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MV “Empire Windrush”

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 21 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce an annual celebration of the anniversary of the arrival of the MV Windrush on 22 June 1948.

My Lords, the Windrush generation answered the call to help the mother country in rebuilding our nation after the war. They and their descendants have contributed massively to national life; for example, they have inspired and entertained as British entrepreneurs, nurses, musicians and athletes. I have had the pleasure of working with key stakeholders, including my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, to celebrate this landmark moment. On Monday, I was pleased to announce that we will continue to celebrate Windrush Day every year on 22 June, starting tomorrow. We will work with the Windrush Day panel of key stakeholders to provide a £500,000 grant every year to support these celebrations and ensure a lasting legacy.

My Lords, I am delighted that Her Majesty’s Government have announced 22 June as Windrush Day every year and significant funding to match that. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for mentioning the contribution of nurses because, less than a fortnight after the arrival of the MV Windrush, the National Health Service was founded. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what plans Her Majesty’s Government have to add Windrush, as such a significant marker in our country’s history, to the national curriculum so that its contribution can be taught to the next generation.

As I said, my noble friend has contributed massively in this area. She is absolutely right about the continuing importance of those people to our great National Health Service, which is celebrating 70 years this year, just as Windrush landed here 70 years ago tomorrow. On education, I have been speaking with the Department for Education, which is keen to ensure that we recognise this as a part of all our histories. Arthur Torrington from Windrush 70, who gave a hallmark lecture in St Margaret’s Church yesterday, has been supplying materials to the Department for Education, so that is being taken forward.

My Lords, on behalf of Windrush pioneers and the Windrush Foundation, of which I am a patron, I congratulate the Government and the Minister on answering our pleas to create an annual Windrush Day as a legacy of the Windrush generation. This will make Caribbean people, who for not just the last 70 years but centuries have worked hard to make Britain great and prosperous, despite suffering indignity, abuse and heartache, finally feel appreciated. Will the Government consider commissioning a Windrush memorial, perhaps at Tilbury Docks, as a permanent reminder of this important part of our history, especially for the sake of our children?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is a magnificent example of the people of Caribbean descent in this country. Throughout this campaign, her smiling presence has been very welcome. She makes powerful points. Of course, our £500,000 budget will be significant in ensuring a lasting legacy. Obviously, her points will be heard and we always pay great attention to what the noble Baroness says.

My Lords, while I appreciate the need for some recognition of the day, the fact of the matter is that the Windrushers I spoke to in Speaker’s House earlier this week, one of whom was actually on the ship, want reparation and the opportunities they have lost to be taken into consideration.

The noble Lord is, again, a marvellous example in our national life of what many of Caribbean descent have succeeded in doing in this country. I too had the great privilege of meeting the Windrush survivor—very few people who were on that boat are still alive, but he was very much alive and it was great to see him in Speaker’s House. The noble Lord will know that compensation is being made available for some of the issues that arose relating to Windrush, about which we have all been outraged. The Home Secretary has made it very clear that he is also looking at a hardship fund, in response to a point that the right honourable Member David Lammy raised in the other place.

Would the Minister agree that, since the Windrush generation has made such a unique contribution to British life—I speak as someone who succeeded with the very first Windrush case approximately 10 years ago, which gave me some astonishment; when other cases followed I was amazed—and given their tremendous success, particularly with the hostility they faced at the very beginning, which I recall well, because they came from a different place, is it possible to use their skills and experience to broaden British tolerance? We are, after all, approximately the most tolerant nation on the globe, but given the very great variety of our nation we can always use more understanding of tolerance. This generation and its descendants are uniquely positioned. They faced hostility, overcame it and made huge contributions.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. There are many issues that we still have to deal with. We should not be too complacent. We have a great record on tolerance, but the Prime Minister has been very keen, for example, to proceed with the race disparity audit. We are considering responses on consultation to an integration Green Paper. But it is absolutely right that we celebrate the magnificent contribution of this community. Later on today I will be in Tilbury; tomorrow I will be in Lambeth. Activities are going on around the country to mark Windrush Day this week and certainly tomorrow on Windrush Day itself.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that well before the Windrush arrived, people from the Caribbean contributed a great deal to our war effort in both world wars, with several thousand members of the West Indies regiment, particularly in the Palestine campaign, in the First World War and in all three services in the second. Given that one of our major aims in our commemoration of the centenary of the First World War has been to educate the younger generation about the contributions their ancestors made, is he confident that in our commemoration so far and in how we are planning the end of the First World War’s commemoration, we are paying sufficient attention to the role of not only Caribbeans but the 1.5 million members of the Indian army in the First World War?

My Lords, yes I am. The noble Lord is absolutely right to stress that. As he says, there is another great celebration this year—the 100th year commemoration of the end of the First World War. It is important that that is carried forward. It is also important in terms of education, which was touched on earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge.

The Minister said earlier that there would be a hardship fund. We understood that a compensation scheme was being established. Can he give some details of that compensation scheme, because that confusion needs to be clarified?

My Lords, I think that the record will say that there is a compensation scheme and a hardship fund is being looked at. If I did not say that, it is certainly what I should have said—but I believe that I did. The Home Secretary is looking at that. Compensation is in progress. I will ensure that a letter giving details of how that is operating is sent to noble Lords and a copy placed in the Library.

My Lords, would it not be good to have a total reform of the Home Office immigration procedure to make sure that the Windrush dilemma never happens again?

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks powerfully on immigration and refugees, but it is well beyond my pay grade to rewrite Home Office procedures, not least since it is not my ministry.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I think that we all welcome the celebration of the Windrush generation and the recognition of their work and their contribution to this country. However, as he will have heard, there is still great concern about the scandalous treatment of people of that generation. For many, the scars of that will take a long time to heal. How many cases remain outstanding and how many people have been deported where their cases have been resolved or deportation notices have been withdrawn?

My Lords, as I have indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I will cover in writing the detail of some of the points that the noble Baroness raises. She will be aware that the Home Office and the present Home Secretary are setting about putting this right with some gusto and determination. Sixty-three cases were initially identified. Not all those are necessarily of people who had British nationality, but the Government are looking at 63 Windrush cases in some detail. The noble Baroness is right that this needs putting right, and successive Governments have not done that. From the outrage that was rightly expressed about this, there is a clear message from the British people that we need to get it put right. I do want in any way to minimise the challenge, but, meanwhile, an important celebration and commemoration will be going on every year on Windrush Day.