My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Last summer, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary launched a comprehensive review of the immigration system. The future approach for the Home Office, in promoting good migration and tackling immigration, was subsequently set out in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate review published in July 2006. During the review, my honourable friends the Minister of State for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State travelled extensively throughout the United Kingdom, talking and listening to staff on the front line, as well as local businesses and public service providers. All of this very valuable work led to a fivefold strategy for reform. This includes the first ever cross-government strategy to ensure compliance with our immigration laws; secondly, new resources for enforcement; thirdly, the use of new technology to count people in and out of the country; fourthly, an international strategy to share information and build closer working relationships; and finally, this Bill.
Careful consideration has been given to these measures to ensure that we achieve the Home Office’s priorities of protecting the public and creating an immigration system that is transparent for those who are eligible to remain in the United Kingdom, and that our immigration officers have the power to deal with those who flout immigration laws. There are four key principles that have determined the content of the Bill. The first is further to strengthen our borders, with additional powers for front-line staff; secondly, to deter and detect the perpetrators of immigration crime; thirdly, to deport and restrict those who abuse our hospitality; and, fourthly, to lay a foundation for the Border and Immigration Agency to improve its service to the public.
The Home Office is working towards a stronger and more visible presence at the border by, for example, the introduction of uniforms for front-line immigration officers by September this year. Clauses 1 to 4 introduce a new power for designated immigration officers to detain for up to three hours any person liable to arrest, or who is the subject of an arrest warrant, until a police officer arrives. This would include British citizens liable for arrest for non immigration-related offences. Not only will this new function support police activity at ports, but it will also contribute to the objectives of the border management programme, to deliver a cohesive and integrated border security infrastructure. Further measures in the Bill designed to secure our borders include those on facilitation and trafficking.
A high proportion of illegal immigration into the United Kingdom is in the hands of traffickers and people smugglers. Clauses 28 to 30 are therefore designed to strengthen our enforcement capability in respect of facilitation and trafficking offences. The provisions clarify at what point an individual will be taken to have facilitated the arrival of an asylum seeker into the United Kingdom and, most importantly, extend our powers to enable the prosecution of those who facilitate or traffic from abroad.
It is essential that front-line staff have the right powers and that the effective use of those powers acts as a deterrent to potential offenders. Measures in the Bill include new powers to seize cash under the Proceeds of Crime Act where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that it has been obtained through, or is intended for use in connection with, unlawful activity under the immigration Acts. This will target those who seek to profit from committing criminal offences and breaching immigration laws. There are also powers to dispose of property seized as part of a criminal investigation, which will have the added effect of removing forgeries and forgery-making equipment from the black market.
Clauses 39 to 42 introduce a new data-sharing gateway between the Border and Immigration Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office. These measures also extend the existing powers of the police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to share information with the Border and Immigration Agency. These gateways are an essential requirement for effective cross-government working in the fight against illegal migrant working and benefit fraud and to ensure that robust immigration decisions are made.
I can reassure the House that the data-sharing gateway will not allow for the unchecked exchange of confidential tax information. I am confident that we are putting in place the necessary safeguards to protect the public’s data, including a criminal sanction for any unlawful disclosure of information.
The Bill also contains a power of arrest for the new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker, which links back to the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. That Act set out a civil penalty regime in respect of illegal working offences and, as we crack down harder on employers who flout the immigration laws, we must also provide the necessary tools and support to enable them to comply with our rules and laws. That is why the Bill introduces a new requirement for those subject to immigration control to register for a biometric immigration document. There are currently around 50 old and insecure immigration documents in circulation. It is unreasonable to expect employers and benefit providers to be able to recognise them all to a degree that would allow a clear judgment on authenticity. The biometric provisions will therefore allow us to phase out the old, insecure documents and replace them with a single, secure, identifiable biometric document. Employers and benefit providers will be able to check this biometric document and know whether a person is here legally and is entitled to work and/or to access benefits.
It is vital that the Border and Immigration Agency takes full advantage of such technological advances in order effectively to manage not only those who are here lawfully but also those who no longer have the right to be here. As my honourable friend the Minister of State for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship, Liam Byrne, said during the Public Bill Committee in another place,
“there will never be any substitute for an immigration officer. We consistently provide immigration officers with the resources, the training and the powers to undertake the roles that they play with the professionalism that they bring to their job, but where there are tools that will help them to conduct that work more effectively, particularly to help establish people’s identity, we should use them”.—[Official Report, Commons UK Borders Bill Public Bill Committee, 27/2/07; col. 20.]
While I believe that the framework for the biometric registration scheme is sound, I appreciate that noble Lords will want to spend time in Committee looking at the detail of these clauses, and I look forward to listening to what I anticipate to be the many and varied views that will be expressed about them.
In its recent report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made several recommendations in relation to the detail of the biometric clauses, and we are seriously considering how best to address its concerns. I emphasise that the Government do not view the biometric immigration document as a tool for discrimination. A government amendment was made to these clauses in the other place to state explicitly in the Bill that it will not be compulsory for the document to be carried at all times. I will be placing in the Libraries of both Houses a draft code of practice for the operation of the civil penalty regime. That is the code referred to in Clause 13 of the Bill.
I come now to the third principle of the Bill: deporting and restricting those who have abused our hospitality. Clauses 31 to 38 introduce automatic deportation for foreign national prisoners. Under these measures, subject always to human rights considerations, the Secretary of State must make a deportation order in cases where an adult foreign national has been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison, or is handed down a custodial sentence of any length for an offence listed in the order made under Section 72 of the 2002 Act. Automatic deportation will apply to all foreign criminals who fall within the threshold, save for where one of a limited number of exceptions applies. In-country appeals will be restricted to human rights claims unless those claims are unfounded.
For those criminals not covered by the provisions in the Bill, court-recommended and discretionary deportation will remain to allow flexibility in the system. For those who have committed serious crimes in the United Kingdom but whose removal would breach international obligations, we are introducing reporting and/or residency restrictions. Those conditions will also be used to improve contact with those former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have been granted discretionary leave due to poor reception arrangements in their country of origin. It will further be used to improve contact with other children who have been granted leave but who we have reason to believe may be at risk.
The fourth principle behind the Bill is that of laying the foundations for the ongoing improvements of the Border and Immigration Agency. In April 2007 the Immigration and Nationality Directorate became the shadow Border and Immigration Agency. With increasing flexibility in the way the agency conducts its operations, it is vital that there is an independent monitoring mechanism in place to oversee the agency’s work. In December 2006 the Home Office launched a consultation on the proposal to establish a new single inspectorate for the Border and Immigration Agency, and responses to the consultation revealed strong support for that proposal. Therefore, Clauses 47 to 55 create a new chief inspector of the Border and Immigration Agency who will be responsible for monitoring and reporting on the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency. These provisions aim to rationalise some of the existing and somewhat disparate regulators and inspectorates, and establish a chief inspector who will primarily oversee the agency’s processes. The chief inspector will help ensure consistency of standards regionally across the Border and Immigration Agency. The provisions will provide the public with confidence that the immigration system is being overseen in a rational and independent way at all levels.
Before I conclude, I should like to touch on an issue that I know noble Lords are passionate about, and which I am sure we will have the opportunity to discuss further in this and future debates. I refer to the safety of children. It was raised by Members in another place and by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. A number of your Lordships have raised questions about whether the Border and Immigration Agency should be subject to Section 11 of the Children Act 2004. I reassure the House, as have others before me, that the Border and Immigration Agency takes its responsibility towards children extremely seriously.
In two weeks’ time the agency will be publishing the objectives of its framework to keep children safe, which have been developed alongside the plans of the Department for Education and Skills for the Government’s stay safe strategy. This will provide a more robust strategy to help ensure that children with whom the agency’s staff come into contact are kept safe.
Our framework will provide the basis of our approach to keeping children safe, and form part of an overall package of measures. Feeding into this strategy will be the evaluation of the Section 9 pilot and findings from our review of family removals processes.
My role here today is to listen to your Lordships’ concerns on keeping children safe, take them away and seek to address them in our framework and in Committee. I promise to give due consideration to all the arguments aired today. I wanted to say this at the beginning of our deliberations so that noble Lords were aware of our direction of travel. They would then be free to make their contribution, which we would be able to add to our deliberations before coming forward with the final suggestions.
It is essential that the agency is in a position to manage an immigration system that is fair and effective, and that controls immigration for the benefit of Britain. The Bill is a key element in delivering this. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, when the Minister in charge of the Bill, Mr Byrne, introduced it in another place, he began by making the defensive plea that it should not be dismissed as another immigration Bill. But nothing that the Government have done since then, way back in February, has given it more credibility than a patch and mend job.
This is the fifth immigration Bill that the Government have introduced in less than 10 years—indeed, the sixth, if one includes the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997. We await with bated breath the publication of the consolidation Bill next year. If passing legislation were the answer to making our borders more secure, we would have the safest and most secure immigration system in the world. But it doesn’t and we don’t.
Last year, the Home Secretary described the Immigration and Nationality Directorate as “not fit for purpose”, but he is retiring from the front line before he has solved the problems. Putting a series of management targets and organograms in place does not deal with the issue fundamentally.
What has happened in the real world of immigration and the Home Office this past year? At Harmondsworth, the inmates rioted and 150 immigration detainees were bailed or freed from the immigration estate. The head of removals at the IND stated that it did not have the faintest idea how many people were living in the UK illegally. The Home Secretary admitted that there are as many as 450,000 failed asylum seekers resident in the UK. There have been accusations of corruption at Lunar House, the IND’s office, and that senior workers were demanding sex from an 18 year-old girl in return for granting asylum. It was discovered that one of those working at Lunar House was a member of an extremist Islamist group, unchecked by the Home Office. It was discovered that the Home Office itself was involved in employing illegal workers from a subcontractor.
Against the backdrop of this litany of failings, we have before us a Bill that gathers together a number of disparate measures to keep track of who should be here, deport those who should not and deal more effectively with those who employ illegal persons. When the Bill introduces sensible measures, it will have our support; the problem is that even those measures that appear at first sight to have merit will need some amendment to achieve the Government’s stated objective. For example, we support the extension of powers given to immigration officers with regard to detention at ports, as the Minister set out, but at the moment it seems inadequate to meet the scale of the problems faced at our ports and airports. In Committee in another place, the Government improved the Bill by introducing a section establishing the Border and Immigration Inspectorate, which was broadly welcome, but it needs to be improved further by an extension of the powers of the chief inspector to deal with individual cases.
The Minister has talked about the issues surrounding biometric registration, and she is right to realise that the House will want to examine in some detail the clauses that deal with that matter. During the exchange between the two Houses on the Identity Cards Act, I made it clear that we would not oppose the introduction of powers to require those subject to immigration control to apply for a document that records their biometrics—and we do not oppose it. Our opposition centred on the use of the national identity register more widely with regard to British citizens, and the compulsion on British citizens to apply for an ID card and register on the NIR when all they really want is a passport.
We shall need to be convinced that the measures in this Bill will be effective, cost-effective and proportionate. The problem is that, so far, much is left by the Government to secondary legislation. Will the Minister deal with the point raised by Liberty, which cannot see how the creation of a biometric registration document is an effective method of dealing with people living in this country without the right of residence or work? Employers already face legal obligations under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and they are obliged to make document checks. Liberty says that it is not aware that there is a significant problem with employers being besieged by fraudulent employees with fake documents. It would be helpful if the Government could clarify if there is such a problem and, if so, what evidence there is for that.
On the treatment of claimants, we welcome the requirement for people granted limited leave to remain to report to an immigration officer, but the debates in Committee in another place reveal that those clauses too may need some amendment so that they apply effectively to those whom the Government intend to target—predominantly, we are told, foreign national prisoners whom the Government cannot remove. We have no objections in principle to the changes in support for asylum seekers, but we shall have questions in Grand Committee about the removal of the right to present new evidence at the appeal stage of an immigration hearing. The Minister will be aware that strong arguments have been advanced by lobby groups against the reduction of appeal rights.
The Minister’s remarks on trafficking measures are most welcome, as they always are. The extension of measures to tackle people trafficking are a welcome addition to the powers in the 2004 Act, but we would like to look very carefully—although we will just be probing—at whether the treatment of those who claim that they have been trafficked is all that it should be. I know that that has been a matter of considerable concern around the House during the consideration of the many Bills on these matters.
One of the weakest sections of the Bill is that which purports to deal with the automatic deportation of criminals. A year ago, the outgoing Prime Minister promised that the system would be “radically overhauled” so that those who are convicted of a serious criminal offence were deported automatically. Naturally, I took the Prime Minister at his word—always a disappointing thing to do—and tried to help him, as I always do, by inserting into the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which happened to be before this House at the time, an amendment to enable the automatic deportation of serious criminals at the end of their sentence. Surprise, surprise, the Government voted against my modest amendment.
Now we have before us the Government’s version of deporting foreign criminals, which seems to consist of measures that provide for deportation except when it is going to be too difficult to do so. The Immigration Advisory Service pointed out in its briefing that this part of the Bill does not give the Home Secretary any powers that he does not already have. All the relevant factors can be considered under the present rules relating to deportation and the Secretary of State can deport those whose presence is not conducive to the public good. There already exists a rebuttable presumption in favour of deportation.
An additional problem is that the Bill is silent on important matters. We shall table amendments to ensure that they are debated. The first, child safety, was most courteously referred to by the Minister. I welcome what she said. The House will appreciate that she has been able to go only a little way along the journey that we may persuade her to take. I am sure that she will find the House constructive, not destructive in the way that it tackles this matter. The safety of children is paramount.
The Bill should enhance child safety. It is right to extend the duty under Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to make arrangements to safeguard and promote children’s welfare to those who provide services to refugee children and families. We have in mind specifically immigration removal centres, the National Asylum Support Service and those dealing with refugee children at ports of entry. My honourable and right honourable friends in another place tabled an amendment on Report on which they felt so strongly that they divided the House. As I am afraid is always the case in another place, they were unsuccessful in persuading sufficient Members to enable it to pass. We hope that we shall have better fortune in this House if the Government are ready to be persuaded. I thank the Refugee Children’s Consortium for meeting me last week to discuss this matter. I made it clear that my priority is to ensure that the Bill should contain this improvement based very firmly on that amendment.
The second matter on which the Bill is silent is that of a border police force. We urge the Government to reconsider their rejection of our plans for such a force. If they cannot bear to take our advice, they might at least listen to senior police officers. Sir Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said in 2005:
“I think we should have a group of people that are made up of Police Officers, Special Branch, Immigration Officers and Customs, who have a total responsibility for all our points of entry”.
Sir Ian Blair said on 6 February 2005:
“When we go into the debate about SOCA”—
the serious organised crime Act—
“it surprised me that we did not have a national border police”.
A policy to have a border police force is cross-party. I am aware that the Liberal Democrats have espoused it and that it was recommended by the Select Committee on Home Affairs in another place. It is not too late for the Government to think again.
On marriage visas, the Government have failed to tackle the abuse of the spouse visa system. We shall try to assist them to do better by tabling amendments to the Bill that would tighten the rules on marriage visas. It is clear that very young women can be exploited and need better protection. We shall table probing amendments to enable debate that we hope will form part of the consultation process that we have launched on this important and sensitive issue.
There is, indeed, much work to do in Grand Committee. The Bill is a long way from being perfect, or even very good. It certainly does not face up to the scale of the crisis confronting our immigration system. It is vital that we develop safe and secure borders and an immigration system that is once again fit for purpose. These Benches look forward to playing our part in making that happen.
My Lords, first, I register a protest at the decision to shunt this Bill off into Grand Committee, as happened with the 2006 Act, as the noble Baroness may recall. We disagree fundamentally with the principle that controversial legislation should be put into Grand Committee. In her references to children, delegated powers and automatic deportation, the noble Baroness recognised that this Bill is, indeed, highly controversial and will require a great deal of scrutiny by your Lordships. The place to do that is on the Floor of the House and not in Grand Committee. We particularly object to the manner in which that was done, again by agreement between the Government and the Tories, without consultation with the Liberal Democrats. They did not even have the courtesy to inform us directly, but left it to the Tories to tell us, which is not quite the way in which to secure our co-operation.
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, goes any further, I understand his passion and I understand his objections. I wonder whether he might wish to consult. I received advice last week that agreement had been reached with the Liberal Democrats as well. I would not wish to say—I hate to say this in front of the right reverend Prelates, but I hope they will accept it in the manner in which it is intended—that that is the gospel version, but I understood that a resolution had been achieved. I perfectly well understand that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, might have a principled objection.
My Lords, I was not going to mention this, but it was the noble Baroness who gave me and my noble friend Lord Dholakia the information, and that was the first that we heard about it. We did not know anything about it, and our Whips told us that they did not get the information in time to notify us before our meeting with the noble Baroness. My objection is not primarily the way in which the decision was notified, but the fact that we are going to have to take the Bill in Grand Committee.
The number of asylum applicants has fallen, the rate of initial decisions has improved and the number of appeals determined has increased. The tabloid scare over the number of Romanians and Bulgarians flooding into Britain to steal jobs and undermine wages was a false alarm, and many of the people who came from the A8 accession countries in 2004 have now gone home. The Immigration Service—or the BIA, as we must learn to call it in line with new Labour’s mania for regularly rebranding public agencies to keep printers and designers in work—has not been so successful in removing failed asylum seekers primarily because of the panic over foreign national prisoners, to which I shall come in a few minutes.
The Bill creates a number of new immigration offences and encourages the courts to impose sentences of at least a year on persons convicted of a range of non-immigration offences specified under Section 72 of the 2002 Act, so that the offenders can be deported automatically without a hearing. The new offence of assaulting an immigration officer is duplicated in Clauses 3 and 21, according to whether he is exercising the power to detain, and in both clauses it is punishable by imprisonment of up to 51 weeks, except in Northern Ireland where it remains six months, the maximum under existing law for common assault or for assault on a constable in the execution of his duty. Why do that when the prisons are full to bursting point? The Government say that they have no plans to bring into effect either Section 281 of the Criminal Justice Act, which raises the maximum sentence of imprisonment imposable by a magistrates’ court from six months to 51 weeks, or Schedule 26 to that Act, which increases the penalty to 51 weeks for a whole range of offences now punishable by maxima ranging from one month to six months. Let us avoid sentence creep in this Bill and keep all sentences down at six months, which has always proved adequate to deal with this and similar offences.
Immigration officers are being given new powers of detention, and their existing powers of arrest, entry, search and seizure are extended. When they take over the functions that had been exclusively exercised by the police, we shall want to know whether they are to be governed by a code of conduct identical to PACE and whether the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is to be disapplied to those functions.
We disagree strongly with the reservation of the CRC, as the noble Baroness is aware. It allows the BIA to ignore or at best to have inadequate regard to the effect that their practices may have on children. In report after report of the chief inspector on IRCs, and in the horror stories that one hears of individual cases, the treatment of children in ways that are contrary to their best interests is being exposed all the time. For example, on 9 May, after Ms J.M. had been taken into custody by the police in Crawley, her two babies, Collin, aged three weeks, and Chantelle, aged one year, were removed and placed in foster care while Ms J.M. was detained in Yarl’s Wood. At the time, the younger child was breastfeeding. On 23 October last year, the Minister gave an assurance that an infant would be separated from the mother only in the most exceptional circumstances. In this case, it was three weeks before the combined weight of several women’s organisations got the two babies restored to their mother’s care. It is this case and others of a similar nature that leads us to the conclusion that the reservations of the CRC should be reviewed; and we will provide an opportunity of doing that in Committee. So much for the Minister’s assurance that the BIA takes seriously its responsibilities to children; there are enough cases of this kind to indicate that it does not.
In addition, as the Minister predicted, we shall seek to extend the application of Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to the Immigration Service to ensure that it has regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This would cover immigration officers carrying out arrests, detentions and searches under Clause 2, which until now have been the duty of police officers, to whom Section 11 does apply. We welcome the comment of the Minister, Liam Byrne, at Commons Report stage. He said:
“We need to go further in ensuring that the Border and Immigration Agency has a stronger safeguarding obligation … I remain open to the argument that a legal requirement should be put on the BIA, and a specific safeguarding element should be written into the law”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/07; col. 235.]
In the spirit of that assurance, we hope that the opportunity will be taken at last to repeal Section 9 of the treatment of claimants Act, which allows families with children to be made destitute if they do not leave promptly after their rights of appeal have been exhausted. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, agreed to our suggestion that power to repeal that inhumane provision by order should be inserted in the 2006 Act. We thought that there was an understanding that the report on the pilots, which were then being evaluated, would be published and, depending on the results, the repeal power in Section 44 of the 2006 Act would be exercised. We already knew that making families destitute was both cruel and ineffective as a way of encouraging voluntary departure, but after 18 months the report on the pilots has not appeared, and the Section 9 sword of Damocles hangs over an increasing number of families.
Another matter not dealt with directly in the Bill is the increasing frequency of age disputes concerning UASC, on which a Home Office consultation has just ended. The Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, has urged the Government not to roll out proposals for change until the findings of the Crawley report, When is a Child not a Child?, have been fully debated. I hope that we can have an assurance on that. Sir Al says that there are serious ethical concerns about subjecting children to ionising radiation that is of no therapeutic benefit, when the validity of their consent is doubtful and the process cannot determine a child’s chronological age. I have a particular interest in this, because it was as a result of a report published by my office in 1981 that the use of X-rays as a means of age determination was brought to an end in February 1982 by the then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw.
We have concerns that the Government have already jumped the gun on one particular issue by giving the Secretary of State carte blanche under Clause 16 to impose whatever reporting conditions he sees fit on persons with limited leave to remain. We know that this is aimed at unaccompanied children, because the Minister said so. But the social services departments of local authorities already have a duty to know where “their” children are, and if there are concerns that some are not keeping proper track of them, it would be simpler to place the responsibility for additional checks on the local authorities, rather than create an additional bureaucracy to duplicate what most local authorities are doing already. The total number of such children in the whole country is only about 6,000, so it should not be too difficult. But the use of Clause 16 may well heighten the risk of absconding by children approaching the age of 18, who are bound to fear that reporting requirements are the prelude to detention and removal. Those requirements will be disruptive to a child’s education if she has to report during a school term, and they could be a severe burden on the child’s limited resources.
As for the automatic deportation of a foreign criminal, we believe that to take away entirely the court’s discretion over recommendations for deportation is wrong in principle, as we argued in another place. Mandatory sentences are not often approved by Parliament, for the simple reason that it is impossible to foresee every set of circumstances that might arise in relation to a particular charge. One way to maintain an element of judicial discretion while achieving the object that foreign criminals who commit serious offences are generally deported, would be to incorporate into the sentencing guidelines the tests in Clause 31 while still requiring the Secretary of State to make a deportation order when the court recommends that.
We are also concerned that a person is liable to automatic deportation if he has been sentenced to prison for at least a year, whereas a “serious criminal” loses the protection of Article 33(2) of the refugee convention, by virtue of Section 72 of the NIA Act 2002, only if he was sentenced to at least two years. We objected to that provision as being contrary to the spirit of the convention, which requires every applicant's case to be considered on its own merits, and we agree with the UNHCR, which says that this provision further erodes the principle of non-refoulement.
The requirement to apply for a biometric immigration document—it is wrongly described in the cross-head as “registration regulations”, when there is no reference to registration in the text—excited a great deal of interest in another place and I am sure will do so here as well. It covers all non-EEA nationals in the UK, including those with indefinite leave to remain. Asylum seekers are already fingerprinted, and visa applicants will be fingerprinted everywhere by 2008. The Eurodac computer system enables the UK to identify asylum applicants who have already applied in another EU country and to send them back there under the Dublin convention. The UK will also participate in the law enforcement aspects of the SIS II database, but not the immigration alerts, because we are not part of Schengen. But we will have access to the information relating to persons wanted for extradition and persons wanted either as witnesses or for prosecution or enforcement of sentences, including biometric data, when we join SIS II in 2009 or 2010.
The arrangements for the management of SIS II, the rights of access to it and the data protection arrangements that will apply to it were all examined by your Lordships’ European Union Committee in a report published three months ago. I mention that project because we need the same degree of transparency and precision in the way that the information in Clauses 5 to 15 will be managed and used. Everything is left to the regulations that are to be made under Clause 5(2)—a pattern which is familiar from previous immigration legislation. It is an unsatisfactory process because when Parliament finally sees the regulations, we have practically no option but to accept them, however objectionable we may find some details.
Universities UK, for instance, has asked a number of questions about how this scheme will affect tens of thousands of foreign students and the one in six foreign academic staff; it is also worried about the reporting and residence restrictions in Clause 16 and about the removal of appeal rights in Clause 19, even before there is a clear understanding of how the points system introduced by the NIA Act just over a year ago will operate.
The mass of primary legislation, statutory instruments, rules and forms takes up over 1,200 pages in the latest edition of the Immigration Law Handbook, and is so difficult to understand that the Government frequently get things wrong. We have been saying for the past five years that consolidation is desperately needed. It is disappointing that despite the assurance by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, that she would take up the matter in the ministerial group on the Law Commission, which she chairs, a year and a half later we have got only to the simplification consultation which has just been announced.
The new primary legislation promised for 2008 is not going to be limited to consolidation, as we understand it, but will contain new order-making powers which are “capable of quick adjustment”—that sounds like a threat to bypass Parliament. This will hit us before we have digested the points system and the substantial changes before us in this Bill. We will look to see how flexible the Government are on this Bill as an indication of whether their simplification is a disguised attempt to whittle down the legitimate rights of legal migrants still further.
My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Lord’s speech, with its marvellous controlled passion making for comprehensive grasp of detail. I am most grateful to him. I guess that many of us seeking to speak in this debate come with a range of first-hand or close second-hand experience of the issues at stake. Mine seems to me to amount to the need to declare an interest. I have a good deal of first-hand information and experience of asylum seekers and would-be immigrants in Southampton, in particular, where a range of churches and the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group are active and in close contact with me.
Also, because of my commitment to the Great Lakes region of Africa and especially to the Democratic Republic of Congo, people from around the country—lawyers, in particular—write to me about Congolese and Rwandan asylum seekers. In that capacity, I have read more adjudications on these matters than I should like to have done. People from other parts of the world come to the attention of me and my colleagues—particularly Iranians and those for whom a change of religious faith is among the things that those adjudicating on asylum applications have to cope with. As the noble Baroness knows, I have also been engaged in deportation issues, and she and I have disagreed about whether deportations are still taking place to manifestly unsafe and dangerous parts of the world. Therefore, I should declare an interest in that respect, as it may be taken to colour what I go on to say.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, catalogued the legislation that we have dealt with in recent years, and I come to this latest Bill agreeing with the Government that there really is a crying need for rebuilding confidence in our immigration system—words which form part of the title of the 2006 document. I note that the other words are fair, effective, transparent and trusted. Those, too, are admirable aims, and of course we must have efficient, effective and safe operations on our borders—safe for all concerned. However, in my limited experience and in that of the many people working in this field with very much more experience and daily contact than me, the system comes over as something quite different. Words such as unjust, inhumane, ignorant and thoughtless are constantly in my and others’ minds as we find ourselves working with people at the sharp end of these systems, whether they are asylum seekers or those who, in a range of ways, have been tasked or have volunteered to work with asylum seekers. I find that the system—or systems; as we have heard, there is an interlocking range—constantly (I am tempted to say “institutionally”) puts at risk the well-being and lives of vulnerable people and those who should be treated better.
My colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, will speak in this debate on the very serious questions surrounding destitution and starvation and on the issues raised by the noble Baroness concerning children, young people and families with children. However, I should say to the noble Baroness and to the House that I do not think that either he or I have in our pockets a logo which will help her on her way with all this. I shall simply point to a number of other areas where it seems that the Bill requires extremely careful scrutiny in your Lordships’ House. I take fully on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that working in Grand Committee on a Bill of this level of controversy is unsatisfactory. Without substantial and severe amendment, the Bill will clearly fail to achieve the Government’s aims and it certainly will not reassure those who know most about this subject that we can be proud to be British in the range of matters with which the Bill attempts to deal.
The detailed material that most, if not all, of us have received expresses these observations and difficulties very well. I simply point the noble Baroness to what she will be as aware of as I am, if not more so: the submissions of the Refugee Council, the Immigration Advisory Service and Still Human Still Here. So I shall speak summarily. She referred to another part of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has keen strictures to offer on Clauses 1 to 4, referring to the powers of immigration officers and the circumstances of detention. Paragraphs 1.6 to 1.19 of the report are very telling, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government intend to take serious notice of them.
Others have noted the serious circumscribing in the Bill—I would say the further limiting—of the remaining rights of appeal at a number of stages of the process. As many of your Lordships know, an appeal for many of those involved is a tortuous business, which is often made worse by the difficulty of gaining access to lawyers and translators with appropriate skills, leaving aside the hurdles that people face—I recognise that the noble Baroness and I have disagreed this year on this issue—when they reach adjudicators who frankly do not know one end of a central African country from the other or the kind of things that may happen there.
Other speakers have already noted the range of dangers that exist in the strengthened provisions for mandatory deportation at a number of points in the Bill. There are also some serious omissions. The Bill makes it no easier for people fleeing from persecution, terror or ill treatment to seek asylum legally in this country rather than reaching here by illegal means, which when they are discovered to have done so understandably in one sense proves to their disadvantage. That is an enormous problem for this country’s reputation as a place that is prepared to accept people who really need to be here because of the conditions in their own countries. As noble Lords—the Minister included—know well, there are only too many countries where that is the case.
There is no proposal in the Bill to improve the quality of initial decision making. The more decisions that can be got right first time—very many are overturned on appeal—the less time the process will take, and the better off those who really need to be well served by our immigration legislation will be in terms of being given residency in this country; and the less certain sections of the press get excited, the more humane, dignified and right the whole process will be.
There is one last omission. I am concerned that the Bill does not promise to contribute to an informed, reasoned and humane debate about the matters at issue—a major responsibility of the Home Office that it seems rarely to achieve. Of course, the matters at issue are important and delicate; of course, our borders have to be well policed. Of course, as the noble Baroness correctly notes, there are sharks, villains, traffickers and imposters, and I welcome the clauses that deal with them. Unfortunately, our structures are also extraordinarily and, it seems to me, unwisely hostile to many of the economic migrants who we should be welcoming to a much greater extent than is currently possible. Most serious of all, the structure—I do not believe that the Bill bids much to improve it; rather it makes it worse—is extraordinarily and grievously painfully hostile to the many vulnerable, frightened and hurt people whom the prejudices of sections of the press seem constantly to be encouraging the Government, notwithstanding their basic moral position, to ill treat through the current system. I should have liked the Bill to consider all those things and to be much better.
My Lords, the words of the right reverend Prelate are extremely significant as we start our deliberations and we should bear them very much in mind as we go through the Committee.
My noble friend referred to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member. We gave careful consideration to the Bill. We have had helpful correspondence with Ministers, which we greatly appreciated. The committee accepts that increasing border security is a legitimate aim, which may even be required by human rights law.
There remain five concerns which the committee is convinced should be addressed in deliberations on this legislation. I would be grateful if my noble friend could deal with them when replying to the debate. First, the wider role envisaged for immigration officers to detain, search and seize seemed to us to be a general policing function, and we believe that it should therefore be subject to the same code of practice as that which applies to the police and that there should be proper training for this. We also believe that the Government have not yet demonstrably established the need for this significant step, and should do so before it is taken.
Secondly, in the absence of detailed provisions, it is not in our view possible to assess the compatibility of the proposed biometric registration scheme for non-EEA nationals with the right to respect for private life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The committee is, however, anxious lest it could give rise to de facto racial profiling. Minority ethnic groupings will probably be disproportionately required to prove their immigration status. To be lawful, the Government must therefore ensure that race plays no part in the profiles used to decide the order in which they phase in implementation of the biometric immigration document.
Thirdly, the committee believes that a specific time frame should be laid down, within which the Secretary of State must decide whether a deportation order is required, if we are to avoid the likelihood of prolonged post-sentence immigration detention in connection with the provisions for deportation of foreigners convicted of criminal offences. Fourthly, while the committee welcomes the provision for asylum seekers to receive support pending final determination of their claim, it believes that further provisions are essential to ensure that asylum seekers, including asylum-seeking children, are not subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment but are treated with common humanity.
Fifthly, the committee welcomes the extension of the scope of human trafficking offences, but is convinced that further measures are necessary to improve detection of trafficking victims. It is frankly disappointing that there is no clear timetable for implementing the Government’s action plan on trafficking. As I say, it would be helpful if my noble friend could refer to these points when replying.
I want to speak specifically about how this Bill affects children. Earlier this year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers. I was repeatedly struck during that inquiry by the way children are treated in the asylum process and, too often, by the sheer invisibility of their needs. I am convinced that we all need to take children’s welfare at least as seriously as immigration control, and I am concerned about measures in the Bill and elsewhere that fail to do this. Within the context of necessary security measures, we must surely protect the needs of the vulnerable. Who is more vulnerable than a child seeking asylum? Surely this goes to the heart of what we are trying to defend and preserve in our society.
Much is changing in policy towards these children and in the wider asylum system. These changes are largely taking place outside Parliament, and we must consider them if we are to understand the real impact of this legislation. The Government have just finished consulting on Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, an overhaul of how asylum-seeking children are treated in the United Kingdom. Yet before the consultation had closed, they introduced measures designed to enact part of the proposed new system through Clause 16. Quite apart from the doubt that that inevitably sheds on the integrity of the consultation process, I share the Refugee Children’s Consortium’s belief—and I note that the Government have, at least indirectly, acknowledged this—that making children report to immigration officers for potentially long periods is harmful and quite wrong given the corporate parenting duty that social services have towards these children.
Another important and related development happening outside this House is the new asylum model, under which children are now given leave for a shorter period; that is to the age of 17 and a half, instead of 18. This is to ensure that their application for asylum is finally decided by the time they are 18. This has caused a problem with existing legislation, particularly Section 83 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The effect of Section 83 is that people granted less than one year’s leave are denied an appeal against a decision to refuse asylum. It applies almost exclusively to people granted discretionary leave and, within that, to unaccompanied children.
Half of all unaccompanied children are aged 16 or 17 on arrival and so are likely to be given less than a year’s leave under the new arrangements. At current arrival rates, that means that around 1,500 more children a year may be denied an appeal against a decision to refuse asylum while they are still children. I do not think that the Government intended to deny such large numbers of children an appeal against the decision to refuse asylum, given the efforts that are being made to ensure finality to the asylum claim as soon as possible. I therefore hope that the Government will welcome an amendment to Section 83 to restore the right of appeal to anyone granted leave of any length on refusal of asylum.
I am also concerned about Clause 32. It lists a number of exceptions to the automatic deportation of foreign offenders as outlined in Clause 31. One of those exceptions includes foreign nationals who were under 18 when they were convicted of an offence that would ordinarily result in automatic deportation. By making the date of conviction rather than the date on which the offence was committed the cut-off point for determining the age of the offender, we could be legislating to deport automatically those who were minors when they committed the offence. Not only does that contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but it is inconsistent with previous legislation and could result in inconsistency of treatment between offenders.
The Joint Committee’s inquiry concluded that overall the asylum process lacked somebody to protect and argue for children’s welfare before decisions were made. There is no person or mechanism built into the process to uphold their rights. We asked for a statutory guardian to prevent children being treated badly—a good example of where that happens is in the decision to detain children. Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
“No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.
The UK is clearly deviating from that. In 2005, which is the last full year for which we have official statistics, 1,855 children were detained with their families, and 95 of them were detained for more than a month.
The Children’s Society reports the case of a family who were detained in Yarl’s Wood for several months. One of the children in the family, who was eight years old at the time, had learning difficulties and was distressed to see his mother disintegrate while in detention until she attempted to take her own life. The child missed several medical appointments while he was in the centre, appointments which were essential to have a prosthetic limb fitted, and eventually contracted a bone infection that made it impossible for the limb to be fitted. It is impossible to overestimate the impact of this experience on an eight year-old child.
In the light of cases such as that, the Joint Committee concluded that children’s welfare cannot be upheld in detention and that such detention should therefore cease. Indeed, detention breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I shall therefore be prepared to support amendments seeking to end the detention of children.
In no small way, the application of Section 11 of the Children Act to the Immigration Service would tackle this lack of thought about children’s welfare that permeates the system. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is designed to ensure that there is someone in the middle of any process involving a child who is advocating the child's well-being and accepting that their well-being is paramount. This is about creating a culture which respects children’s rights and embedding that culture in the asylum process. We need to use the law to ensure that there is a framework which underpins a cultural shift in how we treat these children.
The Government have indicated that they plan to draw up a safeguarding strategy for children, but children's organisations believe that is not adequate to promote a cultural shift which is, above all, required. The Refugee Children's Consortium powerfully argues that only an equal duty on immigration agencies in domestic legislation would begin to ensure children's safety and welfare. Extending Section 11 of the Children Act would be a very good start to establish this cultural shift. But, arguably, we need to go further.
Ultimately, I believe that this debate goes to the heart of what sort of society we want to be and whether we believe that when we introduce tougher immigration legislation we must also protect the child in the middle of that process. In the name of civilised values of course we must. It should be an essential imperative in everything that we do. To meet that commitment the Government will have to remove their reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The reservation I am sure is against the spirit of the convention. Article 2 states that rights should be applied,
“without discrimination of any kind”,
and Article 22 states that refugees should have the same rights as other children. These rights are not being applied to children in the asylum process.
Children’s organisations also believe that the reservation is responsible for creating a two-tier system for children and prevents child asylum seekers being regarded as children like any others. This Bill represents a good opportunity to begin to sort this out. Indeed, I thought my noble friend made some very encouraging remarks in this respect when introducing the Bill. I welcome that.
I urge the Government to act on the measures I have tried to describe and to ensure that children's well-being is always the primary consideration in how they are treated.
My Lords, I feel privileged to take part in the debate. I also feel that I am among friends because noble Lords have so far all spoken in the same direction that I intend to speak. If the Minister takes notes of everything that has been said, we will end up with a very different Bill—and I hope that that is so.
It feels as though the Bill still has hostility, enmity and suspicion towards those who wish to enter the United Kingdom. This is the fifth major piece of legislation on immigration in the past seven years. It is as though you are at home, and you say, as I say to my children sometimes, “Remember to put the bolt on the back gate. Remember to lock the porch. Remember to put the chain on”. Everywhere we go closes the door or bars the door against those who could very well contribute so much to the lives of our community in the United Kingdom.
The Government maintain that immigration is beneficial to the United Kingdom’s economy, but it appears that what they are proposing just feeds those who are hostile to immigrants and those whom we will term asylum seekers. The cultural benefits, the new ideas and the contribution to so much of society are largely disregarded, and we are told that the horror of economic migration is not to be encouraged. I suggest that if we do not attract new people and new ideas then we stagnate as a people. It is the ferment of new ideas that makes a nation progressive and have a real impact on the new world.
There is great benefit as people move from one area to another, from one country to another. What would have happened if we had boycotted North America? There would have been no Welsh people in Utah or Scottish people in Canada. We would have closed the door. The Welsh have even emigrated to Patagonia, where we have made some sort of contribution. I suggest that great changes for good are made in our world as people move to different countries and are welcomed. Let us think about where we are today. If we looked around the Chamber, we could point to noble Lords from here and there and say, “Your surname is strange”. There is a mix, which is what gives us hope for real change and real benefit. One noble Lord, who is not in the Chamber today, said that his father got on his bike to look for work. That was economic migration, of course, which is what makes a society change. However, we are undermining our own economy and starving our own culture by locking doors. We need a different approach, and this Second Reading debate gives us the opportunity for an overall view of the legislation.
The Statue of Liberty bears these words:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”.
That was good for yesterday in the United States and the United Kingdom, but that was yesterday. Now we would say, “Sorry, there is no admission. Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses can stay where they are”. That is our approach; our approach has changed so much in the past century.
We have really gone to town this year celebrating 200 years since the end of the slave trade. That has given us the opportunity to claim some moral superiority. This generation no longer supports the slave trade. At the same time, however, we are locking the doors, securing the bolts and ensuring that the chains are on. The dream of Martin Luther King was that folk would,
“not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
He saw the possibility of youngsters of all races and circumstances being of equal value, but we have changed that now. We now say that they are welcome and can be of equal value as long as they are not, as noble Lords have said, the children of poor immigrants whose whole prospects are curtailed by this type of legislation. Have not immigrants and asylum seekers the right to dream dreams for their children? Is it not our task to make those dreams a reality? No part of this Bill should be hostile or lock doors. This should be a Bill of hope that will enable some of those dreams to become reality. So much of our legislation closes doors rather than opens them.
The infamous Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 was a deliberate move to withdraw all support to families whose asylum claims have been refused. They face destitution, or at the very least separation from their children, and they are not allowed to work to support themselves. What recourse do they have? We are really starving them into submission. Section 9 is totally immoral. We have an opportunity to do something now. I am told that the three trial areas for the initial implementation of Section 9 are on hold, but cannot we take the opportunity afforded by this Bill to wipe out this type of clause once and for all? We will get the opportunity if we look at Clause 17. We will be looking for an amendment to that clause or a following clause. We on these Benches will press for that and I know that all parts of the House will support us.
Can any civilised Government countenance causing deliberate harm or destitution? This is not just a political issue or just an issue of immigration, it is a great moral issue. It is as real to its victims today as was slavery 200 years ago. This Bill has the opportunity to be a hope, a light, and to bring some dreams to reality. It can open doors and keep hope alive. If we do anything other than this, we are condemning ourselves. We are showing ourselves to be people who have little compassion. People are people and children are children. Whatever their circumstances, they deserve to be treated with dignity and in such a way that keeps hope alive.
My Lords, this Bill is another example of the Home Office doctrine that urgent social problems can be put right by ever more draconian laws. Many of the problems that it fails to address could be improved or resolved by well directed administrative action. Can the Minister assure the House that funds will be provided for the training of immigration staff, especially interviewers and case-holders, and that staff generally will remain in post long enough so that much-needed improvements will, in fact, be achieved?
I shall emphasise some of the real problems that are daily experienced in immigration and asylum. The first problem is the large backlog of old applications, which is only slowly reduced. Then there are flaws in current asylum procedures. For years we have been asking for better first decisions, thus avoiding long delays and costly appeals. What do we find? We find many applications fast-tracked, giving applicants little time to prepare, and no legal advice, sometimes followed by long detentions. We find a low percentage of successful applications, followed by a substantial rate of successful appeals. In 2005-06, 20 per cent of appeals were won. Will the Government give this matter particular attention? We find many refused asylum applicants who are neither deported nor able to return home voluntarily. They are forbidden to work lawfully, so they work illegally or become destitute. We find significant numbers of adults trafficked for labour or sexual exploitation, with relatively few prosecutions in either category. We find convicted foreign national prisoners wrongly released or kept in prison after the end of their sentences when they should be deported. We find torture victims held in detention, despite countless assurances we have had that this would not happen.
There is a whole raft of issues concerning asylum-seeking and migrant children, which we have already heard, where the best interests of the child are not upheld as they should be. I will come back to each of these very human real and urgent problems. As regards the older asylum cases, I have to ask what resources are being currently devoted to reducing and, if possible, eliminating the backlog. What extra resources will the Government provide? With how many cases has all contact been lost? How will the Government protect the most vulnerable in the backlog, especially women, children and the elderly?
The things needed to improve the handling of old and new asylum cases have long been known. There must be first-class, up-to-date information about countries of origin. Changes in situations should be promptly known and the often flawed suggestion that applicants can move to another safe part of their country should be critically examined. Interviewers should understand that refugees often arrive dazed and disoriented. They need to be able to understand the psychological experience of sudden flight to a strange country. Interpreters also need empathy as well as good professional ability. Will the Government consider providing experienced legal advice to all applicants requiring interpretation, or who are totally ignorant of English ways and systems? I am sure this would produce better results.
I come now to those who have been refused as refugees and who have no more in-country appeals available to them. On 14 December last year, in a debate that I opened, I concentrated on those at risk of destitution. I should mention that since then I have tried repeatedly to bring the non-government organisations to meet Ministers to discuss this scandalous situation, but I regret that I have had no success. Perhaps Ministers have been too busy splitting up the Home Office. The problems, however, are still here. Estimates of the numbers involved vary from 180,000 to 450,000. The policy of enforced destitution is not working because people find work of some kind or get charitable and community help. In any case, they usually see themselves as too poor to return voluntarily. Meanwhile, Britain has to pick up the mental health costs.
Enforced removal is not working satisfactorily because the Home Office reckons the average cost at £11,000 per person, so that only some 20,000 people are removed in a year. The Home Office must surely become more realistic. It has to realise that many people not qualifying as refugees still need protection. It is not realistic to return such people to places such as Iraq, Somalia, Darfur, Iran, North Korea, parts of Burma or China, or indeed to return Christian converts to many Islamic states. Therefore the old category of exceptional leave to remain for a limited period of years has to be more widely used. It is necessary for humanitarian reasons because it allows people to work legally, thus meeting some of the demand for migrant workers.
Turning now to children, the best interests of the child should always prevail. The police work to this principle, and so should the Immigration Service. We should remove our reservations from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and ratify the optional protocol which we signed some years ago. Nothing should be done to prejudice our ratification of the Council of Europe convention against trafficking, which again we have signed.
Important conclusions flow from these points. Children should not be held in detention, with or without their parents. There should be no automatic deportation of children when they reach 18. Each case should be considered on its merits. There should be no compulsory taking of biometrics for those aged under 18. The Home Office has quoted a figure of 6,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children now being cared for by local authorities, 600 of whom may be trafficked. Both figures are, I suggest, very uncertain and are complicated by informal private fosterings which are often not registered. I have previously argued for better pay, training and support for foster parents, and for full registration of private placements. I do so again, and support the appointment of guardians ad litem whenever unaccompanied children have no capable advocate. Stronger action is needed to prevent children going missing and to trace them when they do. The national action plan on human trafficking should be fully resourced and implemented.
I come now to perhaps the biggest issue of all, which I mentioned last December; namely, undocumented and irregular residents, those the French call “les sans papiers”. They are mainly rejected refugees and other overstayers. Many have national insurance and health numbers here, but lack immigration status and citizenship. Some are married to British citizens and more have children born in Britain. There may be half a million such people—possibly more, who knows?—with perhaps 200,000 in the London region. They are wide open to exploitation and quite often earn less than the minimum wage.
It is urgently necessary to bring as many as possible out of the twilight and out of the black and grey economies. To do so will reduce asylum backlogs, benefit the Revenue and prevent abuse and exploitation. Legalising and regularising would be in line with the conclusion of the Home Affairs Committee in 2004 and of a recent report from the Public Accounts Committee. A start should be made with those who have been in the country for four or five years and who have committed no serious offences. They should be given full rights to work for two years, after which they should be eligible for full citizenship.
It is idle for Her Majesty’s Government to argue that necessary and humane measures of this kind would abolish immigration control or attract swarms of boat people. The Government themselves had a family amnesty here in 2003, wisely benefiting 50,000 asylum applicants with their children. Since 1981 there have been some 20 regularising programmes throughout Europe, giving temporary or permanent permission to some 4 million irregular people. Experience in the United States is similar.
The Government should not just dismiss serious arguments of this kind. They should consider what will really promote social inclusion and cohesion. I put it to your Lordships that what we need is good administration coupled with basic humanity. We can do without endless streams of new legislation, almost always unconsolidated. I trust that this bad Bill will be greatly improved before it becomes law.
My Lords, I am glad to have an opportunity to participate in this debate about another immigration Bill in the rather squalid history of UK immigration control. It has been a privilege to listen to so many well informed and compassionate contributions. I add the word “squalid” to the list of adjectives given to the House by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, whose contribution reminded me that we have not lost our moral compass and that there is a host of people who know how unjust we have become in our treatment of other needy human beings.
I should like to concentrate in my remarks on some of the matters that were raised about this Bill by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for referring to so much of the committee’s work. I shall address the automatic deportation of foreign prisoners, which, fortunately, is not quite automatic; the destitution of failed asylum seekers, a few of whom, fortunately, are to be a bit less destitute; and the treatment of victims of trafficking, which, unfortunately, is to remain unchanged by the Bill.
Let me begin with foreign prisoners, which is a sad story from beginning to end. If the beginning is the point when the Home Office realised it had failed to deport, as it should have done, some prisoners who were not British passport holders and had committed serious offences, then the end is this Bill. In this discussion, I shall try to use non-emotive and, I hope, accurate language rather than the language of the Bill, which refers to “foreign criminals”. I was quite surprised to hear the Minister use that term.
The whole issue of foreign prisoners has been a gross administrative failure and has led to considerable injustice and inhumanity. One needs only to look at the report by Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, entitled, Foreign National Prisoners: A Follow-up Report, of January 2007. She notes the consequences of the administrative failure to deport those who should have been deported and the panic that struck the Home Office. She says:
“As a consequence, all foreign nationals were assumed to be deportable. Foreign nationals who had been in open conditions, or were on licence in the community, were returned to closed prisons, even if their behaviour had been exemplary. The trawl was so undiscriminating that it included some British citizens (who are not deportable in any circumstances), Irish and EEA nationals (who are deportable only in limited circumstances), and those who had committed only minor offences, but had lengthy residence and family ties only in the UK”.
She says that,
“foreign nationals, suddenly and unexpectedly threatened with deportation … found it impossible to find out what was happening to them, and were held in prisons and immigration removal centres far past their sentence expiry dates, even those who were desperate to return home. Their presence significantly contributed to the prison overcrowding crisis of late 2006”.
The chief inspector’s report chronicles the anxieties, uncertainty, frustration and even despair among foreign national prisoners. One stark indicator of their predicament was the increased prevalence of self-harm and more suicide attempts. She cites two cases, one of a man on hunger strike because he wanted to return home and was still in prison six months after his sentence expired, and the other,
“a refugee, desperate not to return home, who was only told that he would not be deported on the day his sentence expired, and shortly after he had tried to hang himself”.
The system, says Anne Owers, was one,
“whose dysfunctionality had serious personal costs for foreign nationals, and practical consequences for prisons and immigration removal centres”.
I suggest that this whole affair is dysfunctional. It is also an example of an unacceptable failure to treat people as individual human beings with rights, needs and maybe a contribution to make, rather than as a political problem.
The Bill does not improve the situation, it makes it worse. The regime it introduces is rigid, harsh and will lead to many injustices. What, for example, would happen under the new regime to the 23 year-old young man from Thailand called Sakchai Makao who had lived in Shetland since he was 10? He had served a prison sentence of 15 months for setting fire to something while he was drunk. He had represented Scotland in international athletics competitions. When he was released from prison, he got a good job at the sports centre in Lerwick. He was not just a “foreign criminal”. He was also a sportsman, a member of a family, a worker, a taxpayer, a member of a community and a constituent, whose MP was very active on his behalf. Nevertheless, he was suddenly arrested and whipped off to a prison in England prior to deportation to Thailand, where he had no one and did not speak the language.
I understand that 20,000 people live in Shetland. Nine thousand of them signed a petition to get him released on bail and sent back to Scotland. He appealed against deportation and was allowed to stay. What would happen to him under the Bill, and any other similar young people convicted even of shoplifting or graffiti spraying? Is he the sort of person we do not want in the UK under any circumstances? I hope very much to get a response from the Minister on that question.
There is another problem. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has reported on the Bill and has raised a major human rights concern in relation to people convicted of criminal offences who do not have British nationality. The report says:
“The Bill’s provisions on automatic deportation of foreigners convicted of criminal offences appear to the Committee to give rise to a risk of prolonged post-sentence immigration detention”.
Indeed, this prolonged pre-deportation detention has been a matter of great concern to the members of independent monitoring boards. I declare an interest as the president of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards. The latest report from Lincoln prison says:
“Despite the fact that a representative from the Immigration Service attends the prison each week, there are still too many prisoners of this category whose sentence has expired and should have been deported”.
The report from Holloway prison speaks of foreign nationals being held in prison beyond the end of their sentence, and being limited in their regime while in prison.
The Joint Committee recommends that the Bill should be amended to lay down a specific timeframe within which the Secretary of State must decide whether a deportation order is required. I hope that that recommendation will be considered.
I turn to the destitution of asylum seekers, which I anticipate we will hear more about in a moment. The Joint Committee on Human Rights recently reported on the treatment of asylum seekers. I recommend that report to anyone who was surprised at my use of the word “squalid” at the beginning of my remarks. We reported that we had been persuaded by the evidence that the Government have been practising a deliberate policy of destitution in relation to asylum seekers and that such deliberate use of inhumane treatment is unacceptable. The Minister will be glad to hear that the committee welcomed the provision for asylum seekers to receive subsistence support pending final determination of their claim but suggested that more is needed if asylum seekers, including asylum-seeking children, are not subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment but are treated with common humanity.
Finally, let me say a word about human trafficking. The Joint Committee welcomes the Bill’s extension of the scope of existing human trafficking offences, but is disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken to introduce more effective protection for the victims of trafficking. In our recent report on human trafficking, we concluded that the current level of protection provided to victims is far from adequate from a human rights perspective. The committee argues that the Bill should be amended to improve protection for trafficking victims by providing, for example, that where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a victim, that person shall not be removed from the UK until the process for identifying whether they are a victim is complete. We argued for a recovery and reflection period of three months to be granted to a person who has been identified as a victim of trafficking, during which time immigration enforcement measures should not be taken against them. We also argued for renewable residence permits of up to six months’ duration to be granted to victims of trafficking. I should be grateful to hear the Minister’s views on these proposals, which would mostly apply to women who have been trafficked into this country for the sex trade.
I hope very much that the Bill can be improved considerably in Committee and that it will be the last of this sort of legislation.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to be a part of this positive debate about ways in which we can improve our asylum system and unite behind the words which are repeated in the Explanatory Notes describing a system which is fair, effective, transparent and trusted. If that can remain at the heart of what we are looking for, a good deal of unity might develop on the changes necessary for this Bill—and I hope that I am not simply being naïve in hoping that that can be achieved through our combined efforts.
I shall concentrate on two particular areas in which there are opportunities to be seized. The first of them has been spoken of very extensively in this debate, but I shall add to the pressure coming on the whole question of the treatment of children. The second area is the danger of destitution.
It has been good to hear the words of the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Judd, and others on seeking to provide much better provision for the safety of children through this Bill. That needs to be put more simply than “safety”. The Government’s principles in Every Child Matters need to resonate in our thinking as we study the Bill. Children are to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and have economic well-being. There are places where that is happening within our schools, and I pay tribute to the work of many schools in those areas where there are significant numbers of asylum seekers, which have done so much to make those children welcome and to integrate them into the lives of their communities.
I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will speak particularly to those teachers and head teachers in our schools on what they feel, as a result of their real experience in our schools, is the way forward for children of asylum seekers or those seeking asylum themselves within our communities. There are so many others in detention centres, facing the might of the Immigration Service, for whom the words of Every Child Matters are so far from true. The Bill broadens considerably the powers of immigration officers for temporary detention under Clause 2(3) or arrest under Clause 18. If such extensions of power are to be given, it becomes all the more imperative that the Section 11 duty of the Children Act should be extended to the Immigration Service. I noted earlier the hesitation of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about whether that in itself can be enough. It can be easy to put a phrase like that into the legislation, but real training will be needed for it to be enacted in reality at our ports and among our asylum seekers.
That part of the 2004 Act applies now to the police, so there can be no reason at all to exclude the Immigration Service from its provisions. When this was tested during the passage of the Children Act, it was argued that such a provision might hamper immigration officers. That tells it all. The Section 11 duty is to safeguard children and promote their welfare. How can that possibly hamper anyone? If the work of immigration officers is intended to be fair and trusted, as the Bill argues, it is to the benefit of all that, like the police, they should be clear that safeguarding children is a primary concern in determining the manner in which their duties and powers are exercised. The police make a particular point of ensuring this, not least in their own contacts with schools; it is crucial that the immigration department does the same thing.
Clause 16 imposes those conditions about reporting and residence—very wide-ranging powers again. It is argued that that applies particularly to unaccompanied children, despite the Children Act requirement on social services to care for and protect such children. The last thing they need is further restrictions. As we are talking about legislation I sometimes wonder—perhaps this is inevitable—whether there is a temptation to forget the human beings for whom we are making laws. We need to recognise the fear felt by children who are often already damaged by maltreatment in their own country, often, too, by the action of people smugglers—I welcome the strengthening of measures against them in the Bill—and children who need care and affection.
I am not sure that I have met anyone who, knowing children in those circumstances, believes that they ought to be deported. We need a Bill that defends their rights and allows us to show them hospitality. Examples have been given during this debate. I think of a youngster who was in the middle of his A-levels when he was deported to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has disappeared. When he first arrived there he made mobile phone calls to his friends in Leeds. Those have ceased and nobody knows where he is. When you have listened to a child phoning from Yarl’s Wood, screaming about her desperation and that of her mother not about their treatment but the fact that they are there and about the fear which is going through them, it is hard to accept the more problematic parts of this Bill.
We need to examine the Bill through the lens of the Children Act and to tackle the destitution of families. That concern combines my two themes and takes us back again to Section 9 of the asylum and immigration Act 2004, which removes support from asylum-seeking families whose claim has failed. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, spoke movingly about that. The Secretary of State has the right to repeal Section 9 by order. West Yorkshire was one of the pilot areas for Section 9. We are still awaiting a decision. We are told that the Secretary of State is still pondering the evidence he has been given. I cannot find anybody in west Yorkshire, whatever their views on asylum—that includes many who believe that we ought to have a firmer asylum system—who believes that Section 9 has had a positive effect on anybody. It is ineffective and inhumane. We in Leeds are very aware of those who simply disappeared following their treatment in the pilots.
There can be no justification for making families destitute. That leads to my second theme and the opportunity to take up the proposals in the Rowntree report on destitution in Leeds that was published this year, Moving On: From Destitution to Contribution. Like others, I welcome Clause 17 as a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to support asylum seekers throughout the appeals process. But that will still leave tens of thousands of asylum seekers whose appeals have failed, who cannot return to their home country and who are destitute. The Still Human Still Here coalition wants to work with the Government to ensure that destitution is not used as policy and that it disappears from our streets.
The Rowntree destitution inquiry in Leeds was chaired by Kate Adie. Its staff spoke with a wide range of people forced to rely on charitable resources for basic food and health needs. It concentrated on the organisation Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers and on those involved with it, those who work for the local authority and those striving to get rid of destitution in Leeds. That whole demeaning provision of food parcels, welcome and necessary though it is, demonstrates the need for proper, humane provision for people in desperation, fear and inner turmoil.
It was fascinating to meet the members of that commission at the various points of the work that they were doing. They came, rightly, from outside the area and were open-minded about what they might discover. They came with very different political and social backgrounds. As I and others met them at various points in their inquiry, we found them becoming more and more shocked and more and more angry at what they found as they were confronted by something of the horror of destitution. At the very least, there needs to be an amendment to Clause 17 to extend Section 95 of the 1999 Act to support people so long as they are in the UK.
The Rowntree commission’s major finding was that asylum seekers should be given the legal right to work and so to contribute to our society through the taxation system. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has already referred to that. There are jobs available. There are jobs available in Leeds. Many asylum seekers have skills that could contribute to our economy. Some find jobs of sorts in the black economy and are paid at a fraction of the minimum wage and are never recorded anywhere. That is an encouragement to crime. The commission reports that experts in business and council leaders all agreed that new workers would benefit Yorkshire. The restoration of the right to work while claims are being processed and until safe return can be negotiated should be embraced by us all, whatever our broader views on asylum issues, to reduce sharply the number of disappeared asylum seekers, to provide dignity for human beings and to increase fairness, effectiveness, transparency and trust. I hope that we shall be able to amend the Bill in such terms.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the opening speeches from the government Front Bench and the opposition Benches for the high priority that they gave to the safeguarding of children. This is my third immigration and asylum Bill, and I cannot recall children being given such a priority at the start of proceedings before.
“I am a very attractive 17 year-old woman from Sierra Leone. I was not present when my sister was killed. I am told that the men first played with her, asking her whether she wanted to have a machete cut off her hand or her arm. I was not present, but whenever I tell the story of her death I cannot stop myself weeping”.
“I am a young Muslim woman from Afghanistan. I speak no English and have been living in a mixed hostel in London’s Soho for four months. There are few speakers of my dialect in London, so I rarely see someone who can translate for me. I have not communicated with my parents for some days, but tonight I have heard that their town is being shelled. I feel sad, and I find myself crying often”.
“I am a Kosovan Albanian who is 17 years of age. My father is a teacher, and I enjoy playing chess with one of the volunteers at the hostel in which I am staying. If I can, I would like to stay in this country. I would like to have a family of my own and to work as a computer engineer”.
I begin with those thumb sketches in the hope that they may be helpful in keeping firmly in mind what is at stake in our deliberations on the Bill. We need to sustain public confidence in immigration and asylum policy. We need to set boundaries. We should not be sentimental, but we must keep our humanity. With the Bill, Her Majesty’s Government are seeking to regain public confidence in the asylum system. While there have been serious errors, there has been much to praise in government action in this area. While serious concerns remain about the quality of initial decision-making, the speed of this process has accelerated tremendously since 1997. Her Majesty’s Government have invested considerable resources in an area that has defeated a series of Governments in this country and is posing problems for Governments across the world.
New senior appointments by the right honourable Beverley Hughes have significantly improved the service. This was most apparent in the improvement in commissioning of accommodation, a saving of many millions of pounds in one year alone. I should say that the quality of that accommodation still causes concern. I praise in particular the appointment in the spring of last year of Jeremy Oppenheim, director of the former National Asylum Support Service, as the children’s champion. It was good recently to meet him and to hear of his progress. As a former director of social services, he is well placed to understand the issues involved, particularly those relating to the support required by those working on the front line with families and separated children. Such support is important, as my noble friend Lord Hylton underlined.
It is important to remember that the children’s champion suffers from important conflicting interests in his roles. I am glad of the work that he has been undertaking since his appointment to develop a strategy for children within the responsibility of the Border and Immigration Agency and I look forward to learning more from the Minister. It is encouraging that these children have received this close attention. We shall, of course, have to consider carefully whether the proposals will have the impact intended.
I warmly welcome several aspects of the Bill: first, the introduction of new means to tackle human traffickers; secondly, the clarity it provides on the access to support that failed asylum seekers should have while making an appeal and, thirdly, the opportunities that the wide scope of the preamble of the Bill gives us to consider outstanding issues with regard to the treatment of asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I shall concentrate on the effect that the Bill might have on children and families. I support all that has been eloquently said with regard to the new powers at ports, the introduction of biometrics, the reporting requirements on those granted leave to remain and on appeals. However, I am particularly concerned that we should now finally see the application of Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to these children, as many noble Lords have said, and that this should be placed in the Bill. All other important agencies, apart from schools, which have their own protection framework, have such a duty in the discharge of their normal functions to have regard to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. It is a weak duty framed in statute, so that it should not interfere with the normal functions of institutions; but it is important, because it obliges institutions to demonstrate that they have given consideration to safeguarding children. The theme of this afternoon’s deliberations has been ignorance at times and the lack of thought and lack of consideration for children throughout the system.
Examples of failure to think through the impact on children’s welfare of developments in immigration and asylum are common. The development of the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre exemplifies that failure. The centre holds families. It took about a year for the first social worker to be in place. The converted category C prison was run by former prison managers. It was over a year before serious efforts were made to make it feel less like a prison.
Her Majesty’s Government have been given a legal opinion that application of Section 11 would give rise to judicial review, because removing children from this country to Zimbabwe or Eritrea, for instance, often could be deemed not to be promoting their welfare. I read with interest the debate on this matter on Report in the other place. Another legal opinion dismisses that concern for several reasons, but an important one is that if rejected applicants wish to apply for judicial review there is ample ammunition to do so already in the Human Rights Act.
I very much understand that the Minister may be concerned not to provide loopholes that unscrupulous lawyers might exploit to keep families in false hope of remaining here. It does her credit to do so. I hope now, on renewed examination, that she can see how groundless her fears are and that we can move forward. Excepting these of all children from the Children Act 2004 puts a large hole in Her Majesty’s Government’s ambition to see every child matters, as we often hear, and know is their sincere intention. It eases the way for those who share the popular ill will against asylum seekers. Adding these children to Section 11 of the Children Act might assist the new chief inspector, whose post this Bill establishes, to achieve the best treatment for children in the system, a matter surely to be high in his priorities. Including the Border and Immigration Agency among those agencies subject to Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 would be an important step to ensuring future developments are more considered in their treatment of children.
That these children are currently excluded is a matter about which the Children's Commissioner for England, Professor Sir Alan Aynsley-Green, has the strongest concerns. I beg the Minister to consider that the Human Rights Act already gives ample opportunity for attempts at judicial review by failed asylum applicants and to consider why, therefore, applying Section 11 would lead to any more applications. I ask her to think about that and not reply at this stage.
Her Majesty’s Government have been developing their thinking with regard to the management of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. I would welcome in the course of this Bill assurances on the future safeguarding of these children and I am pleased that many Lords have raised this matter this afternoon. In particular, Sub-Committee F of the European Union Select Committee of your Lordships’ House recommended in its report on returns of failed asylum seekers— HL Paper 74—that a child should be returned only if he could be directly passed to someone with proven parental responsibility in the home country. The committee also recommended that the Council of Europe guidelines on returns should be adopted. The latter make explicit that children should be held in detention for the shortest time possible, only when absolutely necessary and in a setting that does not resemble a prison. I look forward to hearing the Minister's mature response to these recommendations one year on. Perhaps there might be an opportunity to discuss all these matters relating to children outwith the Chamber. I welcomed the opportunity to discuss some of them with the Minister of State, Liam Byrne, last night.
As we have been recalling, Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act introduced measures removing all support for families who had exhausted their asylum applications and were not co-operating in their removal. I will not speak further on that—I have spoken for 10 minutes already—but I hope that we can quickly remove that process. In the pilot areas, are families still experiencing this measure in practice? I took comfort from what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, said.
In conclusion, the children in our immigration and asylum system are exceedingly vulnerable, as we all recognise, and deserve our closest attention and concern. Ill considered measures that cause them more anxiety than necessary are likely to be detrimental to their development and the realisation of their full potential. But it is also in our interest to ensure that these children's potential is realised. I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds for highlighting the contribution these children make in school and elsewhere.
These children, especially the unaccompanied asylum seeking children, tend to come from backgrounds of strong families, to have a determined interest in education and an ambition to become doctors, lawyers and teachers. With the right consideration, they can make an important contribution to this nation or to the land that they return to. Being young, they are more easily integrated into our society. Among the most admirable children's home managers I have known was an Ethiopian. She was a rock for the staff she led, assisting our most troubled children.
“I am a 16 year-old girl and I have spent the last five months in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, as has my eight year-old sister and my mother. Earlier today I spoke with a member of the House of Lords, Lord Listowel. What harm have I done that I have been locked up? Why do adults treat children in this way?”.
We do need to set boundaries, we should be unsentimental, but we must keep our humanity. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, when I first looked at the language of the Bill, I began to wonder what century we were in. In Dorset, we are used to telling visitors that in the 1830s, at the time of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, you could be hanged or deported for sheep-stealing. Several clauses in the Bill now refer to automatic deportation instead of removal. Not long ago, detention centres suddenly became removal centres. Are there now to be deportation centres for would-be refugees, as well as criminals?
What impression does this language give to newcomers of our famous hospitality towards asylum-seekers? Is this a Bill about criminality or immigration control? Like the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, my noble friend Lady Stern and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, I contend that it matters very much how we express attitudes in our legislation. However, I recognise that it is not primarily the wording of the law but the law itself that is under scrutiny.
The Refugee Council reminds us that there must be a legal route for those seeking asylum in this country. That is critical, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said. Their rights should be at the centre of the legislation. Somehow, Ministers’ heads have been turned by the threat from terrorists and escaping foreign nationals. I do not deny that that threat exists, and I know that the Minister will have to spell it out again. It is a constant danger, as is immigration fraud, but as citizens we have other priorities; namely, the rights of individuals. Protecting our borders is as much about the safe passage of people as about terrorism.
Our job—I speak as a Cross-Bencher and as a member of the Independent Asylum Commission—is to remind the Government of their broader duties under international conventions and of the effect of the Bill on those who may have no defence or protection from a life of discrimination, destitution and perhaps deportation. I welcome the Government’s stated aim in Clause 17 of supporting asylum seekers through the appeal process. That shows that they take seriously the overwhelming evidence coming from the refugee agencies which are most closely involved.
The new powers of detention by immigration officers at ports, the highly controversial requirements for biometric registration, the new powers in Clause 7 to cancel leave to remain, the use of information in Clause 8 and the charging of fees for identity cards, although aimed at preventing criminality, are so widely drawn that they are likely to hit the most vulnerable asylum seekers. However, I accept that the Government are currently flexible on some of those points.
Although Clause 16 is, again, clearly designed for criminals, it could hit anyone with limited leave to remain in the UK, including those on holiday or spouses. There are concerns about reporting and residency. Equally seriously, as many have mentioned, there are fears that children may be required to report in unnecessarily and that their details may change during the registration process, which could thereby discriminate against them. The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Judd, gave examples of such fears in respect of the constant erosion of leave to remain. We know that the Government are aware of the need to extend the Section 11 duty in the Children Act 2004. Like my noble friend Lord Listowel, I am confident that that will happen, and I look forward to hearing confirmation from the Minister on this and on child safety.
As many have said already, Clause 17 concerns the more than 280,000 so-called failed asylum seekers who are being pushed nearer to the edge of destitution by Section 9. A growing army of campaigners, including the major refugee agencies and churches, believe that we should be more realistic about the human rights of these people in our midst, whose existence is virtually ignored by the Government. Last week in our debate on slavery, I mentioned the Strangers into Citizens campaign, which advocates a limited amnesty for irregular migrants who have lived and worked in the UK for four or more years. My noble friend Lord Hylton called it “basic humanity”. In an ideal world they should be granted a two-year work permit, and at the end of those two years, subject to employer and character references, they should be given leave to remain. When will the Government face up to this proposal? Can the Minister comment on that today?
I do not believe that a Brown Government would institutionalise destitution, as suggested by some. I accept that the Government have moved centimetres forward, as they should, but I will vote for any amendments that reduce the risk of destitution and prevent scandals in the making, such as the refusal of treatment for pregnant women or cancer patients that we hear of from non-governmental organisations. There are well documented cases of victims of rape, torture or political persecution still walking the streets without the certainty of even Section 4 hard case support. My noble friend Lady Stern has given vivid examples from Anne Owers’s evidence already.
Clause 19 will cause a lot of concern to the universities because of its effect on foreign students who may not or cannot afford legal advice. The Government’s current policy towards the destitute is to remove them from the scene as fast as possible over the next decade. This is one-way traffic and will be the only route for bogus asylum seekers who have lived off our society for too long. But the healthy babies are being thrown out with the bath water. Until the new asylum model proves itself, until case workers are properly trained in the causes of persecution—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester brought this up as well—where people have come from, and the quality of initial decision is raised considerably further, the genuine refugees will continue to be swamped by the system. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Hylton who has had longer experience than any of us in this House. I have sat through six Bills; he must have sat through twice as many. I congratulate him on his very significant birthday today.
Meanwhile Clauses 31, 32 and 54 unamended will continue to encourage deportation or removals on the back of a fast-track process, which has already been shown to be unfair. The concerns are that these clauses are mandatory and, as so often, will not take account of individual circumstances. Again, they are designed to catch criminals, but they are drawn very wide, pulling in anyone with a 12-month sentence, which could also include non-violent crimes of graffiti and theft. The presumption must be, and is already, in favour of removal but there should be proper discretion, and I will support amendments to this effect.
In conclusion, this Bill is not good news for asylum seekers or anyone attempting legitimately to come to this country. Like others I look forward to the debates in Committee.
My Lords, we now come to the concluding part of this important debate. Noble Lords have highlighted areas of serious concern, and I am sure that the Minister expected this, as she was explicit in her opening address for a commitment to improve legislation so that we can all move forward.
I have lost count of the number of Bills on asylum and immigration we have dealt with in the past 10 years, and I therefore rely on the statistics produced by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. Let us not be deceived by the title, “UK Borders Bill”. We are dealing essentially with immigration and asylum matters. The main purpose of the Bill is to implement aspects of the Home Office review of the immigration system and help to underpin the new Border and Immigration Agency. We have been assisted in this exercise by the document: Fair, effective, transparent and trusted—Rebuilding confidence in our immigration system, published in July 2006. We have a further Home Office publication, Prevention of Illegal Working from the Border and Immigration Agency. The Bill is also designed to protect the United Kingdom from illegal immigration and illegal work by nationals of countries outside the European Economic Area. We now have a clear policy distinction between immigration from EU countries and that from the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.
I detect confusion in the Home Office about how to achieve the objectives set out in these publications. Last summer, the Home Secretary launched the most radical shake-up of our immigration system. He came to a conclusion about the system’s strengths and weaknesses, and how he believed it needed to change. This is no different from sentiments expressed by Jack Straw, David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, the previous Home Secretaries. They have all helped to ratchet up immigration matters on a piecemeal basis, and the present Home Secretary is no exception. I pose the key question: why are the Government not introducing a single integrated border force, enforcing police functions and well as those discharged by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate? Instead, the Home Secretary is able to designate immigration officers as having powers to detain an individual at a port if the officer thinks that they may be liable to arrest by a constable without a warrant, or is subject to a warrant for arrest. Of course, there are a number of qualifications, and we shall deal with them in Committee.
One of the arguments advanced by the Minister in the other place is that, at a time when the terrorist threat to our country is so severe, we could not justify a wholesale reorganisation. I would have thought that this was the precise reason why he should fully exploit an integrated border force. I have repeatedly said that immigration is an emotive issue. Migration is an international phenomenon. It has been of enormous benefit to our economy. At a conservative estimate, migrants contribute over £2.5 billion to the British economy. Take away the doctors from the National Health Service, take away the transport workers, and the infrastructure of this country would almost collapse.
Immigration will continue to play an important part in the future of this country. The Government have deployed tough talk on immigration, but the evidence points to incompetence and mismanagement in the important office of the Secretary of State. There is no such thing as “Fortress Britain”. Of course there is a need to plan for managed migration. For too long, we have not distinguished between primary immigration, economic migration and asylum matters. The successful immigration policy is the one that works: rules that are transparent and administration that is efficient. The enforcement must be fair and, to an extent, swift. There is ample evidence that an incompetent immigration system has damaged public confidence in this country.
I will give three examples of how not to handle immigration matters. Take the case of Tui Bahadur Pun, a former Gurkha who won the British military's highest honour, the Victoria Cross, and wanted to come to the UK for health reasons. He was told by the entry clearance officer that he was unable to demonstrate strong enough ties with the United Kingdom. It is easy to attach blame to our consulate abroad; I shall resist that temptation. But we cannot ignore the fact that, since 1962 when the first Commonwealth immigration Act was passed, we have created a culture that allows such stupid decisions to be taken. We must move from a subjective decision-making process to an objective approach. This is why there is merit in the points-based system.
However, we need to exercise caution as to how it is implemented. Government plans for a points-based system for immigration could have a massive detrimental effect, for example, on the performing arts. The plan would force all performers from outside the EU to apply for a work permit visa at a cost of £200 each. This would drive up the costs of a touring company of 100 members from £8,500 to £20,000. It is essential that artists from abroad come to the UK to take part in performances to maintain our reputation as a cultural world leader and major tourist attraction. There is a great danger that touring companies will choose to avoid the UK due to the excessive costs and that the UK will no longer host world-class drama, music and dance events. The new immigration system is based on the Australian model in which performers are allowed entry outside the normal immigration rules. It is madness that the UK plans to implement this scheme without a similar exception. Surely discretion in the decision-making process should not be ruled out.
Let me repeat what I have said before in debates of this sort. The purpose of immigration procedures is not in dispute: it is to admit those who are eligible and to exclude, or, subject to the appropriate humanitarian principles, to remove those who are not, but in any administrative system, questions arise about priorities. The administration of the immigration system is no exception. The need to exclude the ineligible means that checks have to be made to determine who is eligible and who is not. The greater the emphasis on excluding the ineligible, the more intensive those checks have to be, and the more intensive those checks are and the more complicated they are to administer, the greater the delay and expense. We saw the evidence of that during the time of the previous Government when there was a huge backlog of cases and hundreds of unopened mail bags at Lunar House in Croydon. All that has led to the fifth Bill on this matter since this Government were first elected.
Then let us look at the lack of leadership and how one Minister responded; the Minister with responsibility for employment, Margaret Hodge. She is quoted as having said that British families should be given priority over economic migrants for council housing. The reality is that asylum seekers are not entitled to council housing, and arrivals from new EU states have restricted access to benefits. Is it not time that we stopped using migration as a political football? The real problems faced by the Home Office are administrative, and a knee-jerk reaction is less likely to help.
The third example is the case of more than 1,000 foreign prisoners who were released without being considered for deportation—this case has been referred to by a number of noble Lords. I do not in any way underestimate the terrorist threat or why certain measures are necessary. British society is founded on, and bound together by, a shared understanding of our core liberal values of democracy, the rule of law, individual rights and mutual tolerance. We will not shirk from stating unambiguously that individuals or communities who seek to overturn those values are not welcome members of British society.
Some elements of the Bill have merit, and we will support them; for example, turning the Immigration and Nationality Directorate into an independent agency. The powers vested in immigration officers in the first four clauses are designed to detain people suspected of non-immigration offences. I am afraid that these provisions do not contain any suggestion of an integrated border force, far from it. We are simply redeploying resources so we are shifting police officers from their current duties and putting custom officials in new uniforms. We shall certainly question whether the powers given to immigration officers are appropriate and proportionate and, if so, what precisely is envisaged to enforce compliance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Would any complaint be subject to independent investigation by the IPCC?
The proposals for biometric registration are a precursor or a dry run for ID cards. It is estimated that nearly 3.9 million people have indefinite leave to remain here and therefore have no contact with the Immigration Service. They are legally here. It will be an administrative nightmare to secure biometric registration for this group. For the newcomers, the resources of our consulates will be stretched. There will be even longer queues at British posts abroad. How will that help persons coming to the UK for short family visits? Has anyone worked out the impact of this on our tourist industry?
I understand that information to be included in the biometric immigration document is to be provided by regulations. Could we have a sight of what is demanded in the regulations? We want to know what will happen to biometric immigration documents—BID—for those granted British citizenship.
The current offence of employing illegal workers will be replaced by a regime of civil penalties for employers and a new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker. It is evident that the problem is not in finding those who are working or living illegally in the UK but in enforcing action against them. The figures for 2004-05 found that nearly 4,000 immigrants were working illegally, but that only eight employers were taken to court. Some serious questions need to be answered. Will BID be used for employment, access to benefits and NHS funding? If so, why has there not been the consultation with employers that was promised by the Minister for Immigration? Has the Minister published an assessment of the financial impact on the public or private sector of the compulsory checking of BIDs?
We welcome Clause 17, which will ensure that asylum seekers can continue to be supported at all stages up to an appeal being determined. However, we have serious concerns about the provisions on automatic deportations of people who seriously breach the trust under which they are in this country. This is the aftermath of the foreign prison crisis of last year. Rules are being changed even though the problems were not the lack of power to deport but the failure to do so by the administrators. When the cases of 1,000 foreign nationals were examined, the Home Office said that about 40 per cent of them were not to be deported. Would it not be appropriate that instead of the automatic deportation of foreign national offenders, the courts should make the decision on deportation in each case and if there is a need to beef-up the power then we should do so?
In Committee, we shall raise matters on which the Joint Committee on Human Rights has reported. These are issues highlighted by Save the Children, National Children's Bureau, Children's Legal Centre, National Association for Youth Justice, Barnardo's, the Children's Society and NACRO. We are grateful to them for scrutinising provisions affecting children. We shall further seek the opportunity to consolidate immigration legislation so that it is easy to understand. We would urge the Minister to read carefully the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust inquiry into destitution among refused asylum seekers.
In conclusion, there are good things about this Bill which we would support. We shall probe those areas where the Government's intentions are not clear, and we shall certainly oppose those provisions where human rights are affected. I put faith in what the Minister has said. I do so for two reasons: first, she is prepared to effect changes on the basis of arguments we put forward; and, secondly—and probably the most important—that John Reid will have gone before we conclude this exercise.
My Lords, I think it was Winston Churchill who asked to have his pudding removed because he said it “lacked a theme”. Similarly, my honourable friend in another place Damian Green, when he spoke about the Bill, complained that it was a mere rag-bag of unconnected measures which—as Winston Churchill said about that famous pudding—lacked a theme.
As with all Home Office measures, and we get a great many, it is worth recounting how many there have been. The last Home Office measure with which I was involved, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, was the 60th since 1997. There has been one since, so this must be the 62nd. As for immigration measures, there seems to be some confusion about just how many there have been since 1997. My noble friend said that there has been five; the Law Society’s briefing alleges six; others have said seven; and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, sensibly says that he has lost count, which might be a more diplomatic approach. There has certainly been a large number of them since 1997. It is fairly clear that the previous four, five or six have not worked, and I do not suppose that this one will work any better, but no doubt the Minister will explain to us in due course why it will work.
We on these Benches make it clear, however, that we believe that it is obvious that our borders are not secure. We face massive immigration, both legal and illegal, and the Government seem to lack any control over how it should be managed or any idea of what to do about it. Having said that, we are very grateful for the Minister’s assurance about children and child safety—a matter which a number of noble Lords, particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, have touched on very movingly. We very much look forward to seeing what the Minister will bring forward, and trust that we can all work constructively in that field.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, seemed to imply in his opening remarks that there had been a stitch-up between the Conservative Front Bench and the Government in sending the Bill to Grand Committee. I assure him that, so far as I understand it, there was no such stitch-up; all the usual channels agreed that the Bill could be dealt with in Grand Committee. That is not always satisfactory, but I do believe that the Bill can be discussed productively and with some effect in that forum. I do not know why the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Dholakia, did not know about the Bill going to Grand Committee, but all the usual channels agreed, and I am not one to comment on how information is disseminated in the Liberal Democrat Party.
As all those who have spoken have made clear, although the Bill is not long compared with the Bills that we are used to seeing emerge from that great legislative factory, the Home Office, it warrants a great deal of detailed scrutiny. In passing, we hope that the amount of the legislation coming from the Home Office will lessen somewhat now that large parts of that department have gone over to the Ministry of Justice, but perhaps that is over-optimistic. We will see what emerges in due course. The noble Lord can be assured from the remarks that have been made in this afternoon’s brief debate that it will be given a great deal of detailed scrutiny—a point that was stressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester.
A considerable number of points will be put to the Minister, and no doubt she and her noble friends will be kept busy answering them in due course. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, put it, and as my noble friend Lady Anelay said in her opening remarks, she will also be pressed to come up with a consolidation measure in due course, because this area is becoming increasingly complicated and needs consolidation to make it easier for all to understand where we are going.
I was grateful for the noble Baroness’s detailed explanation of the Bill, and we will want in due course to pursue a number of points. I start with Clauses 1 to 4 and the new powers of detention at ports. We are sorry that the Government still resist the idea of a proper border police force, a matter which we will want to pursue. I am interested to know why Clauses 1 to 4 and, as I understand it, Clauses 24 and 30 do not apply in Scotland. Is that to do with the Sewel convention? When one is dealing with something relating to United Kingdom borders, it seems very odd to leave Scotland out of it. It leaves, dare I say it, a rather gaping whole.
I turn to Clauses 5 to 15, on biometric registration. I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, had to say with his great experience as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. He thought that there could be very considerable human rights issues in those clauses, and I should think that the whole House will want to explore that. I was grateful for the noble Baroness’s assurance that she expected, and possibly even looked forward to, a detailed examination of those matters. Her argument seems to be that the old system and the documents that went out were insecure and that the new system would make life much easier for employers. We will have to see about that. However, I am grateful for her assurance that a copy of the code of practice mentioned in Clause 13 will be placed in the Library.
I move on to the provisions on automatic deportation in Clause 31 and subsequent clauses. My noble friend reminded the House of the Prime Minister’s—I do not know how I should describe them—remarks last year when all these Home Office matters blew up. He said that,
“it is now time that anybody who is convicted of an imprisonable offence and who is a foreign national is deported”.—(Official Report, Commons 3/5/06; col. 960.)
My noble friend also reminded the House that she then took an opportunity to invite the Government to vote—in whichever Home Office Bill was going through at the time—for precisely what the Minister’s right honourable friend the Prime Minister had suggested, but the Government duly voted against it. That is undoubtedly what the Prime Minister now wishes to do, but we will see at the end of the month, when we have a new Prime Minister, whether that remains the policy. The noble Baroness stressed that the provisions will always be subject to human rights legislation. If that is the case, I do not see quite how it fits in with the Prime Minister’s remarks. Clause 39 and the following clauses are on data sharing and information, which the noble Baroness referred to as the data-sharing gateway. A number of issues here need considerable examination and we will certainly want to do that in due course.
We are grateful, as I think the noble Baroness is aware, for the introduction in another place of the new clauses on the Border and Immigration Inspectorate. However, the provision needs some tightening up and we will certainly want to consider some amendments there. I have already mentioned the border police force and the question of children. We are all grateful for the noble Baroness’s remarks on children, about whom she may want to say a bit more. On abuse of the spouse visa system, as my noble friend made clear in opening, we will try to assist the Government by tabling amendments to tighten up the rules.
I think that we can look forward to a fairly busy Committee stage; we have something of the order of four days set aside for it. I trust that the noble Baroness and all her officials will be ready to help and advise the Committee on that occasion.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for a very interesting and stimulating debate. I shall start by confirming what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, have said about this Bill going into Committee not on the Floor of the House. As I understand it from the Chief Whip, there was extensive consultation and therefore I regret to say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that it is not the case that this was imposed. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, accepted that the Bill would be considered in Grand Committee after a second round of consultation on the matter, and so I regret if noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches were not appropriately consulted. If I can give them any comfort, no one ever comes out entirely happy from the usual channels; it is a compromise. Compromises are honoured in this House; it is the way in which we do business, and it can never be a perfect science. But I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, agrees that usually we do not do too badly.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. It is the practice not to send highly controversial Bills into Grand Committee. We did protest about this, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, will recall, in the case of the 2006 Act. At the beginning of the proceedings in Grand Committee, we said quite firmly that we did not like the idea of having controversial immigration legislation dealt with in Grand Committee. While the Government may have told my noble friend Lord Shutt about this, I certainly was not aware of it. However, the general views of the team which deals with Home Office affairs from this Front Bench were made perfectly clear a year ago, so the Government should have been aware of them.
My Lords, I do not see how there can be a compromise on a question of this kind. Either the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House or it is taken in Grand Committee. There is no halfway measure. I think it is very unsatisfactory to take this controversial Bill in Grand Committee.
My Lords, of course I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, says, and I join in wishing him a very happy birthday. However, I have to say that this is why we have the usual channels. The usual channels hold discussions and come to an agreement, and then all noble Lords in this House comply. That is the basis on which this House works, and I respectfully suggest that it is the only basis on which it can do so. I am conscious that we have now spent a considerable amount of time talking about this issue, and we need to move on.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that we must move forward without sentimentality but keep our humanity very much in mind. I strongly agree with him, and we believe that that is the process which the Government have adopted. It is not in the least surprising that there is a great deal of passion about these issues. We have heard a number of moving speeches, including those of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, the right reverend Prelates on the Bishops’ Bench, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. But we also have to keep a sense of balance and proportion, which was shown in the speech of the noble Earl, who acknowledged just how far we have come since 1997 and the strenuous efforts which have been made by this Government to improve the system and make it clearer, fairer and swifter. I was pleased to note that that was acknowledged in part by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as well. So I was disappointed at the tone of some of the remarks about the Bill, such as that it is a “bad Bill” and a “squalid Bill”, as well as some very deprecating comments about the bona fides of this Government. I assure the House that in looking at these issues the Government wholeheartedly believe in the words used in their document—fair, effective, transparent and trusted. Rebuilding confidence in our immigration system is essential. That is what we said when we published our document in July 2006 and that is what we believe.
The Bill is the last part of a jigsaw and, after it is complete, there will be an opportunity for us to look at the issue of simplification. It is for that reason—I hope noble Lords noted it—that last week the Border and Immigration Agency launched a consultation on simplifying the immigration laws, something for which both Houses have been calling for some time. I would not, however, wish our discussions on the UK Borders Bill to be overshadowed by the fact that the important measures it contains will eventually be translated into new and comprehensive legislation. As I explained, the provisions in this Bill are a key part of the wider reform strategy for the agency, and the simplification project is designed to hone existing legislation and eradicate duplication. We will have an opportunity to consider that in good and proper time.
We are setting out an ambitious agenda. Changes will not happen overnight—we have seen that in the past 10 years—but will be effected progressively as the agency continually focuses on performance. There have been significant transformations since even last year in how the Border and Immigration Agency deals with the deportation of foreign national prisoners. This has led to faster consideration of cases and a record high level of removals. The measures in this Bill will provide a framework to build further on this progress. So I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that the immigration system is still a mess.
I acknowledge the kind comments that have been made in the past and today in relation to the improvements effected by the new system. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and others commented on the improvements in training and the way in which we have dealt with that.
A number of significant issues have been raised and I shall try to deal with as many as I can. Noble Lords should know that I have a detailed answer on every issue that has been raised but I am going to be extremely kind to your Lordships by not giving you all of those answers. However, I hope that I shall give you sufficient to indicate that not only have I been listening, but I have made a very careful note of everything that your Lordships have said. We will continue in the same way as we approach other Bills in the Home Office; we are very happy to have meetings. Indeed, I was glad that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the meeting that was held yesterday, when many of us were in Committee on another Bill, with my honourable friend Liam Byrne to deal with some of these anxieties. He is very happy to do that.
I turn now to some of the issues that have caused and excited some attention. The border police force was first raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and echoed by the noble Lords, Lord Henley, Lord Avebury and Lord Dholakia. The border management programme, which includes the police, customs and immigration, is our preferred approach to strengthen border security. Creating a single agency is likely to be disruptive and the international experience is that agency specialisation in drug detection and people smuggling can be lost, and we know the importance of retaining such expertise. We are trying to achieve a system where the border agencies can co-operate and operate in a beneficial, interchangeable way. We believe the Bill will enable us to do that. Immigration officers will act in support of police, not on their behalf. That is a very important distinction.
Many existing police codes are not relevant to this power. In cases where they are, such as the operating procedures for immigration officers, we will make clear precisely what is expected of them, so we will have some clarity and delineation, a theme that I know has always echoed loud with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. We will make draft operating procedures available for Committee and publish the final documents once they are agreed with police colleagues, so noble Lords will see what we have in mind.
I was asked questions by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and my noble friend Lord Judd, with all his usual passion, commitment and devotion to this subject. I honour all those who have walked so steadfastly with this subject, notwithstanding its difficulties. I therefore hear the comments that have been made around the House about the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Clauses 1 to 4 and how immigration officers’ power to detain should be retained. We will be able to look at that and the issues that have been mentioned with regard to PACE. We do not believe it is necessary or appropriate, for instance, for immigration officers exercising powers under those clauses to be subject to PACE codes of practice, but the power to detain is specifically intended to support the police, as I have discussed. We will be looking at the safeguards and how we should move forward.
We were asked—among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, my noble friend Lord Judd, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester raised this issue—why the Bill does not contain a specific timeframe for the consideration of deportation. We agree that it is important to serve a deportation order at the earliest possible opportunity to avoid detaining foreign nationals here unnecessarily at the end of their sentences. We will draft provisions to deal with the issue. Our current target is to consider deportation within the six months ahead of release, so that before they are released there will be a determination. We hope that these issues will assist.
I assure the House that we will look carefully at the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the Bill. I am grateful to the committee for its report, which sets out some important issues that we will have to address, and the Government will produce a written response to it. I am happy to say that we will cover arguments in detail in Committee, such as police codes, oversight of detention and the potential for de facto racial profiling through the biometric provision—something I know the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and I are particularly keen to ensure that we address, but there are others in the House who have the same attention to detail. There are a number of noble Lords who will deal with this, not least the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who I see sitting in his place. There is also the question of why there is no specific timeframe. We will come back to these important issues, as I am sure they will have to be discussed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked for evidence on illegal working and biometrics. The evidence provided by National Car Parks, a national UK employer, at the public evidence session in the other place clearly indicated that employers are often presented with forged documents. Our own experience bears that out. Forged documents take many different forms: the use of counterfeit documents that are totally false; documents where the page containing the person’s details has been substituted; documents in which a false stamp like a UK visa has been inserted; the use of stolen blank documents; the use of documents that have been issued by an authority but have been fraudulently obtained; and the use of documents by lookalikes or impostors. We have had to face all those issues. I will be able to give the noble Baroness some details about that. Three hundred and fifty-five counterfeit documents were detected by immigration enforcement staff between January and October 2006. Two hundred and twenty-six documents with substituted bio-pages and 161 with falsified stamps were detected in the same period. I hope she gets a flavour of the enormity of the problem we will face.
The biometric immigration document will be looked at very carefully. It is an extension of the existing powers, where those subject to immigration control are issued with proof of their status. Public officials who ask to see biometric immigration documents must clearly do so in accordance with the Race Relations Act and Article 14 of the ECHR. I know that we will come back to that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, referred, among a number of issues, to the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on victims of trafficking. I mentioned the victims of trafficking in my opening remarks. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary signed the European convention against human trafficking on 23 March. We made absolutely clear our commitment and published a UK action plan. Amendments to legislation will be required but we need to get this right because we all have the same intent. If we are unable to do that, we have to make sure that the articles of the convention can be implemented successfully, which will inevitably take time. But we are concentrating on implementation.
I heard very clearly what the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said about the reasons that would be used for deportation. We need to look at the schedule, because they do make sense. We will be able to explore why we say that when we consider this further.
I ask noble Lords to acknowledge that the question of resources and how we are dealing with the legacy are being dealt with expeditiously and that we are coming to grips with them. The programme is under way, with the aim of dealing with cases within the five-year period specified by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the IND review on 25 July last year. We are prioritising those cases which may be a risk to the public and will then focus on those who can more easily be removed. Thus, I hope we can decide each case speedily but also on its merits. The chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency will be providing an update to the Home Affairs Committee in due course.
I was not surprised that there was a great deal of concentration on how we deal with children. I hope that I was able to indicate that the Government take this issue very seriously. We remain of the view that it is proportionate not to grant a right of appeal to the tribunal where asylum is refused but leave of 12 months or less is granted on other grounds—for example, discretionary leave granted to children. If a child seeks further leave when the discretionary leave ends and it is still considered that they merit asylum, that claim can be considered again. If refused on appeal, right would then exist.
There are other, deeper issues about how safeguarding should work. What about the provisions of Section 9? We were asked about the pilots that came to an end in December 2005; I think that that is the right date, but I will check it. There has been no further use of those pilots since.
There is a lot for us to think about, a lot of work to do. I hope that when we have an opportunity to reflect on those provisions in a mature and considered way, we will be able to look again at how we can move this issue forward. We do not remove children from the United Kingdom unless adequate reception and accommodation arrangements exist in their country of origin.
My Lords, I remind the Minister that her honourable friend Mr Byrne said, in answer to Question 498 before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, that it was his responsibility to publish the results of the pilots and that it was incumbent on him to understand the pilots in detail. Why does he need a whole year to do that?
My Lords, I think that Mr Byrne has had to take a view in relation to how to improve the system in the round. Just as I hope that there will be a celebration after what I have said—and I am clear that there is—I hope that noble Lords will understand better, when we come forward with the considered position, why it has taken a little time. If we give satisfaction, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will think that it was worth waiting for.
I know that there are concerns about how in practice Clause 16 will apply to children. We will not pull children out of school to attend reporting conferences far away; reporting by telephone may be used for children and reporting could be done outside school hours. We will have an opportunity to look at all those practical things.
Evaluation of Section 9 is feeding into the children strategy. I cannot pre-empt the findings of the validation and how we will react to them, but I assure noble Lords that those issues have been given a lot of time and consideration.
Lastly, although it is probably normally inappropriate to respond to particular cases, may I say how much we were affected by the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred in relation to the breast-feeding mother separated from her babies? We recognise that a breakdown in process led to mistakes in that case; investigating what happened to ensure that similar mistakes do not happen in future is a matter of some priority to us. The Border and Immigration Agency believes that in almost all circumstances the best interests of children are served by being with their parents. There may on occasion be a slip between cup and lip; that slip can be painful and difficult to deal with; but I assure noble Lords that what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said of this Government is not true. There is not a deliberate policy to, in essence, bring hurt, dysfunction and harm to people in this country or, indeed, to anyone who is fortunate enough to come and stay among us.
My Lords, will the Minister consider that I was quoting literally word for word from the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the treatment of asylum seekers? They were certainly not words that I would personally take responsibility for unless they were in a report that we had all agreed.
My Lords, I am very heartened to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, say that. Of course we have to look at the outcome of our policy, but the right reverend Prelate should look at the outcome of all our policies, not just in relation to immigration, and consider the sterling work that we do through DfID and all the other efforts and sterling work done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and here, right across the piece, to give succour and support to children and vulnerable families. Safeguarding children goes right across the board. I remind the right reverend Prelate of the work done by the wonderful local authorities up and down this country, which, when our provision is not available under the immigration system, make available appropriate succour. Look at what we do and not just what we say. If judged fairly, I think this Government will have a very proud record of giving succour to those most in need.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.