UK Borders Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 11th October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 12:45 pm, 11th October 2007

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, reminded us that in the proceedings on the 2006 Act we persuaded the Government to accept an amendment which allowed them to repeal by order Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act. That was because, as the noble Earl has also said, there was almost universal opposition to this provision from churches, local authorities, professional bodies and voluntary organisations, which now includes the Refugee Children's Consortium, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the British Association of Social Workers, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and many others.

At that time, the Government said that a final decision on repeal would be taken when they had the results of the pilots, to which reference has been made. The clear inference was that, if the pilots failed—as they have, to universal acknowledgement—the power to repeal would then be used. But when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, responded to this amendment in Grand Committee, he said that it was an important part of the process—a "tool in the armoury", as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, reminded us. He went on to say, correctly, that that analogy might not be attractive to all those involved in the debate but that there might be many cases—he could not say how many; I shall come to that in a second—to which we must apply Section 9.

The Minister also complained in Grand Committee about the length of time that we took in raising these amendments. He said that he had heard most of the arguments before and declared that his mind had not shifted on the issue. I do not know what it would take to shift his mind when he is obviously out of step with the vast majority of informed opinion and with the normal principles of humanity and morality.

To pursue my noble friend's line of argument, the Minister probably would not like to see torture used against families who stubbornly refuse to co-operate in their removal. However, to our way of thinking, making people destitute and separating them from their children is a form of torture, and a particularly nasty one at that. If, as the Minister said, in the end we are talking about only one, two, three or four cases a year where, for reasons that he could not or would not explain, it is impossible to remove the families, as happens with the vast majority of those who refuse to co-operate, we simply cannot understand the Government's attitude.

Nor, as has been said, has the continued presence of Section 9 on the statute book achieved the objective of encouraging people to take up voluntary-assisted returns when their claims fail. We do not know whether any families have been removed under Section 9 since the end of December 2005, when the pilots came to an end, but inquiries that I have made seem to indicate that such removals have been in total abeyance. Therefore, the presence of the measure on the statute book for the past two years has not done anything towards improving the take-up rate of voluntary repatriation.

In any case, we share the views of the RCC that engaging, rather than punishing, families, as with the Hotham Mission asylum seeker project in Australia, is more likely to ensure that protection needs are met and that returns are safe and sustainable. In this model, which has been mentioned by my noble friend, when rights of appeal are exhausted, the role of the caseworker is to provide practical and emotional support for the family in considering their options and in planning their possible return. Such a model achieves a high level of voluntary repatriation, which demonstrates that preparing, supporting and empowering asylum seekers at the end of the process pays dividends.

It may interest the Minister to know that the Nepali failed asylum seeker, whom I mentioned in Committee on 18 July, departed voluntarily with his wife and child on 22 August, having been supported by his cousin for many months and with no help whatever from the IOM or the Government in meeting the cost of his fares, as I reported to Mr Byrne. The only contact that that family had with the immigration authorities was when Mr G had to report to them every single week. That put an additional financial burden on the family because he had to pay his own fares when travelling to Croydon and back home again; nor was any support or help offered by those in coming to their decision.

We continue to oppose Section 9, as we have done ever since it was first introduced, and we make no apology for demanding its repeal yet again. We deplore the use of family destitution as a means of enforcing immigration control, placing children's welfare, health and development at risk. We condemn the threat to separate children from their parents and families, and we deplore the uncertainty and confusion caused by the continuance of this obnoxious legislation. I appeal to your Lordships to sweep it into the dustbin, where it belongs.