Consideration of Lords amendments
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 2, 6 to 9, 12, 20 and 22, Government motions to disagree and Government amendments (a) to (o) in lieu of Lords amendments 2, 12, 20 and 22.
Lords amendments 23 and 30, and Government motions to disagree.
Lords amendments 31 to 36, Government motions to disagree and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 31, 35 and 36.
Lords amendments 37 and 38, Government motions to disagree and Government amendments (a) to (e) in lieu of Lords amendments 37 and 38.
Lords amendments 39 to 67, and Government motions to disagree.
Lords amendments 73 and 74, Government motions to disagree and Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendments 73 and 74.
Lords amendment 90, Government motion to disagree and Government amendments (a) to (c) to the words so restored to the Bill.
Lords amendment 93, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 95, Government motion to disagree and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendments 102 to 104 and 107, and Government motions to disagree.
Lords amendments 3 to 5, 10, 11, 13 to 19, 21, 24 to 29, 68 to 72, 75 to 89, 91, 92, 94, 96 to 101, 105, 106 and 108 to 114.
This Bill is vital to stopping the boats and preventing the dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys across the channel. The Bill as passed by this House made it unambiguously clear to illegal migrants and people smugglers alike that, if they come to this country by unlawful means, they will not be able to stay. Instead, they will be detained and swiftly removed either to their home country or to a safe third country.
The Government brought forward a number of amendments in the Lords to enhance the Bill. These are largely of a technical nature, so I will not detain the House by setting these out now. Instead, I will confine my remarks to the non-Government amendments passed by the other place. I am grateful to the House of Lords for undertaking its proper role as a revising Chamber. Some of the changes made by the other place are, however, little short of wrecking amendments, and are not ones that the Government can support. There are a few honourable exceptions and I will deal with those first.
As the Minister says, most of the amendments we are going to be debating and voting on later are wrecking amendments. Does he agree that none of these amendments addresses the fundamental need to address the actual incentives for people to cross the channel? That is what the Bill does and these amendments take that away.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would direct Members to the speech made in the other place by Lord Clarke. He said, very powerfully, that, as a former Home Secretary and long-standing Member of this House, and as someone who is interested in and knowledgeable about this issue, he sat through many hours of debate and did not hear, from any of the critics of the Bill, a single credible alternative to the Government’s approach. If hon. Members follow that logic, they need to get behind the Government and support them in delivering this approach.
Another point that Lord Clarke made, which I agree with, was that, if we fail to tackle this issue—if we dismiss the concerns of members of the public—we will see very serious consequences in the years ahead, with a fragmentation of community cohesion and a weakening of the successful multi-ethnic democracy that all of us, on both sides of the House, are proud of and want to see sustained for future generations.
The Minister says that the other place put forward wrecking amendments, but is it not true that the other place proposed amendments that ensure that we honour treaties, respect our judiciary and ensure that the Home Office is acting within the law?
I do not agree with that. There are a few important exceptions, which I will come on to. I hope that, in my remarks and in answering any questions, I will reassure the hon. Lady that, on the points of substance made by those who want to see the Bill proceed and the issue tackled, the Government are making the right changes to the Bill.
The Minister says that no one has proposed a credible alternative, but four Lords amendments do. Lords amendment 102 proposes a
“Duty to establish safe and legal routes”.
Lords amendment 103 would amend the Crime and Courts Act 2013 to confer on the National Crime Agency specific functions to tackle cross-channel organised crime. And under Lords amendments 104 and 107, the Government would set up a 10-year strategy on refugees and human trafficking, working with foreign Governments. Do those four amendments not constitute a credible alternative?
As it happens, I will come to each of those points later in my speech, if the hon. and learned Lady does not mind, but in each case, we are already doing what she asks us to do. The Bill has a specific provision in respect of safe and legal routes and, when we had this debate in this House previously, we agreed further to set out the details of that. As for the National Crime Agency, its officers who work on organised immigration crime—I met them in recent weeks in Belgium, France, Italy, Tunisia and Libya—would be very surprised to hear that the agency does not have the authority to act on organised immigration crime because those in some cases very brave men and women are doing that work every single day on our behalf already.
Let me make a small amount of progress and then I will give way to the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams).
I turn to the first issue of substance, which is Lords amendment 2. That would provide that the duty to make arrangements for removal applied to persons who entered illegally from the date of commencement of clause 2, rather than on or after 7 March 2023, as originally provided for in the Bill.
We acknowledge the position advanced by some in the other place and in this House about the retrospective effect of the Bill, but these Lords amendments go too far in resetting the clock. The closer we get to commencement of the Bill, the greater the risk that organised criminals and people smugglers will seek to exploit that, and we will see an increase in crossings as the deadline looms, which would only put more people at risk.
To guard against that, we have brought forward amendments in lieu to move the application of the duty from 7 March to the date of Royal Assent. The date of 7 March, however, would continue to apply for the purpose of the Secretary of State’s power to provide accommodation for unaccompanied children and for the purposes of the bans on re-entry, settlement and citizenship. That Government amendment in lieu has a particular advantage with respect to the concerns about modern slavery expressed by my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), but I will come to that in a moment.
Can the Minister tell me how many Afghan women have been able to avail themselves of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme phase 3 programme? That is the Government’s position on a safe and legal route. As we have understood from various Westminster Hall debates, we are looking at a handful in phase 3. Everything else refers to what has happened in 2021. I also draw his attention to the recent horrific drownings off Greece. This included a number of Afghan nationals and people from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. What really is the point of these ineffective, supposed safe routes?
The hon. Lady and I share the same objective: to ensure that the schemes that the Government have established are operationalised as quickly as possible, so that people who are eligible—perhaps including the women she is in contact with—can come to the United Kingdom, settle here and find sanctuary. It is incredibly important that the UK is a beacon in the world for resettlement schemes. We have already supported more than 20,000 people under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the ACRS to come to the United Kingdom. I appreciate her point that the numbers in recent months have been lower than she or we would like. One reason is that there is so little capacity in the UK today to properly house individuals, and one explanation for that is that the sheer number of individuals entering the country illegally on small boats has placed an intolerable pressure on our social housing and the contingency accommodation that we have available. If we are to bring further individuals to the UK—as we want to do and are continuing to do—they risk being housed in hotels, which is an unacceptable way to house vulnerable people and, in particular, families.
The Minister is being generous with his time. We in the all-party parliamentary group on Afghan women and girls have hundreds of civilians who would like a “homes for Afghans” scheme. These people are waiting and have already volunteered. This scheme is ready and it is equivalent to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, so I urge the Government to take us up on it and make sure that the supposed safe routes are actual safe routes.
I strongly endorse the hon. Lady’s comments. The Homes for Ukraine scheme has been superb and we should all be proud of it—I took part in it at one point. If it is possible to create a comparable scheme for Afghans, we should consider that. I know that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who has responsibility for that issue, is considering it.
On the broader point about resettlement, the UK has a strong record in this regard. Of course, we would all like to go further, but since 2015 we have welcomed 550,000 people to this country on humanitarian grounds, mostly on resettlement schemes. We are one of the world’s leading countries for such schemes.
While we are on the question of dates, does the Minister have any idea when the Supreme Court may consider and conclude its judgment? That is relevant not only to the question of the Bill’s progress, but to the question of the Parliament Act, in case that were to be needed.
It is for the Court to determine, in the first instance, whether it intends to take up the appeal and at what time it will be heard. I can only point my hon. Friend to the final paragraph in the summary judgment from the Court of Appeal, which expressed the view of the three judges that this is a matter of great urgency and that it needs to be handled expeditiously. I hope that the Supreme Court, if it chooses to hear our appeal, does so swiftly, but that is a matter for the Supreme Court.
The Minister will know that, from his perspective, I had a difficult approach to the Bill on Second Reading. When he embarked on addressing Lords amendment 2, he said he would now address the first Lords amendment of substance, yet Lords amendment 1 deals with our international obligations. We had the curious start to this Bill that it could not have a full declaration on the front of it about compatibility with some of those international obligations. Perhaps it was just a turn of phrase, but it would be incredibly helpful if the Minister not only addressed Lords amendment 1 and the Government’s approach to international legal obligations but outlined exactly what is contained within Lords amendment 1 that the Government take issue with.
I will come back to that issue later in my remarks, but let me be clear, if further reassurance is required, that the Government take our international law obligations extremely seriously. We believe that all the matters outlined in the Bill are within our international legal obligations, and should the Bill or any aspect of it be legally challenged, we will contest that vigorously to defend the position we have set out.
I point the hon. Gentleman to one important element of the recent judgment in the Court of Appeal, which was on this question: if a state such as the United Kingdom used another state and entered into a partnership, such as we have with Rwanda, for the purposes of asylum, would that be compatible with the refugee convention? I point out that all three judges agreed that that was compatible with the refugee convention. On arguably the central international law issue at stake, the Court of Appeal was clear that the Government’s approach is compatible with international law.
The Minister has made that commitment about the refugee convention, but Lords amendment 1 says that the Bill should be read so as not to conflict with the European convention on human rights, the refugee convention and the conventions on statelessness, the rights of the child and anti-trafficking. Why are the Government so opposed to that clarification and that clear statement on the face of the Bill, if we are the beacon and an adherent to international obligations and law?
I will make some progress, because I appreciate that this is a relatively short debate. If the hon. and learned Lady does not mind, there are other questions I need to address.
Detention has attracted a great deal of interest from Members from all parts of the House, as indeed it did in the other place. Detention is a necessary part of the scheme provided for in the Bill. The duty on the Home Secretary to make arrangements for removal is accompanied by strong detention powers. We know from experience that once a person is released from detention, the prospects of being able to effect removal are significantly reduced, because they typically abscond. That is why the Bill restricts, but does not exclude, judicial challenges within the first 28 days of detention. That is so that illegal migrants can be processed and removed, rather than simply absconding on arrival. The powers cover family groups the same as others, so as to not provide a perverse incentive for people smugglers and migrants to co-opt unaccompanied children into bogus family groups to avoid detention, putting children at risk in the process.
Lords amendments 31 and 35 to 38 seek to restore the existing 24-hour limit on the detention of unaccompanied children and the 72-hour limit on the detention of pregnant women. I recognise that there are particular sensitivities around the detention of those cohorts, and we debated those at some length in earlier proceedings in this House. Recognising the health concerns around the detention of pregnant women and the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children, we have brought forward amendments in lieu that maintain the existing 72-hour limit, extendable up to a week with ministerial authorisation, on the detention of pregnant women, and that enable the first-tier tribunal to consider granting immigration bail after eight days for unaccompanied children, rather than the 28 days provided for in the Bill. A number of Members of this House spoke out on the issue of pregnant women, but I pay particular tribute to my noble Friend Baroness Sugg for campaigning in the other place.
My right hon. Friend knows at first hand the impact this issue has on Dover and Kent—on our schools and other important local services. Given the proposed continuation of special measures for unaccompanied young people and now pregnant women, will he confirm that he will meet me and Kent colleagues to discuss the impact of these proposals, particularly bearing in mind the poor state of our local maternity services and the incredible pressure already being placed on our communities?
I would be pleased to meet my hon. Friend, as I have in the past. She knows that I have met local authority leaders in Kent on a number of occasions. I want to do everything I can to support them. Historically, they have borne a high burden as a result of their location adjacent to the points of entry, and that has placed some public services in Kent under a great deal of pressure. In the past 12 months, we have created the national scheme to ensure that unaccompanied children are moved across the country and that all local authorities play an equitable part in supporting them. We have also provided substantial financial incentives to local authorities to help them play their fair part.
I appreciate that nothing is ever as simple as that. Developing further capacity with local authority children’s homes or foster carers takes time, but I hope that the measures we have put in place will make a noticeable difference. Prior to the recent seasonal increase in individuals crossing the channel, we had successfully managed to clear all the UASC—unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—hotels that the Home Office had utilised, and I hope we can keep reliance upon them to an absolute minimum this summer and autumn.
In the case of unaccompanied children, the change I have just described will apply where an unaccompanied child is detained for the purpose of removal, and it aligns with the eight-day period for making a suspensive claim. That approach will ensure that we can continue to detain a person whom we suspect to be an adult, but who claims to be a child, pending the outcome of an age assessment.
It is important for the Chamber to note that this is not really a concession; it is not even a time limit on the detention of children. It is the ability to apply for bail, as I understand it, after eight days. The person has to be aware of their rights and have access to the ability to challenge detention. It also applies only to a small cohort of children; the vast majority of children detained under the Bill will not have access to this process at all.
Respectfully, the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what we are proposing. If a child who is a genuine child and not subject to age assessment arrives unaccompanied in the United Kingdom, they will be swiftly processed. They will then be sent out into the local authority care system as quickly as possible, until they turn 18. We will seek to remove unaccompanied children in two circumstances, as I set out when we last debated this in the House. The first is where we, the Home Office, manage to reunite them with parents in other countries, as we do in a small number of cases today. The second is where we, the Home Office, manage to return them to their home country, which is a safe country, and in most cases into the care of social services immediately upon arrival. Again, that happens already in a small number of cases. There is no intention to change present practice. We are taking the power to detain, if required, a young person in that situation for up to eight days, housed in age-appropriate accommodation to enable us to make that removal effective.
I am listening closely to what my right hon. Friend is saying, and I am thinking in particular about arrivals as well as leavers. Can he confirm that children who are clearly children will be placed in child-appropriate accommodation? Will all those who may or may not be children have appropriate safeguarding? If that is the case, when will we see that in writing?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s interest in the Bill. She and I come at this with exactly the same concern: to protect unaccompanied children. Any genuine child who comes into the United Kingdom will be swiftly taken into the local authority care system, which she is familiar with thanks to her former work as children’s Minister. To the extent that that child is in the detained estate, they will be housed only in age-appropriate accommodation.
That is correct. The law today is that a child can be detained for eight days for the purpose of examination—that is not routinely done by the Home Office. Today, a child is detained for 24 hours or less and, whether for 24 hours or, if the Home Office chose to make use of the power, for eight days, they are detained only in age-appropriate accommodation. It would be unlawful to house an under-18 in accommodation that did not meet the standard set out in law. I will come on in a moment to describe that standard.
I am immensely grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work he has done on the Bill and these amendments. He will understand that the matters he is discussing bring age verification into sharp focus. As he knows, I tabled an amendment on that, which the Government ultimately re-presented as an amendment of their own. Will he confirm that age verification measures will be obligatory and comprehensive so that we do not any longer get the nonsense of people pretending to be children in order to game the system?
My right hon. Friend is right. We take age assessment extremely seriously. As he knows, there are some young adults and individuals who abuse the system. Indeed, some are not so young—as I understand it, the oldest individual we have encountered who posed as a child was subsequently found to be 41 years of age. That is wrong as a matter of principle, and it is also a serious safeguarding risk to genuine children and all the caring people who are involved in supporting them, whether they be foster carers, teachers or members of the general public. We therefore have to take the issue seriously. That is why the Bill retains the power to detain an individual who is subject to age assessment for up to 28 days. During that period, the Home Office or local authorities would conduct age assessment. Today, that is done through the Merton system, which is proving to take longer than we would like, but which we want to be conducted within 28 days.
We are now taking advantage of the powers taken through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 to begin to roll out scientific forms of age assessment. That will happen over the course of this year. Initially, it will happen concurrently with the Merton assessment. We want to ensure that that system is demonstrated to be robust and as swift as possible. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will unite in common agreement that it is important that we weed out cases of abuse, because they pose such a risk. I am afraid that we have seen some very tragic instances such as the murder that occurred in Bournemouth at the behest of somebody who had posed as a child. The state has to do everything in its power to prevent that from happening again.
If I may make some more progress, I will happily come to the hon. Gentleman later. I want to conclude the point that I was making to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) on the detention periods and standard of accommodation, because that is important. I assure her, and indeed my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has also taken an interest in the issue, that we will seek to detain unaccompanied children for the shortest possible period. Where there is no dispute that someone is under 18, they will be transferred to the local authority accommodation estate as quickly as possible. Where there is doubt about whether a person is indeed under 18 as they claim to be, they will be treated as a child while an age assessment is undertaken. Such a person will be detained in age-appropriate accommodation, as the law already provides. That is set out in the Detention Centre Rules 2001 made under section 153 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Rule 11 provides that:
“Detained persons aged under 18 and families will be provided with accommodation suitable to their needs.”
If no such accommodation is available, they will not be detained and instead will be transferred to a local authority as soon as possible. I hope that provides my right hon. Friend with the assurance she seeks.
The Minister quoted the Detention Centre Rules 2001, which are of course 22 years old. Rule 11 says:
“Detained persons aged under 18 and families will be provided with accommodation suitable to their needs.”
Although there is a checklist of about 65 things, virtually all of them are about fabric, freedom to practise religion and access to personal hygiene. Which of the rules contains support services that are relevant and age-appropriate to children?
The rules are related to 2001, as my hon. Friend says, but as I understand it they have been updated since then. They have also been tested on a number of occasions in the courts, and the Home Office takes seriously its responsibility to live up to them. It would be unlawful if we were to accommodate an under-18 inappropriately. If I may, I will read out the other limbs of rule 11, entitled “Families and minors”. They are, first:
“Detained family members shall be entitled to enjoy family life at the detention centre save to the extent necessary in the interests of security and safety.
“Detained persons aged under 18 and families will be provided with accommodation suitable to their needs.”
“Everything reasonably necessary for detained persons’ protection, safety and well-being and the maintenance and care of infants and children shall be provided.”
That, I think, is a comprehensive set of principles. It is one that has stood the test of time over the last 22 years. If it needed to be strengthened, of course we will do so, but I hope that my hon. Friend will take my strong assurance from the Dispatch Box that that is the standard of accommodation in which we intend to house anyone who is a minor. If that accommodation were not available, we would not house those individuals in detained accommodation at all.
The Minister is being generous. I will elaborate on this point if I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. Where in those 65 rules are relevant child-appropriate support services such as social workers, child psychologists and others that would be necessary mentioned? Nothing that he has described guarantees that children will be in age-appropriate accommodation that has age-appropriate care. That is the point.
I am happy to write to my hon. Friend detailing all the support that would be available. The point that I am making is that this is the existing law, and it has existed for more than 20 years. Nothing in the Bill changes that framework. The Home Office will rely on the existing framework that has been in place throughout the years, including when he was the children’s Minister, and it was considered satisfactory throughout that period.
I congratulate the Minister on everything he is doing on this issue, especially in relation to unaccompanied minors. Is he convinced that everything he is doing will not create a perverse incentive for evil people smugglers to push unaccompanied minors on to boats to cross the English channel? Of course, once they are here, they can bring over their family and so on. Is he convinced that we will do everything we can to stop that perverse incentive?
The changes that we are proposing in the Government amendments in lieu strike the right balance, whereby we preserve the intention of the scheme that lies at the heart of the Bill but provide some further protections for minors. My hon. Friend is right to make the broader point that more substantial changes to the Bill, such as those envisaged by some Members of the other place, would undermine its very purpose.
In considering each and every one of the Lords amendments, we must ensure that we do not drive a coach and horses through the core deterrent effect that we are trying to achieve. Why do we want that deterrent effect? Because we do not want anyone, whether an adult or a child, crossing the channel in small boats, placing themselves in danger and being under the support and control of people smugglers and human traffickers. We must keep in mind the original purpose of the Bill, and ensure that we do not do anything to undermine that.
On age-appropriate accommodation and family life, could the Minister explain why he felt that the murals on the wall at the Kent intake unit damaged the deterrent effect of which he has just spoken? In that context, if parents are to continue to have family life with their children for the time that they are detained, will there be any chance of them having access to picture books to enable them to read to their children?
I do not know whether the right hon. Member has been to any of the facilities, but we provide very high-quality facilities for families and children upon immediate arrival in the UK. I have made it a particular focus to ensure that we support those individuals appropriately, ensuring that conditions in those places are decent and compassionate at all times. The cohort of unaccompanied children who passed through the location that he describes last year was largely teenagers. We did not feel that the site was age-appropriate, but it contains a range of support for children and infants, including all the things that he has described. Nothing about the decoration of sites changes the fundamentals: if someone comes to the United Kingdom, we will treat them with decency and compassion at all times.
I want the Minister to be explicit about the type of detention centre that we are talking about. For example, will children, whether unaccompanied or with their parents, be detained in detention centres such as Harmondsworth and Colnbrook? We agreed on a cross-party basis that they should never again be detained in those centres.
The right hon. Gentleman is particularly knowledgeable on this issue, because he represents immigration removal centres. It is not the Government’s intention that families or minors will be housed in those settings. Minors and families will be housed in age-appropriate accommodation, which is entirely separate and different in nature from the immigration removal centres that he represents. There are facilities such as those today, though not a large number of them. As part of the operationalisation of the Bill, we will need to invest in further facilities and ensure that they meet the standards set out in the detention rules as I have just described. I hope that gives him some reassurance.
I thank my right hon. Friend. There is a huge amount of concern about how the Bill will be implemented. We thought that hotels would be only temporary, yet they seem to have carried on. The Minister has said that when a child comes in, they will be moved into local authority care as soon as possible. Under the Bill, what is the maximum amount of time that a child could wait before they are in that local authority care?
The position today is that a child arrives in the United Kingdom and is immediately processed in an age-appropriate setting. We then seek to place them with local authorities. Only if local authority care is not immediately available do we deploy the Home Office UASC hotels. There have been incidences, such as last year, when young people were waiting in those hotels for a period of days. That is not our intention. The only limiting factor is the availability of local authority care to support them. If more local authorities were able to come forward—as I said, that is not simple because they have their own capacity constraints—we would not use those hotels at all. It is not our intention to detain minors for a long period for examination. We want them to flow straight out into local authority care, as is the right thing to do.
The Minister is being pressed on the nature of accommodation or detention that children and young people will be held in. The spirit behind the Minister’s intention matters. Therefore, will he tell us if is it true that he gave orders to the asylum reception centre to paint over children’s cartoons? If so, why? Nobody believes that Mickey Mouse cartoons encourage or deter boats from arriving; they simply think that the Minister is not showing common decency towards vulnerable children.
I have been clear in answer to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) that we provide very high quality care at all the centres in which we support unaccompanied children. We did not think that the set-up in that particular unit was age-appropriate, because the majority of the individuals who passed through it unaccompanied last year were teenagers. That does not change the fundamentals that we support with decency and compassion anyone who comes to this country.
The right hon. Lady is missing the point: this Bill seeks to reduce the number of unaccompanied minors coming to the United Kingdom, precisely because we want to protect them and ensure that they are not victims of people smugglers and human traffickers. I take at face value her support for those individuals, but if she wanted to reduce that trade, she would support the Bill or come forward with a credible alternative. She has not done so. Her compassion is, to a degree, performative, because she does not come forward with alternatives that would genuinely support individuals.
Let me move on to modern slavery. The provisions in the Bill relating to that have been of particular concern to my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead and for Chingford and Woodford Green. I welcome the opportunity in recent days to discuss with them the Lords amendments on this issue. It remains our view that there are clear opportunities to misuse modern slavery protections, and it is therefore essential that we take steps in the Bill to prevent misuse. The national referral mechanism rate for people arriving in the UK on small boats and being detained for return has risen from 6% for detentions ending in 2019 to 73% in 2021. The referral rate has since fallen slightly to 65% for detentions ending between January and September. The 33% increase in NRM referrals from 2021 to 2022 has put the NRM under serious strain, which is only getting worse as the trends increase in one direction. There is significant and increasing pressure on public services, which is why we want to take action.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the discussions we have had recently. He knows that I have a problem with the statistics: he has, yet again, quoted the statistics that the Minister in the other place quoted as well, which imply that the percentage of people coming on small boats and claiming modern slavery has risen from 6% to 73%. It did not. He is talking about people who are subsequently detained for removal. Will he now confirm that the average percentage of people coming on small boats and claiming modern slavery has not changed over the last three years, and is around 7%?
I think that my right hon. Friend and I agree that the point at which individuals misuse the NRM is the point at which the state tries to remove them from the country. Our concern is that there is a significant increase in the number of people misusing the NRM—and the good work that my right hon. Friend has done on this issue—to bring about a spurious, frivolous, last-minute way of frustrating their removal from the country. So the statistics I referred to are the most relevant statistics, because that is the point at which individuals are in the detained estate for the purpose of removal. Their removal from the United Kingdom is imminent and we are seeing a very high proportion of them using the NRM to try to delay that removal. Delay, as she knows from her great experience, is particularly relevant, because once someone has delayed their removal, they are liable to be bailed and to go back out into the community. Some will be very difficult to bring back into the detained estate, or may abscond and never be seen again. Even under the current system, that makes it extremely difficult to remove people.
Under the scheme envisaged by the Bill, we will seek to remove many of those people to a safer country such as Rwanda, while today we predominantly remove people back home to their own countries, such as Albania and Romania, so the incentive to misuse the NRM will be significantly higher. It is reasonable to assume that a very large number of individuals will make use of that as a route to frustrate the scheme. As I said earlier, that risks driving a coach and horses through the purpose of the Bill, which is a swift and speedy form of removal to act as a deterrent to prevent people making the crossing in the first place.
There are two elements here. First, the whole system can be massively speeded up, which is a fact of the NRM, straightaway. That was an obligation I was meant to have been given in the previous Bill, but it was never brought into the guidance. But the main point here is that nothing that happens outside the UK can be evidenced on this particular point. We are talking about the Minister’s fear that people are departing to within the UK and then subsequently making a claim. The real problem with the Bill right now—he knows I have concerns about this—is that much of the prosecution process against the traffickers can take place only because of the evidence given by those who have been trafficked. On Report, the presumption in the Bill suddenly changed dramatically—it was done without any notice. There is now a presumption that they do not need to be here at all, other than if there is some evidence that somehow they do, whereas before it was that in order to get that evidence, they do need to be here. Why are we knocking out the amendment, rather than amending it and specifying which categories are exempt? He runs the risk of people not giving evidence and not co-operating with the police, and us not getting prosecutions. If they are going to be cleared out of the UK while giving evidence—this is the point—the reality is that they will stop doing so, because they will be in danger of being picked up by the traffickers again outside the UK. Will he therefore rethink this and put something on the face of the Bill to define those who are exempt?
First, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead for their advice and wise counsel. We have sought to make changes and to listen to their point of view. That is why we brought forward two significant changes. One, as I have outlined, with respect to retrospection, means that the cohort of individuals who entered the United Kingdom from 7 March to Royal Assent who have not been in the detained estate and are then, if you like, in the community at large—in many cases they are living in supported accommodation and in some cases are liable to exploitation by human traffickers and other criminals—will now not be included in the full extent of the Bill’s provisions and so can be supported in the ways that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodgreen wishes. That has significantly reduced the pool of individuals he has concerns about. We are also—I will come on to this in a moment—committing to bringing forward statutory guidance, which I hope will provide further reassurance on the question of how law enforcement authorities would interact with victims of modern slavery to ensure that they can be appropriately supported, and have the time they need to recover and bring forward their claims so that we can all achieve our shared objective, which is the prosecution of human traffickers.
I recognise that the Minister has moved in some measure on these issues and I am grateful for that, but may I return to the point about the statutory guidance? Surely, given that we all accept that we will only deal with the organised criminals who run modern slavery with the co-operation of their victims, we cannot proceed with the clause as it currently stands without knowing what the statutory guidance will be? It was well known that this was going to be an issue, so I am surprised, frankly, that the draft statutory guidance has not been available to us today. That might well have reassured us sufficiently to support the Minister in his contention. As it is, that is still left hanging in the air. When will we see that statutory guidance?
Let me answer my hon. Friend’s questions by setting out what will be contained in the statutory guidance. The operation of the exception for potential victims of modern slavery to remain in the United Kingdom for the purpose of co-operating with law enforcement agencies in connection with the investigation of a trafficking offence will be subject to statutory guidance. The guidance will provide that an individual who has arrived in the UK illegally and has a positive reasonable grounds decision based on an incident that has taken place in the UK, will be afforded 30 days from that positive decision to confirm that they will co-operate with an investigation relating to their exploitation. They will not be removed within that period, which accords them with protections that are equivalent to those set out in the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Should they continue to co-operate with such an investigation, they will continue to be entitled to the support and protections of the NRM. Should further time be required in addition to the 30 days, that period is extendable so that the police and the victim have the time necessary to ensure that traffickers are brought to justice. I hope that that answers his question. I appreciate his desire to see the letter of the statutory guidance, and I will take that away, but that is the essence of it—the position that mirrors the ECAT provisions.
It is our intention that the statutory guidance will be provided and in place for the commencement of the Bill. I hope that that also answers the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green about the fact that he feels that previous assurances in prior legislation were not fully delivered.
I welcome some of the moves the Government have made and I support the principles of what the Bill is trying to do. However, this is a really significant problem of the Government cutting off their nose to spite their face. The positive we have is that when victims give evidence and a prosecution takes place, it cuts down the likelihood that traffickers will be allowed to traffic boats across. When that is turned around, it contradicts the purpose of the Bill. The point I made to the Minister earlier was that the sudden change to the presumption power of the Secretary of State is really where the problem arises. Surely the way to deal with that is not through the guidance mechanism, but to ensure, on the face of the Bill, that that presumption is restricted, and clearly restricted. He talks about the intention of the guidance. I was given that assurance on the other Bill in December. No guidance emerged subsequently so he will forgive me, having sat in Government myself, if I do not always take the word of the Government absolutely as a categorical assurance. The only way we can get this is by doing something on the face of the Bill. The amendment, as amended, would really help enormously to reassure people and achieve the Government’s objective, which is more prosecutions and fewer boats.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s position, but I hope he will accept that we intend to bring forward the statutory guidance and that it will set out the points I have just described. They do accord with ECAT. I appreciate that there are those who would like a longer period than 30 days, but that seems a reasonable place to settle, given that that is what the framers of ECAT themselves chose as the period for recovery and for bringing forward claims.
I am just a little confused and I hope my right hon. Friend can help me. He says that the Government want to bring forward the guidance, yet they oppose Lords amendment 57. Lords amendment 57, as I read it, would confer a power on the Secretary of State
“by regulations to make provision about the circumstances in which it is necessary for a person present in the UK to provide cooperation of the kind mentioned”
earlier in the clause. That is precisely the guidance he is now saying he will bring in, so why is he opposing Lords amendment 57?
I am conscious that I need to draw my remarks to a close, so that others can speak. On the question of legal proceedings, Lords amendments 1, 7, 90 and 93 are, in the Government’s view, wrecking amendments, pure and simple. For the Bill to succeed, we have to break the cycle of late, repeated, spurious legal challenges, but the amendments would perpetuate those. Lords amendment 1 in particular removes the clear purpose of the Bill as set out in clause 1, which is to prevent and deter illegal migration. The amendment takes a wrecking ball to our well established constitutional arrangement whereby we treat international law as being separate from domestic law. The amendment would incorporate the refugee convention, the UN convention on the rights of the child, and other conventions into domestic law by the back door. It would tie up the Bill in legal knots, and result in every removal being subject to endless litigation in the courts.
I will not, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I feel that I have to make progress now.
Lords amendments 1, 7, 90 and 93 are all the more unnecessary as the Bill already affords adequate protections against removal to a country that is unsafe for a particular person. That brings me to Lords amendment 23, about the removal of LGBT people to certain countries. Let me say unambiguously that we treat the safety of LGBT people with the utmost seriousness, and do not want to do anything that would in any way compromise their safety and security. I regret to say that Lords amendment 23, though clearly well intentioned, misunderstands the approach taken in the Bill. With the exception of EU and European economic area nationals and those of Switzerland and Albania, people will not be returned to their home country if they make a protection claim. If a person is issued with a third-country removal notice, they can challenge their removal to the specified country on the basis that they would face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm there, including persecution. If a serious harm suspensive claim is refused, the person has an avenue of appeal to the upper tribunal. The amendment is well meant, but the concerns that underpin it are unfounded. We take pride in the UK’s support for LGBT communities globally, and our commitment to this cause remains unwavering.
Rwanda has no laws prohibiting discrimination against same-sex attracted people, and people whose gender identity is different from their sex at birth. Can the Minister not understand why an LGBT person might rather come to the UK for asylum, where we have such anti-discrimination laws, than be sent somewhere like Rwanda, which does not?
I understand the hon. and learned Lady’s point. I say two things in response. First, the premise of asylum claims being handled in safe third countries is that those countries must be safe. Through our partnership with the Government of Rwanda, we have done work to ensure that appropriate safeguards are put in place. That has been tested by the courts, and remains an ongoing matter for the courts. Secondly, we placed a safeguard in the scheme: a person can claim that their removal to that country would put them at real risk of serious and irreversible harm, which includes persecution. I completely understand why the hon. and learned Lady says what she does, and the legitimate concern that she voices, but I do not think that the instance that she raises is founded in reality. If it were, we would take that very seriously indeed, because the Government do not want to do anything to compromise the safety and security of LGBT people.
In response to Lords amendments 73 and 74 about the power to amend the meaning of “serious and irreversible harm”, we have sought to provide further assurance by bringing forward an amendment in lieu to ensure that the power cannot be used to remove the provisions in clause 38(4) that set out what constitutes serious and irreversible harm.
Lords amendments 8 and 9 undermine a key plank of the Bill, which is the provision under which asylum and relevant human rights claims can be declared inadmissible. Lords amendment 8 would incentivise people smugglers to prioritise unaccompanied children, which would put more young lives at risk and split more families. Amendment 9 would simply afford illegal entrants yet another opportunity of playing the system and dragging things out as long as possible, in the hope that they would become eligible for asylum.
Lords amendment 50 seeks to limit the Secretary of State’s power to transfer a child out of local authority accommodation and into accommodation provided or arranged by the Secretary of State, by providing that the Secretary of State may do so only where that is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. Again, the amendment is unnecessary and duplicates existing law. Under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, the Home Secretary is already required to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child when making a decision to exercise the “vice versa” power.
Moving on to safe and legal routes, Lords amendment 102 relates to clause 59, which requires the Home Secretary, within six months of Royal Assent, to prepare and publish a report on the safe and legal routes by which persons may enter the UK, including any proposed additional safe and legal routes. Lords amendment 102 would in effect mandate that such additional safe and legal routes be brought into being within two months of the publication of the clause 59 report. Again, the amendment is unnecessary. As I set out on Report in April, we will implement any proposed new routes as soon as practicable, and in any event by the end of 2024.
I have listened very carefully to everything that the Minister has said on this subject, and I know that he is sincere in his intentions. We agree on the need for a quota when it comes to safe and legal routes, but will he accept that 18 months hence is an inordinately long time, bearing in mind that the Bill will have come into force? While we might not be able to have complete synchronicity of new routes with the coming into force of this important Bill, can we at least have a much greater sense of urgency, and bring forward proposals for safe and legal routes much sooner than the end of next year?
My right hon. and learned Friend and I share a concern on this issue. We want to bring forward any new routes as soon as is practical; he has my assurance, and that of the Government, that we will move as quickly as we can. I do not think it is practicable for new routes to be brought into being within two months of the publication of the report provided for in clause 59. It inevitably takes time to work with partners such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on developing a credible scheme, and to implement it. It is important that we give the Home Office the necessary time. However, I have been very clear that we will move as quickly as possible. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) says that we have had 13 years; more humanitarian visas were issued last year by this Conservative Government than probably any Government since the second world war. Since 2015, under a majority Conservative Government, 550,000 people have entered the UK on humanitarian grounds. That compares extremely favourably with the record of the Government of which she was a member.
The Government have said that they are committed to bringing forward safe, legal routes, but that they will not do that until they have stopped the boats. Does the Minister not recognise that one thing that the Government could do that would help stop the boats is bring forward safe, legal routes?
No, I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think there is a role for safe, legal routes, and I want the UK to be respected internationally for the way in which we support those seeking sanctuary. That is what we have ensured in recent years by creating world-leading schemes, such as those for Ukraine, Syria and Hong Kong, and indeed there is also the global scheme, which is operated by the UNHCR. I do not accept the argument that I think he is advancing, which is that if we produce a larger safe and legal route to the United Kingdom, it will lead to a reduction in the number of individuals crossing illegally in small boats. The individuals we would likely bring to the United Kingdom under a safe and legal route are quite different, in the main, from those coming across in small boats. Most of our small boat arrivals are young men in their 20s and 30s who are already in a place of safety—France—with a fully functioning asylum system. The kind of scheme the Government envisage for safe and legal routes is one where we take families and vulnerable people directly from conflict zones or refugee camps elsewhere in the world. That is a very different system from offering a safe and legal route to predominantly young men in a place of safety to come to the United Kingdom. That does not denude the value of having safe and legal routes, but the purpose is different.
Lords amendment 103 relates to the functions of the National Crime Agency, and I am afraid that it just amounts to legislative grandstanding. The NCA’s statutory functions already cover tackling organised immigration crime. As such, the amendment simply risks undermining the operational independence of the director general by tying his hands as to how to organise the NCA to best deliver its objectives. As I said in answer to an earlier question, our colleagues at the NCA who work every day on organised immigration crime would be very surprised to hear the contention that they are not focused on this work, because they certainly are.
Finally, Lords amendment 104, which was tabled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is well-meaning but unnecessary. It is a distraction from the immediate priority of stopping the boats and tackling the threat to life arising from dangerous, illegal and unnecessary channel crossings. That is the aim of the Bill, and the Lords amendment does not reflect the actions that we have already taken through cross-Government initiatives to tackle the refugee crisis and through the ongoing work to deliver our strategic approach to tackling human trafficking. Moreover, it does not recognise how this country has responded to the result of crises, offering sanctuary to over 550,000 people through safe and legal routes since 2015.
By getting a grip on illegal migration, we aim to reduce the pressure that it places on our public services and on community cohesion and to increase the capacity to support those who seek sanctuary here in the UK. The stop-the-boats Bill is designed to ensure that the UK can be an even greater force for good in the world by using our finite resources on those who truly need it.
In conclusion, it is vital that this Bill reaches the statute book quickly and in a form that will stop the boats. It is riddled with exceptions and get-out clauses placed in it by the other place. If they remain, it will simply not work. We have to send a clear message back to the other place that it is now their turn to think again and to respect the will of the elected House. The public expect us to tackle this issue, to secure our borders and to stop the boats.