Last Tuesday in the House of Commons there was a statement made by Priti Patel and a relatively short debate on the Windrush issues that have impacted out nation for over 70 years. The title was Windrush Lessons Learned Review. I still recall when I worked for the Lancing based Link Miles in the electronic test department and how one of my colleagues simply did not accept that the people who came into the UK on Windrush and the other ships to resolve the massive gaps in our nation at the time, created by our war should have a right to remain once the nation had managed to help sort itself out 20 years later. It was so tragic to try to challenge his understanding but he was not willing to listen to other points of view. We do have a major challenge because racism is clearly embedded in our nation in many places and it is deeply traumatic. Although the majority of what Patel said was very positive, towards the end of her statement she set out an aggressive attitude towards other groups of people who come to our nation because of conflict taking place across the world and who are seeking a place of safety for them and their families. However let us start by reading some of the positive aspects of her statement. One of the reasons for promoting these is that should she expand her other arguments, that she needs to be reminded of the positive aspects of what she has said and it is worth letting people like my colleague at Link Miles hear these positive aspects. He was not at all disappointed at the good things the Windrush people had done, but he saw no point in them remaining even though they had settled into our community and contributed throughout the whole of their working lives.
As I have said in this House on a number of occasions, the Windrush scandal is an ugly stain on the face of our country and on the Home Office. Wendy Williams’ independent report laid bare institutional failings over several decades that let down so many who had given so much to Britain. It was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issues of race and the history of the Windrush generation. As I have told the House previously, that was simply unacceptable, and my response has been swift, strong and uncompromising.
My ambition is for a fair, humane, compassionate and outward-looking Home Office that represents people from every corner of our diverse society, which makes our country great. That means confronting Wendy Williams’ findings head-on to deliver lasting change.
I am changing the Home Office’s openness to scrutiny. Policy and decision making must be rigorously examined to ensure that any adverse impact on any corner of our society is identified and acted on quickly. To ensure that we better understand the groups and communities that our policies affect, we are overhauling the way in which we build up our evidence base and engage with stakeholders across the board. I expect my officials to engage with community organisations, civil society and the public, and I will be looking for evidence of that in every piece of advice that Ministers receive.
The final and most critical theme is a more compassionate approach—people not cases. This is at the heart of ensuring that nothing like the injustices faced by the Windrush generation can ever happen again. The injustices of Windrush happened not because Home Office staff were bad people but because staff themselves were caught up in a system in which they did not feel that they had the permission to bring personal judgment to bear.
What happened to the Windrush generation is unspeakable, and no one with a legal right to be here should ever have been penalised. I have tasked my officials to undertake a full evaluation of the compliant environment policy and measures, individually and cumulatively, to make sure that the crucial balance is right. I have asked them to evaluate the changes that were made to immigration and nationality laws over successive Governments to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today’s world. If those changes were not communicated effectively enough, we will act to make them so. Have no doubt that where we find problems, I will seek to fix them, but equally, be under no illusion that if people are here wrongly or illegally, then naturally we will act.
We are determined to get this right. We owe it to the Windrush generation and, of course, their descendants. Wendy Williams has asked that we carefully consider our next steps to deliver both meaningful and lasting change. I will deliver on that commitment and continue to update the House. In September 2021, Wendy Williams will return to the Home Office to review our progress. I am confident that she will find the start of a genuine cultural shift within the Department—a Home Office that is working hard to be more diverse, more compassionate and worthy of the trust of the communities it serves. I commend this statement to the House.
So following these positive aspects as I suggested there are some concerning elements such as this one which took place early on in her statement
After years of injustice and countless warm words, the Windrush generation deserve to know that action is urgently under way. More than £1.5 million has now been offered by the Windrush compensation scheme. Bishop Webley and I launched and hosted the first meeting of a new cross-Government Windrush working group to address the wider inequalities affecting the Windrush generation and their families.
I may have missed the detail here but if there has only been £1.5m handed out, given the huge number of people heavily affected by the Windrush chaos this is a relatively small amount. Let us hope that our MPs will measure the output of this as one way of detecting if positive change is starting to take place. Also towards the end of her statement she made this very disturbing statement.
Putting people first will be built into the reforms that we make. Everyone making decisions must see a face behind the case. We must feel empowered to use our own discretion and pragmatism in decision making. The overwhelming majority of the British public agree that it is right that those with no legal right to be in this country must not be allowed to exploit the system, but we must protect the law-abiding majority. To build and maintain public confidence in the immigration system, it should not be easy for those here to illegally flout the rules, but we must make sure that we have the right protections in place for those whose status should have been assured. We need a system that is fair.
Given that most people from Windrush backgrounds have been treated as people flouting rules in recent years, and they were all called by our Government to come into our nation this is very disturbing. As one of the nations in the world that claims to stand out as a place where people with needs can approach, it is very worrying about this sort of statement. Given people who arrive seeking asylum do not formally have a legal right before they turn up and are assessed it is impossible to avoid this challenge. As a nation we should welcome asylum seekers and use their experience to teach our nation how to operate throughout the world so that our world becomes a place of peace and will dramatically reduce the millions of people who are flowing from threats of death and destruction in their nations.