Author Archives: Sally Hamwee

The Nasty and Brutish Bill

Not its formal title of course (that’s Nationality and Borders), but it better describes the anti-asylum seekers, refugees and victims of modern slavery bill that was passed last night.

I wrote on Lib Dem Voice in January in what now seem relatively moderate terms criticising the Bill which has been opposed by, among others, the UNHCR.  I won’t write an essay now, but I want to say how grateful we are to colleagues in the party for all that so many do, working and volunteering in the sector – and to share some of what happened at the last stages of what earlier today became an Act of Parliament.

The last vote called would have made it quite clear that the Bill / Act complies with the Refugee Convention. The amendment, considered necessary by some of the most senior lawyers in the land (and by Lord (Ken) Clark, who understood the duties of a Lord Chancellor), was moved by Shami Chakrabarti who was splendid.  The Labour front bench took the view that we were at the end of the road on the Bill, and while they supported the principle were not prepared to vote to support one of their own. But she did call a vote – if she hadn’t, we were geared up to do so.  It was defeated 157 to 212.

The 157 included 35 Labour peers (their group is 167 – the others who were here abstained); and 72 Liberal Democrats (out of 83). You can work out how the percentages compare.

The previous day a vote was called by a Bishop (and they don’t do these things lightly) on offshoring / outsourcing. 221 opponents defeated the 216 of us who supported it and who included 73 Lib Dems and 102 Labour.

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Sally Hamwee writes…Lib Dem Lords will do our best to fight Nationality and Borders Bill

Ministers quite often urge “professional curiosity”,  a probing, analytical approach, not a careless, unthoughtful, knee-jerk response.  They haven’t applied it to the Nationality and Borders Bill – that’s the Bill that creates deserving and undeserving asylum-seekers, allows the Home Secretary to make people stateless, and provides for pushing back small boats at sea. And more.

Professional (political) curiosity should also prompt questions from us all about how a Bill (whose 100 plus pages I would like to throw out almost wholesale) can have any appeal.  Have people had bad encounters with individual refugees? Unlikely. Is it fear of the “other”? We are a mongrel nation; I tick the “White Briton” box, but I often think about what recent immigrants my family were.  Is it insecurity about housing, jobs, the economy? Quite possibly – and that’s where government effort should go, along with taking a lead on integration and valuing refugees.  This Bill extends the hostile environment to one of aggressive hostility.

Nor is it trauma-informed, and won’t become so by asserting that this is what guides the Home Office.  That’s the very clear view of the many organisations who know that assessing an asylum seeker’s age is not a straightforward matter of science, but should be about safeguarding (there’s a lot in the Bill that’s very damaging to children).  And that someone who has been subject to appalling experiences at home and undertaken an almost unimaginable journey to the UK is not going to be able instantly to relate their story fully and cogently, or probably for a considerable time (if ever).

We are told the Bill is to break the business model of smugglers.  I thought that politicians who admire successful business people should understand that they find ways round obstacles. The Bill will strengthen their hold over asylum seekers; it plays into their business model.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes: Developing a distinctly liberal policy on immigration

If you follow the detailed development of party policy you may be aware that the deadline for written responses to the party’s current consultation papers passed yesterday although the online consultation remains open until 1pm on 12 April. As a member of the Immigration, Refugees and Identity working group I wanted to thank all of those who submitted such thorough responses to our own paper.

LDV has carried some articles about the paper and this seems a good moment to offer my own perspective on some of the criticisms that have emerged – which is by no means to dismiss comments or to attempt the final word, just another part of the process.

The group has taken evidence from a range of experts covering immigration law, the workings of the immigration system, refugees, integration and social cohesion, including attitudinal studies of those who have seen their communities evolve one way or another, due to demographic change. The approach that we have taken in the consultation paper has been informed by this.

We are seeking to develop a distinctively liberal policy on immigration, refugees and identity that is humane, treats people fairly and is effective. It is very clear to me – both from the evidence we have taken as well as any number of stories in the press over the past year and, most important, what I have heard direct from individuals and organisations working in the area – that the current system is failing on all three of these criteria.  The government actively promotes a “hostile environment”; that makes me ashamed. It is one thing to seek to establish a controlled immigration system, but quite another to set up a system which is widely perceived as xenophobic. The UK should be trying to build its reputation as open-minded, open-hearted and welcoming of migrants, for hard economic as well as simple human reasons.

One line of criticism that has come through blogs and the consultation is that the paper is not ambitious enough and is seeking only minor adjustments to existing policy. This is not how I see it: the central proposal in the introduction to the paper is that we should promote a liberal and humane attitude towards migration that will enable people more easily to come to the UK for work, to be with their families and for sanctuary. Reference to procedure is because the group wants a policy that makes the migration process much more efficient (I include accuracy in that), while making sure that this isn’t abused by people smugglers who would bring vulnerable people here illegally. 

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…How Lib Dem Lords are making the horrible Immigration Bill a little better

This is my third attempt at writing this piece. Events have been moving quickly on the Immigration Bill as the Government tries its hardest to push it through before the end of the session.

Last night the House of Lords got the Bill back from the Commons who discussed it the previous night.

The debate there concentrated on the amendment that would put into legislation the call for the UK to offer sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied child refugees who have already arrived in Europe.

Of course the Government does not need legislation to do this, but it seems the force of votes in Parliament is required.

That vote was defeated by a narrow majority in the Commons and it was left to us in the Lords yesterday to reinstate it, inflicting another heavy Government defeat. This gives the Commons – and those Tories who talk of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ – another chance to do the right thing.

Apart from this amendment we also won votes on putting a 28 day time limit on immigration detention of and restricting the detention of pregnant women. Detention should be imposed only in the most exceptional circumstances, and the calculation of the time limits gives too much wriggle room.  Safeguards were also inserted similar to those which apply to children which we insisted went into legislation during the Coalition Government.

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Immigration Bill – what’s happening this evening

Editor: Apologies – we have removed this post at Sally’s request and have been promised an update in the morning.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…Another win for humanitarians in the Lords

I bumped into the Lords Home Office minister immediately after one of the Government’s socking defeats on the Trade Union Bill, consoling himself that losing by 17 in the vote on an Immigration Bill amendment time-limiting immigration detention was almost a victory.

But the Government lost – we won!  The amendment was led by crossbencher Lord Ramsbotham, who was Chief Inspector of Prisons and so knows whereof he speaks, supported by the Labour and the Liberal Democrat front benches: 63% of our peers voted compared with 46% of Labour’s.  Of course it may not stick.  The Bill will go back to the Commons where the Government could ping it straight back to the Lords (parliamentary ping-pong), or propose a compromise or changes ranging from the substantive to the technical (or accept it unchanged – but that almost never happens), but it cannot be ignored.

There is much to be said about immigration detention and the conditions in immigration removal centres.  I will simply note the paradox which causes detainees so much despair: You have no hope, as you don’t know when you might be released, and at the same time you have no certainty as you might in fact be released tomorrow.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes..How Liberal Democrat Lords are trying to make the Immigration Bill less bad

The current Immigration Bill presents many challenges: one is its complexity, and another is sheer fury at the mind-set that it demonstrates on the part of the Government.  But every time I get angry, I remind myself that we must, we really must, do all we can to make it even a little bit less bad.

That means more self-discipline than, for me, comes naturally.  We will have far too little time for report stage in the Lords, which starts this week.  So we will have to be very focused.  It’s not just a matter of what we choose to discuss – we have to try to reach votes at times when we have the best chance of winning.  To that end, Brian Paddick and I have had several discussions with the Labour front-bench to agree a strategy.  Our irritation and sometimes sheer bemusement when Labour support us in debate but sit on their hands when it comes to a vote is well-known, but of course we are prepared to work with them if it means winning votes, and indeed make concessions as to how we approach issues if that means our opposition to the government is united.  And we are united in wanting crossbench peers to lead on amendments where possible as they may gain more traction than those of us with a party badge.

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Debating the refugee crisis of 1938

Parliament is in recess, an opportunity to reflect on the first stages in the Lords of the Immigration Bill. Brian Paddick and I tabled the majority of amendments from opponents of the Bill which most of us would frankly just like to see thrown out.

It doesn’t need legislation for the Government to agree to give refuge to 3000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have fled conflict and made it to Europe – obviously. Equally obviously, if Parliament is considering legislation on immigration, Parliamentarians will use the opportunity to put pressure on the Government.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…”Pesky Lib Dem” Lords win crucial civil liberties changes to Counter Terrorism Bill

David Pickett photo Scooby Doo gang PEsky LIbDems legoThey call it the heavy lifting, or – less physical, more forensic – using a fine-tooth comb.  The second chamber is where detailed and precise scrutiny of legislation occurs.  For Bills which raise vital questions about civil liberties, such as the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill this is all the more important.  It was therefore to the surprise of Lib Dems in the Lords that it was, aside from a misplaced attempt to reintroduce the so-called “Snooper’s Charter”, almost exclusively Lib Dem peers doing the heavy lifting .  At one point I passed a note to Brian Paddick and Sarah Ludford, the team with me on the entirety of it: A lot of people want to talk about the issues we’ve raised but they couldn’t be ****d (complete to taste) to write their own amendments.

Our concern, really to make sure that this sort of legislation is fit for purpose and balances the need to protect the public with precious civil liberties, is often derided.  It is important to get every dot and comma right.  It is therefore a badge of honour to be accused by Norman Tebbit of “dancing around on pins” or, in Michael Howard’s words, “the pesky Lib Dems”.

The Bill that came to the Lords was very different from when it was first trailed by the Prime Minister, speaking to the Australian Parliament about “excluding” people from the UK.  Lib Dems in Government ensured that such claims, made for electoral reasons, were not reflected in the legislation that was finally published.  This is not to say it came to the Lords in a perfect state and our work has ensured that checks and balances on the State have been increased.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…Localism and liberalism, urban and rural

You have to admire the energy and determination of Lucy Hurds and the Lib Dem team in Hereford and South Herefordshire. When I went to Hereford the other day, I found I was the most recent of a gaggle of peers and MPs (is that the right collective noun for Parliamentarians?) whom Lucy had persuaded to trek westwards.

Going to rural seats always reminds me how different it is campaigning in the countryside. In my neck of the woods, the challenges are from entry phones and gated developments (how does anyone ever get in, or – as happened to one colleague who did achieve that, get out?) In other parts of the city it’s tall and too often liftless blocks. Lucy whispered to me that two members to whom she introduced me delivered a village every week.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…Lords push for a stronger Modern Slavery Bill

Parliament is never short of Bills coming from the Home Office, but the Modern Slavery Bill is different.  At the end of the second reading in the Lords last week, the Minister pointed to the warm reception given by every speaker who followed this with seven minutes on all the things that could be added to it.  The view on the Lib Dem benches, like others, was to welcome the Bill both for what it is and for the opportunity it provides to do even more to address the abomination (and very big business – this is often highly profitable …

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“Annoying” behaviour – Baroness Sally Hamwee responds

On Wednesday the House of Lords debated the first part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. As has been reported , the main issue discussed concerned the definition that will be used in the new ‘Injunction to prevent anti-social behaviour’ of IPNAs that will replace ASBOs. The Government was proposing the IPNAs can be issued against behaviour that can reasonably be expected to cause ‘nuisance or annoyance’.

However, an amendment by Lord Dear proposed changing this test (except when it comes to social housing) likely to cause ‘harassment, alarm and distress’.

I know many Lib Dem Voice readers feel a …

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Result!

WhodoyouthinkyouarelogoIt is so satisfying when the Parliamentary process works well.  Last week it did for me, and more importantly for a group of people to whom the Children and Families Bill is now to extend new rights.

A few months ago, as a member of a select committee looking at how adoption legislation is operating, the chair and I were contacted about an anomaly in the law.  Adoption has become a much more open process over the years, and in 2002 most relative were given information rights (through an agency which both counsels and assists) – but not the descendants of people adopted before 1975.  This is not just a technicality.  The lady who has campaigned for a change to the law, including with an unsuccessful court case, discovered after her father’s death that he had been adopted, and things began to fall into place about his moods and his reticence as regards his parents and wider family.  The mix of her emotions included a real need to know more.

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