Skip to main content

Illegal Migration Bill

Volume 830: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2023

Committee (5th Day)

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

Clause 58: Cap on number of entrants using safe and legal routes

Amendment 128B

Moved by

128B: Clause 58, page 61, line 3, at end insert—

“(6A) The Secretary of State may not make regulations under subsection (1) specifying any limit on the number of persons who arrive under the following schemes—(a) the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme,(b) the Ukraine Family Scheme,(c) the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, and(d) the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) routes.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would exclude the schemes for those displaced from Ukraine, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Hong Kong BN(O) routes from the safe and legal routes cap. None of these schemes are currently capped.

My Lords, I remind the Committee of my interests with the RAMP project and as a trustee of Reset, as laid out in the register. In moving Amendment 128B, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Stroud and Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for their support, which, in itself, I hope demonstrates that this whole business of safe and legal routes is a matter about which there is common mind across the House and that we all agree that we need safe and legal routes. I am therefore looking forward to the next couple of hours—as I anticipate it might be—as we explore these issues, because this is really a debate about what is the best, how and when.

This amendment is a straightforward and well-intentioned addition to ensure that any cap placed on safe and legal routes excludes current named schemes already in operation. I hope, therefore, that it is a simple amendment that the Government will be able to accept to help provide clarity. Before I explain the rationale behind the amendment, I should like to comment on the importance of safe and legal routes. Since the pandemic, and following the end of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, I have despaired as I have witnessed the breakdown of our contribution to global efforts to support refugees to find sanctuary. I believe that the strength of shared opinion across different sides of this Chamber on the need for safe and legal routes is, in part, due to the global reputation we once held on resettlement. Central government led with great conviction and leadership in supporting communities up and down the breadth of this country to welcome over 20,000 Syrians who could then start to rebuild their lives. However, we now find ourselves in the absurd position that in order to deter asylum seekers from travelling to the UK irregularly, we are being asked to sanction the possibility that the Government will deliberately break international law to ban the right of men, women and children to claim asylum on arrival—and this is while providing no alternatives for vulnerable people to travel here safely.

In the absence of safe and legal routes, families are left with the impossible choice to travel informally to claim sanctuary in the UK and are thus at the mercy of smugglers taking criminal advantage. We often forget that, to claim asylum in the UK, a person has to be physically present here but, for those most likely to be in need of protection, there is no visa available for this and there are no UK consulates on European soil to claim asylum before making a dangerous journey. The UNHCR has also needed to reiterate—following government comments to the contrary—that there is no mechanism through which refugees can simply approach the UNHCR itself to apply for asylum in the UK.

The Government cannot deny that it is a choice to require refugees who wish to seek asylum here to rely on dangerous journeys if we do not provide safe alternatives. It is a difficult choice, but a choice it is. The Bill provides an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership and make a different choice.

Afghans, Iranians, Syrians, Eritreans and Sudanese are among those currently crossing the channel in higher numbers, making up over half the boat crossings in the first quarter of this year: 2,086, to be precise. Although all these countries have an asylum grant rate at initial decision of over 80%, only 146 people from those same countries were resettled. Taking one country as an example from 2022, we can see that 5,642 Iranians crossed the channel but only 10 were resettled here:10 out of 5,642. Let us not forget the most vulnerable group—children—who attempt to reach safety. Between 2010 and 2020, over 12,000 unaccompanied children were granted protection in the UK, but only 700 of those were able to arrive through official schemes. How many children could have been spared the trauma of a dangerous journey with better safe and legal routes?

I find the situation perverse, and I think we can, and must, do better. Yet currently the Bill does not propose any new protection pathways to help change this; in fact, it proposes a cap on such schemes and does not place any obligation on the Government to facilitate any such safe routes, preferring simply to consult local authorities. It is also important to note that every safe route will disrupt the smugglers’ ability to continue to capitalise on human misery. I therefore fully support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, which would place a duty on the Home Secretary to specify additional safe and legal routes. The Prime Minister has promised that the Government will create more safe and legal routes. Although these would not dispense with the need for a functioning system of territorial asylum, I will take him at face value, otherwise the intention behind the Bill would appear needlessly pernicious and unjustly punitive.

Last year, resettlement figures decreased by 39% and family reunion decreased by 23%. Amendment 128C appears simply to provide the opportunity for the Government to turn this decline around by placing the Prime Minister’s welcome commitment in the Bill. I appreciate the unprecedented magnitude of forced displacement across the globe. The latest figure, from yesterday, says that there are 10 million more, so it is now 110 million. Therefore, any long-term strategy for safe and legal routes must be formulated collaboratively with our international partners and wider refugee organisations, rather than simply in a Home Office vacuum. Protection routes must be informed by the refugee experience and explore innovative and sustainable solutions with human dignity at their hearts. I know that the most revered Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury will share further on this in later groupings.

I will leave others to expand more fully on the safe and sanctioned routes that could be explored, although I note that, on previous occasions, I have spoken in favour of all three outlined in the amendments in this group. I expect the Government to bring forth details on the potential expansion of family reunion, including the ability of refugee children to be joined by their closest family members, and refugee visas, which would grant people permission to travel to the UK to claim asylum. There is also the potential capacity to welcome more people through community sponsorship, which would not necessarily be captured by a consultative cap with local councils.

I previously had the privilege of working with Talent Beyond Boundaries with the Minister’s predecessor. We worked very collaboratively with the Home Office to launch a world-leading displaced talent pathway, so complementary routes can be created and should be explored. Will the Minister commit to working with the UNHCR, the relevant refugee agencies and Members of this House so that safe and legal routes can be co-created, not created in the vacuum of the Home Office?

The Bill does not currently include a definition of safe and legal routes. Amendment 128B would put it beyond doubt that current named schemes, such as Homes for Ukraine, Hong Kong BNO visas and the Afghan relocations and assistance policy would not be included in a proposed cap. We can discuss the merits of a cap and whether it portrays the level of ambition required for effective global responsibility-sharing, but if it includes the schemes I have mentioned, there would be limited, if any, room for additional safe routes.

In the first quarter of this year, 14,100 Ukrainians were given permission to come to the UK, alongside 8,300 people from Hong Kong. This would leave negligible remaining capacity. When including the Afghan policy, through which 3,167 were settled to the UK over the last year, the Government’s work on safe and legal routes would stop before it even got started if these numbers were included in the cap. These schemes do not grant refugee status, so can the Minister confirm that they will be excluded?

Most of us here will never know the pain of having to take the unfathomable decision to risk everything to reach safety and the courage it must take to leave home in hope of sanctuary. The Government have the opportunity to offer accessible and safe routes that will provide hope for some of the world’s most vulnerable and, ultimately, save lives, and to do so alongside international partners offering similar routes in their nations. It is a privilege and a responsibility that we should never choose to abdicate. For this reason, I beg to move.

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 128C in my name, I shall also lend support to many of the amendments in this group, particularly Amendment 128B in the name of the right reverend Prelate, which he has just outlined and to which I have added my name.

Amendment 128C is very simple. It places a duty on the Government to do what they say they want to do and are going to do anyway. This amendment imposes a duty on the Home Secretary to create additional—I emphasise “additional”—safe and legal routes by 31 January 2024, six months after the anticipated passage of the Bill, under which refugees and others in need of international protection may come to the UK lawfully from abroad.

The whole purpose of the Illegal Migration Bill is to shut down unsafe and illegal routes and its whole narrative is to ensure that genuine asylum seekers and refugees can then come via safe and legal routes. If that is the motive for the Bill, as the Government have repeatedly communicated, this amendment will not be difficult for the Minister to accept.

I have been asked why I believe it necessary to establish a duty on the Government to create these routes: why is it not enough for the Government just to be required to lay before Parliament a report detailing the safe and legal routes that they intend to introduce? There are pages of the Bill weighted towards eliminating illegal and unsafe routes, but only a few sentences indicating an intention to create legal and safe routes—and then only to lay a report before Parliament detailing the Government’s intention to create safe and legal routes.

This is simply not certain enough. If the Government are genuinely seeking to establish safe and legal routes, they would do so with the same weight of legislation as is committed to the abolishing of unsafe and illegal routes. I have the greatest respect for the character and integrity of my noble friend the Minister but, with the all the best will in the world, many assurances have been given and many reports written that have never delivered on the well-meaning and well-intentioned promises of Ministers. For this House to be certain that the abolishing of unsafe and illegal routes will genuinely lead to the creation of safe and legal routes, a legal duty set out in the Bill is what is required to balance the Bill and make good on the Government’s intent.

When announcing the Bill, the Home Secretary told the other place:

“Having safe and legal routes, capped and legitimised through a decision by Parliament, is the right way to support people seeking refuge in this country”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/23; col. 170.]

This amendment would simply create a duty to have these safe and legal routes, capped and legitimised through a decision by Parliament, as the Home Secretary so eloquently laid out. Indeed, in December the Prime Minister announced that through the Illegal Migration Bill:

“The only way to come to the UK for asylum will be through safe and legal routes”,

and he indicated that that would be through the Illegal Migration Bill. He promised that

“as we get a grip on illegal migration, we will create more of those routes”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/12/22; col. 888.]

The Government assure us that the Bill will swiftly get a grip on illegal migration so this amendment provides assurance that the Government will deliver on the Prime Minister’s stated intent of creating, through the Bill, safe and legal routes. Vague promises for establishing safe and legal routes towards the end of 2024 or commitments to establish safe routes after we have stopped the boats are not sufficient. A duty is required in the Bill that the Home Secretary must, by 31 January 2024, make regulations specifying additional safe and legal routes.

My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate. Amendment 130 is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Carlile, Lord Kerr and Lord Dubs, to whom I am very grateful for their support.

First, I must apologise for inadvertently misleading your Lordships’ Committee in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when referring to age-assessment data from Full Fact, at col. 1805. Although, in the absence of transparent published data there remains a big question mark over the Immigration Minister’s claims about the percentage of adult males pretending to be children, and similar ministerial claims, the Full Fact data were not in fact comparable and had been misinterpreted by a journalist. Clearly, I should have checked my facts rather than relying on a newspaper report. I apologise for that.

The amendment provides for a visa scheme that would allow those with viable asylum claims who meet specified conditions to travel safely and legally to the UK to make such claims. Before providing a more detailed explanation, I emphasise that the proposal is based on the premise that unites us, so clearly articulated by the right reverend Prelate: a desire to stop unsafe travel to the UK, be it by boat or other routes, such as hidden unsafely in a lorry. As such, it would damage significantly the people smugglers’ business model—again, a goal that unites us. Where we differ from the Government is in our belief that the way to do this is not by, in effect, ending the right to claim asylum in the UK. There is a clear distinction between deterring people from making dangerous journeys and stopping them claiming asylum.

Of course, safe and legal routes are part of the answer, and here I support in particular Amendment 128B, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 128C. Personally, I am unhappy with the idea of a fixed cap on the numbers entitled to enter on safe and legal routes if it is what the JCHR describes as a “hard” cap. The right reverend Prelate makes an important point in excluding the listed schemes from the cap, on the grounds that these schemes are not currently capped. I also support the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendation that children should be excluded from the cap. I would be grateful to know the Government’s response to that. It should also be noted that she emphasises that

“safe and legal routes must be agreed in parallel to the passage of the Bill”,

which is relevant to Amendment 128C.

But however generous the safe and legal routes option is, the UNHCR makes it clear that it is not a substitute for the right to claim asylum under the refugee convention. As my honourable friend Olivia Blake said when she spoke to a similar amendment in the Commons,

“as it stands … there is no way for the many thousands of people who have already started their journey to get on to a safe and legal route … You cannot reduce the number of boats if the people who are going to try to make that journey are already on their journey and have no alternatives to come to the UK”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/3/23; col. 754.]

This proposal offers a means of reducing significantly the numbers arriving by boat or other irregular and unsafe means. It does so by retaining the right to claim asylum, but in a way that, in effect, opens up another safe and legal route. I thank Care4Calais and the PCSU —two organisations working on the front line—for all the work they have put into it. When a similar amendment was proposed in the Commons, the Minister did not grace it with a response, so we are giving the Government an opportunity to do so today.

The proposal builds on the Ukraine model of safe passage, for which, for all its difficulties, the Government can take credit. I hope that they will learn and apply lessons to other groups with a strong case. It is no coincidence that no Ukrainian has, to my knowledge, crossed on a small boat or used people smugglers. Where the proposal differs from the Ukrainian scheme is that, on arrival in the UK, applicants holding a safe passage visa would enter the normal UK asylum process —speeded up considerably, I hope—and if, at that stage, they were found not to be eligible for asylum, they would not be allowed to stay in the UK.

A safe passage visa would typically be claimed online, as in the Ukrainian scheme, although provision would be made for applications also to be made at existing visa centres. I am assured that NGOs would undoubtedly help those with literacy problems. To qualify for a safe passage visa, a person would have to be in the EU—although, if successful, it could be expanded at a later date—not be a national of the EU, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, and have a viable asylum claim. The viability of the claim would be determined in a similar way to the initial screening interview that currently takes place at the first step in the asylum process in the UK. This would ensure that clearly unfounded claims would be turned down at this point. Successful applicants would be sent an electronic letter that they could use to enter the UK lawfully. On arrival, they would be required to visit a UK centre to provide biometric data.

An initial fear that I had was that well-founded claims might be turned down as a way of reducing the numbers entering the UK, and that, although legal aid would be available on appeal, an applicant not in the country would clearly be at a disadvantage. The point was made to me, however, that the scheme relies on it being applied in good faith. It will work only if it is seen to work fairly—if claims are processed in a timely manner and a realistic number receive visas. If the Government are genuine in their claim that their primary motivation with the Bill is to stop unsafe journeys on flimsy boats, they have a real incentive to make it work.

I know, too, that some fear that this represents an open-borders policy, so I emphasise that it does not. The reverse is the case: it offers a way of replacing the current chaos in the channel—the Government’s attempts to regulate that have failed—with managed and controlled borders, where we know who is making the crossing. As I said, safe passage visas would be available only to those with viable asylum claims. Those refused a visa would receive a clear personal communication explaining that they do not have a viable claim, nor, therefore, the chance of a safe future in the UK were they to try to reach it by irregular means. Surely that would be a more effective deterrent, consistent with our international obligations, than the Bill—the deterrent effect of which is at best uncertain.

Nor does the evidence support the fear that this would attract more asylum seekers to the UK. Research suggests that immigration policies do not drive asylum seekers’ destinations. The introduction of the Ukrainian scheme, on which the safe visa scheme is modelled, did not lead to the great majority of those fleeing Ukraine seeking refuge in the UK. We know that the great majority of those seeking asylum in Europe do so in other European countries and there is no evidence to suggest that they will not continue to do so.

The Government have talked a lot about the wishes of the British people. Research undertaken by Ipsos with British Future indicates that the great majority of the British people agree that people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including Britain, to escape war or persecution. Preference for fairness over deterrence has grown over time. There is concern about small boats, combined with compassion for those making the journey. The latest Ipsos attitudes tracker found that nearly half of those surveyed would support efforts to reduce boat crossings by allowing asylum claims to be made outside the UK—for example, by applying for a new type of visa—while fewer than one-fifth were opposed to the idea. This suggests that there could be considerable public support for the kind of visa scheme envisioned in our amendment.

In conclusion, the safe passage visa scheme offers a humane way of stopping the boats and other unsafe means of entering the UK, while maintaining the right to claim asylum and compliance with international obligations. Once it was understood that there was a safe and fair way of travelling to the UK for those with a legitimate asylum claim, which is true of the majority of those who have crossed in small boats, according to the Refugee Council’s analysis of official figures, then the incentive to risk one’s life by putting oneself in the hands of people smugglers would be, in effect, removed. There may be kinks in the scheme that need ironing out, but I am satisfied that it is a serious, pragmatic and humane attempt to solve the problems that this inhumane Bill purports to address. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will take it seriously and agree to meet those proposing it before Report.

My Lords, I am a signatory to Amendment 128C, and I again declare my former role as an Immigration Minister in this country. I cannot really see, and I hope I am right, that my noble friend the Minister, or indeed the Government, could refuse to accept this amendment, which seems to be completely in line, as my noble friend Lady Stroud said a few minutes ago, with the declared policies and positions of the Government.

However, I want to clarify with my noble friend the whole question of definitions because I think there is a muddle here, as there has been in a number of interpretations by the Government, about what precisely is meant by a safe and legal route. They seem sometimes to be declaring that these include programmes that are organised by others, such as the United Nations. I was responsible for the 1996 United Nations Bosnian resettlement programme. A very important part of the work of this country is working with international agencies and, indeed, in specific cases, funding special programmes so that we can accommodate those who need to flee areas of repression or aggression. I think that is really a good thing for this country, and I hope that we will always take that approach, but that is not the same as providing facilities in wider parts of the world, where perhaps there is not a well-known conflict going on, but where nevertheless there are individuals who meet the criteria of the 1951 refugee convention but have no way to claim asylum in this country.

I just want to go back, if I may, for a moment or two to the history of how we used to deal with this. I am sure noble Lords will know that before 2011 or thereabouts—my noble friend the Minister will clarify—applications could be made through United Kingdom embassies and consulates in other parts of the world.

Indeed, we have been talking about specifying safe and legal routes. I would argue against that to some extent because if we are going to specify on a discriminatory basis certain places where these routes might be opened, we are falling into the same trap that I have just explained. Programmes may well be available through the United Nations or others and therefore if we are going to introduce these routes, they ought to be introduced widely.

The International Journal of Refugee Law from 2004 gives some of the history here. It says that in early 2002 six European states formally accepted asylum applications or visa applications on asylum-related grounds at their embassies. They were Austria, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. It seems to me that things have changed. When we got to 2011 there was a statement—I do not know whether it was made or printed or referred to. It said:

“As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the UK fully considers all asylum applications lodged in the UK. However, the UK’s international obligations under the Convention do not extend to the consideration of asylum applications lodged abroad and there is no provision in our Immigration Rules for someone abroad to be given permission to travel to the UK to seek asylum. The policy guidance on the discretionary referral to the UK Border Agency of applications for asylum by individuals in a third country who have not been recognised as refugees by another country or by the UNHCR under its mandate, has been withdrawn”.

That evidence is quite interesting because at some point—and again my noble friend will have it all available to tell us—we made a clear decision to reverse what had been practice for many years. Certainly, when I was the Minister, it was the practice that we had the ability in our embassies and consulates—people who had the discretion to be able to consider at first instance an asylum application. I recommend strongly to my noble friend that we reintroduce this, if for no other reason than to comply with the clear statements the Government have made that we can avoid the arguments and stop those boats by having a process that has a safe and legal route.

Finally, I think I am not alone in this because a number of my honourable friends in the other place have referred to it. I refer particularly to David Simmonds MP, who said:

“We must also not be afraid to look at and explore innovative solutions. For example, we could give asylum seekers the chance to have their applications processed in British Embassies around the world”—

he goes on and I do not quite agree with his last bit—

“or perhaps online”.

As far as I am concerned, to meet the terms of the convention it is important that these things are done on a face-to-face and personal basis. Online does not appeal here, although I am sure the technology is being pressed on us. I certainly would not suggest for one moment that we introduce AI in such decisions. My honourable friend Pauline Latham has also spoken of her support for the processing of asylum claims in British embassies.

I know this is a complex Bill and I have not spoken in Committee before. I believe very strongly, however, that there are solutions here which would satisfy the determination of the Government—and of us all—to stop the suffering of people who cross the channel in those boats. Let us be pragmatic and sensible about it and let us use the resources we have available and are wasting in so many other ways on these matters. Let us use them and focus our attention on providing those safe and legal routes at the very places around the world where the United Kingdom has presence and representation.

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord and his very interesting contribution. In many respects, it was a very persuasive argument and, I believe, a very persuasive preparatory argument for Amendment 131 in my name, supported by my noble friend Lord Paddick and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. It seeks to at least present a mechanism by which we would be able to realise the case that the noble Lord has made. On Amendment 128C, I have a slight concern with the way in which the Government may get around it, which I will address in a moment. At the outset I reiterate an interest that I have, in that I am currently deeply involved in working with civilian groups within Sudan and have supported an anti-trafficking project in the Horn of Africa through to the Gulf.

I am very happy to support Amendment 128B and the way in which the right reverend Prelate opened this debate so clearly today, making the case, which I believe is unanswerable, that the current schemes should not be included within any hard cap mechanism. In debates, many of my noble friends and colleagues around the House have raised the difficulties in getting some of these schemes up and running and, as the right reverend Prelate indicated, the limited scope of some of them. It would have been a tragic loss for many people if we had wrapped up these schemes in a hard cap, because Clause 58, which I argue should not be in the Bill, leaves enormous discretion for the Government. As the Refugee Council indicated, the Government could establish a cap of, say, 10,000 people and would comply with it if just 10 entered. Even a cap, an upper limit, is not a commitment to provide support and refuge for the individuals within that overall cap number.

Amendment 131 is very much designed to be a brake against smuggling and trafficking. It is meant to remove incentives for crime and is, in addition, an effective means of allowing access to apply for the very kind of support that has been called for so far in the debate. On that basis, I also commend my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who made arguments for this in debates on the Nationality and Borders Bill last year. The Government accept the case for a non country-specific emergency scheme for people who qualify for asylum in the UK. However, not only have they accepted the case but they have also, I believe, sought to misrepresent the situation and suggest that it is available already in many instances.

My first question for the Minister is that if it is the Government’s position that they will consider new routes once the boats have stopped, at what level of crossings over the channel will the Government consider that the boats have stopped? Is it in their entirety or do the Government have an indicative level under which they would then trigger the mechanism they have indicated, which is to consider new safe and legal routes? Given that, as my noble friend Lord Scriven has pointed out on many occasions, this is an issue not simply about cross-channel crossings but about road access, rail access and misuse of papers, what is the level of this being stopped before which the Government will indicate new safe and legal routes?

I indicated earlier that the Government seek to misrepresent the situation. On the morning of 26 April, the Home Secretary said to Sky News:

“If you are someone who is fleeing Sudan for humanitarian reasons, there are various mechanisms you can use. The UNHCR is present in the region and they are the right mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the United Kingdom”.

On the same day, in the House of Commons, the Minister, Robert Jenrick, said:

“The best advice clearly would be for individuals to present to the UNHCR. The UK, like many countries, works closely with the UNHCR and we already operate safe and legal routes in partnership with it. That safe and legal route is available today”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23; col. 774.]

Clearly, that was awful advice because, on the same day, the UNHCR issued a statement:

“UNHCR is aware of recent public statements suggesting that refugees wishing to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom should do so via the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ respective offices in their home region. UNHCR wishes to clarify that there is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the UK”.

The Government seemed to accept that because, in the evening, Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell was on Sky News, and he was asked for clarification on what safe and legal routes a Sudanese person could use to claim asylum in the UK. He said:

“Well, at the moment those safe and legal routes don’t exist”.

So after what was said in the Commons and on Sky News in the morning, after clarification in the afternoon it was clear by the evening that safe and legal routes do not exist. This is the political environment in which we are having to seek clarity from the Minister today with regard to the Government’s position.

It is not just a Sudan phenomenon. We have addressed in this House on numerous occasions the dreadful persecution of young Iranian women. On 23 February I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the Foreign Office Minister:

“Can the Minister state, in clear terms, what the safe route is for Iranian women to seek asylum in the UK? According to the Government, Iranians were the second highest nationality of those who sought asylum in 2021, with 9,652. What signal are we sending if we have not put in place safe routes for asylum for those who seek refuge in the UK?”

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad replied to me:

“The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised asylum seekers and pathways; I myself have been following this and asked that question. I assure noble Lords that I will follow this up directly with colleagues at the Home Office. Although it is a matter for them, I recognise that Iranians are eligible for the resettlement scheme, for example, which is a global scheme that started in March 2021. The need for safe routes for asylum is crucial; we need to remain focused on that”.—[Official Report, 23/2/23; cols. GC 520-21, 525.]

We have the Home Office Minister with us here today, so I am fairly certain he will be able to offer clarity with regard to Iran.

The resettlement scheme that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, referred to is administered through UNHCR, which has been referred to. But the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, in its report from March this year, said that

“UNHCR has been asked by the UK government to shift its attention to focus on identifying Afghan refugees for resettlement under ACRS Pathway 2 only … As a result, the UKRS has almost completely ceased processing vulnerable refugees for resettlement to the UK, in effect closing a rare safe and legal route to seek protection in the UK for refugees who do not fall under a nationality-based scheme”.

Why am I quoting from ICAI, a development inspectorate? It is because in such generosity of spirit, this Government, uniquely among developed economies and for the first time ever in our history, are scoring all support to refugees in the UK for the first year as overseas development assistance. This means it is being cut from the very places that the Government say are root cause countries in the first place. Not only that, but in a move quite hard to be palatable, the £350 thank you payments to host families are scored 100% against overseas development assistance, being cut from famine relief in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. There is neither any sense to this nor any consistency of application.

The Government believe a need exists, as evidenced by them finding themselves in a tricky position when asked about Sudan and Iran, misrepresenting the reality. Amendment 131 tries to offer a global mechanism by which those who have serious and compelling reasons why their claim could be considered in the UK can apply. The extent of the risk that they will suffer persecution or serious harm is, therefore, a relatively high bar but justifiably so. As Amendment 131 indicates, where “P” is the applicant,

“the strength of P’s family and other ties to the United Kingdom … P’s mental and physical health and any particular vulnerabilities that P has; and … any other matter that the decision-maker thinks relevant”

must be demonstrated. We use “persecution” with the same meaning as in the UN refugee convention, and “serious harm” would be contrary to Article 2, right to life, or Article 3, prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, under the European Convention on Human Rights.

This amendment does not mean that everyone who is at risk around the world would be able to apply, but it means there would be a targeted response that could be protected against government whim and would be clearly understood. All those factors would mean that it would be an effective way of breaking the smuggling and trafficking routes that are all too prevalent. If the Government think some of the drafting can be improved, we will happily sit down with Ministers to discuss it. As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, said, hopefully on at least some element of the Bill, the Government will work with others in this House to ensure that there are practical mechanisms that do not need to wait on a political mechanism of when boats have been stopped, but we can act now to put in place workable, practical and meaningful responses to a real problem to assist individuals.

My Lords, I support Amendments 128B, 128C and 131, which all deal with an issue which is crucial to any overall approach by this country to remake its broken asylum policy. Without that, you do not have an overall approach; you just have a piece-by-piece approach. All that was spelled out during the debate tabled by the most reverend Primate in December last year, and many Members of the House spoke in support of these safe and legal routes as one part of an overall solution. That is what I am doing today by supporting these amendments. At the time, the Minister who replied to that debate did not respond on the point of safe and legal routes, nor did the Government respond in the legislation we are discussing today, which they tabled quite soon after that debate. That was a pity: it was an opportunity missed.

Now, in the course of the proceedings in another place, the Government have put in the Bill some language about safe and legal routes. I welcome that—it is a shift of policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, said, back to policy which we practised before 2011—but I am sorry to say that the drafting currently in the Bill is really quite inadequate, not only because of the cap, which is arbitrary and is liable to frustrate the objective being pursued, but because actually there is no obligation on the Government, if the Bill passes in its current form, with some reference to safe and legal routes, to arrive at the implementation of such safe and legal routes. Amendments 128B, 128C and 131 are all aimed to arrive at that point: where there is an obligation on the Government. The Bill imposes a lot of obligations on the Government, many of which I and others in this House have said are contrary to our international obligations. This would be in total conformity to our international obligations, and I therefore argue that it needs to be mandatory now, not awaiting some mythical moment when the last boat has been stopped. That is not going to work; it is simply not going to happen. The wording in the Bill at the moment leaves enormous opportunities for a Government who do not wish to proceed to give effect to safe and legal routes to escape. That is why I support the amendments.

I hope that the Minister will finally lay to rest the argument that the UNHCR can do all this on our behalf. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has said—and others have said—reading out the text that the UNHCR has issued, that is simply not the case. I hope also that the Minister will feel able on this occasion to answer the question that has been put so many times and which I now put again: what safe and legal route exists for an Iranian woman fleeing for her life from the persecution of an extremely unpleasant regime that has hanged quite a lot of people and persecuted many others? What safe and legal route does this Iranian woman have to apply for asylum in this country? I believe myself that the answer is a very short, one-word answer: none. I would like to hear from the Minister whether he disagrees with that. If he does disagree, I would be delighted. Perhaps he would then, on the public record, show us what such a woman could do to achieve a safe and legal application, which is what she deserves.

My final point is that this all fits with our relationship with the other countries of Europe, which are also struggling to shape their migration policy to make it more apt for the circumstances of today. They are at the point of agreeing a new set of migration policies. Everyone who has looked at this—and I think the Home Office believes this too, because that is why the Interior Minister of France is in this country today, talking to the Home Secretary—acknowledges that the only way that we are going to get to grips with this is if we are able to work together right across the board. Whether it is on prevention, police work, intelligence or handling the scale of the problem, we need to work together with other European countries. That is, after all, where all these asylum seekers come from when they come illegally and where some of them would come from if we made it possible for them to come legally. At the heart of getting an effective policy is the need to have one where we can work 100% hand-in-hand with the other European countries. I hope that the Minister, when he replies to this really rather crucial set of amendments, can give us a full-scale response to these wider issues. I am sorry if it is thought at some stage that some parts of this debate have been repetitious. This is not repetitious; it is necessary.

My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 128C in the names of my noble friends Lady Stroud, Lord Kirkhope and Lady Mobarik. The very first clause of the Bill states that its purpose is to,

“prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes”.

This amendment seeks to support that aim by requiring the Secretary of State to set out additional safe and legal routes in keeping with the Prime Minister’s ambition, as stated in the House of Commons last December, to “create more” safe and legal routes. The amendment leaves significant discretion for the Secretary of State to determine the size and scope of these routes, and I hope that the Government will recognise that. It complements the existing clauses of the Bill that require the Secretary of State to report on what routes exist. I believe it is entirely in line with the Government’s own aims and ambitions for this Bill.

In particular, the amendment addresses one of the key pressures that drives unsafe and illegal migration: the fact that, for the vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers, there are no routes deemed safe and legal by the Government. As it stands, there are routes, as others have said, for Ukrainians, for the British nationals (overseas) from Hong Kong, for select Afghans, and for a few—a very few—under UNHCR resettlement, though there is no guarantee of being sent to the United Kingdom under resettlement. For many people in desperate circumstances, there is simply no safe and legal route available for claiming asylum in the United Kingdom; yet there will always be people forced from their homes who want to seek safety—and, in particular, safety in the United Kingdom, perhaps because of family or historical ties, or perhaps because of their admiration for this country, something that we ought to be proud of. We should also recognise our obligation under the refugee convention to allow people to claim asylum in the United Kingdom. The question is whether we provide a safe method where we can carefully monitor—and indeed, as per the Bill, control—the numbers coming, or whether we criminalise everything and everyone, force everything underground and push people into unsafe routes.

There are more refugees and displaced persons around the world than ever before. The number has doubled in the past decade. Only a very small proportion of them seek to come to the United Kingdom. However, this is a global crisis that is likely to get worse rather than better. Climate change risks driving millions of new displacements. This is not something that one country can hope to solve on its own. As it stands, three-quarters of refugees are hosted by low- and middle-income countries. If they start to follow the approach set out in our Bill, the Government really will have a migration crisis on their hands.

I suggest that the best—indeed, the only—long-term way of addressing unsafe and illegal migration is through global co-operation, both to support people in need of international protection and to share not the burden but the responsibility internationally. We will need to play our part in that. Creating safe and legal routes will help us to fulfil our international obligations, will reduce the incentive for illegal and unsafe migration, will undermine the business of people smugglers and will go some way to meeting the urgent global need to support displaced persons looking for safety. It is not the whole picture but it gives us a good moral and practical basis on which to participate in wider discussions about how to develop sustainable global solutions. This is not a problem that we can ignore, nor one that can be kept at arm’s length across the channel. Creating additional safe and legal routes must be at the heart of the solution.

My Lords, I wish to speak to my Amendment 129 on refugee family reunion. I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Paddick, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

Refugee family reunion does exist as a safe and legal route but it needs to be expanded. I was proud to steer a Private Member’s Bill on that subject; it passed through this House and is currently in the other place. I picked up the baton from my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who has worked on this issue for many years.

The problem at the moment is not only that the safe routes available to refugees are extremely limited; last year, refugee settlement provided in collaboration with the UNHCR decreased by 39% and the issuing of refugee family reunion visas decreased by nearly a quarter—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham referred to this. In the year ending March 2022, 6,000 family reunion visas were issued. In the year ending March 2023, there were only 4,600—a reduction of 23%. The Bill misses an opportunity for the UK to curb the number of irregular arrivals by creating more routes to safety and—I would like it to fulfil this opportunity—to allow more family members to join those who have reached safety in this country, including by letting separated refugee children be joined by their closest family members.

Last year, the Nationality and Borders Act restricted access to family reunion for refugees arriving in the UK irregularly. Of course, it has failed to replace the Dublin regulations since we left the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to the hole that exists for international co-operation; we might refer to that later today. Although those restrictions from last year’s Act are beginning to take effect only now, preliminary research from Refugee Legal Support has already found evidence of children who would previously have been eligible for reunification being stranded in Europe and crossing the channel dangerously.

Australia provides an example of the longer-term impact of this sort of restriction. In 2014, Australia reintroduced temporary protection visas—which do not confer family reunion rights—and has seen an increase in the number of women and children arriving via dangerous journeys. We should remember that 90% of those arriving on family reunion visas in this country are women and children. I am sure I do not need to convince noble Lords of the importance of family reunion for refugees’ integration into their new communities. Surely that should be our aim. If we have allowed people the legal right to settle here, and in some cases be on a path to citizenship, surely we should want to do anything that fosters integration and the physical, emotional and psychological adjustment of people.

Refugees separated from their families can, understandably, experience serious mental health difficulties, compounding the trauma that they have already experienced. This means that they are less able to focus on activities which are essential to integration, such as learning English, building new relationships in the community, and working, which is another topic that we will talk about today. In the other place, the Conservative MP Tim Loughton tabled a new clause seeking to expand eligibility for refugee family reunion, and I applaud him for that. It did not get pushed to a vote.

The problem is that current family reunion entitlements are too restrictive. I have mentioned that refugee children are not allowed to sponsor family members within the Immigration Rules, and we have also had the creation of those bespoke pathways, such as the Afghan route, which do not confer protection status, meaning that some resettled people in the UK have no eligibility for refugee family reunion because they do not have the necessary status to sponsor family. All those with protection needs must have access to refugee family reunion. This pathway should be expanded to allow children to sponsor their parents and siblings and adult refugees to sponsor parents who are dependent on them.

We referred on Monday to the Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, announcing on 8 June that the differentiation policy, which under last year’s Act decides whether someone is a group 1 or group 2 refugee, would be paused, and that those previously given group 2 status would have their entitlements increased. However, the announcement says only that the policy will be paused. The power to differentiate will still be on the statute book. Can the Minister explain exactly where that leaves us, and the Government’s intention on how to go forward on this? Will they bring forward an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Act to delete group 2 refugees?

This Bill does not deal directly with refugee family reunion, and my amendment is designed to fill that hole. However, the Bill would dramatically reduce the number of people eligible for this route, as we have discussed, because it makes asylum applications from people who travel irregularly permanently inadmissible. They would never be granted protection status and would therefore never be able to sponsor family members. I propose expanding the Immigration Rules to allow refugee children to sponsor parents and siblings, refugees to sponsor their dependent parents, and Afghans settled via pathways 1 and 3 of the ACRS to be able to act as sponsors for the purposes of refugee family reunion.

I am afraid to say that research from the Refugee Council and Oxfam has found evidence of refugees turning to smugglers after realising that there were no legal routes available to bring their loved ones to join them. A lack of access to family reunification does appear to be a key driver of dangerous journeys. As many as half of those seeking to cross the channel from northern France have family links to the UK.

Finally, our Justice and Home Affairs Committee, chaired by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, published a report in February called All Families Matter: An Inquiry into Family Migration. One of its recommendations was:

“The Government should harmonise which relatives are, or are not, eligible for entry and stay across”


“immigration pathways and the Government should be transparent about the reasons for any differences”,

because there is variation in the definition of a family.

I am afraid that the Government’s response had me rather puzzled; it appears to be a bit circular. They say:

“We do not think it is … right … to fully harmonise the conditions … There are clear differences between immigration routes relating to family members. Given the broad and diverse offer for family members across the immigration system, it is right that requirements vary according to the nature and purpose of their stay in the UK”.

I felt that that was a bit circular or tautological—I am not sure which is the right description. They say that, because it varies at the moment, it is right that we carry on with the variations. I do not think that any reasons or explanation were given; it was just stating why we go all round the houses.

I urge support for Amendment 129 and suggest that it is an extremely valuable part of the provisions on safe and legal routes; it is a subset, if you like, of everything we are debating this morning. The problem is that the current provisions are far from being sensibly expanded to the benefit of the families—the settled refugees and their families—and our society as a whole. One thing that we often hear from the Conservative Party is that it is party of the family. Many of us would dispute that; but if it is, it should support not only the maintenance but the expansion of refugee family reunion, which is currently going in the wrong direction.

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 130 and 131, but I speak in support of all the amendments in this group.

There have been some very good and persuasive speeches, but I refer particularly—and I am sure that others will understand why—to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope. Why? For more than one reason. First, the noble Lord was the Immigration Minister at a time of particular attrition in Bosnia, as he referred to, and he has a great deal of knowledge on that matter. Secondly, he has had the courage to make his speech from the Conservative Back Benches in your Lordships’ House, and I particularly look forward to the Minister dealing, line by line as it were, with every point made by the noble Lord.

Thirdly, my belief is that, somehow or other, the Bill is a visceral part of the attempt to win votes beyond the red wall. However, the Government only have to look at the noble Lord’s history to find somebody who has within his blood and bones the red wall: he cut his teeth in the north-east of England; he represented part of another great city in the north-east of England; and he represented his party in Europe, on behalf of areas beyond the red wall. So, if the Government are listening to those whom they are aspiring to gain votes from, perhaps he, above all, is the person they should be listening to at the moment. I hope he will forgive me, because praise from me may not be altogether familiar or welcome.

I hope that everybody in this House wants to stop the boats. My question is: do we want to stop the boats by means within international law and treaties, or by means that are in breach of those international laws and treaties that we have signed? As I pointed out in a debate I think the day before yesterday—although it might just have been early yesterday—the Home Office website, at least when I was speaking very early yesterday morning, still had on its immigration pages inferences that we have to obey international law on immigration and asylum.

Taken as a whole, these amendments show that we can stop the boats by means that are within international law. For example, and I cite them only because I have signed them, Amendments 130 and 131 would, in their different ways, contribute to stopping the boats within international law. These are deliverable measures. It is a great disappointment to me, as with the impact assessment which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has raised so effectively on more than twoscore occasions already in debates on the Bill—he is telling me he will do it again in a minute—that the Government have not produced safe and legal routes or whatever they mean by them. Surely that was within their capacity. I actually do not like the term “safe and legal routes”; I prefer “deliverable legal routes”, because “safe and legal routes” is too much a term of art, referring to very limited provisions that already exist and have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, indicated earlier, proved completely inadequate to meet the problem we are trying to deal with.

It is a disappointment to me that the Government have made no apparent attempt to place before the House what they mean by “safe and legal routes”. How can we have any confidence in their proposal and promise if we know only the promise, not the proposal? My belief is that, if we continue in the way we are, what could be a very good scheme that would see our country as the leader in how to deal with the problems raised by this large cohort of people will actually land us in international obloquy. That is something that I and, I am sure, most other Members of the Committee, on all sides, wish to avoid.

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, mentioned the Bosnian scheme, because at the time I was at the Refugee Council, which was instrumental, along with the Red Cross and others, in facilitating reception centres for the Bosnians. I remember being at Stansted Airport when they arrived, and most of the world’s media were there to see the spectacle of these people who had come from most appalling concentration camp-like conditions. It was a really good scheme and it did not seem to arouse a lot of public opposition. We need to think of that scheme in relation to the amendments we are discussing: the way it was handled suggests that there are ways we can get public opinion on our side, provided we explain carefully what it is we are about and what we seek to do.

To digress slightly, one of the reception centres was in Newcastle. One of the things we did to get public support was arrange an open day near the reception centre for local people—councillors, MPs, teachers, the police, voluntary organisations, you name it. That meant that they had a chance to meet the Bosnians very soon after arrival and that a willingness and friendship was created right from the beginning. I hold that up as a model for the Government. Maybe the noble Lord could start advising the Home Office again—I would not want that fate for him, but anyway, maybe he could do that.

I also very much welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said; we can develop that a bit further when we come to a later amendment from the most reverend Primate on international agreements. If we are to have effective safe and legal routes—I keep saying that, despite the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that we would not—for people to come, it is clear that they need some international underpinning.

We do not advocate an open-door policy. Some Conservatives who should know better keep saying that the Labour Party wants an open-door policy. Although I do not speak for the party but for myself as a Back-Bencher, we do not advocate that. We advocate a policy that it should be selective, based on need and on co-operation with other countries, so that we can take our share of the responsibility. My noble friend Lady Lister talked very clearly about Amendment 130, which is one model for developing a safe and legal way of doing this.

Some of us have been to Calais and the Greek islands, and to other refugee camps or what remains of them. I used to ask people there, “What are you going to do?” They used to reply that they were going to jump on the back of a lorry on the motorway near Calais. It has now become boats, but the motive is the same. I used to say to them, and would like to be able to say to them in the future, “Don’t do it—there is a way that you can come to the UK safely and legally, without paying money to the people traffickers. You’ll be received well when you get to the UK. That is the way forward”. I would like to say to people in Calais or the Greek islands that there is a better way of doing it. I very much hope that this pack of amendments, all of which are interesting and which I support, will at least result in the Home Office moving sensibly in this direction.

It is not much to ask for. We used to have safe and legal routes; we had one for the Bosnians and we had one for children who were in Europe under an amendment I moved. It is possible to do this, and with public support. Surely that is the challenge. I look forward to the Minister’s positive response.

My Lords, I will speak in support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s Amendment 128B, in particular the reference to removing BNO nationals from the safe and legal routes. I do so because the Government’s own document on safe and legal routes, in its description of Hong Kong British national (overseas) visas, says that the scheme

“was developed following concerns about erosion of human rights protections in Hong Kong, but it is not an explicitly protection-based scheme. Eligibility is not based on the person’s risk of persecution in Hong Kong. Rather, it is a way of making it easier for Hong Kong BN(O) status holders to migrate to the UK compared to the general work, study, and family visa rules”.

As we discussed on Monday night—I will not rehearse those points again—BNO holders of course have rights under the British Nationality Act 1981, in that they can arrive and move to settlement without having to seek the discretion of the Home Secretary to make them a British citizen; it comes with the package of holding a BNO status. That then means that they and their dependants, after they have been here for the right amount of time, can move straight to that status.

I ask the Minister this question because it relates not just to BNO holders. If the Government seriously want to propose caps to safe and legal routes, why is there one group in there which, under our British Nationality Act 1981, does not have to be capped? Any such capping would inevitably mean that people fleeing from other countries would have their numbers reduced in order to protect BNO status-holders, who also have rights and should be able to come here, given that most of the 144,000 who have arrived did so because they or their families are dissidents under the rule of the CCP in Hong Kong.

My Lords, I will be extremely brief. I suggest that we look at these issues, which have now been dealt with in great detail, in a wider context. The fact is that the asylum system is a shambles; I will not go into that any further—we all know that. However, we need to be very careful before we make further commitments on safe and legal routes.

The wider reason is that, last year, we had overall net migration of 606,000. Of those, roughly 200,000 were refugees of different kinds—I am putting it in the most general terms. If that is allowed to continue, and if we fail to reduce the other elements of immigration which are also rising very quickly under this Government, we will have to build something like 16 cities the size of Birmingham in the next 25 years. Nobody has challenged that, because it is a matter of arithmetic.

We face a huge problem. Therefore, I suggest that whatever the arguments for this particular category may be, we need to keep well in mind the wider impact on the scale and nature of our society. That should not be overlooked.

My Lords, I have my doubts about the term “safe and legal routes” as well. I would prefer to focus on safety; to talk about legal routes now impliedly accepts the argument that people who come here in the way that we have been discussing are in some way illegal. I do not think the routes are illegal any more than the people.

I did not know that my noble friend was going to refer to the recent report of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee on family migration, published in February. It raised a number of matters pertinent to the debate. Noble Lords will be familiar with the problem that one of our recommendations addresses. We recommended that the Home Office should allow biometrics to be completed on arrival in the UK for a wider range of nationalities in crisis situations. As noble Lords will know, there are many countries in which it is not possible to reach a visa application centre before travelling in order to enrol your biometrics. There are countries which do not have them. My noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed said of the Government’s attitude to Iran and Sudan that they do not recognise the reality of the situation. In this connection, I do not think they recognise the realities either.

The reply from the Government arrived less than a week ago. I hope that this “in due course” is quite quick, and we will have the opportunity to debate it, but who knows? The Government said:

“Where an applicant considers they cannot travel to a Visa Application Centre … to enrol their biometrics, they can contact us to explain their circumstances”.

Well, that sounds practical, does it not? They continued:

“New guidance will be published in the near future setting out the unsafe journey policy. Where an applicant believes that travelling to a VAC would be unsafe, their request will be placed on hold pending the new guidance being published, however, should there be an urgent requirement to resolve their request this should be made clear in the request and consideration will be given as to the applicant’s circumstances and whether there is an urgent need to travel to the UK. If the request is deemed to be urgent we will contact the applicants to explain available options prior to the guidance being published”.

What a neat and tidy world the Home Office thinks exists.

My Lords, I know this is not something I say very often, certainly not in the context of this debate, but the Government are to be commended for their welcome to Ukrainians and Hong Kongers, and a little less so for their slightly less warm welcome to Afghans.

Even more than commending the Government, I commend the British people who opened their homes and hearts to these desperate people. When we are making these generalisations about what our countrymen will or will not tolerate and what the will of the people is or is not, it is important to remember that. There is real value in allowing people to open their homes and hearts, rather than putting people on barges or in de facto prisons and so on. It is that separation that leads, in part, to the dehumanisation of these people who are coming to our shores in the most difficult times.

I support safe passage and everything that was said in support of the concept of safe passage, but, crucially, it must be in addition to, not a substitute for, honouring our obligations under the refugee convention. With that in mind, I agree with what was said on that by my noble friend Lady Lister, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others. With that in mind, I will ask the Minister a little about Clause 58, because I am concerned about the cap, which is why I added my name to the clause stand part proposition tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I would like a little more explanation from the Minister, in due course, about how the cap is supposed to work and why it is there at all. Why do the Executive need to make regulations to tie their own hands and create a duty on themselves to cap the number of people coming by what they call “safe and legal routes”? What is the reasoning for that?

In subsection (2), we are told:

“Before making the regulations the Secretary of State must consult … representatives of local authorities—

fair enough—

“and … such other persons or bodies, as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.

Why do we need a statutory duty to consult people whom we think are appropriate? This is a very odd provision.

Of course, because it is such an odd provision, subsection (3) states that

“the duty to consult does not apply where the Secretary of State considers that the number needs to be changed as a matter of urgency”.

Again, what is this about, given that there is so much flexibility in relation to the process for making the regulations, and given that the Secretary of State currently has discretion to decide how many people come by these currently exceptional safe routes? What is this new statutory duty about?

In the crafting of the whole Bill, we have seen all sorts of traditions being turned on their head. Traditionally, we place duties on the Secretary of State to protect people from the state—in particular with human rights protections—but here, duties are being placed on the Secretary of State to do the reverse: to disapply human rights, tie her own hands and, it would seem, limit compassion rather than bolstering it.

Elsewhere in the Bill, I can spot exactly what is going on—the Secretary of State is normally trying to avoid the jurisdiction of the courts by placing tight duties on herself to avoid judicial review—but, with Clause 58, I really do wonder. I am sure that, as a very good lawyer, the Minister will be able to explain to the Committee why there is a need for a Clause 58 regulation-making power, given all the caveats within it. Is it another attempt by the Secretary of State to tie her own hands and limit her compassion to avoid judicial review in some way? Or is it quite the reverse: is it a nice little statutory grenade left for a future Government who may have a little more compassion for refugees? I do not know, but I am sure that the Minister will be able to assist the Committee in due course in his reply, which I look forward to.

I must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew—we were not treated to ChatGPT today, but there will no doubt be more time during the course of the Bill. He is just as eloquent without the assistance of that revolutionary tool. I particularly agree with his tribute to noble Lords opposite because, frankly, it is easy to be for human rights when you are in opposition. In a former career as a human rights campaigner, I saw the ease with which opposition parties and politicians would be great friends of liberty and human rights, but I acknowledge that it is a little harder to do so in government.

However, it is not easy to speak truth to power from the Back Benches of the party in Government. I really do commend not just the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of the Red Wall—if Harrogate is part of the red wall. I do not know whether spa towns are in the red wall; I am obviously not an expert in such matters. I extend that tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Stroud and Lady Helic, for what they said.

I hope members of the Committee will forgive me for saying that I think history matters. When one considers the refugee convention and the plight of desperate people in particular, one realises that the history of the 20th century will be so important to our values and trying to protect them in the even more challenged 21st century. I do not want noble Lords opposite to think that my respect for Conservatives begins and ends with Winston Churchill. I am capable of moving a little further forward in the history of centre-right politics and I think it is important to do that.

I end by saying:

“I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner of the gulag. I am a refugee in a crowded boat, floundering off the coast of Vietnam. I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua … I, too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism. The one lesson of World War II, the one lesson of Nazism, is that freedom must always be stronger than totalitarianism and that good must be stronger than evil. The moral measure of our nations will be found in the resolve we show to preserve liberty, to protect life, and to honour and cherish all God’s children”.

That of course was President Reagan at the Bitburg air base in Germany, not long after he had been to Bergen-Belsen in 1985. I was reminded of that kind of moral leadership when I heard the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. Her words about these people being not a burden but a responsibility that we must share globally are words that I will not forget in a hurry.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to deliver safe and legal routes and I support Amendments 128B and 128C, which help deliver that commitment.

There are numerous details and duties in the Bill on how illegal and unsafe routes will be stopped, but little on how safe and legal routes will be opened—so how and when? The number will be decided by the elected Parliament, but I would welcome clarity from my noble friend on whether country-specific, at House of Commons or listed schemes will be included, as I do not really understand how the system will work if that is the case. So I support Amendment 128B.

We have had various ideas about the mechanism, and a point has been made about the UNHCR resettlement scheme. Can my noble friend explain how the Government envisage that the scheme’s safe, legal and deliverable routes will work?

On timing, which I do not think has been mentioned before, the Minister has previously given verbal reassurance that these safe and legal routes will be opened by 2024. I think we all agree that they should be opened, but that does not really deliver the balance and the overall approach that is needed in the Bill. The plan is that, by the end of this year, the Bill will be law and the plans the Government have designed to stop the boats will be actioned. We are assured that the backlog is being dealt with, so safe and legal routes should be open by then, too.

The Minister has rightly highlighted the frustration that many people in this country feel about the unfairness of illegal immigration but, to make it fair, not only must we stop illegal and unsafe routes but we must open safe and legal ones. Amendment 128C does that.

The Bill is full of obligations and duties to stop the boats and to close illegal and unsafe routes. I hope the Government will agree to include the same obligations and duties to open safe and legal ones.

My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, who raised some of the points on which I am going to focus about balance and the importance of all of this group. I offer Green support for all this group. In saying that, particularly looking at the exclusion of the Ukrainian, Afghan and Hong Kong BNO schemes, I should declare my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong.

That word “balance”, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, is terribly important. There is a real reflection to be made. We often hear in your Lordships’ House great praise for the Act passed through this Chamber centuries ago on the abolition of slavery. Yet there is a great deal of concern about the fact that there was just one very short paragraph that addressed what would happen to the former slaves, and paragraphs and paragraphs addressing compensation for the slave owners. That has had a very long historical tail that still rebounds today. I suggest that the Bill as currently constructed, with its extreme focus on attempts at deterrence and at treating refugees—desperate people—really badly, has real echoes of that, and that the Committee might like to reflect upon those parallels.

We have had a lot of discussion about terminology. The term that I prefer and will try to always use for what we are talking about in this group is “safe and orderly routes” for people to reach refuge in the UK. There is no such thing as illegally seeking asylum, and no person is illegal. That really needs to be stressed.

I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, about our overseas development assistance and the way in which we are utterly twisting the classification as well as cutting the total sum in a way that will only produce more refugees, as well as more death and suffering around the world. In that context, I have to mention a briefing that I attended this morning from a brilliant organisation, the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership—GARDP—which is working on sepsis in infants around the world and on drug-resistant sexually transmitted diseases. A comment was made that we put less money into that scheme than Germany does, despite our claims of world leadership in the pharmaceutical area. That is something to which some of our ODA money could, and should, be going.

I will focus in particular on Amendment 129 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who has already outlined it very powerfully. I was pleased to be able to attach my name to it—it was one of the few that had space. It is about refugee family reunion, and I have two reflections on this. I am sad that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, is not currently in her place, because I will first reflect on the work of the Refugee Rights Hub at Sheffield Hallam University, which is part of the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice. It has a scheme—a very innovative one, particularly following the cuts in legal aid to refugees, which were discussed earlier in Committee on a group when I am afraid I was not able to be present—in which 50 third- year undergraduate law students and two postgraduate interns work to help refugees already here to arrange family reunions. It is worth reading the accounts of those students and their experiences. They realise, “Wow, she is just like my sister”, or “Wow, he acts like my brother”. People who have heard lots of nasty things about refugees on social media, and in so much of the media bombardment we are subjected to, realise that they are doing something wonderful and amazing and how much they are enriching our whole society.

We really have not thought enough about the joy that a family reunion brings and the way in which it enriches our whole society. If a child comes and joins a school and brings all their experience and knowledge, or if an elderly parent comes—as proposed under this amendment—and a family is reunited, just think about how we are adding to the richness of our society and of the world. I do not think that we have talked about that very much.

I would love to stay hopeful but I cannot, so I will turn to the other side of this, which is the most recent report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration regarding the Home Office’s management of the current family reunion schemes. A report in 2019 said that there were serious problems and made recommendations for addressing them. Sadly, what we had from the report of what happened from June to September last year is that the performance of the family reunion scheme has in fact deteriorated. The chief inspector reported that the system is “beset with delays”, the team is “ill-equipped to manage”, there is a “backlog of … almost 8,000” cases and it routinely takes double the standard 60 days to manage an application for family reunion. There is no evidence of prioritisation based on vulnerability—it is very often the intervention of an MP that makes a difference—despite the commitment and hard work of the staff.

My point in reference to Amendment 129 and what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, is that if we simplified this scheme and had the same rules apply for everyone, it would make the work of the Home Office considerably easier and simpler; it would streamline the system. What we have here is a series of constructive amendments that aim to get the Bill into something like the shape it should be in.

Finally, I will reflect on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. I note to the noble Lord that there are now more bedrooms per person in the UK than there have ever been before. We have a housing crisis because of decades of failed housing policies. Refugees did not create those policies; refugees are not the problem—indeed, they could build some of the houses that we need. Let us focus on the problem of housing policy rather than bringing it into a debate on refugees.

My Lords, we support all the amendments in this group. The issue of the millions displaced by war and persecution requires international co-operation, including the UK taking its fair share of genuine refugees. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, there are no safe, or deliverable, and legal routes for many, or most, genuine refugees. The Bill seeks to imprison and remove any genuine refugee who arrives in the UK other than by safe and legal routes that do not exist. We need humanitarian visas, as my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed has said.

Placing a cap on the numbers arriving by safe and legal routes at the whim of the Secretary of State is not acceptable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has said. Any cap needs to be debated and set by Parliament. Rather than the Secretary of State being exempt from the need to consult if the number needs to be changed as a matter of urgency, it is exactly in times of emergency that we need debate and consultation.

In support of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, I say that if the UK secured a reputation for taking its fair share of genuine refugees, and had a widely publicised humanitarian visa scheme and a strong strategy for tackling people smugglers, an international agreement to address the global problem of those seeking sanctuary would be more likely to be negotiated. I ask the Minister to answer clearly in his response the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, about the situation facing young women fleeing Iran.

There was only one dissenting voice in the debate on this group, and that was from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, on the Cross Benches. The noble Lord knows that I have some sympathy for the views he expresses about the pressure on housing and other services caused by immigration but, as I have said previously, we are talking about desperate people fleeing war and persecution. The noble Lord talked about 606,000 being the net migration figure last year. The Government actually issued 1,370,000 visas to people to come and stay in the UK, and that is an issue that needs to be addressed. The people coming across the channel in boats, which is what the Bill is supposedly all about, are a tiny fraction of the numbers that this Government are allowing into this country.

Most of the time, it causes me real distress to hear about these sorts of policies and the direction the Conservative Government are taking this country in. Yet it is heartening to know that compassionate conservativism is not completely dead. To hear the support for these amendments from Back-Benchers on the Government side is truly heartening, and I am very grateful for their support.

On family reunion, surely children looked after by their parents will be less of a burden on the state than looked-after children, let alone the other benefits to the children involved and society generally. Hard-working refugees are more than capable of looking after dependent parents, similar to UK citizens in that situation. I support Amendment 129 particularly, as well as the other amendments in this group.

My Lords, this has been another very important debate on the Bill, on safe and legal routes. We support much of what has been said and the majority of the amendments in this group, particularly the one moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I also mention Amendment 128C, which I thought was important, from the noble Baronesses, Lady Stroud, Lady Helic and Lady Mobarik, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope.

I want to pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was saying. I thought that it was really important. I think his point was that there is a lot of intent but that it is important to see the obligations laid out, hence the importance of knowing when the Government will do certain things. The noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, also made that point. Can the Minister confirm when he expects this to be operating? If it is 2024—again, I am not being sarcastic—is the expectation that it will be towards the end of that year? Can the Minister give any indication of when we can expect the safe and legal routes to operate, however they and the cap are arrived at?

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, also made the point that this is part of the Government’s solution to the chaos in the system at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made the point well: it is broader than just small boats. It is about the asylum and refugee system that we think should operate.

During the debate, I was particularly struck when I reread the first part of Amendment 128C, on the duty to establish safe and legal routes. This is why I was referring to what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay said. It says:

“The Secretary of State must, on or before 31 January 2024, make regulations specifying additional safe and legal routes”,

to try to put some sort of timescale on what is taking place. The Government say in Clause 58 that they will make regulations after consulting and so on, but, unless my reading is wrong, there is no timescale. The addition of a timescale would help significantly, for the operation of the system and for all of us to understand what is going on.

Can I also, in the spirit of early afternoon on a Wednesday, make a suggestion? The Government can reflect on it or ignore it. Obviously, they are making regulations on something really significant and important. If I have read the Bill correctly, it will be done by the affirmative process, so the regulations will be put and debated. I wonder whether the Minister could confirm that it is affirmative—my reading is that it is.

One thing that sometimes happens and which Governments have done in the past—and given the importance of this legislation, and all the various reflections that will change the primary legislation, or not, as we finish this process—when something is of significant importance or contentious, as this may well prove to be, is to publish the regulations. Because the regulations cannot be amended, to at least ameliorate the impact of that, Governments sometimes publish them for comment well before they put them for approval. They put them in a draft form and make sure that everyone is aware of it, then ask people for comments well before they put them for approval. The Government would take a view as to whether or not they would like to change them, but that is one helpful way for them to take this forward. Will the Government consider that?

Will the Minister also confirm what the regulations under Clause 58(1) actually involve? Will it just be a figure, or will they say how that figure has been arrived at, mention all the countries that may be involved, and so on? It would be interesting for us to know exactly what those regulations would involve and include. On the regulations, which are everything with respect to much primary legislation, will the Minister comment on my suggestion about having draft regulations well in advance, before they are put for approval? Will he say whether they are affirmative, and a little bit more about what they would actually involve? There is also the point about timescale and the very good point made in proposed new subsection (1) in Amendment 128C.

To move on to general points, in the Government’s safe and legal routes scheme as proposed, do they intend to have any sort of prioritisation, or will it be just on an individual case basis? I am interested whether the Government are going to talk about family reunion and high-grant countries and what their view is of any of that. How will the Government deal with the emergencies that may arise? I have read the clause, but could the Minister spell that out a little bit more? It has got slightly lost, so I also emphasise one of the points that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham made—the issue of children in all this, whether they are unaccompanied or not. We would be interested to hear what the Government have to say on that issue.

I have nothing much more to add to the many excellent points made by many noble Lords during this very important debate. I am really interested in the process with respect to the regulations, because in that will be everything. I am concerned that we do not just have a repeat of what has happened before, whereby the regulations are just put and there is no ability to debate or amend them. Any regulations being published well in advance so that we can at least debate and discuss them and try to change the Government’s mind would be extremely helpful.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for her clarification of the statistic used in the earlier debate on age assessments.

Turning to the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I am heartened to hear, and indeed I entirely agree with him, that this group particularly highlights a point on which all across the Chamber are agreed—that there should be safe and legal routes—and the question is about the mechanics of that safe and legal route and how it fits with the scheme in the Bill to deter people embarking on dangerous journeys across the channel. It is in the spirit of that consensus that I conclude this debate.

Before I turn to the amendments, it may assist the Committee if I say a little about Clauses 58 and 59, not least as this will provide important context for the examination of the amendments. This Bill will introduce for the first time a cap on the number of people entering the UK through safe and legal routes based on local authority capacity. Clause 58 sets out how that cap will be developed and agreed. In answer to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the cap is being introduced in recognition of the limited capacity that local authorities have to house and support through integration and local services, such as health and education, those in need of resettlement in the UK, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Green.

In recent years, following the fall of Kabul and the war in Ukraine, we have welcomed and provided sanctuary to larger numbers of people than we could comfortably manage because it was the right thing to do, and I appreciate the remarks that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, made in relation to that. Going forward, it is right that both Houses have the opportunity to debate and approve through the affirmative procedure—which I can confirm to the noble Lord—the numbers to be admitted to the UK each year through safe and legal routes. That is the purpose of Clause 58. Local authorities have been required to provide accommodation for these large cohorts and subsequently there is no longer sufficient capacity in our system for our UNHCR-referred global settlement schemes to function in the way in which they were intended.

At this point, I wish to clarify this route for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. The UK’s global resettlement schemes do not involve an application process. Instead, those who have sought sanctuary in the first safe country should on arrival register with the relevant authorities as a person in need of international protection. The UNHCR is expertly placed to help the UK authorities identify and process vulnerable refugees who would benefit from resettlement in the UK and has responsibility for all out-of-country casework activity relating to our resettlement schemes.

I remind the Committee, especially my noble friend Lady Helic, that even under our current constraints between 2015 and March 2023 the UK resettled more than 28,400 individuals under UNHCR resettlement schemes, around half of whom were children. I should be clear that the cap does not remove any routes or change our willingness to help. However, consulting on capacity and developing the cap figure based on the response is the right way to continue offering resettlement pathways to the UK for those in need of our protection as part of a well-managed and sustainable migration system.

I apologise for missing the start of this debate as I was in a committee. Will the Minister explain why Clause 58 imposes a cap on the maximum number of people who may enter the United Kingdom, not the maximum number of asylum seekers, using safe and legal routes—in other words, tourists, businessmen, or whatever? They tend to come by safe and legal routes. I do not understand the drafting. Secondly, will the Minister consider the cart and horse problem? He has said more than once—I hope I have got it correctly—that once illegal immigration is under control the Government will create new safe and legal routes. However, the way of getting the illegal immigration problem under control is by creating safe and legal routes. Will he address that point?

I appreciate that the noble Lord was unable to be here at the beginning of the debate. I hope that Clause 58(1) makes it clear that the regulations must specify

“the maximum number of persons who may enter the United Kingdom annually using safe and legal routes”.

There is a cross-reference to subsection (7), where noble Lords will see that “safe and legal route” is a defined term. It means

“a route specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State”.

Those regulations will clarify what that term means.

I understand the Minister’s point, but it does not answer the question that I asked: why does the clause talk about “persons” rather than asylum seekers?

It is because that is the structure of the legislation, and it simply makes for good parliamentary drafting. There it is. Forgive me: I shall make some progress because we have a lot of groups to deal with.

Clause 58 provides for the Home Secretary to consult local authorities, and any other organisation or person deemed suitable, to understand their capacity. The cap figure, and by extension the routes to be covered by the cap, will be considered and voted on in Parliament through a draft affirmative statutory instrument. The cap will not automatically apply to all current and new safe and legal routes that we offer or will introduce in the future. The policy intention is to manage the accommodation burden on local authorities, and my officials are currently considering which routes are most suitable to be included within the cap.

Alongside the cap on safe and legal routes, Clause 59 further requires the Home Secretary to publish a report on existing and any proposed new safe and legal routes. In response to the right reverend Prelate, we will continue to work with the UNHCR and other organisations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in devising proposed additional safe and legal routes.

This is a technical point, but it is important to reflect on it before Report. It is not a substantive policy point, but the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, may have hit on something, in relation not just to the question of why it does not say “asylum seekers” but to a potential unlawful sub-delegation. If the regulation-making power is about safe and legal routes, and “safe and legal routes” will not be defined in vires in the primary legislation but will be determined in the regulations, there is a circularity that is in danger of looking either too vague or specifically like a potential unlawful sub-delegation. No doubt the Minister and his colleagues can discuss that with parliamentary counsel. I may be totally wrong, but the noble Lord may have hit on a point which the Government have been given an opportunity—there is time—to consider before Report. That is what Committee is for.

As I said, we have considered these issues and are satisfied with the drafting as it is, but of course I will look again at what the noble Baroness suggests.

The Minister talked about “devising” new schemes; I asked for co-creation. Is he willing to go so far as to say “co-creating”?

The right reverend Prelate is right to point to the fact that these things are always a joint effort. The Home Secretary of the day will consult, and consider input, so yes, all those words would be applicable in my view. Clearly, ultimately the scheme has to come from the Home Office, but it will be done following appropriate consultation with and the involvement of interested parties.

If the noble Lord will forgive me, I should probably, in order to have a more coherent speech, take his more general points at the end. I am conscious that we need to make progress, not least because we do not wish to be here into the small hours.

As I say, the report described in Clause 59, which will be laid before Parliament within six months of the Bill achieving Royal Assent, will clearly set out the existing safe and legal routes that are offered, detail any proposed additional safe and legal routes, and explain how adults and children in need of sanctuary in the UK can access those routes. This clause is being introduced to provide clarity around the means by which those in need of protection can find sanctuary here.

Through the report, we will also set out any proposed additional safe and legal routes which are not yet in force. While a range of routes is offered at present, we believe it important to consider whether alternative routes are necessary and, if so, who would be eligible. In recognition of the different needs of children and adults in need of protection, the clause will require the report to set out which routes are accessible by adults or children.

It is against this backdrop of the Government’s approach to expanding the existing safe and legal routes that I now turn to the amendments in this group.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. My intervention is pertinent to that clause. Can he confirm, first, what I had indicated from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact: that it was the Home Office that asked for the UNHCR to direct the resettlement scheme to be focused on Afghans only, therefore closing it down for other countries; and, secondly, that when it comes to what the Government could consider to be new and safe and legal routes, they could simply be expanding some of the funding available for the UK resettlement scheme, because that is what the Government currently define as a safe and legal route, rather than it being new country routes?

On the first point, I do not have that detail to hand so I will go away and find that out and write to the noble Lord. But on the second point, obviously, the UK resettlement scheme is a general scheme to take refugees who have been identified by the UNHCR and in that sense it is not geographically specified. Obviously, these are all issues which would be considered in the report provided for under Clause 59, so the noble Lord is right to identify that.

Before the Minister moves on, I asked a question about children, which was echoed by my noble friend Lord Coaker. The Minister mentioned children in relation to appropriate routes but the Children’s Commissioner has argued that children should be excluded from any cap. I asked what the Government’s response was to that recommendation.

I ask the noble Baroness to forgive me; I was going to come to that. I have met with the Children’s Commissioner and we have an ongoing dialogue on the provisions in the Bill. There is no intention to exclude children, for the simple reason that children utilise resources in the same way as adult asylum seekers do. Therefore, in assuming the global level of resources needed to provide adequate support and integration for asylum seekers, whether adults or children, it is appropriate that a global view be taken. Therefore, it is necessary to take a global view of the cap.

My noble friend the Minister just spoke of “alternative” rather than “additional” routes. Can he confirm that these would in fact be additional routes, rather than just taking one route out and putting another route in?

Yes, I was simply using the word “alternative” to discuss that particular route, but there is no intention to withdraw any routes. Obviously, it may be that routes are consolidated or changed so that they are incorporated—I do not want to tie any future Government’s hands on that—but I can reassure my noble friend in that regard.

Finally, if I may, I invite the Committee to consider Amendment 128B, put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, which seeks to exclude certain existing schemes from the safe and legal routes provision in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised a similar point in relation to persons holding BNO citizenship. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was clear that the cap will be based on the UK’s capacity to accommodate and support those arriving through our safe and legal routes. The cap does not signify a lack of willingness to help; rather, it reflects the result of numbers we have welcomed through emergency and reactionary routes, which we were right to establish at the time.

Introducing a cap is the right way to ensure our safe and legal routes can become part of a sustainable migration system which sees the UK’s global protection offer operating in a way that gives the UNHCR, those in need of safety and our local delivery partners clarity on the UK’s capacity. Exempting routes from consideration for the cap at this stage would not be in keeping with the intention set out by the Prime Minister. I would also remind the right reverend Prelate that the provisions of Clause 58 include flexibility to revise the cap in response to a fresh humanitarian emergency.

Amendment 128C, put forward by my noble friend Lady Stroud, seeks to enshrine in law a requirement to bring in new safe and legal routes by the end of January.

Can we come back to that at the end?

On Report in the House of Commons, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Immigration confirmed that the Government’s aim is to implement any proposed new safe and legal routes as soon as practicable, and in any event by the end of 2024. I hope that directly answers the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I believe that the timeframe proposed by the Immigration Minister is suitable as it will allow for proper consultation on potential new safe and legal routes, and meaningful consultation with our international partners and key stakeholders, to ensure that any proposed routes work well. It will enable us to work collaboratively across government to welcome and integrate new arrivals. While we are committed to considering new safe and legal routes, we must also acknowledge the current local authority capacity to house and support refugees. It makes no sense to launch new routes where we do not have the capacity to bring people to sanctuary in the UK and ensure their successful integration into our society; otherwise, it would simply be an exercise in paperwork.

In addition, as I have indicated, Clause 59 commits the Home Secretary to publishing a report on current and any proposed new safe and legal routes within six months of the Bill achieving Royal Assent. The proposed amendment would risk rendering this report meaningless. I believe the proper thing to do is to lay the report before Parliament, as we have committed to do, after which we can make a measured decision on any new safe and legal route that may be needed. My noble friend’s amendment, while well-intentioned, would not enable us to do the work needed to ensure that our safe and legal routes form part of a well-managed and sustainable migration system.

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. I return to Amendment 128B and his comments on those with BNO status. I raised whether they should be included within the safe and legal routes for the clear reason that they are not seeking protection and do not fall under UNHCR; they are British citizens who have rights under the British Nationality Act. If there are limits to their numbers, are the Government proposing to change the arrangement for BNO status applicants, and can we please add this to the agenda of the meeting that he promised me on Monday night? It is a very specific issue but a major political one if these people with British national rights are suddenly to be treated as if they are refugees.

As I say, the definition of those to be caught will be specified in the regulations. Those are all highly pertinent points and, for the reasons I set out on Monday, we can certainly add them to our meeting agenda. I do not anticipate that we are at odds on this, but the topic is not really for the discussion of the Committee at this stage, because these matters would be covered when any regulations were considered.

With the greatest of respect to the Minister, it is covered by Amendment 128B. It is quite explicitly covered by that amendment.

I hear what the noble Baroness says and hope to be able to offer her some more reassurance during our meeting but, for the reasons I have already set out, the Government do not accept that Amendment 128B is a necessary amendment to the Bill. No doubt we can discuss this further in due course.

The Minister has left me a little confused about numbers. He said that it would be a terrible thing if we admitted more asylum seekers by safe and legal routes than could be housed by local authorities. He has made much of the fact that this would be an exercise in futility—a “paper exercise”, he said. Can he say what assurances the Government got from local authorities about housing the 606,000 people in the net migration figures this year? It seems a bit odd that a much smaller number of asylum seekers should be subjected to these limitations whereas the much larger number is not.

The noble Lord omits to understand that the obligation to assist an asylum seeker is born of Section 95 of the 1996 Act, which applies to destitute asylum seekers. Those entering the country on a visa—for example, as a student—would not be entitled to government support for housing. The noble Lord is perhaps eliding two points in a way that is not particularly helpful.

I am slightly confused on this point as well. On a number of occasions, the Minister has said that the cap will be set based on the number of available housing places that local authorities are able to provide. However, Clause 58(5) refers to:

“If in any year the number of persons who enter the United Kingdom using safe and legal routes exceeds the number specified in the regulations”.

I have two questions about that. Under what circumstances would the Minister and the Government expect that number to be exceeded? More importantly, if local authorities have said that they can deal with only a certain number in a year, where will the people who breach the cap go?

Obviously, consultation with local authorities is important—they are the primary consultee set out in Clause 58(2)(a)—but, as the noble Lord will see from paragraph (b), other persons and bodies are also possible consultees. All this information will be fed into the decision to be taken by the Secretary of State in drawing up the regulations, and by this House and the other place in discussing them. It is not just about how many people we can house; it is about the whole network of support and integration that we can provide. As the noble Lord will immediately appreciate, Clause 58(5) is there as an enforcement mechanism for Parliament to ask a Secretary of State why they have permitted the cap to be exceeded. That is the purpose of making the Secretary of State lay before Parliament a statement setting out those breaches. That is the purpose of Clause 58(5). It is not envisaged that the Secretary of State will allow the cap to be exceeded, for the sensible reasons that the noble Lord provides.

I must make some progress. Amendment 129, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, seeks significantly to increase the current scope of the UK’s refugee family reunion policy to include additional family members. This amendment needs to be seen in the context of what I submit is already a very generous family reunion policy for bringing families together. Under this policy, we have granted more than 46,000 visas since 2015; that is no small feat, and a fact that the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Bennett, seem to have overlooked.

The focus of our refugee family reunion policy is on reuniting core family groups. This is as it should be. It allows immediate family members—that is, the partner and any children aged under 18—of those granted protection in the UK to join them here, if they formed part of a family unit before the sponsor left their country to seek protection. In exceptional circumstances, children over 18 are also eligible.

There are separate provisions in the Immigration Rules to allow extended family members to sponsor children to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances. In addition, refugees can sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can be provided only by relatives in the UK. There is also discretion to grant leave outside of the Immigration Rules which caters for extended family members where there are compelling compassionate circumstances.

Amendment 129 would routinely extend the policy to cover a person’s parents, their adult unmarried children under the age of 25, and their siblings. Extending family reunion without careful consideration of the implications would significantly increase the number of people who would qualify to come here. We must carefully weigh the impact of eligibility criteria against the pressure that this would undoubtedly place on already strained central government and local services.

I am afraid that the Minister’s use of the word “impact” triggered me. It would be very interesting to know, when we get the impact assessment— I hope sooner than “in due course”—the costings the Government would expect from something such as my amendment, or indeed my Private Member’s Bill.

I want to draw attention to something that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned. All the time, the Government imply that those of us who argue for better family reunion, the right to work and not having group 1 and group 2 refugees, are portrayed almost as though we are trying to obstruct the asylum system. Actually, we are trying to front-load it and make it more efficient and streamlined, so that in the end there would not be a backlog of160,000 asylum applications because the system would work better; people would be more integrated and more productive, and would not have to worry all the time about what was happening to their relations.

I am sorry that this has become a bit of a rant but I also have a question. Is the Minister going to cover the point that I felt was not answered in the Government’s response to the Justice and Home Affairs Committee? Why do the Government insist on having all these different definitions of family? Is it not all the time adding more complication into the immigration and asylum system? That is not the best way of getting caseworkers to be able to focus efficiently on their job. It means that, all the time, there are backlogs and inefficiency because the Government insist on not doing the rational thing.

I recall debating these topics and the very similar text of the noble Baroness’s Private Member’s Bill at its Third Reading. The reality is that she and I differ on the appropriate numbers that would come in and the resources that would then be necessary to attend them. It is simply a policy decision, and we differ on that.

I turn to Amendments 130 and 131, put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. These seek to create routes through which an individual may travel to the UK for the purpose of making a claim for asylum or protection. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and my noble friend Lord Kirkhope raised a similar point. The Government are clear that those in need of international protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. This policy aligns with international law, and indeed with those of previous Governments, including the previous Labour Government. In answer to the question posed by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Purvis and Lord Paddick, that is the fastest route to safety. Such schemes would only add further untold pressure to UK systems.

Amendment 130 defines an eligible applicant as someone who

“is present in a member State of the European Union”.

This underlines the point: EU member states are inherently safe countries with functioning asylum systems. There is therefore no reason why a person should not seek protection in the country concerned. Moreover, this amendment would also encourage more people to make dangerous and unnecessary journeys, including across the Mediterranean, to qualify for a safe passage visa.

As I have said, the UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it, but we cannot help everyone. I ask the proponents of Amendment 131 whether they would place a limit on the numbers to be admitted through these schemes. Further to this, what would be the cost of providing the necessary accommodation and support services for those admitted to this scheme? The Government have been pressed to publish an impact assessment for the Bill, and we are committed to doing so in due course, but this works both ways. The Committee deserves to be told what the cost of this amendment would be. What discussions have the noble Baroness and the noble Lord had with local authorities and other service providers about the provision of the necessary support services? If there is to be no limit, the costs would mirror this, and the result of Amendment 131 would be tens of thousands more asylum seekers being accommodated in hotels across the country.

Does the Minister think that the cost should also be measured in terms of the reputation of the United Kingdom, the country as it is and the way it feels about itself? It is not just money.

I clearly recognise the points the noble Lord makes—that it is believed that not providing a visa route of the type described in the amendment will damage our international reputation—but no countries that I am aware of currently have a visa route of the type suggested. I am afraid that this is a consideration to be weighed in the balance. It would seem irresponsible not to consider the potential extreme cost of the proposal.

The Minister should not be conflating the two amendments: they are distinct amendments with distinct mechanisms and purpose behind them, so it is a wee bit cheeky of him to do that. As for an estimate of some of the costs, can he do me a deal now in the Committee? I am not sure if this is able to be negotiated across the Committee, but I will show him mine if he shows me his before Report. He needs to present the impact assessment, which will be the Government’s estimate of the tariff costs for their UK resettlement scheme expansion, which he is proposing, to be part of a new safe and alternative or additional safe and legal route. I will use the basis of the central core estimates of what the Home Office is estimating to be the expansion necessary in the tariff funds available, which are scored against overseas development assistance, and I will use that on the threshold of what a humanitarian visa scheme might be. His scheme suggests to an Iranian woman that she has to flee to a neighbouring country to go to the UNHCR; then she is processed by the UNHCR, to be resettled in the UK. Our scheme allows that woman within Iran to go through a similar threshold to be able to access the UK. Which is most efficient?

In due course— I am very grateful. All these questions make it clear that bringing up legal migration is irrelevant to the Bill, a point that relates to comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The issue for the Bill is that the UK Government and local authorities have limited capacity to provide or arrange accommodation, hence a sensible cap is needed. There are other questions we need answers to. Are these safe passage visas to be given to young single men at the expense of those in more pressing need of sanctuary in the UK?

I hope the Minister will reflect before Report on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I do not recall a cap on Czechs in 1968 or on Hungarians in 1956. There was no cap on Germans and Austrians in 1938 and 1939. The reputational damage to this country done by the idea of a cap would be considerable. It could be defused if the Government would consider an amendment to Clause 58(3) which made it clear that a change of international circumstances, as well as a change of domestic circumstances, could create the need to change the number. To me, the horror is that we are doing this all endogenously, as if needs have nothing to do with what happens exogenously in the world out there—so if something awful happens in the world, we will pay no attention because we will be concerned about the consultation we had with local authorities about houses.

I am not sure the noble Lord and I actually differ on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. It seems to me that the impact on the national reputation of Britain is not relevant, given the provision for the cap to be varied in the event of an international emergency such as he outlined. As he will see, Clause 58(3) states:

“the Secretary of State considers that the number needs to be changed as a matter of urgency”.

He can provide that regulation to both Houses of Parliament without consulting, and therefore the matter will be capable of discussion and approval and the cap lifted. In reality, I do not think there is any risk to our national reputation as a place which takes its obligations of international protection seriously.

Forgive me, I have taken an awful lot of interventions, and I am very conscious of the time. I ask the noble Lord to keep this intervention until the end and allow me to make some progress.

I will return to the amendment. If, on the other hand, some numerical limit is envisaged, these schemes will not stop the boats and they are not an alternative to the Bill. Those who do not qualify for a safe passage visa will continue to be exploited by the people smugglers, all too ready to continue to take their money on the false promise of a new life in the UK.

As I have set out, we are ready to expand existing safe and legal routes as we get a grip on illegal migration, and the Bill already provides for this. That is the way forward, not amendments which exacerbate the current challenges. I commend Clauses 58 and 59 to the Committee and invite the right reverend Prelate to withdraw his amendment.

I was very encouraged by the answer the Minister gave. He seems to be saying that the needs referred to in Clause 58(3) could be exogenous as well as endogenous: that the cap could be raised in response to an urgent need even if that need had nothing to do with housing here but something to do with massacre or war abroad. If that is the case, could that not be made clear in the Bill by a government amendment to Clause 58(3)?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for answering and clarifying some of the questions. My prophetic powers in saying “about two hours” were slightly wrong. The last two and a half hours will be memorable for a number of things—the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, quoting Ronald Reagan being one of them—and there were helpful reminders of no person being illegal. There were helpful alternatives to “safe and legal routes”, but I think that we will have to live with “safe and legal routes”. No one has implied that we will change the wording in the Bill. The Minister helpfully pointed out that there will be a definition in the regulations, so that helps us. I am not sure that the Minister answered the historical question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, about why the change happened around 2011 concerning the use of embassies, but I am not going to ask him to stand up.

Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear me say that, overall, I am disappointed that my amendment, not just about Hong Kong but particularly about Hong Kong, has not been accepted. It does not damage the Bill in any way to accept that amendment. Likewise, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, tries to clarify. That is the purpose, and the Minister’s response has not helped us move forward on that. I have no doubt that all of us involved will find ourselves in discussions about what we might bring back on Report. The desire is to take things forward on safe and legal routes.

At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 128B withdrawn.

Clause 58 agreed.

Amendment 128C not moved.

Clause 59 agreed.

Amendments 129 to 131 not moved.

House resumed.

Sitting suspended.