Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill

Lord Taylor of Warwick’s speech in the House of Lords, 21st April 2020

My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting this important Bill to the House.

My Jamaican father fought for Britain as a sergeant in the Eighth Army in the Second World War, yet when he came to England on the “Empire Windrush”, he was shocked to see posters warning, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.” As my father later remarked, if he had been a black Irish Labrador, he would have been in real trouble.

He was saddened, though. As a member of the Commonwealth, he did not think that he was coming to a foreign country. He believed that he was returning to the motherland. He was one of thousands from the Caribbean answering the call from the British Government, who were desperately in need of immigrants to help to rebuild post-war Britain. He could have stayed in Jamaica—the weather is better there—but Britain was calling him.

Although my father was a qualified accountant, he soon discovered that it was his manual labour in a factory that Britain valued more. However, his personal fortunes changed when Warwickshire County Cricket Club discovered that he could play cricket. The headline in the local Sports Argus was, “Warwickshire sign Jamaican immigrant”, but in the following year, 1949, when he scored 121 not out against Leicestershire, the news this time read, “Warwickshire saved by local Brummie Taylor”.

That same year my mother also came from Jamaica to Britain. She served for decades as a nurse in our National Health Service. When she retired she became a volunteer hospital visitor for the Stroke Association, so my parents were examples of a Windrush generation which endured racism and other challenges, yet still made a positive contribution here. It must be recognised that many of that brave Windrush generation, like my mother, became the dedicated backbone of and inspiration for the excellent National Health Service that we are presently saluting for saving lives and keeping us safe during this Covid-19 virus pandemic.

In 2002, I had the privilege to open an orthopaedic hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, but it was ironic to hear from its management that a major challenge that Commonwealth hospitals, including that hospital, have faced over decades is the continuing loss of nurses and other skilled medical staff to more prosperous nations such as Britain.

I was also privileged to become Britain’s first black university chancellor, at Bournemouth University in 2001. At that time, it had relatively few students from the rest of the Commonwealth, so it was a delight for me to help build a link between the university and the University of the West Indies. In the process, Bournemouth University continued to grow an international reputation. It is against that personal background that I find the Windrush scandal so outrageous.

“Windrush” was named after a river, but the path to justice for the Windrush victims has not been anything like a flowing river: it has been like a swamp dragging down and drowning the dreams of totally innocent people. In principle, I welcome the Bill. It is only right that victims are properly compensated for the suffering they experienced as a result of not being able to demonstrate their lawful status in the United Kingdom. Having said that—the Minister concedes this—nothing can fully wipe out the hurt and loss that should never have been suffered in the first place. I emphasise that this is not about the rights only of the Windrush generation: this scandal offends the whole nation and the reputation of Britain in the world. As Martin Luther King said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I have some questions for the Minister to answer either today or in due course. First, can she give an updated figure regarding how many people have been affected by this scandal? I ask this because the initial focus was on Caribbean Commonwealth countries, but it has become clear, as we know, that individuals from non-Caribbean nations were also affected. As of 27 February, the published data show that 1,108 claims were made, 36 payments were made and just over £62,000 was paid. That is a pitiful sum, and I do not think I am playing with words there when we consider that victims lost jobs and homes, were denied their legal rights, were wrongly detained, deported and refused re-entry to the UK. In some cases, they were strangers to the countries they were wrongly deported to.

The Windrush compensation scheme is time-limited and was initially due to run for two years until April 2021. I welcome the fact that the Government have extended the deadline for applying to 2 April 2023: this provides more time to reach people who are not yet aware of the scheme. However, I wonder how fair and realistic even that extension is, bearing in mind that the whole nation is still subject to lockdown restrictions. Surely victims will need more time to access lawyers and get legal advice. Will the Minister please reflect on the possibility that the deadline may need to be further extended through no fault of the applicants themselves?

Next, when will the independent adviser to the scheme be finally approved? We have been operating under this scheme now for several months, and I sure that Martin Forde QC is doing the best he can, but he is only an interim adviser.

Will legal aid be available to the claimants? I am still confused about that; can the Minister clarify the position? Will full legal costs be reimbursed? I read in the debate in the other place about a £500 cap on legal fees, but surely that is unrealistic, bearing in mind the complexity and age of these cases. The Home Office has even suggested that applicants for compensation need not require legal advice. In view of the troubled history of the scandal, that adds insult to injury.
We heard about the wording of the application form. Consider that section 1 alone asks about “lapsed status”, “settled status”, “ordinarily resident” and “right of abode”. These are not straightforward terms, especially without legal advice. Can that wording be reviewed? The noble Lord, Lord Newby, went into this in far more detail than I propose to do today, but the application form has to be simplified in the course of justice, so that justice is seen to be done. Also, the criminal standard of proof surely should be reduced to a civil standard of proof.

The present pandemic might not only cause more suffering to claimants but slow down their application process. Will the Government look again at a special hardship scheme for those in urgent need of compensation? Examples were given in the other place on 10 February of four people whose urgent cases were highlighted in a 2018 report. Two years later, two of them had still received nothing, while the other two had died before receiving any compensation at all. Surely that is just a disgrace.

Is it right for the Home Office to be managing this scheme? The traumatic nature of claimants’ previous dealings with the Home Office means that they have little trust in that department.

Finally, when will the Government respond to the Windrush lessons learned review by Wendy Williams, published in March? This is a money Bill, so there are wider issues to be considered that are outside the remit of today’s debate. The Windrush generation and its descendants have become a deep-rooted part of British life and culture, including the professions, politics, business, the Church, media, arts and sports, yet they have not been treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. There are many biblical examples of immigrants who transformed nations, including Joseph and Daniel. Both journeyed to a foreign land in a hostile environment, overcame prejudice, prosecution and even unjust imprisonment; yet, despite it all, they rose to be government leaders in those nations.

Because of the current pandemic, we are learning to value many people who have previously been over- looked—the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made that point most eloquently. However, Parliament has now come from recess to reset. We must learn the lessons of the past so that the Windrush scandal never happens again. As far as getting justice for the victims is concerned, the Bill is just the beginning, not the end. As President Nelson Mandela said:
“There is no such thing as part freedom.”