Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of MV Empire Windrush.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing this afternoon. The Times newspaper of 24 May 1948 carried the news of Princess Elizabeth’s visit to Coventry, Winston Churchill’s jeep overturning in a mishap, and an aircraft crashing on to the main road from Margate to London. There was a news story about Commonwealth citizens, as Parliament had been considering what was to become the British Nationality Act, but the Times failed to record that this was the day when the MV “Empire Windrush” left Jamaica for the United Kingdom with 493 passengers, who had paid 28 pounds and 10 shillings for the one-way fare to move to the United Kingdom to work. Britain was about to change permanently and change for the better.
Some of the passengers were, of course, former servicemen who had been part of the 8,000 volunteers from the West Indies who served in World War II and had been stationed in the UK. The “Windrush” was not in fact the first vessel to come, as in March 1947 the “Ormonde” sailed from Jamaica to Liverpool with 108 passengers, and on 21 December 1947 the “Almanzora” docked in Southampton. But to quote the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, in his book Never Again, speaking of the arrival of the “Windrush” on 22 June 1948,
“the great wave of post-war migration from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom can symbolically be said to have begun with that fateful voyage. The history of the black diaspora in Britain begins here”.
In 1948, the non-white population was about 30,000 of a population of about 50 million, mainly in port cities of Liverpool, Cardiff and London. Just over 1,000 followed the 393 of the “Windrush”, and in 1951 it was 2,200. In the 1950s, 250,000 migrants had come from the Caribbean and, by 1962, the non-white population was 500,000—mainly Caribbean, Indian and Pakistani. Three-fifths of that number were Caribbean. While the British Nationality Act was being considered as the “Windrush” landed, that huge migration was more due to the economic situation in the West Indies, the 1944 hurricane and the United States passing legislation restricting migration from the Caribbean. However, I would go further than the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who speaks of the history of black diaspora beginning with this voyage. It is the history of modern, multi-racial Britain that begins here—or, as the title of a book by Mike and Trevor Phillips puts it, Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain.
This was a seminal event in our modern history. Of course, black populations had settled here after the First World War, so when the recent film “Darkest Hour” depicts the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, speaking to ordinary people on the Tube, which may not be accurate, an educated West Indian migrant quoting Shakespeare to the Prime Minister could very well be. Little did I know when I moved to Clapham last year that for a few weeks underneath Clapham Common, in the deep shelter, many of the passengers of “MV Windrush” slept their first nights. Within three weeks, they all had jobs, and they had settled around Brixton, as on Coldharbour Lane was the nearest labour exchange. They had fought for Britain, for the motherland, and they now arrived to rebuild Britain.
This was the first mass, visible migration to the United Kingdom, which is what differentiates it from the previous Irish and Jewish migration. While of course these groups faced prejudices, this migration was to introduce Britons to race relations. Today, 15% of the UK population are black and minority ethnic, and “Windrush” is for many of them seen as their beginning. That is why a model of the ship was part of the wonderful opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics, as it has shaped modern Britain—a modern Britain that, in the 1980s, looked so very different to a young girl peering out of the car window when being driven through Highfields in Leicester from monocultural Rutland to get my school shoes. Notting Hill would not be the same without the annual Trinidadian-inspired carnival, and it saddens me that this street festival is not viewed with the same generosity as festivals such as Glastonbury. Having lived in both Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago, Britain’s diaspora means for me that these experiences are now not only in photographs but part of my everyday story. Who we are as Britons has and will continue to change, but “Windrush” is indeed something that needs to be celebrated.
I have learned so much from Britain’s black community, in particular their gracious response to suffering, oppression and, still too often today, racism. For what they found in 1948 was not a motherland ready to receive a child from far away, but rejection, mistrust, loneliness and, all too often, violence. I am aware that many in your Lordships’ House can describe these experiences from a personal perspective, but of all that I have watched and listened to in preparing for today’s debate, this quote from Ben Bousquet has struck me. In 1957, he was followed by the BBC’s “Tonight” programme in his vain search for lodgings. This was the first programme on race relations on British television. He said: “It was an age of tremendous cruelty to black people—it was an unforgiving time”. That last phrase struck me, and I am so pleased to see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans among today’s speakers, as David Goodhart, in his book The British Dream writes:
“Many churches, even, closed their doors to these often piously Christian people, who had to set up their own black churches—a lost opportunity to reverse the slow decline of the Anglican Church”.
There are of course exceptions, such as the Speaker’s Chaplain, the reverend Dr Rose Hudson-Wilkin, but mainly Caribbean migrants set up their own churches, such as Bishop John Francis, who founded Ruach Ministries in Brixton, where thousands have attended.
Many people today in the United Kingdom are unaware of this cruelty, so celebrating such an anniversary is also about teaching people about the past. A few years ago, I attended the reopening of a black-led church in Lozells in Birmingham. During the refurbishment period the congregation had met in the local girls grammar school, so the headmistress—a lady in her late 50s, looking to me rather like Miss Jean Brodie—took the opportunity to speak when presented with her bouquet. With tears in her eyes, she asked for forgiveness. She said she was so sorry and had not realised that people had not been welcomed by the Church of England and so had formed churches such as this.
After such treatment, the lack of representation of the leadership of this community in your Lordships’ House, compared with 30 Anglicans, is most troubling and is a matter that the Prime Minister could look at in the run-up to this anniversary. But in addition to forgiveness, there needs to be restoration, so that we can truly celebrate this moment when modern multiracial Britain began. I ask Her Majesty’s Government to consider how to provide a permanent marker in central London to celebrate such a significant day and event, especially as we are talking about celebrating the arrival of a boat while metres away from the Thames. I am aware that the Government take the view that if the public want such a reminder, they should raise the funds, but I hope that there are central government funds to support events this year.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for taking the lead on this anniversary and for my recent meeting with him, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. Will he agree to reach out to and convene other interested people, including those from the British Caribbean population, to hear what events they would like this year and whether they agree that some enduring, permanent recognition is needed of Windrush Day?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on securing this debate and on her excellent speech, every word of which I agreed with. I am delighted to pay my tribute to our friends from Jamaica and other parts of the West Indies who chose to make their hope in the United Kingdom, and to thank them, their children and their grandchildren for the huge contribution that they have made to the well-being and enrichment of our nation. We think particularly of nurses in hospitals, staff on our public transport and in all our public services, artists and musicians, high-achieving sports men and women, and, more recently, trade union leaders and Members in the House of Commons and this House. It is a privilege to share the speakers list this afternoon with such distinguished Members of this House, particularly those with Caribbean origin. My noble friend Lady Lawrence of Clarendon had hoped to take part, but has been prevented from doing so by a church commitment.
Alongside so much good will and positive feeling towards people whose origins are in the Caribbean, I hope I may be forgiven for striking a slightly discordant note by raising the question of how the Home Office is treating a number of long-settled, retirement-age UK residents of Caribbean origin. One particular case—there are others—is that of a 61 year-old lady, called Paulette Wilson, who lives in Wolverhampton. She came to Britain from Jamaica in 1968 and was initially looked after by her grandparents. She went to primary and secondary school and has a British daughter and grandchild. She worked and paid taxes here for most of her life, and at one stage she worked as a cook in the House of Commons.
Under the terms of the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain. Paulette Wilson never applied for a passport because she assumed she would not need one if she did not intend to travel abroad. One day, she got a letter from the Home Office telling her to register each month at the Solihull immigration centre. While she was there on a visit, officials declared that she was an illegal immigrant, had her carted off to the appalling Yarl’s Wood immigration removal complex and told her that she would be deported—presumably back to Jamaica, which she had not visited since she left as a child almost 50 years before. Fortunately, Paulette’s MP—Emma Reynolds—and the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton both intervened. At last, she has now been given leave to remain, although she has lost benefits for the past two years, as well as her flat, and has to rely on financial support from her daughter.
Similar cases recently reported in the media include that of Anthony Bryan, a 60 year-old painter and decorator who has lived in Britain since he arrived from Jamaica as an eight year-old child. He was also declared an illegal immigrant and sent to a detention centre. Home Office staff went as far as booking him on a flight to Jamaica, which was only cancelled after interventions by an immigration lawyer and his local MP, Kate Osamor. She described his situation as “barbaric” and said:
“People are left wondering: how can someone who has done so much for the community be treated like a piece of rubbish? Why send people to detention when they have done nothing wrong?”
Your Lordships will recall that in 2012, the then Home Secretary announced a “hostile environment for immigrants”. This has clearly led to overzealous interventions by officials. I have mentioned just two cases today, but there are many others; they will not have the good fortune of excellent local MPs taking up their cases.
I hope the Minister will be able to say that that hostility has been abandoned and that immigrants who are here lawfully are welcome and appreciated. Surely the Home Office could bring itself to offer Paulette Wilson, and others treated in a similar way, a proper apology?
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin for raising this issue in the last few days.
About 70 years ago, the steamship “Empire Windrush” docked at Tilbury, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of hundreds of young men and women from the Caribbean. Nothing like this had happened before. Here was an event when people from the margins of the Empire were coming to build a new life in the metropolitan centre. The arrival of “Empire Windrush” is historical in that over the years it changed the master/servant relationship that Britain had enjoyed in the colonies.
It is worth casting our minds back to that part of history. There was devastation in Britain, inflicted by the war. Britain’s role as a global power was declining, with changes in the former colonies and at home. The country was trapped in the old idea of itself. There was little consideration of a genuine migration policy and the settlement of new arrivals. The first arrivals were greeted with the optimistic assumption that Britain shedding its colonial legacy would turn it into a true melting pot. In those days, there was no such thing as immigration formalities. Commonwealth citizens were British subjects and had a right to enter the United Kingdom. It was generally assumed that the many racial, cultural and religious groups would be assimilated into a new whole—a single people with similar ideals, attitudes and values.
The policymakers never thought that identity would be an issue. New arrivals would simply do as the Romans do. They would fit in neatly and assimilate. Little thought was given to the impact of racism and economic marginalisation, or that people would want to retain their cultural heritage. The resurgence of the extreme right demonstrated that the process was not automatic or inevitable. For those of European ancestry, there was considerable assimilation into the economic and political life of the community. Caribbean migrants, followed by Asian groups, retain their identities to a greater extent.
Many noble Lords and the Government want to make plans to celebrate this 70th anniversary, and we would all welcome that. The point I want to stress is that despite so many drawbacks, progress has been made on many fronts, but this does not mean that discrimination has been successfully eliminated and that prejudice no longer exists. It is important that we celebrate the way in which we have safeguards to ensure that this does not happen and that we have policies to deal with these ugly features.
Who in their right mind in those early days of migration would have imagined that this country would promote legislation to ensure equality of opportunity for all of its citizens with an emphasis on race, disability, gender, age, faith and sexual orientation? We must never forget the contributions of people like Fenner Brockway, Roy Jenkins, Lord David Pitt, Lord Chitnis, Lord Boyle, the former Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod and the famous cricketer Lord Learie Constantine, my noble friend Lord Lester and organisations like Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, all of whom worked tirelessly towards this end. I am so pleased that we have on the speakers list today the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, the first black chair of the Commission for Racial Equality. We must also not forget the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, who despite her family tragedy has continued to play a positive role in building a decent society.
We now see a cultural pluralism that has emerged. If this is the legacy of Commonwealth migration, we should welcome it. The legacy has demonstrated that if properly handled, migration is to be valued and promoted, not regarded as a source of fear. A progressive liberal approach would value differences and cultural pluralism. However, despite these reasons for welcoming immigration, few other political issues raise the same tensions and emotions as immigration and its implications for “Britishness”.
I conclude by saying that we have an opportunity to recognise the contribution that Commonwealth citizens have made to this country. It is time to reflect on the positive legacy of the MV “Empire Windrush” and to celebrate the achievements of a proud and diverse society. The best time to beat our drum will be at the CHOGM conference in April this year.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, does us all a great service by initiating this debate and inviting us to consider a number of significant issues.
The late Professor Stuart Hall, an inspiration to so many artists and academics, scholars and politicians across the world, who arrived in Britain from Jamaica in 1951 as a Rhodes scholar, was a great chronicler of some of society’s contradictory approaches to racial and cultural identities. The ability to hold two or more conflicting views or sensibilities is a hallmark of attitudes towards racial politics, whether those of the general public, the press or politicians and policymakers. Anniversaries may be counted on to bring those tensions to the fore.
The entreaties of the British Government of the day drew a positive response from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, as they did in the First World War and in the Second World War: “Come and help the mother country rebuild its shattered services and lay the foundations for new ones”. Yet as noble Lords have pointed out, the reactions to the small band of 20th century pioneers on the MV “Empire Windrush” was not exclusively welcoming, not even from the very politicians who had invited them. However, it is also important to state that the reception was not uniformly hostile either.
Contradictory attitudes mean that migrants and their descendants may be both demonised and valorised at the same time by politicians and newspapers without missing a beat. Significant achievements in the arts, science and sport may be both praised and written off as “political correctness gone mad”, depending on an editorial or political whim. Any academic wishing to write about the purpose and impact of the memorialisation of landmark events and anniversaries will find some rich objects of study this year. There are the two stages of women’s demand for the right to vote being acknowledged, as well as the end of the First World War and 70 years of the NHS.
Given our demonstrable desire to commemorate, what is it that we are seeking to achieve? How may we ensure that, in the interests of historical accuracy, we acknowledge the pain as well as the pleasure—the tension between achievement and suffering, and between racism and acceptance—afforded by remembering, without souring the whole experience? We should embrace the challenges and seek resolutions to them, not try to avoid them.
Starting from those iconic black and white photographic images of arrival at Tilbury docks, we need to ensure that women’s roles and voices are foregrounded equally alongside men’s. Let us be diligent in our research and seek out those women, here and overseas, and identify their part in this history whenever there are exhibitions or discussions about those settlers.
There are also wider stories from 1948 in terms of a wide spectrum of experiences of colonial peoples of that period. Independence movements, rebellions, caste and class consciousness, and so on, mark that period shortly after the end of the Second World War. The landing of the “Windrush” and disembarkation of those 492 men did not happen in isolation from other events and movements. This needs to be located within its historical, social, cultural and international context. We should be explicitly linking the staffing of the public sector after the havoc wrought by the war not only to the settlers who came on that ship and others like it from the Caribbean but also to those who set sail from west Africa, from east Africa and from the Indian subcontinent. How do these stories interconnect with more recent mass migrations, such as the movement of Europeans into the UK et cetera?
Another important question is how we might think more broadly about Caribbean peoples’ histories. I am sorry to the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, wherever he might be, but the history of the black diaspora in this country did not start in 1948. It goes back centuries. So many historians and cultural commentators have worked very hard to dispel that myth that we would be failing in our responsibility if we did not take the opportunity to emphasise this point whenever we can. Finally, Parliament can make a contribution in terms of looking at itself and the contradictory nature of legislation which on the one hand proposes equality and anti-discrimination but on the other introduces harsh policies around immigration and detention.
In summary, I have tried to indicate that thought needs to be given as to how this memorialisation is made to work for us and to be presented to the public at large. I hope we can adopt a more sophisticated and nuanced approach that is not afraid to engage with ambiguity and dissonance.
I am grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, tabled this debate, and in particular that she has framed it in the context of a celebration. Having said that, we also need to face the fact that there are a number of quite shameful things in our history that we need to confront.
All dioceses in the Church of England are linked with other parts of the Anglican communion, and I am particularly interested in today’s debate as my own diocese of St Albans is linked with the dioceses of the Windward Islands and of the North East Caribbean and Aruba, which I have visited. Many people in our diocese have strong links with the West Indies—we regularly have exchanges and get to know people and communities. In Luton, which is in my diocese, we have thriving communities of people from the island of St Vincent, in St Peter’s and in Holy Cross, Marsh Farm. Discussions are under way at the moment about how this event will be celebrated in Luton.
The events surrounding the arrival of migrants—at whatever point but particularly in the 1940s and 1950s—are complex, and I see something of this in my own family. An uncle and aunt, deeply committed lifelong Methodists, made it their life’s work over many decades to use their property in London to welcome lodgers, particularly those coming into the country. They took great pride in introducing them to people and embedding them into their Methodist church. It was an extraordinary piece of work, which the family celebrates.
I also have to say, though, that in my own family racist comments were made behind their backs. Questions were raised about why they were doing it—was it just to make money? Growing up in my own family, I could see precisely the tensions that are being recognised and acknowledged in this debate.
It is good that the anniversary of the arrival of the “Windrush” will be marked this year by a service in Westminster Abbey. That is a good thing to do, but the danger is that it remains as this sort of symbolic act. It seems to me that the most important way we can celebrate this anniversary is to commit ourselves now to a greater degree of racial equality and social cohesion. In my own diocese, we are continuing to roll out a programme of training in recognising and confronting racial bias. It is something we need to attend to all the time among ourselves.
I note the proposals that have been around for some while for an official Windrush Day to celebrate this significant contribution that migrant communities have made to British life. A national day to foster positive and constructive discourse around the issue of migration—which has become so incredibly toxic in recent years—would be a great way of honouring the memory of those who came over here in 1948, and perhaps before and after, and the huge contribution they have made to every aspect of our life as a nation. I also note the suggestion to have some sort of permanent memorial here in the UK, possibly in London. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will give consideration to how we can enable groups of people to get together to think about both the permanent ways of marking this anniversary and also how to then use them to address the fundamental issues in society of how we engage with and celebrate the contribution that these communities—and indeed other communities—make as they have come to enrich our life here in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for having given us the opportunity to have this debate and for the very enlightened, warm and objective way in which she introduced it. We are very fortunate to have somebody like her in our midst.
I was a youngster, in my teens, when the “Windrush” arrived, but I can remember the excitement and concentration. It is very important that we have been reminded that the reaction was mixed. I was shocked that there were people then saying, “No Blacks welcome here” in lodgings and elsewhere.
The noble Baroness was absolutely right to raise the point about the role of the Church. I am a sort of humanist Anglican, and I say with faith in my own church that I cannot imagine that we can go on into the 22nd century with just that Church represented by right as a denomination in Britain. It just does not represent the reality of Britain. We can understand the historical argument for this, and how important the Church has been in the whole evolution of the House of Lords, and all the rest, but if we are going to reflect Britain as it is today, we have to look, for example, at the flourishing black churches in some of our communities, with a very challenging interpretation of Christianity and how it can be enjoyed.
Above all, I want, as an Anglo-Saxon Scot, to say thank you, because I know from the social experience of the years that have passed since the “Windrush” that the health service would not have survived without the Caribbean community. Public transport, particularly but not only in London, would not have survived. We must remember that we encouraged these people to come—the noble Baroness referred to that.
I am also very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, made the point about a rather limited perception that does not see the very interesting contribution made by black minorities and others, way back into our history. Now we see this coming to fruition as we see the contribution to the arts, not only of the fantastic choirs associated with the churches but to the Royal Shakespeare Company and opera. The contribution is there in academia. Of course, the noble Baroness is a very good illustration of that.
I end with the following observation. I am very glad the Bishop talked about the importance of celebration because I think that is right. We live in a world which is diverse. That is part of creation—its diversity. We really have to learn to enjoy and celebrate diversity and see it as an enriching feature of living, rather than something to be managed because of all the problems associated with it. We have to let ourselves go and celebrate it. I hope, therefore, that whatever is done to celebrate the arrival of “Windrush”, we will be letting ourselves go and celebrating as we should. Unless we in Britain fully, as a whole society, endorse and understand our interdependence with humanity as a whole, our future is pretty grim. I am glad that this debate was introduced.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on securing the debate and on her very eloquent speech. What a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the remarks about the future with which he concluded.
It is a simple story and a very powerful one. People were asked to come to our aid. They came, they helped and many—indeed, most, probably—were treated poorly. But we have moved on from those days, as so many noble Lords have already mentioned, but not yet far enough. There is more to do, and I will illustrate that in a moment.
Speaking as a former chief executive of the NHS and former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, I know as well as anybody in recent years the great contribution that the “Windrush” generation—and, since then, people from black and minority ethnic communities more generally—have made to the NHS. When I was chief executive, the make-up of the NHS was more than 17% from black and minority ethnic communities. It had an overrepresentation of people from black and minority ethnic communities. I also know that there still was not the sort of equality of opportunity that one would like to see. The expression that became current in those days was the “snowy white peaks” of the NHS, and I guess I was sitting on one, because when you looked at the NHS, people from black and minority ethnic communities were congregated largely in the more hands-on—direct patient care—but lower levels of the hierarchy.
I congratulate NHS England on what it has been doing recently to try to make changes and secure greater equality of opportunity, particularly the recent workforce race equality standard, which has been applied across the whole NHS and which is revealing and bringing out details about how different groups are treated within the NHS. So there is more to do, although we have come an awfully long way. Perhaps, as a former chief executive of the NHS, I can also say thank you to the many people who have made such an extraordinary contribution to the NHS over the years.
I will conclude with two suggestions—two questions, really—for the Minister, which I ask him to pass on to the Department of Health. The first is that this year is also the 70th anniversary of the NHS and I believe there are already plans to celebrate that anniversary and to include the contribution of the “Windrush” generation. That needs to be celebrated to highlight the past, but we also need to highlight the present and the future. Something I would suggest as part of that is asking a young group of nurses from black and minority ethnic communities to write out their vision for the health service for the future, based on the principles and ideals that so many people have been talking about today, so that not only are we celebrating a generation from the past but thinking about and celebrating the ideas of a current generation about the future—it would be nice if any of them were descendants of the people who came on the “Windrush”.
Let me also mention one other proposal. I am talking very heavily about nurses, because I am delighted to say that I and my noble friend Lady Watkins of Tavistock are engaged in a campaign to promote and strengthen the role of nurses globally. I understand there is a proposal to have a statue erected in London to nurses who have come from other countries to support the NHS—not just the “Windrush” generation, but nurses who have come from Africa, India and elsewhere around the world. I think this would be a great symbolic gesture and a recognition from the NHS, which is a global employer and has drawn so heavily on people around the world. It would be a celebration of what they are doing and a promise that, in the future, we can do better.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for introducing this debate, which gives us the opportunity to reflect on what might be a Windrush Day. Her introduction invites us to look broadly at how we might commemorate and celebrate what “Windrush” should mean to us. In my view, it really is not simply about the arrival at Tilbury Docks in Essex on 22 June 1948 of more than 500 British subjects from the West Indies. It is more about the black presence in Britain. Interestingly, there were also 66 Polish migrants on that ship when it docked.
The history of the black presence in Britain is about people from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and what was then called the new Commonwealth. Can we still call it that, or should we call it the Commonwealth, embracing people from the old and the new Commonwealth? That history is littered with many colourful characters and insightful experiences. Septimius Serverus was an African Roman Emperor in command of a garrison at Hadrian's Wall. The Blackamoors in Tudor England at the end of the 16th century were largely self-sufficient, established African communities. They attracted the attention of the then monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, who proclaimed that there were too many Blackamoors on the streets of London and they should be removed from these shores.
A Windrush Day on 22 June would be about promoting knowledge about the historic facts of migration and new settlements in Britain. It would celebrate how newcomers to Britain have contributed positively to the cultural, economic and social development of the country.
Some 250 years ago, a young man then known as Gustavus Vassa decided to make Britain his home. He had just bought his freedom from the owner of a sugar plantation. Gustavus Vassa was his slave name, given to him by a Royal Navy captain, Michael Henry Pascal. With Captain Pascal, Vassa served in the Seven Years’ War against France from 1756 to1763. He served on the same ship that took General James Wolfe and his men into battle against French troops in Quebec in 1759. Later, under his African name, Olaudah Equiano, he wrote a book which was published in several different languages in other European countries.
Vassa was a contemporary of Ignatius Sancho, an African who lived as a boy in Greenwich from the 1730s and grew up to become butler of the Duke and Duchess of Montagu. Sancho later became a shopkeeper, composed music, appeared on the stage, and entertained many famous figures of literary and artistic London. He was said to have been the first African to have voted in a British election, during the 1770s. He also wrote a large number of letters which were collected and published in 1782, two years after his death. Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Sancho was painted in 1768 while the Montagu family were in Bath. Those are only a few of the many example of stories of African people who lived in Britain many years ago and who made a contribution to this country.
There is a story to be told about the way in which the air raid shelters in Brixton were fought for to be opened up because there was no other accommodation provided for those who arrived here.
In drawing to a conclusion, I would like to mention three names among the many thousands that I could refer to. They are people who are known to me and who made an essential contribution to how we took forward the struggle for equality and justice, challenging prejudice and bigotry, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned, furthering the opportunity to bring forward legislation to enable equality for everyone. Those three are Sam King, who was a giant in Southwark, which I am sure will referred to, Rene Webb and George Greaves. They are all ex-servicemen who arrived at the same time. They served during the war, were sent back and were asked to return to Britain. The real contribution that they made in promoting equality, justice and community cohesion was recognised through the award of public honours.
Finally, a Windrush Day would highlight how that generation helped Britain to face up to the end of the empire, to challenge racial prejudice, injustices and discrimination, and to campaign for equality legislation to make Britain fairer and enable access to opportunities on an equitable basis. That struggle for equality, inclusion and cohesion remains a feature of everyday life for many people in Britain today and every day.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this important debate and on her passion for making a difference. I declare an interest as a patron of the Windrush Foundation. My vision as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the MV “Empire Windrush” arriving in Britain is for the Government to commemorate it by announcing an official annual Windrush Day. It would give the country the opportunity to celebrate all aspects of our migrant population and to appreciate their contribution through education, politics, sport, art, music, culture, fashion, cuisine, business, medicine and so on.
The “Windrush” arrival is not always highlighted during Black History Month, so a Windrush Day would be a day to remember not only “Windrush” passengers but other migrants who have made and continue to make significant contributions to the prosperity of Britain. Schools could annually feature and highlight them, and it would be a means of fostering greater social understanding and cohesion. It could be a way for young people, especially those from minority ethnic backgrounds, to develop a better sense of identity as the histories and contributions of their ancestors are appreciated and celebrated.
I am part of the “Windrush” generation. I came to Britain from Trinidad as a 10 year-old and I had to break down many barriers. I had to face unbelievable adversity which no child should have to endure, being told by a church in Penge that my kind was not wanted there. This happened to many Caribbean people who simply wanted to worship joyfully in church as they had done in the Caribbean. That is why so many black-led churches sprung up in cities across the country. So it is wonderful to hear that the nation’s church leaders will be celebrating and commemorating the 70th “Windrush” anniversary positively. I am a positive thinker and believe that we should all pave the way for future generations. Our children need to feel as though they belong in order to face the future confidently. So we all need to play our part in the “Windrush” celebrations as a legacy. We are part of it.
My contribution to the 70th anniversary is to create an RHS Chelsea Flower Show “Windrush” garden with the help of Birmingham City Council. The garden will also be displayed around the country so that as many people as possible will be able to experience the vibrant horticultural display telling the story of those pioneers from the Caribbean who travelled to Britain to start a new life and helped to rebuild Britain after the war by working in the NHS, the transport system, factories and many other services. An element of the display will be a collage of images of the “Windrush” story as seen through the eyes of schoolchildren. It is great that the “Windrush” will now be part of the national curriculum for 16 year-olds who will be able to take their history exams in the subject at GCSE level, but a Windrush Day would add value to education for children of all ages.
Parliament officially recognised 23 August as UNESCO’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, so why not 22 June as Windrush Day? I hope that the Government will consider this and celebrate the 70th anniversary by officially announcing a Windrush Day. We owe it to the descendants of the “Windrush” generation, so that they feel they are part of the history of our great country. I look forward to working with the Government to make the “Windrush” celebration memorable and significant.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on securing this debate this afternoon. In the short time I have, I will not be able to cover all the points noble Lords have made in the debate. Like other noble Lords, I look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, setting out for us what the Government plan to do to celebrate the arrival of the “Empire Windrush” 70 years ago at Tilbury Docks.
It is such a momentous occasion and a milestone on the way of creating the country we live in today. People coming here from the Caribbean to make a life for themselves and make a contribution to this country should be celebrated. As many noble Lords have said, they were not always welcomed with open arms by the communities they came to live in, but their children and grandchildren have gone on to make a contribution and continue to do so today, in all walks of life.
I had the privilege of knowing one of the men that walked off the ship at Tilbury on 22 June. As the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, said, his name was Sam King, a man born at Priestman’s River in Portland, Jamaica—I am very pleased he has already been mentioned. He responded to an advert in the Gleaner from the Government looking for young men to come and help them to fight the Nazis. He joined the Royal Air Force and after training was posted to RAF Hawkinge, where he worked as an engineer.
After the war, he went back to Jamaica but could not settle. Then he saw another advert in the Gleaner for tickets to come on the “Empire Windrush”. He got his ticket, got off the boat at Tilbury and rejoined the RAF. After leaving the RAF some years later, he joined the Post Office and became a postman for 34 years. He was a major figure in the West Indian community, particularly in London. Along with others, he helped to set up the Notting Hill carnival. He was a lover of sport, particularly cricket. I first got to know Sam in the days when they had that great West Indian cricket team which beat us in the West Indies and then came and beat us here in England as well.
As we have heard, Sam helped set up the Windrush Foundation to preserve the memories of those who had travelled here to the United Kingdom on that ship. While a postman, he joined the Labour Party, and was an active member of the Dulwich Constituency Labour Party for many years. He worked with the then local MP, Sam Silkin, who then became Lord Silkin of Dulwich. Later he worked with Tessa Jowell as the local MP, now my noble friend Lady Jowell.
Sam became a Labour councillor, and then the first black person ever to become Mayor of Southwark. Local government in the 1980s, especially in London, was a fairly rough affair. No quarter was given, and Sam had to handle some fairly stormy meetings at Southwark Town Hall. He did so with great wit, charm, skill and dignity. He also carried out his other roles as first citizen of the borough and was much loved by all who got to know him. He was then awarded an MBE in 1998. On 31 January 2010, a blue plaque was placed outside the house he lived in from 1958 to 1984 on Warmington Road.
For me, Sam is an example of a life well lived and a shining example of the contribution immigrants make to our country—particularly, as in his case, from the Caribbean. He was loved by his family and friends; he was law abiding; he served this country in the Armed Forces; he arrived back here and worked in the public sector; he was a community activist and made a major contribution, as we have heard, to the community here; and he was an elected politician. He is only one man, but he is an example of the difference that people who have come to live and work here have made to this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, talked about the NHS, and this is one area we have never sorted out. People come and work in the public sector and then retire. Many people may want to retire back to the Caribbean. If they do, their pension is frozen. That is something we should look at. It is very unfair. My mum and dad are Irish. My mum was a nurse as well, and they retired to Ireland. My mum and dad get their pension increase every year with no problem at all, but if you go back to the Caribbean, you do not. That is unfair. You have paid for that pension. I know it would cost a lot of money, but the Government should look at it because it is unfair. We should look at the contribution that they have made to this country: what you paid for, you should be entitled to get. But what a great debate we have had.
My Lords, I congratulate and thank my noble friend Lady Berridge for bringing this very important topic to our attention today. It has been a debate of extreme potency and impact on many different fronts and I will try to do justice to the contributions that have been made. At the end of my period, I will specifically deal with some of the plans we have. In so far as I have not covered all the detail of the plans, I will cover them in a letter which I will send to all Members of the Committee.
In response to a point made early on by my noble friend Lady Berridge about the input of other noble Lords, we would be happy to hear from all noble Lords about ideas. We have had some good potent, ideas today. I have written separately to the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, because she will clearly have ideas and I would like to be able to reflect on them so that we are able to move forward together on some of the important areas that we have touched on today.
Many noble Lords referred to the early degree of prejudice that undoubtedly existed and the awful experiences that many of the first members of the “Windrush” generation, not just those on the “Windrush”, must have experienced when coming to this country, finding not just a cold climate but a very cold reception. That was truly awful. Many noble Lords referred to that and to the journey we have made, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, but other noble Lords said that we still face challenges, including the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Crisp, who had some specific questions that I will try to cover, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who made a very powerful contribution, and the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, who asked some specific questions. I shall try to deal with some of them.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, made a potent point. It strikes me as strange, as it has done for some time, that we see people challenged and asked to go back to a country where they may never have been or, if they have, it was a long time ago, and it is not home. Let me make it clear that the Government are absolutely determined that people who are rightly here should remain here.
I will ensure that a copy of the report of this debate is shared with other government departments, because it has clearly impacted on a number of areas, including DCMS on statutes, which I will come on to, and the Home Office in relation to the correct contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, asked about recognition of the role of the “Windrush” generation and members of ethnic minority communities in general in relation to the NHS. He is absolutely right. We all remember the powerful impact of the opening ceremony of the Olympics in 2012, which combined references to the “Windrush”, the NHS and the fact that we are a proud multicultural, multiracial society. That is reflected in everyday life, not just in the public sector, but certainly in the public sector and probably most obviously in our great NHS. That is an important point. I know that is the view of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, but I will ensure that he sees a copy of the report of this important debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, made a valid point about statues. As a nation, a country and a kingdom, we have become much more aware of the importance of statues. You can scarcely open a newspaper these days without seeing a legitimate case being made for a statue of an individual or a cause. I will ensure that a copy of the report of this debate goes to DCMS with a covering note.
We should not think just in terms of London, although London is important. In that context, before I come to some of the activities that the Government are engaged in, we are working with Tilbury—I think Tilbury lies in the London Borough of Thurrock—and Lambeth because on 22 June, Windrush Day, there will be a celebration of the 70th anniversary. I am very grateful for the dynamic representation of the community provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, who has been a joy to work with as we have looked at these projects. I congratulate her on the success of the garden project, which I know she has been instrumental in driving forward. It is very hard to say no to her on anything, but on something as great as a garden, I can quite see why she has had that success. I hope to be able to visit it when it comes to London. I am sure we all do. It is a great thing.
In the context of saying that we are working with the Windrush Foundation, the Voice will bring out a special celebration edition to mark the 70th anniversary. We also have plans to mark it not just in Westminster Abbey but to make it known to other cathedrals and religious bodies around the country that it is Windrush Day. We need to make sure that it is recognised and get a positive message out there about the importance of the day. They might like to have a service of celebration in their community and to organise a tea party, as will be happening in Lambeth. There is also the possibility of live-streaming between different celebrations.
Celebration will not be on Windrush Day only. Things are starting in Lambeth in February. They are happening in Leeds, where the Phoenix Dance Theatre is putting on a Windrush production, which will be coming to London on, I think, 26 to 28 April, so I give advance notice to noble Lords. It will be at Sadler’s Wells, I think. I hope to be able to go to it. A range of activities going on, and we hope to enlarge on what is already happening while keeping it focused. I am very happy and privileged to work with noble Lords to make sure that we can enhance what is happening.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to the great Sam King. He was indeed a great man. Many great men and women who came over on that boat, subsequent and previous boats deserve to be honoured, but there is clearly iconic significance to the “Windrush” which we want to celebrate as a country to demonstrate not just how far we have come, which we have, but to recognise that there are still challenges, some of which I hope that we can face through the Race Disparity Audit. It published data, and you cannot really disagree with data. You can disagree about what we do about the data, and that debate is now going on in government because the Prime Minister has been driving it hard and has been asking departments to bring forward plans to ensure that we take forward the published data and act to ensure that some of the lessons are learned and some of the wrongs are righted. That is something I know that we want to do.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, because I am sure that I have missed some points. I will try to pick them up in the letter that I will send round. I encourage all noble Lords to pass on the message about the importance of Windrush Day and, more broadly, about the lesson of the Windrush generation and its importance for our country. We are all here in a mood of celebration about Windrush, but we must also recognise that we cannot be complacent. There are still lessons to be learned, although the examples of others from earlier generations demonstrate that there were people at the time who obviously were receptive, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, pointed out. It was not all bleak, even in those early days, although it was clearly very bleak for many people. There was the example of people early on, such as Roy Jenkins, although that was perhaps a bit later, and Ian Macleod, as well as people in the community and religious communities up and down the country who were helping.
I once again thank my noble friend Lady Berridge for introducing this debate in such a timely way, I thank noble Lords who participated and look forward to working with them to ensure that we have a very successful year and a very successful Windrush Day and get it into the national calendar. That is very important.