My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“I would like to thank the honourable Member for Tottenham for raising this Question and giving me the chance to build on what I have already told this House earlier this afternoon.
I recognise the concern from some people in the Windrush generation. I would not want anyone who has made their life in the United Kingdom to feel unwelcome or to be in any doubt about their right to remain here. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already made clear, there is absolutely no question about their right to remain, and I am very sorry for any confusion or anxiety felt.
While the vast majority of people who came here before 1973 will already have the documentation that proves their rights to be in the United Kingdom, I know that some do not. I know that there are those who have never applied for a passport in their own name or had their immigration status formalised. That is why today I am announcing a new dedicated team that will be set up to help these people evidence their right to be here and to access services. This team will help these applicants to demonstrate they are entitled to live in the United Kingdom and will be tasked with resolving cases within two weeks of when the evidence has been provided.
Of course, no one should be left out of pocket as they go through this process and so, given the uniqueness of the situation this group find themselves in, I intend to ensure that this group will not pay for this documentation. We have set up a webpage and a dedicated contact point for people with concerns and have been speaking to charities, community groups and the high commissioners about providing advice and reassurance to those affected. Tomorrow the Prime Minister will meet with the Heads of Government and I will meet with the high commissioners this week to discuss this issue as a matter of urgency. I hope that this will provide people with the reassurance that they need”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
While I am pleased that the Government are taking action today, we are in a shameful situation. Immigrants from the Caribbean who came here after the Second World War, some of whom fought with British forces in the Second World War, are now elderly people who have worked and paid their taxes in the United Kingdom and have been treated in a shabby way by the Home Office. Can the noble Earl outline what action he and his department are taking to ensure that no one in this group will be denied NHS treatment, that none of them will lose their pensions and that none will be detained, held prisoner or deported from the UK? If anyone has had their rights infringed in any of the ways that I have highlighted, they should urgently have that reversed and receive a full personal apology for this shabby and shameful treatment. Will he also commit to updating Parliament on the number of people who have had any of their rights abused in any of the ways that I have outlined, without the need for noble Lords to table Questions to get that information from the Government?
My Lords, I quite understand the noble Lord’s feelings on this subject. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made it very clear in her Statement that this was not in an area that we wanted to be in and that she was very sorry for any of the confusion or anxiety felt. She also said that there will be no removal or detention. The most important thing that we can do at the department now is to process these claims as quickly as possible. It has been made clear in the Statement that these claims will be processed within two weeks, and it is up to all noble Lords, if they are aware of any individuals who have found themselves in this situation, to make the department, through myself or the Minister, aware of who they are. The noble Lord also asked for updates on numbers. I cannot answer at this point, because it is not clear what the numbers are. However, I understand that the vast majority of the Windrush generation will already have their documents. If any information relating to numbers comes forward I will place a copy of the letter in the Library.
My Lords, it is good to hear the Government’s positive response to this distressing, inconsiderate and heartless situation. I came to Britain in 1960 as a British citizen; a Windrush generation child who was told that I was part of the motherland and would be welcomed. Luckily for me, I had my own passport as I travelled without my parents, otherwise I too would be having to prove my status. Many who travelled on their parents’ passports are now—due to unbelievable incompetence and lack of common sense and compassion by the Home Office—being treated as criminals and asked to provide evidence of their immigration status. Who in this House can provide school reports and payslips from 50 years ago? In this 70th anniversary year, we are meant to be commemorating Windrush, but these recent events threaten to sour the celebrations. There is a feeling of resentment, rejection and mistrust. Will the Government make amends by creating a Windrush day to celebrate every 22 June, to honour the pioneers and their descendants and to prove that we are valued?
My Lords, the noble Baroness made a number of points. We have to build up a picture from individuals. This is not done by asking for a payslip for a certain month 30 years ago. We need to know national insurance numbers, if they have them; where they work; where they were at school—we are not looking for school reports. We want to build up a picture with that information and other data held across government which will enable these individuals to be here. These cases must be processed as quickly as possible, so that people are not put under undue pressure. This is why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made it quite clear that we want to clear all these applications within a two-week period.
I also repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said. She deeply values the contribution made by these, and all, Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the United Kingdom. She is making sure that the Home Office is offering the correct solution for individual situations.
My Lords, I view this lamentable state of affairs with a mixture of concern and bewilderment. Can my noble friend the Minister shed any light on the circumstances in which the confusion and anxiety to which the Statement refers has been allowed to arise in the first place?
My Lords, my noble friend, who has great experience in this department, makes a very good point. We will be able to build up a picture of the whys and wherefores of this situation. As the noble Baroness said, it initially arose with the Windrush generation. Many of them are documented, but some came here undocumented. The job now is to make sure that this is put right and that they get the correct documentation.
My Lords, I too welcome the Statement, and the apology contained within it. I much regret the confusion and insensitivity that has led to it needing to be made. I was born and raised in Wolverhampton. In 1972, I was selected to fight Enoch Powell in the forthcoming general election and to fight his poisonous views on immigration. I am mortified that children who were brought up in that town and performed huge and valuable services to this country should have had their immigration status—their right to be citizens of this country—put in doubt in this way. I will ask the Minister one question. The Statement dealt with immigration status, but issues around access to healthcare, some of which are urgent, have also been raised in some cases. Can he give us some information about putting those right as well?
My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness’s concerns. She mentioned healthcare in particular. If certain individuals have suffered from being unable to get healthcare, once again, if she could let me know about them, I will pass that back to the department, which will consider it.
My Lords, I have written to the Prime Minister about this matter, as have a number of other Bishops. It has given us a great deal of concern and is a deeply distressing matter. We have heard already from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and I am sure that we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, about the depth of hurt. There will be a great need for healing in this situation and to address that hurt, which extends beyond the Windrush community to others who feel a sense of deep hostility. Can the Minister say whether the Churches, and in particular the black-majority Churches and other faith communities, will be involved in advising on ways to bring about that healing in our community?
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for the points he makes. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that we will reach out to charities, community groups and to the high commissioners to try to reassure people through those channels as well.
My Lords, the confusion and anxiety is clear, and it came about because of the Home Office—its bureaucracy, its failings and the nature of the correspondence that was sent to the people who have suffered as a result of its action. These were children. They did not come here of their own volition but because their parents were here. But they have lived their lives and paid their taxes in this country, and they have helped it grow and develop into the successful multiracial democracy that it is. They have been insulted, and they were insulted as children. My generation was described as “wide-eyed grinning piccaninnies” by a Member of the other House. To that insult in their childhood has now been added this injury in their old age. They have been sent letters that question their right to be here with their children and grandchildren. They have lost jobs—look at the cases that have been reported in the newspapers only today. Some may even have been removed. So we do not want warm words but the unequivocal promise that those who have paid fees will have them returned; that those who have lost their jobs—and they have—will be compensated; that there will be no more removals, and that those who may have been removed will be returned. Nothing less will do. Anything less makes us complicit in this shameful action.
My Lords, I quite understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Boateng. As I said earlier, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already confirmed that there will be no removal or detention. The noble Lord asked a number of other questions concerning individuals but I do not have that information to hand—I know that we do not have some of the information from this shameful exercise. However, if any of that information does come to light, I will be sure to write to the noble Lord.