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.

One issue on which Labour appear to have changed their minds is the long-held Lib Dem policy of allowing asylum-seekers to work after they have been here for six months.  We are agreed too on a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention, perhaps with very narrow exceptions, and that overseas domestic workers should be protected from abuse in line with the recent independent report by James Ewins.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of support for the UK to relocate and support 3000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children.  There is no need of legislation for this (wouldn’t it be good if the Government announced they would implement this before we get to vote?) but of course peers will use the opportunity.  Tim Farron has made this a policy priority, and we will be supporting the lead of Lord Dubs who himself came to the UK on the Kindertransport.

We will also be opposing new search powers when a driver is suspected of being an illegal immigrant.  Racial discrimination concerns us here, as it does in the requirements on landlords; to civil penalties (recently rolled out to the whole of England following a very unsatisfactory pilot – we got more support from backbench Tories than from Labour when I pushed that to a vote a few days ago) there will be added civil sanctions.  We will try to reduce the worst impact of the new skills charge, payable by employers who already face substantial obstacles and costs in bringing in foreign employees.

But it is clear we would not succeed in changing the rules allowing visas for people with considerable amounts of money to invest (or more accurately, to lend – they can realise their gilts).  We have made the point that it is easier for Russians and Chinese with dodgy cash to come here than for the non-British spouses and families of British citizens who do not earn “enough”.

There are times when I want to wash my hands of all this – I feel contaminated.  But that’s no reason to give up.


* Sally Hamwee is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and the Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities.

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