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Illegal Migration Bill

Volume 830: debated on Monday 5 June 2023

Committee (2nd Day)

Relevant documents: 34th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 16th Report from the Constitution Committee

Amendment 13

Moved by

13: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—

“Negotiating objective: migration removal agreements(1) It must be a negotiating objective of His Majesty’s Government to negotiate with relevant States formal legally binding agreements to facilitate removals required under section 2.(2) Relevant international partners include (but are not limited to) the States listed in section 57.(3) Within the period of one month beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and every three months thereafter, the Secretary of State must—(a) publish a report outlining the status of negotiations with relevant States on the establishment of formal legally binding agreements to facilitate removals, and(b) lay the report before both Houses of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause would require the Government to seek formal return agreements with other states, including Albania and EU member states, and to report regularly to Parliament on the status of those negotiations.

My Lords, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Murray—and the Committee will know straightaway that this is obviously a probing amendment, but it is none the less significant, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s visit to Dover this morning and some of the comments and announcements made there. It is particularly important, because some of our objections to the Bill deal with not only some of the principles but some of the practicalities and what we regard as the unworkable measures within it. With this amendment, I hope to concentrate more on the practicalities and on how some of this is simply unworkable, or certainly needs more justification from the Minister. Groups of amendments that we may debate later today or on another day deal with many of the principles underlying criteria for returns and those who are detained before they are returned. But, through Amendment 13 in particular, I hope we can deal with how all this will work.

I will cite a number of facts, and I am particularly keen for the Minister to understand that I am using Home Office figures. It is always helpful to use the Government’s figures to highlight some of the points because, presumably, they do not question their own figures, although sometimes I wonder whether that is the case. To help the Minister, I say that these are the latest figures—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, is always keen for us to use the latest figures—from 25 May 2023. If the Minister has any from after that, some of what I will say clearly may not be as accurate as it might be—but it is important to confirm the context within which we debate the returns agreements.

The number of asylum seekers awaiting a decision is now 172,758, and it continues to rise. The number of asylum seekers waiting for more than six months for a decision is 128,812. Of these, 78,954 are legacy cases. On small boats, starting with 2022—I know that the Prime Minister was keen to talk about 2023—can the Minister explain to the Committee how on earth the Government have got themselves into a situation where we need an illegal migrants Bill when, of the 45,000 people who crossed in small boats last year, only 1% have been processed? How on earth is that a policy? It does not matter what policy you have if the systems do not work, or only process that amount. How on earth are we supposed to get on top of this problem, which we all want to deal with?

So far, 7,610 people have come across in small boats this year. Where are the 4,657 people who have come across since 7 March detained? What is the Government’s presumption about where they will be returned to? Let us start with the small boats that have arrived since 7 March. We will come to discuss the wider issues much more, but I hope that noble Lords can see some of the context.

As I have already asked, if all the people who have arrived irregularly since 7 March are to be removed, where will they be removed to? Where are they staying now, and how much is it costing? Can the Minister confirm the House of Commons Library figure that, as of June 2022, there were 38,900 people waiting for removal? That number is before we even get to the figures on illegal boats; we cannot even deport or remove people whose asylum claims were presumably refused years ago. What has happened to them and where are they? Do the Government know? What is the actual figure if that figure is wrong? Where are they being returned to? Are we ignoring them, or are they being returned? Do we have returns agreements for them?

Can the Minister comment on the interesting dilemma of who will be returned first: the people who have come irregularly since 7 March or the people whose asylum claims were refused and are subject to deportation before this legislation? Presumably, some of those people have been waiting for detention for a considerable period of time.

Can the Minister say, in practical terms, how he expects the returns agreements to cope? I reassure him, again, that I am citing the Government’s 25 May document. How will the Government cope with the returns agreements, given that the number of enforced returns in 2022 was 46% lower than in 2019? Significantly, of those enforced returns, many were EU nationals or foreign national prisoners. Can the Minister also confirm the government figures that say that the number of case workers dealing with asylum claims fell between January and May 2023? As I have said, at the heart of my amendment are the huge numbers waiting to be returned already.

The Government are to detain all people arriving irregularly and then have agreements to return them, which are supposedly in place. Given the contentious figures we have seen in the media over the weekend, what is the Government’s planning figure for the numbers that they expect to detain? The Prime Minister can announce, in Dover, that there are two more barges coming, even though he has no idea where they are or what size they are. While I hope that the Minister can prove me wrong, why can the Prime Minister announce that without the Minister giving us the full detail, as we debate the Bill, as to where people will now be detained? More importantly, given that detainment is the first stage, where will they then be returned to? What is the Government’s estimate of the total cost of those detain and return figures? Is the figure of up to £6 billion over the next two years wrong or not?

According to the briefing that was helpfully published for us by the House of Lords Library,

“Researchers at UK in a Changing Europe have argued that ‘the most significant change’ to asylum policy recently occurred when the UK left the EU”—

which we did. It continues:

“This meant the UK was no longer part of the Dublin Regulation, also referred to as Dublin III. This EU legislation sets out which member state handles the examination of an asylum application, often the country where an asylum seeker first arrives. No agreement between the EU and UK on asylum policy was made when the UK left Dublin III”.

The significant sentence from that briefing is that no returns agreements have since been made, although the UK says that it intends to agree bilateral arrangements with EU member states for the return of asylum seekers—unless Albania counts, although it is not a member of the EU. Can the Minister tell us how that is going? Can he list for us what those returns agreements are, and how many returns each of those various EU countries will get?

This morning, the Prime Minister himself made much of the Anglo-French agreement, saying that it was a great step forward that would no doubt help us. He said that progress has been made, and, because we obviously do not want people crossing the channel in that way, arrangements were made between France and the UK. Unfortunately, as the House of Lords briefing points out:

“A further agreement with France, in which the UK agreed to fund enforcement measures, was signed on 10 March 2023. However, this agreement does not enable the UK to return asylum seekers to France”.

Can the Minister say whether there are ongoing negotiations on that, and where have they got to?

These are detailed questions, but I hope noble Lords will see that much of the debate in this amendment is, quite rightly, about principle. It is about who should be returned or not, what their rights should be, what the human rights should be and whether potential victims of modern slavery or trafficking should be included. I have tried to highlight the fact that the Government’s whole asylum policy is in chaos. It is unclear exactly who is going to be returned and to where, and where the Government are going to detain people before they are returned. Is it not clear that much of the Illegal Migration Bill is simply unworkable and that the Government in practice will not be able to remove significant numbers of people seeking protection in the UK?

At its heart, how many claimants are there from before 7 March who have been refused asylum and are waiting to be deported and where do the Government expect them to be deported to? How many people assumed to be inadmissible since 7 March are waiting to be deported? Where do the Government expect them to go to? What planning assumptions are the Government working to? They will exist within the Home Office. What budget are the Government expecting to use for dealing with all this?

My Lords, to help the Minister with the questions he has just been asked, can I add a quite straightforward and simple one? Is it the Government’s intention that return and removal agreements will be made with every country in Schedule 1 to the Bill to which they are seeking to remove people?

My question is even more simple: where is the impact assessment? I think the purpose of impact assessments is to inform the legislative decision. We hear that there will be an impact assessment and it will be produced shortly, but it seems unlikely to be produced while this Bill is being considered in this House. I think that is rather insulting, particularly as the Government rest their intellectual case on the deterrent effect. They say that the numbers will go down as word gets about of how people are to be treated, what “inadmissibility” means and how it is to be applied.

I am strongly against that on legal grounds—I think we should honour our international commitments—and humanitarian grounds, but it is impossible just to consider this argument on its merits if we cannot see the assumptions underlying the Government’s judgment of the impact. The questions from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, are all extremely apposite and I look forward to the answers to them, but it seems to me that in relation to the deterrent effect, the impact assessment—wherever it is, whenever we will see it—will have to consider why people leave their home country and seek asylum far away. Why are they coming here? Will they be deterred by talk of us getting more brutal? We are going to get more brutal if we pass this Bill, but we are not going to get half as brutal as the conditions of the countries from which they are fleeing—75% of those seeking asylum in this country are found by the processes to have a well-founded fear of death or persecution back home.

Talk of pull factors is all nonsense: it is all about push factors. They are fleeing from horrors, from famine, from massacre, from murder and from war. It is difficult to see the deterrent factor as likely to be to be large, given the scale of the factors that are bringing about the flow. The impact assessment may prove me wrong. Certainly, the Government should, if they have the courage of their convictions, produce the evidence and the assumptions that underlie these convictions, and they should do it before we finish considering the Bill.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that one of the underlying provisions that we should know about is the safe and legal routes that we are told will deal with any number of people? Situations change so fast. I am not sure we had quite started the Bill when Sudan flared up as it did. There is an awful lot we need to know in order to know how the Bill will work.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness; I should have mentioned the point myself. I am concerned that the Government keep saying that the UNHCR runs safe and legal routes and that it is perfectly possible for someone in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan to register with UNHCR, which will see them right. It is simply not true. UNHCR has again said so, formally and on the record. It does not run a clearing house. It does not run a general scheme open to all. It is able to cope with approximately, it says, 1% of the demand.

It is the case that if you are a persecuted young woman in Iran, there is no safe and legal route by which you can come to this country. If you are fleeing in Sudan from the war that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to, there is no safe and legal route to the United Kingdom. UNHCR does not stand up the Government’s story that it is the fallback, the clearing house, that we can always turn to. It says it cannot do that. Obviously, it cannot do that; it is not resourced to do that. I agree that the impact assessment, in considering the deterrent effect on what the Government call illegal immigration, must address the question of how people from war-torn, famine-struck, civil war countries can achieve a legal route.

My Lords, it is an absolute privilege to follow such a distinguished former Permanent Secretary to the Foreign department. To return to my noble friend’s amendment, it may seem a little counterintuitive or surprising for me to welcome a probing amendment about removal and about a duty to negotiate removal agreements, but I do. The reason is that there is actually a greater and stronger link between the principles that we have been discussing and the practice that my noble friend is considering here, because in this neck of the woods, in particular, the two go together.

I say, with respect to the Committee, that it would have been wise for the Government to have thought about a duty to negotiate removal agreements before they proposed to legislate for a duty to remove. The sin is to have duties to remove with nowhere to remove people to, and duties to detain with no ability to remove, because that leads to indefinite detention.

There were all the arguments that we had on the last illegal Bill, and the arguments that we will have again about whether refugees and asylum seekers should be allowed to work after a period of time. People argued about pull factors, and some of us said that there were push factors, not pull factors. But if people’s claims were being considered quickly, including of those who did not qualify for asylum—who were genuinely illegal migrants and never qualified for asylum—some of us would have no problem with the principle or practice of having a short period of arrest and detention for the purposes of facilitating a lawful removal.

My noble friend Lord Coaker has really hit the nail on the head. What is the practice here? If there is no practical agreement to remove people to whichever country they are from, and people are in practice irremovable, that is where the cruelty comes in. That is a cruelty towards people who are detained for lengthy periods, quite possibly at great public expense, in inappropriate accommodation; this could include accompanied or unaccompanied children not being housed or detained appropriately, not being educated, and so on. That is the sin—the terrible maladministration and lack of good practice, which is then translated into this culture war via more draconian legislation for a general election that will no doubt be sloganed, “Stop the boats”. We do not stop the boats, but we do not welcome the vulnerable people either, so we perpetrate this great swindle on the British people. We toxify a debate that needs to be handled much more temperately, and we do not achieve anything very much at all.

The final link between principle and practice in this area is that, in this amendment, we are talking about a duty on the Secretary of State to negotiate these practical removal agreements for those people who do not meet the tests and do not qualify in the end as refugees. In this probing amendment we are talking about that duty and asking whether it does not need to be a duty because the Secretary of State genuinely wants to negotiate. To go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said before the break, whether that is the case or not, who will negotiate with us? We have heard some flummery from the Benches opposite about how international law is not real law—“We have a dualist system and let me not give you a law lecture, but it’s not real law, it’s only international law”. If our word is not our bond, who will negotiate with us?

There is currently a contradiction at the heart of government between those who want to be leaders on the world stage, with all the challenges that have to be met internationally at the moment, and those who want a culture war. My understanding is that the Prime Minister is now saying not only that we are going to be part of the Council of Europe and honour our international commitments but that we are going to be the architects of new ones. London is apparently going to be at the heart of regulating artificial intelligence—this is where it is all going to happen. But why should anyone allow us that moral leadership on the world stage, if we will not honour international law?

I look forward to the answers to my noble friend’s questions about the moment when principle really does need to meet practice.

My Lords, perhaps the Minister can help us here. Is not it the case that, without removal agreements, the Bill is likely to make the current situation worse in terms of costs to the Exchequer? As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has said, if people are not able to work, and they are not allowed the right to remain but cannot be removed, they will have to be looked after by the state. The difficulty that the Minister has is that, without an impact assessment, there are all sorts of organisations that are filling that vacuum. The vacuum was filled at the weekend—and the estimated additional costs of this Bill were £3 billion to £6 billion in additional accommodation needed to detain those people who could not be removed.

Can the Minister explain how international agreements to resolve the global migration issue are likely to be entered into when other countries see the UK appearing to adopt a policy of preventing all but a handful of asylum seekers claiming refugee status in the United Kingdom? I accept that the Government are hoping that the Bill will act as a deterrent. I wonder whether the Minister has seen the Times today and the article titled:

“Rishi Sunak’s migration plan ‘based on demented assumptions’”.

According to the Times, Home Office research last year concluded that there was “no evidence” that hostile policies changed the behaviour of migrants. Can the Minister confirm or deny that they are accurate quotes from Home Office research?

My Lords, I hesitated to come in before and I apologise for not participating at Second Reading, but I followed the debate closely. I must declare an interest: I have been instructed before by the Government as a member of the Bar on matters relating to the subject matter of the Bill. But I can speak freely on Amendment 13 because it is not anything on which I advise. I wish to speak in support of it.

The negotiation of removal or readmission agreements is, of course, a matter for the Government and not for Parliament. But there are many examples in treaty negotiations of Governments invoking pressure from their parliaments—or even from their courts—as a reason for not being able to make a concession or for insisting on concessions from the other side. It seems to me that it might end up strengthening the hand of the Government in these negotiations if they are able to say that Parliament is insisting on them.

The most difficult negotiation is, as we have heard, with the European Union. The European Union is not opposed to readmission agreements. On the contrary, it concluded a number of them with many countries, from Turkey to Belarus. Incidentally, the readmission agreements with Belarus and Russia have been suspended, quite rightly, because of the situation that has arisen. A number of us, I think, would have regarded those agreements as problematic from a human rights point of view even before that.

The reason why a readmission agreement with the UK is difficult is that the UK is a country from which European Union member states would have to take people back, rather than send them back. The Government published a draft readmission agreement for negotiation with the EU in the summer of 2020. That text is still available on the government website. If the EU had accepted that treaty, it would have allowed the UK to send people back to EU member states—not only permanent residents and nationals, but also third-country nationals who have transited through an EU member state. The provisions in that draft treaty proposed by the UK were identical to a number of provisions found in readmission agreements concluded by the European Union, including the one with Turkey. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong about this, but I think that negotiations with the EU on the Government’s draft proposal never took off.

It is worth noting that both the UK and the EU—and that includes the EU in its own capacity and EU member states—are subject to quite wide-ranging treaty obligations on both migrant smuggling and human trafficking. These treaties impose various obligations of international co-operation, including, in the case of the migrant smuggling protocol, the obligation to

“cooperate to the fullest extent possible to prevent and suppress the smuggling of migrants by sea”.

Generally speaking, these are obligations of conduct rather than by result. They do not oblige the EU to accept the terms of the treaty proposed by the UK. They do, however, require the EU, EU member states and all parties to those treaties to engage in good faith negotiations with the UK on readmission, particularly where very similar treaties have been concluded in other contexts. It would be a very unattractive position for any party to these treaties to take the view that they are open to readmission agreements only when they are in their interest and not when they are not.

It seems to me that Amendment 13 would bring some of these questions to the surface by requiring the Government to update Parliament on the status of these negotiations and on the reasons why these negotiations might not be progressing. That is outlined in subsection (3) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 13. It would not be a case of government and Parliament speaking with separate voices; on the contrary, it would be a case of Parliament adding its voice and adding pressure for the purposes of achieving an objective that both Parliament and government consider important.

My final point concerns the language of “formal legally binding agreements” in subsection (1). It is broadly right that this should be the optimum arrangement—the formal legally binding agreement—but it is also the case in this sort of practice that states will often conclude agreements that are not binding. The European Union has two such agreements with Guinea and the Gambia. For various reasons, those agreements, in some cases, are more appropriate. My understanding—and the Minister will, again, correct me if I am wrong—is that the arrangement with Albania that was announced a few weeks ago is actually part of a non-binding arrangement that was built on an existing treaty. The treaty itself is the one from 2021, but the further agreement that was announced by the Prime Ministers at their recent meeting is an example of such a non-binding agreement that can, in certain circumstances, be a better way of achieving that same objective. I would agree, however, with the notion that the formal and legally binding agreement is the gold standard in this kind of situation.

My Lords, this Bill sets out a duty on the Secretary of State to make arrangements for the removal of a person who has arrived in or entered the UK illegally and satisfies the four conditions set out in Clause 2. In the majority of cases, formal returns agreements are not required in order to carry out removals. Most countries co-operate with returns, and these relationships are managed through official-led engagement with immigration counterparts in receiving countries and through consular services based in the UK. Returns agreements can be a useful tool to solidify or improve returns co-operation and are sometimes requested by the receiving country. We carefully consider whether it is beneficial to enter into negotiations to formalise a returns relationship, having regard to the potential requests that the other side would seek to incorporate into an agreement, such as a liberalisation of the UK visa requirements in respect of their nationals.

As of May 2023, the Home Office has 16 returns agreements in place. Recent additions to the list include Albania, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Just last week, the Prime Minister announced the start of negotiations on a new returns agreement with Moldova. A number of these agreements are sensitive, and receiving countries might withdraw co-operation if they are publicised, so it would be detrimental to formalise and publish all such agreements. There are also some countries where the existing security and country situation might prevent returns taking place, such as Sudan and Afghanistan. We continue to monitor the situation closely in those countries with a view to resuming enforced returns as soon as is practicable and safe.

I should add that, while returns agreements have a valuable role to play, they are not silver bullets. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has, in terms, accused this Government of ripping up the Dublin convention, but may I just remind the noble Lord that the UK was a net recipient of migrants under the Dublin scheme? As my honourable friend Tim Loughton said in the other place:

“In the last year that we were covered by the Dublin convention, before the pandemic struck, we applied to the EU for 8,500 returns under that returns agreement and only 105 were granted—that is 1.2%—so what he says is complete nonsense. It did not work when we were in the EU, and he is now expecting to magic up some agreement that the EU will not give us anyway”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23, col. 792.]

Mr Loughton was, at that time, intervening on the speech of Stephen Kinnock in the other place.

In addition to the returns agreements, we also have our world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda. I remind the House that there is no limit on the numbers that can be relocated to Rwanda under the partnership agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, cited various figures, including in relation to the current asylum backlog. I remind noble Lords that, under Clause 4, any asylum claims made by persons who meet the conditions in Clause 2 are to be declared inadmissible. It is, of course, important to deal with the current backlog. The Prime Minister announced today that the initial decision legacy backlog is down by over 17,000, but there is no correlation between these legacy cases and the cohort to be removed under the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked about the impact assessment for the Bill. We have already published the equality impact assessment, and we will publish an economic impact assessment in due course. Noble Lords will have to wait patiently for the economic impact assessment. In the interim, I do not propose to comment on impact assessments issued by NGOs or leaks in the media.

I have a very important question. The noble Lord and government Ministers keep saying from the Dispatch Box, here and in the other place, that certain things will happen if the Bill goes through. Has the Home Office actually completed an impact assessment which clarifies exactly what the Minister is saying?

Certain things will happen when the Bill goes through; the system described within it will take effect. I assure the noble Lord that this is something that the Home Office expects to happen—that is, that returns will be effected in accordance with the duty imposed on the Secretary of State.

If the impact assessment is to be provided in a timely way—or if not—will the Minister ensure that it contains an estimate or assessment of the number of people who would have been granted asylum but will not be because they are excluded as a result of the blanket effects of the Bill?

It is not for me to dictate what is in the impact assessment. The department will provide the impact assessment in due course—

I will come back to the noble Lords in due course, but I need to make progress.

The broken asylum system costs the UK £3 billion a year, and that is rising. There seems to be an impression that, without the Bill, those costs will not continue to rise at an alarming rate year on year. Doing nothing is not an option.

In conclusion, I agree with the noble Lord that returns agreements have a place, and we will seek to negotiate these where appropriate. By their nature, any such negotiations involve two parties. The UK cannot compel other countries to enter into such agreements; they are a two-way process. Moreover, it will not enhance such negotiations to require their status to be set out in a three-monthly report to be laid before Parliament.

My Lords, if I may, I remind the House that it is not required for a Minister to give way. However, your Lordships may like to recall that we are in Committee, and the normal procedure of Committee is that someone can intervene again. However, I think it is always helpful for the House to allow the Minister to complete his remarks—and then, doubtless, the noble Lord may wish to comment on them.

As I say, this will not advance our negotiating position—quite the contrary. This amendment could well make such negotiations harder. It does not help the UK’s negotiating position to be setting out its negotiating strategy in public. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

May we return to something that the noble Lord said a few moments ago? He said that it is not for him to dictate what appears in an impact assessment. If it is not for a Minister—either this Minister or one of his noble or honourable friends, either in this place or another—to dictate what appears in an impact assessment, for whom is it to determine what appears in one?

The noble Lord and I appear to be talking somewhat at cross purposes. My answer was that it was not for me as the Minister to inform the contents and the conclusions of the impact assessment; it is of course for the Minister to ask broadly for the topics that the impact assessment should cover.

Does the Minister understand that, if he answered the questions that your Lordships are asking, he would not experience this number of interventions? It is a rudeness not to answer our questions.

To take the noble Lord back to the question that was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, has the economic impact assessment been completed or not? If it has been, why do we not have it? If it has not been, surely it should have been informing the Bill itself.

How do the Government justify not having an impact statement until presumably the whole of this House has completed its dealing with the Bill? It seems to me outrageous. How can the Government justify that?

My noble friend must accept that the Bill can be expedited and the House can be satisfied if a proper impact assessment is produced in time for Report. The whole purpose of Committee is to probe, as we are doing this afternoon and so on. However, when it comes to Report, when the House has to make significant decisions on the most sensitive piece of legislation that has been before Parliament for a very long time, it is crucial that we have all the facts at our disposal.

Regardless of when the impact assessment will be published, the Minister keeps restating issues as fact. I therefore ask: have those facts been determined by a completed impact assessment that he and his colleagues have seen and signed off?

The Minister really should say whether an impact assessment was produced. I apologise for reverting; I was the one who raised the question of the impact statement. I am not terribly happy with the message that the Minister is conveying. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, put her finger on it. Presumably the Government did their own assessment of the impact of the policy that is reflected in the Bill; therefore, an impact assessment of some kind existed. If it did not exist, I do not know how the Government could have decided to adopt this policy. If it does exist—I am sure it does, in some form or another—the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, are surely right. We are being asked to take a decision without knowing its effect. We do not know—other than breaking humanitarian law and international commitments—what practical effect the Bill will have. Therefore, before we finish Committee, the Minister should change his line and let us have it.

I am afraid that I must disagree with the noble Lord. The point about the Bill is that we know that deterrence has effect, and we have seen that, as the Prime Minister announced this morning, in relation to the effect of our returns agreement with Albania.

I am grateful to the Minister for his patience. Could I try this another way in relation to the debate on the impact assessment? If I am wrong about this, I want to be set right. This is not a rhetorical question; this is a genuine question about the process and purpose behind these impact assessments. I had been thinking that the purpose of these various assessments by the department was that they become part of the case for the legislation in Parliament. The department does the drafting and the policy and that is the Bill, that will be law; and to back it up, it has its case based on the evidence that it has marshalled.

If I am right about that, that gives rise to the concerns about why we are going further and further down the legislative process before the court of Parliament—if you like—without the evidence base. Of course, that is particularly important in the case of so-called illegal migration, because public expense is such a concern in the public debate about immigration: cost-benefit economic analysis is always a keen part of the debate in the Committee, in Parliament and in the public square.

Finally, on this same point about process and the impact assessment, the Minister said earlier that it was not for him to dictate what would be in the impact assessment, and I do understand that, because no Minister would want to dictate that. However, if I am right, and the purpose of these assessments is that they are part of the Government’s case for the legislation, surely it is for the Minister and his colleagues at ministerial level to sign off on the quality of this work and the soundness of the proposition in it. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that. It is not a judicial process; it is an executive process of marshalling the economic case for this legislation.

There is no statutory requirement to have a public impact assessment in relation to items of public legislation. Indeed, as I understand it, many pieces of legislation do not have one at all; so it is not a statutory requirement, as perhaps the noble Baroness seemed to suggest. Clearly, there is work done in the department behind the development of policy, and an economic impact assessment is certainly not an essential part of that process; nor is it a fundamental part. It is a part and, as I say, it will be published in due course.

My Lords, surely this is not just about statutory requirements. Will the noble Lord contrast this with the way in which the right honourable Theresa May presented to Parliament the modern slavery legislation? That was dealt with by pre-legislative scrutiny, by consensus being developed across the political parties in another place, and by getting bicameral as well as bipartisan agreement around a similarly controversial question, much of which informs this particular Bill. Will the noble Lord accept, therefore, that the expressions that have been voiced around the Chamber are as much about the integrity of Parliament and the way we do things as they are about the substance of the Bill?

Well, I always listen intently to the noble Lord’s measured contributions. Of course, the key distinction between this Bill and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is that this Bill is to address an emergency presently affecting our country and to stop people drowning in the channel. That is why this measure has to be taken through Parliament at pace—in order to put in place a deterrent effect that stops those journeys being made.

My Lords, the Minister has made reference to the reduction in the number of Albanians using the cross-channel route, which is the object of this Bill. I think many of us strongly welcome and support what the Government did to negotiate with Albania and return people who are economic migrants. But would he not recognise that all that is happening under powers in the Nationality and Borders Act? It is nothing to do with the legislation before us. It is not relevant, frankly, to the case of Albania. So, it would be best not to pray in aid the welcome reduction in the number of Albanians crossing the channel, which is being dealt with under existing legislation. Is that not true?

Hesitate as I do to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, relates to returns agreements. We have negotiated with Albania an effective arrangement allowing for the return of Albanians. It is more to do with that, I suggest, than with the 2022 Bill, although of course it all plays its part. It is an example which demonstrates that deterrents work.

My Lords, the Committee is entitled to ask what the Minister means by “in due course”. Specifically, will the impact assessment be available before Report? My thinking is that the House should not allow the Bill to begin Report without the impact assessment being available.

I hear what the noble Lord says. I will take back his comments, and those of others, and we can reflect on them.

My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, can the Minister write to him, and put a copy of the letter in the Library, on whether the impact assessment will be published before Report,?

My Lords, as an economist I am aware of the fallibility of economic forecasts. The Governor of the Bank of England had to admit recently that the forecast for the inflationary effect was 30 years out of date. We should be wary of placing too much reliance on economic forecasts as part of any impact assessment.

Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has just said, there must be some understanding of what the likely effect will be, based on international evidence and so forth. The Government have not gone into this totally blind. Nevertheless, we are talking here about a novel situation. We just do not know what is likely to happen as a result of a deterrent effect. We do not know what effect the Nationalities and Borders Act has had, and we do not know what effect this will have. We should therefore be a little guarded about the value and importance of an impact assessment in this case.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for that intervention; he makes a very good point, with which I agree. Economic assessments are guarded with caveats, like any other economic forecast.

My Lords, I will be very happy to agree or disagree with whatever impact assessment arises, when I see it. How can we possibly take the advice just offered and make an opinion about something that might or might not be accurate until we see what to base our judgment on? It is an extraordinary, circular argument, from someone who wants to give a fig leaf to the Minister.

I hear what the noble Lord says, but in any Bill the economic impact assessment—where one is provided, which is not in every case—is only ever one piece of the documentation that is available in support of a Bill. The impact assessment will be published in due course; I am afraid I cannot give the noble Lord any more information. I hear what he says, and the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and will take their comments back to the department.

My Lords, on 24 May, the Minister said the same thing: that he would take our concerns back to the department. There have been nearly two weeks for the department to reflect and act on our concerns about the economic impact assessment and the child rights impact assessment—which some of us consider to be even more important.

I am sure that the Minister did not mean to ignore the questions that I put to him. Perhaps he has not had the chance to read today’s Times. Can he write to me on the veracity of the reports in today’s Times and, while doing so, respond to the article in the Telegraph saying that the Home Office has failed to identify sufficient detention spaces as required by the Treasury?

As the noble Lord well knows, it is not government policy to comment on leaks. That is a fairly long-standing convention. I do not propose to do so now.

My Lords, I think the Government and the Minister are in a mess on this, particularly given the fact that the Minister cannot reassure us about the impact assessment.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, put it at the beginning but I was going to finish by saying that the reason I put forward Amendment 13 was to try to get some of the detail that is necessary for parliamentarians to actually make decisions about whether or not a law is fit for purpose. The Minister is now in real trouble through the rest of the Committee, not just on this amendment, which I particularly posed around returns. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned that a number of questions were asked, including by me, and that the Minister failed to answer virtually any of them—apart from those on the Dublin III agreement, which, if I might say, was something that would have been in the impact assessment. The Minister said that what I said was “complete nonsense”. I would not have used that term about another noble Lord, but he called what I said complete nonsense. Having said that, the impact assessment is crucial.

Nobody has a clue what “in due course” means. My noble friend Lady Lister made the point that I have got written down: on 24 May, the Minister committed himself to taking back the concerns that there was not an impact assessment. Can the Minister confirm that he has taken those back already? If so, why is he saying that he is going to take back the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others mentioned today? His answer should have been that he had already taken the concerns back and they are being discussed in the department.

Shall I tell the Minister why this is so serious? I know from my own ministerial times—as I am sure that others here who have served either as civil servants or Ministers will know—that there will be planning assumptions in the department. They have not just made it up—a few people from here, a few people from there; there will be planning assumptions. That is where the figure in the Times which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to has come from. Whether or not it is a leak, there is a figure of between £3 billion and £6 billion as to the cost over the next two years of the Government’s policy. There will be assumptions about the numbers of detainees and assumptions about the numbers who are going to be removed. All of those assumptions are available and in the Home Office. The Minister will have had some discussions about that. Of course he should be involved in the impact assessment. He will take the advice of civil servants but, in the end, with the Home Secretary, he will have to sign it off. The impact assessment will be signed off by Ministers. He will not write it but he will sign it off, or other Ministers will.

The Minister has available to him facts and figures that this Committee does not have. How on earth can you properly legislate on that basis? How can we say that the Minister, as he will have on some things, has a good point? I will say something and then he will say, “Lord Coaker hasn’t thought about that; if he had seen these facts, he would know that”. I would have to concede, because there are facts.

We are not yet in a Trumpian world of competing facts; we have facts. That is what every single noble Lord in this Chamber has asked the Government for. In order to make proper decisions, whether about returns agreements as in my Amendment 13 or other decisions, it is a convention that those facts are made available. At the very least, they should be made available before Report—they should be made available now. You can have an impact assessment and an economic impact assessment, or you can put the two together.

In effect, we are whistling in the dark. We have no idea what half of this means. I asked the Minister how many people are currently waiting to be deported, both pre 7 March and post 7 March, and how many the Government assume will be able to be returned. Where are the returns agreements? It is perfectly reasonable to ask the Minister responsible for the operation of the Illegal Migration Bill to say practically how it is going to work.

I said that the debate about principle will have to come but I am also interested in the unworkability of what has been said. The Minister took me on about Dublin III. What about the rest of it? Where are all the other facts and figures? This Committee has no idea. The Minister will have them; I read them out from his own statistics. Why did he not just repeat the public facts available about the Bill?

I know that we need to move on. I understand that and it is fair comment that I am now going on too long. But it is of such importance that we have the facts normally made available as a convention, a courtesy and a good way of doing legislation. They should be put before parliamentarians as they make decisions, debate, discuss and argue. Opinions will clash. People will think that some of what I say is rubbish and complete nonsense, but that is what happens in a debating chamber. It cannot happen if one hand is tied behind our backs. The Minister needs to publish that impact assessment as soon as possible. To do that “in due course” is not good enough. He needs to go back to the Home Secretary and tell her we need it to be published because we need to see the facts as we discuss the legislation. That is what every one of us thinks is important, and it should happen as soon as possible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Clause 3: Unaccompanied children and power to provide for exceptions

Amendment 14

Moved by

14: Clause 3, page 4, line 24, leave out “at a time when the person is an unaccompanied child” and insert “if the person is a child or arrived in the UK as a child, whether born or in utero”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 15. Even without an impact assessment, we know that Clause 2 and subsequent clauses will ensure that anyone coming to this country not through one of the incredibly limited safe routes faces likely detention and removal. Irrespective of the persecution, torture or whatever they have been through in the past, this is what they will face coming to this country under the Bill.

We formulated these two amendments originally in relation to unaccompanied children, but it seemed wrong on reflection that these protections should be limited in that way. Therefore, Amendment 14 now aims to ensure that the Secretary of State will not have the duty to arrange for the removal at the age of 18 of any person who arrived in the UK as a child. Amendment 15 would ensure that if, under Clause 3(2), the Secretary of State made arrangements for the removal of a person from the UK and the person came to the UK as a child, then such removal could take place only if it was in the best interests of the child. Amendment 17 would achieve the same protection for unaccompanied children, and I very much support it.

These amendments and others are vital in addressing the profound concerns of the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium. It points out that the Bill, and in particular Clause 3, are an affront to the refugee convention, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989. If unamended, the measures in the Bill will have severe consequences for the welfare and physical and mental health of extremely vulnerable children who have fled conflict, persecution and other unimaginable harms. We do not have an impact assessment, the detail or the numbers, but the Bill will affect every child arriving in the UK who has not come by one of the very limited safe routes. These apply to Ukraine and Hong Kong—to put things simply. If one comes from Afghanistan, Sudan or one of those other very high-risk places, there are simply no safe routes for one to take.

As the Bill stands, trafficked children will be locked out of refugee protection. Instead, they will be detained by the Home Office outside the care system in entirely unsuitable, unacceptable accommodation without proper medical or mental health care, and removed at the age of 18. Those children will include a substantial number who are brought here as modern slaves. They have not chosen to come here. They have not come here voluntarily but have been brought against their will. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have two amendments down, and I very much support Amendments 14, 18 and 27 in particular. “The best interests of the child” has become well known across the United Kingdom. It probably started in the United Nations’ rights of the child. It is to be found, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, in the Children Act 1989, and all lawyers who deal with children work with it. It has become a guiding light, even for Governments of all sorts. It really is quite extraordinary that the current Government have gone almost exactly opposite to the rights of the child and, more important than the rights, the best interests of the child.

I have to say that over all the years that I have seen the Conservative Party, with all my family before me as Conservatives, and one a Minister, I cannot believe I have ever seen a situation where children were as disregarded and downgraded as this Government have done in this Bill. I cannot believe it represents what I might call the basic philosophy of a great party that has been in power, this time, since 2010. I am truly sad about it.

I have put down Amendment 16A, which is a probing amendment, as I need to know what the impact of the law is. I believe this came, though not to me, from the Children’s Commissioner for England. The scenario that she had in mind was a mother who was pregnant, who came to this country, the child was born and the mother died. The child was placed in care as a baby—I would be surprised if the Government kept a baby and did not put it to the local authority; at least I would hope so—and the local authority, because there was no family, placed the child for adoption with a British family or a family resident in this country. What happens to that child under this Bill at the age of 18? As far as I understand it, a child adopted by a British family would not automatically have British citizenship or may not have it—I am no expert on immigration—at the age of 18. Is that child, by now a member of a new family in this country, to be removed at 18? That is a legal question to which I do not know the answer, and it is crucial that that answer is given to us before we get to Report.

It is not only the children who are probably adopted at birth. I rather hope the Government are not going to keep young children, because there will be other parents who die and leave a child without a parent in this country, particularly younger children. Are younger children, not 16 or 17 year-olds, going to be kept by the Government in some sort of accommodation? Surely those children would be put into the care of a local authority under the requirements of the Children Act 1989. I would be astonished if they were not taken. If they go into care and they are young, they are very likely to be placed in a foster family. If they are placed in a foster family as a young child, they will grow up going to an English school, like the baby, and living an English life.

If they come from Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq or another country from which their family has fled, are they to be sent back there, where they may or may not have family? Or are they to be sent somewhere else, such as Rwanda? They may not necessarily be of white extraction, but they may not be of the extraction of the country to which they go, and they will not know a single person. When they have been brought up in a happy family in this country—most foster families are happy—I cannot believe that this Government can bring themselves to remove them at the age of 18. That is why I have put these two amendments down and strongly support the others.

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 17, spoken to so powerfully by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to which I have added my name; but I support any amendment that serves to take out or restrict the duty/power to remove anyone who arrived as a child—in particular, that tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs.

As the Children’s Commissioner has made clear:

“Children must be able to claim asylum”.

Indeed, it is only last year that the then Minister assured us that

“unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will not be subject to inadmissibility”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/12/21; col. 311.]

and current Home Office guidance sets out in bold:

“Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are not suitable for the inadmissibility processes”.

So will the Minister explain why they are considered suitable now, and on what evidence this policy volte-face is based?

I put my name to Amendment 17 because it gives the Committee the opportunity to consider whether the Bill is compatible with the duty under the UNCRC, enshrined in Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, to treat the best interests of the child as a primary consideration—a crucial issue, which we have touched on already.

Recently, the Government told the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that they remained “fully committed” to upholding the principles set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. That is, of course, welcome, yet the civil society alternative report on the UK’s implementation of the UN convention observed:

“The best interests principle is often applied tokenistically for children in the immigration system, with no evidence of a structured assessment or explanation, and decisions and policies are routinely made that are contrary to children’s well-being”.

The UN Committee, which reported on Friday, noted “with concern” that the best interests principle “is not systematically applied” in all matters affecting children and states that it should be. As the committee goes on observe, this Bill is no exception.

The UN committee’s general comment number 14 on the best interests principle makes it clear that its operation requires certain procedural guarantees and that

“the justification of a decision must show that the right has been explicitly taken into account. In this regard, States parties shall explain how the right has been respected in the decision, that is, what has been considered to be in the child’s best interests; what criteria it is based on; and how the child’s interests have been weighed against other considerations, be they broad issues of policy or individual cases”.

It spells out that

“primary consideration means that the child’s interests have high priority and not just one of several considerations. Therefore a larger weight must be attached to what serves the child best”.

This requires a child rights impact assessment that needs to be built in

“as early as possible in the development of policy”.

Yet here we are, on the second day in Committee, the Bill having already passed through the Commons and Second Reading in the Lords without any such impact assessment and, as I noted earlier, despite the Minister promising the Committee to take the matter back to his department nearly a fortnight ago. Where is it?

If it had been built in as early as possible in the development of the policy, it should have been available at the same time as the Bill was published, with an assessment of the impact on both accompanied and unaccompanied children. Instead, we have what can be described only as a superficial treatment of the best interests question in the equality impact assessment—which finally appeared on the morning of Second Reading in the Lords. The bland statement that the best interests duty is

“not the only factor that must be considered and other relevant factors must be taken into account”

is simply not good enough. There is also no provision to assess the best interests of individual children, unaccompanied or accompanied, before the decision is made to deem them inadmissible.

That the duty to remove does not apply until the age of 18 for unaccompanied children, and that the government amendment sets out the main situations in which the power to remove before that age might be used, represent no more than partial and inadequate mitigation. The Children’s Commissioner has made it clear that the government amendment

“does not go far enough. The power could still be used to remove children in ‘other circumstances’ which are not detailed”.

Could the Minister therefore explain what the “other circumstances” are in which the power to remove unaccompanied children might be used? How will it be determined if it is safe for a child to be returned to their home country?

In the supplementary ECHR memorandum, the Government acknowledge that the clause, as amended,

“is likely to engage Article 8 where an unaccompanied child … is not removed for potentially some years … in which time”


“may have built some considerable family and/or private life”

in the UK. The fact that the majority may be aged 16 or 17 does not alter that.

I found the justification for such interference with Article 8 quite breathtaking: namely, that it was

“in accordance with the law and necessary in a democratic society”.

Could the Minister explain how exactly treating children in this appalling way is necessary in a democratic society? This also applies to the duty to remove children once they reach the age of 18. ILPA reminds us that the Court of Appeal has observed:

“It is not easy to see that risks of the relevant kind to a person who is a child would continue until the eve of that [18th] birthday, and cease at once the next day”.

A number of health and social work organisations have drawn attention to the likely impact on a child’s mental, and possibly physical, health of knowing they will be removed once they reach 18. It will undermine their education and any chances of integration. Try and put yourself in the shoes of a child or young person who knows that they are here only on sufferance and that the clock is running down towards their removal. It is no way to live a life at any age, but particularly not your childhood.

The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium notes that, in the past, unaccompanied children were typically

“granted temporary leave to remain until they turned 17½”.

As a consequence, the fear of removal meant that many children disappeared underground

“at extreme risk of exploitation and … danger of self-harm”

and even suicide.

This fear is echoed by the Children’s Commissioner, who has warned that the duty to remove at 18

“will make it incredibly hard to safeguard unaccompanied children, as they will likely go missing rather than be deported, leaving them very vulnerable to exploitation”.

These considerations, especially the dangers of exploitation in this country, based on experience, must surely trump the hypothetical fears used to justify the duty by Ministers—that, otherwise, children will be exploited by smugglers and traffickers. Again, this point was made by the Children’s Commissioner in her opposition to the duty to remove at 18.

According to the Refugee Council’s impact assessment, we could be talking about 13,000 to nearly 15,000 unaccompanied children per year. Let us not forget that, as the Children’s Society reminds us, these are children who are scared and traumatised, and who need security, support and the opportunity to experience their childhoods.

The Immigration Minister tried to reassure MPs that

“all the Ministers involved in the Bill’s preparation have thought very carefully about how we can protect children”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23; col. 837.]

But I am afraid he has failed to reassure the Children’s Commissioner, international human rights organisations, medical and social work organisations and children’s and refugee organisations. He has also failed to reassure the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has called on the Government to “urgently amend” the Bill to abandon all provisions

“that would have the effect of violating children’s rights under the Convention and the 1951 Refugee Convention”.

Thus, if the Government genuinely want to protect children, they will at the very least accept some of the amendments proposed today and subsequently. But really, they should remove children entirely from the scope of the Bill, as called for by UNICEF.

My Lords, it is a challenge for a mere male to follow the three previous speakers, but my name is on Amendment 22, so I must attempt it. Amendment 22 would prevent unaccompanied children being automatically deemed inadmissible if they came by an irregular route.

Overall, 86% of the unaccompanied children currently going through the asylum process are given permission to stay, including nearly 100%—over 99%—from Afghanistan, over 99% from Eritrea and over 96% from Sudan. But only 6% of these children granted protection and found to have a valid case for asylum here came through the official government schemes. They had to come by an irregular route because there was no other way for them. Putting these two facts together, the Bill asks us to rule out the possibility of even considering the vast majority of unaccompanied children’s cases. That seems not to be in keeping with British tradition, and it is certainly not in keeping with Articles 3 and 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.

Therefore, although I support all the amendments in this group, I strongly support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to which I added my name.

My Lords, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke movingly about her connections with the Conservative Party. Along with my good and noble friend Lord Tugendhat, I was privileged to enter the other place on 18 June 1970, almost 53 years ago, along with her brother Michael Havers, who of course became a distinguished Lord Chancellor and, tragically, died very young. But, when she made those references, I thought of him and us, and I thought that our motivation could be summed up in that well-known term “one-nation Conservative”. I am extremely proud of what my party has done over the centuries—it has a long history—and I am troubled about some of the Bill’s implications.

I apologise for not being able to take part at Second Reading, because of my wife’s illness. This is my first full day back, as it were, although I will be off again soon. I thought of those great figures of the past: my parliamentary hero, William Wilberforce, as well as Shaftesbury and others. They could not have signed up to what is before us today.

In our party, we have a particular responsibility to defend our heritage; it has made it a great party and enabled it to govern longer and more frequently than any other. That should make us both proud and humble. We have to be careful, having had a very turbulent and difficult few years, with one Prime Minister who disgraced his inheritance and another who was so briefly in office that she was able only to display her incompetence. We have a great heritage; we have a duty to defend it and to imbue the legislation we bring before Parliament with some of the traditional Conservative values. Those values are not uniquely ours; we share them with other great parties. We need to stand up for our history, and I hope that, when my noble friend the Minister comes to reply, he will realise that some of the points that have been made in this very brief debate are inimical with our Conservative heritage. We have to recognise that. I beg my noble friend on the Front Bench—

I hope my noble friend is listening, because I hope he will realise that he too is an inheritor of a great Conservative tradition; we must not be a Government who turn our back on that. Of course, the problem that the Bill is seeking to deal with is real, but it can be dealt with using a greater degree of sensitivity, generosity and, I dare say, Christianity. I urge him to take on board the points that have been made this afternoon, particularly by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

My Lords, I will return to the amendments, particularly Amendment 22. I think that the Committee will permit me to refer briefly to the impact assessment argument, because it has a particular relevance to Amendment 22. The charity Safe Passage, some time after the Bill was first published, sent a freedom of information request to the Home Office to ask about the number of unaccompanied children who would be affected by the Bill—that is to say, those arriving in the UK through irregular means, including via small boats. The response stated that

“the Home Office does not hold the information you have requested. Whilst our reporting centres can ascertain the age of someone at the point of an event, we cannot establish from our electronic datasets who is accompanied or unaccompanied”.

That means the Government have no idea of the number of unaccompanied children that will be impacted by the provisions of the Bill.

I do not think that I need to say any more—because the argument about the impact assessment has been well aired already—except for one further thought. If the Government have no idea what the effect of the Bill will be, or any particular part of the Bill, I do not understand why they are putting it forward. That point has already been made, but it still puzzles me.

The point of my amendment is to exempt from inadmissibility claims for unaccompanied children, as has already been referred to in some of the other amendments. Under Clause 4(2), those claims will not be considered; they will have no right of appeal; and there will be no possibility of considering such a claim. Although the argument has already been put forward in some of the other amendments, it is a fundamental point, because the children from the countries with very high grant rates for refugee status are forced to make dangerous journeys because there are very limited options for safe routes to the UK. Many of the children come from those countries, and, of those children who have had their cases determined, the vast majority were permitted to stay and rebuild their lives in the UK under the present legislation. That means that the equivalent of those children who are now coming would not be allowed to stay, regardless of the merits of their claim under either the 1951 Geneva convention or the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I want to make two or three other points. If a child is to be removed on reaching their 18th birthday, unless they are actually in detention they will quite sensibly say, “I do not want to go back. I am frightened of going back to where I escaped from”. They will disappear—of course they will. We would all do that if we were in their position; we would not hesitate. It seems to me that we are in danger of saying that we are going to lock them up until their 18th birthday before removing them. It is a preposterous policy.

The Government’s history on children has been somewhat mixed. I remember in the 2016 Act I put forward an amendment for unaccompanied children to come here, and it eventually passed both Houses—it went back once or twice—and became part of the Act. The Government then said: “Ah, but it applies only to 480 children”. That was an arbitrary figure, plucked out of the air, for which there was no rationale at all, except that the Government said that local authorities could not provide foster places, which was quickly disproved.

We then got on to the 2017 Act, at the time when the future of the Dublin treaty—or certainly the parts under which asylum-seeking children in one EU country could claim to join their families in another EU country—was in jeopardy. We passed an amendment in this House that the Government should negotiate to retain the provisions of the treaty. That was eventually accepted, having gone through both Houses. In the 2019 Act, the Government simply removed it. Without wishing to go into long periods of history, I was incensed about all these things but particularly incensed about that.

An upshot was that I was invited to a meeting with three government Ministers and seven officials, including one from the Cabinet Office, to engage in a discussion about the rights of children. I found that quite flattering—I thought the odds of 10:1 were quite favourable to me, given who was on the other side. I was given assurances. One of the Commons Ministers said: “Don’t you trust me?” I looked him in the eye and I lied: “Yes, I trust you, but I don’t trust the Government”—so it was half true—“And anyway, who is to say that you will be in your job in few weeks’ time?” He was not; he was moved on, and I am not sure whether he is in the Government now or not. But I was given certain assurances that were not adhered to, and the number of unaccompanied children who came fell rapidly from that point on.

The Government have in the past given assurances about unaccompanied children and they simply have not stuck to them. That is why I believe that this amendment is important. It will protect the rights of some of the most vulnerable young people fleeing from appalling horrors such as war, enforced conscription into armies, threats of torture and parents being killed. These are terrible things, and we are saying to them that it they get to this country other than by a prescribed route, of which there are hardly any, we will not consider their claim. That is appalling.

My Lords, I support the amendments in this group because they are at the heart of whether or not we are acting in conformity with our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which I believe we are not. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has most helpfully brought to our attention the view of the committee set up to watch over the application by all 192 members of the UN to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Its view is negative.

I am well aware that the United Nations does not have any enforcement powers in this matter—sadly, perhaps—but that does not mean that the British Government, which is usually a member of the UN in good standing and good faith, can simply ignore the views of the committee that was set up to watch over this legislation. To do so will have quite serious consequences in a much wider field, because there are plenty of members of the United Nations who shelter behind the lack of enforceability of the UN, whether it is in the Security Council or elsewhere, to do things that we, quite rightly, condemn outright, whether in Ukraine, the Taiwan Strait or wherever. The cost to this country of simply riding roughshod over our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is therefore quite serious.

The Minister will no doubt remind us that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is not incorporated into our domestic law. That is correct, but it was ratified by this country. How do we know that it was ratified, and how do we know that it covers all the provisions which this legislation is at variance with? Because we made two or three rather small, explicit reservations from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, none of which is relevant to the present matters we are debating—they relate to enrolment in the Armed Forces, education and so on. We accepted all the rest, and we ratified it and told the United Nations that we were going to apply all the rest. Now, we are going back on that.

I hope the Minister will not simply tell us that his opinion and that of the Home Office is that we are not infringing any of these obligations. I do not honestly think that that cuts any ice at all. I would be delighted if he would take, one by one, the articles cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and explain why he has a different interpretation of those provisions. I say that more in hope than expectation, because the Minister does not seem to like answering specific questions of that sort. However, I hope on this occasion he will overcome his reluctance to do that and will address these problems. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a serious matter. It is bringing better conditions for children worldwide. It is being used as an instrument to strike down all sorts of discrimination, and here we are building up new sorts.

My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. I, and we on these Benches, agree with pretty much everything that has been said, and with the specific amendments, including the first, introduced very succinctly by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

I shall go back almost to the beginning of the debate. I do not come from a Conservative family—rather far from it, in fact; they were good News Chronicle-reading Liberals from Manchester—but they would have agreed with everything that the noble and learned Baroness said. I wonder whether, like me, she finds it particularly offensive that when the issue of the best interests of the child are raised, what the Government so often say is, “Of course we observe the best interests of the child. Of course we always take the best interests into account”, even to the extent, I may say, of sometimes saying that in immigration law best interests are paramount, which sadly they are not—not quite.

Amendment 18, also about unaccompanied children, would address the position—this seems to be a bit of a minnow compared with some of the points that have been made—when the Secretary of State has not been able to make arrangements with her, as I am bound to say, or his self-imposed duty to remove someone within six months, or, in the case of a child who arrives unaccompanied, within six months after the child has ceased to be unaccompanied. The Government must face up to what should happen if the Secretary of State sets herself a duty and then does not comply with it. This amendment would provide for regulations to except these cohorts. Though Parliament obviously could not amend the regulations, at least it would provide for the position.

Amendment 27 would go very much with the grain of other amendments in the group, and with the grain of how, in this country, we are beginning to understand the position of British children who have been in care, when they reach 18. Eighteen is not a cliff edge. The knowledge of young people’s development is increasing, and we know scientifically, and not just as a matter of common sense and our own everyday experience, that one does not go from being a child to adulthood and full maturity overnight. British care leavers may struggle to cope alone, and it is recognised that support is needed. But for a child turning 18, when their experience encompasses whatever has led to them fleeing from home and, no doubt, a horrendous journey and then a sort of half-life here, to be sent to a country where—as I think the noble and learned Baroness said—there are no connections, of which they have no knowledge, and where people are likely to be of a very different culture, with risks to them, is almost unimaginable. We should be helping them recover from the trauma. Instead, the Bill makes it harder for a child to recover from the trauma of both his experiences in the country of origin and the flight—it adds to and exacerbates it.

My Lords, I support the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lady Meacher, my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I begin by referring to a meeting that my noble friend Lord Singh and I held with Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, quite recently. She had personally seen children coming off the boats. The Refugee Council found that, of the 45,000 people who made the journey in 2022, some 8,700 were children—one in five of the overall number. In response to the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, perhaps the Minister could confirm the numbers.

Dame Rachel has also visited the accommodation in which many of these children are placed. I would like to ask the Minister a number of questions. When the Children’s Commissioner was consulted, was she consulted about this Bill? How did she respond? How does he respond to her view that the Bill drives a “coach and horses” through the Children Act 1989?

The position of children should certainly concentrate our minds. My noble and learned friend perhaps knows better than anyone in this House, as a former head of the Family Law Division, how important it is that we have proper cognisance of the effects of law on children. I asked Dame Rachel about the origins and stories of some of the children whom she had met, to which my noble and learned friend referred as well. Some had travelled from Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iran; some had taken journeys that lasted a whole year; some had been left as orphans; and some had been traumatised by war. Many told horrific stories. For instance, she described the story of an Iranian boy who watched his parents being killed and who made the long and arduous journey here to safety. She also referred to a Down’s syndrome child left on their own. She said that decisions about their treatment and future were being taken by inappropriately low-ranking officials who had “no understanding of safeguarding”. Will the Minister urgently look into this question about whether safeguarding criteria are different from the safeguarding used in children’s homes? Are the provisions in the Bill compliant with the duties contained in the education Acts, and are they Gillick compliant? Does the Minister recognise the Children’s Commissioner’s description of the Bill as a “traffickers’ charter”?

No child should be assumed to be an adult—a point made very well a moment ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. There is no cliff edge. There seems to be an assumption woven into the web and weave of this Bill that there is a magic moment when you cease to be a child and become an adult. The position of children should certainly be put into the impact assessment, which we all wait to see with great anticipation. But it is not simply an impact assessment that has been missing from the legislative scrutiny to which I referred earlier. Only one Select Committee—the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member—has had the chance to scrutinise this Bill, and it has had to do so at a crazy pace, with many of our meetings clashing with the Bill’s proceedings. All being well, it will reach its final iteration tomorrow—not, I am glad to say, “in due course”. This is simply no way to make legislation. When we legislate in haste, we end up repenting at leisure.

At Second Reading, I referred to my misgivings about a number of aspects of the Bill, and among these was the treatment of children: the subject of these amendments. They are affected by every aspect of the Bill, which clearly infringes the rights of children set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, referred to by my noble friend Lord Hannay.

The Home Office says, as its justification for doing this, that it is protecting the best interests of children by seeking to deter them and the adults accompanying them from embarking on these journeys in the first place. This is a straw man argument. It relies on the assumption that the child or adult knew in advance how dangerous the journey would be and assumes that, in any event, the journey would be less dangerous than, say, staying in Sudan, where millions are now displaced; or think of the plight of women in Iran; or think of those in Nigeria who are facing execution because of their beliefs or orientation, or facing genocidal attacks from Boko Haram. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does not revolve around such calculations.

The desire for deterrence cannot negate or supplant the duty of the UK and this Government to protect all children—every child, whatever their origins—within our jurisdiction. How a country treats its children is a mark of whether that country deserves to describe itself as civilised. How do convention duties square with indefinite detention in whatever place the Secretary of State and her officials deem appropriate and for however long she decides is reasonably necessary before she maybe decides that they should be cast out? How can our convention rights be squared with dispatching children to far-flung places without any true idea of what circumstances will await them there? Who will verify that appropriateness? What will be the criteria? How will such assessments be undertaken?

Too many of the Bill’s provisions relating to children are vague and insufficiently rigorous. The Bill puts on to a statutory footing the provision of accommodation for unaccompanied children, but then fails to define what form such accommodation must consist of. It is as if we have learned nothing from the endless ordeals of children in institutional care. I repeat: why is Home Office accommodation not being made subject to the duties set out in the Children Act 1989? Why are standards or requirements not set out in the Bill itself? I ask this against a backdrop of the Home Office accommodating unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hostels since 2021. Can the Minister remind us how many of those children have gone missing? How many remain missing? How can the Minister justify the provisions to take a child from local authority accommodation, which is subject to the 1989 Act, and put them into Home Office accommodation, which is not? There are also convention implications from age assessment, not least invasive body searches of children who may have undergone trauma or have been subjected to abuse. Is that Gillick compliant?

We should be clear that these and other provisions mean that the Bill is likely to fall short of compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is also likely to fall short under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and potentially Article 3, which deals with prohibition of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment. Has the Minister also considered Article 22 of the convention and any use of powers to remove a child without first considering their asylum claim? These are crucial questions; if they cannot be resolved here in Committee, they will certainly have to be resolved when we reach Report. I hope the Minister will be able to give the Committee the courtesy of a reply to some of these questions today.

My Lords, I rise with some hesitation after so many speeches—such powerful speeches—from every corner of your Lordships’ House. Having attached my name, however, to two amendments here—Amendment 17, in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and Amendment 27, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—I will make two points.

First, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that no children who arrive as refugees should be covered by this Bill—indeed, no one should be covered by this Bill—but there is a special case to be made for unaccompanied children who have no adult with them to support them. I invite Members of your Lordships’ House to consider what it would be like if, tomorrow, you were dropped into a foreign country where you do not speak the language—or speak it very imperfectly—you have no resources and you know nobody. While you have decades of life experience, think how difficult it would be to cope. Then imagine what it would be like for an 18 year-old who has known only a life of war, torture and suffering; who thought they had found safety but then were thrown out again.

Secondly, I want to pick up a point that the Minister made in the previous group. He suggested that this Bill was the result of an emergency situation that had suddenly arisen overnight and that this was the excuse for why we did not have an impact assessment. Of course, what we have is a situation that has been developing over a decade or more. We saw people seeking to come across the channel, including—since we are focusing on the many unaccompanied children—people getting underneath the axels into sealed lorries or under trains and, all too often, dying as a result.

I am going to go back to 2016—seven years ago—when I went to a memorial service for one of those people, a 15 year-old called Masud. He was an Afghan who died in the back of a lorry trying to get to the UK to be with his sister. This picks up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about the lack of means for such children to get here legally. Masud should have been able to get here, but he could not. He took his chances and he died. Had he made it, think about where he would be now. Masud, as a 15 year-old, would have had three years—or maybe more—in our education system. He would have been part of our society and contributing. Imagine, however, a Masud who arrives here after this Bill comes into operation—this picks up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, among others. What is Masud going to do just before his 18th birthday? What would any of us do? He is going to have to go into the black economy or the grey economy, which we know our hostile economy has thrust so many people into already: into the illegal car washes or into the illegal marijuana farms, where recently we saw four Vietnamese men, almost certainly victims of modern slavery, die in horrific conditions. Thrust into the gig economy—there has recently been coverage about this—you can rent an identity to be a delivery driver for a night, all under the carpet and all open to abuse and exploitation. Is that what we really want to do to children? Is that what we really want to do to our society: to make a society in which that segment of it grows and grows? As others have said, there is no way that the Government are going to be able to make the removals that they say they are seeking to do.

My Lords, I have the Clause 3 stand part amendment in my name. A lot of the words already spoken have covered some very important parts of this clause. At its heart, of course, the clause does not protect unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; it just defers their removal. Such children will not be able to start to rebuild their lives or focus on their futures because of the threat of removal. I would like to look at a couple of issues—some of which have been touched on already but which are in this clause—that will need explanation from the Government and understanding if I believe them to be the truth.

On 16 June last year, the United Kingdom Government said in their report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child:

“The UK remains fully committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

Further, they added that they are

“committed to ensuring that the best interests of all children are a primary consideration in any decision that affects them”.

So, my first question to the Minister is: do the Government stand by that second statement: that all children are a primary consideration in any decision that affects them?

There are four problems that I think the Government have to face up to. The first is that the UNCRC requires the best interests of children to be made a primary consideration in all decisions which affect them, including, importantly, when passing legislation that affects them. My second question is: do the Government believe they are acting in the best interests of children as defined by the United Nations?

The Bill has no exception for children of any age, however much they have suffered en route. The Bill in no way seeks to consider their individual circumstances. There is no requirement for the Home Secretary to consider their circumstances or their best interests, or to make those best interests a primary consideration before making a decision to remove them under Clauses 5 and 7. My third question is: how does the Government’s proposal in the Bill meet the requirement in the United Nations convention for a duty to make the best interests of children a primary consideration before a decision to remove is taken? There are some serious questions on that matter that the Government need to answer.

This clause also has a sequence of catch-all regulations, with detail about them yet to be provided. The DPRRC report we have before us notes that the Government’s argument for not giving detail or any further information is that there can be only positive results from further exceptions. However, these regulations could narrow the scope of exceptions. The fact that the detail or purpose is not specified is deeply concerning, especially as the regulations will enable the Government to amend primary legislation or its effects. This House has recently expressed great concern about the use of such powers. Clearly, the Government must have some decision-making choices they are not ready to tell us about, but we need to know more about what they are trying to do.

Clause 3(1) does not provide any complete exemption for unaccompanied children from the statutory obligation to expel someone who is caught by the conditions in Clause 2. First, the exception to Clause 2(1) provided by Clause 3(1) is time limited. An unaccompanied child is granted exception to the statutory obligation under Clause 2(1) only for such time as they are and remain unaccompanied and a child. Could the Minister tell the Committee that the powers in Clause 3(7) do not and cannot give the Secretary of State power to exempt from removal where Clause 2(1) applies? This would mean that there is no real exception, except within the under-18 space that the young person occupies.

Secondly, the exception in this clause is not an exception to the power of the Home Secretary to expel the child. As Clause 3(2) makes clear, nothing in the Bill constrains—and still less removes—the Home Secretary’s power to expel unaccompanied children.

Thirdly, Clause 2(7), the previous clause, makes it clear that even if an unaccompanied child is given limited leave to enter or remain, the child is still to be treated as meeting the fourth condition in Clause 2. The other three conditions are all ones that, once met, cannot be unmet. In other words, a grant of limited leave to enter or remain to a child does not affect the application of any part of the Bill.

Fourthly, even though the unaccompanied child is temporarily relieved of the obligation on the Home Secretary to expel them, the statutory purpose requires removal, which remains. The Minister will have to explain to us how the best interests of the child—a statutory requirement—stand when measured against this clause.

Clause 3(7) empowers the Home Secretary to provide for other exceptions to be made by regulations, but this is only for exceptions to Clause 2(1). All in all, even if allowed to remain in the United Kingdom while a child, unaccompanied children will live in the knowledge that on their 18th birthday they will be subject to removal, regardless of their protection needs or the life they may have built in the UK. That also means that the skills that those children will have learned in this country will never be available to this country in their future or in the future of this country.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate when I came into the Chamber this afternoon, but I heard the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—a powerful beginning to this debate—who spoke about the accommodation provided now for unaccompanied migrant children. I was further motivated to take part having listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in which he referred to these same matters.

Since 2021, 4,500 unaccompanied migrant children have been placed in hotels, some as young as 10. Some 200 have gone missing and have not been found. In Britain, when a child goes missing, does it not affect all of us? Is it not the first item on the nine o’clock news and on the front page of every newspaper? However, 200 of these children have gone missing and have not been found again. A recent whistleblower who worked at the Home Office-run hotel in Brighton highlighted the harm that he saw these children facing. He said they were being picked up in the streets, presumably by traffickers, and have not been found again. He said that there were reports that the children had been subjected to emotional abuse and degrading treatment by the staff in the hotels.

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 gives local authorities—and them alone—statutory protection powers for children. I have been asking for some time by what power the Government put these children in hotels, ignoring Section 20, and what Act of Parliament gives them that power. I have asked a number of Oral Questions and four or five Written Questions. In my latest one I asked His Majesty’s Government

“under which legal provision the Home Office has assumed child protection powers for unaccompanied migrant children”.

The Minister did me the courtesy of replying:

“We expect local authorities to meet their statutory obligations to children from the date they arrive in the UK. The best place for these young people is and will remain within a local authority care placement”.

On that, we are in total agreement. He went on:

“The Home Office is not currently in the position of corporate parent to any unaccompanied child”.

My question is simple. By what Act of Parliament—by what power—do the Government ignore Section 20, place these vulnerable children in hotels and leave them? Two hundred have gone missing. Shame on us.

My Lords, I want to show the importance of impact assessments. This goes back slightly to the discussion we were having under the last group of amendments, because only one impact assessment for the Bill has been delivered: the equality impact assessment, which talks about age. That is why I support many amendments in this grouping, particularly those in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

Once you read the equality impact assessment, it starts giving you a real indication of what the Government’s thinking is for putting children—whether unaccompanied or with families—into this Bill and the impact they believe it is going to have. The first issue, they say, is that it is not direct discrimination against these young people; they call it indirect discrimination. It is quite direct when you are not allowed to stay in the country; it is quite direct when you are going to be detained at the will of the Home Secretary; and it seems quite direct that when you get to the age of 18 you are going to be told to go, never come back and never claim British citizenship. That does not seem like indirect discrimination; it seems very direct.

The equality impact assessment says:

“Any differential impact on these age groups is the result of a person’s conduct and is justified and proportionate in order to achieve the legitimate aims of controlling migration and reducing crime”.

The aim of putting children in is to cut not just migration but crime, which is quite interesting, because on 27 April I asked a Written Question:

“To ask His Majesty's Government, for each police force in each of the last two years, how many crimes were committed by people who arrived by small boat crossings; and for each police force, what percentage of total crimes committed that figure represents”.

Based on the Government’s equality impact assessment, they will have those figures, because it is going to reduce crime. The answer I got from the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, was:

“The Home Office collects and publishes information on the number of crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales. This information can be accessed here: The Home Office does not hold information on perpetrators of crime who have arrived by small boat crossings”.

There is no evidence. I ask the Minister: what evidence do the Government have that including children, either accompanied or unaccompanied, will reduce the crime rate in the UK and by what percentage? It is in their equality impact assessment, so surely the Government have figures for that, otherwise it is just untrue—it is absolutely false.

The great and fascinating thing about this equality impact assessment is that it says: “The Department’s view”—not its evidence or empirical studies, but its “view”—

“is that the Bill should”—

not will but “should”—

“have a deterrent effect which can”—

not will or must, but “can”—

“result in fewer unaccompanied children arriving in the UK by dangerous and unlawful means”.

That is a nice sentence. There is no evidence; there is no study; there are no figures. It is a statement. I did some research, and I am very pleased that the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium has also done some, because the only significant research I can see was done in 2018 by the UNHCR, which was called Destination Anywhere. It was a review on the reasons why unaccompanied children choose the UK. I use the word “choose” inadvertently. The evidence does not support the Government’s assumption—this equality impact assessment is an assumption, not fact, as the words show—that an effective ban on asylum claims for children will stop children travelling regularly to the UK.

For example, the UNHCR’s extensive research on the reasons unaccompanied children travel to the UK outlined a complex and nuanced picture. It found that children sought protection from violence and following the detention or disappearance of family. Most when they started out did not know where they were going. They did not have a label on saying “Please make sure this child gets safely to the UK”. Many had travelled with groups of youngsters for safety and companionship, often following peers. Those trafficked were susceptible to re-trafficking and even entering state care. Some suffered mistreatment en route. There was no map between their home and the UK.

What empirical evidence—not mere assumptions but facts—have the Government based their equality impact assessment on? The policies that we are now dealing with are based on their facts and their equality impact assessment. Therefore, the Committee must understand whether it is assumption or fact. The provision for young people being in this Bill, based on an assumption from the Government that it will stop them coming here, does not seem to stand up to the evidence when it is examined by others.

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Touhig, I was not going to speak to this group of amendments because the arguments have been put so brilliantly. However, I cannot remain silent. I will be brief.

At Second Reading, I said that I could not believe that we were debating such a piece of legislation in a British Parliament. This afternoon, I cannot believe that we are having to argue for basic, decent, fundamental principles for those who are most vulnerable, and particularly for unaccompanied children who, as others have said, have left their country because they had no other choice. The reality of what they were facing drove them from their families, from their homes, and from a place where they felt that they would be safe and where they belonged.

I merely say this to the Government. The Government have two options: to work with those who have tabled these amendments to make a disgusting piece of legislation less so, or to explain to me and other noble Lords why these amendments are unacceptable and how this Bill will not diminish the rights of the most vulnerable children who present themselves on our shores.

My Lords, having listened to the debate, I have three questions for the Minister.

First, if I understand the Government’s position correctly, the use of punitive measures against unaccompanied children in this Bill is for a deterrent effect. That is what the Minister said at Second Reading, and it has been a consistent line. For the Government to come to that view, they must have information about the numbers of unaccompanied children that the Bill will affect—otherwise it would have been impossible for them to have determined that this policy will be a deterrent. What is the Home Office’s core estimate of how many unaccompanied children it will require facilities for under this Bill? I know that the Minister has that information in his pack. He must tell the Committee what it is.

My second question is on the Government’s assertion that this measure complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government say that they will act in the interests of the child. At the moment, the UN checklist is the mechanism used to determine the best interests of the child. Will the Minister commit to the Committee that the UN checklist for the determination of the best interests of the child will be used under the terms of this Bill? If the Government’s plan is for it not to be used, like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others I fear that they will not be acting in the interest of the child according to the UN convention. This is particularly relevant given that the policy shift is moving away from determining what will be the safety of a child and towards what is considered to be a safe country. That is a very radical change. For example, there are a number of countries on the Government’s safe list that they are today advising against all travel to. Therefore, a British official, or any British charity, may seek to accompany an unaccompanied child back to a country that is considered to be safe while the Foreign Office advises against all travel to that area. How can that be consistent? Last year, I visited the Rwanda reception centre in Kigali. There were no children’s facilities. Can the Minister confirm that there are now?

My third question is this. The Government’s fact sheet on children states that:

“For any unaccompanied child who is removed when under 18, we will ensure that adequate reception arrangements are in place where the child is to be removed to”.

That is not true. What in this Bill provides for the assurance and the duty that there will be reception arrangements in place for any unaccompanied child? There is no mention of that in the Bill. The fact sheet cannot be correct if the Bill does not state that this will be the case. If the Minister can tell me where in the Bill there is a duty to ensure that there are reception facilities and reception arrangements in place for a child to be removed to, I would be very grateful.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville added her name to Amendments 14 and 22 but is having to deal with matters in Grand Committee this afternoon, and means no disrespect to this Committee. My noble friend Lord German comprehensively set out the problems with this clause and why it should not stand part of the Bill. Having said that, we also support all the amendments in this group.

On 8 May 1995, Nelson Mandela said:

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.

If the Government are serious about implementing the provisions of this Bill in relation to children, what would Mandela have said about our society’s soul? An infant, or even a child yet to be born, brought into the UK by a parent and by what the Home Office calls an irregular route, or an unaccompanied child not thinking of all the consequences—because children, some as young as 10 years-old, do not think about all the consequences of their actions—will never be able to acquire the right to remain in this country and will never be able to work. They will potentially be detained until they are 18 years-old and then deported. Many of them will have had no say in determining the circumstances that they find themselves in or will not have thought about the consequences of their actions. How can the proposals in the Bill be the actions of a society that describes itself as civilised?

My Lords, I support the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Hamwee, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lord Dubs. They go to the heart of what many of us are concerned about: what this says about our country and our conformity to various conventions and international treaties that we have signed up to and agreed to be part of. I want to reiterate the importance of that. I will not go on at great length about it because I have spoken at this Dispatch Box, and will again, about there being a huge issue around compatibility with various conventions in this aspect—children—and with some of the workability and practicality of what the Government are setting out to do.

I join the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Scriven, in particular, in saying that it is quite extraordinary to read in the Explanatory Memorandum that the department’s view is that the Bill should have a deterrent effect, which can result in fewer unaccompanied children arriving in the UK by dangerous and unlawful means. Nobody wants anybody to come by dangerous means to a particular country, in this case ours, but it is just an assertion. It is the departmental view. No evidence, as the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Purvis, mentioned, is provided. Of course—without going back to the debate that we had—we have no impact assessment to make any judgments about any of that. I ask the Minister to clarify what that sentence means, what the evidence is for that, and how the Government have come to this view that the Bill should have a deterrent effect. It does all read, to a certain extent, as though the Government are justifying these actions by using unaccompanied children as a deterrent, which I think cannot be the Government’s intention. But that is certainly how it reads, and I think the Minister should put on the record that that is not the case, even though that is certainly what some of the refugee children’s charities have said.

I will ask the Minister a couple of specific questions. How old are the unaccompanied children we are talking about here? I think it was my noble friend Lady Lister who mentioned a child of eight. Some 5,200 unaccompanied children arrived last year. What has happened to them? What is the age range of those children? I think that knowing what has happened in the past would help us make some judgments and assessments about the future.

As my noble friend Lord Touhig mentioned, I think it is appropriate for us to ask what progress the Government have made in finding the 200 children who have been lost to the system. As I have said before, the Home Office is not a corporate parent. My own view is that if it was, it would be prosecuted for losing children. If a human parent lost children, we would be incandescent about it. But the Government have lost 200, and in their equality impact assessment, they warn that they are worried and concerned about children absconding from their care.

Will the Minister take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs? Supposing an unaccompanied child is 12, are the Government expecting them to be deported when they are 18, or is there an age limit for that? Have they got to be under 16? It is Committee, so these are the sorts of detailed questions we ask, because otherwise we will not understand how the Government are arriving at their policies. The Government say that if they do not have a right to be here, they will be deported when they reach their 18th birthday. When does that start from? That is why I am asking about age—you can be here for seven years, go to school, and at 18 you will be deported. That was the point the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was making; those are the practicalities of it. Does the Minister expect that if a child aged 17 was in that situation they would wait until they were 18 for the Government to come and find them and deport them? These are detailed questions, which, although we are in the main Chamber, are the point of Committee, to try to understand the practicalities and workability of the situation.

The Government made the amendment to say that there will be exceptions; there will be no requirement on the Secretary of State to deport or to remove—which is the Government’s preferred term—unaccompanied children, but there will be exceptional circumstances, which will be made by regulation. The Government said this would be for reasons of family reunion, and also if a safe country was identified. It would be helpful if the Minister said a little bit more about how that all works in practice, how that information would be found out, and what other circumstances there are, because those are just two examples. They are not the only exceptions; the Government say there are those two, but there may be other exceptional circumstances. What other exceptional circumstances does the Minister think that would mean?

Can the Minister clarify for us the Government’s policy with respect to the use of force with unaccompanied children and how they will be, if you like, kept in care and looked after? What are the Government’s provisions with respect to that?

To go back to the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, one of the great things that the Conservative Government did was stopping the detention of children. It was a massive step forward; I think it was the Cameron Government who did that, and said it was a disgrace that we were detaining children. Why have the Government gone back on one of the most radical and good reforms that the Cameron Government introduced? I think it would be interesting to hear the answers to some of those questions—I can hear the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, saying “Why?”—as again, it is not only principle but practicality. I think we all look forward to the Minister’s answers.

My Lords, Clause 3 sets out the power to remove unaccompanied children. This power will be exercised only in very limited circumstances ahead of an individual reaching adulthood. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, outlined, these include: reunion with the child’s parent; where the person is to be removed to a safe country of origin; where the person has not made a protection or human rights claim; or in other circumstances specified in regulations. If an unaccompanied child arrives in the UK illegally from a safe country of origin, they may be returned to their country of origin before they are 18. Of course, any such decision would be taken on a case-by-case basis.

I reassure the Committee that officials and Ministers take these decisions very seriously, with due concern for the sensitivities that have rightly been outlined by the Committee. But we need also to have in mind the profile of those who come on small boats. For context, I remind the Committee that—

Perhaps I can take the noble Lord’s question in just a moment. For context, I remind the Committee that the majority of unaccompanied children who claimed asylum in the UK in 2022 were aged 16 or 17. Where there is a dispute about age, half are found to be adults.

I hope the Minister will stop this characterisation of the effects of this Bill as being just on those who arrive by small boats. He just did it again then. Is it not the case that this affects everybody, regardless of how they get here? It is not just small boats.

Clearly, this Bill affects every person who falls within the four categories described in Clause 2, and that is all people who enter by any illegal method. Of course, at the moment, as we know, the majority of such entry is effected by small boats.

For any unaccompanied child who is removed while under 18, we will ensure that adequate reception arrangements are in place where the child is to be removed to. It is not simply a case of putting them on a plane back whence they came.

I would be grateful for the Minister to respond to my point. I read from the factsheet, as he has just done. Where in the Bill is that made that a requirement?

As I have already made clear, the answer is that the department has stated in both Houses that this is our position. The adequacy of reception arrangements is not something you would expect to see in the Bill, and it is consistent with the present regime that is operated in relation to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Forgive me. I must make progress. Doubtless, the noble Lord will have an opportunity at the end of my remarks.

Taking these measures will send a clear message that children cannot be exploited and cross the channel in small boats for the purpose of starting a new life in the UK. The clause provides the circumstances in which it may be appropriate to remove an unaccompanied child. However, the Government consider it necessary to be alert to the people smugglers changing their tactics to circumvent the Bill. As such, it is appropriate to have a power to extend the circumstances in which it would be possible to remove an unaccompanied child via regulations. This is very much a reserve power. We have to be mindful of changes in the modus operandi of the people smugglers. I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, examples now of how the power might be exercised but I can assure her that such regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure and therefore will need to be debated and approved by each House.

Clause 3 also sets out the power to make provisions for other exceptions to the duty to remove via regulations. This provision is important for providing the flexibility to make additional exceptions to the duty should we not want the measures in the Bill to apply to certain categories of persons. I will give one possible example of this: a person who is subject to the duty to make arrangements for removal may also be the subject for extradition proceedings and it would be appropriate for an extradition request, if approved, to take precedence over the duty to remove in Clause 2.

Amendments 14, 15 and 17 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, seek either to exclude unaccompanied children altogether from the duty to remove or only permit the removal if it was in their best interests, even when they reach 18. Amendment 22 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, covers similar ground. It seeks to provide for asylum and human rights claims from unaccompanied children to continue to be admissible within the UK.

All these amendments would undermine the intent of the Bill. As I have indicated, if we fill it with exceptions and carve-outs it will not achieve its aims and will serve to put more children at risk as the people smugglers would seek to fill the boats with even more young people, putting further lives at risk and splitting up families. I can confirm that since January 2018 around one-sixth of arrivals on small boats have been children aged 17 and under. We do not want an increase in this proportion or in the absolute numbers. Our asylum system is under increasing pressure from illegal migration, and the Government must take action to undercut the routes that smuggling gangs exploit by facilitating children’s dangerous and illegal entry into the United Kingdom, including via dangerous routes such as small boats.

Stopping the boats is in the best interests of small children who might otherwise make these dangerous and unnecessary journeys. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who raised the issue of a lack of safe and legal routes, I remind the Committee that the safest course for children and adults alike is to seek sanctuary in the first safe country they reach. These amendments would undermine the central premise of the Bill that if one comes to the UK via an illegal route, one will be removed and not permitted to remain in the UK and build a life here. The amendments will increase the incentive for adults to claim to be a child and encourage people smugglers to pivot and focus on bringing over more unaccompanied children via dangerous journeys. The effect would be to put more young lives at risk and split up more families. It is, I say again, in the best interests of children to enact these provisions and stop the boats. It is these amendments that will encourage the people smugglers, not the provisions in the Bill.

The noble Lords, Lord German, Lord Purvis and Lord Coaker, pressed me to set out the evidence underlying the purpose of the Bill. It is the Government’s view that if a person arriving illegally in the UK is faced with the prospect of being detained on arrival and swiftly returned to their home country, or removed to a safe third country, they will not pay the people smugglers thousands of pounds to provide them with passage across the channel.

We recognise the particular vulnerabilities in relation to unaccompanied children. That is why the Bill provides that the duty to make arrangements for removal does not apply until they reach adulthood. However, as I have explained, the Bill confers a power to remove unaccompanied children. This is not new but reflects current policy. This will be exercised, as I have said, in very limited circumstances, taking into consideration the best interests of the child. Following amendments brought by the Government at Report in the Commons, this clause now expressly sets out the circumstances in which the power to remove unaccompanied children may be exercised.

Turning to Amendment 16A, I first comment that the noble and learned Baroness set out what is likely to be an exceptional scenario. That said, she has a point in that an unaccompanied child who is subsequently adopted in the UK by a British citizen has an automatic route to British citizenship. They would therefore not be subject to the citizenship bans in Clauses 30 to 36. In this scenario, we agree that it would not be appropriate for the duty to remove to be applied to that child. We can address this by using the regulation-making power in Clause 3(7) to provide for exceptions to the duty to remove. An amendment to the Bill is, therefore, not required. In addition to adopted unaccompanied children, such regulations would also cover any other cohorts to whom the duty would apply but who exceptionally obtain British citizenship following their arrival in the UK. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness and my noble friend Lord Cormack will be reassured by this.

Amendment 18 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is on one level unnecessary in that the regulation-making power in Clause 3(7) could be used to deliver the desired outcome. However, I come back to the aim of the Bill: namely, promptly to remove from the UK those who meet the conditions in Clause 2. We have brought forward a robust legal scheme that will enable us to do just that and I urge your Lordships not to add caveats, exceptions and exemptions to the Bill such as to make the scheme unworkable.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I should add that I very much value the continued dialogue we are having with the Children’s Commissioner for England. She recently met the Immigration Minister and me, and I am due to meet her again soon to discuss the Bill.

My Lords, that point was specifically about the alignment of the Children Act with this legislation. Clauses 17 and 20, which deal with standards of accommodation, were raised by several noble Lords. Is the Minister intending to say something about that before he moves on?

Clearly there are other provisions in relation to the standards of detention in the detained estate in relation to children. In the event that they are not detained, the usual prevailing regulations will apply and I am happy to write to the noble Lord with more detail in relation to that.

The noble Lord, Lord German, referred to the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Committee in relation to the regulation-making power in Clause 3(7). We are studying that committee’s report carefully and aim to respond before Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the use of force. We will address that point when we reach Amendment 70 on Wednesday.

In conclusion, Clause 3 adopts an appropriate balance in respect of unaccompanied children and, in those circumstances, I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to withdraw her amendment.

The Committee noted the Minister confirming that there would be no duty on Ministers to ensure that adequate reception arrangements are in place for an unaccompanied minor to be received. That is tragic. Can he also answer my question with regard to the fact that the only place at the moment with which the Government have an MOU is Rwanda? Are there any facilities for children in Rwanda that the Government have agreed-?

As I say, the occasions when a child will be removed will be very exceptional and the two cases that are envisaged are for family reunion, therefore reception facilities will not be required, or if it was a return to a safe country, and that of course would not arise unless it was a Rwandan child. In those circumstances, I do not see the particular purpose of the noble Lord’s question.

The other category does apply. If it cannot be to the safe country of origin, it applies to the schedule countries. The only scheme that we have at the moment, if it is not a safe country, would be Rwanda, so it is a simple question: are there any facilities for children in Kigali which the Government have agreed?

As I said, the power will be exercised very exceptionally. I am happy to go away and look into that point, and I will write to the noble Lord on it.

I asked a number of questions around the child rights impact assessment. Please do not say that we will get it in due course, because I quoted from the UN committee’s guidance on impact assessments and it was very clear that it should be shaping the policy process from the word go—so it must exist. Why do we not have it? It is good that the Children’s Commissioner is now being involved in discussions, but she complained that she was not consulted prior to the publication of the Bill. Given the impact on children, surely that is grave discourtesy to the Children’s Commissioner.

From my experience, the Children’s Commissioner was involved, certainly while the Bill was passing through the other place, but I will look further into that point on timings. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is very important that she is engaged with in full in relation to the development of this legislation in so far as my personal view goes. In relation to the point about the child impact assessment, I am afraid that, however much it will disappoint the noble Baroness, I must revert to the usual answer and say that it will be provided in due course—but I of course take away the sentiment that she has evinced.

In relation to the situation when the child becomes 18, have the Government taken into account the impact on younger children who may have spent many years in this country and are then basically deported?

The noble and learned Baroness is quite right that it is a very difficult balance that we have to draw. The difficulty is that we cannot allow there to be a loophole which incentivises people smugglers to put young children into boats and expose them to greater danger. There is clearly a balancing act to be performed. There are powers in the Bill, as the noble and learned Baroness will have seen, in relation to exceptional circumstances. However, the principle is that a minor will be removed at the date of their majority. I should add, in relation to a point that was raised in the speeches, that of course children become adults at 18, and that is recognised in international instruments. I appreciate that children develop at different rates, but that is the legal position, as I am sure the noble and learned Baroness will agree.

Further to the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, can I ask the Minister to look at this? I raised it in my remarks as well. My noble friend Lady Lister raised the case of an eight year-old. There is a problem here. I appreciate the point the Minister made, but there is a very real problem, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, mentioned. If you have a child who is 10 or 11, they will be here for eight years and will then be deported at 18. Can the Minister at least go away, have a look at this and discuss with his officials whether there is a way of being consistent with the Bill, as the Minister would have it, but also reflect on that as particular point that causes problems?

I assure the noble Lord that these points have received bags of consideration, not least from me, because they are very difficult. Of course, the length of time a child is present is a material factor. I am glad to say, as I said in my earlier remarks, that the vast bulk of children who are found in the small boats are not in the eight to 10 age bracket but are more likely to be 16 or 17. I can hear the noble Lord saying sotto voce that I have not answered the question. The answer is yes, of course I will carry on thinking about it, but it is a difficult question. In the Government’s view, we have come to the only logical solution that does not provide a very large hole in the scheme of the Act.

The Minister made reference to the balance that the Government believe there is in the Bill around unaccompanied minors and encouraging smugglers. There have been a lot of speeches in this group about the rights of the child. Article 2 says they apply to every child; Article 4 says that Governments must do all they can to make sure that every child can enjoy their rights; and Article 22 on refugee children says Governments must provide them with appropriate protection and assistance to help them enjoy all the rights of the convention. How is that balancing the rights of the child? I wonder whether the Minister could write to compare and explain—otherwise, I can see that the UK will have to withdraw itself from the rights of the child.

I do not need to write to answer that. The answer is that there is nothing incompatible with the UNCRC, because obviously a child who is here is having all their rights as a child respected, and if they are exceptionally removed under the circumstances described in the Bill it will be in a manner that is compliant with the UNCRC, particularly if it is for family reunion or for return to a safe country, which is presumably also a signatory to the UNCRC and will afford them their own rights.

With the greatest respect to the Minister, we have not yet seen the detail. That is the problem. The Minister has outlined two or three areas and said there will be others. It is not clear to this Committee exactly what those details are. I will repeat the earlier request: will he please write and set them all out?

The Minister made a slightly unconvincing effort to persuade us that what is envisaged is in the best interests of the child. It rested on a couple of planks. One was that the safest route for the child will be to stop in the first safe country they come to. Hundreds of thousands of them do. If you go to look at the camps in Turkey, Greece or the Lebanon, you see that there are hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied children who have fled from conflict zones and are there. I am not sure that it is in their best interests to be there. There is a minuscule number who come here, perhaps because they speak English and not Greek or Turkish, perhaps because they have family or connections here, or perhaps they have the possibility of a home here. I cannot see why it is in their best interests to go into the camps in the first safe country they come to you and not come to their connections, family or prospects in this country.

I know that the noble Lord and I do not agree, but the international law position is that children, and indeed asylum seekers, cannot be selective about where they wish to seek asylum. It is not an evaluative decision that an applicant can make. That is not the way the refugee convention works and, as we made clear at Second Reading, and as I think was widely accepted across the House, we sadly cannot take everyone who would want to come here—and that, I am afraid, is almost the logical corollary of what the noble Lord suggested.

My Lords, the Minister has chosen not to reply to various points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and me about conformity with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He has simply stated, “In our view it’s fine”. The committee set up at the United Nations to overview this has considered this legislation and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, has come to the view that it needs to be amended—a view that is rejected by the Minister. Presumably the UK was represented on that committee. Can the Minister give the Committee an account of the British representative’s statement in reply to the criticisms that led to it adopting that opinion?

As the noble Lord knows, that is not something that I would have to hand in the course of the discussion of this amendment, but I will of course look into it.

I hope the Minister will forgive me, but a narrow but important point of principle was raised by both the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed; they spoke on different matters but on the same issue of principle. One case was about what would happen to a child who came to this country as an infant and was adopted; another, put by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, concerned a child who would not be returned to adequate reception arrangements. I believe that the Minister said to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that we can deal with that in regulations—so nothing to worry about there—and the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was that the Government have no intention of removing children to a country which, even if it meets the other criteria in the clause, does not have adequate reception arrangements for an unaccompanied child.

The whole structure of this so-called robust legislation is about creating tightly crafted duties to tie the hands of the Secretary of State. We know what that game is: it is about ensuring that we have, in effect, ousted the court’s supervisory jurisdiction. Powers become “duties to remove” and then, because there is a little ounce of compassion in relation to children, they say they will flip the duty and so there will not be a duty but, in certain circumstances, a power to remove even unaccompanied children. Given that this is the approach of the scheme, why on earth cannot comfort be given in the Bill to both the noble and learned Baroness and the noble Lord on those two limited circumstances? Why can the Bill not say that a child who came as an infant and who has now been adopted by a British national cannot be removed? For a child who would otherwise be removable because they have an identity document—there is a thought—or sent to a country where they are a national but there are no reception arrangements, why can it not be a criteria that there should be adequate reception arrangements? Why cannot that be in a Bill that is so tightly and robustly drawn by the Home Office?

The noble Baroness is always a powerful advocate but, in this instance, these provisions are already clear. As I have said, and for the reasons that I have explained, there is no need, in those limited circumstances, for further exploration in the Bill. As I have said, these are things that we can explore, and doubtless will return to in other parts of the Bill, but for the moment I am afraid there is no need for further additions in relation to those areas.

In 28 years of service in this House and the other place, I have never had more difficulty in getting an answer to a question.

The Minister has responded several times, and I spoke about it earlier this afternoon. He confirms that local authorities alone have the statutory power to look after these unaccompanied migrant children. He confirms in a Written Answer that the Home Office does not have corporate parent responsibility. So can he tell us which Act of Parliament the Home Office is using to detain these children and put them into these hotels, or—I always say never assume but I am going to break my rule—are we to assume that the Government know they are acting unlawfully?

I must apologise to the noble Lord for not addressing that point in my remarks; I did mean to do so. It is a topic that the House has canvassed in Oral Questions on a number of occasions, particularly, as I seem to remember, in the winter of last year.

The present position will change when this Bill passes. As the noble Lord will have seen, there are provisions in the Bill relating to the transfer of responsibility for children, which set out the responsibility in the context of unaccompanied children. If the noble Lord looks, for example, at Clause 16, he will see that it concerns

“The power to transfer children from Secretary of State to local authority and vice versa”.

The present position arose as a result of the way in which the emergency in the channel has come about. As I said in my Answer, which was very fairly read out by the noble Lord, the clear position is that the responsibility should be for the local authorities, save for the circumstances described in Clauses 15 to 20.

In trying to answer my question, the Minister just reiterated what it says in the equality impact assessment. It was an important question. If the central tenet of the Bill is that children—accompanied or unaccompanied—not being given any dispensation will act as a deterrent, where is the evidence for that? In answering, the Minister said that this was the view of the department. Well it is the view of some children that the tooth fairy exists but, looking at the empirical evidence, it is quite clear that this may not be so. My question is clear: on what empirical evidence is the view of the department built, and when will this House get to see that evidence?

It is a fairly standard rhetorical tool to ask where the evidence is but in this kind of field we have to operate looking forwards as to what might happen as a consequence of legislation, applying our own experience, and particularly that of the department in administering the UK border. It is the department, I would suggest, that is in a position to come to a view on these matters. It is not simply a case of some unqualified person reaching that assessment. The net effect is that it is the opinion of the department—

It is the opinion of the department that a person would not pay a people smuggler to cross the channel if they were going to be detained and removed. It stands to reason, whatever the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, might shout from a sedentary position.

So the Minister agrees that this is not just about small boats; this is about the whole refugee and immigration system. Where is the evidence that the provisions in this Bill will meet the central issue that the Government wish to address and act as a deterrent to children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied. Where is the evidence?

Obviously, as these provisions are not in force, there is no evidence of the impact of these measures. The noble Lord appears to require me to look into a crystal ball. We can make reasonable conjectures about the effect of these measures, and that is what we have done.

Some time ago, the Minister asked me if I was willing to withdraw my amendment; I have a feeling that I ought to respond to that request.

This has been an extraordinary debate; I have never known there to be a debate following a request of the person to withdraw their amendment. The speeches from right across the Committee have been extraordinarily and unbelievably powerful because of course this is such an emotive subject. This Government want to detain and lock up children—accompanied, not unaccompanied, in the middle of an adoption or whatever else—in the most appalling accommodation. We know that, because this Government want to copy the model of the Greek islands, where the national view is that that accommodation is unacceptable and inhumane. We know that. That is what the Home Secretary wants to do. It is not surprising that people feel rather strongly against that proposal. That is just part of the proposition. The other is that, once children grow up, whether they are unaccompanied, adopted, leading normal lives over here or whatever else, they should be removed from this country, and of course regulations may determine the circumstances in which they may be required to be removed.

This is an appalling Bill, if I may say so. In a way, the application of the Bill to children just sums up the depth of the inhumanity of this Bill. I like to think that our Minister perhaps does have humanity and that he does respect our international obligations, and our 1989 Act and the rest of it—but he is acting and speaking on behalf of the Home Secretary, and I do seriously question whether she has the humanity that we all want her to have.

It was very important that we not only heard incredibly powerful speeches from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and Cross-Benchers, but also that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made a point on which I think we all agree: this Bill does not reflect what we on any Bench expect from the Conservative Party. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. That is why there is such an incredible unanimity of view that these clauses—Clause 3, Clause 4 and the rest of them—should not stand part of this Bill.

All I can do here is, for today, withdraw Amendment 14 on the basis that without a doubt these matters will return on Report.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.

Amendment 15 not moved.

Amendment 16

Moved by

16: Clause 3, page 4, line 40, leave out “or citizen”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 5, line 38.

My Lords, I hope I can be relatively brief in introducing a small group of technical amendments to the Bill and perhaps, if I may say so, allow the House to take a short break from the understandably strong feelings generated by the discussion.

The amendments essentially address three issues. The first is to define the term “national” as including a citizen of the relevant country. Thus Amendment 19 inserts a Bill-wide definition of the term “national”. The effect is that any reference to a country of which a person is a national includes a country of which a person is a citizen. In not all countries are citizenship and nationality exactly the same. Similarly, a reference to a person not being a national of a country is to be read as also referring to a person not being a citizen of that country. Amendment 19 ensures that the Bill is consistent in this regard. Amendments 16, 24, 28, 99 and 141 are simply consequential amendments. Amendment 128 makes a similar change to Section 80A of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

The second group of technical amendments ensures that the word “court”, where it appears in the Bill, includes a tribunal. That is in relation specifically to Amendment 25A, which refers to the definition of an application for judicial review. The definition of the application for a judicial review in Clause 4(6) is extended so that it covers an application to a tribunal. That will specifically be the judicial review jurisdiction of the Upper Tribunal or the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

The substantive issues about the scope of judicial reviews—whether they are non-suspensive or not, and the related provisions of Clause 52 and 55—will, I am sure, be debated in due course. The effect of Amendment 25A, and the associated Amendments 115C, 116A, 117A, 123A and 123B, is to make it clear that the relevant provisions in each case apply to tribunal proceedings, especially proceedings in the Upper Tribunal, as they do to proceedings in the High Court or the Court of Session.

Finally, the third group of amendments includes Amendments 29, 31, 32, 33, 34 and 38, which relate to the country to which certain persons who satisfy the conditions in Clause 2 may be removed to. Effectively, they treat persons who hold a passport or an identity document from the country in question as if they were nationals or citizens of that country. If, for example, an Indian national had a French identity document, they could be returned to France, assuming that there were no exceptional circumstances preventing their removal there. In other words, it is simply to treat persons who have obtained an identity document in the same way as they would be treated were they a national or citizen of that country.

I am happy of course to deal with any points that arise, but I do hope that these relatively technical amendments find favour with the Committee, and I beg to move Amendment 16.

I will just ask the Minister for clarification with regard to countries that we do not recognise or areas where there are territorial disputes. Two of the main areas people are coming to the UK from, which the Government wish to stop, are conflict-afflicted areas because of territorial disputes, where the UN has a particular mechanism of providing humanitarian identification.

Is it the government position that all those people will have to come from a state that we recognise? By definition, many of the asylum seekers are seeking asylum because they are being persecuted because they are on one side of a territorial dispute—some of these geographical areas I have visited. The Government in this Bill now seem to be indicating that they will come to a side with regard to which identification documents, either national or citizenship, they will recognise. Why is this the case?

My Lords, the proposed amendments are to cover the technical situation where somebody who is not necessarily a citizen or a national happens to hold an identity document of that country, and therefore—almost by definition, but certainly by strong presumption—is clearly someone who has a close relationship with that country. Assuming it is a safe country and that there are no other circumstances that might create an exception, that is a place to which they should normally be returned. If, as I think the question is posing, there are real risks in sending that person back to a particular country, the procedures in the Bill kick in. That would be a question of fact in each case.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of the government amendments. I have two questions. First, what would be the status of people who have no passport: stateless people? Of course, there are stateless people in refugee camps. There are, perhaps preponderantly in refugee camps but also elsewhere, people who have no recognised state.

Secondly, it so happens that I was in the West Bank in Palestine last week. Palestinians who live in the West Bank are entitled to a Jordanian passport. They are not entitled to an Israeli passport, but they have an identity document as Palestinians in the West Bank. That is a different category from the category of people who are completely stateless. I am wondering whether the Minister could explain how these two particular examples might be accommodated within these government amendments.

My Lords, I will, if I may, look into the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and give a more precise answer. I think, just as an initial answer, we are essentially dealing with nationals of a country listed in proposed new Section 80AA of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which is to be added by this Bill. They are EU and EEA countries, together with Albania and Switzerland. It is to those countries that this applies. The provisions I referred to relate to EU countries, EEA countries, Albania and Switzerland, and I do not think that they touch at all on the situation of stateless persons in particular, or those who hold a Jordanian but not an Israeli passport, et cetera.

Amendment 16 agreed.

Amendments 16A to 18 not moved.

Amendment 19

Moved by

19: Clause 3, page 5, line 38, at end insert—

““national” includes citizen;”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a Bill-wide definition of “national”. The effect is that references to a country of which a person is a national include a country of which the person is a citizen and references to a person who is (or is not) a national of a country include a person who is (or is not) a citizen of that country. This is for consistency across the Bill.

Amendment 19 agreed.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed.

Clause 4: Disregard of certain claims, applications etc

Amendment 19A

Moved by

19A: Clause 4, page 6, line 3, leave out paragraph (c)

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, with others in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, seek to amend the Bill so that potential and recognised victims of trafficking will not be detained or removed before they get the opportunity to submit an application to the NRM and have it duly considered.

My Lords, Amendment 19A is on modern slavery. I will speak to a series of my other amendments relating to Clauses 4 and 21. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Bach for their support.

I think we are all aware that modern slavery is a brutal crime involving sophisticated criminal networks buying and selling people for profit. Victims of this appalling crime may be forced to enter the UK illegally, coerced, deceived and forced against their will, with their identity and decision-making powers stripped away. If left unamended, the Bill would see victims punished for crimes committed by the perpetrators, deported or held in detention centres, exacerbating pre-existing traumas.

In the past 12 years, organisations such as Hestia—the leading modern slavery charity in the UK—to which I pay great tribute, have supported victims via the modern slavery victim care contract. In that time, these organisations have supported over 18,000 victims of modern slavery. Survivors have been exploited for profit by criminals often operating as part of organised networks, both in the UK and internationally. The Bill will do incredible damage to those efforts.

Clause 4 applies the Bill’s provisions to people who claim to be victims of slavery or human trafficking, or those who have made an application for judicial review in relation to their removal from the UK under the Bill. Clause 21 relates to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which provides that, once there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a victim of trafficking, states have certain obligations to that person. Under the Bill’s provisions, where a protection or human rights claim falls within subsection (5), it will be declared inadmissible by the Secretary of State and will not be considered in the UK.

Were the Bill to come into effect without any provisions to protect victims from the duty to remove that is set out in Clause 4, many of these survivors would be denied the opportunity to rebuild their lives and reclaim their autonomy, based purely on their route of entry. This would also apply in circumstances of trafficking, where individuals have been forced to enter the country illegally. The Bill will do nothing to break cycles of exploitation or help people to break free of modern slavery. Instead, it will feed the criminal networks that profit from the lives of vulnerable people, and it will undo the great work of the Modern Slavery Act.

Noble Lords will have received a briefing from Justice about its significant concerns that proposals to deport potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, without properly considering their claim, are incompatible with Article 4 of the ECHR and the ECAT. The Government say that there will be protections for those supporting criminal investigations and proceedings, but even those limited protections have been watered down in late-stage government amendments in the Commons. Clauses 21(5) and 28 require the Home Secretary to assume that an individual can co-operate with criminal proceedings from abroad, unless there are “compelling circumstances”. But, as Justice says, this is troubling because individuals with vulnerabilities are likely to struggle to co-operate with criminal proceedings from abroad. It faces a further presumption in favour of deporting potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery.

As the previous Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner said during the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 debate, providing a sufficient recovery and reflection period is often essential to enable potential witnesses to co-operate with criminal proceedings—therefore, limiting such support

“will severely limit our ability to convict perpetrators and dismantle organised crime groups”.

We discussed this at Second Reading, when the Minister claimed that

“The modern slavery clauses are fundamentally about preventing dangerous and illegal crossings that pose a threat to public order … the national referral mechanism offers world-leading protections to victims of modern slavery, and we must be alert to the risk that these protections will be used to frustrate removal action. Last year, 17,000 referrals took on average 543 days to reach a conclusive-grounds decision, making modern slavery protections susceptible to misuse”.

He argued:

“The NRM referral rate for people arriving in the UK on small boats and being detained for return has risen from 6% of detentions ending in 2019—that is, 50 people—to 73% in 2021 … Modern slavery laws are, therefore, an inextricable part of an immigration system that is open to being misused in order to block removals”.—[Official Report, 10/5/23; col. 1923.]

That is surely flawed logic. As Justice says, it is the Home Office-approved first responders who refer individuals to the competent authority if there are suspicions that someone is a victim of trafficking or modern slavery. Some 90% of the competent authority’s decisions last year were positive—in other words, decisions that there were reasonable grounds that someone was a victim of trafficking and modern slavery. Some 91% of conclusive grounds decisions were also positive, so where is the evidence that the system is being abused? Surely the Home Office’s own data highlights the overwhelming majority of credible victims of trafficking and modern slavery. As Theresa May made clear at Second Reading in the other place:

“The Home Office knows that the Bill means that genuine victims of modern slavery will be denied support”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/3/23; col. 593.]

Furthermore, by closing the route to safety and support, the Bill risks strengthening the hands of trafficking networks. Traffickers keep people under their control with threats that they will not receive help if they reach out to the authorities. The Bill will substantiate that claim and further dissuade survivors from coming forward. We know that successful prosecutions of traffickers rely on the testimony and co-operation of those whom they exploit. As it stands, the Bill would have a devastating impact on survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking, offering them no recourse for support or protection, removing them from the country, leaving them entirely unsupported and leaving criminal gangs and traffickers unchecked.

My amendments first seek to remove the inclusion of people who claim to be victims of slavery or human trafficking from the provision in Clause 4 under which the Secretary of State must declare the claim inadmissible. My amendments to Clause 21 seek to amend the Bill so that a person who is in the process of being referred by a first responder to a competent authority, who awaits its reasonable grounds decision, who receives a positive reasonable grounds decision, who has a positive conclusive grounds decision or who is challenging a negative reasonable grounds or conclusive grounds decision may remain within the main referral system in the UK and subsequently receive modern slavery support, subject to Section 50A of the Modern Slavery Act, which includes protections from being removed.

These amendments essentially seek to ensure that potential and recognised victims of trafficking will not be detained or removed before they get the opportunity to submit an application to the NRM and have it duly considered. I beg to move.

My Lords, I sat out the Second Reading debate in favour of a meeting of the Constitution Committee, in which we discussed our draft report on the Bill. That report is no substitute for the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights—which I, for one, await with impatience—although I hope that it does deserve study. It discusses, in particular, the remarkable variety in the Bill of what might be called ouster clauses. Among them is Clause 4(2), which is the subject of Amendment 21, in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead, who cannot be here today, and to which I have added my name.

Some ouster clauses are aimed at restricting appeals or reviews from the decisions of a legally qualified tribunal. Examples include Clauses 49 and 51, which appear to be modelled on Section 2 of the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Privacy International case concerned an ouster of that nature.

More fundamental in their scope are the ousters in Clauses 4, 12 and 55. They bite not on claims that have already been adjudicated by tribunals but on claims that have never been adjudicated by any court or tribunal—and, in the case of Clause 4, any claim to the effect that removal from this country would be contrary not only to our laws against slavery and human trafficking, as we have just heard, but to the refugee convention, the Human Rights Act and the principles applied by the courts on judicial review. Such claims can be pursued, if at all—I am mindful of the jurisdictional limitations on the Human Rights Act—only after removal from the United Kingdom.

Through the kind offices of the Bar Council, I spoke this morning to a number of immigration law practitioners. They told me that so-called bring-backs, historically, have been vanishingly rare. Indeed, they are measurable in single figures. These are people who win their cases from abroad and then see those judgments implemented in the sense that they are brought back. Pursuing such a claim from out of country seems, for most people, to be a remedy which, in the time-honoured phrase, is not practical and effective but theoretical and illusory.

Clause 4 is supported by two buttresses: Clause 52, which prevents our courts issuing interim measures to prevent or delay removal; and Clause 53, which, if passed into law, will give parliamentary authority to Ministers to disregard interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights. A final nail is hammered into the coffin of judicial review by government Amendment 25A, which was debated in the previous group.

The Minister will no doubt say that the effect of the Clause 4 ouster is mitigated by the new suspensive claims provided for by Clauses 37 to 51 to deal with cases of serious harm and factual error. That is right, but only up to a point. The problem with those clauses is not only the punishing time limits and evidential requirements proposed in the Bill but their limited scope of application. For example, they afford no scope to challenge removal on slavery and human trafficking grounds, on private and family life grounds, or for the breach of elementary legal principles, such as prejudging and procedural error.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood referred to at Second Reading, the difficulty we face as a revising Chamber is that this degradation of existing judicial powers to keep the Executive in check is a feature of this legislation and not a bug. The Government’s theory of deterrence is based, in significant part, on the neutering of the courts. No doubt we will have to decide on Report whether we think that the objectives of the Bill, and the likelihood of achieving them, are enough to justify such a significant rebalancing of powers. If we think that they are not, we will have to decide whether to try to reverse the ousters in Clause 4 or to work with the grain of the Bill, however unpalatable we may find it, and seek to increase the range and feasibility of the new suspensive claims. In any event, it may not be controversial, but, in the words of a unanimous Constitution Committee:

“The cumulative impact of the ouster and partial ouster provisions in the Bill gives rise to very considerable constitutional implications”.

I wonder whether the Minister agrees.

Finally, I have a question for the Minister of a probing and, I am afraid, slightly technical nature. Clause 4 does not itself render protection claims or human rights claims inadmissible, when brought by a person who meets the four removal conditions in Clause 2. Rather, Clause 4(2) requires the Secretary of State to declare such claims inadmissible, and Clause 4(4) exempts such declarations from any right of appeal. The Constitution Committee described that provision as having

“significant rule of law implications”,

and as relating

“to decisions hitherto reserved to the courts”.

That is indeed so, but my question is of a more prosaic nature: what happens when a declaration of inadmissibility is made under Clause 4, and a court subsequently determines, after hearing a factual suspensive claim under Clause 42, that a mistake of fact was made in determining that the person in question met the removal conditions? Justice surely requires that the declaration of inadmissibility, having been made on a false premise, should be rescinded and the protection claim or human rights claim allowed to proceed. I hope that the Minister will agree, but I do not see any mechanism to that effect in the Bill. Can the Minister, either orally or in writing, show me where that is? If there is nothing there, will he undertake to look at whether this point could usefully be clarified in the Bill?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I will endeavour not to repeat some of the arguments that have already been put forward; it is a challenge that most of us have failed, and I will probably fail it too.

In the Bill, there is an unprecedented step that it would make any asylum application made by someone who arrives irregularly in the UK permanently inadmissible. If declared inadmissible, they cannot subsequently enter the UK’s asylum process. That means that they are out of the system for ever, simply because of the method by which they have arrived in this country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that the Bill

“would amount to an asylum ban”,

as it would the extinguish

“the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how compelling their claim may be”.

The UNHCR goes on to say that, if other countries followed suit, we would see an end to refugee protection. That is a pretty dismal comment, but I have no reason to doubt that the UNHCR is accurate in its assessment. I repeat something which should be beyond argument: the UNHCR knows about the 1951 convention, and surely the UNHCR must be seen as the guardian of that convention. So if the Government are going to disagree with the UNHCR, they have to be on pretty firm grounds before they do so.

I will not repeat the conditions stated in Clause 2—we are familiar with them—but I will note that, even if people cannot be removed from the UK, their claims will still be permanently inadmissible. That is a significant change from the current inadmissibility scheme put in place after the UK’s exit from the EU as it also left the Dublin system. Under this scheme, if the UK Government believe that somebody did claim or could or should have claimed asylum in another country, their asylum claim could be potentially deemed inadmissible. However, the current scheme requires another country to have agreed to take the person before the inadmissibility decision can be made. The Home Office guidance on the inadmissibility procedures says that getting an agreement should take a maximum of six months in most cases. We are in a situation where there can be no progress for those individuals, except in this very negative sense.

The Home Office’s own statistics—I rely on the Refugee Council for some of this information—show how rare an occurrence this is. Between January 2021 and the end of December 2022

“of 18,494 applications that were potentially inadmissible only 83 inadmissibility decisions have been served”,

with only 21 removals. As a result, nearly 10,000 people have had their claims subsequently admitted into the UK’s asylum system following an unnecessary delay.

This Bill changes the current inadmissibility system by removing the requirement to have a removal agreement in place with another country before an inadmissibility decision can be reached. Instead, it makes any claim automatically and permanently inadmissible. It does not give the Home Secretary any discretion to consider the claim, and indeed the noble Lord in the previous speech challenged the Home Secretary’s lack of discretion in these procedures.

The Bill does very little to make it likely that more people will be able to be removed. Clause 5 allows people from 32 countries designated as safe countries whose asylum applications have been ruled inadmissible to be returned to their home country. Nationals of all other countries outside this list cannot be returned to their home country. This includes someone whose claim is highly likely to be successful, such as an Afghan or a Syrian, or someone whose claim could potentially be refused if it was actually processed. Instead, they can be removed only to one of the 57 third countries listed in Schedule 1 to the Bill. However, the agreement with Rwanda is the only removal agreement that the UK has in place that includes third country nationals, and the legal and tactical challenges faced by that scheme are well documented. Even if it becomes operational, it will not be possible to remove the thousands of people whose claims are deemed inadmissible to Rwanda.

We are in a real difficulty with this situation. The Home Office has yet to set out how many people it believes will be impacted by the Bill, as we have already discussed. However, given the current 0.7% success rate of removing people under the inadmissibility process, the Refugee Council estimates that at the end of the third year of the Bill between 161,000 and 192,000 people will have had their asylum claims deemed inadmissible but not yet have been removed. They will be unable to have their asylum claims processed, and therefore unable to work, and will be reliant on Home Office support and accommodation indefinitely, which is predicted to cost between £5 billion and £6 billion in the first three years. They will be stuck in a permanent limbo. I hope the Minister can explain how they can get out of that limbo, unless the Government suddenly produce a range of countries with which return agreements have been agreed.

This is a pretty miserable clause in a miserable Bill. I believe that this amendment could go some little way towards making the Bill somewhat less bad than it is.

My Lords, I have signed some amendments which were tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton, who has asked me to apologise for his absence today. I am not going to speak to those in any detail because, as is typical of my noble and learned friend, the explanatory statements which he has added to those amendments say it all, and make them very easy to understand.

What concerns me about this debate is that it has a degree of abstraction which perhaps conceals what really lies in front of the debates we are having. Recently, I went to a meeting to discuss asylum and refugee status in one of our cities. Present at that meeting was a woman in her 30s, with three children, who is living in a hostel in that city. She has now been waiting for 10 years—with her children, some born after her arrival here—to know the result of her wish to be treated as an asylum seeker.

The Minister earlier today—it seems like many hours ago but it is probably only about two and a half—referred, when he was answering an intervention, to an emergency having occurred. If that is an emergency—because this Government have been in place for well over 10 years—then it makes the creation of a baby elephant seem like the speed of sound. It has happened on their watch. Why? In truth—and it is long before the Minister became involved in these issues and became a valued Member of your Lordships’ House—they did not do what they needed to do to anticipate what was going to happen. That is why cases such as that of the woman I referred to took place.

In another city, I met a young man, now in his mid-20s, who had arrived in the United Kingdom illegally in the back of a lorry. He climbed out of the lorry and had nowhere to go. He slept in a doorway and the next day he did what he was told was a good thing to do and went to the local police station and asked the police for help. As it happens, they were very sympathetically disposed to him. He was then about 17 and a half. He was refused permission to remain in this country and he was refused asylum. He appealed and his appeal was allowed. I am delighted to say that the reason he came to see me was that he is about to start a career as a barrister. This is obviously a very good thing for anyone to do, as I would say, and I know a number of noble and learned friends, including the Minister, will agree with me when I say that. I am trying to discourage him, as a sort of mentor, from doing only asylum work because there is so much more to do as a barrister. I may be winning that battle. That is the actuality we are dealing with in these cases.

What we are facing here, to use the Minister’s words, is apparently an emergency to oust the use of judicial review. Before I got up to speak, we heard three really superb speeches. I do not want to repeat everything that was said but I agree with it all. All those speeches demonstrated, I suggest, that the ouster of judicial review, as has been the approach of the courts and indeed of Parliament over the decades, should happen only very rarely. It is not unheard of, but it should happen only very rarely when the necessity to oust judicial review is demonstrated and, above all, when it is fair and proportional to do so. Surely the ouster of judicial review is neither fair nor proportional in a situation in which we find many cases coming before the courts but it is not the fault of the real people who want to go to those courts. Let us not forget that a very large number of that cohort are allowed asylum and refugee status when they go to the courts. This is not an unworthy cohort going to court for the sake of it; people often win their cases. Do we in your Lordships’ House, with so many experienced people, particularly those who have seen the courts in action, really want to oust that activity of the courts?

Let us look at the figures for a moment. I know that there are many cases in tribunals. I have never had the advantage of serving as a member of the asylum et cetera tribunal or Upper Tribunal but I have had the privilege of serving as a deputy judge in the Administrative Court for many years, dealing with many asylum cases. I think everybody imagines—I wish to disabuse the non-lawyers in the Committee—that these cases are all run into the ground by long-winded lawyers such as myself who try to make the cases run for ever and ever in order to enhance our fees; the sort of Daily Mail “sidebar of shame” view of what lawyers do.

Let me tell your Lordships what happens in the Administrative Court. A judge turns up for a day’s sitting and often starts with paper applications. About 11% of the cases have already been filtered out as being totally without merit and do not even come before the judge doing the paper applications—the paper apps, as they are called. The judge then spends the day in his or her judge’s room dealing with the paper apps, usually dealing with about 12 in a day—maybe a few less, maybe a few more. They take therefore very little time at all.

If we look at the Government’s own civil justice statistics for 2023, which I have been checking out during our sitting on my iPad, because it is important these things right, we find, if we go through the figures very carefully, that in calendar year 2022 only about 90 real asylum and refugee cases came before the administrative court. Let us compare the baby elephant of government administration with the speed with which these judicial review cases are done, and proportionately the same happens in the tribunals: they have to work fast and they do.

From application, the date when the piece of paper reaches the court office, to final decision—that is not the final hearing but the final decision given by the judge, and hard-pressed judges often take a little time to produce their decisions and their judgments—takes an average of 193 days: that is not very much over six months. Compare that with the 10 years of the woman I referred to, or the five years of waiting by the young man I referred to, who would have been sent back to a country where he quite likely would have been killed as a political dissident if he had not been able to take advantage of judicial review. Do we really want to be the country that does that to people when the evidence against using judicial review is so weak?

My Lords, we have heard some very good speeches on this group already. I want to revert to the speech of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the points he made about trafficking and slavery. I have to say that the last speech and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, impressed me immensely. I was on the same review of the Bar Council earlier this morning and I can confirm, for what it is worth, exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said about the dangers of ouster in the Bill. I am not going to speak about that.

I should say that I have not spoken on the Bill before: I was down to speak at Second Reading but I decided that 84 or 85 speakers was probably just about enough. My view, I am afraid to tell the Minister, like those of so many who are taking part in this Committee, is that it is an absolutely disgraceful Bill and I cannot believe that any British Government of any complexion are bringing it forward.

I put my name down in support of my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment. I have little to add to his speech except that it appears to me that it is an area where the Government can and should give ground pretty easily. It is surely beyond ridiculous that important legislation brought in with practically universal support as recently as 2015 should be undermined so fundamentally by a Government of the same party; so much so that, as has been mentioned, the Prime Minister at the time, responsible in many ways for the bringing in of the Act, has expressed her opinion in another place that the Bill’s provisions

“will drive a coach and horses through the Modern Slavery Act”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/23; col. 886.]

I was a police and crime commissioner at the time the Act was effectively coming into force—I started a year after 2015—and police support for the assistance that the Act gave in this very difficult area of law, particularly difficult in prosecuting and convicting very clever and very bad criminals, was absolutely evident. The police, certainly where I was and I suspect more widely, were pleased with the Act. They knew it meant harder work, but the chance of actually locking up dangerous men—and women, no doubt—was added to appreciably. Enthusiastic and positive meetings and arrangements were held and, while it is never going to be easy to catch the wicked criminals behind trafficking, little did any of us involved in those discussions think that, only a few years later, the difficult task facing the police and others in arresting, prosecuting and convicting these villains would be made more difficult—I would say much more difficult—by proposed government legislation.

Make no mistake—this is my final point—that the Government will not easily be forgiven, it seems to me, by a very large portion of society if the improvements so recently given are effectively removed, with the result that fewer victims are helped and fewer criminals are punished.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to the effects on the modern slavery legislation. In a sense, just as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, talked about this being an ouster of judicial review, so, in some respects, it is an ouster of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 as well. Why is this necessary? The Home Secretary says that the system is being abused, to justify removal of the protections for victims of trafficking and modern slavery. In response to that, both Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, former leader of the Conservative Party, and Theresa May, former Prime Minister, have said in terms that there is no evidence to justify that claim. That is why it is right that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has moved this amendment. He made a terrific speech and I fully endorse and support everything he said.

The amendment seeks to amend the Bill so that potential and recognised victims of trafficking will not be detained or removed before they get the opportunity to submit an application to the national referral mechanism and have it considered. I ask the Minister for one potential exception: if he cannot accept the amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord then, reverting to the previous group of amendments, what about the situation of children in those circumstances? Are they going to be included in a catch-all, or will the Minister accept that there should at least be an exemption for them?

My noble friend Lord Anderson talked about the anticipated report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I do not think he will have long to wait for that, but what are already available are the statements given to that committee in public evidence sessions. I was very struck by one, and there is an echo here of something that my noble friend Lord Carlile referred to earlier, which is the personal effects on individuals. We heard in camera from a young woman who had been trafficked into this country and used by a family from the Middle East literally as a modern-day slave. She escaped and managed, dressed just in nightclothes, to find her way to central London where, in Piccadilly Circus, she was helped by a volunteer who introduced her to other members of the Filipino community. I am happy to say that she has been able to make a life for herself as a result of a referral to the national referral mechanism. Take that away from people and what opportunity will they have to make good lives for themselves or to have any kind of safety? At least let us have a disapplication for children and give them the opportunity to be referred through the national referral mechanism.

Finally, since I said I would try to be brief and concise, I would be interested to hear whether the Minister has had a careful look at the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking and the obligations we are signed up to. Does he recognise the view that has been expressed by many who know far more about this than I do that we will be in breach of ECAT if this goes through in its present form, and also that we are likely to be in breach of Article 4 of the ECHR in its prohibition on slavery? Are those questions that the Minister and his officials are looking at seriously? Have they attached sufficient weight to them? What is his view about the exemption of children?

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 19A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and congratulate him on a very informative and excellent speech. I said at Second Reading that the Bill

“should exclude those who are already subjected to abuse through the heinous crime of modern slavery”

and quoted the former Prime Minister, who had said in the other place:

“It has always been important to separate modern slavery from immigration status”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23; col. 809.]

I said that the Bill was

“using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”—[Official Report, 10/5/23; col. 1902.]

and that remains my position today.

We know that genuine victims will be penalised through the Bill. There are many amendments tabled, either to mitigate the harm, or to seek much more analysis before Clauses 21 to 28 can come into effect. Those will be debated in a later group, and I hope to speak then too. However, Amendment 19A gets straight to the heart of the matter. Clause 4(1)(c) says that the duties to remove people who have arrived by irregular means should apply regardless of whether a person claims to be a victim of modern slavery. Amendment 19A would remove that presumption.

We should be debating whether modern slavery victims should be within the scope of the Bill because that question speaks to our values and our international obligations. Our long-held values have said that these individuals need safeguarding, not penalising. The UK has been seen as a leading light in how it has responded to human trafficking. This Bill would take us significantly down the league table. Overnight, our world-leading reputation has been tarnished because we have decided that to stop the few, our obligations to the majority should cease.

I am sure the Minister will tell us that the Government recognise that these are exceptional circumstances and for that reason have included a sunset clause. Lest we should be reassured by that, let us consider, first, that the sunset clause can be extended. Secondly, in the meantime, thousands of victims will not get support, and will be detained and removed. One of the Council of Europe’s committees said that the Bill endangered victims. We are endorsing that as acceptable. Thirdly, our Article 4 obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights include

“a legislative and administrative framework to prevent and punish trafficking and to protect victims”.

Article 15 makes it clear there is no derogation from this requirement in a time of emergency. But that is what the Government are arguing—that “exceptional circumstances” allow us to wipe away the protections that are in place across the UK for these exploited individuals.

It is no wonder that there are serious doubts about the UK meeting its international obligations. I urge the Government to heed the warnings and rethink, and I commend the amendment of noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to the Committee.

My Lords, I am co-chairman of the APPG on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and I am the vice-chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. I bitterly regret not putting my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which I was a bit slow to read.

I want to make three points. I entirely agree with what has been said already by noble Lords. First, on the point that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, makes about the Act and the reputation, as it happens, Frank Field MP—now the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead—chaired a small group of two MPs and myself who advised Theresa May as Home Secretary on whether there should be a modern slavery Bill. More recently, the noble Lord, Lord Field, another MP and I wrote a report on how the Modern Slavery Act had managed over the years. It has already been said that this Bill drives a coach and horses through the Act. It is tragic that it is the same Conservative Government—a different Prime Minister, but the same Conservative Government—who, having put through one of the greatest and most innovative of Acts of Parliament, which was applauded around the world, now choose to behave like this. Of course, it will very adversely affect our reputation, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, has just said. That is really very sad.

Secondly, it will have a disastrous effect, as has been said, on the people who are genuinely victims of slavery. They will be told by their traffickers that they will not have any recourse to any help if they try to escape—and, quite shortly, that is true. So there will be no exit, even if they could escape, from the fact that they either are in the state of slavery or they are removed to somewhere such as Rwanda, where they will never have been and will know no one.

Thirdly, there is the naivety of the Government in suggesting that people could assist the prosecutions by doing it from another country. We do not have enough prosecutions. The main way to deal with modern slavery is to prosecute the traffickers—those abroad who come here or can be found, and those who are in this country. There has been some success—but a limited success because you have to have witnesses to give the evidence. Even today there is not enough evidence given by witnesses, who are slow to come forward. I have to ask the Government: do they really think that if somebody is sent to another country against their will, having been already traumatised by being a victim of slavery, they are going to help the Government who deported them to deal with their traffickers? It seems extremely unlikely. On those three points, I strongly support what is going on now.

My Lords, whenever there is a reference to the ouster of the courts and tribunals in the context of this Bill, I think how ironic it is that we heard from the Government that they cannot give a certificate of compatibility with the Human Rights Act because it has not been tested by the courts.

Here again, it seems to me that we are conflating modern slavery and trafficking with immigration. That is misconceived and it is immoral. My name is on a number of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—not all of them, but this was due to the nature of the process, not any disregard of those amendments. An awful lot of organisations were continuing to suggest amendments pretty much as we walked into the Chamber.

The concern about this is very widespread. The amendments in this group are going in the same direction. Everyone who has spoken shares a concern about victims being scapegoated and their positions not understood. I have so much admiration for people such as the Filipino—I assume a domestic servant—the young man mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. What people manage to do with their lives after the experiences they have gone through leaves me almost lost for words and feeling huge responsibility to try to do my best for them, even if it is not a very good best. We heard earlier today about the arrangements that the Government have for returns. The very fact that the Government have recently been negotiating with Moldova, Bulgaria and I do not know who else, about co-operation to prevent trafficking—I think it is trafficking and not just, if you can use the word “just”, smuggling—indicates the Government’s clear awareness that this is all happening. But negotiation is not a result.

The Government must not ignore that asylum seekers smuggled in are very vulnerable to exploitation as a result of the Government’s own policies. I may, at some other time, if I can and if she will allow me, quote the very apt and succinct description by the noble and learned Baroness, “escape does not mean exit”. People have said this at greater lengths during proceedings on this Bill, but that really does sum it up.

Not for the first time, those of us who have added our names to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, seem to be a little band who work together. I will not repeat everything that has been said, but the Secretary of State sets rules for other people—in this case, very vulnerable people—so there must be consequences if the Secretary of State does not observe or fails the rules she has set.

The British Red Cross and others have been very clear about the effect of limbo on physical and mental health. It is not surprising that people now disappear into the black economy, exploitation and destitution. They must feel that they are being treated as if they are not human. Limbo should not be indefinite. I do not know how the provisions fit with the Home Office’s own guidance that the inadmissibility process, which currently does apply in some circumstances, must not create a lengthy limbo where delaying means the claimant cannot advance his or her protection claim.

Clause 4(3) deals with claims which are declared inadmissible. I ask again: what data will be published about claims which have been declared to be inadmissible? Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office will publish details, particularly the numbers, of declarations of inadmissibility? I cannot see that they will be regarded as claims which are refused because they never get to the stage of being considered. It is essential that we know how this Bill is working—if that is the right way to describe how the Bill, and maybe an Act, will proceed.

My Lords, I signed the intention to oppose the Question that Clause 4 stand part of the Bill.

I do not often say anything good about this Government but they do, at times, think outside the box. They really do think up novel practices and novel moves in all sorts of areas. I admire massively the people who have gone through this Bill and put amendments forward. Sometimes I have time to do that myself on Bills. This particular clause is so bad—how can we improve it? There are two particularly dangerous proposals, which we have already heard. The first is that the courts will not be able to pause or prevent a deportation, even where that deportation will be clearly unlawful. Secondly, the Government can, by diktat, declare a person’s human rights as inadmissible. Where does that come from? Who thought that up? It is just incredibly creative. As it is novel practice, it is also dangerous. A precedent is being set that the Government can simply rule that some people do not have any human rights and that a Government can act unlawfully without any intervention from the courts. Human rights are for everyone—which is something this Government seem to forget—or they are not human rights. The courts must be allowed to protect those rights against the Government.

We have to stop this illegal Bill. I see no option but to start voting out chunks of it. If we can possibly intervene at the end, we should vote all of it down.

My Lords, I have given notice of my intention to oppose this clause standing part. I was also able to meet the Bar Council this morning, and it was very interesting to hear its views about current practices and the difficulties following through from this law that might arise.

I want to address two or three issues in this clause which set it apart. I of course support wholeheartedly the human trafficking amendment. I talked at Second Reading about a case involving a young person who, if the current Bill were to become an Act, would be placed in perpetual slavery or alternatively deported to somewhere she has no knowledge of and no friends or people she could communicate with.

The two issues I will look at are the impact this will have upon this country and whether the Minister is going to be able to tell us whether or not the fears that people have expressed are actually true. One of the first ones is the fear of people living in limbo for years and years. The second one is about whether it is disgraceful lawyers and traffickers who have caused the problems we are now facing. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for debunking the issue of lawyers having that responsibility put upon them by what he called the Daily Mail sidebars.

It is important to realise that there are a significant number of issues sitting behind this clause which will affect people profoundly. Essentially, this clause is the Government’s trump card upon which it can play: there is no way you can come to this country if you are one of the vast and overwhelming majority of people seeking asylum from the fear of living in countries which are under siege or war, or where people’s reputations are at risk.

We hear today that government papers which have been put aside—unless some people have spotted them—say that in the first two years between £3 billion and £6 billion extra will be required to make sure that they can cope with the number of people living in limbo. These sorts of government papers do not just fall into hands, because somebody else outside of government has written them. The figures themselves must have some credibility. They hold truth and light for those who believe that there is no way that people can be sent elsewhere under this Bill, given the limited circumstances.

I ask the Minister to repeat his claim that there is no limit on the number of people who can be sent from this country to Rwanda. No limit, he said—does that mean 150,000 or 170,000? Is that the case? We heard this morning from the lawyers who were dealing with the very small number of cases attempting to bring people back from Rwanda who had had their claims misheard that the Government did not tell them about the circumstances surrounding their existence in that country. One of the barristers concerned found out that it is an offence in Rwanda to speak out against the Government. That issue was the one that played a big hand in them being able to work around the legislation to be able to bring back incredibly small numbers of people to our country.

The third issue is the assertion by the Minister earlier that this is an emergency. If it is an emergency then obviously it is an emergency that has been going on for many years. The claim by the Prime Minister this morning that the policy we are talking about is already working is not borne out by the figures that the Government themselves provided on 25 May. Those are the only figures that are available to see, and this Government have an adverse nature to giving figures to us in any other way.

The figures are these. In the six months up to the end of March—and those were the latest figures provided by the Government on 25 May—372 small boat arrivals were detected. In the same period in the previous year, there were 507 boat arrivals. Therefore, you might say, there was a smaller number of boat arrivals. However, the number of people in each boat averaged 32 last year and 44 this year, so when you do the simple multiplication, the figure this year is just a little bit ahead of what it was last year.

In order to answer the question about retrospection that came up on the previous day in Committee, I want to know from the Minister—I asked him in writing and got no answer, so I am now about to ask him again—what the figures are for May and June. We know the figures for the six months up to the end of March. If we know what May’s and June’s figures are, and we add them all together and we can see the differences, then we will have the evidence upon which we can say, “Well, the Government have a case to make about retrospection” or not. Despite the fact that we might oppose retrospection, we need to know those figures.

The answer will give us an opportunity to understand whether that assertion is correct, but one thing it proves for certain is that, if this is an emergency, it has gone on for more than a decade. What we are faced with is the position that most of the people who would therefore have had a right to remain here because they were genuine asylum seekers will now find themselves in limbo or deported to a country where you cannot speak out against the Government.

My Lords, sensing an overwhelming desire in the House to discuss the National Health Service (Dental Charges) (Amendment) Regulations, I shall be very brief. I do not know whether we still do it, but we used to send some people to jail on conviction at His Majesty’s pleasure. They had, of course, their day in court. They had access to legal support. Had they been convicted, they could have appealed. What Amendment 23 is trying to do—the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to which I have added my name—is ensure that we are not sending asylum seekers whose cases we are refusing to consider into detention at His Majesty’s pleasure; that is, an indeterminate sentence. That is how I read the Bill and how the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, reads the Bill. That is what the Government have in mind. I cannot believe that it is right to send people into limbo of that kind.

I do not know whether the right answer to the question is the one in the amendment: a six- month time limit. If the Government have not found somewhere to send them and if they have not found someone to take them, they must consider the case under the Immigration Rules after six months have passed. It seems to me a reasonable proposition, but perhaps the Government have another one. One way or another, one has to avoid creating the situation where people are in limbo outside our systems—in effect, stateless because they cannot go back to their own home for fear, and we are keeping them locked up, so they cannot take part in our society. We cannot let that run for ever. We cannot pass that into the law of the land as a desirable, or even a permissible, situation. The Government must come up with some answer if they do not agree with the noble Lord’s amendment, as I do.

My Lords, before we move on to the interesting dinnertime discussion, I just want to raise a point as a non-lawyer about Amendment 20, in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. Its purpose is to

“enable an application for judicial review to be made while the applicant is in the UK”.

We had a very interesting point from the noble Lord, Lord German, about what he described, fairly accurately, as Daily Mail sidebar accusations about the nature of judicial review. It was very helpful to have that short seminar from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on what actually happens in the Administrative Courts and how it is not a question of lawyers making lots of money out of rather dodgy cases. I think he is right. Although I have never been to the Administrative Court, but I am sure he reflected that very faithfully.

Surely, however, if this amendment is passed, it will drive a coach and horses through the main purpose of this Bill, which is to deter people from crossing the channel in small boats. If you then give them the opportunity when arriving in this country in a small boat of immediately seeking judicial review, and that is in the Bill designed to stop them coming across the channel, will that not destroy the whole purpose of the Bill? I merely put that question as a non-lawyer; it seems to me inimical to the very heart of the Bill, whatever one’s view.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but I just want to ask him this question. Would he be happy about legislation being passed that meant that people who had a justifiable claim to asylum were never allowed to pursue that claim to asylum—that is, a justifiable claim under international and existing United Kingdom law?

No, I am just saying that if the amendment were accepted, it would be entirely inimical to the purpose of the Bill.

My Lords, I think, to some extent, that that is the point of the amendment. I am scared of dentists, so I have no desire to rush into a debate about dentistry, but I was waiting because at least from the Conservative Benches we heard a speech. I was counting how many. Every one had voted for this Bill, but it is amazing how many are coy when it comes to defending what is going to be the reality: that if a young woman is trafficked from a war zone, is raped on the way and arrives in the UK having been lied to, the response is no longer what had been the case; namely, that a first responder in assessing her needs would refer her to protection—the British way. Now, the first responder will say, “You have no rights under modern slavery or trafficking legislation in the UK at all. Not only that but you will be detained and you will be deported”. So, please, can we have some defence of this from the Conservative Benches? If they are not going to defend it, please do not vote for it. Only vote for something that you are willing to defend. It might just be that if the whole purpose of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said, is deterrence, why stop here? If it is going to be deterrence for an emergency, why stop at this measure? If the Government act in an emergency on a situation of great importance and it is to deter, should it not be on the basis of evidence?

We heard earlier from the Minister saying that one person’s evidence is another person’s assertion. He did not say exactly that; I am putting words into his mouth so that I can disagree with them, but he basically said, “Well, it’s our view that this is the case”.

It was in 2019 that the Government promoted with fanfare a £10 million policy centre. The government press release said:

“Efforts to uncover the true scale of modern slavery, expose more trafficking networks and better inform our action to stamp out these crimes have been boosted today following the government’s investment of £10 million to create a cutting-edge Policy and Evidence Centre for Modern Slavery and Human Rights”.

That was universally welcomed. The Government said that our response to this crisis would be evidence-led and that we would then act on it. There was universal support for that.

That centre—the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre—which is still receiving Home Office funds in 2023-24 to do this job and inform the Government, says of the Bill:

“Thousands of potential victims of modern slavery may be denied protections by the modern slavery provisions in the Bill. This will include people for whom their entry to the UK is an integral element of the criminal offence of trafficking committed against them”.

It goes on to say:

“The need for these provisions is predicated on the UK Government’s assumption that people are ‘abusing’ the modern slavery system, and that the system is an incentive for illegal migration to the UK. The available evidence questions both of these assumptions”.

Finally, it says:

“The modern slavery measures in the Bill are incompatible with the UK’s obligations”.

I would rather drive a coach and horses through proposals from the Government that are not based on evidence and put in their place evidence-based policies that are likely to work. I declare an interest: I have supported schemes in the Horn of Africa through to the Gulf which are trying to support victims of human trafficking and forced labour.

The Bill will not only not work; it will undermine our reputation around the world. That is shameful. It is not only shameful for our global reputation—I hope we can rebuild that—but it is even more shameful for that young woman who was lied to, trafficked to the UK and would now effectively be a double victim.

My Lords, we support all the amendments in this group. As many noble Lords have said, victims of slavery or human trafficking should not be further victimised by the provisions of the Bill. As many briefings with which noble Lords have been provided—for which I personally am very grateful—have pointed out, these provisions play into the hands of traffickers and perpetrators of modern slavery. Victims will face the dilemma of further exploitation or deportation, and the criminals will use the provisions in the Bill to enforce their hold on their victims, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said. Speaking as a former police officer, I say that it is difficult enough to get victims to give evidence in court, let alone victims of modern slavery or trafficking who have been deported to another country.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, referrals to the national referral mechanism are made by officials, making abuse of the system unlikely. That is reinforced by the fact that a very high proportion of the claims are actually supported.

For the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, gave, we agree with the conclusions of the Constitution Committee that the cumulative impact of the ouster and partial ouster provisions in the Bill give rise to very considerable and, I argue, dangerous constitutional implications. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, has said, this could have potentially fatal consequences for individuals.

The effects on physical and mental health of the Home Office’s policies of placing people in limbo are well documented. We support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to limit the damage by placing a six-month limit on refusal to consider a protection claim or human rights claim. In doing so, we agree very strongly with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. For the reasons my noble friend Lord German has explained, we believe that this clause should also not be part of the Bill.

So far as emergencies are concerned, is it not the case that the only emergency is the huge backlog of undecided asylum claims—and that it is an emergency which is entirely the responsibility of the Home Office?

My Lords, I apologise for not being able to speak previously on the Bill, but I support Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who has added his name to this little band, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to them. I have been holding back in the hope that he would land, but his aircraft has been delayed.

Of course, it is right that every nation should have jurisdiction over its own borders and the ability to decide who may or may not have a credible claim to reside in the country, but Clause 4 ends any such due process which would consider the merits of an asylum application. By denying those who are deemed inadmissible from ever claiming asylum, as we have heard, thousands of men, women and children will simply not have their case heard, let alone assessed, regardless of how grave their protection needs might be—and regardless of the fact that there is no way to travel to the UK with prior authorisation in order to claim asylum in many cases. That point is made regularly in your Lordships’ House.

Preventing people from exercising their right under international law to even claim asylum is neither workable nor, as others have said, a morally credible position. It takes away a tool we have at present to manage asylum requests in an effective manner. It perversely abandons any efforts to return people home if they are found to be unsuccessful in their claim. In so many cases, under the provisions of the Bill we shall—I use the term with care—be warehousing people in this country rather than assessing claims and, where not well founded, returning them to their home country.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked the Government through a Written Question what will happen to the thousands who are to be excluded from the asylum system but are unremovable. In response, the Minister stated that the Home Secretary will be duty bound to make arrangements for the removal of a person who meets the conditions in Clause 2 as soon as is reasonably practicable. Again, one must ask: what happens to those people deemed inadmissible who are unable to be removed? Of the 55,000 considered on the existing inadmissibility grounds between the start of January 2021 and March this year, 27,644 were subsequently admitted into the UK asylum system. Why would the situation be materially different after the passage of the Bill given that there are still no return arrangements in place to remove people under this purported arrangement?

As we have heard, the mental health impacts of hopelessness are well documented and have led the Government to previously exempt children from such processes to

“mitigate the risk of adverse impacts”.

After a period of enforced detention, we cannot confine asylum seekers to further limbo, where they are unable to rebuild their lives and contribute to society and are living without the hope that is necessary to life.

The Home Office Minister Robert Jenrick recently referred to the lifestyle and values of those seeking to cross the English Channel as inimical to social cohesion. To indefinitely corral migrants under these proposals without access to a resolution of a claim, to the job market or to the means to integrate into society will itself do damage to social cohesion.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, granting re-entry to the asylum system for those whom the Secretary of State is unable to remove is thus a pragmatic measure that would go some way in ensuring we do not disqualify all individuals from claiming asylum. It would bring us closer in line with the basic rationale of the refugee convention. It does not completely overturn that which the other place has sent to us, but neither does it leave us, nor the people to whom it is directed, with insoluble problems.

My Lords, this group focuses on the disregarding of protection claims, trafficking claims, human rights claims and judicial review, as outlined first in Clause 4. This is quite a large group, with different strategies to remove or edit Clause 4 to remove the duty on the Secretary of State to declare human rights claims and other claims inadmissible if the person arrives into the UK illegally.

My noble friend Lord Dubs has tabled Amendment 23, which would mean that a protection or human rights claim must be considered if the person has not been removed within six months. In his very eloquent speech he said that it would have the effect of trying to reduce the number of people who are effectively in a permanent limbo—he gave the figure of 160,000 who are stuck in this status. As he said, the amendment goes a little way to ameliorating this position. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry supports my noble friend.

My other noble friend Lord Hunt’s series of amendments beginning with Amendment 19A would ensure that potential and recognised victims of trafficking would not be removed before they got the opportunity to submit an application to the national referral mechanism and have it considered. His amendments would remove trafficking from the list of claims that the Secretary of State can ignore, so although they would help trafficking victims, they would not help others making claims under different legislation, which would remain on the list. In my noble friend’s speech he referred to the Liberty brief, which I also found extremely helpful, and to the statistics there about the increase in the NRM claims we have seen over recent years, to which the Home Office makes particular reference. My noble friend made the point that the Bill as currently drafted would dissuade victims of modern slavery from coming forward.

As a youth magistrate, I very much recognise the point about the modern slavery system and the national referral system getting completely overwhelmed by the number of referrals into that method of checking for modern slavery. Certainly, in my experience as a youth magistrate, it almost logjammed the system of reviewing what I might call normal criminal cases referred into the NRM, which were sometimes stuck in that system for literally one or two years.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, gave a couple of very appropriate anecdotes. He did not particularly explain the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, but, as he said, they were fully explained by the noble and learned Lord himself. I think the central point that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was making was that the people who find themselves making appeals are not an unworthy cohort. They very often win their claims, so surely we should be reinforcing and backing up the systems we have signed up to in international law for protecting claims of legitimate claimants.

I think all other noble Lords supported my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendments; in fact, most noble Lords supported all the amendments in this group. I just want to make a particular aside to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who also supported my noble friend Lord Hunt. As he will know, he facilitated a trip for me to Ballymena district court, where I sat in on a youth court. I found it very interesting that the Modern Slavery Act has not been enacted in Northern Ireland. I have tried to get an explanation for that but, as far as I know, I have not received one. Although I am sure that the noble Lord supports the Modern Slavery Act, I find it surprising that the Act has not been enacted for young people in Northern Ireland.

As I said, I think all noble Lords who have spoken on this group of amendments have supported them. In many ways they go to the heart of the Bill, because it is where the Government are seeking to step away from some of the commitments they have made in a number of treaties and in a number of different forums over many decades. It is for the Government to justify why they should take such a radical step.

My Lords, Clause 4 provides that if a person meets any of the four conditions set out in Clause 2, regardless of any claim made by an individual, including a protection claim, a human rights claim against their country of nationality or citizenship, a claim as a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, or an application for judicial review in relation to their removal, they will still fall under the duty to remove.

As such, if a protection or human rights claim is made, this will be declared as inadmissible. Inadmissibility is a long-standing process and is explicitly provided for in UK law, most recently in the strengthened provisions in the Nationality and Borders Act. So although the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was praising the innovation of the Home Office, the concept of inadmissibility is indeed a long-standing one that appeared in immigration legislation from the turn of the millennium.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, correctly identified, Clause 4 is critical to the Bill. By expanding the scope of existing inadmissibility provisions to apply to anyone who has arrived illegally to the UK, the Government’s intention is made clear: namely, that those who fear persecution should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not put their lives at risk by making unnecessary and dangerous journeys to the UK.

We know that some people make spurious claims in a conscious attempt to frustrate their removal. Provisions in Clause 4 will restrict the right to challenge the decision to remove those who enter the UK illegally. In doing so, it will put a stop to the endless merry-go-round of legal challenges that those with no right to be here use to thwart their removal. In 2022 there were 60% more small boat arrivals—45,755—than in 2021, when there were 28,526. Our asylum system is consequently under significant pressure, and with this inexorable rise in the number of illegal arrivals adding more pressures to our health, housing, educational and welfare services, the Government must take action and prioritise support for those who are most in need.

We remain committed to working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those who are most in need so that the UK remains a safe haven for the most vulnerable. Once illegal migration is under control, we will create more safe and legal routes following consultation with local authorities, and that will be subject to an annual cap set by Parliament—we will come on to debate those provisions later in Committee.

The Bill will send an unequivocal message that if you come to the UK on a small boat or via another illegal route, you will never be able to return to the UK or build a life here. It is only right that we prioritise people who come here safely and legally, and it is unfair that those who enter illegally should benefit over those who play by the rules. If people know that there is no way for them to stay in the UK, they will not risk their lives and pay criminals thousands of pounds to get here.

Having set out the purpose of Clause 4, I turn to the specific amendments. First, Amendment 19A and the other amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, effectively seek to exclude all potential victims of modern slavery from the duty to remove and the associated detention powers until a conclusive grounds decision has been made following a referral to the national referral mechanism, or NRM.

There is no escaping that, regrettably, the NRM affords opportunities for those who enter the UK unlawfully to frustrate their removal. In 2022, there were around 17,000 referrals to the NRM—the highest annual number to date and a 33% increase on 2021, when there were 12,706, and a 625% increase on 2014, when there were 2,337. The average time taken from referral to conclusive grounds decisions made in 2022 across the competent authorities was 543 days. Given these decision times, it is self-evident that, were the noble Lord’s amendments to be made, the intentions of this Bill—namely, to deter illegal entry and to allow for the swift removal of those who do enter illegally—would be undermined.

The NRM referral rate for people arriving in the UK on small boats and being detained for return has risen from just 6% of detentions ending in 2019 to 73% in 2021. In contrast, where people are not detained for return, less than 3% of people who arrived in 2021 were referred to the NRM within three months of entering the UK. These are telling figures.

As I have said, it is a sad fact that the protections that the NRM provides are open to misuse and could act as an incentive for those making dangerous journeys and offer a loophole for human traffickers. I should stress that these measures are of course time-limited, lapsing automatically after two years, subject to an assessment of their continued necessity, to reflect the exceptional nature of the crisis.

I am grateful to the Minister. I am listening very carefully to what he is saying regarding the loophole. My understanding is that a referral to the NRM can be made only by a first responder authorised by the Home Office; that first responders have to be certified for their professionalism by the Home Office; and that the referral mechanism goes to a dedicated individual within the Home Office. Why is the Home Office so incompetent that it is allowing this system to abuse itself, given the fact that only the Home Office and first responders can refer?

It is not the Home Office abusing itself—to use the noble Lord’s phrase. The reality is that it is the large number of claims made by people advised to make claims, often at the last minute, in order to delay removal. When people are referred to the national referral mechanism, they give an account of slavery that then requires investigation. A threshold is applied that means that the allegations are looked into, and the number of people making applications now has given rise to the length of time to determine those claims.

If I may, I will respond to points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Morrow.

I will come back to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, at the end. I can confirm that removing this incentive is compliant with our international obligations under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings—ECAT. Indeed, ECAT envisages that the recovery period should be withheld from potential victims of trafficking on grounds of public order. There is a clear and unprecedented threat to public order through the loss of lives and the pressure on public services that illegal entry to the UK is causing. I again remind noble Lords that the number of small boat crossings has risen from 8,500 in 2020 to over 45,000 last year. We will have a fuller debate in respect of the modern slavery provisions when we reach Clauses 21 to 28 in Committee, but I cannot agree to the noble Lord’s proposition that the foundation of those provisions in subsection (1)(c) be removed from the Bill.

Amendment 20, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, seeks to strike out subsection (1)(d), the effect of which would be to enable any judicial review to put a block on removal until the legal proceedings had been concluded. It seems to me that the key words—and perhaps I could invite the noble Lord to refer to the Bill—are in Clause 4(1)(d), which relates to an application for judicial review in relation to their removal. As my noble friend Lord Horam indicated, such an amendment would again undermine a key feature of the scheme provided for in the Bill. We must stop the endless cycle of late and repeated challenges that frustrate removal under the current law. Of course, it is right to say, too, that there is no general block on non-suspensive judicial review provided for in the Bill.

The Bill provides for two types of claims that would suspend removal, and we will come on to those in due course in Committee. Those provisions provide sufficient remedies to challenge a removal notice and afford the necessary protection to a person suffering serious and irreversible harm were they to be removed to the specified third country. All other legal challenges, whether on ECHR grounds or otherwise, should be non-suspensive. Therefore, Clause 4(1)(d), read with Clause 52, does not oust judicial reviews; those provisions are simply making it clear that any judicial review cannot block removal.

As regards Amendment 21, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I have already indicated that inadmissibility is not a new concept. It has been a feature of the UK asylum system for some time and is already enshrined in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. While I welcome the Constitution Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill, I cannot accept its characterisation of the provisions as having significant rule of law implications. What does have significant implications for the rule of law, I suggest, is tens of thousands of people arriving on our shores each year in defiance of immigration laws. These individuals should be claiming asylum in the first safe country they reach, and, in these circumstances, it is legitimate to declare any protection claims inadmissible to the UK system.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked what would happen to an asylum or human rights claim that had been declared inadmissible, but where the person had had their factual or suspensive claim accepted. In such a case, the person’s claim would be considered under the existing law. That might include existing inadmissibility provisions. I again remind the Committee that inadmissibility is a long-standing process intended to support the first safe country principle. It is an established part of the international asylum procedures applied across the EU and specifically provided for in UK law, most recently in the strengthened provisions introduced in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

I am grateful to the Minister. In the circumstances that he accurately sets out, could a declaration of inadmissibility be reversed so that the human rights claim or the protection claim could proceed in the normal way?

The provisions of the Bill in relation to that are a little involved, and I will write to the noble Lord.

Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also deals with inadmissibility. It seeks to provide for asylum and human rights claims from those who have not been removed within six months to continue to be admissible within the UK. In effect, the amendment seeks to perpetuate our current broken asylum system. Again, it seeks to chip away at and put holes into the scheme provided for in the Bill, undermining its coherence and effectiveness. This amendment would regrettably again encourage illegal migrants to use every tactic to frustrate their removal, in the knowledge that after six months their asylum claim would be processed. Moreover, the amendments would unfairly result in individuals who have arrived illegally in the UK being prioritised alongside those who have availed themselves of our safe and legal routes—something which, I suggest to the Committee, is manifestly unfair.

The Bill must send a clear message that if you come to the UK via an illegal route, you will never be able to return to the UK or build a life here. The benefits of settlement should be open only to those who abide by our rules. The whole construct of the scheme is to enable illegal migrants to be removed within days and weeks, not months and years. There is no prospect of someone being left in perpetual limbo, as suggested by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. Amendment 23 is therefore redundant. I therefore invite the noble and learned Lord, or his proxy, not to press Amendment 20.

My Lords, can the Minister answer the question that I put to him about the disapplication of a national referral mechanism in the case of children, a point which has been raised by the Children’s Commissioner? If he does not have the answer now, can he write to me?

Forgive me; I intended to address the noble Lord’s point in relation to that. Obviously, the provisions in Clause 4 make specific reference to the power to remove children, which is contained in Clause 3. That in itself is a safeguard to protect the welfare of children. It operates in a way that promotes the interests of children, I suggest, but I am happy to look further at that point and will take it away.

Can I clarify the point that I was making? The Minister alluded to maybe coming back to me. He implied that the problem arose with those who claim, when arriving here under what the Government say is an illegal route, that they are victims of trafficking. The review of that happens only after a referral is made, and there cannot be a self-referral. He seemed to blame the threshold on which that assessment is made as to whether a first responder then submits that person to the NRM. That threshold is the Home Office threshold and the first responders are Home Office- licensed. Why does the Minister think that the Home Office is getting it so wrong?

I am afraid that I disagree. The Home Office is not getting it wrong. As I already set out in my remarks, the numbers of people claiming to have been modern slaves in this scenario indicates that there is extensive abuse. I do not think that the noble Lord could say anything else, looking at the very persuasive statistics of people in detention. I simply do not agree with him on that point.

If we have found that there is no loophole in the system, that is good—so it is just the numbers. Therefore if the number of those who are trafficked goes up, that is the problem. It is not that there is a loophole in the system meaning that a higher proportion are falsely claiming that they are being trafficked. What message does that say around the world? The UK is now blind to the individual merit of a young woman being trafficked if there are many young women being trafficked—that is when we close our doors.

That is not the case. Much as we might wish it to be, the simple reality, I am afraid, is that our modern slavery protections are being abused. The measures in the Bill directly address that.

If they are being abused, what is the percentage success rate of people who were referred in the last two years?

I can help the Minister. I think it is 82% and 91%, on average. The issue is therefore that, once these cases have been looked at, the Home Office is granting people asylum based on them being part of the modern slavery system.

The noble Lord will be aware that there are two stages to the process—a reasonable grounds decision and a conclusive grounds decision—and different statistics. A light touch has hitherto been applied in relation to reasonable grounds. I will need to look into the precise statistics and revert to him on that. I am afraid I do not recognise those statistics immediately, so they will require further research.

I cannot remember the exact numbers, but if the noble Lord looks at it the conclusive grounds is the number which matters, and that is extremely high.

My Lords, I was going to wind up, if I may. Other noble Lords may contain their enthusiasm for dental charges, but I am keen to move on to that important issue. I will not give a long speech, although I was profoundly depressed by the Minister’s response. I will make three points.

First, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is right that we were so proud of the Modern Slavery Act and the credibility that it gave to our country. This Bill undermines it fatally in so many ways. Secondly, the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Scriven, are also surely right. The Minister has essentially said that there is nothing wrong with the robustness of the system. My evidence is that 90% of the competent authorities’ decisions last year were positive decisions, while 91% of conclusive grounds decisions were also positive. This is a system that the Home Office itself oversees. It seems that the cases coming before it are proven to be positive. I do not see how the Minister can possibly then say that there is evidence that the system is open to abuse. To say that it is a question of numbers wholly undermines the Home Office’s case for this.

The third point is that, in passing this Bill unamended, we are strengthening the hands of the trafficking networks. As has been pointed out a number of times, traffickers keep people under control with threats that they will not receive help if they reach out to the authorities. That is what this Bill is doing. It is saying that the UK Government will not give help to desperate people. To answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about our role as an advising Chamber, I know what we should do with this clause and this Bill.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. It has been a profoundly interesting and saddening debate, and I am sure we will come back to it on Report. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 19A withdrawn.

Amendments 20 to 23 not moved.

Amendment 24

Moved by

24: Clause 4, page 6, line 21, leave out “or citizen”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 5, line 38.

Amendment 24 agreed.

Amendment 25 not moved.

Amendment 25A

Moved by

25A: Clause 4, page 6, line 30, at end insert “, and

(c) any other application to a court or tribunal which is required by an enactment to be determined by applying the principles that would be applied by a court on an application within paragraph (a) or (b).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment expands the definition in the Bill of “application for judicial review” to cover in particular an application to the judicial review jurisdiction of the Upper Tribunal or the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

Amendment 25A agreed.

Amendment 26 not moved.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed.

Clause 5: Removal for the purposes of section 2 or 3

Amendment 27 not moved.

Amendments 28 and 29

Moved by

28: Clause 5, page 7, line 8, leave out “or citizen”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 5, line 38.

29: Clause 5, page 7, line 17, after “States),” insert “or has obtained a passport or other document of identity in such a country,”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and the amendments in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 7, line 24; page 7, line 27; page 7, line 43; page 8, line 5; and page 8, line 28 supplement references in Clause 5 to a person who is (or is not) a national of a country listed in section 80AA(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (inserted by Clause 57) with references to a person who has (or has not) obtained a passport or other document of identity in such a country.

Amendments 28 and 29 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 9.05 pm.