That the Bill be now read a second time.
Relevant documents: 7th and 9th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
My Lords, the United Kingdom has a long history of being open to the world. That includes providing sanctuary to people fleeing conflict, tyranny and oppression. There are countless historical examples of this country extending the hand of friendship to men, women and children in their hour of need and several Members of your Lordships’ House are alive today only because of that.
However, I will not delay the House with a history lesson, not least because this is not only a matter of history; it is also about what we are doing right now. Since 2015, we have resettled more than 25,000 people, half of whom were children, and our family reunion scheme has seen a further 39,000 people settle in the UK. Over 88,000 British national (overseas) status holders and their family members have chosen to apply for the BNO route, with over 76,000 granted so far.
Some 15,000 people were airlifted out of Afghanistan to the UK from mid-August under Operation Pitting, over and above the earlier transfers of around 2,000 locally employed staff and their families under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. Our Afghan citizens resettlement scheme aims to welcome a total of 20,000 people.
Against that background, and right at the outset, I want to make two important points. First, providing sanctuary and refuge is not inconsistent with a fair asylum and immigration system; such humanitarian measures are possible only if we have a fair asylum and immigration system, capable of providing both welcome and integration. Secondly, an approach to immigration which refuses admission to anyone under any circumstances is obviously inhumane. However, the corollary must also be rejected. Being humane does not mean allowing everyone in, and I remind the House that there are some 80 million displaced people around the world today.
I will start with a basic reality: the current system is not working. It is not working for those people who genuinely need protection and refuge. Those in genuine need and in places of conflict should be our priority, not those who are already in safe countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Nor is the current system working for the people of this country—so the status quo is not a viable option.
That is hardly surprising, as there have been radical changes since the current system was put together. The prevailing legal framework was not designed to cope with the type—and certainly not the scale—of the mass migration we have seen in recent years. But some things have not changed: the British public remain generous and kind and there is no question about that.
However, that generosity and kindness does not mean that they are willing to accept uncontrolled immigration—and nor should we expect them to. The truth is that we cannot hope to properly control our borders unless we address illegal entry. That requires comprehensive reform of the asylum system and this Bill is fundamental to delivering the change that is so badly needed.
Some people—and I respect their honesty, although I think they are profoundly misguided—are opposed to any form of immigration control whatever. That position is intellectually coherent, albeit pragmatically incoherent. But for everyone else, who recognises that we have to control our borders, we must also recognise the reality that this means addressing, tackling and reducing illegal entry.
Too many people profess a desire to control our borders but then, when it comes to putting that professed desire into practice, oppose any and every measure designed to do so. That is what one might call a Marxist approach to the problem—not Karl, but Groucho:
“Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
Because, if you will the ends, you cannot oppose all the means, all the time. So I look forward to contributions to this debate which, if they disagree with the Government’s proposals, set out precisely what steps should be taken to achieve the objective of controlled immigration that many profess to support.
When we talk about illegal entry, the illegality does not begin—and certainly does not end—with the migrants themselves, who have often been exploited by criminal gangs. These days, illegal entry is a business. It is run by criminals, who exploit vulnerable people and profit—in the form of hard cash—from human misery. It is a growing business. There were more than 25,000 irregular arrivals in 2021—a fivefold increase over 2018.
Your Lordships have seen the TV pictures. We know all too well that these crossings are often dangerous and sometimes fatal. The loss of those 27 lives in the Channel in November laid bare in devastating fashion why we must do everything possible to make this route unviable. We must reduce the pull factors which lead people to leave other safe countries and risk drowning.
But beyond this, the system is under strain in terms of numbers, time and cost. In the year to March 2021, the UK received more than 33,000 asylum applications, which is more than at the height of the European migration crisis in 2015-16. Because of Covid, efforts to move people through the system, and to remove them from the country, have both been slower.
As a result, waiting times are on the rise. At the end of June last year, there were more than 120,000 cases categorised as “works in progress” in the asylum system, including cases awaiting appeal decisions and some 40,000 failed asylum seekers who are subject to removal from the UK but have not yet left or been removed. This includes foreign national offenders who have been found guilty of serious crimes such as murder, rape and child sex offences. The cost is also considerable. The asylum system now costs more than £1 billion a year to run. So, on any reasonable analysis, the status quo is not sustainable. An overhaul is long overdue. Inaction is simply not a responsible option.
This Bill has three key objectives: first, to increase both the fairness and the efficiency of our system; secondly, to deter illegal entry to the UK; and, thirdly, to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here. I shall speak to each of these objectives in turn.
First, it is high time we took action to make our immigration and asylum system fairer and more efficient. Again, fairness and efficiency are not inconsistent. An inefficient immigration and asylum system is fair to nobody. So we will introduce a new form of temporary permission to stay in the UK for those who do not come directly to the UK or claim asylum without delay once here, but who have none the less been recognised as requiring protection. This status will afford only basic entitlements, while still meeting our international treaty obligations.
We will establish accommodation centres for both asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers who require support, so that they have simple, safe and secure accommodation to stay in while their claims and returns are processed.
A new and expanded one-stop process will ensure that asylum and any other protection matters are made and considered together, ahead of any appeal hearing. This will prevent repeated, last-minute claims that are often devoid of legal merit but are designed to frustrate proper removal, with the result that people with no right to be here are still here months and even years later.
At the same time, we will expand provision of legal aid to support individuals who have been served with priority removal notices, so that all relevant issues can be raised at one time. We will also set out in primary legislation for the first time the circumstances in which confirmed victims of modern slavery will receive temporary leave to remain. This will give them, for the first time in domestic primary legislation, clarity on their entitlements.
I thank the Minister for giving way for just a moment. On the important matter of accommodation centres, who will be responsible for assigning a particular place or centre to an immigrant or failed immigrant? Will it be possible for the applicant or failed immigrant to leave an accommodation centre, or will he or she essentially be forced to remain in that centre?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am setting out the general principles. I have heard his question and my noble friend Lady Williams will deal with both those points in her wind-up speech.
I said that confirmed victims of modern slavery will receive temporary leave to remain. We will be clear through the Immigration Rules and guidance what “temporary” means in this context. Temporary leave to remain will be provided for any length of time necessary to enable victims to engage with authorities to help bring their exploiters to justice. Taken together, these measures will ensure protection for those in need, while weeding out those who seek to abuse this route. We will also bring in a range of age assessment tools, in line with many countries around the world, to ensure that we protect children in need of support, while rooting out adults who masquerade as children under 18. We will also reform nationality law to make it fairer and to address some historic anomalies.
Secondly, as well as making the system fairer and more efficient, we need to send a message that illegal entry will not be tolerated. In the Bill, criminals who engage in people smuggling will face new life sentences. The maximum penalty for entering the country illegally will rise from six months to four years in prison.
We are also providing Border Force with additional powers: to stop and divert vessels suspected of carrying illegal migrants to the UK and return them to where their sea journey to the UK began; to search unaccompanied containers located within ports for the presence of illegal migrants using them to enter the UK; and to seize and dispose of vessels that are intercepted. We will also crack down on other dangerous routes. Drivers will face a fine for every illegal entrant concealed in their vehicle, regardless of the steps that they have taken to secure that vehicle. We will use the electronic travel authorisation scheme, similar to what many noble Lords will recognise—the USA’s ESTA scheme—to stop the entry of those who present a threat to the UK. We will make it possible to remove someone to a safe third country, where their asylum claim will be processed.
Thirdly, failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals cannot be allowed to stay here indefinitely. Such an approach would rightly be unacceptable to the public. It would also undermine confidence in our immigration system. Ultimately, the system depends on the public’s confidence in it. When someone has no right to be in the UK, it is entirely appropriate for the Government to seek their removal. So the Bill contains a number of measures designed to strengthen our ability to do that.
We will confirm that the UK may remove people, including foreign criminals, to a safe third country. Expedited processes will enable the rapid removal of those with no right to be here, while visa penalties could be imposed on countries that do not co-operate on removals. We will also ensure that failure to comply with the asylum or removal process without good reason must be considered in deciding whether to grant immigration bail. We will widen the window in which foreign national offenders can be removed from prison under the early removal scheme for the purposes of removal from the UK.
We will also make a change to the long-standing power—and it is of long standing—to deprive someone of British citizenship in the most serious incidences of terrorism, war crimes or fraud to ensure that the power can still be used when, because of exceptional circumstances, it is not possible to notify the person of that decision. But that is not a policy change: the grounds on which that decision can be taken and the statutory right of appeal from it remain unchanged.
Before I finish, I want to emphasise a point that that should need no emphasis but I am going to emphasise it anyway. We remain fully committed to our international treaty and other obligations, including the refugee convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and international maritime law.
The principle behind this Bill and the New Plan for Immigration is simple. It is based on fairness—first and foremost to those fleeing persecution, of course, but fairness also to the British public, on whose support the legitimacy of the system ultimately relies. Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers, and no one should be able to jump the queue and place themselves in front of people who really need our help. There is no overnight fix. These are long-term problems, but the need for reform could not be clearer. The public are not prepared to accept the current situation, and neither are the Government. Through this Bill, we will deliver a system that works in the interests of the UK. We will keep our doors open to the highly skilled and to people in genuine need, and we will break the business model—because that is what it is—of the evil people-smuggling gangs.
I end on a more personal note. I need no persuasion as to the importance of asylum or the benefits of immigration. There are some in this House who can trace their family’s presence in this country back many centuries; in some cases to a date even before this House first met. Many others, like me, are descended from, or are, more recent arrivals. I hope that my family and others like us have contributed to, as well as benefited from, this country. I want to live in a country where others, yet to arrive, can similarly contribute positively to the UK. My background makes me all the more aware of the importance of providing sanctuary and refuge. I want others to have the opportunities that my family has had, and from which others in the Chamber today have also benefited, but that will not happen, at least not in any fair and proper manner, unless and until we reform the current broken system.
I end where I began. Providing sanctuary and refuge are not only not inconsistent with a fair asylum and immigration system; they are only possible under a fair asylum and immigration system. For those reasons, I beg to move.
My Lords, one of this Government’s favourite slogans has just been repeated, that our asylum system is broken, followed by a claim that a Johnson Government will fix it. Two years ago, the Home Secretary said that her then plan would halve the number of boats crossing the channel in three months and make them infrequent in six months. Needless to say, since then they have increased tenfold. In response, the Home Secretary and the Government have introduced this Bill, which contains no new safe and legal routes, nothing to target ruthless criminal gangs and smugglers, and a number of empty and unworkable solutions.
If we want to know why the asylum system is broken, we need look no further than this Government and the Home Office. The number of initial asylum decisions being made by the Home Office each year has dropped by more than 40% over the last five years. That is why the backlog has increased. Some 67,000—some say it is even more—are still waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim. Relationships, with France in particular, have reached rock bottom, and there appears to be a general lack of trust within the EU. International development aid has been cut back, contrary to an election commitment. Reducing levels of support will do nothing to prevent people having to leave their home to seek asylum.
This Government continue to be a Government of slogans. A Government of workable solutions they certainly are not, as this Bill all too clearly shows. The Government say that they are motivated by a desire to crack down on the criminal smuggler gangs but then produce a Bill with measures directed at the victims of those smugglers rather than at the gangs themselves. Despite promising safe legal routes as an alternative to dangerous journeys, the Government have cut safe legal routes for family reunion, refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, and have included no safe legal routes in this Bill.
The Government claim that the Bill will stop boats arriving and return people who travel in them. The reality though is that this Government have failed to get in place a single returns agreement with EU countries, and nothing in the Bill changes that. Just five people were returned last year. The Government claim that the Bill will mean pushbacks at sea, even though Border Force officials have said it is dangerous and unworkable. France has refused to agree to receive boats safely back, and so these pushbacks simply cannot happen in practice.
The Government claim that the Bill will mean offshore processing, even though no country has agreed and the cost to the taxpayer would be huge. The Government claim the Bill will fix the asylum system, even though it will add even longer delays to asylum cases being assessed.
The Government claim the Bill will stop trafficking gangs, even though they are cutting protection for modern slavery. In pursuit of the Government’s stated aim of preventing people using a defence of being a victim of modern slavery against deportation, the Bill removes a number of key protections for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, rowing back on crucial protections created under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It will make the identification and protection of modern slavery victims more difficult.
Former top police officer and now anti-slavery commissioner, Sara Thornton, has raised concerns about the potential consequences the Bill may have on the ability to prosecute offenders. She said that watering down protection for modern slavery victims, including UK-resident children caught up in criminal exploitation and county lines, will
“severely limit our ability to convict perpetrators and dismantle organised crime groups.”
Mistakes are often made when people are ruled not to be victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. The Home Office’s own data shows that four out of five rejected human trafficking claims challenged in the UK last year were overturned. Out of 325 claims in the Home Office-run national referral mechanism scheme that were appealed, 255 were reversed.
The modern slavery provisions are particularly alarming for the impact they will have on children, including significant numbers of British children who are trafficked and exploited in the UK. Despite that, the Bill does not provide safeguards for children, does not recognise that children need different provisions and protections from adults, and does not make policy that acts in the best interests of the child.
Since 2014 the Government have spent more than £200 million on numerous deals with French authorities—equal to around half a million pounds per week of taxpayers’ money—yet the crossings are increasing as the Government proclaim that Brexit has given us control of our borders. The Government’s mood fluctuates between, on the one hand, denouncing the French for not doing enough to stop the crossings and, on the other, telling us how many such crossings have been stopped by the French authorities as a result of the deals we have done with them. What we do know though, is that the Government’s various deals with the French did not prevent the tragic loss of 27 lives when an inflatable dinghy capsized some six weeks ago, in late November last year.
We need new agreements on joint policing and asylum with France and other EU countries to prevent more of these deadly crossings, and covering all aspects of security co-operation, including exchange of information on tackling criminal smuggler gangs and facilitating safe legal routes and safe returns.
If this Government are serious about cracking down on the criminal smuggler gangs that profit from putting desperate people in flimsy dinghies, neither can they ignore the ways that these gangs lure in vulnerable people online. The Government have not put forward anything to address this, even though it is a huge part of the problem. We should criminalise those who advertise and glamourise deadly crossings online. The Government are continually playing catch-up, as organised criminal networks find new ways to exploit vulnerable people online. We also cannot keep waiting for the Government’s long overdue, much delayed online harms legislation to crack down on social media companies that fail to take down the accounts of those who promote these dangerous journeys on their platforms.
What we got, during the passage of this slogan-driven and ill-thought-through Bill, were 80 government amendments tabled three days before Report stage in the Commons, and an admission from the Government that they had managed to produce a Bill that would criminalise RNLI volunteers for their courageous, life-saving work. The effect of that was to increase public support for, and donations to, the RNLI, as a snub to this Government’s original intentions against the RNLI, from which they have now been forced to retreat. However, the Bill still appears to break international maritime law and the duty for a ship to attempt to rescue persons in danger at sea by requiring passing boats or vessels to ignore people in distress or face criminalisation.
The Bill criminalises someone arriving in the UK to claim asylum, changes the immigration offence of how someone enters the UK and specifies the mode of entry as either legal or illegal. The Bill also makes provision for differential treatment of refugees based on how they arrive into the UK and the point at which they present themselves to the authorities, with those who travel via a third country, do not have documents or do not claim asylum immediately being designated “group 2” refugees. Yet the refugee convention contains a single unitary definition of refugee, solely related according to their need for protection.
The Red Cross has said that this differentiated treatment will not deter dangerous journeys. It points out that, even where people have a choice in their mode of travel, it is rare for a person fleeing to have any idea of their rights or the complexities of the asylum law where they arrive. The Red Cross suggests that removing family reunion rights will increase the number of particularly women and children using illegal routes and will actually shore up the business model of the criminal gangs and smugglers.
The Bill enables the prosecution of individuals intercepted in UK territorial seas and brought into this country who arrive in but do not technically “enter” the UK. The new offence will carry a maximum sentence of four years.
There is no visa or entry clearance application for someone to make to come to the UK to claim asylum. Under this Bill, someone with a well-founded fear of persecution arriving in the UK intending to claim asylum will be committing a criminal offence. Article 31 of the refugee convention provides that states
“shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees … where their life or freedom was threatened … they present themselves without delay … and … show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”
The courts have recognised that it would be hollow if asylum seekers could not rely on this international law protection. If all countries were to take this approach of criminalising those who enter illegally for the purposes of claiming asylum, the entire international system for refugee protection would fall apart.
When we left the European Union, we also left the schemes which gave the UK the ability to return those seeking asylum to safe countries via the Dublin III system. This allowed those seeking asylum who entered the UK to be returned if they had first registered in another country in the European Union. At the moment, not one agreement has been struck between this Government and the 27 member states of the EU, therefore restricting the ability to return individuals who registered elsewhere first. Under the Dublin III regulation, the UK safely returned hundreds of asylum seekers to European countries. Since the Dublin regulation stopped applying to the UK at the beginning of last year, the UK has returned, as I said, just five asylum seekers to European countries, at a time when channel crossings have significantly increased.
The Bill provides for asylum seekers to be removed from the UK while their claims are being processed, opening the door to offshore processing. The Government have previously stated that, among other places, they would use such powers to process claims in Africa and Ascension Island, and on disused ferries and abandoned oil rigs. The reality is that such a system would be ineffective, inhumane and very expensive for the taxpayer. Offshore processing in Australia cost an estimated 1 billion Australian dollars a year to deal with 300 migrants.
Last year, some 28,500 people made the dangerous channel crossing. Research by the Refugee Council suggests that around two-thirds who crossed the channel via small boats and claimed asylum were granted humanitarian protection. Over 70% of people arriving via small boats come from just five countries, namely Iran, Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Vietnam, and Afghanistan was seventh, behind Eritrea—hardly countries free from strife and persecution. Neither has the number of asylum applications suddenly reached an all-time peak. In 2002, the number of such applications was over 84,000.
Looking at international comparisons, we do not seem to be faced with more applications than anywhere else. In 2020 there were around six asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the UK. Across the EU, there were 11 asylum applications for every 10,000 people. Compared with EU 27 countries, the UK ranks 17th for asylum applications per head of population.
I know that much reference will be made today to Clause 9, which was added in haste and without proper scrutiny in the Commons. Powers to deprive someone of British citizenship have existed since 1914. This Bill, though, also gives the Home Office sweeping new powers to deprive a person of their British citizenship without any notice. This is not acceptable and is causing intense concern among people with dual nationality. In the shadow of Windrush, warm words from the Government about how fairly and responsibly they will use the power just will not suffice.
Children, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, can make up almost 25% of those seeking asylum in the UK. Where is the replacement for the Dubs scheme, which this Government closed before it had reached anywhere near its potential to protect children? Where is the provision for a safe resettlement scheme for Afghanistan, which has been promised but not yet delivered?
The Bill will not solve the problem of dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk. Instead, it proposes unworkable solutions that will cost the taxpayer dear and undermine international humanitarian conventions and agreements at a time when co-operation is needed more than ever. The Bill does not improve security co-operation and will not secure returns agreements or create the safe, legal routes the Government have promised. Instead, it will increase the asylum backlog, keeping more people in limbo in accommodation. The Bill will not stop trafficking gangs, as the Government are cutting protection from modern slavery and thus making it harder to prosecute and convict people traffickers.
At heart, the Bill is about a Government and a Home Secretary who know that their policies to date are failing and who, in a bid to attract more favourable headlines, are concentrating their fire even more on the victims of people traffickers and deadly channel crossings, rather than setting out sensible plans to deal with the criminal gangs involved based on co-operation, not insularity. In short, this Bill is a sham.
My Lords, happy new year. I hope all noble Lords on all sides of the House have a better year than last year.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said in his opening. It was reassuring to hear that the Bill really is as appalling as it looks. It is understandable that immigration is a cause for concern for many people, particularly with the misleading information published by the Government and echoed by the media.
The UK is home to approximately 68 million people. Based on the most recent figures, net immigration is about 300,000 a year, or 0.4% of the existing population, of which claims for asylum in 2019 were 36,000, or just one application for every 2,000 people in the UK. As I fly often into Heathrow, I am struck by how much of the UK, even the south-east, is still rural. We are not a tiny island with little space. Net migration is at a low level per head of population, and only a fraction of those coming here to live are asylum seekers. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, 84,132 people sought asylum in the UK in 2002. In 2019 it was 35,737, less than half than it was 17 years earlier.
There are more common misconceptions, such as that there is a danger of immigrants taking British people’s jobs. The most common reason for people coming to the UK is to study, not to work. In fact, currently there is a shortage of workers, not a shortage of jobs. Another misconception is that there are too many immigrants in the UK. London has the highest concentration of immigrants in the UK, over a third of the total, and Londoners are the least concerned about immigration.
Another misconception is that there are record numbers of migrants crossing the channel. No, there are record numbers of migrants crossing the channel in small boats, because the UK has been effective in stopping channel crossings by most other means—for example, stowing away in lorries or on trains. Also, no safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to get to the UK are currently in operation, and you can only claim asylum on UK soil, so what are they supposed to do? Numbers were significantly lower last year because of Covid lockdowns and they are significantly higher this year because of the resulting pent-up demand.
We are not being overwhelmed by asylum seekers. We have fewer applications for asylum per head of population than almost every other European country, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has said. The EU average is 11 claims per 10,000, compared to the UK’s figure of only 6. With the UK’s claim rate being almost half the EU’s, what prospect does the Minister think we have of persuading EU countries to take back migrants in the absence of the previous agreement, the Dublin III regulations, which obliged EU states to do so?
So, what is the problem—or should I say, what are the problems? The evidence points to the Home Office being ineffective and inefficient in dealing with asylum applications, not that there is a problem with the legislation. Twenty years ago, the UK had more than double the number of applications for asylum but less than half the number of cases awaiting a decision. In 2021, 57,000 cases were awaiting an initial decision—nothing to do with appeals. Covid may have impacted the Home Office’s ability to process claims, but the number of asylum seekers fell greatly at the same time for the same reason.
The Government say there are record waits for asylum application appeals, but those delays are nothing compared to the delays in criminal trials at Crown Courts. The Government’s proposed solution is to reduce the number of asylum cases to speed up the process. Is the Government’s answer to the backlog in the criminal courts to make it more difficult for the police to arrest criminals, for the Crown Prosecution Service to charge fewer people, to give those accused of crime only a limited number of hours of legal aid and to place time limits on when defendants can present their defence, in order to take pressure off the system? So why does this Bill propose to cut the numbers able to claim asylum and to introduce fast-track systems that place limits on legal advice and the time taken to present evidence?
The evidence also suggests that the Home Office is inefficient and ineffective at removing those who should not be in the UK. In 2013 there were 14,900 removals and in 2020 there were less than 8,000. If it was possible to remove almost double the number of illegal immigrants from the UK using existing legislation in 2013, surely the problem is not with the legislation but with the Home Office. The Government say this is due to “various contributing factors”. Can the Minister explain to the House what the various contributing factors are, and what impact each of these has on the ability of the Home Office to remove people?
As the Minister has said, there are 10,000 foreign national offenders in the community together with 42,000 failed asylum seekers, all of whom should not be in the UK. Why is that, if not because of Home Office ineffectiveness? The National Audit Office estimates that there are between 600,000 and 1.2 million illegal immigrants in the UK. The hostile environment that tries to turn landlords, employers and bankers into Immigration Enforcement officers, is clearly not working.
Instead of “taking back control” of our borders, those arriving from 10 more countries can now use the ePassport gates at the UK border—in addition to all EU countries, which can continue to use them—whereas before they had to prove they were coming to the UK for a legitimate reason, had somewhere to live and had enough money to fund their stay. Now, there is no way to ensure that they leave again or that we know where to find them.
When we were in the European Union, we had access to the European Criminal Records Information System and the Schengen Information System, so we could check that those arriving in the UK were not criminals or a threat to national security, and we had the power to bar them, despite free movement. This is to be replaced by an electronic travel authority, where those travelling to the UK will be asked to “voluntarily declare” their convictions, which is arguably better than nothing—what we have now—but nothing like as secure as when we were in the EU.
Previously, limits were placed on the numbers allowed to come to the UK from the rest of the world to work. This has been replaced by a points-based system with no limit on the number of the “brightest and the best”—as the Government like to call them—foreign nationals being employed in the UK.
When the Government say that they want a “high-skill, high-wage economy”, what they do not tell people is that there are no longer any limits on how many foreign nationals can take those “high-skill, high-wage” jobs; the only opportunities reserved for UK nationals are in low-skill, low-wage jobs.
The epitome of this Bill, which addresses all the wrong issues while doing nothing to address the right issues and to solve the real problems of the immigration system, is the tightening of the rules around modern slavery, where conclusive grounds of modern slavery are established in almost 90% of cases.
Other noble Lords will take issue with keeping asylum seekers in camps; preventing their integration into society; not allowing them to work; preventing them from making a positive contribution to society; treating those with a valid asylum claim as illegitimate; and depriving British nationals of their citizenship without even notifying them. If ever a Bill deserved not to be given a Second Reading, this is it—which is saying something as we still wrestle with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
We on these Benches accept that there needs to be grip and focus on illegal immigration, but this Bill is a distraction, and a very dangerous one. Rather than tackling the real issues, it diverts attention away from them and harms the most vulnerable in the process. We oppose almost all of it.
My Lords, I want to draw attention to the damaging and disproportionate impact which some of the measures in the Bill would have on refugee women, particularly those who are fleeing from sexual violence. The Government have an admirable track record in highlighting the need to combat sexual violence across the world, so I very much hope they will think again about the unnecessary additional pressures on refugee women that would result from the Bill. I am grateful to the organisation Women for Refugee Women for its analysis of the potential harms of the Bill and note that it has sent an open letter to the Home Secretary signed by no fewer than 52 national and community-based organisations which have a wealth of practical experience of working with refugees and asylum seekers and a detailed understanding from individual casework of the particular challenges and trauma facing women who have fled sexual violence.
Will the Minister in her reply comment on three specific ways in which the Bill would exacerbate this trauma? First, women and girls may have good reasons for not claiming asylum via a regular route. They are less likely to enjoy the socioeconomic conditions or political or civil support in their country of origin which could enable them to organise to leave via a regular route, and so are more likely to face a penalty for claiming asylum under the arrangements set out in Clause 11. A safe third country where, under the new rules a refugee woman would be expected to remain and claim asylum, may well not be thought safe by her, especially if she is under the control of a trafficker and still vulnerable to further sexual violence or exploitation.
Secondly, I am very concerned that Clause 25 instructs the authorities deciding an asylum claim or appeal to give minimal weight to evidence provided late by the claimant, unless there is good reason. Existing Home Office guidance recognises that there are many reasons why women fleeing sexual or gender-based violence will not share relevant evidence at an early stage. This may be because of trauma, guilt or shame, or fear of family members or traffickers. There may also be issues connected with language and interpreting; if a woman in such a situation is provided with a male interpreter or an interpreter who has not had specific training in the sensitivities and vocabulary of sexual violence, the asylum-seeking woman is unlikely to be able or willing to describe what she has suffered.
The Home Office guidance makes it quite clear that late disclosure should not count against a woman’s credibility, and acknowledges that those who have been sexually assaulted or victims of trafficking may suffer trauma that can impact on memory and the ability to recall information. The provisions in this Bill on late evidence will only exacerbate those obstacles, so I ask the Minister to confirm the continuing status of the Home Office guidance and make it absolutely clear, if necessary by a simple amendment to the Bill, that late evidence relating to sexual violence will always be treated as being late for a good reason and will not disadvantage a woman’s asylum claim or appeal.
Thirdly, the experience of caseworkers on the ground suggests that it would be a huge and harmful mistake to concentrate asylum seekers in large accommodation centres. Holding women in isolated centres where they cannot access community support would be especially damaging for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Will Her Majesty’s Government comply with UNHCR guidelines on the protection of refugee women, which recognise that asylum-seeking women and girls have special protection needs against manipulation, sexual and physical abuse and exploitation, and against discrimination in the delivery of goods and services? This obligation must surely apply to accommodation and is reinforced by Article 60 of the Istanbul convention on reception procedures and support services for asylum-seeking women. They must not be expected or allowed to continue living in fear of sexual violence within accommodation centres, either through fear of men living in very close quarters or by being isolated in an environment that forces them to relive traumatic memories of the confinement or abuse from which they sought refuge in the first place. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on all three concerns.
I declare my interests as a member of the RAMP Project and a trustee of Reset, as laid out in the register. This Bill will raise strong views across the Chamber, as already illustrated by the three Front-Bench introductions, for which I thank all three, because I believe that they have served the House well in all three cases. I hope that we can have a debate that is reasoned and evidence-based, ever mindful of the individual humanity of each asylum seeker and refugee of whom we speak.
This Bill needs to be assessed against the Home Office’s own values of being compassionate, respectful, courageous and collaborative. Other values are important, too: the value of every human being as one made in the image of, and loved by, God, the value that we place on the rights of the child both through the United Nations and the Children Act 1989—and then there are the values relating to the right to family life.
This Bill has the stated intention to stop criminal gangs and to increase the fairness of the asylum system. These aims are good; we do not want to see any more people losing their lives so tragically in the channel, as we saw last year. However, in its current form, the Bill is unlikely to achieve either of these goals. It will make the asylum system more complicated and cumbersome, be less fair, provide fewer safe routes and be more expensive.
The differential treatment of refugees according to their mode of arrival is central to the Bill and causes me very deep concern. The Government’s underlying premise in this approach is that the harder we make it for asylum seekers in the UK, the less they will come. We have seen no evidence to support this approach. Indeed, if making conditions harder for asylum seekers had the desired effect, we would not be faced with this Bill today. We have an asylum system which is set up to establish the veracity of an asylum claim. Let us rely on that, not on the method of entry.
We are part of a global system, underpinned by the refugee convention, which enables distribution of those requiring protection to a range of countries. An approach of “first safe country” sends a dangerous message to countries with far larger refugee populations, legitimising the avoidance of international responsibilities. It suggests that support for refugees should fall on only a small number of poorer countries. This is highly concerning, as it undermines who we are as a nation. It does not demonstrate being collaborative with or respectful of other nations.
Despite safe routes being central to the premise of the Bill, we see no detail of them. We will not put criminal gangs out of business without expanding safe alternative routes. I am proud that the UK has been a global leader in refugee resettlement since 2015; however, sadly, this is no longer the case. Only 1,163 people resettled to the UK in the first nine months of 2021, compared with the 28,000 people arriving across the channel. We must build on our proud history of resettlement for the future. We need an ambitious yet deliverable target of at least 10,000 places per year.
Refugee family reunion is a vital safe route, enabling mainly women and children to reunite with their husbands and fathers, which is so important for families being together and for integration. However, in this Bill family reunion will be, in effect, non-existent as group 2 refugees will no longer qualify. This does not demonstrate compassionate values. We must also explore humanitarian visas much more for those with the basis of a strong claim from certain countries or for those with family in the UK. The Home Office should explore this as a way of collaborating with both near neighbours and those further away.
Children are rarely talked about in the Bill. If the aim is to make the immigration system fairer, it needs to begin by putting in place protections for those who need it most, especially children.
The Bill should be an opportunity to create a fair, compassionate and effective asylum system that works for the taxpayer, communities and those seeking asylum. Sadly, on many counts I fear that it does not work. We on these Benches will work with others to propose a range of amendments. I fear that the Bill fails the Home Office’s own values; it certainly fails to uphold the UN Convention on Refugees and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
My Lords, I support the purpose of this Bill, which is important. It relates to three key responsibilities of any Government: the protection and defence of the nation, the maintenance and enhancement of the standard of living of their citizens, and their national obligation to world peace and prosperity.
First, I turn to national security. The greatest terrorist threat to the UK remains Islamist jihadists. In the 20 years since 9/11, those who keep a tally suggest that there have been more than 40,000 fatal attacks worldwide. The Times of 11 September 2021 concluded that
“America’s wars helped to radicalise a generation of Islamists, whose poisonous ideology has spread across the Middle East to Africa, from where new terrorist franchises plot fresh attacks on the West.”
The Economist of 20 November reported on how
“jihadists aligned to al-Qaeda and Islamic State”
in the Sahel
“have taken aim at Western countries, bombing their embassies and kidnapping or killing their citizens.”
“If the jihadists are given havens and time, they will surely launch attacks on European or American soil, too.”
The UK has already given haven to jihadists who have been involved in several attacks, the most recent being the Liverpool bomber, who went as far as masking himself as a Christian in an attempt to obtain asylum.
So, however much we may wish to, and should, give hospitality to many of those who seek to come here—whether as refugees, asylum seekers or, indeed, migrants —we must be far more vigilant in the screening process. The unmet challenge of screening 28,000 people who arrived in England by small boats during 2021 must not recur in 2022.
I was puzzled when my noble friend Lady Williams— I thank her for that useful letter today—said in a Written Answer on 16 December that identity checks, including fingerprints and other biometrics, taken from migrants on arrival cannot be compared against the EU system which the UK has access to because
“use of those systems is only permitted for law enforcement, not immigration purposes.”
I can think of few more obvious law enforcement purposes than the detection of possible terrorists. I hope my noble friend will be able to assure us that the Bill will be changed to overrule that absurdity.
Secondly, on the responsibility of maintaining and enhancing our domestic living standards, there are now, as we have heard, several million individuals who need or would like to live in the UK; the great majority are economic migrants. The hard fact is that incentives to migrate will diminish only when the standard of living in the country they want to reach is no longer sufficiently greater than that from which they seek to depart to make the costs and risks of the journey worth while.
Three crucial components in quality of life are healthcare, education and housing. In the case of the UK, as everyone is all too aware, spare capacity in both medical and educational services hardly exists, and there are long lines of people waiting to buy or rent houses. The political constraint on any moral imperative to share these scarce resources with migrants is the consequent reduction in the standards available in the UK, and it is set by what the population—which in a democracy means the electorate—will accept. That is why most of our help must continue to be made through international aid programmes, where there is no direct dilution of UK living standards.
The third responsibility is to have an ordered travel system to replace the present chaos. We are already making special provision for economic migrants who can fill crucial shortages in the supply of certain skills; for example, in the medical and care sectors. Would it be possible to open these opportunities more widely? In my view, there is nothing wrong with discriminating in favour of particular groups, such as those suffering religious persecution in their own land. I am thinking of Christians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and—
My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord that there is a Back-Bench speaking limit of five minutes? Thank you.
I will conclude—
Order! Lord Blunkett.
My Lords, I cannot do justice in five minutes to what needs to be said, suffice it to commend the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Rosser from the Front Bench, and the first five speakers, who covered the challenge comprehensively. I have been here 20 years ago—as has been mentioned several times—in examining overseas processing. I have been here on accommodation processing internally. I have been here in getting rid of those who have committed crimes. I have been here in reducing unwarranted asylum by two-thirds by the time I left the Home Office.
It is really important to understand what has happened previously and to learn from it. Signalling without solutions is virtue signalling while misleading the public. Anyone who believes that this Bill will be successful in implementation is delusional. When it fails, the Government will presumably blame somebody else rather than themselves. A two-tier asylum system will fail. Withdrawal of citizenship without notification or explanation will be immoral. As has already been described, breach of international conventions, including Article 31, is totally unacceptable for a democratic nation.
Promising resettlement programmes that have actually been curtailed is also a delusion which will come home to bite. If you promise that there will be other resettlement routes—other than for Hong Kong and those who are eventually resettled from Afghanistan—when, as has already been said, you have withdrawn the routes in respect of family reunion and not put alternatives in place, you will end up with what happened last year, with not a single person resettled from Yemen as their country of origin and only one from Iran. Please, if we are going to preach morality, let us at least be honest about it.
In the time I have, I want to ask the Minister to clarify, via her officials in the Box, whether—seeing as we are talking about morality and the intentions of this Bill—the Home Secretary said, as was reported extensively on 17 November from her visit to Washington, when speaking to journalists about migrants:
“These people have come to our country and abused British values, abused the values of the fabric of our country and our society. And as a result of that, there’s a whole industry that thinks it’s right to defend these individuals that cause the most appalling crimes against British citizens, devastating their lives, blighting communities”.
I want the Minister to come back this evening and tell me what was incorrect in those newspaper quotes.
It takes me back to WH Auden who, in his 1939 poem “Refugee Blues”, talks about the endeavour to be able to get into a country without documentation. The consul’s words are:
“‘If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead’”
and the answer from the migrant is:
“But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.”
Today, he might have written that the manifest demanded it, the border official commanded it, but in the refugee camp they removed it—my identity, my sanctuary, my everything.
Removing the right to come here unless you have a passport and visa is fraudulent. It creates a two-tier system which says that if you get here legally and have the right to be here, we will deny you asylum, because of course you do not warrant it. However, if you do not have the documentation and arrive here illegally, we will imprison you for four years. What sort of Government, what sort of nation, what sort of opportunity are we talking about this afternoon?
My Lords, I value the valuable contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, particularly his time as Home Secretary in a previous Government.
Between 1949 and to date, nationality, immigration and asylum laws in the United Kingdom have come full circle, from complete freedom for all British subjects to enter and live in this country to a strict limitation of that right to British citizens and a small number of people with a residual claim arising from past commitments. I was privileged to enter Britain in 1956 and have witnessed all the changes that have taken place since then. The questions I have asked each time are: are all these changes necessary, and are they governed by political expediency or the reality of the situation we face?
Despite the nature and effect of legislation, the circumstances surrounding it remain contentious. One main reason for this is that despite a series of reports from the House of Commons Select Committees and other authoritative sources, it is still not widely known that large-scale immigration to the United Kingdom is a thing of the past. Immigration has been a prominent issue during the past few general elections. We have seen prominent politicians dealing positively with it in areas where migrants have settled, only to find the same politicians adopting a different stance in areas of predominantly white settlement. Such double talk does more damage to good race relations in the country.
A little while ago, writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland noted
“a kind of drumbeat of hysteria in which both politicians and media have turned again and again on a … small minority, first prodding them, then pounding them as if they represented the single biggest problem in national life.”
This is a difficult time to have a calm and reasoned discussion about migrants, which political leaders claim to want.
Let us look at the figures that were bandied about during the Brexit referendum— stirring up emotions at this crucial time was a good way to make political gains. We need to examine changing patterns within all our communities. We need to take into account post-war migration and the process of globalisation which crosses the geographical boundaries of all nations. Where is the leadership pronouncement on such issues? Where do we speak up for our NHS, our transport system or the contributions of minorities to our economy? Instead, we continue to harp on about the numbers in this complex game. We hear about the harshness surrounding migrants entering the country through the English Channel. We blame France for its inability to control the flow of migrants to UK.
Every piece of legislation since 1962 indicates that there is no such thing as total protection of our borders. We must find a different way for migrants to apply for asylum. The present method of returning them to French shores does not work. It is time for a rethink.
The rot set in in the 1950s and has continued ever since. As early as then, the Government set up an interdepartmental committee to consider legislative and administrative methods to deal with migrants. This continues even to the present time within the Home Office. So preoccupied were Ministers in the 1950s with the numbers entering the UK that the welfare and integration of newcomers was not even discussed. In fact, the key recommendation was:
“Any solution depending on apparent or concealed test would be so invidious as to be impossible for adoption.”
What did they recommend? They continued:
“Nevertheless, the use of any powers taken to restrict the free entry of British subjects to this country would, as a general rule, be more or less confined to coloured persons.
Each piece of legislation since 1962 will confirm this.
Almost 70 years ago, the steamship “Empire Windrush” docked at Tilbury, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of hundreds of young black men and women from the Caribbean. Nothing like this had happened before. Ever since then, if you look at the independence of Commonwealth countries and the end of the master and servant relationship that Britain had enjoyed, a new way of thinking of ourselves had to evolve and is still in process. The current debate is not new: there was little consideration of a genuine migration policy and the settlement of new arrivals.
The present legislation is described as “Priti hostile” in many quarters. Following the scathing criticism by Wendy Williams, we still have not resolved the Windrush issue. We are now proceeding with harsher issues which will have substantial impact on those who wish to settle in this country.
Following the correspondence with my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I have studied the response from Victoria Atkins MP on Afghan refugees. While I welcome her comments, I am still concerned about the way we left Afghanistan. Over 400 lives were lost—
My Lords, I remind everybody again that it is a five-minute Back-Bench speaking limit.
We are now working to deprive people of their British citizenship, thus creating a community of refugees with nowhere to go. We are paying scant regard to the 1951 convention on refugees and we are involved in not giving due regard to the rights of children. Overall, we are succumbing to political expediency rather than having a genuine desire to help.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, but I wish to raise another issue. Home Office Ministers will be familiar with the concerns of Members of both Houses, including myself, about the long-outstanding applications for right of abode and British citizenship which have been raised by some Armed Forces veterans who served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in Hong Kong. Unlike some other colleagues in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps, they were not selected to retain their full British citizenship after 1997. They had been recruited in Hong Kong and were employed in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, not by the local Hong Kong Administration. They paid full United Kingdom taxes and had sworn allegiance to the Crown. Some served in Her Majesty’s ships overseas and others undertook training and operational tours outside Hong Kong. Those who were recruited on a single-tour basis, sometimes for less than four years, as was the practice in the Royal Navy Hong Kong squadron, should also be considered.
This nationality Bill before the House ranges widely but not, I trust, to exclude from consideration this unique and yet to be resolved case affecting veterans of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Can the Minister when winding up confirm that the Home Secretary has recently identified a possible option that will enable the Government to treat these British Hong Kong veterans in a similar way to other non-UK service personnel who are veterans of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces? Is that the case? Has this change of view been prompted by the MoD passing this long-standing case to be resolved by the Home Office? If so, I hope that the MoD will exercise its acknowledged duty of care under the military covenant for these veterans. I hope that the Minister expects the MoD to monitor and press these veterans’ case for resolution.
I understand that it may take some time to scope the impacts of such a welcome change of policy and the practicalities of its delivery. However, when will this work be complete? I urge the Minister when winding up to give an indication of when a decision about these practicalities will be announced or, if that is not convenient, to write to me. These loyal veterans deserve to learn when they will be able to apply for this welcome new arrangement.
My Lords, there has been great public frustration and concern about the seeming inability of the British state to control its own borders, so I sympathise with what the Bill aims to do. However, I have concerns that in an attempt to talk tough, important freedoms and principles —in fact, core British values—may be compromised. I have been interested in the speeches we have heard so far. However, I worry when opponents of the Bill, particularly outside this House, whose arguments on some issues I sympathise with, suggest that wanting effective border control equates with hostility to refugees and migration. This easily becomes an insulting caricature of British voters’ motives and itself undermines other important principles—that is, those of sovereignty and democracy.
Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of the Bill quibble over whether it is compatible with international law. Instead, we should concentrate on getting UK law sorted out, which might mean reconsidering our relationship with the 1951 UN refugee convention, the EHCR or other transnational instruments if they deny UK border sovereignty. Surely we need arrangements that are fit for purpose to protect and welcome genuine refugees, and to offer new legal migrants every opportunity to settle in the UK and embrace becoming UK citizens in their new home, because at the heart of this whole issue is the demarcating out of citizenship. It is via borders that the word “citizen” gains real political bite, by affording particular political rights organised within the bounds of a nation state. There has to be a distinction between citizens and non-citizens for citizenship to be meaningful. That is what the public get frustrated about—if they feel that citizenship is being undermined. Citizens have specific rights, but also responsibilities and duties, and the electoral franchise that allows democracy to function.
The Government clarifying, with public mandate, who is and is not a citizen—which requires that we know who lives in the UK, on what basis they are entering the UK and who is overstaying—seems crucial for democracy. But if the Bill is at least partly an attempt to bolster what it means to be a British citizen and confirm the boundaries of citizenship, then the controversial Clause 9, which enhances the Home Secretary’s power to strip British nationals of their citizenship, seems counterproductive. I do not want to add to the climate of moral panic about Clause 9. When the New Statesman reported in December that Clause 9 threatens the citizenship of nearly 6 million British people, half of all British Asians and 39% of black Britons, those bald figures went viral. Many are and were understandably frightened that Priti Patel was about to turf thousands of people out of the UK; you have only to see my email inbox to see that this is a very real fear. However, the Government must understand that handing even more powers over to the Home Secretary to remove someone’s citizenship in secret, without notification, effectively making appeals impossible and statelessness a real possibility, is a concern to British citizens and that Clause 9 is a problem.
I am not satisfied that this will be used only in extremis in dealing with the likes of Shamima Begum, “Jihadi Jack” Letts or others who joined the barbaric and murderous ISIS fighters. At the moment, too many are dubbed “extremists” and I want to know who defines that. I also note that whenever a power is argued for to be used in only extreme cases, it inevitably expands and is used more widely. The power to remove citizenship was brought to the fore in 2005 by Tony Blair’s Labour Government, and was then used increasingly and with broader provisions, especially by Theresa May when Home Secretary—the same Theresa May whose respect for British citizens was rather exposed by the Windrush scandal, which disgracefully still rumbles on and is a situation in which British citizens in all but the paperwork were stripped of their rights, deported and so on. Mea culpas and sections of this Bill do not reassure me, especially if they carry on sitting with Clause 9.
What really worries me is the Home Office’s response to all this on Clause 9. It is constantly quoted as saying:
“British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.”
Excuse me? Actually, British citizenship is a right for all British citizens. It worries me that the Home Office considers it its gift to hand down or snatch away. It suggests a two-tier citizenship atmosphere. Frances Webber, vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations, spells out the consequences when she says that it
“sends the message that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK, and having no other home, remain migrants in this country. Their citizenship, and therefore all their rights, are precarious and contingent.”
If this Government want to encourage new migrants to integrate into British society and make them feel welcome, they should drop Clause 9.
My Lords, I will focus my remarks on Part 5. I have been advocating for the measures in Clauses 63 and 64 for some time now. For those, I commend the Government. However, they do not go far enough.
Clause 63 will put support for victims of modern slavery in England and Wales on a statutory basis while the person is being assessed through the national referral mechanism. I welcome this statutory support, which was not included in the Modern Slavery Act but has been provided for in Northern Ireland and Scotland since 2015. However, I am disappointed that the Bill is not currently providing long-term support for confirmed victims after the NRM.
On Report in another place, the Government gave a welcome assurance that confirmed victims would receive 12 months’ long-term support, with further details to be set out in guidance. This is encouraging, but support must be statutory to give victims the certainty they need to begin to rebuild their lives following exploitation. Lack of long-term support leaves victims at risk of homelessness, destitution and retrafficking. It impacts on the victim’s ability to work with the police and on bringing perpetrators to justice.
I will watch closely to see whether the Government table an amendment to make good their commitment. If not, I will press forward with amendments based on my Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, so that the 12 months’ support is in the Bill. I hope the Minister will today be able to expand on the commitment, with more details on how they intend to provide support for 12 months, who will qualify, how it will be funded and future amendments.
Of course, for confirmed victims of modern slavery to access support services, they must have leave to remain in the UK; the two go hand in hand. While I welcome that Clause 64 will put current discretionary leave provisions on a statutory footing, the criteria are much narrower than the current guidance, which is extremely disappointing, with no guaranteed length of time. Yesterday the Guardian noted that only 7% of victims had been granted leave to remain. All confirmed victims should be given 12 months’ leave to remain to access the support that the Government committed to and to be able to support police investigations.
The Government say in their New Plan for Immigration that it is a priority to increase prosecutions for modern slavery and that:
“For some victims, certainty over their immigration status is a crucial enabler to their recovery and to assisting the police in prosecuting their exploiters.”
Clause 64 does not do enough to achieve that certainty and, in turn, the Government’s aim to break up trafficking gangs.
Modern slavery remains a high-profit, low-risk crime; we must change that. Some might argue that temporary leave to remain to access long-term support opens the door for abuse. I hope your Lordships will acknowledge that the eligible individuals will be people whom the Government themselves have confirmed as victims through the NRM—people who deserve our support for their recovery. With amendments to the Bill, we will be in a position to give confirmed victims of modern slavery a fresh start from exploitation.
My Lords, I cannot discuss matters of nationality and borders without confessing that this is extremely personal territory for me, as I know it is for others in your Lordships’ House. It is personal territory because I am the daughter of migrants to this country—hard-working people no longer with me and yet with me always. They came, as so many like them did, at the invitation of the late first Earl of Stockton when he was Prime Minister.
In my working life as a human rights lawyer, first in the home department and subsequently outside it, I have seen time and again the manner in which Governments and politicians of all stripes have eroded the hard-won rights of refugees in particular, and how dog-whistle politics around immigration has toxified race relations and undermined race equality, even to the detriment of British people whose migration stories go multiple generations back. So these are issues as much of equality and common decency as of nationality and borders.
The Bill has a patriotic title. The use of the word “borders” is surprisingly colourful for parliamentary counsel: it could have been taken directly from a campaigning slogan. I have no objection to nationality or borders, but I must observe that neither Covid nor climate catastrophe respects either very much. A truly global Britain would cherish the refugee convention as a central pillar of the post-war international settlement once promoted by Britain and would not seek to dilute it. The Dunkirk spirit is about saving people in little boats, not turning them around. So soon after the still incompletely resolved Windrush scandal, we would be wise indeed to give the most anxious scrutiny to any two-tier system of rights to refuge or nationality.
Clause 9 has rightly caused outrage in civil society—if not sufficient media coverage or even debating time in the other place. To deprive a national of that status without notice should be beyond the contemplation of any civilised society that cares about rights and freedoms in general and due process in particular. A nation’s citizens are its responsibility and are not to be dumped like waste, even or especially on the vague and subjective grounds of security, diplomatic relations or
“otherwise in the public interest.”
That the Government are bound by international law not to render people stateless ensures that this provision must inevitably be applied in a racist fashion, with the Executive determining without public scrutiny, judicial involvement or even notice to the individual concerned that they are of a category of British citizen who may potentially qualify for nationality somewhere else, regardless of whether such nationality has even been applied for, let alone granted. No wonder this provision has inspired fear and loathing in our minority communities in particular.
Even the subject heading of Clause 11 sends a chill to the bones, with its “Differential treatment of refugees”. To penalise and even criminalise desperate people in any way for the manner in which they make their escape from persecution to the UK is to violate the letter and the spirit of the refugee convention, which was in no small part the world’s apology for some of the darkest moments in the history of the last century. The Bill attempts to redefine Article 31, thereby ripping up years of interpretation by specialist judges so as to grant only second-class protection to the majority of refugees.
These are but two of the myriad objections to this measure. I say that as an advance apology to noble Lords opposite for the many long nights and longer nightmares to come.
My Lords, my remarks concern maritime enforcement, as proposed in Schedule 6.
The United Kingdom has a long and proud maritime tradition and has been at the forefront of promoting safety at sea. Indeed, the International Maritime Organization, responsible for the Safety of Life at Sea convention, is based on the other side of the river, just a few hundred yards upstream. We are rightly proud of all our mariners who, on a near-daily basis, rescue those in danger at sea. Of particular note, with respect to the Bill, are the volunteers of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Border Force, who saved the lives of many thousands of desperate people crossing the channel in inadequate boats and found themselves in extreme peril. I pay tribute to their professionalism, humanity, skill and dedication and condemn the unwarranted criticism they have received in the darker reaches of our media.
No one doubts that there is a problem with people crossing the channel by inadequate means. Desperate people seeking a safer or better life are preyed upon by boat traffickers. This sordid trade must be stopped, but this Bill will be ineffective and encourage even more dangerous choices by migrants.
It may be the policy of this Government to control asylum by making an already hostile environment even more dangerous, as proposed in the Bill. But to do so will be unnecessary, disproportionate, and possibly even unlawful. International law requires the master of every vessel to go to the aid of those in danger of being lost at sea. This duty is embedded, and has been for centuries, in every mariner’s psyche. Critical to the success of any maritime rescue operation is an early, rapid and determined response to a signal of distress. The Bill makes it an offence to provide assistance to those seeking asylum, including those at sea. It should be amended to make it clear that responding to a distress signal at sea, as required by international law, will never risk prosecution. The sovereignty of the United Kingdom extends to the territorial sea and the Government have the right to prevent passage which is not innocent. However, this right can be exercised only in accordance with international law. I am concerned that the duty not to endanger the safe navigation of any vessel during enforcement operations is being disregarded.
I shall explore in Committee just what is the “reasonable force” authorised to be used in the typical circumstances of an overloaded rubber boat crossing the channel. If the Government argue that euphemistically labelled “pushback tactics” on civilian vessels will be limited to those of a particular size or seaworthiness, will it not then inevitably lead to migrants deliberately choosing smaller, more dangerous vessels in which to make their crossing? When “reasonable force” is being used to remove a migrant vessel from territorial waters, what duty of care does the enforcement vessel have to the persons removed? I believe the Government have misjudged the practical consequences of this removal policy. Only when the master of an enforcement vessel is satisfied that there is no danger to the safe navigation of the target vessel can any forced removal be contemplated. Perhaps a statutory code of conduct for maritime enforcement needs to be added to the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister would agree. I am sure we could create an extra schedule for it.
Finally, the Bill provides extensive powers of enforcement over foreign ships in foreign and international waters. I am sure that we will explore in Committee the basis of this extension of jurisdiction in the framework of long-established international laws of the sea. The truly dreadful situation in the channel, with asylum seekers and other migrants being forced to cross by inadequate means, needs to be discouraged and stopped altogether. The Government’s current policy is to bully those seeking to cross the channel into even more dangerous situations than they already are in. As it stands, the Government’s policy will fail and damage our reputation for safeguarding life at sea. This policy for maritime enforcement would put a stop to dangerous channel crossings in a humane and compassionate manner. It would save lives, preserve our maritime heritage and respect international law.
My Lords, in today’s debate there have been echoes of the consideration we gave in another place in 1981 to the British Nationality Act, when I raised concerns about its impact on what it might mean to be a British citizen, the importance of ensuring that we did not exclude legitimate claims to citizenship—especially those of children—and our failure to treat equitably citizens in overseas territories such as the Falklands and Hong Kong. I worried, in terms, that the 1981 provision would cause suffering and confusion, have damaging effects on good race relations and lead to challenges in the courts.
Last year, in a High Court case involving the rights of citizenship derived from the 1981 Act, I gave a witness statement. I look forward to hearing today from the Minister why the Government have pursued their appeal to the Supreme Court rather than accepting that £1,012 for a child to register as a British citizen is, as Sajid Javid has rightly said,
“a huge amount of money to ask children to pay”.
Why are we doing that? This Bill is an opportunity to right that wrong.
In 1981, I also challenged the failure to honour our relationship with the people of Hong Kong. I said that they were now third-class citizens or, more crudely, as suggested by commentators in Hong Kong and elsewhere, sheep, goats and more goats. Some 40 years later—and I here declare an interest as a patron of Hong Kong Watch and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong—we have seen the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms.
I welcome what the Government have done for BNO holders, but I hope that they will use this Bill to do two other things. First, I hope they will address the right to full citizenship of Hong Kong ex-servicemen, raised during the Armed Forces Bill by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley and myself, and raised again by him today. It was also raised in the Commons on an amendment by Andrew Rosindell MP. Secondly, I hope the Government will tell us how they intend to take forward the proposals of Damian Green MP to address the position of young Hong Kongers born after 1997, who are not eligible for the BNO scheme unless they apply together with their BNO-status parents. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, said last week:
“Many of Beijing’s administration in Hong Kong, for example, the Chief Executive and the Chief Secretary, have ensured that members of their own families have British citizenship. It would be an appalling irony if we allow the families of representatives of the Beijing regime in Hong Kong the right of abode in Britain, while not allowing the right of abode for those persecuted by self-serving United Front activists whose record will drown in infamy.”
This too is a wrong that needs to be put right.
My third concern—and I declare an interest as a trustee of the charity Arise—is about Part 5 of the Bill and its impact on combating modern slavery. I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord McColl, and others have said in the debate. Some 15 NGOs have called on the Government to remove Part 5 from the Bill. Others, including the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, ECPAT, the Children’s Society, senior police officers and prosecutors, have also expressed alarm that these new provisions will create a fertile environment for those responsible for trafficking and enslavement, consolidating what the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, called the “business model”.
Issues concerning modern slavery should not have been put in a Bill primarily about immigration, a point reinforced by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report on modern slavery. The Minister will have read the speech of Sir Iain Duncan Smith and the intervention of Theresa May, the architect of this world-class legislation. Theresa May told the Commons:
“If we are to stop modern slavery, we must ensure that we catch the perpetrators, which requires victims to be able to come forward with evidence.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/12/21; col. 396.]
She identified that the public order disqualification threshold and the time period on slavery and trafficking information notices will have that effect. Does the noble Baroness the Minister agree with her? Sir Iain did not press his amendment, but said that we might well do so in the Lords, and asked the Government to offer progress to avoid that. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how they will take that forward.
This House cannot simply give a green light to a Bill that has been found to be defective by our Joint Committee on Human Rights and by the UNHCR, which warned that the Bill would deny “recognised refugees” the rights that are guaranteed to them under the refugee convention and international law, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, pointed out a few moments ago, in the way that we have dealt with the dehumanising of refugees, the position of children, the banning of asylum seekers from working, the use of embassies to process asylum claims of vulnerable people, and many other breaches that have been referred to during the debate. It is the duty of this House to scrutinise legislation and I agree with the noble Baroness that there will be many long nights and many amendments, and it will be our duty to bring them forward.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who has done so much in this cause. There is nothing good that one can say about this Bill: let me say that to begin with. I will make two points, first on the idea that British citizenship is very valuable, if not a gift, or whatever it is. What people forget is that, throughout the period of the British Empire, people from around the world gave their lives for the protection of the empire, especially in the First and Second World Wars. They came from all over the world to defend this country and this territory, and it is shameful to forget that they did that—completely shameful.
The people of Hong Kong, the Gurkhas and the people who came on “Windrush” did not come here because they did not know about this country. They and their ancestors had given their blood for this country. It is shameful now to pretend that we are a great island and we are not going to have anything to do with anybody else who is not here.
That said, the Glasgow meeting of COP 26 had one clear message: there is going to be a lot of global warming and climate change, and a lot of island people are going to seek asylum all over the world. They will come here, have no doubt about it. This is a country that people want to come to because it is a good country—that is why I am here. We have to prepare ourselves to welcome them and not reject them. They may or may not come with papers, but they will come because there is a real climate emergency. These people more or less gave notice at Glasgow that the decision made especially on coal will exacerbate their problems. That is being said now, so we should not be surprised if these people come. Some of them were part of the British Empire previously.
One thing—I would not say it is a hopeful sign—the Government could do to improve the Bill a little is to do offshore processing somewhere under the control of the British Government. I do not know how to do it because I am not a very practical person, but they could park a huge warship, for example, in the channel, on which people could be processed, so that the traffic can be intercepted in the channel. Something could be done—like Radio Caroline, or whatever—to stop people in the channel, process them and then decide whether they have a case.
Something has to be done. We do not want lots of people drowning because we cannot sort out our system. We cannot let people die because we are inefficient. Do not blame the situation on the people who run the business of getting migrants—I am sorry but that is how the market works. We really ought to do something to save those people. Some form of offshore processing would be very helpful.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. I have been listening to him since 1967 and have never failed to be amused, entertained and even educated by what he has to say.
In common with probably all noble Lords, I have had a huge number of emails about this debate and Bill. Much has been made of the problems and there has been much analysis, but no solutions. That is because the Bill looks at a very small area, but it is a very big, worldwide problem. I have received very good briefings from the TUC and from UNISON. The UNISON briefing makes the very good point that many of its members are dealing with the refugees and migrants as they land in Britain, many of whom then go on to work in the basic industries in this country.
One of the things we have to come to terms with is that we have a long-term labour need. Part of the question we have to answer is, how are we going to deal with it? How are we going to get the people into the country we need to be here to do the jobs that are necessary in the economy? In short, there is a need for migrant labour.
We also have to get over this “trafficked” business. Most of the migrants who come not only to Britain but to all the countries of Europe are looking for a better life. If we stop them on the beach, put them in a nice little private area and say, “We are sorry you have been trafficked. There is a plane and we will fly you back home club class. Is that what you would like?”, most of them would say no, because they have spent a lot of their money to get here. We have to start with that very realistic thing.
I will not deal with the Bill in detail—that will come later. However, one of my worries about Clause 9 and the ability of the Home Secretary to revoke citizenship is that it becomes rather like the right of the Attorney-General to appeal against sentences. The papers will come up with campaigns against particular migrants who do particular things, and we will have a politicisation of the removal of citizenship. That would be totally wrong and it is one reason why we need to look very carefully at the proposals in the Bill which give the Home Secretary powers. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who is not in his place, was an excellent Home Secretary, but I would not like to give any single individual the power or responsibility of being on the end of that sort of campaign.
This is the difficulty that Home Secretaries 70 years ago had with the death penalty. They were personally involved and were personally lobbied. I do not know of any Home Secretary who said on record that they really enjoyed their role as the arbiter of life and death. Please be careful of what power we give to any Home Secretary.
My noble friend Lord Wolfson made a very good point in asking, “What do we want to do?” As I said, there were few solutions in the emails I got. First, we should raise within the United Nations the fact that these conventions are dreadfully out of date. I have been in international European politics for 25 years, and it is almost impossible to get agreement on a particular set of proposals. I remember the law of the sea and how difficult that was. It is absolutely impossible to get them amended, but we have to try it.
Secondly, I suggest that we try to get together a conference of like-minded Governments in Europe who wish to look at how we can solve this problem and come up with some constructive solutions, instead of every single country looking around for different solutions and getting nowhere because they have no support. Those are my two suggestions.
My Lords, may I courteously suggest to Ministers that, if I have judged the flavour of the opinions in the House correctly, they could quite easily convey to the Home Secretary the feelings of the House when they tell her that there was absolute concord of views between not only my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but my noble friends Lady Chakrabarti and Lord Blunkett and myself? I have never known any other subject on which that could have been said.
When the Home Secretary said that the asylum system was broken, I confess that I felt a frisson of déjà vu. Like my noble friend Lord Blunkett, when I began to hear the suggested proposals to remedy the situation, I had a faint echo in my mind of suggestions many years ago from civil servants which seemed to bear a faint resemblance to some of the ideas that are now being put forward. My Minister at the time, my noble friend Lord Coaker, is nodding in agreement. We rejected them because they were wrong, either morally, politically or internationally, in terms of creating an international alliance, or simply because they would not work. So in all sincerity I ask the Minister to please convey this back, because I will give the reason for it at the end.
Like other noble Lords, of course I am concerned. As we have heard, the Bill was published before any formal response to the consultation. The UNHCR disagrees with the Home Secretary’s statement that it complies with our obligations under the 1951 Act. It would allow the Government to create offshore camps. It will not work. It has not worked anywhere. Every time I see one of these headlines coming out of the Home Office, I wonder how extraordinary the next one will be. I was waiting for somebody to suggest St Helena or Elba, which have been used in the past against intransigent foreigners such as Napoleon. Every proposal like this that is put forward must be sustainable and realisable, otherwise people will recognise that it is a political debate of headlines that is going on and nothing is changing in terms of making the system better.
These and other points concern me, but my greatest worry about this piece of legislation, as well as the other things that have been brought forward on this subject by the Government, is that they always address themselves to the symptoms of the problem and never the underlying causes. The reality is that for 40 years, ever since the Iron Curtain was raised, or at least fell apart, there have been accelerating drivers of emigration. When I was Home Secretary, 200 million people got up every year and moved somewhere else, not just to visit but to stay. War, persecution, famine and climate change, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and others, have driven unprecedented numbers of refugees around the world, probably about 80 million. At present, the globalisation of media and communications has made it plain that there is a better world somewhere else that I can go to if I am suffering in that fashion. We have internationalised travel: the EU’s external borders are porous and the EU’s determination to provide limitless internal travel throughout Europe through the Schengen process offers ample opportunities for anyone coming in from their external borders.
I will make this point. The Government will not solve this problem by trying to put a stopper in the distance between Dover and Calais. This is a much deeper strategic problem that will be solved only by international co-operation, international concord and international plans. That is why it is a tragedy that we have had cuts in the aid budget—which are hardly calculated to address the underlying problems—and the abolition of the Department for International Development. Likewise, leaving the EU reduces our ability. A mad spat between the Prime Minister and the President of France and name calling are hardly calculated to do it—but it is only at that level that we would do it, and it would be better and wiser under those circumstances to underpromise and overdeliver, rather than overpromise and fail to deliver, and I am afraid that once again that is what this Bill will do.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Reid, and to follow on the case for international co-operation. Like many in this Chamber, I find this Bill objectionable, degrading and inhumane. It fails to treat people with the dignity which they deserve. However, I recognise that I must put this to one side for a moment, because the Government have displayed a tin ear to all these arguments, so I will spend a little of my limited time examining some key areas where the Bill is unworkable.
My principal question to the Government is: do they genuinely believe that they will be able to sustain these proposals in the light of the inevitable challenges that they will receive in the courts and in international bodies? The excoriating report from the UNHCR and the legal opinion provided from London chambers, which lists the areas where this Bill breaches international laws and obligations, will surely provide an impetus for such challenges.
Stating baldly that other countries must take these migrants is bound to have a negative effect. It will change the perception of this country from one where we are a people who will stick to our word and keep our international bonds to a country that sets aside its international obligations. It will certainly not resonate with those countries, particularly countries such as Greece and Italy, which have taken a much larger share of asylum seekers, especially judged against the comparatively small number arriving on our shores.
A fundamental flaw in this Bill is the belief that the UK can make laws for itself with an expectation that other countries in the world which are supporters of the refugee convention will follow the UK’s direction.
“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in”
is the quote that I am talking to. The 95-page opinion on breaches in the Bill to international laws and obligations states:
“Requiring refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach would undermine the global, humanitarian, and cooperative principles”
on which refugee protection is founded. This is what we should be trying to do and these principles were affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly and by the United Kingdom in the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018, just a short time ago. Despite a global search, it appears that no one is prepared to take on the Government’s offshoring proposal either. It was interesting to see the backward steps that the Government of Albania took when their name was broadcast all over the newspapers as being a likely candidate. We must also remind ourselves that the Australian points-based system resulted in even more applications from the most vulnerable: that is, from women and children.
This Bill creates two classes of refugees, which the UNHCR believes has no basis in international law and is outwith the refugee convention. It says that the convention has nothing within it which defines a refugee by reason of their route of travel or choice of country for asylum, or the timing of any claim. Furthermore, it claims that the Bill undermines the obligations under international law which the UK has made under Articles 23, 32 and 34 of the refugee convention—and to that we must add a large number of other clauses, including Clause 31.
Essentially, this Bill seems to say that if we treat people badly enough, this will deter others from wanting to come here, while the failure to provide safe routes adds to the conclusion that these proposals are unworkable. For example, what would happen to someone who has been imprisoned in Belarus, someone who has spoken up for democracy and gets imprisoned for 12 months or more—we know that there are very long sentences—and who then, after the sentence is complete, escapes from the country and seeks asylum here, breaching one of the Government’s rules about people who have been in prison? The human cost to these individuals is clear but, more importantly, it is the deliberate intention of this Government to treat people this way—so on what basis do the Government believe that they can win a legal challenge to these proposals?
My Lords, I shall concentrate on the subject that I know best because I reviewed it for the Home Office in 2016: the deprivation of citizenship, covered in that late addition to the Bill, Clause 9. The phrase has a Cold War feel to it: we think of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, deprived of his citizenship by the USSR. But it is really a version of the ancient practice of banishment—likened by Voltaire, himself exiled to England as a young man, to
“throwing into a neighbour’s field the stones that incommode us in our own.”
The tightly drawn powers to remove citizenship under the British Nationality Acts, including for disloyalty or disaffection towards Her Majesty, were not used in the 30 years prior to the war on terror, but thresholds were reduced in 2003 and 2006 to the point where today, Ministers need be satisfied not that someone is a terrorist or a traitor but only that their removal would be
“conducive to the public good”.
In 2014, a further power was taken to render naturalised British citizens stateless, if the Home Secretary was additionally satisfied both that their conduct was seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom and—a concession made in response to concerns expressed in your Lordships’ House—that they were eligible for citizenship elsewhere.
Removal of citizenship is now relatively common. The factsheet for the Bill on this matter tells us that the power to deprive people of their citizenship on “conducive to the public good” grounds was exercised around 170 times between 2010 and 2018. Clause 9 does not alter the criteria for removal of citizenship but effectively makes it optional, rather than mandatory, to notify the subject of their change in status. A more limited attempt to achieve this, which deemed notice to have been given by the entry of a note on the subject’s Home Office file, was made in a statutory instrument of 2018 that passed unremarked through Parliament but was held last July in the case of D4 to be ultra vires of the Act. At least this time around we have a power of amendment.
With Committee stage in mind, I ask the Minister six questions which I would be happy to have answered in writing. First, why is such a power needed at all? The existing rules allow subjects or their parents to be notified by post or email at their last known address, at home or abroad. Have there been cases—and if so, how many—in which even this basic information is not known?
Secondly, if it is necessary to remove citizenship without notice, why is the prior permission of a judge not required—the safeguard that applies to more transient measures such as TPIMs and, formerly, control orders?
Thirdly, why are the circumstances in which notice may be dispensed with so extraordinarily broad, even by comparison with the rules that were struck down in July? Clause 9 allows notice to be withheld even when up-to-date contact details are available, when it is practicable to give notice, and when no considerations arise of national security or foreign relations. The Secretary of State does not even have to try to give notice: she must only believe that dispensing with notice is “in the public interest”. Hints of future ministerial restraint of the sort that the Home Office has been energetically tweeting during this debate have no basis in this clause and are no substitute for properly defined laws.
Fourthly, where is the provision to require notification after the event? What reason could there possibly be for not informing somebody within days, weeks or months of such a potentially cataclysmic event as the removal of their citizenship—especially when it is their only citizenship?
Fifthly, when does the time to appeal begin to run? You cannot appeal a decision you have not been told of, but once you do find out, is your appeal said to be time-barred?
Sixthly, why are courts restrained, retrospectively, from treating a deprivation order as invalid for failure to comply with such notification requirements as still remain?
There is already apprehension, especially and understandably among people of mixed heritage, about this country’s unusually far-reaching powers to remove citizenship. The proposal to allow the use of those largely unmonitored powers to be kept secret, even from a subject who could perfectly easily be told, has predictably compounded those fears.
Clause 9 has been insufficiently thought through; at least, I hope that is the explanation. We can, and must, do much better.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, on an issue that we all care about. This Bill is absolutely atrocious. It is important that we remember in this debate that the impact of this law will be on some of the most vulnerable, damaged, endangered and downtrodden people in the entire world. We are talking about refugees fleeing their bombed-out homes or fields that cannot support crops anymore because of climate change, and people seeking asylum from oppressive governments—human beings who have been enslaved by callous criminals. At a time when the world feels more dangerous than ever, and while the UK continues to fuel global conflict by acting as one of the world’s largest arms dealers, history will judge our Parliament and our Government harshly for this legislation.
The Government speak warm words about making things safer for refugees and asylum seekers, but the Bill offers no solutions for genuine safe passage. It shuts the door on people and criminalises their desperation. It is knee-jerk legislation which appeals to the basest instincts of the Tory vote. It is appeasement to right-wing extremists and a continuation of the Conservative Party’s decades-long obsession with immigration. At the moment, the UK birth rate is about 1.5 children per woman, and we need 2.8 children per woman for replacement, so we need immigrants; we are an ageing and falling population.
There is also the problem that I do not think this legislation will work. Creating a two-tier system for refugees, divided on how they arrived in the UK, is unlikely to make any difference. It assumes that these people are taking legal advice and making calculated strategies, rather than desperately doing whatever they can to survive. The UNHCR has stated in no uncertain terms that this is discriminatory and in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
There is the undermining of access to justice, fiddling with legal process, and curtailing rights to appeal, all of which significantly increase the risks of deporting people with valid claims, putting them at risk of further enslavement, torture or death. It is unclear how, under Clause 39, asylum seekers are supposed to enter the UK legally and without committing a criminal offence. Some 90% of people granted asylum in the UK are from countries whose nationals must obtain an entry clearance visa to enter the UK.
Turning to the deprivation of citizenship provisions in Clause 9, a lot of people will be surprised to learn that the Government already can—and do—remove people’s right to British citizenship. That is not new, but it means there is a two-tier system of British citizenship. The change is that the Government will now be able to remove people’s citizenship without any notice or warning whatever. The term
“otherwise in the public interest”
is so broad a discretion as to be almost meaningless. The Secretary of State can basically choose not to give notice on a whim. Of course, because citizenship will have been revoked without any notice, any judicial review or other legal challenge will only be able to be brought retrospectively.
In summary, the Bill is a continuation of the trend by this Government to remove individuals’ rights, undermine legal safeguards and view the legal profession as the enemy within. Rather than bring constructive solutions to these complex problems, the Government invoke criminal penalties and a legal quagmire. The end result is that injustices will go unresolved, genuine claims for asylum will be denied, and a great many people will be condemned to misery and suffering who ought to have been allowed to start life afresh on these islands. In words that might resonate with the Benches opposite, this Bill is a stain on British values.
As somebody who comes from Celtic stock—my lineage was here after the previous ice age—I welcome immigrants; I feel that they add life and vitality to what is sometimes a rather dull population. I will vote against the Bill and I very much hope that other Members of this House will as well.
My Lords, what a great pleasure it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
I understand and appreciate the intentions behind the Bill and, in particular, I recognise the challenges it seeks to address. The Bill has many aspects that I would wish to comment on in the time allowed, but I will confine myself to what has led to the need for this legislation—the issues created by unscrupulous organised gangs of criminals who prey on vulnerable people of all ages by illegally facilitating their entry into the UK by crossing the channel from France to England. Let us not forget that these are people at risk who are in the main seeking refuge from a variety of issues, be it conflicts, persecution or aggression in their own country. It is, of course, only humanly right that as a nation the UK shows compassion to those in their hour of need and provides the necessary sanctuary to those properly seeking our help. Of that there is no doubt at all, but, of course, this brings me to the heart of the matter.
The question arises as to why these migrants, having arrived in a safe country within the European Union, put all at risk in order to cross one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, having paid what is usually an extortionate sum of money to travel in what amounts in many cases to no more than a rubber dinghy with paddles. Maybe French hospitality is not quite what it is made out to be, but it is clear that these migrants would not be able to make their voyages across the channel without organised criminals facilitating their passage. The Bill seeks to address the issue of refugees arriving illegally, distinguishing between those who arrive directly from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened and those who do not.
My real concern—I take the opportunity of Second Reading to express it—lies with the marked lack of effectiveness of those tasked with combating cross-channel illegal immigration. It might well be said that if our law agencies were more effective in countering these gangs, parts of this Bill would be superfluous. What troubles me most is an apparent lack of cohesion between the agencies with regard to the use of intelligence. From previous experience, I am more than aware that knowledge is power, and, as a consequence, organisations, including law enforcement, are often drawn into intelligence silos.
As it stands at the moment, from what I am given to understand there is every reason to believe that this is the case in relation to the agencies tasked with countering cross-channel illegal immigration. Whether it be the National Crime Agency, the various police forces, Border Force, HM Customs or any other interested agency, there is a clear failure to have any effect whatever on the numbers crossing the channel. So I am not convinced. As robust as the Bill might seem, whether it will have any influence on the numbers crossing the channel is doubtful. After all is said and done, that should be the goal in order to prevent some of the most horrible drownings that we have witnessed in recent times.
I can see that the Bill is a step forward, a brave attempt indeed, in the battle to deter immigrants from entering illegally by streamlining what in reality amounts to a very difficult process. August 2020 saw the appointment of a Royal Marine, Dan O’Mahoney, as the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander. We were given to understand that in this new role Mr O’Mahoney would be leading the UK’s response to tackling illegal attempts to reach the UK. He would have the primary responsibility for making the channel route unviable for small boat crossings. He would collaborate closely with the French to build on the joint work already under way, urgently exploring tougher action in France, including stronger enforcement measures, adopting interceptions at sea and the direct return of boats. The Home Secretary said:
“Dan’s appointment is vital to cutting this route by bringing together all operational partners in the UK and in France”.
It does not seem to be the case. It is now reported that the number of people who crossed the English Channel in small boats last year was treble the number in 2020. According to the BBC, it shows that at least 28,431 migrants made the journey in 2021, despite huge UK hard-earned taxpayer contributions being invested in France to prevent crossings.
Last November, just over 1,000 people reached British shores aboard 33 boats. This wholeheartedly supports my theory of a lack of co-ordination with regard to intelligence and, in particular, the apparent lack of collaboration with French counterparts by Mr O’Mahoney and others. I strongly maintain that until there is proper intelligence co-ordination, particularly with the French—where that is possible, post Brexit—no amount of legislation will solve the illegal immigration problem in respect of the channel crossings, in my humble opinion.
To conclude, the fact remains that, as vigorous as the Bill is in dealing with those who have arrived illegally in the UK, the primary objective of any law enforcement agency must be the prevention of crime at whatever level. In that, I fear, we are being failed at all levels by those entrusted with that task.
My Lords, I have had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has produced some interesting and critical comments about the Bill. I have also had a close association with the Refugee Council, Safe Passage and a number of other NGOs working with refugees. Having visited some refugee camps, whether in the Calais area or on the Greek islands, I have been impressed by the quality and determination of the volunteers, mainly from this country, who have gone to work with refugees and are dedicated to helping the most vulnerable of their fellow human beings.
We should be judged as a country by how we handle this issue, and I fear that we will come out of this badly in the eyes of other countries that have always thought that we take the lead in human rights and respect for the rule of law. If there is one sentence that sums up my criticism of the Bill, it is this. If there are no legal routes to safety, the traffickers have a field day. We are giving the traffickers far too much of an opportunity. That is what the traffickers want. How do they get their business except by there being no legal routes to safety?
We were all shocked and dismayed by the tragic drowning of people in the channel, not least the 27 people just recently. Our relations with France have to improve. We cannot deal with the issue of traffickers working in northern France unless we establish a good relationship with France as a country. It seems to me that shouting at the French and blaming them is not going to get us any further.
People say to me, “Why don’t these people claim asylum in France?” Of course, the majority do. Three times as many asylum seekers who get to France claim asylum there as seek to come to this country, and in the year up to 2021 the UK had the fifth highest number of refugees, but we were 17th in terms of per head of the population, so we are way behind. We are not doing as much as other countries, and in fact the French figures have been three times our figure. I agreed with the Minister in his opening speech when he said that we cannot take them all. Of course, we cannot. All I argue is that we should take our share of responsibility, along with other countries. It is a very modest request, and if it is put to the people of this country, they say they agree. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said about Clause 9, most of which I hope we will get rid of in Committee.
On the nub of my concerns, the comments made by my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Blunkett in particular, and others, sum up the criticism I have of the Bill. Surely we cannot be in breach of international conventions and just say blithely, “Well, it doesn’t matter what UNHCR thinks or what the 1951 Convention thinks. It doesn’t matter that we have no right to penalise people by the method of travel”. We cannot say that it does not matter: we believe in the rule of law and in international conventions. Also, we cannot keep saying that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. That is not the 1951 Convention, no matter how much the Government insist that it is. Just in a practical sense, if that were to be applied, the 1 million Syrians who got to Germany would have all stayed in Greece, Italy and Malta. Surely that is not a sensible policy. That is a point I would make very strongly.
I regard UNHCR as the custodians of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. We should not blithely say, “Oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about”, which is effectively what the Government have been saying. We cannot therefore make it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK seeking asylum without having valid entry clearance. The Government keep saying “Oh, well, we can remove people”. There is not a single removal agreement with any EU country and, having left the EU, there is no sign we are going to achieve one. How are the Government going to remove people to whatever country they arrived from, particularly as that would not be the first safe country either?
As regards offshoring, what did the Government think they were doing letting it be known that Albania was on the list? It was complete nonsense. If the Government did not leak that, the Albanians got it from somewhere and they hotly denied it.
There must be a better way forward. We have fundamentally to support the right to family reunion, particularly of children coming to join their relatives—as we used to under the Dublin treaty, which the Government took out in the 2019 legislation. We should also find some accommodation for child refugees who have reached Europe who may not have family here. We must base what we do on international co-operation. We cannot do it on our own; we must achieve agreement. We must stop ministerial hostility to incomers, to new people arriving here. That poisons the atmosphere and makes sensible debate very difficult.
Finally, I am dismayed that our humanitarian tradition will be further undermined by this wretched Bill, unless we amend the nasty and objectionable features of it.
My Lords, the hallmarks of this Bill are illegality and inhumanity; the imposition of still greater inefficiency and expense on our asylum system; and prejudice to the interests of society in having well-integrated refugees.
The Bill delivers neither dignity for asylum seekers nor a fair deal for taxpayers. My colleague in the other place, Alistair Carmichael, said:
“If cruelty and bureaucracy were the answer, the Home Office would have solved the problem long ago.”
The Bill represents, in the words of distinguished lawyers led by Raza Husain QC,
“the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK.”
We have a system that is already working badly. Nearly two-thirds of initial decisions are found by the courts to be wrong, there is a backlog of 60,000 people whose cases await initial assessment, and it takes an average of a year to decide a case. The numbers the UK receives ought to be manageable: most European countries, including France, receive far more refugees per head of population than we do.
The obvious solution is to frontload the system, including investing in retention of caseworkers; improving the quality and accuracy of first-instance decision-making; restoring legal aid; and properly funding the courts and tribunals. But the Government, ignoring the first rule of holes, which is to stop digging, have chosen to worsen these problems by making what they call a broken system even more complex and unfair, which only entails yet more delay and expense. They will then double down on blaming asylum seekers rather than looking at the mote in their own eye—I am not the first to observe that it is the Home Office which is broken—and the whole sorry cycle will continue.
There is little in the Bill which helps to put the people-smuggling gangs out of business. The only real way is to create sufficient safe and legal routes, whether through resettlement, humanitarian visas, allowing claims to be lodged at a UK embassy or from, for instance, France, or family reunion. Can the Minister tell us what assessment her department has made of the impact the Bill will have on the number of family reunion visas granted each year?
The UNHCR makes the entirely valid point that the Government’s aim of forcing people to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach is by necessity absent from the refugee convention. The front-line states, which already accommodate nearly 75% of the world’s refugees, would never have signed a convention committing them to host 100%.
I second what the Conservative MP Caroline Nokes said on Report about penalising so-called group 2 refugees:
“It causes me real concern that we will create a two-tier system in which people with identical claims to safety—at identical risk from the Taliban—are treated very differently.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/12/21; col. 311.]
The further marginalisation of asylum seekers is not only cruel but thoroughly misguided. Skills are lost and health harmed; they are left open to exploitation, with integration and naturalisation impeded and postponed. This is contrary to every interest of our society, which is to see refugees become contributing, productive and taxpaying citizens as soon as possible. Instead of keeping them in depressed limbo for years while they are demonised as scroungers for getting a princely £5.66 a day, the Government should allow all who are able to work. What is the Minister’s response to the recent warning by the Migration Advisory Committee of the “clear evidence of harm” being caused by the current ban on employment?
All I can say now about the proposals on channel pushback, which my noble friend Lady Jolly has fully covered, and offshoring is that they are utterly misconceived. I also have time only to flag my concerns about the proposals on age assessments.
Although the provisions of Clauses 1 to 8 on citizenship are largely welcome, there are two specific groups whose problems in acquiring British citizenship I want to flag: Chagos Islanders and some EU citizens. I signal my intention to join the noble Baroness. Lady Lister, if she so acts, in an amendment on the lines of that tabled in the other place by Henry Smith to restore the citizenship rights of the Chagossians and their descendants, who lost both their homeland and nationality rights when cruelly evicted 65 years ago. It is encouraging that the Minister, Tom Pursglove, indicated that he was “sympathetic” to its aims.
I will again be vigorously pursuing the obscure and obsolete legacy of comprehensive sickness insurance, this time because it is unjustly tripping up EU citizens as regards their own or their children’s British citizenship or family reunion rights.
Lastly, as well as Clause 10 on stateless children, Clause 9 is understandably causing great alarm among our compatriots who because of descent or marriage could be at risk of statelessness. Can the Minister—here I only echo the superb analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich—explain how a right of appeal against a no-notice decision works if the person does not know about that decision?
I look forward to extremely robust discussion in Committee.
My Lords I declare a non-financial interest as president of Migration Watch. Your Lordships will be aware that this organisation has represented an important aspect of public opinion for more than 20 years. Indeed, I note a recent YouGov poll, which found that 34% of the British public now see immigration and asylum as one of the three most important issues facing our country. They are right.
The scale of illegal immigration has now reached the point at which it engages much wider considerations. These include the credibility of our borders, the scale of net migration, the cost of a failing asylum system and the reputation of the Government for straight dealing with those who elected them. That said, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for his impressive overview of the wider issues; and it was the noble Lord, Lord Reid, who pointed to some of the practical difficulties.
I will make three points. First, there is the scale of the problem. The Minister himself listed four groups of those offered asylum here in the past year. I made the total to be about 167,000. That is a huge number, to which must be added legal net migration, which has run at about 250,000 a year for the past 20 years.
Many of those now crossing the channel are not simply seeking asylum. Most have already passed through at least one safe country. Indeed, thousands have made asylum claims elsewhere, many of which were rejected. These arrivals are therefore those who seek not just sanctuary but the most convenient destination for their future plans—a very different thing, it seems to me. I note in passing that 80% of arrivals are men aged 20 to 40. Looking more widely around the world, there are now, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, mentioned, some 80 million displaced people, of whom many millions might qualify for asylum in western countries. It follows that there is bound to be growing pressure on the borders of Europe and, consequently, on the channel route.
Secondly, our asylum system is already overwhelmed. Last year, as we all know, 28,000 crossed the channel in small boats and arrived here without prior permission. How many were removed? As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, five—five out of many thousands.
For too long, successive Governments have conceded to the asylum lobby at every point; that is the essential reason why the system is now so close to collapse. Removal of failed asylum seekers lies at the heart of any effective asylum policy, yet we now find that there are 80,000 immigration offenders living among the public. That is roughly the size of the British Army. Yet the current system costs not £1 billion, as the Minister said, but £1,500 million, and is clearly in serious need of an overhaul.
Thirdly, the time has surely come to move to a much tougher system of accommodation centres, an idea only touched on in Clause 12. Accommodation in four-star hotels can only be a huge pull factor. Claimants should in future be obliged to stay in accommodation centres until their cases have been decided. Any claimant leaving the centre without permission should find his or her application automatically rejected. Health and security checks could be carried out on the spot, and asylum courts should be collocated to speed up consideration of cases. That is easily said and not easily done, but probably the only way forward. Such changes would achieve better and faster decisions, but they will be useless without effective removal, so there must be a renewed effort to secure effective return agreements with countries of origin.
Finally, if fundamental reform cannot be achieved within the present legal framework, the Government should re-examine the 1951 convention and the ECHR in the face of continuing, massive and uncontrolled illegal entry. The public would be right to demand no less.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the many noble Lords in this House who bring such expertise to our deliberations and compassion to our scrutiny of this Bill. I wish to focus my remarks particularly on Part 5 of the Bill, on modern-day slavery. It has been said that the Modern Slavery Act was a pioneering piece of legislation. I would agree with that, but there is so much more work for us to do to confront this blight on our communities. Addressing modern-day slavery is close to the Church of England’s heart. Through the Clewer Initiative and other programmes, we have worked to raise awareness and to support survivors. This is a matter in which civil society, law enforcement and government share a joint responsibility to act.
Several aspects of the Bill are welcome additions in the fight against modern-day slavery. I welcome the renewed commitment to support victims of physical and mental health and social being, and I welcome the leave to remain route for confirmed victims. However, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, over whether this really goes far enough. There are other aspects that also seem troubling. We have heard from many noble Lords of concerns over inadmissibility and the proposed two-tier system for refugees. We must not lose sight of how this connects to modern-day slavery and exploitation. As my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, highlighted, the more there is a lack of safe and legal routes, the more criminal gangs fill the vacuum to bring the desperate people here. Indeed, the harder we make it to arrive with ever more militarised and securitised approaches, the more the only available options are via sophisticated criminal gangs and support from alternative, illegal sources.
The Government have made it clear that they believe the existing modern slavery provisions are open to abuse and are being used to prevent people being removed from the country. I do not doubt their sincerity in this regard, but we must be cautious that in seeking to counter abuse we do not sacrifice the real victims. To do so would be to fail the promise and progress made by the Modern Slavery Act. This was a point that we explored during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill last year, and my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and I will be looking again at the support and protections for migrant survivors of abuse at future stages of this Bill.
As regards victims of modern slavery, I hope that the Government will be prepared to discuss the impact of proposals on changes to the “reasonable grounds” criteria. I have heard the concerns of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and others that this will have a negative impact on the many genuine survivors, and I will seek assurances from the Government on how that can be avoided. In addition to my remarks, the Lords Spiritual will want to pick up areas that affect children and young people who fall through the cracks of the Bill.
Modern slavers thrive on exploiting destitution and fear among asylum seekers and migrants. They capitalise on gaps in government provision and enmesh the vulnerable in their enterprises. I share the fear expressed by other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord McColl, Lord Alton and Lord Rosser, that, contrary to the intention of the Bill, there is much that might exacerbate modern slavery, not reduce it. I hope that, as this Bill proceeds, we might find ways of improving our commitment and support to victims of modern slavery.
My Lords, I, too, intend to concentrate on the one aspect of the Bill that should not be in the Bill—namely, Part 5. I share the views expressed by others. It seems to undermine the 2015 Act, pioneered by the former Home Secretary and Prime Minister Theresa May, although that may be the intention.
In all the years that I have been at Westminster, which is getting on for well over 40, I do not think that I have seen such a letter to legislators—signed by more than 100 chief executive officers concerned about the sector under legislation. I refer to the letter to MPs of 22 November from the Human Trafficking Foundation. It is short and to the point, and I shall give just four quotes. The letter, signed by 114 CEOs, says:
“The Bill sends a message to traffickers that they are free to exploit people with uncertain or insecure immigration status, or criminal records, even for minor offences, or those committed under duress, as they’ll no longer qualify for help”,
and that it
“will reduce the number of criminal prosecutions for trafficking offences as there is no incentive for victims trapped in criminal exploitation, or targeted by traffickers for old offences, from coming forward”.
It says that the
“new Trafficking Information Notices will create further delays … and … will increase costs”,
and that the Bill is
“unfair to victims of slavery, while making it easier for the perpetrators to get away with their crimes”.
These are serious claims, and they must be responded to.
The Bill requires slavery victims to disclose at the moment of identification or be penalised. This is simply not realistic. As a result, fewer people will be identified and helped. I simply do not understand Clause 62, which disqualifies potential victims from protection. The reasons for removal of protection are badly drafted, vague and can be operated on a whim. I am really looking for a legal mind to explain to me what “claimed … in bad faith”, as set out in Clause 62(1)(b), actually means. I have not seen that before, not even when I was at the Home Office as my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s Minister of State. Parliament cannot possibly allow this vagueness. Of course, the anti-slavery commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has said that there is a risk that Clause 62 will limit victim engagement in prosecutions and thereby significantly undermine the ability of law enforcement to bring traffickers to justice.
The CEOs’ experience is useful, but the joint letter from the anti-slavery commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner to the Home Office, released on 30 December, is devastating. There is no time at Second Reading to rehearse the contents, such as the view that the Bill is set to degrade existing protections for these victims and that it
“singularly fails to grasp the realities of being a victim”.
There is no time to go into detail but, frankly, if the Minister winding up has not come briefed to respond to that letter, it is a disgrace and a failure as a Minister. I respectfully ask for a response to that letter today, before we start Committee.
This Bill is a very poor signal to the police officers out there at the moment preventing exploitation, seeking the exploited and matching up the incidents they go to as to whether people are telling the truth or are in slavery. What signal are we sending today’s police officers with a Bill that reduces protections for people in slavery?
The national referral mechanism stats show that 47% of referrals are for children, yet there are no protections set out for them. The Minister understandably did not make too much use of this in his smooth speech, which I commend him for, but he said nothing about why and how, as the Government claim, the national referral mechanism is being misused. There seems to be a lack of evidence and data to support the claim.
To conclude, British slave victims account for 34% of those identified. Children account for 47% of slave victims. The fact that the UK still has no national identity system and it is easy to work illegally means the Bill is encouraging the flow of cheap slave labour into the economy. That is the reality. That is what it appears it will do unless amended.
My Lords, I believe this Bill is one of the most inhumane Bills yet put forward by the Government. I will discuss the attitude of the Home Secretary towards people seeking asylum.
Even before she was responsible for them, this country treated people seeking asylum worse than most other western democracies. In the United Kingdom, people seeking asylum cannot work for the first 12 months and are forced to rely on state support of little more than £5 a day. The right to apply for work is much less restricted in most European countries, Canada, Australia and the United States. Several allow them to work and earn a living.
Under the Bill at present, the position of people seeking asylum in Britain and how they are treated will become even worse. In a New Year video message posted on social media this week, the Home Secretary spoke of a so-called legal merry-go-round of spurious asylum claims. I stress the word “spurious”. In effect, she accuses those who seek asylum of doing so under false pretences—in fact, fraud—yet the official figures show that most asylum claims are accepted either at first instance or on appeal. She also said that 70% of individuals on small boats crossing the Channel are single men who are effectively economic migrants and not genuine asylum seekers—the boat people are also frauds. Again, no evidence has been produced that these asylum claims are illegitimate. Analysis by the Refugee Council shows that more than 90% came from 10 countries where human rights abuses and persecution are common. They include Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen. In recent times, a majority of these claimants have eventually been recognised as refugees who need international protection.
That is not all—apart from the fact that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees believes that the Bill breaches international law. Others seeking refuge will now become criminals: under Clause 39, someone who knowingly enters the UK without the necessary entry clearance will face a possible four-year prison sentence. Who are these supposed fraudsters and criminals? They are people fleeing torture and persecution who have made desperate, traumatic journeys to come to the United Kingdom, many to join relatives. In fact, this is no longer open to them as a legal route. Some are unaccompanied children.
To describe these people as “fraudsters” and make some of them criminals is unbelievable—indeed, it is unspeakable. It shows that the Home Secretary has not an ounce of compassion in her character. Indeed, for other reasons she should no longer be a Minister; she should have been dismissed from office when the Prime Minister’s then adviser on the Ministerial Code ruled that her bullying behaviour at work had breached the code. She survived because she is a loyal supporter of the Prime Minister, who simply ruled that she was not in breach.
I was fortunate that my first ministerial post was as a junior Minister to Roy Jenkins, probably the greatest reforming Home Secretary of all time. I never thought that I would one day see the worst Home Secretary ever kept in her post by someone who is likely to go down as the worst Prime Minister in our history.
My Lords, there can be no doubting the sensitivity in both political and social terms of the policy areas covered in the Bill to which we are giving a Second Reading today.
Immigration is of real concern to many of our fellow citizens. Over the past centuries, it has shaped this country, very often for the better; equally, there can be no doubting that this Bill touches on matters of not only domestic policy concern but Britain’s international obligations. It thus affects, for better or worse, the Government’s objective of developing a positive global role for our country in the 21st century. I will therefore concentrate my remarks on those parts of the Bill that are difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with our international obligations.
The provisions of the Bill dealing with asylum have been described by the UNHCR, the refugee agency, as
“fundamentally at odds with the Government’s … commitment to upholding the United Kingdom’s international obligations under”
the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol, and with
“the country’s long-standing role as a global champion for the refugee cause.”
That is strong language from an agency of the UN, which does not lightly criticise a member state which is not only a permanent member of its Security Council but also, over many years, one of its greatest donors. Nor can such criticism be lightly dismissed with subjective legal opinions; after all, why are we now discarding the interpretation of our obligations under the convention which we have applied for 70 years if it is not our intention unilaterally to contravene that interpretation?
However, if there are powerful reasons of principle for seeking to amend the provisions on asylum in the Bill, there are also powerful practical reasons for doing so. Is there any reason to believe that any third country will be ready to accept the offshoring of asylum seekers coming to this country? Certainly, a leak that we might be contemplating trying to negotiate such facilities with Albania provoked an immediate and categorical denial. Moreover, it is surely an incontrovertible fact that no new measures for checking the illegal arrival of asylum seekers will be effective if we cannot secure the full co-operation of our continental neighbours, in particular France.
Does it really make sense in that context to legislate for solutions which have already been dismissed as unacceptable by those countries and contrary to international law? Would it not be wiser to talk first and then legislate? Is it not likely that any such co-operation will in any case require us to open ways in which asylum in the UK could be claimed and processed reasonably expeditiously before asylum seekers quite literally take their lives in their hands by embarking on a perilous Channel crossing?
Quite apart from those complications over asylum, the provisions in Clause 9 for depriving British subjects of their nationality without notice seem to contravene the UK’s obligations under the 1961 UN statelessness convention and would risk depriving their children of their right to a nationality under Article 24(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 7(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child—the latter being particularly poignant to the present speaker as I sat beside Margaret Thatcher in 1990 when she signed it.
The problems caused by our long-standing international legal obligations would thus seem to be a sufficient reason to consider Clauses 9 and 11 of the Bill to be seriously flawed and needing amendment. To ignore these problems or to dismiss them will inflict real damage on one of the pillars of British foreign policy: our support for a rules-based international order. Ministers have stood time and again at the Dispatch Box in this place and in another place proclaiming our national interest in preserving and strengthening that order. For what it is worth, I believe them right to do so. But then measures are brought forward that run contrary to that order—as in the present case—which, if they entered into law, would undermine it. Twice already this House has successfully amended such Bills, in the cases of the internal market Act and the overseas operations Act, to bring them into conformity with our international obligations. I hope that this can be achieved in the present case too. If not, I fear the gap between our rhetoric and our practice could become too wide to bridge with any semblance of credibility.
My Lords, we are an island race and have been subject to many waves of immigration and invasion—some welcome, some not. I leave your Lordships to decide into which category they place the Vikings, Romans, Normans and Huguenots. Actually, I think that on the whole, notwithstanding a few short-term difficulties, these have generally been positive. The Huguenots came at the rate of a thousand a year over, say, 50 years. Of course, the population back then was much smaller. In the 18th and 19th centuries, all those Anglo-Saxon-sounding bankers arrived in London, such as the Schroders, Warburgs and Rothschilds. Then, after World War Two, there was the Windrush generation. Incidentally, I am pleased to see that Part 1 of the Bill appears to attempt to right the terrible wrongs of Windrush. I say the above to demonstrate my support for economic immigration. It has been a necessity in our country, but it must be subject to rigorous control, with checks and balances, and it must suit our country.
There are 80 million displaced people in the world, so it is clear that not everyone who wants to come to the United Kingdom can do so. The current system is collapsing. Indeed, in the New Plan for Immigration published in March 2021, the Government described the UK’s in-country asylum case load as being at an “unsustainable” level. It stated that 109,000 asylum cases were in the system; of those, 52,000 were still awaiting a decision at the end of 2020. Some 5,200 had an appeal outstanding, and 41,600 cases were subject to removal action—the highest level since records began in 2011. In 2013-14, this cost the British taxpayer just over £0.4 billion. In 2020-21, it is costing the taxpayer just under £1.4 billion.
The number of decisions made per year has been falling, despite an increase in asylum casework staff. Indeed, there has been a 46% increase in the number of those staff at the Home Office since 2014-15, when there were 409, to 597 four years later. To further compound the situation, productivity has reduced from a peak of around 18 principal stages completed per staff member per month in 2015-16 to an equivalent figure of only seven per month only four years later. There has been much criticism of the Home Office during this debate. These figures add to that criticism, and I add mine. Of the 29,500 applications made in 2020, only 14,400 decisions were made—granted, the pandemic doubtless had some part in this reduction. But, of course, this all adds to pressure on the system.
While successful application rates between 2004 and 2009 averaged 34%, in recent years that has increased and improved to 48%. Compare that to the 20% rate in France—no wonder immigrants do not bother stopping in Paris but head straight for Calais. Indeed, many applications for asylum in the UK come from people who have had their applications in other European countries turned down. But no one arriving in small boats is fleeing persecution in France.
A related problem highlighted by the Home Secretary is that the persistent failure to enforce our immigration laws, as reflected by the woeful removal statistics—I believe it was only about 2,500 last year—is eroding public trust and disadvantaging vulnerable people who need our help. According to Migration Watch, 79% of British voters think that the Government are handling immigration poorly. We are lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, president of the independent Migration Watch, here in this Chamber, giving us some hard-hitting facts on the levels of migration in this country.
I welcome the Government’s introduction of much of this Bill. It is high time we dealt more robustly with people trying to access our country illegally. This should allow the Home Office more time to deal more compassionately with more deserving cases and, most importantly of all, to prevent the tragedies of the like we saw in the channel in November.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Leicester, and I agree with very much of what he had to say. I note that I am to be followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. The noble Baroness and I have made common cause on a number of issues, but tonight she will probably disagree with almost every word I am going to say, because I think the direction of travel of this Bill is a good one. There are issues we shall need to think about, debate and possibly amend in Committee, but today, at Second Reading, we are discussing the strategic objectives of the Bill, and I think these are right, worthy and in tune with the wishes of the British people. I do so on three grounds: fairness, impact and morality.
First, on fairness, it cannot be right at any level to allow people, however desperate, to be able to game the system which governs legal entry to this country. To allow this to happen is to create the major pull factor that my noble friend Lord Wolfson raised in his opening remarks. It is not fair to those people, possibly equally desperate, who have followed the legal procedures, and it is not fair to the British people. As a nation, we place great weight on fairness, and nothing is more likely to undermine public consent for our immigration policies than a view that the regulations are being evaded and abused.
Secondly, by impact, I mean the effects, in the widest sense, of rapidly increasing population in what is already a relatively crowded island. It is not just about immigration, because some of our population increase comes about from the natural increase of the excess of births over deaths. Since the Blair Government opened our borders to mass immigration, we are likely to have seen an increase in our population of 13 million —8 million so far, and another 5 million projected by the ONS. That is 25% of our population in 1997.
When you give those figures, people look at you as though you are a little Englander—not so. I fully accept the new arrivals bringing an economic and cultural dynamic from which our society has benefited, but this is about scale and thinking about the widest impacts of population growth and responding to the concerns of the people of this country in a way that builds trust in government. What are those concerns? They include the impact on our economy, our national food and water security, our environment, our ecology, our society and, last but not least, our ability to meet our climate change treaty obligations. For all these reasons, it is very important that we keep tight control of the numbers arriving. In particular, we need to discourage—as the Bill seeks to do—forum shopping, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Green, pointed out, is an issue to which this country is particularly vulnerable.
Finally, I turn to the difficult issue of morality. Here I emphasise, or follow, the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I think we can all agree that what we really value is compassion linked to a sense of community and of civic responsibility. When we see our fellow human beings in desperate straits, we want to help, particularly if they are children.
Professor Diana Coole of London University has written extensively on the dangers of trying to create a general policy based and founded on the tragedy of an individual or a series of individuals. Yes, we want to give a hand to the Afghans whom we saw in terrible circumstances last autumn. Yes, we want to give a hand to the Hong Kong Chinese who are now under threat from the Beijing Government. Yes, of course, we want to give a hand to the desperate people we saw in the channel last autumn. But as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will point out in his debate tomorrow, there are 82.4 million displaced people worldwide and many of them are in very serious situations.
To those who suggest that the way to deal with this is to open more legal channels, process applications faster and process those applications at source to cut out the people smugglers, I can see the force of those arguments but we are in danger of creating an immigration superhighway. Those who argue for this need to say what number they think we can accept under the system. What number in a year or over an average of five years? That is an inconvenient truth that has to be faced but face it we must, and because this Bill is trying to face a number of inconvenient truths it has my support.
My Lords, I welcome the long overdue ending of the injustice done to those deprived of the right to citizenship because their British Overseas Territory father was not married to their mother. I pay tribute to Trent Miller and David Varney for their years of battling to make this happen. Sadly, this positive citizenship step is overshadowed by making it harder for stateless children to acquire British nationality, the last-minute introduction of the power to remove citizenship without notice and the very disappointing response in the Commons to attempts to remedy the gross injustice done to the Chagossians, evicted permanently from their homeland by the British Government, with their descendants denied citizenship rights. I hope we can rectify that and rectify the long- standing overcharging of children’s citizenship fees.
I turn to the asylum sections of what has been justifiably dubbed the “anti-refugee Bill”. Contrary to government claims, the Bill, as we have heard, is, in the words of the UNHCR,
“fundamentally at odds with … the United Kingdom’s international obligations under the Refugee Convention”.
First, through criminalisation; secondly, through the application of inadmissibility rules which, according to the UNHCR, rely on a
“fundamental misapplication of … the Refugee Convention”,
in particular a non-existent “first safe country” principle; and thirdly, by the creation of two refugee classes, the Bill effectively denies most asylum seekers the rights afforded by the convention. Moreover, through the prospect of offshoring, discredited by Australian experience, it strips them of their dignity and humanity.
The temporary protection status that awaits “group 2” refugees is likely to mean the kind of barracks-style accommodation found to be dehumanising and injurious to mental health by an APPG on Immigration Detention inquiry, of which I was a member, together with a significant increase in the numbers with no recourse to public funds, spelling serious hardship, including for children. In short, to quote the UNHCR, group 2 status is
“a recipe for mental and physical ill health, social and economic marginalisation, and exploitation.”
This is all in the name of the all-important but, at present, very limited safe and legal routes. Yet, as the UNHCR observed, resettlement programmes, crucial as they are, cannot on their own compensate for the abdication of global responsibility that this Bill represents. Moreover, far from expanding such routes—for instance, through humanitarian visas—the Bill’s weakening of family reunion rights will reduce them.
One consequence, the UNHCR warns, will be that more women and children are likely to attempt dangerous journeys. The ministerial mantra that women and children are being elbowed aside by young men is used to suggest that the former will benefit from this legislation. How is it, then, that Women for Refugee Women and more than 50 other organisations have written to the Home Secretary to warn that more women will be wrongly refused asylum, retraumatised and placed at risk of violence and abuse? Among their concerns are the consequences for women fleeing gender-based violence, more restrictive rules governing asylum interviews and the definition of “particular social group” which women often use to make their case. We have here the institutionalisation of the culture of disbelief that has long marred the asylum process. Children’s organisations share many of these worries, as well as expressing alongside professional organisations strong opposition to the proposed changes to age assessments.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, the Bill, as we have heard, is premised on the assumption that those entering the UK unlawfully, particularly in small boats, are not genuine asylum seekers. How can the Government make such an a priori assumption, particularly given the Refugee Council’s analysis that shows that most of those crossing the channel are likely to be recognised as being in need of refugee protection? Secondly, why should we accept the Government’s interpretation of the refugee convention over that of the body with supervisory responsibility for it?
In conclusion, I cite a refugee who contributed to a Refugee Action consultation following the Government’s failure to take adequate account of refugees’ lived experience in their own consultation. She asked that we look through the eyes of those affected so that we do not create rules that will in future fill us “with shame and regret”. If we let this pernicious Bill pass unamended I, for one, will feel both deep shame and intense regret.
My Lords, over the Christmas break I had the chance to read two things in particular. The first was a birthday gift, Jon Meacham’s excellent book, Franklin and Winston; the second was this Bill. I confess that the former experience was considerably more enjoyable than the latter, but the two are linked because it was Franklin Roosevelt whose ideas and humanity did so much to shape the post-war order; and it was Sir Winston Churchill’s Government who, on 11 March 1954, ratified the 1951 refugee convention which this Government, through this Bill, so clearly and shamefully intend to violate.
In the short time available I am going to focus on Part 2, relating to asylum and the treatment of refugees, but I also want to touch on the continuing lack of physical documentation for EU citizens with settled and pre-settled status, an issue which many of us across this House have raised consistently. I give notice that I intend to table an amendment in Committee—again, I hope, with cross-party support—to correct this continuing anomaly which is causing significant hardship to settled EU citizens.
As we have heard, the 1951 refugee convention came into being in the aftermath of World War II. It was intended to create a shared obligation towards refugees and to end the pre-authorisation regime which had existed in the 1930s and had prevented so many people, particularly Jewish people, finding a safe haven from Nazi persecution. It is exactly such a pre-authorisation regime that this Government seem determined to return to, with all the injustice that will entail.
This Bill turns the concept of shared responsibility on its head. It introduces the principle that a refugee must claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. As the UNHCR has made clear:
“this principle is not found in the … Refugee Convention and there is no such requirement under international law.”
As the joint opinion for Freedom from Torture points out, such a principle
“would have been nonsensical in circumstances prevailing in 1951, with no commercial air-travel.”
Quite apart from violating our obligations under international law, this safe country principle makes no sense for an international convention. It would mean that the obligations of the convention applied in effect only to those safe countries which happen by circumstances of geography to be closest to the countries of origin of the refugees. Already, these countries carry the bulk of the burden and often they are the least well-resourced to deal with it. As the UNHCR reminds us, 73% of refugees are already hosted in neighbouring countries and 86% of them are hosted in developing countries. The logic of the Government’s position is to say to these countries that 73% is not good enough—you must take them all.
In inventing this new principle, the Government are also creating a second class of refugee—literally, a “Group 2 refugee”—and then penalising them, in explicit violation of the convention which provides that no such penalties should be required. The result is that people who the Government themselves accept are refugees requiring protection under the convention will be denied rights because of their means of entry to the country or their failure to apply for asylum elsewhere. Not only do the Government intend to penalise refugees for entering by unauthorised means, they are also doing their best to ensure that there are no authorised means by which you can claim asylum outside country. Heads they win, tails you lose.
In his notably bellicose opening, the Minister told us that we did not have to choose between fairness and effectiveness. That is true. It is therefore particularly curious that the Government have felt the need to avoid a choice they did not have to make by plumping instead for legislation that is unfair and will prove ineffective.
The Minister also told us that the asylum system is broken, and who could disagree with him? As my noble friend Lord Paddick and other Peers set out, the Home Office’s administrative record is appalling. It has failed to remove 40,000 failed claimants who are eligible for removal, it is processing only half the applications it did 17 years ago, and those put through its processes are subject to delay, prolonged uncertainty and misery. We do not need new legislation but effective administrative action by the Home Office, safe and legal routes for refugees to claim asylum and a system that is humane, fair, effective and rapid. The Bill will achieve none of that. Nasty and ineffective in equal measure, it is a byword for this Government.
My Lords, I have had helpful discussions with Professor Katona, the medical director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, an organisation working with survivors of trafficking, torture and other extreme human cruelty. Like me, he worked in the NHS for many years as a consultant psychiatrist. The foundation is very concerned about the impact the Bill could have on the mental health of survivors—particularly those who have experienced trauma—and that it could deny them the protection and support they need. I agree with its concern that the Bill will effectively punish and retraumatise asylum seekers and survivors of human trafficking for behaviour and actions that are inextricably linked to the human rights violations and trauma they have already experienced.
Asylum seekers who have come to the UK by what are termed “illegal” means—such as by small boat across the channel—will be given less protection. Even when their asylum claims are successful, they will still be disadvantaged, despite bravely taking the only means available to them to reach safety. I am unclear whether there are any legal routes available so, before I say more, I ask the Minister to explain in her conclusion exactly what legal means there are and how such routes could be made clearer to people seeking asylum and to protect them when they are the victims of people smugglers and traffickers. How can it be humane to grant people recognised as entitled to refugee status only a temporary form of status simply because of their means of arrival? How can it be fair to restrict their rights to both family reunification and financial support? The loss of hope caused by these actions plus leaving such asylum seekers in a state of limbo and permanent fear of return, unable to rebuild their lives, can only add to their mental distress and will build up problems for all our futures. This is manifestly cruel, particularly in the apparent lack of legal means of arrival.
With respect to the proposal that accommodation centres be used to house those seeking asylum, a review of the evidence by the Helen Bamber Foundation shows that accommodation of this kind has similar adverse effects on mental health to those associated with immigration detention. Offshoring can be expected to have similar, but even worse, effects on mental health to those associated with accommodation centres in the United Kingdom. Evidence from Australia’s use of offshoring has shown how it results in severe harm to people’s physical and mental health. More fundamentally, it would result in major limitations on the human rights of the individuals concerned and would give them little or no chance of subsequent transfer to the UK, even if their asylum claims were successful.
On the idea of so-called late evidence and late claims being treated as lacking in credibility or unmeritorious, this ignores the substantial evidence that trauma and other mental health problems make it emotionally very difficult, if not impossible, for survivors of human rights violations—particularly those whose trauma has a sexual component—to disclose fully what has happened to them unless they are given sufficient time and support to facilitate such disclosure. This is so well evidenced for victims of trafficking and of torture. The assessments provided in reception centres already pay scant attention to the mental health of new arrivals, and staff are unlikely—to be polite—to have the skills or time to enable disclosures. Just the retelling of trauma is retraumatising—I know that from my personal experience. Disclosures of abuse and torture require a relationship of trust and the possibility of sensitive and sustained psychotherapeutic help. To give a parallel example, the average time from abuse to disclosure for survivors of child sexual abuse in one inquiry was 35 years.
I do not expect the Bill’s drafters to have been fully aware of the complexity of the mental health risks faced by asylum seekers, but I seek an assurance from the Minister that the impact of some of the Bill’s provisions on the mental health of asylum seekers will be thought about again and the Bill amended accordingly.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts raised the issue of the UK population. The House may have seen the recent article by Michael Palin, the actor and global traveller, in the Spectator, where he pointed out that when he was born, in 1943, there were 2.3 billion people in the world and now there are nearly 8 billion—an almost fourfold increase. That tells you a lot, he rightly said, about the causes of global warming. However, it also tells you a lot about the causes of mass migration, which has been a phenomenon of this century. Much of the population growth has been in less developed countries, where young men—most migrants are young men—despair of their future in their own country and seek a solution in a richer and safer country. Where there is that demand, you will get ruthless operators who promise young men that they can get them in, hence the flimsy boats crossing the Med and the channel. This is illegal activity that no responsible Government can ignore or condone. It is a problem for all developed countries. It is a challenge to the authority of an elected Government which any responsible Government, of whatever political colour, has to respond to. That is a fundamental point about the whole Bill.
In addition, if unchecked, migration increases inequality and unfairness in recipient countries such as the UK. Obviously, most of the migrants go to the poorer parts of the country because that is where the cheaper housing is, and that multiplies the problems of poorer councils in finding accommodation, schools and GP services for the existing population as well as the immigrants. The devastating effect that the mass migration unleashed by the Blair Labour Government has had on some working-class communities is well set out in the book by the labour and trade union activist Paul Embery in his study of his home area of Dagenham.
Today the spotlight is on illegal immigration. As we have all said in the Chamber, we the British people are kind, tolerant and humane, with a good record in dealing with both economic migrants and asylum seekers. However, illegal immigration on the scale we see today is undoubtedly deeply unpopular. Opinions from YouGov and so forth have been quoted already. In November 2021—only two months ago—a YouGov poll said that the Government were in fact too soft: a warning to my noble friends on the Front Bench.
The Bill is clearly an effort to get a handle on the problem—an attempt to give a legal framework for necessary action. However much we may sympathise, as fellow human beings, with economic migrants or asylum seekers, our first duty as British parliamentarians is to the people of this country, particularly those living in parts of the country that are having to bear the burden of this phenomenon. We must listen to the people’s views and develop an immigration policy with which they are comfortable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, mentioned Australia, the only country that has been successful in resolving this problem. There, the Liberal Government introduced offshore processing in 2001. This was successful, but the incoming Labor Government dismantled it in 2008. There was then a huge wave of immigrants and the Labor Government hastily reinstated offshore processing. Then the Liberals won the next election and brought it in more effectively. They strengthened the policy and, as a result, the 50,000 immigrants a year who were coming in by boat to Australia are now practically zero, and the costs have fallen dramatically. Inevitably, the policy now has all-party support. I have spoken at length to the head of the Australian Border Force, who says that the essential message it got across to potential immigrants was “You will not get into Australia”. Once that was understood, the people traffickers had no clients and their business model collapsed.
The fact of the matter is that the Bill is a necessary response to a difficult problem. We know that obviously there are practical difficulties in, for example, thinking about replicating what happens in Australia here, but that does not mean that we do not have to try. It is sensible and responsible, it has strong support in the country and in the other place, and it certainly has my strong support.
My Lords, it is important to see this Bill in its broader context, particularly in the light of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which is currently proceeding in the other place. Together, the two Bills make a group of changes that cumulatively are more significant than the sum of their parts, and the consequences need to be considered together to examine the proportionality, fairness and wisdom of both Bills.
I shall give an example of the reforms made by the two Bills. Say that a gay man has fled from an oppressive, homophobic regime and has arrived in the UK. On presenting himself to immigration authorities to claim asylum, he is too ashamed to admit his homosexuality because of homophobia in his home country and within his own family. He therefore declines to raise his homosexuality as a ground for asylum. Instead, he raises a more general claim that he is unsafe, without giving specific evidence of his vulnerability. His asylum claim is refused, with the Home Office deciding that he could safely live in another part of the country where the regime has a weaker stronghold. He is therefore liable to be removed from the UK.
There are two options available to the Home Office under these Bills, both of which place the asylum seeker in a weaker position of protection and safety. Option one is that the Home Office could issue the refugee with a priority removal notice under Clause 19 of the Nationality and Borders Bill. This would require him to provide a statement, along with evidence, about why he should not be removed. Under Clause 24 of the Bill, the refugee is entitled to only seven hours of legal advice to assist him to set out his reasons and his evidence for remaining in the UK. Under Clause 21, if the refugee does end up admitting his homosexuality but after the cut-off date, any evidence provided by him on this matter must be treated as having minimal credibility by the Home Office unless he can provide good reasons. Based on this credibility rule, the Home Secretary might certify his claim as “clearly unfounded”. Under Clause 27, where the Home Secretary certifies a claim as “clearly unfounded”, the refugee’s right of appeal is entirely abolished. He could not appeal inside or outside the UK, although he could seek a separate judicial review of his decision.
Even if the Home Secretary declines to find the claim “clearly unfounded”, Clause 22 of the Bill will kick in. This provides for expedited immigration appeals, whereby any appeal made by the asylum seeker will go straight to the Upper Tribunal, rather than the First-tier Tribunal. If a person loses in the Upper Tribunal, there is no right to appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. Therefore, if the Upper Tribunal makes the wrong decision, the man is again at risk of removal. A series of procedural changes therefore increases the risk of an adverse decision against a legitimate asylum seeker.
In the second option, if the Home Secretary does not issue a priority removal notice under the Nationality and Borders Bill, she may nevertheless issue a removal notice under existing legislation. In addition, if the Home Secretary does not require an expedited appeal under Clause 22 of the Bill, the case will also be dealt with using this second option. If the Home Office does not uphold the individual’s claim for asylum, he can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. However, if the First-tier Tribunal makes an error of law when deciding on the case and the Upper Tribunal refuses permission to hear an appeal despite the error of law, Clause 2 of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill will mean that the individual could not ask the High Court to overturn this error of law, because this clause abolishes the so-called Cart judicial reviews that used to be available in these circumstances. Therefore, the same consequences follow as for option one. The asylum seeker is liable to be removed to a country where he could suffer inhumane treatment because of the weakened procedural procedures between these two Bills.
Taken together, the two Bills weaken the UK’s compliance with international asylum laws and reduce natural justice and procedural fairness for those who need it most and at the time they need it most.
My Lords, I noted that in his opening speech the Minister pledged that the Bill is based on fairness, that illegal activities will not be tolerated, that we aim to deprive people of UK citizenship in the event of the most serious crimes and, above all, that access to the UK should be based on need and not on the ability to pay. That is why I want to talk about the visa scheme that enables you to buy access to Britain—the golden visa scheme tier 1 investor visas, which allow wealthy people from dodgy countries to buy the right to live in the UK and, after a period of residence, to qualify for citizenship. It is one law for the rich and another for the poor.
In 2018, after the Salisbury poisonings, Theresa May announced a review of the scheme, which to my awareness has not yet been published. It has been reported that more than 6,000 golden visas, half of those yet issued, are being reviewed for possible national security risks, although those who applied in earlier years will by now have acquired full UK citizenship. Two Court of Appeal judgments in the last year have thrown up questions about the regulation of this scheme and the sources of the finance pledged by applicants. In four of the National Crime Agency’s major cases about illicit finance and unexplained wealth orders in the last two years, those under investigation had originally entered the UK with a golden visa.
Most golden visas have been issued to individuals from countries with a high risk of corruption. Between 2008 and 2020, a third of all golden visas were issued to individuals from mainland China and 20% to people from Russia. Other significant countries of origin included Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Turkey. Between 2008 and 2019, 9% of golden visa applications were refused. By comparison, 42% of asylum applications were refused. The UK has regularly been cited in magazines and other sources that appeal to the wealthy as one of the most popular golden visa regimes in the world, and one of the fastest: applications are turned around within three weeks. For UK asylum applications, the turnaround time is around six months or worse. Whether that is regarded as a fair system is an open question.
Last week, I looked at the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report. I quote paragraph 49:
“the UK has been viewed as a particularly favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money. It is widely recognised that the key to London’s appeal was … the UK’s investor visa scheme”.
It goes on to say in paragraph 50:
“What is now clear is that … it offered ideal mechanisms by which illicit finance could be recycled through what has been referred to as the London ‘laundromat’. The money was also invested in extending patronage and building influence across a wide sphere of the British establishment … Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene”—
and, as we all know, into UK politics, in effect corrupting aspects of British institutions and politics, extending into Parliament and the Conservative Party. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report goes on to say that “one key measure” to limit the damage that is being caused
“would be an overhaul of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa programme—there needs to be a more robust approach to the approval process for these visas.”
I failed to find this touched on when I read through the Bill. I hope the Government will accept that the Bill provides an opportunity to develop a much more robust approach to this rather shameful visa programme.
My Lords, I cannot welcome the Bill. It does not deal with the protection and care that people urgently need when forced to leave their country. I will speak about the context of the Bill, reuniting families, and humanising our policy on refugees.
This country is relatively sheltered against the consequences of wars and persecution elsewhere. In 2020, Germany received four times as many asylum applications as we did. The great bulk of displaced people and refugees remains in poor countries.
Since we left the European Union, over 1 million people have left the UK, so that we now have serious shortages of HGV drivers, builders, and health, hospitality and care workers. One might think that there was now a little scope for cautiously relaxing migration and asylum policy, but no. The Bill is restrictive and discriminatory. It does not open new safe and legal routes for entry. However, I give the Government credit for proposing the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme.
Recently, the UK resettled some 5,000 refugees each year, mainly through the vulnerable persons scheme. In the year to September 2021, that figure fell to 1,171. We should note that the United States and Canada have both increased their resettlement targets for 2022.
Since 1999, I have called for family reunion to guide our approach. It is an all-round winner for the families, and for their integration into work and communities here. It helps the Government through savings on benefits, health and policing. Such thoughts have perhaps begun to sink in, because it is claimed that family reunions have helped 35,000 people over the past five years. If that is true, I warmly welcome it. Refugee children, as well as adults, who are already here should be enabled to sponsor their close relatives to come here. They should be allowed legal aid to deal with access to visas and similar matters. It would be a flexible way of helping small numbers of urgent cases that would otherwise go unaided.
Her Majesty’s Government could do more to improve the system. For example, they should tackle the backlog of undecided asylum cases, as several speakers have mentioned. It is currently about 72,000 or more. Long ago, I suggested a review panel with an independent majority to speed up work on the cases that have been outstanding the longest.
The period during which asylum applications may not take paid work should be reduced to six months, in line with other comparable states. Destitution should be reduced among unsuccessful asylum applicants by allowing them to work until such time as they can be removed. The length of time that any person can remain in immigration detention should at long last be limited. The details are, of course, complicated. However, they are not insuperable.
Old army barracks and other unsuitable places should not be used as reception centres for new arrivals. As we heard from my noble friend Lady Hollins, these have already harmed the mental and physical health of inmates.
Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I have tried to pinpoint ways our system can be made more humane. We thought that the infamous hostile environment had ended in this country. Will the Minister confirm that this is so? I go further and call for an end to the automatic culture of disbelief when assessing refugees.
Blaming others, such as the French authorities or the traffickers, has been tried and failed. We should put our own house in order by adopting a humane policy. All agencies in Britain must work together. As has been said, we need international co-operation to close supposedly temporary refugee camps and to achieve resettlement.
My Lords, as a former Immigration Minister in this country, I have always been of the view that a primary responsibility of our Government should be to keep the people safe from internal and external threats. This includes maintaining our borders and dealing with immigration with policies that are firm but fair. That is certainly what we strived to achieve under my watch. That included rules that were clear and enforced without bias for immigration, including exercising the powers of removal or deportation in cases of illegality or failure under the rules. The need to improve our rates of removals is something I have always supported. But I never conflated the issues of immigration and asylum; they are wholly distinct and require different considerations. I am therefore a little surprised and disappointed that the Bill has blurred the lines between these things. It has proposed a number of controversial ideas that we need to examine carefully.
The first is Clause 28 and Schedule 3, which give the Home Office powers to send asylum applicants to offshore processing centres outside the UK. About 20 years ago, I chaired two party commissions set up to consider, in turn, the UK’s policies towards asylum and immigration. One of our asylum proposals was to consider applications in an offshore location, isolated from the mainland. I soon realised that this was a highly defective idea and it caused much unnecessary concern to certain islanders around our shores, but at least it did not suggest moving people outside of our territorial jurisdiction. These new proposals do, and in my opinion would be a clear breach of the principles of the 1951 convention on refugees, as well as providing substantial legal concerns as to the responsibility for dealing with applications. An asylum application is under the control of an applicant. Until and unless an application is made there is no status of asylum seeker, and the applicant can decide where to make their application. Therefore, deporting an applicant to another state and jurisdiction and asking them to determine the case for us is an abrogation of our responsibilities and an abuse of the applicant’s rights.
Who would agree to this without themselves breaking the rules? Not the Albanians, not the Norwegians and surely not the Rwandans. The Australians tried a similar idea, referred to by a number of noble Lords, and it was a total failure. Surely it is a totally unacceptable process for us and one where we would end up with different legal and human rights standards. It would be a nightmare and simply would not work.
My second concern relates to Clause 9, which would allow the Home Office to strip people of UK citizenship unilaterally, secretly and without right of appeal. That would be an appalling prospect and is against all our legal and constitutional principles, when notification to an individual of their rights and decisions taken about them is inherent in both our criminal and our civil law. The Bill term “public interest” is similar to that used to justify such an approach in some countries that would not be regarded as being as democratic and free as our own.
Finally, I return to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. I was proud to follow British values and the rule of law in our approach to those in need of humanitarian assistance. I was responsible for implementing the Bosnian refugee resettlement programme in the 1990s, which was of great credit to all those involved in its delivery. It was a good and legal route for many to escape persecution, complying with the necessary criteria as determined by UN and UK officials.
Why is this Bill attempting to create two categories of asylum seekers, and how can the arrival of an asylum seeker be determined as being either legal or illegal? As I stated earlier, there are no asylum seekers until asylum is requested, so a pre-application is difficult to define. There are legal and illegal immigrants, but this term cannot be easily transported to asylum seekers. Essentially, according to this Bill, all asylum seekers are therefore to be deemed illegal and we would not hear their claims at all. I think we are obliged to hear those claims. Of course, since we left the EU we can no longer return failed applicants to the states that are subject to the Dublin agreement, an agreement which I was partly responsible for drafting. Our international opportunities for using programmes or, as the Government suggest, legal routes have diminished.
Ultimately, we must recognise the ever-increasing prospect of people being forced to leave their countries of origin. The challenge requires an international effort through the UN or other recognised agencies, with renewed co-operation on both sides between the UK and the EU. This is not helped with these provisions, which are likely to be unenforceable and will perhaps even look a little inhumane. I call upon the Government to think again and try to make sure that the reputation of this country, which is a proud one, is something that we can continue. I am sure that, with the help of your Lordships, this Bill will be returned to the other place in a much better form and order than its current state.
My Lords, it has been a most interesting debate. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, refer to a consensus emerging on this subject this afternoon. There has certainly been no consensus in the debate I have listened to; rather, a set of very different, diametrically opposed views based on different moral assumptions. There is nothing inherently wrong about that, but I think we have discussed the matter pretty comprehensively.
It is quite difficult to draw clear conclusions as to the central indicators thrown up by a debate such as this, but there are one or two things that stand out. First, it is very important that we have a policy that is humane, that we can be proud of and that we can defend around the world because it clearly is humane. Secondly, it follows that we have to make sure that we do not split families. It seems to me that there should be an overriding criterion that we should do everything possible to keep families together. That does not happen at the present time, but it should. Thirdly, it is very important that the policies we come up with are coherent—in other words, they are not in contradiction one with the other. We should not have a situation in which you win on the left-hand side but lose on the right-hand side at the same time.
There are some very peculiar things about our law at the present time, not least that you have to be in this country already in order to make an application for asylum here. That does not make any practical sense at all to me, because it is impossible to come into this country and be here for five seconds without being an illegal immigrant, breaking the law and risking a four-year prison sentence. Therefore, in my view, that has to be changed. We must change that system to have a policy that we can reasonably defend.
It is also terribly important that what we say is said in good faith. If, for example, we want to argue that we do not have any space for immigrants, it is no use, in my view, using the argument, as happens at the present time, that there are just terrible delays at the Home Office and we cannot do anything about it, or that there is just a large queue of people waiting to be looked after. That is not the case and it should not be used as an excuse. We instead should make sure that the Home Office becomes a bit more efficient. Efficiency in government is a good thing in principle, and there must be ways of making sure that you can reduce the time taken to process applications in the Home Office, or indeed other ministries.
We really must be prepared to get rid of and replace the extraordinary system we have at the present time under which you have to be resident here when you make an application for asylum, which is surely unnecessary—and incredible. If you get rid of that, you have to ask yourself what you would do instead. I think that means that you take these applications as they come, make sure that you maintain a minimum standard for response times and make sure that your officials live up to that by accepting targets and perhaps receiving bonuses that are subject to achieving the targets, or that sort of thing. That is and ought to be a part of good government in many areas.
Finally, a good solution that has elements of all these things would be for the Government to set up some office in different parts of the European Union—the obvious places would be Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer—where officials of the Ministry of Justice or the Foreign Office could examine applications, come to a preliminary conclusion, discuss matters with the applicant where necessary and make some progress, which is not happening at the present time, in the solution of individual cases.
My Lords, I should come clean in that my family, the Teversons, are migrants themselves. The Teverson family reputedly migrated from Denmark in roughly the 10th century. I do not think we were particularly invited by the resident population at the time. There is no picture of us with horns coming out of our helmets, but we were definitely migrants into Suffolk. Since then, I have dwelt with the Celtic tribe of the Cornish in Cornwall, who I am proud to say are a race yet to be subdued by us Danes.
Let me explain briefly why I am speaking this evening. I normally get involved in issues relating to energy, climate change, fisheries—a niche subject—and biodiversity, those sorts of areas. I am speaking tonight, because when I listened to the Queen’s Speech and the Government’s programme, what I saw very strongly was a dark side, a malevolent streak, that I had not seen before in a government programme. The relevant Bills, which I will go through very briefly, were: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill; this Bill; and the heavily modified, I am pleased to say, Judicial Review and Courts Bill. There is also the Elections Bill, which is primarily about voter suppression. Let us be clear: that is what it is about. I therefore decided that I would involve myself in this Bill.
Let me move on for a minute. It interesting that the Minister in his opening remarks mentioned “reality”. I should like to concentrate on that a little because there are some unrealities that we talk about on asylum-seeking. It is different from migration and we should keep those two subjects separate, as other noble Lords have said. One issue is people smugglers. I condemn their gross activities but let us not pretend, as some Ministers do or imply, that migrants and asylum seekers across the channel somehow have traffickers with Kalashnikovs behind them who force them to come across the channel. It does not work in that way. I did A-level economics—wow—and one of the things that I learnt about was called supply and demand. It happens in most things with any economic background. Where there is demand, there will be supply. In this area, forget trying to stop the so-called pull factors. The push factors will always outweigh those by miles. What is the evidence of that? It is the evidence of those 27 people who died in that small vessel in the channel several weeks ago because they were willing to risk not just their own lives but the lives of their families to reach these shores. Forget the idea that pull factors will end that. I do not know whether anyone in the Government has been in business, but the thing about destroying business models is that they are replaced by more effective business models. It does not solve the problem but tends to make those challenges even greater.
One of the other so-called realities that I need to challenge is the contention that we are a friendly nation for migrants. There are 84 million refugees in the world. More than two-thirds of those are from five countries, which maybe gives a clue as to the way in which we should approach this issue rather than concentrating just on the symptoms. Four out of 10 refugees are in five countries. The fifth country is Germany, in which there are 1.2 million refugees. We have only a 10th of that number. Let us keep those numbers somewhere in our minds.
I was going to talk about some of the other matters that I find difficult in the Bill but I will not go through them because I will run out of time. However, I will refer to one of my fellow Scandinavians who maybe came over in the same ship as my forebears—King Canute. He is famous for one thing. He went down probably to the channel coast, looked across to the continent and tried to push back the ocean. What is he known for? It is his failure. The fact is that the Bill cannot and will not work. It will not be a solution to a problem but, in the process, we will continue to trash the reputation of this country internationally. To me, that is a matter of despair.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Schwab and Westheimer Trusts, which help young asylum seekers in this country who cannot work and cannot access student finance to access further and higher education.
My mother, and many members of my family, came to this country as asylum seekers from Nazi Germany. I have some inherited understanding of these issues and, unlike the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, it was quite a recent event. The Bill appears to have little understanding of what it means to be an asylum seeker in this country—often desperate, insecure, unwelcome and feeling unwanted. As other noble Lords have said, the UK receives relatively few asylum applications compared with other European countries. The international norm, as set out in the 1951 convention, is to accept asylum applications regardless of the mode of arrival. Nowhere in international law is there a rule around people needing to seek protection in the first safe country in which they arrive. Nor should there be.
The Government appear to doubt that those crossing the channel in small boats are doing so to claim protection. However, as others have said, analysis by the Refugee Council has shown that by far the majority have come from just 10 countries where human rights abuses and persecution are rife, including Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen. For many of these nationals, there is no legal refugee resettlement route to the UK. The majority of people from those countries are eventually recognised as refugees, thereby showing that the UK’s asylum system understands that at least some of them are in need of protection. Reducing the rights of refugees who arrive in the UK irregularly will not reduce the numbers fleeing war and persecution, nor will it make their travel routes any safer. People do not board unsafe small boats from France for fun. They do not trust people traffickers because they are stupid. They just do not have an alternative. These measures will not help that.
I want to raise three further specific points. Refugees in the UK often find themselves separated from their families following brutal experiences of conflict and persecution. Refugee family reunion allows people to come to the UK to reunite with family members in a safe way. In the past five years, over 29,000 people have arrived in the UK through family reunion— 90% of them women and children. The restrictions to family reunion rights in the Bill will increase the numbers resorting to unsafe routes and will particularly impact women and children.
My second point is about age. Unaccompanied children face particular problems in proving their date of birth. Many have no official identity documents and, in the absence of documentation, it is extremely difficult to determine a child’s age. Yet age is fundamental to their receiving the support and protection that they need. We know that children as young as 14 have been placed in immigration detention, alone in accommodation with adults, with no safeguarding measures and at risk of abuse. Of course there will need to be some age assessments but they need to be done sensitively by people skilled and experienced in carrying them out. Yet Clauses 48, 49 and 52 give the Home Secretary broad powers to designate who can undertake age assessments and to compel local authorities to assess the age of a child and hand over evidence to immigration officials, thereby undermining their independence. Clause 52 allows the Home Secretary to make regulations about how age assessments are carried out. This includes the use of so-called scientific methods to assess age, which allows the Government to introduce regulations specifying scientific methods to be used, including all sorts of horrible things such as
“examining or measuring parts of a person’s body”,
analysis of saliva and so on. These “scientific methods” have largely been discredited. I ask the Minister to explain to this House why she is proposing that those methods be allowed. If she thinks that maybe they should not be, will she reconsider?
Lastly, as other noble Lords have said, Part 5 provides for far-ranging reform of modern slavery legislation alongside other proposals that will impact all children who are at significant risk of exploitation, especially those who are trafficked. Children’s rights and protection must be put first. This is an urgent human rights and child protection issue. In fact, if the proposals go ahead, it will be a bit of a crisis. I ask the Minister to say whether she will carry out a children’s rights assessment before we reach the end of proceedings on the Bill.
My Lords, working to see progress in tackling modern slavery has been a long interest and passion of mine. Nevertheless, I have to ask the Government why Part 5, an entire section on modern slavery, has been thrown into this immigration Bill. Immigration and modern slavery are separate issues that require separate responses. To conflate the two is to go against everything that we know about modern slavery and how traffickers work.
The Government have said that at the heart of the new plan for immigration is a simple principle—fairness. There is nothing fair about a Bill that is neither trauma-informed nor victim-centred. The Government seem intent, without any clear justification, on making it harder for victims to be identified. Indeed, I am disappointed that the Government have not published a detailed impact assessment on the effect of the Bill on victims of modern slavery and how that might differ across the regions of the United Kingdom.
I commend the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his continued work in this area and for championing the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. I echo and reiterate all that he has said to this House regarding Part 5. I am proud of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act, passed in Northern Ireland in 2015. It was the first comprehensive piece of legislation on this subject to be passed anywhere in the United Kingdom. The very title of that legislation serves to further the point I wish to make:
“Criminal Justice and Support for Victims”.
Justice and support go hand in hand and complement each other.
I welcome Clause 63. It is good to see the Government catching up with Northern Ireland and Scotland, where NRM support has been provided on a statutory basis since 2015. The statutory support available in Northern Ireland is for 45 days, even if a conclusive grounds decision is made in that time. But the recovery period is set at 30 days in Clause 60(3), after which the Government can deport a person who no longer has right to remain. Please will the Minister address this scenario in her remarks: could a victim in Northern Ireland have their support cut short because of deportation?
It is disappointing that there is no provision in Clause 63 for long-term support for confirmed victims of modern slavery once they have exited the NRM. I am grateful that in Northern Ireland we are already a step ahead through the provision of discretionary support to confirmed victims following their exit from the national referral mechanism. Section 18(9) of the human trafficking and exploitation Act provides for discretionary support to be continued following a positive conclusive grounds decision. We are constantly learning more about the needs of victims and we must tailor our response accordingly. I would like to see all confirmed victims in Northern Ireland receive at least 12 months statutory support once they exit the NRM, but that is a conversation for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
That said, only victims who are British citizens or who have received leave to remain—for instance, as an asylum seeker or under the current discretionary leave to remain for victims of trafficking and exploitation—are able to access long-term support in the devolved jurisdictions. This has limited the number of confirmed victims who have been able to access the discretionary support in Northern Ireland and it has meant that individuals who may have received additional support have not done so as a result of their immigration status.
Clause 64 will have an impact on all victims of human trafficking and modern slavery across the UK who are not British citizens. I welcome that the Government have acknowledged the need for a system of leave to remain, but unless it leads to an increase in grants it will not make a significance difference to the well-being of victims. Indeed, I am concerned that the text of Clause 64 will limit the impact of any future extension of support in the devolved Administrations by making current discretionary leave to remain criteria narrower than what is currently in guidance. For instance, any personal needs that might be cause for granting leave to remain under Clause 64 would be only those associated directly with exploitation that has occurred and, even then, leave to remain might not be provided.
There is much more that I would like to say, but, as I look at the Clock, my time is up. I think the Bill needs considerable amendment.
My Lords, few of us would risk crossing the channel in a flimsy, inflatable dinghy, so we assume that anyone who does so must be fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution by an evil tyranny. But these boats do not set off from Basra, Iran or Africa; they come from Europe carrying people who have been in France, Belgium or Germany—none of which is a tyranny threatening them with persecution. They take this risk because, for whatever reason, they would prefer to be in one safe country—the UK—rather than other safe countries they have passed through. For some, that reason is that they have been refused asylum or fear refusal in France, Germany or wherever, and they believe the UK is more likely to grant them asylum and, even if they are refused, they stand little risk of being deported. They are right. In France, only 25% of asylum applications are granted on first request, whereas the figure in the UK is 64%, plus 59% of those who appeal. Moreover, pre-Covid France forcibly deported 34,000 migrants a year—10 times as many as we did.
One reason for this difference is that the British standard of proof for granting asylum is unusually low. Home Office guidance requires only a “reasonable degree of likelihood” that the asylum seeker is telling the truth. That is far below the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” and below even the civil standard of “the balance of probabilities”. Home Office rules say that
“keeping the relatively low standard of proof in mind, the claimant’s statements and other evidence about the facts being established can be accepted if they are”
detailed, coherent, consistent with local circumstances and plausible. Any well-coached economic migrant should have little difficulty providing a story meeting those criteria. The genuine victims of persecution may have no concrete evidence of their suffering and, if they lack coaching, may be rejected.
The truth is that we allocate the right to asylum by lottery, albeit with odds stacked heavily in favour of claimants. The price of a lottery ticket is over £10,000 to pay the people smugglers, which rules out the poorest people, plus willingness to risk the channel crossing. A lottery with such good odds of winning has been possible only because there is such a high cost and risk of entry. No one who signed the Geneva convention intended to create such a cruel and absurd system.
Some noble Lords propose that we reduce the price of a lottery ticket by letting people apply from their homeland or a third country. But advocates of safe routes do not say whether claimants abroad would have the same rights as at present to legal aid, appeal and judicial review, and low levels of proof. If those advantages are to be curtailed for distant applicants, why retain them for applicants within the UK?
We know what happens when you offer free tickets to a lottery for visas. The US allocates by lot 50,000 visas to people in a different list of countries each year. The response is huge; 20 million people applied for those 50,000 visas last time, including 13% of the population of Albania, 15% of Liberians and 9% of Armenians. I could go on. As noble Lords observed in a previous debate, these are not the main countries from which migrants currently come—precisely. Does anyone imagine that fewer Iraqis, Afghans or Syrians would apply if we offered them a costless, riskless possibility of asylum in the UK? They would be joined by a huge number of economic migrants from other poor and troubled lands. Safe routes would overwhelm our already unsustainable system. Rather than letting anyone in the world chance their luck on our system, what is needed is a radical pruning of the unintended forest of Kafkaesque legal processes which have grown up since 1951. This Bill makes a timid start, but I fear something more radical may be needed.
My Lords, I have very little experience in the making of laws; unlike the noble Lord who preceded me, I am not a politician. I have even less experience of interpreting and applying our laws; I am not a lawyer or a judge. But I have a lifetime’s experience of standing with those affected by our laws, especially people in trouble, the homeless, prisoners, victims of racism, sexism, homophobia, those suffering abuse of one kind or another, the poor and the dispossessed, and refugees.
The Bill that we are discussing today is mean-minded and punitive. It fills my mind’s eye with pictures of people on the move through famine and political oppression along the migratory routes from the Horn of Africa or through war-torn territories in the Middle East, North Africa or Afghanistan. I see people in small boats risking their lives, many of them pushed back on the high seas; I see people held in grim detention centres, men and women with hope driven from their eyes, denied of their rights and doomed to live meaningless lives.
The Government bringing this Bill have such a different mindset from those who framed the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 70 years ago. I must take issue with the Minister, who urged us not to look to the past. I am afraid that it is in the past that I find the inspiration that should be behind the framing of the proposals before us now. Led by Clement Attlee and—let us not forget—by Winston Churchill, British lawyers framed the convention and brought it into our domestic law, giving us binding, legal obligations towards all refugees under its jurisdiction. The British delegation to a conference of plenipotentiaries pleaded that the convention be enacted with generosity, that its signatories should go beyond the merely contractual and that there should be solidarity with those nations at the front line in receiving those fleeing persecution.
All this progress is now, admittedly, being steadily eroded. Across Europe, not just here, states are, in one way or another, redefining or neglecting or abandoning the obligations of the convention. This Bill is not the first indication of our present Government’s hostility to the idea of fulfilling their duties, but it is a hammer blow, likely to seal the reputation of the United Kingdom as a xenophobic nation—the same United Kingdom that did so much to create a post-world war order based on human rights and the rule of law.
Noble Lords should read the long list of indictments in the UNHCR documentation that we have all received. In recent months, I have had extensive conversations with UNHCR officials in London, Strasbourg and Geneva. The document that they provide is relentless and scathing, so we must ask Her Majesty’s Government just what the pledges they made so recently at the United Nations General Assembly in support of the United Nations’ Global Compact on Refugees can mean because the proposals in the compact are so at odds with the proposals in this legislation. It is difficult to see what the promises made in New York will add up to if the Bill is passed in its present form.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness who stand at the Dispatch Box—goodhearted people who have earned the respect of all of us here today—will be under the usual obligation to stand firm on the Government’s line. That is their job, and they must do it as best they can, but I appeal to those who sit behind their Ministers, people sitting on the Benches opposite—so many friends and colleagues whom I have got to know over the years—to join all of us in other parts of the House who certainly want to send heavy amendments back to the Commons. I hope that we can amend this Bill and do it with commanding majorities.
My final appeal, therefore, is to all noble and learned Lords, judges and practising or retired lawyers, all who have interpreted or applied our laws in their professional lives. I urge them to bring their skills to the task of helping the House to argue the case robustly for a more humane Act of Parliament than the present Bill would provide, one that remains faithful to the undertakings that we have made in international and domestic law. Britain’s standing in the world depends on no less.
My Lords, as we have already heard, several provisions in this Bill are a real cause for concern. The actual effects of the Bill in its current form would be to punish refugees, reduce safe and regular routes to the UK and limit refugee family reunion rights. I associate myself with the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Blunkett, and Lord Anderson of Ipswich, about Clause 9.
This Bill will create a differential status for asylum seekers based on their mode of travel to the UK, leading either to their claim for asylum being dismissed or to them being given temporary asylum status with significant restrictions on family life and financial support. Asylum seekers will face the threat of criminal charges and a four-year prison sentence for entering illegally, thus criminalising asylum seekers.
Those who make irregular journeys to seek refuge do so because conditions in their countries of origin are desperate and necessitate leave for asylum. The UNHCR has clearly stated that these provisions will not only be discriminatory but are inconsistent with the refugee convention and have no basis in international law. These concerns should not be dismissed lightly. There is nothing in the refugee convention that defines a refugee or their entitlement under it according to the route of travel, choice of country of asylum or the timing of their claim. Orderly exit from dangerous and volatile situations is never easy. We only have to recall the shocking scenes we all witnessed in Afghanistan. Delays in opening up safe routes and settlement schemes exposed the arguments about safe third countries.
The Government have been keen to emphasise their desire to increase safe and regular routes, but this Bill does not introduce any new legal routes of this kind, nor does it increase the numbers already coming here. It also attempts to close off asylum status for those who have travelled from a safe third state to the UK. This again is contrary to international law, which allows asylum seekers to seek protection in specific countries where they have legitimate reasons.
The Government’s attempts to criminalise asylum seekers for irregular entry to the UK is beyond comprehension. The consequences of this have been powerfully articulated this afternoon by organisations working closely with asylum seekers. The Bill is not worthy of the UK and the values we purport to project to the world. If we want to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people from ruthless smugglers, we need to give priority to the provision of safe and legal routes and not become ruthless towards asylum seekers.
The Bill also proposes that refugees arriving in this way should be housed in accommodation centres. Plans for accommodation centres have been criticised by the Refugee Council, the British Red Cross and others. Conditions in current centres are harrowing and have been graphically documented. The extension of this dehumanising proposal, particularly offshore centres, would lead to human rights abuses where oversight would not be possible. Offshore processing of asylum claims is not only inhumane, it also undermines the refugee convention by shifting our obligations offshore.
Anti-slavery provisions are also deficient. They do not tackle the concerns which have been raised by victims of trafficking being seen through the immigration lens rather than as victims of trafficking. As I said earlier, aspects of this Bill are inhumane. Analysis of facts and figures show that claims from asylum seekers are small compared to other countries. Why they come here is evident if we look at the countries from which they are coming. The changes we need to make need to keep this perspective in mind, and we need to ensure that the system treats asylum seekers with humanity and not as numbers to be processed or criminalised in the process.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, said, we have a tendency to conflate asylum seekers with migrants. This confuses the issue and leads to misleading debates. This issue also requires international co-operation. If we care about our international obligations and our image as a decent country, I urge the Government to listen to the concerns expressed and to respond with understanding to the amendments which will be introduced in Committee.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after the noble Baroness. I wondered how I might find a way of defending this Bill in what I suspected would be a hostile environment, but my anxiety was alleviated when I heard the introductory speech of my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar who made a compelling case for the broad principles on which the Bill rests. I was wholly with him on that.
The starting principle of international law is that no country is under an obligation to grant admission to any non-national. Admittedly, that obligation is moderated by international treaty conventions that we have entered into. I was glad to hear my noble friend say that we were going to adhere to the convention on refugees. It does not, of course, mean that all irregular arrivals are refugees and those who are not should be removed.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and various other noble Lords have appealed to our common humanity as the basis on which we should be constructing our immigration law. While we all respect and acknowledge the obligations that arise from our common humanity, that is to get things the wrong way round, because we also have a moral obligation to our own people who live here, in part because we claim and exercise the exclusive right to act on their behalf in this area. I regard that as a prior and balancing moral right. In fact, I would say that the purpose of immigration law is the protection of the stability and welfare of our own society and that our obligations under common humanity are a constraint on how we implement that law, rather than confusing it with what its purpose is.
However, there is an area in the Bill that causes me deep concern: the provisions allowing for the removal of British citizenship in even more administratively curtailed circumstances than exist at the moment. Various noble Lords on the Labour Benches have objected to this—the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, gave us a wonderfully distracting pointer to legislation from 1914—but they should note that it was actually a Labour Government, with the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, that for the first time introduced the power to deprive British citizens, by birth or descent, of their nationality, provided they had a second nationality that they might fall back on. That had never existed before. Once that door was opened—once that principle was given up—all this complaint about what are effectively subsequent tidying-up exercises is, in my view, pure hypocrisy.
My concern is different. I object to the removal of citizenship in any circumstances because I have a more conservative—some might say hopelessly quixotic—view of what nationality actually means and should mean for us. My conception of British nationality is much more profound than a mere travel document. It is—or should be—a permanent and reciprocal bond of loyalty on the one hand and protection on the other. It is not a driving licence to be taken away if you clock up the wrong number of points; it goes to your identity. When you lose your nationality, you do not just lose your identity papers, you lose your identity. It really is not a driving licence or administrative ticket.
I say this is quixotic, but that bond is a real and lived experience. When, in the same legislation in 2002, the Labour Government introduced citizenship ceremonies, I thought they would be rather tacky, un-British, American sorts of things—but actually, when I saw people coming time and again to my own town hall when I was a councillor, and coming in a sort of festive, family spirit, almost like they were coming to a wedding, I saw then how real that bond can be between citizen and nation. That is what a Conservative Government should be building up; we should not be pursuing and entrenching this cynical Labour ploy. Especially following Brexit, we should be building up and strengthening the bond between citizen and nation, whereas it seems to me that this provision goes only to dissolve it further.
My Lords, I would like to reinforce what others have said about the Bill being an affront to human rights and civil liberties. It is an anti-refugee Bill and an anti-asylum Bill and whatever the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said about dismissing the concern for common humanity, it is a display of a lack of respect for our common humanity. What terrible detriment to the humanity of British people comes about from providing shelter to those fleeing persecution? What possible terrible detriment to the British people happened as a result of offering shelter to those who were fleeing Nazism and the concentration camps? The very idea of pushing boats back to the French coast is totally contrary to international and maritime law, as we have heard—but we do not even have to talk about its unlawfulness; it is about the morality of it.
Similarly, when we talk about offshoring and that proposal, it is not just unworkable, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, was saying; it, too, is a dereliction of our national duties under international law. How are people going to access legal advice of a proper standard that we would be able to rely on confidently? As others have said, the Bill creates a two-tier system for asylum seekers. To criminalise those who come to the UK because they have not secured advance permission is unconscionable, especially when there are no safe routes for most people to get here. People who are fleeing are coming in desperation; they are in fear of their lives and they take the most incredible risks to find sanctuary. When people speak, as the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, did, about the cost of doing so, it is often about whole communities putting together money in order to make it possible for that person to escape likely death.
The Bill does nothing to create legitimate ways of getting those who are at grievous risk to safety. It opens up, in fact, greater possibilities for traffickers and those who exploit those who are at risk. In September and October of this last year, along with a little team of lawyers from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, which I direct, we evacuated 103 women—Afghan judges, lawyers, journalists and others—out of Afghanistan with their families. They were desperate because they were on Taliban kill lists and we have had to struggle desperately to find final destinations for them around the world. We are still waiting for the promised resettlement scheme here for Afghanis; it still has not come into existence.
The Bill in its current form would have prevented my Afghan women coming to the UK. My Afghan judges are evacuated in Greece, Greece having agreed to be a lily pad, a temporary landing place, but they would be group 2 refugees, which means that they would have to stay in Greece because, of course, it is a safe country to all intents and purposes. Desperate women are also in communication with me still who escaped over the border into Pakistan, Iran or other neighbouring countries. They, too, would be group 2 refugees, even if they have a relative who lives in this country who is willing to receive them. Of course, Clause 15 makes it inadmissible to claim a special connection even if you have relatives in this country.
The Minister is right that there is a crisis in the immigration system, but this Bill is not going to solve it. Around half of immigration appeals against Home Office decisions are successful in the First-tier Tribunal. One-third of judicial reviews against the Home Office are settled or decided in the claimant’s favour. That tells you something loudly and clearly about the quality of the original decision-making in the Home Office—it is abysmal. The starting position is to say no when people apply to enter this country. So, in asking for ideas of how to improve the system, if you want to run a well-run system there has to be better early decision-making, access to proper legal advice and properly run courts and tribunals. But, instead of strengthening early decision-making, the Home Secretary is weakening appeals, creating fast-track processes that are unlawful and increasing her own arbitrary powers, taking to herself the power to accelerate hearings at such speed that there are likely to be illegal outcomes.
There is a whole set of clauses that I could refer to which deal with putting at speed decision-making without the proper legal advice that would make decisions safe. There is a whole set of proposals that we should be concerned about. I want to reinforce what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, about how people who have been trafficked and have come here are modern-day slaves, yet the discretionary leave to remain system is not working for them. In the past five years, only 7% of those of 6,000 survivors have been given discretionary leave. I hope that this Bill will accept amendments to change that, because it has got worse under the current Home Secretary. Likewise, I hope that Damian Green’s amendment in the other place to accept more of the young from Hong Kong might be considered.
Efficiency cannot be bought at the price—
My Lords, I am very sorry, but there is a five-minute Back-Bench speaking limit. Everybody else is managing to keep more or less to it.
I hear the noble Lord. Efficiency cannot be bought at the price of reduced fairness. My advice to government is: improve the quality and accuracy of first-instance decision-making and bring back proper legal aid in this area of law.
My Lords, I welcome this legislation. Although many changes have been made in recent years, including by a Conservative Government, the asylum system and some related policies are not fit for purpose. Criticism comes from both sides. There are those who think that one of the main thrusts of this legislation—greater national control of the asylum process and the elimination of abuses— is misplaced. The process of claiming asylum should in their view be easier. Accordingly, they identify with those who appear to them to have been short-changed by the present system and argue for a less rigorous process. We have heard many such contributions today.
I am not of that persuasion. The greater need, in my view, is to deal with the very evident abuses that have emerged, enraging many of our fellow citizens as our hospitality is shamelessly abused, with the deleterious effect on social cohesion. Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming evidence in support of what I will call my macro view, we need to embrace this opportunity to address this whole area of policy, including areas where the conditions of those arriving here can be improved without adverse consequences.
I therefore look forward to helping with the scrutiny of this Bill. I share the Home Secretary’s wish—I quote from Third Reading—to
“bring in a new, comprehensive, fair but firm long-term plan that seeks to address the challenge of illegal migration head on.”—[Official Reort, Commons, 8/12/21; col. 445.]
However, I worry about the comment from the Opposition spokesman, Yvette Cooper. With her background on the Home Affairs Committee, she considers that the measures would severely limit our ability to convict perpetrators and dismantle organised crime groups. This is worrying, and I shall listen carefully to contributions on this topic.
I seek my noble friend the Minister’s thoughts on three issues. First, the overall numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and my noble friend Lord Leicester have explained, are very worrying. Asylum claimants and delays in processing them are going up all the time, and the returns of rejected claimants to their point of departure are not. In particular, the numbers taking the dangerous channel crossing are going up by leaps and bounds to a total of over 28,000 in 2021, three times the 2020 figure. Somehow, the Home Office seems incapable of getting a grip and is being outflanked by the people smugglers. If this abuse can be resolved in no other way, I am coming to the view that the only way to resolve the problem is to adopt a new rule that all prospective asylum seekers who arrive in this way cannot be granted asylum. We have to find a way in which to change the cruel incentive structure, and not be too worried about the short-term criticism relating to individual cases. At a stroke, we need to find a way in which to put the traffickers out of business, as we saw in Australia.
Secondly, I turn to the wider question of deporting criminals, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Why can convicted criminals fight successfully to get off the planes organised to transport them? The total numbers actually removed, usually of dangerous criminals, are now tiny and much smaller than planned by the Home Office. Can the Minister explain this unsatisfactory state of affairs? Is it about the right to family life? In that case, does this provision need to be amended? What assumptions underpin Part 3 of the Bill, and why does my noble friend think it will work?
Thirdly, how will the new rules prevent abuse once the powers in the Bill are available? I am particularly concerned by migrants passing themselves off as under 18. I have seen media reports that more than 1,100 migrants who claimed to be under 18 were found actually to be adults in the 12 months to September. This is not only reprehensible, it puts a huge and needless strain on our hard-pressed care and education services for children under 18. Worse, it disrupts the education of British children, as these migrants end up in our classrooms. There have previously been reports of children with full beards and hairy chests, even swigging beer. Doubts have been expressed about whether the proposed age assessment board will solve the problem.
Those are three questions, and they raise another one in my mind. Has enough independent thinking been given to the Bill—beyond remedies that the Home Office has been serving up for decades?
I have a final question which goes beyond the purview of the Bill, and I am happy to have a reply in writing. It is reported that the Secretary of State for International Trade is considering offering student or other visas to India in exchange for a free trade agreement. Who has been advising the Secretary of State? Our Immigration Rules are a national matter and should not be the subject of negotiation with any foreign country. Immigration entitlement has no place in any agreement on trade. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that those reports are inaccurate. Otherwise, the Government will have a hard time with some of their strongest supporters. The Minister will wish to bear in mind that on most issues she can rely on my support.
My Lords, we have had some very fine speeches in this debate. I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lord Rosser on the devastating critique of the Bill that he launched at the start. I will be with him all the way in his opposition to this measure.
We have two objectives in tension here: we need to allay legitimate public concern about illegal immigration, but we must meet our duties, which are both moral and legal, to refugees. There may be no perfect solution to this dilemma, which is likely to get worse in years ahead. There will be structural changes in population movements as the result of climate change, there is already a growing number of failed states in the world and there is a retreat from democracy to authoritarianism, so the pressures will grow and it will always be difficult.
However, I think there is a centre ground, and it was the centre ground that my noble friend Lord Dubs espoused. We cannot have unlimited immigration—there has to be control—but we as a nation should meet our fair share of responsibility for dealing with the victims of abuse and atrocities in other parts of the world and people who cannot any more live safely in their own country. We must meet that fair share and acknowledge that we are not doing as much as other European countries. I hope the Minister will confirm that we fall short of what other European countries are doing.
My second big point follows up on what my noble friend Lord Reid of Cardowan said. We make progress in balancing those responsibilities only through international co-operation. Let us look at the question of chasing these horrible gangs. We have to work with the security services and the police on the continent, but we have put obstacles to doing that in our way by the Brexit settlement we have negotiated. Will the Government re-examine that so that we can more effectively co-operate with security services in other countries?
Thirdly, on the speedier resolution of asylum claims, we have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on the borders question as a result of Brexit. Why are we not trying to ease the passage of goods at the borders and spending some of this money on speeding up asylum decisions?
Fourthly and finally, we must tackle the problem of refugees at the root. We have made what I regard as unacceptable cuts in our foreign aid budget, but if we are making cuts to it then the priority is to work even more with our partners and friends on trying to tackle the refugee problem at root. Are we doing that? No. Priti Patel is standing there shouting abuse at the French. How do the Government justify that as an approach to international co-operation in tackling the refugee crisis? Lying behind this is the fact that the Government know that their claim that they would be able to stop immigration as a result of Brexit is false. When will they admit it?
My Lords, when you are speaking 51st on the Second Reading of a Bill which has already generated much controversy in the other place, the chances are that some other noble Lords will have already mentioned any point you wished to make. That is very true in this case, so I will make only one point, which I beg the Minister to take away and reflect on, because it is borne out by practical experience. I break off to thank James Tobin for a most comprehensive Library briefing.
In 2010, I was asked to chair an inquiry into the death of an Angolan under restraint on an aircraft at Heathrow, on which he was being returned to Angola, guarded by G4S. We were shocked by the poor standard of the Home Office decision-makers and caseworkers involved in returns, to the extent that my committee commented on them in its final report. Worse even than this, there appeared to be no supervision of their work. The arrangements made for families appeared to be better than those for single people, a point which I advise the Minister to respect before embarking on this extremely controversial Bill, about which many noble Lords have expressed their unease.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who always makes an outstanding and unique contribution to this House.
A joint statement by faith and civil society groups calls the Bill “sinister” and “un-British”—counterintuitive to our long-held tradition of welcome. The Bill is deemed pernicious in its intent, with troubling aspects resulting in inevitable breaches of international laws and conventions, including proposed offshore detention facilities, the revoking of citizenship without notice or appeal, and, appallingly, border officials being authorised to push back families to their inevitable consequential deaths.
The Bill stands accused of racism and a draconian misuse of power, supposedly for the public good. I understand the fear expressed in an infinite number of emails about many aspects of the Bill, particularly Clause 9, now exponentially fuelled by the explanations and questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Clause 9 contradicts everything decent about adherence to international human rights law and will empower the Home Secretary and the Government to deprive an individual of citizenship without having to give notice if it is not “practicable” or in the “interests of national security” or the “public interest”, and without an opportunity for the individual to defend themselves, contradicting our basic right to stand innocent until proven guilty. With this Bill, the Government are saying to British citizens: “You are guilty, with no way of proving innocence.” This concern is exacerbated by what we know about the disgraceful treatment of British citizens of the Windrush generation, many of whom perished and suffered enormously without being able to prove their citizenship.
The Government refer to ambiguous terms of “national security” and “the public interest” to strengthen the discretionary powers of the Home Secretary and others in the Government and to justify actions that they are all too aware will breach international laws and conventions. We cannot allow the Government and the Home Secretary carte blanche with added discretionary powers, given what we know about the danger of discretion in handling protests, stop and search, and so on. Combined with the police Bill, the widening of discretionary and absolute powers by citing national security makes the Bill one of the most regressive, dangerous and dehumanising pieces of legislation proposed by this Government. Consequently, the Bill will directly affect two in every five people from a non-white ethnic minority background.
Leading law experts and women’s NGOs are equally vociferous in their concerns that the Bill undermines the Government’s own commitment to ending violence against women and girls, poses additional threats for victims and survivors with insecure immigration status, and shows a glaring lack of genuine insight into maintaining proper oversight of how legislation and policies affect all victims and survivors, regardless of their immigration status. Organisations including SafeLives, Women for Women Refugees and Rights of Women are fearful of the consequences for abused women and girls who may be held in detention centres without adequate information or access to legal services and safeguards.
We have debated, with wounds, the effect of Uighur detention centres, yet in the same breath have no qualms about proposing offshore centres that we decry as barbaric practice elsewhere, leaving aside the unreasonable expectation of extremely vulnerable people navigating an alien system to prove their case. Many may indeed languish in uncertainty as a consequence of reporting sexual violence, exploitation and abuse.
Will the Minister assure the House and external women’s organisations that the proposal for a firewall between the police and immigration services will be given serious consideration, given what she knows already about the danger of Immigration Enforcement’s migrant victims protocol for asylum claimants? Does she agree that this plainly two-tier system, albeit dependent on entry point, is inherently discriminatory and places particularly women and girls fleeing conflict zones in greater danger?
The Government’s claim of increasing
“the fairness of the system to better protect and support those in need of asylum”
is as utterly flawed as the ambition to deter illegal entry into the United Kingdom is fanciful. Have the Government defined what set of criteria constitute “reasonably practical” when deciding not to give notice of deprivation of nationality, given that a deliberate act to make a citizen stateless is prohibited under Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
We are witness to the genocidal brutalisation of the stateless Rohingya people of Myanmar. Have we learned nothing? Has our conscience been so lost as to emulate Myanmar’s arbitrary policy on citizenship? The effect of deterrence by any means necessary will allow rescue workers to “push back” families to their deaths. Watching children, women and men die in our waters and calling it a Nationality and Borders Bill is an affront to the rule of law and humanity, which we constantly claim in abundance in this Chamber.
Under the Bill, border security staff are being asked to breach our commitments to the refugee convention and, critically, duty of care law. Are we seriously asking our officials—
My Lords, I am nearly finished. Are we seriously asking our officials to watch as people die, which may be considered manslaughter by gross negligence in our English courtrooms?
Over generations the UK has contributed to destabilising many nations, most recently Afghanistan, and the same can be said for Iraq and countless African countries. What result did we expect when the UK and its allies dropped an average of 46 bombs a day—
My Lords, the noble Baroness did say she was nearly finished and she nearly is not.
My Lords, in closing—
—we cannot punish the victims we have created. I sit in this Chamber every day, hopeful that it is possible that we can change the way in which we discharge our duties. Doing nothing is an abrogation of our duties. Our moral standing leaves nothing for others to emulate except tyranny, and we cannot be a bystander to such degradation of human decency.
My Lords, I am not going to give most of the speech that I had prepared for today’s debate, because if I did I would sound as though I live on a different planet. Listening to many noble Lords today, I have on occasion wondered whether I do.
I want to make a few points. The first is obvious but none the less important for being so: illegal immigration is a problem that matters to people in this country and they expect us to find the right ways to deal with it. I am not a human rights lawyer or any other kind of lawyer. I have never been Home Secretary or indeed a Home Office Minister. I do listen to and take seriously those who are duly qualified to comment on the details of the Bill, but if we are going to be here until midnight debating this legislation in the weeks ahead, as some noble Lords have promised—I might even say almost threatened—we owe it to the public we exist to serve to take their views seriously in our debates. The impression from some noble Lords that “There’s nothing we can do, so we’re going to block what the Government propose” is dangerous.
Along with my noble friends Lord Hodgson, Lord Horam and Lord Moylan, and, I think, one or two others who have spoken, I believe that our first priority as UK parliamentarians is meeting the expectations of all the law-abiding people who live here and play their part in our collective success as a nation: to make sure that we have in place the right legal frameworks so that citizens and communities can thrive, especially in a world that never stops changing.
I support the Bill. My noble friend the Minister has set out a strong case for it and reminded us, powerfully, of all that the Government are doing to support innocent people fleeing cruelty around the world. He also made clear the importance of our support for people who are fleeing persecution continuing, and why that places an even greater responsibility on us to deal with illegal immigrants.
Some measures in this legislation are contentious and will need to be scrutinised and debated, but we parliamentarians love to add complexity to the process of scrutiny, often in the name of safeguards and protections, which can make it even harder for those on the ground charged with implementing legislation to achieve results that meet people’s expectations.
But British citizens and anyone else living here legally deserve to know that our authorities can remove people who have no right to be here. The biggest problem with our current system is that illegal immigrants know that once they have made it to the UK, they are unlikely ever to be deported. That cannot be right. I know there is an argument, as my noble friends Lord Balfe and Lord Lilley have raised today, that the answer to this lies only with renegotiating the Geneva convention, which was created for a different age, not today’s era of mass migration. I do not, by the way, think that we should dismiss this. Those for whom such an idea amounts to heresy should understand that the case for this will only grow if we cannot deal better with unlawful immigration cases in a timely fashion with the laws that exist or that we need to implement.
I know that noble Lords approach their responsibilities seriously. We all seek to improve legislation, believing that we do so for the right reasons. The same is true for this Bill, as evidenced by some very powerful contributions today. The Bill covers difficult matters that affect human beings, so of course we have and will continue to receive representations from various bodies and individuals who are against the Bill or are concerned about some of its measures. I know that noble Lords will ensure that those views are reflected when we debate the Bill in detail, and rightly so. But, at the same time, we must not lose sight of the millions of people, whether they were born in the UK or are themselves immigrants who have chosen to live here, who do not write to us but who support the three principal objectives of this Bill. It is in part what they have voted for. If we lose sight of this, we risk damaging yet further their confidence in our system of democracy. I look forward to supporting this Bill as it progresses through your Lordships’ House.
I still feel indignant about the consequences, whether intended or unintended, of leaving the EU. The Dublin III arrangements suited this country well, and we enjoyed better co-operation with France at that time. On the plus side, we have rolled over some very successful trade agreements, but we seem to be going rapidly downhill on immigration. It is surely now plain to all that, as far as migrant health workers are concerned, Brexit was a mistake. Thousands of staff are more urgently needed in care homes and the NHS, especially because of the pandemic. Although the Government have relaxed the rules, the paperwork means that these workers are simply not coming in the numbers required. I know that is not in this Bill, but the Home Office has not scored very high on asylum seekers either, especially where accommodation is concerned.
Only in December we had the thorough APPG on Immigration Detention report condemning Napier, Penally and Tinsley House as “fundamentally unsuitable” for asylum seekers. A recent inspection of detention facilities at Tug Haven, Kent Intake Unit and Frontier House showed that some agreed improvements in facilities and screening will not be ready for months. My noble friend Lady Prashar also mentioned this. Few of us would like to admit that the UK may be deliberately creating poor conditions to deter new arrivals. That may be an open question, but if it is policy, it is not succeeding.
On Syrian and Afghan refugees, the various UNHCR resettlement programmes offering safe passage and family reunion, after a lot of pushing from individuals here in Parliament, have been rated a success. These refugees from appalling conflicts have quite rightly been seen as a priority. However, Amnesty shows that things are not quite so rosy, even among Afghan refugees, at the moment. When it comes to the desperate people attempting a channel crossing, this Bill is surely the enemy of human rights and clearly meant to be a deterrent, even though their numbers are small in the world context. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, the UK is only 17th on the list for the intake of immigrants when measured per head of population in Europe.
Not surprisingly, the JCHR has attacked the Bill for its adjustment of immigration law, including the pushback measures. It inflicts harsher penalties, it fails to stop trafficking and, in the case of refugees, it comes up against the convention and several other international treaties. We can all be sympathetic to those local authorities that are bending over backwards to find hotel rooms or shelter for genuine refugees. In many cases they will have to fall back on the good will of voluntary agencies and volunteers, who often help out of their own pockets. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, praised the charity Safe Passage. Another, Care4Calais, is highly efficient in helping asylum seekers, not only in northern France, and is now is committed to the search for food and shelter in the UK itself.
However, mistakes are easily made. One disabled family in Portsmouth was given council accommodation in a second-floor flat, which meant that they were housebound and unable to access even a wheelchair. Fortunately, the voluntary sector came to the rescue, but, again, social care is one of the sectors hit hardest by immigration policy. There are just not enough people available to help and there is a lot of fear and suspicion that there is discrimination, especially on nationality, and the deprivation of citizenship in Clause 9.
I hope that the Minister can explain the anomaly about citizenship relating to young migrants from the Commonwealth aged 16 to 25 who are currently channelled into a 10-year path to citizenship. Clauses 17 and 25 are intended to speed up the process, which in general seems a good idea—but what about the Children’s Society’s argument that these clauses discriminate against children and young people who are often afraid to provide evidence so soon after their experience?
There will be a lot of amendments on modern slavery which I cannot rehearse today, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this could undermine the whole system of protection. The anti-slavery commissioner herself says that the IECA is a step backwards. Clearly, if the NGOs are right, the Home Office is not yet qualified for this job and needs to learn a lot more. The Bingham Centre is leading an important research project through the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre to assess the impact of people’s inability to access adequate and timely legal advice. I am sure that the Home Office will follow that.
My Lords, there are two questions which I believe we are seeking to answer by this Bill. First, what should it look like to take back control of our borders in a humane and legal way; and, secondly, how can Britain continue to be a place offering sanctuary to the world’s most vulnerable at a time of need?
Whether during the Holocaust or the flight of Ugandan Asians from Idi Amin, Britain has historically been a place of sanctuary. Post-Brexit global Britain should aspire to continue this tradition. While I agree with the objectives of the Bill, I will start with why I am raising concerns that it may not achieve its stated aim, and I will then turn to areas where it could be constructively amended, which it would be good to explore in Committee.
As we have heard, the Bill aims to disincentivise so-called irregular entry through the creation of a two-tiered system, in the hope of producing what the Home Office calls the “pull factor” of the UK asylum system. So let us pause for a moment on what the pull factors are which encourage people to come to the UK. A few of them would be our language, our culture, the rule of law, democracy, historic ties through the Commonwealth, family connections and liberty. In short, the pull factor is not our asylum system. The pull factors which set our nation apart as a desirable place of refuge are characteristics which make Britain what it is today. No one in this House would wish to dismantle them. Britain will always be an attractive place, even with a two-tiered refugee system.
Our Government’s own equality impact assessment recognises this, saying that
“evidence supporting the effectiveness of this approach”—
that is, increased deterrence to encourage people to claim asylum elsewhere—
So can the Minister outline the Government’s reasons for weakening and potentially breaching the refugee convention by discriminating between people based on their arrival, and when there is such limited evidence of efficacy?
I also have concerns that the legislation as currently drafted would create a significantly greater administrative burden, making it even harder for the Home Office to process legitimate asylum claims. This concern leads me to ask for more information from my noble friend the Minister to help this House understand how this might be handled. First, what estimate have Her Majesty’s Government made of the cost of needing to reassess a refugee’s protection needs every two and a half years? Secondly, have Her Majesty’s Government assessed the likely legal costs of judicial review applications and the compatibility of the legislation with the ECHR, the Human Rights Act and the Children Act 1989? Will this legislation’s passage be possible only alongside reforms of our human rights legislation? What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that the legislation does not set back the progress made in the Modern Slavery Act?
There may well be a better way forward. In my view, the only meaningful way to resolve the issue of irregular arrivals from France is through diplomacy. I know this is difficult to achieve ahead of the French election, but are we really not prepared to wait until July to see whether this might not be possible? We could create a safe-returns agreement with the French, alongside a more regular and regulated pathway. This would be in both countries’ long-term interests. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of this approach post the French elections?
There could be two further areas where the Government could improve this legislation to better protect and support those in need of asylum. The first is designating new and improved safe and legal routes. The Minister will remember that this House was given assurances from the Dispatch Box during the Brexit Bill debates that the Government would institute safe and legal pathways. Because of these assurances, our amendment to that Bill was withdrawn. These promises are yet to be fulfilled. Will the Minister bring forward an amendment to the primary legislation or secondary policies laying out the exact nature of the safe and legal routes?
Secondly, I wholeheartedly support the Migration Advisory Committee’s recent recommendation calling for the Government to institute the right to work for asylum seekers. The arguments for the right to work after six months, ranging from the benefit to the Exchequer to the boon to integration, are compelling. I will be tabling a cross-party amendment on this, and I hope to work with my noble friend the Minister on this matter.
I look forward to working as a House to support the Government to achieve their stated objectives and to ensure that our character as a compassionate nation is fully expressed, while ensuring that people smugglers are put out of business and vulnerable people are no longer exploited.
My Lords, this feels a little like being back at school; with a name like Woolley, I am always near the end of the list.
I will focus my remarks on Clause 9 of this piece of legislation, but before that I want to take a minute of my time to reflect on my first two years here, and particularly the last year when I sat on the Youth Unemployment Select Committee, headed by the very able noble Lord, Lord John Shipley. Being on that committee reminded me why this place is so very special. Big political beasts and characters such as the noble Lord, Lord Ken Baker, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ken Clarke, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, my noble friend Lady Coussins and others all sought to leave their tribal politics at the door to find common ground on very difficult challenges, in this case youth unemployment. What came out was an excellent report, with real, concrete solutions for white working-class youths and black, Asian and minority-ethnic youths—solutions that would help businesses; good politics that gave hope and showed decency and leadership. Today, tomorrow and beyond, this House must show hope, decency and, above all, leadership.
For the avoidance of doubt, Clause 9 does not render me and others like me second-class citizens. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, suggested, that was done by successive Governments from both sides of the House who deemed that, because my mother was born in what is now the republic of Barbados, I could be stripped of my citizenship, even though I was born here. Clause 9 in effect makes me a third-class citizen by, if deemed necessary, taking away my right to appeal against being stripped of citizenship.
Some of your Lordships may be saying, “Come on, Lord Woolley, that can’t happen to good British citizens”. Really? Tell that to the Windrush victims who also had precarious citizenship, to the families of Windrush victims who died waiting for justice, such as Sarah O’Connor and Richard Stewart, and to the thousands who are still waiting after so many promises of compensation. Precarious tiered British citizenship, compounded by certain political winds of poisonous change, makes a perfect storm for very bad things to occur.
All this is at a time when trust in the Government, particularly from black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities, is extremely low. Worse still, some politicians keep telling us that British citizenship is a privilege and some commentators say that people like me should kowtow and be extremely grateful. They are wrong. To be clear, I am proud—very proud—to be a British citizen, but British citizenship is not a privilege; it is an honour. Complicit in that honour should be a gold-standard citizenship, not a second-class one as mine is, and definitely not a third-class one, as Clause 9 would have. We all need a first-class British citizenship for every British citizen that is not precarious—one that gives us true hope, a greater sense of belonging and an equal footing for everyone.
Today and going forward, we must hold this line. To Clause 9 we say thanks, but no thanks. When the time comes, drop the tribal politics and vote for decency. Vote for something we can be proud of.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, who made a most moving speech. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing this debate. It is very welcome that the Government have resolved to take firm and decisive action to try to break the business model of people smugglers and protect the lives of those they endanger. We can be proud that we have provided refuge to more than 25,000 refugees from regions of conflict since 2015 and that we have enabled a further 29,000 closely related persons to join them subsequently.
It is also right that we should facilitate residents of Afghanistan who fought with us and residents of Hong Kong whose freedom is now threatened, who wish to build new lives in this country, to come here and help them become productive, participating citizens. I strongly support the plea made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, concerning the former service men and women from Hong Kong, and look forward to the Minister’s reply to that question.
The migrant situation ranks highly on the list of matters on which people want the Government to get a grip. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also said that the Government should get a grip and focus on illegal immigration to this country, but went on to say that the Liberal Democrats oppose almost all of the Bill.
As pointed out by Nick Timothy in his interesting article in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, prior to the election of the Labour Government in 1997, net migration had peaked at 77,000 in 1994 and had never exceeded tens of thousands. However, one year after Sir Tony Blair became Prime Minister, the net migration figure leapt to 144,000 and has never been lower since. When the coalition Government were elected in 2010, net migration was running at 250,000 a year.
The passing of the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act has made it harder to enforce immigration laws and to deport foreign criminals. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, said, we may need to examine whether some of this legislation should be amended to protect the rights of British citizens. According to Migration Watch, and as well illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, net migration to the UK has risen relentlessly in recent years, to reach 313,000 in 2020—my noble friends Lord Leicester and Lady Neville-Rolfe also referred to this.
The number of those entering the country illegally is now also increasing exponentially. As your Lordships are all too aware, more than 28,000 people crossed the channel in small boats in 2021, three times as many as in the previous year. Despite 27 people being drowned out of a boatload of 29 when an inflatable dinghy collapsed on 24 November, there was no effect on high numbers crossing the channel in December.
I understand the arguments proposed by some noble Lords that the asylum applications made by some genuine refugees may be adversely affected by the Bill’s introduction of differential treatment of refugees. However, surely those refugees whose applications conform to the requirements contained in Article 31 of the refugee convention should not be disadvantaged by having to compete with those whose applications do not conform. Surely it is right to try to protect those most at risk from human traffickers by including an additional hurdle that requires those who have entered the country unlawfully to show good cause.
I do not follow the argument of those who oppose the housing of asylum seekers in accommodation centres. Surely it is much easier to protect them in such centres from the many risks they face rather than at large in the community. Have the Government reached a consensus with stakeholders on the design of support packages to be offered to asylum seekers held in accommodation centres?
In general, I welcome the Bill, which makes a responsible and reasoned attempt to balance the rights of the British people, both individually and within their communities, with the rights of the growing number of migrants, which includes both genuine refugees and those who are not at risk in their own countries but simply choose to move for economic reasons.
My Lords, I begin with a short list of issues that I regard as priorities in trying to make this Bill less disastrously bad. I associate myself with every word said by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about its impact on some of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls. I note that expert legal commentators have described the equality impact assessment of the Bill as superficial and inadequate. Many of the same concerns apply to LGBTIQA+ refugees, a point made also by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. The Bill is also of grave concern for its impact on children, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said.
In other contexts, we have heard the Government talk positively about “trauma-informed practice”—for example, in prisons. This Bill is the very opposite of that; it can only be described as abusive of trauma survivors. I note that a briefing from the Royal College of Psychiatrists says that
“a background context of basic physical and emotional security, including an assurance of safety and freedom from harm, is a key factor in recovery from most if not all mental disorders”.
This Bill is clearly actively designed to take refugees who are already in situations far from ideal security and rip not just the rug but the entire ground from under them. They are refugees whose circumstances, as the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, pointed out, we have often played a major part in creating.
I note also the extremely useful briefing from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, with its concerns about Part 4 of the Bill and age assessments, particularly its note that the use of ionising radiation for the purpose is absolutely inappropriate. Perhaps the Minister can give us an assurance that that will not happen, or a broader assurance as asked for by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger.
A noble Lord earlier described the Minister’s introductory speech as spirited. Coming so late to this long debate gives me the chance to look closely at the Minister’s speech. He said:
“The prevailing legal framework was not designed to cope with the type, and certainly not the scale, of the mass migration we have seen in recent years.”
But, of course, the Bill is not about migration but asylum. The foreign-born population of the UK is about 9.5 million people. That is about the same number of Britons who live in other countries around the globe. Of that foreign-born population, 5% have come here as refugees—that is about 388,000 people, or 0.6% of the total resident population. We are not talking about a mass at all.
The Minister issued a challenge: that noble Lords set out
“what steps should be taken to achieve the object of controlled immigration, which many profess to support.”
That challenge has been answered by many noble Lords, perhaps most notably and powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. We need to provide safe, orderly routes to apply for asylum. However, I think the Minister was seeking numbers. I have a suggestion. As many noble Lords noted, France welcomes proportionately about three times as many refugees as the UK. That could be a starting point: set up an orderly, timely, effective system, fairly distributed around the world, recognising the UK’s place in creating the circumstances forcing people to move, to welcome three times the number arriving now.
In that context, it struck me, looking at the Minister’s speech, that a word was missing: a word that in the proceedings of your Lordships’ House is clearly obligatory in almost every government contribution. That word is “world-leading”.
I am sorry—world-beating. Perhaps either/or.
We are clearly not world-leading in saying “refugees welcome”. Some 39% of refugees are hosted in five countries: Turkey, Colombia, Uganda, Pakistan and Germany.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, talked powerfully about Clause 9, on deprivation of citizenship—I have to declare an interest, in that this also affects me. However, I do not want just to attack this new provision; I want to say that we should abolish the whole power to deprive people of citizenship. If we trace back the history of this—I am afraid that it goes back to when the largest party on this side of the House was sitting on the Government Benches—we see that it is a classic case of hard cases producing bad law. It is one of the many examples of knee-jerk responses to populist outcries, cheer-led by the organs of a handful of right-wing media tycoons, which are eating away at the freedom and rights of us all. Once principles are conceded, the exercise of power always expands, in reach and force.
My noble friend said that we should throw out the Bill, and I agree. However, I have a final proposal for the Minister. Let us throw the Bill out, keep the few good clauses that are in there, and put them into a “refugees welcome” Bill.
My Lords, in my limited time I will speak today only to Clause 9, which seeks to strip British citizens of their citizenship without notice. I want to focus on the real-life impact of this proposed legislation and the consequences for communities, and to unpick the notion that citizenship is a privilege, not a right.
Modern nationality law starts in 1981. For all its shortcomings, it was an attempt to bring into the system through formal paperwork those who were British—I repeat: those who were by right British. The state was formalising a right that already existed, something expressly stated by the then Home Secretary William Whitelaw during the passage of the Bill. However, what followed, with subsequent changes to nationality law and an increasingly hostile approach taken by successive Governments of all colours, was the appalling circumstances in which the Windrush generation and others—people who by right were British—were treated like outsiders, foreigners and aliens. Our hostility to immigration and immigrants was the climate in which we abandoned our own who were by right British, even if they had not formally exercised that right.
I lay out this background because this notion of citizenship being a privilege seems to be a popular, but sadly ignorant, mantra. Of course, immigration is not a right, but immigration and immigration controls are very distinct from nationality rights. Those who mix them do so because their flawed understanding does not see beyond the colour of someone’s skin.
Let me personalise it. My family, as many of yours, were a century ago citizens of the UK and colonies. They had rights; all those in the Empire and the Commonwealth did. When my grandfathers fought for the British Indian Army as British subjects, they did so as citizens. When the Windrush generation answered the call for workers and came to this country, they did so as citizens. When South Asians took up gruelling jobs in the mills and foundries of Yorkshire, as my family did, they did so as citizens, as equal members of this country in a continuation of a bond that had started decades earlier. It was not a conditional or temporary right, or a right that we would try to take away from them and their children or grandchildren in ever more cunningly creative ways, and it certainly was not a privilege. It was a right, one established through our colonial history, through strife, blood, sweat and those who even gave their lives. By formally taking a British passport, they were merely formalising a right, not having a privilege bestowed upon them.
The othering of our fellow citizens—which has happened over the years under Conservative Governments; was made worse, I would argue, by Labour Governments, with some of the most dramatically expanded powers of deprivation; and was extended by the coalition Government—this chipping away at the basic right of citizenship, must now stop. That starts with striking Clause 9 from this Bill. We across this House, whichever party we belong to, have been part of the problem. Our respective parties have, over time, torn down the basic belief that all citizens in this country are and should be equal and that, as a citizen, you are a permanent member. It is a fundamental right recognised in case law, including by the High Court in the case of D4, the case that led to Clause 9. This problem did not start with Clause 9, but it must start to end with Clause 9.
This is government sleight of hand, this last-minute addition to override the decision of Mr Justice Chamberlain. It is an attempt at another incremental change with the hope that, once again, no one will notice, but which has huge real-life consequences. This power grab by the Home Secretary is deeply dangerous, one that seeks to deprive someone of their right to citizenship without even giving the person being deprived the right to know, depriving them even of the right to check whether the Secretary of State had the legal basis or accurate facts to exercise that power. These proposals would mean that I would have greater protections when being deprived of my driving licence than of my nationality.
And so a piece of legislation introduced but never used by the late Lady Thatcher’s Government during the Cold War to deal with treason has morphed, mainly during the Blair years as an attempt to remove one man, Abu Hamza—my noble friend Lord Moylan is absolutely right that Labour sowed the seeds of what we now reap—into a catch-all law that covers around 40% of our ethnic minority communities. This clause is not a debate about immigration, it is a debate about our fellow citizens. These laws have the potential to include members of Parliament and their families. They include our loved ones, friends and colleagues; they include some of us. This is not scaremongering, this is fact. This is why families across our country are campaigning to push back against the real-life consequences they are today experiencing as a result of years of incremental legislation.
In conclusion, my parents’ generation, now in their 80s, always feared that their future generations would be outsiders, second-class citizens who would be told to “go back home” or to leave. My generation always dismissed these fears as unfounded, but Windrush proved they were not baseless. Clause 9 and the Government’s exponential use of deprivation powers compound these fears and so I urge my noble friend, who is thoughtful and informed on these issues, to ask the Government to think again and row back.
My Lords, I must begin with an apology. As I am new to your Lordships’ House, there was an error in processing my request to speak, although I am grateful to the Whips for permission to interject at this point. It is a privilege to have been part of the debate and I look forward to following this Bill through and benefiting from the collective wisdom here.
I believe that I am among relatively few in the House who have experience of both sides of the asylum and refugee system, having first come to this country as a refugee from Iran in 1980. The plight of those fleeing violence and persecution and the difficulties in navigating identity and finding a new home are not abstract or intellectual propositions for me but part of who I am, and it is with that perspective that I offer some thoughts now.
Often, I see asylum seekers presented either as victims who require help but have no agency or as chancers seeking to abuse generosity—criminals even. Neither approach is helpful. How different discussions might be if we reframed the debate in terms of the best way to work with potential future citizens, neighbours and friends. Not every asylum seeker will meet the criteria for being a refugee, but many will and they will become part of our nation and communities. How we treat them in the process has consequences for the sort of society we are creating—the kind of nation we want to be.
We have heard repeatedly that citizenship is a privilege not a right. I dispute the binary nature of the claim but I agree that citizenship and other statuses require a need for people to belong and contribute. Belonging can be fostered by welcome and how asylum seekers are received but it also relies on there being real opportunities to contribute. A system that respects human dignity, encourages agency rather than victimhood and gives people a chance to be heard and contribute is one that will foster healthy communities and build up future citizens.
In Chelmsford diocese we are proud of our work with refugees and have played a leading role in community sponsorship. We believe that civil society needs to play its part in the welcome and building up of neighbours. I hope to hear more from the Minister on community sponsorship schemes but I also want to make the point that that is never enough. We need a policy framework that gives future citizens the chance to contribute in meaningful ways. The opportunity to work, particularly for those facing long delays in the asylum process, would be one such chance but it is absent, sadly, from the Bill.
Indeed, there is much in the Bill that does not meet the tests of providing for agency, dignity and a chance to be heard. I am concerned that the provision to remove citizenship without notice is a denial of the right to be heard and one that has wider implications that seem to be unacknowledged. I am concerned too that the proposed differential treatment of refugees, depending on how they have arrived, is an example of learning the wrong lessons from the hostile environment and I will be listening carefully to proposed amendments in that space.
I have spoken to a great many people over the years and am yet to find the asylum seeker who was deterred from coming to the UK because they would be barred from working or housed in substandard accommodation. The situations from which people flee and the promise of hope and a new life greatly outweigh any deterrents and yet these hardships are real and serve as barriers to contribution and to fostering a sense of belonging. No one disputes the challenges facing the asylum system but I am deeply troubled by some of the implications of this Bill. I am not clear what problems differentiated treatment or deterrence policies will solve, and fear that aspects put in jeopardy the agency and dignity of many vulnerable people.
In conclusion, if you will indulge a bishop a biblical reference, St Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews:
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
It is better for the soul of this nation, and for creating good future citizens, to treat people with the greatest possible respect and dignity, rather than with hostility and doubt.
My Lords, the Board of Deputies of British Jews quoted from the Torah in its briefing. I am afraid it is not at the front of my mind, but it is the same thought. There have been so many powerful and informed speeches that I decided at about 5.30 pm that I must stop adding namechecks to my notes.
I have often heard from the Dispatch Box the term “professional curiosity”—an encouragement to probe, analyse and avoid the unthoughtful and the knee-jerk. It seems to me that professional curiosity has been lacking both from the underlying policy and this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned virtue signalling. There certainly seems to have been no attempt to understand the push factors.
I should apply that to myself. How is it that a Bill against which I would readily have voted today has any appeal? Is it that people have had bad encounters with refugees? I think that is unlikely. The reaction of most people who have talked to individuals is often admiring. Is it fear of the other? We are a mongrel nation, as noble Lords have said; I certainly am. Is it an underlying insecurity about housing, the health service, jobs, the cost of living and the economy? Likely, I suspect, and so we should address those.
How is it that the Government’s priority is not to take a leadership role in integration, rather than creating tiers, different levels of protection—“differentials”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, put it—and the deserving and undeserving? Instead, they make the environment aggressively hostile.
Among the many emails we have received opposing the Bill, I had one from a lady who wrote:
“Although I do not believe that the current Front Bench is racist,”—
I should say that I have just had another email which takes a contrary view, but I am not making that accusation myself—
“it would be naive to imagine that it will always be ‘in the public interest’ for me and my parents to continue enjoying the ‘privilege’ of our British citizenship.”
Let me say that we believe that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is in the public interest.
How many British citizens suddenly feel insecure? Another email I had said:
“Clause 9 does not make me feel safer.”
I am sure the writer would be happy for the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, to quote that on a future occasion. It seems we are to assume the worst of asylum seekers, victims of modern slavery and those who missed out on claiming citizenship—those who, in its words, are not the “cash cows” the Home Office expects.
My noble friends Lord Paddick and Lord Oates referred to comparative numbers of applications and refugees accepted in other countries, as did the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Dubs. The starkest are the numbers being hosted by bordering states and by developing and middle-income countries. Our responsibility is no less because of our geographical position. We should be fair in the international context. Clearly, we cannot take everyone, but we fall well short of our fair share. I do not think that is the same as not controlling borders, and it is not Marxist in any sense. I am reminded that another word that is almost compulsory in this House is “proportionate”. One could apply that here too.
The tone as well as the detail of the Bill are of denial of our role as part of the international community, engaged in a co-operative effort to address a shared issue. As for offshoring, I hope we will not see that, for the sake of individuals and of the host—if that is the right word—country with fewer resources than we have. It feels more like offloading.
It is almost the least of it but requiring visa penalties for unco-operative countries baffles me; it is not my approach to co-operation or partnership. In fact, I have trouble with a lot of the logic. The great majority of family reunion applications, as we have heard, are for women and children to join a family member here. How does that square with government policy to protect women and girls? If a refugee cannot sponsor an application, does this not incentivise dangerous journeys, particularly by women and girls? That is the Australian experience. Smugglers understand the process; that is part of their power. Asylum seekers are unlikely to do so; it is not part of their thinking.
Politicians who admire successful business people should understand that, faced with an obstacle, they find ways around it; they are not deterred. By the way, life sentences, an option under the Modern Slavery Act, have apparently not been used. The Bill, perversely, plays into the smugglers’ business model. It is predicated, as many noble Lords have said, on a substantial increase of safe and legal routes. Apart from it being the right thing to do to increase them, their creation would reduce the market for dangerous crossings. As has been observed, the Home Office impact assessment points to the inherent risks of dangerous crossings. What the Bill is not based on is a trauma-informed approach. That is the clear view of the professionals who have written and spoken about age assessment, which they and we see as a matter of safeguarding. They are very clear that this is not cut and dried scientifically. Personally, I am not surprised that young people who have gone through what they have been through act older than their age.
Concern is expressed about the impact of much of the Bill on children. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham was the first to mention that issue. Even the clauses righting historical omissions regarding citizenship are overshadowed, and Clause 10 is plain unjust. Citizenship is hugely important; it is about belonging. It is well known that victims of slavery and trafficking, as well as those fleeing persecution, oppression and tyranny, cannot immediately tell the whole or even much of their story. “Late” is a misnomer. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner makes very balanced and powerful comments—to use a neutral term—including on the danger of viewing victims through an immigration lens and ignoring their trauma and exploitation. I cannot, unlike others here, see the Bill as other than a retrograde step back from our world-leading legislation of 2015. What the Minister said about ILR was on the basis of assisting prosecutions. That is important, but it is a complex issue, and it is not the only one, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, always makes clear.
I can give only a modified welcome to the additional qualification for legal aid, given the shortage of provision in practice—the funding structures and rates, and the refusal of the Legal Aid Agency, as I understand it, to fund expert reports at the application as distinct from the appeal stage. This is part of a wider issue, but it bites here.
There are big legal issues raised by the Bill. Others have touched on compliance with international law and the law of the sea, and I am sure that we will spend time on this in Committee. I find it perverse to use domestic legislation to impose the interpretation of international conventions, although I have to say that it is of a piece with the Government’s announcement of legislation to correct the courts’ judgments in human rights cases. Language can be misleading; an expedited or accelerated process sounds attractive, but so did “detained fast track”, as a term, which the Court of Appeal, rightly, brought to an end.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, I am concerned about the criminalisation that may spill over to individuals and organisations that seek to support asylum seekers. Judging from the support that we have seen for the RNLI, that view is widely shared.
I hope that the Minister will be able to detail what routes there are by which an asylum seeker can come direct from countries from which so many flee—Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam and so on. The Government may tell us about schemes for Afghanis and Syrians, but we know that we would like them to be far more extensive, and we are concerned about the lack of what is happening at the moment. What is being done to create safe and legal routes, and why is there no provision for humanitarian visas? Perhaps we can also hear why the Government, who have relied on the UNHCR to identify those whom they have resettled in the UK, refuse to take on board its analysis. The UNHCR’s critique of the Bill is devastating.
I have had much more time than most speakers, but none of us has had anywhere near enough to make all the points that are to be made on this Bill, which clearly fills so many of us with gloom and anxiety, nor enough time to thank all those who have briefed us and who work on the front line—and, certainly, nowhere near enough to cover what will so affect people’s lives.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a research fellow in modern slavery at the University of Nottingham. It is a great privilege to follow the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who outlined many of the problems and issues we have with this Bill.
I am proud and pleased to be standing here on this side of the House with the noble Baroness and many others who have spoken behind me, to my right, to my left and across the Chamber. We are all united in the belief that we need to tackle illegal immigration and have control over our borders but that, as my noble friend Lord Reid said, we should not do so at the expense of putting forward unworkable solutions which will do nothing to deal with the problems we are confronted with. Why should we do this in a way that drives a coach and horses through human rights legislation and international conventions to which this country has been a proud signatory over decades? That is the crux.
I am pleased to say that this Chamber reflects the country; there is a clash of views in the country. The Government will say they speak for public opinion—I challenge that. I believe that the whole country is united by a belief that there is an issue around illegal immigration, but I am also convinced that people want it dealt with in a fair, equitable way that reflects the traditions of our country over the decades. This Bill does not do that.
Our country has always prided itself on its tolerance, its welcome to those fleeing war and persecution and its embrace of difference and varying cultures. I am proud of that, as your Lordships’ House will be, so why have the Government introduced a Bill that makes changes for asylum seekers and refugees, altering the current system for asylum claims and appeals and introducing measures on people-smuggling and modern slavery and a two-tier system for asylum seekers arriving in the UK, with differentiation based on method of arrival? It risks undermining that very tradition in which this country has always legislated on these issues. As my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lady Chakrabarti and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, refugees are people. Our values must be applied; our country will be judged on the way in which we treat refugees and asylum seekers.
In Committee, we can debate and discuss this Bill line by line, but Second Reading allows us to set out the context, principles and broad sweep of policy which should guide the general topics as we go forward. I remind the House, since a political point has been made once or twice, that the Government say this Bill is needed to fix the asylum system; they have been in control of that system for 12 years, so why have initial asylum decisions fallen by 40% over the last five years, under their watch, with 67,000 people waiting for an initial decision? That is what undermines trust—the failure to administer and manage these people and situations properly.
Many of these provisions—I turn to my former boss at the Home Office, my noble friend Lord Reid—were rejected as too draconian by the last Labour Government. I understand from what the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and others have said that we did not get everything right, but we rejected many of the proposals put forward in this Bill.
On illegal entry, the Bill proposes to change the immigration offence of how someone enters the UK and specifies the mode of entry as legal or illegal. The UNHCR states that, if implemented as it stands, this will cause great suffering and undermine the 1951 convention—an international protection system not just in the UK but globally. The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association says that it is contrary to international law; Article 31 of the refugee convention provides that states
“shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees … where their life or freedom was threatened”.
Do we care? Do we care that we are breaking these international conventions? This is what the UNHCR is saying. I just point this out to the noble Baroness the Minister. Is she right and the UNHCR is wrong? The UNHCR is saying that this Bill breaks international conventions; that this Bill is not consistent with the treaties that we have signed. Both of those statements cannot be right. As the noble Lords, Lord German, Lord Hannay and Lord Oates; the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar; my noble friends Lord Dubs, Lord Ponsonby, Lord Griffiths, Lord Reid, Lady Lister, Lady Chakrabarti and many others have stated across this Chamber, this country seeks to ensure that international treaties and obligations are met by others, and we should ensure that we meet them ourselves.
Group 1 and group 2 refugees will be created by the Bill, based on how they arrived into the UK and the point at which they presented themselves to the authorities. Those who have travelled via a third country, do not have documents or did not claim asylum immediately will be designated group 2 refugees—sub-standard refugees, not real refugees. The UNHCR again says:
“The design of this new Group 2 refugee status is incompatible with the 1951 convention.”
It does not say that it has a problem with it: it says it is incompatible with the convention. Do we care? Does that not matter? Are we bothered? Do the Government think that the UNHCR is wrong? What are they going to do about it? Why do they not just get up and say, “We are going to drive a coach and horses through this”—or are they going to say that they have got this wrong?
Why did we not negotiate new Dublin III arrangements when we left the EU? There are no return agreements with EU countries, and family reunion routes for refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, including children, have been cut. So how will the Bill work with no agreements between the UK and EU member states? How will the Bill help with no workable deal with the French Government, as others have mentioned, to tackle the operations of criminal gangs on the French coast? Is it not the case that there were just five asylum seekers returned to European countries in the last year while channel crossings have soared? What is going on? What are the Government doing about it now, let alone when this Bill passes through? Is it not the case that there are no new safe, legal routes for the family reunion proposed in the Bill, and that that is one of the measures that is desperately needed and that we should be seeking to address?
The rhetoric of the Government and of the Home Secretary has failed. It failed when she said that we would halve boats across the channel in three months and make them infrequent in six months. In that time, the figure has risen tenfold. As the noble Lords, Lord McColl, Lord Alton and Lord Morrow, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and my noble friend Lord Rosser in his brilliant speech all pointed out, the Modern Slavery Act is undermined by an immigration and asylum Bill. That is unbelievable. The Modern Slavery Act is one of the totemic achievements, if I may say so, of the Conservative Government before last—one of the totemic achievements of former Prime Minister Theresa May. On most issues I fundamentally disagree with her, but on this she deserves all the credit that should come her way for introducing that Act. She stood up in the Commons, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, and said that certain elements of this Bill would restrict victims’ ability to come forward. She said she was concerned that the public order disqualifications threshold and the time period on slavery and trafficking information notices would have that effect. Victims of modern slavery will be prevented from coming forward to help identify those who have perpetrated crimes. Those are not my words, or words from a Labour Government now or in the past, but the words of a former Prime Minister of this country saying what the current Conservative Government are going to do to the Modern Slavery Act that she, and all of us, were so proud of.
The Government say that they want to deter people from using the defence of being a victim of modern slavery against deportation. Where is the evidence for that? Where is the evidence for erecting barriers to accessing the national referral mechanism?
Of the 10,613 potential victims of modern slavery referred to the NRM last year, 47% were children and 34% were British. Where is the sense in what the Government are proposing there? No distinction is made in the Bill between adults and children, and the Bill as proposed would expect victims of slavery to disclose what has happened to them at the moment of identification or be penalised. What on earth? Does the Minister realise how ridiculous it is to expect somebody traumatised by modern slavery or trafficking to be able to present themselves within a short, specified time to the police or others with these identification notices, otherwise they will be deemed to have failed? It is unbelievable, unworkable and something that I and no doubt many others will want to come back to on Report.
I have a last couple of comments. The independent slavery commissioner, Sara Thornton, says the Bill
“will severely limit our ability to convicted perpetrators and dismantle organised crime groups.”
Others have mentioned offshore processing. Others have mentioned Clause 9. Others have mentioned issues to do with the RNLI and pushback. There will be amendments coming forward, if not from us then from others, which we will support. Will the Ministers say to me, to this House, to this Chamber and to this country that, if I were a navigator on a boat passing people at sea and in danger, it will be a criminal offence, as under the Bill as currently constituted it will be, for me to stop and help them? Is that really the legislation we are seeking to pass? I do not believe that even the Minister would do it, nor would the noble Lord—they are decent people and would want to help, but the legislation they are proposing to this House, this Chamber, this evening would penalise people and make it a criminal offence for them to do that. It is ridiculous and simply has to stop.
We could go on. There is much to debate and we will seek to amend the Bill as it goes forward, protecting the victims of modern slavery, including children, with safe routes for unaccompanied children, safe routes for family reunion of unaccompanied children and negotiations with the EU for a new asylum agreement, including safe legal routes and safe returns, maintaining our respect for international law and agreements. The Bill will not solve the problem of dangerous boat crossings and will not improve security co-operation or create safe legal routes. It will make it harder to prosecute and convict people traffickers and will grant the Home Secretary the power to decide asylum cases based on how someone arrives in this country. It will give the Home Office the power to deprive a person of their British citizenship without warning—third-class citizenship, as one noble Peer mentioned. The Bill has a lot wrong with it and certainly, as we go forward in Committee, we will seek to amend it, as we will on Report. This country has a proud tradition of supporting asylum seekers and refugees, and this Bill is not part of that.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today in what has been quite a long debate. I know noble Lords will understand if I do not respond to every single point that has been made, but I thought it would be a good idea to summarise, very briefly, what has been talked about today.
I hope I can divide the House into those who think we have gone too far with the Bill and those think we have not gone far enough. There are an elite few here who support the Bill. There is quite a contradictory view on the EU as being either the best thing since sliced bread or, contrarily, as not being regarded by some as a safe area for migrants, but there is also the Groucho Marxism that my noble friend referred to—I will not call it LibDem-ism—which says, “Whatever it is, I’m against it”. I will call out two noble Lords for actually suggesting solutions. One is the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the other is my noble friend Lord Balfe. Solutions have been in very short supply this afternoon, and although I may not agree with them, they actually suggested solutions.
We are a nation of immigrants—I have said that before at this Dispatch Box—and I am a first-generation immigrant. Immigration has made this country the place that it is today. It rebuilt it after the war and we provided protection for those fleeing persecution, both during the Second World War and in the decades since. What comes to mind is the Ugandan Asians and now, of course, the people from Afghanistan. We have just resettled more than 20,000 people through the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and we will go on to resettle 20,000 people under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme.
The other word that has been used quite a lot today, by quite a few noble Lords, is “inhumanity”. The inhumanity I see is the treatment of migrants by criminal gangs: the inhumanity of making your way to our shores being based on your ability to pay those criminals; the inhumanity of the fact that if you are a woman or a girl—women and girls have been mentioned by quite a few noble Lords this afternoon—you are very unlikely to be in one of those boats, because most of the people in them are men or boys; and, finally, the inhumanity of using people as commodities in the grim industry that those criminals engage in. They do not see the people in those boats as human beings at all. That, for me, is the inhumanity of all this, and I do not think noble Lords would actually disagree with those points.
My noble friend Lady Stowell said that illegal migration matters to the people of this country. It does, not because they are racist but because they have a great sense of fairness. We should be careful when we use the word “racist”. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned an email she received today relating to the Front Bench, and retracted from that accusation. Someone from my background or that of my noble friend Lord Wolfson would never countenance that—and I do not accuse her of asserting that at all.
I should like to make it clear that my correspondent said that she does not think that the Front Bench is racist.
I thank the noble Baroness, and I know she would not have made that suggestion.
We are talking today not about the lawful migration which has so enriched our country, but about illegal migration, which only makes it harder for us to do what we all want, which is to protect those in greatest need of our help.
As I said, I cannot touch on every point that was made, but I hope to touch on some of the key issues. To quote my noble friend Lord Wolfson again, we have to start with the basic reality that the current system is not working. We need real, practical solutions, not just another outline of the problems, so I offer particular thanks to noble Lords who have today shared some suggestions of what we can do. Reform is desperately needed, and the Bill will enable us to deliver it.
I turn first to the deprivation of citizenship, because that has been so widely mentioned, including by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Paddick, Lord Blunkett, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Lord Dubs, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate and Lord Hannay of Chiswick; the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox of Buckley, Lady Chakrabarti, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Lister and Lady Uddin; and my noble friends Lord Balfe and Lady Warsi. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, that, irrespective of his name—mine also starts with a “W”, so I know where I stand—I listened to his concerns on the clause very carefully. I assure him of the Government’s continuing commitment to righting the wrongs of Windrush. We have been very clear on that, so, to echo what was said explicitly in the other place, the Bill does not widen the reasons for which a person can be deprived of their British citizenship. The change is about the process of notifying the individual.
Picking up on some of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, in particular, the clause is necessary to ensure that we avoid a situation where we could never deprive a person of their British citizenship just because there is no way of communicating with them, or where to make contact would disclose sensitive intelligence sources, including a last known address—if we even have one. This is vital to protect the security of the UK from those who would wish to do us harm.
Rightly, this power is reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK and those who obtain their citizenship by fraudulent means. Decisions are made following careful consideration of advice from officials and lawyers, and in accordance with international law. It always comes with an appeal right. The Government do not seek to extend deprivation powers—I want to make that absolutely clear. The grounds on which a person can be deprived of their citizenship will remain unchanged. We also do not want to deny a person their statutory right of appeal where we have made a decision to deprive, and the Bill preserves that right. The change is simply intended to ensure that existing powers can be used effectively in all appropriate circumstances and in no way represents a policy change in this important area of work. Instead, the scaremongering that we have seen around this clause from some quarters is unacceptable, irresponsible and highly regrettable.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, made some thoughtful contributions on the importance of organisations such as the RNLI, and I share their sentiments about them. I want to reassure noble Lords that the Bill does not change the Government’s approach to existing obligations under international maritime law, including that first duty to protect lives at sea. I might say that I am delighted that the RNLI has received additional contributions, because I see the work that it does down in Cornwall. The Government tabled an amendment to the Bill in the Commons on Report to make absolutely clear that organisations such as HM Coastguard and RNLI will be able to continue to rescue those in distress at sea, as they do now.
Perhaps I may move on to differentiation. The noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti, Lady Ludford, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws and Lady Uddin, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke about provisions that differentiate between groups of asylum seekers. I know that there is a difference of opinion about these provisions, but I do not make excuses for doing everything possible to deter people from making these dangerous crossings. I should like to provide reassurance that family reunion, which I know is an issue of particular concern, will be permitted for those in group two where refusal would breach our international obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
I should also like to pick up specifically on the comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, on female judges from Afghanistan. She and I have talked about that and how they will be considered under the new differentiated asylum policy. As she set out, in August we announced the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history, with up to 20,000 people at risk being given a new life in the UK. The scheme will explicitly prioritise those who have assisted the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech or the rule of law. I hope, therefore, that I can assure the noble Baroness on that. The scheme includes women’s rights activists, journalists and prosecutors.
Individuals granted settlement under the ACRS will not be subject to any differential treatment and will be granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. That sits alongside our other safe and legal routes, including the UK resettlement scheme and community sponsorship, which I am delighted the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford mentioned, because it is a scheme that I am very keen on and I hope to have more discussions with her on it. Other safe and legal routes include the mandate resettlement scheme, the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the immigration route for BNO status holders from Hong Kong.
I move on to modern slavery. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord McColl, the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Rooker and Lord Morrow, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London asked about Part 5, which relates to modern slavery. The Government are totally committed to tackling this terrible crime, one that seeks to exploit and do harm. This requires active prosecution of the modern slavery perpetrators.
Noble Lords asked why we are legislating for modern slavery in this Bill. The fact is that there is an overlap between some individuals who enter the immigration system and the national referral mechanism, so it is right that we make sure that those individuals have their full set of circumstances considered together. We also want to make sure that vulnerable individuals are identified as early as possible so that we can ensure that they have access to the right support.
That is why this Bill makes clear, for the first time in primary legislation, that where a public authority, such as the police, is pursuing an investigation or criminal proceedings, confirmed victims who are co-operating in this activity and need to remain in the UK in order to do so will be granted temporary leave to remain. The legislation also makes it clear that leave will be granted where it is necessary to assist an individual in their recovery from any physical or psychological harm arising from the relevant exploitation, or where it is necessary to enable them to seek compensation in respect of the relevant exploitation. It is right that leave is granted only to those who need it. This is both firm and fair.
Additionally, as part of our ongoing commitment to victims, we will continue to explore opportunities to enhance our support for victims through the criminal justice system through our review of the modern slavery strategy. Having as clear a definition as possible of the relevant eligibility criteria is the best way to give victims the clarity and certainty they need.
I assure noble Lords that we remain in line with our international obligations and will continue to support, via a grant of temporary leave to remain, those who have a need to be in the UK to assist with their recovery from physical and psychological harm caused by their exploitation. All those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of tailored support will receive appropriate individualised support for a minimum of 12 months. We will set out further details in guidance in due course.
I turn to the concerns about the steps we are taking regarding the wording of the reasonable grounds threshold in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Our purpose here is to ensure that this mirrors our obligation under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. We remain committed to ensuring that the NRM effectively identifies and supports genuine victims to recover.
Lastly, I turn to the specific questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on the recent joint statement of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner. I assure him that we are fully considering the issues raised and that we are currently engaging with both commissioners on these important issues.
I am sorry to do this to the Minister, but the context of the Bill has to be seen in the light of the pronouncements of the Home Secretary. When I was Home Secretary, I knew and was reminded constantly by my special advisers that what I said constituted government policy, the direction of government and the context within which legislation was provided. I need her to assure the House that what I read out five and a half hours ago as being the views of the Home Secretary in November either constitutes the view of the Government or is refuted by her.
I cannot read the mind of the Home Secretary, but the noble Lord is absolutely correct that that was a quote from her. On the point that she was making, I think the article he referred to was in relation to the Liverpool bomber. I think the Home Secretary gave that as an example of someone whose asylum claim had been refused. That person then went on to do potential harm to the people of this country. In fact, through the actions of the very brave taxi driver, he blew only himself up, but she was reflecting on the harm that a broken asylum system can do to the people of this country. That is why we need to give refuge to those who need our refuge and to make sure that we deter illegal migration and come down hard on those people who would wish this country harm. I hope that encapsulates my right honourable friend’s estimation of the situation and satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.
In terms of the impact of provisions on women, which I touched on earlier, I was very interested to hear the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Coussins, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, about the experiences of women and girls including those fleeing sexual violence, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the experience of vulnerable people who may be experiencing physical or mental ill health. These must be quite traumatic experiences, particularly if you are in a war-torn country.
We recognise that people who have experienced those traumas may feel unable to provide evidence relating to their protection or human rights claim. That is why the Bill makes very clear that, where late evidence is provided and there are good reasons for that, the credibility penalties relating to late evidence will not apply. We will set out in guidance what can constitute good reasons to allow decision-makers the flexibility to take a case-by-case approach depending on a person’s specific situation and vulnerabilities. Looking at the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and his potential case study, it might apply in that case.
We have heard many views expressed on our proposals to make it possible to remove protection claimants to a safe country while their claims are processed. I note in particular the speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord German and Lord Dubs, and my noble friends Lord Horam and Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate. While people are placing their lives at risk making perilous journeys, every possible option must be considered to reduce the draw of the UK. The Government have made their position clear throughout the debate: people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. That is the fastest route to safety. We are also clear that this Bill is fully compliant with all our international obligations and we will not act in such a way which means that a person’s life is at risk or which places a person at risk of persecution, torture, inhumane or degrading treatment.
I move on to the British Hong Kong service personnel. I hope noble Lords will indulge me for an additional minute or two because I was intervened upon. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, raised concerns about the former British Hong Kong service personnel, and I think, to be fair to him, has been doing so since I have been a Home Office Minister, so I must give him credit for that. We remain extremely grateful to those former British Hong Kong service personnel. Under the British nationality selection scheme, a limited number were settled in Hong Kong and could apply to register as British citizens, as he knows. I can confirm, as he requested, that the Government have identified a potential solution to this issue and are currently investigating proposals that could see this cohort treated in a similar way to other non-UK service personnel. That would be in addition to other pathways that they may already be eligible for. There is considerable work to be done to fully scope the ramifications and impact of the policy; however, we aim to provide further details as soon as we can with a view to a solution being provided before the end of this calendar year. Given that he has waited nearly six years—under my tenure anyway—I know he has got an awful lot of patience.
More broadly in terms of international co-operation, my noble friend Lord Balfe, the noble Lords, Lord Reid, Lord German, Lord Davies, Lord Liddle and Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, have spoken eloquently about the need for us to work with our international partners to tackle what really are shared global challenges. I totally agree; all countries have a moral responsibility to tackle the issue of illegal migration. Most countries have got the challenge of illegal migration.
I apologise for creating a slight extra delay, but I have listened in the last 21 minutes to the noble Baroness several times referring to “illegal migrants” or “illegal migration”. This Bill is about asylum seekers and refugees. We may differ on the legal issue of people arriving or entering irregularly, and our interpretation of the refugee convention, but under the Government’s own terms this Bill is not about illegal migrants; it is about asylum seekers.
It is also about illegal migrants.
Going back to international partners, we expect them to engage with us and we have tried to work with them to build on our good current co-operation and continue to highlight the importance of having effective returns agreements to stop people making perilous crossings. This is an established principle of any functioning migration relationship, and it enables us to maintain public confidence in our immigration system.
We have already signed agreements with India and Albania. There are more people here illegally from India than from any other country, and there are more foreign criminals from Albania than from anywhere else. It is now easier to return criminals and people with no right to be here to both countries. Beyond this, we will seek to negotiate readmissions arrangements with key EU member states which have a mutual interest in preventing asylum seekers moving between safe countries. Where we do not have broad returns agreements, we will seek returns on a case-by-case basis. We will continue to work with our international partners to meet this joint challenge.
We have heard a range of views on international conventions. I note the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Neuberger, and the noble Lords, Lord Green of Deddington, Lord Dubs, Lord Coaker, Lord German, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Lord Oates and Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. This Government remain committed to our international obligations, including the 1951 refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. Those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country they reach. That is the fastest route to safety.
My Lords, we will have hours of debate on this in Committee, but that is our premise. The first safe country principle is widely recognised internationally. It is indeed the fundamental feature of the common European asylum system. Without any enforcement of it, we simply encourage criminal smugglers to continue to exploit vulnerable migrants.
Today’s debate has shown that there is no silver bullet when it comes to fundamental reform. We are overhauling a decades-old system, but the whole package of measures within the Bill and the wider reforms that sit alongside it will help to put people smugglers out of business and deter illegal entry to the UK.
I finish by reiterating the key objectives of the Bill: to make the system fairer and more effective; to deter illegal entry to the UK; and to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here. As my noble friend Lord Wolfson said earlier,
“the need for reform could not be clearer. The public are not prepared to accept the current situation, and neither are the Government.”
We are backing those words up with action. The Bill will help us deliver lasting, meaningful change. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 10.13 pm.