have had the pleasure on numerous occasions of attending events and dinners as we regularly host the Chief Minister of Anguilla.
Local people are well served by the Anguilla Community Group, Survival, the Slough Dominican Association, the Jamaican Association Slough and SANAS—the St Kitts & Nevis Association Slough—among many other associations and community groups. I am extremely proud to serve as the Member of Parliament for all these fine Slough Caribbean organisations and Slough’s Windrush generation and their descendants, who have contributed so much to the vibrancy and progress of our town.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his obvious involvement in the community that he represents, and I think the people of Slough are very fortunate to have him as their MP. Does he agree that Windrush Day 2021 allows those valued and cherished citizens to show the experiences of the West Indian people who have settled here and that their personal stories of migration also give a welcome representation of black British culture as it helped those of with working-class experience to connect with one another in this country—two traditions together under the British flag?
I thank the hon. Gentleman who, as we all know, is an assiduous and dedicated Member—hardly an Adjournment debate goes past without the pleasure of hearing an intervention by him—and I agree with him fully. We need to learn about the history of the Windrush generation. More widely, our curriculum needs to change, and our children and all schoolchildren must learn that history through the changed curriculum. Only if we learn from our history, our past—as a history student, I know that better than most—can we stop repeating mistakes and stop the racism, slavery and other maltreatment that many individuals endured.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not look on this as an abuse, but I meant to ask the Minister whether, before the end of the debate or certainly afterwards, he would find the letter sent on 25 May this year at 1.41 pm to MHCLG correspondence by Arthur Torrington who, for 26 years, has run the Windrush Foundation. He has not had a reply. His essential point was to ask whether it was a good idea for the Windrush Foundation to be involved in Windrush Day events in the same way that the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is involved in Holocaust Memorial Day. The Minister might not be able to respond directly, but I hope that he will respond to Arthur Torrington, who made a number of outstanding points which deserve answers. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way.
I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that his intervention placed that on the record. I sincerely hope that the Minister will acknowledge and cover it in his response.
We owe so much to the Windrush generation and their descendants. They contributed to business, medicine, engineering and science, teaching, nursing, politics, academia, the voluntary sector and the armed services. Who can imagine our public life here in Great Britain without the contributions of Stuart Hall, C. L. R. James, Tessa Sanderson, Zadie Smith, Kelly Holmes, Lenny Henry, Rio Ferdinand and the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), among so many others?
I mentioned the contribution of people of African-Caribbean heritage to our politics, and I want to mention one person in particular: Lydia Simmons, whom I mentioned in my maiden parliamentary speech here in the Chamber and whom I am so fond of, especially given the warmth with which she greets me. Lydia is something of a Slough legend. She was born in Montserrat, came to the UK, and did the sensible thing and joined the Labour party. She was elected to Slough council in 1979. She was a council cabinet member and served until 2007. Lydia Simmons has the honour of being the first black person and the first Afro-Caribbean woman to become a Mayor in England. She has rightly been recognised by Her Majesty the Queen with an OBE.
When we hear the name of Windrush, we reflect on 1,001 stories of fortitude, sacrifice, bravery and service. We give thanks for all those who built communities, served our nation and strengthened our bonds of kinship and friendship with islands across the oceans. However, when we hear the name of Windrush, we also hear different connotations. Instead of gratitude, we think of cruelty; instead of recognition, we think of injustice; instead of service, we think of scandal. The Windrush scandal is a terrible blight on our recent past.
Wendy Williams’s lessons learned review stands as a terrible indictment of the Government’s so-called “hostile environment”. Williams stated that the cruel impact was “foreseeable and avoidable”. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the EHRC, said that the Government ignored its duty to equality. Even after Ministers admitted their failings and mistakes, the Windrush compensation scheme is a disaster: of the 11,500 people the Home Office estimates are eligible for compensation, a mere 687 have received their due. Justice delayed is justice denied and, tragically, at least 21 people have died waiting for justice. The need is there and the money is there. What is missing is the political will and the basic efficiency to get the cash into the bank accounts of the people who deserve it.
When the Windrush generation arrived, they were frequently met with hostility and racism. They were denied a fair chance in housing, education and jobs. Those infamous signs in landladies’ windows were used to stoke up division and dire warnings of rivers of blood. Yet that generation proved the racists wrong. They added immeasurably to our national story and continue to do so. They started out in the cities, towns and villages of faraway Caribbean islands, but they proved—through their intellect, determination and sweat—to be the best of British. We honour them today and in their names we demand long overdue racial justice and equality for all.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this Windrush debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing it. It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi).
Last week, we celebrated the fourth annual Windrush Day. It is an important moment to celebrate the British Caribbean community—in particular, the half a million people who came to the UK after the second world war. As hon. Members have said, it is also an important time to reflect on the shameful Windrush scandal and assess what progress the Government have made in righting the wrongs they have perpetrated.
I pay tribute to Patrick Vernon, who has campaigned over many years for this day to be recognised. In 2018, he wrote about the need to remember that
“many aspects of British society today would be unrecognisable without the contributions that immigration and integration have made: from the NHS to the monarchy, our language, literature, enterprise, public life, fashion, music, politics, science, culture, food and even humour.”
This year, it is more important than ever to recognise the contribution of the Windrush generation and those who have come after them. Of course, 1948 was the year when both the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury docks and our national health service was founded. Ever since then, the story of the NHS has been entwined with the story of immigration from the Caribbean and more widely. For more than 70 years, the NHS has cared for us in our time of need—never more so than during the last 16 months. Today, I pay tribute to the nurses, doctors, care staff and health workers who have been on the frontline during the covid pandemic.
I now turn to the Windrush compensation scheme. We should be clear that no financial compensation can truly make up for the hardship, suffering and mistreatment that the Windrush generation has experienced as a result of Home Office policies and practices. Nevertheless, the launch of the scheme in April 2019 marked an important step towards achieving justice for the Windrush generation and their families. Since then, however, I have been very concerned by the progress that the Home Office has made to ensure that everyone who is eligible receives their rightful compensation.
A recent report by the National Audit Office raised a number of issues that Ministers need to address urgently. The Home Office has received significantly fewer applications to the scheme than it anticipated. By the end of March 2021, the Department had received just 2,163 applications. I repeat: 2,163 applications. Does the Minister accept that significantly more outreach work is needed to ensure that everyone who is eligible knows about the scheme and is supported to apply to it?
For claims received up to March 2020, the scheme made some form of payment within 12 months to only 10% of claimants residing in the UK and 1.1% of claimants residing outside the UK. Does the Minister think that it is acceptable that 90% of claimants had not received any payments a year after they applied—and if not, what steps will the Home Office take to improve the situation?
Tragically, many of the Windrush generation have died without receiving the compensation they deserve. A recent article in the Big Issue quoted several people who have lost their lives as they waited for a decision on the scheme. Natalie Barnes, daughter of Paulette Wilson, who died in 2020, said:
“The Home Office still operates the hostile environment policy which contributed to the death of my mother. Before she passed, she was struggling with the forms and lack of support and respect from the Home Office. The scheme needs to be moved so there is proper justice to families like mine.”
I also have several constituents who have been waiting for well over a year for a decision on their applications. One told me that he has been told to send the same documentation three times, despite calling the helpline multiple times, and he has been unable to receive an update on his claim. I am still waiting for a response to my correspondence on that issue. Other constituents have faced similar challenges in terms of getting basic answers from the Home Office about the progress of their applications. The Home Office must urgently improve how it deals with these cases from start to finish.
Finally, let me turn to the changes that the Government must make to this scheme. The “Fix the Windrush compensation scheme” petition has now received more than 100,000 signatures. It calls for three things: first, for the compensation scheme to be removed from the Home Office and managed by an independent non-government agency to provide trust, respect and confidence to the victims and their families; secondly, for the provision of substantial funding for outreach schemes to reach Windrush victims in the UK, Africa and the Caribbean; and thirdly, for the Government to include a full apology letter with every compensation award.
I urge the Government to consider taking these steps to put some dignity and humanity into the compensation scheme and to give those affected the justice they deserve. Successive Governments have failed the Windrush generation. The Government must now stop repeating the mistakes of the past and deliver justice to those who have been denied it for far too long.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for securing this important debate. It is truly an honour to follow the brilliant contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare).
This year marks the fourth national Windrush Day, commemorating the arrival, on board the Empire Windrush, of the first Caribbean immigrants to the UK, who played a vital role in rebuilding Britain after the second world war. After the ravages of war, Britain had to heal, rebuild and recover. It was a task that we could not and did not manage alone. This wonderful Windrush generation were the drivers, the nurses and the workers who helped not only to rebuild Britain, but to shape the Britain that we have today, and it is all the better for it. Towns and cities across the country rightly pay tribute to their efforts, including in Luton, where the Windrush flag was raised above our town hall. The ceremony was organised by young leaders in Luton and supported by the African Caribbean Community Development Forum.
I am proud that our town’s tribute and gratitude live on through the generations, but gratitude is something that a Government must not only show and express—at the moment, the only thing this Government are paying is lip service to the Windrush generation, not the compensation that is owed. That is simply not good enough. How many more people must die before they get the justice that is rightly owed to them? When will all the Windrush generation get the compensation that is owed to them? Until we start to see the words match the action, I am afraid that warm words will continue to be cold comfort to those who gave so much. The scale and depth of this injustice is huge: deportations, innocent people being detained, all under a Government who have moved so far to the right that the centre ground is barely visible, let alone the ability to see people as humans and fellow brothers and sisters.
I welcomed the Home Office’s apology, but an injustice on this scale needs to be followed with action. I will come on to the virtually non-existent compensation later, but I am talking about genuinely learning lessons from the past. Instead of taking a more humane, humble and appreciative, as well as economically sound approach to what people from other countries give to and do for this country, the Government have steered down an ever-more hostile and fiercely right-wing approach. Those who seek refuge in our country are now to be processed—such a horrible word in itself when we are talking about people who are fleeing famine, war or oppression in another country. We have seen “Go Home” vans. Healthcare workers who have given their all throughout the pandemic are subjected to immigration health surcharges to pay for the very health service that they are working in. The Prime Minister cosies up to divisive leaders and is himself yet to apologise for racist remarks about Muslim women and black people.
Since their apology to the Windrush generation of 2018, this Government have not learned from their past mistakes. In fact, the situation is getting worse. After I raised multiple questions on the compensation scheme, the Home Office refused to tell me how many people in Luton North, or even in the region, had been awarded compensation. It cited some nonsense about telling me the number of people who had received compensation—I just asked for a number—potentially identifying people, which it would never do. So I ask again: how many people in Luton North and in Bedfordshire are still waiting for what is owed to them? If the Minister will not share that with us, why not? Why has so little of the £200 million compensation fund been allocated to the people who deserve it?
Last year, I wrote to the Home Secretary on behalf of a constituent. I was days away from having my baby. I got a response when that baby was crawling, nearly eight months later. That is simply not good enough. I appreciate that we have had a pandemic and things will take longer for Departments to deal with than normal, but eight months is far too long for the Windrush generation to wait to hear an answer, particularly an older generation that has been left more vulnerable and disproportionately affected during the pandemic.
I hope that the Windrush generation’s wait for justice will soon be over, because far too many of their peers never lived to see the day and that injustice can now never be redressed. Now the Minister must act. The compensation owed to people must find its way to their pockets and their bank accounts as soon as possible, and we must know when that is going to happen. If the Government are to truly learn the lessons of the past, they must end the hostile environment that so many of our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have to live in every day.
I thank the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for securing this important debate.
The findings of the National Audit Office on the compensation scheme for the Windrush scandal can only be described as catastrophic. As we have heard from many hon. Members across the Chamber, more than 21 members of the Windrush generation have died awaiting compensation, and far too little support has been provided to those making claims. These claims need to be processed quicker to ensure that no one else from the Windrush generation sadly passes away while still waiting. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) talked about the scheme needing to be properly resourced, and I agree. If one is to judge the UK Government’s commitment to amending the harm they have caused to black citizens of the UK and the Commonwealth by the efficacy of this compensation scheme, one may come to rather distressing conclusions.
Many members of the Windrush generation continue to suffer from another of the Government’s ill-judged and callous policies: frozen pensions. Successive UK Governments have pursued an approach to state pensions whereby recipients in some countries receive annual pension payment increments but pensioners in other countries, including all but two Caribbean countries, do not. Some members of the Windrush generation retired to their countries of birth only to find themselves at the receiving end of this harsh policy. That includes more than 300 pensioners living in Antigua and Barbuda, 1,300 in Trinidad and Tobago, almost 1,000 in Grenada, more than 800 in Saint Lucia and hundreds more across a number of other Caribbean islands.
One such pensioner is 90-year-old Nancy Hunte, who moved to the UK from Antigua with her daughter, Gretel, who is now 66. Nancy spent 33 years working in Leicester, while Gretel spent two decades working in UK factories. Due to their return to their country of origin, Nancy has now missed out on £70,000 in pension payments, receiving only £39 per week, which is less than a third of the pension she deserves. Gretel, who has now reached retirement age, faces the same fate as her mother.
Another pensioner in this situation whom I had the great pleasure of meeting virtually a couple of days ago is 82-year-old Monica Philip. She was born in Antigua and moved to the UK when she was 20 years old. She spent 37 years employed in the UK, including as a civil servant at the Ministry of Defence and in the City of London social services. She had to return to Antigua in 1996 to care for her ailing mother. Her state pension has been frozen at £74 per week, which is half what her sister Naomi, who still lives in Leicester, receives. How can that be fair?
The UK Government could choose to end this injustice at any time. All that it would take to put a stop to the frozen pensions policy is domestic legislation unilaterally uprating the pensions of UK pensioners in countries that the UK has no reciprocal pension agreement with. The Government do not take these steps, as they insist that they will only uprate pensions through such reciprocal agreements. That would be an almost reasonable position if it were not for the fact that the Government baulk at the opportunity when offered new reciprocal agreements, such as the one recently offered by Canada. It would be helpful if the Government could clarify why they take such a contradictory stance, where on the one hand they insist that they merely seek bilateral reciprocal deals, and on the other they will not actively seek such deals or seriously consider them when they are presented with the opportunity to secure one.
I understand that the Minister may not have responsibility for this, but has he had discussions with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions on the impact that these frozen pensions have had on Windrush pensioners who have retired to their countries of origin, especially in the light of the inefficacy of the compensation scheme? Nothing can excuse this lack of support for Windrush pensioners who put in decades of hard work rebuilding the UK after the second world war.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing this important debate.
I am a daughter of the Windrush generation. When my parents and my family arrived from Nevis and settled in Leicester, they made tremendous sacrifices so that they could contribute to our local and national community. The Windrush generation were part of a brief post-war attempt to reconcile centuries of extractive, violent colonialism by ensuring that members of the British empire could settle in the UK. Despite facing horrific systemic racism and discrimination, the Windrush generation helped to rebuild a country ravaged by war and made an immense contribution to shaping the country we live in today.
The British state has not held up its end of the bargain, and the mistreatment of the Windrush generation that ensnared UK residents in the Government’s callous, racist hostile environment immigration system is one of the most evil chapters in modern British history. British citizens who built our NHS, who worked in frontline jobs and whose actions define public service were criminalised. They were denied access to work, housing and healthcare for no other reason than their country of birth or the colour of their skin.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Government had failed to comply with their equality duties. Wendy Williams’ Windrush lessons learned review found a culture of neglect within the Home Office that created conditions in which British citizens were systematically denied their rights due to damaging, pernicious immigration targets. That review made 30 recommendations that the Home Secretary committed to implementing, yet progress has been slow—so slow that Wendy Williams accused the Home Office of paying “lip service” to the urgent reform that is necessary. It is utterly shameful that only 687 people have received compensation from the Windrush compensation scheme out of 11,500 people who the Home Office estimated might be eligible, although the National Audit Office found that 15,000 people might be eligible. That means that less than 5% of people whose lives were unjustly ruined by this Government have received the compensation they deserve. Tragically, at least 21 people have died waiting for justice.
The National Audit Office found that despite the compensation scheme needing 125 full-time caseworkers, when the Home Office launched the scheme, it had only six in post. Applicants are also forced to go through a complex, convoluted and tortuous process that includes at least 15 steps, and the wait times are unacceptably long. This derisory commitment shows how utterly unserious this Government are about making amends for their abuse of human rights. Frankly, it seems that this Government could not care less about the victims of their own institutionally racist policies. Putting the same Home Office that is responsible for the Windrush scandal in charge of the compensation scheme is like leaving a fox in charge of a henhouse. The scheme must be removed from Government and placed under the control of a properly funded, independent regulator.
The mishandling of the Windrush compensation scheme rubs salt into wounds, heaping insult upon injustice. Under this Government, citizenship rights have been deliberately obscured, and deportation and removal targets have taken precedent. They have made no effort to end the institutionally racist hostile environment policies that created this disaster. Indeed, the Windrush scandal is perhaps the definitive example of institutional racism, and the fact that this Government have embarked on a damaging crusade against the reality of institutional racism shows just how little they have learned from the suffering of the Windrush generation. I am very concerned by this Government’s denial of structural discrimination, as demonstrated by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ report, which sought to blame minorities for, and gaslight them about, the structural disadvantages they face. This is not a Government who want to learn lessons from the Windrush scandal; it is a Government who are cynically using culture war tropes that are designed to divide our communities against each other and distract from the real causes of inequality and injustice.
The victims of the Windrush scandal need urgent justice. The compensation scheme must be taken away from the Home Office and rapidly accelerated. Beyond this, the Government must recall the suffering of the Windrush generation and remember that the demonisation of migrants and African, African-Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic communities has devastating consequences for the lives of British residents. Ultimately, the Government must abandon their divisive agenda and commit to governing in the interests of all our citizens, regardless of the colour of our skin or our country of birth.