My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat an Answer by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to an Urgent Question in another place.
“I am honoured to have been asked this morning to become Home Secretary. I start by making a pledge to those of the Windrush generation who have been in this country for decades and yet have struggled to navigate through the immigration system. This never should have been the case and I will do whatever it takes to put it right. Learning about the difficulties that the Windrush migrants have faced over the years has affected me greatly, particularly because I myself am a second-generation migrant.
Like the Caribbean Windrush generation, my parents came to this country from the Commonwealth in the 1960s. They, too, came to help rebuild this country and to offer all they had. So when I heard that people who were long-standing pillars of their community were being impacted simply for not having the right documents to prove their legal status in the UK, I thought, ‘That could be my mum, brother, uncle or even me’. That is why I am so personally committed to and invested in resolving the difficulties faced by the people of the Windrush generation, who have built their lives here and contributed so much.
I know that my predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd, felt very strongly about this too. Please allow me to pay tribute to her hard work and integrity and to all that she has done and will continue to do in public service. I wish her all the very best. I will build on the decisive action that she has already taken.
A dedicated task force was set up to handle these cases. More than 500 appointments have been scheduled and more than 100 people have already had their cases processed and now have the necessary documents. We will continue to resolve these cases as a matter of urgency.
We have made clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status they deserve: British citizenship. That will be free of charge, and I will bring forward the necessary secondary legislation. We have also been clear that a new compensation scheme will be put in place for those whose lives have been disrupted. We intend to consult on the scope of the scheme and will appoint an independent person to oversee it. I hope that I can count on the full support of all honourable Members to make this happen as soon as possible.
I end by making one thing crystal clear: we will do right by the Windrush generation”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Answer to the Question from my right honourable friend, which the Home Secretary gave yesterday in the other place. I join her in offering my congratulations to her right honourable friend on his appointment.
What action will the new Home Secretary undertake to deliver a fair, just and humane immigration policy and get the country out of this shameful disaster? Is the noble Baroness aware of the call from the director-general of the CBI for our immigration policy to put people before numbers and work to benefit our economy and society? I hope she can commit to that this afternoon. Finally, when will there be more information about the compensation scheme, as this also must be fair and just to compensate properly for the terrible wrongs that have been caused?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. First, he asked what the Home Office will be doing to right the wrongs. The new Home Secretary has made some things very clear. He has made it quite clear that he does not like the term “hostile environment”, which he feels does not reflect the values of this country. The term was not invented recently; it was coined some time ago—under a Labour Home Secretary, I must say, but that is by the by, because Home Secretaries have used the term ever since. He has made it quite clear that, in line with the values that he and most of us share, there should be a compliant rather than a hostile environment.
The noble Lord also asked about putting people before numbers. My right honourable friend also made it quite clear, as did the previous Home Secretary only last week, that we want a humane environment. Some of the mechanisms set up for the Windrush generation will make it as easy as possible for people to get the documentation they need. Where necessary, officials will liaise with other government departments to ease the burden on those people who are here as of right. The noble Lord talked about the compensation scheme—in fact, he asked me about it at the end of last week. The Home Secretary has reiterated his commitment to a compensation scheme. He will be consulting on the scheme and, as I said, an independent person will be in place to oversee it. I hope that answers the noble Lord’s questions.
My Lords, the Windrush fiasco is the result of Home Office deportation targets. If officials are given targets and the case before them qualifies on the face of it for deportation, and they are short of their quota for that week or month, how can they be expected to use their discretion to act humanely, even in the face of exceptional humanitarian circumstances? Of course, illegal immigrants should be pursued, but how can targets for removals be consistent with a compassionate approach to exceptional cases? The Minister said that the new Home Secretary has said that he will do whatever it takes to put this right. Does not she agree with me that, to put this right, we need to abandon removal targets in the Home Office?
One thing that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary also made clear yesterday was that he wants to look at those targets, take a view on what targets have been set or are being set, and take a view on the whole issue of targets going forward. I am sure your Lordships’ House will have more information on that, as he embeds himself—he has been there only just over 24 hours—and makes decisions on his priorities and where the policy will go.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I, too, welcome the appointment of Sajid Javid to the post of Home Secretary. I welcome his statements about the hostile environment and how he does not consider those words in accordance with the values of this nation. However, in moving away from the language of the hostile environment, can my noble friend assure the House that we will also move away from the cultural and legal consequences of that hostile environment? Would she make the case for common sense being restored in Home Office decision-making? Would she also make the case for looking again at the underpinning that the appeals system and its funding brought to decision-making? When decision-making goes wrong, we have appeals and those appeals are well funded. So in moving away from the language of the hostile environment, will we look again at the legal framework created in pursuing that policy?
I thank my noble friend for making that point. I heard her points at lunchtime about the hostile environment, so I am glad that what I have said chimes with her. She is right about common sense in decision making; she makes an insightful point about cultural considerations, as opposed to the facts before us. However, it is vital that the compliant environment protects vulnerable persons. Appropriate safeguards are built in and the right to redress exists, including the ability to exercise discretion when there are genuine barriers to people leaving the UK or measures that would be deemed unduly harsh. We need a humane approach to this, but we must not forget that, within the compliant environment, it is necessary that people who are not here legally should be removed from this country, not least because of the vulnerability that goes with it.
My Lords, the Home Secretary’s appointment is to be warmly welcomed. His is a remarkable achievement. However, there are two factors that I would ask the Minister to take into account. The first is the age and vulnerability of many of the victims of the Windrush scandal. I hope that will be taken into account in the scheme that is to be set up and, in particular, in the imposition of any deadlines. There has been a lot of talk about deadlines for making applications and claiming compensation. I hope that people’s vulnerability, age and natural reluctance to come forward, given their previous experience of hostile Administrations, will be taken into account. I seek the Minister’s assurance on that.
Secondly, how are our overseas posts being kept informed about the development of this situation? It will be necessary to make sure that information is put out to potential claimants and victims in the various Commonwealth countries which are affected—and not just in the Caribbean.
Both the previous Home Secretary and the new one have made it absolutely clear that this scheme has not been put in place to trip people up. The noble Lord talked about people having a certain amount of time to make deadlines. We will consult on this scheme and I hope the noble Lord will put his view forward. To put bureaucratic restrictions into it, however, is not in the spirit of what the Home Secretary wants. I totally appreciate the noble Lord’s point about age—I presume he means older age—and particularly people who might have been stung by the system previously and feel reluctant to come forward. This is a scheme to help people, not to restrict them.
The noble Lord also makes a good point about overseas posts being informed. He may remember that the previous Home Secretary talked with Commonwealth representatives during CHOGM to engage and spread the word. I know that officials have been engaging, not only with other Commonwealth countries, but widely in British society in areas where there may be Commonwealth citizens who can be helped. We are taking a very proactive approach.