Lord Roger Roberts writes: The Immigration Bill – does it help or hinder?

Lords TwitterIt’s not too well known outside the House, but there are three UKIP-affiliated Peers sitting in the Lords. And interestingly, despite being members of a party that shouts the loudest about immigration, not one of them turned up to yesterday’s Immigration Bill second reading debate. Read into that what you will.

But what about the excellent speeches that Liberal Democrats Peers gave? You can read a summary of my speech below (finding the full version, here – and the Parliament TV link at 19:27, here). I also urge you to follow my colleagues’ activities on TheyWorkForYou, via our @LibDemLords account and through our Group’s blog.

I hope to hear from you if you’re taking an interest in this Bill and I look forward to debating with many of you at the ‘Making Migration Work for Britain’ policy motion (8 March) at our Spring Conference in York – my 62nd year attending Liberal and Lib Dem conferences!

This Bill looks to those outside our borders; those under different circumstances, with different needs, from different cultures – those used to different ways of life.

For many in these Isles, it is difficult to come to terms with change – especially considering the rapid developments of recent years. Yet this is the situation we find ourselves in.

Yet suspicion and hostility can be replaced by trust and acceptance. This, in part, is the special responsibility of the media – though it is clear to me that there is a long, long way to go.

And in this essential task, I ask: does this Bill help or hinder? That is a question to which I hope, after the Bill’s passage through the Lords, we may be able to answer with ‘yes – this Bill it is about hospitality – not hostility’.

Much of the Bill deals with and affects those seeking asylum in the UK. As President of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, there is much I could, and want, to raise:

  1. This Bill is an appropriate vehicle to lower the time restriction before which asylum seekers are permitted to work from 12 to 6 months. In doing so, I also suggest that the Government reviews the arbitrary restriction that limits such jobs – the ‘shortage occupation list’. Indeed, I suggested as much in June last year with my Private Member’s Bill. For let us not forget the 5,500 asylum seekers who’ve been waiting for more than 6 months for a decision on their claim; many of whom survive on a disgraceful £36.62 per week. Eleven EU countries already allow those claiming asylum to work after 6 months – and in Sweden, people may work immediately. I suggest that we have a lot of catching-up to do and a lot to discuss as this Bill passes through Committee.
  2.  As we all remember, in May 2010 the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister set out the Coalition’s programme. Page 21 of the ‘Programme for Government’ was especially important as it spelt out that the Government would ‘end the detention of children for immigration purposes’. It was a central pledge and an essential undertaking. At its peak, there were over 2,000 children in immigration detention, often incarcerated under the most heart-breaking of circumstances. This is now (thankfully) drastically reduced and improved, but it has not stopped completely. In fact in December of last year, a total of 24 children (aged between 5-17) were held under Immigration Act powers. This must end and I call on the Government to enshrine it in statute.
  3.  We must also review the Bill’s current definition of who counts as an ‘asylum seeking child’. A number of clauses seek to limit the definition and – worryingly – this excludes most asylum-seeking children (as many come here as teenagers). It is a truly heart-rending state of affairs when, up until their 18th birthday, asylum-seeking children are protected in this land. Then, in a day, everything can change. Many are here for most of their formative years then suddenly; they’re deported. Suddenly they’re not welcome – suddenly, they don’t count. I can hardly imagine the trauma of such a ‘withdrawal of citizenship with a vengeance’ from those who’ve committed no offences whatsoever. I’ve heard tales of terror and desperation; of wardrobes slumped against doors to prevent forced entry during dawn raids (and much, much worse besides). It reminds me of other regimes who used similar methods.

This Bill can be hostile towards vulnerable people – reflecting attitudes that are worlds away from the respectable and humane approach of our past (of which I am very proud) – or it can continue our historic contribution to ensuring that every individual that seeks to visit, study, settle or claim sanctuary here is treated with respect and compassion.

There is of course more to discuss – not least the Home Secretary’s inhumane and illogical ‘citizenship stripping’ proposals, NHS charges and appeal rights – but I end with a reminder and something we must always bear in mind: that every asylum seeker (even those we say have ‘failed’) are human beings – no more, no less than any one of us.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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3 Comments

  • excellent summary of what the issues are in the UK, and the changes you hope to make as the Immigration Bill makes its way through the Lords. We are hoping for some very possible changes and amendments to make it a Bill that makes us a more welcoming nation, that I am sure will benefit all of us, wherever we were born.

  • Stewart Heywood 11th Feb '14 - 9:05pm

    I feel that immigration has always been a contentious and emotive issue, and I will be surprised if this ceases in my lifetime. However, I must say that it surprises me as well, to appoint at least, how the double standards and hypocrisy are left unremarked upon.
    The very language of Britain is a testament to our ability to accept and integrate. The linguistic roots vary from Latin, Germanic, French even Indian words from the Raj days. Not just the English, Welsh emergency vehicles emblazoned with the word ‘Ambiwlans’ is a fine example.
    I moved to Wales a little over five years ago. I had been working in a CD factory immediately before the move and had worked alongside a number of Polish workers. In conversation I discovered that working a normal ‘flat’ week (the shift pattern was 4 x 12hr shifts on and 4 off, alternating days and nights), one young lady could earn as much as her mother did as a primary school teacher. Only her weekly income equated to her mother’s monthly salary. With a little overtime she could match her fathers salary, as a dentist, in only a week. I think it would be difficult to find many ‘genuinely’ unemployed people who would not be willing to live in another European country for a while so that they could earn a ‘professional’ monthly salary each week for some factory work.
    I referred to the double standards and hypocrisy as we, so often, hear complaints that they are ‘over here taking our jobs’ when most of us can remember Norman Tebbit in the 1980s urging people to ‘get on their bike’ to find work. We will also remember the praise offered to the building workers who travelled over to Germany and Holland at that time so that they could earn better money there than here, when there were not too many openings here.
    Why does it seem that it is fine for us to work in Europe, but not for the Europeans to work here? That is the hypocrisy!
    However… those who have moved here for a better life and now wish that we change our system to suit their ways and/or beliefs are probably not truly representative of their community as a whole, requesting Sharia Law for exampl). I believe that if they wish to be governed by Sharia Law, there are plenty of countries they could migrate to where this is the tradition. I believe that many (probably most) of those who moved here, did so because they wanted our systems of justice and tolerance.
    As I said earlier, I moved to Wales about 5 years ago, and now live in Conwy where we have a fine castle as a monument to the English immigration which has taken place over hundreds of years. After a fairly contentious start and other than a fairly short-lived period in the last century when the local economies meant that housing was difficult obtain for some younger locals it has been a relatively amicable arrangement. But we can see in much of the recent legislation that the native Welsh are now fighting to see their ‘National Identity’ restored. Bilingual road signs and official documents are one example, not least is the ability to choose ‘Welsh/Cymraeg’ as their nationality rather than the general ‘British’. I doubt I will ever be conversational in Welsh but support the desire to see the language alive.
    I would hope that in the decades/centuries to come we do not see the same desire to keep our current languages alive following disregard to our long held beliefs, traditions and values.
    Tolerance is one of our greatest values. We have accepted refugees from religious intolerance in Europe over the years (from the Hugenots to the Jews persecuted under the Third Reich). We have requested and accepted migrant workers over the years (not always smoothly I admit), the Irish ‘Navvies’ of Victorian days, the Caribbean folks of the Windrush era and the cotton workers from the Raj. The British Empire was huge and we plundered much of the globe making Great Britain ‘great’. Now it is ‘payback-time’ and we must in turn offer something to those from the countries of the Empire.

    I think this started quite well but got a bit haphazard towards the end…. but I stand by it all.

    Stewart.

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