A fresh onslaught has been unleashed at Westminster against the Government’s plans to tackle the small boats crisis, with peers inflicting 11 defeats.
The string of changes being demanded by the House of Lords to the Illegal Migration Bill include strict time limits on the detention of children and pregnant women, protections for victims of modern slavery and safeguards for the care of unaccompanied youngsters.
Other revisions backed by the unelected chamber would place restrictions on removal destinations for LGBT+ people and strip out curbs on legal challenges to deportation.
The flagship reforms have already been given a hammering by peers and the latest defeats further fuel the prospect of a prolonged and fraught tussle between peers and the Government during so-called parliamentary ping-pong, when legislation is batted between the Lords and Commons.
The Bill continued its bruising passage through the Lords as provisional figures showed more than 11,000 migrants had so far made the Channel crossing this year, with a record for June of 3,824.
The Bill aims to ensure those who arrive in the UK without permission will be detained and promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country.
The plan to send migrants to Rwanda was dealt a blow recently by an appeal court ruling, although the Government intends to challenge this.
Ministers say action is needed to stop migrants making the dangerous sea crossing but critics argue the draft legislation breaks international law and denies refuge to the most vulnerable.
Backing a cross-party amendment to retain the 72-hour limit on the detention of pregnant women, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, said: “This is an issue of dignity for a highly vulnerable group.
“There is no evidence to suggest the current 72-hour time limit on their detention has resulted in lots of pregnant women making the crossing.”
Leading women’s rights campaigner and independent crossbencher Baroness Gohir said: “This Government is compromising the safety of pregnant migrants and compromising the safety of their babies.”
Conservative former foreign minister Baroness Sugg, who said: “It impacts just a small number of women, but will have a big impact on those women’s health and their futures.”
Responding, Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth said: “Under the Bill, detention is not automatic. The Bill confers the powers to detain and the appropriateness of detention will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“Given the safeguards we have already built into arrangements for the detention of pregnant women the Government remains of the view that these amendments, however well-meaning, are not necessary.”
Later, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, successfully led a cross-party move to limit ministerial power to transfer a child out of local authority care and into Home Office accommodation, by ensuring they could only do so where it is necessary to protect and promote the welfare of the youngster.
The senior Anglican cleric said: “It is a damning indictment that an amendment of this nature is even required as it proposes such a basic safeguard to ensure the well-being of unaccompanied children.”
He added: “The care of children is first and foremost not an immigration matter and safeguarding cannot be allowed to be a casualty in the pursuit of the objectives of this Bill.
“A child’s life, their security and future are too important for them to become collateral damage.”
Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “We have a duty to protect children.”
Highlighting the number of migrant children who have gone missing, he added: “If the Home Office was a parent and a human being, that parent, that human being known as the Home Office would be prosecuted.”
In reply, the minister cited the example of the transfer power being used to enable the “appropriate removal” of a child on turning 18.
Lord Murray said: “The Government expect local authorities to meet their statutory obligations to unaccompanied children from the date of their arrival in the United Kingdom, and that the Home Office step in only sparingly and temporarily.”
Peers also backed the removal of a section of the Bill that would bar a court or tribunal from granting interim orders that prevent or delay the removal of a person from the UK.
Lord Murray said the clause provided a safeguard “against the endless merry-go-round of legal challenges that those with no right to be here use to thwart their removal”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub