Immigration Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:47 pm on 22nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:47 pm, 22nd December 2015

My Lords, before I get on to the Bill I start by paying tribute to the Minister, for whom I have the utmost respect. I genuinely wish him a merry Christmas and a happy new year—but this Bill really is appalling. To contrast the nature of the Bill with the character of the Minister, if I may use a corrupted 1970s cliché, “What’s a nice bloke like the Minister doing with a Bill like this?”.

Let me say clearly and unequivocally at the outset that Liberal Democrats support proper immigration control. The big question is: is the Bill the way to do it? In his opening remarks, the Minister talked about the Bill having the interests of the country as a whole at heart, but what interests are they? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about the fact that there has been no White Paper since 2002, so what is the strategy? The Minister said that employment had never been higher in the UK and referred to a significant reduction in youth unemployment. At the weekend, the Irish Europe Minister gave some very interesting statistics. Apparently, 8% of workers in the UK are from overseas, which is the average for the European Union as a whole, but in Ireland it is 11%. So what problem is the Bill trying to address?

As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked, what in hard numbers is expected to be achieved by the Bill? As my noble friend Lord Teverson said, the Government do not appear to have done the market research or the numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked why we do not make what we have already work before we introduce yet more complex legislation. My noble friend Lady Hamwee said that there was little positive in the Bill; I am probably more of the same school as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who described it as a shocking Bill.

My real concern is about unintended consequences. My noble friend Lady Sheehan quoted the president of the National Black Police Association regarding the negative impact of the Bill on what is already a hostile environment in this country towards black and minority ethnic people in general, and migrants in particular, as evidenced by recent hate crime figures. The Bill will do nothing to alleviate this with its increased stop, search and seizure powers. The effect on existing discrimination against BME renters and job applicants is that it is likely to be made worse. This takes me back to my days as a police constable over 30 years ago, when a common reason for detaining somebody who was black was because they were a suspected overstayer. The police decided to move away from immigration enforcement on the grounds of improving community relations. As the Race Equality Foundation briefing says, there is the potential in the Bill to set us back 30 years in race relations, although I would not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, on that point.

To get down to specific issues, starving asylum seekers who have reached the end of the road with their asylum applications is not something that this country should be doing. The noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Alton of Liverpool, made strong points on this. It is misconceived and it has been tried before. There was a trial of Section 9 of the asylum and immigration Act of 2004, which removed all support from those who had run out of road, and 39% of those families disappeared compared with 21% of those who continued to get support. During the pilot, only one family from which support had been removed was successfully removed, while nine in the control group were successfully removed. It is not just inhumane; it just does not work, and the evidence is there to show that. In any event, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, has pointed out, if the Government want to start these people into submission, the British people will not allow the Government to do it. As he said, the Red Cross has helped 10,000 asylum seekers in the past 12 months.

As far as the right to rent is concerned, the Liberal Democrats reluctantly agreed in the coalition to conduct a pilot scheme on it, in the belief that the evaluation of that pilot would show that it was not worth pursuing. The Government have made much of the fact that there has been a pilot, but the actual number of black renters who were interviewed is in the 30s, so fewer than 40 people were questioned about whether they felt discriminated against as a consequence. The majority of those in the evaluation were white, which is not where we expect the problem to come from with this right to rent provision. The issue is discrimination against black and minority ethnic people, as a number of noble Lords have already said.

As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, there are serious issues that are not being addressed in the Bill. We have heard today about the crisis of those fleeing conflicts in the continent of Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere who are currently in Europe—1 million in the last 12 months. As my noble friend said, the establishment of safe routes for those people seeking refuge is not addressed. Family reunion is not addressed. Even Syrian and Afghan families who are already settled in the UK are not being allowed to take in family members who are currently stranded in Europe.

There is nothing in the Bill about the unlimited administrative detention of migrants, at the cost of £40,000 per detainee per year. Although I note the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, surely there must at least be judicial involvement in these cases after 28 days—convicted foreign criminals are of course a separate issue. The right of asylum seekers to work where there is no decision after six months will clearly reduce the burden on the public purse, and surely we are more likely to be able to keep tabs on these people if they have social ties than if they do not. Other noble Lords covered many issues with which I agree.

Like my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I am very grateful for the government briefing on the Bill, although it throws up a number of questions which highlight the fact that the Bill is ill conceived and clearly has not been thought through. I will give a few examples. The Secretary of State has the power to order asylum seekers to move from one local authority to another. Can the Minister assure the House about the safeguards that will be in place to ensure that transfers do not take place for some party-political reason? The current Government will not do that, of course, but who is to say that future Governments might not try to transfer people from one part of the country to another for party-political purposes?

This Conservative Government is apparently very concerned about national sovereignty in the face of decisions made by the EU, but, under the Bill, Council of Europe travel bans are to take effect in the UK automatically, without the need for secondary legislation. Does the Minister not see the contradiction?

As far as skills shortages in this country are concerned, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire highlighted, the Bill will introduce a new immigration skills charge, which will apply to employers sponsoring non-EEA nationals who come to the UK under tier 2 of the points-based system. Which employers will this apply to and what amount will be set following consultation? Will we know these details before the end of our deliberations in this House, or does the Minister want the House to write the Government a blank cheque?

As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire also pointed out, the Bill changes the Government’s fee-raising powers in respect of civil registration, including that of births, marriages, deaths and passports. The reasons given in the government briefing include to allow such services to be “self-sufficient”, which is fair enough, and to have passport fees that,

“better reflect the costs incurred”,

for example the costs of processing “complex applications”. That is also fair enough. But then it says,

“to allow some passport fees to be set at above cost”.

Can the Minister tell the House which type of passport applications they intend to make a profit out of?

On the no-courts eviction process, the government briefing says that a tenant can challenge the Home Office decision to give notice administratively by contacting the Home Office or by applying to the High Court for judicial review. Does the Minister honestly believe that these are sufficient safeguards against families with children being thrown out onto the street?

It has been suggested that we on these Benches are out of touch with public opinion. We as Liberal Democrats do not subscribe to the Donald Trump school of populist politics. We will stand up for what we believe is right.