Emotional David Lammy calls for Windrush generation promises to become law
Promises made to people caught up in the Windrush scandal must be guaranteed in law as a matter of urgency, David Lammy has said in an impassioned speech to MPs.
The Labour MP, who appeared to become emotional as he spoke, accused the Government of trying to distract from the crisis by talking about illegal immigration, describing such a connection as “deeply offensive”.
During a debate in Parliament Mr Lammy (pictured), whose father came to Britain from Guyana in 1956, said there was now a lack of trust between people whose lives had been so negatively affected by the Government’s immigration policies and the Home Office.
He said: “This not about illegal immigration, this is about British citizens and frankly it is deeply offensive to conflate the Windrush generation with illegal immigrants to try and distract from the Windrush crisis.”
He urged the Government to turn its pledges on compensation, and a lowering of the burden of proof when it comes to assessing Windrush cases, into guaranteed rights.
He said: “I say to the minister, warm words mean nothing, guarantee these rights and enshrine them in law as soon as possible and review a hostile environment that turns everybody that is different in this country into someone who is potentially illegal.”
His voice breaking slightly, he added: “And 230 years after the abolitionist movement wore their medallions around their neck I stand here as a Caribbean, black British citizen and I ask the minister on behalf of those Windrush citizens: ‘Am I not a man and a brother?'”
Mr Lammy addressed members of the Commons Petitions Committee during a debate on a petition, signed by more than 177,000 people, calling for an amnesty for the Windrush generation.
The Windrush scandal has seen people from a Caribbean background denied access to benefits and healthcare or threatened with deportation despite decades of residence in the UK, due to paperwork issues.
The petition has called specifically for an amnesty “for anyone who was a minor that arrived in Britain between 1948 to 1971” along with Government compensation for “loss and hurt”.
Immigration minster Caroline Nokes acknowledged the lack of trust those affected now have in the Home Office, and said: “We have a duty to rebuild that trust.”
She was asked by Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Catherine West about rumours that immigration enforcement officials had been awarded bonuses linked to meeting removals targets.
Ms Nokes said: “I have said on the record I am not aware of any such system of bonuses, however I will undertake to go away and find out prior to Wednesday’s debate when I look forward to being able to go over this issue in more detail, with more time, in the main chamber.”
Following Monday evening’s three-hour debate Ms Cooper tweeted: “In a system with no independent appeals or checks to stop unfair removals, it would be extremely troubling if bonuses were paid for removal targets.”
Committee member Steve Double described it as “shocking” to hear of Windrush generation members who had lost access to health services, lost their jobs or been threatened with deportation.
But the Conservative MP reiterated the Government position that the episode was mistakenly applied policy, rather than a conspiracy.
He said: “This is not a conspiracy, this is a mistake. This is well-meaning policy that has been wrongly applied to people whom it should never have been applied to.”
His words were criticised by Labour MP Lyn Brown as a “thin, sanctimonious explanation”.
Mr Double, referring to the wording of the petition relating to minors, said those people did not need an amnesty, having done nothing wrong in law.
He said: “Although I totally recognise the intention of the petition, I want to make a very important point. These people do not require amnesty, they already have the right to remain here.”
He confirmed his confidence in newly appointed Home Secretary Sajid Javid who he said will “get to the heart of this issue and make sure it’s put right and that the lessons that need to be learned are learned”.
He added: “We need to prevent the Windrush generation and their children from facing further uncertainty over their status in the future, and allow them to be treated with dignity and the respect that they deserve.”
A number of MPs addressed the committee, giving examples of how their constituents’ lives had been affected by the scandal.
Among them were Labour MP Emma Reynolds who told the story of Paulette Wilson, who came to Britain from Jamaica as a child in 1968 and later worked in restaurants in the Commons.
Ms Wilson was detained last year and only released “at the eleventh hour”, Ms Reynolds said, and claimed the family still had not been given an explanation as to why she had been detained.
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