UK Borders Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 11 October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip 12:30, 11 October 2007

My Lords, from these Benches, I shall speak to Amendment No. 17, which is in the same group as Amendment No. 14. I remind the House that on 26 March we celebrated 200 years since the end of the slave trade and the work of people such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. We applauded our own humanity in restoring dignity to those people who had in slavery suffered in such a terrible way. We said, "What good people we were 200 years ago".

A few weeks ago, I was in Parliament Square when the statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled. He was there, and how we celebrated with him what had happened in South Africa because of his leadership and sacrifice. With the end of apartheid, dignity had been restored. We celebrated and applauded then, yet today we are asked to continue a measure that undermines not only the dignity but often the very survival of those who arrive in the United Kingdom. I am talking about Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act, which is affected by this Bill. As has been said, that Act withdraws all benefits from failed asylum applicants and their families. It was mentioned the other day that this legislation is in total breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 24 guarantees every child health provision, but that is to be withdrawn. Article 26 gives every child a right to social security, but that is breached. Article 28 on education is breached, and there are other breaches as well. If we are to support all the obligations and opportunities of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we must vote for these amendments.

There were three trial areas, involving 116 families and 219 children. Every local authority involved said that the trial was impossible because it was in contravention of the children Acts that support and defend children. We had a glimmer of light—I thought that it would be more than a glimmer—when the three pilot areas were withdrawn. That was an admission that they failed. Where Section 9 had been tried, it failed. We read in the evaluation report that families went into hiding rather than be deported to their countries of origin. I mentioned the other day the countries to which they would be deported. Pakistan might be okay. Then there were Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Iran. The largest number of applicants came from those countries. This proposal tries to force people back into those troubled areas. That is totally immoral. Little wonder that families go into hiding.

The provision tries to force people to leave by the cruellest of methods. The physical consequences such as food, shelter, health and benefits being withdrawn have already been mentioned. There is also the psychological damage. Imagine that you are a child in this darkest of situations. The Government say, "We recognise that, and we might get a new caseworker project going". There is the Hotham project in Australia, and such projects must be encouraged. At the moment, the Bill is the legislation of the bully and is totally unworthy of a place in our legislation. Is there any other Act the consequences of which are destitution?

Over the years, we have tried to withdraw from that. We have listened to various political statements and policies, and we have tried to lift children and families to new levels of hope and prosperity. But Section 9 does completely the opposite. Some say that this is a political argument. It is more than that; it is one of the great moral arguments of our time. Are we going to support legislation whose end is destitution?

Slavery was wrong and it was abolished. Apartheid was wrong and it was abolished. This section also is wrong and the Government must today, or possibly at Third Reading, come back with a proposal that removes this prospect of destitution from our statute book. The Government might say "Yes, it is there, but it will never be used—it is just a final deterrent". We might as well say, "Let's keep slavery, in case it is needed some day; let's keep apartheid in case it is needed some day". As those were wrong, so this is wrong. Section 9 is a scar, an ugly blemish, on the legislation of the United Kingdom. I suggest that today we put it finally to rest.

I know that my Benches will support this amendment and, unless the Minister gives us an assurance, we intend to test the feeling of the House and put the amendment to the vote at the end of this debate. It is not the time for anyone to sit on their hands. You cannot be a spectator. You must say either that we are for this sort of destitution clause or that we are against it. I say to those who up until now thought that they could just look on, can you really look on when you see children and others forced into this terrible state of destitution? I passionately urge noble Lords to support these amendments and to remove this blot from the statute book of the United Kingdom.