Debate Magazine

Immigration Bill – How Lib Dems Voted

Posted on the 23 October 2013 by Lesterjholloway @brolezholloway

Passport immigration stampThe Second Reading of the Immigration Bill (22nd October) can be found here. Sarah Teather made a good speech, which I include below.

The final vote was:


John Leech, Sarah Teather and David Ward


Danny Alexander, Sir Malcolm Bruce, Nick Clegg, Lynne Featherstone, Martin Horwood, Charles Kennedy,

FOR (46)

Norman Baker, Sir Alan Beith, Gordon Birtwistle, Tom Brake, Annette Brooke, Jeremy Browne, Paul Burstow, Lorely Burt, Dr Vince Cable, Sir Menzies Campbell, Alistair Carmichael, Mike Crockart, Ed Davey, Tim Farron, Don Foster, Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert, Duncan Hames, Mike Hancock, Sir Nick Harvey, David Heath, John Hemming, Simon Hughes, Dr Julian Huppert, Mark Hunter, Jo Swinson, John Thurso, David Laws, Sir Bob Russell, Adrian Sanders, Steve Webb, Stephen Williams, Mike Thornton, Norman Lamb, Stephen Lloyd, Michael Moore, Greg Mulholland, Tess Munt, John Pugh, Alan Reid, Sir Robert Smith, Dan Rogerson, Sir Bob Russell, Ian Swales, Mark Williams, Roger Williams.

Regarding absentees or abstentions, it is certain that Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Sir Malcolm Bruce were away on parliamentary business. My guess is that applies to Martin Horwood too, although I may be wrong. Charles Kennedy’s absence is more likely to be a rejection of the Bill, but I am happy to be corrected.

Sarah-Teather_2560463bTeather told the Commons:

“This happens because of the culture of disbelief in the Home Office, and it is that culture that needs to change, yet I see nothing in the Bill that will have any impact on the quality of decision making or on how individual officials treat constituents such as mine when they go with their asylum or visa applications. In my 10 years as an MP, I have seen countless examples of this behaviour, as all Members will have done.

Those of us with the highest levels of immigration casework will have seen more, but it is a source of huge frustration for many MPs that our advice surgeries are spent mostly dealing with stuff that the Home Office should be dealing with.

We know that there are a lot of people who fall through the net when they are first given refugee status and end up destitute. They make up the bulk of the people whom the British Red Cross deals with in terms of food parcels because they cannot prove their entitlement to benefits. A significant number of people have the right to stay but will struggle to be able to prove it.

Personally, I have never seen an organisation more in need of checks and balances on its own use of power than the Home Office or, indeed, its predecessor, the Border Agency. Instead, the Bill gives powers that it is not equipped, nor frankly able, to meet and powers that it cannot be relied upon to exercise properly. Where it exceeds or abuses its power, or simply fails to do the job, it will be shielded from challenge in many cases and there will be no redress whatever.

The implications of the Bill cannot be understood without also placing it in the wider context of legal aid changes and proposals to restrict judicial review.

The problem is that the impact on individual lives gets lost in the grandstanding of headlines. When immigration is all about reducing numbers on a spreadsheet to meet an arbitrary cap or creating arbitrary political dividing lines and traps for opponents to fall into, the subjects of the legislation—the human beings at the center of it—are somehow invisible.

I am weary of a politics that creates and defines enemies in order to demonstrate potency but, frankly, it angers me to see politics do that at the expense of those who have the least power to change their own futures. All three Front Benches, I am afraid, are at it, including my own, scrabbling over the mantle of toughness, chasing opinion polls and, in some cases, wilfully whipping up fear and loathing in the process. It is staggeringly careless with lives and with community relationships that have been built up over a long time.

I am afraid that whatever the damage that is done by the detail of the Bill when, I dare say, it is ultimately passed, some of the worst damage has been done in our debate in the lead-up to it. The language with which this was brought forward is what really causes the damage in terms of community relations.

I remind hon. Members of the debate we had earlier about the Home Office vans. That is a case in point; it had almost no effect on the ground except to whip up real tension between communities. My constituency was one of those areas that was targeted by the vans.

It is worth remembering that, for a lot of vulnerable people who come here, it is very difficult to enter the country legally. Many of the legal routes have been closed down. Someone coming here and applying for asylum may have entered the country illegally and then claimed asylum. Understanding that is important, as is understanding some of the detail. I am in danger of speaking for too long and I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but we must understand that those who get caught up in this may be some of the most vulnerable people.

There is a great deal in the Bill that will have catastrophic consequences on the ground. In most cases, the problem that it seeks to fix has been poorly defined and the solutions ill thought through. All of it is incredibly rushed, a point made by a number of hon. Members. A number of my hon. Friends have also made the point about there being no pre-legislative scrutiny.

It seems to me that the detail has been negotiated by an exceptionally tight group of people within the Government, and very little time is being afforded to this House to consider it. One day on Report is extraordinary. The very small period of time between the Bill being published and Second Reading means that most of the briefings from relevant organisations came in yesterday afternoon as they have just begun to grapple with the detail of this Bill. There is a significant amount of detail and the devil will be in making sure that the detail is correct.

It is worth noting some of the increases in power that the Bill gives. There is an extension of removal powers and the application to family members—including British citizens, I should add, who are not excluded from the Bill. Those matters will be in secondary legislation and we have no way of properly scrutinising the extension of powers.

There is a significant extension of immigration officers’ powers to use reasonable force, despite the fact that whether the Border Agency previously used reasonable force has been a matter of constant dispute. It is completely within the culture of the Home Office, it seems, always to assume that force is the only way to manage any situation, which was precisely the culture within Government when I was negotiating the details around the ending of child detention.

We sought to try to change that so we did not always go to the maximum end of force in enforcement procedures to get a family to understand that they had exhausted the appeals process. I cannot see how an organisation so psychologically addicted to the use of such powers should properly be given more powers until it has learnt how to use the powers it already has well, and certainly until it has learnt from the work that has been done elsewhere within its vast structure to try to change the culture.

Staggering, too, are the proposals on bail for immigration detainees, which would effectively allow the Home Secretary repeatedly to issue removal directions in order to prevent an application for bail. No account would need to be taken of changes in circumstance, or of the health of the detainee or their family. There was an earlier intervention about criminal bail. I want to make the point that some of the detail of that intervention was not fair because, within criminal procedures, one automatically eventually comes up for bail, whereas within immigration detention there is no automatic right to have one’s bail application considered.

We detain more people than any other European country except Greece, and Greece only detains people for very short periods. We effectively operate indefinite detention. The UNHCR has made clear its profound concerns about UK policy on detention and made it clear that bail hearings ought to be automatic.

The removal of appeal rights was spoken about by the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). That effectively removes appeal rights for all areas of managed migration, an area that has traditionally had very high rates of success on appeal. Given the appalling nature of decision making in this area, it seems to be particularly absurd to remove appeal rights. It is also likely to result only in more claims under judicial review or under article 8, which the Government say they want to try to reduce. It seems utterly nonsensical.

It was perhaps the redefinition of article 8 that made me shudder particularly. It completely ignores the test around the best interests of children and ignores all case law in this area. No doubt this is a deliberate attempt to overrule case law, but certainly it flies in the face of our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

It ignores children under the age of seven—those children who have been here for fewer than seven years—and will of course apply not just to adults in terms of their right to family life with any of their children, but to unaccompanied migrants in decisions on their immigration cases. I find it very difficult to see how the courts are going to interpret this, but certainly it will have a chilling impact on the Home Office’s own decision making in this area.

I am rather frustrated that the careful work we did on the ending of child detention, on the culture within the Home Office and on how we treat families seems to have been completely cut across by this very political statement in the Bill. It also cuts across the Children and Families Bill, which is still making its way through the Lords as we speak.

Perhaps the most absurd proposal in the Bill is that on landlords’ checks. I have listened to some of the discussion on that and there is some naivety about the property market in London in terms of understanding what it means to try to rent a property and the difficulty of getting in there first. If there is any doubt whatever about someone’s immigration status, there is no way they can rent in my constituency. Many people find it difficult to prove their documentation.

The claim that this will all work well because a similar system involving employers has worked well flies in the face of our experience of the employers’ checking line, which often gives out inaccurate information resulting in people being unable to get or keep a job. It is extraordinary to propose a similar system that could affect someone’s right to live somewhere.

The catch-all term “illegal immigrants” is being used to describe the people who will be caught by the Bill. I remind the House that some of those people have no status because they are stuck in the black hole of the Home Office’s legacy system. Others might not quite have achieved the definition of “refugee” under the terms of the Geneva convention, yet cannot be returned to their own country because it is not safe to do so.

I would count people from Syria among those affected in that way, and I saw many people in that situation during the Iraq war. Unless people are on section 4 support, they will find themselves falling foul of many of the Bill’s provisions.

The NHS levy will apply to in-country applicants, some of whom will have been working here for many years. Some of my colleagues have said that they are prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on the Bill.

Personally, I am not prepared to do so. I see very little in it that is worthy of a Second Reading. In fact, it was extremely difficult to find anything in it that I could support or that I found well thought through. I shall vote against Second Reading this evening, and I encourage others who disagree with it to join me in the No Lobby, rather than just adding to the impression that we are all happy for a Bill as ill thought through as this to pass on to the statute book.”

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