|Tue 24th March 2020||
Contingencies Fund Bill
Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons
|3 interactions (98 words)|
|Mon 10th February 2020||
Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
Programme motion: House of Commons
|6 interactions (119 words)|
Contingencies Fund Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Jim ShannonMain Page: Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist Party) - Strangford)
Department Debates - View all Jim Shannon's debates with the HM Treasury
Legislation Debates - View all Jim Shannon's contributions to the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Act 2020
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.
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.
Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Jim ShannonMain Page: Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist Party) - Strangford)
Department Debates - View all Jim Shannon's debates with the Home Office
Legislation Debates - View all Jim Shannon's contributions to the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Act 2020
(7 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
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.
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.