[2nd Allocated Day]
Debate resumed (Order, 19 July).
Question proposed (19 July), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Amendment proposed (19 July), to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add
“That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Nationality and Borders Bill, notwithstanding the need to address the increasing number of dangerous boat crossings in the English Channel, because the Bill breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, does not address the Government’s failure since 2010 to competently process asylum applications which has resulted in a backlog of cases and increased costs to the taxpayer, fails to deal with the serious and organised crime groups who are profiteering from human trafficking and modern slavery, does not address the failure to replace the Dublin III regulations to return refugees to safe countries, fails to re-establish safe routes and help unaccompanied child refugees, and fails to deliver a workable agreement with France to address the issue of boat crossings.”—(Nick Thomas-Symonds.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I am delighted to warmly welcome many of the measures outlined in this Bill, specifically those to make some well-reasoned amendments to nationality law and consequently our policy towards those wishing to become British citizens.
As the House will no doubt be aware, citizenship is often the smaller, quieter sibling of immigration policy. Successive Governments have often, and quite understandably, prioritised their focus and thoughts on immigration—how to control it, who to let in, why and when. The Government have done very well in reforming our country’s immigration policy in the midst of our exit from the European Union. We have reshaped our immigration system toward our country’s needs, which is the correct approach for a country navigating different waters in a brave new world as we move towards a global Britain on the world stage.
Previous Governments, however, have seldom thought about the part after immigration, and it is to this Government’s credit that they are now doing just that. Last year I had the pleasure of chairing an independent inquiry into UK citizenship policy with the highly regarded think-tank British Future; it included a number of colleagues from this House and experts from relevant stakeholders such as the Law Society of Scotland. The inquiry’s report, which is entitled “Barriers to Britishness”, sought to explore the means and capacity for possible reform in this often-forgotten area of policy to see how the UK Government could take a more welcoming and positive approach to those who have come here, built their lives here and made a significant contribution here.
It is often said that the journey to become a British citizen is too expensive or too complicated. However, I am pleased that the Government have taken on board a number of my inquiry’s recommendations. As a result, the Bill goes some way towards simplifying the process of becoming a British citizen. For those applying for citizenship, the introduction of the requirement for applications to show a sustained connection to the UK was one of my inquiry’s key recommendations. That is reflected in clause 8. It comes at the expense of the previous requirement for applicants to prove that they were physically present in the UK five years before their application. That helps to remove a barrier towards Britishness while reducing the need for applicants to rely on costly legal advice for their application. The clause may also benefit non-British members of the armed forces, who might serve abroad for protracted periods.
Clauses 1 to 4 remove some of the remaining anomalies associated with British overseas territories citizenship, allowing mothers and unmarried fathers to pass on BOTC status, which could previously be passed on only by a married father. That introduces a most welcome route to full citizenship for those who hold BOTC passports in 14 qualifying territories, including the Falkland Islands, whose residents, as we all know, have as much a sense of being British as those living here in the UK.
Another welcome change is outlined in clause 7, which creates a new process for the discretionary registration of adults as British citizens in circumstances when they would otherwise have become British had it not been for historical unfairness in the law, an act or omission of a public authority, or other exceptional circumstance. As the House will be aware, the Home Secretary already possesses the power to grant citizenship on a discretionary basis to children. However, by extending that right to adults, the Bill will benefit those such as the Windrush victims who have been stranded abroad or young adults who have grown up in care and whom the local authorities neglected to register as British as a child, or registered them under the EU settlement scheme.
The Bill, in making those amendments to nationality law, goes a long way towards simplifying the citizenship process for those who wish to be British. There are, however, further areas of citizenship policy to which I and the inquiry have recommended changes, not least the cost of a citizenship application. The cost of becoming a British citizen is £1,330. Let us compare that to the cost in Australia, which is £155; in Canada, which is £373; in New Zealand, which is £243; and in the United States, which is £590. I would be most grateful if the Minister explained why the cost of an application is extremely high, compared to the cost in those countries. I urge the Government to consider a much more reasonable application fee and reduce that further barrier to becoming a British citizen.
Overall, I welcome the Government’s proposals to make the offer of citizenship more open and accessible. I hope we can go further in ensuring that those who have chosen the UK in which to work and build their lives, and who have made enormous contributions, have that matched by the offer of citizenship. I will support the Government’s Bill this evening.
First, I thank the hundreds of constituents who have written to me asking me to oppose the Bill, which I will this evening. I am proud to be here as a Member of Parliament for Glasgow. I praise Glasgow’s role as a dispersal city, and the great work of organisations such as the Govan Community Project and the Govan Home and Education Link Project, which help asylum seekers on a daily basis.
Glasgow is well aware of the reality of asylum seekers’ experiences, which we cannot really contemplate. Victims of torture, sexual violence and persecution—that is the reality of asylum seekers’ experience. As restrictions ease, the Government had an opportunity to introduce some substantial legislation to address the inequalities that the covid pandemic has exposed, such as an unemployment Bill to deal with precarious work or, indeed, to reform the broken social security system. I am afraid that this Bill exposes the Conservative party in all its guises, because it is the politics of the dog whistle—the politics where every person seeking sanctuary is viewed with suspicion.
I read Hansard today and the phrase “economic migrants” was used liberally by Conservative Back Benchers yesterday. Perhaps they could benefit from Show Racism the Red Card coming in here, as they do in classrooms in Glasgow, and explaining the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an economic migrant, because I suspect that some Conservative Back Benchers would fail that simple test. It is the politics where the legal profession is collectively dismissed as Marxist, despite some incredible court rulings. For example, Serco obtained an extraordinary High Court ruling that private sector companies, which the Government use across public services, do not have to comply with basic human rights legislation when providing accommodation to asylum seekers.
It is surprising to hear Government Members say that the legal routes issue is different from those in the Bill. It is not. If the Government close legal routes to seek sanctuary in this country, it cannot be a surprise that people would be so desperate that they choose to try other routes into the UK. There has been a lack of real engagement in the consultation process for the Bill. The Bill was, of course, published before any formal response to the consultation—a consultation in which many organisations that deal and work with asylum seekers on a daily basis raised real concerns that have not been addressed.
Depriving asylum seekers of the chance to obtain competent legal representation and to challenge poor decisions increases the risk of returning people to extremely serious danger. That approach also ignores the numerous reasons why refugees may be unable to provide all the evidence and information regarding their case at an early stage in the procedure. Such reasons include a lack of knowledge of the system. Asylum seekers do not have expertise in the UK’s immigration system when they get here fleeing oppression. They do not know what evidence they have, so it should not be a surprise that people who are survivors of trauma do not immediately disclose information, especially women and survivors of sexual violence.
There are a number of concerns. I mentioned accommodation. It is astonishing that Home Office providers of asylum accommodation do not need to use registered social landlords to provide that accommodation. Even worse, the Government now want to legislate to increase the use of military barracks. That is utterly unacceptable and will do serious harm, I fear, to the mental health of many of those seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom. By vowing to continue that practice, the Government are ignoring the views of public health experts. It really is astonishing.
The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration described the Home Office’s use of that sort of accommodation as a “serious error of judgment”, while the immigration court ruled earlier that the Home Secretary failed to ensure that deaths in immigration detention centres were properly investigated. A Home Affairs Committee report published in December 2018 described the conditions in which vulnerable people are being housed as “degrading” and called on the Home Office to show “greater urgency”.
My last concern is that we want to follow the Australian model. Centres in Australia saw cases of sexual abuse and the rape of refugees leading to some falling pregnant, and there were instances of staff using unreasonable force, while the remoteness of offshore facilities also caused deaths due to the lack of healthcare facilities.
Glasgow has risen up to the Home Office time and again, as we did in Kenmure Street, and I was very proud to be there exercising my right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The people of Glasgow in opposing the Bill say this: “Say it loud, say it clear: refugees are welcome here”.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is important and necessary legislation to address the growing problem of illegal entry into the UK by migrants crossing the Dover straits. Last year, in 2020, more than 8,500 people made such a journey in small vessels: 87% of them were men and 74% were aged 18 to 39. This year, over 8,000 have already completed the trip, including a record number of 430 in a single day—and that was yesterday. For residents on the Kent coast, including in my constituency, it has become a fact of life that, when the weather is good and the sea is calm, hundreds of undocumented asylum seekers will attempt to cross the channel in small boats.
We need to be clear that illegal crossings of the channel are dangerous and cost lives. In recent years, migrants have died while being smuggled in lorries. There have been deaths from people trying to walk through the channel tunnel, and there have been drownings at sea from people trying to make it across the channel in small boats. We cannot allow this to continue. No country would allow this to continue, or should.
The Government have made substantial investments, along with the French authorities, to improve security at the port of Calais and the channel tunnel, making it much harder for people to gain illegal entry there. Improved patrolling along the French coast has led to the successful detection of many people as they attempt to make their crossing, but before their vessel enters the water. Some people have called for vessels to be intercepted at sea, and suggested—I think wrongly—that vessels are just being escorted across the channel by the French authorities or by our own. I do not think that is the case. Vessels need to be intercepted before they get into the water, as interception at sea is dangerous if the migrants on the vessels are not co-operating with the authorities.
We cannot, of course, patrol in French waters, and we are reliant on the French authorities to do that. Of course, it would be much better if they could do that just as those vessels leave French waters, when returning to France would be easier, but we have no means to patrol in its waters. I would say, though, that excellent work has been done at sea when it has been needed by Border Force and most importantly—I would like to thank this group of people—by the volunteer lifeboat men working for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution at the lifeboat stations from Dungeness in my constituency round to Dover, who are now regularly called out to assist people in distress at sea.
Pascale Moreau, the European director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said a couple of years ago of this problem:
“Our collective response should be comprehensive and complementary—from saving lives to combating smuggling rings, expanding legal options, and ensuring that all those who are in need of protection can effectively access it”.
That is why the approach set out in this Bill is so important.
We need to make it clear that illegal entry to the UK is not a shortcut to residency in this country. We need to make it clear to the people traffickers who prey on vulnerable people for profit that they will face tough sentences for bringing people illegally into this country. We need to make people think again before attempting these life-threatening crossings. That is why it is right that the Bill addresses that. It will make it illegal for people to arrive in UK waters without permission, which it already is; increase the maximum sentences for people who are arriving in the country illegally from six months to four years; make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission; and introduce tough new sentences for people traffickers, so they know they will face lengthy prison sentences—up to life prison sentences—if they are involved in operating people trafficking rings. These are the reforms we need.
Alongside these reforms must also go the work for safe routes to make sure that migrants and asylum seekers are aware of safe legal routes to enter this country. The safe routes scheme this country invested in saw more than 25,000 refugees settled in this country from 2015 to 2020. In addition, more than 29,000 close relatives joined people in this country. Under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, working with UNHCR, we were able to identify the most vulnerable people in the most dangerous places and give them a safe route to enter this country.
We want people to take that route, not to put their lives in the hands of people-trafficking gangs to make a journey across Europe and a life-threatening journey across the channel, but instead to work with the authorities in war zones and danger zones, where we know people are displaced and need help, to give them a safe legal route to this country and to know that at the end of that safe legal route will be a successful asylum claim and with it indefinite leave to remain in the UK. That is the route we need to establish. We need to close down the illegal crossing points, which are incredibly dangerous, that are profiting criminal gangs and are rightly concerning to people who live on the Kent coast, too. We need to close this route down and give people safe routes to this country and safe ways to claim asylum.
In 1933, Einstein lived in Norfolk, guarded by local residents and a Conservative MP to prevent attempts to assassinate him by the Nazis. At the time, he said:
“I shall become a naturalised Englishman as soon as is possible for my papers to go through.”
He never did get those papers, though.
Throughout this debate, I have heard Members laud our history of accepting refugees as if it somehow explains and justifies the Bill before us; as if our capacity as a nation to retrospectively see that we did the right thing means that we are doing so now. Yet even when it came to geniuses like Einstein, the term “asylum seeker” has always meant second-class citizen. There are no photographs of the parents of the Kindertransport children, the ones denied entry by Whitehall, only to be murdered by the Nazis. When it came to east African Asians, we introduced the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1968 to make it harder for them to seek sanctuary. Now we have orphaned children sleeping rough on our border with France and in Greece in overcrowded covid-ridden camps, and we say that they must be safe so they are not our problem.
Let us stop re-writing the UK’s history to provide cover for legislation like this, which makes plain the Government’s disdain for those who find themselves with little alternative but to run for their lives. They want to penalise people for how they run, creating a third class of citizens who are at perpetual risk of being deported: because they did not queue properly and fill in the appropriate form, they did not travel directly to an island nation or present themselves immediately for a claim, they must be suspect, regardless of their story or why they fled, breaching the refugee convention. I hear this a lot: “Well, they came through France, Germany, Belgium. Why should we help them?” The convention is clear that there is no requirement to claim asylum in the first safe country. It was intended to get nations to work together to help make managing those at risk possible.
It is true that it was easier to quietly ignore those in danger when there were not that many of them, before the mass refugee camps in Sudan or the Syrian civil war, but just because the challenge is harder does not mean that our response should be, too; that we should be a nation that does not keep its promises to the 3,000 children we said we would take under the Dubs scheme; we have only taken 480. Turkey is taking 4 million refugees and we are quibbling about 26,000 applications. The vast majority of refugees end up staying in the areas they have run from, displaced and living in developing countries when wealthy ones like ours want to look the other way.
Persecution does not happen in an orderly fashion. Wars are not run to a timetable to be able to make people make applications. You run, you grab your children, you flee with what you can, you try to save their lives—yes, many of them boys and young men—from certain death. What parent cannot understand that ambition? We all want to stop the traffickers, but the gangs will use these changes as a selling point to those desperate people. If we want to stop the gangs then take away the market, but there is no safe and legal route being proposed here, no new commitments made. The vulnerable persons resettlement scheme has stopped. If we think that the only place that people are running from is Syria, we do not understand what is going on in Ethiopia, Iran, Afghanistan, to the Uyghurs, to LGBTQ people in Myanmar, or to Christians and religious minorities around the world.
Ministers claim the legislation will protect women from trafficking when it will do the reverse, because it is not based on any evidence. Their own statistics show that the majority in detention referred to the national referral mechanism are then recognised as potential victims of trafficking and that 81% of reasonable grounds rejections that are challenged are granted a positive ruling, yet many of those women would fall into that group, too. Women repeatedly abused on their journeys here, who cannot find the words to speak about the hell they have been through, will be criminalised because they did not have all their paperwork neatly folded about their person for presentation during this time. Locking them up in detention centres reinforces, not removes, the abuse they face. Yarl’s Wood is a stain on our national identity, a place where victims of sexual abuse and rape in war are jailed. Not only does it cost more than community schemes to run, but it retraumatises those women over and over again.
Home Office costs are spiralling, 40% of appeals are successful and more and more people are forced to live in misery and destitution as a result of the scheme we have. The Government’s solution is to try to house them offshore in a move that makes Yarl’s Wood look compassionate. Those who have lauded the Australians and their offshoring facility at Nauru would do well to read the horrifying accounts of the sexual abuse of women and children over the years, in addition to the hundreds of incidents of threatened and actual self-harm, and ask whether this is really the path we want to go down.
“A bundle of belongings isn’t the only thing a refugee brings to his new country.”
Out there, the British public know that. They know that we need a system that can process people fairly and quickly. They know that but for the grace of God there they go. If the worst were to happen to them and they had to flee their homes, they would want a new home that saw them not as a burden, but as a benefit. Our past does not mean we cannot build a future in which we make that ambition a reality. This Bill will not stop the boats; it will encourage them. So let us not give the criminal gangs their latest recruiting tactic. I urge colleagues to vote this Bill down and stand up to those who want to demonise refugees. Let us come together to come back with something that can make Britain proud of how we treat the persecuted, not an international pariah.
This Bill is incredibly wide-ranging, and I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) about the nationality changes. However, I will confine my remarks to illegal immigration and allow other Members to get in.
This debate is particularly poignant today, when we hit a new record high for small boat crossings, with 430 people crossing in a single day. While Redcar and Cleveland is more than 300 miles from Dover, I am contacted about illegal immigration almost daily. The Labour party likes to pretend it is not happening, as we have heard from some of the contributions so far today and yesterday, but it is happening, and the refusal of some to acknowledge it is part of the reason why Labour no longer represents seats such as mine. I am here to share the views of those I represent, and I believe that we owe it to the public to finally address the problem.
There are a few in my constituency who want Britain to completely close its borders to asylum seekers and refugees—I believe they are wrong. Equally, there are some who want us to be borderless and do nothing to prevent illegal immigration into this country, and they are wrong, too. The vast majority of people in Redcar and Cleveland, including me, want us to help those most in need and offer protection to those facing persecution while preventing illegal entry into this country.
That is why this Bill is so important. We can have a firm but fair approach to illegal immigration. “Firm” means stopping people from jumping the queue by crossing the channel. “Fair” means new, safe legal routes to asylum in the UK. “Firm” means a new one-stop process for claims and an end to repeated meritless appeals. “Fair” means improving support for genuine refugees to help them to build their lives here.
We have to be honest with our constituents about what is happening in the small boats on the channel and in lorries through the tunnel. People are being smuggled into this country, and those who evade detection are vulnerable to modern-day slavery and further trafficking within the UK. It is simply not a case of people fleeing war-torn areas or escaping persecution; they are travelling from France. The vast majority of those who arrive are male, and almost exclusively they are over the age of 18. Many lie about their age. As the Home Secretary said yesterday, in 2020, 8,500 people arrived by boat. Some 87% of them were men, and of that 87%, 74% were aged between 18 and 39.
These people are loaded into floats that we could barely call dinghies, which are overfilled, leaving them at risk of capsizing, or they are pushed into the back of lorries, where the driver is often unaware of the live cargo being carried. Many have paid hundreds of pounds for the journey, and in some cases thousands, although it has dropped in recent months, to jump the asylum queue and deny a legitimate asylum seeker a space.
I use the word “legitimate” because these people are crossing the channel. They could have claimed asylum in France, Italy, Spain or Germany, or any other safe country they have travelled through. It makes their reason for attempting to settle in the UK solely economic. Without intervention, they risk death in the back of the lorry, like the tragic case of October 2019, where 39 people were found deceased in the back of a trailer in Essex. Many would drown in the channel, like the estimated 300 people over the last 20 years, which is why our emergency workers and Navy must intervene, putting their own lives at risk, too. Who could argue for this to continue? Who could say that we should not do all we can to make this route unviable? What is the compassionate response? We should be proud of our record on overseas aid contributions and to have resettled more refugees than any other European nation. This is a matter not of us turning our back on the world but of making sure that our immigration system is firm but fair in the way that the British people would demand.
I come back to the point that I have made over and over again in this place: the most compassionate thing we can do to help these people is to make the route unviable and prevent the crossings altogether.
Disturbing, dysfunctional and destructive—three of the most commonly used words by my constituents in their correspondence to me when discussing this anti-refugee Bill. To my mind, the Bill is nothing more than a ploy by this consistently callous Tory Government to take a sledgehammer to a 60-year-old treaty, the only global legal instrument that there is to deal with the protection and rights of refugees. This UK Government are torching their international human rights obligations under the 1951 UN refugee convention. We as representatives in this place are in very real danger of assisting in the committing of crimes against humanity by turning our backs on those in need of safety and on how this Bill will criminalise these people. History will shame us all in every essence. That is why I oppose the Bill in the name of the people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.
This legislation will be nothing short of a punishment to those fleeing war, persecution and human rights atrocities. It will create an asylum system that undermines international law and will cost the already failing Home Office vast amounts of time and money. This legislation, despite the Government’s promises to increase safe and legal routes for people urgently requiring refuge around the world, will contain no such commitments whatsoever. The Tories have actually boasted that this Bill will create a “global Britain”, able to act as a force for good; instead, this is a cruel, callous piece of legislation that fails in both practical and moral terms and reneges on our international responsibilities.
The Bill will cause misery to thousands of people, leaving behind what is already a toxic legacy for this Home Secretary, and will introduce a further embedding of a racist, hostile, xenophobic environment for us all to contend with in our daily lives as it leaks from this place into our society. This anti-refugee Bill will not solve any of its real problems, which have been caused not by the comparatively small number of people who do seek asylum but by decades of Governments in this place and their complete mismanagement. Successive UK Governments of any hue have failed time and again to operate an effective and efficient asylum system, fundamentally failing to deliver timely and high-quality decision making. Nothing in the Bill will make the necessary improvements. Instead, taken together, the Bill’s provisions will slow the process down, increase delays, increase destitution and mental illness, and cost the purse and, more importantly, the people of these countries much, much more while it destroys lives and relationships with our global partners.
Many asylum seekers have lived through dreadful experiences and faced devastating loss. The Home Office’s plans will only add to that trauma. Asylum claims in the UK are falling and are at historically low levels, with a 24% drop in the last year alone, yet the Home Office is pandering to scare stories and myths from the far right with the introduction of this Bill. As a result, this legislation will not only seek to criminalise asylum seekers, but create more bureaucracy and a bigger work load for officials, lengthening an already delayed process and trapping people further in limbo for years to come. There has been no real attempt to engage with experts on this approach. Almost 200 organisations have criticised the consultation associated with this Bill, framing it as a “sham” with a premeditated outcome. I could not agree in any stronger terms.
A message from his eminence Pope Francis that we all received for the forthcoming World Day of Migrants and Refugees stated:
“We are all in the same boat and called to work together so that there will be no more walls that separate us, no longer others, but only a single ‘we’, encompassing all of humanity”—
a vision that could not be further from this Tory Government’s agenda.
The UK once had a long history, they say, of welcoming people escaping conflict, poverty, oppression and natural disaster. That tradition should have been protected under any new legislation, recognising the interconnectedness of our global family, and cognisant of the colonial past of this place’s empires. The Home Secretary’s plans to send asylum seekers thousands of miles away, to be processed in third-world countries, are both insane and inhumane. The idea that asylum seekers can simply be shipped off somewhere else while those claims are assessed, is frankly a fantasy. Asylum seekers are people. They are human beings, not packages to be disposed of.
The UK needs only to look at Australia’s experience to learn that overseas processing centres for asylum seekers cause incredible psychological damage. They are eye-wateringly expensive, and they do nothing to deter asylum seekers. It could not be clearer: the Home Secretary is deliberately misinterpreting international law to pander to her own political base. That cannot be denied. The idea that the system is broken for some unknown structural reason is complete and utter nonsense. After 11 years in power, the responsibility for that lies firmly with this Conservative Government. The Bill will do nothing to fix things. It will only make a rotten system worse.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate. Many contributions during yesterday’s debate, and this afternoon, have been about specific legal and technical aspects of the Bill. In the short time available, I want to restrict my comments to the impact of the current system on areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, and say why I support the principles laid out in the Bill. I will outline why doing nothing is not an option.
Stoke-on-Trent has stepped up to take more than its fair share of asylum seekers under the asylum dispersal system. Because we are a compassionate city, we care about the most vulnerable, and we do so by deeds, not empty words. Many who have taken part in this debate represent areas that do not currently participate in the scheme, and I would respectfully suggest that their calls for fairness, and the unwillingness to condemn or curb illegal and dangerous routes into this country, should be matched by a clear commitment to take their fair share of the ever-increasing numbers of asylum seekers who land on our shores.
According to recent figures, the Home Office had voluntary arrangements with 95 local authorities throughout the UK on accepting the dispersal of asylum seekers. To put that in context, there are 398 principal councils in the UK. As part of the regional dispersal policy established in 2000, an advisory cluster limit was set by the Home Office of one asylum seeker for every 200 of the settled population. In Stoke-on-Trent, we have already reached 79% of capacity on that basis, second only to Coventry within the west midlands. Crucially, there are neighbourhoods where the concentration of asylum seekers raises the risk of increased social tension, as well as challenging the capacity of local health, education and other support services. It has placed a heavy burden on our council services, as well as on our brilliant local voluntary and community organisations, especially during the pandemic.
Stoke-on-Trent is a city with a big heart, and no one wants to see this country refusing to help young, unaccompanied minors, or genuine victims of modern slavery. I welcome the Government’s commitment to that principle. It is right that we put into domestic law international obligations for a recovery period, during which victims of modern slavery receive support, and establish a law, on the basis of which confirmed victims are eligible for temporary leave to remain.
I do, however, receive significant correspondence from local residents, calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration. The call comes from ordinary, decent people who believe in fairness and who want our Government to stand up for those in genuine need, while removing those who have no right to be in the UK. They want us to crack down on the criminal trafficking networks that exploit the desperation of the most vulnerable. They want us to ensure that the UK is not a safe haven for foreign criminals. Over the past six years, the UK has directly resettled 25,000 people—more than any other country in Europe—from places of danger, and refugee family reunion has seen 29,000 people come to the UK over the same period, so we will take no lectures on our credentials as a compassionate Government.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has worked closely with the Home Office, and we welcome the Department’s commitment to bring 560 jobs to our city. It has demonstrated a commitment to levelling up and a recognition that Stoke-on-Trent is the ideal location for the new immigration caseworking innovation centre.
The Bill is important legislation with the principle of fairness at its heart. I am delighted to support it.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this debate. One benefit of having it over two days has been that those of us who are speaking today have had the opportunity to reflect fully on the contributions made yesterday.
I am grateful for the Minister’s engagement with me on Friday about the principles of the Bill, the thought process behind it and what the Government hope to achieve. From reading yesterday’s Hansard, it is clear that there were hon. Members who made thoughtful and considered contributions to the debate, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) did just now, while others took the opportunity to stoke the very worst fears associated with the Bill and there were clearly some who used the basest arguments to debase the process. I do not believe that that serves Parliament well as we consider the Bill’s Second Reading.
I was encouraged by the continued work of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). I pay tribute to him for his contributions yesterday highlighting his concerns about part 4. It was encouraging to hear not only about his and Lord McColl’s continued commitment to provisions of previous legislation, but about his engagement with the Home Secretary and her commitment to leave open the opportunity to thoughtfully and productively consider changes to the Bill.
In considering part 4, I think not only of the reduction of the practical support to confirmed victims of modern slavery and human trafficking from 45 days—it will remain at 45 days in Northern Ireland and Scotland—but of the disparity between what is available in those 45 days and what will be available in the 30 days that clause 52 proposes. I think of the conflict that will arise with the legislation that we passed in Northern Ireland, which was sponsored by my noble Friend Lord Morrow: the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. There is much work to do on the issues, and I trust that we will get the opportunity to do it in the forthcoming stages.
I raise again the issue of indefinite detention, which has not featured much in our debates on the Bill. I hope that the Bill will provide another opportunity to build on the cross-party support that has been garnered for ending indefinite detention. It is wrong, it is cruel and it serves no place that somebody can be detained on immigration grounds with no indication of how long they will be detained or how they will be released from detention. I hope that the Bill will give us a fresh opportunity to consider that fully and bring some finality.
On refugees, I think it fair to say that we have a proud record as a country, although we should not rest on our laurels. The figures have been cited throughout our debate: 25,000 refugees have come to the United Kingdom since 2015, and a further 29,000 family members have been resettled in this country. That is good, but it is by no means the totality of the story. Concerns have been raised about conflict with the 1951 convention and about the introduction of a two-tier process. If we are—as I believe we are—a truly welcoming and truly compassionate country, there are issues in the Bill that will need to be resolved in Committee.
I took the opportunity in my engagement with the Minister to highlight a report—HC 158—that issued from the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs at the start of this month. It raises the anomaly that, by virtue of the Belfast agreement and the Irish Government’s approach to these issues, someone born in Northern Ireland can attain Irish citizenship by simply filling in the form and paying a fee of £70, whereas someone born in the Republic of Ireland who had spent the entirety of their life living in the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland, cannot do the same; they have to go through exactly the same citizenship process, pay £1,330 and prove their proficiency in English. Let me give one example. That applies not only to hundreds of people who live in the north-west and around the border areas of Northern Ireland, but to a former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a Member of our House of Lords. He is entitled to vote upon and contribute in the parliamentary affairs of our country, but he is not entitled to citizenship unless he pays £1,330 and proves his proficiency in English—that is nonsense. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) referred to clauses 7 and 8, and I ask that the Minister meets us to consider how best we resolve this issue and pick up on the recommendations made by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee during the passage of this Bill. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), the spokesman for the Scottish National party, made some fair criticisms yesterday and highlighted some fair concerns about the Bill. The Bill will receive its Second Reading, so I hope we continue to engage with and construct the right outcome in forthcoming stages so that it is truly fit for purpose.
I rise to support this Bill, which contains some sensible measures, particularly on regularising the citizenship of certain mothers, fathers and members of the military, and prioritising the rapid removal of foreign criminals, who really should not be in this country. I also appreciate that it is a controversial Bill and it will need close scrutiny in Committee. But something desperately needs to be done, because our asylum and immigration system is broken. It is broken, first, because it is hugely bureaucratic. As the Windrush scandal showed, there are so many different criteria for being able to claim citizenship or right to residency in the UK. It is a hugely complicated and burdensome system. Secondly, it is very expensive, as we have heard. It is becoming a cash cow for the Home Office. For example, a leave to remain application typically costs £1,033, of which the cost to the Home Office is just £142—that represents a profit to the Home Office. Thirdly, for genuine refugees, especially children in potentially dangerous situations, the process takes far too long. There is a lack of urgency from immigration officials on the ground in the country of application or from the Home Office here. As constituency MPs, we know of countless cases of constituents who have waited months and years in limbo simply because their application is still being processed. Whether they are successful or they fail in their application, they deserve to be dealt with speedily and with respect so that they can get on with their lives in whatever form that will take after the application is assessed—that is just not happening. The queue is far too long and is taking too long to shift.
Fourthly, despite its shortcomings, the process is now being routinely bypassed by those who come across the channel illegally, usually because they can afford to pay people traffickers. For those of us representing south coast constituencies, that is causing a huge amount of chaos and great resentment. Without the proper dispersal system that the country desperately needs, Kent County Council bears the brunt of the children who must be taken into care. We also have all the fears about the beta variant coming in through the back door. This is not the way for people to come to the UK. Effectively, these people are queue jumping, taking up spaces that we are quite rightly prepared to offer to vulnerable families in refugee camps coming from those places of danger who have gone through the right procedures—genuinely vulnerable families whose lives are in peril.
Frankly, this is happening because the French Government have consistently failed to close off this route. They could prevent more of those boats getting into the water in the first place; goodness knows we have given them enough resources and security co-operation. They could intercept them and take them back to French shores. They could allow Border Force to take those who have been intercepted in British waters back to French shores. The Home Affairs Committee has been reviewing this issue, and we have taken advice from international maritime lawyers who confirm that the French would be in their rights to do that. They refuse to do so.
That is why there are people coming to Calais, causing chaos on the French coast—because they think there is a chance to get across the channel to come to the UK, whether or not they have any claim to be here. If the French were to cut off that route so that the chances were that anyone trying to get into the water would be returned safely to French territory, having paid a lot of money to people traffickers, people might just think again and the French coast, particularly Calais, would no longer be a magnet for them.
It would be in the interests of the French to do that. Why on earth are they not doing it? There would be a mutual benefit. I understand fully the Home Secretary’s frustration and why further measures need to be taken unilaterally. The French have failed to play ball and are trying to make their problem our problem.
I have a few specific queries. First, I have had a query from the Shoreham lifeboat crew about potential liabilities on lifeboats rescuing some of these migrants trying to get into the UK illegally, and whether they are at risk under the terms of the Bill. Some reassurance would be good.
Many times, I have called for and supported amendments to introduce a proper replacement for the Dublin family reunion scheme—one that is not less generous than what we had pre-Brexit—and for an equivalent of the Dubs scheme, which did a great deal in rescuing genuinely vulnerable children.
I pay tribute to the We Belong charity, led by the excellent Tashi Tahir, which has been standing up for some 330,000 children and young people in a precarious state, having come legally with their families to this country. They are mostly Commonwealth citizens who are bright and want to contribute, but they have to wait 10 years to regularise their status, at a cost of some £12,771, through applications for leave to remain every 30 months. If they fail to pay, their status becomes illegal, and if they then want to start again, they have to start all over again. That is not fair. There should be at least a five-year route to permanent status. I welcome the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), has been having discussions with the charity. I hope that he will be sympathetic and we will get some changes to the Bill.
There are many other things that I would mention, but in six minutes I have not had time. Above all, the Bill must get the balance right. We need to be tough on those people who come through the wrong routes but ensure that there are safe and legal routes for those to whom we genuinely owe a debt of safety, to give them proper refuge in this country.
I am proud to represent Sheffield, Hallam. Sheffield was the first place to call itself a city of sanctuary, and I pay tribute to all the great organisations, such as City of Sanctuary Sheffield, the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, ASSIST Sheffield and many more, that do such good work in my city—my home—to make it as welcoming a place as possible to people fleeing war, persecution and violence.
It is in that spirit of humanity, compassion and genuine internationalism that I completely reject the divisiveness written into nearly every clause and line of this Bill. The Bill is divisive—in the way it pits so-called group 1, or “good” asylum seekers against so-called group 2, or “bad” asylum seekers; in the way that it stacks our legal system against some of the most vulnerable people coming to the UK; and in the way that it criminalises altruism and basic acts of compassion.
Every line of the Bill strains to break the human bonds that hold us all together. It is an affront to the spirit of the 1951 refugee convention. The convention clearly states that refugees
“shall enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination,”
yet discrimination seems to be at the heart of the Bill.
The Government know that there are no visa or pre-entry clearances for someone wishing to claim asylum—there is no such thing as an “illegal asylum seeker”—but the most vulnerable asylum seekers are those who rely on illegal methods to get into the country. The distinction between group 1 and group 2 asylum seekers is a completely bogus differentiation which will introduce more legal hurdles for some of the most traumatised and brutalised people on our planet. It is also chilling that there are no restrictions to prevent the Home Secretary from treating group 2 asylum seekers differently. Those people are already under huge amounts of pressure to provide evidence of their cases, often when they have had to leave their homes behind very quickly. There are massive barriers to their submitting coherent evidence on arrival in the UK. The proposal for decision makers to doubt applications on the basis of late evidence is a wilful misunderstanding of the challenges, the horrors and the deep trauma that asylum applicants have faced to be here, as well as the lack of legal advice.
One of the most appalling aspects of the Bill is the criminalisation of anyone who helps someone seeking asylum to enter the country. What does that mean in practice? For example, how is it compatible with the duty of a ship to attempt to rescue people who are in danger at sea?
This Bill is discriminatory, a violation of our international treaty obligations, inhumane, spiteful, and badly thought through. I suspect that it is more about appealing to a subset of ugly populist opinion than about addressing the real problems in the system, such as the lack of safe and legal routes into the UK to claim asylum. Today I will be upholding the best traditions of my constituency, and voting firmly against it.
I will support the Bill. I welcome the aim to establish a plan that will resolve some of the historic abnormalities in British nationality law, particularly in clauses 1 to 4, and I am pleased that the Home Secretary has undertaken this task to ensure that those in genuine need will be protected. This pandemic has shown us that the Government must respond quickly and correctly to emerging crises, and that our border controls must be in place to prevent the flow of covid and to ensure that our citizens are protected both here and abroad.
I also welcome clauses 5 and 6, which strengthen the pathways to citizenship. As one who went through the immigration system, I can attest to how expensive it is and how convoluted it was previously. I welcome the Home Secretary’s work to create a level of expediency and transparency for those who have rightly come here to work, and to enter into legal citizenship because they want to contribute and be part of British society. I have known many people, not only constituents but friends of mine, who had to return to New Zealand, Australia or South Africa because, although they had a right to be here because they were ethnically British and were merely attempting, for instance, some kind of reunion, the Home Office’s administrative hurdles on the path to citizenship were so challenging and difficult that many gave up and went back to their homes. I just hope that these welcome reforms will allow those who genuinely want to be British and have every right to be here to access that citizenship, as I did.
I pay tribute to the UK’s history of refugee resettlement, and to our scheme which will continue to ensure the safety of incoming refugees. I am proud that between 2016 and 2019 the UK resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any European Union member state—and that includes the vital resettlement of vulnerable children and the issuing of family reunion visas to bring families back together.
One of the key provisions in the Bill is the introduction of new and tougher definitions of criminal offences to deter people from attempting to enter the UK illegally. It raises the penalty for illegal entry from six months to four years in prison, and introduces life sentences for people smugglers. I also welcome the additional power given to Border Force, including the ability to search unaccompanied containers in our ports and to seize and dispose any vessels that have been intercepted.
The Government must curb the number of groups who are trying to take advantage of vulnerable people and exploit them for financial gain. Not only is that illegal and inhumane, but it keeps dangerous pathways open, which can lead to the abuse and loss of life of refugees trying to reach the UK. In order to provide targeted support to those who are in genuine need, the Government must regulate who is entering the UK so that they can provide that support as quickly and as effectively as possible. For the safety and sustainability of our country, and the safety and wellbeing of refugees seeking to enter the UK, it is vital that the UK has a clear and effective plan to deter and prevent illegal entry into our country. I welcome the fact that, through this Bill, we seek to crack down on illegal immigration so that we can prioritise those in genuine need.
May I begin by wishing the Muslim community in my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts and across the globe a very blessed Eid al-Adha? During this pandemic, Muslims have been at the heart of community outreach, with many mosques in various constituencies becoming vaccination centres. Many who follow the Muslim faith will be spending time today with their families and eating. I will miss out on my mum’s famous biryani, but speaking in today’s debate is much more important.
By naming this piece of legislation the Nationality and Borders Bill, this Tory Government are attempting to legitimise a frankly abhorrent way in which to treat those who are escaping extreme violence, so let us just call this Bill what it is: the anti-refugee Bill. This Government want to treat vulnerable people who are fleeing persecution, many of whom are women and children, as criminals. The proposals in the Bill are a brutal, cruel and cold-hearted response by this Government.
I am astounded by the language that has been used by those on the Government Benches; it is of great concern. Refugees need compassion and not to be accused of being economic migrants. They are humans like all of us. To be perfectly frank, one of the main differences between them and us is that most of us were born here.
Members have already referred to the two-tier system that the Tories are creating. This is a horrific way to treat some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We cannot and must not send out a message that anyone fleeing persecution whose route out of that persecution is to travel to the UK via other countries will automatically be viewed as a criminal. By focusing on the method of arrival, the Government are ignoring the fact that people do not have the luxury of phoning up and telling the Home Office that they will be arriving here to ensure that their arrival is approved. They are literally fleeing conflict, running for their lives. They are in danger.
I have been elected to this House for fewer than 70 days. The Tories continually run away from any form of international responsibility and co-operation. From the cuts to aid budgets to this two-tiered refugee system, this Tory Government are pushing their “us versus them” narrative. They are pitching communities against one another. Of course, we should not be surprised by that. I have spoken previously in this very Chamber about the manner in which this Tory Government view immigration and foreigners coming into this country. Just because someone was not born here or does not have a British passport does not mean that they will not make a valuable contribution, whether socially, economically or politically.
Dr Waheed Arain is just one example. Waheed fled forced conscription into the Taliban in Afghanistan as a child and made an irregular journey to the UK. Under the proposed rules, Waheed would not have been granted refuge by this country, which, historically, has offered protection and opportunity. Waheed Arain is now working as an NHS doctor. He released an open letter, in which he said:
“I spent my childhood hiding from rockets in refugee camps in Afghanistan. Fleeing the civil war, I arrived in London, separated from my family, as a traumatised 15-year-old. I dreamed of becoming a doctor.”
He went on to say:
“Under this Government’s proposed plans, I would not have been given the chance to become an NHS doctor, let alone learn English or studied medicine at Cambridge University. I would have been classed as an ‘illegal arrival’, denied access to the asylum system, prosecuted for breaking the law, and…removed from the country.”
My message to Waheed today is: sorry. I am sorry that the country that you sought refuge in is treating people in this manner. I am sorry to those who are seeking refuge that this Tory Government are moving towards a dangerous, far-right trajectory. I am sorry that this country is meant to be a global power but is turning into little, insular Britain. My message to you is that the Scottish National party will stand by you and we will stand by your side against this Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Anum Qaisar-Javed). It will come as no surprise that I do not agree with a great number of things that she said, but she may get some comfort from one of the proposals that I will make later to improve the Bill.
I welcome any Bill that aims to address historical anomalies and areas of unfairness in British nationality law, and to make the current system of applying for asylum fairer and more efficient. This Bill will ensure that those who are in genuine need can be supported, and, at the same time, deter illegal entry into the UK. This is a timely and important topic and an area of law that we have needed to address for some time.
In recent years, we have sadly been haunted by terrible scenes and tragic reports of migrants losing their lives while attempting to enter the UK. That is why I welcome the changes proposed in this Bill. The Bill aims to save and protect lives by ensuring that only safe and legal routes into the UK remain, and proposes harsher punishments for human smugglers and traffickers, who are responsible for so much suffering. The introduction of life sentences for human smuggling, by way of which so many lives have been endangered, will attempt to combat and condemn the exploitation of migrants. Tougher criminal sentences for those attempting to enter the UK illegally will also steer those seeking asylum towards safe and legal routes, and ultimately protect their lives.
What the hon. Member is advocating and what the Government have in this Bill is a criminal offence punishable by up to four years in prison that would apply to a Uyghur fleeing ethnic cleansing in China, to a Syrian fleeing war crimes there, or to a persecuted Christian fleeing for their life. How can any Government or any party justify locking up these people for four years?
I recall serving with the hon. Gentleman on the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Committee, so I am very much aware of the experience and expertise that he brings to this debate. The short answer is that this Bill does an awful lot to end human trafficking and the nasty, awful environment that is being fostered by the criminal gangs who are putting lives at risk. I appreciate everything that the hon. Gentleman says and the expertise that he brings to the debate, but I do not necessarily see it in the same way as he does.
The UK has a proud history of supporting the most vulnerable people worldwide, having resettled more refugees than any other country in Europe. The Bill ensures that the Government stand by their moral and legal obligations to help people fleeing cruelty around the world, while condemning those who break the law.
Let me turn briefly to another element of the Bill. Attention needs to be given to the costly and arduous routes to citizenship that are bureaucratic and expensive for those who are already settled and working in the UK. I declare an interest, as my partner is an overseas NHS worker. This is a perfect example of what I mean: many of our NHS workers who have worked day in, day out to provide the best possible care to patients throughout the pandemic have come from other countries. Often these individuals have travelled great distances and put their own lives at risk to help and save our lives, regardless of their or our citizenship; their duty to care and contribute to the wellbeing of their patients is what comes first and I commend their hard work.
However, with fees for indefinite leave to remain at almost £2,400 and citizenship applications another £1,330, the process of becoming a citizen for many of our NHS workers is a costly and challenging one. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) said last week during an intervention in the Health and Care Bill debate, if we offered indefinite leave to remain to all of our NHS workers who are here on renewable visas, I feel confident that the gap in the NHS workforce would almost certainly close and, simultaneously, we would be recognising their hard work and sacrifices. The over 160,000 NHS staff from over 200 different countries who stated that they were of non-British nationality account for nearly 15% of all NHS staff for whom a nationality is known. It is undeniable that we would be in dire straits without them. Should we not therefore consider changing our current citizenship process to one that does not deter NHS workers through high costs and time-consuming processes, one that does not leave them in debt and in poverty but instead rewards their commitment to their communities?
I welcome the many steps that the Bill takes to improve the UK’s asylum and immigration system to make it one that is based on needs, and I welcome the new NHS visa that has been announced by the Home Office. Given that the Government themselves have already recognised the importance of creating a bespoke route for incoming NHS workers, I feel it is also our duty to focus on those who have already given so much to our country, by creating a new route to citizenship for existing NHS workers.
One of the objections to this could be that once indefinite leave to remain or citizenship had been conferred, the NHS worker would be free to go to the private sector or to a different role altogether, having benefited from the fee abolition. That could be easily resolved. Companies do this all the time, paying fees for qualifications for individuals that would become repayable if that individual then left the company’s service. There does not seem to be any reasonable reason why a similar scheme could not be put in place to make this workable.
As I have said before, in this place and in Westminster Hall, it is time to abolish the fees for indefinite leave to remain and for citizenship for those who work in our NHS, so that those who spend time helping and treating us can finally feel like they belong and are welcomed in our country with open arms.
I would like to start by echoing what the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Anum Qaisar-Javed) said and to offer my best wishes to the Muslim community in Bristol as they celebrate Eid.
I am proud that Bristol has declared itself a city of sanctuary for people fleeing violence and persecution, an initiative that was welcomed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Our Mayor, Marvin Rees, has spoken about how providing this safe haven with the right support structures in place has become an asset for Bristol, enriching our culture, driving local innovation and improving international connectivity.
The success of the English football team in the Euros shows the strength that can come from embracing diversity in Britain, whether from first, second or third generation families. Today we heard the good news that Kenneth Macharia, a mechanical engineer who plays for the Bristol Bisons rugby team, has won his asylum appeal after a five-year battle with the Home Office, and I want to pay tribute to his solicitors at South West Law. In my 16 years as an MP, South West Law has been one of the very few firms in the area that I can be confident of referring people to. It has always been there to give reliable legal advice and has helped many people.
Sport is brilliant at bringing people together and bridging cultural divides, and so is food. In Bristol we have a social enterprise called 91 Ways, after the number of languages spoken in the city, that uses food and culinary traditions not only to celebrate diversity but to break down some of the barriers between different communities. The largest such community in Bristol is the Somali community, with maybe 20,000 people of Somali heritage in the city. Some have long-standing connections with this country, particularly those from the former British colony of Somaliland who have served in the British Army and worked in the docks, but many others arrived here as refugees, fleeing one of the most dangerous places on earth in search of a safe place to live.
In my years as an MP, I have met so many people, including children, who have been through horrendous experiences, leaving them with not just physical but deep mental scars. Yes, I have met others whose cases were not so clear cut, but no matter what the stories are behind their journeys to the UK, I believe that people who arrive here seeking refuge should be treated fairly and with dignity, not demonised. They should be given a fair chance to tell those stories with proper legal representation.
Of course we want the people who come here to claim asylum through a safe and legal route, and we need a firm but fair legal process so that we can best support those who need it most, but the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has told us how the few legal routes that do exist are inadequate and highly restrictive. It is clear that this is what needs fixing in the system, not the issues that this Bill is purportedly trying to address. This is especially true for children. It is shocking that the Government have—wilfully, I believe—done so little so far to implement the Dubs amendment.
A refusal to provide ways for people to legally claim asylum will mean that more people attempt to reach the UK illegally, no matter what the penalties are—and dangerously too. It will do nothing to deter the people smugglers or the human traffickers. The Anti-Slavery Commissioner has warned that measures taken to address a potentially small number of people seeking to abuse the immigration system will have a considerable impact on victims of modern slavery. There is a grave danger of viewing victims of modern slavery through an immigration lens and ignoring the trauma and exploitation they have suffered as victims.
This attitude towards people seeking sanctuary in the UK, and to immigration more broadly, is not just morally reprehensible but economically ignorant too. Right now, we are facing acute labour crises in key economic sectors due to this Government’s ideological and narrow-minded approach to immigration: in hospitality; in agriculture, with fresh food left to rot in our fields; and in transport, with firms warning of a 70,000 to 90,000 shortfall of HGV drivers. We are already starting to see empty supermarket shelves as a result, and the crisis will only get worse as we get towards Christmas. Haulage firms have called for drivers to be added to the shortage occupation list, and/or for temporary visas to be issued to overseas drivers as a temporary solution while we try to train up more HGV drivers and deal with the backlog of HGV tests. The Government’s response to these common-sense calls from the Road Haulage Association, Unite and others is a flat no, because they cannot be seen to concede the argument. They do not want to accept that, as with my own relatives from Ireland, immigrants can and do make a huge contribution to this country.
The Home Secretary should stop posturing, stop playing politics with people’s lives, and instead bring forward proposals that would genuinely ensure that we have a firm yes, but also a fair asylum system in this country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy).
During the 2019 general election, I said on many occasions that I supported a firm but fair immigration system—one that prioritises the needs of our economy and provides robust border security to keep us safe, but also, yes, welcomes those who need the shelter of the United Kingdom. We should always be proud of the refuge that we provide to those who need it. In conflict after conflict and crisis after crisis, we have stood up and promised protection to those whose lives are at risk. That shows our compassion as a country.
But we cannot ignore what is obvious: that our current asylum system is broken. We have all watched the frustrating scenes in the English channel—small boats dangerously full of people who have been sold a false promise by criminal gangs. Every time those criminal gangs fill up those boats, they put at risk the lives of innocent and vulnerable people. They also put at risk the lives of the men and women of our Border Force and of the RNLI who go out to avoid casualties at sea.
If the hon. Gentleman describes the people who seek the refuge of those boats—who seek that terrible means to cross—as innocent and vulnerable, why is he supporting a Bill that is going to criminalise them and put them in prison for up to four years?
Because this Bill tells people that there are safe and legal ways to get to the United Kingdom, and if they follow those safe and legal ways, then we will provide refuge, but we should not be encouraging people, indirectly, to take those illegal routes that we know cost lives.
We have tried for years to work with France on this issue. We have tried, tried and tried again, and it has not worked. Anyone who says that our asylum system is not broken and does not need fixing must not be seeing the same scenes. They must be oblivious to the thousands of people who have crossed the English channel in dangerous boats this year alone. They certainly are not listening to residents in constituencies like mine, because my residents support a system that works. They support tougher penalties for those who enter the country illegally. The measures in the Bill are tough but rightly so, and they are also simple. The Bill sends a clear message to those in genuine need that we have a safe and legal route into the UK—that people do not need to risk their lives in dangerous small boats. If people need help we are here, but for those who try to game the system and those who think our immigration rules are there to be got around because, somehow, the rules do not apply to them, the penalties are tough. A different approach for those who follow the rules and those who do not—I cannot see how anyone can disagree with that, but somehow, they do.
Some Opposition Members do not seem to have a problem with the last-minute claims lodged to avoid deportation, sometimes in the case of serious criminals. Well, I do have a problem with them, and the new appeals process proposed in the Bill will make a big difference to dealing with those claims. It will allow us to throw out the spurious and deal only with those that are genuine.
It is right, fair and proper that the Home Office plan ahead and consider whether there is a way to look at claims in a safe third country. That would allow us to protect our borders proactively, moving us to a model under which we gave people safe haven while considering their application, then brought them to the shelter of the UK. However, there are two sides to the coin. If illegal entry is one side, the facilitators are the other. Through the Bill, we will empower our Border Force officers directly to intervene in those people-smuggling gangs—gangs that try to find new ways to circumvent the measures that we design here in the House to protect our country and protect our citizens.
Firm but fair rules; secure but compassionate borders; a system that ensures that the people of this country are safe; a system under which we know who is coming to the UK and how they are getting here; and our offer of help and support for those who need them—that is what my constituents want, and that is what the Bill delivers.
Eid Mubarak to my constituents and all who are celebrating.
There are lots of things I could say about the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill and their plans for immigration. I have been overwhelmed by the number of constituents who have been in touch to ask me to oppose the Bill, and I can assure them that I share their horror of the legislation. Criminalising those who seek sanctuary and who have survived experiences so disturbing and so distressing that they struggle to describe them is absolutely abhorrent.
I agree with Members who have said that the asylum system is broken, but the Bill is certainly not how I would go about fixing it. The Home Secretary’s plans to offshore reception centres, echoing Australia’s failed and expensive experiment, are dehumanising and brutal—such places are not for people who have suffered trauma. I commend to colleagues Behrouz Boochani’s auto- biographical account of the Manus Island detention centre, “No Friend but the Mountains”. If the Home Secretary has read the book, it is certainly not meant to be taken as a “how to” guide.
Seeking asylum is not a crime, but this Tory Government are attempting to make it so. The all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention, which I chair, has been taking evidence from medical and legal experts, as well as from people who have stayed in the Home Office’s quasi-detention facilities at Napier barracks and Penally camp. What we have heard so far is incredibly worrying. People moved to facilities were taken from their accommodation without notice or explanation to a place surrounded by gates, fences and barbed wire. They were not told how long they would be there. They described to the APPG how right-wing protesters came to demonstrate outside, and how people came to stare through the fences at them as if they were animals in a zoo. Even though they could move around the local area, they were made to feel completely unsafe in doing so.
Ministers may claim that they are screening for vulnerability, but the evidence is clear and the tools that the Home Office is using to identify both physical and mental vulnerabilities during initial screening are woefully inadequate. Health experts have described the impact of Penally and Napier on those who were forced to live there. This is already, remember, a very fragile population—people who have been exploited, trafficked, tortured, seen their families killed or raped, or been subject to sexual violence themselves.
A third of residents at Napier said they felt suicidal—a much higher ideation rate than would be expected among asylum seekers living in the community. People suffered from lack of sleep and shared dorms with people experiencing night terrors and physical pain caused by the torture they had been through. There was even the mundane, everyday pain caused by lack of basic health and dental care. In addition, there was an outbreak of scabies owing to the lack of laundry facilities to wash clothes and bedding, and residents suffered the indignity of having to share the cream to treat it among themselves.
Legal experts have described the difficulties that those accommodated in such camps experience in gaining access to legal advice, or even knowing their right to access a lawyer in the first place. There are issues with the capacity of local immigration lawyers to take on cases and being able to work with a lawyer when there are no private spaces in which to discuss the case, which is a breach of people’s article 8 rights. Some have described being woken in the morning to be told that their substantive interview would happen imminently, with no time to prepare.
Then, of course, we have covid. Public Health England, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons all raised concerns about the impact of communal living on the spread of covid-19. The Home Office chose to ignore that. A former resident of Napier barracks, describing the covid outbreak, said that
“all you could hear was people coughing…it was like an apocalypse”.
Communal living in the camp made it impossible to prevent the outbreak of a highly infectious airborne virus, with shared sleeping, washing and eating space and a lack of soap and sanitiser. At Penally, it was reported that the isolation room had no toilet and washing facility of its own.
I note with interest that the ICIBI report will be out on Thursday. Will there be a statement in the House on the findings of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration? If not, I would expect some kind of answer on that in the Minister’s summing up. Such facilities are highly inappropriate and they must all be closed, not just expanded, as the Home Secretary suggested. If they are offshore and people are unable to access them, we can bet that there will be even less scrutiny of the conditions.
None of this cruelty is happening by accident. Criminalise those who escape war and brutal regimes—people who can hardly go to the Government who killed their family to make a polite request for travel documents. Make the experience as awful as possible for those who make it here, despite all the odds. Deny adequate medical and legal support, so that it is harder for asylum seekers to make their case. Put people in camps to keep them from making friends, building support networks and putting down roots. Give them a pittance to live on, so that they cannot survive. My constituents and I do not support this anti-refugee Bill. We want none of this brutal hostile environment. All refugees are human beings, who deserve safety and dignity like any one of us, and no one is illegal.
Overall, this is a horrible and unnecessary Bill. The UK does not have a problem with asylum seekers, nor indeed immigration. Asylum seekers have been unjustly and cruelly demonised. Some specific examples regarding asylum seekers are being magnified and generalised in order to rationalise bad law. Conflict, gross human rights abuses and persecution will result in more and more movements of people over the course of the century. Indeed, climate change will likely be a major driver of that conflict. The UK must acknowledge both its capacity to assist and indeed the requirements of basic humanity, and therefore ensure that its laws are consistent with those realities.
On a per capita basis, the UK accepts fewer asylum seekers than most other European jurisdictions, and faces less pressure due to its geographically peripheral position in relation to some of the migrant routes. The UK is not being invaded or overrun. Asylum seekers and, indeed, immigrants are not overwhelming public services or stealing jobs. Where pressures exist on services, that reflects both poor planning and under-investment. Where pockets of unemployment or under-employment exist, that reflects poor investment in skills and job creation initiatives.
The current high bar to acceptance of asylum claims is expected to be even higher as a result of the Bill, and those who try to assist run the risk of being criminalised. The notion of offshoring asylum seekers is particularly repugnant. We need a system based on humanitarian values and objective consideration of cases. Crucial to that are safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK.
I will flag some other concerns on the Bill. The first relates to the clause on electronic travel authorisation. The EU settlement scheme covers those European economic area citizens who are normally resident in the UK, but it does not apply to EU citizens who live in the Republic of Ireland, and they are also not covered by the common travel area. There is a danger that that could have an impact on thousands of people who live on the island of Ireland and cross the border, sometimes daily.
Although the Government have said that there will be no immigration controls at the border on the island of Ireland, there could still be a bureaucratic complication for those EU nationals to comply with any requirements around an ETA, and legal uncertainty for those entering Northern Ireland without one. I would be grateful for clarification on how these particular circumstances will be taken into account.
The nationality parts of the Bill have received much less attention, and I want to focus on the Government’s failure properly to reflect in domestic law the citizenship and identity aspects of the Good Friday agreement, namely that it is the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.
Like many people, I am comfortable with both a British and an Irish identity. However, there is a core of people born in Northern Ireland, as a full part of the United Kingdom, who wish only to identify as Irish and be accepted as Irish. The Good Friday agreement clearly provides for this situation. However, this reality is not yet reflected in UK domestic law, where people are legally treated as British by default at birth.
That problem was crystallised in the Emma DeSouza case. The Committee on the Administration of Justice reported:
“The Home Office response to the DeSouza case included taking the position that it did not have to comply with the GFA as it is not domestically enforceable; arguing a reduction of the scope of the birthright provisions to one of ‘national identity’ in the abstract (overlooking the ‘accept as’ duty)”.
At the very least, the UK and Irish Governments need to meet to discuss these differences and what acceptance of choice should mean in practice. Indeed, that was a recommendation of the recent report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Renunciation is cited as one possible solution, and it may well be for some, but at present the process requires someone to declare that they start as British, which is at odds with the wording of the Good Friday agreement.
At present, this may well be framed as a problem solely for those who identify as Irish, but at some stage in the future there may well be a united Ireland. In those circumstances, there will also be an expectation that those who wish solely to identify as British from birth should also be accommodated, so this issue works both ways.
There is potentially a legislative way forward in the 2020 report completed by the barrister Alison Harvey on behalf of the joint committee of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. I urge the Government to give strong consideration to those recommendations.
The 1951 UN refugee convention, which was signed by a Labour Government, was born out of the aftermath of the horrors of the second world war, when countries came together to ensure that there would be international protection for those who suffer persecution. That is an incredibly important principle, and one which the Government threaten to undermine with this Bill.
By treating refugees differently, depending on how they arrive in the UK and the point at which they present themselves to authorities, the Bill creates a two-tier system. As the Immigration Law Practitioners Association has pointed out,
“the introduction of differential treatment of refugees depending on how they came to the UK or made their claim cuts against the principles motivating the 1951 UN refugee convention.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has pointed out that
“the right to seek asylum is universal and does not depend on the mode of arrival; asylum-seekers are often forced to arrive unauthorised.”
And the Refugee Council has called this Bill
“a cruel, unjust bill unfairly punishing people who’ve fled war, persecution and terror for the way they reach the UK.”
If this Bill passes into law, the Government will be turning their back on some of the most vulnerable people on Earth. This is a source of national shame. It is shameful, too, that the UK Government are acting in a way that risks breaching international law and undermines global efforts to support victims of war and persecution. I urge Members on both sides of the House to reflect, too, on what this means for our reputation and our standing in the world.
The Bill fails to deal with the serious and organised crime groups that are profiteering from human trafficking and modern slavery. Indeed, it removes a number of key protections for victims of these crimes.
Amnesty International and Migrant Voice have pointed out that:
“Far from truly tackling the scourge of human exploitation, including by organised crime, the bill will further empower and enable abusers by rendering the women, men and children on whom they prey ever more vulnerable to that predation.
The introduction of slavery or trafficking information notices, which could be served on people making an asylum claim or a human rights claim, would require individuals to provide the Secretary of State and any other competent authority specified in the notice with relevant status information before a specified time. This totally misses the point that the deeply traumatic nature of modern slavery cases, especially for people abused by sex trafficking gangs, can mean that many victims delay reporting the crime. They may also be victims of coercion, warned not to disclose the extent of their abuse and fearful of what will happen if they do. Given that recent reports show that four out of five rejected trafficking claims are overturned on appeal, this particular aspect of the Bill is extremely concerning.
The Government’s “New Plan for Immigration” paper says that
“we will strengthen the safe and legal ways in which people can enter the UK…we want to ensure that refugees who enter through safe and legal routes can reunite with close family members.”
However, Refugee Action is among those who have expressed frustration that there are no new commitments in the Bill on refugee settlement or family reunion. It has pointed out that there is nothing in it committing to refugee settlement schemes, and that it also fails to reform rules on family reunion or to provide new routes for unaccompanied children to reach safety in the UK.
Several of my constituents have written to me in recent days with their wide-ranging concerns about the Bill. They express concerns about the creation of a two-tier system, the need for safe and legal routes to enable refugees fleeing war and persecution to arrive without making dangerous journeys that put their lives at risk, and the fundamental concern that we should receive vulnerable people fairly and treat them decently.
In essence, my constituents are calling for the UK to play its part in providing humanitarian support to those escaping the most dangerous of circumstances. As Refugee Action says, everyone who has had to flee their home deserves the chance to live again. I call on Members from across the House to vote to protect vulnerable people fleeing violence and persecution.
The subject of immigration is of great importance to my constituents in Great Grimsby. They have voted time and time again for Government to take control of who enters our country. I am pleased that the Government are finally bringing forward this Bill to do just that. Let me say first, Madam Deputy Speaker, that control of immigration does not mean stopping people coming here. It means that, as a country, we decide on the means by which people enter. My constituents understand that from time to time we need to provide help to genuine refugees fleeing from war zones or from natural disasters. Equally, we have a tradition of providing asylum to people whose Governments are not as generous or as freedom-loving as our own. We as a country do that willingly and with generosity.
What the people of Grimsby do not accept is people travelling through multiple free, safe European countries then attempting illegal entry to the UK and claiming asylum on entry. This is not asylum seeking. This is economic migration.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not against economic migration. How could I be with the surname Nici? My late father came from Italy in the 1960s, long before the EU existed or we joined the EEC, but he had a job in the UK before he arrived and then when he came here he worked here with a work permit. He found this country welcoming. He found that Grimsby was a great place to live and so applied for citizenship and became a British citizen. In the process, he had to give up his Italian citizenship, but he did it willingly because he wanted to participate fully in life in the UK as a British citizen, to work hard, to run a business, to pay his taxes and to raise a family. It is not fair on all those who have followed the proper rules to migrate to this country that illegal immigrants and bogus asylum claimants are treated in the same way.
I have been struck by the contributions of Labour Members giving all sorts of spurious reasons why they will oppose the Bill. What they really mean is that they want to prop the door open and let unlimited people come in. I welcome the measures in the Bill and I will be enthusiastically supporting the Government tonight.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this important debate. Like others, I would like to wish Eid Mubarak to the Muslim communities in Newport West and across the UK.
I have also heard from a number of my constituents in Newport West about the Bill and their concerns with it. Like me, they think the Bill is fundamentally flawed, and I shall be opposing it. Its content means that this Conservative Government will turn their backs on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, and it risks breaching international law. The reasoned amendment in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Leader of the Opposition, rightly calls out the Government for their failures and calls for a more humane and decent asylum system, and it has my full support.
In 2021, we need to demonstrate our compassion and our global leadership. That means getting things right. This Government’s approach is weak on taking action against criminal gangs, but brutal when it comes to orphaned children from war zones. Surely this is a case of misplaced priorities. The Bill also risks criminalising the RNLI for saving people at sea. Had the Bill been in place when Sir Nicholas Winton was rescuing hundreds of children from the holocaust on the Kindertransport, it would have risked him being criminalised for his life-saving actions.
Rather than offering genuine proposals to fix the broken asylum system, for which Conservatives have been responsible for over 11 years, this dangerous Bill will make a damaging and indefensible situation even worse. It seeks to allow the Government to deliver on plans to process people’s cases in so-called third countries. In the lead-up to the Bill, Conservative party briefers have told the media that this could include taking people to west Africa or oil rigs to have their cases heard. Those plans are immoral, wildly impractical and simply not fit for purpose.
From the discussions I have had with local people in Newport West and the many other emails I have received, I know they want to see more done to tackle the appalling crime of people smuggling—as do I. However, key to that is having a workable deal in place with France to stop the gangs operating so frequently there exploiting desperate people for money. Yet the Bill contains nothing that will help to address those vital failings. It would be helpful to hear what discussions Ministers have had with the French Government on that matter.
Newport West has a strong moral compass and our city has welcomed refugees and asylum seekers with open arms, and with the respect and decency they deserve. Because Newport is a resettlement centre for refugees and asylum seekers, I have had the privilege of meeting just some of those awaiting decisions on their applications, courtesy of the British Red Cross, in Newport West. I met a doctor from Nigeria desperate to work in his specialism of cardiology, but prevented by Home Office rules. I met a Syrian woman who showed me photos of her beautiful home, now bombed to smithereens. I have met others fleeing religious persecution and seeking sanctuary here in the UK. These are not scroungers or spongers. They have skills and abilities to bring to us, and we can benefit as a society by them living and working with us here.
This Tory Government have refused to reopen many safe routes with little explanation and certainly zero humanity. The new UK resettlement scheme, in its first month in 2021, resettled just 25 refugees—25. The Government also closed the Dubs scheme, having settled just a fraction of the 3,000 children initially envisaged. That is not my idea of global Britain.
It is very hot in Newport West and across the British Isles today, and it feels like the temperature has been raised through the empty promises and hot air radiating from the ministerial suite of offices on Marsham Street and in No. 10. Those most in need of peace and safety deserve better. The people of Newport West deserve better, and I will do my best to fight for it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in a debate that has enormous implications for so many of my constituents.
July marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the refugee convention. Born out of the turmoil and devastation of the second world war, that landmark treaty enshrined the rights of those fleeing persecution and conflict. This anniversary provided the Government with the perfect opportunity to commit themselves to the principle that the UK should provide sanctuary to those who have been forced to flee their homes. Instead, we have abandoned the key principles of the convention, retreating even further from our long-standing moral commitments.
The Home Secretary claims that this Bill will fix a “broken system”, but it was this Government who broke the system in the first place, and nothing in this Bill will clear up the mess they have made. Last year, the number of people waiting more than a year for the initial decision on their asylum claim was 33,000—a tenfold increase since 2010. A staggering 250 people have been waiting for more than five years, including 55 children. The impact on those caught up in this shocking backlog, including many of my constituents, is devastating. Their lives are left in limbo: they unable to work and they are plagued every day by the uncertainty of whether they will be granted leave to remain in the country they call home. Enver Solomon, the CEO of the Refugee Council, has said:
“Leaving vulnerable men, women and children waiting for years on end for news of their fate…is cruel and unjust. It is an incredibly inefficient, ineffective and unfair way to operate a refugee protection system.”
Yet this Bill contains no measures to address these delays or provide justice for those who have been waiting for it for so long.
The Home Secretary has also told the House that these proposals
“will increase the fairness of our system.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 705.]
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Bill risks creating a deeply discriminatory two-tier system based on how people have reached the UK. Those who come via a third-party country or who lack documents will be unfairly penalised regarding the strength of their claim. The UNHCR has condemned these plans as a “recipe for human suffering”, and it is absolutely right. The Bill will make life infinitely harder for those who have been forced to flee their homes. Instead of providing refugees with the support and kindness they so desperately need, the Government seem intent on treating them like criminals. Victims of human trafficking will lose vital protections and struggle to access much-needed support. Meanwhile, young people and children will be forced into the hands of despicable people traffickers because of the Government’s failure to establish safe and legal alternative routes.
Should nations prevent anyone from crossing their borders? We are all citizens of the world, so should we all have the right to live and work where we choose? All Governments have a responsibility to their citizens to keep their country safe, and ensure economic and social stability for their citizens. There would be mass immigration without border control, which would put enormous burdens on infrastructure and public services, inevitably leading to economic instability and unemployment. These are the reasons why every single country has its own rules about who may travel, work and reside within its borders. Every country has the right to protect its borders and every country has legal migration routes via visas or work permits.
Every day, thousands of migrants and refugees leave their countries in search of refuge, safety and better lives. Refugees are unique in their plight. They have fled their country and are unable or unwilling to return because of war, violence or fear of violence, or being persecuted because of their race, religion, sexuality, nationality or political opinion. An economic migrant is different from a refugee, being someone who leaves his or her country of origin for education or for financial or economic reasons. Economic migrants choose to move to find a better life—they do not flee war-torn countries or move because of past persecution—and there are legal routes for economic migrants to come here. Refugees and migrants are not the same, even though many people, especially Opposition Members, argue that all migrants should be treated as if they were refugees on the basis that they are all seeking a better, more secure life. The United Kingdom has a proud record of helping those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny from around the world, alongside providing around £10 billion a year to support people through our overseas aid. The UK is a global leader in refugee settlement. Between 2016 and 2019, as a country we resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any member state of the EU. In total, across all Government-funded resettlement schemes, the UK has resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection over the past six years, with around half being children. More than 29,000 family reunion visas have been issued in the past five years.
I welcome this Bill because it seeks to retain a compassionate approach and combine it with increased firmness, fairness and efficiency. I welcome the ambition to see an asylum system based on need, so as to better protect and support those who require our help the most. I welcome the fact that the Government are strengthening the safe and legal routes for refugees and fixing historical anomalies in British nationality law. I welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that resettlement programmes are responsive to emerging international crises and that persecuted minorities are represented. Continuing to resettle refugees directly from regions of conflict and instability fulfils our manifesto commitment to support those fleeing persecution. Our refugee settlement scheme has protected thousands of people in the past few years.
I welcome the improved support for refugees provided for in this Bill to help those vulnerable people build their lives in the UK. The enhanced integration package and immediate indefinite leave to remain in the UK for refugees who are resettled through our safe and legal routes will make it more attractive to use legal means of resettlement than illegal ones and help deter perilous crossings.
It is well known that refugees seeking asylum in the UK are not penalised for entering illegally. I welcome life sentences for people smugglers. By cracking down on illegal immigration, we can prioritise those in genuine need. That will help prevent people making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK. I particularly welcome the commitment to tackle modern slavery and the increased protections for those found to be victims of modern slavery.
For too long, criminal gangs have profited from our broken asylum system at the expense of vulnerable people who need protection and the British public who pay for it. The Nationality and Borders Bill will create a fair, but firm system, delivering on our promise to take full control over our borders.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate today, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to focus my contribution on the impact of detention on women. In 2016, the Government committed to reduce their use of detention. While the number of women in detention has fallen since then, the measures in the Bill will likely lead to an increase.
Research by Women for Refugee Women shows that many of those detained in immigration centres are survivors of torture, rape or trafficking, and locking them up severely impacts their mental health. In March this year, there were just 25 women detained in the UK. These are historically low numbers, yet the Home Office is to open a new detention centre for women at the Hassockfield site in County Durham in the north-east later this year. If the Home Office is committed tousb detention reduction, why the increase in detention capacity?
Then we dig into the detail of this Bill, and it becomes clear that measures are being put in place that will increase women’s detention. For example, clause 10 create two tiers of refugee. People claiming asylum will be recognised as a group 1 refugee if
“they have come to the United Kingdom directly from…where their life or freedom was threatened…and…they have presented themselves without delay to the authorities.”
Those designated as group 2 refugees will have more limited protections upon grant of status, including being given shorter periods of leave to remain. However, because many women often do not realise that their experiences of gendered violence make them eligible for asylum, they do not apply straightaway. This will mean that many women will be wrongly placed in group 2 and therefore liable for detention.
Furthermore, clauses 46 and 47 go against the Home Office’s own guidance on penalising individuals for not disclosing details of their exploitation. Such guidance is in place to recognise that trafficking victims may take time to disclose what has happened to them. The move to penalise individuals for not disclosing, will mean that fewer women are recognised as victims of trafficking. That means that they will become liable for detention or, if already detained, that they will not be released.
In addition, clause 48 raises the threshold for being recognised as a potential victim of trafficking through a “reasonable grounds decision” for the national referral mechanism. It means that a positive decision will now be made when there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the individual “is”, rather than “may be”, a victim of slavery or human trafficking. Like clauses 46 and 47, it also makes it more difficult for women to be recognised as victims of trafficking, which again means that more women will be liable for detention. Overall the Bill signifies the Government’s attitude towards the safety and rights of vulnerable women who have fled abuse and violence. It disproportionately affects vulnerable women, and criminalises them. I reject this hostile environment, and I ask other Members to do the same by voting against the Bill.
It is distressing that the Government are pushing ahead with this deeply disturbing Bill. A pattern is forming in the Government of introducing legislation that does little or nothing to solve problems, but actually exacerbates them. That kind of right-wing, populist politicking is easy, but it is dangerous and lacks the competence, depth of thought and basic humanity that we have a responsibility to show. The Bill creates a two-tier system for refugees, based on the route by which they enter the UK, and not on need. In doing so, the Home Secretary risks criminalising the majority of refugees for failing to live up to an impossible standard. It does nothing to address the need to create safe and direct routes into the country for asylum seekers, and it essentially criminalises refugees for escaping war and persecution through the only route available to them. It does nothing to stop the risk of refugees falling into criminal hands and using unsafe routes.
I am appalled by the suggestion that asylum seekers could be removed to any third-party country in which they may have spent a period of time, and which the Government deem to be safe. That would renege on our international obligations, put excessive strain on countries that already accept a disproportionate number of refugees, and risk deporting refugees to countries where they will not be safely housed. The most likely outcome of that policy is that vulnerable asylum seekers will be trapped in the system for much longer, without permanent housing or the right to work. I fear the Bill will pave the way for more facilities such as Penally barracks in Wales, and Napier barracks in Kent. When Penally barracks was closed in March, I was relieved. I took it as an understanding that that kind of accommodation was unsuitable. Of course, the UK Government’s understanding of what is suitable is very different from mine, and that of the Welsh Government.
Even more worryingly, the Bill seems to open the door to offshore processing sectors housed in far-flung and remote parts of the world. The suggestion is as baffling as it is inhumane. How does the Bill promote improved dispersal and community integration for refugees? Campaigners have long been calling for a well-funded dispersal system that will safely house refugees throughout the country. Delivering the best outcomes for refugees does not seem to be a priority for the Government, and the Bill does nothing to address the problem of backlogs in the system, and delays in the processing of those seeking asylum. The backlog is now 10 times what it was 10 years ago, but who has been in power all that time? What does the Bill do to improve safeguards for unaccompanied children with bilateral agreements with other countries? What does it do to address the problem of modern slavery? This Government’s decisions are driven not by lack of capacity or funding, but by their total lack of compassion.
These proposals are deeply cruel. My beliefs are centred around fairness, justice and compassion, but it is clear that in introducing such a Bill, the Government do not share those values. The Bill is hardly a suitable 70th birthday present for the refugees convention to which the UK was a proud signatory after the second world war. Thank goodness that those who helped so many people to escape from the horrors of the second world war did not take this Government’s view on refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. I urge the Government to shelve the Bill and return to the House with a proposal that reforms the asylum system and respects the basic rights of refugees to live a dignified, safe and contented life in the UK, as is their wish.
The Bill feels like a series of poor choices made on the basis of ignorance of the evidence, or maybe even contempt for it.
Let us start with the Bill’s major premise, which is that we are overwhelmed with asylum seekers. That is not true. The United Kingdom had 35,000 or so asylum seekers last year; Germany had 120,000; France had 96,000. By the number of people we take in and consider for asylum each year, we are behind 16 members of the European Union, so we are low or mid-table. We are an island, so there is an extent to which we are protected; that has some horrific consequences as well, but the notion that we are overwhelmed with asylum seekers is bogus nonsense. It is not true, yet it is the premise of much of the Bill.
There is a problem with the asylum system, but it is the colossal backlog. Somehow, even though the number of people claiming asylum here has dropped by 58% in the past couple of decades and by 21% in the past two years, the number of people languishing in the asylum system has increased by 28%. That is proof that we are overwhelmed not with asylum seekers, but by the incompetence of the Home Office, which is what the Bill ought to be tackling. It pretends there is a problem that there isn’t, and it pretends that there isn’t a problem that there is.
Secondly, let us be quite honest about the whole issue of safer routes. So many comments have been made by Members on both sides of the House about how we need safer routes to prevent people from making dangerous crossings. There is such a need, but unless the Government allow people to apply for asylum from outside the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom will be complicit in and responsible for people making dangerous crossings. That is the safer route, but the Bill sets out nothing of the sort.
Creating two categories of asylum seekers—which I am sure the Government are doing because it winds up namby-pamby liberals and therefore somehow pleases them and their base—is probably illegal under international law. It is morally repugnant and wicked, and surely it is utterly counterproductive. Maybe that is the argument that might land with Ministers: that it will make things worse.
Just yesterday, I was talking to one of the Home Office’s own asylum accommodation providers. I will not name it, because that would not be fair, but it told me that the two-tier system will make no difference whatever to the number of people who come here via the irregular route; it will simply lead to refugees coming here, not claiming asylum and slipping into the informal economy. In other words, the Government are presenting to the House and the people a charter for a massive increase in exploitation, modern-day slavery, a wicked use of people through trafficking and all the awful things that come about when people go below the radar.
That seems an obvious consequence. the Government’s own suppliers know it, and I assume that the Government know it themselves, but they somehow think that they can get some useful clickbait by separating desperate people into the deserving and the undeserving. That is shocking. It undermines what it is to be British, and the Government should be ashamed of themselves for proposing it. Even if they have no shame, surely they have some practical understanding of the consequences of this foolish procedure: that it will force people underground into exploitation, modern slavery and appalling things like that.
It is not just on those issues that the Government have shown contempt for the evidence, or let us say an accidental ignorance of it. There is a huge impact on the world of work. In my constituency and right across Cumbria, the hospitality and tourism industry is by far our biggest employer. If I were to tell the House that, in the Lake district, 80% of the entire working age population already work in hospitality and tourism, Members will be able to see that there is no huge, sufficient reservoir of the additional people we need to work in our hospitality and tourism industry. Eighty per cent. of the working age population already work in hospitality and tourism. We are Britain’s second biggest destination, behind only London. Do the maths: we need overseas labour.
This year, and in the past few days especially, people I have spoken to right across my community, from Grasmere to Grange, from Sedbergh to Staveley, have been telling me that they have fought and struggled, spent their life savings and gone into debt to survive covid. They have been grateful for the Government support that has helped them to just about do that. Having survived covid, guess what? Loads of them are closing now. Why? Because of the Government’s barmy, impractical, stupid visa rules.
Home Secretary, why did you do all this? Why did the Government make provisions to support hospitality and tourism in the past 16 to 17 months if they were only going to kill them off by stupid visa rules at the end? The simple fact is that, if an Italian restaurant or a gastropub in the Lake district sources half its staff from overseas and half from the local area, if it cannot get the half from overseas and the business therefore closes, as dozens have done, the half who are local will lose their jobs too. So I will use the last few seconds to ask the Government to do something sensible— I and many Conservative Back Benchers think this should happen—and have a youth mobility visa with the countries that are close to us in Europe so that we can at least provide a source of labour to protect excellent businesses from going under because of stupid Government policies.
The reason we need to take action through this Bill today is not, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) said, because the country is overwhelmed, but because the system is both broken and unfair. It is obvious it is broken to everyone who sees on TV every summer large numbers of people risking their lives as they are trafficked from France, a safe country, to the UK. The system is broken because it is leading to people profiting from putting others’ lives at risk and to people putting to sea in dangerous vessels. It is unfair to those who have played by the rules. They have often jumped through a lot of hoops, paid a lot of money and done everything right, and then they see other people pushing to the front of the queue as economic migrants, despite not following all the rules. Ultimately, we have to insist on a system that is rule-based and set our own rules on who comes to this country. If we are to do that, we have to crack down hard on illegal migration and those who profit from it.
Therefore, I welcome the measures in the Bill. I welcome the extra resources for Border Force to police channel crossings. I particularly welcome the extra life sentences for people traffickers—it is amazing that that is not the case already. It is right to bring those in for people who are profiting from others’ misery and from others being put in extreme danger as they cross the channel. It is right to bring in those tougher penalties and in the legislation to increase the penalties for those who return after being the subject of a deportation order. Those who break the rules in that way again should clearly be the subject of stiffer penalties.
I also welcome, as many of my constituents will, the measures to reduce the vexatious claims that see people potentially taking legal action, even though on the steps of a plane, with the endless appeals and poorly merited cases that people use to clog up the system, slow things down and waste lots of people’s time and taxpayers’ money. We have to have a decision-making system that is not only fair, but makes clear decisions and does not lead to endless legal processes of a kind that many of my constituents are certainly frustrated by. It is also right that we have tougher measures to limit visas for those third countries that are not co-operating with us. If other countries do not want to help us and are not taking back their nationals who are being deported—they are not taking back their own citizens from this country—we have to be more symmetrical about things and look again at the visa rules we have for those countries.
I am proud to support this legislation, which ends a broken system, reduces the chance of people having their lives put at risk and ends some basic unfairnesses in the system that have gone on for far too long. It is a Bill that I am very proud to support.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I rise to speak against this Bill. In the face of an unprecedented global refugee crisis in which 82.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes, what is the response of this Tory Government? It is to close down the dedicated Department whose responsibility it was to provide help and assistance to people in desperate need across the world, giving hope, creating safer, more secure environments and reducing the need to flee their homes. It is to slash the funding for international aid, with a devastating impact on the programmes that support the world’s poorest communities so that they do not become displaced, demonstrating that the UK is no longer leading by example and reducing our authority to ask other countries to step up their contributions.
It is to close down the Dubs scheme for family reunification, having accepted just a fraction of the children that the scheme was designed to resettle in the UK. It is to withdraw from agreements with our European neighbours, with no replacement treaties and therefore no basis for agreeing how to share responsibility for supporting desperate people seeking sanctuary and the opportunity to rebuild their lives in Europe. It is to do everything possible to make desperate people arriving in the UK, many of whom are traumatised, feel as unwelcome and unwanted as possible, housing them in illegal conditions in Napier and Penally barracks, depriving them of sleep and dignity and exposing them to coronavirus infection.
It is to allow the asylum system, during more than a decade in power, to become broken, inefficient, inaccurate and inhumane. It is to close down safe and legal routes to seek asylum in the UK wherever possible, funnelling desperate people into the most dangerous routes—the peril of the English channel—because they feel there is no other way. It is to cut the funding to support English language training and voluntary sector organisations that can help refugees to settle in our communities, rebuild their lives and actively participate in our economy. And it is to bring forward legislation today that risks criminalising the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for saving lives at sea.
This is the Conservative party’s global Britain. This divisive, deeply flawed Bill sits in stark contrast to the response of local communities across the country to refugees arriving in their midst. Time and again, when faced with traumatised individuals who have been through experiences so horrific and distressing that most of us can barely imagine them, we see the deep compassion of our communities who want to help. We see this in the numerous community sponsorship groups springing up across the UK, more than 150 of them—communities coming together to raise funds, provide housing and support to welcome a refugee family to their area. I am hugely proud of the work of Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees and Peckham Sponsors Refugees, both of which have welcomed refugee families to live in my constituency. Community sponsorship works. The families who are welcomed in this way have very successful outcomes because of the support that they receive.
Instead of this divisive Bill, the Government should be bringing forward plans to provide more support to communities and local authorities that want to help with refugee resettlement and working out how lessons from the approach to community sponsorship can be applied to refugee settlement more widely. I see the willingness of our communities to help and support people fleeing to safety in the UK. In the coffee morning I attended last week at a local church in my constituency for people living locally in Home Office initial accommodation, I joined volunteers in listening to the harrowing stories about the traumatic events that led to them fleeing for their lives, their hopes and aspirations for a new life in the UK, and their frustration and despair at being caught up in the Government’s dysfunctional asylum system.
I want to put on record my concerns about the inadmissibility rules in the Bill, in particular. Everyone in this House agrees that people traffickers who exploit vulnerable people are immoral and should be stopped, but whether someone has a right to asylum in the UK must be dependent on what they suffered in their home country and the level of risk they face should they return, not how they got here. The Bill risks creating a two-tier system for asylum that will result in some people being returned to situations in which their lives are at risk solely because of their means of travel.
This Bill is a deep embarrassment to the UK. It is being introduced at the same time as the Government are cutting funding for projects that help to prevent displacement in the first place. They talk of creating safe and legal routes, without taking a single step actually to create or expand any safe or legal route. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has taken the unprecedented step of stating that the Bill will undermine the 1951 refugee convention and international protection system, not only in the UK but globally. The Bill diminishes us in the eyes of the world.
I call on the Government to withdraw the Bill and bring forward proposals to deliver a functioning, fair, accurate and humane asylum system, to restore our leadership in the world on the actions that support the poorest people, to broker peace and uphold human rights, to support communities who want to resettle refugees in their area, and to open safe and legal routes such as the Dubs scheme, so that we can continue in our proud tradition of providing safety and a welcome for those fleeing conflict and persecution.
Since I was elected to Parliament, one of the issues that I have been left in no doubt about whatsoever by many of my constituents is that the UK must take back control of its borders and deal with the tide of illegal immigration. We have all seen the sad and appalling scenes—images of asylum seekers making the perilous journey across the channel in small boats, on dangerous tides. Frankly, it is suicide, and it needs to stop, for all the reasons that have been debated today. The UK has shown itself over many years to be more than generous and hospitable, but there cannot be an indefinite blank cheque for those who come here illegally.
The Bill, as we know, has three main objectives. The first is to increase the fairness of the system—I emphasise the phrase “fairness of the system”—to better protect and support those in need of asylum. The Bill deters illegal entry into the United Kingdom, thereby breaking the business model of people-smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they wilfully endanger. The Bill also enables those with no right to be in the UK to be removed more easily. The UK’s legal immigration system is being reformed by the ending of free movement and the introduction of a new points-based immigration system. In my view, this Bill is intended to tackle illegal migration and asylum seekers and to control the UK borders, and it fulfils the manifesto promise that was made in 2019.
Let me set out some of the facts. The number of asylum seeker cases is growing. We must assess the current system and innovate to create a fairer and more efficient, modern system. There were 29,500 asylum applications in 2020 alone, and many more continue to arrive. Contrary to popular perception, the UK will continue to resettle genuine refugees directly from regions of conflict and instability. That has protected over 25,000 people in the last six years, more than any other European country.
The proposals in the Bill will rightly create a differentiated approach. How someone arrives in the UK will impact the type of status they are granted in the UK if their asylum claim is successful. Ministers rightly argue that that approach will discourage irregular entry into the UK, such as entry across the channel via small boats, as we have discussed, which, again, increased significantly in 2020.
Even on its own terms, that will not work. There is not a shred of evidence in the world that tinkering with the asylum system discourages people from coming to claim asylum. In fact, parts of the Bill are already in force, including the six-month palming off of complaints, and of course we already have Napier and Penally barracks, yet still the number of crossings continues to rise. It just will not work. People will still come. They will not be put off coming to Britain; they will just be put off claiming asylum because of how bloody awful this Government are making the system.
I am pretty clear that the Bill is designed to do exactly what I said it is designed to do. What we have to do is disincentivise the ongoing passage across the channel. We have to break the cycle. If asylum seekers know that entering the UK illegally via that method is not going to result in a successful claim for asylum, then it may stop. That will also discourage those gangs from wilfully imposing their own selfishness on these vulnerable people.
Let me move on to immigration enforcement. The Australian experience has shown what can be done legally and fairly with state intervention. The Bill will provide our border force with additional powers to search unaccompanied containers located in ports for the presence of illegal migrants. It will seize and dispose of vessels intercepted and encountered, including disposal through donation to charity if appropriate, and it will stop and divert vessels suspected of carrying illegal migrants to the UK, and, subject to the agreement of the relevant country, such as France, return them to where their sea journey to the UK began. Almost all these migrants have passed through many other countries, which should by rights have offered them asylum, to get to the UK, which, clearly, people perceive to be a soft touch, and that has to end.
Currently, there are more than 109,000 asylum cases in the system, 52,000 of which were awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2020. Around 5,500 have an asylum appeal outstanding and approximately 41,000 cases are subject to removal action. These figures are completely outrageous and point not to any failure by the Home Office, but to the sheer numbers of people who continue to seek the UK as a soft touch. Doing nothing is no longer an option. I therefore welcome the measures outlined in the Bill, and I am clear that our current asylum system is unequivocally in need of reform.
In conclusion, this is not a moral or an emotional judgment, but a pragmatic one. Although I urge the Government to ensure that implementation is as humane, kind and hospitable as possible, as we have seen for many years, it is time for change and I shall be voting this Bill through tonight.
May I say what a particular pleasure it is, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see you in the Chair today?
The great English jurist, Lord Bingham, famously wrote that the rule of law encompassed eight principles. Principle 5 states:
“The law must afford adequate protection of human rights.”
Principle 8 stipulates:
“The State must comply with its obligations in international law”—
as in national law. These principles are widely revered and have gained international respect, yet barely a week goes by when this British Government do not bring to this House a Bill that threatens to breach one or both of those principles. This Bill is yet another such example. It is also another example of the Government breaking their word, given the U-turn on their previous commitment to decrease the use of immigration detention.
If anyone was not following the first stage of this debate yesterday, I would commend to them the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), which set out in a very eloquent and measured way the many problems with this Bill. He described how it seeks, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) said, to tackle a problem that does not exist and fails to tackle a problem that does exist. My hon. Friend also set out in some detail how, if this Bill becomes law, we risk breaching both our international treaty obligations and our obligations under the European convention on human rights.
The hon. and learned Lady says that this Bill seeks to address a problem that does not exist, so what about the illegal crossings in the English channel, involving small boats and dinghies, which are overfilled with people who are risking their lives? Would she say that that is not a problem that we should try to address?
When I said that the Bill addresses a problem that does not exist, one of the previous speakers talked of the country being overrun by immigrants. That is simply not the case. As I said in an intervention earlier, yes, I do think—to use the hon. Member’s words—“innocent” and “vulnerable” people crossing the channel with people smugglers is a problem, but I do not think that the solution to that problem is to criminalise those innocent and vulnerable people. That is one of the central problems of this Bill. In fact, to criminalise those innocent and vulnerable people is potentially in breach of our international legal obligations.
If this Bill becomes law, we risk breaching the 1951 UN refugee convention, the 1961 UN convention on the reduction of statelessness, the UN convention on the law of the sea and the international convention for the safety of life at sea, and we also risk breaching the UN convention on the rights of the child. If this Bill becomes law, we also risk breaching multiple articles of the European convention on human rights, to which this Government assure us they are still committed. In fact, the Lord Chancellor gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights last week and was most anxious to assure us that the Government are still committed to the European convention on human rights. But there is not much point in being committed to it in name if they bring legislation to the House that threatens to breach it by its terms, as does the introduction of a two-tier system for refugees, which potentially breaches the right to be free from discrimination and enjoyment of one’s human rights.
The changes proposed by the Bill potentially undermine the right to life for those at sea. Changes to the application and appeals process for asylum seekers and provisions regarding credibility, and the weight to be given to evidence, risk breaching the right to a fair trial. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, has already raised concerns that decision making by the Home Office in immigration matters is not sufficiently independent or rigorous to ensure that human rights are respected, and the Bill will make that worse.
Why would Scotland want to be part of a Union where decisions like this affecting our international standing and the perception of the state on the world stage are forced through by a Government with such scant regard for human rights and the rule of law? It is not just this Bill. This Bill is one in a succession of Bills that have gone through this House recently which many independent commentators have said threaten to breach our international treaty obligations and also threaten to breach our commitment to human rights under the European convention. In one case, the Government were quite brazen about it. A Minister stood up in the House and said that
“this does break international law”
“in a very specific and limited way.”—[Official Report, 8 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 509.]
Would that it were so with this Bill. This Bill will break international law, not in a specific and limited way, but in a number of respects that those with more time have enumerated more eloquently than I can.
This is not the way to do things. It is not right and it is not humane. There are millions of displaced people across the world and millions of refugees. The United Kingdom cannot wash our hands of responsibility for them, particularly when at least some of the reasons for their displacement can be laid at our door and at the door of our foreign policy and our colonial past. The real mischief that the Bill should seek to tackle, but does not, is that there are insufficient lawful routes for claiming asylum in the United Kingdom. Yes, resettlement programmes are laudable, but they are not a solution for those claiming asylum because resettlement programmes deal with those already recognised as having a protection need. Those in need of international protection who reach the shores of the United Kingdom should not be criminalised.
It is time the Home Secretary stopped playing to the gallery and did the hard work necessary to fulfil the United Kingdom’s moral and legal obligations to refugees and asylum seekers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said so eloquently, there is no point in Conservative Members waxing lyrical about the rights of persecuted Christians and the rights of the Uyghurs to be free from Chinese atrocities if they threaten to criminalise those sorts of people when they make it to our shores.
My hon. and learned Friend is making the point very eloquently. So many people who come here through an illegal route, through no fault of their own, are often in a set of circumstances beyond their control. The message that this Government send is, “You are not welcome.” What would she say to those who have made a life here and contributed so much, which they could continue to contribute were it not for this abhorrent policy?
What I would say to them, what the Scottish Government have said to them and what my party says to them is that they are very welcome in Scotland, but unfortunately at the moment we do not have control over that aspect of policy. Until we take the steps to ensure that we do have control over that aspect of policy, we are stuck with trying to persuade this British Government that their policies are wrong.
I fear that the chances of this Government amending the Bill in any meaningful way are absolutely zero, but I know that it matters very much to my constituents, other people in Scotland and many organisations—the Trades Union Congress in Edinburgh passed a motion condemning this Bill just in the last few days—that the Scottish National party stands against the Bill. As I say, I do not think that our stand will work, and I continue to look forward to a future where an independent Scotland will be able to set a better example on refugee policy.
Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker; thanks for the slight jolt, as I was called a wee bit earlier than I was expecting. I have also forgotten that I can take my mask off while I am speaking. Eid Mubarak to my constituents across Stirling and those elsewhere who are celebrating.
Today’s debate really cuts to matters of deep principle. How we treat the world’s most vulnerable seeking sanctuary here touches deeply held sincere principles on all sides. I detect throughout this debate a real difference in world view between the SNP Benches and the Government Benches. Scotland’s tragedy is that for centuries we exported our people. We are a third of the UK landmass, but we are not full. We need more people, not fewer. Scotland’s challenge for decades has been a declining population. European freedom of movement was helping us with that and then it was ended.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being a little more accommodating than the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). He says that Scotland would like more people. Could I therefore urge the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities to accept dispersed asylum seekers? The only one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities to accept dispersed asylum seekers is Glasgow. Scotland accepts only a small handful of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, each one of whom carries with them £53,000 a year of funding. If the Scottish Government are so keen on having more people, how about they play their part in the way that I have just described?
The Minister, I presume inadvertently, actually makes my point for me. Scotland, under my party’s philosophy, wants to play a part on the world stage as an independent state of the European Union, playing our part in upholding international law—all of it, not breaching it on a regular basis—however limited or specific that way may be. We want to take our fair share of asylum seekers. We want to be that haven. But the financial mechanisms in the UK, as the Minister well knows, mitigate our ability to do that. That is my answer to him.
I thank the hundreds of my constituents who have been in touch about this Bill—all against it. I thank in particular Forth Valley Welcome, Stirling University Student Action for Refugees, the church groups across the Forth Valley and Start Up Stirling, all of which have done great work to welcome refugees.
I will try for consensus, because this issue is too important for Punch and Judy politics. Let us accept that this is a difficult, sensitive issue for any Parliament, anywhere, to deal with. It is a problem that needs to be addressed; we agree with that. We all want to see the dreadful people traffickers properly penalised for their dreadful actions. Scotland, independent, will have immigration, nationality and asylum laws, and we will control our borders—the UK is not the only country dealing with these issues—but we will not do it like this. The Bill is not all bad, but from our perspective it is assuredly more bad than good. We would contend that the problems of the UK’s complicated, expensive, bureaucratic and slow nationality and refugee policies are entirely made in London and have been made worse by this Government.
The Bill is about issues of deep principle, so let us hear what some of the faith groups think about it. The Very Reverend Dr Susan Brown, the convener of the Faith Impact Forum of the Church of Scotland, says:
“we are urging the Government to think again and listen to asylum seekers and refugees, organisations that support them and people in receiving communities working to provide welcome and friendship.”
How about the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland? It says:
“Creating arbitrary divisions based on people’s method of entry will have profound implications for those who need our support most… many families and individuals have no choice in the route that they take, and to penalise them on this basis dangerously undermines the principle of asylum.”
In the time allowed, I will focus only on clauses 10, 29 and 38, because between them they provide ample grounds for voting against the whole package, although there are parts to which we might be more amenable.
I am particularly grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for its forensic examination of the Bill, on which I will draw heavily.
Clause 10 introduces a two-tier treatment of refugees based on means of entry. The Law Society of Scotland endorses the UNHCR in saying that
“to create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system”
“the 1951 Refugee Convention and longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues.”
A number of Conservative Members have said that France should somehow solve the UK’s problems for it. If the UK is playing a part in undermining global co-operation, it can hardly expect co-operation back.
Is it not the case that the UK worked with the UNHCR in the refugee camps in places such as Jordan? It selects the people who have a good reason and a right to come here, rather than just being able to afford to pay a people smuggler.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I hope I have made it clear that there are parts of the Bill to which we are more amenable. I do not deny the work that has been done internationally, and I do not deny that this is a problem that needs to be fixed, but I see nothing in the Bill that will make it better, and I see plenty of things that will make it worse.
Clause 29 alters the criteria for well-founded fear of persecution. Again, the Law Society of Scotland is pretty trenchant:
“In summary, we take the view that the change in clause 29 appears to go against the intention of the New Plan for Immigration, and flies in the face of 25 years judicial scrutiny.”
Clause 38 expands the criminality of assisting refugees, removing the existing limitation that it is only an offence if the assistance is given for gain, thus effectively extending the penalty to any good Samaritan. The Law Society of Scotland says:
“We are…concerned about…Ships’ Masters who save asylum seekers from drowning as they are obliged to do by…Article 98 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”.
This is a problem to be fixed, and it is a problem that can be fixed, but it is a system that has been entirely home-grown. In our view, the idea that the UK needs to implement what we believe to be flawed legislation is based on a flawed premise. There is a need for legislation to reform the UK’s awful immigration, nationality and asylum laws—we can agree on that—but this is not it. If the Bill is passed tonight—and I hope it will not be—it will not be passed in Scotland’s name, for Scotland can do better on this and many other issues.
It is great to see you in your new place today, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am not against immigration at all. In fact, I have signed the forms for many friends who have decided to make the UK their permanent home after entering it legally and working here for many years. People who want to come to the UK and work legally can do so under the Bill, and I think that that is exactly the position that my constituents want to see. They want to see those people entering the UK legally, along with others who, in desperate straits, are fleeing persecution from abroad. Britain has welcomed such people for centuries.
The UK Government has proudly welcomed many tens of thousands of people—25,000 under the resettlement scheme—who were fleeing persecution: not those who were able to travel halfway across the world, not those who were prepared to pay illegal traffickers, but people in genuine need, coming from refugee camps that were at the heart of the worst action in recent wars. My constituents are proud to have taken those people in. Several asylum seeker families have settled in my constituency recently, and I look forward to their playing a real part in our local community, as others have done before them. However, my constituents are fed up—
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Will he also reflect on the fact that 25,000 is more than any other European country has taken in? We should be very proud of what we are doing, and should reinforce the legal routes into this country.
I could not agree more. What I keep noticing today is that Opposition Members seem to be pushing the illegal routes more than the legal routes. We have legal routes into this country, and people can take them. I cannot understand why anyone who actually had the interests of people fleeing persecution at heart would promote people travelling in the backs of lorries or fleeing in boats across the channel, sometimes across the Mediterranean sea to get to France or Italy, and then having to travel all the way here. It is deeply irresponsible of Opposition Members to constantly try to promote these routes and to paint Conservative Members as though they are not trying to act in the best interests of those across the world who are facing incredibly difficult circumstances.
Although my constituents are happy to welcome economic migrants who come through the legal channels and want to play their part in our country, especially those who want to settle and permanently make the UK their home, they are fed up of seeing illegal migrants from across the world taking whatever opportunity they can. They are particularly fed up of seeing people being used and abused by illegal gangs, and being forced into this country. That is what really grinds their gears, and I cannot understand why Opposition Members cannot understand my constituents.
My constituency voted Labour ever since its creation. This was an issue that came up time after time on the doorstep, not only at the last general election but at the previous election. The Labour party has totally lost touch with the reality of the communities it has traditionally represented.
The hon. Member makes a number of points that suggest the view of his constituents is the view of all constituents, and it is simply not the case. In Glasgow, on Kenmure Street, we saw people protect individuals from being deported by the Home Office, and in many instances the message has been loud and clear that we welcome refugees in Glasgow. The message the hon. Member sends is not only toxic; it is not representative of all constituents across the UK.
My constituents are very happy to welcome genuine refugees to the UK. We are taking them now, unlike many constituencies in Scotland where they are not taking asylum seekers, as was pointed out by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp). It is quite astonishing really.
My constituents are very happy to take genuine refugees, but they do not want to see an open-door policy, where anybody can just come into the UK and we cannot remove them if they have come here illegally, overstayed their visa or committed a criminal act while they are here, when they should be deported.
If Opposition Members are really interested in ensuring better and safer legal routes for migration, I cannot understand why they are not arguing for that. Why are they not arguing for safer routes? Why are they instead arguing that we should just allow the boats to continue? It seems crazy to me. Totally mad.
As I was saying, people are fed up of seeing people coming to the UK and being used and abused by illegal gangs. They are fed up of seeing them come here illegally. They are also fed up of seeing some lawyers—some lawyers—milking the system. I remember Opposition Members, when I was a special adviser in the Ministry of Defence, defending Phil Shiner, who was saying that British soldiers out in Iraq were doing all the wrong sorts of things. Spurious allegations were sprayed across honourable members of our armed forces. Today we are seeing exactly the same sorts of lawyers doing exactly the same sorts of things to our immigration and asylum system.
No, I am not giving way to the hon. and learned Lady. I have already given way twice.
Far too often we see made-up claims. And then, time after time, they come back with different claims put in different ways. “I was this age at that time, and now I’m a different age. I was claiming under those conditions, and now I’m claiming under these conditions.” It is absolutely mad.
I can understand why Opposition Members, who supported people like Phil Shiner in the past, are now defending exactly the same system today. It is absolutely crazy, and it was at the time. I am glad the Government have moved on from those systems under Phil Shiner and we are going to tackle some of the same issues today.
There are three key elements that are particularly great to see the Government tackling. One is boat interceptions. It is interesting to see that we are learning from international examples. We are learning from the Australian system, where they have had terrible issues over the years with people coming. They do not have people arriving by boat in Australia any more, because they have dealt with the system.
We are also looking at the offshore processing of claims, and it is similar to the Australian system. They do not have the same problems that we do today. They do not see people dying in their channel any more—the channel between Australia and Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Opposition Members seem to think that this is a price worth paying. I do not think it is. The Government, more than any other Government in Europe, are doing the right thing in supporting legal routes from refugee camps. That is exactly what we need to see here.
Let me turn to immigration offences and enforcement. People are also fed up of seeing those who have come to the UK and been deported coming back again, and it is right that we are enhancing the sentences for such people—not only when they are initially deported, but if they come back again, when the sentences need to be tougher still. How can Opposition Members not support those sensible provisions on illegal migrants who have been deported? Surely constituents, whether they are in Consett or in Glasgow, support those sensible measures. They want a sensible immigration system whereby people come to the UK based not on their ability to get here, but on their need. That is what Conservative Members put forward every time—the need of the people in the refugee camps, not the need of the young men who can just make their way here.
The Bill, in the broader sense, also tackles modern slavery. That is a great step in the right direction on what is a real issue in parts of the country. I remember speaking to some long-standing police officers in my constituency who had dealt historically with cases of trafficked women and the horror that they went through. Often, those people disappeared into the system after being smuggled here illegally, so the Bill is taking a sensible step.
We are including a sensible framework to determine the age of people coming over to this country. We cannot have a system whereby someone can destroy the documentation that proves their age but is then able to claim to be whatever age they wish.
We are also including a good-faith provision. People should act in good faith with the Government when they are determining an application. How can the Opposition oppose good faith? It seems like a really sensible thing to me.
I am delighted to support the Bill on Second Reading. It will deliver exactly what my constituents want—a fair, balanced immigration system.
It is a great pleasure to welcome as Deputy Speaker one of my former neighbours from Cross Gates in my constituency of Leeds East. It is good to see you in the Speaker’s Chair. What it is not good to see, however, is this vile Bill.
I have been a Member of Parliament for six years, and in that time I have seen some vile legislation—legislation that punches down and attacks the poorest and most vulnerable, from the bedroom tax to the slashing and denying of benefits for disabled people, and welfare caps that force children into destitution—but this dreadful Bill is up there with the worst of it.
I find the Bill stomach churning. I cannot help but feel sick reading it, reading the Government’s plans and reading what they want to do to vulnerable people, including children fleeing war, rape and torture. The Bill will criminalise people seeking asylum simply because of how they get here. That is not only immoral; it is in breach of international law, although that is not all. The legislation—this rotten, sick legislation—opens the door to offshore detention centres. What kind of dystopian society do the Government want to create? They want offshore detention centres where, hidden from public view, people seeking asylum can be subjected to the mistreatment the Government are already known for, without any accountability.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of the most vulnerable and needy people are from Syria? Would he be surprised to hear that when the camp at Sangatte was cleared, of the 750 migrants who came here, only eight were from Syria? No one in Syria can afford the cost of the people smugglers.
It appears that there is a twitching of a conscience one Bench back from the Tory Front Bench. If the hon. Gentleman has a conscience on these matters, if he cares about the people he purports to care about from Syria or from anywhere else, I would urge him to vote against the Bill, because this reactionary Bill should be killed off today.
To bring things a little more up to date, if we are looking at the statistics about who is in these boats crossing the channel, the nationalities are Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Eritrean and Sudanese. People from almost all those countries have success rates when they claim asylum of about 60% or 80%. The vast majority of people crossing the channel are refugees. Instead of locking them up, let us look at their applications.
No, I will not give way. I will only give way if the hon. Gentleman wants to stand up and say he will vote against this dreadful Bill.
The Bill is not a one-off. It is the latest in a long list of racist interventions from the Government—a Government who have already deliberately stoked division and hate over the past decade. From the “go home” vans touring working-class communities to the Windrush scandal that saw black citizens deported, to the hostile environment policy and the attacks on Black Lives Matter, hatred, division and racism are used as weapons of mass distraction to try to shift the blame for Tory policies that hurt the majority of society. Rather than to blame the Government for the lack of school places and council houses, or the underfunding of our health service, the Government want to encourage people to blame their neighbours and other people in their community. The good news is, however, that the working class in all its diversity in this country is better than that and better than this Government.
Listening to speeches from the Government Benches, they remind me very much of speeches by Donald Trump. I think that, like Donald Trump, the Government’s approach will be thrown into the dustbin of history before too much longer. The policies that this divisive approach seeks to distract from and shift the blame from mean that people’s wages have not improved in over a decade. These are policies that have slashed key local services and ripped the heart out of many communities.
This Bill comes at a time when millions and millions of people have been having a long-overdue debate on racism in our society. Last week, England footballer Tyrone Mings rightly called out the Government for stoking the fire, because racism starts from the top. We have seen, of course, Tory MPs make themselves look like complete mugs, attacking footballers for being opposed to racism and showing their opposition to racism. The Bill that we are looking at today is exactly the type of legislation that we end up with when we have a Prime Minister who has labelled black people piccaninnies with watermelon smiles and Muslim women letter boxes. [Interruption.] Conservative MPs can groan and shake their heads all they want, but they should save their outrage for the people who will be criminalised, demonised and abused by this legislation, should it pass.
The Tories have a low view, as I have said, of working-class people and hope that they can whip up anti-immigrant sentiment to distract from their own failures. I do not share that view, and the response we have seen over the last week in this huge national conversation about racism shows that, while racism starts from the top, anti-racism and solidarity start from below. This legislation is about fear. It is about division. It is about hate. In the diverse, multicultural communities across the country that have come together over the last week we have seen a far better country than the one that this Government imagine—a country full of the spirit of community, the spirit of unity, the spirit of hope, and I encourage anyone, regardless of their political party, with an ounce of humanity in them to reject this Bill today.
I make this speech thinking of the asylum seekers I have met in my immigration surgeries at the Bangladesh centre in my constituency, and thinking of the sons and daughters of asylum seekers who go to school at Bankside Primary in Harehills in my constituency—a school where over 50 languages are spoken. I make this speech thinking of them, and this is just a small part of my effort to speak up for them, because those in power, those in government, are not speaking up for them; they are sticking the boot into them. They are chasing favourable headlines from the disgraceful individuals that run newspapers like The Sun that seek to divide the working class, but those views, I am glad to say, are going out of date. Our country is a far better, far more decent place than this Government imagine. That is why this rotten, racist, divisive approach is, in the long term, bound to fail. So I urge everyone who is appalled by the idea of offshore asylum seeker processing centres and everyone who is opposed to this to do what is right and vote against the Bill.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice. The hon. Gentleman has thrown the slur of racism at the Conservative Benches throughout his speech, yet he was a key leading member of the Labour party that was found to be institutionally racist at its core due to the antisemitism that took place. I ask for your ruling on whether that—
I would like to start by saying what neither I nor, I believe, anybody else expressing opposition to the Bill is opposed to, and that is an immigration policy or immigration Acts. Everybody who is taking part in this debate recognises that there requires to be an immigration policy.
I remember many years ago, as a young Scottish Justice Secretary, going to visit my counterpart in the Republic of Ireland and expressing concern for the difficulties they were having. They were requiring to make changes, even constitutional changes, because at one stage anyone who was born in Ireland was guaranteed citizenship, and people were flying in to give birth, to take advantage of that. I was rather naive about that. Ireland has a proud record on how it deals with immigrants and with those seeking asylum in refugee crises, but it recognised that it had to have an immigration policy.
So, in opposing the Bill, nobody is suggesting unlimited immigration. It has to be dealt with in a co-ordinated manner, but equally, this is fundamentally about the manner in which this is being done and, in particular, the steps that are being taken against those who are most vulnerable, those who are most requiring aid, support, sanctuary and whatever else and those who are asylum seekers and refugees.
No; I think it is just creating so many obstacles that it will make life extremely difficult for those who are already the most challenged.
There are also actions that require to be taken against modern slavery—again, I go back to my days as Justice Secretary—but I do not believe that significantly more legislation is required. In fact, what is required is co-ordination. I remember—we are now going back over seven years—requiring to establish a taskforce because we realised that in dealing with serious organised crime, what was needed was the establishment of a taskforce to get everybody around the table, from whatever authority was necessary, to determine what worked and what would maximise the power and punch of the forces of law enforcement. With regard to modern slavery, that was done, but it was not done simply with those forces in Scotland; it was done with forces from Northern Ireland as well. At that stage—I have no doubt that it is still the situation—there was a link and co-ordination between paramilitary groups, and it was a paramilitary group based in Scotland that was operating modern slavery in Belfast. So that co-ordination with my then counterpart, Mr Ford, was welcome.
I also remember bringing together the business community and the local authority, and speaking to a senior representative from the Scottish business community who said that when they had turned up at the meeting, they did not realise why they had been called, but when they finished the meeting, they realised precisely why they were there. There is a suggestion that modern slavery is all to do with the sex trade—it is usually puerilely put in tabloid newspapers or wherever else—but it is not. Overwhelmingly, the victims of modern slavery are working in agriculture and other aspects. They are being used and abused. It might suit the titillation of some to suggest that it is the sex trade. That does happen, tragically, but equally it goes beyond that. That was why we required co-ordination, not legislation.
Similarly, on those who are coming in and seeking to feign marriages and whatever else, that is about co-ordination with registrars and local authorities, not seeking to grandstand and say, “We’re bringing in fantastic new laws.” At the end of the day, laws work only if we have the co-ordination, the force and the resources. That is why we must ensure that the National Crime Agency, Police Scotland, police services south of the border and, indeed, across Northern Ireland, and all other organisations—both civil and in the legal process—are working. That is what needs to be done, not simply to look tough.
The hon. Gentleman just mentioned that we need to know about organised crime. Is it not right that in the 21st century it is important for a nation to know who is coming into the country, how they are getting here and who is crossing to be here? How on earth can we control organised crime if we have no idea who is entering the country?
With regard to serious and organised crime, certainly in Scotland, and I think through the NCA, it has already been mapped. We know who it is; what we require to do is to work against them. With regard to those coming in, that comes back to the recently departed Donald Rumsfeld. There are known knowns. There are a lot of people that we know are active in people-trafficking gangs. There are others that we do not. It is about police resource and police intelligence; that is how we deal with it, not by compounding the hardship upon people who are already suffering.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for the very informed comments that he is making from a place of experience, having been in government. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) answers his own point. The way to deal with the issue is to increase the size of the legal resettlement programme. That undercuts people smuggling. Otherwise, we are engaging in a war like the war on drugs—a war against people smuggling that cannot be won.
I fully agree, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for his eloquent contribution.
Opposing the Bill is about seeking to protect values, as has been mentioned, as well as opposing actions that, in terms of where people are to be placed and how they are to be treated, I believe are fundamentally wrong. On each of them, I believe that there are clear failures. Foreign venues seem to be mentioned and trumpeted. What we have seen in Australia with the use of Nauru was frankly shameful. Indeed, Australia appears to be backtracking from that because of the failures that have occurred there.
There seems to be little planning and few suggestions. I have recently asked parliamentary questions about what jurisdiction would apply and who would be in charge. We do not know. We are just told to believe that the 1951 convention will be adhered to and all will be well. In Scotland, we would say that all will be hunky-dory. No, it will not. What the Government are seeking to do is to move people to a place away from visibility, where they will be treated appallingly. It has been dreadful in Australia, and it would be shameful if this country were to replicate it.
I do not think that is what the UK Government are proposing at all. The hon. Gentleman opposes offshore detention centres. The Opposition often oppose onshore detention centres. Where does he think that people who have no proven status, some of whom need to be deported, should be kept?
If people have to be detained we have measures for detaining them, but in the main we do not have to detain people. I will again digress, with a story not from my period as Justice Secretary, but from when I was a defence agent. I once represented a young woman who had been detained as an asylum seeker. The crime was working in a restaurant in Orkney. She was detained in Her Majesty’s Prison Aberdeen. There was no Chinese translator. It was an overwhelmingly male prison. She was frightened witless. Those of us who know Orkney will know that someone cannot get off the island without boarding either a ferry or a plane. There was no way for her to escape, and to lock her up when she was no danger was frankly shameful. That was more than 25 years ago and things, sadly, are much worse now.
I always remember an old friend of mine, who was a prison governor and indeed a penologist, saying that if we want to look at who the most vulnerable and weakest members of a society are, we have only to look at who is in prison. In America, it is the black population. In Britain, it is the ethnic minorities. In Australia, it is the aborigines. In Scotland, it is the poor. Equally, we can take the corollary to that in this case, and ask who is coming and from what lands.
No, not at the moment.
That tells us where the areas of conflagration are and where the areas of natural disaster are, because people are coming from Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iran and Iraq, where there has been war and carnage. That is what they are fleeing, and that is why we have a duty to support them.
No, I have to make some progress.
We have to make progress, because it goes against the values that, I believe, not only do we hold in Scotland but are replicated across Great Britain and Northern Ireland. People have come to this country—the Huguenot French, the Jews fleeing the pogroms, Basque children escaping Franco’s atrocities. They have come here, they have been welcomed and we are proud of that. It is something England and Wales are right to be proud of. Scotland has its own immigration, and I will deal with that in a minute, but that is something in which those who have come to this country and those from south of the border are right to take pride.
In Scotland, we have similarly seen people having to flee here. In fact, I say to Members from Northern Ireland that the first of those fleeing in were probably those fleeing the north of Ireland in the 1798 rebellion, who had to get out after the defeat of the rebellion and the conflagration that took place.
No, not at the moment.
That was followed by those who fled Ireland during the famine and, similar to south of the border, by those fleeing the Jewish pogroms or war. Scotland has benefited from these people coming: they have made us a better country. As others have said, we are losing population and we require people to come here—not simply retirees who wish to go and buy a nice house on the basis of their pension or the property they have sold, but people of younger age who are willing and able to come here and work, many of them those are asylum seekers and refugees. We need to have them coming because Scotland has a need for them.
Equally, this is about representing our universal values. Every day I see people lining up here for Prayers, and why do we do that if it is not because those in this Chamber are supposed to act according to values, whether Augustinian or whatever else? Within those values, and certainly within the Christian faith, the church was viewed as a sanctuary, yet the terms of the Bill remove sanctuary not from a church building, but from this entire country. It is entirely wrong. It goes against the values of the people not simply of England and Wales, but of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole, and those Conservative Members who are fuelling racism should be ashamed.
This Bill, of course, reflects a manifesto commitment from the Conservative party at the last election—a manifesto that delivered an overwhelming majority for the Conservative party and a mandate to do precisely what we are doing today.
Since last spring, a great many of my constituents have been alarmed by a still ever-increasing number of migrants making the dangerous channel crossing. They are troubled by the risk to life, the reprehensible actions of illegal gangs exploiting vulnerable people and the challenges of protecting our own borders. This Bill meets all three key concerns of my Orpington constituents for reasons that I will set out, so I will be strongly supporting it this evening. Before I begin, however, I would like to pay tribute to Border Force personnel for all the work they do to save lives and keep our country safe—thank you to them.
This Bill is necessary because conflict and instability have displaced hundreds, if not thousands—or, indeed, millions—of people over the past few decades. In 2015 alone, more than 1 million migrants crossed into Europe. Over the last three years channel crossings have increased: 1,900 made this journey in 2019; that quadrupled in 2020 to over 8,400; and in the last six months alone, it has reached almost 6,000.
The House of Commons Library briefing on this issue indicates that, at the beginning of the century, the number of asylum claims was about 84,000 a year, which went down to 36,000 in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. Is not this narrative of a deluge of asylum seekers somewhat overstated by the Government?
I do not believe so, and I do not recall using the word “deluge”. It is undeniably a problem, and it is one of the largest things to feature in my inbox on a daily basis.
This has been exacerbated by criminal gangs that are making an immoral profit from human smuggling and trafficking. Critically, migrants are crossing through safe European countries and refusing to claim asylum there. In ever growing numbers, migrants are being drawn to this country, and the situation is becoming unsustainable. The UK is one of the world’s most generous countries for refugee resettlement, and that is right.
My hon. Friend is making a wonderful speech. He has made two points that I have sat up at. The first was that it was a manifesto commitment to get this piece of legislation delivered. The second was that his inbox is full every single day with queries relating to the Bill. Is it not the case, therefore, that the British public overwhelmingly want to see this issue dealt with? It dominates the news every single day. That is why the Home Secretary is bringing this piece of legislation to get it dealt with once and for all.
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. Having listened to the debate on the monitor in my office, I have to say that the tone and content of some of the speeches from the Opposition underline and reinforce why they are the Opposition and not the Government.
Analysis has shown that many migrants might actually be economic migrants and not genuine refugees. Without this Bill, our asylum system is in danger of being continually abused, so we must take steps, as my hon. Friend has just said, to protect our own borders. Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with asylum, is understandably vast, so I will focus on some specific points arising from it. It is remarkable that all claims made by asylum seekers are processed in a homogeneous way and that there is absolutely no distinction between those who have entered the UK legally or irregularly. Some 62% of applicants in the 12 months ending September 2019 entered irregularly.
It is surely common sense that those who have respected our laws and entered our country via legal routes should be on a different footing from those who have sought more clandestine access. Clause 10 will change things by allowing for such differentiation to occur while making the distinction that all genuine refugees will continue to be afforded the same protections under international law. This will in turn help to deter people from making dangerous crossings. Clause 26 will make possible removals to a safe third country while an asylum claim is being heard, further deterring activities that put lives at risk and, in several tragic cases, claim them.
Clause 41 in part 3 is a key part of the Bill, because it gives more powers to Border Force to meet the specific circumstances faced. The problem, as I have said, is severe. Not only are criminal gangs responsible for facilitating these crossings, but they show no signs of stopping and are growing ever more expansionist, using larger vessels and carrying more people.
Migrants crossing in small boats have thus far been intercepted and brought back to the UK to have their asylum claims processed. At present, enforcement powers do not extend to ships in foreign or international waters, and clause 41 would change that by giving Border Force the ability to require migrant vessels to leave UK waters and deter them from our shores. The clause also provides for controlling the vessel and returning it to a safe country—most likely in these instances where it originated from, so the northern beaches of France or Belgium, or any other country accepting disembarkation.
Those who oppose the Bill have claimed that by legislating in this way, the UK would somehow be acting in breach of the 1951 UN refugee convention. That is false. It is fully compatible with all international obligations and conventions. The 1951 convention allows for different classifications where a refugee may not have come directly from a country of persecution. In this instance, if migrants have already transited through a safe European country where they could have claimed asylum, their return is not inconsistent with the convention. Who here in this House would consider France, Belgium, Germany or Italy not to be safe countries? If someone had been in a country where they have seen the worst atrocities possible, they would be lucky to settle there.
My hon. Friend has made a very important point about travelling through safe countries, but does he not agree that these asylum seekers are not just travelling through one safe country? They are very often travelling through many safe countries. Essentially they have a shopping trolley as to what they want in this economic migration, so the best way to deal with this is to do so up front and have a meaningful policy, which is what the Bill is here for.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is a fact that people will travel, often by land, through several safe countries to get to the border of northern continental Europe, thereby to embark for Dover or other parts of southern England.
The simple truth of the matter is that between 2016 and 2019, the UK settled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state. Similarly, safe and legal routes for those needing protection or to reunite with their families still exist. More than 5,400 family reunion visas were issued to partners and children, and more than 29,000 family reunion visas have been issued in the past five years. There have been claims that the Bill reduces support for victims of human trafficking, which would be shocking if it were true, but part 4 of the Bill actually strengthens protections for victims of human trafficking and will be supported by a package of non-legislative measures as part of the new plan for immigration to provide enhanced support for victims.
The public, including my Orpington constituents, want strong but fair border controls. The Bill is about creating a fairer asylum system, both for those who need aid and for the British public. It does just that, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and her Ministers on introducing it.
Albeit remotely, may I join colleagues in saying what a pleasure it is to welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker?
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the Bill, having worked on migration policy in one form or another for much of the decade that I have been a Member of the House. That has taught me that, like many complex policy problems, these issues are most effectively dealt with when we try to work across the House, aiming for consensus where we can find it. That is what we did with the 2014 cross-party inquiry on immigration detention, and its recommendations for a statutory limit and its ambition for community based alternatives were accepted by the House, although still not by the Government.
There is consensus that there are problems with the asylum system, and we are all clearly appalled by the desperate journeys that we see people making across the channel. However, the Bill does not aim to solve the problems with our asylum system; it simply plays to the gallery. It is introduced by a Home Secretary who has been found out for making false claims to pitch for headlines, fuelling another culture war that has sadly been reflected in some of the speeches today. We really should do better with such an important issue.
The Bill cynically claims to support refugees by cracking down on criminal gangs, but in fact it makes pathways to refuge more difficult and dangerous for the most desperate. Whipping up divisive rhetoric about illegal entry to the UK, the Bill proposes to criminalise irregular entry, and it flouts our obligations under article 31 of the 1951 refugee convention, according to the UN Refugee Agency. That refugee convention was signed by Attlee’s Government as we responded to lessons from the second world war, and to lessons from pre-war hostility in the media and among politicians to those fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany. The convention prevents states from imposing penalties on account of mode of entry, but as Members know, the Bill disregards that duty altogether by creating a two-tier system.
This is another instance of where this Government are content to degrade our status on the global stage by breaching international agreements and laws to which we have signed up. Clause 10, on the differential treatment of refugees depending on mode of arrival, includes provisions on whether family members will be granted family reunion, on the length of leave to remain given, and on whether a condition of no recourse to public funds is attached. The Bill discriminates in so many ways, and if it passes in its current form, a woman who, through desperation, has fled an abusive relationship in a dangerous country, without passing through a safe and legal route, could be criminalised with a four-year prison sentence. As refugee women whom I met recently told me, we should remember that the nature of women seeking asylum is often a desperate and frantic journey that is incongruent with Home Office procedures.
The Bill’s focus on safe and legal routes would be more understandable if it set out additional provision, but it does not. The UK resettlement scheme that opened earlier this year is not transparent and there is very little information about it in the public domain, so the Home Secretary must see that it is not a viable route for those fleeing urgent danger to seek refuge. In its first month, March 2021, the route settled just 25 refugees. While the Bill has no targets for resettlement and while the only such route is making no significant contribution, the Home Secretary’s rhetoric about safe and legal routes is empty.
The Home Secretary often professes the UK’s generosity in resettlement, suggesting that we take more refugees than our European neighbours; we have heard that in many speeches today. In fact, according to the most recent available data, in 2019 Germany resettled more than three times as many refugees as the UK, while Sweden and Norway, which are much smaller countries, both resettled more refugees than we did—and that was while the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme was still open. That route has now been closed, reducing the safe and legal pathways available to those seeking asylum.
The Bill contains worrying proposals that will allow for inhumane treatment of those who arrive through irregular routes. Clause 12 makes provision that
“An asylum claim must be made…at a designated place”,
paving the way for the offshore reception centres that the Government have flirted with. The Bill’s amendments to section 77 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 will enable the offshore processing of asylum seekers while their claims or appeals are still pending. The reported proposals for processing centres in Rwanda and other locations are not only seriously concerning because of the potential for indefinite detention and warehousing of asylum seekers in out-of-sight, out-of-mind locations, but frankly ridiculous because the Government have failed to strike any kind of international agreement on processing asylum claims or removals to safe countries. Frankly, their bullish approach to international relations post Brexit has left the prospect of any kind of replacement for Dublin III looking unlikely.
Finally, although there are many more issues in the Bill to discuss, I want to cover the proposed changes to the asylum process. Like many others, I am seriously worried that they will disadvantage the most vulnerable, particularly women. Clause 24 proposes that the appeals process be fast-tracked, while clause 23 proposes that judges be told to give “minimal weight” to evidence raised by an asylum seeker later in the process, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Clauses 16, 17, 20 and 23 contain provisions to penalise a submission of late evidence in a case. They ignore the reality of how asylum claims are made and how those seeking asylum can gather and provide evidence.
I recently met refugee women in a meeting facilitated by the charity Women for Refugee Women. They explained how a one-stop process would force traumatised women to raise all the reasons that they need protection at the outset or risk being penalised. Those who have experienced extreme trauma may simply be unable to do that—we know that—and must not be discriminated against for the very circumstances that have led them to seek asylum in our country.
When we seek to reform our asylum system, which does need reform, we should put those most at risk and most in need at its core, alongside the values for which this country stands. Sadly, the Bill has dog-whistle politics at its heart, not those values of which should be proud or the people we should protect. I urge Members to vote against it tonight.
I am conscious that there have been many contributions, so I fear that this will be slightly repetitive, but my constituents in the Black Country elected me on a promise to sort this out. It is as simple as that. This is the way we will ensure we sort out the issue, which has been going on for decades. I find it absolutely laughable that some Labour Members attack us on our record, when they could not get a grip in their 13 years in government. The fact of the matter is that the small boat crossings that my constituents see on their screens every day are what inundates my inbox. That is not made up; it is not laughable. I can show it.
We talked earlier about whether the Bill aligns with public opinion. I will tell the Labour party how the Bill aligns with public opinion. Last week, on a 17.5% swing, Labour lost a seat in my constituency that it had held in perpetuity, because it had lost contact with the communities that it purported to represent.
My hon. Friend’s description of the by-election in his constituency is absolutely typical. Is it not typical of the Labour party that, in an important debate such as this, on which they express so much passion, so much support, so much belief, there is not one single Labour MP in the Chamber?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I have a lot of respect for the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden), but, as I say, where are the rest of them? Where are they? We could all ask that question, and my hon. Friend has articulated it in his unique way. [Laughter.] I assure him that that was a compliment.
I sat here last night and listened intently to the contributions on both sides of the House. I was pretty aghast, to be honest, by some of the stuff I heard—particularly the parallels that people tried to draw between the Kindertransport and this Bill. That was abhorrent. There is no way that any conscionable Government would illegalise the saving of people from a regime such as the Nazis. For Opposition Members to use that parallel in a debate shows, quite frankly, that when they have lost the argument, they just throw mud. That is exactly what that analogy—
Not at this point. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will just make a bit more progress.
I thought that was a disgraceful analogy to make. I also want to draw on a point on the 1951 convention that was articulated very well last night. I agree that we make international agreements and we should abide by those international agreements, but it was interesting to hear in the contributions last night that one of the debates that has had to happen is around how the international community defines “migrant” and “refugee”. We have seen the debate that has been going on, and we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) about the conversations she had had with the UN about really drilling down into what that definition meant. By getting the definition right, and through this Bill, we can ensure that we protect those most vulnerable.
Let us just remind ourselves of one thing. We are not trying to turn away refugees and people that need our help. I am sure that my hon. and right hon. Friends who have been lambasted today and yesterday by some of the most disgraceful slurs I could possibly have heard would agree that we uphold our place in the international community to protect the most vulnerable.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which leads me to the point I am trying to make: we need to ensure that we are best placed to help those most vulnerable, by ensuring that the people we are helping are the ones that truly require that help. The ancillary support—ensuring that things such as education and housing and the right skills are in place—is so important as well.
I am a fervent believer that there is a promise that this country has to offer, that there are opportunities here that people can take advantage of and that we are a safe haven for people. I do not think anyone across this House would deny that for one minute, but it has to be done in the right way. It has to be done for those people who are truly vulnerable, and I am sorry, but my hon. and right hon. Friends are right when they say that a lot of the images we see are of economic migrants. I am sorry, but I would rather be taking in people that are fleeing war-torn countries and need that help and support, and I will not take lectures from Opposition parties on that. I fundamentally believe that we do have an international conscience, that we are—
On the economic migrant point, did my hon. Friend see the reports in the paper yesterday about the small boats, with people paying more than £8,000 to criminal gangs to come over? Not only are these economic migrants coming over, but they are funding these gangs—gangs that traffic humans, supply drugs and arms, and bring death and destruction to our streets. Does he agree that the Bill not only helps the most vulnerable coming over, but undermines and destroys some of the criminal gangs and takes the blood off our streets?
My hon. Friend has articulated that really well. Obviously, the Bill is part of that wider jigsaw. We have to nip this because all of us see the impact that these criminal gangs have on not just the migration debate that we are having today, but the follow-through in our communities and the blight of drugs and knife crime that he talked about. We get abhorrent stories in our mailbags—I am sure he gets them just as I do—and the fact is that this underpins so much of our society, not just in the migration debate, but more broadly. He is absolutely right to make that point.
We, as Government Members, are not saying that we do not have international obligations. If anything, we are trying to ensure that we can actually follow through on those international obligations. When I hear the arguments that we are somehow ignoring or riding roughshod over them, I think it truly is laughable.
Let me turn to the citizenship provisions of the Bill. We have heard some quite inflammatory arguments about the migration debate today, but on the citizenship requirements, the Bill reforms the British Nationality Act 1948 and the British Nationality Act 1981. On a broader point, that is the right thing to do, because we have to accept that society has changed in the last 70 years—and in the last 40 years, if we are talking about the previous Act. In my examination of the Bill I noticed particularly the point about family circumstances, and we have to recognise that the family as we see it today is not what it was 70 years ago. It is therefore right that, in drafting the Bill, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench have recognised that fact. Our citizenship provisions allow us to ensure that citizens of Hong Kong, for example, can apply for their British citizenship and that we can continue to protect the most vulnerable.
I turn to the notion of the first safe country, which I have touched on slightly in my other remarks. I appreciate that Opposition Members have shouted about the unfairness of that, but I must bring this back to the fact that, ultimately, we have to ensure that within our asylum system, we are protecting the most vulnerable. I will always bring it back to that.
I have raised previously with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the cost of this system: £1 billion. When I think of the communities I represent in my constituency, an example that comes straight to mind is an area called Princes End. It is in Tipton, the beating heart of the Black Country, and has some of the highest rates of child poverty and of unoccupiable social housing. Do you know what £1 billion would do for a community such as that? Of course I am not saying that there is a like for like, but I am saying that by getting these systems right and by ensuring that they are cost effective and streamlined—that has been such an important part of the discussion today—we will have the resource to invest in communities such as that.
There are people in Princes End who, quite frankly, feel, after listening to the debate today, that this House is just talking at them. These are the people raising concerns about small boats with me, and they feel that this place is saying that they are racist and that they are bigoted. No, they are not. They are just concerned about the country that they are in. They are angry about what they see and they have been promised time and time again—[Interruption.] I will not take interventions. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) was trying to intervene, but I did clock her. It is absolutely wrong that they are rubbished like that, because their opinion matters just as much as anyone else. That is the frustration that comes through in my mailbox. It makes me so angry, particularly with the Labour party who purported to represent this community for 50 years and whose Members sit here now and rubbish them.
We have to get this right. I will support the Bill. The amendment by the Opposition just reeks of procedural ignorance, really, and as far as I am concerned, I commend the Bill to the House.
Where to start, Madam Deputy Speaker? Thank you for calling me to speak—I think.
As many Members have noted throughout these proceedings, it is the 70th anniversary next week of the refugee convention—a convention built on article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognises the rights of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries. That was the building block: the right to seek asylum from persecution. I know that the current Government are keen to distance themselves from our international treaty obligations. I have been expressly told that those obligations hold no weight in their opinion, but we simply cannot let that be the narrative. That is a concern shared by the Law Society of England and Wales, which sees it as vital that the UK applies, and is seen to apply, a convention that it willingly became a party to.
Our legal standing on the international stage relies on this concept. Are we not in the strangest position when the Prime Minister, who seemingly holds Churchill in the highest esteem, is willing to undermine and redefine the post-war legacy that his political hero left behind?
The Government are trailing the Bill as a chance to streamline the immigration system and to cut down on so-called unmeritorious claims and time-wasting appeals. They have even introduced a wasted cost order that will ensure that those attempting to pursue their legal rights to a fair hearing are liable to pick up the tab for certain types of conduct that they consider improper, unreasonable or negligent. What about the wasted costs that the Government will run up if this Bill goes through unamended? I am sure that the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), who is so keen to help the most vulnerable in our society, will be interested to know that the cost of imprisoning so-called illegal asylum seekers could be as much as £412 million a year. If we do the maths, as the Refuge Council in England has done, the proposed plan to lock asylum seekers up for four years—yes, four years; there are some people in this House who clearly do not understand that refugees could be locked up as well simply for trying to come here—comes to an eye-watering £1.65 billion. Parts of the UK already have a prison system groaning under the strain of over-population. How can the Government justify moves that increase the number of people crammed into the prison estate?
When I prepared this speech earlier, I wrote that the hardest bit about speaking in this debate is having to leave out so much but that I was grateful to be on the Bill Committee because nothing would be left unsaid. Then, Madam Deputy Speaker, I experienced something that I have never experienced here before: the minutes went up and up, and now I am completely confused and have no idea how long this will take me.
The hon. Lady is talking about costs and the costs of, as she says, locking up asylum seekers, but what are the costs of housing these tens of thousands of asylum seekers? What are the costs in terms of GP services? What are the costs in terms of housing for my constituents. My constituents are struggling to get access to the GP services. They are struggling to get houses—
Is it not funny, Madam Deputy Speaker, that all afternoon Government Members have been saying, “Why are more council areas in Scotland not taking more asylum seekers?” We want to do that, but the Government do not fund it. If the Government funded it properly, we absolutely, certainly would take more. Sometimes it is not just about the money, but about people’s human rights.
I want to concentrate a little on congregated living—I do not know the term, but Members will know what I mean. Today, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) mentioned Ireland. Yesterday, at the all-party group on refugees, we heard from the Irish Refugee Council, whose chief executive, Nick Henderson, described this as a “Sliding Doors” moment. Just as Ireland changes its immigration system, after a 19-year campaign, and sets out on a path to end congregated living for asylum seekers, we are embarking on the opposite journey, closing down community dispersal for those deemed to have arrived unlawfully by slinging them into degrading and inhumane detention centres—“Sliding Doors” indeed. I will say a bit more in a minute about the Irish experience, but at that same meeting we also heard a Belarusian politician describe his experience of living as an asylum seeker in congregated settings in London. He was at pains to point out how grateful he was that the UK had taken in him and his wife, and he was very clear that, had it not done so, he would have been murdered. He is now settled, but he is worried about others. He knows the impact of congregated living for asylum seekers. None of us knows it, but he does, and he wants to warn the Government against going further down that route. He talked about the powder keg that is created when a melting pot of multiple cultures and languages lives in one space with always just one thing in common: trauma. The constant stress of that and the indignity of communal living left him feeling suicidal. Yes, I agree with those Conservative Members who say that we have a broken asylum system: we certainly do, but they are trying to fix it in the wrong way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) talked about the inquiry that the APPG on immigration detention has been doing. I attended some of those sessions and I was as sickened as she was when I heard people talking about the outbreak of scabies. How is that giving people dignity? She and I have both worked hard to try to close down the so-called mother and baby unit in Glasgow. There is a fantastic campaign called Freedom to Crawl. It is called that because in that mother and baby unit the rooms are so tiny that the babies and toddlers cannot crawl; they cannot move. That is inhumane.
I am sick to the back teeth of hearing about people who come here by very dangerous routes characterised as wealthy and selfish and just coming here for their own benefit because they want to make money.
There is an awful lot of talk about refugees. First, would the hon. Lady like to comment on the fact that this country has taken the highest number of refugees of any other European country? [Hon. Members: “Not true!”] Let me finish. Secondly, is there not a part of her that recognises that if we are to house refugees, as we should, and meet our international obligations, giving them a safe route to come here—not making them risk life and limb through coming on boats, as we are hearing—is a sensible and practical way to try to move the legislation forward?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, that is not true. We have just heard—he was clearly not listening—about a number of other countries that, per head of population, take far more than us. He might also be interested to know that 82% of the world’s refugees are in displacement camps in developing countries, and that the poorest countries are taking the most asylum seekers.
As I said, the gentleman who came to the APPG on refugees acknowledged that he would be dead if it had not been for the United Kingdom taking him in. Nobody here is saying that it is not a positive thing to have a system, but what the hon. Gentleman’s Government is doing to the system is vile. On safe and legal routes, yes, there is not a single person alive that would not want people to use safe and legal routes, but I must have missed something because I have not seen anything in the Bill that tells me how the Government will beef up those safe and legal routes so that people do not need to desperately cross the channel on those boats.
The most important thing is to have a sense of perspective. Everyone supports safe, legal routes, but even in a good year, pre-covid—I think the figure was about 25,000 last year—the total number of resettlements globally from UN-mandated camps was in the region of 50,000. We are talking about 25 million or 30 million refugees. We would be here for centuries before resettlement provided a complete solution. We will have resettlement but we must also have an asylum system alongside that. All we are asking is for the United Kingdom to offer a relatively small, by European standards, number of asylum seekers a place of sanctuary.
I completely agree, as I always do, with everything that my hon. Friend says.
I ask Conservative Members: just imagine it was you. I talked about a Belarusian MP, but imagine it was you. Imagine that for some reason—lucky us; we do not have to—you ended up in that situation where you had to flee. Is there anything Conservative Members would not do to keep their families safe? If there is anything they would not do to keep their families safe, maybe they should be thinking about their moral code.
Ireland has been through attempts to reform the system. It argued at the time, as Conservative Members do, that its system was a deterrent. Those at the Ministry of Justice in Ireland wanted to build misery into the accommodation system. It was not a train of thought imagined by critics; it was their actual policy. But they realised it was wrong and there is now cross-party consensus that it must stop. They reached that consensus not just because it did not work, but because they have recognised the inhumanity of that system.
I want to come on to my last point, and I do not get an extra minute.
The Home Secretary set the tone for this debate by immediately, in the first paragraph of her speech, talking about people having “had enough”. She used the words “uncontrolled” “failed asylum system”, “illegal”—that was used three times—“foreign”, “crime gangs”, “pretending to be genuine” “pretending to be children”, “criminals”, “murderers” “rapists” and abusers. Yes, I am sure Conservative Members loved it. That was the first paragraph and it set the tone. It was calculated and it was irresponsible. She knew exactly what she was doing. We will be doing everything to make sure that the people know the truth out there .The Home Secretary should be ashamed of that speech yesterday, and all Conservative Members should be ashamed of this Bill.
I have listened to the debate over the two days and the best thing for us all individually to do is bring our own experiences to it. I represent a multicultural, working-class community in west London, and I have two detention centres in my constituency. I have been visiting them and dealing with asylum cases for more than 45 years now, as a local activist, a local Greater London Council councillor and then as the local Member of Parliament. I can remember when there was a single Nissen hut with no more than a maximum of 20 people in, but now we have two detention centres, with up to 1,000 people detained in prison-like conditions. I listen to the people and their stories when they have been detained there, and it is heart-rending. We need to express what people have been through to get to our country, seeking safety and security. They are just trying to ensure that they no longer have their human rights abused and their lives put at risk. Interestingly, for all the money we spend on detention, the majority of those detained are eventually released and enter into our community. After that, there is the condition that someone must be in this country for 20 years before they can apply for indefinite leave, and then it takes 10 years. People have been talking about the amount of money that smugglers are making, but in the discussions we had yesterday on undocumented migrants we discovered that it costs about £12,000 for anyone to secure status in this country now.
At the weekend, an asylum seeker—a young Sudanese man—died in the Crowne Plaza hotel in my constituency. We do not know the cause of death yet, and I will not mention his name, because I am not sure his family have been traced yet. I went to meet a group of asylum seekers there. They were mainly young men, but we need to understand why that is. It is because families come together and they are desperate. They have tried various routes out of the terrible situation they are in and they realise that there is realistically only one way of getting out, and that is the illegal route for most of them. They will club together. What will parents do? They will choose for their child to go for safety, so that there is some future for them; yes, it is usually a young man, but often young women do this as well. That is why there is a preponderance of young men, and we can understand it. We would do the same: we would sit down and say, “Perhaps our son or our daughter should be the one who has the hope of safety.”
This is harsh but I am going to say it: I hope that anyone watching and participating in this debate wakes up to the depths some of the speeches have sunk to in the past couple of days. Yes, some have been inspiring, but some would not go amiss at an English Defence League meeting. A few months ago, the Government were derided after they published a report suggesting that there is no institutional racism in the UK. Well, today proves there certainly is, because this Bill institutionalises further racism in our asylum and immigration system. It is done with cynicism that has become the hallmark of this Government. Time after time I have heard Conservative speakers refer to the 16,000 arriving illegally to claim asylum; cynically, they know that for people desperately seeking safety, there is realistically almost no other way. There are so few safe routes for asylum seekers to reach this country, and there are no additional mechanisms set out in this Bill. There are so few resettlement schemes for them, and those that have existed in recent years have been limited by successive Conservative Governments.
This Government and, unfortunately, others on the far right of British politics have made much of the increase in asylum seekers reaching the UK via the English channel. If we listen to Home Office statistics, two thirds of them are then accepted as refugees, and appeals push the figure even higher.
I looked at the figures yesterday, and for the year up to September 2020 the UK received 26,903 asylum applications. France had over three times as many, 92,000, while Germany received 122,000. Even countries with smaller economies and populations, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, received more asylum seekers than the UK.
The myth that we resettle more than any other country in Europe is untrue, because those countries use routes other than a simple resettlement scheme. The truth is that we are not taking our fair share of refugees. The Government are complaining about having to do that, and this Bill seeks to demonise people who are fleeing war and persecution. And in many instances we have contributed to those wars, particularly through our arms sales.
This is a shameful, squalid, small-minded and racist Bill, and it does what this Government do best—in fact, the only thing this Government do well—which is whipping up division and demonising people to distract from the Government’s own failures. I join all those who ended their speeches by echoing the call that refugees are welcome here.
To those people I met yesterday, and to the relatives of the young man who died in my constituency at the weekend, I say that refugees are welcome here. I will do everything I possibly can to oppose this Bill. I want people to know that there are many in this country, many in my constituency, who are willing to stand up bravely and say, “We will uphold basic human rights. We will welcome refugees and, yes, we know the benefit of those who come here and the significant contributions they make to our country.”
A number of MPs have stood up and said, “Listen to the people.” Well, I am listening to my constituents—there will be different views, too—and sometimes we have to stand up for what is right.
I know some have criticised my colleague who referred to the 1930s, but some people in the 1930s, and particularly some of the right-wing press, prevented a Government from allowing Jewish people to come to this country from Germany. Yes, we accepted the children, but we did not accept the parents and, unfortunately, they lost their lives in the concentration camps.
Let us stand up for humanity, let us show the best of this House, let us show the best of our country and let us offer people succour, safety and security through the asylum system, with protection for them and their families.
Compassion and robustness go hand in hand when it come to the way in which we manage our borders. Our common humanity requires that we update our approach as the challenges we face in the world develop. Every Government in every era and every generation have looked for a system that is more efficient, that is safer for those seeking refuge, that is cheaper for taxpayers in the United Kingdom and for the communities taking in refugees, and that is more humane in the way it supports people who have faced some of the most terrible circumstances.
The website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that, although our debate is very much about what is happening in the European neighbourhood, the issue is challenging Governments, countries and populations across the world. In Westminster, it is an issue that Parliament has wrestled with since—[Inaudible] —by the post-war Labour Government in response to the retreat from empire.
Most of us, as constituency MPs, will know that our constituents have a very wide range of views on the issue. On the doorsteps campaigning in elections, we will all have heard a good deal of concern from constituents and voters about the impact of migration on the UK. As a constituency Member of Parliament, I have had umpteen contacts from constituents asking me to intervene to prevent the deportation from the UK of someone who has been found to be an illegal immigrant in my constituency who they know, who their friends know and who lives in the neighbourhood. I am yet to have a single contact letting me know about an illegal immigrant that someone wants to see removed. So there is a conundrum in this debate, which is that our voters and constituents are in general very concerned to see that our borders are effectively managed, but tend to have a very positive view of the migrants and refugees they know in their community and in their neighbourhood.
Perhaps that reflects the fact that the UK is not a particularly popular destination for asylum in Europe. UNHCR figures indicate that Germany has about 10 times as many refugees as we do in the UK and that the UK is a middling destination in our European neighbourhood for asylum seekers. However, the UK is particularly active in resettlement. That is something that this House and the Government should rightly be proud of, in creating safe, legal routes for people who we have identified as displaced because of war and conflict, and who can be resettled in the UK. For me, it is an essential principle that we build on the success of things such as the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which cut out the people smugglers from the system and enabled communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to welcome refugees without any of the challenges we faced with some of the parts of the asylum system.
We also know that of those who arrive by any route outside of resettlement, about three-quarters are granted asylum under UK law, which shows that most do have a well-founded claim, however they arrive into our country. So we clearly need to tackle the major problems that are inherent in the routes by which people arrive. The smuggling of people into our country and the rest of Europe is helping to fund terrorist organisations in parts of the world, which are making money out of the deaths and misery of many, many thousands of vulnerable people.
There are criminals closer to home, and we have seen some particularly hideous cases in the United Kingdom where large numbers of refugees have died in the hands of those criminals because of the way in which they are being smuggling into our country. I personally saw, on a visit to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, smugglers driving around offering what is essentially a rate sheet: “If you can pay this many euros, you are allowed to break into a lorry. If you can pay significantly more, we will smuggle you into the UK in a British-plated car with a British driver.” It is an absolutely evil trade and we have no idea how many people have lost their lives in the waters of the English channel trying to get to refuge in our country, so we must tackle that.
It is clearly critical that we have a really effective programme of safe and legal routes. Those safe and legal routes need to work in both directions. This is not just about people who may be fleeing persecution who need to come to the UK. We need, post-Brexit and the loss of the Dublin arrangements, to have routes in place with other third-party safe countries. It is critical, in my view, that we get a clear assurance from Government that we will have that in place to make a real success of the proposed arrangements.
Fundamentally, we need to ensure that we retain public good will and confidence. We need to consider the way in which this operates in the UK. Asylum seekers were first treated separately from the wider benefit system under the Labour Government of Tony Blair in the early 2000s. Dispersal was created under Andy Burnham, then the immigration Minister and now the Mayor of Greater Manchester, in 2005. There are lessons from that system. We need to be wary of trying to do it on the cheap. Unaccompanied children and dispersal demonstrate that engaging communities is difficult when we do it on the cheap, whereas the Syrian resettlement scheme, which was costly, garnered a huge amount of public good will and was much more effective in securing public confidence because it was demonstrated in advance that people had a well-founded claim to be in the United Kingdom. It is not a matter of law, but the House will need to be vigilant to ensure that the system is resourced so that the ambitions that are set out can be achieved.
Let me turn to the question of how we achieve that. The plumbing and wiring of the system clearly need to work right. The concept of effective advocacy and advice for refugees at the point of entry to enable them to lodge a really effective claim is critical. We need to ensure that the way in which we work at the border enables us to understand the circumstances of the asylum seeker as fully as possible. If we are to have a two-tier system that treats people differently according to their means of transit to the UK, we need to recognise that in some parts of the world it may, for example, have been necessary to pay a people smuggler to get out of immediate danger and then to make the rest of the journey by another route. We need to consider how our courts will carry forward decisions on that process. There have been a number of steps in a positive direction, including the recent announcement about working visas for those seeking asylum.
The House needs to balance the views and needs of all parts of our country. When it comes to migration, that means balancing the needs of the businesses in my constituency that are crying out for new workers to enable them to make the most of opportunities with those communities already under pressure for housing need and social challenges, for whom new arrivals may be seen as an unacceptable burden. If we go local, engage communities and recognise complexity, we have a chance of making the system much more effective.
It is an honour and a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), who is clearly an expert in this field. If I remember rightly, his maiden speech was made during a debate on Syrian refugees.
I find myself in the unusual position, very early on, of agreeing with the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), in that I normally get about three minutes for a speech in this place, but that has gone up to four minutes, five minutes and six minutes, and we are now on eight minutes; I am afraid that my notes might not last that long.
I welcome the introduction of the new Nationality and Borders Bill. It is the cornerstone of the Government’s new plan for immigration and delivers the most comprehensive reform in decades to fix our broken asylum system. With this Bill, we are truly delivering on our manifesto commitment to the British people to take back control of our borders and put in place an asylum system that works for those in genuine need—and I do emphasis the genuine need aspect.
I want to take a minute to highlight some of the, quite frankly, disturbing comments from the Opposition Benches. I think in particular of the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) and the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who called Government Members racist for wanting to look after our borders and the communities that we represent. Quite frankly, comments like that are abhorrent and disgusting. At some point, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to speak to you about that, because in my view it is neither honourable, nor respectful of this Chamber, to be insulting Members.
It is almost like they are creating another argument for the Online Safety Bill. They want to insult us via virtual participation, and then turn their screen off and hide away because they cannot deal with the arguments. What we are hearing is generally insulting and, quite frankly, wrong. We are truly representing the views of the people—the views of our constituents.
I could not agree with my hon. Friend any more; he puts it far more succinctly than I possibly could.
We also see the Opposition turning their back on the British people and the red wall all over again. We have had this debate many, many times, but unfortunately the Opposition are not listening—well, they are not here. What we are seeing is a paradigm shift whereby the Labour party no longer represents those working-class communities. It is no longer listening to those working-class voters. Thankfully, on this side of the Chamber we do listen.
There is also a particularly harmful argument that we have heard far too many times in the debate. It is about listening.
I am thinking of the clock entirely, but I would like to explore the serious point that my hon. Friend has just introduced on the allegation of racism. When people want to disagree with legislation that is all very well, but resorting to calling Members from another party racist simply because they want to control our borders and create a better system so that people can come here without risking life and limb is utterly wrong.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We are seeing a party that wants to fight the deportation of foreign criminals but whose Members then insult their opponents and hide away by turning off their screens.
Let me return to my speech. Britain truly does have a proud history of providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and oppression. I know that because my own family have been part of it. During the second world war, my grandfather came home from university one day and saw his entire family, other than his twin brother, get shot. They fled during the war and ended up, of all places, in Tamworth, followed by Pendle and finally Keighley, before my grandfather passed on. People who have come here have been part of recent wars and recent refugee camps. They sought refuge in our country. We are a proud nation, a helpful nation and a compassionate nation. We will do what we can. That is especially the case in my constituency of Bury South, where, if people need help, we respond.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) that there are between 25 million and 30 million asylum seekers worldwide, so demand clearly outstrips any possible form of supply. We should be having a debate about the number of legal asylum seekers within the process. Should it be 10,000, 20,000 or 40,000? There has to be some limit. If the focus of the argument were that, would it not be more sensible to shut down obviously illegal and obviously dangerous routes of alternative entry?
My hon. Friend gets very much to the crux of the problem. I am not going to talk about what threshold is right or wrong, but I am going to talk about the fact that we are trying to achieve a fair system that helps those who are most in need. That is what we truly need to understand. Our communities are rich in their diversity because of immigration and because of the people we have been helping. I think again of the Syrian resettlement scheme, which we are proud of. In Lancashire we have taken thousands, and I am proud of us helping those most in need, but for far too long the system has been exploited by people smugglers, criminal gangs and asylum shoppers, who cheat that system. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, people are paying extra either to break into a lorry or to get into a boat to be shipped across. That is not the right way to try to seek asylum.
That abuse is not limited to people smugglers. It extends to the so-called human rights lawyers who know how best to game the system and to activists who encourage people to claim asylum on all kinds of different grounds, and when they fail to claim again. The system is corrupted by those individuals who seek not to defend the interests of the most needy, which my hon. Friend has described, but to exploit those who will do anything to get into this country, legal or illegal.
I thank my right hon. Friend for those meaningful comments. I was not going to touch on that matter, but it is an important part of the debate that again takes us to the crux of why we are trying to—[Interruption.] I get the feeling that another intervention is on the way.
May I elaborate on that point? As a former member of the Bar, I struggle to criticise members of the legal profession who use legitimate means to extend the stay of their clients, but that is surely an argument—a very strong argument—for exactly the terms of the Bill. It is not an abuse of the system to exploit it, so we cannot complain about that, but we need to remove those loopholes so that our legal teams properly represent their clients but it does not slow the system down.
I thank my hon. and, perhaps, learned Friend for his further comments. As I said earlier, this goes to the heart of what the Bill is actually about. Some Opposition Members, in particular, may disagree with particular points. I say to them, “Back the Bill on Second Reading, and try to make the changes that you want to see in Committee.” They acknowledge that there is clearly a problem, but they do not want to do anything to fix it. It is almost as if they want to see us fail and want to see Britain fail, and that is absolutely wrong.
The way in which things currently operate is not fair to the most vulnerable people who are in genuine need of asylum, or to the British public, who unfortunately have to pay for it. We must help to ensure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. The current trend means that we see refugees reaching a safe country such as France, Greece or Italy—indeed, countries in most of southern Europe—and then pressing on with their journey, paying people smugglers to help them into the UK illegally or falling victim to criminal gangs who exploit them. There was a reference earlier to the Jungle camp. We need only see what goes on there to realise that many of these journeys are life-threatening for many people, so we need to do what we can to prevent them.
In October 2020, a Kurdish-Iranian family tragically died when their overcrowded boat sank off the coast of France. Both parents drowned, along with their nine-year-old, their six-year-old and their 15-month-old baby. Every journey across the channel is life-threatening, so we absolutely need to take this seriously and do everything we can to try to prevent anyone from making that journey when it is not necessary.
Last month was the worst ever recorded for illegal crossings, more than 2,100 people having arrived, and I fear that that figure may be surpassed this month. Many of the people risking their lives to cross the channel are young men who are economic migrants and are denied legitimate asylum seeker status.
As Conservatives, we will protect those most in need and put the rights of those who respect the rules above those of the asylum shoppers who take our country for a ride. We need an asylum system that is fair to everyone—a system that prioritises women and children escaping wartorn countries and those fleeing unwarranted persecution, not a system that is openly gamed by economic migrants or exploited by people smugglers.
Order. The wind-ups will begin at 6.36 pm, and by my reckoning, because there were two late additions who are not on the call list, there are nine Members wishing to get in. This being the final day of a two-day debate, it would be good to get everyone in, would it not? However, I do not want to put the Clerk through the trauma of yet another time change, so if every speaker takes about five minutes—[Interruption.] Too late! If every speaker takes about five minutes, everyone will get in, so please, will everyone play ball?
I wish not only to speak about the Bill, but to describe the type of Bill that I would like it to be. The Minister and I have similar opinions on many matters, and I know that he has spoken about these matters before, so I am fairly hopeful that in Committee we can make changes to bring about what I would like to see in place.
I am ever minded that children from the Kindertransport came to my constituency during the second world war. They came to my constituency because they had nowhere else to go. When it comes to speaking in debates on this topic—and I have spoken in many—I express my belief that there is a right to flee persecution on religious grounds. We want to see the safer legal route to which the Government have referred; I certainly do, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. We speak up for those with Christian beliefs, those with other beliefs and those with no beliefs.
Across the world, so many people find themselves in positions where they cannot practise their religion, or enjoy the human rights that we enjoy in this country. When it comes to putting a legal system and an immigration system in place, I look to the Minister, because I see in him someone who encapsulates what I believe to be a system that helps people in other parts of the world to relocate here because of the persecution they have been experiencing.
The hon. Gentleman is making a good point about religious persecution. Does he agree that sometimes it is the very Governments of the countries that people are from who engage in and endorse such persecution? That makes it all the more important that we have safe and legal routes, because those Governments would not allow people to leave their country.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I agree with her.
The Minister knows that I have been a great supporter of the Syrian resettlement scheme throughout. I was glad whenever we were able to send people to Newtonards town and families were able to relocate. The Government bodies and the Churches that were there brought communities together to help. Those people are well settled today. None of them want to go home. Their home is now Newtonards in my constituency. Will there be more opportunities through the Syrian resettlement scheme? If there are, I believe we can produce a safe haven in Strangford and across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The world is a dangerous place. People are persecuted because of their religious views. Their human rights are abused. I would like to think that the United Kingdom has a reputation for being a generous country, and part of that lies with having a fair and efficient asylum process for those who need it. Recent stats show that in the year ending March 2021 the UK received 26,903 asylum applications, meaning that possibly that number of people needed a better life with better choices and better opportunities. There has been a lack of direction in the past number of years regarding the position of asylum seekers, meaning that people are left in disarray, unable to seek work or resettle. I want to see that system improved in the future; access to the UK asylum system should be based on need, not ability to pay people smugglers, to whom other hon. Members have referred.
Detention Action—a charity that dedicates much time to ensuring fairness for asylum seekers—has used a great slogan to describe the situation. It says:
“It is political will—rather than legislation—”.
That is wholeheartedly accurate. Welfare should be at the core of legislation. In 2019, 24,400 people entered immigration detention in the UK—the lowest figure since 2009. However, I am not classifying that figure as necessarily low.
Another major issue surrounding the Bill is that young children are being placed in immigration detention. I made that point to the Secretary of State yesterday. I make it again today because it is a key issue for me and where I am. I want to see young children getting opportunities. They are often separated from their parents and family members. They come here and are sent straight into detention. The Secretary of State mentioned it yesterday, and I very much look forward to seeing changes on that. I wish to see legislation to protect children, particularly those who are fleeing persecution.
The Government have stated that they will support victims of modern slavery. What they have said so far is good news, and it is important that we have on record where we are on that. The Government have also stated that they wish to give people the opportunity to come here if they are under any distress in other countries. While asylum seeking is something that we should take seriously, illegal immigration also needs to be taken into consideration when discussing the Bill. In the year 2020-21 alone—I conclude with this comment, Mr Deputy Speaker, ever mindful of your request about time—3,500 people are said to have crossed the Channel to enter the UK illegally to work and live without the correct documentation. Both issues need to be given the same importance, and I urge the Minister to shed some light on the steps that he will be taking to address both. A humane approach must be used when discussing such a sensitive issue. Individuals should not be criminalised for seeking asylum. A sustainable system needs to be in place for those who want to enter the UK and can legally do so. There should not be a prolonged process. More important, asylum seekers should not be mistreated.
I call on the Home Office and the Minister to provide the necessary assurance that the United Kingdom can and will deliver a trustworthy haven for those who seek asylum. I wish to see in the legislation that we give protection for those overseas who are persecuted because of their religion and whose human rights are abused.
I thank Mr Shannon for his co-operation, but the Clerk informs me that trauma management is one of his specialities, so we have decided to introduce a five-minute limit, which means that we will now get everyone in. I will call Peter Gibson next. If you do not mind, Peter, could you stick to that limit?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
This Bill is the cornerstone of the Government’s commitment to reforming our immigration policy. Having taken back control, following our departure from the European Union, it is essential that we deliver for our constituents, who want us to take proper, effective control of our borders.
The Bill will introduce new and tough criminal offences for those entering the country illegally, and introduce life sentences for those who perpetrate the despicable crime of people smuggling—those who would willingly and knowingly put men, women and children in the backs of lorries and in dinghies, and take money for doing so, with not a care in the world for whether their victims will live to see another day, never mind complete their journey. Those criminals are clearly the lowest of the low, and it is right that we do all that we can to stop that trade. That means prosecuting those who facilitate it and sending a clear message to those who seek to make such illegal entry into our country.
We all know that the system as it stands is in need of reform, with lengthy waits for decisions, bureaucracy that makes little sense, endless appeals, and no certainty for anyone in the system. People live lives in limbo for years—in some cases, decades. That is not right, and the new regime will be based on firmness and fairness. The Bill will deliver key elements of the Government’s new plan for immigration, on which I and my colleagues on the Government Benches were elected. The plan addresses our broken asylum system, which sadly has provided incentives to sickening people smugglers and illegal immigrants at the expense of those in conflict zones who are unable to travel.
The UK has a proud record of supporting those in genuine need of refuge and asylum. Far from closing the door on the most vulnerable, the Bill ensures that safe and legal routes remain open. It cannot be right for a decent, civilised society that welcomes those fleeing persecution to allow an unsafe, illegal route to be repeatedly exploited by criminal gangs. Immigration is a good thing. It brings skills, talents and abilities to our country, and has provided us with some of the most diverse communities in our towns and cities across the country. It has made our culture richer and is something to celebrate, but at the same time it is right that that immigration is controlled by the Government and legislation, responding to the needs of those in need around the world in a controlled way, not through a system undermined by criminal gangs sending victims to their deaths in lorries and dinghies.
The UK is delivering support through the world-class vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which has protected 25,000 people in the last six years—more than any other European country. That is 25,000 people who have been able to restart and rebuild their lives in safety. We will also continue to offer family reunion, which has enabled a further 29,000 people to come to the UK and settle here. At its heart, the Bill will break human smuggling and trafficking chains, introducing new criminal offences for those attempting to enter the UK illegally and new life sentences for people smugglers. I know that the majority of my constituents in Darlington will welcome those steps.
Closing legal loopholes and opening safe routes, ending the horrific practice of people smuggling that has seen thousands put on small, unsafe boats in northern France, is testament to the resolve of the Home Secretary, who has faced the most dreadful personal abuse for doing the right thing by this country. She has my full support in all her efforts. She knows that the overwhelming majority of the British public want to see the problem of illegal entry tackled. It is such a shame that Her Majesty’s Opposition remain completely out of touch with what our country needs and what our constituents want.
We have seen the Opposition’s true colours today—determined to oppose the Government’s plans to tackle a problem that has beset us for many years. We know that they would sign up to free movement once more. Why they would want to enable a system to continue that sees people die in the channel or in the backs of lorries is truly unfathomable.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) said a little while ago, we need a system that commands public good will and confidence. I am afraid that what we have at the moment is not that.
My constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme expect us to follow the rule of law, and they expect fairness. What is going on at the moment is not fair to anyone. It is not fair to the migrants making the dangerous journeys. It is not fair to the migrants unable to make those journeys, who tend to be women and children, who are perhaps at more risk, and it is not fair to my constituents, and the constituents of all of us in this Chamber, who are paying for the system. The only beneficiaries are the people smugglers, and we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner—sorry, my hon. Friend, but I am sure it is only a matter of time—that those people smugglers are making thousands and thousands of pounds for every journey across the channel. This Bill dramatically changes the incentives involved in the immigration system and the illegal immigration system to deter illegal entry, as well as to remove those with no right to be here and remove them more easily. In so doing, it increases fairness and reduces the danger in the system.
I would like to make it clear that we are not hard-hearted and Newcastle-under-Lyme is not a hard-hearted town. We support those in genuine need of asylum—for example, we support those who have been displaced from war zones. We have resettled more refugees in this country than any other country in Europe. Our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme has resettled 20,000 refugees from Syria in the UK to rebuild their lives. We should be proud of that, and I am proud of it.
However, I think the Government are right to try to find a better way, first, to differentiate between economic migrants and refugees, and secondly, to make sure that there is still a route for the most vulnerable, but one that does not mean that most dangerous of journeys. Bluntly, there is almost unlimited demand for a place in the UK. If were to open our borders completely, as it seems some of the Socialist Campaign Group members want us to do—by the look of it, they are going to be proscribed soon, the way the Leader of the Opposition is going—millions of people would want to come to the UK, because we are an open, tolerant nation. But supply is not unlimited, so we should—in fact, we must—prioritise those most in need, not those who are most able to get here. That is the only moral thing to do.
On deterring illegal entry, today, like every other day, there are hundreds crossing the channel and taking that risk. First, my constituents want to know why they are coming from France. France is a safe country, and they could claim asylum there, and before that they could have claimed asylum in Spain, Italy, Greece or wherever they crossed into the European Union. But the European Union does not want to defend its border there, because it knows that people just migrate through the European Union to the United Kingdom. Under this Bill, we will now look at removing those people, and if France will not take them back—I believe it should, but I do not think it will—then we will look at removing them to a safe third country.
The example for this is Australia. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who is no longer in his place, abhorred the Australian system, which is known as Operation Sovereign Borders. However, let me say that that has been not only a successful policy, but a deeply moral policy. To quote the evidence the Australian Government submitted to the Home Affairs Committee:
“Between 2008 and 2013, more than 50,000 people travelled illegally to Australia on more than 820 individual maritime people smuggling ventures. During this period, more than 1200 people drowned in the attempt to reach Australia…Following the establishment of Operation Sovereign Borders on 18 September 2013, it has been more than six years since the last successful maritime people smuggling venture to Australia, and more than six and a half years since the last known death at sea”.
That is what we should be aspiring to—a system that commands public confidence, but reduces the risk of people losing their lives.
We should also of course remove those who have no rights to be here, and we need to do that more quickly, because the spectacle of these appeals lasting years is undermining public confidence. We are going to look at accelerating removals and measures to combat lengthy vexatious claims. We are going to put in statute a single standardised minimum notice period for migrants to access justice, and we are going to make that into a one-stop process. We will also expand the early removal scheme, which will remove foreign national offenders, and we will remove criminals who are currently in our prisons as soon as possible.
I would like to ask why 60 Labour MPs, none of whom are here—there are only those on the Front Bench—have written to Government opposing the removal of foreign national offenders. They could not be more out of touch if they tried.
To conclude, the British people have repeatedly voted, most recently in 2019, to take back control of our borders. After our exit from the European Union, we now have the tools to do so. We have already put in place new rules for legal immigration, and with this Bill we are going to put in new measures to deter illegal immigration. I believe this Bill will give our Border Force and our justice system the tools they need to deter that illegal immigration at source and to change the incentives. In so doing, we will cut out the criminal gangs, and we will finally deliver a fair system that can command credibility both at home and abroad.
Since I was elected in 2019, one thing many of my constituents have told me they want to see is this country taking back control of its borders. They are not racist; they are genuine, hard-working, decent, honest people, and they are actually generous to those in genuine need.
Our asylum and immigration system is not fit for purpose. It lines the pockets of criminal gangs and people smugglers, and it is not fair on genuinely vulnerable people who need protection. It is also not fair on the British public, who pick up the tab. There appear to be some in the Opposition who cannot see a problem, but there is a reason why they no longer represent constituencies like mine.
Yesterday saw record numbers of people arriving in this country by boat, with 430 crossing in a single day. Since 1 January, approximately 8,000 people have made that crossing. Something is wrong. Many of them have travelled across several safe countries; some have paid as much as £5,000 for a ticket to board those illegal crossings and jump the queue for asylum. Most of the genuine asylum seekers I have met in my constituency could not afford £5,000 and would not be able to make a journey across five countries to get here.
Of the whopping 8,500 people who arrived here in 2020, 80% are male and 74% are aged between 18 and 39. Something has to be done, not only to stop abuse, but to ensure that the world’s most genuinely vulnerable asylum seekers are not arriving in this country via legal routes to join huge queues and be left in limbo for months, if not years, by our overburdened system. This country cannot allow criminality to be rewarded, especially not at the expense of providing haven for those in genuine need.
The Bill will bring forward fundamental and—in my view—long overdue reform, creating a system that is firmer and fairer. It is firmer on criminal gangs of people smugglers and those who enter the UK illegally, it increases the penalty for illegal entry, and it introduces life sentences for the disgraceful people smugglers who put lives at risk to profit from this illegal and dangerous activity. It is firmer on foreign national offenders, increasing sentences for those who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order. That will save British taxpayers’ money that could be spent on building back better and levelling up the most left-behind areas, or on actually supporting vulnerable people such as those subject to slavery and people trafficking. Importantly, the Bill will rebuild the British public’s confidence in our asylum and justice system.
The Bill is not just firmer; it is fairer. It is fairer on our border forces, which will now have the power and resources they need to do the job that we have tasked them with—powers to search unaccompanied containers, to seize and dispose of any vessels intercepted, and to stop and divert vessels entering the UK illegally. It will be fairer on genuine vulnerable people who are fleeing persecution and tyranny, who currently join a queue in a system stretched to its limits, often by repeated and vexatious claims.
The total number of people in limbo waiting for a decision has doubled since 2014. I have spoken to genuine refugees who have seen some of the most terrible atrocities. They have been forced to wait for more than a year simply to get an interview date, because they are in a queue behind those who cross the channel illegally. That is unsurprising, considering that this country has 109,000 outstanding asylum claims that need to be dealt with. The system cannot cope. It is at breaking point, and that is utterly unfair on those who follow the proper channels to claim asylum.
The Bill is also fairer on the British taxpayers, who have voted time and again for the UK to take control of its borders and who, while generous to those in need, do not wish to see that generosity abused. It is firmer on the criminal gangs that profit from putting others in peril, and firmer on foreign national offenders in breach of a deportation order, but fairer on genuine asylum seekers, on our border forces and on the British people who pick up the tab.
I am slightly disappointed: not only do I not get nine minutes to speak, but there are no Opposition Members. They have all gone home, when we are debating such important legislation. What a disappointment! I wonder why.
Our immigration and asylum system, as we have heard many times today and yesterday, has not worked properly for years. It is fair to say that leaving the European Union was about many things—it was about controlling our laws, our money, our trade and our borders. Along with a points-based immigration system, we can look to control our borders further with proper legislation to deal with the issues that have dogged our country for many years. In the shortish time that I have, I want to make two overall points.
First, there is an issue that has been raised many times already, the thousands upon thousands of migrants making dangerous crossings to get here. We read that yesterday saw a record number of people crossing the channel to arrive on our shores. We saw 2,000 in June. Quite simply, constituents write to me every single week imploring us to get to grips with this situation, to have control of our borders, of who is here and of how many people are entering the country. In doing so, the Bill has to deal with the criminal element and deter people from coming en masse to claim illegal asylum.
The Bill, as we know, will make it a crime to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission. In doing so, these measures will act as a strong deterrent to curb those who, as I said in my interventions, have many times risked life and limb to come here.
We also know that people are being led here or smuggled by gangs, and the Bill has new powers to deal with that. There will be maximum life sentences for those convicted of people smuggling, which has to get to the very core of the gangs that profit from such heinous crimes. It is absolutely right that we prosecute those people.
Secondly, I draw attention to our ability to properly protect and support those who genuinely need safe asylum here. As the Home Secretary said yesterday, we need a firm but fair asylum system that provides a safe haven to those fleeing persecution and oppression. I do not think anybody on either side of the House has disagreed with that point.
Those claiming asylum should be doing it in the first safe third country they travel through, and I welcome the provisions in the Bill to try to achieve that. We have heard a lot about this in the past few weeks, and we should not forget that we are the third highest contributor of overseas development aid in the entire world, and we have resettled more refugees than any other country in Europe. This Bill is about having the powers to discourage those making crossings and irregular entries. It is right that, if a person ends up on our shores, their asylum claim should be impacted, because it has to be part and parcel of the deterrent mechanism to try to stop people risking their life to be here.
We will continue, no doubt, to resettle genuine refugees directly from regions of conflict and instability. As I said, we have already protected 25,000 people in the past six months. This Bill, which many constituents regularly write to me about, is finally here. It takes time so, to all those who write to me wanting to see it done and dusted as quickly as possible, we have to get it right. Complex legislation takes more than just a few months to get right. The Government have done a good job of introducing the Bill today. It will hopefully have its Second Reading and we will finally start to get an end to this problem that has dogged the country for years.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker).
I will tell the House a little story, if I may. When I was listening to the debate yesterday, I was particularly taken by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson). He talked about Janis Bite from Latvia and his experience of being conscripted by the Nazis during world war two, fighting on the Russian front and, ultimately, coming to the UK as a refugee.
I have a similar story, featuring Anton Petela—lovingly known as “Gido”. He was my wife’s grandfather, and he was a gardener in Ukraine. Like Janis, he was conscripted by the Nazis and forced to fight a war on the Russian front. It was a dreadful experience in unimaginable conditions, and he suffered the horrors of war. He could not return, because he would have been either executed or exiled, and he came as a refugee to Britain. He joined the bomb squad, fell in love and started a family. I am not sure how he would feel about his granddaughter marrying a Conservative MP, but he was always grateful for the chance to start a new life here in the UK.
Gido and his family did not see a cruel and heartless country. We have nothing to be ashamed of; we are a kind, tolerant and welcoming country. Nothing evidences that more than the city of Peterborough, a caring and special city. Peterborough is the home of many different communities—people from all over the world, who quite often started their life here as refugees. I pay tribute to Moez Nathu from the Peterborough Asylum and Refugee Community Association, who does brilliant work advocating for refugees in my city.
My inbox and constituency mailbag are regularly filled with asylum cases, and of course my team do their very best to help. They regularly deal with asylum and wider immigration claims that have been ongoing for 15 or 16 years. Endless legal processes and appeals, lawyers and professionals have made things very complicated and difficult, and there have been many heart-breaking phone calls and meetings with those going through this. Empathy and compassion are skills that MPs should have, but nothing prepared me for the sheer weight of numbers my office would encounter when I took this job. Some of my team are even going through legal training on asylum and immigration—something they are very happy to do, but not something they expected to do when they applied to work in an MP’s constituency office.
Opposition Members have shouted and made passionate speeches, throwing around accusations of racism and a lack of compassion. I just find that offensive. They are talking to committed Conservative activists and constituency staff—my constituency staff—who are comforting those trapped in this endless and unfair system. They are talking about decent people—Christians, Muslims; compassionate people—who are trying to make sense of a nonsensical system. There is nothing kind about throwing people into this appeals system for years on end, and our work in Peterborough makes the case for reform much more clearly than shouty speeches from the Opposition Benches.
I must say that the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made a typically insulting speech, suggesting that Members on the Government side of the House are far-right. The right hon. Member does not own compassion on this issue. The left do not have a monopoly on empathy. We need a much quicker and much fairer asylum system, and I know that those who work on asylum and advocacy in my constituency would agree with me. We need to prioritise those in need of protection while stopping the abuse of the system.
In the few seconds I have left, I want to make this point, because I fear that something very shocking is about to happen if we are not careful. The English channel is the busiest shipping route in the world. Over 600 cargo ships use it. It is a dangerous sea crossing. If we are not careful, and if we do not do something, we are going to see dead bodies floating in the English channel. A compassionate Government would do something about that, and that is what we have here today—a solution to that problem. I know that Anton Petela and the people of Peterborough have one thing in common: they want to see a fair, empathetic and compassionate asylum system, and that is what this Bill will deliver.
As ever, it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), who gave a very thought-provoking account of Gido and of the experience he has had in Peterborough.
I want to start by thanking the Home Secretary, the Immigration Minister and the entire Home Office team for their hard work in bringing this Bill before the House. It has been a long time coming and I think all of us on the Government Benches are very proud to see it arrive.
Thanks to freedom day’s relaxation of restrictions, later this evening—depending on the time—I am hoping to attend an event with the Australian high commission. I mention that not just because it will be a lovely do with great wine, but because I have a great deal of respect for the way that Australia has handled the entire debate around immigration and asylum through Operation Sovereign Borders, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) gave a great account of earlier.
Wanting to have integrity of one’s borders and an immigration system that suits one’s nation, yet some out there would have us believe that that is not only shameful, but thoroughly unpopular with the public. That is not my experience.
Shall we just remember the general election of 2019, in which one party stood on a manifesto with a promise to tackle immigration as a key tenet? Which party was it? It is the one represented on these Government Benches right now. May I say, it is shameful to see so few Labour Members on the Opposition Benches when they claim to represent people right across our nation?
If it is true that the Bill is not popular, that is not reflected in the communications that I receive from my constituents. Local people across Bishop Auckland have not been shy in letting me know their views on the channel crossings and the wider asylum system. Their overarching opinion is not bigoted or racist, but it is clear that we need to protect our borders. We must tackle illegal immigration. We must crack down on the criminal gangs and people smugglers and their exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people. Those who have a genuine need to uproot their families and move to Britain because of war, discrimination or persecution should be welcomed.
Despite the outcry from some, I perceive the Bill to have safety at its core. We know that those who board small boats or cling to lorries to make the perilous journey across the channel are often being exploited by sophisticated criminal gangs of people smugglers who charge thousands upon thousands for a ticket and a new life in the UK, and that is precisely what they sell. We heard in the Home Affairs Committee about carefully marketed images of a better life, with some even posting adverts on Facebook and TikTok featuring pictures of luxury cruise liners and promotional videos of the glamorous life people can lead in London. I will never ever criticise someone for wanting to lead a better life, but I will always condemn these lying criminals exploiting people for profit without any apology.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. There was a very interesting report in, I think, The Independent earlier this month. It went into the detail, talking about people effectively being kidnapped and their families being exploited to allow them to make the next stage of their journey, which I think we would all agree is an absolute disgrace. It is exactly the sort of thing that the Bill aims to tackle.
For me, people smugglers are the key to cracking this issue. We need to crack down on them and get rid of these routes as a legitimate means of entry, and that is what the Bill seeks to tackle. There seems to be a very strange perception that the Bill seeks to stop us offering asylum to those genuinely seeking refuge, but would that not be thoroughly un-British? From the Kindertransport to the Bosnian genocide, the UK has a proud history of welcoming people fleeing war and persecution, and we should be proud of our reputation as a tolerant nation holding out its arms to the most vulnerable.
I am very proud that our nation has resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other European nation. With more than 25,000 refugees and 29,000 close relatives welcomed to the UK since 2015, our record shows global Britain in action. Earlier, I heard the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) say that I should be ashamed to support this Bill, but the Nationality and Borders Bill will fix our broken asylum system with a dual approach, tackling dangerous and exploitative illegal routes while honouring our moral obligation to provide safety and security for the world’s most vulnerable. [Interruption.] I hear an SNP Member on the Opposition Benches claiming that is rubbish, but where were they earlier in the debate to make that point? That is why I will be proudly and unapologetically voting for this Bill tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison). In Ipswich, we have extended the hand of friendship to huge numbers of refugees over the years. We have a very significant Kurdish community in Ipswich, which has made a massive contribution to the town, supported by the Suffolk refugee centre.
Only recently I was in the Bloom Lounge, which is quite a trendy, upmarket cocktail bar in Ipswich, where I had pornstar martinis and all that sort of stuff. It is run by Erion and Francesko. They run the hugely successful new cocktail bar, and they came here from Albania. They were refugees. They fled Albania, and the people of Ipswich and this country extended the hand of friendship to them. What is more, Erion is a Conservative councillor. The local Conservative party in Ipswich is a party of refugees—far more so than the local Labour party.
We have a major problem here. We must realise that there are those who make the decision to come to this country illegally. They shun the legal process and come here illegally—break the law. Every person from that category who stays limits our capacity to show compassion towards the most genuine of refugees. There is also a limit to how many refugees we can take, so we need to be realistic about that. Each one of those people who decides to come here illegally—some are economic migrants—means that one fewer family can be supported. That is the reality of the situation.
The Labour party makes this charge of racism, but the vast majority of the British public support the position that we are adopting today. Frankly, they probably want to go a bit further. That is the reality of the situation and that comes across in the correspondence that I receive. The vast majority of people in this country abhor racism. They welcome immigration, and they want to extend the hand of friendship, but what they do not want is lawlessness. What they do not want is what we are seeing at the moment. Sadly, the message that is going out is that once you are in, you are in, so it is worth the risk. The consequence of that is the loss of human lives, an unsustainable pressure on public services, and a limit on our ability to show compassion towards the most needy.
I have met the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) on many occasions to discuss this issue. He knows my views on it, and I am rather robust on the issue. I have to say that I never thought that the French would deliver on this for us. Ultimately, the people of this country voted to take back control of our borders and they do not want a situation in which we are dependent on the French playing ball for us to be able to do so. This Bill enables us, on this vital issue, to take back control and make sure that we deliver, but we must deliver. We can sit on these Benches confident that the vast majority of our constituents and the British public—decent British people—stand four-square behind us, but their patience is wearing thin. We cannot be here in six, seven or eight months’ time with the numbers that we are seeing today, because it is a problem and it is getting worse. Denying that there is a problem is for the birds.
The Labour party will vote against this Bill tonight. Ultimately, Labour’s position would mean that we have thousands more people attempting this dangerous route. The Labour party would probably put all those individuals up in hotels. The Labour party would send out a clarion call, “Come over. Once you’re in, you’re in.” That would put intolerable pressure on public services. That is the Labour party’s position, is it not? It is the Conservative party’s position to have a humane system that welcomes genuine refugees through a rules-based system, but that acknowledges that many people attempting this route are not refugees. Some are and they should follow the correct procedures, but many are not.
I welcome this Bill. I am incredibly proud to support it, but we need to deliver it. My view is that all options should be on the table when it comes to this vital issue, because this simply cannot continue.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for working so hard to get all colleagues in.
The issue of our borders has always attracted attention and the strongest feelings both here in the House and across the country. Judging by my inbox, there are some actions that my constituents want to see taken very promptly. The first is to ensure that safe routes to come here are the primary routes to come here, and that means making them more attractive and it means making the unsafe routes less attractive. What does that mean in policy terms? Well, we can see from the Bill that it means improving support for refugees to help them build their lives in the UK with an enhanced integration package when they come here. It means tackling the process so that it works much better. The speed of processing claims is absolutely woeful. All of us, I am sure, have dealt with difficult cases in our constituency casework of people who have been in the system in limbo for years. It is inhumane, not fair at all, and it needs to be speeded up.
We also have to tackle the illegal route by making the unsafe route less attractive, and that means tackling the evil of people traffickers. This is organised crime, and these are peddlers of misery. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) spoke powerfully about how people had died during this process. Improving judges’ sentencing options to include life sentences is a welcome step forward. There are huge links between people trafficking and modern slavery. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) spoke about the links with the sex trade, but it is not just that. There are all sorts of other parts of our economy where modern slavery is an evil. Other measures in the Bill will prove attractive as well, such as the speedier removal of foreign criminals.
Overall we have a system that is broken. That has been fairly clear from comments across the House throughout the two days. It is less clear what the Opposition parties would do about it. They have been keen to use blood-curdling language to criticise those who may take different views, but I am absolutely sure that the Government are right to look for a better system, to promote the legal over the illegal, to focus on need, to tackle organised crime and to support people better when they get here. I want to see a continued focus on the resettlement scheme, tackling the most vulnerable parts of the world’s conflicts and bringing people here from those regions. I am sure all of us want to see support for those fleeing persecution, and I will—
We have had a lively debate, and I want to pay tribute to the many excellent speeches made on this side of the House. On the issue of the broken asylum system, I want to thank colleagues including my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) and for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), who all spoke about the length of time it takes to process claims.
On the need for safe routes, I want to thank colleagues including my right hon. Friends the Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for pointing out the need for those routes.
On the issue of the two-tier system, which penalises asylum seekers in breach of the 1951 refugee convention, I want to thank colleagues including my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), for Newport West (Ruth Jones), for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who also spoke about Einstein’s experience during the 1930s when he was a refugee here.
On the issue of strong support from the community for refugees, I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), who spoke about their cities of sanctuary and their community groups that are ensuring that there is support for refugees in their communities.
As many hon. Members have mentioned, next week marks the 70th anniversary of the refugee convention. I am proud of the leading role that the UK played in coming together with our international partners in the aftermath of the second world war to offer refuge to people seeking sanctuary here and across Europe, and to help to rebuild a shattered Europe. That legacy goes hand in hand with the British values of fair play, decency and respect for international law, but this Bill steps back from that agreement and once again further diminishes the UK’s international standing in the world. It is a dangerous, draconian, dog-whistling piece of legislation. It threatens those values, it is ill conceived and it is being rushed through for media headlines rather than getting to grips with our broken asylum system.
The basis of the Bill was the Government’s consultation, the “New Plan for Immigration”. The consultation was meant to inform the Government and help to shape policy, but as yet we have not been told what the responses to the consultation said and we have not seen the Government’s response to the consultation. Instead, we have this rushed Bill. Like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the Bill is a case of sentence first, verdict afterwards. That is how the Government want to treat asylum seekers: criminalising them first and checking their claims later.
The hon. Gentleman has said twice that the Bill was rushed, but we are now at the end of the second day of debate on Second Reading. This is extremely rare, in my short experience in this House. How many days of debate would he want before he would say that it was not rushed?
The hon. Member misunderstands me. It is the process of the Bill getting here that has been rushed, not the debate we have had today.
There is also no impact assessment accompanying the Bill. We have no idea how much it will cost or what the overall impact will be.
The hon. Member makes an excellent point.
Less than a week ago, we had hon. Members rightly berating the Minister for Care, screaming blue murder at her failure to produce an impact assessment for the health and social care regulations. Where are those howls today? Not a word. I dare not ask about the legal advice that was sought to formulate this Bill, but if there was an Olympic event for legal gymnastics, it would definitely win a gold medal.
The Bill is riddled with holes. It is fatally flawed and it will not work. It will not work because of the glaring omission of the lack of bilateral agreements with France and other EU countries. Conservative Members can huff and puff all they like, but it should begin to dawn on them that without any such agreements the Bill will not work and it will not stop any channel crossings.
If France will not take people, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the proposal in the Bill that we find a safe third country that is willing to take them—we may have to pay it—and they can be processed over there? It worked in Australia and it saved thousands of lives.
The hon. Member is running roughshod over international law. I would be interested to see which third countries would be interested in taking people. If there were such third countries, I am sure the Minister would have introduced them today.
Many colleagues have spoken about the broken asylum system, but let us be clear about who broke it. The Government have had 11 years to fix the system but there is nothing in the Bill about how they will fix the current scandalous state of affairs. I know many hon. Members who have constituents who have been waiting for a decision about their asylum status. I have had one case where a constituent from Afghanistan had to wait seven years for his claim to be processed. It took my direct intervention with a Minister for his claim to be determined. It should not take the direct intervention of MPs for the system to snap into action. With fewer claims being made—yesterday the Home Secretary mistakenly said that claims have gone up when in fact they have gone down—it should not be taking longer to process applications. If the asylum system was operating as a business, it would be going bust by now.
Does the hon. Member accept that the basic principle of asylum is that people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they meet? As far as I am aware, France is a safe country, Greece is a safe country and Italy is a safe country. There are a lot of safe countries that people cross before they arrive on our shores.
I invite the right hon. Member to read the refugee convention and he will find there what the actual law is. On the basis of his logic, we would only be taking asylum claimants from France, Ireland and Belgium.
Looking at the detail of the Bill, many hon. Members have quite rightly highlighted the odious clause 12, which creates a two-tier system for refugees based on how someone arrives in the country and their mode of transport, not on the strength of their claim. As my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) put it, it is
“judging them on how they arrived, not what they have left.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 757.]
Once again, sentence first, verdict later.
Criminalising people who have come to this country irrespective of what they have left behind makes them criminals. What law have they broken when they are seeking refuge here?
What we have seen playing out in the channel crossings over the past few days occurred because the Government have closed down all safe routes for refugees to travel to the UK for protection. People are being driven to make dangerous journeys because they are out of options. To this callous Government, it is all a game—pure theatre. The Tories use all migrants, an ever-easy target, as a distraction from their own institutional failings and the gross inequality that falls upon their citizens.
The Bill does nothing to propose refugee resettlement or family reunion routes and will only put more pressure on Britain’s broken asylum system. About 10% of arrivals are expected to be unaccompanied children. The Government should be properly addressing the issue of safe routes for claiming asylum and helping unaccompanied children. Penalising refugees is a clear breach of article 31 of the refugee convention, but even more disconcerting is that clauses 27 to 36 seek to interpret the refugee convention to suit the Government’s whim. Unilaterally deciding how international law should be interpreted never ends well for the Government. The reason they feel the need to do so here is that they know they will be humiliated when those clauses are challenged. Once again, it is not so much a case of marking their own homework; more a case of being judge, jury and executioner.
One thing the Bill will almost certainly do is ensure that people seeking asylum here are kept longer. Whether through imprisoning asylum seekers for four years in our prisons or detaining them in barracks, that is an awful lot of money to spend on something that is not going to work. I dread to think what impact that will have on our creaking criminal justice system. Again, we have not seen the sums. Why not? Surely the Home Secretary will have cleared this with the Chancellor and costed it?
I am conscious of time. I have to sit down in three minutes.
The Law Society of England and Wales warned yesterday that the Bill risks putting England’s global reputation for justice at risk—shameful. This is the Government who are reducing the country’s global standing so significantly. As if the inhumanity in the way the Government propose to treat asylum seekers is not bad enough, they go further by deciding to punish victims of modern slavery. The Bill peddles the Government’s signature toxic politics of fear and hostility by changing the standard of proof for determining if someone has a well-founded fear of persecution and making it more difficult for people to be recognised as victims of human trafficking. Despite choosing to start by disbelieving trafficked victims, there is nothing in the Bill about setting up a national operating standard procedure to train those whose first point of contact is clearly to identify victims of modern slavery. Why is that not in the Bill? Once again, it is just like the Queen of Hearts: sentence first, verdict afterwards.
We should most definitely be going after the traffickers and people-smuggling criminal gangs, but without international co-operation we will struggle to do that. The Bill is high on rhetoric, but low on action. Without introducing any safe routes, the Bill will be a boon for the international criminal gangs and a boost for their profits. Rather than breaking the business model, the Government have breathed new life into it by pushing people further into the arms of smugglers. Having reduced our ties with Interpol and tarnished our reputation with the international community, we have lost the soft power that things such as our commitment to international aid bought us.
We have been asking for safe routes to replace Dublin III since last year, but we have had nothing from the Government. Meanwhile, the Bill gives the Secretary of State new powers to act like the playground bully in delaying or suspending visa processing for citizens of countries that she believes are unco-operative with removals. In all honesty, if the Government seriously think that that will work in getting international co-operation, they are deluded. It is the same desperate politics that created the hostile environment and the Windrush scandal. Labour strongly opposes this misleading and deeply flawed legislation, and urges the Government to engage responsibly in a debate that recognises the humanity of those who have to flee their homelands and seek protection, no matter how they arrive in the UK.
This Bill is nothing more than a house of cards. It does nothing to address the crisis in our asylum system. It is deeply flawed and will end up collapsing if there are no bilateral agreements with our EU neighbours. We on the Labour Benches will be opposing the Second Reading of the Bill.