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Illegal Migration Bill

Volume 830: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2023

Committee (5th Day) (Continued)

Clause 60: Credibility of claimant: concealment of information etc

Debate on whether Clause 60 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I am, of course, hugely disappointed that some of our colleagues do not want to listen to a fascinating debate on Clause 60 of the Illegal Migration Bill, just as some of those who stayed until 4 am the other morning did not want to participate in the debates on the Bill. However, I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is joining our ranks. It is wonderful to have an Earl Russell back. Those who remember Conrad Russell will know what a formidable Member of this House he was, and I am sure that his son will do justice to his memory.

I am talking against Clause 60 standing part. This clause was added by the Government on Report in the Commons, so it was not discussed by MPs. It would amend a section of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 that is about factors that damage the credibility of an asylum applicant.

The point of Clause 60 is to expand the circumstances in which credibility would be damaged—where a claimant fails to produce or destroys an identity document or, indeed, where they refuse to disclose information such as a passcode that would enable access to information stored electronically, such as on a mobile phone. It is rather odd that we should be debating this poor, lonely little clause on its own. Indeed, there was perhaps a good argument that it should have been grouped with Clause 14, which my noble friend Lord German, on whichever day it was—

Yes, when it was proposed that Clause 14 should not stand part of the Bill. My noble friend debated issues about the powers of the Government to extract information concealed behind PIN numbers on phones. If memory serves, Clause 14 was particularly in relation to people who are detained, while Clause 60 oddly stands on its own—apart from Clause 14. But they need to be looked at holistically, to try to get some assessment as to what new powers the Government want. Are we in danger of getting spillover to sectors other than asylum?

The failure to provide information, an identity document or a PIN number would be added as a type of behaviour considered damaging to a claimant’s credibility. It is not restricted to people who are caught by Clause 2; the intended effect seems to be directed more at people seeking asylum who arrive on a direct flight from the country in which they face persecution. In a sense, it does not have much to do with this Bill, which is another reason why it sets off a bit of an alarm bell. The problem is that making a direct journey from a country in which the person is at risk of persecution, perhaps where the persecutor is the state or an agent of the state, may require the person not to travel with documentation that would identify them if they presented that documentation or were searched as they passed through an airport. That would concern an identity document—so there are some issues around penalising a person because they have not produced such a document, and I would be grateful if the Minister could respond on that issue.

On the other arm of it, with regard to insisting on the person delivering the passcode or PIN for their phone, I am wondering how widely that is expected to apply and how it relates to Clause 14 on getting access to PIN numbers and, indeed, to handing over mobile phones. My noble friend Lady Hamwee raised the problem that that would mean asylum applicants not having access to their contacts. In the scenario that this Bill covers, that means that people could not phone their family to say, “I’m safe—I haven’t drowned in the channel”. So that is one aspect that arises. The other aspect is that of access and forcing someone to give up the PIN on their phone. When the Minister replied to the debate on Clause 14 and Schedule 2, he said that that the information on the phone

“can … assist in determining a person’s immigration status or right to be in the UK … We all know that mobile telephones contain a wealth of data relating not just to the owner of the phone but to where that phone has been and who they have been with—all of which can be used to build up an intelligence picture which can facilitate criminal prosecutions”.—[Official Report, 7/6/2023; col. 1542.]

We are all in favour of facilitating prosecutions. That is one of the reasons why we have been so dismayed by the provisions on victims of modern slavery and trafficking. Another reason is that there is nothing in the Bill to enhance the prosecution of smugglers and traffickers. Suddenly the Minister came out with this route which is supposed to facilitate criminal prosecutions. My noble friend Lord German referred to a High Court case which said that what the Government had been doing was illegal and that they were wrong to extract information concealed behind PINs on phones. The Minister said that the powers that have been put into the Bill in Clause 14 are fresh powers to respond to the High Court judgment, so this is a new suite of powers.

What we have got is in two different clauses. We have new powers, and the common theme across them is access to people’s mobile phones and other electronic devices by forcing them to give up PINs. I am wondering what the scope of this is, beyond people detained or caught by Clause 2, because Clause 60 appears to apply to anybody who is outwith the scope of the Bill. What are the boundaries of the powers that the Government are granting themselves to access people’s mobile phones? I cannot claim to be an expert on this issue, but I know there has been a lot of commentary and activity on the question of victims’ mobile phones in sexual abuse cases. Will the Minister clarify exactly what the purpose of Clauses 14 and 60 is? Why was Clause 60 brought in to stand on its own rather than Clause 14 being amended? What is the composite picture that the Government are painting? How are their powers going to be constrained? Are the rest of us going to find that one day all these powers apply to us as well? I am raising this point as a clause stand part debate because Clause 60 seems to raise some rather troubling questions about the powers that the Government want to give themselves to access mobile phones.

I thank the noble Baroness for introducing her clause stand part debate. As she said, the clause adds behaviours that would be considered damaging to the credibility of an asylum or human rights applicant by amending the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004 to widen false “passport” to false “identity document” which ensures that by presenting false documents, failing to produce documents or destroying documents an applicant damages their credibility. It also adds electronic information to the list. If an applicant fails to disclose passcodes or electronic devices, their credibility can be damaged.

In a sense, this would not be a particularly controversial part of the Bill. However, there have been reports about confiscation of mobile devices which has left migrants unable to contact the outside world or to provide the electronic documents needed for their applications. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to the recent High Court case where the Home Office policy on blanket mobile seizure was found unlawful. She also referred to the Minister saying that Clause 14 provides fresh powers through the Bill to respond to the High Court judgment.

I thought that the noble Baroness raised interesting questions about the scope of this clause and whether it goes beyond what is covered in Clause 2 and how widely it will apply. The tone with which she introduced her clause stand part notice seemed to be seeking information and reassurance regarding these enhanced powers. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I am happy to provide that reassurance and explanation. I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their thoughts on Clause 60.

Clause 60 clarifies and modernises Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, which relates to the credibility of asylum claimants. First, in response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, this provision will not be relevant to those who meet the conditions in Clause 2, as their asylum claims will of course be inadmissible, but it will be relevant to other asylum seekers. It is appropriate that we use the opportunity afforded by the Bill to address this issue for the reasons that I will come to in a moment. The clause puts it beyond doubt that destroying, altering, disposing of or failing to produce any identity document—not just a passport—is behaviour that should be viewed by decision-makers as damaging a claimant’s credibility.

Secondly, the clause modernises Section 8 to reflect the fact that mobile phones and electronic devices play a much more significant role in people’s daily lives in storing relevant documents and information than they did 20 years ago. We have therefore expressly provided that refusing to disclose information, such as a passcode which would enable access to a person’s mobile phone or other electronic device, should be damaging to their credibility. In so doing, we are reading across provisions that exist in criminal law in relation to Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and equivalent provisions in Scotland. I hope noble Lords agree that it would be inconsistent to treat what would amount to the effective concealment of a document, by not providing access, stored electronically any differently from the concealment of a physical document.

Finally, the clause brings Section 8 of the 2004 Act up to date by clarifying that the provisions relating to documents apply where those documents are stored in electronic form.

Clause 14 is a separate part of the Bill and introduces new powers. We already have some powers to seize devices, but Clause 14 introduces new powers, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, observed, and as we discussed in Committee on the relevant group of amendments. Clause 60 will of course apply no matter which power of seizure is used.

I hope that I have provided the requested clarity, and I further hope that Clause 60 will stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for those explanations. It may be that my brain has gone to cotton wool—I will read his response in Hansard to try to see the whole picture. At the moment, I cannot see the overall coherence of this scheme.

The Minister is going to send me scurrying off to look up the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, of which I have just a vague memory. I am sure that colleagues on other Benches will know its provisions off the top of their heads, but is there any sort of reasonable suspicion trigger, or some such, in that Act, about investigating crime and suspected terrorism? I do not know, but my fear with all of this is of mission creep. I am not sure whether the Minister has fully removed that fear, but I will carefully read his response and I am sure that, with his normal courtesy, if I have any follow-up questions he will deal with them in writing.

Clause 60 agreed.

Amendment 132

Moved by

132: After Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—

“Operational efficiency(1) Within six months of the date on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State must publish a management review undertaken by management experts outside the Home Office, of—(a) the efficiency of the processing by UK Visas and Immigration of applications, and(b) the efficiency of the removal by Immigration Control of persons whose leave to remain has expired.(2) For the purposes of this section—(a) “efficiency” includes fairness, and(b) the review must include information regarding the numbers of appeals and their success rate.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to commission an independent management review of the efficiency of UK Visas and Immigration in processing applications and the efficiency of the removal process for those whose leave to remain has expired.

My Lords, this is the first of a number of proposed new clauses relating to the efficiency of the Home Office and the elusive—maybe even illusory—impact assessment statement. We know we will be told that the impact assessment will be published “in due course”. The timetabling may be clear to the Home Office but it is not to any other noble Lord who has spoken. It occurred to me that the Home Office could really teach even Avanti West Coast or TransPennine Express something about timetabling.

We cannot put into the Bill that it should not go to Report without an impact assessment. Amendment 149 is therefore one of a number that I have tabled, all following the same form of drafting, so that the Bill should

“not come into force until”

and unless various things had happened, one of them being the receipt of the impact assessment. I realised, on reflection, that it was not my cleverest thought because I did not mean any old sort of impact assessment; I meant the sort that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was referring to the other day, when he talked about due diligence. That is a term I understand pretty well, as I think most people would. However, the amendment enables me to make the point that noble Lords have been making throughout.

On Monday, the Minister certainly referred to an economic impact assessment, as I think he mentioned before. My reading of the debates is that noble Lords want far more than just an economic assessment. I do not need to spell out that the impact of the Bill on third-sector organisations and so on, as well as individuals, will be considerable.

Amendment 132 is about the operation of the Home Office. Frankly, it is a pretty mild amendment, especially given how often it is remarked—I agree with this—that the backlog of applications is the problem, not the number of asylum seekers. The amendment simply calls for a management review by independent experts.

Many people are calling for the Home Office to clear applications from asylum seekers who come from countries whose nationals succeed in their applications in almost every case. We have heard reference to this throughout the Committee. It should be quite straightforward, but I confess that I am in two minds about it. I am anxious that asylum seekers are not all in the same position or with the same characteristics, even if they come from the same country. It would be too easy not to see each asylum seeker as an individual whose application should be treated as that particular individual’s application. However, that does not invalidate the point that what has been happening—or not happening —in the Home Office, rather than in the channel, is at the heart of the situation.

I mentioned earlier today the Justice and Home Affairs Select Committee’s report, All Families Matter: An Inquiry Into Family Migration, and the Home Office’s response to it. During the inquiry that led to that report, the committee, which I chair, heard from witnesses vivid descriptions of their attempts to find out what was happening to their applications. To give one example, people said that they had to hold the line for long periods and had to give a credit card number in their details because they had to pay for the call. They paid to sit on the phone but then found, when they got through, that they were not speaking to the right person or that the number that they had been told to call was not the right one. The frustration and distress mount and mount. We know that the Home Office’s service standards were affected by the Ukraine visa scheme and that the Home Office aims—I stress that word—to begin republishing quarterly performance data as soon as possible. Let me stress that I do not think that any of this is the fault of individual officials; there is something about leadership and management that needs to be sorted.

I will not read a lot from the Government’s response to the committee’s report but I want to pick out a couple of points. We made these recommendations:

“The Home Office should adopt a new approach to communication … The Home Office should establish standards about its communication with applicants and routinely publish statistics on whether these standards are met. Applicants should be able to contact the Home Office free of charge”.

The Government’s response states that the Home Office

“is working on a notification service”;

it is “currently in test”, it says. It goes to say:

“All applications are proactively monitored, and customers”—

I hate the word “customers” in this context—

“are notified prior to the end date of the service standard”.

Communication does not seem to be the Home Office’s strongest point or its natural behaviour; it is not one of its characteristics. So much of this goes back to efficiency and sympathy for customers, which matters an awful lot. These people feel that, too often, too many of them are treated as statistics and numbers. The service is a poor one. That is one of the reasons why I have tabled Amendment 132, which I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendment 139 in this group is in my name. This group is all about efficiency and administration. Amendment 139 is purely a probing amendment—there is no way that anyone would seek to engineer changes to the machinery of government via an opposition amendment to yet another immigration Bill—but I put it down to probe the tensions that have been emerging and increasing in recent years, even months and weeks, between the respective competencies and missions of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the one hand and the Home Office on the other. I also tabled it to stress the vital importance of international co-operation in dealing with the worst refugee crisis since just after the Second World War. It is, I am afraid, a crisis that is only going to deepen with the threats posed not just by the various conflicts all over the globe but by the climate crisis, as others have said.

Amendment 139 probes and sets out the kind of functions that sit with the Secretary of State. Noble Lords will remember that the Secretary of State is indivisible, so when Governments of various stripes move the deckchairs around and pass functions from one department to another or even rename or reconstruct departments, the Secretary of State is the Secretary of State. The kind of functions that I set out in my suggestion for an office for refugees and asylum seekers are those in general that are much more suited to the expertise and mission of the Foreign Office. That is why consideration of the various international obligations is set out, such as the function of considering safe passage and humanitarian protection and advising the Secretary of State in relation to aid and other action in conflict. It is the relationship between over there and over here.

I suggest to the Committee that the poor old Home Department invariably—not just in the context of refugees and asylum seekers but in the context of all sorts of social problems, internationally and domestically—is the department of last resort. It often picks up problems that have been created elsewhere when more progressive, creative, benign measures have not been aspired to or achieved. That is what I am trying to suggest here.

We have seen the tensions, sometimes played out late at night, even in relation to the tone and response of different Ministers representing different departments replying to groups of amendments. I do not think that the tensions have been lost on Members of the Committee. It is not just in Committee; sometimes at Question Time we will have the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, representing the Foreign Office, coming to the Chamber, speaking eloquently at the Dispatch Box about the importance of promoting human rights, internationalism and our status in the world et cetera. It is not the fault of House of Lords Ministers, but then we get the House of Lords’ gentlemanly version of the “Stop the boats” rhetoric that comes from the Home Secretary and the Home Department these days. These tensions at times are almost impossible and unbearable for a single Government, let alone their officials and the people who look to the Government for leadership in difficult times.

Traditionally and today, the Foreign Office contains the experts on country information around the world. In Committee, we have heard noble Lords read out what the Foreign Office says about various countries, advising British travellers to be cautious or not even to go to these places, but then we are told in this draft legislation that those countries are safe. That is a tension that has been exposed.

I say this as a mere Home Office lawyer in the past, not a Foreign Office one, but the Foreign Office lawyers have always been within government the traditional experts on international law, including humanitarian law, and of course the diplomatic corps is there. We are privileged in this Committee and in your Lordships’ House to have some very distinguished former diplomats and in the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, a very distinguished former Permanent Secretary. Diplomacy, treaty negotiation, treaty interpretation and responsibility for Britain’s place and moral standing on the world stage are Foreign Office matters. At times this is undermined by aspects of Home Office policy, practice and rhetoric. The way in which departmental responsibilities have evolved in the past couple of decades means that the Home Department is now pretty much a department of the interior/homeland security. It is not even the hybrid home and justice department that it once was.

We know about the terrible backlog, the refusal culture, the initial decisions that are reversed on appeal and the large number of people who currently succeed in getting their refugee status on appeal but will now be called “illegal”, incarcerated and maybe one day removed. That is a problem, but the biggest problem of all is probably the very mixed signals that we are currently hearing—and not just between the Foreign Office and the Home Office.

The Prime Minister goes to Reykjavík and elsewhere and talks about what global Britain should be and the role that Britain could play once more on the international stage, as it once did in the post-war era, in convening and promoting the kind of co-operation that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, talked about earlier today. That is the kind of leadership on the world stage that is required, that Britain was once responsible for and for which Mr Sunak suggests he wants Britain to be responsible again. But then we hear the contrasting language of successive Home Secretaries in recent times: the very divisive, dehumanising, populist language that we have heard before. It never ends well.

That is the tension in tone and competence in these various departments that I wanted to highlight in Amendment 139. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I support Amendment 139 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I have put my name to Amendments 134 and 135 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I will leave it to him to speak to them if he wishes to do so at any length. I support these amendments to ensure that we have accountability and review, and I do so on a probing basis.

I think the Minister who will reply to this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, has been in the Chamber when the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, has been subjected to a considerable amount of attrition on the Bill—which he has treated with commendable control and self-restraint. Few have been provoked as much as he has in this Chamber in recent years. That said, I think the noble Lord, Lord Murray, would confirm in his private conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, that there is real concern in your Lordships’ House and in certain well-informed sectors in the country about the consequences of the Bill.

In the recent past we have had reviews—I and my noble friend Lord Anderson have been part of this in relation to terrorism—which have reported to Parliament in relation to controversial pieces of legislation that cause great concern, particularly to Members of the other place. I understand that, having been one. I simply ask the Government to take into account that such reviews are necessary in some form and to provide for accountability and review of the consequences of the Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament.

My Lords, I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. She made her case for transferring this responsibility from the Home Office to the Foreign Office on grounds of efficiency and good administration. In my totally unbiased view, it is of course the case that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a model of efficiency and good administration. But on practical grounds, I really do not agree with this.

There is a Foreign Office role. The role of the treaty section is monitoring, ratification procedures and quality control over the treaties that we sign. There is a role for legal advisers, referred to by the noble Baroness, monitoring the Government’s respect for their treaty obligations and, if necessary, reminding other departments of the obligations that we have taken on.

There could be a role for our posts abroad. I strongly support the proposal in Amendment 130 for the safe passage visa. It would be very good if our posts abroad were allowed, say, to filter out applications that are clearly not unfounded and to assist applicants with the electronic application system. That would be very good, but the trend in the Home Office, which the noble Baroness in my view correctly described, to move more and more to being a department of the interior, with a bit of homeland security, would be increased if responsibility for carrying out our treaty obligations in respect of asylum seekers were transferred to another department.

Moreover, the Foreign Office really is not equipped to take on the enhanced teams required to deal with 178,000 applicants in the asylum queue. So, although I understand the noble Baroness’s motives and applaud her praise for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I am against this proposal.

My Lords, the Minister ought to welcome Amendments 132, 134 and 135, because they simply ask for transparency of reporting back on the success of the Bill. The introduction says:

“The purpose of this Act is to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes”.

Most of the arguments have been around the Government’s conviction that this is the right way to stop the boats. Many of us in this Committee believe that it will not stop the boats, that we will end up with large numbers of people being detained for indefinite periods and that it will cost a huge amount of money.

I quite happily accept that the Minister will probably say that practically these amendments cannot work with one month and might need a different timescale and so on, but they are basically saying, “Please report that this is doing what the Bill set out to do”. Really, I cannot see how the Government can object to being required to report on their own successes.

My Lords, I hope noble Lords will forgive me that I was unable to speak at Second Reading and will allow me to make a few comments. Since I have returned to the Back Benches, I have tried to focus on a few amendments rather than speaking on everything, so this is my first intervention in this part. I want to speak because I have huge sympathy for Amendment 132 in this group and Amendment 150 in the next group about operational efficiency. In fact, I have submitted Written Questions on the issue of the backlog and what the Government are doing to tackle it, and I thank my noble friend the Minister for answering them. I hope noble Lords will forgive me, because this is the first and only time I will speak at this stage, if I make a few more general comments.

First, I am very concerned about the language we are using and the lack of compassion we are demonstrating. I do not think it right that we condemn people who are either fleeing persecution and torture or even coming to this country as economic migrants. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be an economic migrant. My parents were economic migrants; they came here to seek a better life. I understand all that and I think we should show some sympathy and understanding, but I also think we should be proud that people want to come to the United Kingdom, because we are one of the most open countries in the world and we have, over the years, assimilated many immigrants who have fled persecution or come here for economic reasons, to contribute to this country.

Noble Lords will have often heard me say that we should be grateful to the people from the Commonwealth —my father came in the early 1950s—who saved British public services after the war. If it were not for these immigrants, our public services would be in trouble. On this specific issue, we should be clear that while we are proud that people want to come to the United Kingdom, and while our heart may want to help as many people as possible, our head says that we cannot let everyone in. Therefore, the debate is often about where we draw the line, particularly for those who are facing persecution.

If we could do it for Ukraine and Ukrainians, and it is right that we do, why can we not understand where the problems are in the system and throw resources at them? We could have internal hit squads that tackle specific issues. We did it for Ukraine: we were able to pull people off other things to tackle issues. We are not elected, but the voters and citizens out there want to understand what is slowing down the process. Why does it take so long to sort out the backlog? If we can identify those bits of the process that are taking too long—if there are particular legal problems, people are throwing away passports, there are problems with DNA tests or whatever—it would be helpful to the Government’s case to tell us where the problems are and what they are doing to tackle these issues.

Also, if we clear the backlog and we are processing people coming in and their applications fail, perhaps—noble Lords may not agree with this—there will be more sympathy for those who do not want to return to their home country, or who resist, then to be sent to Rwanda once they have been processed. Many may disagree with me but if they have gone through the whole process there may then be a role for Rwanda in terms of people who have failed and are refusing to go home.

I do not agree—and I have heard this a few times—that the backlog might be a disincentive to people applying. I completely disagree with that. If you are really fleeing desperate circumstances, being in a hostel, however unpleasant or cramped it is or however restrained you are, is probably better, in some ways—relatively; I am not trying to say it is a wonderful place to be—than being in a town, village or city that has been ravaged or where you are likely to be persecuted.

I end by agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about international obligations. The Prime Minister recognises this. This is why he is saying that he wants to look at how countries can work together on this issue—and not only on climate change and other international issues but on communications so that people can see where they can have a better life in the rest of the world. As communications technology improves, you get news instantly about what is going on. It no longer takes weeks or years to get information from the rest of the world. We can see protests or people being persecuted in countries immediately and we can be sympathetic and want to help them.

I am sympathetic to Amendments 132 and 150. My plea to the Government is for some accountability and monitoring of why it takes so long. Can we try to throw resources at reducing the backlog, and then people can understand how the process works? There might well also be more sympathy when people are denied the ability to stay because they have not met the criteria.

My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Kerr, will be pleased with my remarks because this is my plea for the impact assessment.

I am delighted to see that we may get a different answer because we have a different Minister, although I have to tell the Minister that if he says “in due course” or “on the first day of Report”, he will get the reaction that his noble friend Lord Murray got. I say, half in jest, it was not great knowing that the Minister was going to reply to this point about the impact assessment, given what happened when he was replying to me yesterday with respect to the Public Order Bill, when the Explanatory Memorandum was published the day after the other place discussed the public order regulations and I received it at 2.27 pm for a 7.30 pm debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, having learned from that, is now on the case to ensure that the impact assessment will be with us well before Report.

The serious point is that all noble Lords are saying to the Home Office that it is simply unacceptable that we are flying in the dark here. We need the information before us. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, can come up with another phrase which gives us more hope and expectation, because that is the serious point here.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for his support for Amendments 134 and 135, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for her support for Amendment 138. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, what we have here is an attempt to bring accountability and review into the system. This is about Home Office operational efficiency. The asylum system is in chaos. If it is not in chaos, I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me what word he would use for the enormous backlog, the increase in the time that any decision is taking, the drop in the number of people being returned, the surges in people coming across the channel, and the individual injustices. I remind noble Lords, if they have not seen it, that 616 migrants crossed the channel on Sunday. I am not sure whether there have been any since, but on Sunday they came.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was right: if I had known about Amendment 132—also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—requiring an independent review of the management and operation of the Home Office, I would have added my name to it. If we cannot get the bureaucracy, the applications and the decision-making process right, we will have a problem. No law will work if there is bureaucratic inefficiency, so I very much support that amendment.

Amendment 134, requiring the Government to publish an impact assessment of the financial consequences of the Bill, is a probing amendment, but you can see why we require one. We had more information from the Times newspaper about the potential cost of the Government’s reforms, when it went from £3 billion to £6 billion, than from the Government. All the Government can say is, “We don’t comment on leaks”. How on earth can we legislate when all we have to operate with are newspaper stories? We have no way of knowing. If the Government say this is not the case, then what is the case? What is the projected cost? Hence, there is Amendment 134.

Amendment 135 would require the Government to publish an impact assessment on the use of hotels and so on after the Bill has been enacted. Every now and again we read that the Government have bought a couple of barges; that certain hotels are not going to be used; that “it’s not going work at that military camp, so we’re going to try this one”. Then, suddenly, a disused liner sails into Weymouth. This is fag-packet policy. What are we doing? What is the plan? We have tabled this amendment because, clearly, the Government have a plan. In the Home Office, there will be an assessment of what is needed and how it will be done. There is a secret plan, which the Government will not share with us. If that is not the case, and instead it is a case of, “Goodness me, we’ll have to buy a barge”, then buy “Barge News” and see what is available next week. “Oh, I know: there’s a liner coming in”—

It had not occurred to me—but it has now.

The serious point is that there must be a plan. It cannot just be a question of, “I know—we will buy a barge, get a liner or buy this military camp”. There must be some sort of strategy, secret plan, non-secret plan or memo saying what the Government are going to do, yet we are not allowed to see, share in or understand it. I have never known anything like it. This is a flagship government Bill. It is an important way of dealing with a challenge that we all know must be dealt with, yet we are having to deal with it in this way. It is nonsensical.

There is another reason why we need to know this. As noble Lord after noble Lord has said, the whole premise of the Bill is that every single migrant crossing the channel or entering illegally will be detained and subject to removal. That must mean that the Government have a figure for how many detention places they will need. If not, can the Minister say, “We have no idea what we will need”, “This is what we think we will need”, or, as would normally happen, describe the worst-case and best-case scenario, or best guess? We have no idea. How many detention places are the Government assuming they will need for their Illegal Migration Bill to work?

Does it surprise the noble Lord to learn that I have asked that as a Written Question, and that the Answer was that it would be in the impact assessment?

No, it does not surprise me that the noble Lord asked the Question. I had not noticed it, but the Answer does not surprise me. The serious point is that the Government are clearly working to figures—they have to be—but they are not sharing them with the Chamber. It cannot be that they are just making it up as they go along. Hence the probing amendment: let us know something about the consequences of the measures and how many detention places the Government are planning for. Presumably, it will be as many as they need because of the number coming across—whatever that will be. The whole thing is predicated on the Government saying, “It will deter people from coming; therefore, we won’t need many”. So what is the figure and the deterrence effect assumption that the Government are working towards?

Amendment 138 is just to understand what police co-operation is taking place to deter the criminal smuggling gangs and tackle the people smugglers. Again, we would like to know. According to the figures I have—it will be interesting to know the figures from the Minister—there have been just three to four convictions per month for people smuggling across the channel, including a halving in total convictions for smuggling since 2018 to just 135 a year. Can the Minister confirm those figures? Can he confirm that over the past 12 months, criminal smuggling gangs have made, according to estimates, £180 million? Can he also confirm what co-operation is taking place between all the EU member states and beyond to tackle the criminal smuggling gangs and deal with the people we would all wish to be prosecuted and jailed for their horrific actions? An update on that would be helpful. Presumably, that would also be in an impact assessment, so we could understand it.

Finally, my Amendment 139FD would insert a new clause requiring the Government to report on the number of those removed due to the passing of the Act. How many people are the Government assuming that they will remove? As I said, the whole Bill is predicated on detention and removal—that is the whole raison d’être—so what assumption do the Government have? As we asked on earlier clauses, where are these people going to be removed to? I know we have had the debates about proper conformity to treaties, human rights and all those sorts of things, but again, we need some statistics and facts about what the Government intend to do—where they intend to remove people to, but also the number they are seeking to remove.

We are moving beyond the stage of platitudes and rhetoric. We want some hard statistical evidence to back up what the Government are saying alongside their proposals. We cannot act; we do not know the statistics and the impact assessment is being denied to us. I say again: the frank reality is that the Government have figures within the Home Office that they are working to. The only people who are not having those figures shared with them are the people legislating on the Bill, and that, frankly, is simply and utterly unacceptable.

My Lords, the main problem with the broken asylum system, which appeared to be working satisfactorily in 2010, is how it has come to create a disproportionately large backlog of those awaiting asylum decisions, set against a similar or smaller number of applications for asylum and a disproportionate number of failed asylum seekers awaiting removal. Amendment 132 seeks to address this. We will discuss with our Labour colleagues whether we should move to Report on the Bill in the absence of an impact assessment.

The Cabinet Office’s Guide to Making Legislation, last updated on 15 August 2022, says:

“The final impact assessment must be made available alongside bills published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny or introduced to Parliament, with 80 copies sent to the Vote Office (30 of which should be marked for the attention of the Public Bill Office) and 10 to the Lords Printed Paper Office on introduction, and will need to be updated during parliamentary passage to reflect any changes made to the bill”.

Can the Minister say why the Government have not complied with the Cabinet Office’s Guide to Making Legislation in relation to this Bill?

We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that immigration should not be left to the Home Office alone, if at all, and that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and probably BIS, should take over responsibility for these issues.

The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seem to me to require a kind of ongoing impact assessment, which we support; but, on the basis of impact assessments provided to date, I am not particularly hopeful that we are going to get a positive response from the Minister.

I will listen with interest to the argy-bargy between the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the Minister as to where asylum seekers are going to be accommodated.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments today, and I thank all noble Lords for their comments.

Amendment 132 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require the Home Secretary to commission an independent management review of the efficiency of UK Visas and Immigration in processing visa applications, and of Immigration Enforcement’s work in removing from the UK those whose right to remain has expired.

I recognise that we should always be striving for maximum efficiency, and indeed effectiveness, in everything we do. In that regard, I agree with my noble friend Lord Kamall. But making decisions quickly and accurately is obviously in the best interests of the individual concerned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, explained, and represents value for money for the taxpayer; and, where there is misuse of the UK’s generous immigration system, so is ensuring that that is dealt with effectively. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in thanking the commitment of countless staff across the immigration system who uphold fairness and professionalism while making complex decisions every day. As regards the backlog, I do not have the precise figures to hand, but I note that the Home Secretary was speaking this morning in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee and was quoting some of those statistics, if noble Lords would like to refer to that.

Paying external management consultants to look into the efficiency of these Home Office operations would be unnecessary and not, I suggest, a good use of public funds. Reports by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, the National Audit Office and others continue to provide insights into how current operations can be improved, including by identifying and disseminating good practice. We also publish quarterly immigration statistics, including on asylum and returns, which help to shine a light on current performance and inform parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the Home Office.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need a culture of continuous improvement to enhance the efficiency, accuracy and fairness of our decision-making processes in respect of visa applications and the efficiency and effectiveness of our enforcement immigration operations. I am not persuaded that legislating for an independent management review is the most efficient way to go about this, but I of course welcome the intent behind the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

The Minister mentioned the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reports. The 2021 report indicated four key issues: a shortage of technical specialist staff; inadequate training for asylum interviews; low morale and high turnover of staff because of lack of career progression; and the removal of the 2019 standard service to decide 98% of straightforward cases within six months. Recommendations have been made; how many have been implemented?

I am afraid I do not have answers to the noble Lord’s questions. I will have to come back to him on them, if he will permit me to do so.

Amendment 134, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and Amendment 149, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, bring us back to the question of the publication of the impact assessment for this Bill. I will take this opportunity to remind noble Lords that the equality impact assessment for the Bill was published on 10 May. Unfortunately, on the economic impact assessment, I can but reiterate what my noble friend Lord Murray has said on a number of occasions: namely, that it will be published in due course.

On the subject of impact assessments, I am sure that my noble friend meant to ask where the child rights impact assessment is. It should have been available and shaped the decisions affecting children made during the Bill process, yet we still do not have a copy of it.

I think that that question has been asked and answered by my noble friend; I cannot update the House on that at the moment.

As my noble friend set out on Monday, we will provide an update to the House before the first day of Report.

In talking about this matter, could the Minister address the issue of why the Cabinet Office has issued guidance which the department has clearly ignored? Is there a need for the Cabinet Office to give guidance to Ministers on how they should produce legislation? If so, why have the Government not followed that advice?

My Lords, the answer lies in the words the Home Secretary used this morning in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee. She said:

“We will be publishing it in due course”.

I am sorry to repeat those words again. She added:

“The issue is that there are many unknown factors … upon which the Bill’s success is contingent … For example, … the delivery of our Rwanda agreement. We are currently in litigation and those timelines are out of our control. We need to conclude our litigation relating to our Rwanda agreement. Once we have a clear view of the operability of Rwanda confirmed by the courts, then we will be able to take a very firm view about the economic impact of this Bill. … I would also say that to my mind it is pretty obvious what the economic impact … will be. We will stop spending £3 billion a year on … asylum cost”.

The Bill

“will lead to the cessation of 45,000 people in hotels and £6 million a day. To my mind, those are savings that we cannot ignore”.

I am afraid that I am unable to improve on that.

The Minister has just asserted that he cannot improve on those words. I put on the record, on behalf of His Majesty’s Official Opposition—other noble Lords can speak for themselves—that that is disgraceful.

I am sorry to upset the noble Lord opposite, but that is the best I can do.

Amendment 138, again put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is similar to his earlier amendment on returns agreements. It anticipates the debate we will come to later today about action to tackle people smuggling. As I do not want to pre-empt my noble and learned friend’s response to later amendments, I will keep my remarks brief at this stage. Suffice it to say that I support the broad intent of this amendment—namely, the need to strengthen the cross-border law enforcement response to modern slavery and people trafficking—but you do not advance such co-operation by setting out in a public document the UK’s negotiating strategy to agree co-operation agreements with other countries.

Moreover, there are also existing established channels which the NCA and others use when working with their counterparts to tackle human trafficking. Where new bilaterals or multilaterals are needed, we will pursue these, but, as I have said, there are well-established mechanisms which already support cross-border co-operation in this area.

In answer to the noble Lord’s questions about specific figures, I am afraid that I do not have those to hand; I will make those available to him later.

Amendment 135, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, looks to the Government to publish an assessment of the likely impacts of the Bill on the use of contingency asylum accommodation and the costs associated with any necessary increase in the use of contingency asylum accommodation. The Home Office is committed to ending the expensive use of hotels for asylum seekers, costing nearly £7 million a day. We recognise the need to take urgent action and will look at all available options for looking at reducing the use of hotels, including alternative sites and vessels. Asylum seekers will be in basic, safe and secure accommodation appropriate for this purpose, while providing value for money for the taxpayer. We are working closely to listen to the local communities’ views and to reduce the impact of these sites, including through providing on-site security and financial support.

Amendment 139, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, effectively seeks to transfer responsibility for the UK asylum system—the national referral mechanism, which considers and provides safe and legal routes and other similar functions—to the FCDO. She acknowledged that this is a probing amendment and put her case. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, gave a rather better explanation than I will give, but I will attempt to explain the status quo. The Home Office is responsible for all aspects of control of the UK border. Managing and controlling legal and illegal migration into the UK, including processing asylum claims and the designation and operation of safe and legal routes, are part and parcel of this strategic function. Different parts of the system cannot, and should not, be considered and managed in isolation.

To take one example, as we have previously debated, our capacity to admit people to the UK through safe and legal routes is impacted by the level of illegal migration, so hiving off aspects of immigration policy and operations to a separate department is a recipe for confusion, disjointed policy-making and ineffective operations. The migration and borders system is highly complicated and this change would serve only to add unnecessary complexity. However, I assure the noble Baroness that the Home Office already works closely with other government departments, including the FCDO, on all cross-cutting matters to ensure that relative interests are considered accordingly during the development and implementation of immigration and asylum policy, and it will continue to do so.

I am grateful to the Minister. He was quite right about this being a probing amendment to demonstrate the importance of the joined-upness of this being over here and that over there. I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who is doing his old department a great service in dodging that particular bullet. The Minister talked about respective competencies and so on, so the Foreign Office should keep doing foreign affairs, including negotiating treaties, for example. Why did the Home Secretary and the Home Department negotiate the Rwanda pact, as opposed to leaving treaty negotiation to the Foreign Office? That came into my mind because the Minister mentioned the Rwanda agreement in the context of the impact assessment. Just to help him, I suggest that the impact assessment should be provided on the basis that the Government believe they will succeed in the litigation, so the impact assessment could be produced without delay on the predication that the Government are confident that their litigation will succeed.

I will certainly ensure that the noble Baroness’s points are noted in the department.

Finally, Amendment 139FD would place a duty on the Home Secretary to publish quarterly statistics on the Bill’s operation after it is enacted. Again, I have no issue with the basic premise underpinning the amendment. We already publish a raft of immigration statistics on a quarterly basis and I have no doubt that these regular publications will be augmented to report on what is happening under this Bill once it is commenced. We will consider carefully what data it is appropriate to record and publish as part of our implementation planning. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and his Front-Bench colleagues in the other place will not be slow to press the Government for the kind of data referenced in the amendment.

I and my ministerial colleagues, in particularly my indefatigable noble friend Lord Murray, have heard loud and clear the calls from around the Committee that the economic impact assessment for the Bill should be available to your Lordships before the start of Report. My noble friend has committed to updating the House before the first day of Report and I have already read out the Home Secretary’s comments from this morning. However, having had this opportunity to debate the issue again, together with the other issues addressed in these amendments, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, on the question of a secret plan or no plan, the announcement that came out the other day—it was almost not an announcement —that the provision about two classes of asylum seekers in last year’s Bill had been ditched suggests that there is no plan. On the question of external management consultants, I am not a particular fan of management cons; there has not been a success story so far, has there? My noble friend Lord Scriven’s reference to the ICIBI report was absolutely on point: reports from the ICIBI, the National Audit Office and so on do not seem to lead to any change, so one has to try something.

I am left with a very big query: why can the impact assessment not cover variables? It should address the “what ifs”. As I am reminded, it is required to provide options, and over the years I have seen so many impact assessments that do provide options: “if such and such, then so and so”. The Home Office is well on the way to out-Rumsfelding Rumsfeld. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 132 withdrawn.

Amendment 133

Moved by

133: After Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—

“Asylum seekers’ right to workThe Secretary of State must make regulations providing that adults applying for asylum in the United Kingdom may apply to the Secretary of State for permission to take up employment if a decision at first instance has not been taken on the applicant’s asylum application within 3 months of the date on which it was recorded.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations enabling asylum seekers to work once they have been waiting for a decision on their claim for 3 months or more.

I was pleased to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, who added another sensible and rational Conservative Back-Bench voice to the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope. Good heavens, I have just remembered that they are both former MEP colleagues of mine—not from the same political group, obviously—and perhaps that is where they learned a sensible approach to policy.

At first blush, the inclusion of this amendment with others about the asylum backlog might not seem the right context, but the rationale of the grouping is that, with such a big asylum backlog, the impact of not allowing asylum seekers to work is all the greater; not only are more people left to stew, unable to support themselves, but for longer. Some people wait not only months but years—many years in some cases—for resolution of their asylum claims.

To pick up something I said earlier, all of these attempts—most of them from the opposition parties but not entirely; there was lots of contribution from the Cross Benches—are trying, perhaps in a piecemeal way, to construct a more sensible asylum policy than is in this Bill or last year’s Bill. Many of us think that the Bill is not designed to work and that the mess will, I fear, be dumped on the next Government—I see the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, smiling. The Bill is designed to get the Government through the next election.

Some of us are trying to suggest elements of a more sane asylum policy—the Government could, with all the information resources at their disposal, go out and put a case to the public for why you need more sensible things to manage asylum. That is where this amendment, on the ability of asylum seekers to work, fits in. I happen to have put in the amendment that it would be after three months, but I am not particularly insistent on the time—it could be six months. The point is that, after the initial processing, and people having the ability to focus on something else, it makes sense to put people to work and give them the opportunity to contribute.

At the moment, people seeking asylum in the UK are effectively prohibited from working, such that they are forced to subsist on asylum support of £5.66 a day while they wait for a decision on their asylum claim. A lot of the public assume that such people are able to access welfare benefits and are just sitting idly in clover, but that is far from the case. They can apply for permission to work only if they have waited for a decision for over 12 months, and only for jobs on the Government’s highly restrictive shortage occupation list. This has not always been the case: until 2002, people were able to apply for permission to work if they had waited for a decision for more than six months, and only in 2010 was the right to work restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list. Today, almost seven in 10 people who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim have been waiting for more than six months.

This forced inactivity is totally at odds with government policy, which, in most instances, aims to move people away from any kind of dependency and into work. It also increases the difficulty of integration for those who are eventually permitted to stay. I remember as an MEP dealing with a refugee from the Middle East. I never saw the end result of his case, but he came to me after about three and a half years. He was a doctor, but his skills were obviously deteriorating and he was losing status in his family because he could not support them, and generally he was in a very deteriorated state—mentally, physically and in his whole ability to live any kind of decent life. That is a personal and social tragedy.

Not being able to work increases the difficulty of integration for those eventually permitted to stay and puts an unnecessary cost on the public purse, even with £5.66 a day. The Lift The Ban coalition, which I applaud for its campaigning, estimates that reform of this policy could lead to a gain to the public purse of almost £200 million, about three-quarters of which would be from tax and national insurance contributions. A study by British Future found that 71% of the public supports the right to work after six months—my amendment says three months but, as I say, I am not hung up on that figure. One of the members of the Lift the Ban coalition is the CBI. I heard its new director-general, Rain Newton-Smith, on the Laura Kuenssberg Sunday morning programme the Sunday before last, calling for asylum seekers to be able to work, so this is not just the cause of those with a lefty-liberal axe to grind. Mind you, I look at the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and I would not dare put him in that category. It is because it makes sense, and makes sense for employers.

We have seen articles in the Financial Times saying the same thing. An article in Mach said that it is

“a human disaster for the refugees involved, and it hurts the economic prosperity of the places where asylum seekers live while waiting to have their claims processed”.

Another article of just over a year ago, under the headline,

“Keeping asylum seekers in limbo is bad for everyone”,


“‘Human capital’ is damaged when people are shut out of labour markets”.

The article also made the point that:

“The UK stands out internationally for its reluctance to let asylum seekers work. In the EU”—

I remember, because I worked on that directive, and there was a fight over it—

“the law specifies they must be allowed access to the labour market after a maximum of nine months”.

The UK, which could choose whether to opt in, refused to opt in to that directive, for reasons that we will come to. The article continued by pointing out that many countries have shorter periods, with Sweden giving immediate access to its labour market, while Portugal puts just a one-month stay on it.

The argument for reform is that it would ensure that many people seeking asylum who have skills and experience in keyworker roles and the desire to contribute are able to do so. I know that we sometimes overuse the phrase no-brainer, but I suggest that this is one of those.

Another point is made by Professor David Cantor, director of the Refugee Law Initiative at the University of London, who says that the Government’s approach seems designed to push refugees into illegality. He asks:

“Why would a refugee present herself in good faith to the authorities on arrival, or stay in touch afterwards, if there is no prospect of protection, only detention and lack of status? If released on bail, why not simply disappear into irregularity?”

The ability to work would keep people plugged into the system, paying tax and national insurance, and they would necessarily be in touch with the Home Office—they would also have an incentive. They would not disappear into the shadows, but come forward and lawfully await the determination of their claim. That would put more order and sense into the system.

In January, the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, replied to the following oral question from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard:

“Would the Minister agree that it would be better if those waiting in that internal queue were able to work—better for them, the Exchequer and the country?”—

very succinct. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, said:

“I am afraid that I must disagree with the noble Lord. It is clear that one of the major pull factors for people crossing the channel is that they hope to work in Britain”.—[Official Report, 17/1/23; col. 1700.]

This is replicating a debate that we had on the Nationality and Borders Bill last year. I should have mentioned it at the beginning, but in that debate, we were discussing an amendment led by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. She told me earlier that she would have liked to be here to participate in the debate today because she continues, with admirable consistency, to support this cause, but she unfortunately had another commitment that she had to go to. However, I remember —and I am afraid that I am going to repeat—a citation that I made a year or so ago of the report from the Migration Advisory Committee. That is an independent committee that advises the Government. In a report of December 2021—some of us know this bit by heart—it took issue with the Home Office’s assertion about a pull factor. The report concluded:

“To the extent that the Home Office has robust evidence to support a link between the employment ban and a pull factor, they should of course make this evidence publicly available for scrutiny and review. That is how good policy is made”.

In other words, it is not made by making unsubstantiated assertions that every other commentator rebuts.

Indeed, the Home Office itself rebutted that assertion in a research report from September 2020 called Sovereign Borders: International Asylum Comparisons Report. It was produced by a unit called Home Office Analysis and Insight, and delightfully subtitled, Informing Decisions Through Evidence—which is what I think many of us would like the Home Office to do. One of its conclusions was:

“Economic rights do not act as a pull factor for asylum seekers. A review of the relationship between Right to Work and numbers of asylum applications concluded that no study reported a long-term correlation between labour market access and destination choice … Denied the right to work, many migrants may be forced to turn to clandestine work in highly insecure jobs in both the formal and informal labour markets to meet their basic needs”.

Perhaps it is not surprising that this report was labelled “Official Sensitive”, since if it got out into the public domain, it would be used to undercut the Government’s completely unsubstantiated assertions that the pull factor is the reason why they will not allow asylum seekers to work. Their own internal research, along with the independent Migration Advisory Committee, says: “You haven’t got a leg to stand on”.

There is no argument, except a gesture politics one, against allowing asylum seekers to work. Allowing people to work presses so many buttons in terms of their own personal well-being, the well-being of society and the well-being of the Exchequer. I hope that I will hear something positive from the Minister about this subject.

My name is on Amendment 133, and I had planned to make a speech debunking our friend the pull factor. Unfortunately, my speech has just been made rather brilliantly by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. Let me try something slightly different on the Government: since we last debated this issue during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act, the economic arguments for allowing asylum seekers the right to work have surely strengthened considerably. Our productivity problem is greater than it then was.

Those people are, on the whole, young and probably rather enterprising, because they have managed to get here. They are at present a small drain on the Exchequer, because we pay them a subsistence pittance. That could be saved, and their tax and national insurance contributions could be collected. So, there would be a small gain for the Exchequer, though not enormous. What would be good for the economy as a whole would be an influx into the workforce of people who are really keen to work—young and enterprising.

Of course, I support everything the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has said—it is absolutely true; the research has proved it—about the deleterious effect of not being allowed to work on those waiting in this enormous queue and the deterioration of their skills and morale. The effect on them is really very serious, but I am not sure that the Government are likely to pay much attention to that. They will probably reappear with our friend the pull factor, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has said, there is no published evidence that we have come across that supports that argument.

I hope the Government may be able to look at the potential economic argument. Not allowing these people to work is, for a Conservative Government, very odd.

My Lords, at an earlier stage in our debates on the Bill, I referred to the fact that I am a member of the Woolf Institute’s Commission on the Integration of Refugees, which is declared in the register of interests.

I and some other Members of both Houses of Parliament have had the advantage of going to a number of meetings where those with lived experience of applying for asylum and achieving it have told us about their experience. Unanimously, they say that being unable to work while there has been work obviously available for them has been the most dispiriting experience. It is the thing that has driven them—most of them young people with considerable skills, and some with professional and technological qualifications—near to total despair. It seems entirely unreasonable that they should not be able to work when, as my noble friend has said, there is clearly work available and the pull factor has been shown to be non-existent.

The other thing that people with lived experience have mentioned is the lack of availability of higher education in particular in some areas. I invite Ministers to take account of that issue too.

My Lords, I support Amendment 133 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name to it. She regrets that she cannot be here today; she is actually working with the Woolf Institute’s independent commission on refugee integration. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and other noble Lords who have eloquently made the case for the amendment already.

As it stands, the Bill makes the case for a right to work for some asylum seekers more important than ever. Of course, it is a theme that has come up already. There is little prospect of potential removals being able to keep pace with the large population of asylum seekers who will be deemed inadmissible in the future, and currently we have a huge backlog. We risk the creation of a permanent underclass. Apart from the deleterious effects, that drives some of those people into the grey and black economies because they are not allowed to work openly.

In principle, there may be a grain of evidence on the pull factors but not very much at all, as has been noted already. Allowing a subset of asylum seekers to work does not undermine the duty on the Secretary of State to remove people or open up any path to citizenship or leave to remain. If the Government are able to deliver on their own timelines for processing people and deeming that they are refugees, or should be removed, not a single person will ever attain the right to work under the amendment. We ought to consider the amendment as nothing more than a failsafe aimed only at those who have been here far too long without the ability to support themselves easily and who wish to work and contribute to their own welfare, that of their local community and sometimes that of their family, back in the land they have come from, who are sometimes in semi-hiding.

I think of a friend of mine—I will share a bit of the story, but I do not want to identify them in any way—who has been given the right to work because their claim was not dealt with within 12 months. Because of the inefficiency of the system, it took nearly 12 months after that for them to be told they had the right to work. They are now working in the care sector, way below the level of qualifications and experience they have in their life; they could potentially offer huge amounts to this country. They fled because of persecution. What do they do with most of their money? They pay tax and so on, but they send most of it back to the home country to support their family who are in semi-hiding. It enables their dignity to feel able to support their family, as well as taking part in the life of the community and feeling they are contributing to a country that, they still hope, will welcome them.

This is entirely in line with Conservative economic arguments. It is in line with everything in the universal credit system about encouraging people into work and supporting themselves. Please, it is time to agree to this.

My Lords, I well remember a speech made on my first day in Parliament in 1970, on the Queen’s Speech. Sir John Nott was speaking; he was moving the Address, and I have never forgotten his remark that the real poor of the 20th century are those without hope. The same applies to the 21st century. We are dealing with a group of people who are pretty close to being without hope, and one thing that can give people a bit of hope is the opportunity to put something back into the community of which they wish to become a part. Therefore, it seems to me that the prohibition on working is consistent neither with Conservative principles, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out a few moments ago, nor with any principle of humanity. That is what we are really talking about today.

I hope there will be a positive response here because the other point, and the right reverend Prelate referred to this too, is that if they are not allowed to work, they will tend to drift into the black and grey economies, and perhaps become victims of modern slavery. We all know of those who man car washes and other things, who work under excruciatingly difficult circumstances and conditions, and who are effectively the creatures of those who employ them. Is that really what we want? I do not think we do; I do not think the nation wants that.

Of course, we all want to see sensible control of immigration. We all accept that the country cannot receive everybody for ever. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, nodding vigorously at that point. But we are dealing with human beings and with people who deserve the opportunity to maintain their self-respect. This amendment is a little move in that direction, and I say to my noble friend who will reply that it would be entirely consistent with our Conservative principles of self-help and self-improvement to adopt an amendment along these lines, preferably a government amendment on Report.

I will not make the speech I was going to, because all the points I planned to make have been made. In the early hours of yesterday morning, I criticised the Minister for not listening to what had been said. There is sometimes repetition because of a hope that it will eventually be heard.

We have heard such powerful arguments today, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has expressed the humanity behind this amendment. We have heard that giving the right to work is about human dignity, and we have heard about people with lived experience of that. They keep asking why they cannot do paid work and saying, “This is what we want to do”.

I am pleading to the Minister to put away whatever briefing he has been given, which talks about pull factors and so forth, and address the points that have been made in this debate.

My Lords, some very powerful remarks have been made in this short debate so far, some of which I will respond to in a moment. At the start of my contribution, it is important to emphasise an obvious statement of fact that bears repetition: the Bill is about dealing with immediate and urgent issues—the current situation in which we find ourselves and the practice of boats crossing the channel. This has to stop, as it is unacceptable not just on the basis of illegal entry into the country by that route being wrong in principle but because of the threat to life involved in those journeys.

Often, important and powerful points are made as if we can just deal with them quickly or with them and bigger issues at the same time. I support what the Government are trying to do here: they are trying to deal with an immediate issue. Through this legislation, I would like the Government to deal—as I think they are trying to do—with that problem, which is vexing not just the Government but the country at large. It is causing a widespread sense of concern and disquiet. Once that has been dealt with and we are on top of the issue, some of the topics raised in these debates will merit proper consideration and further thought.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said in her opening remarks on this group—and I have heard her say it many times, as have other noble Lords who are raising objections to the Bill—that one of the problems with the Government’s approach to this legislation is that the assumption is being made that those claiming asylum must be accepted as asylum seekers and cannot be defined in any other way. Somehow, the fact that a lot of people are concerned by the legitimacy of that claim is not acceptable to many noble Lords. As I said at Second Reading—

I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness as I will have a right of reply after the Minister, but I do not think I have said any such thing. I did not say that everybody who crosses the channel or comes in another way irregularly is entitled to refugee status. Obviously, they are defined as refugees under the refugee convention, but if they are seeking status in the UK, they have to go through a process and those who do not qualify should be removed—deported. That is what a rational, fair and proper asylum procedure looks like. Our objection to the Bill is its refusal to admit anybody to the determination process. I have never said, nor have any of my noble friends, that everybody who arrives should be allowed to stay, under whatever status. Of course you cannot run an asylum system in that way and we have never said that.

What the noble Baroness does through many of her contributions is argue against anybody using the terminology “illegal immigrant” by virtue of the fact that they have come via that route and have claimed asylum. My understanding of what she is arguing is that their status as an asylum seeker should be accepted by virtue of the fact that they have made that claim.

I said at Second Reading that I based my remarks on conversations that I have had with people who work alongside immigrants in workplaces which are very different from the one we spend our time in. I said that if there was one way I could define the main message that they were seeking to make clear to me and to this House and to Parliament as we consider this legislation—I am quoting myself here—it was:

“Don’t assume or believe that everyone attempting to enter our country illegally is a genuine asylum seeker fleeing persecution”. —[Official Report, 10/5/23; col. 1814.]

I said that because I think that some of the arguments being made about being able to work are based on a desire for us to address that in a context where the noble Baroness’s perception of the situation is rather different from that of other people.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, invoked economic and productivity arguments in favour of allowing asylum seekers to work. Again, I can see where he is coming from and I do not in any way disagree with him or any noble Lord about the hard-working nature or enterprising disposition of people who come to this country. That is not something I would enter into any kind of discussion about. But I think that if we are going to raise economic arguments as a reason for the Government to accept these amendments and allow asylum seekers, at this current moment in time, to work in the way proposed, we must also remember that we have 5 million people on out-of-work benefits at a time when there is a record number of job vacancies.

There are not 5 million people out of work on benefits. Universal credit applies to large numbers of people in work as well as out of work.

The information I have is that there are 5 million people receiving out-of-work benefits. In my view, if they are qualifying for these, they are therefore out of work.

I will give way in a moment; let me just finish the point I am trying to make. An argument on economic and productivity grounds is not as compelling as some noble Lords are seeking to make it, given that, as I said, a large proportion of our current population are not in work but could be, and are in receipt of out-of-work benefits. I give way to the noble Baroness.

I appreciate that. Can the noble Baroness tell us what proportion of those people are not in work because of chronic sickness, disabilities that may get in the way of being in work, and caring responsibilities?

I cannot, and I am not here to get into a detailed discussion about that. I am simply trying to make this point. Noble Lords are raising the issue of productivity and the economy as a justification for accepting this right now in the Bill. As I said to the Committee earlier, there is some value and legitimacy, in principle, to some of the arguments being made. For instance, I would support the right reverend Prelate’s argument about ensuring that people who come to this country and are waiting for their application to be processed are able to make their contribution. However, we need to get to a position where the current rate of asylum seekers in the system is not that with which we are currently dealing.

Some noble Lords are arguing to be able to do both at the same time. Of course, I absolutely agree that the Home Office must be much better than it currently is at processing these things. I am not disagreeing with any of this. Unlike those noble Lords, however, I am saying that, for that kind of change to be accepted by the country at large, we have to take steps to get there. If you look at the bigger issue of immigration, part of what we are trying to do is to create a system that is acceptable and works for the country as a whole, and that everybody can have confidence in, so that they can feel much more in line with what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, would like everyone to feel and believe regarding the changes she wishes to see. We cannot do it all at the same time.

That is what I am trying to do. I am not trying to argue about pull or push factors; just that the Bill is about an immediate issue that the Government are rightly trying to respond to—

I will finish my point and then I will give way. I think that some of the matters that noble Lords are advancing should not be dealt with at this time. I give way to the noble Lord.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I wonder whether she will answer the next question with a yes or no, because I am confused by some of the things I have heard from her. If a job is available and an asylum seeker is the only person available who can realistically fill it, does she agree that, after three months or so, the asylum seeker should be allowed to take that job?

At the moment, if somebody is still awaiting a decision on their asylum status or their status as a citizen or resident of the country, they are not eligible for employment—no.

My Lords, I was not here at the start of the debate, so I am embarrassed to stand up and will be extremely brief. I just want to support very strongly this amendment. I have spoken over the years about just how ludicrous it is that we have asylum seekers here who cannot work, however long the Home Office takes to consider their application. This is an incredibly important amendment. I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on the basis that surely this is one amendment that the Government should be able to support, and it will be in everybody’s interests if the Minister is able to do that.

Surely noble Lords can speak only if they have been present throughout the debate from the very beginning.

The noble Lord may be referring to my having to rush out urgently—I needed to get a glass of water. I shall catch up with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which I missed with great regret, but I was back for the next one.

I do not want to be unkind, but the rest of us manage to persuade the door- keepers to bring us glasses of water.

May I? Forgive me, I am normally somebody who is a stickler for us keeping to the Companion—absolutely, for sure. However, if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, can contribute to this debate having not even been here at the beginning, when my noble friend was here at the beginning and nipped out to get a glass of water, I think we can hear from my noble friend. If the noble Lord is minded to object, I would hope he would have objected to his noble colleague speaking.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for raising this interesting point and for her proposed Amendment 133. The purpose of the Bill is to prevent and deter illegal migration, and it provides for swift removal, with very few exceptions. Therefore, I am not quite sure why a new clause after Clause 60 is necessary, particularly because, in respect of applications for work from asylum seekers who are already having their asylum claims processed, as far as I know—I am subject to correction here—those are covered under the 2016 Immigration Rules. Part 11B sets out the policy criteria, which can be found in paragraphs 360A, B and C.

I will also comment on various noble Lords’ claims about the potential contribution that asylum seekers can make to the economy. Yes, there may indeed be contributions which can be made, but perhaps we should also consider the costs, the compliance costs and the fact that the UK is trying to move to a high-skills economy, where people with higher skills or where there is a need already can apply to work here under the normal rules. I cannot see why we need this amendment to the Bill.

I had not intended to say anything about this amendment, but I will say a couple of things. First, those of us who have met a number of asylum seekers have been very impressed by the high level of skills and enthusiasm for work that they exhibit. Secondly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, I understand the point that she is making about the objective of the Bill, but it has a very long Long Title and I doubt my noble friend would have been able to table her amendment had the clerks not agreed that it was in order.

Excuse me? Somebody said, “For God’s sake”. I do not know who that was. Okay.

I am not trying to suggest to the Committee that the amendment is somehow outside of scope and therefore inadmissible—that is not my argument at all. If you want to describe the point I am making as political, it is perfectly legitimate to do that. However, I am trying to make the case, in terms of the political aims of the Bill, that I can see that it would be unwise to try to introduce something that the noble Baroness is seeking to do in this legislation—so I was not in any way arguing that.

To the noble Baroness’s other points about the merits of anybody who is claiming asylum in terms of their capabilities, I do not question that either. That is not my point. My point is that I want a migration system that has the confidence of everybody in this country, and I think that we are going to have to do it in stages.

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Baroness misunderstood my first comment. It was in response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor.

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will not mind my using her as an excuse but, on reflection, I think that I was unkind to the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, and I wish to apologise to the House.

My Lords, shall I move on to Amendment 150? In fact, it takes us back to the previous group; I have no idea why it comes into this group. It would provide that the Act should not come into force until at least 28 days—I propose—after the Secretary of State has published a statement confirming the number of persons who, for a period of six months or more, have been awaiting final determination of their claim for asylum; and that, for not less than six months, that number has been not more than 20,000.

That may be a little circular and rambling but, basically, it proposes that we should get to a steady state in dealing with asylum applications. The periods may not be ones that noble Lords agree with, but I propose a figure of 20,000 people, which is not a negligible number of people. This amendment seeks to be realistic and provide a bit of—to our minds—common sense to the context of what we are debating.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, and my noble friend Lord Paddick—who probably had no option but to sign it. This is a serious amendment that follows on from the serious points made about the operations of the Home Office. It is the backlog that is the problem. So much of this debate has suggested, implicitly or explicitly, that the position that we are in is somehow the fault of those who are seeking asylum, which is not an easy thing to take on.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 150, to which I have added my name, and indeed to all the amendments in this group—I will be very brief.

Of course it is right that we should get the backlog down, and of course it is right that we should have a steady state, if you like, and be able to operate an asylum system that is humane, speedy and efficient. It is none of those things at present and we do not show any great signs of getting there any time soon. That is one reason why we suggest that the provisions of this Bill should not come into force until that has been achieved.

I am, along with my noble friend Lord Carlile, a member of the Woolf Institute’s Commission on the Integration of Refugees. I am also Rabbi Emerita of the West London Synagogue, which runs a drop-in for asylum seekers on a regular basis and has done for more than 10 years. I also chair a small family charity that provides scholarships for young asylum seekers to access education, which they otherwise could not do because they cannot get student loans. The reason I raise those things is that they mean that I talk to quite a lot of asylum seekers, for a variety of different reasons. I have never yet met an asylum seeker who has managed to get to this country who does not want to work or is not willing to work. Most of them are in fact very talented; the students we support are unbelievably talented and have been through absolute hell, but nevertheless show incredible determination and eventually get serious professional qualifications and very good degrees.

It seems to me that what we need to do in this House is look seriously at what we want to achieve by an asylum system. Surely we want to achieve the allowing in of those who are genuinely in fear of persecution, as well as all the other reasons that we allow asylum seekers in, and create a refugee system. In so doing, however, we want to treat people humanely, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said; his was a very impressive speech. We want to have coming here people who want to be here and make a contribution. We need to think quite hard about what we are trying to do. There is no pull factor, really—it just is not evidenced—but there is a very large number of desperate people seeking asylum in this country. Those who are genuine and can prove it should be treated humanely, accepted and allowed to work even if their full refugee status has not yet been achieved.

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly only to Amendment 133, to which I would have attached my name had there been space. In the interests of time, I will overlook the other amendments in this group.

I do not know how many noble Lords took the opportunity of our lunch break to join the British Red Cross, which was holding an event with its VOICES Network downstairs. It was launching an excellent report that I commend to your Lordships’ House, We Want to be Strong, But We Don’t Have the Chance: Women’s Experiences of Seeking Asylum in the UK. A large number of the contributors to that report were at the event. It is of particular relevance to Amendment 133 that one of the first things one of them, a very senior medical professional—again, like the right reverend Prelate, I am going to anonymise this as much as I can to make sure that I do not identify anybody—said to me was, “I want to work”; we know how much need we have for her professional skills. Another, a business master’s graduate, also said to me that they wanted to work. These are people who are experts by experience, and that is one of the first things they say when they have an opportunity to speak to a politician.

I also want to make a point that no one else has made; I saw the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, earlier so he may have made this point already but I will make it in his place. In responding to the Migration Advisory Committee’s call for evidence in relation to shortage occupations in the UK, the Welsh Government stressed that asylum seekers should be allowed to work. Their submission said that

“asylum seekers bring with them a wealth of experience, skills and knowledge, and as such it is a missed opportunity to not allow asylum seekers to work. We urge the UK Government to reconsider its decision”

on this issue.

We have been talking in the abstract a lot so I want to draw on one other account—a piece of practical evidence of actual individuals. We have heard a lot about the housing of asylum seekers in hotels and, I am afraid, seen a great deal of horrific attempts to stir up xenophobia and local concern about that. However, I want to tell the story of the 100-plus asylum seekers who have been housed in a hotel in Thatcham in West Berkshire for up to a year. They started a litter-picking group, and then a broader volunteering group. Each charity shop in Newbury and Thatcham now has one or two asylum seekers there regularly to help out. They are a great example of people contributing despite our attempts to stop them doing so; indeed, they have won a local award recognising the contribution of their volunteering.

This is particularly relevant to Amendment 133 when we look at what those asylum seekers who have been litter picking and volunteering in charity shops are. They are doctors, teachers and engineers. They are making a wonderful contribution but surely it would make more sense to allow them to work.

My Lords, I want to speak briefly to the two amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Coaker. The new clause proposed in Amendment 139FA

“requires the Home Secretary to establish a process to fast-track asylum claims from safe countries”,

while the proposed new clause in Amendment 139FC

“seeks to require regular reports from the Secretary of State on progress toward eliminating the current backlog of asylum cases”.

As of March, there were 172,758 asylum seekers in the UK waiting an initial decision on their case, with 128,812—that is 75%—waiting longer than six months. The backlog is so extreme that the Government have tried to quietly drop a key measure of the Nationality and Borders Act to speed up 55,000 people who have arrived over the past year.

The purpose of these two amendments is first to re-establish, if you like, the fast-tracking so that the people who are very likely to succeed in their appeals are dealt with as quickly as possible and, secondly, to monitor the situation to see how it is progressing. In the press I read that Robert Jenrick, the Immigration Minister, said he believes that reducing the backlog would increase the pull factor for those seeking to apply for asylum. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government’s view is that by decreasing the backlog you are increasing the pull factor? People taking part in today’s debate would be very sceptical of that, but I wonder whether the Minister can confirm that that is indeed the Government’s view.

We have had a wide-ranging debate, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, that the debate has gone far wider than the Bill and has been focusing on right to work and issues such as that, but what I seek to do in this brief contribution is to talk specifically to the amendments in my noble friend’s name, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, we support all the amendments in this group. On Amendment 133 in the name of my noble friend Lady Ludford, it makes complete sense to ensure that asylum seekers are not a burden on taxpayers as soon as practicable. If the Government do not agree, perhaps they should ensure that claims are decided within the three or six months suggested in the amendment.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham says, a lot of asylum seekers who are granted permission to work send money back home, as it were. Surely that helps to ensure that people stay in the country where they are and do not add to the problem of asylum seekers.

On Amendment 150, there is no point in creating an even greater backlog until the Government have addressed the existing one.

On the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, fast-tracking claims from countries with high rates of success makes complete sense and any ongoing impact assessment should include the impact of the Act on the backlog.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, made a significant contribution and I hope she does not mind me responding to it. I think she is absolutely right that we have to bear in mind how all this is viewed by members of the British public, but we have already heard one noble Lord— I cannot remember who it was—saying that 77% of the public support allowing asylum seekers to work.

On the issue that the noble Baroness raised around job vacancies versus UK citizens who are jobless, the adult social care system cannot attract British workers, to the extent that the Government allow special provision for foreign workers to come in and fill those vacancies. The agriculture sector cannot attract British workers—for example, seasonal workers to pick crops—and the Government make special provision to allow foreign workers to come into the country. I do not know whether the figure that the noble Baroness quotes of 5 million is right, but the Government allow foreign workers to come in and do those jobs. Why can asylum seekers not do those jobs while they wait for their application to be decided by the Government?

I will let my noble friend the Minister respond on behalf of the Government to the noble Lord’s point but, as he was responding to what I had argued, I have to say that what he has just described makes my point, if I may be so bold.

I argue that, yes, there may be schemes that are authorised for the recruitment of people from outside the UK for specific jobs, but that does not justify that we make those who arrive outside those schemes eligible for work. That would make crossing the channel a route that is seen as attractive for those who might not want to come and do those jobs in particular but certainly want to come here for economic reasons.

As far as the specific working environments that the noble Lord talks about, if the problem in those industries is that wages are insufficient, whether it is in the care sector or the food industry, then I argue very much that the employers need to address the wage issues to encourage more people to apply, if that is part of the barrier to people going to work in them in the first place.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I am not sure whether she heard the evidence provided by my noble friend Lady Ludford from the Home Office report, which said that providing work was not a pull factor in the way that the noble Baroness has suggested.

My Lords, the amendments in this group all relate in one way or another to the operation of the asylum system. They variously seek to enable asylum seekers to work after three months and to reduce the backlog of asylum claims, an objective which we all share. Let me address each of these issues in turn.

Amendment 133, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, would enable asylum seekers to seek employment after three months. Asylum seekers are allowed to work in the UK if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months or more, through no fault of their own. Those permitted to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list which, in turn, is based on expert advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee, about which we heard during the debate. The list comprises skilled jobs where there is an identified shortage which it is sensible to fill, at least in part, through immigration.

It is important that our policy approach distinguishes between those who need protection and those seeking to work here, who can apply for a work visa under the Immigration Rules. Asylum seekers do not need to make perilous journeys to seek employment in the United Kingdom. There are various safe and legal routes for those seeking to work in the UK under the points-based system. Amendment 133 would fundamentally undermine our immigration framework. Instead of people applying to work in the UK through the proper channels, this amendment would simply encourage them to come to the UK illegally or overstay on a visitor’s or student visa, and then claim asylum in the knowledge that they would be able to work after three months.

The Minister’s assertion needs evidence. Sweden allows asylum seekers to work immediately, Portugal after one month, Germany after three months and Belgium after four months. Per 10,000 people per capita, there is no outlier in those countries with the rest of Europe, so what evidence does the Minister have that allowing people to work after three months is a pull factor, when the evidence in other countries in Europe shows significantly that it is not?

I do not agree that the evidence from the rest of Europe is any indicator of what might drive people across the channel in small boats. It stands to reason that, if people want to come to the UK to work, they may well seek to circumvent our asylum system by crossing the boats in small channels—I mean crossing the channel in small boats, rather than crossing the small channel in big boats. It therefore clearly stands to reason that it is sensible to refuse asylum seekers the right to work unless there is a delay of 12 months which is not the fault of that individual. It cannot be gainsaid that simply because we cannot produce evidence of what is going on in the mind of someone seeking asylum there is no reason to adopt the policy. I simply do not accept the logic of the noble Lord’s proposition.

My noble friend Lady Stowell made some pertinent points about the UK employment market that go to the difficulties posed by the amendment. I also very much welcomed the thoughtful speech by my noble friend Lady Lawlor. It is for all these reasons that the Government cannot support this amendment, and certainly not in this Bill, focused as it is on stopping the boats.

Amendments 139FA, 139FC and 150 all concern the current asylum backlog. We can all agree on one thing: namely, the need to process asylum claims efficiently and effectively, so that robust decisions are taken in a timely manner. We do not need new legislation to achieve this, and certainly not Amendment 150, which, quite inappropriately, seeks to tie the commencement of the Bill, which is to deal with the small boat crossings, to a reduction in the asylum backlog.

That said, I will set out the steps we are taking to reduce the current backlog. As noble Lords will know, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister pledged to clear the backlog of 92,601 initial asylum decisions relating to claims made before 28 June 2022, or legacy claims, by the end of 2023. We are making good progress. We have reduced the initial decision legacy asylum backlog by 17,000 in the past five months. We know there is more to do to make sure that asylum seekers do not spend months or years living in the UK, at vast expense to the taxpayer, waiting for a decision. That is why our commitment to tackle the backlog has focused on people who have sat in the backlog for the longest, often living in expensive hotels, while we process their case.

One way in which we will achieve that is via the streamlined asylum process which is centred around accelerating the processing of manifestly well-founded asylum claims. Another way in which we will achieve this is by grouping asylum claims by cohort. This means grouping asylum claimants and prioritising claims based on, for example, the type or volume of claims from a particular nationality, grant rate or compliance rate, and those on asylum support rate. This process means to conclude more efficiently outstanding asylum claims made before 28 June 2022 by the end of the year. This will allow decisions to be assessed in a more efficient manner. We have already doubled our decision-makers over the past two years, and we are continuing to recruit more. This will take our headcount of the expected number of decision-makers to 1,800 by this summer and 2,500 by September 2023.

I am sorry to interrupt, but my noble friend referred to 17,000 claims having been processed. How many have been given permission to stay?

I do not have that figure to hand, but I will find out and write to my noble friend.

By tackling the backlog and processing asylum claims in a timely manner, we will address the issues raised by many noble Lords in relation to Amendment 133. I am sure we will return to these issues in the coming weeks and months, but for now I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response, although I feel that he slightly demolished his own argument. He claims that the asylum system and working should be insulated from each other. The logic of that is that no asylum seeker would ever be allowed to work, yet government policy has the extremely unsatisfactory rule that they can apply after 12 months to a restricted list. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said that the case that he knows of took another 12 months to get permission—yet more bureaucracy. All we ever get from the Home Office is more bureaucracy. The Minister cannot have his cake and eat it. If he does not think that asylum seekers should ever work, why does that government policy exist at the moment? It is very unsatisfactory.

Noble Lords have made some very good points. Like others, I much appreciated the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who referred to “Conservative” principles of self-help and self-improvement. I would say that they are not uniquely Conservative, but they are also Conservative. That is why this policy makes sense to most people from all directions—on all Benches. It would help us have an orderly and well-run asylum system, as well as giving people the dignity and hope that have been mentioned.

I am afraid that I completely disagree with almost everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said. The policy would not encourage people to disappear. By keeping people plugged into the system, and assuming that they are paying tax and national insurance and are known to the authorities—it would help if we had labour market inspectors—it would be easier to keep track of them. If they do not succeed with their asylum claim, they should be removed from the country. I am trying not to get even more grumpy than I am after many days on this Bill—normally I am a completely ungrumpy person—but the suggestion that I, or anyone else on these Benches, want some kind of free-for-all where anybody can come, there are no borders or regulations and so on, is completely untrue. I totally deny that suggestion; indeed, I rather resent it. I am sorry to say that I found the noble Baroness’s contribution valiant but unconvincing.

It is certainly true that I object to the term “illegal” being used to describe a person. I have long held that view. I do not believe that any person is illegal. You can say, if you must, that they have arrived by illegal routes, but the refugee convention, which, unlike some people, I rather admire, talks about “irregular” arrival because people are allowed to arrive in a country to claim asylum—so they have not made illegal entry either. It is irregular but not illegal. I am a bit of a stickler for terminology, and I stick to that of the refugee convention. I am not sure whether I have to apologise for that, but I do not think so.

I have probably said everything that I can. I think the Government are wrong. I hope a future Government will revisit this issue—not in the manner of the Government of 20 years ago, who withdrew asylum seekers’ right to work—and implement the sense of this kind of provision. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 133 withdrawn.

Amendments 134 and 135 not moved.

Amendment 136

Moved by

136: After Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—

“People smuggling(1) Not less than six months before the other provisions of this Act come into force, the Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament a report regarding agreements and discussions with the governments and authorities of other countries, including those bordering the English Channel and the North Sea, concerning the steps taken or agreed or proposed to prevent or deter a person from—(a) charging refugees for assistance or purported assistance in travelling to or entering the United Kingdom;(b) endangering the safety of refugees travelling to the United Kingdom.(2) The report must focus on steps other than the provisions of this Act.(3) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish a report on the actions that are being taken to tackle people smugglers.

My Lords, Amendment 136 is one of a series of amendments we have tabled on the criteria that should be met before the Bill—an Act by then—comes into force. Amendment 136 is about people smuggling, though the term is not used; about

“(a) charging refugees for assistance or purported assistance in travelling to or entering the United Kingdom; (b) endangering the safety of refugees”.

The answer to most questions, of course, is to stop the boats. I wondered during the debate on the previous group whether “stop the boats” actually features as a phrase in the Bill. I do not think it does, but it seems to be the answer to everything.

People smuggling, the criminal activity which is so closely related to small boats and which the Bill purports to deal with, led to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause: the steps that are included in the Bill are not, in our view, an answer to the problem. I find it very distressing that, with such a serious situation, we have a Bill that implicitly blames victims, and we hear very little other than platitudes about tackling the criminals. We know, of course, that people fleeing by boat, endangering their lives and losing their lives, is not unique to the channel and the North Sea, which are referred to in the amendment. Geographically, we are most closely affected by those, but a lot of lives have been lost by people fleeing from countries bordering the Mediterranean and further afield.

My name is attached to Amendment 139F in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. As she is not here, I will speak to it very briefly, because I think it would be a pity if there was no response from the Government, and I have no doubt that the Minister has a response—he is nodding. The noble Baroness’s proposal, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Carlile of Berriew, as well as by me, is that

“Where a person meets the … conditions in Section 2”—

which is the fulcrum, if you like, of the Bill; and I like the way it is phrased, rather than “meets the criteria”—

“and is suspected of involvement in genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, the Secretary of State is required as soon as reasonably practicable … to refer the person to relevant authorities in the UK for investigation and possible prosecution; … to cooperate with authorities in other safe countries and international tribunals who may be investigating the person”.

I look forward to the Government’s views on that and beg to move Amendment 136.

My Lords, a more sensitive soul might be somewhat disheartened, having sat here for a large part of this debate only for the entire Chamber to empty at the very thought of me saying anything at all, but I will do my best. Perhaps I am getting an early reputation in this place already.

I will speak to the amendment in my name and those of my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and my noble friend Lord Soames of Fletching, who unfortunately is unable to be with us but would have liked to have taken part in this debate had he been able to. There has been a lot of discussion about the Bill’s scope, and I was quite pleased to get this amendment through the Table Office, because it is slightly wide of what the Government are debating, which is stopping the boats. The Bill is about illegal immigration, and it is my view that a Government have an absolute duty to secure their own borders and to know who is coming into the country, who is in the country and who is leaving the country at any time. It seems extraordinary that there is still no passport control when people leave this country, as well as when they come into it. Only by knowing how many people there currently are in the United Kingdom can we have a proper, dispassionate and, to use that word, humane debate about what size we are prepared to let our population rise to.

The problem, of course, is with the official statistics—or rather the lack of them. The Government’s publication, Irregular migration to the UK, year ending March 2023, states:

“The statistics presented here relate to the number of people recorded being detected on, or shortly after, arrival to the UK on various routes. They do not provide an indication of the total number of people currently in the UK who have entered the UK via irregular routes or the number of irregular migrants present in the UK. It is not possible to know the exact size of the irregular population currently resident in the UK, nor the total number of people who enter the UK irregularly”.

The official population of the United Kingdom in 2023 is recorded as being just under 68 million, which represents a steady year-on-year increase. Some would have the real population of this country at least 1 million more. Then there is what I call the supermarket theory, which says that the real population of this country is many millions more. I have even read one report alleging that the real population of this country is not 68 million but nearer to 80 million. Of course, if you look on Twitter, you need not necessarily believe all those conspiracies.

My point is not to quibble about the size but to demand that the Government and their various agencies do more to find out the real population of this country. If the figure is 1 million or 2 million in excess of the published data, that, by definition, must mean that hundreds of thousands of people are living outside the system. How can they access healthcare and schools? What about national insurance contributions? What happens to them in old age? If they are outside the system, they are more vulnerable to low wages, abuse, poor housing, inadequate medicine and all the things that we take for granted. They are the losers, but so are we, as by definition they are not paying any tax, for TV licences or anything that people even on low incomes are obliged to pay. They are not participants in society; they are existing on the margins of it.

As it happens, I have no particular view on what should happen to those who have already settled here illegally. I am sympathetic to some sort of amnesty, but I am equally sympathetic to those who feel a sense of injustice that these people have in some way cheated the system—jumped the queue, if you like—and that they should retrospectively be subjected to the same rules on immigration as those who have sought to come after them. However, many of these illegal immigrants will be in low-paid and insecure jobs. Many businesses, certainly those in the hospitality sector, need these people. Indeed, because of Covid and, dare I say it, Brexit there is a critical shortage.

Equally, we must concede that many of those jobs could be filled by British people. I use that term to describe people who are here legally, regardless of whether they were born here or not. We need to be honest with one another. Of course, the argument goes that we need more immigrants to help grow the economy, but, equally, we should recognise and admit that the more people we have, the more schools we will need to open, the more hospitals we will need to build, the more investment in infrastructure we will need, and, critically and perhaps most contentiously of all, the more housing we will need to build. When we have done all that, and the economy has expanded, we will presumably need more immigrants to staff the increased size of our public services. That may well be acceptable, even desirable, but I believe that the British people should have the right to have a say on this. It is not just up to the politicians—or, indeed, if I might say so, the Church—to decide on the size of the population of this country.

I return to my original point. We cannot have an informed debate about this until the Government come to the table and lay before Parliament an annual estimate of the number of illegal immigrants already in this country. My noble friend the Minister will no doubt argue that this information is published, yet it is not published in a clear, unambiguous document—but it must be. Ministers and many others will ask, “If these people have been illegally operating in this country in the black or grey economy, how can we possibly find out who or where they are?” Perhaps identity cards are the answer. I am not convinced by that, but in this information-gathering world, where our data is increasingly harvested, there must be ways. Just look at the NHS app, which most of us signed up to during Covid.

Another approach—I am grateful to Migration Watch for suggesting this—would be that of residual methodology, which allows us to estimate the size of the illegal immigrant population by comparing a demographic estimate of the number of immigrants residing legally in the country with the total number of immigrants as measured by a survey. The difference is assumed to be the number of illegal immigrants in the survey, a number that later is adjusted for omissions from the survey.

I now turn to the second part of the amendment, which covers the issue of foreign national offenders held in our prisons. I am very aware of this because, when I was a Minister in the David Cameron Administration, we were all given countries to be responsible for. We were summoned regularly to No. 10, as he was trying to drive down the number of foreign national offenders and get them back to their countries of origin. It was an astonishingly difficult thing to do, not least because of the interventions of the legal teams who were trying to stop them having to go back. Further difficulties were from some countries which destroyed all the information about them, so it was very difficult to ascertain as to where they had come from and who they were. It is a difficult task, but it is an achievable one.

In March of this year, I asked a number of questions of the Home Office, which I shall not repeat now, on the number of foreign national offenders and how many we had repatriated. From that, it would seem that some 12% of the current total prison population of England and Wales—10,148 people—fall into that category. The cost alone of that is huge. The average cost of a prison place in England and Wales was £46,696 in 2021-22, so we are spending about half a billion pounds a year, by my very ropey maths, on housing these foreign national offenders. The Home Office must get a grip; we want more action and enforcement and fewer excuses as to why it is impossible to send those foreign national offenders home.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who is not now in his place, rather unfairly described the desire from the Government to do something about immigration as an attempt to address the demands of the red wall—non-traditional Tory areas of the country which voted overwhelmingly for this Conservative Government in the last election. That is not a fair accusation; I think that the majority of people in this country want a humane and fair system, and one that actually works and is seen to work. Between 70% and 80% of the British public support measures aimed at deterring illegal immigrants from remaining in the United Kingdom. The truth of the matter is that none of us knows the scale of illegal migration because no official estimate has been published since 2005.

I very much hope that the Government will support this amendment, as I hope that His Majesty’s loyal Opposition will. If they do not, they will need to explain why not. At its simplest, the amendment is to encourage the Government to find out, before we agree on the future immigration policy, how many illegal immigrants and foreign national offenders are in this country, and to publish that data clearly and unambiguously on an annual basis.

My Lords, I follow my noble friend since I too am a signatory of this amendment. I thank him for what he said. I will not take up much of the Committee’s time in supporting him.

Essentially, we are inviting the Government to find out the evidence and bring an end to government by guesswork, particularly within this area of public policy. Government by guesswork creates all sorts of frustrations and unwittingly encourages some of the less humane members of our population to behave badly and, because of that guesswork, to hold some utterly unattractive views. I entirely agree with my noble friend about the need for a humane and organised immigration policy. Until we have the numbers, the Government can do nothing other than stick their finger in the wind and say that it is “probably this” or “probably that”. That is government by guesswork, and it is time that it stopped.

I will stop now, to save the ears of noble Lords and the patience of my noble friend the Minister. Having heard my speech at Second Reading, he may never want to hear from me again, particularly on this interesting Bill. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Swire and hope that the Government listen carefully to him. I hope that others in the Committee will come behind us and speak in favour of what my noble friend asks for.

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Swire, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, that I have for months been calling for more statistics from the Government and for the publication of the impact assessment. They join me in calling on their noble friends on the Front Bench to publish the impact assessment.

I would be delighted if we knew how many people the Government were detaining and removing. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, made the point that numerous noble Lords have made all the way through: we have no statistics. Clearly, the Government have them and will not tell us them. I suspect that is because they are embarrassed or worried, or because it would set up some sort of mechanism by which they could be judged on whether they have succeeded or failed. We have all said it would be helpful to publish the number of people we are detaining, whom the Government regard as illegal, and the number we are removing. We have not demanded it for a year after the passing of the Bill. That would be helpful, but we are demanding to know now what the assumptions are behind the planning within the Bill.

Perhaps, just to help the noble Lord, Lord Swire, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the rest of us, the Minister could tell us now what assumptions the Government are working towards as to the number of people they expect to detain under the Bill and the number they expect to remove. That would make that part of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Swire, unnecessary, and it would help our deliberations.

There is one further thing that would be helpful on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Swire. Before we had the cut-off date of 7 March 2023, how many people had failed their asylum application and were at that time waiting to be deported? It would be interesting to know how successful the Government’s policies had been up to that point in assessing whether people needed to be detained.

I particularly wanted to say a couple of things. I will leave Amendment 137; those debates about compatibility with various international conventions are well made, and we will return to them. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for signing and supporting that amendment. I do not want that to be seen as somehow meaning that they are not important. I hope the Minister will respond to the amendment, but the compatibility of the Bill with various international conventions has been debated all the way through Committee and I do not want to repeat those debates now. That is not to be taken to mean that those debates are not important; they are essential and will no doubt be returned to on Report.

I will focus particularly on Amendment 139FB in my name, which relates to our ability to tackle the gangs. There has been a lot of emphasis on victims, the potential number of asylum seekers and so on. These are government statistics. I repeat what I said earlier: the number of convictions for people-smuggling gangs has reduced considerably, has it not? Can the Minister give us an up-to-date figure on the number of smuggling gangs and a helpful comparison? Can he try to do us a favour by comparing with a year that gives a true reflection, rather than picking a year that gives a good percentage outcome? That would be helpful, because it is in all our interests to know exactly what is going on. Can he confirm my figure that over the last 12 months, the criminal smuggling gangs have made £180 million, and can he therefore tell us why so few people in smuggling gangs have been convicted?

As I understand it, there is some debate about whether the number of officers, officials and National Crime Agency staff working on this has gone up or down. Can we have an indication of the number of them involved in tackling this? My amendment deals with the National Crime Agency. Can the Government confirm that it is the law enforcement agency that is leading all this work? What other agencies, both national and international, are working to tackle the criminal gangs? My amendment says that to tackle organised immigration crime across the channel, there is a need to maintain a specific unit. Is a specific unit already in existence, making my amendment unnecessary? If not, would that help?

Essentially Amendment 139FB is a probing amendment to try to understand the current law enforcement activity with respect to tackling this heinous crime, from a national perspective but also an international one. I join the noble Lord, Lord Swire, in demanding from his Government some statistics, please.

I will speak briefly to Amendment 137, which I was pleased to co-sign, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said. The amendment raises some important points in referencing Articles 524 and 763 of the trade and co-operation agreement.

Article 524, in the context of part 3 of the agreement on

“law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters”,

is predicated on respect for fundamental rights and legal principles, as reflected in the European Convention on Human Rights in particular. That is one of the reasons. One would expect the Government to be very careful about any undermining of the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights in case they, for example, undermined this part of the TCA.

Indeed, Article 763, which underpins the whole of the TCA—not just the law enforcement and co-operation part—says that

“the Parties reaffirm their respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights treaties to which they are parties”.

That must also cover the ECHR. So, basically, our co-operation with the EU in the trade and co-operation agreement depends on our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. So it is not just important in the context of the Bill and generally but it is also a factor in the EU regarding us as playing a good- faith part in the trade and co-operation agreement. Undermining our commitment to the ECHR has to be seen in that context.

We benefit from a data adequacy decision from the European Commission, which means that data can be transferred between the UK and the EU. This can apply in the law enforcement and police co-operation sector, but it is also important to businesses, such as those in the City, those in financial services, those in fintech and others, particularly in the services arena. So there is a connection between respect for human rights and data adequacy decisions and business, because one of the factors that can be considered in the grant of a data adequacy decision—I remember debating this several times when we did the Brexit withdrawal legislation, and indeed I worked on the GDPR when I was an MEP—is the human rights compliance of the partner country, which is the UK in this case.

In fact, we commented at the time that that plays more of a role for a third country than it does within the EU, because questions arise about the human rights compliance of some countries within the EU, and it is finding it difficult to deal with them. Unfortunately or not, the UK is in the position of having less leverage in this respect. Believe me, the European Parliament will have something to say on this subject as well. The data adequacy decision gets reviewed in 2025, so the Government need to be careful that they are not undermining the data adequacy decision by disrespecting human rights.

On the situation in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission points out:

“The UK Government’s ‘Explainer’ document on Windsor Framework Article 2 acknowledges that its protections apply to everyone who is ‘subject to the law in Northern Ireland’. Asylum-seekers are part of the community, subject to the law in NI and are therefore protected by the Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity chapter of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. In court proceedings ongoing at the time of writing”—

about four weeks ago—

“the Home Office has not disputed the argument that the protections of the relevant chapter of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement extend to asylum-seekers and refugees”.

So that has to be considered in a United Kingdom Bill.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission also points out that, in the explainer on the Windsor Framework, the UK Government have confirmed that

“key rights and equality provisions in the [Belfast (Good Friday)] Agreement are supported by the ECHR.”

So, the ECHR and Article 2 of the Windsor Framework are intimately connected. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, along with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, have identified several EU asylum directives—reception, procedures, qualification and the Dublin III regulation—as relevant to Article 2 of the Windsor Framework. They conclude:

“Given this analysis, failure to address compliance with Windsor Framework Article 2 in the Human Rights memorandum to the Bill is a matter of concern.”

Finally, I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, on Monday, made the point, along with his noble friend Lord Weir, that trafficking victims in Northern Ireland still have rights under the EU trafficking directive and the EU victims directive, so it is not just in the asylum sector that EU directives still apply. He pointed out that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has argued consistently that both directives still apply to Northern Ireland. At that point, he and his noble friend Lord Weir wanted to amend the provisions of Clause 24

“to require the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to continue to provide support to victims in line with Article 2 of—should I say it?—the Windsor Framework”.—[Official Report, 12/6/23; col. 1726.]

I remember the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, smiling as he said that, because he is from the DUP, and he was relying on the Windsor Framework. But I spot something that I think will well justify being taken forward at the next stage of the Bill. I hope he does not mind that I mention this in his absence that it might be an opportunity for the DUP and the Liberal Democrats to work together, perhaps as the terrible twins, on something that is important to both of us—the provisions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, as affirmed in Article 2 of the Windsor Framework, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government have to take all this very seriously.

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly, but I hope strongly, to support Amendment 139FB tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. This amendment is incredibly simple and yet, it seems, immensely powerful. It gives the National Crime Agency a legal responsibility to tackle organised immigration crime across the channel and to maintain the specific unit to undertake work related to that responsibility.

It is surely extraordinary that the Home Secretary has produced a Bill of 67 clauses devoted entirely, as I understand it, to an attack on the victims of persecution, modern slavery and trafficking and incorporating every conceivable manoeuvre to prevent those victims achieving asylum in the UK. I think I am right in saying—and I know the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that not one of the 67 clauses sets out a plan to prosecute the criminals who demand large sums from vulnerable individuals to bring them to the UK in small boats across the channel at great risk to their lives—we know many of them die.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is doing the country a great favour, in my view, in offering, in Amendment 139FB, a way in which the Prime Minister could actually fulfil what he claims to be one of his top policy priorities—to stop the boats. I presume the Government will give tremendously strong support to this amendment, but whether they do or not, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is to be applauded for his amendment.

My Lords, I apologise for any confusion. Normally, the Labour Front-Bencher would be the last speaker but, when they have amendments to speak to, it is only right that we respond to what they have said.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, we believe that the Government are wrongly focused on prosecuting the victims of people traffickers rather than the people traffickers themselves. Amendment 136 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and Amendment 139FB in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seek to refocus the Government on the real criminals in all this—the people traffickers.

Amendment 139E seems to make complete sense. I slightly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, saying that the Government have the statistics that Amendment 139E wants them to produce. I am not sure that they do have those numbers. For example, the Government increased the number of countries whose citizens can use e-passport gates at airports, so in addition to EU and EEA citizens, citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the USA can use e-passport gates. Once those people have passed through the e-passport gates, the Government have no idea where they have gone in the UK or whether they have left after the six months they are allowed under visa-free entry. There is no way to track where the people have gone, what they are doing or whether they are illegally employed. So I am not sure that the Government have those statistics. I absolutely agree that the Government—all of us—are entitled to know who those people are and how many are here.

High praise indeed from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

We also support Amendment 139F and Amendment 137, to which my noble friend Lady Ludford has just spoken comprehensively—so I do not need to.

My Lords, I see that the right reverend Prelate is absent from this place and not here to witness this outbreak of ecumenical harmony between two components of the opposition Benches.

I shall deal, if I may, with the points the two noble Lords have made as they emerge. I commence what I have to say on this group by assuring the Committee that the Government remain focused on doing everything they can to save lives, deter illegal migration and disrupt the people-smuggling gangs responsible for dangerous channel crossings.

Amendments 136 and 139FB, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, focus on tackling people smuggling. Amendment 136 calls for a report on the actions being taken to tackle people smuggling, while Amendment 139FB seeks to confer on the National Crime Agency a specific function in respect of tackling organised immigration crime. A variety of noble Lords have spoken to those points and, again, I shall refer to them in more detail as they arise.

The Committee will be aware that organised immigration crime, like other forms of serious and organised crime, endangers lives, has a corrosive effect on society, puts pressure on border security resources and diverts money from our economy. Organised crime groups continue to facilitate most illegal migrant journeys to the United Kingdom. The threat we are facing from organised immigration crime spans multiple countries, multiple nationalities and multiple criminal methodologies. Organised immigration crime is exceptionally complex, and the Government are working to tackle organised crime gangs that facilitate illegal travel from source countries to Europe and the United Kingdom. Addressing the threat from organised immigration crime and disrupting the organised crime gangs responsible is a priority for this Government.

I shall address the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Hamwee, and—from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeking information about the steps the Government are taking to tackle what the noble Lord calls the “real criminals”. The noble Lord is entirely justified in using that phrase. I will also address some of the points raised on an earlier group with my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom. I can tell the Committee that we have a dedicated multiagency organised immigration crime task force in place which is committed to dismantling international organised immigration crime groups, including the criminal networks that facilitate people smuggling from source countries to Europe and then the UK, knowingly putting people in life-threatening situations. This task force is currently active in 17 countries worldwide and works with partners to build intelligence-sharing as well as investigative and prosecution capability.

I have an example for the Committee. In a single operation last summer, the National Crime Agency worked with French, Belgian, German and Dutch partners to target an organised crime gang suspected of smuggling up to 10,000 people across the channel over a period of 12 to 18 months. In total, the operation saw around 40 people being arrested, and 135 boats, 45 engines and more than 1,200 life jackets being seized.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, from the Labour Front Bench, sought information from me about convictions for people smuggling. The information with which I am provided is that, between 28 June 2022 —that being the date of commencement of the Nationality and Borders Act—and 31 March 2023, immigration enforcement arrested in excess of 385 people for offences under the Act, resulting in 166 convictions and the imposition of sentences amounting to over 110 years’ imprisonment. Quite properly, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, sought a comparator for the figure. I do not think I can give him a precise one, but I can give him additional data. I look forward to corresponding with the noble Lord to clear up anything that this has not furnished. Since 2015, there have been 1,400 arrests, giving rise to sentences being applied totalling 1,300 years’ imprisonment.

Following the pledge made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, on 13 December last year, to stop the dangerous small boat crossings, we have doubled funding for this task force for the next two financial years. The increased funding will aim to double the number of disruptions and enforcement activities against organised immigration crime and the criminal gangs that facilitate it.

But the Government must, at all times, be conscious of the need to remove the demand that keeps people smugglers in business. That is the core purpose of the Bill. We will break the business model of the people smugglers and deter those seeking illegally to enter the UK only by putting in place a system through which it is clear to all that anyone arriving illegally in this country will not be able to settle and build a new life here, and that they will instead be returned to their home country or removed to a safe third country such as Rwanda. The Government are conscious that the refoulement of persons to a country where they are in danger is unacceptable in terms of our international obligations.

Amendment 139F was briefly introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. It would require the Secretary of State to refer a person who meets the four conditions in Clause 2, and is suspected of crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes, to the relevant international authorities. The amendment is unnecessary, as protecting the British public is the Government’s first priority—the priority of any Government—and, in any scenario where a person is suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity, the Government will work with international authorities as necessary.

In Amendment 139E, my noble friend Lord Swire and my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier gave perhaps the most recent of calls for honesty in relation to a statistical basis for what the Government are seeking to do. The amendment seeks to place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a report on illegal migration, including statistics on the number of illegal migrants in the United Kingdom. The argument expounded by my noble friend was as to the importance of statistics, and was taken up in a number of points made earlier in the debate by various noble Lords. My noble friend expanded on the need to have a solid statistical basis upon which properly to proceed with legislation and policy in a series of complex areas. The Government will consider anxiously how to respond to the amendment. My noble friend and my noble and learned friend will forgive me if I cannot give any firm commitment to accept the amendment at this stage, but we will discuss matters with them.

As the Committee heard from my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom, in relation to the amendments in group 3 that the Committee has heard today, the Home Office publishes regularly statistics on levels of migration in the United Kingdom. On 25 May, it published official statistics outlining irregular migration to the United Kingdom for the year end March 2023. This release provides an overview of irregular migrants who come to the United Kingdom, including those arriving by small boats. Statistics on return of foreign national offenders are also published as part of the immigration statistics release. It may be that noble Lords would call for the statistics to be brought together in a place where they are more readily comprehensible, and hence accessible and of practical value to your Lordships and other parliamentarians. If noble Lords will permit, I assert that a great deal of statistics in the area are published by the Government, and by the Home Office, which are available to assist the deliberations of the Committee and others. As I said in answer to the amendment brought by my noble friend, we will give close consideration to how that statistical record might be tied together.

I turn now to Amendment 137. As my noble friend Lord Murray set out at the Dispatch Box earlier this week, the measures in this Bill are compatible with the Windsor Framework. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, I repeat that the Government take all their international obligations, including the European Convention on Human Rights, extremely seriously and judges that nothing in the Bill requires the Government to breach their obligations. I therefore contend to the Committee that the amendment is unnecessary.

I am most grateful for what the noble and learned Lord has said, but he may have overlooked that we had a debate, at a much earlier stage, on the way in which the Government use the word “require”. The Minister says that nothing in the Bill requires the Government to take action that would be contrary to our obligations under the TCA. He seems to be overlooking—the use of the word “require” perhaps deliberately overlooks the fact—that the Bill empowers the Government to take action which, if taken, would bring us into conflict with our obligations under the TCA. Perhaps he could answer that point.

Could the Minister confirm whether he agrees with the analysis of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, from which I cited extracts, on the various EU asylum directives that would continue to apply in Northern Ireland? I am afraid I have not checked what the noble Lord, Lord Murray, said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, the other day, but the trafficking directive and the victims directive also apply in Northern Ireland. What are the Government doing to make sure that all those directives are going to be respected in practice in Northern Ireland?

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, from the Cross Benches, submitted my use of the verb “require” to a degree of philological scrutiny, which I had not taken into account when preparing my answer. I take the noble Lord’s point in relation to empowerment as opposed to obligation.

I regret to say that, in relation to the complex interrelating commitments to which the noble Baroness sought my views from the Dispatch Box, I will have to undertake to correspond with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord.

I sum up what has been a short debate by thanking noble Lords for their informed scrutiny of what has been said, not only by me but by others participating in earlier parts of the debate. From the perspective of this Committee, at this stage, the issues have been given a good airing. Noble Lords have referred to the inevitability that we will consider the matter at a later stage but, at present, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, the debate was not that short, but perhaps it was shorter than those on some of the other groups.

I will just comment on the Minister’s response regarding people smuggling. I find it quite depressing that reliance is placed on deterring demand rather than on deterring criminals. I wonder whether the strategy might include, if it does not now, a communications component. We are told of successful prosecutions, but I am not sure that I ever really read about those in the press; perhaps I read the wrong media—I do not know.

Though I have heard what the Minister had to say, to me it is the criminality—the smuggling—that is at the heart of the problem. I am sure that we will come back to it as an issue in some form at the next stage. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 136 withdrawn.

Amendments 137 to 139 not moved.

Amendment 139A

Moved by

139A: After Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—

“Secure reporting for victims of crime(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, make provision for the prohibition of automatic sharing of personal data of a victim or witness of crime for the purposes of section 2(1).(2) In section 20 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (power to supply information etc to Secretary of State), after subsection (2B) insert—“(2C) For the purposes of section 2(1) of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, this section does not apply to information held about a person as a result of the person reporting criminal behaviour which they are a victim of or a witness to.”” Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would prevent immigration data being shared for the purposes of section 2(1) about a victim or witness of crime who reports an offence. This is to ensure victims are able to approach the authorities for assistance without fear of removal under section 2(1) as a result of that contact or resultant data sharing with immigration enforcement.

Amendment 139A is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew—who has managed to escape for the moment—has added his name to it, as has the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.

This amendment seeks to prevent immigration data being shared for the purposes of Clause 2(1), under which the Secretary of State must make arrangements for the removal of people who meet the four conditions. I am very happy to have my name to this—I would not have signed it if I were not happy—because the issue of exemption from the Data Protection Act is one which my noble friend Lord Paddick and I have raised many times since we debated the then Data Protection Bill. The exemption from restrictions on sharing data for the purposes of immigration enforcement or immigration control—I do not recall which but it amounts to the same thing—is a very wide exemption.

The concern here is to ensure that victims can approach the authorities for assistance without the fear of removal as a result of that contact, or of data being shared with immigration enforcement. Noble Lords have frequently made the point about people without secure status having more confidence in smugglers and traffickers than they do in the authorities. The traffickers’ threats are not ones that they will take lightly; they control their victims, notwithstanding that the victims have “escaped”.

We have a number of other clause stand part notices, all amounting to the fact that we oppose the whole of the Bill. The clauses which are listed in this group are not substantive clauses; in other words, they are not about policy. I will mention just one, which is about financial provision. I am alarmed—we all are—at how much will be spent on what we consider to be the likely costs of the policy. I will not go over them again. We are firmly opposed; I do not think I need to spend time re-emphasising that point. I beg to move Amendment 139A.

My Lords, I have two sets of amendments in this group. First, Amendments 142, 143, 144 and 147 seek to examine how the Brook House inquiry findings can influence the way in which the Bill will be enacted. Secondly, Amendment 139FE seeks to examine the devolution issues, which I will be looking at specifically through the legislation governing Wales and, very specifically, the Act of Parliament which I want to test the Government on.

First, my intention is to find out how the Government intend to deal with the recommendations of the Brook House inquiry when it reports and apply them to the changes that it will necessitate in the implementation of the Bill. Under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Brook House inquiry into mistreatment and abuse in breach of Article 3 of the ECHR at Brook House immigration removal centre was instituted in November 2019, following a judicial review proceeding. The inquiry has heard extensive evidence, and it is the first public inquiry into the mistreatment of those detained under immigration powers. The conditions of that detention provided a unique opportunity for public scrutiny of and accountability for detention practices and culture.

The inquiry, which we understand will be published in late summer, has heard evidence from detained persons, detention officers, healthcare providers, G4S—which was the contractor responsible for Brook House at the time—employees, Home Office officials, members of the independent monitoring board and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. The inquiry also appointed and heard from three experts to address the key issues of the use of force, the institutional culture, and clinical care provision and safeguards. It also examined a vast amount of documentary material and video footage.

The evidence that has emerged in what has already been given to the inquiry in public session has uncovered the misuse of force, systemic failures in the operation of clinical safeguards, prison-like practices and policies, dehumanisation, racism and a lack of accountability. The aim of the inquiry was:

“To reach conclusions with regard to the treatment of detainees where there is credible evidence of mistreatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR … and then make any such recommendations as may seem appropriate.”

So, central to the terms of reference is examining the extent to which any Home Office policies or practices, or clinical care issues within detention, caused or contributed to any identified mistreatment.

The chair is due to publish the report, with its findings and recommendations, in late summer. My concern is that the Government are proposing a dramatic expansion of the powers to detain without knowing what this inquiry will recommend. In response to an earlier question, the Minister told us that two new centres would be opening, which I understand will represent 1,000 new places for detention. Given the extent of the evidence to the Brook House inquiry, there is bound to be an opportunity to learn, to improve the detention estate and to see whether improvement is at all possible.

This amendment, although it seeks to halt bringing the provisions of the Bill into force until the analysis of the abuse is revealed and the recommendations are made, has also received the support of the Bar Council, which

“considers that it would be wise to await the outcome of that inquiry before considering whether the Home Secretary should be afforded yet more extensive detention powers subject to even less judicial scrutiny when there are serious, repeated and long-standing concerns about the conditions and treatment of those detained”.

Have the Government and the Home Office considered how they might use the recommendations of this inquiry and how they might impact on the Bill?

I now move on to the second set of amendments, which relates to devolution issues. I have concerns and I will express them through the devolution arrangements which have been made with the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament. I use the term “Senedd” because that is in law in this country. Section 107 of Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act, by which Ministers of the Government are bound to act, says:

“The Senedd may make laws, to be known as Acts of Senedd Cymru or Deddfau Senedd Cymru”,

but this part of the Act

“does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Wales”.

The legislation adds:

“But it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Senedd”.

That is the law of the land—this land, the United Kingdom—in the Government of Wales Act, passed in 2006.

Subsequent to that Act, a guidance note was agreed by the Cabinet Office—by Ministers, but under the arm of the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom—the two Parliaments, the two legislatures, on how the matters addressed in that part of the Act of Parliament would be dealt with. I am sure that Ministers are well aware of this detailed devolution guidance note. There are five tests, and the first stage is to apply those tests to see whether the legislative competence is indeed with the Senedd. In the process, the Welsh Government have laid two legislative consent memoranda in relation to the Bill. Both are passing through the Senedd at this time. They have been referred by the Llywydd—the Speaker—to four committees of the Senedd, which have been asked to report their findings to the Speaker by tomorrow. That will be followed by a Senedd debate on those legislative consent memoranda.

The legislative consent memorandum refers to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which received Royal Assent in September that year and to which I believe the Government intend to enact changes. I have in front of me the section of that Act that deals with looked-after and accommodated children, which I believe the Welsh Government are concerned that the Government here are going to change. I have been through all 45 pages of this section of the Act, and I am sure the Ministers have required their officials to do the same.

My questions are about the devolution guidance memorandum. Have the Government followed the Cabinet Office guidance on this matter? In other words, have they determined that legislative competence was appropriately given—it has been given Royal Assent anyway—to Part 6 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 in respect of looked-after and accommodated children? If the UK Government believe that was properly enacted, in order to follow their own guidance they should seek to have legislative consent memoranda on areas in which they choose to make changes.

The clause in this Bill gives huge power to the Government not just to enact changes by regulation but to change primary legislation, which this Act is, without any description of what changes they are looking for. The Minister will know that I asked him why an earlier clause in the Bill did not apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but applied only to England. Is it the intention that the clause that is described for England only, which we debated earlier, is a clause that the Government seek to apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Is it intended to try to change the law of the land in Wales about looked-after and accommodated children?

There are 45 pages of legislation in place in Wales, where the rules are absolutely clear about how children will be looked after and accommodated, and the position in England will be quite different if this legislation remains as it is. A change to the legislation on looked-after and accommodated children should be accompanied by a process with the Welsh Government and the Senedd, described as one of negotiation and discussion, and then the legislative consent memoranda should be achieved.

I do not know whether the two legislative consent memoranda that have been laid before the Senedd were at the request of Home Office officials. Perhaps that can be made clear to us so that we can understand those matters. Fundamentally, I have raised this issue because it is about respect: respect for the devolution settlement and for the rights of the people of Wales, through their elected Government and elected Parliament, to be assured that their thoughts on these matters will not be overturned.

This section does not mention asylum anywhere but talks generally about all children who are being looked after and accommodated. There is no mention of asylum seeking or of families of asylum seekers whatever. These are the rules, and I would like to ensure that if the Government here intend to change them, they do it in accordance with the Government of Wales Act and the section of it that tells us that the Government will not normally act in these matters unless it is done with the consent of both parties.

My Lords, I will speak first to Amendment 139A, to which my right reverend friend the Bishop of London has added her name, and then I will turn to Amendment 139B in my name. I remind the Committee of my interests as laid out regarding RAMP and Reset.

As we have heard, Amendment 139A would prevent data about a victim of or a witness to a crime being automatically shared for the purpose of immigration enforcement. My right reverend friend the Bishop of London sponsored a similar amendment during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, and this issue remains hugely important.

Imkaan reports that more than 90% of abused women with insecure immigration status had their abusers use the threat of their removal from the UK to dissuade them from reporting their abuse. It is deeply disturbing that any person would be deterred from reporting a crime that they have been subjected to or have witnessed because they believe that their data will be passed on to immigration officials for the purposes of immigration control. This is especially pertinent for a domestic abuse victim, a modern slavery victim, someone who has been trafficked or someone who has been subject to violence.

In the context of this Bill, a lack of safe reporting pathways would be a major hindrance to the Government’s intent to “go after” the people smugglers who blight communities and destroy lives. Without the assurance of secure reporting to allow victims to come forward and report crimes committed against them, how will the Government ensure that they go after the perpetrators?

As well as a need for prosecution, we have a responsibility to victims. The Istanbul convention, to which the UK is a signatory, states in Articles 5 and 59 that victims of violence must be protected irrespective of their immigration status. It is crucial that we take all possible steps to comply with this and ensure that the right of every person, especially women and girls, to live free from violence is protected.

Since the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, there has been a call for the overhaul of laws and policies on police data sharing with the Home Office. The Government committed to reviewing this, but stopped short of committing to a firewall. Many dedicated groups have been campaigning on this issue for many years. The House of Commons Justice Committee, in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft victims Bill, agreed with them:

“We call for an immediate end to the sharing of victims’ and witnesses’ data between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes and the introduction of a complete firewall for those groups”.

What is set out in Amendment 139A would not prevent data sharing between services where it is required—for example, in healthcare—but would prevent data sharing for the purposes of Section 2(1) of this Bill, namely removal. At a time when trust in the police force is low, especially for minority groups, we must consider the impact of the Bill on the wider community and ensure that, when someone is subject to or a witness of a crime, they can report it without fear.

I turn to Amendment 139B in my name. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for their support. I argue that this amendment is a common-sense proposal that offers the Government a procedure to ensure that statutory oversight of detention facilities and standards is maintained, without altering the Secretary of State’s power to detain on, undeniably, an extensive scale. The Bill establishes a comprehensive detention regime that many of us expected to have been consigned to history. It moves the system away from an administrative process to facilitate someone’s removal to a wider system of incarceration intended to deter asylum seekers from travelling to the UK. Although this signals a major transition in government policy, there is very little detail on the standards, safeguards or protective obligations on the Home Office that there will be when providing detention accommodation. In fact, Clause 10 grants the Secretary of State the power to detain people “in any place” that she “considers appropriate”.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that the Detention Centre Rules 2001 will be updated in light of this Bill and that all immigration removal centres must operate in compliance with the rules, including any additional sites that are opened. But the Government will appreciate that these standards are not in the Bill and, given that there is very little oversight for the potential mass detention of people, it would be unfathomable to proceed with these provisions without a detention inspection regime on a statutory footing.

This is all the more important given the fact that this legislation overturns the long-held common-law principle that it is for the courts to decide whether the detention of a person is for a period that is reasonable or even justified in principle. The Secretary of State’s duty to detain does not discriminate and, in the absence of any return agreements, thousands of people—including children of all ages, pregnant women, victims of trafficking and those who are disabled—may be detained at the discretion of the Home Secretary for an unrestricted duration. I am afraid that I am not reassured by Ministers saying that habeas corpus provides enough legal protection to challenge detention, as it concerns only whether there is a power to detain, not whether the power to detain was exercised lawfully or is reasonable. Am I not correct in this observation?

Under Section 5A of the Prison Act 1952, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has a statutory duty to inspect immigration detention facilities. The chief inspector regularly conducts unannounced visits to detention facilities, reporting candidly on the conditions, and makes clear recommendations to the Secretary of State. They are an important safeguard for people in immigration detention and should play a vital role in the external and independent scrutiny of any expansion of the detention estate.

The Government know too well that it is not simple conjecture that detention facilities may fail to meet safeguarding rules and accommodation standards, given the events at Manston in 2022. With a maximum capacity of 1,600, Manston became overcrowded, with the number of people detained there nearing 4,000 towards the end of 2022. There are concerns that the conditions there are likely to have amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.

In November 2021, the chief inspector carried out an inspection of Tug Haven—I must not lapse into pronouncing it as if it were in Holland—which was predominantly used to accommodate migrants who had undertaken crossings from France. He described the conditions there as “unacceptably poor” and said:

“At Tug Haven, we saw several people who arrived with significant injuries and illnesses, but the site was ill-equipped to meet their needs. Migrants had little private space and were sometimes held overnight, sleeping on the ground, often in wet clothes”.

He found that only one of his 10 recommendations from the previous inspection in 2020 had been partially achieved, with the others not achieved at all. This report alone demonstrates why the chief inspector’s role in drawing attention to serious safeguarding problems in immigration detention facilities is necessary.

My Amendment 139B would give the Secretary of State a statutory duty to implement all

“recommendations of the Chief Inspector of Prisons in relation to immigration detention”

centres within six months, strengthening the independent external monitoring role of the chief inspector. This is not a needless prosaic suggestion but an essential safeguard in ensuring that humanitarian crises such as those described are not repeated, especially because, after the Bill comes into force, the Home Office will be responsible for some of the most vulnerable people, for whom we know detention poses a greater risk of harm and who will therefore require an expert level of trauma-informed care.

I take this opportunity also to ask the Minister this: will the standing commission, for the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration to carry out annual reviews of the Home Office’s practices and policies towards adults at risk in immigration detention, be reintroduced after being discontinued by the Home Secretary in January? These inspections regularly found a gap between Home Office policy intentions and what happens on the ground. We simply cannot afford for this to be the case going forward as the consequences could be catastrophic, including—unjustifiably and regrettably—for children.

I quite appreciate that the Minister may not be able to provide a full response to this proposal now but I ask that he kindly write to me in advance of Report if this amendment is believed to be unworkable. It is of the utmost importance that we understand the inspection framework for detention sites and its legal underpinning. The expansive duties and powers provided to the Home Office by the Bill demand they be matched by statutory and mandatory accountability.

My Lords, I support Amendment 139B from the right reverend Prelate, to which I was pleased to add my name. I also support everything he said about Amendment 139A and thank Medical Justice for its helpful briefing. As the right reverend Prelate has stated, this Bill would dramatically increase the detention estate, with many vulnerable asylum seekers including children, pregnant women, and survivors of torture and trafficking experiencing the devastating harm that detention is known to inflict, particularly indefinite detention.

It is therefore imperative, as this amendment recommends, that the Home Secretary implements any relevant recommendations made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. The chief inspector plays an integral role in monitoring immigration detention. The most recent report noted that following its inspection of all short-term holding facilities run by Border Force, children were sometimes restrained unnecessarily or inappropriately, which goes back to an earlier amendment on the use of force.

Disturbingly, that report mentioned

“documentation showing how Border Force staff at Tilbury took a child to foster accommodation in handcuffs”.

The chief inspector stated that:

“The use of handcuffs for this purpose was disproportionate and unacceptable”.

As already noted earlier in our discussion, the provisions in the Bill risk situations where there is little judicial scrutiny of the exercise of the power to detain for the first 28 days of detention with, as Medical Justice notes, only extremely limited scrutiny thereafter. This lack of accountability seems to be something of a theme in the Bill. In fact, the detention provisions ignore previous findings from the chief inspector, including that detention facilities built and operated according to prison standards should be ended and that a time limit should be introduced.

In conclusion, I echo the right reverend Prelate. Given that the Bill is likely to increase significantly the numbers of people who are held in immigration detention, including groups in particularly vulnerable circumstances, it is essential to strengthen the chief inspector’s role. Will the Government therefore commit to implementing in future the relevant recommendations made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons proposed by the right reverend Prelate?

Debate on Amendment 139A adjourned.

House resumed.