Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity today to debate the EU Committee’s report, Brexit: Refugee Protection and Asylum Policy. The report was produced by the former EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee. As the chair of that committee, I would like to thank its members for their contributions to this report and those who provided written and oral evidence to the committee. I also thank the committee’s secretariat as it was constituted at the time—Pippa Patterson, Megan Jones and George Stafford—for their help with the inquiry and preparation of this report.
The report was published on 11 October 2019. As a result of the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic, we are debating it only today, but the concerns it raises about refugee protection and asylum policy are as important as ever. The Government replied to the report on 16 March and a further reply, as well as a reply to a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, chair of the successor committee, was received earlier this afternoon. I am afraid I have not studied it in detail, but no doubt the Minister will be able to summarise it in winding up the debate.
The EU Committee of the House of Lords has a long -standing interest in the area of asylum and international protection. Through its scrutiny and inquiry work, the Home Affairs Sub-Committee examined EU policy and legislation in this field, including in our 2016 investigation into the plight of unaccompanied refugee children. The work of scrutinising asylum and refugee protection matters, among others, is now in the hands of the EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, from whom we shall hear later in this debate.
The Home Affairs Sub-Committee undertook its inquiry, which led to this report, because we were concerned by the lack of attention paid to refugees and asylum seekers in the Brexit context. We therefore decided to examine how they may be affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the common European asylum system, especially in the event of no deal. We also considered how leaving the common European asylum system would affect the UK’s asylum system and explored priorities for future UK-EU asylum co-operation, including a possible UK-EU agreement and bilateral co-operation with individual member states. As well as taking evidence from a range of witnesses in the UK, we visited Oslo to learn more about how Norway, as a European country outside the EU, works with the EU in the area of asylum and migration management.
The report’s findings raised clear and significant concerns about refugee and asylum policy in the context of Brexit. It concluded that the most significant implication of leaving the common European asylum system would be the loss of a safe, legal route for the reunification of separated refugee families. In particular, the committee was concerned about a potential reduction in the rights of vulnerable unaccompanied children, who would have more limited reunification rights under UK Immigration Rules than under the Dublin system.
The report therefore concluded that there remains a clear, shared interest in maintaining UK-EU asylum co-operation after Brexit, ideally as part of a wider strategic partnership on migration, in order to help manage the flow of people from one end of Europe to the other. Secondly, the report concluded that continued UK-EU co-operation will help to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees, some of the most vulnerable groups in society, can exercise their right to claim asylum and receive the support they need to rebuild their lives and integrate into new communities in a timely and humane way.
The report then summarised how a future UK-EU asylum relationship should operate. It should take the Dublin system as its starting point, establish a framework for the speedy resolution of family reunion cases, maintain all routes to family reunion available under the Dublin system, together with robust procedural safeguards to minimise delays in reuniting separated refugee families, include a returns mechanism, ideally based on continued UK access to the Eurodac database of the fingerprints of asylum seekers, and have at its heart a shared commitment to uphold minimum standards for refugee protection, asylum procedures, qualification and reception conditions.
Relevant to the committee’s concern that Brexit could reduce the family reunion rights of unaccompanied children, the committee also called for UK family reunion rules to be expanded to allow refugees in the UK to bring their adult children to join them and to allow unaccompanied refugee children to sponsor their parents. Every country in the European Union does this. We reiterated the finding of our 2016 report that there was no evidence to support the UK Government’s belief that allowing children to sponsor their parents would encourage people to send children to Europe alone in order to act as an anchor for other family members. I should like here to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for all his efforts over many years to protect the rights of refugee children and for the valuable evidence that he gave to our committee.
The committee also concluded that UK Ministers should moderate the language they use when discussing asylum issues and should take pride in, and be vocal advocates for, protecting refugees from persecution. While directed at the UK Government, this recommendation is relevant across the EU where, since the 2015 refugee crisis, there has been an increasing tendency to present legitimate asylum seekers as a threat and as people to be feared.
The report also addressed the important question of what should happen if the EU and the UK do not reach agreement on these matters by the end of the transition period if there is no deal. In those circumstances, it proposed an interim agreement to ensure that separated refugee families do not find themselves in legal limbo and at risk of falling into gaps in the system. We suggested that a temporary extension of current family reunion arrangements would be the most feasible option.
The Government’s response to our report contained some positive elements. Reflecting some of the report’s conclusions, it said that the Government were committed to seeking
“a close partnership with the EU on matters of asylum and … migration.”
It also reiterated the Government’s commitment, first set out in the Command Paper on the negotiations in February this year, to negotiate a reciprocal agreement for family reunion of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in either the EU or the UK. However, the response did not comment on whether the Government plan to seek an interim agreement to support refugee family reunion if a deal with the EU is not reached on migration and asylum by the end of the transition period. Nor did it state whether the Government are committed to ensuring minimum standards for refugee protection in a future agreement with the EU. Perhaps the report received this afternoon addresses those points.
Since the report was published, there has been activity and some movement in the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. However, we are now scarcely more than three months away from the end of the transition period and, to date, no agreement has been reached between the parties on asylum and refugee policy. Of particular concern is the fact that the EU negotiators are reported to have said earlier this month that they do not have a mandate to negotiate the Government’s draft agreement on unaccompanied migrant children.
Next Tuesday, the Home Office Minister from the Commons with responsibility for asylum and immigration will appear before the EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee to answer questions on the state of the negotiations on these issues. I hope the Minister’s answers will provide reassurance and some certainty, not only to members of the EU Committee and, indeed, the House, but also to asylum seekers and migrants and those who help them.
The questions posed by asylum seekers and by refugees will not go away. The countries they come from may change, as may the routes they take. It may take a disastrous fire at the Moria centre on Lesbos to force the issue to the top of our minds or, nearer to home, at the other end of the refugee trail, it may take the death of a young refugee in the channel. We are talking here of fellow human beings, often with appalling stories to tell. I know the Minister recognises this. We all need to. I beg to move.
My Lords, I give a very warm and enthusiastic welcome to this report. It is excellent and will be enormously helpful in our future debates on the whole topic, including Report stage of the immigration Bill. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, with whom I have had a number of disagreements, has been very helpful. She is open to discussion, is very conciliatory and has made it easy for us to engage with her, even if, in the end, we are not totally in agreement with her.
The recent tragic fire in Moria camp on Lesbos has been a shock to all of us. I visited Moria about a year and a half ago. It then had 10,000 people in it, having had an original capacity of 2,000. It was a shocking place. It was very overcrowded and probably already a powder keg at that point, so it was not surprising to me that there was a fire and the world was able to see the situation there as, indeed, the world has at intervals been able to see the situation in Calais. I have also visited there and, again, the conditions for the people sleeping under trees and awnings are pretty depressing.
I believe, as the report makes clear, that there is a need for an immediate UK response. We should say to Greece and France that we will take children with family reunion applications with entitlements to apply here. Surely, we should respond to the plea for help from the Greek Government. They made it some time before the fire and again now in light of the fire. Other countries have offered help—the Germans, the French and so on. We should share responsibility as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, in introducing the debate, talked about the implications of there being no deal or just a limited deal. When I put this point to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, some little while ago, she said that the Government’s policy was to achieve a deal and therefore the no-deal situation was not one she wanted to comment on. I hope I am not putting the wrong words into her mouth. We are getting nearer and nearer to the point where there may be no deal and this could have tragic consequences for the basis we have been working on, the Dublin treaty, which has been very positive and helpful.
Can the Minister tell us what the present state is of the EU/UK negotiations? The noble Lord, Lord Jay, made it clear that just recently Brussels had said that it did not have the powers to negotiate on this issue on behalf of the 27. That would mean that our Government would have to negotiate with each individual country, which is a pretty depressing task. Can the Minister tell us something more positive about it?
The Government frequently say that there are numbers of refugees coming here—although I am bound to say when the Minister gives numbers, most of those have crossed illegally, there being an absence of legal paths to safety—but the numbers reaching this country are very low compared with France and Germany and tiny compared to those arriving in Greece, Italy and Malta. Our location is simply a geographical accident rather than any matter of policy.
I think we have been shocked recently that rescue boats in the Mediterranean that have picked up people who were in dangerous dinghies were being refused permission to land in some countries. That is a depressing outlook for Europe—all European countries should share responsibility. Even if we are not members of the European Union, it is the case now, and will be more so after 1 January, that we should still share responsibility for refugees. It affects all European countries, whether in the EU or not. The Germans have stepped in, and so have the French and other countries. We should also say publicly that we as a country are willing to share some responsibility. I would like the Government to give a public assurance that they will co-operate with the EU countries to see how we can all together, each country, help in this.
The report praises the Dublin system as being the best way forward. It does, of course, have time limits. It also has within its provisions the ability to return asylum seekers who are already registered in another country. If we do not continue with some form of agreement like the Dublin system, we will be left even without that safeguard, which the Government want. I appreciate that the EU is talking openly about a replacement for the Dublin treaty. I do not know what that will include, but I hope it will be positive and I hope we will be part of it. Certainly, to establish UK/EU co-operation post-Brexit, we will need to have good will. We will need to ensure that we remain friends with EU countries. We cannot deal sensibly with asylum seekers and refugees unless we have a basis of good will. I welcome the report’s indication that Dublin should be the starting point.
I believe the Government will say that they are planning to have a single global refugee resettlement programme. I welcome that, although it depends a bit on the numbers that will be involved and its scope. Will it include children who are currently in EU countries? Otherwise it leaves a gap. The Dublin treaty filled that gap, but it will no longer be there. I hope the Government will tell us that the single global refugee resettlement programme will include the ability for us to take refugees from France and Greece. Given that it will consolidate a number of existing schemes, I hope it will be wide enough to do that.
One of the things in the report is almost a plea that the EU should move with speed and efficiency in dealing with asylum applications. There have been very long time lags. I hope that the Home Office can speed up the process. I welcome the comments in the report that there should be better co-operation on these issues between local government and the NGOs that are working in this field. They need to be involved more in the policies that are being put forward.
The report mentions guardianship. That is a debate in itself. I have discussed this with local authority leaders. I think it is a good idea, but there is a question of resources. In some countries, guardians are simply well-meaning individuals; in other countries where they have the guardianship idea, they use qualified social workers. Our mood would be that we should look to qualified social workers to become guardians. They could adopt a holistic approach to looking at all the issues that affect an unaccompanied refugee child. They can provide the help, support and advice necessary. There is a whole issue there that needs more debate.
Finally, I welcome the comment towards the end of the report’s recommendations that urges the Government to moderate the language used when discussing asylum issues. That is essential. We need public opinion on our side to understand what the issues are, why we are doing this, why it is humanitarian for us to do it, and why this should never be at the expense of dealing with homeless people, homeless children or others who are already in this country. It is not one or the other but both, and we should be broad-minded enough to be able to do that. However, the language used is important and it will gain public acceptance for the policy. I welcome this report with enormous enthusiasm.
It is such a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, because it was his amendment that came before the House of Lords four years ago. At that time, the amendment was to accept 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children, and when it was put to a vote in the Lords we won by 300 to 200. So we were looking forward to that. However, the House of Commons and the Government themselves then overturned that vote, with 294 MPs defeating the 276 who wanted to support the amendment. The sad thing I remember about the vote in the Lords was to see the Government Benches opposite—I was sitting on the Front Bench that afternoon—trooping through to vote in the Not-Content Lobby. It was so sad to see so many of them, many of them friends of mine, voting against allowing these children into the United Kingdom.
You may say that things have changed since, but I do not know that they have. Three or four weeks ago we had the fire on Lesbos, which destroyed the homes and possessions of 13,000 immigrant people. I asked the Minister only last week what we had done to assist the people who were in that fire and lost all their possessions. I am still waiting for an answer. This is about the attitude we have as much as anything else—about our approach. Are we a people who are welcoming, or a people who somehow or other think we are defending ourselves? It is very sad. I know that there are figures; some people would say that our Government have done some good things, and they have, but we are trying to resolve a question.
The Government have a hostile mentality. They think that we can really build a wall between us and the problem itself, but it will become far more serious. As climate change proceeds, a lot of land that supplied the needs of the population, particularly in Africa, will be turned into desert and they will look for some other place to go. We who are currently able to support ourselves—who knows what will happen in the future?—will have to find a way to meet those needs. Instead of trying to keep the barriers up, we need to lead, think and innovate.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
In speaking of the future and the planning needed to accommodate all those people who will be leaving their natural countryside and looking for somewhere to survive, having a Government who are ready to think along these lines and prepare for the mass migration to continue is the only way we will tackle this problem. We are coming out of our relationship with Europe and will lose all the advantages, such as Dublin and crossing borders. We have brought a terrible feeling of uncertainty on ourselves.
I go back to the choir. The night when we had the vote in the House of Lords and accepted the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, we gathered together and said, “Well, what can we do to at least help the situation?” We had been round parts of Wales looking for a way to accommodate children, expecting that we might get 3,000 of them. We even thought of having a children’s village for refugee children. There were so many things that we must think about. In the end, we formed a choir. Of course, as a Welshman, I am always in favour of a choir. We formed a choir of refugees and their friends. In those three years, we have had more than 100 singers from 27 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
I remember the day that the choir started and that first rehearsal. I remember the look of joy and hope on people’s faces. In the first year, we took them to the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, where they sang on the open air platform. After that, a 14 year-old lad from Afghanistan came to me and said, “Do you know, that was the best day of my life.” Is that not what life is about? It is not always about just the dry mechanics; it is about giving people hope or despair. I am afraid about the present Government’s attitude—already they have spoken in the past week about deporting thousands of people. Their answer is always deportation; it is never about meeting the problem and trying to resolve it.
I ask the Government, and will do so again and again, whether the present situation in the Home Office regarding immigration procedures is fit for purpose. If they say no, please can they confer with others? Look at the voluntary situation; look at churches: they are doing a tremendous lot and can help a lot in resolving this problem. This report shows what could happen after Brexit and so on, but please, let it not be the last. Let us look again, with hope, and pass on that hope to so many people who, at the present moment, are in deep despair.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in welcoming this report. I wish to put on record how fortunate we are to have colleagues like the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Dubs, in this House. Their campaigning and compassion are genuinely inspirational.
I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Williams, who will reply to this debate. She is both noble in her dealings and, indeed, a friend, but more importantly, I know that she is genuinely committed to compassionate policy-making. I look forward to hearing what she says.
I start with the closing words of the summary of the European Union Committee report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred. It urges
“Ministers to moderate the language they use when discussing asylum issues.”
It reminds us succinctly that the UK
“has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need, and should be a vocal advocate for protecting refugees from persecution.”
Further, it stresses that the Government
“should have the confidence publicly to challenge those who seek to present genuine asylum seekers as a threat and something to be feared.”
That climate of fear and demonisation, promulgated over the years by sections of the press and, sadly, even some in politics, has meant that we as a country seem to have lost touch with the very basis of humanity and human rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on Refugees and subsequent protocol, which formed the basis of a common European asylum standard and response.
Britain has a long and proud history as an architect of human rights frameworks, whether that is in the proposing and drafting of international conventions; by developing national legislation and case law to implement our obligations; by being strong advocates at the UN—something that I have been a part of; or by being one of the largest funders of the International Criminal Court. So, it is troubling that Brexit, which, as many argued, was an opportunity for us as a country to establish and espouse our unique British values, appears in these negotiations and others as a moment when we seem to be backsliding on our international obligations.
We should not be seen as a country that was attached to our international humanitarian obligations only through some form of duress via our membership of the European Union. Instead, we should, in negotiations, set standards that are true to our values of protecting the most vulnerable; and no one can doubt the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors who find themselves on European shores. In giving evidence to the committee, Beth Gardiner-Smith, the CEO of Safe Passage, said that
“there are just under 5,000 unaccompanied children currently in Greece, the majority of whom currently live in unsafe and inappropriate accommodation”,
and we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, how in more recent times this has become worse. This accommodation might include temporary accommodation and open camps. She went on to say:
“It can even include what is called protective custody, which is essentially a mattress on the floor of a police cell because no other accommodation is available.”
Even under the current system, research from Safe Passage shows that
“children awaiting family reunion have to wait up to 16 months from the point of applying for family reunion to finally being relocated”.
As we approach another partial lockdown six months after the previous one was imposed, in which most of us, for the first time in our lives, experienced the trauma of not being able to see and meet our children and other loved ones, we should be more aware of and more able to understand the pain of separation. The Covid pandemic, a virus for which there is yet no cure, is difficult enough to accept, but what we are talking about is separation created by us—by people, by Governments, by states—and forced on some of the most vulnerable children in Europe, forcing them into the arms of those who seek to exploit.
The committee was explicit in its support of the Government’s aim to establish a new strategic relationship with the EU on asylum and illegal migration and the framework for asylum co-operation set in the July 2018 White Paper on the future of the UK-EU relationship. However, what concerned the committee—and indeed me—is that our statements have, over time, been more cautious and less ambitious. Whether it was the lack of any reference to future UK-EU asylum co-operation in the November 2018 political declaration, or the breakdown of more recent discussions this summer, it appears that Brexit has become a trigger for a less humane policy. It seems increasingly likely that separated families and unaccompanied children will, from 1 January, have to make their case within a more complex and restrictive immigration process.
I have only one question for my noble friend: can she categorically assure the House that, as of 1 January 2021, vulnerable children and other separated family members will have the same routes and rights available to be reunited with their loved ones as they have now? I hope that, in answering, she can reaffirm the Government’s commitment to a humane asylum policy in line with a long and historic British tradition.
My Lords, I too congratulate the EU Committee, whose report is comprehensive, clear and informative; it is really quite excellent. I want to put a number of questions to the Minister. No doubt her wind-up speech will respond quite automatically to some of them but, in so far as that is not possible, I wonder whether the officials might respond to some of the unanswered questions today.
As the report says, a UK withdrawal from the Dublin system after Brexit would result in,
“the loss of a safe, legal route for the reunification of separated refugee families in Europe”,
as my noble friend Lord Jay quoted. In a no-deal scenario, the impact on refugees really could be appalling. Can the Minister give an assurance that a temporary extension of the current arrangements will be put in place in the event of no deal until a satisfactory alternative system can be generated? It does not seem a lot to ask.
Very concerning is the fact that the UK does not participate in the family reunification directive, under which the participating EU countries have common rules governing the exercise of the right to family reunification by their country nationals, including special rules for refugees. The report points out that:
“The Government has indicated its intention to establish a new strategic relationship on asylum and migration with the EU—replicating some of the key principles of Dublin”.
I emphasise “some”. Can the Minister indicate which principles the Government do not plan to include in their new strategy, and why not?
I share the concern of the committee about a potential reduction in the reunion rights of vulnerable unaccompanied children; a number of noble Lords have already referred to this incredibly upsetting issue. Can the Minister assure the Committee that the Government will actually increase the protection against disruption to family reunion afforded by the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and can she spell out what the additional protections will be? Future UK-EU asylum co-operation should include a framework for the speedy resolution of refugee family reunion cases, ideally based on continued UK access to the Eurodac database. Can she give the Committee any information about these issues?
Can the Minister comment on the conclusions of David Bolt, the UK Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration? He said—I thought very tellingly—that
“the Department had handled family reunion applications as if they were visit visa applications”,
and that the Home Office had been
“too ready to refuse family reunion applications on the basis of insufficient evidence”,
instead of giving the applicant more time to produce more evidence, which might result in a much fairer and more efficient outcome. Bolt made the point that the readiness to refuse came from seeing these applications as “the wrong thing”. I do not fully understand all that, but it certainly sounds deeply worrying. Despite an improvement following the Bolt report, evidence from other witnesses shows that stakeholders continue to have significant concerns over the process for reuniting refugee families in the UK.
Probably the most upsetting aspect of the refugee tragedy is the fact that unaccompanied children are not allowed to sponsor their parents to come to the UK. The Refugee Council said that these restrictions condemned some of those children never to see their family members again. I find that shocking. Can we really continue with such a policy? I think not.
Not quite as bad as the position of unaccompanied children, but nevertheless also unacceptable, is the rule that family reunification does not allow so-called non-dependent children to be reunified with their families in the UK. What this means in practice is, of course, that the family has to leave behind an 18 year-old or so daughter or son, and we know that, in a number of countries, a daughter on her own with no family protection at all could be in serious jeopardy. Again, I hope that the Minister can reassure us that this will be dealt with.
The report rightly refers to the Home Office’s failures to assess the evidence available and its tendency to apply an
“excessively high standard of proof”
in family reunion cases. It also states that the Home Office regularly exceeds the time limit to conclude these cases under the Dublin regulation, and the time taken is, as we all know, no small matter. Delays can have long-lasting and serious impacts on the mental and physical health of vulnerable child refugees, who have already suffered enough before they arrive here.
An anomaly that should surely be sorted out when we leave the EU is that local authorities receive £25,000 over five years to support a child with a family who arrive through a resettlement scheme, but nothing to support an unaccompanied child and help with the costs of the care system. How can that be justified? Perhaps the Minister can comment on that.
Finally, lengthy periods of detention for asylum seekers need to be thought about. The Refugee Council noted that the UK was the only country in Europe that did not have a maximum time limit for immigration detention. As noble Lords know perfectly well, thousands of people are detained each year for long periods, costing £100 million annually and affecting the health and well-being of the detainees—and, of course, many of those are children. Again, do the Government plan to right this wrong? I sincerely hope so.
After all that, I suppose that I need to say something positive. I understand that the UK has a good record on implementing the refugee resettlement programmes. Indeed, I understand that the UK can claim to be a global leader in resettlement, so we are able to do things properly. I congratulate the Government on that success and hope that they can extend that good practice to the other areas that I have mentioned.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, has withdrawn from these proceedings, I now call the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
My Lords, I am privileged to serve on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I can say that, in our time together, we have never had a single word of disagreement: we are united as one in condemning Bills which are mere skeletons or stuffed full of Henry VIII clauses or where the negative procedure is used instead of the affirmative. Now, I am not going to talk about unaccompanied children today, but I am certain that the noble Baroness will not agree with what else I have to say; I hope only that she will still speak to me when we meet tomorrow morning.
This is yet another authoritative report from one of our EU committees, but of course it is now two years old. Thus, in my contribution I want to ask my noble friend the Minister for an update on where we are with creating our own bilateral arrangements to replace the Dublin III regulation, which are described in the Government’s response to the report as “a comprehensive readmissions agreement”. Under that agreement, we would seek
“the return of EU, UK and third-country nationals who have entered the UK directly from an EU country, and vice versa.”
The response said that such an agreement would preferably be
“underpinned by continued access to Eurodac, or a similar biometric system”,
but this would be subject to negotiation with the EU. I would be grateful to hear from my noble friend the Minister how we are getting on with that.
The committee raised concerns that, if we leave the EU without the continuation of a Dublin-type agreement, it will be more difficult to control the numbers of illegals crossing to the UK. But, in my opinion, Dublin III is a joke; it is ignored by the EU in any case. There can be no legal or moral justification for illegal asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or anywhere else in Africa or the Middle East arriving in this country. Genuine asylum seekers are supposed to seek asylum in the first safe country outside their own.
Let me make it clear: genuine asylum seekers are not a threat to anyone in this country and they should be welcomed. I deplore those who criticise genuine asylum seekers. But the problem is not helped when we have so many illegals crossing through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Romania, Germany, Italy, Spain and eventually France for onward transmission to the UK. These people give a bad name to all the genuine migrants.
These people are not genuine asylum seekers; they are economic migrants who want a better life in this country. There is no harm in that, and anyone who wants to emigrate here for a better life should be able to do so. But we have the fundamental right to decide whom to take and whom to reject, and I submit that we are not rejecting enough illegal seekers—or, rather, we are rejecting plenty, but we see masses of activist lawyers using every excuse and trick in the book to let them stay, even when all legal avenues have been exhausted so far. At the weekend, I read that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is aiming to increase the number of illegals deported. Of course, the problem is that, as soon as the flight is about to leave, another bunch of lawyers pop up to stop it, no matter how many times the case has failed in the past.
Then we come to the problem, which is never talked about, of French co-operation—or possible complicity. I am not sure how many millions we have given to the French authorities to strengthen defences against illegal crossings, but something is clearly not working. Note that the vast majority of crossings are made in good-quality RIBs. These rigid inflatable boats may be heavily overcrowded and dangerous, but they are all in pretty good condition with good outboard engines. Where do thousands of illegal asylum seekers get their hands on those? If I turned up in the north of France tomorrow, I would not be able to find a boat like that; I would not know where to go for one. They get them from the despicable racketeers who take money from these people for crossing over and stuff the boats full of far too many people who then drown or suffer. These racketeers must be getting the boats from legitimate suppliers.
I suggest that we work with the French to take action against all those businesses in the north of France selling rigid inflatable boats to asylum racketeers. Does anyone seriously suggest that the local French authorities do not know who is organising this locally or where these thousands of nice new RIBs come from? Are we asked to believe that these asylum seekers turn up not knowing a thing about northern France but miraculously discover all these boats that are ready for them?
Satellite images can show these boats being prepared and readied to be loaded. While I personally would have the SBS working the shores and taking out these boats before they set off, thereby saving the lives of those who would climb on board and possibly drown, I accept that that is too radical for Her Majesty’s Government. Therefore, we should pay the French to do it for us—and we will need to pay more than the racketeers are paying some of them to turn a blind eye.
Another bit of French possible complicity—which my noble friend dare not comment on either—is the authenticated reports that French government patrol boats were gently shoving boatloads of illegals into UK territorial waters, where the rescue service would take them to England and the life that they wanted. These actions are not by local officials in the Calais region, but by boats operated by the French Government. We may be outraged, but possibly we should not be surprised. The French Government have a problem with illegal asylum seekers in the camp at Calais and elsewhere on the French coast. Every time that they try to disperse them, they come back. So it is understandable that the French have concluded that the only way to deal with their Calais problem is to shove them on their way to England. Since many of these illegals have destroyed their passports or identity documents, it is exceptionally difficult to send them back. I urge the Government to seek a way forward on that.
I repeat that this country has always welcomed genuine asylum seekers and we want genuine immigration from skilled migrants. That is our fundamental duty and it is our history. But we need to redouble our efforts to stop all illegal and unjustified migration. As I said, economic migrants who have travelled through a dozen safe countries are not deserving and should not be classed as genuine asylum seekers, because they are destroying it for all the real, genuine ones.
My Lords, our shared history with Europe is important on many levels, going back further than the start of the EU and even before the Common Market. We have a great shared history of working together on cross-border co-operation and ensuring the best outcomes for people, whatever their status. This report highlights just how delicate a balance there is in maintaining that co-operation—working bilaterally, trilaterally and across many more countries—to fulfil our international obligations to help refugees and asylum seekers in their hour of need.
This is an issue that is not going to go away. Every day, boats are filled to overcapacity with migrants as they cross the channel, trying their very best to cross into our country and make their home here. Refugees and asylum seekers are often fleeing human rights abuses or persecution in their own country, and they are entitled to be treated humanely and with proper due process. This is not possible without the necessary accords between nations, underpinned by agreements, rules and legislation. Children, especially unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, are the most vulnerable in this situation and need our help unfettered by bureaucracy and red tape.
Therefore, having a good, solid working relationship with our European neighbours, especially those closest, such as France and Belgium, with regard to these matters cannot be left to some appendage to the negotiations taking place at the moment but must be first in line for discussions. However, it would appear that the previously agreed political declaration and the final withdrawal agreement contain an obligation only to lay a policy on the matter before Parliament. There is little concrete legal commitment from the Government on these issues.
Details of how this is going to work in practice, how children will be reunited with family members and how unaccompanied minors are dealt with should be clear now, so there is no room for problems to arise due to a lack of information at the end of the transition period. The Government have put forward that they will have a comprehensive readmission agreement in place of the existing Dublin III agreement for sorting things out between the UK and other EU countries, but the nuts and bolts of what exactly a comprehensive readmission agreement means should be published well ahead of the end of the transition period. Without details, we lack the means to make our borders safe while we assist and support refugees and asylum seekers, particularly children, who suffer the most in all these circumstances. It cannot and should not be left to be worked out once we are no longer bound by our EU treaty obligations and when we are completely separate from the present negotiations.
Can the Minister tell us, in the light of the likelihood of there being no properly agreed protocols and procedures in place after 1 January 2021, how the Government propose to deal with all the issues that will arise until they have a new agreement sorted out and safely in place? How will that comply with our international obligations to help people in these circumstances? How will those matters be dealt with if there is no deal?
My Lords, I start by noting my interest as declared in the Lords register and, of course, by praising and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and his committee, on such a comprehensive, interesting and detailed report. There are very meaningful recommendations, many of which stand the test of time, despite the fact that we are debating this report one year after its publication.
I also thank and congratulate the many organisations in this country and elsewhere which work tirelessly every day to try to ensure that Governments stop treating children, particularly asylum and refugee children—displaced children—badly. Those in this country, such as UNICEF and the Refugee Council, and those abroad, such as UNICEF again, Save the Children, the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, are all working tirelessly to try to ensure not just that human traffickers, racketeers, as mentioned earlier, and those involved in conflict but legitimate democratic Governments treat children better than they have in the past.
Over the years, I have visited a whole series of refugee camps and camps for the internally displaced, and I am constantly struck by two things. First, where those camps are either in the countries of origin or nearby countries—perhaps Syrians in Iraq or South Sudanese in Uganda—there is an absolute desire on the part of children to go home. They want to go back to the villages and towns and to help to rebuild them and to carry on their education, not to move to Europe or another continent to get a completely different life.
I was also struck in camps in Europe, such as the huge Cara di Mineo camp, which was the largest asylum seeker detention and organisation camp in Europe in its time, although it has now been closed by the Italian Government, by the children and young people there and the absolute horrors they have been through. It was sometimes because they had been sold by their families to human traffickers and sometimes because they themselves had been duped by human traffickers and taken on hazardous journeys. At other times, they had been caught up in movements away from conflict and violence and, along the way, had been raped, beaten, tortured, sold and sold again. They had been almost drowned and had watched others die while they survived and felt the guilt that comes from that. Those are the children and young people whom we talk about when we talk about asylum and refugee children.
That is why the UK, if the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister mean what they say about the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Government as a whole being a force for good in the world, needs to set high standards in this area and stick to them. We need to do better than we have done in the past under successive Governments, not just under this Government.
First, will the Minister say what assessment the UK Government currently make of the situation for the more than 600,000 people in detention camps in Libya, with approximately 40,000 children, one-quarter of whom are unaccompanied? What assessment are we making of the way in which Europe, including ourselves, has in recent years financed the system around the Libyan coastguards, which seems simply to have encouraged human trafficking rather than discouraged it? Secondly, the recent tragedy in the Moria camp on Lesbos in Greece has already been mentioned. I understand from reports that unaccompanied children caught up in that horrific fire and therefore made homeless are being relocated. Is the UK involved in that process, and will we take our share of children who find themselves unaccompanied and homeless on the outskirts of Europe?
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I move on to the situation once people arrive here. I understand that the number of unaccompanied children in detention in the UK has reduced dramatically over the past decade, and that is to be welcomed and the Government deserve congratulations on it. However, the way in which we treat unaccompanied children arriving on these shores says an awful lot about who we are as a country. Therefore, I would be interested to know the up-to-date figures for 2019 for unaccompanied children, not only those who arrived in the UK but how many found themselves in detention, contrary to the Government’s firm commitment to end that process. Also, more recently, clearly there has been an issue of unaccompanied children being included in the boats arriving on the south-east coast. It is vital that the local authorities in that area are able to provide the correct level of support for them. What provision have the Government made to ensure that Kent Council and others are able to provide the necessary services to support those children, many of whom will be deeply traumatised and scared and may not even have any access to the English language?
Like others, I would be keen to have an update on the negotiations on replacing the regulations and the way in which the Government will take this issue forward. If we are to have sovereignty over our own laws in the future, perhaps this is an opportunity for us to have even better laws than we have had in co-operation and agreement with the European Union. I urge the Government to think positively about setting an example here. The UK should be a shining light around the world for understanding the importance of family reunion for the safety and security of children. We should be firmly committed to meeting our international obligations, and humanity should be at the core of our approach.
Finally, I want to touch on the situation in Glasgow and Scotland over 2020. There is much debate today in Parliament and elsewhere about the potential for another lockdown and its impact on citizens throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There have been three deaths in the Glasgow area these past few months, not all directly related to lockdown but there is at least a suspicion that the conditions under which asylum seekers have been living under lockdown have contributed to in one case tensions, and in other cases the mental health problems of the individuals affected. I would be interested to know whether the Government have commissioned independent reports on the violent incident and the death at the Park Inn hotel in Glasgow and the two other deaths in Scotland this year. Will those reports be published? Have the Government received any correspondence from the Scottish Government about those incidents and will they publish that correspondence and any replies? Have any lessons been learned about how the asylum-seeker community in Glasgow in particular is managed and supported through this difficult period?
With these remarks I am happy to conclude, but I reiterate that the way in which we treat, support, house and look after child refugees and children who have become asylum seekers, especially those who are unaccompanied, in the UK and abroad will say an awful lot about us, and an awful lot about the 21st century and what kind of world we are. I hope that the UK Government will be a force for good in relation to that, as they have promised to be.
My Lords, the UK has traditionally welcomed people from all over the world and gained by it. It took a lot of courage when the Government allowed the East African Asians to settle in the UK because of the decision taken by the Ugandan Government to expel all Asians. Similarly, many Asians left Kenya and Tanzania because of the changes in government policy on the nationalisation of banks, financial institutions, industries and large businesses. There are Members of this House and the other place who came from East Africa. Decades later we can see that, as UK citizens, the East African Asians have achieved many successes in businesses, professions, tourism and restaurants. They have contributed by paying taxes and creating new jobs, employing not only their own but the wider community.
People from other countries come to the UK for business, employment or when they are forced to leave their countries due to persecution from politicians there. Many flee from their own countries to save their lives. Among them are young children who wish to migrate to join their families in the UK. As we exit the EU this year, we should make provision for settlement of refugees, particularly young children who wish to join parents, siblings or members of their wider families. Look at the decision of the German Government to allow refugees from Iraq and Syria. Germany has gained people who are highly and professionally trained. [Inaudible.]
We should not endanger the lives of people fleeing other countries. We see daily reports of refugees in small boats crossing the channel from the continent to the UK on dangerous seas. I ask the Government to look at this issue not with suspicion but with humanity. Can the Minister provide figures on how many applications were received, granted and refused under paragraph 319X of the Immigration Rules?
My Lords, we are almost a year on from the European Union Committee’s excellent report on the impact of Brexit on refugee protection and asylum policy. We are now little more than three months away from the end of the Brexit transition period. The current situation is urgent and crucial.
No child or person wishes to leave their country. We should remember—and I hope everybody in the Government remembers—that people leave because of climate change, civil war and war. More and more people will be on the move, as we know from global figures. Covid will make this even more difficult. We all must play our part and accept more refugees, particularly those from the camps where there have been fires and other misfortunes.
We are fast approaching a cliff edge. At the end of the transition period in December, the existing system of protection will have gone. No deal would leave us with nothing. A safe route for reunification of families will be gone. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children would be prejudiced. At the same time, enforcement of the rules would become more difficult. Bilateral deals with France and Belgium would not be the answer. A United Kingdom deal with the EU as a whole is essential, generally and as soon as possible, in particular with respect to protection for asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I was going to touch on a letter that my committee received this morning from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, but I think I will leave that to my chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, who was going to speak before me. I will not touch on that but leave that to him.
My Lords, I have the privilege of chairing the Security and Justice Sub-Committee of the EU Committee, which has inherited responsibility for this and other subjects from my noble friend Lord Jay’s committee. Not for the first time in my career, I am following in my noble friend’s wake.
Frankly, I have been surprised and disappointed by how difficult it is to get useful information from the Government on the situation in the negotiations with the EU across a whole range of justice and security issues, and on plans if agreements are not possible. These questions get less attention in the media than trade and fisheries, but they are vital, because, as other noble Lords have said, they concern people’s lives and their safety and security, here and across the EU.
In my view, it has taken too long for this report, which we produced in October last year, to come to the House for debate. From rereading it, I am struck by how prescient it is and how close we are to some of the really unsatisfactory outcomes identified in it actually happening. However, my noble friend Lord Jay’s report and the debate today have finally extracted a letter from the Home Office, as the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, said, in response to one that my noble friend Lord Jay wrote in February. I also wrote a second letter in May. I have not had time to study it; we received it this morning. I hope it contains some useful information.
However, at the same time, we are told that the Home Office Minister, Mr Philp, who had been scheduled to give evidence to our committee next week on 29 September, has postponed that session. That is the second time he has declined to appear before our committee. We were told that he was very busy dealing with aspects of the Covid pandemic, which I understand, that negotiations with the EU were continuing and that he was not in a position to give us a meaningful update next week. I am new as a committee chairman, but I had not understood that it was for Ministers, when invited to appear, to decide whether they were in a position to give a committee a meaningful update. These negotiations with the EU, however they turn out, are now in their final weeks. Crucial issues are at stake in areas of refugee protection, asylum and many others. Ministers have a duty to come before Select Committees. It really is unacceptable to have repeated cancellations such as this. I hope the Minister will do all in her power to ensure that a Home Office Minister can appear before our committee next week on these important issues.
My noble friend Lord Jay and others referred to a report in the Guardian on 3 September that EU negotiators had rejected the UK’s proposal for an agreement on unaccompanied child asylum seekers because they had no mandate to agree one. That will be no surprise to anyone who listened to the evidence session we had with legal experts in July. Professor Elspeth Guild of Queen Mary University of London told us that the EU had no mandate because no one had thought to put into the November 2019 political declaration anything on this issue about unaccompanied child migrants. The UK had proposed a draft agreement, presumably knowing full well that there was no mandate on the EU side to negotiate it. However, the position is even worse than that, because since this is an area of exercised EU competence, individual member states are not competent to agree individual agreements with us either. We will clearly land up with no agreement on unaccompanied child migrants, and since it has been made clear that we are pulling out of the Dublin system altogether, we will arrive exactly where the report predicted last October, in a situation with no agreement.
I know that the Minister explained, in Committee on the immigration Bill, that the UK draft agreement lies on the table, but I fear that means tabled in the sense in the US Senate, where something that is tabled is consigned to oblivion. We need to understand from the Government what the arrangements will be to deal with unaccompanied child asylum seekers when we have completely left what one witness called the “tapestry of law” in the EU represented by the Dublin arrangements. Clearly, in that situation, the rights of unaccompanied child asylum seekers will be reduced. We have heard that the UK is the only country in Europe that does not provide for refugee children to sponsor close relatives. Dublin also gives unaccompanied children legal rights, for example, to appeal judgments and to have timelines for the resolution of their cases. All that will go.
One of the reasons given by Mr Philp for not coming before our committee next week was that he was busy dealing with the issue of small boat crossings of the channel. It seems to me that those two issues are linked. I do not accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that there is complicity among French officials and the French system with traffickers in this dreadful trade of sending people at high risk across the channel. However, I note that it is the Dublin regulation that gives the UK a legal base to return failed asylum seekers to countries such as France. Without that, we will not have the legal base. If we reduce the legal routes available for asylum seekers to this country, including children, surely more will try illegal routes to get here.
We need a comprehensive approach to refugee and asylum protection. We are still waiting to see the details of the proposed global resettlement scheme. Perhaps when she winds up the debate, the Minister can tell us when that will be published, because it is a crucial document.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate because we need it badly. I am obviously not alone in having felt uncomfortable for some time that the UK still has not reached a durable agreement with the EU on either asylum policy or much else. However, I was reassured by what my noble friend Lord Ricketts said; I know that he is on the case. Nor, in my view, has the UK taken its fair share of Europe’s asylum seekers, although I welcome the new global resettlement scheme following the Syrian and other programmes since the 2015 crisis.
We look across the channel and frown at the hostile attitude to migrants in some EU states until we realise that we may become one of those states. We can all agree that this is among the most urgent issues facing us. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Jay and the two committees on identifying so well the areas in which the Government still fall lamentably short—notably not turning up in committees.
I fully recognise that the EU is in difficulty. For example, it is unable to come to one mind on the new Dublin regulations. That is unsurprising given the dramatic increase in numbers in 2015 and the political shift toward xenophobia. I wish that the UK had been at the table, even now, as a member. We have been lucky to begin so many opt-outs, notably on Schengen, and we would have had much to offer in the joint programme post Brexit.
The report rightly urges HMG to make every effort to maintain effective border co-operation, especially in the event of no deal, but we know that the Home Office hesitates to agree with anything like joint responsibility beyond Calais and Zeebrugge, a route that is working well. Have we signed up to the latest version of Eurodac yet?
The Government’s response to the report is full of “We will do this and that” but even solemn promises and commitments, which we will hear again today, ring hollow because we are rapidly approaching the cliff edge. How can the Home Office expect anything but brickbats from this committee when it has been let down so much by the Government’s failure in the negotiations?
As we have known since the 1951 convention, asylum cases can frequently be a matter of life and death—we have heard examples of that—and should not be resolved on a chess board. Okay, illegals have to go, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is right to remind us, but there is much to be done to improve the rules governing the paperwork faced by genuine asylum seekers.
On resettlement, I hope that the Government will maintain this country’s reputation for hospitality. Back in the 1980s, I played a small part in the resettlement of Vietnamese boat people. I saw how human beings were kept like animals in three-tier cages at Hong Kong Airport, and I know at first hand of the remarkable British welcome to thousands of refugees. That was led by the churches and well assisted by local authorities, which are doing a lot today but not enough. The German Safe Harbours initiative is another current example of this warm public welcome. Today, we are seeing similar scenes in the Mediterranean and in the channel. I wish that the same spirit were there today but attitudes are changing and both our own official response and that of the EU are quite out of proportion to the magnitude of the crisis.
People keep saying that we need a new policy. In his recent Civitas report, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred to the UK as a “spatially limited island” and called for a demographic authority to guide immigration policy. That sounds reasonable but, with the current fluctuations and uncertainties in migration, it may be impossible to arrive at such a policy. I recommend the latest Forced Migration Review for a fascinating critique of attempts to count up victims of slavery, trafficking and forced labour.
Family reunion, which has been mentioned, is a fast- growing element in migration. I know that we are already committed to receiving more of the most vulnerable unaccompanied minors under the Dubs Section 17 of the withdrawal Act and other rules, but they are individuals and, as we have heard, there is a question mark over the future of their families when we are no longer subject to the Dublin agreement. The UNHCR says that Dublin should become a “model” for future co-operation. I hope that the Minister will anticipate the EU deal and explain what is going to happen.
When we are outside the EU, as a developed country and a close neighbour, we are capable of playing an even bigger role in burden sharing, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, rightly said and as the report recommends. In paragraphs 165 to 166, it says that
“if responsibility sharing does become an established feature of EU asylum policy, and if it is framed in a voluntary and non-binding way, we believe that it would be in the UK’s interest to participate in such measures. In so doing, the UK would demonstrate solidarity, good will, and a willingness to play its part in managing migration flows across the continent.”
I do not know who drafted those paragraphs but they seem to offer the Government an admirable and generous opportunity to introduce a new policy.
Finally, I thank the Library for its helpful commentary and my grandson Leo for sharing his useful and informative year 4 migration flow chart.
One of the disadvantages of speaking late in a debate such as this one is that all one’s foxes have been shot. One of the advantages is that you usually get a chance to pick a fight. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, was good enough to give me that chance with his reference to the French Government shoving people into boats on their way to England; unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, shot that fox rather magisterially.
I congratulate the committee on producing an excellent report 11 months ago. I will concentrate on just one aspect of it: family reunion. I declare my interest as a trustee of the Refugee Council.
The report was premised on the assumption that the Government would seek to negotiate a successor arrangement to Dublin III as part of a future relationship treaty. It stressed the importance of success in that enterprise, warning that, without a successor arrangement, the only safe and legal route for separated refugee children would be lost. The report recommended:
“All routes to family reunion available under the Dublin System should be maintained in the new legal framework for cooperation, together with robust procedural safeguards to minimise delays in reuniting separated refugee families.”
I think we all agree with all of that, but none of it has happened. Instead, as the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, pointed out, the political declaration that Mr Johnson agreed on 19 October, just after this report came out—which became the Commission’s mandate for the future relationship negotiation—contained no such ambition, with nothing at all on family reunion. We decided that we did not want what the political declaration promised—an overarching institutional framework with linked agreements in specific areas of co-operation—after all.
Our own proposals on refugees turned out to be all about requirements from the EU 27 to accept the return of asylum seekers whom we had rejected. Inevitably, those proposals were rejected. The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, is absolutely right: since the member states have empowered the Union to negotiate on their behalf in this area, they have disempowered themselves so it will not be possible to obtain bilateral agreements. We also seem to have given up on obtaining an agreement with the Union.
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, that the situation she was describing in the event of no deal would be the same in the event of a deal because a deal will not cover asylum and family reunion. It is clear that, deal or no deal, we shall fall out of Dublin III in exactly 100 days’ time with no successor arrangements secured, which means, in the words of the report, that “separated refugee families” are going to be left in “legal limbo.”
I have seen no sign of the single global resettlement programme which the Government promised to unveil this year, and all our existing resettlement schemes have been shut down because of the virus. I quite understand that, although some other countries seem to have restarted their schemes. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when our scheme will reopen, but it will not help with family reunions previously arranged under Dublin III. In short, the worst-case scenario, which the report warned against, is coming true and I see no sign of the Government pursuing the interim agreement which the committee recommended as a contingency fallback.
It could actually be even worse than the report suggests. My noble friend Lord Ricketts referred to the evidence given by Professor Elspeth Guild to his committee in July. I read it for the first time when preparing for this debate. She is a recognised national expert on immigration and asylum law and her evidence in July was impressive and depressing. She predicted all too plausibly that outside Dublin III and the common European asylum system
“the UK will develop a much harsher regime in respect of asylum seekers and children will find it increasingly difficult to come and join their family members in the UK”.
She also offered a solution: we need a provision in the immigration Bill providing a right for unaccompanied minors to join their families in the UK. That is her view and mine, and that is what we have it in our power to do. In Committee on the Bill last week, we debated introducing just such a provision and we will come back to it on Report next week. Even with an agreed replacement for Dublin III, it would have been highly desirable to have such a provision in the Bill. Now that we know we will not have a replacement for Dublin III, it is essential to have it in the Bill.
As a civilised country we cannot just do nothing, which would mean going backwards, regressing and forcing these children into legal limbo and physical jeopardy. With no legal right or route to family reunion, they will inevitably be more tempted by the traffickers. Do we really want to connive at that, becoming effectively the accomplice of the criminals? I really do not think so. I do not think the country wants it, and I do not think that will be the opinion of the House next week.
Before then, I hope the Minister will have some good news for us about Greece. In Committee on the Bill there was much discussion of the plight of the victims of the burning of the Moria camp, who are now sleeping rough on Lesbos. They include more than 400 unaccompanied children. As several of us— indeed, all who spoke last week—thought, there should be some positive UK response to the Greek Government’s appeal for help and sanctuary for these poor people. The appeal was not directed just at fellow EU member states. We are still fellow Europeans. The Germans have shamed us with the generosity of their response. They are going to take well over 1,000 refugees. I do not think we have yet said we are going to take any. Perhaps the Minister will put that right today.
In the discussions in Committee on the immigration Bill, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke of the good Samaritan. The victim the good Samaritan rescued was on the road to Damascus. Some of those we should be picking up now will be en route from Damascus, but the principle is probably the same. It would be the right thing to do. Among the more than 400 unaccompanied children now sleeping rough on Lesbos will be some hoping to join family members in this country. Could we not as a minimum do as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, suggested this afternoon and identify them and pick them up? If the Minister does not have good news for us today on that, I hope she will when the House comes back to the Bill next week.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for his introduction. I am sorry not to have had the opportunity to serve under his chairmanship. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, will understand absolutely that that is not a comment on his chairmanship. Indeed, I share his disappointment on the timing of the response, the difficulty of obtaining information and the appearance, or not, of the Minister before the committee next week.
The year since the report was published must have seemed very long to the refugees and asylum seekers who are its subject, and it was a year in which progress has been undetectable. I hardly need to stress the importance of the issue. At a meeting of the EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee which has been mentioned, a witness said—the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, echoed this—that the causes of child migration were
“war, poverty, climate change and now the pandemic.”
I would add enormous human rights violations. He said:
“It is a deadly scenario”.
When we were debating this in Committee on the immigration Bill, the Minister referred to a
“draft legal text for a negotiated agreement for a state-to-state referral and transfer system which would provide clear and consistent processes between the UK and EU member states, ensuring appropriate support for the child and guaranteeing reciprocity … We have acted in good faith and hope the EU will do the same.”—[Official Report, 14/9/20; cols. 1076-77.]
Co-operation, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has said, is essential. I do not want to challenge the Minister’s good faith, but the text is a poor thing: there are eight very well-spaced pages of which only four are substantive, and requests to and from the UK are discretionary. Perhaps I should say it was a poor thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I think, said, we are told that the Bill is still on the negotiating table, but neither then nor now was there any sign of it being urged forward. We have heard about the Catch-22 of this not being within the EU Commission’s negotiating mandate, but being a competence of the EU so that it is not open to member states to negotiate. This has emerged more into the public domain through a report in the press on 3 September, before we started in Committee on the immigration Bill, so a clarification on this will be welcome. Are we, or more importantly, the people affected in a Catch-22 situation? If we are, or whatever, what ways are being sought to go ahead with bilaterals, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, asked? How is that getting on?
The Government responded to this committee’s report that
“there is a real mutual interest in a close future partnership … ensuring safe and legal passage for the most vulnerable.”
Presumably that still stands, because creating safe and legal routes is the best way of tackling racketeering, smuggling, trafficking and the danger involved to dignity, a safe existence and life itself. It surely must include routes, not just from the Middle East. It is reported that there are 10,000 children missing in the EU.
Can the Minister therefore say what criteria the Government will be applying? As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, let us come out of this with some good, humane arrangements. Surely what we end up with must include wide rights of family reunion. The current rules are inadequate, limited to “serious and compelling” family or other reasons, which make the exclusion of children “undesirable”—is not that exclusion always undesirable? That is coupled with a substantial fee for having family in the UK take on the care of a child, and they must have the means to do so. There is indeed discretion outside the rules. Can the Minister tell us how many applications have been received, how many have been granted and how many refused year by year since—to pluck a figure out of the air—2010? I do not expect her to have that information at her fingertips today, but it would be very helpful to have it by letter following this debate. It is unlikely that new agreements will be in place in three months’ time so, like other Members, I would be glad to be reassured about the position from January onwards—in particular, that “family” will not be interpreted in a narrower way than it is under Dublin.
Sometimes our debates on Brexit become quite technical; I would be the first to acknowledge the alphabet soup of EU acronyms. However, behind them all are individuals. All refugees and asylum seekers are vulnerable, to different extents, but by definition they are vulnerable, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, reminded us—she certainly reminded us of the importance of language. Enabling families to be together and good, wide sponsorship rules are the best basis for people to settle here in the widest sense of the term “settlement”. If the Minister tells us that all this would create a pull factor, I reject that, other than in very rare cases. On the contrary, I find it extraordinary what extreme situations people endure before it finally becomes too much; the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, alluded to that. A local authority as a corporate parent is not as good by a long way generally as a real parent, an uncle, aunt, grandparent or older sibling, and I have met some wonderful foster parents.
We know about the problems in Kent and the alarming prospect of the use of an IRC to accommodate children. We know that local authorities are cash-strapped. What are the Government doing to enable local authorities around the country to play their part?
Like much of the letter received early today, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, referred, the Government’s response to the report was rather complacent; the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made a similar point. It made reference to the role of local authorities, but without the recognition that they cannot be expected to magic resources out of thin air. Safe and legal routes should operate without challenge because the legal rights and obligations include specific obligations—under Dublin, at any rate—regarding the processing of claims. Does the Minister have anything to share with your Lordships on the progress within the Home Office on additional staffing and training, or has Covid halted all that? One positive line in the draft text was the “best interests of children”, although there is no systematic process for identifying what that means to different parties or operation rights.
I hope that the noble Lord will not include that exchange in my 10 minutes.
On the importance of the best interests of children, perhaps the noble Baroness can also tell us of any progress on piloting trafficking guardians and update us as to arrangements with the French and Belgian Governments. Can she also comment on the loss of data-sharing arrangements with the EU, and on arrangements to replace what we have had from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund? Not only has progress been undetectable but it seems that there has also been an undetectable political will to sort this out. We need political will to create safe and legal routes. That is not a mantra; it is really important to save lives and make the lives of many people worth living.
It is hardly satisfactory to be debating an EU Committee report nearly 12 months after it was published. While I am more than aware that there have been major difficulties this year, equally, I can recall that there were times this summer when this House did not have a full day’s business. Nevertheless, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and the former Home Affairs Sub-Committee on their measured and informative report, which seeks to bring both calmness of thought and the facts to bear on an issue that is all too often the subject of exaggeration and excessive emotion.
In the light of the Government revoking the Dublin III regulation at the end of the transition period and not keeping it as retained EU law, the committee considered what the impact would be of the UK ceasing to participate in the Dublin system after Brexit. It concluded that it
“would result in the loss of a safe, legal route for the reunification of separated refugee families in Europe. Vulnerable unaccompanied children would find their family reunion rights curtailed, as Dublin offers them the chance to be reunited with a broader range of family members than under current UK Immigration Rules.”
The report also stated:
“After Brexit, the UK is also likely to find it more difficult to enforce the principle that people in need of protection should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. Without access to the Eurodac database, it is unclear how the UK would be able to identify asylum applicants who have already been registered in another European country. And a new returns agreement (or agreements) would be needed for the UK to be able to send asylum seekers back to their first point of entry to the EU.”
A further issue raised by the committee was the potential impact of Brexit on our bilateral relationships with EU member states and, in particular, on the arrangements with France and Belgium, which allow us to check passengers and freight en route to the UK before they begin their journey, and on the co-operation between UK, French and Belgian border agencies to address the issue of migrants attempting to cross the channel in small boats. The committee recommended:
“Future UK-EU asylum cooperation should take the Dublin System as its starting point and would ideally be based on continued UK access to the Eurodac database … All routes to family reunion available under the Dublin System should be maintained”.
In their response to the committee in March this year, the Government said that
“the UK does not intend to replicate the Dublin Regulation”
although they were seeking, as has been said, a close partnership with the EU on asylum and illegal immigration, as well as a new agreement with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the EU with family members in the UK. However, the Government’s European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 removed the previous legal obligation to seek to negotiate such an agreement.
The EU Committee has since raised further questions in a letter last May arising from the Government’s response to its report in March of this year. A feature of that letter was the number of occasions on which it was stated that, despite waiting five months for the Government’s response to the report we are now debating, a number of recommendations or specific points had not been addressed. Can the Government explain in their reply to this debate why that happened and whether the Home Office response to a report is seen and cleared by Ministers before it is sent?
Can the Government also say why the response to the further letter from the EU Committee was apparently received only some months later, earlier this afternoon? I have not seen it but, subject to what the Government may say in response, the last-minute reply just before this debate tends to sum up their negative attitude to the role of Parliament. I noted with interest the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, on Ministers’ non-attendance at committees.
It would be helpful if the Government in their reply to this debate could give their responses to the questions raised in the follow-up letter of May this year, some of which I want to repeat so that the answers are on the record in Hansard. The committee wanted to know whether the Government would seek to negotiate an interim agreement to support refugee family reunion, as urged in its report, in the event of no deal on asylum and immigration matters being reached by the end of the transition period. Are the Government seeking to maintain all routes to family reunion currently available under the Dublin system as part of the
“ambitious new partnership on asylum and immigration”
they were seeking?
In its report, the committee concluded that a future agreement with the EU on asylum and immigration should uphold a range of minimum standards for refugee protection. Are the Government committed to including such minimum standards in a future agreement? If so, what minimum standards are the Government seeking? How would the parties’ adherence to these minimum standards be supervised? How and by whom would they be enforced?
The EU committee report referred to the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and said that the UK had been the largest recipient of funding, having been allocated—I seem to remember—€370 million to spend on national priorities, such as improving Home Offices processes and the returns programme, and in support of refugee resettlement programmes and integration measures. Can the Government in their reply to this debate today say whether they plan to replace the support provided by the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund? Can the Government, either today or subsequently, say how much funding the UK has received from the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund over the past 10 years, with a breakdown of how, and on what, it has been spent?
The EU committee supported the Government’s intention to establish a single global refugee resettlement programme this year by consolidating existing schemes. My noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, both referred to this. Can the Government indicate, if they have not already done this, when they will be providing a detailed summary to local authorities of how the new global resettlement scheme will operate and what that information will include? Can the Government also say in their response what they think were the factors that led many local authorities not to participate in the previous resettlement schemes and how they intend to encourage more authorities to participate in the global resettlement scheme?
The report we are considering urged the Government to offer the same package of financial and other integration support to all recognised refugees in the UK, irrespective of whether they arrived through a resettlement programme or as an asylum seeker. Can the Government say whether they will ensure that all recognised refugees in the UK receive equality of support, no matter how they arrive in this country?
On agreements with third countries, on readmission or co-operation to address the causes of migration, the committee recommended that all such agreements should be subject to formal human rights assessments. Can the Government say whether they will be doing this and, if so, which human rights standards will be applied? Will the Government’s assessment be subject to independent verification and, if so, by which body?
A number of issues and points have been raised by noble Lords on refugee protection and asylum policy over the past two hours or so. I hope government answers will now be forthcoming because we are approaching the deadline day for determining our future immigration policy, including on this issue, with some rapidity and even more uncertainty. It looks as though the role of Parliament in influencing and determining that policy will be as minimal as the Government can make it because future policy depends on the outcome of negotiations with the EU, negotiations that will be concluded, at best, very late in the day, and over which Parliament has little or no meaningful say or influence, with the essential specifics of our future immigration policy, including refugee protection and asylum policy, being laid down in secondary legislation, which cannot be amended, rather than in primary legislation. Quite sweeping powers are being grabbed by the Government, which they can then exercise with little meaningful challenge or direct accountability. Specific answers from the Government to the many questions and points raised in this debate today would therefore be both welcome and much needed. I hope I am wrong in suspecting that those answers will also prove elusive.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for tabling a discussion on the report published last year by the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee on Brexit: Refugee Protection and Asylum Policy. I start by issuing two apologies: first, that the letter to noble Lords arrived only this morning, and secondly, that a Home Office Minister is not available to appear at the Select Committee next week. I will take that second point away and see what can be done for this time next week. I am grateful to noble Lords for alerting me to that. I hope the letter proves useful. There is only one part of it where I am going to have to provide figures. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the replacement of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. The breakdown of the numbers is not in the letter, but I will try to provide that breakdown, if I can.
I thank the members of the committee for their very thoughtful contributions this afternoon and for the work they have done in producing this report. It made a number of conclusions and recommendations, and I will look at each in turn. The noble Lords, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Lord Roberts of Llandudno, my noble friend Lady Warsi, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—I think—made the important point about how we treat those who need our refuge being a reflection on us as a nation. I agree with that. The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, talked about the Ugandan Asians and how we gave them our refuge all those years ago. He also asked me for the published figures on 319X, which I am afraid I do not have. I agree with the committee’s principle that the way that we treat others is a reflection of ourselves.
The committee calls on the Government to offer public reassurances that they have no intention of curtailing the rights and protections afforded to refugees in the UK after Brexit. I can be quite clear from the outset, and I have said this before: this Government will continue to provide protection to refugees in the UK in accordance with the 1951 refugee convention. We will continue to support refugee resettlement and integration in the UK now that we have left the EU and after the end of the transition period—to answer all noble Lords who have made that point.
The report stated that
“it is vital that refugees and asylum seekers are considered in any agreement on the future UK-EU relationship.”
Notwithstanding the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the UK has made a genuine and sincere offer on asylum and migration co-operation with the EU. While I do not intend to comment on negotiations, as they are ongoing, the Government have always been clear that our offer is in the interests of both the UK and EU, although I note that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is shaking his head. The issue is of the utmost importance to the UK and a core part of the UK’s whole-of-route approach to migration.
The report notes the Government’s position not to participate in burden-sharing measures, although comments that it would be in the UK’s interests to do so. That does not align with this Government’s view. Rather, we are of the opinion that a redistribution mechanism is likely to further increase flows to Europe, continuing the risk of more and more people making dangerous journeys. For these reasons, the UK is unwilling to participate in a voluntary relocation programme and, as such, we would not expect the future EU-UK relationship to be underpinned by such a proposal.
Now that the UK has left the EU, at the end of the transition period the UK will also cease to be party to the Dublin III regulation. The committee commented that Dublin represents a more desirable and realistic foundation for the future UK-EU asylum relationship than new agreements. However, the Government do not intend to replicate Dublin; instead, we are seeking an ambitious new partnership on asylum and illegal migration. Dublin is an EU law and it is right that, as an independent, sovereign country, we form our own arrangements at the end of the transition period. The UK will no longer be subject to EU directives or part of the common European asylum system at the end of the transition period. This includes having our own standards on asylum procedures and reception arrangements. The UK already has high standards for how we operate our asylum system, and we will continue to be a world leader in this area.
The report comments that human rights considerations must be at the heart of any future agreements with third countries on readmissions and illegal migration, and the Government agree wholeheartedly. That is why all returns cases are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account relevant case law and country conditions, based on evidence from a wide range of sources, including human rights organisations. We regularly monitor and review the situation in countries of origin, working closely with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We will continue to uphold our obligation of non-refoulement under the refugee convention, by which we will continue to be bound.
The Government have proposed that the EU and UK enter into a comprehensive readmissions agreement. This would allow for the return of EU, UK and third-country nationals who have entered the UK directly from an EU country, and vice versa. The UK’s preference is to agree a readmissions agreement with the EU, but this is a two-way negotiation so the outcome will also depend on EU co-operation. The Government have also presented a genuine and sincere offer to the EU for a new, reciprocal arrangement for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the EU with family members in the UK, where it is in the child’s best interests, and for children in the UK with family in the EU in equivalent circumstances, once the UK ceases participating in the Dublin regulation at the end of the transition period.
On 19 May, we published a draft legal text as a constructive contribution to negotiations. We have tabled a draft legal text for a negotiated agreement for a state-to-state referral and transfer system which would provide clear and consistent processes between the UK and EU member states, ensuring appropriate support for the child, and guaranteeing reciprocity. These guarantees cannot be provided for in UK domestic provisions alone. Even though the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, presses me to, I cannot provide a running commentary on this but, on that point about Eurodac, we are very keen to reach an agreement on biometric data sharing, for very obvious reasons.
The committee commented that it is imperative that the right to reunion for refugee families should not be restricted after we are no longer part of Dublin. The UK already provides safe and legal routes to bring families together through its refugee family reunion policy and under the family provisions in Part 8 and Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules. These routes are not affected by the UK’s exit from the EU. There is no intention to negotiate new arrangements to replace the family reunion provisions of the Dublin regulation for adults and accompanied children at this time, as we believe our domestic family reunion provisions offer sufficient family reunion routes. We recognise that families can become separated because of the nature of conflict and persecution, and the speed and manner in which people are often forced to flee their country. The Government’s family reunion policy allows those granted family reunion status or humanitarian protection in the United Kingdom to sponsor their pre-flight partner and minor children to join them here. To half-answer the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I say that the Home Office has granted over 29,000 family reunion visas under the refugee family reunion Immigration Rules over the last five years, more than half of which were issued to children. But I shall endeavour to get her figures for the last 10 years.
The report also recommends that the definition of family members eligible for reunion should be expanded to include adult children. I should point out that there are separate provisions in the rules to allow extended family to sponsor children to come here when there are serious and compelling circumstances. Where an application fails under the Immigration Rules, we consider whether there are exceptional circumstances or compassionate reasons to justify granting leave to enter or remain in the UK, outside of the Immigration Rules. We have published guidance which aims to provide advice on the types of cases that might benefit from this discretion, including young adult sons or daughters who are dependent on family here and living in dangerous situations. Refugees can also sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them when, due to age, illness or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can be provided only by relatives in the UK.
The committee supports the campaign to expand refugee family reunion to include children being able to sponsor parents. The noble Lords, Lord Ricketts and Lord Jay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made that point, among others. On this matter, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that we are quite clear and have repeatedly made clear the Government’s concern that allowing refugee children in the UK to sponsor parents would create further incentives for more children to be encouraged, or even forced, to leave their family to make that journey to the UK to sponsor relatives, in the manner that my noble friend Lord Blencathra points out. They often have hazardous journeys in the substandard vessels that we have seen so often on the television. Our view is that this plays into the hands of criminal gangs, which exploit vulnerable people, and that goes against our safeguarding responsibilities. Meanwhile, the UK will continue to participate in the Dublin III regulation throughout the transition period, including the family reunion provisions. Just to clarify for the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I say that children do not apply under Dublin; it is a state-to-state transfer referral system.
Under the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 there is a saving provision to explicitly ensure that any Dublin family reunion cases that have entered the system prior to the end of the transition period will continue to be processed beyond that date. The noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, all made that point. I note that the committee was not satisfied that these regulations would provide sufficient protection against disruption to family reunion routes and suggested a temporary extension of current arrangements. As I have made clear, the UK will be leaving the Dublin regulation at the end of the transition period. It is right that, as an independent, sovereign nation, we are no longer bound by EU regulation. The saving provision offers certainty that those cases that entered the system prior to the end of the transition period will continue to be processed.
Continuing with unaccompanied children, the committee expressed its disappointment that the Government did not establish a guardianship service in England and Wales for all unaccompanied migrant children. In response to the report’s concern about unaccompanied children, I stress that the Home Office takes its responsibility for the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children extremely seriously. Comprehensive statutory and policy safeguards and arrangements are already in place for supporting children through the asylum process and ensuring that their best interests are a primary consideration in every decision taken in respect of them.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, asked about the number of children in detention. I am pretty certain that figure is nought and that that stopped some time ago, but I will double-check and write to him if it is any different.
I differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on local authorities not supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. All unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are looked after by local authorities, which are their corporate parents. They have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote their welfare. Under these arrangements, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are provided with access to support and services in line with other looked-after children in that local authority’s care.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked why not all local authorities participated in the resettlement schemes. That is responded to in the letter. We cannot force local authorities to participate in these schemes, but I am very pleased to say that more than 320 have. We are very grateful to them for all the children they have taken and who they care for.
To take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, children are allocated a social worker, who will assess their needs and draw up a care plan, which sets out how the authority intends to respond to the full range of the child’s needs, including their immigration status. In addition to this support from local authorities, legal advice is available to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from legal representatives.
In England, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are referred to the Refugee Council’s children’s advice project, which provides independent advice and assistance to help the child in their interaction with the Home Office and other central and local government agencies. We believe these comprehensive arrangements already provide unaccompanied children with the necessary specialist advice and support that they need.
To speak to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in acknowledgment of the likely increased support needs of trafficked children, in July 2018 the Government reaffirmed their commitment to the full national rollout of independent child trafficking guardians across England and Wales. These people are an additional source of advice and support for all trafficked children, irrespective of nationality, and someone who can advocate on their behalf. One-third of all local authorities in England and Wales are now covered by this provision.
The committee urged the Government to provide regular updates on progress of the Dubs scheme. I know that noble Lords are aware that the Government have successfully delivered this commitment and in July we announced that we had completed the transfer of all 480 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece, France and Italy under the scheme.
My noble friend Lady Warsi and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, asked me about our future commitments. We have a long and established history of providing refuge to those who need it. We will continue to uphold that tradition in the manner we have historically done. In recent years, the UK has received a significant number of asylum claims from unaccompanied children. In the year ending December 2019, the UK received 3,775 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. That was more than any EU member state and accounted for over 20% of all asylum claims from unaccompanied children across the EU and the UK. This follows previous years that have seen similarly high numbers of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK—3,254 in 2015, 3,290 in 2016, and 2,401 in 2017. In the future we will consider unaccompanied asylum-seeking children’s asylum applications here, as well as prioritising helping children in dangerous countries, rather than in safe EU countries, through our resettlement scheme. I cannot remember who made this point, but our future system will consider vulnerability from a global perspective.
On the Moria camp and the Lesbos fire, noble Lords will have heard in our discussions on the immigration Bill the other day what I had outlined since 22 April. We have taken children and there were flights on 11 May, 28 July and 6 August. We are exploring what more we can do to this end.
I have just been told that my time is almost up. There are quite a lot of other things to cover. I will cover one more thing—the future UK resettlement scheme and the single global refugee resettlement scheme—and then I will stop. The Government will issue an updated policy statement, which will be published ahead of the UK resettlement scheme launch, once we have met our commitment to resettle 20,000 vulnerable refugees through the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. As noble Lords said, it is right that we continue to offer legal and safe routes to the UK for vulnerable refugees in need of protection, for whom resettlement is the only durable solution.
I apologise that I have run out of time, but I will, as I did I think yesterday, follow up in writing to noble Lords.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for taking the points made in the debate so seriously. This debate has shown the need to address the question of asylum seekers and refugees with humanity and understanding, not fear and demonisation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said. Of course the Government will have to resolve difficult conflicts. None of this is easy, but the consequences of getting it wrong are troubling. How we address these issues will, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, help to determine how the United Kingdom is seen around the world as we seek to branch out beyond Brexit.
My Lords, that concludes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room. The Committee stands adjourned.
Committee adjourned at 5.01 pm.