Author Archives: Suzanne Fletcher

Liberal Tradition in Honiton

Who says that Honiton does not have a Liberal tradition? Admittedly it is going back a bit to the 18th century but Honiton did have a radical and liberal leaning MP then, Stockton born Brass Crosby.

It was in the days of Rotten Boroughs, so you may say nothing to be proud of there, but that was the system that there was then, and to his credit, he was part of a group of leading City of London politicians that were calling for constitutional reform that included ending Rotten Boroughs. In 100 years’ time it could be said that politicians of today had no mandate from the people as they were elected under the undemocratic first past the post.

This is an extract from the book I wrote, “Bold as Brass?” helpfully published by Christine Headley after reading about him in an LDV post!

A number of radical Whig Aldermen who were passionate about preventing the erosion ofrights and liberties of citizens stood in parliamentary elections. These were times of “Rotten Boroughs” and in 1768 he became the MP for Honiton “a small town in Devon with a comparatively liberal franchise”,37 which he continued to represent until the dissolution in September 1774.38 After the founding of the Campaign for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, there were anti-slavery meetings and petitions in Exeter and many Devon towns including Honiton. Joseph Sturge, a successful businessman there founded the British and Foreign Anti Slavery Society in 1839, the forerunner of today’s Anti Slavery International (ASI) which recently campaigned successfully for the Modern Slavery Act.So it appears that over two centuries ago Honitonians not only campaigned against the British slave trade but were also involved in the campaign to end slavery throughout the world.39 There is no record of Brass Crosby ever actually visiting the town, as was common in the rotten boroughs of the day. A visit to local libraries and reference archives shows no
information of the happenings in Parliament other than regurgitating what the London press was saying about the events. The only other reference to Honiton and Parliament that has turned up is that the lace-making town sent a lace jabot to Bernard Weatherill when he was Speaker of the House of Commons.

37 Brown, Alba Theodore Grant, 1933. Half Lights on Chelsfield Court Lodge, Liverpool.
38 http://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1754-1790/constituencies/honiton
39 Midweek Herald, Honiton, 5 May 2017. Honiton history: What has the slave trade to do with us?

Brass Crosby’s actions are those that we Liberals should be proud of.

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Yes, there are alternatives

I doubt if there are any descriptions and expletives not used about the Rwanda offshore processing scheme. The scheme in which Priti Patel wants to pack off asylum seekers arriving here by unorthodox means.

You can see the Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary response to the proposal here: OFF SHORING PROCESSING OF ASYLUM SEEKERS IN RWANDA – STATEMENT FROM LD4SoS.

She is demanding to know alternatives, and yes there are. They are firmly embedded in Lib Dem policy.

The obvious one, most talked about, is Safe Routes for Refugees.  This has been mooted by Lib Dems since we first made the policy in 2015, and is as true as well as needed even more than it was in September 2015.  It has been in every manifesto commitment since.

However, more than that is needed.  Lib Dems have another policy, DECISION MAKING ON ASYLUM APPLICATIONS (pdf), saying that:

Liberal Democrats will review and reform all aspects of current asylum rules and operations that offend basic measures of fairness and justice. In particular, we would seek to change the culture of disbelief that affects all people applying for asylum. The Home Office is not fit for purpose and needs radical reform. The political influence must be taken out of decision making.

This is a radical departure from the present system, having respect, dignity and fairness at its heart.

It will cost more at first, with better trained staff, but decisions would be fairer and quicker.  It will be more accurate for the first time, so not so many appeals needed.  Appeals are not only traumatic for those making them, but cost the Ministry of Justice money, and 40% of them are won.  How much better for all if they get the decision right first time!

It would also be a system that took into account the different situations such as family reunion, unaccompanied children, victims of torture and rape, mental and physical health, and LGBT people.

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Showing understanding, welcome and humanity – The Windermere Children

I was moved to tears watching “The Windermere Children” on TV this week.

It told the story of how, in 1945, our government took in 700 traumatised children from the camps in Germany and Poland. They had witnessed scenes more harrowing than we can imagine, almost certainly lost all of their family, killed by the Nazis.

300 of them were taken to a place near to Lake Windermere, and I saw how gradually they began to understand that they were free, were not going to be taken away, that they were loved, welcomed and treated with respect.

All the way through they were treated with dignity. Trauma was understood and taken account of. Time was given for them to express what had happened in their own way. Any wrong doing was not punished in way usual for those times, but with understanding and in a way that they understood what was wrong. The love and welcome were consistent.

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Human rights campaigning wins in Ireland in the end

At the All Party Parliamentary Group for refugees Nick Henderson from the Irish Refugee Council told us about the “Direct Provision” Accommodation Centres in the Irish Republic.

Asylum Seekers live in these privately run Accommodation Centres whilst their case is being assessed.  They were originally meant for short stays when started in 2001, but are now used for much longer one’s and the median stay is 27 months.  Around 7,000 people are currently housed like this.

Those housed there have little privacy, no cooking facilities, and they are excluded from any community life.  Nearly 2,000 are sharing bedrooms with people they are not related to.  Guardians who manage it appear to have oversight of children from families in there, which causes a lot of problems for the future as well as present.

The Centres are very expensive to run and there has been a lot of opposition to them from Human Rights groups since they were started in 2001.  The system could not be amended to be done better, but needed to be replaced.  One woman said that dignity, independence and freedom had been taken from her and her children had lost their self-confidence.

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Let’s raise a glass this Christmas

It looks like Christmas is not going to be the same at all, and pretty miserable for many who are usually with family and friends but this year cannot be.  There are many in that position that often get invited to someone else’s house for the day, go along to a community meal, as well of course, those that are just on their own.

So I thought of how we could encourage some cheer into an otherwise lonely day.

Why not “raise a glass”, at say midday on Christmas Day.

My ideas is that people go outside, just like they did when it was “clap for the NHS” and raise a glass of whatever to each other.  It can be non-alcoholic, of course, to ensure that all are included, and I am not sure what term to use, but “all who look after us”.  This is more than NHS workers at every level, but carers, emergency services, police, delivery drivers, shop workers, public transport, food bank workers, postal services, etc.

For those who are not able to go outside, even for the minute, maybe the braver souls could walk along and go outside their window and raise a glass to them.  If it was going to be at a fixed time, then the person inside would know to be there ready.

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Food for thought on “the brightest and the best”

In the Guardian letters columns recently, there were good letters from Michael Meadowcroft, Mike Cashman, Malcolm Pim, and Guri Singh on the new points based system for migrants.

All expressed views on those that the Government is saying it would welcome, such as doctors and highly skilled people, but however making points that we do need to think about encouraging them to leave countries where their skills are needed.

Another issue is that we have many asylum seekers in the UK, who are not welcome in their own countries, to put it mildly, and have fled here for sanctuary and safety. …

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Bells are set to toll in the UK on Friday but a silent flame can send a gentler message


Candle flame by Shan Sheehan
This is a message for all, including those who voted for Brexit.

I live in the hope that all can agree with the following sentiments.

We have greatly different views on how they can be achieved, but can we all join in, in lighting a candle ( a safe one!) on the evening of January 31st?

Bobby McDonagh is a former Irish ambassador to London, Rome and Brussels. In an article in Monday’s Irish Times, he suggests lighting a candle in homes, churches – anywhere.

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Whatever the issue around asylum seekers and refugees, the Lib Dems have a policy

Obviously issues around refugees and asylum seekers are not top of the agenda in this election, but the issues often get raised at hustings, particularly those in places of worship, and those asking are the sort of people who vote, and tell others.

Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary have done a “mini manifesto” based on Lib Dem policies on these issues that is handy to have for quick reference. It is on our website here

Also we have detailed briefings on issues in more detail. For instance on detention, right to work, decision making, Family Reunion, and LGBT+ issues affecting asylum seekers. Also on Refugees, including unaccompanied children. They are in our “documents” section of our website, here.

We are happy to send word documents or PDFs of any of these.  If issues come up in the campaign, or you are asked questions, please do get in touch at [email protected] and we will do what we can to help.

A huge amount of time and effort has gone into making these policies, and condensing into handy formats.  They are there to use. For very many years Lord Roger Roberts has been campaigning for the right of asylum seekers to work.  We made our policy on ending indefinite detention for immigration purposes, along with many other issues, in 2014.  These were expanded and new one’s added in 2018. With policies on “Safe Routes for Refugees” and “Communicating in English” being added in between.  Our policies reflect our Liberal Democrat values too.  Details may change, our values don’t.

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Thoughts on the tragedy of the 39 killed in the lorry

All reading this will have read about the tragedy of those who died in the lorry on the way to the UK.  These deaths have made the headlines because so many people died, all at once.  But there are deaths connected with trafficking every day that we don’t hear about.

This report from “Missing Migrants” shows the figures from around the world.   It gives the facts about the tragedies of desperate people trying to reach Europe bringing the total this year to 1090 deaths, out of 2063 worldwide this year.

There are also those who are trafficked here, and are victims of slavery.  Paul Vallely, writing in the Church Times, says “What if the 39 migrants had survived?”  A big question that isn’t being addressed.  There is no doubt that the outpouring of sympathy would not have been the same.  If they had been intercepted by the authorities they would have been treated badly, and probably detained, and “sent back to where they came from”.  They certainly would not have been able to work here.  Had the smugglers been successful, the migrants would have been subjected to being treated as human slaves here.  No rights; no documentation; no employment legislation; no decent housing.  

There are many examples, from the many recently reported, of how victims of trafficking have been badly treated in the UK after arriving here. It is criminal for our Government to send those who have been trafficked (and proved to be so) back to where they are so vulnerable to be trafficked again. Every possible effort must be made to stop the smugglers and their agents, who profit from trading human beings.

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A more effective and compassionate approach to immigration and asylum

Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary held a joint fringe meeting at Lib Dem Conference in York with Social and Liberal Forum, addressing the Immigration Bill currently being debated in Parliament.

Ed Davey MP spoke of some of the impact that Brexit would have on immigration issues, and how he was using some of the new Lib Dem policies in the debates around the Bill.

Only some amendments would be allowed, those that fit in with the “Long title” of the Bill, which ties it to European issues. Success on many of the amendments to the Bill will depend on full support from Labour though.

There is the big problem of those without settled status from the EU who are living here. If they haven’t applied and gone through system there will be huge problems by 2020 for them. It is outrageous to take existing rights away. A declaratory system would be a much better way. Talking of the proposal of the ending of free movement of labour, he spoke of how this was going to impact on those from the UK who worked in the EU.

Interestingly, whilst talking about the benefits of immigration, he also talked about how people’s attitude to immigration is beginning to change as the impact of Brexit is becoming more apparent. People are realising there is a real benefit to immigration as the impact on loss of health care staff is going to affect them and their friends.

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‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting

There were plenty there to hear our panel of speakers and enjoy the refreshments provided courtesy of Lib Dem Voice despite us clashing  with a big consultation on the supporters scheme.

Tim Farron MP started off with a review of the overall position and welcomed the approval earlier in the day of policy motion F16 with all 5 amendments, most notably amendment #1 (LD4SOS). He reminded us that in debates we are not just talking about policies but real people who are affected. He talked about the experience of visiting  Calais, where it was clear that what people were looking for was safety, not a nice life on benefits.

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Sanctuary in Parliament

iving a voice to those with no voice that anyone in a position of power will listen to, is surely one of the key things we believe in as Liberal Democrats.

There was the opportunity for just this at Sanctuary in Parliament last week.

Asylum seekers and refugees from throughout the country were able to go to Parliament to meet with their MPs, and tell them of the impact on their lives of living in poverty, or being destitute, and not having the right to work.

I had gone, with a non-political hat, with a team from Tees Valley, including 2 people seeking asylum who are awaiting decisions, one asylum seeker who is destitute, 2 refugees.

The MPs had been invited to attend beforehand, and with a fair bit of chasing up nearly all of those from Tees Valley did.

Also four Lib Dem Peers, Brian Paddick, Roger Roberts (and his researcher Helen Byrne), Sally Hamwee and Shas Sheehan came along, and we met Sal Brinton there too.  Ed Davey sent his caseworker as he was unable to attend himself, and Layla Moran’s researcher came as she was unwell.

One of our delegates spoke from the platform with a very moving and beautifully delivered speech.  All met with the parliamentarians, and told their stories, specifically relating to the theme, and generally got involved.

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Shas Sheehan challenges the government over Calais refugee crisis

Baroness Shas Sheehan is no stranger to the refugee camps in northern France, and especially those in Calais. She has been making visits there for a year now, collecting and taking much needed supplies for those stranded there, and finding out for herself exactly what the facts are, what the problems are, and what needs to be done to remedy them.

As we know little notice has been taken of the forceful and informed pressure put on by her and the many voluntary organisations, and other individuals and groups that are doing sterling work out there. The issues have been constantly raised in the House of Lords by Shas and her colleagues, Lord Roger Roberts and Baroness Sally Hamwee in particular. Receiving only bland assurances, they have kept on pressing the case.

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A Liberal idea to empower claimants

 

At Conference we agreed a policy motion, “Mending the safety net”, on ways of stopping people from falling into poverty caused by problems with social security nets. Leaving aside the heated arguments for how this would best work, how about involving those we are talking about in having a needle and thread too ?

Whatever the ways we have of mending the safety net, those who need it must be able to understand the letters that they are sent from the officials concerned.

I am not blaming the officials, they don’t necessarily know how what is written is perceived, but what can be done is listen to the recipients.  I was a volunteer advisor with CAB for 40 years, and know how many people just do not understand what they are being told.

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A lifetime achievement, but still much to be done

Suzanne Fletcher 2

Suzanne Fletcher with Guy Verhofstadt

Our visit to Brussels has been one of terrific highs and awful low points.  The only thing that was consistent was the pouring rain, and the lovely welcoming help from people wherever we went.

I was there at the invitation of the committee of the regions for the ALDE-LeaDeR Awards.  I had been taken aback by being shortlisted for the Lifetime Achievement Award for long service as a councillor, for my work on environmental issues long before everyone woke up to it ( I got the first bottle – and then can – bank in Stockton in 1982), and more recently as founder member and chair of LD4SOS, an organisation within the Liberal Democrats that stands up for and campaigns on issues around asylum seekers and refugees.

The room filled with those nominated from throughout the EU for a range of different awards. There was only one other from the UK, Ray Georgeson from Otley, up for a different award from me.  I didn’t want to win; what I wanted more than anything was for the amendments from the Lords to be agreed in the House of Commons in the immigration debate that afternoon.  I silently prayed for 3,000 unaccompanied children to be given safety in the UK.

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What you can do to make a difference to the Immigration Bill

The Immigration Bill returns to the House of Commons on Monday, April 25th. Some very important amendments will be coming from significant wins in the House of Lords, when it was debated there. ALL MPs need to be lobbied and told how important it is that these amendments are incorporated into what is a terrible Bill, to at least make a difference to many asylum seekers already in the UK, as well as the 3,000 unaccompanied children seeking refuge, already in Europe.

Please do take the time to write, meet, or otherwise lobby your own MP on these issues.

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Opinion: Media misunderstanding on Lib Dem immigration policy

When will the BBC begin to do its job properly, and understand what it is talking about? I woke up yesterday to a news bulletin telling me that Nick Clegg was considering raising the time limit for someone from an EU country to claim benefits. It was suggested that it would be 6 months. It then ended by saying that the Liberal Democrats were now joining other parties in concern about EU migration.

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Opinion: How we made policy on asylum issues

Advocates disrupt transfer of asylum seekers from VillawoodEver wondered how party policy is made? I was on the “Immigration, Asylum and Identity” Policy Working Group, and the process has taken a whole year. Living in the north east, I daren’t begin to add up the cost of the fares, and food on the move, for meetings every 10 days on an evening in London, but it was an opportunity to get some good and Liberal policies for the Party for those asylum seekers who seek sanctuary in the UK.

Between March and …

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Linking peace issues with seekers of sanctuary

ld4sos-bannerThe National Friends Peace Board celebrated its 100 years anniversary last year at the Friends Meeting House in York.  They had a walk, linking two issues, between Richmond Castle where the Friends had stood up for the treatment of Conscientious Objectors during the First World War, to more modern matters, the role of the US base at Menwith Hill in spreading militarism around the world.  As they say on their website, “One thing we know from having delved into our history, and of course from our own lives and

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Opinion: 3 real life reasons why we need a fair asylum system and 3 chances to argue the case

I am going to write about 3 people who sought sanctuary in the UK.  All people I know well.

K came here, fleeing from the terror on Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. She is a strong determined person, passionate about democracy, and held a good responsible job in administration and had children. She fled here, in fear of her life, leaving job and family behind.  She has not been given permission to stay here, but as we all must know by now, Zimbabwe is not a safe place to return to.  So she had no job, no benefits, and no home. She does voluntary …

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An open letter from working group & FPC members on Nick Clegg’s immigration speech

As members of the body setting up a review of Liberal Democrat policy on immigration and identity under Andrew Stunell MP, or members of the review itself, we feel the need to put a few facts in the public domain following Nick Clegg’s speech on Friday.

It would have been helpful had we been made aware of the contents in advance.  It would have been very helpful if members of the Policy Working Group had been sent an embargoed copy of the speech the night before.

There was much in the speech that reiterated Liberal values on immigration; indeed much of it …

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After the ending of child detention – what next?

After the moving and amazing presentation and big “thank you” to the Lib Dems from Citizens UK on the Sunday morning of conference, for ending the detention of children of asylum seekers, what could possibly follow it?

The next day the newly formed “Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary”, along with Citizens UK, met in a nearby Church Hall. Those who had been, and were going through, the asylum process in the UK and were connected with both Citizens UK and Movement for Justice had come down to tell their stories. There to listen were members of the House …

Posted in Europe / International and News | Tagged , and | 7 Comments

New Liberal Democrat group to help seekers of sanctuary

Liberal Democrats, as a party, have a proud record of standing up for the way our country views and treats with compassion and humanity those who seek sanctuary in our country. This culminated in the ending of the detention of children in the notorious Yarlswood, and the opening of the new pre departure accommodation at Cedars, for those families with children who were sadly being returned to their country of origin.

As well as actions as a party though, there are very many individuals who are both concerned about, and working with and for, asylum seekers in their locality.  This ranges …

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Opinion: The need to treat asylum seekers with dignity

At a meeting organised by Thrive last Friday the usually silent and ignored voices of asylum seekers and refugees were heard by those who need to hear.

For some time now those housed under a contract given by the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) to a local private housing provider had been experiencing problems that no decent person in our country would find acceptable. Some had complained to the housing provider, but been met with …

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