My Lords, I am happy to declare an interest in this debate as the Bishop of Leicester, a city whose character, economy, culture and vibrancy have all been immensely enhanced by waves of immigration over the last 40 years. At last year’s 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Ugandan Asians expelled from east Africa by Idi Amin, we were reminded of an advertisement placed by Leicester City Council in 1973. It read:
“In your own interests and those of your family you should accept the advice of the Uganda Resettlement Board and not come to Leicester”.
It led to a headline in the Leicester Mercury: “No room here”. It is a reminder that general anxiety about immigration and the fears of politicians about public opinion on this matter are not new.
Thankfully, the Ugandan Asians ignored that advice and the city has become a beacon of good practice in which several thousand persecuted people were enabled to establish themselves in a short time without becoming any drain on public resources. The Ugandan Asians set an historic example to many other minorities who have followed and established a vibrant international network which has immensely benefited our city and our country.
We recognise that it is in the interest of the United Kingdom as a nation, and indeed it is right and proper, to control movement across borders. We recognise the rights to sovereignty of nation states and, as
Christians, see the roots of this in the biblical record and the Judaeo-Christian tradition. However, this tradition also recognises clear obligations on the part of the nation state to all those who are within its borders. Many Christians would go further than this and affirm a positive duty of welcome to the stranger, recognising that, if justice is to be done, it must allow for the variety of needs and claims which people coming to the United Kingdom may present, not least in the circumstances associated with human trafficking, exploitation or domestic abuse. The needs of those vulnerable to these and other forms of oppression and deprivation will always be high in the priorities of this Bench.
On these two principles, I base a number of brief concerns about the Bill. First, Part 1 has wide-ranging implications for the safety and welfare of the thousands of children referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Government have said that the Bill is designed to encourage people who do not have a legal right to be in the United Kingdom to go home. However, we know that, for many children, returning home is not an option. There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented children living in the UK; the majority were born here and many will have spent their formative years in this country. This is the only home they know and they will have no lasting links or support networks in their parents’ country of origin. Many of these children will already be at risk of destitution and social exclusion. It seems clear that the environment for undocumented migrant children in the United Kingdom, and their ability to have their legal claims to remain considered fairly, will substantially deteriorate.
Secondly, I want to touch on Part 2 of the Bill in relation to appeals. The range of grounds for appeal which the courts are permitted to consider are reduced dramatically here, as courts can no longer consider whether a decision was wrong, contrary to domestic law or regulations, or discriminatory. Those unhappy with an immigration decision will have recourse to an administrative review within the Home Office. However, the scope for lodging an appeal to prevent removal is narrowed severely in the Bill, and it is very rarely practicable for a person to pursue an appeal from abroad following removal. Indeed, the restrictions that the Government are placing on legal aid and on judicial reviews elsewhere are likely to work together with the measures in this Bill to severely limit access to justice. The sheer number of current appeals may lead to a feeling that this flood must be stemmed, but the remarkably high success rate of appeals surely puts paid to any suspicion that they are generally unfounded.
Thirdly, the Bill raises a question about the administrative process and its present effectiveness. The Home Office’s figures show that 49% of managed migration appeals, 50% of entry clearance appeals and 32% of appeals against deportation are allowed. The decision-making process within the Home Office clearly does not stand up to scrutiny. Can we be at all confident that an internal review system will serve the cause of justice as well as an independent appeal mechanism?
Further, there are serious concerns generally about access to services. The Bill draws new boundaries in terms of access to a home, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences. Migrant children and young people are an especially vulnerable group in relation to healthcare. The experience of torture, violence, exploitation and abuse that many children will have suffered will have been exacerbated by disrupted healthcare systems, passage through refugee camps or other experiences leading to long and painful journeys to the United Kingdom. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government propose to protect vulnerable, undocumented migrant children from new National Health Service charges, which they would be unable to pay and which could well dissuade them from seeking vital services?
Those concerns intensify the impression that asylum seekers, especially those who are undocumented but cannot be removed from the United Kingdom, will become an excluded group in an increasingly twilight world. The impact of all this is to contribute to a society that is divided into a country within a country, where those within the scope of civic entitlement are divided from those who are excluded from it, with social exclusion institutionalised in law. The Bill appears not just to police a border around our country but to erect many new boundaries within our society.
Finally, I want to speak about the provisions in Part 4 relating to marriage and civil partnership. We recognise that the strategic intention of this part of the Bill is to prevent the use of “sham marriage” to enable people to gain immigration status while circumventing the proper criteria. This is bound to create some conflict of principle for those of us who are Anglicans. The church, of course, wishes to offer the sacrament of marriage, reflecting the generous grace of God, and not to raise barriers on the basis of nationality. On the other hand, we are acutely aware of the dangers of sham marriage, including harm to individuals and to the very institution of marriage. We cannot know for certain the level of sham marriages presently taking place in churches, although there is some evidence that the bishops’ guidelines issued in 2011 have considerably improved the situation. There is no official Church of England position on this matter. Officials have worked with the Government to design processes which might work in law and in practice if the aims and general approach of the clause are accepted. However, it leaves open the question of whether this change is necessary or desirable.
There is genuine concern here that relationships between British residents and non-EAA nationals are now to be seen through a prism of mistrust which sends a dangerous message about mixed relationships in a diverse and multiethnic society. The Government’s impact statement claims that 2,500 removals from the UK will be generated in the first year by this provision alone. This will doubtless cause a large amount of stress, pain and anxiety to many genuine couples. It will also undoubtedly mean that the Government seek to remove and separate engaged couples whose marital plans are sincere. Even for those who do not face removal from the country at the end of the investigation process, it will be a stressful experience. A moment which should be a happy and fulfilling time in any person’s life has the potential to turn into a period of intense stress and pain.
We on this Bench recognise that illegal immigration is in the interests neither of social cohesion nor of those many migrants who make such an outstanding contribution to this country. However, we also recognise that there is a balance of social goods to be weighed. Many of the provisions in this Bill run the risk of generating serious concern, anxiety and tension among our diverse migrant communities. That may play well in parts of the press, but it will not be in the long-term interests of social cohesion in cities such as my own. In a global world where the drivers of migration are constantly strengthened, we need to ensure that this Bill does not erode our reputation for being a just and welcoming society upon which the prosperity and well-being of all citizens of this country depend.