House of Lords
Wednesday 7 June 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
SMEs: Net-zero Targets
My Lords, the Government have launched a campaign aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of businesses, charities and public sector bodies. We continue to support UK businesses to meet their net-zero commitments via the UK business climate hub. SMEs are encouraged to join the UN’s Race to Zero initiative; more than 4,200 UK small businesses have done so. We are also developing a dedicated energy advice service for SMEs, which is due by the end of the year.
I am sure that we all value the important contribution that SMEs make to our economy. One of the issues consistently facing them is their ability to employ and retain skilled workers in a highly competitive jobs market. This is especially prevalent where skills are lacking, such as in retrofitting buildings and in new green technologies. The scale of the challenge of achieving net-zero targets presents SMEs working in these areas with a great opportunity. However, barriers such as shortages of skills and available finance are preventing them making the progress that they seek to achieve. What steps are the Government taking to promote green jobs, skills training and competitive supply chains, particularly by working with industry, the education sector and the finance sector to create pathways into these jobs?
The noble Baroness makes an important point. The encouragement of green jobs and helping workers to go from the old fossil fuel economy to new jobs is a challenge. We are spending several billion pounds a year working with the DfE and across the various green homes grants. We have a number of highly skilled green jobs funds, which industry accessed. There is no one simple answer but she is right; it is a job that we are working on.
My Lords, earlier today, I spoke to an owner-manager of an SME in the print industry in my part of the world. She said that her biggest issue in trying to become a B Corp SME is getting information from big suppliers on their scope 3 emissions, which is really important for SMEs that want to go down this path. Could the Minister take this issue and how it might be solved back to his department, or give me an idea of how that issue might be approached by the Government in future?
The noble Lord makes an important point. We are aware of this issue. We are increasing the reporting requirements for bigger companies. We must be careful to make sure that we do not put too many undue burdens on business but I will certainly have a look at the issue for the noble Lord.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no clear consensus as to what net zero entails for SMEs? With them accounting for 99% of all businesses in the United Kingdom, what are the Government doing to standardise pathways to net zero among these businesses?
Of course it will vary depending on the type of business. Many businesses are already working in green areas. A lot of them are involved in retrofitting. On the other hand, some of them are very energy intensive. There are different solutions for different businesses.
My Lords, given that their competitors in Germany and elsewhere are extending the deadline for ending the production of motor cars with internal combustion engines, are we not in danger of making our large car manufacturers into small and medium-sized enterprises as they are being forced to reduce production, with great consequences for employment and competitiveness?
I normally agree with my noble friend, but I do not on this solitary occasion: I think he is wrong. Other major economies, including the EU, are essentially doing a similar job—they have made a couple of small exceptions to the ban with things such as novel fuels. Providing certainty for industry and business is the direction they need to go in. Supporting them in the appropriate areas, ensuring that the right gigafactories are completed in the UK, is the way to go, in my view.
My Lords, one way to help small and medium-sized businesses is to remove barriers to trade. Given that the UK and the EU both have carbon pricing, would it be possible for the UK and the EU to agree to waive the requirements for exporters and importers to calculate and report on carbon emissions from products traded between the EU and the UK?
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The Minister talked about the importance of providing certainty for business and small and medium-sized enterprises. One of the barriers to those enterprises investing in skills training is uncertainty about programmes such as retrofitting and energy efficiency, which have been marred by stop- go policies in the past. Will the Minister look again at the Government’s opposition to the energy efficiency proposals in the Energy Bill?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Baroness. We have an extensive energy efficiency programme. We are spending £6.6 billion over this Parliament. I agree that long-term consistency and certainty are important, which is why the Treasury has guaranteed an additional £6 billion from 2025 for precisely these measures.
My Lords, the Government have a very ambitious net-zero target and part of that is their ambitious target for the installation of heat pumps, which, frankly, at the moment they look like they are not going to meet. The Minister’s own department’s figures suggest that the great majority of heat pumps so far installed in this country are produced abroad. Is there not a way in pursuit of this ambitious target to ensure that a much greater number of heat pumps installed in this country are produced in this country by British manufacturers rather than sending the business abroad?
I agree very much with my noble friend, and we are working with a number of manufacturers looking to relocate production to the UK. I think his figures in terms of the percentage produced in the UK are slightly wrong. Mitsubishi in Scotland produces a large number of heat pumps and there are a number of ground source heat pump manufacturers as well. We want more relocated into the UK. We are looking at a market mechanism with the boiler manufacturers, and have a grant programme to relocate production facilities into the UK.
My Lords, because the net-zero metric does not include all the emissions associated with imported products, does the Minister agree that we must bear in mind our total carbon footprint on any activity in the UK which uses imports, so that we are not unnecessarily exporting our emissions? That would be of no help whatsoever in combating global warming.
I agree. Carbon leakage is an important problem, and one of the reasons why a number of the larger industries are subject to international competition, as the noble Lord mentioned. We give them free permit allocations under the emissions trading system.
Indeed, we have already done so. There have been a number of reports on the efficiency of heat pumps. Efficiency varies depending on the quality of the installation. We must ensure that they are installed properly in the appropriate properties with the right number of emitters. I am happy to send copies of the reports that we have done to the noble Lord.
My Lords, a number of SMEs operate in old buildings. When retrofitting to improve insulation considerably, we rapidly come up against planning restrictions. Are the Government doing their best to reconcile the preservation of the built environment with the need for much more efficient insulation of old housing?
“Yes” is the short answer to the noble Lord’s question. I am on a working party with DLUHC looking at some of the planning barriers that exist. The conclusion is that there are not many legislative barriers; it is just the views taken by different planning officers in different local authorities. Like the noble Lord, we value local authority autonomy to decide these things for themselves, but there is perhaps more of a role for government guidance in these matters.
Water: Wales and England
To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions, if any, they have had with Welsh Government Ministers concerning proposals to secure greater quantities of water for use in south-east England from sources in Wales and from rivers running from Wales to England.
Under the intergovernmental protocol, Defra and the Welsh Government collaborate on water resources management. Water companies have a statutory duty to provide clean and reliable water to customers. They have been consulting on their new water resources management plans, including the water infrastructure needed to meet their water-supply duties. The plans will be referred to the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers for decisions on whether the plans can be finalised later this year.
My Lords, as this is the first Wales-specific opportunity in the House since the sad death of Lord Morris of Aberavon, I pay tribute on behalf of Plaid Cymru to his lifelong work for Wales. We extend our sympathy to his family.
We in Wales fully recognise the needs of south-east England for adequate supplies of drinking water, and that it may need additional capacity from Welsh reservoirs and agreed flows of waters down rivers emanating from Wales. However, will the Minister accept that it is not unreasonable for Wales to receive fair financial benefit for such water supplies and that development control over any such projects in Wales should be in the hands of Senedd Cymru and the relevant local authority?
I think that we all concur with the noble Lord on his condolences for Lord Morris.
There is a long-established protocol for transferring water from water-rich parts of the United Kingdom to areas where it is needed. Wales has been providing water to Liverpool and other cities in the north-west, and there are plans that water can now reach the Thames through a new arrangement. On charging, there are a number of existing transfers where water companies receive money from water companies in England for water that they have received from Wales, and that will continue. Additionally, there are investments in the Welsh catchments which protect water quality, support biodiversity and sequester carbon, and that finance does flow into those schemes.
As somebody of Welsh ancestry, who could have played rugby for Wales—although it is unlikely I would ever have caught the selector’s eye— I welcome how the water that falls on the beloved islands of the United Kingdom is used for the benefit of everybody in the United Kingdom. We thank the Welsh for storing water in Wales, but I understand that people on the Welsh side of the border use hospital services in Shropshire and elsewhere. Surely we should be grateful that we are a United Kingdom and that all members of the United Kingdom can use water and hospital services to their benefit.
I agree with my noble friend. There are a number of different actions in the Wales Act which will see more control over these issues in the Senedd when Section 48 is put into place—that is under negotiation now. On a small island such as this, there is a free-flowing use of services by businesses and individuals, and that will always continue.
My Lords, it is very sad that there is not more messaging around how precious and finite a commodity water is. When the British public were asked how much they use, they guessed between 20 and 40 litres a day; in actual fact, it is 145 litres a day. The Environment Act set a target of a 20% reduction within the next 10 years, but last year our use went up by 3.7%. What are the Government going to do in terms of public messaging to encourage people to use less of this precious stuff, whether we get it from Wales or from the water-stressed east?
The noble Baroness raises a crucial point. Household consumption amounts, on average, to 60% of public water supply and has decreased 5.2% since last year from 152 to 144 litres per person per day. This remains above the forecast of 136, but our environment improvement plan gives very strict targets for further reduction. Some of that is about communication, but it is also about demand-led measures, which can cause the dramatic reductions that we want to promote.
My Lords, in 2020 the Government reported that 3 billion litres—a huge 20% of the UK’s total supply—are lost every day through leakage from the pipes. Last month, Ofwat expressed concerns that some water companies do not have plans to meet the minimum requirement of a 50% reduction over the period 2017-18 to 2050. Can the Minister explain what urgent action is being taken to make sure that the water companies address this really serious concern?
Through our direction to Ofwat, the Government have made this an absolute priority. The latest figures show that three-quarters of companies are meeting their leakage targets and some have reduced leakage by more than 10% in the past two years. We will continue to crack down on the amount of water lost through leaks with targets; we expect leakage to reduce by 16% by 2025.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, is obviously right when she says that water supplies are limited and finite. On the other hand, if the water companies stopped all their leaks and if we built more reservoirs when there is surplus water, we would not have a problem.
There are plans for more reservoirs. A reservoir in East Anglia has increased in size and, I hope, we will very soon see plans being brought forward by Thames Water for a major reservoir that will resolve many of these issues. The reservoirs in London were closed because a ring main was created, which is sometimes quoted erroneously in this case.
My Lords, water is an essential resource, but we have seen it being polluted on a grand scale through legal sewage overflows. This week, we have also seen that the water network of Ukraine is vulnerable to catastrophic attack, causing great personal distress and huge environmental damage. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has highlighted the need to move water around the country, from areas of plenty to those suffering scarcity. Is the Minister confident that, nationwide, we have sufficient water resources to meet the current population’s demands?
If you draw a rough line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash, all that is north and west of it has a surfeit of water, but there are areas that are south and east of it where rainfall is often below that of some countries in sub-Saharan Africa. That is why our environment improvement plan sets a clear reduction of demand, halving leakage rates, developing new supplies, moving water to where it is needed and reducing the need for drought measures that can harm the environment.
My Lords, we all appreciate the urgency of ensuring sustainable water supplies for the entire country. However, 60 years on from the flooding of Capel Celyn, the sensitivities of the reallocation of Welsh water resources to English cities needs to be understood. As not a single reservoir has been built since privatisation in 1989, will the Minister update the House on what recent meetings Ministers have held with Thames Water, the National Infrastructure Commission and the relevant local authorities to discuss the proposed Abingdon reservoir and associated schemes?
The Abingdon reservoir was brought to Ministers over a decade ago, and the case made by Thames Water was not correctly put forward. We told them to go back and do it again. They have, and this will now be part of their water resources management plan, which will go to Ministers this year. I hope that we can learn from this. It should not take two to three decades for really important infra- structure to be built.
Agricultural pollution, primarily through slurry spreading and the use of inorganic fertilisers, was responsible for roughly 70% of the phosphate pollution in that extraordinarily beautiful river. My Secretary of State has made this a personal mission: she hosted a round table in Hereford, bringing together all the stakeholders, where the main focus was to find the best ways to restore this river to a favourable condition. She identified a key point: one local authority, which was then run by the Greens and independents, had not even looked at, let alone refused, the application for a phosphate-stripping plant, which was put in by a company that was using chicken manure to produce energy. We really need to make sure that we are joining things up so that local authorities, the Government, the regulators, water companies and farmers are all working together to save this river.
My Lords, I am grateful for the answers. I note the way that a question about a Welsh resource rapidly turned into an exchange of views about water in general. In asking my question, I pay fulsome tribute to my noble friend Lord Wigley in persistently asking for a listening ear for real Welsh concerns. It is not a question of generosity; Wales is happy to be generous. At the heart of my noble friend’s Question was a co-ordinated and focused policy with proper consultations and with a key role for the Senedd especially. I would like some reassurance that, of all the questions asked, that one was noted by the Minister.
The noble Lords, Lord Griffiths and Lord Wigley, are totally sincere in the points that they make. We are very keen that there should be an understanding of the need for fairness in all such discussions, whether we are talking about cross-border issues relating to water, the health service or the needs of a catchment such as the Wye, which we were just discussing. We treat these negotiations with the Welsh Government, Welsh organisations and local authorities very seriously and, I hope, with respect.
My Lords, we are continuing to work towards our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year. This has always been a stretching ambition, and we have made strong progress: the three highest rates of annual supply in over 30 years have all come since 2018. We are aware that increasing supply even further will be made more difficult due to the economic challenges we face, but we are engaging with Homes England, developers and registered providers to understand the delivery challenges they face.
Has my noble friend seen today’s Times, which reports that new housebuilding is at its lowest level for 14 years, outside the Covid years? Has a much-needed recovery not been delayed by the concession on planning made in another place to a number of government Back-Benchers, which has already resulted in over 50 local authorities withdrawing their local plans with a view to submitting new plans with a lower number? If a Government make a manifesto commitment to build 300,000 homes, can they rely simply on the good will of local authorities to deliver it, or should we amend the levelling-up Bill to ensure that the country gets the homes it needs?
My Lords, I will start at the end. The proposed changes to the planning system set out in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill are designed to support more areas to get an up-to-date local plan in place, and therefore deliver more housing. The Government do not recognise the figure on withdrawn plans. Pauses and delays to plan-making are not something new, which is why we are determined, through our reforms, to reinvigorate local plan-making by simplifying it, speeding it up and strengthening the weight of democratically produced plans in this country. As for the article in the Times, yes, I have seen it and all I can say is that we still want to build more homes of the right type in the right places. We know that increasing housing supply will be made more difficult because of economic challenges, but we are working with the market very closely on the impacts, and to see what more the Government can do to provide support.
My Lords, could not a land commission be established to research what the impact would be of building on land acquired at agricultural prices, as proposed by Lisa Nandy, and sold for housing of a new form of ownership title, as I proposed in previous debates in the House? Only by that means can we guarantee the target of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, thereby providing affordable housing to a new generation of young people who, without inherited wealth, may never be home owners.
Are the Government looking at the possibility of expanding home ownership to groups of people who do not have that chance at the moment, thereby creating greater sociability out of poverty, because home ownership is one of the best ways of ending poverty?
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, and this Government are committed to supporting home ownership and first-time buyers. Since spring 2010, more than 837,000 households have been helped to buy their own home through the government-backed schemes, including Help to Buy and Right to Buy. We have looked at stamp duty and made that much more positive for first-time buyers, and I believe we are spreading the opportunity to more people through our First Homes Scheme, giving a minimum of 30% discount to people who cannot otherwise afford to buy in their areas. That is what we are doing to support home ownership.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. May I point out to my noble friend that Governments do not build houses—the private sector builds them? The private sector will build only when it thinks there is a market for them. The Bank of England’s crashing of interest rates in its failed policy to drive down inflation is not going to be the solution. My noble friend must remember that the only time this country has ever delivered 300,000 units a year was when councils were freed up to deliver 70,000 or 80,000 units. Her department has removed two of the historic barriers, but will she look at removing the third? We removed the cap on right-to-buy receipts being spent—councils can now spend 100%, which is brilliant—and the cap on councils borrowing against the existing value, but we still need to remove the cap on their ability to set locally determined discounts.
My noble friend is right: it takes a whole government, and many departments of government, to ensure that we have housing supply. DLUHC and the Housing Minister cannot do it on their own, so we need to work across government. As far as local authorities are concerned, my noble friend is right that we are removing the barriers and local authorities are now building houses.
My Lords, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the recent proposal by the Labour Party to remove hope value would allow social landlords more easily to develop the affordable homes our country so badly needs. Fewer than 7,000 were built last year but we need 90,000 every year, so it is not surprising that these proposed reforms are supported by a wide range of organisations, including the National Housing Federation and Shelter. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of high land values on our ability to deliver new social housing?
The noble Baroness has been involved in some of the Committee sessions of the levelling-up Bill, and she will know that we are looking at hope value and land prices. The Government particularly recognise the need for homes for social rent. That is why social rent homes were brought into the scope of the affordable homes programme, for example, in 2018. As I say, the levelling-up White Paper committed to looking at ways to increase the supply of social rented homes.
My Lords, 40 years ago SME builders built 40% of all new homes. Today the figure is around 10%. The Minister might therefore understand my disappointment that the Government have not accepted my amendment to the levelling-up Bill that would assist SMEs to build on small sites. Will she offer assurances today that the new NPPF, which is being revised and will appear soon, I hope, will have something in it to give SMEs hope that they can get back to building at scale?
I am not going to get into what will and will not be in the NPPF at this time. What I can say about government support for SMEs is what we are doing at the moment. We have launched the Levelling Up Home Building Fund, which is providing £1.5 billion in development finance to SMEs and MMC builders and supporting them to deliver more homes. As the noble Baroness said, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will make changes to the planning system that will support SMEs by making the planning process faster and far more predictable.
My Lords, we have long had a housing crisis. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, millions are living in substandard and overcrowded accommodation, there are 2 million fewer social housing units than some decades ago and home ownership among the young has fallen dramatically. Does the Minister agree that we need to create many more than 300,000 new dwellings per year if we are to achieve a reasonable equilibrium in reasonable time in the UK’s housing market?
The Government’s view is that we need to deliver 300,000 houses per year by the middle of 2025. The noble Lord is right that we then need to look again at those numbers. The key to this is that local authorities look at the housing need in their areas and build to that housing need.
Electronic Passport Control Systems
The UK border has a highly resilient e-gate infrastructure, with over 50% of all arrivals successfully using automation in the year ending March 2023. On Friday 26 May we had a nationwide border system issue, the unintended consequence of a change, which meant that we had to take our e-gates offline. We are undertaking a full review of the incident and are fully committed to ensuring that resilience is at the heart of our transformation of the border.
I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. When you are standing for many hours at an e-gate, resilient is not the adjective I would use, but at least the Home Office issued a press release the next day, saying that it had put in place “robust plans” to deploy officers. That is useful. Is it not time that we had a contingency plan for e-gates, three years after the Government vowed to take back control of our Brexit borders, rather than relying on the odd person to check your passport manually? Is it not more important to do that than to see the Prime Minister flying off to Dover, putting on a life jacket, standing in a dinghy and pretending he is King Canute to keep a few illegal immigrants out?
As the noble Lord well knows, 95.9% of recorded wait times in the first three months of 2023 were within published service standard. The UK border system has, as I have already said, a highly resilient e-gate infrastructure, with circa 65 million passengers being processed in the year to May 2023. There are currently 288 e-gates operational, comprising 22 at air and rail terminals, including in Paris, at Gare du Nord, and Brussels, at Gare du Midi. From April 2011 to June 2021, e-gates processed 258 million passengers through the UK border. As the noble Lord will see, it is a highly effective addition to our UK border infrastructure.
The noble Lord asks a fair question. However, as he probably knows, it has never been government practice, for reasons of law enforcement, to comment on operational issues relating to border security and immigration controls. This includes offering commentary on the performance of border systems and e-passport gates specifically. The e-gates process passengers arriving in the UK, and provide a secure border check on approved travel documents, and refer passengers to an officer if required. The current e-gate estate was upgraded in 2021. Incidents impacting the availability of e-gates are proactively managed, and lessons are learned. They have certainly been learned from this most recent incident.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that more people would accept waiting rather better if everyone was polite? I have to say that border officials are very polite, but why is it that no notices say “please”? Could we please have notices that are polite instead of peremptory?
My Lords, this was a short-lived issue but there is a long-term issue for our airports, ports and Eurostar around longer times trying to get through passport control since Brexit. This week saw the final Eurostar Disneyland Paris train from London. The service is no longer viable because of longer check-in times, and Ebbsfleet and Ashford International have in effect been mothballed as Eurostar stopping points. Does the Minister agree that, instead of a declining network, the Government should be encouraging Eurostar to increase its network, because that is the most environmentally friendly way of travelling to and from Europe? What are the Government doing to renegotiate passport control arrangements to make travel easier in the future?
International rail infrastructure is a very valuable part of our international travel systems. I am afraid it is beyond the ken of the Home Office to require Eurostar to run any particular route, but Border Force does facilitate the clearance of passports, as I have already said, in Brussels and Paris, and this works very effectively. As a result of the agreement with our French friends, they run checks in London, and those are sometimes the subject of delays. That can impact the running of trains; I entirely accept that.
My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister probably does not want to use the word “cyberattack”, but I have a specific question. Will he go back and ask the department if it can open discussions with those producing and designing the technology to make it possible for those with little or no sight to use e-gates? At the moment, the design is so bad and the equipment so inadequate that it is not possible to use them.
My Lords, unfortunately we are going to experience, by all accounts, a summer of discontent which will come from the security staff at airports; notwithstanding that the airlines and airports—the entire industry—suffered terrible hardships throughout Covid, this is pretty bad news. It is therefore not acceptable that we then have a repetition of these technical failures at e-gates. It obviously concerns inbound passengers and some who are on transfer but, in large airports, the backlog causes damage to our reputation among tourists and people travelling into the UK. Will my noble friend please speak to the Home Office and give us some assurance that we can minimise any of these failures in the future?
I thank my noble friend for that question. The Home Office is not responsible for security facilities at the airports beyond those provided by Border Force. I reassure her that Border Force takes seriously maintaining the operation of the e-gates during peak periods. As I have said, we have certainly learned lessons from what happened last week.
My Lords, the noble Lord said that 95.9% of travellers go through the e-gate system within the published wait times. What is the position during half terms, when people are travelling with children and there are many more people travelling? Are extra staff put on during half terms?
I do not have those statistics to hand—I will of course find them and write to the noble Lord in respect of them—but, as your Lordships will recall, there was an SI approved by this House to lower the age at which children could use e-gates from 12 to 10. I am pleased to report that the pilot was incredibly effective and that it will now be rolled out across the e-gates by the end of July, so 10 year-olds across the country will be able to use them. This will increase the flow through airports, particularly during peak periods of half term and holidays.
As a consequence of our long-standing treaty agreements with the Republic of Ireland, the common travel area means that one can travel seamlessly from the Republic into Northern Ireland and from all the other parts of the common travel area, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It is obviously part of that agreement that the external parts of the common travel area operate border security of their own. That seems to have worked very effectively for the last century.
My Lords, my interest in this is that I was at Heathrow at the time in question. My flight was cancelled and I found myself in the unusual position of entering the UK barely two hours after I had left it. When I re-entered, it was just before the incident that we are discussing and I could not get through the e-gates, so I had to queue up. I can tell the House that, as I am sure the Minister is aware, even on occasions when the system is allegedly working there are many e-gates not in use. As part of the review that the Minister says is being undertaken into this important incident—by the way, the place was full of schoolchildren on their half-term holiday—he might want to take into account the fact that even on a normal “good” day, many e-gates are not in operation.
The noble Viscount identifies a good point and is as perspicacious as ever. We are certainly looking into having more of the e-gates operational more of the time. The plan in due course, as I have already informed the House, is to dispense with the need to place the passport on the e-gate and that it will recognise people’s faces as they approach it. That should accelerate the speed with which they can go through the e-gate. I hope that might address in due course the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, as well.
British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Animal By-Products, Pet Passport and Animal Health (Fees) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023
Packaging Waste (Data Reporting) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023
Motions to Approve
Illegal Migration Bill
Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 34th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 16th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 5: Removal for the purposes of section 2 or 3
Debate on whether Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I propose that Clause 5, Schedule 1 and Clause 6 should not stand part of the Bill. I appreciate the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on this. Clause 5 relates to the removal of a person, as the Minister said on Monday, “swiftly” after they arrive in the UK or, as he put it, “shortly” after their 18th birthday. But Clause 5 actually says
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”.
Without the regulatory impact assessment, we in Parliament cannot judge what is a “reasonably practicable” period. What we do know—the Ministers know this all too well because they are lawyers—is that case law determines that
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”
cannot be considered as “as soon as possible” or “as soon as feasible”, although the Minister wanted us to think that it does. I guess the Bill would be a deterrent if one assumed that no lawyers for anyone would read it. Of course, there is no baseline estimate of the amount of accommodation and staffing or other logistical requirements that will be needed. We need central government estimates on costs, as we debated on Monday.
As we start today it is worth reflecting on the Minister’s comments in Committee on Monday as to who is included as a person—or “P”. As we found, “P” includes a young woman trafficked to the UK—potentially via multiple trafficking handlers, blackmailed and threatened, most commonly with threats of rape or family retribution—for criminal sexual or labour exploitation.
Home Office data shows the number of irregular arrivals of women since 2018 who received a positive referral to the national referral mechanism was 520. Those 520 women had been criminally exploited, and now they would be imprisoned and deported to a strange third country and, as the Minister confirmed to me on Monday, with no statutory duty for resettlement, readmission or support. Of those women, 73 were 17 and under. Last year, 13 girls came from countries to which we cannot return them. So those sexually exploited girls are now due to be detained and possibly sent to Rwanda. Last year, 13 girls were trafficked for exploitation in the UK, and the Government would now no longer allow their referral for protection. Well, not in my name—and nor should be in the name of any Member of this Parliament.
The Minister told us on Monday that they were part of the gaming of the system. He repeated to me on Monday the false assertion that
“the numbers of people claiming to have been modern slaves in this scenario indicates that there is extensive abuse”.
He also said that
“the simple reality, I am afraid, is that our modern slavery protections are being abused”.
These are misleading talking points from the Minister, and from Suella Braverman, which led, in December, to a formal complaint from Ed Humpherson, the director-general for regulation in the Office for Statistics Regulation, the formal watchdog. In response to those assertions, he investigated the data and wrote to the Home Office on 8 December. In his letter, he said:
“However, policy officials in the department could not point to any specific evidence for this when we enquired. What is more, the proportion of referrals deemed by the Home Office to be genuine cases of modern slavery in its ‘conclusive grounds decisions’ has risen year by year from 58 per cent in 2016 to 91 per cent in 2021, which does not suggest in itself that gaming is a growing problem”.
“I would be grateful if you could raise this matter with communications and policy colleagues, encouraging them to ensure that claims in public statements are clear on whether they are sourced from published statistics or from other reliable evidence. This will avoid the risk of misleading people to believe that the statistics say something that they do not”.
So the Minister came to us in Committee in the British Parliament and misled us to believe that the statistics say something that they do not.
What makes that worse is that, in January, Home Office officials accepted the rebuke. Professor Jennifer Rubin, the Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser, replied to the regulator:
“I am glad that you highlighted this issue … The Deputy Director responsible for the publication of the NRM statistics has recently written to the policy and communications Deputy Directors to encourage them to ensure claims made in public statements are sourced from published statistics or other reliable evidence”.
So I hope that, on subsequent days in Committee and when we get to Report, the politicians in the Home Office will also do what the officials have been told to do: not seek to mislead us but use information based on the data.
The data the Minister cited on Monday was also partial. He told me:
“In 2022, there were around 17,000 referrals to the NRM—the highest annual number to date and a 33% increase on 2021”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; cols. 1199-1203.]
That is correct, but what did he not say? He did not say that, according to the latest Home Office data that he cited, 49% of all referrals—half—are for exploitation in the UK. That has nothing to do with overseas or from small boats; 41% are for exploitation overseas. The biggest increase that contributed to his statistics was child exploitation, growing from 498 to 4,410 in the UK. I ask the Minister: are these abused children in the UK gaming the system?
Half of all referrals came from central government—his own department—and this was a 79% increase compared to 2021. If it were not bad enough that the Minister suggested it was the arrivees gaming to a much higher extent, he is not even accurately relaying the Home Office data. But it is even worse than that. The Home Office Analysis of Modern Slavery NRM Referrals from Asylum, Small Boats and Detention Cohorts was published on 4 May 2023. I quote from paragraph 2, “Key findings”:
“From January to September 2022, people arriving via small boats were no more likely to be referred into the NRM (about 7%) than those referred from the asylum population (also about 7%)”,
so there is no particular issue. The Home Office went on, in key finding 6:
“This analysis demonstrates that the behaviour of asylum claimants and those arriving on small boats … does not appear to be drastically changing (demonstrated by the consistency in the proportion of those populations who are referred to the NRM)”.
The Home Office’s own statistics, published on 4 May, show that behaviour
“does not appear to be drastically changing”,
but the Minister told us on Monday that it was. I hope he has an opportunity to clarify the record today, at the soonest opportunity in Committee, and to refer to the Home Office statistics published in May, not a political assertion. Maybe he thinks we do not read these things or care what Ministers say. Well, I read the data and I care. Clearly, Home Office officials are with me; that is why they cared when they accepted the official rebuke from the regulator in January.
A system not being gamed, assertions not backed up by data, and partial use of data to seek to mislead us—who is accountable for this? It is not a Minister, but it is a 17 year-old Eritrean girl trafficked for sexual exploitation in our country, where she will now not be referred for any protection and instead detained on her 18th birthday and shipped off to somewhere we do not know where and nor will she. According to the Government, it could be one of the 57 countries “safe” in Schedule 1. But we also demonstrated on Monday that, regrettably, for many of what the Government had said were safe countries, the Justice Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, in the conscientious way in which he responded to the Committee, and I respect him for doing so, said that they are not, but that a suspensive claim can be brought to the Home Secretary—not directly to the tribunal but to the Home Secretary—a mechanism that renders the whole point of the schedule entirely otiose.
The 2002 Act defined the word “safe” for the purposes of an individual review of a person. Now the Government think just that stating the country will suffice, but FCDO advice for seven on the list of 57 includes significant red areas and advice against all travel, and for others we showed through Home Office country notes that there is also widespread risk of persecution on the basis of personal characteristics. I asked what would prevent someone being returned to a third country considered safe but then that person being moved to an unsafe country or region. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, gave a straightforward answer:
“I suppose that the direct answer is that one would have to negotiate an appropriate agreement with the country concerned”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1229.]
I agree, but remember that the noble Lord, Lord Murray, earlier on Monday dismissed the need for such agreements to be in place. He said that
“they are not silver bullets”,—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1138.]
but what is necessary for the Ministry of Justice is not necessary for the Home Office. Furthermore, as UNHCR has pointed out:
“Nothing in the Bill makes removal dependent on the receiving country having an effective asylum procedure, or agreeing to admit a person to”
such a procedure. Clause 5 sets out only two conditions for removal to a third country under the Bill but is silent on there being an effective system.
As an EU member state, the UK participated in 14 readmission agreements. The Minister said to us that the UK is party to 16, but I have not been able to find a list of those and nor has the House of Lords Library, so I would be grateful if he would provide a link to Members of the Committee of all those 16, plus the new ones which have been scrutinised by the International Agreements Committee of this House. As of May this year, we have new agreements with Albania, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, but not all those countries are considered safe in the schedule, so what is the interaction between those areas where the Minister has said we have agreements and those the schedule alleges are safe countries?
The Explanatory Notes are grossly misleading. Paragraph 1 states categorically that someone will be
“promptly removed to their home country or to a safe third country to have any asylum claim processed”.
This is repeated in paragraphs 5 and 15, in relation to their humanitarian or protection claims being processed. However, nothing in the Bill that the Explanatory Notes purport to explain provides for the processing in a country with which we have no agreement. Paragraph 3a) of the European Convention on Human Rights memorandum from the Government is equally misleading. It says that people will be removed to
“a safe third country for consideration of any asylum claims”.
Nothing in the Bill guarantees the process of their claims and, as the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, said—with whom the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, disagreed—one would have to negotiate an appropriate agreement with the country concerned. The schedule fell apart when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, replied to my noble friend Lord Scriven:
“In general terms, the Government’s view is that it is not desirable to enshrine in statute descriptions of which countries are safe or not, or of particular groups of individuals or those with protected characteristics”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1229.]
That is exactly what the Government have put in Schedule 1 and Clause 6. At least I am not the only one who believes that the Bill, nor this schedule, nor these two clauses, are desirable. The Minister responsible agrees also, and I hope that he will take them out.
My Lords, I support the intention expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, to oppose the question that Clause 5 stand part of the Bill.
Clause 5(1) seeks to put into effect the removal of any person who arrives in the UK other than through a safe route even though, as we have already debated at length, safe routes are virtually non-existent for the vast majority of people coming to this country from Afghanistan, Sudan or Eritrea, for example.
Amendments 27 and 30, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, dealt with two of my major concerns about Clause 5, but there are other concerns. Amendments already tabled and some of those debated seek to protect victims of modern slavery and trafficking, as well as children. If this House approves those amendments, which I expect we shall, Clause 5 would contradict them. I will speak as briefly as I can. For example, Clause 5(1)(a) requires that the Secretary of State must ensure the person is removed, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has said,
“as soon as is reasonably practicable after the person’s entry”
to the UK. Subsection (4) restricts that requirement if the person has made a protection or human rights claim, but only if the Secretary of State considers that there are exceptional circumstances which prevent the person’s removal. Newly arrived people with no knowledge of the language or systems of the UK would need assistance for any such claim, and the Bill restricts access to assistance. Under Clause 5, therefore, a person is likely to be removed before they have had a chance to make a protection or human rights claim. Also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has argued, it should not be possible for the Secretary of State to counter a protection or human rights claim, if one has been made, with a subjective power to determine that there are not “exceptional circumstances”. The inclusion of Clause 5 in the Bill would undoubtedly enhance the risks to victims of modern slavery or trafficking and to children, along with all others seeking asylum in the UK. I hope the Minister will agree that Clause 5 should not stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I would like to ask some questions of the Minister, in relation to Schedule 1 and Clause 6. I have four concerns about these provisions.
First, I do not understand the rationale for the list in Schedule 1 and I would be very grateful if the Minister could explain it. It seems to me that, of the 57 countries listed, with only two do we have any form of removal agreement: Rwanda and Albania. Does it concern the Government, as it concerns me, that we are setting out a list of destinations without having any international agreement underpinning it in relation to particular countries?
Secondly, some countries among the 57 listed in Schedule 1 are not party to the refugee convention, so they are in no way bound by the same commitments on the treatment of asylum seekers that bind us. Are the Government concerned about that? I am concerned about it, and I am inclined to think that they should be.
Thirdly, it is not clear to me that all the countries of the 57 in Schedule 1 have any kind of asylum system or procedure. I am not sure that all these countries recognise the concept of asylum in law. Can the Government assure me that I am wrong, and that although some of these countries are not party to the refugee convention—that is a fact—they all have working asylum systems? If not, are the Government not concerned about that? I think we should be concerned about it.
Fourthly, we must ask the Minister to construe the language “in general”, which occurs twice in Clause 6(1). The Secretary of State may add to the list in Schedule 1 if he is satisfied that
“there is in general in”
the country in question
“no serious risk of persecution”.
How are we meant to construe “in general”? I do not think it is the kind of language that should be on the statute book.
The second occurrence in the clause is that the removal of persons to a country to be added to the list is possible only if it would not “in general” contravene the human rights convention and our obligations under it. Hold on: pacta sunt servanda. It is not a question of whether “in general” there is a contravention of the human rights convention—there is or there is not. If sending somebody to one of these 57 countries would be a breach of our obligations under the human rights convention in any way, it does not matter if the Government think that “in general” it is all right. The language “in general” should not be here, both on constitutional and legal grounds and on grounds of pacta sunt servanda. If it would breach in any way our commitments under the convention—I believe it would —we should not add the territory in question to the list in Schedule 1.
My last point is also a question about how we should construe the language. Clause 6 talks not just about countries or territories that could be added but about parts of a country or territory. The noble and learned Lord on the Front Bench spoke eloquently about India when we last discussed this, and I have been thinking about what he said. If I were a serving diplomat, I do not know how I would persuade any country—particularly India, but any country—to accept an international agreement with the United Kingdom in which it accepted that parts of its country were unsafe for an asylum seeker. I do not see how any self-respecting country such as India could possibly accept an agreement including a restriction to a part of its territory where an asylum seeker might be sent. We need the Minister to explain to us how we are meant to construe, in Clause 6(1), “in general” and
“part of a country or territory”.
In my view, we cannot send people to countries that are not party to the convention and do not have an asylum system. Remember that we are sending people not to have our asylum processes carried out offshore by some other country. We will have declared these people inadmissible—they will never be allowed into our asylum process. We are going to deport them to other countries, where an application that they never made for asylum in those countries will be considered by us and by the country in question to have been made. But how can the country in question do that if it does not have a system for doing it? How should we accept that it is reasonable to require people to seek asylum somewhere else—which in my view is contrary to the convention—and to do so in a country that is not a party to the convention and has no asylum system? I put that all interrogatively—I may be wrong on all or several of those points—but the Minister needs to address them.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, in the submission that Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 should not stand part of the Bill. The reasoning becomes increasingly repetitive and circular, because these provisions are parasitic on the meat of the Bill, which is really Clause 2. That is the duty that the Secretary of State is quite deliberately taking upon herself so that it looks as if no discretion is being exercised, she must remove people and therefore the courts have no ability to supervise that judgment. That is the heart of the moral and practical problem with the Bill, so when we look at the parasitic clauses that follow on from Clause 2, we come back to that central problem.
There are so many reasons why this is wrong in both principle and practice. As always, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a most distinguished senior diplomat and former Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—which is important. The poor old Home Office gets lumbered with all the tough talk and rhetoric and with translating press releases into legislation, but the foreign department has to represent this country all over the world, negotiate further treaties and hold its head up in its attempt to do so. The foreign department will no doubt try to persuade people that Mr Sunak is so right and that, as I said last time, we should be the hub of AI intelligence and the world regulator, and everybody should support the idea that these treaties should be formulated here. Once upon a time, we could have said that.
If any noble Lords, particularly on the Benches opposite, want to understand the importance of the refugee convention, not as it is being flexibly interpreted by the current Government but as it was intended after the war, they might care to read the correspondence between our wartime Prime Minister and the then Archbishop of Canterbury. That correspondence between Winston Churchill and William Temple is very revealing of what the obligations of the future treaty were going to be in relation to individuated justice for refugees, which of course is the problem.
We were treated last time to good cop, bad cop by two Ministers, from the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice respectively; I will leave Members of the Committee to decide who was which. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was right in his rather forensic—if I may say so—examination to point out some tensions in the case as it was put by the two Ministers.
The Home Office Minister concentrated, quite rightly, on the message as we have heard it thus far: this is about deterrence; we do not want people to come here; this is all about stopping the boats. Therefore, he stressed the automaticity of Clause 2 and the absolute commitment—no ifs, ands or buts—to a duty to remove anybody who comes by an irregular route; no matter how genuine a refugee, they must be removed. When, as amendment after amendment was debated, and noble Lord after noble Lord gave the litany of heartbreaking cases of trafficked people, of gay people who should not be sent back to certain countries, and so on, the Minister from the justice department pointed up the possibility of exceptional non-suspensive claims—it will be all right, there will be the possibility of individuated justice in those cases. But, of course, both positions cannot be the case, and they were not intended to be. It was excellent advocacy, perhaps, but it does not stand up, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said so clearly in his introduction to the debate.
This is the blanket treatment of claims that were always intended to be considered in a case-by-case analysis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, there are countries, including very large democracies such as India, perhaps, that are perfectly safe for some people but not at all safe for others—because they are political dissidents, because they are queer, because they are women. That is conceded by the Home Office in the schedule that lists some countries as safe only for men.
It is a diplomatic nightmare to be creating this automaticity of “These are safe countries; these are unsafe countries” and to be telegraphing it in the schedule to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, will say, “There has been this development for some years under Governments of both stripes to have inadmissibility and presumptive safety”. It is one thing to say to your officials considering individual claims that some countries might be prima facie safe, but you still have a duty to consider the individual asylum seeker before you to determine what their story is. That was always the intention in the refugee convention and that is the obligation on signatories to it—and, I would argue, not just signatories any more because non-refoulement has become accepted as a principle of customary international law. That is what we propose to breach by this legislation.
That is how serious it is. The Bill is wrong in principle, wrong in practice and internally incoherent. Certainly, the arguments that have been put by Ministers—elegantly, charmingly, patiently, late into the night—do not hold together, and these provisions should not stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, following the eloquent speeches of my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I would like to refer again to the proposal that Schedule 1 should not stand part.
Some of those countries breach protected rights. I ask the noble and learned Lord the Minister which of the countries on the list practise female genital mutilation and do not reserve refoulement only for men? Which criminalise homosexuality? Which criminalise humanism? Noble Lords may remember the case of the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, who has received a life sentence.
Surely it is very odd to remove people to those countries. Does the Minister think that that conforms to our signature to the treaties of international law?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I endorse everything that has been said in the debate so far, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I particularly want to follow on from what the noble Baroness said to the Committee about the suitability of some countries in Schedule 1 as places to which people should be returned; my noble friend Lord Kerr and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, developed that point in their interventions earlier. I will take one example but the arguments I am going to put to the Committee could be applied to other countries on the list as well.
The country I want to talk about is Nigeria. In a later group of amendments, I have Amendment 85C in my name, which seeks to establish
“how the Secretary of State will assess Equality”
“listed in Schedule 1 and the potential harm to those with protected characteristics including victims of Modern Slavery”.
However, I want to ask the Minister specifically to engage with the issue of justice in Nigeria. This is a country to which we have said it is safe to return men but not women. I argue that it is not safe to return anybody to Nigeria, given the way in which the internal factors in that country currently stand.
The seriousness of the situation was underlined by the visit of Karim Khan KC, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, to Nigeria in 2020. He is continuing the investigation into the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetuated by Boko Haram and other factions—as well as the involvement, I might add, of the Nigerian security forces. That investigation began in December 2020 and continues. Whether or not the ICC will determine that a genocide or crimes against humanity are being perpetrated against the religious minorities in the north of Nigeria lies in the future, but the evidence of why this is a hostile environment in which people face outright persecution is overwhelming.
Simply consider the role of what are sometimes euphemistically called “bandit groups”. They have killed, abducted, forcibly converted and displaced vast numbers of people, many of whom end up in small boats. According to government figures, 4,983 women were widowed; 25,000 children were orphaned; and 190,000 people were displaced between 2011 and 2019, with more 3 billion naira paid to bandits as ransom for 3,672 individuals who had been abducted.
In one incident last year, IS West Africa killed eight people and kidnapped 72 people on a Kaduna-bound train from Abuja while, in 2022, Boko Haram killed at least 60 people from the community of Rann, in Borno State, and killed more than 15 women in Gwoza, also in Borno State. In June 2022, the United Nations reported that Boko Haram and splinter factions abducted at least 211 children, recruited at least 63 children, killed or maimed at least 88 children, raped or sexually violated 53 girls and attacked at least 15 schools. In September 2022, UNESCO estimated that 20.2 million Nigerian children were out of school as a consequence.
I think particularly of the plight of Leah Sharibu, who has just turned 20. At the age of 14, on 18 February 2018, she was abducted by Boko Haram, raped, impregnated and forcibly converted. She is one of 110 girls taken from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, in Yobe State. Here in your Lordships’ House, I met her mother, Rebecca. I promised that I would never miss any opportunity that might come my way to raise Leah’s case. I do so again today because it illustrates the dangers faced by people being sent back to Nigeria, whether they are women or men; indeed, if they come from religious minorities that do not fit a particular mindset or ideology, they are doubly endangered.
Elsewhere in the country, secessionist forces in the south-east of Nigeria and protests by the Indigenous People of Biafra led to gunmen killing, maiming and destroying the properties of citizens in the region. Armed forces against separatists have also been involved in at least 122 extrajudicial killings. Media reports suggest that more than 287 people were killed in the south-east between January and May.
Consider other rights that we take for granted. Some 75 years ago this year the United Nations promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of which insists that everyone has the right to believe or not believe or change their belief. Theoretically, Nigeria is signed up to Article 18 and all the 30 articles in the UDHR. But Article 18 is honoured, as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, has just reminded us, only in its breach in Nigeria, and there are no safe and legal routes for those who are subjected to persecution for their religion or belief. With a cap on total numbers, there should be a safe and legal route and no refoulement for certain categories of people.
I am particularly glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is in her place today, because this is an issue I have raised previously with her. As the Government now consider the creation of further safe and legal routes—I welcome what they have said about this—persecuted people might form part of that. If they allowed for, say, a maximum of 5,000 people per year, that would be a great step forward for many endangered people in many parts of the world.
The urgency of addressing this issue is illustrated by the case of Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for a “blasphemous” post on Facebook. He received an excessive sentence but is at least still alive to challenge it. In most cases the extremist sentiment fuelled by blasphemy laws and accusations, coupled with the impunity surrounding blasphemy-related violence, means that many of those accused never get to have their day in court and are in effect lynched, as occurred in the case of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto state. In an indication of the degree of impunity surrounding blasphemy allegations, only three men among the mob who killed her were arrested for beating her to death and her immolation. They were merely charged with “public disturbance”, as opposed to murder. Moreover, they were freed by Chief Magistrate Shuaibu Ahmad in January 2023 due to the absence of the police prosecution during the scheduled hearings.
Nigeria is one of 71 countries that criminalises blasphemy in a law introduced during the colonial era that contravenes the country’s constitution which theoretically allows for the freedoms of thought, conscience and expression that we all uphold in this House. It is also incompatible with the nation’s international obligations with regard to those Article 18 obligations that I referred to earlier. In addition, the enactment of sharia penal codes in 12 northern states effectively rendered Islam a de facto state religion in violation of Nigeria’s secular constitution, which only theoretically recognises sharia courts for non-criminal proceedings. As well as contravening constitutional stipulations, this action effectively endowed the systematic marginalisation of followers of non-majoritarian expressions of faith that has existed for decades with quasi-legality.
The Tijaniyya Sufi singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, whose death sentence was overturned on a technicality and following an international outcry, but who still faces a retrial and a possible death sentence, is currently petitioning the Supreme Court, challenging Nigeria’s blasphemy law and the legality and constitutionality of the Kano sharia penal code. He is not alone in facing wholly unacceptable penalties for simply expressing dissent.
Consider the denial of freedom of expression and arbitrary arrests—breaches of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For seven months there was a ban on Twitter, while the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission suspended Vision FM for criticising the Government, sanctioned four media outlets and suspended 52 broadcast stations. The Government shut down five pro-opposition media outlets.
Last November, a Kano court sentenced social media celebrities Mubarak Muhammad and Nazifi Muhammad to detention, flogging and a fine for defaming the governor. The blogger Bashiru Hameed was detained for publishing the criminal record of the Ogun state governor. Journalists Abdulrasheed Akogun and Dare Akogun were detained for WhatsApp messages that alleged corruption by the Kwara state governor. Peoples Gazette staff were arrested for a newspaper article said to “defame” the former chief of army staff, with Umaru Maradun detained for undisclosed reasons. Meanwhile, radio worker Casmir Uzomah was detained for airing an “offensive” song.
Recall that several prominent End SARS activists were obliged to flee the country in an irregular manner after surviving the Lekki toll-gate massacre in October 2020 and following a harsh crackdown. Among those who stayed, nine detained protesters were acquitted and released by a judge in Oyo state only in January 2023, and at least 30 remain in pre-trial detention across the country.
I am telling the Committee all this because we are going to send people back to Nigeria. We have said that it is a safe place for men. This cannot be right. Does anything that I have said to the Committee suggest that this is a safe country to which people should be returned? Many refugees or asylum seekers flee their countries after facing injustice, mistreatment, harsh imprisonment without due process and even threats to their lives on account of peaceful political protest or because of their religion or belief.
Nigeria is also a nation on the edge of a precipice. It represents nearly 3% of the global population in extreme poverty, with the emergence of a critical security vacuum that has resulted in citizens across the country facing terrorism or violent armed groups, and being commoditised, as abductions for ransom have unfortunately become a growth industry. The UN says that 1.4 million people are internally displaced. Over 95 million Nigerians are living in poverty, and food inflation reached 22% in July 2022.
As violence by non-state actors continues, the economic and political climate remains uncertain following the inauguration of a president whose victory remains disputed and who, in any case, belongs to the party that oversaw Nigeria’s critical decline. Observers warn of a final descent into failed statehood which in turn could spark an exodus of people legitimately in need of safety. In the absence of defined legal or regular routes for those seeking refuge in the UK who perhaps have family or other ties to the country, these people would also be denied entry. Not only does this suggests that what we categorise as a safe country does not match the reality, it illustrates why this Bill misses the point.
With over 100 million people displaced in the world, we need a strategy to tackle the root causes, not legislation which will do nothing to end the desperate journeys of people who are desperate to make better and safer lives for themselves and their families.
My Lords, I will not repeat what has already been said. I agree with most of what has been said in the preceding speeches, particularly the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Kerr about the inadequacy of Schedule 1, and all the examples that have been given, including those given very clearly by my noble friend Lord Alton, of cases which create real dangers of injustice which are plainly contrary to the international conventions to which this country subscribes. Instead, I want to obtain confirmation from the Minister of some short propositions which relate to Clause 6 of the Bill.
Clause 6 provides that the Secretary of State may amend Schedule 1 in certain circumstances. Can the Minister confirm that if a cogent application is made to the Secretary of State to amend Schedule 1 in particular ways and he refuses, that would immediately open the gate for judicial review proceedings? I foresee a menu of 57 opportunities in Schedule 1 for 57 applications for judicial review—perhaps a few fewer—being made by well-known and well-funded NGOs for amendments to be made to that schedule because of circumstances in those countries.
Further, would not the Secretary of State face considerable obstacles if such judicial review applications were made? First, there is the weakness of the standard of proof that is set by the Government for themselves—“if satisfied”, whatever that means. Secondly, in Clause 6(1)(a), which was referred to earlier, the Secretary of State can add a country or territory if satisfied that
“there is in general in that country or territory, or part, no serious risk of persecution”.
Does that not contradict certain other legal provisions which, for example, provide guarantees of safety to a group of people we discussed earlier this week—the cohort of LGBTQ+ people who might be affected?
Thirdly, Clause 6(1)(b) states:
“removal of persons to that country or territory, or part, pursuant to the duty in section 2(1) will not in general contravene the United Kingdom’s obligations”.
Is that not pathetically weak, and contradictory to other legislation? I again take the LGBTQ+ cohort as my example.
If that analysis of Clause 6(1) and Schedule 1 is not entirely coherent, surely it is enough to persuade the Government that they should really reconsider the drafting of Clause 6 and the contents of Schedule 1. If they insist on keeping Schedule 1, it should, from the start of the Bill coming into effect, reflect all the dangers in all countries in which there are dangers for certain groups of people who could not be described as people “in general”. This is ineffective, and I am sure it will put substantial fees into the hands of my learned friends, but that is not what this place should be trying to do.
My Lords, I support these amendments and the speeches that were just given. I want to make two points only. First, it is extraordinary to me that Schedule 1 shows a list of countries with which this country has no agreement. I cannot understand how one can put into primary legislation a list of countries with which the Government hope to have an agreement, when that is not yet happening.
Secondly, I spoke earlier, at greater length, about the unaccompanied child who comes to the age of 18. Your Lordships have only to think of a child of 10, and we know that some children of 10 have come through. With any luck, a child of 10 will not be kept in Home Office accommodation; he or she is likely to go into the care of a local authority under the Children Acts and will very likely be fostered. It is comparatively easy to be fostered at 10. The child would have spent eight years at an English school, would have grown into speaking English, probably forgetting his or her own language to some extent, and will be settled.
Immediately after the age of 18—subject to the Home Office’s inordinate delays in removing people, but assuming that it achieves something better in the future—he or she can be removed and will go to a country. At the moment, there is only one, unless the child is Albanian, when they would have gone back earlier. That child aged 18, just grown up, will find him or herself in a country the language of which they probably do not speak and he or she will know absolutely nothing. I hope your Lordships agree with me that that, quite simply, is cruel.
My Lords, I return to the terminology in general. I had tabled amendments in the last group on Monday night, which was a very big group. I could not find a polite way of describing drafting that I regarded as very poor. I resorted to saying that I thought it was
“not a very imaginative way to describe a situation”.
The Minister responding said that the term “in general” is
“not new: it is the test set out”
in legislation of 2002. He continued:
“Including a country in Schedule 1 simply requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that it is considered generally safe”.
He then said that “the individual”—and noble Lords are absolutely right to remind us that we are talking about individuals, not amorphous cohorts of people—
“would still have the opportunity to challenge their removal”.
Later in the debate, when a similar point came up again, the Minister said:
“This is going to be a matter for the judicial process—through the appeal process, the legal advice and the legal representation that these people have. If they can show serious and irreversible harm, then they will not be sent to these places”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; cols. 1216-35.]
Having criticised the terminology in general, given that the opportunities to challenge Home Office decisions in 2002 were considerably more than are presented in the Bill, I would like a detailed understanding of the Minister’s explanation of using the processes available.
My Lords, in Committee on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, used the example of India. We need to question not just how the list has been devised but the minimum criteria the Home Office wishes to have for each country before it even starts to discuss any agreement with it.
India does not have national asylum legislation: anyone who is a non-Indian citizen is determined as a foreigner under the Registration of Foreigners Act 1939, the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Foreigners Order 1948. This legislation generally governs foreigners within the territory of India. Article 2 of the Registration of Foreigners Act defines a foreigner as
“a person who is not a citizen of India”.
The other two pieces of legislation use the same definition. The Act and the order grant the Indian Government the power to restrict the movement of foreigners and carry out compulsory medical examinations, limit foreigners’ employment opportunities, and control the ability to refuse and return foreigners to their home country. All of these contravene the UN refugee convention. Refugee status is granted, but only to certain nationals of neighbouring countries. People with certain characteristics—for example, Muslims—are predominantly excluded from being granted refugee status.
People who are foreigners in India have further challenges when seeking asylum there: because of restricted employment, they find that they do not have sustainable livelihoods; there is no reliable community support network for refugees there; and access to specialised services for certain people or groups does not exist.
Quite bluntly, I ask the Minister this: is that the kind of situation he wishes to send some of the most vulnerable people in the world into? Ultimately, for every single country listed in Schedule 1, what criteria are the Home Office using before starting any negotiation with those countries?
My Lords, many very cogent points have been made in this debate, and I will not repeat them, but I will mention one or two relating to the international dimension. I, too, believe that the use of “in general” is one of the slipperiest pieces of drafting that I have seen in a long time. I suppose that the Home Office may have been ashamed to put “in principle”, the words more often used to get out of commitments in international law than any others, but it means much the same thing. It has no place in this legislation.
Secondly, it seems an enormous hostage to fortune to put a list of countries described as “safe” into legislation tabled in March this year and which will not become statute until much later this year at the earliest. By that time, I suspect that quite a lot of things will have happened in some of the countries listed that will make them completely unsafe. I do not want to refer to individual countries, although people will be aware of what happened last week in Uganda. It is a moving agenda, and it is not wise to fix it in that way.
My third and last point is that there has been much talk of the Government concluding agreements with countries to enable us to send asylum seekers—without considering their asylum applications—to them. I imagine —and perhaps the Minister could reply on this point; it would be quite helpful if he could listen to what I am saying—that it would be useful to know whether those agreements would come before Parliament in the form that the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House takes them. I take it that the answer will almost certainly be “No, they won’t, because they will be based on a memorandum of understanding”. This House has already debated this and established beyond peradventure that the use of a memorandum of understanding in the case of Rwanda was entirely designed to avoid any parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Minister say whether an agreement that will be reached for return will be subject to the international agreements procedure—CRaG—or not?
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed for his devastating critique of the government reasoning behind the measures in this Bill. As he said, the measures could have serious consequences for women and girls who have been trafficked, and he provided some examples of the sorts of numbers that might be involved. The facts presented by my noble friend appeared to show clearly that the system of referrals to the national referral mechanism is not being abused. As he said, much of the increase resulted from claims from those who were already legally in the United Kingdom.
I am very grateful—going back to Monday—to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, for indicating something of the thinking behind this Bill as far as the Government are concerned. He said:
“All I am saying is that one should have this power; I am not necessarily saying the circumstances in which one should exercise it”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1229.]
I am beginning to wonder whether this is a sort of remake of “The Wizard of Oz”, with these very scary things being put up front with very little behind them. In reply to what my noble friend said about the vulnerable women and girls who could be detained and then deported from this country, the Minister said it might not happen because, as he said, all the Government are saying is that the Government should have the power to do that, but they are not necessarily going to use it.
In relation to Schedule 1—the safe countries—many noble Lords have given graphic examples of why countries do not belong on a safe list. I have to say: what is the point of the list? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, said on Monday, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who gave a particular example of a gay man being sent back to a hostile country:
“Secondly, and in practice, this is all predicated on the country being willing to accept them. At the moment, the only agreement we have is with Rwanda. There may well be others. I hesitate to give any commitment but it seems, if I may say so, most unlikely that the fears of the noble Lord are well founded. It is most unlikely that these postulated circumstances will arise in practice”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1234.]
Well, if the Government are saying that each individual case will be considered on its merits, and if a country that is on the list is found to be not safe for that individual, what is the point of the list? What is the point if there is only one country—or potentially two countries—on the list to which the Government can return people? Is this just to try to scare the horses, with no substance behind it? That is increasingly what this Bill looks like.
My Lords, I start, as other noble Lords have done, by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his introduction, the quality of his speech and the comments that he made, which deserve a full answer, and I thank all noble Lords for the detailed and important contributions that they have made.
In that light, I ask the Minister whether he will take back to Downing Street the fact that we do not need to read on the front page of the Daily Telegraph that the PM is set to overrule the Lords on boats Bills. The quality of the contributions that have been made in today’s debate show the importance of the consideration in detail of the legislation. Indeed, the Minister will know, as has been reiterated through the usual channels, that it is not the view held by every single noble Lord that the Bill should be blocked; indeed, we on the Front Bench of His Majesty’s Opposition have said categorically that we will not block the Bill. However, we will not be intimidated by having people, even the Prime Minister, attempting to intimidate us into not properly scrutinising, in a detailed and forensic way, the operation of the Bill.
We can see from the way in which noble Lords have put forward various points and considerations today that there are real questions to answer. I do not believe that the Government Front Bench here or the usual channels did that; to be frank, I think they were probably taken by surprise by it as well. But it is important that we in this House recognise that we have a role to play, which is to revise and improve legislation. The Government are then perfectly entitled to turn around and say, “We totally disagree and we’re not going to take any notice”, but we do not need to be lectured on how we should not attempt to revise it in Committee or on Report. That is an important point to make.
The other point to make as we consider this is for us all to wish the noble Lord, Lord Murray, well in his attempt to get the impact assessment out of the Home Office well before Report. It is too soon for me to ask him in a nasty way whether he has yet had any success, but even if I do not return to this throughout the Committee, I am sure a number of other Members will ask him how it is going—so I will start the process by asking the noble Lord how it is going with regard to getting the impact assessment out.
I will say, without repeating many of the points that have been made, that my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti summed up a point that has been reinforced by many noble Lords. At their heart, Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 give effect to Clause 2. In other words, the Government require a blanket ban on asylum claims and therefore require, in a blanket way, people to be removed from the country. I have said time and again that that removal, as we have heard from many noble Lords, is without any real understanding of where to or what the consequences will be. I ask again: is it a fact that the Government believe that the threat of deterrence overcomes or supersedes individual human rights? That goes to the heart of what we are debating, and is a point that the noble Lords, Lord Carlile, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay, have made on numerous occasions. Is it the case that the Government are prepared to accept that, under Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1, individuals may well be at risk of persecution or may have a well-founded asylum claim but, because they have arrived irregularly, that does not matter and they are going to be sent to wherever? Is that the case or not? We could do with knowing the answer to that.
At the end of the day—as the amendments from my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, say—there are countries listed in Schedule 1 where it cannot in any sense be confirmed that an asylum seeker who is gay will be safe. Victims of modern slavery and trafficking will potentially be returned. Fundamentally, Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 mean that there is no case-by-case assessment of the individual rights of an asylum claim, and therefore they will be automatically returned. That, at its heart, is not consistent with the UN convention on refugees or any of the various international treaties we have signed up to.
I return to the question of refoulement. Is it the case that we could return somebody to Rwanda and that person could then be sent back to another country where they might be at risk of persecution or various human rights abuses? How will Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 work with respect to the general principle of non-refoulement that we have had? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who asked a question about refoulement; it might have been the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. A question was certainly asked about the whole point of refoulement and what the Government’s position is with respect to that.
At the heart of this, because there is no case-by-case assessment, under Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 we very much run the risk—if the situation is not inevitable —of individuals who have a quite legitimate case for the granting of asylum being returned to dangerous situations. As such, there are very real concerns across the Committee about that.
My Lords, with permission, I will first respond to the first point from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and confirm that the Government’s Front Bench was as surprised by the report in the Daily Telegraph as everybody else.
Yes, the Lords Front Bench—this Front Bench. I cannot speak for other colleagues, but I can assure the Committee that no one is attempting to intimidate this House. As I understand it, the Prime Minister is misreported in the Daily Telegraph—it is not the first time the press has misreported a politician—and the Government fully recognise the role that this House has to play in scrutinising the legislation. The Government’s duty, if I may say so, is to listen, reflect on what is said and respond as they think fit, depending on the strength of the points made and the Government’s general policy. I emphasise that there is no question but that this legislative process should be followed duly and properly throughout.
That said, and in relation to following established due process, as it were, we debated Clauses 5 and 6 in detail in Committee on Monday. With your Lordships’ permission, I will not repeat what I have already said in that respect and refer your Lordships to the record in Hansard. To the extent that some points have been repeated, I refer to what was said in the last debate.
If I may also respectfully say so, on various other points that have been raised—for example, in relation to Clause 2, to trafficking, to unaccompanied children and to agreements with third countries and so on— I will not go over the ground that has already been covered or is to be covered in debates on other clauses. These are matters that we are debating on another occasion—the legal rights and remedies, for example—so for today’s purposes I will concentrate on Clauses 5 and 6.
I should perhaps once again go over the ground of what Clauses 5 and 6 actually say. If I am right and your Lordships accept the analysis, I venture to suggest that at least a considerable part of your Lordships’ concerns may be reduced or laid to rest.
In simple terms, Clause 5 deals with two different groups. The first group are nationals, including persons holding an identity document, of the European countries listed in new Section 80AA of the 2002 Act, which are the EU member states plus Switzerland and Albania. If a national of one of those countries makes an asylum or human rights claim, they may none the less be removed unless there are exceptional circumstances. The exceptional circumstances, which again were referred to today by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, are defined in Clause 5(5). This part of the Bill is essentially the same as the structure that has stood for many years, including when we were part of the EU, with the addition of Switzerland and Albania. These are safe countries and, in the Government’s view, no reasonable objection can be made in relation to this group.
Now we have the second group, who are nationals of all other countries: those outside the European countries defined in new Section 80AA. What is the position in relation to those nationals? The first point to make is that if the migrant is a national of another country—with all respect to the Republic of Ghana, the Republic of Uganda or India, let us take Nigeria—and they make an asylum or human rights claim, for example because of a risk of persecution for their sexual orientation, they cannot be sent back to that country. That is clear from Clause 5(8), so a lot of the concerns expressed about persons being sent back to these countries will relate to nationals of those countries who do not want to be sent back to them. Unless others correct me, if they make a protection—that is to say, an asylum or human rights—claim, they cannot be sent back as nationals to those countries where they fear persecution. That is a very considerable safeguard.
Where can they be sent back to? They can be sent back only to another Schedule 1 country, but subject to very important conditions. The most important condition in this context is that set out in Clause 5(3)(d): only if there is reason to believe that they would be admitted to that country. In other words, it depends on whether we have an agreement with that country to take them back. That is not at present the case, except in relation to Rwanda, but it may in future be the case in relation to other countries.
To take a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, or possibly the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, as to whether such future agreements would be—forgive me, it was the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—subject to parliamentary scrutiny, that is a matter for the future. I cannot commit the Government on that here at the Dispatch Box. However, I think your Lordships can be reassured that the availability of all kinds of remedies and the force of public opinion in this country would necessarily require a very full debate to take place before we made an agreement with another country. There is the constitutional safeguard of the constitution of public debate in that regard.
There is no indication that the countries mentioned in this debate—very understandably, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and even India—are likely to be, in any foreseeable future, places to which the relevant migrants could be sent. If we were ever to reach an agreement with another country, the Secretary of State has powers in Clause 6, in particular Clause 6(3), to exclude from that agreement persons of particular sexual orientations or with particular protected characteristics set out in that clause. That is a further protection against the fears noble Lords have expressed.
If all of that were to fail, it remains the case that the individual affected could make his suspensive harm application on the basis that he would suffer irreversible serious harm in that context. I think I can legitimately offer noble Lords reassurance that a great deal of the fears understandably expressed in your Lordships’ Committee rest on a particular view of the Bill that is not entirely correct.
I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—it was implicit in most of the other comments—what Schedule 1 is for. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked what the rationale of Schedule 1 is. The answer is that Schedule 1 is a reproduction, an amalgamation and a restatement of all the existing legislation from 2002 onwards, in which various countries over the years have been added as safe countries. For example, in 2005 the Labour Government added India on the basis that it was, in general, a safe country.
This also enables me to deal with the “in general” point, which has stood as a statutory point for the last 20 years at least. It might not be entirely within the active career of the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, but it has been on the statute book for 20 years. It has not so far given rise to any particular difficulties. That is the background to what we are considering.
In the future, it might be appropriate to keep Schedule 1 updated; it might be necessary to make changes from time to time. Let us cross those particular bridges when we get to them. At the moment, there is no practical possibility of Uganda, for example, accepting migrants who arrive in Dover into Uganda. It might be, to take a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that the existence of Schedule 1 or the failure to amend it, might be challenged in judicial review. If I may respectfully say so, it would be a somewhat adventurous case to compel a Minister to legislate or to amend primary legislation, but let us again cross those bridges when we get to them.
I hope that I have not taken up undue time and have covered most of the questions that I was asked. I am sure that I shall be reminded if I have not done so; I will do my best to answer them, if anyone reminds me.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question, but I cannot answer it today at the Dispatch Box. My respectful reply is that this issue does not arise for the reasons I have given. The Bill does not envisage, at the moment, returning people to such countries. The general position is that we can continue discussing the provisions on legal requirements, trafficking, unaccompanied children and so forth, but this part of the Bill is an essential part of the Bill. I therefore beg to move—
I am most grateful to the Minister and have great respect for his legal analysis. However, I will correct him on the point I made about judicial review. I was not saying that a judicial review could be taken in which the order would be for the Minister to amend the law. The Minister cannot amend the law; we in this Parliament amend the law. The application would be for a judicial review of the refusal of the Minister to take steps to amend the law. That is quite a different matter, and I do not apprehend any difficulty in making such an application for judicial review.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, if I misunderstood his point. I respectfully continue to beg to differ as to both the likelihood of such judicial proceedings or the relevance of such judicial proceedings to today’s stand part debate. So, if your Lordships permit me, I beg to move—
I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. I ask, gently, whether my noble and learned friend the Minister would not agree that it is worth reminding ourselves that some of these countries—indeed, all those we talked about in the last hour—are Commonwealth countries, including Uganda, India and Ghana. It is worth remembering that Rwanda is not only a Commonwealth country but the current chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, so, surely, that must count for something.
The noble and learned Lord is so reassuring, and his manner is so friendly, that one is tempted to believe that this might all be as good as he says. On the two-part process, he says that the list sets out possible destinations, but that the Secretary of State would make a judgment about the individual and whether the individual should not be sent to a particular country for reasons particular to the individual. If it were the noble and learned Lord making these decisions, I would be very reassured; unfortunately, it is the Home Secretary.
I am sorry to press the Minister but he has not really answered my question. He says that the list is based on history, but in the past we have not sent people compulsorily to go through an asylum process in another country—so there is something new here. Further, we have not been sending people to countries where there is no asylum process but we are insisting that they must seek asylum there. I do not think the noble and learned Lord has addressed that point.
I would also be grateful if the Minister would construe for us the language in the first paragraph of Clause 6, which addresses “in general” and “a part”. I have not heard his answer to my question as to why it is all right that a country should not in general contravene the human rights convention—implying that if in particular it does, we do not care—and, secondly, why it refers to part of a country or territory. I do not understand how we can get an international agreement with a counterpart. If I am a negotiator, how do I persuade him to accept that there are parts of his country that are unsafe and parts of his country that are safe? Surely the agreement has to be with the other country in respect of the full territory of the other country, not in respect of part of the territory.
My Lords, in relation to the latter point, I repeat the point I made on Monday that this is precautionary. There is no reason to deprive oneself of the possibility of providing for “a part”. With an enormous country such as India, it may be that up in Nagaland or somewhere there are some disturbances, but that does not prevent us saying that India is a safe country. That is the Government’s answer to the first point.
Our answer to the second point is that the words “in general” have—I am open to correction and I will correct myself if I am wrong—stood for 20 years on the statute book without difficulty and do not preclude, in an individual case, an application being made to oppose removal on the grounds of irreparable harm. It is the combination of a general view that the country is safe with the possibility of individual protection. Those are essentially the answers I gave on Monday.
I entirely accept the noble Lord’s point that this is new, but, for the reasons I have tried to explain, it is a workable and, I submit, balanced approach to a very difficult problem which the Bill is trying to solve.
As always, the Committee is very grateful to the Minister. I want to be absolutely certain that I have understood his case, because this is so important. My understanding is that he is reassuring the Committee on the basis that, first, nobody is going to be sent to the country that they fear in the first place—they are not going to be sent back directly to the country that they have escaped from and which they say was originally persecuting them—and, secondly, they can be sent only if there is a deal with a country. So maybe this is all going to be rhetoric in the end: we are going to tell the British people that we are stopping the boats, and we are going to warehouse more and more people under this whole edifice because there will be a duty under Clause 2 to remove people to places where they are irremovable to because there is no deal. Thirdly, the Minister points to the little chinks in the scheme whereby somebody might make some kind of exceptional non-suspensive claim. That is what I understand to be the three parts of his case.
On sending people to third countries that are unsafe because they are gay or because there is some other reason why that individual person would be at risk, it matters not that they would be unsafe in a third country or unsafe in a first country. In relation to the other little nudges and winks that he offers us—that this is perhaps fiction because in the end we do not have deals with a lot of these countries—that might be some comfort to people coming, and maybe even to those smuggling them, but it is certainly no comfort to the British people on the cost or on the toxicity of the debate we are having about stopping the boats, when actually the boats are not likely to be stopped.
My Lords, it is a question of judgment. The Government’s judgment is that this legislation will go a long way towards reducing the terrible risks that people and unaccompanied children are facing in crossing the channel in difficult circumstances, and will destabilise the business model of the people smugglers. Those are surely legitimate objects for any Government to pursue.
The noble Baroness’s analysis is essentially correct: if I am a national of a particular state and I make an asylum claim or human rights claim then I cannot be sent back to that country; I could be sent back to a country with which—she puts it somewhat colloquially, and I would not quite use these words—we have a deal. The country with which we have a migration partnership at the moment is Rwanda, so that is still a possibility, subject to the individual in that case being able to make an application for either a factual suspensive application or an application based on imminent and foreseeable and serious harm. That is how it works, and that is how the Government see it.
While I am on my feet, I will address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about whether the threat of deterrents supersedes individual human rights. For the reasons I have given, our answer is that there is no question of superseding individual human rights due to the protections I have just explained. Refoulement is covered by the existing agreement with Rwanda, and I am sure it will be covered in future agreements.
My Lords, I wonder if an answer could be given to the question from the Minister’s colleague on the Benches behind him, who asked about Commonwealth countries. Would the Minister agree that many of the Commonwealth countries have laws which criminalise homosexuality? Indeed, Uganda has just passed legislation which says that the death penalty can be used in relation to homosexuality, and in India there are currently a lot of issues and questions about the treatment of Muslims there. There might be very real issues even when it comes to Commonwealth countries.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness says, there might indeed be issues. Their legislation is a matter for them. The fact that they are members of the Commonwealth which upholds, or seeks to uphold, barest basic standards is a relevant background consideration, as the noble Lord pointed out.
For the reasons I have given, as best I can, the protections in the Bill are adequate to deal with the problems that have been raised. I respectfully say that Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 should stand part of the Bill.
I am grateful to the Minister for his thorough response, and to those who have spoken.
I looked at the reference to the Commonwealth when the Bill and the schedule were published. It is worth noting that 76% of Commonwealth countries are not considered by this Government to be safe, because 76% of the Commonwealth is not in the schedule. That is not us questioning it; that is the Government making their own decision.
The Minister, in his typically emollient way, suggested that we do not really understand these clauses and that if we did we should not be concerned because, as he put it, the legislation will have no practical operability. We are in a situation where the Home Office is doing the reverse of virtue signalling, which is to try to create, as my noble friend Lord Paddick indicated, the most punitive and threatening environment, of which the justice department will have to pick up the pieces. The Minister has been at pains to point out that there are many elements which would mean that there is no practical operability, but we are being asked to legislate for this, and on the basis of a lack of agreements.
On Monday, the Minister said to me:
“I suppose that the direct answer is that one would have to negotiate an appropriate agreement with the country concerned”.—[Official Report, 5/7/23; col. 1229.]
As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others indicated, the Government have not done so, but they are still asking us to legislate. The Minister said that, when we are negotiating some of these agreements in the future, there would be a “force of public opinion” on the agreements and debate. But on the only one that we have, with Rwanda, there was no debate or consultation. We were surprised by it. It was not a treaty that was ratified by Parliament; it was an MoU. The International Agreements Committee forced a debate on the MoU in this House, in which noble Lords took part, and the committee raised the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about refoulement. Unfortunately, this is the pattern of the Government.
On Monday, the Minister was not even able to confirm to me—he said he would write to me and I am grateful for that—that there are child facilities in the Rwanda agreement, because it was not designed for that in the first place. That addresses the point that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, indicated with regards to those who are children. I referenced 73 children, up to 2022, who would be in the situation of being referred to protection and then on their 18th birthday would receive, under the Bill, a third-country notice, and they would have no idea what that country would be.
I say to the Minister that it is not the case that someone saying that, as he put it, they do not want to go back to a country is sufficient. The bar in Clause 38(4) is high. It is not a case of someone not wanting to go to a country. It involves an application to the Secretary of State who, under the Bill, has a duty to ask the country itself whether that person would be at risk. What on earth is that country going to say? “That person is going to be at risk, so please don’t send them here”—of course that is not going to happen. That is in the Government’s Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, raised a point about the use of “in general”. I am puzzled by the reference to the fact that we have a 20 year-old precedent for this. I would be grateful if the Minister could write to me about that. What we do have in Section 80B of the 2002 Act is the definition of a safe third state. There is no reference to general terms within that. Section 80B(4) says:
“For the purposes of this section, a State is a ‘safe third State’”,
and it has three categories under paragraphs (a), (b)(i) and (ii), and (c), and it has no reference to “in general”. What it does have, in specific terms, under paragraph (c) is that,
“a person may apply to be recognised as a refugee and … receive protection in accordance with the Refugee Convention”.
It is our law that we do not send someone to a country if it is not a signatory to the refugee convention. That is now being absolutely turned on its head, and there is no protection for that. I would be grateful if the Minister in writing to me could indicate how the Bill sets itself against the 2002 Act, which is not being repealed.
A number of other areas in this group have been raised by noble Lords. We will have to return to this. There has been an insufficient response. Simply saying that we need not fear because legislation we are being asked to pass is not a danger because it will not be operable is no way of making legislation. In the meantime, I withdraw my opposition to the clause standing part.
Clause 5 agreed.
Schedule 1: Countries or territories to which a person may be removed
Amendments 41 to 52 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 6: Powers to amend Schedule 1
Amendments 52A to 54 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clause 7: Further provisions about removal
55: Clause 7, page 9, line 36, at end insert “and,
(c) the Secretary of State has published guidance regarding what criteria will be used to determine the order in which individuals who the Secretary of State is required by section 2(1) to make arrangements for removal will be removed from the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is a probing amendment regarding the process the Home Secretary will put in place to determine the order in which individuals will be removed from the UK once the duty to remove is in force.
My Lords, Clause 7 relates to further provisions about removal. I have three amendments in this group. Amendment 55—I apologise for the grammatical error in it—would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance about the criteria for the order in which individuals are to be removed. It is not likely to be a tidy process and, as we have been debating for two and a half days now, an awful lot of people will be involved.
Therefore, as much transparency as possible about the process is required. For instance, will decisions be taken on the basis of how long individuals have been detained compared with others, where they have been detained, the receiving country, a mixture of all of these, or none of them? On Monday we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, about a woman who had been waiting for 10 years—sadly, not that unusual a situation. The people who will be subject to these provisions are left not knowing what is going to happen to them. The lack of certainty is, to my mind, a cruelty among many others. To know not just that the decision is unfavourable but when its implications are going to be felt in the form of removal, as distinct from detention, will be very relevant.
Amendment 55A probes the process of notifying the Secretary of State under Clause 7(3)(b) regarding a suspensive claim, that the individual P
“does not intend to make a suspensive claim”
and proposes that that can be made through an immigration officer. I assume that that is the case. After all, the Secretary of State does not deal personally with every single application. However, with regard to the reference to notification being given orally, I want to raise the problem in my mind that it is too easy to be misrepresented when you make an oral representation, or simply not heard. I hesitated about tabling an amendment here because, on the other hand, I do not want to disadvantage an asylum seeker by requiring notification in writing if that is a difficult thing to do. I assume that P’s representative can give the notification on P’s behalf, but I would be glad of that assurance and also to know who that representative can be. Would it have to be a legal representative or could it be somebody who was providing support through one of the many organisations that work in this sector?
Amendment 57A would leave out the term “or indicated” in Clause 7(8). That provides for directions to transport officers about removal in a ship or whatever other vehicle
“specified or indicated in the direction”.
What does “indicated” mean? Does it mean “a ship” or “a train”? I suppose the latter would be Eurostar or perhaps a train between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic—I do not know. It seems—again referring back to the previous debate—that “indicated” is perhaps a rather loose term. I may be wrong—I will probably be told that it is used in other legislation—but I would be glad to hear from the Minister what we should understand by it. I beg to move Amendment 55.
My Lords, I have Amendment 57 in this group, and also the clause stand part debate. I will address my Amendment 57 first, but there are serious matters in the clause as a whole which I will come back to in a moment.
Amendment 57 addresses the far-reaching and perhaps unrealistic legal obligations being placed on private actors and companies to effect removal. This includes the captain of a ship, the pilot of an aircraft, the train manager or the train driver being required to enforce removal of an individual by enforcing detention on the ship, aircraft or train, if required, to prevent disembarking before removal has been fulfilled—and also of course to do it the other way round, as these people are mandated to ensure that the person is taken by those means of transport to the country to which they are being deported.
Two things arise from this part of the clause. One is that it gives inordinate powers to the Secretary of State to requisition not just ships, boats, aeroplanes and whatever else but the services of those who run those means of transport to detain and restrain those who are being transported. I will address in a moment the criminalisation of those people in making them subject to this sort of regulation.
The Explanatory Memorandum says that the Government will procure those services by privately chartering planes or ships or whatever but, clearly, this part of the clause, as drafted, gives the power to the Government to requisition those services. The Explanatory Memorandum also says that the Government can requisition scheduled services—scheduled flights to Kigali, perhaps. There are no direct flights from the United Kingdom to Kigali, by the way, and the flights are all operated by airlines based mostly in the European Union. So the Secretary of State can intervene in scheduled flights and require that they take the asylum seeker to a destination.
The other problem is that clearly, there has been no consultation on this matter with those who are now going to be required by the Government to execute this role on their behalf. To emphasise that, I will read to the Committee the views of the UK Chamber of Shipping, the people whose vessels are likely to be requisitioned:
“We are greatly concerned about these clauses becoming law which could require the ship’s master and crew to detain passengers, something which they are not trained to do, at the direction of the Government. The clauses also seem to allow the Secretary of State to set the period for which a ship’s master is required to detain a person on board a vessel—this could potentially lead to a situation where a ship’s crew is stuck in port for an indeterminate amount of time having received an instruction to detain individuals who are then awaiting the outcome of various legal processes to determine their rights. We are concerned that this puts seafarers at much greater risk from positions of conflict and potential harm”.
That is from the chamber of shipping, which obviously has not been consulted. We have also received a letter from the RMT that makes the same points.
The issue here now is: why has this power been taken? The situation is very similar to that in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which, Members of the Committee will remember, would also have criminalised seafarers who perform humanitarian rescues of persons in distress at sea and bring them to the UK, but those provisions were dropped from that Bill because these people should not be criminalised in this manner.
My first question to the Minister is: if it was determined and agreed by Parliament that this sort of clause was not required for the Nationality and Borders Bill, what is different now? How are the circumstances different? Is it because there are many people—airline pilots or crew, perhaps—who have not been willing to deport people in the manner the Government propose? Secondly, is it because the Government are not intending to provide anyone to accompany these people on their journey but are expecting them to be dealt with entirely by the crews of existing means of transport?
It is beyond my ability to understand why this law is now being put in place when it was previously deleted from an Act that had some of the same intentions. It seems to me that this is an unworkable section of the Bill, particularly in respect of people’s understanding of how they are to be expected to carry out jobs for which they have received no training, in which they have no experience and which they may find morally repugnant.
The second issue relates to what happens in respect of legal aid or support. My noble friend Lady Hamwee raised this issue but I want to take it a step further in terms of the process when a person arrives in the United Kingdom. I will give one example and one generality. The first stage is to understand at what point the letter or instruction of inadmissibility—whatever format it will take—is given to the person concerned. Also, who is going to give it to them and in what languages will it be given? There is no point in people being told this in English when their first language has no connection with ours. This situation, people being given information of which they have no understanding, has been criticised before.
I would like to ask a question about a case. Take a young lady who has escaped from South Sudan out of fear and gone to Kenya. She then takes a flight from Kenya to the United Kingdom; there are such direct flights. According to Schedule 1, Kenya is not a place that is safe for women. If that is the purpose of the schedule and the Government say that it is not safe to send women to Kenya, then Kenya is not a safe country. Therefore, the third condition under Clause 2 does not apply because the person has not come from a safe country. Perhaps the Minister would like to explain when he will reverse this situation. He has the schedule in front of him; that obviously must make it work. On the question of when people get advice, would that young lady coming from South Sudan via Kenya directly to the United Kingdom be able to get immediate advice, as she will obviously be seeking asylum in this country?
The other issue we face is people who are inadmissible on the other side. They will also need some advice and support regarding whether they should make a substantive claim. The timescale we are given in this Bill is very short indeed: eight days. Does that eight-day period start from the date on which people are given their statement of inadmissibility to the country, or when they are given a notice of deportation and removal from this country? When does that period start and when will they be able to get that aid? At the moment, it is unclear from this legislation at what point they will be able to get assistance.
We have here a selection of cases to which we do not know the answers. It is not clear from the legislation before us what the answers are but, clearly, there are people who will need assistance and advice, whether regarding the language used or the quality of the notices provided to them. How that advice is to be provided and who is to provide it are important pieces of information, but the clear message I am asking the Minister to give us today is this: when will those people have access to the sort of assistance we need to provide to comply with the legislation? Also, will the eight-day rule be shortened if notice is given too late, the date of inadmissibility being some days after they arrive?
My Lords, the following group, which I will lead on, deals specifically with the impact of this legislation on workers in the transport industry. I have one question on Clause 7(8) which places responsibilities on
“owners or agents of a ship, aircraft, train or vehicle”.
These responsibilities are onerous. Have the Government consulted the people involved and made an assessment of the impact? Will those issues be dealt with in the awaited impact assessment?
My Lords, this Bill is about removing rights and making life as miserable as possible for some of the most vulnerable and desperate people in the world. I find it impossible to understand how we have ever come to this point. Part of this process is removing human rights with regard to access to the courts—removing the courts’ ability to intervene when the Government act unlawfully. How can that happen? How can this come to us in any sort of legislation? Detaining and deporting people without providing them with any legal advice, or even any information about how to obtain legal advice, all contribute to this denial of human rights.
I was in Belgium for a few days last week. I speak decent French and some German and there were times when I could not understand a word anyone was saying. The idea that we might not help people in a language they can understand and communicate in astonishes me.
We are in an absurd situation where murderers and paedophiles could be more kindly treated by the law than, for example, a desperate family who arrive in a small boat from across the channel.
Then there is the outrageous Clause 7. This is bonkers. When I first read it, I had to laugh—it sounds like something a two year-old might come up with. It says that the Secretary of State can commandeer
“any ship, aircraft, train or vehicle”.
So the border patrol—or whoever it is—can stuff people into somebody’s car and say, “Right, you are responsible for them. You get them out of the country”. It is astonishing. Who wrote this? How does this come from a Government whom we sort of hope might be able to tough it out for the next few months—actually I do not want them to tough it out; I want them to go. Presumably, this Government do want to tough it out, so why bring this sort of rubbish to this House? It is actually quite offensive.
In Clause 7, they are asking ordinary citizens—the British public—to act as border enforcement agents. I do not think any of us would want to do this, even the most rabid ERG member you could possibly think of. This is part of the problem with the Bill. It is not going to help the situation in any way at all. Is it designed to pander to the extreme right wing of the Government, so that they can say they are doing something and perhaps retain those votes? I have no idea. The thought processes are beyond understanding. Clause 7 is unbelievably bonkers.
It shows how this Government are trying to exploit Just Stop Oil, asylum seekers or people such as that to make the public think they are actually doing something about the problems these people are facing. I really hope that we defeat quite a lot of this Bill before it gets much further.
My Lords, what rights people have when they come into this country—unlawfully, the Government claim, although some of us would disagree—is surely an essential part of this Committee’s consideration of the Bill. I know the Minister is a member of the Bar and has practised in criminal courts and elsewhere, so he will understand instinctively how important the question of rights is for people who have just come into this country, often in a destitute state.
We know that later in Committee we will debate legal aid and the Lord Chancellor’s duties. Those are important matters to be considered then but I wonder, given the speeches that have been made on this group, whether he has something to say about the Government’s attitude towards the rights of people whom he or others may not like, but who do have rights when they arrive in this country. Do we just say that there are no such rights—no right to any advice or legal aid, if that is necessary, because they deserve what comes to them—or do we take the more sensible and British attitude that anybody who ends up on our shores and is in trouble should be entitled to some advice?
My Lords, broadly speaking, I support this Bill, but there are many things in it which give me cause for concern and we have now hit one of them. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, mentioned it—the extent to which the state can co-opt unwilling people to implement its legislation. Regarding those who happen to be the driver of a train or pilot of an aircraft that has on board what we are now going to determine is an illegal immigrant, how can we force such people to act as agents of the state in detaining them?
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, mentioned that this will come up in the next group but it is an important, fundamental point. I am not talking about the refugees but the many trade unionists who will be horrified at the thought of being co-opted as almost part of the police. This is not on. Before the Bill moves to the next stage, I hope the Government can come forward with some proposals which will exempt ordinary workers from becoming its policemen.
My Lords, the amendments in this group all seek clarification of various issues. My noble friend Lady Hamwee rightly asked what priority is to be given to removals under the Bill, bearing in mind that the uncertainty is very corrosive of people’s mental health. She asked how P will give notice to the Home Secretary and spoke about the dangers inherent in oral notice being given. She said that that could easily be regarded as giving notice that they do not intend to make a suspensive claim, and she spoke about the danger of language difficulties, misinterpretation and so forth.
My noble friend Lord German and other noble Lords raised the question of requiring private individuals to carry out enforced removals. Most, if not all, will not have been trained in or compensated for undertaking the risks associated with forcibly removing people from this country. He also asked a very important question about consultation. Who has been consulted: trade unions, to which the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, referred, or the commercial organisations that are going to be required to undertake this work? There are other uncertainties, as my noble friend Lord German set out. It would be most helpful if the Minister provided answers to these questions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has a habit of saying what many of us are thinking, but we may not be prepared to stand up and use her exact words. What I would say about Clause 7 is that it smacks of desperation.
My Lords, this group centres around Clause 7, as we have heard, and seeks clarification on procedures which outline the provisions about removal. There are several smaller amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord German, on the details of removal. Probably the most important amendment is Amendment 55, in the name of the noble Baroness, which would ensure that the Government produce guidance on the criteria by which individuals will be prioritised for full removal.
In her very extensive introduction, the noble Baroness asked who P’s representative can be when going through this process. Should the representative be a lawyer, someone from an NGO or some other status of representative? If I might be allowed a short recollection, I sat in on an immigration tribunal at Hatton Cross as a member of the public. I was astonished that neither the applicant going through the immigration tribunal process, nor their representative, spoke English. That was the reality of the situation that I witnessed. I very much hope that, in the sorts of examples that we are talking about in this Bill, P will be properly informed about the processes that they are going through, that they know what their rights are and that they can make their decisions as appropriate.
Amendment 57, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, is about the requisition of services by private actors and companies. He explained his amendment very fully. It may be unfortunate that this overlaps a lot with group 3, as my noble friend Lord Davies has just said, but nevertheless that is where we are. My noble friend asked about representations and what consultation has been done with the trade union movement about who will be asked to play their part in working in these companies. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s answer to my noble friend’s questions.
On the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Coaker and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—I will not even attempt the rhetoric of the noble Baroness; it is just not my style—the point, nevertheless, is that the recipient needs to understand what is being said to them and the language must be appropriate. This is a common-sense amendment. It is a simple amendment. I hope that the Minister can indicate that some form of wording can be found in this Bill to ensure that P, who is the subject concerned, understands what is happening to them. We support the amendments in this group.
My Lords, Clause 7 makes provision for a removal notice to be given to a person and specifies what information this must contain. Each notice must specify that the individual is to be removed under the duty, be clear on their destination and set out a claim period in which to make a factual suspensive claim or a serious harm suspensive claim. That is, of course, suspensive of removal.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, described her Amendment 55 as a probing amendment, seeking to elicit our intentions as to the order in which individuals will be removed from the UK under the duty to remove in Clause 2. The whole purpose of the Bill is to remove persons who satisfy the conditions as soon as practicable. On the day of commencement, we will be dealing with two separate cohorts. First, there will be those who enter the UK illegally on or after the commencement date. Putting unaccompanied children to one side, as we already have debated how they will be considered, our aim will be to process new arrivals as quickly as possible as they arrive. Clearly, the speed with which individuals are removed will depend on whether they consent to a voluntary departure or, if not, whether they make a suspensive claim. Secondly, as we have discussed, the Bill will have a retrospective effect and the duty to remove will apply to those who entered illegally on or after 7 March this year. Where, in the case of this cohort, any asylum or human rights claim has not been decided by the commencement date, we will commence removal action in accordance with the duty in Clause 2, in parallel with the enforcement action that is being taken against new arrivals.
I assure the Committee that the necessary planning is under way to support the effective and efficient implementation of the Bill, which will ensure that we have an integrated and robust end-to-end process from arrival through to removal. This will cover the use of detention, case-working operation, management of appeals and the logistics associated with the returns themselves. I agree with the noble Baroness that development of robust guidance and training will be a key component across all of this. However, while work on implementation is well under way, we should not get ahead of ourselves. First, we must get the Bill on to the statute book in a form that is operable. We cannot be legislating for a scheme that is so full of holes that it is unworkable.
Amendment 55A seeks to probe how the process will operate, should an individual indicate that they do not wish to make a suspensive claim. If an individual notifies the Secretary of State that they do not intend to make a suspensive claim, the person may be removed to the country or territory which they have been given notice of. As the noble Baroness suggests, such notification may be to an immigration officer or a Home Office official. Where it is given orally, it will be duly recorded. I hope that affords an answer to her point.
Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, would set out in statute two additional requirements to the notice, which must be given to the person before they may be removed—that it is provided in a language which they understand and provides information on how to access legal advice. It would be prohibitively expensive to provide translations of decision notices in all possible languages and dialects up front, and there would be a time delay in doing this on an individual basis. It is therefore more efficient to work with interpreters. It is already our current policy to ensure, when serving notices in person, that the contents are explained to the individual in a language which they understand, using interpretation services where required. We also provide information on how to access legal services where relevant.
On the question of legal advice, I reassure the Committee and the noble Lord that, in giving this notice, we will ensure that we also provide information on how to access any legal advice which individuals are entitled to and on how to make a voluntary departure. We will discuss this further in relation to the legal aid provisions, which will come before the Committee in the next few days. Therefore, it is unnecessary to put these additional requirements into the statute.
Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, deals with the legal obligations that these provisions place on transport operators. The noble Lords, Lord Davies and Lord Paddick, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Balfe raised the same point. This amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, pointed out, overlaps with his own group of amendments, which we are debating in the next group. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord German, will be content if I deal with the substance of his Amendment 57 when we reach Amendment 57B.
Amendment 57A seeks to test the drafting of Clause 7(8), where it refers to a vehicle being
“specified or indicated in the direction”.
A direction “specifying” a ship, train, aircraft or vehicle may refer to a particular ship et cetera scheduled to depart at a specified date and time, whereas a direction “indicating” a ship may be a more generic item, for example, specifically or simply referring to a flight to depart that day rather than to a particular flight. Moreover, I point out that the drafting here is drawn from and reflects long-established terminology used in Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971.
I will deal briefly with Clause 9. It simply makes a number of consequential amendments to existing immigration legislation to ensure that it works smoothly. There is no contradiction alongside the new provisions for removal in the Bill.
To respond to the noble Lord, Lord German, persons served with a removal notice will have eight days to submit a suspensive claim beginning from the day that they were given such a notice. We will come on to Clause 54 in due course; as I have already said, it provides for free legal advice for those issued with a removal notice. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Bach, persons subject to the duty to remove will have access to advice.
I was interested in two stages. The Minister has talked about when the notice of removal is issued. Presumably there is also a statement of inadmissibility when you have arrived, because it takes some time to prepare the document or whatever the detail is for a removal certificate or notice. Is there an earlier notice? If so, is that the place where people can seek advice?
I do not have the answer to that at my fingertips but, if I may, I will revert to the noble Lord with it. I suspect that the availability of legal advice will be drawn to the attention of individuals at the earliest possible time, but I will check that point and come back to the noble Lord.
In conclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made some valid points on which I will further reflect. I hope I have at least gone some way to respond to the probing amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. On that basis, I ask whether she is content to withdraw her Amendment 55.
My Lords, it is Committee stage and, as the whole Committee knows, that is what I will do.
On this amendment, the Minister said, possibly twice, that things will be done “as soon as practicable”, but we know that not very much is practicable. It sounds like a parallel, idealised—well, it is not ideal to me but it may be in the Government’s mind—universe where all is possible. On the previous group, my noble friend referred to being somewhere within the wizardry of Oz. I do not know who is which character, and perhaps it would be inappropriate to speculate. However, the point about uncertainty in the minds of the individuals concerned is serious, which is why I made it earlier.
I do not think the Minister answered my question on Amendment 55A about whether notification can be given by a representative of the individual and whether that has to be a legal representative or could be a support worker from an organisation in the sector. Is he able to respond to that now?
I apologise for not answering the noble Baroness’s question. Yes, is the answer; representatives could be provided in that way.
To reply to the hypothetical situation that the noble Lord referred to about someone from South Sudan travelling via Kenya, it would depend on the facts of the specific case and whether the conditions were met. It is perhaps not directly relevant to the debate we are having on this amendment, but I am happy to consider that hypothetical in more detail and write to the noble Lord.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendments 55A to 57A not moved.
57B: Clause 7, page 10, line 36, leave out subsections (12) and (13)
Member's explanatory statement
This probing amendment, along with that to Clause 9 at page 12 in the name of Lord Davies of Brixton, removes subsections that place responsibilities on a captain of a ship or aircraft, the train manager of a train or a driver of a vehicle that are in addition to those under the existing law.
My Lords, those who have been present for the last group will inevitably experience déjà vu, for which I make no apology. The implications of this legislation for the people upon whom obligations are being placed is clearly an important aspect of the Bill. It is not about the principle, where our position has been made clear; it is about the inadequate thought and consideration that has gone into preparing this legislation.
These clauses are a form of conscription—compulsory enlistment for state service, typically but not necessarily into the Armed Forces. Requiring transport workers, going about their normal work, to undertake state service—additional responsibilities mandated by the Government—constitutes a form of conscription. I will not take this too far but, for seafarers, it is effectively a return of the press-gang.
As the Minister alluded to in his remarks on the previous group, for transport workers there are already provisions for this sort of activity in the immigration Acts. People get deported in accordance with the law when they have no right to remain in the country. That raises the question: if it is already happening, why are these additional powers required?
I would argue that there is a highly significant difference between the existing practice and that proposed in the Bill. There is no dispute about that difference. The front of the Bill states that the Minister is
“unable to make a statement that … the provisions of the … Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”.
That is the human rights convention. This makes an enormous difference when we come to the imposition of additional responsibilities on employees. It is clearly a matter of concern to transport workers that they will be required to undertake actions when the Government cannot provide an assurance that, in doing so, they are not impinging on an individual’s human rights.
It therefore behoves the Government to take extra care when preparing such legislation. It is perfectly clear that this care has not been taken. There is a total lack of any assessment of the consequences and a failure to undertake any meaningful consultation with those who will be directly affected by the legislation or even their employers. With these amendments, I am asking the Minister to take the opportunity to review the provisions in this part of the Bill that impact on individual workers before it returns on Report.
I turn to the amendments specifically. They would simply delete those provisions that are of serious concern to rail staff and seafarers—as expressed by their trade union, the RMT—and to employers across the transport industry, where I understand there has been little or no consultation about their practicalities.
Amendment 57B would amend Clause 7 by deleting subsections (12) and (13). Here we have the powers for the Home Secretary to require train “owners”, as the Bill puts it, to “make arrangements” to deport individuals who fall foul of the legislation. It gives immigration officers the power to instruct people employed as train guards, for example, to detain and even restrain someone the Home Secretary is seeking to remove from the UK on passenger rail services. In effect, guards on passenger rail services will be turned into prison guards, acting under the direction of the Home Secretary and not that of their employer.
It is worth reminding the Committee that transport workers are routinely advised not to put themselves in situations of conflict when performing their contractual duties. They signed up to provide a transport service, not to act as untrained and inexperienced prison guards. This approach of lack of confrontation was uppermost in people’s minds around the enforcement of face mask wearing and other aspects of the Government’s Covid-19 response. Why is this situation, which is more extreme, any different? I understand that the RMT has tried to contact, and spoken to, transport Ministers and employers in the industry to seek their support in opposing these provisions.
I turn to seafarers. The captain of a ship will also be subject to these provisions. In practice, that would mean immigration officers directing the ship’s captain, who would then be obliged to instruct the ship’s crew to detain and even restrain people, subject to the Bill’s provision.
When the Immigration Act 1971 and other legislation to which the Minister has referred already contain significant powers to control migration, why are these additional powers required?
Amendment 58A would delete Clause 9(1) and (2). These provisions add rail employees to the list of transport workers subject to fines—criminal penalties—of up to £5,000 under Section 27 of the Immigration Act 1971, in relation to the removal process. This rush to legislate has been undertaken with scant regard to, and certainly no consultation with, workers on their responsibilities, even when they could be prosecuted if someone being transported in accordance with the instructions of the Secretary of State were to “disembark”, as the legislation puts it, or were not removed from the UK. In effect the Government are threatening transport workers, particularly rail and shipping staff and their employers, with criminal sanctions if they fail to impose custodial conditions on people submitting a claim for asylum in the UK. Once again, the Government do not appear to have undertaken any impact assessment of these proposals, particularly what they mean for individuals.
Amendment 71B would delete part of Clause 11(1). There are already significant powers in the Immigration Acts for an immigration officer to instruct the captain of a ship or aircraft to detain a person being removed from the UK if they have not been granted leave to remain or have attempted to enter the UK illegally on a ship or aircraft. But Clause 11(1) significantly amends paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971.
The effect of this provision is that the Secretary of State, rather than the courts, will determine what is a reasonable period to detain an individual for, for the specific statutory purpose. If the Secretary of State does not consider that the examination, decision, removal or directions will be carried out, made or given within a reasonable period, the person may be detained for a further period that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, reasonably necessary to enable arrangements to be made for release.
The concern is that the Bill appears to give the Home Secretary much broader powers to require the detention of people on ships and aircraft for long periods of time. This is likely to mainly affect services chartered by the Home Office or the Home Secretary, but clarification is needed on the impact on the ships’ crews, who will potentially be stuck in port for an indeterminate period of time under the instruction of the Home Secretary.
As with the concerns I have raised over the contents of Clauses 7 and 9, the provisions in Clause 11(1) put seafarers and other transport workers in positions of conflict and potential harm at the instruction of the Secretary of State.
Given these concerns, I press the Minister to answer the following questions. First, will transport workers be prosecuted if they do not detain asylum seekers in line with the provisions of the Bill—actions clearly outside their contract of employment?
Secondly, what impact assessment have the Government conducted of these amendments, which bring transport workers and their employers into the scope of the legislation with the threat of criminal sanctions? If they have made an assessment, will they reveal it?
Thirdly, what consultation have the Government conducted with employers across the transport industry regarding these powers? I asked a question in relation to the previous group. I would have pressed the Minister at the time but, since I have this second bite at the cherry, I raise it now: what consultation has taken place? If there has been none, will they swiftly organise some? Will they include the results of such discussion in the fondly awaited impact assessment?
Fourthly, what discussions have the Government had with the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland over the effect of these requirements on Transport for Wales, ScotRail and cross-border rail operations?
My Lords, as we can see, there has been an inevitable crossover between this group of amendments and the previous ones, as the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Balfe, mentioned. I rise in support of this last group of amendments put forward by my noble friend Lord Davies.
For workers, there can be no doubt: it is somewhat disgraceful that Ministers are seeking to make transport workers responsible for detaining and even restraining asylum seekers. The TUC says that this idea shows “total disregard” for these workers’ ethical views and legal obligations. As has been mentioned, the RMT has put this in even starker terms, as did my noble friend Lord Davies a few seconds ago: these proposals will turn train guards into prison guards. Think about those words for a moment; it cannot possibly be right.
Clause 7 risks putting transport workers in situations of conflict, while Clause 9 increases their exposure to criminal sanctions and drags train managers and others into the removal process. This is surely completely unacceptable and unnecessary. The legislation is vindictive and inhumane. It seeks to exploit boat crossings in the channel to stoke resentment against refugees and migrants seeking asylum in this country.
These amendments are probing in nature and designed to draw out the Government’s reasoning behind these appalling proposals. They would protect transport workers from the terrible burden that Ministers seek to place upon them.
By the way, there is relevant recent history here that I think we should take on board. It was mentioned during the pandemic, for example, that unions worked closely with Ministers to ensure that transport workers did not have a legal responsibility to enforce Covid-19 measures, as my noble friend Lord Davies explained. It was accepted that they should never be placed in situations of potential conflict.
Last year’s Nationality and Borders Bill threatened seafarers with life imprisonment for unknowingly facilitating asylum; but again, after discussions with unions, the Government withdrew this proposal, which could have criminalised seafarers simply for following international maritime law. I therefore ask the Minister, what has changed now? How can it be right or even legal that matters like these have changed? How can we unilaterally and fundamentally change the terms and conditions of transport workers like this, exposing them to even more danger? The Minister must know that transport workers are advised not to put themselves in situations of conflict when performing their normal duties, so why is this any different? Why does it need to be any different?
I do not want to keep repeating the comments of my noble friend Lord Davies, but what impact assessments have the Government made of these proposals? Will transport workers be prosecuted? These are really important questions that need to be answered, especially when, as has been mentioned, the employers themselves, who are obviously at the heart of all this, were not consulted and do not support the proposals. I look forward to the Minister’s response and hope he will make sure that workers are not held responsible for carrying out these outrageous proposals.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register. As noble Lords will know, I frequently get up to speak on the rights of trade unionists. I am also president of a trade union affiliated to the TUC.
The purpose of this discussion is to encourage the Minister to go away and, we hope, say, “Well, they made some good points there. We had better bring forward some amendments. We ought to change same of the provisions of this Bill because it really doesn’t work.” Hence, I am speaking in support of the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Davies.
In Amendment 57B, the noble Lord is seeking to delete the phrase
“the captain of the ship or aircraft, the train manager of the train or the driver of the vehicle must"—
not “can”, “should” or “might consider”, but “must”—
“if so required by an immigration officer or the Secretary of State prevent P from disembarking”.
Immigration officers are also in trade unions. They have a very difficult life. Who is going to decide what they actually order the captain of the aircraft to do? Anyway, if the aircraft is up in the sky and it is suddenly discovered that someone is on board who should not be, what is the captain supposed to do? The captain of the aircraft has two principal jobs: to bring the passengers safely to the destination, and to do the same for the plane. They are not prison warders.
In many cases, of course, if this happened mid-air, they would not have realised the situation when they took off. Those of us who have been around a long, long time and can remember the hostage crises of many years ago will know that the situation became apparent only when aircraft were actually in the air. I am not asking the Minister, “will they be prosecuted?” because the Bill says that they will. I want to know under what circumstances it is envisaged that prosecution will be brought, and by whom it will be brought. Will it be the DPP, the department or the Minister? What will be the aim of the prosecution?
Amendment 58A would delete, amongst other things, the phrase
“knowingly permits a person to disembark in the United Kingdom”.
What is someone in that situation supposed to do? If a train comes into a station, it is very difficult to stop people getting off it. Noble Lords who have travelled to Brussels will be well aware of the number of times it is announced over the Tannoy that “You must not disembark at this station”. If someone does disembark, however, has the driver knowingly permitted them to disembark simply because they have gone into a station? Should they have stopped in the middle of the countryside? I ask the Minister to look at whether there should be an indemnity for transport workers, so that these provisions are not used to prosecute them. If they are, why should any pilot take the risk of flying an aircraft that might have an asylum seeker on it? Rostering is voluntary: you do not queue up and say, “you go there”. That is where the weakness lies—I diverge slightly—in the minimum strikes legislation. You cannot order people to do things, not in a free society; and that is where we live.
I ask the Minister to talk to the transport unions and to his own department about what it is trying to do with this and whether it will actually work. What concerns me about this Bill, as with the minimum strikes legislation, is that we are progressing rapidly towards a fairyland where pass legislation that just will not work. It is not a good thing to do, because it does not breed respect for legislation. I, and many people in Britain, want illegal immigration to stop. There is a general feeling out there in the country, particularly among the trade union members that I deal with, that you should not be able to cheat the system. But you have to make this Bill work to achieve that, rather than just achieving headlines for the Daily Mail, and for us all to look smart. The challenge is to make this work, not to make it look good.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this provision, because when I read the Bill and saw it, I genuinely thought that it must have been a drafting error on the part of civil servants that Ministers had not noticed. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, move his amendment, and to the other noble Lords who have spoken, it seems very sensible to me that this be taken back by the Government before Report. I am amazed that there was no consultation with the trade unions on this issue, which really does affect their members’ livelihoods. If this went through, I can imagine how workers on planes, ships and other forms of transport would react, knowing that it could be used against them.
It right that this Chamber address this issue, being an advisory, revising Chamber that gets things changed that we think are obviously wrong. In addition to what has already been said about consultation, why has this not been discussed properly? As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has said, many trade union members believe that the way we deal with illegal immigration has to change, but this is not the way to do it. This bit of the Bill must be taken out. The Minister should accept that there will not be support for it in this House, and that the other place has not, perhaps, thought about this in a sensible way.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton for tabling these amendments, which are supported by the trade union movement and by other noble Lords.
I will put my cards on the table: my personal position is that coercive powers of detention should be in the hands of the state, for a number of reasons. I think Ministers should be directly responsible for the use of coercive power in our democratic society, and those powers should be exercised by properly trained people who enter into a profession to exercise powers such as that. However, that is not everyone’s position. I know that reasonable people, including friends of mine with whom I disagree and some on the Benches opposite, believe, for example, in private prisons. Those are circumstances where there is a contract that a private provider enters into to provide services for detention, coercion and so on. I have problems with that; I will not bore the Committee with my various concerns about it, but I believe that there is an entire Wikipedia page devoted to G4S scandals. I am thinking also of Brook House detention centre and the various people who have died in the context of forced removal from the country. I have concerns about the use of private contractors to exercise some of the most coercive powers of the democratic state.
However, the problem that has been identified by my noble friend Lord Davies and others is even more serious than that, because these are not private guards who have been employed by AN Other private security company—although I am concerned about that, and the scandals speak for themselves—but people who are transport workers. They are used to giving service to the public, which is a very different job with a very different understanding, different training and, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, pointed out, different preoccupations and priorities from the use of coercive force.
On mixed flights, holidaymakers sit alongside deportees. To be fair, that is already a problem; under the regime that we have now, these problems have arisen for some time, but the Bill makes the problem worse. We also have to be realistic that, in the context of the challenges we will face on this planet in the years to come, more and more desperate people will come. The idea of having mixed flights, with transport workers now being responsible for a policy of transportation in addition to normal service provision with the priorities of customer safety, is a total nonsense. If the Government want to pursue the sorts of policy that we are seeing in this legislation, with controversy, coercion and desperate people who may want to fling themselves off the train, the ship or the plane, that is really not appropriate for transport workers. We are now getting into a transportation policy of coercive control and removal, and that really ought to be done by servants of the state, agents of the state, who have been employed for that purpose.
It is not just for the sake of their consciences or for the safety and security of the desperate people themselves—or indeed the terrible people. We keep calling them “illegal migrants” but that is a bone of contention, because of course these people are being removed without consideration of their asylum claims, so we do not know whether they are illegal or not. However, whether they are illegal or are genuine refugees, some of these people will be desperate and will resort to desperate means to escape removal, and the lovely people who I travel with on the trains, when I can, should not be charged with that task; it should be people who are genuine volunteers who have been properly trained, and they should be directly responsible to Ministers when things go wrong, which I am afraid they sometimes will. So the amendments are very well put and I urge the Government to think again.
The Minister will rightly say that this is not novel. I do not want to pretend that it is totally novel to give directions to conventional transport providers and to contract out aspects of immigration control; bit by bit, that has been happening for decades, and it has simply been turbocharged by this policy. However, it is not safe or ethical, and nothing good will come of it.
My Lords, my point, which I hope is a helpful one, follows on from what the noble Baroness has said but also from what the Minister said about the need for interpreters; he was talking about Clause 55, but I can see the same thing happening here.
A few months ago in your Lordships’ House we discussed the whole nature of the qualification of interpreters. We came to a conclusion that, sadly, this was often wanting. Justice and democracy are served only if people who have to make a case for themselves are understood, and if they are talking to someone who can put their case cogently. My question to the Minister is: when he talks about interpreters, is he talking about people who will be adequately qualified?
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, there is an overlap between the last group of amendments and this one. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, for setting out specifically what the issues are here, particularly the additional complications of the potential incompatibility of the Bill with the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore workers being asked to act in contravention of people’s human rights. There have been instances where whole aeroplanes were chartered and immigration officers have accompanied people who were being removed, but here we are talking potentially about removals in numbers that we have never seen before—if the Government are to be believed.
The Government seem to be asking transport workers, who have not been trained in self-defence, to safely detain people or safely restrain them if they resist. They are not paid to do that sort of work or cope with those sorts of risks. What about employer liability insurance? What happens if a fight develops between a transport worker and one of the people being deported, and the person being deported ends up suing the transport worker? What about indemnity? What indemnity are the Government going to provide to these transport workers, who are effectively being used as agents of the state?
Again, what consultation has taken place with trade unions and transport operators around the feasibility of the proposals contained in the Bill? As the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, pointed out, and as my noble friend Lord German pointed out in the last group, there was the potential for seafarers to be prosecuted under the Nationality and Borders Bill if they attempted to rescue people from drowning in the English Channel, if they believed that they were illegal migrants. Now we are talking about potentially prosecuting transport workers who fail to act as agents of the state in detaining people for removal. How can that possibly be part of what a transport worker signs up for when they take on their role?
As my noble friend Lord German said in the last group, the UK Chamber of Shipping has written to noble Lords. The overall problem with this measure can be summed up when it says:
“We are greatly concerned about these clauses becoming law which could require the ship’s master and crew to detain passengers, something which they are not trained to do, at the direction of the Government”.
As I said on the last group, this whole clause seems to be an act of desperation and something that the Government really need to think about again.
My Lords, with apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I will intervene briefly. I very much want to hear what is said by my noble friend Lord Coaker, who will be speaking next. I have only one very simple observation to make. Although I have attended most of the debates on this Bill I have not been able to get into the detail of this, and I certainly did not get into the detail of this problem until my noble friends Lord Davies of Brixton and Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, spoke. It is a very simple proposition: these provisions are just unworkable.
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Davies for Amendments 57B and 58A, which I think are very worthy and have signed. They encapsulate the points that I and many noble Lords have made throughout the passage of the Bill so far, and no doubt will in the future, that it is not only issues of principle that concern many of us with respect to this but that many of the provisions are simply unworkable and raise serious questions.
If noble Lords have not done so already, it is worth taking up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and reading Clause 7(12)(a) and (b), which is at the heart of this group of amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, pointed out, the captain of a ship or aircraft, the manager of a train or the driver of a vehicle must conform to the directions of an immigration officer to detain an individual and stop them escaping. That is not only if it is reasonable to do so or if it is something you could understand them doing; they must do it—they have no choice. I do not know about some of the lorry drivers the Minister knows, but good luck with that. The serious point was made that the language barrier will be enormous, or at least significant, in many of those instances.
I have some specific questions, and they repeat and reinforce some of the points that have been made. Can the Minister explain how the captain of a ship, a lorry driver or a train manager—that is who we are talking about here—will detain these people? If the immigration officer requires them to detain someone, how are they meant to do that? As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, ably put it, given that they are not warranted officers and do not have the powers of police officers or other individuals, what force can they use? “Excuse me, please do not get out of my lorry. I have been required by the immigration officers to stop you”—I am not sure that that would work, but let us say it does. But if it does not, and the person tries to get out, what can they do to stop them? I hope the Minister can explain that. The problem is that if they do not stop them, they can be prosecuted. One of the noble Lords who contributed said that it is not that they might be prosecuted but that they will be prosecuted if they do not conform. What happens if they try but the person escapes? Who decides whether they have tried enough—that they have gone to a sufficient extent to prevent the person leaving? Knowing the practicalities of this would be useful.
Clause 7 says “vehicle”, which means a lorry, but does it also mean a car or a campervan? If you are a driver of a car and somebody is in the back, do you have to stop them getting out on the direction of an immigration officer? Is it the same rules for children as for adults? The Minister will say I am nitpicking, but we are in Committee and that is the whole point of Committee. Whether for a lorry driver, train manager or car driver, we need to know whether the Government assume that you can do the same with children and what force is applicable with respect to children vis-à-vis an adult. There are, as I say, a significant number of questions.
The last point I want to make, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Davies, is about the detention period for which someone can force a person to stay in their train, on their aircraft or in their car. What is the reasonable length of time? How does it work? I think the Bill may say a few hours but what happens when that expires? The Secretary of State is then required to say that it can be extended. How does that work? How is the driver informed about that? On the practicalities, the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, made a really interesting point, which again sounds like nitpicking. If you are a train driver or a lorry driver, and you arrive somewhere and are required to stay there for 12 hours or 24 hours, what rights do you have? Are you required to stay there, or can you pass it on to somebody else to take over from you and carry on with that period of detention?
My noble friend Lord Davies and the unions, and others who have supported them, have raised a series of important questions about why the detail is so important and why many of us have questions about not only the principles of the Bill but some of the proposals in it and the workability of them.
My Lords, Clause 7 includes requirements for various persons, such as owners and agents of a ship, aircraft, train or vehicle, the captain of a ship or aircraft, the train manager or the driver of a vehicle, to comply with directions for an individual’s removal from the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, has explained in his Amendments 57B, 58A and 71B that he seeks to probe the legal obligations these provisions place on transport operators.
If I may, I will address the point from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about whether this relates to private vehicles. The answer is that it is related to scheduled or chartered services, not individual cars or campervans.
I would like to make it absolutely clear that the Government are not making transport workers or operators undertake immigration functions. Clearly, I am in agreement with much of what we have heard during the debate on this group. That is not something we would want to do. Nor are the provisions in Clause 7 about commandeering vessels or vehicles, as was suggested in the debate on the last group; we can and do make arrangements for removal by scheduled services or chartered services. Nor are these new requirements; they reflect provisions that are already in place in Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 for arranging the removal of persons not subject to the new duty in the Bill but otherwise liable to removal from the UK.
Having placed a person on board a ship, aircraft, train or vehicle for their removal from the UK, it is only reasonable that the Secretary of State or an immigration officer may require the relevant captain, manager or driver to prevent the person disembarking while that vehicle, ship, aircraft or train is still in the UK, and effectively keep that person in their custody until they have reached the destination. Clause 9(2), which is the subject of Amendment 58A, then applies the relevant existing criminal offences in Section 27 of the Immigration Act 1971—which already apply to carriers who fail to act under instructions to remove a person under that Act—to instructions to remove a person under the powers set out in this Bill.
As I have indicated, the provisions in Clauses 7 and 9 are entirely in keeping with the long-standing, pre-existing provisions in the 1971 Act. I would add that of course we work with relevant transport providers to ensure that arrangements made for a person’s removal from the UK are effective. These include providing risk assessments and relevant escorts where necessary.
Clause 11, which is the subject of Amendment 71B, does not in fact deal with the responsibilities on crew members as such. Clause 11(1) inserts a new paragraph 17A into Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act. This provides that a person liable to detention under paragraph 16 of that schedule may be detained for such period as, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, is reasonably necessary to enable the examination, decision, removal or directions to be carried out, made or given. The provisions that Amendment 71B seeks to remove clarify that the reasonable detention period includes any detention on board a ship or aircraft for the purposes of removing them either from the ship or aircraft or removing them back to another country, as the case may be. The Committee will, of course, return to Clause 11 very shortly.
These provisions simply carry across provisions that have already been on the statute book for over 50 years and been operated without difficulty. In answer to the noble Lords, Lord Hacking and Lord Coaker, I suggest that these are workable provisions. They have been so without adverse comment for 50 years. I hope therefore that I have been able to provide some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Davies—
We are discussing the issues raised in the previous group and I accept that the Minister wants to talk about them now. I also accept that there are provisions in existing law. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why, therefore, the Government need to put these provisions into the Bill if there is already legislation that stands by that. The difference that I can perceive is the requisitioning of services, particularly transport services. That may be slightly different from what we had before. If the Minister cannot say exactly why these provisions are needed, because they are already in existing powers, there is no point putting them into the Bill.
The powers in Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act will continue to apply to those being removed who are not subject to the new duty in the Bill but are otherwise liable to removal from the UK. The powers in the Bill will relate to those who fall within the cohort in Clause 2. They provide clarity and certainty by being present in the Bill in this context. It is also clearly right that the 1971 Act powers need to be applied to the Bill, so that is the purpose for their inclusion. I hope that answers the noble Lord’s question.
I hope I conceded earlier that we know that there have been directions issued to captains and others since the 1971 Act; that is not in contention. My concern, given the greater controversy of a forced duty to remove people who have not even had a refugee claim considered, and given the larger numbers that the Government clearly anticipate in relation to this policy, is about some of the detail. The Minister said that we need greater clarity, but that greater clarity will bring greater concern. I personally do not remember all this deeming of legal custody and the criminalisation of transport workers, certainly not in the original 1971 Act. Maybe more of that has happened over the years.
I ask the Minister to go back to the issues of policy and principle, and not just to rely on the precedent of the creep of legislation forcing these duties on transport workers. Whether that creep has happened or not—I can see that it has—some of us are really concerned about where it has gone. He said that this has passed without comment or controversy but that is not the case, is it? Every so often, somebody dies while being removed because of the coercion and force that is necessarily involved. If the people using that force are not prison guards, soldiers or police officers, but just common or garden transport workers, there is a real concern and controversy. I would be very grateful if the Minister would address that as a matter of principle.
I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Baroness that there is a substantive difference in the fact that the people being removed under the Bill have had their asylum claims rendered inadmissible, because under the present law categories of people have inadmissible asylum claims and they too are subject to removal. They have been subject to the powers in the pre-existing legislation, so I am afraid I do not accept the premise of her intervention.
I should add that we regularly read of instances where there is disorder on an aircraft or instances where a pilot is obliged to land somewhere; then the doors are opened and the police remove a person from the aircraft. That detention can be as simple as keeping the doors closed until the agents of the law arrive to remove the necessary people, and similarly on trains with electric doors. The effecting of the detention is not going to be overly burdensome on the operators as a result of these provisions.
My Lords, I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. I acknowledged that there were existing provisions but that the situation in which we now find ourselves is qualitatively different. It was a grave disappointment that there had not been sufficient consultation with those directly affected. There is no doubt that transport workers and transport providers have significant concerns. Even if the Minister is right in what he says, it would clearly have been appropriate to have some discussions, if only to allay those concerns. I am disappointed that he has not given a commitment to give further thought on this area.
I do not know whether it is by chance, but we happen to have the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, who is the Transport Minister, with us now. Perhaps some discussions could be facilitated, because I know that she has had representations on this issue. I will look carefully at what the noble Lord, Lord Murray, has said and consider whether this is an issue to which we will need to return. I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 57B withdrawn.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8: Support where asylum claim inadmissible
57C: Clause 8, page 11, line 18, leave out “and (3)” and insert “, (3) and (3A).”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment, and another in the name of Baroness Lister, would amend the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to create a right of appeal against a decision to refuse an application for support under section 95A of the Act, or to stop support under that same section.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 57C, I will also speak to Amendments 57D to 57G. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for their support. These are very much probing amendments and I apologise that I did not make that clear in their explanatory statements. They are focused on the financial and accommodation support available to those deemed inadmissible but still resident in the UK, and on associated appeal rights.
I am grateful to the Refugee Council for its help with these amendments. Because they refer to existing legislation, the amendments are quite complex and, given their probing nature, I do not therefore intend to go into the details of what they would achieve. I am sure that will be a great relief to those who want to get to their dinner. Instead, I will explain the context of the amendments and then set out a list of questions for the Minister.
Despite the Government’s intention to deport large numbers of asylum seekers swiftly, the consensus outside government is that, in the absence of adequate third-country agreements, many of those deemed inadmissible will also be unmovable in reality as they cannot be returned to their country of origin, given that their asylum claims have not been assessed. This, according to the very helpful joint briefing we received from a large number of civil society organisations,
“will create a large and permanent population of people who will live in limbo at public expense for the rest of their lives, without any hope of securing lawful status”.
The Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Praxis and the No Accommodation Network describe it as “permanent purgatory”.
In the continued absence of the official impact assessment, the Refugee Council’s assessment estimates that by the end of the three years following the provisions coming into effect, between 161,000 and nearly 192,700 people will be living in this purgatory. They will not have the right to work—the subject of a later amendment —and will not be eligible for mainstream benefits or housing, and thus will be at great risk of exploitation and destitution.
Refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK are already at serious risk of exploitation. British Red Cross and UNHCR research found that people refused asylum face a particular risk of exploitation, as they have few support options. The research found evidence of people experiencing destitution, homelessness and various forms of exploitation, including sexual exploitation. The BRC warns that the number of people experiencing destitution and exploitation will increase if the Bill is implemented and if people deemed inadmissible to the UK asylum system are denied access to support.
According to the joint civil society briefing:
“The physical and mental health implications of this would be unprecedented”.
Health organisations have repeated this warning and the Royal College of Psychiatrists has underlined the serious harm to mental health that living in immigration limbo is likely to cause. The BRC reports, on the basis of its experience with those already deemed inadmissible, that living in limbo without adequate support has devastating impacts on people’s mental and physical health.
It is therefore crucial that we are clear as to what financial and accommodation support will be available to those living in limbo. Key here is what access they will have to Section 4, Section 95 or Section 98 support under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. I have a number of questions for the Minister that refugee organisations have not been able to get the answers to.
First, Section 4 of the 1999 Act is mostly used for supporting those who are destitute, having had their asylum claim refused, and where there is a barrier to them returning home. It can be provided only for accommodation and financial support combined, not for financial support alone. The guidance and regulations mostly reflect these circumstances. Is the Minister confident that the existing regulations for Section 4 will cover the circumstances of someone waiting for removal having had their asylum claim deemed inadmissible under the Bill, given that, for support purposes, they will be treated as failed asylum seekers?
Secondly, looking at the ASF1 that people need to fill in to apply for Section 4 support, it is not clear how someone would use it to apply for support when their claim has been deemed inadmissible. Given that the Bill could be in force this summer if the Prime Minister gets his wish, what plans does the Home Office have for updating the form?
Thirdly, as a result of the Bill it is likely that many more people will be reliant on Section 4 for accommodation and financial support. Currently, most asylum seekers are supported under Section 95, which is available to those awaiting a decision on their claim and facing destitution. Section 98 allows people who would otherwise be destitute to be supported pending a decision on their eligibility for Section 95 support. I said that this was a bit complicated, and I apologise. The equivalent does not exist for Section 4, which will become the main means of support. Are Ministers preparing to use the regulation-making power in Section 4 to create such a scheme? If not, what is proposed?
Finally, can the Minister clarify whether they intend to use the provision within the Immigration Act 2016 to repeal Section 4 and introduce a new Section 95A as a replacement? If the Home Office intends to make that change, when does it intend to implement the 2016 Act changes, and will there be consultation on the relevant regulations and guidance that will need to be put in place? Unlike Section 4 and Section 95, Section 95A decisions would not attract a right to appeal. Given that circumstances are now very different from when Parliament passed the 2016 Act and that it will be a completely untested system, will the Home Office accept an amendment that would create the ability to appeal a refusal or discontinuation of support?
I apologise for the rather technical nature of these questions, but they are really important given the large numbers who are likely to be stuck in limbo and facing possible destitution. Refugee organisations and local authorities need to understand now what the situation will be. I accept that the Minister might not be able to answer all my questions now, but I ask for an assurance that he will write to the Committee with the answers before Report.
In conclusion, I quote a torture survivor and refused asylum-seeking woman who has previously been supported by Freedom from Torture and is a member of the anti-torture network Survivors Speak OUT. She became appeal-rights exhausted, at which point she experienced homelessness. What she says underlines what is at stake in the answers to the questions I have posed:
“I lost my house, my security and my sense of safety. I moved between different people’s houses, only being able to stay a few days at a time. I have walked the streets looking for somewhere to sleep, sometimes I was offered food by a shelter, but there was never a bed available. I have no words to describe how this experience has made me feel. I have hated myself for how vulnerable I have become, and the sadness is overwhelming. I have felt many times that my life would come to an end. The thought that the UK government would make laws that could expose more people to my experience is unimaginably cruel. Women, children, and torture survivors will suffer violence and pain on the streets, and it will be this government that is responsible for that avoidable pain”.
We must do all we can to prevent such pain.
My Lords, I refer to the register of interests and my involvement with the RAMP project and Reset.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for tabling Amendments 57C to 57G to provide us with the opportunity to discuss issues relating to the level of support that will be provided for those declared inadmissible but who are unable to be removed from the country. I too am highly grateful to the Refugee Council for supporting us to probe this area of policy well, especially in the absence of an impact assessment.
Before I outline questions for the Minister, it is important to note that those deemed inadmissible will include not just those whose asylum cases would likely have been found valid but individuals who would not have qualified. In the absence of any return deals, this could leave the Government in the absurd position of needing to support at public expense those who could be appropriately returned to their own country.
The Government will also need to support those excluded from the asylum system, who of course could support themselves and their families through employment after gaining refugee status. Let us remember again that more than three-quarters of asylum cases assessed last year were found to be valid. Support will need to be indefinitely provided to these families, and every year this group will increase in number. I hope that these amendments, while raising technical issues, will also help us to understand the rationale behind this and the costs associated with this approach.
My noble friend excellently laid out the grave mental health impacts of being confined to a life of permanent precarity and inescapable destitution. I remarked at Second Reading that this amounts to the continuation of detention simply without walls. It is therefore vital to understand what level of financial and accommodation support will be provided to those living in this state-sanctioned situation. I will try to add complementary questions to those already posed, but there will inevitably be some overlap.
Currently, far more people are supported under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 than under Section 4. According to Home Office statistics, in the first quarter of this year, there were 11,662 applications for Section 95 support, compared with 642 under Section 4. The Bill before us will change that, as those people whose claims are declared inadmissible will, in most cases, not be eligible for Section 95 support and instead will need to rely on Section 4 to avoid destitution.
I will ask the Minister some questions. First, how will someone who is, in effect, banned from claiming asylum be able to apply for Section 4 support? It is not clear, as the current guidance for Section 4 states that those deemed inadmissible cannot apply on the grounds that there is no viable route of return to their own country as they are due to be removed to a third country. Individuals will also not be able to judicially review the inadmissibility decision and cannot demonstrate that they are taking reasonable steps to leave the UK, given that their country of origin may be unsafe, and they will not have permission to enter another jurisdiction. How will applications from those with inadmissible asylum claims therefore be treated when they apply for support?
Secondly, what will happen to those who have arrived since 7 March and are currently in receipt of Section 95 support—a number already in the several thousands? Will their asylum claims be immediately declared inadmissible, removing eligibility to Section 95 support in one fell swoop? Can the Minister clarify what assistance this group will be given to apply for Section 4 support, or will he commit to automatically transferring people to Section 4 support without requiring a further application? Finally, what assessment has the Home Office made of how many people will be supported under Section 4 in the months and years after the Bill has come into effect? I stress that, to support the effective scrutiny of the Bill, we must know how many families with children will be left solely reliant on Section 4 support.
This set of amendments highlights major questions which remain unanswered about how the Bill is intended to work in practice, beyond the mantra that people will be “swiftly detained and removed”. These are not needlessly prosaic questions to frustrate the passage of the Bill, but a genuine attempt to help those on the front line plan their operational response, which we heard the Minister say earlier was well under way in its planning.
As the Government know, the asylum support system plays a vital role in ensuring that those who would otherwise be homeless and destitute, and who are unable to work and support themselves, have access to basic accommodation and financial support. There is a debate to be had about what form that accommodation should take and how much the financial support should be, but that debate is meaningless if the system is inaccessible. If the system is not adapted to respond to the circumstances created by the Bill, tens of thousands of people could find themselves with no support. On top of the intolerable consequences that this will have for individuals and families, it will inevitably lead to local authorities, faith groups, communities and voluntary groups picking up the pieces.
We often find ourselves in moments of our lives needing to console ourselves and our loved ones that this stage is only temporary and that hope remains. I am constantly in awe of refugees who live with such instability but retain that sense of a brighter future. It is therefore only right that I close my comments by stating the obvious: there is a different way, where asylum seekers have their applications processed in an effective and timely manner so that hope, not desolation, remains a possibility.
This is my week for making apologies. I have to be in Durham very early tomorrow and trains up north are limited, so after dinner break business I will not be able to contribute on those things that I said I would. However, I expect my good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark to be present and to speak, in his name, on those matters.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the right reverend Prelate. I make no apologies for supporting this group of amendments and I signed the stand part proposition to probe these issues, because they are of such great importance. I also make no apology for using the word “assessment” very frequently in what I am about to say. The Minister will gather that what I am after is some of the contents of the promised impact assessment before it eventually appears.
Clearly, the essence of the clause is to ensure that people get some support for accommodation and subsistence while they are in this world of being inadmissible but have not yet been removed from the country. The starting point here is: how many people are there likely to be in this situation? I have previously asked the Minister whether he thinks that people who are covered by the duty to remove will actually be removed quickly. In other words, will it be in six or nine months? An estimate will do. That is my first question, because it will give us a sense of the size of the problem that we are about to face. We would then be able to identify and understand how many people would therefore require accommodation and subsistence under Section 4.
In the absence of a government impact assessment as yet, the Refugee Council has done its own analysis. Based on the current 0.7% success rate of removing people under the inadmissibility rules, it has assessed that, by the end of the third year after the Bill has passed,
“between 161,147 and 192,670 people will have had their asylum claims deemed inadmissible but not have been removed”.
So that could be the size of the problem. We do not know what the Government think, because they will say that they do not recognise those figures. However, as the Government have not given us any figures, we have no means of judging that.
That group of people will then be without permission to work and will be reliant on Home Office support and accommodation indefinitely. If you look at the size of that cohort and the amount of money that it will cost, you see that it will be between £4.9 billion and £5.7 billion in the first three years. That is based on the assumption that everyone deemed inadmissible would be awarded Section 4 support and that there would be few people who would not get it. The issue arises that, if you do not get it, you will be destitute. As the right reverend Prelate said, the destitute can get picked up by the voluntary sector. But, frequently, local government is picking up the pieces, using funds which are due for other things that should be going on in local authorities, so that they do not have families in absolute destitution on their doorstep.
On the assessment process—just to help the noble Lord—has there been an assessment of the numbers of those who will not qualify for Section 4 support? In other words, is there an estimate of how many would be left with no recourse to public funds and would become destitute? On the suspensive claims, will people who have made a suspensive claim be eligible to apply for Section 4 support? That is probably an easy one for the Minister to answer.
Has there been an assessment of the impact of this legislation on local government funding? Clearly, it would be useful for the Government to understand how much they are currently spending on picking up the pieces of those who are destitute, and how much that would cost if it were magnified by the numbers we have just been talking about. That is why there needs to be a risk assessment for those on no recourse to public funds indefinitely in terms of their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. Having no money and accommodation are the sorts of things which fuel the operation of criminal gangs in the United Kingdom.
I talked about the issue of timeliness. Obviously, there is going to be a longer-term need than simply for short-term accommodation. Section 4 short-term accommodation is something that people can move on from. If we have a larger number—whatever that number might be—who are not yet removed from the United Kingdom, we will need some long-term accommodation. Have any plans been made to provide long-term accommodation, given that the Government hope the Bill will be in operation in a very few months’ time? Will there be any impact assessment of what homelessness will look like after this legislation goes forward?
Another element of assessment is, what is the impact on UK society of having a population without full access to NHS services? No recourse to public finance means, of course, that you are entitled only to primary and emergency care. What will be the impact on pregnant women, for example? Doctors of the World says that women are particularly impacted, as access to antenatal and maternity care are subject to the regulations. Successive confidential inquiries into maternal deaths have found migrants and asylum-seeking women to be at higher risk of maternal deaths, and that the deaths of some women may have been related to concerns over the regulations that cover what NHS services they can have.
So, forcing people into inactivity and taking away any agency they have to improve their lives and contribute to society seems to me to be a not very Conservative approach to quality of life. People are being made ready for exploitation and we are creating a subgroup of society with very few rights. If there were ability to claim and such claims were resolved swiftly and accurately, we could remove people or enable them to rebuild their lives in our society. That is what I hope, in the end, we will come to, but I do not necessarily believe it will happen.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.13 pm.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 25 May.
“We are a nation of animal lovers, and animal welfare has been a priority of the Government since 2010. Since then, on farms, we have introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens, banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, and made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. For pets, we have introduced microchipping, which became mandatory for dogs in 2015; we have modernised our licensing system for activities such as dog breeding and pet sales; we have protected service animals via Finn’s law; and we have banned commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens. In 2019, our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law, and we have also led work to implement humane trapping standards by banning glue traps. We have done more than any other party on animal welfare, delivering on a manifesto that was drafted with the public’s priorities in mind.
Further to the steps I have outlined, in 2021, we published an ambitious and comprehensive action plan for animal welfare that set out an array of future reforms for this Parliament and beyond. That action plan’s wide-ranging measures relate to farmed animals, wild animals, pets and sporting animals. They include legislative and non-legislative reforms, and extend beyond domestic actions to cover international engagement and advocacy. And we have delivered—since the publication of that action plan, we have delivered on four key manifesto commitments. First, we passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which recognises in law that all vertebrate animals and invertebrates such as crabs, lobsters and octopuses are sentient beings. That Act will form the bedrock of the animal welfare policy of the future. We passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which introduced tougher sentences for animal cruelty, increasing maximum sentences from six months up to five years. Last month, we made cat microchipping compulsory, which will help reunite lost pets with their owners. Just this week, we announced that, having brought the Ivory Act 2018 into force in 2022, we will be extending it to cover five endangered species: hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.
In addition to legislating, we have launched the pioneering animal health and welfare pathway. It charts the route forward for improved farm animal welfare for years to come. This government and industry partnership are already transforming welfare on the ground. The pathway does that through annual health and welfare reviews with a vet of choice, supported by financial grants.
I can tell that Opposition Members are feeling weary listening to the expansive list of delivery, but I can assure them that I am not done yet, because today we are taking two further steps in delivering our action plan. First, we are announcing the launch of the new Animal Sentience Committee, which will advise government on how policy decisions should take account of animal welfare. The committee’s membership provides expertise from veterinary and social science and covers farm, companion and wild animals. We expect the committee to begin its work next month.
Secondly, we are announcing a consultation on new financial penalties of up to £5,000 for those who commit offences against animals. That will mean there is a new enforcement tool to use against the small minority of people who fail to protect the health and welfare of animals. This could apply, for example, if an animal is kept in poor living conditions due to a lack of appropriate bedding or shelter.
On top of those measures, we continue to support the Private Member’s Bill of my honourable friend the Member for Crawley, Henry Smith, which will implement our manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies. Also making strong progress are Private Members’ Bills that ban the import and export of detached shark fins and that ban the advertising and offering for sale here of low-welfare animal activities abroad. I thank the honourable Member for Neath, Christina Rees, and my honourable friend the Member for Guildford, Angela Richardson, respectively.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill started nearly two years ago. It was designed to implement several of our ambitions, including banning the live exports of animals, seeking to prevent pet theft and new measures to tackle livestock worrying. Unfortunately, its multi-issue nature means there has been considerable scope-creep. The Bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan. In particular, Labour is clearly determined to play political games by widening the Bill’s scope.
The Bills and regulations that we have already passed demonstrate the enormous progress that can be made with single-issue legislation, so we will be taking forward measures from the kept animals Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament. We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments, and this approach is the surest and quickest way of doing so, rather than letting that Bill be mired in political game-playing. Having left the EU, we are able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. There have been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020, but our legislation will ensure that that becomes permanent and we remain committed to delivering it.
We are committed to clamping down on puppy smuggling. We will ban the import of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs, and we will be able to do that more quickly with a single-issue Bill than with the secondary legislation required under the kept animals Bill. We are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets, and we will do that by consulting before the Summer Recess on primate-keeping standards. They will be applied by secondary legislation to be brought forward this year. We also look forward to progressing delivery of the new offence of pet abduction and new measures to tackle livestock worrying.
I am conscious that there are many other campaigns on aspects of animal welfare. I want to assure the House that, in making this change to how we will implement the measures outlined, we are open to future consideration, but we will focus on delivering these key elements. Delivering these measures, as well as everything we have already delivered as part of and beyond the animal welfare elements of our manifesto, shows a Government who care about animals and do not just talk about the issue or play games with it. We are committed to maintaining our strong track record on animal welfare and to delivering continued improvements in this Parliament and beyond. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, the Statement we are debating today starts with a list of government achievements on animal welfare. Of course, we always welcome any positive progress on animal welfare measures, but the problem is that that is not really the point of this Statement or why it has been made. What it is actually doing is scrapping the kept animals Bill—legislation designed to protect pets, livestock and wild animals. I point out that we have had to wait until today to debate this, as the announcement was made on the afternoon of 25 May, the last day before recess.
The Bill was first introduced two years ago and was announced again in the Queen’s Speech last year. It would have delivered on a number of Conservative 2019 manifesto animal welfare commitments, including ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, tackling puppy smuggling and banning the keeping of primates as pets. One animal charity has accused Ministers of “an astonishing betrayal”, yet the Statement has the gall to say that this Conservative Government
“have done more than any other party on animal welfare, delivering on”
the manifesto. So, let us remind ourselves about the issue of delivering, because aside from this Bill, the animals abroad Bill was also scrapped. Although I am sure the Minister will say that we have Private Members’ Bills coming to this House, some containing what was in that ill-fated Bill, can he explain why the promises to ban fur and foie gras imports have bitten the dust?
If animal welfare promises are included in a manifesto, they should be delivered. There should not be a pick-and-mix approach by the Secretary of State or Prime Minister of the day as to which proposals are the least likely to upset Tory Back-Benchers. Saying that taking forward the measures in the kept animals Bill individually is the surest and quickest way is an extraordinary statement, when we consider just how long they have been languishing in the Commons. If the Government had been serious about passing this legislation quickly, they could have done so more than a year ago. I have lost count of the number of times that I have asked the Minister and other Ministers about the Government’s commitment to the Bill and when we would see it make progress. I was always strongly reassured, and I genuinely do not blame the Minister for that, but again it is deeply disappointing.
So, what reassurance can the Minister provide that every part of the Bill—I repeat: every part—will make it through this process, with government support, by the end of this Parliament? Can he provide a proposed timetable? Can he guarantee that no part of it will meet the same fate as the promised bans on fur and foie gras imports? Does he agree with Conservative Members in the other place? Conservative MP Tracey Crouch said it was “better than having nothing”, but added that there had been
“an unforgivable delay on the whole bill, which is completely unacceptable”.
Conservative MP Theresa Villiers said she felt
“a sense of frustration and disappointment”.
The Minister will know that I feel strongly that the Government have once again let down those who believe in progress on animal welfare. More than this, the reasons given for dropping the legislation are simply outrageous. To attempt to blame the Labour Party for a Conservative Government’s decision to drop legislation that had strong cross-party support, with no evidence whatever that
“Labour is clearly determined to play political games”,—[Official Report, Commons, 25/5/23; cols. 495-98.]
is an utterly feeble excuse.
I know that the Minister is personally committed to improving animal welfare standards, so I end by saying that it is a shame that he is not in charge, as I believe he would have more backbone on this issue than some of his colleagues in the other place. I look to him to ensure that progress is made.
My Lords, I welcome the chance to comment on this Statement. The Government have been active on the animal welfare front and I commend their Action Plan for Animal Welfare. I have some questions for the Minister on progress on several fronts on this plan.
I was delighted when the Ivory Act was passed and disappointed that it took so long to implement. I am pleased that the measures in the Act are now extended to cover hippo, narwhal, killer and sperm whales and the walrus, all endangered species.
The animal health and welfare pathway covers farm animal welfare through welfare reviews with a vet of choice. We debated earlier this week the shortage of vets to conduct all the necessary government work. At that time, the Minister detailed the steps being taken to address the vet shortage. Is the Minister able to say whether there are particular geographical hotspots of vet shortage, or is the shortage spread across the country as a whole?
The Statement mentions the new Animal Sentience Committee, the creation of which was not universally welcomed in the other place or in this House. As the committee begins its work next month, is the Minister able to say whether it will be looking at forthcoming legislation across all departments of government, as originally intended, or will it be confined solely to Defra?
I understand the Government’s reasons for not pursuing the kept animals Bill, but I am, nevertheless, disappointed and concerned about certain aspects which the Bill would have covered. The Government appear to be relying quite heavily on Private Members’ Bills to implement strands of their manifesto. As we know, Private Members’ Bills often take a while to complete their passage and are some of the first to fall if there is pressure on official government business.
While I fully support the ban on trading in detached shark fins and banning the sale of glue traps, I am less enthusiastic about the ban on importing hunting trophies. While I think the hunting of large exotic animals for trophies is a revolting practice, there is another side to this. The hamlets and villages which live alongside these wild animals find it hard to make a living out of farming the land, which is often destroyed by marauding game. The expansion of their farming practices into the areas previously inhabited by wild game brings them into conflict with the animals. Villagers are dependent, in some areas, on the exploits of big game hunters for their income. Would not a better system, to prevent the destruction of certain species, be to introduce a quota system, such as used to exist in the USA? There, a hunter could have a licence once every five years to kill a single bear. When his turn came up, he had the year in which to be successful. If he was not, then his licence lapsed, and he had to wait another five years. I readily admit that I do not know if this system still exists in the US, but it did some years ago. I also accept that my comments will not be welcome to those taking part in the debate next Friday on this important issue, and I am not able to be present on Friday but feel both sides of the argument should be heard.
The Government have done much to prevent the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter since 2020, but this is a temporary measure. Can the Minister say when the UK legislation will become permanent and what, if any, barriers there are to this happening soon? There have been several statutory instruments concerning puppy smuggling and banning the importation of mutilated dogs. The Statement indicates that, instead of this being covered by the kept animals Bill and statutory instruments, this will be in a single-issue Bill. Can the Minister say when this might be brought forward—if not in this Session, then presumably in the next?
During the Covid lockdown, we saw a rise in pet ownership, which was coupled with a rise in pet abduction, possibly driven by the rise in the cost of acquiring a puppy or kitten. The Government are seeking, as they put it, to progress
“delivery of the new offence of pet abduction and new measures to tackle livestock worrying”.
I fully support this, but I wonder whether this will be through government legislation or another Private Member’s Bill—can the Minister comment?
Lastly, I want to turn to the issue of keeping primates as pets. This was to have been, for me anyway, a key element of the kept animals Bill. The Government are due to consult over the Summer Recess on the issue of standards for keeping these highly intelligent animals as pets. This gives the impression that it will be acceptable to keep primates as pets. The Statement also refers to secondary legislation as the vehicle for introducing this. If this is the case, which Act will the relevant SI sit under? I am opposed to the keeping of primates as pets and hope the Government will ban this instead of regulating it.
I congratulate the Government on the action they have taken, and intend to take in the future, on animal welfare, and fully support their actions. However, I feel a sense of disappointment that the kept animals Bill will not be the vehicle for achieving further improvement.
My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions made by both Front-Bench spokesmen. We are a nation of animal lovers and that unites us across this House. Animal welfare has been a priority for this Government, and I say to the noble Baroness that she would be hard pushed to find any Government that have done more for animal welfare than we have. On farms, we have introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens. We have banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens. We made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. For pets, microchipping became mandatory for dogs in 2015 and, as she is aware, we have just passed this measure for cats. We modernised our licensing system for activities such as dog breeding and pet sales. We have protected service animals via Finn’s law. We banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens. In 2019, our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law, and we have led the world to implement humane trapping standards by banning glue traps. Some of these measures were Private Members’ Bills, but we worked with people in both Houses to make sure that these happened.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned, the animal health and welfare pathway is seeing a real step up in the relationship between vets and farms, and the support we can give to farmers in this important priority for improving animal welfare standards. We had the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act and the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act. Last month, we made cat-microchipping compulsory and, as the noble Baroness pointed out, we brought the Ivory Act into force last year, but we have extended it to cover five other species also.
The noble Baroness is being a bit harsh when she looks at the issue in the round because we have had a lot of success with single-issue animal welfare matters, and we are still committed to the measures in the Bill. With regards to the example raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about the ban on keeping primates as pets, this will be on the statute book before it would have been if we had taken this through as a multi-issue Bill, because we are able to do this through a statutory instrument. I cannot remember the piece of legislation that this will amend or add to, but it will be on the statute book.
We remain committed to banning the export of animals for slaughter and fattening. Noble Lords may be interested to know the number of animals that have been exported since we left the European Union is zero. It is an activity that, through economic circumstances and the availability of the necessary infrastructure, is just not happening, but that never stops the Government being determined to do this.
We have the trophy hunting Bill coming forward; I suggest that is when we will tease out some of the legitimate issues raised by the noble Baroness. On shark fins, we will support the ban. The low welfare issues abroad are certainly matters we can take forward.
On the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, around foie gras, we are keeping to our manifesto commitment. We are looking at the measures that would be required to legislate. We have committed to building a clear evidence base to inform decisions on banning the import and sale of foie gras; we have been collecting evidence on the sector and will continue options in due course. We are committed to taking an evidence-based approach towards exploring potential action on fur. We have already held a call for evidence and are continuing to explore possible outcomes.
When the noble Baroness looks at every part of the Bill, she will see that nearly all of it will have the necessary parliamentary time. We may be able to find an alternative place to bring in other areas such as zoo standards, but there is more evidence to collect on that. I am working very closely with the Zoos Expert Committee to make sure that we are doing that.
In reply to the noble Baroness’s point about vets— I am sure this will be raised by others in this House quite shortly—there is a shortage of vets, certainly in government and the APHA. We are treating this situation very seriously and seeking to address it, and we are working with people such as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, to make sure that the new vet schools which have opened in recent years, which are extremely welcome, are training more vets who will remain in the United Kingdom and service us. There is a particular shortage of large animal vets, and we are working with the royal colleges to make sure that we are finding new ways to encourage people to go into that sector and looking at why there is a disinclination for certain people to go into that area.
I have already covered the point about primates as pets. As for the six measures in the manifesto, we will ban live exports, as I have said, and there will be measures on puppy smuggling and primates as pets. Livestock worrying and pet abduction were not in the manifesto, but we are doing work on those issues. I hope also to be able to do something on zoo licensing. In addition to the manifesto, we have supported the glue traps Act, which passed through your Lordships’ House. We brought in extra penalty notices and extra measures for animal cruelty, and increasing the penalties for hare-coursing has been extremely popular with people—as well as with hares. The people carrying out that activity— I speak with some experience on this matter—are not pleasant when they are confronted.
I hope I am able to convince both Front Benches that the kept animals Bill was designed to implement several of our ambitions, including manifesto commitments on banning the live export of animals, cracking down on puppy smuggling and banning the keeping of primates as pets. Its multi-issue nature means that there has been considerable scope-creep. The Bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan. The Bills and regulations that we have passed already demonstrate the enormous progress that can be made with single-issue legislation. Therefore, we have announced that we will take forward measures in the kept animals Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament. We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments, and this approach is now the surest and quickest way of doing so.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I congratulate the Government on the animal welfare measures to date that have been listed in the Oral Statement of 25 May. I regret the withdrawal of the kept animals Bill but I note that there is a commitment in the Statement to introduce most of its measures. I will disappoint the Minister, because I am not going to mention the shortage of vets—he is very well aware of it, as he has demonstrated. I will confine my comments and questions to the measures derived from the kept animals Bill that are present and committed to, or indeed absent.
First, I note that the Government have committed to banning primates as pets, conducting a consultation before the summer and putting forward secondary legislation this year. That is all very welcome. It is estimated that something like 1,000 to 7,000 primates are kept as pets in the UK. It is very difficult to get accurate figures. There is no doubt that primates have very complex welfare needs which generally would not be provided for in a domestic environment. The kept animals Bill proposed licensing. I am interested to hear from the Minister, notwithstanding the outcome of the consultation, whether it is likely that the Government will introduce a total ban—the word “banning” is used without conditions in the Statement—or whether they are still committed to licensing.
I note that there is a commitment to progressing new measures on livestock worrying. I would be interested to know a little more about what that might involve. Livestock worrying is a huge and growing issue. APGAW has been very concerned about it for a number of years since it published a report on the subject in 2018. A survey this year by the National Sheep Association found that 70% of its respondents had suffered at least one sheep worrying incident in the last 12 months. There are multiple instances of animals on farms either being killed outright or mortally wounded and requiring euthanasia in the last year or two. We strongly support more stringent measures against this increasing crime. I would like to hear a little more about what is envisaged.
With regard to the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, the kept animals Bill included horses and other equine animals, along with cattle, sheep, pigs and so on. Are horses going to be included in the new measures? I raise this because there are welfare benefits of being able to slaughter horses in abattoirs, but there is only one in England that regularly takes horses. This shortage of equine abattoirs in the south of England in particular may mean that export for slaughter is a positive welfare issue if suitable abattoirs exist close to the ports across the channel—otherwise horses risk being abandoned and having a much more chronic welfare problem.
The importation of dogs in particular, as well as cats and ferrets, is another growing problem. There is a vast amount of criminally conducted smuggling and a gross abuse of the pet travel scheme. I note that the Statement suggests a ban on imports of young dogs—although it does not specify what age—heavily pregnant dogs or mutilated dogs via a single-issue Bill. All this will be extremely welcome.
As I have mentioned, puppy smuggling is occurring on an industrial scale, incentivised by the huge profits that can be made. There is very little chance of prosecutions occurring, and the sanctions are currently quite low. To give your Lordships an example of the profitability, one transporter has been estimated to traffic 6,200 puppies a year, worth an estimated £11.7 million. To bring even more dogs in, we are seeing smugglers bringing in pregnant bitches which will quite shortly produce in the UK more than one pup.
Finally, the illegal trade we are seeing is threatening the biosecurity of the UK dog population. The most recent and perhaps most serious threat has been the increasing incidence of Brucella canis infections in dogs. This is not only a serious infection in dogs but a public health hazard. In dogs, it is essentially untreatable, and the only recommended intervention is euthanasia.
Therefore, stronger enforcement is needed to get to grips with this issue, and I urge that the new measures contemplated bear that in mind. Perhaps we could use modern technology—camera imaging and so on—to detect dogs in vehicles, perhaps also using AI to read the camera results. We really need to scan every vehicle coming in if it is too impractical to make visual checks.
Nothing on zoos is mentioned in the Statement— I would be interested to hear from the Minister why they are excluded. Finally, we welcome the offence of pet abduction being used, which would recognise the emotional cost to owners of pet theft. I would welcome the Minister’s comments and answers to those questions.
It just so happened that while I was sitting here I received inspiration, so I am able to answer the noble Baroness’s question. The statutory instrument on keeping primates as pets will see an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned. We are consulting, as is required, on the standards that we would apply, which would limit the vast majority of the cases that the noble Lord talked about, where primates are kept in improper surroundings and in improper conditions in houses. As I say, this will happen quicker than would have happened if we were taking this through as a massive piece of legislation, as originally intended.
On livestock worrying, this measure will require primary legislation, so we will consider options for legislative vehicles to take this forward. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with the Countryside Code, which we amended recently, on ensuring messaging around keeping dogs on leads around livestock. That should remain a priority. However, as the noble Lord will know, 70% of livestock worrying cases occur when a dog is not being managed or is not with its owner—it has escaped. We should not just be working on livestock. I do not know how we legislate on this, but on “Springwatch” last year there was a very good piece about a very rare redshank’s nest that was predated on by a dog. The law is not always the best way of encouraging responsible ownership. However, it should be totally unacceptable that our rarest wildlife is being predated in this way and that livestock continues to be attacked by dogs not under control.
On the export issue, I had not considered the point the noble Lord raised about horses, but he makes a very interesting point and I will take that back to the department. There is a positive animal welfare issue there. Only one vessel works out of Folkestone that is able to transport livestock. I am not sure whether it transports horses, but I will keep in touch with the noble Lord and work with him on that.
The mutilation of puppies and puppy smuggling are revolting crimes. This is a manifesto commitment that we know has a huge amount of support among parliamentarians on all sides of the House. A single-issue Bill could give us the opportunity to put in it additional measures: for example, bans on the import of young puppies, heavily pregnant dogs and those with mutilations such as cropped ears and docked tails. Those would have been implemented through secondary legislation, which would have taken time. Under this new approach, we can bring these measures forward at the same time, which could be effective and quicker.
On dogs, cats and ferrets being imported, the measure we are bringing will allow a maximum of five per vehicle rather than five per person, which is one of the abuses we are seeing, and we are banning the imports of mutilated animals over six months old and heavily pregnant ones. We think this can be delivered through secondary legislation.
On biosecurity, the noble Lord is absolutely preaching to the choir. The horrendous example I can give is the import of animals from Afghanistan, which we were told had all been checked by a vet. However, it turned out that there were cases of Brucella canis and Leishmaniasis among them. That is a horrendous threat and risk to the domestic dog population, and we have to be absolutely clear that we are dealing with this and doing so in the best form possible as regards biosecurity.
On the Zoo Licensing Act reforms, we enjoy a close working relationship with the zoo sector and will continue to capitalise on that to identify non-legislative ways of reforming it. By the end of the year we will publish updated zoo standards, which we have developed in collaboration with the zoo sector and the UK Zoos Expert Committee to raise standards and make enforcement more effective.
On the noble Lord’s last point about pet abduction, I ran a campaign on that in my constituency when I was in the other place, when dog theft became a particular crime and, to be perfectly frank, it was not being taken seriously by the authorities. It is a vile crime because for many people the loss of their dog is much more troubling than the loss of many other possessions they have; it can have an absolutely devastating effect on the owner, and we want to make sure that criminals face the toughest sanctions possible.
I thank the Minister for his remarks so far. I join other noble Lords in expressing a level of disappointment at the Statement made in another House. I think the Minister himself mentioned the oft-used phrase that we are a nation of animal lovers. That is generally the case; it transcends party politics and people of a wide range of affiliations would certainly support that. However, it is fine to talk the talk but we need to walk the walk. In animal welfare, that means ensuring that we have the most robust and progressive legislation that we can on animal welfare. Equally important, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, identified, is implementation and enforcement. In my experience, without that, the best legislation in the world, particularly on animal welfare, can at times be meaningless.
I do not want to try to score political points on this and, to be fair, on a lot of aspects of animal welfare the Government have been genuinely progressive. I know that not everyone in this House would apply that adjective to the Government in all circumstances, but they can be proud of a lot of their past record and even of some legislation going through at the moment.
I will add one caveat to that and seek a response from the Minister. It is important that current legislation is fully applicable and robust across all the United Kingdom. I express in particular a concern about the trophy-hunting legislation, which, I understand from the other place, does not at this stage appear to apply to Northern Ireland. The reason given was a concern that this might breach the provisions with regard to the single market. With regard to the European situation, a number of countries such as the Netherlands have already brought in these bans, so if the Government have not changed their position on this, it is important that Northern Ireland is included, so I seek an assurance from the Minister that it is at least being looked at.
On this legislation, the ideal position would certainly have been for the Kept Animals Bill to have continued its pathway. It is the gold standard to which I think many in this House would aspire. In addition, having praised the Government, I felt that one thing in the Statement was a little disingenuous. I am not here as a spokesman for His Majesty’s loyal Opposition, but to try to pin the blame on the Labour Party was deeply unfair. What was passing through was the will of the House of Commons, and this is not a situation in which we have a minority Government dependent on a loose coalition of additional support; this Government have quite a large majority in the Commons. Therefore, if the Government have, for whatever reason, decided to do a U-turn or abandon this, or they feel that there are practical reasons why this cannot move ahead in this format, simply to try to deflect from that by scoring political points and passing it on to the Opposition is in this case unfair.
Having said that the gold standard was the reinstatement of the Bill, I think the next best position, as outlined by the noble Baroness on behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, is a government commitment that every aspect of the Bill will be put in place. At the very least, what we need from the Government is a level of certainty as to what the next steps are. There is a slight danger that we could be like groupies at a music concert: we very much appreciate the back catalogue, but we really want to know what the new material on the next album will be. To that extent, if the Minister cannot give us an assurance tonight that within the lifetime of this Parliament every aspect of the kept animals Bill will be committed to and put into effect—if this is to be taken forward in individual, smaller steps—at the very least the Government have to outline which elements of this they are prioritising; the timetable for each of those elements, and a firm commitment on that; and whether there are aspects of the Bill which can be brought forward without the need for legislation, via another route. I think we need clarity, not just for this House but for the many animal lovers throughout this country—and, indeed, for their animals—to see the levels of protection they are going to be provided with. Let us ensure that we do not just speak of a nation of animal lovers as a cliché but deliver on that. So I want to know from the Government what the next steps are going to be.
I thank the noble Lord for his very balanced position on this. To use his analogy, I think this Government are the Taylor Swift of this, because our new material is every bit as good as our back catalogue. As for being progressive, I have always regretted that that word has been poached by parties of the left, because the opposite of progressive is regressive and that is far from what we are. So I am very happy that our approach to animal welfare is considered progressive. We work with the changing values of the population, who demand ever higher standards of animal welfare. Some of these matters are bitterly contested, because there are views in both directions. Nevertheless, we are not afraid to debate them, and we will have plenty of opportunities to do so in the future.
On the noble Lord’s point about Northern Ireland and whether or not the trophy hunting Bill should be included, it is of course a devolved issue. Many different animal welfare issues are debated in our devolved legislatures. The Welsh Government have taken steps to ban electric collars for training animals—a measure we are also taking. They have done it in a different way; we think we are doing it in a more proportionate way.