Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2023

House of Lords

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Uganda: LGBT People


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take in response to the recently announced measures of discrimination against LGBT people in Uganda.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I declare my interest as an ambassador for UNAIDS.

My Lords, the UK is appalled by the Government of Uganda’s decision on 26 May to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. We have made this clear to all levels of the Ugandan Government and continue to do so. This Act will have an impact on the UK-Uganda relationship. It undermines the protections and freedoms of all Ugandans, enshrined in the Ugandan constitution. It will increase the risk of violence, discrimination and persecution, and it will set back the fight against HIV and AIDS.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply—I agree with every word. Is it not a fact that the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by the Uganda Government opens the way to penal action against homosexuality for no reason other than that a person is homosexual? Franky, it is one of the most evil laws that has ever been passed. Surely the question for the Government here is what we can do about it. I put it to the Minister that, first, we should give all support to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in his efforts to counter the deeply prejudicial propaganda put forward by some other religious leaders. Secondly, rather than cutting back aid, we should provide extra assistance for civil society organisations combating the discrimination that is now so widespread in Uganda and is doing so much harm and damage.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, whom I commend for his work on AIDS and the like. He is right: the Act is one of the most regressive pieces of modern legislation against the LGBT+ community in the world. Consensual same-sex sexual acts carry a sentence of life imprisonment. I entirely agree with the noble Lord’s remarks about the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who I believe wrote to the Archbishop of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba, to express his grief and dismay at the Church of Uganda’s support for the Bill and was subsequently criticised for doing so. Kaziimba went on to describe the Archbishop as being ill informed. Our ODA efforts in Uganda are primarily to drive clean, green and inclusive growth and mutual prosperity but also to improve the resilience, and defend the rights, of vulnerable people. I very much hope that they will continue to pursue those objectives.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register and I welcome the response thus far from the Minister. However, the assurance I seek from—

My Lords, I sense that the House would like me to continue. I seek assurances from the Minister that our high commission is in contact with and supporting Sexual Minorities Uganda, particularly Dr Frank Mugisha, its executive director, and other human rights defenders. Although this is not his department, can the Minister look into and ensure that the FCDO is not funding organisations that are campaigning across that part of Africa to remove LGBT rights? Given the debate on, and the amendment we recently passed to, the Illegal Migration Bill, will he and the Home Office ensure safe and legal routes for LGBT+ people and their human rights defenders?

Again, the noble Lord raises some very good points. He will not be surprised to know that I do not know the precise answers on the organisations funded by the FCDO, but I will take that back and look into it. I can confirm that the high commissioner continues to meet a wide range of stakeholders, across both the Government and elsewhere, to express the UK’s concerns. The subject of safe and legal routes will come up later, but I hear what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, I am glad to have heard the previous question; I am sure that it should have had precedence over mine. I intended to add how glad I am that this situation is affecting Uganda-UK relations, and my noble friend the Minister has outlined some of the ways in which it is doing so. Would he not agree that it also affects Commonwealth relations? Is it not essential to ensure that the Commonwealth’s opinions on these matters are directed to put Uganda under pressure? That is whole point of being in the Commonwealth in the first place. Will he ensure that Marlborough House is also aware of this— I think that it is—and that it is putting pressure on Uganda, both behind and in front of the scenes, to mend its ways?

I agree with my noble friend. The UK continues to work with other Commonwealth member states and civil society partners to reform outdated laws of this type and to end discrimination and violence against LGBT+ people. We have discussed this situation with the Commonwealth Secretary-General. The UK also provides funds to support the promotion and protection of LGBT+ rights across the Commonwealth, and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2022, the UK announced more money to support organisations such as the Commonwealth Equality Network. My noble friend is right that Commonwealth relationships will be of extreme importance in this matter.

My Lords, this horrible legislation is the result of a decades-long campaign by Christian nationalist organisations in the USA and Russia. Uganda is but one target country; there are many others. Will the UK Government ensure that civil society organisations, the NHS and academics work with people in Uganda to ensure that the devastation to the public health and economy of Uganda is properly and fully documented?

The noble Baroness raises very good points on those subjects. I will go into a little more detail on public health. At the moment, Uganda has approximately 1.4 million people living with HIV and AIDS. Every year, 54,000 Ugandans are infected, including 6,000 newborns. I am not an expert on the religious dimensions to this law that the noble Baroness cited, but I know that the UK has cut off some funds to certain interreligious councils that have supported this legislation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reference to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter to the Archbishop of Uganda, and for hearing us, as Bishops, say how much we deplore what has been decided by the Archbishop of Uganda in support of this ignoble law. In the light of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop’s intervention, and all that has been said about engaging with civil society, will the FCDO engage with the Archbishop’s office and make use of the Church’s contacts to offset some of the very conservative religious engagement from other countries in Uganda and engage with people on the ground in Uganda to seek to change this abhorrent law?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question and once again pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for his letter to the archbishop in Uganda. This subject has come up before and of course I am more than happy to take back to the Foreign Office the suggestion that it should continue to work with the Church and other interfaith groups which have an interest in this subject.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s direct intervention with the President of Uganda. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out, what will really result in change is the international community coming together. Can the Minister tell us what the Prime Minister has done to contact President Biden to ensure that the US action is matched by our action and that we build an international coalition to stop this terrible Act?

I completely agree with the noble Lord that there needs to be international co-operation. So far, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the EU have all issued separate statements in response to the Act. The noble Lord is right to raise the subject of the US President. Both he and the Secretary of State have issued statements in response to the Act, and the US has actually gone a little further. Our principal concern with that is that the Ugandans reacted very predictably to the US actions, and we are still very keen to make sure that our aid and our ODA get to the people who need it the most. However, I hear what the noble Lord said, and I will certainly take it back.

My Lords, I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Uganda and as someone who was born in Uganda. This Act is a grave assault on the human rights and the constitution of Uganda, as well as on international human rights laws that Uganda signed up to. In my role as a trade envoy, I find many UK companies now unwilling to invest in Uganda and looking elsewhere. The Bill harms not only the LGBT community in Uganda but the country as a whole. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it will impact not only the LGBT community but the economic prosperity of Uganda?

I am more than happy to agree with my noble friend. The UK Government are obviously aware of the concerns raised by the business community and other organisations about the Act. We advise all to carefully consider the impact of the Act on their staff and operations and seek legal advice as appropriate. The Act will undermine Uganda’s development and economic goals and will create a barrier for international investment and tourism, as my noble friend has highlighted.

Unregistered Schools


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they intend to re-introduce legislation to close down unregistered schools and, if so, when; and what further safeguarding action could be undertaken until any such legislation is passed.

My Lords, it is already an offence to conduct an unregistered school. The Government will always prosecute when it is in the public interest. We work closely with Ofsted to make effective use of its current powers to investigate unregistered schools. We recognise that improved powers would better enable effective action, which is why we intend to introduce legislation in this area at the next available opportunity.

My Lords, I note that particular response, which is not at all unexpected. I assume that the Minister and her colleagues are familiar with the report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the recent Bloom Review, both of which reveal widespread child sexual abuse in religious settings. Well before these reports, the Government knew as long ago as 2015 that Ofsted lacked the enforcement powers needed to deal with these unregistered religious schools. Given the urgency of this situation for vulnerable children at serious risk of harm, will the Government commit to legislation on religious schools in the next Session? If they cannot do this, will they perhaps consider supporting and helping a Private Member’s Bill on this subject to strengthen Ofsted’s powers? In the meantime, will DfE encourage Ofsted, social services and the police to take stronger safeguarding measures in respect of the most concerning religious schools?

The noble Lord raises a number of important points, and I think he would agree with me that the vast majority of religious schools deliver a safe and very valued service to the children and families they work with. But of course he is right that there will be safeguarding exceptions in every setting and every community, and we are determined to address those when legislative time allows.

My Lords, I add to the plea for urgency by drawing attention to recent media coverage of former pupils from such settings. Some did not speak any English at school and others had no English, maths or science taught to them, only a very narrow religious curriculum. It is very important to rescue those children; surely they deserve an urgent response from the Government.

The Government need to strike a very delicate balance. I think we in this House would all agree that parents are ultimately responsible for ensuring that their children get a good education. Local authorities already have significant powers to check the quality of that education, and we are working closely with them and with parents, updating our guidance in this area, because we are all committed to making sure that every child has a safe and suitable education.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to take back to the Government the fact that we did not object to the part of the Bill that had this capacity in it? We did not like the first bit but we did like the second, and the Government dumped it all. Can she take back that we will probably help as much as we can to get that legislation on the statute book as soon as we can?

My Lords, I feel extremely disappointed by the complacent reply that the Minister has given to these questions. It is all very well to refer to religious schools doing a very good job—they often do—but these are not schools. These are institutions that describe themselves as carrying out religious instruction, yet the pupils—and they are pupils, because they are there all day long and they are not getting any other form of education—are being treated appallingly, with a lack both of any proper curriculum and of safeguarding, so abuse of a really serious kind is often taking place. In these circumstances, surely the Government should move now to bring back that legislation that will close the loopholes that allow these institutions to continue to act without any proper prevention of the appalling damage that they are doing to children and young people.

I really hope that I did not give the House any impression of complacency. There is no complacency where there are serious safeguarding concerns. There have been more than 1,000 investigations by Ofsted of different out-of-school settings and, of those, 122 were offering a religious education, but there were also a number of other settings; 146 suspected illegal settings were found, 129 of those were closed or otherwise changed their operations, and we completed seven prosecutions.

My Lords, is it not possible to tackle this problem through regulations under existing legislation rather than having to wait to find the time for fresh primary legislation?

My understanding is that we would need primary legislation to address the specific instance in which schools are offering a purely religious education.

My Lords, as the Minister said, only seven providers of illegal schools have been successfully prosecuted. Proprietors of illegal unregistered schools exploit loopholes in the law around home education definitions of school. The issues and risks of unregistered religious schools have been noted already. Since the pandemic, however, reports have been raised of a new trend, including a school in Sussex run by anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. Can the Minister tell this House how widespread an issue the Government believe this to be and how soon she believes it might be possible to bring in legislation?

The noble Baroness rightly cited the seven prosecutions; however, she did not repeat the statistic that 129 of the schools investigated have either closed or changed their operations so that they comply with the law. By definition, it is difficult to track illegal unregistered schools, but there are a number of routes—for example, a member of the public or others can report concerns around extremism directly to the department.

My Lords, like the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Whitaker, one of my big concerns about the delay in dealing with these schools is the toll it is taking on the children. They report being unprepared for modern life, forced to study a narrow curriculum from dawn to dusk with no English, maths or science available and not even speaking English. This has been delayed for years. What does the Minister have to say to them?

We are obviously extremely concerned on their behalf. Children who receive the kind of exclusive religious education that the noble Baroness refers to often receive the rest of their education at home—not exclusively but frequently. The noble Baroness will be aware that we are tightening up and reinvigorating our efforts in relation to elective home education registers so that every local authority can track whether every child is getting a suitable and safe education.

My Lords, the first job of the state is to protect its citizens and it is quite clear in this area that the Government have failed to protect those children. Is it not about time that they stopped talking and started doing?

It is probably not a good use of the House’s time for me to repeat what the Government are already doing, but I reiterate that we are working closely with local authorities, Ofsted and parents to make sure that we can get the best possible response. When legislative time allows, we will bring forward legislation in this area.

My Lords, as my noble friend outlined, some of these children fall into home education. She outlined renewed efforts in relation to this, but part of the Schools Bill that we lost was to have a register. Is it my noble friend’s view now that that can be done through other initiatives or are we going to get legislation on it as well?

I think that my noble friend knows that the Government’s position is that it would be best to have legislation in this area and to make the collection of this data mandatory. That is for two reasons: to trace those children who are home educated and unsafe and, importantly, to support those parents who are home-educating their children and perhaps struggling to do so. In the meantime, we are working closely with—and I personally have spoken to—the Association of Directors of Children’s Services to make sure that we are working in a joined-up way on this issue.

Network Rail: Ely Area Capacity Enhancement Programme


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress Network Rail has made in the Ely area capacity enhancement programme.

My Lords, I appreciate my noble friend’s ongoing interest in the proposed rail enhancements at Ely and Haughley junctions. I reassure him that the Ely area capacity enhancement programme is being considered as part of the update to the rail network enhancements pipeline.

I thank my noble friend for that response. Do His Majesty’s Government recognise how powerful a driver of economic growth it represents? It is not just for the east of England but would benefit the Midlands and the north, bringing significant improvements in the passenger experience, the movement of freight and, not least, the quality of the environment. It also has a very favourable benefit-cost ratio, so—to coin a phrase—can we just get it done?

My Lords, when it comes to any enhancement on the rail network, the Government do a very detailed analysis to devise the business case for each and every one of the enhancements. We are of course doing that for Ely, but we are doing it in the context of revised and different travel patterns and an increased focus on freight. It is necessary for us to go through the processes to understand which projects can be prioritised.

My Lords, Ely, like over 1,000 railway stations in England, currently has a much-valued ticket office. Government plans unveiled today will axe this, alongside every other station ticket office in the next three years. Customers and rail staff are concerned that this will lead to increased crime rates at stations. A loss of customer support will cause confusion and make travelling difficult for the vulnerable and elderly. Have the Government carried out an impact assessment on safety and accessibility if these closures go ahead?

My Lords, if Ely currently has a ticket office, it will remain a staffed station: there will be no changes to whether a station is staffed or not. In terms of crime, the British Transport Police advise that passenger safety is not dependent on selling tickets from a ticket office. The Government have done an extensive amount in respect of impact assessments and discussions with accessibility and wider passenger groups. The industry will continue to do so and, in bringing forward its proposals, it will of course do an impact assessment.

My Lords, the Ely north junction capital programme is absolutely key to enabling a half-hourly service to King’s Lynn. I declare an interest as the former MP for King’s Lynn; I headed the campaign and had an Adjournment debate on this in the other place. Is the Minister aware that part of the key to getting this done is various road improvements, including crossings and bridges. Can she say something about the work that her department has done with National Highways and the local transport authority?

Network Rail and the Department for Transport work very closely with National Highways and the local authority to form a holistic view of the impact of any enhancements. I agree with my noble friend that sometimes several things can work together to bring additional economic benefit. All those things go into the business case and decisions are made on priorities thereafter.

My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord has just said about the importance of this to the east of England, does the Minister also agree that the Government need to press on determinedly with the Oxford-Cambridge link? That too would have a very powerful impact, not just on the UK economy but on the east of England.

The noble Lord is right that we need to find those projects that will have the most benefit to both passengers and freight. That is the whole point of the rail network enhancement pipeline; it will set out our priorities, give certainty to the supply chain and allow us to continue to invest £2 billion a year on enhancements.

My Lords, the crucial importance of Ely is for freight. There are five lines going in and one line going out, so there is a pinch point. Does the Minister accept that it is totally illogical that the Government are investing in Felixstowe freeport without investing, in the same timeframe, in the Ely solution to enable 98,000 lorries a year to be taken off our roads and to deliver on government plans on environmental mitigation and climate change?

I can say no more other than that all these considerations are being taken into account in the business case. It is the case that not only is rail freight important but so is road freight—although I accept the point about the environment. It is important that we look at the business case as a whole, and I am afraid that there is nothing more I can add at this stage.

My Lords, picking up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the value of the Oxford-Cambridge arc for economic growth, the first step in improving connectivity in the arc between Oxford and Cambridge is of course the East West Rail Oxford-Bedford link. There was a commitment in the policy paper in February to consult on that. Can the Minister update the House?

I am not sure that I am able to update the House on when the consultation will be done, but the Government of course remain committed to East West Rail. I will write to my noble friend.

My Lords, on a previous occasion the Minister promised improvements that would provide for the second of the two lines between Leeds and Bradford to be upgraded to a point where one could get from Leeds to Bradford in 10 to 12 minutes. I am advised that that is impossible unless there is very extensive reorganisation of the western approaches to Leeds station. I note the priority now being given to the Oxford-Cambridge line; I simply re-emphasise that, unless the various trans-Pennine links are substantially improved, we will not begin to get any sort of levelling up in the central cities of the north.

The Government are incredibly ambitious when it comes to investment in the north and the Midlands. As the noble Lord will know, we have the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme and we are taking forward all sorts of different schemes in the area.

My Lords, there can be very few other investment projects that have such enormous environmental benefits as the Ely enhancement. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred to 98,000 lorry journeys that would transfer to rail on 2,900 extra freight trains, but the benefits extend to passenger services. It is almost inconceivable that the Government will refuse to do this, because the rate of return on investment is £4.80 in benefits for every £1 spent on it. I cannot imagine there are many other schemes in the rail enhancement pipeline that will match that sort of figure, so why can the Minister not be more positive about it now?

I do not recognise the figure that the noble Lord cites. It is important that we reassess our business cases based on revised travel patterns as they are now, and that has an impact on the business case—but, as I say, we are reviewing them and decisions will be made in due course.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on, or at least look at, the “delay repay” scheme which is, on the face of it, a very good idea. The specific problem is that if you are delayed by a regional company by, say, 20 minutes and then by a major company coming into London, it is very hard to make a claim as the form stands. Does the first company pay for the whole thing? Does the second company pay for it? I found negotiating the link—which is, as I say, attractive—extremely difficult. I wish I did not have to resort to it as often as I do but, sadly, in this country it is quite often very necessary.

I was not aware of that issue. I will take it back to my department and, if the noble Lord will provide me further information, I will of course investigate.

My Lords, if the Ely enhancement goes ahead, it will enable people from that area to get down to London to take the Caledonian Sleeper up to Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Caledonian Sleeper has just been taken into public ownership, and I approve of the principle, but I do not understand how the Scottish Government can take into public ownership trains that run mainly in England. Can the Minister explain?

Responsibility for the Caledonian Sleeper rests with the Scottish Government. I will write with further information, but I am afraid I have none.

NHS: Doctors’ Strikes


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards resolving the strikes by doctors in the NHS.

My Lords, the Government have been clear that we want to resolve the strikes by doctors. We negotiated in good faith with the BMA’s junior doctors committee in May. The Government stand ready to meet junior doctors again if they move from their unreasonable ask of a 35% pay rise this year. We also want to open negotiations with consultants. We encourage unions to come to the negotiating table rather than proceeding with strike action.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am sure that today, on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service, he will want to join me and all Members of this House in paying warm tribute to the hard-working nurses and clinicians in our NHS. All that underlines and underscores the urgency of settling this dispute. What consideration have His Majesty’s Government given to the request of the BMA to use ACAS to resolve this dispute?

First, I absolutely echo the sentiment about the 75th anniversary and the hard work of all our doctors, nurses, dentists and medical staff. Clearly, we want to find a negotiated solution. I think we showed in the case of the nurses and Agenda for Change that we have a framework and the ability to find a solution between ourselves as parties. That is why we encourage them to please stop the strike action so that we can have a sensible conversation.

My Lords, I join in wishing the National Health Service a happy 75th birthday—especially as, 75 years ago today, I was a teenager in Stockport Infirmary. Despite my efforts at persuading the consultant, he would not throw a party to celebrate the occasion. This dispute is dragging on, and there are some suspicions voiced in the papers that the Government do not mind too much, because on the whole they want to cut back on the health service—their heart and soul is not with the health service. Could the Minister reject that by demonstrating a greater willingness to negotiate with the doctors?

I can totally reject that by pointing to the record spend we are putting in this area and the fact that, just on Monday, we launched the long-term workforce plan, with a £2.4 billion investment in expanding the workforce to make sure we are set fair for the next 75 years. We absolutely want to resolve the strike by all means possible.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, apparently, in the consultants’ strike, consultants are not obliged to tell their hospital whether they will be striking; nor is it possible for the hospital to ask whether they are striking. Is not the result of this that the BMA is going to impose maximum dislocation on hospitals, damaging patients’ interests?

Clearly, that is the last thing anyone wants. I trust all the medics who, first and foremost, care about patient safety to inform their local management so that they can make sure that the correct processes are in place to ensure that patient safety is looked after.

My Lords, yesterday, we discussed the Government’s plans to increase the number of doctors in training. But does the Minister accept that junior doctors are facing real challenges in dealing with the rising costs of living on their current pay rates, especially in their early years? Is this need to retain trainee doctors part of the Government’s submission to the independent review body, so that we do not end up bringing in more trainee doctors at year 1 only to lose them at years 6, 7 and 8?

Yes, of course, the noble Lord is absolutely correct; retention is key in all this. That is looking at all aspects of the package and work conditions and everything around those. That is what the workforce plan addresses, I hope, because recruitment and retention are key.

My Lords, pay is the headline issue in this dispute, but behind it lies a wholesale collapse of morale within the NHS workforce, and that is about much more than just remuneration. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan addresses some important issues but by no means all of them. Does the Minister not think that the morale issue, which is so crucial to the future of the NHS, will be better attacked through the kind of radical approach suggested by Sajid Javid than the “evolution” proposed by the Health Secretary?

I think the morale of doctors is best approached by a number of measures. As I said yesterday, there is not one silver bullet. There are a number of things: clearly, pay is important; pensions are very important, and we have addressed those, and so are working conditions. I was at Whipps Cross Hospital, one of the new hospitals, last week. The morale boost to staff there, knowing they are getting a new hospital, is massive. All those features are vital to improving morale.

My Lords, in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the NHS, I too pay tribute to all NHS staff. It is therefore highly regrettable that the Government are currently presiding over the largest amount of industrial unrest in the history of the National Health Service, with doctors’ leaders warning that the strike action could last until 2025. With that in mind, what is the Government’s assessment of the impact of their failures to resolve NHS disputes?

As we have seen, it is having an impact, regrettably. We saw that from 14 to 17 June: almost 100,000 appointments were lost during that strike. We are now looking to cover that up. That is why we are firm in our conviction that we want to resolve this situation. These sorts of things are not good for anyone. We have a formula that worked; we have managed to do this with nurses and the Agenda for Change unions, which make up the vast majority of the health service. Our hope is that we can sit down and have sensible conversations and do the same with doctors and consultants.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his ingenuity and the work he has put in since taking over this role. All we hear of pay rises is that they should be 12%, 19%, 39% or whatever. Has the time not come for a slightly different approach? We should calculate the capital cost of whatever sections of the health service claim they have lost, pay them that cost and then revert to the normal process of review bodies.

I thank my noble friend for his kind words. We are willing to look at all solutions. We have to balance the salary wishes of doctors with making sure that we keep the money in front-line services. Everyone is aware that pay rises of 35% would eat heavily into what we can do and afford on the front line. We need to get that balance right.

My Lords, one of the greatest concerns of individuals working in the NHS is lack of confidence about the future. The real problem is retention. I understand that there is a massive shortfall of staff. Will the Minister tell us how big that shortfall is and what the Government are doing to make it up?

The noble Lord is absolutely correct; that is why I was delighted, as I think all sides of the House were, by the launch of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. As Amanda Pritchard, the CEO of the NHS, said, it was a “truly historic” moment for the NHS; it absolutely recognises that staff are the backbone of it all and that we need to do everything to recruit and retain them. Retention is all about professional development and all those things that make up staff morale.

I congratulate all noble Lords who joined me this morning on the five-kilometre fun run in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the NHS. It was a tremendous event and all those involved greatly enjoyed themselves. With that in mind, will my noble friend explain what the NHS is doing today to reduce the incredible pressures on doctors and nurses from the huge amount of sickness in the country and what it is doing to make Britain healthier in order to reduce those pressures?

As my noble friend says, wellness is about a lot more than treatment in hospitals. That is why I was so pleased by the long-term workforce plan, which recognises the importance of primary care and, especially, prevention—the use of our whole wellness through social prescribing and keeping fit through things such as fun runs, which is important for keeping people and staff well. As part of that, we are working on the technology front, because a lot of the frustration of doctors is that they spend so much time not seeing patients but filling in paperwork and forms. Earlier this week, I saw all the changes Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is making so that doctors can be where they want to be—in front of patients and caring for them.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Monday 10 July to allow the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 2) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

Motion agreed.

Illegal Migration Bill

Report (3rd Day)

Relevant documents: 34th and 37th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 16th Report from the Constitution Committee, 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Correspondence from the Senedd published.

Clause 56: Decisions relating to a person’s age

Amendment 156

Moved by

156: Clause 56, page 58, line 25, leave out subsection (2)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment reinstates the right of appeal against age assessments in respect of putative children whom there is a duty to remove under the Bill.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 156A and 161. Due to a technicality, Amendments 156 and 157 were not formally withdrawn, but they will be withdrawn, so it is Amendment 156A which is under consideration. I note my interests as a trustee of Reset and with the RAMP project, as laid out in the register.

I thank the usual channels for changing business on Monday so that this item was first today rather than last on Monday. We noted previously that, both during the Nationality and Borders Bill and during this Bill, age assessments have been talked about at 2 am and just after midnight. I am truly grateful to the usual channels for hearing my plea about not being last on the agenda again.

I am grateful also to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister, Lady Neuberger, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for their support of these amendments. This is not the level of legislative scrutiny—which we should have in Committee—that we owe to children. There were some questions put in Committee to which we did not get full answers, and I hope the Minister might provide them today.

The Bill significantly restricts any legal avenues for challenging an incorrect age determination. The appeal mechanisms instituted by the Nationality and Borders Act, though they have not yet been implemented, will now be disapplied. Following government amendments at this late stage, judicial review will also be limited to such a narrow scope as to make it impossible for a potential child to challenge the assessment of their age based on evidential fact.

All the while, if the Home Office were to inaccurately assess a child to be an adult, the implications would be disastrous and irreversible. A child would face entering an adult system alone, where they would be detained with adults before potentially being removed to a third country with no safeguards in place, perhaps without ever encountering a child protection officer. This is simply absurd, but to remove all legal safeguards and weaken a putative child’s access to justice, when the implications are so grave, is as horrifying as it is immoral.

We must not forget that the Home Office does indeed get age assessments wrong. Based on the Home Office’s own data, we can see that last year nearly two-thirds of all age dispute cases were found to be children. Currently, no method exists that can determine accurately and consistently whether a person is a child; that fact is well acknowledged by the Home Office and is clearly there in the children’s impact assessment that we got yesterday. Therefore, it is understandable that subjective and visual age assessments by immigration officers can lead to inaccurate judgments.

Because of this fact, a potential child must not be disqualified from a judicial review on whether their age decision was wrong on the basis of fact and judicial review must serve as a barrier to a child’s removal. Not to permit the courts to grant relief when the verifiable age of a child is available would allow the Government to proceed with the removal of a child when they know their decision was flawed. Last year, this would have meant over 1,000 unaccompanied children could have been eligible for removal to a third country. A child should not be removed from the UK on such a fallible basis. For the sake of children, this cannot be allowed to stand, and that is reason enough why access to judicial review should be there.

I have been saying—and I hope to reinforce this point—that I have one anxiety. As I understand the amendment, it confines the right of appeal to the grounds set out in Clause 56(5), which exclude an appeal on the basis that there has been a mistake of fact.

My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, which very much follow the points raised by the right reverend Prelate.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has been pointing out, there is a problem about Clause 56(5), to which the right reverend Prelate’s amendment draws attention. As it stands, the subsection restricts the grounds of review to errors of law only. My Amendment 158A seeks to open up the scope for review, following up on a recommendation from the Constitution Committee which pointed out, as the right reverend Prelate has, that the opportunities for error on grounds of fact in this situation are very many. Indeed, the information on which the committee was proceeding was that usually it is on errors of fact that these decisions go wrong.

Amendment 158A rewrites subsection (5) to say that review is available when the decision was either

“wrong in law, or … proceeded on information about the person’s age which was incomplete, misleading or otherwise so seriously misinformed that no reasonable decision-maker would have relied on it”.

I think that the right reverend Prelate would welcome my amendment because it is trying to achieve what he is achieving. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I am worried that, if subsection (5) remains as it is, it will greatly restrict the opportunity for review on grounds of errors of fact.

Although I do not propose to put my amendment to a vote, can the Minister consider very carefully whether the grounds for review that I am suggesting are available? They come very close to what lawyers describe as “Wednesbury unreasonableness”. I do not know whether the Minister would accept that what I have in my formulation would be available as a ground of review that the decision was wrong in law anyway because it was so defective, but it is a very important qualification on the absolute precision which subsection (5), as it presently stands, lays down. Without elaborating further, I seek the Minister’s view on what I am proposing. It is important to know exactly to where the phrase “wrong in law” extends.

My Amendment 168AA, which was also discussed in Committee that evening at 1.30 am, is a quite different one, again promoted by a recommendation of the Constitution Committee. It seeks to ask that the power to make regulations under Clause 57(1) regarding the effect of a person’s decision

“not to consent to the use of a specified … method for the purposes of an age assessment … where there are no reasonable grounds”

for doing so should be moved from the position where it is subject to the negative procedure, so that it is subject to the affirmative procedure.

The regulation power in Clause 57(1) does not take the blunt approach of saying that, if somebody refuses to consent, then he should simply be treated as being over the age of 18. Commendably, the clause is phrased as having regard to the circumstances. One can well understand that there could be a variety of circumstances in which a person withholds consent. The problem with leaving the provision as it stands to the negative procedure is that there is no opportunity for considering whether the circumstances are ones that we would wish to accept. Amendment 168AA seeks to add the regulation-making power under Clause 57(1) to the list in Clause 64(4) of those regulations which are to be laid in draft and approved by resolution of each House.

Given the wide scope of the power in Clause 57(1) and its importance to the individual, I suggest that this is a reasonable amendment to make. Although it was not possible for the matter to be debated very fully in Committee at 1.30 am, I hope that the Minister can enlarge on his reply. He replied very briefly then. Before another noble Lord intervened to attract his attention elsewhere, he said that he had noted my amendment and that the Government would “respond before Report stage”. I have had no response so far. Can the Minister consider more carefully my proposal?

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for bringing back these amendments. I am also grateful to the Home Office for finally publishing its child rights impact assessment yesterday afternoon although, I must say, getting it has been like pulling teeth.

However, on age assessment and other children’s rights issues, it reads more like an attempt at post hoc justification than a serious analysis of the implications for children’s rights. The initial reaction from the children’s sector is damning. That it continues to use misleading statistics on age assessment that were challenged in Committee is disappointing, to put it mildly.

In Committee, I asked for an explanation of

“why the Government have ignored the very clear advice of their own advisory committee on the question of consent”,

raised by Amendment 161. The Minister’s response was:

“Of course we consider the advice”,—[Official Report, 12/6/23; cols. 1806-16.]

but the fact is that Clause 57 represents a rejection of that advice. Will the Minister explain why, having considered the expert advice, the Government then rejected it? In effect, their approach is that of guilty until proven innocent but, as we have heard, Clause 56 will make proving innocence—or, more accurately, that one is a child—much more difficult than now in what is increasingly a culture of disbelief.

The limitations on appeal and JR rights are, as the JCHR points out and despite what the CRIA says, clearly not in any child’s best interests. Likewise, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern and recommended that age-disputed children should not be removed to a third country. I asked in Committee what the Government’s response is, but received no reply; nor was it explained what steps would be taken to ensure the following, in the words of the supplementary ECHR memorandum, echoed in the CRIA:

“The appropriate support and facilities will need to be in place in the country of removal to ensure that the individual can effectively participate in their judicial review from abroad”.

It is difficult to believe that effective participation would be possible, even with support. We need, at the very least, to know what that support would be. Even if the child managed to challenge the decision successfully from abroad, they could then order only a reassessment. How would that be meaningfully carried out if the child is no longer in the UK? If the child were then reassessed as a child, would they be moved back to the UK?

I have a final question. The Nationality and Borders Act provided for a new statutory right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal to replace judicial review as the means to challenge age assessment under that Act, so that it

“can be resolved as swiftly as possible”


“to ensure that genuine children don’t slip through the net and are classed as adults”.

Over a year on, this section has not been commenced. Can the Minister say why and set out the Government’s timetable for doing so, or has it been jettisoned before it has even come into force?

My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of Amendment 156A, although I regret the limited nature of the appeal contemplated by that amendment. I very much welcome Amendment 158A, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.

As a matter of principle, I am very much in favour of giving individuals the right of appeal although, as I said when I intervened on the right reverend Prelate, I fear that his amendment provides for a more limited right of appeal than I would wish.

A decision on the age of an individual is critical in determining a person’s status under the legislation. I am concerned that, in many instances, the original decision about age will be made in a somewhat perfunctory manner. I imagine that immigration officers may get rather impatient and make rather perfunctory decisions. At the end of the day, age is a matter of evidence and I cannot find any persuasive reason why the original position on age should not be challenged. In my view, the right of appeal should extend to appeals based on the ground that the relevant authority had made a mistake of fact. That is what the noble and learned Lord seeks to achieve in Amendment 158A. However, if I have correctly understood the amendment and its relation to the Bill, the grounds of appeal are limited to those set out in Clause 56(5) of the Bill as it stands. The grounds specified there are essentially judicial review grounds—for example, that there was some procedural unfairness, or the ground of irrationality—and appeals based on fact are expressly excluded. I regard that exclusion as highly regrettable.

To meet some of the anxieties that I fear will be expressed by the Minister regarding my comments and the amendments, I make this point as well: the rights of appeal could be abused, and I would therefore like the burden of establishing the appeal to be on the appellant. It must be for them to satisfy the relevant appellate body that the grounds of appeal are made out. That may in fact be the existing law and practice—it has been such a long time since I practised in that field of law that I simply do not know. If it is not, it should be, and it would meet many of the anxieties likely to be expressed on the government Benches.

My Lords, I understand very well the child rights impact assessment on this issue. Naturally, the Government are concerned about people’s ability to pretend that they are under age when they are not, but that does not in fact deal with the underlying problem: there are a large number of children from countries outside Europe who mature much more quickly, certainly quicker than children in western Europe.

I remember going on a visit to Safe Passage, which was offering a drop-in centre for young men under 18. A number of those I met, and whom Safe Passage was absolutely satisfied were under 18, had beards or moustaches. If such person is interviewed by the Home Office, will it not immediately assume that a moustache or beard absolutely means that they are over 18? In the case of some of these young people, that will be incorrect.

I also remain very concerned about the issue raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in relation to Clause 5. If the issue is, as I suspect it will be, that they got it wrong, it is not necessarily—or probably not ever—an issue of law but a question of fairness. It is a question of dealing fairly and in the best interests of those who are genuinely under 18.

Reading through the child impact assessment, what depresses me is the suggestion regarding the extent to which the Government are following the principles of the Children Act—which every Government in my lifetime have followed—and looking out for the best interests of children. They are saying it again and again and, quite simply, doing the exact reverse. This is extraordinarily depressing.

My Lords, most of what I wished to say has been said by others. I pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Viscount and my noble and learned friend Lord Hope for what they have said, and I support the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

I will simply say this: it is a matter of fairness. In its scrutiny of the Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights remained unconvinced by this approach and believes that any penalisation for refusing to undergo some form of age assessment should be challengeable in the courts, which remains not the case at the moment. Removing a young person’s right of appeal against an age assessment which may have been carried out on appearance only, or by any other means, is, as my noble and learned Friend, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, cruel and demeaning.

It is all the more disgraceful if that young person has been tortured or abused and is terrified of being touched by strangers when there is a scientific assessment. It is all the more disturbing given that the so-called scientific methods for age assessment are widely questioned by the scientific community, especially those who have particular expertise, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. I chair two hospitals, as noted in my interests set out in the register. I have never met a doctor or any other health professional who supports these so-called scientific age assessment methods, yet I have met several asylum-seeking young people who have been tortured and abused and are terrified of being touched. If they refuse, they can be penalised and treated as adults. This is a matter of fact. Any young person should have the right of appeal.

My Lords, I note my interests in the register. I shall speak to the amendments in this group proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, because I think they are a package, and we see them as being important together. I believe that age assessment is an art rather than a science, because it is absolutely the case that mistakes can be made and there is no absolutely right way of assessing the age of a person.

I recently had an experience like that of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As part of the Learn with the Lords programme, I was talking to group of sixth-formers in a school in England, and one of them had a beard. It was quite surprising but natural. We must not jump to the assumption that if someone has a beard, they are an adult. The rules of this sixth form are that they are allowed to grow their hair longer if they wish to.

I want to look at one area of this work which has not yet been probed by those who have spoken, which is the relationship with other European countries. The Minister repeatedly prays in aid the practice in some European countries, but the European Asylum Support Office, which provides formal guidance for member states of the European Union, has a different view from that which has been expressed by the Minister. Importantly, the safeguards in its guidance contrast with what is in this Bill and what we discovered last night in the child’s rights impact assessment.

Once again I say that the child’s rights impact assessment arrived at virtually the last moment when we are able to discuss anything which impacts unaccompanied children or children in general. It states that,

“until the Home Secretary determines the science and analysis is sufficient to support providing for an automatic assumption of adulthood, which would bring the UK closer to several European countries like Luxembourg and the Netherlands”.

However, the European guidance to all member states says on age assessment:

“In applying benefit of the doubt”—

that is the important phase—

“the applicant shall be considered to be below 18 years and, if unaccompanied, a guardian/representative shall be immediately appointed … The BIC—

best interests of the child—

“shall be observed from this point onwards until conclusive results point out that the applicant is an adult”.

It is evident from this Bill’s Explanatory Notes and the child’s rights impact assessment, which was just received, that this Government do not plan to do either.

The child’s rights impact assessment appeared only in the middle of last night, so it would have been difficult for people to have read it. I shall therefore quote the relevant paragraph. On page 13, it says that:

“The bill includes a regulation making power to make an automatic assumption that a person is an adult if they refuse to undergo scientific methods”—

I repeat, “scientific methods”—

“of age assessment without good reason.”

How does that equate with the guidance to European member states that the benefit of the doubt should be given and the best interests of the child should be provided? It does not. By contrast, the European guidance says on page 42:

“The refusal to undergo the assessment should not imply an automatic consideration of age of majority”.

The impact assessment published last night makes an unforgiveable error in saying on page 13 that

“the age assessment clauses aim … to … avoid the safeguarding issues which arise if an adult is wrongly accepted as a child and accommodated with younger children to whom they could present a risk”.

Under the Children Act, the responsibility for safeguarding rests always with the responsible body—in this case the Home Office or the local authority carrying out the assessment. It is their job to ensure that all supposed minors are safeguarded at all times. If there are such worries then those whose age is doubted should be kept separately from clearly younger children, but they should not be housed with adults either.

On these Benches, we seek to improve this Bill by giving an effective legal remedy to those who are judged in this manner, in a way that is woeful by European standards. We support these two amendments. If the right reverend Prelate and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, wish to test the opinion of the House on both—we see them as a package—we on these Benches will definitely support them.

I am sure that everybody wants me to sit down and not speak. I want to make just one point, taking us back to the initial remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham; it is crucial. The Home Office knows that its age assessments are unreliable. It is therefore immoral—I was delighted to hear the right reverend Prelate use that word—to prevent young people having the right to appeal against those age assessments. It is also immoral to allow a child to be removed from this country while a judicial review of those age assessments is under way. I want us to focus on that point from the right reverend Prelate.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher for her last comments; I am sure all of us agree with them.

I support Amendment 156A in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. It is a very important amendment. Of course, when people come forward with sensible and constructive suggestions which would improve an amendment that has been put forward, I have no problem with that, and I know the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham has no problem with that either. In line with the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, were the noble and learned Lord to move Amendment 158A, we would be minded to support that too, because it seeks to improve the Bill in the way that he said. It would be silly not to do so. I thank him for tabling it and hope he will spare me a heart attack from running around to make sure that it is all is in order.

The serious point is that the amendment would improve the Bill. As has been said, rather than restricting this to areas of law only, it opens it up to grounds of fact. It is a much more sensible, improved amendment, and it would be silly not to accept it. We will see what the House has to say should the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, be minded to move his amendment after Amendment 156A.

Nobody doubts the difficulties that can arise in respect of age assessments, particularly as many of the disputes for unaccompanied children arise around the claimed age of 16 or 17. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 had relevant provisions, but those have been superseded by the Illegal Migration Bill. The Bill specifically allows for an individual, where there is a disputed age assessment, to be removed—in other words, an individual’s challenge to a decision by way of judicial review is non-suspensive. Amendment 156A, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and others, seeks to address that injustice.

The Government will quote evidence saying that large numbers of individuals claiming to be children are not, and that the system is open to abuse. I point out that in the JCHR report the Helen Bamber Foundation states that, in 2022, 70 local authorities had 1,386 referrals to their children’s services of young people sent to adult accommodation or detention, but 63% were then found to be children. It is therefore deeply concerning that judicial oversight of these decisions is being ousted, and that they will then be removed from the UK while decisions are confirmed or not. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, says, how can that possibly be in the best interests of the child—something that has driven public policy in this country for decades?

Others have raised the child’s rights impact assessment. Since we got it only at 5 pm yesterday, it has been difficult to go through it, so I apologise for asking questions that would really be more appropriate in Committee. On the deportation of children—were the Bill to go through unamended—it may interest noble Lords for the Minister to explain why there has been a change of public policy with respect to the use of reasonable force. On the use of force by the Home Office under the Bill, page 4 of the impact assessment says:

“While this is technically not age restricted, use of force against minors is not permitted under current policy except where in the rare circumstances there is a risk of harm”.

I think we all accept that; if a child is going to hurt themselves, you necessarily expect someone to try to intervene in that circumstance. It goes on to say:

“Use of force is not currently used against minors for compliance/removal purposes. We do not envisage the use of reasonable force being used for such purposes under the auspices of the new bill”—

this is the important phrase—

“unless it is necessary as a last resort where other methods to ensure compliance have failed”.

That is a major change of public policy, included in a document that we are being asked to consider at the last stages of Report. The Government are saying that reasonable force can be used in the deportation and removal of children under the auspices of the Bill, rather than it just being used in the circumstances of preventing harm. Nobody would disagree that if you are preventing a child hurting themselves, of course you have to use force and intervene appropriately, but this does not say that. I repeat: it says

“as a last resort where other methods to ensure compliance have failed”.

The House deserves an explanation of why the Government not only have changed public policy with respect to the lack of judicial oversight of age assessment but are now proposing, to ensure that children can be removed under the Bill, to allow reasonable force to be used.

I will not do this but, if this were Committee, noble Lords can imagine all the questions we would ask about training, about what “reasonable force” means and so on. That is not available to us, which makes it even more important that we support the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—with the improvement suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, if he moves his amendment as well—to protect children, some of the most vulnerable people who come to our shores.

My Lords, as we have heard, these amendments take us on to the provisions regarding age assessments. Given that, under Clause 3, unaccompanied children will be treated differently from adults, and given the obvious safeguarding risks of adults purporting to be children being placed within the care system, it is important that we take steps to deter adults from claiming to be children and to avoid lengthy legal challenges to age-assessment decisions preventing the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults. Receiving care and services reserved for children also incurs costs and reduces the accessibility of these services for genuine children who need them.

Assessing age is inherently difficult, but it is crucial that we disincentivise adults from knowingly misrepresenting themselves as children. Our published data shows that, between 2016 and March 2023, there were 8,611 asylum cases in which an age assessment was required and subsequently resolved. Of those cases, nearly half— 47%, or 4,088 individuals—were found to be adults. This percentage aggregates initial decisions on age taken upon arrival, comprehensive assessments and the outcomes of legal challenges. I make clear that only those assessed to be adults will fall within the duty.

Accordingly, Clause 56 disapplies the right of appeal for age assessments, which is yet to be commenced and was established in Section 54 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, for those who meet the four conditions in the Bill. Instead, those wishing to challenge a decision on age will be able to do so through judicial review, which will not suspend removal, and can continue from outside the UK after they have been removed. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I say that we are keeping the commencement of Section 54 under review, but I am unable to provide a further update at this stage.

Clause 56(5) provides the basis on which a court can consider a decision relating to a person’s age in judicial review proceedings. It provides that a court can grant relief

“only on the basis that it was wrong in law”,

and must not do so on the basis that it

“was wrong as a matter of fact”.

This distinguishes the position that the Supreme Court adopted in its judgment in the 2009 case of the Crown on the application of A v London Borough of Croydon, page eight. The intention is to ensure that the court cannot make its own determination on age—which should properly be reserved for those qualified and trained to assess age—but instead can consider a decision on age only on conventional judicial review principles.

The court will receive evidence from people who have made these assessments, and courts are well versed in determining which evidence is to be preferred.

As my noble friend well knows, under a conventional judicial review challenge, the court will review the process of the decision and whether the decisions made were appropriate, applying the conventional judicial review tests, not balancing the evidence and coming to its own conclusion on the facts. The Government’s position is that it is appropriate for those tasked with assessing a person’s age to be entrusted with that responsibility, subject to review on judicial review principles. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, this includes a test of Wednesbury unreasonableness—a decision so unreasonable that no properly directed tribunal could have reached it.

I want to be absolutely clear: is the Minister accepting my amendment? I have drafted it as carefully as I can to bring it within the scope of that kind of challenge.

I am coming to the noble and learned Lord’s amendment and will answer that question in a second.

We consider that these provisions are entirely necessary to safeguard genuine children and guard against those who seek to game the system by purporting to be adults. It follows that I am afraid I cannot support Amendments 156A and 158A. However, I assure my noble friend Lord Hailsham that age assessments will, as now, be undertaken in a careful and professional manner. This is not a perfunctory exercise, and it is in everyone’s interests that we get it right.

In response to the comments made by some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord German, I can assure the House that, at all stages of our age assessment process, officials and social workers are never guided to make decisions solely on the basis of appearance. There is, at all stages, a broader approach.

This is a convenient point to turn to the government amendments to Clause 56, which clarify that a court must determine a judicial review on the basis that a person’s age is a matter of fact to be determined by the relevant decision-maker, and may not grant any form of relief, as an alternative to referring to just quashing, on the basis that the court considers the decision was wrong as a matter of fact.

Clause 57 will enable us to bring forward regulations to provide that a person is to be treated as an adult if they refuse to consent to specified scientific methods, with no reasonable grounds for refusal, for the purpose of an age assessment. Amendment 161, put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, would amend the clause so that the consequences laid out in the regulations would not apply if an individual’s refusal to consent to the use of the specified scientific method was reasonable in all the circumstances. I respectfully suggest that the amendment is unnecessary. The clause already provides that this automatic assumption would be the case only if the refusal was without good reason.

Amendment 168AA, proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, seeks to give effect to the recommendation of the Constitution Committee to the effect that the regulation-making power in Clause 57 should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I am pleased to confirm that a response to the Constitution Committee’s report on the Bill has been issued and will no doubt be published shortly by the committee. In that response, we explain that the regulation-making power will not be exercised unless and until the Secretary of State is satisfied that the science and analysis are sufficient to support providing for an automatic assumption of adulthood.

We will also continue to seek scientific advice from the chief scientific adviser to the Home Office and the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee. This will ensure that any regulations made under the Bill are based on a firm evidential basis. Given these considerations, we are not persuaded that it is necessary to adopt the affirmative procedure for these regulations, and I note that the Delegated Powers Committee did not take issue with the use of the negative procedure in this instance.

Turning to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I remind him that we discussed the use of reasonable force in Committee, and I refer him to my remarks on Amendment 70 in Hansard.

These clauses ensure that our age assessment processes are robust and support the operation of the duty in Clause 2. I commend the clarificatory government amendments to the House and ask the right reverend Prelate to withdraw his amendment.

Finally, to return to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, it is the Government’s view that there is no need to legislate for Wednesbury unreasonableness, as the parameters of judicial review are already very clear and well established in case law.

I thank the Minister for his careful response. First, I note his comments, and accept his points, on Amendment 161. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, for spotting a weakness in my amendment. I believe that the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, helps enormously, so if he were to test the opinion of the House, I would support him.

The Minister, yet again, has told us that 47% were found to be adults but failed to tell us that some of those supposed adults, when they went to local authorities, were subsequently found to be children, not adults. So it is not 47% who were finally found to be adults; it is less than that.

I am worried, even if we took the 47%, about the 53% of children who could find themselves in adult accommodation and at greater risk. That is my fear; I put the child first. There is a balance here, Minister— I absolutely accept that—but many of us go a different way. I am not content with what he has said and I would like to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 156A. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 156.

Amendment 156 withdrawn.

My Lords, I must inform the House that if Amendment 156A is agreed, I will not be able to call Amendment 157 by reason of pre-emption.

Amendment 156A

Moved by

156A: Clause 56, page 58, line 25, leave out subsections (2) to (4) and insert—

“(2) Subsection (5) applies if P makes an application for judicial review of—(a) the decision mentioned in subsection (1), or(b) any decision to make arrangements for the person’s removal from the United Kingdom under this Act which is taken on the basis of that decision.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment reinstates the right of appeal against age assessments in respect of putative children whom there is a duty to remove under the Bill, and removes a provision that would prevent a judicial review challenge to an age assessment from serving as a barrier to the putative child's removal from the UK.

Amendment 157 not moved.

Amendment 158

Moved by

158: Clause 56, page 58, line 37, after “tribunal” insert “must determine the application on the basis that the person’s age is a matter of fact to be determined by the relevant authority; and accordingly the court or tribunal”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment confirms that, on an application for judicial review of a decision mentioned in Clause 56(3), the court or tribunal must treat a person’s age as a matter of fact to be determined by the relevant authority.

Amendment 158 agreed.

Amendment 158A

Moved by

158A: Clause 56, page 58, line 37, leave out from “tribunal” to the end of line 3 on page 59 and insert “may grant relief only on the basis that the decision—

(a) was wrong in law, or(b) proceeded on information about the person’s age which was incomplete, misleading or otherwise so seriously misinformed that no reasonable decision-maker would have relied on it.”

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord German, said, my amendment is really part of a package, and it is very important that the formula which I have set out in it should be put on the face of the Bill. For that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Amendments 159 and 160 not moved.

Clause 57: Age assessments: power to make provision about refusal to consent to scientific methods

Amendment 161 not moved.

Clause 59: Cap on number of entrants using safe and legal routes

Amendment 161A

Moved by

161A: Clause 59, page 63, line 1, at beginning insert “in England and Wales and Scotland,”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment, the second amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 63, line 1 and the amendments in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 63, line 2 and page 63, line 25 replace the requirement to consult such representatives of district councils in Northern Ireland as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate about regulations under Clause 59(1) with a requirement to consult the Executive Office in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I am to be brief in setting out the government amendments in this group. As the House will recall, Clause 59 provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying the maximum number of persons who may enter the UK annually using safe and legal routes. Such regulations must be debated and approved by Parliament. Before making such regulations, the Secretary of State is required to consult representatives of local authorities and such other persons or bodies as they consider appropriate. The intention is that the annual cap reflects the country’s capacity to accommodate, integrate and otherwise support those admitted through safe and legal routes.

Local authorities in Northern Ireland do not have the same remit as those in England and Wales and Scotland. In the context of migration, the relevant functions rest with the Northern Ireland departments. Following discussions with the Executive Office in Northern Ireland, Amendments 161A, 161B, 161C and 162A replace the requirement to consult representatives of local authorities in Northern Ireland with a requirement to consult the Executive Office. The Executive Office will then consult other Northern Ireland departments to inform the response to the Secretary of State.

I will respond to the other amendments in this group once we have had an opportunity to hear from other noble Lords. For now, I beg to move.

My Lords, I again note my interests as laid out in the register. I will speak to Amendment 162. In Committee, I explained the well-intentioned nature of this amendment and hoped it would have afforded the Minister the opportunity to clarify that any cap placed on safe and legal routes would exclude current named schemes already in operation. I appreciate the Minister’s comments. He said:

“The cap will not automatically apply to all current and new safe and legal routes that we offer or will introduce in the future.”—[Official Report, 4/6/23; col. 1980.]

But, with respect, how can local authorities reflect on accommodation provision for new routes without excluding their current commitments from this assessment?

“Safe and legal routes” is not a term that is tightly defined in the Bill, so we are left, as is now unfortunately commonplace, with regulations in this area. Arguably, however, it is not unreasonable for Members to presume that “safe and legal routes” would be for those seeking protection outside existing visa schemes who would be granted refugee status. Therefore, why are the Government leaving the possibility that those who are not granted refugee status could be included within the cap? This applies to schemes such as Homes for Ukraine, which requires a visa—the people in question are not refugees—Hong Kong BNO visas, which are actually for overseas citizens, and the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, which is in recognition of all that happened in Afghanistan. As my noble friend Lady Brinton put it to the Minister in Committee, those from Hong Kong are actually British citizens. I thank the Minister for the meeting that he held with me and her on that specific question.

We still have no credible evidence on the deterrence impacts of this Bill, but we know that offering accessible and safe routes will help prevent people having to make the agonising decision to travel irregularly to reach sanctuary. However, by including current schemes in the proposed cap, we will severely restrict our ability to implement any such safe routes, as there would be limited room, if any, for additional routes. Over the first quarter of this year, 22,000 Ukrainians and British nationals from Hong Kong were resettled here. If we had a cap of 20,000 and those 22,000 were included, we would have a problem. It is to the Government’s credit that these 22,000 have come, but it cannot be used as a justification to abdicate our responsibility to do more across a wider global cohort.

If we do not provide safe routes to those who have had no choice but to uproot their lives to seek safety, we are choosing to require them to rely on dangerous journeys. Perversely, this will create a market for those smugglers determined to capitalise on others’ suffering.

The child’s rights impact assessment states:

“Anybody arriving in the UK through the methods specified in the bill presents a risk to the public due to the very nature of their arrival”.

I put it to the Minister that the vast majority do not pose a risk to our country; what is at risk is their lives. That is why they have fled. I therefore welcome that the Prime Minister has promised that the Government will create more safe and legal routes. This amendment will enable the Government to do only what they have set out to do. Without it, I fear this vital and necessary work will stop before it has even started and the world’s most vulnerable will pay the price.

I wonder whether using the word “person” in Clause 59(1) is unhelpful here and whether it should say “asylum seeker and refugee” instead. Would the Minister consider bringing that back at Third Reading? Beyond Amendment 162, I support the other safe and legal routes proposed here, in particular that in Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kirkhope and Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for adding their names to my Amendment 164. I also lend my support to the right reverend Prelate’s Amendment 162, which he has just outlined, and to Amendment 163 in the name of my noble friend Lord Alton.

I brought a variation of this amendment to the House in Committee. As I said in that debate, it is very simple. Amendment 164 is designed purely to place a duty on the Government to do what they say they intend to do anyway—introduce safe and legal routes. As I said in that debate, the moral credibility of the entire Bill depends on the creation of more safe and legal routes. The basis on which we are disestablishing illegal and unsafe routes is that we are creating legal and safe routes. The lack of a substantial commitment in primary legislation to this end is a serious omission which this amendment gives us an opportunity to address.

In the previous debate, the Minister said that the Government intend to outline new safe and legal routes in the January report and to implement them “as soon as practicable” and

“in any event by the end of 2024”.—[Official Report, 14/6/23; col. 1982.]

I am grateful to him for making this commitment. My primary motive in bringing this amendment back is to ensure that this commitment from the Government is enacted and that the commitment made from the Dispatch Box to enact safe and legal routes is in the Bill and carries as much weight as the commitment to disestablish unsafe and illegal routes.

I have heard commitments to policy positions from the Dispatch Box which have not been fulfilled and, while I have the greatest respect for the Minister, legislative certainty is what this House needs. I am particularly concerned by the promises made about the establishment of safe and legal routes at an indeterminate point after the next general election.

This brings me to the timeframe which has been introduced to this revised version of the amendment. We have chosen the timeline of two months after the publication of the Government’s report on safe and legal routes for two reasons. First, this will be eight months— I repeat, eight months—after the enactment of the legislation, which is more than enough time to develop and implement a serious proposal. Secondly, it will ensure that the commitment, as set out in legislation, should not cut across a general election or purdah next year. If the Minister would like to propose putting an alternative timeline into the legislation, I would welcome that conversation, but we do need to put the duty into the legislation now.

I was grateful for a conversation with the Immigration Minister in the other place, when he assured me that the Government would consider the importance of clearly demonstrating that they are committed to fulfilling their word on safe and legal routes. To restate: this is something the Government actively want to do, and for that reason I will want to test the will of the House this afternoon.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and to endorse everything she has just said; if she does decide to test the opinion of the House, I certainly will support her in the Lobbies. I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in his Amendment 162, and Amendment 165, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and Amendment 166, in the name the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.

My own Amendment 163 takes me back to an issue I raised in Committee. It concerns the provision within the designated safe and legal route, which I warmly welcome and I applaud what the Prime Minister said about the principle of doing this. The amendment contains within it an element and a number, to be determined by the Secretary of State, for people with protected characteristics under Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, who is in his place, will recall that I raised this issue on an earlier amendment on Report.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, but also to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for signing this amendment. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s response. A few moments ago I heard him say that there will be a consultation process; perhaps he could flesh that out and say even that the principle in this amendment is something that could be consulted on—that would go some way to meeting my concerns.

I have raised this issue a number of times previously. I tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill, debated in your Lordships’ House on 21 March 2016, which specifically focused on those groups of people, such as the Yazidis and Christians, persecuted and even facing genocide because of their religion or belief. I raised it again during the Nationality and Borders Bill, debated on 8 February 2022. I focused on the Yazidis, an ethno- religious group targeted by Daesh for annihilation as a clear-cut case of genocide.

Earlier this afternoon, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and I held a meeting with officials from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office about the continued failure of the United Kingdom to respond to the genocide of the Yazidis, even though a German court has now determined that such crimes have been committed against the Yazidis. I visited northern Iraq in 2019 and took evidence from the groups I have just described. Germany, along with Canada and Australia, famously opened its doors to the victims of this genocide, offering them sanctuary and a safe haven. By contrast, we have used the absence of safe and legal routes to prevent these vulnerable and targeted communities being able to find a way of accessing refugee or asylum status in the UK.

If our present mechanisms are working as intended, why have Yazidi victims of the Daesh genocide in Iraq not been granted resettlement in the UK? Of course, we may not be able to help all victims but why can we not help a few? This is unacceptable, which is why I have tabled this amendment.

Over the years, we have seen how we have failed to support even single individuals because there is no safe or legal route. I am not talking about millions or even thousands of people. I am talking about individual cases. I went to Pakistan and met Supreme Court judges to plead for Asia Bibi, a woman who had spent years on death row. Having been acquitted of so-called blasphemy charges, she faced death threats from mob groups. Her case—and that of a young Christian Pakistani woman who was abducted, forcibly converted and forcibly married—were raised directly with the Home Office. Yet although there was plenty of sympathy, it did not result in any practical help. This amendment would enable tea and sympathy to be turned into the kind of response that mercifully, in that case, the Canadian Government were able to give.

In Committee, I raised the case of Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison for a so-called blasphemous post on Facebook. If he was to be acquitted or released, he would certainly face threats and so need a safe haven. Nigeria is one of 71 countries which criminalise blasphemy. As long as these laws exist, people will face persecution, prosecution and imprisonment. Some will even face the threat of death and be pushed to find safe havens abroad.

This amendment will not help everyone. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said to me, I would like something broader. I hope that one day we will get to that. However, I commend this modest amendment to the Minister. It is a beginning. It would provide assistance to people with protected characteristics, as understood by Section 4 of the Equality Act, and to people who are often discriminated against because of these protected characteristics. This also means protection for members of the LGBT community. In a book on genocide published last year, I highlighted the treatment of gay people during the Daesh genocide in Syria and Iraq. Some were thrown from high buildings, others burned in cages.

I welcome the decision of the Government to find a formula for safe and legal routes but urge them to incorporate within it a small element which would enable us to respond to such individual cases of extreme persecution, including of those who are targeted because of their protected characteristics. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of which protects the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief. It is also the 75th anniversary of Raphael Lemkin’s genocide convention. This would be a small contribution to putting some of the well-meaning rhetoric in those declarations into practical effect. It is the right thing to do, and I commend this amendment to the House.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He makes his case very well. I also share the views of my noble friend Lord Paddick in his discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the preference is to get to a place where we can have a broader view. That is where my Amendment 165 is trying to land us—so that we can have a means by which those who seek asylum can have a safe and legal route which is not country-specific. I will return to that in a moment.

I was pleased to listen very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, making her case. I hope that the Minister reflects very carefully on what was presented to him in very measured terms. The currency of commitments by Ministers at the Dispatch Box is not as it was. Therefore, if the noble Baroness presses this amendment to the vote, these Benches will support her. We need in this Bill a commitment that there will be safe and legal routes, so it will be very important.

Before I turn to Amendment 165, I will speak briefly to Amendment 167 on family pathways, tabled by my noble friend Lady Ludford, who cannot be here today. This is another area where the absence of a pathway for family reunion has a perverse incentive that draws people towards smuggling and therefore the dangerous channel crossings, as well as preventing the accelerating of integration in the UK of those family members. Refugee family reunion is particularly important for women and children, who make up 90% of those who are granted visas. The damage that this Bill will do is substantive. I hope that the Minister can reflect on that point and give a proper response.

Amendment 165 is a version of an amendment that I tabled in Committee. The Minister challenged me to try to present some figures on its impact. I told him that I would be able to present an estimate of its impact, after reflecting on the Government’s impact assessment. This impact assessment has been debated a lot since we were given sight of it—including the boxes for government estimates of costs that remain blank. But one thing that is certain, and which I can say with assurance, is that the protected claim route for a safe and legal route under this amendment would be cheaper to the British taxpayer than the costs of detention and removal detailed in the impact assessment. Indeed, as the children’s impact assessment said, a safe and legal route would be a means by which we would have an effective way of protecting children.

There can now be no doubt that the route the Government are seeking to go down in the Bill is the most expensive for the taxpayer. We have to find ways to have a safe and legal route that is not country specific and that has considerable thresholds and conditions, high enough not to need a quota but sufficient to allow those under the greatest level of persecution to secure access and a route for a protected claim to the UK. Of course, the critical aspect is that that would be valid only if there is consideration of it being a successful cause. That is possible and the costs would be lower.

I hope the Minister can also give positive news on what the Government expect a safe and legal route that is not country specific to be. In Committee, I asked the Minister about the status of what we have at the moment, which is a safe and legal route that is not country specific—the UK resettlement scheme through the UNHCR. I do not need to remind the House that that scheme is demand led and operates on the basis of information provided by local authorities, acting in isolation or in a regional group and stating that they can accommodate and resettle those who are seeking asylum via the UNHCR. That is the existing means; it is problematic and expensive, and my amendment seeks to improve it.

The major deficiency at the moment is what the Independent Commission for Aid Impact said in its review of the Government’s use of overseas development assistance funding for the UK resettlement scheme: the UK Government asked the UNHCR not to make any referrals to the UK unless they were from Afghanistan. I have asked the Minister twice now—I did again in Committee—whether this was the case. The Minister replied:

“I do not have that detail to hand so I will go away and find that out and write to the noble Lord”.—[Official Report, 14/6/23; col. 1981.]

If the theme is taking Ministers at the Dispatch Box at their word, presumably the Minister went away and found out whether that was the case. He has not written to me, so I expect the answer when he winds up on this group today. He really needs to tell us, given that he told me that he would in Committee. That is on the record in Hansard, so I look forward to the Minister stating whether that is the case.

The other aspect on which we need clarity is that the Minister has said that any new safe and legal route will depend on the capacity in local authorities. That capacity is both demand led and need led. Local authorities can offer space for the UK resettlement scheme through individual councils or strategic migration partnerships, so the Home Office must have a current estimate of the level of capacity of local authorities through the strategic migration partnerships receiving through the UK resettlement scheme. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that point.

The second is that the Home Office provides tariff funding for local authorities, either individually or as a group, for those being resettled. My concern with the government proposal, and why we need clarity in the Bill, is that the Government could state that there is no capacity in local authorities, not because a local authority has said that it does not have capacity but because the Government have reduced its tariff funding. So they can flick the switch: they can state there is no capacity because they are unwilling to give a tariff support.

As we know, at the moment, community sponsorship is part of the UK resettlement scheme. The Government consider it a safe and legal route, and we have seen it so wonderfully in the Ukrainian scheme. But the Government seem very loath to test the community sponsorship scheme for other people who are seeking asylum. I am certain that it would not be easy and that there would be consequences. But if those in this country of ours were asked in a community sponsorship scheme for young people who are potentially at direct risk in Iran and Sudan, and if they met certain thresholds and the scheme could operate a protective claiming element to them, I am certain we would be able to find the capacity that we needed.

Finally, with all the Government’s assurances, we see the deficiencies in their current approach in live time. Judicial review is about to start in Northern Ireland on the Government’s evacuation from Sudan. I declare the interest of my activities within Sudan and the civilian community there. The review is asking why the Government have provided support for those from Ukraine but is refusing it for those from Sudan on exactly the same basis. I am afraid that we cannot rely on this Government to have individual schemes. Therefore, we need safe and legal routes and a commitment in the Bill. We cannot simply take the commitments from the Dispatch Box. This needs to be in law.

My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 164. I will speak strongly but briefly in support of my noble friend Lady Stroud. I spoke to this matter in Committee. What a disappointment it is that the Government and many of their spokesmen have made it perfectly plain that they are going to introduce safe and legal routes but, as others have said, without any clarity at all as to what they mean. Indeed, I have been saddened to hear a number of people in the other place confusing a safe and legal route with a programme of the United Nations, which is a separate matter altogether, aimed at specific countries in the world.

As I previously stated, I was responsible as a Minister for the United Nations Bosnian refugee settlement scheme in the 1990s. This country can be very proud of that scheme, but it was organised very much internationally and we played a noble part. If the Minister is mixing it up—I do not think that he is—or if the Government are, and thinking that these schemes will satisfy this particular area, they are mistaken.

I also put it very quickly to my noble friend that, prior to 2011, and certainly in the time that I was Minister, we had at our embassies and consulates around the world provision for dealing with applications for asylum to this country. This spread out the ability to grant asylum very widely. In view of the fact that there are so many countries of the world that claim to be freedom-loving and democratic but where individuals and groups of people have prejudice shown against them, would it not be sensible—and take the pressure off the masses who might arrive in the channel, for instance—if we were to have a much wider approach restored in our representations around the world, as we used to have?

I ask my noble friend this in all seriousness because, although we are not specifically requesting it in this amendment, I think it would satisfy us if the Government were to agree to that or at least to look at it again. It would save considerable resources and go some way to restoring the Government’s credibility in relation to the Bill where, I am afraid, despite many wise and sensible suggestions by this House, the Government seem outrageously unable to accept anything that we are suggesting. So I put it to my noble friend: please let us look at this again and, in the meantime, please make sure that Amendment 164 is accepted by the Government, in view of the fact that they have spoken so strongly in favour of it in other places.

I am grateful to the Minister for the way he introduced the government amendments to Clause 59, but I am sorry that they were limited in scope. When we had an exchange in Committee and I argued that the revision of the cap should take account of exogenous as well as endogenous factors, he told me that he thought he and I were not far apart. The cap level should not be determined simply by consultation with local authorities. It should take some account of famine, war, massacre, earthquake and natural disasters abroad, which are what tend to encourage the demand for asylum. He told me he did not think we were far apart and agreed to look at it, but I see no amendment. I regret that, but I guess that is where we are.

I support Amendment 163 and I particularly support Amendment 164, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. I congratulate her, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, on their courage in coming forward with such a sensible amendment.

Clause 60, which the Government have put in the Bill, is welcome, but the report it foresees is a purely descriptive document. It is not prescriptive. Amendment 164 calls for a further report which will be more purposive. The amendment is however quite modest; it does not attempt to point to any particular type of safe and regular route which the Government should explore. It does not suggest we take up the French offer of a processing centre in France, although for the life of me I do not know why we do not. It does not suggest we reconsider what seems to be a systematic reduction now going on in the number of family reunion cases we are allowing. It does not consider —this would fall foul of the ruling of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope—that we should change our advice to UNHCR on the number and types of resettlement cases that we will be prepared to take.

About 5,000 people from Iran who came into this country in 2022. It is an astonishing fact that 5,642 arrived by irregular routes and 10 by the regular resettlement route. That seems absurd and can be only on the basis of instructions to keep the flow to a minimum. The amendment does not suggest that we sift new applications for asylum in the same sensible way that the Home Office is now sifting those already in the queue from people who are here, waiting to have their case heard. There is no reason why a similar sift should not be conducted remotely.

If you are a young woman who has demonstrated in Tehran and is now on the run, and wanted by the authorities, there is no remote way in which you can register your wish for sanctuary in this country. We allow remote access to people who want to get into our immigration system, but we do not allow remote access to our asylum system. If you are safe where you are but simply want to live and work here, you may apply remotely on the internet or via diplomatic representation, although the internet is the more likely route. But if your life is at risk, if you are on the run, if you are in Kabul or Khartoum and you are wanted, if you are starving or if your tribe is being massacred, we will not consider your case for asylum in this country, unless you get here directly by some route that does not exist. That seems to me shaming. We cannot put that on our statute book; if we have to do so, let us at least add Amendment 164.

It is hypocrisy to pretend that the aim of the Bill is to stop the small boats. The most obvious way of stopping the small boats is to open new, regular routes. If we can do it for immigrants, by sifting their applications remotely, why can we not do it for asylum seekers? To refuse to do it for those fleeing for their lives—to refuse them even the possibility of applying for sanctuary here—seems a bit immoral, a bit illegal under international law, a bit hypocritical and entirely ineffectual, because it will keep the small boat men in business. I strongly support Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.

My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has said and I particularly support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. During last year and this year, one of the criticisms we have heard in this House of the small boats and those coming across has been that they should have taken safe and legal routes; but as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has demonstrated extremely clearly, there are absolutely no safe and legal routes at the moment, unless you go through UNHCR. For people like the woman fleeing Tehran, whose case was given as an example by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, there is no way she could get here.

If I may respectfully say so, it is hypocritical of the Government to suggest that there are routes that could have been taken to avoid taking the small boats. I deplore the small boats. I do not want to see any more of them. The dangers are appalling and I recognise the problems that the Government have but, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has said, they need to provide safe routes. To suggest that these may be ready by the end of 2024 seems a nonsense; we need them now. If we are to get rid of the boats, we absolutely must have well-known, safe routes from somewhere in Europe.

My Lords, we have just had mention made of the young woman from Tehran. I have been in touch with that young woman; in fact, there are more than one of them. Some of your Lordships may have seen the BBC programme last week, which showed the amount of footage that was recorded on cell phones of what happened when the young woman Mahsa Amini was taken into custody because she had her scarf on in an inappropriate way. She ended up in a coma, and then dead. Two young women journalists had got into the hospital and photographed her in that coma, then photographed her family being told that she was dead. Photographs were seen in that programme of her beaten body, her face obviously pulverised by blows. In the days immediately afterwards those two journalists knew that, once they had published their film footage, they would be at risk of arrest—and there was no way that we could get them out. Contact was made, but there was no way.

A few months ago I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who is always so sympathetic to these positions. Turkey is one of the obvious places that people can flee to, but it is not a safe place for Iranian women; we have seen returns of people to Iran. The question was: if they got to Turkey, could they go into the British embassy, ask for a visa and be given sanctuary and help to get out? The noble Lord had to come back to me and say no, that would not be an acceptable way of dealing with this.

So what is the mechanism for journalists like that, who are in imminent danger? Those two women journalists are now serving six years apiece. They were put on trial, were not allowed to have lawyers and are now serving sentences in jail. That is why I tabled an amendment to the Bill suggesting that there should be emergency visas so that people in imminent danger can do something to get out.

That usually means journalists. I have personal experience of sitting in this country with Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who had written about Putin and his conduct. She went back to Russia, and three weeks later I saw her body on the stairwell of the building she lived in, with blood pouring down the stairs because she had been shot. These are real events in the lives of people who are being courageous in calling out the abuses of Governments, yet there is no way that we can help them to escape.

It is not only journalists. The lawyer acting for Navalny, the opposition leader who was making a stand against Putin, was immediately arrested. There ought to be ways in which we can provide emergency visas for people to get out. In 2019 the Government announced:

“A new process for emergency resettlement will also be developed, allowing the UK to respond quickly to instances when there is a heightened need for protection”,

and that is what we were calling for. Four years later, that still has not happened.

In 2021, in the months immediately after the military evacuation of Afghanistan, I was directly involved in trying to get judges, particularly women judges, out of that country. We managed to evacuate 103 women judges and their families, but only a small number of them were taken in by Britain. At that stage I delivered a petition to No. 10, signed by tens of parliamentarians, lawyers and human rights experts, calling on Her Majesty’s Government to introduce as a matter of urgency emergency visas for the remaining women judges, women television presenters and women Members of Parliament who had not managed to get out. I did not hear a dicky bird. I did not even get a reply to the petition; I am sure that Mr Johnson took it with him into retirement.

We now have the embarrassment that Canada has created emergency human rights defender visas, as has Ireland. The Czech Republic recently did so too, at the behest of the great project that this country was at the heart of creating, the Media Freedom Coalition. We advised that there should be emergency visas for journalists and were persuading the world to create them. The Czech Republic did so, and it now has a huge number of the journalists who had to flee Russia. Do we have many of them?

I too will support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. I will not ask for a vote on mine because we are in a bit of a hurry but, if we accept the very sensible amendment to create emergency visas and new routes for people, I call on the Government to include the ones that will be necessary where people’s lives are in imminent danger, as we have seen in a number of conflicts recently.

My Lords, the House will know that I support the direction of travel of the Bill. I have therefore listened with particular care to the heartfelt, heart-rending speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, but the House and indeed the country are entitled to know, broadly, the scale of the commitment that we would be asked to accept if all these amendments were passed.

Therefore, I will detain the House for a minute or two, particularly in relation to the background to Amendments 162 and 164. I accept that the phrase “safe and legal routes” has a seductive ring to it, because it makes it sound as though we can square an extraordinarily difficult circle. But in the end it comes down to numbers, and in Amendment 164 I see no mention of a cap or limit on the numbers—I stand ready to be corrected.

I heard my noble friend Lady Stroud refer to the Minister’s reference to caps for local authorities but, if she argues that this is one way for us to get around and break the business model of the boat smugglers, I ask her: what happens when we fill up to the cap that my noble friend the Minister will have devised? Will the people smugglers not reappear immediately? In relation to my noble friend Lady Stroud’s proposed subsection (3), on the procedures to be used and who will undertake them, there is a great deal of open-ended difficulty, not least around the sort of issues we discussed a few minutes ago about the definition of “children”—this will be about the definition of a “relevant person”.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and I have discussed this many times and agree about many things, but when he argues for excluding certain existing programmes—as he does in Amendment 162—we as a House need to remember that 60% to 70% of our fellow citizens think that this country is already crowded. Therefore, we—they—are entitled to know the overall number that this House thinks we can and should take. They are all terribly worth while and all ghastly experiences—the way people are treated will make your hair stand on end—but a number is important.

Does the noble Lord agree that we are talking about admission to the system, or admissible cases? We are not saying that all applicants’ asylum requests must be granted; we are talking merely about admissions into the system. I have not heard the noble Lord answer my argument for remote admissions.

The issue with remote admissions is that you completely lose control of the system, because it is run on a multibased system around the world. We need, quite simply, to be clear about the number we could admit into this country, under all these worthwhile systems—they may be run in the way the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, wishes, or the way the noble Lord, Lord Alton, wishes—and keep faith with the country’s ability to absorb it without undue social and economic strain.

I draw the noble Lord’s attention to proposed subsection (2) in Amendment 163, which specifically deals with numbers and a cap, and the regulations that would be available to the Secretary of State to control the very issues that the noble Lord raised. It would allow us to deal with emergency cases of the kind that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and others described.

Absolutely—that is why, in my opening remarks, I said that the noble Lord’s Amendment 163 was movingly produced and discussed. My question on the cap was aimed at Amendment 164, which I stand ready to be corrected on, and the generality of Amendment 162, where no numbers are mentioned at all.

It may be helpful, therefore, to clarify what is happening in Amendment 164. In January, the Government will lay a report detailing the safe and legal routes that they are choosing to introduce. The amendment says that, two months later, the Government have a duty to implement what they say they want. The amendment makes no mention of numbers and does not throw open the door at all; it purely says that, if the Government have a narrative of instituting safe and legal routes, they have the responsibility and duty to implement them. They must safeguard the passage of the Bill not just by narrative but by action.

I support the idea of safe and legal routes, which are already in the Bill, but there is no way that they will stop the boats. I have several questions for those proposing these amendments. Would they give safe and legal routes to people already in safe neighbouring countries in Europe, such as France? If not, it will do little or nothing to stop the boats coming from France. If we do not give them safe routes, they will continue to come as they do at present. If we decide to give safe and legal routes to people already in safe countries in Europe, I suggest that that should not be our priority. Our priority should be helping the young lady in Tehran and the people coming directly from persecution, or from immediately neighbouring countries, rather than from already safe countries.

My next question is: will the UK bear the costs of assessment, accommodation and litigation, through all the appeal stages we allow here, to those applying overseas? If so, those costs can be huge. I again suggest that that money would be better used helping people languishing in refugee camps in the Middle East, where we can help many times more people for the same amount of money than if we bring them to this country.

My third question is: will there be a cap on the safe and legal routes? There is a cap in the Government’s Bill, but there certainly is not in the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. If there is a cap, anyone applying above the number of the cap is not prevented from coming by small boat across the channel. So it is a deliberately misleading fallacy to suggest that safe and legal routes will stop the passage across the channel if there is a cap.

I will also address the bishops’ letter in the Times and the most reverend Primate’s promises in previous debates that he was going to bring forward practical measures to solve the problem, while accepting that we could not take unlimited numbers of people. In fact, in that letter and in the amendments that he has put forward, he has not come forward with a policy; he has come forward with a policy to have a policy. It is not—

May I just continue and then perhaps the most reverend Primate can ask three questions in one go?

It is a policy to have a policy. It is not even a policy for him to have a policy; it is a policy for the Government to have a policy. It is a policy that the Government’s policy must be agreed by other Governments overseas. I give way to the most reverend Primate.

If the noble Lord would wait for a second, I would be able to respond. If he were to look at the debate on Friday 9 December, which I led, he will find that a policy is set out there very clearly. One has also been set out very clearly in an article in the Times a few weeks ago, which has been repeated on numerous occasions by other Members of these Benches.

I have reread the debate on 9 December and he does not give a policy in it. I ask him to reread it himself, come back to the House and tell us what that policy is. Because it is not there; it is a non-policy. His policy for other people to have policies is not a policy.

There are no rules of order in this House.

I therefore hope that we will stop the pretence that there is a simple means of stopping the flow of refugees across the channel, risking their lives—and, once here, inevitably being removed—other than the policy of deterrence or prevention.

My Lords, it has certainly been quite a debate, has it not? I agree strongly with the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson and Lord Lilley. It gives me difficulty and regret not to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, who are clearly striving to help people who really need help.

The question here is whether this bit of law will help or not, and I suggest to the House that that is not relevant to the actual problem on the ground of dealing with a very wide range of cases. I have been in a number of difficult countries and I can assure noble Lords that lots of people live in real difficulty and fear and would well want, and be justified in seeking, to move to the UK, especially if they had friends or relatives here. However, it seems to me that what we have here is not so much a problem of law as a problem of policy; we need to be much clearer on what we are trying to achieve and how we will achieve it.

For example, where will applications be submitted? You could do it on the internet, but the other stages that would then have to be dealt with could not be done satisfactorily on the internet. It could be done by the embassies overseas; there was some ability to do that in the past. However, the numbers are now astronomical—tens or hundreds of thousands, maybe more—and there is no way that an embassy could do that. Even if it could, the host country would say, “All right, you deal with them in your embassy—you can have a special office, if you like—but on the condition that, if you fail an applicant, you then deal with the consequences”. Of course, you would be left with huge numbers of people who we had judged were not sufficiently strong cases; they would be there in country X but they would be our responsibility.

Then there will be the question—I will be very brief—of where and how the interview process will be conducted. How would the claims be prioritised? What would happen to those whose claims fail? These questions have been completely unconsidered. We should not be passing laws and letting the thinking be done later.

Well, that is what this amounts to.

Let the Government come forward with a viable scheme—they have promised to do so—and let us then support that.

My Lords, I understand the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Lilley and others, but I also agree that there is no simple solution to all this, which is why we have to look at little bits of the system to understand whether there is an overall system that we can tackle.

I will start with some high-level things that we should be proud of. We should be proud that people want to come to Britain, either as refugees or economic migrants, and that we are a beacon of tolerance in the world. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I told the taxi drivers in Strasbourg or Brussels that I was from London. They would say how incredibly lucky and fortunate I was compared with people in their countries, and how much more tolerant we are in many ways.

The other thing we have to realise is that we cannot let everyone in. Of course, our hearts want to help everyone we see who suffers persecution and has lost their home and family. We also understand that people want to come to make a better life for themselves, as my parents did as economic migrants. We had jobs and labour shortages in this country then, and the economic migrants filled that gap.

One of the questions we have to ask is: where do we draw the line? I will speak specifically to some of the amendments, beginning with Amendment 162 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and others. He is absolutely right, particularly on the Afghan relocation scheme: we have some moral obligation to the people from Afghanistan. Was it not as a result of some of our foreign policy interventions that some of these people are now in real danger for having co-operated with the British? Of course, there may well need to be a cap, but if there is a cap, I hope that the Government can explain where else some of those people can go. This highlights, once again, the need for international agreements to tackle this issue. This issue is not going away. For the reasons that people leave their homeland and want to come here or go elsewhere, we will see more and more migration, either by those fleeing persecution or for economic reasons. Therefore, we need to understand where else they can go.

I completely understand the sentiment behind Amendment 164, in the names of my noble friends Lady Stroud and Lord Kirkhope and others, but I do not necessarily agree on the timeline proposed. I also welcome the government amendment but, as my noble friend Lady Stroud said, we need guarantees that this will happen. It is not sufficient to say, “We will come forward with proposals for safe and legal routes”. If we do not have safe and legal routes, you might well say, “Well, we’re not going to stop the boats anyway”—but this will incentivise people to come on the boats, because there is no legal way for them to apply to come here. Some of those people who have applied and were rejected may well still try to come, but many others will say, “No, I’ve tried my luck, I’m not coming”, particularly when it comes to economic migrants.

Overall, I would like to ask the Government please to consider the language we use about this. We should be proud that we are a beacon internationally; we should be proud that people want to come here, but also understand that not everyone can come and we have to draw a line somewhere. These people are not invaders; they are simply seeking to escape persecution or coming here for a better life. I hope we can be more pragmatic. I am very sympathetic to both Amendments 162 and 164.

My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate on a number of issues of substance. I speak briefly to say that, on these Benches, we will be supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, on her amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, talked about his time in the Foreign Office and the mixing up of UN and national schemes. My noble friend Lord Triesman, who had a similar position to the noble Lord, said he was absolutely right in the way he summed up the position. So, we are happy to support the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, on her amendment.

There have been a number of speeches that have reflected on the extremity of the situation for many people who want to come here. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, was very fair in the way he summed up his position in supporting Amendment 164. He introduced his speech by saying he wants to fix little bits of the system to make it work better. I agree with that point, and that can be done through Amendment 164.

I say to my noble friend Lady Kennedy that I too met Anna Politkovskaya when I was a member of the OSCE in the early 2000s, and she was killed just a couple of months after I met her. There are people in absolutely extreme and desperate situations and there are many pressures on the Government—we understand that—but the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, is doing no more than asking the Government to put what they have promised from the Dispatch Box on the face of the Bill.

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. My noble friends Lord Hodgson and Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Green, made some powerful points, in particular on the presumed impact of some of these amendments on our ability to stop the boats. They also again highlighted the need to link the numbers admitted to the UK through safe and legal routes to our capacity to accommodate and support those who arrive through those routes.

Amendment 162, put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, seeks to exclude certain existing schemes from the safe and legal routes cap provision in this Bill. Exempting routes from the cap is not in keeping with the purpose of the policy, which is to manage the capacity on local areas of those arriving through our safe and legal routes. That said, I would remind the House that the cap does not automatically apply to all current or any future routes. Each route will be considered for inclusion on a case-by-case basis. This is due to the individual impact of the routes and the way they interact with the immigration system. This is why my officials are currently considering which routes should be within the cap and this work should not be pre-empted by excluding certain routes from the cap at this stage. I also point the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to the power to vary the cap, set out in the Bill, in cases of emergency.

Amendment 163 would see the United Kingdom establish a new route for those who are persecuted on the basis of an individual’s protected characteristics—advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. This would be a completely new approach to international protection that goes far beyond the terms of the refugee convention. At present, all asylum claims admitted to the UK system, irrespective of any protected characteristic, are considered on their individual merits in accordance with our international obligations under the refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. For each claim, an assessment is made of the risk to the individual owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Critically, we also consider the latest available country of origin information.

Under the scheme proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, there would be no assessment of whether, for the individual concerned, there exists the possibility of safe internal relocation, or whether the state in which an individual faces persecution by a non-state actor could suitably protect them. As well as extending beyond our obligations under the refugee convention, this amendment runs counter to our long-held position that those who need international protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach—that remains the fastest route to safety.

Amendment 164, tabled by my noble friend Lady Stroud, seeks to enshrine in law a requirement to bring in new safe and legal routes within two months of the publication of the report required by Clause 60 of the Bill. This puts the deadline sometime next spring. I entirely understand my noble friend’s desire to make early progress with establishing new safe and legal routes, but it is important to follow proper process.

We are rightly introducing, as a number of noble Lords have observed, a requirement to consult on local authority capacity to understand the numbers we can effectively welcome, integrate and support arriving through safe and legal routes. We have committed to launching such a consultation within three months of Royal Assent of this Bill, but we need to allow local authorities and others time to respond and for us to consider those responses. We also, fundamentally, need to make progress with stopping the boats— stopping the dangerous crossings—to free up capacity to welcome those arriving by safe and legal routes.

Having said all that, I gladly repeat the commitment given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Immigration that we will implement any proposed additional safe and legal routes set out in the Clause 60 report as soon as practicable and in any event by the end of 2024. In order to do something well, in an appropriate manner, we must have time in which to do so. We are therefore only a few months apart. I hope my noble friend will accept this commitment has been made in good faith and we intend to abide by it and, on that basis, she will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Amendment 165, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, would enable those seeking protection to apply from abroad for entry clearance into the UK to pursue their protection claim. Again, such an approach is fundamentally at odds with the principle that a person seeking protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they reach. We also need to be alive to the costs of this and indeed the other amendments proposed here. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on the costs of Amendment 165, but I have to say that I disagree. Our economic impact assessment estimates a stream of asylum system costs of £106,000 per person supported in the UK.

The noble Lord’s scheme is uncapped; under it, there is a duty to issue an entry clearance to qualifying persons. Let us say for the sake of argument that 5,000 entry clearances are issued in accordance with that amendment each year, under his scheme. That could lead to a liability of half a billion pounds in asylum support each year. What is more, as my noble friend Lord Lilley so eloquently pointed out, it would not stop the boats. Those who did not qualify under the scheme would simply arrive on the French beaches and turn to the people smugglers to jump the queue.

Amendment 166 seeks to create an emergency visa route for human rights defenders at particular risk and to provide temporary accommodation for these individuals. This Government recognise that many brave individuals put their lives at risk by fighting for human rights in their countries. These individuals are doing what they believe to be right, at great personal cost. However, when their lives are at risk, I say again that those in need of international protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. That is the fastest route to safety. Such a scheme would also be open to abuse, given the status of human rights defenders, and that anyone can claim to be a human rights defender.

Presently, no, but clearly it will be subject to the cap. The problem, as the noble Lord well knows, is that we cannot take as many people as we would like to from the UNHCR because of the numbers who are coming here, jumping the queue by crossing the channel. That is precisely what these measures in the Bill are designed to address.

Amendment 167 seeks significantly to increase the scope of the UK’s family reunion policy, with no consideration as to how these individuals are to be supported in the UK, which could lead of itself to safeguarding issues. The amendment would even allow individuals to sponsor non-relatives. The present family reunion policy provides a safe and legal route to bring families together. Through this route, we have granted over 46,000 visas since 2015. This is not an insignificant number.

Family reunion in the UK is generous, more so than in the case of some of our European neighbours. Sponsors do not have to be settled in the UK, there is no fee and no time limit for making an application, and there are no accommodation or minimum income requirements which applicants must meet. There is also discretion to grant visas outside the Immigration Rules, catering to wider family members when there are compelling and compassionate factors. Given this track record, I remain unpersuaded of the case for the significant expansion of the family reunion route, as proposed by this amendment.

Finally, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that I still owe him a letter arising from the Committee stage debate. I shall ensure that it is with him this week.

It is worth repeating that the people of this country have been generous in offering sanctuary to over half a million people since 2015. But our willingness to help those fleeing war and persecution must be tied to our capacity to do so. Clauses 59 and 60 are designed to this end. We are committed to introducing safe and legal routes by the end of 2024, and we remain open to a debate about whether the cap provided for in the Bill covers the current schemes set out in the right reverend Prelate’s Amendment 162. I hope that, on this basis, he and other noble Lords will be content not to press their amendments to a Division. I commend the government amendments to the House and beg to move.

Amendment 161A agreed.

Amendments 161B and 161C

Moved by

161B: Clause 59, page 63, line 1, after “authorities” insert “as the Secretary of State considers appropriate,

(aa) the Executive Office in Northern Ireland”Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the first amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 63, line 1.

161C: Clause 59, page 63, line 2, leave out from “bodies” to end of line 3 and insert “as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the first amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 63, line 1.

Amendments 161B and 161C agreed.

Amendment 162 not moved.

Amendment 162A

Moved by

162A: Clause 59, page 63, line 25, leave out from “1994” to end of line 26

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the first amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 63, line 1.

Amendment 162A agreed.

Amendment 163 not moved.

Amendment 164

Moved by

164: After Clause 59, insert the following new Clause—

“Duty to establish safe and legal routes(1) The Secretary of State must, within two months of the publication of the report required by section 60(1), make regulations specifying additional safe and legal routes.(2) In subsection (1), a “safe and legal route” means a route which allows relevant persons to come to the United Kingdom lawfully from abroad.(3) In subsection (2), a “relevant person” is—(a) a person who, if they were in the United Kingdom, would be a refugee within the meaning of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees done at Geneva on 28th July 1951 and the Protocol to that Convention,(b) a person who, if they were in the United Kingdom, would be eligible for a grant of humanitarian protection in accordance with the immigration rules, or(c) a person who, if they were in the United Kingdom, could not lawfully be removed from the United Kingdom by virtue of Article 3 or 4 of the Human Rights Convention.”

Amendments 165 to 167 not moved.

Amendment 168

Moved by

168: After Clause 61, insert the following new Clause—

“Organised immigration crime enforcement(1) The Crime and Courts Act 2013 is amended as follows.(2) In section 1 (the National Crime Agency), after subsection (10) insert—“(10A) The NCA has a specific function to combat organised crime where the purpose of that crime is to enable the illegal entry of a person into the United Kingdom via the English Channel.(10B) The NCA must maintain a unit (a “Cross-Border People Smuggling Unit”) to coordinate the work undertaken in cooperation with international partners in pursuit of the function mentioned in subsection (10A).””Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would give the National Crime Agency a legal responsibility for tackling organised immigration crime across the Channel, and to maintain a specific unit to undertake work related to that responsibility.

My Lords, Amendment 168 would introduce a new clause, giving:

“the National Crime Agency a legal responsibility for tackling organised immigration crime across the Channel, and to maintain a specific unit to undertake work related to that responsibility”.

I thank the National Crime Agency for its briefing this morning, which was very helpful, and Home Office Ministers for helping to facilitate it.

Not for one moment am I suggesting in this amendment that any Minister, the Government or any Member of this House does not want to see the criminal gangs which exploit vulnerable people tackled and these criminals prosecuted. I also say at the outset that there will be many officials, officers and various agents working hard to do just that, and we should commend them for their work.

Apart from brief debates, the focus has been on deterring migrants, detention and deportation. All of that has been the subject of lively debate, disagreement and discussion. Clearly, that is a huge area of work which, so far, I suggest—hence my amendment—has not received the scrutiny it merits. This point was forcefully and powerfully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in Committee.

There are many questions, some of which were raised in Committee. If I highlight some, I hope noble Lords will see the importance of this amendment and this short debate. One of the plan’s objectives is to concentrate on disrupting the provision of dinghies and equipment. How successful has that been in disrupting the flow of migrants? Tackling the criminal gangs requires international co-operation with countries across Europe and beyond. How is this co-ordinated? Are there any problems with such co-operation and agreement? How is the sharing of intelligence working? How is the sharing of data and joint policing working? Is that working effectively and do the Government need to do more to ensure that we achieve our common goal of disrupting these criminal gangs and deterring the flow of boats and migrants across the channel?

Can the Minister give us a figure for prosecutions? I have not seen the most recent and up-to-date figures; it would be useful for your Lordships’ House to hear them. Are those arrested from the boats and prosecuted the small fry, so to speak, or the big figures who run these horrific operations? We read in our newspapers that much of it is done and organised online—it is almost advertised. How effective have the social media companies been in taking such sites down? Do the law enforcement and intelligence agencies require government help to inject some urgency into what the social media companies do with these sites?

All of this requires the NCA to be supported by the Government here and across the continent more widely. My amendment, on which I will seek to test the opinion of the House at the appropriate time, asks whether one amendment within the whole range of amendments we have debated around this Bill can demonstrate the concern we all have regarding how we tackle these criminal gangs. It would allow the NCA and others to highlight what they are doing; it would allow us to shine a light on what is happening, and to assess it and inject a focus that will let us all achieve what we want.

We need to deal with the challenge that we face, but we need to ensure, as much as we can, working with our own agencies and our international partners, that the full weight of our state and others will be brought to bear on those who run these criminal gangs. They prey on the vulnerabilities of often desperate people, including children, and exploit others’ misfortune. There should be no hiding place for these modern-day smugglers.

My Lords, Amendment 168AZA stands in my name. When I first tabled this in Committee, it was supported by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier—who is his place and will, I hope, be saying something about it shortly—and my noble friend Lord Soames of Fletching. However, due to my complete incompetence, they seem to have fallen off this time, although I know that they are here—one physically and the other in spirit.

I rise without any sense of optimism that my amendment will be taken as part of the Bill, as I think it has failed to catch the imagination of noble Lords on all sides of the House. I say gently: it is up to them to explain why they do not think that it has merit. I think it is uncontentious and that it is impossible—just to repeat what I said in Committee, having said that I would not—to have an informed and civilised debate about illegal crossings or migratory figures unless we know the total number of immigrants we already have in this country.

To put it into context, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that, last year, 1.2 million people moved to the UK, giving a net immigration figure of 606,000. Migration Watch calculates—the noble Lord, Lord Green, is nodding—that, if the levels continue along these same lines, the UK population will rise to between 83 million and 87 million by 2046. That is 15 to 18 new Birminghams in terms of homes. Given the debates that we are having about the pressure on the health service and the pressure for first-time buyers, we really need to think about the sort of country this would be if we had to face those pressures. I am sympathetic to my noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Lilley, who talked about this in an honest and open way. I rather fear that my noble friend the Minister will try to tell us that all these figures are available to us. I will return to that in a minute because I contest that point.

I repeat myself but, once we find out, and I believe we can find out, the amount of people who are here already illegally—I have no particular view about an amnesty or whether they should go through some retrospective process—we need to find out where they are. I fundamentally believe that the first duty of any Government is to know who is living in their country, who is coming into their country and, indeed, who is leaving their country. Quite honestly, we simply do not have those figures.

In a humanitarian context, surely we should not do nothing in terms of finding out where these people are and what they are doing. By doing nothing, by ignoring this matter, we are surely consigning them to the twilight of society. They are unable to access services in the same way we do, they are not contributing to society through NICs, we do not get the benefit and they do not get the benefit. There is more that we can do in this area.

As I said, my noble friend the Minister will, I suspect, reject the idea of this amendment and will say that the information is published and is available. Well, that is true, but only up to a point. Not all the information is published, and the information that is published is extremely hard to find and is not all available in one single place where people can see it, understand it and so better inform their views as to what levels of migration they want to see in this country. The same applies to foreign national offenders, who I have also included in this amendment.

All my amendment seeks to do is to say that, on an annual basis, the Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament a report on illegal migration in the UK and the statistics as required by this amendment. It is not a particularly contentious or difficult amendment. To those who think, “If they are here illegally, how can we possibly find out where they are?”, I say that you can find that out—the supermarkets have a system and there are other systems that I spoke about in Committee, which I will not repeat this evening. It is a question of will to find out how many people are in this country already and what the total population of this country is. I believe that, once we have that information, it will better inform people’s views about the levels of migration they want to see in the years ahead.

My Lords, I had not planned to speak in this debate, but I feel I must rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

The Prime Minister repeatedly talks about “stopping the boats” as one of his top five priorities—you often get the feeling that it is in fact his top priority. If this Government really wanted to tackle the villains, the traffickers and the modern slave owners and, along with the French Government, round them up and put them where they need to be, they would have done it. Instead of doing that, however, the Government think, “No, we will leave those guys alone; we will focus on removing the rights of the victims, the trafficked people, the modern slaves, the unaccompanied children, the people escaping persecution and appalling treatment”.

This amendment is unusual. In all the debates we have had, the focus has been on the victims and on removing the safeguards for the victims. This amendment is appealing to the Government to give a duty to the NCA to round up the traffickers, the modern slave owners, and so on. It seems to me that the Government cannot say, “Oh, sorry, we cannot do that, it is too difficult; we just have to make life hell for the victims—that way we will deter them from coming”. I really hope that everybody in this Chamber will support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, as being the single attempt—throughout all these debates—to have the Government focus their efforts where those efforts should be focused.

My Lords, I rise in support of Amendment 168AZA. The noble Lord, Lord Swire, has explained why it is a very modest but important part of this discussion.

One reason why I think there is substantial public support for the Bill, at least in terms of the headlines and broad brush strokes, if not the detail—we have heard from the wide range of amendments the potential problems when looking at the detail of the Bill—is that people feel as though things are out of control. That is viscerally expressed by people seeing the boats arriving. The difficulty is that, in a discussion—even in this Chamber, but certainly beyond this Chamber—about what is really going on, many people feel as though they are confronting smoke and mirrors. They do not know who is here and under what status they are here.

I said at Second Reading—or at some stage, anyway—that many people feel as though they are being gaslit. When they raise concerns, they are told—as we have just heard a bit of—that these are trafficked people and victims. One reason why I support the amendment introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, a moment ago is that I feel that the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee status” are being sullied by being used in a way that is unhelpfully broad and vague, often quite promiscuously and illegitimately, in order to say to the British public, “What are you worried about?” The problem is that the generosity of spirit around refugees is being tested, to say the least.

Therefore, we need to have a sense of proportion and to know what is going on. It is quite straightforward: we do not, which means that people bandy around emotive headlines and accusations against the British public—often unfairly—as though they are all xenophobic, they do not care, and so on. Also, quite grand statements are made. I think people want to know very clearly who is here illegally and in what category they are here.

I commend the noble Lord, Lord Swire, for making the point that it is the obligation of this Government—or a Labour Government or any Government—to know who lives within our borders. If you do not know, then you do not have national sovereignty. You cannot run a country in which you say, “Oh, sorry, it is too difficult to know”. Anyone who says, “Find out for yourself” has not tried. We have all tried and we want to know that the people who run this society do know and therefore have a handle on it.

My Lords, before I speak in support of my noble friend’s Amendment 168AZA, which I supported also in Committee, I want to make two very quick points about Amendment 168 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I entirely sympathise with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but it strikes me that there is already a responsibility on the National Crime Agency to tackle organised crime of all types, not just immigration crime. I think we go a step too far if we legislate the internal administration of a police authority. There can be a debate and a disagreement about whether that is right; and perhaps the supporters of Amendment 168 are making a rhetorical point, and I can accept that; but I just caution against passing legislation that imposes a duty on the National Crime Agency that already exists.

Turning to Amendment 168AZA, I complained in Committee that, absent this information, we had government by guesswork, and government by guesswork is not a very attractive way of running anything, let alone an immigration system. For some of the reasons advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, a moment ago, ignorance creates suspicion, and suspicion leads to poor community relations and general dissatisfaction in the way in which the governed look at the governors. So I urge my noble friend on the Front Bench to provide us with a convincing response, which I have not yet heard; nor have I been given any information by any Minister since we last debated this in Committee. It cannot be suggested that the Government do not like annual reports. One has only to look at Clause 60(1):

“The Secretary of State must, before the end of the relevant period … prepare and publish a report on safe and legal routes by which persons may enter the United Kingdom”.

The detail of what that report is supposed to contain each year is set out in Clause 60(2), and it has to appear within six months of the Act being passed.

The information that we think should be made public and brought together in a single annual report is set out in proposed new subsections (a) to (e) of our amendment. Proposed new subsections (b), (c), (d) and (e) cover information that is available somewhere in the government system: some clever person can press a button and the numbers will come spewing out—easy. I accept that counting the number of illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom presents one or two more problems, because not every illegal immigrant is going to present himself at a counting centre; however, they can make an intelligent estimate.

I ask the Government to condescend to move a little bit towards us and provide the public with the information they feel they need to see and which the Government must know in order to run a sensible, humane and legitimate immigration system. That is all this is about, so let us get on with it.

My Lords, I very much support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swire. As has already been said so well by him and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, this is an extremely sensible idea. The public, as well as ourselves and the House of Commons, are entitled to know where we stand and what is happening with the numbers.

I share, to some extent, the concerns of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, purely and simply because I wonder to what extent the National Crime Agency has actually been consulted on what its priorities are. I quite see the importance of giving this priority, and I totally support it, but I would be interested to know, before we make this a part of primary legislation, whether the National Crime Agency, which I happen to know has a large number of different duties and works extremely well in many areas in this country, sees this area as a priority.

My Lords, first, I address the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swire. He wondered why the amendment had not captured the imagination of the House. Speaking for those of us on these Benches, the Bill is entirely focused on refugees and asylum seekers, who form a very small proportion—a tiny fraction—of the 1.3 million people given leave to remain in the country last year. So while I agree in principle with what the noble Lord says—that we should have a much firmer grip on the number of illegal immigrants in this country—his amendment is not germane to the Bill.

I am very sorry, but on Report noble Lords are allowed to speak only once.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, the Bill is focused entirely on criminalising the victims of people smugglers and not on the people smugglers themselves. We intend to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker: if his amendment is carried, at least there will be one line, or a few lines, in the Bill that will focus on the real problem, which is the criminal people smugglers and those who are carrying out modern slavery and trafficking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, in effect, that this amendment was not necessary because under Section 1(4) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, one reason for the National Crime Agency to exist is:

“The NCA is to have the function … of securing that efficient and effective activities to combat organised crime and serious crime are carried out”.

People smuggling, people trafficking and so forth are clearly organised and serious crime, but that then leads to the question raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about priorities for the National Crime Agency. The strategic priorities for the National Crime Agency are set out in Section 3 of the 2013 Act, which says:

“The Secretary of the State must determine strategic priorities for the NCA”.

I have looked at the current strategic priorities for the National Crime Agency, as set by the Home Secretary, and people smuggling, trafficking and people facilitating the sorts of things that the Bill is supposed to combat are nowhere to be seen; there is nothing in the strategic priorities about it. How can the Government say that it is a priority of the Prime Minister to tackle small boats coming across the channel when it is not a strategic priority set by the Home Secretary for the National Crime Agency? The only way we can get the National Crime Agency to focus on people smugglers is to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which is what we on these Benches will do.

My Lords, Amendment 168 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seeks to confer on the National Crime Agency a specific function in respect of tackling organised immigration crime and to require it to maintain a cross-border people-smuggling unit. The noble Lord opposite has spoken powerfully today, as he did at previous stages of the Bill. I am gratified to hear the powerful expressions of support from the noble Lord and the Benches behind him for the Government’s commitment to addressing these repugnant crimes.

I have sympathy for the underlying aim of this amendment, in that we all agree on the need to tackle organised immigration crime, but I put it to the noble Lord that his amendment is unnecessary. As we have heard from noble Lords in the debate, the functions of the National Crime Agency are set out clearly in Section 1 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who quoted from Section 1(4) of that Act:

“The NCA is to have the function … of securing that efficient and effective activities to combat organised crime and serious crime are carried out”.

At this point, I gratefully echo and adopt the points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier. This function covers all forms of organised crime, and therefore includes organised immigration crime. Accordingly, adding the proposed new function would add nothing to the NCA’s remit. One reads in the NCA’s annual report of the range of activities in which it is already engaged to help address the problem of cross-channel people-smuggling gangs. That commitment also appears on the face of its website, which looks at border vulnerabilities, modern slavery and human trafficking.

As for the second limb of the amendment, which would require the NCA to establish a bespoke cross-border people-smuggling unit, I put to the noble Lord and to the House that this would undermine the operational independence of the NCA—a point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. It is properly a matter for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to determine how best the agency is to be organised to deliver its statutory functions. In saying that, I again respectfully echo the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier from the Benches behind me.

I say in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that the Government are committed to confronting serious organised crime in and against the UK. To help achieve this outcome, we have made significant progress in strengthening the National Crime Agency. The NCA’s budget has increased by at least 21% in the last two years to more than £860 million, which will help it continue to develop the critical capabilities it needs.

I will address a couple of specific points put by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in opening this section of the debate. He asked about the manner in which the activities of organised crime through social media are being addressed by the NCA. The National Crime Agency works closely with the major tech companies to take down organised and information crime-related content where it appears on social media. Between November 2021 and March 2023, the NCA made more than 3,400 referrals to social media companies regarding posts and accounts related to suspected organised immigration crime. Some 97% of these referrals have been taken down by the respective platforms. I hope that offers some grounds for confidence to the noble Lord as he carefully addresses the provisions of the Bill and his response.

The noble Lord also asked me about the number of prosecutions arising from this. I will go on to touch upon that subject as I move on to the manner in which the NCA’s work, along with that of our partners abroad in other jurisdictions, is organised and co-ordinated. The Government have a dedicated multiagency organised immigration crime task force, to which the NCA contributes and in which it participates. This task force is committed to dismantling organised immigration crime groups engaged in immigration crime internationally, including criminal networks that facilitate people smuggling from source countries to Europe and then to the UK, knowingly putting people in life-threatening situations. If I may, I will rehearse a couple of statistics that I gave to your Lordships’ House in Committee. The task force is currently active in 17 countries worldwide, working with its partners to build intelligence sharing as well as investigative and prosecution capability.

I will now address the specific question regarding prosecutions that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, put to me from the Front Bench. Since 2015 and the inception of Project INVIGOR, the United Kingdom’s organised immigration crime task force has been involved in more than 1,400 arrests both in the United Kingdom and overseas with, on conviction, sentences collectively amounting to more than 1,300 years in prison being imposed.

Following the pledge made by the Prime Minister on 13 December to stop the dangerous small boats crossings, the Government have doubled funding for the next two financial years for this task force. This increased funding has as its aim doubling the number of disruptions and enforcement activity against organised immigration crime and the criminal gangs that facilitate it.

As the noble Lord said from the Dispatch Box, he has had an opportunity to discuss these matters with the NCA, and I am grateful for his kind words in relation to Home Office Ministers for assisting with facilitating that. I hope that, in light of what he learned in that meeting and what I have been able to say from the Dispatch Box concerning the activities of the NCA, the desirability of maintaining its operational independence and the increased funding under which it is operating, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to Amendment 168AZA tabled by my noble friend Lord Swire, which would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a report on illegal migration, including statistics on the number of illegal migrants in the United Kingdom. I understand that my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth has also discussed this amendment with my noble friend following Committee. We recognise the importance of having clear and coherent datasets, but I invite the House to reflect on this: by the very nature of that body, it is not possible to know the exact size of the illegal population or the number of people who arrive illegally, so we do not seek to make any official estimates of the illegal population. I hear what my noble friend has to say about the way in which such figures might be gathered, but they would remain estimates.

My noble friend bemoaned the fact that his amendment has not caught the attention of your Lordships’ House and that the House has not demonstrated affection for it. In my experience, your Lordships’ House has demonstrated on many occasions its feeling for the importance of statistical evidence as a guide to policy-making. I hear very clearly what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and my noble friend Lord Swire said about that. However, in circumstances where such figures cannot be known exactly, I invite the House to reflect that it would not be appropriate to pass my noble friend’s amendment in its current form.

My noble friend knows that the Home Office publishes regularly statistics on levels of migration in the United Kingdom, including on irregular migrants who come to the United Kingdom, on people arriving by small boat and on returns of foreign national offenders. Official statistics published by the Home Office are kept under review in line with the code of practice for statistics, taking into account a number of factors, including user needs. The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Swire made this very point when talking about the accessibility and ready comprehensibility of the statistics. Also kept under review is the quality and availability of data. We hope to include data on small boat arrivals who have been returned in a future iteration of the quarterly Irregular Migration to the UK release; no doubt during that exercise the Home Office will look at how best statistics can be presented to assist the general public interest in this important matter. I hope that provides an answer to the points about accessibility raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier.

I hope that I have been able to provide some comfort to my noble friend. He sought to pre-empt me by rehearsing the answers I would give from the Dispatch Box, but I hope that I have none the less been able to provide some comfort to him and that he will not feel the need to press his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thoughtful and careful response, which I appreciate. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for their comments.

The Minister has put before us a whole range of facts and points that, frankly, we have not considered in any great depth as the Bill has gone through. That is the purpose of my Amendment 168. I accept the point of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, that it is not the most brilliantly drafted amendment, scrutinised by high-calibre lawyers to be put into the Bill. It does not seek to do that; it attempts at least to allow this House and the other place, I hope, to debate how we will tackle the scourge of criminal gangs.

I have no political desire to say that the Government do not care about tackling criminal gangs—of course they do—but there is a real need for us to debate the most effective way of doing that. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, it is not a strategic priority under the 2013 legislation. Organised crime is where the Government always go when someone says that they are not giving enough priority to X crime—they say, “Of course we are, because the National Crime Agency has a responsibility to tackle any serious and organised crime”. It is an umbrella term, used when the Government are in trouble to say that they are dealing with it.

On the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I spoke to the National Crime Agency this morning and of course it is currently prioritising this. However, I want that tested. I want a sense of urgency. I want the Government to wake up and put all the efforts of the state into tackling criminal gangs. What is going on is a disgrace. If we were in Committee, I would ask the Government about prosecutions. In drug arrests, often it is the small people doing very limited things who get arrested and prosecuted; no doubt many of the prosecutions and arrests the National Crime Agency will bring forward will be of the people driving the engine. Of course they should be arrested, but they are not the barons in this criminal activity. They are not the people living in great mansions and yachts, organising all this misery right across the continent. That requires international co-operation.

I do not know how much international co-operation is going on, but this Parliament should be asking what pressure is being put on the Government to tackle these international criminals. The Government will say that they are doing this and that, but I want to know what we are doing; it is by me banging on at the Dispatch Box and the Minister having to ask his officials, “What shall I say to Coaker when he gets up?”, that the Minister gets the system to respond. The Minister will have been briefed by the NCA, the intelligence agencies will have fed into that, and people will be watching this debate. That injects something into the system that causes it to react and work more effectively and efficiently. That is why my amendment is so important.

I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, that I know this is not the most brilliant amendment in the world, but my putting it down has meant that we are discussing an issue of real importance. If passed by this Chamber, as I hope it will be, it will go to the other place, which will be required—even if it rejects it—to discuss it again, as we will when it comes back here. I will not insist on a defective piece of legislation, in the end, going on to the statute book and I have said that we will not block the Bill. However, at one point during this Bill, I want all of us in this Parliament to discuss how we will tackle the scourge of criminal gangs, as well as concentrating on those fleeing persecution. I beg to move.

Amendment 168A

Moved by

168A: After Clause 61, insert the following new Clause—

“Ten-year strategy on refugees and human trafficking(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a ten-year strategy for tackling refugee crises affecting migration by irregular routes, or the movement of refugees, to the United Kingdom through collaboration with signatories to the Refugee Convention or any other international agreement on the rights of refugees. (2) The strategy must also include provisions for tackling human trafficking to the United Kingdom.(3) The Secretary of State must make and lay before Parliament a statement of policies for implementing the strategy.(4) The first statement must be made within twelve months of the passing of this Act; and a subsequent statement must be made within twelve months of the making of the previous statement.(5) A Minister of the Crown must, within 28 sitting days of a statement under this section being laid before Parliament, move a motion in each House for the approval of the statement.(6) “Ten-year strategy” means a strategy for the period of ten years beginning with the day on which preparation of the strategy is completed.(7) “The Refugee Convention” means the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees done at Geneva on 28th July 1951 and its Protocol.(8) A “sitting day”, in relation to each House of Parliament, means a day on which that House begins to sit.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to have a ten-year strategy for collaborating internationally to tackle refugee crises affecting migration by irregular routes, or the movement of refugees, to the United Kingdom and for tackling human trafficking to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 168A, tabled in my name. I shall also speak to Amendment 168C, which is consequential to it. I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for co-signing it. This amendment is a combination of the two amendments that I put forward in Committee. It requires the Secretary of State to produce a 10-year strategy for tackling the global refugee crisis and human trafficking in collaboration with international partners. As I explained the rationale behind this in detail in Committee, I will be very brief.

In aid of this amendment I want to quote the Foreign Secretary, who spoke to an Italian newspaper a couple of days ago. He said that

“there needs to be an international response to this because it is an inherently international issue”.

We also need a long-term vision and strategy that reaches beyond short-term electoral cycles and allows this issue to be taken out of an entirely political agenda. The 1951 refugee convention is a fundamental basis for the care and protection of refugees. The convention should be built upon and added to, in collaboration with other signatories and international partners for the particular context that we face today, to ensure that we share responsibility fairly and work together effectively across borders.

In Committee, the Minister questioned the suitability of a 10-year strategy and suggested it would risk tying the hands of future Governments, but we have long-term strategies in other areas of policy, and quite rightly too: defence and security, climate change and many others. No strategy is set in stone; this amendment neither binds future Governments, which we cannot do, nor even specifies what exactly should go into a strategy for refugees and human trafficking. It simply requires that the Government, and future Governments, have one—a strategy—to consider actions in these areas right across the piece, joining up government in every area. The fact that we are here debating a second migration Bill in as many years suggests that this might well be useful.

There is much wisdom in this House which will be more usefully applied to a strategy than it is often given the chance to speak to. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, is one of the great experts on migration, whether one always agrees with him or not. We need a calmer and properly structured look at the whole areas of migration.

The UK has led in the past, historically, and does so now. I want to stress that this amendment does not wreck or damage the Bill, or set intentions for the Government to follow. I remind the Minister of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in Committee, where he said he thought I was helping the Government by proposing such an amendment. It is indeed intended to be helpful, to improve the Bill by mitigating some of the concerns about a lack of a global and long-term perspective on the issues, and to offer something which this House and the other place could debate carefully and thoughtfully, whatever our differing views about the rest of the Bill. On the previous set of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Swire, talked about the need to be able to debate in an open and honest way; that is the intention of this amendment.

Therefore, I hope that the Government and all noble Lords can see that this amendment is a positive and constructive suggestion, whatever I or others may feel about the Bill in general. I urge the Government to develop a strategy that is ambitious, collaborative, worthy of our history and up to the scale of the enormous challenges we face. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the most reverend Primate and to support his amendment, the essence of which is constructive and positive.

Over the course of the discussions and debates on this Bill, opinions have been very passionate. Understandably, given that there are so many key issues to look at, the debate has been fractious on occasion. However, this amendment stresses the need for a long-term strategy. Rather than having individual states acting in isolation, which we are in danger of doing, surely, we can come together and say, “Yes, we do need a strategy and to look at this in a multilateral way”. This is a problem that I think we all accept will get more serious in the light of climate change, food security issues, warfare and great population movements.

This issue was last looked at in any meaningful way in 1951, and from very much a European perspective. Many states have not been signatories to that convention, but whatever one feels about it, it certainly met the needs of the time. The problems are very different now. These population movements are now much more a global issue, and we need a long-term strategy.

As the most reverend Primate said, in Committee the Government’s answer seemed substantially to be that a strategy would bind future Governments—a strange thing for them to be saying in the run-up to an election. However, it is much more important than that. As the most reverend Primate said, we have strategies on all sorts of things. It is important to build some common ground so that this does not become a party-political football. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we are in a very strong position to take an international lead on this—something that the Government would surely want to do.

I suspect that the Government’s stance may have shifted somewhat—from “We don’t want a strategy because it binds the hands of future Governments”, to “this Bill deals with a short-term issue”. This is not a short-term issue but very much a long-term one, and it will get more serious. We need an approach that is not ad hoc, not a stop-gap and not short term. It must be long term and look at these issues much more in the round, and it must do so internationally.

Given that there have been so many defeats, I hope that the Government are thinking positively about accommodating in the Bill the strength of views expressed in this House, and that developing a long-term strategy makes sense and is something we can all get behind. I urge them to do so, or to tell us what their strategy is. If they do have a strategy, it would be good to hear it. In the absence of that commitment and explanation, the conclusion will be that the cupboard is bare.

My Lords, I too added my name to the amendment tabled by the most reverend Primate. I did so because, as has been said, this issue will really challenge us in the years ahead. It is imperative that we collaborate with other nations and are involved in meaningful conversations about how to share responsibility for those who are being persecuted.

However, we must recognise that climate change will cause enormous displacements of people. While we can seek comfort, as lawyers do, in saying that the refugee convention does not apply to those fleeing climate change because its definitions do not embrace that possibility, the reality is that people will be fleeing for their lives—just as those who are persecuted do—from places to which they will not be able to return. There will be heavy questions about what we do in the face of that. In any strategy, it is necessary to think about how we support the countries alongside places where there are conflicts, where there will be a dearth of, and conflict over, water; let alone the existing conflicts over resources in parts of Africa such as lithium—the stuff in our phones—rare earth minerals, gold and black diamonds.

We will face many problems in the years ahead, and it is only by collaborating with other nations, especially developed nations and our nearest neighbours, that we will find a solution. It is a cross-party issue, and people should be thinking and talking about it together. We must have a Home Office that works well, that can deal with this issue properly and that is not failing speedily to address valid applications for asylum. It has been failing on that for a number of years because of the cuts made to it.

I support the idea that there should be a clear strategy for parties of any complexion to follow in working through this. I strongly urge the House to support the most reverend Primate’s amendment.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, in supporting the amendment tabled by the most reverend Primate.

The figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees alone are justification for this amendment: over 110 million people displaced in the world today. We cannot tackle that alone, and we cannot ignore it either. Therefore, we have a duty to come together with other nations and to take this issue as seriously as we have rightly taken the climate crisis. The COP is not a bad model to look at in the context of the 110 million people.

Why is this great country of ours not taking the lead, as we did with people such as Eleanor Rathbone and Sir Winston Churchill in the period after the Second World War, in convening an international forum to drive an agenda that deals with not the pull factors about which we hear so much but the push factors that send people on these desperate journeys? I was recently in north Africa on the very day that a ship went down off the coast of Greece, killing more than 70 people. Why were they making those desperate journeys? It was mainly to escape destitution and conflict.

This morning, I spoke to humanitarian workers in Tigray. Some 1 million people have died there, either through the conflict or its follow-through—the hunger, squalor and deprivation driving them into unhygienic refugee camps and centres for displacement where they cannot thrive. A further 1.3 million people have been displaced in Sudan just over the last couple of months, as a result of the violence taking place there. We have to tackle the root causes that drive people on these terrible journeys, without constantly trying to put poultices or bandages on the problem. I passionately believe that we should be driving that agenda.

North Africa is a good example. The Moroccan Government are harnessing the power of the Sahara to create vast amounts of renewable energy. If, using clever Israeli technology, you harnessed the ability to produce desalinated water from the Mediterranean, you could create safe cities—new Carthages along the coast of north Africa. You could then provide people with hope, opportunities and security—all the things they need. That will come only from an international strategy. I believe that this country should be leading it and not indulging itself in what so often feels like dog whistle politics.

This is an important initiative from the most reverend Primate on this subject, for two reasons. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, just said, it is truly an international subject; there are huge issues here that we cannot escape and generations to come will not be able to escape. Secondly, we have to tackle this on a long-term basis, but that does not mean that it has to be set in concrete for 10 years. I am sure the most reverend Primate meant exactly that.

For example, Australia has a framework with which both its Liberal Party and its Labor Party agree. Each year they look at the numbers and agree how many should come in for work reasons, as asylum seekers, for economic reasons or for family reasons. The number is debated in Parliament and it may change. We ought to debate immigration and how much we should have every year, as we debate the Budget. We will disagree. Governments will change and the numbers will change, but within a framework that we all understand and to which we can relate. It would give ordinary people in this country a better feeling about this subject, rather than the resentment and difficulty that we have faced over many years, as we did over Brexit, for example.

The most reverend Primate may be pushing at an open door. He may be aware that, last week in Brussels, the Governments of eight countries—Denmark, Greece and Austria among them—wrote to the European Commission asking the European Union to pursue a new approach, based on the British model. That is one point.

Secondly, alongside those eight countries, another group—including Italy and the Netherlands—has said that it wants to pursue a new model, based on the British approach. No other practical approach has been forthcoming. We think that we have problems, but Italy is talking about the possibility of 400,000 people crossing the Mediterranean, when we are talking about 45,000 last year. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was saying, this is a truly international problem and will have only an international conclusion. As that is what is happening in Europe, the most reverend Primate may be pushing at an open door.

It is not surprising that this is happening because, whichever way you look at this issue, you come back to something along the lines that the Government are proposing. I know that some quite serious amendments have been proposed in this House, some of which will go through and some of which will not. None the less, the basic bones of this—safe and legal routes on the one hand, and some means to deter illegal migrants on the other—will be there whatever we try. Over a year ago, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change said that, whichever way you look at this, those two elements will probably be there in any solution.

I want to raise a separate point with my noble friend the Minister, which I have raised before but not yet had answered. There is a lot of legality surrounding the Government’s proposals, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. We should not get too bogged down in the legalisms, because we need a common-sense approach that deals with the problem as it is today. As I understand it, discussions are going on not only in Europe about adopting the British model for the overall problem but between the UK Government and other Governments about how this would sit against our existing treaties in Europe, in particular the ECHR, and whether elements are incompatible or are largely in agreement. I would like to know whether these discussions are taking place. I am not a lawyer, but it seems sensible, if the legal arrangements allow it, for these sorts of discussions to take place. That seems common sense to me, rather than having ping-pong arrangements in which some people disagree and it goes to the courts. We ought to be able to discuss these issues rationally before they go to the courts.

The most reverend Primate is raising this issue in the right sort of way, but I believe that all this, taken together, means that the Government are right to persevere on their fundamental track while taking account, sympathetically, of the points that have been made.

My Lords, I declare my interest on the register in relation to human trafficking. If I may respectfully say so, the most reverend Primate has put forward not only a very shrewd but a very wise proposal. It ought to be cross-party; it certainly should not be brushed aside as though it were just part of the Bill, because it is much deeper and goes much further.

I am very glad that proposed subsection (2) includes provisions for tackling human trafficking, because there is a chance that we might retrieve a little of the Modern Slavery Act—something of which this country ought to have been intensely proud, until last year and this year—if we manage to do something sensible, as the most reverend Primate has suggested.

My Lords, I will say a brief word in support of the most reverend Primate and to follow my noble friend Lord Horam. If we are to deal with this problem, it ultimately has to be on the basis of cross-party support, rather like defence. How are we going to do that without somebody first putting forward a framework that will, undoubtedly, be unsatisfactory to the other parties? Then there will be debate and ultimately consensus.

There has to be international action, but that is so difficult. Unless our own country takes a broad-based approach to this problem, we will drive the solutions to the fringes, which will be very dangerous for our politics. It has happened in Italy and Hungary, and is perhaps happening in the United States. It is happening around the world where Governments have failed to base their response broadly enough and therefore keep the extremists at the very fringes, where they always are.

The most reverend Primate offers a way of introducing that kind of debate into our programme. I am the last person to think that making a strategy is the solution to a problem. That is always the long grass—let us have a strategy and it will disappear for ever into committees. I did that myself as a Minister many a time. What he is offering here—and I hope we respond to it in the right spirit—is perhaps the beginning of a way in which we can broaden the basis of agreement about our approach, so that what does not happen, if, say, by some surprise the party opposite comes into power, is that it reverses everything that we have done. What will the electorate think then? They will say that these people cannot be trusted to deal with this problem, which is right in the general public’s mind. If we make it the knockabout of ordinary party politics, we will not have served our people well.

My Lords, I had intended to vote against this proposal, but I confess that I am persuaded by the opening speech from the most reverend Primate. It is clearly a useful proposal, and contributions from around the House point to that.

I will make one point. It is a short-term point but I do not apologise for that. We really must not overlook the very serious problems that we now have in the channel. The public are very angry about it, and rightly so. It is extremely difficult to deal with. For all the criticism that is made of the Government, those who may be a future Government understand that it could be difficult for them too. If all that is continuing, there will not be a wider audience for these very important and longer-term considerations.

My Lords, many noble Lords have made very helpful and interesting points in this debate. Amendment 168A, moved by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, raises an interesting matter of policy, seeking as it does to introduce a new clause to require the Secretary of State to

“prepare a ten-year strategy for tackling refugee crises affecting migration by irregular routes, or the movement of refugees … through collaboration with signatories to the Refugee Convention or any other international agreement on the rights of refugees”.

Although I agree with much of the sentiment behind this worthy aim, I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment.

The Bill is to deter and prevent illegal entry into the UK. It is not a Bill about international agreements into which the UK may enter in the future, modify or make. It is for the Government of the day to propose a policy, not the unelected Chamber. Measures such as that which we are now debating tend to be part of general manifesto proposals, on which a Government is elected. They therefore have the authority of the people in whose name the Government are formed, and they reflect the democratic wish. Yes, such a policy may indeed become part of a future Government’s manifesto proposals, but I do not believe that it is for this Chamber to bind the current Government in such a way as Amendment 168A proposes.

My Lords, I will make a few brief remarks. Clearly, the most reverend Primate will push his amendment to a Division, and from the contributions that have been made it seems likely that the House will support him in doing that. None the less, I want to offer a slightly different perspective.

There is much that is compelling and sensible about what the most reverend Primate has argued, and a lot of the points made by others in support of his amendment are worthy of serious consideration. I very much welcome what my noble friend Lord Bourne said about the need for us to revisit these issues, which have been in place since the 1950s. However, the wholesale approach to this question proposed by way of this amendment requires confidence from everybody to support our motives in taking that approach. We have to keep in mind that the kind of people who support the Bill and want the priority and exclusive focus now to be on stopping the boats are the kind of people who have lost a lot of confidence in the democratic process and in the institutions of this country.

I would like to think that I could urge this House, but I do not think that I will be able to. However, when the Bill is sent down to Members of the other place and they come to consider it, I urge this: we all want a wholesale, comprehensive and global approach to these very difficult questions about migration—which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, will become increasingly complex and difficult to deal with because of matters such as climate change and everything else—and, if we want people to support that approach, we have to show them that we want to do it with their support. That requires us in the first instance to say that what matters to them matters to us and we will deal with that first. It is only when we have done that, and gained people’s confidence, that we can start to move on to some of these bigger challenges.

I do not support the most reverend Primate’s amendment. I will not be voting for it but with the Government. I feel that my comments are somewhat futile, but I hope that they will at least have some resonance with Members of the other place when they come to consider the Bill and all the amendments made during its passage in this House.

My Lords, the will of the people often gets quoted—for instance, by the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell and Lady Lawlor. Many of us work on the ground with refugees and people who support refugees. The will of the people is to be a compassionate, welcoming nation to refugees and asylum seekers, as we have seen demonstrated by the welcome to Ukrainians and Afghans, and as I see demonstrated regularly. The will of the people is also that we find ways of stopping the boats—I agree. That is exactly why we need to get on with doing a 10-year strategy. It is about trying to bring all those people together, who can be compassionate and want to stop the boats at the same time. This is the right and proper time to do that, off the back of the Bill, so that we move forward with a 10-year strategy. I think that what the people want is for us to get the refugee thing out of party-political toing and froing and find a way forward together.

My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate, because this amendment gives us an opportunity to look beyond the Bill. It is clear from the days and days that we have been debating the Bill that there are severe doubts about whether it will achieve its aims and severe doubts about the way that it is doing it. But we need to look beyond that if we are trying to find something that will beat the situation that we are all going to face in the years and decades to come.

We support this amendment because it sets out a different approach in responding to the global challenges of refugees and trafficking. Global challenges—that is what they are—require global solutions. We just cannot be isolationists. We need to recognise and take responsibility for the impact of our responses in an interconnected global community. We have to work with our European neighbours and global partners, building on frameworks and building new partnerships that should be broad and inclusive, with the active engagement of refugees and victims of trafficking, who can contribute from their lived experience.

In the UK, there needs to be a cross-departmental approach involving real consultation with a range of stakeholders, including local government, our devolved Governments, civil society organisations and international partners, which deliver some of the resettlement and humanitarian responses we have to deal with in this country. Any strategy should include a diversity of routes to safety and a harmonised approach to entitlements and protection once in the United Kingdom, particularly access to integration support. Partnerships with faith groups and their diasporas should be forged to secure good integration outcomes, and refugee family reunion should underpin all the offers of protection that the strategy outlines.

This amendment speaks to a sensible conversation because that is what it is intended to do: to start us on that route of a journey of thinking. There are great people in this House and great wisdom is expressed in a multitude of views, but in the end we are a humane and compassionate country and I would like to see us start on that journey. I recommend the amendment put forward by the most reverend Primate as a way to begin that sensible conversation .

My Lords, I would like to open by addressing the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. To summarise what she said, one can have a strategy only when one has people’s trust, and this Bill is about stopping the boats; I think that was the gist of her argument. My argument, and the other argument I have heard in this debate, is that even if this Bill achieves its end completely, the most reverend Primate’s amendment would still be appropriate because we still need a strategy as the situation develops over the next 10 years. I think that addresses the point the noble Baroness made.

As the noble Lord has referenced what I said, if I may, I shall respond to that point. What we have to understand is that people question our motives now because we have too many times behaved in such a way as to suggest that we do not want to take seriously what they are voting for.

I do not question the most reverend Primate’s motives in putting down this amendment. It is a shame that we are ending like this, because it has been a wide-ranging debate about aspirations beyond the Bill. I have certainly never seen an archbishop move an amendment at any stage of a Bill, let alone the latter stages of such a contentious Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said, this has been a passionate and fractious debate; nevertheless, people have raised their eyes—if I can put it like that —to talk about the wider issues we are trying to address through the Bill and into the future. The most reverend Primate’s amendment is about strategy.

My colleague quickly checked on the phone, and I cannot help noting that the noble Lords, Lord Horam, Lord Waldegrave and Lord Green, all voted for the Government in the previous vote and have all indicated that they will be supporting the most reverend Primate in the forthcoming vote. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, is shaking his head; I beg his pardon.

Nevertheless, this has been a remarkable debate, partly for the reason that it has been initiated, and also because it is ending a Bill which has really caught the attention of the wider public. We are dealing with fundamental issues concerning the way we manage our asylum system. The Government and the Opposition acknowledge that there are fundamental problems with the way we deal with these very vulnerable people.

There has been a number of speeches in this debate about Britain taking a leading role in trying to come up with a migration system which addresses these fundamental problems. I have been in this place a long time—some 33 years—and in that time I have been on the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the relevant committees dealing with migration issues. These are fundamentally problematic issues. Here, we are addressing an amendment moved by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that tries to put a strategy in place, and I invite the Minister to accept it.

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords, but particularly the most reverend Primate, for clearly setting out the rationale behind his amendment. Let me say again from the outset, as I did in Committee, that I entirely understand the sentiment behind the proposed 10-year strategy for tackling refugee crises and human trafficking.

The Government recognise the interconnected nature of migration and the need to work collectively. That is why we are already engaged and working tirelessly with international and domestic partners to tackle human trafficking. As I set out in Committee, we continue to support overseas programmes to fight modern slavery and human trafficking, including through the modern slavery fund, through which more than £37 million of funding has been provided by the Home Office since 2016. The work includes projects across Europe, Africa and Asia, a joint communiqué with Albania and a signed joint action plan with Romania, which reinforce our commitment to working collaboratively to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in both the short and long term. We also engage with the international community on a global scale by working with multilateral fora such as the G7, the G20, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

Moreover, while I understand the desire for a published strategy, I would not want this to detract from the work already being done to deliver in this way. This Bill is part of the Government’s strategic and interconnected approach to tackling human trafficking and illegal migration. It is the aim of this Bill to tackle the threat to life arising from dangerous, illegal and unnecessary channel crossings and the pressure that places on our public services.

Furthermore, the view of this Government—one which I believe is eminently sensible—is not to create a siloed refugee strategy. As has been highlighted by many noble Lords throughout Committee and Report, refugee crises are complex and something for the entire international community to address. Indeed, migration by irregular routes to the United Kingdom would usually involve individuals travelling through multiple countries, so it follows that, and I agree with many noble Lords that, the United Kingdom cannot tackle this alone. I certainly also agree with the most reverend Primate’s challenge: that the best way to address displacement on this scale is through a holistic approach, utilising, where appropriate, developmental, diplomatic, military and humanitarian interventions. This is what we are already doing, working with our international partners.

During the debate on the previous amendments, I also detailed the United Kingdom’s work in developing the Global Compact on Refugees and our substantial engagement with the World Bank, which I shall not repeat here. However, I wish to stress that we already engage with our international partners through proper channels and will continue to do so.

I accept that there is a place for long-term strategies such as that proposed by this amendment; indeed, just last week the NHS published a much-needed long-term workforce plan. But we should only embark on these where they can add significant value. My noble friend Lord Horam identified some of the challenges in his speech and, as my noble friend Lord Waldegrave high- lighted, the development of a strategy cannot be an end in itself but only a means to an end.

We are already working at home and abroad, including through this Bill, to address the challenges posed by migration, irregular routes and human trafficking and, like my noble friends Lady Lawlor and Lady Stowell, I remain to be persuaded that now is the time to divert resources from that work to prepare, consult on and promulgate a strategy of the kind proposed in this amendment. We will, of course, keep the case for such a strategy under review, but for now I hope the most reverend Primate will be content to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister and to all Members of this House who have contributed to this debate. I agreed with virtually every word the Minister said. Had I not been convinced of the need for this amendment to be on the face of the Bill beforehand, he has absolutely convinced me by how he set out the different ways in which government needs to work; I just did not agree with his conclusion.

“We will keep it under review”, is what I spent years saying to our children: “I will think about it”. They knew exactly what that meant. When it came to the vote on getting a television after 10 years without—we had an annual family vote—through threats against our middle son, his elder sister swung his swing vote in favour of a television; they knew I would never say yes on my own. With that experience of terror and corruption in the Welby family, and with some regret, I must ask if we may test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 168AZA not moved.

Clause 64: Regulations

Amendment 168AA not moved.

Clause 67: Commencement

Amendment 168AB

Moved by