Why We Should Oppose The Immigration Bill: Lord Roberts’ Speech

It has been a heart-warming month. We saw refugees from Syria being welcomed to the Isle of Bute, and I am proud of some Canadian connections when we hear that Justin Trudeau promised that Canada, under its new Liberal Government, will welcome 25,000 refugees by the end of February. Last week when the first plane arrived in Toronto, the call went out: “Please do not go to the airport: too many people are already there welcoming the refugees”. I only wish that our country had a similar feel.

I know that there are some people who will oppose this. Indeed, some even opposed Welsh people coming to London and opening dairies 100 years ago. However, most people are compassionate and kind, yet this Bill flies against all that compassion and kindness.One of the provisions of the Bill is the “deport now, appeal later” system. What will happen then? What percentage of those who appeal now have their appeals accepted? Is it 30% or 50%? Some say that it is 70%. That will not be possible with this measure. It will overturn the judicial appeals process of our country: “Go abroad and we will forget all about you”.

This could have been such a good Bill. It could have provided the right to work after six months instead of after 12 months. It could have provided an end to the deportation of 18 year-olds who may have come here as unaccompanied children. We have heard stories of how they have been cared for, but then all of a sudden, they must go. Some 225 such deportations have taken place in the past year, and in more than half of them resisted deportation. I have heard some stories about Afghan lads. One even constructed a noose over his bed in case the UKBA came for him when he reached 18 years of age. Others have pushed wardrobes up against their doors. We are not treating these people like human beings, but they are just like you and just like me.

There is so much that the Government have proposed in the past, such as the Detained Fast Track procedure, which was struck down by the High Court this year and then again by the Court of Appeal. The Immigration Bill is being used as a tool which the Government can use to bypass judicial oversight. We have already heard how the United Kingdom is different from its European neighbours not to have a time limit on the detention of immigrants. In France the maximum period is 32 days, while in Belgium it is two months. In the UK our unlimited detention laws mean that in 2013 some 400 immigrants were detained for more than six months. It is a medieval system, one that a dictator would really rejoice in, but we are not like that. We are humane people with a record for showing compassion.

Some things need to be taken out of this Bill. Studies by Detention Action and the British Red Cross have recorded the impact on mental health and well-being of those being indefinitely detained. The cost of mental health treatment for those struggling with the experience of indefinite detention is astronomical. This Bill represents a timely opportunity to bring our laws into this century and in line with our European counterparts. If an amendment is brought forward for a possible maximum period of 28 days, I will be more than happy to support it.

We also have the threat that all payments and benefits will be removed if an asylum appeal fails. It is £36.95 a week, paid to many on the Azure card which greatly limits where and how the money can be spent. It does not cover travel, . It would be much better to provide the money in the form of a cash benefit. The effective removal of Section 4 support is brutal. The Government say that it will encourage asylum seekers to return to their home countries—where they face death, starvation, or becoming the victims of extreme terrorism. For that £36, we are saying, “We want you to go”. The whole thing is ludicrous.

Put simply, this Immigration Bill achieves the Home Secretary’s aim of creating a hostile environment for innocent immigrants. It lacks compassion and empathy, which we in our country have been so proud of in the past. We could emulate Canada, so that instead of taking in 20,000 people over five years, we could take 25,000 in two months. We could certainly be far more generous. The Bill will increase the number of families in penniless destitution. Moreover—I do not think that enough has been made of this—it is in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 3 of the convention states:

“The best interests of the child must be the primary consideration”.

The child will be destitute and penniless not because of anything he has done, but because he is a member of a family who are to be deported. . The child is going to be victimised in this way. The Bill also breaches Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, as well as Supreme Court rulings made in 2013.

The sight of refugee families, including children and old people, trudging hundreds of miles in search of some hope which they are being denied in Syria or wherever it might be, should move us. We could provide that hope, but we will have to look very seriously at this Bill to do that.