Immigration Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:22 pm on 10th February 2014.

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Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour 4:22 pm, 10th February 2014

I will perhaps bring a slightly different perspective to a debate that has raised a number of key issues thus far. I hope that we can, by an act of the imagination, put ourselves alongside the people who have either recently arrived here from other places or who find themselves here illegally. They are all people, whichever category they fall into. In my daily work I meet them in all sorts of conditions. My team and I, where we have judged it appropriate, have brought it to the attention of people who are here illegally that they are so and have helped them, largely with the help of the Refugee Council, to find an appropriate and humane way to go home. In other cases, we have worked very hard with people—who just do not understand the complexity of the process and cannot always find lawyers in whom they have trust—to pick their way one step at a time through the process. We have stood in court and given character testimony for others.

My finest story concerns someone who was here illegally but was pursuing the matter through the courts. While she was unable to have accommodation or financial support she was named volunteer of the year for the Borough of Islington for the work she did in our local school. She was also called for jury service. When she said to me, “Reverend, they have asked me to go on a jury, what should I do?”—she was here illegally—I said, “Go do it, girl. Go do it”.

The whole thing is so complex from the point of view of the people affected by it. Beyond those who fall into the categories that I have named thus far are all those people of recent arrival here who know someone or are related to someone in the darker side of these affairs and who are simply torn apart knowing how to act for the best, with loyalties of various kinds weighing heavily on them. If I can—and who am I to do it?—I want to speak as if I were the voice of those who live in this world, are affected by these decisions and are trying as best they can to find their way towards a proper solution of their problems.

In the Bill there are lots of things that will raise people’s fears and create the atmosphere of mistrust that has been referred to, such as the unnecessary checks on migrants seeking rented accommodation, for example. The noble Lord, Lord Best, is as well qualified as anyone in this House to talk about these matters. Other matters include taking out a bank account, driving a car, removing citizenship from naturalised citizens, or imposing charges for prospective use of the NHS. That is fair payment, says the Minister, and not a deterrent. But it does not always feel like that at the other end. The analysis is a fair one, but perception and feeling on the part of those affected by the decisions is a fair point to raise as well.

The Secretary of State’s ability to remove an individual from the United Kingdom before his appeal is heard is another one. The Minister mentioned how appropriate it is to remove citizenship from someone who has taken up arms against Britain. That is quite right. But at the moment I am dealing with a case of someone who took up arms for Britain. For the past 16 months, he has been in detention—having served several years, including in Afghanistan—seeking the right to remain in this country. The Minister talks about those who come illegally and undercut the local labour market. Again, that is quite right. But I am also dealing with those who exploit the illegal migrant to pay illegally low wages. There is a complex picture that must not be oversimplified. These are real lives lived on real streets by real people. I hope that we will keep that angle of view before us as we pursue the debates that will preoccupy us over the next several weeks.

I am the president of the Boys’ Brigade, a very noble and worthy young people’s movement. Last summer was the 50th anniversary of the Global Fellowship, which unites Boys’ Brigade movements around the world in many countries. We were going to have a jamboree at the headquarters in Hemel Hempstead and we had it in mind to have 150 or 200 people come from various places. But more than half of those we wanted to come were refused visas. Why? Because the boxes that were ticked as they applied for visas made it evident to those who had it in their power to grant the visas that they were not earning enough or secure enough in their places of work back home in these other countries. They thought that these people were really trying to slip into Britain to do all the dastardly things that we think these migrants are up to.

Similarly, I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Haiti. Four years ago, there was an earthquake there of terrible proportions. Working with a number of NGOs and other well minded bodies, I was desperate to bring to this country people who could give us eyewitness accounts and help the British public better understand the plight of the country they came from. Once again, we simply could not get the visas because the people we were inviting were agriculturalists being paid $150 a month. Back home that is secure enough, but here, it is suggested that they wanted to escape from $150 a month in order to earn a jolly sight more at our expense. These are the feelings that prevail on the ground by ordinary people in the communities where the problems and the proper needs of the nation that we are talking about are to be played and acted out.

I will say one last word to pick up a point made a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord King, about the convulsions in the world in which we live. I cannot think how, but I had in my hands a copy of the Daily Mailin my trade, confession is something that we believe in. There was a story splashed widely across its pages about the floods at the moment in the convulsed part of the world of the noble Lord, Lord King, and that we should be taking money our of the “bloated” DfID account to put into the relief we might offer the victims of floods across the land.

We must see a bigger picture that the one we are looking at now and congratulate the Government on maintaining the levels of support for overseas aid. It is by bringing better governance and more secure instruments of state to bear in poor and fragile countries that we will diminish the motivation for people to come out of their countries into other places. We must see the bigger picture.

It sounds like boasting when I talk about all the things I do, but my work on Haiti, under the aegis of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, includes bringing a delegation of Haitian parliamentarians here in the autumn, with the likelihood of them reciprocating. At the request of the Haitian Parliament, we seek to increase capacity for a parliamentary style of government in Haiti, which has not really known it: our Parliament with their Parliament. I promise Members of this House that the work we do of that kind, with its long-term outcomes, will benefit all of us who are preoccupied with the number of people who feel obliged to leave their native heath. I plead with your Lordships to keep the bigger picture in mind and feel the heart that beats in the communities affected by these proposals.