Wednesday 24th November 2021

(1 week, 3 days ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office

Private Notice Question

Asked by

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that people who applied to the Windrush Compensation Scheme have their claim decided as a matter of urgency.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, we remain committed to ensuring that people receive every penny of compensation that they are entitled to and we have offered more than £37.2 million. There is no cap on the amount that we will pay and we have removed the end date of the scheme. Suggestions that only 5% have received a payment are misleading; 29% of the claims that we have received have had a payment. We are processing claims as quickly as we can and continue to make improvements. Many of these were recognised in the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report, but we recognise that there is more to do and will consider the report carefully.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD)
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I thank the Minister for her reply. I declare an interest as chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, which is placing a national Windrush monument at Waterloo station, where I arrived when I was a 10 year-old in 1960. It will celebrate the enormous contribution of the Windrush generation to Britain.

But the Windrush scandal has created a stain on British history, and many innocent people branded as illegal, now in their 70s and 80s, are still traumatised by the burden of proof and the treatment that they have endured. There is an overwhelming feeling of distrust and a feeling that their compensation claims will never be paid. So to reassure these British citizens who have served this country well for generations, will the Government consider appointing an independent body to deal with the Windrush compensation scheme before any more of these claimants pass away?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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First, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness and all that she has done for the Windrush generation. I totally agree with her that the scandal of it, which spanned several decades, and Parliaments and Governments of every colour, is indeed a stain on our history.

With regard to the evidence, we have designed the scheme to be as simple as possible, and its whole rationale is to pay compensation, as opposed to not paying it. So the scheme operates on the balance of probabilities, and we will work with individuals to support them to provide and obtain as much information as possible to support their claim. We want to make it easy, not difficult, for them to do so, so caseworkers will contact other government departments and third parties, such as previous employers, if necessary. In July, we published refreshed casework guidance that clearly sets out how caseworkers should apply the balance of probability and go about gathering that evidence. We want people to receive the maximum amount of compensation, not the minimum, to which they are perfectly entitled.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness’s Question refers to people who have applied to the compensation scheme, but what proactive action will the Government take to reach out and contact those who may be eligible to apply but still do not trust the Home Office and so have not put in an application yet?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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As I said previously in Questions about the Windrush scheme, we have reached out not just to communities where we think applications might be forthcoming but to communities and faith leaders overseas, because we want as many people to apply as are entitled to—not just entitled to but deserve—the compensation for their suffering. To go back to the noble Baroness’s previous question, moving the scheme out of the Home Office would risk significantly delaying vital payments to those affected.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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The Home Affairs Committee report said:

“We can only conclude that four years on from the Windrush scandal, vital lessons have still not been learned by the Department.”

It is four years on. What is the Minister’s explanation for this shameful failure?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, it was possibly a year ago, even two years ago, that I stood up and acknowledged that the scheme was not running as swiftly as it could, that people were not getting the compensation that they should and that we needed to do more to reach out. I fully accepted that criticism.

But, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, we continue to make improvements to the scheme. The result of this is evidenced in the amount of compensation paid out rising from less than £3 million, which it was at the time, to over £31.6 million, with a further £5.6 million having been offered. We have brought in some new support measures to those claiming on behalf of relatives who have passed away. We have also increased our number of caseworkers to over 80, with another 34 coming online shortly. For those needing more support in applying, we have funded an organisation to provide free independent claimant assistance to individuals.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome my noble friend the Minister’s personal commitment to this issue, which is very recognisable in the answers that she has given. However, only one in 20 people eligible for compensation have received it. The Government need to move faster and at pace because, as the Minister has indicated, people have died, and it would be nice for others to see resolution in their lifetimes.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that. That claim that only 5% of people, or one in 20, have received a payment is actually a bit misleading. When we first set up the scheme, we made an estimate, which I remember saying to the House was quite difficult to make, of the number of people we thought might be eligible. That estimate was originally 15,000 and was then revised down to 11,500. It is now 4,600. Obviously, we will try our best to ensure that anyone who comes forward gets the compensation that they deserve. We now estimate, based on what I have just said to my noble friend, that 29% of people who have submitted a claim have received a payment.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s tireless efforts. We now know that there are lengthy delays, even in clear-cut cases, to making an initial payment. But we know that the Home Office is capable of moving quickly: it has tabled 18 pages of new offences and police powers for the police Bill within two months of the Home Secretary asking for them. So what is it about the Windrush generation that means that they are not a priority for the Home Office?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think that statement is incorrect. The Windrush generation and the Windrush scheme are a priority for the Home Office. I have been through some of the improvements that we have made: we are increasing the number of caseworkers, and the amount of compensation has risen quite dramatically since we put some of the changes in place, from £3 million to over £31.6 million, with a further £5.6 million having been offered. There is no cap on the amount of compensation that we will pay out. We have also removed the time limit so that as many people who can apply do.

Some of the cases can be quite complex and therefore take longer than might be normal—and, of course, we are going back decades in time—but we are keener than ever, and it remains a priority, to ensure that anyone who is due compensation will be paid it.

Baroness Bull Portrait Baroness Bull (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister was clear about the importance of trusted community and grass-roots organisations in reaching claimants who might be nervous about interacting directly with the Home Office, but we now hear that the stakeholder advisory group that brought those bodies together to help government to

“build trust with the affected communities”

has been disbanded. So what will government put in place to offset the absence of that group and to ensure that those communities can be reached?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, as I said, we have done extensive community outreach. Since 2018, we have held approximately 200 engagement and outreach events across the country, including approximately 120 one-to-one surgeries to help people with their documentation for the Windrush scheme. We have held 80 public engagement events to raise awareness of the scheme. I will certainly take the stakeholder engagement point back to the Home Office, because it is a good point.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, I quite understand why it is necessary to be very sensitive and careful about handing out compensation money. After all, we have seen a very few awful cases of compensation claims when it came to Grenfell, for instance, which were simply criminal. However, I associate myself with every single sentiment which the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, has expressed. Windrush is an example of injustice, and at a time when there are wicked people trying to tear apart races in this country, putting one against the other, the solution to this Windrush scandal cannot come soon enough.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Well, I think I associated myself with pretty much every point that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made. As my noble friend said, the Windrush scandal is an injustice, and for decades no one did anything about it. We will do what we can as quickly as we can to ensure that people get the compensation that they deserve as soon as possible.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, I come back to the point made by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett about the delay and the four-year period. I do not think that my noble friend received any satisfactory explanation as to why it has taken so long. The Home Affairs Committee has called for the scheme to be transferred from the Home Office to an independent organisation, and a National Audit Office report into the compensation scheme found that the scheme was

“not meeting its objective of compensating claimants quickly”.

As I am sure that the Minister will be aware, on 21 June—some five months ago—the shadow Home Secretary called on the Government to give control of the Windrush compensation scheme to a new independent body following systematic mismanagement—that mismanagement being the delay and how few people have so far been compensated. I do not think we have heard any convincing answer as to why responsibility for the scheme should not be handed over to a new independent body.

Clearly the Home Office has failed; it has been criticised by the National Audit Office for that failure. We have had four years of delay. The Minister, on behalf of the Home Office, has not been able to tell us how many more years it will take the Home Office to complete this process. Can I urge her to go back to the Home Office and suggest that the management of the scheme is now transferred to a new independent body, as we called for five months ago, as the Home Affairs Committee has now also called for, and in the light of the National Audit Office report that said that people were not being compensated quickly?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thought that I had pointed out both the improvements to the compensation paid since we made changes in December and the difficulties in suddenly moving a scheme out of the Home Office to an independent body. It would not necessarily result in faster and higher payments. As I have said, neither the amount of the payment nor the length of time in which people can apply for compensation are capped.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Dobbs. I ask my noble friend the Minister: what is happening about those who have been deported to the West Indies?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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When someone is deported, it is usually for criminality. I do not have up-to-date figures on people who have been deported who would also be eligible for Windrush. Rather than make them up at the Dispatch Box, which I am disinclined to do, I will get those figures to my noble friend.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the noble Baroness the Minister, who we all have a lot of respect for. She said two years ago that she was frustrated at the delays. She has done her best at the Home Office and there are still huge delays. It was recommended months ago that the scheme should be transferred to an independent body. Would it not give greater trust and confidence to the people who are seeking compensation if some action was taken on this?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I did try to explain what action has been taken, which has meant that compensation has risen from less than £3 million to over £31.6 million, with a further £5.6 million being offered since the changes were made in December. As I have explained, transferring out of the Home Office would not necessarily result in further improvements.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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My Lords, the time allowed for the Question has now elapsed.