Second Reading (and remaining stages)
My Lords, I am a bit out of practice —I am so used to doing things on Zoom now—but I am very pleased to be able to move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The whole country was shocked by the unacceptable mistreatment of some members of the Windrush generation by successive Governments. As the Home Secretary said on publication of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, despite the diverse and open nature of our country, too many people still feel that they may be treated differently because of who they are or where their parents came from. Many noble Lords have spoken passionately and movingly about the contributions made by the Windrush generation, men and women who came to the United Kingdom to rebuild the country after the Second World War. They built their lives and their home in Britain, and they have done so much for this country—their country. They worked hard, paid their taxes and contributed to our communities, our culture and our society. That is why we were all so shocked to discover that they and their families were subject to such insensitive treatment. Lives were ruined and families were torn apart.
This Government recognise that no amount of money can undo the injustice some members of the Windrush generation have faced or the hardship they have suffered. However, it is only right that all those who have been affected are offered proper compensation. This Bill, brought to this House as a money Bill, is therefore a vital part of delivering the Windrush compensation scheme. The compensation scheme was launched in April 2019. It includes a specific apology to each person, issued with the award of compensation. Most importantly, it allows those who have suffered to avoid court proceedings in pursuit of justice. There are 13 categories under which people can claim compensation, including “Impact on life” and “Discretionary”, and while some categories of award have an upper limit, there is no overall cap on the amount an individual can receive in compensation under the scheme.
Our priority has been to ensure that payments are made as quickly as possible. The first payment was made last July, within four months of the scheme being launched. To the end of December we had made 36 payments totalling £62,198, and many more payments have been made since then. However, some cases are more complex than others and it is right that we take the time to ensure these are dealt with properly. Where we can resolve part of a claim more quickly than other parts, we are making interim payments to ensure claimants receive their awards as quickly as possible, although we recognise the strength of feeling that we need to do all we can to ensure many more receive what they are due quickly.
Evidential requirements have been designed to be straightforward and not too onerous. Claim forms have been designed to be simple and easy to understand and were tested with users, so legal assistance is not required to complete an application. However, the Home Office has a contract with Citizens Advice to provide independent advice and support to claimants in the UK and overseas should they need it, and yesterday we announced the launch of a tender to select an organisation to provide this support to claimants for the duration of the scheme. The tender will be open from 22 April and close on 1 July and interested organisations can find out how to access the relevant documents on GOV.UK. The design of the scheme was informed by a public consultation, and the advice of Martin Forde QC, the independent adviser to the scheme. I thank Martin Forde QC for his ongoing support and invaluable insight.
We have listened, and will continue to listen, to feedback on the scheme to make sure it is delivering for those it is designed to compensate. Details of the scheme are set out in non-statutory rules, which gives us the flexibility to amend them where appropriate. For example, we announced earlier this year that we are extending the duration of the scheme by a further two years and changing the rules so people will no longer be expected to show they took immediate steps to resolve their status. This change means that some people may qualify for higher awards, particularly where it relates to loss of employment.
A review process for those dissatisfied with their compensation offer has also been established, first through an internal Home Office review and, if the claimant is still dissatisfied, through an independent review by the adjudicator’s office. Information supplied as part of a claim for compensation will not be used for enforcement action.
My department continues to work extensively with communities and stakeholders to raise awareness of both the Windrush compensation scheme and the Windrush scheme. The Home Office has attended or hosted over 100 engagement and outreach events and surgeries throughout the UK, but there is more to do to fulfil our commitment to those affected. That is why we announced last month a £500,000 community fund to enable grass-roots organisations to promote these schemes, including provisions for advice surgeries, the design of which will be shaped by community stakeholders, and a national communications campaign to raise awareness and ensure that people know how to apply.
No compensation can ever hope to undo the injustice of being told that you are not welcome in your homeland, but we hope that the Windrush compensation scheme can go some way to righting the wrongs of the past, in particular towards easing the financial burden that some endured as a result. That is why, even in the midst of the current circumstances, we have this Bill before us to fulfil our commitment to the Windrush generation and to discharge our financial duties to Parliament responsibly. Payments are currently made under a ministerial direction issued in July last year, but the Bill will ensure that expenditure under the scheme meets the expectation of financial regularity relating to both the 1932 concordat between the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury, and the principles of Managing Public Money.
The Bill received support in the Commons, where it passed quickly without amendment. We want swiftly to grant Parliament the necessary financial authority for expenditure under the compensation scheme, and I hope noble Lords will give the Bill the support it needs to avoid any further uncertainty for members of the Windrush generation. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, I commend the Minister on her appearance in the virtual Questions earlier. As the only Liberal Democrat speaking in this debate, I am in several respects in a most unusual position. I am speaking from an unaccustomed place and in place of a number of colleagues, in particular my noble friends Lady Benjamin and Lady Hamwee, who are unable to be in their places because they are self-isolating as a result of Covid-19. However, I am grateful to the Government for agreeing to schedule a debate in government time, virtually, on 6 May to discuss the Windrush scandal, which will enable my noble friends and other colleagues across the House to discuss not only the compensation scheme but the broader issues covered so comprehensively in Wendy Williams’s Windrush Lessons Learned Review.
The individual stories of victims of the Windrush scandal are of lives damaged and destroyed because of the actions of the Home Office. They shame every politician who, over decades of public debate, has chosen to use pejorative language and stoke up resentment about decent people legitimately living in the United Kingdom and contributing to our economy and our way of life. It is particularly poignant that we are discussing this scandal when those of a BAME back- ground, and those of a Caribbean background, are making such a major contribution, at a disproportionate cost of their own lives, in fighting the coronavirus crisis.
The Bill before us is extremely brief and its aim obviously worthy, but its very language—that it is providing compensation
“in recognition of difficulties arising out of an inability to demonstrate … immigration status”—
shows how the Home Office got into this mess in the first place. We are in this mess primarily because Home Office officials failed to recognise the rights of the Windrush generation to British citizenship, and applied the law disproportionately and insensitively in a manner that brought about the scandal. We are not in this mess primarily because of failings on the part of the victims of the injustice.
On the compensation scheme itself, I have a number of questions. First, the impact assessment states that the cost will be between £20.5 million and £301.3 million. The fifteenfold degree of uncertainty is almost certainly unprecedented and suggests that the Home Office really has no idea of the true scale of the problem. Can the Minister explain why such a high degree of uncertainty still exists?
The latest figures we have show that, of 1,108 claims, only 36 awards have been made, at an average award of just over £1,700. Therefore, the number of claimants is low, the number of claims accepted is low, and the amount of compensation looks—to me at least—low. Can the Minister give any indication of how long the Home Office is taking to deal with claims on average and, of the applications so far made, what proportion have been accepted, either in whole or in part, and what proportion rejected?
Despite what the Minister said in her opening speech, is she really satisfied that the claim form does not discourage claimants, given that it is 18 pages long and comes with 44 pages of notes? Will she consider simplifying it in the light of experience? What help is the Home Office prepared to give to those—particularly the old and vulnerable—who will find completing the form by themselves a simply insurmountable challenge?
The number of people who have so far come forward is a very small proportion of the possibly eligible claimants. The noble Baroness talked about looking to the citizens advice bureaux and national tendering for support, but does she accept that the most effective support for many claimants will be from small, very locally based community and faith groups and civil society organisations? Does she accept that some people who do not have the relevant documentation, or who have a criminal record, are holding back from making claims because they retain a fear of being deported? For such people, the work of the local intermediaries I have just mentioned will be crucial, if they are ever to make a claim at all.
What efforts has the Home Office made to publicise the scheme to those currently living in the Caribbean? What support will they get in completing their applications?
As this is a money Bill, we cannot have a proper debate in Committee about the details of the scheme. To me, some of the tariffs and caps look low and arbitrary. Why is denial of access to higher education limited to compensation of £500, for example, when the average benefit of a degree to an individual’s lifetime earnings is many times that amount? Why, unlike other large-scale compensation schemes such as PPI, are legal and other fees not eligible? Why is interest on such outgoings not eligible?
If the Government really want to ensure that all those who could possible benefit do so, why have they set a deadline for claims of two years from now? Why not make it longer—for, say, five or six years?
Finally, why are some components of the claim required to meet criminal standards of proof—the very requirement which led to some of the worst injustices in the first place and which is justified neither in law nor by common humanity?
The reason such detailed questions matter is that unless they are satisfactorily resolved, the compensation scheme will fail in its purpose. It will not be accessed by many who are entitled to do so, and it will become another source of grievance, rather than helping to bring an element of closure to those directly involved. But even if the compensation scheme is successful and all those who are eligible to receive compensation do so in a full and timely manner—that is a very big if—it can deal with only one aspect of the past failings of the Home Office.
As Wendy Williams eloquently points out in the introduction to the recommendations section of her review, there are three elements to her recommendations on what needs to change. The first and easiest is to
“acknowledge the wrong which has been done”.
The Government have largely done this; the compensation scheme is part of that acknowledgement. The other two elements are arguably of even greater importance. They are that the Home Office
“must open itself up to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and … should be rooted in humanity.”
To me, this last phrase is the crux of the problem and the challenge now facing the Home Secretary and her senior officials. It is abundantly clear from reading the review, and from press coverage of the Windrush scandal over the past three years, that Home Office action has not been rooted in humanity. If it had, the distressing individual cases which pepper the review could simply not have happened.
How is this approach to be changed? The review makes some 30 recommendations, all of them very sensible. I would be grateful for any further information the Minister can give on how the Government will respond to and implement them. For me, there are two central things which have to change. First, we must see an end to the demonisation and belittling of those who live in the UK and who come from a different country or culture. The history of immigration policy over the last 50 years has been for Governments to welcome the economic contributions made by immigrants and indigenous BAME communities but all too often to pander to intolerance and the semi-racist language of parts of our national media.
The hostile environment was not just a Home Office policy. It was what immigrants and BAME communities faced in their daily lives. While the worst excesses of the discrimination faced by the Windrush generation have been removed by legislation and changing social mores, the discrimination faced by many Europeans, who have also settled in the UK over several decades, has increased exponentially in recent years, since the Brexit referendum vote.
Against this background, it is hardly surprising that those working in the Home Office have often reflected the culture around them rather than showing the humanity which we ought to have expected, particularly when ministerial rhetoric has inflamed rather than calmed public debate on the issue. Today, the Government lost a High Court case which found that the right-to-rent scheme causes racial discrimination. They could signal a new approach to these issues by scrapping that scheme. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that they plan to do so.
The second thing that has to change—which the Covid-19 crisis and Brexit will, I fear, make more difficult—is that the resources in the Home Office have to match the task in hand. If you ask officials to achieve an ever-increasing throughput of cases with ever-diminishing resources, they simply do not have time to deal with them thoughtfully and with the thoroughness which the applicants have every right to expect. A change of culture and the increased resources needed to make it possible are now urgently required, not just to deal with remaining Windrush cases but because there is a danger of similar injustices flowing from the operation of the EU settled status scheme. Some of the case histories from this, which have already received publicity, have all the hallmarks of another Windrush scandal in the making.
These broader issues will rightly be the subject of the debate on 6 May. In the meantime, I hope that the Government will look carefully at the issues which I and other noble Lords raise on the Bill today, to ensure that the Windrush compensation scheme achieves its stated aims and does not become another source of grievance.
My Lords, this is a short Bill of just two paragraphs; I will aim to keep my remarks similarly short. I realise that there is to be a wider debate—the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has referred to it—which we will be able to conduct at greater length and depth. Fundamental to the quality of this Bill and to the achievement of the scheme, I say in a spirit of appreciation that this compensation programme is a matter of honour for the Government. How it has been brought about may be considerably more complicated in its genesis but at least, thank goodness, the scheme and its resources are possible.
In the Statement on the Williams report made in another place and repeated in this House on 19 March, the Home Secretary apologised, saying that she was deeply, sincerely sorry. She commented further that people’s trust had been betrayed and that this was because the Home Office had
“institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/3/20; col.1154.]
Even though there are independent assessments and the possibility of independent considerations and committees, this is the same department with possibly the same individuals who will make the judgments on payments. Given the admission of the Williams report and the Home Secretary’s apology, can the Minister tell us who has left the Home Office in disgrace for being institutionally ignorant and thoughtless towards the issue of race—or is everybody still in place with the same mindset and approach, making those adjudications and informing how payments will be released?
It is interesting that the scale of the payments is potentially so large—in the 300 millions—yet could be as small as tens of millions. Those will be matters of judgment. I know that the Minister’s intentions are right, and are understood to be right, but can she, with her hand on her heart, say that the Home Office and its civil servants share the same desire for a more mature understanding of the impact on the Windrush generation and for the eradication of that ignorance? What cultural change programme has been undertaken in the Home Office among not only the civil servants responsible but the wider department?
As the Minister mentioned, the notes accompanying the Bill say that there will be different aspects of compensation in the scheme including a good list of categories, with their caps, of course. Will the Minister clarify whether what we might call mental health claims are available under the category of health compensation? These claims could be made, for example, by those who feel they have been unduly distressed, or whose distress arises from the severity of discrimination due to ignorance; or they could come from a category of people—many of whom I have heard from—who say that their reputations have been significantly tarnished as a result of being identified for removal, not being able to work or being unable to get appropriate public support. Does this category of help include mental health distress or other mental health impacts of discrimination, and does the category of detention and removal include compensation for reputational damage? We talk about reputational distress, about how much or how big or small, but who measures that? It would be interesting to learn in the Minister’s reply how assessments of that nature will be undertaken.
During the Commons debate, the Home Secretary referred to the establishment of a
“cross-Government … working group to develop programmes to improve the lives of those affected.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/3/20; col. 1156.]
It is not clear whether the funding of that group will be associated with the compensation scheme, whether any of its outcomes will be funded by the scheme, or what the group will seek to do to improve the lives of those affected. Many tens of thousands of people, possibly hundreds of thousands, are affected, not just here in the UK but, of course, in other countries. They can apply for the compensation scheme and they rightly should. But how are their lives to be improved? What are the criteria for consideration of improvement and who will make those judgments?
Again, the Minister has referred to the £500,000 fund for enabling grassroots organisations to promote the compensation scheme. We are all grateful for that, but how will the fund be allocated? Will civil servants—who, I am afraid to say, have institutional ignorance—be making that decision? At the heart of my questions is this: how do we ensure that there is some genuine cultural independence and appreciation, and that communities of people affected feel that there has been a robust, mature understanding and some accountability within the Home Office as a consequence of this? These communities cannot simply be expected to believe that the same people who have made the bad decisions will make good ones.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend and to speak today in support of this Bill, which has taken on even greater significance— if such a thing were possible—in the light of the crisis that we are living through. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, pointed out, this unprecedented challenge has high- lighted once again the massive contribution that the Windrush generation, their children and their children’s children, make to the fabric of our lives in the UK. In these changed circumstances, as perhaps a truer perspective on what really matters in life emerges, as we redefine our views on what “key worker” means, as we reflect ruefully on past debates in this Chamber about immigration and the notion of low-skilled workers, we have occasion on a daily basis to be grateful to those members of our community who are of, or descend from, the Windrush generation.
They were brave pioneers. They came here, at our invitation, to help rebuild a nation battered by war. They did not come here asking to become British citizens; they travelled on passports which said that they were British citizens. Despite the discrimination and racism that they encountered and endured, they stayed on and made vital contributions, not least to the foundation of the NHS and the establishment of London’s transport system, and so 70 years later, as this generation endures its own global crisis, we are reminded every day of the contribution of those original pioneers, as we lean harder than ever on the health infrastructure that they helped to build, and as we witness the daily sacrifice of NHS workers and transport staff who risk their lives to support others.
The impact of the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment that enabled it has been well documented. It has affected the lives of individuals, their families and communities—homes and jobs have been lost, access to healthcare, pensions and social security refused. People have been subject to immigration enforcement, those travelling abroad have been refused re-entry to their home country, while others were unable to visit family to say final goodbyes to loved ones or to pay last respects at funerals. Some died before they received any acknowledgement of the appalling way they had been treated, let alone any sign of compensation. These people were and are British citizens, and we must all share the sense of shame at the treatment that they endured. This Bill is an important part of the process by which we will begin to right those wrongs. That is why I felt compelled to come in and speak today. I support the Bill, but I have some questions for the Minister, which I hope she can address when she winds up.
First, can the noble Baroness offer any explanation as to why, as we have heard, so few applications to the scheme have been received? The Home Office estimates that 15,000 people could be eligible to apply, yet 1,000 applications have come in, with just over £62,000 paid out to 36 people. I share concerns that people may be dissuaded from coming forward by the absence of provision for legal aid, the complexity of the claims process and the extensive requirements for documentary evidence, exactly the kind of evidence that people were denied as a result of this scandal. When you add in the understandable mistrust of the Home Office, and individuals’ fears of testing their own status, lest they suffer the same consequences as others, it is probably less surprising that so few have yet to make a claim.
Secondly, is the Minister confident that the £500,000 fund for community-based organisations will be sufficient? Community-based groups are effective because they are just that—they are rooted in and specific to that community and locality. But this scheme is open to a range of different communities, and certainly not just those who originally came from the Caribbean Commonwealth. We should not imagine that these people are all part of a single community just because they share that same characteristic of having suffered as a result of the Windrush scandal.
Finally, can she tell us what progress the stakeholder advisory group is making on its stated purpose to build trust with the affected communities? How many times has it met? What recommendations has it put forward and which have been taken up?
Since this Bill had its Second Reading in the other place, we have now seen the Wendy Williams lessons learned report. Her important recommendations take on an added poignancy today. “Go further,” she urges, “to right the wrongs.” She does not add, but I will—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has already mentioned this—that the lessons learned from this shameful episode need to be applied as we implement a new immigration regime for the post-Brexit environment. Worrying reports are emerging of EU citizens who are resident in the UK being denied access to universal credit right now, despite having pre-settled status, but because they do not pass the right to reside test. The Home Office has said previously that whether they have pre-settled or settled status, they have been accepted through the scheme and have secured their rights in UK law.
This may not be the moment to push this particular issue further, but I would urge the Government to hold the Windrush lessons and that simple but powerful phrase in mind,
“Go further to right the wrongs”,
because, however important this Bill is, it cannot in itself end the Windrush scandal. That is because it is one of discrimination, of the denial of rights and of the perpetuation of inequalities that stretches back over decades, and it is a scandal that is still playing out, as is clearly evident in the relative rate of poverty among black and Asian minority ethnic communities as well as in access to education, housing or employment and in the social and health-related inequalities. It is horribly revealing that, of the first 3,882 patients critically ill with Covid-19, more than a third were non-white, despite those communities representing only 14% of the population. BAME staff make up 44% of the NHS workforce and yet they account for 68% of deaths, including every one of the 14 doctors who had died at the time at which I wrote this speech.
Last month, the Government called for retired doctors and nurses to come back into service to help manage the coronavirus crisis. For many, that call to action will have evoked memories of 1948, when they answered a similar call and boarded HMT “Empire Windrush” to come to the UK and help build the embryonic NHS. Yet despite the prejudice they faced in their careers, despite spending decades nursing others only to be denied healthcare when they needed it themselves, despite their children being told that they were aliens in the only country they had ever called home, many of these nurses and doctors have put their own safety on the line and signed up. The Windrush generation and their descendants have twice answered the call to help this country through its darkest hours. We are clapping for them now, but what happens when the weekly applause no longer rings out? That will be the true test of whether the lessons have been learned. We need not only to compensate these people who have been so shamefully wronged; we need to ensure that nothing like it is ever allowed to happen again.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow three such powerful contributions in this debate. Along with others, I welcome the fact that we are talking about and providing compensation, but I am worried about the slow pace of the claims being made and the concerns which have been expressed about the details of this Bill, but of course this House has no power to change those details. What I want to do in this short Bill is to address four points, although of course we are to have a broader debate later. One of my points is the narrative around the Bill while another is about what actions have been taken following the Windrush scandal. I also have two pressing questions, which cannot wait until 6 May, about the risks of the next Windrush.
I turn first to the narrative. In introducing the Bill, the Minister did not really address the framework for how we got to the point of needing to pay compensation. If we go back to the Second Reading debate in the other place, we can see that the Secretary of State said that
“the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment of … members of the Windrush generation by successive Governments over a significant number of years … yet they were … told that they were not welcome.”
I do not believe that anyone would challenge anything in that statement. The right honourable Lady went on to say
“This was a terrible mistake by successive Governments”.
Also from the government side in that debate, the right honourable Member for North Dorset said that the scandal
“was not a conspiracy but a cock-up of the most enormous magnitude.”—[Official Report, Commons; 10/2/20, cols. 618-20.]
That must be parliamentary language since it is in Hansard.
Since that debate was held, we have had the independent report about the scandal which says that the behaviour of the Home Office was
“consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism.”
In her response to today’s debate, I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that this was not a mistake or an accident but that there was racism behind the way the Windrush generation was treated, so it is very important that we acknowledge that.
The report says that the scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable”. That then raises the next urgent question: what direct action is being taken? The report quotes a Home Office official as saying:
“I think it is unfortunate that most of the policymakers were white and most of the people involved were black.”
What steps are the Government taking to address imbalances in the Home Office to ensure that its culture changes? These urgent questions cannot wait. We must acknowledge, accept and apologise for the treatment of the Windrush generation throughout their time in the UK, not just during recent immigration events.
The independent report was called the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, but we have to ask whether lessons have been learned. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, raised the issue that was raised this week by the3million, a group campaigning for the rights of EU citizens, and others about universal credit and people in the UK with settled status. This cannot wait. These people are at risk of being left destitute and penniless because of the colour of their passport, even though we have said that we accept them as a member of our society. That threatens to be one of the next Windrushes.
Another issue that has been raised today by people from a range of political groups, including the Mayor of London, is that of people in the UK who have the status of no recourse to public funds in the crisis caused by Covid-19. Many of these people will be working. Some of them may be dependents in households where they are at risk of domestic abuse. With that status attached to them, they may be forced to put themselves in danger or face starvation. Obviously, our treatment of them is a question of humanity; it is also a question of public health and safety. Will they be forced to drive a minicab? Will they be forced to work in a store, even if they are ill or have been exposed to illness, because they have no real alternative because of their immigration status and the way we are treating that status?
My underlying question concerns that horrendous phrase “hostile environment”. It was not the party of our current Government who invented the phrase, I am afraid to say—it was a preceding Government—but the party of the current Government has certainly ramped up its application hugely. Are we at a point where the hostile environment is utterly reversed and our Government are saying that migrants are welcome?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting this important Bill to the House.
My Jamaican father fought for Britain as a sergeant in the Eighth Army in the Second World War, yet when he came to England on the “Empire Windrush”, he was shocked to see posters warning, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.” As my father later remarked, if he had been a black Irish Labrador, he would have been in real trouble.
He was saddened, though. As a member of the Commonwealth, he did not think that he was coming to a foreign country. He believed that he was returning to the motherland. He was one of thousands from the Caribbean answering the call from the British Government, who were desperately in need of immigrants to help to rebuild post-war Britain. He could have stayed in Jamaica—the weather is better there—but Britain was calling him.
Although my father was a qualified accountant, he soon discovered that it was his manual labour in a factory that Britain valued more. However, his personal fortunes changed when Warwickshire County Cricket Club discovered that he could play cricket. The headline in the local Sports Argus was, “Warwickshire sign Jamaican immigrant”, but in the following year, 1949, when he scored 121 not out against Leicestershire, the news this time read, “Warwickshire saved by local Brummie Taylor”.
That same year my mother also came from Jamaica to Britain. She served for decades as a nurse in our National Health Service. When she retired she became a volunteer hospital visitor for the Stroke Association, so my parents were examples of a Windrush generation which endured racism and other challenges, yet still made a positive contribution here. It must be recognised that many of that brave Windrush generation, like my mother, became the dedicated backbone of and inspiration for the excellent National Health Service that we are presently saluting for saving lives and keeping us safe during this Covid-19 virus pandemic.
In 2002, I had the privilege to open an orthopaedic hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, but it was ironic to hear from its management that a major challenge that Commonwealth hospitals, including that hospital, have faced over decades is the continuing loss of nurses and other skilled medical staff to more prosperous nations such as Britain.
I was also privileged to become Britain’s first black university chancellor, at Bournemouth University in 2001. At that time, it had relatively few students from the rest of the Commonwealth, so it was a delight for me to help build a link between the university and the University of the West Indies. In the process, Bournemouth University continued to grow an international reputation. It is against that personal background that I find the Windrush scandal so outrageous.
“Windrush” was named after a river, but the path to justice for the Windrush victims has not been anything like a flowing river: it has been like a swamp dragging down and drowning the dreams of totally innocent people. In principle, I welcome the Bill. It is only right that victims are properly compensated for the suffering they experienced as a result of not being able to demonstrate their lawful status in the United Kingdom. Having said that—the Minister concedes this—nothing can fully wipe out the hurt and loss that should never have been suffered in the first place. I emphasise that this is not about the rights only of the Windrush generation: this scandal offends the whole nation and the reputation of Britain in the world. As Martin Luther King said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I have some questions for the Minister to answer either today or in due course. First, can she give an updated figure regarding how many people have been affected by this scandal? I ask this because the initial focus was on Caribbean Commonwealth countries, but it has become clear, as we know, that individuals from non-Caribbean nations were also affected. As of 27 February, the published data show that 1,108 claims were made, 36 payments were made and just over £62,000 was paid. That is a pitiful sum, and I do not think I am playing with words there when we consider that victims lost jobs and homes, were denied their legal rights, were wrongly detained, deported and refused re-entry to the UK. In some cases, they were strangers to the countries they were wrongly deported to.
The Windrush compensation scheme is time-limited and was initially due to run for two years until April 2021. I welcome the fact that the Government have extended the deadline for applying to 2 April 2023: this provides more time to reach people who are not yet aware of the scheme. However, I wonder how fair and realistic even that extension is, bearing in mind that the whole nation is still subject to lockdown restrictions. Surely victims will need more time to access lawyers and get legal advice. Will the Minister please reflect on the possibility that the deadline may need to be further extended through no fault of the applicants themselves?
Next, when will the independent adviser to the scheme be finally approved? We have been operating under this scheme now for several months, and I sure that Martin Forde QC is doing the best he can, but he is only an interim adviser.
Will legal aid be available to the claimants? I am still confused about that; can the Minister clarify the position? Will full legal costs be reimbursed? I read in the debate in the other place about a £500 cap on legal fees, but surely that is unrealistic, bearing in mind the complexity and age of these cases. The Home Office has even suggested that applicants for compensation need not require legal advice. In view of the troubled history of the scandal, that adds insult to injury.
We heard about the wording of the application form. Consider that section 1 alone asks about “lapsed status”, “settled status”, “ordinarily resident” and “right of abode”. These are not straightforward terms, especially without legal advice. Can that wording be reviewed? The noble Lord, Lord Newby, went into this in far more detail than I propose to do today, but the application form has to be simplified in the course of justice, so that justice is seen to be done. Also, the criminal standard of proof surely should be reduced to a civil standard of proof.
The present pandemic might not only cause more suffering to claimants but slow down their application process. Will the Government look again at a special hardship scheme for those in urgent need of compensation? Examples were given in the other place on 10 February of four people whose urgent cases were highlighted in a 2018 report. Two years later, two of them had still received nothing, while the other two had died before receiving any compensation at all. Surely that is just a disgrace.
Is it right for the Home Office to be managing this scheme? The traumatic nature of claimants’ previous dealings with the Home Office means that they have little trust in that department.
Finally, when will the Government respond to the Windrush lessons learned review by Wendy Williams, published in March? This is a money Bill, so there are wider issues to be considered that are outside the remit of today’s debate. The Windrush generation and its descendants have become a deep-rooted part of British life and culture, including the professions, politics, business, the Church, media, arts and sports, yet they have not been treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. There are many biblical examples of immigrants who transformed nations, including Joseph and Daniel. Both journeyed to a foreign land in a hostile environment, overcame prejudice, prosecution and even unjust imprisonment; yet, despite it all, they rose to be government leaders in those nations.
Because of the current pandemic, we are learning to value many people who have previously been over- looked—the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made that point most eloquently. However, Parliament has now come from recess to reset. We must learn the lessons of the past so that the Windrush scandal never happens again. As far as getting justice for the victims is concerned, the Bill is just the beginning, not the end. As President Nelson Mandela said:
“There is no such thing as part freedom.”
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick. It will become clear why in a minute. It is essential to understand the history of Windrush in order to put right at least some of the wrongs of an overzealous application of the Immigration Rules. The Immigration Act 1971, which came into force in 1973, gave Commonwealth immigrants already settled in the UK indefinite leave to remain. That was the year in which I entered nurse education, and two of my excellent tutors in mental health came from the Commonwealth. When I was appointed here, they were both alive and really delighted. Hearing that my noble friend’s mother was also a Commonwealth nurse, it gives me great pleasure to follow what he just said. They are why I really wanted to speak today.
The Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 were part of a policy where the Government’s reforms were based on the principle that the right to live, work and access services in the UK should be available only to migrants who were eligible. The environment and general approach to immigration at the Home Office changed, as a range of checks and controls on migrants’ access to services were instigated. The controls were designed to prevent illegal immigration, remove incentives for illegal immigrants to enter and/or remain in the UK, and encourage them to leave. In practice, these controls were inappropriately applied to some Commonwealth immigrants who had already been given indefinite leave to remain. We now know them as the Windrush generation, the vast majority of whom were lawfully resident but did not necessarily have the documentation to prove their rights.
While it was in theory possible for these people to apply to the Home Office for confirmation of their status, there were application fees and the amount of supporting evidence required posed obstacles for many. The Government recognised this in April 2018 and have apologised several times for the harm caused; the Minister has just apologised again in this House. Measures were announced to address the affected members of the Windrush generation, which included conducting a review of historical Caribbean cases and establishing a Windrush scheme to issue confirmation-of-status documents free of charge to eligible applicants.
In 2019, the Government launched the compensation scheme following an extensive consultation process, with which this Bill is associated. Initially, the scheme was designed to be open for two years, with an expectation that up to 15,000 people might be eligible. I too warmly support the fact that the Government have extended the period of application to 2023. However, it is clear from the information provided in the briefing from the House of Lords Library that even this extension may not be of sufficient duration, as others have said this afternoon.
By the end of December 2019, just over 1,000 claims had been made but only 36 payments totalling just over £62,000. The Government announced the alteration extending the scheme in February 2020, before the coronavirus challenge that now faces us in the UK. I have examined the websites associated with making a claim, which currently state: “Please email your claim because the post may be delayed.” There is further information stating that you might get files of a certain size rejected. Looking at the kind of file one might need to send to make a claim, I have a feeling that it is highly likely that your file would get rejected.
Finance has been made available, with up to £500,000 for grass-roots organisations to promote and explain how to make applications for the scheme. Yet with social distancing currently in place this is not feasible, except possibly through internet groups—not traditionally associated with grass-roots, face-to-face explanations of complex systems. Will the Minister please ask the Government to consider extending the scheme to at least five years since their original announcement? This is particularly important as claims can be made by people who have already left the United Kingdom but may be entitled to settled status. The Government must ensure that these people have sufficient knowledge, time and information to make appropriate claims for compensation and/or have their right to return to live in the UK.
Having argued for an extension of the duration of the scheme, I reiterate the message given in relation to the Bill by several MPs in the other place: that many people are in urgent need of compensation because they face immediate hardship, which may indeed be exacerbated by the difficulties associated with coronavirus.
We have seen a fantastic response to the furloughing interventions from the Treasury, with hundreds and thousands of people being facilitated to make claims this week for payment by the end of April. This is in stark contrast to the complex processes required to make an application through the Windrush scheme, which offers very small amounts of compensation for the loss of certain rights, such as £500 for the loss of access to free NHS care—less than one day in an ITU—and £1,000 for denial of access to social housing. Surely some of these allocations, if they are to remain so low, could be made very swiftly.
The findings of the recent independent review, which others have referred to, are highly critical of the Home Office, stating serious concerns that
“these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.
It is worth noting that a national campaign to encourage engagement within the community that can make applications seems to have been very slow and possibly underfunded. There needs to be more urgency in resolving claims and the process should, as the report notes, be rooted in humanity.
This is a money Bill and therefore, I appreciate, can receive Royal Assent without being passed by the House of Lords. However, how swiftly does the Minister expect the national campaign to encourage applications and to fund grass-roots organisations to work with potential applicants will be achieved? These issues need to be resolved so that people whose lives have been severely affected can seek and receive appropriate compensation to improve their futures.
It appears, from my examination of the website guidance to applicants, that those who can demonstrate that they have suffered major physical or mental health impacts that are unlikely to be reversible may receive in excess of £10,000 and, if they had become homeless, an additional £25,000. Taken together, this could enable some applicants, particularly those who were detained in immigration centres, to be awarded immediate payments in the region of £50,000. If such payments were made swiftly to those most affected, it would remove some of the serious defects in the process of handling immigration issues for the Windrush generation in the past. Making some of these larger compensation awards quickly would also probably result in more people coming forward to make applications, which would be a good thing.
I note that the other place raised several concerns about the scheme itself and the low level of some awards, but I accept that it chose to support the Bill in principle. I of course support the Bill in principle, but I ask the Minister to outline how frequently the Government will report on the number of applications made, how many are successful and the levels of payments made to individuals. Does she agree that a report should be made available to Parliament at least every six months over the next six years so that progress to ensure that the compensation scheme achieves its end is properly monitored? This in turn should lead to righting at least some of the wrongs to individuals whose immigration status was, in fact, an indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
My Lords, it is a great delight to follow so many wonderful speeches setting out all the ghastly details of the Windrush affair. In the next few minutes—I assure noble Lords that it will be a few minutes—I want to take a slightly different view. I want to talk about how we came to know about it, how we came to be here today in this Chamber and how this Bill is about to pass. I also want to pay tribute to the power of journalism, when it works. This is a situation that the Government did not want us to know about. They had hidden this truly appalling scandal—something that, as we have heard, affected the lives of totally innocent men and women, not in the past but in our time.
The story, like all good stories, begins with an individual. It began in November 2017, when the Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman was contacted by a charity which was very concerned about one of its clients. A woman called Paulette Wilson had been taken into detention and was threatened with deportation back to Jamaica—a country that she had not set foot in for 50 years. Paulette was 61. She came to Britain at the age of 10 and had lived almost all her life here. She had even worked in this building as a chef in the House of Commons. There was no reason to deport her.
The Guardian published the article and, in the weeks that followed, Amelia Gentleman was contacted by more and more people who were experiencing, as she said, peculiar and very harsh decisions at the hands of the Home Office. Initially, she had thought that Paulette’s case was a one-off, but quite soon she realised that this was systemic. She said at the time that the coalition Government had made a commitment to get migration down to the tens of thousands but were quite unable to do it. Quarter after quarter, the migration figures would come out showing that they were nowhere near their target.
In 2012, the Home Office made a concerted effort, through the Cabinet Office, to introduce policies that would turn Britain into an extremely hostile environment —those were the words of Theresa May—for anyone who was here illegally. It required people to show their passport on many occasions, not just at borders but when they were trying to get housing, jobs or even healthcare.
It soon became clear that the Home Office was not very good at determining who was here legally and who was here illegally. As Amelia Gentleman added, all the people affected by the scandal were here legally. They had arrived in the 1960s and 1970s but just did not have the paperwork. One man in particular concerned her. He had been taken back to Jamaica, as a treat, to celebrate his 50th birthday. It was his first time back since his childhood and, on his return, we did not let him in.
Amelia Gentleman did not give up. Her reports ran in the Guardian every day and were very soon in newspapers across the country. The Government were squirming. They were desperate to deny it and to obfuscate their way out of it. However, the evidence was both overwhelming and, ultimately, unarguable. The fact that we are here today is a testament to the part that journalism played, and, for me, it underwrites the crucial need to maintain a free press in our society. Let us remember that it was journalists, not MPs or Select Committees, who found this story. I know that some parts of my profession peddle fake news and do completely ghastly things but, when they get it right, they sure as hell get it right.
I would like to leave noble Lords with one thought. In China, there is no free press. Without a doubt, the fact that there was no free press allowed the Government to repress the details of what was happening when Covid-19 started to spread through their country. The world was kept in ignorance. If there had been a really serious journalist there and a bunch of brave and determined editors, I wonder whether we might have known about it earlier and whether the outcome might have been different.
My Lords, this has been a short but very good debate, with some very powerful contributions from around the House, and I am delighted to be able to speak in it today. At the outset, I offer my full support to the Government for this short, two-clause Bill, which gives them the necessary parliamentary authority to make payments under the Windrush compensation scheme.
As we have heard, there would normally have been a much longer debate on the Bill. Like other noble Lords, I am really pleased that we will have a virtual debate on 6 May, when I know that many other noble Lords from all sides of the House will make the points that they would have made today. We know that there has been a ministerial direction to allow compensation payments to be made ahead of this Bill becoming law. However, as we have heard again today, there has not been a huge number of payments and we have to be a little concerned about that. As we have also heard, people have suffered terrible injustice, and the sooner that financial compensation and a proper and fulsome apology is made to them, the better. I concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, about the contribution that the Windrush generation has made to our country, and we will forever be grateful to them for that.
Any financial compensation and apology can go only so far to alleviate the hurt and injustice that has befallen people who have been treated so badly, as was highlighted by many noble Lords. That is something that we should not forget. What of the people who have since passed away and are not alive to see the action being taken today to at least correct the wrong that was done to them?
When we discussed these matters previously, I made the point that it is important to have a robust communications plan so victims are informed that there is a scheme in place to compensate them and to right the injustices they have suffered. The Government have been very imaginative with their communications plan. I welcome the Minister outlining that a fund has been made available. That is very important, because we will not get away with a few Facebook posts and a couple of tweets; that would not be good enough. Particularly when we look at the age now of some of the people who suffered this injustice, careful thought has to be given to how we are going to contact people and get in touch with them so that they understand, first, that they have suffered an injustice and, secondly, that the Government want to put this right and that there is a scheme in place.
People have suffered real financial and other hardships. They have been split from their families and friends. It may well be that people have lived or are living very difficult lives elsewhere in the world; we should not forget that. It may well be that people are living off-grid, as it were, where they are presently. We must recognise that.
There also needs to be an acceptance from the authorities that claims for compensation have to be as easy as possible and that excessive form filling, an insistence that items must be submitted online and other bureaucratic obstacles will not be accepted. The description of the form by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is an example of a bureaucratic obstacle; that is just not acceptable. We cannot have a situation in which people have to fill in these forms and submit them online, or cannot get the file through because the file of evidence is so big that the server will not take it. That is just not acceptable. I look forward to the Minister answering the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. We have to get this right. If these obstacles become another source of grievance, we are just making a dreadful, terrible situation even worse. I know that many noble Lords in this House will not accept that.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, asked the key question of where communities will be. How can they be assured that the officials operating this scheme will now get this right? What assurance can the Minister give that the Home Office will now get this right? People are genuinely worried about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, made the powerful point that we need to be flexible in accepting people’s claims. We will also need an extension of the scheme. I understand why maybe they do not want to extend it over a number of years, but I do not believe that everyone will be covered in the relatively short time the Government have outlined. It will have to be extended, and I fully support the noble Baroness’s call for an extension of the scheme. That would just be plain common sense. I hope Ministers will make sure that the attitude of the officials administering the scheme is right. The last thing we want to hear of in this House or anywhere else is further injustices. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, can outline how she will assure the House how she, other Ministers and in particular the Home Secretary will review what is happening. How will they apprise themselves of the scheme as it develops, keep it under review and ensure that nothing is mentioned ever again about hostile environments and how people are treated? It would also be good to hear from the Minister what has been going on since the scheme has been up and running. What has the Home Secretary done to ensure that it is being administered properly? It would be good for the House to hear that.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, highlighted the contribution his parents made—a contribution typical of people who came from the Commonwealth to fight in our wars and to work in our armed services, the NHS and our other public services.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made a similar contribution on the Windrush generation. Her speech and that of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, reminded me of my friend Sam King, who came from Jamaica, fought in the RAF in the Second World War, then came back and served as a postman. He was a councillor in Southwark—I was privileged to know him—and was its first black mayor. He was a wonderful man who did so much for the Caribbean community and the wider community in Southwark and beyond. He was awarded the MBE for his contributions. He died in June 2016, an example of service and a life well lived. It was a privilege to know him.
We also need to remember that we live in a great country. I am very proud to live in this country and to have been born here, but when you look at our country and its achievements, you see that they were made by immigrants who came here to make a better life for themselves and their families and to contribute to their country. Quite a lot of Members of this and the other House are immigrants, or the children of immigrants. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is an immigrant, and I am the child of immigrants. Her parents came here as doctors; my mum came here to work as a nurse in the National Health Service. That is quite typical. I recall the Irish embassy a few years ago doing some work which identified how many Members of the other place had parents who were nurses who came over from Ireland to work in the health service. That highlights to me how lucky we are.
As we battle this terrible Covid-19 pandemic, I am struck by how many people in our police and other blue light services, how many people keeping us safe in our hospitals and care homes, how many people ensuring that our bins are emptied, keeping our children safe from abuse, protecting women from domestic abuse, working in local authorities, keeping the shelves filled in our supermarkets are immigrants. What a disaster would fall on us if they were not here keeping us safe and looking after us. I have seen NHS staff many times holding up signs saying what countries they have come from. That shows what a small world we live in and how lucky we are that they are here.
I am very pleased that the purveyors of awful politics have been silent recently. I hope we hear less and less from these people. They are absent from our screens, and long may that continue. They are not elected and they are appointed to nothing. I certainly hope we never see them again.
I give my full support to the Government on this Bill. Clearly more needs to be done, but it is a step in the right direction. I thank the Government for that and I look forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness in answer to the points we have made.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and everyone who has spoken in this debate. Several things came to mind as I heard the various speakers.
First, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Warwick commented on “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. Were that still in force—the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and I were babies then—half the speakers taking part in this debate would not be allowed in your Lordships’ House. It was lovely to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, on the back of my noble friend’s point, talk about some of her inspirations as a student nurse.
I also support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, about our BME friends who have worked in the fight against Covid-19, many of whom have died in the fight. Many people in this country owe them their lives, and we are eternally grateful to them.
This is rightly a money Bill, because it focuses on matters of financial regularity. The Home Secretary has said that there are still people out there who need our help but whom we have not yet reached—many noble Lords have referred to them today. That is why we have confirmed that we will launch an expanded cross-government Windrush working group to develop programmes to improve the lives of those affected. That might be through employment support programmes, dedicated mental health support or specialist education and training schemes. We will continue to listen to stakeholders as we take forward establishing this group.
Most noble Lords talked about the scope of the scheme. My noble friend Lady Verma, who cannot be here today because she is self-isolating, has asked me to talk about certain aspects of it. The Windrush Compensation Scheme is not limited to men and women who originally came to the UK from the Caribbean Commonwealth and have struggled to demonstrate their lawful status. It is open to Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK before 1 January 1973 and who are lawfully here because they have a right of abode or settled status or are now British citizens. It is open also to Commonwealth citizens overseas who settled in the UK before 1 January 1973 and to any person of any nationality who arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988 and is lawfully here because they have a right of abode or settled status or are now a British citizen. The scheme is open also to the children and grandchildren of Commonwealth citizens in certain circumstances, to the estates of those who are now deceased but who would have otherwise been eligible to claim compensation, and to close family members of eligible claimants where there is evidence of certain direct financial losses or significant impact on their life. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, asked about mental health. Mental health would be covered by this aspect of impact on life.
Data published by the department on 27 February demonstrates that claims are being made by individuals of a range of nationalities, spanning the Commonwealth beyond the Caribbean. The scheme covers a broad range of losses: there are 13 categories under which claims can be made, such as impact on life, which I have just mentioned. There is also a “discretionary” category, which will enable people to claim for other losses not necessarily identified within the scheme. We want to be as flexible about this as possible.
The Government are committed to making sure that everyone who is due compensation can receive it. In designing the scheme, 650 responses to a call for evidence and nearly 1,500 responses to a public consultation informed our approach. We held several public events. Martin Forde QC, who is an experienced barrister on all aspects of health law, was appointed by the previous Home Secretary to advise on the design of the compensation scheme. We have made the evidential threshold as low as possible and will work with claimants to support them in providing as much information as possible to support their claim. However, it is important that we spend public money appropriately and therefore a minimum level of information and evidence is required. Where awards are for actual losses, it is right that we seek to obtain an appropriate level of assurance that those losses were incurred so as to fulfil our duty properly to manage public money.
The aim of this approach is to reimburse in full those who can evidence actual losses. For those who cannot meet the evidential requirements for an award based on actual loss, a tariff award may be made. Our approach is comparable with employment tribunals’ approach for calculating loss of earnings, where an award to cover actual losses generally would be paid where the claimant was able sufficiently to evidence what those could have been.
We have always said that we will listen to feedback on how the scheme is operating and continue to make improvements where they are identified to make sure that it is delivering for those whom it is designed to compensate. The changes announced by this Government earlier this year demonstrate our commitment to do this and to build on changes made to the rules last October.
I can understand concerns that the department which caused the issues facing these individuals should be the one deciding whether they are eligible to receive compensation. I hope that I can give some comfort on this. The Home Office is determined to learn lessons and right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation, and the compensation team is working hard to ensure that people get the compensation they deserve. As the Home Secretary said in her Statement on Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the Home Office protects, supports and listens to every single part of the community it serves.
On the operation of the compensation scheme, moving it from the Home Office would risk significantly delaying payments to claimants. I am sure that that is not what anyone would want. The first stage in deciding a claim for compensation is to confirm an individual’s identity and eligibility, and that is linked to the immigration status of an individual. It would be difficult to decouple this from the Home Office without increasing the time taken to process an individual’s claim and issue payments.
We have established an independent review process for those dissatisfied with their compensation offer. The independent review is conducted by the HMRC adjudicator, a non-departmental public body that is completely independent from the Home Office and can look at, among other things, whether the department has followed its policies and the use of discretion by the Windrush compensation team.
Lastly, as an independent adviser to the scheme, Martin Forde continues to provide external scrutiny and challenge on its operation and implementation, and we continue to listen and respond to feedback received from stakeholders to ensure that the scheme is operating effectively for claimants.
The noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Taylor, and others, spoke about funding, the impact assessment, award tariffs and caps on the scheme. I say again that the Government are making sure that everyone who is due compensation can receive it. The Windrush compensation scheme awards compensation according to both actual losses and tariff-based awards. While some categories of awards have an upper limit, there is no overall cap on the amount that an individual can receive in compensation under the scheme. There is also an uncapped discretionary category, which is for significant impact or loss not necessarily identified within the scheme.
Noble Lords referred to the updated impact assessment. Published in February, it outlines the Home Office estimates that the Windrush compensation scheme will cost between £90 million and £250 million, based on 11,500 eligible claims. That answers the question from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick.
Other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked about the sheer breadth and extent of the spectrum of compensation. It has actually reduced since the previous impact assessment was published, due to lower than anticipated claims to date. However, there remains a high degree of uncertainty around the likely volume of compensation claims and the level of claims against the different categories. As a result, the impact assessment uses a number of different volume scenarios with a wide range of possible costs. The department will continue to review estimates as more payments are made, but I want to make it clear that there is no cap on the amount of compensation we will pay out to individuals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, asked about data on the number of applicants. There will be a quarterly update on GOV.UK. Given that the last update was in December, I am expecting one fairly soon.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked about the number of payments made and the time to process claims, and I think that his challenge is absolutely fair. Up to the end of December, 36 payments had been made, totalling £62,198. We aim to award compensation as quickly as possible, but it does take time to process each claim, and it will depend on the complexity of individual cases. It is right that we take the time to ensure that they are dealt with properly. Where we can resolve part of a claim more quickly than other parts, we are making interim payments to ensure that claimants receive their awards as quickly as possible. Many of the payments made so far are interim payments, which means that claimants may receive further awards later.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, asked what proportion of claimants are successful. The latest data, released in February, to the end of December 2019, show that nobody had been rejected on eligibility grounds. There were some zero awards to eligible people who had not suffered financial loss or detriment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, made a very good point about people with no recourse to public funds. Many of the measures that Her Majesty’s Government have put in place will support such people—for example, the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employment scheme and statutory sick pay are not public funds and are available to all. The Government have given more than £3.2 billion to local authorities to help them support those in need. Of course, for people with no recourse to public funds, that is quite often where the money comes from. Rental and mortgage protections are also available and people on human rights routes can apply to have their “no recourse to public funds” status lifted if their financial circumstances change.
On the length of time, just as a comparator, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority website suggests that claims under that scheme take 12 to 18 months to conclude, but that is not a reason to justify this. I recognise the strength of feeling, and we are working very hard to ensure that many more receive what they are due quickly. To the end of December, as I have said, no claims had been rejected. The noble Lords, Lord Newby, Lord Kennedy and Lord Hastings, made very good points about communications efforts. Of course, those efforts are not just by way of a quick tweet, as the noble Lord said; they are across the world and we are working extensively with communities and stakeholders to raise awareness of both the Windrush compensation scheme and the Windrush scheme.
The Home Office has attended or hosted more than 100 engagement and outreach events and surgeries throughout the UK, but there is definitely more to do to fulfil our commitment to those affected. It is essential that we engage with people directly. That is why last month we announced the £500,000 community fund that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, mentioned, to enable grass-roots organisations to promote these schemes, including provision for advice services. We are committed to working with members of the community to shape the design and principles of the fund. That is why we intend to work with stakeholders to co-design the fund.
One thing that the compensation scheme covers under quite a broad category—I have already alluded to it—is the impact on life. This category is specifically designed to cover non-financial impacts that individuals might have faced as a result of being unable to demonstrate their lawful status; for example, an inability to attend significant family occasions, celebrations or events, or family separation. We have heard awful examples in this House of how that has happened. This category is awarded at a series of levels, with payments ranging from £250 for detriment where the effect on the claimant was fairly short lived, up to £10,000-plus where the effect was profound and likely to be irreversible. The scheme is also open to close family members of eligible claimants who may claim compensation in their own right where they have suffered a loss or impact.
The Government also consider it reasonable to expect that individuals who encountered difficulty evidencing their lawful right to be in the UK would have taken steps to try to resolve this. However, we have listened to feedback from stakeholders and affected individuals, and earlier this year we amended our mitigation policy so that a wider range of circumstances and actions taken by individuals to resolve their immigration status or mitigate losses or impacts are considered when deciding awards. Individuals are no longer expected to show that they took immediate steps to resolve their status, and this was clarified in new guidance published on 5 March. These changes mean that affected individuals may qualify for higher awards, particularly where loss of employment is involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, and others talked about claimant assistance and legal advice. We have designed the compensation scheme to be as clear and simple as possible so that people do not need legal assistance to make a claim. The claim forms have been designed to be simple and easy to use and were tested with users.
Evidential requirements have also been designed to be straightforward and not too onerous. However, for those who want or need support to make a claim, the Home Office has funded Citizens Advice to provide free independent advice and support. This is available to individuals at home and overseas. As I said, yesterday we launched the tender to select an organisation to provide free independent advice and support to claimants for the scheme’s duration.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, mentioned the length of the form. Claimants need to fill in only the bits of the form that are applicable to them. While it might seem like a long form, they have to fill in only the pieces that refer to them.
Many noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, in particular—mentioned the duration of the scheme. We want to make sure that everyone who wishes to make a claim can do so. That is why we announced earlier this year that we are extending the duration of the scheme until 2023 and why we are doing all we can to raise awareness of it. However, as the Immigration Minister said at Second Reading in the other place:
“There is a balance to be struck between having a date far enough in the future to enable people to feel confident that they have time to make their claim, but soon enough to encourage people to put in their claim.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/2/20; col. 668.]
We felt that the two-year extension provides this, but the option remains to further extend the duration if it is required. The rules allow for an extension.
Noble Lords also talked about destitution, immediate need and significant hardship. Where people are in immediate need, we have measures in place to provide that extra support. The task force has a dedicated vulnerable persons team to provide help and advice where safeguarding and vulnerability issues are identified. To the end of February 2020, the vulnerable persons team has provided support to nearly 1,400 individuals. We have a fast-track service with the Department for Work and Pensions to confirm status and residence and to arrange access to benefits. We can also help with securing accommodation for those identified as homeless with local authorities. To provide support to members of the Windrush generation who have an urgent and exceptional need, we may also be able to consider a payment under the support in urgent and exceptional circumstances policy. To the end of February 2020, 33 payments have been made under that policy. Finally, the Home Office also has an agreement with Citizens Advice to provide bespoke professional advice, including debt advice, to anyone experiencing immediate financial problems.
All noble Lords talked about the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. On 18 March, the Home Secretary received the review from Wendy Williams, and updated Parliament and published the review at the earliest opportunity on 19 March. It makes compelling reading. It makes it clear that some members of this generation suffered terrible injustices spurred by institutional failings spanning successive Governments over several decades, including
“ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.
We are truly sorry on behalf of this and previous Governments that people’s trust has been betrayed.
The Home Secretary will bring forward a detailed formal response in the next six months, as Wendy Williams recommended. As noble Lords will recall, she specifically asked the Home Secretary to take time to reflect on this before she responded.
Noble Lords talked extensively about the compliant environment. The previous Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Sajid Javid, said that the words “hostile environment” would no longer be part of the way that the Home Office operated. The Government are absolutely committed to a fair and humane immigration policy which welcomes and celebrates those here legally, deters immigration offending and protects the taxpayer.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked about the right to rent. This was introduced under the coalition Government and was about tackling unscrupulous employers and landlords to protect the vulnerable while also protecting good employers and landlords. It is in the interests of a fair society that those who play by the rules are supported while those who would otherwise be exploited are protected. The noble Lord talked about losing the right-to-rent judgment. We did not actually lose the judgment: the appeal has been allowed and we will await its outcome.
Gosh, I have gone on for 24 minutes, but I am sure that the House will indulge me. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, asked about the stakeholder advisory group and how many times it has met. The cross-government group announced by the Home Secretary has not yet met because of Covid-19, but the Home Office stakeholder advisory group has met three times and has focused on communications campaigns—engagement and outreach, grass-roots campaigns and the new national campaign—and working on digital outreach options in the light of coronavirus. She also made a comparison with the furlough scheme. It is not really comparable because that scheme is just about employment and this is so much broader than that. The Windrush Compensation Scheme is dealing with people’s lives in the round and a lot of this goes back many years.
I hope I have answered all noble Lords’ questions. I am sorry to have gone on for 25 minutes. I thank all noble Lords and commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time, and passed.
House adjourned at 5.55 pm.
Proceedings resumed (Order, this day)
Considered in Committee (Order, this day)
[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]
Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
Bill read the Third time and passed.
I wish to inform Members that under the Order of the House of today, notices of amendments, new clauses or new schedules to be moved in Committee of the whole House may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a Second time. In order to be eligible for selection, Members should table amendments within the next five minutes.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As the House knows, we are living in unprecedented times. The Government have made it clear that they will do whatever it takes to mitigate and limit the effects of the covid-19 pandemic on the United Kingdom. To that end, we have a coherent, co-ordinated and comprehensive plan to support public services, equipping our doctors, nurses and other essential staff with the tools they require on the frontline in support of their work. It is a plan to protect businesses, jobs, wages and incomes through this difficult and uncertain period for the economy. At the heart of the Bill is a recognition that the Government must act swiftly and boldly to provide the resources necessary to limit, and ultimately defeat, the virus.
As the House knows, Parliament provides the Government with the authority to expend resources, capital and cash via the supply process. The process is begun with the publication of the main supply estimates, which we debate in this Chamber, and then the introduction of a supply and appropriation Bill. It is only once that Bill receives Royal Assent, usually in July, that Governments get the bulk of their resources, capital and, most importantly, cash to carry out their approved functions. Until the supply Bill passes, typically in July, Departments live on what is described as “vote on account” money. This money usually represents about 45% of the departmental spending on services from the previous year. It allows Departments to start spending from 1 April, and it normally provides sufficient funds to tide them over until the balance is delivered via the supply Act in July, as described. However, as events have been unfolding, it has become clear that additional departmental spending will be needed compared to last year, and for good reason. The scale and spread of the virus mean that we must act now to safeguard lives. The Government cannot afford to wait. No one in this House would want us to wait until July to deliver the resources that Departments need for the next financial year.
The Bill is necessary because the economy has come to a halt; we have effectively halted it in order to put an end to this virus. There is a narrative that actually we could have toughed it out, and that we have sacrificed the economy for healthcare. That never really was a realistic alternative, was it?
The Government have not had any time for that narrative, nor has there been any decision in our mind other than to act as decisively, effectively and comprehensively as we can to defeat this virus and to protect livelihoods, businesses, jobs and wellbeing. That is what we are seeking to do. I do not agree—if I may say so to my right hon. Friend—that the requirements that this Bill seeks to address would or could have been accommodated in any other economic circumstances. To move at the speed at which we are moving to offer the support we are offering demands the cash movement that this Bill is designed to achieve.
Can the Minister confirm that the amounts that we are talking about in this Bill relate to departmental spending that may need to happen over the next few months, and that they do not relate to the balance sheet of the Bank of England or any of the lending facilities that have been made available to business?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This legislation, as I will go on to describe, relates to departmental spending. It as an advance against departmental spending that will be properly ratified, accommodated and acknowledged within the estimates process, as one might expect.
Departments—this goes straight to point just made by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey)—need money from 1 April, and they need more than the House has already allocated to them via the vote on account. The Government cannot afford to wait until July to deliver the resources needed for the next financial year, and the Bill seeks to close that gap.
The House has long recognised that the Government sometimes need to act without recourse to the normal processes, which is why Parliament has historically provided for the existence and use of a contingencies fund. But Parliament has wisely limited the amount that can be issued from the fund to 2% of the previous year’s cash spend. For 2020-21, that amounts to some £10.6 billion, which would be more than adequate in a normal year. But, as we have discovered, we do not live in normal times. These times are without precedent in the modern era. Through this Bill, the Government therefore ask the House temporarily to raise the limit on the amount that sits in the contingencies fund to 50% of that expended last year; I should be clear that that is approximately £266 billion.
Let me go further and say—again, this is a response to the point made by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton—that this is not new spending and it is not a blank cheque. All advances will have to be repaid once the main supply estimates are voted on in the summer, when the House will have the opportunity to scrutinise and debate where the resources have been allocated in the normal way. Nor does this represent additional Government borrowing. The Chancellor has said that he will update the Debt Management Office’s financing remit in April to reflect his recent announcements.
Quite simply, this Bill is about cash flow and the need to deliver the support we have announced without delay. It allows the Treasury to provide cash advances where they are urgently needed, and it provides for a safety net between supply estimates. This is an exceptionally short Bill, but it is an exceptionally important one in that it allows the Government to deliver the extraordinary package of support announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. It solves a cash timing issue arising from the current process, and balances the need for an urgent response to the unfolding crisis with the necessary parliamentary scrutiny and oversight.
This Bill is yet another demonstration of the Government’s commitment to fighting the threat from covid-19—protecting businesses, jobs and, most importantly, our fellow citizens, from the ravages of this deadly disease. I wholeheartedly commend it to the House.
May I start by assuring the Treasury Bench that the official Opposition will support this Bill? I support the Government throughout, obviously, but as the Minister might expect, we will be constructively critical as well throughout the process.
This Bill, as the Minister says, will enable the Government to access the resources to tackle the crisis. I have to say, there is a sense of irony here, because only three months ago I hoped to be bringing forward a Bill for about £250 billion as well, for long-term investment in our infrastructure—but that is another story. It probably would have been supported as well, because it was infrastructure spend. Anyway, we will support this Bill, but we have the opportunity to raise some issues on the way in which the resources will be applied—forgive me if I do that.
We recognise that this is the gravest crisis facing our country that any of us in this House has known. We are debating matters of life and death, and the proposals that we make now and the decisions that we need to take in the coming months obviously deserve scrutiny, and that scrutiny should be welcomed on all sides. Last night, the Prime Minister was right to call for people to stay at home to protect our NHS and to save lives. We called for enforcement measures yesterday morning, and the Mayor of London and many others have been making private representations for greater clarity and greater action.
Clear and detailed guidance to employers and workers is needed on which workplaces should close. As we saw in the earlier response to the statement, a lack of clarity remains about certain operations, particularly within the construction sector. We have received reports from unions, particularly those representing construction workers, that there is utter confusion on the ground at the moment about what operations should be maintained and which workers should be on site. For anyone who has been anywhere near the construction industry or worked on site at any time in their lives, things have not changed that much in recent years. These workers also work in some of the most insanitary conditions, so we have to ensure that they are properly protected.
The Chancellor and the Government must act immediately so that every single worker has a protected income. We discussed that earlier today. We want to ensure that every single household is secure in their home, whether they rent or mortgage, so that no one who makes the right choice to stay at home faces hardship. Last week, the Chancellor set out an unprecedented scheme to underwrite 80% of the wages of all workers “furloughed”—as he put it—promising that no redundancies or lay-offs were needed and that the Government would do, “Whatever it takes”. Today is the time to deliver, with clarity and security for everybody, including our most vulnerable, whatever it takes to keep them protected and safe. That is why we are supporting this Bill to enable the resources to be available.
Last night, the Prime Minister effectively shut down every non-essential business. I want the Chancellor and Treasury Front Bench to make it clear now that every single worker, in every single one of those businesses, will be covered by the 80% income protection scheme, and that if, as a result of that 20% cut in incomes, they fall below the thresholds for universal credit or housing benefit, they will be eligible for top-ups. I ask the question, will the Government consider setting a national minimum wage floor for the income protection schemes? That would protect the lowest paid, because 80% of low pay might result in some people being paid below the national minimum wage.
Will we now get more clarity on exactly when the income protection scheme will be operational? Will the Government also condemn employers such as Wetherspoon that have now stopped wage payments and told employees that those will not resume until the end of April? Some senior members of the Government have an influence over that particular employer, so we would welcome the Government making it clear to that employer that that he should pay his staff and that he should close so that that company can play its part in protecting the health of our community.
The Government cannot act only for workers who are furloughed. They must also step up for the many who will be having their hours reduced but not stopped altogether, by topping them up to at least 80% of their regular wage, or through some other scheme. When the Minister responds, will he clarify what will be the protection for workers who have been put on short time?
Sadly, many workers have already been laid off as a result of this terrible virus. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was extremely candid and honest last week when he said that he could not live on the £94.25 per week statutory sick pay. I do not think any of us can. How can the Government expect entire families to afford a week’s shop on that sort of income? Will the Government therefore increase the appallingly low level of statutory sick pay and ensure that all workers are eligible for it? So many are not at the moment. Will they also increase the £73 rate of jobseeker’s allowance and employment support allowance for disabled people? Will they also look at the even lower rate of carer’s allowance? Carers are expected to live on £66 a week.
As we discussed earlier today, there are 5 million self-employed workers in this country, many of whom cannot work from home. We desperately need a scheme that will be ready for them soon. It needs to guarantee them the 80% of income that others have been guaranteed. Whether it is a cabbie, a childminder, an actor or a plumber, there are battalions of self-employed out there who need their security. We need confirmation that a scheme will be brought forward not within days but within hours, to give them that assurance.
We also urge the Government to work with the construction industry and the trade unions to find a solution that covers the particularities of that sector—we have pointed them out before—with workers employed through payroll companies and umbrella companies. Most of them are forced into self-employment, and often exploitative self-employment of the worst sort.
I turn to housing. We welcome the moves to protect mortgage holders, with payment holidays now put in place for mortgagees, but we need the same security for renters and for the Government to understand the difference. For a renter, a rent holiday is not the same as a mortgage holiday. Rent is paid continuously during a tenancy, while mortgages have a fixed term, meaning that repayment terms can be simply extend. It is therefore important that the Government act to ensure that rents are paid, not merely that payments are suspended for this period.
We are extremely disappointed by the legislation published yesterday. Frankly, many believe that the Prime Minister has broken his promise to the country’s 20 million renters in 8.5 million households. It was not an evictions ban, as the Prime Minister promised. That legislation will not stop people losing their homes as a result of the virus; as my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said, it just gives them some extra time to pack their bags. To be frank, it is just not good enough. The Government must look again; we urge them to look again.
There are also wider problems. Over recent years, austerity cuts have lessened the value of support available via housing benefit. The Government must immediately suspend the benefit cap and rid us of the bedroom tax that has affected so many families. We welcome the moves announced last week on local housing allowance, but the Government must go further and restore the local housing allowance from the 30th percentile back to the 50th percentile of market rates, as it was before 2010.
People will have made rental decisions based on their incomes, and they should not be penalised by the unforeseeable impact of the coronavirus, when we are asking people to lock themselves away. Now is not the time for families to be downsizing or sofa surfing with parents, grandparents or friends in cramped conditions. Many of us represent constituencies where overcrowding has become the plague of modern existence.
May I briefly pay tribute to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan? His team has worked tirelessly and creatively in securing hotel accommodation to get London’s rough sleepers off the streets, though we would like to know more about the duration and the cost of the deal that the Government have procured with hotels. It is important that the Government act to keep households in their homes so that that attachment to work, school and study can continue seamlessly at the conclusion of this extraordinary period. We cannot have a situation in which, at the end of this, tenants have either depleted all their savings or, worse, have amassed large and unpayable bills. If this is the case, the Government will be deferring evictions only a few months down the road, so the suspension of evictions for private and social tenants should be extended, we believe, from three months to six months. Shelter has estimated that as many as 20,000 eviction proceedings are already in progress and will go ahead over the next three months unless the Government take action to stop them, and they must be stopped. When the Financial Secretary to the Treasury rises to his feet, he must be clear that there will be no evictions of any kind during this period.
In addition, we also believe it necessary to suspend all bailiff proceedings for the same period. Practically speaking, there are clear health and safety issues about bailiffs entering the homes of families who may be self-isolating. Furthermore, what measures is the Chancellor proposing for suspending payments of household utility bills? That was raised in the discussions this morning and we will support measures that are brought forward. During this period, we cannot have bailiffs and we cannot have disconnections of water, energy or internet.
What are the Government doing about those without internet access? Many people in our communities rely on libraries to access the internet, but now those libraries are closing. What measures will the Government bring in to ensure that people can get online, whether for benefit services or to maintain some form of social contact? These are huge demands being placed on the civil service, and I pay tribute to all those public servants throughout our public administration who are working day and night to establish these schemes. They are not often praised, but they are in this situation.
The civil service has been depleted by a decade of austerity. As extra demands are placed on, for example, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, other civil servants are being redeployed. Are those recently retired or made redundant from the service being asked to come back to assist, just as we have invited other professionals to come back into the NHS?
Will the Minister also confirm that the current round of HMRC office closures and redundancies will at least be paused, if not reversed, at this stage? What adaptations have been made for those working in the mass call centres of HMRC and the DWP? Is the telephony technology there for them to work at home? Is there greater social distancing within the call centres themselves? We all know that universal credit cannot cope now, but its roll-out was again delayed in the Budget. Millions more households are becoming eligible for universal credit, housing benefit and other payments, so are the Government confident that the system can cope with this increased demand, because the feedback that we are getting from our constituents on the frontline is that they find it impossible because of the long waits to get through and have their case dealt with successfully. No one is blaming the civil servants; it is about resources and investment.
What are the Government doing to encourage businesses to take up business interruption loans, when some businesses see loans as less effective than grants for keeping them afloat? Is there potential for increasing the level of grants and extending their range? Have the Government considered our proposal that such loan agreements should include job retention clauses, which would mean that when businesses receive a loan, they can give workers the security they need in the knowledge that they will not lose their jobs? It is not much to ask of a business receiving financial support from the Government in this way that they work towards our overall objectives.
The difficulty with what the right hon. Gentleman suggests is that most businesses do not know the extent of this crisis and the impact it will have on them. It is impossible at this point to determine exactly how long this will last or how deep a recession might be. Is he not asking the impossible of businesses?
In the real world, that is exactly why trade unions have asked that when loans are given or support is provided through the jobs retention scheme, there is a requirement for businesses to sit down with their trade unions and work through a plan for the future. In that way, security could be given to workers, because they would be involved in determining that, and judgments can then be made at different stages of the business development process. We are looking for some form of assurances that will give wider security than there is at the moment. If a company is being supported by a loan or the job retention scheme, it is not much for them to sit down with their workers to work honestly and fairly on a plan for the future to see how they can work together to secure those jobs.
Consideration has been given to extending grants to many small businesses that cannot afford to take on additional debt. We would welcome information on how the Government will extend coverage by extending the range of eligibility criteria, to make the grants more flexible.
We also need clarity for workers beyond the retail sector—those on construction sites in particular, but also in factories, call centres, warehouses, distribution and other settings. What are essential workplaces? What is the clear definition? I think that many of these issues can be dealt with fairly readily in the discussions that the Government are having with the trade unions, but they need to be more detailed and on a more permanent, structured basis.
The NHS was promised budget increases over the next five years. We suggest that the Chancellor brings forward the funding for years two, three and four into year one. Can the Minister assure us that we will not have another weekend when doctors and nurses working in intensive care have to go on the media to beg for personal protective equipment and clothing? There were instances over the weekend, and we have heard assurances from the Government, but action is needed rapidly. Can he also assure NHS workers that they will get not only the equipment they need but the tests they need? The World Health Organisation has made it clear from the start that its advice is test, test, test. The scale and the speed of testing need to be addressed.
Can the Minister assure the House and the public that everything is being done to procure more critical care beds? I welcome the news that 7,500 recently retired staff have returned to the NHS, and I pay tribute to each and every one of them. The Government have begged retired NHS staff to return. We believe that the same must happen with social care staff. Chronic low pay in the care sector, with many paid just the minimum wage, means that staff have left for less stressful jobs in retail and other sectors. Those workers need to be brought back. They need the appropriate personal protective equipment and clothing, and they need proper recompense.
Many will have seen the devastating news from the Oaklands nursing home in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), where 16 of the 20 residents and seven staff have coronavirus symptoms. I was most concerned about the reports that, despite pleading for it, the home has been unable to source the proper protective equipment. Just yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Minister for social care, my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), demanded an urgent action plan for social care—a system that looks after those most at risk from the virus. As the Chancellor said, our social care system needs whatever it takes. Whether that is residential care, domiciliary care or family carers caring for loved ones in their own home, the resources have to be there now. Can the Minister tell us how much has been allocated immediately to councils and care providers?
Let me turn to local government. I welcome the sectoral consultation that is taking place and the dialogue with trade unions across all departments. Councils have a key role to play as the guarantor of social care provision, but they too have been devastated by cuts and now have the responsibility of the hardship funds to administer. Will the Minister be clear what extra resources are being made available to local councils, especially as many are likely to start seeing drops in council tax and business rates revenue? What extra funding is being made available so that councils can extend council tax support schemes in this period as well?
Although we fully back the measures outlined yesterday, there are unfortunately some households where these measures could mean more abuse and even risk to life. This is where domestic abuse takes place. For victims of domestic abuse and for others, this home isolation will be terrifying. We need the police, refuges, mental health services and other social services to have all the resources and capacity they need. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, who has raised these issues repeatedly. We need a positive Government response that is backed by sufficient resources and full consultation.
Others, like me, have raised the issue of the charity and voluntary sector. Many charities whose work is essential in filling the gaping holes in our public services and our safety net are desperately worried about their finances. Charities dealing with the immediate response to the coronavirus and its effect on the most vulnerable need access to enough grants to allow them to scale up their operations. Others need to be assured that they can access the same level of support that small businesses are rightly getting so that they can suspend some of their operations without having to lay off their hard-working staff and can restart once the crisis passes. Can the Minister tell us what reassurances have been provided by the Government to the charity and voluntary sector? Will the Government work with the sector to find suitable reliefs in these unprecedented times and can the Government outline what schemes are available now to charities struggling with the loss of revenue?
On schools and education, I understand that schools remain open to the children of key workers and to vulnerable children, but only if no safe alternative is available. As for the universities sector, may I ask the Minister about the fees that will have been paid by students in further and higher education and what refunds and deferments will be available? Many students—in fact most students these days, because of tuition fees—work in term-time and during holidays, and that work will no longer be available to them. May I ask the Government immediately to reduce the interest rates on student debt to zero for the duration of this crisis to assist those students?
On transport, what provision has been made by Her Majesty’s Treasury to refund lost revenue for transport authorities, whether that is Transport for London or those that run bus services across the country? On railways, I echo what my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Transport has said: we back the measures that will keep key workers and freight moving on our railways during this crisis, which has exposed, as he says, the fundamental weaknesses of the franchise model. May I also thank all the railway staff and bus workers who are keeping the essential parts of our country moving? Will the Minister assure us that all public facing railway staff will also have the appropriate personal protection equipment and clothing that they need? Can the Minister tell us whether any consideration has been given to making public transport free for key workers who are risking their lives every day? NHS staff are receiving free rail travel in Wales and a similar move is being rolled out in other countries, such as New Zealand. We would welcome that in this country.
Prisons were understaffed and overpopulated before this crisis. This is not just a question of resources but of safety. I welcome moves to escalate prisoner release schemes for those who do not pose a threat to our society, but the probation service was in crisis before this virus hit us and the lockdown announced yesterday complicates matters even further. Can the House be assured that the police and the probation service will have every resource possible to keep people safe and to monitor those who need supervision? I welcome the moves last week to release detainees from detention centres due to health and safety concerns. Can the Minister be clear about what extra resources are going in to protect people’s health overall?
I was brought up a Catholic. Our local parish priest optimistically calls me a lapsed Catholic, so I welcome any sinner who repents. I therefore reach across the divide and pay tribute to the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), who yesterday said that
“many people who we considered to be low-skilled are actually pretty crucial to the smooth running of our country”.—[Official Report, 23 March 2020; Vol. 674, c. 17.]
I also echo his call to the Home Secretary. The point has been made repeatedly by the shadow Home Secretary and many of our Members on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman asked for the new points-based immigration system to be reviewed, in his words,
“to reflect the things that we have learnt during this time”.—[Official Report, 23 March 2020; Vol. 674, c. 17.]
Have the Government given any consideration to temporarily suspending no recourse to public funds, which is blighting so many people’s lives, or to allowing temporary access to benefits for non-UK nationals so that they can survive this period? That is important at a time when more and more people are out of work and unable to travel.
As a public service to all Conservative MPs, I say that the market does not distribute wages fairly or efficiently in a capitalist society, and there is no correlation between pay rates and the social value of many jobs. If there is one lesson that we learn from this crisis, maybe that will be the one that lasts the longest.
Just three weeks ago, I asked the Government to take a lead internationally in tackling this virus. It is vital that we are engaged in all global health and political forums and that we learn from best practice and share solutions, because this virus respects no borders. By helping others globally, we help ourselves. By neglecting others, we neglect ourselves. Will the Minister assure the House today that extra resources are being made through the international development budget to aid the poorest countries in combating this virus?
I think we will look back at this period as an unprecedented moment in our lifetimes. I know that this is already a tragic time for so many, and all of us will be hurt by this, but I want us all to be able to look back with pride about what we did in this period—to be able to say, “We widened who was covered by our safety net when we had to. We protected people and their jobs and wages. We cared for people around us. We provided all the support that was needed and, as a result of that, we came through this all the stronger.”
This Bill, as the Minister said, shows decisive leadership by the Government and, indeed, by the whole House. It is supported by the Opposition parties. As the Minister explained, this is really a cash flow Bill. It is not a provision at this juncture for the extra £266 billion of Government spending for Departments; it is an advance to those Departments.
The first question I ask the Minister is, bearing in mind the advance, what is the Treasury’s current estimate of how much extra it thinks it will be borrowing when we come to estimates in July? That is something the House would like to consider and start thinking about.
Another point related to the fiscal and monetary management of this crisis, which I think this Government have done admirably, is whether the Treasury has done any thinking about the Government balance sheet, and in particular the balance sheet that will be looked at by international sovereign investors. Bearing in mind that this crisis is affecting every country in the world, have they done any thinking with our partners on whether money spent relating to this particular crisis may be somehow itemised differently on the balance sheet, rather than just being lumped in with all the other Government spending that may have taken place? If we could somehow delineate crisis spending and normal spending, that may well help investors, this House and anybody else in the future in trying to assess the fiscal health of this country and others. I think that is something the Treasury should consider.
However, there is a broader issue here. This is obviously thought about as primarily a global health crisis, but many people think about the economic impacts, and that is indeed correct. However, the health crisis and the economic crisis are intertwined, and I will focus, as so many in the House have today, on the self-employed, although this issue does not relate just to them.
This virus requires us to do social distancing, which is a phrase all of us have become so familiar with, although I do not think any of us knew it existed up until two to three months ago—all I can say is, bring back Brexit. To save lives, we are having to shut down major parts of the economy, and for people to save their own lives and the lives of others, they are having to shut down their personal economic activity. These people have families, houses and responsibilities; if they do not feel that they can meet those responsibilities, some may choose to take the path we have asked them not to take. Some may choose to do the risky thing and not what they know to be right, because they are caught in this difficult conflict between health and wealth. The job of any Government in a responsible society—indeed, this Government have met this challenge—is to make sure nobody is faced with that choice. I think that principle has underpinned all of the response from the Treasury and should continue to underpin it when the Treasury comes out with its proposals for self-employed workers.
I have a couple of specific questions for the Minister. I have been contacted by many constituents who are trying to use the business interruption loan scheme. Could the limit on unsecured lending be extended above £250,000? Many constituents have told me that they have been asked for personal guarantees above that threshold by the banks. Quite understandably, many are not willing to provide personal guarantees. Indeed, one asked me, “Bim, would you give a personal guarantee on a £500,000 or £1 million loan?” I said I could not say in all honesty that I would. Will the Minister consider extending that threshold for unsecured lending above £250,000—perhaps to £500,000 or £1 million?
That is an interesting point. The position is not clear on the website, and it does need clarification, but I think that loans over £250,000 are ones that businesses could not get security for. This is the Government standing behind businesses that do not have other forms of security. I think that below £250,000 is where people can ask for reasonable security. However, my hon. Friend’s point about a personal guarantee is key, because it will deter many people from applying for these loans.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. More broadly, the key question for the Minister is whether the Treasury is willing to adapt the scheme over the coming days and weeks as we hear more about the distinct problems and difficulties that there may be with it. That is not to quibble with the fundamentals of the scheme; it is a good scheme, and we need to recognise—indeed, I want to put on record—the fact that it was put together in record time. That is an incredibly difficult thing to do, and we need to give officials and Ministers credit for what they have managed to achieve, but let us try to improve the scheme so that it can be useful to more people, and addressing the issue I have raised is one way of doing so.
The final point I want to make is about tech start-ups—early-stage businesses. These are not necessarily all over the country; they tend to be concentrated in certain parts of the country. Indeed, I have several people who work for them in my constituency. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) cannot be here today, but I have been speaking with her, and there are many of these companies in her constituency. The nature of the support package that has been outlined is not particularly helpful for this type of company, because typically an early stage tech start-up deliberately incurs up-front losses as a result of heavy investment in research and product development. Such companies tend to rely on equity rather than debt funding, so the package that has been put in place is less helpful to them. The investors that back them usually back several dozen such companies and do not have enough cash to put into all their portfolios or their portfolio businesses. There is, therefore, a problem—a specific problem, but an important one, because although the number of the jobs in the sector is about 6,000 to 10,000, these are the companies that drive innovation and will drive the creation of tens if not hundreds of thousands of jobs in the future. Bearing in mind the Government’s ambition for the country, we need to safeguard these businesses as much as we can.
I have been discussing with many in the sector a proposal to join with the British Business Bank to put together a £300 million not-for-profit fund—not a fund that will take management fees or try to make any money—to invest in roughly 600 start-ups, to provide working capital for nine or more months. I ask the Financial Secretary or one of his colleagues to consider meeting me and industry representatives to see whether we can get that sort of thing going. It is a specific sector of the economy, but an extremely important one.
Everyone recognises the enormity of the challenge. Everyone recognises the speed and complexity of what we have to do. The money in this short Bill is critical, but in the coming days—especially if Parliament is to rise by the end of this week—we need to do what we can to improve the schemes as much as possible. Once Parliament is out and does not sit for however long it may be, it will be much harder for Members to do that. I ask the Minister to take those points into account.
As many have said in the course of several of our debates this week, it is vital that we continue to work across party lines in response to the crisis. I reiterate here and now my party’s support for the Chancellor’s economic package for firms and workers that was announced on Friday.
Our attitude as individual Members to Government and what they should do, or even which Government should do it, determines in large part where we choose to sit in this Chamber, but the debates taking place now are very much subordinate to the task of deciding how to use our collective legitimacy and authority to guide, to direct and to steward the resources we are able to make available to protect the citizens we were elected to this place to represent. These are quite unprecedented times, the likes of which none of us has seen in our lifetime and which we all earnestly hope we will never see again in this or any other lifetime, but these extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. We all know all too well that lives and livelihoods are at stake. Significant policy changes in terms of support for the economy have already been announced, and yesterday this House took further important steps to protect the public by passing the Coronavirus Bill. Having made those changes to governance and policy, it is necessary also to make provision to support those changes in terms of supply through the Contingencies Fund. My party fully supports the steps that we are about to take to do that.
Although economic activity in the country will, of necessity, be curtailed for the duration of our response to the crisis, we need to maintain demand as far as it is possible to do so, and to be able to meet that demand where we can. We also need to make sure that we are laying the foundations of recovery, so that it can take place as soon as the scientific advice is consistent with doing so. To that end, I commend to hon. Members the work the Scottish Government have undertaken, particularly pledges of grants to support business and the offer of various business rates reliefs.
The economic measures we take must give people the security to follow the very clear public health advice that has been given by all the Governments on these islands, and we very much welcome the distance the Chancellor has already travelled in introducing measures to allow that to happen. However, we must recognise that, notwithstanding all that has already been done, not everyone either has or feels that they have the financial security to stop working or, in many cases, the agency to tell an irresponsible employer that they will follow the Government’s clear advice to stay at home.
On the further support we can offer, we need to be doing something and more to support those on zero-hours contracts. We must also provide support for those who have seen their hours reduced and are not involved in the Government’s furlough scheme. The Chancellor and his team have been questioned closely today, including by me, about support for the self-employed. We must take the Chancellor and the Government at their word that they are examining the details of a package and striving to present it to us as quickly as they can.
There are 330,000 self-employed workers in Scotland. Although they may not always feel that they have the ear of Government or that they are as visible as some of the larger corporate entities in the business landscape, they remain the backbone of our economy, and they must not be left behind in the responses to this crisis. We will certainly watch very closely to ensure that they are not.
Despite the Chancellor’s answers earlier, the SNP continues to believe that using the tax and welfare system to put money directly into people’s pockets through a universal basic income would be the simplest and most straightforward way of getting crucial individual financial support exactly where it needs to go.
I happen to believe that it would be the best way to ensure that we deliver money to those who need it over the longer term. I do not view it as a Trojan horse; I believe its merits would speak for themselves. But whether we believe in it ideologically or not, from a pragmatic perspective, it would certainly reduce much of the red tape in getting financial resources where they need to be. I do not think the issue of whether it should exist in the long term needs to divide us; I think we could agree that it is how we can best deliver support over the period ahead of us.
There are other areas of the economy that require our attention. Although support for buy-to-let landlords is welcome—I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I rent out a small flat myself—it would be more welcome if that financial support went directly to tenants, which would allow them security of tenure and keep that cash circulating in the economy. Other potential measures include increasing statutory sick pay to the EU average, strengthening welfare protections, removing the bedroom tax and removing the rape clause.
When it comes to our transport infrastructure, we need to protect capacity. We saw yesterday welcome interventions in the rail industry and the train operating companies. My constituency contains Aberdeen airport, and the companies responsible for the ground operations there have been in touch with me. Support for the airlines is no doubt important, but so too is support for the airports and the people who work on the ground to ensure that the activity can continue. Our airports will be crucial in getting the country moving again once we are through this crisis. We need to prepare for the contingency of repatriations to the UK in the event that commercial airlines are not able to carry out that task. We also need to be prepared to cover those whose insurers will not pay out for coronavirus-related claims, whatever activity they relate to.
Those measures represent just some of what will be necessary, but we need the resources in place to take them.
It is right that the Government are bringing forward a whole range of support packages, and my hon. Friend is right to raise the other kinds of support that are needed. Does he agree that there is also a responsibility on employers to engage constructively with this and to look after their staff? It might be understandable that people placed on furlough receive an 80% cut in their salary, but I am hearing reports from some of our colleagues who are not physically present with us today that, for example, Newsquest publishers is preparing to cut the salaries of staff who are not being furloughed by between 15% and 20%. Does he agree that that kind of practice by businesses that are going to benefit from the Government support is a very worrying practice?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. People will be watching very closely to see how companies behave in this crisis and how they react to the support that is there. It is very clear that while some companies have behaved very responsibly, with a real social conscience and with a sense of duty towards their staff, others are not behaving as creditably. I am sure we will hear of more examples of that as time progresses.
All the measures that have been outlined come at a considerable commitment, but the costs—in financial terms, but, more importantly, in human terms—of doing nothing are very much greater to us than the costs of intervening. The response to covid-19 is one that will need all of us to make our own contribution. On behalf of my party, I pay tribute to the public servants, the charities and the many volunteers who will be working around the clock to keep people safe and comfortable over this period. I thank those in the private sector who are working so hard to keep other essential activities in the supply chain under way, and all involved in all spheres and tiers of government—local and national—who will be helping to co-ordinate that activity in the days and weeks ahead.
I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that it was important this week that we gave all those in those spheres and tiers of government the political permission to act as they need to in pursuit of the greater good. This Bill provides the resource to underpin those permissions, and subject to good choices being made with the resource that is now available, it will also give us the ability to support businesses and families through this most trying of times. The Bill has our support.
I am delighted to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson), who made some salient points. I endorse his tribute to the NHS and to all our public sector workers. I do not know if anybody has seen the news recently, but a terrible tragedy has happened in Spain, where elderly people in care homes were abandoned and left to die in their care homes by the staff. I cannot believe that would ever happen in the UK, and I think it shows how brave many of the people working in our public sector are when faced with these terrible crises.
I should first draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I always do on these occasions. As well as being a Member of Parliament trying to stand up for the interests of my constituents—many businesses have contacted me over the last few days and weeks—I look at these matters from a business perspective. I have been involved in that business for 30 years, and when we had a board meeting on Friday, the first conversation we had—I guess like many businesses—was not about cuts to the number of people we employ, but about how much we could cut our salaries as board directors by. I think most board directors have an appropriately sensible approach to this. We all know this is going to be a very difficult crisis for many businesses. I pay tribute to the Treasury, the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary for putting together a package of support that is unheralded—not just in its size, but in its comprehensive nature and the speed with which it has been delivered.
The job retention scheme in particular was a massive relief to many business people. Back in 2008, we were faced with taking our workforce down from 200 people to 65 within 12 months, as the bottom fell out of our business and out of the market. The most destructive aspect of that—aside from the terrible human cost of sitting down with people with whom one had worked in some cases for decades and telling them that the business could no longer afford to employ them—was that it cost a huge amount of money to make them redundant. That puts the business in a critical condition, which means that more people have to be made redundant. I do not begrudge anybody the redundancy payments that were due, but for a private business that is a very difficult thing to have to do.
The job retention scheme insulates many businesses from that, because instead of having to lay people off or make them redundant, the business can say to them, “You can stay at home at the moment. You’ll continue to be paid a fair amount to get you through this short-term crisis, then we’ll bring you back into the fold.” That eases the financial pressure on the business in an important way. It is a really excellent scheme. There are of course some missing details, which I know we will get in good time, in particular whether earnings will include things such as commission and whether the Government payment will include things such as national insurance. Many businesses have questions that I am sure will be answered in good time.
The other element of the package is the business rate grant scheme, which many businesses have welcomed. Of course, many self-employed people, including sole traders and freelancers, are outside the scheme—a point that I will touch on in a second.
I want to raise one or two points about the business interruption loan scheme. Obviously we want as many businesses as possible to take advantage of the scheme, but one big concern is about security. The scheme is based on the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, which included personal guarantees. I understand that the new scheme will not include them—I have been told that from the Dispatch Box today on an urgent question—but it would be helpful if the British Business Bank website said clearly that that is the case. It does not say that at the moment, which could deter some people from applying in the first place. All it says is that security can be taken
“At the discretion of the lender”.
I have had personal guarantees for most of my business life, and I think most people would expect a business person to have some skin in the game, but this is a different situation. It is very difficult to quantify the impact of this crisis on a business. The Government have rightly stated that there will be no personal guarantees, which I assume means that people’s family homes should not be put up for security either. That being the case, it would be helpful to clarify that point, because that would increase demand.
The other point is that at the moment the banks eligible for that scheme number about 40, but there are many outside it. Those not eligible for the previous British Business Bank scheme, the EFG, will not qualify for access to the current scheme. Therefore, customers of OakNorth, Aldermore or one of the many alternative providers in the marketplace today cannot access the scheme. The normal process for applying for that scheme is somewhere between six and 18 months, which is clearly far too long. I think that the Treasury has committed to try to accelerate that process—or the British Business Bank has—but it will still take a matter of weeks, and businesses cannot wait weeks for this money. They need it in a matter of days.
It is absolutely essential that we get that support to businesses now, so I politely ask the Minister whether he will look at that and perhaps get the Bank of England to set up a new scheme directly with some of those lenders, many of which are very bona fide lenders. Of course, the right checks and balances have to be in place, but these are authorised, regulated banks, so it would be good to ensure that all lenders can get finance to all customers.
The other thing about how business will view this crisis is how long it is likely to last. Businesses are much more likely to take a loan, from anywhere, if they think they can get through this and quantify the losses or how long their revenue will be affected. I worry about the current situation, because we are telling people that they can go to work as long as they cannot work from home and as long as they socially distance themselves when they get there. I think that was one reason for the confusion and why Filey in my constituency and many other beautiful market towns were packed out with visitors, who felt they could go to those beautiful places and socially distance themselves while they were there, which clearly they cannot if there are too many people there. It is the same in a workplace environment. I can see that, because of the uncertainty about who can actually go to work—we have not restricted it to key workers or essential workers, to my understanding—lots of people are building houses on construction sites and whatever else they are doing. They are going to work because they cannot work from home and they feel they can socially distance.
From a business point of view, I would personally prefer to have a complete lockdown for 30 days. We know that, in China, after a full lockdown for 14 days, cases peaked, and after 30 days, cases stopped, and all the coffee shops, Starbucks, Apple and the car dealerships opened again. That gives us hope that we can tackle and defeat this virus within 30 days, if we do the right thing. If we are equivocal about it and it is confusing, people will continue to go to work and continue to spread the virus.
From my business perspective, a short, sharp shock is much more appealing. I would know that, if I applied for a business loan from the new scheme, I could quantify how much I would need, if I had the confidence that the timescale would be limited in that way.
I have a couple of other points that I think would be useful. Ideally, the Government should not have to step in to support businesses at any point in time. The markets should deliver that themselves, with finance coming from banks or investors through to businesses. Venture capital trusts have limits on how much they can put into businesses—up to £5 million on an annual basis and £12 million as a lifetime limit into a particular business. Because of the unprecedented nature of this crisis, it would be useful to double those limits so that venture capital trusts, which invest in many good businesses, can see those businesses through a tough time. Otherwise they will not be able to get the extra money into those businesses that they need. It could be a temporary change, and it would potentially save many businesses.
On the self-employed, we have understandably heard lots of calls for more help for the sole trader. Many different people in my constituency have contacted me. They desperately need some help, and I do understand that. Within that cohort are some very vulnerable people, including mortgage prisoners. I have corresponded with many mortgage prisoners, as have other hon. Members, and many are self-employed. They are in a particular situation in that their earnings are being very badly damaged now, and they have been paying huge mortgage rates for too long. Many of the mortgage prisoners’ loans have been sold to non-UK lenders—inactive lenders—and the regulatory oversight of those lenders is much reduced compared with UK lenders. In my view, it is an absolute disgrace that we allow UK mortgage customers’ loans to be sold to a foreign entity, over which we do not have the same oversight, so we cannot properly control the activities of those lenders. We need to bring all those lenders within the same regulatory scope. Some of those mortgage prisoners are on very high standard variable rates of around 5%, and even up to 6%. It is simply unfair . A year or two ago, we brought in a standard variable rate cap in the energy sector. I wonder whether the Minister could look to do the same thing in this sector to ensure that those people are treated fairly.
I do a lot of work with the all-party group on fair business banking. Most bankers do the right thing—the vast majority of banks and bankers I meet and have banked with over more than 30 years in business have looked after my business fairly. Clearly, that does not always happen, given the 2008 scandal in small business banking. It is time now for the banks to do the right thing and to work with the Government on the business interruption scheme.
Another issue is that the rates that banks charge on personal loans and overdrafts are not coming down, despite the reduction in base rate—in fact, quite the opposite. The Financial Conduct Authority, in its wisdom, decided that everyone who had an overdraft should pay the same whether it was an authorised overdraft or an unauthorised overdraft. It told the banks that they could not penalise people for unauthorised overdrafts, so everyone has to pay the same. The rate for authorised overdrafts used to be somewhere between 3% and 15%, and unauthorised overdrafts used to have a fixed daily charge and a much higher rate. So the banks made them all the same, and here are the rates being charged today for authorised and unauthorised loans: First Direct, 39.9%; HSBC, 39.9%; Lloyds Banking Group, 39.9%; Nationwide, 39.9%; and NatWest, 39.5%. It is simply disgraceful. Everybody is paying the higher rate. It smacks of a cartel, as well as profiteering and overcharging.
Last Friday, four or five businesses in my constituency came to see me, looking for help because of the coronavirus. The first constituent told me that he had asked for his loans to be reduced, but the bank—I will not say which one it was—said, “No, what we’ll do is charge you £100 for each amount of money that you’ve borrowed, and then we’ll charge you interest at 6% on top of that.” Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in these difficult times, that is totally outrageous? The banks should be there to help, not to take advantage.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution, and indeed for all the work he does on the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking and for the many speeches he has made on the matter. I absolutely agree. The two best things that I have heard the Treasury say over the past two weeks—and there have been many—are, “We will do whatever it takes” and, “We are all in this together.” The banks should take that approach as well. I and many other Members of the House will be watching to make sure that this time the banks do the right thing and restore their reputation.
The hon. Gentleman has done some sterling work on this, so would he like to comment on the figures that are coming out on 6 April and the interest rates for overdrafts from HSBC, First Direct, M&S Bank and TSB? Nationwide have already gone there, with an increase from 9.99% to 39.9%. What does he think about that?
I think it is an absolute disgrace. I do not think that the FCA saw it coming, which is one of the flaws of the regulator. The FCA has been criticised many times in this place, including by the right hon. Gentleman. It told the banks, “Right, you’re not going to charge anybody any more than anyone else is.” But that let them all put their rates up to the highest level. It is exploitative and absolutely outrageous.
The banks need to look at this as a sector and start to treat their customers fairly, which of course is a basic requirement of the principles of banking, so the FCA should step in and look at this. In fact, I think it should be the subject of an inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority. The fact that the rates are not just high, but all the same, smacks of directors getting together in a room and agreeing a figure. It cannot be a coincidence that all the rates are exactly the same in this supposedly competitive market.
On commercial loans, it is right that the Government have negotiated with the banks to give mortgage holidays, which of course have to be paid back but nevertheless give borrowers vital breathing space. I think the same is true of some commercial loans, but the banks are saying, “We’ll give you a holiday only on the payment of the principal, not the interest.” Those paying for a commercial loan are paying much more on the interest than they are on the principal, which again seems grossly unfair if we are all in this together.
We are going to work together to try to get through this, so I call on the banks to look at this again, to be fair and to rebuild their reputation. The final way they could do that is by suspending legal action, certainly in relation to residential repossessions but also for repossessions against businesses. They should show forbearance and use the business banking resolution service—I am one of the people who have been working on that in recent months—which will be like a super ombudsman for banking disputes. They should defer any issues they have with their customers until that service is properly established, so that those complaints can be resolved fairly—fair to the bank and fair to the customer.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). He made two points with which I wish strongly to agree. First, I agree on the need for clarity on people who can go to work: who are the essential workers? The issue is causing huge concern. If there are too many people on public transport because we are not leaving it for the essential workers, that is bad for the whole public objective of stopping the virus spreading. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right on that. The bad news is that people are almost going to be forced to stay at home anyway because business is collapsing. Let us take the construction industry, which the hon. Gentleman talked about. I am getting messages telling me that because mortar supplies are basically collapsing, people will not be able to do any construction. That shows Members how dramatic is the impact of what is happening out there. There should be clarity from the Government on that because leadership is important.
The second thing on which the hon. Gentleman is right—I really want to impress this upon those on the Treasury Bench, and we have heard other colleagues talk about it already—is the genuine accessibility of the loans that have been made available via the Bank of England. The Government trumpeted their announcement and we all welcomed it, but I keep hearing stories of small businesses that find that, if they can get through to the bank—by the way, it is taking quite a long time, although that is not a complaint, because of course a lot of people are contacting the banks and I expect they are extremely busy—they have to give personal guarantees. At a time when it is very difficult for people to know how their business is going to pan out—how can they know that in such an uncertain certain time?—no one their right mind would give those sorts of personal guarantees. It is just not realistic for them to put their house and the whole family’s income and savings on the line. The Government are going to have to think again about the terms of the loan guarantee scheme. These are unusual times and the Government have made money available; rather than just giving a guarantee to the financial institution, they will have to find a way to transfer that guarantee to the business concerned. I know there are huge moral hazards with that—I get that—but if they do not, it is not going to work.
On that point, has the right hon. Gentleman come across the same thing as I have? I have found that the people who have been asked to give personal guarantees are often the ones with the lowest debt—indeed, no debt—in their businesses, and the people who have found it easier are those who already have a big debt facility with a bank that can be easily extended. It is almost a double punishment for those who have been prudent in managing their small businesses so far.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is that old saying, “If you borrow a lot, you are able to borrow more,” whereas those people who have run things prudently are finding it a problem. This is a really crucial issue and the Government must give it some urgent attention. In the exchanges on the urgent question that I asked earlier on the self-employed, there were some welcome statements about the loans being available to sole traders and the self-employed more widely, but I do not think they will be able to access them, because they will not be able to give those sorts of personal guarantees. Given that cash-flow is going to be king, certainly until the Government come up with a solution for the self-employed, they will have to have access to some money. If that is just a loan on their personal bank account, with the interest we have been talking about, that is not going to work for people. People are going to be in real trouble. I welcome what the Government have done, but they need to look at how it is operating in practice—and look at it fast.
People out there remember what happened in the financial crisis. They remember that this House said, across party lines, that we must bail out the banks—that the banks could not collapse and the financial system had to keep going. They were pretty upset, because a lot of them took cuts in their own income and then saw that although some bankers lost their jobs—we knowledge that—many did not, and the banking system sort of recovered and looked like it was treated with quite a lot of generosity through our taxpayers’ money. When we hear stories now about ordinary people who have put their lives into building their businesses not getting help from the banks because the banks are getting in the way, I have to tell the banks that they have to sort themselves out, because this House will not be able to resist the political pressure. We need the banks in our society, right? No one is suggesting that they do not play a critical role, but if at this stage, after we helped them out 10 years ago, the banks do not come to the rescue of small businesses, sole traders, the self-employed and ordinary people, they will reap a whirlwind. I really worry about that, because I believe in the banking system, but the banks have got to step up to the plate.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Is it not also important to recognise the nature of the schemes—that is, that they were put in place by the Treasury, the banks and the Bank of England all working together? The terms on which the banks are operating were agreed by all of them, so we need to ensure that all those parties—the Treasury, the Bank of England and the banks—collectively realise what needs to happen, rather than us necessarily saying that it is just the banks that are making it difficult; the structures and the terms are actually very important.
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point, and backs up the thrust of what I am trying to say. The banks have been given access to free money. They are being looked after by the Bank of England through this extension of the Bank of England’s balance sheet, so they are doing okay. So why are they not stepping up to help the rest of the economy? There are some really quite serious questions on this issue. I hope that the Government say in response to this debate that they, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority are going to look at this situation, because it is just not good enough. I want to work on a cross-party basis on this issue, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said; this is vital to all of us, and we need to send a message to those who are running the banks that we are expecting them to step up. It is time that they did their duty, right?
I actually want to come to my speech, because that was just a response to the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami). I want to talk about the Bill in front of us—I know that is a bit unusual—as well as the supply process of which it is a part, and then I will give some thoughts on the economy.
On the Bill, will the Minister tell us why the Treasury chose to change the percentage limit of the contingencies fund, which is normally set at 2% of total authorised expenditure in the preceding year, to 50% until the end of 2020-21? In absolute figures, the amount before this Bill would have been £10.7 billion. That has gone up to £266 billion. I hope that the Minister can explain why. It does not seem unreasonable, given the pressures on Departments, but it is quite a big change. I am not against it—let me be clear that I will be supporting the Bill today—but it would be good to put on the record, for the House and for history, why that figure has been chosen. When people look at this situation in the future, they will need to know why that decision was taken.
The Minister said in his opening remarks that this was not an increase in expenditure. Well, I hope that he meant to say that it is an increase in expenditure in that it takes account of commitments that the Chancellor has made both in the Budget and since the Budget. If I have understood correctly, there is a big increase in expenditure because we need one—for the health service, our social care system and other parts of our public services that need the cash now.
I have another question for the Minister. If these contingencies are being given to Departments so that they have the cash they need, is the money also being given to local authorities? I want to underline this point: local authorities are on the frontline now, and they are having to spend money all the time on a whole range of things that are completely unbudgeted for. They are confused about the proposals for business rates, whether they are going to get any income in, what money they have to give out and all the rest of it. Local authorities are slightly unclear about what is happening. I hope that there will be genuine desire and action on behalf of the Treasury to get some money out—on account, if you like—to them so that they have the cash flow to ensure that they can provide the extra services that they are being asked to provide. It is essential that we hear that local authorities are getting the support that the Whitehall Departments seem to be getting.
I said that I also wanted to talk about the supply process. This legislation is part of the almost anachronistic supply process in this House. I am afraid that I am a bit of a geek on this. In 2000, I wrote a pamphlet called “Making MPs Work For Our Money: Reforming Parliament’s Role In Budget Scrutiny”. It is a cure for insomnia, so I do not necessarily suggest people read it, but in it I tried to argue that this House does not really have sovereignty over the Budget. We look at these Bills when they come along and we nod them through, but our processes of examining draft budgets and estimates are shocking. In my pamphlet, I made the comparison with all the OECD countries, and this House has the worst processes for examining draft budgets and measures such as this Bill—that is worrying. I do not wish to resurrect the Brexit debate, but it was supposed to be about parliamentary sovereignty and I used to say, “I wish we had some.” That is because this House rarely, if ever, looks at the estimates properly, analyses them in Select Committees and makes proposals about draft spending decisions. Other Parliaments do those things quite easily—the Swedish and New Zealand Parliaments are good models. Our approach undermines the value for money and undermines what we are here for, and we really need to look at the estimates procedure.
That is why this Bill looks so weird in many ways; it is called the Contingencies Fund Bill and we are not used to doing this sort of thing, because we have given up control over supply—it is just nodded through. The last time MPs voted against a spending request of the Government was in 1919, more than 100 years ago We have given up properly controlling the draft estimates. Although I will be supporting the Bill tonight, because it is really important that we let this one through, I just want to say to the Minister that I hope we can reflect on this. I raised this issue when I was in government and tried to get the then Chancellor to look at it. There was a flurry of excitement and then the dead hand of the Treasury said, “No way, we are not giving up control.” That was the wrong move, because control can be exercised with greater transparency. I hope that that may be one thing that comes from this experience in this emergency situation.
Let me end with some reflections on the economy, where we are at and the lessons we are taking. I talked about the importance of the banks really delivering, given the agreement with the Government and the Bank of England. That is probably the most essential message from me tonight. There are some longer-term things and possibly some relatively short-term things to address, one of which is the way we do the Bank of England’s quantitative easing. That is monetary policy, where we are, in effect, printing money and sending it out. That happened after the 2008 crash and it is happening now. I am not against it, but I just say that the way it works is not some sort of technical, politically neutral, value-neutral system; it has implications for economic equality in this country, because the money tends to go to people in the City—the financial institutions. It does not go to ordinary people and ordinary businesses. So if we are going to get things right this time and have quantitative easing, I urge the Minister to let us have a debate about how those mechanisms actually work, because in crises we do not want economic inequality worse; we want to make it better. These technical things sound as though they are available only for pointy-heads in the Treasury, but quantitative easing is a political issue and we have not debated that. It has massive social and economic consequences, and we need to make sure that there is democratic accountability on them, and that they are properly understood and work in the interests of society.
Has that not been solved to some extent with the job-retention scheme, because the Government will issue bonds to fund that scheme, they will be bought by asset managers and the QE will buy those assets off the asset managers? That is the circular nature of that scheme. So this time round, as the Prime Minister said a few days ago, the support would be directed at the people, in terms of keeping them in work and in pay, rather than simply funding the banks. To a certain extent, this time QE does support jobs and real people.
The hon. Gentleman has a point and he is right to take me up on that. I think that there is an improvement, but I do not think we have debated this in the context of QE and the monetary side of the policy response. I think we need to do that, because we need to unpick some deep issues here and I do not think this House has understood that. Although I am a big fan of the independent Bank of England, and I do not think we should interfere with the setting of interest rates, I do think QE raises some political questions which are not technical and require accountability.
I half agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think inflation is going to be the problem; people have not got any money. This form of QE is often called helicopter money and perhaps that is the right move now, and we need to be debating it.
I have a final comment to make and then I will sit down. When we reflect in a few months on this crisis and what has gone on, we will have to look at some of the underlying assumptions of our economic models. I am not saying that we should rip them up—I do not believe that at all—but how the state underpins and works with the market is really important. What I mean by that is that there is an assumption that the market can do it all, that the market is fantastic and that Governments should come out of the way, but markets only exist because of Governments. Regulations and laws make markets and there have always been those.
The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. Without rules and regulations on competition, on fair play for employees and on consumer protections, markets will not work. Where there is no consumer protection, consumers do not have faith in the products and services being provided, so the markets cannot work. I absolutely think that we need to reflect on that, because I do not think that the model has been working well enough. I will end on that comment, because I hope that we will learn from this and have a proper debate about how our economy will work in future.
I rise to speak on the Contingencies Fund, not least because the Isles of Scilly transport system—I have mentioned this once already today—is desperate for a contingencies fund. I will set out why, and then how, local departments and Government Departments might help with their own contingencies fund.
The Isles of Scilly is 28 miles off Land’s End; 2,200 people live there and depend on the transport system for everything they need. The transport system is entirely run by private operators, with no help from the state—we have been working to try to address that. The community on Scilly rely on this transport for absolutely everything, including, in some cases, non-emergency medical travel.
Much of the transport serves the remote population all year round. There is aviation, freight transport and inter-island transport, which includes the school bus and transport for free bus pass holders and everybody else who needs to move between the five inhabited islands all year round. That is made possible only by the vibrant, successful tourism sector, which ordinarily starts with vigour this week. Many Members tell me, “I have just been on my holidays on the Isles of Scilly”. They will understand how remote but how precious this set of islands are.
As we expected, the demand for tourism has collapsed dramatically, and rightly so, but so far in all the measures that have been announced, very few actually help. For example, the help with wages is based on the figure for the previous month. As we start the tourism industry on Scilly now, there is no record of wages for the previous month. If we lose these people, who have the right kind of skills and tickets to operate on these boats, the boats and vessels cannot continue to work, even when we get past the coronavirus outbreak.
I listened very carefully to the Chancellor’s response to a question I raised earlier, knowing full well that the measures so far do not really help with any of the issues faced by the transport operators on Scilly. He suggested that local authorities are in a position to help, and that is welcome. This is where I get on to the issue of a contingencies fund for Government Departments. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Council of the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall Council and the Department for Transport have a contingencies fund to underwrite the running costs of each of the operators serving Scilly so that they can survive this difficult period and be there to be part of the recovery, once we have beaten coronavirus? The truth is that if any of these operators collapse, the state will have to step in, and it is not for the state to run these essential services, in my understanding. It is far better to enable them to survive these three or four months, or however long it may be.
This is a critical issue for very many families and business owners, and more clarity is needed from a Government who have rightly said—I have supported them from the outset—that they would do whatever is needed, and whatever it takes. Will the Minister please take this to the Treasury and find out what can be done quickly to ensure that these businesses last even beyond the end of this month? The situation is critical.
I want to touch briefly on the situation of charities and their funding in the context of coronavirus. I am aware that charities have already been in conversation with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about funding to allow them to assist in responding to the crisis. So many people face huge need and social isolation. Just some of the factors affecting those people are funding for food banks, which is falling because of the current situation, as are donations; funding for listening services; and funding for care services, which are needed more than they have ever been.
Charities face huge challenges, and they, too, need contingency funding measures if they are to survive and assist our communities as we face this challenge. Many of them are losing income because of the need to close their charity shops and the cancellation of fundraising events. Will the Minister confirm that charities should be eligible for the same business interruption measures as other business organisations? Will he look again at the trading income threshold, which, as I understand it, requires 50% of income to come from trade?
Charities need a stabilisation fund to help them to stay afloat and assist our communities, and I hope that that will be made available to our charities in the context of this contingency funding. Will the Minister confirm that they will be eligible for support to pay their staff, as other employers are? It is vital that we retain the infrastructure of our charities if we are to get through this situation and survive into the future.
There must be emergency funding for frontline charities that are supporting the response to coronavirus to ensure that they can remain afloat and provide that service. I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about that, and I hope he will respond thoughtfully and positively to the points that she has made.
We face a huge issue as we move, quite rightly, into greater social isolation. Charities such as Age UK Gateshead, which covers my constituency, and Samaritans have a real and positive role to play in countering the mental strain of loneliness and isolation, which many people will undoubtedly face in this situation. I ask the Minister to ensure that charities are given the funding that they need.
While I am on my feet and I have, I hope, the Minister’s ear, I put in a plea for funding for the self-employed, particularly those in what I would call microbusinesses—the dance schools, the musicians, the driving instructors and the pest controllers—who are contacting me, even as I have been sitting here, to say, “I just don’t know what I am going to do.” They not only have no income, but they do not qualify for the various grants and loans. They are left trying to claim universal credit, but the huge backlog of claims means that, with the best will in the world, no payments will be made quickly. So many of them have contacted me in desperation in the last couple of weeks. They have lost not only their main income but their future business, and they will have to rebuild from the start. Can the Minister press the Chancellor to provide funding for that group of people?
Finally, I want to flag funding for transport services. The coronavirus has produced a huge change in the usage of our transport systems, which are vital for the future. I know that many transport authorities are looking at how they can maintain transport services, but it is important that we work sympathetically and flexibly to maintain our public sector transport system.
I want to start by echoing the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friends, and particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). The urgent need for provisions to support the self-employed gets greater by the day, and my concern is that desperation is turning to anger. The “What about us?” sentiment will be driving that anger, understandably, and making the situation a whole lot worse. I urge Ministers to bring that support forward.
We are also promised support for renters in both the social sector and private rented sector. That has not happened yet. Again, as days and weeks go by, the desperation and uncertainty become greater, and I urge Ministers to bring that forward. My right hon. Friend was right about the Government apparently going back on a commitment to bring forward provisions to ban evictions. If someone is evicted, where are they going to go at the moment? There is no reason at all why that provision should not be brought forward. If we are serious that people have to stay at home, let them stay at home by making sure that they are not evicted. It shows either misjudgment in making the promise in the first place, or misjudgment and bad faith in breaking that promise. I urge Ministers to take that back to the Prime Minister and ask him to make a change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) was absolutely correct in what she said about charities. In Cheshire West and Chester, we have brought together Cheshire West and Chester Council, West Cheshire Voluntary Action and lots of charities and church groups to try to provide a co-ordinated service to all those who need support at the moment. But as my hon. Friend said, the charities are running out of money because their commercial activities are running down, which is affecting their income. That is calling into question their ability to deliver services to the most vulnerable, which they do much of the time and which is often taken for granted. Right now, with everyone expected to stay at home, the ability of charities to deliver those services is perhaps limited anyway, but as this situation hopefully gets better, we will look to charities to get those services up and running straightaway. At the moment, without the support for charities, their ability to do that is diminished.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to his point on rented accommodation? He is right that at the moment, all landlords should show forbearance when people are in difficult financial circumstances, and the Coronavirus Bill will increase the notice period to end an assured shorthold tenancy from two to three months. He is a fair man, so does he agree that we must be fair to both sides? If a tenant is unfairly withholding rent from a landlord, and it takes eight months to get a case to court at the moment, that is not very fair on the landlord. We have to be fair to both sides.
I do accept that, but that would be the case in normal circumstances anyway. We are talking about giving people peace of mind during this national crisis and ensuring that people do not even have to live with the worry of being chucked out on the street or into temporary accommodation. That is my concern.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington reflected on his childhood in Liverpool and on his priest considering him to be a lapsed Catholic. That reminded me of my mum and dad, who also grew up in Liverpool, albeit a couple of decades or more before my right hon. Friend. The formative period of their childhood was the second world war, when they were both young children, suffering the bombings in Liverpool and the uncertainty of the war. We all know that the second world war in Europe ended formally on 7 May 1945, but my mum and dad did not know that—they had no idea when the hostilities would end and things might start to get better. Listening to my right hon. Friend, I reflected that that is the situation in which we find ourselves now.
We have no idea how long this crisis is likely to last. That uncertainty drives desperation, anxiety and as the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) and my good friend the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said, business uncertainty. That is why it is essential that the Government are clear in their statements and oblige other businesses—we have talked about the banks; I want to consider insurance companies—to ensure that they play their part. If we cannot plan ahead, we will not know how to address the problems, and it cannot simply be down to the Government.
I make that point because insurance companies are not living up to their obligations. I know of businesses in Chester that have been told that their business contributions to insurance do not apply because coronavirus was not a notifiable disease at the time of the outbreak or because the Government had only suggested, as was the case last week, that events did not take place rather than saying that they must not take place. As I mentioned at Question Time, for events, conferences and sports that have a long lead-in time to prepare, it would help if the Government were clearer now that those businesses could not get back up and running for four or six months and that insurance companies should ensure that their policies kick in.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the future and how we recover and rebuild after the crisis has passed, but does he agree that things have changed utterly and that footing the bill for covid-19 in the years ahead cannot fall to the people, and that the banks certainly should not be rewarded, as the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) suggested, with quantitative easing? It is important that we get this right. When we start to rebuild, it is important that people and organisations that have avoided and evaded tax are called to pay their fair share.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The world will change, but only if we lead and make that change ourselves. As regards quantitative easing, which the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) mentioned, I would be happy to give all that money to local authorities and let them spread it out to places that really need it.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, who is a good friend, and has respect across the House for his work on the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, is right to talk about the banks, not only now, but in the future, when this is all over. We must ensure that they do not get up to the same games by looking at businesses and saying, “Your income’s declined, so we’ll start foreclosing on some of your assets.” That has happened before. I call on Ministers to give close attention to the way that banks operate, not only now, but afterwards, and ensure that they play their part.
In this crisis, there will be heroes and villains. We will remember the heroes and we will also remember the villains. I call on employers such as banks and insurance companies not to make their staff go to work if they are in a vulnerable group. I am getting complaints from constituents that they are being forced to go to work. Mike Ashley and Mr Wetherspoon should not flout Government advice just because their bottom line might be affected. We will remember the villains. I say, “Don’t be a villain at the end of this” because hopefully, those companies and corporations will receive the short shrift they deserve.
Desperation was the word used a number of times by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) and, prior to him, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). It sums up the feeling of many people for many reasons. I think it also underpins what the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) did. I wish he was two metres from the Minister to demonstrate good social distancing in this place. He was right. This debate is about improving the schemes as far as we are able to do so, as part of our contribution to scrutinising the Bill.
My first point, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), is about construction sites. We have all seen the pictures, and some of us have passed examples today, of construction workers working in big numbers in close proximity. That cannot be right and it is certainly not what was intended by the Prime Minister’s guidance. Perhaps the Minister can take that point on board and consider how that situation might be prevented. It is a very serious matter, not just for those workers but in terms of spreading the virus elsewhere. We must all remember that, even if we are fit and healthy and do not become sick ourselves, it is not about the individual, but who we pass it on to.
On banks and loans, the problem, as has been stated by a number of Members, is that loans mean debt which cannot be repaid without the certainty of an income. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester just made the point about us not knowing the end date. If people do not know the end date, they will not be able to plan to pay the loans back. That is a real problem. If we then add on the uncertainty of having to provide personal guarantees, it becomes extremely problematic for many businesses to take advantage of the loan scheme. The suggestions made by Members for how the loan scheme might operate are really important, and it is really important that the Government go away and look into them.
On the behaviour of banks, in other debates we have heard descriptions of pharmacists and food retailers hiking up prices. The banks are doing exactly the same thing with interest rates. That cannot be allowed to continue. I thought the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) was going to suggest nationalising the banks as a way forward. He was at one stage channelling his inner Marxist for the benefit of some in the Chamber. [Interruption.] There is agreement from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington on the Front Bench. The point is that the taxpayer bailed out the banks. People paid the money back through higher interest rates in the financial crisis. They are now about to repeat that behaviour at a much more dangerous and difficult time in our history. There has to be intervention by the Treasury, in whatever shape or form, to prevent that and to ensure that the banks behave responsibly, provide support and do not put apply onerous terms, whether through personal guarantees or ultra-high extortionate rates of interest.
There is also the trust issue. Businesses do not want to borrow because of their past experiences. During the financial crisis when I was running a business, I had the experience of having my overdraft facility recalled overnight. We were lucky that we were able to cover that out of personal savings, but very many businesses were not able to do so and went to the wall. People suffered grievously—some took their own lives. We have debated that many times in this Chamber, and we do not want a repeat of that over the coming months and years after the immediate crisis has passed. I therefore urge the Government to intervene now to get that right.
As well as taking advantage of the Government’s employee retention scheme, businesses will need to pay additional costs such as rents and insurances. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester made the point that businesses are being told that they do not qualify for business continuity insurance. The same applies to income protection for the self-employed and small business owners, because this disease did not exist when their policies were written. Those issues need attention. The vast sum of money that the Government are making available provides the opportunity to look at some of the other costs for businesses to see whether there can be help beyond that suggested for employees. Grants are certainly a part of that. Given how long this situation might last, the size of the grants will need to be constantly reviewed so that they are sufficient.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about grants. The biggest grant, of course, is the job retention scheme—that is a grant. It is Government funded, and there is no requirement for employers to pay anything towards it unless they want to do so, and they can top it up to that 20%. Therefore, will he concede that the scheme is a very important initiative by the Government and that it will be welcomed by many businesses?
Absolutely. It is important, and I certainly welcome it. None the less, there are some challenges with it. The fact that it is not available for the March payroll is a big problem for many businesses. We have already seen a significant number of businesses close and many workers laid off who will not now be eligible to be part of that scheme. The Government, totally understandably, have used examples of furlough schemes elsewhere in the world, but it will be difficult for the scheme to deal with the nature and the scale of this crisis.
What we were trying to establish in our discussions with the Government last week was equality of sacrifice. Yes, workers and the Treasury have realised that there will have to be some sacrifice, but we were expecting some contribution from employers themselves. An hour ago, 400 workers at Tristar in my constituency were laid off. Those 400 drivers were told that they will get paid 80% of their wages by the Government and they have been laid off for three months. We expected the employers to contribute to that 20%, but, in this case, that will not be paid. The crisis is falling on the shoulders of workers, rather than on businesses. There is no equality of sacrifice in a number of these companies, some of which are being ruthless.
My right hon. Friend highlights the fact that some employers do not behave in a way that we should be able to expect them to behave given the nature of the crisis. We have heard other examples of large companies behaving in a way that is irresponsible and, frankly, downright wrong.
In addition to what my right hon. Friend says about employers not paying the 20% element of the wage replacement scheme and taking advantage of it, it is also the case that, for employers who wish staff to go on to short-time or part-time working, or reduced hours of some sort, the scheme does not apply. There is a real challenge for businesses in those categories, too.
That brings me on to the self-employed and this point about desperation. People are desperate now. We have debated that a number of times today and over the past few days as well. I just do not get the sense of urgency in this place. We are in here, and away from the real world. The same applies with Whitehall. I just think that, sometimes, people here do not have a sense of just how desperate things are when two members of the same household are both self-employed and have no money. They cannot put food on the table. When the Chancellor says, as he did this morning, that he is worried about the scheme for self-employed going to wealthy people, I say, as indeed did the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton in his urgent question, let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Let us get a scheme in place and let us make it comparable with what the Government have offered to employees.
I want to say just a word or two about food supply and how the fund might apply there. There will be challenges around security of food supply; obviously, given the closing down of international transport links, that will be a challenge. We heard about the pressures on supermarkets. Some of the behaviour in supermarkets has been completely unacceptable, and the same applies to pharmacies. I hope that some of this money will go to ensuring security of deliveries, to protecting retail workers, to making sure that food and medicine get to those who most need it, and to helping pay for deliveries. The same applies to the supply of PPE, which hon. Friends have spoken about.
The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton is right to raise the issue of helicopter money; at some point, that is something that the Treasury should consider. Any scheme, whether on PPE, food or access to funds, is only as good as the information out there, the awareness of the scheme, and the immediacy of access to it. The Government need to do much more to ensure that people know what is available in all those areas. The gov.uk website will carry that information, but lots of people and businesses do not know that it is there.
There is a real imperative on the Government to work much harder on the information that is getting out there, and on access to what is being offered. Television and radio will lose their commercial advertising; there is a great opportunity to replace it. I can give an example of the power of really good advertising: the video put together by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust respiratory department. It was one of the most powerful pieces of advertising about the need for people to stay at home that I have ever seen. The BBC showed it; I think Sky might have, too; and it had viral attention on social media. The Government need to produce advertising of that quality to demonstrate what is available in a range of areas across society. Some of this money can be used to deliver on that agenda. Information and proper access will ensure the most effective use of this enormous necessary injection of funding.
The debate has been an opportunity to bring together the issues. I hope that the Financial Secretary will take them to all his colleagues across Government, as appropriate. It is interesting that the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton said that 1919 was the last time there was this sort of scrutiny; that was the year of the Spanish flu pandemic. We will not vote against the measure this time, but let us hope that, this time, it is effective, and that the money gets through as quickly as possible.
This has been a very wide-ranging debate on a Bill that, though very short, is of course critically important, so it is important that we talk about its different elements. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) set out, the official Opposition support the Bill, but it elicits substantial questions. The first is about the different aspects of the expenditure; the second is about the process for delivering it; the third is about the process for overseeing it; and the fourth is about the Bill’s role in relation to the rest of the financial decision making cycle. I will try to touch on those aspects briefly.
First, we have had a wide-ranging debate on the measures. I will be very brief, so I will not be able to pick up on every issue that was covered. There has been discussion of NHS and social care spending. We still require more transparency about the additions to that spending, particularly around the targeting of PPE and testing. As the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) said, there are still many issues on social security. For example, we have no clarity about exactly what the hardship funds provided by local authorities will be spent on. Will it be just council tax relief, or will it be more? We really feel the lack of the social fund here.
Of course, the problems for renters continue, as was rightly pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson). As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) said, many issues faced by charities are not dealt with by the sources of support that have been announced recently. I hope that the Minister listened to her recommendations and will take them up.
We have had a lot of debate about self-employment. We need those measures put in place as soon as possible. There was discussion about the scope of the measures, and the idea of not funding those self-employed people who already have resources. We seem to have one approach for the goose and another for the gander. For example, the system of loans is not conditional, whereas in some other countries it has been conditional on certain activities undertaken by the firms. We need to be fair.
On salary support, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said, it is essential that we keep as many people in work as possible. My party strongly agrees with him and has pushed for this measure. It is terrible for people if they lose their job, and terrible for the company because of all the associated costs and disruption. We need responsible behaviour from companies. We do not want to be talking about the villains after they have committed their villainy; we need the Government to call them out and to act. The Health Secretary did so eventually in relation to Sports Direct, but we need action much more quickly.
We need more clarity about vulnerable workers. We still have pregnant women and people with severe asthma being told they have to go to work, they do not have any choice. Clear guidance is needed on that and on insurance.
We need clarity on support for specific industries, as the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) said, talking about transport and the travel industry in the Scilly Isles. He is right that that is a critical problem. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Sir George Howarth) said, talking about the construction industry, we need more pressure from Government on the critical issue of safety at work. What we are seeing all around us is immensely disturbing.
Again, we need more clarity on the business interruption loan scheme. Are personal guarantees required or not? If they are, when are they required? We have to ensure that a clear message comes through on that and on the British Business Bank and how quickly new banks are being brought into a relationship with it. Before, I heard days, not weeks. Which is it? We need this to be sorted out as quickly as possible. The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) asked a number of pertinent questions about the banking system that we need to look at here.
There are big questions not just about elements of the spending but about its delivery. As my hon. Friends have said, many organisations that were already fragile are having to spend resources without knowing exactly how those resources will be backfilled. Such organisations include local authorities, NHS trusts, schools or groups of schools, multi-academy trusts, transport providers and charities. I am very concerned that we have seen organisations stepping into the breach to deal with areas where there is not appropriate central Government support—or was not initially—and not being appropriately recompensed. For example, district councils have stepped into the breach and tried to co-ordinate volunteering, support food banks and so on. Will they receive the support they need to backfill those costs? It is not clear, and it should be.
Regarding the process for this Bill, I want to make it clear that the official Opposition will continue to offer to work with Government on these measures, but it vital that we have continued accountability. The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) talked about the pause in accountability that could occur after Parliament rises. I believe we need to ensure that accountability is continuous. We have some good cross-party working and cross-party discussions; issues have been placed on the agenda not just across parties, but by different Members within the Conservative party. It is important that continues, so I hope that there will be mechanisms to ensure that.
We will need further revisions to the package, at the very least by July. There will be lasting costs as a result of the crisis that are not provided for in the Bill, such as the costs of all the medical procedures that are postponed, the reduced tax revenue for local authorities, and of course the human cost, which is enormous. What will be the impact on children’s education? We must take an earlier look at those matters than necessarily what would occur during the normal financial cycle. These medium-term costs have to be dealt with.
Above all, in future Budgets we need to focus on building resilience. Currently our response to the crisis is more expensive because of the lack of resilience in our society and our economy. Take all the debate about people who are self-employed: a big part of that arises because our social security system is so unfit for purpose that it simply cannot support people’s incomes, not just in terms of its parameters, some of which to do with housing costs have been changed while many have not, but because of the infrastructure—the enormous waits for universal credit and the fact that so many families and individuals in our country, after a long period of income stagnation, simply do not have the resilience to cover any last-minute costs. The salary support system is taking so long to deliver at least in part because of HMRC’s lack of capacity. We really need to get a grip on many of the developments in the labour market over recent years that are making the response more difficult—not least the growth in bogus self-employment.
Many people are sacrificing an enormous amount to try to deal with this crisis and ensure that its impact is lessened as much as possible. It has been an unequal sacrifice. We need to ensure that we are never in this situation again, and that means a longer-term approach to our public finances than we have had over recent years.
With the leave of the House, I will speak again. I am grateful to all Members who contributed to what, as the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) said, was a very wide-ranging debate. In fact, it was so wide-ranging that it barely focused on the measure before the House. However, I commend those who discussed the Bill. It is a very important piece of legislation, and—let me say this very straightforwardly—I am very grateful for the expressions of cross-party support from the Opposition parties. That has been crucial to the way the Government have thought about and framed our response to this crisis.
The Bill is another key element in shoring up the very wide package of measures to fight the covid-19 outbreak and, as the House has recognised, it represents a proportionate legislative response to recent events. Of course, it is proportionate in part because it will last only for one year; it is not designed to run longer than that.
I will start with the comments by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), because he addressed the topic of the Bill; I am grateful to him for that. He made a series of important points. On whether the banks are really stepping up, as the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) said, we will know by the end of the process who have been villains and who have been heroes. I do not think the public will be shy in reaching conclusions of their own, and I am sure there will be plenty of quantitative bases for that when the moment comes.
The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton asked why the number we will vote through today has been raised to 50% from 2%. That is a very important question. The reason is an anticipated escalation in the need for cash under—this point was made widely by colleagues across the House—conditions of radical uncertainty. It is also fair to say that it is not clear beyond any peradventure when the House will reconvene, and we have to accommodate the possibility of a delayed restart. As one might imagine, no assumption is made, but that possibility has to be contemplated.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether this constitutes an increase in spending. This is not a spending matter; it is a cash matter, and he needs to be aware of that. To reassure him on the question of local authorities, this does include spending that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will make as part of the usual estimates process.
The right hon. Gentleman described his work examining processes for reviewing and considering Budgets, but this is not a Budget, so it does not fall under that. However, it is worth saying that we have an evolved system. It is a system that involves a lot of scrutiny— repeated days of looking at main estimates and supplementary estimates—but of course it is also a system that gives considerable authority to the majority party at any given time, and that is what constrains the ultimate outcome.
I hope the Minister is right on the banks, but my main point is about the estimates. Actually, we have only three days to debate the estimates. I have attended estimates debates in this House over the last 20 years; when we have estimates days, we never debate the estimates. That is my point.
That is a different point. My point is that Parliament has plenty of opportunity to scrutinise spending. If it does not do that, that is a choice that it makes.
The right hon. Gentleman’s final point was about whether this Government believe, or any Conservative Government have ever believed, that markets can do it all. Let me assure him that no Conservative Government have ever believed that, and this one certainly do not believe that. At the risk of invoking one of my great heroes, Adam Smith, the position is that commercial society is a dynamic evolution in which forms of property are supported and recognised in law and then used to become the basis of profitable market development. That is how our system has evolved over many decades, and the state is integral to that process for all the reasons the right hon. Gentleman has described, so this is a way of agreeing with him.
May I turn to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell)? Again, I thank him for his support for the Bill, and I think that constructive attitude is important. He is right to call this the gravest crisis we have known, certainly for this generation. A strong theme in his speech and those of others was the need for more communications; it was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). Of course, we understand that on the Government Benches. During the debate, the House will be pleased to know, I got a text from gov.uk referring me to the coronavirus website. That is a direct intervention of a kind I am not sure I would approve of outside the context of a national crisis, but one that is very welcome in that context. It shows evidence of and bears testimony to the belief we have in this very important response and in the need for communications.
I am very grateful to the Financial Secretary for highlighting the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and I raised about communication. The point about the gov.uk website is that not everybody knows about it, and a further point is that not everybody has access to the internet, particularly some of those most at need—older and more disadvantaged people—and that is where some of the other routes for getting information out there are so important.
I thank the hon. Member for that point, and he is absolutely right. One role that every Member of this House can have is to spread the word among constituents to make sure that this is widely understood.
The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington talked about the importance of consulting the trade unions. He will know that there have been consultations with Frances O’Grady and other trade union leaders, as well as with the Mayor of London, to try to build public understanding and a shared view of these issues.
A final point I would make about what the right hon. Gentleman described is that we have had statements on the Government’s response, two urgent questions, an Opposition day—we have one tomorrow—and two pieces of legislation in the last two days alone, so there has been every opportunity for parties across the House to question and interrogate us. As colleagues have been kind enough to point out, the Government have been working at tremendous pace, with every hour of the day being exploited for the purposes of trying to get the right outcome, and where we have imperfection, as it were, we will try to make this as good as we can over the next days and weeks.
Let me, if I may, move on to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami). He asked what extra the Treasury will be borrowing as a result of this, and the answer is that this is a cash item, as he will recall. The debt management remit will follow, and we will set out the Government’s borrowing plans. He raised an interesting question about whether money spent in response to this crisis could be itemised differently in the national accounts. That is an interesting idea, and I thank him for it. He highlighted the impact of tech start-ups, and he is absolutely right.
I thank the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) for supporting the Bill. I think he is absolutely right to talk about the need for business recovery. We do not share his excitement about a universal basic income, in part because it does not actually hug the need across the population as well as a well-functioning benefit system, and that is what we have tried to do. It is a live argument on both sides. Of course, there are parts of the spectrum, notably those on the state pension, where we have something close to a universal income already in place, although not necessarily at the level that people would have expected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) persuasively and interestingly illustrated the choices faced by Government and businesses through his own business, and I thank him for that. My understanding of the personal guarantee issue touched on by many is that the circumstances for the business loans are to be agreed between the lender and the individual. There might be some element of personal guarantee, but not as relates to the primary residence. The desire is to build the flexibility and potential availability that comes with that, but without compromising people’s ultimate wellbeing.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for his comments. Through his speech today and in his remarks in Treasury questions, he has registered his intense concern on this issue, and I thank him very much for that.
Let me wind up by saying that this is a proportionate legislative response to the crisis and that it seeks to close an important gap in cash flow in the estimates process. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).
Further proceedings on the Bill stood postponed (Order, this day).
Contingencies Fund Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Contingencies Fund Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums to be issued out of, or paid into, the Consolidated Fund which is attributable to increasing, in relation to any time before 1 April 2021, the percentage specified in section 1(1) of the Contingencies Fund Act 1974 to a percentage not exceeding 50%.—(Eddie Hughes.)
Question agreed to.
I beg to move, That the Bill now be read a Second time.
Members of the Windrush generation came to the United Kingdom to rebuild Britain after the war, and they have contributed so much to our country, our economy and our public services. It is no exaggeration to say that we would not be the nation we are today without the men and women who came here to build a life, to work hard, to pay taxes and to raise families. They included nurses and midwives, and their overall economic contribution helped to rebuild post-war Britain. That is why the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment of some members of the Windrush generation by successive Governments over a significant number of years. They are people who have done so much for our country and who had in some cases arrived on these shores when little more than infants, yet they were effectively told that they were not welcome.
This was a terrible mistake by successive Governments, and the implications will be felt for many years. Some suffered tremendous hardship and indignity as a result of an erroneous decision. They were denied a right to work, or to rent a place to live. Some individuals were even detained or removed, leading to families being broken up and left without parents or grandparents, and it is only right that those who have experienced hardship as a result are offered proper compensation. No amount of money can repair the suffering and injustice that some have experienced, and this Bill is therefore a vital and important step in righting the wrong, but there are still many issues to be addressed.
The Windrush compensation scheme was formally launched on 3 April 2019, and it was designed to ensure that full and proper compensation could be made. The scheme rightly includes a personal apology to each person issued with the award of compensation and, most importantly, it allows those who suffered to avoid court proceedings in the pursuit of justice.
The explanatory notes for the Bill show the full scale of this scandal, and state that the estimated compensation cost based on 15,000 claimants would range from £120 million to £310 million. The Home Secretary was not in the Chamber for my question to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), a few moments ago when I said that the wider issues with the immigration system and the failings of the Home Office, including unlawful detentions and deportations, are also costing millions of pounds. Will she commit to publishing the full cost of the wrongful deportations, outside the Windrush scheme, over the past few years and put that information before the House, so that we can see what has been going on in her Department? She is refusing to give that information at the moment.
If the hon. Lady will let me finish instead of jumping up in such a way, I will answer her question. [Interruption.] Let me just state this, and I will answer her question if she will bear with me. The lessons learned report has yet to be submitted to Ministers in the Home Office by the independent adviser, Wendy Williams. That is not a shock to anybody, and it is right that she should have the time to undertake her review. It is a fact that the review has been going on for two years, but she will bring it forward in due course and I will receive it when it is ready. It is fair to say—I do not think anybody can question this right now—that we want to know the full scale of what has happened and the background to it, and that is the purpose of the review. At the right time, we will be able to look at everything in the round. If I may say so, this is not about publishing pieces of evidence at this stage. It is important that we look at everything. The report will come to me once Wendy Williams has had the time and space to consider everything, because this is an independent review. It is not for the Home Office to dictate anything around that report. We will wait for that, and then of course we will look at everything that is required.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. I know she is impatient with my impatience, but I am speaking on behalf of constituents of mine who died while waiting for their compensation. They were promised that compensation before they died, and their relatives are still unclear about whether any of this is ever going to be resolved. That is why I am impatient. Can she even tell us how many people have died while waiting for their compensation to be settled?
Let me say a few things to all hon. Members about not just the compensation scheme but Windrush. Many of us, including me, have made representations to the Home Office on behalf of our constituents. That is a fact and we have all worked constructively in doing so. The hon. Lady mentions being impatient. If I may say so, these cases are complicated, as I am sure she recognises. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shaking her head, but the cases are complicated in terms of the provision of information, background, data and evidence, and this will take time. [Interruption.] They are complicated cases. They have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. This is not about providing a carte blanche assurance or a cheque to people. It is right that there is due process. We want to get this right and I make no apology for that.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. Some of the cases are, indeed, complicated, but does she agree with me and many of my constituents with whom I have spoken, that her Department has overcomplicated the issue? As she said at the beginning of her speech, we cannot put a value on some of these things. The approach being taken is arbitrary, but she could apply discretion and make it a lot simpler
It is a fact that this is not about money. Money cannot compensate for the awful experience and hardship that people have been affected by. We should be very clear about that. [Interruption.] An hon. Lady says, “It helps.” There is a scheme and a process, which I will come on to as I make progress with my speech. It is right, however, that we have the right process, and I will explain how we will do that. We should never lose sight of the fact that this scheme has been established. It is difficult but there are ways in which we are going to make this simpler, undo some of the bureaucracy and make swift progress with some of the cases that have been raised.
A moment ago my right hon. Friend used the word “mistake”, and I think it is right to remind ourselves that the Windrush scandal was not a conspiracy but a cock-up of the most enormous magnitude. Will she confirm that she is confident that her Department and ministerial team are now fully on top of these kinds of issues so that that sort of scandal will not happen again?
My hon. Friend raises issues that go right to the heart of what happened in the Windrush scandal. No Government would want to preside over something so scandalous, and there has to be recognition that responsibility was attributed to successive Governments. It is right that we wait for the review from the independent adviser, Wendy Williams, which will have lessons for us all, including the Home Office and previous Governments. I think it will have plenty of information about what happened. We want to build on that and make sure that we learn the lessons.
Many of the comments made thus far have reflected on the compensation scheme and its complexities and design. I will now focus on its design. The Home Office’s first priority was to ensure that the scheme was accessible to claimants. In doing so, it has considered some 650 responses to the call for evidence and nearly 1,500 responses to the public consultation. The Home Office held several public events across the country to give potential claimants the chance to make their voices heard. Martin Forde QC, himself the son of Windrush parents, has a wealth of experience and complex knowledge of public law and compensation matters, and he was appointed by the then Home Secretary in May 2018 to advise on the scheme’s design. Late last year, Martin and I launched the Windrush stakeholder advisory group and met key stakeholders and community representatives to hear their personal testimonies and views. Ministers and civil servants will rightly continue to work with them, and they will continue to listen to those who have been affected to ensure this scheme works for them. Their personal views and considerations have been taken into account in the development of this scheme, and the House should note that the views of stakeholders have been instrumental to its design. That is why, last week, the Home Office announced the scheme will be extended by two years so that people will be able to submit claims up until 2 April 2023.
The Home Office also announced amendments to migration policy to apply a more flexible approach to the cases under review, and rightly so. The Home Office will now consider all evidence provided on the steps an individual will take or has taken to resolve their situation, which is an important change.
The Home Secretary is being generous in giving way.
I welcome the extension for applications to the scheme, but the Home Secretary will be aware that, nearly two years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs also recommended a hardship scheme. We were concerned that, in practice, this compensation scheme would take too long for many people who are in urgent need of compensation and some sort of support following these shocking injustices. Our report mentioned four people: Anthony Bryan, Sarah O’Connor, Hubert Howard and Judy Griffith. Shockingly, two of them have still had nothing, despite facing great hardship, and the other two died before they could get any compensation or hardship support at all.
Will the Home Secretary urgently consider a hardship scheme, as well as a compensation scheme, because this affects too many people? I have been contacted about someone today who is currently homeless and still struggling to get any support at all. Will she look at these cases urgently to see what hardship support can be given?
I was interested to read the updated impact assessment, which reduces the assumption that there will be 15,000 claims to 11,500 claims. Will the Home Secretary explain why that is the case and whether the Bill will cover the 160,000 Commonwealth citizens who could be affected, to which the Public Accounts Committee drew attention last year?
The numbers were reduced in the impact assessment due to the fewer-than-anticipated claims thus far. I will come on to Commonwealth citizens because, of course, this is not specific to Caribbean nationals.
Even though time has elapsed since individuals may have effectively been caught up in the Windrush issue—experiencing hardship, losing their job and, in some cases, also losing their home—I will, as I said to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), look into any specific cases that hon. Members would like to raise with me. Our changes may help some people to qualify for a potentially higher award, particularly where it relates to the loss of employment.
“Windrush” has been used to describe what happened to a specific group, but that term and this scheme are not limited to those of Caribbean nationality. The scheme, of course, is open to anyone of any nationality who arrived and settled in the UK before the end of 1988, and to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973. The scheme is also open to the children and grandchildren of Commonwealth citizens who arrived and settled before 1973, and to other close family members of such a person who may have been affected. In the cases of those who sadly passed away before compensation could be paid, a claim can be made by their estate.
I welcome the steps my right hon. Friend is taking in this Bill. Will she outline how the measures she has just described are going to be widely publicised, to make sure that everyone who might be entitled to claim under this legislation knows about it?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I will come on to this issue, primarily because our stakeholder advisory group has a very important role to play in it and I will explain why that is shortly. Importantly, we will continue to work with third party stakeholders, such as Citizens Advice, and many other groups that we are engaging with. I am very mindful, of course, that we have to rebuild trust with the communities that have been affected.
On that point of trust, the phone calls to my office today are about a flight tomorrow to Jamaica, and some of my constituents believe that this Bill is being used as some kind of flim-flam before that flight goes. Will the Home Secretary assure me that she will look carefully at every one of the cases that we bring to her to ensure that only those people who absolutely need to be deported are deported tomorrow?
Let me make a few points on that. First and foremost, we should not be conflating this charter flight—the criminality—with the issue of the Windrush compensation scheme. The hon. Lady will know that the House has heard the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) respond to the urgent question earlier, and every person on the flight has been convicted of some of the most serious offences and has received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. That means that under the UK Borders Act 2007, introduced by the Labour Government at the time, a deportation order must be made. These crimes cover manslaughter, rape, violence, the appalling scourge of drug dealing and sexual offences against children, with a total sentence for this group totalling more than 300 years. It is important to say that the suffering of their victims is incomprehensible, and these offences have a real impact on victims and their communities. It is important to recognise that the individuals being deported have criminal convictions, and that this is about the criminality of the acts they have participated in, not their nationality.
Actually, this point is not about criminality; it is about whether people are or are not regarded as British citizens. That is the key issue we are discussing this evening, because when the Windrush generation and their descendants came here before 1973, they arrived on British passports—they might have said “Jamaica” or “Trinidad and Tobago” on them, but they were British passports. We are now looking at whether their citizenship was valid from that point or not. We are not now deciding whether they are British citizens; we are saying that they have always been British citizens, so whether or not they have committed a crime is irrelevant to whether they are British citizens. If they have committed a crime, it is our problem. They are our citizens, and we need to deal with it. That is the key issue here, and the Home Secretary has completely missed that point.
I do not think I have missed that point, because this is a charter flight for foreign national offenders—[Interruption.] Members are welcome to bring individual cases, but I can give the House the assurance, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary did earlier today, that—
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the comments made during the urgent question by the Minister. The facts have been provided. I say again that if individuals wish to make representations to the Minister about cases in their constituencies, they are very welcome to do so.
On the Windrush compensation scheme, simplicity and ease of use has been at the forefront of designing it. Requirements for evidence have been designed to be straightforward and easy to understand and, most importantly, not too onerous for the claimant. Our priority has also been to ensure that payments are made as quickly as possible. The first payment was made in July, within four months of the scheme being launched, and the Government want to ensure that all those who have suffered come forward and apply for compensation.
No, I will not give way.
As mentioned earlier, the Home Office is extending the length of the scheme by two years, so people will be able to submit claims up to 2 April 2023.
I have outlined some positive steps, but we need to ensure that the scheme is underpinned by the necessary financial parliamentary authority, which is exactly what the Bill is designed to provide. Payments are currently made under the ministerial direction that was issued in July last year, but the Bill offers Parliament the opportunity to give its legislative authority for expenditure under the compensation scheme. Details of the scheme are set out in the non-statutory scheme rules, which give us freedom to amend the scheme swiftly where required. That freedom proved useful last October when, following feedback from stakeholders and claimants, the scheme was amended to allow a broader range of immigration fees to be refunded.
For the scheme to be effective, it is vital that awareness is raised, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) pointed out, and that everyone who has suffered is given a fair chance to claim. Through the Windrush stakeholder advisory group, the Government are overseeing how to reach those who have been affected and hurt. There is no simple or straightforward way in which that hurt can be repaired or that trust rebuilt. It is a sorry fact that there are still members of the Windrush generation who do not have the documentation that they need. Some will not even know that they are entitled to apply for compensation. Others have been put off by false claims that funding for the scheme is capped at £200 million, or have been subject to much misinformation about the scheme, which of course needs to be addressed. We will of course work to correct those inaccuracies, rebuild trust through the advisory group and provide the compensation and justice that people deserve. The role of the stakeholder advisory group is to do exactly that and to find the best links to get back into the affected communities. In addition to that, the Home Office has, as I have already indicated, attended and hosted more than 30 engagement events to promote the scheme, and would welcome interest from Members who wish to support community events in their own constituencies.
No compensation can ever hope to undo the injustice of someone being told that they are not welcome in their homeland. Nothing that we can do or say can ever wipe out the hurt and loss that should never have been suffered in the first place, but we hope that the Windrush compensation scheme can go some way towards easing the financial burden endured as a result, and that we can begin to do justice to those who have contributed much to our country. The United Kingdom is making a start on a new era of openness, and it is a home to everyone with the talent and tenacity to contribute to national life. It is only right that we do everything in our power to redress this historic injustice, so I hope that Members from all parties will take an important step forward in doing so and join me in giving the Bill the support that it needs. I commend the Bill to the House.
My mother, like that of a number of Members, was a member of the Windrush generation, so I know as well as anybody in the House the patriotism of the Windrush cohort, their commitment to this country, and their deep sense of hurt about the Windrush scandal. It is a scandal that continues to cast a shadow over our country’s reputation for fairness and for just public administration. Ministers may believe that the Bill will draw a line under the Windrush scandal, but I have got news for them: the Bill will not do that, and I will explain why.
First, though, let me say that the Opposition will not oppose the Bill. It is a money Bill, and it is necessary that some legislation be passed so that the Windrush victims, or at least some proportion of them, can finally receive some long-overdue compensation, however inadequate. We obviously do not oppose the payment of compensation, but through our experiences with our own constituents we are completely opposed to the way the Government are going about this. It is shoddy and inefficient and it adds insult to injury.
The Windrush compensation Bill will not end the Windrush scandal, as the scandal itself arises because British citizens—people who came here believing that they were British—were treated so appallingly by this Government and their predecessors. It is fair to say that treating migrants shoddily did not start in 2010. On the contrary, there has been discrimination and a denial of rights over the decades, but something new and far worse was set in train by the Immigration Act 2014, which many of those on the Government Benches personally voted for. In fact, there are very few of us still remaining as Members of Parliament who voted against that piece of legislation.
The 2014 Act encouraged the presumption of illegality directed at migrants and, just as some of us warned at the time, that presumption was very frequently and incorrectly directed against those with black and brown skins. It also obliged doctors, nurses, teachers, bank clerks and employers to act as internal border guards—to inform the authorities if they believed that someone was in this country illegally.
Ministers knew that that would lead to a huge wave of false allegations because we told them so at the time, but they pressed ahead regardless. The Government have signalled no intention of repealing the 2014 Act, so it gives me no pleasure to predict that this scandal will not go away. Unless and until that Act is repealed and the Government end their hostile environment, this scandal will grow.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for all her brave and principled hard work in this area. As has been pointed out in this place and beyond, the Government’s divisive, draconian and oppressive hostile environment for migrants is at the core of the treatment of the Windrush generation. Does she agree that although this scandal has disproportionately affected people from the Caribbean, it potentially impacts on all people from across the Commonwealth, including migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. I was going to come to the point that although people talk about the Windrush scandal in terms of migrants from the Caribbean, it actually affects people from Africa, from south Asia and anyone from a then Commonwealth country who came in at the time. I point out to the House that there is also another, perhaps larger, scandal waiting in the wings. This, too, arises because of the 2014 Act and the hostile environment. I am speaking, of course, about this Government’s treatment of the EU 3 million. The EU settlement scheme does not confer new rights, but instead removes them. EU citizens will then potentially risk being charged that they are here illegally, and will face the burden of proof to show otherwise, and the legal status of British citizens now abroad is also bound up with how fairly this Government treat EU citizens here.
I previously stated that the Opposition will not vote against the compensation Bill, because otherwise there will be no compensation paid at all, but we on the Opposition Benches must insist that the Home Secretary look again at the introduction of a special hardship scheme. There are people who have died. There are people who are still in debt, because of the slowness in dealing with their claims for compensation.
My right hon. Friend will have noted in the letter that we have seen from the second permanent secretary at the Home Office that of the more than1,000 claimants, only 36 have been settled to the tune of just over £62,000. Does she not agree that, although extending it is not a bad thing in one way, it is in danger of delaying the very vital payments that so many of our constituents deserve?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. The amount and the quantity of the payments are pitifully small, and do not show that the Government have administered the scheme well. We on the Labour Benches believe that the entire scheme for compensation should be like the funding for criminal injuries. First and foremost, compensation should be placed on a statutory footing, as that would allow the compensation to be comparable to awards in civil cases—that is reasoned and reasonable compensation.
The right hon. Lady will know of many cases like that of my constituent who, owing to his inability to work because he could not produce a passport, ended up over £50,000 out of pocket. Also, as a result of that, he could not claim employment and support allowance, because he had not made contributions in the previous couple of years. The amounts paid out in compensation come nowhere close to the financial losses individuals have suffered.
The amounts being paid out are indeed pitiful. They do not compensate for material loss, or for the misery, the fear and the uncertainty under which too many people have laboured for too long.
There is no justification for the smallness of the amounts payable under the Government’s scheme. With criminal injuries, the state has no liability; these are serious injuries done to ordinary citizens by criminals, and we as a Parliament have rightly decided that assistance should be given to the injured. There is clearly Government liability in the case of the Windrush scandal; it was caused by Government policy, but in this case the compensation is lower. What is the rationale for that? Among other things, there should be due compensation for all the legal advice that sufferers from the Windrush scandal may have required. Also, it is wholly unacceptable that people wrongly deported or refused re-entry will apparently not be compensated for that.
We also learn that only slightly more than 1,000 people have applied for compensation. Obviously, that is the reason why Ministers decided to extend the scheme, but what assessment has the Home Office made of the reasons for such low numbers of applications?
What struck me is how constituents of mine whose lives have been profoundly affected by this issue are quite nervous about this process, because of all they have suffered. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have to get it right quickly and do far more to reassure people who have suffered such shocking injustices and have little trust?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the big problems is that the Home Office systems are not up to scratch? To cope with both Windrush and the potential non-Caribbean Commonwealth applications as well as EU citizens, whom she rightly highlighted, the Home Office systems need to be improved.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
Since the previous Government were first obliged to apologise for the scandal, in April 2018, there have been more than 8,000 applications from people seeking the necessary documentation to establish their legality —8,000 applications for documentation, but only 1,000 applications for compensation. What has happened to the other 7,000? Why have they not come forward? Will the Home Secretary tell us what steps her Department is taking proactively to engage with them? Is she aware of any factors that might be inhibiting legitimate applicants? Is it possible that fear of the hostile environment is a factor?
How large is the publicity budget for the scheme? The House would like to know how that budget compares with the £46 million reportedly spent on the “Get ready for Brexit” campaign, which was criticised by the National Audit Office as having not made the slightest difference to public awareness. The House is entitled to know more details of the effectiveness of the publicity campaign. I understand that Home Office officials have visited Afro-Caribbean churches. That is good, but I hope Ministers understand that potential claimants may have difficulty approaching officials about their immigration status if they know that those officials are from the very Department that might seek to deport them, or might have deported someone they know.
Another issue is the extent of the Windrush cohort. As I said earlier, it is not just about people from the Caribbean: it affects all those Commonwealth and former empire citizens who came here legally before 1973, which includes people from west Africa, south Asia and elsewhere. It also includes their daughters, sons, grandsons and granddaughters, because the failure of their parents and grandparents to establish their citizenship may have affected their children’s and grandchildren’s immigration rights. It may be that people who have been rounded up for that flight to Jamaica tomorrow fall into that category. Will the Minister confirm that it is the case that many people originally from south Asia are also eligible for compensation? What will the Government do to ensure that all of them are approached about the compensation they are due?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way: she has been very generous with her time. Does she agree that it is unclear what the appeals process will be for the compensation scheme? Can people appeal against a compensation claim being turned down, and if so, can they receive legal aid for that appeal?
There are too many things that remain unclear about the compensation scheme, but I am sure the Minister will respond to my hon. Friend’s comments.
In conclusion, the Windrush scandal was seen and noted around the world. The current Prime Minister talks about reaching out to friends old and new in the new post-Brexit world, but unless and until this scandal is actually ended, do not be surprised if friends old and new treat those claims of amity very cautiously. No money can compensate for the sense of humiliation that members of the Windrush generation felt at being told, perhaps for the first time, that they were not actually British. This is not about the money: it is about making good that unhappiness, humiliation and fear. I urge Ministers to listen carefully to what Members say about their individual constituents’ experiences, because it will shed a lot of light on where this scheme is currently going wrong.
This is an essential Bill, and I will be extremely surprised, and indeed ashamed, if anyone rises to speak against it. I am very glad that the Government have extended the deadline to 2 April 2023, for reasons that I will cover in my conclusion. I hope the Bill will go some way to addressing the point that the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made that we need to recover our reputation for just administration at home and abroad.
I represent a large population of Caribbean descent—about 5,000 people. We are proud to have in Wycombe the largest Vincentian population away from the islands. I want to say that I am sorry. On these Benches, we are extremely sorry that this has happened. It is a matter of shame that it has occurred and that these events have taken place. It will be of no comfort to members of the public who have been affected, or their friends or family, that the explanatory notes go back to NHS treatment charges introduced in 1982 for overseas visitors, checks by employers on someone’s right to work first introduced in 1997, measures on access to benefits from 1999, civil penalties for employing illegal migrants from 2008, and so on. This is a long-standing problem, but it brings shame on us all and I am extremely sorry that it has happened.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of employer checks. One of the big concerns for many of my constituents is that they are required to have a biometric residence permit, because their little piece of paper from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate—or whichever form of the immigration system it was at the time—is no longer acceptable. The Home Office, crucially, does not write and tell them that, and it is only on a routine check by their employer that they find out. Many of them are then out of work for many months while they wait for their BRP to arrive. Does he agree that that is a scandal that the Home Office also needs to address?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that, because it gives me an opportunity to mention an important book that I hope Ministers and officials will look at. It is a study by King and Crewe that is rather unfortunately, but necessarily, entitled “The Blunders of our Governments”. The book sets out how, in various instances of what the authors call cultural dissonance—in other words, a failure to appreciate who one is dealing with and how those people approach the measures that the state puts in place—successive Governments, of alternating parties, have blundered. The hon. Lady raises something that the Front Benchers should look at extremely closely. We do not want any more blunders affecting real people.
I pay tribute to the community in Wycombe. My staff were instructed, and we agreed together, to bend over backwards to make sure we found everybody who might have been affected. I am extremely grateful that the community worked with us to find every possible opportunity to reach anyone affected. I cannot say anything about individual cases, because the number of affected people was so very low and I would not want to identify anyone. I will just say that I am thoroughly ashamed that someone was so badly affected in the way that he was.
As someone who for 10 years has represented the diverse community of Wycombe—a place where, as a school governor told me this morning, 48 languages are spoken in one primary school—I have seen how we desperately need greater humanity in our migration system. I suggest three principles, although there will be more: consent, justice and equality. It is not enough to say that we believe in the moral, legal and political equality of every person. The systems we establish and the manner in which we treat people must bear witness to the fact that, in the core of our being, we recognise the worth and the value of every person.
On justice, we have long believed that justice delayed is justice denied, and that is true in immigration, too. Time and again, I have seen people be denied leave to remain but not deported—not forced to leave when they should. However much one might wish to be idealistic, there is no justice in letting somebody stay for 10 years, because they will inevitably fall in love, set up a life, get married, have children and then, 10 years later, find that they have no status at a moment when they need public services. Thank you for letting me dilate on this, Mr Deputy Speaker. It does not relate to Windrush—I am talking about different circumstances—but the point about humanity is the same. We need to take just decisions, and to do so swiftly. That goes to the point that has been made about making payments quickly to people who have suffered injustice.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech and showing great humility. With respect, however, the Government have said sorry to these people many times. Some people, like my constituent, have had their mental health so affected by the trauma of all this that they will be unable to hold down a job again. Compensation is one thing, but does he agree that it must take into account not only the physical money that has been lost, but other issues and future earnings?
Yes. The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I noticed the length of the compensation scheme documentation, which I was going through this morning. Since she has raised the matter, I want to draw the Government’s attention to the provisions on interim payments. I wonder whether more could be done to make such payments early to try to address some of the points that she has made.
The hon. Gentleman is eloquent in his case for speeding up the process. Does he appreciate that some of the people who are due to be deported this week finished their sentences in 2015 and have been waiting five years to be deported? Does he not consider that to be cruel and unusual punishment? If they were to be deported at all, the system should have been much swifter.
I will make two points in response to the right hon. Gentleman. First, I stand by the comments I made earlier; justice delayed is justice denied, and if people are to be deported, it would be better to deport them swiftly. Secondly—we are ranging a little bit widely, but this point has already been made—the people being deported are persistent and serious criminals, whereas the people we are discussing in relation to the Windrush compensation scheme are people to whom we should all be paying tribute.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very strong argument, and I think that Members on both sides of the House support much of what he is saying. But as I said to the Home Secretary earlier, the issue is about whether criminals are regarded as British citizens or not. We are making a retrospective judgment, instead of making the judgment that we should be making. That is the issue here. We cannot be making a moral judgment today about someone’s right to be here, when they arrived 40 or 50 years ago; they had that right then and it should be acted on now.
The hon. Lady has been heard on the Government Front Bench, so I am grateful that I gave way, but I am not going to focus my remarks on this issue because we are talking about the Windrush compensation scheme.
I conclude by reminding everyone, including the Government, that the people who have been affected are not pushy and entitled people. Overwhelmingly, in my experience, they are some of the gentlest, kindest, and above all most humble people in our society, who in many cases have been mistreated over the course of decades, often casually and shamefully. In such circumstances, it is incumbent on everyone involved in the administration of this scheme to be scrupulously respectful, to make payments as swiftly as possible, and, frankly—within the bounds of the scheme—to ensure that the payments made are maximised, in compensation for the real injustice that has been suffered.
It is good to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. Of course we must pass this Bill, because the victims of the outrageous Windrush fiasco must be compensated, but it must be done fairly and fully, and compensation must accurately reflect the impact that this scandal has had on their lives. It must happen as quickly as possible, because the process has been slow and drawn out. I concur absolutely with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and the shadow Home Secretary about the operation of a hardship fund.
I recognise that a lot of work and consultation has gone into designing the scheme, but although that work is welcome, it does not mean that we have to accept that the design is right. Indeed, the changes to the scheme announced last Thursday illustrate that changes can and should be made. Scottish National party Members think that those changes were steps in the right direction, but that others are required. The Bill gives us the opportunity to air those concerns. I will set out a few examples in a moment, but first it is important to put those concerns into context, and to reflect on what it is that we are compensating victims for and who the victims are.
Windrush must be among the most outrageous acts of negligence by a Government Department impacting its own people in modern British political history. In fact, the word “negligence” probably does not do it justice at all. “Recklessness” would be closer to the mark. As we have heard, the consequences have been disastrous: people wrongly subjected to the hostile environment; homes and jobs lost; and healthcare, pensions and access to social security refused. Some victims were subject to immigration enforcement, including the serious trauma of immigration detention. Some were removed or deported. Some felt compelled to leave. Some were refused re-entry when they went abroad for what they thought would be short periods of time. People were prevented from travelling to visit dying relatives or to attend funerals.
Why do we say that these harms were caused by recklessness on the part of the Government? Quite simply, because the Home Office knew that the implications of their ever more noxious hostile environment policies included that significant groups of people who were lawfully in the UK would be caught up in its tentacles. The Department was warned via inspectorate reports, by the 2014 “Chasing Status” report by the Legal Action Group, by high commissioners, by analysis of the right to rent carried out by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and by others. The National Audit Office was clear that there were briefings to Ministers about the many thousands of lawful residents who did not hold biometric residence permits from at least 2013. As the NAO said, outsourced hostile environment policies
“predictably carried a risk of impacting on individuals who were, in fact, entitled to residence, but who did not have the necessary documents. The Department had a duty of care to ensure that people’s rights and entitlements were recognised...We do not consider that the Department adequately considered that duty in the way that it introduced immigration policy.”
In short, it seems that all the warning signs were ignored or deemed acceptable collateral damage. People quite rightly ask, “If all these warnings had related to white middle-class people with a louder voice, would those warnings have been ignored?” Instead, it was not until they were shamed into action by journalists such as Amelia Gentleman that the Government actually started to respond.
We also need to consider who these victims are. In the light of the history, I think it has already been accepted that there is little doubt that Windrush victims will have no trust in the immigration and nationality system or in the Home Office. In fact, they would be entitled to despise institutions that have heaped so much misery upon them. That is not the only thing we need to consider and remember about the victims when we go on to assess the design of the compensation scheme. Speaking to those who are working with and supporting the Windrush victims through the compensation scheme, it is repeatedly pointed out to me that we are often talking about fairly or even very marginalised, and sometimes vulnerable, individuals. Many are poor or not well off; hence there was no need for passports for foreign trips. Vulnerabilities can range from poor literacy all the way through to signs of post-traumatic stress disorder because of the ordeals that people have been put through. Many will have had other experiences of discrimination and racism in housing, employment and criminal justice.
Against that background, the compensation scheme must be generous and comprehensive, and also designed to allow even the most marginalised, terrified and vulnerable to access it. There is a workable scheme on which we can build, but many have expressed concern about its design, and I hope the Government will listen. The Minister has already made changes, and I hope we will continue to consider possible improvements to the scheme.
I will briefly mention a few concerns, many of which we will come back to in more detail in Committee. First, on the independence of the compensation scheme, it would surely be better for it to be operated independently of the Home Office. We are asking people to contact and apply to the same Department that caused them such misery in the first place. If the scheme must remain within the Home Office, then there must surely be strong, independent routes to challenge the decisions that it makes. We are far from convinced that the scheme has that feature.
Secondly, we need to scrutinise the application process. Has enough been done to ensure that it is as simple as possible? The application form declares that the Home Office does not think that people will need an immigration lawyer to complete it, yet question 1 alone asks about lapsed status, settled status, whether people were ordinarily resident, and the right of abode. How many people in this Chamber could provide a coherent description of all those concepts?
That leads me on to a further issue: funding for groups advising and supporting people to make applications. Funding for Citizens Advice is well and good, but it is not sufficient. People should have a choice. For some victims, Citizens Advice was one of the organisations unable to help them to rectify their terrible situations in the first place—not, I should say, through any fault of Citizens Advice. It is welcome that the Government are tendering for advice services, but I hope that it is possible for a range of different providers to be selected and not just one.
In 2018, the Government appointed Martin Forde, QC, to independently advise them on the compensation scheme, and the Government have also committed to having an independent adviser to oversee its delivery. Is the hon. Gentleman challenging the views of the independent expert who has made the recommendations, which the Government have largely followed?
As I said at the outset, I welcome all the consultation that is happening. I also welcome the role that Martin Forde has played, but we do not have to simply take every chapter and verse of the design that he comes up with. Ultimately, we are the politicians and this is the Government, and we can do things slightly differently if we wish to. The Immigration Minister has already made some changes to the scheme. All I am saying is that there are changes that can make the scheme fairer and more generous, and I will continue to make that case. I absolutely respect the role that Martin Forde has played and I do not mean to diminish it in any way at all.
As we speak just now, lots of folk are having to be helped through the system by pro bono lawyers, volunteers and even students. Not only are difficult concepts of immigration and nationality law involved, but the process of documenting losses and damages is often not easy. Given the significance of these applications to the people making them, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), it is only right that legal aid funding be made available. Ultimately, is it not a bit rich for the Home Office, an institution that completely failed to understand its own immigration rules and laws despite employing an army of policy experts and lawyers, then to turn round and tell victims of those failures that they do not need legal advice? The Home Secretary herself referred in her speech to applications being complicated. That is why legal aid funding should be made available to all the victims.
The fourth issue is the time limit. We welcome the Minister putting the deadline back—the original might even have been capable of legal challenge—but we suspect that there may need to be a further rethink in future. We are also concerned that if a deadline remains, there must be generous provision for those who miss it and a very low threshold for considering reasonable excuses. That is necessary, given the vulnerabilities and isolation that many victims will have suffered. It is also necessary because the Home Office has limited its proactive search for victims to Caribbean countries, despite being told by the NAO that its reasons for not proactively searching for victims elsewhere do not add up. That must be revisited.
Fifthly, we share concerns that many of the limits, tariffs and caps in the scheme are wholly inappropriate. The range of immigration application fees that are recoverable is unduly restrictive, and so too are limits placed on legal fees related to those applications. Some of the lump sums seem surprisingly low. Right across access to social security benefits, housing, employment and education, we cannot accept restrictions on possible total awards. Why is the scheme not aiming to come closer to providing restitution for actual losses, rather than very limited broadbrush payments?
Sixthly, we are concerned about provisions that allow for compensation to be restricted for what essentially seems to be a form of contributory negligence, as well as for serious criminality. On the first point, how can it be right for the Home Office to say, “If only you’d contacted us, things would have been sorted,” and use that as a reason to reduce compensation? For many, simply looking at the eye-watering application fees would have been sufficient to think that fixing the situation was impossible. Others who did try to contact the Home Office to remedy their status ended up the subject of enforcement action and in immigration detention.
It seems that unsuccessful applicants were automatically placed in the migration refusal pool and therefore were at risk of removal, so who can blame people for not attempting the dangerous and seemingly insurmountable task of proving status and contacting the Home Office? After all, this Department was sending out “Go home” vans, but now we are saying in retrospect that at that same time, people suspected of being here illegally should have got on the phone to the Home Office to rectify their situation. That seems wholly unrealistic. The insistence that people would usually have contacted the Home Office within 30 days bears little resemblance to reality and could have severe implications for significant loss of earnings claims. We welcome the Minister’s announcement that the range of actions that the Home Office will accept as attempted mitigation is to be broadened, but we seriously question whether any such deductions are appropriate at all.
On criminality, we are unconvinced by the appropriateness of the provisions. Part of the guidance on this has been redacted from public view, and another section refers to situations where the
“offending was of such a nature that makes it inappropriate to make an award in whole or in part”,
which is vague and lacks clarity. As a point of principle, the fact that someone has a criminal record surely does not mean that the person is not owed compensation when they are wronged by the Government.
Finally, there is a huge issue over what caseworker guidance says about the standard of proof in certain cases. As a general rule, the guidance states that caseworkers should
“take a holistic view of the claim where there is a lack of supporting evidence and decide the claim on a balance of probability.”
That is welcome and as it should be, but a list of exceptions is then provided, including claims for loss of earnings, reimbursement of private medical fees, reimbursement of international student fees and loss of access to banking. The guidance demands that caseworkers
“must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt before making an award in these cases.”
That is the criminal standard of proof. I cannot for the life of me see why a loss of earnings claim for a Windrush victim should require to be proved to the criminal standard of proof, rather than the usual civil standard. That seems pretty outrageous, and I look forward to hearing why that is in the guidance. Members have raised various other issues with the scheme, and I look forward to exploring those in Committee.
My hon. Friend has laid out issues with the scheme as it stands and improvements that could be made. There are still ongoing cases with the Home Office where people such as highly skilled migrants have lost huge sums of money, had to fight in the courts to get their status proven and had decisions overturned in their favour. Does he agree that there needs to be a further look at compensation schemes where the Home Office has clearly got it wrong?
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point, and I fully support what she says about those individuals.
That brings me nicely to the concluding part of my speech. The Secretary of State was right to say that compensation cannot be an end to the matter. As one victim, Judy Griffith, said:
“I do think that we deserve compensation. But there is no amount that can truly reflect the fear and anxiety, frustration and ill health we have suffered.”
Indeed, the way we respond to what has happened must go way beyond the compensation scheme. It is about completely overhauling the institutions and hostile environment policies that led to this situation in the first place. Instead of defending the right to rent scheme in court, the Government should be scrapping it. It is about asking whether the public sector equality duty, at 10 years old, is working properly, particularly when it comes to making immigration policy; I think it is self-evident that it is not.
It is about listening to concerns that many EU citizens will face an even worse prospect if they miss the settled status scheme deadline; the shadow Home Secretary was right about that. It is about ensuring urgent publication of the Williams lessons learned review and responding. It is about no longer pricing people out of their rights, especially their right to British citizenship. And it is about a full-blown apology—not just for the fact that this all happened, but for the fact that Government caused it to happen.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. There is no doubt that the Windrush scandal is a stain on the history of our country. It should never have taken place, but it should also transcend party politics, because it came about due to a series of administrative failings under a succession of Governments. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) said, it was the result of cock-up, not conspiracy. It was the result of unintended consequences because of the trail of successive decisions and actions of many Governments over many decades. None the less, it needs to be put right, and I welcome the Bill as just one step in ensuring that we put right as much as we are able to the wrongs that were done to the people who suffered.
The hon. Gentleman says that it was not intentional, but many of us were raising concerns for some time about constituents who were facing this very situation. The Home Office and Ministers failed to put that together to see that there was a systemic issue. Does he not at least acknowledge that? I hope we would all agree on both sides of the House that the Home Office systems are not, and have not been for some time, up to scratch and need to be improved.
I am grateful for that intervention. If the hon. Lady’s point is that something should have been done sooner, I agree. There were clearly warning signs that something was going wrong in the system, and action should have been taken quicker than it eventually was. But we are at this point today, and I welcome the Bill as one step further down the line to put right what was done wrong.
I want to thank the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), and the former Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). I had a great deal of engagement with them when this situation came to light, and I thank them for the way in which they took ownership of it and sought to put measures in place to provide redress and compensation as quickly as possible.
When this issue unfolded in 2018, I was a member of the Petitions Committee, and I led a debate in Westminster Hall in response to a petition on this issue. Because of that, I had the privilege of meeting many of the petitioners, as well as a number of church leaders who represented West Indian and Caribbean congregations, who expressed their grave concerns about what was unfolding. As I look back on those meetings, I have two abiding memories of things that I learned and that struck me hard.
The first was that the Windrush generation did not come to Britain to become British citizens—they already considered themselves British citizens. They saw themselves as coming to the aid of the mother country; they came here to help this country at our point of need. I will never forget the stories they told me of how they came to the mother country when we asked them to because we needed their help.
The second thing that struck me from those meetings was just how deep mistrust of the Home Office went. There was a deep sense that something was wrong, and they had serious misgivings about the way that the Home Office functioned. That was not just a feeling at that particular time; it had been established over many decades, and there was a deep sense that they did not trust the Home Office. We wait to see what will come out of the lessons learned report, but I really hope one of the things will be to highlight the need for real change in the way the Home Office functions so that we never see something like this happen in our country ever again.
I welcome the fact that the compensation scheme was launched swiftly in April 2018, but I think we would all agree that it has taken too long to get to where we are today. I think we all acknowledge that, over the last couple of years, a great deal has preoccupied Parliament, filled far too much time and taken attention away from far too many other important matters. However, it is regrettable that more progress has not been made and, as hon. Members have already commented, that too few people have received too little compensation so far.
I sincerely hope that the passage of the Bill will enable the Home Office to accelerate this process, and make sure that claims are processed more quickly and, where compensation is due, payments are made in a timely fashion. I ask the Minister to ensure that all the resources needed are given to the Home Office to make sure that these applications can be processed much more quickly and compensation paid much more swiftly. While I understand why Labour Members will have concerns, I think we need to get this Bill passed, and it would be a mistake in any way to seek to delay it any further.
As terrible and unjust as all that went on during that time is, there is one thing from this whole process for which I am grateful, which is that we have been able to hear the story of the Windrush generation for a new generation in this country. My father was from Ipswich, and although he moved to Cornwall to marry my mother, after I was born we went back to Ipswich several times a year. There were Caribbean communities in Ipswich that we were very much a part of, and at that time I got to know several families who had originally come from the Caribbean. I remember the sense of love of our country that they had and, as I said earlier, the sense that they were coming to help the motherland at that time. I remember with great fondness all those relationships, and all the stories I heard back then.
I am very glad that, because of this tragedy and this unjust thing that has happened, the one good thing is that we can tell their story again and a new generation in this country can hear just how much and how big a debt we owe the people from all over the Commonwealth who came to our country to help us rebuild after the war. We must never forget the price that they paid and all that they gave our country at that time, and we must always be grateful and treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve because of that.
I believe that, as we have now left the European Union, we have an opportunity to review and reset our immigration policy. That is a positive thing and an opportunity we should grasp, but in doing so we must get it right. I believe there are things we can learn from the Windrush scandal that will help to shape our immigration policy to ensure that we do not ever make these mistakes again. One of the things many of us want to see as we break free from being locked into the European Union’s immigration policy is that we can once again build closer relationships with the Commonwealth and strengthen our historic ties with the Commonwealth. However, unless we now get this right and learn the lessons that need to be learned, that is going to be more difficult to do. We have to ensure that our future immigration policy is effective, but also fair and compassionate, and there are clearly lessons that must be learned.
If the reaction is somehow to weaken our stance on illegal immigration or on those who have committed crime, we will be doing a disservice to the British people. There needs to be a change of culture at the heart of the Home Office because the focus has been too much on policy and process, not on people. We must never lose sight of the fact that people are at the heart of these policies—individuals and families—who deserve to be treated fairly, and with dignity, respect and compassion.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that because all this happened—people were asked to leave and were reprieved at the last minute, with the paperwork set before them and the timescales involved—there is a real need for the Government, and the Minister in particular, to restore confidence in the existing process, because only by doing so will we deal with some of the concerns that people have, and then to work, as the hon. Gentleman says, with all the Commonwealth to restore their confidence as well?
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Damage has been done through this whole very sad situation, and the Home Office has to learn the lessons not only in righting the wrong that has been done to individuals and families, but in rebuilding and repairing the reputation of the Home Office among a very large proportion of our community in the UK to ensure that trust is rebuilt, confidence is re-established, and justice is being done and is being seen to be done fairly for many people. I agree with the point he makes.
In summing up, I want to see us, as we have left the European Union, build a robust and just immigration system, but one that is also fair and compassionate. I believe there are many lessons that we can learn from what has happened to the Windrush generation and the way they have suffered, for a long time and in many ways, that will help us shape that policy. I urge the Minister and the Home Office to make sure that the lessons learned from this situation are carried forward into our future immigration policy. I very much welcome the introduction of the Bill, as I have said, because I believe it is an important step forward in making sure that we are able to put right what was done wrong to so many from that generation.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this Second Reading debate.
James Blair, a Scottish-Irish MP, owned 1,598 slaves in British Guyana. When slavery was abolished in 1833, he was awarded £83,350 in compensation, a sum worth £65 million today. In total, the British Government paid out today’s equivalent of £16.5 billion to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their so-called property and investment. At the time, it represented 40% of the Treasury’s annual spending budget, and the sum was so large that it took British taxpayers 182 years to pay it off—taxpayers like the children of Windrush who were invited to Britain from Commonwealth countries in 1948. They were the children of the very slaves that James Blair owned, and the children of people who had their British identity thrust upon them centuries ago when they were stolen from their homes and sold as property.
When it was revealed that hundreds of the Windrush generation had been wrongly detained, deported, left destitute and made homeless by the Government, I am sorry to say that the British state did not rush to compensate the victims with the same conviction as they previously did for those who enslaved their ancestors. Originally, the expectation was that the Home Office would distribute between £200 million and £570 million to victims of the Windrush scandal. But just £62,198 has been paid to 36 people from the Home Office compensation pot. These are people who have been denied a lifetime of employment, housing, citizenship, wealth and opportunity.
Many of the victims are still heavily in debt. Glenda Caesar came to Britain legally as a three-month-old child in 1961 from Dominica. She was sacked from her job in a GP practice, and then denied welfare while she remained unemployed. Her daughter, who is deaf, was forced to share her disability benefits with her to get by. How did the Home Office arrive at a compensation fee of only £22,664? Was this meant to cover the loss of earnings over 10 years, the impact on family life, and the distress caused by being wrongfully detained?
For so many people, these petty pay-outs have been nothing short of insulting, degrading and shameful. What does this tell Windrush citizens? It tells them that the British state is more likely to compensate the descendants of slave owners than the descendants of slaves, that the British state is more likely to reimburse those who made a living displacing human beings in the 19th and 20th centuries than those it continues to displace in the 21st, and that they live in a country that thinks the loss of profit from colonialism is more regrettable than the continuation of colonialism itself.
We still do not know how many people were wrongly detained and deported. What we do know is that only 3% of Windrush claimants have so far received compensation. That is a national disgrace. Every day an injustice is not rectified constitutes a new injustice in itself that is committed. That means the Government are only making it more expensive for themselves every day they fail to fulfil their moral and political obligations.
I respect the hon. Gentleman greatly and understand his point, but I have to say that there are many beyond this House who believe that the state of amnesia the Government are displaying is wilful.
At least 11 people have died before they received any compensation. How many more people will the Government let die in the hope that the outrage dies with them? This is before we have even taken into account those who have yet to apply for compensation they are rightfully owed. The Home Office’s own estimates suggest that 15,000 people could be eligible for compensation, yet only 1,108 have applied so far. This is because the “hostile environment” continues to deny victims the support that they need to submit the incredibly complex 18-page application. Many need legal advice to help them apply for compensation, but the Government refuse to provide any financial support whatsoever. Claimants are provided with a 45-page guidance booklet instead.
I am struggling to find a reason why the application process is so arduous, other than to impede people in submitting an application in the first place. It is worth stressing that the application process requires extensive documentary evidence—the kind of evidence that people were explicitly denied because of the “hostile environment” or dissuaded from accessing for fear of alerting the Home Office.
Many people do not want to come forward at all, as they do not want to risk testing their status in case they end up being detained or deported—and who could blame them?
This is an indictment of the Government and the kind of atmosphere they are determined to maintain. When 50 people are about to be put on a plane to Jamaica tomorrow morning, how can we trust the Government?
The Windrush citizens can never be repaid. There is no financial settlement that will restore the dignity that was stolen from them. There is no amount of money that will reverse years of pain from family separation. And there is no reimbursement that will rectify state-sanctioned brutality. But the Government seem to think that the appropriate response is to absolve themselves of any responsibility to compensate altogether.
The Windrush victims deserve much more than mere crumbs for one of the most grievous scandals in this country’s modern history. At the very least, the Government should show black British citizens as much remorse as was given to those who enslaved their ancestors. That would be the beginning of a long process of national self-reflection, repentance and justice.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), whose passion on this subject is well known both in this place and—I say as someone who is new to this place and has been a member of the public until recently—outside this place.
The words “scandal” and “crisis” are bandied around far too cheaply these days; their overuse cheapens actual scandals and crises like this one. Windrush was a scandal, and one that should never have happened. The contribution made by Windrush immigrants and their descendants to this country is beyond measure, and what they have brought to this country has shaped the cultural and industrial make-up in a way for which we should always be thankful.
The Government have not forgotten this and are working hard to rectify the wrongs faced by Windrush victims. However, it is important that we recognise these mistakes could not be fixed overnight; they do, unfortunately, as with many of the workings of government, take time. The launch of the Windrush compensation scheme goes to show the work this Government are willing to do to ensure that those who faced the uncertainty that Windrush presented are showed that they are valued.
As many hon. and right hon. Members—many of whom have been in this House much longer than I have—will be aware from previous casework, as soon as the issues surrounding these immigration statuses arose, the Government began to try to right the wrongs that victims had faced. UK Visas and Immigration set up a dedicated team to help those people who previously had no evidence of their right to be here to receive the documentation that they needed. There is now a dedicated contact point tasked with resolving cases within two weeks of evidence being provided, and all documentation awarded comes at no cost to the victim, with their legal and citizenship costs also being covered.
The Government also quickly implemented a five-month consultation period, which eventually attracted over 1,400 responses. This was complemented by a number of focus group sessions in order to truly uncover where the need for compensation rests.
In the Government’s response to the consultation released in April last year, on the same day that the compensation scheme opened, they not only fully acknowledged the harm done, but went beyond the Windrush generation to accommodate anyone who mayhave been impacted by historical immigration laws, and the cohort of people eligible will be much wider than the Windrush generation itself. The requirements of the scheme, while being set by the Government, come from direct advice from those who took part in that consultation. This shows that the Government are not merely throwing money at the issue, but have taken the advice of those who were impacted, their friends and their families, and that victims are getting a suitable remedy to their individual cases to compensate for the losses they may have experienced due to their past immigration status.
The hon. Gentleman might not be totally aware of all the issues surrounding the Windrush carry-on, as we might call it, because this had been raised repeatedly with many Ministers on multiple occasions before, finally, they were shamed into taking action. That went on for years. I myself had been raising the issue for three years before 2018, when the Government finally decided to take action. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is new to this place and might not know the history of this, but it is not correct to say the Government acted quickly when they became aware of the issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She makes a very valid point. Many issues that have come up were due to measures under successive Governments over many years since the 1980s. I am aware of the points she raises and I completely understand what she says. Perhaps if I continue my speech, the answers to her questions may become a little bit more apparent.
I understand that the Home Office estimates that the compensation scheme will cost between £120 million and £310 million to cover the thousands of claims that are expected to arise. That not only includes primary claimants, but close family members of those affected and, as was mentioned earlier, the estates of deceased members. To say that the Government do not care and are not doing enough to assist victims is just disingenuous and an affront to the efforts they are making to apologise for errors made and to safeguard all those affected. Those who apply under the scheme are also eligible for payments to cover up to eight different areas where their life may have been impacted, with some collective payments having the potential to be in the tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the severity of the case.
Many hon. Members have rightly mentioned the speed with which cases have been processed. Over 1,100 people have submitted claims so far and, yes, only a small number have received some form of recompense for the mistakes that have been made. However, the immediate work that the Government have put into repairing the damage done shows that while many are still waiting for compensation, this is because, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned earlier, all cases are being treated with the individual attention they rightly require. Some payments are much harder to assess than others, in particular the impact on life reward, which will take a number of different factors into account. No two Windrush cases will be the same and each one will need to be examined and assessed for its own unique level of compensation.
My hon. Friend reminds me that in exceptional circumstances such as this, Members of Parliament who might have access to the community and people who know the victims could have an additional role to play in helping to administer the scheme, or at least advising those administering the scheme. Will the Minister commit today to writing a “dear colleague” letter to all Members to set out how Members of Parliament can help the victims in a constructive way that is not too burdensome to officials operating the scheme?
My hon. Friend pre-empts me; I was about to refer to his speech. Unlike some comments we heard earlier to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), asking what the Home Office will do to help these people, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) has taken this on, found the information himself and gone about the work directly to try to offer the help his constituents need. I completely agree with him.
I will keep it brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am more than happy to make a commitment to put out a “dear colleague” letter of the nature my hon. Friend describes.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that commitment.
As I mentioned earlier in my speech, Windrush was a terrible mistake that should never have been allowed to happen. The fact that people could live in this country for so long only for them and their families to face such daily hardships is undeniably unacceptable, yet the efforts put in by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that mistakes are being remedied are a great step towards ensuring that those impacted will see the compensation and security they deserve.
In winding up, I would like to echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). I admit to my regret that up in leafy north Wales, before this terrible situation was brought to light, I had never heard the term Windrush, but I have over the past few years had occasion to look into these events. As my hon. Friend said, the individuals and families who came to the UK all those years ago came at our request to help us when we desperately needed their help. Their sacrifices and selfless acts deserved much more than we gave them and the events of this scandal have shamed us all. As many Members have stated, today and previously, we unreservedly apologise. I hope the Minister, in his closing remarks, can assure me, and those in my Delyn constituency who may have been impacted by Windrush, that he is planning to take the advice given by the lessons learned review, that he can reassure me that people should not be in any doubt about their status in this country, which they have called home for so long, and that they will, of course, see the compensation that their individual cases deserve.
It is a pleasure to follow the new hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts).
As others have said, the Windrush scandal—it is a scandal—has been a shameful blot on our country, and an indictment of our policies and culture over many years. I accept that it has not just occurred under this Government, although it has been exacerbated in recent years by the hostile environment. When the Minister closes the debate, it would be very welcome indeed to those watching our debate from outside this place for that to be recognised. I do not think it was in the opening remarks by the Home Secretary.
I represent one of the largest Caribbean communities in the country, focused particularly in Moss Side and Hulme in my constituency. I had been dealing with a number of Windrush cases a long time before the scandal appeared on the public’s radar through the campaigning of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and those on the Labour Front Bench, and brilliant journalists such as Amelia Gentleman and others. As the scandal broke into the public domain, I decided to hold a number of open surgeries, which I advertised on local radio and elsewhere. At the first surgery, we were absolutely inundated with cases. We were there for over five hours. In total, I have taken on over 70 cases in the past two years.
There are some really heartbreaking stories from the people who have come to see me. Many brought with them their original passports. I have taken many photographs of the passports with which they arrived in this country in the ’60s and ’70s. They were British passports and that goes to the heart of the conversation we are having. All their passports said on them, “British passport”. The passports may have also said Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago, but they were British citizens who were answering a call to come and work and establish their lives here in this country because we needed them to do that. At the heart of everything we are discussing today and will discuss in the coming months, we have to remember that they have always been British citizens. We cannot, therefore, operate a kind of contemporary or retrospective view on their contribution or status at that time. I will come on to say a bit more about that.
A number of the people I have met over the past year or two through those surgeries have still not actually dared yet to regularise their status here. They are still operating on a Jamaican passport because they are scared to death. They are later in life. They have operated under the radar.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the majority of those individuals are deeply depressed and traumatised by the experiences they have gone through, and that the Home Office should work with the NHS to provide mental health support for them? Does she agree that the Minister should work with other Ministers to develop a cross-party approach to consider how they can provide mental health support to those victims who have been impacted by the hostile policy?
My new hon. Friend makes a very good point. That very much reflects my experiences of trying to coach and support people, navigating them through what are for many very difficult and uncharted waters. The original Windrush generation—I will come on to their descendants in a minute—are very isolated. If it were not for support networks, for example churches, they would have very little in the way of support services. They are very scared about coming forward.
As I said, it is really important that we recognise that the Windrush generation and their descendants are, and always were, British citizens, and that we are leaving so many people effectively stateless and feeling unwelcome in this country. I could go through many cases with the Minister—I have raised many cases here—but I will not because a lot of other people want to speak. However, the sorts of situations that I have come across include people not being allowed back into the country for one, two or three years, with them, in the meantime, losing their job and their social housing, which meant that their children also lost their homes. I met an individual who had a refusal to have their status regularised in the mid-’80s—I think it was an administrative error at the time—which frightened them so much that they have lived under the radar ever since, never having a job, never accessing public services and never having a home. They have been living among their family networks for their entire life—this is somebody who is now in their 60s. As well as those types of situations, others have been well rehearsed in the media, such as where people have served in the British Army, or worked as nurses or public servants, and have found themselves on the wrong end of this shameful, shameful situation.
As others have said, including the Home Secretary, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of life, livelihood and dignity—of people’s whole lives. People have never gone on holiday, and people have lost their home, status and dignity. However, that does not mean that we should not properly compensate them, nor does it mean that, just because no amount of money can compensate them, paltry amounts will do. We need to give people justice and be seen to be giving them justice, and I will say a bit about what that might look like.
The purpose of the compensation scheme has to be, at its core, about restoring trust, undoing some of the damage that has been done and properly compensating people for their losses. It is difficult to see how the scheme, as designed, will help to do those things. The Home Secretary has said that these cases are complicated and of course they are, but the scheme’s design has made them much more complicated than they need to be. People do not have the time, the support and, in most cases, the documentation that is being asked of them.
How do we put a price on many of the things that they have lost? How do we put a price on someone not having had a holiday for 30 years, even though they are a working person? How do we put a price on someone not seeing a family member for 30 years because they live in fear of going on holiday? How do we put a price on someone not getting healthcare 20 years ago when they were poorly and that having had a detrimental effect on their life ever since? These things are hard to put a price on. As others have said, there is an undeniable fear of the Home Office, so many people do not want to come forward and make themselves known to it. A lot more needs to be done to overcome that.
I have a few asks of the Minister on the compensation scheme, and then I will talk about a couple of other things before I finish. Others have talked about the timeline. I welcome that it has been extended by two years, but that still makes it shorter than the amount of time that people had to claim for payment protection insurance compensation. If that is our benchmark, which seems a perfectly good one, we are failing on that. People should have longer to claim for this than they had for PPI.
The documentation has to be made a lot simpler. There will have to be a certain amount of discretion. It is about people looking at an application with common sense and judging it based on the evidence that is before them. As others have said, we need more support services. If it is not legal aid, which I think there is a strong case for, let us at least put some money into the support and advice services that can help people. Can we look again at some flat rates—some amounts of money—for things that we cannot put a price on, so that we can get proper compensation?
There are a couple of other things about the scheme, which I have raised and will continue to raise, even though I know that this is not a particularly popular cause. On proving good character, if we are agreeing as a House tonight that people were British citizens when they arrived, and that their descendants were also British citizens when they arrived, we cannot then apply the legislation from 2006 and 2009 about whether people meet a good character test or not. They are British citizens or they are not. As the Minister will know, I have dealt with a number of cases of people who have had convictions, and I know that Ministers have the discretion to let them apply under the terms of the Windrush scheme.
I thank my hon. Friend—my good friend—for that comment. Ministers do have discretion, but I suppose that I am going even further than that: this should not be discretionary, because somebody either is and was a British citizen when they came, and therefore their descendants were, and their right to be here, to remain and to have citizenship is outwith any discretionary decision about their good character, their moral conduct or whether they have a conviction. I know that this might not be as popular as the case I have of someone who served in the British Army, or of someone who was a British nurse for many years—I am talking about people who have been convicted, in some cases of very serious offences—but that is our country’s problem, in terms of getting those people to serve their criminal sentence and then rehabilitating them, because they are British citizens. We need to look at that.
There are still a number of issues about Windrush descendants. The same principle needs to apply: if somebody’s parents were British citizens when they arrived here in 1969 or 1970, with their British passport that they came over with from Jamaica, their children are also British citizens regardless. They should not have to meet tests that have subsequently come into UK law. They are British citizens and we should apply that as a consistent principle. It is only when we start applying those principles consistently that we will begin to restore trust. It is all very well to paint people as terrible criminals, which is why they have to be deported, but that still gets the moral argument wrong because they are British citizens—[Interruption.] They are. If they are a descendant of a member of the Windrush generation, or are themselves a member, they had a right to British citizenship from the day that they were born and therefore, they are British citizens. The Government are applying retrospectively their moral judgments on that to try to appease some test of being tough on deportations and foreign criminals. I am sorry that this is not perhaps the same publicly appealing call as others, but until and unless the Government recognise the core principle—that somebody is and was a British citizen from the off and that we are trying to get that right in their compensation and by regularising their status—we will not go any way to restoring trust.
The Minister can shake his head all he likes, but I can talk to him now or afterwards about the cases that he or his predecessors and I have discussed, where that principle has been recognised. However, it is still being recognised discretionarily and that is wrong. I am sorry—I know that that is not popular but I will keep banging on about it until we sort it out.
That brings me to my final point. We cannot have these conversations without the lessons learned review being on the table, being debated and discussed. Until then, he and I will continue to argue about whether the deportations are necessary. If lessons are being learnt, everything else should be on hold until they have been understood, absorbed and acted upon. More than the financial compensation, members of the Windrush generation in my constituency, who are angry about what has happened and in some cases afraid, want to know that this will never happen again and that lessons are being learnt for them, for their children and for people thereafter.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who made some very important points.
I welcome the Bill and the Government’s recognition that the Windrush compensation scheme is a critical step in rectifying mistakes made and the losses faced by individuals wrongly deported from their own country. I do not have many ethnic minorities on the Isle of Wight, but this is about humanity and the rule of law, and therefore I make no apology for speaking in this debate.
The negative impacts suffered by members of the Windrush generation resulted from their being unable to demonstrate their lawful immigration status. Given the circumstances of their arrival here from 1948 onwards, it is arguable that the burden of proof, which required them to find the documents to support their claims, was set too high. There is a darker implication, however, in that the approach to investigations has involved the systematic targeting of specific groups combined with a failure to handle immigration law with integrity. As someone who is partially an immigrant to this country myself, I am all for having a strict immigration system, but it needs to be fair and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said, humane. If it is neither strict nor fair but has the appearance of being arbitrary, that is bad for all of us.
I am glad to support this scheme for those who have suffered adverse effects on their lives, including the loss of employment and access to healthcare, housing and education, as well as a negative impact on health, physical and mental. The process of claiming for compensation requires evidence of when folks arrived in the UK. I welcome the existence of a dedicated team working to help people to collate the evidence they need, but there are issues, as we have heard from both sides of the House, about the length of time claimants—British citizens—are being made to wait for their compensation, and it is disturbing that some people are passing away believing themselves to be members of this nation when their state disputes that. Even if that is happening in only a handful of cases, it is a handful too many.
One purpose of the Bill is to restore confidence in our immigration system, and I hope it does, but cases are still being reported of British families being divided. I would welcome Ministers’ comments on what can be done proactively to help citizens while they are in the UK, rather than their having to wait until they face deportation or are being deported before they can start to fight their case. Moreover, what of the younger generation of this group who now feel threatened? We need to be proactive and ensure that we encourage people to come forward, be naturalised and make sure that family members’ births and histories are recorded legally in this country so as to prevent such destructive mistakes from happening again. I call on the Government to take one more proactive step. I understand that people are still receiving eviction letters and being booked on to deportation flights. We should work with embassies of origin or embassies of countries we are sending people to, as well as with the NHS, landlords, employers, banks and charities, to find the right course of action in individual cases.
Finally—I am being brief because I know other Members want to speak—it is important that we recognise the role of the Windrush generation who came to this country after the war, setting up businesses, working on the buses, in hospitals, and doing really valuable work in our country, bringing with them a new culture and contributing in many different ways to our quality of life. We are talking about many ethnic groups from across the world. It is important to recognise that. It is great that Ministers are getting out there, but can more be done to advertise that we are trying—retrospectively, admittedly—to deal with this problem and to recognise the important things that the Windrush generation did for this country?
I want to use today to pay tribute to some of my constituents. Back in the early days before The Guardian broke the story of the scandal, several constituents came to see me with the same problem, and I, along with fellow Labour MPs, helped Amelia Gentleman, the journalist, to speak to them and to investigate the pattern that was developing nationwide. That is how the scandal came to light.
We forget that behind the numbers there are real people who deserve justice and proper compensation. One is Richard Stewart. Richard arrived in England as a British subject from Jamaica in 1955 to join his parents when he was just 10 years old. In the 1960s, he played county cricket for Middlesex as a fast bowler. He paid taxes here for over five decades. He married in London. He had a son and two grandchildren, all British. In 1968, Richard’s mother became seriously ill in Jamaica. He visited on a temporary British passport. When she died, he had to stay for the funeral and extend his trip, so he had to get a Jamaican passport to return to the UK. In 2013, the Home Office eventually told Richard that he was not in fact British and had not been since 1962 when Jamaica had declared independence. Richard was one of those whose cases I was able to raise with the Home Office and make a difference to.
When the Windrush scandal was recognised, Richard’s case was widely reported. He had been in limbo for decades. When his status was finally resolved and he was finally able to get a British passport, he had one simple wish left. Half a century after his mother had died and after last visiting Jamaica, he wanted to visit her grave again. A quick, hassle-free payment from the compensation scheme would have helped to make that happen. His dream, according to his son, was that his family would go to Jamaica together to see where he was from, but Richard ran out of time to gather all his paperwork. He never completed all the forms. He never got the compensation he deserved. Richard died last June at the age of 74. To his very last day, he was mired in the injustices of the cruel Home Office bureaucracy.
There are so many devastating cases. Lloyd Grant came to England from Jamaica in 1970, aged 11. When the Home Office wrongly told him he could not legally live and work in the UK, his life changed forever. He lost his income and any way of making a living. He has spent many years homeless. He could not get dental work on the NHS for his several missing teeth. His confidence disappeared. I saw Lloyd regularly in my surgery over several years, and I saw how the Government’s cruelty damaged a man’s life in every respect imaginable. Neither he nor I trusted the Home Office not to illegally deport him. I had to make sure my staff accompanied him when he went to Lunar House so that nothing would happen to him. Lloyd has fought hard to turn his life around with little help from this Government, but I am pleased to report that in the past few weeks I have provided the reference and connections to help him get a little job.
It is not just Richard and Lloyd in my constituency; there is Trevor Lloyd Johnson, Elwaldo Romeo, Anthony Bryan, and thousands more I will never meet around the country. They all have names; they all have lives; they all have families. My constituents have paid the price for this Government’s nasty, toxic, racist politics. The least they should be able to expect is compensation that is quick, easy to access and proportionate to the injustice they have experienced. The hostile environment should be over, the disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation should have finished, but I fear that this failing compensation scheme will just be the next phase of that injustice.
I will be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker.
This has been an extremely painful debate, and, as Members throughout the House have recognised, this is a shameful episode in our country’s history. Members are rightly outraged by the injustice about which we have been hearing. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who told us about the individual cases with which they have dealt as constituency MPs. These are heartbreaking stories of injustice: stories of people who have been stranded abroad, who have lost their homes and jobs, who have been denied NHS care, and who have been deported or, in some cases, sadly pushed into emigrating by their fear of the system.
As we have heard from Members in all parts of the House, we are talking about people who had every right to enter and settle in the United Kingdom. They came here because they believed in this country, and because they belonged here. We are talking about people who trusted this country, who took the system at its word when it said that they had settled status, but who were the victims of measures to stop people abusing the system, which they were not doing. People who were here perfectly legally were the victims of measures taken to deter or detect those who came here illegally, and that was wrong.
I fully support the Bill. It is right that there is a compensation scheme, it is good that it is being extended, and I hope that the claims about which we have been hearing will be met quickly. However, we should also think about the future. I look forward to the findings of the lessons learned review, which are expected to be published imminently, but some lessons are surely obvious.
It is right for us to try to prevent people who are not entitled to live here from gaining access to benefits, housing or employment, but that does not mean that we should behave like machines. We need more humanity in our system. How can decades of national insurance records be dismissed as insufficient evidence of the right to be here? Surely there should be a presumption of innocence in the case of elderly people who have lived here, as contributing citizens, for many years. Why did that not happen? And surely there is a wider lesson for our social system in general. We have a culture of box-ticking compliance, which was evident in the removal of caseworkers’ discretion that led to the shameful decisions about which we have been hearing.
The Windrush scandal should prompt us to think about the way in which the whole public sector works. We need less centralisation, less bureaucracy and more trust, both in citizens and in frontline staff. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said earlier, we need a more human system, in respect of migration and throughout our society. That would be a just legacy of this scandal.
The Windrush scandal represents one of the largest injustices in recent times. The fact that British people were illegally deported, detained and denied their rights owing to a hostile environment policy is a wrong that can never be righted by compensation alone.
The administration of this scheme remains severely lacking, and adds insult to injury. It is vital for us all to remember the human lives that have been so badly affected by the Windrush scandal. I know that Members on both sides of the House have local experience of helping victims of the scandal, and in recent months my team has reopened cases of those whom we helped back in 2018 as our constituents now battle to secure the rightful compensation for what they went through.
My constituent Tanya Simms was denied a British passport without any explanation, despite having been born in Britain and having parents and older siblings who were all passport holders. That denial meant that she did not have the freedom to travel outside the United Kingdom, and could not produce the passport which would have given her access to many vital services. After many months of fighting for Tanya and her young daughter, who were forced by the Home Office to go through much pain and heartache, I was so pleased when they eventually received their passports after the true extent of the scandal came to light. Given that they had faced a lifetime of discrimination as, effectively, prisoners in Britain, I expected the much-deserved compensation to be easily forthcoming; but, unfortunately, it has been far from easy for Tanya.
I sought to help Tanya to gain access to the Windrush hardship fund to help to relieve the issues that she was facing, but, while helping her with the application, I was told by the Home Office that she could not benefit as she “was not affected” by Windrush, although just months earlier it had accepted that she was indeed a victim of the scandal and had given her a passport. Tanya may not have been deported from Britain, but that does not mean that no injustice was faced by her and her family. The limitations and constraints that she has faced as a result of the scandal have affected her life in ways that most people could never imagine, and because of that, in my opinion, she deserves compensation.
Following this blow, Tanya applied more than seven months ago for the full compensation scheme. However, she is still waiting to hear the outcome, despite many communications to the Home Office from my own office. I accept that it is a complicated process and it is important to proceed correctly, but in this case such a long wait is completely unacceptable.
Another case with which I have dealt, and which I raised in the House a year ago, is not a Windrush case, but it is a constant reminder to me that the environment in the Home Office has not changed. My constituent Victor Mujakachi was detained during a routine fortnightly reporting appointment, and is currently waiting for his appeal to be heard. When he was detained, his blood pressure medication was taken away from him, and he was not assessed by a doctor during his two days of detention, which put his health at great risk. That was completely wrong, and completely against all his human rights. The Home Office wants to deport Victor, although he would be punished by authorities in Zimbabwe for his outspoken criticism of the regime there. They continue to deny him, and a large number of other Zimbabwean asylum seekers, the right to stay in the UK.
The Bill seeks to remedy the vast pain that was felt by far too many in our country. The root cause of that pain was the hostile environment, and I fear that as long as it continues, we will be back here again. It is 652 days since Amber Rudd resigned as Home Secretary, which was, perhaps, the key moment when the Government admitted that a serious wrong had been done to thousands of people. On any reasonable timeline, we might expect today to be talking about wrapping up the compensation scheme having concluded payment, but nearly two years after the scandal broke, it is clear that we are very far from that point. As The Guardian reported on Thursday, only 3% of claimants have received payment from the scheme in 10 months. That delay is inexcusable, and it further underlines the incredibly low priority that the Government have given the scheme.
The Bill is important, but my colleagues and I have highlighted many issues that remain. I strongly hope that its passage will encourage a transformation of the way in which the scheme is being handled. Every time it has seemed that the Government understand the damage that they have done to British citizens, there is another roadblock, injustice or delay. Let me say this to the Home Secretary: pay what is owed to those who have suffered so much, and put an end to the hostile environment. Do it quickly, and give people the dignity, respect and compassion that they deserve.
Birmingham is in many ways a Commonwealth city in more than just name, because one in 10 Brummies were born in Commonwealth countries overseas, and I believe that every Commonwealth nation has at least one resident who lives in Birmingham. So as a Birmingham MP, I am horrified that so many people were so badly let down by successive Governments over many years. They are men and women who have given so much to this country through their work, their charitable contributions and their community work, and they will rightly feel hurt and upset by what has happened. That is why it is important that the Bill passes through this House tonight, in order to go some way towards righting that terrible wrong. When the lessons learned document is published, it is important that we look at it properly and take on board many of the lessons that genuinely, seriously need to be learned.
The independent nature of the scrutiny of the compensation scheme is important, because it goes some way towards instilling faith in the scheme. It included the independent QC, Martin Forde, as well as many community groups and people who had been affected by the Windrush scandal, and that is important to ensure that people have faith in the scheme and can see that it is robust. It is really important that we do all we possibly can to ensure that community engagement is central to the campaign for awareness, and it must be real and extensive community engagement that reaches out into many different communities across the whole of the United Kingdom. I acknowledge the work done by people such as Desmond Jaddoo, a community and faith leader in Birmingham. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) who said earlier that Members of Parliament could look at ways of engaging community activists such as Desmond, who has done so much work over many years as a campaigner for equality and fairness. Having worked in community groups over so many years, he can highlight where things are going wrong and make a useful contribution to ensuring that the scheme is robust and fair and that it is reaching the people that it needs to.
The second Windrush Day, which will take place on 22 June, is another key occasion that we must use to engage with people to ensure that they are aware of what they are entitled to. The taskforce, which was set up last year, was an important step towards helping the 3,600 people who have now secured their British citizenship. It was important that the taskforce was set up. I am pleased that the Government are continuing their commitment to a national memorial for the Windrush generation, highlighting the importance of the contribution that those people have made over many generations.
I am sorry to see so many Members on the Opposition Benches trying to absolve themselves of all responsibility, because this is an issue that has happened over successive Governments. The hostile environment has been mentioned on a number of occasions, but it is important for Opposition Members to appreciate that the National Audit Office has acknowledged that this issue dates back to 2004. The former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but does he not recognise that all these things stem from the Immigration Act 2014, which was passed by his Government? He seems to be denying that the Conservatives have been in government for the last 10 years, during which the hostile environment policy has had rocket boosters on it.
I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. It was the former Minister Phil Woolas, who stood up in the Chamber to introduce an immigration Bill, or some kind of procedure, that referenced the hostile environment. This issue has been going on for many years, and too many Opposition Members attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility for it. It was Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary, who recognised that the Windrush generation scandal was an administrative decision taken by UK Border Agency. We should be attempting to depoliticise the issue as much as possible and working cross-party as a Parliament to ensure that people across this country get the compensation they deserve, and that we focus on righting this terrible wrong that happened to the Windrush generation.
I am glad to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate. To my mind, the ways in which this Conservative Government have treated the immigrants of the Windrush generation are among the most scandalous actions ever undertaken by the British state. Thousands of people have been denied their lawful right to housing, employment and healthcare by a Government who prioritise their political rhetoric on immigration over the safety and welfare of their citizens. Elderly people were deported—forced to leave the country where there had been educated, worked to raise their families and hoped to retire peacefully, living off the benefits to which they had spent a life- time contributing—for no better reason than that they had spent a short part of their childhood in a different country.
There is no doubt that the Home Office hoped to meet its deportation targets, set by its political masters, by targeting a highly vulnerable group, and let us be absolutely clear about why this group were targeted. It is because they were from the Caribbean. This was an openly and unashamedly racist policy. The deliberate deprivation of the rights of a targeted group of citizens by their own Government is beyond scandalous, beyond disgraceful and beyond shameful, so I find it quite frustrating that we are here today only to discuss compensation. The question that the Government really need to answer is when are they going to abandon their hostile environment policy?
The various ways in which the everyday lives of our fellow citizens have been inhibited, infringed and made more precarious for having committed no greater crime than to be born in a different country continues to be an appalling scandal. There is no evidence that the Government have changed their fundamental attitude or approach towards deportations. They continue to deprive lawful citizens of their rights and their citizenship. We continue to hear the same political rhetoric from the Conservative Government that led to these shameful deportations, and there is no let-up in the other manifestations of the hostile environment policies. Lawful citizens are still being deprived of their right to seek housing, healthcare and employment, and there are no plans to change Government policy. I am deeply concerned that these restrictions will shortly be extended to European nationals who have not yet applied for settled status or who have had their applications turned down despite years of residence here. I urge the Government to rethink the hostile environment policy without delay, before further outrages occur.
Instead of the urgently required change of policy, we have the Windrush compensation scheme that we are here today to discuss. The Liberal Democrats do not plan to oppose the compensation scheme, and we welcome the announcement on Friday that the scheme will be available to a wider range of claimants, but it is clear from the Bill’s accompanying impact assessment that the Home Office still has no clear idea of the extent of the damage it is seeking to mitigate. The assessment estimates the total compensation payments as being somewhere between £20.5 million and £301.3 million. That is an extremely wide range, and it raises worrying questions about just how many people may have been affected by this appalling policy beyond the cases that have already been reported. Furthermore, it is clear that the scheme is failing to deliver the compensation that it is committed to distributing. Of 1,108 claims made to the scheme by 31 December 2019, only 36 awards have been made, totalling just £62,198. Is that because the scheme is poorly run, or does the hostile environment policy extend to making it difficult for citizens to claim the compensation to which they are legitimately entitled?
Further evidence that the Government are finding ways to wriggle out of their commitments is to be found in clause 1, in which they reserve the right to modify the scheme “from time to time”. Does this mean that the Government may seek to downgrade the compensation available or to limit the types of people who might be able to make a claim? It is clear that the same Home Office that allowed this appalling scandal to arise in the first place cannot be trusted to administer the compensation scheme. Friday’s announcement of an independent adviser is welcome, but it would be far better if the scheme were removed entirely from the Home Office and administered by a different Department or by an independent body.
Along with many other Members of the House, I look forward to reading the Windrush lessons learned review, whenever it is published. It is essential that everybody takes some time to reflect on how the situation was allowed to occur, and I very much hope that the Government will listen hard to the lessons of this scandal and take the opportunity to end the hostile environment.
It is right that we have this discussion about the much needed compensation scheme. A number of constituents have been in touch with me, including from Barnard Castle and Hamsterley to name but a couple of areas. I rise to support to the Bill, to add my apology that this was allowed to happen, and to play my small part in, I hope, righting this wrong.
The Windrush generation have built their lives here in our nation and have contributed enormously, not only to our economy but to the very foundations of our society. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, we would not be the nation we are today without their incredible contribution. The Windrush generation have not received the treatment they deserve from successive Governments, and this Bill seeks to put that right —not for the sake of statistics, but for the real people whose lives were shaken by what was allowed to happen to them.
When people came to the UK from the Commonwealth prior to 1973, they were deemed under our legislation at the time to be settled in the UK. That meant that some did not receive, or were told they did not need, documentation to prove their right to be here. Although the majority of people who arrived before 1973 have since acquired the necessary documentation, there have recently been too many cases where people have not obtained it and have subsequently struggled to access public services. This issue has come to light because of measures introduced in recent years to make sure that only those with a legal right to live in the UK can access services such as NHS treatment and rented accommodation, which has resulted in some people now needing to evidence their immigration status. It is right that we introduced measures to tackle illegal immigration, but it is not right that some good people have suffered wrongly as a result.
Let us also be in no doubt about the rights of the Windrush generation to remain in this country, which is their home as much as it is mine or yours. That is why I welcome the Windrush compensation scheme and the funding provided for it in this Bill.
The Bill is a vital part of rectifying the mistakes made and the losses faced by individuals. In order to understand those losses, it is right that the Government launched their consultation to gather detailed feedback from those most affected. Almost 1,500 people and organisations shared their views, and it is reassuring that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that their opinions have been vital in shaping the design of the new scheme.
The main purpose of the scheme is to provide a form of redress to those who have suffered financial losses or other negative impacts as a result of being unable to demonstrate their lawful immigration status. The scheme provides payments to eligible individuals who, through no fault of their own, did not have the right documentation to prove their status in the UK and whose lives suffered adverse effects as a result. Those effects range from loss of employment, access to housing, education or NHS healthcare, to emotional distress and, in some cases, a deterioration in mental and physical health.
The scheme is open to anyone, from any nationality, who has the right to live or work in the UK without any restrictions, or who is now a British citizen, and arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988. It is also open to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973. Certain children and grandchildren, and some close family members, of those arriving before 1973 may also be eligible to apply. People who were wrongfully detained or removed from the UK could also be eligible to make an application. I know that the Home Office will be doing all it can to ensure that claims are processed as quickly and easily as possible, and this Bill will help in that process.
I also welcome the fact that the Windrush generation, who are British in all but legal status, are able to officially acquire the British citizenship they deserve, and to do so quickly and at no cost. Similarly, the children of the Windrush generation who are in the UK will, in most cases, already be British citizens. Where that is not the case, they can apply to naturalise, at no further cost, which is exactly the right approach.
The Government have also said that they will ensure that those who made their lives here but have now retired to their country of origin will rightly be able to come back to the UK and that the cost of any fees associated with the process will be waived. The Government are working with our embassies and high commissions to make sure that people can easily access that offer.
Concerns have been raised today about the wide range of possible costings outlined in the impact assessment, largely because it is not known precisely how many individuals have been affected and are likely to seek compensation. However, there are matters for which the moral implication should always be a greater consideration than any financial cost. As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) rightly said, it is right that each claim is assessed individually and that full consideration is given to the unique consequences faced by each affected person. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) was correct in saying that the process needs less bureaucracy and more humanity.
Both this and previous Governments have made mistakes which led to the Windrush scandal. This Bill gives us a chance to apologise, right some of those wrongs, ensure that lessons have been learned, and move forward to create a United Kingdom that fully demonstrates how much it values the contributions and talents of people from all over the globe who have helped to build our great nation.
My constituency has a strong, direct and proud connection with the Windrush generation. In 1948, about 200 passengers on the Empire Windrush found temporary accommodation in the Clapham deep shelter and sought work at the labour exchange in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. From there, many settled in the area, making Brixton their home, enriching community life with food, music and faith, and working hard to rebuild London after the war, including in our NHS and London Transport. We are proud of the Windrush generation and their descendants, who are an integral and highly valued part of our south London community.
Consequently, my constituency has been hit especially hard by the Windrush scandal. Long before the scandal hit the headlines two years ago, my casework team had been flagging up the fact that increasing numbers of older constituents, originally from countries in the Commonwealth, were being asked to provide an unrealistic level of proof of their right to be in the UK, despite having been here for many decades, made this country home and contributed to the UK multiple different ways, and despite, in many cases, coming to the UK as British citizens.
In one case, a constituent was asked to provide a record of his schooling, but he had attended a school run by the Inner London Education Authority, which was abolished in 1990, and both the school and its records had been destroyed many years ago. As a result of his inability to provide this impossible piece of evidence, his rights to be in the UK, to work, claim a pension and to access housing and medical treatment were all at risk.
It then transpired that what we were seeing were not isolated cases but the consequences of a systematic problem at the Home Office, and the results have been far reaching—thousands of people denied their right to live in the country that is their home; severe hardship caused by the removal of the right to benefits or pensions, or of the right to work; devastating health consequences as a result of both the stress caused by the scandal and the removal of the right to NHS treatment; and heartbreak for families separated and denied years that they would otherwise have spent together.
It is right that the Government compensate those whom they have treated so appallingly. However, the success of the compensation scheme must be judged by what it delivers for those it is intended to help. The experience of those constituents of mine who are victims of the Windrush scandal is that this scheme is not currently fit for purpose and, worse than that, their ongoing interactions with the Home Office and other Government Departments continue to compound their injustice.
My constituent Gretel Gocan was the first Windrush citizen to be able to return to the UK following the exposure of the Windrush scandal. Gretel arrived back in the UK on 3 May 2018—almost two years ago. Yet despite my support, extensive representations to the Government and applications both to the hardship fund and to the compensation scheme, she has yet to receive a penny in compensation from the British Government. Gretel is being housed and supported by her daughter, receiving only her basic pension. She is a frail and elderly woman. She should be entitled to attendance allowance, but the Department for Work and Pensions rejected her application because she had not been resident in the UK during the assessment period. The only reason she had not been resident in the UK during that time was that the British Government had illegally prevented her from returning home. When I met a DWP Minister to discuss the case, he agreed that that was not right and that Gretel should be able to access attendance allowance. She was advised to apply to the hardship fund, since apparently it was not possible to change the rules. After extensive correspondence, an application was made to the hardship fund in June 2019, but no funding has so far been received.
My constituent Chiplyn Burton, who was illegally deported to Jamaica in 2015, returned to the UK in December 2019. Chiplyn is homeless and spent many weeks sofa surfing with relatives. Arriving during the winter and with no income, Chiplyn was in urgent need of emergency support and applied to the hardship fund for £500 to cover a bus pass, warm clothing and food. In response to this application—for £500—she was asked to provide details of what warm clothes she needed, a breakdown of food costs and bank statements. Chiplyn found that interaction utterly demeaning, and the tone and content of correspondence from Home Office officials compounded her injustice, as well as delaying the funding she desperately needed. It was, quite frankly, a disgrace.
Turning to the compensation scheme itself, I have sat with constituents to help them complete the long and complex form. Without prompting, it is very easy not to record key details. As the form asks for proof such as receipts, it is easy to overlook whole areas for which compensation should be payable because no proof is available. For example, one constituent almost omitted to mention that, because her mother had been deported, she had lost the privately rented home she was living in and all of her possessions, as it was impossible to provide any record of their monetary value.
I pay tribute to the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency. When the Windrush scandal broke, the BCA opened its doors to Windrush citizens. It worked with volunteer lawyers to offer free advice clinics to help those affected to gather together their papers to regularise their status. The BCA recently restarted those advice surgeries to support people with applications to the compensation scheme. The surgeries have been well attended, but the BCA reports that just as many people are coming to speak about ongoing problems with the benefits system as are coming to speak about the compensation scheme. The number and complexity of the issues being raised is far greater than can be sustained by lawyers working pro bono.
People are coming to the BCA because it is a trusted organisation with a grassroots history. I have been calling since 2018 for the Government to provide funding to trusted local community organisations to provide advice and support to Windrush citizens who are seeking to access compensation, but they have refused to do so.
Instead, the Government commissioned Citizens Advice to provide advice on the compensation scheme, and there is evidence that it just is not working, We have no citizens advice bureaux in my constituency, and many of my constituents are unwilling or unable to use the telephone advice service. Lawyers who have been doing pro bono work for Windrush citizens are regularly contacted by CAB advisers, who are being paid by the Government, asking for help because they do not have sufficient expertise to advise them.
The Government totally misunderstand exactly how fundamental the breach of trust in the Home Office has been. People will approach trusted organisations like the BCA, but they will not directly approach the Home Office. That is why funding for such grassroots help and support is vital, and I call on the Government to provide that funding because it is key to the accessibility of the Windrush compensation scheme.
The Home Office continues to perpetuate the hostile environment and, while that remains the case, it cannot be right that the same Department is responsible for administering a scheme to compensate people for its own wrongdoing. The Government should accept that it would help to build confidence in the scheme if it were administered by a different Department.
Windrush citizens continue to experience huge problems accessing benefits to which they are entitled. The type of problem experienced by my constituent Gretel Gocan in accessing attendance allowance remains, and the tone of correspondence from the DWP is entirely lacking in empathy: it is unwilling to acknowledge the culpability of the Home Office in the situations with which it is presented. Will the Government therefore consider emergency legislation to ensure that no one is prevented from accessing benefits as a consequence of being a Windrush victim?
Finally, it has been estimated that over half a million people have been given wrong official advice on naturalisation and gaining British citizenship since the passage of the Immigration Act 1971. Will the Government apologise to those individuals and pay back, with interest, the costs they incurred in legal and immigration fees? The Government’s failure of the Windrush generation is profound and devastating. The first step in addressing the harm that has been done and in rebuilding the trust that has been breached is to listen to what those who are affected are saying about how the scheme is currently failing, and to act on their advice. I urge the Government to do so.
My grandad was born a British subject in Kashmir. He came to the west midlands in the 1960s to help Britain’s post-war reconstruction, and he soon faced racism. It was a cruel irony that he had come to the heart of the metropole to continue the work that made the British empire rich. “We are here,” the anti-racist writer Sivanandan said, “because you were there.”
When the Windrush scandal came to light two years ago, it felt incredibly personal to me. Just as my grandad had come to Britain to build a life, so, too, had the Windrush generation. Just as he had been told that he did not fit in, so, too, were they. Here were British citizens, people who helped to build the NHS and to rebuild the country after the war, who were being told that they were not really British and that they did not deserve rights or respect. That is what they were being told when they were denied healthcare, when they were denied jobs, when they were forced on to the streets and when they were detained and deported.
The pervasive apparatus of the hostile environment sent one message, that these British citizens did not really belong. This was a gross injustice, and so, of course, they are owed full compensation—and my hon. Friends have highlighted many of the serious problems with the compensation scheme as it stands—but they are also owed something more. They are owed that this injustice is tackled at its root because the Windrush scandal was not a technical mistake, was not a human error and did not happen in a vacuum. It was the result of long-entrenched ideas that scapegoat minorities and migrants, and it goes back decades.
While the Windrush generation was busy rebuilding the country, the likes of Enoch Powell were blaming migrants for the country’s faltering economy. While my grandad was organising in his trade union to get better pay for blue-collar workers, the soon-to-be Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was warning that the country risked being “swamped” by people from abroad.
Those ideas were turned into policy. It was Thatcher who changed the law to stop people who were born in the UK automatically acquiring citizenship, a change that led to some children of the Windrush generation being denied their rights. Ever since, leading politicians have continued to scapegoat: blaming falling wages on migrants, not on greedy bosses; blaming growing housing waiting lists on asylum seekers, not on the sell-off of council homes; blaming overcrowded classrooms on refugees, not on the Government who slashed education funding; and blaming violent crime on “black culture,” not on decades of state neglect.
Those attacks—that scapegoating—were so successful that the last Prime Minister boasted about creating a hostile environment and spoke with pride as she sent “go home” vans around London boroughs. That happened even as charities such as the Legal Action Group warned of the dangers such policies would have for black and brown citizens who did not have documents to prove their rights. But, of course, they were ignored because the Government had an agenda to push.
The Government have now apologised for the Windrush scandal, saying they
“will do whatever it takes to put it right.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]
Why should we believe that? Every step of the way, the Government have dragged their feet: the compensation scheme has only given out payments to 3% of claimants; the lessons learned review has still not been published; and charter flights are still deporting people, even before the review is published, even before its recommendations are implemented, and even before it has been established that none of those waiting to be deported has a Windrush claim.
I apologise, but I will continue.
The flight scheduled for tomorrow will deport people whose lives are rooted here and always will be, including a dad with young kids whose family moved to Britain when he was four years old. He has lived here for 41 years, and he has no family in Jamaica and has not been there since he was a toddler. Another is a husband, and the father of a six-month-old baby girl, and he has lived in the UK since he was a young child. A third was born here and is himself a child of the Windrush generation.
These are people who were raised in Britain, who went to school here and who have built their lives here. They have served their sentences. To deport them is a discriminatory double punishment, so I urge the Government to stop these deportations, to give these people access to legal advice and to publish the lessons learned review.
I have nearly finished.
Throughout this whole sorry saga, black and brown Britons have been forced to prove themselves: to prove that they are British and that they deserve rights and respect. This is what the late, great Toni Morrison said about racism:
“It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.”
It is about time the Government acknowledged that. It is about time they ended the hostile environment, shut down their inhumane detention centres and, once and for all, stopped forcing black and brown Britons to prove they are British.
It has been two years since the Windrush scandal. We still have not had an official response to an independent review, and the injustices continue. Tomorrow, one of my constituents is due to be forcibly deported to Jamaica. I am going to talk about him a bit, because he is facing the same kind of injustice that we have seen in the past couple of years and this Bill does nothing at all to help him.
His name is Akiva, he is 22 and he came to this country at four years of age. Akiva’s mum, dad and younger brother are British nationals. This is his home. When he was 14, Akiva started to get into trouble. He had lost his older brother to suicide, and he was utterly lost. He fell in with a bad crowd, and was groomed and exploited. He was sent off on county lines, carrying drugs, stolen property and knives. Today, we know much more about the grooming that is happening to our children on county lines. We have talked about it in this Chamber a lot, and Members from both sides have now understood what county lines has done to a generation of our children. Stories like Akiva’s have been told in this Chamber: the stories of grooming and exploitation. Police, social workers and teachers are slowly getting better at identifying and targeting the groomers, rather than the children who have been groomed by them—the victims of the groomers. These children are victims of people whom I am told are living lovely lives behind gated communities in Essex and Kent—these are people we have yet to bring to justice.
The problems of county lines were not understood by many of us until recently, and in Akiva’s case the exploitation was not stopped. So finally, in 2016, Akiva pleaded guilty, he went to prison and he served his time. His indefinite leave to remain was cancelled. Since his release, Akiva has worked as a painter and decorator. He helps his younger brother with his homework and he looks after his mum, who has serious health problems. He has a real chance to turn his life around, yet the last time he went to sign on with the Home Office, as usual, he was detained. He is due to be deported on tomorrow’s flight. The Bishop of Barking and the Archdeacon of West Ham have written to the Minister asking that he be taken off the flight. I believe, as they believe, that this has to stop.
We need to hear the Government recognise that resolving the Windrush scandal, and preventing it from happening again, go beyond what is in this Bill. If they do not recognise that, how are we supposed to believe that the lessons learned review will be taken at all seriously? Time and again, people whose lives are here have been deported into destitution. Five of those who had been deported to Jamaica were killed in a single year between 2018 and 2019—two were killed in a single day. They were preyed upon by gangs, denied the healthcare they needed and left cut off from their families, who remained here in Britain, with nowhere to go and no way of supporting themselves. Nothing in this Bill will change anything for Akiva—only the Minister can do that. Until we see the lessons learned review and how it is acted on, nothing will change to stop similar injustices being done. Unless the Home Secretary recognises the compelling circumstances of this case, Akiva will be on that flight tomorrow and he will be in danger.
We should have been able to keep Akiva safe from those gangs and offer him the life he deserved, just as we should for all those other children caught up in this. I do not want anybody in this Chamber to genuinely believe that their children could not go this way. I have sat and spoken to police officers who have cried because their children have been caught up in these gangs—it is there but for the grace of God. Instead we are going to make Akiva pay for a third time. Akiva has had a childhood without the support he needed to get him through and past the grooming of the gangs. He was not supported, in mental health, through his grief. He went to prison and now he faces deportation. How many times does a person need to be punished?
If reports are to be believed, the lessons learned review will recommend that the Government stop chartering these flights altogether. The review may, rightly, recommend that no one is deported after coming here as a child and growing up here, because this is the only home they have ever known. So much of the Windrush scandal and so many of its injustices are in these flights: We are deporting people to somewhere they will be destitute and somewhere they do not know, where they will not be safe. We are doing this without a fair process, without proper representation, and all because of what went wrong in their lives when they were just a child, here, in our society, in our communities. It is wrong. These are the injustices that are due to be done to Akiva and others tomorrow.
So I want to know: is the Home Office deliberately pushing through this flight before the review is published? If so, it is truly shameful. If righting the wrongs done to the Windrush generation is so important to the Government, why has the hostile environment not truly been dismantled? Why has it taken such a long time for policy to change? Why is Akiva on that flight tomorrow, when his parents and his siblings are British citizens? He is one of us.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) and to be the last Back Bencher called in this thoughtful, sometimes passionate and always informative debate today.
The word “Windrush” used to have positive connotations, but in the past couple of years it has become symbolic with fiasco, catastrophe and, above all, scandal. I used to teach courses on post-colonial Britain, and I remember showing monochromatic slides of the SS Empire Windrush docking, with all those faces full of expectation and those people coming to make a positive contribution, with a new life in the motherland, and bursting with pride. These were brave pioneers, who went on to rebuild the nation and its public services from the post-war rubble and ruin, including as NHS nurses; my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned her own mum. These were people in our city and working on London Transport. I remember that at the height of John Major mania, if there was such a thing, they uncovered the bus conductor, a lady from Lambeth or Camberwell garage—one of the two—who had picked John Major for the post of bus conductor back in the day. So how did we get from all that positivity and expectation to a place where, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, this word is synonymous with national scandal? People who were legally in Britain and had been here for decades were denied basic rights. People were denigrated, detained and deported.
I am proud to be one of the 170 Members who signed a cross-party letter demanding that tomorrow’s forced deportation flight is withdrawn. I will not go into tons of detail on that issue because we had an urgent question on it earlier, but I am still none the wiser about when the lessons learned review will see the light of day. The demands of the letter are fairly modest. We know that, in line with the leaked review, there should be a pause in the process until the lessons are learned, so the sequencing seems all wrong. We still do not know when that review is going to come out. As has been said by my hon. Friends, people with no ties to places are being sent tomorrow to “destination unknown”—people who have families here are being wrenched away from them.
We are addressing the compensation scheme in this debate, so that is what I shall turn to. There are still victims out there who need justice. The process of an 18-page form that needs 44 pages of guidance to complete it is seen as onerous. The Government talk of compensation, but it feels like implementation is a slow, protracted and burdensome process. All the burden is on the claimant, who must often prove the unprovable. People feel unsupported. The “Dear colleagues” letter that the Minister sent around this morning said that Citizens Advice will be the partners in the process. In the London Borough of Ealing we have 360,000 residents—it is the capital of west London—but we do not have a citizens advice bureau. What is the mechanism for somewhere like that?
Many people are just completely unaware of the scheme, or are unwilling to make contact because of the connotations of the hostile-environment climate that the Government have fostered. The Home Office is often seen as a dirty word in immigrant homes. We are all constituency MPs as well, and week in, week out we see at surgeries the Home Office’s incompetence, with a bit of someone else’s case pasted into the letter a constituent has brought before us. People are waiting for years on end and told that it is a “complex case”, a term that I noticed the Home Secretary used in her opening remarks. It seems pretty tawdry for people who have been waiting for years and years to be told it is a complex case. The Home Office is the Department that is meant to administer the scheme and, as many of my colleagues have said, there is a level of mistrust and distrust if that same Department is judge and jury. I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned in his note this morning that there is to be some independence, with a QC being introduced to the process, but we need finally to disentangle the two.
I am grateful to the Minister for that and welcome his point. As I say, it looked a little vague, so I am pleased that we have got a bit more vagueness out of him this evening. We await to see the detail and what that turns into. Independence is a good thing in a process such as this one when there is historical distrust between these communities and the Minister’s Department.
Others have cited these figures: of the 1,108 applications —8,000 were expected—only 36 have led to anything. The £64,000 sum sounds very low for people who have had years and years of loss of earnings. Again, there is the issue of proving the unprovable. We have heard today that there are people who served in our armed forces for 10 years, yet that is not sufficient proof for whatever the hoops are that the Home Office wants people to jump through. It just looks like it is being done in a perfunctory way, almost to deter people from applying.
Where is the national media campaign? The Home Secretary talked at the beginning of the debate about doing travelling road shows, which I have yet to encounter in my own borough. Was it before or after the illegal Prorogation that £140 million was spent on the Get Ready for Brexit campaign, to excite people in a politically motivated, partisan, propaganda way? It contravened the civil service code, but all the complaints seemed to get swallowed up in the swirl of the general election. We need some sort of advice campaign for this scheme so that people know about it, because people out there are unaware of it.
As we all know, 60 million Brits woke up the other day without the right to live, work and study in 27 other EU nations as part of the greatest democratically accountable trade zone that the world has ever seen. Currently, record numbers of people with British passports are applying for other passports. The highest number is the 94,000 last year alone who applied to the Republic of Ireland, but people are even applying to other countries to which it used to be unknown for Brits to apply. Some 4,800 French passports have been applied for. That does not instil us with confidence that ours is a gold-standard passport anymore. When the Windrush generation have been waiting for years and years, that just adds insult to injury.
There are worries that other categories of people may be at risk from similar difficulties with the Home Office and the mix of cruelty and ineptitude that we have seen with this particular scheme and policy. The House of Commons Library briefing lists Chagos islanders, EU citizens and a whole load of other people who may fall into this category. A million people have applied for the EU settlement scheme, but we can already see people falling through the cracks, because that scheme is way short of where it should be. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), said at the beginning of the debate that 160,000 people could be eligible to apply for Windrush compensation.
We should remember that this entire scandal cost the scalp of a Home Secretary. The massive governmental failure we have seen in respect of the relatively small numbers—in the thousands—caught up in the Windrush scandal should be a warning against demonising communities without ID. Additional burdens are now being created just for people to go and put an X in a box every five years—the Government are insisting on extra documentation just for voter ID—but we know that 3.5 million people do not have any sort of photo ID. It all bodes very ill. If we really are learning lessons, we need to take heed, especially as to date there has been only one conviction for election fraud in the 2017 general election. I await to see the figures from the recent general election, but it is all part of a pattern, is it not? It looks more hostile environment than one nation Government, which is what they claim to be.
To compound things, the Windrush generation are the people who faced those “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs when they came to this country. Between the original 492 passengers who set sail on the SS Empire Windrush back in June 1948 and right up to 1971, many other people came from the British empire—I think the number is nearly half a million, including my own parents, who came in 1962 from the former East Pakistan. For all those people, all these things are a great worry. We are talking about compensation, but it looks like it is not forthcoming for a lot of people. The wheels of justice are being extremely slow to turn.
At a time when other London boroughs seem to be doing away with things such as Black History Month, I am proud that in my own, the London Borough of Ealing, we have had a Windrush flowerbed in our flagship park, Walpole Park, since 1998. It was re-consecrated or renewed—whatever is done to parks; it is not religious—in 2014. There is a sense that black history is being belittled by all these things. In the neighbouring Tory boroughs, Hillingdon and Wandsworth, they have done away with black history week and are calling it diversity week, which is not the same thing. All these things are not just for a week; they are about lives and livelihoods. I am incredibly fortunate that in my borough we have on a Friday the Acton Anglo Caribbean lunch club, members of which have been affected by the Windrush scandal, although I will not go into individual cases. We also have their kids, who have formed a group called Descendants, and the WAPPY youth group.
I welcome the extension of the timeframe to 2023 and the element of independence that we have talked about, and Labour is obviously not going to oppose the Bill because it is a money Bill that allows compensation, but the scheme is still woefully inadequate. Only 3% of Windrush claimants have received compensation and the scheme falls pitifully short of all the expectations on it. Even the Home Secretary herself, in her own words, and the Government, in their “Dear colleague” letter this morning, as good as admitted that they are continuing to fail the Windrush generation. That is all wrapped up in this whole hostile environment policy, which has created a climate of fear, so that people do not want to come forward. After all, this is the Government who sent “Go home or face arrest” vans all around the London Borough of Ealing.
The Government will not end the Windrush scandal until they completely do away with the hostile environment policy. That means they must repeal the Immigration Act 2014, which overturned legislation that had been in existence since 1973 and that was relatively liberal on freedom of movement.
Right at the start of this debate, the Home Secretary said that this is about ruling out inaccuracies. Many people do not have tons of confidence in this Government and in this Department, especially as it took people of the press—people such as the journalist Amelia Gentleman and campaigner Patrick Vernon—to shine a light on these murky waters in the first place. As I have said, this matter has already claimed the scalp of one Home Secretary. What we need is a proper restorative justice attitude—not something that is perfunctory. The Government may have achieved a stonking great majority, with dozens of new oven-baked MPs, but I hope that they do take heed of what we have been saying about the principle of restorative justice. They could introduce a flat-rate scheme with room for those who have complicated cases. They need to treat this as what it is—a genuine injustice and scandal—rather than in a deport first, ask questions later, too little, too late, inhumane way, which is what this woefully inadequate scheme appears to do.
I thank the many Members who have spoken in this debate, particularly those who spoke with such high regard for the Windrush generation. My family first started moving to this country from Ghana in West Africa in the late sixties, so I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) and for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) for their interventions, which pointed out the impact of the Windrush scandal on all Commonwealth citizens, not just those from the Caribbean.
The hon. Members for Delyn (Rob Roberts), for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker) pointed out that we need a more humane immigration system. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), for West Ham (Ms Brown) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for the moving testimonies of their constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) said what many of us on these Benches know, which is that the Windrush compensation scheme is not fit for purpose. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) pointed out, only 3% of those who have applied to the scheme have received any compensation. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) rightly pointed out that the amount that they have been given is not enough to count for the significant loss that they have sustained.
There were also thoughtful contributions from the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook), for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), and for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for making the very important point that we were swifter to pay compensation to slave owners than we were to the descendants of the enslaved.
As Members will have heard, we do not intend to oppose this Bill today. It is only right that compensation is finally paid, however lacking it is and whatever the shortcomings of the scheme. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, the compensation scheme is deeply flawed in numerous ways. I wish to reiterate that we, on the Labour Benches, are in favour of the payment of compensation in this scandalous case. We do not endorse the Government’s compensation scheme and we will continue to press the Government for a statutory scheme as the basis for a fair and just compensation.
We will continue to press for major changes to the amounts offered, for the types of compensation that are awarded, for improvement to eligibility, and for a change in the recognition of those who are victims both in terms of generation and in terms of country of origin, which are both wider than the Government care to admit. We will also press not only for major changes to the publicity surrounding the scheme, but to increase awareness of it. Above all, we seek justice and fairness, which the Windrush victims have not received to date from this Government.
A series of important questions regarding the scheme were posed during the course of this debate. I am not convinced that an objective listener would take the view that those questions received full answers, or, in some cases, any answers at all. The Minister did not make it clear why this scheme cannot be put on a statutory basis in order to ensure fairness. Furthermore, we have received no clear indication from Ministers as to why they believe that the original decision for the early closure of the scheme had to be revoked as unworkable. There has also been little to enlighten us on why there has been such a poor take-up to date of the compensation scheme, and whether Ministers have taken any decisive steps to improve that.
My right hon. Friend made the forceful point that more than 8,000 people have applied for the necessary documentation to establish their right to be here since April 2018, but it is not at all clear what proactive steps the Minister’s Department has taken to engage with them. There is also the question of the wider engagement with all those who are genuine victims of this scandal. They come from all over the Commonwealth, not solely the Caribbean.
I am also unsure whether we had full answers from those on the Government Benches about what is being done to alert these communities to their eligibility for the scheme. Separately, what has been done to include all further generations of the initial victims of the Windrush scandal who also find themselves victimised? Does the Minister not accept that much more needs to be done, and needs to be done as an urgent priority?
An impartial listener to this debate will also, I think, have struggled to hear any convincing argument as to why victims should not be compensated for the legal costs incurred in fighting all the injustices that they have suffered in the course of this scandal.
Finally, I want to address my remarks not solely to hon. and right hon. Members of this House, but to the victims of this scandal and their loved ones. Some of the people who were treated so terribly died before they ever received any apology, let alone compensation from this Government. People were denied drivers’ licences. They were made unemployed. They lost their homes and were put in immigration detention centres. Some were deported, and others were refused re-entry to this country after they had briefly been overseas, breaking up their families. They were British citizens, and this is still happening to them and their loved ones. I want to say to all of them, whatever their country of origin and whatever the country of origin of their parents or grandparents, they are one of us. The Labour party will not rest—and I will not rest—until this extraordinary injustice is brought to an end.
I congratulate the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), on her first speech at the Dispatch Box. It was an assured performance with well-thought through points. It is safe to say that we have had an important and wide-ranging debate, touching on a range of issues relating to the Bill. Although I will not be able to respond to every single point, it is perhaps worth my responding to a few of them.
I noticed that both the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Immigration Minister referred to the fact that we have not put this scheme on a statutory basis. Let me be clear about this: it is to allow a degree of flexibility around the rules where it is necessary. For example, in October, following feedback from stakeholders and claimants, we allowed a broader range of immigration fees to be refunded. Last week, following feedback from stakeholders, from the independent adviser and, to be fair, from members of the shadow team as well, we extended the period by two years, and altered the mitigations. Again, we are keen to engage with stakeholders and the independent adviser about future changes that may need to be made. That is we why we are not keen to put this on a statutory basis and put it all into a piece of primary legislation.
There were comments about the 8,000 taskforce applications, and the fact that, so far, only 1,100 are being followed up with a compensation claim. It does not automatically follow that someone who has secured documentation through the taskforce will then be instantly entitled to compensation. However, we clearly want to reach out, as we want to encourage people to make contact with the compensation team if they believe that there is a claim to be made.
We had a running theme throughout the debate of people who do not necessarily want to attend an event run by the Home Office, understandably in some cases, or to make direct contact with the Home Office. Some favoured approaching a trusted Member of Parliament in their local community. We are very clear that none of the information provided to the Windrush teams will be used for the purposes of immigration enforcement. We are quite happy to arrange for Windrush taskforce and Windrush compensation teams to engage directly with Members of Parliament, if they so wish, and with their constituents, and we are very clear that none of that information will be used for immigration enforcement.
The Minister is right to say that many of the Windrush citizens are fearful of approaching the Home Office because of what it might mean for their immigration status now, but it is more than that. It is also about the total lack of trust in the Home Office and the lack of confidence that the very Department that has done them so much wrong has the capacity to deliver justice for them.
That is why we are working with the stakeholder group and why we have an independent reviewer and a separate team. I have extended an invitation to my shadows, and I am happy to extend it to other Members of Parliament who have strong constituency interests, to visit the compensation team based in Leeds, to meet and talk with staff and to understand the work they do. We have taken note of the individual cases raised in the Chamber today. I do not think it would be right to respond in detail now from the Dispatch Box, but we will ensure that the details are passed on for further work.
I am keen to respond to an offer made by the shadow team and to work where possible with Members of Parliament to run engagement and outreach events in their constituency. We have already made an arrangement with the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), and we will make it clear that it is not a Home Office event, but one run by a Member of Parliament with the team attending. As I said, none of the information will be used for purposes unconnected with the Windrush taskforce and the Windrush compensation scheme, and I hope we can give people confidence in what the sessions will be about.
In an interesting speech, the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), raised several considered points. We have already announced some changes to the mitigation policy, based on the advice from the independent adviser and feedback from stakeholders. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point about what happens when someone misses the deadline by a day in 2023 due to ill health, or perhaps a probate issue. We will continue to review the process, take advice and engage with stakeholders and the independent adviser. There is a balance to be struck between having a date far enough in the future to enable people to feel confident that they have time to make their claim, but soon enough to encourage people to put in their claim. We felt that the two-year extension also gives certainty on procurement for those who provide independent advice to claimants.
That brings me to another point made by hon. Members on how independent advice will be provided. To be clear, the initial procurement went to Citizens Advice and we have extended that until a new service is procured. We thought it right to do that, so that independent advice continued to be available to claimants. The procurement is an open process and we look forward to seeing bids involving groups that can get out and ensure that people get the compensation they deserve.
Regarding the scope of the scheme, it is open to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973, anyone of any nationality who arrived and settled in the UK before the end of 1988, children, grandchildren and other close family members of such a person who may have been affected, and the estates of those who are now deceased but who would have been eligible to claim compensation. References commonly made to “the Windrush generation” are a shorthand way to ensure that the public are aware of what we mean, but we are not talking purely about people from the Caribbean; those from the wider Commonwealth are also affected.
In the detailed design of the scheme, we are committed to ensuring that everyone who is due compensation can receive it. We worked with the independent adviser, Martin Forde, to ensure that the evidential threshold is as low as possible, and the team will work with claimants to provide as much information as possible to support their claim, but when spending public money it is important to have a minimum amount of information and evidence required. The changes introduced last week show that we will respond to comments and experience, as claims progress.
The taskforce has a dedicated vulnerable persons team to provide help and advice where safeguarding and vulnerability issues are identified. I am advised that up to the end of September 2019, the team had provided support to nearly 1,000 individuals. We have a fast-track service, operated with the Department for Work and Pensions, to confirm status and residence and to arrange access to benefits. Again, we will pick up the cases mentioned in the debate today and make sure a response is given.
I intervene to give the Minister the opportunity to respond to reports that the Court of Appeal has halted the flight due to take place tomorrow, deporting 50 people back to Jamaica. Does he think that the attention drawn to that case has helped to restore trust in the system or made the situation worse?
I will not comment on a case that has only just been concluded. We will consider the judgment in detail, as it may not mean quite what some take it to mean on the surface. However, as I said earlier, this is a Government who follow the rule of law and fulfil our legal duties under the 2007 Act, which Labour Members were happy to support, and which uses the word “must”, not “may”.
The Windrush stakeholder advisory group was launched by the Home Secretary at a stakeholder roundtable on 26 September 2019. The group’s purpose is to help to join up community leaders, lawyers and faith groups across the country and to seek their advice on our communications and engagement strategy. I have listened to feedback from stakeholders and affected individuals and met some members of the panel soon after taking up my current role. The evidence that we are listening is seen in what we did last week by extending the scheme, as requested, and altering the mitigation policy, also as requested. We will consider any further suggestions via that process.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their insightful and thought-provoking contributions on the Bill and on the wider position of the Windrush generation. As has been said many times, and as the Government will continue to say, the Windrush issues were the result of a terrible mistake, for which I apologise again on behalf of the Government, in addition to the individual apology that each person receives with the compensation that they are entitled to. We hope that the Government’s commitment to the scheme will go some way to easing the financial burden and impact that some have endured, even though we recognise that compensation by itself cannot resolve all the hurt that was caused.
Each one of us in this House has a role to play and a duty to work to ensure that all those affected get the help they need to regularise their status. No one should be afraid to come forward through their Member of Parliament to the Windrush taskforce. The information will not be used for immigration enforcement. It will be used only for the purposes of the Windrush scheme. Similarly, no one should fear making a claim to the Windrush compensation scheme for what they are owed. We will continue to listen to stakeholders and others involved in this process to ensure that the scheme is fair. Part of that work is ensuring that the Bill is passed.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
WINDRUSH COMPENSATION SCHEME (EXPENDITURE) BILL (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
2. Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.
3. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.
4. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to other proceedings up to and including Third Reading.
5. Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Leo Docherty.)
Question agreed to.
WINDRUSH CoMPENSAtIoN SCHEME (EXPENDItURE) BILL (MoNEY)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State or a Government Department under, or in connection with, the Windrush Compensation Scheme.—(Leo Docherty.)
Question agreed to.