[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 22 March, on Legislative Scrutiny: Illegal Migration Bill, HC 1241; and oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 15 March, on the Human Rights of Asylum Seekers in the UK, HC 821.]
[2nd Allocated Day]
Further considered in Committee
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
I remind Members that in Committee they should not address the Chair as Deputy Speaker. Please use our names when addressing the Chair: Dame Rosie, Mr Evans or Sir Roger. Madam Chair, Chair, Madam Chairman or Mr Chairman are also acceptable. Like yesterday, I advise Members that a lot of people wish to speak, so if they focus on making shorter contributions, everybody will get an equal shout.
Duty to make arrangements for removal
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 139, page 2, line 33, leave out “four” and insert “five”.
This amendment adds a fifth condition to the duty to remove.
Amendment 187, page 2, line 33, at end insert
“subject to the exceptions in subsection (1A).”
Amendment 188, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) This section does not apply to a person who was under the age of 18 when they arrived in the UK”.
Amendment 189, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) This section does not apply to a person (“A”) who is an Afghan national where there is a real risk of persecution or serious harm to A if returned to that country.”
Amendment 190, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) This section does not apply to a person who is a refugee under the Refugee Convention or in need of humanitarian protection.”
Amendment 191, page 2, line 33, at end insert–
“(1A) This section does not apply to a person (L) where there is a real risk of persecution or serious harm on grounds of sexual orientation if L is removed in accordance with this section.”
Amendment 192, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) This clause does not apply to persons who there are reasonable grounds to suspect are victims of torture.”
Amendment 195, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) This clause does not apply to persons who there are reasonable grounds to suspect are victims of trafficking or slavery.”
Amendment 196, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) This clause does not apply to an individual who meets the definition of an “adult at risk” in paragraph 7 of the Home Office Guidance on adults at risk in immigration detention (2016), including in particular people suffering from a condition, or who have experienced a traumatic event (such as trafficking, torture or sexual violence), that would be likely to render them particularly vulnerable to harm.”
Amendment 282, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) This clause does not apply to a person who has been diagnosed with AIDS or as HIV positive.”
Amendment 193, page 3, line 8, after “person” insert
“is not a citizen of Ukraine, and”.
Amendment 194, page 3, line 8, after “person” insert
“does not have family members in the United Kingdom, and”.
Amendment 197, page 3, line 9, leave out “on or after 7 March 2023” and insert
“more than one month after this section comes into force”.
Amendment 285, page 3, line 11, at end insert
“with which the United Kingdom has a formal legally binding agreement to facilitate returns required under this section, and”.
This amendment would restrict the duty to arrange removal of people who travelled to the UK through a safe third country to cases where that country has a formal, legally binding agreement with the UK Government on migration returns.
Amendment 2, page 3, line 12, after “race” insert “gender”.
This amendment would explicitly add persecution on the basis of gender as potential reasons for the purposes of the third condition.
Amendment 198, page 3, line 15, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) Subsection (4) is to be interpreted in accordance with article 31(1) of the United Nations Convention on Refugees.”
Amendment 123, page 3, line 18, leave out from “they” to end of line 19 insert
“lawfully settled or found protection in another country outside the United Kingdom where they faced no serious risk of persecution or violations of their human rights and which complies with the requirements of the 1951 Convention on Refugees”.
This amendment would redefine “in both cases” so that it complies with the meaning of that phrase in Article 31 of the Refugee Convention as interpreted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Amendment 140, page 3, line 21, at end insert—
“(6A) The fifth condition is that the person was either—
(a) aged 18 or over, or
(b) under the age of 18 and was in the care of an individual over the age of 18,
at the time they entered the United Kingdom.”
Amendment 199, page 3, line 22, leave out subsection (7).
Amendment 200, page 3, line 41, leave out “unaccompanied”.
Amendment 6, page 4, line 4, at end insert—
“(d) the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person is cooperating with a public authority in connection with an investigation or criminal proceedings related to people smuggling offences, and that it is necessary for the person to remain in the United Kingdom for the purposes of such cooperation.”
This amendment would provide an exemption from the duty to remove for people assisting with investigations or prosecutions for people smuggling offences, similar to the exemption provided by clause 21 for victims of modern slavery.
Amendment 70, page 4, line 4, at end insert—
“(d) the person enters the United Kingdom from Ireland across the land border with Northern Ireland.”
This amendment would provide an exemption from the duty to remove for people who arrive in the UK from the Republic of Ireland via the land border with Northern Ireland.
Amendment 136, page 4, line 4, at end insert—
“(12) Accommodation provided by the Secretary of State to a person who meets the conditions in this section must not include hotel accommodation.”
This amendment is intended to restrict the use of hotels by those who meet the conditions in clause 2.
Amendment 284, page 4, line 4, at end insert—
“(12) The Secretary of State must, within three months of the date on which this Act is passed, and at intervals of once every three months thereafter, lay a report before Parliament on the number of people who have been removed from the United Kingdom under this section.”
Clause stand part.
Amendment 201, in clause 3, page 4, line 5, leave out “Unaccompanied.”
Amendment 141, page 4, line 6, leave out subsections (1) to (4).
This amendment is consequential on the addition of the fifth condition.
Amendment 202, page 4, line 7, leave out
“at a time when the person is an unaccompanied child”
“if the person is a child or arrived in the United Kingdom as a child”.
Amendment 295, page 4, line 7, leave out
“at a time when the person is an unaccompanied child”
“where the person is an unaccompanied child or is a person who arrived in the United Kingdom as an unaccompanied child.”
This amendment seeks to remove the obligation on the Secretary of State to remove a person where the person has ceased to be an unaccompanied child.
Amendment 148, page 4, line 9, leave out subsection (2).
This amendment seeks to remove the provision in the Bill which enables the Secretary of State to remove unaccompanied children from the UK.
Amendment 203, page 4, line 11, at end insert “but only if—
(a) it is in the child’s best interests, and
(b) in accordance with UN Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
Amendment 204, page 4, line 12, leave out “unaccompanied”.
Amendment 205, page 4, line 15, leave out sub-paragraph (c).
Amendment 206, page 4, line 17, leave out subsection (4).
Amendment 283, page 4, line 24, at end insert—
“(6A) For the purposes of this section, if C claims to be under the age of 18, but the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to dispute this claim, C’s age may be verified by a scientific age assessment.
(6B) A scientific age assessment conducted under this section may only entail medical methods, which may include x-ray examination.
(6C) A scientific age assessment may be conducted regardless of whether C has given consent.
(6D) The process or conclusion of the scientific age assessment is final and is not liable to be questioned or set aside in any court.”
Clause 3 stand part.
Amendment 299, in clause 4, page 4, line 28, leave out
“or the power in section 3(2)”.
This amendment would remove the requirement, in relation to unaccompanied children, to disregard relevant protection claims, human rights claims, slavery or human trafficking claims, and applications for judicial review.
Amendment 208, page 4, line 39, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 294, page 5, line 2, leave out from “(2)” to the end of line 2 and insert
“must be considered under the immigration rules if the person who made the claim has not been removed from the United Kingdom within a period of six months starting on the day the claim is deemed inadmissible.”
Amendment 209, page 5, line 2, at end insert
“until such time as the Secretary of State withdraws her declaration under subsection (2), or a successful appeal is brought under subsection (4A)”.
Amendment 212, page 5, line 4, leave out “not”.
Amendment 213, page 5, line 5, leave out “no” and insert “a”.
Amendment 210, page 5, line 7, at end insert “subject to subsection (4A)”.
Amendment 135, page 5, line 7, at end insert—
“(4A) No court shall make any order to the effect that a person removed pursuant to the duty in section 2 (1) shall be returned to the United Kingdom.”.
This amendment is intended to block courts from ordering individuals to be returned to the UK.
Amendment 211, page 5, line 7, at end insert—
“(4A) If no removal takes place and no decision is made on a person’s protection or human rights claim within six months of a person’s arrival, then the declaration that such a claim is inadmissible is to be treated as a refusal of the claim giving rise to a right of appeal under section 82(1)(a) or (b) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.”
Clause 4 stand part.
Amendment 214, in clause 5, page 5, line 34, leave out paragraph (b).
Amendment 301, page 5, line 40, leave out paragraph (b).
This amendment would prevent unaccompanied children being removed to the countries listed in subsection (3), including countries listed as “safe” under new section 80AA(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (see clause 50).
Amendment 13, page 6, line 33, at end insert—
“(c) in a case where P is a national of a country to which their return may reasonably be expected to constitute a breach of Article 33 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951.”
This amendment would add to the list of exceptional circumstances, in which a person should not be returned to a country of origin ordinarily considered safe, cases in which their removal may reasonably be expected to constitute a breach of the principle of non-refoulement under Article 33 of the Refugee Convention.
Amendment 215, page 6, line 39, at end insert—
“and the following conditions are met–
(a) the removal is pursuant to a formal, legally binding and public readmission agreement between the United Kingdom and the country or territory;
(b) the country or territory meets the definition of safe state set out in section 80B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, as shown by reliable, objective and up-to-date information;
(c) the person has been declared inadmissible under section 80B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, or section 4(2) of this Act;
(d) the country or territory in question is the country or territory with which the person was found to have a connection under section 80B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002;
(e) taking into account the person’s individual circumstances, it is reasonable for them to go to that country or territory; and
(f) the person is not a national of that country or territory.”
Amendment 216, page 7, line 3, at end insert—
“and the following conditions are met—
(a) the removal is pursuant to a formal, legally binding and public readmission agreement between the United Kingdom and the country or territory;
(b) the country or territory meets the definition of third country set out in section 80B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, as shown by reliable, objective and up-to-date information;
(c) the person has been declared inadmissible under section 80B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, or section 4(2) of this Act;
(d) the country or territory in question is the country or territory with which the person was found to have a connection under section 80B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002;
(e) taking into account the person’s individual circumstances, it is reasonable for them to go to that country or territory; and
(f) the person is not a national of that country or territory.”
Amendment 306, page 7, line 10, at end insert—
“(11A) For the purposes of removal under this section—
(a) where persons arrive in the United Kingdom as a family group, the provisions of this section must apply to them as if they were a single person so that, if they are removed, they are removed to the same country which must satisfy all the provisions of this section in relation to each person;
(b) “family group” means two or more persons who have any of the following relationships—
(i) parent, child, sibling, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, cousin, husband, wife, grandparent, grandchild, legal guardian, or
(ii) any other relationship which may be set out by the Secretary of State in regulations.”
This amendment seeks to ensure that family members arriving in the UK together would be removed to the same country. For example, this amendment would prevent a husband being removed to a country listed in the Schedule only in respect of men, with the wife being removed to a different country listed in the Schedule.
Clause 5 stand part.
That the schedule be the schedule to the Bill.
Amendment 17, in clause 6, page 8, line 12, after “international organisations” insert
“including but not limited to, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”.
This amendment would add an explicit requirement for the Secretary of State to have regard to information from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees when considering whether to add new countries or territories to the Schedule of safe third countries to which a person may be removed.
Clause 6 stand part.
Amendment 142, in clause 7, page 8, line 22, leave out from “Kingdom” to end of line 24.
This amendment is consequential on the addition of the fifth condition.
Amendment 138, page 8, line 24, at end insert—
“(1A) P may not be removed from the United Kingdom unless the Secretary of State or an immigration officer has given a notice in writing to P stating—
(a) that P meets the four conditions set out in section 2;
(b) that a safe and legal route to the United Kingdom from P’s country of origin existed which P could have followed but did not follow;
(c) that the safe and legal route specified in paragraph (b) has been approved by both Houses of Parliament in the previous 12 months as safe, legal and accessible to persons originating in the relevant country; and
(d) the number of successful applications for asylum in each of the previous five years by persons following the safe and legal route specified in paragraph (b).
(1B) Any determination by the Secretary of State to remove P from the United Kingdom based on information provided by the notice referred to in subsection (1A) may be subject to judicial review on the basis that the information was flawed, and the Secretary of State may not remove P from the United Kingdom while any such judicial review is ongoing.”
This amendment would prevent the Home Secretary removing a person from the United Kingdom unless and until the Secretary of State has confirmed that a safe and legal route existed but that the person nevertheless chose to follow an alternative route which resulted in them arriving in the United Kingdom without leave.
Amendment 121, page 8, line 30, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(ba) any protection claim, human rights claim, claim to be a victim of slavery or a victim of human trafficking as defined by regulations made under section 69 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 made by P has been resolved, and
(bb) any application by P for judicial review in relation to their removal from the United Kingdom under this Act has concluded.”
This amendment would make clear that no one can be removed from the UK until their protection claim, human rights claim, claim to be a victim of slavery or trafficking has been resolved or their application for judicial review in relation to their removal has concluded.
Amendment 18, page 8, line 36, at end insert—
“(3A) A notice under subsection (2) must—
(a) be provided in a language understood by that person, and
(b) provide information about how that person may access legal advice.”
This amendment would require the notices of removal to be provided in a language understood by the recipient, and to include information about how the recipient may access legal advice.
Amendment 217, page 8, line 37, leave out subsection (4).
Amendment 218, page 9, line 11, leave out subsection (8).
Government amendments 165 to 167.
Clause 7 stand part.
Amendment 219, in clause 8, page 9, line 29, after “family” insert “who arrives with P and”.
Government amendment 168.
Clause 8 stand part.
Amendment 286, in clause 9, page 11, line 8, at end insert—
“(8) The Secretary of State must, within 30 days of the date on which this section comes into force, publish and lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of this Act on—
(a) Government expenditure on asylum support; and
(b) the use of contingency accommodation (including the specific use of hotels)
provided under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.”
Clauses 9 and 10 stand part.
Amendment 220, in clause 11, page 13, leave out lines 19 to 36.
Amendment 221, page 13, leave out from the beginning of line 37 to the end of line 28 on page 14.
Government amendment 169.
Amendment 143, page 14, line 36, leave out lines 36 to 38 and insert—
“(2G) Detention under sub-paragraph (2C) or (2D) is to be treated as detention under sub-paragraph 16 (2) for the purposes of the limitations in paragraph 18B (limitation on detention of unaccompanied children).”
This amendment would remove the provision which enables a person of any age to be detained “in any place that the Secretary of State considers appropriate” and would reapply the existing statutory time and location restrictions on the detention of unaccompanied children.
Amendment 65, page 14, line 38, at end insert
“provided that it is compliant with the Detention Centre Rules 2001 and that local residents who may be affected are properly consulted.”
Amendment 71, page 14, line 38, at end insert
“, except in the case of an unaccompanied child or where a relevant family member is aged under 18, in which case sub-paragraph (2H) applies.
(2H) Where this sub-paragraph applies, the Secretary of State must consult and take into account the advice of the Children’s Commissioner as to whether—
(a) detention of the child or young person is compatible with the rights of the child or young person, and
(b) whether the place proposed for detention is suitable for ensuring the well-being of the child or young person.
(2I) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, subject to any appropriate redactions of personal data, advice received from the Children’s Commissioner under sub-paragraph (2H).”
This amendment is intended to give the Children’s Commissioner (who has responsibility for the welfare of under-18s in reserved/excepted matters across the UK) a role in ensuring that their rights are taken into account in the detention decision, and that any detention accommodation secures their welfare.
Amendment 145, page 14, line 41, leave out subsection (4).
This amendment would remove the provisions which disapply the existing statutory time and location restrictions on the detention of children and their families.
Amendment 222, page 15, leave out lines 27 to 43.
Amendment 223, page 15, leave out from the beginning of line 44 to the end of line 34 on page 16.
Amendment 144, page 16, line 40, leave out lines 40 and 41 and insert—
“(2E) Detention under subsection (2A) or (2B) is to be treated as detention under sub-paragraph 16(2) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 (limitation on detention of unaccompanied children).”
This amendment would remove the provision which enables a person of any age to be detained “in any place that the Secretary of State considers appropriate” and would reapply the existing statutory time and location restrictions on the detention of unaccompanied children.
Amendment 147, page 16, line 40, leave out lines 40 and 41 and insert—
“(2E) Detention under subsection (2A) or (2B) is to be treated as detention under paragraph 16(2) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 for the purposes of the limitations in paragraph 18B of Schedule 2 of that Act.”
See explanatory statement for Amendment 146.
Amendment 21, page 17, line 9, leave out subsection (11).
This amendment seeks to remove the provisions which disapply existing statutory time limits on detention of pregnant women to people detained under powers set out in this clause.
Clause 11 stand part.
Amendment 226, in clause 12, page 17, line 20, leave out
“in the opinion of the Secretary of State”.
Amendment 227, page 17, line 24, leave out lines 24 to 28.
Amendment 228, page 17, line 42, leave out
“in the opinion of the Secretary of State”.
Amendment 229, page 18, line 1, leave out “reasonably”.
Amendment 230, page 18, line 2, leave out
“the Secretary of State considers to be”.
Amendment 231, page 18, line 39, leave out
“in the opinion of the Secretary of State”.
Amendment 232, page 19, leave out lines 1 to 4.
Amendment 233, page 19, leave out lines 11 to 20.
Clause 12 stand part.
Amendment 234, in clause 13, page 20, line 32, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment 124, page 21, line 3, leave out from beginning to end of line 11 on page 22.
This amendment would remove the prohibition, for the first 28 days of detention, on the grant of immigration bail by the First-tier tribunal and the ouster of judicial review of detention.
Amendment 235, page 21, line 12, leave out subsection (4).
Government amendments 170 and 171.
Clauses 13 and 14 stand part.
Amendment 238, in clause 15, page 22, line 30, at end insert—
“(1A) The power in clause (1) may only be exercised if the exercise of that power is in the best interests of the child, or children, being provided for.”
Amendment 239, page 22, line 34, leave out “may” and insert
“must, as necessary to secure the best interests of the child,”.
Clause 15 stand part.
Amendment 240, in clause 16, page 23, line 2, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
Amendment 241, page 23, line 3, leave out
“on a certain date (the transfer date)”
“as soon as reasonably practical”.
Amendment 242, page 23, line 10, leave out subsections (4) to (8).
Clause 16 to 18 stand part.
Amendment 246, in clause 19, page 24, line 27, at end insert
“but only with the consent of the Senedd Cymru, Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly.”
Clauses 19 and 20 stand part.
Amendment 247, in clause 21, page 25, line 17, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert
“grounds of public order prevent observation of the reflection and recovery period, or if it is found that victim status is being claimed improperly.”
This amendment seeks to align provisions in clause 21 relating to exclusion from trafficking protections to those in article 13 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking.
Amendment 24, page 25, line 19, at end insert—
“(aa) the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person is a threat to public order, within the terms of section 63(3) of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.”
Amendment 125, page 25, line 20, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(aa) grounds of public order prevent that person being provided with a recovery and reflection period in accordance with Article 13 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking.”
This amendment, together with Amendments 126 and 127, would ensure that the disapplication of modern slavery provisions extends only in accordance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking.
Amendment 126, page 25, line 29, leave out paragraph (b).
This amendment, together with Amendment 127, would ensure that the disapplication of modern slavery provisions extends only in accordance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking.
Amendment 292, page 26, line 2, at end insert—
“(d) a decision has been made by a competent authority that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person is a victim of sexual exploitation (“positive reasonable grounds decision”).”
This amendment seeks to remove potential victims of sexual exploitation from the provisions requiring them to be removed.
Amendment 127, page 26, line 25, leave out subsections (7) to (9).
This amendment, together with Amendment 126, would ensure that the disapplication of modern slavery provisions extends only in accordance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking.
Amendment 291, page 26, line 36, at end insert—
“(9A) A person whose removal from the United Kingdom is enabled by subsection (2), shall only be removed to a state that is a signatory to—
the European Convention on Human Rights, and
the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking.”
This amendment seeks to restrict the removal of victims of modern slavery to countries which are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Trafficking Convention.
Clause 21 stand part.
Amendment 249, in clause 22, page 27, line 11, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert
“grounds of public order prevent observation of the reflection and recovery period or if it is found that victim status is being claimed improperly.”
This amendment seeks to align provisions in clause 21 relating to exclusion from trafficking protections to those in article 13 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking.
Amendment 288, page 27, line 17, leave out subsection (2).
This amendment seeks to remove the bill’s restrictions on the provision of modern slavery support to those subject to the provisions in clause 2.
Clause 22 stand part.
Amendment 289, in clause 23, page 27, line 30, leave out subsection (2).
See explanatory statement for Amendment 288.
Clause 23 stand part.
Amendment 290, in clause 24, page 29, line 13, leave out subsection (2).
See explanatory statement for Amendment 288.
Clause 24 stand part.
Amendment 250, in clause 25, page 30, line 34, leave out subsection (2).
This amendment leaves out an exception to the general sunset provision relating to Scottish trafficking legislation.
Amendment 251, page 30, line 39, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c).
This amendment removes provisions allowing the Secretary of State, in regulations, to make certain provisions which would alter the operation of the two-year sunset clause in relation to clauses 21 to 24.
Clause 25 stand part.
Amendment 252, in clause 26, page 31, line 26, leave out “25(3)(c)” and insert “25(3)(b) or (c)”.
This amendment seeks to ensure that certain regulations altering the operation of the two-year sunset clause in relation to clauses 21 to 24 require use of the draft affirmative procedure.
Amendment 253, page 31, line 29, leave out subsections (2) to (6).
This amendment would remove powers to allow revival of provisions excluding trafficking and slavery protections without using the draft affirmative procedure.
Clauses 26 and 27 stand part.
Amendment 129, in clause 28, page 33, line 25, leave out “to deportation” and insert “for removal”.
The purpose of this amendment is to replace the term “deportation” with “removal”.
Amendment 130, page 33, line 25, at end, insert—
“(3A) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend any primary or secondary legislation relating to immigration, asylum, criminal justice and counter-terrorism, including this Act, in order to replace consistently the terms “deport” or “deportation” with “remove” or “removal”.”
The purpose of this amendment is to replace the terms “deport’” and “deportation” with “remove” and “removal” consistently across all relevant existing UK law.
Clause 28 stand part.
Amendment 254, in clause 29, page 33, leave out lines 36 to 40.
Amendment 255, page 34, line 5, leave out “ever”.
This amendment, along with Amendment 256, would ensure persons were not excluded permanently from leave to enter or remain.
Amendment 256, page 34, line 7, after “United Kingdom)” insert
“at any time in the last three years”.
See explanatory statement for Amendment 255.
Amendment 257, page 34, leave out lines 8 to 12.
Amendment 258, page 34, line 13, after “(5)” insert
“and such other exceptions as may be set out in immigration rules”.
Amendment 259, page 34, line 14, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 260, page 34, line 24, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 261, page 34, line 25, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 262, page 34, line 27, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
This amendment, along with Amendments 263 and 264, seeks to require the Home Secretary to admit a person to the United Kingdom, or allow them to remain, if necessary to comply with international obligations.
Amendment 263, page 34, line 37, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
See explanatory statement for Amendment 262.
Amendment 264, page 35, line 1, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
See explanatory statement for Amendment 262.
Amendment 265, page 35, line 8, leave out lines 8 to 20.
Clause 29 stand part.
Amendment 304, in clause 30, page 35, line 31, leave out “has ever met” and insert
“is over the age of 18 at the time of entry into the United Kingdom and meets”.
This amendment seeks to exclude children, whether as unaccompanied children or as members of a family, from the disapplication of future grants of British citizenship.
Amendment 266, page 35, line 34, leave out subsection (4).
This amendment and Amendments 267 to 271 would remove provisions preventing children born in the United Kingdom from ever accessing UK citizenship, because their parents had at any point in the past met the conditions in section 2.
Amendment 267, page 36, line 24, leave out subsection (8).
See explanatory statement for Amendment 266.
Clause 30 stand part.
Amendment 268, in clause 31, page 36, line 31, leave out paragraphs (a) to (d).
See explanatory statement for Amendment 266.
Amendment 269, page 37, line 3, leave out sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii).
See explanatory statement for Amendment 266.
Clause 31 stand part.
Amendment 270, in clause 32, page 37, line 17, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).
See explanatory statement for Amendment 266.
Amendment 271, page 37, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (i).
See explanatory statement for Amendment 266.
Clause 32 to 34 stand part.
Amendment 274, in clause 35, page 38, line 8, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
Amendment 182, page 38, line 14, at end insert—
“(3) The Secretary of State may determine that the person is not to be an “ineligible person” for the purposes of sections 31 to 34 if the Secretary of State considers that there are compelling circumstances which apply in relation to the person which mean that it is appropriate to do so.”
This amendment would allow similar discretion to consider, exceptionally, applications for citizenship from those otherwise excluded as the Secretary of State will have in relation to applications for leave to remain, entry clearance and ETA under Clause 29.
Clause 35 stand part.
Amendment 275, in clause 36, page 38, line 17, leave out subsections (2) to (4).
Amendment 276, page 39, line 12, leave out subsections (10) and (11).
Amendment 277, page 39, line 35, leave out subsections (15) and (16).
Clause 36 stand part.
Clauses 52 and 53 stand part.
Amendment 59, in clause 54, page 54, line 34, leave out paragraphs (c) to (h).
This amendment is consequential on deleting clauses 21 to 28 relating to modern slavery.
Amendment 175, page 55, line 9, leave out paragraph (k).
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 174.
Amendment 174, page 55, line 14, at end insert—
“(4A) Regulations under section 51 (cap on number of entrants using safe and legal routes) are subject to a special super-affirmative procedure (see subsections (4B) and (4C)).
(4B) The number specified in regulations under section 51 must be the number specified in a resolution of the House of Commons agreed as a result of an amendable motion moved by a Minister of the Crown.
(4C) Regulations under section 51 may not be made unless a draft of the instrument specifying the number agreed by the House of Commons in accordance with subsection (4B) has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
The intention of this Amendment is that the target number of entrants using safe and legal routes to be specified in regulations under clause 51 should be amendable by Parliament.
Clause 54 stand part.
Government amendment 172.
Clause 55 stand part.
Amendment 60, in clause 56, page 56, line 4, leave out subsections (2) to (4).
This amendment is consequential on deleting clauses 21 to 28 relating to modern slavery.
Clause 56 stand part.
Amendment 63, in clause 57, page 56, line 19, at end insert
“provided that the impact assessment required by section (impact assessment)has been laid before Parliament.”
This amendment is consequential on NC5.
Government amendment 66.
Amendment 64, page 56, line 22, after “sections” insert “(impact assessment) and”.
This amendment is consequential on NC5.
Amendment 61, page 56, line 32, leave out paragraphs (e) to (h).
This amendment is consequential on deleting clauses 21 to 28 relating to modern slavery.
Amendment 278, page 56, line 33, leave out paragraph (f).
Amendment 280, page 56, line 34, leave out paragraph (g).
Amendment 73, page 57, line 2, at end insert—
“(o) section [Safe and legal routes: regulations]”.
Amendment 50, page 57, line 2, at end insert—
“(4A) The Secretary of State may by regulations under subsection (1) bring into force the provisions in sections 21 to 28 on modern slavery.
(4B) For the purposes of subsection (4A) above, the Secretary of State may not make regulations until after an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has been—
(a) appointed; and
(b) consulted by the Secretary of State on the potential implications of the relevant sections.”
This amendment is intended to delay the entry into force of the Bill’s provisions on modern slavery until such time as the Secretary of State has appointed and consulted with a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Amendment 279, page 57, line 2, at end insert—
“(4A) Section 23 may come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint, if the Scottish Parliament has indicated its consent to the section coming into force.”
Amendment 281, page 57, line 2, at end insert—
“(4A) Section 24 may come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint, if the Northern Ireland Assembly has indicated its consent to the section coming into force.”
Amendment 74, page 57, line 7, at end insert—
“(7) No regulations may be made under subsection (1) until regulations specifying safe and legal routes have been made under section [Safe and legal routes: regulations].”
Amendment 287, page 57, line 7, at end insert—
“(7) The Secretary of State must, within 30 days of this section coming into force, publish and lay before Parliament all relevant impact assessments carried out by the Government in relation to measures set out in this Act.
(8) For the purposes of subsection (7), “relevant impact assessments” includes, but is not limited to—
(a) assessments of the potential financial costs which may be incurred by the implementation of all measures set out in this Act;
(b) assessments of whether implementation of measures set out in each section of this Act could amount to a breach of any obligations of the United Kingdom under relevant domestic and international laws; and
(c) equality impact assessments.”
This amendment seeks to require the publication of a full set of impact assessments for the bill within 30 days of its coming into force.
Clause 57 stand part.
Amendment 293, in clause 58, page 57, line 9, leave out “Illegal Migration” and insert
“Migration, Asylum and Modern Slavery (Removals)”.
Clause 58 stand part.
New clause 1—Limits on detention—
“(1) No person under the age of 18 may be detained in asylum accommodation at any time.
(2) No person aged 18 or over may be detained in asylum accommodation for more than 28 days.”
New clause 2—Smuggling—
“(1) Not less than six months before this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State must publish a report to Parliament regarding discussions with the governments and authorities of other countries, including those bordering the English Channel and the North Sea, concerning the steps taken or proposed to prevent or deter a person from—
(a) charging refugees for assistance or purported assistance in travelling to or entering the United Kingdom;
(b) endangering the safety of refugees travelling to the United Kingdom.
(2) The report must focus on steps other than the provisions of this Act.”
This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish a report on the actions that are being taken to tackle people smugglers.
New clause 5—Impact assessment—
“The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an impact assessment regarding the expected effectiveness of the changes made by this Act in stopping, or reducing the number of, Channel crossings from France by asylum seekers.”
New clause 8—Immigration rules since December 2020: report on effects—
“(1) Before bringing any provisions of this Act into force by regulations, the Secretary of State must commission and lay before Parliament an independent report on the effects of its immigration rules on the UK economy and public services since December 2020.
(2) The areas to be covered by the report must include but are not limited to—
(a) food supply;
(b) fuel supply;
(c) hospitality and tourism;
(d) the NHS;
(e) social care; and
This new clause would require the Government to commission and publish an independent report on the effects of its Immigration Rules on the UK economy and public services since December 2020.
New clause 9—Operational efficiency—
“(1) Within six months of the date on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State must commission a management review, to be undertaken by management experts outside the Home Office, of—
(a) the efficiency of the processing by UK Visas and Immigration of applications, and
(b) the efficiency of the removal by Immigration Control of persons whose leave to remain has expired.
(2) For the purposes of this section—
(a) “efficiency” includes fairness, and
(b) the review must include information regarding the numbers of appeals and their success rate.”
This new clause requires the Secretary of State to commission an independent management review of the efficiency of UK Visas and Immigration in processing applications and the efficiency of the removal process for those whose leave to remain has expired.
New clause 14—Independent review of children’s experiences of the asylum system—
“(1) The Government must commission an independent review of children’s experiences of the asylum system, including the support needs for young asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers, and refugees up to the age of 25.
(2) The report of the review under this section must be laid before Parliament within 6 months of the date on which this Act is passed.”
This new clause would give effect to a recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report Channel crossings, migration and asylum (HC 199, 18 July 2022). It establishes a statutory duty on the government to commission an independent review of children’s experiences of the asylum system and ensure the presentation of its findings are presented to Parliament within 6 months of the Act.
New clause 15—Independent child trafficking guardian—
“(1) The Secretary of State must make such arrangements as the Secretary of State considers reasonable to enable an independent child trafficking guardian to be appointed to assist, support and represent a child to whom subsection (2) applies.
(2) This subsection applies to a child if a relevant authority determines that—
(a) there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child—
(i) is, or may be, a victim of the offence of human trafficking, or
(ii) is vulnerable to becoming a victim of that offence, and
(b) no person in the United Kingdom is a person with parental rights or responsibilities in relation to the child.”
This new clause would give effect to a recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report Channel crossings, migration and asylum (HC 199, 18 July 2022). It would oblige the Secretary of State to provide every asylum seeker under the age of 18 with an Independent Child Trafficking Guardian to support their interactions with immigration and asylum processes.
New clause 16—Child protection workers—
“The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for the training and deployment of child protection workers to work with child migrants on the French coast.”
This new clause would give effect to a recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report Channel crossings, migration and asylum (HC 199, 18 July 2022).
New clause 18—Rights and wellbeing of children—
“(1) In the exercise of duties and powers under this Act in relation to any individual who arrived in the UK as a child, the Secretary of State must have as the primary consideration the need to ensure and promote the best interests of the individual, including but not limited to—
(a) the right to a family life;
(b) the right to education;
(c) the safeguarding duties of public authorities;
(d) their safety, health, and wellbeing; and
(e) their physical, psychological and emotional development.
(2) In carrying out the duty under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must assure parity of treatment of all children under the age of 18 currently resident in the United Kingdom.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an annual report setting out details of how the Secretary of State has complied with the duties set out in this section.”
This new clause would confer a safeguarding duty on the Secretary of State in relation to all child asylum seekers (unaccompanied or not), including the need to ensure the parity of standards between safeguarding provisions for child asylum seekers and other children in the UK.
New clause 21—Organised immigration crime enforcement—
“(1) The Crime and Courts Act 2013 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 1 after subsection (10) insert—
“(11) The NCA has a specific function to combat organised crime, where the purpose of that crime is to enable the illegal entry of a person into the United Kingdom via the English Channel.
(12) The NCA must maintain a unit (a “Cross-Border People Smuggling Unit”) to coordinate the work undertaken in cooperation with international partners in pursuit of the function mentioned in subsection (11).””
This new clause would give the National Crime Agency a legal responsibility for tackling organised immigration crime across the Channel, and to maintain a specific unit to undertake work related to that responsibility.
New clause 22—Asylum backlog: reporting requirements—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within three months of the date on which this Bill was published, and at intervals of once every three months thereafter, publish and lay before Parliament a report on the steps taken and progress made toward clearing the backlog of outstanding asylum claims, within the preceding three- month period.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, “the backlog of outstanding asylum claims” means the total number of asylum applications on which an initial decision had not yet been made as of 13 December 2022.
(3) In preparing the reports required by subsection (1) above, “progress toward clearing the backlog of outstanding asylum claims” may be measured with reference to—
(a) the number and proportion of applications on which an initial decision is made within six months of the submission of the application;
(b) changes to guidance for asylum caseworkers on fast- track procedures for straightforward applications;
(c) measures to improve levels of recruitment and retention of specialist asylum caseworking staff; and
(d) any other measures which the Secretary of State may see fit to refer to in the reports.”
This new clause seeks to require regular reports from the Secretary of State on progress toward eliminating the asylum backlog.
New clause 27—Accommodation: duty to consult—
“(1) Section 97 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (supplemental) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3A) insert—
“(3B) When making arrangements for the provision of accommodation under section 95 or section 4 of this Act, the Secretary of State must consult with representatives of the local authority or local authorities, for the area in which the accommodation is located.
(3C) The duty to consult in subsection (3B) also applies to any third party provider operating within the terms of a contract with the Secretary of State.””
This new clause would add to the current law on provision of accommodation to asylum seekers a requirement to consult with the relevant local authorities when making the necessary arrangements.
New clause 28—Detention: impact assessment—
“The Secretary of State must, within 30 days of the date on which sections 11 to 14 of this Act come into force, publish and lay before Parliament an assessment of any necessary expansion of the detention estate required as a consequence of the number of people detained under those sections, and any costs associated with that expansion.”
This new clause seeks to require the publication of an impact assessment for the bill’s impact on the size and cost of the detention estate.
New clause 29—Nation of Sanctuary—
“(1) The Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers must, within six months of the date on which this Act is passed, jointly publish guidance setting out how measures under this Act may be exercised in a way that secures compliance with—
(a) the Welsh Ministers’ commitment to make Wales a “Nation of Sanctuary”; and
(b) the plan published by Welsh Ministers in January 2019 entitled “Nation of Sanctuary – Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan”.
(2) Before publishing the guidance, the Secretary of State and the Welsh Ministers must jointly—
(a) prepare and consult on draft guidance; and
(b) publish a response to the consultation.
(3) No guidance may be published under this section unless a draft of the guidance has been laid before and approved by Senedd Cymru.”
This new clause would require the UK and Welsh Governments to jointly produce guidance setting out how measures under this Act can be exercised in a way which is consistent with the Welsh Government’s commitment of being a Nation of Sanctuary. No guidance can be published unless it has been approved by the Senedd.
New clause 30—Modern slavery decisions in immigration detention—
“(1) Within 60 days of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State must, by regulation, make provision for the establishment of an expedited process to decide modern slavery cases, where the referral of a potential modern slavery case has been initiated while the potential victim of modern slavery is held in immigration detention pending removal.
(2) In this section “referrals” and “modern slavery decisions” refers to the process for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery and trafficking set out in section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.”
This new clause seeks to require the Home Secretary to establish a process to fast-track modern slavery decisions made for the first time in immigration detention pending removal.
New clause 32—Refugee family reunion for unaccompanied children—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within 2 months of this section coming into force, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in the rules (the “immigration rules”) under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control) to make provision for refugee family reunion for unaccompanied children, in accordance with this section, to come into effect after 21 days.
(2) The statement laid under subsection (1) must set out rules providing for leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom for unaccompanied children who are the family member of a person—
(a) granted refugee status or humanitarian protection;
(b) resettled through Pathways 1 or 3 the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme; or
(c) who is permitted to enter the UK through a safe and legal route specified in regulations made under section 51(1) (see also subsection (6) of that section).
(3) The rules under subsection (1) must—
(a) lay down no practice which would be contrary to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol to that Convention; and
(b) apply equally in relation to persons granted any protection status.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), “protection status” means leave to enter or remain that is granted to a person for the purposes of compliance with the United Kingdom’s obligations under—
(a) the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol to that Convention; or
(b) Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
(5) In this section, “unaccompanied children” includes a person—
(a) under the age of 18, who is—
(i) separated from both parents and other relatives, and
(ii) is not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so;
(6) In this section, “family member” include a person’s—
(a) child, including adopted child;
(b) sibling, including adoptive sibling;
(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State may determine, having regard to—
(i) the importance of maintaining family unity,
(ii) the best interests of a child,
(iii) the physical, emotional, psychological or financial dependency between a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and another person,
(iv) any risk to the physical, emotional or psychological wellbeing of a person who was granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, including from the circumstances in which the person is living in the United Kingdom, or
(v) such other matters as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(7) For the purpose of subsection (5)—
(a) “adopted and “adoptive” refer to a relationship resulting from adoption, including de facto adoption, as set out in the immigration rules;
(b) “best interests” of a child is to be read in accordance with Article 3 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
This new clause seeks to establish a passage for unaccompanied refugee children to be reunited with a family member who has been granted leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom. This new clause would give effect to a recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report Channel crossings, migration and asylum (HC 199, 18 July 2022).
New clause 33—Asylum claims by children—
“Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act—
(a) a child may claim asylum whether or not the child has leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom; and
(b) a child claiming asylum may not be removed from the United Kingdom until the asylum claim is resolved, whether or not that child is accompanied by an adult with care of the child.”
This new clause would make explicit that a child would be allowed to claim asylum, irrelevant of arrival method, and would be excluded from removal whether the child is unaccompanied or with an adult who has care of the child (such as a parent).
Amendment 62, in clause 1, page 2, line 1, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment is consequential on deleting clauses 21 to 28 relating to modern slavery.
Amendment 75, page 2, line 13, at end insert—
“(i) establishes and defines safe and legal routes to be open to refugees and asylum seekers with a legitimate claim to be able to come to the United Kingdom legally.”
Amendment 184, page 2, line 14, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment 185, page 2, line 28, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) So far as it is possible to do so, provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with—
(a) the Convention rights,
(b) the Refugee Convention,
(c) the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking,
(d) the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(e) the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.”
Amendment 1, page 2, line 28, leave out subsection (5).
This amendment would remove the subsection which disapplies section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Amendment 131, page 2 , line 29, at end insert—
“(6) Provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect to notwithstanding any judgement, interim measure or other decision, of the European Court of Human Rights, or other international court or tribunal; and notwithstanding any international law obligation.”
The intention of this amendment is that the provisions of the Bill should operate notwithstanding any orders of the Strasbourg court or any other international body.
Amendment 181, page 2, line 29, at end insert—
“(6) Within one month of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must take such steps as are necessary to refer this Act to the European Commission for Democracy through Law, for the purposes of securing the opinion of the Commission as to whether this Act is compliant with the United Kingdom’s obligations as a party to the European Convention of Human Rights.”
Amendment 132, page 2, line 29, at end insert—
“(7) Section 4 (declaration of incompatibility), section 6 (acts of public authorities) and section 10 (power to take remedial action) of the Human Rights Act 1998 do not apply in relation to provision made by or by virtue of this Act.”
This amendment would disapply other provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 in addition to that already disapplied by clause 1(5) of the Bill.
Clause 1 stand part.
The Scottish National party has tabled many amendments to the Bill, as we did yesterday, in a vain attempt to make it more palatable, although the Bill is so egregious as to be unamendable and unsupportable.
The aim of the Bill is reflected in a statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which said that it would
“'amount to an asylum ban—extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly; no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances”.
This is an extraordinary and extreme Bill. If it is passed, almost no one will be able to claim asylum in the UK—not children, not trafficked people or those at risk of persecution, and not survivors of torture. The Refugee Council has estimated that the Bill will result in as many as 250,000 people, including 45,000 children, being detained or left destitute in state-provided accommodation.
My colleagues and I have set out a range of exceptions to removal, and we have done so for a very clear reason: to humanise this brutal Bill, and talk about the specific impacts it will have. The Tories like to speak as if the people affected by the Bill are some kind of amorphous blob. They are not; each and every one of them is a real human being. They are people who have wept at my surgeries, and it is despicable that this Government care so little for their welfare, as well as for our international obligations. Names have been changed in a number of the examples and case studies I will use, but they are real people.
Amendment 188 is Hussein’s amendment. It asks for the duty of removal not to apply to people who were under the age of 18 when they arrived in the UK. Hussein was flown over from Djibouti aged nine by a woman he had never met. His travel documents were faked and his identity changed. He was made to look after another family’s children while still only a young child himself. It took him until adulthood to speak publicly about his case. Many of us will know him by his more famous name: Sir Mo Farah. Under the Bill, children such as Hussein Abdi Kahin would never have been given the opportunity to rebuild their life. They would have been denied citizenship, detained and removed. Unaccompanied children would not be supported, as they are through the excellent Scottish Guardianship Service run by Aberlour.
Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, has said:
“The UK is required to ensure that children seeking refugee status receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance, under article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC also requires the UK to ensure that children are protected from exploitation and abuse, and afforded support for recovery. This Bill violates those obligations and many others. Its enactment would place the UK in clear breach of its international law obligations under a range of human rights treaties.”
I urge the Government to accept our amendment.
Amendment 189 would exempt Afghan nationals, and nothing said by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in the House earlier has made any difference to how I feel about this issue. There are still many Afghan nationals whom we do not protect. I wonder whether it might be possible to call this Tobias’s amendment, since the person in the case I will mention wishes to remain anonymous. The Independent reported:
“The air force lieutenant, who flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban and was praised by his coalition forces supervisor as a ‘patriot to his nation’, was forced into hiding and said it was ‘impossible’ to make his way to Britain via a safe route.”
That sparked indignation from the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) who would appear to be entirely detached from the reality of what he has voted for in this Bill. He tweeted:
“This is clearly not who we are as a nation. And is not how our migration system should operate. I hope the Government will look at this case specifically and address the wider issue of how an Afghan (who supported UK Armed Forces) can safely apply for asylum in the UK.”
Let me explain this to the right hon. Gentleman, and to all the others: if this Bill passes, which no doubt it will, that is exactly who this nation is. That is exactly how the UK migration system will operate. It is exactly what Conservative Members voted for in supporting this wicked Bill—no exceptions, no backsies, no fingers crossed behind their backs.
People such as that Air Force lieutenant, people who worked for the British Council, Afghan interpreters, educators, the widows and children of men who served with British troops, and the supplier of crockery to British Armed Forces, cannot sit and wait for the Taliban to find them and execute them. If they manage to get out, if they cross continents, step in a dingy and get across the channel, or even if they fly here via Pakistan on a visit visa obtained by pretending they will go back, the UK Government will not hear their case. They will put them on a flight to Rwanda. That is what inadmissibility means in practice, and the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East and his colleagues should catch themselves on.
Amendment 190 would exempt people who are refugees under the refugee convention or in need of humanitarian protection, because seeking asylum is not a crime.
Amendment 191 exempts people at risk of persecution because of their sexual orientation. I will call this Yvette’s amendment. I met her at the Rainbow Sisters drop-in last week. She is from Uganda, which has just brought in brutal anti-LGBT laws. Her statement to me last week was this: why would the UK Government send her back to neighbouring Rwanda? She would feel no safer there than in Uganda. Under the Bill, she would be offered no protection and sent back to her certain death.
Amendment 192 exempts people for whom there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they are victims of torture. I will call this Kolbassia’s amendment. Kolbassia Haoussou MBE is a survivor of torture and founder of Survivors Speak OUT. He is an incredibly brave man. He is a torture survivor from Chad who was detained on claiming asylum. He has spoken powerfully about the impact that that detention had on him and the uncertainty he faced. He has said that he would have killed himself rather than be returned to the hands of his torturers. The Bill would allow that to happen to Kolbassia.
We tabled amendment 193 to exempt citizens of Ukraine—but wait; I was not sure that the amendment would be in order, because there is a safe and legal route for people from Ukraine. We will not find them coming over in a boat in the channel; they do not need to do that because a safe and legal route exists. That should be the option for anybody in their circumstances.
Amendment 282 exempts people who have HIV/AIDS, because the Bill puts them at risk of not receiving treatment or of being returned to a country where they would face stigma, risk and potentially death.
The hon. Lady is making some powerful points. I declare an interest as a co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV/AIDS. Along with many other nations, the UK is working to end new HIV transmissions by 2030. The UK is also one of the co-founders of the Global Fund, which aims to ensure commitment and funding. Does she agree that, in denying help to people who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the Bill runs contrary to all those aims?
The hon. Lady—I am a member of that all-party parliamentary group—is absolutely correct to make that point. We have a responsibility here, but the way in which the Bill is drafted takes no account of people’s health circumstances. It could put people at severe risk if they are sent back or denied treatment.
The Minister shakes his head, but the Home Office has form in denying people who receive medication to manage their condition the treatment they are entitled to in detention, which is where it wishes to place people. The National AIDS Trust highlighted for me a case of a person detained at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre who was denied access to the care that would meet clinical guidelines. He could not get his medication and then it was not given at the appropriate times—with food, as prescribed—because the staff had no experience of that and were not able to support him adequately. If the Government are going to deny people entry and detain them, what is the guidance? What guarantees can the Minister give that those with HIV/AIDS will be able to access the treatment that is keeping them alive?
Amendment 194 exempts people who have family members in the United Kingdom. There are many cases I could attribute to this amendment, but I will call it Ibrahim’s amendment. He is here in the UK, but his wife, son and daughter are in Iran. They have been patiently waiting for over six months for a family reunion visa to be processed. In the meantime, his family are in danger. His daughter was followed home from school and raped by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This is why people do not wait in-country for the Government to process their visas. They do not wait because they are at risk of persecution, rape, danger and torture. That is why people flee. People come here to join family because they are in danger. They are not prepared to wait for safe and legal routes, because in many cases they do not exist. Family reunion, in many cases that I see, is just too slow and not available to everybody who needs it.
Amendment 195 exempts people for whom there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they are victims of trafficking or slavery. I will call this Eva’s amendment. Eva is a 28-year-old woman from south-eastern Europe who was referred to the TARA—Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance—service in Glasgow by Police Scotland over the 2016 festive period. Through a relationship she believed was real, she ended up being assaulted, drugged, trapped in sex work and trafficked. She was later placed on a lorry and moved for three days. Eventually, she came to be in Scotland, where she was kept in a flat, isolated from the other women who were also being held. She was raped multiple times by men every day. She was able to escape and find her way to the police. Under the Bill, she would now get no support. Her trafficker will now threaten her: if she goes to the authorities, they will send her to Rwanda. They will keep her under control with the measures the Government are bringing forward in the Bill. In addition, she will not get the expert support that TARA provides in Glasgow. She will be at risk of re-trafficking and further exploitation. This is the reality of the Bill for Eva and many like her: a trafficker’s charter.
Amendment 196 exempts people who meet the definition of an “adult at risk” in paragraph 7 of the 2016 Home Office guidance on adults at risk in immigration detention, including in particular people suffering from a condition or who have experienced a traumatic event, such as trafficking, torture or sexual violence, that would be likely to render them particularly vulnerable to harm. Let us call this Mohammed’s amendment, after the experience of young people described by Freedom from Torture in its report “Fleeing A Burning House”, which I commend to all Members on the Conservative Benches. Mohammed arrived in the UK via Libya. The report states:
“In Libya, the treatment is so cruel. We have quite a few young people who were really traumatised...Smugglers were basically killing people on the journeys...I think that one of the most traumatic experiences is being raped or seeing the brutality of people.”
The UK Government in this Bill are seeking not to assess the trauma that people arrive with, but to remove them without asking any questions. Putting people into immigration detention re-traumatises people. I visited Napier barracks. There is no privacy and no dignity. Diseases such as covid and scabies run rife. This model dehumanises. I have heard some people say that if it was good enough for troops it is good enough for refugees, but the reality is that these facilities have been abandoned by the Ministry of Defence for good reason: they were inadequate. For many fleeing trauma, it is that militaristic experience they are running from. It is entirely inappropriate for vulnerable people. We know from the Brook House inquiry that the Home Office has a sketchy history of supporting those who meet the definition of adults at risk. It should be reducing immigration detention, not expanding it.
Our list of exemptions is not exhaustive. We accept Labour’s amendment 2, which mentions gender. It is not possible to detail every single possible category of person who should be exempt from the duty to remove, because every person who comes has their own story and their own circumstances. A Bill that treats all of them as a problem to be removed is not fit for purpose. The duty to remove is far too broad and currently has only minimal narrow exemptions. By including people such as victims of trafficking in the duty to remove, the Home Secretary is creating circumstances where traffickers have even more power over the people they are trafficking.
Amendment 197 removes the backdated element of the legislation. Many people who had already started their journeys will not have been aware of the legislation when they began. The legislation will impact people who have already accessed support arrangements here in the UK and who are, to all intents and purposes, in the asylum system. They could not have known the detail of the Bill, which had not been published when they made their journey, and it is particularly egregious that they should be punished for that.
Clause 3, on unaccompanied children regulations, gives power to the Home Secretary to remove unaccompanied children. There is no duty to do so, but it remains at her discretion. On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said that the duty to remove will not apply to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and that “only in limited circumstances” would the power to remove unaccompanied children be used, such as for family reunion. However, there is no detail in the Bill itself of when such a power would be used. Given all I know about the Home Office, I certainly would not trust them as far as I could throw them.
The Children’s Commissioner for England team told me that they recently met a boy who believes that his family were killed in Iran. He was brought to the UK by people smugglers. They stated:
“He had no idea which country he was coming to and no choice in the matter. The Bill sets out that children like this boy who arrive in this country irregularly, whether alone or with their families, will essentially be denied the right to claim asylum in the UK. These are children who are fleeing persecution and then further exploited and abused by people smugglers. Any child arriving in the UK after these experiences must first and foremost be viewed as vulnerable, and in need of love and care. Many of these children will have been trafficked here against their will and must not be held accountable for the crimes of their adult exploiters.”
Clause 4 makes applications under clause 2 inadmissible, so the UK Government will not consider the application at all, no matter how strong an application may be. Separated children will also have any claims deemed inadmissible.
Clause 5 details the Home Secretary’s duty to remove people, which we would amend by including safeguarding clauses so that people cannot be removed to dangerous countries. Research for the Refugee Council has shown that around half the people who made the journey last year came from just five countries with high asylum grant rates. Those people cannot be sent back home. It is not possible to send an Afghan back to Afghanistan or a Syrian back to Syria—they are not included on the safe countries list.
There are no alternatives arrangements in place to remove people, either. There is no agreement with the French Government or the EU, and the Rwanda scheme is beset by legal challenges. Even if it was working as the Government imagined, only a few hundred people per year would be expected to be removed. That leaves a situation where thousands of people—some with compelling and legitimate cases—who would currently be allowed to remain will be left in limbo indefinitely—forever. Any application they make will be inadmissible; they cannot go home and they cannot go anywhere else. The Home Secretary is creating a situation where thousands of people will be eligible to be detained. I wonder slightly whether Ministers hope that the people smugglers across the channel will set up in Dover to take people back, because they seem not to have any other plan to deal with the situation.
Clause 6 gives the Home Secretary powers to amend the schedule, which is the list of safe countries. Those countries are not safe for everybody. Albania is often talked about, but many people who are trafficked here, particularly for sexual exploitation, come from Albania. As I mentioned, if they return they may be at risk of re-trafficking. Women for Refugee Women and Rainbow Sisters set out the very clear risks for lesbians in the Bill. Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are listed “(in respect of men)”. But in a number of those countries, such as Gambia, there are risks to women. Nigeria topped the LGBTQ danger index, but somehow is listed as a country to which people could be removed. Men face the death penalty by stoning in Nigeria, whereas women face whipping and imprisonment for being LGBT.
Are the Government really saying that an LGBT person whose case will not be assessed, because they will not talk to them and find out why they are at risk, will be returned to Nigeria to be whipped or stoned to death? That is what the Bill sets out. They are not considering the risk to individuals at all. They have made a list of safe countries that are clearly not safe for everybody, and have no understanding of what that will mean in practice for the people they are seeking to remove.
The hon. Lady is making an incredibly powerful case against this, frankly, rotten and disgusting Bill. Does she agree that without her amendment 186, clause 2 effectively shuts down pretty much the whole UK asylum system? It captures nearly all asylum applicants—not just those who come by boat but the nearly half of all people who do not arrive that way. Without her amendment, the asylum system in this country will no longer work in any shape or form.
I absolutely agree. We accept that the Government have made an absolute hash of the asylum system. The asylum backlog is enormous and they should pay attention to it, but tackling the problem by denying anybody else asylum ever does not seem the legitimate way to deal with it.
Clauses 11 and 12 expand the power of detention. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention, I find that an incredibly worrying development. It includes people who cannot be removed to their country of origin. The UK Government have previously said that their policy was to decrease the immigration detention estate, but that will now be expanded dramatically. The harm done to people in detention facilities is immeasurable. It exacerbates existing trauma, tears families apart and has crushing impacts on mental and physical health. After the Home Secretary has removed the right to apply for bail, thousands more will be trapped in the system indefinitely.
The UK’s detention system is already an international outlier, with people held indefinitely, out of line with provisions in the criminal law system. I received an email earlier from Elspeth Macdonald, who works for Medical Justice, on worrying and serious reports of a death at Colnbrook immigration removal centre. I would be grateful if the Minister stopped playing with his phone and confirmed whether the reports of the death there are true, because it is incredibly worrying. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that there will be an investigation, if the death did happen. There have been deaths in other immigration centres, and we do not want the Government repeating those dangerous errors. I would like to know what appropriate counselling and bereavement support have been made available to people in that detention centre, because that is a frightening experience for them.
It would be useful to know why the Home Office has stopped including the number of deaths in immigration detention from the official immigration statistics. They were published every year from 2017 to 2021, but in the latest statistics for 2022, deaths were not included. Immigration detention is bad for people. It is bad for their mental health. If there is to be further immigration detention—[Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head, but the evidence is incredibly clear that immigration detention is bad for people.
The Bill also expands detention criteria to include children, which rolls back on hard-won rights that the Glasgow girls and others fought for. Immigration detention is no place for anybody, and certainly not for children. Some of the detainees that the Minister wishes to hold will be pregnant. The British Medical Association has said that under the Illegal Migration Bill, the 72-hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women, introduced by the Government in 2016, will be denied to women who arrive by irregular means. Instead, pregnant women will be locked up indefinitely, while the Government attempt to remove them from the UK. They will not be allowed to apply for immigration bail for the first 28 days that they are detained or for juridical review of the lawfulness of their detention. Many pregnant women are likely to languish in detention for some time, since there are few returns agreements in place by which they could be removed from the UK.
I highlight a particular case study from Women for Refugee Women of a woman called Priya, a trafficking survivor detained in Yarl’s Wood when she was 20 weeks pregnant and held there for almost two months before being released. Priya said:
“I only had one hospital appointment while I was there, for my 20-week scan, and even then I was escorted by officers who took me 40 minutes late for my appointment. I felt frustrated that I wasn’t able to speak to the midwife after my scan because there was no time. The officers just took me straight back to Yarl’s Wood instead. It was not easy. I often felt weak and in pain; I’m anaemic and my blood pressure is very low. On one occasion I passed out in Yarl’s Wood, but they just took me back to my room and left.”
Pregnant women are being locked up in detention centres. What kind of message does that send to the rest of the world? It is inhumane.
Clause 12 amends the Immigration Act 1971, and specifies that determining what is a reasonable period to detain people is for the Secretary of State rather than the courts. Those changes would apply to existing detention powers as well as the new powers provided in clause 11. The amendment removes the considerable latitude given to the Home Secretary to decide what is reasonably necessary to enable examination or removal. Clause 13 amends the immigration bail provisions in schedule 10 to the Immigration Act and restricts the jurisdiction of the courts to review the lawfulness of a decision to detain or to refuse bail.
Clauses 15 to 20 deal with the provision of asylum accommodation for children by the Home Office rather than local authorities, which is entirely unacceptable. The Children’s Commissioner for Scotland has condemned that move in the strongest terms, saying:
“The Home Office’s history of neglect renders it an unfit parent for vulnerable children.”
The Children’s Commissioner for England says:
“The Bill as it stands leaves profound areas of uncertainty–for example, as to what form the accommodation provided to children by the Home Office will take–making proper scrutiny deeply challenging.”
The Home Office has already lost children from the accommodation it has used, so we cannot trust it to look after things at present. Why would we give it more powers in this area? On Second Reading I spoke about treating people as we would like to be treated. We would not treat our own children in that way, so why do the Home Secretary, the Minister and this Government think that we should?
The hon. Lady is giving incredibly powerful testimony. Will she consider supporting new clause 18, which would require that we treat every child on UK soil with the same care and that we safeguard every child equally, whether they are refugees or not?
I absolutely support the hon. Lady’s amendment and her work in this area. This Government forget, in their talking about people as though they were an amorphous blob, that we are talking about children, and they have rights under the UNCRC. Scotland has done a lot of work on looked-after children with “the promise” and we should not treat those children any less well than we treat our own.
We would amend the Bill so that clause 23 shall not come into effect without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Parliamentarians in both Scotland and the UK are human rights guarantors, and an important part of our role is to ensure that legislation is compliant with international human rights obligations. The incompatibility of the Bill with the European convention on human rights, the refugee convention, the convention on action against trafficking, and the convention on the rights of the child means that we as lawmakers are obliged to vote against it. The undermining of rights conveyed upon individuals by those agreements must be resisted by all spheres of government. If they are coming after this group now, it will be another group soon enough.
The Bill will negatively impact those seeking international protection in Scotland, as well as on the powers and duties of the Scottish Government, local authorities, and other public bodies under the devolution settlement. I strongly urge—I expect it, to be honest—the Scottish Parliament to withhold legislative consent for the Bill. I expect the UK Government to override that consent.
The SNP amendments to clause 25 would remove provisions that allow the Secretary of State to make regulations that would alter the operation of the two-year sunset clause in relation to clauses 21 to 24.
Clause 27 amends the Modern Slavery Act 2018 and removes provisions for leave to remain for victims of slavery or human trafficking. As protections will no longer be in place, it will be difficult for third-party agencies to encourage victims of trafficking to come forward, or to work with them should they do so. The Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance in Glasgow has told me that it is increasingly difficult to reassure service users, who are victims of sex trafficking, that they will not be returned or sent to Rwanda for speaking up, and the Bill will mean that TARA cannot reassure them at all.
People who are trafficked were often in very vulnerable situations in their home countries, and those circumstances are exploited by traffickers—that is why they are here. The risk of being returned to those situations means that people will either stay in a dangerous situation or escape and go underground to other dangerous situations. If they are apprehended and returned, the risk of re-trafficking is high if the reasons for their vulnerability are not addressed. Third-party agencies have been clear that the Bill will fetter their ability to reach out to vulnerable groups, to support women, children and victims of torture, trafficking and all kinds of human rights abuses, and that there will be a sharp drop-off in the number of people seeking help, because they will fear doing so.
This Bill will not stop the boats. It will not fix the asylum backlog. It will do nothing other than put lives at risk. It is an anti-refugee Bill. It is a traffickers’ charter. It rips up human rights. Scotland wants no part of it. We want an independent country in which we can stand up for human rights, not diminish them, as this UK Government seek to do.
I will focus on an aspect of this Bill that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) touched on in her references to trafficking and modern slavery, covered in clauses 21 to 28.
The Modern Slavery Act 2018 was world leading. In many ways, it is still world leading. It ensures that people who are in slavery in the UK, be they British citizens or not, are supported when they escape their slavery. Crucially, there is an emphasis on identifying, catching and prosecuting the slave drivers, the traffickers, the perpetrators. My fear with this Illegal Migration Bill is that it will drive a coach and horses through the Modern Slavery Act, denying support to those who have been exploited and enslaved and, in doing so, making it much harder to catch and stop the traffickers and slave drivers.
It has been said several times by Ministers and, indeed, by others in this Chamber that the Modern Slavery Act is being abused, and it has been at least implied that there is a link between the number of people coming on small boats and the Modern Slavery Act. I have not seen evidence to support that claim. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) set out on Second Reading, in 2022 only 6% of people arriving on small boats made a modern slavery claim. I remind everybody that people do not just rock up and claim modern slavery and refer themselves to the national referral mechanism. That has to be done by a first responder, and the majority of first responders are officials employed by the Home Office. From the figures I have seen so far, an attack on the use of the Modern Slavery Act is not justified.
I have not tabled any amendments to this Bill, because I hope it will be possible to work with the Government, so I will set out the problems and suggest some possible solutions. I will not dwell on issues of legality in relation to international law or otherwise, but there is no doubt that serious concerns have been raised, not least in relation to incompatibility.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. She is describing the journey that we need to go on. We should explain to the Government that the whole issue about modern slavery is that when people feel secure, they give evidence to the police, and the police then get after the traffickers. One of the big problems here is that, because 60% of the cases are within the UK, people may suddenly feel that they are about to get kicked out and then they will stop giving evidence.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will refer to that issue myself later on, because the Government have not thought through the implications for the numbers of traffickers and perpetrators caught as a result of this Bill.
I said that I was not going to dwell on the legal issues, but there are genuine questions of incompatibility with article 4 of the European convention on human rights, which is, of course, part of UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998, and with aspects of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, such as articles 13 and 10.
However, the heart of the problem is, I believe, very simple. If someone is trafficked into the UK by illegal means, coming from a country where their life and liberty were not threatened, and is taken into slavery here in the UK, they will not be able to claim modern slavery or have the protection of the Modern Slavery Act. That would cover most of the men, women and children who are trafficked into slavery in the United Kingdom.
Let me let me give an example. A woman from, say, Romania, who is persuaded that there is a great job here for her in the UK, is brought here on false papers and put to work as a prostitute in a brothel. She has come here illegally from a safe country, but she is experiencing sexual exploitation and slavery here in the UK. That is just the sort of case, in addition to British nationals who have been enslaved here, that the Modern Slavery Act was intended to cover. Let us say that she manages to escape and meets some people willing to help. She is taken to the police, but the Government say, “You came here illegally. We’re deporting you to Rwanda.” Alternatively, the traffickers may fear that she is looking to escape, so they take her to one side and explain, “It’s no good doing that, because all they’ll do is send you to Rwanda.” We could have handed the traffickers a gift—another tool in their armoury of exploitation and slavery.
The Government might say that it will be okay if the woman helps with an investigation, because the Bill contains that caveat, but that seriously misunderstands slavery and the impact of the trauma of slavery on victims. It can take some considerable time—weeks and weeks—for somebody to feel confident enough to give evidence against their slave drivers. Under this Bill, by the time they might have been able to get that confidence, they will have been removed from this country. As my right hon. Friend said, it will become harder to catch the traffickers and slave drivers.
I could give another example. Perhaps someone comes here illegally and works in the economy, which, sadly, people are able to do, but then finds themselves vulnerable on the streets and is picked up by slave drivers and taken into slavery. Again, even if they escape, perhaps after years of exploitation, the Government will shut the door on them and send them away under this Bill. I could give other examples, but the hon. Member for Glasgow Central has already given some and I think the point has been made.
There are a number of possible solutions. At the weaker end, the Government could delay the commencement of the Bill’s modern slavery provisions; I note that the official Opposition have suggested doing so until a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner is in place and has assessed the impact of the Bill. It would be good to have a commissioner in place and to hear their views on the Bill, but I think that there is more to consider.
First, the Government should not introduce the modern slavery provisions of the Bill until they have assessed the impact of the changes that they made in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the relevant provisions of which came into force at the end of January. They are piling legislation on legislation that they have already passed, and they have no idea whether it is going to work. This approach is therefore not necessary. Secondly, they need to assess the impact of the deal with Albania, because in recent times a significant number of people coming on the small boats have come from Albania. Thirdly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and I have both pointed out, they need to assess the Bill’s impact on people’s ability and willingness to come forward, to be identified as slaves and to give evidence against the traffickers and the slave drivers.
Has the right hon. Lady seen the letter from all the Home Office-funded providers of modern slavery support services that arrived yesterday from their overarching body, the Salvation Army? Literally every single one of the specialist support providers doing the exact work that the right hon. Lady has identified has clearly stated to the Government that the Bill will make it absolutely impossible for them to provide support and help to catch traffickers.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing that out, because I had not seen that letter, as it happens, but I am not surprised that those who are working directly in the field are making those points to the Government. Sadly, I must say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that I fear the modern slavery aspects of the Bill reveal a lack of proper consideration of slavery and what it means, of the experience of victims and survivors, of the need to catch the perpetrators if we are to stop it, and of the difficulties that the Bill will create. I think the Government should assess the Bill’s impact on people’s willingness to give evidence and therefore on our ability to catch the traffickers and slave drivers.
It would be of more benefit to our ability to catch slave drivers and support victims and survivors, however, if we ensured that people in slavery in the UK were excluded from the Bill. That would mean recognising the intention of the Modern Slavery Act: that those who have been in slavery in the UK should be protected by the Act regardless of their immigration status. Some of my colleagues may say, “Doesn’t that mean an awful lot of people will want to stay here?” and worry about the numbers, but actually many people who are brought here into slavery want to go home. They do not want to stay here, but under the Bill I fear it is more likely that they will stay in the UK and stay in slavery.
I could say much more about the Bill and its implications, but in the interests of time I will not. I realise that I have already spoken for longer than I told the Whip I might—a black mark in the book!—but this is in our interests. I want to sit down with the Government and find a way through that does not deeply damage the Modern Slavery Act, abandon victims and make it harder to catch traffickers and slave drivers. I fear that the Bill will do all those things. Let us find a way to ensure that it does not. Let us find a way to maintain our world-leading reputation for supporting those who are the victims of slavery, and for the work that we do to catch the traffickers and perpetrators.
I call the shadow Minister, who has indicated that he wishes to come in early.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who spoke so powerfully about the issues at the heart of the Bill. I pay tribute to her outstanding work in the area of modern slavery and trafficking.
Here we are again, back for a second day of debate. Across the Committee, I think we all agree that we need to stop the dangerous small boat crossings and destroy the criminal industry at the heart of them, yet each of us knows, though perhaps not all of us admit it, that the Bill is a con and a sham that will only make a bad situation worse. The Government have no returns agreements with the EU to replace the one we were part of before Brexit, nor do they have a working deal with Rwanda. The Home Secretary failed last weekend in her mission to persuade Rwandan officials to state specifically that Rwanda can take thousands rather than hundreds of asylum seekers sent from the UK every year, although at least she got a photo op outside some houses being built for Rwandan citizens.
For a deterrent to be effective, it has to be credible. There is next to nothing in the Bill that is remotely credible, because it is about chasing headlines and government by gimmick when what we need is common sense, hard graft and quiet diplomacy so that we can really go after the people smugglers upstream and do a deal on returns and on family reunion. What we need is Labour’s five-point plan, which will stop the small boat crossings, clear the Tory asylum backlog and re-establish a firm, fair and well-managed asylum system.
I said yesterday that the Bill was being rushed through Committee at such a speed as to make detailed consideration and debate almost impossible. That applies perhaps even more to today’s sitting.
I note what the shadow Minister says about quiet diplomacy. Actually, it seems to me that the Prime Minister has a very good, cordial relationship with the President of France, but it is quite clear that that alone will not be enough to sort this problem out.
Well, the Conservative party has spent the past five or six years completely destroying our relationships with our European neighbours and partners, so any improvement on that is very welcome, but I feel that the Prime Minister has an uphill struggle on his hands, given the very low base from which he is starting.
May I say to the right hon. Lady that that is one of the best interventions I have ever taken? I am more than happy to stand corrected, and I hope that Hansard will correct the record accordingly. That has completely knocked me off my stride, but I was about to say that as a result of the Bill being rushed through, I will have to limit my remarks to the amendments and new clauses tabled on behalf of the Opposition.
Clauses 2 to 5 establish legal duties, which are sure to be unworkable, for the Secretary of State to ensure that every single person who arrives in the UK without prior authorisation is held in detention and then removed from the UK. I use the word “unworkable” advisedly, because the questions that I put to the Minister on Second Reading about where these people will be detained and where they will be removed to are still unanswered.
Likewise, we have no idea how much these proposals, if implemented, are likely to cost. We assume that impact assessments modelling the potential costs have been carried out, but since the Government have failed to publish those assessments, thus denying the House its democratic right to hold a fully informed debate on these matters, we have only the various leaks and briefings to the pro-Tory media to go on. We know from those briefings, along with independent third-party analysis, that the Bill’s price tag is likely to be at least £3 billion a year—possibly more—but the fact that the impact assessments have not been made public suggests a deliberate attempt on the Government’s part to limit the scope for parliamentary scrutiny and obfuscate their own calculations of what the British taxpayer will have to pay. What is the Minister afraid of? Why will he not publish this vital information? Not to do so is simply not good enough, either for Members of this House or for the constituents we represent.
As a result, the Opposition have had to table new clauses that would force the Government to publish within tight timescales the impact assessments that Ministers are clearly sitting on. All that our amendments 286 and 287 and new clause 28 ask is for Ministers to publish detailed assessments on the likely implications of the Bill on cost to the public purse, availability of adequate accommodation and detention capacity, so that we can have a fully informed debate.
Looking beyond detention capacity, we know that the asylum backlog alone means that for some time there will continue to be a need for accommodation to be provided to families who would otherwise face destitution. In recognition of that, new clause 27 would make it a legal requirement that local authorities be consulted as part of the process of accommodation being provided in their area. I know that there are strong feelings about this issue on both sides of the Committee, and on that basis I look forward to cross-party support for new clause 27 as we go through the Division Lobbies this evening.
On the basis that sunlight is the best disinfectant, we are also calling, in amendment 284 and new clause 22, for the Secretary of State to be obliged to report regularly to Parliament on the Government’s progress towards clearing the ballooning backlog of asylum cases, an issue that is not even mentioned in the Bill, and on the number of people removed from the UK under its provisions. We all know that the backlog is eight times as high now as it was when it was handed over to the Conservatives by the Labour Government in 2010, as has been confirmed by the UK Statistics Authority, and contrary to what Ministers have been claiming from the Dispatch Box. As of today, 166,000 cases are unresolved—only half of which relate to small boats, it must be said. It is an astonishing abdication of duty. If the Government truly believe that clearing the backlog is a priority, I can think of no good reason for them not to accept the reporting requirements in our amendments.
The scope of some of the Bill’s key provisions, particularly those relating to detention and removal, is exceptionally broad. The Government are proposing to do away with virtually all the existing safeguards, many of which they have themselves established in law within just the last years, and which many of our amendments are designed to protect. Amendment 148 would remove from the Bill the Secretary of State’s powers to remove unaccompanied children from the UK. The Government say that they do not currently plan to use those powers, but if that is the case, what are the powers doing in the Bill in the first place? Amendment 21 would retain the current time limits for the detention of pregnant women, established by a Conservative Government in their own Immigration Act 2016. Ministers have not made any case, let alone a convincing one, for scrapping those limits and thus allowing pregnant women to be detained indefinitely.
Additional safeguards that we are calling for in our amendments include exemptions from the duty to remove when, as in amendment 285, there is no realistic prospect of a person’s removal owing to the absence of the necessary returns agreements; in amendment 6, when the person’s co-operation with law enforcement could help with efforts to tackle crimes such as people smuggling; and in amendment 13, when the person’s removal is not possible without a violation of the refugee convention’s prohibition of refoulement.
Removal to third countries designated “safe” is obviously a central part of the Government’s plans, although no country other than Rwanda has so far expressed any interest whatsoever in being part of a similar deal with the UK. In the event of similar deals, however, we believe that there should be certain rules in place to prevent the Secretary of State from ignoring evidence of the dangers that some migrants may face if removed to the country in question, as has clearly been the case with Rwanda. For instance, amendment 17 would add to the Bill a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant experts when designating “safe” countries, rather than cherry-picking evidence that supports decisions that she has already made. Amendment 6 and new clause 21 form part of a package of new approaches intended to strengthen the Government’s hand in securing the detection, prosecution and conviction of those guilty of people smuggling. Taking Ministers at their word that they are serious about dealing with these issues, I look forward to the Government’s support for these amendments.
As I have said, the intention of most of our amendments and new clauses is to ensure that robust safeguards are in place to prevent the broad powers being given to the Home Secretary from being exercised completely arbitrarily. Amendment 18 would ensure that notices of removal issued to people are in a language they can understand. and with information about their rights and where they can gain access to advice.
Let me now turn to the modern slavery clauses. Let me start by reminding the Government of the words of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, not just in the powerful speech that she has just made but on Second Reading, when she said:
“Nobody wants to see our world-leading legislation being abused, but the Government have to set out the clear evidence if they are saying that there is a link between that Act and the small boats, and so far I have not seen that evidence.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2023; Vol. 729, c. 592.]
I would add that she is not only one, as we on these Benches have also yet to see any evidence to that effect.
The right hon. Member also correctly pointed out that significant changes had been made to modern slavery legislation in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022—the relevant sections of which have come into force only within the last few weeks—and that further changes at this point were clearly unnecessary. That is the point we are making in a number of amendments to these parts of the Bill. For instance, amendment 24 would keep in place the definition of “public order” provided by the Nationality and Borders Act, which states that modern slavery protections do not apply to people who pose threats to public order, such as violent criminals or terrorists. The Bill seeks to extend the definition of such threats to literally anyone who arrives in a small boat. It is far from clear that this is what the authors of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings had in mind when providing for exemptions to the general requirement to make protections available to victims. For that same reason, we do not believe that support for victims should be withheld from people who would otherwise be subject to the “duty to remove” that the Bill establishes. Those provisions would be removed by our amendments 288, 289 and 290.
Amendments 291 and 292 are more targeted. They would provide specific exemptions for victims of sexual exploitation, and prevent the removal of victims who are not parties to the European convention on human rights and the convention against trafficking. New clause 30 recognises that potential victims of trafficking may be particularly vulnerable to serious harm if held in detention for indefinite periods. On that basis, it calls for the Government to implement special procedures to fast-track any cases of potential victims whose modern slavery referrals first arise while the person is being held in detention.
The Government have sprung these changes on us without any meaningful attempt at consultation. Amendment 50 serves as a reminder to them that, last year, Ministers made very specific promises not to try to make any changes to modern slavery laws without first appointing a new independent anti-slavery commissioner and consulting him or her on the potential implications of any proposals. That commitment has not been honoured, and amendment 50 goes no further than asking Ministers to keep their own promises. It would simply delay the entry into force of the relevant sections of the Bill until after a new commissioner had been appointed and consulted and his or her views taken into account. While we are on the topic of the modern slavery commissioner, it is of course worth noting that the former commissioner, Sara Thornton, has stated that those who remove support for modern slavery victims to come forward will make it harder to prosecute criminals.
I spoke earlier about attempting to amend the Bill to provide certain safeguards. Ultimately, however, all the safeguards in the world are unlikely to be any substitute for the requirement that measures should comply with basic human rights, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998. The Secretary of State has been all over the place in various announcements in which she has seemed to contradict herself on the question of whether the Bill, if enacted, would be compliant with human rights law. Amendment 1 simply says that that requirement, which applies to all other legislation, should apply to this Bill as well. Ministers should have nothing to fear from the amendment, unless of course they doubt their own statements to the effect that they are confident in the Bill’s compliance with human rights law. As it stands, the Bill is a traffickers’ charter. We therefore urge the Government to support our amendments and new clauses, so. that we can remain true to the values and principles that underpin the Modern Slavery Act.
Let me end with a few reflections on yesterday’s debate, because I have to say that I found some of the comments made by Conservative Members deeply troubling. Many talk a good game on defending Ukraine and Hong Kong and other democracies around the world from authoritarian threats, but they are sometimes not quite as good at defending their own democracy; indeed, they seem to be focused on undermining it. I am yet to hear a specific definition of an “activist judge”. From what I can work out, it is simply a judge who makes a ruling that the Government disagrees with. I am yet to hear any kind of definition of a “lefty lawyer”, but I think it is someone who has picked apart and defeated the weak case that the Home Office may have put together, despite the thousands of experts it has at its disposal. And I am yet to understand how we define the Home Secretary’s “civil service blob”. Are these the people who work for her day in, day out, a number of whom are in junior low-paid roles, being asked by senior Ministers to make complex asylum decisions because of cuts made by the Conservatives 10 years ago?
I ask these questions because the separation of powers and the functioning of these powers are critical to our constitution and to our democracy, yet many Conservative Members are increasingly sounding like their right-wing counterparts in America, blaming every institution for their own failures, terrified of scrutiny from the media and unable to do their jobs within the law either because they do not understand the law or because they have been over-promoted. I am not a lawyer, and I am not making these points from a legalistic perspective, but I am a democrat and when I hear the tirade of abuse that those on the Conservative Benches hurl at our judiciary during debates such as the one that took place yesterday, I have to say that it leaves me fearing for the future of our democracy.
The separation of powers between the Executive and the judiciary is absolutely fundamental, and those powers and those checks and balances are axiomatic to our democratic values, so I urge Conservative Members to think long and hard before they launch any further assaults on our judiciary, because we do not want to live in a Trumpian version of Britain. We want to live in a vibrant democracy that is based on upholding the independence of the judiciary, defending the separation of powers and respecting the integrity of our institutions.
I am grateful for being called as early as this and I will try to be brief. I want to focus specifically on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) has talked about, which is the modern slavery elements of the Bill, and keep to a reasonable amount of time. I want to draw attention to the reality of what we sometimes seem to get mixed up. There is a fundamental difference between people who are trafficked and people who pay traffickers to come here for reasons that are economic or whatever—I do not want to dwell on that; the important thing is that we mix these terms up. There is a clear definition of being trafficked. It involves people who do not want to be here and who are brought here against their will and are then used for various services that they should not be used for. They are slaves.
The Centre for Social Justice brought forward an important paper on this, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, when she was Home Secretary, picked that up and turned it into legislation. We were the first country in the world to bring such legislation through, and although it may now be a little unfashionable to say it, I am very proud of that. I think that what we did is worth celebrating and protecting, and if there are faults in it, we need to correct them.
There is a problem in the Bill, and I know that the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), has been very accommodating and talked at length about this, and I thank him for that. I will make a few comments now about the problem and how we could possibly help, because we want to help to rectify this. I understand what the Government are trying to do, but I want to protect some of the modern slavery bits.
My first point relates to commencing the modern slavery clauses only after publishing an assessment of the problems and impacts. I understand that the Opposition have put down various tools to do this in their new clauses. The Government have argued that the Bill is needed to address illegal migration and that the modern slavery clauses are needed to address and prevent abuse of the modern slavery support system by false claims from people seeking to bypass removal. So the modern slavery clauses in the Bill should be targeted at the problem of false claims with a clear assessment made of the level of false claims and the impact on wider modern slavery policy.
The Government should therefore specify in the Bill that the modern slavery clauses—clauses 21 to 28—would be commenced only when a specific threshold of the false modern slavery claims and an increase in those claims is reached, demonstrated by evidence. I think that is fair. Alongside the false claims that would trigger the modern slavery clauses, the Government could commit to publishing evidence on the current level of false modern slavery claims and any increase or decrease in that level. Section 63 of the only recently passed Nationality and Borders Act 2022 would enable the collection of that data on bad faith claims since 30 January 2023.
The modern slavery clauses should not commence until an assessment has been published of the impact of the clauses disapplying modern slavery protections on the identification of victims, including their willingness to come forward, and on the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences. This is important because, at the end of it all, we need to know whether there is evidence.
I understand the Government’s fear that this will somehow be used as an alternative vehicle to escape a claim and to avoid being sent back, but we do not see any evidence of that. Only 6% to 7% of those who have come over on the boats have made a modern day slavery claim. That is a tiny number. They will know by now that they can do that, but the reality is that it has not happened. I bring that to the attention of the Government: there is no real evidence of it at the moment. I understand that the Government think we need to protect ourselves against that potential, but we need to see the evidence that that trend is being broken.
I agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman is saying and I look forward to working with him to get some of the things that we all want to see. Does he agree, though, that there would be no risk of modern slavery victims—or those making fake modern slavery claims, who the Government seem to be convinced exist—being held up in the system and being allowed to stay here if it did not take an average of 553 days for them to be assessed? If we went back to the 45-day system that used to exist, which might be the case if more had been put into it over the years, there would be no risk that people might use it to stay in the country longer.
Clearly the faster the claims can be assessed, the better it is for everybody, as they can be discovered either to be illegal or to be genuine victims. That is the key thing.
Clear evidence of abuse of the system needs to be published, because it is important that the figures are there to be understood. A very small number are actually claiming it, and the 73% that we were told about on Second Reading in fact refers to those who are detained for removal after arrival. That amounted to 294 people. We need to get the figures in context, then we can understand what the problem is and how we deal with it. If the evidence shows that there is an increase, we will then be able to use parts of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the lack of an evidence base for this aspect of the Bill. When the former modern slavery commissioner, Professor Dame Sara Thornton, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights recently about this issue, she suggested that because no replacement for her had been appointed for over a year, there was a lack of a proper evidence basis for the modern slavery aspects of the Bill. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that she is right about that, and will he use his good offices with the Government to try to ensure that an anti-slavery commissioner is appointed?
I am flattered by the idea of my good offices with the Government, and I will take that at face value—thank you very much indeed. I will speak to the Government about that, and I accept that we need to get that replacement made very quickly.
The most important point is that we need to think about exempting any victims exploited in the UK from the disapplication of modern slavery protections. There is a very good reason why that is the case. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead laid out clearly, if we do not do that, those who are affected will simply dismiss any idea of coming forward to give evidence, because they will fear that they will not be accepted and that they will therefore have to go. Many of them will not yet have given evidence to the police. The Bill suggests that the Secretary of State will be able to assess whether they have given evidence to the police, but this a longish process. This accounts for more than 60% of cases, and I really wish that the Government would think carefully about protecting them. I think the police will back us on this, because they want those people to give evidence.
The irony is that the more we help those people and the more they give evidence, the more traffickers we will catch and close down, which will probably result in fewer people coming across the channel on boats. This is all part of a circle of trust, identification and final prosecution, and it is really important. We should amend clause 21 to exempt victims exploited in the UK, and the new threshold for a positive reasonable grounds decision requiring objective evidence would prevent spurious claims. The whole point of this is to find a way.
I think we can agree on this. The work the UK has done on modern slavery, the evidence and all the rest of it, is now helping to prosecute the traffickers. If we lose that delicate flower of success, we will find ourselves in a worse position, with many more people being deliberately trafficked because we have become a soft touch on trafficking.
I fully understand why the Government are trying to deter the illegal use of these boats to cross the channel, both for people’s safety and because it puts huge, unnecessary pressure on services here, but I beg my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration to accommodate these concerns about modern slavery and to make sure that we do something in the Bill to protect these people in the long run.
I support the amendments on the rights of children, because the Bill punishes children just for being refugees and puts unaccompanied children at risk. There is not enough time to go through every clause, but I will highlight some of the many cruelties.
The measures before the Committee today not only abolish the protections afforded to children but allow unaccompanied children to be routinely detained beyond the 24-hour time limit, and to be detained anywhere the Secretary of State considers appropriate. Detaining children for prolonged periods is utterly unacceptable and poses serious risks to their health, safety and protection.
Clauses 2 to 10 will create a large and permanent population of people, including children with families and unaccompanied children, living in limbo for the rest of their lives. Clause 3 could see a child who arrives alone, fleeing war and persecution, being allowed to integrate into UK society, only to be forcibly removed from the UK as soon as they turn 18.
Clauses 15 to 20 give the Secretary of State a range of astonishingly far-reaching powers, including the power to terminate a child’s looked-after care status and the key legal protections provided by local authorities.
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has raised these clauses. Having spoken to the Minister, I know he is keen to ensure that we have clarity on this issue so that when the Home Office provides appropriate accommodation for children, in addition to the other care and support required, we know what that means in practice. We also need to understand the justification and reasons for enabling the Home Secretary to remove a child from local authority care under the vice versa clause, clause 16. At the moment, the explanatory notes do not seem to give any reason why the power is needed.
I hope the Minister will address the hon. and learned Gentleman’s point.
There is an array of evidence on the significant harm facing unaccompanied children who are accommodated by the Home Office in hotels. For vulnerable children, this Bill denies refugee and human rights protections and recovery from trafficking, and it prolongs their fears and insecurity by denying them the reassurance that they have found safety.
This Government are not only targeting children. They are removing almost all protections for victims of modern slavery and trafficking who are targeted for removal. As such, I also support the amendments on equalities and human rights, including my new clause 20, because the Bill will be disastrous for disabled and LGBTQ+ children and adults. Women fleeing persecution will be prevented from claiming asylum and will be detained indefinitely, with no exemption for those who are pregnant. Indeed, clause 11 will enable the Home Secretary to enforce the indefinite detention of children and pregnant women in camps such as Manston on a statutory basis. That goes back to what was happening before 2016, when pregnant women were being detained for weeks on end, and in some cases months, with no idea when they would be released. This is utterly disgraceful.
How can it be right that people are to have their human rights ripped away because they are from a different place? Surely human rights are inalienable and universal. Persecuting some of the most vulnerable people fleeing torture, war or oppression during a climate of increasing anti-migrant hostility, with attacks on hotels housing asylum seekers and a growth in far-right activity, is cowardly and dangerous.
The Illegal Migration Bill will be marked for years to come as an extraordinary and chilling attack on our values and way of life. Not in my name. I oppose the Government’s clauses before the Committee today. I reject their purpose and principle in their entirety, because all human beings are born free and equal in dignity, and with rights. In the words of article 2 of the universal declaration of human rights:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs”.
I rise to speak to amendment 181, which appears in my name. I ask the Minister to think about my request over the coming days. I am not asking for a commitment now, and I will not seek to divide the Committee on this question.
The purpose of amendment 181 is to get an opinion from the European Commission for Democracy through Law, otherwise known as the Venice Commission, which is part of the Council of Europe. It consists of lawyers from across wider Europe, including the UK, and its individual members include professors of public and international law and supreme and constitutional court judges. The UK members are Mr Timothy Otty and Mr Murray Hunt, who are both competent lawyers.
The Venice Commission exists, in part, to comment on whether and how legislation, in either draft or final form, is compliant with the UK’s obligations as a party to the European convention on human rights. I have previously used its offices to comment on draft legislation before the Turkish Parliament. It can be quick. I believe the Turkish legislation took about a month to examine. France and Germany have also used the Venice Commission in reference to constitutional law. Incidentally, I am already negotiating hard with German socialists to stop a hostile motion being tabled against the UK.
How much better it would be to go to this organisation, as part of an international and multilateral community, than to be dragged there? I have ensured that any reference to the Venice Commission in my amendment does not hold up the Bill, as the amendment would come into force a month after the Bill’s enactment.
I understand from the Minister that he has consulted other countries on this legislation. How much fuller and more expansive would it be to use this vehicle, with its wider remit, to get an opinion—not a guarantee but an opinion—that would mean no one had to guess the chances of the Bill meeting the requirements of the convention? I cannot see the harm in using this vehicle to do that, and I am very happy to be involved in helping to facilitate a reference to the Venice Commission.
I ask the Minister to consider this proposal further in the days ahead, and I am fully available to discuss it with him.
I rise to support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). I am proud to speak on behalf of my Vauxhall constituents, many of whom have contacted me about this important issue. In my constituency—as in many others, to be fair—we celebrate diversity and welcome people from all over the world who are fleeing war and persecution. We stand in solidarity with them. I am sure that it is the same across the UK. Nobody in my constituency wants to see the continuation of the horrific scenes we are seeing across the channel.
Let us look at some of the statistics: 2022 saw an average of over 100 people a day—five times higher than the figure in 2020—take the perilous journey across the channel. More than 40 people attempted to cross the channel on a single day just before Christmas. The dinghy they were on contained Afghan nationals fleeing the Taliban, and a dozen unaccompanied children. Tragically, the dinghy capsized, resulting in the death of four people. The sad reality is that these people were ruthlessly exploited in their most vulnerable moments by people traffickers. It is right that we in this House come together and do everything in our power to stop the horrific loss of life.
The Opposition believe that we must crack down on the criminal gangs that have made nearly £180 million in the last 12 months via the exploitation of vulnerable people, but let us be clear: this Bill is not the solution. It does more to criminalise vulnerable victims than to punish those responsible. In fact, the Bill in its current form solves no single problem driving this humanitarian emergency. It lacks any effective measures to tackle the criminal activity of people-smuggling gangs, and fails to eliminate the backlog of outstanding asylum cases, which I and many other MPs see in our caseloads on a weekly—sometimes daily—basis. The Bill will increase the number of people in temporary accommodation, including a hotel in my constituency that was initially designed to house only single men; we are now seeing families and young children housed in those hotels.
Most shamefully, the Bill leaves the victims of modern slavery without any protection. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that, having been elected, I would have to debate this issue. It really saddens me. Instead of cheap headlines, it would be so great to see the Home Secretary concentrating on reforming resettlement schemes to prevent the dangerous journeys from happening, and engaging in the hard work of diplomacy to get our international partners to provide support in working on this together. Britain cannot solve this alone; we have to work with the international community, and there is a clear pathway to do so, as outlined in some of the amendments to which many hon. and right hon. Member have spoken today.
The sharp spike in channel crossings that we are seeing has not happened in a vacuum. It has been exacerbated by a void of safe and legal routes into this country for those facing violence and persecution in their own countries. Of all the amendments and new clauses outlined today, I will focus on the important amendment 148, which has been touched on already. It cannot be right that unaccompanied children are risking their lives with no protection. Removing unaccompanied children, as the Bill proposes, will not stop that danger. Instead, it will prevent them from getting the support they need. How can the Minister think about the scenes I described earlier—a dozen children on a boat that capsizes in the channel, desperate in the cold December winter—and not recognise that we must do everything in our power to open up safe routes to those children? It is unacceptable and inhumane not to do that, so I urge everyone to support amendment 148.
Alongside that is the crucial work we must do with our international neighbours to establish safe routes for asylum seekers and really crack down on people smuggling. Sadly, what do we get with the current Government? We see measures that will prevent Sudanese and Afghan women subjected to sex trafficking in the UK from accessing support. As many hon. and right hon. Member have highlighted, the Bill will not clamp down on the abuse of modern slavery; it is a trafficker’s charter. That is why we should also support amendment 288, which would remove the provision to restrict modern slavery support. Many organisations have highlighted that they are yet to see any evidence that that support system is being exploited, including Anti-Slavery International—one of the oldest human rights organisations, which is based in my constituency and works really hard to end and eliminate all forms of slavery.
The modern slavery support provisions not only help the victims of the most horrific crimes; they also help us to catch and identify the gangs. We know that modern slavery victims are subject to coercive control by their traffickers, and that coming forward to report their experience takes considerable courage. Again, I reference the meeting last week of the Women for Refugee Women and the Rainbow Sisters. There were powerful testimonies from a number of women who shared their experiences and spoke about their fear of being sent back into the hands of the people who had abused them. A blanket ban on anyone arriving here to accessing the only statutory system that helps identify and support victims is wrong. The Bill seeks to deny them basic support, which is shameful. No sensible migration policy should actively make it easier for criminals to avoid accountability—that is what we would have. That is what is in front of us now. Moreover, granting the Home Office powers to detain women, children, those who are pregnant and those who are disabled in prison-like settings just for seeking asylum is wrong.
I hope that the Minister will listen and that he will have some compassion, some empathy, for those who are reaching out to us as constituency MPs with their cases—these are people who are speaking out on behalf of people who do not have a voice. I urge the Government to change tack on the Bill, to abandon their grandstanding and to support tangible solutions to solve this desperately sad situation before it is too late and before we see more lives lost.
I rise to speak to amendment 182 in my name and the names of other hon. and right hon. Members. It makes a simple point, which I hope the Minister can accept.
The Bill focuses on those who arrive in the United Kingdom in the circumstances described in clause 2 of the Bill. Essentially, it is those who arrive in the UK after 7 May this year without leave to do so and who have passed through safe countries on the way. The Bill not only provides for their removal and detention, but imposes lifelong consequences on those who enter in this way, including permanent exclusion from the granting in future of various types of short-term entry into the UK, of indefinite leave to remain and of citizenship—all set out in clauses 29 to 34.
Despite the Bill’s clear and important deterrence objective, its effect is not as simple as, “break the rules and you’re banned for life”. It recognises, rightly in my view, that exceptions have to be made for exceptional cases. In relation to all the future applications that I have mentioned, the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to be able to grant the application, if it is necessary to do so, to comply with the UK’s obligations under the European convention on human rights, or under other international agreements to which the UK is a party.
Given the focus of yesterday’s discussions on removing the ECHR from decision making in other parts of the Bill, I will not dwell on the significance of the ECHR in this part of it. However, I will perhaps say in passing that the Government may want to reflect on how attitudes to ECHR obligations in different parts of the Bill now fit together.
My focus though is on the other ground for allowing, in exceptional cases, the granting of a shorter-term entry clearance to those otherwise excluded from that because they had previously entered the UK under the terms of this Bill. That is when the Secretary of State considers that
“there are compelling circumstances which apply in relation to the person which mean that it is appropriate to do so.”
That is in proposed new section 8AA of the Immigration Act 1971 introduced through clause 29(3)(3).
In relation to circumstances and applications for some entry clearances, the Government think that it is reasonable, beyond what is necessary to meet their international obligations, to allow some applications in “compelling circumstances” from those who would otherwise be refused. I think that that is very sensible. However, such provision for granting applications in “compelling circumstances” does not exist in relation to applications for citizenship, and it seems to me that that is not sensible.
Incidentally, I must confess that I have noticed too late that the “compelling circumstances” exception is also not in the Bill in relation to applications for indefinite leave to remain, and I should really have tabled an amendment to the same effect regarding them at clause 29(3)(5). I hope the Minister will indulge me and consider that point, too.
My amendment 182 would add the ability for the Secretary of State to grant, exceptionally, an application for citizenship where there are “compelling circumstances”. So, what might such “compelling circumstances” be? As I say, the consequences of an entry into the UK under the terms of the Bill are lifelong. The entry in question may take place at any age, which means that someone brought into the UK on a small boat within the terms of the Bill as a baby—something over which, of course, they would have had no say—would be excluded from entering and remaining in the UK, including as a citizen, at any age thereafter, except in the exceptional circumstances as defined in the Bill.
For example, that person who arrived first as a baby could not, 20 or 30 years later, become a naturalised UK citizen as a result of marriage to a UK national. Such a scenario would, I think, be likely to constitute compelling circumstances and the Secretary of State should have the power to grant citizenship in such cases.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an interesting and worthwhile point, but in practical terms, knowing as we do the ruthless efficiency of the Home Office, how likely does he think it is that it would ever marry up that baby coming to this country without papers with the person seeking to come 20 years later?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, but I think we have to pass legislation in this place that assumes a degree of competence on the part of all Government Departments, and we must do that with straight faces throughout. In any event, it is important that Secretaries of State, as I know he would recognise, have the powers they need to do the right thing in the right circumstances. That is what I am seeking to provide the Secretary of State with here.
Of course it is right to say that such cases would be rare, but I believe the discretion should exist to deal with them when citizenship is applied for, or indeed when indefinite leave to remain is applied for, as it is when shorter-term leave to enter is sought. That is what my amendment will achieve, and I hope the Government will be able to accept the force of it.
Finally, let me say this: if this Bill is to succeed in its objectives, it must have both political and legal credibility. I agree with those who said yesterday that such credibility depends on having clearly available, safe and legal routes for entry to the UK in parallel with the sanctions this Bill imposes on those who do not use them. I look forward to what the Government will bring back on this point on Report, but the Bill’s sanctions will only have credibility if they allow for the fair treatment of exceptional cases. I hope my amendment will improve the Bill in that regard.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright). To pick up on his last point, the truth of the matter is that we do not need legislation for safe and legal routes. If I thought for one second that the Government were acting in good faith when they made references to safe and legal routes, I would have a lot more time for the contents of this Bill, but I see no evidence of that good faith. He and his right hon. and hon. Friends may have to reflect on that when they consider their position at later stages of the Bill. Everything in this Bill is all about electioneering and politics; it has nothing to do with the creation of a safe and legal route or a workable system of migration, or indeed with stopping the small boats coming across the channel, as we all want to do.
I particularly enjoyed the contributions from the right hon. Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I served in government with the right hon. Lady for five years, and I do not think we need to wait for the 30-year release of papers to learn that relations between her and some in my party were not always easy in that time. Having said that, equally we do not need to wait for the 30-year release of papers to know that relations between her and some in her own party, possibly in the Treasury and No. 10, were not always easy in those years.
Of course, relationships in Government are not always easy. However, listening to the right hon. Lady’s speech today and her forensic dissection of those parts of this Bill that impact on the Modern Slavery Act that she brought through, I found myself almost weeping with nostalgia for her time in the Home Office—for the intellectual rigour, the political substance and the determination to do what was right by some of the most vulnerable people living among us.
When the right hon. Lady brought the Modern Slavery Bill—as it was then—to Cabinet, I remember thinking that she was talking about people who were, for all intents and purposes, invisible among our community. There were people living among us about whom we knew nothing. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for her and others to ignore them and simply pass on, but she did not, and that was enormously to her credit. She is absolutely right to express concern about provisions in the Bill that would drive a coach and horses through that legislation. She is also absolutely right that we should, by now, have appointed an independent anti-slavery commissioner.
The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green was right to say that the legislation, if it is ever implemented—which remains to be seen given that we have only just completed the implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022—will push vulnerable victims of slavery back into the shadows and away from the protection that they most undoubtedly need and deserve.
And the evidence. The lack of evidence and impact assessments runs like a silver thread through the Bill. Have the impact assessments been done? Will they ever be done? If they have been done, will they be published? The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) made much of that in his speech, and he was absolutely right to do so. I was tempted to intervene on him to say, “Hold on a second here, man. You shouldn’t be going so fast; you should allow the Minister to get to his feet and tell us the position.” But the Minister did not do so then, and I suspect that he will not do so now, either. There have been times when I have seen Ministers on the Treasury Bench look more uncomfortable than the Minister for Immigration did when listening to the speeches of his right hon. Friends, but I am struggling to think of when that might have been.
The points that I will focus on relate to the question of detention and, in particular, the detention of children. The detention of children is something that I thought we had seen the back of. Although that initiative was driven by my former colleague, Sarah Teather, when she was the Minister with responsibility for young people, I again pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, who did so much to support it in the Home Office. It was an absolute stain on our country that we kept children locked up in immigration removal centres such as Dungavel in Scotland.
I remember visiting Dungavel—it must have been in 2007 or 2008. I also remember, I have to say, successive Home Office and Immigration Ministers in the then Labour Government standing up at the Dispatch Box and saying that I was a bleeding-heart liberal, and that this was just something that we had to live with and nothing could be done. Of course, as we know, there were things that could be done, and they ultimately were done—we did them five years later.
I think it tells us quite a lot about the journey that the Conservative party has been on since those years in 2011 and 2012 that the Government feel it necessary to reintroduce detention for children. We have had 10 years without it now, and what have the bad consequences of that been? I do not see any. Nobody is saying that it has caused a massive increase or spike in any particular problems, but now, for the sake of sheer political positioning, we are going to return to a situation in which children will be placed behind razor wire in places such as Dungavel.
I would be happy to do so, or to answer more fully later when I make my remarks. It is undoubtedly true that we face a serious situation today where the number of unaccompanied minors coming into the country over the channel has increased fourfold since 2019. That places a great strain on our system, and we need ways to ensure that where those people are age-assessed and may ultimately be decided not to be minors, they are held in appropriate detained accommodation. That is one of the issues we are seeking to tackle with this part of the Bill.
I hope that the Minister gets a hold of Hansard tomorrow, reads what he has just said and, as my mother used to say to me, takes a long, hard look at himself, because the idea that that is a justification for locking up children is absolutely disgraceful. For him to try to draw and to invent a causal link where none exists is a consistent line of the way this Government act. It is the same way that they tried to draw a causal link between the Modern Slavery Act and those coming in small boats—it just does not exist.
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. The current proposal in the Bill is that unaccompanied minors coming here to claim asylum will spend the balance of their childhood here knowing that the day they become 18, the Home Secretary will have an obligation to remove them from the country. Is that not an unconscionable way for any Government to treat children?
“Unconscionable” is one of the more polite and measured terms that we could use about it. I reflect on the fact that when I visited Dungavel in 2007 or 2008, my own children were about six and 10 years old. The staff in Dungavel did a phenomenal job to mitigate the horrors of what they were dealing with, but at the end of the day, we were keeping children behind a razor wire, lockdown institution, and that was downright inappropriate and unacceptable. Nobody will ever persuade me that we should treat any child differently from the way in which we would want to treat our own.
The fact that the Minister has just said on the record that it is okay to incarcerate minors—another word being “children”—because we think some of them may not be children reflects why we need to clarify the safeguarding and welfare responsibilities of all public agencies that deal with these children. Everybody is a child until the age of 18 in international law. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he supports new clause 18, to ensure parity in those responsibilities and put beyond doubt the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State and Ministers to look after every child equally well in this country?
It will come as no great surprise to the hon. Lady that I do. That brings me to thinking about what we do here. There is a danger that those of us who follow the evidence and actually care about what will happen if this dreadful piece of legislation is ever implemented disappear down the rabbit hole of trying to improve, amend and mitigate it. We have all tabled dozens—hundreds, some of us—of amendments, but this piece of the Bill has simply to be excised. I will be seeking to divide the House on clause 11 stand apart, because, frankly, there is no mitigation and no polishing of this—I avoid the vulgarity, but everyone knows what I am talking about. There is no way we can polish and improve on something that is so fundamentally removed from the way we would tolerate our own children being treated.
Earlier, we were talking about returning people. I was privileged yesterday to meet a group of Hongkongers, who are among that privileged group of people who came here by a safe and legal route. They still have their problems, of course: their journey did not end when they arrived at Heathrow, and they still have to deal with the trauma of leaving friends, family and others behind in circumstances where they would ordinarily have chosen not to do so. However, I heard a quite remarkable story from one person who did not come through the safe and legal route because her arrival predated that visa scheme being opened up. She told me that her twin sister had been here, but had left the country, and now she was being told that she would need to leave because the Home Office had confused her biometrics with those of her twin sister. That is the sort of ruthless efficiency of which the Home Office is capable. Are we seriously hearing now that we are going to start sending people back to Hong Kong because they happen to have come here before the start of the British national overseas visa scheme?
Dame Rosie, I feel that I have detained the House for long enough—that is probably a matter of consensus among Members—but when it comes to Divisions, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will do everything that we can to improve the Bill. However, ultimately, there are pieces of it that simply cannot be left to stand.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for coming to a conclusion. I am going to try to call people who did not get called yesterday, as well as those who have tabled amendments, but that will require a certain amount of brevity.
It seems a long-standing conundrum of the immigration debate that most of our constituents express concern about the issue of immigration and its impact on our country, but at the same time tend to be very positive about their own personal experiences of people who have come to this country as migrants. I know that this is the case in the very diverse constituency in north-west London that I represent, but it is true in other parts of the country as well, where people’s experience is that those people who come as immigrants are those who drive the buses, work in the local shops and their children’s schools, and maintain the NHS. We are having this debate at a time when we must acknowledge that one of our biggest demographic challenges remains the fact that we have a declining working-age population, and data from the Office for National Statistics clearly shows that we, alongside much of the rest of the developed world, have a significant challenge in maintaining a workforce sufficient to support our population.
So far, this has been a very constructive debate. In particular, I highlight the comments of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) about the need for a returns agreement. Professor Thom Brooks of Durham University recently did a very detailed study that highlighted that one of the biggest pull factors for those waiting to cross to the United Kingdom was the absence of a returns agreements with France or with the European Union. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for the work he has already done with Government in respect of safe and legal routes. As we heard from the evidence we took at the Joint Committee on Human Rights during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the existence of a safe and legal alternative for those who wish to claim asylum in the UK is one of the defences open to the Government in seeking to treat those who, for example, arrive here in a small boat with a less advantageous process.
However, I will focus my contribution on what I fear are some of the unintended consequences of a Bill whose objective we all support: to end the situation where people put their lives at risk as a consequence of seeking to come to the United Kingdom, facing death or serious injury in the English channel in order to lodge an asylum claim in our country. In particular, I will focus on the way in which the Bill interacts with some of the positive obligations on our public authorities that are created by other legislation: for example, the Children Act 1989 and all its allied legislation, such as the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, and—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) has outlined—the provisions contained in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
My experience of this issue in local government is highlighted in particular by the Hillingdon judgment of 2003, which concerned the Children Act responsibilities of local authorities in respect of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. That judgment clarified that the immigration status of a child is irrelevant to the local authority’s obligations to provide support to that child, both under the Children Act when they are under 18, and as they enter adulthood through the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and other legislation that we have passed in this House. When we considered the status of children in care, we were clear that we wanted them to enjoy support until they were at least 25 to ensure that they started out their lives in the most positive way.
When spent some time during my days with the Local Government Association in a room with officials from the Home Office and the Department for Education, it became clear that the Home Office was aware and has always been aware that the challenge that legislation sets up is that when a direction is issued to a local authority to say, “This child is subject to immigration control and therefore needs to go through this different process”, the next step that is likely to follow is that that child’s lawyers will take the local authority to judicial review. The local authority will be found, as local authorities have been found umpteen times over the years, to be in breach of its Children Act obligations if it fails to pursue the best interests of the child and to provide the services it is obliged to under that legislation.
By the same token, I have a concern that stems partly from the evidence we took recently at the Joint Committee on Human Rights from the Salvation Army and others about modern slavery. Organisations that have first responder duties and that in the course of policing or local authority housing, or whatever it may be, come across someone who is possibly a victim of modern slavery have a duty—an obligation—to make a referral to the national referral mechanism so that their needs and circumstances can be considered. Nothing in this Bill as it stands removes that obligation. Similarly, we would expect to find compensation potentially having to be paid, because those public authorities have failed in those duties, despite the fact that they were doing so at the direction of the Home Office in compliance with a piece of immigration legislation.
I strongly urge the Government that we need to resolve that matter and ensure that we do not have a situation where the objectives of the Bill, which most of us share —that is, bringing about an end to the small boat crossings, having a more efficient system for supporting people who come to the UK to seek asylum and removing those who have no right to be here—are brought into disrepute by the fact that some of these provisions inevitably lead to an enormous tangle of judicial reviews where public bodies may be required to pay compensation for failing in duties where those duties are in conflict with other legislation passed by this House.
Particularly in respect of unaccompanied children, we need to recall that the Children Act says that a local authority takes on responsibility for caring for an unaccompanied minor, not as would be the case if that child arose through being born in the UK and the subject of a care order, but by operation of law. That local authority therefore does not have discretion to decide whether it wishes to take that child into its care. By dint of the fact that that child is in that local authority’s area and is not accompanied by an adult with legal or parental responsibility for them, they are in the care of that local authority. Even if that comes to light subsequently when that child is an adult and a care leaver, they are still subject to that legislation, and that matter has been established a number of times through judicial review.
The Home Office has no legal capacity to care for a child, so even a child who is in immigration detention pending removal by the Home Office will still be in the care of the local authority under the terms of the Children Act 1989. Once again, we need to make sure that we have clear sight of how those duties and responsibilities will be discharged. For example, will detention centres for children be regulated and inspected by Ofsted?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s long expertise on this issue, but does he recognise the challenge of what we have seen over the past year in the treatment of unaccompanied and accompanied children? It is impossible for local authorities to undertake that safeguarding role and the duties under the Children Act without the direct involvement of the Home Office, which is discharging its duties by commissioning providers, for example, that do not then have clear safeguarding responsibilities. The decision to do that lies with the Home Office, which wrote contracts that did not include safeguarding provision for these children. Unless we are clear that everybody involved in the care of these children from start to finish has a responsibility for their welfare, including the Secretary of State, as new clause 18 does, that gap will remain. In that gap, we have seen some horrific examples of what happens to these children not just with their access to education, but with sexual assault and other serious offences.
The hon. Member very clearly highlights the fact that this is sometimes to a degree a grey area. I completely understand the position of the Home Office in that, sometimes in the early days of an emergency situation when there is nowhere else for a child to go to have a roof over their head, the accommodation and support provided do not meet the standards that apply. However, ensuring, as our laws require, that we very swiftly move to a situation where they do seems to be a reasonable expectation, and certainly one that would be upheld by the courts.
That point draws attention to the situation of children in transit through the United Kingdom who come to be unaccompanied children because the adults with whom they are travelling are s arrested or found to have no direct responsibility for the child with whom they are travelling. As I know the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) will be aware, over the years at Heathrow airport, significant numbers of unaccompanied children have come into the care of a local authority not because they are seeking asylum, but, for example, because they are being trafficked into the sex trade on the continent from another country by way of the United Kingdom. Again, we need to ensure that appropriate care and support are provided for those children and young people, and that they are not simply placed into a process that is focused on immigration control when they being trafficked for nefarious purposes. All these issues are clearly fixable, and I am confident that the Government, once sighted on them, will be able to bring about their resolution.
I would like to finish with a note about the issue of “notwithstanding” clauses, which was much debated yesterday. One of the challenges I find is that in the case of a number of pieces of legislation, such as the Children Act and the Modern Slavery Act, it would be possible for the Government to say that, notwithstanding those provisions, they expect this Home Office process to be followed. Clearly, those are all matters within legislation of the United Kingdom passed by this sovereign Parliament, but it seems to me that there is a risk if we seek to introduce “notwithstanding” clauses to matters that are the subject of international law.
Any of us who has been the recipient of legal advice at any time in our working lives will be aware that, if we were to be offered a contract about which it was that said, “The other party has decided that, notwithstanding what it says in the contract, they don’t have to follow it if they choose not to, after the event”, we would not regard that as in any way sound. Therefore, it seems to me that there is a significant risk that, if we seek to apply “notwithstanding” clauses, we will get ourselves once again into a legal and reputational tangle. That would be more broadly addressed by looking at whether those international conventions are still fit for purpose.
My hon. Friend will understand that I am a signatory of amendment 131, which is obviously intended to make it very clear that our concern is about rule 39 interim measure orders. Yes, they are not legally binding and they were not part of any conventions signed back in the 1950s, but they are far too often taken into account by UK domestic courts when it comes to the deportation or removal of individuals. He can therefore understand why Members such as me have signed such an amendment to make it very clear to UK courts that these non-legally binding interim measures should not be taken into account.
I entirely understand what my hon. Friend is seeking to achieve through the introduction of those “notwithstanding” clauses. We heard a great deal about this in the evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Nationality and Borders Bill, on the issue of the margin of appreciation. This is the idea that the courts have perhaps gone further in interpreting the meaning of some conventions than was the case originally. That is often under pressure from parliamentarians, including British parliamentarians, who have argued in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which supervises the operations of the European Court, that some of these laws needed to go further to take account of modern circumstances. The way to address that is not to say that we somehow seek to set aside the obligations that we freely signed up to, but rather to go and have that wider debate with our international partners and, if necessary, say that we wish to see an end to this process to make sure that what we feel we originally intended to achieve is what is achieved by the Bill.
Let me clarify the purpose of the “notwithstanding” provision. It is not to say that we will not comply with international obligations; it is to say that while those negotiations are going on—as my hon. Friend says, that is what happens when a judgement is made by the European Court of Human Rights against a Government—the policy shall proceed. It is to stop the idea that the Court’s judgment would have direct effect and effectively ground the flights, as happened after the interim order was made. Whether it is an interim order or a substantive judgment, it should not immediately have direct effect to stop the policy. Does my hon. Friend accept that that is an appropriate way to proceed?
That is an extremely good point. For many of us who had some involvement with the ECHR in the past, one of the frustrations at that point was that we recognised that interim orders are not legally binding when they are issued. However, as I understand it, the basis of that interim order was that our own UK courts had not completed their consideration of whether the policy was lawful or not. Therefore, the European Court of Human Rights was saying, “While you have not yet decided whether this is lawful, it is not appropriate to proceed against somebody in a way that would leave them without a remedy.” There is a way of resolving this, but the route to that is through colleagues in the Parliamentary Assembly who have the ability to bring about a significant change.
I will conclude with something that I have called for before, and I will again suggest that the Government look at. It is that we extend the process we currently use in our resettlement schemes, where we have the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees administering a process. We tell them how many people that we think we can accommodate as a country, and who we feel best able to support, in consultation with local authorities. Those people then travel to the UK knowing full well how they will be accommodated and supported from the point they leave to when they arrive. The process involves a number of people determined by this Parliament, with their circumstances vetted in advance before they arrive, and permission issued by the Government of the United Kingdom, in control of our borders. If we want to stop the boats and have a new asylum system that gives us control of our borders, we need an asylum visa system that operates in such a way, and that is robust, effective, and ensures that this Parliament, and our Government, are genuinely in control of our borders.
Order. Once again, I urge a certain amount of brevity, as we are not doing brilliantly at the minute and we have to get everybody in.
I will be as brief as I can, Dame Rosie. There is much that I loathe in this Bill, but I will concentrate on children’s detention. I speak in support the amendments tabled in my name, as well as new clause 18. I wish to speak on this issue because I am not sure how many Members have experience of having children locked up in their constituency in the way that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) has, and it was the same in my constituency. For some years I was the house father of a small-unit children’s home near Heathrow, and it is important that Members fully understand and appreciate the consequences of their actions in supporting the Bill.
I have two detention centres in my constituency—Harmondsworth and Colnbrook. Prior to 2012, children and their families were detained in Harmondsworth in particular. They were locked in; they were imprisoned. The last report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons described the setting in Harmondsworth as “bleak” and “prisonlike”, and it is. The experience of the regime is harsh. We have had suicides, and we had another death in Colnbrook last Sunday—that has been referred to. At Harmondsworth the place has been burned down during riots, twice.
I visited when the children were there, like the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. I will tell the story of one of my visits to Harmondsworth, where the children were detained. We had a small classroom to deal with children. They were of primary and secondary age, and it was heart-rending. On one occasion when I visited they had a poetry lesson, and they chose to write a poem on a subject of their choice. One of the young girls wrote on the subject of freedom. She wrote:
“Freedom is the sound outside the gate.”
It broke my heart seeing those children locked up in that way, and all the experts I have spoken to—teachers, child psychologists, doctors—reported the impact that that was having in traumatising those children, often scarring them for life. We also demonstrated time and time again, from the various research reports on the children’s experiences, that they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their experiences in detention exacerbated and piled on top of what many had already experienced in their country of origin which had forced them and their families to flee, and their experiences on the journey here. In one Children’s Society report at the time, the expression “state-sponsored cruelty” was used.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is so important. There are so few of us now who remember what it was like. When children come here, they are thrown into association with some of the worst people imaginable. Some of the people I saw in Dungavel absolutely needed to be in detention, but the idea of holding them in the same facility as children just took that inhumanity to another level.
Exactly. In the children’s home where I was a house father, we dealt with some of the children who had been coming from detention. We understood the traumas they had gone through.
Before 2010, just to remind the House, many of us, on a cross-party basis—Conservative, Labour, Liberals and others—campaigned to end child detention because the numbers were increasing year on year. Once a principle is established, it is interesting how the numbers increase. At one point, there was an estimated 1,000 children and families in Yarl’s Wood. The campaigns made it an issue in the run-up to the 2010 general election and many of us signed a commitment to make this country a place of sanctuary. Thank God, what happened was that the people of this country woke up to what we were doing to children and the way children were being treated. Children’s Society reports evidenced the individual experiences of children, as well as the research. We made the sanctuary pledge. Citizens UK, religious bodies, community groups and trade unions came together in one mass campaign.
We had a huge breakthrough after the election. David Cameron was convinced and was supported by, yes, Nick Clegg and—she is no longer in her place—the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Over a decade ago, we ended, with unanimity in this House, the routine detention of children. No more children were imprisoned in Harmondsworth in my constituency, or in any other detention centre or prison-like facility. We took that pledge and we enacted it in legislation with cross-party support in 2014. There were some exceptions, obviously. I regretted some of them, but I could understand some reasons why. There were a small number where pre-departure accommodation was provided, but no child was left in a detention centre.
The Bill, whatever the Minister says, removes the protections we, cross-party, arrived at unanimously over a decade ago. My plea to this House is this: please do not take us back to those barbaric days. The lives of children are devastated. The estimate is that 8,000 children face detention under the proposals in the Bill. It will create lasting, almost irrecoverable damage to those children. I just appeal, in all humanity, for the House to reject the proposals.
I rise to speak to the amendments in my name: amendment 135, which intends to block courts from ordering individuals to be returned to the UK once removed; and amendment 136, which intends to restrict to the use of hotels. I put my name to other amendments that were debated yesterday, which I am proud to support.
First, I want to thank the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) for the assurances he gave yesterday evening at the Dispatch Box to meaningful engagement over the Easter recess to find a way forward on the amendments I signed or that are in my name. I look forward to working with him and colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). I will therefore not press any of my amendments to a Division this evening.
It is critical that the policy is delivered. In Stoke-on-Trent we understand generosity better than anyone, having 1,279 asylum seekers or illegal economic migrants in our great city. We have been a long-term member of the voluntary asylum dispersal scheme and now have 30% of that population purely in hotels in inappropriate places—directly opposite our railway station, right by levelling-up projects, undermining the work to regenerate and level up the great city of Stoke-on-Trent. It is abhorrent that this has been going on.
For far too long, Stoke-on-Trent has been at the forefront of stepping up and delivering. It was the fifth largest contributor to the asylum dispersal scheme and was voted the kindest city in the United Kingdom only last year. We as a city will do our fair share, but it is inappropriate that we continue to see more than 40,000 people illegally choose to put thousands of pounds in the hands of smuggling gangs when they are already in safe mainland France, to come across on small boats, needlessly risking their own lives and undermining our UK visa system, the rights of our borders and the democracy and sovereignty of this House. It is essential that we do everything we can.
When 73% of people voted to leave the European Union, they wanted to take back control of their laws and their borders. People in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke were outraged to see only yesterday the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights interfering in this place, giving their opinion from Strasbourg and Brussels, demanding that we vote this legislation down. Yet again, foreign dignitaries and foreign judges are trying to interfere with the democratic rights and processes of our great country. It is simply not acceptable. That is why it is so important that the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes is taken seriously. I would like it be fully supported. Ultimately, we must deliver this important legislation.
I will happily take an intervention at the end of my speech, as I promise to keep within the 10-minute limit that you have asked of me, Dame Rosie.
Amendment 135 is about the block on returns. If we are to ensure the offshoring of illegal migrants, we cannot see people return to our United Kingdom, because that will undermine the Rwanda policy and other world-leading schemes that I hope we will agree with other safe third countries. I support the Opposition wanting safe and legal routes and returns agreement. Like many, I was outraged that we gave £500 million of UK taxpayers’ money without getting a returns agreement with France directly. I fully endorse that. It is essential that the law makes it clear that if someone tries to make a last-minute claim to an upper tribunal and they are removed, they have no right to return. They may win damages in court, but the right to return must not be granted. If it is, that will undermine everything. The imagery will be shocking, and will be used by smugglers across mainland Europe as an advert for what could happen if people were lucky.
It is essential that we deliver on the important policy of hotels. Rightly, the British public are livid at seeing £6 million a day of their hard-earned British taxpayers’ money going to house people in hotels. It is totally unacceptable in places such as Stoke-on-Trent, where we have a thriving hospitality and tourism sector, which has been undermined by the use of the hotels. People are losing their jobs. At certain hotels, people have lost the ability to take their children to the swimming baths to learn how to swim. They are unable to go to the gym and other such facilities because, sadly, this abhorrent trade has carried on. In Staffordshire as a whole, nine hotels have been taken up. It is not something that anyone in this House wants, and I hope my amendments get widespread support.
I thank the Minister for his engagement and for the fact that plans will come forward soon for alternative places to move people out of hotels. I was delighted that my petition to end Serco’s abuse of Stoke-on-Trent, which I presented on the Floor of the House, gathered more than 2,000 signatures. We have seen continued movement from the Minister, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to find suitable accommodation in the short term until we implement, very soon I hope, the policy to get people deported to safe third countries such as Rwanda.
I will let the hon. Gentleman gather his breath. He made a strong case that he was concerned about the work of the European Court of Human Rights making judgments about overbearing Governments and trying to stand up for citizens. Does he, therefore, deplore the recent judgment by the European Court of Human rights—another rule 39 interim measure—in the cases of Pinner v. Russia and Ukraine and Aslin v. Russia and Ukraine? They concerned British nationals who were members of the armed forces in Ukraine, who had surrendered to Russian forces and been sentenced to death. The European Court of Human Rights got stuck in to stand up for British citizens. But by his logic, I assume that he would oppose that because he does not like such bodies standing up for citizens being oppressed by Governments.
Rule 39 interim measures were not part of the European convention on human rights when we signed it in 1950. While we have obligations under the convention, they should never trump the sovereignty of what happens in this Parliament. We are democratically elected parliamentarians who speak on behalf of our constituents—well, we do on the Government Benches—and that is important to understanding why we deliver such policies.
The hon. Lady talks about the European court of human rights, but let us not forget that 47% of ECHR judgments have not been complied with over the past 10 years. In Spain and Germany, it is 61% and 37% respectively. The UK is, I believe, at 18%, so we are better at upholding our ECHR obligations than most mainland European countries, of which I know the hon. Lady is a huge fan. She would love to see us return to the European Union, which she so avidly campaigned for and continues to make the case for privately, I am sure, within the parliamentary Labour party. I commend her bravery in taking that stance but, of course, the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke simply said, “No. Go away. Bye-bye, Labour”—hopefully for decades to come—after 70 years of failure, neglect and under-investment in our great area.
Returning to the debate, I thank Professor Richard Ekins of the University of Oxford and Sir Stephen Laws KC for their work with the Policy Exchange and for helping me and other colleagues with the changes we proposed today. When people are losing their jobs at hotels and the hospitality and tourism sectors of our towns and cities are being damaged, that undermines public confidence in our ability to deliver this policy. There are disused Army bases, and I have no issue with the use of portakabins or tents. They are perfectly acceptable short-term accommodation, so long as we deliver on the policy of ensuring that people are removed after 28 days to a safe third country. Rwanda is perfectly safe and has so far welcomed the fact that the UK Government have been so successful at explaining in UK domestic courts that our world-leading policy is something to be celebrated.
Despite the shadow Minister suggesting that this Government are worried about compliance, the fact that they are winning court battles on other legislation that was deemed to be on the line shows that they are confident that they will be on that side again. He talked about a Labour plan, but I am still searching for something other than processing people quicker, which would mean we would still accept seven out of 10 people coming here—70% of 45,000 would be completely unacceptable to the people of the United Kingdom—and would lead to smugglers advertising a 70% success rate. That is why I am unable to support many of Labour’s amendments today.
The only exception that intrigued me was the new clause—I forget the number—that proposed engagement with local authorities. However, the assurances that the Minister gave yesterday to one of my hon. Friends who tabled a similar amendment gave me confidence, and I will be unable to join Labour in the Lobby today. I am delighted that Councillor Abi Brown was brave enough to force this Government to remove the voluntary opt-in and ensure that all local authorities are part of the asylum dispersal scheme after threatening to legally withdraw from the scheme.
Thank you for the time, Dame Rosie, and apologies for going one minute over.
I would have liked to say it was a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), but unfortunately I cannot.
I rise to speak to new clause 29, which stands in my name and in the name of right hon. and hon. Friends. I share the wish of hon. Members across the Committee to see an end to small boats crossing the channel, but the Bill is an affront to the values of my party and of so many people in Wales and across the UK. It is at odds with the objectives and the spirit of the international human rights treaties to which the UK is a signatory. It is contrary to the Welsh Government’s wish for Wales to be a nation of sanctuary. It is contrary to the democratically expressed will of the people of Wales, and if we had our own way it would not apply in our country.
My party has therefore tabled new clause 29, which would require the UK and Welsh Governments jointly to produce guidance setting out how measures under the Bill could be exercised consistently with the Welsh Government’s commitment to make Wales a nation of sanctuary. It would also require that no such guidance be published unless approved by Senedd Cymru.
The Welsh Government have written to the UK Government to say that they believe legislative consent will most likely be needed for the Bill, as it will encroach on Welsh devolved law. That is just one example; the Bill also includes provisions to allow for the transfer of responsibility for children from local authorities to the Home Office, which may well lead to children who are being cared for in Wales being summarily deported on turning 18. That would undermine the aims of Welsh legislation such as the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which sets out the responsibilities of local authorities to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Wales.
We have a particular concern about clause 12, which would allow the Secretary of State to detain refugees and asylum seekers essentially indefinitely. The Government have made it clear that they will be looking to use military camps as one source of accommodation. There is evidence of the danger of detaining refugees en masse in that way, as we saw with the use of the Penally camp in Pembrokeshire: a substandard and run-down site was used to house hundreds of asylum seekers over the winter of 2020. There were appalling conditions for them, there was huge concern locally and it was a lightning rod for the very worst of the extreme right, who travelled to Penally from afar to demonstrate and cause huge disruption. Are the Government really heedless of this danger? [Interruption.] As heedless as the Minister is of my speech, apparently.
I pay tribute to the people of Llanilltud Fawr, also known as Llantwit Major, who turned out in their hundreds last weekend to assert our welcome for refugees in Wales and our abhorrence of the hard right. The people of Llanilltud Fawr peacefully saw off the pathetic rabble of about 20 right-wing strangers who had been bussed in, ostensibly to protest about housing Ukrainian refugees locally. The people of Llanilltud Fawr and the people of Wales are proud to live in a gwlad lloches—a country of refuge—and I applaud their peaceful demonstration to reject the vicious and unrepresentative few who seek to hijack the issue for their own political ends.
Contrary to the title of this Bill, nobody is illegal. Claiming asylum is an international human right. Desperate people arriving in the UK by whatever means they can, because there are no safe routes, should not be criminalised. I could say much more, but for now let me assure the Committee and the people listening and watching at home that my party will oppose this vicious, unfair and damaging Bill again in the Division Lobby tonight.
Several calumnies have found form in the contributions of Opposition Members in the course of our consideration of the Bill so far. Principal among them is that there is no factual basis that has provoked this legislation. That is simply not so.
Since 2018, some 85,000 people have entered Britain illegally, 45,000 of them in 2022 alone. Roughly 75%—in fact, I think it is 74%—are men under 40. Nearly nine in 10 of those arriving are male; 18% are Albanian—and, by the way, Albanians make up 10% of the foreign prisoner population, with some 2,000 of them—and 100% have travelled through safe countries in which they could have claimed asylum in order to get here. Accommodating these people is costing the British taxpayer £3 billion a year. That is why we need urgent action to deal with the channel crossings but also, more fundamentally still, to reform our asylum system to make it fit for purpose and to cut immigration—and, I say to the Minister, not just illegal immigration, because we will need to turn to legal immigration too during the course of this Parliament.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not. I have great respect for him, but I promised you that I would be brief, Dame Rosie, and I know that if I take interventions that will not be true, and I will break my promise. You would never forgive me for that and, worse still, you would not call me again.
I shall speak to some of the amendments that stand in my name, which I hope will help the Government in that endeavour. My amendments, along with those tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stone (Sir William Cash), among others, are designed to improve the Bill rather than to frustrate the Government’s efforts. Indeed, they are framed in order to make the Bill work—for the Bill must work.
The British people are at the end of their tether, tired of a liberal establishment blinded by its own prejudices which seems oblivious to the needs of working-class Britons but ever more indulgent towards economic migrants and anyone else who comes from abroad, for that matter. The British people demand and deserve something better than that. They deserve a Government who take their concerns seriously.
Just in case there is any doubt about those concerns, I refer Members to the work of Professor Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent, who has studied these matters. He has revealed the opinions of an immense number of voters in so-called red wall constituencies. You will remember, Dame Rosie, that those are the seats that Labour hopes to win back, but it will not, because they are in the hands of very able Conservative Members of Parliament, many of whom take a view of the Bill that is similar to mine, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North. Interestingly, 59% of people in those constituencies think that we
“should withdraw the right of asylum-seekers and illegal migrants who cross the Channel illegally in small boats to appeal against their deportation.”
“jumps to more than three-quarters”
of 2019 Conservative voters and 39% of Labour voters. A large majority, six in 10, support
“stopping migrants in small boats from illegally crossing the Channel using any means necessary”.
Benjamin Disraeli said that
“justice is truth in action.”
My amendment 283 is designed to restore justice to our asylum system by affirming the truth. Little epitomises the anger felt by my constituents and many others about the unfairness of the system more than those economic migrants with no legal right to be here who arrive in Dover claiming to be younger than they are in order to game our asylum rules. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) pointed out when she was Home Secretary, in two thirds of age dispute cases, it has been found that an individual claiming to be a child is over—sometimes considerably over—the age of 18. This is a widespread problem.
Amendment 283 would introduce a scientific age assessment to ensure that those under 18 who need to seek shelter here can do so, as well as to find out those over 18 who lie to cheat our rules. The amendment is in keeping with the practices used in Europe by countries that verify the ages of those crossing their borders. The scientific age assessments used in many European countries for these purposes include dental and wrist X-rays in France, Finland and Norway, and CT or MRI scans in Sweden, Denmark and elsewhere.
I would be amazed if anyone who believed in the integrity of our asylum system opposed such an amendment, and I hope the Minister will confirm when he sums up that the Government intend to adopt it. Without such a change, we cannot properly break the business model of the people smugglers. These vile traffickers will simply tell the people whose lives they are risking to lie about their age to prevent them from being removed.
My amendments 129 and 130 would strengthen the Bill by ensuring that those who have no right to be here are swiftly removed. At present, the language in the Bill promises to “deport”. However, deportation is a distinct legal process from removal. Deportation is reserved for those who are a “risk to the public good”—typically foreign national offenders. By contrast, removal is a legal term for a process by which certain people may be removed from the UK, usually because they have breached immigration rules by remaining here illegally, but who do not necessarily pose a public risk or danger by so doing. Again, I hope that the Minister will enter into a discussion with me about how we can improve the Bill in that way and make it more effective.
I know, too, that the Minister will look at the amendments that aim to toughen the Bill further in terms of its language. Amendment 135, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, is vital as it will block courts from ordering that individuals who have been removed be return to the UK. If those removed to Rwanda were allowed to return to the UK following legal challenges, the deterrent gained from successfully sending them there would be diluted or lost altogether, so it is essential that those who want to join the small boats and the smugglers who organise their dangerous journeys know that the deterrent is credible.
Amendment 132 would ensure that other provisions of the Human Rights Act were disapplied. Right hon. and hon. Members know my view on the Human Rights Act: I would repeal it. And they know my view on the convention: I would leave it. But that is not what we are debating today, and it is not what these amendments seek to do. They simply aim to ensure that the Government’s policy, which has found form in this Bill which I hope is soon to be an Act, is not once again mired in appeals to foreign potentates and powers who will frustrate the will of the Government, this House and, more fundamentally, the British people.
I will not comment on amendments 139 and 140 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), except to say that they are arguably well-intentioned, but not necessarily so. A report last year, as my hon. Friend must know, showed that nearly two thirds of asylum seekers suspected of lying when they were unaccompanied children were found to be over 18. Of course care and sentiment matter, but we must exercise sense to avoid being naive about this subject.
For the sake of brevity, Dame Rosie, I will not say much more, except to conclude in this way: the British people want to deal with the boats. They want to restore order to our borders. They believe in the integrity of a system that determines whether someone is a genuine seeker of asylum in fear of persecution and in profound need or an economic migrant gaming the system in respect of their age. That is what the British people want, and that is what this Bill will do. By the way, just a quick word about judicial activism: it is a well-established concept and I would advise the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) to read about it in more detail, as he does not seem to have heard of it.
I say to the Minister that we must avoid listening to the bleats and cries of a bourgeois liberal establishment who will go out of their way to stop the Government doing what is just and right. I look forward to further engagement with him and, assuming that he says something sufficiently generous—indeed, slightly more than that; I would like to feel flattery—I will not press the amendments that stand in my name.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), a knight of the realm, lecturing us all on being in touch with the people and on class warfare. What a dystopian vision he paints of this country. I will confine my remarks to the three amendments in my name, because he does not speak for the majority in this country with his callous disregard for people seeking sanctuary, and in his callous disregard for the evidence and facts.
Amendment 293 reflects the challenge set by the right hon. Gentleman and by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who complains about people with visas. He must be disappointed that the Illegal Migration Bill does nothing about people who overstay their visa, which is clearly illegal. If this Bill were actually about things that are illegal in our asylum system, it would tackle visa overstayers. The Bill says nothing about people traffickers, and it contains no further sanctions and makes no further efforts to catch organised crime gangs. I now realise why it does not, having heard how the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North objects to the European Court of Human Rights standing up for British citizens who face the death penalty—he could not even say that stopping people being sent to their death for standing up to Putin is a good thing.
The Bill says nothing about the liaison with Europe we would need to catch these organised crime gangs. I tabled amendment 293 because this House should not be running the Government’s election campaign, and it should not pass legislation that is not about anything illegal—it is not illegal to seek asylum. We will keep reminding the British public of that. This Bill is just about the Conservative party getting its leaflets done on the cheap, by getting them done in this House. Amendment 293 would remove the word “Illegal” from the Bill’s title, because the Bill does not cover illegal behaviour or, indeed, the illegal elements of our asylum system that we should address, and that I am sure Conservative Members would want to address.
Amendment 138 is about safe routes. We discussed this yesterday, and the Immigration Minister was outraged when I suggested that there are no safe and legal routes. After all, if we have a Bill about illegal behaviour, we need a legal system that underpins it. The Minister, in direct response to my question, claimed that 6,000 people from Iran have claimed asylum here via a safe and legal route. If a safe and legal route exists, surely it should be part of the decision-making process on asylum. The amendment simply sets out that a person’s asylum claim can be rejected if they can be shown the safe and legal route they should have taken to come here.
Let us look at the Minister’s figures. He said, on the record, that
“the UK has taken more than 6,000 Iranians directly for asylum purposes.”—[Official Report, 27 March 2023; Vol. 730, c. 747.]
The Home Office’s figures show that 59 people from Iran have been granted asylum via a safe and legal route since 2015, not 6,000—that is the number of people from Iran who have used the family reunion route. Family reunion is not a safe and legal route. The Immigration Minister does not understand, so I will put it in layman’s terms. A safe and legal route would mean that a person in Tehran who is standing up to the Iranian Government—Conservative Members want to stand with these people—is able to leave. A safe and legal route is not for people with the wherewithal to marry and to get their spouse to leave the country ahead of them, while they campaign for democracy.
If the Immigration Minister does not understand that family reunion visas are not the same as a safe and legal route, what hope is there for this Bill? What hope do we have that he is being open with Parliament about the number of people this Government have helped? If he thinks family reunion is a safe and legal route, he does not even understand the Ukrainian system, which he is supposed to be overseeing. Amendment 138 says that, if a safe and legal route exists, it should be part of the decision-making process. That might seem relatively straightforward but, given that the Government do not know what a safe and legal route is, I can understand why they might object to the amendment.
Let me turn to new clause 18, which really ought to be a no-brainer if we are a decent, possibly liberal society —although I would just say British and patriotic—that does not like to see children suffer for the decisions that their parents make. The new clause is about safeguarding duties. I can see that the Minister is not going to look me in the eye on this, because he and I have had several meetings about his failure to oversee the safeguarding of children in hotels—and they are indeed children—whether they are accompanied by their parents or carers, or whether they are unaccompanied.
I am talking about children who have experienced sexual assault because of the failures of safeguarding in hotels in this country; children who have not had education places; children who have not had clothes on their back, apart from those they fled with, to cope with the British weather; and hundreds of children who have gone missing and not been found. The Government will point to the Children Act 1989 and say this is all about local government, but the safeguarding of these children cannot be done without the active involvement of the Home Office. What we have seen to date shows that very clearly, because those children have gone missing, have experienced sexual assault and have not been in school. I am sure that even the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North would agree that it would be a good thing for any child to be in school and learning.
I do not remember seeing the hon. Lady on the streets of the west midlands, campaigning to vote leave in the 2016 referendum, so I feel confident that my comments about her being a pro-European are perfectly acceptable.
When the Minister came to the Dispatch Box with regard to the 200 missing children, he said that 95% of them were 16 to 17 years old—smugglers encourage people who they think can get away with looking that age—and 88% were Albanians. Why would any parent spend £4,500 on sending their child here illegally on a small rubber boat, when they could go on an aeroplane for £30? Also, it is important to understand that the Minister made clear that there was no evidence that any of those 200 had been kidnapped—they left of their own accord.
When the Immigration Minister was dismissing concerns about locking children up, suggesting that they probably were not children because of concerns about age verification, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael)—I am sorry that he is no longer in his place—used a gentle phrase that his mother might say: “Have a long look in the mirror.” Well, I suggest that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North gives his head a wobble for what he has just said about children who have gone missing; 16 and 17-year-olds are children—[Interruption.] He is chuntering from a sedentary position. If those children turn up, I hope to goodness that they all turn up safe and well, because if they do not, what the hon. Member has just said will come back to haunt him—[Interruption.] He can keep shouting all he likes, but the vast majority of the British public are horrified by the idea that 200-plus children have gone missing from hotels that the Home Office was supposed to be overseeing.
There is due to be a public inquiry into the Manston centre. The Government have accepted that because of possible article 3 breaches—basically, concerns about how we were treating pregnant women and young children going into Manston—but that investigation has not yet happened and cannot yet inform this legislation. Clause 11 extends detention for families and pregnant women, and clause 14 removes the duty to consult the independent family returns panel about the treatment of children. Children are under the age of 18; we accept that in law.
We have provisions in law—on, for example, the use of bed and breakfasts—that have not been mirrored to date in our treatment of children who have come in through this system. I can hear why in the callous disregard of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, but I go back to this simple principle: whatever we think of the parents of these children, we should not be punishing children by agreeing in law that they have second-class citizenship. That is what this legislation will do to refugee children.
Everyone wants children to be safe: nobody wants a child to be living in a hotel; and, fundamentally, nobody wants a child to make a very dangerous crossing in a small boat. The safest place for a child is not to make that crossing. There are safe and legal routes, which we should try to focus on, rather than encouraging people smugglers to take children on the channel. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is the worst thing for a child?
Nobody is encouraging the smugglers. Given the heat that has been generated in this Chamber, it is important to recognise that nobody across the House supports the smugglers. Equally, there are no safe and legal routes. The example of Iran proves that very clearly. The fact that the Minister does not seem to understand that is troubling. If a child does come here, what happens to them? New clause 18 would provide parity of treatment for all children resident in the United Kingdom—for example in the rules around bed and breakfasts and putting a child in with a single adult. If the hon. Gentleman were to find that happening in his constituency, he would probably, rightly, challenge his local authority about it. Why are we saying that, because a child has refugees as parents, it does not matter how they are treated? That is what this legislation is saying. All new clause 18 is looking for is parity. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North may disregard those children, but I wager that there are other Members in this Chamber who recognise that when it comes to children, we have responsibilities and obligations.
I hope that, in his summing up, the Minister will say on the record that, yes, absolutely, the same standards of safeguarding will apply. The Home Office failed to put safeguarding in the contracts. I had to use a freedom of information request to get the contract from his Department to be able to check it. I did check it, because the Minister does not do his own homework, so somebody else has to. The contract very clearly does not mention it. [Interruption.] It is not a fantasy. What is a fantasy are the figures that the Home Secretary and the Minister just came up with on the safe and legal routes from Iran. Perhaps the Minister might want to reflect on that and on what the UK Statistics Authority said about the Home Office’s relationship with the truth when it comes to the numbers and to asylum.
I wish to finish simply by urging the Government to stay on the record. If I am wrong, they should correct me. They could say that every single child in this country will be covered by safeguarding, and that the Home Office itself will take a direct safeguarding duty for these children. It would not be that difficult.
I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has made his feelings clear, even if he has taken the Shelley’s grandmother approach to communicating any sense about them. What matters now is that this Government speak up for every single child, because, if they do not, I promise that there are people in this House who will continue to do it no matter how much barracking we get, because every child matters.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Dame Rosie. I would like to echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) said earlier about how strongly people feel about this issue. He provided the statistics to back that up. Some 35% of all policy inquiries to my office last week related to this issue of illegal migration and small boats. People often say to me, “You are in the middle of the country in Mansfield, so why do people care?” It is a simple matter of fairness. It is a massive Government commitment. One of the Prime Minister’s key pledges to the people of this country was to tackle the issue of small boats.
The people of Mansfield are generous, but they believe in the rules and they believe in law and order. They are happy to help those people who follow the rules, but when they are struggling and when they see people facing genuine safeguarding and personal safety issues, they feel the unfairness when they see others coming from the safe country of France and jumping the queue. When they are sat on housing waiting lists and unable to get a home, but someone who has no legal right to be here is able to get accommodation, they feel that unfairness. It is very easy for us in this Chamber, none of whom, I would imagine, rely heavily on our public services, to say that there is no negative impact to all of this. In reality, though, if a person is on that housing waiting list and unable to get a permanent home for themselves or their family, if they are struggling to access primary care, if they are told that they cannot get the help that they need, if they are sacked from their job at a hotel because it has become a migrant accommodation, or if they are seeing public funds intended to support people in this country being diverted to support people who have no legal right to be here, then, of course, they feel the unfairness. To suggest that that is not a problem is to deny the experience of many of my constituents, and of many people around the country, who feel that very strongly.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) was talking about safeguarding. Does my hon. Friend, who is a local authority leader, agree that we all have a duty to safeguard the young people of our country, as opposed to those who do not have any documentation to prove the age that they claimed when they arrived on the shores of this United Kingdom illegally? Therefore, until age verification can be guaranteed, we have to make sure that those alleged children—and alleged until we can prove it—are not mixing with genuine, birth certificate-holding UK residents who we know are under the age of 18.
My hon. Friend is right: I do have that role, and it does present significant safeguarding risks and resource challenges. The hon. Member for Walthamstow said earlier that everyone should have a right to education, but I do not know where she thinks those school places just emerged from. We cannot plan for hundreds of school places when 40,000 people arrive in one year. I have British children in my county unable to access a school place near their home because of the sheer volume of genuine asylum seekers who have come through genuine routes who are accessing those places instead.
The Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project, which funds a researcher in my office, has done a lot of work on this issue. Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that, where a young person is of statutory school age, it is an absolute legal obligation on a local authority to ensure that they have that education and, if it fails to do so, that child is eligible for compensation that is paid out in a dedicated school grant, thus affecting the budgets of all schools in that area? Does he agree that it is vital that in this Bill we clarify exactly what the position of child asylum seekers is so that we know whether they are within that legislation or whether they somehow fall outside it?
I fully take on my hon. Friend’s earlier point about who holds the responsibility for applying those duties and how they mix together. That is a complex issue and one that I cannot answer today, but he is right that we need to ensure that we safeguard children and offer them all the support we can, recognising that we have a duty to British citizens and British children to supply school places. It cannot be right, as I said to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, to suggest that all of a sudden schools, school places and opportunities will just appear, because they will not.
The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point about the important role that local authorities play. Will he therefore be supporting our new clause 27 when we put it to the vote this evening, stating that it should be a legal requirement for the Home Office to consult with local authorities before making any arrangements on accommodation for asylum seekers?
That is a challenge that I raised in the House myself last year, but I have since had many conversations with the Department and feel reassured that that communication has been far better recently. I feel more confident now that that relationship is better, but it certainly was a challenge at the start, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for having dealt with that.
I will make some progress, because I know you are keen to crack on, Dame Rosie. I want to touch on a couple of the amendments and demonstrate some of the challenges in the system. There are several amendments that would effectively prevent deportation or removal at all costs, blocking the entire premise of our being able to control our borders. In preventing us from controlling our borders or removing people with no right to be here, the amendments would dissolve our national self-determination and national identity and degrade our ability to decide for ourselves, taking away some of the significant powers that we should have and hold in this country. As Ronald Reagan said, if you cannot control your borders, you are not a nation state.
For example, under amendment 138 someone could not be removed unless there was a safe and legal route, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned. To me, that says that, if there is not a safe and legal route, people have carte blanche to arrive here through whatever means they like. There cannot be a safe and legal route for everybody around the world who could be eligible to come here. There are 100 million displaced people around the world; we have to draw a line somewhere to say what is reasonable for us as a country to be able to resource. Local authorities are tasked with looking after many of the people who come, with limited resources and limited capacity. To be fair both to asylum seekers in genuine need and to UK citizens who rely on public services, we must draw a line. It cannot possibly be right to implement an amendment that would prevent us from removing anyone.
Under amendment 121, a person cannot be removed until we have exhausted a million appeals, through every court in the land, forever and ever. That will actively encourage the kinds of scenes that we have seen in recent years, with late appeals being lodged and people being dragged off flights. We will not be able to enact any of the Bill if hon. Members try to implement such amendments, which defeat its entire object. Perhaps that is what Opposition Members are trying to achieve in tabling them.
We need to stop the exploitation of children, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) is right to say that age verification is important in that. Important as it is to ensure that we implement a system that is tough on the rules for adults, if we want to implement a system that also has a duty to safeguard children and young people, we must be able effectively to decide who children are and to show that the system is not being exploited in that way.
If, under the Bill, all children have the same rights as British children and will not be removed at 18 years old, we are effectively saying, “You will be able to come and live here as a British citizen with a right to stay for ever.” Inevitably, more and more children will arrive on small boats. We would be actively encouraging people traffickers to exploit more vulnerable, unaccompanied children, put them on boats and push them off into the sea—a horrendous outcome.
My constituents voted by 71%—one of the highest proportions in the country—to leave the EU. They voted for self-determination; they voted to remove the control and overriding decision making of European institutions. Amendments 131 and 132 in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) would ensure that the rules are decided, implemented and applied here in the UK, regardless of the views of those in Strasbourg on removal flights or of provisions in the ECHR that might overreach or be open to exploitation. While we get to a place where we can work out a functioning asylum system, most of my constituents will expect us at the very least to be able to make our own rules and decisions, and determine compliance with those rules, here in the United Kingdom. That played a huge part in people’s choosing to leave the European institutions.
My Mansfield constituents absolutely expect to see a dramatic fall in the number of people crossing the channel illegally, people moved out of hotels and into secure accommodation, and removal flights taking people with no legal right to be in this country somewhere else. I again ask the Minister and the Home Secretary to do everything in their power to ensure that we keep that promise to the British people.
In following the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), I want to point out the dangers of framing this as a “them vs. us” competition for scarce resources, and of the notion that there are 100 million people in the world who all wish to come to the UK. Of course, we should invest in resources for everyone across the UK, and have some degree of perspective, because although there may be 100 million refugees or internally displaced people in the world, only a small fraction of them are seeking to come to the UK. Even if we expand the range of safe and legal routes, most of them will want to stay close to their original homes, with the intention of returning there some day.
I will offer support to other Opposition amendments, but in focusing on my amendment 70, I am somewhat self-conscious and humbled, because it is a very specific, niche issue in the overall context of a Bill that lacks compassion and humanity towards people fleeing war and persecution, breaches international law in the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights, and denies the lack of viable safe and legal routes to the UK. It is none the less important that I place these concerns on the record.
Once again, Home Office legislation fails to take into account the realities of the common travel area and particularly movements on the island of Ireland. Although there is an open border with no routine immigration checks, UK immigration law continues to apply, and people who cross into the UK, particularly on the island of Ireland, remain at risk of immigration enforcement and legal jeopardy if they are found to be in breach of any immigration rules. Under clause 2, someone who enters the UK via Northern Ireland risks potential detention, deportation to a third country or their home country, and even a ban on ever returning. I welcome the Home Office’s recent guidance on electronic travel authorisation, in so far as it gives an exemption for third-country nationals living in the Republic of Ireland who do not require a visa to enter the UK, to come to the UK without the need for an ETA. That is sensible and pragmatic, but it does not go far enough. I wish to highlight two categories of people in connection to the Bill, as clause 2 significantly raises the jeopardy for people who are not covered by that exemption.
The first is those residents of Ireland who currently do require a visa to enter the UK, which obviously includes Northern Ireland. The visa itself is not the issue in this particular debate, but the change in their legal jeopardy very much is. Let me give a couple of examples. A woman from Kenya who is living legally in County Donegal crosses the border—a simple bridge across the border—from Lifford to Strabane to do the weekly shopping. Somehow she ends up interacting with the state authorities and therefore comes to the attention of immigration control. She could end up in a situation where she is deported not just back to her home in Ireland but all the way back to Kenya. A Nigerian man is simply travelling between two points in the Republic of Ireland, Clones and Cavan town, on a road that famously crosses the border in Northern Ireland in County Fermanagh about six times. He has no intention of doing any business in the UK but unfortunately has a traffic accident and comes to the attention of the state. Under clause 2 of the Bill, he, too, could be deported not just back to his home in Ireland but all the way back to Nigeria.
Secondly, let us look at the issue in terms of tourism. At present, Northern Ireland is marketed internationally as part of a single entity: the island of Ireland. That is an outworking of the Good Friday agreement. Furthermore, most international visitors to Northern Ireland arrive in the Republic of Ireland through Dublin airport and then travel northwards. It is currently intended that those individuals would require an ETA to access the United Kingdom. I want to have a separate discussion with the Home Office about the impact of that requirement on the tourist sector, but today I want to focus on the immigration aspect.
There are safeguards to ensure that anyone entering the UK via a seaport or airport has the requisite papers, but that will not be the case with what is an open land border in Ireland, so there is the potential for many thousands of tourists to innocently and unwittingly come to Northern Ireland without an electronic travel authorisation and therefore be placed in legal jeopardy, even if they do not have the intention to stay in the UK, because they are simply tourists. Under the Bill, they, too, are at risk of detention, deportation and a ban on ever coming back to the UK. Is that seriously the message we want to send to the rest of the world in terms of UK tourism?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for that intervention. He is right: we are taking a pragmatic approach to this across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, because we are very sensitive to the importance of tourism to our economy. There are particular concerns about the need for an ETA in terms of tourist movements, and today we are highlighting the issue of enhanced legal jeopardy for someone who travels without that documentation and the potential risks of that.
I want to briefly make a few other points in relation to the implications for Northern Ireland. The Bill has the potential to run contrary to the requirements of article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol, now renamed the Windsor framework, alongside the wider issue of its adherence to the European convention on human rights. I am not sure that the Government have done proper due diligence in that regard. This relates to the non-diminution of rights, and of course asylum seekers are as much part of the community in Northern Ireland as anyone else.
Finally, I place on record my concern that the Bill potentially allows the Secretary of State to make modern slavery regulations that apply to the devolved regions and nations, and may encroach upon devolved matters. Those powers will be struck without the consent of the devolved authorities, including in Northern Ireland, where we do not currently have a functioning Executive and Assembly.
I rise to speak in favour of amendments 148, 285, 288 and 292 and new clauses 18, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 30, because my constituents and I are deeply concerned about so many aspects of the Bill. Specifically on clauses 2 and 4, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that the Bill would
“deny protection to many asylum-seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case.”
Over the years, I have worked with refugees and asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, children and families, and the stories I have heard about them travelling to the UK involve brutal and gruesome treatment at the hands of people smugglers. They are always left deeply traumatised. I have heard stories of male children being raped. I have heard the story of a young person travelling with his brother, who was separated from him along the journey; he never saw him again, and was left worried and concerned that maybe he never even survived that journey. I have heard the story of a husband who was handed his child and saw his wife being repeatedly gang-raped—these are terrifying incidents. I have heard stories of guns being placed to children’s and adults’ heads.
These people are terrified, and have endured unimaginable conditions on their journey to the UK, yet when we hear about refugees and asylum seekers from the Government and from Members on the Government Benches, their experiences of crossing the channel to flee persecution are rarely ever mentioned. I find that utterly shameful. This Government have demonised these people, including children; they forget that these people are human, just like all of us across this Chamber. Refugees who come by boat or in lorries do so because of the lack of safe routes to the UK. They are completely vulnerable and at the mercy of the people smugglers. It is those people smugglers and criminal gangs that the Government should be focusing all their efforts on, in order to stop these illegal and criminal acts. That is why I am backing new clause 22, which would enshrine in law a new National Crime Agency unit to crack down on people smugglers and gangs.
As the MP for Lewisham East, I have talked a lot in this Chamber about my pride and joy in the fact that Lewisham Council was the first in the country to become a borough of sanctuary. Local authorities are heavily involved in the housing of asylum seekers, which is why I urge colleagues to vote for new clause 27, which would force the Home Secretary to consult local authorities when opening up asylum accommodation and hotels in their area. We have a hostel and asylum accommodation in my constituency, and when I have been there to speak to some of my constituents, I am appalled by the conditions that they are having to live in. They are not able to cook for themselves and their families, and they are not able to make the choices that families would want to. They want to provide for their families, to have their visas, to be able to work, and to have a home and to care. I am finding that so many people who are in this country as asylum seekers or refugees are beginning to suffer from mental health problems because of the process they have endured and how long it is taking, while the Government allow them to remain in those unsatisfactory conditions.
At national level, the small boats failure exists due to the Tory Government’s incompetence. It was this Government’s deal to leave the European Union without a returns agreement in place that led to a huge increase in the number of dangerous crossings and the backlog in asylum cases. I am not sure why that backlog has not been resolved; obviously the Government do not have the appetite to really push forward to make that happen.
I am further outraged that this Bill breaches the refugee convention and gives the Home Secretary power to remove unaccompanied children. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has spoken eloquently about new clause 18, and I absolutely support the reasons that she gave and her persistence on making sure that children are treated equally and fairly and are the Government’s paramount concern.
It is clear that the Government are risking the welfare and safeguarding of vulnerable children. I therefore back amendment 148, which would remove from the Bill the Home Secretary’s power to remove unaccompanied children. I trust that many Members from across the House will back it, too. Most people want stronger border security and a caring and effective asylum system, but at the moment we have neither and the Bill does little to achieve them. Labour has a plan to prevent dangerous channel crossings and to reduce the asylum and refugee backlog. To improve this shameful piece of legislation, we must pass all the amendments I have mentioned in my speech.
Lastly, I mention the work of Together With Refugees, a coalition of more than 550 national and local organisations calling for an effective, fairer and humane approach to supporting refugees. I urge the Government to listen to it.
I rise to speak to amendments 121 and 123 to 127, which are tabled in my name, and in support of amendment 1, tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who speaks for the official Opposition, and to which I have added my name. I tabled my amendments as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will not press them to a vote, because the Joint Committee has only just commenced our legal scrutiny of this Bill. That is not because we are dilatory in any way, but because the Bill has been bounced on us at such short notice. We have very little time to undertake that scrutiny, but we hope to report before the Bill has finished its passage through the House of Lords. At that point, I hope we will be able to recommend some detailed amendments with the backing of the whole Committee.
I did wonder whether it was worth my while spending hours in the Chamber this afternoon waiting to speak in detail to any of these amendments, as after six hours of debate yesterday, the Minister made no attempt whatever to address any of the detailed points raised by those speaking to Opposition amendments. We do not expect the Minister to agree with us, but we expect him at least to do us the courtesy of addressing what we have bothered to say, not just on behalf of our constituents, but on behalf of civic society and so on. That is how democratic scrutiny works.
There is no point in Government Members banging on about the sovereignty of this Parliament when the Government ignore most or all of the substantive points raised by Opposition Members during legislative scrutiny. That is not how a Bill Committee is supposed to work, and I appeal to the Minister to remember his duties not just to the Government and his political party, but to this Parliament and the constitution of this so-called parliamentary democracy. The way we are legislating in this House at the moment is an absolute disgrace. A Bill Committee is supposed to be line-by-line scrutiny. This fairly lengthy Bill raises huge issues in respect of our international legal obligations, as well as huge moral issues, but we have not conducted anything like line-by-line scrutiny.
If I am supposed to keep my comments to 10 minutes, I will barely scrape the surface of the amendments that I have tabled, which have not been dreamt out of thin air, but are informed by detailed legal scrutiny of the Bill by the lawyers who advise my Committee. Many of the amendments are informed by the existing unanimous report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill of Rights. This Bill sneaks in some of the things that were going to be in the Bill of Rights.
Yesterday, I spent a long time addressing in some detail the legal reasons, under reference to the convention and case law of the European Court of Human Rights, why it would breach the convention for the Government to ignore interim orders of the Court. I also explained how very rarely interim orders are passed in respect of the United Kingdom. The Minister just completely and crassly ignored every single point I sought to make. Frankly, his behaviour in failing to address any of the Opposition amendments makes a mockery of this Parliament and it makes a mockery of all their singing and dancing and fuss about the sovereignty of this Parliament.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) set out a compelling argument about the sovereignty of this place, but I share the hon. and learned Lady’s concern that I think that speaks to an earlier time of how laws were made, when it was done in a far a more leisurely way, and when this place made far fewer laws and took its time. There were no programme motions, and people could take as long as they wished to. I take her point entirely, and does that not speak to the importance of scrutiny in the other place, but also of some oversight of the courts, so that if there is error in our lawmaking, the courts can point it out and we can rectify it, as and where necessary? I fundamentally agree with the point that she makes about the importance of court oversight.
Order. Before the hon. and learned Lady responds, I would just say that I gave some guidance. As she knows, it is not possible to impose a time limit, but guidance was to try to get in as many people as possible.
I am very grateful to you for making that clear, Dame Rosie.
Just to answer the hon. Gentleman’s points, yes, I do think that in our civilised, balanced, modern democracy, in which we have proper separation of powers, the role of the courts is very important, but the role of this Chamber is also very important. I am not too bothered about the other place. It is not elected; it does not represent people. I got elected—I went to the trouble of getting elected three times—to represent my constituents, and what I have to say about this Bill is an awful lot more important than what some unelected peer has to say. I say that with all due respect to many of the peers who I think do a fantastic job in trying to fill in the holes of the absolutely appalling way in which the Government seek to pilot legislation through this Parliament.
I fear I was not clear, because I was trying to support the hon. and learned Lady in what she was saying. I referenced the other place as, in a bicameral system, those in the second House provide time to reflect and give us their views, which can then consider again. However, the fundamental point, on which I thought or hoped was helpfully agreeing with the hon. and learned Lady, was the point she makes, as do others, about the importance of being able to have court oversight because we are inclined to rush our legislation in this place. Therefore, if we do get things wrong—we are only human, after all—it is important to have space for the courts to reflect, to hear evidence, and to advise and guide.
I know the hon. Gentleman was trying to assist me, and I agree with him that court scrutiny is important—of course I do; I am a lawyer—but I am not going to let the Government off the hook on the absolutely woeful scrutiny that goes on, week in and week out, in this place. I am totally in favour of the bicameral system. When Scotland eventually becomes independent, which I hope will be during my lifetime, I would like to see a bicameral system in Scotland, because I like to see checks and balances, and I do not like Governments who throw their weight about and do not allow proper legislative scrutiny. That is my point and why I am spending some time on it now, because the way this has been conducted is, frankly, a disgrace. It really is a disgrace.
I am very grateful that the hon. and learned Lady is raising these points because, as the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, I know that we were very keen to carry out some prelegislative scrutiny of the Bill to assist the House when it came before us, but that was not possible because it had to be rushed through, it seems, so we have had no opportunity to have evidence sessions or to do any of the work that would really help the Government. Why are the Government so frightened of proper scrutiny of this Bill, which we all recognise is so important?
I agree with the right hon. Lady, and I can tell her why the Government are afraid of proper scrutiny. It is because proper line-by-line scrutiny of this Bill would illustrate that it breaches our international obligations under the ECHR, breaches our obligations under the refugee convention and breaches our obligations under the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking. That is to mention just three, but there is also the international convention on the rights of the child, and I could go on and on. That is why they do not want the scrutiny. What really infuriated me yesterday was that, when some of us were actually trying to make arguments based on evidence and the law, the Minister was far more interested in parroting the populist slogans coming from his Back Benchers, which really had no basis in law and no basis in evidence, than in addressing the amendments we are trying to make.
I will spend a bit of time talking about the amendments I have tabled, because I think they are important. It is not just that I think they are important, but they reflect issues that have been widely raised in briefings from home-based organisations, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Law Society of England and Wales, and the Law Society of Scotland. I assure Conservative Members that the Law Society of Scotland is not a bastion of lefty lawyers—I wish it was, but it is not.
Amendment 1 would prevent section 3 of the Human Rights Act from being disapplied under the Bill, because if that happens, the courts will be prevented from interpreting the Bill to avoid human rights incompatibilities in provisions, unless those provisions are ambiguous. The court will then be far more likely to issue declarations of incompatibility instead—[Interruption.] I notice that, despite everything I have said, the Minister is now conducting a lengthy and casual conversation with the chap sitting beside him. This is not how we should be conducting ourselves in this place. In my previous job, if I sat and held a conversation with the barrister or advocate sitting beside me when the other advocate was speaking, I would have got a telling off from the judge. It is nothing to do with me; it is wholly disrespectful to the process of parliamentary scrutiny. This is really important.
The Human Rights Act was passed by this Parliament. All responses to the Government’s consultation on the Bill of Rights, and the vast majority of responses to the consultation by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill of Rights, showed that people thought section 3 of the Human Rights Act was working well, and that it does not undermine parliamentary sovereignty because it can be brought into play only where provisions are ambiguous. Despite all that evidence and scrutiny, the Government want to go ahead with disapplying section 3 of the Human Rights Act in the Bill, and by tabling amendment 1, I want to know the basis for that. How can the Government be so confident that their view is right when it is in direct opposition to the weight of responses to their own consultation and the responses to my Committee? We all know the answer. They are not confident that their view is right; they just want to drive it through on a wave of populist rhetoric.
Amendment 123 would seek to ensure that the United Kingdom will comply with its obligations under article 31 of the Refugee Convention. The Government have not explicitly addressed the Bill’s compatibility with that convention in the documents that accompany the Bill, but I understand that their argument is that protections under the refugee convention apply only to those who fall within the group of those who cannot be penalised under article 31—that is those who “come directly” to the United Kingdom. The Government rely on that phrase to justify their interpretation that asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, as reflected in clause 2(5), which states,
“a person is not to be taken to have come directly to the United Kingdom from a country in which their life and liberty were threatened…if, in coming from such a country, they passed through or stopped in another country outside the United Kingdom where their life and liberty was not so threatened.”
In practice, that would exclude any asylum seeker who travels to the UK by any means other than a direct mode of transport from the persecuting state, and that is clearly not the intention of the refugee convention.
The Government’s definition of coming “directly” as set out in clause 2(5) is inconsistent with the interpretation of article 31 of the refugee convention, as set out by experts assembled by the UNHCR in 2001. Following analysis of the travaux préparatoires, they concluded that the drafters of the refugee convention
“only intended that immunity from penalty should not apply to refugees who found asylum or were settled, temporarily or permanently, in another country.”
The Government’s position is also inconsistent with the similar interpretations of article 31 made by the English High Court in the case of R (Adimi and others) v. CPS and Secretary of State for the Home Department. The interpretation was discussed by the House of Lords, by no less than Lord Bingham, who confirmed, in another case, involving Asfaw, that “a short stopover” in another country on the way to claiming asylum in the UK does not preclude reliance on article 31 of the refugee convention. So there is binding authority from the highest court in England that the Government’s interpretation of article 31 of the refugee convention is wrong.
It is also noteworthy that the interpretation of “coming directly” in the Bill is much stricter than the interpretation set out in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which states that individuals will not be considered to have come directly only if they “stopped” in another country and could not reasonably have been expected to claim asylum there. It is therefore worthy of comment that the Government have substantially altered their understanding of the legal meaning of a well-established international treaty in the space of a year on the basis, I think, that they are trying to say there is some sort of evolving interpretation. But if we look at the interpretation by both our domestic courts and in the convention, the Government are wrong and the interpretation I set out is correct.
Amendment 124 removes the prohibition for the first 28 days of detention on the grant of immigration bail by the first-tier tribunal and the ouster of judicial review detention. I will not go into the detail of that because it is quite complicated, but the Government’s contention that to fall back on habeas corpus would fulfil our article 5 commitments under the ECHR is highly dubious. I hope the Minister, or perhaps his boss the Home Secretary, will come before my Committee so that we can discuss these matters in a bit more detail than we are able to do today.
Amendments 125 to 127 are designed to ensure that the disapplication of modern slavery provisions extend only in accordance with the Council of Europe’s convention on action against trafficking. That has been spoken to in some detail already by a couple of Conservative Members, so I will not take up more time talking about that.
I want to end with one or two other comments. During the debate, several hon. Members spoke about the plight of women in Iran and Afghanistan. I am not really quite sure how the Government think a woman who is fleeing the persecution of women in Iran or Afghanistan can come legally to this country, particularly in the case of Iran. I would be really interested to hear the answer to that, because it concerns me that clause 2(4) states:
“The third condition is that, in entering or arriving as mentioned in subsection (2), the person did not come directly to the United Kingdom from a country in which the person’s life and liberty were threatened by reason of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
I just wonder why sex is missing from that list. Some of the most serious persecution going on in the world today is against women on the grounds of their sex. I mentioned Afghanistan and Iran. We also know about the weaponisation of rape against women in war zones. People talk about Ukraine, but it is happening in Africa all the time.
Amendment 2, in the name of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), adds the word “gender” to that list, but I think the word should be “sex”. Gender is a social construct. These women are not being persecuted on the basis of a social construct; they are being persecuted on the basis of their sex. Something on which I think the Minister and I can agree is that the United Kingdom should be very alive in its global outreach to protect women’s rights, so I ask the Government to consider adding sex to that list.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said that we should add sexual orientation to that list. I completely agree with her on that because of what has happened in Uganda in particular, but there are many other countries in the world where it is not legal to be gay. It is not legal to be gay in Iran. They still hang people from cranes in Iran for being gay. So I think we need to think about that. The Minister may say that membership of a particular social group is traditionally interpreted to include LGB and trans people, but it does not include sex. We need to add sex to the list and be clear that it includes LGBT people as well. I will just leave it there for now.
I rise in support of new clauses 22 and 27 tabled by the shadow Front Bench. Just before my election last year, the Nationality and Borders Act became law. The Government claimed that it would resolve the asylum backlog, with the then Home Secretary promising a
“long-term plan that seeks to address the challenge of illegal migration head on.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 445.]
Here we are, nearly a year on, with no real progress on tackling this crisis. In fact, things have only got worse.
I strongly welcome new clause 22, which would enshrine the Home Secretary’s accountability in law. It would require her to regularly report on how her Department is eliminating the huge backlog of cases. It should not be a controversial amendment. The initial decision backlog has increased by 60% compared with 2021, rising to a record high of 160,000. Shockingly, less than 1% of last year’s claims from those arriving on small boats have been decided. We would not think so given the Home Secretary’s rhetoric, but asylum delays are getting even longer and the Home Office is taking 10,000 fewer decisions a year than in 2015. That has led to a record number of asylum seekers being housed long term in hotels and contingency accommodation.
That brings me to new clause 27. Some 37,000 people now reside in hotels, at a staggering cost to the taxpayer of £5 million every day. Decisions are still being made to use more. Local authorities, which have already faced significant funding cuts under successive Conservative Governments, are having those proposals forced on them without any say. That is the story in my own constituency. Two hotels are currently being used to accommodate asylum seekers, with plans for a third. New clause 27 would finally tackle this issue, placing a legal requirement on the Home Office to consult the local authority when considering new sites. Increasingly cash-strapped councils are having to step in to provide intensive support for vulnerable asylum seekers. They cannot plan to do that if there is no interaction with the Home Office.
There is no doubt that the asylum system is in chaos, and that this is a mess of the Conservative Government’s making. Tory MPs who vote against new clause 27 tonight will make the situation even worse for our councils. We need new clauses 22 and 27 for some much needed accountability, because of this Government’s woeful track record: promising to speed up claims, but delivering the opposite; promising to end the use of hotels, but instead seeing their use soar; and promising to return those deemed inadmissible, but returning only 21 people. We cannot accept yet another Bill that promises to do one thing but in practice does the opposite. That why I support new clauses 22 and 27, for accountability and transparency.
It will surprise no one to know that the Liberal Democrats will eventually vote against the Bill. In Committee it feels as if we are polishing the absurd. We do not want to do it, and we do not want to be talking about this Bill. That is not the same as saying that we do not want to solve these problems.
I would like to start by trying to take a little of the heat out of the issue if I can. The suggestion that Members on the Opposition Benches do not want to tackle the small boats problem is categorically not true. I have heard no one on the Opposition Benches say that they agree that a criminal should be allowed to stay here. No one here is defending the traffickers or not supporting the Home Office in deporting people who deserve to be deported. In fact, we are saying that the Home Office should be doing it better and faster. We should start by recognising that.
We should also recognise that this Bill is partly about the local elections. People have asked, “Why are the Government so scared of scrutiny?”. I do not think they are; I think they just want to get the Bill out now, because otherwise it will not make the printers for the local election leaflets that will drop in the next few weeks. I am sorry to be cynical, but that, I think, is what is happening here.
The problem is that the big issues that need tackling are enormous, and I wish that the Government would grapple with them. I found myself agreeing with the Home Secretary—it felt uncomfortable—when she said that the first issue is the global factors that are pushing people around the world: climate change and instability, which has increased over the past 20 years. A combination of those two things is the cause of global migration. Most people do not seek to leave their region. Many of them do not speak another language, for example. The majority of refugees are not even in Europe but in next-door countries. Just look at what has happened recently in the disaster zones in Syria and Turkey; they want to be in the surrounding areas. Then there is this tiny number that are coming over here in small boats, and boy do we not want that to happen. No one here wants that, so let us start with that point.
However, I put it to the Government that doing things such as reducing our aid spend from 0.7% to 0.5% or going backwards in any way on any of our climate change commitments will not help that aim. I also put it to them that they are partly responsible for this issue. It is about Home Office inefficiency. They want to blame the pandemic, but it is not just about that. It started before then and it has become worse and worse. The pandemic worsened the situation, but the Government need to accept that inefficiency is fundamentally part of the problem. There is a managerial aspect to this issue that needs to be addressed.
I will focus my remarks on something very local. I start by putting on the record my thanks to the Minister for meeting me about my concerns about Campsfield House, a detention centre in Kidlington which the local community campaigned to close. It was shut down in 2017 entirely due to a Government plan to reduce the size of the detention estate, but now the plan is to reopen it. I will get to my key points in a moment, but the main thing to remember is that there are people inside these centres. I cannot convey what they feel as well they can, so I want to tell Allan’s story.
Allan was a refugee from Uganda who came to the UK and stayed at Campsfield House. He said:
“I was imprisoned in Campsfield for 9 months, though I did not know how long I would be held. One of the hardest parts of the detention is the uncertainty of not knowing how long you will be there. While you are there you are not treated like a human. Conditions at Campsfield were at times inhumane, with people resorting to hunger strikes, self-harm, and tragically even suicide.
You are given a number and referred to by that number rather than your name. When you meet people from outside the centre, you are perceived and treated as if you are a risk to society—a dangerous criminal—when all you are trying to do is reach safety and build a life.
While I was at Campsfield I saw many people struggle to cope with depression and a system designed to break people down. My way of coping was to join a legal reading group, where we taught ourselves immigration law and supported each other to appeal against our detention. I was eventually released from Campsfield in February 2015 when my legal battle was successful.
I was granted refugee status later that year, and I have since returned to being a carer in the community. My daughter is now at university”.
Treated like a criminal, referred to by a number—that is the reality that I worry we are going back to.
I have had assurances from the Minister that things will not be like that, but I am yet to see anything concrete in the plans for Campsfield to suggest that. The horrible things that happened to those individuals leak out into the community. Every time we have a suicide, it is in the Oxford Mail, and my worried constituents write to me about the situation. While people may not be concerned right now, the proliferation of detention in this way will have a negative impact on my community. It also has an impact on the third sector and on my constituency casework—and I will take on those cases, because Oxford is proud to be a city of sanctuary.
I am an MP who will help those people regardless, because I think it is our job, but that is not going to solve the problem. If everyone who crossed the channel last year had been detained for 28 days, we would have had 9,161 people to house; Campsfield will house 400 and Haslar in Gosport can house another 600. The cost is eye-watering: Campsfield costs £170 million. I put it to the Minister that surely that money would be better spent on 700 Home Office caseworkers to process claims and make a dent in the backlog. I welcome the fact that the Government have started to do so; I do not understand why it took so long, but let us do more. Let us employ even more, because that is the answer.
If we are to have 1,000 more in detention, what will our new baseline detention rate be? How many people are we planning to have? What are we trying to do? Surely we want as many people processed and deported as quickly as possible. I am with the Minister when he wants to find the criminals. I am with the Government when they want to work out who should not be here and send them back, but I am so worried that that is not what will happen, because we have indefinite detention in this country. We are the only country in Europe that has it. My experience, having been the MP for an area with a detention centre, is that we do not keep to the 28 days, as we should. We do not even keep it to months; some people were there for five years.
I am afraid that I have no faith in this Government to deliver an efficient asylum system that will help those people. Let us focus on what they can get right, let us stop the political posturing and let us stop forgetting that these are real human beings. I genuinely think that on child detention, we are on the wrong side of history. It is a stain that it ever happened; it is a stain that it happens now. The fact that one third are children should be enough for the Minister to turn around and say that we will have a “do no harm” principle and assume that everyone is a child until proven otherwise. I do not want a single child to be held in detention, and I am rather shocked that the Government do not feel the same.
I apologise for not being here earlier this afternoon. I had to go to the Liaison Committee’s meeting with the Prime Minister.
I want to start by following up on a point made by the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). In yesterday’s sitting, the issue of children and child refugees was raised more than 40 times by hon. Members across this Committee of the whole House. Many described their deep concern about how child refugees will be treated under the Bill. I have a great deal of respect for the Minister, but unfortunately he did not mention children once in his very short closing speech yesterday. It lasted just 13 minutes, which with 70 amendments before the Committee yesterday translates to about 10 seconds per amendment.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West that the lack of scrutiny of the Bill is a huge concern, especially considering the importance of the issues, the fact that the Government did not take up the Home Affairs Committee’s offer of pre-legislative scrutiny, the lack of evidence sessions, the large sweep of amendments tabled, the rushed process of introduction and the lack of any impact assessment. I hope that we will get a much more detailed and productive response from the Minister this evening.
I have tabled 10 amendments in this group, which essentially fall under one umbrella: protection for refugee children. All my amendments have the full support of the Children’s Commissioner and some arise from recommendations in the Home Affairs Committee’s small boats report, which we published last year.
I turn first to amendment 295. The Government have excluded unaccompanied children from the removal provisions in the Bill. We know that children will often have made very difficult and perilous journeys, probably at the hands of traffickers or smugglers. However, the Bill will oblige the Home Secretary to remove those unaccompanied children from the United Kingdom when they turn 18.
In the year ending September 2022, the UK received 5,152 applications for asylum from unaccompanied children. Many of them came from Sudan, a country facing political instability following years of civil war, where child marriage is rife for girls as young as 10. Under the Bill, a 13-year-old Sudanese girl, for example, could claim asylum in the UK, be placed in the care of a local authority and be fostered, spend five years at school, make friends, learn English, get an education, build a life and become a member of society, only to face removal on her 18th birthday. If that were allowed to happen, the Home Office would be removing a young woman who had built her life here and might only know this country as home. The Bill also dramatically increases the risk of children fleeing the system and disappearing before their 18th birthday, in the knowledge that they face certain removal. My amendment would not grant an automatic right for these children to remain in the United Kingdom; it would simply prevent their mandatory removal when they become adults, so that each case can be decided on an individual basis.
Turning to amendments 299 and 301, the Children’s Commissioner has raised concerns that under clause 3, the Home Secretary will still have the power to remove unaccompanied children. The explanatory notes state that this power will be used only in exceptional circumstances, but there is no further detail in the Bill about what that means. I tabled amendment 299 to establish the right of an unaccompanied child who makes a protection claim—including a claim to be a victim of slavery and human trafficking, as set out in section 69 of the Nationality and Borders Act—to have that claim considered before potential removal. I have also added my name to amendment 121, tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, which would strengthen the position further.
Although clause 5(4)(a) goes some way towards protecting such people by stopping their removal if they make a protection claim or a human rights claim, it is dependent on subsection (4)(b), which relies on the Secretary of State’s considering this to be an exceptional circumstance. I understand that such a power is likely to be used in respect of unaccompanied children from a country listed in new section 80AA(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, under clause 50.
Without my amendment, the Home Secretary would, for example, decide the right of a 14-year-old unaccompanied asylum-seeking child from Albania to remain in the UK. Over recent months, there has been a growing view that Albanian boys are not in need of protection on their arrival in the UK. In fact, they are exceptionally vulnerable, having often been trafficked here without proper protection and pushed into forced labour or criminality. Again, hanging the threat of removal over these children’s heads is a guaranteed way of ensuring that those who arrive here unaccompanied will try to go it alone—run away from care, and slip out of the system and into the arms of traffickers and abusers. Therefore, amendment 301 goes further by removing the power of the Secretary of State to make arrangements for the removal of an unaccompanied child.
The Home Affairs Committee’s report on channel crossings, produced last year, raised grave concerns about the Home Office’s record of safeguarding children, from failures to identify vulnerable children through screening and assessments to failures of communication when transferring safeguarding responsibilities from one agency to another. There is also the disastrous and unforgivable failure of children going missing on the Home Office’s watch.
I greatly fear that the Home Office is simply not up to the job of keeping children safe and secure. That is why I ask the Minister to reconsider clauses 15 and 16, which set out how the Home Office would accommodate a child and would be given safeguarding responsibilities that currently sit with a local authority. These clauses are incredibly thin when it comes to such an essential issue as safeguarding children, and they make no provision for the state of the accommodation to be provided. Will the accommodation be regulated, which body will inspect it, how will decisions be made, and what support will be available for these children?
The Children’s Commissioner has made it clear that she does not believe that the Home Office is the right body to oversee the safeguarding of children, and I completely agree. That is why I have supported amendments 143, 144 and 145, tabled by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), to ensure that our current statutory time and location restrictions on the detention of unaccompanied children and children with families are not disregarded.
I also want to speak about clause 14, which would remove the role of the independent family returns panel in the removal process. The independent family returns panel plays a vital role in safeguarding families and children from harm while awaiting removal, and in ensuring that they are returned to a country that is safe. It was introduced by the coalition Government to end the detention of children and provide advice on the welfare and safeguarding aspects of removal arrangements made for families. The “duty to remove” provisions proposed in the Bill will mean that the IFRP’s overseeing of the handling of families at ports will become essential. If the Government are going to take us back a decade in safeguarding measures, will they please think again and put some mitigations in place, and will they please remove clause 14?
On the specific issue of removal provisions in the Bill regarding children and their families, I have tabled amendments 304 and 306. Under clause 30, a person who has ever met the four conditions relating to removal from the UK would forever be ineligible for any route to British citizenship. It seems completely wrong that this applies to children who, by the nature of their age, are not making these decisions or journeys by themselves. It cannot be fair or reasonable that an eight-year-old child brought to the UK illegally by their parents should be ruled as ineligible for citizenship for life. That is illiberal and unjust, and to hold a child responsible for the acts of their parents seems fundamentally wrong. Accepting this amendment would not bestow any rights on a child to claim British citizenship, but it would ensure that nobody’s rights were removed because of the actions of their parents.
Amendment 306 would solidify the rights of a family unit to be considered as a whole, rather than as individuals treated separately by the Home Office, when satisfying the removal provisions in clause 5. This amendment would make it explicitly clear on the face of the Bill that family members arriving in the United Kingdom would be removed only if it was safe for all family members to be removed to the same country. That would mean that a father or husband would not be removed to a country listed in the schedule as safe for men if it was not safe for all members of the family unit, including a wife and daughters.
I want to turn now to my amendments that build on the recommendations in the Home Affairs Committee’s report on small boats, which were obviously reached on a cross-party basis. Our report found specific and serious concerns about child protection, including in the practice of placing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels, which has led, as we know, to hundreds of children disappearing. Currently, a child’s asylum application will take on average 550 days. That is 100 days longer than an adult’s application, and the issue of age verification and assessment is a very live one, with cases of children often being mistaken for adults. The Committee therefore recommended that the Government commission an independent review of children’s experiences of the asylum system, including an examination of the support needs of young asylum seekers—including failed asylum seekers—and refugees up to the age of 25. I know that the Government are committed to securing the welfare of unaccompanied children and young adults in the asylum system, so I look forward to the Minister responding, hopefully positively, to new clause 14.
The Committee’s report included many witness testimonies on the significant lack of support for vulnerable children who are left to navigate the asylum system alone, often with language and cultural barriers. That must be a terrifying and scarring experience for many of those children and young adults, so new clause 15 introduces a provision for each child to be provided with an independent child trafficking guardian. These provisions are already in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and would ensure greater consistency across the whole of the country and deliver independent legal guardianship to all separated children here in the UK. The Children’s Commissioner fully supports this amendment based on the Home Affairs Committee’s recommendation, and I hope that the Minister will do so too. While acknowledging the productive work the Government are doing with the French authorities, I ask the Minister to consider new clause 16, which would integrate the Select Committee’s recommendation that trained child protection workers should work directly with vulnerable child migrants on the French coast.
New clause 33 is incredibly simple and would firmly establish the right of any child to claim asylum. I agree completely with the Children’s Commissioner that children should continue to be allowed to claim asylum, however they arrived here. No vulnerable child should be turned away because of where they were born, because of decisions made by their parents or because of the actions of traffickers or smugglers. I cite the example of an Iranian boy who was trafficked to the UK alone. He believed his family had been killed, he had no concept of what England is and he had no English language, but he had been trafficked here by criminals. Under this unamended Bill, he would not be eligible to apply for leave to remain in the UK. I acknowledge that the Government want to stop the criminal gangs behind the small boats, but they must not do so by refusing to deal with such cases. A child can never, and should never, be used as a battering ram to punish criminals—it is just not right.
Establishing a safe and legal route for refugee children, akin to the Dubs amendment, or fulfilling the rights children had under the Dublin agreement, would go a long way towards ensuring that they do not fall into the hands of traffickers. I therefore tabled new clause 32, on refugee family reunion for unaccompanied children, in line with the Home Affairs Committee’s recommendations in both 2018 and 2022. This amendment would establish safe passage for unaccompanied refugee children to be reunited with a family member who has already been granted leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom, just as they had before the UK left the EU.
Without a safe and legal route to be reunited with their loved ones, children with family in the UK, who could have otherwise offered them a home and an opportunity for a normal life, will likely turn to traffickers and people smugglers. We cannot leave unaccompanied or separated children alone in camps or in other countries where they have no support system and where they are vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, criminality and worse.
The Bill, in its current form, does nothing to protect refugee children. The Minister did not mention children yesterday, yet there are children out there whom we can and must help and whose voices are missing from this Bill. I hope he will look closely at my amendments and ensure that the rights of refugee children are firmly protected.
I declare my registered interest as chairman of the safeguarding board of a children’s group.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), the Chair and fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee. I agree with many of her observations, particularly on the recommendations that have come out of various Home Affairs Committee reports.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the specific conundrum in which children—perhaps even babies—who are brought here by their parents, clearly beyond their own power if they are very young, will fall foul of the proposed regulations because they have entered illegally. They will effectively carry a black spot for life, through no making of their own. What would happen if that baby, when he or she grows up, marries a UK citizen? They would effectively not be able to come to their spouse’s country of origin.
These are not completely hypothetical scenarios. They are very real problems that could occur. I was about to say that we should not throw the baby out with the bath water, because the Bill has unintended consequences that could seriously harm a young person’s prospects, for a crime they had no part in committing.
I want to speak for a rather shorter time than I did yesterday, because I will focus on two aspects—how children are still able to be deported as children, and the problems around detention. I think there is a problem in the Bill with trying to adultify children. I acknowledge that there is a difficult situation regarding families and I have concerns about their treatment, but I have also seen—as has the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—cases of people smugglers using children by matching them up with supposed relatives, so that they can come across. When we were last in Dover, we saw such a case; the supposed uncle and the child did not even speak the same language. We have to be cognisant of the fact that these criminals will use children to try to help the passage of other people who are paying them large quantities of money.
I am absolutely in favour of a much more robust and efficient age verification system, because it is a safeguarding issue. We have seen instances of people claiming to be children, who later turn out to be adults and who have actually attended school alongside school-age children—in positions of responsibility, alongside children. This is an important safeguarding issue. Many other European countries already have age verification techniques, which involve various medical interventions. We need to look seriously at age verification if we are to get this one right—but, again, it is a sensitive issue.
I have a good deal of sympathy with the concerns regarding the impact on modern day slavery legislation, which were mentioned by my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). I hope the Minister will look carefully at how we can preserve those principles while clamping down on some abuses that may have been happening.
Let me concentrate on amendments 139 to 145—those in my name and the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends—which would amend clauses 2, 3, 7 and 11.
My hon. Friend made some very good points yesterday. Will he confirm how happy he was with the Minister’s confirmation that safe and legal routes would, “if necessary”, be brought forward
“with our intention being to open them next year”
“launching the local authority consultation on safe and legal routes at the same time”?—[Official Report, 27 March 2023; Vol. 730, c. 777.]
Does that give him and those of us who supported his amendment the reassurance needed on that score?
Sir Roger, if I do too much back-jobbing to yesterday’s business, I am sure you will call me out of order, but let me tell my hon. Friend that there were some intensive discussions with the relevant bodies to get assurances. They were on the basis that I need to see some fairly convincing and robust action in the next few weeks before we get to Report, otherwise we will revisit those amendments and new clauses with a vengeance then. I have given the Government the benefit of the doubt at this stage, so I hope we can work constructively to achieve what I think the Prime Minister wants to achieve. It is what he has put on record that he wants to achieve, but some of us want to see more urgency and some clear undertakings on the face of the Bill.
That was yesterday’s business; let us return to today’s business. I do not intend at this stage to force my amendments to a vote, but I do want some assurances from the Minister. These are very important principles regarding very vulnerable children, and I want to see some concrete action when it comes to proceedings on Report. Frankly, if we do not get that, as with my case yesterday for safe and legal routes, the Bill will be much less easy to defend, and much more vulnerable to being pulled apart in another place and by lawyers. I want the Bill to go through, but I want it to be a balanced Bill that can work and that does not fall at the first hurdle.
The clauses that I am concerned with are those that place a duty on the Home Secretary to remove people, and those with an impact on children and that contain details on removal procedures. I am also concerned with the clause on the powers of detention: here, we must absolutely make sure that we do not adultify children; and they must be subject to the same safeguarding considerations as any other child already legally in the United Kingdom who is taken into custody or subject to some form of restriction on his or her liberty.
It is also worth repeating, and it has been said by several people, that no child rights impact assessment has been undertaken on the Bill, which is of concern. It would benefit the Government if they could back up the legislation with that sort of analysis. We also need justification for the removal of the duty to consult with the Independent Family Returns Panel. Those are the reasons why many children’s organisations and, indeed, the Children’s Commissioner have been vociferous on various aspects of the Bill.
There is also the issue of the Home Office taking over the responsibility of accommodating unaccompanied children, and the Children’s Commissioner has pronounced on that quite firmly. She said in her report:
“It is entirely unclear how these powers would sit alongside Local Authorities duties under s17 of the Children Act 1989 to safeguard any child in their area and take them into their care under s20 if the criteria for doing so are met. The Bill has the potential to make it harder for Local Authorities to fulfil their duties in the Children Act 1989 in relation to ensuring stability for children as their cooperate parent and to protect and support child victims of trafficking and exploitation.”
The Children Act 1989 is clear that local authorities in England have a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in need within their area, which begins as soon as the child is found in the local authority area. This Act applies to all children equally in the United Kingdom regardless of their nationality, their origins, their ethnicity or their immigration status. This has been a grey area, as we have found on the Home Affairs Committee when we have interviewed Ministers previously. Where it has gone wrong is over the placing of children arriving through Dover in certain hotels. There have been cases where Home Office staff have not informed the local authority, which is the legal body in place of the parent, but they have actually placed children there. There is some confusion among Home Office officials over whether it is the Home Office or the local authority that has prime responsibility for deciding whether they are refugees coming here irregularly through Dover, or whether they are coming here on a resettlement scheme through Afghanistan, for example. We just need greater clarity on that. I am afraid that, with the changes here, it does not aid clarity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. In his point about the interaction with the Children Act and Home Office responsibility, this is where we get to the nub of the problem. The characterisation of this debate has become extremely unfortunate, especially when we talk about issues such as detention, which I am sure that, in practice, the Government do not mean. This is really an issue of safeguarding first and foremost and of identifying genuine cases that require all the safeguarding measures that are underpinned by the Children Act. Does he agree that it is a shame, to say the least, that we are not focusing on children in that context, rather than in the context of detention, internment or whatever we want to call it? That language is not helpful.
I shall come on to detention in a minute, but I entirely agree with the principle of the point that my right hon. Friend is making, which is that, whatever we think about our immigration and asylum system, a child should be treated no differently, however he or she arrived in this country, than one who was born here and is in the care of parents or whatever. There are times in the Bill where it is unclear that that is the case.
All these terms need to be subject to the child welfare prioritisation in the Children Act 1989 and also have regard to the 1989 UN convention on the rights of the child of 1989. Under article 3.1, it says that
“the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.
That has been upheld in UK legislation, not least in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
In giving the Home Secretary the power to remove unaccompanied children when they reach the age of 18—and potentially before—the Bill could see a child arriving alone in the UK aged 10, for example, having fled war and persecution, and be allowed to integrate into UK society, develop friendships and attend school only to be forcibly removed from the UK as soon as they turn 18. There are concerns that a child approaching 18, a 17 and three quarters-year-old, could be encouraged to go under the radar and go underground for fear of that knock on the door when they reach 18. We need to treat that sensitively, because otherwise we are creating a greater problem and putting some of those children at greater risk than they might have been. A decade ago, the majority of unaccompanied children were granted temporary leave to remain, rather than refugee status, until they turned 18, and we know that the fear of removal forced many of those children to go underground and go missing, at extreme risk of exploitation.
My amendment 139 inserts a fifth condition in the Bill that must be met on the duty of the Home Secretary to remove someone from the United Kingdom. Amendment 140 details that the additional fifth consideration is that the person to be removed is either over 18 or a minor in the care of an adult, typically a family member. That would have the effect of ensuring that the Bill does not capture unaccompanied children. Amendments 141 and 142 are consequential amendments, due to the rewording of clauses 3 and 7. Amendment 141 removes subsections 3(1) to 3(4), and the anomalies in subsections (1) and (2) that still give the Home Secretary unrestricted powers.
Now, Ministers—[Interruption.] I am not sure if those on the Front Bench want to listen to this, Sir Roger; it is a little difficult to try to make a speech with people having conversations right in front of me. Ministers claim that there are exceptional circumstances only in which children would be removed from the United Kingdom, and have given examples of those exceptional circumstances, such as to reunite a child with family overseas. Okay—but a child who is to be reunited with family overseas can leave the UK of his or her own accord, or subject to the ruling of a judge, in the same way as we would release a child from care into adoption, for example. I do not see that as a necessary exceptional circumstance.
If the Government are really convinced that there are exceptional circumstances where that needs to be done, there should be more detail on the Bill, or at least explanation in the explanatory notes, because there is none. As things stand, the Home Secretary has the power to remove any child, at her whim, for reasons not specified in this Bill. That is a concern. If the Government have good reason for that, we deserve an explanation of those reasons, and it is for this House to judge on how credible and necessary those reasons are.
Under the amendments, children who arrive in the UK on their own and seek asylum would continue to have their asylum claims heard here, rather than being left in limbo until they reached 18 when, under the Bill, they would face detention and then removal. The amendments do not mean that every child who arrives here on their own will go on to get permission to stay. Instead, they mean that the Home Office must process their claims and, crucially, treat them as children rather than punishing them.
Amendments 143 to 145 deal with the issue of detentions and, along with the amendments I have already described, maintain the safeguards that were put in place under Conservative-led Governments to protect children from the harms of immigration detention. In 2009, more than 1,000 children were detained in immigration removal centres but, following changes made by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, over the next decade the average was 132 children per year.
What was more, those children could not be detained for longer than 24 hours if they were unaccompanied, or 72 hours if they were with their family members, extendable to a week if a Minister agreed it was necessary. We then legislated for those limits in the Immigration Act 2014, under a Conservative-led Government. Amendments 143 and 145 ensure that those safeguards continue to apply.
I am not asking for a change in the law; I am just asking that the safeguards that were deemed to be sensible and necessary back in 2014 still apply to the same sort of vulnerable children. They would prevent unaccompanied children from being locked up for more than 24 hours. Amendment 145 would ensure that children who were with their family members could still only be detained for a week at the very most and, when they were, that it would be in specific pre-departure accommodation, rather than anywhere the Home Secretary might wish, as the Bill envisages.
Under clause 11, the Home Secretary has wide powers to detain anyone covered by the four conditions in clause 2, which, without my earlier amendment, still includes unaccompanied children. There is no time limit for how long a child can be detained. That amounts effectively to indefinite detention of children of any age anywhere that the Home Secretary considers it appropriate. Under clause 12, the Home Secretary will have a significantly expanded power to decide what a reasonable length of detention is. It is all subject to the definition of what is reasonably necessary and severely restricts court scrutiny of whether that is reasonable or not. Surely that cannot be right for children. I am not seeking to challenge the increased restrictions on adults, but surely we are not going to throw all that out of the window—particularly after all the controversy on how we age-appropriately detain children who are already in this country—by adultifying migrant children, and some very vulnerable children at that.
There is also a practical consideration. If everyone who crossed the channel last year had been detained for 28 days, on 4 September 2022, no fewer than 9,161 people, including children, would have been detained. That amounts to four times the current detention capacity available in the United Kingdom. Where do the Government intend physically to place them—especially minors who need to be in age-appropriate accommodation?
I am also concerned about how the four Hardial Singh principles from 1983 apply to this part of the Bill. Those principles are that a person may be detained only for a period that is reasonable in all the circumstances, and that, if it becomes apparent that the Home Secretary will not be able to effect removal or deportation within a reasonable period, she should not seek to exercise the power of detention. The Government have to make up their mind about the grounds on which they think they need to detain children. Again, I understand the sensitivities—people claiming to be children may later turn out not to be and may abscond—but the Government need to have a clear idea about what they will do in a short space of time to justify detention when those people arrive. We do not have that level of detail or clarity in the Bill, so it is entirely incumbent on the Minister to give assurances to the Committee that children will not be disadvantaged in that way.
Amendment 143 would remove the provision enabling a person “of any age” to be
“detained in any place that the Secretary of State considers appropriate”,
and would reapply the existing statutory time and location restrictions on the detention of unaccompanied children. That was good enough in 2014; I do not think that the way we should regard and treat vulnerable children has changed so that we need to change the law through the Bill.
Amendment 145 would remove the provisions that disapply the existing statutory time and location restrictions on the detention of children and their families. I do not think that unreasonable, but if the Government want to take issue with me, it is incumbent on them to say why they want to make the changes. I have gone along with most of the rest of the Bill. I have given the Government the benefit of the doubt on what they are going to do, on the detail that they will provide, and on the timing of safe and legal routes, but we need serious assurances by Report, and, I hope, some good signage from the Minister when he gets to his feet shortly, on why law on protections that children have been entitled to—safeguards that we have been proud to give them—needs to be changed in the way that the Government are proposing.
We all want to do the right thing by vulnerable children. Most of us would like to see safe and legal routes that, as I said yesterday, involve something equivalent to a Dubs II scheme, whereby genuinely unaccompanied minors in places of danger are brought to and given safe haven in the United Kingdom. I want to continue in that tradition. I want to ensure that we are offering safe passage and safe haven to genuinely vulnerable children. I do not want them to be penalised by the wording of the Bill in the way that they could be. I am happy to take assurances, but if I do not get them by Report, I do not think that I will be alone in wanting to press various amendments to force those assurances into the Bill.
This Bill marks a new low for this Government in their continued attempts to treat asylum seekers with cruelty and contempt. As the TUC has made clear, if the Bill passes, it will effectively amount to an asylum ban. It is an attempt by this Government to turn their back on the most vulnerable people who are fleeing war and persecution around the world, and if passed, it will tarnish the reputation of the UK for decades to come.
Under clause 11, the Home Secretary will be given powers to detain children, whether accompanied or not, based on her own conclusions, for however long she deems necessary. What right does the Home Secretary have to judge the most vulnerable groups’ situations and why they have arrived in this country illegally? Why does she get the right to make decisions, while diminishing court jurisdiction and going against laws of welfare and safeguarding? That is exactly what this deplorable Bill will accomplish, promoting not only failure but danger.
It is clear that the Bill will only worsen an already intolerable situation. This Government should not need reminding that asylum seekers crossing over to the UK illegally are often victims of human traffickers who profit from the exploitation of asylum seekers and are responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people crossing the channel. What exactly does the Bill do to help bring those human traffickers to justice? Nothing. In fact, far worse than nothing—the Bill disqualifies victims of human trafficking and modern slavery from the protections and services offered by the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Instead, victims will be threatened with deportation.
It is obvious that in such circumstances, victims will simply not come forward, and human traffickers will get away with the continued exploitation of vulnerable people. By removing these protections and essentially criminalising victims of human trafficking, the Bill will push more and more asylum seekers into the informal economy, where employers will take advantage of their lack of legal status and no recourse to labour market inspectorates. Again, those who profit from human misery and exploitation will go untouched by the Bill, while their victims are made to suffer.
The Bill breaches international law, promotes human rights abuses, has serious implications for the safety of the most vulnerable groups in society, including children, and places an unacceptable amount of power in the hands of someone who has demonstrated that they are incapable of making appropriate decisions. It is for those reasons that I am resolutely opposed to the Bill, as are my constituents in Birmingham, Hall Green and the children at St Dunstan’s Catholic Primary School. It will do lasting damage to the conscience and international reputation of our country. The Bill must be stopped before it does irreversible damage to hundreds of thousands of people who are seeking nothing more than an opportunity to live free from harm.
I start by congratulating Humza Yousaf on becoming Scotland’s new First Minister, and wish him every success in taking Scotland forward to independence. He, of course, comes from a heritage beyond these shores, and that should be a matter of celebration and pride.
Once again, the amendments before us today show that this Bill pleases nobody. Opposition Members are trying on a cross-party basis to restore some basic elements of humanity and decency to the process and make sure that the UK actually continues to have something that resembles an asylum system, but it seems that for many Tory Back Benchers, the Bill does not go far enough: Tory extremists want to make it even more punitive. We see that, for example, in amendment 136, tabled by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who is no longer in his place. Attempting to ban the use of hotels for temporary accommodation is simply gesture politics. It is probably unworkable and is certainly impractical, and is likely to further increase, not reduce, the cost to the taxpayer. I wonder how often the hon. Member and many others who have spoken today have actually met with asylum seekers who are staying in such hotels—who, incidentally, I am happy to consider as constituents of mine who have a voice that needs to be represented in this place.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said, too many Tory Back Benchers speak of asylum seekers as some sort of amorphous, dehumanised blob, which I think is completely inappropriate. The asylum seekers I have met, through the Maryhill Integration Network and elsewhere, do not want to live in hotels: they want to be able to work and contribute to society. The way to get asylum seekers out of hotels is to give them the right to work, the right to earn a living—which, by the way, is another fundamental human right—and to let them pay for their own accommodation and pay tax into the system. At the end of their asylum process, if their claim is rejected, there have always been processes for removal and return; however, if their claim is accepted, they will be much further down the road of community integration, and at far less cost to the taxpayer. Instead, this Bill and the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North will channel yet more money into the hands of outsourcing companies such as Mears and Serco, and many of us will continue to hear stories at our constituency surgeries of substandard and unsuitable accommodation being paid for by taxpayers.
Today’s group of new clauses and amendments really gets to the heart of what the Government say this Bill is trying to achieve. Many of us suspect that what the Government are actually trying to achieve is a fight, first with the House of Lords, then with the Supreme Court and then with the European Court of Human Rights, but much of that was covered yesterday. Clause 2 provides sweeping powers and duties that add up to what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has described as a ban on asylum.
During the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act, many of us asked how the United Kingdom, which is surrounded by water, can ever be the first safe country of arrival for an undocumented migrant, an issue that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) touched on. How can anyone traveling from Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, or practically anywhere else on the globe be expected to meet the third condition in clause 2(4) about not passing through a safe third country? Maybe there is some inventive way that the Minister can tell us about—he has paid so much attention to the debate. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) should not have been surprised that the Minister was having conversations on the Front Bench, because he has spent most of the debate looking at his phone. I do not know whether there has been an update to Angry Birds or Candy Crush, or maybe it is just a particularly difficult Wordle today.
Nevertheless, what are the inventive ways in which people can reach this country without passing through a safe third country? If someone pushes off from the coast of Eritrea, navigates the horn of Africa, sails round the Cape of Good Hope, makes it up the north and south Atlantic ocean without straying into anybody else’s territorial waters and lands on the south coast of England, will they be allowed to claim asylum under clause 2? In fact, will there even be a way of knowing? That person would not even be allowed to make a claim, so when would they get the chance to prove that that was the journey they had undertaken?
In order to mitigate these ridiculous restrictions, the SNP has tabled amendments 186 to 196. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central for humanising the people affected in the way that she did. The amendments would offer protection to people who are under the age of 18; people already determined as refugees under the terms of the refugee convention; people who face discrimination because of their sexual orientation; people who are victims of torture; people who have been trafficked or face slavery; people who have HIV or AIDS; and people who have come from Ukraine or from Afghanistan. Given the outrage we have heard today from sections of the Conservative party about the treatment of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, I hope the Government will be prepared to accept our amendment 189, or they will face the prospect of their Members joining us in the Lobby in support of it later on.
I asked the Minister yesterday, and he did not bother to respond—again, I am not sure he was listening—where the evidence is for the deterrent effect that these powers and the threat of immediate deportation are supposed to have. Why has the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 not had that impact? Should those powers not have already started to work, because the powers in clause 2(3) are backdated to 7 March, when the Bill was introduced? Surely there should already be a slowdown in the number of arrivals. If there is a reduction in arrivals from Albania, it is because of a separate arrangement that the Government have come to. The reality is that this clause and these powers will not have a deterrent effect.
Freedom from Torture identifies four principal reasons for its clients undertaking perilous journeys to reach these shores. One is
“to join family or community that could offer security and support”,
and another is
“because of familiarity with the UK’s language, culture and institutions”.
The UK Government spend thousands, probably millions of pounds promoting those things abroad, saying, “Britain is great. Come and get a Chevening scholarship. Come to the United Kingdom”, except when someone actually tries to apply, they cannot, unless they have an awful lot of money. Another of the reasons is
“the hope of reaching a place where human rights are respected”,
which is certainly ironic given the Bill in front of us and the clauses we are debating today. The final reason is
“a lack of safety in the countries they were passing through.”
There is very little that the Government can do to address any of those pull factors through legislation. Several stakeholders make the point that many arriving here have little or no familiarity with the asylum rules, so the punitive measures in the Bill, particularly the powers in clause 2, will do nothing to change that.
Amendments 174 and 175, which I have tabled, relate more specifically to the debate we heard yesterday about the clauses on safe and legal routes. The amendments would ensure that this House has a meaningful say on what the cap or target for entrants under safe and legal routes should be. The current proposal for a statutory instrument drafted by Ministers with no room for amendment would mean really no say at all. Brexit was supposed to be about parliamentary sovereignty and this place taking back control of decision making, so why Conservative Back Benchers are so keen to hand over powers to the Executive is not clear at all.
I also welcome new clause 29 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). The commitment of Welsh Ministers and Senedd Cymru to making their country a place of sanctuary is hugely encouraging, and she is right to seek to make sure that the clauses in the Bill recognise and do not interfere with that commitment. Perhaps nation of sanctuary status is something that our new First Minister and his team will consider for Scotland, because we already aspire to those ideals, even if we do not use that formal term.
In conclusion, it is worth reflecting that Greek philosophers figured out in about 500 BC that the world was round. That does not seem to have sunk in on the far reaches of the Tory Back Benches. We cannot just keep pushing people away in the expectation that they might fall off a cliff at the edge of a flat earth. If we keep pushing people around the globe, eventually they will come back to us. Migration is a global reality. It is part of human nature. Over the centuries, people had to flee these islands because their crops were devastated by blight or because they were forced from the land to make way for sheep. It is just as well that America, Canada and Australia were not implementing hostile environment immigration policies back then, and it is just as well that we have global treaties and conventions to protect human rights and regulate how refugees and asylum seekers are treated by countries of arrival. That is not for this Government, however.
The exceptionalist attitude displayed by some Tories, which first led to Brexit, and which we see in amendments that have been tabled to the Bill, now stretches beyond the European Union and the Council of Europe to key United Nations frameworks that have sought to keep everyone on this planet safe since the end of the second world war. Withdrawing from those frameworks might be their ambition, but it is not the ambition of people in Glasgow North or people across Scotland. If the Government continue down the road they are going, the international agreement we will be withdrawing from is the Treaty of Union 1707.
Having studied and listened to the entire debate today has only strengthened my resolve that we must oppose this rotten Bill in its entirety. It is inhumane. It is immoral, and it demonises and scapegoats the most vulnerable, desperate people who are fleeing violence, terror and poverty. We should be welcoming them with open arms.
As others have said, I have to express my concern at some of the inflammatory and inaccurate comments by some Conservative Members this afternoon. I also want to reiterate the concerns expressed about the lack of scrutiny: 10 or 12 hours to be considering in excess of 130 amendments is totally unacceptable. Notwithstanding my belief that the Bill should be thrown out in its entirety, I want to set out my concerns about some of the clauses and to speak in support of a number of amendments before the Committee.
The clauses before us create a duty to remove, and powers to make asylum claims inadmissible, to ban appeals by those being held and to make detention the norm. As others have said, the Bill does breach international law, including the refugee convention. I am particularly concerned about the Government’s willingness to conflict with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR’s commentary on the Bill says:
“The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban—extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances.”
In detail on the clauses under the duty to make arrangements for removal, clause 2 aims to place a blanket duty, with limited exceptions, on the Home Secretary to remove people who have entered or arrived in the UK illegally. The Refugee Council has highlighted that
“half of the people who crossed the channel last year came from just five countries with high asylum grant rates.”
The UNHCR has said:
“The Bill creates real and foreseeable risks of direct and indirect”
persecution of people subject to the removal duty. It says:
“Nothing in the Bill makes removal dependent on the receiving country having an effective asylum procedure, or agreeing to admit a person to it.”
That is why I support the spirit of amendment 17 to clause 6, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), which would add an explicit requirement for the Secretary of State to have regard to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. That is something I would recommend the Home Secretary to do on all aspects of the Bill.
Under the theme of inadmissibility of claims and the duty to remove, I completely oppose the clause 4 requirement to treat protection claims from persons subject to the asylum ban as inadmissible with no right to appeal. That must be opposed, and I therefore support amendment 121, tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry).
On detention and bail, clauses 11 to 14, and unaccompanied children, clauses 15 to 20, Detention Action has argued that the Bill dramatically increases the number of people in detention and the length of time they would be detained, and that the Home Secretary is likely to hold people in detention for extremely long periods, far beyond the minimum 28 days that the Bill makes mandatory. I am concerned at the introduction of wide new powers for detaining persons, and the recent discussions about placing asylum seekers in camps on former military sites, presumably to better facilitate their removal. As others have said, the accounts of conditions at Manston in Kent last autumn and also at Penally in my country of Wales stay with me. The overcrowding, lack of facilities and the spread of disease are absolutely appalling. Detention camps are not the solution and are not the approach that we would expect of a civilised country.
I am also concerned that the proposals in this Bill will have severe consequences for the welfare of extremely vulnerable children. Others on the Opposition Benches have eloquently and movingly relayed individual stories of children who have experienced absolutely horrific circumstances. As others have said, and as the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium said, many have gone missing—hundreds have gone missing.
There are many amendments on detention and child asylum seekers that I wish to express my support for, including those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), as well as the new clauses in the names of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). Between them, these would result in an improvement in access to immigration bail, restore limits on detention timeframes and increase the role for external scrutiny on the rights and wellbeing of children.
However, although I will support a number of amendments tonight, for me and many other Members, the Bill in its entirety is unsupportable. The Government are facing a growing backlash to their low-pay and poverty agenda, and the Bill is a tool to try to distract, demonise and divide people, and it seeks to isolate a group of vulnerable people on whom to divert that anger. We will not allow that to happen.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I have just had an email from one of my constituents who works in the health service. She has spoken to me about the immense contribution that has been made by people who have come to this country fleeing persecution, been granted asylum, and are now working in the national health service. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an important point? I have also had people writing to me about how damaging the Bill is to the reputation of this country as a safe haven, and to the values we stand up for.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] Thank you. I would like the Committee to behave like that all the time. It is most discourteous for conversations to be taking place on the Back Benches, particularly among people who have not been in the Chamber for much of the debate. Some of us want to hear what Members have to say.
Thank you, Chair. I appreciate your intervention.
In conclusion, there is an alternative, as is evident from the number of extremely progressive and positive amendments. We must clear the backlog, expand safe routes, and the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), in co-operation with Care4Calais and the Public and Commercial Services Union on safe routes, was excellent. We must be welcoming vulnerable people to what I would describe as a nation of sanctuary.
I will finish by reflecting on the words of the First Minister of Wales. A week or two ago he spoke about,
“the basic belief that, in our brief lives, we owe a duty of care…to our family and friends, but also to strangers”.
He said that that simple belief lies at the heart of
“our ambition to be a nation of sanctuary. To provide a warm welcome to families forced out of their homes…all of those who seek sanctuary from wherever, and however, they may come”
to our shores. Care, compassion, respect, dignity, humanity, inclusivity and kindness—those are the values that I hold dear, and those are the values and principles that we should seek to uphold. This Bill does not do that at all. We must reject it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter). I share her concerns about the Bill, and indeed about the process that we have undergone in scrutinising it.
I want to make three short points. The first and most important one is to try to encourage a little more interest in clauses 30 to 36 that relate to citizenship. They were touched on by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and the former Attorney General, but they are incredibly important and quite alarming. It might seem slightly odd for an SNP MP to be rushing to rescue the concept of British citizenship, but citizenship is vital. It is a source of stability and other rights. Deprivation of citizenship, or blocking people from citizenship, as in the Bill, is something that should be looked at closely and seriously.
Clause 30 is entitled
“Persons prevented from obtaining British citizenship etc”
and it sets all the alarm bells ringing. Subsection (4) states:
“A person (“P”) falls within this subsection if P was born in the United Kingdom on or after 7 March 2023, and either of P’s parents has ever (whether before or after P’s birth) met the four conditions in section 2.”
That unbelievably broad clause means that children, and indeed some adults, will face being blocked from accessing the right to British citizenship not because of their own actions, but because of the actions of their parents, potentially even decades ago. To me that is ludicrous overreach, even if someone is in the space of accepting the Government’s premise of deterrence. In many cases, it could be children born here. One parent could become a British citizen and still that child, born in Britain, could be deprived of their own British citizenship. Or that child could be born here and spend the first 10 years of their life here, and be deprived of their British citizenship just because of the actions of one of their parents, potentially many years previously. It could be a child brought here at a young age and whose entire life has been built here. Surely, even to the Bill’s most ardent supporters, depriving kids of British citizenship because of what one of their parents did is a step too far? That is absolutely wild, but that is precisely what clauses 30 to 36 do and that should be looked at again.
The second point I want to make is on the detention clauses. Like many Members have said today, fewer safeguards and protections with more detentions is another tragic and backward step. Other colleagues have set out most of the key concerns. I just want to repeat the point made on Second Reading and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) today: any idea that the right of habeas corpus, or a petition to the nobile officium in Scotland, makes all of this fine is absolutely preposterous. These are much more limited procedures for challenging detention, confined to questions of authority to detain rather than errors in decision making. They are also infinitely less accessible and speedy compared with a bail application to the tribunal, especially for vulnerable people. This set of clauses is designed to stop people who should be freed from detention being able to secure their release from detention, and nothing else.
My third and final point relates to clause 4 and the permanent state of inadmissibility of claims. This is the problem at the heart of the Bill. It is a permanent ban on making certain claims, which our amendment 294 seeks to address. Permanent inadmissibility means that, over time, thousands of refugees and others who qualify for protection will be left in limbo, because the Government will not have the capacity to remove them all to Rwanda, but also, because of the Bill, quite simply will not be allowed to process and recognise their claims here. Refugees will end up spending year after year after year in hotels or in dismal former military barracks without any hope of being able to move on.
The penny that does not seem to have dropped right across the Committee is that it also means that many who are not refugees will also be left in limbo in the United Kingdom. Again, the Government will not have the capacity to remove them all to Rwanda and, because of this very Bill, the Government will not be able to remove them to their home countries. If you do not process their asylum claims, you cannot—with a few exceptions—remove the person to their home country. That is recognised in clause 5. So thousands of people will also be left in limbo forever. In fact, the Bill almost creates a perverse incentive. If you are an overstayer—one hon. Member spoke about overstayers—probably your best bet is to make an asylum claim and then be left in that permanent state of limbo. It is an absolutely mad Bill. It does not make any sense at all. That, I suspect, is why we have not seen the impact assessment—it will reveal most of that.
The Bill will not solve any backlog. The backlog is going to balloon. More people will be jammed into hotels and military barracks, not fewer. The backlog will essentially just be given a different name: inadmissibility. That is what the Bill achieves and nothing more. A different backlog and incredible cruelty—that is what the Bill is all about and that is all it is ever going to achieve if it is passed.
On a point of order, Sir Roger. I seek your guidance. The Bill is reaching the closing minutes of Committee stage. Last Thursday, in Business questions, the Leader of the House said in answer to my question as to the whereabouts of the Government’s impact assessment of the Bill:
“I have spoken to the Home Office about the impact assessment; it is quite right that we publish it before Committee stage.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2023; Vol. 730, c. 451.]
As the right hon. Lady has previously asserted her strong support for Parliament to have impact assessments in order for colleagues on all sides to scrutinise any Government properly, and I know her to be a woman of her word, I am baffled. I am sure it could not possibly be that the Government have found the impact to be the £3 billion cost to the taxpayer that the Refugee Council found. Sir Roger, could you tell me of any mechanism I can employ, even now, in these closing minutes, to enable, encourage or merely exhort the Minister to publish the Government’s impact assessments?
The shadow Leader of the House has been in the House long enough to know that it is the responsibility of the Government, not the Chair, to publish or not publish Government papers. However, she asked me a question and has placed her point on the record. I am about to call the Minister of State to reply, and he has heard what the hon. Lady has said.
It has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I will not detain the Committee by dwelling on the Government amendments as they are all, essentially, technical in nature. I will instead set out to respond to as many of the amendments and new clauses that have been debated as possible. I take issue with those who said that the Government provided insufficient time to debate. I note that both today and yesterday, the debates have concluded almost an hour before the allocated time.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) has the lead amendment, I will start with some overarching remarks in response to her amendments. I will pick up on some of the points made in the amendments a little later, but I say now that she has a choice. Either we can legislate, as the Government propose, for a coherent and robust scheme that places an unambiguous duty on the Home Secretary to make arrangements for the removal of all those who entered the UK illegally on or after 7 March, with only a single and temporary exception for most unaccompanied children, or we can put into statute a scheme so riven with holes, exceptions and get-out clauses as to make the whole Bill unworkable. We know which of those the hon. Lady wants, but Government Members want to stop the boats, and that is what the Bill sets out to achieve.
I wonder if my right hon. Friend would clarify one point. He just said that the Government will act to deal with all people who have come here illegally. That is not what the Bill does. It has caveats—it deals only with those who have come here illegally through a third safe country. Could he just clarify that?
My right hon. Friend is correct that the Bill does not seek to change the arrangements for those who come here directly and claim asylum from a place of danger. That is an important point and a principle of our long-standing asylum obligations. Let us be honest: the reason we are here today is because of those who pass through safe countries such as France. Last year, 45,000 people crossed the channel in small boats from a place of safety with a fully functioning asylum system. This scheme applies to those individuals, with certain carefully thought through mechanisms to protect those who would be placed in serious or irreversible harm should they be taken to a safe third country. It is essential that we pass this scheme as it is, rather than as the leaky sieve that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central wishes so that she can undermine the intent of this policy.
People do come here directly from places of danger. The hon. Lady is incorrect. We have long-standing arrangements for those people who transit through other countries to come here, so her point is wrong.
The wider issue, which she and I have debated on many occasions, is that we have heard continuously from her and her SNP colleagues a kind of humanitarian nimbyism. They come to this Chamber to say how concerned they are for those in danger around the world, yet they take disproportionately fewer of those very people into their care in Scotland.
Let me turn to the serious questions that have been raised about children. We approach these issues with the seriousness that they deserve and from the point of view that the UK should be caring and compassionate to any minor who steps foot on these shores. These are not easy choices, but the challenge we face today is that large numbers of minors are coming to the United Kingdom at the behest of human traffickers or people smugglers, and we have to deter that. We must break the cycle of that business model.
Since 2019, the number of unaccompanied minors coming to the UK has quadrupled, meaning that thousands of unaccompanied minors have been placed in grave danger in dinghies and then brought to the UK, in some cases to enter the black economy and in others for even more pernicious reasons. I have met those children. I have seen them at Western Jet Foil, and I can tell the House that there is no dignity in that situation. As a parent, seeing children in dinghies risking their lives is one of the most appalling things one could see. I want to stop that. The measures we are bringing forward today intend to stop that.
We are going to do this in the most sensitive manner we can, and the powers that we are bringing forward under the Bill do just that. The duty to make arrangements for removal does not apply to unaccompanied children until they become adults. There is a power, not a duty, to remove unaccompanied children. As a matter of policy, the power to remove will be exercised only in very limited circumstances, such as for the purposes of family reunion, or if they are nationals of a safe country identified in clause 50 and can be safely returned to their home country. It is important to stress at this point that that power is already in law and is used on occasion when an unaccompanied child arrives and we are able to establish arrangements for their safe return. The Illegal Migration Bill simply expands the number of countries deemed safe for that removal.
The Government have accepted that they will be subject to an article 3 investigation to see whether there have been breaches of the Human Rights Act at Manston—basically the treatment of people in inhumane and degrading ways. The Government are resisting that being an independent inquiry. Why not wait until that inquiry happens? Why not learn the lessons of how they got into the mess at Manston before moving forward with this legislation, so that we do not risk again seeing pregnant women and unaccompanied children in the dinghies and in the devastation that the Minister just set out? Why press ahead without learning the lessons of his previous failures?
Nobody could dispute the seriousness with which I took the situation at Manston in the autumn, or dispute that the situation we are in today is incomparably different. Manston is a well-run facility, led by a superb former Army officer, Major General Capps, and we are ensuring that the site is both decent and legal. Responsibility for the failures at Manston in the autumn of last year does not rest with the Government. It does not rest with the people who work at Manston. It rests with the people smugglers and the human traffickers. It was a direct result of tens of thousands of people coming into our country illegally in a short period of time.
I can tell the hon. Lady that the same thing will happen again if we do not break the cycle and stop the boats. More people will come later this year. She knows that the numbers are estimated to rise this year unless we take robust action. That is what this Bill sets out to achieve. If we take this action, fewer people will put themselves in danger and fewer children will be in this situation. That is what I want to see, and I think that is what the British public want to see as well.
On unaccompanied children, may I ask the Minister to address the point I raised about the power in clause 16 for the Secretary of State to remove a child from local authority care, when the Secretary of State does not have powers under the Children Act and the responsibilities that follow? Will he set out the reasons behind that—if not in full now, certainly before Report?
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that comment. As an important aside that relates to other issues he has raised, nothing in the Bill disapplies the Children Act, which will continue to apply in all respects with regard to the children we deal with in this situation. In answer to his particular point, we are taking this power so that in the very small number of judicious cases in which we set out to remove a child, we can take them from the care of the local authority into the responsibility of the Home Office for the short period before they are removed from the country. I have given two examples of situations in which we would use that power, and I will happily give them again. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is concerned about this point.
The first situation is where we are seeking to return a young person to their relatives in another country. I think it is incredibly important that we keep the ability to do so, because that does happen occasionally. It is obviously the right thing to do to return somebody to their mother, their father, their uncle or the support network that they have in another country.
The other situation is where we are removing somebody who has arrived as an unaccompanied minor to another safe country, where we are confident that they will be met on arrival by social services and provided with all the support that one would expect. That happens all the time here with unaccompanied minors; I think the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned, drawing on his experience as a local Member of Parliament around Heathrow, that it happens regularly. It is important that we continue to have that option, because we should not be bringing people into local authority care for long periods in the UK when we can safely return them home, either to their relatives or to their home country, where they can be safeguarded appropriately.
Will the Minister respond to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire)? Where is the impact assessment for the Bill?
The impact assessment will be published in due course.
Let me continue with the points I was making. I return to a question that has been raised on several occasions about our policy on the detention of minors. Let me say, speaking as a parent, that of course we take this incredibly seriously. We do not want to detain children. We have to apply the highest moral standards when we take this decision.
The circumstance in which we would use that power is where there is an age assessment dispute about an unaccompanied minor. It is easy to dismiss that, but it happens all the time. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) was correct to raise his experience as a local authority leader. There are a very large number of such disputes: between 2016 and December of last year, there were 7,900 asylum cases in which age was disputed and subsequently resolved. In almost half of those cases —49%—the people in question were found to be adults.
Where there is a live age assessment dispute, it would be wrong for the Government to place those people in the same accommodation as minors who are clearly children, creating safeguarding risks for them. I am not willing to do that. I want to ensure that those children are properly protected. When I visited our facilities at Western Jet Foil recently, I asked a member of staff who was the oldest person they had encountered who had posed as a minor. They said that that person was 41 years of age! Does anyone in this House seriously want to see a 41-year-old man placed with their children? I do not want to see it, and that is the circumstance in which we are going to take and use these very judicious powers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) raised a number of important points in respect of his amendment on mandatory scientific age assessments. I can say to him that not only are those valid points, but the Government are considering carefully how we should proceed in this regard. The UK is one of the very few European countries that do not currently employ scientific methods of age assessment. In January, the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee published a report on the issue. The Home Secretary and I are giving careful consideration to its recommendations, and I hope to be in a position to say more on Report.
Referring to an amendment on this subject—to which, in different ways, other Members on both sides of the House also referred—my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) spoke of the frustration that he feels, and the British public feel, about the number of asylum seekers currently accommodated in hotels. It is absolutely right that we clear the hotels as soon as possible. The Government share the frustration of the general public, which is why the Home Secretary and I have set out intensively to seek more sustainable answers to the situation, and we will be saying more about that in the coming days.
I have constituents who have been waiting for 20 months in a hotel for the Home Office to conduct a substantive interview. Others have been waiting for 16 months, 18 months, two years or 40 months. If the Home Office processed those people, they would have no need to be in hotels.
We are doing that. That is the plan that the Prime Minister set out in December, on which we are already making good progress.
Let me say two further things to the hon. Lady. First, the only way to reduce the number of people in the system is to stop the boats. No system, even the most efficient system in the world, could cope with 45,000 people breaking into our country against our laws and then seeking asylum. Secondly, the hon. Lady knows that the way to get people out of hotels is for all parts of the United Kingdom to step up and provide the accommodation that is required, but she and her SNP colleagues consistently decline to do that.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) made a thoughtful and important point in his amendment 283, relating to the citizenship provisions in the Bill. I note his concerns, and we will reflect on them and come back to him. I look forward to engaging with him, but let me make this point. There is a route towards entering the United Kingdom, even for someone who, at some earlier stage, had entered illegally and been caught by the provisions of the Bill. We specifically included that to ensure that we continue to meet our international law obligations.
My right hon. and learned Friend was right to say that there is a different route and standard with respect to achieving citizenship. The reason that we did that was our belief that British citizenship is a special privilege which is not something that should be given lightly, but that if someone breaks into our country and breaches our laws, there should be a higher standard to be applied before that person gains citizenship of our country.
Order. Twenty-seven Members have taken part in the debate this afternoon, and there are rather more Members present who are speaking but who did not take part in the debate. The 27 who were here, taking part in the debate, have a right to hear what the Minister has to say, and it would be good if they could do it without interruption. That means without interruption from either side of the House.
Thank you, Sir Roger. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) does not like the Bill. She is going to vote against the Bill and she does not want to stop the boats. She has tabled a whole raft of amendments with her colleagues, and we all know what the purpose of those amendments really is.
On a point of order, Sir Roger. Is it in order for the Minister to so misrepresent my position? I tabled my amendments as the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, not on behalf of the Scottish National party, and the point I wish to make is that he has not answered a single point raised by anyone who spoke from the Opposition Benches. It is a farce—a farce!
Order. That is an observation, not a point of order. The hon. and learned Lady is fully aware that Members are responsible for their own remarks on the record. They have to take responsibility for that.