Windrush Debate (Diane Abbott speech and response)

Photo of Diane AbbottDiane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary  11:37 am, 19th March 2020

We meet as a House of Commons at a time of unprecedented national crisis—a national crisis that none of us has seen before in our lifetime—but I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that we should not allow the fact that the review has been published at a time of national crisis to mean that the review and its recommendations are buried. The Windrush generation deserve better than that.

As the Home Secretary will know, the recommendations in this review have three main elements: that the Home Office must acknowledge the wrong that has been done; that it must open itself up to external scrutiny; and that it must change its culture, to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people, and whatever the objective, it should always be rooted in humanity.

The Home Secretary will be aware that the review points out:

“Some ministers and senior officials spoken to in the course of this review do not appear to accept the full extent of the injustice done to the Windrush generation”, and that they say

“the situation was unforeseen, unforeseeable and therefore unavoidable.”

More than one Member of this House foresaw the consequences of the hostile environment legislation years ago.

The review goes on to say that other Ministers and senior officials

“have expressed the view that the responsibility really lay with the Windrush generation themselves to sort out their status.”

Will the Home Secretary agree that, whichever politicians or officials said those things—Wendy Williams quotes them in the review—they were disgraceful things to say?

The review has many important and detailed recommendations. I cannot touch on them all, but I wish to draw the Home Secretary’s attention to a few. The review wants the Department to publish a comprehensive improvement plan within six months. Is the Home Secretary willing to assure the House that there will be such a plan? The review asks that the Home Office run a programme of reconciliation events with members of the Windrush generation. Does the Home Secretary commit to that?

Very importantly, the review says that the Home Office must look beyond the Caribbean, because persons from all over the Commonwealth who came to this country at that time would have been caught up in the same issues that the Windrush generation were caught up in. In fact, persons from the Caribbean are as anxious as anybody that persons from other parts of the Commonwealth—Africa, south Asia—also get the fairness and justice that they deserve. Is the Home Secretary willing to commit to reviewing data on other Commonwealth cases, as well as those from the Caribbean nations?

Is the Home Secretary willing to commit commission officials to undertake a full review and evaluation of the hostile or compliant environment policy and its measures individually and serially? Such a full review should assess whether they were effective and proportionate. Given the risks inherent in the policy that are set out in the report, the review must be carried out scrupulously, designed in partnership with external experts and published in a timely way.

Sadly, the Home Secretary did not feel able to share a copy of the review with the Opposition Front-Bench team. I have never before been in the situation in which a Home Secretary brought forward a major report of this kind and did not want to share it with the Opposition Front-Bench team—obviously that would have been under complete discretion. As it happens, I had to go into the Home Secretary’s office in Parliament to obtain the copy I have. It is almost as if the Home Secretary did not want full parliamentary scrutiny.

This is a detailed report that deserves detailed scrutiny. It is coming forward at a very difficult time for the nation as a whole, but the Opposition will be coming back to the issues raised in the report, because the Windrush scandal was not just a mistake; it was not just something that happened because people did not read the rules properly. As Wendy Williams points out, it was rooted in the systemic culture of the Home Office and the failure of Ministers to listen to the warnings they were given about what the effects of the hostile environment could be on people perfectly legally entitled to be here.

I have heard the Home Secretary’s apology, but people will believe her apology when they see her genuinely seek to implement the recommendations in this review. My mother was a member of the Windrush generation, so I know that one of the aspects of the Windrush generation was that they really believed they were British. They had no reason not to believe that they were British when they came here with their passports, UK and Colonies.

Let me assure the Home Secretary that, for the Windrush generation, it is not necessarily the money, or the loss, or the inconvenience, or even the tragedy of being deported. It is the insult to people who always believed that they were British, and who came here to rebuild this country, but who, because of the insensitivity and the structural issues in the Home Office, were treated in an utterly disgraceful and humiliating way. The Home Secretary should be assured that we will return to these issues until the Windrush generation gets the justice to which it is entitled.

Photo of Priti PatelPriti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First of all, let me say in response to the right hon. Lady’s point about the publication of the review that this is an independent review. I received a copy of it yesterday from Wendy Williams and I have, through all the due process in the House, laid the review this morning, in a timely way, in the Vote Office, using all the procedural routes that are normal to this House. I know that the right hon. Lady came to my office and picked up a copy, but copies were also available earlier on this morning—we checked that, and as she knows, I also gave her sight of my statement earlier, prior to coming to the Chamber.

I made a commitment to publish the report as soon as possible. It came to me yesterday, and I have done that, primarily because of the nature of the response and the concerns that this House has consistently and rightly raised when it comes to the Windrush generation. That, in my view, was the right thing to do, and I would not have been able to publish the review any earlier, because obviously it came to me from Wendy Williams yesterday. The timing of the report was decided by Wendy Williams, as the independent reviewer. Let me assure the right hon. Lady that I discussed with Wendy Williams yesterday how I will work with her on the recommendations going forward. I will be doing that over the coming months, in the way in which Wendy has asked and alluded to in the report. I will ensure that this issue continues to get the national prominence that it rightly deserves.

I also think, on that point, that this is the time for us all across this House to come together to right the wrongs. I have made it clear in my statement already that not only will I review Wendy’s recommendations on how the Home Office operates as an organisation, looking closely at, yes, the leadership, the culture, the practices and how it needs to put people before process—I cannot emphasise that enough—but I will also look at how we review policies and cultural change going forward. That is absolutely the right thing to do, but I emphasise that, in many of the measures and recommendations, and in the extent of the review—I have no doubt that when the right hon. Lady has the opportunity she will go through the review and read it, as I have—Wendy Williams is very clear that lessons must be learned at all levels, by all political parties. She describes the set of measures that evolved under Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments, and is clear those are lessons that we should all be learning, as politicians and as society, but also as Members of this House.

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