Clause 1: Family reunion: refugees
Clause 1, page 1, line 4, leave out “one or more” and insert “up to two”
My Lords, I move this amendment for two reasons. First, I believe that legislation and the privilege that we have in introducing Private Member’s Bills should be taken very seriously. By this I mean that legislation is something that requires precision for implementing the intention. From that, it follows that the intention should be reasonably clear and realistic. In this, legislation is crucially different from debate on resolutions, propositions or aspirations. One can, for example, debate the need for a settlement of the Middle East conflict, but to put forward legislation for that is unlikely to be helpful. It is perfectly reasonable to debate all sorts of views on immigration but proposals to uncap it in an unmeasurable way are really not suited to a declaration of policy, let alone legislation.
I remember as a journalist when I had to attend all the party conferences, in 1976 at the Liberal Party conference—the first conference that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, had when he was leader of the Liberal Party—the Young Liberals, who are always inclined to anarchism, had a resolution that there should be completely free immigration into the UK. The noble Lord rebuked them, saying that if they wanted the party to have those sorts of policies they should find another leader. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was a Young Liberal at that time.
The second reason why I am moving the amendment is to probe into the actual figures. Clause 1 specifies nine categories of family members of an individual who have been granted refugee status whose application to enter or remain in the UK the Secretary of State would be obliged to grant unless the refusal was in the interests of national security. Immigration statistics are always complicated, but at its simplest I would point out that the number of people who have been granted asylum over the 10 years up to 2017—and this is the lowest figure—is 56,921. Each, I suggest, would be likely on average to apply for entry for more than one person. In the ninth category of people in Clause 1(2) are included,
“any dependent relative not otherwise listed in this subsection”,
so it is really pretty open wording. No limit is really envisaged.
I believe that any Government are obliged to limit immigration to a number that can be absorbed into the community. My definition of “absorbed” in this context is for the basic state provision of housing, health services generally and education to be able to be provided without diluting, to an extent that is democratically unacceptable, the standard of living of those already resident in the UK. I recognise at once that my own amendment of up to two family members could well amount to over 100,000, and that would probably be over my own measure of “absorbed”. In that context, I remind your Lordships that the latest 12-month figure for net migration into the UK is 244,000.
In practice the Bill would open the door to large numbers of economic migrants. We know that the potential number of those from Africa alone is measured in the millions and it is not really possible to estimate it. All that can be said is that market forces suggest that migration would continue until the standard of living in the receiving country was no longer high enough to attract economic migrants—thus, the only way of limiting those who want to come is by restricting numbers.
I must mention one other deeply worrying aspect of immigration control in the UK: the capacity of the Home Office to administer it. It is now 12 years since the then Home Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, famously declared on 4 May 2006 that the Home Office was “not fit for purpose”. It is sad and deeply worrying that this is clearly still the case, and I am not talking about the deplorable incompetence over the “Empire Windrush”. On that matter, I am wholly on the side of the migrants. In my 20s I was lucky enough, in my first job working for a British chemical company, to be posted for over a year to the Caribbean, living out of a suitcase and travelling from island to island, selling pharmaceuticals to doctors in what was then the British West Indies. I got to know many West Indians and learnt that they have the best sense of humour of any people in the world, and I like and respect them enormously.
I am talking about the fact that it seems that the Home Office immigration service is systemically corrupt. In a Written Answer on 10 January 2012, the Home Office revealed that over the previous five years there had been,
“29 convictions of Home Office staff in connection with their official activities”.—[Official Report, 10/1/12; col. WA36.]
The great majority, nearly all from the immigration department, resulted in prison sentences, two of them for nine years. I fear that that is continuing. As recently as 5 April the Times carried a report of a Home Office official, Mr Shamsu Iqbal, who had been found guilty of falsifying the records of over 400 people, amounting to some £6 million of profit to him and his colleagues. Surely one must ask why the Home Office recruitment and vetting procedure has not been tightened up between the previous figure and today.
At any rate, this Bill is aspirationally attractive, and all of us who have any liberal sensibilities like the idea of families being able to be joined together, although it may well be that better facilities are needed for that purpose. However, the Bill as drafted would make immigration an open season for doubtful and corrupt activities, leaving Ministers little opportunity for questioning what was happening. My amendment would be a small, though probably still too large, step in enabling a practical limit to be imposed. I beg to move.
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak at this stage. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for the opportunity to return to the Bill, especially because it enables me to give a plaudit to the Government. The Minister would not have expected that.
We have debated the subject of family reunion on previous occasions, but I think the most recent was during the course of the EU withdrawal Bill, when the Minister responding to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and resisting his amendment, did not mention the pull factor, which on every other occasion that I can remember the Government have included in their argument. I do not subscribe to the pull factor, described by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, as implausible. I hope that that was a significant omission.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is concerned that the Bill is too wide. It is certainly not intended to provide an open season or opportunity for corruption. I had read his amendment as suggesting that he thought there would be disproportionate numbers of family members of refugees—let us remember that we are talking about refugees, not migrants in the wider sense—and that that was why he would limit the number under Clause 1 to two per refugee.
I will comment on the numbers, but will first focus on the Bill’s objective, which I think will itself answer the noble Lord’s concerns. He called for precision, so I shall be precise about the objective. It is to enable families separated by circumstances which have led to refugee status being granted to an individual—in other words, very particular, extreme circumstances—to come together again. Although this may benefit the individual refugee who has reached the UK, that is not the whole picture. We all understand the concept of family and the importance of family life to a young person’s development. We talk about integration, which I think would be very difficult for a child or young person without a family.
There is any number of permutations, but let me get put just three to the Committee. A father reaches the UK as a refugee, leaving a mother and a son aged 17 and an unmarried daughter aged 22. Who of those three should remain in the war zone or a refugee camp, which is not a safe place, or try to make it alone, possibly with the intervention—I was going to say help—of smugglers? All of them are vulnerable.
Teenaged brothers leave their country of origin. They become separated en route and one makes it the UK. Eventually, he establishes that his parents and his baby sister are still alive in his original country. Where does one put the dividing line in that family?
A single boy reaches the UK. His father died in the war from which the boy escaped. His widowed mother is caring for three siblings. One could go on.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is seeking to find a happy medium, and that is the way that I would generally approach an issue, but I do not think it works in this context. He mentioned some migration figures and I am aware that he has asked a number of Questions for Written Answer, but I do not think that the numbers in those Answers or what he has said today give directly applicable detail.
I remind the Committee that on Second Reading, the Minister told the House the number of visas issued in family reunion cases outside the rules—because that is possible. They were 21 in 2015, 49 in 2016 and 49 up to September 2017. I understand that when the British Red Cross considered 91 cases involving 219 family members outside the UK, the family range was from one to eight and the average—noble Lords with a mathematical turn of mind will have got there—was about two and a half members per case.
For the Syrian resettlement programme, when the UNHCR submits families to the UK Government, our Government will accept families of up to six members —above that, they take the matter case by case. In 2014, Care International measured the average family size of Syrians and very vulnerable host families in Jordan and found it to be 5.8.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, mentioned dependants, which is the last category in Clause 1(2): a dependent relative not otherwise listed. Dependants are not an unlimited group of people. The Home Office, the courts and indeed common sense interpret that word realistically, which means fairly narrowly, not in the way suggested.
I would like to think that the Bill will assist large numbers of people, but I doubt that that is the case, which is not to underestimate the importance to each individual affected. I understand that in Germany it was estimated last year that the profile of Syrian refugees was such that between 0.9 and 1.2 family members could ask for reunification. In the Netherlands, in 2016, the estimate was 1.2.
Last year, 794 children—that is those under 18—and 206 aged 18 were granted refugee status in the UK, so we are not talking large numbers at all. Kent County Council—and it should know—says that many unaccompanied children fear attempts to trace their family members in their country of origin because this could put those family members in danger, so they do not do so.
Noble Lords will understand that I am not saying that a limit on the numbers as proposed in the amendment would be okay because it would have no effect—I am not; I am merely trying to paint the picture.
I draw the Committee’s attention to who is family for the purposes of the Bill under Clause 1. It is not open-ended, it is not extensive, it could not be said to be an extended family. There are no cousins, for instance. The list in the clause is that set out in the EU directive on family reunification—to which we are not signatory. We are not talking about economic migrants, as has been suggested, because the sponsor must be a refugee.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, mentioned the capacity of the Home Office. I will leave it to the Minister to respond to that.
I am pleased that the noble Lord accepts the premise of the Bill that families belong together and that our country has a moral duty to recognise them. Accepting the thrust of the Bill and in the light of what I hope he will read as reassurances, I hope that he will accept that the amendment would not be appropriate.
My Lords, I oppose the amendment, which has already been ably opposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I apologise that I could not be here on Second Reading, because I strongly support the Bill. The noble Baroness spoke about the importance of family reunion to integration. I was a member of the inquiry set up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees into integration, and I shall say a little about what we found, because I think it is relevant as we discuss the amendment.
The evidence that we received from a wide range of organisations underlined the psychological impact. Here I am talking particularly about the psychological impact on minors who are not allowed to bring any family into the country. Then there are refugees who are here, who have families still in conflict areas or who are still at risk, who are worried sick about what is happening to their families. On the children not allowed to reunite with parents and siblings, Coram Children’s Legal Centre said that it would continue the trauma and suffering of separation and loss. A number of people brought home to us the general impact on integration—that barriers to family reunion create barriers to integration. It is in all our interests that refugees are able fully to integrate into our society. In our findings and recommendations, we argued that,
“successfully being reunited with family members is an important step in helping refugees to integrate”.
We also argued that,
“the definition of family in the Immigration Rules remains very restrictive. Additionally, the lack of family reunion rights for unaccompanied children is a barrier to their successful integration”.
We recommended that they should be allowed to sponsor parents and siblings.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, spoke about statistics and numbers, but we are talking about people. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly said that we were not talking about immigrants—although, of course, migrants are also people. We are talking about refugees, and she gave some very pertinent potential examples. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to think back to when he was an adolescent and put himself in their shoes—a young man who has left his country, for whatever reason, as a refugee. He is here in a strange country, his parents are still in danger, and he has two younger siblings, also in danger. How would he make the choice? Surely, to be asked to make a choice like that as a young person would just increase the psychological suffering. Whoever you chose, you would feel that you had left behind your mother, father, brother or sister, and you would live with the consequences. You would feel guilty about the people you had left behind, rather than those you had been able to bring in. That would increase the psychological trauma and suffering for these young people. We have to try to put ourselves in the shoes of people who are in a really difficult situation. To ask a young person in particular—but anyone, actually—to make that kind of choice about their family as to who they would save or not save is inhumane and cruel.
I speak in support of the Bill and against the amendment. I recognise the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has raised about pressures on public services, but these children will be in care, so they will need a foster carer or perhaps be in a children’s home. If they have a family member with them, the public purse will benefit in that regard.
From a humane point of view, I worked in a hostel once a week over a period of time and saw a young girl from Afghanistan, and she was always quiet and depressed. She spoke no English—she spoke only a very limited dialect of her language, and the only other speaker was somewhere way off in the East End, so she was very isolated. One evening I arrived and she was in tears, because she had had news that the town that her parents lived in was being shelled, and she was concerned about them. The examples given about the hardship and emotional trauma for these young people ring very true to me. Simply from a humane point of view, anything that can be done to reunite these children and young people with their parents has to be welcomed, so I support the Bill.
I am a little surprised at the amendment, because I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and have enjoyed working on committees with him in the past. I think that his concerns are exaggerated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has covered all the points, and I stress just two. First, the category that we are talking about is very limited—it is self-limited. We are talking about only those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection under the Immigration Rules; in other words, we are not talking about economic migrants or anybody here illegally. We are talking about a very small category, clearly defined in Clause 1(1).
Secondly, the effect of insisting on family break-up would be likely to be serious, and I do not think that it would reflect terribly well on the kind of society that we were, or are. For children who came in 1938, Hungarians in 1956 or Czechs in 1968, we did not impose this kind of family break-up requirement on those here legally as refugees, and I really do not think that we should start.
I share the delight of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we heard nothing about the “pull factor” last time we talked about this—and I really hope that we will not hear anything about it today.
I speak briefly in support of my noble friend’s Bill and against the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The Bill is about united families and his amendment would see families split in different ways. The Bill really does not open the floodgates to hordes of ravening immigrants. As my noble friend set out, we are talking about small numbers, and this is a small and measured way of helping refugee families in trouble and distress to be together. We have had some excellent briefings from SOS Children’s Villages, which says:
“Children who have been separated from their families are some of the most vulnerable, having lost the people primarily responsible for making decisions on their behalf, guaranteeing their safety and supporting their development to adulthood”.
It is both heartening and heart-rending to read the tales of some of those children, who have battled against the odds with courage and determination and, for the small numbers involved, the measures in this Bill could be transformational.
This is a humanitarian Bill in the best traditions of the society that we should aspire to be, which welcomes those in need, cares for refugees and offers hope and support, particularly for children who have already suffered so much. These are people who can and will contribute to the community; in the past, these are the very people who have contributed not only to the community but indeed to the economy. It is the right and moral way, and I urge the Government to support the Bill unamended as it passes through the House.
I am very sorry that, unavoidably, I was unable to be here for Second Reading, and I shall not make a Second Reading speech now. Obviously, I am not happy about the amendment. As for the criticisms made by the noble Lord of the Home Office, I think that the Home Office will have to sort that one out. I am not sure that any of us is really qualified to know very much about the internal workings of the Home Office, except the Minister—so she can deal with that.
The amendment, if passed, could have very sad consequences for a small number of people. I said to a Syrian child refugee, “What about your family?” I speak from memory, but this was roughly the situation. He said that he had a father and sibling somewhere in Turkey and a mother still in Syria. What would happen if we said to him that he should choose between those three? It would be an impossible and agonising decision. We cannot impose that on anybody. It would break the young man’s heart. How could we advise him? We could not—we could only say, “This is a desperately unfortunate situation”. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, does not mean it to have that consequence, but I suggest that it would. I am not happy about the amendment and hope that the House rejects it.
My Lords, I rise in support of my noble friend Lady Hamwee and against the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I have two things to say, the first of which is about pull factors. I hope, as other noble Lords have said, that we will not hear much more about them. I want to add a little bit more evidence and maybe give some succour to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, with what I am about to say. The EU’s family reunion directive, passed in 1999, has been signed up to by all member states apart from Britain, Denmark and Ireland. Ireland in fact went ahead and put the measures into primary legislation domestically, and it is now only Britain and Denmark that remain outside that directive. The evidence is that, over the last 10 years, those countries that have signed it have not seen a spike in family reunion applicants. I hope that will put the noble Lord’s concerns to rest a little.
I want to say a bit about the benefits of migration because, too often, we have these debates and we all defend migration, but we should talk a little about what migrants do for us. I will use the word “migrants”, because that was the term used in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Researchers who study human migration say that countries fear that letting in some refugees will encourage more and that migrants will be an economic burden. Yet the evidence shows that both beliefs are false. Even without a worker shortage, migrants need not be a burden. On 4 September 2015, the World Bank, the UN International Labour Organization and the OECD club of rich countries issued a report concluding that,
“in most countries, migrants pay more in taxes and social contributions than they receive”.
In a study in 2014, researchers at University College London found that both European and non-European immigrants to the UK more than paid their way. Non-Europeans living in the UK since 1995 brought £35 billion worth of education with them. Those who arrived between 2000 and 2011 were less likely than native British people to be on state benefits, no more likely to live in social housing and contributed a net £5 billion in taxes during that period.
So the question is, why do doors stay shut? The reasons, say the researchers, are not economic, but fear of the cultural impact of foreigners. But all the evidence shows that, with a positive attitude in communities and good leadership, the host community and migrants both benefit. I will just end by saying that there are articles in Psychology Today that show the psychological benefits to the host communities of having a welcoming attitude to migrants. I also cite the example of a small, remote island in Finland, called Nagu, which welcomed refugees. The residents there are very grateful to the refugees for enriching their lives.
My Lords, I am in general agreement with those who have spoken against the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, which is, I think, draconian in the way it is framed. I would like some comment, however, on the scope of Clause 1(2), where nephews and nieces and so on are included. The number that could be involved is really quite large and may make this Bill’s passage more difficult if it is expressed in that large way. The Secretary of State is required to grant an application other than on grounds of national security. I just suggest that the best is sometimes the enemy of the good, and there is just a danger that, with the Bill as framed, you could have 20 or so family members making an application. In the realpolitik of our society, that is just unlikely to get through. On the other hand, I think that the principle of hospitality and welcome needs strongly to be affirmed. The rather narrow amendment here is resisted, but I do have some hesitations about the breadth of the Bill itself.
My Lords, I rise to make clear that I do not support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Though I like and respect the noble Lord very much, I cannot support him in his amendment today. I very much support the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who set out very carefully and clearly why the amendment should be resisted, as did all other noble Lords who have spoken, including my noble friends Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lord Dubs.
I would understand the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, a bit more if this Bill were saying that any refugee granted status to stay in this country could bring family members to the UK, but it does not say that at all. It says that they may make an application. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, will assure the House that when somebody makes an application to the Home Office, there are some very robust procedures in place. It is not a free for all. I am sure that she will tell the House that, as she will be very well aware of what you have to go through to get an application to enter this country. We discuss matters about the House Office almost every week in this House, and sometimes many times a day. We do not normally say that it is a free for all at the Home Office and that it is far too lenient; we often say quite the contrary about how it operates and can sometimes be very frustrated about the environment at the Home Office, which we think can sometimes be a bit harsh in how it deals with people. I am sure that the Minister will mention more on that.
I also very much agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, who talked about migrants. I am very well aware that the Minister is a migrant herself; she came from Ireland as a child. I am the eldest son of a migrant; my parents also came from Ireland to find work here. I am sure that we would find that many others here are the children or grandchildren of migrants. Migrants have made a very great contribution to our country. They have done wonderful things here and made our country a much better place. I therefore do not support the amendment today, and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it in due course.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her continued, insistent interest and support for changes to the family reunion immigration rules and I reassure noble Lords that I have listened, and will continue to listen, to the many thoughtful and very compassionate contributions that we hear in this House every day. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the NGOs whose support of the proposed changes have provided valuable insight and constructive challenge on this issue. It should go without saying, but I will repeat it because it is a crucial point: individuals and communities—which of course includes refugees—who have made their home here over generations have always been and will continue to be welcome. They provide an invaluable contribution to our social, cultural and economic life.
It is worth briefly reflecting on how much this Government have done, particularly in the region, but also here at home, to help refugees from countries such as Syria. We are on track to resettle 20,000 refugees from Syria and a further 3,000 children and families from the wider MENA region. We have also committed £2.46 billion of humanitarian aid to the Syrian conflict. I also want to provide some context. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Lister, said that we have had few grants of leave outside of the rules. If I go back to 2016, after listening to concerns about how the provisions for leave outside the rules operated, we introduced changes to clarify our guidance. This now makes clear that the policy will apply to adult dependent sons or daughters aged over 18 living in conflict zones. Around 65 visas for leave outside of the rules have been granted over the last three years. We are working to ensure that this policy works as well as possible in practice. In 2010, the UK resettled around 750 recognised refugees. Last year alone, we provided 6,000 people with protection under our resettlement schemes, around half of whom were children. These are the most vulnerable families, who have been safely and securely resettled and supported in rebuilding their lives. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and other noble Lords said, these are human beings and not numbers.
We have provided nearly 50,000 people with protection status in the UK since 2010, who are entitled to apply for their qualifying family members to join them. We provide all those with refugee status, as well as their family members who join them under our family reunion policy, with housing and full access to benefits and healthcare. Over the past five years we have issued 24,700 family reunion visas. The Government take extremely seriously the principle of family unity for refugees in the UK who have fled persecution and need our protection.
I recognise and commend the Bill’s intention of supporting refugee integration and well-being. However, I ask noble Lords to carefully consider the wider implications of significantly expanding the Government’s framework for refugee family reunion. The Bill as it stands would provide for anyone in the UK currently holding refugee status, as well as those to whom we grant refugee status in the future, to sponsor a much wider range of family members. It would also provide extended rights to sponsor refugee family members for British citizens and other settled persons. The Government have always been clear that we need to focus our finite resources on helping the most vulnerable refugees and their families, including those who are already recognised as refugees in the UK. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with that principle. But the expansive provisions in the Bill would undoubtedly impact on our ability to do so.
It is extremely difficult to estimate how many people would choose to apply under the expanded rules, and the Bill gives no estimate. However, it would potentially allow tens of thousands of people to be entitled to come here. Despite the well-intentioned points that noble Lords have made this morning, these proposals would lead to the UK’s family reunion policy being open to many more people who may have no protection needs in their own right and are not necessarily in precarious positions, and regardless of whether they were part of their sponsor’s immediate family before they left. This is likely to have significant cost implications for local authorities and public services. Currently, there is no estimate in the Bill of the numbers of people likely to qualify, or of its potential cost in terms of school places, housing, access to the benefits system or the NHS. The NAO has estimated that we will spend £1.1 billion—
I have been listening carefully. Is the Minister aware that Germany has admitted 1 million Syrian refugees and has just passed legislation very similar to that put before us today by my noble friend Lady Hamwee? Crime there has gone down, unemployment has gone right down and its economy is booming. How does the Minister respond to that?
I recognise totally what the noble Baroness says and what Germany has done. It has caused problems in Germany, and what the Government of the time decided to do has caused integration challenges. But I recognise exactly what the noble Baroness says. I have not mentioned crime or unemployment today; I was simply talking about infrastructure such as public services. I was not going there and I would not want to. I know that the noble Baroness is a very compassionate person indeed.
I have lost my place. I was talking about the extended family reunion rights for British citizens. I will now move on to another point, which I have also lost. I am very glad that the noble Lord is about to intervene.
The Minister said a moment ago that the Bill would allow many thousands of people to come to the country, but all it does is to allow them to make an application. There is quite a distinction between those two things. Perhaps she could confirm that.
The noble Lord is absolutely right, and I also said that it is difficult to estimate. Of course people could make applications, but they would be doing so under the legislation we have passed. However, I made the point that it is quite difficult to get exact numbers.
I recognise the potential implications of the Bill highlighted by the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, which would seek to limit the number of family members that could be granted leave under the Bill to a maximum of two. It is a recognition of the wider impacts the Bill may have. As I think every noble Lord mentioned, it could have a divisive effect on families and on the people in the position of having to make those awful decisions. While the current provisions are more narrowly defined in terms of family members who may qualify, this is not limited to a specific number of individuals. I think that is why noble Lords probably took issue with my noble friend’s amendment. This clearly demonstrates the complexities around this issue and why it requires careful consideration, which is what the Government are doing.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford talked about the Home Office being corrupt, which is quite a strong allegation. He then moved on to the capacity of the Home Office—what has the Home Office done to improve vetting and recruitment procedures? The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, helpfully pointed out that for anyone to get through the Home Office procedures involves a very rigorous process, which is why I am at this Dispatch Box so much, now almost every day of the week, including Friday. As regards vetting in the Home Office, it follows the Cabinet Office vetting process, which is standard across Whitehall. All Home Office staff are bound to adhere to the Civil Service Code, and the Home Office is determined to uphold the highest standards for our staff.
We have all seen the tragic consequences for people, and particularly the terrible sight of unaccompanied children who take dangerous journeys, most likely in the hands of traffickers. While I fully commend its intention, the Bill is likely to place in danger an increased number of those people it seeks to protect. I have not mentioned the P word, because I do not want to dismay the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, but I hope that the noble Baroness will recognise the point I am making. Rather than refugees seeking protection in the first safe country they reach, the Bill creates a perverse incentive for them to make perilous journeys to the UK in the hope of subsequently bringing their family here. We must ensure that we do not put more children in harm’s way, and we are doing this already through resettlement of children and their families direct from the region. We know that policy changes can and do have an impact—
The Minister got just too close to mentioning the unmentionable. Is it really plausible that, say in Idlib, if it is under siege in six weeks’ time, the family sits around the dining table, pick a child and tell it that it must set off across the battle lines and the Mediterranean, to try to get into England so that it can then pull the family into England? That is implausible. We are talking about refugee reunion and about children. We really must stop talking about this wildly implausible pull factor. They come here to escape being killed; they do not come here in order to become a magnet for the rest of the family.
I do not dispute a word of what the noble Lord says—that people’s intention in coming here is to flee the terrible things happening in their countries. I am saying that we have all seen the horrible pictures of children who have made these journeys and have either died or got themselves into terrible danger on the way. We talk about this often.
Is the Minister aware that the independent inquiry of the Human Trafficking Foundation in July last year found exactly the reverse of what she said? It found that the fewer safe and legal routes there are to process asylum seekers and refugees, the more power the smugglers have.
I am slightly confused by what the noble Baroness is saying. I do not think that anyone would dispute that a child sent across the Mediterranean is very vulnerable to traffickers. I will give an example of what I mean by that. Immediately following the recent UK-France Sandhurst summit and the press reports suggesting a further transfer of minors to the UK, the number of children arriving in Calais more than doubled, from 59 to 137. There is no disputing that children who travel alone like that are in danger from all sorts of unintended consequences of our wanting to give them support and refuge. Although civil war or persecution is the absolute deciding factor in whether an individual flees their country, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, it does not explain the decisions made in undertaking dangerous secondary movements.
This Government have invested significantly in supporting the most vulnerable refugees through our resettlement programmes. These are safe and legal routes to protection and are designed to keep families together without the need for migrants to embark on dangerous journeys or to put their children in the hands of criminals who exploit them. We should not create potentially perverse incentives outside of those schemes, as this Bill proposes.
Nor must we lose sight of how the family reunion policy fits within wider asylum and resettlement work. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his place, because that includes implementing Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. The Government have committed to the transfer of 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK under Section 67. Over 220 children are already here and transfers are ongoing. This is in addition to current commitments under the Dublin regulation. Work continues with member states and relevant partners to ensure that children with qualifying family in the UK can be transferred quickly and safely to have their asylum claim determined in the UK.
There has been much debate about what will happen after we leave the EU if the family reunification provisions under the Dublin regulation are no longer available. Retaining the family reunification provisions of the Dublin regulation post EU exit was the subject of the recent amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I state again that the Dublin regulation does not confer immigration status; it is a mechanism for deciding the member state responsible for considering an asylum claim. Anyone transferred under the Dublin regulation will be expected to leave the UK if they are found not to need protection. The family reunion rules will continue to enable immediate family members to reunite safely with their loved ones in the UK, regardless of the country in which those family members are based.
Finally, the Bill makes provision for legal aid to be reinstated for family reunion cases. The Government are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of legal aid reforms, including an assessment of the changes to the scope of legal aid for immigration cases. The review will report later this year. It is important that we do not introduce legislation that pre-empts the outcome of that review, which needs to run its course.
I will just pick up on some other points on which I have had pieces of paper passed to me. One noble Lord mentioned the EU comparisons. We understand that on 1 August this year Germany will introduce a new migrant family reunification law for those with subsidiary protection. It will provide rights to family reunion where there were no rights before. The media have reported that some 26,000 inquiries about this new law have already been received by the German Government. I have probably made that point slightly out of step with where I should have said it in my speech.
I conclude by reassuring noble Lords that we will continue to listen to concerns about family reunion. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, whose efforts in this area are consistent and determined and come from absolutely the right place. However, our starting point is that family reunion is a matter for the Immigration Rules, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, and for policy rather than primary legislation. I look forward to carrying on working with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, together with all other noble Lords, on this very important and sensitive issue.
Before the noble Lord responds, this is not the moment to continue the debate, although I could take issue with a number of the Minister’s comments. However, criticism has been made of the fact that there is no estimate of numbers or costs in the Bill. I accept that there is no impact assessment, and it would be difficult for someone like me to undertake one, but if that is an offer from the Minister for me to go into the Home Office and spend time with officials to work on the detail, I would be absolutely delighted to do so.
My Lords, again before the noble Lord responds, is it not right to pay tribute to the caseworkers? This debate has highlighted the immense challenges they face in making their judgments. Does the Minister not agree that it is right for us to pay great tribute to their work? Can she assure the Committee that, when she looks at capacity in the Home Office, she will ensure that those caseworkers get all the emotional support and time they need to reflect on their work so that it does not overburden them, perhaps contributing to the poor outcomes from casework that we occasionally see?
My Lords, the Home Office often comes in for negative comments, so it is always nice to hear noble Lords pay tribute to the dedicated staff who work tirelessly for the right reasons and for the right outcomes for the people who apply. I look forward to the analysis of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I think we all agree that underlying the Bill are the humane intentions which we all support. Every example given was fully valid and I support them all. However, the fact remains that the Bill removes from the Home Office the powers and opportunities to control the total number of people who come into the country. I have indicated that I have a pretty low opinion of the Home Office’s capacity in this respect, but the right reverend Prelate put his finger on this point, which I mentioned in my speech: the only ground on which an application can be stopped by the Secretary of State is that of national security.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, applications are available, but if there is no government check—the Bill explicitly and deliberately removes the government check—and if the Government do not have the ability to make the final decision, which of course is subject to every sort of lobbying and debate and all the rest of it, you are abrogating the overall control of immigration which I believe the people of this country would always insist upon. That is the fundamental error of the Bill.
My amendment was merely intended to draw attention to this and to reduce the possible number. I have said already that I thought 100,000 would probably be too many to be allowed in, but the Government must take on more clearly a policy on how many people and in what circumstances because I am by no means sure. The Government have always said that they want the brightest and the best, and that must be right for the country. None the less, there are strong humanitarian arguments for individual refugees to be able to be reunited in this country with their families. But it is about the way in which that is done and the avoidance of it being sidetracked by those with less creditable motives. It is important that we safeguard against that, and the only people who can do so are the Government and the Home Secretary.
There is a deep flaw in the Bill, but, equally, it has been worth while, and I hope that this has been a worthwhile debate. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clauses 2 to 5 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.