With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 4, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (f) in lieu.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 6, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 7, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 8, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 52, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 11, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 12, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 13, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 14, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 15, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 16, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 17, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 18, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 19, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 20, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 54, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 2, 3, 43 to 51 and 21.
Mr Speaker, may I begin by joining in, on behalf of the Home Office, your tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life five years ago today? All of us who were in the House will never forget that day. It was an enormous tragedy; he died in the line of service, protecting our democracy and the people in this place. We will be forever grateful to him and his family, and our thoughts are very much with them today, and with everybody caught up in that terrible tragedy on Westminster bridge.
This country has a long and proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need. The British people are generous and compassionate, and we only have to look around us to see that compassion in action right now. I think I speak for the whole House in thanking everyone stepping up to support people fleeing the conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
This Bill is about delivering a long-term solution to the long-term problems that have beset the asylum system over decades. It has three central objectives: to make the system fairer and more effective so we can better protect and support those in genuine need; to deter illegal entry, breaking the business model of evil criminal trafficking; and to make it easier to remove those with no right to be here.
The reforms we are introducing through this Bill have been debated at length both in this House and the other place, and I want to put on record my thanks to all Members for the rigour with which they have scrutinised the measures we have proposed. I also want to say that as the Bill has progressed through Parliament, this Government have been listening carefully to the questions and concerns raised not only by Members but by the many organisations, communities and individuals who have been carefully following its progress.
We have amended the Bill to clarify that new measures to tackle people smugglers will not criminalise those acting under the direction of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. We have also introduced an amendment to resolve the lawful residence issue that has troubled many individuals with indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme and who wish to naturalise but have not previously held comprehensive sickness insurance.
In response to the appalling situation in Ukraine, we have added new powers to enable us to impose visa penalties on countries posing a threat to international peace and security or whose actions lead, or are likely to lead, to armed conflict or a breach of humanitarian law. We have also announced an expansion of the Hong Kong British national overseas route, which will enable individuals aged 18 or over who were born on or after
Before going further, I would like to say something more about the situation in Ukraine, in particular the calls we have heard in respect of unaccompanied children. We of course recognise the deeply troubling circumstances faced by all Ukrainians who are caught up in this conflict, and we of course acknowledge calls for support to Ukrainian orphans and unaccompanied children. However, the UK cannot act unilaterally on such matters, and the views of affected Governments must be taken into account. The Ukrainian Government have been clear that children must not be taken into care without the prior agreement of their authorities; we cannot simply transfer unaccompanied minors to the UK without first securing their authorisation. It may be in the best interests of many children to remain in the region given that it is common for those labelled as orphans by the media who are in the Ukrainian care system to have living parents, and ultimately their Government, whom they are not fleeing, should have the final say on these matters.
We are working urgently, however, with the authorities in Ukraine and Poland to secure the final agreements needed to bring to the UK a group of over 50 Ukrainian children, known as the Dnipro kids, who have escaped the brutal war and are currently in Poland. I recognise that many Members are following that issue closely and have a keen interest in it, and Home Office Ministers will keep the House updated. This is a complex case, and it is absolutely right that we wait for the appropriate checks and written permissions before bringing these children to the UK. The Home Secretary and her counterparts in the Ukrainian, Polish and Scottish Governments are united in their determination to ensure these children get the right support and the care they need.
However, I remind the House that our Ukraine family scheme also provides an immediate pathway for those Ukrainians, including unaccompanied children subject to safeguarding checks, with family already settled in the UK to come to our country. We would expect most children to apply in family groups, such as a parent with a child, but I can assure colleagues that this scheme is designed to allow as many people as possible to come to the UK and to give them immediate access to the support they need. We must do nothing less.
Returning to the Bill, Members will have seen that many amendments were proposed and agreed to during its passage through the other place, including some proposed by the Government. The Government have carefully considered each of the non-Government amendments, and I would like to explain what we have concluded and why. But before doing so, I would like to offer an apology to the House for the late publication of the updated explanatory notes. Manuscript copies of the updated notes have been distributed, but I accept that they should have been published online on Friday, and I am sorry that this did not happen—for that discourtesy I genuinely am apologetic, Mr Speaker.
On amendment 1, relating to access to British overseas territories citizenship and British citizenship for Chagossians, I again place on record my sympathy with the Chagossians for how they were treated in the 1960s and 1970s. I also want to place on record my admiration for the way in which Members from across the House have championed their cause, in particular my hon. Friend Henry Smith, who has been a consistent and tireless advocate on this issue for many years; he has run an exceptional campaign. We have listened carefully to the concerns raised in both Houses and in the Chagossian community on the difficulties faced by Chagossians in accessing British nationality. These difficulties have arisen from the unique historical treatment of those who were removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1960s and 1970s and the limited recognition of those circumstances in British nationality law. Given that, the Government have concluded it would be appropriate to take action in this Bill, consistent with our other measures designed to correct historical unfairness in nationality law, and will put forward an amendment as such. This will mean there is a new route to British nationality for direct descendants of the Chagossians removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory. In doing that, we are satisfied that the Chagossian diaspora is unique and we are not setting a precedent that would undermine the general principles governing the acquisition of British citizenship by descent. Further details will follow in due course, and I want again to say a huge “Well done and congratulations” to my hon. Friend for helping us to bring about this important change.
This is, I think, at least one small point of agreement, but can the Minister explain why the amendment passed in the House of Lords is not acceptable in that form to the Government, and in particular whether the provision in the amendment that no charge will be made for Chagossians applying for citizenship will be retained somehow?
The direct answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we judged that the amendment tabled in the House of Lords is technically deficient. I can confirm, however, that this route is free and there will be no good character requirement associated with it. We think the way this is presented in response to the Lords amendment is the correct way to progress and that it recognises the broad agreement for this, delivering on precisely what this House and the other place wish to see. I think we can all come together and be very pleased about that.
Amendment 4 removes the clause from the Bill that contains our proposals regarding notification requirements for those who are subject to a deprivation of citizenship decision. Deprivation is necessary to protect the public from those seeking to do serious harm, such as terrorists, or those who acquired their citizenship by fraudulent means. I again emphasise that the underlying deprivation of citizenship power is a century old, is only used in a small number of cases, is never used to target people because of their ethnic or religious background, and always comes with a right of appeal. The changes we want to make do not change any of that. This measure is simply about how we notify someone of the intention to remove their citizenship. It is necessary in order to ensure that we are able to use this power where we cannot contact a person; for example, because they are in a warzone. When contact is made, that person will be able to appeal the deprivation decision as usual.
We have considered very carefully amendments to the deprivation of citizenship clause tabled by Lord Anderson of Ipswich and agreed to in the other place. Lord Anderson’s amendments provide more clarity on the reasons for not giving notice of a deprivation decision, as well as introducing a degree of judicial oversight of the decision not to give notice. We are content that the original intention of the clause is not altered by these amendments, and we are satisfied that the amendments will enable us to protect the rights of the individual while delivering on our security objectives.
I thank the Minister for taking the time to meet me and other colleagues with large ethnic minority communities in their constituencies, such as the Pakistani Kashmiri community that I am proud to have in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, and for giving that clarification and accepting the Lords amendments. They will help to ensure that it is made clear to people in that community that they should not fear, despite some of the misinformation produced by certain Members of the House outside the Chamber.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and for the engagement I have had with him on these matters throughout the passage of the Bill. I genuinely hope that the amendments in lieu we propose today, which draw on the sensible and reasonable suggestions made by Lord Anderson in the other place, will help to provide reassurance about oversight and the nature of the mechanisms. The way in which some individuals have sought to present the issue in the public narrative is regrettable, but I hope that people will recognise that it is about protecting the British people from high-harm individuals, some of whom are in a war zone and have no regard whatsoever for the harm that they would cause on the streets of our country. We are exceptionally mindful of that. The first responsibility of any British Government is to keep the British people safe. The amendments will help us to do just that.
I entirely support what the Minister is saying. Does he agree that citizenship of this country not only accrues rights but demands responsibilities? When people shy away from those responsibilities and ally themselves with a cultural value set so alien to ours that we cannot even recognise it, that must have consequences.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s assessment that citizenship of this country comes with rights and responsibilities, and with recognition and acceptance of important constitutional principles including the rule of law. Those are all fundamental and central to the way in which our society has developed and is crafted and on which it stands. They are important principles that we all accept are crucial.
For the record, just so that we are all absolutely clear, we on the Government Benches, as elsewhere, strongly support the full integration of every community and British passport holder. The Government amendment will make it absolutely clear above all to Muslims of all places of origin and above all those born and bred in the UK that there is no threat to them whatsoever.
My hon. Friend puts it better than I could. He has stated with crystal clarity the nature of the change, which I believe is enhanced and improved by accepting the sensible and pragmatic amendments tabled by Lord Anderson. It is also worth saying for the benefit of the House that taking out of the equation the issue of citizenship being obtained by fraud, the provision relates to 19 cases a year on average, and the changes we are making through the Bill do not alter the qualification, so no additional individuals will be brought into scope. The changes relate purely to the matter of notification.
On a procedural note, I should say that although Lord Anderson’s amendments were agreed in the other place, they were deleted when peers agreed to remove the substantive deprivation of citizenship clause from the Bill. The Government are therefore retabling the substantive clause, as amended by peers to include Lord Anderson’s amendments. I hope that meets with the favour of the House. It acts on and reflects the desire expressed for greater safeguards and greater clarity on these measures.
Amendment 5 inserts a clause specifying that nothing in the part of the Bill to which it applies authorises any policies or decisions that are incompatible with the 1951 refugee convention or the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. It is the clear position of this Government that everything we are doing is compatible with all our obligations under international law. We do not think it is necessary to set that out on the face of the Bill. The Government therefore do not agree to the amendment.
The Minister will be aware that there is a massive range of legal opinion and that the opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is that that is not the case at all when a lot of what is going on in part two of the Bill is in flagrant breach of the refugee convention. If the Minister is so certain that the powers do not breach the refugee convention, what is the harm to him of accepting the amendment?
We do not see a need to augment the Bill in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. A plethora of opinions are expressed in the House and more generally when we debate the nature of what is proposed and whether people think it is the right thing to do. We are clear as a Government that we think that the package of measures we are introducing through the Bill is a proportionate response to the issues we face and will fix the broken asylum system in particular. We are also clear—and I have been clear on many occasions in this House and through the various iterations of the Bill—that we will at all times live up to our international obligations.
History suggests that the day will come when the hon. Gentleman’s party is not in government, and it is eminently possible that there will one day be a Government who wish to depart from our obligations under the 1951 convention. Is that not why it is a good idea to have such a provision on the face of the Bill?
Any Government in such circumstances could amend the primary legislation to remove that requirement. I also make the crucial point that we have an independent judiciary in this country, and it is open to people to bring points of challenge where they believe that there are grounds for doing so. It is fair to say that that is a regular occurrence in our society and a cornerstone of how our government, politics and society have evolved over centuries. No doubt that will continue to be the case, but let me again be very clear that the Government have acted and will continue to act in accordance with our international obligations. I must be very clear on that point.
Lords amendment 6 removes the clause from the Bill that establishes our differentiated approach to those who are recognised as refugees. That is an essential and fundamental part of our plan to deter people from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK. We therefore cannot agree to the amendment, which will simply encourage people to continue to risk their lives at sea.
My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations about this topic over recent months and he makes a genuine point that individuals coming to this country illegally makes it more difficult for us to help genuine refugees in the way that we all want to. We see that reflected in the generosity of spirit shown across the country as people offered help in response to the Afghan crisis and to what we are seeing unfold so tragically in Ukraine. There is an outpouring of emotion and wanting to help, but there is also genuine concern about people putting their lives in the hands of evil criminal gangs, and paying significant sums of money to those gangs, which have no regard for human life and are willing in effect to play roulette with the safety of the people they are transporting.
The Minister may be aware that at present Opposition Members, especially Labour Members, are struggling to tell the difference between a man and a woman, so it is no surprise that they are struggling to tell the difference between a genuine refugee and an economic migrant. Would it not be wise of the Minister to remind those on the Labour Front Bench what the difference is?
I certainly think that my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine, and people across the country, feel strongly—[Interruption.] Stuart C. McDonald is chuntering from a sedentary position, but I will make the point that, no matter where they are in the country, people feel very strongly that individuals should not put their lives in the hands of evil criminal gangs, whose only motivation is to turn a profit by taking greater and greater risks with the lives of the individuals they are putting in small boats. I would argue that we, as a Government and in this House, have a duty to stop that happening. That is precisely what the measures in the Bill are designed to do, while at the same time providing safe and legal passage for people who require sanctuary to come to this country, and enabling us to care for them properly when they are here. That is an absolutely humane and decent stance to take, and one that I will continue to passionately defend.
Amendment 7 would change our approach to allowing people who are claiming asylum to work by reducing the period in which claimants may not work from 12 months to six months, as well as removing the condition restricting jobs for those who are allowed to work to those on the shortage occupation list.
It seems that amendment 7 goes to the heart of what we are talking about today. Does the Minister agree that the Bill, taken as a whole, is a package, and that if we start amending it in this way to facilitate economic migration, we will end any chance we have of stopping cross-channel migration, stopping the evil criminal gangs and taking back control of our borders? This is a package, and I am afraid we have to vote down all the amendments.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is a passionate advocate of taking action to address those concerns. I argue that this is a package of measures that come together. There is no one single intervention that will solve this problem. We must have a robust and proportionate approach to tackling, for example, very dangerous channel crossings—in November, we saw a tragic loss of life that none of us wants to be repeated—while also ensuring we have safe and legal routes by which people can come to this country to get the sanctuary they need when they find themselves in desperate circumstances. That is what I believe the Government are delivering.
The right to work, while well meaning, would undermine our economic migration scheme and allow people to bypass it over and above those who follow the proper process by applying for visas and paying relevant fees to work in the UK. We cannot allow that to happen. I must therefore advise the House that we cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment 8 prevents third country inadmissibility measures from coming into force until formal returns agreements are in place. We expect to work with our international partners to tackle the shared challenges of illegal migration. We continue to seek effective returns agreements to ensure that people can be removed from our country when they have no right to be here. In the meantime, we want to continue resolve cases where we can on a case-by-case basis.
As I have said many times before, those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country they reach. That is the fastest route to safety. The first safe country principle is widely recognised internationally.
Will the Minister explain to me how the United Kingdom can ever be the first safe country of arrival for someone fleeing a war zone or a natural disaster. If you leave without all your paperwork, how can you ever get to the United Kingdom before anywhere else when we are surrounded by water?
We have many resettlement routes whereby people can come to this country. I have said this several times in the House, and it bears repeating now, that people getting in small boats to come to the United Kingdom are coming from perfectly safe countries at great risk, and they are lining the pockets of evil criminal gangs, which funds wider criminality, when there are fully functional and appropriate asylum systems, where people can gain help and support, that they are leaving to make those perilous journeys. It is also important to point out—I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is a particularly keen advocate of the European Union and wishes we were a member of it—that it is a fundamental feature of the common European asylum system that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. Without any enforcement of that, we simply encourage criminal smugglers to continue to exploit vulnerable migrants and leave flows of migrants across Europe, which culminate in the dangerous channel crossings. The Bill’s inadmissibility measures are an essential part of our approach to enforcing the safe first country principle, and for that reason we cannot agree to the amendment.
I am conscious that I need to make some progress, so I will continue for now. I have been quite generous, and I will see how I get on in the next few minutes.
Amendments 9, 52 and 53 would delete from the Bill provisions that would make it easier to remove an individual from the UK while their asylum claim is pending. We have said repeatedly that while people are dying making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK, we must consider every option to discourage people from funding criminal gangs and putting their lives at risk by crossing the channel. That includes the option of processing of asylum claims overseas. We must ensure we have the flexibility to do everything we can to disincentivise people from putting themselves and others at risk and lining the pockets of people smugglers. That is the clear rationale for this policy. I want to make it absolutely clear again that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will not have their claims processed overseas.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He talked about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, but that means he is not ruling out other children being placed in awful offshore detention facilities. Will he publish an economic impact assessment on how many billions of pounds this will cost the taxpayer? It has been promised for months.
I am not going to get drawn into listing all other possible exemptions to removal in that way, but I set out on Report that, for example, family groups would not be separated, because that would clearly not be in accordance with our international obligations. Clearly, much will depend on the particular circumstances of the countries we are working with. We always work in the asylum system and in the immigration space on a case-by-case basis, but I want to assure hon. Members that we will continue to uphold our international obligations and ensure that any removal is compliant with our obligations under the refugee convention and article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which protects against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.
I am aware that there has been speculation recently about the potential costs of, and possible locations for, overseas asylum claim processing. I cannot give a running commentary on negotiations, nor share information that could tie the hands of the negotiators. I only say again that the provisions are an essential part of the suite of measures that we are introducing to deliver our objective of discouraging unwanted behaviours, such as making unnecessary and dangerous journeys, and we therefore cannot agree to the amendments.
Amendment 10 creates a more generous approach on family reunion for those who are already in Europe, which we do not consider fair. There is already generous provision in our rules for family reunion, under which more than 40,000 people have been reunited with family members in the UK since 2015. This is a single global approach to family reunion, which does not encourage what are often dangerous journeys into Europe, facilitated by smugglers and traffickers. We therefore cannot support the amendment. Similarly, amendment 11 would commit the UK to resettling at least 10,000 refugees each year.
Our view has long been that the number of refugees and people in need of protection that we resettle each year must be based on our capacity, our assessment of the international situation and our ability to care for people properly when they come to the UK. I understand that hon. Members are seeking assurances that our doors will remain open to those in need, but I respectfully suggest that what is really needed to deliver refugee resettlement is not a number but an approach—an approach that is compassionate and flexible. That is exactly what the Government are delivering through our new plan for immigration.
Coming back to amendment 10, which the Minister is grouping together, he just said that we already have a very generous family reunion scheme, but is it not the case that our current family reunion scheme is considerably less generous than the Dublin III arrangements we had pre-Brexit? If we are genuinely to accommodate a lot of children who have lost their parents and for whom their last surviving relative may be an aunt, uncle, brother or sister who has made it legally to the UK, we need to expand the scheme.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. This is an area that he is very passionate about and has a considerable knowledge of. He will recognise that we have a global approach to family reunion, which is an important distinction when compared with Dublin III. It would be useful for us as Ministers to meet him, as a former Children’s Minister, to discuss his ideas. As I say, I know he takes a passionate and keen interest in these matters. Family reunion is something we continue to be committed to. As I said in my opening remarks on the situation in Ukraine, it is an area where, for example in response to that crisis, we are constantly reviewing what we can do to assist with that issue and challenge. The Dnipro Kids situation illustrates the work we are doing in that space. Of course, there has to be agreement with the Ukrainian Government and the Polish Government to progress on that, but it shows the pragmatic approach we are willing to take on these matters to be responsive to crises as they arise and to ensure that we do our bit to try to support those children wherever we can.
I do not wish to detain the House for longer than necessary, but I think it would be helpful for me to set out the safe and legal routes that we have to the UK. The UK resettlement scheme, which was launched in February 2021, prioritises the resettlement of refugees, including children, in regions of conflict and instability. The number of refugees we resettle each year depends on a variety of factors, including local authorities’ capacity to support refugees and the number of community groups willing to take part. There were 1,131 refugees resettled in the UK through that scheme in the year ending December 2021.
I have given way to my hon. Friend already and I am keen to make some progress, because I am conscious that a lot of Members want to speak.
The community sponsorship scheme enables local community groups to welcome refugees to the UK and provide housing and support. In the year ending December 2021, there were 144 refugees resettled through that scheme.
The mandate resettlement scheme was launched in 1995. That global scheme resettles refugees with a close family member in the UK who is willing to accommodate them. Since published statistics began in 2008, there have been 435 refugees resettled through that route, as of September 2021.
Refugee family reunion allows a spouse or partner and children under 18 of those granted protection in the UK to join them here, if they formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled the country. There is discretion to grant leave outside of the immigration rules for extended family members in exceptional circumstances. We have granted over 40,000 refugee family reunion visas since 2015, of which more than half were granted to children. In 2021, there were 6,134 family reunion visas issued, which was an increase of 28% on the previous year. Again, more than half were issued to children.
In August 2021, we announced the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history. That scheme will give up to 20,000 people at risk a new life in the UK, including women and girls, members of ethnic or religious minorities and people who are LGBT+.
In addition, under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life are offered priority relocation to the UK. Through that route, we have relocated more than 7,000 locally employed staff and their family members since April 2021, in addition to 1,400 former staff and families who were relocated under the previous ex gratia scheme for Afghan interpreters.
The Ukraine family scheme, which was launched on
The Homes for Ukraine scheme, which was launched on
May I clarify a point on the two-tier system to which the Minister is asking the House to agree? If a Ukrainian who has relatives in the UK comes here, we will accept them. If a refugee from Ukraine comes here on a sponsorship scheme, we will accept them. What if somebody from Ukraine just turns up? Will they be removed to a safe country that they have come from? Will they be removed to a third country that they can apply from? What will we do for those Ukrainians who flee from the murderous despot Putin and come here by an irregular route? Do they have to come on an inflatable?
Let me be very clear: there is absolutely no reason why any Ukrainian should pay an evil people smuggler to come to be safe in the United Kingdom. I have set out the detail of our two generous schemes, which are uncapped and wide in capturing people’s many and varied circumstances. I would not want anybody—this applies to any group—to put their life in the hands of evil criminal gangs who have only one regard, which is to turn a profit, putting those individuals in great danger. We have had many debates about the nature and construction of the Ukrainian scheme and I am confident that there is no reason why people should resort to that means of travelling to the United Kingdom. Nobody should encourage Ukrainians, or anybody else for that matter, to make those perilous journeys.
The Minister is being very generous. He gave detailed numbers on how many visas had been granted in all the schemes that he read out. I note that he did not include the number of visas granted under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Will he update the House on how many visas the Home Office has issued under that scheme as of today?
I am afraid that I do not have those figures to hand, but we hope to be able to say more on that very soon. It is the early days of that scheme but we have seen an overwhelmingly generous response from people offering sanctuary in their homes, and we want to take up those offers. I look forward to being able to say more about the figures on early implementation as soon as we can.
I understand the concerns raised by right hon. and hon. Members, but I hope that those schemes speak of our willingness to respond to international crises with compassion and to support higher numbers of refugees and people in need of protection when necessary. That is our approach, so we do not think that it is necessary to put a number in statute.
I understand the rationale behind Lords amendment 12, which relates to grants of asylum connected with cases of genocide. We, of course, stand by victims of genocide. Whether or not a determination of genocide is made, the UK is committed to seeking an end to serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. We are also committed to preventing the escalation of any such violations and alleviating the suffering of those affected, but it is not practical for us to be bound to consider asylum claims in British missions from the very large number of individuals overseas who might like to come here. Even with a cap on the number of individuals, we can expect many thousands of applications, which UK caseworkers would need to assess individually to determine whether each individual belongs to the specific group found to be at risk. We do not think that is practical.
To clarify the Minister’s point, is he saying that the opposition to Lords amendment 12 is on an administrative rather than a humanitarian basis? He seems to suggest that there may be too many people coming for the British embassies to handle. Surely that is no basis to turn our backs on people who are victims of genocide.
I do not accept the hon. Member’s characterisation of those remarks for a minute. My primary concern is twofold: to ensure that staff, for example, in British missions are safe and not put at risk; and to ensure that individuals turning up at British missions are also not put at undue risk, considering the sorts of circumstances that we are talking about in such debates and the lengths to which some countries will go to persecute individuals when genocide is relevant. Our approach is better: to develop bespoke schemes as circumstances arise with similar accessibility to the schemes that I described. We would argue that that is the right approach.
I do not understand the rationale behind Lords amendments 13 to 19. They would delete the new offence of knowingly arriving in the UK without a valid entry clearance, and that could make it impossible to take enforcement action against someone who has arrived in, but not technically “entered”, the UK without clearance. That would compromise our plans to enhance the security of our borders, so we cannot accept those amendments.
Similarly, I cannot say that I understand the rationale behind Lords amendment 20, which would compromise our plans to enhance our ability to prosecute people smugglers. It would do that by preserving the status quo in legislation, which means that prosecutors have to prove that people smugglers are acting for gain. Time and again, however, that requirement has been found to have significant operational limitations. We need to remove it to ensure that the lives of vulnerable people are not put at risk by the actions of people smugglers and that traffickers are brought to justice for the misery that they inflict.
I have already taken one intervention from the hon. Gentleman and I want to conclude my speech quickly.
Lords amendment 54 would mean that powers set out in the part of the Bill to which it applies
“must not be used in a manner or in circumstances that could endanger life at sea.”
I take this opportunity to again place on record my admiration for the incredibly brave individuals who engage in rescue work. I also want to make it absolutely clear that our priority is always to save and preserve lives. We are proud of our heritage as a great seafaring nation and will always lead the way globally in complying with our relevant domestic and international obligations, including those under the UN convention on the law of the sea. We do not think it necessary to put those commitments in the Bill and we therefore do not support the amendment.
I wish to speak in favour of Government amendments 2 and 3, together with amendments 42 to 51. The amendments will resolve the lawful residence issue for individuals with indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme who wish to naturalise, but have not previously held comprehensive sickness insurance.
The problem is that those who wish to become British citizens based on a period of residence in the UK need to have been in the UK lawfully—for five years, for most people—before making their application. Unfortunately, a number of European economic area nationals or their family members do not currently meet that requirement because they did not hold comprehensive sickness insurance, which was a legal requirement for those who were in the UK as students or as self-sufficient persons. They could still be granted indefinite leave to remain, also known as settled status, under the EU settlement scheme, which did not have a lawful residence requirement, but they would not technically meet the requirements for citizenship.
The amendments will resolve those technicalities and will mean that the Secretary of State does not need to inquire into lawful residence in citizenship applications where a person has already been granted indefinite leave to enter or remain, because any concerns about their immigration history will have been considered and addressed prior to any grant of indefinite leave. I acknowledge that hon. Members have campaigned on the issue and I commend the amendments to the House.
Government amendment 21 is a tidying-up amendment that removes a definition of the term “United Kingdom waters” from the clause relating to working in UK waters. Further to comments made on Third Reading in the other place, I would like to say that although the term is used elsewhere in the Bill, it is not used in proposed new section 11B, which the Bill will insert into the Immigration Act 1971. I hope that the clarification that the amendment provides is helpful; I commend it to the House.
The Bill has been introduced against the backdrop of an asylum and immigration system that is simply not fit for purpose. The British people want and deserve a system that is fair, compassionate and orderly, as has been made abundantly clear by the fact that more than 150,000 households have signed up to house refugees fleeing the horrors of Putin’s barbaric war. But from the Windrush scandal to the botched Afghan resettlement scheme and the shambolic response on Ukraine, the Home Office has consistently failed to live up to the standards that the public rightly expect from their Government, so we should not really be surprised that the Bill not only fails to meet any of the challenges that our migration system faces, but actively makes the situation worse. That is why the Opposition rejected the Bill in its entirety on Second Reading; it is why we support every one of the Lords amendments, each of which seeks to mitigate the worst excesses of this dreadful legislation. The fact that the Government were defeated fully 19 times in the other place is proof positive that this appalling legislation is not fit for the statute book.
I turn to the specific reasons that our asylum and immigration system is so comprehensively broken. Let us start with the most visible example: the small boats crisis in the English channel. The number of desperate asylum seekers risking their lives by crossing the channel on small boats has increased from 299 in 2018 to an eye-watering 28,526 in 2021, of whom more than 3,000 were children. Yet Conservative Ministers have failed to engage constructively with their French counterparts to tackle the people traffickers, so the Home Secretary has now resorted to criminalising vulnerable refugees who are fleeing war-torn countries such as Ukraine.
I have spoken to asylum seekers who have told me about how children come to this country: it is often their parents who are giving the money to traffickers, and they have no idea how the journey will commence. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government simply seem totally unaware of that point and have not included it in their consideration at all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are many dreadful aspects to the whole story, but the impact on children who are utterly innocent and deserve nothing but our compassion and care, but who are not being treated with either of those values and principles, should make the Government hang their head in shame.
I completely agree that the situation with boats coming across the channel is wholly unsatisfactory, but the hon. Gentleman has just accused the Government of failing to engage satisfactorily with the French authorities. Giving £54 million to the French to do something about this; making constant requests, which have been rebuffed, for meetings with the French Interior Minister and others—where have the Government not tried to engage constructively? How would the hon. Gentleman’s party have engaged constructively? What are his practical suggestions to do something about this, rather than the grandstanding that he does every time he is at the Dispatch Box?
I guess what matters is results and outcomes. The Government’s attempts to engage have clearly failed; the hon. Member will have his own view of why that may be, but I gently suggest that gratuitously insulting our European partners and allies on a regular basis, as the Prime Minister does, is probably not helping very much.
A particularly disturbing aspect of the Bill is that it seeks to criminalise a person who is seeking asylum for
“arriving in the United Kingdom without…clearance”.
That means that a Ukrainian person who had brought their elderly parents to our country in the early days of the war would have been criminalised under the Bill. Do the Government not comprehend the horrors from which refugees are fleeing? We should not seek to criminalise refugees who are desperately looking for a new home; we should go after the people traffickers. The Opposition therefore fully support Lords amendment 13, which removes the new offence.
My hon. Friend is making very good points. Is it not the case that the only way to apply for asylum in Britain is to come through an irregular route, because someone has no possibility of applying for asylum if they are not in Britain? Criminalisation is shutting off almost all legal routes to applying for asylum. In effect, the only way to get to the UK would be to make a false application first via a tourist route or another route, but the Government would then say, in a Kafkaesque way, “You have falsely applied, because you came in via the wrong route.” That is particularly pernicious, is it not?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole thing smacks of a kind of bureaucratic trickery whereby every option is blocked off by some additional piece of bureaucracy. The Bill should have been an opportunity to unlock some of that, but instead it leaves us in stalemate.
Appositely to the remarks of Lloyd Russell-Moyle about where people claim asylum and how it is processed, the Bill will allow a claim to be processed elsewhere before people get here. Based on what the hon. Gentleman says, that will be a positive move, will it not? It will also mean that people who are travelling through safe countries where they could claim asylum can do so there and have their claim processed there.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to offshoring, but as we have seen, offshoring does not work: it is costing millions and millions in Australia and every expert is panning the idea. If I have understood his intervention correctly, I am afraid that it is simply a non-starter.
The Opposition support Lords amendment 6, which removes the Government’s attempt to introduce differential treatment of refugees based on method of arrival. For instance, if a Ukrainian citizen were to flee and travel here across Europe while waiting for a Government visa office to open or a safe route to be provided, clause 11 would make them a second-class refugee. To be a first-tier refugee, they would have to have taken an aeroplane directly from Ukraine. That absurd technicality shows just how unjust the proposal is.
I am getting rather confused. The Labour party seems to be saying that we should not remove pull factors that mean that people are willing to risk their lives crossing the English channel and put money into the hands of the people smugglers. What has happened to the Labour party? Back in 2004, Baroness Scotland, a Labour Minister, said that
“a person should seek protection in the first safe country where they have the chance to do so.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
What happened to that Labour party?
What is required is a properly resourced and competent processing system, so that when people come here they can be processed quickly. That would resolve many of the issues to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Arguably even more astonishing is the fact that clause 38 appears to criminalise the good Samaritans who want to save lives in the channel by removing the “for gain” clause, meaning that it is not just profiteering people traffickers who are deemed criminals, but good, honest people trying to rescue drowning refugees. Lords amendment 20 reintroduces the “for gain” wording, a move that we fully support.
That brings me to the so-called pushback policy. Pushing back dinghies may well mean condemning refugees, including innocent children, to their deaths. This is an utterly barbaric proposal which, again, contravenes the law of the sea. We therefore support Lords amendment 54, which adds language to schedule 6, stating that these enforcement powers must never put lives at risk.
Profound concern has been expressed about the Bill’s failure to comply with the United Nations refugee convention. The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, among others, has criticised the legislation for undermining the human rights of refugees in a range of different ways. At a time when authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China are riding roughshod over international laws and norms, we must show that Britain, as a leading liberal democracy, is ready to lead by example. Britain must show that we stand with refugees and stand up for international law. We therefore support Lords amendment 5, which would add a new clause stating that nothing in the Bill must authorise policies which do not comply with the refugee convention.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to tell the House what safe and legal routes the then Labour Government opened up after the second Iraq war? I may be able to help him with the answer: I do not think there were any.
The safe and legal routes are not working properly, and they need to be made to work more effectively. We currently have thousands of Afghan refugees stuck in hotels. Let us put in place a system that actually works. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that looking forward is more effective than looking back.
Another stark failure of this Government has been the asylum waiting lists that are keeping refugees in limbo and costing the taxpayer dear. There are now over 100,000 people awaiting initial decisions on their asylum applications, with an astonishing 61,864 having had to wait for six months or longer. These failures are less about capacity and more about a distinct lack of competence. The numbers of asylum seekers are fewer than the UK’s recent peak, so the Home Office should be able to cope. However, under this Home Secretary the system simply is not working.
Lords amendment 7 offers a sensible proposal which could minimise the damage caused by the backlog, as it would give asylum seekers the right to work if their case was taking longer than six months. That would allow dignity to asylum seekers, who could then earn their way and contribute rather than being completely disempowered and excluded from the labour market. The Lords amendment would also prevent asylum seekers from being forced into the dangerous net of the black-market economy just to survive, which is so often more attractive to them than relying on £38 per week from the Government. Moreover, the Government have already said that all Ukrainians can work here as soon as they arrive, so why is it a problem to allow other individuals and families fleeing terror the same opportunity? If the Government are worried about being seen to give asylum seekers work, they should fix the system so that applications are processed within six months. We are pleased to see that more than 66 Conservative parliamentarians, including 27 members of this House, have signed a letter to the Home Secretary expressing support for Lords amendment 7, and we encourage Ministers to see the light and follow suit.
The introduction last year of “inadmissibility’’ has only led to further delays. Because the Government have failed to renegotiate a single returns policy with any country, labelling asylum seekers as “inadmissible’’ for processing is effectively meaningless, as the asylum seeker in question cannot be returned. This simply adds six months of bureaucracy, uncertainty and confusion for the refugee, and a huge cost to the British taxpayer. Of the 8,593 “notices of intent” to deem people inadmissible that were issued in 2021, incredibly, only 64 were upheld. This policy simply increases the enormous backlog further and is a complete waste of money, so we support Lords amendment 8.
Let me now turn to perhaps the most unhinged element of the Bill, the so-called offshoring provisions which allow—theoretically at least—asylum seekers to be sent to faraway lands for processing. The latest ludicrous suggestion is that Ascension Island, 4,500 miles away in the South Atlantic, should be used for the purpose. That is utter nonsense. It is operationally illiterate because it is utterly impractical, and it is economically illiterate because it would cost an eye-watering amount of taxpayers’ money.
May I make it clear, for the benefit of the House, that the suggestion about Ascension Island is untrue?
Offshoring in Australia costs roughly $1 billion a year, for about 300 people. Experts in Australia have also said that it is not effective as a deterrent, and that the vast majority of those offshored are now back in Australia as a result of mental and physical suffering.
I do not think we are in control of which messages get out and which do not. This is about results and consequences, not about the process. If the process is not working, it needs to be fixed.
Rather than being fair, compassionate and orderly, this process would be cruel, demeaning and costly. This is why the Labour Party supports Lords amendment 9, which removes offshoring from the Bill. While we are on the topic of fairness and compassion, I should note our long-standing support for Lords amendment 10, which would allow unaccompanied children in Europe to join family members who are living lawfully in the UK. At this point I should also note my personal dismay at the Bill’s approach to victims of modern slavery, which, again, utterly contravenes the principles of fairness and compassion. I look forward to hearing the observations of my hon. Friend Holly Lynch on that subject later today.
What is abundantly clear is that little to no resilience is built into Britain’s asylum system. It is simply failing to adapt and keep pace. It is also utterly inflexible at each point in the process. Ukrainian refugees are having to fill in 50 pages of paperwork in order not to be turned away; that is far beyond the necessary security checks. We have 100,000 person-long asylum waiting lists, and 12,000 Afghan refugees are stuck in hotels. Lords amendment 11 is a useful first step and one that we support, but with Putin’s barbaric actions moving the goalposts almost every day, we suggest that the Government should move further and faster in delivering a resilient system with the capacity that is required to adapt. A Government who fail to plan are a Government who plan to fail, and Lords amendment 11 would at least go some way to forcing this Government to plan and to build capacity.
Finally, while we feel that the concessions given on clause 9 are a welcome step forward, we remain unconvinced that the fears of innocent citizens who feel at risk from this policy have been allayed. It is still too vague, and we will be pushing Lords amendment 4 to a vote.
Only after outrage over pushback have the Government been forced to concede on some of the most chilling aspects of this racist, divisive and discriminatory Bill, including through the removal of some of the carte blanche powers that were previously given to the Home Secretary. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that there are still similar concerns about due process, and in particular about the notion that people can be stripped of their citizenship just because of our relations with another country?
At the start of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, I asked him what practical solutions his party had put forward, particularly to combat the journeys across the channel. He has skipped through a great many Lords amendments, in each case opposing Government suggestions and putting nothing in their place. May I give him one final opportunity, before he sits down, to tell us what practical measures his party is proposing to deal with the illegal and dangerous boats coming across the channel? So far, he has not come up with a single practical suggestion.
We are supporting every one of these amendments, almost all of which contain practical suggestions. That is the policy of the Labour Front Bench. On the broader point, one thing we would do is not have a party leader who regularly and consistently insults our democratic partners and allies. On that basis, we would negotiate a successor to Dublin and get constructive engagement with the French on security in relation to people smugglers. This is about grown-up politics, as I am sure the hon. Member would agree.
I would like to end by paying tribute to the noble Lords and Baronesses Coaker, Stroud, Lister, D’Souza, Rosser, Judge, Pannick, Kerr, Kirkhope, Dubs, Alton, Neuburger and Ritchie for working cross-party in such a constructive and effective way to win so many votes in the other place. Let me be clear: this Bill reflects and represents a catalogue of failure on immigration policy and a combination of incompetence and indifference from a Government who are presiding over a system that is neither fair, compassionate nor orderly. It is a desperate attempt to distract from the Home Secretary’s failings, and it solves none of the challenges our immigration system faces. We know that many Members on the Government Benches are deeply uncomfortable with the content of this legislation. The British people want and deserve an asylum and immigration system that is fair, compassionate and orderly. Today, Members on the Government Benches can stand up for decency by joining us in the Division Lobby later this afternoon. Let us hope that they will do so.
I rise to support Lords amendment 11, but I want to start by thanking Ministers for their flexibility in accepting the logic of the amendment I moved at an earlier stage to extend the benefits of the British national overseas scheme to younger Hong Kong residents born after 1997. I thank all those on both sides of this House who supported it, and those in the other place who did so, notably Lord Alton, Lord Patten of Barnes, Lord Falconer and the Bishop of St Albans, as well as the non-governmental organisation Hong Kong Watch. Most of all, I thank the Ministers who have taken it on board and acted on it. That is a good result, so in the same spirit of pragmatic and sensible co-operation, let me try again with the Lords amendment that would set up a permanent safe route that crucially, from the Government’s own perspective, would remove a significant driver of the traffic in small boats across the channel.
I absolutely get that one of the Government’s key aims is to minimise and hopefully stop altogether this dangerous route of illegal immigration. I support them wholeheartedly in that aim. Been there, done that, when the traffic was in the backs of lorries, which was equally dangerous and also led to the deaths of innocent people fleeing trouble. It can be done; we can stop these routes. So why Lords amendment 11? The Government, and indeed the Minister in his opening remarks, have correctly asserted that people in need of protection must come to the UK via safe and lawful routes rather than making an illegal journey. However, those routes need to be available to people, and for far too many people, they are simply not available under the current system.
The Minister went through the details of the resettlement pathway, and in the explanatory notes to the Bill the Government assert that they intend
“to enhance resettlement routes to continue to provide pathways for refugees to be granted protection in the UK”.
But this resettlement route can be an effective response to the challenge of the channel crossings, of which there were about 28,000 last year, and break the model of the criminal people smugglers, only if it achieves two things. First, it must be accessible to meaningful numbers of people. Secondly, it must not be restricted to one geographic area. However, the Home Office data confirms that 87% of those arriving by small boats in 2021 comprised nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, for whom there is currently no alternative legal and safe route by which they can apply to get to the UK, so it is pointless the Minister saying that he believes in accessible routes. The people coming across the channel—he and I, and I suspect everyone in this House, want them to stop putting themselves at risk—do not have those routes available to them, and that is why we need this Lords amendment and a change to the Government’s proposals.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a good point. I wanted to highlight the difficulty for Syrian Kurds, who often flee over the Turkish border. This Government believe that Turkey is a safe place for them, but many Kurds legitimately do not believe that it is a safe place for them to wait for resettlement, and they therefore continue their journey through Europe and eventually arrive in Britain. The Government’s proposals would make that harder. They need to provide decent routes, particularly for Kurds and other minorities that might find neighbouring countries hostile to them rather than receptive of them.
I find myself in rare, perhaps unique agreement with the hon. Gentleman on that point. I am sure that he and I will not want to see that happen too often.
Returning to the Government’s wider plan, the new plan for immigration states:
“The UK’s commitment to resettling refugees will continue to be a multi-year commitment with numbers subject to ongoing review guided by circumstances and capacity at any given time.”
If nothing else, Lords amendment 11 invites the Government to take a small step forward—I agree with Stephen Kinnock that it is a small step, but it is a significant step and I hope we will vote on it later—to strengthen their objectives with a concrete and predictable floor of 10,000 places. That would provide local authorities and civil society more widely with the certainty, time and space to plan and to deliver the capacity so that resettlement can be successful. I should pause and pay tribute to my own local authority in Ashford, which was very active in coming forward early for the Syrian resettlement scheme and has done the same with the Afghans. I also pay tribute to the civil society NGOs in my constituency that are doing the same with Ukraine. I suspect that that is reflected all around the country. There are lots of people out there who want to be generous.
It seems to me that the Homes for Ukraine scheme offers a model that could be used for all sorts of other nationalities as well. There is no reason why we should have one lot of refugees who are being housed and able to work from day one while others are in hotels decided on by the Home Office and often planted on councils that are trying to do their best but do not have much accommodation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a real opportunity for us to rethink how we accept refugees in our country now?
I do; my hon. Friend makes an extremely profound point. We are facing a crisis of a type we have not faced before, and we should use this opportunity to look at ourselves and our systems and ask whether we can do things differently. We should use the entirely justifiable outpouring that we have seen over Ukraine to set up a permanent system so that if we get something like this again—God forbid, but sadly it will probably happen—we will have the systems in place to make it is easier for people, particularly those who are fleeing persecution and death. The Syrian refugee scheme saw 275 local authorities—two thirds of the local authorities in this country—volunteering to resettle refugees. I think that proves the point that an ambitious and intelligently designed programme can meet the appetite of people in their own areas to help those who are fleeing persecution.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, following the 2003 Hillingdon judgment that clarified the responsibilities of local authorities in respect of refugee children, Bev Hughes, the then Minister at the Home Office, wrote to every local authority to inform them that the cost of supporting refugee children would be met in full? A year later, however, when the invoices were submitted to the Home Office, Dame Margaret Hodge, who had taken on that ministerial responsibility, refused to meet those costs, thus undermining the confidence of local authorities to step up to the plate in that respect.
My hon. Friend, a former leader of Hillingdon Council, will be more expert on this matter than I am. In various phases, I have been on either side of the argument between the Home Office and local authorities, so I shall declare a position of neutrality on that, but he makes a valid point.
Lords amendment 11 is modest in its ambitions. It sets a number, which I have heard Ministers claim is a limit, but the amendment actually states:
“The Secretary of State must arrange for the resettlement in the United Kingdom of at least 10,000 refugees each year.”
So if the arrangements are there, the Secretary of State has met the terms. It is conceivable that in some years there will not be the need to resettle 10,000 refugees, but, sadly, looking around the world at the moment, I do not think that figure is at all unrealistic. This approach will have huge practical advantages because, as we have discussed, it will allow local authorities and others to plan ahead. As we see at the moment, this country is good at scrambling together a plan at the last moment, but for once let us do some proper forward planning.
We have all heard people say often, “Britain has a proud tradition of accepting refugees”, and indeed the Minister did not fail in this duty in his opening remarks. We all use that phrase a lot and it is largely true, if we perhaps look at history at bit sporadically. Let us take this opportunity to put ourselves in that proud tradition and show that this House can live up to the generosity of spirit that the British people are showing to Ukrainian refugees today. In that spirit, I ask the House to support Lords amendment 11.
It is a pleasure to follow Damian Green, with whom I agree entirely. Let me start by echoing the comments of both the Minister and shadow Minister on PC Keith Palmer, whose incredibly bravery we should never forget.
It is appropriate to recognise that one or two slivers of progress have been made, for example, on BNO visas and Chagossians, but the fundamental problem is that the core idea at the heart of this Bill, which was appalling from its outset last July, remains at its heart: the idea that we should punish and dehumanise certain refugees so as to disincentivise others from coming here, all on the basis that they should stay in the first country they come to. I thought that that was a horrible idea at the time, but the subsequent events in Afghanistan and the further invasion of Ukraine highlight as never before how utterly misconceived and nonsensical the Government’s thinking was, because although most refugees do seek protection in the first country they enter, some will not, for a host of perfectly understandable reasons. The Government have recognised that, rightly, in their family scheme for Ukrainians. Of course it makes sense for Ukrainians to come to join a brother, aunt or grandparent here in the UK and not to stop in Poland or France, but this Bill will criminalise and undermine recognised refugees from Afghanistan or anywhere else who seek protection here motivated by precisely the same reasons. The Bill represents nothing less than this Government resiling from the refugee convention. The Tories are ripping up a 70-year-old convention exactly when we see that it is as crucial as ever; the Bill’s incompatibility, to lawyers out there and most people in here, is as clear as day. The Government know it as well, which is why they cannot even accept Lords amendment 5, a simple amendment that would require powers in part 2 to be exercised in accordance with the refugee convention. If the Minister is right and everything is absolutely consistent with the convention, no harm is done and there is absolutely no reason for the Government to oppose that amendment.
The House of Lords has done its best to make this Bill barely tolerable, but the Government are seeking to reverse almost every one of its eminently sensible proposals. The Government are not listening, whether to parliamentarians, international authorities or the public. Through their motions to disagree, the Government want to take us back to a Bill and a system that will see refugees criminalised with an offence punishable with up to four years in prison, conceivably with people who rescued them next to them in the dock. It is a system that would see people subject to offshoring while their claim is heard and processed. There is the ludicrous inadmissibility procedure that means nothing can happen while the Government pretend they are going to remove a person to a country they have passed through, despite having no returns agreement in place with it. Even once recognised as a refugee, an Afghan, Syrian or persecuted Christian convert, or whoever else, is going to be treated as a sub-class of refugee, with limits on recourse to public funds, no prospect of settlement and limited family reunion rights. In short, they will be unable to rebuild their life here at all, which is exactly the purpose of the Bill: deliberately making the asylum process awful. Those are just some of the most appalling aspects of the Bill that the Lords have sought to fix.
Let us consider this proposition: up to four years in prison for an Afghan or anyone else who takes an unauthorised route to get here. It is outrageous, so Lords amendment 13 and all the consequential ones should remain in place. What about this: penalising those who charitably seek to assist refugees? That is absolutely absurd, so we support Lords amendments 20 and 54 , which ensure that push-back powers are not exercised in a manner that endangers life. It is incredible that these things are even up for debate. We should not be ripping up the convention by making the unauthorised Afghan or Ukrainian arrivals second-tier citizens, deliberately destroying their prospects of rebuilding their lives. So Lords amendment 6, which deletes clause 11, must be left in place. It is hard to overstate how significant this is. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, the provisions of clause 11 would
“threaten the integrity of the global asylum system”.
This is about denying recognised refugees their rights under the refugee convention and it is totally unacceptable.
Where is the Government’s draft guidance about how they will use these sweeping powers? Apparently it exists, but, like so much else in relation to this Bill, they have kept it to themselves. How will decision makers decide when to use powers to strip recognised refugees of many of their rights? Who will face the burden of proof as to whether the provisions should apply? What will the standard of proof be? Will decisions take into account the individual circumstances of the refugee, in the context of the particular countries they passed through? How much discretion will decision makers have not to treat recognised refugees in this frankly disgusting manner? Any exercise of these powers will be abhorrent, but we have little idea about how these sweeping powers will be used. That is another reason we should not be providing them to the Home Secretary.
The utterly obscene idea of offshoring asylum claims must be kicked into touch. All sorts of myths have been perpetuated about how this was successful—it was not; it has been abandoned by the Australians. It did not stop—it did not exceed 300 people— because message got out that it was not worth trying to get to Australia; it stopped because the whole process was at capacity within weeks of its being launched. So we support Lords amendments 9, 52 and 53. Frankly, if Members are still thinking of resisting these amendments, they are either not interested or are utterly indifferent to the grotesque suffering it has caused those caught up in the Australian scheme. We are talking about children self-harming; suicides and suicide attempts; a mental health catastrophe; and sexual assaults. If that is not enough, perhaps Members should consider the billions of pounds such a system will cost, while achieving nothing. Yet the Home Secretary, who is now paying salaries to people responsible for the Australian disgrace, will not even publish her assessment of the costs. We have been promised the economic impact assessment repeatedly. The Home Affairs Committee was told it was to be published shortly, and that was last autumn. Here we are at ping-pong and it has been kept hidden. There must be a reason for that.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when this was introduced in Australia the number of individuals who lost their lives at sea dramatically decreased, to almost zero? Surely that ought to be taken into account when assessing its effectiveness.
I take into account all the evidence we heard on this matter in the Bill Committee—all the written submissions and the oral evidence we heard. Any assessment by anyone independent of the Government behind that scheme says that none of that was attributable to the offshoring and it was actually attributable to something else I do not like, which was push-backs, but push-backs in a completely different context to those—
We both served on the Bill Committee but we seem to have a very different recollection. George Brandis, the Australian high commissioner, talked about a three-part effect, with push-back, offshoring and deterring by having tougher sanctions for those who enter illegally all having worked in tandem with one another to deter people from making the journey. That is unlike what the hon. Gentleman is trying to portray, which is that one silver bullet was the magic answer—it simply was not. It is just a shame that only two local authorities in the entirety of Scotland take part in the asylum dispersal scheme, unlike Stoke-on-Trent, which is the fifth largest contributor.
Conservative Members can continue to try to upset local authorities in Scotland and achieve absolutely nothing in doing so, but on the more substantive—
Order. Members should not make interventions when they are sitting down—end of story.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me answer the intervention the hon. Gentleman made while he was standing up. As I said in response to the original intervention, other than what we heard from the politician who gave evidence to us, all the impartial expert evidence was that offshoring achieved absolutely nothing; it was not anything to do with a decline in the number of drownings. The second point to make, in relation to Scottish local authorities, is exactly the same point as has been made by the Conservative party leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council: the Home Office does not step up to its responsibilities because it does not fund local authorities to undertake this work.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way after mentioning Stoke-on-Trent. The leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is annoyed about the asylum dispersal scheme because only a third of local authorities are currently part of it. The council is asking for other areas—such as the 30-plus local authority areas in Scotland—to step up and do their bit because our city of Stoke-on-Trent is now at the one in 200 threshold in terms of refugee versus local citizen. Instead of attacking Stoke-on-Trent City Council with some vague quote, let us get into the facts of the matter. If Scotland stepped up to the plate and did its bit, Stoke-on-Trent would not have to carry the burden for the rest of the country.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is among a group of councils that has taken the Home Office to court, and it protests about how the Home Office handles the scheme. In fairness to the Home Secretary, she agrees with the point I am making, which is that it is outrageous that local authorities have been left without proper funding to do their job. As I have said a million times in the House, once that funding is in place the hon. Gentleman will see other Scottish local authorities step up to the plate, just as every single Scottish local authority did in respect of the Syrian resettlement scheme.
Let us get back to offshoring, because none of what we were just talking about has anything to do with the fact that what offshoring achieved in Australia was self-harm, disastrous mental health consequences and all sorts of appalling torture and degrading treatment for the people there. Offshoring is going to cost billions of pounds, there is no sensible argument in favour of it and we need to get rid of it as soon as we can.
We also support Lords amendment 8, which means the Government cannot delay the consideration of asylum claims in order to attempt removal when in reality there is no prospect of removal happening. In itself, the amendment goes nowhere near far enough in the provision of safeguards against the inappropriate use of inadmissibility procedures, but it is better than nothing at all.
All the Lords amendments I have gone through are designed to prevent the Government from taking the broken asylum system and smashing it to pieces, but there are Lords amendments that also seek to improve the current broken system, which sees people having to wait months even to register their claim, and years to get a decision. Lords amendment 7 is a simple but powerful example. It allows asylum seekers to work after six months. The arguments have been repeated ad infinitum in this place and seem to us to be overwhelming. Nobody can fail to understand the significance of work to tackling poverty, the improvement of mental health and wellbeing and the aiding of integration. If people are left out of work for years—which is how long asylum claims take these days—how can they rebuild their lives?
The Government bang on about pull factors, but that argument is not only morally repugnant—in essence, “Let asylum seekers suffer to disincentivise others from coming”—but empty. The Migration Advisory Committee itself says that there is no evidence to back up what the Government say. Frankly, there is no evidence to back up virtually anything the Government say, which is why very little is ever published. We therefore pay tribute to all the campaigners behind Lords amendment 7.
Lords amendments 10, 11 and 12 represent three different forms of safe route that would enhance our protection system. Lords amendment 10, tabled by Lord Dubs, puts in place a form of family reunion for those in Europe, thereby repairing some of the damage caused by the end of our participation in the Dublin system. The Government recognised that family rules were far too constrained for Ukrainians; Lords amendment 10 is built on the same principle, with a particular benefit for unaccompanied children. With the demise of our participation in Dublin, we see more and more children getting into dinghies to join siblings or other relatives here, and the amendment would help to stop that. The Dublin system was not perfect but it was a lot better than our restrictive family reunion rules, which involve massive fees and impossible legal tests. Lords amendment 10 improves on all that.
Similarly, we support Lords amendment 12, which opens a safe route for people fleeing genocide—I hope my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara will say more on that later—and we fully support Lords amendment 11, which ensures the regular resettlement of 10,000 refugees per year. For too long, the extent to which we have sought to meet our obligations to resettle refugees has been left to the whim of the Home Office. The Syrian scheme was a success, but the infrastructure that made it successful has been left to wither and—to put it politely—the Afghan scheme has barely started, despite the huge responsibility we have for those people. We get lots of rhetoric from the Government on this issue, but little delivery. We need a stable and predictable annual goal with a degree of flexibility, which is exactly what Lords amendment 11 delivers.
Finally, I turn to the one part of the Bill that is largely welcome: part 1. We warmly welcome the progress on the recognition of Chagos islanders as British overseas territory citizens, but questions arise in relation to the amendment in lieu, because unlike the original Lords amendment it does not include an entitlement for Chagos islanders to register as a British citizen at the same time. Were it not for historic injustices, that would have been made an automatic entitlement in May 2002. The Government’s proposals mean there will be only a discretionary route. What is the rationale for that? Will the Minister confirm that that discretion will be used in all cases of this type? Will he ensure that only a restricted fee is charged, as in other cases of historic injustice?
Just to help and to keep this short, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our intention is to operate in the spirit of the Lords amendment—that is, there will not be a fee for registration—but I am more than happy to outline in some detail at another time exactly how the process will work.
Lastly, the provisions on stripping people of citizenship without notice were introduced at short notice in the Public Bill Committee, without any chance to hear or receive evidence on them. The provisions were frightening, and their lordships have exposed them for the utterly unfit provisions they were. Indeed, the whole episode has cast light on how unfit for purpose nationality laws have become, and in particular the ever-increasing powers of Ministers to strip people of their citizenship.
The amendments in lieu based on those tabled by Lord Anderson are certainly much better than what we had previously and do address some of the concerns that have been expressed since the Bill was last considered in this place. Nevertheless, concerns have rightfully been expressed about a two-tier system of deprivations, as there are no benefits in the amendments in lieu for those who have already been deprived of their citizenship without notice. Unless that can be fixed, we continue to believe that Lords amendment 4 is the best solution.
In short, the Government have got this Bill totally wrong and it should be opposed in every single way possible.
Order. As the House can see, a great many people wish to speak. I will try to manage without a formal time limit because it is not normal to have one at this stage of dealing with Lords amendments, but I will introduce a time limit if we cannot have a bit of discipline. If everyone speaks for around four minutes, all colleagues will have a chance to speak, so let us try to do it without a formal time limit.
I will be as quick as I can, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Unlike the Opposition, I take the view that this Bill is a serious attempt to deal with an almost intractable problem. Nobody should challenge that point. Nevertheless, we are a great nation, and our greatness rests on the fact that we take a moral stance on most things. That is not a formula for softness but it is an argument for rigour in what we do. Lord Kirkhope’s amendment 9 strips out the Government’s plans to create an offshore asylum-processing system, and I believe he is right. Asylum offshoring would be a moral, economic and practical failure. Previous international experience shows that to introduce it here would be an unmitigated disaster.
The first problem with offshoring is an ethical one. To get a sense of the issue, we have only to look at what happened in Australia when it adopted the same approach in 2013. It meant that children, modern slavery victims and torture survivors could be detained offshore. The Refugee Council of Australia has documented gut-wrenching stories of sexual, physical and mental abuse in the processing facilities. A 14-year-old girl who was held offshore for five years doused herself in petrol and tried to set herself alight. A 10-year-old boy attempted suicide three times. Another child starved themselves near to death and had to be removed back to Australia.
Those were not isolated cases. In fact, there have been numerous reports of assaults and sexual abuse relating to Australia’s processing facility on Nauru. Between January and October 2015 alone—just a few months—there were 48 reports of assault and 57 reports of assault against a minor. That is what we appear to be trying to copy. We cannot risk creating a similar situation here. I ask the House to remember what happened to the views of migration around Europe when we saw the body of a drowned child on a Turkish beach. That is what would happen if such stories started to come out of a British offshoring facility.
The second problem with offshoring is its staggering cost. Australia ended up spending over £1 million per person detained offshore—around £4.3 billion for 3,127 asylum seekers. That is 25 times higher per head than what we spend now. We would expect to have many more applicants than Australia had. Last year alone we had 50,000 applicants. Despite what was said earlier, the Australians have learned the lesson. They have wound down their policy, shut down their processing centre in Papua New Guinea and have not sent any new asylum seekers there since 2014.
The one that I was citing was Nauru, not Papua New Guinea, which turned it down itself and refused to take any more. That is the actual fact of it. By the way, I talked to Tony Abbott about this issue last week and will recount a bit of that discussion in a moment. Since that centre was closed, there were 92,000 asylum applications, so it is not as though the story went away.
There is also a major practical problem: where is this facility going to be? Will it be in Ghana, which referred to the policy as “Operation Dead Meat”? Rwanda? We have heard more on Rwanda today, and I will leave it to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell to talk about Rwanda, as he knows more about it than I do. Albania? Moldova? Gibraltar? All these places have all been talked about—none has said yes. Even if we do find somewhere, we will have to pay it a spectacular bribe to get it to take in our dirty washing; that is what it is, in effect. The Government are simply proposing shifting responsibility for our problems to another country. That does not fit with the behaviour of the great country that I believe we are.
Given the time limit, I will finish on this point. I spoke last week to Tony Abbott, who was Prime Minister of Australia for some of the time we are discussing. We did not talk primarily about this policy, but I asked him what was most effective. I am afraid that he rather agreed with what Stuart C. McDonald said—that the really effective policy was pushback.
Frankly, what we have to deal with, in the Home Office and with our French allies, is a series of practical problems, alongside the legalities of how we handle the channel, which is not yet resolved either. What we cannot do is put aside ethical standards in order to drive people away from our shores.
When people look back on this debate, I think it will be in the same way that we look back on debates around the Poor Law. They tried to solve poverty in those times by being cruel to the poor; I think that is what we are trying to do here. We are not addressing the real issues we face.
I fully concur with everything Mr Davis said. I find it bizarre that we are even considering offshoring at this point in time; I think we all know that, practically, it is never going to come off—it is never going to happen—and this is a wasted debate.
I want to concentrate on employment rights. In my constituency, I have two detention centres, which house nearly 1,000 people. Most of them will be detained, but will then come into the community, and will eventually be allowed to remain. There are 1,700 asylum seekers in hotels in my constituency as well. They are not a burden—I welcome them. They may be a financial burden on local authorities and others—central Government need to support them—but, socially and emotionally, I welcome them completely.
The problem that these people have is that, most of the time, they are trapped in the system. Hon. Members just need to look at the figures from their own casework. Cases take at least six months or a year; I have dealt with cases that have been waiting for four or five years before there is a result. In the meantime, people are denied the right to earn a living. They are told to live off £5.40 a day, and that means they live in poverty.
Someone mentioned Syrian asylum seekers; those I have met are some of the most qualified people I have ever met. They have gone through universities and training; they have skills that they could use to give the country so much, and yet they are trapped in the system, living in poverty. And, tragically, what does living in poverty do, in some instances? People try different angles. Sometimes, unfortunately, they end up in criminality. This system, which refuses to allow people to exercise their skills and devote their talents to our community, forces them into poverty and, in some instances, criminality. All Lords amendment 7 said was, “Just allow these people to work—allow them to support themselves and their families, and to give something back to this country.”
As my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the number of asylum seekers in Feltham and Heston who face the challenges that he has outlined. As well as being more humane, allowing people to work would also allow them to make a financial contribution. He will have heard stories similar to those I have—of young people with degrees, who have been tortured, who have fled for their lives, and want nothing more than to start their lives again in a country that they want to call home.
More recently, a calculation was made of the sort of financial contribution that would be made to the country if we allowed people to work six months after they applied for asylum. At least £200 million would be put into our economy. We are denying ourselves these people’s ability to create wealth. I went through the same process when refugee Ugandan families turned up here in the time of Idi Amin; hon. Members may remember that. I have to tell David Simmonds that Hillingdon, then under the leadership of Terry Dicks, whom the hon. Gentleman will recall, was not kind to those refugees at the time. However, eventually those Ugandan Asians settled, and they made a huge contribution to this society, including a massive economic contribution, because we allowed them to use their talents and take up employment. Often, they created businesses. They made a great contribution, certainly in west London, as my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra can tell us.
I cannot understand the rationale for the Government’s approach. There is an argument that allowing employment will somehow add to the pull factor, but having to live off £5.40 a day is not the sort of pull factor that will attract millions to this country. We should look at the issue rationally, and recognise that the large number of people trapped in this poverty trap could contribute so much. That is why Lords amendment 7 needs to be looked at more rationally. Suffering cannot be part of our policy for dealing with the world refugee crisis—a crisis that will, as a result of climate change and other matters, become worse. We have to recognise that there will be movements of people. We have to accommodate that, and that is partly about making sure that those people are welcomed in a way that allows them to make an effective contribution to our society.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making such a moving and significant speech about the plight of Afghan people. Why, in his view, are the Government not allowing Afghan refugees to make an economic contribution, although they absolutely could?
I do not want to go over this too much, because other people want to come in on this debate, but there is a contradiction in our allowing Ukrainians, but not others, to work immediately. People can draw their own inferences from that. Inferences can be drawn from it that people in this House might not like. I ask hon. Members to contemplate that, to look at Lords amendment 7, and to think again. It is a beneficent amendment that will assist not only the individuals concerned but our wider community and economy.
Order. My plea for Members to limit themselves to four-minute speeches simply has not worked. I point out to Janet Daby, who intervened just now, that I consider that she has now made her contribution, because there is not enough time for everybody to get into the debate. We will now have a formal four-minute limit. I call Sir John Hayes.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Disraeli observed:
“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.”
Many of the amendments put forward by the Lords are carelessly critical. They are veiled, as these things so often are, in a thin covering of assumed moral superiority, but surely it is not moral to oppose a Bill that tries to make the asylum system fit for purpose. Surely it is not ethical to conflate illegal immigration with the immigration of those people who diligently seek to come to this country lawfully and to surmount the hurdles we put in their path, and who, having done so, take pride in making the contribution mentioned by John McDonnell.
In particular, Lords amendments 6 and 9 go entirely against the grain of the Bill, which, it should be remembered, delivers on a pledge made to the British people by their Government. From the darkening gloom, a silver light upsoars, and that silver light was the pledge to take back control. Many of those who elected this Government made the unsurprising assumption that taking back control had at its heart, at its core, taking back control of our borders, for if a nation cannot control its borders, what can it control? How do we define a nation if it does not control who comes here and who stays here? Our asylum system is palpably, as acknowledged by all, no longer fit for purpose, and all acknowledge that, yet when the Government try to do something about this, falteringly and hesitatingly—I do not think that the Bill goes far enough, by the way—they face a barrage of criticism from those who are happy to allow the chaos to continue.
“The future will be better tomorrow.”
Better tomorrow, but with no suggestion of what that future might be like, no hint of what Labour would do to improve the current system, indeed no detail of how the Opposition would amend or reform asylum, just a criticism of a Government trying to get this right.
It is preposterous that the Lords should attempt to amend this Bill against a backdrop of 28,000 men, women and children setting out to sea in dinghies to make the precarious trip to our shores, three times the number of crossings since 2020. If those numbers continue, we will see many repeats of that horrible day last November that claimed 27 lives.
This is straightforward— the people smugglers’ message is plain: “If we get you here and you pay the money to achieve that purpose, you will never leave.” The truth is that even once claims have been processed and around 40% have been found not to be valid, people rarely leave because of a combination of irresponsible activists, fat-cat lawyers and the Human Rights Act, which needs to be ditched as soon as possible. Let us reform the asylum system by backing this Bill and rejecting these amendments once and for all.
I think this is the worst bit of legislation that I have seen in 17 years—and there is some competition. Fundamentally, it is the worst bit of legislation because it is based on an utterly bogus premise, which is that we are swamped by asylum seekers. We are not. Compared with with the 27 members of the European Union, the UK is 18th when it comes to the number of asylum claims that are granted. For many reasons that we know all about, last year was a heavy year. There were 48,000 asylum cases in the UK, 96,000 in France, and 127,000 in Germany. That is a reminder that our problem is an entirely structural one—incompetence in the Home Office—not that we are “swamped”.
Lords amendment 7 is about the right to work. Why are we not granting asylum seekers the right to work? It is right for integration, learning the language, and the dignity of those people being able to support their family and to pay their way. There is a left-wing and a right-wing argument for saying yes to this; it is barmy to say no.
Lords amendment 6 is about having two tiers. This is the most appalling and repugnant part of the entire Bill. I assume that the Government have confidence in our asylum system, in which case we judge people on the merits of their asylum claim through the system, not through the utterly bogus, completely contrived and arbitrary notion of the means by which they got here. Let us remember that 89% of Iranian asylum seekers have their claims granted, 97% of Eritreans, and 96% of Sudanese, none of whom have a legal route. The only way that they can get here is by making dangerous journeys. Let us be very clear: this Bill is a traffickers’ charter. If Members vote for this Bill, they are voting for deaths in the channel, because they will be removing the right of anyone who is not Ukrainian, Afghan or Syrian to have a safe route here, which is an outrage. Conservative Members know that that is the truth. Then there is offshoring. We have the guarantee that it is not the Ascension Islands, so where is it? South Georgia? People from all parts of the House have already mentioned that offshoring is ridiculous. It is a pantomime bit of nonsense, and it is also inhumane and massively expensive.
People talk about the pull factor, for pity’s sake. Have the Government not worked out that there is no dastardly, lunatic policy they could introduce to protect this country from asylum seekers that rivals the fact that we are a flipping island surrounded by water. People come here not because of the pull factor, but because of the push factor—because of the outrages that they experience. The people here have no sense of what it is like themselves. This is the sort of nonsense that people invent to try to push through the worst piece of legislation that I have seen in 17 years.
I want to spend a moment talking about Ukraine and our offer to the refugees fleeing that appalling and murderous tyrant, Putin. There is a lot to commend in the fact that there is some kind of a scheme now, but let us remember that it is laden with admin bureaucracy. I was talking to a Kendal friend of mine who is Ukrainian by birth. Their friends have seven-month-old twins who do not have passports, so the online application is not open to them. They have to get themselves to the embassy in Warsaw, as that is the only way that they can get here. We are throwing up barrier after barrier after barrier.
Why do people want to come here? Why do they not stay in the first place they reach? There are loads of reasons—cultural ties, the Commonwealth, language. There is also the fact that we have a reputation, a glorious reputation; people want to come to the United Kingdom because they know that it is a place of tolerance and of liberty. It is a place where there is religious tolerance, where they can earn a living, and where they can raise a family in safety.
The simple fact is this: even this despicable Bill will not undermine Britain’s centuries-old reputation as a place of sanctuary. Whatever this Government do, they cannot sully our reputation much, because this country’s reputation and history are glorious and so is its future, despite this puny little Government.
It is always a pleasure to follow Tim Farron, even though, as is sadly often the case, he ruined some respectable points with absurd hyperbole. This Bill is not the living embodiment of meanness. It is actually a reasonable and proper attempt to try to deal with a system that has evolved to become very complex. It now has distinctions that are out of date because of our departure from the EU. Having worked with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on aspects of this Bill, I can say that it is in direct fulfilment of our manifesto commitment. There is no doubt in my mind about its importance and about the need for it to be passed.
There is, however, reasonable question to ask about the position of asylum seekers being able to undertake work after six months. I have long regarded as unnecessary the waste of not just lives but expenditure when asylum seekers have to stay in a state of limbo, often for years, before knowing whether their claim is to be accepted. It is unnecessary because people who are in this position have a contribution to make to our society. That is not particularly controversial or a view confined to political parties. It is supported by a broad coalition of people of all colours and none. Indeed, a YouGov poll showed that 81% of people who were asked agreed with the principle of allowing asylum seekers the right to work. As we reset the system through this Bill, we have an opportunity to do something that has the merit of being both practical and right. We are conferring the right to work on our friends from Ukraine who are arriving in our country after fleeing war and persecution, so why not do the same for others who are and fleeing persecution and seeking asylum?
After the Government did whatever it took to save millions of jobs during the covid pandemic, we now face a significant undersupply of workers. Allowing access to gainful economic activity for some asylum seekers achieves several things. It helps in some measure to answer that question about labour shortage. It will bring in revenue to the Exchequer—John McDonnell mentioned a figure of £200 million, and the potential revenue is certainly in the hundreds of millions. When we put on the other side of the balance the fact that asylum accommodation costs £350 million a year, we can start to see why the numbers add up.
In my constituency, working with The Harbour Project in Swindon, which helps people in my dispersal centre to deal with the effects of the wait for resolution, I have seen for myself the effects on their mental health of having nothing to do. Even volunteering is different.
I am grateful for the constructive way my right hon. and learned Friend is making his case. If he is agreeable, I would be keen to meet him to discuss the issue and the arguments he makes, and to set out some of the work we are doing on transforming the speed at which asylum cases are processed, which I hope will also help to allay some of his concerns.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that offer, which I accept with alacrity. I would like to bring colleagues such as the noble Baroness Stroud, who did so much work on this issue, to meet him and officials to look into the detail of the volunteering question in particular. While we encourage asylum seekers to volunteer and they get reasonable expenses, even payments in kind for the volunteering they do are prohibited. There is a real issue there that is preventing many people from making a contribution to the local community, as I have seen for myself in Swindon.
We know the reality that many people under that pressure go off the radar. They end up being exploited, or even bound into modern-day slavery, and we lose them from the entire system. The effect of creating a right to work could deal a hammer blow to that type of exploitation.
I therefore welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister and urge the Government, in the spirit of co-operation, to look carefully at how we can do what other countries such as Denmark have started to do in allowing some asylum seekers the right to work. The Migration Advisory Committee has said there is no meaningful evidence to suggest that doing so would create a pull factor. The question is begged: if that is a pull factor, why do we have small boats now?
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have help from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project for my work in this area.
I have said throughout the debates in Parliament that this Bill is divisive. As my constituents reach across borders to help and house those fleeing the war in Ukraine, this Government are sowing division by making an insidious distinction between “good” and “bad” refugees—a division that we should all completely reject. That is why I rise today to support amendments 4 to 9, especially amendment 6.
Clause 11 makes a totally spurious division between group 1 and group 2 refugees that flies in the face of the 1951 refugee convention. The convention clearly states that refugees, wherever they come from,
“shall enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination.”
The Government know that there are no visa or pre-entry clearances for someone wishing to claim refuge. There is no such thing as an illegal refugee in international law, yet that is exactly what the new group 2 category attempts to establish. All clause 11 seeks to do is lazily turn far-right talking points about asylum seekers and refugees into legislation, without seriously thinking through any of the consequences for the people involved.
For example, currently people fleeing war can apply for humanitarian protection leave. The protection grants them five years in the UK, access to the NHS and other public funds, an option to apply later for indefinite leave to remain and the right to work. However, the Government are scrapping humanitarian protection as we know it and aligning it instead with the new group 2 status, meaning regular visa reviews every two and a half years compared with every five, no recourse to public funds, no right to work, restricted family visa rights and no route to indefinite leave to remain. That is something I think many in this House have missed, and I hope they will reflect on it.
It is remarkable that in the middle of the Ukraine crisis, as thousands of people join the effort to support people from Ukraine, the Government are actually proposing that people running from the horrors of war should have fewer rights to come here. Those rights were brought in through an EU directive that became British law, and now the Government are using the smokescreen of this Bill to remove them, all by aligning them with a faulty two-tier refugee system.
My hon. Friend is making a very interesting speech. Does she agree that the UN refugee convention was about our common humanity? I have heard a lot of talk about a “great country”, but what we see now from this Government is an attempt to split humanity into two tiers. That undermines the concept of human rights and of there being one, sole, universal understanding of what it is to be a human being. This Government are putting humanity into categories, and history tells us that that is a slippery slope and fundamentally wrong.
I agree—it is fundamentally wrong. That is why we should ensure that clause 11 is not included in this Bill. Clause 11 is out of tune with the hundreds of thousands of people who have come forward to help Ukrainian refugees. It is an affront to the 1951 refugee convention, and I urge hon. Members to reject it and to reject this Bill.
I rise to thank the Government sincerely for amendment 1, the Chagos nationality amendment. I particularly thank the Minister, Tom Pursglove for his comments earlier and his colleague, my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, who is not currently in his place, for meeting me and engaging on the issue of Chagos nationality justice and finally, after many years of campaigning, seeing the matter resolved by this Government. I am truly appreciative.
I express my thanks to hon. Members across this House, both present and past, and present and past members of the other place for their work over many years on this important matter. I also do not forget the many members of the Chagos islands community: those visiting Parliament today, those across this country and those in other parts of the world. They have suffered an injustice of approximately half a century and the Government today have gone a significant way towards ensuring that those people who are descendants of British subjects rightly have the ability to apply for British overseas territories citizenship, and therefore ultimately British citizenship if they so wish.
In conclusion, I repeat my appreciation to the Government. The second campaign that continues for the Chagos islanders is a right of return to their homeland, but I promise the Home Office that I will tackle the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office with that one, and conclude my remarks by expressing my appreciation to Home Office Ministers and officials.
I echo the words of Henry Smith; there is a small amount of consensus on the concession the Government have made today towards members of the Chagossian community. However, if the Government are at long last willing to listen to the House of Lords to correct that historical injustice, why are they not willing to listen to it on all the other points? It appears to be the exception that proves the rule.
We in the SNP hold no torch for their lordships’ House, but for those who are defenders of the Lords and stand up for the check it is supposed to provide on the decisions of the elected Chamber, why is everything else being dismissed out of hand? Why are the Government not willing to accept Lords amendment 5 and put the 1951 refugee convention into the Bill? They say they accept the convention and always act in accordance with—although of course the reality is very different. There is a gap between their rhetoric about respecting the convention and the reality that they want to turn arriving in the UK from a war zone into a crime.
That is why the House should also support Lords amendments 6 and 11. Ministers have yet to explain, despite having been asked several times in this debate, how the UK, which is surrounded by water, could ever possibly be the first safe country of arrival for someone seeking asylum without proper paperwork. Political human rights defenders from Eritrea are not provided with exit visas and passports by their Government. They have to run across the border at night in case they get shot, and then hope to God that they can get to a safe country such as the United Kingdom, where there is already an expat community. But then this freedom-loving, democracy-defending, global-Britain-is-great Tory Government want to turn them into criminals, which is exactly what they were fleeing in the first place. Exactly how putting asylum seekers into the prison system represents value for money for taxpayers is completely beyond me.
That is why the House should vote to retain Lords amendment 7 extending the right to work to asylum seekers. As if the current system is not dehumanising enough for individual asylum seekers, being denied the right to work actively harms wider society. Let them pay tax. Let them contribute to our economy and industries that are crying out for staff. Let them use their skills and talents to benefit everyone. I believe that even some Tory Back Benchers have finally been persuaded of this. I pay particular tribute to the Maryhill Integration Network, based in Glasgow North, for championing this amendment and becoming not just a provider of vital services to the local migrant population but an authoritative national voice on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
The House should also support the amendment tabled by Lord Alton, one of the finest minds and voices in the upper Chamber, that seeks to ensure that applicants for asylum who are at risk of being killed in a genocide can claim asylum in the UK. It provides exactly the kind of safe and legal route the Government say they want to see, and it was supported by former Tory Cabinet Ministers in the House of Lords. Yet once again the Government want to reject it. It is clear that this Government are determined to strip away from the Bill any vestige of compassion or recognition of vulnerability on the part of asylum seekers that the Lords have managed to shoehorn into it. Well, I hope the Government are made to work for it. I hope we divide on every single amendment before us and that when they have to cancel their dinners, receptions and all their other engagements this evening, they think about what it must be like to travel on a small boat and to be in the hands of people-traffickers. No one chooses that. No one is so desperate to come to the Tories’ land of milk and honey. People are forced into this kind of thing.
I will not give way because I am out of time, and this Government are out of ideas and out of compassion. As they have shown in recent weeks in response to the current situation in Ukraine, people in Scotland and people across the United Kingdom do not want to put up barriers to people fleeing war, famine and disasters caused by a climate emergency that we in the west created. They want to show solidarity and compassion. They want to say it loud and say it clear—that refugees are welcome here.
I take a rather different view from Patrick Grady. I draw the House’s attention to my outside interests. I also want to make it clear that I think this is a most important piece of legislation and I completely agree with the aims of the Home Office. I congratulate the Home Secretary on her vigorous attempts to remedy a serious problem.
I want to raise three brief points. First, I point out to the House that when John McDonnell and my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland agree so clearly, the Government should think carefully about whether they can move on the issue of 12 months coming down to six months.
The two Lords amendments I particularly want to raise, which would improve the Bill, are those tabled by Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate. They should be given very serious consideration. Lord Kirkhope was the Immigration Minister under Michael Howard, the former Home Secretary in John Major’s Government. Both are much respected and on the right of the Conservative party. Our former colleague Lord Kirkhope’s views are an important contribution to this debate. Furthermore, he has a long-standing interest and expertise in the handling of population movement in Europe from Calais to Moscow.
On amendment 11, my right hon. Friend Damian Green has already made clear the huge benefits that would come in if it were agreed to. It is designed to break the people-smugglers’ business model. The Government are quite right: people fleeing terror and persecution should only come here by safe and legal routes. We will only stop people in desperation coming over the channel—that is, set up the settlement pathway the Home Office rightly refers to and break the smugglers’ model—if, first, we have accessible and meaningful numbers, and, secondly, we are not restricted to one geographic area. The Home Office confirms that 87% of the 28,000 arriving illicitly in 2021 came from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, for whom there is currently no alternative legal and safe route to which they can apply to get to the United Kingdom. Endorsing resettlement is central to the Government’s new approach set out in the “New Plan for Immigration”, but Ministers have yet to bring forward any provision in legislation that would see the necessary safe and legal routes made available.
It is rarely popular among Conservatives to talk of specific targets. Any figure can be changed up or down by the Government to reflect international circumstances. I fear that we must do so if the Government’s laudable aim of stemming the dangerous flow of desperate people across the channel, exploited by evil traffickers, is to stop. The figure of 10,000 suggested by Lord Kirkhope equates to 15 per parliamentary constituency, or five families per local authority. The amendment makes it clear that this is inclusive of, not in addition to, the Afghan refugees, and having a target would enable local authorities to plan in a co-ordinated manner, as we have heard, and avoid the current system where so many Afghans whom we want to help are waiting to move out of inappropriate accommodation.
On amendment 9 and offshoring, this is the issue that Lord Kirkhope looked at so comprehensively before and reluctantly rejected. The Home Office is asking Parliament to grant it this power when it has no idea of where it would exercise it, when it could exercise it or if it can exercise it. We know that it would be incredibly expensive. Judged by the cost of Australian offshoring, the British taxpayer would face unprecedented costs per asylum seeker. It would be much cheaper to put each one in the Ritz and send all the under-18s to Eton. That would cost a great deal less than what is proposed. Much more sensible is to recruit and train several hundred new civil servants to process these claims more rapidly and, yes, to crack down on an over-lengthy appeals process exploited through unscrupulous lawyers.
Recently, I was sent hundreds of Valentine cards from pupils at St Dunstan’s Primary School in my constituency, to my surprise; it is more than I have ever received. In each card, handmade and written by a pupil, the message was clear: to stand in solidarity with refugees and vote against this draconian Bill. Primary school children were asking me to do the right thing. These young people want a society based on compassion, humanity and solidarity with those in need. They want their country and their communities to be safe havens for those fleeing war, famine and persecution. It is moving to see such displays of unconditional love and understanding from our young people, and I am immensely proud to represent these pupils. I only wish that an ounce of their compassion could be found among Conservative Members who will vote to support this inhumane Bill.
Make no mistake, this Bill is one of the most draconian pieces of legislation brought before this House in quite some time. Millions of people across the UK have recoiled in utter disgust at some of the provisions contained within it, and they are right to do so. Its timing could not be worse. We have all been given a stark reminder of the importance of providing support and assistance to those fleeing war. The situation in Ukraine is driving millions from their homes, many of whom have found refuge in neighbouring countries. However, those who have sought to claim asylum here in the UK have faced nothing but obstruction and bureaucracy. A cold shoulder has been given to the Ukrainian people by the Home Office. They are the latest victims of the long-standing hostile environment faced by those in search of safety.
Let us be clear that this Bill does nothing to improve the lives of those fleeing war and persecution—quite the opposite. Clause 11, concerning illegal entry into the UK, will criminalise those who do not arrive by regular routes, which for millions of refugees are simply not available. It will do nothing to support those who face perilous journeys after fleeing from their homes, and it seeks only to further punish those who are most in need of help. Furthermore, there are no serious measures in this Bill aimed at tackling people trafficking, or any provisions to ensure that safe and legal routes are made more widely available. Instead of measures designed to safeguard and support refugees, this Bill contains only provisions to further dehumanise and isolate them, with the suggestion of offshore processing facilities and the ability for them to be sent back to countries they have travelled through.
That is why I am standing with those pupils from St Dunstan’s Primary School in opposition to the Bill. I urge others to learn from their example and do the same. Edward from the school said:
“Rose are red / Violets are blue / Do you support refugees too?”
“Show your heart for refugees”.
“Roses are red / Violets are blue / I support refugees / How about you?”
With 20,000 Syrians, 18,000 Afghans, 100,000 Hongkongers and an unlimited number of Ukrainians—probably upwards of 100,000 are expected—it is just not the case, as Tahir Ali just said, that there is not an ounce of compassion in this country for supporting refugees fleeing from conflict. It is simply not the case.
Of course there are difficulties, and there is too much bureaucracy in many cases, and we are all familiar with that. I do not think there is any individual to blame, whether Ministers or officials. The fact is that systems are often clunky and bureaucratic, and we need to improve that, but there is a factor that applies when we consider mass migration and asylum in our times. We are trying to manage hard borders in an age of free trade and mass migration. We are facing enormous pressures on our borders.
Beyond the remit of this Bill is our foreign engagement. We need to be more engaged. In other debates, we have discussed the need for further investment in our defences, in development spending and in our diplomatic corps. I also think we need to accept more refugees into this country in the years ahead—not more economic migrants, except for those who are highly skilled and able to make a significant contribution, but certainly more refugees.
I want to speak briefly in support of the sponsorship scheme that the Government have introduced, which is so good as a model. Rather than Government and councils being responsible for identifying migrants and admitting them into this country, we are inviting communities themselves to take the lead, and I find it surprising that Opposition Members, who object so strenuously to bureaucracy and faceless systems, want the Government to match refugees with sponsors. They think councils should be responsible for organising where people come and live. I think we have a better system that is self-organising. Members around the House will have noticed the inspiring example in eastern Europe of communities reaching out to refugees, which is all self-organising and shows that it does not need Government to match people.
How do we do this securely? It is totally wrong to say that anyone who breaks into the UK has a right to live here. It is a terrible incentive for people to take dangerous trips across the channel, it is unjust to legal migrants and refugees, and it is wrong for the citizens who live here. It is the essence of sovereignty that people cannot just decide to move here on their own initiative. We have a moral obligation to illegal migrants to save their lives if they undertake these dangerous journeys, to treat them with absolute decency when they get here and then to return them to the back of the queue. If possible, that means back to the last safe country they were in, and if necessary to a third country. The effect will be to deter this dangerous and illegal crossing.
We must do more to deter people smuggling, which is why I support the measures in the Bill to introduce stronger penalties for people who break into this country, much stronger penalties against the smugglers who bring them over, more power and resources for our Border Force, including opportunities to return to France if that can be done safely, and more power to remove illegal immigrants.
I will finish with two quick conclusions. First, I think we need more use of the community sponsorship route as the default model for refugee resettlement. I echo the point made by my right hon. Friend Damian Green earlier. I believe in the generosity and compassion of local communities in this country, and I believe that community sponsorship is the most effective way to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers in our country. Secondly, to ensure the security of our borders, I wonder whether we should consider a new Department for borders that looks after visas, asylum and security. A smaller and more effective operation might be better.
The Bill is anti-refugee to its core. It lacks basic humanity and represents an acceleration of the Government’s deeply damaging demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers. Its callousness has been further illuminated by the situation in Ukraine. The Government must provide safe passage and refuge for displaced people, refugees and asylum seekers arriving from Ukraine and all theatres of conflict around the globe.
The outpouring of compassion and solidarity for people fleeing Ukraine has been inspiring, yet when we contrast that to how asylum seekers from non-European and non-majority white countries are treated by the Government, a worrying picture emerges of the inherent racism in how crises are reported, discussed and responded to. The sorrow and despair that we all feel for Ukraine should be identical to the sorrow and despair that we feel for Yemen, Palestine and Syria. The media class and the Government must recognise that every conflict is deserving of our solidarity and our compassion, so the UK must not only rapidly extend its support for people fleeing Ukraine but abandon its unbelievably callous refugee and asylum policy—starting by ripping up this Bill.
Many of the Lords amendments would improve the Bill. I especially support Lords amendment 4, which removes the licence given to the Home Secretary to deprive British people of their citizenship without informing them. I also support Lords amendment 5, which seeks to ensure that the Bill does not violate the UK’s shared international obligations under the refugee convention. Lords amendment 6, which removes from the Bill the power given to the Home Secretary to treat people differently according to the way that they arrive and claim asylum, must also be adopted to prevent a two-tier system that would limit protection for refugees due not to their need but to their method of travel.
I also support Lords amendment 7 on permission to work, yet I believe the six-month limit should be lifted and that people claiming asylum should be able to work regardless of how long they have been in our country. Lords amendments 8 and 9 are steps in the right direction, yet they do not go far enough to prevent asylum seekers from being transferred to other countries and processed offshore. Lords amendment 10, which would introduce a family reunion provision, is important, yet we must accept all people fleeing war, persecution and other horrors, not only those with family ties in the UK. I wholeheartedly support Lords amendment 54, which prohibits the use of new maritime powers contained in schedule 6 in ways that would endanger life at sea. That is an abhorrent proposal and we must fight tooth and nail against its ever being implemented.
Overall, although the Lords amendments improve important aspects, they do not go nearly far enough to rectify this irredeemable Bill. Time and again, the Government have chosen to turn their back on those seeking protection from war, torture or other awful acts. The Bill will compound the misery of people fleeing intolerable conditions. It must be scrapped.
I very much welcome the offer to meet the Minister on my issue of family reunion. I welcome the flexibility that he and other Ministers have shown on the We Belong campaign by young people who have been in this country for many years and whose wish to become officially British will at last be speeded up. I do not welcome the litany of constant carping from Opposition Members, who have not offered a single practical solution to the serious problems that we are facing, particularly in the channel. They have had every opportunity to do so and they have failed on every occasion.
I support Lords amendment 7—I said that my support for the Bill was not without reservation—and I think there is merit in the six-month campaign. There is a waste of talent that is left in limbo in this country that we could put to good use. I also welcome Lords amendment 12—the genocide amendment—and the good work done on it by Lord Alton. As somebody who has been sanctioned by China for my support of the recognition of genocide, I would be expected to support that.
I will concentrate on Lords amendment 10—the so-called Dubs amendment. I have form in this area, and I am afraid that the family reunion scheme needs to be much better. The Minister said that there is already generous provision in our rules for refugee family reunion, and 40,000 people have benefited from that, but only since 2015 or over seven years. The Home Secretary did say some time ago that she wanted to see a generous equivalent replacement for Dublin III as we came beyond Brexit. I want to hold her to that promise, but I fear what is contained in the Bill does not hold water.
The Dubs amendment would expand family reunion so that unaccompanied children in Europe can easily join family members in the UK, such as their grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings. At the moment, however, the UK’s refugee family reunion rules only cover children trying to reunite with their parents in the UK as long as a parent has refugee status or humanitarian protection, and the child was born before their parents fled the country of origin. This rule is limited so that it excludes most unaccompanied children and prevents them from uniting with family.
For some children, these are their closest surviving relatives. They may be aunts and uncles because they have lost their parents in a place of war. Refugees may have lost their parents before they left their country or on their journey to sanctuary, and siblings in this country may be the only link they have. We have seen the horrendous pictures from Lesbos of the camps there containing many unaccompanied children, where there are fires, predators and other dangers, and those are the young people we really should be concentrating on rescuing. In refusing one case, the Home Office said:
“You currently live in a shelter for unaccompanied minors… I note you have provided no evidence why this arrangement cannot continue”.
That is not a permanent solution.
The Government have also argued that there is discretion to allow family reunion outside the rules in certain circumstances, but it is not right that children who had a clear official route to safety and family reunion under the EU’s Dublin III regulation are now reliant on Government discretion. This discretion is rarely exercised, and the very few cases actually granted outside the rules are mainly done so only on appeal, which requires legal assistance. At best, children are left waiting months alone and separated from family, and at worst, they are prevented from safely joining loved ones at all.
I call on the Government to make good on the promises given by the Home Secretary as we moved out of the Dublin III regulation post Brexit. There has been a long hiatus, but we need to put that right and that is why I support Lords amendment 10 in doing that.
I am grateful to be able to speak in this debate. Many amendments were passed in the other place, but for the sake of time, I will focus on Lords amendments 4, 9, 10 and 13.
I am pleased that Lords amendment 4 deletes clause 9, which I have spoken about before. Clause 9 is one of the most chilling parts of the Bill. I have had countless people write to me about this since the Government brought this Bill to Parliament. It would allow the Secretary of State to deprive a person of their British citizenship without notice, and it is right that the Lords chose to remove the clause entirely from the Bill.
Lords amendment 9 would stop overseas asylum processing. We have seen that this type of system is ineffective, inhumane and too expensive. As we have already heard from the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, and other Opposition Members, in Australia the offshore processing cost is estimated to be Aus $1 billion a year to deal with 300 migrants. I would like to add my voice to this by saying that I do not think it is in our country’s best interest to have overseas asylum processing.
On Lords amendment 10, Britain has a proud history of offering sanctuary to vulnerable unaccompanied children, but the Government ended the Dubs scheme and have not replaced it. I was proud that, last year, Lewisham Council was the first borough in the UK to be formally recognised for its work by becoming a borough of sanctuary. I encourage all boroughs to be boroughs of sanctuary, and I also thank all families across our countries for offering Ukrainian families a home.
In contrast, the Government are ignoring the treacherous journeys that these desperate people are making. Without safe, legal routes for family reunion, unaccompanied children are making the most dangerous journeys. The Government would be better targeting the traffickers, rather than the victims, if they want to stop people making these treacherous journeys. This amendment is therefore vital because it imposes a duty on the Government to allow unaccompanied children to be admitted to the UK.
I will end on Lords amendment 13. In the other place, Labour rightly voiced concerns that clause 39 would criminalise everyone who arrives in the UK to claim asylum. The clause will have wider implications for all asylum seekers, not only people making irregular channel crossings. It is time the Government recognised that they need to treat refugees humanely, not as a problem they need to solve by criminalising them.
Can the Minister therefore answer me this? If a Ukrainian family enters the UK without a visa in the hope of being granted asylum, will the Government’s proposal mean they are guilty of a criminal offence punishable by up to four years in prison? If so, it is ridiculous that we could be imprisoning people for fleeing a war started by Vladimir Putin—or any other war or natural disaster, for that matter.
To begin my remarks on a personal note, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for having taken the time to talk to me about a number of amendments and for having approached the Bill with his customary calmness and friendliness and with respect for the House. It is always a pleasure to call my hon. Friend a friend, and he has handled this Bill incredibly well.
I served on the Committee stage of the Immigration Act 2016, and we should remind ourselves that Ministers told us then that that was the Bill to end all Bills and solve all problems, yet another one came along a minute or two later, so I have little or no doubt that we will return to many of these issues over the coming months and years.
This is also an opportunity to pause: all new laws and Bills set rules, guidelines, prohibitions and so forth, but that provides the House with an opportunity to briefly reflect on the enormous contribution of so many people not born in this country who have seen in this country a beacon of light and hope and decency, and who have made their way by all sorts of routes to put down roots and become part of our society. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the benefits of immigration and not to see it always through the prisms of prohibition and just say “It’s bad and must be controlled and stopped.”
I strongly support many of the Lords amendments on the right to work. My hon. Friend the Minister said he could not support that because it would be a disincentive to those seeking to abide by the rules to allow people to work, yet as others have mentioned, we are rightly allowing those from Ukraine to do so without anyone making that point. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland, my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), my hon. Friend Lee Anderson and indeed John McDonnell all expressed very cogently and calmly the clear economic and socioeconomic benefits of allowing people to work, and I urge the Minister, even at this late stage of ping-pong, to rethink on that issue.
On offshoring, I first want to say that that is the most dehumanising word. It turns our fellow human beings into commodities to have this idea that we can move them from pillar to post. I do not find it at all palatable. The Minister is also asking us to sign a blank cheque. We have his word—and his word carries weight—that any countries involved with this would share our values, but that is not on the face of the Bill and there is no guarantee. We do not know where this offshoring would be located or how it would work, and we certainly do not know how much it would cost. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield said we might as well send them to Eton and that really would be a punishment, but there is no costing to this and we should not be offshoring; if people want and are trying to come here, we should have the decency, scope and capacity to deal with it here, in country. I do not see the link between putting people off coming here illegally and offshoring; we saw that in the Australian experiment, which clearly did not work.
A rethink on both those issues from the Minister would be helpful.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 12, put forward by Lord Alton of Liverpool, who for decades has been the conscience of this place in dealing with matters of genocide. The amendment would enable the Bill to do three things: provide safe passage for victims of genocide; create a route to asylum that is not currently available in the UK; and help the UK Government meet their legal responsibilities under the UN genocide convention. Let me begin by declaring an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the Yazidi people and vice-chair of the APPG on international freedom of religion or belief and the APPG for the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Amendment 12 has its origins in Sinjar and the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, where in August 2014 Daesh terrorists attacked peaceful Yazidi communities. During its reign of terror, Daesh raped, murdered or sold into sexual slavery thousands of women, and sent young boys to its terrorist training camps. Daesh sought to completely destroy the Yazidi community and erase their ethnic and religious identity, culture and way of life. I have spoken many times in this House about the fate of the Yazidis, and in 2016 the House voted unanimously that what happened to them was a genocide.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the atrocities and the fact they meet every single standard laid out in the 1948 convention on genocide, the Government still steadfastly refuse to create a safe or legal route to enable victims of genocide or those at risk of being victims of genocide passage to the United Kingdom. We have a legal and moral responsibility to say that that has to change. It cannot be right that the most abused communities in the world—whether they are the Yazidis, the Uyghurs, the Rohingya or whoever—cannot find safe passage to the United Kingdom.
Let us compare the UK’s record to that of Germany. Since Daesh launched its attack in 2014, 85,000 Yazidi people have been given sanctuary in Germany. In contrast, the UK has not taken in a single Yazidi from northern Iraq. Not one. The Government will say that they are considering eight applications from Yazidis from Iraq, but considering only eight applications from victims of one of the worst genocides in the 21st century is a shameful statistic. As we have heard so often in the debate, that is not an accident, because the system is deliberately designed not to recognise those fleeing genocide as a specific group that requires a bespoke solution. Minister, that has to change.
In conclusion, Baroness Kennedy was absolutely right to describe the Bill as
“an affront to human rights and civil liberties.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Regardless of the form in which the Bill passes tonight, it will continue to be an affront to human rights and civil liberties and an indelible stain on what is left of the reputation of the United Kingdom. If it has to pass, at least allow those who are suffering the most heinous of crimes at hands of some of the most brutal regimes a glimmer of hope that in their greatest hour of need they will find refuge here. I ask Government Members to consider this humanitarian amendment and make a change that will allow the most abused people to find refuge here in the United Kingdom.
I commend the Minister for the moderate and sensible way in which he introduced the Bill and I urge him, when considering how we should vote on all the amendments, to be robust and to hold the line. When the Bill becomes an Act it will be crawled over by so-called human rights lawyers, and I believe that it is the bare minimum to try to deal with the scandal of channel crossings, which are putting so many lives at risk.
Let us pause for a moment and think about what we can agree on. The push factors are enormous, such is the misery in the world in places such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and many other countries. There is no limit to the number of people who want to come here. Let us consider the pull factors. We have the most liberal labour laws in Europe. We speak English; we can do nothing about that. We have no national identity card, which I think will become increasingly essential in the modern world. People can vanish into the community, and we already have large communities from all over the world. The pull factors are enormous—in a way, President Macron has a point.
We have to ask people who oppose the Bill and seek to amend it, what is their solution? Everybody accepts that the cross-channel trade is appalling—it criminalises desperate people and lines the pockets of gangsters—but what is the solution? Such is the pull factor and the push factor that even if we did have offshore asylum claims for 2,000, 5,000 or 10,000, it would probably make very little difference to the number of people desperate to get into this country by any means at all.
I repeat that what we have in the Bill is the bare minimum to try to break the cycle of it being just about economically attractive to make the appallingly dangerous journey. We have to have a variety of measures in our toolkit. I do not know whether we will ever resort to pushback, although the Greeks have pursued it very successfully, and I do not know whether we will ever resort to offshoring, although the Australians have used it very successfully.
I am sorry I have only recently come into the Chamber; I was at the Westminster Bridge event. Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect for a moment on the fact that there are 1 million refugees in Bangladesh, many hundreds of thousands in Uganda and over 1 million in Poland? Many countries around the world, which are very poor and have very little infrastructure, have taken in far more refugees than any European country. They are holding their hands out to support people. He appears to be moving in the opposite direction.
I do not think that that is true. Actually, if we talk about our response to Ugandan refugees, Hong Kong and many other areas, we have been generous. We have to have a sense of proportion. Such is the overwhelming number of people who want to come here, we have to hold the line. If we did not, it would have a catastrophic effect on race relations. [Interruption.] Yes, it would, because people would be angry about it. They would think, “Why did I vote Brexit when I can’t even control my own borders? What are the Government doing?” The Government, to be responsible, have to respond by trying to deal with illegal cross-channel crossings. All the Lords amendments would just add to the pull factors. For instance, one amendment says that people should be allowed to work after six months. That is an extraordinarily attractive pull factor. I am afraid that the Government have to hold the line. My personal view is that until we are prepared to criminalise people who take the illegal route, until we are prepared to arrest them and until we are prepared to deport them, we will never have a chance of dealing with this trade.
The Bill is just the first step in trying to deal with this appalling problem. I ask those who support the amendments and oppose the Government today—I repeat the question—what is their solution? People are pouring across the channel every day. Sooner or later there is going to be a terrible tragedy. We have already had one tragedy in November. What is their solution? How are they going to stop that? How are they going to break the cycle used by criminal gangs? There is no solution, apart from what the Government are attempting to do today. It is a minimum solution. It is, actually, a humanitarian solution. It is about trying to prevent people from taking appalling risks. If we allow any of the amendments—any of the amendments—and if we do not hold the line, sooner or later there will be an even greater tragedy in the English channel.
The wind-ups will begin at 12 minutes past 4, as the Minister has kindly agreed to truncate his wind-up to get more time in. We are going to a three-minute limit. At roughly 18 minutes past 4, we are expecting multiple Divisions.
The events in Ukraine in the past month have shown how quickly millions of lives can be thrown into chaos by war and violence, and how individuals can find themselves dependent on asylum or sanctuary afforded by other countries. The British people, yet again, have shown themselves willing to offer financial support and to offer up their homes for refugees. I take issue with the comments of the previous speaker, Sir Edward Leigh, about the Bill. The Bill is absolutely appalling and inhumane. The British people I know are caring, compassionate and welcoming of all refugees, and we should welcome refugees from wherever they are fleeing violence, war and famine.
Unfortunately, the Government are completely out of touch with that sentiment in their new plan for immigration. The Bill cuts across everything that we should stand for in this country. It breaches international laws, violates basic principles of justice and runs completely counter to what is needed. It will cause greater inequity and harm communities.
In the limited time that I have, I want to associate myself strongly with Lords amendment 4, which would remove from the Bill Government powers to make a deprivation of citizenship order without giving notice to the person affected. More than 100 of my Cynon Valley constituents have signed a parliamentary petition backing that proposal. I also associate myself with Lords amendments 9, 52 and 53, which would remove from the Bill the Government’s inhumane powers to make it easier to remove a person to a safe third country while their asylum claim is pending.
I also wish to refer to Lords amendments 5 and 6 on how the Bill’s introduction of differential treatment according to the nature of arrival affects our compliance with the refugee convention. The concern of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is that the Bill
“risks breaching commitments under the Refugee Convention”.
On differential treatment, the Welsh Government said:
“We believe that this is incompatible with the UN Refugee Convention. In terms of the impact on Wales, we have concerns about the practical impact of this change and the systemic destitution and homelessness which it will create for those who the UK Government has found to have fled a well-founded fear of persecution.”
I therefore support Lords amendment 6.
In conclusion, I have identified the Welsh Government’s concerns about certain amendments. The Welsh Government have asked the UK Government to reconsider 10 critical clauses to avert an impending tragedy. Wales is a nation of sanctuary. We want to welcome refugees from wherever they flee across the world. Please withdraw the Bill immediately.
It seems to me that many of the criticisms that are levelled at the Bill are more matters of Home Office administration than of law. I was particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend Damian Green, who is no longer in his place, for accepting my earlier intervention in which I sought to make the point that the Labour party has a long history of talking a very good game in respect of refugees and asylum seekers but of not honouring its promises to those individuals in practice. We need to make sure that we all accept the broad responsibility of support for refugees.
Given the shortness of time, I will confine my comments to three enormously important areas. Having sat through a lot of scrutiny of this legislation on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I think there is a valid concern about the two-tier system. As I understand it, the case from the human rights lawyers who advise the Committee is that it would not be a matter for the Government to demonstrate that safe and legal routes were available in general; it would be necessary to show that each individual refugee had access to a safe and legal route but chose to come to the UK by another means. I know that the Minister is aware of that question and I would like to hear from him how the Government propose to address that concern, so that we can be confident that the two-tier approach will genuinely achieve what we want it to, which is to break the business model of traffickers.
That links to the wider issue that a number of Members have highlighted: we have yet to see the necessary practical proposals that demonstrate where those safe and legal routes will be. We know that the Home Office has invested an enormous amount in digital technology—that has been put to good effect in respect of Ukraine—so that people can make their applications abroad. There are a number of other ideas about how that might happen, and the response to Syrian refugees demonstrated that, through resettlement, we can do this better.
In my view, the situation demonstrates the importance of supporting the existence of the ability to process claims offshore. Although I agree with several Members that the Australian system is simply bonkersly expensive when applied to the UK, the ability to administer the application process outside the United Kingdom is critical if we are to make safe and legal routes work, so I very much support the Government in introducing it.
Having made the point that a lot of the issues are about administration, I hope that the Government are listening to the point about right to work. It frustrates me as a Conservative politician that taxpayers’ money is being spent on supporting people whose skills could be put to good use in our economy. The Home Office has made some helpful steps in that direction. I hope that the message from both sides of the Chamber tonight will be listened to and that we will see some movement on administration as the Bill moves towards becoming law.
I rise to support the Lords amendments. The deeply draconian elements of the Bill have been called out time and again. It is appallingly racist and divisive legislation that deliberately seeks to strengthen hostile environment policies and willingly flies in the face of international law. We have heard repeatedly in this House and in the other place about how it will criminalise refugees who are seeking routes to safety, arriving on our shores against tremendous odds, and how it will create refugee camps on faraway islands—hidden from view, inaccessible and outside regular jurisdiction.
The Bill seeks to expand the powers of the Home Office to unprecedented levels to permit the deprivation of citizenship at the flick of a pen—a move that will undoubtedly discriminate against black and immigrant communities, further deepening the hostile environment that has already proven so damaging. It seeks to criminalise the very act of seeking asylum by inventing “illegal” routes to accessing our shores and seeking safety and protection, creating a two-tier system for refugees that breaks our obligations under international law and the refugee convention. The list of deeply cruel and inhumane policies goes on.
No, thank you. Sit down.
We have already witnessed mass opposition to the very worst of the Bill’s proposals. I have nothing but the utmost pride in workers and volunteers in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and our border forces and in the incredible work of the PCS union in defying the Government’s instructions to push boats back into the channel. The Trades Union Congress has called on the Government to go further by suspending deportation flights until they have addressed the miscarriages of justice in the immigration system, and by scrapping in its entirety this Bill, which will breach international human rights law and increase worker exploitation.
The Lords amendments are supported by the vast majority of Liverpool, Riverside constituents, trade unions, human rights organisations and international bodies that work to support refugees every single day. I am very proud that my city, Liverpool, is a city of sanctuary and is happy to support refugees, but we still have 730 Afghan refugees languishing in hotels.
I conclude by reminding hon. Members that there are 84 million refugees globally. Millions have been displaced because of conflict and persecution and are seeking safe passage, including Syrian Kurds, Afghans and Yemenis, who have suffered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis: 20 million are in need of humanitarian aid. I ask all hon. Members to support the Lords amendments and scrap this Bill.
Let us be very clear. Currently, illegal economic migrants are entering this country across the English channel from a safe mainland European country, France. That situation is totally unacceptable to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, because they believe in fairness and they believe in doing things by the book.
People with a legitimate claim to come to our country to escape persecution and flee for their lives are being put at the bottom of the list because of people who are illegally entering our country via small boats—and what do the Opposition parties think? They support the Lords amendments, which would simply make it even easier for people to try to come across the channel, making a dangerous journey, risking their lives and putting money into the hands of criminal gangs. Let us not forget that 70% of the individuals who are currently making that channel crossing are men, predominantly single men in their 20s and 30s. Let us not forget that it is women and children who are most at risk: they are being left at home, where they are being persecuted.
The Labour party thinks that people in places like Stoke-on-Trent are racist because 73% voted for Brexit. It thinks that they are thick and uncompassionate, despite the fact that we are the fifth largest contributor to the asylum dispersal scheme in our United Kingdom. That is why Stoke-on-Trent kicked Labour out, and why the people there will not want it back any time soon. Labour does not understand that when people voted for this Government and elected, for the first time ever, a Conservative Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent, North Kidsgrove and Talke, they did so because they wanted to take back control—which is what they did in 2016 when they voted for Brexit. The out-of-touch wokerati on the Opposition Benches are constantly obsessed with being popular with Twitter and Londoners, so this does not surprise me one bit.
As for the Scottish National party, only one Scottish local authority takes part in the asylum dispersal scheme. To be fair, it is Glasgow, the largest contributor to the scheme. Despite the pontificating, the grandstanding and the virtue-signalling, the fact is that the SNP does not stand up and help out as it should. It is about time that Scotland did its bit, went out and signed up. The Minister is on the Front Bench: let SNP Members go and sign the paperwork with him, and let us get refugees into local authority areas in Scotland. Stoke-on-Trent is doing its bit. It is about time that others, whether in the north Islington coffee bar elites or the Scottish National party-run local authorities, did their bit as well.
I must say to Jonathan Gullis that Glasgow is far more diverse and far more welcoming of refugees than he will ever be. We in Glasgow are proud to welcome refugees. We are proud of our diversity I have been inundated with emails from my constituents about this anti-refugee Bill, and not one of those emails has been in support of the Government’s position, or of this anti-refugee Bill which will punish people who are fleeing from war, persecution and female genital mutilation in countries around the world.
In the past seven years I have dealt with 1,853 immigration cases, and all of them have been riddled with Home Office incompetence and Home Office indifference to the plight of my constituents, whom I value and whom I want to be welcome in Glasgow. That indifference and that incompetence are deliberate. They are meant to make people feel unwelcome, and they run absolutely contrary to everything that my constituents stand for. I am very proud that those in Kenmure Street in Pollokshields came out of their houses when they saw the attempts to take people away in Home Office vans and said, “These are our neighbours—let them go.” Glasgow welcomes refugees, and we want nothing to do with this vicious Bill.
With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me begin by thanking Members for their contributions to today’s debate. We have heard thought-provoking speeches from Members in all parts of the House. There can be no doubt about the strength of feeling on these important issues; there can also be no doubt that as a House, we stand united in our desire to support vulnerable people, in accordance with our long-standing tradition of welcoming those in need of protection. We perhaps just disagree on how that can best be achieved. Nevertheless, it is frustrating that criticism is often not matched by a credible alternative plan.
Let me touch on some of the issues that have been raised. Brendan O’Hara mentioned the plight of the Yazidis. I can confirm that we have resettled over 40 Yazidi people through both the United Kingdom resettlement scheme and, previously, the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. The UK is firmly committed to protecting ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. We raise this issue regularly with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and continue to monitor the situation of Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq.
I also want to clarify the position with regard to illegal entry offences. I think it worth restating the position that I have consistently maintained in the House. This is not an attempt to prosecute every illegal entrant. Instead, prosecutions will focus on egregious cases: for example, cases in which an individual has entered in breach of a deportation order, or was previously removed as an illegal entrant or overstayer. We intend to take a firm stance in such cases, in order not to inadvertently reward such individuals with a grant of leave rather than punishing their abuse of the system. We are working closely with the police and our internal investigation teams to ensure that this policy is properly enforced, but is also proportionate.
It is misleading to say that genuine humanitarian rescues will be criminalised. We need to be clear about this to ensure that people are not concerned when undertaking those important activities. Individuals and organisations will be able to continue to rescue people in danger or in distress at sea, as they do now. It may be perfectly reasonable for people to be taken to the UK, depending on the circumstances—for example, the weather conditions, or a commercial ferry continuing its scheduled route. Decisions on whether to prosecute are taken by the relevant prosecution authorities in the UK, taking into account evidential and public interest tests. That is a well established process that applies to the law in this land in many areas. Before prosecutors make such a decision, a referral by investigators is required. To make that, investigators must believe that there is sufficient evidence to prove that the person concerned was not actually carrying out a rescue of someone in danger or distress. I cannot be clearer about this.
On the issue of the right to work, a number of colleagues have raised concerns and suggestions. One clear distinction I would like to make is on the point about Ukrainians and Afghans being in a position to work. Those individuals have come through safe and legal routes—bespoke routes—that the UK Government established to provide sanctuary. That is an important distinction. I refer Members to my earlier observations on the policy more generally, but I very much look forward to the meeting with my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland to ensure that we explore this and discuss thoroughly the concerns and views that colleagues are expressing.
On Lords amendment 11 and the 10,000 resettlement figure, I thank my right hon. Friend Damian Green, who so eloquently set out his case. We genuinely believe that flexibility is important in developing schemes and guidance. That is a position that I have maintained throughout the Bill’s passage. It will mean that we are able to develop bespoke schemes that take account of circumstances at any given time in the world, and that we are properly able to care for people in a responsible and managed manner. That is important, as is taking proper account of the capacity of local services at any given point in time. I would argue that the response to the Afghanistan and Ukraine crises demonstrates what can be achieved and why that approach makes sense and is better than having prescriptive schemes set down in legislation that are difficult to alter or remove should circumstances mean that they are no longer required. It is right to identify what routes are needed at any given point in time and then to resource them appropriately. We are of course looking at what more can be done, particularly around community sponsorship and global resettlement schemes, and I hope that that provides some reassurance about our intentions. I hear the observation that colleagues have raised today about generosity and ensuring that our schemes are comprehensive and meet the needs that exist—
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
Question agreed to.
Lords amendment 1 accordingly disagreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 1.