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Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“The Home Secretary has been very clear both that the Government deeply regret what has happened over decades to some of the Windrush generation and that we are determined to put it right. The Home Secretary laid a Written Statement in the House on 24 May to establish the Windrush scheme, which ensures that members of the Windrush generation, their children born in the UK and those who arrived in UK as minors, and others who have been in the United Kingdom for a long period of time, will be able to obtain the documents to confirm their status and, in appropriate cases, be able to obtain British citizenship free of charge.

The last update on our historical review of removals and detentions was presented to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 21 August. The Home Secretary has written to apologise in the case of 18 people where we have identified that they are most likely to have suffered detriment as a result of government action. To the end of July, 2,272 people have been helped by the task force to get the documentation they need to prove their existing right to be in the UK under the initial arrangements put in place prior to the establishment of the Windrush scheme; 1,465 people have also been granted citizenship or documentation to prove their status under the formal Windrush scheme. The task force is also working to help eligible individuals to return to the UK and has already supported one individual to do so.

The Home Secretary has announced a compensation scheme for those who have been affected as a result of not being able to demonstrate their status. The public consultation for this scheme was launched on 19 July and will run to 11 October. The Home Office is using a range of channels to engage with those who have been affected and to encourage people to respond to the consultation. We will announce details of the final scheme and how to apply as soon as possible after the public consultation has ended. Finally, the Home Secretary has commissioned a “lessons learned” review to identify how members of the Windrush generation came to be entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants, why that was not spotted sooner and whether the right corrective measures are now in place. The Home Secretary has been clear that the “lessons learned” review requires independent oversight and scrutiny, and has appointed Wendy Williams as independent adviser to the review. The independent adviser aims to publish her findings in a report by the end of March 2019.

I know across this House we are united in our determination to deal with the problems that have been faced by people of the Windrush generation. I therefore hope we can take a cross-party approach which recognises that the most important thing we can do is ensure the wrongs that some have faced are put right”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Answer given in the other place by the Immigration Minister earlier today, outlining what the Government are doing to deal with this frankly appalling scandal. I have a number of questions for the noble Baroness. What action is the task force taking to help individuals who have been deported to return to the UK, and does that include paying their travel costs? Why have only 18 apologies been issued so far? Surely everybody wronged by this scandal should receive an apology. Finally, can she assure the House that the Home Office has taken the required action to ensure that no new victims of this scandal are being created today and as we go forward?

The noble Lord asked about the actions of the task force to help people to return to the UK. The task force will help where it can and in whatever way is appropriate in a particular case. I cannot give the detail as every case will be different. The noble Lord also asked why only 18 people had been apologised to. Of all the people whom the task force is considering, those are the 18 most likely to have suffered detriment. Eleven of those people left voluntarily; clearly, they are being helped to return to this country if they wish to do so, in whatever way might be appropriate.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the “lessons learned” review. I am not asking a question on this first point, but it must have been a shock—and a lesson—to a number of individuals to have learned that three deportees had died. On the review, can she confirm that the work will apply much more generally than to the Windrush generation? The objectives refer to “operational decisions”. I have heard, from someone who used to work at the Home Office, that the way in which it took decisions in the case of Windrush showed “casual cruelty”. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, did not use quite such strong language, but in its recent report it referred to the fact that there was no power to detain being “blithely ignored”, and used the word “shocking” of the Home Office’s approach to Windrush cases; the whole committee agreed to that. It would be surprising if those attitudes were confined to decisions regarding simply the Windrush generation, so can the Minister give the House assurances about the broad application of the lessons to be learned?

We were all shocked at the death of those three people. Without talking about the individual cases, I know that two were removed post 2010 and one previously. None was detained and all left the country voluntarily, but that does not diminish in any way the sadness at the fact that they have died. The whole House will share the noble Baroness’s shock. She gave some descriptions of the approach of the Home Office to the Windrush generation and other immigration cases. As I have said to her and to the House before, it is worth bearing in mind that the new Home Secretary made it very clear when he arrived in post that the new approach would be to treat people as people, not as cases—a more humane approach. I hope that, since he became Home Secretary, he has demonstrated his commitment both to the Windrush generation and to that more humane environment, including by dropping the term “hostile environment”.

Before the noble Baroness sits down, she did not answer the last part of my question. I will not pursue it here, but can she confirm that she will write to me on that?

I asked whether we are absolutely clear that we are not creating new cases for the future, because that would be the worst thing that could happen.

I apologise to the noble Lord; I did not write that bit down. It is the first day back—I am just getting into the flow of it. On whether it will ever happen again, the “lessons learned” review will teach us a lot, and the independent assurance review of the whole process will be very helpful. All these things have taught all political parties why this whole process, which took place over successive generations, should never happen again. It also teaches us something about identity assurance and the importance of getting that right, certainly as we leave the EU and in the future, so that people are not caught out by these unintended consequences of what was originally a welcoming approach to our Windrush community, whose work over the years we value.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the new Home Secretary is to be congratulated on getting a grip on this issue so quickly and effectively? Does she also agree that this episode has very little to do with current immigration policy and that it should not be used to undermine measures that are necessary to protect our borders?

The noble Lord makes a clear distinction. There is what we have a moral obligation to do, to put right the wrongs which go back decades, but also, we absolutely need to keep control of our borders, and the two issues are entirely separate.

My Lords, euphemisms are used about the Windrush generation; basically, we are talking about Afro-Caribbean black people. We are saying that some black people who may have lived here for generations were questioned as to whether they could prove that they belonged here. We have no identity cards in this country. How is one to prove, if one is not a white person, that you belong to this country? I am sorry to say this, but I remember that in the early 1980s, when we had to change the passport, there was the question of people born abroad—expatriate sons and daughters. They were accommodated through a grandfather clause: if their grandfather was all right, they were all right, and they did not have to leave. Obviously, a great injustice has been done, and the apology is just not good enough.

I cannot disagree with the noble Lord, and that brings me back to the point I made to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy: that perhaps we did not think about identity assurance as clearly as we should have back in 1973, and it is becoming all the more important. It is up to us as a Government to ensure that people are provided with that and that they are able to prove their right to be here, to live, to work and to rent, and so on. The noble Lord is absolutely right, but that identity assurance will become more and more important.