‘(1) This section applies in relation to a local authority in England (“the first authority”) if—
(a) the authority has functions under any of the provisions of or made under Part 3, 4 or 5 of the Children Act 1989 (support for children and families and care, supervision and protection of children) (“the relevant provisions”) in relation to a relevant child, or
(b) functions under any of the relevant provisions may be conferred on the authority in relation to a relevant child.
(2) The first authority may make arrangements with another local authority in England (“the second authority”) under which—
(a) if this section applies to the authority by virtue of paragraph (a) of subsection (1), the functions mentioned in that paragraph become functions of the second authority in relation to the relevant child, and
(b) if this section applies to the authority by virtue of paragraph (b) of subsection (1), the functions mentioned in that paragraph become functions that may be conferred on the second authority in relation to the relevant child.
(3) The effect of arrangements under this section is that, from the time at which the arrangements have effect in accordance with their terms—
(a) functions under the relevant provisions cease to be functions of, and may not be conferred on, the first authority in relation to the relevant child (“C”),
(b) any of the relevant provisions which immediately before that time applied in relation to C as a result of C’s connection with the first authority or the area of the first authority have effect as if C had that connection with the second authority or the area of the second authority (if that would not otherwise be the case), and
(c) C is to be treated for the purposes of the relevant provisions as if C were not and had never been ordinarily resident in the area of the first authority (if that would otherwise be the case).
(4) Subsection (3)(b) is subject to any change in C’s circumstances after the time at which the arrangements have effect.
(5) Nothing in subsection (3) affects any liability of the first authority in relation to C for any act or omission of the first authority before the time at which the arrangements have effect.
(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision about the effect of arrangements under this section.
(7) Arrangements under this section may not be brought to an end by the first or second authority once they have come into effect.
(8) In this section “local authority” means a local authority within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (see section 105(1) of that Act).
(9) In this section “relevant child” means—
(a) a person under the age of 18 who is unaccompanied and has made a protection claim which has not been determined, or
(b) a person under the age of 18 who is unaccompanied and who—
(i) requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but does not have it, and
(ii) is a person of a kind specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(10) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the meaning of “unaccompanied” for the purposes of subsection (9).
(11) In subsection (9)—
(a) “protection claim” has the meaning given by section 82(2) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, and
(b) the reference to a protection claim having been determined is to be construed in accordance with section 94(3) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.’—(James Brokenshire.)
This new clause creates a mechanism in England to transfer responsibility for caring for particular categories of unaccompanied migrant children, including unaccompanied asylum seeking children, from one local authority to another.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 4—Duty to provide information for the purposes of transfers of responsibility.
Government new clause 5—Request for transfer of responsibility for relevant children.
Government new clause 6—Scheme for transfer of responsibility for relevant children.
Government new clause 7—Extension to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
New clause 1—Extended criteria for refugees joining refugee sponsors—
‘(1) Rules made by the Secretary of State under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971, shall make provision for persons outside the United Kingdom to apply for family reunion with persons recognised as refugees in the United Kingdom, or granted humanitarian protection in the United Kingdom on or after
(2) Rules made under subsection (1) may—
(a) make provision for dependants of the persons therein mentioned;
(b) make provision for a person who the Secretary of State is satisfied was a dependant of the refugee or person granted humanitarian protection or a member of their household at the time the refugee or person granted humanitarian protection left the country of his habitual residence;
(c) restrict provision for siblings applying to join family in the UK to those who have not formed their own independent family unit outside of the UK.
(3) Family members seeking leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom must—
(a) be applicants who would not be excluded from protection by virtue of article 1F of the United Nations Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees if he were to seek asylum in his own right;
(b) be applicants who would not be excluded from humanitarian protection for any reason in the immigration rules in the United Kingdom.’
This new clause would allow those separated from their family, and who have refugee or humanitarian protection status in the UK, to sponsor family members beyond spouses or under-18 children to join them. It would also remedy an anomaly that prevents children with refugee status in the UK from sponsoring their parents to join them.
New clause 11—Review of rules relating to refugee family reunion—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must undertake a review of the current rules on refugees or those granted humanitarian protection reuniting with close family members in the UK.
(2) The review under subsection (1) must consider—
(a) the failure to implement Dublin Convention III, which allows for spouses or children under 18 with refugee status or those granted humanitarian protection to be reunited with family members in the UK;
(b) options for allowing British citizens to sponsor close family members recognised as refugees or granted humanitarian protection; and
(c) options for extending the criteria for family reunion to include children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, spouses, civil or unmarried partners or siblings who have refugee status or have been granted humanitarian protection and have close family members in the UK.
(3) This review under subsection (1) must be completed and a copy must be laid before Parliament within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.’
Amendment 29, page 40, line 14, leave out clause 37.
Government amendments 5 and 6.
Amendment 31, in schedule 8, page 109, line 29, leave out from “(6)” to end of line 30 and insert—
(none) “, for “section 4 or 95” substitute “section 95”;
(iii) in subsection (7) for “section 4 or 95” substitute “section 95 or 95A”.”
See explanatory statement for amendment 30.
Amendment 40, page 112, line, leave out sub-paragraph (5).
This amendment e nsures that families with children under 18 receive section 95 support until they leave the country.
Amendment 30, page 113, line 13, at end insert—
‘(2A) If the Secretary of State decides not to provide support to a person or not to continue to provide support to them, under this section , the person may appeal to the First Tier Tribunal.’
To reinstate a right of appeal against Home Office decisions to provide support (under Section 95 or new 95A).
Amendment 2, page 119, line 21, at end insert—
‘(43A) The Immigration Act 1971 is amended as follows.
(43B) After section 3(9) (general provisions for regulation and control) insert—
“(10) In making rules under subsection (2), the Secretary of State must have regard to the following.
(11) Rules must provide for persons seeking asylum, within the meaning of the rules, to apply to the Secretary of State for permission to take up employment (including self-employment and voluntary work) and that permission must be granted if—
(a) a decision has not been taken on the applicant’s asylum application within six months of the date on which it was recorded, or
(b) an individual makes further submissions which raise asylum grounds and a decision on that fresh claim or to refuse to treat such further submissions as a fresh claim has not been taken within six months of the date on which they were recorded.
(12) Permission for a person seeking asylum to take up employment shall be on terms no less favourable than those upon which permission is granted to a person recognised as a refugee to take up employment.”’
Amendment 42, in schedule 9, page 121, line 26, leave out paragraph 2.
This amendment r emoves those provisions added by Schedule 9 that would prevent local authorities providing leaving care support under the Children Act 1989 to young people who are not asylum seekers and do not have leave to remain when they reach the age of 18 years.
Government amendment 7.
Amendment 43, in schedule 9, page 122, leave out lines 16 to 34.
This amendment r emoves those provisions added by Schedule 9 to the Immigration Bill that would prevent local authorities providing leaving care support under the Children Act 1989 to young people who are not asylum seekers and do not have leave to remain when they reach the age of 18 years.
Amendment 44, page 122, line 46, at end insert
(c) he entered the UK as an adult.’
This amendment e nables local authorities to provide leaving care support under the Children Act 1989 to young people who do not have leave to remain and are not asylum seekers.
Government amendments 8 to 12.
Amendment 45, in schedule 9, page 124, leave out from line 11 to line 13 on page 125 and insert—
‘10B The Secretary of State shall provide adequate funding to local authorities to enable them to meet their duties under the Children Act 1989 to persons who do not have leave to enter or remain and are not asylum seekers.’
This amendment p rovides for the Secretary of State to make funding available to local authorities, as the specialist agency responsible for care leavers, to meet the duties set out in the Children Act 1989 in relation to young people who do not have leave to remain and are not asylum seekers.
Government amendments 13 to17.
New clause 2—Automatic deportation under the UK Borders Act 2007—
‘(1) Section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2) substitute “12” for “6”.’
This new clause would require that non-British citizens who commit offences and are sentenced to 6 months in prison are deported automatically.
New clause 10—Offence of presence in the United Kingdom without legal authority—
‘(1) Any person who is present in the United Kingdom after
(2) Any person who after
(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction—
(a) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months;
(b) to a fine which in Scotland or Northern Ireland may not exceed £5,000, or to both.
(4) Any person who is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) shall be subject to a deportation order unless the Secretary of State deems such a deportation order to be against public interest.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (2) above, a deportation order shall be deemed to be in the public interest unless a certificate to the contrary has been submitted by the Secretary of State to the court.’
This new clause makes provision for criminal sanctions including deportation orders against those who have entered the United Kingdom illegally or who remain in the United Kingdom without legal authority. It adds to the existing offences under Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971.
New clause 12—Right of residence: registration certificates—
(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972, or any other enactment, any non-UK citizen resident in the United Kingdom without authority to remain in the United Kingdom provided by a valid visa, visa waiver, residence permit or other official permission must apply for a registration certificate to confirm their right of residence in the United Kingdom.
(3) The Secretary of State shall by regulations prescribe the content of application forms for registration certificates and for the grounds on which an application made may be granted or refused and arrangements for appeals and final adjudications.
(4) The Secretary of State shall establish the registration certificate scheme, comprising the matters mentioned in subsection (3) and such other matters as he thinks necessary and expedient, by
(5) Any person present in the United Kingdom after 31st December 2016 without legal authority or without having applied on or before 31st December 2016 for a registration certificate under subsection (2) above shall be guilty of an offence.
(6) Any person who, after 31st December 2016, enters or attempts to enter the United Kingdom without legal authority shall be guilty of an offence.
(7) A person guilty of an offence under subsections (5) or (6) is liable on summary conviction—
(a) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months; or
(b) to a fine which in Scotland or Northern Ireland may not exceed £5,000; or
(c) to both.
(8) Any person who is convicted of an offence under subsections (5) or (6) shall be subject to a deportation order unless the Secretary of State deems such a deportation order to be against the public interest.
(9) For the purposes of subsection (8) above, a deportation order shall be deemed to be in the public interest unless a certificate to the contrary has been submitted by the Secretary of State to the Court.
(10) Any power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.
(11) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’
New clause 14—Minimum income requirement for partner visas—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall within six months after this Act receives Royal Assent amend the Immigration Rules regarding a person applying for entry clearance to, leave to remain in or indefinite leave to remain in the UK as the non-EEA national partner or dependent child of a person who is—
(a) a British citizen; or,
(b) present and settled in the UK; or
(c) in the UK with refugee leave or humanitarian protection to make provision as set out in this section.
(2) The minimum annual income requirement—
(a) for the sponsor of the partner shall be the equivalent of one year’s full-time salary (net of tax and national insurance contributions, and allowing for four week’s holiday) at the rate of the National Minimum Wage as it applies to that individual;
(b) for the first child in addition to the partner the additional sum of £2,500;
(c) for each further child the additional sum of £2000.
(3) The minimum annual income requirement as specified in subsection (b) may include financial support from third parties.
(4) In this section “full-time” will mean 35 hours a week.’
New clause 15—Adult dependant relative visas—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall within six months after this Act receives Royal Assent amend the Immigration Rules regarding Entry Clearance in respect of an adult dependant relative of a person who is—
(a) a British Citizen; or,
(b) a person settled in the UK; or
(c) in the UK with refugee leave or humanitarian protection to make provision as set out in this section.
(2) The Immigration Rules for persons specified in subsection (a) must not require as condition for entry that in the country where they are living—
(a) the required level of care is not available;
(b) there is no person in that country who can reasonably provide the required level of care;
(c) the required level of care is not affordable.
(3) The applicant shall be adequately maintained, accommodated and cared for in the UK by the sponsor without recourse to public funds for five years.’
Amendment 39, in clause 20, page 25, line 18, at end insert—
‘(2A) In paragraph 2(2) after “examine” insert “at the point of entry into the United Kingdom.’
This amendment would end the practice of conducting speculative, in-country spot-checks and restrict the power to the point of entry into the UK.
Amendment 36, in clause 25, page 32, leave out lines 20 to 23.
This amendment r emoves proposed extension of powers of relevant officers—custody officers, prison officers or prisoner custody officers—to conduct strip searches of detainees for documents which “might” establish a person’s nationality or indicate “the place from which the person travelled to the UK or to which a person is proposing to go”.
Government amendments 3 and 4.
Amendment 27, page 39, line 6, leave out clause 34.
Amendment 28, in clause 34, page 39, line 19, at end insert—
‘(5A) After subsection (3) insert new subsection—
“(3A) Before a decision is taken to certify a human rights claim the Secretary of State must obtain a multi-agency best interests assessment in relation to any child whose human rights may be breached by the decision to certify.”’
To make sure that before a decision is made to certify any claim for out of country appeal, the best interests of any child affected by this decision must be considered.
Amendment 34, in clause 58, page 50, line 11, at end insert—
‘(3A) Part 7 shall not come into force in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.’
To prevent language requirements on public sector workers applying in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.
Amendment 1, in clause 59, page 50, line 18, leave out subsection (2).
Amendment 37, in schedule 7, page 97, line 9, at end insert—
‘( ) The following provisions apply if a person is detained under any provisions set out in paragraph (current paragraph 1(1))—
(a) the Secretary of State must arrange a reference to the First-tier Tribunal for it to determine whether the detained person should be released on bail;
(b) the Secretary of State must secure that a first reference to the First-tier Tribunal is made no later than the eighth day following that on which the detained person was detained;
(c) if the detained person remains in detention, the Secretary of State must secure that a second reference to the First-tier Tribunal or Commission is made no later than the thirty-sixth day following that on which the detained person was detained and every twenty-eighth day thereafter;
(d) the First-tier Tribunal hearing a case referred to it under this section must proceed as if the detained person had made an application to it for bail; and
(e) the First-tier Tribunal must determine the matter—
(i) on a first reference, before the tenth day following that on which the person concerned was detained; and
(ii) on a second and subsequent reference, before the thirty-eighth day following that on which he was detained.
( ) For the purposes of this paragraph, “First-tier Tribunal” means—
(a) if the detained person has brought an appeal under the Immigration Acts, the chamber of the First-tier Tribunal dealing with his appeal; and
(b) in any other case, such chamber of the First-tier Tribunal as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
( ) In the case of a detained person to whom section 3(2) of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 applies (jurisdiction in relation to bail for persons detained on grounds of national security) a reference under sub-paragraph (3)(a) above, shall be to the Commission and not to the First-tier Tribunal.
( ) Rules made by the Lord Chancellor under section 5 of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 may include provision made for the purposes of this paragraph.’
This amendment m akes provision for automatic judicial oversight of detention after eight days, then after a further 28 days, and every 28 days for so long as detention lasts.
Amendment 38, page 102, line 9, leave out sub-paragraphs (1) to (3) and insert—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must provide, or arrange for the provision of, facilities for the accommodation of persons released on immigration bail.’
This amendment m akes provision for an impecunious detainee to be furnished with an address to facilitate their applying for bail, without which they are unlikely to be granted bail.
In this part of the debate we turn to amendments and new clauses concerning the asylum system and the arrangements made for the support of failed asylum seekers who the courts have agreed do not need our protection.
The crisis in Syria and events in the middle east, north Africa and beyond have seen an unprecedented number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Europe. Some have gone on to reach the UK via northern France, including many unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. There are now nearly 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Kent county council’s care, 300 of whom have had to be placed in other local authority areas. I would like to put on record my thanks to all those in Kent—all the officers and others—for the way in which they have responded to this challenge, but in our judgment a national response is required.
Additional funding has been made available to local authorities who take on responsibility for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Kent. We hope that the dispersal arrangements that have been put in place will remain voluntary. However, we have tabled new clauses 3 to 7 and Government amendments 5 and 6 to underpin the voluntary dispersal arrangement and, if necessary, enforce them, although we see this as a reserve backstop power. The amendments introduce a new power to facilitate the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from one local authority to another; enable the Secretary of State to direct local authorities to provide information about their support to children in their care—this will inform new transfer arrangements; enable the Secretary of State to direct a local authority that refuses to comply with a request to accept an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child to provide written reasons; enable the Secretary of State to require local authorities to co-operate in respect of transfers; and enable the provisions to be extended across the UK by regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure and informed by further dialogue with the devolved Administrations.
We take our responsibilities for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children very seriously. The new provisions will ensure that there is a more equitable distribution of such cases across the country and that the welfare of vulnerable children continues to be safeguarded.
Government amendment 7 addresses an anomaly in migrants’ access to support in paying university tuition fees. Under the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011, which govern home student access to student loans in England, British citizens—including those returning to the UK from overseas—and most other groups must demonstrate three years of ordinary residence before they can qualify. We think that that is also the right benchmark for adult migrant care leavers with limited leave to remain or an outstanding application.
The measure will also relieve the burden on local authorities, created by case law, that means that their leaving care duties under the Children Act 2004 may encompass payment of student tuition fees for migrant care leavers who do not meet the student support regulations. Those payments are normally at international student rates, which range from £12,000 to £15,000 per year in most cases. Even one or two cases can place significant pressure on local authority budgets.
Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 restricts access to local authority support for migrants without immigration status. Schedule 9 to the Bill simplifies that framework. Government amendments 8 to 16 make technical improvements to those provisions. Amendment 17 amends schedule 3, which provides a UK-wide framework, so that regulations may make equivalent changes across the UK. That will be informed by further dialogue with the devolved Administrations.
A number of other amendments and new clauses have been tabled in this group. I shall make some initial comments about them, but will reflect and respond further in the light of any points made. Amendments 29 and 40 would reverse the reforms made by schedule 8 to the support provided to failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants. They reflect a clear difference of principle, which was clear in Committee. We say that it is not appropriate for public money to be used to support illegal migrants, including failed asylum seekers, who can and should leave the UK. Schedule 8 will therefore restrict the availability of such support, consistently with our international obligations, and remove incentives for migrants to remain in the UK when they have no lawful basis for doing so.
The system of support for which Parliament legislated in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, to discharge our obligations to asylum seekers, is, in our judgment, too often used to support those whose asylum claim has failed and who have no lawful basis to remain in the
We believe that the situation is wrong in principle. That is why, under schedule 8, those with children with them when their asylum claim and any appeal are rejected will no longer be treated as though they were still asylum seekers and will cease to be eligible for support under section 95 of the 1999 Act. Section 4 of the 1999 Act will be repealed and support will be available to failed asylum seekers and any dependent children only if there is a genuine obstacle that prevents their departure when their appeal rights are exhausted.
In Committee, there was a great deal of discussion about the 2005 pilot; it was said that that could be prayed in evidence as to why our approach might not work. However, I underline again what I said in Committee about why we think there is a difference. First, the current onus on the Home Office to show that a family is not co-operating with return is removed; to qualify for support under new section 95A of the 1999 Act, the family will have to show that there is a genuine obstacle to their departure at the point when they have exhausted their appeal rights.
Secondly, the 2005 pilot involved a largely correspondence- based process in cases that had exhausted appeal rights in the previous 11 months. The new approach will involve a managed process of engagement with the family, in tandem with the local authority, following the end of the appeal process, to discuss their situation and the consequences of not leaving the UK when they can. Thirdly, we judge that circumstances have changed: it is now more generally recognised that the taxpayer should not have to support illegal migrants who could and should leave the UK.
Amendments 30 and 31 are concerned with appeal rights. Under the Bill, asylum seekers refused support under section 95 of the 1999 Act will retain their right of appeal. That appeal is extended to those refused support whose further submissions on protection grounds are accepted, or may be treated, as a fresh asylum claim. However, the Bill does not provide a right of appeal to failed asylum seekers refused further support because they do not face a genuine obstacle that prevents their departure from the UK when they have exhausted their appeal rights against the refusal of asylum. Common examples of a genuine obstacle will be where medical evidence shows the person is unfit to travel or there is evidence that an application for the necessary travel document has been submitted and is still outstanding. These are generally straightforward matters of fact which do not require a right of appeal.
Does the Minister agree that the children of parents who will not return—to my mind, mostly because they cannot—face genuine obstacles to returning, namely their parents, and that we should therefore support those children because they have absolutely no choice in the matter?
We had detailed and considered debate about this in Committee, to which the hon. Lady was party. The point I made there is that the family returns process engages with this so that we assist and work with families to bring about their return. She will recall our debates about the support that can still be made available by local authorities in respect of destitution cases. That support is potentially still available as we continue, as part of this process, to assist families in their entirety, with the appropriate safeguards, in seeing that they are returned if they do not have the right to remain in the UK.
The appeal statistics on asylum support do not give the full picture. In the year to August 2015, 37% of asylum support appeals were dismissed. Forty-one per cent. were allowed, but in many cases this was because the person provided only in their appeal the evidence required for support to be granted. Many of the remainder were remitted for reconsideration or withdrawn, in many cases also in the light of new evidence provided in the appeal. Few appeals related to the issue of whether there was a practical obstacle to departure from the UK. The previous independent chief inspector of borders and immigration found in his July 2014 report on asylum support that 89% of refusals were reasonably based on the evidence available at the time.
Amendments 42 to 45 would reverse the Bill’s reforms of support for adult migrant care leavers and require that they be provided with local authority support under leaving care legislation, even though all their applications and appeals to stay here have been refused. We believe that these changes are wrong in principle. Public money should not be used to support illegal migrants, including failed asylum seekers, who can leave the UK and should do so. The amendments would create obvious incentives for more unaccompanied children to come to the UK to make an unfounded asylum claim, often by using dangerous travel routes controlled by smugglers and traffickers. We are speaking of adults. If their asylum claim has been finally refused, automatic access to further support from the local authority should cease at that point. The Bill makes appropriate provision for their support before they leave the UK.
Amendment 2 would allow permission to work where an asylum claim has been outstanding after only six months, remove the caveat that any delay must not be of the asylum seeker’s own making, and lift all restrictions on the employment available. As we debated in Committee, we do not consider this to be sensible. We met our public commitments to decide all straightforward asylum claims lodged before April 2014 by
The Minister has talked about making regulations to extend provisions to Wales and about skills requirements. Does he agree that the Bill should recognise, in dealing with asylum claims, the distinct skills and immigration requirements of Wales, and enable the Welsh Government to provide input into Home Office immigration policy?
I am afraid that I do not, on the basis that immigration is a reserved matter. The hon. Lady may be aware that the Migration Advisory Committee analyses differences in this regard between the countries of the UK, as well as regional differences. For example, in Scotland there is a separate shortage occupation list, so there is an ability to reflect variations across the UK in assessing evidence and policy.
New clauses 1 and 11 would widen the scope for refugee family reunion. I am aware of the calls from the Refugee Council and others for that. We recognise that families may become fragmented because of the nature of conflict and persecution, and the speed and manner in which those seeking asylum often flee their country of origin. Our policy allows the immediate family members of a person with refugee leave or humanitarian protection —for example, a spouse or partner, and children under the age of 18 who formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled their country—to be reunited with them in the UK. The immigration rules allow for the sponsorship of other family members. By contrast, some EU countries require up to two years’ lawful residence before a refugee becomes eligible and impose time restrictions on how quickly family members must apply once their sponsor becomes eligible.
We have granted over 21,000 family reunion visas over the past five years. In our judgment, widening the criteria for inclusion would not be practical or sustainable. It might be a significant additional factor in how the UK is viewed by those choosing where among the different jurisdictions to make their asylum claim, and it would undermine our wider asylum strategy. Some have asked whether we have fully implemented the Dublin regulations. In our judgment, we have. The challenge is to get family members to make claims in EU countries to establish the links that operate under the Dublin regulations. That is often the impediment standing in the way of those who are entitled to this, but who need to start by making their claim in an EU country.
Does the Minister not accept that the definition of a family is drawn incredibly tightly and is very cruel, for example to those with siblings or children over the age of 18? He says that extending the criteria would not be efficient or effective, but it would actually be one of the most effective ways of granting refugee status to more people. Such people will not put great pressure on our services because they will largely be looked after by their families.
I recognise the manner in which the hon. Lady advances her point, but our judgment is that the policy strikes the right balance. Our family resettlement policy has rules, but equally, certain circumstances—for example, where there are older relatives, or issues relating to illness or medical need—allow for some greater flexibility within those existing rules. From our standpoint, the steps we are taking on resettlement are about an assessment of vulnerability. That is redolent of the approach we are taking in the camps, through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and how we are seeking to deal with resettlement.
May I press the Minister on the people who are currently excluded by the rules? For example, a case has been raised with me about a family of refugees from Syria. The parents are in this country with their younger children, but their 19-year-old daughter is still in Lebanon. She is unable to join them, even though she is also a refugee from Syria, because she is over 18, which is surely wrong. As a result, they are worried that they may have to pay people smugglers and traffickers to get her to Britain, which is a huge risk and would mean breaking the law.
As the right hon. Lady knows, the current regulations are framed in a way that allows the resettlement of children under the age of 18. Our judgment is that that is framed in the right way. Adults seeking protection can use the normal route of claiming asylum in other countries. We do not think that resettlement should be extended beyond the current framework. As I have said, there are exceptions to that, particularly in cases of older relatives who have an illness. The rules can operate in a way that allows entry clearance officers to take such factors into account. Clearly, the rules are examined case by case, including by looking at whether leave falling outside the rules may be appropriate in certain circumstances.
What is the option for that 19-year-old and so many other similar cases? Where does she go—should she get a boat across to Greece and try to apply there? The Dublin III arrangements are not working for people arriving in Greece and Italy. There are huge numbers of examples of that. What does the Minister say to that 19-year-old?
We think that the Dublin arrangements are the right way to provide consistency of approach across the whole EU in dealing with what some have described as asylum shopping and with people’s ability to choose the jurisdiction in which they claim asylum. The key element is that we achieve a stable Syria, so that the people in those camps can see a stable future in which they will be supported there. Our response in relation to humanitarian protection, including the £1.1 billion that the Government have committed, absolutely matters. It is not simply about direct humanitarian protection; it is about education, about giving people a sense of hope and purpose and about ending up with a stable Syria to which people will be able to return as soon as possible.
New clause 2, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, who is not in his place, aims to increase the number of foreign national offenders we deport. However, our existing legislation already gives us the tools we need to achieve this, and there is no better illustration of that than the immigration statistics published last week, which showed that 5,591 foreign national offenders were removed from the UK in the last year.
The proposed change would mean that the Secretary of State would be required to sign a deportation order for a foreign criminal if they received a period of imprisonment of six months. It is already Government policy to consider for deportation those with custodial sentences of less than 12 months if they have caused serious harm. The Secretary of State also uses the power to take deportation action in any case in which she considers that it would be conducive to the public good to do so. So the new clause, although perhaps motivated by the best of intentions, is unnecessary.
I recognise the intentions behind new clauses 10 and 12, but we do not judge them to be necessary or appropriate. New clause 10 seeks to make provision for criminal sanctions against those who are present or who entered the UK without legal authority, but there are already criminal sanctions and removal and deportation powers in place to deal with illegal migrants. Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 in particular sets out criminal sanctions for various types of unlawful migrant behaviour, including illegal entry and overstaying.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in 2013, the latest year for which I have statistics, there were only 72 convictions in magistrates and Crown courts for all the offences mentioned in section 24? Does he think the Government are taking the matter seriously enough?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has advanced these issues and underlined the need for us to remain focused on the removal of those who have no lawful authority to be here and to address those who have sought to come into the UK by clandestine means. The most effective way of dealing with those matters is to have an effective removal process, and that is why we are legislating in this way in the Bill. I also want to highlight the work that we discussed in our debate on the previous group of amendments. We are working to achieve a speedier and more efficient and effective use of detention and to determine how that plays into a more effective removal process more generally. The measures are already in place, but my hon. Friend’s points relate fundamentally to our achieving more efficient and effective removal, which is an aim I share.
May I take my right hon. Friend back to new clause 2, which relates to the deportation of non-British citizens who have committed offences here? I am persuaded by his response to the new clause, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, but will he tell us a little more? I understand that there is a number of countries to which it is extremely difficult for us to deport people in these circumstances. Are moves such as we have seen in relation to Jamaican prisons relevant to this issue, and has any progress been made with those other countries?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of prison conditions is relevant, for example, as are prisoner transfer agreements and the bilateral arrangements that we have in place. Work is being done across Government on the return of foreign national offenders, which I know was a particular issue for my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. Work is being done across Government, not simply in the Home Office, but in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Justice and elsewhere, to look at these issues in the round and see what measures and mechanisms are available to us to enhance the process. My hon. Friend Richard Fuller was right to frame his point in that way. I assure him and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate that we are taking a joined-up approach across Government to use the measures that are available to us to enhance our response in respect of returns.
New clause 12 seeks to create a system that requires non-UK nationals, including EU nationals, seeking leave to enter and remain in the UK to obtain legal authority to remain in the UK. I agree with much of the thinking of my hon. Friend Mr Chope, but new clause 12 essentially seeks to curtail the free movement of EU citizens to the UK under existing treaty rights. I am not sure that legislation is the right way to approach that.
The Immigration Act 2014 limits the factors that draw illegal migrants to the UK and introduces tough domestic reforms to ensure that our controls on access to benefits and services, including the NHS and social housing, are among the tightest in Europe. We believe that the way to bring about real change is through effective renegotiation with the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will be well aware of the letter the Prime Minister sent to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, to set out our approach and the broader stance we seek to take.
New clause 14 would require the Secretary of State to amend the minimum income threshold requirement for sponsoring a non-EEA national partner and any non-EEA national dependent children to settle in the UK. That would undermine the impact of the minimum income threshold, which the courts have agreed correctly reflects the public interest in controlling immigration to safeguard the UK’s economic wellbeing by preventing family migrants from becoming a burden on the taxpayer and by promoting their integration. A couple with income equivalent to the national minimum wage can still access income-related benefits and tax credits. A minimum income threshold set at that level would therefore not be sufficient to prevent burdens on the taxpayer once the migrant partner reached settlement and had full access to welfare benefits. It would also provide less support for the migrant partner’s integration in society. That is simply not an adequate basis for sustainable family migration and integration.
As I have indicated, it is about creating a long-term stable position on what may be considered a burden. I underline that we continue to look at the specific rules on what is and what is not taken into account. I am happy to reflect further on the point that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted. The Government’s approach has been challenged in the courts and the relevant monetary threshold has been upheld. We will continue to analyse experience and evidence in respect of this matter, but our judgment is that the way in which we assess what is counted is right.
New clause 15 would require the Secretary of State to amend the entry clearance rules for non-EEA national adult dependent relatives to remove the current requirement that the personal care needs of that relative cannot be met in their country of origin. Again, that would represent a significant dilution of the reforms implemented in
July 2012. The route for adult dependent relatives was reformed because of the significant NHS and social care costs that can be associated with these cases. The route now provides for those most in need of care, but not for those who would simply prefer to come to live in the UK. The family immigration rules that we reformed in the last Parliament are having the right impact and are helping to restore public confidence in this part of the immigration system. If personal care needs can be met in someone’s country of origin, it is not right to allow them to travel to the UK for that purpose.
Is it not the case that many of the frictions between immigrant and settled communities relate to fears about the abuse of the health and care system, and that having a clear framework that makes explicit the limits of what we will and will not accept will go a long way towards calming the nerves of the host communities in respect of the new entrants to their areas?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. That is what we have done. We must also ensure public confidence more generally about where costs should lie, and ensure that understandable concerns about access to healthcare are framed rightly. That is why we introduced the immigration and health surcharge in the last Parliament.
Amendment 39 seeks to restrict the power of immigration officers to examine someone in-country. As my hon. and learned friend the Solicitor General—he is sitting alongside me—said in Committee, the power to examine someone in-country is essential, for example when immigration officers are questioning persons who have been seen climbing out of lorries on motorways or at service stations, and who are therefore suspected of having entered the UK illegally.
Officers working in immigration enforcement do not conduct speculative spot checks. To examine a person after the point of entry, an immigration officer must have information that causes them to question whether someone has the right to be in the UK, as set out in the 1987 case of Singh v. Hammond. Our published guidance reflects that judgment, and makes clear that when conducting an in-country examination, immigration officers must first have reasonable suspicion that a person is an immigration offender, and they must be able to justify that reasoning. If the power of examination is limited only to the point of entry, the ability to conduct in-country enforcement operations would either be severely hampered, or it could risk unnecessary arrests.
Government amendments 3 and 4 are minor and technical, and replace “strip search” with “full search” to allay concerns that the person is stripped completely naked during such a search when that is not the case. We judge that the term “full search” more appropriately reflects the nature of the power.
Amendment 36 seeks to remove the power to conduct such searches from detainee custody officers, prison officers and prisoner custody officers when they are searching for nationality documents. As the Solicitor General said in Committee, the reality of detention is such that items are often concealed below clothing. It may therefore be necessary in some cases to remove the detainee’s clothes to locate documentation and other items. Of course, such a power must be governed by appropriate safeguards, and used only when necessary, and it may not be exercised in the presence of another detained person or a person of the opposite sex. Removing altogether the ability to search in that way would create an easy way for detainees to thwart removal efforts.
Amendments 27 and 28 are to clause 34. Section 94B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 allows human rights claims and deportation cases to be certified to require an appeal to be brought from outside the UK, where to do so would not cause serious irreversible harm or otherwise breach human rights. Clause 34 extends that power to apply to all human rights claims, but amendment 27 would remove that clause from the Bill. Extending such a power to all human rights claims is a Government manifesto commitment and builds on the success of section 94B, which was introduced by the Immigration Act 2014 and has resulted in more than 230 foreign national offenders being deported before their appeal.
The Court of Appeal recently considered two cases concerning the operation of that power. It held that the Government are generally entitled to proceed on the basis that an out-of-country appeal is a fair and effective remedy. The amendment would prevent the Government from meeting their manifesto commitment to extending that successful power, the operation of which has recently been endorsed by the Court of Appeal.
Amendment 28 relates to the best interests of children. It seeks to impose an obligation on the Secretary of State to conduct a multi-agency best-interest assessment for any child whose human rights may be breached by the decision to certify. The amendment is unnecessary because, before any decision to certify is made, the best interests of any child affected by that decision must already be considered. Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 imposes a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to consider the best interests of any child affected by a decision to certify. Where the person concerned makes the Secretary of State aware of the involvement of a child who may be affected by her decision, the Secretary of State will ensure that the best interest of that child is a primary consideration when deciding whether to certify. That consideration is supported by published guidance and will take into account all the circumstances of the case.
On language requirements and devolved Administrations, amendments 1 and 34 relate to part 7—a measure to ensure that the public receive help, advice and support from their public services in fluent spoken English. Regarding Scotland, the English language duty applies only to reserved matters. Consent is not required for such application, but consultation is appropriate and I am grateful to Scottish Government officials considering the draft code of practice and its implementation. On Northern Ireland, it is right that we consider extension of the scheme there. But amendment 1 is defective as it needs to be limited to reserved powers, as with Scotland. We need to give further thought to how best to achieve the intent behind the amendment, and we intend to return to that issue in the other place.
I hope that with those comments the Government new clauses and amendments will receive the approval of the House.
I start by confirming that we see the sense in the Government new clauses—I think they are Government new clauses 3 to 7—intended to help local authorities such as Kent deal with unaccompanied children, and we support them. But that is the extent of the agreement on this group of amendments.
Amendment 29 deals with the removal of support for certain categories of migrants. Such removal is wrong in principle and likely to be counterproductive. All the evidence is one way—support for families facing removal is the best means of ensuring that they leave. By support, I mean not only support in the terms set out in the Bill, but support by way of help with obstacles, documents and advice. It is the families that are supported in that broad way that are most likely to leave, and thus the objective is achieved by having the support in place. By contrast, withdrawing support has the opposite effect.
Let us call a spade a spade. Withdrawing support for this category of migrants is a threat of destitution as a means of enforcing immigration rules. All the evidence suggests that it is counterproductive. The Minister mentioned the 2005 pilot, confident—I think—that I would also mention it. It was a pilot of the proposition that withdrawing support—threatening destitution—was likely to encourage people to leave and to alter behaviour. The results of that pilot were evaluated in 2006, and they were stark. Of the 116 families in the pilot, one family left as a result of the withdrawal of support; 12 sought help with documents; 32 families went underground; and nine were removed from the scheme because on analysis it was found that their claims should not have been refused. The pilot was considered a complete failure.
The evidence is not only a pilot some 10 years ago: it is practice since then, with successive and different Governments accepting that destitution, or the threat of destitution, should not be used as a means of enforcing removal because—among other reasons—it is wholly counterproductive.
The Minister says that the situation now is different, and he put forward two reasons. The first is that, under the proposed arrangements, families would have to prove there was a genuine obstacle to removal. I am not sure how far that advances the argument. The idea seems to be that putting the onus on the family to prove a genuine obstacle will make them less likely to go underground if support is withdrawn, but there is no rational link between the two propositions. Secondly, he says the process will not be by way of correspondence, but carried out in a more engaged manner. It is hard to see how that change, welcome though it is, will make a difference to the stark results of the 2005 pilot. The withdrawal will cause hardship, distress and anxiety and will be wholly counterproductive. That is one the problems with the Bill: it does not meet its own objectives. The only basis on which the Government can advance these provisions is that they will make the UK appear to be a more hostile environment.
Destitution in the 21st century should not be a means of enforcing immigration rules, or any other rules, yet that is what lies behind the provisions. The whole House will accept that children should not be adversely impacted by the decisions of their parents, yet the Bill will visit those adverse impacts on them, because they will fall within the removal of support provisions. That led to great debate in Committee about whether this would simply transfer the burden from one Department to local authorities, which are not going to stand by and leave destitute children unassisted. The provision, therefore, is wrong in principle and counterproductive, and not one that in the 21st century we should have anything to do with.
Turning briefly to appeals, I will start with the narrow issue of appeals on the question of support. Amendments 31, 40 and 30 would reinstate the right of appeal against Home Office decisions on support. This is where the Home Office has made a decision on support but it is thought that the decision is wrong. At the moment, the error rate is very high. Those in the House who were not on the Committee will be astonished to hear that it is as high as 60% in some cases. Under the Bill, those decisions could not be put right on a simple appeal. In Committee, the Minister said that the long route of judicial review would remain as a remedy, but I failed to understand then, and I fail to do so now, how it can be sensible or cost-efficient to remove a simple right of appeal in cases for which there is a high rate of success and to rely on the much more expensive route of judicial review by different principles. With a 60% error rate, it is unacceptable to withdraw the right of appeal.
In relation to that error rate and others I will mention, the argument that some decisions that are changed are changed because an individual provides additional information is no answer. The rate of 60%, and of 40% to 42% for general appeals, is high in any event, and there is no evidence to suggest that in the majority of cases an individual has not provided the necessary information. In any event, whether or not they have been properly advised about what information to provide, they should not be punished by the withdrawal of support where inappropriate.
On the wider point of appeal, amendments 27 and 28 deal with the extension of appeals to the wider category of individuals who will be removed before they can appeal. There is a general point to make about such appeals, which is that although there may be court cases establishing that these provisions or their forerunners do not extinguish the rights of appeal, there is no question but that they materially inhibit the right of appeal. The success rate under the current arrangements, of between 40% and 42%, is instructive—these are the cases where individuals have been removed, only in the end to succeed in their appeals. I accept that some in that group may well have succeeded earlier had different or fuller information been made available to the authorities, but there is a variety of reasons why that may have happened, including the advice that those people had been given. Removing first, before appeal, materially inhibits rights of appeal and it should certainly not be expanded.
Amendments 27 and 28 are intended to ensure that before a decision is made to certify any claim for out-of-country appeal, the best interests of any child affected must be considered. These amendments propose a specific provision to deal with a real problem, rather than the general provision that is already in place, and that is materially important for the children who will be affected by the extension of the rules on appeal.
I want to spend just a few moments on the family reunification issues. Part 11 of the immigration rules are very narrowly drawn, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
(Yvette Cooper) has given a powerful example of the injustice that they can and do inflict. New clause 1 is intended to remedy that, and I am sympathetic to it, but we have tabled new clause 11, which proposes a wider review of the refugee family reunification rules. New clause 11 has the advantage of covering the failure to implement the Dublin III convention, the advantage of enabling the review to consider an option to allow British citizens to sponsor close family members recognised as refugees or granted humanitarian protection, and the advantage of looking at options for extending the criteria for family reunion in the way envisaged by new clause 1.
I rise to speak to my two new clauses. In so doing, I want to thank the Minister for telling me all the reasons why he does not support them, although he was generous enough to say that he agrees with the principles that lie behind them.
The second of my new clauses, new clause 12, could well be a blueprint for what happens after the country decides to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum, because it sets out the way in which people who are already in this country would be able to obtain the right of residence here, as well as some of the associated rules to ensure that those without the right of residence would be the subject of criminal sanctions.
Before coming to that in more detail, I want to refer to new clause 10 and some of the background to it. New clause 10 is modelled very much on a private Member’s Bill that I have brought forward on a couple of occasions for debate in the House, the Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill. The Bill had the privilege of being the subject of an opinion poll, which was conducted by the noble Lord Ashcroft in June 2013. The findings were that some 86% of those polled supported the provisions of the Bill and only 9% were against them, so this is a new clause that strikes a chord with the British people.
The reason I have brought those provisions forward again is that, despite previous debates, it seems that the statistics on how many people are being prosecuted and/or convicted for offences under section 24A of the Immigration Act 1971 are going in the wrong direction. In 2009, the number of people proceeded against and convicted both in the magistrates courts and the Crown courts for offences against that section was a giddy 158. For every year after 2009 the number had fallen, and by 2013—the last year for which figures are available—the number found guilty in the magistrates courts had fallen to six and the number convicted in the Crown courts had fallen to 66, making a total of 72 convictions for a widespread range of criminal offences against our immigration laws.
This means that section 24A is in effect not being enforced. Meanwhile, clause 8 of this Bill will add a new section 24B, which introduces the offence of illegal working by people subject to immigration control. One wonders whether this offence, if enforced as rigorously as the more serious offences under section 24A, will actually achieve anything of substance. Perhaps it is more of a presentational issue so that the Government can show that they are doing something and attempt to win public support on that basis. I hope that there will be time for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration to respond and to explain how many people he thinks will be subject to prosecution under the new proposed section 24B for the offence of illegal working. I hope he will also explain why there have been so few prosecutions under the existing section 24A.
It is always much easier to go for the people with resources, the people who are trying their hardest to run businesses, often small businesses, which is why clause 9 penalises them for employing illegal workers, even though they are already to a certain extent subject to civil penalties. In 2013-14, there were 2,150 civil penalties for such offences. When it comes to the employment of illegal workers, particularly where the workers are themselves illegal immigrants, one would have thought that the first port of call would be to sanction the illegal immigrants rather than the people they duped into employing them.
Some offences are designed to deal with people who are in the United Kingdom with permission, but are subject to immigration control; and this in a sense reinforces my concern. If we are introducing new sanctions against those who are here lawfully but are subject to immigration control, surely we should be even harder on those who are here unlawfully and are trying to avoid any immigration control.
That is the background to new clause 10. It does not simply re-enact the provisions of section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971, as it includes more specific proposals that are set out in subsection (4), whereby:
“Any person who is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) shall be subject to a deportation order unless the Secretary of State deems such a deportation order to be against the public interest.”
Subsection (5) states:
“For the purposes of subsection (2) above, a deportation order shall be deemed to be in the public interest unless a certificate to the contrary has been submitted by the Secretary of State to the court.”
Another problem with the enforcement of our immigration laws is that too few people are being deported, because too few are being made the subject of deportation orders. One reason for that is the fact that a person who is prosecuted and whom the authorities seek to deport has a right of appeal against deportation, with all that that entails. The authorities often do not seek to deport people, preferring to allow them to—in a sense—lie low. There is, indeed, a perverse incentive for people to lie low in our system.
As we know, there are perhaps half a million illegal immigrants in the country at present. That is very much a ballpark figure, but it makes the number of prosecutions and convictions in 2013—72—seems paltry in the extreme. One is entitled to ask the Government, “Can we take you seriously when you are doing so little to deal with people who are here illegally, and thereby to deter others who may be tempted to come here illegally?” I think that we need to introduce a new offence of being in the United Kingdom without legal authority. The prosecution would then not need to prove how a person had come into the United Kingdom, because that person’s mere presence in the United Kingdom without legal authority would make him guilty of an offence.
There is another practical side to the matter. At present, if someone jumps out of the back of a lorry on a motorway, in a layby or at a service station, and members of the public are concerned and call the police, the invariable practice of the police is to say to the potential illegal migrant, “You should not be here; you must go and report to the Home Office in Croydon.” They do not arrest them or initiate a prosecution because, I am told, they do not think that the powers of prosecution in the Immigration Act 1971 are adequate to ensure that it is worth their while. Rather than facing the hassle of arresting someone on, for example, the A31 in my constituency who has come in illegally through the port of Poole and has jumped out of the back of a lorry, and initiating a prosecution, the police tend to say, “You should not be here; be on your way; you should leave the country.”
I witnessed what was almost a similar situation on the island of Kos about a month ago. Members of our Border Force who were on secondment to Frontex were dealing with a large number of migrants who had crossed the water from Turkey, a distance of some 3.5 km. Those migrants were merely being processed. They were not being sent back to Turkey, and they were not being told that they were subject to any sanctions. All that they were being told was that they should not be in Greece, and should leave as soon as possible. That was a farcical situation. It was a waste of resources for our Border Force people to be involved in Frontex, with no powers to do anything about illegal migrants coming into the European Union and the Schengen area, when they would have been better employed protecting our own shores and borders. That is the background to new clause 10, and I hope the Government will start to prosecute more and take the offence of being here in the UK without legal authority much more seriously than seems to be the case at the moment.
We know that another reason people are attracted into the UK illegally is that we do not have any system of identity cards, so people think that once they have got here unlawfully they can lie low, sometimes for many years, and carry on below the radar while still being illegal migrants.
New clause 12 would repeal section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988, which effectively gives EU citizens who are not citizens of the UK rights equivalent to citizens of the UK in relation to residence in this country and goes to the heart of the issue of free movement of people across EU borders. I do not think there is any longer a case to be made for allowing EU citizens to have a special status compared with citizens from other parts of the world who may in our view have a greater entitlement to be in this country and whose presence in this country might be more conducive to the national interest.
This subject was discussed yesterday by the Scottish Affairs Committee when it met in Aberdeen and was examining the subject of post-study work visas. It became apparent that the extraordinary status of students from the EU was making it much more difficult for the fine Scottish universities to recruit people from foreign countries outside the EU, many of whom might make very good undergraduate or graduate students.
This is relevant to the whole issue of free movement of people, and I can understand why my right hon. Friend the Minister would not wish to anticipate the result of the forthcoming referendum and accept new clause 12, but I think this sets out the way in which we would be able to assure people who were already in the UK that they would be able to stay in the UK in the event of the people of the UK deciding to vote to leave the EU.
New clause 12(2) refers to the European Communities Act 1972. Without that subsection the new clause would be nugatory in the same way as the amendment debated in relation to women’s sanitary products and VAT was nugatory because it did not include the provision to exclude the provisions of the 1972 Act.
Subsection (3) states:
“The Secretary of State shall by regulations prescribe the content of application forms for registration certificates and for the grounds on which an application made may be granted or refused and arrangements for appeals and final adjudications.”
Subsection (4) sets out a timescale within which such a registration certificate scheme would become operative. The result of that would be that we knew who was in our country. It is a pretty basic question: who is in our country but not currently a United Kingdom citizen? The Government are in no position to answer it. By the use of registration certificates, we would be able to ensure that we were not burdening UK citizens with an identity card system and that those who are not UK citizens would be able to exercise their privilege of continuing to be in the UK only if they had a registration certificate showing that they had a right of residence in our country.
There is no point in having a command without a sanction, so subsection (5) states:
“Any person present in the United Kingdom after 31st December 2016 without legal authority or without having applied on or before 31st December for a registration certificate…shall be guilty of an offence.”
Anybody who after that date enters or attempts to enter the United Kingdom without legal authority would also be guilty of an offence. The new clause then sets out the penalties that would apply and states:
“Any person who is convicted of an offence under subsections (5) and (6) shall be subject to a deportation order” unless that is certified to be “against the public interest.”
That would significantly tighten up our immigration rules and would make life much easier for employers, particularly small employers. If the person was not able to establish that they were a British citizen when they were applying for work, the employer would be able to ask them to produce their registration certificate demonstrating a right of residence—and why not? We would also be able to ensure that people who were not entitled to be here were deported.
Another consequence of having new criminal offences as set out in new clauses 10 and 12 would be that people would often choose to leave voluntarily rather than face those criminal sanctions. I know the Minister is keen to ensure that as many people as possible who are not entitled to be here leave the United Kingdom voluntarily. These two new clauses would give them an extra incentive to go, because they would be able to avoid prosecution if they were to leave the UK—it is almost a type of plea bargain. The measures would reduce the administrative costs, too.
We cannot be complacent about the situation we are in at the moment. We have record levels of net migration, far in excess of what the Government pledged in the Conservative party manifesto. We have record numbers of people who are in our country illegally and of people in this country about whom we know nothing. We have a golden opportunity in this Bill to rectify some of those lacunae in our law and to set out a framework within which we can operate in the future and thereby minimise the number of people who are in this country illegally and in breach of our immigration rules.
I wish to speak to new clauses 1 and 11, which focus on the response that we should have to the refugee crisis and the way in which the family reunion rules for refugees are simply not working. The background to this is that the European refugee crisis is showing no signs of easing. Nearly 1 million refugees have travelled to our continent this year. Some 700,000 people have travelled through Greece and, in the final weeks of November, almost 3,000 people were arriving on the tiny island of Lesbos by boat each day—this is even in the November cold. A huge number of refugees are stuck in the Balkans, often in very difficult and increasingly harsh weather conditions; there are refugees camps in Idomeni, on the Greek border, and thousands more refugees are in Serbia, including unaccompanied children. Other countries in Europe are doing considerably more than us, and I continually urge the Government to do more, as we need to do our bit to support the refugees. I am talking about those not just in the camps in the regions, but those who have fled to Europe.
Tomorrow the Prime Minister will argue that Britain should not stand back and let other countries shoulder the entire security burden that stems from the events in Syria. That will be a powerful point for him to make, but what follows from that is the fact that we should not stand back and allow other countries to shoulder so much more of the burden of responding to the refugee crisis, especially as we are not doing enough to help.
This year, Britain will take just 1,000 refugees from Syria, and yet 3,000 arrive each day in Lesbos. I was struck by what the Minister said about asylum shopping. Given that we had only 25,000 asylum seekers in Britain last year, compared with 700,000 in Germany, how can he seriously talk about asylum shopping? In fact, what we are talking about are families who have been split up by a terrible refugee crisis and who simply want to be together. Families have been ripped apart by a bloody and brutal civil war in Syria. Parents have been torn apart from their children and brothers apart from their sisters.
I have met Syrian children on their own in refugee camps. There are 11 and 12-year-olds desperate to be reunited with their families. Our current rules make it very hard to reunite families of refugees who have been split up by the crisis. The British Red Cross is currently supporting an Iraqi refugee who hopes to be reunited with his wife and two daughters, one of whom is disabled and has the mental age of a seven-year-old. She is entirely dependent on her mother, but she is over 18 and so is not eligible to come to the UK under the Minister’s family reunion rules for refugees. She is stuck in Iraq, and the strain of being a sole carer is taking its toll on her mother.
Another case of the Red Cross is that of a 15-year-old boy whose parents have both been killed in the war and whose brother has been granted refugee status in the UK. He has not registered an asylum claim anywhere in Europe, but has had his fingerprints taken in Greece. Understandably, his brother wants him to join him in the UK, but he is currently not eligible and has been told to return to Greece where he knows no one and has no prospects. He is now in Italy, but is getting no support from the state and is living with another Syrian family. His brother is incredibly worried about his safety, as he feels that he is at risk of being exploited by gangs of traffickers, which, as we know, is what happens to many unaccompanied refugee children.
When I was in Calais a few weeks ago, I met a single mother with two small children. She thought that her husband had been killed in an Assad jail. The family were living in a small caravan and tents in the mud in Calais. They had left Syria and been financially supported for a while by her father-in-law, but he can now no longer afford to support them. She told me that her own father and brother were here in Britain, and that was why she had paid money to people traffickers to travel across Europe to try to join them, as they were her only remaining family. She said that they could support her here in Britain. [Interruption.] The Minister says what about Dublin. What a good point. What about Dublin III, because, in so many cases, Dublin III should help to reunite families, but it does not do that. It is not working,
Quite a few people I talked to in Calais probably would have a case under the Dublin III arrangement, but there was no process for them to apply to. Those who had looked at it were told that the French procedures and the bureaucracy would not allow it and that it was too difficult. This is why new clause 11 is so important. It urges the Minister to look at the way in which Dublin III is being implemented across Europe. Clearly, there is a huge problem here, and it could be what is driving some of the illegal migration. It could also be driving people to take huge risks at Calais. Why are they trying so desperately hard to get to Britain? Why are they not going to Germany, Sweden or other countries? Many of them told me that it was because they had family in Britain, and they were people who ought to have refugee status. Their claims were not being assessed so they were taking huge risks, causing security risks for the Eurotunnel trains and causing great problems. They were stuck in the mud in the cold winter of northern France. Much of this is to do with what France and other countries need to do, but I urge the Minister to review Dublin III. It is just not working in practice for too many of the refugees who are fleeing terrible conflict.
When many refugee families have been hit by crisis, persecution or war, they may lose their closest family members. They may no longer have the parent or the child that current family reunion rules cover. Their nearest relative may now be a brother or sister or someone who is not covered by the existing rules. That is why it is so important to look at the wider family relationships of refugees.
My intention in drawing up new clause 1 was to make it easier to reunite refugee families and to help refugees whose closest family are already refugees here in Britain to get sanctuary here too. That would cover the case of the 19-year-old in Beirut that I raised with the Minister, and the woman whose disabled child is over 18 but still needs her parents. It is not my objective to rewrite the wider immigration rules for those who are not refugees; that is a different debate. I want to concentrate on those who are refugees. I recognise that new clause 1 is not the simplest way to do this because it is primary legislation when the matter would be dealt with better through immigration rules. Further changes to immigration rules would be needed alongside new clause 1 to ensure that the measure was focused on those fleeing conflict rather than wider family who are not refugees.
The new clause is an attempt to focus the Minister’s attention on the plight of families who are being separated all across Europe and need to be reunited. We should, out of compassion and as part of our support for refugees and for families and the family values that we hold dear, make more attempt to reunite families. It would be the best way for us to increase the number of refugees that we in Britain take. The Prime Minister set a target of 20,000 over the next five years, but we know that only 1,000 of those will be here before Christmas if the Government’s targets are met. They will need to go beyond that. The refugee crisis is not going away, and the most sensible, simple and fair way to provide more support for those who already have family here who could support them is for us in Britain to give them sanctuary.
We cannot make the debate on Syria simply one about security. It has to be about refugees and compassion as well. I know that the Government have done much to help refugees in the region, and I have praised them for doing so many times, but it is not an alternative to doing our bit to reunite families. There are so many ways in which the Government could do this; we have set out a series of ways in new clause 1 and in new clause 11. I have always sought to work on a cross-party basis and to build the biggest possible consensus. I urge the Minister in the same spirit to look carefully at what more he is able to do to help reunite some of the desperate refugee families who really need our help.
I am sure that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who served on the Public Bill Committee will agree that the debates were thoughtful and informative. I was extremely pleased to be a member of the Committee. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) and for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), in the past 12 months, as I have knocked on thousands of doors, I have found that immigration has been a big issue for my constituents. It has not been very often that I have knocked on a door and people have not raised this issue with me. I was therefore extremely pleased to be on the Bill Committee and to listen to the debate and hopefully increase my knowledge of certain aspects of the Bill.
It is evident from the debate today and on previous occasions that we often confuse the various categories of immigration, such as asylum seekers, refugees, non-EU immigration and European immigration. So often I hear Members on both sides of the House talk about them as one, rather than as different categories of immigration requiring different measures to tackle them. That is frustrating for me and for my constituents.
Immigration is not static. It is changed by the various factors affecting world migration, such as the economy and what we have seen this summer, leading to terrible pictures of refugees. It is right that the UK adapts its policies to reflect current pressures and those changeable factors, and it is right for the Government to introduce Bills containing measures to deal with the current situation. The Bill and some of the amendments focus on tackling illegal immigration.
As I have mentioned, I represent Rochester and Strood in Medway in the county of Kent. Over recent months and years we have been on the frontline of attempts to gain entry to the UK by clandestine routes. We have all seen the images of desperate people putting their lives at risk to get into the country. This has caused economic damage to the county and brought significant pressures such as those caused by Operation Stack.
I am pleased to see the Government amendments on unaccompanied minors. As I said on Second Reading, Kent has seen a great increase this summer in the number of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK. This has put pressure on social services at local level. As we all know, it is difficult to recruit social workers and there is great pressure on social care from a domestic point of view. Those pressures have been felt in Kent, in my constituency and across Medway. I very much welcome the Government new clauses.
Unfortunately, I cannot support the family reunion clauses tabled by the Opposition, particularly new clauses 1 and 11. When individuals have followed the correct procedures to obtain entry to this country and to seek asylum, it is right that they are supported. But when those measures have been exhausted, the British taxpayer should not have to pick up the burden of looking after failed asylum seekers. I thank my right hon. Friend for introducing the relevant new clauses. I was interested to hear him say that the cost to the British taxpayer is estimated to be £73 million.
The Opposition new clauses on unaccompanied minors could potentially be seen as a way of jumping the queue. For example, an unaccompanied minor could sponsor their parents to come to the UK. We absolutely do not want to separate families, but people should follow the correct procedures and the provision should not be seen as a way of trying to jump the rules to obtain entry to this country more quickly.
The new clause sends the wrong message. People in my constituency will have been troubled by, or have had some concern about, some of the things that have been said—not necessarily in this debate, but during prior discussion. I absolutely support the Government amendments that I have discussed and I look forward to casting my vote later.
In our view, provisions that seek to use the further deliberate infliction of destitution, including of children, as a tool of immigration policy must be thoroughly opposed. The provisions fly in the face of evidence, are counter-productive and show a grim lack of compassion. We support all amendments seeking to prevent, or at least limit, the damage. They include amendment 29, which would remove clause 37 and therefore most of the damaging changes, and amendments 30 and 31, which would preserve all rights of appeal against decisions to refuse support. Amendment 40, tabled by Scottish National party Members, would ensure that families with children who are minors received section 95 support until they left the country.
The Minister referred to the pilot carried out by the last Labour Government, and that is still relevant to what is being proposed today. Similar proposals were abandoned because of the results of the pilot. It is interesting to look at the comments about the project made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights:
“The section 9 pilot has caused considerable hardship and does not appear to have encouraged more refused asylum seeking families to leave the UK…We believe that using both the threats and the actuality of destitution and family separation is incompatible with the principles of common humanity and with international human rights law and that it has no place in a humane society. We recommend that section 9 be repealed at the earliest opportunity.”
We believe that the same should happen to the equivalent provisions in this Bill.
Sadly, the Government have in their sights not only children but those who arrived as children and are now young adults. Rather cruelly, young care leavers will be prime targets. That is why we have tabled amendments 42 to 45, which would ensure that young people leaving local authority care were able to access leaving care support under the Children Act 1989 without discrimination. Amendments 42 and 43 would remove the provisions, added by schedule 9, that would prevent local authorities from providing leaving care support under the 1989 Act to young people who were not asylum seekers and did not have leave to remain when they reached age 18.
Amendment 44 would enable local authorities to provide leaving care support under the 1989 Act to young people who did not have leave to remain and were not asylum seekers. Finally in this group, amendment 45 would provide for the Secretary of State to make funding available to local authorities, as the specialist agency responsible for care leavers, to meet the duties, set out in the 1989 Act, to the latter group of care leavers.
Our amendments 39 and 36 bring us back to what I said about the first group of amendments relating to the broad powers, which we seek to rein in, proposed for immigration officers. Despite what the Minister says, those include powers for detainee custody officers, prison officers and prison custody officers to strip search detained persons for anything that could be evidence of their nationality—a very broadly defined power. The Minister points out that Government amendments 3 and 4 propose changing the name of the search from “strip search” to “full search”, but they do not in any essential way change the extent of the powers, which, to all intents and purposes as far as I still understand them, are basically strip search powers. For that reason, provision on the gender of the persons present during the search is made in clause 25(8). Our amendment 36 would remove the proposed power for custody officers to strip search detainees for documents that “might” establish a person’s nationality or indicate
“the place from which the person travelled to the UK or to which a person is proposing to go.”
Going further, we seek to tighten schedule 2(2) of the Immigration Act 1971. This power ostensibly deals with individuals on arrival in the UK for the purposes of determining whether they have or should be given leave to enter or remain. It has been used by the Home Office as justification for conducting speculative, in-country spot-checks involving “consensual interviews”. Amendment 39 would expressly limit this power to examination at the point of entry. The Minister argues that our amendment makes the power too tightly drawn, but in our view it is far better for intrusive powers to be tightly drawn than drawn broadly and arbitrarily.
The other atrocious provisions that amendments in this group seek to attack are those which provide that people should leave the UK even before their appeal against a Home Office decision has been heard. Amendment 27, which has support from Labour as well as SNP Members, would remove the offending clause 34, which extends powers of certification introduced by the Immigration Act 2014 to mean no longer just “deport first, appeal later” for those convicted, but “remove first, appeal later” for all. To us, these provisions are madness. They will mean people having to give up jobs, studies and family life while appeals are ongoing. Families could be separated for lengthy and unknown periods until their appeal is finally determined.
All this comes against a background of constant criticism of Home Office decision making, including in a recent ombudsman’s report. We should bear in mind that in 2014-15 42% of managed migration appeals and 42% of entry clearance appeals were successful. In 2013-14, the figures were 49% and 48%. Thousands of people could have to leave for several months because the Home Office got it wrong. The danger is that appeals will not be pursued or will be pursued inadequately given the costs of pursuing an appeal as a privately paying client from overseas.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Home Office statistics state that only 24% of appellants removed under the current “deport first, appeal later” provisions go through with their appeals. Does he agree that this suggests that extending those provisions will make it much harder—in fact, probably impossible—for the majority of these appeals to go ahead? Is it not inherently unfair to hold appeals with the appellants unable to make their own case in person?
I am grateful for that intervention and entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend.
The Government seem to be attempting to cut net migration not just by limiting the class of people who can come under the rules but by making it nearly impossible for people to exercise their legitimate rights to stay. This is scraping the barrel of immigration control measures, and I will want to test the House’s opinion on that.
We regard as utterly unnecessary the part 7 provisions on the English language. Our amendment 34 would ensure that part 7 will not come into force in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. We have faith that our public authorities, whether reserved or devolved, can determine that a worker has the necessary skills for the job, including speaking fluent English, and that normal complaints procedures would deal with any problems, as with any other complaint about competence. Part 7 creates unnecessary bureaucracy and is a clear example of immigration theatre and tokenism.
A number of other Members have made brave attempts to bring a silver lining to the cloud provided by this grim Bill. New clauses 11 and 1 seek to expand the range of people qualifying for refugee family reunion. I have asked questions, written letters and spoken in this Chamber on this point on several occasions, so I am very happy to provide my backing for such attempts. In the face of the most dreadful refugee crisis since the second world war, surely this is a sensible option that we can all support. Broader family reunion means that people we know should logically be sheltered in the United Kingdom do get to come here. This is the logical place for them because they have family support here and so will have help with accommodation and integration, for example. They will often even pay for their own flight. With little trouble for the Government or the taxpayer, we can extend a hand of friendship to more of those fleeing dreadful war and persecution.
Three amendments in the name of Mr Carmichael similarly seek to bring some light from the darkness. Amendment 2 would introduce permission to work for those seeking asylum who have been waiting six months for a decision. My colleagues and I recognise that this is a positive step forward, and it has our backing. We also thoroughly welcome new clause 14 as a step forward in overcoming the unduly onerous financial thresholds attached to family visas, which the Children’s Commissioner for England recently reported had created thousands of what she called “Skype families”—British children able to communicate with a parent only over the internet. New clause 15 would improve rules relating to adult dependent relatives by removing unnecessary criteria, and it again has our full support.
Our amendment 37 makes provision for automatic judicial oversight of detention after eight days, then after a further 28 days and again every 28 days for so long as the detention lasts. Such judicial oversight will be particularly necessary if the Government persist in refusing to put a proper time limit on detention. Some of the most vulnerable people are least aware of their rights, including their right to bail, so automatic bail hearings will ensure that they are not detained unnecessarily. Finally, our amendment 38 makes provision for an impecunious detainee to be furnished with an address to facilitate their applying for bail, as without an address they are unlikely to be granted it. In our view, the Bill as drafted is ambiguous and risks being read as suggesting that a person coming out of detention can be given support only when they have been granted bail. I urge all Members to support these small rays of light.
I appreciate the opportunity to address the House again on Report, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow Stuart C. McDonald, whose stewardship this afternoon has been thoughtful and thought provoking.
There is one amendment in my name, although I cannot entirely take the credit for it, and I may move slightly away from it, given what the Minister said earlier. It relates to part 7 on the requirement on public services to employ English speakers, with some exceptions for jobs outside mainland UK and so on. I had the opportunity to raise this issue on Second Reading. My first observation was that I was amazed it was not already a requirement. I cannot think of any engagement I have had with any public servant in this country who was unable to speak our language fluently. I also said that I hoped in my contributions in the Chamber and elsewhere to speak English just as well as every other resident of Northern Ireland. Yet the Bill specifically excludes the provisions in part 7 from applying to Northern Ireland.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s surprise that there is not already such a requirement. Does he share my surprise that in areas of public life, not least in Enfield, there are councillors who themselves perhaps would not be able to pass the test of being fluent in verbal or indeed written English? [Interruption.] Yes, councillors.
It is a wonderful tenet of our democracy that if people wish to choose an individual to represent them irrespective of their linguistic gymnastics, and are satisfied that that person will do so ably and capably, it should be within their gift to endorse them. However, when it comes to those employed in our public services throughout the UK, I think not only that this should be a requirement, but that it should apply in Northern Ireland as well.
Having made such points, it is fair to recognise what the Minister outlined in his opening speech on this tranche of amendments. He said that there are implications for the devolved Administrations and institutions, and that what has been fairly replicated for the devolved Administration in Scotland should most properly have formed the basis of our amendment 1. I accept that point, so if he considers the amendment defective, I will take that on board. However, the principle is well worth pursuing. He helpfully outlined that the Government intend to look at the issue again in the other place, which I welcome.
It may help the hon. Gentleman to say that, as I indicated in my speech, certain drafting issues need further attention to make the provision effective and consistent with those in the other nations of the UK, but we certainly intend to return to it in the Lords.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comments.
While we are on that topic, may I suggest that there is further work to be done in the other place? Schedule 11 relates to maritime enforcement. Reference was made on Second Reading to the failure of the schedule to mention the Belfast Harbour Police. I think the Minister took on board the fact that it is a properly constituted, legitimate authority that is mandated to operate within the port. It is a private police force, but it looks after the security of the port. I believe that an additional provision relating to the Belfast Harbour Police could be inserted into the Bill in the other place, should the opportunity to do so arise and should such a provision have the Government’s backing. If we are intent on pursuing the thrust of the Bill, and the protections that the maritime provisions will provide, it is important that we give that matter consideration in the other place.
I want to raise a couple of issues that have arisen in recent years that relate to immigration in general and to the UK Border Force in particular. They relate to the new clauses and amendments, so I shall not be straying too far from the subject. Border Force runs a skeleton operation in Northern Ireland. In fact, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that its effective operational role related only to mainland GB.
There are ferry links between my constituency of Belfast East and that of my right hon. Friend Mr Dodds, and the constituency that Stranraer rests in. I am struggling to remember which one that is, but I think it is Dumfries and Galloway. Stena goes there. UK Border Force will be waiting in Scotland for anyone travelling from our part of the UK to that part of the mainland. Should anyone wish to board the vessel in Belfast in a vehicle, they will not be searched or questioned at all. Foot passengers will go through more invasive security procedures, but the immigration screening does not take place in Belfast. That omission should be looked at.
I want to mention the case of Myriama Yousef. She is a wonderful character who sought asylum in Belfast and received great assistance from the Belfast Central Mission, the Methodist church in the city. I have to be careful about the terminology I use to describe her case. She is either a failed asylum seeker or a refused asylum seeker. She is someone who sought asylum in the United Kingdom and was turned down. She had to spend time in the Larne House detention centre, which is located within the Larne PSNI station. Anyone with any knowledge of security arrangements in Northern Ireland will know that the police stations there are not the most welcoming or inviting places. That is a consequence of our history. Anyone who is detained for immigration reasons in Northern Ireland is held there, in what looks like a military compound, with sangars, high fences, security lighting and security cameras. It is not an acceptable place. Myriama Yousef was deported to the country from which she had entered the UK. She was removed to Dublin, at which point she immediately got on the Ulsterbus, paid her £8.50 fare and was back in Belfast within two hours. Following her subsequent detection, she was brought to Yarl’s Wood.
Another case relates to a point made by Yvette Cooper. She talked about a 19-year-old in Beirut who was separated from her family, but this case relates to Johnny Sandhu, an Indian-born solicitor from Northern Ireland who operated in Limavady. He was detected in the serious crime suite inciting a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force to commit murder so that they could evade prosecution. He was subsequently jailed for 10 years and, on his release, he was deported back to India. His family, who relied on him, were left in Northern Ireland. His children, who were going through the education system and doing their GCSEs at the time, were not in a position to up sticks and leave, but their father was never in a position to come back to the United Kingdom.
I would be grateful if the Minister considered cases such as that and the one raised by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford to see how we can be a little more compassionate and recognise that, when someone’s 18th birthday strikes, they do not cut all ties or lose all connection with their family. We should consider how we, as a country, can best ensure that the family unit is held together.
On Second Reading, I described the Bill as heinous. My experience as a member of the Bill Committee has not altered that impression. The Bill is divisive and disproportionate, and it ultimately lacks a credible evidence base.
The evidence sessions were embarrassing for the Government because the vast majority of the oral and written evidence the Committee received was damning of their proposals. Witnesses from the private, public and third sectors sent the underlying message that the Bill lacks a proper evidence base, is not necessary and is merely being brought about to appease the right-wing of the Conservative party and UKIP.
I take issue with part 5, which, among other things, proposes to remove support from those whose asylum applications have been refused. That blanket approach does not allow for the consideration of personal circumstances, nor does it protect families with children. We heard evidence from a number of organisations that voiced concern, shock and deep disgust over part 5, particularly in respect of how it might affect the welfare of children.
In giving evidence, Ilona Pinter of the Children’s Society said:
“We think the risks for children from this provision are very serious indeed. Essentially, it would see families becoming destitute—they would no longer have accommodation and financial support under asylum support. That obviously brings with it a whole range of risks, from families being street homeless to families having to move around, potentially for short periods of time, to stay in potentially unsafe accommodation.”––[Official Report, Immigration Public Bill Committee,
Even Lord Green of Deddington from Migrant Watch, with whom I disagree on almost everything else, agreed that asylum seekers with children whose claim has been refused should be treated differently.
Part 1 sets out ambitions to reduce the exploitation of migrants. However, when individuals and, in particular, parents with children are pushed into a vulnerable situation, they are forced into making rash and desperate decisions that only increase their vulnerability and the dangers they face. Most reasonable people would accept that we have a responsibility towards those who have had their asylum application rejected. Amendment 29 seeks to ensure that we continue to uphold that responsibility.
Amendment 29 seeks to omit all the changes to support that have been made by the Government by removing clause 37 and schedule 8. Assuming that the Government are not minded to accept such a wholesale change, amendment 40 would ensure that some protection exists for the children of the families affected.
The Government have attempted to simplify the support that is provided in the immigration system by moving from two sets of regulations whereby asylum seekers can claim support to four sets of regulations dealing with support by local government and central Government. That is not simplification as I understand it. Under the Bill, local authorities will be legally prevented from providing support to families, including those with young children, when there are
“reasonable grounds for believing that support will be provided” by Home Office provisions. In practice, that might create dangerous gaps in the system where support is not provided to vulnerable families.
It is worth repeating the horrendous story of the one-year-old boy, EG, who died in 2012, followed two days later by his mother, when they were left in limbo between two different types of support. In responding to that example, the Minister stated that the gap in provision was between support from two different Departments. I accept that, but can he guarantee with absolute certainty that his proposals will result in no gaps whatsoever between the support people receive from central Government and local government?
The changes that are proposed by the Government will create a significant financial and administrative burden for local authorities. The Government claim to have consulted widely, but the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities were not content with the level of consultation from the Home Office before the introduction of these provisions.
The underlying reason for removing support from failed asylum seekers is to allow the Government to expedite the removal of affected parties.
As my hon. Friend says, the Bill proposes the removal of support from those who are due to be deported. That will obviously have an impact on the children of the families who are affected. To give some context, is it not the case that this support amounts to just over £5 per day? Removing that bare minimum amount of support will not lead to refused applicants being removed from the UK any quicker. We should support families until they are deported from the UK.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. In Committee we tabled an amendment to try to ensure that support was pegged at 60% of income support, which would have increased support by just over £1 a day. It is not a massive amount of money—I am not sure that many Members of the House could survive on just over £6 a day.
Evidence suggests that removing support from refused asylum seekers does nothing to make it easier or quicker to deport families from the UK. The 2005 Home Office pilot study attempted to remove support from refused asylum seekers—Keir Starmer touched on that point. It concluded that ending support for asylum seeking-families had no influence in encouraging people to be removed from the UK. That view was echoed by Peter Grady from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who stated that
“it was noted in our evidence that we had concerns whether removing support would meet the objective of encouraging return, or disincentivising staying, particularly for families of refused asylum seekers.”––[Official Report, Immigration Public Bill Committee,
The Government’s new approach to removing support allegedly differs in three respects from the 2005 pilot study, but aside from moving the onus to prove that a genuine obstacle to their departure exists from the Home Office to the claimant, and hollow promises to work more closely with refused asylum seekers, nothing has really changed. The Government are not learning the lessons from previous pilot studies, and they are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past, with families being forced into a vulnerable and difficult situation as a result.
Amendment 29 seeks to ensure that a right of appeal—surely a basic human right—continues to exist for those whose claim for asylum has been unsuccessful, or whose support has been discontinued. Surely the measure of any society is how we treat the most vulnerable, and it is right that we retain some support for those youngsters who are leaving institutional care. I stated in Committee that other Departments are calling for more support as part of a leaving care strategy. The Minister for Children and Families described that group as “highly vulnerable”, and as recently as July he stated that it was time to do more for vulnerable youngsters leaving care. It seems that our commitment to providing more care to that vulnerable group depends on where they were born. Amendments 42 to 45 would ensure that the Bill does not fly in the face of that leaving care strategy, and I hope that the Minister will stand by his rhetoric and lobby his ministerial colleague to accept them.
When introducing this Bill, the Home Secretary stated as fact that our public services were being abused by illegal migrants. I accept that some people might be living here illegally, and the authorities should deal with them appropriately. However, the people I have spoken about today are not “abusing” the system. I have spoken about children of asylum-seeking families and youngsters leaving care. Those groups are not abusing the system; those are people who the system is designed to protect. They are vulnerable youngsters who are just looking for the best start in life, and I call on the Government to drop their harmful proposals.
In view of the time and our keenness to hear the Minister respond, I will just raise a couple of brief points. Amendment 7 has not been discussed so far this afternoon, and it is unfortunate that it is being introduced at this stage, because we did not get the opportunity to consider the principles behind it in Committee. Those include fundamental principles about the removal of access to higher education for a significant cohort of young people. The amendment will prevent local authorities from providing funding to facilitate access to higher education for care leavers whom they are supporting but who have limited leave to remain.
In the explanatory notes, the Government say that that measure will be replaced by a requirement to qualify under student support regulations, which implies that that is an easy alternative route. However, they know that that is disingenuous, because under those regulations young people who have not been recognised as refugees qualify for such a loan only if they have had leave to remain for three years, or if they have lived in the UK for more than half their life. In effect, that measure cuts off access to higher education for a significant proportion of young people who will, in many cases, gain leave to remain in the UK and build their lives here. That is not only discriminatory, but it prevents young people at a crucial point in their life from developing the skills that will provide them with productive careers and an opportunity to give back to society.
The Government have also said that they are concerned about an undue burden on local authorities because people in that situation are required to pay overseas student fees. It would be easy to legislate to give them home fees student status, which would be another option for alleviating the burden on local authorities, and one that I am sure universities would be keen to embrace. I raise the point only because I hope that, when the Bill reaches the other place, this issue will be given proper consideration.
The removal of support from refused asylum seekers with families says a lot about the Bill as a good example of bad law-making, with measures brought forward that fly in the face of evidence. As other hon. Members have made clear, all the evidence is that not only is it a harsh measure, but it will be counterproductive to the Government’s objectives. If we want to reduce expenditure on support for asylum seekers, the best way to do so is to conclude cases as quickly as possible. That does not require legislation: it just needs better resourcing and decision making in the Home Office.
In Committee, the Minister argued that asylum support rates are a pull factor for asylum seekers coming to the UK, despite the fact that our rates are significantly lower than those of most other countries in Europe. I challenged him to provide evidence that they were a pull factor, but he was unable to do so. I hope that now, having had the opportunity to consider the issue and to draw on the substantial support that he has, he might be able to provide the evidence that justifies the removal of that support. All the evidence that we received as a Committee suggests that it will drive the issue in the opposite direction to the Government’s objectives. It will make it more difficult for the Home Office to remain in contact with the people liable to removal and, ultimately, undermine efforts to promote voluntary departures. It will not tackle the issue: it will create destitution that will then have to be addressed by local authorities; it will create pressure on mental health services, something that we also heard; and it could leave people vulnerable to labour exploitation by pushing them into the hands of exploitative employers. For all those reasons, I urge the Government to think again on this issue.
Again, we have touched on several important themes in the Bill that were debated and examined in detail in Committee. We have also had additional items in new clauses that were not addressed in Committee, including those tabled by Yvette Cooper. We understand the depth of feeling about the human suffering in Syria and the UK and we are obviously taking several steps to respond to that crisis. I recognise the contribution that she has made to highlight several issues and concerns relating to that. We do not believe, however—I will explain how this fits into what other European countries are doing—that widening the family reunion eligibility criteria is the appropriate response. We are focusing our efforts on humanitarian aid to help the majority of refugees who remain in the region, and working with international partners to find a solution to the conflict, as well as—of course—the issue of resettlement, including of 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees over the course of this Parliament.
The right hon. Lady asked about Dublin, and it is important to underline that the UK has fully implemented the Dublin III regulation. Those in Calais are the responsibility of the French authorities, and anyone wishing to benefit from the family unity provision of the regulation must first lodge an asylum claim in France and provide details of their family in the UK. A request will then be made to the UK to accept responsibility for that claim based on the presence of close family members—as I think the right hon. Lady recognises. As part of our joint declaration with the French Government, we continue to work with the French authorities on the overall processing of asylum claims and ways in which we can continue to support their activities. Indeed, some of the numbers they are processing and seeing outside the camps are increasing.
It is also worth underlining that our family reunion policy is more generous than our international obligations require. As I hinted at, other EU countries impose additional restrictions in their lawful residence requirements. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Austria have recently announced they are amending their family reunion policies, while Germany has indicated it will review its policy.
The right hon. Lady asked me about compelling humanitarian cases, and indeed Gavin Robinson gave another example. Where a family reunion application fails under the immigration rules, such as in the case of an 18 or 19-year-old applying to join their refugee parents in the UK, the entry clearance officer must consider whether there are exceptional circumstances or compassionate reasons to justify granting a visa outside the rules. I gave another example in relation to elderly parents, so there is that obligation on entry clearance officers. The hon. Gentleman is no longer in his place, but he also highlighted the specific issue of the Belfast harbour police. I am happy to reflect on his point, while recognising that they were established under separate legislation: the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847. Information-sharing powers exist, but I am happy to look at that in further detail.
My hon. Friend Mr Chope highlighted deportation. Our primary sanctions for immigration non-compliance are removal and civil penalties, which is why, in many respects, prosecution numbers are relatively low. Our focus is on removal, therefore, rather than prosecution, which can delay removal and is obviously costly. That is why we have taken this approach.
Obviously, powers of arrest do reside. Issues of detention came up in the previous debate, and I do not cut across the need to uphold the law and ensure that people are appropriately identified, and I think that removal or a civil penalty for those unlawfully employing them are appropriate measures.
Stuart C. McDonald, speaking for the SNP, highlighted an issue to do with the minimum income threshold. A migrant partner with an appropriate job offer in the UK can apply under tier 2 of the points-based system, but overseas employment is no guarantee of finding work in the UK.
In highlighting the issue of destitution, Keir Starmer, who speaks for the official Opposition, said that our arrangements would not work, based on the 2005 pilot. I gave some explanation when I opened the debate, but I would add that there will be focused and targeted engagement with appeal rights-exhausted families together with local authorities. That close engagement with families is in contrast with what happened before. The Local Government Association acknowledges the need for focused efforts to engage with families and adults to promote returns, and that is precisely what we intend to do.
We are working with local authorities to close the gaps that some have suggested might apply, and, in many ways, the LGA welcomes the steps we have taken to ensure that gaps are closed. On the issue of overseas appeals, obviously this matter has been tested by the Court of Appeal, which recently confirmed that the Government were generally entitled to proceed on the basis that an out-of-country appeal is fair and effective remedy. On access to higher education, we want equality of treatment in respect of the relevant student support regulations. We are requiring that the test should be that which is applied to other migrants and British citizens applying for a student loan under the student support regulations.
Again, there was comment about safeguards for children. I want to underline the duty we have under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That is something we have carefully considered throughout our consideration of these provisions and that we judge provides the necessary support and protection mechanism for children under the Bill.
Debate interrupted (Programme Orders,
Question agreed to.
New clause 3 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
The Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (