Windrush questions in Parliament

Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary  4:19 pm, 30th April 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister to make a statement on the Government’s handling of the Windrush crisis.

Photo of Sajid JavidSajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I am honoured to have been asked this morning to become Home Secretary. I start by making a pledge to those of the Windrush generation who have been in this country for decades and yet have struggled to navigate through the immigration system: this never should have been the case, and I will do whatever it takes to put it right.

Learning about the difficulties that Windrush migrants have faced over the years has affected me greatly, particularly because I myself am a second-generation migrant. Like the Caribbean Windrush generation, my parents came to this country from the Commonwealth in the 1960s; they too came to help to rebuild this country and to offer all that they had. So when I heard that people who were long-standing pillars of their communities were being impacted for simply not having the right documents to prove their legal status in the UK, I thought that that could be my mum, my brother, my uncle or even me. That is why I am so personally committed to, and invested in, resolving the difficulties faced by the people of the Windrush generation who have built their lives here and contributed so much.

I know that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Amber Rudd, felt very strongly about this too. Mr Speaker, please allow me to pay tribute to her hard work and integrity and to all that she has done and will continue to do in public service. I wish her all the very best. I will build on the decisive action that she has already taken. A dedicated taskforce was set up to handle these cases; more than 500 appointments have been scheduled, and more than 100 people have already had their cases processed and now have the necessary documents. We will continue to resolve these cases as a matter of urgency.

We have made it clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status that they deserve: British citizenship. That will be free of charge, and I will bring forward the necessary secondary legislation. We have also been clear that a new compensation scheme will be put in place for those whose lives have been disrupted. We intend to consult on the scope of the scheme and we will appoint an independent person to oversee it. I hope that I can count on the full support of all hon. Members to make this happen as soon as possible. I end by making one thing crystal clear: we will do right by the Windrush generation.

Photo of Diane AbbottDiane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary

I congratulate the Home Secretary on his new position occupying one of the great offices of state, and thank him for coming to the House to answer this urgent question after what must have been quite a busy morning.

Is the Home Secretary aware how ashamed many British people are about the Windrush scandal, how frightened and angry the Windrush generation and their families are, and how the scandal has resonated around the Commonwealth? He talks about the Windrush generation getting the legal status they deserve, but actually they were always British. They were always British citizens.

Is the Home Secretary aware that this is a matter not just for the Windrush generation and Commonwealth citizens from the Caribbean? The plight that befell the Windrush generation could also affect Commonwealth citizens who came here from south Asia and west Africa. What steps does he intend to take to protect later cohorts of Commonwealth citizens from the indignity and humiliation that the Windrush generation have had to suffer?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that it was the Prime Minister, as Home Secretary, who introduced the Immigration Act 2014, which removed Commonwealth citizens’ protection from deportation. The new Home Secretary has been part of the Government’s immigration implementation taskforce. Was he aware of the problems being caused to Commonwealth citizens? Was he aware of the warnings in an internal Home Office impact assessment? Was he aware of the warnings from the previous Communities and Local Government Secretary that the “costs and risks” involved in the “hostile environment” would “outweigh the benefits”? Will the new Home Secretary commit at the very least to reinstating the protection for Commonwealth citizens that was removed by the current Prime Minister in 2014? What progress has been made in identifying Windrush people who have been deported, detained or improperly refused re-entry? We will also soon want to know more about compensation and its levels.

The Windrush generation was my parents’ generation. I and most British people believe that they have been treated appallingly. The Home Secretary will be judged not on the statements he makes this afternoon, but on what he does to put the situation right and to get justice for the Windrush generation.

Photo of Sajid JavidSajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind remarks at the start. She asks whether Members are aware of just how angry so many people from the Windrush generation are. Of course we are aware. My predecessor was aware and the Prime Minister was aware, which is why they rightly issued apologies for the treatment of some members of that generation. I am angry, too. I shared with the right hon. Lady just a moment ago just how angry I am and the reasons why I am angry. Like her, I am a second-generation migrant, and I know that she shares that anger, but she should respect the fact that other people share it, too. She does not have a monopoly on that.

The right hon. Lady asks whether I am aware that the same issues could—I stress “could”—have an impact on other Commonwealth citizens, perhaps people such as my parents and others from south Asia who settled in this country. I am aware that that could be the case and I intend to look at that carefully. Right here and now, though, all the cases that have come up relate to the Windrush generation of people from the Caribbean who settled in Britain. That is why they are rightly the focus.

The right hon. Lady claims that protections were removed in 2014, but no such protections have been removed. People who arrived pre-1973 have the absolute right to be here, and that has not changed.

The right hon. Lady asks whether I am aware of anyone who may have been wrongly deported. I am not currently aware of any such cases, but I stress that intensive work is being done right now in the Department, going back many years and looking at many individuals, so I will keep the House updated on that.

The right hon. Lady closed her remarks by rightly reminding everyone that her parents were members of the Windrush generation. My parents were also part of the generation of migrants who came to this country in the 1960s. I hope that she can work with the Government to help those people.

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