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Bishops challenge Government on Windrush compensation and Media Bill

05 March 2024

Parliament TV

The Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, speaks in the House of Lords last week

The Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, speaks in the House of Lords last week

THE compensation scheme for victims of the Windrush scandal risks becoming a source of injustice itself, the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, has said.

Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on the Windrush scandal and the subsequent compensation scheme, Dr Hartley said that it was “deeply distressing” that 53 people had died while waiting for compensation.

“In 2023, there were more than 2000 claims where victims received a zero payment, more than double the number in the same period in 2022,” she continued. “It is not hard to see or understand the impact of delays, and it is not surprising that claimants distrust and feel suspicious about the Home Office. They must feel that they are being retraumatised. They are being retraumatised by being asked for documents and proof in the same way that they were asked to try to prove their residency in the first place.”

Dr Hartley said that legal aid should be provided to eligible claimants, and called on the Government to provide this or at least a system to recover legal costs. “I fear there is a risk that the compensation scheme meant to redress injustice is becoming part of the problem and a source of injustice in itself.”

Responding for the Government to the debate, Lord Sharpe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, said that 16,800 people had been provided with documentation that confirmed their status or British citizenship. “Our experience has been that many of them have not suffered losses or detriment owing to being unable to demonstrate their lawful status in the UK, so they have not needed to claim compensation.” The scheme had no end date, he said, “and there is no cap on the amount of money the department will pay”.

On Wednesday of last week, Dr Hartley also spoke during the Second Reading of the Media Bill (Comment, 19 January). She drew attention to “the absence of clear statutory provision for languages in this Bill, in particular for Gaelic”. She called on the Government “to strengthen language provision in the Bill, rather than have it left in the rather precarious state it now finds itself in. Leaving it to Ofcom to assess —through counting objections to the absence of language provision, for example — is an unhelpful consequence of a lack of statutory recognition.”

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, welcomed the “timely and necessary” Bill. “The regulatory framework that governs public-service media, not just broadcasting, is in urgent need of updating, given the accelerating changes in technology, media consumption, and the wider media ecosystem in the 20 years since the Communications Act 2003.”

Bishop Baines expressed concern, however, about the Bill’s dropping of “specific reference to genres that might be described as ‘minority interest’, such as children, the arts, science, and religion”.

He continued: “Guaranteeing space for religion is not about propaganda for any particular faith or religion. The point is simply that you cannot understand the world if you do not understand religion. Religion is not about worldviews or beliefs alone, but about prime motivators for individual and communal decisions and behaviours, about how and why people see the world as they do and how their priorities, rituals, and communalities shape our societies.

“In broadcasting terms, that embraces drama, comedy, and current affairs; it is not all about Songs of Praise. This is not trivial. The fragilities of our world at present make attention to religion more important than ever, not less.”

Responding to the debate for the Government, Lord Parkinson, a minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said that the Bill introduced “a new, modernised remit”, intended to provide a clearer sense of purpose for public-service broadcasting. “Should Ofcom identify a problem with the spread of genres, including in relation to religious programming . . . then the Bill allows for the remit to be updated, and indeed for the creation of additional quotas for underserved content areas.”

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