Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a great privilege and honour to represent the Government at this debate on a topic that matters so deeply to us all. We have, over the past few days and weeks, been marking a supremely special moment in our history. The people who arrived in Britain that June day 75 years ago, and in the months and years that followed, are an essential part of our national story. One can only imagine the sense of excitement, anticipation and apprehension that those aboard the HMT “Empire Windrush” felt as they approached Tilbury and disembarked. There would be hardships and obstacles to overcome but, through sacrifice, endurance and an indomitable spirit, overcome they did. In so doing, they played an invaluable role in rebuilding our country and public services in the aftermath of the Second World War. They were, as His Majesty the King put it so aptly, “pioneers”.
What has come to be known as Windrush Day was a hugely significant milestone for those beginning their new lives here, but there is meaning to be found in that day not just for them but for all of us. This was a seminal moment in our collective history, a symbol of the diversity that is a defining feature of our society. The Windrush generation and its children and grandchildren have enhanced and enriched our society in myriad ways. We see it everywhere, in sport, culture, art, business, politics, the National Health Service and the emergency services—the list goes on. So vast and sweeping has been their contribution that it would be a fool’s errand for me to attempt to do it justice in the relatively modest amount of time available to me.
Instead, I shall simply say this: we owe the members of the Windrush generation a huge debt. Our country would be greatly diminished if they had not come here three-quarters of a century ago. It is right that we cherish them, and it is right that we recognise them, not only for all they have contributed and done but for what Windrush signifies. There are all sorts of ways that we can do that, of course. This year’s commemorations have been especially significant as we mark the 75th anniversary. It has been very special indeed to see the Windrush story showcased so prominently through events, documentaries, articles, exhibitions and much more. Above all, it is through hearing and reading the accounts of those who were part of this unique story that one gets a true sense of their accomplishments. The anniversary has been joyous and poignant in equal measure, and I sincerely hope that those being celebrated feel that their voices have been heard and their contributions recognised. The Government have supported that effort through educational, arts and sporting projects and activities across the United Kingdom.
Of course, remembrance and recognition need not be confined to anniversaries. We now have a magnificent National Windrush Monument, following its unveiling at Waterloo station last year. The Government were delighted to provide funding for the project, which stands as a permanent tribute to the Windrush generation and its descendants and a powerful reminder of its contribution for the millions of people who pass through one of our busiest stations every year. Many people helped to make the memorial a reality. I am grateful to every one of them, but it would be remiss of me not to single out the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. This is, of course, a subject of deep personal resonance for her, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in commending her not only on her work on the memorial but also on Windrush generally.
The story of the Windrush generation is uplifting and inspirational—a story of struggles overcome and of resilience through adversity. That the story should come to include a chapter of suffering and distress in recent years is a source of profound sadness for us all. The terrible injustices that have come to light shocked the whole country to its core. What happened to the victims of the Windrush scandal was an outrage; it should never have happened. The effects remain painful and difficult. My department—the Home Office—and indeed the whole Government, are absolutely determined to right the wrongs. Although compensation cannot undo the hurt caused, it was right that the Government put in place schemes to provide documentation and compensation, and I repeat the promises made by successive Home Secretaries that those schemes will not close. We have paid or offered more than £75 million in compensation. We have provided documents to thousands to enable them to document their status.
While righting the wrongs will remain a key focus for the Government, I know that some representatives of that generation are keen for the name “Windrush” to be reclaimed from the taint of that scandal. They want it returned to its original status as a symbol of all that is great about that generation and its descendants—a symbol as strong and visible as the wonderful monument I spoke of a moment ago.
This debate is an opportunity to reflect on all that the Windrush generation, its relatives and its communities have done for our country. It is an opportunity to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of that ship—a ship of hopes, dreams and opportunities. We are here to celebrate and thank those who came to work in the NHS—then, as now, a social innovation like no other, and one that is of course enjoying its own 75th jubilee. We are here to celebrate and thank those who came to revive the post-war transport and industrial infrastructure without which this country would not have flourished in the second half of that century. We are here to celebrate and thank those who brought new vibrancy and artistic energy to enrich our cultural landscape and whose contributions have helped to make Great Britain a world leader in the arts.
We know that members and descendants of that Windrush generation continue to serve their country in many guises, including in the police and fire services, education, the care sector and social work. We see other contributions made to our economy, our social fabric and our futures, whether as business and technology leaders, artists, musicians, scientists, designers and researchers and in sport and charity work. Our spiritual lives have been enhanced by the churches, faith groups and religious leadership provided by members of that community and their relatives. By choosing to serve others, every generation inspires and encourages the next and strengthens the bonds between us all.
I look forward to a debate befitting of the significance of this anniversary as we celebrate the undeniable achievements of the Windrush generation and subsequent generations. I know that we will hear heartfelt and insightful contributions across the House. That being the case, rest assured that I will very shortly take my seat. Before I do, I will quote an immensely powerful poem by Professor Laura Serrant:
“You called…and we came”.
That is exactly right. We called. They came. I will be ever grateful that they did.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for bringing forward this debate and, if I may say, for the tone in which he opened it. It is right that this House should take note of this important anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation. This is, as he has said, a moment to celebrate the enormous contribution of so many who came to rebuild Britain after the Second World War. Notwithstanding complex colonial history and a mixed welcome, they came as some of the most loyal and patriotic British subjects to work in our NHS, construction, transport and, as he said, other vital public services—often, it must be remembered, in undervalued and back-breaking employment.
However, we must also reflect, as the Minister has done, on the betrayal of their children. In one of the worst scandals in British history, inhumanity and illegality on the part of government cost people jobs, homes, healthcare and liberty and saw some of them forcibly transported to faraway islands that some had never known in their adult lives, despite lives of hard work and service to the United Kingdom. Many died broken-hearted and uncompensated. Some are uncompensated still; I am grateful to him for his update, but I hope that the noble Baroness the Minister will take the opportunity perhaps to go further on the ongoing plans to right that wrong, and do so for all outstanding claims very quickly. What is His Majesty’s Government’s estimate of outstanding claims for compensation and what prospect is there of resolving all such claims this year or before the next anniversary?
Preparing for this debate gave me the opportunity to return to Amelia Gentleman’s fine book—which will shortly be returned to your Lordships’ Library. The Windrush Betrayal records not only outstanding and persistent independent journalism, but the real human stories of Paulette Wilson, who had worked in catering in the other place, Anthony Bryan, Sarah O’Connor and countless others and how their lives were devastated by a toxic cocktail of culture war, cruelty and incompetence which we must never repeat. I commend the book to all noble Lords, particularly those with close interest in the working of the Home Office. I remind your Lordships that the background to that scandal—the scandal of demanding papers of people who had come to this country as children 50-plus years earlier—was called the hostile environment: a policy of targets that will always penalise the lowest hanging fruit, and a policy of deterrence. People who had evidence of working and paying tax for decades were detained and even removed, while their landing cards were destroyed in the annals of the Home Office.
It is incumbent on those who speak from this particular spot to always mention ships. Today that task is easy. However, my noble friend the admiral reminds me that the “Empire Windrush” brought not only Caribbean Britons but a number of Polish refugees to these shores. At the time, they were rightly welcomed by the then Government while the refugee convention was still being negotiated and settled. Today, the refrain is a little different. The refrain is “Stop the boats”. There is a universal aspiration that should be striven for with justice and compassion so that human beings are never again relegated to statistics, with all the consequences that will follow. Debate the boats, by all means, but never let us forget the stories of those who came in ships.
My Lords, I thank the Government for having this important celebration debate, and for their commitment to Windrush 75, which they have shown across many departments. I also thank the Minister for his kind remarks.
Five years ago, when we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Windrush, not many people knew what Windrush meant. Fast-forward to the 75th anniversary and things are completely different, which shows that progress is being made. Every news channel and media outlet and numerous magazines covered the anniversary. They could not get enough of Windrush. The scandal brought it to their attention. This was partly due to the creation of the national Windrush Day—22 June—which was the result of a hard-fought 30-year campaign led by the late Sam King MBE, a Windrush pioneer. It was also due to the National Windrush Monument, created to recognise and acknowledge the contribution made by Caribbean people to Britain, which the Minister highlighted.
I was honoured and privileged to chair the Windrush Commemoration Committee, which was responsible for overseeing that historic creation. This enormous task was a labour of love. It 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 the last two known living Windrush pioneers from 1949, Alford Gardner and John Richards, and their descendants. The monument has quickly become a landmark, and Network Rail led a 75th anniversary commemoration event there to celebrate its links to the Windrush generation and laid wreaths in their honour.
The “Empire Windrush” was not the first ship to bring Caribbeans to the motherland in 1948, but it has become a symbol of that quest. The thousands who followed until 1973 also showed great loyalty, courage, bravery, resilience, dignity, pride and fortitude, despite facing rejection, humiliation, violence, death and hatred. They came with hope and optimism in their hearts. Many Caribbean people who visit the monument at Waterloo are moved to tears and overcome with emotion, as it invokes memories of the treatment they received when they arrived in Britain. It has become a place of solace. Some say they wish their deceased relatives were still alive to see this momentous symbol. Many people say, “Meet me by the monument”.
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. Proud, I stood 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, always keep hope in your heart”. Today, in every part of British society, people are finally recognising the massive contribution the Windrush generation and their descendants have made. We are no longer told, “You’ve got a chip on your shoulder”. This chapter of our history is now being acknowledged, celebrated and studied in every corner of the country.
My book Coming to England, which I wrote 27 years ago, is now read in almost every school in Britain. It is more relevant today than ever. I get letters from seven year-olds saying that they now know about Windrush and they will never be racist towards anyone because of the colour of their skin or because they are different. 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 and spat at me. They did not know where Trinidad was and told me to go back to where I came from. At that time, some Caribbean children were even put in schools for the “educationally subnormal” because of their Caribbean accents. Things have not entirely changed. Unbelievably, I am receiving letters from children who are suffering racist abuse in schools and on the streets today, like what I had to endure back in the 1960s. More education is needed. We have to fight this scourge.
We are at a significant moment in history, so I ask the Minister: what are the Government doing to further encourage the teaching of the Windrush experience in schools as an important part of British history? We have to see ourselves to know that we belong. The National Archives holds copies of the passenger lists of many ships that brought Caribbean people to the UK. I wept when I saw my name on one. It is worth mentioning, as the noble Baroness has just said, that not only Caribbean people arrived on the “Empire Windrush” in 1948 but a number of Polish people. Despite also facing adversity, they too have made an enormous contribution to Britain and should be remembered.
This year, as part of the Windrush 75th anniversary celebration, the National Archives formulated an educational schools project to empower ethically informed learning of British history. It arranged for me to speak on a web call to over 15,000 schoolchildren about my Windrush journey. It was so poignant. Who would have thought? King Charles asked me to set up the Windrush Portraits Committee as he wanted to celebrate Windrush 75 by commissioning 10 portraits of Windrush elders over the age of 90—Windrush nobility who have made a contribution to British society in areas such as the NHS and to the economic well-being of Britain across the decades. They are pioneers whose shoulders we now stand on as they had to overcome adversity and prejudices on a daily basis to survive. They have paved the way, and now they have a chance to share the trauma they carried and to tell their untold stories through portraiture. The portraits were unveiled at Buckingham Palace and will be shown at the National Portrait Gallery for seven months. They will become a part of the Royal Collection and represent communities nationwide.
The BBC produced a moving documentary about that project, connecting sitters and artists as they captured the importance of this part of British history—what a legacy. Royal Mail has issued an incredible set of Windrush stamps, which I launched at the Black Cultural Archives. They show how Caribbean culture has helped to shape Britain. The 50 pence coin, beautifully designed by Valda Jackson, also celebrates Windrush 75 and honours those who have paved the way to help enrich British history. The King also held a Windrush 75th anniversary service at St George’s Chapel in Windsor for schoolchildren, which was truly inspirational. The church service at Southwark Cathedral brought church leaders and Windrush communities together from across the country—how things have changed. When Caribbean people first came to Britain, we were told we were not welcome in churches. We had to form our own, black-led churches, such as the New Testament Church of God in 1953, which now has 130 branches across the country full of worshippers.
This year has seen jubilant celebrations of the Windrush 75th anniversary. I believe we must not be defined by the so-called scandal. In fact, I propose it should not be called the Windrush scandal any more but renamed the Home Office scandal. It has caused the misery, trauma and heartache which continue and remain a stain on British society with the unresolved compensation issue of Windrush victims. I have heard from numerous lawyers that the compensation forms are so complex, even legally qualified people have difficulty filling them out.
They tell me numerous claims have been rejected based on inconsistent reasoning and not fully considered, even after appeals. There is a huge backlog of compensation cases. Only 25% of applicants to the scheme have received payments, and 93% of survivors have not been compensated at all. Many are scared to approach the Home Office as it is also the public body of immigration enforcement, the threat of which many have encountered without the documentation to prove their lawful status. Trust has disappeared, and drastic measures are needed to bring it back.
Four years ago, I pleaded with the Government to establish an independent body to oversee the Windrush compensation scheme. My pleas, and those of thousands of others, have been ignored. Once again, I implore the Government to consider this proposal, or perhaps consider an amnesty and pay claimants in full without the need for the traumatic, stressful and painful application process that victims have to go through. After all, the money is there.
We need to put the stain on British history of the Home Office scandal and 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. Anything less is an insult to people like myself and the thousands of others who have dedicated their lives to this country and who have made a difference to the lives of others. The Prime Minister must show he cares too, by engaging with the Windrush community and the Windrush victims. So far, he has not, and public perception matters.
I am an optimist, and I believe that eventually good will prevail. We all need to work together and continue to build a solid foundation for future generations. That is why I am involved in establishing a national Windrush museum, which will do just that. It will bring together all aspects of lived Windrush experience.
I was honoured to represent the Windrush generation and carry the sceptre with dove, representing equality, spirituality and mercy, at King Charles’s diverse and inclusive Coronation, which I believe is a glimpse into the future. Here is to more glorious, all-embracing British historic Windrush celebrations in years to come.
My Lords, it is an honour but also a challenge to follow such an inspirational speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. It is wonderful that a ship, which it is believed was named after a river in the Cotswolds, is now synonymous with a generation of mainly Caribbean people coming to the UK to make it their home. And what a celebration it has been over the last few years: £750,000 for community celebrations, the wonderful monument that many have spoken of in Waterloo station and the 10 beautiful portraits commissioned by His Majesty the King. Even walking home last night, one of those portraits, of Alford Gardner, was on the digital advertising hoarding as I passed by a bus stop.
I suppose I might be biased, as, although I was brought up in rural, then mono-racial Rutland, I have lived in Trinidad and Tobago. There was a food, a culture, a liming with friends and a freedom in expressing your worship of God that I still so deeply appreciate. However, the presence of my noble friend from the Home Office, alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, reminds us that this celebration has been tinged with sadness. Like many churches in the 1950s and 1960s, the Home Office has not always treated the Windrush generation justly or kindly.
There was of course a black community already in the UK. In fact, the first black-led church, Sumner Road Chapel, was established in Peckham in 1906, such were the numbers living here—but Windrush was of course mass migration, which would change the UK, I believe, for the better. I was also reminded recently by a British-Jamaican friend that the reason his parents moved here was because they believed that there were no opportunities for the family, especially the children, back in Jamaica. The way the British ruled Jamaica at that time—it was 14 years after Windrush that Jamaica won its independence—did not give some people confidence in the future for their children.
Of course, so many did make a great future for their children and grandchildren. Although early Windrush migrants faced harsher discrimination than today, sadly some discrimination still exists. The data from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report in 2021 outlined that there are still persistent issues, particularly in education:
“In terms of overall progression, Black Caribbean pupils are the least likely of the main ethnic groups to progress to the more elite high tariff universities by age 19. This progression rate of 5.2% is less than half the overall national figure of 10.9% of all pupils. … Of the main ethnic groups, the Black Caribbean group is the least likely to attend university after the White British group. … New evidence indicates that attainment is closely related to socio-economic status”—
a topic in the headlines at the moment.
“once this is controlled for, all major ethnic groups perform better than White British pupils except for Black Caribbean pupils”.
I would be grateful if the Minister could answer the question I have previously raised in your Lordships’ House, as to whether a specific Windrush scholarship for higher-tariff universities and also Windrush apprenticeships could be founded. Although there are many other issues that need to be addressed to deal with such educational disparities, this would be an important marker.
Of course, there is a tenacity within communities as, despite these educational disparities, and perhaps due to the length of the presence here in the UK as the first mass migration of the 20th century:
“young people from the Black Caribbean ethnic group … have a much lower unemployment rate than those from the Black African ethnic group, even though prejudice faced by both groups is likely to apply in equal measure”.
Along with other noble Lords, I think it is good to believe that the scheme is not going to close, but I also query what positive action is being taken by the Home Office to find the claimants, not only to improve the processes. I pay tribute to the work that civil servants have done in the face of much scrutiny. Perhaps I boldly say that the only uncontroversial fact of the scheme has been its co-chair, Bishop Derek Webley of the New Testament Church of God—which the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin mentioned—who has worked honourably on such a controversial project. I hope that all claimants will be found so the scheme can fade from our memory, as it is rather a cloud on an otherwise wonderful 75-year anniversary.
While we deeply celebrate the amazing people of the Windrush generation, for some there is a haunting of dislocation: dislocation from west Africa; dislocation from the Caribbean; and a dislocation while living in the UK. We are only now beginning to understand the generational impacts for human communities of the severing of ties to land, communities, culture and language. The generational effects of trauma for indigenous people and survivors of the Holocaust might actually, according to research, even be carried in the DNA. We are all the richer and more blessed for the UK Windrush generation, but let us never forget the cost and the suffering over many centuries.
My Lords, in the time available I intend to confine my comments largely to the Windrush compensation arrangements, which have been the subject of debate in this House on a number of occasions. The independent Williams review into the Windrush scandal stated that it was “foreseeable and avoidable”. The compensation scheme is intended to compensate claimants for the losses and adverse impacts suffered.
The original impact assessment said that there was
“significant uncertainty surrounding the volume of claims and associated costs”,
“Compensation and operational costs are estimated in line with the 11,500 eligible claimants planning assumption … Total compensation costs range from £20.5 to £301.3 million … based on the volume range of 3,000 to 15,000 eligible claims”,
with a best estimate of £160.9 million. Those figures, and the wide disparity they indicate, reveal that the Government had not a clue about the size of the issue they faced at that time. Indeed, since then, the projected estimated number of claimants has fallen dramatically and somewhat faster than the rate of inflation. What is the Government’s latest estimate of the total number of likely eligible claims, and how have they come to the conclusion that this is the likely figure? What the Government were pretty sure about was that the average compensation payment should be—since the original planning assumption of 11,500 eligible claimants was going to give rise to estimated compensation costs of £160.9 million—some £14,000. That was a worryingly low and miserly figure, as has been argued in previous Windrush debates.
Let us remind ourselves that these compensation payments are intended to cover losses ranging from detention and removal, loss of employment, loss of housing, loss of access to healthcare, lost education, loss of access to banking and what is described as the “impact on normal daily life”, which apparently includes missing key family events or the inability to travel. Included in that must also be the feelings of rejection, humiliation and injustice—of suddenly being told, wrongly, that you have no status and no right to remain in or return to the country you have lived in for much, if not all, of your life; the country you proudly regarded as your home, in the same way as Members of your Lordships’ House do. Is all that worth compensation of initially, on average, £14,000?
Under pressure, the Government now appear to have been shamed into raising that figure to £37,500 on average on the basis of the most recent figures following changes to the compensation scheme in December 2020 and August 2022. Let us get that into perspective. A recent former Prime Minister—there have now been quite a few of those—once infamously described payment of £250,000 per annum for his newspaper column as “peanuts”. In that case, £37,500 is around one-seventh of “peanuts”.
When it comes to the level of compensation, we are not talking about some relatively minor event where someone got hurt. I am aware, for example, of a personal injury case involving no loss of income and no hospitalisation as an in-patient, but instead the loss of three teeth and bruising, which resulted in damages and compensation of some £22,500. Compare that to the Windrush generation, of which Wendy Williams said:
“The many stories of injustice and hardship are heartbreaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families … They had no reason to doubt their status, or that they belonged in the UK”.
Can the Government in their response indicate what the benchmark was against which they determined that the fluctuating levels of compensation we are talking about—initially, on average, £14,000, and now an average of £37,500—are fair and reasonable and should not be higher in the light of the powerful words in the Williams review to which I have just referred?
The compensation scheme was drawn up to save the Government money, since the original impact assessment states under a heading about the benefits of the compensation scheme:
“The Government will also mitigate the risk of litigation and associated legal costs, which is likely to be more expensive than compensation through the scheme”.
The low level of compensation payments also reflects the Government’s hostile environment policy and their austerity programme. In 2012, the then Home Secretary Theresa May said:
“The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”.
Clearly the then Conservative-led coalition Government did not believe any previous Government had pursued what they would deem a “really hostile environment” policy.
Wendy Williams said in her Windrush Lessons Learned Review that
“the expansion of the hostile environment from 2014 would increase the reach of immigration controls beyond the Home Office, including through increased demands for documentation to prove status, which would ultimately lead to British people being ‘caught up’ in enforcement of the measures”.
Her review also stated that:
“The impact assessments for the Bills leading to the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts didn’t go far enough to identify or address possible risks of the proposed hostile environment policies”.
Indeed, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office confirmed the inadequacy of the department’s impact assessments when he spoke to the Public Accounts Committee about the Windrush scandal on 17 December 2018:
“I completely agree that we should have spotted this issue. It should have appeared in our impact assessments. We should have understood the potential adverse effect of these policies on this population. I completely agree with that”.
Everywhere you look you find that the Windrush generation were let down and badly treated by the Government, and particularly the Home Office. If we were talking about more powerful and influential claimants who had been treated in the same way as the Windrush generation, would we be talking about an average compensation payment of just £37,500? I wish I could say yes, but I cannot. Indeed, would we still be talking, or would the matter have been dealt with and finalised a long time ago? Would the position have been the same if the overwhelming majority of claimants had been white? I hope the answer is yes.
Wendy Williams told the Home Affairs Committee in October 2020,
“this is an opportunity for the Home Office to demonstrate that it is taking things seriously. If 164 people have been recompensed, I struggle to see how the Department can justify that”.
Nearly three years on, the Home Office says that under two-thirds of claims, the number of which was far less than expected, have had a final decision—not exactly meteoric progress.
I have some questions in relation to compensation payments. The Government have said that the compensation scheme allows those who have suffered to avoid court proceedings in pursuit of justice. Could they say in their response if an individual accepting a final offer of compensation under the scheme does or does not then preclude themselves from pursuing the matter further through legal proceedings if that is a step they wish to explore?
Given that changes have been made to the compensation scheme since awards of compensation started to be made, have those who received and accepted final offers before the December 2020 and August 2022 changes were brought into effect had their compensation increased to fully reflect the impact those changes would have had on the offers they received and accepted? How many people in this category had their compensation increased as a result, and how many, if any, did not?
What percentage, if any, of Windrush compensation scheme settlements have been subject to confidentiality agreements in the last year, and why? How many current Windrush compensation claims, if any, have been in process for over 18 months?
There was provision for an independent review by an HMRC adjudicator where a claimant is not satisfied with the outcome of their case. Is that still the position? If so, is it still the case that the Home Office can then reject a recommendation of an independent reviewer? If so, how many cases have been referred to the independent adjudicator; in how many cases has the adjudicator increased the level of compensation; and in how many cases has the Home Office rejected a recommendation of the independent adjudicator?
Rejecting recommendations is now an increasing feature of the Government’s approach. On 26 January 2023, the Home Secretary announced that the Government would not implement three of the 30 recommendations of the Williams review. I seem to recollect the Government having previously told this House that it was good news that all 30 recommendations had been accepted. If I am right, can I take it that the Government’s position is that it is now bad news that only 27 of the 30 recommendations have been accepted? The three recommendations that are now not going to be implemented relate to running a programme of reconciliation events with members of the Windrush generation, appointing a migrants’ commissioner and reviewing the remit and role of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.
Wendy Williams’s response was this:
“I am disappointed that the department has decided not to implement what I see as the crucial external scrutiny measures, namely my recommendations related to the migrants’ commissioner … and the ICIBI … as I believe they will raise the confidence of the Windrush community, but also help the department succeed as it works to protect the wider public, of whom the Windrush generation is such an important part”.
One inevitably suspects that the present Home Secretary saw the migrants’ commissioner and an increased role for the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration as a potential source of challenge and criticism of government actions and policy. It is most unlikely that the decision was driven by what was best for the public, including the Windrush generation, rather than what was in the best interests of the Home Secretary and the Government.
Many fine words have already been said in this debate about the massive contribution of the Windrush generation to life in this country. Perhaps we should also express our appreciation by looking again at the level of compensation payments, which just do not seem to reflect the effects of what Wendy Williams described:
“The many stories of injustice and hardship are heartbreaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families”.
I ask the Government to look again at the level of the compensation payments and await a response in their concluding reply at the end of this debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to His Majesty’s Government for the opportunity to debate this important anniversary. On 22 June, together with the Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies, I had the privilege of welcoming to the national service at Southwark Cathedral Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, bishops from the Caribbean and England, other church leaders, members of the community and, prominently, members of the Windrush generation and their descendants. It was a witness to and thanksgiving for 75 years of change in Britain, the contribution that those pioneers made, how we have changed as a nation and the burdens we have made that generation bear.
The previous week, I attended a reception hosted by His Majesty the King at Buckingham Palace, at which the portraits he had commissioned—we have heard about them—of members of the Windrush generation were exhibited. We not only marvelled at the art but met both sitters and artists. As many of your Lordships will know, the King has previously commissioned series of portraits down the years for those engaged variously in the Battle of Britain and the D-day landings, as well as for those who survived the Holocaust. In each case, we witness in paint people who are the product of extraordinary lives and whose essential character is distilled on to canvas for future generations to remember, interpret and cherish.
Although each piece is by a different artist, this latest exercise in portraiture, now on exhibition in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, has a common feature of the miracle of human personality into old age—something that I am sure this House will appreciate. Many convey extraordinary power and joy; others, a quiet strength, with struggles along the way chiselled into their features. Portraiture reminds us of the intensely personal nature of life away from the great aggregates that normally determine policy. Here are lives that speak of what Governments and communities did in the past and how we treat them now.
It further reminds me of two photographic exhibitions: the first, by the photographer Jim Grover at the OXO Tower on the South Bank, marking the 70th anniversary of Windrush; and the second, a current exhibition also by him at Clapham Library in the Mary Seacole Centre on Clapham High Street, running until September. It includes an image of the war memorial to African and Caribbean servicepeople of two world wars, which was installed in 2017 in Windrush Square in Brixton in the heart of the global diocese of Southwark.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, spoke of the magnificent Windrush monument unveiled last year at Waterloo. That is really where we come in with Windrush. The “Empire Windrush” was a prize of war, a German liner renamed after a river in the Cotswolds that returned many ex-servicemen—for many of the Caribbean travellers on board had served in the RAF—to Britain, whose factories, mines and services faced shortages and whose infrastructure was worn out or in ruins. They were adventurous but not needy. The fare was £28 and 10 shillings—it is rare now to find a group such as your Lordships’ House that knows what I mean when I say “10 shillings”—which was a substantial amount, for the average industrial earnings then were less than £6 a week. The Colonial Office billeted them in my diocese in a deep shelter at Clapham South, and the nearest labour exchange was in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. Hence the association with the area was established. They received a warm welcome from the nearby church of St John, Angell Town. Would that all the churches our friends visited had extended them the same welcome. In many they were rejected and, sadly, that welcome was not to be their experience—a cause of lament, shame and sorrow.
The legacy of the last 75 years is still with us. There are still disproportionate outcomes for which there is no ready or reasonable explanation. In the instance of what we call the Windrush scandal, Amelia Gentleman of the Guardian had been publishing articles setting out the problem with unsettling clarity for months; it is good that her book is in the Chamber. The immediate proximity of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April 2018 made it impossible to ignore what she was saying. The Home Office and the Prime Minister made a public acknowledgement of the wrongs that needed to be righted.
Yet we need to note that, of those affected, only one in four of those who applied to the compensation scheme has received any compensation. The speech from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was telling; 41 individuals who made an application have died while waiting for their claims to be processed. It is worth reminding ourselves that the imposition of what was originally deemed a hostile environment by legislation in 2014 and 2016, requiring proof of a right to remain, has deprived individuals of jobs, homes, benefits and their health. In at least 83 cases—the final total is unknown—individuals with right of abode or indefinite leave to remain were unlawfully deported by the Government.
As one official remarked recently, it represents the crumbling of lives as the weight of unfairness and impossibility is forced upon these people. To have to provide some of the very same documentation that was demanded to prove a right to remain in order to receive compensation leads me to deep concern. It is also a matter of regret that the current Home Secretary decided to drop the Government’s commitment to follow through on the recommendations from the Williams inquiry to establish a migrants’ commissioner; surely that is needed. Reconciliation events have also been dropped, as has the commitment to strengthen the powers of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. A commitment made is better when it is honoured.
I am grateful once again to the Government for facilitating this debate, on a remarkable generation who changed this country for the better. Those of us who live in the midst of great diversity need to articulate a narrative of appreciation and respect for the contribution of those who have helped us become the nation and people we are—equal in dignity, humanity and status, in this United Kingdom of different nations and peoples. We encourage the Government to widen its declaration of appreciation and to express a much deeper appreciation of the positive benefits of immigration, which has in so many ways blessed, enriched and changed our national life and identity.
My Lords, it is a real honour to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Murray, for tabling this Motion. It is indeed a real privilege and an honour to take part in this debate.
This is a momentous occasion—the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation. It is a joyous moment that holds a great significance not just for Britain but for the entire Commonwealth. As we reflect on the past and look towards the future, let us embrace the remarkable contribution made by the Windrush generation along with the other Commonwealth citizens.
“Windrush” signifies more than just a ship’s journey. It also represents the courage and the sacrifices of all those men and women who left behind their place of birth and childhood friends, and the places and the people they loved so much, in search of a better life. They were the pioneers and trailblazers, who embarked on a courageous voyage to Britain after the war. Some of them had fought for Britain in the Second World War and when the call came, they once more came to the rescue—this time the rescue of British industry.
After the Second World War, Britain faced a severe shortage of labour. To build its infrastructure and economy, the Government invited citizens of Britain’s former colonies to fill the void in the labour market—men such as my father, who could not speak a word of English. But they had the guts to get off their backs and sail across the seven seas in search of a better economic life, and work in the foundries, mills and other heavy industries. They brought with them a rich tapestry of music, art, cuisine and literature, creating a multicultural mosaic that continues to thrive to this day. Their influence is evident in the diverse communities up and down the country, the vibrant neighbourhoods that dot the British landscape. Look at the Notting Hill Carnival and Punjabi Mela in the West Midlands—colourful, cheerful and vibrant.
Reflecting back, the Britain of the 1950s and 1960s was on the cusp of modern enlightenment, with new industry, new thinking, new art, new architecture, music, culture, avant garde theatre, the Beatles and the miniskirt. As someone said, the wind of change was sweeping across Africa and Asia.
But—and this is a big but—equality, diversity and inclusiveness were on their way for all races, but they were still some decades away. Racism, prejudice and xenophobia were at their height. Non-white people were treated like second-class citizens. They did the jobs that others did not want to do. They were discriminated against in all walks of life—in housing, jobs, pubs, clubs and every other institution. They suffered just about every human indignity but, slowly and surely, they overcame these indignities. Today, 75 years later, the children and grandchildren of those men and women with fortitude are enjoying the fruits of their forefathers’ labour. They are at the forefront of every sphere of our country’s life, in music, art, literature, academia, sport, politics and running our beloved National Health Service.
As we reflect on this shared history, let us renew our commitment to building a society that values diversity, embraces inclusivity and upholds the rights and the dignity of all. Let us honour the legacy of the Windrush generation and of the others, whatever their country of origin, by fostering a future where every individual, regardless of their background or origin, can thrive and contribute to the collective progress of our society.
My Lords, this is a marvellous moment when we can celebrate remarkable lives, great sacrificial people, or fill our faces with the tears and sadness of the distress that they feel.
Some 135 years before the “Windrush” ship came to Tilbury docks, a great English writer, Jane Austen, gave us the words “Pride and Prejudice”. For so many who came on the HMT “Empire Windrush”, and for the Windrush generation, it was pride: they were proud to come, to give, to serve, to sacrifice, to rebuild, to be representing their own dignity and their own freedom, proud to help Britain reshape, remake and live again. However, for so many others it became prejudice—fearsome, troubled, traumatic, turbulent and, ultimately, incarcerated.
I am a son of a Windrush family. My father came here in 1954. He was a dental surgeon who trained at Edinburgh University. He gained a medical qualification, then a dental qualification, then a dental surgery qualification—a long journey. His father before him was a doctor, not serving in the Caribbean but as a missionary in Angola, where my father was born. Having come to the UK to train, my father went to Jamaica. In the little town of Savanna la Mar—Sav la Mar, or Sav, as the Jamaicans love to call it—he met my very dear mother. They are both now long passed. He fell in love with her while doing her teeth, which is a curious way to discover someone else’s delight. I used to ask my mother, “What did you have in there that was so fascinating?” She never knew, but they married in the parish church in Sav la Mar and made their way here in 1954, coming first to Widnes, a strange little town in the north-west of England where I was born in, dare I say it, 1958.
My father practised at 103 Albert Road, Widnes. I remember so very well that in 1962, when I was just four years of age, I was walking with my mother up the high street towards my father’s practice—he was an NHS dentist, because those were the days of NHS dentists. There was a gentle illustration of the travail that was around us. A lady stopped my mother. It always comes back to my mind; I see every second of it. There was I, a little boy holding my mother’s arm. It was a winter’s day. She had a classic old-fashioned winter coat with false fur around her neck, as we did not have much money. This lady said to my mother, holding her arm, “Tell me, before you came here, did you used to live in trees?”
We laugh at that now but, back then, people’s images of us were not quite that of savages but were certainly that we were not sophisticated—that we had come from poverty to enrich ourselves as well as the nation. I remember my mother’s gentle and kind response so well. She reached out her hand, took the lady’s arm and said, “No, dear. We lived in houses just like you”, and we walked on. She had that spirit of, “I am here to make a life for my family; I am not here to fight your ignorance”.
Just a year ago, at an event in the City of London, a lady had noted that I was on the list of guests and came up to me. She said, “Was your father Petain Hastings of Albert Road, Widnes?” I said, “Yes, he was”. She said, “Well, your father did my mother’s teeth, for which I am eternally grateful to you”. I said, “Look at mine; they mirror my father’s work as well”, and we shared great grins with each other: pride in service and support, joy in giving, and delight in creating a new life.
My brother was born in Huddersfield and moved to the United States to become the dean of MIT. I remained here to become the chancellor of Regent’s University and now the chairman of SOAS at the University of London. We have made a life. But, on the way here today, a Caribbean mother rang me to tell me about her son—32 years of age, reincarcerated for a minor, pathetic, minuscule error. A man who served 10 years inside for crimes he should never have committed, who was released last year, is now back in an approved premises. Why? The prejudicial, discriminatory mindset of the system did not want to give him the grace of a tiny mistake, given all the progress he had made, but made the assumption of continuing danger.
That remaining prejudice causes this fear of policing and the criminal justice system. I experienced that on Wednesday, after the teachers who were striking took their great parade past Parliament Square. It was difficult to get into the House’s parking facilities using my pass, which of course entitles us to be present and not obstructed. A policeman barked at me in an unacceptable way that I should not have moved until he gave me freedom to do so. I pointed out that he had no right to obstruct. He did not like it, but he could not stop me. If I was not me, I might have been banged up against the wall. That is the trauma that the next Windrush generation continue to live with, which must be stopped.
This week’s Voice newspaper is headlined “Let’s save our boys”. It is talking about how Caribbean boys are five times more likely to attend a pupil referral unit, which is virtually a direct line to incarceration and imprisonment. The Department for Education and the Home Office know it. The key figure is that 1% of Caribbean children get five good GCSEs at pupil referral units—in other words, persistent, expected failure.
We want to restore the pride in the people who came here to build, but the prejudice remains too persistent. A summary of Jane Austen’s great book Pride and Prejudice says that it is “A story of girls who made hasty and rash decisions and learned to pay the consequences”. The people who came here as Windrush sacrifices did not make hasty decisions, but those who hold prejudice against them frequently do, whether compensations, incarcerations or referrals to pupil referral units.
I ask the Ministers present to stop skirting around these tough issues for young black men and women. Stop skirting around incarceration pressures and give us back the pride that was the reason for coming here and building a nation of equality and opportunity.
My Lords, it has been such a privilege to take part in this debate. To hear the testimony and descriptions of earlier speakers is intimidating. It would be invidious to pick out particular speakers, but I have to mention the introduction by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, explaining how we got here. I also must pay regard to what was said by my noble friend Lord Rosser in his extraordinarily powerful explanation of why there is still so much discontent with the scheme, despite what the Home Office has tried to do.
I hope that I will be forgiven for striking a personal note. Britain, London and Brixton in particular owe a debt to the people of the Windrush generation for all that they have contributed over the last 75 years. It is entirely right that we should testify to that debt in this debate.
I mentioned Brixton because that is where I live and where my partner and I have raised a family, hence my territorial designation. For the avoidance of doubt, I make it clear that I do not claim to speak on behalf of the people of Brixton. We have three excellent MPs who can do that much better than I can. But I can speak for myself and testify to the debt that we owe the Windrush generation from my experience of living in that part of the inner city for nigh on 40 years—an area that offers so much to what London, the greatest city on earth, has to offer. It is truly a melting pot, mixing the full range of cultures and experiences. At the extreme, it even provides a home for someone like myself who started life in north London. It is a truly multicultural society at ease with itself. Brixton makes no great demands on those who live there; you can certainly be yourself.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark already mentioned, these things happen partly by chance. The arrivals on that epoch-making trip on HMT “Empire Windrush” were housed in Clapham, so it was to the labour exchange in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton that many came to seek work on their arrival. Later arrivals followed their lead. They sought housing in the area, which was cheap at the time. Much of it was run-down, in multiple occupation and still suffered the scars of the late war, but it was available in those pre-gentrification days. They did not come just to Brixton, of course, but nevertheless the result was and still is a special connection between Brixton and those of the Windrush generation. It has proved to be the centre of many events held to mark this special time.
There have of course been ups and downs—to say the least—over 75 years and some parts of the story are contested. Times were tough. The pioneers and the younger generations who followed had to cope with discrimination and poor living conditions. They had to battle for their civil and employment rights, and doubtless more still needs to be done. However, I believe that, in Brixton, we have created something special that would not have been attained without those who came on the “Empire Windrush” and those who followed.
In moving the Motion and paying tribute to the Windrush generation, the Minister chose the right words, but we are looking for actions not words. I am glad that we have been re-joined by my noble friend Lord Rosser, who made the point so clearly. What happened was shocking and has only been compounded by the difficulties that have arisen.
I want to raise an additional issue: the frozen pensions policy has had a deleterious effect on large numbers of those with a Windrush heritage—not all, of course, but that simply goes to point out the injustice of frozen pensions. I understand that I do not have the right Ministers here to get a detailed response, but it is important to understand that this is part of how people perceive they are being treated by the Government. The policy, for those new readers, is the arbitrary winners-and-losers approach to making increases in UK state pensions for those who choose to retire abroad. Recipients in some countries have increases each year in line with those granted to pensioners in the UK, but those in other countries, totalling half a million, do not: their pensions are frozen at the date they moved abroad and in real terms their state pension falls each year.
The impact is substantial. Simplifying somewhat, the basic state pension is currently £156 a week, but over half of those with a frozen pension are receiving £65 a week or less. That is lost income each year of £5,000 or more. British pensioners in all but two Caribbean countries have frozen state pensions. Those in Barbados and Jamaica are the lucky ones, but there are 300 people with frozen pensions in Antigua and Barbuda, 1,300 in Trinidad and Tobago, 900 in Grenada, 800 in St Lucia, and hundreds more spread across other Caribbean islands. The injustice of the policy is clear, but the Government and past Governments have hidden behind the need for so-called reciprocal agreements—we pay increases to our pensioners in country Y only if it pays increases to its pensioners in the UK. For many years, successive Governments have consistently refused to negotiate any more such agreements, leading to the entirely arbitrary distinctions we see today.
Just to remind ourselves, members of the Windrush generation were invited to live and work in the UK to help run Britain, and they devoted their working lives to this country. It is manifestly wrong to punish them so severely simply because they have returned to their countries of birth for retirement.
My Lords, I declare my interest as London’s Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, as I will refer to the Mayor of London and the London Fire Brigade in my speech.
I join others in thanking the Minister for his warm words about the contribution of the Windrush generation. I have particularly enjoyed, and feel privileged to speak in, this debate today, not least hearing from those noble Lords whose journey to this House started with their parents deciding to take their families on a journey to this country on a boat from the Caribbean.
It is really important to celebrate the pivotal role that the Windrush generation and their descendants have played in the UK as a whole, particularly in London. I agree with my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton that London is the most fantastic city in the world. He spoke with warmth about Brixton and the rich cultural and economic contribution that the Windrush generation made to his part of London.
In many ways, his London is my London: I spent my early childhood in south-east London, with Brixton Market on our doorstep. As an adult, when I returned to south London, I had the fortune to meet the late Sam King MBE, who has already been mentioned in the debate. As noble Lords will know, he was one of the first passengers to arrive on the “Empire Windrush” at Tilbury docks on 22 June 1948. The welcome that the new arrivals received from the mayor at Lambeth Town Hall, based in Brixton, was one of the only formal welcomes that the newly arrived people from the “Empire Windrush” received. The right reverend Prelate noted that there was a welcome in one of the local churches as well. The local MP also spoke up for them. Not surprisingly, many of the new arrivals made Brixton and the surrounding areas their home and, as we noted, their descendants remain at the heart of the community.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, Sam King was one of the co-founders of the Windrush Foundation and became the first black mayor of Southwark. He was rightly proud of his journey and what he achieved. It is right that Windrush Square in Brixton, close to where he and other arrivals on the “Empire Windrush” lived, is in the heart of that local community.
In the narrative of post-war arrival, it is especially important to honour the acts of courage and service that preceded this, especially during the World Wars, which claimed the lives of thousands of their compatriots. While we celebrate the story of Sam King and the many others who came to help us build post-war Britain, the story of how they and their descendants were treated is clearly not one of which this country should be proud. We should and must celebrate those of the Windrush generation who worked in our hospitals and on our transport system, and who have made an invaluable contribution to this country’s success since their first arrival 75 years ago. However, as other noble Lords have already made clear, we also need to recognise the hardships and extreme prejudice that so many of those arriving on the “Empire Windrush” and later boats experienced.
The Windrush generation was invited to this country, yet they faced terrible, racist treatment in the UK, and some of their descendants continue to. Despite these conditions, the Windrush generation helped to build our NHS, staffed our Air Force and military, supported Londoners throughout London’s transport system, and enriched the fabric of this country as a whole through lasting legacies in sport and music, founding the Notting Hill Carnival, and so much more.
Regrettably, the prejudice is not confined to the history books, in which it should belong. The Windrush scandal and this Government’s hostile environment, which has already been mentioned, have caused untold pain. The disgraceful treatment and the subsequent delay in paying the compensation that people are due is nothing short of shameful. Too many people are still waiting for apologies, compensation and access to justice. Others have already asked for clarification, and I look forward to the Minister’s response to the questions relating to this.
A true tribute to the Windrush generation would be for the Government to implement all the recommendations in the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. It is highly regrettable that the current Home Secretary has watered down the Home Office’s commitment to accept all of HMI Wendy Williams’s findings. Will the Government now review this decision and implement all the recommendations?
Funding for community organisations has been a key part of the Mayor of London’s response to the scandal. In the years since the scandal first came into public consciousness in 2018, the mayor has dedicated over £100,000 to funding front-line organisations across London to support Windrush communities specifically. This includes dedicated funding initiatives led previously by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and now led by Action for Race Equality. Previous funding was used for a range of activities, including campaigns, legal advice sessions and outreach efforts to bring information and support to those who may not access it otherwise. In recognition of the way that immigration advice access has been decimated by successive cuts, and in order to support Londoners to access their rights, the mayor has consistently invested in efforts to bolster wider capacity of immigration advice and support services across our city. More recently, he has launched the migrant advice and support fund, which supports organisations providing specialist holistic services to Londoners with immigration needs, including people from the Windrush communities. This fund provides £750,000 over 12 months.
The Greater London Authority, led by the mayor, stands with the Windrush generation in their fight for justice. The mayor is, as he says often, the son of a bus driver who came to this country to build a new life for himself and his family and to contribute to this country’s future. Much emphasis has been placed on the role of the Windrush generation in supporting Transport for London, the wider transport networks and the NHS. The Windrush generation has a much wider legacy in our city, including among black firefighters and other staff from the London Fire Brigade, some of whom joined the Walk of Witness from Waterloo station to Southwark.
This House has previously debated the culture review that took place at London Fire Brigade. No institution in this country is immune from needing to examine how it treats those from black and minority ethnic communities. However, as deputy mayor for fire, I am proud of how the brigade is tackling this issue head-on and playing a leading role within the fire sector in addressing institutional racism and the inequalities and prejudices that it finds. No institution or sector can be complacent. We must learn, and adjust how we behave and how we challenge behaviours.
Finally, I will reflect on a more positive and celebratory note of this debate. I would like the House to note the huge contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants to the arts in this country, from the food of south London to music, literature and visual art. The Windrush generation brought a wealth of new musical styles with them, including jazz, blues, calypso, ska, gospel, Latin and reggae. Their descendants went on to pioneer many of the genres that are popular today, such as garage, jungle, grime, dubstep, and drum and bass. In literature, we have many examples of remarkable writing, some of which are now rightly taught in schools.
I conclude by quoting Small Island by Andrea Levy, herself a daughter of Jamaican parents:
“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. Hold on to them unspoken for as long as you can just so your world will stay intact”.
For me, this quote is a reminder of how powerful but also how dangerous words can be—how they can heal and how they can divide. In this debate on the anniversary of the Windrush generation’s first arrival in the UK, and in a week where we have in this House debated the Illegal Migration Bill, we would all do well to remember the power of language.
My Lords, I rise to speak in the gap, having given notice. I was inspired to do so by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, who made a passionate and at times justifiably angry speech, and who was herself very properly recognised and made a member of the illustrious Order of Merit. There can be no better example of the Windrush generation and what we are talking about today.
It was also appropriate that the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, talked quite considerably at the beginning of her speech about the National Health Service. It really is a happy coincidence that we were celebrating the 75th anniversary of the health service on Wednesday and we have this debate today, because, without the contribution of the Windrush generation and their families, the National Health Service would not be what it is. We owe them a very great debt.
There has been an underlying theme to this debate that I want to dwell on very briefly. It is that cruelty never pays and “Do to others as you would be done by”. We have to remember that, not only as we think back with shame to what happened a few years ago but as we look at the way we are tackling problems today.
I was deeply disturbed to read in the i newspaper this morning of the painting over of Mickey Mouse pictures and other things that had been put into centres where there are unaccompanied children. Whoever is to blame for their being here, they are not. It seemed a deeply unfortunate and frankly rather cruel gesture. We have to remember that, as we remember and repent for the way Windrush generation descendants were treated a few years ago.
Kindness may not get you everywhere, but it gets you a long way and it helps to make a cohesive society. If this debate is to have any legacy, it must be to make our society more cohesive, more united and more—if I dare use the word, and I do so with pride—patriotic.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for tabling this debate, and particularly for the tone with which he introduced it. The whole debate has been uplifting, but it has also been realistic about the problems that are faced and the recent scandal.
The arrival of HMT “Empire Windrush” at Tilbury docks on 22 June 1948 has become a defining moment of modern Britain. The ship carried about 500 passengers from across the Caribbean, and that generation and those that came after have shaped our society, whether by rebuilding post-war infrastructure, playing a key role in getting our transport network functioning properly, or supporting the fledgling NHS.
The Windrush generation has not always been treated fairly, especially by Governments keen to be seen as tough on immigration, but Windrush Day, and maybe this debate, should be taken as an opportunity to celebrate those who, by seeking a better life, have made all our lives better too. I will first mention the Windrush scandal and then conclude on the more positive contribution that the Windrush generation has made to our country.
The Windrush scandal—or perhaps I should say “Home Office scandal”, as recommended by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin—began in 2018. It concerned people who were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation and, in at least 83 cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office. Many of those affected had been born British subjects and had arrived in the UK before 1973, particularly from Caribbean countries as members of the Windrush generation.
As well as those who were deported, an unknown number were detained, lost their jobs or homes, had their passports confiscated, or were denied benefits or medical care to which they were entitled. A number of long-term UK residents were refused re-entry to the UK; a larger number were threatened with immediate deportation by the Home Office. This was linked by commentators to the hostile environment policy, initiated by Theresa May during her time as Home Secretary.
The Windrush compensation scheme was launched on 3 April 2019, and there have been various reports criticising its effectiveness and slow rollout. It is not known how many people were directly impacted by the scandal, but around 6,200 people have claimed compensation and 1,600 have received payments. Around 16,200 have been helped to secure documentation on their status or citizenship. Some 41 people who have submitted a claim for compensation have since died. Of the 2,235 claims in progress as of April 2023, 16% had been in the system for over 12 months and 7% had been in process for over 18 months. So I have some questions for the Minister. How many people are waiting for compensation from the Government? How long do the Government estimate it will take to complete all the active compensation claims? Do they think that the processing of these claims should be taking this long?
My noble friend Lord Rosser—I welcome him back to his seat after an absence of about seven months—referred at length to HMI Wendy Williams’s original review of the scandal. There were about 30 recommendations in Wendy Williams’s report and the Government have not implemented all of them, as we have heard. The Government dropped recommendations 3, 9 and 10—to host a number of reconciliation events, to introduce a migrants’ commissioner and review the remit and role of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, and to include consideration of giving the ICIBI more powers with regard to publishing reports. In January this year, the Government had implemented about eight out of the 30 recommendations. That is different from the figure that my noble friend Lord Rosser gave. I would be grateful for guidance from the Minister about the correct figure.
The Guardian has reported that the unit tasked with reforming the Home Office post Windrush is being disbanded. Is the Minister able to say whether that is correct? Can she also say whether there are any plans to enact recommendations 9 and 10 of Wendy Williams’s report?
I want to talk more positively about the contribution the descendants of this generation made to our society. I have done a quick review of recent press articles and I will mention some names: Mica Paris, singer, broadcaster and actress; Colin Jackson, 110-metre hurdles Olympic silver medallist and broadcaster; Don Letts, film director; Jay Blades, host of “The Repair Shop” and charity founder; David Harewood, actor and director; Linford Christie, gold medallist; Linton Kwesi Johnson, poet, musician and activist; Clive Myrie, journalist and newsreader; Sir Steve McQueen, film director, producer and screenwriter; Don Warrington, actor; Sir Lenny Henry, comedian. The list goes on, and this was from just a cursory review of recent press.
My right honourable friend David Lammy described the 75th anniversary celebrations as bittersweet, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred to pride and prejudice as a theme in his speech. I think they are both right in the way they characterise these celebrations. As an Opposition spokesman, I say to the Government that it is for them to follow through on the promises they have made to the Windrush generation and to seek to rectify the wrongs of the past.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth for tabling this important and special debate. It is right that the House takes this opportunity to honour a landmark anniversary in our nation’s history. I am sure I speak for us all when I say that the moving reflections we have heard today from across the Chamber speak volumes about how much the Windrush generation mean to us all and what a mark they have made on our society since their arrival 75 years ago. I thank noble Lords for their contributions today, and I am proud to be able to add to them on behalf of the Government.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending the national service of thanksgiving at the right reverend Prelate’s Cathedral in Southwark to mark national Windrush Day. It was a truly inspirational day of music, prayers and shared reflections on the experiences and impact of the Windrush generation and their descendants. They included a poem from the young poet laureate of Croydon, Shaniqua Benjamin, who calls herself a hybrid of Jamaican, Grenadian and Croydonian, which painted a remarkably vivid picture of the rich cultural heritage of the Windrush generation and their wider influence. I cannot do justice to her words, but I thoroughly recommend watching an online rendition of that poem. It brilliantly captures the flavour of the Windrush generation’s first impressions of their mother country in all its complexity: the sense of excitement, as we have heard today, and the opportunity to help Britain rebuild, but also the struggles and the terrible prejudice they faced and the monumental part they and their descendants have since played in our nation’s post-war transformation. We undoubtedly would not be the multicultural success story we are today without all that they have contributed and continue to contribute in every sphere of our national life. The tributes paid by noble Lords bear testimony to this.
For our part, the Government are committed to celebrating this wonderful Windrush legacy through national and local commemorations. Five years ago, we introduced Windrush Day in response to Patrick Vernon’s hugely admirable campaigning. I salute him again for securing this milestone around which we can all come together every year.
Of course, as we have heard today, one of the most permanent and visible markers of our gratitude to the Windrush generation is Basil Watson’s magnificent national monument at Waterloo station. If noble Lords have not seen it, I ask them to go to see it. It is incredibly poignant to think that long after the first arrivals are no longer with us, millions passing through Waterloo will continue to see this and think of them and all they gave. I extend the biggest of accolades to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, who, as always, spoke so eloquently and passionately in today’s debate, for her work, alongside the fantastic Windrush Commemoration Committee, which I also thank, with my department to get that monument built.
This year’s commemorations are particularly special because they mark the 75th anniversary of the Windrush arrivals. Fittingly, my department is leading the biggest programme of Windrush commemorations since they began across the length and breadth of the country. In the run-up to Windrush Day, the Levelling-Up Secretary and the Home Secretary hosted a reception at No. 10 to thank those working with Windrush communities locally and nationally. Rudi Page was awarded the Prime Minister’s Point of Light honour in recognition of his outstanding volunteering efforts supporting Caribbean, Commonwealth and ethnic minority communities.
We have also announced our largest Windrush Day grant scheme, totalling £750,000 in funding, which is going to 45 community groups, local authorities and charities spread across the UK. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, is in his place because they include the Brixton Project, a community-led carnival of art, theatre and music, and the Blackstory Partnership, which is putting on a myriad of events, from performances of West Indian music to a book launch at a commemorative Windrush 75 event in Birmingham. Thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund, sponsored by DCMS, we are backing a further 75 community events and activities.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and others so passionately argued, we need to keep the Windrush generation’s legacy alive by ensuring that young people learn from and celebrate it. To this end, we are providing new educational resources on the National Windrush Monument website and have teamed up with the leading educational charity, Speakers for Schools, to organise a series of school talks by inspirational public figures with Windrush connections, such as Basil Watson and the actor Paterson Joseph. Available in person and online, these have the potential to reach of thousands of pupils across the country.
As we moved through the debate, starting with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, it was obvious that I would need to answer the questions and challenges from noble Lords on the Windrush compensation scheme. I will not mention all noble Lords, but they know who they are and it will be in Hansard.
The Home Office remains totally committed to righting the wrongs experienced by members of the Windrush generation, although we recognise that no amount of money will ever make up for the suffering that people experienced. So far, more than £75 million has been paid or offered under the compensation scheme and thousands of people have been helped successfully to apply for the documentation confirming their status or British citizenship. Payments to date include some significant sums. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said that there are very small numbers, but over 240 people have been paid £50,000 to £100,000, while more than a dozen people have been paid more than £200,000. The Home Office’s priority is to award the maximum compensation at the earliest possible point to all these people.
Some 66% of claims have had final decisions and the majority of claims in progress are less than six months old. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that only 7% are more than 18 months old. However, there are 14 categories and each person’s experiences and circumstances will be different. It is right that the Home Office takes the time to ensure that each claim is considered and understood carefully so that it can offer people the maximum compensation to which they are entitled. That said, the Home Office will continue its efforts to reduce the time it takes to process claims. The length of time that individuals must wait for their claim to be allocated to a substantive decision-maker is less than five months, down from 18 months a year ago.
The Home Office is committed to keeping the compensation and documentation schemes open. The scheme is not closing; it is remaining open. The Home Office firmly believes that moving the operation of the compensation scheme, as has been suggested, would significantly delay what we consider, and I know noble Lords consider, to be vital payments to people. All this has been reinforced by an independent adviser to the scheme, Professor Martin Levermore, in his report, which was published in March 2022. Since the scheme’s inception, the Home Office has continued to listen to feedback from all sorts of stakeholders. It has made significant and positive changes and improvements and will continue to do so as more evidence comes in. For example, in 2021-22, the Home Office published a new claims form, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in collaboration with stakeholders. I know that it is a longer form, but stakeholders are in agreement that it is an easier one. It is in plain English and it has much more targeted and simpler questions for people to understand and complete. As I said, all the changes that we are making are being made in conjunction with stakeholders.
The Home Office has a multilayered approach to reviewing the process continually in order to ensure that we have an appropriate level of external scrutiny. That was brought up by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. The tier 1 review is conducted by a separate team that has not worked on any claim and so is totally independent. The tier 2 review is an independent review processed with the Adjudicator’s Office, and the Home Office has accepted all recommendations made by the adjudicator.
I mentioned Martin Levermore. He regularly engages with officials and publishes annual reports on the scheme. His second report was published in May 2023 and is on GOV.UK. The Home Office also publishes a factsheet that has granular transparency. That is published every month and will provide details on a wide variety of aspects of both the casework and the ongoing reviews.
As I said, there is no cap or limit on the amount of compensation that the Home Office will pay out. When the scheme was announced, it was assumed that a high proportion of those who applied to the status scheme might then seek compensation. It is interesting that, although 16,200 individuals had been provided with documentation confirming their status or British citizenship as at quarter 1 of 2023, the experience has been that many of them have not suffered losses or detriment owing to being unable to demonstrate their lawful status in the UK, so they have not needed to claim compensation.
It is important that, as my noble friend Lady Berridge said, we continue to outreach to those communities to ensure that everyone understands the scheme and how to contact it. The Home Office has hosted 200 engagement outreach events, including 120 one-to-one surgeries, since 2018. It has worked closely with grass-roots and community organisations, reaching hundreds of thousands of individuals through the community fund. It has also run national media campaigns and will continue to make efforts to reach anyone who so far has not contacted it. We are doing everything we can.
I hope that that has answered a number of questions, but there were some specific ones. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about benchmarks. Responses to the call for evidence and the public consultation shaped the design of the scheme. We considered guidance in the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s principles for remedy on establishing time-limited compensation schemes and other good practice in that sector. The December 2020 changes increased compensation under the impact on life categories to bring them more in line with the Judicial College guidelines for the assessment of general damage in personal injury cases. We have gone through the normal process that we would do in order to look at benchmarking for this compensation.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark brought up Wendy Williams’s three recommendations. When Wendy Williams wrote the report, she recognised the challenges and applauded the Home Office response to the challenge. As I stated, the Home Office has regular reviews and delivers the intent of all the recommendations, but not in a specific way. Extensive continual consideration of how to deliver the scheme is embedded in and throughout the department.
The Office for the Independent Examiner of Complaints, set up last year in response to the Windrush lessons learned review, is in place. There is also insight and challenge from the Windrush working group. There has been a major internal change in culture and the willingness to listen as policies develop and implementation has begun. The Home Office will continue to challenge itself internally on its culture on this subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, brought up the issue of compensation previously accepted if claims are relooked at. Whenever changes are made, they are applied retroactively.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark brought up the important issue of deaths of claimants while still awaiting compensation. It is really regrettable that any claimant passes away before a compensation award can be made. The Home Office prioritises claims where we are aware of any critical or life-shortening instances in any claimant. Where someone passes away before their claim is finally resolved, we work closely with the representatives of their estate, normally their family, to ensure that compensation is paid as quickly as it possibly can be.
My noble friend Lady Berridge brought up an interesting idea, which she has mentioned before in this Chamber, on a specific Windrush scheme for scholarships. She knows that I have passed this on to the Home Office; I have not had a response yet, but I have promised her that I will give her the response as soon as it comes through, and I will.
My noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, brought up the important issue of the educational outcomes of young black men and women. It is more complicated than just all black men and women; it depends on their heritage quite a lot. The DfE has done a lot of work on this and has a lot of information on it. I do not have it to hand, but I will certainly ask the DfE to write a letter, and I will put a copy in the Library.
I may not have answered all the questions, particularly on the technical issues of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. We will look at Hansard tomorrow, and my noble friend said that he will write with anything further that I have not covered.
I thank everyone here for their powerful contributions and tributes to the extraordinary Windrush generation. I emphasise the Government’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that we never forget what it has done for us in this United Kingdom. We are so thankful that those first 500 people made that journey and arrived on our shores on that momentous day in June 75 years ago. They are a credit to their community and this country, and it is the greatest privilege to be able to celebrate and honour them today.