Sir Ed Davey MP: New Data law could lead to more Windrush scandals
The Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs, Sir Ed Davey, warns the Government that 'a little noticed clause in the Data Protection Bill' could cause a new scandal even larger than Windrush.
The Windrush scandal has shone a light on just how horrific Theresa May’s “hostile environment” immigration policy has become. And it’s about to get worse. Under legislation before Parliament, the Conservatives have cooked up a plan that could cause a new scandal, larger in scale than Windrush.
It’s a little noticed clause in the Data Protection Bill – a law that, in general, is otherwise welcome. The clause is the so-called “immigration exemption” clause – and it’s a new law that could stop anyone from getting hold of the data the Home Office has used to determine whether or not they should be deported.
And by “anyone” I don’t just mean foreigners Mrs May told to “go home” on her infamous billboard vans. I mean British citizens too. Just as in Windrush.
This “immigration exemption” clause would allow the Home Office to cover up its mistakes – indeed, not even find out when it had made a mistake. Because the applicant to the Home Office – or more likely their lawyer – wouldn’t be able to get access to their file, the very information used to make a decision on their future.
So, if the Home Office acts incorrectly, as they have done with Windrush documents, an individual wouldn’t be able to challenge the decision – because they won’t be allowed to know the reasons why they are being thrown out of the country. By using the new law to block the “Subject Access Requests” lawyers use to check the Home Office has got the right information on their client - and even the right person – the Home Office will become party to huge injustices. This could lead to hundreds of deportations of people who have the right to be here - people who are British citizens.
MPs who work week in, week out, know the sheer scale of the mistakes the Home Office make, every day. Latest figures from the Law Society revealed how the Home Office lose 50% of cases on appeal. And specialist lawyers have provided MPs with plenty of examples of gross Home Office errors, where the Home Office gets the wrong identity, reads their own files incorrectly and doesn’t even acknowledge the decisions it previously made about an individual.
Ironically, this law may even prove an obstacle for the Brexit negotiations – as it effectively breaks the agreement on the rights of EU Citizens reached last December. For by reducing the rights of EU citizens applying to the Home Office, it breaches EU law on privacy and individual rights. Indeed, it would directly breach the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, undermining article 8 on the protection of personal data, article 20 on equality before the law and article 21 on non-discrimination. That’s why Liberal Democrats, amongst others, are bringing this new draconian Conservative plan to the notice of Brexit negotiators.
In Parliament, Liberal Democrats have led the fight against this horrific law. In the House of Lords, where the Data Protection Bill began its passage, Liberal Democrats put down an amendment to the Bill to delete the clause entirely.
Regrettably, the Labour party failed to support us which meant our amendment was voted down.
Now the Bill is in the House of Commons we have another shot at stopping the law. After Windrush, it looks like Labour has woken up – though the numbers aren’t as good for the Opposition in the Commons as the Lords. Nevertheless, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have put our names to a Labour amendment, to work cross-party, to do everything we can to stop this latest Conservative Home Office outrage.
The Law Society, the Bar Council, Liberty and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have all backed the fight to halt the draconian law.
Now it’s up to the Government. To May and to Rudd. And to every Conservative backbencher. Have they learnt from Windrush? Do they want to pass a law we know will harm the interests of British citizens, and treat EU citizens unfairly? And make a mockery of this country’s tradition of the rule of law? If you agree with us, join us in piling pressure on the Government, to stop this new threat to civil liberties in its tracks.
Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey is the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs & the MP for Kingston and Surbiton.
Chair of the Bar Andrew Walker QC said: “It seems that the Government is determined to press ahead with changes in the law that could make it even more difficult for people, including those of the Windrush generation, to demonstrate that they have the right to live in the UK." Read their full press release here.