I wish to make a statement on our new plan for immigration. The Government have taken back control of legal immigration by ending free movement and introducing a points-based immigration system. We are now addressing the challenge of illegal migration head-on.
I am introducing the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades—a new, comprehensive, fair but firm long-term plan—because while people are dying we have a responsibility to act. People are dying at sea, in lorries and in shipping containers, having put their lives into the hands of criminal gangs that facilitate illegal journeys to the UK. To stop the deaths, we must stop the trade in people that causes them.
Our society is enriched by legal immigration. We celebrate those who have come to the UK lawfully and have helped to build Britain. We always will. Since 2015, we have resettled almost 25,000 men, women and children seeking refuge from persecution across the world—more than any other EU country. We have welcomed more than 29,000 close relatives through refugee family reunion and created a pathway to citizenship to enable over 5 million people in Hong Kong to come to the UK. Nobody can say that the British public are not fair or generous when it comes to helping those in need, but the British public also recognise that for too long parts of the immigration system have been open to abuse.
At the heart of our new plan for immigration is a simple principle: fairness. Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers. If someone enters the UK illegally from a safe country such as France, where they should and could have claimed asylum, they are not seeking refuge from persecution, as is the intended purpose of the asylum system; instead, they are choosing the UK as their preferred destination and they are doing so at the expense of those with nowhere else to go.
Our system is collapsing under the pressures of parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smugglers. The existence of parallel routes is deeply unfair, advantaging those with the means to pay smugglers over those in desperate need. The capacity of our asylum system is not unlimited, so the presence of economic migrants, which these illegal routes introduce, limit our ability to properly support others in genuine need of protection. This is manifestly unfair to those desperately waiting to be resettled in the UK. It is not fair to the British people either, whose taxes pay for vital public services and for an asylum system that has skyrocketed in cost—it is costing over £1 billion this year.
There were more than 32,000 attempts to enter the UK illegally in 2019, with 8,500 people arriving by small boat in 2020. Of those, 87% were men and 74% were aged between 18 and 39. We should ask ourselves: where are the vulnerable women and children that this system should exist to protect? The system is becoming overwhelmed: 109,000 claims are sitting in the asylum queue. Some 52,000 are awaiting an initial asylum decision, with almost three quarters of those waiting a year or more. Some 42,000 failed asylum seekers have not left the country, despite having had their claim refused.
The persistent failure to enforce our laws and immigration rules, with a system that is open to gaming by economic migrants and exploitation by criminals, is eroding public trust and disadvantaging vulnerable people who need our help. That is why our new plan for immigration is driven by three fair but firm objectives: first, to increase the fairness of our system, so we can protect and support those in genuine need of asylum; secondly, to deter illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of people smugglers and protecting the lives of those they endanger; and, thirdly, to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here. Let me take each in turn.
First, we will continue to provide safe refuge to those in need, strengthening support for those arriving through safe and legal routes. People coming to the UK through resettlement routes will be granted indefinite leave to remain. They will receive more support to learn English, find work and integrate. I will also act to help those who have suffered injustices by amending British nationality law, so that members of the Windrush generation will be able to obtain British citizenship more easily.
Secondly, this plan marks a step change in our approach as we toughen our stance to deter illegal entry and the criminals who endanger life by enabling it. To get to the UK, many illegal arrivals have travelled through a safe country such as France, where they could and should have claimed asylum. We must act to reduce the pull factors of our system and disincentivise illegal entry. For the first time, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful. We will deem their claim as inadmissible and make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally having travelled through a safe country first in which they could and should have claimed asylum. Only where removal is not possible will those who have successful claims, having entered illegally, receive a new temporary protection status. This is not an automatic right to settle—they will be regularly reassessed for removal —and will include limited access to benefits and limited family reunion rights. Our tough new stance will also include: new maximum life sentences for people smugglers and facilitators; new rules to stop unscrupulous people posing as children; and strengthening enforcement powers for Border Force.
Thirdly, we will seek to rapidly remove those with no right to be here in the UK, establishing a fast-track appeals process, streamlining the appeals system and making quicker removal decisions for failed asylum seekers and dangerous foreign criminals. We will tackle the practice of meritless claims that clog up the courts with last-minute claims and appeals—a fundamental unfairness that lawyers tell me frustrates them, too—because for too long, our justice system has been gamed. Almost three quarters of migrants in detention raised last-minute, new claims, or challenges or other issues, with over eight in 10 of these eventually being denied as valid reasons to stay in the UK. Enough is enough. Our new plan sets out a one-stop process to require all claims to be made upfront—no more endless, meritless claims to frustrate removal; no more stalling justice. Our new system will be faster and fairer and will help us better support the most vulnerable.
Our new plan builds on the work already done to take back control of our borders, building a system that upholds our reputation as a country where criminality is not rewarded, but which is a haven for those in need. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts to success, but this long-term plan, pursued doggedly, will fix our broken system.
We know that Members of the Opposition would prefer a different plan—one that embraces the idea of open borders. Many of them were reluctant to end free movement, with Members opposite on record as having said that all immigration controls are racist or sexist. And to those who say we lack compassion, I simply say that while people are dying, we must act to deter these journeys, and if they do not like our plan, where is theirs?
This Government promised to take a common-sense approach to controlling immigration, legal and illegal, and we will deliver on that promise. The UK is playing its part to tackle the inhumanity of illegal migration and, today, I will press for global action at the G6. I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. She said in her statement that the asylum system is broken, and she talked about a persistent failure of the rules. They are stark admissions for a Conservative Home Secretary whose party has been in power for 11 years.
The truth is, we have seen Conservative failure across the board. The Home Secretary mentioned the Windrush generation, while this Government presides over a compensation scheme that their own figures show has helped only 338 people. Then there is the asylum processing system, which is appallingly slow. The share of applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. There is no point blaming others. This is the fault of Conservative Ministers and a failure of leadership at the Home Office, and there has not been the progress we need on the promised agreement with France on dealing with appalling criminal gangs and rises in the horrific crime of human trafficking.
Yes, the Government policy is defined by a lack of compassion and a lack of competence, and I am afraid that the plans outlined by the Government today look like they are going to continue in exactly the same vein. No wonder the plans outlined have been described as “inhumane” by the British Red Cross. They risk baking into the UK system the callousness, frankly, of this Government’s approach. No wonder, either, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concerns about the Government’s understanding of international law. The Home Secretary spoke today about the importance of safe and legal routes, yet the resettlement scheme was suspended, and the Dubs scheme was shamefully closed down after accepting just 480 unaccompanied children rather than the 3,000 expected. [Interruption.] The Immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, continues to shout at me; he cannot hide from the Government’s record of the last 11 years. And the Government looked the other way last summer; rather than help children stuck in the burning refugee camp of Lesbos, they turned the other way.
At the same time, these changes risk making the situation even worse for victims of human trafficking, as it would be even harder to access help in the UK, helping criminal gangs escape justice. Ministers have abolished the Department for International Development, the very Department that helped address the forces that drive people from their homes in the first place—war, poverty and persecution.
Not only are Government plans lacking in compassion, but the Government do not even have the competence to explain how their plans would work. A central part of the measures briefed out by the Government relies on new international agreements, yet the Home Secretary could not mention one of those agreements that have been concluded this morning. Sources close to the Home Secretary have briefed out ridiculous, inhumane schemes such as processing people on Ascension Island, over 4,000 miles away, and wave machines in the English channel to drive back boats. When the Government recently briefed out plans for Gibraltar and the Isle of Man, they were dismissed within hours.
The proposals also show that the Government have not woken up to the urgent need to protect the UK against the pandemic and support our health and social care system to rebuild. We have heard the Prime Minister this week be dangerously complacent about a third wave of covid from Europe, and the threat of new variants continues to grow, yet none of the UK Government plans includes measures desperately required to protect the UK. We need world-leading border protections against covid, including a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, yet throughout this pandemic the Government have done too little, too late. The proposals do nothing to address the recruitment crisis in the health and social care system, where urgent changes are needed to help recruit the medical and social care staff to deal with covid and NHS waiting lists.
The reality is that the measures outlined today will do next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings, and they risk withdrawing support from desperate people. The Conservatives have undoubtedly broken the immigration system over the last 11 years, but the reality today is that they have absolutely no idea how to fix it.
First, let me take the right hon. Gentleman’s distasteful comparisons to Windrush head-on. Members of the Windrush generation came to the UK lawfully to help rebuild Britain, and they were wronged by successive Governments, including Labour Governments. It is simply insulting to attempt to draw parallels between them and those entering our country unlawfully.
Not only are this Government ensuring that Windrush victims receive compensation—the compensation that they deserve—but today I am announcing new measures to fix historical anomalies in British nationality law to ensure that members of the Windrush generation can receive British citizenship more easily. That is a Conservative Home Secretary, and a Conservative Prime Minister and Government, righting these wrongs. As I have set out previously in the House, the Home Office is absolutely committed to supporting victims of the Windrush generation, and that is why today I have launched the biggest and most wide-ranging consultation when it comes to this new plan for immigration.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman commented on the record of Conservatives in government, so let me just set out some facts for him. From the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, such as my own family members, from a repressive regime; to proudly resettling more refugees than any other EU country, as he heard me say in my statement; to supporting campaigners fleeing political persecution in Hong Kong—that is the record of Conservatives when it comes to humanitarianism. Under the Conservative leadership of this Government, the United Kingdom will always provide sanctuary to people who are having the light switched off on their own liberty and personal freedoms, and this new plan will build on that.
Thirdly, I am quite astonished by the tone of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, repeatedly suggesting that we just turn a blind eye to people attempting to come into our country illegally—people being smuggled in small boats and in the back of lorries. He will well know that we in this House have stood too often to hear about the tragedy of people who have died, whether in the channel or the back of refrigerated lorries. I will not apologise for being abundantly clear that an illegal journey to the UK is not worth the risk. That is what this plan is about: tackling illegal migration, protecting lives, and, of course, alongside that creating new routes.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman accuses me and the Government of lacking compassion. He accuses me of taking an inhumane approach. I suggest politely to him that he should not resort to personal attacks of that nature. I, and my own family in particular, understand what oppression is like and, after fleeing persecution, sought refuge in the United Kingdom, just like millions of others who have successfully rebuilt their lives. That lack of substance is not surprising, because the Labour party has no plans to fix the broken system. In fact, I understand that last night, the Labour party’s response to my plan was very much to look at my plan. As long as Labour Members are devoid of a plan of substance, they are defending a broken system that is encouraging illegal migration and supporting criminality. They are defending a system that is enabling an established criminal trade in asylum seekers, and causing human misery. It is a system that disregards the world’s most vulnerable, elbowing women and children to the side. It is a system that all too often, as I have seen, results in the tragic loss of life.
A family of five drowned on their way to this country—our country—only last year; in 2019, 39 victims were found dead in Purfleet in the back of a refrigerated lorry. That is inhumane. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party are prepared to be associated with that criminal trade in asylum seeking and human misery, he is the one who lacks compassion. That is not a position that we will take, and I will not be complicit in defending the indefensible on that basis.
Finally, it is extraordinary to hear lectures about our border from the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party, when it is still official Labour party policy to maintain and extend free movement rights, as per its party conference motion. In effect, that is to have open borders. We are the only party that is prepared to tackle illegal migration, show compassion to those who have been trafficked in the world, and create safe and legal routes, so that we help to save lives.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement because, just like my constituents, I am angry at the images we are seeing of small boats coming into the channel, and the skyrocketing costs of our asylum system—resources that could be used to tackle inequalities in areas such as the “lost city” in Tipton, and give kids on that estate the chances to succeed. The broader issue is this: our European neighbours need to step up. It is as simple as that. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton, who have put their faith in her, that she will continue to make the point to our European neighbours that they have got to step up? It is not fair on the United Kingdom to take the lion’s share of protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are a compassionate nation, and we stand by everything we do when it comes to providing humanity and protection to individuals who are being persecuted. He has made the point incredibly well on behalf of his constituents, and we will continue—as I will today with the G6, our international counterparts, and across European Union member states—to say that they also need to do more. Until they do, people will continue to die. We all have this collective responsibility.
There is so much wrong with these proposals that distilling it into two minutes is impossible. What person and what Government with an ounce of compassion or respect for international law would even consider casting vulnerable people off to an island using an offshoring system that, in Australia’s case, has been described by the UN as an affront to “common decency”? Who, with any regard to the rule of law, would limit the right to appeal? The high success rate of asylum appeals clearly shows that the Home Office is getting these decisions wrong too often.
Are we or are we not still a signatory to the UN refugee convention? Is the Home Secretary aware of article 31, which prohibits penalising someone for the way in which they reached a country or, for that matter, arriving so-called illegally? Does she know that nowhere in there does it say that someone cannot transit through another country to get here? That was never the intention of the convention, and to say it is is simply untrue. Does she remember that Nicholas Winton—rightly hailed as a hero for rescuing hundreds of children from Nazi refugee camps—was reported to have forged documents because the Home Office was too slow? Those children would today be classed as illegal and he would be a criminal, but he was a hero, because he recognised that desperate people have no choice, and the same is true today for many who reach our shores.
The Home Secretary should be ashamed to make this statement today. There is nothing pretty about this—it is ugly dog-whistle politics, and I can tell her that the SNP wants no part in it. More importantly, Scotland will not live with the associated shame of this. Scotland recognises its international and moral obligations, but we also recognise that we are prevented by the UK Government from living up to them. I despair for those having to live under this toxic environment, and I will always offer my solidarity, but I will also work even harder to ensure that Scotland votes yes to independence, so that we at least can continue to treat vulnerable people with compassion and dignity.
First, I refer the hon. Lady to my statement. If she had bothered to listen to it, she would have heard a compelling case for stopping people trafficking, stopping illegal migration and creating safe and legal routes—something that I would have thought she would warmly welcome.
Secondly, it seems to me that the nationalist party in Scotland needs to do much more to walk the talk when it comes to resettling refugees and working with the Government to house individuals who are fleeing persecution. Sadly, that work is not taking place—[Interruption.] I can see that the hon. Lady is making some gestures towards me. If she would like to come into the Home Office and have discussions about resettlement schemes and routes in constituencies, I would be more than happy to look at that. Our Ministers would be delighted to welcome her into the Department for that conversation.
Finally, the hon. Lady speaks about our plans not being in line with the refugee convention. Again, I would like to correct her. Our new plan for immigration is in line with our international obligations, including the refugee convention. She will know that the refugee convention does allow for differentiated treatment where, for example—[Interruption.] she can shake her head, but perhaps she would like to listen—refugees have not come directly from a country of persecution.
I welcome particularly what my right hon. Friend is proposing to deal with people smuggling, but this is a bigger problem than simply the EU. Council of Europe members are dealing with this right across the Mediterranean and from the middle east. Will she join me in sharing her approach with members of the Council of Europe as an example of what can be done?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I commend him for the work that he has been doing with the Council of Europe. In the past, we have had many conversations about this issue and about people, ways of working and upstream issues around illegal migration. He is right to highlight the issue around the Mediterranean. Too many people have died, tragically, under the most appalling circumstances. I would be more than happy to work with him on how we pursue this further.
Safe Passage reports increasingly long waits for child and teen refugees in camps in Greece and elsewhere to be able to reunite with family in the UK who could care for them since the Dublin and Dubs schemes were ended. Ministers promised us that they would put in place safe legal routes in replacement, but they have not done so, and things are not working. Talking about safe legal routes is not good enough if they do not materialise in practice. Does the Home Secretary not accept that, especially when it comes to vulnerable children and teenagers, a lack of safe legal routes to rejoin family will drive more of them into the arms of dangerous people traffickers and make the situation much worse?
If the right hon. Lady had heard my statement, she would have heard some figures about those who are being trafficked right now. They are predominantly single men. She makes a very valid and important point, which supports the case for safe and legal routes, around children in particular. This is not just about camps in Greece, and let us not forget, of course, that we have been in a pandemic, which is part of the reason, as the right hon. Lady knows—we have discussed it at the Home Affairs Committee—and as many hon. Members know, having been reminded of it again and again and again, the Government are absolutely committed, as the record shows, to resettling children, and to family reunion rights.
That is absolutely right, and we are doing that. We are committed to that, but through safe and legal routes. We need to create new routes, and not just from the camps in Greece. The right hon. Lady will know as well—I have been to many myself—that within regions, where there are wars and conflict, we need to create safe and legal routes, and not just from the Mediterranean. Too many people have been smuggled to that Mediterranean route. We need to do much more in-country, and in some of those terrible zones. I hope that she would support this work on that basis.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, many asylum seekers are being housed in hotels in central London, and many hundreds in my constituency. Will she assure me that today’s announcement will speed up the asylum process, that those who are successful will be resettled and those who are not will be quickly returned, and that we can get the numbers in hotels down to zero?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She is well versed in this, in fact, and I thank her for the way she has worked with Ministers, and with me and the Home Office, on this issue of accommodation in her constituency. She and other Members will know that the hotel policy is very much linked to the pandemic, because we have not been able to utilise regular accommodation and dispersal accommodation, and so, along with contingency, we have been using hotels.
There is another point to make here, which is about the processes that we have to look at cases. We are going to change the end-to-end system. There is a reform package in place, including digitalisation of caseworking, faster assessments, and all sorts of work on that basis, so I can give my hon. Friend that assurance.
Can the Home Secretary tell us when the first refugees will be allowed to enter the UK under her new scheme, and how many will be settled each year?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that today’s paper, the new immigration plan, is a consultation document. It is a Command Paper, so we are consulting and we will work with everybody who wants to work with us constructively on this. It will be subject to new legislation, and he will know the processes, but we as a Government are absolutely committed. We are already in discussion right now with partner organisations that we can work with on safe and legal routes. That is essential, because 80 million people are displaced in the world, seeking refuge. We have a moral responsibility and an obligation to do the right thing and stand by those who are fleeing persecution, while at the same time working not only other with partners but with other countries to ensure that they raise the bar too.
This is a fantastic plan to fix our broken asylum system. The plan prioritises help to those most in need with safe and legal routes. It will stop the deaths in the channel and in lorries of people attempting illegal entry, and deter those who abuse the system and jump the queue, particularly with a new age assessment process. It also introduces new life sentences for the real criminals in all this: the people smugglers. However, my constituents will rightly ask, “When?” Can she outline the timetable for the implementation of the plan, and how they can get involved?
I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive tone and comments. The plan is subject to consultation. It should be a people’s consultation. The British public, with the publication today, should absolutely join the consultation, and I encourage all Members to get their constituents on board. At the end of the consultation, we will obviously draft a Bill and bring it to Parliament for a second session.
The 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol state that anyone seeking asylum should be able to claim in their intended destination or another safe country, but the Government’s new plan discriminates by distinguishing between people fleeing the same persecution based on their route or on their mode of transport. Does the Home Secretary realise that, under the new plan, trafficked women, LGBTQ people, and those fleeing political and religious persecution will be left with limited options? Rather than expanding safe and legal routes, the plan could actually leave more of those seeking family reunion at the mercy of people smugglers. The plan does not meet the needs of the most vulnerable, so can she explain how she reconciles this obvious misrepresentation of our obligations under international law?
First of all, I advise the hon. Lady to actually read the immigration plan, because she will see that it is in line with international obligations, including the refugee convention. Secondly, she has spoken about categories of individuals—people seeking to flee who will be persecuted for who they are and for their values. They will, of course, be covered under our safe and legal routes scheme, so she is completely wrong in her misrepresentations.
My constituents and I in Rother Valley welcome strong action in tackling illegal, dangerous migration. I know that my right hon. Friend and her Department are working tirelessly to bring the criminals facilitating the illegal channel crossings to justice, and to tackle this exploitative crime. Does she agree that there is no justifiable reason for migrants to be making this crossing, and putting themselves and our Border Force in danger, when staying in France remains a perfectly safe and right option for them?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I thank him for his question. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. That is the point that we are making again and again. They are currently in the hands of people traffickers and smugglers, and are, quite frankly, being duped into false promises and false hope. There is no doubt whatever that we will be working with our counterparts—I have already mentioned the G6—to pursue this with greater vigour. The principle that my hon. Friend raises is fundamentally correct.
This cynical announcement is built on the availability of safe and legal routes. This morning, the Home Secretary claimed, “We have safe and legal routes, and we have a programme called the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme”. But she will know that the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme actually finished at the end of February, as its quota was filled. There are no details of how the new UK resettlement scheme will work, so could the Home Secretary tell us how many people it will take, explain how it will operate and outline, for example, the process available to a refugee from what is currently the world’s worst conflict, in Yemen?
I will not take any lectures from hon. Gentleman about resettlement schemes, when this Government have successfully resettled 25,000 people through that resettlement scheme—[Interruption.] He shakes his head, but it is true. I have made it quite clear that we are in discussion with partner agencies already. That work is under way. He can shake his head and be as dismissive as he chooses to be, but if he bothered to read the new immigration plan, he would see the details of exactly how we will start to introduce new safe and legal routes through legislation.
Yarl’s Wood detention centre in my constituency was set up under a Labour Government in 2001, and is a manifestation of the historical weaknesses of our immigration processes and, in particular, how they have failed women. As my right hon. Friend knows, women asylum seekers are more likely to be individually targeted as victims of gender-based violence, forced marriage—sometimes to very powerful people—or rape as an instrument of war. Will my right hon. Friend please assure me that her reforms will provide a fairer and more effective assessment of such cases?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this is why we have to fix the system. We are currently not able to safeguard and protect those who absolutely need that help and support. The categories that the plan covers include women—women who have been treated abhorrently, quite frankly, in conflict zones, as well as those who have been trafficked and who have had had the most awful crimes undertaken against them. Some of these women are also used in modern-day slavery; how we protect victims of that is also a feature of the new immigration plan. My hon. Friend is absolutely right and we will definitely be looking at all of that.
Now that the Home Secretary is planning on deporting even more asylum seekers than previously, will she address the lack of transparency in the content and scope of the UK Government’s existing returns and readmission agreements, as well as those under negotiation? Will she give an undertaking to remedy that lack of clarity and to publish the agreements for scrutiny? Will she also confirm that it is not the Government’s intention to send people back to countries where there is a real risk that they will face torture or inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment?
I am always interested in the hon. and learned Lady’s comments, particularly in the light of the way in which she caucuses and campaigns against flight removals, for example, as we have seen previously when we have tried to remove foreign national offenders—some of the most murderous people, with awful criminal records—from our country. Of course I can guarantee that we will not be removing people to the parts of the world to which she has referred, but I would also say that we are clear on the removal processes that we have, the categories of individuals we remove, and the reasons why we remove them from the UK. They are predominantly those who have failed in their claims, but alongside them are many foreign national offenders, who simply should not remain in our country.
May I start by saying that I, along with the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, warmly welcome this new plan to fix our broken system? Currently, the UK is one of the only countries in Europe not to use scientific age assessment to determine a person’s age when they enter the country. I am sure many hon. Friends and Members from across this House will have heard the stories of fully grown adults coming to the UK but claiming asylum as children. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that this statement will solve a very serious safeguarding risk for our young people?
My hon. Friend raises such an important question. It is sobering, because over the years we have seen too many cases of adults posing as children. That is unscrupulous behaviour, and I say that because of the safeguarding risks that my hon. Friend highlights. He is right about the UK being one of the only countries; in Europe, they use scientific age assessment methods to determine a person’s age. Between 2016 and 2020, where age has been disputed and resolved 54% of the people involved were found to be adults, which presents a very serious safeguarding risk to our young people.
This Government have form for lack of compassion towards those who have fled horrors that we can only imagine, from abandoning the Dubs child refugee scheme to the broken system that is leaving asylum seekers in limbo for months, if not possibly years, and their having to go to food banks because even the minimal support they are entitled to often is not arriving. So how can my constituents have any faith in this Government and whether they have one iota of compassion?
As I have said, I am simply not going to take lectures about the lack of compassion from the hon. Lady or the Labour party at all. I have been abundantly clear about the reasons we have to tackle this system. She may be interested to know that there is not a single solution here; this is about end-to-end reform of the system. I know it might be an uncomfortable truth for her, but this does actually mean tackling the backlog of cases, tackling the people smugglers and stopping the criminal trade in human misery. I am only sorry that she cannot see that, because the way in which we demonstrate compassion is by fixing the system and supporting those who are in desperate need to come here.
I welcome the measures my right hon. Friend has laid out today, which will be warmly welcomed by my constituents, who just want to see a fairer system, both for people in genuine need and for UK taxpayers. The most obvious example of that unfairness is the exploitation of people who are paying human traffickers just to be pushed out into the channel in a dinghy, particularly when they are coming from a safe country. Will she confirm that these measures are intended to ensure that these crossings are no longer worth the risk and that she will be t increasing penalties available to law enforcement to be able to tackle people smugglers head on?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; as I have said in my statement, we need to break this trade. That is vital, because people are being used in such an appalling way and human misery is being created. I have outlined already the increases in sentences that we will be looking at—not only sentences for facilitators and people smugglers, but the new powers we will be looking to give Border Force.
Immigration is the most defining issue of a Government’s character: do they reach out to protect the most challenged people on earth or turn in on themselves? When a Government do not secure safe passage for people seeking asylum to come to the UK, criminal gangs will exploit them. Will the Home Secretary update the House on what steps she is taking to ensure that her policy is not just about building higher walls for people to climb over, but opening safer doors for people to walk through?
Our present asylum system is a complete joke. Every young man living in misery in a failed state knows that if he manages to reach our shores, the chances of his being deported are virtually zero. There is no point in introducing more and more penalties and laws unless we are prepared to deport people. Is the Home Secretary prepared to do what Prime Minister Abbott of Australia did? He ensured that all arrivals were put in a secure location and left there until their claims were assessed and then either deported or allowed to stay, and there are now no unsafe arrivals in Australia, no deaths and no criminal gangs. That policy works. Is the Home Secretary prepared to be really tough in order to be kind?
As I have outlined already for my right hon. Friend, this proposal is a long-term plan and it needs to be addressed in the component parts that I have outlined. For example, the legal system that we have here, which frustrates deportations and removals, is a very different system from the one in Australia. This is a fair but firm system because we have to be firm in terms of removing those that have exhausted all their rights and should not be here. This equally applies to foreign national offenders, which is part of the reason that I have outlined already in the new immigration plan.
The Home Secretary has spoken of efforts to strike agreements with countries outside Europe, with the intention of returning legitimate asylum seekers simply because of their method of arrival in the UK. It is likely that those countries will be the same ones that we will seek trade deals with in the post-Brexit environment, so will the Home Secretary tell us what discussions she has had with colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for International Trade about how those third-country agreements will impact on trade negotiations?
Let me assure the hon. Lady that this is not just a Home Office policy. This is a policy across Government. She will already have heard me speak about the Ministry of Justice and resetting the judicial framework, and we will work with the FCDO on removals. That is always something that we have done in the Home Office, and we will continue to work with them when it comes to our bilateral agreements on returns and removals.
Like the overwhelming majority of my North West Durham constituents, I want to see genuine refugees protected with safer legal routes so that we do not see people dying in the channel or in lorries, but my constituents also want to see the vultures—the people smugglers who peddle in human misery and the lawyers who spin out cases at the cost of hundreds of millions of pounds to the tax- payer every year—stopped. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this plan will help genuine refugees and also take on those who seek to abuse the current system?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When he looks at the new plan, he will see a chapter in the policy paper on the judicial reset that is required when it comes to the immigration tribunal, immigration bail and the appeals process. We will streamline that and we will also deal with the wasted costs that British taxpayers are paying for. We want to use that resource to ensure that the money is going to those who are in need and not just to those who are gaming the system.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. I agree that those seeking asylum must do so in the appropriate way and that those who smuggle illegal immigrants must face the full extent of the justice system. However, I have a concern over the role of children in these situations. A child has no say over whether they are brought over legally or illegally, so will the Home Secretary outline what special circumstances will be in place when it comes to children and minors, who are totally innocent of deceit or of trying to play the system?
The hon. Gentleman makes such an important point about vulnerability, and children in particular. We need to find the right way in which we can safeguard them, and that is exactly the work that we are going to undertake with partner agencies to look at bringing them not just from camps in Europe, because Europe is a safe continent, but in particular from those parts of the world where we are seeing the most appalling levels of conflict, instability and persecution.
I very much welcome the package of measures that my right hon. Friend has brought forward today, particularly the maximum life sentences for people smugglers. So that there can be no wriggle room in the justice system when these abhorrent criminals face justice, will she also look at introducing a very high minimum sentence so that the message goes out loud and clear that this is unacceptable and that those people will face the full force of the law in this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, because we have to have the right sanctions and deterrents in place so that these people smugglers’ model is broken up. Of course, that will be part of the consultation and I will absolutely work with my hon. Friend and others on the whole proposal.
It is shocking to see some of the overcrowded and squalid accommodation, including in military barracks, that is used to house asylum seekers. Safe accommodation for vulnerable people is critical in any compassionate and effective asylum system, but particularly in the middle of a pandemic. How does the Home Secretary plan, in her reforms, to improve the quality of housing for people seeking asylum?
The hon. Lady will absolutely know that in terms of the contingency accommodation that we have had to use because of the pandemic we have looked at all sorts of options. On accommodation going forward, we use dispersed accommodation, and I come back to the point about working with local authorities, which will be part of our discussions and consultations going forward. It is vital that we grow that footprint and I would be more than happy for the hon. Lady to work with us in coming up with alternative proposals on accommodation.
I warmly welcome the proposals announced today, as will, I know, my constituents and those of the other south- coast constituencies in particular. I especially welcome the distinction between those people who are wealthy enough to pay to be illegally smuggled into this country and those genuine refugees who go through the right processes.
On safe and legal routes, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the successor to Dublin will be at least as generous as Dublin in respect of the relatives it covers, and that the process will be much more speedy in getting people who are deemed to have a place in the UK here as soon as possible? Will she also consider a Dubs II scheme? The Dubs scheme was so successful in rescuing genuine endangered children from danger spots around the world—it worked so well.
I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further. We need to get this right in terms of safeguarding children, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Not only that, but we need to learn the lessons of previous schemes and look at how we can strengthen some of the aspects around resettlement, for example, that may not have been strong enough. I would be more than happy to have a conversation with my hon. Friend about it.
Instead of taking action to fix a broken and uncaring immigration system, the Government seem intent on abandoning their long-standing humanitarian obligations, including the 1951 UN refugee convention. Does the Home Secretary accept that the Government’s failure to improve the range of safe and legal routes to the UK will in fact push more people into the hands of people traffickers and increase the likelihood of tragedy in the English channel?
I am quite surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s statements and comments, bearing in mind that he has not even had a look at the plan itself—that is quite clear to see—because to do nothing is not an option, because people are dying. The proposals are in line with the refugee convention, within international law and within the ECHR, so I recommend that rather than shaking his head the hon. Gentleman reads the proposals and joins us in wanting to stop illegal people smuggling and to save lives.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s determination to prevent illegal crossings and tackle the scourge of people smuggling. Does she agree that there is no justifiable reason for migrants to cross the channel and put lives at risk when France remains a perfectly safe option for them?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is absolutely the point: France and other countries across the EU member states are safe countries. People are not fleeing persecution in those countries and they should and could claim asylum in those countries. That is effectively what we need to work harder to achieve.
In her statement, the Secretary of State said:
“We celebrate those who have come to the UK lawfully and have helped to build Britain.”
Will she assure us that while those people are awaiting the Home Office processing their claims, they are enabled to contribute to the economy of the United Kingdom by working and paying income tax and national insurance, rather than having to subsist on the meagre handouts that barely allow them to eat?
The hon. Lady will be well aware of the rules in place for asylum seekers currently in the UK. If I may say so, I remind the House that we are in a pandemic, so there are restrictions in terms of accommodation, movements and things of that nature. If the hon. Lady would like to be refreshed on those rules, I would be more than happy to drop her a line.
One of the most common things that I hear on the doorsteps in Carshalton and Wallington is frustration about an immigration and asylum system that simply does not work, so I know that people will warmly welcome the firm but fair plan set out by my right hon. Friend. Will she assure me that this plan will both tackle the criminal gangs that exploit vulnerable people and help to reduce the dangerous attempts to cross the channel in small boats, in favour of safe and legal routes?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know he has raised concerns about this issue in the past. We have to break up the criminal trade in human misery. We will continue to do everything possible through the reforms that we are proposing today, which will go to public consultation, and then we want to bring in new legislation to achieve the outcomes that we are outlining.
I have always believed that we have a duty to meet our international obligations in a fair, firm and humanitarian way, but the current system is failing on all three of those. It is important that we draw the distinction between legal migration, refugees, victims of people trafficking, and illegal immigration: they are all very different things. The Home Office has announced plans to introduce tougher age assessments. Can the Home Secretary confirm to the House that these new assessments will be sensitive to disabilities, trauma and medical needs, as well as being carried out with dignity and respect?
The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points about not just age assessments, but the categories of vulnerability that we are speaking about. We are launching a consultation today that he will be aware of, and it is absolutely right that we give all due consideration to the different needs of individuals, as well as the circumstances and the situations that they are fleeing.
Never before have we had a Home Secretary who has shown such determination to finally get a grip of our failed and broken asylum system, and she deserves immense credit for this statement. The residents of Blackpool are sick and tired of the delaying tactics used by left-wing human rights lawyers to prevent the lawful removal of failed asylum seekers. As a nation, we need to do far more to ensure that those who do not have a right to stay in the UK are deported. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the measures outlined today will help to achieve that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on this. This is a very significant part of the frustrations with the system, and in fact, far too many predecessors in the Home Office have spoken about this as well. The reforms that we are outlining will mean a reset of the judicial frame- work around not just illegal migration, but immigration: courts, bails, tribunals, and legal aid. We absolutely need to grip this and bring about changes that will give justice to individuals who need the protection and support that we want to give them.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement today, and for responding to questions from the 30 Members on the call list. We will now suspend for three minutes for the usual arrangements.