Baroness Berridge asked Her Majesty’s Government “what plans they have to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of MV Empire Windrush.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I am grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, tabled this debate, and in particular that she has framed it in the context of a celebration. Having said that, we also need to face the fact that there are a number of quite shameful things in our history that we need to confront.
All dioceses in the Church of England are linked with other parts of the Anglican communion, and I am particularly interested in today’s debate as my own diocese of St Albans is linked with the dioceses of the Windward Islands and of the North East Caribbean and Aruba, which I have visited. Many people in our diocese have strong links with the West Indies—we regularly have exchanges and get to know people and communities. In Luton, which is in my diocese, we have thriving communities of people from the island of St Vincent, in St Peter’s and in Holy Cross, Marsh Farm. Discussions are under way at the moment about how this event will be celebrated in Luton.
The events surrounding the arrival of migrants—at whatever point but particularly in the 1940s and 1950s—are complex, and I see something of this in my own family. An uncle and aunt, deeply committed lifelong Methodists, made it their life’s work over many decades to use their property in London to welcome lodgers, particularly those coming into the country. They took great pride in introducing them to people and embedding them into their Methodist church. It was an extraordinary piece of work, which the family celebrates.
I also have to say, though, that in my own family racist comments were made behind their backs. Questions were raised about why they were doing it—was it just to make money? Growing up in my own family, I could see precisely the tensions that are being recognised and acknowledged in this debate.
It is good that the anniversary of the arrival of the “Windrush” will be marked this year by a service in Westminster Abbey. That is a good thing to do, but the danger is that it remains as this sort of symbolic act. It seems to me that the most important way we can celebrate this anniversary is to commit ourselves now to a greater degree of racial equality and social cohesion. In my own diocese, we are continuing to roll out a programme of training in recognising and confronting racial bias. It is something we need to attend to all the time among ourselves.
I note the proposals that have been around for some while for an official Windrush Day to celebrate this significant contribution that migrant communities have made to British life. A national day to foster positive and constructive discourse around the issue of migration—which has become so incredibly toxic in recent years—would be a great way of honouring the memory of those who came over here in 1948, and perhaps before and after, and the huge contribution they have made to every aspect of our life as a nation. I also note the suggestion to have some sort of permanent memorial here in the UK, possibly in London. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will give consideration to how we can enable groups of people to get together to think about both the permanent ways of marking this anniversary and also how to then use them to address the fundamental issues in society of how we engage with and celebrate the contribution that these communities—and indeed other communities—make as they have come to enrich our life here in the United Kingdom.
Lord Judd (Lab): …I end with the following observation. I am very glad the Bishop talked about the importance of celebration because I think that is right. We live in a world which is diverse. That is part of creation—its diversity. We really have to learn to enjoy and celebrate diversity and see it as an enriching feature of living, rather than something to be managed because of all the problems associated with it. We have to let ourselves go and celebrate it. I hope, therefore, that whatever is done to celebrate the arrival of “Windrush”, we will be letting ourselves go and celebrating as we should. Unless we in Britain fully, as a whole society, endorse and understand our interdependence with humanity as a whole, our future is pretty grim. I am glad that this debate was introduced.
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con)...Many noble Lords referred to the early degree of prejudice that undoubtedly existed and the awful experiences that many of the first members of the “Windrush” generation, not just those on the “Windrush”, must have experienced when coming to this country, finding not just a cold climate but a very cold reception. That was truly awful. Many noble Lords referred to that and to the journey we have made, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, but other noble Lords said that we still face challenges.