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Illegal Migration Bill

Volume 831: debated on Monday 10 July 2023

Third Reading

Moved by

That the Bill be now read a third time.

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.

My Lords, before we commence proceedings on the Bill, I am obliged to make a short statement setting out the position on legislative consent. It is the UK Government’s view that the Bill relates to reserved or excepted matters—namely, immigration and nationality—in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is therefore not within the legislative competence of any of the devolved legislatures.

The United Kingdom Government note that the Senedd has declined to agree a legislative consent Motion in relation to certain provisions in the Bill, but it is our view that the legislative consent process is not engaged in relation to Wales.

Noble Lords will recall that we added a provision on Report relating to legal aid in Northern Ireland. Such a provision may amount to an alteration of the Department of Justice’s executive functions; as such, we consider that this provision engages the legislative consent process in Northern Ireland. However, due to the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, a legislative consent Motion cannot be secured.

For completeness, I add that no legislative consent Motion has been considered by the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government sought to bring forward such a Motion in relation to the modern slavery provisions in the Bill, but the Presiding Officer concluded that it did not meet the terms of the relevant standing order of the Scottish Parliament and consequently it was not debated. Accordingly, I beg to move.


Moved by

My Lords, I do not want to detain the House for too long at this stage but, in view of what transpired on Report, it is fitting that I say a few words before the Bill completes its passage through your Lordships’ House.

There is clearly some disagreement about the means, but we all agree on the necessary ends: we must stop the boats. It remains the Government’s contention that the provisions of the Bill, as introduced in your Lordships’ House, are a vital plank of the actions we are taking to stop these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings of the channel. As my noble friend Lord Clarke so memorably noted, we have not heard an effective alternative. But, if we are to stop the boats, it is imperative that the scheme provided for in the Bill is robust and sends the unambiguous message that, if you enter the UK illegally, you will not be able to build a life here; instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned, either to your home country or to a safe third country.

As a result of the many non-government amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House on Report, that message is no longer unambiguous. It is, at best, half-hearted and, at worst, now wholly absent from the Bill. The Government are reflecting carefully on each and every amendment, but I have no doubt that many will not find favour with the other place and we will soon be debating them again.

Having said all that, I record my thanks for all the valued contributions made by my noble friends and noble Lords opposite during the Bill’s passage. It is particularly appropriate, following the sad news of his death late last week, that I express my sincere appreciation for the insightful contribution made by Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood at Second Reading. This was one of his last speeches in this place and I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords if I say that his passing is a great loss to this House.

While there has not been much common ground between these Benches and those opposite, I express my gratitude for the candid and courteous way in which the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Ponsonby, have engaged with me on the Bill. I also extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and his Front-Bench colleagues for their clarity of message, albeit not one that I have been able to agree with.

Finally, I am duty bound to record my sincere gratitude for the invaluable help and assistance of my noble friends Lord Sharpe and Lord Davies and my noble and learned friends Lord Bellamy and Lord Stewart. I put on record my particular thanks to the excellent Bill manager, Mr Charles Goldie, and thank Gurveer Dhami, the deputy Bill manager, the whole of the Bill team, my private office staff and the officials and lawyers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice who have provided excellent support, along with the first-class drafting of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

As I have indicated, I suspect it will be an unusually short time before we are debating these matters again, but for now I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

My Lords, we have a short time before this Bill comes back and I would like to take this opportunity to say to my noble friend that the Bill has been significantly altered and, in the view of many of us, generously improved in your Lordships’ House.

My noble friend said some fairly strong words and, of course, he is fully entitled to do that but I urge that he discusses with his ministerial colleagues, particularly the Home Secretary, some of the speeches that have been made in this House and the underlying concern of those speeches—many of them made from this side of the House—that there is an absence of kindness, consideration and concern in the Bill that came before us at Second Reading.

The Bill has been improved. It has been made more human and more humane. If there is a particular thing that illustrates what I am trying to say—and it was raised earlier this afternoon, and I raised it myself in the gap when we debated the Windrush generation on Friday—it is that this incident of the painting out of murals designed only to amuse unaccompanied children sends out a message that, frankly, is not worthy of our country. I urge my noble friend to permeate his discussions on this Bill and his consideration with the Home Secretary as to which amendments can be amended, which can be accepted and which they feel they have to resist, with a recognition that it is the kindness and consideration of this country that have made it a great country. One has only to cite the Jews in the years before the war and the Ugandan Asians who came into this country 50 years ago, both enriching our communities.

Of course we cannot have boat people coming indiscriminately, but we must recognise that they are human beings, that they are individuals and that they are worthy of consideration as such. I implore my noble friend to enter some of that spirit into the discussions that he is shortly to have with the Home Secretary and his ministerial colleagues.

My Lords, I very much echo what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has just said. I want to draw attention to the fact that the last-minute publication of the child rights impact assessment, which required the intervention of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, meant that we were unable to pay due attention to it during the Bill’s passage—despite children being among the Bill’s main victims. Therefore, I will say a few words now.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes clear that a child rights impact assessment should be built in

“as early as possible in the development of policy”.

The fact that it arrived so late and reads more like a repetitive post hoc justification of the Bill’s measures than a serious analysis of their implications for the rights and best interests of the child suggests that it was not. Noble Lords from across this House and the Children’s Commissioner have called for the assessment since the Bill’s introduction. The commissioner has now made clear that the assessment “does not allay” her

“concerns about the impact of this Bill on children”.

With particular reference to detention and the use of force, she notes that it

“relies on overly optimistic assumptions about what might come to pass to reach conclusions about the positive effect on children, while ignoring or overlooking the clear, evidenced and tangible negative impacts it will have”.

While the Home Office’s use of the DfE template is welcome, it serves to expose the lack of evidence to support its assessment of the impact on children’s rights and its failure to consult externally. From the perspective of process and outcome this is a travesty of a child rights impact assessment. I hope that we remember that when it comes to the process of ping-pong on amendments affecting children.

From these Benches, I echo the remarks made by the Minister about our late and lamented noble and learned friend Lord Brown, who is sorely missed and who was often an inspiration to us all, even when we did not entirely agree with him, because he always inspired conceptual thinking.

I thank the Minister—and I do mean this by the way—for his patience while under fire, even though I mostly disagreed with his responses when they came. However, behind and underneath that carapace of patience has been a failure to understand that the Government set out to do something that is neither possible nor legal. We were told that the Bill would stop the boats as a deterrent. However, we know that the boats were fuller than ever in June. We were told that sending asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda would be a deterrent. However, sending them to Rwanda is illegal—I use the word advisedly—under the laws of this country, at least until the matter has been relitigated in the Supreme Court. In the Minister’s consultations with the Home Secretary, the Government should give serious consideration to pausing this Bill until that hearing has taken place. It seems extraordinary to me, as a long-time parliamentarian in both Houses, for this Parliament to be asked to pass a Bill which requires something unlawful to be done. I have a basic opposition to that.

I will say one other thing. Some of us are already receiving messages from various well-informed members of the media about changes the Government intend to make to this Bill. It would be helpful if we were informed at approximately the same time as the media so that we can make a considered judgment as to what we do during ping-pong and so that we can carry out the role which, I believe, we have performed effectively hitherto.

My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and I agree with so much of what he said. I do not normally support the contemporary fashion for many speeches at Third Reading, but, because of the Minister’s kind words about the late noble and learned Lord, Simon Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, I want to echo the tributes to him at this opportunity. He was a titan of our chambers and of so much more. He was, above all else, an incredibly kind human being. Kindness is a quality that has been mentioned in this Chamber today a number of times.

The Minister is quite right that Lord Brown was much more sympathetic to the Minister’s position on this Bill than perhaps I have been, but I would like to leave noble Lords with some words from Lord Brown at ping-pong during the passage of last year’s Nationality and Borders Act. He was pressing me all day, by every available means of communication, to press an amendment that would have made that legislation—which is now defunct, I understand—subject to our international obligations under the refugee convention. This is what he said in the Chamber that night:

“My Lords, I rise, I hope for the last time—a hope which will be shared by every Member of this House”—

self-deprecating, as always—

“—to support this amendment. There are not many issues that it is worth going to the stake for, but surely the rule of law is one. I have spent 60 years of my life on it and do not propose to stop here. I suggest that your Lordships support this too”.—[Official Report, 27/4/22; col. 299.]

My Lords, I wish to echo some of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I, for one—like, I am sure, many noble Lords—do not have any pleasure in this Bill receiving its Third Reading because it lacks kindness, compassion and humanity. It is also not going to be effective, regardless of the rhetoric from the Dispatch Box.

For many of us who have been on this Bill, the way the Home Office has acted towards this Chamber has been with complete discourteousness. We had a late impact assessment, a late child impact assessment and they tried to keep us here for long hours to do our job, which is to scrutinise effectively.

I say very gently to the Minister, even though he has been very robust in his defence of the Bill, that it is not the job of this House to come up with a whole new Bill; it is our job to come up with amendments which make a Bill more effective. I believe the amendments we have passed make the Bill more effective, more compassionate and kinder in how we treat some of the most vulnerable people who seek asylum on these shores. I say very gently to the Minister, as he takes this back and it goes to the other place and as he speaks to the Home Secretary: think about the amendments, which are trying to make the Bill more effective; and make sure that the Home Office comes back, hopefully, with a Bill from the other place with a bit more compassion, kindness and effectiveness, and a lot less rhetoric.

My Lords, I rise to ask the Minister to make a correction. He said that there were divisions between the two sides of the House, but surely what has been true about this Bill is that large numbers of people on this side of the House have been very unhappy about it, have voted against it or have not voted with the Government. It is very important that the Minister takes back to the Home Office the fact that this Bill is not supported by the House as a whole, even by those of us who recognise the great need to have strong immigration control.

If I may say so, the Minister’s comments about the drawings on the wall made me very unhappy. If it were his child in that place, he would know that his child would have been uplifted by those paintings. What about the people who did those paintings? They did it to make life a bit better for those people who find themselves in a position that we all ought to thank God that neither we nor our children are in. Until the Government understand that feeling, and recognise the unhappiness across the House, they will have missed the whole tone of what this House is about.

My Lords, this is a bad Bill. We have done our best in your Lordships’ House to improve it. However, it is quite obvious that the Government, when we talk about kindness, compassion and humanity, seem to think that these are weaknesses. I argue that they are actually strengths. It is part of our British psyche to give that sort of kindness, so the Bill does not work for anybody in Britain. It certainly will not work for the Government to stop the boats. I just wish the Government had more common sense.

My Lords, while echoing all the sentiments that have been expressed, I will address the remarks of the Minister in introducing new material at the very beginning of his statement about the legislative consent Motion of the Welsh Parliament, the Senedd. The impression given by the Minister was that these were matters reserved to the British Government, and that therefore any legislative consent Motion from the Welsh Senedd was not appropriate and certainly not allowed. But the matter on which it passed the legislative consent Motion was a very narrow issue indeed about how children in Wales are to be looked after, and the responsibilities of local authorities towards those children, no matter where those children came from.

The piece of legislation that the Government are now putting a red line through is an Act of the Welsh Parliament that has been signed by the Head of State. It is one of which the Welsh people are truly proud, because it projects certain obligations on local authorities to commit to those children who find themselves in Wales, no matter where they come from. I wonder whether the Minister, in reminding us why the Government have overturned that piece of legislation, knows that they are actually overturning a piece of primary legislation that was passed five years ago and has universal support from all parties in Wales. It is that narrow point that the Government seek to overturn, not the Bill as a whole, even though the Welsh Parliament has of course expressed widespread concerns about the Bill as a whole. But that is what the legislative consent Motion was denied for: the overriding of a piece of primary legislation in that respect.

My Lords, I associate those of us on these Benches with the kind words of the Minister and others around the House in relation to the sad news about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. He will be greatly missed.

Since Second Reading, we on these Benches have made clear our opposition to what we consider to be an illegal—to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew—and immoral Bill. If there were any way in which a Bill of this kind might have any chance of stopping the boats, it was by acting as a deterrent. Despite its proposed retrospectivity, record numbers crossed the channel in June and again this weekend, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said. The Government’s own impact assessment describes a consensus among academics that the Bill is unlikely to deter those seeking sanctuary in the UK. Both in theory and in practice, the Bill appears destined not to achieve what it sets out to do.

Instead, as introduced into this House, the Bill undermines both the UK’s international reputation and the global consensus that mass migration needs to be dealt with through international co-operation, not unilateral action. Unamended, the Bill is all pain and no gain, potentially creating a permanent underclass of tens of thousands of people who cannot be removed, whose claims for asylum will not even be examined, let alone accepted, and who will be unable to work legally—a permanent drain on the taxpayer.

Contrary to what the Minister has said, some noble Lords, whose attendance during our lengthy debates on the Bill has been—how can I put it?—sporadic, claim that no alternative has been offered. Nothing could be further from reality, as the official record shows. For example, some 15 years ago claims for asylum were higher; the backlog of claims awaiting decisions was a fraction of what it is today; and the number of those being removed was far greater. The only immigration crisis in the UK today is one created by the Home Office, and a Bill targeted at criminalising asylum seekers, rather than people smugglers, is bound to fail.

It is customary at this stage of a Bill to thank those involved. I express my grateful thanks for the way in which Ministers and officials from the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have engaged positively with the issues surrounding the Bill. I thank all the NGOs and charities that have provided helpful briefings on the Bill. I acknowledge the hard work of Charles Goldie and his Bill team in difficult circumstances. I thank my amazing noble friends, the noble Lords on the Labour Benches, and Back-Benchers on both the Government and Cross Benches for their constructive engagement, whatever side of the arguments they have been on. Debate and dialogue are essential in such contentious areas. I want to reassure all noble Lords that we on these Benches have listened, and their views have been considered. Most of all, I thank Elizabeth Plummer in our Whips’ Office, whose work on the Bill has been heroic. Roll on, Wednesday.

My Lords, I start on a sombre note and join other noble Lords and the Minister in paying tribute to Lord Brown, who will be sorely missed by us all. He spent many an hour in the tearoom and elsewhere trying to explain various legal niceties to me in a very calm and dignified way, always treating me with a respect and courtesy I am not sure I deserved. He was a truly remarkable man and a pleasant individual. He will be missed by us all, and it is very sad that he has left us.

I will start with some usual courtesies before I make a couple of comments. I thank the Minister for the briefings he gave us. We have fundamentally disagreed on certain things. We were not pleased about the lateness of the impact assessments, as my noble friend Lady Lister made clear. To be fair to the Minister, even when we have fundamentally disagreed, he has always tried to brief me with respect to the Bill, and I am grateful for that. I thank his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, for being similarly available whenever needed with respect to the Bill. Again, we disagreed on various things, but I appreciated his courtesy and help. I would be grateful if he could pass on my thanks to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Bellamy and Lord Stewart, who at different times contributed to the Bill. I have to mention the Government Whip, who sat there all the way through with his normal face, which was always interested and agreeable. It was a pleasure to talk to him, if no one else at times. I also thank the Minister’s officials, who have been really helpful.

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby is always a welcome contrast to my calm and unexcitable demeanour. He generates the rhetoric, drive and passion that I sometimes lack, and I am grateful for him encouraging me to have a bit more zeal at times—but seriously, it is good to have him alongside me. I am grateful to the officials in our office, Dan Stevens and Clare Scally, who have been very helpful, and my Back-Bench colleagues—I am always a bit nervous about this; it is like being at a wedding when you forget the aunt at the back—particularly my noble friends Lady Chakrabarti, Lord Dubs, Lady Lister, Lord Bach, Lord Cashman and Lord Hunt, and many others, for their support and help as the Bill has gone through. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and his team for their co-operation, and Peers from across the House, some from unexpected quarters, who rang me to ask about different things. It has been a pleasure to work with them.

I want to start with some related points, including the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Having said what I said about the Minister, a couple of the things he said at the beginning were disappointing. There may have been times when some have thought it the right thing to do but, generally speaking, this House has not sought to block the Bill. It has recognised that the Commons has a right to pass its legislation. However, many in this House feel that the payback for that—for want of a better way of putting it—is that the other place has to respect that this place has a constitutional role to play as well. We will not be intimidated or made to back off from passing amendments that we think are important, or from saying where we think the Government have got it wrong.

I have been in government; it is hugely irritating to a Government to have this happen, but it sometimes works, in that better legislation is passed. If two and two does not make four, there is a problem. On a Bill as controversial and difficult as this, it is only right that large numbers of amendments be passed. It is only right to ask the other place—as a number of Peers have done—to give due consideration, in proper time, to the amendments we have passed and to adapt and make changes.

To be frank, it is difficult to know exactly what we should think about what will happen tomorrow, given that the only briefing we have had has gone to the newspapers and the media, telling us what to expect in the amendments to be published tomorrow or later today. Some may be things that we could agree to. Many in this place, including me, and a number of Members in the other place, will say that it cannot be right that journalists are ringing to ask your opinion, when you have no idea about it. They ask why you cannot comment and you have to say, “Well, I don’t know what the Government are suggesting”. That cannot be right, and it needs to be looked at.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, made a passionate point. Sometimes, if a Government get something wrong, as they have with the murals at the detention centre, the right thing to do is to stand up and say that it should not have happened and they will make sure it does not happen again.

As part of our co-operation and work together, the Minister organised a trip to Dover and to Western Jet Foil for my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and myself. My noble friend and I went to the facility with the mural, where Mickey Mouse was painted on the wall. There was nothing offensive about it—nothing at all that anybody could take offence at. All it did was provide comfort and a sense of belonging to children in a desperate situation, which, presumably, is why somebody painted it. They did not paint it out of badness, or to make a political point or embarrass the Government. This was simply a human being, no doubt as an act of kindness, painting something on the wall to comfort children in a desperate situation.

In addition to the Minister’s response being wrong and disappointing, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, made the point he made—he will correct me if I am wrong—in order to show that that attitude cannot prevail when considering the other amendments we have sent to another place, where they are generally dismissed out of hand. The Government may have given way on four, five or six—we do not know—but the 20 or so amendments sent there deserve proper consideration. If the Government object to them, they will need to give a proper explanation. Underlying what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, that is what we are asking for.

This place deserves its proper position within the functioning of the constitution of this country. If it does not have that, the consequence will be poorer legislation. In respect of an Illegal Migration Bill that is so controversial, the impact will be on innocent people, including children, who do not deserve it.

My Lords, I will not address all the speeches, but I can certainly say that I agree with parts of almost all of them. Of course, noble Lords are entirely right that I and the department should think deeply about the amendments proposed, and we will. It is clear that there will be some changes, and I hope to work with noble Lords on that in due course.

Without Lord Brown, this House is very much a lesser place, and I am glad that we had an opportunity to reflect on that today.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.