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Baroness Hamwee: Government must make concessions on Immigration Bill

4 min read

Lib Dem peer Baroness Hamwee calls on the Government to concede some key points on the Immigration Bill as it goes through the Lords.

I originally started writing this article at 10pm last night, but given how fast everything is moving now as the Government tries it’s hardest to push through this unpalatable bill before the end of the session, I thought best to wait.

The debate in the House of Commons last night concentrated on the amendment that would put into legislation the call for the UK to offer sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied child refugees who have already arrived in Europe.

Of course the Government does not need legislation to do this, but it seems the force of votes in Parliament is required. That is why tonight peers will be voting to send a similar amendment back to the Commons to give them another chance to do the right thing.  (This time it doesn’t set the figure at 3000, as the Commons’ “financial privilege” has been asserted; instead “a specified number” to be set following consultation with local authorities.)

Apart from this amendment there were also votes on important issues like putting a time limit on immigration detention, the detention of pregnant women, rights of overseas domestic workers and the right to work for asylum seekers still waiting for the Home Office to make a decision on their application.

These amendments did not get the attention they deserve but we will keep pushing the Government to offer concessions at our end. I spent much of yesterday discussing with other peers how to respond to what the Government is proposing in the face of a series of defeats in the Lords.

On some of these issues, the Government have said a flat “No”, in others there have been counter-proposals. The next stage in the Lords is by way of further amendment to the Government’s proposals; only one name can go on each amendment, and because the substance is more important than the name we are happy to fall in behind other peers, especially independent crossbenchers, who are likely to garner the most support.  I have a few amendments down in my own name which we’ll be discussing tonight.

We will again support putting a 28 day limit on how long anyone can be detained without judicial involvement.  This is one where the Government have put forward a compromise - that the issue must go to the tribunal when someone has been in detention for six months. This is far too long, so I will propose a reduction to 56 days (a gesture to acknowledge the refusal of 28 days).  That in no way reduces our support for a 28 day limit, but we shouldn’t overlook the importance of the Government conceding judicial oversight.

We will also be supporting changes to the Government proposal that a pregnant woman may be detained for 72 hours, or a week on the authority of the Home Secretary.  Detention should be imposed only in the most exceptional circumstances, and the calculation of the time limits gives too much wriggle room.  Safeguards will also be proposed similar to those which apply to children (which we insisted went into legislation during the Coalition).  I will be questioning what seems to be the possibility of cat and mouse detention and re-detention, and the place and conditions in which a pregnant woman may be held.

We have backed the right to work after nine months (a compromise, reflecting the EU directive on the issue, which the UK has not signed – and we keep being told that such delays are now a rarity) without the work being limited to “shortage occupations” (international standard ballet dancers, paediatric dentists, mining geotechnical engineers ….. ) which make the current right, after twelve months, meaningless.

I hope Labour will stand with us (although they have already backed down on their support of asylum seekers right to work) and force the Government to make further concessions.

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