Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who will take part in this important debate. In 2018, to celebrate Windrush’s 70th anniversary, I had a vision of creating a Windrush garden for the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show. The RHS was fully behind the idea, and I set about trying to raise sponsorship for the garden. I spoke to numerous large companies, banks and supermarkets, but I got nowhere. They would ask, “What is this ‘wind rush’? We know nothing about it”. Then came the press revelations of the Windrush scandal, which shone a spotlight on that terrible injustice. Suddenly everybody in the country knew what Windrush was, and people were scrambling to be involved.
I believe out of bad comes good. Not only did we receive an RHS gold medal for the Windrush Garden, which was eventually sponsored by Birmingham City Council, but the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, decided to create an annual Windrush Day on 22 June, a dream of the late Sam King, with the commitment of £500,000 each year for community projects. Most importantly, she committed £1 million to erect a national Windrush monument to recognise the contribution made by Caribbean people to Britain. She asked me to chair the Windrush Commemoration Committee and gave me the responsibility of overseeing this historic creation.
This task took four hard, challenging years, littered with obstacles and setbacks but, with total commitment and dogged determination, a magnificent 12-foot high monument, designed by the world-renowned Jamaican artist Basil Watson, was delivered and unveiled at Waterloo station last year, on Windrush Day, by Windrush pioneers and their descendants and in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales. It is now part of British history, and millions of people will see it, including schoolchildren when they pass through Waterloo station on school trips. The monument has quickly become a landmark, and Network Rail plans to hold a 75th commemoration event there to celebrate its links with the Windrush generation.
The Windrush Commemoration Committee and I were very pleased to have come under budget with the monument, and had an underspend of approximately £200,000, partly because many organisations supported the project as their way of acknowledging the wrongs of the Windrush scandal. It had planned that we would use the underspend to develop a comprehensive Windrush IT educational resource to support the monument as part of the lasting legacy. Can the Minister let me know what plans her department has to fulfil that important obligation and promise to the nation?
Many British Caribbean people relocated to Britain as pioneers in 1948, loyally and courageously answering the call to come and rebuild the country after the Second World War. The thousands who followed up until 1973 also showed bravery, resilience, dignity, pride and fortitude, despite facing rejection, humiliation, violence and hatred. They came with hope and optimism in their hearts. They would not have known then that their arrival would mark a pivotal moment in British history. Many Caribbean people who visit the monument at Waterloo are moved to tears and overcome with emotion, as it evokes memories of the treatment that they received when they arrived in Britain. Some say that they wished that their deceased relatives were still alive to see this monumental symbol.
I am part of that lived Windrush experience, because I came to England in 1960 as a 10 year-old, travelling from Trinidad by ship, then by train from Southampton to Waterloo station, arriving on platform 19 with my grip—what we Caribbeans call a suitcase—just a few feet away from where the national Windrush monument now stands. Who would have thought? This is why I say to children and young people, “Never give up”. Today in every part of British life, people are finally recognising the massive contribution that the Windrush generation and their descendants have made. This chapter of our history is now being acknowledged, celebrated and studied in every corner of the country.
My book Coming to England is now read in almost every school in Britain, and I get letters from seven year-olds saying that they now know all about Windrush and will never be racist towards anyone because of the colour of their skin or because they are different. They say that they see me and others from the Windrush generation—for example, religious and business leaders, politicians, writers, actors and sporting heroes—as role models, and understand what it is like to be black. Childhood lasts a lifetime, so this gives me a great feeling of hope and optimism, especially when I think of the time when I came to Britain and my classmates relentlessly called me racist names. They did not know where Trinidad was, and told me to go back to where I came from.
We are now at a significant moment in history, so I ask the Minister: what are the Government doing to further encourage knowledge of the Windrush experience to be taught in schools today as an important part of British history? The National Archives holds copies of passenger lists of the many ships that brought Caribbean people to the UK. When I saw my name on a 1960 passenger list, I was overcome with emotion and wept looking back at my past history. I recommend visiting the National Archives to anyone who made a similar journey. This year, as part of the Windrush 75 celebration, it is formulating an educational schools project to empower ethnically informed learning of British history.
I was asked by the now King Charles to set up a Windrush portrait committee, as he wanted to celebrate Windrush 75—which coincides with his birthday and now also his coronation—by having 10 portraits painted of Windrush elders over 90 who have made a contribution to British society in areas such as the NHS and the economic well-being of Britain across the decades—those whose shoulders we now stand on, as they had to overcome adversity and prejudice on a daily basis to survive. The committee scoured the country to find eligible sitters, which we did, except in Scotland, where we could find only one, who is in their 80s. The finished portraits will be unveiled at Buckingham Palace and will become part of the Royal Collection and represent communities nationwide.
The BBC is producing a documentary about that project. ITV is also producing a documentary about the Windrush experience, telling the story of Windrush pioneers such as Alford Gardner and John Richards, the last two living passengers to have arrived on the “Empire Windrush” 75 years ago. There will also be a Royal Mail stamp and a 50 pence coin, beautifully designed by Valda Jackson, to celebrate Windrush 75 and honour those who have helped enrich British society. Tilbury Docks, where the “Empire Windrush” landed, will be holding events to mark the 75th anniversary. There will be other community events across the country.
This year, there should be a promise of jubilant celebrations of the Windrush 75th anniversary. However, I recently wrote to the Prime Minister after reports that the Home Secretary was planning to go back on the recommendations in Wendy Williams’s lessons learned report. I told him that this would be disrespectful and perceived as wicked, vindictive and heartless. Because of the Windrush scandal, one can be forgiven for feeling anxious, nervous and worried. I have not yet received an answer from the Prime Minister and the silence and uncertainty are casting a shadow on the plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary joyfully. It feels like an insult to people such as me and thousands of others who have dedicated their lives to this country and have made a difference to other people’s lives. However, I am an optimist and believe that, eventually, good will prevail. But we all need to work together to prepare the way forward as a solid foundation for future generations.
The Government must play their part by supporting and leading the way for the Windrush 75th anniversary and show that they truly care about the feelings of the Windrush generation in every respect—to make them feel valued, appreciated and celebrated. I ask the Minister: what are the Government planning to do to build on the work already done and to put the stain on British history of the Windrush scandal and the hurt caused to the Windrush victims behind us, once and for all? The Windrush generation and the decent, compassionate people of this country deserve no less. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on this important subject.
My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I am grateful for all the work she has done in making sure that the issue of the Windrush generation is high up the political agenda. I associate myself with her words and would be happy to work with her in the future.
We in this country owe a great debt of gratitude to the Windrush generation. When the United Kingdom faced a post-war labour shortage, it was people from the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth who saved our public services. The noble Baroness and others speak of Afro-Caribbean people, but on the “Empire Windrush” there were also Indo-Caribbean and Chinese-Caribbean people. They also played their role.
On my phone, I keep an early 1950s press clipping from a local newspaper in Guyana about two young men, Muntaz Kamall and Vincent Wong, who were sailing on the MV “Wiruni” to Trinidad and then catching another ship, the SS “Colombie”, to England. Muntaz Kamall was my father. He was part of the Windrush generation and came to work on the railways and then as a bus driver. His brother joined the Post Office and his sister was an NHS nurse—a story so typical of many families from the Commonwealth and their contribution to this country.
When the “Windrush” docked at Tilbury in 1948, many of its passengers were veterans who had fought for Britain in the Second World War against the spectre of fascism in Europe. But how did we repay their loyalty and willingness to rebuild post-war Britain? While calypso artist Lord Kitchener sang
“London is the place for me”,
neither the Labour Prime Minister nor the Conservative leader wanted the “Windrush” to dock here.
In later years, as members of the European Union, we had so-called freedom of movement—an immigration policy of discrimination making it easier for mostly white EU citizens than for mostly non-white non-EU citizens. Whenever anyone suggests that the UK rejoins the EU single market, they should be reminded that it would mean returning to a discriminatory—many would say racist—immigration policy.
We let down not only immigrants from the Commonwealth but the Commonwealth itself, with a post-war Foreign Office establishment preferring white Europe and viewing the Commonwealth as an embarrassing legacy of the former Empire. However, today we see countries not previously part of the Empire asking to join, while existing Commonwealth members take it more seriously. I refer noble Lords to my register of interests as a lecturer on international politics; from a geopolitical angle, it is an appealing global and multiregional international organisation of which the US, Russia and China are not members. Aspiring applicants see it as a safe haven. I hope that noble Lords will join the Commonwealth APPG and go to future meetings to listen to people from other countries talk about their experiences of and visions for the Commonwealth.
Alan Johnson, a former Labour Home Secretary, admitted that the order to destroy the records happened under his watch but said that
“it was an administrative decision taken by the UK Border Agency.”
I do not blame him—I do not blame that decision on politicians—but how did we have a system that allowed this to happen? Why did people not think about microfiche or digitising the records? Why did we allow this to be a stain on our national record? Let us make sure it never happens again and join the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in celebrating this 75th anniversary. Let us bring justice to the Windrush generation. What is my noble friend the Minister doing in her department to clear the backlog?
My Lords, I thank my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for this short debate. It is very significant at this time as we recognise the rights of workers and the importance of the National Health Service, both of which were fought for and built by the Windrush generation.
In 1948, as has been mentioned, there was a labour shortage in the United Kingdom following the end of the Second World War. On 22 June 1948, His Majesty’s Troopship “Empire Windrush” travelled back to the UK from the Commonwealth with hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth to fill this labour shortage. Many such passengers continued to arrive in the UK until 1973. These people were popularly referred to as the Windrush generation. The adult passengers had immigration papers, but children travelled on their family members’ passports and did not have their own. The adults went into industries such as the buses and railways, and those who were qualified went into the NHS, which began on 5 July 1948.
A report published by the National Audit Office in 2018 found that the Windrush generation, who were given the “right of abode” in the UK under the Immigration Act 1971, were adversely affected by immigration legislation from subsequent Governments. This was because, in many cases, the Government did not provide documents or keep records confirming their status. These people who did not have UK passports or sufficient documents to prove their right of abode have been subjected to detention, deportation, loss of employment, homelessness, loss of access to healthcare and benefits, and being unable to return if they left the UK. The Windrush scandal came to light in 2018 but was happening as far back as 10 years prior to that.
For a nation that has records of all slaves and was able to compensate each slave owner for the loss of their “property” in the slave owner compensation scheme—the collection of such compensation went on until 1943—I find it disappointing that the Government and the Home Office claim not to have kept records of those who have been caught up in this scandal.
As for the situation so far, the Government acknowledged the wrong in 2018, and many Home Secretaries have apologised to those affected. In 2019, the Government set up the Windrush compensation scheme, which people can apply to until 2 April 2023. Wendy Williams’s report was commissioned by the Home Office, and in 2020 her original Windrush Lessons Learned Review was published. The report aimed to identify the factors that led to members of the Windrush generation being caught up in immigration enforcement measures which were designed for those who were in the country unlawfully—
Wendy Williams made 30 recommendations. In conclusion, on behalf of those who have been affected, I ask the Government to help right those wrongs by implementing Wendy Williams’s recommendations in compensating all affected by the Windrush scandal.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for this important and timely debate. I thank other Members who have spoken so eloquently about the contribution of Caribbean people to this country.
In 1948, we invited Caribbean people to come to this country to help rebuild after the terrible devastation of the war. Some were welcomed; indeed, I have an auntie and uncle who, for 40 years, offered accommodation to people coming from the Caribbean. They did it joyfully and gladly and introduced them, wherever possible, into their Methodist church. However, at the same time there were many instances where they were not welcomed and, sadly, not even welcomed into some of our churches. They experienced appalling racism, which was simply shameful.
We in the Church of England have expressed our regret and shame at the treatment of many people of that Windrush generation. Three years ago, we voted unanimously in our General Synod to apologise for any racism and to give joyful thanks for the wider contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants to British life and culture. Last week, my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that the Church Commissioners are setting aside £100 million over the coming years to work with those communities adversely impacted by historic slavery—which, of course, goes way back beyond the specific point on the Windrush generation but is nevertheless part of the same phenomenon.
It is important that we, both as a Church and as a nation, continue to put right the wrongs of history. Perhaps the simplest and most effective way we can do that now is to celebrate the contribution of Caribbean people to Britain. Indeed, a large part of that contribution is seen in the many Caribbean Christian communities we have here in the UK. They have made a unique contribution to the Christian culture of our country, providing pastoral care for a little over half a million British-Caribbean people. They have championed numerous social causes, including the fight against racial injustice and knife crime. With almost three-quarters of under-25s killed in London last year coming from the Afro-Caribbean community, it is important that Caribbean churches continue their important work. We need to challenge our history of racism and celebrate the Windrush generation and Caribbean people in Britain. That is an important first step.
My Lords, the celebration of the Windrush generation is long overdue. Just think of all those men and women who were born thousands of miles away in a land they loved and left their friends and loved ones behind, making their way to the shores of this sceptred isle, seeking a better life. It was not an easy move, but they did it. It takes courage and fortitude to leave everything behind and start a new life in another country. You have to be in that situation to understand the feelings of loss you suffer in those early days and months, not to mention the slings and arrows of racial discrimination. This happened to me. I was only 14 when I came to join my father here. I remember to this day how I cried in the early weeks and months before I settled into my new life in this country.
I have great admiration for the Windrush generation, who made their way here to work in British industry and help to build this country. This celebration of them is long overdue. In acknowledging and appreciating the contribution of the Caribbean people, we should recognise that Britain owes so much of what we take for granted today to the contribution of people from across the world, particularly the Commonwealth countries, including the south Asian communities who came here after the war, seeking a better life. These were men like my father, who came to Britain in 1957 and worked in the foundries of the West Midlands, along with other immigrants who worked in not just the foundries but other heavy engineering industries as well. You have to work in those places to know what heavy and dirty work it was. It was soul-destroying. We must remember their contribution. We must also celebrate the unity among all the diverse immigrant communities at the time of the Windrush generation, who toiled alongside each other to make Britain great. Unity is a lesson we must never forget.
Once more, I congratulate the noble Baroness on organising this debate on the 75th anniversary celebration of the Windrush generation. I sincerely hope that the Government will implement all 30 recommendations of the Wendy Williams review.
My Lords, the history of Afro-Caribbeans in modern Britain begins with the arrival of the “Empire Windrush” on 21 June 1948, which brought hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean to meet the labour shortage. They had been here before; what was new with the “Empire Windrush” was that they had arrived in this form, at this point in history and at this particular destination.
What has been their contribution during the 75 years they have been here? It is immense and best understood at three levels. The first level is what I would call moral and spiritual. They have forced us to recognise our racism. When we met them, we talked about human dignity but showed little of it in our behaviour. They forced us—sometimes patiently, sometimes through struggle—to recognise their fellow humanity. In so doing, they have allowed us to raise our level of moral consciousness and raised us as a people. One people’s ability to raise the moral level of another is a great contribution for that community to make.
The second level of their contribution is very considerable. It is that they kept us going as a society. There were lots of areas where we desperately needed their labour and that labour was available, from the NHS to transport, music, drama, sports and athletics. Mention an area and you see the beginning of a new energy, which activates not only them but a lot of the British people and begins to show the emergence of new traditions and new kinds of dance and music.
The third important thing that the Windrush generation did was to be readily available for any kind of work that British society expected of them.
I end by suggesting that the Windrush generation’s contribution would have been much greater than it has been so far if only they had not been subjected to what I generally call institutionalised racism. That is a concept that some people seem to resist but I want to push it because it is absolutely valid. One comes to it if one asks a simple question. Nobody seems to practise racism, yet still it happens. I do not see anyone discriminating against me, but the reality is that I am discriminated against. How do we explain this gap between my personal experience and what is happening? It is caused by the concept of institutionalised racism. Therefore, when one talks about institutionalised racism, the important thing is not to ask, “Who did it?”. It is like a man starving to death. You ask, “Who did it?” when nobody did it. Does it mean that it is of no concern? No. The question to ask is not who did it, but how did it happen? What were the processes in our society that allowed this to happen? What could we have done? I therefore suggest that institutionalised racism is an important concept.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for securing this debate and for her powerful, positive contribution in introducing it. The noble Baroness referred to the problem of amnesia, which has had so much impact on the Windrush generation and their descendants. In the interests of making a modest contribution to tackling an amnesia that goes much further back, I will look at the part of this debate that focuses on the Caribbean contribution to Britain before the Windrush generation.
I will start in Bristol in the 1640s with a woman called Frances. We do not know her surname or anything about her origins except that she was black and worked as a maid, and it is very likely that she was either from the Caribbean or came through the Caribbean. Remember that we are in the 1640s here. We know about her because she was a leader of a radical religious congregation there and one of the church elders in that congregation, Edward Turtle, wrote about her. We have only a trace of her but she was there, contributing to British society in the 17th century.
I come forward to London in the early 19th century, to a man we know rather more about, Robert Wedderburn. He was the son of an enslaved woman from Jamaica, but his mother was sold on so he was raised by his grandmother. To escape the plantation, he joined the British Navy and then became a campaigner against the abuse of sailors, the quality of the food and the living conditions. He then moved on to write a book in 1824, The Horrors of Slavery, a tract that was hugely influential with the anti-slavery movement. We have here a person from the Caribbean contributing very significantly to British intellectual life.
I will move forward a little further and invite your Lordships perhaps to wander down to the Royal Gallery and look at the painting of the Battle of Trafalgar. Wedderburn was a member of the British Navy in that era, and about a quarter of the Navy then was from minoritised communities; significant numbers would have been from the Caribbean. I therefore invite your Lordships to go down to the Royal Gallery to look at the painting of the Battle of Trafalgar there and see how representative you think it is of the Royal Navy of the time.
To come forward again, to 1944, just a few scant years before the Windrush generation, some people might know that about 2,000 Chinese seamen were deported from Britain after the Second World War, despite many of them having family and children here. Significant numbers of people from the Caribbean were also deported in the same way four years before Windrush, although that is less well documented. We cannot afford the amnesia to fail to acknowledge that Britain is and always has been a multicultural country, and people from all around the world have contributed to all aspects of British life.
My Lords, in the context of this debate, on which I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I highlight one of the asks of Show Racism the Red Card, of which I am proud to be the vice-president and a trustee. The Government should ensure that black history features explicitly in England’s curriculum. It already happens in Wales.
Of course, lots of schools engage fully with Black History Month in October but may not focus on the role played by our black communities in England at any other time; neither do they explicitly address the origins of racism. Given what we all know about the treatment of the Windrush generation, this anniversary would be an appropriate time to bring the Windrush and so many other aspects of black history and black experience explicitly into England’s national curriculum.
We often say that the curriculum should be a mirror and a window—a mirror so that pupils and students can see themselves reflected in what is presented, but also a window so that they can see beyond the classroom. Many black children do not see themselves reflected. There are now many excellent books, including the one by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, but the Runnymede Trust says that only 1% of GCSE students read a book by an author of colour. In this 75th anniversary, perhaps the Government can encourage all schools to teach about the Windrush, focusing not just on the arrival of the ship but on why Britain encouraged migration from the Caribbean, the hostile way in which people who were encouraged to come were often received, and their treatment decades later, for which compensation is still awaited.
At Show Racism the Red Card, the education team, working with current and former footballers, including Trinidad’s Shaka Hislop, talk to children about what racism is and how we can work to eradicate it. Much good work is done in many schools but, alas, not in all. A Windrush stamp and a 50p coin are exceedingly worth while, but a proper place in England’s school curriculum for the breadth of black experience would be a lasting and fitting commemoration of and for the Windrush generation.
My Lords, I join all speakers in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for introducing this important debate. I have three questions.
First, the Windrush generation has given the UK so much, since docking at Tilbury to help us rebuild our country after the war—extra hands that were so sorely needed. However, those people have also contributed dance, art, writing, cuisine and music, which have done so much to enrich British culture. Do the Government recognise that the Windrush generation has made such an important contribution, which merits a jubilant celebration on the 75th anniversary? Can they give an unequivocal commitment to supporting and sponsoring such a celebration?
Secondly, we cannot avoid the Windrush compensation scheme in this debate. It is a scandal. If there is any doubt about the extent of the scandal, I invite people to read the Commons debate that took place in Westminster Hall, when MP after MP expressed the problems that they faced in their constituencies. It seems that the Home Office would rather make gestures to change but continue with the same culture. The only solution is to take the scheme out of the Home Office and transfer it to an independent organisation that will properly deliver the compensation due.
If the Government are serious about giving the generation its due, they should commit to enact in full all the recommendations of the Wendy Williams review. They should not mark their own homework but should invite Wendy Williams to come back and tell us whether her recommendations have been fulfilled.
Thirdly, there should be a celebration; that is absolutely clear. The lead in determining the form of that celebration should come from the Windrush generation itself—this is absolutely essential—although, in conclusion, I hope I might be forgiven for suggesting that Brixton should have an important role in such a celebration.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord read my speech. Certainly, he has covered most of the things that I was hoping to include. I commend my noble friend Lady Benjamin on her work on this issue. In fact, she is so determined, as I am sure noble Lords will have noticed from her remarks this afternoon, that it would not surprise me if she had built the National Windrush Monument with her bare hands.
I want just to mention what has given rise to all this: the role of migrants to this country, during and after the Second World War, in rebuilding Britain. They were not treated very nicely. I have seen “Call the Midwife”; I know of the racism that Nurse Anderson, represented by the actress Leonie Elliott, experienced when she first came here. Sometimes these popular programmes can show us more than we can necessarily learn from a textbook. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, on his powerful words and personal experience.
We had the Windrush scandal, as we know. When people first came over on the “Windrush” and subsequent ships, although they were skilled in the war, they were given menial jobs to do to help rebuild this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Sahota, said. They were given the dirty jobs. I come from Birmingham; I know how dirty it can be. So I fully understand the work and the contribution that they have made.
To today: here we are, however many years later, with black people, people from the Caribbean and South Asian communities all still subject to racism. It is quite a stain on our character. I realise that my time has now run out. I just emphasise the question that my noble friend Lady Benjamin asked: are the Government going to honour the promises made by Wendy Williams? My understanding is that there is a £500,000 arts promise for every year; I would like to know specifically what the Government are going to do.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for securing this debate and introducing it so eloquently. I also thank all noble Lords across the House for their personal, emotional and powerful contributions. We all owe enormous gratitude to the Windrush generation, who played a pivotal role in rebuilding the Britain that we know today. That generation of Caribbean immigrants, many of whom had already fought for our country during the Second World War, arrived after a torturous journey and were too often met with hostility on their arrival, despite their hope for a better future. It is because of the contribution that they and their families have made to the UK today, as well as their profound impact on Britain’s social, cultural and economic life, that we must do all we can for them today. It is precisely because of this that the Home Office’s Windrush scandal caused so much pain and anguish. Full acceptance and implementation of Wendy Williams’s recommendations is the bare minimum that they deserve. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office remains committed to implementation in full? If it does, what is the plan for implementation? Can the Minister tell the House what the target date for the completion of any plan is?
I am incredibly pleased that this House has an opportunity to celebrate the contribution that Caribbean people have made to Britain. As a son of immigrants who came here in the 1960s, I understand the great challenges that that generation faced moving to a new country and a new culture because my parents undertook the same pursuit with courage and fortitude, which my noble friend Lord Sahota spoke about.
On top of the community events and projects that people are already organising around the country, the Windrush generation will be celebrated on the first set of King Charles commemorative coins. His Majesty has also commissioned portraits to mark the contribution of the Windrush generation.
I finish by briefly sharing a quote from a daughter of the Windrush generation, Andrea Levy:
“There are some words that once spoken will split the world in two. There would be the life before you breathed them and then the altered life after they’d been said. They take a long time to find, words like that. They make you hesitate. Choose with care.”
That is from Andrea’s fourth novel, Small Island, one of the defining books of this century and an absolute credit to the contribution that Caribbean people have made to Britain in the years since HMT “Windrush”. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said that she is an optimist. She believes that out of bad comes good. When will the Government come good to fully address the Windrush scandal?
My Lords, I sincerely thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, both for bringing this debate to the House and for all the work she has done, and I know will continue to do, for the Windrush generation. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate with some very informed but also passionate speeches. I know that they have been short but the passion has come through.
Before I get into my speech, I want to bring up a couple of things that I think will answer many of the questions asked. My noble friend Lord Kamall and the noble Lords, Lord Davies and Lord Khan, rightly asked about compensation. The Home Office has continued, and will continue, to listen and respond to the affected communities about how the scheme operates and its accessibility. We have published a redesigned claim form; I hope that it is now easier for people to complete it but I am sure that Home Office Ministers will be pleased, if there is anything that they can do better, to do it. We are now fully focused on reducing the time between the claim submissions and the decisions. We have put more people into those teams in order to do that. We expect to reduce the work in progress in the coming months. I hope noble Lords will hold us to account on that because it is extremely important.
Noble Lords also brought up progress on Wendy Williams’s recommendations. I assure them that the Home Office is making real progress in delivering against those recommendations. It is a work in progress; the Home Office is continuing to do so. I am more than happy to ask the Minister from the Home Office to keep us updated on this issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blower, asked about education. It is extremely important, particularly in some of our schools that do not see as many multiracial children and do not understand our history quite as well. The annual Windrush Day grant scheme has provided £2.75 million to communities to date. A number of those projects will be about doing that but I will take back to the Department for Education ideas on how we can get it further into the curriculum. I have spent many years working with communities in Wiltshire, which is not a very multicultural community, on Black History Month, which is a wonderful celebration of our diversity in this country.
Seventy-five years ago, the MV “Empire Windrush” arrived on the shores of Britain to help rebuild our nation after the Second World War. Thousands of men, women and children moved from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom in the decades that followed, and we are proud to say that they have contributed to every aspect of British life ever since.
The year 2023 is particularly significant because there are two 75th anniversaries. It is also the 75th anniversary of the NHS, which was created just two weeks after the arrival of the “Empire Windrush”. In fact, the two are inseparable. Many of the Windrush generation worked in the NHS to give us the health service of which we are also incredibly proud. Today, ethnic community employees make up almost a quarter of the NHS workforce, along with 42% of medical staff. The staff currently represent 200 nationalities. The NHS has served us all throughout our lives, and it would not have existed without the support of the Windrush generation. They played a vital role not just in our nation’s post-war efforts but in shaping who we are as a nation today. But they did not do so with ease—we accept that. Many of us are all too aware of the hardships they faced: from racial abuse and discrimination in the workplace, to being made to feel unwelcome in a country they came here to help. These wrongs shall never be forgotten.
While it is important that we recognise such challenges, both past and present, it is also important that we celebrate and commemorate the Windrush generation for their contribution to this country and for the aspects of their character that we all admire. It is for these reasons that we must honour the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation’s arrival on our shores. It was in this light that the spirit of this generation was captured so beautifully by Basil Watson in creating the national Windrush monument, which pays tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants, whose contribution to our society until that point had been overlooked for too long. At 12 feet tall, the national Windrush monument will stand testament to the pride and dignity that is the heart of the Windrush generation and will honour them for future generations who pass through Waterloo station—our country’s busiest railway station, which sees 41 million passengers each year. The monument was backed by £1 million of government funding as part of a manifesto commitment. Its unavailing on Windrush Day last year was a truly momentous day for our country, when our nation stood proud. I want to thank again the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, for advising on its creation, as well as the many individuals, organisations and officials who worked so hard to create that fitting tribute—I think it is wonderful. People were moved to tears at the monument’s unveiling, at which the two surviving Windrush pioneers, Alford Gardner and John Richards, were joined by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince and Princess of Wales, who were then The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
At one point Alford Gardner and his family were the only mixed-race family in their neighbourhood, but today the Britain that his descendants grow up in is very different. His 16 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild will grow up in a Britain that is both diverse and inclusive. Another instance is the Commonwealth Games, which were held in Birmingham last year. The games were an incredible success and showcased a city where more than 50% of the population is from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Much has been achieved since Alford Gardner and the Windrush generation arrived on our shores, and we still have much more to achieve, but we can be proud of how far our society has come in this momentous year. I am proud to say that, as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations, as of this week the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has committed £3.75 million towards the day’s celebrations and the National Windrush Monument; £2.75 million has been granted to charities, community groups and local authorities through the Windrush Day grant scheme since 2019; and 160 projects have been funded by the scheme across every region in England, with grants awarded directly to the community, allowing it to commemorate, celebrate and educate about the Windrush generation and the contributions it has made to British life.
One project, Inspiring Audio Ltd, worked with children in Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and London to produce 10 free podcasts to explore the history and social context of the Windrush generation. Another project, Tilbury on the Thames, saw people sail on Windrush Day from Waterloo Pier to the dock where the “Empire Windrush” originally docked in Tilbury, mirroring the historic journey that took place all those years ago.
Without the funding from the grant scheme, many of the projects and celebrations would not have taken place and fewer people would have known about the contributions of this generation to our society. But this is not Windrush history; it is British history. It is vital that we empower communities up and down our country to commemorate and celebrate the important milestone in our history. For this reason I am especially pleased that, in light of the 75th anniversary, we have been able to announce this year’s grant scheme. It is now open to applications. In such an important year we have decided to increase the funding pot from £500,000 to £750,000 properly to mark Windrush 75. Communities in Northern Ireland will now be able to take part in the scheme for the first time.
I am happy to confirm that funding will be allocated to further developing the educational component of the Windrush Monument website in time for Windrush Day 2023. I can also confirm that my officials in the department have been asked further to explore what else we can do to make even more impact for these important celebrations.
As His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales said in his speech at the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument last year:
“Every part of British life is better”
for the half a million men, women and children from the Windrush generation. They have made
“our culture richer, our services stronger, and our fellow countrymen safer.”
For that they have our thanks.