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European Agenda on Migration

Volume 603: debated on Monday 14 December 2015

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 8961/15, a European Agenda on Migration, No. 9345/15, EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, unnumbered Document, a Council Decision on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), unnumbered Document, a Council Decision to launch EUNAVFOR Med, and a Draft Action Plan on Stepping up EU-Turkey cooperation on support of refugees and migration management in view of the situation in Syria and Iraq; and supports the Government’s aim of working with the EU and Member States and other international partners to develop a coherent and sustainable approach to addressing current migratory pressures, focused on shorter and longer term actions to break the business model of people smugglers and traffickers, to break the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement in the EU, and to address the root causes of migrants’ journeys.

Today’s debate offers an important opportunity to look at the range of measures proposed to address the migration situation. The first of the documents listed on the motion, the “European Agenda on Migration”, was published on 15 May and sought to provide a blueprint from which to address the worsening situation by outlining an overview of the various measures available to the EU. It is fair to say that subsequent documents listed for the most part provide the detail of that blueprint.

The Government support many aspects of the European agenda. We agree that there should be more effective joint action on returns and against people smugglers. We favour stronger co-operation with third countries, as well as more effective management of the external border. Indeed, we have continued to press our European partners on those points, both before and since the publication of the Commissioner’s communication.

We have also welcomed the proposals against migrant smuggling. Its focus on strengthening co-operation to tackle the gangs profiting from the crisis through people smuggling, including enhanced approaches with international partners, is sensible, and we support the strategic priorities outlines.

Does the Minister agree with me that it does not sit well with Mrs Merkel that she should be criticising the Hungarians who have done their level best to implement the Schengen arrangements, as they are required to do, by seeking to secure their border, which is the European border? Has the Minister or the Home Secretary had an opportunity to speak to Chancellor Merkel to say that she should be supporting the Hungarians, not attacking them?

As my hon. Friend will know, we are not part of Schengen, so the operations to deal with internal Schengen arrangements are for those who are party to them. As was discussed in the previous debate, what happens at the external Schengen border is important, which is why we have sought to support Frontex in a number of its activities, given the potential impact on us in the UK.

Looking at the approach off the coast of the European border, it is interesting to note how the subsequent Council decision on an EU military operation in the southern central Mediterranean has in many respects been a positive step in the joint efforts to break the business model of the people smugglers. That has had the UK’s full support. On 7 October, the operation moved into phase 2, the high seas phase, and was renamed Operation Sophia, in which the UK is playing an important role.

The purpose of Operation Sophia is to tackle the human smugglers and traffickers, disrupting their business model, which trades so carelessly in the lives of others. We must not forget, however, that Operation Sophia is only one part of the Government’s support for sea operations in the region. Since May, the UK has saved over 9,000 lives in the Mediterranean.

The last document listed, the proposed Turkey-EU action plan, has been broadly welcomed by political leaders across the EU and was the subject of an EU-Turkey summit on 29 November. The Government share the view that a plan of this kind is needed in order to ease the refugee burden on Turkey, while preventing further uncontrolled migration to the EU. Turkey is a key relationship partner for the EU and is a country with which the UK has had close co-operation for some time. It also has a pivotal role in the migration crisis, given that so many of the migratory flows through Greece and the western Balkans come through Turkey.

Does my right hon. Friend concede that there could be an element of disingenuousness in the embracing of Turkey in this context, given that so many of the problems that we have seen recently have come through Turkey?

It is important to look at the action plan to provide an overarching response to the challenges we face. Clearly, that involves Turkey as an active partner, which means working within Turkey and alongside it further afield. It is important to recognise and support Turkey’s efforts in hosting well over 2 million Syrian refugees. It is important to continue to retain that focus, which is why we are providing financial support as part of an overarching package to assist with the efforts taking place in Turkey.

However, I stress the importance of the Prime Minister’s announcement that, as part of the United Kingdom’s responsibilities, we would resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees over the next five years. We remain on track to resettle 1,000 before Christmas, building on our previous scheme. However, it is neither feasible nor desirable for us to try to meet the needs of all those who require protection within the European Union, nor is it the right solution for the majority. That is why the Government have placed so much emphasis on supporting protection in refugees’ regions of origin, and we have committed a further £100 million to fund refugee camps on Syria’s border.

As well as focusing on humanitarian assistance, the Government have consistently focused on finding a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister has continued to emphasise the need of the EU to deal with the root causes of the crisis, rather than merely responding to its consequences.

In Syria, that means working with the international community to end the brutal conflict there, and to defeat Daesh. The recent development of a Syrian opposition negotiating committee following talks in Riyadh last week is a positive addition to the peace plan that was produced in Vienna last month. It could be an important step towards a solution in Syria, and therefore part of the long-term solution to the migration crisis. In Libya, that means helping to form a Government of national accord which can regain control of the country’s borders and tackle the smuggling gangs. A strong, unified response to Libya, like the one that was demonstrated only yesterday in Rome, is imperative to securing the political agreement that will allow that country to move towards improved security. And, as I have said, in Turkey that means working towards comprehensive border management, ensuring that a humanitarian response is given to those who reach the country while also disrupting the organised criminal networks that seek to profit from the flight of others.

The situation relating to the migration crisis is constantly changing. The Government maintain a watch on all developments, so that we can reshape and refresh our engagement and share our expertise and resources in a targeted way to protect the UK’s national interest, assist our European partners, and ensure that our efforts have the greatest impact on the support that we offer. We remain committed to effective practical co-operation with our European partners in pursuit of this agenda, and that is what the motion underpins.

The motion covers a number of important documents, including the “European Agenda on Migration” and, of course, the “EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling”. The scope of the documents is broad, and their ambition is commendable. The “European Agenda on Migration”, for example, aims to set out an agenda for a fair, robust and realistic migration policy, and the action plan includes wider steps on issues such as people smuggling, recovering criminal assets, data gathering and the sharing of information, and the use of military assets.

We support those aims, and the motion’s call for

“a coherent and sustainable approach to addressing…migratory pressures”.

We also praise and support the efforts of our Royal Navy and other armed forces, who have rescued more than 5,577 migrants from the Mediterranean so far. It would be appreciated if the Minister could update us on the figure. The key question, however, is the extent to which the Government are helping to deliver that approach, and whether the European Union as a whole is achieving it. It is clear from the concerns that have been highlighted by the European Scrutiny Committee, and from the painful reality on the ground that we have seen in many parts of the EU, that a

“coherent and sustainable approach”

has not yet been adopted. These documents attempt to identify an approach that will ensure that Europe remains a safe haven for those who are fleeing atrocities and persecution, while also securing its borders and creating the conditions for economic prosperity.

If there is to be a coherent and sustainable solution to the migrant crisis, we must crack down on those who seek to take advantage of people in their time of need. Ruthless criminal networks organise the journeys of large numbers of migrants who are desperate to reach the European Union. They make substantial gains while putting migrants’ lives at risk, often squeezing hundreds on to unseaworthy boats, including small inflatable ones. Scores of migrants drown at sea, suffocate in containers, or perish in deserts. Smugglers treat migrants as goods, just like the drugs and firearms which they often traffic along the same routes. That is why we support the current operations which are aimed at preventing the smuggling of people into the European Union, and agree that undertaking such operations provides an opportunity to have an immediate impact on the crisis.

However, as the motion acknowledges, action must also be taken to address the root causes of migration. Many of those root causes lie deep in global issues that the international community has been trying to address for many years. Civil war, persecution, poverty and climate change all feed into migration, which is why the United Kingdom must be involved in reinvigorated diplomatic efforts to bring peace and stability to countries such as Syria, from which most of the refugees originate. There is also an important role for targeted aid and assisting the development of the countries in question.

Against that background, there are a number of issues that I would like the Minister to clarify. It is important for there to be ongoing parliamentary scrutiny of UK involvement in anti-trafficking operations. Will the Minister commit himself to informing the House before any further developments are agreed, and, in particular, to informing us of any decision to move from phase 2 to phase 3 of Operation Sophia?

There are some contradictions relating to the current state of operations. The initial EU plan stated that phase 3 involved the disposing of vehicles and vessels used for trafficking, but the Government have said that 40 migrant boats have already been disposed of as part of phase 2. Can the Minister explain that, and can he tell us whether the phases have now changed?

As well as ensuring that the vessels used for trafficking are disrupted and disposed of, we must ensure that the people smugglers who take advantage of vulnerable people are brought to justice. Can the Minister provide details of what the UK is doing on that front, along with any details relating to the investigation and prosecution of those who have already been apprehended?

The question of the “European Agenda on Migration” and the action plan appear in a motion which we had to urge the Government to split from the previous one. Although there are some differences between them, in practice there are also some important similarities, as the Minister said at the beginning of his speech. However, a number of issues relating to this motion are of grave concern. I remind the Minister that, in his explanatory memorandum on the communications—this was some time ago, but I do not want to go through all that again—he said that the Commission had failed to

“present the correct set of policies to address the problems that Europe is currently facing in the Mediterranean and from mother migratory pressures”.

I am sure that he will understand my asking this question, which is pretty obvious: what are the correct policies, if this is the wrong one?

The Commission considers that the asylum system in the European Union, and the operation of the Dublin rules, are regarded as being “fundamentally unfair”. Let me ask another question. Is the Dublin system broken —and, given the behaviour of the German Chancellor, it appears to me that it is—or can it be repaired? If so, do the Government want it to be repaired? What changes do they want to be made when the Dublin rules are reviewed next year?

The Government have already made it clear that they favour a policy of resettlement—and I thoroughly support them in that respect—rather than relocation. Those words tend to be used rather freely, but resettlement is quite different from relocation. Relocation applies to individuals who are already in the European Union, who have applied for asylum in a front-line member state, and who are presumed, on the basis of their nationality, to be very likely to qualify for international protection. Resettlement, on the other hand, applies to those outside the EU who are admitted from their country of origin or from camps neighbouring conflict areas. Member states have collectively agreed to resettle 22,504 individuals from outside the EU in 2015 on the basis that they are in need of international protection. I have to say that, although that is the assertion, regrettably serious questions have to be raised about the nature of some of the people who claim to be in need of international protection. Many no doubt justify receiving protection, but I then move on to the United Nations convention—the 1951 Geneva convention—and the breadth of the definition that is applied, and my concern is that what we really need is a re-evaluation of the definitions of what is a refugee, what is a migrant and what is an asylum seeker.

I have to say that at the meeting I referred to in the previous debate which took place in Rome only last Friday, at which all the Chairmen of the relevant Select Committees were present, there was in fact an endorsement of my proposal, which I have been putting to various international and EU meetings over the past four months, for a review of these definitions. These definitions have been expanded even from 1951 and now cover so many different areas and types of people that it is extremely difficult to imagine whether any reasonable basis for a refusal to relocate them can be pursued.

We have already heard about the very few—about 100, I think—who have been relocated. The reason for that is part of the problem, which I will come on to in a moment: the charter of fundamental rights, which is applied in this instance and also for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. I know that people feel very strongly about this on both sides of the equation, and we have agreed that we would repeal the Human Rights Act, but in my judgment the depth of the analysis of the charter needs to be greatly improved. People who are claiming asylum can fall back on these international conventions in a way that creates a blockage of the legal system and the jurisdiction and jurisprudence of the human rights legislation, whether in respect of the charter or the European convention on human rights. There is therefore an increasing statistical and legal problem which is that more and more people are claiming asylum and, effectively, being granted it. I am not saying there are not many cases where that is justified, but I am saying that I think the definitions are so wide that this is becoming a very difficult problem and is not in fact going to lead to any serious policy of returns or deportations.

The Government have underlined the importance of breaking the economic model that encourages criminals to put people in harm’s way at sea, and that has to be highly commended. There are certainly advantages to the effectiveness of Operation Sophia, which has been well supported by the United Kingdom. The trouble is that with many traffickers and smugglers the problems exceed the capacity to deal with them. How effective does the Minister believe Operation Sophia has been because of the absence of an internationally recognised Government in Libya?

I now turn to the question of the extent to which we have entered into a sensible arrangement with Turkey. Turkey and the EU have signed a deal to give Turkey fast-track visa privileges in return for £3 billion-worth of aid and, I believe, the prospect of continuing financial support. There is also the prospect of a revitalised EU membership in return for a commitment to a migration action plan. I am profoundly cynical about this arrangement. I think it is based on giving money, almost in the nature of a bribe to Turkey. From what I have been hearing—and certainly from a meeting I attended very recently—the authorities in Turkey have been by no means diligent in enforcing the arrangements that are supposed to have been in place. The fact that so many people are making their way through the continent of Europe northwards towards Germany, causing an enormous amount of disruption, owes a great deal to the inefficiency with which I believe Turkey has been behaving recently.

In addition to that, without getting into the foreign policy and defence implications, Turkey has been at loggerheads with Russia, and that is a severe complication in relation to concerted action in Syria. Turkey is also profoundly committed to dealing, as it sees it, with the Kurds. That is probably more important to Turkey than anything else in this context, and that is also an obstacle to a coherent policy. I am therefore profoundly cynical about exactly how the Turkey deal will operate.

In terms of these fast-track visa privileges and its desire to come into the EU, we have to bear in mind that there are 78 million people in Turkey already, and I am told that that is increasing at something like the rate of about 1 million every 18 months. As the population expands, Turkish engagement with the EU and people coming over here will increase exponentially.

I hope my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the discussions about possible future visa liberalisation involve the Schengen countries; they do not involve those EU member states that are not part of Schengen.

Unfortunately, the Minister was not here when I spent a little time talking about the Schengen aspect of this in a previous debate. I believe that the current proposals, which increase the range of the border issue to external borders and include Schengen, will burst. This is not going to work. There is not the money to pay for it. The failure rate of Frontex is evident. I believe that the arrangement will not work in future, and the fact that we are not a member of Schengen will not alter the pressures of the kind we have witnessed recently that come as a result of people entering the Schengen area and, having acquired a passport and EU citizenship, making their way through the whole of the EU.

I accept that Schengen is not, for the moment at any rate, part of the UK’s bailiwick, but the pressures that are now beginning to grow are increasing the necessity for us to leave the EU, because, from what I have been hearing from other member states, Schengen is becoming a potent force towards a greater degree of emphasis on political union. It is a most remarkable state of affairs. The Minister for Europe was not here earlier, and I see him puzzling over what I am saying, but I say emphatically that the Schengen agreement is not only under review but already being broken by a series of countries. However, there is an enormous desire to make it work even more effectively. As it does so, the pressures for political union within the Schengen area will tend to increase.

Before I turn to the 1951 UN convention and the EU charter of fundamental rights, I want an answer to the question that I put to the Minister for Immigration earlier about how much, if at all, the United Kingdom is liable to contribute to the EU border force. Is it true that we will contribute £150 million?

Time did not allow me to respond to my hon. Friend’s question in the last debate, but we do not contribute to the core funding of Frontex. The agency is funded through a specific mechanism. He will know that we are not part of the Schengen arrangements, to which Frontex relates. We provide operational support through vessels, expertise and briefing.

I heard much the same back in the days of the Maastricht treaty, when we were told that we were not going to have creeping federalism. I sincerely believe that what the Minister has just said is what he believes will happen, and I trust him to say exactly what is going on—I will take his word for it—but the pressures are there. That is all I am saying.

My hon. Friend will no doubt take a great interest in the announcements that we are expecting to be made tomorrow about the EU border force. We will look closely at the proposals, but we will not take part in them because we are not part of the Schengen arrangements. To ensure that our national interests are protected, we will scrutinise them carefully.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for those remarks.

The UN convention on refugees was incorporated into EU law by virtue of the charter of fundamental rights, so when the European Court of Justice implements EU policies, it interprets key passages such as the right of migrants to claim asylum if they reach EU territory, under article 18 of the charter, and the non-refoulement prohibition on removal to an unsafe state, under article 33 of the UN convention. There is therefore interaction between the 1951 UN convention and the charter of fundamental rights.

As the Minister will know only too well, the European Scrutiny Committee looked at the problem of the charter of fundamental rights in the last Parliament and came to the conclusion that we should override it. I do not want to go back into that debate too much, but I remind him that the previous Labour Government were completely against the incorporation of the charter into the Lisbon treaty. Furthermore, the noble Lord Goldsmith, who was the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s envoy, sought and achieved a protocol that, on the face of it, excluded the charter of fundamental rights from UK legislation. We argued about that in the European Scrutiny Committee at the time, and I and other members of the Committee warned that it would not stick. Sure enough, as usual—I say “as usual” with regret—our prediction was right, and the European Court of Justice is now applying the charter of fundamental rights within the scope of European law. That is part of the problem, because as I have said, the charter incorporates the UN convention on refugees and all the definitions that go with it. As I said, I believe that those definitions must be reviewed, but they cannot be reviewed if they are part of the charter, which is applied by the European Court of Justice.

For practical purposes, the whole issue is caught up in the acquis communautaire. That is causing an enormous problem of interpretation and a logjam in the ability to deal with migration policy. I freely admit that a lot of this is a bit complicated, but unfortunately many people over the years have failed to understand that European Council and Council of Ministers meetings are not just about people sitting around and deciding to tweak education policy or transport policy, as Cabinet meetings might be in relation to domestic legislation. Decisions at those meetings lock the United Kingdom into legal obligations that can be removed only by the unanimity of all member states. That is the problem—it is a legal and political system, and it affects the issue of whether people are refugees or migrants.

I have no less sympathy for genuine refugees than anybody else. I have devoted a great deal of my time in the House to international development issues such as sanitation and water and people who are in refugee situations, but the current problem is not the same thing. It is not about having policies that we can rearrange and adjust; it is about the fact that we are being driven into a deeper acquis. That needs to be said in this debate, because the charter of fundamental rights means that the human rights dimension of the current problem, including the definition of refugees and asylum seekers, is locked into the acquis. In my opinion, that is one reason why so few of them are being dealt with appropriately.

As the Minister and I, and all of us, know only too well, the UK is not part of Schengen, but we are part of the Dublin regulation, which means that EU states and other UN convention signatories are obliged to allow for asylum claims as of right if a migrant reaches EU territory. However, the UN convention is not specific about how that obligation needs to be disposed. Arguably, to claim asylum under the convention, a refugee needs to arrive directly from the state from which they are fleeing. In practice, that can mean that an applicant has not been processed elsewhere en route. We are now dealing with 900,000 people, and the scale of the situation is as much of a problem as anything else.

Under the convention and the charter of fundamental rights, frontier states are not—I repeat not—allowed to block the entry of those with a genuine right to claim asylum. The question of setting up a border fence—as I said earlier, there is more barbed wire in Europe than at any time since the cold war—is extremely uncertain in law. The non-refoulement prohibition in the UN convention on the removal of an asylum seeker to an unsafe state can also be interpreted in different ways, including so as not to exclude removal to a safe third state or safe recent transit state. I want to get this on the record, because it is important that the Government look at it all carefully when they get the opportunity to do so. As I said, the charter of fundamental rights is subject to the European Court of Justice, whereas the United Nations convention is only a convention. We are dealing with a complicated legal situation, which I believe is generating even more problems from the European Union.

Although I accept entirely that this motion is merely one that “takes note”, many of the things that I have said have not been incorporated in the motion. I say with great respect to the Minister and to the Minister for Europe that some of these issues are difficult and intractable, but they none the less relate to the Schengen area and have a continuing and ongoing effect on the UK. I say that because as long as we remain part of this European Union—the Minister will accept that I do not think we should any more—we do not alter the fact that we are affected by these things. This migrant issue, with all the tragedies it involves for those who are drowning in the Mediterranean and with the great deal of problems that come from fake passports, jihadists and so on, makes the situation even worse. I simply say to the Minister that he should not think I am asking him to reply to all these points this evening, as I am sure he will not have the chance to do so. Will he, however, please take note of the fact that there are other arguments than those contained in the motion?

As has been mentioned, there is a fair amount of overlap between this motion and the previous item, so I will not repeat some of the comments I made in the prior debate. Unlike the previous motion, we will not be forcing this one to a vote, although one or two parts of it give us significant concern. I shall discuss those in a few moments’ time.

Yet again, I am disappointed, because we are talking about a refugee crisis, yet everything in the papers talks about migrants and migration. This is not a crisis of migrants or migration; it is a crisis of refugees fleeing for their lives. If we could get that into the mindset of not only our Government, but Governments across Europe, we might start to address this emergency in the correct terms. The terminology is important. We fully support the fact that we need to have co-ordinated and firm action against the criminals who are exploiting the vulnerable and desperate through people smuggling and people trafficking, but, as the Immigration Law Practitioners Association is keen to point out, people smuggling and people trafficking are not the same thing. They are very different in the eyes of the law, although it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart in practice in individual circumstances. This means that they need to be addressed in different ways.

We should also remember that the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee has recommended to the European Commission that when setting the legislation and directives that deal with people smuggling and people trafficking, we should make a distinction when it is clear that the smuggling has been carried out for humanitarian motives. Some may question whether that could ever be the case, but if it is clear that the act was done not for criminal purposes or for financial gain, but possibly through a misguided belief that it was a humanitarian act, would it be appropriate to classify such smugglers as international criminals? I certainly would not think so and the House of Lords Sub-Committee did not think so either. I would therefore be interested to know what the Government’s attitude to that is.

The motion also refers to action to tackle the “root causes” of migration, and I would be interested to hear what the Minister thinks are the root causes of 800,000 refugees arriving in Greece over the past year or so. What are the root causes of 4 million people being in the refugee camps in and around the Mediterranean coast? Unless the Government can prove to us that there were 4 million people last year and the year before, and every year for the past 10 years, the unescapable conclusion will be that the root cause of this crisis is war, violence and persecution in Syria and in other countries in that region.

In the previous debate, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said that the risks families take when trying to leave a situation such as my hon. Friend has just described were “foolish”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the situation and his comment speaks to the mindset that my hon. Friend was discussing?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments and I fully agree with them. I had wanted to say more in response to what the hon. Member for North East Somerset said, but as he is not here I will not respond to him just now. There may be people taking risks that could be described as foolish, but they are not foolish risks—they are desperate risks. These people are not stupid. Some of them are very highly educated, highly skilled workers in their homeland, and the reason they are risking their lives and, even more remarkably, those of their nearest and dearest, including their own children, is because they have taken a calculated risk that leaving them behind in Syria puts their lives at even greater risk.

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that there is no means of safe passage across land once borders have been closed, which means that there is no option for many people but to go by sea?

Absolutely. One thing that drives people into the unseaworthy boats of the criminals is that they have no other way of getting out. If the only way they can get out is by risking their lives with the smugglers, that is what they will do. Sadly, all too often the evidence is washed up on the beaches of Europe and north Africa.

Does the Minister accept that the root cause of this emergency is not the benefit system or the wonderful economic growth that is happening in Britain, but the desperate, desperate tragedy that is unfolding in Syria and some of its neighbouring countries? That is the situation that must be addressed once and for all if we want this emergency to be resolved, even in the longer term.

The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) mentioned the £3 billion of aid that is going to Turkey. We want to know what transparency and accountability is attached to that money. How do we know that it will be used for the correct purposes? I am not as enthusiastic a friend of the Turkish Government as some of those on the Government Benches. I cannot forget what the Turkish military are doing to the Kurdish people right now, and until they stop, there must be a limit to how willing we are to accept them as fully fledged respecters of human rights and of the rule of international law.

In the letter received by the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee on 11 December, the Minister addressed this question of how the UK will respond to specific calls for assistance under the EU civil protection mechanism. In his final comment he said that he believed that there was more that other member states could do to support all this work and the various funding strands among the UK’s contribution. It made me remember a story that used to be popular a few years ago in certain management circles about the four workers called Anybody, Somebody, Nobody and Everybody. There were various versions of the story, but the nub of it was that there was always a vital job that had to be done. Everybody agreed that Somebody had to do it, and Anybody could have done it, but Nobody actually did. I just wondered whether what the Minister was saying was that they all agree that everybody else should do a lot more, but they cannot agree on who that is. Perhaps the Minister, either here in the Chamber or in the Scrutiny Committee, will clarify and amplify his comments. Which specific member states should be doing more? What more is it realistic for them to do? What are they doing already? We cannot judge whether other member states should do more unless we have an indication of what they are already doing.

One part of the Government’s motion gives me a great deal of concern. It talks about the need

“to break the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement in the EU.”

I did not realise that there was an automatic permanent link of that kind. If somebody is rescued from the sea, they are almost by definition a refugee. They are claiming asylum. We have to assess whether they are entitled to asylum. If they are here solely as an asylum seeker, they do not have an automatic right to live here forever. In theory, they can be asked to go home when it is safe to do so. I just wonder whether we are seeing yet another acceptance by the Government that the emergency situation in Syria will continue for years and years. People have come here because they want a safe haven for a few years before they go home. Are we accepting that it will be years, possibly decades, before Syria is fit to take them back? I will look for clarification from the Minister on that—not necessarily this evening, but hopefully in the near future. I hope that we do not have to wait as long as the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has had to wait for some of his answers.

At one point, we considered pushing this matter to a vote simply because of that comment about the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement. We decided against it, but I do wish to put on the record our deep, deep disquiet about the wording of that part of the motion, because it is inaccurate and it continues to create an impression that a significant number of these 4 million desperate citizens are trying to come here because they are attracted to living in the United Kingdom. They are not; they are trying to get out of Syria because they do not want to die. I just wish that the terminology that has been used and the language of this debate would recognise that this is a crisis that has fundamentally been caused by war, violence and civil unrest. It has not been caused by an economic miracle happening in the United Kingdom or in Germany.

In noting these documents and discussing this text, we are being invited, in effect, to give our approval to a deal struck between the European Union and Turkey—a deal negotiated and signed without our input, involvement or ability to vote it down. We should not approve it. I tabled my own unselected alternative motion.

A few days ago, the EU announced what is, in effect, a four-part deal with Turkey. I see perfectly well what might be in it for Turkey, from whose point of view it is a very good deal. However, it is not in our national interest. First, the deal will give 75 million Turks visa-free, unrestricted access to the Schengen area from next October. We may not be part of Schengen, but that does affect us. There will be no mechanism to log people coming into the Schengen area and none to log people out. The deal can only add to the porousness of the EU’s frontiers, which can only contribute to the increase in numbers of those camped outside Calais seeking entry into the UK.

Secondly, the talks between the EU and Turkey mean that Turkish accession to the EU is back on the table. I would not wish joining the EU on anyone, certainly not a friend such as Turkey.

I have some concern about Turkey’s abuse of religious minorities—Christians, and the Kurds in particular. We are now considering supporting its joining the EU. Why should we do that given that its human rights abuses are so terrible?

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly powerful point. We are sometimes made to deal with Turkey as an equal, yet it does not have the belief in equality within Turkey that we in the west—Europe and north America—hold so dear. That is a valid and powerful point.

Thirdly, as part of the deal between the EU and Turkey that we are being asked, in effect, to approve, the EU will give Turkey €3 billion a year, of which a hefty contribution will come from British taxpayers. But it is the fourth aspect of the deal outlined in these papers, under the euphemism of “migration management”, that I find most objectionable. Each year some 400,000 migrants from Turkey will be allowed to settle within Schengen. Of course, we are not in Schengen, but again the issue will affect us. Those 400,000 will be assigned to Schengen member states by quota. Once those 400,000 migrants per year have a right of abode in the EU, they will acquire with it the right to live anywhere within the EU.

Do we seriously imagine that those allocated to a high-unemployment, sclerotic Portugal or Italy will remain in those countries? No—within a short time those assigned to Portugal will have every right to come and live in Peckham and those assigned to live in Italy will have every right to move to Ipswich. This is a deal being signed up on our behalf and in our name with profound implications for us, and we have no say over it. We can expect many more thousands of migrants to find their way into this country as a direct consequence of this deal and many voters out there will deeply resent the fact that they have simply not been asked.

The Government motion talks about our need to work with our international partners. Indeed we must, but I ask Ministers to be a little more circumspect when we select those international partners. It is difficult to assess the spread of Sunni radicalism in Syria and the middle east as a push factor without also examining and bringing into the equation the effect of Saudi Arabia and its promotion of radical Wahhabism. The EU has imposed sanctions on Iran; it is a pity that the documents do not consider action against those in Saudi Arabia who also export radicalism. I cannot support the motion in front of us. I regret that even if the House objected and even if we rallied heroically through the Division Lobby to defeat the motion and voted down this tepid motion and its Minister, nothing would change. It would not matter a jot. We have signed away the right to reject a duff deal with Turkey made in our name, the consequences of which will be with us for yours to come. And here, in an empty Chamber, on a Monday evening, there is nothing we can do about it. This is how we are governed.

I want to mention briefly three aspects of the European agenda on migration, the first document mentioned in the Government’s motion. The first of those three aspects is safe legal routes. That European agenda document acknowledges that

“vulnerable people cannot be left to resort to the criminal network of smugglers and traffickers. There must be safe and legal ways for them to reach the EU”.

Similarly, the House of Lords European Union Committee said that one effective way to address the root causes of irregular migration is to create safe and legal routes for refugees to enter the EU. The UNHCR endorsed an EU target of around 20,000 resettlements across Europe each year by 2020—a modest and wholly achievable proposal if there is political will. We welcome the Government’s resettlement programme, overdue as it may have been.

There has been an accumulation of documents over a long period. Had the proposal from the European Scrutiny Committee been taken up earlier, we would have been debating those documents when the numbers were at the level that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We are now talking not about 20,000 or 40,000, but about 400,000, 500,000 or 600,000 migrants.

I am speaking first about plans for resettlement. I shall come on to relocation later. Resettlement through the UNHCR is not the only method of providing safe legal routes. We have urged and continue to urge the Government to listen to the expert organisations calling for broader family reunion rules, and to consider the case for humanitarian visas so that fewer people are compelled to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

The second aspect of the agenda document that I want to mention, and probably the most important, concerns hotspots, which both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have talked up in recent months. Everyone knows that Greece’s asylum system was already chaotic before the crisis began, and Italy’s is probably not much better, so expecting those systems to cope with the crisis would be unreasonable. That is where the so-called hotspot approach is supposed to help. The theory is that the full weight of EU asylum institutions will

“work on the ground with frontline Member States to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants...Those claiming asylum will be immediately channelled into an asylum procedure where European Asylum Support Office (EASO) support teams will help to process asylum cases as quickly as possible.”

In addition, €60 million was to be invested in emergency funding to support the reception of migrants and the provision of healthcare to migrants in member states under pressure.

I have not had the benefit of visiting any hotspots, but I have read and listened with concern to recent reports from those who have visited. Those include reports from the International Rescue Committee, which said that

“the way hotspots are currently being rolled out is causing chaos, increasing tensions and violence, and leaving more people without basic shelter.”

In October an update from the Commission explained some of the reasons why that might be the case. At that stage, only six member states had responded to its calls by providing just 81 out of 374 experts requested, and just six member states had responded to calls by providing 48 border officials out of the requested 775 border guards, screeners, de-briefers and interpreters that were thought necessary.

Lots of serious questions remain about how hotspots are to function and their basis in law, so I would be interested to know whether the Minister can comment on the legal basis for hotspots; whether people in those hotspots have access to legal advice; whether the way a person is dealt with in a hotspot area will depend on their nationality; the proportion of those in hotspots who are recorded as having claimed asylum; the number who have been removed directly from hotspots; and, more generally, when data on outcomes from hotspots will be published, and the UK contribution to all this.

Thirdly, on relocation, I was disappointed not to be able to attend the earlier debate that focused more intensively on that. The Government’s motion talks of

“working with the EU and Member States and other international partners”

to address current migratory pressures, but the difficult starting point for the Government is that they wash their hands of relocation plans, despite those being pivotal to the agenda on migration, and instead leave responsibility for that to everyone else.

The House of Lords described the Government’s reasons for opting out of relocation as unconvincing. I would say that that is being pretty kind to the Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said, the idea that whether or not the UK takes part in relocation schemes affects the number of people attempting dangerous crossings is utterly unsupported by evidence. It has been several months since the UK first said that it was going to shirk its responsibilities in this regard, and still more and more people make the crossing. They are doing that because they are fleeing desperate circumstances, not on the off-chance that they will be incredibly lucky in a lottery of a relocation scheme and end up in the United Kingdom. A European relocation scheme should be a response to an emergency situation—a humanitarian crisis. As the Lords EU Committee said, failing to opt in means that we are failing to live up to our duty of solidarity and burden-sharing between member states.

A crisis on this scale requires collective action. Dealing with more than 900,000 people arriving in desperate circumstances is an impossible task for two or three countries to take on. In a Union of 500 million people their arrival poses a huge challenge—there is no doubt about that—but it is surmountable given that they represent less than 0.2% of the population. As the European agenda document states:

“No Member State can effectively address migration alone. It is clear that we need a new, more European approach.”

That is the approach that the Government should take rather than their head-in-the-sand approach to what is going on in Europe just now.

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will respond briefly to some of the points that have been raised during the debate.

Organised immigration crime is an important issue. It is worth underlining that in recent months we have developed a 90-member-strong organised immigration taskforce which has had a strong focus on the crime networks operating in some source countries and at transit points, including the Mediterranean, as well as the UK border and in France. We have disrupted more than 600 organised crime groups this year, and our taskforce will be expanded to a 100-strong team. Access to and sharing of data is vital to joint efforts to combat the criminal gangs. In the Government’s view, it is essential that enhanced data sharing, including with Europol, forms part of the EU’s response.

The Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), asked about the Government’s priorities for action by the EU. I have written to the Committee on this previously, but to underline the position, we have highlighted four points: first, how EU money is spent on tackling problems at source in transit countries; secondly, an increased focus on fighting organised crime, with better joining up between member states; thirdly, dealing with economic migration regarding those who enter the EU without effective controls staying without consequence, where the issue of claims of refugee status not made out needs to be addressed more firmly; and fourthly, a stronger coherence between upstream development work and the return of economic migrants.

My hon. Friend highlighted the issue of Dublin. We strongly support the Dublin regulations. We believe that an applicant’s asylum claim made in the EU should be dealt with by the member state most responsible for their presence in the EU. We are aware, however, that the Commission is reviewing the Dublin regulations with a view to bringing forward a new measure next spring. We are co-operating with that review, but we believe that the long-standing principles at the heart of the Dublin system are the right ones, and that it would be a major error to replace them with completely different, untried and untested measures.

In respect of the operations in the Mediterranean and Operation Sophia, we are in phase 2, which is the high seas operation. The House will no doubt be updated, through reports of EU Council of Ministers meetings, should there be further progress, which we look to. This is very much focused on the situation in Libya. We welcome the support from a broad range of Libyans from across the political spectrum in recognising the urgency of creating a long-awaited Government of national accord, and urge all political actors to sign on 16 December. The Rome ministerial meeting of 13 December demonstrated unified international support for the UN-led effort to establish a Government of national accord in Libya. We continue to support that and to see it as a priority for moving forward.

The EU-Turkey action plan covers most of our priority areas, including controlling the flow of migrants to the EU from Turkey. It is about improving education, health and labour rights for Syrian refugees in Turkey to address the potential push factors for further migration. It is important to stress that Turkey is accepting the return of some failed asylum seekers and tackling smuggling networks. The agreed action plan incentivises Turkey to do more on border management. It does not guarantee visa liberalisation in relation to Turkey, and the UK does not have to offer a reciprocal visa concession. It is important to underline and stress that.

In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the human rights abuses taking place in Turkey. Has the Minister had any discussions with his ministerial colleagues about that matter? It is clear to me and many other Members that those human rights abuses have not stopped; indeed, they are continuing.

I underline to the hon. Gentleman that, although we support Turkey’s EU accession process and are working on it closely with Turkey, EU member states and the European institutions, the accession process recognises that Turkey needs to do more to meet EU standards through continuing reform, particularly in the area of fundamental rights and the rule of law. Active and credible accession negotiations remain the best way for Turkey to make further progress.

We have touched on the hotspots issue. The UK stands ready to support, through the European Asylum Support Office and others, and to ensure that the appropriate support mechanisms are in place.

Our position on the migration crisis is practical, pragmatic and focused on the need for a concerted humanitarian response for those who need our protection; ensuring the sustainability of EU asylum systems; pursuing effective co-operation with EU partners; combating illegal migration and those who profit from it; and protecting our security. That is where the Government’s focus remains, and I urge the House to support our motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 8961/15, a European Agenda on Migration, No. 9345/15, EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, unnumbered Document, a Council Decision on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), unnumbered Document, a Council Decision to launch EUNAVFOR Med, and a Draft Action Plan on Stepping up EU-Turkey cooperation on support of refugees and migration management in view of the situation in Syria and Iraq; and supports the Government’s aim of working with the EU and Member States and other international partners to develop a coherent and sustainable approach to addressing current migratory pressures, focused on shorter and longer term actions to break the business model of people smugglers and traffickers, to break the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement in the EU, and to address the root causes of migrants’ journeys.