Lib Dem Lords vs the Home Office #1: Roger Roberts

Last week the Government’s appalling Immigration Bill was debated in the Lords. Liberal Democrat peers made some cracking speeches opposing it. As it’s Christmas, we thought we’d publish them all in full over the next few days, beginning with Roger Roberts.

Roger’s record on standing up for the vulnerable people caught up in our immigration system is fantastic. Here he does it again:

My Lords, it has been a heart-warming month in a way. 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. So much has been said already that I must make my speech shorter than it was. 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 nurtured, 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 there was violence in the deportation process because the person being deported was totally panic-stricken. 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 to recommend 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, but it is not included. 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 cannot do that, but 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 of family failure. 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.

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  • Spot on Roger. Keep up the good work. And yes, we could take 25,000 people in 2 months. All it takes is determination and money. As a rich nation we could afford it.

  • It’s all very well for people like Trudeau to be slapping himself on the back for bringing over a few tens of thousands of refugees, but with over 20 million people still stuck in Syria or the surrounding countries, let’s not delude ourselves that this is anything more than a token gesture, however fantastic it obviously is for the people involved.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Dec '15 - 2:46pm

    Some reasonable points by Roger Roberts, especially on deport now appeal later, but I would try to come out with something headline grabbing sounding tough on immigration.

    It won’t look distasteful because Lib Dems are not known for being tough on immigration. It will rouse interest.

    It can be something as simple as telling France to do more, or sounding tough on Assad and various other terrorists, or an idea in the Lib Dem manifesto about the English language and strong border checks.

  • Eddie Sammon

    Putting something into the Lib Dem manifesto about the English language (what do you propose?) is hardly likely to appeal to a Peer who has English as a second language …

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Dec '15 - 11:20pm

    I’m not sure Crewegwyn, but I checked out the 2015 manifesto to see what was already in there and there was stuff about English and strong border checks. Something that could be pulled up perhaps.

  • Clive Peaple
    As time goes by, this whole attempt to create a dichotomy between “economic migrants” and “refugees” is shown to be a falsehood. Can we not recognise and acknowledge this now, and move on? I am surprised that your local party didn’t have enough people involved who accepted that crystal clear fact and tried to move to the more difficult ideas behind immigration, hardship, environmental degradation and the genesis and exacerbation of conflict. As we move into an era of more and more environmental problems, this will become a bigger and bigger problem. Interestingly, the mainstream media are emphasising how Northern English communities are “pulling together” and “showing community spirit” in the face of extreme weather conditions. In places like Syria, where there are already inter-community tensions, this is made so much harder in the face of hardship and extreme weather.

  • Crewegwyn
    Something about the English language is also unlikely to appeal to someone like Roger Roberts with his Christian, and Liberal, record of supporting the underdog in this country and the world. Roger is one of the real gems in our party – long may he shine!

  • Richard underhill 27th Dec '15 - 11:09am

    Clive Peaple Where is your local party please?
    Tim13 This has been the case since the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees came into force on 1/1/1953. At that time a lot of people had been displaced by World War 2 against their will, such as prisoners of war from Axis powers. Italy had switched sides when Mussolini was dismissed by the King. Part of Italy was briefly occupied by Nazi Germany.
    A “refugee sur place” (pardon my French, the language is in the Convention) had not migrated and might claim to be afraid of returning to Italy, but would not qualify under the 1951 Refugee Convention because Italy had become a safe country. Suppose an Italian PoW had married a British citizen? He would be permitted to stay in the UK and might be under social pressure from her family, friends and neighbours to support her.
    What David Cameron is saying is simplistic, he should know better and should be ashamed of his sins of commission.
    Theresa May does know better, the details are in her job, so her statements are sins of omission.
    What Liberal Democrat parliamentarians are doing is arguing for a more generous use of the UK’s discretionary powers, over and above the minima set out in the 1951 Convention, the 1967 Protocol attached to the 1951 Convention and the Human Rights Act.
    Labour’s record is shameful. Blair-Brown did belatedly provide more money for staffing and computerisation, but they also withdrew from the United Nations Convention on Statelessness by using secondary legislation to amend the Immigration Rules.

  • Katerina Porter 27th Dec '15 - 11:10am

    Something which should have a bearing on the government’s approach to immigration/asylum seekers is a comment in an article by Nicolas Henin, a French journalist and ISIS hostage for 10 months – “Central to their world view is their belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them”.

  • suzanne fletcher 29th Dec '15 - 7:09pm

    Great speech from Roger Roberts covering a whole raft of issues that are so important and that he has ben raising in the House of Lords for some time now, this is not just a one off speech, it is a summary of so much he campaigns for continually.
    I’d like to think he can ease up on such, by the Government listening and getting a heart. many of the exisiting Government policies actually cost money too – such as indefinite detention which costs £177 million a year.
    Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary are proud of Roger as our President.

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