Voices from across the Commons unite in opposition to deeply unfair Immigration Bill

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 14 October 2015

Yesterday’s debate on the Government’s counter-productive and divisive Immigration Bill was dominated by powerful opposition from across the House. 

Frontline Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat, Green and DUP voices were joined by principled speakers from the backbenches, including a powerful contribution from Conservative Richard Fuller. He spoke about the need to inject some compassion into the debate on immigration, telling the House “I, for one, want to make sure that the Bills we pass in this country stand up for the best principles of our country”. 

As presented, this Bill is without humanity and deeply unfair. Measures designed to push immigration control in-country, and further into the hands of private citizens, will facilitate disharmony and discrimination in our communities. A new criminal offence of illegal working would increase vulnerability, strengthening the hand of rogue employers, and proposals to remove mainstream asylum support from families would target children, compounding their suffering, without offering any enforcement benefits. New powers for immigration officials abound, whilst provision for scrutiny and due process protection is stripped away, notwithstanding the poor administration and underperformance which even the Home Secretary has identified in her department.

Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham’s message on the Bill was strong: it is a headline-grabbing, evidence-free zone and “the public can spot any attempt to play politics with this issue from a million miles away”. 

The truth is the Bill will not progress effective immigration control. The lack of evidence for its provisions was a point picked up by SNP spokesperson for Asylum, Immigration and Border Control Stuart McDonald who described the Bill as “immigration theatre”.

The last thing a failing department needs is more powers and less scrutiny; the last thing our society and our immigration system need is an increase in “amateur immigration control” conducted by private citizens. In a nutshell – as neatly put by Liberal Democrat Home Affairs lead Alistair Carmichael – this Bill promotes “anecdote and prejudice over evidence”.

Undermining social cohesion

The issue of prejudice was raised time and time again by members of all political persuasions. The Greens’ Caroline Lucas described the Bill as “nasty” and “punitive”, inevitably risking more racism and undermining the social cohesion the Home Secretary heralded in her party conference speech. 

Many pointed to evidence from JCWI that a pilot of the existing right to rent scheme led to discrimination without bringing about any significant enforcement gains. Shadow Immigration Minister Sir Keir Starmer reminded the House that, given the Government’s failure to publish its promised evaluation of the West Midlands pilot, JCWI’s evidence is all we have to go on when considering the impact of landlord implemented immigration checks. Immigration Minister James Brokenshire had promised a step-by-step approach, with no attempt to further the scheme if serious problems arose. Sir Keir pointed out that “serious problems have arisen” – but Ministers plough on regardless. His message to Government was clear: “In the 21st century this House should not be in the business of passing legislation that has such potentially discriminatory outcomes.” 

The drive to create a ‘hostile environment’ lies behind many of the proposals set out in this Bill – but, as SNP lead Stewart McDonald pointed out, we cannot “hermetically seal off the bad migrants” to suffer the consequences. Government orchestrated hostility effects all of us. This was a sentiment echoed by DUP spokesperson for Justice, Home Affairs and Human Rights Gavin Robinson: in the effort to make the UK unattractive to migrants “we must make sure we don’t become unattractive as a people or a country”.

Fight for a time limit

High on hostility and low on compassion, the Bill is also remarkable for what is omits. The UK is the only EU country to practice unlimited detention of migrants, including asylum seekers, but the consensus for change is mounting. 

The Labour party pledged to end unlimited detention in its manifesto, with similar commitments coming from the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens. A cross-party parliamentary inquiry which reported back this year recommended a 28-day limit, a proposal supported by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Conservative Richard Fuller urged both his Government colleagues and the Labour front bench to do the right thing: “Set a time limit for keeping people in immigration detention and … protect pregnant women and victims of torture, rape and international conflict from detention in this country”.

As the Bill enters Committee Stage, Liberty will continue to fight for a time limit on detention and oppose the most divisive, unfair and unprincipled aspects of this Bill.


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Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager