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Windrush Compensation Scheme

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 3 April 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement to the House on the Windrush compensation scheme. Copies of the response to the consultation on the Windrush compensation scheme will be available from the Vote Office.

The United Kingdom has a proud history of welcoming arrivals from around the world. We have long held open a door to those who want to come and help build a better country—including, of course, my own parents, or indeed the parents of the shadow Home Secretary. We have all benefited as a result, with the UK emerging as a stronger, broader, more vibrant and successful nation. We would not be the country we are today without the men and women who crossed oceans to come here legally, make their homes, work hard, pay taxes and raise their families. And we all know it.

This is why the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment experienced by some members of the Windrush generation. People who have built their lives in this country, who have done so much for this country and who have every right to be in this country were told that they were not welcome. It was a terrible mistake. It should never have happened. That it did is a matter of profound regret to myself, my department and the Government.

That is why, just under a year ago, one of my first acts as Home Secretary was to stand at this Dispatch Box and say sorry on behalf of successive Governments: sorry to the parents and grandparents who suffered the trauma of being incorrectly ordered to leave the country they love; sorry to those who had paid taxes here for decades, only to be denied the NHS care to which they were perfectly entitled; sorry to hard-working men and women who were unfairly refused the right to work, and even refused the dignity of a roof over their heads.

But I know that words alone are not enough, which is why, 11 months ago, I did not just say sorry to the members of the Windrush generation; I also vowed to right the wrongs that had been done to them. I sincerely hope that this compensation scheme being unveiled today goes some way to doing that. It has taken longer than I would have liked, but if we are to deliver justice for the Windrush generation and their families, it is vital that we get this right.

Today’s scheme is the product of many months of work with affected individuals and their representatives, including well over 2,000 responses to our call for evidence and consultation. We are also indebted to Martin Forde QC, who has provided us with invaluable independent advice and met with a great many individuals who were directly affected. His findings have contributed hugely to the final design of the scheme, and I take this opportunity to thank Martin for his work.

As a result of this meticulous approach, I am confident that the proposals for the scheme are closely aligned with what affected communities wanted to see—namely, that it is simple, accessible and fair. Full information is now available online and via a free telephone hotline. Guidance is being provided to help people understand what compensation they might be entitled to and how to submit a claim. The application process itself is as simple and as clear as possible.

It is also important to note that the scheme is not only open to those of Caribbean origin. The Government propose broadly to align eligibility with the Commonwealth citizens task force. This means that Commonwealth citizens settled in the UK before 1973, along with certain children and grandchildren of theirs, are eligible to apply if they have losses to claim for. Other eligible groups include those of any nationality who have a right of abode, or settled status, or are now British citizens, who arrived to live in the UK before 31 December 1988.

Of course, the historical nature of the wrongs done means that some of those who have been affected throughout the years are, sadly, not alive to see justice done. Where this is the case, we propose to accept claims from the estates of individuals who would themselves have been eligible had they not passed away, and from close family members of an eligible person.

Later this evening, I will be welcoming community group leaders to Parliament, alongside some of those who have suffered, and their families. It will be an opportunity to reflect not only on the mistakes of successive Governments that brought us to this point but also on what we as a country can do to ensure that mistakes like this are not repeated.

Wendy Williams’ review will explore how members of the Windrush generation came to be treated like illegal migrants, and I look forward to receiving her recommendations. But there is no doubt that the roots lie in a historical policy that saw people given settled status without also being given the ability to prove it.

Nothing we say or do will ever fully wipe out the hurt, trauma and loss that should never have been suffered by the men and women of the Windrush generation. But together, we can begin to right the wrongs of Windrush. We can begin to turn the page on this sad chapter in our history, and we can do justice by people who have contributed immeasurably to this country. When the UK called out for help, thousands of people from the Caribbean and across the Commonwealth stepped up to help get us back on our feet. Now it is time for us to step up and do what is right by those whom we have failed. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in the other place by her right honourable friend the Home Secretary earlier today. I too place on record my thanks to Martin Forde QC and his colleagues for the work they have done; we are grateful for the work they have undertaken.

I concur with the comments in the Statement to the effect that we have a proud history of welcoming new arrivals here. My own parents were immigrants to this country from the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s, and my mum went on to work in the NHS as a nurse. I agree that what happened to the Windrush generation was a shocking, unacceptable outrage. People who had every right to be here, who were working hard and paying their taxes, were treated in a shabby, disgraceful way.

The noble Baroness refers to the scheme, but it will be helpful to the House if she could outline briefly what the scheme will look like and how it will work. I welcome the proposal to accept claims from the estates of individuals who have, sadly, passed away. However, could the noble Baroness set out what she means by “close family members” in respect of claims submitted for compensation? Is that children, grandchildren or cousins? It would be good to be clear on that point as soon as possible.

When the noble Baroness talks of media coverage, what does she mean? I have seen the coverage in the mainstream media, but will the Government make use of social media? A social media campaign, properly targeted, could prove to be very effective in this regard; even if it could not make contact with individuals, certainly it could make contact with their children and grandchildren.

Finally, can the noble Baroness say a little more about the programme of events she referred to in the Statement and how long it is envisaged that will run for? I look forward to the noble Baroness’s response to my questions.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This is a shameful episode in our country’s history, where those who came here to help the UK were wrongly denied the right to remain. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Benjamin for her tireless and successful campaign for a Windrush Day. It is sad that this scandal casts a shadow over what is meant to be a celebration of everything the Windrush generation and their descendants have contributed to the UK. It is difficult to see how the wrongs of unlawful deportation, where some of those affected have died in poverty overseas, can be made right. Rather than accepting claims from the estate of those who have passed away and from close family members, will the Government approach those affected and proactively offer compensation?

While the Government await the results of Wendy Williams’ review, there are some things that they could and should do now. They need to address the ongoing “hostile environment” created by such measures as the right to rent scheme. As Liberal Democrats, we argued when the scheme was being discussed in this House that, as a recent High Court case has found, forcing landlords to carry out immigration checks on potential tenants is likely to be discriminatory, not just against immigrants but against black and minority ethnic Britons. Why are the Government appealing against that finding when they say that they are dismantling the hostile environment?

Can the Minister also explain why Windrush generation individuals who received settled status without being given the ability to prove it are now being asked to prove that they are of “good character” and why, if they fail to do so, they could be refused right of abode, settlement or citizenship? On page 14 of 19, the Windrush scheme application form states:

“Please give any other information which will help us decide whether you are of good character. Please use an additional sheet if necessary”.

I thought those who had a right of abode in the UK would automatically be given the right to remain. Perhaps the Minister can explain what is going on.

The Government accept that the roots of the Windrush scandal lie in a policy that saw people receive settled status without giving them the ability to prove it. Will they therefore accept the Liberal Democrat amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill currently before the other place, so that EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who are granted settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme are provided with physical documented proof of that status, so that they can prove it?

A compensation scheme is one thing. Government action to prove they have learned lessons is quite another.

I thank both noble Lords for their questions and join the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in commending the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for all the positive work that she has done in this area. She is a joy to work with and a great advocate for the members of the Windrush generation.

Turning first to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about exactly how the scheme will work, I rarely use a prop in this place, but I happen to have one on me. I refer him to the complete guide to the Windrush compensation scheme, which can be found both in physical copy and on the GOV.UK Windrush compensation scheme website. The rationale behind this came about through the consultation to learn at first hand from the various stakeholders how the scheme might work best and most efficiently. Making the application form as easy to complete as possible was the number one priority, while reaching out proactively to people was the second.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about the various events taking place. Clearly an event is being held in Parliament today with the Home Secretary, and 15 community events have been planned over the next three months. They are open to anyone of any nationality. The first will be held in Lambeth Town Hall this Friday and a full schedule will be published shortly on GOV.UK. He also rightly made a point about social media. It is the best way to get information out as quickly as possible and we are using it to publicise the scheme. I will be tweeting and I hope the noble Lord will retweet my message because we all have a leadership role to play in this.

The FCO is also working to promote the scheme overseas because we want as many eligible people as possible to claim. So that they can do so, promotional materials are being sent to all posts. Tomorrow, the Immigration Minister will brief the Commonwealth high commissioner in the UK. We are placing adverts for the scheme and the events in core publications. Here in the UK, we will write to those who have already been supported through the task force to let them know about the compensation launch, as well as to those who have signed up for updates on Windrush. The onus is on us all to go through the channels we know to publicise the launch of the scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, also asked about the definition of “close family members”. They include a mother, a father, a child, a brother or sister, a wife or husband, a civil partner and unmarried long-term partners living together. All fall within the remit; if someone has been affected by some of the detriment relating to the Windrush generation, in turn their close family members will also have been affected.

I have answered the question about social media. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked me about the events taking place. Oh, the Box got it wrong and I was right: it was the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. In any event, it is helpful for all of us to know what events are going on and where. I have a list of the various places: Bradford, Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, Manchester, Swansea, Cardiff, Newport, Belfast, Nottingham, Glasgow and London.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about the hostile environment. This has been batted around quite a lot. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said earlier, successive Governments do not have clean hands over what has been described as a hostile environment. Unfortunately, it started under Labour and finished under the current Home Secretary. Being in a compliant environment is far more appropriate.

The noble Lord also talked about the “proof of good character” provision. There has always been a good character test for a reason. Clearly, if someone fails it through criminality, that needs to be brought to the fore.

He also talked about the physical document. A lot of discussion has taken place about this issue in terms of the EU settlement scheme. People feel uneasy that they do not have a physical document. In fact, what the Government are bringing forward is the use of a digital token. Such a token cannot be lost like a physical document and it will assist people in whatever area of life they need help with, be that work, rent and so on. The digital token can be checked for that specific purpose, although obviously there is a data protection issue here. I recognise that some people do not like not having something physical in front of them, but of course they will be notified by email or letter that their claim has been processed and has gone through. However, I accept the point being made by the noble Lord. He also asked whether we will support the Lib Dem amendment to the forthcoming immigration Bill. We shall consider it when it comes to your Lordships’ House, and I am sure we will have a great discussion on it.

My Lords, while grateful for the Statement and the compensation scheme, I have a particular concern to raise with the Minister. We have recently seen publicity about very poor decisions on immigration made in the Home Office, suggesting that decisions are being made by staff who are perhaps too junior or not adequately trained. Can we be assured that there will be enough staff working on this scheme who are of sufficient seniority and adequately trained?

I think I know the matter to which the right reverend Prelate is referring. I met the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and other noble Lords to discuss the issue in question. It was a productive discussion in which we talked about better training for people making decisions and—in the case we are talking about—better religious literacy. Yes, we have to learn lessons from the sorry Windrush episode and make more consistent and proper decisions as we go forward.

I have a similar question. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be sufficient officials dealing with these applications to ensure that they are decided speedily? Does the Home Office have a target time for dealing with these applications?

The target time is as quickly as possible, but the noble Lord makes the right point and I know the episode to which he refers as well; I worked with him on it. There are several levels of assistance for claimants. We are about to contract with a third party so that our advice can be given online or by phone. As I say, the application form has been designed to be as simple and to provide as efficient and speedy a response as possible.

My Lords, while welcoming this compensation scheme, I find it very sad—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, alluded to this—that the word “Windrush” is now in many people’s minds associated with this system in the Home Office. There is now, of course, a national day, 22 June. Can my noble friend the Minister please outline whether specific money is being allocated so that that day can be commemorated in such a way as to try to make good some of the negative publicity around Windrush and to return it to the place it should have in our national history—one of celebration and commemoration?

I thank my noble friend for asking that question. Yes, we need to turn what has now widely been seen as a negative period in our history into a positive period, one in which the Windrush generation contributed hugely to this country after the war. I do not know about funding, but I can certainly find out for my noble friend. I will let her know and place a copy in the Library.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her kind words, as well as my noble friend. I am part of the Windrush generation and this issue is close to my heart. I was delighted to hear the Statement being read out. I am also happy to say that not only do we have a Windrush Day, which 50 applicants will be getting money to celebrate, but we have £500,000 to spend each year on Windrush Day from now on, which is great. The Prime Minister has also asked me to chair the Windrush Commemoration Committee and has given us £1 million to create a significant Windrush monument to recognise and celebrate this important part of our history—the great contribution the Windrush generation has made to Britain—and for us to leave a lasting legacy. However, many have asked why the money is not being spent on compensating those affected by the Windrush scandal. This is something that the committee has to deal with all the time. I say that we must do both. What are the Government doing to deal with this criticism, to bring harmony and to bring an end to the Windrush scandal as soon as possible?

I thank the noble Baroness for outlining the money that has been spent, which I could not do in answer to my noble friend—she has of course been right at the heart of this for some months now. As for spending money on Windrush compensation rather than on the projects and the monument the noble Baroness talks about, we are actually going to spend it on both. The scheme overall is not capped, although obviously certain elements of it are financially limited. She can be confident that we will fulfil our obligations in both areas.

Will the Minister tell the House what work the Government have done to identify other groups that may have very great difficulty presenting identification documents that establish their right to remain and live here? I think particularly of people born in children’s homes in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, who may have had a rather turbulent childhood and may not have access to documents that record their birth or adoption. I believe the numbers are not negligible.

I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness in what she says about Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. There will be people alive who do not even know where they came from, such was the chaotic system back in the 1950s, and until the 1970s, in both Northern Ireland and southern Ireland—in some cases children were sold abroad. Nobody could fail to be moved by the story of Philomena, who eventually identified who her son was after he died. The noble Baroness makes a very good point, and that is why we have the pre-1973 cohort and the pre-1988 cohort. The problems faced by the Windrush generation are not confined solely to people of the Windrush.

My Lords, I am a little worried about the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on good character. It seems to me that someone is either entitled to be in the UK or not. What does good character have to do with it?

Sometimes, someone who fails a good character test—for example, because of criminality—will be precluded from having leave to remain in this country. That is what the good character test is around.

My Lords, we always hear about lessons learned when there are major disasters or atrocities of the kind associated with the Windrush generation and the compensation scheme. As early as 2012, representations were made by Caribbean Heads of Government about the mistreatment of their residents and the issue of non-documentation and proving their right to be here, in spite of having been here since the last war. As late as 2014, those representations were made. Just over a year ago, I asked a Written Question, and a Written Answer came from the Minister herself. I was told that no representations had been made to Her Majesty’s Government; it was the tenacity of those campaigning on behalf of people who had been mistreated that ensured the matter came into the open and started to be taken seriously.

It was almost exactly a year ago that a major press conference launched the initiative that exposed what was going on. So when we come to hear about lessons learned, which was stressed in the Statement, I would like to know why the representations made by the Caribbean Heads of Government were not made known to anyone else? Was that based on the context of the hostile environment, which suggested that these people did not matter and were unimportant, and that it was irrelevant to take those representations and pass them on? When the Minister realised what had happened, she made it known that she was misled and did not have that information when she gave an incorrect answer to the House. Can we be assured that, if this happened tomorrow—if representations were made to Her Majesty’s Government through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as they were on that occasion—representations would be communicated to those in the Home Office who have responsibility for this matter and there would not be a repeat of the situation we have just had?

I thank the noble Lord for the points he has made. He will be aware that the Home Secretary has asked Wendy Williams to carry out a lessons learned review and we look forward to hearing its findings. We often say “This will never happen again” in all kinds of settings in life. The Windrush episode is a travesty for this country and all we can do on identity assurance is to build on that situation and try to do things better in future.

My Lords, what is being done to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again in this country? My concern is that as early as 1980 the Commission for Racial Equality produced a report on immigration control procedures in which everything that is being talked about in regard to the Windrush migrants to this country was reported. However, the type of culture which developed was, in effect, meant to keep people out rather than allowing eligible people to enter the country.

My other concern is for EU migrants who will be applying shortly for settled status in this country. I recently visited the Liverpool centre and, as far as I can discover, all they will be entitled to is a number confirming their status here. I am worried that they will have no documentation for future occasions when they are asked to prove their status in this country. Will the Minister look again at what can be done to make sure that they will have the type of documentation that can be produced on demand, rather than a number which can be lost at any given time?

On the noble Lord’s last question about the number being lost, it will be of course be a digital token, a digital identity. I acknowledge the fears that some people who are resisting it have about something which is not on paper. It may make them feel insecure but it is probably more secure than a piece of paper which can easily be lost. I totally agree with his point about the culture, which had grown over successive years into a situation where we were more likely not to believe people than to believe them and, over decades, the Windrush tragedy happened. On the question of ensuring that it does not happen again, I refer to the answer I gave previously about Wendy Williams carrying out the lessons learned review. Identity assurance—this goes back to the noble Lord’s question about having a physical document—as it has grown up from the 1970s onwards, has become more important for people in everyday life to enable them to work, to rent and to prove that they are who they say they are.

I acknowledge the Minister saying that it was a travesty—it is a travesty and a tragedy—but my noble friend Lord Paddick asked how proactive the Government will be in compensating and reaching these people who were wrongly deported and have been treated so shabbily. We have read of terrible cases where people have died, been denied cancer care and deported. Over the years, a number of people under the radar have been deported. The fact that they were deported means that the Home Office must have a record of who those people are and so, instead of waiting for them to contact us or their respective Governments if they are already in the country to which they were deported, what are the Government going to do to contact them? As the Government must have a record of paying for their flight back to their country of origin, surely they should be proactive in bringing them back or compensating them if they are not in a position to come back and are living in poverty in another country. Can the Minister say specifically what proactive measures are being taken to deal with that?

The noble Baroness asks a perfectly logical question about what we have done about some of the people who we might have wrongly removed from this country. Officials spent a long time doing a manual trawl of some of the people we removed. I had the numbers—the number 57 comes to mind, but I will double check and write to the noble Baroness about the exact breakdown of the numbers that we checked.

That is a very good point. I do not know whether there is a right of appeal. Obviously there are a number of different categories, some of which will be yes or no because it is cut and dried, but others may not be. I will write to the noble Lord on the appeal process.

Will the Minister give me further clarification on the good character issue? Clearly if somebody is a British citizen or has a permanent right to remain in the UK, which a lot of these Windrush people have, even if they are convicted of a criminal offence, they cannot be deported. Why are the Windrush generation being asked about previous convictions and to prove their good character before they are given written confirmation, if you will, of what is the case: that they are British citizens or that they have the right to remain?

Obviously each case is different, and the good character test would have to be applied to anyone applying for leave to remain in this country. There is a spectrum of what denotes good character or otherwise. The decision will be different in different degrees of criminality, so I am very happy to write to the noble Lord.