Priti Patel – 2020 Statement on the Windrush Compensation Scheme

Below is the text of the statement made by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, in the House of Commons on 10 February 2020.

I beg to move, That the Bill now be read a Second time.

Members of the Windrush generation came to the United Kingdom to rebuild Britain after the war, and they have contributed so much to our country, our economy and our public services. It is no exaggeration to say that we would not be the nation we are today without the men and women who came here to build a life, to work hard, to pay taxes and to raise families. They included nurses and midwives, and their overall economic contribution helped to rebuild post-war Britain. That is why the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment of some members of the Windrush generation by successive Governments over a significant number of years. They are people who have done so much for our country and who had in some cases arrived on these shores when little more than infants, yet they were effectively told that they were not welcome.

This was a terrible mistake by successive Governments, and the implications will be felt for many years. Some suffered tremendous hardship and indignity as a result of an erroneous decision. They were denied a right to work, or to rent a place to live. Some individuals were even detained or removed, leading to families being broken up and left without parents or grandparents, and it is only right that those who have experienced hardship as a result are offered proper compensation. No amount of money can repair the suffering and injustice that some have experienced, and this Bill is therefore a vital and important step in righting the wrong, but there are still many issues to be addressed.

The Windrush compensation scheme was formally launched on 3 April 2019, and it was designed to ensure that full and proper compensation could be made. The scheme rightly includes a personal apology to each person issued with the award of compensation and, most importantly, it allows those who suffered to avoid court proceedings in the pursuit of justice.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)

The explanatory notes for the Bill show the full scale of this scandal, and state that the estimated compensation cost based on 15,000 claimants would range from £120 million to £310 million. The Home Secretary was not in the Chamber for my question to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), a few moments ago when I said that the wider issues with the immigration system and the failings of the Home Office, including unlawful detentions and deportations, are also costing millions of pounds. Will she commit to publishing the full cost of the wrongful deportations, outside the Windrush scheme, over the past few years and put that information before the House, so that we can see what has been going on in her Department? She is refusing to give that information at the moment.

Priti Patel

The hon. Gentleman has raised some significant issues here. We are still waiting for the lessons learned review from the independent—​

Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)

When will it be published?

Priti Patel

If the hon. Lady will let me finish instead of jumping up in such a way, I will answer her question. [Interruption.] Let me just state this, and I will answer her question if she will bear with me. The lessons learned report has yet to be submitted to Ministers in the Home Office by the independent adviser, Wendy Williams. That is not a shock to anybody, and it is right that she should have the time to undertake her review. It is a fact that the review has been going on for two years, but she will bring it forward in due course and I will receive it when it is ready. It is fair to say—I do not think anybody can question this right now—that we want to know the full scale of what has happened and the background to it, and that is the purpose of the review. At the right time, we will be able to look at everything in the round. If I may say so, this is not about publishing pieces of evidence at this stage. It is important that we look at everything. The report will come to me once Wendy Williams has had the time and space to consider everything, because this is an independent review. It is not for the Home Office to dictate anything around that report. We will wait for that, and then of course we will look at everything that is required.

Thangam Debbonaire

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. I know she is impatient with my impatience, but I am speaking on behalf of constituents of mine who died while waiting for their compensation. They were promised that compensation before they died, and their relatives are still unclear about whether any of this is ever going to be resolved. That is why I am impatient. Can she even tell us how many people have died while waiting for their compensation to be settled?

Priti Patel

Let me say a few things to all hon. Members about not just the compensation scheme but Windrush. Many of us, including me, have made representations to the Home Office on behalf of our constituents. That is a fact and we have all worked constructively in doing so. The hon. Lady mentions being impatient. If I may say so, these cases are complicated, as I am sure she recognises. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shaking her head, but the cases are complicated in terms of the provision of information, background, data and evidence, and this will take time. [Interruption.] They are complicated cases. They have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. This is not about providing a carte blanche assurance or a cheque to people. It is right that there is due process. We want to get this right and I make no apology for that.

Thangam Debbonaire rose—

Priti Patel

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.

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. Some of the cases are, indeed, complicated, but does she agree with me and many of my constituents with whom I have spoken, that her Department has overcomplicated the issue? As she said at the beginning of her speech, we ​cannot put a value on some of these things. The approach being taken is arbitrary, but she could apply discretion and make it a lot simpler

Priti Patel

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.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)

A moment ago my right hon. Friend used the word “mistake”, and I think it is right to remind ourselves that the Windrush scandal was not a conspiracy but a cock-up of the most enormous magnitude. Will she confirm that she is confident that her Department and ministerial team are now fully on top of these kinds of issues so that that sort of scandal will not happen again?

Priti Patel

My hon. Friend raises issues that go right to the heart of what happened in the Windrush scandal. No Government would want to preside over something so scandalous, and there has to be recognition that responsibility was attributed to successive Governments. It is right that we wait for the review from the independent adviser, Wendy Williams, which will have lessons for us all, including the Home Office and previous Governments. I think it will have plenty of information about what happened. We want to build on that and make sure that we learn the lessons.

Many of the comments made thus far have reflected on the compensation scheme and its complexities and design. I will now focus on its design. The Home Office’s first priority was to ensure that the scheme was accessible to claimants. In doing so, it has considered some 650 responses to the call for evidence and nearly 1,500 responses to the public consultation. The Home Office held several public events across the country to give potential claimants the chance to make their voices heard. Martin Forde QC, himself the son of Windrush parents, has a wealth of experience and complex knowledge of public law and compensation matters, and he was appointed by the then Home Secretary in May 2018 to advise on the scheme’s design. Late last year, Martin and I launched the Windrush stakeholder advisory group and met key stakeholders and community representatives to hear their personal testimonies and views. Ministers and civil servants will rightly continue to work with them, and they will continue to listen to those who have been affected to ensure this scheme works for them. Their personal views and considerations have been taken into account in the development of this scheme, and the House should note that the views of stakeholders have been instrumental to its design. That is why, last week, the Home Office announced the scheme will be extended by two years so that people will be able to submit claims up until 2 April 2023.​

The Home Office also announced amendments to migration policy to apply a more flexible approach to the cases under review, and rightly so. The Home Office will now consider all evidence provided on the steps an individual will take or has taken to resolve their situation, which is an important change.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

The Home Secretary is being generous in giving way.

I welcome the extension for applications to the scheme, but the Home Secretary will be aware that, nearly two years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs also recommended a hardship scheme. We were concerned that, in practice, this compensation scheme would take too long for many people who are in urgent need of compensation and some sort of support following these shocking injustices. Our report mentioned four people: Anthony Bryan, Sarah O’Connor, Hubert Howard and Judy Griffith. Shockingly, two of them have still had nothing, despite facing great hardship, and the other two died before they could get any compensation or hardship support at all.

Will the Home Secretary urgently consider a hardship scheme, as well as a compensation scheme, because this affects too many people? I have been contacted about someone today who is currently homeless and still struggling to get any support at all. Will she look at these cases urgently to see what hardship support can be given?

Priti Patel

I will look into those cases. Of course we have the exceptional payments scheme, which should stop anybody falling through—such people should receive those payments.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)

I was interested to read the updated impact assessment, which reduces the assumption that there will be 15,000 claims to 11,500 claims. Will the Home Secretary explain why that is the case and whether the Bill will cover the 160,000 Commonwealth citizens who could be affected, to which the Public Accounts Committee drew attention last year?

Priti Patel

The numbers were reduced in the impact assessment due to the fewer-than-anticipated claims thus far. I will come on to Commonwealth citizens because, of course, this is not specific to Caribbean nationals.

Even though time has elapsed since individuals may have effectively been caught up in the Windrush issue—experiencing hardship, losing their job and, in some cases, also losing their home—I will, as I said to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), look into any specific cases that hon. Members would like to raise with me. Our changes may help some people to qualify for a potentially higher award, particularly where it relates to the loss of employment.

“Windrush” has been used to describe what happened to a specific group, but that term and this scheme are not limited to those of Caribbean nationality. The scheme, of course, is open to anyone of any nationality who arrived and settled in the UK before the end of 1988, and to anyone from a Commonwealth country ​who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973. The scheme is also open to the children and grandchildren of Commonwealth citizens who arrived and settled before 1973, and to other close family members of such a person who may have been affected. In the cases of those who sadly passed away before compensation could be paid, a claim can be made by their estate.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)

I welcome the steps my right hon. Friend is taking in this Bill. Will she outline how the measures she has just described are going to be widely publicised, to make sure that everyone who might be entitled to claim under this legislation knows about it?

Priti Patel

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I will come on to this issue, primarily because our stakeholder advisory group has a very important role to play in it and I will explain why that is shortly. Importantly, we will continue to work with third party stakeholders, such as Citizens Advice, and many other groups that we are engaging with. I am very mindful, of course, that we have to rebuild trust with the communities that have been affected.

Several hon. Members rose—

Priti Patel

If I may, I will finish the point. To rebuild that trust, working with third parties and other stakeholder groups and organisations is vital, and we will continue to do that.

Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab)

On that point of trust, the phone calls to my office today are about a flight tomorrow to Jamaica, and some of my constituents believe that this Bill is being used as some kind of flim-flam before that flight goes. Will the Home Secretary assure me that she will look carefully at every one of the cases that we bring to her to ensure that only those people who absolutely need to be deported are deported tomorrow?

Priti Patel

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.

Lucy Powell

Actually, this point is not about criminality; it is about whether people are or are not regarded as British citizens. That is the key issue we are discussing this evening, because when the Windrush generation and their descendants came here before 1973, they ​arrived on British passports—they might have said “Jamaica” or “Trinidad and Tobago” on them, but they were British passports. We are now looking at whether their citizenship was valid from that point or not. We are not now deciding whether they are British citizens; we are saying that they have always been British citizens, so whether or not they have committed a crime is irrelevant to whether they are British citizens. If they have committed a crime, it is our problem. They are our citizens, and we need to deal with it. That is the key issue here, and the Home Secretary has completely missed that point.

Priti Patel

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—

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

The right hon. Lady will understand that one of her predecessors resigned because she assured the House that the people involved were foreign nationals and they were not. I would urge her to tread more lightly if she wants to remain in post.

Priti Patel

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the comments made during the urgent question by the Minister. The facts have been provided. I say again that if individuals wish to make representations to the Minister about cases in their constituencies, they are very welcome to do so.

On the Windrush compensation scheme, simplicity and ease of use has been at the forefront of designing it. Requirements for evidence have been designed to be straightforward and easy to understand and, most importantly, not too onerous for the claimant. Our priority has also been to ensure that payments are made as quickly as possible. The first payment was made in July, within four months of the scheme being launched, and the Government want to ensure that all those who have suffered come forward and apply for compensation.

Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Priti Patel

No, I will not give way.

As mentioned earlier, the Home Office is extending the length of the scheme by two years, so people will be able to submit claims up to 2 April 2023.

I have outlined some positive steps, but we need to ensure that the scheme is underpinned by the necessary financial parliamentary authority, which is exactly what the Bill is designed to provide. Payments are currently made under the ministerial direction that was issued in July last year, but the Bill offers Parliament the opportunity to give its legislative authority for expenditure under the compensation scheme. Details of the scheme are set out in the non-statutory scheme rules, which give us freedom to amend the scheme swiftly where required. That freedom proved useful last October when, following feedback ​from stakeholders and claimants, the scheme was amended to allow a broader range of immigration fees to be refunded.

For the scheme to be effective, it is vital that awareness is raised, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) pointed out, and that everyone who has suffered is given a fair chance to claim. Through the Windrush stakeholder advisory group, the Government are overseeing how to reach those who have been affected and hurt. There is no simple or straightforward way in which that hurt can be repaired or that trust rebuilt. It is a sorry fact that there are still members of the Windrush generation who do not have the documentation that they need. Some will not even know that they are entitled to apply for compensation. Others have been put off by false claims that funding for the scheme is capped at £200 million, or have been subject to much misinformation about the scheme, which of course needs to be addressed. We will of course work to correct those inaccuracies, rebuild trust through the advisory group and provide the compensation and justice that people deserve. The role of the stakeholder advisory group is to do exactly that and to find the best links to get back into the affected communities. In addition to that, the Home Office has, as I have already indicated, attended and hosted more than 30 engagement events to promote the scheme, and would welcome interest from Members who wish to support community events in their own constituencies.

No compensation can ever hope to undo the injustice of someone being told that they are not welcome in their homeland. Nothing that we can do or say can ever wipe out the hurt and loss that should never have been suffered in the first place, but we hope that the Windrush compensation scheme can go some way towards easing the financial burden endured as a result, and that we can begin to do justice to those who have contributed much to our country. The United Kingdom is making a start on a new era of openness, and it is a home to everyone with the talent and tenacity to contribute to national life. It is only right that we do everything in our power to redress this historic injustice, so I hope that Members from all parties will take an important step forward in doing so and join me in giving the Bill the support that it needs. I commend the Bill to the House.