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Queen’s Speech — Debate (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:08 pm on 9th May 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 5:08 pm, 9th May 2013

My Lords, when my noble friend opened this debate, he said from the Front Bench that he looked forward to working with candid friends throughout the House. I can assure him that we will be friendly and candid.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, in his homily at a service on Monday, said that,

“the right policy will always be guided by courage and generosity and not by appealing to fear or pessimism”.

I added to that list, as guides, sound information, logic and a clear head. I have also just added “not acerbic or polemic language”. That could be applied to any subject, but in fact the subject was migration, and he was speaking at the mass for migrants. Time and debate both in and outside Parliament will tell how the Bill is guided, and whether it appeals to fear and pessimism.

The components of the Bill are not wholly clear. In March, announcing the splitting up of the UKBA, the Home Secretary said that a Bill in this Session would address its “complicated legal framework”. That matter does not seem to have been discussed publicly but presumably will occupy us. If it is to be part of the Bill, what of the Immigration Services between now and the commencement of legislation—or is that an administrative matter?

There has been much discussion of restrictions on services and benefits for immigrants, where fear—as many noble Lords said—is too easily whipped up. The big question is whether it is the right thing to do. Another question is whether it is workable. I hope that, before the Government bring forward a Bill, they will undertake very full consultation with landlords who may be required to check the immigration status of tenants, with employers who are already required to check for possible irregular migrants—how realistic is it to give them further immigration responsibility, and how are confusion and discrimination to be avoided?—and with health professionals, who I am sure do not want to go down the road of, “We need to see your papers”, which would be comparable to, “We need to see your insurance” in the US. A framework Bill against a background of an arms race of rhetoric would not be the reminder that we need of the benefits that our country has gained and continues to gain from immigration.

We understand that the Bill will also deal with the deportation of those who have no legal basis to remain. We must be concerned about the impact of that on refugee and migrant children and families, including unaccompanied children and those trafficked into the UK. I echo the reference of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield to the wide impacts of the administration of the immigration system. This in part takes us back to the quality of decision-making. If legislation is to include what is currently within the immigration rules, in what position does that leave the thousands of other rules? I do not understand the need to upgrade.

I mentioned trafficking. I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister say bluntly the other day that trafficking is slavery, and announce his intention to involve himself closely with the issue. On that occasion he met a woman who had escaped domestic servitude—eventually. She was helped by the wonderful little charity Kalayaan, which reports the markedly worse treatment of those it encounters on the relatively new tied migrant domestic worker visa—tied, that is, to the employer. This must be an unintended consequence that we could address in the legislation.

Much of the impact of other rules introduced last year on family migration must have been unintended and unforeseen. I am at the moment involved in an all-party group looking at these rules, and we are working on our report. I will share two stories with your Lordships. The rules make new provision for bringing to the UK adult and elderly dependants. We heard from the BMA of a woman consultant in the NHS who was unsuccessful in her application to bring to the UK her elderly parents, for whom she wanted to care. She decided to move back to Singapore. Her sister, feeling that it was wrong that only one child should take on this responsibility, moved back with her, as did her brother-in-law. They, too, were consultant psychiatrists. This country lost three consultants in that one episode. One was a psychiatrist specialising in children with learning difficulties—a very specialised specialty, if I may put it that way. If all we are looking at is numbers, I suppose that was a double win.

We have also raised considerably the minimum income threshold and other financial requirements for applications to bring in a spouse or partner—with any children—who is a non-EEA national. We heard from a gentleman living in Swansea, an area of very low wages, who is earning an adequate wage for his area but well below the threshold. He has an autistic daughter, and he would like to bring his new wife to this country from Canada, but he is not able to do so because of the financial limits. That woman would help to care for the daughter, which would be a saving to the state, not a drain on it. We heard, too, of British children separated from a parent because of the tightness of the rules. I was particularly struck by hearing more and more of the understanding of the impact of separation on a child’s development, and the attachment disorders that may result.

We will address questions of attachment and identity when this House comes to the Children and Families Bill, to which my noble friend has referred, and the work of the Adoption Legislation Committee. There turned out to be both post and pre-legislative scrutiny. I was a member of that committee, and we will be debating that for the first time next week. I hope, too, that the Bill gives us an opportunity to consider modernising the birth registration system to reflect the diverse forms of family that we now have, and the right of children and adults to know their genetic origins as well as their legal parentage.

I had hoped that we would have some opportunity somewhere to address some aspects of drugs policy, if not wholesale reform—I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on that.

In the last Session, the Government acknowledged the role of the victim in rehabilitation of offenders—and therefore, of course, as we all know, the prevention of further offending in future—in legislating for restorative justice. That was very delicate, but welcome. The community trigger for communities on the receiving end of persistent anti-social behaviour will also be delicate. These things need sensitive handling, and there is a difficult line between early intervention and prevention and assumptions of guilt. The fairly new Chief Inspector of Constabulary at the HMIC recently spoke about the police needing to focus on crime prevention, which is something that we would all support. I hope that he did not mean crossing that delicate line when he said that resources would be needed to,

“know where the offenders are—those who are wearing tags and those who are just known”—

I emphasise those words—

“to be the most prolific and persistent and dangerous offenders in the community—and take them off the streets”.

I hope, for my part, that the Bill will extend the restorative justice approach, working with a young person, and with those affected by anti-social behaviour, addressing root causes and perhaps building on acceptable behaviour contracts developed by some local authorities.

Another difficult line is to know what a result is, when an organisation is paid by results. I congratulate the Government on their determination to cut reoffending by recent ex-prisoners, especially those on short sentences—or, to put it another way, to help them back into mainstream society. The Government know that this needs facilitating different, new, imaginative, risk-taking ways of doing things. When I was making notes for today, I decided that I was really too weary of the terms “innovation” and “radical”, which I think are becoming a bit devalued. To find a way to succeed, an organisation must be allowed to fail. The St Giles Trust is rightly held up as a model of this way of working. It is admirable and engages ex-offenders to work with its clients to very great effect.

Conversations between all who come within the very extensive umbrella of stakeholders—another overworked term—must be the right way to go about things. In the interests of time, I will not develop that thought in relation to terrorism and counterterrorism except to say that we would not have got where we did in Northern Ireland if we had not been prepared to talk directly to terrorists. I wonder whether we need the same leap of imagination and faith to take creative steps not just with the moderates in various communities where there is a danger of breeding home-grown terrorism but also with the bad guys.

Terrorism was mentioned in the gracious Speech in the context of foreign affairs and so, too, was my final topic—preventing sexual violence in conflicts worldwide. This matter is more than prevention; it is a case of responding to people’s needs and giving aid. I congratulate the Government, particularly the Foreign Secretary, on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. I very much hope that the Government will be able to use feedback on local capacity in conflict and post-conflict situations provided by those working on the initiative. We must not be yet another entourage of experts who come and go. We must build up lasting relationships as the way to achieve lasting change through working with local experts and local NGOs. After all, it is what we are trying to do at home with payment by results. NGOs in these situations often need very little payment to achieve very significant results.

At the migrants’ mass, Archbishop Nichols talked of very real pressures made sharper in hard economic times. That will be the focus of the Government, but I come back to his wise warning against appealing to fear and pessimism and his advocacy of the guides of generosity and courage.