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MV “Empire Windrush”

Volume 788: debated on Monday 8 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in June 1948 carrying Caribbean people who had been encouraged to emigrate to the United Kingdom by the Government.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as a patron of the Windrush Foundation.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has long been a country of inward and outward migration. Post-war immigration, including via MV “Empire Windrush”, which was in many ways at the forefront of this migration, means that we are now a richly diverse society. I will be meeting key figures from community groups over the coming weeks to decide how best to celebrate this anniversary. I would also welcome input from the noble Baroness and from noble Lords throughout the House.

I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. “No coloureds welcome” was the sign that the Windrush pioneers faced in 1948 because the Government did not make it absolutely clear that the Caribbean people were invited to come to the UK to rescue the NHS, the transport system and factories after the war. Today, many descendants of those pioneers do not know that part of their history, as it is not generally taught in schools. As the Prime Minister wants everyone to feel included in our society, will the Government create a Windrush Day, recognising the outstanding contribution that the Windrush generation has made to Britain?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes powerful points. Of course, there is a Windrush Day—on 22 June. This year, as she will know, we unveiled a monument in Windrush Square in Brixton as a tribute to the role played by troops from the Caribbean and Africa. Educationally, particularly in Black History Month, we also pay more than reference to what was done by that community. However, as I have said, it is important that we recognise the 70th anniversary, as we are intending to do. Heritage Lottery Fund money has already been forthcoming for the year from November 2017 to November 2018 to help mark the Windrush landing, but, as I said, I am very willing to talk to the noble Baroness and others. I think that we have a forthcoming debate on how to commemorate this anniversary.

Will the Minister pay tribute to the early views of Enoch Powell in encouraging immigration to this country, even if, later, he was somewhat aberrant in his views when he no longer had ministerial responsibilities?

My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that I and indeed the Government are keen to look forward. We recognise that there is a world of difference between 1948 and the 1960s and even the 1970s, in that we are now a much more cohesive and diverse society. We must look forward and, in that spirit, it is important that we recognise the changes and the progress that have been made, celebrating Windrush Day, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, has been urging us to do.

My Lords, I am grateful to hear from the Minister that there will be meetings and consultations, but celebrations cost money. Can he guarantee that, in addition to the Heritage Lottery Fund sum, funds will come from central government to ensure that the celebrations are of a fitting nature?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. She is right: these things always come with a bill. She will understand that I do not have the cheque book with me and at the moment I do not intend to say how much will be spent. It is important that we do this in a meaningful way, although it is not just about the money; it is a case of ensuring that we have community involvement in this regard up and down the country.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Benjamin talked about some of the initial attitudes towards the people who came on the “Windrush”, as well as indeed towards their descendants. I wonder whether the Minister thinks that, despite changes to the law, attitudes such as those have fundamentally changed in this country. What are the Government doing to create an inclusive country, where the contributions of all are recognised and celebrated?

My Lords, I think that there have been fundamental changes in this country and the views of most people. Are we yet there with everybody? No, of course not; there are still challenges out there. As the noble Baroness will know, the Prime Minister initiated the race disparity audit, for example, which most people in the House and the country would welcome. We are now entering the next phase, in which departments are being asked to respond to the data and come up with policies and actions as to how we are going to tackle that. So we are not there yet, but most fair-minded people would say that there has been significant progress and continues to be so. However, we must press forward, and there are still challenges ahead.