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Immigration Bill

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 5:03 pm, 13th October 2015

I declare an interest: like many other hon. Members, my mother is an immigrant, and one who, like many other immigrants in the UK, has given a lifetime’s service in the NHS.

It is as a lawyer I wish to speak in this debate, however, because I am concerned about the Bill’s attack on civil liberties, the removal of in-country appeals in human rights cases, the Bill’s lack of respect for the rule of law and due process and the shift from judicial to Executive control of the immigration bail system. The independent all-party law reform and human rights organisation Justice, of which I am a member, has prepared a detailed analysis of aspects of the Bill pertaining to the rule of law. I recommend that Members have a look at its full analysis of these matters. Justice has grave concerns about the legal aspects of the Bill, as does the SNP.

I wish to focus on three specific areas: the extension of the enforcement powers of immigration officers; the new immigration bail system and the extension of the “deport first, appeal later” rules to all human rights appeals. As has already been said about the powers of immigration officers, they are significantly extended by the Bill. This concerns me for a number of reasons. Immigration officers and also detainee custody officers, prison officers and prison custody officers are not part of the regular police force, and they are not trained to the same degree or supervised in the same way. The power granted to immigration officers to enter and search premises without a search warrant solely because they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person in a premises is in possession of a driving licence and is not lawfully resident in the UK is a significant and arguably disproportionate extension of their current powers. Given concerns about the ability of the Home Office accurately to identify who is and is not lawfully resident in the UK, there are obvious risks for both British citizens and legal migrants, as well as illegal migrants, that their rights to respect for their private and family life and indeed their home under article 8 of European convention on human rights will be breached.

Another matter that concerns me is the broadly defined category of documents that immigration officers and other officers are empowered to search. While the power of immigration officers to search and seize these documents has the safeguard that they must not seize documents that they have reason to believe are legally privileged, there is no such safeguard in connection with searches by detainee custody officers, prison officers and prison custody officers when they are looking for relevant nationality documents subject to seizure. That is a grave concern. I believe that before these powers are conferred en masse, the Government need to examine how existing powers are being used and should make the case before Parliament for each additional power that is being sought.

On the bail system, individuals previously granted temporary admission, release or release under restrictions will all be subject to immigration bail. The Secretary of State will be empowered to vary conditions. The Bill will bring many more people within the immigration bail regime, while simultaneously shifting control of bail and restrictions on liberty from the judiciary to the Executive. That will include a far-reaching power for the Home Secretary to place electronic monitoring and residence conditions on bail in all cases. A large number of asylum seekers previously granted temporary admission will now be seen exclusively through a prism of detention and bail, casting aspersions of illegitimacy and even criminality. Those affected are real people. I have constituents in Edinburgh South West who are asylum seekers. They are not criminals who should be subject to bail: they are refugees.

That brings me to the extension of the “deport first, appeal later” rule to all human rights appeals, not just those liable to deportation. It is important to be clear that this rule is being extended not just to illegal immigrants, but to all immigrants, including those who have been lawfully resident up until the Home Office rightly or wrongly refuses their applications. The appeals fact sheet issued by the Home Office makes it absolutely clear that this power will be used to separate families, including parents, from children. That cannot be right. Moreover, if people are “sent back to where they came from”—an emotive phrase—before they can raise their appeal, there will be very real practical and emotional difficulties for them in pursuing that appeal. Again, I urge hon. Members to look at Justice’s detailed analysis of the practical and emotional difficulties that immigrants sent back to where they came from will face in progressing their appeal.

I am conscious of the lack of time I have left. I was anxious to highlight the rule of law aspects of the Bill. For the reasons I have suggested and for other reasons to be advanced by my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party as the debate progresses, I urge Members to decline to give this Bill a Second Reading.