I recently spoke in two debates about the recent revelations that have come to light regarding the Government’s treatment of the Windrush generation and its ‘hostile’ immigration strategy. I first spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on 30th April, and in the Commons chamber on 2nd May. Below are the transcripts from my speeches:
Minors entering the UK: 1948 to 1971, Westminster Hall debate, 30th April 2018
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I thank Patrick Vernon OBE for launching the petition and creating the space we urgently needed to discuss these awful and totally avoidable events. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy for his exceptional speech and his tireless advocacy on the issue; my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper for her forensic interrogation and analysis of the former Home Secretary’s actions; and my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who has so effectively led on the issue from the Front Bench.
Let me make it clear: this issue is personal to me, because, like many Londoners, I have family who are part of the Windrush generation. Lucy and her husband Cecil came here to help to rebuild Britain. Lucy is a fabulous, dedicated and caring nurse who worked in the NHS for her whole life, and Cecil is a skilled artisan. So, before I start, I will say, “Thank you”, to Lucy and Cecil for all they have done, and to all the Lucys and Cecils who came, worked and served our country—often, sadly, in brutal, racist circumstances.
Cecil and Lucy really believed that they could make this country a home, and that it would be fit for their children and their grandchildren, and they did make it a home for them. They thought that they had secured for themselves and their children a place that was warm and welcoming. However, I assure Members that their family is angry now, because the contract they had with this country has been broken by this careless, callous Government. Their faith in this country has been crushed. They, their children and their grandchildren feel betrayed.
It is not just my family who are angered by that betrayal; many of my constituents, whether they have family among the Windrush generation or not, believe that this Prime Minister’s policies have betrayed a generation of their friends, neighbours and families.
I do not know how many of my constituents have been caught up in the Home Office’s “hostile” immigration strategy, because many people have not made their way to my door yet. However, I urge them to do so, so that I can help them sort this situation out.
One man, who I will call Gem, contacted me early last year. Gem travelled from Jamaica in 1969 and has lived here legally ever since. However, in August last year his housing benefit suddenly stopped, on the basis that he
“had no recourse to public funds.”
That was certainly news to him.
Gem has not kept hold of every official document that has come through his door for the last several decades, so when the Home Office demanded evidence for every single year that he had lived here he was understandably devastated and overwhelmed. I do not think many of us could produce that much evidence on demand; I certainly could not.
Gem was told that he would have to secure a new passport from Jamaica, at great expense and at a time when he was unable to work. The £2,500 fee for naturalisation was well out of the question. He now faces eviction, due to rent arrears, and he tells me that he has to report regularly to the immigration centre, as if he was a criminal. A few days ago, Gem’s daughter called the new hotline, but she is still waiting to be called back. I have contacted the Immigration Minister on Gem’s behalf and I will be happy to give her his details after this debate.
Gem is not the only constituent of mine who has been harmed by this “hostile” environment. Jessica travelled to Britain in 1970 from Dominica. She is 58 now but still remembers an immigration officer stamping her passport with the words, “Indefinite right to remain”. She grew up in this country, and she has worked and paid taxes here for the last 39 years. Last month, however, she was fired from her job with a local charity that supports migrants and refugees, on the basis that she could not prove her right to work in the UK. It is a bitter irony that someone who has worked to help those at risk because of immigration policies has now fallen victim to those policies herself. Jessica said:
“I have always been a positive person, but this is a terrible situation.”
I do not think that anybody could have failed to notice the oft-repeated use by the former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, of the phrase “compliant environment” last week. However, as my hon. Friend Maria Eagle said:
“Whether it’s compliance or hostility, it’s still a policy which has led to this debacle”.—[Official Report, 23 April 2018;
Vol. 639, c. 633.]
Gem and Jessica will receive absolutely no comfort if I tell them that, although they have lost nearly everything, the Government did not mean to be “hostile”. That is cold comfort, because let us be in no doubt that this scandal is leaving a legacy of fear and anxiety among the communities and individuals that it has betrayed.
Nevertheless, I welcome the Government’s pledges to waive fees for members of the Windrush generation as they apply for documents and rightful naturalisation, and to scrap the requirement for a citizenship test, as well as the free services that they have created for the victims. Those were absolutely the right things to do, but the problem stems from the policy itself. The “hostile environment” has been hardened over time, in the service of an arbitrary target. That is hardly the way to encourage careful evaluation of an individual’s rights.
The canned response that we keep hearing from the Government is that the Windrush generation are different, or an exception. We know the phrase, “the exception proves the rule”, and there are already new cases coming to light of British citizens from other backgrounds who have been caught up by this Government’s approach. So how many exceptions will it take before the rule is changed? Will cases that do not appear to be Windrush related need to make their own headlines before they are recognised? If so, that is not only nonsensical, but cruel.
The right to appeal through an immigration tribunal was scrapped, for most cases, by 2014. When, on top of that, there is no longer recourse to legal aid, the inevitable wrong decisions are so much harder to challenge. I hope that the new Home Secretary will fix this matter urgently, although I do not hold my breath.
“Regret”, no matter how bitter or heartfelt, cannot take the place of a substantial policy change. It is simply not good enough to redress the consequences each time after the fact. Policy change is the only way to prevent this situation from happening again, but even that will not undo the damage that has already been done; that pain will never go away. The petition that we are considering rightly calls on the Government to take into account “loss & hurt”. The “loss” of a job, of benefits, of medical treatment, of pensions, or of citizenship can be measured.
My hon. Friend is, of course, obviously right, because we can—possibly—put a financial value on the financial “loss” incurred by loss of jobs, benefits and so on, but the “hurt”—that is, the loss of faith and the impact of the deep betrayal—is much more complex and much more difficult to assess in monetary terms, so I ask the Minister to ensure that whoever is appointed to run the compensation scheme is encouraged to think long and hard about the lifetime impact of these losses.
The Windrush generation undoubtedly made a huge contribution to rebuilding our country; many of them also fought in the war. They came at the Government’s invitation, stayed at the Government’s invitation and worked year after year after year, because they were needed, so there is a real stench of betrayal about these recent events.
I am lucky—so lucky—that I have an amazing family. I have not only Cecil and Lucy, who have done so much for this country, but their children, including my brother-in-law, Colin, who I love to bits, and his daughter, my niece Aimee, who I love more than life itself.
My family have been lucky not to fall victim to the changed immigration laws, but, make no mistake, we are very angry. We are furious. We need more from the Government. We need mistakes to be rectified quickly, with generous compensation, and we need less dangerous policies coming from the Government. It is now time for the Prime Minister, as the architect of the hostile environment policy, to take responsibility, because it is her policy and her watch, and it is for her to be held to account.
Windrush, debate in House of Commons, 2nd May 2018
I want to talk about trust and how it has been violated, and I want to start with the cases of my constituents Gem and Jessica, both of which I raised in Monday’s debate in Westminster Hall.
Gem arrived here from Jamaica, Jessica from Dominica. Both have worked here, paying taxes and raising families, for nearly 50 years, and both have fallen victim to the Government’s hostile environment. Jessica has served our community in West Ham, working for a charity helping refugees and migrants, so what an irony that in March she was fired from that job because she could not prove her right to work. The lesson of the Windrush scandal is that the hostile environment strategy is, in and of itself, a breach of trust. The betrayal of people like Gem and Jessica will not end until that strategy changes.
The hostile environment violates the rightful, reasonable, normal expectations that the people of Britain share. We expect not to be treated with suspicion, like criminals, without very good reason. We expect not to be threatened with destitution, or to be divided from our families or communities, without very good reason. We expect that our voices and our contributions to our country will not be dismissed by our Government without extremely good reason. But those expectations were violated for our British Windrush citizens—their trust was violated. These citizens were stopped at the GP reception, the police station, the bank counter, the workplace, the jobcentre—all those places became hostile environments for Jessica, Gem and many others.
Papers are demanded—papers that many do not have—and when Windrushcitizens cannot produce these papers, they are plunged into a nightmare of hostile demands and constant suspicion, and behind it all is the threat of deportation and the destruction of their lives, with jobs, housing and healthcare yanked away. We all know the consequences: homelessness, detention, depression, mental illness, suicide and bereavement. People like Jessica and Gem have been denied the decent, dignified, fair treatment that all of us have a right to expect. They have been treated like criminals without reason and denied redress without reason. Legal aid, tribunals, access to justice—all cut. Their trust in their country has been breached and cannot easily be restored.
There is massive anxiety in my community about immigration removal flights that may have British Windrush citizens on board. In particular, I am told of flight PVT070. I have asked about this in recent days, as have my colleagues, but despite ministerial assurances, anxieties remain. Can Ministers at the Home Office imagine just how badly they will have further betrayed the trust of generations if they fail to get a grip on this and British citizens are again deported?
Let me finish by echoing what my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy said. The Windrush generation are British. They have always been British. Recognising their rights is justice. It is not generosity. I am tired of hearing that “they” came here to help “us”. In the community in which I grew up, there is no “us” of which Gem and Jessica are not a part. The Windrush generation did not come to help “us”; they are “us”. In serving our country all their lives, they have helped to build the communities that we share.
On Monday, in Westminster Hall, I spoke about how personal this is—and it is. Lucy and Cecil are my brother-in-law’s parents. They are good people. They are Windrush people. Lucy served for decades as an NHS nurse. They and their family, including me, are furious about the way in which the Government have treated British citizens. Sometimes when we are in this place talking about personal stuff, we struggle to find the right words and the right tone, but I hope that I have done them justice today.