|Mon 10th February 2020||
Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
Programme motion: House of Commons
|25 interactions (2,368 words)|
Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lucy PowellMain Page: Lucy Powell (Labour (Co-op)) - Manchester Central)
Department Debates - View all Lucy Powell's debates with the Home Office
Legislation Debates - View all Lucy Powell's contributions to the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Act 2020
(7 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I have given way already. If I can just finish, it is important that we do this in the right way, provide the right amount of time and ask people to work with the Home Office to find whatever evidence is required.
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.
Break in Debate
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.
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—
Break in Debate
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. 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.
Break in Debate
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.
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?
I repeat that Ministers have discretion, and therefore, if they do not use that discretion, we will hold them to account for that for as long as we possibly can—as I will, while there is breath in my body.
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?
Break in Debate
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 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.