4C: After Clause 2, page 2, line 22, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion
(1) The Secretary of State must review, or arrange for a review of, the ways in which protection claimants who are in a member State are able to enter the United Kingdom lawfully.
(2) For the purposes of this section a “protection claimant” is a person who—
(a) has made an application for international protection to a member State, or
(b) is not a national of a member State and is seeking to come to the United Kingdom from a member State for the purpose of making a protection claim.
(3) The review under subsection (1) must, in particular—
(a) consider the position of unaccompanied children in member States who are protection claimants and are seeking to come to the United Kingdom to join relatives there, and
(b) include a public consultation on that aspect of the review.
(4) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement providing further details about the review under subsection (1) and, in particular, about the aspect of the review described in subsection (3).
(5) After the review, the Secretary of State must—
(a) prepare a report on the outcome of the review or arrange for such a report to be prepared, and
(b) publish the report and lay it before Parliament.
(6) In this section—
“application for international protection” has the meaning given by Article 2(h) of Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on standards for the qualification of third country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted;
“protection claim” has the same meaning as in Part 5 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (see section 82(2) of that Act);
“relative”, in relation to an unaccompanied child, means a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child;
“unaccompanied child” means a person under the age of 18 (“the child”) who is not in the care of a person who—
(a) is aged 18 or over, and
(b) by law or custom of the country or territory in which the child is present, has responsibility for caring for the child.”
4D: Page 5, line 33, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (1A),”
4E: Page 5, line 34, at end insert—
“(1A) The following provisions of section (Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion) come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—
(a) subsection (4);
(b) subsections (2) and (6) so far as relating to subsection (4).”
My Lords, I turn to the issue of family reunion, which relates to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in Amendment 4B and his most recent Motion A1, which seeks to amend the Government’s Amendment 4C, agreed to in the other place.
I accept the spirit of the noble Lord’s amendment. I reiterate that this Government share the noble Lord’s sincere concerns about refugee and asylum-seeking children. We are determined to continue our proud record of providing safety to those who need it, and supporting vulnerable children remains a fundamental tenet of this. Within this, we also recognise the importance of family unity, which I know is such a vital issue for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords who will no doubt speak today. The Government absolutely share those concerns.
I take this opportunity to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht today. It was Kristallnacht that effectively gave birth to the Kindertransport scheme, which enabled 10,000 refugee children to come to the UK in the 1930s, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I am of course extremely proud of what the UK did then and continue to be proud of what we are doing now and our record in government.
The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe, receiving more claims than any EU member state in 2019 and 20% of all claims made in the EU and the UK. There are more than 5,000 unaccompanied children being looked after in English local authorities alone. Our resettlement schemes were the largest in Europe over the last five years, directly resettling over 25,000 people from regions of conflict and instability, half of whom were children.
I turn now to family reunion, with which the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is concerned—and on which, I hasten to add, Commons Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E also include significant commitments. On 1 January 2021, the UK will cease to be bound by the Dublin regulation. Instead, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe with family members in the UK will be able to apply to join eligible sponsors, such as those with refugee leave or who are beneficiaries of humanitarian protection, those with British citizenship or those with settled status under the Immigration Rules. Anyone who might currently have been transferred under Dublin will have a route through which they can apply, where the sponsor has the relevant status. I will make sure that guidance is updated to ensure that this is clear and transparent.
While these routes are already available to them now, historically, the Dublin regulation has been the preferred transfer route. This is not surprising where children have been in the care of a member state which can refer cases to other states via Dublin. Noble Lords and others have raised concerns that our existing Immigration Rules may not provide precisely the same routes for unaccompanied children to reunite with family members in the UK as the Dublin regulation currently does. I want to reassure noble Lords about what our existing rules do and the opportunities they provide for children to reunite with their families.
The rules already make provision for a child to be reunited with a parent in the UK, either under the refugee family reunion rules or via Appendix FM, depending on the immigration status of the parent. There are no financial requirements or fees for applications under our family reunion rules. In addition, paragraphs 319X and 297 of the rules are extremely flexible provisions that already allow for children to apply to join a wide range of family members who are not their parents, if there are serious and compelling family considerations and those relatives can maintain and accommodate the child. Under these rules, we do not restrict the range of those family members. For example, an uncle or aunt with refugee status or British citizenship, or who is settled in the UK, could sponsor a nephew or niece to join them here where those basic requirements are met.
It is important to say that these rules are global; it could be a child coming from Syria, Lebanon, France or Greece. Noble Lords may also wish to note that the vast majority of unaccompanied children who came to join family members under Dublin in 2019 joined British citizens, refugees or those granted humanitarian protection, or settled persons.
Following our departure from the Dublin regulation, I expect to see a greater number of applications for unaccompanied children to reunite with family members in the UK under our existing rules. While applications must be considered on a case-by-case basis, I anticipate unaccompanied children in the EU whose best interests would be served by reuniting with family members in the UK who can support them—where they cannot reunite with family elsewhere—clearly to be strong candidates to meet the criteria.
I know that noble Lords have raised concerns about the requirements of these rules. However, the Dublin regulation also has requirements. While the processes are different, the Dublin regulation and our Immigration Rules both rightly examine safeguarding and welfare issues. For example, any Dublin transfer must be in the child’s best interests, and the rules also consider the child’s best interests in our decision-making. Both Dublin transfers and the rules also require evidence of family links, which is essential for safeguarding purposes. For a child to join extended family members—which make up the majority of cases—under Dublin, the sponsor must be able to take care of the child, which is very reasonable. Under Dublin, trained social workers conduct family assessments at the sponsors’ home, including assessing their accommodation, to ensure that these requirements are met. It is also right that our rules examine, for example, whether a child can be accommodated in a home that does not breach housing laws.
However, unlike Dublin, which simply provides for their transfer to the UK to have their asylum claim processed here, our rules grant children a form of leave—that distinction is very important. A child granted leave under family reunion rules will also immediately be provided with a route to settlement, or may even be granted settlement on arrival, depending on the immigration status of the sponsor. Under the refugee family reunion rules alone, we issued over 29,000 refugee family reunion visas in the last five years, and around half of these were for children. This includes 6,320 visas issued in the year ending June of this year. That is over 10 times the number of all family reunion transfers under the Dublin regulation in 2019.
Importantly, there is also discretion for immigration caseworkers to grant leave to enter outside of the Immigration Rules, where a refusal under the rules would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences, or on the basis of Article 8 of the ECHR, on family life. This discretion is also used where other family requirements cannot be met, such as accommodation and maintenance. Use of discretion will be considered in every case where a child has applied under the rules to join a family member.
However, we are not complacent about the safe and legal routes that our existing rules provide, including for family reunion for unaccompanied children. That is why we have made generous statutory commitments in our substantive amendment in lieu, Amendment 4C. The amendment commits to: a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; a public consultation on those legal routes for family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; laying a statement providing further detail of this review and consultation before Parliament within three months of the immigration Bill achieving Royal Assent; preparing a report on the outcome of the review, and to publishing and laying that report before Parliament. Amendments 4D and 4E concern commencement of the commitment in Amendment 4C to lay a statement before Parliament: they specify that this will come into force within two months of Royal Assent.
Due to the scope of the Bill, the government amendments in lieu refer only to legal routes for those who have made an application for international protection in an EU member state, or are seeking to come to the UK from a member state to claim protection here. However, I can confirm that the review which we conduct will be concerned with legal routes from all countries, not just EU member states. This is in line with our new, global approach to the future immigration system. Noble Lords will remember that I have already committed on the Floor of this House that the UK will pursue bilateral negotiations with key countries of mutual interest on post-transition migration issues, which will include family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I trust that noble Lords will agree that the Government’s Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E—agreed in the other place—in addition to my commitment on bilateral discussions, are a generous package of commitments providing for a full consideration of our future approach to safe and legal routes as part of our new global immigration system, including on family reunion for these children. It clearly demonstrates how seriously this Government take the issue of family unity for vulnerable children and recognise the importance of these routes, to discourage vulnerable children from making dangerous and illegal journeys that can result in the kind of tragedy that we saw last week.
Amendment 4B, and Motion A1 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would also require the Government to replicate the Dublin routes for adults and families to join family members in the UK. Our family reunion rules, part 8 of the rules and appendix FM all provide existing routes for adults and accompanied children to join immediate family members in the UK. Again, there is discretion for caseworkers to grant leave to enter outside of the Immigration Rules where a refusal under the rules would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences, or on the basis of Article 8 of the ECHR, on family life.
It is essential that the Bill receives Royal Assent without further delays if key elements of the Government’s future border and immigration system, including the new skilled workers route as well as social security co-ordination, are to be implemented as planned. Any further delay puts at risk the ending of free movement at the end of the transition period, a central manifesto commitment that the British people voted for and which has been strongly supported by the other place, and it risks free movement continuing on an unreciprocated basis.
In view of this, and in view of the fact that we have issued 6,320 refugee family reunion visas in the year ending June 2020—our record speaks for itself—as compared to 532 family reunion transfers under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of Dublin in 2019, I am sure that noble Lords would agree that there is no need for this amendment. I ask that noble Lords agree the Government’s Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E, which have been endorsed in the other place, and respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, not to divide the House on his Amendment 4B and Motion A1. I beg to move.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
4F: After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) Until such a time as the report under subsection (5) has been published and either any included recommendations on the position of unaccompanied children under subsection (3)(a) have been implemented or a reason has been given for non-implementation, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for protection claimants who are in a member State after 1 January 2021, and who would have been eligible to enter the United Kingdom under a relevant provision of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 if the United Kingdom remained a party to that regulation, to enter the United Kingdom.”
4G: In subsection (6) insert—
““Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013” means Regulation (EU) No. 604/ 2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council including the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);
“relevant provision” means any of the following articles of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013— (a) Article 8; (b) Article 9; (c) Article 10; (d) Article 16; (e) Article 17;””
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement and I am grateful for the civil conversations I had with her over the weekend about it. I very much welcome the review that the Government have initiated, and I obviously look forward to seeing the outcome.
I appreciate what the Minister said about the anniversary of Kristallnacht; she also talked about Kindertransport children arriving here. All I would say is that, as one of them, I have always been enormously grateful to this country for the safety and the opportunities it has given me. I only want to achieve for other children coming here in similar circumstances the same sort of opportunities I have had in the United Kingdom.
The purpose of the amendment was to seek assurances that the ending of the family reunion provisions under the Dublin treaty on 31 December would not disadvantage refugee children who were seeking a route to this country. The amendment simply seeks to put in place interim arrangements for refugees seeking to reunite with family members in the UK after the transitional period is over, until the government review is completed, so that there should not be a gap in the provision for refugees seeking to reunite with their families.
Clearly the Minister’s wish was to make it unnecessary for me to pursue my amendment, so let me deal with that in a little detail, although, as I have said, I welcome the Government’s plans to review the whole issue. I remind the House that we are talking about children, many of them in Calais, Dunkirk or on the Greek islands, sleeping rough and at the mercy of traffickers. We have seen the tragic consequences of what the traffickers do to make money while risking the lives of very vulnerable people. It is my belief that the British people are essentially humanitarian, and that the majority of people in this country support our being generous to child refugees—not all, but the majority —so we are not flying in the face of the majority of public opinion in what we do for child refugees.
I listened very hard to t the Minister and I welcome many of the things that she mentioned. Let me put three questions to her. If there are to be changes in the Immigration Rules—maybe there are not, but if there are—could the Minister arrange for these first to be published in draft form, so that we have the ability to suggest possible changes? My understanding is that normally Immigration Rules are like subordinate legislation, and we cannot simply amend them—we can either reject or accept them.
Therefore, the possibility of influencing changes in the Immigration Rules by having them first published in draft form would be a sensible measure, and I hope the Minister will agree. I believe it has been done before on occasion. We do not want to be in the position of having to either accept or reject them without having first had the chance to debate and, possibly, influence them. If these changes to the Immigration Rules are to happen, I imagine they have to happen by 1 January 202, to give effect to the policies that the Minister just described.
Secondly, the Minister referred to policy guidance to give effect to the Immigration Rules. Obviously, I welcome that, but can it be published in due course—that is, before the end of December—so that we can see the nature of the guidance? The difficulty is that the Immigration Rules are more restrictive than the Dublin treaty provisions. The problem is whether what the Minister said will enable an element of flexibility in the interpretation of the Immigration Rules by officials to be achieved. If that can be done, all well and good.
I hope the Minister will indicate that the Government’s aim is that no child should be disadvantaged by any restrictions in the Immigration Rules tighter than those contained in the Dublin treaty. If the Minister can do that by the end of December, we have a positive way forward for the interim, until the Government’s review is completed, when some of these discussions can happen again. I beg to move.
The following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark.
My Lords, I support the position taken by my noble friend the Minister in her Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E. As noble Lords will know, I am not entirely in favour of the Bill. I do not like the fact that it applies to migrants from the EU only and, with other noble Lords, I sought amendments to the new system. For example, I remain unhappy about permitting those coming to work here to take jobs that have not first been advertised to talent here in the UK. This is perverse and will simply serve to increase unemployment. I am astonished that the trade union interest is so unconcerned about this.
However, the Bill is already overdue and, across the House, we all have an interest in getting it on to the statute book in time for people to understand the new rules when transition ends. I cannot support continued ping-pong and I ask the Opposition proponents of the proposals on unaccompanied children to show more responsibility. If they cannot—I detected a certain softening from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—I hope that others across the House will do so and that this latest attempt at ping-pong will fail.
The fact is that the Government have made very substantial concessions—further than I would have gone, with experience of these matters from Downing Street in the 1990s. In particular, they have promised a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and committed themselves to meeting various parliamentary milestones. They have also promised bilateral negotiations with key countries on post-transition migration issues. That will be especially important in the unlikely event of a full breakdown of the FTA with the EU.
The government package should be accepted now and we should avoid the embarrassment of another round of ping-pong. To inform the review and thinking today, I make the following observations. Although I, too, celebrate the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are no longer in the 1930s. In the Bill, we are talking about children coming from the EU—all countries that observe decency and freedom and are subject to the EHRC. Moreover, in the UK, despite beating ourselves up on occasions, we have a good record. There are various avenues for entering the UK as a minor. My noble friend the Minister has explained these in detail and why Dublin is not the only route. I will not repeat what she said, but I emphasise that since 2010, we have granted protection or other forms of leave to more than 44,000 children seeking protection. In 2019, we received 3,775 asylum claims from unaccompanied children—more than any other EU member state.
The latest tragedies in the channel do not change any of that. They do, however, underline the view, shared by us all, I think, that we need a system that encourages safe and legal routes and does not encourage child trafficking of any kind. However, we know from Swedish and US experience, which I am happy to share, that special arrangements for admitting unaccompanied minors can, sadly, be counterproductive. Done in the wrong way, they can mean that the criminals have an incentive to separate children from their relatives, and then they can, unfortunately, end up being trafficked for sex or as drug runners. Some have also suggested that where children come on their own—for example to link up with an aunt or a sibling—it often does not work out and they end up in care. Despite the best efforts of many well-run local authorities, this, as we know from a series of appalling metrics and individual cases, is the worst possible place for a good start in life.
A review, as now proposed by the Government, is needed before further changes are made. Moreover, as I argue on everything from pensions and agriculture to coronavirus, a proper costing must be done and resources identified to make any change of policy a success. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that a defeat today for the Government on this will not help them with the important negotiation on these and other issues currently taking place with the EU. I thank the Minister for the amendments tabled by the Government and urge noble Lords to let the Bill get on its way to Royal Assent.
My Lords, I speak in favour of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In doing so, I speak not only on my account but also in place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who is locked down in the north-east and therefore, because of the procedures for consideration of Commons amendments, is unable to speak on this amendment, although that had been very much his intention.
Family life and kin relationships are vital in many parts of the world to ensure survival. Even in the UK, family means the difference between misery, destitution and poor mental health and a life where, even in the most difficult circumstances, there is practical care, support and love. Thus, I, too, welcome the Government’s steps towards ensuring safe and legal routes, including the commitment in case of a no-deal Brexit, to pursue bilateral negotiations on arrangements for family reunion, which I trust they will seek to ensure are equivalent to the Dublin regulations. I welcome the Minister’s commitments and await with interest her further comments following what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, just said.
However, a step in the right direction is not the end of the journey. While a review of safe and legal routes is welcome, these steps do not directly deal with what will happen when the UK leaves the Dublin system at the end of the year. Nor does a review safeguard existing routes, which we already know to be worth while and effective. These high standards and guarantees in refugee protection will fall away and the routes will close down.
Throughout the Bible, there is teaching on the necessity for our actions to match well-intended words. Thus, in the Old Testament, the prophet Micah reminds us that we are to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly, not just to speak of justice or mercy. I therefore point out that your Lordships are seeking action rather than reviews. We are asking for a concrete commitment to walk down the path of justice and mercy for those seeking refuge, most especially unaccompanied children.
There are many areas of government migration policy on which we already await reviews. In particular, we wait for one on asylum seekers’ right to work and another on the impact of hostile environment measures, to which the Government have already committed as part of their response to Windrush. In neither case is there as yet a clear timetable. A review is not action. A review without a timetable is not a review any time soon. In the meantime, the need is pressing and ongoing. We require action to fill the legislative gap that will otherwise open up in January to the detriment of some very vulnerable individuals.
Securing satisfactory family reunion rights is an important part of a wider picture, ensuring not only safe and legal routes but also an effective, functioning, humane asylum system. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, recognises this. As he has explained, his amendment seeks to remove a gap in provision. He is an individual of great sensibility and experience in these matters and commands widespread respect across the House. On an issue in which compassion and humanity must be at the forefront of our response, I hope that your Lordships will demonstrate the necessary independence of spirit which these children and their families require of us. I support his amendment.
Does any other noble Lord in the Chamber wish to speak? No. In which case, I shall call the speakers listed, the first of whom is the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. When we travel on the London Tube, there is a warning to “mind the gap”. In their contributions, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, have said that there is potentially a gap in provision between Dublin III and whatever is brought forward for January of next year. It is right that we should mind that gap.
On 21 March 2016, by a margin of 306 votes to 204, your Lordships carried an amendment on unaccompanied child refugees. Four years later, the noble lord, Lord Dubs, valiantly keeps us focused on the plight of refugee children. Four years ago, the noble Lord asked me to be a signatory to what in shorthand became known as the Dubs amendment. I readily agreed. I said at that time that the repeated use of the argument about the so-called pull factors—some of which were mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—cannot, in the case of children, outweigh our duty to do all in our power to safeguard and save any child at risk. Not to do so would leave a lasting stain on our reputation.
In the four years since we first considered the Dubs amendment, we have seen shocking reports of children dying, abandoned, disappearing, trafficked or exploited during perilous journeys. The recent death of two little children in the English Channel, after their boat capsized, simply underlines yet again why it is crucial that we find these safe and legal routes, and long-term solutions that hit hard the criminal gangs that profiteer and exploit desperation, while tackling the root causes that create such phenomenal displacement.
In 2015, we were all deeply affected by the harrowing picture of a little Syrian toddler, washed up like so much flotsam and jetsam on a beach near Bodrum. The tragic deaths of a five year-old and an eight year-old in the English Channel starkly remind us that little has changed since then.
The Dubs amendment will not save the life of every child. Family reunions provided for in the Dublin III regulation are, at best, a safety net. But its absence after 31 December—the gap mentioned—could make a bad and tragic situation even worse.
Against this background, the House of Commons has once again returned this amendment to your Lordships House. I know that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, believes that the plight of children should be a top-tier priority for the Government—in her remarks a few moments ago, she used the phrase “a fundamental tenet”. She is justifiably proud of the help we have given. Thanks to parliamentary pressure, the Government have been able to tell a better story today than might otherwise have been the case. Surely that shows the importance of parliamentary debates such as this. However, she must also accept that the talk and rhetoric from others of nets and water canon to disable or push back boats and of the use of oil rigs or remote islands to lock up migrants, and the absence of any international initiative—ideally led by the United Kingdom—to tackle the root causes, are deeply dispiriting.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of the 79.5 million people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes, nearly 26 million are refugees. The UNHCR estimates that 40% are children and 68% come from just five countries. It cannot be beyond our wit—our collective genius—to drive this issue to the top of Governments’ agendas. Even if they do not accept that there are altruistic and humanitarian reasons to act, there are plenty of self-interested reasons why they should do so.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us, today we commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht—the night of broken glass—which included the destruction of 267 synagogues. Eleanor Rathbone MP established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. Two years later, on 10 July 1940, in a six-hour debate, she intervened on no fewer than 20 occasions to insist that Britain had a duty of care to the refugees being hunted down by the Nazis. She said that a nation had an obligation to give succour to those fleeing persecution—in her words,
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/1940; col. 1212.]
She said that discussions about asylum seekers and refugees
“always begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles—fear of anti-semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us”.
In 2020, nothing much has changed, and it is hard not to see the parallels.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was one of the few rescued by Kindertransport, and his commendable determination for us to remain focused on the needs of refugee children was born in those shocking times.
The clock is ticking towards 31 December. The Government’s amendment legislates for a review on safe and legal routes in the new year, including specifically on family reunion. I welcome that, but, on 1 January, children will potentially have impaired access to family reunion, and many may be left stranded alone in Europe. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, adds a requirement that current family reunion laws are kept until the review and report are complete, so that no child loses out from accessing this vital safe and legal route.
Like the noble Lord, I am pleased by the spirt and tone of everything which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has said this afternoon. However, I would prefer to see this written in the Bill, and I will follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—metaphorically anyway—into the Lobby and vote to send this back to the Commons one final time if he does not believe that the Government’s assurances go far enough.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, safe routes are needed now. We know that people will not and cannot wait. And who can blame them?
I want to question the Minister about the review, particularly to seek an assurance about one aspect. Proposed new subsection (1) in the amendment refers to the review of ways in which protection claimants can enter the UK lawfully. This suggests that the review is to be limited to considering existing ways, when what is needed are proposals to enable safe mechanisms for family reunion without the current hurdles and restrictions. Siblings must be able to reunite and close family members—not only parents—able to sponsor entry without having to find fees or demonstrate that they have the means to look after the child.
I am concerned that there is no stated objective for the review; that seems to be missing. Also missing, as the right reverend Prelate has said, is a timetable for the completion of the review. The three months mentioned is the period within which the Government are to give further details. Can the Minister help us with the wider timetable and consultation, which surely needs to be wider than just unaccompanied children?
Reference has been made to the use of guidance. Can guidance achieve what is proposed? It cannot override the rules. I endorse and support the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about the importance of seeing drafts both of rules and guidance. Parliamentarians can then have input and amendments can be gently suggested, if not formally proposed. We cannot do this with unamendable rules.
It is beyond me that what is necessary now is to show
“serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”,
in the words of the rules. Putting it that way round, rather than the converse, has always seemed perverse to me. So, too, is the policy that an application under Article 8 of the European convention, on the right to family life, will not succeed unless there are “exceptional circumstances” with refusal resulting in “unjustifiably harsh consequences”.
On the timetable again, one of the government amendments refers to two months from the date of commencement, which is beyond the end of the year. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be no lacuna as a result and that work on plugging the gap, as it were, will start immediately and apply notwithstanding the commencement date? If there needs to be a change, can it be made in the Commons? I appreciate that that would require the Bill to go back to the Commons.
In practice, it is very difficult to show that a child is in an unsafe environment. Other current problems that need to be considered are getting a child to a visa application centre to make an application under the rules, and the fees which, under one of the paragraphs of the rules, are well over £3,000. I make these perhaps slightly random points because, alone, they show the importance of consultation on the whole situation.
The Minister in the Commons referred to
“dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/9/20; col. 182.]
I stress “unnecessary”. Would the crossings be made if they were? And was it appropriate to refer to lives lost and profit made by criminals as if they were of equal weight?
The noble Baroness referred to bilaterals. If she can give us an update, it would be welcome, but I appreciate that it may be difficult to refer to negotiations with the EU at the moment. Bilaterals would have to come after the end of the year, but we should not depend on them being in place for some time yet.
I realise that I am not taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as I should, who always succeeds in using the most moderate language. He started by welcoming Amendment 4C, so I will end by confirming that these Benches are pleased that he has again pointed the way forward. We support him. If he decides to divide, we will certainly go with him. In any event, like him, we will continue to seek a much more satisfactory arrangement for asylum seekers, who want the most natural thing in the world: to be with their family.
We welcome the government amendment providing for a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and for a report on the outcome of the review to be published and laid before Parliament—which I hope will be within a matter of months, rather than years.
The concern that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dubs seeks to address is what will apply in the interim, between the end of the transition period—and thus the end of the Dublin regulations—and the introduction of any revised or amended arrangements on legal routes to the UK, following the outcome of the review. In other words, there needs to be provision for those, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who would have come in successfully under the Dublin regulations—had they still been in existence after the end of this year—still to have an equally accessible and achievable safe and legal route in that interim period, which would continue to enable them to come to the UK.
My noble friend Lord Dubs raised some questions arising from the wording on this point in the Minister’s statement. We await to see whether, following the Government’s response, my noble friend considers the wording of the Minister’s statement sufficient to enable him to withdraw his amendment or he seeks a vote. Either way, he will have our full backing and support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The gap was mentioned. I hope that I outlined in my speech the substantial number of routes available, whatever people’s circumstances, to apply to come here and seek our refuge and asylum.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked me three specific questions. The first was whether, if there are changes to the Immigration Rules, we can publish them in draft form. The answer is yes. He asked whether we could publish the guidance before 31 December. I said in my speech and will reiterate that I will ensure that the guidance reflects the position and update it if necessary. I would be happy to update it if changes are needed by 31 December. I am also happy to take his views on the review process on board. I think that was it from him so, in a nutshell, I am happy to do all those things.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe stressed the importance of safe and legal routes, not the child trafficking that we see at the moment. She talked about the cost of these things being important. Of course it is; it will be considered in due course.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about Dublin ending and routes closing down. I have explained that, as we are leaving the European Union, Dublin will come to an end, but we will not close any of our existing routes. Just to illustrate some of the numbers, as I mentioned in my speech, we issued 6,320 family reunion visas in the year ending June 2020, which contrasts with 532 family reunion transfers under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of Dublin. All the routes that I set out earlier are and will continue to be in force.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about children who are dying, trafficked and missing, and the criminal gangs who exploit them. I could not agree with him more, but this exists as Dublin does, so the safe and legal routes are absolutely essential. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is completely focused on this. I can also confirm this afternoon that the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme will restart as soon as possible. It has to be safe to do so, but it will restart. I have some lines on it but I cannot find them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about the review being linked to safe mechanisms. That is why we are doing it: for safe and legal routes. We could not be clearer. She made an interesting point, asking why we are mentioning lives lost and criminals together. We are mentioning them because that is why people die—because criminals encourage them to take dangerous routes across the very dangerous English Channel and other seas. That is why they die. She also asked about the wider timetable, which we will include in the Statement that we are committed to. She asked whether the consultation is wider than just UASCs and, yes, it is. Family reunions for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is just part of the wider issue. She also talked about getting people to visa application centres. This morning I talked about that issue to my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister, who is looking at it.
I hope that I have demonstrated how the gap will be filled, and have demonstrated my commitment to all the things that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has asked of me, and that he can withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, giving evidence to support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that parliamentary debate is a good thing, which clarifies issues and highlights our concerns, and is therefore an essential part of our democratic process.
I will make a few brief comments before getting to the nub of what the Minister said. I believe firmly that, if there are safe and legal routes, fewer people are trafficked, and fewer people want to be trafficked. I heard of a refugee child, I think near Calais, who apparently said: “Does it mean that there will be no safe of getting to the UK after Brexit to join my family?” As Brexit has happened, he probably meant the transition period. Clearly he was concerned that, if there was no way of getting to join his family, he would be forced to do the dangerous thing of crossing the channel. I appreciate that the Minister quoted some numbers, but many of those have come as the result of trafficking. We want a safe and legal route so that children can come without the awful risk to their lives, a proper way of bringing them over without everybody arriving in Kent, which is a burden on the local authorities. However, I am sure that we will scrutinise the Minister’s words very carefully. They will be subject to forensic analysis, to see what the Government are saying.
The Minister did not say that she would publish the guidance but that it would be updated. One argument in favour of publishing it is that the Immigration Rules give officials a lot of discretion, and a concern underlying my amendment is that this discretion has in the past been used against the interests of refugee children. If the guidance ensures what I believe is the main aim of this debate—that no child should be disadvantaged through the ending of the Dublin regulation—then we are there. If the Minister can only assure me that the guidance will be published and that, while it cannot guarantee it in every case, it will aim to ensure that no child will be disadvantaged, I would be persuaded. Can the Minister comment in the middle of my speech?
I am quite happy to speak now if the noble Lord will take the intervention. He and I spoke last night, when he asked me for that commitment that no child be disadvantaged. Clearly, I cannot speak on every single case that may or may not happen. As I told him last night, I would be lying if I said that I could make a judgment on every case. I hope that I have outlined clearly—although I start to doubt myself, given that some noble Lords have come back on it—that there are clear routes and humanitarian grounds on which we can accept children. Therefore, I hope that through the commitments that I have made to him today, any person who has applied under Dublin will have a route open to them, as long as the sponsor has the relevant status. I hope that that comforts the noble Lord.
I am grateful to the Minister. We had three conversations yesterday, and I recall her saying that. I take the point, but my niggle or concern is that the interpretation of Immigration Rules will still be with officials, who may not be as generous in their attitude as the Minister is. That is why I am keen to see the guidance. If the officials are going to interpret the Immigration Rules for this interim period in the same spirit as the Minister has addressed the House today, I can rest content.
I am delighted that the Minister said that the vulnerable persons refugee scheme will be revived, as that was a very good scheme as well. If the Minister’s assurance is to be accepted by me—and I think I will accept it—I do so on the understanding that the House will carefully scrutinise what happens, that we shall raise individual cases where we feel that the assurances have not been acted upon, and that we will look to the review and the future legislation—there is another Bill coming next year—to have further scrutiny of the arrangements for unaccompanied child refugees. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.
Motion A agreed.