Marathon through-the-night Lords sitting on small boats law ‘disgraceful’

The Government pressing ahead with parliamentary scrutiny of controversial plans to tackle the small boats crisis into the early hours of the morning has been branded “disgraceful” at Westminster.

There was frustration and anger as detailed debate on the Illegal Migration Bill continued through the night in the House of Lords.

Critics argued it was “disappointing” such important matters, including the care of unaccompanied migrant children and detention of pregnant women, were being dealt with in such a way.

The proceedings of the upper chamber, which started at 3pm on Wednesday were eventually adjourned shortly before dawn at 4.16am.

Wrapping up the session, deputy speaker and Tory peer Lord Lexden said: “The House do now adjourn – at long last.”

It is rare for the House, which would normally rise at about 10pm, to sit so late.
The last time it did so was during the stormy votes over Brexit.

Although targets are set for the consideration of amendments at committee stage of a Bill, these are flexible and it is not unusual for extra days to be added.

The decision to push on will be seen as a signal of the Government’s determination to progress the flagship legislation, which has sparked fierce opposition from peers.

It sets the scene for an extended future tussle between the unelected chamber and Government during so-called parliamentary ping-pong, when legislation moves between the Lords and Commons.

The Bill, which has already been passed by the Commons, aims to ensure those who arrive in the UK without permission will be detained and promptly deported, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

Critics argue the draft legislation breaks international law and threatens modern slavery protections.

Despite the lateness of the hour, an unusually large number of ministers remained in the chamber, along with the Lords chief whip and some Tory peers as an apparent safeguard in case a vote was called.

Labour former minister Lord Bach said: “Can I for my own part say how disgraceful I think it is we are debating these really important and serious matters at this hour in the morning.”

He added: “I think it’s so disappointing that this Bill is now being dealt with in this way at this hour of the morning.”

Rwanda policy
The House of Lords debated on the Illegal Migration Bill into the early hours of Thursday morning. (Tom Pilgrim, PA)

Earlier, shortly after midnight, as peers debated the holding of migrants arriving in the UK by unauthorised means, Liberal Democrat Lord Scriven said: “It is ironic that we are talking about detention when the Government frontbench is trying to detain us here.

“What we are trying to do is our job of sensibly and calmly dealing with a Bill that has huge potential for the liberty and lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

He added: “It is not funny and amusing to be told that we have to stay here until goodness knows what time to do our job because the Government benches wish to rush this through at any cost as a red-wall, red-meat Bill, rather than allowing us the serious job that we have to do as members of this House. It is an absolute disgrace.”

Labour peer Baroness Lister of Burtersett said: “I wish to put on the record my protest at the fact that we are debating these important issues after midnight. It is disgraceful.”

The marathon session, however, was not the longest single sitting of the Lords.

The record was set back in 2005, when peers sat from 11am on March 10 to 7:31pm the following day – more than 32 hours – as they considered amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill.