Report (1st Day)

Part of Immigration Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench 6:45 pm, 1st April 2014

My Lords, I apologise to the House for not having spoken before on this Bill. I will be brief. I have put my name to this amendment and want to talk about fairness.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned, we had an excellent debate on immigration last week in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Much of that debate was full of individual cases. Someone afterwards said that it was a sad debate because of the frustration felt on all sides of the House for those they knew or knew of who suffered difficulties or injustices as a result of the immigration system or regulations as they currently stand, or as likely from mistakes being made. The large proportion of appeals that succeed is testament to that.

Those who work in the area of our domestic legal process, which has developed over centuries, understand well that the system is not perfect, that it can be improved, that mistakes are made and, more than that, that significant safeguards need to be built in that are, crucially, an open aspect of the system. As a society, we are by and large grown-up and realistic enough to accept that. Surely those principles that currently exist in relation to immigration appeals and have now stood for more than four decades should in the same way be, at the very least, preserved and protected. The Government may baulk at the openness of the tribunal system when so many mistakes are clearly revealed to the public, but if the process is taken back in-house—as it were—as an administrative review, we will lose that openness, independence and accountability that we currently have, as my noble friend Lord Pannick said.

The Government wish to replace the current system with one that will be more complicated and inefficient. In addition to limiting the process, it will fragment it and be desperately unfair for the person concerned because that person would quite rightly—this should be a democratic right—want to hear the entirety of their case presented at a tribunal. I can understand the desire of the Government here. They are under considerable pressure to get immigration right, get a grip on it and put an authoritative stamp on it. However, if that is a spurious authority, which, through lack of independence, institutionalises mistakes—that is what will happen—it will be worthless. Whatever good intentions the Government may have, Clause 15 remains on Report a threat to our fundamental notions of fairness in this country. There is a world of difference between aiming for a perfect system, which is laudable, and attempting to construct in the here and now a system that assumes perfection. If we so significantly limit the right of appeal to tribunals, we will surely set off down the latter, dangerous and misguided, road.