Consideration of Lords amendments
[Relevant documents: Seventh Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 1)—Nationality, HC 764; Ninth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 3)—Immigration offences and enforcement, HC 885; Eleventh Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 5)—Modern Slavery, HC 964; Twelfth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Parts 1, 2 and 4)—Asylum, Home Office Decision-Making, Age Assessments, and Deprivation of Citizenship Orders, HC 1007; Tenth Special Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill: Government Responses to the Committee’s Seventh, Ninth, Eleventh and Twelfth Reports, HC 1208; Letter from the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, relating to Part 2 (Asylum) and Part 5 (Modern Slavery) of the Nationality and Borders Bill, HC 588, dated 17 November 2021; Letter from Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, to the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights relating to Part 2 (Asylum) and Part 5 (Modern Slavery) of the Nationality and Borders Bill, HC 588, dated 25 November 2021; e-petition 601583, Remove Clause 9 from the Nationality and Borders Bill.]
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 10, 12 and 26. If they are agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
After Clause 4
Provision for Chagos Islanders to acquire British nationality
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 4, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (f) in lieu.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 6, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 7, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 8, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 52, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 11, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 12, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 13, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 14, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 15, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 16, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 17, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 18, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 19, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 20, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 54, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 2, 3, 43 to 51 and 21.
Mr Speaker, may I begin by joining in, on behalf of the Home Office, your tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life five years ago today? All of us who were in the House will never forget that day. It was an enormous tragedy; he died in the line of service, protecting our democracy and the people in this place. We will be forever grateful to him and his family, and our thoughts are very much with them today, and with everybody caught up in that terrible tragedy on Westminster bridge.
This country has a long and proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need. The British people are generous and compassionate, and we only have to look around us to see that compassion in action right now. I think I speak for the whole House in thanking everyone stepping up to support people fleeing the conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
This Bill is about delivering a long-term solution to the long-term problems that have beset the asylum system over decades. It has three central objectives: to make the system fairer and more effective so we can better protect and support those in genuine need; to deter illegal entry, breaking the business model of evil criminal trafficking; and to make it easier to remove those with no right to be here.
The reforms we are introducing through this Bill have been debated at length both in this House and the other place, and I want to put on record my thanks to all Members for the rigour with which they have scrutinised the measures we have proposed. I also want to say that as the Bill has progressed through Parliament, this Government have been listening carefully to the questions and concerns raised not only by Members but by the many organisations, communities and individuals who have been carefully following its progress.
We have amended the Bill to clarify that new measures to tackle people smugglers will not criminalise those acting under the direction of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. We have also introduced an amendment to resolve the lawful residence issue that has troubled many individuals with indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme and who wish to naturalise but have not previously held comprehensive sickness insurance.
In response to the appalling situation in Ukraine, we have added new powers to enable us to impose visa penalties on countries posing a threat to international peace and security or whose actions lead, or are likely to lead, to armed conflict or a breach of humanitarian law. We have also announced an expansion of the Hong Kong British national overseas route, which will enable individuals aged 18 or over who were born on or after 1 July 1997 and have at least one BNO parent to apply to the route independently.
Before going further, I would like to say something more about the situation in Ukraine, in particular the calls we have heard in respect of unaccompanied children. We of course recognise the deeply troubling circumstances faced by all Ukrainians who are caught up in this conflict, and we of course acknowledge calls for support to Ukrainian orphans and unaccompanied children. However, the UK cannot act unilaterally on such matters, and the views of affected Governments must be taken into account. The Ukrainian Government have been clear that children must not be taken into care without the prior agreement of their authorities; we cannot simply transfer unaccompanied minors to the UK without first securing their authorisation. It may be in the best interests of many children to remain in the region given that it is common for those labelled as orphans by the media who are in the Ukrainian care system to have living parents, and ultimately their Government, whom they are not fleeing, should have the final say on these matters.
We are working urgently, however, with the authorities in Ukraine and Poland to secure the final agreements needed to bring to the UK a group of over 50 Ukrainian children, known as the Dnipro kids, who have escaped the brutal war and are currently in Poland. I recognise that many Members are following that issue closely and have a keen interest in it, and Home Office Ministers will keep the House updated. This is a complex case, and it is absolutely right that we wait for the appropriate checks and written permissions before bringing these children to the UK. The Home Secretary and her counterparts in the Ukrainian, Polish and Scottish Governments are united in their determination to ensure these children get the right support and the care they need.
However, I remind the House that our Ukraine family scheme also provides an immediate pathway for those Ukrainians, including unaccompanied children subject to safeguarding checks, with family already settled in the UK to come to our country. We would expect most children to apply in family groups, such as a parent with a child, but I can assure colleagues that this scheme is designed to allow as many people as possible to come to the UK and to give them immediate access to the support they need. We must do nothing less.
Returning to the Bill, Members will have seen that many amendments were proposed and agreed to during its passage through the other place, including some proposed by the Government. The Government have carefully considered each of the non-Government amendments, and I would like to explain what we have concluded and why. But before doing so, I would like to offer an apology to the House for the late publication of the updated explanatory notes. Manuscript copies of the updated notes have been distributed, but I accept that they should have been published online on Friday, and I am sorry that this did not happen—for that discourtesy I genuinely am apologetic, Mr Speaker.
On amendment 1, relating to access to British overseas territories citizenship and British citizenship for Chagossians, I again place on record my sympathy with the Chagossians for how they were treated in the 1960s and 1970s. I also want to place on record my admiration for the way in which Members from across the House have championed their cause, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who has been a consistent and tireless advocate on this issue for many years; he has run an exceptional campaign. We have listened carefully to the concerns raised in both Houses and in the Chagossian community on the difficulties faced by Chagossians in accessing British nationality. These difficulties have arisen from the unique historical treatment of those who were removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1960s and 1970s and the limited recognition of those circumstances in British nationality law. Given that, the Government have concluded it would be appropriate to take action in this Bill, consistent with our other measures designed to correct historical unfairness in nationality law, and will put forward an amendment as such. This will mean there is a new route to British nationality for direct descendants of the Chagossians removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory. In doing that, we are satisfied that the Chagossian diaspora is unique and we are not setting a precedent that would undermine the general principles governing the acquisition of British citizenship by descent. Further details will follow in due course, and I want again to say a huge “Well done and congratulations” to my hon. Friend for helping us to bring about this important change.
This is, I think, at least one small point of agreement, but can the Minister explain why the amendment passed in the House of Lords is not acceptable in that form to the Government, and in particular whether the provision in the amendment that no charge will be made for Chagossians applying for citizenship will be retained somehow?
The direct answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we judged that the amendment tabled in the House of Lords is technically deficient. I can confirm, however, that this route is free and there will be no good character requirement associated with it. We think the way this is presented in response to the Lords amendment is the correct way to progress and that it recognises the broad agreement for this, delivering on precisely what this House and the other place wish to see. I think we can all come together and be very pleased about that.
Amendment 4 removes the clause from the Bill that contains our proposals regarding notification requirements for those who are subject to a deprivation of citizenship decision. Deprivation is necessary to protect the public from those seeking to do serious harm, such as terrorists, or those who acquired their citizenship by fraudulent means. I again emphasise that the underlying deprivation of citizenship power is a century old, is only used in a small number of cases, is never used to target people because of their ethnic or religious background, and always comes with a right of appeal. The changes we want to make do not change any of that. This measure is simply about how we notify someone of the intention to remove their citizenship. It is necessary in order to ensure that we are able to use this power where we cannot contact a person; for example, because they are in a warzone. When contact is made, that person will be able to appeal the deprivation decision as usual.
We have considered very carefully amendments to the deprivation of citizenship clause tabled by Lord Anderson of Ipswich and agreed to in the other place. Lord Anderson’s amendments provide more clarity on the reasons for not giving notice of a deprivation decision, as well as introducing a degree of judicial oversight of the decision not to give notice. We are content that the original intention of the clause is not altered by these amendments, and we are satisfied that the amendments will enable us to protect the rights of the individual while delivering on our security objectives.
I thank the Minister for taking the time to meet me and other colleagues with large ethnic minority communities in their constituencies, such as the Pakistani Kashmiri community that I am proud to have in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, and for giving that clarification and accepting the Lords amendments. They will help to ensure that it is made clear to people in that community that they should not fear, despite some of the misinformation produced by certain Members of the House outside the Chamber.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and for the engagement I have had with him on these matters throughout the passage of the Bill. I genuinely hope that the amendments in lieu we propose today, which draw on the sensible and reasonable suggestions made by Lord Anderson in the other place, will help to provide reassurance about oversight and the nature of the mechanisms. The way in which some individuals have sought to present the issue in the public narrative is regrettable, but I hope that people will recognise that it is about protecting the British people from high-harm individuals, some of whom are in a war zone and have no regard whatsoever for the harm that they would cause on the streets of our country. We are exceptionally mindful of that. The first responsibility of any British Government is to keep the British people safe. The amendments will help us to do just that.
I entirely support what the Minister is saying. Does he agree that citizenship of this country not only accrues rights but demands responsibilities? When people shy away from those responsibilities and ally themselves with a cultural value set so alien to ours that we cannot even recognise it, that must have consequences.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s assessment that citizenship of this country comes with rights and responsibilities, and with recognition and acceptance of important constitutional principles including the rule of law. Those are all fundamental and central to the way in which our society has developed and is crafted and on which it stands. They are important principles that we all accept are crucial.
For the record, just so that we are all absolutely clear, we on the Government Benches, as elsewhere, strongly support the full integration of every community and British passport holder. The Government amendment will make it absolutely clear above all to Muslims of all places of origin and above all those born and bred in the UK that there is no threat to them whatsoever.
My hon. Friend puts it better than I could. He has stated with crystal clarity the nature of the change, which I believe is enhanced and improved by accepting the sensible and pragmatic amendments tabled by Lord Anderson. It is also worth saying for the benefit of the House that taking out of the equation the issue of citizenship being obtained by fraud, the provision relates to 19 cases a year on average, and the changes we are making through the Bill do not alter the qualification, so no additional individuals will be brought into scope. The changes relate purely to the matter of notification.
On a procedural note, I should say that although Lord Anderson’s amendments were agreed in the other place, they were deleted when peers agreed to remove the substantive deprivation of citizenship clause from the Bill. The Government are therefore retabling the substantive clause, as amended by peers to include Lord Anderson’s amendments. I hope that meets with the favour of the House. It acts on and reflects the desire expressed for greater safeguards and greater clarity on these measures.
Amendment 5 inserts a clause specifying that nothing in the part of the Bill to which it applies authorises any policies or decisions that are incompatible with the 1951 refugee convention or the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. It is the clear position of this Government that everything we are doing is compatible with all our obligations under international law. We do not think it is necessary to set that out on the face of the Bill. The Government therefore do not agree to the amendment.
The Minister will be aware that there is a massive range of legal opinion and that the opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is that that is not the case at all when a lot of what is going on in part two of the Bill is in flagrant breach of the refugee convention. If the Minister is so certain that the powers do not breach the refugee convention, what is the harm to him of accepting the amendment?
We do not see a need to augment the Bill in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. A plethora of opinions are expressed in the House and more generally when we debate the nature of what is proposed and whether people think it is the right thing to do. We are clear as a Government that we think that the package of measures we are introducing through the Bill is a proportionate response to the issues we face and will fix the broken asylum system in particular. We are also clear—and I have been clear on many occasions in this House and through the various iterations of the Bill—that we will at all times live up to our international obligations.
History suggests that the day will come when the hon. Gentleman’s party is not in government, and it is eminently possible that there will one day be a Government who wish to depart from our obligations under the 1951 convention. Is that not why it is a good idea to have such a provision on the face of the Bill?
Any Government in such circumstances could amend the primary legislation to remove that requirement. I also make the crucial point that we have an independent judiciary in this country, and it is open to people to bring points of challenge where they believe that there are grounds for doing so. It is fair to say that that is a regular occurrence in our society and a cornerstone of how our government, politics and society have evolved over centuries. No doubt that will continue to be the case, but let me again be very clear that the Government have acted and will continue to act in accordance with our international obligations. I must be very clear on that point.
Lords amendment 6 removes the clause from the Bill that establishes our differentiated approach to those who are recognised as refugees. That is an essential and fundamental part of our plan to deter people from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK. We therefore cannot agree to the amendment, which will simply encourage people to continue to risk their lives at sea.
Does the Minister agree that amendment 6 is a huge slap in the face for all those people who play by the rules and engage in proper legal processes to get to this country, whether they are a refugee or not?
My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations about this topic over recent months and he makes a genuine point that individuals coming to this country illegally makes it more difficult for us to help genuine refugees in the way that we all want to. We see that reflected in the generosity of spirit shown across the country as people offered help in response to the Afghan crisis and to what we are seeing unfold so tragically in Ukraine. There is an outpouring of emotion and wanting to help, but there is also genuine concern about people putting their lives in the hands of evil criminal gangs, and paying significant sums of money to those gangs, which have no regard for human life and are willing in effect to play roulette with the safety of the people they are transporting.
The Minister may be aware that at present Opposition Members, especially Labour Members, are struggling to tell the difference between a man and a woman, so it is no surprise that they are struggling to tell the difference between a genuine refugee and an economic migrant. Would it not be wise of the Minister to remind those on the Labour Front Bench what the difference is?
I certainly think that my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine, and people across the country, feel strongly—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) is chuntering from a sedentary position, but I will make the point that, no matter where they are in the country, people feel very strongly that individuals should not put their lives in the hands of evil criminal gangs, whose only motivation is to turn a profit by taking greater and greater risks with the lives of the individuals they are putting in small boats. I would argue that we, as a Government and in this House, have a duty to stop that happening. That is precisely what the measures in the Bill are designed to do, while at the same time providing safe and legal passage for people who require sanctuary to come to this country, and enabling us to care for them properly when they are here. That is an absolutely humane and decent stance to take, and one that I will continue to passionately defend.
Amendment 7 would change our approach to allowing people who are claiming asylum to work by reducing the period in which claimants may not work from 12 months to six months, as well as removing the condition restricting jobs for those who are allowed to work to those on the shortage occupation list.
It seems that amendment 7 goes to the heart of what we are talking about today. Does the Minister agree that the Bill, taken as a whole, is a package, and that if we start amending it in this way to facilitate economic migration, we will end any chance we have of stopping cross-channel migration, stopping the evil criminal gangs and taking back control of our borders? This is a package, and I am afraid we have to vote down all the amendments.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is a passionate advocate of taking action to address those concerns. I argue that this is a package of measures that come together. There is no one single intervention that will solve this problem. We must have a robust and proportionate approach to tackling, for example, very dangerous channel crossings—in November, we saw a tragic loss of life that none of us wants to be repeated—while also ensuring we have safe and legal routes by which people can come to this country to get the sanctuary they need when they find themselves in desperate circumstances. That is what I believe the Government are delivering.
The right to work, while well meaning, would undermine our economic migration scheme and allow people to bypass it over and above those who follow the proper process by applying for visas and paying relevant fees to work in the UK. We cannot allow that to happen. I must therefore advise the House that we cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment 8 prevents third country inadmissibility measures from coming into force until formal returns agreements are in place. We expect to work with our international partners to tackle the shared challenges of illegal migration. We continue to seek effective returns agreements to ensure that people can be removed from our country when they have no right to be here. In the meantime, we want to continue resolve cases where we can on a case-by-case basis.
As I have said many times before, those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country they reach. That is the fastest route to safety. The first safe country principle is widely recognised internationally.
Will the Minister explain to me how the United Kingdom can ever be the first safe country of arrival for someone fleeing a war zone or a natural disaster. If you leave without all your paperwork, how can you ever get to the United Kingdom before anywhere else when we are surrounded by water?
We have many resettlement routes whereby people can come to this country. I have said this several times in the House, and it bears repeating now, that people getting in small boats to come to the United Kingdom are coming from perfectly safe countries at great risk, and they are lining the pockets of evil criminal gangs, which funds wider criminality, when there are fully functional and appropriate asylum systems, where people can gain help and support, that they are leaving to make those perilous journeys. It is also important to point out—I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is a particularly keen advocate of the European Union and wishes we were a member of it—that it is a fundamental feature of the common European asylum system that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. Without any enforcement of that, we simply encourage criminal smugglers to continue to exploit vulnerable migrants and leave flows of migrants across Europe, which culminate in the dangerous channel crossings. The Bill’s inadmissibility measures are an essential part of our approach to enforcing the safe first country principle, and for that reason we cannot agree to the amendment.
Will the Minister give way?
I am conscious that I need to make some progress, so I will continue for now. I have been quite generous, and I will see how I get on in the next few minutes.
Amendments 9, 52 and 53 would delete from the Bill provisions that would make it easier to remove an individual from the UK while their asylum claim is pending. We have said repeatedly that while people are dying making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK, we must consider every option to discourage people from funding criminal gangs and putting their lives at risk by crossing the channel. That includes the option of processing of asylum claims overseas. We must ensure we have the flexibility to do everything we can to disincentivise people from putting themselves and others at risk and lining the pockets of people smugglers. That is the clear rationale for this policy. I want to make it absolutely clear again that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will not have their claims processed overseas.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He talked about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, but that means he is not ruling out other children being placed in awful offshore detention facilities. Will he publish an economic impact assessment on how many billions of pounds this will cost the taxpayer? It has been promised for months.
I am not going to get drawn into listing all other possible exemptions to removal in that way, but I set out on Report that, for example, family groups would not be separated, because that would clearly not be in accordance with our international obligations. Clearly, much will depend on the particular circumstances of the countries we are working with. We always work in the asylum system and in the immigration space on a case-by-case basis, but I want to assure hon. Members that we will continue to uphold our international obligations and ensure that any removal is compliant with our obligations under the refugee convention and article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which protects against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.
I am aware that there has been speculation recently about the potential costs of, and possible locations for, overseas asylum claim processing. I cannot give a running commentary on negotiations, nor share information that could tie the hands of the negotiators. I only say again that the provisions are an essential part of the suite of measures that we are introducing to deliver our objective of discouraging unwanted behaviours, such as making unnecessary and dangerous journeys, and we therefore cannot agree to the amendments.
Amendment 10 creates a more generous approach on family reunion for those who are already in Europe, which we do not consider fair. There is already generous provision in our rules for family reunion, under which more than 40,000 people have been reunited with family members in the UK since 2015. This is a single global approach to family reunion, which does not encourage what are often dangerous journeys into Europe, facilitated by smugglers and traffickers. We therefore cannot support the amendment. Similarly, amendment 11 would commit the UK to resettling at least 10,000 refugees each year.
Our view has long been that the number of refugees and people in need of protection that we resettle each year must be based on our capacity, our assessment of the international situation and our ability to care for people properly when they come to the UK. I understand that hon. Members are seeking assurances that our doors will remain open to those in need, but I respectfully suggest that what is really needed to deliver refugee resettlement is not a number but an approach—an approach that is compassionate and flexible. That is exactly what the Government are delivering through our new plan for immigration.
Coming back to amendment 10, which the Minister is grouping together, he just said that we already have a very generous family reunion scheme, but is it not the case that our current family reunion scheme is considerably less generous than the Dublin III arrangements we had pre-Brexit? If we are genuinely to accommodate a lot of children who have lost their parents and for whom their last surviving relative may be an aunt, uncle, brother or sister who has made it legally to the UK, we need to expand the scheme.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. This is an area that he is very passionate about and has a considerable knowledge of. He will recognise that we have a global approach to family reunion, which is an important distinction when compared with Dublin III. It would be useful for us as Ministers to meet him, as a former Children’s Minister, to discuss his ideas. As I say, I know he takes a passionate and keen interest in these matters. Family reunion is something we continue to be committed to. As I said in my opening remarks on the situation in Ukraine, it is an area where, for example in response to that crisis, we are constantly reviewing what we can do to assist with that issue and challenge. The Dnipro Kids situation illustrates the work we are doing in that space. Of course, there has to be agreement with the Ukrainian Government and the Polish Government to progress on that, but it shows the pragmatic approach we are willing to take on these matters to be responsive to crises as they arise and to ensure that we do our bit to try to support those children wherever we can.
I do not wish to detain the House for longer than necessary, but I think it would be helpful for me to set out the safe and legal routes that we have to the UK. The UK resettlement scheme, which was launched in February 2021, prioritises the resettlement of refugees, including children, in regions of conflict and instability. The number of refugees we resettle each year depends on a variety of factors, including local authorities’ capacity to support refugees and the number of community groups willing to take part. There were 1,131 refugees resettled in the UK through that scheme in the year ending December 2021.
Will the Minister give way?
I have given way to my hon. Friend already and I am keen to make some progress, because I am conscious that a lot of Members want to speak.
The community sponsorship scheme enables local community groups to welcome refugees to the UK and provide housing and support. In the year ending December 2021, there were 144 refugees resettled through that scheme.
The mandate resettlement scheme was launched in 1995. That global scheme resettles refugees with a close family member in the UK who is willing to accommodate them. Since published statistics began in 2008, there have been 435 refugees resettled through that route, as of September 2021.
Refugee family reunion allows a spouse or partner and children under 18 of those granted protection in the UK to join them here, if they formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled the country. There is discretion to grant leave outside of the immigration rules for extended family members in exceptional circumstances. We have granted over 40,000 refugee family reunion visas since 2015, of which more than half were granted to children. In 2021, there were 6,134 family reunion visas issued, which was an increase of 28% on the previous year. Again, more than half were issued to children.
In August 2021, we announced the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history. That scheme will give up to 20,000 people at risk a new life in the UK, including women and girls, members of ethnic or religious minorities and people who are LGBT+.
In addition, under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life are offered priority relocation to the UK. Through that route, we have relocated more than 7,000 locally employed staff and their family members since April 2021, in addition to 1,400 former staff and families who were relocated under the previous ex gratia scheme for Afghan interpreters.
The Ukraine family scheme, which was launched on 4 March, allows British nationals and people settled in the UK to bring family members to the UK. That covers immediate family members as well as parents, grandparents, children over 18 and siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws. Individuals will be granted leave for three years and will be able to work and access public services and benefits. As of 20 March, 61,100 applications had been started, 31,500 had been submitted and 10,200 visas had been issued.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme, which was launched on 14 March, will allow individuals, charities, community groups and businesses in the UK to bring Ukrainians to safety, including those with no family ties to the UK. There will be no limit on arrivals and, again, those who come here will have access to public services and benefits.
May I clarify a point on the two-tier system to which the Minister is asking the House to agree? If a Ukrainian who has relatives in the UK comes here, we will accept them. If a refugee from Ukraine comes here on a sponsorship scheme, we will accept them. What if somebody from Ukraine just turns up? Will they be removed to a safe country that they have come from? Will they be removed to a third country that they can apply from? What will we do for those Ukrainians who flee from the murderous despot Putin and come here by an irregular route? Do they have to come on an inflatable?
Let me be very clear: there is absolutely no reason why any Ukrainian should pay an evil people smuggler to come to be safe in the United Kingdom. I have set out the detail of our two generous schemes, which are uncapped and wide in capturing people’s many and varied circumstances. I would not want anybody—this applies to any group—to put their life in the hands of evil criminal gangs who have only one regard, which is to turn a profit, putting those individuals in great danger. We have had many debates about the nature and construction of the Ukrainian scheme and I am confident that there is no reason why people should resort to that means of travelling to the United Kingdom. Nobody should encourage Ukrainians, or anybody else for that matter, to make those perilous journeys.
Will the Minister give way?
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman a few times and I want to conclude my remarks.
Will the Minister give way?
I will give way to the shadow Minister.
The Minister is being very generous. He gave detailed numbers on how many visas had been granted in all the schemes that he read out. I note that he did not include the number of visas granted under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Will he update the House on how many visas the Home Office has issued under that scheme as of today?
I am afraid that I do not have those figures to hand, but we hope to be able to say more on that very soon. It is the early days of that scheme but we have seen an overwhelmingly generous response from people offering sanctuary in their homes, and we want to take up those offers. I look forward to being able to say more about the figures on early implementation as soon as we can.
I understand the concerns raised by right hon. and hon. Members, but I hope that those schemes speak of our willingness to respond to international crises with compassion and to support higher numbers of refugees and people in need of protection when necessary. That is our approach, so we do not think that it is necessary to put a number in statute.
I understand the rationale behind Lords amendment 12, which relates to grants of asylum connected with cases of genocide. We, of course, stand by victims of genocide. Whether or not a determination of genocide is made, the UK is committed to seeking an end to serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. We are also committed to preventing the escalation of any such violations and alleviating the suffering of those affected, but it is not practical for us to be bound to consider asylum claims in British missions from the very large number of individuals overseas who might like to come here. Even with a cap on the number of individuals, we can expect many thousands of applications, which UK caseworkers would need to assess individually to determine whether each individual belongs to the specific group found to be at risk. We do not think that is practical.
To clarify the Minister’s point, is he saying that the opposition to Lords amendment 12 is on an administrative rather than a humanitarian basis? He seems to suggest that there may be too many people coming for the British embassies to handle. Surely that is no basis to turn our backs on people who are victims of genocide.
I do not accept the hon. Member’s characterisation of those remarks for a minute. My primary concern is twofold: to ensure that staff, for example, in British missions are safe and not put at risk; and to ensure that individuals turning up at British missions are also not put at undue risk, considering the sorts of circumstances that we are talking about in such debates and the lengths to which some countries will go to persecute individuals when genocide is relevant. Our approach is better: to develop bespoke schemes as circumstances arise with similar accessibility to the schemes that I described. We would argue that that is the right approach.
I do not understand the rationale behind Lords amendments 13 to 19. They would delete the new offence of knowingly arriving in the UK without a valid entry clearance, and that could make it impossible to take enforcement action against someone who has arrived in, but not technically “entered”, the UK without clearance. That would compromise our plans to enhance the security of our borders, so we cannot accept those amendments.
Similarly, I cannot say that I understand the rationale behind Lords amendment 20, which would compromise our plans to enhance our ability to prosecute people smugglers. It would do that by preserving the status quo in legislation, which means that prosecutors have to prove that people smugglers are acting for gain. Time and again, however, that requirement has been found to have significant operational limitations. We need to remove it to ensure that the lives of vulnerable people are not put at risk by the actions of people smugglers and that traffickers are brought to justice for the misery that they inflict.
Will the Minister give way?
I have already taken one intervention from the hon. Gentleman and I want to conclude my speech quickly.
Lords amendment 54 would mean that powers set out in the part of the Bill to which it applies
“must not be used in a manner or in circumstances that could endanger life at sea.”
I take this opportunity to again place on record my admiration for the incredibly brave individuals who engage in rescue work. I also want to make it absolutely clear that our priority is always to save and preserve lives. We are proud of our heritage as a great seafaring nation and will always lead the way globally in complying with our relevant domestic and international obligations, including those under the UN convention on the law of the sea. We do not think it necessary to put those commitments in the Bill and we therefore do not support the amendment.
I wish to speak in favour of Government amendments 2 and 3, together with amendments 42 to 51. The amendments will resolve the lawful residence issue for individuals with indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme who wish to naturalise, but have not previously held comprehensive sickness insurance.
The problem is that those who wish to become British citizens based on a period of residence in the UK need to have been in the UK lawfully—for five years, for most people—before making their application. Unfortunately, a number of European economic area nationals or their family members do not currently meet that requirement because they did not hold comprehensive sickness insurance, which was a legal requirement for those who were in the UK as students or as self-sufficient persons. They could still be granted indefinite leave to remain, also known as settled status, under the EU settlement scheme, which did not have a lawful residence requirement, but they would not technically meet the requirements for citizenship.
The amendments will resolve those technicalities and will mean that the Secretary of State does not need to inquire into lawful residence in citizenship applications where a person has already been granted indefinite leave to enter or remain, because any concerns about their immigration history will have been considered and addressed prior to any grant of indefinite leave. I acknowledge that hon. Members have campaigned on the issue and I commend the amendments to the House.
Government amendment 21 is a tidying-up amendment that removes a definition of the term “United Kingdom waters” from the clause relating to working in UK waters. Further to comments made on Third Reading in the other place, I would like to say that although the term is used elsewhere in the Bill, it is not used in proposed new section 11B, which the Bill will insert into the Immigration Act 1971. I hope that the clarification that the amendment provides is helpful; I commend it to the House.
May I associate myself with the Minister’s comments about PC Keith Palmer, who died in the line of duty and whose tragic passing this House will never forget?
The Bill has been introduced against the backdrop of an asylum and immigration system that is simply not fit for purpose. The British people want and deserve a system that is fair, compassionate and orderly, as has been made abundantly clear by the fact that more than 150,000 households have signed up to house refugees fleeing the horrors of Putin’s barbaric war. But from the Windrush scandal to the botched Afghan resettlement scheme and the shambolic response on Ukraine, the Home Office has consistently failed to live up to the standards that the public rightly expect from their Government, so we should not really be surprised that the Bill not only fails to meet any of the challenges that our migration system faces, but actively makes the situation worse. That is why the Opposition rejected the Bill in its entirety on Second Reading; it is why we support every one of the Lords amendments, each of which seeks to mitigate the worst excesses of this dreadful legislation. The fact that the Government were defeated fully 19 times in the other place is proof positive that this appalling legislation is not fit for the statute book.
I turn to the specific reasons that our asylum and immigration system is so comprehensively broken. Let us start with the most visible example: the small boats crisis in the English channel. The number of desperate asylum seekers risking their lives by crossing the channel on small boats has increased from 299 in 2018 to an eye-watering 28,526 in 2021, of whom more than 3,000 were children. Yet Conservative Ministers have failed to engage constructively with their French counterparts to tackle the people traffickers, so the Home Secretary has now resorted to criminalising vulnerable refugees who are fleeing war-torn countries such as Ukraine.
I have spoken to asylum seekers who have told me about how children come to this country: it is often their parents who are giving the money to traffickers, and they have no idea how the journey will commence. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government simply seem totally unaware of that point and have not included it in their consideration at all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are many dreadful aspects to the whole story, but the impact on children who are utterly innocent and deserve nothing but our compassion and care, but who are not being treated with either of those values and principles, should make the Government hang their head in shame.
I completely agree that the situation with boats coming across the channel is wholly unsatisfactory, but the hon. Gentleman has just accused the Government of failing to engage satisfactorily with the French authorities. Giving £54 million to the French to do something about this; making constant requests, which have been rebuffed, for meetings with the French Interior Minister and others—where have the Government not tried to engage constructively? How would the hon. Gentleman’s party have engaged constructively? What are his practical suggestions to do something about this, rather than the grandstanding that he does every time he is at the Dispatch Box?
I guess what matters is results and outcomes. The Government’s attempts to engage have clearly failed; the hon. Member will have his own view of why that may be, but I gently suggest that gratuitously insulting our European partners and allies on a regular basis, as the Prime Minister does, is probably not helping very much.
A particularly disturbing aspect of the Bill is that it seeks to criminalise a person who is seeking asylum for
“arriving in the United Kingdom without…clearance”.
That means that a Ukrainian person who had brought their elderly parents to our country in the early days of the war would have been criminalised under the Bill. Do the Government not comprehend the horrors from which refugees are fleeing? We should not seek to criminalise refugees who are desperately looking for a new home; we should go after the people traffickers. The Opposition therefore fully support Lords amendment 13, which removes the new offence.
My hon. Friend is making very good points. Is it not the case that the only way to apply for asylum in Britain is to come through an irregular route, because someone has no possibility of applying for asylum if they are not in Britain? Criminalisation is shutting off almost all legal routes to applying for asylum. In effect, the only way to get to the UK would be to make a false application first via a tourist route or another route, but the Government would then say, in a Kafkaesque way, “You have falsely applied, because you came in via the wrong route.” That is particularly pernicious, is it not?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole thing smacks of a kind of bureaucratic trickery whereby every option is blocked off by some additional piece of bureaucracy. The Bill should have been an opportunity to unlock some of that, but instead it leaves us in stalemate.
Appositely to the remarks of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) about where people claim asylum and how it is processed, the Bill will allow a claim to be processed elsewhere before people get here. Based on what the hon. Gentleman says, that will be a positive move, will it not? It will also mean that people who are travelling through safe countries where they could claim asylum can do so there and have their claim processed there.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to offshoring, but as we have seen, offshoring does not work: it is costing millions and millions in Australia and every expert is panning the idea. If I have understood his intervention correctly, I am afraid that it is simply a non-starter.
The Opposition support Lords amendment 6, which removes the Government’s attempt to introduce differential treatment of refugees based on method of arrival. For instance, if a Ukrainian citizen were to flee and travel here across Europe while waiting for a Government visa office to open or a safe route to be provided, clause 11 would make them a second-class refugee. To be a first-tier refugee, they would have to have taken an aeroplane directly from Ukraine. That absurd technicality shows just how unjust the proposal is.
I am getting rather confused. The Labour party seems to be saying that we should not remove pull factors that mean that people are willing to risk their lives crossing the English channel and put money into the hands of the people smugglers. What has happened to the Labour party? Back in 2004, Baroness Scotland, a Labour Minister, said that
“a person should seek protection in the first safe country where they have the chance to do so.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 April 2004; Vol. 659, c. 1684.]
What happened to that Labour party?
What is required is a properly resourced and competent processing system, so that when people come here they can be processed quickly. That would resolve many of the issues to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Arguably even more astonishing is the fact that clause 38 appears to criminalise the good Samaritans who want to save lives in the channel by removing the “for gain” clause, meaning that it is not just profiteering people traffickers who are deemed criminals, but good, honest people trying to rescue drowning refugees. Lords amendment 20 reintroduces the “for gain” wording, a move that we fully support.
That brings me to the so-called pushback policy. Pushing back dinghies may well mean condemning refugees, including innocent children, to their deaths. This is an utterly barbaric proposal which, again, contravenes the law of the sea. We therefore support Lords amendment 54, which adds language to schedule 6, stating that these enforcement powers must never put lives at risk.
Profound concern has been expressed about the Bill’s failure to comply with the United Nations refugee convention. The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, among others, has criticised the legislation for undermining the human rights of refugees in a range of different ways. At a time when authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China are riding roughshod over international laws and norms, we must show that Britain, as a leading liberal democracy, is ready to lead by example. Britain must show that we stand with refugees and stand up for international law. We therefore support Lords amendment 5, which would add a new clause stating that nothing in the Bill must authorise policies which do not comply with the refugee convention.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to tell the House what safe and legal routes the then Labour Government opened up after the second Iraq war? I may be able to help him with the answer: I do not think there were any.
The safe and legal routes are not working properly, and they need to be made to work more effectively. We currently have thousands of Afghan refugees stuck in hotels. Let us put in place a system that actually works. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that looking forward is more effective than looking back.
Another stark failure of this Government has been the asylum waiting lists that are keeping refugees in limbo and costing the taxpayer dear. There are now over 100,000 people awaiting initial decisions on their asylum applications, with an astonishing 61,864 having had to wait for six months or longer. These failures are less about capacity and more about a distinct lack of competence. The numbers of asylum seekers are fewer than the UK’s recent peak, so the Home Office should be able to cope. However, under this Home Secretary the system simply is not working.
Lords amendment 7 offers a sensible proposal which could minimise the damage caused by the backlog, as it would give asylum seekers the right to work if their case was taking longer than six months. That would allow dignity to asylum seekers, who could then earn their way and contribute rather than being completely disempowered and excluded from the labour market. The Lords amendment would also prevent asylum seekers from being forced into the dangerous net of the black-market economy just to survive, which is so often more attractive to them than relying on £38 per week from the Government. Moreover, the Government have already said that all Ukrainians can work here as soon as they arrive, so why is it a problem to allow other individuals and families fleeing terror the same opportunity? If the Government are worried about being seen to give asylum seekers work, they should fix the system so that applications are processed within six months. We are pleased to see that more than 66 Conservative parliamentarians, including 27 members of this House, have signed a letter to the Home Secretary expressing support for Lords amendment 7, and we encourage Ministers to see the light and follow suit.
The introduction last year of “inadmissibility’’ has only led to further delays. Because the Government have failed to renegotiate a single returns policy with any country, labelling asylum seekers as “inadmissible’’ for processing is effectively meaningless, as the asylum seeker in question cannot be returned. This simply adds six months of bureaucracy, uncertainty and confusion for the refugee, and a huge cost to the British taxpayer. Of the 8,593 “notices of intent” to deem people inadmissible that were issued in 2021, incredibly, only 64 were upheld. This policy simply increases the enormous backlog further and is a complete waste of money, so we support Lords amendment 8.
Let me now turn to perhaps the most unhinged element of the Bill, the so-called offshoring provisions which allow—theoretically at least—asylum seekers to be sent to faraway lands for processing. The latest ludicrous suggestion is that Ascension Island, 4,500 miles away in the South Atlantic, should be used for the purpose. That is utter nonsense. It is operationally illiterate because it is utterly impractical, and it is economically illiterate because it would cost an eye-watering amount of taxpayers’ money.
May I make it clear, for the benefit of the House, that the suggestion about Ascension Island is untrue?
I thank the Minister for that intervention.
Offshoring in Australia costs roughly $1 billion a year, for about 300 people. Experts in Australia have also said that it is not effective as a deterrent, and that the vast majority of those offshored are now back in Australia as a result of mental and physical suffering.
The shadow Minister has said that only 300 people have been linked to the offshoring. That is partly because the message has gone out to all the many hundreds of thousands who might have been tempted that it is not worth trying.
I do not think we are in control of which messages get out and which do not. This is about results and consequences, not about the process. If the process is not working, it needs to be fixed.
Rather than being fair, compassionate and orderly, this process would be cruel, demeaning and costly. This is why the Labour Party supports Lords amendment 9, which removes offshoring from the Bill. While we are on the topic of fairness and compassion, I should note our long-standing support for Lords amendment 10, which would allow unaccompanied children in Europe to join family members who are living lawfully in the UK. At this point I should also note my personal dismay at the Bill’s approach to victims of modern slavery, which, again, utterly contravenes the principles of fairness and compassion. I look forward to hearing the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on that subject later today.
What is abundantly clear is that little to no resilience is built into Britain’s asylum system. It is simply failing to adapt and keep pace. It is also utterly inflexible at each point in the process. Ukrainian refugees are having to fill in 50 pages of paperwork in order not to be turned away; that is far beyond the necessary security checks. We have 100,000 person-long asylum waiting lists, and 12,000 Afghan refugees are stuck in hotels. Lords amendment 11 is a useful first step and one that we support, but with Putin’s barbaric actions moving the goalposts almost every day, we suggest that the Government should move further and faster in delivering a resilient system with the capacity that is required to adapt. A Government who fail to plan are a Government who plan to fail, and Lords amendment 11 would at least go some way to forcing this Government to plan and to build capacity.
Finally, while we feel that the concessions given on clause 9 are a welcome step forward, we remain unconvinced that the fears of innocent citizens who feel at risk from this policy have been allayed. It is still too vague, and we will be pushing Lords amendment 4 to a vote.
Only after outrage over pushback have the Government been forced to concede on some of the most chilling aspects of this racist, divisive and discriminatory Bill, including through the removal of some of the carte blanche powers that were previously given to the Home Secretary. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that there are still similar concerns about due process, and in particular about the notion that people can be stripped of their citizenship just because of our relations with another country?
I congratulate and pay tribute to my hon. Friend and other colleagues who have led a passionate and powerful campaign on this issue. There are 324,963 signatures to a petition about clause 9, and I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned on it. We will be voting for Lords amendment 4 today.
At the start of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, I asked him what practical solutions his party had put forward, particularly to combat the journeys across the channel. He has skipped through a great many Lords amendments, in each case opposing Government suggestions and putting nothing in their place. May I give him one final opportunity, before he sits down, to tell us what practical measures his party is proposing to deal with the illegal and dangerous boats coming across the channel? So far, he has not come up with a single practical suggestion.
We are supporting every one of these amendments, almost all of which contain practical suggestions. That is the policy of the Labour Front Bench. On the broader point, one thing we would do is not have a party leader who regularly and consistently insults our democratic partners and allies. On that basis, we would negotiate a successor to Dublin and get constructive engagement with the French on security in relation to people smugglers. This is about grown-up politics, as I am sure the hon. Member would agree.
I would like to end by paying tribute to the noble Lords and Baronesses Coaker, Stroud, Lister, D’Souza, Rosser, Judge, Pannick, Kerr, Kirkhope, Dubs, Alton, Neuburger and Ritchie for working cross-party in such a constructive and effective way to win so many votes in the other place. Let me be clear: this Bill reflects and represents a catalogue of failure on immigration policy and a combination of incompetence and indifference from a Government who are presiding over a system that is neither fair, compassionate nor orderly. It is a desperate attempt to distract from the Home Secretary’s failings, and it solves none of the challenges our immigration system faces. We know that many Members on the Government Benches are deeply uncomfortable with the content of this legislation. The British people want and deserve an asylum and immigration system that is fair, compassionate and orderly. Today, Members on the Government Benches can stand up for decency by joining us in the Division Lobby later this afternoon. Let us hope that they will do so.
I rise to support Lords amendment 11, but I want to start by thanking Ministers for their flexibility in accepting the logic of the amendment I moved at an earlier stage to extend the benefits of the British national overseas scheme to younger Hong Kong residents born after 1997. I thank all those on both sides of this House who supported it, and those in the other place who did so, notably Lord Alton, Lord Patten of Barnes, Lord Falconer and the Bishop of St Albans, as well as the non-governmental organisation Hong Kong Watch. Most of all, I thank the Ministers who have taken it on board and acted on it. That is a good result, so in the same spirit of pragmatic and sensible co-operation, let me try again with the Lords amendment that would set up a permanent safe route that crucially, from the Government’s own perspective, would remove a significant driver of the traffic in small boats across the channel.
I absolutely get that one of the Government’s key aims is to minimise and hopefully stop altogether this dangerous route of illegal immigration. I support them wholeheartedly in that aim. Been there, done that, when the traffic was in the backs of lorries, which was equally dangerous and also led to the deaths of innocent people fleeing trouble. It can be done; we can stop these routes. So why Lords amendment 11? The Government, and indeed the Minister in his opening remarks, have correctly asserted that people in need of protection must come to the UK via safe and lawful routes rather than making an illegal journey. However, those routes need to be available to people, and for far too many people, they are simply not available under the current system.
The Minister went through the details of the resettlement pathway, and in the explanatory notes to the Bill the Government assert that they intend
“to enhance resettlement routes to continue to provide pathways for refugees to be granted protection in the UK”.
But this resettlement route can be an effective response to the challenge of the channel crossings, of which there were about 28,000 last year, and break the model of the criminal people smugglers, only if it achieves two things. First, it must be accessible to meaningful numbers of people. Secondly, it must not be restricted to one geographic area. However, the Home Office data confirms that 87% of those arriving by small boats in 2021 comprised nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, for whom there is currently no alternative legal and safe route by which they can apply to get to the UK, so it is pointless the Minister saying that he believes in accessible routes. The people coming across the channel—he and I, and I suspect everyone in this House, want them to stop putting themselves at risk—do not have those routes available to them, and that is why we need this Lords amendment and a change to the Government’s proposals.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a good point. I wanted to highlight the difficulty for Syrian Kurds, who often flee over the Turkish border. This Government believe that Turkey is a safe place for them, but many Kurds legitimately do not believe that it is a safe place for them to wait for resettlement, and they therefore continue their journey through Europe and eventually arrive in Britain. The Government’s proposals would make that harder. They need to provide decent routes, particularly for Kurds and other minorities that might find neighbouring countries hostile to them rather than receptive of them.
I find myself in rare, perhaps unique agreement with the hon. Gentleman on that point. I am sure that he and I will not want to see that happen too often.
Returning to the Government’s wider plan, the new plan for immigration states:
“The UK’s commitment to resettling refugees will continue to be a multi-year commitment with numbers subject to ongoing review guided by circumstances and capacity at any given time.”
If nothing else, Lords amendment 11 invites the Government to take a small step forward—I agree with the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) that it is a small step, but it is a significant step and I hope we will vote on it later—to strengthen their objectives with a concrete and predictable floor of 10,000 places. That would provide local authorities and civil society more widely with the certainty, time and space to plan and to deliver the capacity so that resettlement can be successful. I should pause and pay tribute to my own local authority in Ashford, which was very active in coming forward early for the Syrian resettlement scheme and has done the same with the Afghans. I also pay tribute to the civil society NGOs in my constituency that are doing the same with Ukraine. I suspect that that is reflected all around the country. There are lots of people out there who want to be generous.
It seems to me that the Homes for Ukraine scheme offers a model that could be used for all sorts of other nationalities as well. There is no reason why we should have one lot of refugees who are being housed and able to work from day one while others are in hotels decided on by the Home Office and often planted on councils that are trying to do their best but do not have much accommodation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a real opportunity for us to rethink how we accept refugees in our country now?
I do; my hon. Friend makes an extremely profound point. We are facing a crisis of a type we have not faced before, and we should use this opportunity to look at ourselves and our systems and ask whether we can do things differently. We should use the entirely justifiable outpouring that we have seen over Ukraine to set up a permanent system so that if we get something like this again—God forbid, but sadly it will probably happen—we will have the systems in place to make it is easier for people, particularly those who are fleeing persecution and death. The Syrian refugee scheme saw 275 local authorities—two thirds of the local authorities in this country—volunteering to resettle refugees. I think that proves the point that an ambitious and intelligently designed programme can meet the appetite of people in their own areas to help those who are fleeing persecution.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, following the 2003 Hillingdon judgment that clarified the responsibilities of local authorities in respect of refugee children, Bev Hughes, the then Minister at the Home Office, wrote to every local authority to inform them that the cost of supporting refugee children would be met in full? A year later, however, when the invoices were submitted to the Home Office, the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), who had taken on that ministerial responsibility, refused to meet those costs, thus undermining the confidence of local authorities to step up to the plate in that respect.
My hon. Friend, a former leader of Hillingdon Council, will be more expert on this matter than I am. In various phases, I have been on either side of the argument between the Home Office and local authorities, so I shall declare a position of neutrality on that, but he makes a valid point.
Lords amendment 11 is modest in its ambitions. It sets a number, which I have heard Ministers claim is a limit, but the amendment actually states:
“The Secretary of State must arrange for the resettlement in the United Kingdom of at least 10,000 refugees each year.”
So if the arrangements are there, the Secretary of State has met the terms. It is conceivable that in some years there will not be the need to resettle 10,000 refugees, but, sadly, looking around the world at the moment, I do not think that figure is at all unrealistic. This approach will have huge practical advantages because, as we have discussed, it will allow local authorities and others to plan ahead. As we see at the moment, this country is good at scrambling together a plan at the last moment, but for once let us do some proper forward planning.
We have all heard people say often, “Britain has a proud tradition of accepting refugees”, and indeed the Minister did not fail in this duty in his opening remarks. We all use that phrase a lot and it is largely true, if we perhaps look at history at bit sporadically. Let us take this opportunity to put ourselves in that proud tradition and show that this House can live up to the generosity of spirit that the British people are showing to Ukrainian refugees today. In that spirit, I ask the House to support Lords amendment 11.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), with whom I agree entirely. Let me start by echoing the comments of both the Minister and shadow Minister on PC Keith Palmer, whose incredibly bravery we should never forget.
It is appropriate to recognise that one or two slivers of progress have been made, for example, on BNO visas and Chagossians, but the fundamental problem is that the core idea at the heart of this Bill, which was appalling from its outset last July, remains at its heart: the idea that we should punish and dehumanise certain refugees so as to disincentivise others from coming here, all on the basis that they should stay in the first country they come to. I thought that that was a horrible idea at the time, but the subsequent events in Afghanistan and the further invasion of Ukraine highlight as never before how utterly misconceived and nonsensical the Government’s thinking was, because although most refugees do seek protection in the first country they enter, some will not, for a host of perfectly understandable reasons. The Government have recognised that, rightly, in their family scheme for Ukrainians. Of course it makes sense for Ukrainians to come to join a brother, aunt or grandparent here in the UK and not to stop in Poland or France, but this Bill will criminalise and undermine recognised refugees from Afghanistan or anywhere else who seek protection here motivated by precisely the same reasons. The Bill represents nothing less than this Government resiling from the refugee convention. The Tories are ripping up a 70-year-old convention exactly when we see that it is as crucial as ever; the Bill’s incompatibility, to lawyers out there and most people in here, is as clear as day. The Government know it as well, which is why they cannot even accept Lords amendment 5, a simple amendment that would require powers in part 2 to be exercised in accordance with the refugee convention. If the Minister is right and everything is absolutely consistent with the convention, no harm is done and there is absolutely no reason for the Government to oppose that amendment.
The House of Lords has done its best to make this Bill barely tolerable, but the Government are seeking to reverse almost every one of its eminently sensible proposals. The Government are not listening, whether to parliamentarians, international authorities or the public. Through their motions to disagree, the Government want to take us back to a Bill and a system that will see refugees criminalised with an offence punishable with up to four years in prison, conceivably with people who rescued them next to them in the dock. It is a system that would see people subject to offshoring while their claim is heard and processed. There is the ludicrous inadmissibility procedure that means nothing can happen while the Government pretend they are going to remove a person to a country they have passed through, despite having no returns agreement in place with it. Even once recognised as a refugee, an Afghan, Syrian or persecuted Christian convert, or whoever else, is going to be treated as a sub-class of refugee, with limits on recourse to public funds, no prospect of settlement and limited family reunion rights. In short, they will be unable to rebuild their life here at all, which is exactly the purpose of the Bill: deliberately making the asylum process awful. Those are just some of the most appalling aspects of the Bill that the Lords have sought to fix.
Let us consider this proposition: up to four years in prison for an Afghan or anyone else who takes an unauthorised route to get here. It is outrageous, so Lords amendment 13 and all the consequential ones should remain in place. What about this: penalising those who charitably seek to assist refugees? That is absolutely absurd, so we support Lords amendments 20 and 54 , which ensure that push-back powers are not exercised in a manner that endangers life. It is incredible that these things are even up for debate. We should not be ripping up the convention by making the unauthorised Afghan or Ukrainian arrivals second-tier citizens, deliberately destroying their prospects of rebuilding their lives. So Lords amendment 6, which deletes clause 11, must be left in place. It is hard to overstate how significant this is. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, the provisions of clause 11 would
“threaten the integrity of the global asylum system”.
This is about denying recognised refugees their rights under the refugee convention and it is totally unacceptable.
Where is the Government’s draft guidance about how they will use these sweeping powers? Apparently it exists, but, like so much else in relation to this Bill, they have kept it to themselves. How will decision makers decide when to use powers to strip recognised refugees of many of their rights? Who will face the burden of proof as to whether the provisions should apply? What will the standard of proof be? Will decisions take into account the individual circumstances of the refugee, in the context of the particular countries they passed through? How much discretion will decision makers have not to treat recognised refugees in this frankly disgusting manner? Any exercise of these powers will be abhorrent, but we have little idea about how these sweeping powers will be used. That is another reason we should not be providing them to the Home Secretary.
The utterly obscene idea of offshoring asylum claims must be kicked into touch. All sorts of myths have been perpetuated about how this was successful—it was not; it has been abandoned by the Australians. It did not stop—it did not exceed 300 people— because message got out that it was not worth trying to get to Australia; it stopped because the whole process was at capacity within weeks of its being launched. So we support Lords amendments 9, 52 and 53. Frankly, if Members are still thinking of resisting these amendments, they are either not interested or are utterly indifferent to the grotesque suffering it has caused those caught up in the Australian scheme. We are talking about children self-harming; suicides and suicide attempts; a mental health catastrophe; and sexual assaults. If that is not enough, perhaps Members should consider the billions of pounds such a system will cost, while achieving nothing. Yet the Home Secretary, who is now paying salaries to people responsible for the Australian disgrace, will not even publish her assessment of the costs. We have been promised the economic impact assessment repeatedly. The Home Affairs Committee was told it was to be published shortly, and that was last autumn. Here we are at ping-pong and it has been kept hidden. There must be a reason for that.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when this was introduced in Australia the number of individuals who lost their lives at sea dramatically decreased, to almost zero? Surely that ought to be taken into account when assessing its effectiveness.
I take into account all the evidence we heard on this matter in the Bill Committee—all the written submissions and the oral evidence we heard. Any assessment by anyone independent of the Government behind that scheme says that none of that was attributable to the offshoring and it was actually attributable to something else I do not like, which was push-backs, but push-backs in a completely different context to those—
We both served on the Bill Committee but we seem to have a very different recollection. George Brandis, the Australian high commissioner, talked about a three-part effect, with push-back, offshoring and deterring by having tougher sanctions for those who enter illegally all having worked in tandem with one another to deter people from making the journey. That is unlike what the hon. Gentleman is trying to portray, which is that one silver bullet was the magic answer—it simply was not. It is just a shame that only two local authorities in the entirety of Scotland take part in the asylum dispersal scheme, unlike Stoke-on-Trent, which is the fifth largest contributor.
Conservative Members can continue to try to upset local authorities in Scotland and achieve absolutely nothing in doing so, but on the more substantive—
It is fact—[Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman has made his intervention, so I am going to try to—
Order. Members should not make interventions when they are sitting down—end of story.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me answer the intervention the hon. Gentleman made while he was standing up. As I said in response to the original intervention, other than what we heard from the politician who gave evidence to us, all the impartial expert evidence was that offshoring achieved absolutely nothing; it was not anything to do with a decline in the number of drownings. The second point to make, in relation to Scottish local authorities, is exactly the same point as has been made by the Conservative party leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council: the Home Office does not step up to its responsibilities because it does not fund local authorities to undertake this work.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way after mentioning Stoke-on-Trent. The leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is annoyed about the asylum dispersal scheme because only a third of local authorities are currently part of it. The council is asking for other areas—such as the 30-plus local authority areas in Scotland—to step up and do their bit because our city of Stoke-on-Trent is now at the one in 200 threshold in terms of refugee versus local citizen. Instead of attacking Stoke-on-Trent City Council with some vague quote, let us get into the facts of the matter. If Scotland stepped up to the plate and did its bit, Stoke-on-Trent would not have to carry the burden for the rest of the country.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is among a group of councils that has taken the Home Office to court, and it protests about how the Home Office handles the scheme. In fairness to the Home Secretary, she agrees with the point I am making, which is that it is outrageous that local authorities have been left without proper funding to do their job. As I have said a million times in the House, once that funding is in place the hon. Gentleman will see other Scottish local authorities step up to the plate, just as every single Scottish local authority did in respect of the Syrian resettlement scheme.
Let us get back to offshoring, because none of what we were just talking about has anything to do with the fact that what offshoring achieved in Australia was self-harm, disastrous mental health consequences and all sorts of appalling torture and degrading treatment for the people there. Offshoring is going to cost billions of pounds, there is no sensible argument in favour of it and we need to get rid of it as soon as we can.
We also support Lords amendment 8, which means the Government cannot delay the consideration of asylum claims in order to attempt removal when in reality there is no prospect of removal happening. In itself, the amendment goes nowhere near far enough in the provision of safeguards against the inappropriate use of inadmissibility procedures, but it is better than nothing at all.
All the Lords amendments I have gone through are designed to prevent the Government from taking the broken asylum system and smashing it to pieces, but there are Lords amendments that also seek to improve the current broken system, which sees people having to wait months even to register their claim, and years to get a decision. Lords amendment 7 is a simple but powerful example. It allows asylum seekers to work after six months. The arguments have been repeated ad infinitum in this place and seem to us to be overwhelming. Nobody can fail to understand the significance of work to tackling poverty, the improvement of mental health and wellbeing and the aiding of integration. If people are left out of work for years—which is how long asylum claims take these days—how can they rebuild their lives?
The Government bang on about pull factors, but that argument is not only morally repugnant—in essence, “Let asylum seekers suffer to disincentivise others from coming”—but empty. The Migration Advisory Committee itself says that there is no evidence to back up what the Government say. Frankly, there is no evidence to back up virtually anything the Government say, which is why very little is ever published. We therefore pay tribute to all the campaigners behind Lords amendment 7.
Lords amendments 10, 11 and 12 represent three different forms of safe route that would enhance our protection system. Lords amendment 10, tabled by Lord Dubs, puts in place a form of family reunion for those in Europe, thereby repairing some of the damage caused by the end of our participation in the Dublin system. The Government recognised that family rules were far too constrained for Ukrainians; Lords amendment 10 is built on the same principle, with a particular benefit for unaccompanied children. With the demise of our participation in Dublin, we see more and more children getting into dinghies to join siblings or other relatives here, and the amendment would help to stop that. The Dublin system was not perfect but it was a lot better than our restrictive family reunion rules, which involve massive fees and impossible legal tests. Lords amendment 10 improves on all that.
Similarly, we support Lords amendment 12, which opens a safe route for people fleeing genocide—I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) will say more on that later—and we fully support Lords amendment 11, which ensures the regular resettlement of 10,000 refugees per year. For too long, the extent to which we have sought to meet our obligations to resettle refugees has been left to the whim of the Home Office. The Syrian scheme was a success, but the infrastructure that made it successful has been left to wither and—to put it politely—the Afghan scheme has barely started, despite the huge responsibility we have for those people. We get lots of rhetoric from the Government on this issue, but little delivery. We need a stable and predictable annual goal with a degree of flexibility, which is exactly what Lords amendment 11 delivers.
Finally, I turn to the one part of the Bill that is largely welcome: part 1. We warmly welcome the progress on the recognition of Chagos islanders as British overseas territory citizens, but questions arise in relation to the amendment in lieu, because unlike the original Lords amendment it does not include an entitlement for Chagos islanders to register as a British citizen at the same time. Were it not for historic injustices, that would have been made an automatic entitlement in May 2002. The Government’s proposals mean there will be only a discretionary route. What is the rationale for that? Will the Minister confirm that that discretion will be used in all cases of this type? Will he ensure that only a restricted fee is charged, as in other cases of historic injustice?
Just to help and to keep this short, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our intention is to operate in the spirit of the Lords amendment—that is, there will not be a fee for registration—but I am more than happy to outline in some detail at another time exactly how the process will work.
It is useful to hear that said from the Dispatch Box, so I thank the Minister.
Lastly, the provisions on stripping people of citizenship without notice were introduced at short notice in the Public Bill Committee, without any chance to hear or receive evidence on them. The provisions were frightening, and their lordships have exposed them for the utterly unfit provisions they were. Indeed, the whole episode has cast light on how unfit for purpose nationality laws have become, and in particular the ever-increasing powers of Ministers to strip people of their citizenship.
The amendments in lieu based on those tabled by Lord Anderson are certainly much better than what we had previously and do address some of the concerns that have been expressed since the Bill was last considered in this place. Nevertheless, concerns have rightfully been expressed about a two-tier system of deprivations, as there are no benefits in the amendments in lieu for those who have already been deprived of their citizenship without notice. Unless that can be fixed, we continue to believe that Lords amendment 4 is the best solution.
In short, the Government have got this Bill totally wrong and it should be opposed in every single way possible.
Order. As the House can see, a great many people wish to speak. I will try to manage without a formal time limit because it is not normal to have one at this stage of dealing with Lords amendments, but I will introduce a time limit if we cannot have a bit of discipline. If everyone speaks for around four minutes, all colleagues will have a chance to speak, so let us try to do it without a formal time limit.
I will be as quick as I can, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Unlike the Opposition, I take the view that this Bill is a serious attempt to deal with an almost intractable problem. Nobody should challenge that point. Nevertheless, we are a great nation, and our greatness rests on the fact that we take a moral stance on most things. That is not a formula for softness but it is an argument for rigour in what we do. Lord Kirkhope’s amendment 9 strips out the Government’s plans to create an offshore asylum-processing system, and I believe he is right. Asylum offshoring would be a moral, economic and practical failure. Previous international experience shows that to introduce it here would be an unmitigated disaster.
The first problem with offshoring is an ethical one. To get a sense of the issue, we have only to look at what happened in Australia when it adopted the same approach in 2013. It meant that children, modern slavery victims and torture survivors could be detained offshore. The Refugee Council of Australia has documented gut-wrenching stories of sexual, physical and mental abuse in the processing facilities. A 14-year-old girl who was held offshore for five years doused herself in petrol and tried to set herself alight. A 10-year-old boy attempted suicide three times. Another child starved themselves near to death and had to be removed back to Australia.
Those were not isolated cases. In fact, there have been numerous reports of assaults and sexual abuse relating to Australia’s processing facility on Nauru. Between January and October 2015 alone—just a few months—there were 48 reports of assault and 57 reports of assault against a minor. That is what we appear to be trying to copy. We cannot risk creating a similar situation here. I ask the House to remember what happened to the views of migration around Europe when we saw the body of a drowned child on a Turkish beach. That is what would happen if such stories started to come out of a British offshoring facility.
The second problem with offshoring is its staggering cost. Australia ended up spending over £1 million per person detained offshore—around £4.3 billion for 3,127 asylum seekers. That is 25 times higher per head than what we spend now. We would expect to have many more applicants than Australia had. Last year alone we had 50,000 applicants. Despite what was said earlier, the Australians have learned the lesson. They have wound down their policy, shut down their processing centre in Papua New Guinea and have not sent any new asylum seekers there since 2014.
It is right that I point out that Australia may not be using Papua New Guinea but it still uses another island, and its approach continues to be very robust.
The one that I was citing was Nauru, not Papua New Guinea, which turned it down itself and refused to take any more. That is the actual fact of it. By the way, I talked to Tony Abbott about this issue last week and will recount a bit of that discussion in a moment. Since that centre was closed, there were 92,000 asylum applications, so it is not as though the story went away.
There is also a major practical problem: where is this facility going to be? Will it be in Ghana, which referred to the policy as “Operation Dead Meat”? Rwanda? We have heard more on Rwanda today, and I will leave it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) to talk about Rwanda, as he knows more about it than I do. Albania? Moldova? Gibraltar? All these places have all been talked about—none has said yes. Even if we do find somewhere, we will have to pay it a spectacular bribe to get it to take in our dirty washing; that is what it is, in effect. The Government are simply proposing shifting responsibility for our problems to another country. That does not fit with the behaviour of the great country that I believe we are.
Given the time limit, I will finish on this point. I spoke last week to Tony Abbott, who was Prime Minister of Australia for some of the time we are discussing. We did not talk primarily about this policy, but I asked him what was most effective. I am afraid that he rather agreed with what the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) said—that the really effective policy was pushback.
Frankly, what we have to deal with, in the Home Office and with our French allies, is a series of practical problems, alongside the legalities of how we handle the channel, which is not yet resolved either. What we cannot do is put aside ethical standards in order to drive people away from our shores.
When people look back on this debate, I think it will be in the same way that we look back on debates around the Poor Law. They tried to solve poverty in those times by being cruel to the poor; I think that is what we are trying to do here. We are not addressing the real issues we face.
I fully concur with everything the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said. I find it bizarre that we are even considering offshoring at this point in time; I think we all know that, practically, it is never going to come off—it is never going to happen—and this is a wasted debate.
I want to concentrate on employment rights. In my constituency, I have two detention centres, which house nearly 1,000 people. Most of them will be detained, but will then come into the community, and will eventually be allowed to remain. There are 1,700 asylum seekers in hotels in my constituency as well. They are not a burden—I welcome them. They may be a financial burden on local authorities and others—central Government need to support them—but, socially and emotionally, I welcome them completely.
The problem that these people have is that, most of the time, they are trapped in the system. Hon. Members just need to look at the figures from their own casework. Cases take at least six months or a year; I have dealt with cases that have been waiting for four or five years before there is a result. In the meantime, people are denied the right to earn a living. They are told to live off £5.40 a day, and that means they live in poverty.
Someone mentioned Syrian asylum seekers; those I have met are some of the most qualified people I have ever met. They have gone through universities and training; they have skills that they could use to give the country so much, and yet they are trapped in the system, living in poverty. And, tragically, what does living in poverty do, in some instances? People try different angles. Sometimes, unfortunately, they end up in criminality. This system, which refuses to allow people to exercise their skills and devote their talents to our community, forces them into poverty and, in some instances, criminality. All Lords amendment 7 said was, “Just allow these people to work—allow them to support themselves and their families, and to give something back to this country.”
As my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the number of asylum seekers in Feltham and Heston who face the challenges that he has outlined. As well as being more humane, allowing people to work would also allow them to make a financial contribution. He will have heard stories similar to those I have—of young people with degrees, who have been tortured, who have fled for their lives, and want nothing more than to start their lives again in a country that they want to call home.
More recently, a calculation was made of the sort of financial contribution that would be made to the country if we allowed people to work six months after they applied for asylum. At least £200 million would be put into our economy. We are denying ourselves these people’s ability to create wealth. I went through the same process when refugee Ugandan families turned up here in the time of Idi Amin; hon. Members may remember that. I have to tell the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) that Hillingdon, then under the leadership of Terry Dicks, whom the hon. Gentleman will recall, was not kind to those refugees at the time. However, eventually those Ugandan Asians settled, and they made a huge contribution to this society, including a massive economic contribution, because we allowed them to use their talents and take up employment. Often, they created businesses. They made a great contribution, certainly in west London, as my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) can tell us.
I cannot understand the rationale for the Government’s approach. There is an argument that allowing employment will somehow add to the pull factor, but having to live off £5.40 a day is not the sort of pull factor that will attract millions to this country. We should look at the issue rationally, and recognise that the large number of people trapped in this poverty trap could contribute so much. That is why Lords amendment 7 needs to be looked at more rationally. Suffering cannot be part of our policy for dealing with the world refugee crisis—a crisis that will, as a result of climate change and other matters, become worse. We have to recognise that there will be movements of people. We have to accommodate that, and that is partly about making sure that those people are welcomed in a way that allows them to make an effective contribution to our society.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making such a moving and significant speech about the plight of Afghan people. Why, in his view, are the Government not allowing Afghan refugees to make an economic contribution, although they absolutely could?
I do not want to go over this too much, because other people want to come in on this debate, but there is a contradiction in our allowing Ukrainians, but not others, to work immediately. People can draw their own inferences from that. Inferences can be drawn from it that people in this House might not like. I ask hon. Members to contemplate that, to look at Lords amendment 7, and to think again. It is a beneficent amendment that will assist not only the individuals concerned but our wider community and economy.
Order. My plea for Members to limit themselves to four-minute speeches simply has not worked. I point out to the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), who intervened just now, that I consider that she has now made her contribution, because there is not enough time for everybody to get into the debate. We will now have a formal four-minute limit. I call Sir John Hayes.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Disraeli observed:
“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.”
Many of the amendments put forward by the Lords are carelessly critical. They are veiled, as these things so often are, in a thin covering of assumed moral superiority, but surely it is not moral to oppose a Bill that tries to make the asylum system fit for purpose. Surely it is not ethical to conflate illegal immigration with the immigration of those people who diligently seek to come to this country lawfully and to surmount the hurdles we put in their path, and who, having done so, take pride in making the contribution mentioned by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).
In particular, Lords amendments 6 and 9 go entirely against the grain of the Bill, which, it should be remembered, delivers on a pledge made to the British people by their Government. From the darkening gloom, a silver light upsoars, and that silver light was the pledge to take back control. Many of those who elected this Government made the unsurprising assumption that taking back control had at its heart, at its core, taking back control of our borders, for if a nation cannot control its borders, what can it control? How do we define a nation if it does not control who comes here and who stays here? Our asylum system is palpably, as acknowledged by all, no longer fit for purpose, and all acknowledge that, yet when the Government try to do something about this, falteringly and hesitatingly—I do not think that the Bill goes far enough, by the way—they face a barrage of criticism from those who are happy to allow the chaos to continue.
As I heard the shadow Minister speaking, I was reminded of Dan Quayle, the former American politician, who said:
“The future will be better tomorrow.”
Better tomorrow, but with no suggestion of what that future might be like, no hint of what Labour would do to improve the current system, indeed no detail of how the Opposition would amend or reform asylum, just a criticism of a Government trying to get this right.
It is preposterous that the Lords should attempt to amend this Bill against a backdrop of 28,000 men, women and children setting out to sea in dinghies to make the precarious trip to our shores, three times the number of crossings since 2020. If those numbers continue, we will see many repeats of that horrible day last November that claimed 27 lives.
This is straightforward— the people smugglers’ message is plain: “If we get you here and you pay the money to achieve that purpose, you will never leave.” The truth is that even once claims have been processed and around 40% have been found not to be valid, people rarely leave because of a combination of irresponsible activists, fat-cat lawyers and the Human Rights Act, which needs to be ditched as soon as possible. Let us reform the asylum system by backing this Bill and rejecting these amendments once and for all.
I think this is the worst bit of legislation that I have seen in 17 years—and there is some competition. Fundamentally, it is the worst bit of legislation because it is based on an utterly bogus premise, which is that we are swamped by asylum seekers. We are not. Compared with with the 27 members of the European Union, the UK is 18th when it comes to the number of asylum claims that are granted. For many reasons that we know all about, last year was a heavy year. There were 48,000 asylum cases in the UK, 96,000 in France, and 127,000 in Germany. That is a reminder that our problem is an entirely structural one—incompetence in the Home Office—not that we are “swamped”.
Lords amendment 7 is about the right to work. Why are we not granting asylum seekers the right to work? It is right for integration, learning the language, and the dignity of those people being able to support their family and to pay their way. There is a left-wing and a right-wing argument for saying yes to this; it is barmy to say no.
Lords amendment 6 is about having two tiers. This is the most appalling and repugnant part of the entire Bill. I assume that the Government have confidence in our asylum system, in which case we judge people on the merits of their asylum claim through the system, not through the utterly bogus, completely contrived and arbitrary notion of the means by which they got here. Let us remember that 89% of Iranian asylum seekers have their claims granted, 97% of Eritreans, and 96% of Sudanese, none of whom have a legal route. The only way that they can get here is by making dangerous journeys. Let us be very clear: this Bill is a traffickers’ charter. If Members vote for this Bill, they are voting for deaths in the channel, because they will be removing the right of anyone who is not Ukrainian, Afghan or Syrian to have a safe route here, which is an outrage. Conservative Members know that that is the truth. Then there is offshoring. We have the guarantee that it is not the Ascension Islands, so where is it? South Georgia? People from all parts of the House have already mentioned that offshoring is ridiculous. It is a pantomime bit of nonsense, and it is also inhumane and massively expensive.
People talk about the pull factor, for pity’s sake. Have the Government not worked out that there is no dastardly, lunatic policy they could introduce to protect this country from asylum seekers that rivals the fact that we are a flipping island surrounded by water. People come here not because of the pull factor, but because of the push factor—because of the outrages that they experience. The people here have no sense of what it is like themselves. This is the sort of nonsense that people invent to try to push through the worst piece of legislation that I have seen in 17 years.
I want to spend a moment talking about Ukraine and our offer to the refugees fleeing that appalling and murderous tyrant, Putin. There is a lot to commend in the fact that there is some kind of a scheme now, but let us remember that it is laden with admin bureaucracy. I was talking to a Kendal friend of mine who is Ukrainian by birth. Their friends have seven-month-old twins who do not have passports, so the online application is not open to them. They have to get themselves to the embassy in Warsaw, as that is the only way that they can get here. We are throwing up barrier after barrier after barrier.
Why do people want to come here? Why do they not stay in the first place they reach? There are loads of reasons—cultural ties, the Commonwealth, language. There is also the fact that we have a reputation, a glorious reputation; people want to come to the United Kingdom because they know that it is a place of tolerance and of liberty. It is a place where there is religious tolerance, where they can earn a living, and where they can raise a family in safety.
The simple fact is this: even this despicable Bill will not undermine Britain’s centuries-old reputation as a place of sanctuary. Whatever this Government do, they cannot sully our reputation much, because this country’s reputation and history are glorious and so is its future, despite this puny little Government.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), even though, as is sadly often the case, he ruined some respectable points with absurd hyperbole. This Bill is not the living embodiment of meanness. It is actually a reasonable and proper attempt to try to deal with a system that has evolved to become very complex. It now has distinctions that are out of date because of our departure from the EU. Having worked with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on aspects of this Bill, I can say that it is in direct fulfilment of our manifesto commitment. There is no doubt in my mind about its importance and about the need for it to be passed.
There is, however, reasonable question to ask about the position of asylum seekers being able to undertake work after six months. I have long regarded as unnecessary the waste of not just lives but expenditure when asylum seekers have to stay in a state of limbo, often for years, before knowing whether their claim is to be accepted. It is unnecessary because people who are in this position have a contribution to make to our society. That is not particularly controversial or a view confined to political parties. It is supported by a broad coalition of people of all colours and none. Indeed, a YouGov poll showed that 81% of people who were asked agreed with the principle of allowing asylum seekers the right to work. As we reset the system through this Bill, we have an opportunity to do something that has the merit of being both practical and right. We are conferring the right to work on our friends from Ukraine who are arriving in our country after fleeing war and persecution, so why not do the same for others who are and fleeing persecution and seeking asylum?
After the Government did whatever it took to save millions of jobs during the covid pandemic, we now face a significant undersupply of workers. Allowing access to gainful economic activity for some asylum seekers achieves several things. It helps in some measure to answer that question about labour shortage. It will bring in revenue to the Exchequer—the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned a figure of £200 million, and the potential revenue is certainly in the hundreds of millions. When we put on the other side of the balance the fact that asylum accommodation costs £350 million a year, we can start to see why the numbers add up.
In my constituency, working with The Harbour Project in Swindon, which helps people in my dispersal centre to deal with the effects of the wait for resolution, I have seen for myself the effects on their mental health of having nothing to do. Even volunteering is different.
I am grateful for the constructive way my right hon. and learned Friend is making his case. If he is agreeable, I would be keen to meet him to discuss the issue and the arguments he makes, and to set out some of the work we are doing on transforming the speed at which asylum cases are processed, which I hope will also help to allay some of his concerns.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that offer, which I accept with alacrity. I would like to bring colleagues such as the noble Baroness Stroud, who did so much work on this issue, to meet him and officials to look into the detail of the volunteering question in particular. While we encourage asylum seekers to volunteer and they get reasonable expenses, even payments in kind for the volunteering they do are prohibited. There is a real issue there that is preventing many people from making a contribution to the local community, as I have seen for myself in Swindon.
We know the reality that many people under that pressure go off the radar. They end up being exploited, or even bound into modern-day slavery, and we lose them from the entire system. The effect of creating a right to work could deal a hammer blow to that type of exploitation.
I therefore welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister and urge the Government, in the spirit of co-operation, to look carefully at how we can do what other countries such as Denmark have started to do in allowing some asylum seekers the right to work. The Migration Advisory Committee has said there is no meaningful evidence to suggest that doing so would create a pull factor. The question is begged: if that is a pull factor, why do we have small boats now?
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have help from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project for my work in this area.
I have said throughout the debates in Parliament that this Bill is divisive. As my constituents reach across borders to help and house those fleeing the war in Ukraine, this Government are sowing division by making an insidious distinction between “good” and “bad” refugees—a division that we should all completely reject. That is why I rise today to support amendments 4 to 9, especially amendment 6.
Clause 11 makes a totally spurious division between group 1 and group 2 refugees that flies in the face of the 1951 refugee convention. The convention clearly states that refugees, wherever they come from,
“shall enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination.”
The Government know that there are no visa or pre-entry clearances for someone wishing to claim refuge. There is no such thing as an illegal refugee in international law, yet that is exactly what the new group 2 category attempts to establish. All clause 11 seeks to do is lazily turn far-right talking points about asylum seekers and refugees into legislation, without seriously thinking through any of the consequences for the people involved.
For example, currently people fleeing war can apply for humanitarian protection leave. The protection grants them five years in the UK, access to the NHS and other public funds, an option to apply later for indefinite leave to remain and the right to work. However, the Government are scrapping humanitarian protection as we know it and aligning it instead with the new group 2 status, meaning regular visa reviews every two and a half years compared with every five, no recourse to public funds, no right to work, restricted family visa rights and no route to indefinite leave to remain. That is something I think many in this House have missed, and I hope they will reflect on it.
It is remarkable that in the middle of the Ukraine crisis, as thousands of people join the effort to support people from Ukraine, the Government are actually proposing that people running from the horrors of war should have fewer rights to come here. Those rights were brought in through an EU directive that became British law, and now the Government are using the smokescreen of this Bill to remove them, all by aligning them with a faulty two-tier refugee system.
My hon. Friend is making a very interesting speech. Does she agree that the UN refugee convention was about our common humanity? I have heard a lot of talk about a “great country”, but what we see now from this Government is an attempt to split humanity into two tiers. That undermines the concept of human rights and of there being one, sole, universal understanding of what it is to be a human being. This Government are putting humanity into categories, and history tells us that that is a slippery slope and fundamentally wrong.
I agree—it is fundamentally wrong. That is why we should ensure that clause 11 is not included in this Bill. Clause 11 is out of tune with the hundreds of thousands of people who have come forward to help Ukrainian refugees. It is an affront to the 1951 refugee convention, and I urge hon. Members to reject it and to reject this Bill.
I rise to thank the Government sincerely for amendment 1, the Chagos nationality amendment. I particularly thank the Minister, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) for his comments earlier and his colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who is not currently in his place, for meeting me and engaging on the issue of Chagos nationality justice and finally, after many years of campaigning, seeing the matter resolved by this Government. I am truly appreciative.
I express my thanks to hon. Members across this House, both present and past, and present and past members of the other place for their work over many years on this important matter. I also do not forget the many members of the Chagos islands community: those visiting Parliament today, those across this country and those in other parts of the world. They have suffered an injustice of approximately half a century and the Government today have gone a significant way towards ensuring that those people who are descendants of British subjects rightly have the ability to apply for British overseas territories citizenship, and therefore ultimately British citizenship if they so wish.
In conclusion, I repeat my appreciation to the Government. The second campaign that continues for the Chagos islanders is a right of return to their homeland, but I promise the Home Office that I will tackle the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office with that one, and conclude my remarks by expressing my appreciation to Home Office Ministers and officials.
I echo the words of the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith); there is a small amount of consensus on the concession the Government have made today towards members of the Chagossian community. However, if the Government are at long last willing to listen to the House of Lords to correct that historical injustice, why are they not willing to listen to it on all the other points? It appears to be the exception that proves the rule.
We in the SNP hold no torch for their lordships’ House, but for those who are defenders of the Lords and stand up for the check it is supposed to provide on the decisions of the elected Chamber, why is everything else being dismissed out of hand? Why are the Government not willing to accept Lords amendment 5 and put the 1951 refugee convention into the Bill? They say they accept the convention and always act in accordance with—although of course the reality is very different. There is a gap between their rhetoric about respecting the convention and the reality that they want to turn arriving in the UK from a war zone into a crime.
That is why the House should also support Lords amendments 6 and 11. Ministers have yet to explain, despite having been asked several times in this debate, how the UK, which is surrounded by water, could ever possibly be the first safe country of arrival for someone seeking asylum without proper paperwork. Political human rights defenders from Eritrea are not provided with exit visas and passports by their Government. They have to run across the border at night in case they get shot, and then hope to God that they can get to a safe country such as the United Kingdom, where there is already an expat community. But then this freedom-loving, democracy-defending, global-Britain-is-great Tory Government want to turn them into criminals, which is exactly what they were fleeing in the first place. Exactly how putting asylum seekers into the prison system represents value for money for taxpayers is completely beyond me.
That is why the House should vote to retain Lords amendment 7 extending the right to work to asylum seekers. As if the current system is not dehumanising enough for individual asylum seekers, being denied the right to work actively harms wider society. Let them pay tax. Let them contribute to our economy and industries that are crying out for staff. Let them use their skills and talents to benefit everyone. I believe that even some Tory Back Benchers have finally been persuaded of this. I pay particular tribute to the Maryhill Integration Network, based in Glasgow North, for championing this amendment and becoming not just a provider of vital services to the local migrant population but an authoritative national voice on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
The House should also support the amendment tabled by Lord Alton, one of the finest minds and voices in the upper Chamber, that seeks to ensure that applicants for asylum who are at risk of being killed in a genocide can claim asylum in the UK. It provides exactly the kind of safe and legal route the Government say they want to see, and it was supported by former Tory Cabinet Ministers in the House of Lords. Yet once again the Government want to reject it. It is clear that this Government are determined to strip away from the Bill any vestige of compassion or recognition of vulnerability on the part of asylum seekers that the Lords have managed to shoehorn into it. Well, I hope the Government are made to work for it. I hope we divide on every single amendment before us and that when they have to cancel their dinners, receptions and all their other engagements this evening, they think about what it must be like to travel on a small boat and to be in the hands of people-traffickers. No one chooses that. No one is so desperate to come to the Tories’ land of milk and honey. People are forced into this kind of thing.
I will not give way because I am out of time, and this Government are out of ideas and out of compassion. As they have shown in recent weeks in response to the current situation in Ukraine, people in Scotland and people across the United Kingdom do not want to put up barriers to people fleeing war, famine and disasters caused by a climate emergency that we in the west created. They want to show solidarity and compassion. They want to say it loud and say it clear—that refugees are welcome here.
I take a rather different view from the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). I draw the House’s attention to my outside interests. I also want to make it clear that I think this is a most important piece of legislation and I completely agree with the aims of the Home Office. I congratulate the Home Secretary on her vigorous attempts to remedy a serious problem.
I want to raise three brief points. First, I point out to the House that when the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) agree so clearly, the Government should think carefully about whether they can move on the issue of 12 months coming down to six months.
The two Lords amendments I particularly want to raise, which would improve the Bill, are those tabled by Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate. They should be given very serious consideration. Lord Kirkhope was the Immigration Minister under Michael Howard, the former Home Secretary in John Major’s Government. Both are much respected and on the right of the Conservative party. Our former colleague Lord Kirkhope’s views are an important contribution to this debate. Furthermore, he has a long-standing interest and expertise in the handling of population movement in Europe from Calais to Moscow.
On amendment 11, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has already made clear the huge benefits that would come in if it were agreed to. It is designed to break the people-smugglers’ business model. The Government are quite right: people fleeing terror and persecution should only come here by safe and legal routes. We will only stop people in desperation coming over the channel—that is, set up the settlement pathway the Home Office rightly refers to and break the smugglers’ model—if, first, we have accessible and meaningful numbers, and, secondly, we are not restricted to one geographic area. The Home Office confirms that 87% of the 28,000 arriving illicitly in 2021 came from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, for whom there is currently no alternative legal and safe route to which they can apply to get to the United Kingdom. Endorsing resettlement is central to the Government’s new approach set out in the “New Plan for Immigration”, but Ministers have yet to bring forward any provision in legislation that would see the necessary safe and legal routes made available.
It is rarely popular among Conservatives to talk of specific targets. Any figure can be changed up or down by the Government to reflect international circumstances. I fear that we must do so if the Government’s laudable aim of stemming the dangerous flow of desperate people across the channel, exploited by evil traffickers, is to stop. The figure of 10,000 suggested by Lord Kirkhope equates to 15 per parliamentary constituency, or five families per local authority. The amendment makes it clear that this is inclusive of, not in addition to, the Afghan refugees, and having a target would enable local authorities to plan in a co-ordinated manner, as we have heard, and avoid the current system where so many Afghans whom we want to help are waiting to move out of inappropriate accommodation.
On amendment 9 and offshoring, this is the issue that Lord Kirkhope looked at so comprehensively before and reluctantly rejected. The Home Office is asking Parliament to grant it this power when it has no idea of where it would exercise it, when it could exercise it or if it can exercise it. We know that it would be incredibly expensive. Judged by the cost of Australian offshoring, the British taxpayer would face unprecedented costs per asylum seeker. It would be much cheaper to put each one in the Ritz and send all the under-18s to Eton. That would cost a great deal less than what is proposed. Much more sensible is to recruit and train several hundred new civil servants to process these claims more rapidly and, yes, to crack down on an over-lengthy appeals process exploited through unscrupulous lawyers.
Recently, I was sent hundreds of Valentine cards from pupils at St Dunstan’s Primary School in my constituency, to my surprise; it is more than I have ever received. In each card, handmade and written by a pupil, the message was clear: to stand in solidarity with refugees and vote against this draconian Bill. Primary school children were asking me to do the right thing. These young people want a society based on compassion, humanity and solidarity with those in need. They want their country and their communities to be safe havens for those fleeing war, famine and persecution. It is moving to see such displays of unconditional love and understanding from our young people, and I am immensely proud to represent these pupils. I only wish that an ounce of their compassion could be found among Conservative Members who will vote to support this inhumane Bill.
Make no mistake, this Bill is one of the most draconian pieces of legislation brought before this House in quite some time. Millions of people across the UK have recoiled in utter disgust at some of the provisions contained within it, and they are right to do so. Its timing could not be worse. We have all been given a stark reminder of the importance of providing support and assistance to those fleeing war. The situation in Ukraine is driving millions from their homes, many of whom have found refuge in neighbouring countries. However, those who have sought to claim asylum here in the UK have faced nothing but obstruction and bureaucracy. A cold shoulder has been given to the Ukrainian people by the Home Office. They are the latest victims of the long-standing hostile environment faced by those in search of safety.
Let us be clear that this Bill does nothing to improve the lives of those fleeing war and persecution—quite the opposite. Clause 11, concerning illegal entry into the UK, will criminalise those who do not arrive by regular routes, which for millions of refugees are simply not available. It will do nothing to support those who face perilous journeys after fleeing from their homes, and it seeks only to further punish those who are most in need of help. Furthermore, there are no serious measures in this Bill aimed at tackling people trafficking, or any provisions to ensure that safe and legal routes are made more widely available. Instead of measures designed to safeguard and support refugees, this Bill contains only provisions to further dehumanise and isolate them, with the suggestion of offshore processing facilities and the ability for them to be sent back to countries they have travelled through.
That is why I am standing with those pupils from St Dunstan’s Primary School in opposition to the Bill. I urge others to learn from their example and do the same. Edward from the school said:
“Rose are red / Violets are blue / Do you support refugees too?”
“Show your heart for refugees”.
“Roses are red / Violets are blue / I support refugees / How about you?”
With 20,000 Syrians, 18,000 Afghans, 100,000 Hongkongers and an unlimited number of Ukrainians—probably upwards of 100,000 are expected—it is just not the case, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) just said, that there is not an ounce of compassion in this country for supporting refugees fleeing from conflict. It is simply not the case.
Of course there are difficulties, and there is too much bureaucracy in many cases, and we are all familiar with that. I do not think there is any individual to blame, whether Ministers or officials. The fact is that systems are often clunky and bureaucratic, and we need to improve that, but there is a factor that applies when we consider mass migration and asylum in our times. We are trying to manage hard borders in an age of free trade and mass migration. We are facing enormous pressures on our borders.
Beyond the remit of this Bill is our foreign engagement. We need to be more engaged. In other debates, we have discussed the need for further investment in our defences, in development spending and in our diplomatic corps. I also think we need to accept more refugees into this country in the years ahead—not more economic migrants, except for those who are highly skilled and able to make a significant contribution, but certainly more refugees.
I want to speak briefly in support of the sponsorship scheme that the Government have introduced, which is so good as a model. Rather than Government and councils being responsible for identifying migrants and admitting them into this country, we are inviting communities themselves to take the lead, and I find it surprising that Opposition Members, who object so strenuously to bureaucracy and faceless systems, want the Government to match refugees with sponsors. They think councils should be responsible for organising where people come and live. I think we have a better system that is self-organising. Members around the House will have noticed the inspiring example in eastern Europe of communities reaching out to refugees, which is all self-organising and shows that it does not need Government to match people.
How do we do this securely? It is totally wrong to say that anyone who breaks into the UK has a right to live here. It is a terrible incentive for people to take dangerous trips across the channel, it is unjust to legal migrants and refugees, and it is wrong for the citizens who live here. It is the essence of sovereignty that people cannot just decide to move here on their own initiative. We have a moral obligation to illegal migrants to save their lives if they undertake these dangerous journeys, to treat them with absolute decency when they get here and then to return them to the back of the queue. If possible, that means back to the last safe country they were in, and if necessary to a third country. The effect will be to deter this dangerous and illegal crossing.
We must do more to deter people smuggling, which is why I support the measures in the Bill to introduce stronger penalties for people who break into this country, much stronger penalties against the smugglers who bring them over, more power and resources for our Border Force, including opportunities to return to France if that can be done safely, and more power to remove illegal immigrants.
I will finish with two quick conclusions. First, I think we need more use of the community sponsorship route as the default model for refugee resettlement. I echo the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) earlier. I believe in the generosity and compassion of local communities in this country, and I believe that community sponsorship is the most effective way to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers in our country. Secondly, to ensure the security of our borders, I wonder whether we should consider a new Department for borders that looks after visas, asylum and security. A smaller and more effective operation might be better.
The Bill is anti-refugee to its core. It lacks basic humanity and represents an acceleration of the Government’s deeply damaging demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers. Its callousness has been further illuminated by the situation in Ukraine. The Government must provide safe passage and refuge for displaced people, refugees and asylum seekers arriving from Ukraine and all theatres of conflict around the globe.
The outpouring of compassion and solidarity for people fleeing Ukraine has been inspiring, yet when we contrast that to how asylum seekers from non-European and non-majority white countries are treated by the Government, a worrying picture emerges of the inherent racism in how crises are reported, discussed and responded to. The sorrow and despair that we all feel for Ukraine should be identical to the sorrow and despair that we feel for Yemen, Palestine and Syria. The media class and the Government must recognise that every conflict is deserving of our solidarity and our compassion, so the UK must not only rapidly extend its support for people fleeing Ukraine but abandon its unbelievably callous refugee and asylum policy—starting by ripping up this Bill.
Many of the Lords amendments would improve the Bill. I especially support Lords amendment 4, which removes the licence given to the Home Secretary to deprive British people of their citizenship without informing them. I also support Lords amendment 5, which seeks to ensure that the Bill does not violate the UK’s shared international obligations under the refugee convention. Lords amendment 6, which removes from the Bill the power given to the Home Secretary to treat people differently according to the way that they arrive and claim asylum, must also be adopted to prevent a two-tier system that would limit protection for refugees due not to their need but to their method of travel.
I also support Lords amendment 7 on permission to work, yet I believe the six-month limit should be lifted and that people claiming asylum should be able to work regardless of how long they have been in our country. Lords amendments 8 and 9 are steps in the right direction, yet they do not go far enough to prevent asylum seekers from being transferred to other countries and processed offshore. Lords amendment 10, which would introduce a family reunion provision, is important, yet we must accept all people fleeing war, persecution and other horrors, not only those with family ties in the UK. I wholeheartedly support Lords amendment 54, which prohibits the use of new maritime powers contained in schedule 6 in ways that would endanger life at sea. That is an abhorrent proposal and we must fight tooth and nail against its ever being implemented.
Overall, although the Lords amendments improve important aspects, they do not go nearly far enough to rectify this irredeemable Bill. Time and again, the Government have chosen to turn their back on those seeking protection from war, torture or other awful acts. The Bill will compound the misery of people fleeing intolerable conditions. It must be scrapped.
I welcome the Bill, although not without reservation. The ridiculous caricature that we just heard from the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) and from other Opposition Members helps absolutely nobody.
I very much welcome the offer to meet the Minister on my issue of family reunion. I welcome the flexibility that he and other Ministers have shown on the We Belong campaign by young people who have been in this country for many years and whose wish to become officially British will at last be speeded up. I do not welcome the litany of constant carping from Opposition Members, who have not offered a single practical solution to the serious problems that we are facing, particularly in the channel. They have had every opportunity to do so and they have failed on every occasion.
I support Lords amendment 7—I said that my support for the Bill was not without reservation—and I think there is merit in the six-month campaign. There is a waste of talent that is left in limbo in this country that we could put to good use. I also welcome Lords amendment 12—the genocide amendment—and the good work done on it by Lord Alton. As somebody who has been sanctioned by China for my support of the recognition of genocide, I would be expected to support that.
I will concentrate on Lords amendment 10—the so-called Dubs amendment. I have form in this area, and I am afraid that the family reunion scheme needs to be much better. The Minister said that there is already generous provision in our rules for refugee family reunion, and 40,000 people have benefited from that, but only since 2015 or over seven years. The Home Secretary did say some time ago that she wanted to see a generous equivalent replacement for Dublin III as we came beyond Brexit. I want to hold her to that promise, but I fear what is contained in the Bill does not hold water.
The Dubs amendment would expand family reunion so that unaccompanied children in Europe can easily join family members in the UK, such as their grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings. At the moment, however, the UK’s refugee family reunion rules only cover children trying to reunite with their parents in the UK as long as a parent has refugee status or humanitarian protection, and the child was born before their parents fled the country of origin. This rule is limited so that it excludes most unaccompanied children and prevents them from uniting with family.
For some children, these are their closest surviving relatives. They may be aunts and uncles because they have lost their parents in a place of war. Refugees may have lost their parents before they left their country or on their journey to sanctuary, and siblings in this country may be the only link they have. We have seen the horrendous pictures from Lesbos of the camps there containing many unaccompanied children, where there are fires, predators and other dangers, and those are the young people we really should be concentrating on rescuing. In refusing one case, the Home Office said:
“You currently live in a shelter for unaccompanied minors… I note you have provided no evidence why this arrangement cannot continue”.
That is not a permanent solution.
The Government have also argued that there is discretion to allow family reunion outside the rules in certain circumstances, but it is not right that children who had a clear official route to safety and family reunion under the EU’s Dublin III regulation are now reliant on Government discretion. This discretion is rarely exercised, and the very few cases actually granted outside the rules are mainly done so only on appeal, which requires legal assistance. At best, children are left waiting months alone and separated from family, and at worst, they are prevented from safely joining loved ones at all.
I call on the Government to make good on the promises given by the Home Secretary as we moved out of the Dublin III regulation post Brexit. There has been a long hiatus, but we need to put that right and that is why I support Lords amendment 10 in doing that.
I am grateful to be able to speak in this debate. Many amendments were passed in the other place, but for the sake of time, I will focus on Lords amendments 4, 9, 10 and 13.
I am pleased that Lords amendment 4 deletes clause 9, which I have spoken about before. Clause 9 is one of the most chilling parts of the Bill. I have had countless people write to me about this since the Government brought this Bill to Parliament. It would allow the Secretary of State to deprive a person of their British citizenship without notice, and it is right that the Lords chose to remove the clause entirely from the Bill.
Lords amendment 9 would stop overseas asylum processing. We have seen that this type of system is ineffective, inhumane and too expensive. As we have already heard from the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), and other Opposition Members, in Australia the offshore processing cost is estimated to be Aus $1 billion a year to deal with 300 migrants. I would like to add my voice to this by saying that I do not think it is in our country’s best interest to have overseas asylum processing.
On Lords amendment 10, Britain has a proud history of offering sanctuary to vulnerable unaccompanied children, but the Government ended the Dubs scheme and have not replaced it. I was proud that, last year, Lewisham Council was the first borough in the UK to be formally recognised for its work by becoming a borough of sanctuary. I encourage all boroughs to be boroughs of sanctuary, and I also thank all families across our countries for offering Ukrainian families a home.
In contrast, the Government are ignoring the treacherous journeys that these desperate people are making. Without safe, legal routes for family reunion, unaccompanied children are making the most dangerous journeys. The Government would be better targeting the traffickers, rather than the victims, if they want to stop people making these treacherous journeys. This amendment is therefore vital because it imposes a duty on the Government to allow unaccompanied children to be admitted to the UK.
I will end on Lords amendment 13. In the other place, Labour rightly voiced concerns that clause 39 would criminalise everyone who arrives in the UK to claim asylum. The clause will have wider implications for all asylum seekers, not only people making irregular channel crossings. It is time the Government recognised that they need to treat refugees humanely, not as a problem they need to solve by criminalising them.
Can the Minister therefore answer me this? If a Ukrainian family enters the UK without a visa in the hope of being granted asylum, will the Government’s proposal mean they are guilty of a criminal offence punishable by up to four years in prison? If so, it is ridiculous that we could be imprisoning people for fleeing a war started by Vladimir Putin—or any other war or natural disaster, for that matter.
To begin my remarks on a personal note, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for having taken the time to talk to me about a number of amendments and for having approached the Bill with his customary calmness and friendliness and with respect for the House. It is always a pleasure to call my hon. Friend a friend, and he has handled this Bill incredibly well.
I served on the Committee stage of the Immigration Act 2016, and we should remind ourselves that Ministers told us then that that was the Bill to end all Bills and solve all problems, yet another one came along a minute or two later, so I have little or no doubt that we will return to many of these issues over the coming months and years.
This is also an opportunity to pause: all new laws and Bills set rules, guidelines, prohibitions and so forth, but that provides the House with an opportunity to briefly reflect on the enormous contribution of so many people not born in this country who have seen in this country a beacon of light and hope and decency, and who have made their way by all sorts of routes to put down roots and become part of our society. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the benefits of immigration and not to see it always through the prisms of prohibition and just say “It’s bad and must be controlled and stopped.”
I strongly support many of the Lords amendments on the right to work. My hon. Friend the Minister said he could not support that because it would be a disincentive to those seeking to abide by the rules to allow people to work, yet as others have mentioned, we are rightly allowing those from Ukraine to do so without anyone making that point. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) and indeed the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) all expressed very cogently and calmly the clear economic and socioeconomic benefits of allowing people to work, and I urge the Minister, even at this late stage of ping-pong, to rethink on that issue.
On offshoring, I first want to say that that is the most dehumanising word. It turns our fellow human beings into commodities to have this idea that we can move them from pillar to post. I do not find it at all palatable. The Minister is also asking us to sign a blank cheque. We have his word—and his word carries weight—that any countries involved with this would share our values, but that is not on the face of the Bill and there is no guarantee. We do not know where this offshoring would be located or how it would work, and we certainly do not know how much it would cost. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield said we might as well send them to Eton and that really would be a punishment, but there is no costing to this and we should not be offshoring; if people want and are trying to come here, we should have the decency, scope and capacity to deal with it here, in country. I do not see the link between putting people off coming here illegally and offshoring; we saw that in the Australian experiment, which clearly did not work.
A rethink on both those issues from the Minister would be helpful.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 12, put forward by Lord Alton of Liverpool, who for decades has been the conscience of this place in dealing with matters of genocide. The amendment would enable the Bill to do three things: provide safe passage for victims of genocide; create a route to asylum that is not currently available in the UK; and help the UK Government meet their legal responsibilities under the UN genocide convention. Let me begin by declaring an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the Yazidi people and vice-chair of the APPG on international freedom of religion or belief and the APPG for the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Amendment 12 has its origins in Sinjar and the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, where in August 2014 Daesh terrorists attacked peaceful Yazidi communities. During its reign of terror, Daesh raped, murdered or sold into sexual slavery thousands of women, and sent young boys to its terrorist training camps. Daesh sought to completely destroy the Yazidi community and erase their ethnic and religious identity, culture and way of life. I have spoken many times in this House about the fate of the Yazidis, and in 2016 the House voted unanimously that what happened to them was a genocide.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the atrocities and the fact they meet every single standard laid out in the 1948 convention on genocide, the Government still steadfastly refuse to create a safe or legal route to enable victims of genocide or those at risk of being victims of genocide passage to the United Kingdom. We have a legal and moral responsibility to say that that has to change. It cannot be right that the most abused communities in the world—whether they are the Yazidis, the Uyghurs, the Rohingya or whoever—cannot find safe passage to the United Kingdom.
Let us compare the UK’s record to that of Germany. Since Daesh launched its attack in 2014, 85,000 Yazidi people have been given sanctuary in Germany. In contrast, the UK has not taken in a single Yazidi from northern Iraq. Not one. The Government will say that they are considering eight applications from Yazidis from Iraq, but considering only eight applications from victims of one of the worst genocides in the 21st century is a shameful statistic. As we have heard so often in the debate, that is not an accident, because the system is deliberately designed not to recognise those fleeing genocide as a specific group that requires a bespoke solution. Minister, that has to change.
In conclusion, Baroness Kennedy was absolutely right to describe the Bill as
“an affront to human rights and civil liberties.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 January 2022; Vol. 817, c. 639.]
Regardless of the form in which the Bill passes tonight, it will continue to be an affront to human rights and civil liberties and an indelible stain on what is left of the reputation of the United Kingdom. If it has to pass, at least allow those who are suffering the most heinous of crimes at hands of some of the most brutal regimes a glimmer of hope that in their greatest hour of need they will find refuge here. I ask Government Members to consider this humanitarian amendment and make a change that will allow the most abused people to find refuge here in the United Kingdom.
I commend the Minister for the moderate and sensible way in which he introduced the Bill and I urge him, when considering how we should vote on all the amendments, to be robust and to hold the line. When the Bill becomes an Act it will be crawled over by so-called human rights lawyers, and I believe that it is the bare minimum to try to deal with the scandal of channel crossings, which are putting so many lives at risk.
Let us pause for a moment and think about what we can agree on. The push factors are enormous, such is the misery in the world in places such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and many other countries. There is no limit to the number of people who want to come here. Let us consider the pull factors. We have the most liberal labour laws in Europe. We speak English; we can do nothing about that. We have no national identity card, which I think will become increasingly essential in the modern world. People can vanish into the community, and we already have large communities from all over the world. The pull factors are enormous—in a way, President Macron has a point.
We have to ask people who oppose the Bill and seek to amend it, what is their solution? Everybody accepts that the cross-channel trade is appalling—it criminalises desperate people and lines the pockets of gangsters—but what is the solution? Such is the pull factor and the push factor that even if we did have offshore asylum claims for 2,000, 5,000 or 10,000, it would probably make very little difference to the number of people desperate to get into this country by any means at all.
I repeat that what we have in the Bill is the bare minimum to try to break the cycle of it being just about economically attractive to make the appallingly dangerous journey. We have to have a variety of measures in our toolkit. I do not know whether we will ever resort to pushback, although the Greeks have pursued it very successfully, and I do not know whether we will ever resort to offshoring, although the Australians have used it very successfully.
I am sorry I have only recently come into the Chamber; I was at the Westminster Bridge event. Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect for a moment on the fact that there are 1 million refugees in Bangladesh, many hundreds of thousands in Uganda and over 1 million in Poland? Many countries around the world, which are very poor and have very little infrastructure, have taken in far more refugees than any European country. They are holding their hands out to support people. He appears to be moving in the opposite direction.
I do not think that that is true. Actually, if we talk about our response to Ugandan refugees, Hong Kong and many other areas, we have been generous. We have to have a sense of proportion. Such is the overwhelming number of people who want to come here, we have to hold the line. If we did not, it would have a catastrophic effect on race relations. [Interruption.] Yes, it would, because people would be angry about it. They would think, “Why did I vote Brexit when I can’t even control my own borders? What are the Government doing?” The Government, to be responsible, have to respond by trying to deal with illegal cross-channel crossings. All the Lords amendments would just add to the pull factors. For instance, one amendment says that people should be allowed to work after six months. That is an extraordinarily attractive pull factor. I am afraid that the Government have to hold the line. My personal view is that until we are prepared to criminalise people who take the illegal route, until we are prepared to arrest them and until we are prepared to deport them, we will never have a chance of dealing with this trade.
The Bill is just the first step in trying to deal with this appalling problem. I ask those who support the amendments and oppose the Government today—I repeat the question—what is their solution? People are pouring across the channel every day. Sooner or later there is going to be a terrible tragedy. We have already had one tragedy in November. What is their solution? How are they going to stop that? How are they going to break the cycle used by criminal gangs? There is no solution, apart from what the Government are attempting to do today. It is a minimum solution. It is, actually, a humanitarian solution. It is about trying to prevent people from taking appalling risks. If we allow any of the amendments—any of the amendments—and if we do not hold the line, sooner or later there will be an even greater tragedy in the English channel.
The wind-ups will begin at 12 minutes past 4, as the Minister has kindly agreed to truncate his wind-up to get more time in. We are going to a three-minute limit. At roughly 18 minutes past 4, we are expecting multiple Divisions.
The events in Ukraine in the past month have shown how quickly millions of lives can be thrown into chaos by war and violence, and how individuals can find themselves dependent on asylum or sanctuary afforded by other countries. The British people, yet again, have shown themselves willing to offer financial support and to offer up their homes for refugees. I take issue with the comments of the previous speaker, the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), about the Bill. The Bill is absolutely appalling and inhumane. The British people I know are caring, compassionate and welcoming of all refugees, and we should welcome refugees from wherever they are fleeing violence, war and famine.
Unfortunately, the Government are completely out of touch with that sentiment in their new plan for immigration. The Bill cuts across everything that we should stand for in this country. It breaches international laws, violates basic principles of justice and runs completely counter to what is needed. It will cause greater inequity and harm communities.
In the limited time that I have, I want to associate myself strongly with Lords amendment 4, which would remove from the Bill Government powers to make a deprivation of citizenship order without giving notice to the person affected. More than 100 of my Cynon Valley constituents have signed a parliamentary petition backing that proposal. I also associate myself with Lords amendments 9, 52 and 53, which would remove from the Bill the Government’s inhumane powers to make it easier to remove a person to a safe third country while their asylum claim is pending.
I also wish to refer to Lords amendments 5 and 6 on how the Bill’s introduction of differential treatment according to the nature of arrival affects our compliance with the refugee convention. The concern of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is that the Bill
“risks breaching commitments under the Refugee Convention”.
That is also the concern of the Welsh Government, who expressed in a letter to the Minister that they would withhold their legislative consent from the Bill. They do not agree to a number of clauses.
On differential treatment, the Welsh Government said:
“We believe that this is incompatible with the UN Refugee Convention. In terms of the impact on Wales, we have concerns about the practical impact of this change and the systemic destitution and homelessness which it will create for those who the UK Government has found to have fled a well-founded fear of persecution.”
I therefore support Lords amendment 6.
In conclusion, I have identified the Welsh Government’s concerns about certain amendments. The Welsh Government have asked the UK Government to reconsider 10 critical clauses to avert an impending tragedy. Wales is a nation of sanctuary. We want to welcome refugees from wherever they flee across the world. Please withdraw the Bill immediately.
It seems to me that many of the criticisms that are levelled at the Bill are more matters of Home Office administration than of law. I was particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who is no longer in his place, for accepting my earlier intervention in which I sought to make the point that the Labour party has a long history of talking a very good game in respect of refugees and asylum seekers but of not honouring its promises to those individuals in practice. We need to make sure that we all accept the broad responsibility of support for refugees.
Given the shortness of time, I will confine my comments to three enormously important areas. Having sat through a lot of scrutiny of this legislation on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I think there is a valid concern about the two-tier system. As I understand it, the case from the human rights lawyers who advise the Committee is that it would not be a matter for the Government to demonstrate that safe and legal routes were available in general; it would be necessary to show that each individual refugee had access to a safe and legal route but chose to come to the UK by another means. I know that the Minister is aware of that question and I would like to hear from him how the Government propose to address that concern, so that we can be confident that the two-tier approach will genuinely achieve what we want it to, which is to break the business model of traffickers.
That links to the wider issue that a number of Members have highlighted: we have yet to see the necessary practical proposals that demonstrate where those safe and legal routes will be. We know that the Home Office has invested an enormous amount in digital technology—that has been put to good effect in respect of Ukraine—so that people can make their applications abroad. There are a number of other ideas about how that might happen, and the response to Syrian refugees demonstrated that, through resettlement, we can do this better.
In my view, the situation demonstrates the importance of supporting the existence of the ability to process claims offshore. Although I agree with several Members that the Australian system is simply bonkersly expensive when applied to the UK, the ability to administer the application process outside the United Kingdom is critical if we are to make safe and legal routes work, so I very much support the Government in introducing it.
Having made the point that a lot of the issues are about administration, I hope that the Government are listening to the point about right to work. It frustrates me as a Conservative politician that taxpayers’ money is being spent on supporting people whose skills could be put to good use in our economy. The Home Office has made some helpful steps in that direction. I hope that the message from both sides of the Chamber tonight will be listened to and that we will see some movement on administration as the Bill moves towards becoming law.
I rise to support the Lords amendments. The deeply draconian elements of the Bill have been called out time and again. It is appallingly racist and divisive legislation that deliberately seeks to strengthen hostile environment policies and willingly flies in the face of international law. We have heard repeatedly in this House and in the other place about how it will criminalise refugees who are seeking routes to safety, arriving on our shores against tremendous odds, and how it will create refugee camps on faraway islands—hidden from view, inaccessible and outside regular jurisdiction.
The Bill seeks to expand the powers of the Home Office to unprecedented levels to permit the deprivation of citizenship at the flick of a pen—a move that will undoubtedly discriminate against black and immigrant communities, further deepening the hostile environment that has already proven so damaging. It seeks to criminalise the very act of seeking asylum by inventing “illegal” routes to accessing our shores and seeking safety and protection, creating a two-tier system for refugees that breaks our obligations under international law and the refugee convention. The list of deeply cruel and inhumane policies goes on.
Will the hon. Member give way?
No, thank you. Sit down.
We have already witnessed mass opposition to the very worst of the Bill’s proposals. I have nothing but the utmost pride in workers and volunteers in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and our border forces and in the incredible work of the PCS union in defying the Government’s instructions to push boats back into the channel. The Trades Union Congress has called on the Government to go further by suspending deportation flights until they have addressed the miscarriages of justice in the immigration system, and by scrapping in its entirety this Bill, which will breach international human rights law and increase worker exploitation.
The Lords amendments are supported by the vast majority of Liverpool, Riverside constituents, trade unions, human rights organisations and international bodies that work to support refugees every single day. I am very proud that my city, Liverpool, is a city of sanctuary and is happy to support refugees, but we still have 730 Afghan refugees languishing in hotels.
I conclude by reminding hon. Members that there are 84 million refugees globally. Millions have been displaced because of conflict and persecution and are seeking safe passage, including Syrian Kurds, Afghans and Yemenis, who have suffered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis: 20 million are in need of humanitarian aid. I ask all hon. Members to support the Lords amendments and scrap this Bill.
Let us be very clear. Currently, illegal economic migrants are entering this country across the English channel from a safe mainland European country, France. That situation is totally unacceptable to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, because they believe in fairness and they believe in doing things by the book.
People with a legitimate claim to come to our country to escape persecution and flee for their lives are being put at the bottom of the list because of people who are illegally entering our country via small boats—and what do the Opposition parties think? They support the Lords amendments, which would simply make it even easier for people to try to come across the channel, making a dangerous journey, risking their lives and putting money into the hands of criminal gangs. Let us not forget that 70% of the individuals who are currently making that channel crossing are men, predominantly single men in their 20s and 30s. Let us not forget that it is women and children who are most at risk: they are being left at home, where they are being persecuted.
The Labour party thinks that people in places like Stoke-on-Trent are racist because 73% voted for Brexit. It thinks that they are thick and uncompassionate, despite the fact that we are the fifth largest contributor to the asylum dispersal scheme in our United Kingdom. That is why Stoke-on-Trent kicked Labour out, and why the people there will not want it back any time soon. Labour does not understand that when people voted for this Government and elected, for the first time ever, a Conservative Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent, North Kidsgrove and Talke, they did so because they wanted to take back control—which is what they did in 2016 when they voted for Brexit. The out-of-touch wokerati on the Opposition Benches are constantly obsessed with being popular with Twitter and Londoners, so this does not surprise me one bit.
As for the Scottish National party, only one Scottish local authority takes part in the asylum dispersal scheme. To be fair, it is Glasgow, the largest contributor to the scheme. Despite the pontificating, the grandstanding and the virtue-signalling, the fact is that the SNP does not stand up and help out as it should. It is about time that Scotland did its bit, went out and signed up. The Minister is on the Front Bench: let SNP Members go and sign the paperwork with him, and let us get refugees into local authority areas in Scotland. Stoke-on-Trent is doing its bit. It is about time that others, whether in the north Islington coffee bar elites or the Scottish National party-run local authorities, did their bit as well.
I call Alison Thewliss, whom I must ask to sit down at 4.12 pm.
I must say to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) that Glasgow is far more diverse and far more welcoming of refugees than he will ever be. We in Glasgow are proud to welcome refugees. We are proud of our diversity I have been inundated with emails from my constituents about this anti-refugee Bill, and not one of those emails has been in support of the Government’s position, or of this anti-refugee Bill which will punish people who are fleeing from war, persecution and female genital mutilation in countries around the world.
In the past seven years I have dealt with 1,853 immigration cases, and all of them have been riddled with Home Office incompetence and Home Office indifference to the plight of my constituents, whom I value and whom I want to be welcome in Glasgow. That indifference and that incompetence are deliberate. They are meant to make people feel unwelcome, and they run absolutely contrary to everything that my constituents stand for. I am very proud that those in Kenmure Street in Pollokshields came out of their houses when they saw the attempts to take people away in Home Office vans and said, “These are our neighbours—let them go.” Glasgow welcomes refugees, and we want nothing to do with this vicious Bill.
With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me begin by thanking Members for their contributions to today’s debate. We have heard thought-provoking speeches from Members in all parts of the House. There can be no doubt about the strength of feeling on these important issues; there can also be no doubt that as a House, we stand united in our desire to support vulnerable people, in accordance with our long-standing tradition of welcoming those in need of protection. We perhaps just disagree on how that can best be achieved. Nevertheless, it is frustrating that criticism is often not matched by a credible alternative plan.
Let me touch on some of the issues that have been raised. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) mentioned the plight of the Yazidis. I can confirm that we have resettled over 40 Yazidi people through both the United Kingdom resettlement scheme and, previously, the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. The UK is firmly committed to protecting ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. We raise this issue regularly with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and continue to monitor the situation of Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq.
I also want to clarify the position with regard to illegal entry offences. I think it worth restating the position that I have consistently maintained in the House. This is not an attempt to prosecute every illegal entrant. Instead, prosecutions will focus on egregious cases: for example, cases in which an individual has entered in breach of a deportation order, or was previously removed as an illegal entrant or overstayer. We intend to take a firm stance in such cases, in order not to inadvertently reward such individuals with a grant of leave rather than punishing their abuse of the system. We are working closely with the police and our internal investigation teams to ensure that this policy is properly enforced, but is also proportionate.
It is misleading to say that genuine humanitarian rescues will be criminalised. We need to be clear about this to ensure that people are not concerned when undertaking those important activities. Individuals and organisations will be able to continue to rescue people in danger or in distress at sea, as they do now. It may be perfectly reasonable for people to be taken to the UK, depending on the circumstances—for example, the weather conditions, or a commercial ferry continuing its scheduled route. Decisions on whether to prosecute are taken by the relevant prosecution authorities in the UK, taking into account evidential and public interest tests. That is a well established process that applies to the law in this land in many areas. Before prosecutors make such a decision, a referral by investigators is required. To make that, investigators must believe that there is sufficient evidence to prove that the person concerned was not actually carrying out a rescue of someone in danger or distress. I cannot be clearer about this.
On the issue of the right to work, a number of colleagues have raised concerns and suggestions. One clear distinction I would like to make is on the point about Ukrainians and Afghans being in a position to work. Those individuals have come through safe and legal routes—bespoke routes—that the UK Government established to provide sanctuary. That is an important distinction. I refer Members to my earlier observations on the policy more generally, but I very much look forward to the meeting with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) to ensure that we explore this and discuss thoroughly the concerns and views that colleagues are expressing.
On Lords amendment 11 and the 10,000 resettlement figure, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who so eloquently set out his case. We genuinely believe that flexibility is important in developing schemes and guidance. That is a position that I have maintained throughout the Bill’s passage. It will mean that we are able to develop bespoke schemes that take account of circumstances at any given time in the world, and that we are properly able to care for people in a responsible and managed manner. That is important, as is taking proper account of the capacity of local services at any given point in time. I would argue that the response to the Afghanistan and Ukraine crises demonstrates what can be achieved and why that approach makes sense and is better than having prescriptive schemes set down in legislation that are difficult to alter or remove should circumstances mean that they are no longer required. It is right to identify what routes are needed at any given point in time and then to resource them appropriately. We are of course looking at what more can be done, particularly around community sponsorship and global resettlement schemes, and I hope that that provides some reassurance about our intentions. I hear the observation that colleagues have raised today about generosity and ensuring that our schemes are comprehensive and meet the needs that exist—
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Question agreed to.
Lords amendment 1 accordingly disagreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 1.
Notice of decision to deprive a person of citizenship
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 4 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (f) made in lieu of Lords amendment 4.
Before clause 11
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 5.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 5 disagreed to.
Differential treatment of refugees
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 6.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 6 disagreed to.
After Clause 12
Changes to the Immigration Act 1971
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 7.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 7 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 8 disagreed to.
Accelerated detained appeals
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 9.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 9 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 52 and 53 disagreed to.
After Clause 37
Immigration rules: entry to seek asylum and join family
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 10.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 10 disagreed to.
After Clause 37
Refugee resettlement schemes
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 11.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 11 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 12 disagreed to.
Article 33(2): particularly serious crime
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 13.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 13 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 14 to 20 and 54 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 2, 3, 43 to 51 and 21 agreed to.
After Clause 56
Age assessments: restrictions
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 22.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 24, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 23, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 25, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 26, and Government motion to disagree, and amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 27, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 40, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 28 to 39, 42 and 41.
We now turn to the remaining amendments. Amendment 22 relates to our plans for conducting assessments of age-disputed people. Scientific methods of age assessment are already in use by many European countries, and the Bill will bring us into line with them. Failure to ensure proper assessments creates obvious safeguarding concerns and, of course, can create a plethora of risks to the most vulnerable when we get it wrong. I know those concerns are shared across the House. This amendment creates numerous restrictions on our ability to use age assessments in practice.
First, I want to make it very clear there is no appetite to start conducting comprehensive age assessments where there is no doubt about someone’s claimed age. Such an approach would serve no purpose whatsoever and would take significant resources away from the main task of seeking to establish the age of those involved where age is in doubt. However, there is no question but that the system is being abused, and we need to put a stop to that.
Secondly, the amendment would require that only local authority social workers could undertake age assessments under the Bill. There is significant variation in the experience and capacity of local authorities to undertake these age assessments, which are a significant resource burden on them. The Home Office already leads on other vulnerability areas, with responsibility for making complex and significant decisions such as claims for asylum. For these reasons, we are seeking to establish a national age assessment board comprising qualified social workers employed by the Home Office who may undertake age assessments upon referral by a local authority. Local authorities will retain the ability to conduct these assessments if they wish to do so.
Thirdly, the amendment would ensure that scientific methods of age assessment are specified only if they are considered ethical and accurate beyond reasonable doubt and approved by relevant professional bodies.
The British Dental Association has highlighted specific concerns, on ethical, health and accuracy grounds, about using X-rays to assess the age of asylum applicants. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for listening to these worries, but I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister confirmed that the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee that has been set up to look at this process could include a practising dentist.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I know that he has discussed this issue with the Home Secretary separately. I am not in a position to give him a firm undertaking today, but we will certainly take away and consider that particular point, and perhaps we could remain in contact on it. I am grateful for his input in relation to this aspect of the policy.
No one method of age assessment is likely to be accurate beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, this amendment sets an unrealistic expectation on what scientific methods could achieve. The expertise required spans a number of areas, and the independent Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee has been set up to advise on this complex topic.
Does the Minister agree that the burden imposed by some of the risks inherent in uncertain age is quite a significant concern for local authorities? Does he recognise, as I do, that the current Merton-compliant age assessment process, which is considered the gold standard, is the result of a number of judicial reviews over the years that have included consideration of scientific method? Beyond that, does he welcome, as I do, the additional clarity that the Government will in future be able to use scientific methods that do meet the required ethical standards in order to assist local authorities and address some of the remaining uncertainty?
My hon. Friend, who speaks with real experience given his time as a distinguished local authority leader, raises an important point. Of course these ethical considerations are very important in relation to all this. I am acutely mindful of the enormous burden that age assessment has placed on local authorities over a number of years. Some local authorities do this work very well, but the situation is patchy. The capacity that exists, and the speed, thoroughness and ease with which this work is done, depends on where you are in the country. It is important that we are developing this national resource to help with some of this work so as to relieve some of the burdens. One thing I will certainly want the national age assessment board to do is reflect on the best practice that exists in local authorities around the country and bring together that model of best practice to make sure that we get this right.
Finally, the amendment would lower the current standard of proof for social worker age assessments from the “balance of probabilities”, which is long established in case law, to a “reasonable degree of likelihood”. Lowering this standard would require social workers to accept individuals as children whom on balance they believe to be adults. For the House’s benefit, it is important to note that there are safeguarding considerations that flow in either direction. Children being placed in adult settings is clearly not acceptable, and it is not good for adults to be placed in children’s settings either. For those reasons, we cannot accept the amendment.
I will turn to consider the amendments relating to modern slavery, beginning with amendments 23 and 24, which would omit from the Bill the clause that deals with late compliance with a slavery or trafficking information notice. I understand the motivations behind the concerns expressed by the noble Lords who tabled these amendments. This Government are completely committed to supporting victims of modern slavery and tackling perpetrators, but removing the clause would mean that we were unable to clearly set out the consequences of not complying with the slavery or trafficking information notice, which would not help decision makers or individuals involved in the process. It would also create a lack of transparency and certainty.
It is clear on the face of the Bill that where there is good reason for late compliance, there will be no damage to credibility. We have given repeated assurances that, in keeping with the approach taken in our current statutory guidance, “good reasons” will allow for things such as individual vulnerabilities or the effect traumatic events and coercive control can have on people’s ability to accurately recall, share, or recognise such events. I expect that work to be carried out through a trauma-informed approach, which will ensure that decision makers have the flexibility and discretion to appropriately consider “good reasons” without prejudging what that should cover. We therefore cannot agree to the amendments.
Amendment 25 would remove from the Bill the clause that deals with disqualification from modern slavery protections where an individual is a threat to public order or has claimed to be a victim in bad faith. It would replace the clause with a new clause that does not provide a definition for public order and, as a result, the Government would remain unable to operationalise the public order disqualification. That would mean we were unable to remove individuals who had committed serious criminal offences or who posed a risk to national security, despite it being in line with our international obligations to do so.
The Government have been clear that the disqualification will not be applied in a blanket manner. Rather, following a referral to the national referral mechanism, where an individual meets the public order definition or has claimed in bad faith, the specific circumstances and vulnerabilities of each case will be carefully considered. It is our view that amendment 25 does not fulfil the aims of the original clause and would not protect the modern slavery system from those who act in bad faith, nor protect our communities from those who present a threat to public order or a risk to national security.
The Minister said that in those cases, there would be an assessment of the risk to public order. Has he made an assessment of what proportion of the cases, say in 2020, would have had these individual assessments based on the criteria presented in the Bill? He may not have that information to hand, but if he could reply to the House on that later, it would be helpful.
I recognise entirely the interest that my hon. Friend shows in these matters. If I may, I will take that point away, ponder it and then comment on it specifically when I wind up the debate. I am grateful for the question, and I am happy to revisit that point.
For the reasons I have outlined, we cannot agree to amendment 25. Amendment 26 would remove the clause that provides leave to remain for victims of modern slavery or human trafficking and replace it with a new clause. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and to Lord McColl for their work in this area. We agree that confirmed victims should be granted leave where necessary to assist them in their physical and psychological recovery from harm caused by exploitation, to seek compensation in respect of their exploitation or to assist the authorities with investigations or prosecutions in respect of that exploitation.
The Government have already committed to providing all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of specific support with appropriate tailored support for a minimum of 12 months, where necessary. That will be set out in guidance, but the amendment does not make the critical link between relevant exploitation and the grant of leave. That means that someone could be granted leave to remain on the basis of personal circumstances unconnected to their exploitation, or to pursue an unrelated compensation claim or to assist an unrelated investigation. For those reasons, we are not able to support the amendment.
My hon. Friend will recall that last time we debated these provisions, we had an agreement that the Government in principle accepted the 12-month process. We expected to see it put in the Bill in the other place, but the truth is that the Bill has arrived back here after being amended by the Lords rather than the Government. I accept that Lords amendment 26, to replace clause 64, has a lot of other things in it.
The point of my amendment (a), which I know that I cannot vote on tonight because of ping-pong, is that we need to get that in the Bill. The key thing, after all, is that those who come through the NRM should get up to a minimum of 12 months, which would allow them to pursue prosecutions against the traffickers. They will lose that if the Minister does get it into the Bill, so will he now give me an understanding that that will be the case?
My right hon. Friend is passionate in raising the issue and has done so constructively throughout the process. We are all cognisant of the need to ensure that we bring the evil individuals responsible for that criminality to justice. I refer him to the commitment that was made from the Dispatch Box by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), on Report. Future legislation on modern slavery more generally is very likely to be in the offing. We are also happy to meet him—I know that the Home Secretary has spoken to him—to discuss his point in greater detail. We want to work through it carefully to ensure that we get it right.
The key thing is whether the Minister is prepared to consider tabling an amendment in the other place that puts the 12-month minimum into the Bill. If he does that, it will send a huge signal that we are on the side of those who are most beaten up and traduced by the system of slavery, and it will put us back on the right course. I ask him to please give me that sort of commitment.
My recollection of the earlier proceedings relates to putting the matter firmly in guidance, but as I say, we are happy to meet to discuss it. We want to get it right, and we are willing to consider the position with him following this debate. That is an undertaking to him on which we will certainly follow through.
I support the points made by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), which we discussed on Report. He is right that 12 months is an absolute minimum for a victim to pursue the prosecution of a case. I hope that the Government will reconsider that and go for a much longer period, so that the norm will be that those people get a permanent right to remain and live in this country. After all, they are victims of appalling behaviour by some brutal people. We should support them and not put artificial hurdles in their way.
The right hon. Gentleman definitely gets the tone right in highlighting the severity of the criminality perpetrated by individuals who, as I say, we all want to bring to justice.
Another point that I would make, because it is useful in the context of the debate, is that such matters are considered on a case-by-case basis and people are often awarded a period of leave that is longer than 12 months, which is beneficial for them. We would not want to see an adverse situation where people received less time than perhaps they would have done, given that individuals are receiving more after a case-by-case consideration that takes into account all the relevant factors. As I say, we are very willing to take the issue away and to engage with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. We will have those discussions and conclude them accordingly. He should leave that with us and we will get that meeting organised as quickly as possible.
Lords amendment 27 inserts a new clause that relates to victims of slavery aged under 18. It would mean that victims under 18 could not be issued with a slavery and human trafficking notice. It would exclude that group from the new disqualifications from modern slavery protections, provide a blanket grant of leave to remain, and legislate for a specific reasonable grounds test for those whose exploitation took place under the age of 18 —yet not for other victims.
Before issuing a slavery or trafficking information notice, decision makers would not have information about an individual or their exploitation, including, crucially, their age when the relevant exploitation took place. Similarly, the reasonable grounds evidence gathering process is when information regarding the person’s exploitation is often identified, so only at that stage could decision makers know that the person’s exploitation had occurred before they turned 18. In practice, therefore, it would become unworkable to differentiate on the basis of the timings of exploitation. We know that children who have been trafficked need support, but what concerns us about this Lords amendment is that it would move us away from taking a case-by-case approach and could incentivise adults to claim that they are children. We therefore cannot support it.
I turn to Lords amendment 40, which concerns the operation of the electronic travel authorisation scheme in respect of individuals travelling to Northern Ireland on a local journey from the Republic of Ireland. We have been very clear in emphasising our continuing commitment to the Good Friday agreement and the protocol, and we would like to take the opportunity to reassure colleagues again that there will be no controls on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
However, this amendment could result in an unacceptable gap in UK border security that would allow persons of interest or risk who would be otherwise refused an electronic travel authorisation to enter the UK legally, undermining the very purpose of the ETA scheme, which is to prevent the travel of those who pose a threat to the UK. It is important that, as now, all individuals—except British and Irish citizens—arriving in the UK, including those crossing the land border into Northern Ireland, continue to enter in line with the UK’s immigration framework to protect both the UK immigration system and the common travel area from abuse. This is a well-established principle of the operation of the common travel area and applies when travelling in all directions. The UK is entitled to introduce and change its own requirements in the interest of securing the UK border, and we will continue to liaise with the Irish authorities on matters of border security in relation to the common travel area. We therefore cannot support this amendment.
First, would the Minister accept that great concern has been expressed by all parties in the Oireachtas—the Irish Parliament—and representatives from the Irish Government, who are very concerned about the impact the Bill will have on what are often daily movements on the island of Ireland by non-Irish nationals? Would he also accept that this is very damaging for the tourism trade on the island of Ireland, which is very much an integrated market, with people often landing in Dublin and then wishing to travel into Northern Ireland, and will prove to be a major obstacle in the way of those natural journeys?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), was whispering in my ear at the same time, making the point that he has already had a meeting with the Irish Government to discuss this, and I know that that engagement is ongoing. He is also very willing to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this in greater detail, and we will get that meeting organised for him as quickly as possible to progress that.
I turn now to Lords amendments 28 to 39 and 42, which the Government have introduced in response to the crisis in Ukraine. They strengthen our visa penalty powers, meaning that we can impose penalties where a country poses a risk to international peace and security or when its actions lead or are likely to lead to armed conflict or a breach of humanitarian law. Lords amendment 42 means that these powers will come into effect as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent, rather than two months after Royal Assent as we had originally been planning, so that we will be able to use them much sooner. I commend those amendments to the House, and I would like to think that they will be broadly welcomed.
I understand the thought process behind these amendments, and I do not have any problem with that, but could the Minister assure the House that people wanting to come to this country from Russia or Belarus who have been taking part in peaceful activities to oppose the war and call for peace, and who need to get somewhere else, will not be prevented from coming to this country?
The direct answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is that people will still be able to apply for visas in the normal way, so I hope that provides him with assurance.
Lords amendment 41 is a minor drafting amendment in relation to costs orders. It does not change the underlying policy, which requires tribunal procedure rules to be made setting out that the tribunal must consider whether to impose a charge or to make an order where prescribed conduct that is to be treated as improper, unreasonable or negligent has occurred. It simply clarifies that this requirement applies only in relation to the immigration and asylum chamber of the first-tier tribunal and of the upper tribunal. This will prevent any uncertainty from arising about the jurisdictions in which clause 77 should be applied, and I hope this clarification meets with the approval of the House.
With that, I conclude my remarks, and I will gladly pick up any points in the wind-up.
Order. Before I call the shadow Minister, I should say that I will need to impose a time limit, which will probably start off at five minutes. Apart from Members who have an amendment down, I will be prioritising those who did not speak in the previous debate.
It is a pleasure to be responding for Labour to this second group of Lords amendment to the Bill, and I want to start by joining others in paying tribute to those who lost their lives or were injured in, and all those who responded to, the attack on Westminster five years ago today. I pay particular tribute to PC Keith Palmer and thank all those who work so hard to keep us safe every day.
I intend to keep my remarks tightly to the amendments before us, particularly Lords amendments 24 to 27, but I want to start by again expressing regret that modern slavery provisions have been included in a Bill on immigration. Members might remember that on Report I was intervened on only by Conservative MPs seeking to agree with me—which is certainly unusual—that the provisions in the Bill on modern slavery will only take us backwards. If this Bill passes unamended we will identify and protect fewer victims of modern slavery and identify and prosecute fewer perpetrators. That is not only our view: the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has been fierce in her opposition to a number of the changes, and Caroline Haughey QC, one of the leading legal experts in this area, has said this Bill will
“catastrophically undo all that has been achieved in the 10 years since the first modern slavery prosecution.”
Lords amendment 27 seeks to exempt child victims from the most damaging of the Bill’s provisions and ensure that all decisions are made in their best interests. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have voiced our concerns that the Government fail to recognise that identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking is a safeguarding, not an immigration, matter. Last year, 43% of victims referred to the national referral mechanism were children, with 31% of them being British, and the rise in county lines gangs is believed to be one of the biggest drivers of the rise in child referrals.
This amendment must also be considered in light of what is currently happening in Ukraine and the reports by charity and aid agencies on the ground of the heightened risks of children being exploited and trafficked along the Ukrainian border and in neighbouring countries, such is the flow of people away from the Russian bombardment. If the Minister is not minded to strike part 5 from the Bill and work with the sector and us on genuine alternatives, he must protect children from the worst of the changes, which only put barriers between victims and the support and justice they need and deserve.
If the Government are to deliver on their own promise of smashing county lines, they must accept Lords amendment 27. The Government’s own existing statutory guidance states:
“Whatever form it takes, modern slavery and child trafficking is child abuse and relevant child protection procedures…must be followed if modern slavery or trafficking is suspected.”
Under the changes introduced in the Bill a child can access protection only if they disclose details of their trauma against a Home Office-mandated timeline, and can access NRM support only if they have no public order offences in their background. The Government’s own guidance rightly says that a child who has been trafficked must be protected, no ifs, no buts—which means no clause 63, no clause 66 and no clause 67 as a condition of support on recognition as being a victim. As a minimum, in order for the Government just to adhere to their own guidance and protect child victims of trafficking, they must adopt Lords amendment 27 to prevent changes that would leave children more vulnerable to criminals and traffickers.
In Committee, at the 12th sitting, the Minister stressed that the Government’s view was that it would somehow be unfair to establish a system that distinguishes between a child and an adult, and he has repeated that sentiment today. He said in Committee:
“To create a carve-out for one group of individuals would create a two-tiered system based on the age at which exploitation may have taken place”,
and went on to say that it
“would not be appropriate or fair to all victims.”––[Official Report, Nationality and Borders Public Bill Committee, 28 October 2021; c. 484.]
I am afraid that is just absurd: we differentiate between children and adults throughout domestic legislation, recognising the age-related vulnerability of children, and it is the very basis of the Government’s own age assessment proposals in the Bill. Child victims have rights to protection under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, and it is there in the Government’s own guidance. If the Minister is really trying to tell us that the Government do not like creating two-tier systems given what else the Bill does, we are simply not having it. I urge the Government to follow their own guidance, recognise that child victims of trafficking are victims of abuse and adopt Lords amendment 27.
Let me turn to amendment 24, which would remove clause 58 from the Bill. The clause would damage the credibility of victims of modern slavery if they failed to disclose their trafficking experience within a set timeframe determined by the Home Office. It relies entirely on a misconstruction of what we consider to be a perfect victim: an individual who self-identifies as such and can fully disclose their experience in one setting. That has been widely discredited by the evidence presented at every stage and by victims’ own testimonies. There are many reasons why a victim might be unable to disclose evidence immediately, including the impact of trauma and fear of reprisals against them or their family by their traffickers.
I pay tribute to the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, for all she has achieved in her time in office. She recently said:
“Traumatised victims cannot disclose their suffering to order—it takes time to build trust and confidence. I cannot imagine that we would contemplate asking victims of sexual assault or child abuse to respond within a set period.”
It is often those who are most in need of support and justice who find it the hardest to disclose their experiences. Indeed, the Government’s own statutory guidance under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 identifies a list of barriers to disclosure, stating:
“Victims’ early accounts may be affected by the impact of trauma. This can result in delayed disclosure”.
The failure to adopt amendment 24 will increase not only the risk of re-trafficking and abuse but the length of the decision-making process. The Minister has tried to reassure us that further detail will be supplied in the statutory guidance, with cases being resolved on an individual basis and good reasons for delayed disclosure being clarified further. In fact, in Committee during our discussions on part 5 alone the Minister referred to the statutory guidance a staggering 51 times when it is still to be published, which I must say made a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny. It took five years for the guidance on the Modern Slavery Act to be published, so I ask the Minister once again, given how much he has referred to the guidance for the Bill, when we can expect it to be published and whether the Government will accept the invitations from the sector to work with them on drafting it. In its absence, simply to adhere to their own guidance on disclosure for traumatised victims, the Government must adopt Lords amendment 24.
On Lords amendment 25, once again the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has been explicit in her criticism of clause 62. She has written:
“The bar for disqualification has been set very low”,
“will undermine our ability to bring perpetrators to justice.”
She has said:
“There might be exceptional circumstances in which it is right to withhold support when there is a genuine, current and serious threat to public order, but the present bill goes far beyond this.”
The Lords amendment would reflect on those genuine threats while preventing the Bill from undermining our ability to bring traffickers to justice as is her and our fear.
The Minister will be aware that many in his own party have voiced serious concerns about the original public order disqualification threshold introduced by the Government. Given that 48% of victims of modern slavery in the UK last year were criminally exploited, that suggests that clause 62 has the potential to exclude almost half of all victims from support.
To maintain the hon. Lady’s record of Conservative interventions that are somewhat supportive, is not what she has just said about that 48% the answer to the question I posed to my hon. Friend the Minister? Under the Bill as presented, the Home Office will be required to intervene in half the cases to make the very difficult judgment whether to exclude or not exclude. Does that not open us up to a huge amount of potential risk?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful contribution. As we learn more about county lines gangs and their operating model, we see more and more young people and children subject to the worst exploitation by some of the vilest criminal gangs. Those are the children who are referred into the national referral mechanism. They have been encouraged, exploited and forced to commit crimes as part of their exploitation, so if we are to bust those gangs they are the children we need to be looking after and supporting, and we need to support them through the prosecutions of their abusers. That 48% were criminally exploited, so we must ensure that children who have been victims of county lines gangs have protection.
It will drive more people underground and make it significantly harder for the police and authorities to investigate the perpetrators of human trafficking without the trust and support for victims in place. It also sends a clear message to perpetrators of human trafficking that they are free to exploit vulnerable people with a criminal record, knowing they will now be exempt from protection. Clause 62 represents a massive step backwards in our shared ambition to see more traffickers before the courts if it passes unamended.
Lords amendment 26 removes clause 64 and introduces a minimum 12 months leave to remain, and tailored support for all individuals who have been found to be confirmed victims of modern slavery. To demonstrate how difficult it still is to have your migration status resolved upon recognition of your exploitation, data obtained from the Home Office shows that in 2019-20 only 2%, or 17 out of 754, of child victims of modern slavery in the UK were granted discretionary leave to remain. The amendment would ensure that victims are provided with protection, support, security and stability to support their recovery in a way that promotes engagement with police and prosecutors. This proposal has gathered significant cross-party support, and I wish to highlight the work that has been conducted across the House and in the other place, specifically by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and Lord McColl. On the Labour Benches, we strongly support the amendment. Once again, it is frustrating that the Government have failed to listen and to act on the commitments they made in earlier stages of the Bill in this place.
Just last week, the Court of Appeal rejected the Government’s attempt to overturn the High Court ruling last October that granted thousands of victims of human trafficking leave to remain. During the court case, the Government stated that they want to ensure the Government are in keeping with the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings, yet that differs from what the Government have argued in both Houses. That would have a considerable impact, given that 91% of conclusive grounds decisions made in 2021 were positive, which means the Home Office deemed the individuals to be confirmed victims of modern slavery.
In conclusion, the amendments seek only to bring the Bill closer to adhering to the Government’s own guidance and best practice on supporting vulnerable victims of modern slavery and trafficking. There are others, but I have made the case for Lords amendments 24, 25, 26 and 27, all of which would significantly improve the proposed legislation before us. Lords amendment 22 also has our full support. The sector has been unified in its condemnation of the initial measures contained within that section of the Bill and there has been overwhelming evidence in support of the Lords amendments at every stage. The most recent number of referrals to the NRM was 12,727, representing a 20% increase in referrals compared to the previous year—the highest number of referrals since the NRM began. That is a deeply worrying trend and more must be done to tackle this abhorrent crime that continues to see shockingly low prosecution rates.
All sides of the House have worked to end the abhorrent crime that is modern slavery. We should be seeking to build on the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and on our commitments in that legislation. We want to work with the Government, as do the sector and the victims themselves. I therefore strongly urge the Government to think again and accept the Lords amendments.
I will not be very long, because what I am going to speak about is quite narrow and I know others want to speak.
Just before 2015, the Centre for Social Justice produced the report that persuaded the Government, of which I was a member, to be the first in the world to introduce legislation on modern day slavery. I could not have been prouder of this place when the Bill passed. It has been a signal that has gone around the world and others have followed suit. Let me put this issue into context. We should be pushing to make the Modern Slavery Act 2015 even more focused and even better, but my suspicion is that some are looking at it and saying, “This is full of ways to come in illegally through the backdoor.” I must say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I just do not think that that is the case here.
I am speaking to my amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 26. I understand the Government’s concerns with the way it was framed in the other place, but I would rather have debated it at some length to try to ensure it was better written.
The point that I want to make is narrow. My amendment, which I know we cannot vote on, so this is a debating point, would add this key element: those who have got through the NRM, which is difficult enough as it is, are clearly victims of modern slavery and we therefore need to be generous to them. One of their problems, which we have discovered through all sorts of mechanisms, is that they have suffered trauma and real problems, and they are discombobulated and frightened. They therefore find it difficult to co-operate with authority. Many of them have fled authorities that are responsible for the penalties that they have suffered under, so they need more time.
The police say, “We need more time to settle such people so that we can get prosecutions.” We consulted on 12 months and the police were very clear, saying, “If you introduce 12 months as a minimum, we will get many more prosecutions. We will start to round up some of these gangs and we will get on top of this. At the moment, we cannot get individuals to give evidence. They are frightened that they will end up back on the street and that these people will get them.” There is a logic to this change that is in keeping with the aim of the Bill, which is to make sure that those who traffic people are arrested and prosecuted. That is what it is all about.
I have heard some say that there is an increase in the number of people coming into the NRM, which therefore suggests that this change will become a pull factor. First, whether we agree or disagree about the 12 months being a pull factor, relatively, the numbers are absolutely tiny compared with the number of asylum claims. Secondly, the 12 months cannot be a pull factor because there is already a period of time after the NRM anyway. Is the idea that someone is thinking “I will go after the NRM because I am an illegal and I will find a way of delaying that because then I get the extra 12 months.”? That is not the point. The 12 months are there because when someone is through that, they must be a victim of modern slavery. The debate is not about whether people are victims of modern slavery; they are victims of modern slavery. The question is what is the best way to treat them to ensure that they get the best outcome and that, in return, we get the best outcome in terms of prosecutions.
Let me make this point to the Minister—we debated this issue on Third Reading. I think that he and the Government get it, but that they get a certain amount of pushback about whether there is some kind of pull factor. The point about the pull factor has been made so often. It is a bit like “Dr Dolittle” and the “pushmi-pullyu” concept—it depends who people are getting this from and which angle they take.
The truth is that I am not even going to argue about pull factors. I will simply say that the purpose of this amendment, which we cannot vote on tonight, is to enable the Government to debate this issue with me carefully so that in the other place, they will table an amendment that enshrines the 12-month minimum in legislation. The guidance will take forever to come through and, anyway, it is not binding—it is guidance. Somebody who has a bad attitude will not stick to the guidance. They will go for de minimis and I do not want them to do that. De minimis should be 12 months in legislation. If we believe in this, it will be a beacon. We should be proud of what we are doing.
In conclusion, if I could get on bended knee, I would beg my Government—please, please—to think of putting back in in the other place a 12-month minimum after someone has completed the NRM. There are lots of things that I do not particularly like in the Bill, but if we can do that, I will take a self-denying ordinance and support the Government. I will do that just to get the 12 months in because such people deserve the best that we can give them.
Order. I think I will have to reduce the time limit to four minutes after the contribution from the SNP spokesperson.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), with whom I agree. I also agreed with pretty much everything said by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), so I can be fairly brief.
The hon. Member for Halifax was right to say at the outset that, again, it is frustrating that the Government do not appear to be listening—not to their Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, anti-slavery charities, medical professionals, social workers or survivors—and that everything is being seen through the prism of migration enforcement. The Government are undermining not just the refugee convention, but other international obligations including the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings.
The Minister said a lot of good things at the Dispatch Box, as he did in the debate on the previous group, but sometimes what he says bears very little resemblance to the provisions that are actually in the Bill. I have a lot of respect for him as a Minister, but he cannot ask us to legislate—to pass a Bill—based on how he wants it implemented. We have to go by what is in the Bill, which too often simply does not live up to what he is trying to sell us.
The SNP supports what their lordships have done to take out some of the most offensive provisions of the Bill and to improve protections for trafficking survivors. We believe that the Government’s motions to disagree will not only take out the positive reforms that their lordships suggested and restore some really regressive provisions that undermine modern slavery legislation across the UK, but reinstate challenges and hurdles for survivors of trafficking and slavery, especially children. The only beneficiaries will be those who perpetrate those awful crimes.
We support Lords amendment 24, which scraps clause 58 —a clause that totally inappropriately instructs fact-finders how to assess late provision of evidence from trafficking survivors. Not only is the clause particularly inappropriate in relation to trafficking victims, for reasons that the House has heard, but it is wrong in principle for Parliament to tell decision makers including judges what to make of evidence that they will see and hear and that we lawmakers never will. They are skilled people who know how to handle evidence, including late evidence, without MPs having to blunder in. Crucially, all we are doing by increasing the apparent threat that a victim will not be believed is handing a boost to traffickers—an extra weapon of coercion and control.
We support Lords amendment 25, which refines clause 62 on disqualification from protection under the convention. The Government are seeking to disqualify from protection far too broad a group of victims, including children. We all know that many victims of trafficking and slavery are coerced into committing crime, and sometimes that is a consequence of their trafficking or slavery—indeed, those who already have a criminal record are frequently specifically targeted for trafficking. If we allow the Government to have their way, it is the victims who will be worse off and the traffickers who will gain a new tool for coercion.
We support Lords amendment 27, which protects victims under 18 from the most damaging provisions and puts the best interests of the child at the heart of decision making. Fundamentally, how can any of that be objectionable? For all the reasons that the shadow Minister gave, we give the amendment our full support.
We support Lord McColl’s amendment 26, which provides essential leave to remain for victims to rebuild their lives, prevent re-trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have continued to champion that cause.
We strongly support Lords amendment 22. The procedures in the Bill for age assessments represent a totally inappropriate power grab by the Home Secretary from both local authorities and indeed devolved Governments. Lords amendment 22 at least puts in place a framework to provide proper constraints on her power. The amendment is the only way to prevent harmful, dangerous, totally unjustified, unethical and inaccurate age assessments from becoming the norm. The British Dental Association, the British Medical Association, the British Association of Social Workers, the Royal College of Nursing and many others have asked us to keep the amendment, so we should support them, and we should support multi-agency teams and social workers with investment and support, not make them subservient to the Home Office.
We are sympathetic to Lords amendment 40, which is designed to protect local journeys between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from electronic travel authorisation provisions. Surely there must be a better way to handle the issue than by requiring authorisations in advance. I have not been privy to the conversations that have been had, but there must be other solutions.
I will finish by briefly echoing a question that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) asked. In principle, the Government’s visa penalty clauses have a role and a purpose and we support them, but we share his concerns about what they might mean for Russians fleeing persecution, for example, including those who have protested against the further invasion of Ukraine. The Minister suggested that they would be able to apply as ever, but as I understand it, some of the measures in the Bill—[Interruption.] Oh, he is going to deal with that point when he sums up. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
In short, the SNP continues to support the efforts of those in the other place to force the Government to listen to the advice that they have been given and to think again about many of the Bill’s provisions.
I intended to speak on the first group of amendments, but I have a lot to say about the second group as well, so I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
I welcome Lords amendments 28 and 29. It is good that we have a Government who take security in this country incredibly seriously. It is right that we are compassionate and generous when it comes to Ukrainian refugees, but I am sympathetic to the Government’s position of not completely waiving checks and of listening to the advice of the security services. I see Lords amendments 28 and 29 as an extension of the principle that the Government must protect the security of our country from individuals coming from countries deemed to be high-risk.
Lords amendments 30 to 35 amend clause 69—an incredibly important clause, in my view. I always hesitate to use the term “pull factor” because of some of the comments that have been made about pull factors, but I do think that one pull factor has been the ability of many people who have entered this country illegally, and who may or may not be legitimate refugees, to stay here. It is a case of, “Once you’re in, you’re in.” If we determine that an individual is not a refugee—if that person does not pass the tests—we must get them back to the country they came from as soon as possible. I therefore welcome clause 69 and think it should be protected from any potential amendments.
Let me be honest with the House: my view is that those who come here illegally should immediately be deported to the country from which they came. If someone wants to claim asylum, they ought to go through the correct procedure. I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is the case.
In general, I think that the Bill is extremely important. In relation to the amendments and what we heard earlier today, I suspect that many other Members on both sides of the House have constituents who, while they are incredibly big-hearted, and in particular have a big-hearted attitude to the Ukrainian refugees—and indeed other refugees—see a distinction between them and people who enter the country illegally and who we should not assume are refugees. Some may not be, and I think it important for us to bear that in mind. I also think that those in the other place—I will be careful about what I say, and I will be very respectful of the other place—should tread carefully, because I think there is immense support for this Bill out there in the country.
I will restrict my comments to Lords amendment 40, which I originally tabled in this House with my colleagues the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna). I was very pleased when the House of Lords took it up. I especially thank Baroness Ritchie and Baroness Suttie, and all those who spoke in favour of the amendment at that time.
I believe that the system of electronic travel authorisations is essentially unworkable in the context of the island of Ireland. I know that the UK Government have received representations from the Irish Government, and they will also be aware of the cross-party opposition to this proposal in the Irish Houses of Parliament, the Oireachtas. It is important that we listen carefully to those voices and take account of the considerable concern felt in Northern Ireland about this measure.
Of course the common travel area applies to Irish citizens, but we are now talking about citizens of the European economic area who previously had freedom of movement and about all the other non-Irish residents of the island of Ireland having to apply for an ETA in due course. The Government may say that this is a simple process and there is no intention of introducing routine border checks; I recognise that they have been clear about that. None the less, it will be a new bureaucratic process. People may either forget to apply for their ETAs or forget to renew them, and some may even be placed in a degree of legal jeopardy. Someone who is in Northern Ireland without an ETA and has to interact with the UK state, perhaps for healthcare reasons or in the event of a traffic accident, will potentially be in a position of some uncertainty, and there may well be repercussions from that.
There are three instances in which this could become a problem. There are tens of thousands of movements each day on the island of Ireland involving Northern Ireland citizens—for the purposes of work or education, for example, and because people living in one part of the island may have business in the other jurisdiction. People who do not intend to do any business in Northern Ireland often have to travel through it to get from A to B. The quickest route from Dublin to Donegal is through Northern Ireland on the A5, and even someone making a very localised journey from Clones or Cavan town, for example, will cross the border four times in the course of that short journey. This could become fairly absurd.
There is also the question of tourism. The island of Ireland is very much a single market for tourists. Many people come to the south, and then want to come to Northern Ireland to see all our wonderful attractions and take advantage of our great scenery. We can foresee a situation where tourists are not aware of the requirements, or where tour operators have to go through bureaucracy in order to ensure that their passengers on bus tours, for example, are fully compliant with this new law. That may well put some people out of the market or persuade them not offer that type of service. That would be a huge loss to our tourism sector, which is a key aspect of the Northern Ireland economy. The movements that happen at present on the island of Ireland are not a threat to UK security. I encourage the Government to reflect on this further and talk more to the Irish Government about finding a resolution.
Order. I am afraid that I have to reduce the time limit to three minutes.
I want the UK to be known as a place of refuge and justice as well as a place of opportunity and freedom. When examining immigration Bills over the years, I have always looked to see where there could be an issue of moral hazard in what is being proposed and the changes being made. In this Bill, my eyes were immediately drawn to clause 62 and to Lords amendment 25. The title of clause 62 is “Identified potential victims etc: disqualification from protection”. The clause is replete with moral hazards in whatever actions the Government might take. As it happens, I do not think that the Government have got the balance right, but I am also not sure that the Lords amendment is quite right.
My request to the Minister, who is ably managing the Bill, is to continue the conversation with their lordships on this provision, because of the risks of moral hazard. For example, is it really right that we should continue to include taking away this protection from children? Is it right that we should continue to have a provision that someone who in their past has undertaken a crime under duress should be liable to the protections being taken away? The Minister has argued that it is important to define this, so that the issues of public order can be applied, and I see some relevance there, but why is it important to rely so heavily on information that relates to an individual’s past, rather than take into account their circumstances and the potential risk they pose today? That balance has not been struck correctly.
The noble Lords Coaker and Randall in the other place sought to correct that by trying to draw a tighter definition about the risks, stating that there has to be
“an immediate, genuine, present and serious threat”,
but I think they have overcooked it a little bit. It is quite a lot to say that all those criteria have to apply. Between the Government’s present criteria, which rely too much on an individual’s past, and the Lords amendment, which is drawn a bit too tightly about where these protections should be applied, there is scope for the Government to find some ground for compromise. I certainly hope so.
I shall of necessity be very brief. First, I would like to place on record my appreciation of my colleagues in the other place, in particular Lord Paddick, Baroness Hamwee, Baroness Ludford and Baroness Suttie.
I find myself somewhat perplexed about the measures relating to modern slavery because, as the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, the Conservative party has until recently had a really good story to tell on modern slavery. It started with the work of Anthony Steen. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and in this context I pay particular tribute to the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I saw how, as Home Secretary, she drove this agenda in Government. Believe me, the Home Secretary in the coalition Government was not always an immediate ally for Liberal Democrat Ministers. She had a particular knack for generating tension, not just within the coalition but occasionally within her own party, but she really understood the importance of this issue and drove it forward in a way that I think the party should be proud of. I am afraid that what I see in relation to Lords amendments 24 to 26, coming from people such as Lord Randall—someone with whom, again, I was pleased to work during his time in this House—flies in the face of that work. It undermines the tremendous progress this country and the Conservative party have made.
On Lords amendments 24 to 27, I simply adopt the comments made by the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and those made in the interventions on her by the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), as there was nothing to disagree with. We have some thoughtful, well-informed contributions coming from the other place, not least from Conservative Members there, and the Government would be well advised to listen to them and their sage advice. On Lords amendment 40, the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) highlighted well the practical difficulties that will arise if the provision he addressed is left to stand.
I wish to speak briefly in support of the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) in lieu of Lords amendment 26, to which he referred in his impassioned speech. Disappointingly, it cannot be voted on today. If we are to break the business model of the criminal gangs behind modern slavery, we have to increase the number of successful prosecutions. One of the most effective ways to do that is to enable more victims to participate in the pursuit of justice by sharing intelligence and acting as witnesses. Evidence from programmes such as Justice and Care’s victim navigator programme shows that when given wraparound support over a longer period more victims develop the confidence to engage with criminal investigations; 89% of Justice and Care’s supported victims engaged with police at the last published evaluation, which compared with the national average of about a third.
I welcome the commitment that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) gave on Report that
“all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of tailored support will receive appropriate individualised support for a minimum of 12 months.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 427.]
However, to provide victims with the certainty and stability they need, this extended support should be included in the statutory framework.
The Government have taken the positive step of putting support for modern slavery victims in law for the first time in this Bill, but clause 63 is limited to support during the initial recovery period during the national referral mechanism. The Bill offers no support to victims after the point at which someone has been formally recognised as a victim. The Government have already committed to doing this for a minimum of 12 months and it would be a simple matter to add that commitment to the Bill, giving a more comprehensive picture of the full range of support available, and providing victims with greater certainty and stability for their recovery as a result. I hope that Ministers will support the intent behind the amendment in lieu tabled by my right hon. Friend, and I note the Minister’s comment today that the Government are very willing to take these concerns away and have discussions with my right hon. Friend and, I hope, others. I also hope that the concern about the importance of putting the 12-month period into statute will not only be taken away, but acted upon.
This Bill is such wide-reaching and deeply flawed legislation that there is so much I could speak on, but in the limited time we have I will focus on Lords amendment 22, which deals with the age assessment of children.
Without that amendment, the Bill will increase the number of children who have to undergo age assessments. These processes are unethical and inaccurate, focusing on vague criteria such as a child’s “appearance and demeanour”. Other, more detailed investigations are, of course, re-traumatising for children. There is a real danger that the