The Archbishop of York and the Bishop of St Albans both spoke during the first day of the Committee Stage of the Government’s Immigration Bill on 3rd March. The amendments they debated involved policy relating to immigration removals, holding facilities, use of force, effect on families and children, and the appeals process. Their interventions can be found in full below, with links to the corresponding sections of Hansard on the UK parliament website, where the full exchanges involving other members of the House can be seen.
The Committee stage of a Bill in the House of Lords involves a line by line examination of all the clauses in the Bill. This can take place over many days and often happens on the floor of the Lords Chamber. All members are entitled to take part, table or speak to amendments. Amendments that are tabled are often done so to enable debate and discussion on various points within the Bill. They are routinely withdrawn (not pressed to a vote) after being debated. Such issues are often returned to at the Bill’s next stage (the Report Stage), where the majority of votes on amendments takes place.
Amendments 1 and 4 – removal of a person unlawfully in the UK
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, there are some very welcome amendments to this Bill, and I will speak shortly to Amendments 1 and 4.
As someone who owes his life to a country that was willing to provide sanctuary at a time of extreme danger, as my wife and I secretly left President Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, I feel strongly about these matters. This is not to say that I do not recognise the need for proper border control. States have the right to guard their citizens from any real negative impact—social or economic—of excessive immigration. Nevertheless, Amendments 1 and 4 are actually very helpful in a number of ways.
First, I apologise that I was not in the House for the Second Reading on 10 February, but I was pleased to see the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that day. He said:
“The Bill does not undermine individual rights; rather, it strengthens them. The arbitrariness of whether the family life threshold has been met is replaced by clarity and consistency”.
He went on to say:
“It streamlines the process of removing illegal migrants while protecting the vulnerable. … Families being removed will continue to benefit from the coalition’s commitment to end child detention. … We will protect the vulnerable”.—[Official Report, 10/2/14; cols. 416-18.]
However, undue haste is rarely in the interests of fairness, especially when people are disorientated, confused and fearful. While I can see the merits of bringing the decisions together, giving people only 72 hours to access the legal support and advice necessary to make an appeal is not helpful. What if someone is unwell or on holiday? I can hear those responsible having no answer to make other than, “’Tough luck”. It is only fair that if a person is to be removed they be given adequate notice. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would have it that the date of removal was given at that point. This is perhaps better than receiving a letter simply saying that you are liable to removal, although either makes it clear that preparations must be made, which is better all round. Of course, some will say that giving notice gives the opportunity to abscond, but, on balance, it is more humane to give notice. The determination is there for those who are regarded as at risk of absconding: they can be detained.
Amendment 4 is another vital amendment that is consistent with the earlier amendment. It would remove the possibility that a family member being removed might receive no notice. It seems to me that, if they did not receive notice, in a society like this that would be not good. I therefore support Amendments 1 and 4.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: [extract]…I hope I can reassure the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who I am delighted is participating in our debates today, that the common law principles of access to justice mean that migrants will be given sufficient time—a minimum of 72 hours—to raise such grounds before any removal can be enforced. They will be reminded of the fact that they may be removed from the UK if they do not depart voluntarily during any contact management events. If the migrant’s removal is enforced but they are compliant with the process, they will be informed of when to check in to the port of departure. If the migrant is not compliant, they will first be detained, where they will be informed when removal is imminent…
The Archbishop of York: I still have not understood the Minister’s logic. I appreciate and want to commend the removal of the two-stage approach—the fast-forward immigration decision and then the removal decision. That has caused difficulty to a lot of people whom I have been representing and the Secretary of State knows that because we have had wonderful conversations. Therefore, I applaud that. But if there are 72 hours in which you can appeal the decision, what is the problem of giving notice in writing of the date and approximate time of the removal? People could still appeal within 72 hours. Why not state that? I cannot understand the logic. Can the Minister please help me?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The purpose of the notice is not to put people under notice as to the exact timing of when they will go. It is intended that they should be informed of where they will be removed to because that might have a bearing on human rights considerations. But the actual timing of their removal is an administrative matter. To my mind, it would be a complication that might reduce the effectiveness of these measures if the actual timing of their removal also had to be part and parcel of that notice.
If experience shows that it is possible to be more precise in working this new arrangement, I have little doubt that we will come back to the House to seek ways in which that can be done. But for the time being, it is expecting too much to be able to be precise about the actual time and date of a person’s removal when serving this notice.
The Archbishop of York: Is the Minister quite sure about that in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said about the way that this thing will work—that it will not be very efficient and that people will not be very good at it? Now the Minister is saying that there will be an administrative decision by the Secretary of State. How can we be certain that the kind of problems that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, drew our attention to, which are real experiences that everyone knows about, will not affect the changes we are looking for?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I can be certain that when people get a decision about the refusal of their right to remain they will be removed if they do not make arrangements to go voluntarily. That is a step forward. I hope noble Lords will appreciate that much of what the Government are trying to do, including bringing Border Agency activities into the Home Office, is designed to make sure that as we develop better oversight of decision-making within the Home Office and within UKVI we will have a more efficient process in the detail that the most reverend Primate suggested.
[Amendments withdrawn/not moved]
Amendment 3 – Family returns and welfare of children
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I, too, welcome this amendment. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, and I visited Yarl’s Wood when he was Archbishop of Canterbury. We were quite surprised and shocked, and made very clear representations about this particular question of the detention of unaccompanied minors. I am very grateful for what is happening here but again, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I want to know whether the Minister can give us an assurance that there will be monitoring of the 24-hours issue and that it will not turn into a norm that nobody can question, so that we can find out whether this is healing a very difficult problem. However, for all of that, I welcome this particular amendment.
Amendment 11 – Short-term holding facilities at Heathrow Airport
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I stand again to support this wonderful amendment with its mover. What is going on here? This makes sense to me. There are detention centre rules which govern immigration removal centres, but the short-term holding facilities in airports, as has already been mentioned, are very different. In some of them—for example, Pennine House in Manchester where, sadly, a Pakistani man died last July—people can be held for up to seven days. There need to be published rules to provide a sound governance structure. Without that, we will not be reassured. People can be held at times of great personal and familial stress. The intention behind the amendment is to make sure that these facilities make good provision, with clear rules, for safety, care, health, activities, discipline and control of detained persons. Who would argue against that?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: [extract]…My Lords, I appreciate the concerns of my noble friend Lord Avebury, the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the concerns of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. They have caused my noble friend to table the amendment, and caused us to debate not just the rules but the provision of facilities.
I start by reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that in the past year the Home Office has been in acute dialogue with Heathrow Airport Ltd about the Heathrow Airport facility to progress accommodation units. That is now bearing fruit. My noble friend Lord Avebury asked me if I could place information on the design of these facilities in the Library. I understand that HAL, the Border Force and, for that matter, the Home Office are in final discussions on the detailed design stage and, indeed, are going out to contractors for quotes in March of this year—that is, now. If that is the situation, I am sure that I will be in a position to satisfy my noble friend’s request to place a copy of the design in the House Library, and I will seek to do that for him.
I am aware that there has also been a lack of legislative framework governing the operation of the short-term holding facilities. As has been pointed out by noble Lords, this has been a matter of concern for years to a number of interested parties, including Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, who has responsibility for inspecting the UK’s detention facilities. The delay in introducing these rules is regretted, but it has been a case of unavoidable delay being caused by a number of different reasons, including, most recently, the discussions surrounding the legislative framework that should apply to Cedars, which we have just discussed, which initially had been classified as a short-term holding facility and, as such, would have been covered by these rules. We have just debated those amendments. Accordingly, today, I give my noble friend a commitment that separate sets of rules governing the management and operation of short-term holding facilities and the Cedars pre-departure accommodation will be introduced before the Summer Recess. With that, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 12 – Enforcement powers
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, Amendment 12 provides what I believe to be a necessary safeguard to reassure the public that those responsible for enforcement are fully accountable. Accountability is at the heart of all of this. This is surely an improvement as it ensures independent oversight by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration of enforcement powers, such as searching persons and premises as well as the general power to use reasonable force. If we are confident that such powers are always fairly and humanely exercised, there is nothing to fear from this amendment. If we are not, then this amendment is absolutely necessary.
Amendment 13 – Extension of the use of force
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 13 of the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Llandudno and Lord Ramsbotham. The trouble is that paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 widens the authorisation under which immigration officers can use “reasonable force” to cover all their powers in all immigration Acts, rather than just the specific powers of arrest, search and entry given in the 1971 and 1999 Acts. Such blanket permission for something as indefinable as “reasonable force”, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, illustrated, is pretty unwise.
Surely it is important that any extension of use of force by agents of the state is justified in detail, rather than in this sweeping manner. For example, the use of force against pregnant women or children in a variety of contexts is problematic. I support Amendment 13 and hope that it will go in the direction of the definition given by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of what could be included in the Bill about what we mean by the rather blanket word, “reasonable”. What is reasonable to me may be completely unreasonable to another person, unless it is defined.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: [extract]… My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York joined the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in raising the question of the effectiveness of quality control in terms of outcomes, how we enforce contracts, and whether we hold contractors responsible. We do exactly that. We have contract monitoring teams at each detention facility and individual detention and escort contractors are certified by the Secretary of State, and this certification can be withdrawn. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will know, a new training programme is being undertaken by the Home Office in this area. I have invited him to come along and look at the programme and perhaps contribute to its development because we feel it is very important that at the heart of good practice in this area lies oversight on the one hand, good management on the other and, at the bottom of all of that, good training for the operatives. I think it would be the wish of the House and, indeed, the Home Office that that is provided for. My noble friend Lady Benjamin asked if there was particular training given to officers on medical conditions. I am not in a position to give that answer on the spot but I am happy to write to her.
I turn to Amendment 13. We should make it clear that the provision to extend the use of force affects only immigration officers and does not make any change to the powers of contractors, those detainee custody officers and escorts, who have separate statutory powers to use reasonable force in their functions. We believe that immigration officers should be able to use their powers to the fullest extent, where it is necessary. If paragraph 5 were to be removed, it would not affect the majority of immigration powers of examination, arrest, entry, search, detention and fingerprinting, where officers are able to use reasonable force if necessary, as most of these are contained within the Immigration Act 1971 and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, as my noble friend Lord Avebury pointed out.
However, there are a small number of coercive powers, which sit in later legislation, where there is no specific reference to the use of reasonable force. Although the use of force is currently implied, we intend that this should be set out explicitly in statute to ensure greater transparency. The use of force in these situations may be necessary for immigration officers to carry out their role effectively and safely, and I have given illustrations of that earlier in my response. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it would be hard to see, for example, how immigration officers could safely arrest a person for the offence of assaulting an immigration officer if they were unable to use reasonable force to restrain that person. It should be noted that the new enforcement powers proposed in the Bill make amendments to either the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, so will already be covered by the existing provision for immigration officers to use reasonable force where necessary.
I can assure noble Lords that only immigration officers who are fully trained and accredited may use force. Arrest training is currently provided by the College of Policing, and training on the use of force, including control and restraint techniques, is in line with ACPO standards. Published guidance explains that the use of force must be proportionate, lawful, necessary, and age appropriate. It also sets out that force should be used for the shortest possible period, be the minimum needed, used only when all other avenues of securing co-operation have been exhausted, and de-escalated as soon as possible.
Every instance where force is used is recorded in a comprehensive incident report. Out of 14,598 enforcement visits in the financial year 2012-13, force against the person was used in a little over 2% of cases. The issue of whether that use of force was reasonable must be justified on a case-by-case basis, as I have been explaining to my noble friend Lord Mawhinney. The extension of the power to use reasonable force will ensure that existing powers are able to be operated effectively, are in step with other law enforcement bodies’ powers, and that current enforcement practices are not at any risk of legal challenge on the grounds that the ability to use force is not explicitly set out in statute. Now I hope that I have been able to explain the context in which these provisions of the Bill are being proposed. In the light of these points, I hope that noble Lords will be reassured and feel able not to press their amendments.
[Amendment not moved]
Amendment 26 – Right of appeal to First-tier Tribunal
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, if I may, I will just add a brief comment on precisely that amendment. Some years ago I spent time in Malaysia and found myself meeting a number of barristers, all of whom had trained in this country. They spoke of how, when they had particular legal problems or needed advice, they would immediately turn to the people they had studied with back in this country. However, they were lamenting the fact that in recent years the next generation were all being trained in Australia and America and, of course, the place that they immediately contacted when they wanted help was their friends in those countries. They thought it was the most extraordinarily short-sighted approach compared with the way things had formerly been done.
I will add one other thing. Just three or four weeks ago, I paid a visit to one of the universities in my diocese, the University of Bedfordshire, and I met Bill Rammell, who had recently come there as the vice-chancellor. Immediately when we got talking, he lamented the very serious problem they have now of finding perfectly good students who want to come but are simply already unable to come. He was saying that this is something that is materially affecting Bedfordshire as one of our dynamic, thriving universities, which wants to be right of the forefront of forming, developing and, indeed, celebrating an international academic community, but it is finding that already it is difficult. Therefore, I want to add my support for the amendment.