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The Conservative Opposition have been somewhat mealy mouthed on a number of salient points. For example, on immigration law, they oppose the imposition of fines on hauliers attempting to smuggle in illegal immigrants. Do they still stand by that? They have uttered not one word about it in this debate. The Conservatives have opposed the refusal of asylum to convicted criminals serving two years imprisonment. What justification do they pray in aid of that point? They have refused to support the provision in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 which introduced a two-year custodial sentence for knowingly employing illegal workers. Why do they remain silent about that provision, which is very important? There are other measures where they have also fallen short. All this is somewhat academic because they are a long way from power, but there are certain other features of the Bill which concern me.
I turn to Clause 47. What sort of conditions are envisaged here? What does the clause really mean? Again, it is incumbent on my noble friend to spell it out, either here or later in our consideration of the Bill. Does it simply enable the UK Border Agency to restrict students to study in particular institutions, or does it go further? Can a student effectively be prevented from pursuing his studies altogether? In my submission, clarification of what is meant is vitally significant. Students or potential students are entitled to know, but at present the whole thing is terribly vague.
As the grandchild of immigrants myself, I know that initially they suffered enormous indignities. But they lived through those dark daysand there were better days, despite what I have said, than the time they spent in Russia and elsewhere.
I continue to feel that our immigration laws have to bear up to reasonable scrutiny in the quest to be absolutely fair. Tough but fair was what was proposed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and tough but fair ought to be the signal of the Bill we are now considering. In some respects, it is not fair at all.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, this Bill seems unsatisfactory if only because it legislates by reference to some 17 other statutes, if I counted correctly. The Government may say that it is only interim and will be consolidated, but that does not make it easier for us to understand and consider now. Just over two years ago, on 14 December 2006, I had the honour to introduce into your Lordships House a debate on the human consequences of immigration and asylum law and practice. I have said many times before and I say again now that the following factors are necessary if the asylum system is to work well. First, first-class interpreters must be available to all applicants who cannot understand and then express themselves in English. Secondly, interviewers must be able to gain the confidence of applicants. Thirdly, legal advice can make the difference between the success or failure of an application. Yet we find that legal aid has been drastically cut. Many solicitors no longer take asylum or immigration cases, and in a survey of 125 cases in 2006, 78 per cent complained about legal representation and 50 per cent complained about interpreters. Has the situation improved to any considerable degree since then?
Under the new asylum model, the single, continuous caseworker should mean that applicants receive a good explanation of how the system is intended to work. Is this happening in practice? Is there personal communication between the applicant and the case owner? I was encouraged to hear of the Solihull pilot project providing legal advice at an early stage to applicants. This apparently explains the key criteria in the refugee convention and how humanitarian protection differs from full refugee status. Unless such explanations are given, it is foolish to expect applicants to fill in multi-page application forms without, in doing so, prejudicing their own cases. How is this pilot project
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On the backlog of old asylum cases, in 2006 these were variously estimated at any number between 150,000 and 450,000 cases. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who is usually very well informed, put the current figure at 200,000. With how many cases is the UK Border Agency now in contact? How many old cases have been resolved in each year since the 2006 report by Asylum Aid and Amnesty?
Destitution among both unsuccessful asylum seekers and jobless economic migrants was another agonising subject discussed in my debate and that of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, on 3 February. What is the current take-up of assistance under Section 4 of the 1999 Act? Have the authorities stopped insisting that applicants agree to voluntary return to their countries, even in cases where this is either not possible or extremely dangerous? What is the situation with Section 95 support, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Sandwich?
It is well known that refusal of employment, social isolation and destitution often lead to mental illness. This is all too common among failed asylum seekers, those detained and the backlog cases. What is being done to promote early diagnosis of mental illness, community care and admission to secondary care whenever this is necessary? Early care will usually save later costs, as well as preventing the spread of diseases into the wider population.
As has been mentioned, detention without trial, whether on arrival or prior to removal, is another most unsatisfactory feature of asylum and immigration policy. The London Detainee Support Group last month concluded that detention is inefficient and ineffective. It is also extremely expensive. Are the Government studying the report Detained Lives? Will they set a maximum length for immigration detention? This is the practice in several EU states. Will they agree never to detain women responsible for young and school age children? These two improvements could surely be made very quickly.
Attention should also be focused on how private contractors used to carry out deportations go about their work. I urge the Government to ensure that they are properly trained, as has already been asked for, and supervised and that they respect the humanity of all deportees.
I have deliberately concentrated on the inhuman consequences of asylum and immigration policy. In doing so, I commend to your Lordships and the Government the campaign Strangers into Citizens and, in particular, its work on regularisation of those who have been here for many years. I trust that the labours of the Independent Asylum Commission, of which we have heard already, will be rewarded with major improvements in case work, which is so much more important than the dry bones of legislation. But I hope that even these bones can be improved by amendments during the passage of the Bill.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: My Lords, I stand in the fifth year of my membership of your Lordships House and I am astonished that five Bills have been debated here on this or related subjects in that time. Ought I therefore to take comfort that, as I look forward to my sixth year, I shall have another Bill on the same subject in which to take part? I have begun to think that this has fed an addiction in me and will create a predisposition towards expecting such legislation every parliamentary year.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that such a plethora of legislative proposals makes it a nightmare for those interpreting the law at the critical points of application. I am intrigued to see that the prospective law we had expected now to be debating is to be called a simplification law. What we needand what we were promised, I thoughtis consolidating legislation to provide a comprehensive legal framework. I look forward to having that.
I want to concentrate on one aspect of the matter in general before us. I make no apologies for the fact that I want to speak about what was not referred to either in the opening remarks of my noble friend the Minister or, indeed, in my reading of the Bill or the notes upon the Bill. When the 2008 White Paper, The Path to Citizenship, was published, it was recognised that there were concerns about how those already in the system would be affected by the proposals and about how any transitional arrangements would work. Also, it was recognised that it was important to understand the effects of current proposals on those who may already be in the system. We will continue, the pledge was made, to examine this in advance of making the changes. So I want to hold those who offered the recognition and promised to address those concerns to their word.
Several of your Lordships have expressed an interest as occupying key places in the administration of education, welfare or the law. If I have to declare an interest, as I have said many times when I have stood to speak here as a Methodist minister, it is the day-by-day, shoulder-by-shoulder contact with the people who we are talking about in general terms. It is therefore from that angle that I want to speak. It is a subluminary world, a world of shadows where all kinds of alternative lifestyles exist, where people set their targets in ways that are unconventionalindeed, their targets are often related to survival rather than to making good in the climate we create for them. There are people with multiple identities and papers to match.
There was a soldier from Fiji who because he was court-martialled no longer had the rights and entitlements of being a member of Her Majestys Armed Forces. My reading of the papers suggested that there was at least prima facie evidence that due process had not been observed in terms of his being dismissed from his post in the Army. He had a fiancée of German nationality from well before the incidents that led to the court martial and, because she could afford the right kind of lawyers, justice was eventually won for that manbut I can think of others for whom those advantages do not exist and who live by disappearing into the woodwork.
I deal with a number of deportees. Some of them are taken to Heathrow Airport again and again. One dear lady was taken for the second time, locked in a room while the attendant went for a cup of tea and was forgotten about until found by the cleaner the next day. It is truly astonishing to think of this. She went a third time, incidentally, but now has been given permanent leave to remain. Is it not an extraordinary world that we live in?
How does such administrative chaos exist? I shall tell your Lordships about another extraordinary case. Another deportee came to me six years ago. Reverend, she said, theyre going to kick me out. I looked at her letter and indeed that is what it said. We fought a battle, I wrote endless letters and I telephoned either numbers that were not answered or answerphones that did not work. The situation we had to deal with was Byzantine. In the mean time, her little girl had grown old enough to go to school. We took a photograph of all of us standing with the little girl and sent it to the Home Office, hoping that someone would see it. The next thing we knew was that this lady was given the Volunteer of the Year award for Islington; a star of Eastenders presented her with her certificate, all the flashbulbs went off and she was in all the local papers. To cap it all, the same lady came to me with another letter; Reverend, she said, what shall I do about this?. What did it say? You are required to do jury service. This lady, who had no benefits and no right to employment, for whom we scratched around to find the money to keep her and her little girl in existenceWhat shall I do? she said. I said, Do the jury service, and she did. She is still waiting for an answer to her case for admission to this country.
Some of the people would not qualify under the proposals in the Bill because at some stage in the process they made silly mistakesthey told lies. Wouldnt you? When I was in Montreal and an amnesty was granted for Haitian immigrants, a Haitian immigrant faced with the prospect of Canadian citizenship, when asked by a person in uniform, Can you handle a simple machine? and then asked to show that he could, said yes, although he could not. That was because in Haiti a person in uniform is an oppressive person, and you say yes because you think you are placating them. The cultural connotations of helping people to understand the process they are involved in are considerable. I have stood in courts to give character references; I have stood in courts and been denied the chance to give character references. Again and again, this speaks of chaos.
I do not ask for indiscriminate support for all the undocumented people in our society. There are shysters, liars and criminals out there, and there is a parasitical industry that feeds on themlawyers, who have offered me quite a lot of money on occasion to tell lies in court, I can tell you. It is an extraordinary world, but it needs to be treated with due deference. There are Augean stables that need cleaning out, some of them at Lunar House: the number of passports that have been lost and the number of papers mislaid, and the fact that we cannot get access to the document upon which a judgment will ultimately be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has mentioned Strangers into Citizens, so I will not repeat that point. The noble Lord has also mentioned the London Detainee Support Groups recommendations. There are simple things that can be done to clear up a lot of the mess that we are in at this moment. I will retain from this debate the precious memory of the word used by the right reverend Prelate, hospitality, which was given a different nuance by the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, sanctuary, while my noble friend Lord Morris added principle and fairness. To all of those concepts I would add: people. It is human beings who we are dealing with.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, with his vast experience in this area. It is an education to hear of his practical work with people in the immigration system. It leads me to ask the Minister whether he can comment on morale within the immigration service and whether he considers that enough support is given to immigration officers working with such complex and difficult cases as we have heard about today.
I shall comment briefly on the Bill. I think that my noble friend Lady Howe of Idlicote made most of the points that I wished to make. Unfortunately, I was not present when she spoke, which I much regret, so I shall perhaps look to her for prompts to move on. I welcome particularly Clause 51, with the additional protection that it provides for children. Will the Government go still further in safeguarding children within the immigration system?
It is encouraging to learn that the Bill will be followed shortly by a simplifying Bill. Having been a Member of your Lordships' House for the past 10 years, I am as much aware as anyone of the number of Bills that we have had in this area, so that is welcome.
Since the advent of the Children Act 2004, there has been long-standing concern that children in the immigration system enjoy less protection than all other children in this country. The Act created no duty similar to that for all other childrenthat is, for agencies to work together to protect and promote the well-being of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children and children in asylum-seeking families. The Governments strap-line was every child matters, yet some children appeared to matter more than others.
I take this opportunity to praise the Government for their huge investment in the welfare of children during the past 10 years, in particular the support that they have given to the teaching profession. The difference that that has made in terms of the pay and raised status of teachers is well recognised. While many members of the public may be critical of some of the things that the Government have done, they recognise that the teaching profession is in a far better state.
The opposition Front Benches took a vigorous line in supporting inclusion of all children in the Children Act 2004. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, divided the House on the matter; the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay,
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The Government were always prepared to listen to concerns about these children. I remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, appointed a senior civil servant with a strong track record of success, Mr Jeremy Oppenheim, who also had experience as a director of social services, to be the childrens champion within the immigration department. The Government have subsequently produced a helpful code for the protection of children.
Following their defeat in the Children Act that I have just described, the Government are responding to the wishes of your Lordships' House with Clause 51. I welcome their intention to discharge this commitment and look forward to scrutinising the clause in Committee to make sure that it brings those children up to a level of protection similar to that of the rest of our children in this country.
However, children in the immigration system will still be at risk. Governments will face a tension between delivering an effective and rigorous immigration service, in which the public have confidence, and always acting to promote the welfare of children. In her previous report on the immigration removal centre at Yarls Wood, the Chief Inspector of Prisons highlighted that the length of stay of children had increased and that stays were sometimes incorrectly reported. My noble friend Lady Howe indicates that she has not quoted from that inspection report, so perhaps I may briefly do so. The chief inspector wrote:
We were concerned about ineffective and inaccurate monitoring of length of detention in this extremely important area. Any period of detention can be detrimental to children and their families, but the impact of lengthy detention is particularly extreme.
A number of children had experienced longer cumulative periods of detention, which was worrying given the adverse effects that extended detention almost inevitably has on children and their families. However, the monitoring figures that were provided to the team to show length of cumulative detention were found to be wholly inaccurate. For example, children who we were confidentially told had been in detention for 275 days were later said to have been in detention for 14 and 17 days.
I have twice visited Yarls Wood. That is the detention centre for families. I spoke to a 16 year-old girl on the second occasion. She had spent at least five months in that institution. She introduced me to her eight year-old sister who had been confined for a similar period. Confinement of children for such enormous lengths of time cannot be condoned or considered acceptable, especially when they have committed no offence and put no one else at risk. The pain it caused this 16 year-old could easily be judged by her distrust of adults and her conviction that the visiting Members of your Lordships House could not and would not do anything about her position. Perhaps I might ask your Lordships to reflect for one moment on the experience of that 16 year-old confined in this way for five months.
I was also introduced to a three year-old, who was serving her second stint in detention. I have already mentioned problems with the figures on the lengths of stay. Yarls Wood has greatly improved since it opened, and I pay tribute to the Government, the management
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What progress has been made in reducing lengths of stay? Will the Minister examine what improvements might be made to the keeping of statistics about lengths of stay to ensure that maximum transparency is maintained? What progress has been made in improving immigration officers case management, including end-to-end style case management? Good relationships between families and case officers may be helpful in ensuring more voluntary returns. Does the Minister find that that is the case? Are strong enough incentives for voluntary return being deployed? Are they proving effective? I have not notified the Minister of these questions. Therefore, I would welcome a written response if an oral response is not possible this evening.
I share the concern of many about the continuing power of the immigration service to make families destitute. The results of the pilot were truly distressing and disturbing, with two children being taken into care and a number of families simply disappearing from any social network. I would welcome the Ministers thoughts on the need and safety of it continuing to have this power. If your Lordships express interest, perhaps we might meet Jeremy Oppenheim, the childrens champion within the immigration service, to hear what progress he has made in the past two or three years since he became their champion.
No one can deny that this is a most challenging area for any Government. Governments are never likely to win any bouquets for success, but they can be confident of brickbats for failure. I welcome the opportunity to work on the Bill. I hope that the Minister can offer reassurance on these matters relating to children. I am grateful, as always, for the pains the Government take to consider the welfare needs of children.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, noble Lords all round the House are disappointed that this is not a simplification Bill. That disappointment is certainly felt keenly on these Benches and was eloquently expressed by my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
The difficulties that will arise from the lack of a simplification Bill will affect UK citizens, potential citizens and staff working in this area. Although there have been some 11 immigration Bills since this Government came to power, none of them has succeeded in properly disentangling the issues of asylum seekers from those of economic migrants. Even when opening the debate, the Minister still seemed to me to confuse the issue by talking about those who wanted to come here, whereas there are two categories: those who want to come here and those who need to do so. The definition provided by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford is well worth studying as it addresses that very issue. The result of this failure is that with each Bill asylum seekers are disproportionately targeted by new measures. That is happening again in this Bill,
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