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Windrush Children (Immigration Status)

Volume 639: debated on Monday 16 April 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make an urgent statement on the status of Windrush children in this country.

I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for raising this question and for giving me the chance to build on what I have already told the House this afternoon. I recognise the concerns of some people in the Windrush generation, and I would not want anyone who has made their life in the UK to feel unwelcome or to be in any doubt of their right to remain here. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made clear, there is absolutely no question about their right to remain, and I am very sorry for any confusion or anxiety felt.

While the vast majority of people who came here before 1973 will already have documentation that proves their right to be in the UK, I know that some do not. I know that there are those who have never applied for a passport in their own name or had their immigration status formalised. That is why today I am announcing that a new dedicated team will be set up to help those people to evidence their right to be here and to access the necessary services. The team will help the applicants to demonstrate that they are entitled to live in the UK, and it will be tasked with resolving cases within two weeks when the evidence has been provided.

Of course no one should be left out of pocket as they go through this process, so, given the uniqueness of the situation this group finds itself in, I intend to ensure that the group will not pay for this documentation. We have set up a webpage and we have been speaking to charities, community groups and high commissioners about providing advice and reassurance to those affected, and we will set up a dedicated contact point as well. Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will meet the Heads of Government, and I will be meeting high commissioners this week to discuss this issue as a matter of urgency. I hope that this will provide people with the reassurance that they need.

The relationship between this country and the West Indies and the Caribbean is inextricable. The first British ships arrived in the Caribbean in 1623, and despite slavery and colonisation, 25,000 Caribbeans served in the first and second world wars alongside British troops. When my parents and others of their generation arrived in this country under the British Nationality Act 1948, they arrived here as British citizens. It is inhumane and cruel for so many of that Windrush generation to have suffered for so long in this condition and for the Secretary of State to be making a statement on the issue only today.

Can the Secretary of State tell us how many people have been deported? She suggested earlier that she would ask the high commissioners, but it is her Department that has deported those people. She should know the number. Can she tell the House how many have been detained as prisoners in their own country? Can she tell us how many have been denied healthcare under the national health service, how many have been denied pensions and how many have lost their jobs? This is a day of national shame, and it has come about because of a “hostile environment” and a policy that was begun under her Prime Minister. Let us call it as it is: if you lay down with dogs, you get fleas, and that is what has happened with the far right rhetoric in this country. Will the Secretary of State apologise properly? Will she explain how quickly the team will act to ensure that the thousands of British men and women who have been denied their rights in this country on her watch in the Home Office are satisfied?

I share the right hon. Gentleman’s admiration for the people who came here from the Caribbean and contributed so much to our society in many different ways, and that admiration remains in place. I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual. This is about individuals, and we have heard the individual stories, some of which have been terrible to hear. That is why I have acted. That is why I have put a clear limit on the amount of time it will take to correct the situation. That is why I am so committed to ensuring that there is no cost involved. That is why I am so committed to making sure that we can work across Departments. We hope to be able to get the necessary information ourselves in the same way that we are looking ahead to the EU settled status, when we will be able to engage with other Departments to look at national insurance numbers. We will share things and will take the responsibility for finding the evidence, so that we can get the documents for those who need them.

Finally, on one other point that the right hon. Gentleman raised, I am not aware of any specific cases of a person being removed in these circumstances. That is why I have asked the high commissioners if they know of any cases, and they should bring them to me. If anyone here knows of any such circumstances, they should bring them to the Home Office.

The Home Secretary is right to have set up a special unit so that the necessary reassurance can be provided as soon as possible. With that in mind, will she tell the House what the minimum level of evidence that the new Home Office unit will accept is, so that people will be able to demonstrate quickly and easily that they are genuine Windrush-generation citizens of this country?

My right hon. Friend, who has some experience in this area, will be aware that we cannot have a situation in which anybody can perhaps falsely declare anything—that would not assist the Windrush generation, whom we are trying to help. We are going to work with them in a cross-Government way, so if they come to us with their address and date of birth, we will start from that point and try to build a picture to evidence the circumstances and, within two weeks, get them the permits that they need to be able to access services.

In the week of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, is the Home Secretary aware of how shameful it appears that we are treating the Windrush generation of Commonwealth citizens in this way? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, they came here after the second world war to help rebuild this country, and they worked hard and paid their taxes. There are few more patriotic groups of British citizens than the generation from the West Indies that we are talking about.

The Home Secretary mentioned her special team. Is she aware that hundreds of these people have been trying to get their situations sorted out with their lawyers, presenting what information they have? Months later, however, things have not been resolved. How much confidence can people have in the special team when people with lawyers have been unable to resolve their situations? Why does she not simply issue an instruction to her officials today that no one in such a position can be deported until the case is clarified? There must also be an apology to any who were wrongfully deported, and the Government must consider compensation.

Is the Home Secretary aware that in 2014 the Government removed the immigration protection that existed for the Commonwealth citizens who had come here previously? Theresa May was the then Home Secretary, and there was no parliamentary debate or scrutiny at the time. Theresa May could simply—

Order. [Interruption.] I do not need any advice from people chuntering from a sedentary position for their own satisfaction but to no wider benefit at all. The position is that Members should not refer to other Members by name—[Interruption.] The hon. Members who are wittering away from a sedentary position probably feel better for doing so, but it does not advance the interests of the House.

I apologise for naming the former Home Secretary in that way, but we are talking about a very serious matter. I believe the Home Secretary could now simply table a statutory instrument restoring the protections, which were removed without debate in 2014; there would be no objection from this side of the House.

Finally, this policy and this scandal did not fall from the sky. It is a product of the bent of Government policy: the “hostile environment” for migrants generally. We now hear warm words about the contribution of Commonwealth migrants who have given their lives to this country, but warm words are not enough. We have to establish the facts on the deportations; we have to make apologies where necessary; and as the Commonwealth Heads of Government are gathered in London, we have to acknowledge what a disgrace it is that this Government have treated Commonwealth migrants in this way.

Nobody disputes that the people who came here as part of the Windrush cohort are highly valued here and have the legal right to stay. In this week in which we celebrate the Commonwealth, I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to acknowledge the changes that we as a Government are making today to ensure that this cannot happen again and that the new processes in place will indeed reach out and protect all Commonwealth citizens who need additional help to get their documentation in place.

The right hon. Lady asks particularly about removals and detention, and I reassure her and the House that I have given an explicit instruction. In accordance with my wishes today, there will be no removals or detention as part of any assistance to help former Commonwealth citizens get their proper documentation in place.

I welcome what the Home Secretary has set out today—I also welcome the detail given by the Minister for Immigration in her media interviews today—and the calm and measured tone in which she set it out.

Given that many people will not be aware that they are in this position until they run into difficulties, can the Home Secretary say any more about what steps the Government could take proactively to communicate what they are doing to some of those who might be affected, so that they are never actually put in this position in the first place and can have their status regularised?

My right hon. Friend is right. I really do want people who are in this position to realise that we have made the changes and have set up a system that will be easy to use and accommodating to them. There will be no charge for it, and I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to pass that on to their constituents, so that people have the confidence to approach us so the situation can be addressed. Of course, the Home Office will be doing its own media work to ensure that is the case.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this urgent question. The Scottish National party shares his outrage, on behalf of the Windrush generation, at how some of these now quite elderly people have been treated by the Home Office.

The Home Secretary is wrong. This is not just about individuals; it is about a systemic policy put out by her Department. It is symptomatic of the politically driven “hostile environment” policy, and it is a sign that that has to stop. I hope that, in what she has said this afternoon, there is a big chink of optimism that she will review this “hostile environment” policy.

On the Mall this morning, I saw all the flags out for the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference, but all the Government’s warm words about the Commonwealth will be seen as weasel words unless they take proper steps to address what is happening to these people, who are as much part of our country as the Home Secretary and myself.

I have heard what the Home Secretary has to say about the procedures she is putting in place, but the Migration Observatory at Oxford University says there are up to 50,000 Commonwealth-born people in this situation. What will she do to recognise the almost impossible nature of the task those people face in evidencing their right to be here, and will she give them access to legal advice to help them combat the Home Office’s often unfair procedures?

The hon. and learned Lady has raised a number of important points. I would just say that it is right we have a policy that distinguishes between legal and illegal migrants, and the Commonwealth group—the so-called Windrush cohort—are legal. That is why I have put in place these measures to protect them. That is a clear difference between them and other groups, where we have a compliant environment, to ensure that people who are here legally are looked after but people who are here illegally should not be here and we have the information that we can collect to remove them lawfully and correctly.

My right hon. Friend’s assurance that the costs will be borne by the state will be most welcome; it is clear that this may have acted as a deterrent to some in the past when seeking to regularise their position. Will she make certain that it is made very clear, very publicly, that there is no need to hire an expensive lawyer to put this right—we can do it?

The important point for my hon. Friend is that the system I will now put in place will not require people to go to their lawyers. I hope that it will be sufficiently constructive, sympathetic and helpful that it will not require people who are seeking to regularise their position to have lawyers.

The Home Office has been warned repeatedly about failings in its decision-making processes and weaknesses in the “hostile environment” operation. The Home Secretary’s response to this problem now is far too passive: just a taskforce that relies on the Windrush generation raising their problems with her. That is not good enough. She should now be instituting a huge review, right across the Home Office, of all Windrush-generation cases, and not just suspending deportations and detention, but working urgently with the Department for Work and Pensions and the NHS to make sure that nobody from that generation loses their benefits, their homes or their healthcare, while this is being sorted out.

I respectfully say to the right hon. Lady, who usually has such careful knowledge in this area, that of course we do not have individual numbers for the Windrush generation, because they were not identified as such when they came here. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) referred to the assessment of 50,000, but we do not know whether that is the case, because, obviously, we do not have identification cards in this country; we do not know until people approach us. The point I am trying to convey here, which I hope will go out from this House, is that we will help anybody who would like to have their position regularised and there will be no cost to it.

Order. There is intense interest in this matter, and that is to be expected. I am keen to accommodate it, as far as is possible, but I remind the House that there is important businesses to which we must proceed and therefore there is a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike. Put bluntly, if people ask long questions, they will do so knowing that they are preventing other colleagues from contributing, and that is not something they would want to do, I feel sure.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was sickened to read these stories and I am reassured by what my right hon. Friend has had to say today. However, will she ask her officials to review all cases where there is a possibility that people from the Windrush generation have been deported?

As I have said, I do not have any evidence to suggest that anybody has been removed in that way. Some people are talking as though this has taken place and it has been suggested in some media companies that it has, so I invite people who have any such evidence to bring it to the Home Office so that we can take a look.

May I say to the Home Secretary that the way this trailblazing generation and their families have been treated in this year, the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush on our shores, is a complete and utter disgrace? So many are my constituents. She has talked about individual cases. A well-publicised one involves someone who has not been able to get access to cancer treatment that he needs from the NHS because of his immigration status. She has said that these cases will be processed quickly. Okay, that is welcome. She says her Department will help individuals in this situation to identify the evidence, but what happens if the evidence does not exist? On healthcare, will she commit to ensuring that indefinite leave to remain is granted—

We are immensely grateful. We have a lot to get through and it is very self-indulgent if people spend ages. I understand the importance, but colleagues have to do this pithily—it is as simple as that.

I completely understand the urgent need to get this issue addressed so that people can access the NHS when they need it. I am going to make sure that we do it in such a speedy manner that we will address people’s particular needs. It should not interfere with their treatment. The fact is that hospitals are increasingly asking for evidence of residence; we will help people to get the evidence. The hon. Gentleman asked what will happen if there is none; there is always going to be evidence of people living in a country. My taskforce will make sure that we find that evidence so that we can get it to people.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Windrush generation for coming to this country’s aid. Will my right hon. Friend enable all MPs to access an appropriate means of communicating to the Home Office the cases that come to us, so that they are dealt with speedily and in a way that ensures that people are thanked for their service?

Yes; my hon. Friend makes a good point. I will ensure that everybody in the House has the details of the taskforce contact point and that we are able to communicate to everybody who has assisted this country—the people from the Windrush generation—our thanks and support.

What assurances will the Home Secretary give to people who settled here from parts of the Commonwealth other than the West Indies, including the many in my constituency who came from Bangladesh and Pakistan? Will she commit to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about a statutory instrument to restore the protections for people from Commonwealth countries?

Respectfully, I will have to come back to the hon. Lady on that point about a statutory instrument. My purpose today is to reassure this particular cohort and to make sure that we have in place the right systems so that we can act swiftly and efficiently, as they would expect.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s absolute clarity that the Windrush generation’s right to remain here is unchallenged. As constituency MPs, we want to do all that we can to help them, so will she confirm that there will be an MPs’ hotline, through which we can help our constituents who are most unable to help themselves?

Yes. I am of course aware that as leaders in their own areas, Members of Parliament will need to be able to access that hotline and to access all the information so that we can act fairly, efficiently and effectively for the Windrush generation, which is so valued in this country.

A number of my constituents have been caught up in the Government’s hostile environment policy, including Paul, who has been here for four decades. He was removed from his home and detained at one of the Croydon detention centres. Will the Home Secretary commit to introducing a statutory instrument that will reverse and restore the rights that the Windrush generation had secured?

Unfortunately, I cannot comment on individual cases in the Chamber, but if the hon. Lady would like to write to the Home Office or bring to me that particular case, I will make sure that it is looked at.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said, but urge her to consider whether, if applicants who ultimately prove successful have already incurred legal fees in trying to make their case, those fees could be compensated.

I am happy to take that away and come back to my hon. Friend on it. Going forward, it is my strong commitment to ensure that the system that we put in place will not require legal advice. It will be straightforward and effective to use. My team in the taskforce will work with individuals to deliver that.

I have previously written to the Home Secretary about my constituent, Bill Samuel, who as a six-year-old came to the UK with his grandmother from St Vincent back in the ’60s. He has worked and paid taxes since 1973. He was told by the Home Office that he would have to pay £273 to apply for no-time-limit status; will the Home Secretary confirm that he will not have to pay that amount of money or to apply for no-time-limit status in order to apply for a British passport?

I can confirm that we are not going to charge for the no-time-limit status to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In respect of the individual journey to a passport, I am afraid that we will have to take that away and look at the individual case.

I commend the Home Secretary for her statement, but say to her that this is not only about the Windrush generation but about all those for whom, certainly in my experience as a Member of Parliament, her officials unfortunately have a default position of no. Does she agree that it is at moments such as this that Government and Opposition Members need to accept the need for a proper, open and honest debate about immigration? If we did that, we might come to the proper conclusion that not just the Windrush generation but generations of immigrants over centuries have contributed in a positive way to all aspects of life in our country.

My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point about the value of immigration in this country. I share her views on our approach. I need to ensure that the Home Office is more focused on individuals than on policy, so that individuals do not receive the type of treatment that we have seen over the past few weeks, but instead have a Home Office that leans in and tries to assist them.

Will the Home Secretary clarify definitively whether this new dedicated team helping the Windrush generation will be accessible to all Commonwealth citizens facing similar problems?

On that note, I very much welcome the Government’s assurances today that they will help these Commonwealth citizens. I particularly wish to cite the case of a constituent of mine from Uganda who came here after he was thrown out by Idi Amin. Will the new systems help him? He has lived in my constituency for 40 years and has had a heartrending experience with people wanting to throw him out.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend’s constituent is having such a challenging time. I urge her to ask the Immigration Minister to take a look at his particular case.

Following her statement, could the Home Secretary clarify whether her Department is still expecting people to prove their rights while they have no recourse to public funds and no right to work? What is her message to those who may need legal advice, but cannot afford it?

It is my firm belief that the individuals who will be able to access this group in the Home Office will not need legal advice, because the process will be simple and one in which my team will try to assist. We will be able to use information across Government, so that we can help prove their national insurance number or their school records without calling on them to send in so much detail. It will be a shared responsibility, which I think will make a big difference.

I thank the Home Secretary for her clear message today that the Windrush generation not only have the legal right to stay, but are welcome here and we want them to stay, if that is their desire. Will she reassure us that her Department will provide every sensitive assistance possible to help the affected people produce the documentation that is required?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to reinforce that point. We value immigrants in this country, and we value the contribution that the Windrush community has made. I will ensure, going forward, that that value is conveyed to them.

Is the Home Secretary aware that there is real fear spreading through some of our diverse communities? One impact of that is that people who are entirely legitimately entitled to make use of public services are being deterred from doing so. Will she be speaking to other departmental heads in order to ensure that the message goes out, particularly in respect of the health service, that nobody should avoid accessing services because they are frightened of what the “hostile environment” will do?

Of course I do not want people who have health issues not to be able to contact the national health service. One of the saddest things in some of these stories is hearing about people not being able to do that. That is one reason why I feel so much urgency in addressing this matter, so that such a thing happens to fewer people.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of a special taskforce. Will she confirm precisely how quickly cases will be processed and, crucially, when she envisages the backlog of cases will ultimately be dealt with, as people need this shadow removed from their lives?

The most important thing that we can convey from today’s statement is that the Home Office is going out of its way to ensure that we can reassure people that they will be able to get that information. I do not expect there to be a great rush of people who will want to apply, but whenever people need to do so, I will ensure that the process is done quickly, effectively and efficiently.

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation in the Chamber about subsequent business, but I gently point out that we are discussing the rights and the futures of residents of this country. This is an extremely serious matter and the issue, and the people speaking about it, should be treated with respect. It really should not be necessary for me to say that again.

Is not the key point in all this that the pernicious and “hostile environment” has an impact on everybody, whether they are here legally or otherwise? People can hardly get out of bed these days without somebody asking to see their passport. Is it not time to scrap the “hostile environment”?

I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation. He is not correct to say that people have to show their passport at every step. It is important to make a clear distinction between people who are here legally and people who are here illegally. The point of today’s statement is that the people who came with the Windrush group are here legally, and we will look after them.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for his work and leadership on this issue. Today’s decision will cost all people from the Windrush generation, including those who are my constituents, huge amounts of money in legal fees. Will the Home Secretary set up a unit within the Home Office to deal with the cases, and refer them back to Members of Parliament to deal with?

We are setting up a team of about 20 people who will be able to engage with the generation, who need to have their situation regularised. I hope that people will not need legal advice. Of course, if that is the case—the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point—I will take a look at whether we need to assist.

Will my right hon. Friend outline what engagements she will have with charities and community groups to ensure that people do not need to go to expensive lawyers to find out about the procedures that she has outlined today?

I share my hon. Friend’s view about expensive lawyers. We have begun engagement with charities, non-governmental organisations and the high commissioners who have been in touch with us. I will ensure that we have thorough public engagement to ensure that people are aware of the process that we have set up, and that it will not cost them money.

May I emphasise to the Home Secretary that some of the problems faced by the Windrush generation go well beyond people who came here from the Caribbean? For example, a constituent of mine was born in a Commonwealth country to Polish refugees from Nazism, has lived in this country since 1951 and has served in the Grenadier Guards, but he was turned down for a UK passport. Will people in his situation be subject to the fast-track procedure that the Home Secretary outlined today?

I would fully expect them to be subject to it. I find the hon. Gentleman’s statement very surprising and ask him to write to me about it. The default position of the team that I am setting up will be to get the information and to accept people. The only situation where people would not be accepted is on grounds of serious criminality.

I very much welcome the sentiment expressed by my right hon. Friend. Those affected may well approach local advice services, such as the citizens advice bureaux in our constituencies, seeking support. Will she undertake to disseminate comprehensive guidance to them as soon as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful suggestion. Of course, I will engage with Citizens Advice to ensure that it has the information. I also urge Members of Parliament to tell their constituents about the positive arrangements that this Government have now put in place so that the people from that cohort can be looked after and can stop fearing for their situation.

I would be grateful if the Home Secretary would tell me how I should explain to the elders of the Afro-Caribbean community in my constituency why they are being expected to prove that they have a right to be in the country to which they have paid taxes and national insurance, and contributed so much—rather than the other way around, with the onus being on the Home Office to prove that they do not have such a right.

The dedicated team that I am setting up will work with individuals from the hon. Lady’s community to ensure that we look for the information and that they engage with us in that. We cannot look in isolation, if people do not engage with us and do not give us the information that we need. We are going to work across Government to ensure that we try to get information such as national insurance numbers or schools. Will the hon. Lady please tell her community that the Home Office is here to help it?

Will the Home Secretary tell me whether there was previously an exemption for leave to remain for Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK before 1973? Will she also confirm if and when this was removed from the legislation and, if so, when that was debated by Parliament?

I think that what the hon. Lady’s constituents really want to know is whether they have a legal right to be here. The purpose of my standing here today is to confirm to them and to all Members here that they do have the legal right. We want them to take it up, if that is what they want. My unit in the Home Office will be leaning in to ensure that we make the process as simple and effective as possible.

As the proud Member of Parliament for Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, where many Windrush passengers came to look for work and make their homes, I can tell the Home Secretary that it is entirely wrong for her to present this as a new problem that has suddenly arisen. It has been going on for years, and it is a consequence of Government policy which lacks any grace or compassion and which, in its intolerance, looks for any possible reason why people who have come here from overseas should not be allowed to stay. Will she now commit to looking at the systemic problems with UKVI and reform the immigration system so that people who have made their lives in this country and contributed so much can live with security and dignity in their old age?

That is exactly what I want this country to look like—the sort of country where the hon. Lady’s constituents can have confidence here. I point out to her that it was of course Labour who, in 2008, introduced the labour market test so that people had to evidence their status, so this has not started entirely with us. But if we want to live in a country where there is a difference between legal and illegal residence, then it is absolutely right to have a system that addresses that.

If the Secretary of State is saying that there is no way of checking whether someone has been wrongly deported, does that mean that it is the same for asylum seekers as well?

I only heard part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I can tell him that I do not know of any cases where people have been removed. However, I have said to Members here, as I have said to the high commissioners, that if they know of any cases, they should bring them to us.

My constituent Paulette Wilson came here from Jamaica in 1968 aged 10. She worked in the UK all her life, including here in Parliament. Last October, she was detained at Yarl’s Wood and threatened with being deported. The Home Secretary says that she does not know the extent of this problem or the numbers, but surely a simple search by date of birth and origin would give her that data. Will she go away and have a look at that?

If the hon. Lady wants to write to me about a particular case, I will certainly look at it. I have put out an instruction today that there will be no detention or removals of anybody in this cohort who raises any questions, so I have removed that fear. But I am much more ambitious than that. I want to make sure that our new dedicated unit really addresses this and sorts out, to the satisfaction of everybody involved, the individual status of the people who have come here and contributed so much.

Will the Home Secretary instruct the Home Office to be supportive to individuals who apply under this scheme rather than leaving already traumatised individuals having to meet very, very difficult requirements when they are already in such distress?

Yes. The default position will be to accept. The only real change to that will be if there is serious criminality. We will need to work with the individuals to ensure that the information is collected. I want to make sure that this works for the individuals. As I said earlier, this is about individuals whose lives have been upset and who need reassurance, and I want to make sure that they get it.

I offer Conservative Members who may not understand what it is like to work with the Home Office every single day the chance, if they would like, to come and work in my constituency office. As somebody who works with the Home Office every single day, can I ask how many people will be in this team and how long it will last for, because this is not a problem that is going to go away overnight?

I work with the Home Office every day, and I am aware of some of the challenges. The team will have 20 people in it, it will deliver what I have set out today, and we will see how long it is needed for. What I am interested in is outcomes—effective, sympathetic outcomes for the people who need it and who are so valued by this country.