Lord Taylor of Warwick’s speech in the House of Lords, 6th May 2020
My Lords, there is only one race: the human race. When I was a parliamentary candidate in Cheltenham in 1992, I was accused by an angry woman of bringing racism to the town. I replied, “Madam, before I came to Cheltenham, you had no black people here.”
In 1948, the British Government made a desperate call to the Caribbean for workers, but they also got people. My Jamaican father fought for Britain as a sergeant in the Eighth Army in the Second World War. He was one of thousands from the Commonwealth answering the call to help rebuild post-war Britain. When he came to England on the HMS “Windrush”, my father was shocked to see posters warning, “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”, but consoled himself with the observation, “Well, at least I’m first in the queue!”
Ironically, it was my father’s talent as a professional cricketer which meant he experienced a higher level of racism at exclusive events such as Ascot and Henley, to which most black people were not even invited. He also became the first black soccer referee in the 1950s. The players were so stunned to see a black referee that they forgot to shout and swear at each other on the pitch.
My mother also came from Jamaica in 1948. Her father had been a dedicated chief of police in Jamaica and was awarded an OBE. She served for many decades as a nurse in our NHS. When she retired, she became a volunteer hospital visitor for the Stroke Association. My parents are model examples of the Windrush generation who endured racism and other challenges to make a positive contribution here.
It must be recognised that many of the Windrush generation, like my mother, became the dedicated backbone and inspiration for the excellent NHS we are currently saluting for saving our lives and keeping us safe during this Covid-19 virus period. In 2002 I had the privilege to open an orthopaedic hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. It was ironic to hear from the management that a major challenge that Commonwealth hospitals have faced over decades is the continuing loss of excellent nurses and other skilled medical staff to more prosperous nations such as Britain.
I spent many years at the BBC as a producer and presenter at White City. I wondered if it was called that because everyone above kitchen level was white. It is against that personal background that I found the Windrush scandal so outrageous. However, it is not just about the Windrush generation; this scandal offends the whole nation and affects the reputation of Britain across the rest of the world.
I have some questions for the Minister. What is the total number of claimants so far? Only £62,000 has been awarded so far, which is a pitiful sum. Legal aid is a right; it is not about fat cat lawyers, it is about justice. Will there be a permanent independent adviser? Will the Minister consider extending the deadline because of the problems we now have with Covid-19?
We are a nation of immigrants. Because of this episode, we are now learning to value many people, key workers, who have previously been overlooked. This is a new era, like the roaring 1920s and the Second World War. This is the new roaring 2020s, when victims have the opportunity to become victors. This is a shake up to wake up.
It is about equality and justice for all. As Martin Luther King said, we have all come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now. After the chess game is over, the black and white pieces all go back in the same box.