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Windrush Lessons Learned Review

Volume 802: debated on Thursday 19 March 2020


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:

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on the long-awaited Windrush Lessons Learned Review. I dedicate this Statement today to the Windrush generation. I have personally been deeply moved by reading this report. Given the national significance of this issue, I have published this review immediately. I thank Wendy Williams and her team for the important work they have undertaken.

The Windrush Lessons Learned Review gives voice to members of the Windrush generation who arrived legally in the UK to help rebuild post-war Britain. These are the people who have done so much for this country, from staffing the NHS to rebuilding Britain. These are the very people who worked hard, paid their taxes and had every right to be in this country. They contributed to our communities, culture and society, helping our public services and economy thrive. They made our country stronger, more vibrant and more successful as a nation—which is why we were all shocked to discover that they and their families were subject to such insensitive treatment by the very country they called home.

As this review makes clear, some members of this generation suffered terrible injustices, spurred by institutional failings spanning successive Governments over several decades, including

“ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.

Today’s publication is part of an ongoing mission to put this right and ensure that events such as this can never happen again, as there were far too many victims of Windrush.

Paulette Wilson was detained in an immigration removal centre and warned that she faced removal, after living in the UK for 50 years. She spent decades contributing to the UK, working for a time in this very House, yet was treated as a second-class citizen.

Junior Green had been in the UK for more than 60 years, raising children and grandchildren here, but after a holiday to Jamaica he was refused re-entry despite holding a passport confirming his right to be in the UK. The injustice that he suffered was compounded when, because of this action, he missed his mother’s funeral. Lives were ruined and families were torn apart, and now an independent review has suggested that the Home Office’s ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation’ contributed to this. This is simply unacceptable.

I have heard people speak of ‘decision-making’ as a process—a process that grinds people down to the extent that it makes you want to give up. I have heard people speak of being dismissed, labelled as a group of people who just did not matter and whose voice on this issue was irrelevant. People have spoken to me about the indignity and inhumanity they still feel today from the experience of being made to feel unwelcome in their own country. They have described their experiences as unthinkable and unimaginable.

However, there are people across the UK, and even some members of this House—including myself and the Shadow Home Secretary—for whom this is unfortunately all too relatable. There are lessons to learn for the Home Office, but also for society as a whole. Despite the diverse and open nature of our country, too many people still feel that they may be treated differently because of who they are or where their parents came from. And today’s report, which suggests that in the Home Office there was an ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation’, is worrying for us all.

In her report, Wendy Williams is clear that lessons must be learned at all levels and by all political parties. She describes a set of measures that evolved under Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments. These measures cover decades. She states that Ministers did not sufficiently question unintended consequences and that officials should and could have done more. But we must all look to ourselves. We must all do better at walking in other people’s shoes. We must all take responsibility for the failings that led to the unimaginable suffering of this generation.

Let me be clear. There is nothing that I can say today which will undo the pain, suffering and misery inflicted on the Windrush generation. What I can do is say that, on behalf of this and successive Governments, I am truly sorry for the actions that spanned decades; I am sorry that people’s trust has been betrayed; and we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the Home Office protects, supports and listens to every single part of the community that it serves.

Action has already begun. In recent months, I have met and listened to people whose lives were shattered. Since 2018, we have launched measures to put right the wrongs caused to individual members of the Windrush generation. We have taken action through practical measures to give those who were affected the assistance, certainty, reassurance and support that they need.

The Commonwealth citizens task force goes into communities to help and support people to secure their legal status. Over 11,700 people have been granted a form of documentation that confirms their right to remain in the UK and guarantees their access to public services. Our vulnerable persons team has provided support to nearly 1,400 people, with approximately 120 people still receiving support. The team has supported over 360 people to secure access to benefits; and, to go some way to addressing the hardship suffered, the Home Office launched the Windrush compensation scheme.

This scheme was designed in close consultation with members of the community and with Martin Forde QC. Collectively, they have developed a compensation scheme that is straightforward to use and addresses the bespoke and personal circumstances and needs of every applicant, with dedicated caseworkers assessing claims as quickly as possible. There is no cap on payments, dozens of which have already been made, and we encourage more applications.

Over 100 community events have taken place so far. This includes more than 30 compensation scheme events across the country, from Southampton to Glasgow, Cardiff to Coventry. However, there are still people out there in need of our help whom we have not yet reached. That is why, in February, I extended the length of the compensation scheme by a further two years so that claims can be submitted until April 2023. I set up the Windrush stakeholder advisory group, to rebuild links with communities to ensure that they are supported through compensation, but also to rebuild the trust that has been broken.

Today, I can confirm that we will launch an expanded cross-government Windrush working group to develop programmes to improve the lives of those affected. That may be through employment programmes, dedicated mental health support and specialist education and training schemes. To make sure people know about the task force, the Windrush compensation scheme will have a dedicated new communications campaign promoting the scheme. We will also open a £500,000 fund for grass-roots organisations to promote these schemes, including provisions for specialist advice services. I would like to extend my personal thanks to Martin Forde QC for his support with the creation of the scheme.

I also want to put on the record my thanks to my predecessors, my right honourable friends the Members for Bromsgrove and Maidenhead, and the former Member for Hastings and Rye, who worked hard to understand and undo the suffering when these issues first came to light, and to other members of this House, including the Members for Tottenham and Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, who shone a necessary light on this injustice. I also want to thank the thousands of civil servants at the Home Office and across government who work tirelessly every single day, in challenging and demanding jobs, to keep the public and our country safe. Whether on the front line or working to develop policies for the future, their commitment to create a safer country for us all is commendable. Since these injustices were brought to light, civil servants have used every endeavour to right the wrongs, giving people their correct status and supporting them in their financial compensation claims. However, it would be wrong for the department to ignore Wendy Williams’s finding that the Home Office’s ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation’ contributed to this. This is not something that can be resolved with an apology or compensation. I will review the recommendations that Wendy Williams makes in relation to the way the Home Office operates as an organisation. I will continue to look closely at its leadership, culture, practices, and the way it views the communities it serves.

Over the coming months, myself and Matthew Rycroft, the new Permanent Secretary, will work together with our dedicated staff at all levels to review and reflect on the recommendations, including those relating to compliant environment policies and cultural change. Fundamentally I want to make the Home Office a better place to work. This will include a clarification of the department’s purpose, mission and values, putting at its heart fairness, dignity and respect. We will put people before process. The publication of this review is a small but vital step towards ensuring that the Home Office is trusted by all the people it serves. I would encourage anyone who thinks they have been affected by the Windrush scandal, or who requires support or assistance, to come forward. I will bring forward a detailed formal response in the next six months, as Wendy Williams recommended, representing a new chapter for the Home Office.

Let me assure this House that everyone at the Home Office will be asking the difficult questions needed to ensure that these circumstances can never arise again.

I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the Commons. There is, of course, a marked disparity between the speed with which this review has been published and the lack of speed with which the report on—for example —Russian interference in elections has appeared, a marked disparity for which there is no obvious explanation.

We cannot overstate how damning this review has been of the Government’s

“institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race”.

The way in which individuals and families were wrongly deported and deprived of their livelihoods caused enormous suffering. Now it can only be right that the Government pave the way for a complete change in how the Home Office operates, but apparently the Government cannot say that the recommendations of the review will be delivered in full in the most appropriate timeframe possible. That seemed to be the message of the Statement. There would at least be some satisfaction if we could say that the Government had attempted effectively to make amends.

However, I believe I am right in saying that last month, new migration statistics showed that fewer than one in 20 Windrush compensation claimants had received compensation. From that, it would seem clear that the Government are still failing the Windrush victims, at least in that regard, both in terms of the number of people the compensation is reaching and the level of payouts for lives disrupted or destroyed. Can the Government say how they will ensure that further victims receive the compensation they deserve, and receive it speedily?

On the wider issue of the hostile environment, can the Government today mark a change in direction and agree to put an end to this policy, beginning by ending deportation flights for foreign national offenders who have lived here since childhood, committing that the historic case review will include those who have committed offences, and keeping open the compensation scheme for as long as necessary?

One of the more damning lines of the report was that the scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable”. Scandals which will further arise if the Government continue with the hostile environment policy are also foreseeable and avoidable. Renaming the policy, which the Government have sought to do, does not bring about the necessary culture change. Even the executive summary of the report—I am sure that the Minister will not be entirely surprised if I say that I have not read all 275 pages of it—says that

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

It is a fairly damning statement on the present state of affairs for that to appear as a part of this review.

We do not want similar issues arising over citizenship rights in the light of our withdrawal from the EU, and neither will a future immigration policy based on devaluing the value and skills of many people help the situation, particularly when some of those so-called low-skilled and insufficiently paid personnel are now deemed to be vital key workers in the present crisis when it comes to continuing school provision for their children.

I hope that the Government will take very seriously the recommendations in this report and the three elements into which they have been broken down in the last paragraph of the executive summary. It is disappointing that we may well have to wait some time to hear what the Government’s response is. However, clearly there needs to be a significant change in culture, and it needs to come quickly if we are to avoid further scandals—I use that word—of the kind we have seen over the Windrush generation.

My Lords, the fact that this report has now been published is of course welcome, and I thank Wendy Williams; the timing is however less than optimal. I also thank the journalist Amelia Gentlemen, without whose brilliant and dogged investigative work the report would not have happened.

In the Government’s response, which is promised within six months, we on these Benches want the assurance of a thorough overhaul of the culture of disbelief and carelessness in the Home Office, so that its attitudes, assumptions and processes around immigration are, in the words of the report, “rooted in humanity”, which is not the case at the moment. The Home Secretary surely cannot have needed this review to become aware of what the report calls the

“ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism.”

That sounds like a very carefully negotiated sentence.

Surprisingly, the Statement says that

“we were all shocked to discover”

the insensitive treatment of the Windrush generation. That is not credible. The whole point of the hostile environment was to be brutal and send a harsh, intolerant message. As the report says, the consequences were foreseeable and avoidable, and warning signs were not heeded by officials or Ministers. It was a profound institutional failure. The scandal and the blighting of lives are not just down to staff mistakes and poor decisions, because the tone was set from the top. However, if retraining is needed then we need to hear what is happening on that front.

The Home Secretary failed to give my colleague in the other place, Wendy Chamberlain, the guarantee she sought that for the sake of public health during the coronavirus crisis no data would be passed from the NHS to the Home Office for immigration purposes, otherwise migrants with uncertain status could be deterred from seeking care or treatment. I now ask for clarity on such a guarantee. Will the Government also commit to scrapping the right-to-rent law, which, as has been shown by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, causes landlords to discriminate against people from the BAME communities and/or who do not have a British passport?

To avoid a budding new Windrush scandal, will the Government now commit to automatically guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens to stay? Something that the report highlighted was the lack of documentary evidence that the Windrush generation had. We have persistently and consistently asked that EU citizens should at least get documentary proof.

Lastly, my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who very much wishes she could have been here today, tells me that last week when she visited a school to talk to sixth-formers about Parliament and her work, they wanted to discuss immigration issues. She was critical of Home Office culture. A teacher who was sitting in out of interest could not contain herself: she told my noble friend and the students that, as a Canadian, it had taken her 10 years to get the right to be here and that the way she had been treated by the Home Office, especially at Lunar House, was the worst experience of her life.

I really hope that the Home Office will have a thorough transformation of its culture, so that it acts as a welcome to migrants who we wish to make part of our society, as well as exercising firm and fair immigration control.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for the points that they have made. Both of them questioned the timing. It is absolutely right to say that because of COVID-19 we are in very strange times. I think that the Home Secretary was absolutely right to publish the report within a day of receiving it; both Houses have been clamouring for this report to be published and she has done just that.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the recommendations being delivered in full. One thing that comes out of this thoughtful report are the words of Wendy Williams herself, who says:

“It is, in my view, extremely important that the department undertakes a period of profound reflection on the areas identified in this report … to identify what they think needs to change, and how.”

For the Home Secretary to take a view on that the following day in a knee-jerk way would be wrong. She is perfectly right to reflect on it and to respond in a considered way.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about one in 20 claimants receiving compensation. One thing that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said today is that not only will people receive full compensation but there will not be a cap on compensation. We are trying to process the claims as quickly as possible, and payments are being made. We are trying to reach out to people. I talked about the community events that have been taking place, and the communications campaign that my right honourable friend and I talked about today will be going on. We are making interim payments on some claims where we can resolve parts of the claim much more quickly than other parts to ensure that claimants receive their awards as quickly as possible. Some cases are more complex than others, and it is right that we take the time to ensure that they are settled properly. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about further victims receiving compensation. We will absolutely be reaching out to those people. We want everybody who deserves compensation to receive it.

The noble Lord also touched upon further deportations. Of course, deportations are referenced in this, and they go far wider than Windrush, but my right honourable friend the Home Secretary stated today that no Windrush people were deported on the recent flight about which there was debate in this House and the other place. On deportations generally, the Home Secretary would breach her obligations under the UK Borders Act 2007 were she not to deport people eligible for deportation.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about keeping the compensation scheme open for longer. As I said in my Statement, the Home Secretary said earlier that it will be open until April 2023, so that is another three years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked why we cannot make the EU settlement scheme declaratory. It is precisely because the Windrush people were almost under that declaratory system that they could not prove that they had the right to be here, and it was when people were having to prove their right of settled status that things began to unravel. Of course, digital status now means that that status is on the record for ever.

My Lords, the publication of this Statement is very welcome indeed. The heartfelt nature of the apology was notable.

I have a couple of questions about the recommendations to put to the noble Baroness. First, one of the historic failures of the Church of England—in many ways as bad as the hostile environment—was the terrible reception that we gave the Windrush generation, the vast majority of whom were Anglicans, when they came here. They were often turned away from Church of England churches, or were given a very weak welcome or no welcome at all. As a result, they went off and formed their own churches, which have flourished much better than ours. We would be so much stronger had we behaved correctly. I have apologised for that, and I continue to do so and see the wickedness of our actions.

However, the recommendations, particularly recommendations 7 and 8, talk about reconciliation and understanding the nature of the groups being dealt with by the Home Office. Will it consider bringing in, talking with and using the services of the black-majority church leaders, often Pentecostal church leaders, who have been gracious, wise and strong in upholding their communities? They have much to teach us.

The same point is to be made on recommendation 6, which talks about the history and the need to understand colonial history. Many of these people will now be in their 80s and 90s; capturing the live voice of those with long experiences in this country and who have contributed so much is now time limited.

Recommendations 14 and 17, on the values statement and the ethical standards, come straight back to the need for culture change in the Home Office. I am only too aware of how hard that is in any institution. In the values statement and in the way in which the ethical standards are set out, will there be metrics and clear, tangible tests rather than mere expressions of good intent so that it can be reflected on?

Finally, I ask that the emphasis on a people-centred approach continue. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said so clearly and well, there is a profound need to avoid repetition through having a people-centred system.

I thank the most reverend Primate for those points. He has educated me this afternoon because I did not realise that the Church of England gave the Windrush generation such an awful reception. It feels a bit like a confessional at the moment, but it is reflected in the report that we all need to look to ourselves to see where we have gone wrong. The report is not a blame game but a narrative over almost 70 years of where everyone failed these people. The Home Secretary has not replied to the recommendations yet—one would not expect her to—but I will certainly take those points on the recommendations back. Reconciliation can bring out some wonderful things; in learning about people’s history, you understand people so much better. I will take those points back, and the Secretary of State will respond in full before the Summer Recess.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this review to the House so promptly and for the tone and content of the Statement. As a former Minister at the Home Office, between 2014 and 2016, I add my sense of regret at the failings that happened during that time and for the people affected in the report. Does my noble friend agree with me that one of the profound things about the report is that the story is told not through legalese and dry analysis, as is often the case, but through personal stories of individuals whose lives have been affected? It is a model and type that we should seek to follow. It reminds us that public policy is not just process; it is about people, first of all.

An important element in the Statement states:

“We must all look to ourselves. We must all do better at walking in other people’s shoes.”

That seems profoundly important as we go forward and address legislation in the future. In that regard—this is not something that I am looking for an answer to now—will my noble friend take this away? There is currently before another place the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill—a new government Bill. Probably one of the best ways of honouring the victims and survivors and addressing the heartfelt apology to the people affected by the failings of the past will be to try to find some way, as we take that Bill through, for the Home Office to reflect the humanity and the people first.

I thank my noble friend. Like he does, I feel regret for the failings, which are so well reflected. Without pinning blame or naming and shaming, it is an incredible document. I confess that I have not read it all thoroughly, but what I have read is absolutely gripping. It is a narrative of people’s lives over 70 years—personal stories, as my noble friend says. When he talks about future legislation, particularly that immigration Bill, it reflects the points made by the most reverend Primate about checking who we are by the legislation that we bring forward. That is a really helpful point, which I will take back. This review by Wendy Williams will almost form a textbook for the future, for people to learn from. It is so moving, with so many stories. I thank my noble friend for that.

House adjourned at 5.17 pm.