[Esther McVey in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review progress update.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship for the first time, Ms McVey. I will endeavour to keep my comments as brief as possible, but you know MPs find that difficult.
I want to talk about Wendy Williams’ progress update following her “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”, published in 2020. More than five years have passed since a steady stream of constituents began approaching me who realised that they or someone in their family had been victims of the Windrush scandal. Some were from families who had been torn apart, with a father or mother wrongly deported. Others had been falsely imprisoned, lost their jobs and homes and were denied medical care and access to benefits. They all suffered at the hands of a Government that dehumanised them as they tried to implement the hostile environment policy at all costs. They were British citizens who had been asked to jump over impossible hurdles to prove their status and, having failed to do so, endured incredible cruelty at the hands of the Home Office.
Five years later, the media, some politicians and the Government have largely moved on, but many victims have been unable to, with only a small minority having received a personal apology from the Home Office or any compensation. Most of those affected by this terrible scandal are still waiting for any kind of justice. For most victims, the compensation scheme is the most visible response to the scandal and their path to a resolution. However, rather than delivering justice for victims, the scheme has been so mismanaged that it has become an extension of the scandal itself.
In her 2020 progress report, Wendy Williams stated that her recommendations boiled down to three factors, including that the Home Office should open up to “greater external scrutiny” and recognise that migration policy is “about people” and “rooted in humanity.” It is clear that the compensation scheme has failed to meet those challenges, being described in the progress report by claimants as “traumatic”, chaotic, “very stressful” and a “game of back and forth”.
The most notable failure of the compensation scheme has been the painfully slow progress of cases—so slow, in fact, that at least 28 people have now tragically died without ever having received any compensation offer. At least 28 victims will never get the justice they deserve. For most, the process has been slow, lengthy and painful. Often, they are given few updates and have little to no under-standing of how their claims are progressing. Incredibly, only one in four applicants has received any compensation, and fewer than 7% of the 15,000 compensation claims the Government originally expected have been paid.
For one of my constituents, waiting for a compensation offer took more than two years. In that time, he was forced into more and more debt. His son died tragically, having passed away in his sleep. While he was awaiting a decision, he was unable to even bury his son. His experience is not unique. In her progress report, Wendy Williams highlights the timeliness of compensation payments as one of the main concerns raised by those she consulted. The Home Office must listen to Wendy Williams and the victims of this scandal. I urge the Minister act now to speed up the process.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing this important debate. I echo her points; Wendy Williams has said that the process is slow. Other issues raised with me include how poorly trained the advisers are, which is causing issues. As well as being slow, the scheme lacks independence and is not paying costs quickly. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is further evidence of putting a broken system ahead of those who are dying without redress? The Government need to take this issue seriously and implement Wendy Williams’ recommendations. Not only has she done the report on lessons learned, but she did a progress report earlier this year, and the Government are still failing to implement those recommendations. We do not have the time; people need the support right now.
I thank my hon. Friend for her powerful intervention, and I wholeheartedly agree. I urge the Minister to act now to speed up the process wherever possible by increasing staff numbers and simplifying the decision-making process. The victims of this scandal have been trapped in limbo for long enough. It is time to give them the resolution they are entitled to.
Often, the scheme fails even the lucky few who have received an offer of compensation. The headline figures for compensation may seem like sizeable amounts, but they do not reflect the life-changing trauma that so many experienced. Wrongful imprisonment can lead to an award of just £300 per day of detainment. The headline figure for deportation is £10,000, but for administrative removal the amount drops to £5,000. Claimants who have lost out on potentially years of child benefit or working tax credit are only given just over £1,000—far less than the amount they were wrongly denied. If claimants were denied access to housing, they are given £1,000. Denial of education results in a one-off award of £500. I know of at least one incident in which the total compensation offered to my constituent was less than the total debt they had been forced into as a result of the scandal. How can that be right?
I thank my hon. Friend for making such a powerful speech. She may recall the Guardian article last week that featured the issue of compensation. It featured my constituent Cuthbert Prospere, who has lost out on years of working and earning because he is still waiting for compensation. Does she agree that many more people continue to be failed on a daily basis and are not able to live their lives because of this issue?
I thank my hon. Friend for that powerful intervention. I will pick up on that in my speech. I urge the Minister to ensure that the guidance issued to caseworkers on the levels of awards is urgently reviewed by the Home Office. The awards must reflect the life-changing trauma inflicted on victims of the scandal. Those who are not happy with their compensation offer are faced with a so-called appeals process that is neither truly independent nor transparent. Claimants can request a review of a decision by the adjudication officer, but ultimately the Home Office has the right to refuse a decision reached by the adjudicator. The Department is marking its own homework.
Although the number of claimants who request reviews is published, we have no idea how many appeal results have led to increased or reduced offers of compensation. There is no external scrutiny of a process through which we hope to achieve some justice for the Windrush generation. I urge the Minister to make public the outcome of the compensation appeals process, publish appeal outcomes and work to make the process as independent from the Home Office as possible.
Given the concerns I have outlined, it is clear that Windrush compensation is anything but rooted in humanity. In her progress report, Wendy Williams pointed to a lack of empathy on the part of the decision makers and said that caseworkers often fail to signpost vulnerable claimants to services that could offer non-monetary support. The claims are as complex as the humans making them and must be treated as such.
My constituent, Joel, who submitted a claim on behalf of his 89-year-old grandmother, spent 14 months going back and forth with the compensation scheme, repeatedly providing information and evidence that was requested time and time again, until suddenly, for no apparent reason, his caseworker stopped communicating with him. He feared that his grandmother would die without seeing a penny in compensation.
My constituent’s grandmother, who lives in Jamaica, has now received notice that she has been deemed not in a position to be offered any compensation. Joel is an articulate lawyer, familiar with navigating bureaucracy, yet even he was unable to navigate the compensation scheme without my intervention. It is clear that the culture change called for in the lessons learned review has not taken place.
In conclusion, all these failings amount to a second trauma for the victims of the Windrush scandal. They continue to be treated inhumanely, being forced to navigate a compensation scheme not fit for purpose. The scheme has been too slow and does not provide a transparent, independent appeals process.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case about the way the scheme has been mishandled and about compensation. Will she forgive me if I ask about a policy issue arising from the Williams review? She mentioned Williams’ statement that migration policy should be about people. One issue in the discussion was the treatment of those who came to the UK as small children—or were even born here without citizenship—and who grew up here, were schooled here and shaped here, and were then deported as adults.
In his review of immigration detention, conducted for the Home Office, Stephen Shaw recommended that the Home Office should no longer seek to remove those who were born in the UK or had been brought up here from an early age. There are countless examples, of which my hon. Friend will be aware. I tabled an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill to prevent the deportation of those who arrived here before they had reached the age of criminal responsibility; obviously, the Government rejected that. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK has a responsibility to those who have never, in practical terms, known another country, and for whom the UK has been home from before they reached the age of criminal liability?
My hon. Friend will not be surprised that I agree wholeheartedly with everything he just said. Wendy Williams’ report highlighted the fact that Home Office policies are not rooted in humanity. They do not reflect a caring society; people who have lived here all their lives are no longer welcome by a click of the finger. We need to change that, and we are now in a position to do so. The Home Office is actually in a position to make a difference and a change, to help those people who need it now.
There are so many people watching this, or stuck in the Caribbean or west Africa, who cannot get back into this country because they are not deemed British, even though they have lived here all their lives. In many instances, they actually have passports but cannot get into the country. We need to look at this wholeheartedly. The Windrush generation and scandal is one part of it, but the hostile environment is overarching and overbearing. It dictates the way that the Home Office responds to people who are, let us be honest, very vulnerable. They need our support right now; they cannot wait. They have waited long enough.
Unfortunately, we are where we are, which is why this debate is important. Claimants must be offered a complete package, not only guidance and advice. We also need the Department to reach out to those victims who have not come forward. I am not surprised they have not come forward if they have seen how those who have come forward have been treated.
The Government must look at the damage they have done. They need to fix the compensation scheme or hand it to an organisation that can deliver it, and give justice to those who need it. The Windrush generation need us to step in for them now. The Windrush generation need us to ensure all the damage and everything that they have been through is righted. At this point, it has not been, which is an injustice. We must look at everybody as a victim and make a difference for them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on securing this important and timely debate. Just last week, we celebrated Windrush Day: it is 74 years since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury docks. I had the wonderful opportunity of celebrating with my constituents, including many of those from the Windrush generation, at the Balham & Tooting Sports & Social Club.
The Windrush generation—including my grandparents, who travelled from Jamaica—were invited here to help to rebuild this country after the second world war and to work in the newly formed national health service. The Windrush generation were British citizens when they arrived here. Their contributions to rebuilding our country and its infrastructure have been invaluable. That is why the treatment they have received from successive Governments—not least in respect of the Windrush scandal—is such a stain on this country. We are here to discuss that scandal because, as a result of it, Wendy Williams conducted her lessons learned review and the update that has followed. The Windrush generation have been and continue to be treated in a way that does not compare with the many sacrifices they made to help to rebuild our country. Unfortunately, with this scandal, the racism and discrimination they experienced when they arrived here remains today.
Over the past 12 years, we have seen the hostile environment, with policies introduced as part of the Immigration Act 2014 and the Immigration Act 2016, many of which meant that people could access support and public services only if they were able to prove their status. Subsequently, thousands of people from the Windrush generation were denied access to public services, stretching from housing, with many people ending up homeless, to access to social security, with many ending up in destitution. Sadly, for those who were unable to prove their status, those policies led to devastating consequences. Many people who had spent their whole lives in this country—working, paying their taxes and making a valuable contribution—but who were unable to prove their status ended up homeless. Many were deported to countries they had not been back to for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. In some cases, as we have heard, people died as a result of this scandal.
It is vital to recognise the role that institutional and structural racism has played in this scandal. I believe that it happened only because many of these people were black and brown and because of the countries they had come from. No one can deny or dismiss that fact; it is proven.
The Government chose not to recognise this scandal until it became unavoidable. It did not just happen overnight; the Government were warned about it many years ago. It took campaigning, pressure from the victims of the scandal and from MPs, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and for Edmonton—
She is soon to be right hon. [Laughter.]
It took many activists campaigning for justice. I first came to this place in 2017, and within a year, the scandal did really hit. I had to stand up in the Chamber and make so many representations for my constituents who were caught up in this scandal and genuinely could not believe what was happening.
Despite the impact of those cruel and inhumane policies, I do not think the Government have really learned the lessons of the scandal, because if they had, they would not have passed the inhumane Nationality and Borders Act 2022. What have they actually learned? If they had learned the lessons of Windrush, we would not have seen so many people waiting for compensation from the scheme. We know that many, many people have not received compensation and that when people do, it is so small that it really does not amount to much or compensate them for what they have endured. We also know that many people have lost their life before even receiving compensation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst things about the Windrush scandal was that this was a very proud generation, and a generation who thought they were British? They had travelled here on passports that were from the United Kingdom and the colonies. We are here today talking about cash and compensation, but actually it is the emotional impact on that generation that is the worst thing of all.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I could not have said it any better; she absolutely hits the nail on the head. They were British citizens when they came to this country. In fact, they call it the mother country—that is what my grandparents called Britain. That is how they saw it and they were British citizens, so then to be treated in such a way—it really was not right.
I strongly believe that the whole compensation scheme should be moved outside the Home Office. It should be an independent, fair, compassionate and accessible scheme that does not have the Home Office’s hands over it. Wendy Williams’s progress report highlights that many of her 30 recommendations have not been met, so my question to the Minister is: why? I am really concerned that the recommendation to have a full review of the hostile environment policy—it has now been called the “compliant environment”, but we all know that it is still hostile—has not been achieved.
Wendy Williams also called on the Home Secretary to commission officials to undertake a full review, designed in partnership with external experts, and evaluation of the hostile policy measures, individually and cumulatively. I do not believe that any work has been progressed on that.
Given the significant role that the hostile environment policy played in causing the Windrush scandal, I would have expected the Home Office to prioritise completing a full review in the last 18 months. I would therefore like the Minister, when he responds, to explain why the Home Office has not yet completed a full review in partnership with those external experts. When does it intend to do that?
Wendy Williams stated in her progress report that
“the results of the review of the…policies remain an essential element in the department’s efforts to demonstrate it is learning”.
However, legislation has been produced that shows that the Department really has not done so. For me, and I am sure for all of my colleagues, this process really is about righting these wrongs and bringing justice for those people caught up in the scandal, but it is also about ensuring that it can never happen again.
I come back to this question: have the Government learned? I ask that because they then introduced the Rwanda policy. I am genuinely baffled as to when this Government and the Home Office will finally begin to learn that their policies have consequences and that if they did some simple things, such as carrying out impact assessments, then just maybe that would highlight some of the problems with their policies, which are being implemented with hostility and have a hostile impact on our communities.
As I said in my earlier intervention, my parents were of the Windrush generation. They came here in the 1950s and I remember how proud they were and how they believed that they were citizens of the United Kingdom. The whole Windrush scandal has been so painful and humiliating for them, and what has made the pain and humiliation worse is the very slow progress in handing out compensation. Only one in four of the applicants have got their compensation. One has to wonder whether the Home Office is not waiting for some of them to die, to rid itself of the obligation to pay compensation.
As the Minister will be aware, the Home Affairs Committee visited Sheffield, where the casework for the compensation scheme is done. He will also be aware that the Committee produced a report on the issue, in which we made a number of specific recommendations. One of the most important recommendations is that the whole Windrush compensation operation should be handed to an independent organisation, because one of the startling facts is that the number of people who have applied for compensation is much lower than was expected.
Those people do not want to go to the Home Office for anything—think about it and put yourself in their shoes—whereas if an independent organisation was responsible for the scheme, I believe that many more of the people who are entitled to compensation would come forward. I believe that an independent organisation would be speedier and more effective in processing the claims. The Home Office has rejected the suggestion out of hand, but I am bringing it forward once again. The delays, the incoherence and the unwillingness of possible claimants to come forward all point to the need to move this work to an independent organisation.
Another Home Affairs Committee recommendation that the Home Office rejected was to reimburse claimants for their legal costs. When we put that to the Home Office, it said, “It has all been devised so that people don’t need a lawyer,” but we need to tell that to the claimants. We have to remember that the Windrush generation are not necessarily used to doing things online. Many of them find that they have to use lawyers, some of whom are charging extortionate costs and might get a third of the compensation, if not half. It cannot be fair to offer compensation yet allow victims to be gouged by lawyers. The Committee has said that the Government should reimburse claimants for their legal costs. The other issue we have raised is how opaque some of the criteria are for the amount of compensation that claimants get, and we want to see more clarity on that.
The Home Affairs Committee went to Sheffield to see the unit that is dealing with this issue. They were very nice people, but one of the things that concerned us was what they told us about the backlog. The Home Office has tens of thousands of claimants in a queue, and they have not yet been allocated to caseworkers—the Minister is looking startled, so he needs to go to Sheffield and ask them for himself. There are tens of thousands of cases that have not been allocated to caseworkers, and nobody in Sheffield could tell me when they will be allocated. They are dealing with more recent cases, but they have a big queue. The caseworkers were very nice—we met them, their managers and all those people—but not one of them was from the same background as the majority of claimants.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I thank her for it. This really harks back to the issue of representation and leadership. The compensation scheme needs people who are compassionate and who can empathise, so does she agree that it is vital that those administering the scheme should reflect those who have been affected by it?
I agree with my colleague. It is very regrettable that none of the caseworkers, managers and advisers reflects the diversity of the claimants to the Windrush compensation scheme. It seems to me that if the Home Office were serious about running the scheme efficiently, it would have made more effort to ensure that the officials dealing with the scheme reflected the communities from which most of the claimants come.
We cannot overstate the sadness and disappointment of claimants who find themselves caught up in the labyrinth and waiting, sometimes for years, to understand what has happened to their claim. It is all very well and desirable that we had a Windrush monument unveiled last week, but nobody will take this Government’s concern about Windrush seriously until they make the compensation scheme much speedier, much more efficient and much more likely to reach the claimants before some of them pass away.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on securing this vital debate. The Windrush generation have given the UK so much. When they docked in Tilbury, they brought not just extra hands to rebuild this country, but dance, art, writing, cuisine and music, which transformed British culture. Areas across the UK such as Brixton, which partly falls in my constituency, were completely reshaped by the Windrush generation and became central hubs of British culture.
For the past five years we have had the opportunity to celebrate Windrush Day and recognise the contributions of that community up and down the country. Next year, when we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush, I sincerely hope the Government will plan nationwide celebrations that are suitable for the commemoration of a day of such national significance.
I also sincerely hope that those celebrations will be a vast improvement on the £1 million act of gesture politics that was unveiled at Waterloo station this year. Although I commend Basil Watson’s artistry, it would have been nice if the Government had properly consulted Windrush campaigners and organisations, including the Windrush Foundation, to discuss its design and location. If the Government truly intend to honour the Windrush generation, they will take meaningful steps to fix the Windrush compensation scheme. The Government estimate that there are up to 15,000 people eligible to claim Windrush compensation. More than three years after the launch of the scheme, just 26% of that number have applied and only 11% have received compensation. At least 23 people have died waiting.
The compensation scheme is a scandal in itself, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton outlined. The Government’s failure to deliver compensation to victims of the Windrush scandal shows that it was a mistake to entrust the scheme to the Department that administered the Windrush generation’s suffering in the first place. The Windrush monument is a nice gesture, but an even nicer one would be justice. Take the scheme out of the Home Office’s hands and transfer it to an independent organisation that will properly deliver the compensation that those people deserve.
It adds insult to injury that the Government continue to deny the existence of institutional racism, which members of the Windrush generation and their descendants continue to experience. If the Government really want to honour the Windrush generation, they ought to complement that, starting with just immigration policies. Instead, they choose to push on with their hostile environment and the shameful Nationality and Borders Act 2022, as if they have learned nothing from the Windrush scandal.
A leaked Home Office report concluded recently that the deep-rooted racism of the Windrush scandal lies in the fact that between 1950 and 1981, every single piece of immigration or citizenship legislation was designed at least in part to reduce the number of people with black or brown skin who were permitted to live and work in the UK. That was an assessment of immigration policy from 50 years ago, but it feels like a similar assessment could be made of immigration policies today.
Wendy Williams boils down the 30 recommendations in her “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” to three main factors, one of which is that the Home Office must recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy are about people, and that, whatever the objective, they should be rooted in humanity. What part of the Rwanda policy would the Minister say is rooted in humanity? What part of splitting up families would the Minister say is rooted in humanity? What part of the recently announced deportation flights to Nigeria and Ghana, which, during Pride month, will attempt to deport LGBT asylum seekers, is rooted in humanity? Attempting to deport mothers and grandmothers of people who are British citizens and have been in this country for over 25 years—what part of that is rooted in humanity? It is only recently that the Government have changed their rules on citizenship fees for children who were born in this country or have lived here their entire life. The fees have now been reduced for those who cannot afford them, but what part of denying people who were born here access to the rights they deserve was rooted in humanity?
It seems that the Home Office, rather than enacting genuine change to apologise and atone for the Windrush scandal, would rather gesture towards change but continue with the same culture and practices. If it was serious about its commitment to change, it would enact in full the recommendations of the lessons learned review, it would invite Wendy Williams back in 18 months’ time to reassess its progress against those recommendations, and it would do more to implement change.
One of the clear recommendations, already mentioned today, is not deporting people who came here at a very young age. The Government repeatedly do that. They even want to do that to people who have been born here but do not have a certain type of immigration status at the time of being accused of a crime. When people have been here since a young age, no matter what offence they may have committed, the reality is that they are a product of British society. Where on earth are we sending them if they have already paid their dues in prison?
I put it to the Minister that there are some people among us—I will name the Prime Minister again—who were not born in this country. The Prime Minister has committed an offence, I would say. Should he be deported if he was somebody who needed to register for citizenship here? The Government have at times stated that they would want to do that—to see anyone who has committed some sort of offence removed from this country. I think that is absolutely disgraceful. The Government must implement Wendy Williams’s review in full if they want to move past the Windrush scandal.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on securing this important debate. The points made this afternoon have been powerful and brilliant.
Last Wednesday marked the 74th anniversary of the Windrush migration. It was a journey that started with a call for help to rebuild Britain following the devastation of the second world war. To mark the anniversary, I attended the launch of an amazing new exhibition in Birmingham called “Home from Home: Wassifa’s 50th Anniversary at Birmingham Back to Backs”. The exhibition recreates a Caribbean household from the 1970s in Handsworth, which is where I grew up. It was very personal to me; the experience brought back so many memories of what our front rooms and our homes used to look like when I grew up. I will highlight the Blue Spot ’gram.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. As my background is in health, I will also say that I would not have gone into nursing if it was not for my parents, and for other people from Caribbean heritage, who were so proud to be British. They are not immigrants or migrants; they came here on a British passport—they were British.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the Mykal Wassifa Brown Heritage Foundation, the Blackstory Partnership and the National Trust. It was great to see a major organisation such as the National Trust back this project and recognise the importance of black people in British history. I take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved. At the launch, however, I also heard distressing stories about the treatment of British Windrush citizens, and some were at the event.
The Windrush scandal began to surface in 2017, after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens had been wrongly detained and deported, and denied their legal rights. In April 2018, the Government were forced to apologise for the trauma they caused to so many people who made Britain their home for decades.
To fix the wrongs, the Home Office quite rightly introduced the Windrush compensation scheme but, to add insult to injury, the scheme has been a failure. It is complex to navigate. There is a lack of free legal advice. Claims take months to process and compensation offers are insultingly small. The vast majority of people who have applied for compensation through the Home Office, to its disgrace, have yet to receive a penny. As was highlighted earlier, sadly, it is too late for those who passed away before they could secure justice. Many people in this room have been to funerals where people have had to use GoFundMe, because the deceased could not afford to bury themselves because of what they had been through.
The Windrush generation have been failed by a deeply flawed and discriminatory immigration system, created by a hostile environment. Where once immigrants were welcome to work and live, today, Britain’s hostile environment has created a culture of fear and suspicion. The policies were introduced in 2012 by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), with the aim of making life unbearably difficult in Britain for those who cannot show the right paperwork.
Three months ago, I was so proud to be elected as the first ever black Member of Parliament in Birmingham. As a child of the Windrush generation, it is painful to hear the harrowing experiences of people who still cannot get the respect and dignity they are entitled to. One constituent told me that they have struggled to make a successful claim under the Windrush compensation scheme. The burden of proof needed when a person is unable to get access to employment makes it very difficult for those affected.
The journey for many migrants began in 1948 but, in 2022, more than 74 years later, they are still fighting to be treated with the dignity they deserve. I urge the Minister to take these concerns and all the others that he has heard this afternoon on board and address the important issues. The Windrush generation built the foundations of the Britain we enjoy today. The least we can do is give them the justice they deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms McVey, as usual. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing this incredibly important debate. The powerfulness and eloquence she brought to her opening comments say everything. My hon. Friends’ speeches have really put things into perspective.
The Windrush scandal will forever cast a dark shadow over our nation’s history. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Windrush generation, who have worked hard and contributed so much to our society, not least to the NHS, as we have heard in some personal stories today. The way the Windrush generation has been treated is nothing less than sickening. Let us make no bones about it: the Windrush scandal was a direct consequence of this Government’s hostile environment policy. This approach to policy making must be scrapped, but the circumstances that allowed the Windrush scandal to happen have not been properly addressed. I will touch on that more later.
I want to talk about the experiences of some constituents who were affected by the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment. My constituent Tanya and her family had immense struggles with the Home Office as a result of the scandal. She, her brother and her then 12-year-old daughter all had multiple passport applications refused. The reason, according to the Home Office, was that none of them were British citizens. That is despite the fact that they were all born in Britain, had never stepped foot outside Britain and had worked and paid taxes their entire lives in Britain. Never before had their British citizenship been called into question.
The distress and hurt caused is unimaginable. Tanya’s mother could travel; her older sisters had passports and could travel, but she and her younger brother were unable to travel with her family unit. They were unable to visit where her mum and dad had been born when the older sisters went. They were unable to take advantage of going on any trip abroad. How would they have felt, not being able to understand that? They got no sense from the Home office, which is a terrible way for Government to react to that sort of situation.
Another constituent came to the UK from Jamaica with his grandparents when he was two years old, following the death of his father. He left Jamaica with no family members remaining there, as his mother had also left. He built his life in the UK and had two children. As an adult, he was convicted of a criminal offence and received a custodial sentence. Nobody is defending his actions, but he rightly paid his debt to society. Upon his release, he was told he was to be deported to Jamaica. That came as a huge shock, as he had a young family in the UK and no ties to Jamaica whatsoever. Furthermore, he feared for his safety in Jamaica after his father, who died when he was just two, was killed in a gang-related attack.
My constituent was deported to a country he had little to no memory of and with no family around him. Many years later, thanks to his solicitors and my office, he was finally given permission to return to the UK and see his children again. By then, his partner had moved on to another life and his children barely knew him. That is unthinkable yet it was done to him by this Government. That is the hostile environment policy in action.
Far from tackling the endemic problems, the Home Office is instead going forward with the same mindset that caused the Windrush scandal. It is clear that the hostile environment policy is here to stay. Wendy Williams’ review makes it absolutely clear that cultural and systemic changes are needed in the Home Office—that is so important to ensure that another Windrush scandal can never happen again. But time and again we have seen that not to be the case. The Home Office is still guided by its hostile environment policy.
Steps must be taken to make Britain once again a welcoming place for migrants, refugees and their families. Change has to come from the very top, but the Home Secretary has shown a complete lack of willpower to make positive change happen. What we have got so far is nowhere near enough. We are asking for justice and closure for all those of the Windrush generation and their families who were affected. The Government must ensure that those people get justice and closure and, most of all, the compensation that they are entitled to.
Tanya, who I referred to earlier, got her compensation just last year, after four years. She was one of the just one in four people out there who received compensation. That is not good enough. It is bad enough that these people were in the situation they were in, but to leave them hanging year after year, making unreasonable requests for information that the Home Office already knows they will not have or are unlikely to have, is cruel. The Government must step up and do the right thing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing this timely debate. It has been a pleasure to hear from all those Members whose families have been impacted by this scandal or come from the Windrush generation.
The Windrush scandal is surely one of the most sickening episodes in recent Home Office history, so it is important that we carefully examine what progress has been made on the lessons learned review. The report concludes that there has been some progress in certain areas, such as training in the Equality Act 2010 and the history of immigration legislation. However, it is horrifying that little or no progress has been made on the future risk areas identified in Wendy Williams’ review. The failure to appoint a migrant commissioner, the lack of engagement with the publics affected by the scandal, and the absence of a formal training and development programme are all cause for concern.
Following the revelations of the scandal, Amber Rudd, the now former Home Secretary and former Member for Hastings and Rye, said that the Department had become
“too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual.”
Centring the voices of individuals affected by Home Office policy, and ensuring that staff have a deep and continued engagement with the issues at stake, is integral to building a just and humane immigration system. I agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) about the need for representation within the workforce and an independent process. It is therefore disappointing that there has been no forward movement on the risk areas highlighted in the report.
I am also worried that the former Home Secretary’s observation about the Department being too concerned with policy and strategy is a mistake that the Government are continuing to repeat, such as by sending Afghan young people back home last summer, just before the crisis in that country struck. That is “home” in quotation marks, because those young people were brought up here from as far back as 2003 or 2004. In the original lessons learned report, Williams said that
“the political focus from ministers on demonstrating a system ‘getting a grip’ on the ‘immigration problem’ drove internal targets, priorities and behaviour in the Home Office immigration system”.
When I read that, I could not help but think of the truly worrying debates we have just had on the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.
Recommendation 13 of the lessons learned review rings in my ears:
“Ministers should ensure that all policies and proposals for legislation on immigration and nationality are subjected to rigorous impact assessments in line with Treasury guidelines. Officials should avoid putting forward options on the binary ‘do this or do nothing’ basis, but instead should consider a range of options. The assessments must always consider whether there is a risk of an adverse impact on racial groups who are legitimately in the country.”
I have lost count of the number of times I have raised the policy impacts that will affect individuals, such as those making legitimate asylum claims, only to hear Government Members intone that their policy is the only way to deal with the illegal immigration problem, and that anyone who disagrees is in favour of doing nothing. The Nationality and Borders Act was subject to an impact assessment that said explicitly that it risked indirectly disadvantaging protected groups, but that impact assessment was ignored by Ministers. The same problems and the same ineffective decision making are happening again and again.
Matters of policy and legislation do not fall within the terms of reference of either the lessons learned review or the report on progress. That is why it is so important that we are discussing them today as lawmakers, because those matters also contribute to the picture. The political focus on a hostile environment strategy designed to discourage people from coming to this country was at the heart of the Windrush scandal. To avoid future scandals and make good on the apologies that have been issued, that focus—one could even call it an obsession—needs to change, and we need to see that change manifest in the lived experience of the Windrush generation and in the compensation scheme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms McVey. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) and other Members present who have been so tenacious in pursuing this issue, and I guarantee they will continue if it is not resolved.
The key point here is that after a dreadful, shameful thing happened, there was an inquiry led by Wendy Williams and a report. The Government accepted the recommendations of that report, but today, some five years after the scandal unfolded and two years after accepting those 30 recommendations, they have only implemented eight of them. When promising to implement those recommendations, the Home Secretary said that there would be
“a total transformation of our culture.”
That has not happened, but let us remind ourselves why it was so necessary to transform that culture. What had it led to? What was so scandalous about the Windrush scandal?
As we have heard from others today, people’s lives were turned upside down through no fault of their own. The hon. Member for Edmonton talked about the gentleman who got further and further into debt through no fault of his own, but through the fault of the Government—so much so that when his son tragically died he could not even pay for his funeral. Let us think about that. How must that have made him feel?
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) rightly said that many of the people had never even set foot outside of the UK. These are people we should be celebrating. As the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) said, these people transformed our culture with, for example, music and food. On her idea that the 75th anniversary of the Windrush celebrations should happen across these islands next year, I guarantee that Glasgow and Scotland will be up for that. I will, as a board member of Flag Up Scotland Jamaica, make sure that it happens in Glasgow at least.
When the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) made her speech, I was very interested to listen to the memories evoked by the festival. I can tell her that my Jamaican partner has amassed a very large collection of whisky and I am trying to persuade him to get a cocktail cabinet. He, the Jamaican, is not up for it, but I will get one, anyway.
How was the scandal able to happen? It is as the Home Secretary acknowledged when she pledged a total transformation of culture in the Home Office. The culture there is what allowed it to happen. Its own internal report, the one that it hoped to suppress but which was leaked to The Guardian, said as much. The hon. Member for Streatham alluded to it. The leaked Home Office report stated:
“Every single piece of immigration or citizenship legislation between 1950 and 1981 was designed, at least in part, to reduce the number of black or brown people permitted to live and work in the UK.”
How utterly scandalous is that? As the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) said, the case is proven and that quote is proof.
I say to the Home Secretary through the Minister that she should not suppress the report. It is empowering and freeing to own up to the truth. I speak as someone who was involved in a campaign and subsequently a major theatre production called “Emancipation Acts”, which was aimed at getting the people of Scotland to own up to our past connections to slavery. It worked because people like the truth and they like honesty. It is now widely accepted in Scotland that we were just as culpable as other countries for the Caribbean slave trade. Organisations from the University of Glasgow to Glasgow City Council and many more besides are saying sorry and making reparations, and people respect that.
The Home Secretary was not in her position in the years I mentioned previously. She is not personally responsible for what happened then, so why not publish the report, admit how awful the situation was and get on with making the promised reparations? As we have heard, there are multiple failings in following through on Wendy Williams’ recommendations. The vast majority of people do not have their compensation. People have died waiting for justice. People do not trust the process, and I do not blame them. They talk of being treated with scepticism by officials. As the Home Affairs Committee reported, the burden of proof on applicants is too great.
We heard from the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about the extortionate legal fees that people have to pay and about the tens of thousands of cases not yet allocated to a caseworker. On the point about caseworkers not reflecting the Windrush communities, I get that. I did not always get that, but I do now. If the Minister does not, there is a room full of experts here who can explain it to him.
Given that the scheme is too slow, that people are still treated with scepticism, that applicants do not trust officials, and that the Home Office is not keeping up with the rest of its work—for example, my constituents seeking asylum are now waiting exceptionally long times for their initial interview—will the Minister not finally accept the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee that the scheme be transferred to an independent organisation? It would resolve those issues and free up valuable Home Office time.
The Government do not mind outsourcing all manner of other jobs to all manner of other companies—Mears and Atos, to name but two—so why can they not do the same with the Windrush compensation scheme? Nobody is looking to get rich. One reason is that an independent organisation might act more fairly and might offer decent compensation. If someone is offered less than the scandal has cost them, surely that is theft—there is no other word for it. The other reason the Government do not want an independent company to administer the scheme is that, put simply, stalling, making people jump through hoops and letting them die while they wait is all part of the doubling down on the hostile environment to which they are so wedded.
As the hon. Members for Streatham and for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) both noted, we only have to look at the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 to know that nothing has been learned. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam made a great point about the equality impact assessments being completely ignored. We only have to think about the plan to send asylum seekers thousands of miles to Rwanda—a country whose human rights record means that its own people flee to seek asylum with us—to know that the hostility continues. We only need to remember the Government’s announcement last week of the pilot scheme, which will tag asylum seekers as if they were wild dogs, to know that they simply do not care. If they did care, they would not be doing those things, and they would do a very simple but effective thing by outsourcing the compensation scheme to an independent organisation that would treat people—who, let us not forget, the Government have traumatised—with care and compassion. People would feel comfortable approaching this organisation, which would expedite their claims and ensure that the victims of the Windrush scandal were treated with respect.
Like the hon. Member for Battersea and the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, my partner has family members who came here from Jamaica to rebuild this country. His father arrived from Jamaica before Windrush. Had he been caught up in the scandal, I would be at the Minister’s door every single day until he got justice. Even the thought of it is distressing to me, and I cannot imagine the distress not just to the victims but to their families, their friends and the West Indian community as a whole.
Again, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Edmonton and others—including Members who are not present but who have continued to be part of the effort to get justice—for their tenacity and for their refusal to let the Government off the hook. I pay tribute to all my fellow citizens out there whose lives were turned upside down by the Windrush scandal. I hope some are watching, so that they will know we will always fight for them, given everything they have been through. They are still standing, and we are proud to stand with them.
I have lost count of the number of debates and meetings that have been held in this place to discuss the Windrush scandal. Why will the Minister not just get it sorted and let us move on to other matters? More importantly, we need to let the people who are caught up in this move on with their lives. As frustrating as I find it to constantly have to revisit these matters, the Government are wrong if they think that their procrastination will lead to us eventually giving up. We will have as much energy as it takes, and we will not walk away from people. We will keep on fighting for what, after all, are their rights.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, McVey. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing this important debate on the latest report by Wendy Williams. My hon. Friend delivered a powerful and moving speech, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton), for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake).
I have been moved and humbled by much of what we have heard today—the personal experiences, the family connections, the profound hurt, and the disrespect that was shown to a generation who helped to rebuild this country after the second world war. It is a stain on our conscience and it has not been adequately dealt with. That should shame us all, because we in this House should be united on the need to thank the Windrush generation, who did so much for us, worked so hard and paid their taxes, but who have been treated abysmally. I gently say to the Minister that, given the cross-party nature of the concerns about the Windrush scandal, it is disappointing that not a single Conservative Back Bencher has contributed to the debate.
The Wendy Williams report is a damning indictment of the culture at the Home Office. The sad reality is that the report has been published at a time when, rather than learning the lessons of the Windrush scandal, the Government are doubling down on their hostile environment policy and mindset.
Perhaps worst of all, none of the Government’s immigration policies is actually designed to solve any of the challenges that we face. In fact, they are just for show. The Rwanda plan is not putting people off crossing the channel. We were told that the mere threat of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda would be enough, yet hundreds of people are still coming every week on small boats. Even if a flight does one day get off the ground, the numbers will be so small that the policy will not deter people and will not break the business model of the people smugglers. As has been said, the Nationality and Borders Act is profoundly lacking in any basic human decency, and the Government have no answer to the growing backlog of 73,000 asylum seekers waiting for more than six months to be granted a decision.
Those examples are directly relevant to the topic of today’s debate because of the message they send to the Windrush generation: the hostile environment is alive and kicking in the Home Office. These strong-arm approaches, of course, are all designed to create Daily Mail headlines and keep the Prime Minister in power. In policy terms, they only make the situation worse, as the attempts to crack down on those who have sought to make a home here have caused so much unnecessary pain in so many areas, as we have heard from the powerful contributions today. Those examples are also indicative of the culture change needed at the Home Office. That is emphasised in the Williams report, which makes clear that we must treat every individual as a human being, not just slap a number on a forehead—or worse, use them as a political football.
I associate myself with all of the comments made about the compensation scheme. The decision to place that scheme in the hands of the Home Office was a grave error. The Windrush generation have absolutely no reason to trust the Home Office, so how can anyone possibly be surprised that people are reluctant to even apply for compensation, as we have seen from the very low number of applications? Responsibility for the scheme must therefore be handed to an independent organisation. I can confirm that I will do everything that I can, as the shadow Minister for Immigration, working with my colleagues here and beyond, to push for that to happen as urgently as possible.
The Williams report is clear that the Home Office must open itself up to external scrutiny. Ministers should not be marking their own homework. The report is also clear that culture change is simply not happening quickly enough. In her foreword, Wendy Williams states:
“My hope for the future is that the department acknowledges the efforts of its staff and the achievements it has made so far, but also recognises that there is still a great deal to be done.”
She later writes:
“The failure to implement changes promptly and consistently is a common thread running through the revisit…there are many examples where the department has not made progress at the pace it envisaged, or in some cases at all.”
The lack of progress on training is also a concern:
“Alongside internal training, there is the failure to make progress on certain outward-facing activities, such as senior-level engagement with those affected…and stakeholder engagement…But equally concerning is the pace of developing wider external scrutiny arrangements.”
Wendy Williams also makes it clear that the culture at the Home Office is not conducive to positive change:
“The lack of progress goes to the heart of how the department operates and is indicative of an organisation which was not yet confident enough to secure an increase in the type of independent insight and scrutiny that my recommendations envisaged.”
That is all extremely worrying, and external stakeholders are not impressed either. The report states that
“the majority of external stakeholders who chose to take part in the revisit believe that little, if anything, has changed. This view is also held by some of the people I spoke to in my original review, who expressed scepticism about the department’s progress.”
Wendy Williams therefore feels:
“The concerns voiced remain deep-rooted and will have to be addressed if the department is to truly transform the way it engages with those who were affected.”
Finally, the report makes clear that, all these years later, Government Ministers are still to show that they understand the true extent of the wrong and harm done to the victims of the Windrush scandal. All of that is very damning, in terms both of the specifics of Home Office incompetence and indifference, and of the broader issues with the hostile environment.
I am deeply concerned that we are not witnessing the changes that need to be made inside the Home Office. I have long said that the Home Office is not fit for purpose under the current Home Secretary, based on failures over crime levels, prosecution rates, the English channel crossings, the Passport Office and the Afghan and Ukrainian migration issues. The failures on Windrush go to the very heart of the wretched culture encouraged by consecutive Conservative Home Secretaries.
I will put to the Government today the very questions that Wendy Williams puts in her report. How will the Department demonstrate to the Windrush generation that it has changed and show improvements on how it carries out its duties? How will the Department demonstrate a focus on outcomes rather than outputs, to assure itself that it has made the necessary changes? How will the Department show that its culture is improving? What measures will it use to check that it has brought all staff with it? How will the Department harness local initiatives and good will, and scale them up to demonstrate to its workforce that it is a learning organisation?
How will the Department be more dynamic in its efforts to develop, achieve and retain a more diverse and inclusive senior leadership cadre? How will the most senior leaders convey to the whole organisation what the priority is in terms of culture? How willing is the Department to hear from a range of voices, whether supportive or opposing? How will the Department demonstrate that it is truly taking action continuously to improve, in order to rectify some of the scandalous decisions and acts that have taken place?
The Minister has a prime opportunity today to answer all of those questions head on. I truly hope that he will grasp that opportunity.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. Ms McVey. I thank the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing the debate, and all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions, many informed by their own, in some cases, very personal experiences and memories of the impact of the Windrush generation. Although she is not in her place now, I was struck by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) recalling her family’s experience in the 1950s and ’60s.
Although I might not agree with the hon. Member for Edmonton on every aspect, I know from my regular engagement with her on casework issues that she is a committed representative of her constituents and all those affected by the Windrush scandal. Wendy Williams’s report outlined that that scandal was formed under successive Governments and over many decades. This is not about one particular period but an accumulation of issues. Those who read the physical version of the report will know that the case on the front page is from 2009. This is an immensely important subject, and I welcome the chance to debate it again.
With this debate taking place so soon after Windrush Day, I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the Government to pay tribute to the Windrush generation. They are an essential part of our national story, and we should recognise, cherish and celebrate the enormous contribution that they and subsequent generations have made, and continue to make, to our country. As the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) and others have outlined, Britain would not be what it is today without them. As the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, many viewed themselves as British, coming to the mother country, having been invited here.
Many, particularly from the Caribbean, had already been here defending this country in its darkest hours. Our democracy survives partly due to the immense contribution of many members of the Commonwealth who volunteered to come thousands of miles, under no compulsion, when this country faced its darkest hours, to stand on our shores in the face of a potential Nazi invasion. They felt that this was their country, not a country that they were migrating to. This was not a matter of arriving in a foreign land for them.
I will turn to the core focus of today’s debate. In September 2021, Wendy Williams and her team returned to the Home Office to assess the progress made since the publication of her original report in March 2020. The progress update, which was published in March this year, found that there are several areas where good progress has been made, noted that structures have been put in place that should provide appropriate levels of oversight of the Department in the future, and also commended some excellent behaviours and initiatives from members of staff and teams.
In her original lessons learned report, Wendy Williams made 30 recommendations. Her progress update assesses that eight have been met, a further 13 partially met, and the remaining nine not met. I certainly recognise that there is more work to be done. As the update report acknowledges, change on the scale required takes time. It is also right that the Home Office is held to account on recommendations where sufficient progress has not been made. I want to be clear that it remains our commitment to deliver each and every one of the recommendations.
Regarding training, significant progress has been made, as has already been touched on. For example, training has been developed that covers the history of the UK’s immigration and nationality system from 1960 to 2020. This training has been delivered to policy makers and continues to be undertaken by operational staff across the Department. Colleagues may be aware that, following a campaign by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), we are seeking to add to that the experience of Chinse seamen who faced deportation shortly after world war two.
As has been said, it is also important that senior leaders are at the forefront of the effort to drive change across the Home Office. Abi Tierney, the director general of Her Majesty’s Passport Office and UK Visas and Immigration, has taken on the role of ethics adviser to the Home Office board, in which she will champion ethical behaviour and systems, advise on ethical considerations and spearhead the roll-out of a new ethical decision-making model, making clear that this is at the core of what we should be doing and at the core of how our systems should function.
As has been touched on, it is also vital that we continue engaging outwardly and openly, and not just with people who are likely to agree with the Home Office or to share the views and opinions of any particular party or Government. Earlier today, I welcomed to the Home Office some of the groups that have received funding from the Windrush community fund, both to thank them for their fantastic efforts in helping to promote the Windrush compensation scheme and to hear their views on where we can go further and what more work we can do to reach out to more people. We are clear that we work with those groups—the funding is supplied to support their work for their community.
We remain committed to the relationships we have formed with these hard-working grassroots and community organisations. Their insight and experience are invaluable, and we will ensure that the Home Office is proactively listening and learning all the time from their experiences and comments.
Understandably, a lot of people have focused on the Windrush compensation scheme. Indeed, among the reasons I regularly meet some of the Members present is to discuss individual cases. We recognise that although financial compensation is an important part of this process and is necessary, it is, as has been touched on in other debates, only part of it. For many people, this issue was about not just the monetary impact on them but feeling that their identity had been taken away. We must recognise that as well.
We have made significant progress and have now paid or offered a total of more than £48 million in compensation. We have also made changes to the Windrush compensation scheme in order to ensure that people receive the compensation to which they are entitled as quickly as possible. In many cases, those changes were made in direct response to feedback we have been given, including from Members of Parliament.
I was pleased that we were able to welcome members of the Home Affairs Committee and other stakeholders to the Windrush compensation scheme office in Sheffield on 14 June, following the invitation that I extended during a previous Westminster Hall debate. Again, I say to Members who have a particular interest in this issue—particularly those who represent areas with a number of Windrush communities—that we are very happy to welcome them, subject to all the usual arrangements that people would expect to put in place, to meet our team so that they can understand the work they are doing.
Before the Minister moves off the compensation scheme, he will know that at the end of January only 960 people had applied to the scheme, which is only about 20% of those eligible. Those statistics are in the Home Affairs Committee report on the compensation scheme, which he just mentioned. Does he agree that putting the compensation scheme into the hands of the Home Office—the very institution that is so profoundly mistrusted by the Windrush generation—was a grave error, and that the only way this will get sorted is by moving it out of the Home Office and into an entirely independent organisation?
I am not sure where the shadow Minister gets his figures from. He said that 960 claims have been made, but the actual figure is 3,878, and more than 1,800 had been made by 1 January 2021.
On the engagement figures, we continue to encourage people to apply to the compensation scheme. I have visited some of the community fund groups in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Nottingham and London. It was evident during those visits that innovation and collaboration are helping to support local communities and raise awareness of the Windrush schemes. We have also written to 6,200 individuals to encourage them to consider applying. In January, we launched the second phase of our national communications campaign, which featured new content to address misconceptions that could prevent people from applying to the scheme. It included campaign videos that have been played across community TV stations.
I want to take the Minister back to the work that the Home Office is doing to deliver the scheme. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and I talked about the representation issues surrounding those actually delivering the scheme. I wondered whether the Minister heard that and wants to respond to the point about having people deliver the scheme who are more empathetic and representative of the groups they are seeking to compensate.
As Members are aware, we are recruiting additional people into the compensation scheme team, so we are increasing the number of staff working on it. To be clear, despite recent pressures, the area we never took people from was Windrush work, because we thought it was appropriate that that was seen as a priority. It is important that our caseworkers can empathise with people’s situations, which is why we have programmes of engagement. We want them to work proactively with the community groups, hear their experiences, and listen and understand where people are coming from. I understand that this is about not just immigration status, but people’s very strong identity; they felt—this was eloquently put earlier—that they were British. We recognise that it is important to ensure that that experience is there for all caseworkers.
I want to address the idea that there are tens of thousands of applications outstanding. The number of applications received so far is just under 4,000, which would make that rather difficult numerically. There are not cases that are “unallocated”; we understand that that point arose from a misunderstanding. All cases are being worked on and pursued, and in some cases we are waiting for responses or, for example, for probate to be resolved so that we can take things further. I will be writing to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee shortly to confirm that.
We had a letter from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee following the visit. We will shortly be replying, and I will be happy to reply in further detail to those points when I receive them.
One of the points that has been focused on is whether the Windrush compensation scheme should be transferred to an independent organisation. I understand why that might sound appealing, but it would risk delaying payments to people even further, and many cases would have to come back to Home Office records and other parts of the Home Office, which would mean that we would still be heavily involved. I do not believe for one minute that anyone is suggesting that we should contract this out—that might have been partly suggested—to a private sector operator. It is right that we have a team who operate separately and independently from other areas of the Home Office and are able to take matters forward with clear delineation. Certain information supplied to the Windrush team is not available to wider Home Office operations. The focus needs to be on paying compensation and moving the scheme forward, rather than on who is actually administering it.
I will try to make my point succinctly. No one is asking for any scheme to be contracted out to a private company. The point is about the scheme being independent from the Home Office. The Home Office administers the policy, so how can the people who have to do the marketing videos and everything else be the ones administering it? People are still reluctant and fearful due to the hostile environment. It is about the scheme being independent, but it could be an independent charitable organisation, not a private company.
I hear the hon. Member’s point; we all agree that a private company would not be the right option. Setting up a different organisation would clearly take time. Again, it would be reliant on the vast majority of records and processes coming from the Home Office. However, we recognise that people will not necessarily want to approach the Home Office in the first instance, which is why we work with community groups, and are having some helpful and productive conversations with some of the high commissions in London about whether they could host events, particularly now that we have returned to having drop-in events. We all know why, over the past two years, the ability to hold drop-in events has been far more limited than we would have liked, but our focus is on getting on and making the compensation payments.
One point that was picked up was on the migrants commissioner. I recognise that Wendy Williams mentioned her disappointment on that matter. I reassure colleagues that a substantial amount of work has been done on options to deliver this recommendation. We are working with external stakeholders and have set up a sub-group of the Windrush cross-Government working group to advise on the function of a migrants commissioner. The sub-group has submitted its recommendations on what the functions should look like, including the scope of the role and the best model for delivering it, and we are now considering those views. To be clear, the suggestion is that it may not necessarily be an individual but could be a group that fulfils that role. Certainly, we are keen to take it forward, but in a way that builds confidence.
I want to thank the hon. Member for Edmonton for securing the debate and all hon. Members who have contributed. As I have set out, we have taken some important strides forward in responding to the Wendy Williams report, but we recognise there is still a lot of work to do in the Home Office—work that is always enhanced by constructive challenge, such as that which we have received from hon. and right hon. Members today. The failings of the past were unacceptable, and I know there is a real determination across the Home Office to learn the lessons of Windrush.
There is a strong focus across the Department on delivering the improvements set out in the Wendy Williams review and, as colleagues and the public would expect, the implementation of her recommendations is closely monitored. Concerted action is taking place to drive cultural change and make a Home Office that is fit for the future—a Department that is open and outward working, that views people as faces not cases and as individuals not numbers, and that is committed to making fair and just decisions and ensuring that we treat people as they have the right to be treated. The injustices of the Windrush scandal should never have happened. That is why we are wholeheartedly committed to doing all we can to right those wrongs.
I want to thank everyone for their powerful contributions, for speaking up for the voiceless and for supporting the Windrush generation. The Minister will not be surprised that I am not happy with a lot of the things he said, based on the fact that Wendy Williams has made it clear that the Department has overstated the progress made and closed some recommendations prematurely. It shows that the report has not landed well and is still not being taken seriously. The scheme is too slow and victims are still waiting for compensation. Not until we see more victims getting compensation will the other victims who are not coming forward start to come forward. We need to look at the Department and understand why it is not working. Wendy Williams has made it very clear. I ask the Minister to take the report as something that will only help, not hinder, the Department.
Again, I thank everyone for their contributions. I want the Windrush generation to know that we will continue to speak up for them until justice is done.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).