Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:55 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 7:55 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Scriven will forgive me if I simply congratulate him on his marriage and move swiftly on.

One litmus test of public concern is a storyline in “The Archers”. Other noble Lords may be aware that Adam Macy is worried about engaging strawberry pickers in the future and the administration involved if there is a seasonal worker scheme. The Federation of Small Businesses has asked for, to use their term, an employer-responsive immigration policy. That is a widespread demand or plea. I urge the Government to consult widely not only on their immigration policy following Brexit—the Minister referred to consultation—but on processes.

With regard to EU citizens, the Leader of the House yesterday promised,

“a streamlined and high-quality service”.—[Official Report, 26/6/17; col. 190.]

Currently, our processes and services do not meet that description; they are very expensive, by way of fees, to boot. I suspect that this is in large part because of the huge overload on Home Office staff. I believe that, because of the demands of Brexit, no additional staff are heading the Home Office’s way.

It would be logical, too, to take the opportunity to simplify our immigration law. Who in the Chamber is confident of finding their way round the non-statutory Immigration Rules, which change so frequently and, if they were printed out in hard copy—which generally they are not—I suspect might be about the size of all the Harry Potter books in aggregate?

What was never logical was the aspiration—or ambition or policy or whatever it was—to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, so I welcome that this has slipped off the agenda. David Davis now talks about “sustainable levels”. I noted that the Minister used this phrase herself this afternoon. What are the criteria for sustainability? We know the role played by immigrants in sustaining our economy, our NHS and our care services—one could go on—and, of course, that many do not feel valued in the current situation.

Our regard for people is reflected in our language. My noble friend Lord Paddick referred to the Home Office’s use of the words “hostile environment”—do they ever blush when they use them? I shall say a word about language and Refugee Action’s campaign Let Refugees Learn, a campaign to improve language provision to refugees. Being able to understand and make oneself understood is fundamental to integration. A young woman from the DRC has said:

“One thing I’ve realised, when you can’t talk to people, it’s really very hard. They smile but can’t talk to you and you can’t talk to them”.

There are English language classes with waiting lists of two years and close to 1,000 people, reductions in learning hours and the doubling of class sizes. Teaching English should be regarded as an investment in the often highly skilled and highly motivated people who seek asylum here. Words are our tools, so we should understand the need.

It is frustrating not to be able to respond to so many points made this afternoon. I simply wonder aloud whether other noble Lords had the experience that I did of being lobbied extremely hard during the election—in our constituency headquarters while trying to match a deliverer with a delivery round which was convenient to him and also sort out a whole load of canvas cards—about the incorporation of the Serious Fraud Office into the NCA. The constituent who was lobbying me was rather surprised that I knew anything about the subject at all, but he lobbied me at length.

I have one last thought on how we describe things. Human rights do not “get in the way” of dealing with the issues that I and other noble Lords have discussed this afternoon. They are what we are about, and human rights and the rule of law must be one of the building bricks of our post-Brexit policy.