Speaking in the Windrush Compensation Scheme Bill Debate

It is right that we have this discussion about the much needed compensation scheme. A number of constituents have been in touch with me, including from Barnard Castle and Hamsterley to name but a couple of areas. I rise to support to the Bill, to add my apology that this was allowed to happen, and to play my small part in, I hope, righting this wrong.

The Windrush generation have built their lives here in our nation and have contributed enormously, not only to our economy but to the very foundations of our society. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, we would not be the nation we are today without their incredible contribution. The Windrush generation have not received the treatment they deserve from successive Governments, and this Bill seeks to put that right —not for the sake of statistics, but for the real people whose lives were shaken by what was allowed to happen to them.

When people came to the UK from the Commonwealth prior to 1973, they were deemed under our legislation at the time to be settled in the UK. That meant that some did not receive, or were told they did not need, documentation to prove their right to be here. Although the majority of people who arrived before 1973 have since acquired the necessary documentation, there have recently been too many cases where people have not obtained it and have subsequently struggled to access public services. This issue has come to light because of measures introduced in recent years to make sure that only those with a legal right to live in the UK can access services such as NHS treatment and rented accommodation, which has resulted in some people now needing to evidence their immigration status. It is right that we introduced measures to tackle illegal immigration, but it is not right that some good people have suffered wrongly as a result.

Let us also be in no doubt about the rights of the Windrush generation to remain in this country, which is their home as much as it is mine or yours. That is why I welcome the Windrush compensation scheme and the funding provided for it in this Bill.

The Bill is a vital part of rectifying the mistakes made and the losses faced by individuals. In order to understand those losses, it is right that the Government launched their consultation to gather detailed feedback from those most affected. Almost 1,500 people and organisations shared their views, and it is reassuring that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that their opinions have been vital in shaping the design of the new scheme.​

The main purpose of the scheme is to provide a form of redress to those who have suffered financial losses or other negative impacts as a result of being unable to demonstrate their lawful immigration status. The scheme provides payments to eligible individuals who, through no fault of their own, did not have the right documentation to prove their status in the UK and whose lives suffered adverse effects as a result. Those effects range from loss of employment, access to housing, education or NHS healthcare, to emotional distress and, in some cases, a deterioration in mental and physical health.

The scheme is open to anyone, from any nationality, who has the right to live or work in the UK without any restrictions, or who is now a British citizen, and arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988. It is also open to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973. Certain children and grandchildren, and some close family members, of those arriving before 1973 may also be eligible to apply. People who were wrongfully detained or removed from the UK could also be eligible to make an application. I know that the Home Office will be doing all it can to ensure that claims are processed as quickly and easily as possible, and this Bill will help in that process.

I also welcome the fact that the Windrush generation, who are British in all but legal status, are able to officially acquire the British citizenship they deserve, and to do so quickly and at no cost. Similarly, the children of the Windrush generation who are in the UK will, in most cases, already be British citizens. Where that is not the case, they can apply to naturalise, at no further cost, which is exactly the right approach.

The Government have also said that they will ensure that those who made their lives here but have now retired to their country of origin will rightly be able to come back to the UK and that the cost of any fees associated with the process will be waived. The Government are working with our embassies and high commissions to make sure that people can easily access that offer.

Concerns have been raised today about the wide range of possible costings outlined in the impact assessment, largely because it is not known precisely how many individuals have been affected and are likely to seek compensation. However, there are matters for which the moral implication should always be a greater consideration than any financial cost. As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) rightly said, it is right that each claim is assessed individually and that full consideration is given to the unique consequences faced by each affected person. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) was correct in saying that the process needs less bureaucracy and more humanity.

Both this and previous Governments have made mistakes which led to the Windrush scandal. This Bill gives us a chance to apologise, right some of those wrongs, ensure that lessons have been learned, and move forward to create a United Kingdom that fully demonstrates how much it values the contributions and talents of people from all over the globe who have helped to build our great nation.