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Windrush Lessons Learned Review: Implementation of Recommendations

Volume 725: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2023

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the progress in implementing the recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review.

Since the injustices of Windrush came to light, there has been a concerted effort across the Home Office to right the wrongs suffered by those affected. That work continues, and the Department is making sustained progress on delivering on the recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review of 2020 and the commitments made in the comprehensive improvement plan of 2020. In her report last year, the independent reviewer Wendy Williams concluded that 21 of her recommendations had been met or partially met. She acknowledged that the scale of the challenge she had set the Department was significant and that change on that scale takes time.

We have made progress in delivering against Wendy Williams’s recommendations. In October 2022, the Home Office established the Office for the Independent Examiner of Complaints, and Moiram Ali was appointed as the independent examiner following a public appointment recruitment process. The Home Office has also held over 200 engagement and outreach events across the country, and the Windrush help teams have attended over 120 one-to-one surgeries to help people apply for documentation.

As of the end of October 2022, the Home Office has paid out or offered £59.58 million of compensation to Windrush victims. The “Serving Diverse Communities: Acting on Our Values” learning package was launched across the Home Office in June 2022, starting with recommendation 24 on learning for senior civil servants and recommendation 29 on diversity and inclusion. The learning package for recommendation 6 on the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world has been designed and is undergoing final review prior to implementation.

I am pleased that the independent reviewer of Windrush progress has concluded that there are several areas in which very good progress has been made, but she rightly holds the Home Office to account for areas and recommendations where sufficient progress has not yet been made. She concludes that there can be “no doubt” that the Department has risen to the “daunting challenge” she set us.

We know there is more to do. Many people suffered terrible injustices at the hands of successive Governments, and the Department will continue working hard to right the wrongs and to deliver a Home Office worthy of every community it serves.

The reality is that this Government’s treatment of the Windrush generation is surely one of the most shameful episodes in our post-war political history. The Windrush community played a pivotal role in rebuilding Britain. We all owe them a debt of honour and gratitude but, instead, consecutive Conservative Governments have treated them with utter contempt. First, they were victimised under the hostile environment policy, and then they were let down by a poorly administered compensation scheme, under which just 1,300 people have been awarded compensation when the Government originally estimated that 15,000 should be eligible. Now it is reported that the Government are set to betray the Windrush generation once again by U-turning on their commitment to implementing all 30 recommendations in Wendy Williams’s lessons learned report.

In September 2021, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), restated her aim to put right the wrongs of this sorry affair, yet today we find the Government are rowing back on some of their commitments, including by refusing to hand additional powers to the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and by scrapping reconciliation and community events.

Why are the Government so terrified of scrutiny? Their toxic combination of incompetence and indifference is failing the Windrush generation, just as it is failing the country as a whole. Given that Wendy Williams says that only eight of her recommendations have been implemented, will the Minister tell me today how many of the Williams recommendations have been implemented and how many the Government are ditching, as is widely reported by the media?

Why have thousands of the Windrush generation still not received any compensation at all? On the 75th anniversary of the Windrush landing, are the Windrush generation being betrayed by this Government once again?

This Government are absolutely not betraying the Windrush generation. Successive Governments of all colours have failed to step up to the mark, but this Government are stepping up. The Windrush generation are rightly identified as British and have the right to be in this country, and this remains separate from the many narratives that have been written.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government do not comment on leaks. What I can say is that we have matched the scale of Wendy’s challenge with the scale of our ambition and delivery. Wendy acknowledges that our ambition to achieve genuine cultural change requires ongoing reflection, which is what we are doing. The Home Office has provided regular updates on the good progress, and the statistics bear out the hard work that is happening.

I am afraid that the narrative is simply not quite right. I remind the House that 4,558 claims have been received, and the total compensation offered is £59.58 million, of which more than £51 million has already been paid. Fifty-nine per cent. of claims have a final decision and, as a lawyer in my previous profession, I know that that is quite a high number. The Government are absolutely committed to righting this injustice.

It is worth noting that the Wendy Williams review looked across a catalogue of issues that affected the Windrush generation. I was particularly struck by the fact that the first case listed in her initial report was from 2009. So this is not just something that has occurred in the past 10 years. On the commitment to implementing the review’s recommendations, it was very clear, certainly from my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), that the Government were absolutely committed to putting them all in place to rebuild the confidence of the Windrush generation. Could the Minister reassure me that that commitment remains and will be taken forward?

I suggest that the commitment is clear to many, but there is clearly more work to be done. It is refreshing to see the amount of engagement locally that there has been. The casework reflects that. The other thing I wish to mention is that these things evolve, as they should. Dramatic changes have been brought in to make sure that the new system brought in by the Government is even more generous than before. There are many new aspects to this. For example, the introduction of new living costs allows compensation to be awarded to close family members for losses that were not previously covered under the scheme. The Government are doing more, as they should. The introduction of preliminary payments for close family members allows for part of a compensation payment to be paid earlier in the process. There needs to be more change, but we are effecting this and the Government’s commitment is unswerving—my hon. Friend is correct on that.

Whitehall sources have been quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“The Williams review is not set in stone”.

It would be a betrayal of that review and of those affected if there is to be no migrants commissioner, no reconciliation events and no extra powers for the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. The Windrush compensation scheme has been painfully slow, with at least 23 people known to have died while their claims were being processed. So will the Minister confirm that none of the planned changes will affect the already ineffective compensation scheme and that the claims still outstanding will be concluded at the earliest opportunity? What confidence can those who do us the honour of coming to these islands for sanctuary, for work, for study and for love have in this Government when the UK Tory Government ignore the terrible injustices of Windrush, fail to learn the lessons and double down on attacking their fellow human beings?

The hon. Lady should not believe everything she reads in the paper because there is no end date to Wendy Williams’ appointment, she continues to review and the Government take her views very seriously. I do not accept the premise of the “delay”. These issues are dealt with sensitively. It is important not to have a knee-jerk reaction and rush. Detailed, fundamental work needs to be done and Members must judge the “delay”—or the progress, as I would rather say—by the fact that there is a 59% success rate and so much money paid out. What is important is that the engagement, which has improved over the past three to six months, has meant a dramatic increase in the number of those taking up the scheme. There is always more to do and the Government will not say that they are doing everything right, but they are 100% committed and I do not accept that there is delay or a willingness to ditch, as is implied, the independent reviewer, whose work is so important.

The previous Home Secretary rightly energetically embraced the Wendy Williams findings and pursued the recommendations. Notwithstanding those individual recommendations, Wendy Williams said that at the heart of what must change was the Home Office’s culture

“to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity.”

What evidence is there that that is changing and will change substantially? Is there a risk that the current problems with the migration backlog have deflected attention from dealing with the Windrush problems more urgently?

The Government are very committed, as Members can see from the level of engagement. Where massive mistakes were made, where cultural change is needed, there is evidence, as Wendy Williams acknowledges, of change in attitude and culture, which has been seen with those hard workers in the civil service who deal with these claims. However, we must not conflate the issues of the Windrush generation, who are rightly identified as British and have a right to be here, with the enforcement of policies for individuals who have no right to reside in this country. That distinction has to be clear. Caseworkers will need to continue to be empathetic in the way they deal with our citizens and progress has been made.

The Home Affairs Committee has spent a great deal of time looking at the Windrush scandal and the work of Wendy Williams, including a visit to the compensation scheme unit in Sheffield, because we remain very concerned about that scheme and we reiterate our call for it to be given to an arm’s length body outside the Home Office. Very worrying are reports that the Government are planning not to take forward the recommendations on the migrants commissioner or the recommendations on the extension of the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, who is currently the only inspector in Government who cannot publish his reports without the permission of the Home Office, and only one out of 23 of his reports has been published on time. That comes alongside the delays in the appointment of a new modern slavery commissioner. Can the Minister confirm today that the particular recommendations around the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration will be taken forward quickly by the Government?

I do not accept that there is any delay or difficulty in rising to the challenge but, as the right hon. Lady knows, the Government cannot comment in relation to leaks. The Government must be judged on what they actually do, not on worries about what journalists say might be happening. Let us wait a modest amount of time to see what the Government actually do. We must judge the Government’s record on delivery, not on speculation in The Guardian.

Do the Government intend to deal with these claims on a strictly first-come, first-served basis, or are they able to exercise discretion in favour of claimants who may be more aged, more frail, but who may only have put in the claim somewhat later in the cycle?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that interesting question. It is something that is worth while reviewing and I will make sure that he gets a detailed answer. What I can say is that there is an ongoing system of improvements. Glitches in terms of whether family members are entitled to money, or whether people are being dealt as appropriate for their age are serious issues. I would like to get back to him with some more detail on that.

Happy new year, Mr Speaker.

The Minister talks about how refreshing it is to see the engagement of local people. These local people are desperate. Their lives have been stripped away from them. It is not refreshing; it is actually disheartening. Can the Minister confirm whether the Windrush scheme will remain open, and whether additional resources will be used? At the moment, there is an 18-month delay. I am not sure about the 59% figure to which she refers. Is it the ones the Government have dealt with, or is it the ones in the pipeline in the 18-month delay? I do not know what the West Indian community have done to this Government to be treated so cruelly, so harshly and so heartlessly.

I do not accept that this Government are treating those applying under the scheme cruelly or harshly. On the contrary, while this Government have made mistakes, as have successive Governments, they are doing all they can. Various improvements have raised the minimum payment from £250 to £10,000 per applicant. That is not treating people with disrespect. That is rising to the challenge.

The Minister mentions some of the issues that have been faced by the Windrush generation. Can she update the House on the work of the cross-governmental working group and on how that has gone about addressing some of these issues?

This has been an opportunity for learning. The cross-governmental work has been very valuable. On commitment, I reiterate that there has been a change in culture. Wendy Williams accepts that there has been a massive shift among those working in the community and the caseworkers. That cross-governmental work will continue in the months ahead.

The former Home Secretary promised to implement all 30 recommendations in the Wendy Williams review. It seems that we need to remind the Minister that it was a Government review, so why is that promise now being broken; it is like shifting sand? Is it therefore correct to say that the Government can no longer be trusted and have run out of time?

This Government can be trusted. Again, I remind the House that the Government do not comment on leaks. That is simply not acceptable. On an issue as important as this concerning the rights of our citizens, it is simply not good enough to accept what is written in The Guardian without judging on the facts.

I am sure that we are all pleased to hear from the Minister that the Government remain committed to implementing all the Williams recommendations. Presumably, therefore, the Home Office has a plan for the implementation. Can the Minister tell the House what the target date for completion of that plan is?

The whole point of this work is that there is not a target finish date. That would be against the principles of continual improvement and continual financial assistance for successful applicants. It would be wholly wrong to say that we are stopping it; we are not. We are continuing and there is no target end date. We continue to work at pace.

In the progress update that Wendy Williams published, she made it clear that the Department was at a tipping point: it could either drive forward and achieve lasting cultural changes, or abandon any commitment to change. Well, we have our answer. What does the Minister think of Wendy Williams’ conclusion that a failure to drive change would mean that it was just a matter of time before we faced another difficult outcome like the Windrush scandal?

The Government greatly respect and take seriously what Wendy Williams says. There is no question of abandoning this change in culture. The change has been fundamental within the Government. It is across all Departments, not just the Home Office, because these issues attach to all Departments. The change has been dramatic and that has been refreshing to see, but there is still more work to be done, which is why Wendy Williams will continue on this most valuable work.

If the Government are indeed still committed to the recommendations of Wendy Williams, then, obviously, the Minister can have no problem in coming to the Dispatch Box to confirm that there will be a migrants commissioner. Can she tell us when we can expect the migrants commissioner to appear and to be appointed?

On that issue, I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman in relation to the timings. But I can reassure him that there is a huge commitment here, and no one should be under any misapprehension that the Government do not take the matter seriously. The issues along the way will be addressed. I am pleased with the progress that we have made but, as I have said, there is more work to be done. This is not a case of harping on; it is a case of looking at how we can best help people in the future.

Before Christmas, I asked the Home Office how many of my constituents in Erdington had applied to the Windrush compensation scheme. Shamefully, the way the Government record applications means that they cannot tell me. Now we hear that Ministers are abandoning most of the recommendations of the Windrush review. Can the Minister tell me, a child of the Windrush generation, why the Government are intent on pretending that the Windrush scandal is now behind us?

I remind the hon. Lady of what I said a little while ago. The Government are not finishing a project; they do not have an end date. They continue to work on it. They are certainly not abandoning people who are part of our community and as British as everyone here. The number of claims received by the scheme was 4,558, so there is statistical analysis and proper knowledge of what is happening with the scheme. But I welcome the hon. Lady’s input. I would meet her at any time, as would the Minister who holds the brief, to discuss that further. I am very grateful to her for her question.

Five years on from the outrage of the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment, these reports of scrapped commitments and the cases of so many of my constituents, who are still harassed and persecuted by this Home Office, make it clear that this Government never had any intention of cleaning up the hostile environment towards migrants and minorities in this country. At the very least, will the Minister accept the reality that the Windrush generation, migrants and minorities have lost all confidence in this Home Office and this Government?

I respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I have been a junior Minister in the Home Office for just a few months, but I have not witnessed that hostile environment he speaks of. Mistakes have been made historically, but I have witnessed civil servants working together to put right this wrong. I will work hard to make sure that we continue, so that each and every citizen of our country is treated with fairness in the same way.

Human rights are universal: no class of person present in this country should be exempted from human rights protection, regardless of whether they are a British citizen. In our 11th report, “Black people, racism and human rights”, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said:

“We expect the Government to fulfil its promise to implement the recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review…as a matter of urgency.”

That was more than two years ago. Can we take it that the delay in implementing the regulations and the reports that some of them are now to be ditched are indicative of the fact that the Government are unconcerned whether their forthcoming immigration legislation is human rights compliant?

It is absolutely not the case that the Government have not treated these issues with urgency. When we deal with serious issues, we have to have a rapid but detailed and reliable response. We cannot just rush ahead with something that will not work. This is about a large transformational programme of the Home Office and the fact that it has dealt with people in an unacceptable way in the past. This Government are committed to doing everything that is right. I simply do not accept that the Government are abandoning the recommendations. We are working through them very hard, and Wendy Williams has accepted that and said the Government have stepped up to the plate, to use an American form of words. There will be more work done, but the commitment is already there.

The Minister talks about engagement, so can she please confirm why the Home Office is now refusing to hold reconciliation events despite having promised to do so?

I understand that that was part of the argument put forward in the seemingly inaccurate article in The Guardian. The level of engagement has been incredibly high, and engagement is a key part of delivering the review. Home Office officials are actively engaging with internal and external organisations and staff at all levels, including unions, support networks and the Department’s race board, to ensure that the findings of the review are implemented. Across the whole community there have been many engagement exercises, but, again, it is not appropriate to comments on leaks or news articles that may not be accurate.

One would think from the way the Minister is speaking that this was an urgent question on an article in The Guardian. This is an urgent question about a Home Office that, as the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have both repeatedly pointed out, failed to recognise the pattern of behaviour despite many flags in the system, introduced a compensation scheme that then did not deliver, had to review the compensation scheme and is now goodness knows where. One of the recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee was that more work be done to identify people from Commonwealth countries other than from the Caribbean who were also impacted. Can she update the House on progress on that?

It is regrettable that some of the work the Home Office has done has not been acknowledged. There has been a sea change. Things have changed. The process has been improved and there is a constant system of review; even since the August changes were made, more work has been done. I mentioned earlier the introduction of preliminary payments for close family members, which allows for part of a compensation payment to be made far earlier, meeting one of the core concerns of close family members about receiving that assistance and money. The commitment is definitely there. It has been suggested that this has now become a UQ on The Guardian, but that is because of the fallacious and inaccurate information in The Guardian that has seemingly led to these questions being asked.

The Minister mentioned the compensation scheme, as she believes it to be an outstanding example of success. That is not the view of the Home Affairs Committee and it is not the view of my constituents applying to the scheme, who have had the most appalling experience, from the tone of the correspondence to the delays in receiving responses and the paltry sums offered for absolutely appalling travesties of justice. The Windrush scandal was the most egregious breach of trust. The full acceptance and implementation of the Wendy Williams recommendations is the bare minimum that the Windrush generation have the right to expect. Will the Minister confirm that the Home Office remains committed to implementation in full?

This is about progress. I am very clear that we must compensate members of the Windrush generation and their families for the losses and impacts they suffered. Those impacts were the result of a scandal that arose under Governments of varying colours, and we must put that right. I simply do not accept the suggestion that there is no serious effort being put into implementation. I do not say everything has been a success; mistakes have been made, but improvements are also being made. We have offered and paid out almost £60 million. That is an extremely good start. It is not enough, but it is the way forward, and Wendy Williams has acknowledged that there has been significant change.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. I will have to check and write to him. That is not in my brief, but I am enjoying this urgent question and listening to Members across the House. That information will be sent to him shortly.

Can the Minister outline how she will apply the lessons of Windrush to the attitude of some on immigration—specifically on allowing people to work here and help to fill the gaps in industries? One of the recommendations and suggestions of the Wendy Williams review is that people should be entitled to bring their families and build a life while also building this nation, as those who came over in the Windrush generation did before them. Can the Minister confirm that that is truly the case?

I can confirm that this Government are committed to treating people fairly and to putting right historical wrongs in such a way that progress is made at pace and without unnecessary delay. The Government must do what we can to protect our borders, but we must also look at those who are legitimately here. That is an ongoing process; it is a very specialist area, and the Government are committed to a change from historical wrongdoings in how people have been treated. This is a growing area, and from what I have experienced, the Government are committed to assisting those who are lawfully in this country.