With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the tragic drownings that took place in the channel yesterday. At least 27 people lost their lives. I know the whole House will join me in expressing our profound sorrow. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have died, and with those who responded to that extremely distressing event.
Information is still being gathered about the situation in France as it becomes clearer. The Prime Minister chaired an emergency Cobra meeting last night and then spoke to the President of France. I am glad that President Macron indicated his determination to stop the vile people-smuggling gangs and, importantly, to work closely with all partners across Europe.
I have just spoken again with my French counterpart, Minister Darmanin. I once again reached out and made my offer very clear to France on joint France-UK co-operation and joint patrols to prevent these dangerous journeys from taking place. I have offered to work with France to put more officers on the ground and to do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats.
There is a global illegal migration crisis. I have stated many times that these journeys across the channel are absolutely unnecessary, but as I have been warning for two years, they are also lethally dangerous. What happened yesterday was a dreadful shock. It was not a surprise, but it is a reminder of how vulnerable people are put at peril when in the hands of criminal gangs.
There is no quick fix. This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo, and tackling supply chains. That requires a co-ordinated international effort, and I have been in constant contact with my counterparts from France, Poland, Austria, Belgium, Italy and Greece, to name just a few. Due to the nature of the crisis and the fact that there are 80 million displaced people in the world, this was a major theme of discussion at the meeting of G7 Interior Ministers back in September. We are also seeing it play out on several land borders in Europe and in the Mediterranean sea.
Given the chance, the traffickers will always find people to exploit and manipulate, some of whom do not even know they are coming to the UK. That means tackling issues upstream and not waiting until people have reached EU countries. I have always been extremely clear that I want to co-operate—and am co-operating—with international colleagues.
The United Kingdom has given its unflinching and generous support to France to end this terrible trade in people smuggling. We are working to end these crossings not because we do not care and we are heartless; the United Kingdom has a clear, generous and humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees. Yes, people should come here legally and the system must be fair, but the main issue is this: crossing the channel in small boats is extremely dangerous. Yesterday was the moment that many of us had feared for many years.
The criminals who facilitate these journeys are motivated by self-interest and profit, not by compassion. They threaten, intimidate, bully and assault the people who get into these boats, and they have an absolute disregard for human life. They use the money they make for other heinous crimes. We simply have to break their business model and, of course, bring them to justice.
The Government’s new plan for immigration, which will be put into law through the Nationality and Borders Bill, is a longer-term solution that will address many of these underlying factors to deter illegal migration and address underlying pull factors in the UK’s asylum system. It will bring in a range of measures, including a one-stop appeals process; the ability to process claims outside the country; the ability to have differentiation and declare inadmissible to our asylum system those who arrive in the UK having passed through safe countries; and life sentences for people smugglers. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and nobody needs to flee France in order to be safe.
However, we are not waiting until the Nationality and Borders Bill passes; we are undertaking a wide range of operational and diplomatic work. I have already approved maritime tactics, including boat turnarounds, for Border Force to deploy. The Government, the police and the National Crime Agency are taking action at every level to take down the people-smuggling gangs. Once again, however, we cannot do it alone.
We continue to work closely with the French to prevent crossings. More than 20,000 have been stopped this year—all Members should recognise the magnitude and the scale of the illegal migration crisis that we are seeing. We have dismantled 17 organised criminal groups and secured over 400 arrests and 65 convictions. But this crisis continues, clearly demonstrating that we need to do more, together.
This is a complicated issue and there is no simple fix. It means a herculean effort, and it will be impossible without close co-operation between all international partners and agencies. I urge colleagues to reconsider their opposition to the Nationality and Borders Bill, because it is an essential element in finding a long-term solution to a long-term problem that successive Governments have faced over decades.
As we mourn those who have died in the most horrendous of circumstances, I hope that the whole House can come together to send a clear message that crossing the channel in this lethal way—in a small boat—is not the way to come to our country. It is of course unnecessary, illegal and desperately unsafe. I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it.
Yesterday’s human tragedy in the channel was the most awful of reminders of the dangers of crossing the channel, and that people’s lives are at risk every day in these makeshift, flimsy small boats. It is a sobering moment for our country, for France and for the international community.
We understand that at least 27 people have died, with some reports that that includes seven women and three children. Across the House, we think of those lost and of their loved ones left behind. We think, too, of those who have been rescued and are receiving medical treatment, fighting for their lives. I pay tribute to all those involved in the joint French-British search-and-rescue operation in the air and on the sea—people putting themselves in danger to help others.
I understand that there have been arrests in France of those suspected of this vile crime of people smuggling. I appreciate very much the difficulties and sensitivities when there is an ongoing legal case, particularly in another jurisdiction, and I further appreciate that it is at a very early stage. However, I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could give the House an update on possible timings for the legal case and reassure the House that Britain will give all co-operation that is required by the prosecuting authorities in France. Will that full co-operation extend not only to this tragic case but to all ongoing prosecutions where we can make an intelligence contribution?
I have raised on a number of occasions the arrangements we have in place with the French authorities. Will the Home Secretary set out how many days a week the full existing surveillance capacity is currently operating? What will she do urgently to increase that surveillance?
I pay tribute to the National Crime Agency and our frontline law enforcement officers for the work that they do. I heard what the Home Secretary said about law enforcement co-operation, but will she also tell the House what she will do to deepen that intelligence and law enforcement co-operation with the French authorities, and indeed with other countries, so that the focus is not only on coastal patrols, important though they are, but on disrupting the routes facilitated, often across hundreds and thousands of miles, by vile people-smuggling gangs with reckless disregard for human life?
May I also press the Home Secretary on properly managed safe and legal routes? Let me ask specifically about the Dubs scheme, which was closed down, having helped only 480 unaccompanied children, rather than the 3,000 it was expected to help. Will that scheme be urgently reinstated?
The Government have also announced the Afghanistan resettlement scheme. We took the salute yesterday in New Palace Yard from our magnificent armed forces, who, together with Border Force and our diplomats, showed the very best of us as a country in their actions during Operation Pitting. However, the Government now need to set out how, practically, they will make good on their promise to help a total of 20,000 people. We are some months on, and we need an urgent update on that.
Then there is the UK resettlement scheme, which was announced in February this year. The Government have released the statistics on that today. They show that, in its first year, only 770 people have been helped by the scheme. Taken with the other schemes, only 1,171 people had been helped to the end of September, when the promise from the Home Office was to help 5,000 people in the scheme’s first year. What will be done to make good on that promise? What urgent action will be taken to help those most in need?
The Home Secretary mentioned the Nationality and Borders Bill, but she knows that the Opposition will not support a Bill that breaches the refugee convention and damages our standing around the world. Indeed, she has spoken today of a worldwide migration crisis. Will Ministers revisit their decision to cut the international aid budget, and lead on the international stage to help those fleeing persecution around the world?
Yesterday’s terrible tragedy must be a moment for change. The time for urgent action to save lives is now.
I would like to begin my remarks by echoing some of the comments that the right hon. Gentleman made, in particular the direct reference to our operational partners, who day in, day out do incredible work, which too often gets overlooked in this House.
On joint patrols—the right hon. Gentleman asked about surveillance capability—officers from Border Force and UK law enforcement are working in conjunction with the National Crime Agency and their French counterparts every day in some of the most appalling conditions. I refer right hon. and hon. Members to previous statements I have made in this House on loss of life, people smuggling and the wider reforms that the Government are bringing in. I have specifically mentioned the weaponising of illegal migration: the fact that women, children and even babies are being threatened and forced into the most appalling, unseaworthy vessels. Officers in France have been physically attacked and injured. Our Border Force patrols and officers deal with many harrowing scenes every single day, so on that point I very much support and commend the work our people do. It is difficult work.
I will come to the right hon. Gentleman’s other points, including the fact that there is a global migration crisis. This is not new—this is absolutely not new. Even in my days at the Department for International Development, humanitarian and climate crises led to forced displacement. We have seen many movements of people, through the Sahel, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, since 2013, 2014 and 2015, culminating in much vaster people movements, with the Afghanistan crisis and other points as well.
I will go through many of the points the right hon. Gentleman made. Surveillance capability is stood up every day and is dependent fundamentally on, for example, weather and whether planes and drones can fly. In fact, on Monday when I came to the House for questions and the urgent question, I spoke about how drones are now being used in France. Previously, drones were not being used in France, because its laws did not allow it. We have to recognise that our laws differ to those of our counterparts, including our French counterparts.
On intelligence co-operation, their laws are different to our laws, and their prosecution powers differ to our prosecution powers. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we continue to not just co-operate—co-operation is what we do day in, day out—but intensify our work, including how we share data and intelligence. In fact, our laws prevent some of that from happening, and we are looking at ways we can bolster and strengthen them. We have to think about what that means for data sharing.
The prosecutions that have taken place are very significant. Prosecution pathways in France differ to prosecution pathways in the United Kingdom. We share across different jurisdictions information about individuals who have been arrested, because of course laws are different and differ. I should add that gangs do not just operate on the continent in northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany; they also operate in the United Kingdom, and that is where our resources are absolutely focused and targeted. This issue is not just about UK-France co-operation. I want to put this on the record once again: this is not just a problem for the United Kingdom and France. When we look at Europe, from the gateway into Italy, Greece and now Poland—I spoke to my counterpart in Poland earlier this week, as well as to those in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and so on—we see that this is a widescale problem.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to address just three other points if I may. Resettlement is a fundamental pillar of this Government’s work. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned resettlement figures; I would just caveat much of those, due to the pandemic. He will respect and understand that travel movements have been restricted. Resettlement rights have been limited because of the pandemic, but we are committed and are working to resettle in the way that we have committed to do so. That links to the Afghanistan resettlement scheme, in addition to the 15,000 people evacuated under Operation Pitting. I have also publicly said that we can resettle only once we have the ability and the infrastructure to create resettlement pathways so that we do not just bring people here and let them lead an inadequate life. They need to rebuild their lives.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Dubs scheme. I have actually put an offer on the table, not for the first time, to the French Government today on a returns agreement, looking in particular at family reunion children. This is an offer I have made repeatedly to my counterpart in France. We are determined. Over the weekend, we will be pursuing further discussions. We have to have viable agreements that reflect the type of crisis we face on migration and the toughest circumstances we are now confronted with.
It is quite clear that this matter is not going to be ended at a stroke. The reality is that, even though we are no longer a part of the Dublin convention, the Dublin convention is completely broken. Across Europe, lots of countries are happy to see migrants travel across their country—as long as they do not stay—into somebody else’s jurisdiction. That has led to the problem we face now, with those electing to come to the UK ending up in France. Can the Home Secretary assure us today that she is putting the greatest pressure on the French Government to allow us to work with them in their territorial area, through patrol systems and ships, and/or members of the police or armed forces, to help them and support them? Does she agree that they should do that because it would help them as much as it would help us?
As ever, my right hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. He is absolutely right about the wider issues across EU member states, and we recognise that. I will be speaking to Commissioner Johansson later today—not for the first time; I have had previous discussions with her about this issue. I think there is a recognition now. It is absolutely tragic and appalling that it takes a tragedy of this nature for momentum to be galvanised across other countries on this issue. It should never take a crisis of this nature for action to come together. My right hon. Friend specifically asked me about putting pressure—as far as I see it, not just pressure, but direct offers on the table—on France about joint patrols, whether in territorial seas or on territory itself. This has been a constant offer, it really has. I made that offer yesterday and to my counterpart in the last hour.
This is a devastating tragedy and our thoughts are with those who have lost their lives, together with their friends and families.
I am grateful for advance sight of the statement, and I agree that greater co-operation to tackle the dreadful, criminal, people-smuggling gangs is required. However, this awful event should also signal a massive shift in approach towards the provision of safe legal routes to the UK, not doubling down on criminalising those who are the victims, if they get here, with up to four years in prison.
The Government’s refugee family reunion rules are among the most restrictive in Europe. The Dubs scheme was closed and Brexit means that the so-called Dublin family reunion applications are no longer possible. Resettlement schemes are in limbo. The Nationality and Borders Bill will restrict family reunion rights even further, meaning that more people will feel compelled to make dangerous journeys to join loved ones. The reality is that offshoring is a disgrace. Will the Home Secretary publish the economic impact assessment for the Bill, which presumably confirms that it will waste billions of pounds and not work? Instead of blocking and closing down safe routes, we should be expanding them.
My question is quite simple: will the right hon. Lady commit to ending all discussion of the UK using dangerous and life-threatening push-back tactics in the channel? The Prime Minister said yesterday that all options were on the table in addressing this crisis. Will she confirm that they include looking at the one measure that would make an immediate difference, allowing refugees and asylum seekers to make their initial application from outside the UK, rather than forcing people to physically travel here to begin their applications?
I have to say that I am very disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s tone and comments, and by his inability to understand what is taking place or the issues and challenges of global illegal migration. First, if the hon. Gentleman thinks there is a simple solution, I will restate for him that there is no simple solution. If he thinks that settlement schemes that have existed previously are the answer, I can tell him that they are not. If he has bothered to read the Nationality and Borders Bill, he should also look at the new plan for immigration and, importantly, at some of the wider reforms that are required to our asylum system, so that it becomes fit for purpose and meets the needs of people who are claiming asylum, and so that we have a differentiated approach to stop economic migrants masquerading as asylum seekers and elbowing women and children who need help and support out of the way. That is effectively what is happening right now.
This is about safe and legal routes—absolutely. If the hon. Gentleman has joined in previous debates, previous statements and questions—I am not sure whether he was in the House on Monday—he will have heard me say, not just on Monday but when I launched the new plan for immigration back in February, that the very purpose of safe and legal routes is to create the right kind of resettlement paths for people who are fleeing persecution and oppression in countries for a whole host of reasons. The world is changing and there is a great deal of instability out there. In doing so, we will create a legal path for them to make their claim from outside the United Kingdom, so that they will not have to come here to do so, and we will ensure that when they come here, they are supported in the right way in terms of accommodation and resettlement so that they can start their new life in the United Kingdom. That is exactly how safe and legal routes should work. That is why I am working with the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other partners on that.
It is such a shame actually, that once again, the Scottish National party, which has failed to support asylum seekers in its own local authorities—31 out of 32 local authorities have not even—[Interruption.] SNP Members might sit there and yell, “Shame!” at me, but 31 out of 32 of its local authorities do not participate in the voluntary dispersal scheme for housing and asylum seekers. There is an inconsistency in their approach. I absolutely agree about the need for safe and legal routes. This Government will do that properly. We recognise the type of instability, uncertainty, persecution and oppression experienced by people who need and should be claiming asylum in our country, but who are currently not getting it, and we will change that.
I think the whole House knows that my right hon. Friend has strained every sinew since her first day in post to prevent the sorts of tragedies that we saw in the last 24 hours. My right hon. Friend is right to point to the pan-European nature of this problem. Frontex, for example, has quadrupled its expenditure on surveillance alone in the Mediterranean in the past year. She has accurately pointed to her ongoing co-operation with the French as central. Will she tell the House what additional measures she has offered the French in order to crack down on these evil gangs and to cut down this deadly trade?
My right hon. Friend makes some very important points. On the role of Frontex, it has accelerated surveillance and border patrols, and it is even supporting activity in the Mediterranean to stop boats entering territorial waters illegally—I have seen those patrols. It is a complete myth and fallacy to say that we should not look at all options. We are doing so and will continue to do so.
In terms of the measures that have been offered to France, I have asked it today for an honest assessment of its numbers on the beaches, whether or not there are gaps, if more officers are needed and for a realistic assessment of the number of migrants that are coming through from Belgium, in particular. Minister Darmanin specifically mentioned the pressures from that border and that the boat that led to the fatalities yesterday came from Dunkirk, so clearly there are more flows there. But this is absolutely about more police officers, more intelligence co-operation and more on technology. We have put forward a very significant technology offer that includes enhanced surveillance and automatic number plate recognition on the roads coming up to the beaches. We have also offered to put in more officers—unwarranted, because they will not take warranted officers. These are the things that I will be working through specifically, because the status quo cannot persist. There is a full understanding of that on the French side.
We absolutely are a Government that are incredibly propositional to France, in particular. We have to find joint solutions. If that means doing more with France and persuading it to take on more support, we will absolutely strain every sinew to do so.
Our hearts go out to all those affected by yesterday’s terrible tragedy. There was already deep concern in my constituency about the Government’s approach to protecting men, women and children seeking refuge in the UK. I also have many constituents with family members who are in fear of their lives and are seeking to escape Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. A new resettlement pathway for vulnerable Afghans was announced in August, but three months later, we still do not know when the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme will be operational or how those who are outside the UK will be able to access it. Can the Home Secretary tell us that today?
The hon. Lady makes very important points about the Afghan resettlement scheme. It was announced in August at a time of great crisis, with Op Pitting taking place at the time. The Minister for Afghan Resettlement will update colleagues on this in due course. I would like to emphasise, however, that, under Op Pitting, we evacuated 15,000 people. We are still in the process of trying to resettle them. In terms of resettling more people from Afghanistan, I know that cases are coming through. This goes across Government and involves the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence—there are still Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy cases being followed through with the MOD. We are trying to make sure that we can bring people forward and, when we do, that we can get them settled, rather than, sadly, as we have seen—we are very up-front about this—putting them in hotels, in inadequate accommodation, when we need them in the community.
What an appalling and entirely foreseeable tragedy. Does the Home Secretary agree that we cannot wait on her excellent Bill? We cannot wait on the French co-operating and taking these poor people back, as they should. We have to act now in a national emergency to save lives. There are only two countries in the world that have solved this problem: Australia, which has an offshore processing centre, and Greece, which does push-back. We have to be tough. We have to face down the human rights lawyers. If Governments are weak, people die.
I echo my right hon. Friend’s frustration fully. In terms of toughness, I have been very clear—I know that this does upset some right hon. and hon. Members—that I have not ruled anything out. I put every option on the table, not just with France, by the way, but with other counterparts. For push-backs, Greece uses special forces, their military, the Hellenic coastguard and Frontex, just for the record—as I said, I have seen that. It also has a programme of reception centres. As my right hon. Friend will know, that is part of the new plan for immigration in terms of how we have differentiation, deal with the reform of the asylum system and make progress on casework.
The fact is that there is no one-silver-bullet solution to this. I know that my right hon. Friend and my colleagues understand that. That is why the new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill are important. All colleagues will hear shortly about the Bill coming back on Report and its next stages. It is an important piece of legislation because it will set the direction of travel. Importantly, it will give the Government more powers to be much firmer and end many of the pull factors that have existed for too long and have actually helped to facilitate and encourage illegal migration.
Does the Home Secretary accept that the only reason that people traffickers and gangs can operate is the absolute desperation of people across Europe and indeed, across the world? Instead of concentrating on more frontiers, more barbed wire, more surveillance and so on—not just in this country, but all across Europe—we should be looking at the causes of asylum in the first place: the environmental disasters, the wars, the abuse of human rights, the poverty. What are we doing to ensure that the European and UN conventions are adhered to and upheld? Those asylum seekers are desperate people trying to survive in this world. Pushing them back is not a solution; it is brutality that will go down in history as the brutal treatment of desperate people at a desperate time.
First and foremost, there is a great deal of work. I should emphasise that the right hon. Gentleman’s comments are presented in a light that is actually quite unfair and unreflective of the work that takes place across Government with multilateral organisations and the global situation. Humanitarian crises lead to displacement and climate crisis leads to displacement—that is a fact of life. None of this is new; it has existed for decades and decades. That is why the international community comes together, whether that is in convening power through the European Union, through the UN or through multilateral systems. That is exactly how it works.
The reality is that it is not the case that everyone who has come to this country illegally, whether on the back of a lorry or in a small boat, historically, is an asylum seeker. When they have their rights exhausted and we try to remove them, there are many barriers to removal. That is effectively what the Nationality and Borders Bill will address; I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to support the Bill.
Migrants are not just in the hands of people smugglers. They are travelling through safe countries where there are functioning asylum seeking systems and where they could claim asylum. That is something that all international partners should support and work to achieve.
Did not Lilian Greenwood put her finger on the problem when she referred to Afghanistan, where there are many legitimate asylum seekers who deserve to come here? Is not the problem that if we have the fairest asylum seeking system in the world, a queue will form and that there will always be some people who are not prepared to queue, but want to jump to the head of the queue? Therefore, is not the only way to deter that to show, not that they will not get across the channel or that getting across the channel is terribly dangerous, but that if they do get across the channel and if they have jumped the queue, they will be returned to another country? How can the Home Secretary secure that?
I think I have spoken in this House a few times about bilateral returns agreements and the difficulties with getting them. I state again for the record that I have today put on the table another offer to my French counterpart, Minister Darmanin, that I am very happy to discuss returns agreements with him in the usual sense, but also to look at family reunions and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We do not want children—kids—and family members in the hands of traffickers. Having established routes and working with our partners to establish returns agreements is absolutely the right thing to do.
I have stated many times with regard to EU countries that the matter sits with the Commission; it is a Commission competence. There is a great deal of frustration among EU member states about the issue, which is why I continue to pursue my discussions with the European Commissioner for Home Affairs.
I hope that the Home Secretary can confirm that there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. Seeking asylum is a human right. When she says that people should seek asylum in the first safe country that they come to, I hope that she will confirm that that is an aspect of the Government’s hostile environment policy, not a legal or treaty requirement under any international obligation.
On top of all that, at what point can the UK ever be the first safe country, given that this island is surrounded by water? What are the routes by which the United Kingdom could be the first safe country in which a displaced asylum seeker arrived?
The hon. Gentleman misses a fundamental point about the asylum system and the whole issue of people who come to the country who are not genuine asylum seekers—who are masquerading as asylum seekers.
We do know it, actually. There are many cases.
There also has to be a recognition—this shows how detached the hon. Gentleman is from the real world—that we cannot have a policy that we can accommodate everyone. Let me play back a bit of EU rhetoric and language to him with the concept of burden share, which is why we seek to work with our counterparts, co-operate with other countries and continue to work in a constructive manner on returns agreements. We also seek to change our laws so that individuals are not constantly using the appeals process and the UK legal aid system to frustrate the Government’s ability to remove people from our country who have no legal basis to stay.
I really think that the hon. Gentleman misses the point, particularly at a time when we know that there is a major global migration crisis. We have to find collective solutions to the problem, not just take the ideological approach that he is taking.
Yesterday was a very sad day. All of us will have been moved after seeing the reports. As I put my children to bed yesterday, I just thought about the conditions that that poor child went through.
We cannot allow the situation to be exploited by those who are pushing the anti-immigration agenda. I welcome the Home Secretary saying that she will look at all options and that she is having operational and diplomatic discussions to bring down the people smugglers. I also welcome her comment about looking at safe routes, but will she please look at another option: providing a humanitarian visa scheme, so that people do not have to get on these boats? They are seeking safety and refuge for their family. That is another option that the Home Secretary could look at.
There are lots of options that we could all look at, but we need the legal frameworks as well. That is why I am bringing forward the Nationality and Borders Bill.
The tragedy in the channel draws into sharp focus an issue on which we have no doubt about the Home Secretary’s determined intentions. They are illustrated by her borders Bill, which will go some way towards fixing a broken asylum system that is gamed by traffickers, economic migrants and rights lawyers. She needs to go further, however. That is why the Common Sense Group of MPs has written to her saying that we need to disrupt the criminal gangs, process claims offshore and turn boats around in the channel, as the law allows us to do. People who voted to take back control have every right to ask the question: “If you cannot protect the integrity of the borders, what can you control?”
My right hon. Friend will know what is in the Bill. He mentions offshoring and third countries; all those options are under consideration, and our new plan for immigration covers those areas. He is absolutely right in his principal point, which is why we are determined. We will not cease after the measures that we have already announced, but look to augment and enhance some of them. With the state of crisis that we are seeing, with global migration issues right now and with the appalling loss of life that we have seen, it is incumbent on everyone—Governments, law enforcement, border controls and all the various agencies—to come together to stop the awful trade of human trafficking.
I thank the Home Secretary for the content and tone with which she delivered her statement. Does she agree that in dealing with these criminal gangs of people smugglers, we are dealing in every sense with the modern equivalent of the slave traders of yore? Will she ensure that the full force and diligence of the intelligence services and security services, working with their counterparts in friendly states, are brought together to address this terrible challenge?
To prevent further such tragedies as we saw yesterday, can my right hon. Friend see any reason to object to processing asylum claims at all British embassies, so that those who have a successful claim, who are the significant majority of those arriving by boat, can come here in a legal and humane way once asylum has been granted, rather than risking their lives just for the chance to file paperwork in the first place?
My right hon. Friend makes important and valid points. First and foremost, I agree that we are seeing a modern-day slave trade—there is no question about that. That is why, as he says, we are using the full force of our intelligence, security and law enforcement partners and agencies, not just in the UK or in France, but upstream. He will be very familiar with the footprint that the Government have, particularly in other countries upstream and in places such as Africa, where there is a great deal of work to stop the smuggling of people and the human trafficking that have taken place.
Processing outside the United Kingdom is very much part of the process that we are looking at: having safe and legal routes, but also creating the right kind of parameters and working with many of the humanitarian aid agencies that my right hon. Friend will be familiar with, which have led many of the safe and legal routes and resettlement schemes around the world.
May I add my voice to those who have sent their condolences to the families and loved ones of those who died in this unspeakable tragedy?
Last night, I tuned into the BBC 10 o’clock news to get the latest on this terrible disaster. I was absolutely appalled when a presenter informed me that around 30 “migrants” had drowned. Migrants do not drown; people drown. Men, women and children drown. Will the Secretary of State join me in asking the BBC news editorial team and any other news outlet thinking of using that term to reflect on their use of such dehumanising language and afford these poor people the respect that they deserve?
The hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable point about the language that is being used. We see a lot and we hear a lot, and even during the Afghanistan operations, such as Operation Pitting, I heard a great deal of what seemed to me to be inappropriate language about people who were fleeing. So yes, I will do that.
I think that people in Wycombe would expect the Government to act with absolute resolve to get a grip on this problem, and also with compassion to save lives and look after people. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that that is her policy—to look after people, but to get a grip on the problem?
I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend, but I think that the approach we are taking is more than “grip”. We have just been speaking about language, and “grip” is quite a simplistic word given the complexity of this issue. It is a very complicated issue, and it requires action in a plethora of areas. Humanity and decency are crucial, however, and while I will not labour the point, this brings us back to the question of how people are treated when they come to our country, how we accommodate them and how we support them. This is what we want to change with the Nationality and Borders Bill, because we can do things better. Our system is broken, and it is incumbent on us to apply a range of skills, experience and knowledge to provide a better system.
It is truly heartbreaking to think of the lives, the hopes and the talents extinguished by the sea in that journey to our shores—a journey that the Home Secretary has characterised as unnecessary. Let me gently say to her that the men, women and children who got into that boat clearly did not think it was unnecessary, and we see more boats arriving today. Will she acknowledge that her policies are not working, that vulnerable people are paying the price, and that what we need are the safe, secure and fair routes into this country that she has failed to put in place?
I support my right hon. Friend’s pursuit of all long-term options—including offshore processing, which I think will play an important part—but does she accept that in the short term we will see more such tragedies unless we can agree a strategy with the French? It is in the gift of the President of France to bring this to an end now. That will require more action by the French, but it must be in our mutual interests, because the more people cross the channel, the more people will come to France.
My hon. right Friend is absolutely right, hence the discussions that took place between the Prime Minister and President Macron last night. We have been assiduous and forthright in making these points to our counterparts in France over the past two years. Members have heard about the offers that we presented to President Macron, the Interior Minister and the whole machinery of the French Government. We urge them to take up those offers. They may not be perfect, but that is not the point. We need to deploy every single tool that we have to save lives and to prevent the loss of life, and that is effectively what this is now about.
This is absolutely tragic: 27 people, including children and a pregnant woman, desperate for a safe future, were killed while being exploited. It is nothing short of murder.
Two years ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that closing down safe routes drives people into the hands of people smugglers. Will the Home Secretary immediately withdraw her dangerous Nationality and Borders Bill, which does just that, and put in place safe routes of passage to avoid more tragedies?
At the end of her statement, my right hon. Friend said that crossing the channel in a small boat was illegal. Would that it were, but it is not illegal, as was confirmed by the Crown Prosecution Service on
On Monday I shared with the Home Secretary my concern about the French authorities potentially turning a blind eye to activities on the northern coast of France that were putting some of the most vulnerable people at risk. Sadly, this tragedy emerged yesterday. It is encouraging that five people were arrested overnight, but those five people were active yesterday, last week, last month and probably last year. I appreciate that diplomacy is required, but may I urge my right hon. Friend to make every effort to bring together the responses to this new-found urgency, and to work across Government and across authorities to ensure that all possible action is taken to combat the actions of these people smugglers?
My right hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely correct. Arrests have been made. It is not for me to comment in detail on the type of arrests or the type of work that is taking place, but I can assure my right hon. Friend and the House that, certainly for the last few years, the level of intelligence-sharing, both in the UK and in France and beyond—for we go much further than France when it comes to intelligence-sharing—has been pivotal to arrests, convictions and smashing up gangs. A great deal of outstanding work has been done. I may have alluded on Monday to a very big case in which an Albanian criminal was prosecuted. Such outcomes are not always reported, but collectively there have been some very significant arrests and prosecutions.
I believe that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has written to the Home Secretary seeking an urgent meeting regarding her recent attacks on Scottish councils and their responsibilities to asylum seekers. I urge her to take up that offer, so that a few home truths about the situation can be relayed to her. Does she agree that now is also the time, in the face of an appalling tragedy, to stop referring to this as simply a French or a UK issue and instead to address it as an international or global issue? Does she also agree that it is vital for disputes over Northern Ireland and fishing to be treated entirely separately from working together to find a joint solution?
I take issue with the hon. Lady’s comments. Let me say first that the Immigration Minister met representatives of COSLA on Monday and these issues did not arise. Secondly, I have never said that migration is a UK-France issue; I have always said that it is a global issue. It is no use pointing to my colleagues; the hon. Lady was putting the question directly to me. I have always maintained that this is a global crisis, and I have always been proactive in speaking to my counterparts in EU member states and other countries. I have even hosted meetings with them. I think that that context is equally important.
This is the most awful tragedy, and I want to add my condolences to all who have been affected by it. However, it is surely right to point out that the Home Office has failed to get a grip on this issue for far too long. In a week when the Home Affairs Committee has recommended that the Windrush compensation scheme should be removed from the Home Office because of issues of competency, is it not time that this matter was also removed from the Home Office and given to the Cabinet Office, and is it not time for a cross-Government response?
While we do not know the details or nationalities of those who sadly lost their lives in the channel yesterday, we do know that very large numbers of people who are refugees from the oppressive, brutal regime in Iran are desperately seeking to cross the channel to come to this country. Will my right hon. Friend consider the example set by the Albanian Government, who moved, satisfactorily, Camp Liberty from Iran into Camp Ashraf? That is a model for how to treat people who are refugees in a country as close as possible to the Iranian border. Perhaps we can somehow set up camps and other opportunities for people fleeing from those regimes rather than their being forced to make this perilous journey.
My hon. Friend makes a highly relevant and important point. In terms of global migration crises, we need only to think back to not that long ago, in 2014-15, when our internationally supported policy and approach to the Syrian crisis was to keep people within the region, where we worked with—and are still working with—counterparts and colleagues in Jordan and neighbouring countries in the region. A great deal of work took place there. The sadness of all this is that it took a migration crisis and the tragedy of the loss of life for the international community to convene, coalesce and come together in that way. All I can say right now is that the British Government and I are working night and day to bring partners together to recognise that no one country can solve this on its own. That is why we need stronger co-operation across the board so that we can address these issues together.
The people of east Kent are horrified and deeply upset by what the Chief Rabbi this morning called an “unspeakable tragedy” happening on our shores. We should be ashamed, too, that among the dead was a soldier who had served alongside British armed forces personnel and who reportedly felt unable to wait any longer for help to come here. I think the Home Secretary would agree that he was not an illegal migrant. Will the Government please act not simply to repel those human beings desperate enough to risk this incredibly dangerous crossing but to immediately open the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and safe family reunion routes to prevent more deaths?
We have seen, with Afghanistan and Hong Kong, that the British people consistently react with incredible generosity of spirit towards people who are fleeing persecution, oppression and conflict. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the safe and legal routes to which she has referred consistently and which are central and integral to the Nationality and Borders Bill are vital and that they have to be the only viable route into the UK, not only to preserve life but to retain the support of the British public and the integrity of our asylum system, which is what we all want to see?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; that is spot on. In the changes that the Government have brought in, we are very clear about the legal routes and also about the issues. We are open and honest about the fact that for 20 years our asylum system has remained in aspic. It has not been touched or reformed, and it needs reforming. With that, we have set up resettlement routes, including those for Hong Kongers and BNOs. Look at the way that scheme has worked—it has been phenomenal, and it is incredibly moving to see how people have been resettled across the United Kingdom. The same applies to Afghanistan, and there are many other schemes including those for Syrian refugees. We need to build on those successes and do the right thing for people who are fleeing persecution. This is about a bond of trust with the British public. They are warm and generous and we need to deliver for them, but we cannot be walked all over by other countries that are not stepping up and taking responsibility. That is why we have to continue the co-operation with all our neighbours.
I thank the Secretary of State for her commitment to finding a solution for this, and it is clear that she is doing just that. My heart aches at the lost lives that have become a reality today, and on behalf of my party, the Democratic Unionist party, I convey my sincere sympathies to all those who grieve for the loved ones they have lost. Will the Minister consider utilising private patrol companies offering services with boats ready and equipped to help patrol the sea, such as one called Osiris Marine Solutions that has emailed me to highlight its facilities? Is there a role for private enterprise in helping in the fight against these dangerous crossings?
The answer is yes, there is a role. The Home Office has been tasked to look at private sector companies and support. In fact, I put the offer on the table to my French counterpart this morning, not for the first time, to have other contractors join the collective effort.
Against the background of British troops being sent to Poland to help to secure the border with Belarus, can the Home Secretary confirm and clarify the basis of her broad and generous offer to the French? Has she offered Border Force cutters to work close to shore off the French coast in conjunction with the French, and has she offered the deployment of British troops and UK police, if necessary under French command, to operate on French beaches?
First, may I commend the Home Secretary on her robust response to the Scottish National party? The London Borough of Hillingdon is currently buckling under the strain of looking after around 10% of all the refugees in the whole country, including large numbers who have been bussed up from Dover. Almost none of those people have a route to Scotland. Recognising the importance of safe and legal routes and the comments made by the French Foreign Minister about some of the pull factors in the UK, will my right hon. Friend consider what steps could be taken to remove the grant of asylum from those whose claim is subsequently shown to have been bogus?
I would like to put on record my thanks to the London Borough of Hillingdon and to many other local authorities across the country, although they are predominantly in London. London is feeling the pressure in terms of accommodation, hotels and housing. My hon. Friend is right in his suggestions for solutions and working together. This is exactly why we are looking to reform the system through the Nationality and Borders Bill. We have to have that differentiation.
Lives are tragically being lost in the channel, and the British people want the gangs to be smashed, the crossings to be stopped and people to be processed in the nearest country. Again and again, the Opposition have voted against our measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill to cut down on human trafficking via small boats, and the shadow Home Secretary has called our proposals “unconscionable”. In my area, the local Labour party and the Lib Dems—none of whom I see here today—are even campaigning against an immigration removal centre for foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers. Does the Home Secretary agree that Labour’s failure to support the necessary legislation shows that, when the chips are down, they are not only failing to understand the views of the British people but, tragically, failing to protect those being exploited by criminal gangs whose callous and criminal behaviour means that people are being left to die in the channel?
My hon. Friend makes some important points. We have removal centres for very good and strong reasons. They are for people with no legal right to remain in our country, and we have to put them in the removal centres as part of the process to move them on. The fundamental point here is the reforms that we are trying to bring in, which are being thwarted by the Opposition. By preventing these changes and reforms, they are playing into the hands of the people smugglers and those who are being put into the hands of the traffickers.
And finally, the price for patience and perseverance goes to Duncan Baker.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That will teach me to be last in.
The situation yesterday was an absolute tragedy, but the Home Secretary has made it absolutely clear that there is no single silver bullet to fix the problem. Does she agree that there are, broadly, three huge areas to cover? The first is international co-operation, which has to be there if we are to work with other countries. Secondly, domestic legislation has to be put in place, which is what we are doing through the Nationality and Borders Bill, to fix our borders and the broken asylum system. Lastly, we need the toughest possible measures and surveillance to crack down on the criminality of those gangs that are aiding and abetting the situation every day.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his comments. He has summed up the totality of the challenge that confronts us all. It has existed for a long time, and that is exactly why we are attempting to fix the broken system by tackling the issue of the gangs at source, by going upstream, by using intelligence, by fixing the system here in the United Kingdom and of course by our continued work with our counterparts around the world.