Arriving a tad late thanks to an enormous queue to get through the security checks at the buildings entrance, I managed to catch the end of Dr Martin Ruhs’ address. Representing the Migration Advisory Committee, he spoke of the coming consultation on settlement and the effect of raising the skills threshold in the Points-Based System and how this could potentially have a far greater effect on migration than imposing a lower cap.
Once again, the debate was dominated by the question of what were the economic benefits to the UK on offer through immigration. Therefore it was a welcome relief to hear Shami Chakrabarti’s contribution. She was not interested in the economic question but that of human rights. Stressing that it is vital to have a debate on immigration that does not engender fear, and that a complex make up in society is a very good thing.
On asylum she raised concerns about the historical attacks on the very notion of asylum, visa restrictions on countries producing large asylum flows, the idea that transit visas are necessary to even change planes at Heathrow leads to a far greater degree of difficulty in getting to the stage where claiming asylum is possible. Then roundly condemned the administrative detention of asylum seekers, comparing the practice to imprisoning anyone filling in a tax declaration and being released once their tax form had been thoroughly checked. She offered qualified congratulations to the Coalition Government on the question of child detention, and credited the Government for not picking on asylum seekers.
One weakness, as she’d pointed out just earlier, there’s not exactly many asylum seekers in the UK to pick on anymore, asylum has ceased to be an issue the Coalition Government might gain cheap votes from attacking. Nowadays its more a case of not picking on asylum seekers, just targeting asylum. It doesn’t seem worthwhile crediting any government with such percieved restraint.
She rounded off her talk with a stinging attack on the pre-entry language requirement for spouses. It’s an issue that JCWI has been active on for some time. The policy applies to the spouses ofUKnationals and not to nationals from other EEA countries, speaking English here is very important but the language is best learned here and this rule is petty and disappointing.
Tom Brake, the co-chair of the Liberal Democrat backbench committee on Home Affairs, justice and equalities was up next. Perhaps sensing a Liberal Democrat desire to distance themselves from the Conservatives I was ready for a critical look at the Coalition Government’s performance so far. Not a bit of it. Although he spoke on the lack of the phrase ‘hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands’ in the Coalition agreement, Tom was upfront about the need in his eyes to cut immigration, and satisfied that many of the undertakings of the Coalition Government were on track to be realised and that a new wave of debate and policy could be introduced in the second half of this Parliamentary term. He was keen on a discussion on immigration on a local or regional level. The ongoing discussion on appeals for family visa refusals was also mentioned. These discussions, said Tom, need to be guided by the interests of British citizens.
The shadow minister for immigration, Gerry Sutcliffe, spoke saying Labour had to learn the lessons of the election defeat last year (why do I shudder when I hear that phrase in the context of a debate on immigration?). Immigration, he argued, is an economic question but it is actually people we’re talking about here. The immigration cap is of concern as any failure to reach the targets imposed will be interpreted as a failure. However there is little between the parties in political aspiration on the subject.
The Greens and UKIP got a few minutes each. Jean Lambert from the Greens was in tune with much of what Shami had said earlier. The man from UKIP has apparently decided an optimum population for the UK of 58 million. He didn’t show us his calculations.
In the discussion I brought up the issue of young married couples visas and JCWI’s human rights case currently being appealed by the Home Secretary. Diego and Amber Aguillar Quila a young married couple who are forced to live in Ireland at present as a visa was denied to Diego because their age. It has many parallels with the language requirement case in its application and impact on human rights. Tom Brake responded by saying it showed the need for a fair and effective appeals procedure, Gerry Sutcliffe pointed to the disparity between intention and reality of policy and law. Shami Chakrabarti called for clarity and honesty over immigration policy. The pre-entry language requirement was posed during the day by ministers to be a vital tool in improving integration, then in the evening on Newsnight the same minister is using the same policy to demonstrate the steps the government is taking to reduce immigration. The reduction in immigration through the young marriage visa restriction is estimated to directly effect 5000 couples.
I am hoping for more speakers from a human rights background to participate in APPGs on migration, in fact in every discussion on migration. After all, as Gerry Sutcliffe said “Its human beings we’re talking about here”.