Jo Stevens

A strong voice for Cardiff Central

Immigration Bill

Today, MPs will debate amendments made by the House of Lords to the Immigration Bill.

Following pressure by Labour Peers in the House of Lords the Government were defeated or have made concessions on a number of areas in the Immigration Bill.

I voted against the Immigration Bill at Third Reading in the House of Commons because I believe it will be counterproductive, harm community cohesion and fails to address the legitimate concerns people have about our immigration system.

In particular, Labour oppose the measures in this Bill that: create an offence of illegal working; withdraw support for asylum seekers with children who have exhausted the appeals process and introduce criminal penalties for landlords renting to those without immigration status.

I will be voting to retain the following Lord’s Amendments in the Immigration Bill:

i)          Unaccompanied refugee children (Lords Amendment 87)

3,000 is the figure that groups including UNICEF and Save the Children have suggested would represent a ‘fair share’ of the UK’s contribution to tackling the growing problem of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Labour have repeatedly called on the Government to do more to tackle the refugee crisis, in particular to support and relocate unaccompanied children within Europe.

On 21st April the Government published a Written Ministerial Statement announcing plans to resettle ‘the most vulnerable children, accompanied by their families’ from the Middle East and North Africa, which ‘could’ involve ‘up to 3000 individuals over the lifetime of this Parliament, the majority of whom will be children’. Whilst I welcome this move, it does not go far enough and, crucially, does not include unaccompanied refugee children already in Europe – many of whom are among the most vulnerable refugees.

iii)       Immigration detention time limit (Lords Amendment 84)

Labour has a long-standing commitment to end indefinite detention in the immigration system. The independent Shaw Report, set up by the Government to review immigration detention, also called for action to end excessive detention.

This amendment would introduce a presumptive limit of 28 days on immigration detention and require the Secretary of State to gain judicial approval for any extension beyond that period. An extension beyond 28 days would only be permitted if ‘exceptional circumstances’ had been outlined. The 28 day limit would not apply to anyone who has been sentenced to more than 12 months or who has been already cleared for deportation.

This amendment strikes the right balance – ensuring an end to indefinite detention and putting in place a clear process that would only allow extended detention in the small number of number of cases where release could pose a threat to public safety or where swifter deportation is not possible.

ii)        Overseas Domestic Workers (Lords Amendment 60)

This amendment seeks to provide further protection for Overseas Domestic Workers (ODWs) and implements the full recommendations of the Ewins Report – an independent report commissioned by the Coalition Government in March 2015 following concern raised by Labour in the last Parliament that the exploitation of ODWs constitutes a continuing form of modern slavery.

Ewins concluded that current visa arrangements for ODWs are incompatible with the protection of workers’ fundamental human rights. The central recommendation in the Ewins report was that ODWs should have the right to change employer and apply for further leave to remain in the UK (for up to 30 months), and to be required to attend a meeting after entry to the UK to inform them of their rights. Labour called for similar action on this in the last Parliament during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act.

The Government have said they will look to implement many of Ewins’ recommendations (which Labour welcome) but will not do so fully, including the central recommendation that ODWs should be able to change employer and apply to stay in the UK.

I believe the Ewins report should be implemented in full and will therefore be voting against Government plans to remove this amendment from the Immigration Bill.

iv)       Immigration detention of pregnant women (Lords Amendment 85)

This amendment would prevent the detention of pregnant women in the immigration system. This is a long-overdue step and I will be voting against Government plans to remove this amendment.

Lords Amendment 85 echoes the clear recommendation in the independent Shaw report, which states that presumptive exclusion of pregnant women from detention should be replaced with an absolute exclusion’. Shaw concluded that immigration detention poses clear health risks to pregnant women and their unborn child and that it has been used more widely than the ‘exceptional circumstances’ outlined in Home Office guidance.

The Home Secretary announced plans last week (18th April) to introduce a 72-hour limit on the detention of pregnant women, extendable to one week with Ministerial approval and a Government amendment in lieu has been tabled on this.

This is a step in the right direction but  it stops short of the clear recommendation made in the Shaw report.

If you require any further information about this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact me using jo.stevens.mp@parliament.uk. 

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