My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in another place:
“Mr Speaker, righting the wrongs done to the Windrush generation has been at the forefront of my priorities as Home Secretary. That is why I have apologised on behalf of this Government and our predecessors. History shows that members of the Windrush generation—who have done so much to enrich our country—were wrongly caught up in measures designed to tackle illegal migration long before 2010. We all bear some responsibility for this.
This Government are acting to right this wrong. Our Windrush task force is helping those who have been affected. We are making it easy for them to stay and have waived all fees—2,450 individuals had been given documentation confirming their status by the end of last year. They were all helped by the task force, which we set up in April. At least 3,400 have been granted citizenship under the Windrush scheme we opened on 30 May 2018. The task force’s vulnerable persons team has provided support to 614 individuals, with 52 cases ongoing. It continues to receive approximately 20 new referrals each week. The task force has made 215 referrals to DWP to help people restore or receive benefits; 177 individuals have been given advice and support on issues relating to housing; and 164 individuals have been identified by the historical cases review unit, of whom 18 have been identified as people who we consider have suffered detriment due to their right to be in the UK not being recognised. Sadly, three of them are now deceased. I have written to the remaining 15 to apologise.
As part of putting right what has gone wrong, we are putting in place a compensation scheme to address the losses suffered by those affected. We have consulted on this to ensure that we get it right. We will bring forward more detail on the final shape of the compensation scheme as soon as possible, having carefully considered the views that have been submitted. In December the Home Office also published a policy for providing support in urgent and exceptional circumstances. This set out the approach and decision-making process for such cases. The policy will support those who have an urgent and exceptional need, and compelling reasons why this cannot wait for the full compensation scheme.
As I said on the day I became Home Secretary, I am determined to right the wrongs suffered by members of the Windrush generation. Let there be no doubt: my commitment to this remains resolute”.
My Lords, reading the coverage of the Willow Sims case highlighted for me why people are worried about the ability of the Home Office to deal with these matters correctly. Can the Minister tell the House which Minister at the Home Office is responsible for the oversight of Windrush matters? How does that oversight take place? Is it a regular meeting with officials, the receipt of written reports or both—or some other mechanism? How is it that they have failed so badly in this case to exercise their duties properly and to avoid cases such as Willow Sims being treated so badly, as we have heard today?
My Lords, we do not usually talk about individual cases but, of course, this case was brought up earlier in another place with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. He said earlier that the letter was received only at the end of last week. It is now Tuesday. He has said that he will deal with it as a priority.
I think that the Windrush issue shames all Governments of the last 40 years or so. The Home Secretary has endeavoured in every way to make right the wrongs, as he said, and the failures of successive Governments. Not only are the Windrush task force and Windrush scheme in place, the exceptional circumstances scheme and the compensation scheme—the details of which will be released very shortly—are also in place. We cannot rewrite history, but we can make right the wrongs suffered by these people over generations.
My Lords, in reporting on the Windrush generation, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, said:
“We note that the new Home Secretary”—
as he then was—
“has instructed officials to take a sympathetic and proactive approach. A more humane approach to dealing with people who come into contact with the immigration enforcement system is indeed needed”.
We commented on the need for “quality assurance” and were told that a process for that was in place, although we have not heard details.
Willow Sims, who was mentioned by the noble Lord, appears to have run into trouble when a DBS check was made as long ago as last April. The Statement mentions referrals to the DWP. This is a matter for the whole of government. Quality assurance should apply to all departments that are involved. Are the other departments, including the DWP, exercising common sense and quality assurance and making referrals to the Home Office to sort out problems, which, as a matter of common sense, one would like to see?
Certainly, there has to be a co-ordinated approach to this whole Windrush issue, as the noble Baroness said, and quality assurance is absolutely paramount given what some of these people have suffered, some for many years. So she is absolutely right. The DWP is certainly one of the referral routes for the Windrush generation because some of them may have lost or not been able to receive benefits to which they are entitled. I totally take her point. Yes, my right honourable friend did say when he became Home Secretary that a humane approach was definitely the new culture within the Home Office.
My Lords, I have learned about midnight flights for deportees to the Caribbean. I do not wish to interfere in any way with judicial processes, or even to suggest that, but would it not be a gesture of post-Brexit good will to declare what some countries have done: a carefully constructed amnesty leading into our next-stage immigration policy?
The noble Viscount should be clear about what and whom he means when he talks about midnight flights. I do not know that they take place at midnight, but the people who are set to be deported to the Caribbean are rapists, murderers and people involved in drugs and firearms. Does the noble Viscount really mean an amnesty for serious criminality?
No, I was talking about a more general point that possibly, going into a post-Brexit situation, the Home Office might wish to consider amnesty for certain types of individuals. It may find that helpful. That is all.
I thank the noble Viscount for his clarification. Certainly, the approach that we took post Windrush was that the task force took not a lenient but a generous view when people came forward to try to prove their status and right to remain in this country. There was not a culture of saying no, but of saying yes when people tried to get that documentation approved.
My Lords, the Home Secretary insisted in the other place that the planned charter flights to deport people from the UK to Jamaica would involve only foreign national offenders, and the Minister has just talked about the sorts of individuals involved. But how can the Government be sure that they are foreign nationals, bearing in mind that hundreds of the Windrush generation who were entitled to live in the UK have been wrongly deported, made unemployed and denied benefits? How can the Government give British citizenship to those brought to this country as infants or children and pay compensation to those wrongly denied work and benefits but at the same time deport offenders who have similarly lived all their adult lives in the UK and have no memory of living anywhere else?
The noble Lord asked how we can prove that everyone who is the subject of the debate today is a foreign national offender. I am reliably informed—and I have asked repeatedly—that all the people who will be deported are foreign national offenders. The answer is yes. They are not only foreign national offenders but serious criminals. On the subject of people who came here as infants or children, obviously someone who was here before 1973 would have an assumed status, but just because you came here as an infant or child does not exempt you from the provisions in the UK Borders Act 2007, which the Labour Government rightly brought in to ensure that people convicted and sentenced to 12 months or more should be deported.
My Lords, will the Windrush unit, or something parallel to it in the sharing of expertise, be deployed to assist EU citizens? I am not thinking of those who have come since the free movement directive came into force 15 years ago but those who been here for many decades. One hears anecdotally about people—I saw a reference to someone the other day who had been here for 74 years. A lot of elderly people might be in a state of uncertainty and anxiety, and one sees the potential for similar issues to arise. Is the Home Office gearing up to deploy its expertise or personnel in those cases?
Certainly, the Windrush task force has stood ready to help anyone who has been here since before 1988 and would like to regularise their status. It has not precluded people from member states of the European Union, and that would include older people.
I asked the Minister earlier about the process of oversight by Ministers. Can she explain that to us? Is it the Home Secretary or a group of Ministers? Can we have their names? What is the process? Clearly, if things are going wrong—or not going wrong—we need to make sure that Ministers are in charge of the process.
The noble Lord did ask me that and I apologise for not answering at the time. As he and the House will have seen, the Home Secretary took absolute ownership of this issue right from the start, but I am sure that he liaises with other Ministers such as the Immigration Minister.