Peers join Baroness Doreen Lawrence in opposition to divisive planned driving offence

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 02 February 2016

This week saw the House of Lords resume its consideration of the Immigration Bill. The spotlight fell on a controversial proposed offence of driving while unlawfully resident in the UK.

According to Government, the offence would see immigration checks become routine wherever a driver is stopped by police. Liberty warned from the outset that this would deepen the discriminatory impact of traffic stop powers already used disproportionately against BME drivers. If passed these provisions would undermine hard-won improvements in police-community relations by – in the words of the National Black Police Association – making police the “whipping boy of the immigration service”.

Monday’s debate had the benefit of unparalleled expertise from across the House. Amendments opposing the inclusion of the driving provisions were tabled by Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who has dealt – in the most harrowing way possible – with institutional police racism and campaigned against laws and practices which promote discrimination.

Baroness Lawrence drew attention to the real life implications of the Bill’s provisions, warning that these powers would affect “countless British citizens” with Black and Asian Brits suffering the most. She called on the Home Secretary to bring the same insights she has employed in addressing the broader issue of discriminatory stop and search to bear on this Bill.

Former Deputy Assistant Met Commissioner and Liberal Democrat frontbencher Lord Paddick also spoke out against the plans. He told the House he was behind a plastic shield policing the Brixton riots. He “felt the anger” towards the police, and warned that that the proposed offence would mean

police will come under pressure to proactively enforce immigration law for the first time in almost 30 years - 30 years after the police service made a conscious decision to back away from proactive immigration law enforcement because of the damage that it was causing to police community relations.”

His Liberal Democrat colleague Baroness Sheehan agreed, reminding the House of the findings of the Scarman Report in the aftermath of the Brixton riots. It was clear then that the discriminatory use of police powers was central to the devastating rift between police and the communities they were supposed to serve.  

Labour spokesperson for Home Affairs, Lord Rosser made an equally powerful contribution to the debate. He pointed out that BME drivers are already up to twice as likely to be stopped as white drivers: adding routine immigration checks into this toxic mix can only lead to deep disharmony, re-igniting decades-old divisions.  

Crossbench Peers Baroness Afshar, the Bishop of Southwark and Lord Alton added their support for the concerns raised by Baroness Lawrence and others. Lord Alton recounted his time as an MP in Liverpool during clashes between police and members of the Black community. He told the House about one young man who had been involved in the rioting, and who described his anger at being the subject of an unjustified and discriminatory traffic stop.

The Government failed to deal with the substance of concerns raised by Peers, wilfully refusing to see the glaring link between the driving provisions proposed in this Bill and the discrimination and disharmony it has worked to address through reform of stop and search.

The Home Office Minister, Lord Bates, has now committed to meet with Peers to discuss this critical issue and Liberty will continue to call for the removal of these dangerous and divisive provisions from the Bill.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager