Consideration of Lords message
[Relevant documents: Seventh Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 1)—Nationality, HC 764; Ninth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 3)—Immigration offences and enforcement, HC 885; Eleventh Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 5)—Modern Slavery, HC 964; Twelfth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Parts 1, 2 and 4)—Asylum, Home Office Decision-Making, Age Assessments, and Deprivation of Citizenship Orders, HC 1007; Tenth Special Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill: Government Responses to the Committee’s Seventh, Ninth, Eleventh and Twelfth Reports, HC 1208; Correspondence between the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, relating to Part 2 (Asylum) and Part 5 (Modern Slavery) of the Nationality and Borders Bill, HC 588, dated
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 10B and 26B. If they are agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 5B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 6B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 7B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 7C, and Government motion to disagree,
Lords amendment 8B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 8C, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53C, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53D, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 11B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 13B, and Government motion to disagree and to insist on disagreement with Lords amendment 15.
Lords amendment 20B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 24B.
Lords amendment 25B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 26B, and Government motion to disagree.
Before I call the Minister to speak to the Lords amendments, I must inform the House that there will be a three-minute speaking limit from the outset. That will not apply to Ministers, but they will want to be brief anyway, because they will want to be popular with Back Benchers on both sides of the House.
I will be as brief as I can, Mr Deputy Speaker.
These are amendments that we have already debated, voted on and sent back to the other place, expressing our dissatisfaction with them.
The world is facing a crisis of migration. An estimated 80 million people are displaced by conflicts and instability around the world. Others seek to move in search of improved economic opportunities. Managing migration and welcoming and effectively supporting those most in need, while protecting borders and closing down the dangerous business of people smuggling is one of the difficult public policy challenges faced by any Government. That is why we have developed the new plan for immigration and this Bill, which is its legislative framework.
Amendments 8B and 8C require one or more returns agreements to be in place with a safe third country before the inadmissibility provisions in clause 15 can be brought into force. As I have said many times before, those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country they reach. The first safe country principle is widely recognised internationally.
Under international law, anyone can claim asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 UN refugee convention. That convention makes it clear that people fleeing persecution can reach a country by irregular means if they are unable to use a valid visa. So, given that there is no legal way to come to the UK for the purpose of seeking asylum, does the Minister accept that the Government risk breaking international law?
The point that I have consistently made is that the British Government act at all times in accordance with their international obligations, both under the European convention on human rights and the refugee convention. Again I make the point, because it bears repeating, that nobody needs to get into a small boat to reach safety. Everybody who is doing so is leaving what are inherently safe countries with fully functioning asylum systems. If people want to come to this country—we have a proud record of providing sanctuary here—they should do so through safe and legal routes. We have a proud record as a Government of providing safe and legal routes, reflecting the fact that there are conflicts and instability in the world and we respond to that.
I can only reiterate the point that, at all times, the United Kingdom Government act in accordance with their international obligations, and that is of course something that we will continue to do. Nobody in this House or elsewhere should be encouraging people to put their lives in the hands of evil criminal gangs or to make these dangerous channel crossings. We saw in November the consequences when that happens.
Could my hon. Friend set out for the House what the safe and legal routes are, apart from the now closed route from Syria, the route under the scheme from Afghanistan and the current Ukraine scheme?
In terms of various schemes, as I say, we have a rich and proud history in this country of providing sanctuary to people from around the world who require it. That has included 40,000 people being sorted out through the family reunion route, 20,000 Syrians and 100,000 Hong Kongers. Also, 20,000 Afghans are eligible to come and 60,000 Ukrainians so far have had visas granted. I think that is a record that we can be very proud of as a Government, and it is one we will continue to build on in the years ahead.
The first safe country principle is a fundamental feature of the common European asylum system. I have already set out the issue of inadmissibility. By enforcing this part of the Bill, we are taking the battle to the people smugglers and showing them that their horrible business will be made unviable. For that important reason, we cannot agree to this amendment. Hon. Members have already voted against the amendment, prompting the Lords to bring a further amendment adding a time limit of five years to get agreements in place. That does not address the issues we have with this—namely, it is right to allow for removals to be sought on a case-by-case basis where appropriate.
I am conscious that I need to make some progress and that time is short, but I will give way to my hon. Friend, and then to the hon. Gentleman.
A safe route would kill the evil traffic of people smuggling at a stroke. That is one way of dealing with it. I fail to see how moving people to Rwanda will in any way disrupt these people traffickers’ money-making schemes. They will just use different routes to land people on our shores. I am just not getting it, I am afraid.
I am always grateful to my hon. Friend for his considered interventions and for the thought and care that he takes in making his arguments. I respectfully disagree with him on this point. I will come on to say more about this later in my remarks, when I will be able to set out precisely why that is the case.
Further to the points that have been made, will the Minister outline what, for example, a Kurdish Syrian who is stuck in Turkey would do? Britain recognises that Turkey is oppressive to Kurds. It is further bombing Kurdish camps, as we speak, in northern Iraq and northern Syria. The majority of people on boat crossings in recent months have been Kurdish and, in particular, they have had the highest number of deaths on those dangerous boat crossings. Will he explain how those people, who often have links to the UK, provide a positive contribution to the UK and have often fought alongside British forces in Syria, can seek asylum here in Britain without the Government opening up proper, safe and legal routes in embassies and visa-processing centres across Europe? Surely that would be the answer to stopping boat crossings, not this other nonsense.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion about allowing people to claim asylum at embassies and consulates around the world. We would find that very considerable numbers of people arrive at embassies and consulates to do so and, of course, individuals who are not granted asylum would, in all likelihood, still seek to come to the United Kingdom through small boat crossings, so I do not think that that would actually solve the issue, as he believes it would.
We also have the global resettlement scheme. We continue to look at what more we can do in that space to provide sanctuary and opportunities for people. Many views are expressed in this House about our departure from the European Union. One of the biggest safe and legal routes—the biggest, in fact—is the skills-based immigration system that we now have in this country, whereby people from around the world can apply to come to the United Kingdom. That broad eligibility is very welcome, and people from across the globe can come to the UK through that route.
I will make some progress but I will gladly give way later. The Government continue to work with international partners to ensure removals of people with no right to be in our country.
To turn to Lords amendment 4G, although the Government have accepted Lord Anderson of Ipswich’s amendments that introduced further safeguards to the deprivation of citizenship power, a further amendment was tabled by Baroness D’Souza that removed the provisions protecting the validity of deprivation orders made before the Bill’s commencement and alleging that they offered individuals no right of redress. That is simply not the case. These provisions explicitly ensured that anyone affected by the retrospective provision would still have a right of appeal, but removing them from the clause could cast doubt on the validity of deprivation orders already made before the provisions come into effect. That poses an unacceptable threat to the UK’s safety and security, as it could enable dangerous individuals to regain their British citizenship and thus the freedom to come and go as they please in the UK. Our position on that has not changed. I make it absolutely clear that we cannot allow that unnecessary security risk to happen.
I would argue that the safeguards that we have accepted, which Lord Anderson proposed with real sincerity, a real interest, expertise and experience in these matters, strike the right balance between keeping our people in this country safe from harm—that is, of course, the first duty of any Government and a responsibility that we take incredibly seriously—while making sure that there is judicial oversight of the process and that, as part of the Home Office’s work, we have internal checks to ensure that the powers will be used appropriately.
Lords amendment 5B relates to the compliance of part 2 of the Bill with the refugee convention. The Bill—I insist on this in the strongest terms—is compatible with all of our obligations under international law. Our position has not changed and we do not consider it necessary to put this on the face of this Bill.
I am very grateful—I am not optimistic about getting three minutes to speak, so I thought that I would intervene now.
The Minister knows that I will support the Government on the tough measures to clamp down on this vile trade across the channel, but he also knows that I think they should be tempered with the greater availability of safe and legal routes, particularly along the lines of family reunion. He kindly offered a meeting to me at the Dispatch Box the last time that we debated that. I hope that we will get that in time, before the legislation goes through. He knows that I will support again the Dubs amendment—Lords amendment 10B—because Lord Dubs has now changed it to focus exclusively on providing a safe route for unaccompanied children in Europe seeking protection and reunification with family in the UK. What more does Lord Dubs have to do to make that acceptable to the Government? I think it should be acceptable now.
As I said last time we debated these matters, my hon. Friend cares passionately about this issue. I look forward to our meeting tomorrow, and I am keen to hear his suggestions and ideas. I will, of course, address his substantive point later in my remarks.
Amendment 6B would make the Government’s plan of differentiation unworkable, and it goes against one of the fundamental points of the Bill, which is to deter people from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys. I am sure I speak for all hon. Members when I say that we want to see a stop to all such journeys to the UK, and therefore we cannot support the amendment.
I must make some progress, as I am conscious that quite a lot of hon. Members want to speak in this debate. I will try to take my hon. Friend’s intervention later if I can.
Amendments 7B and 7C would allow people claiming asylum, and their adult dependants, the right to work in six months, rather than the current 12 months, and would remove the condition restricting jobs, for those allowed to work, to those on the shortage occupation list. These amendments would allow people to undermine the economic migration scheme by lodging an asylum claim, and they could also encourage channel crossings.
The Government want to see claims settled within six months so that people can get on with rebuilding their life, which includes working. We are making every effort to ensure this is a reality under the wider new plan for immigration. I therefore advise the House that we cannot accept the amendments.
Does my hon. Friend accept that Lords amendments 7B and 7C have been qualified to make the proper concession that people seeking asylum should not be given preferential treatment to those who already have refugee status and that there is a built-in review period? I and others have said on many occasions that there is simply no evidence to suggest that a limited right to work is a pull factor. We are following what Denmark does with regard to Rwanda, so why do we not do the same with regard to a limited right to work?
I am concerned that the evil criminal gangs miss no opportunity to try to market a vision of coming to the United Kingdom, and I think there is a powerful dynamic to the issue of work in the conversations between the people smugglers and the individuals whose trade they seek to engage. I will, of course, continue to engage with my right hon. and learned Friend on this issue.
I recognise that colleagues both in this House and in the other place have strong views on these matters, which must always be considered very carefully. Again, I do not want to do anything that encourages people to make these dangerous crossings of the channel. I think the best way to resolve this issue is to transform the casework to get it right so that this is not an issue in the first place.
Amendment 10B would create a new Dubs-style immigration rule to allow unaccompanied children in Europe who have UK family links to be admitted to the UK to claim asylum. This amendment creates a more favourable approach to refugee family reunion for those who are already in Europe, which is clearly unfair. Beyond that, these children would enter the asylum system upon arrival, which costs money to process, when our current family reunion rules are more generous and grant leave.
This is a single global approach to family reunion that does not encourage what are often dangerous journeys into Europe. If relationships break down, as does happen, these children would enter the care system as looked-after children, adding additional cost to the taxpayer when we currently have children in hotels awaiting care placements.
Additionally, subsection (1) could be interpreted more broadly, creating a risk that it would apply to a much broader group—at its broadest, requiring us to make provision for people of all ages to come to the UK to claim asylum. This is probably not the intention of the noble Lord Dubs, but it would be very undesirable for such an ambiguous provision to make its way on to the statute book. The cost of such global provision, most broadly interpreted, would be staggering.
I will make some progress, as it is important that hon. Members have the opportunity to speak in this debate.
Lords amendment 11B focuses on setting a target for the number of refugees the UK would resettle each year. Our view has long been that the number of refugees and people in need of protection we resettle each year must be based on our capacity and our assessment of the international situation. That has not changed. As such, we do not think the Lords amendment is necessary. On Lords amendment 13B, I thank the other place for understanding that there is a need to be able to prosecute criminals who seek to evade immigration controls and return to the UK, but the amendment is too narrow in its scope, to the point where it would not allow for the prosecution of someone attempting to arrive in the UK who has previously been excluded from the UK on national security grounds. Limiting the amended offence to cover only those who arrive in breach of a deportation order would also prevent the prosecution of arriving passengers in egregious cases when there are aggravating factors that show that prosecution is in the public interest. As such, the amendment would still compromise our plans to enhance the security of our borders and so we cannot accept it. I also appreciate those in the other place for their detailed consideration of clause 40. However, by proposing Lords amendment 20B and replacing “for gain” with a statutory defence of “without reasonable excuse”, they would compromise our plans to enhance our ability to prosecute people smugglers. The amendment would simply add a new barrier to successful prosecutions and create uncertainty, as appropriate defences are already provided in common law, such as “acting under duress”.
I turn next to the modern slavery amendments. Lords amendment 25B is too narrow and does not fulfil the aims of the original clause; it will not protect the system for tackling modern slavery from those who present a threat to public order or risk to national security. The amended definition does not include individuals who have been served with terrorism notices, who have been involved in terrorism-related activity or who otherwise pose a risk to national security, nor does it include individuals who have been convicted of serious criminal offences such as manslaughter, murder, violent acts and sexual offences. Having listened to concerns raised, we have provided further detail in the House of Lords about the proportionate approach we will take to implement this measure and clarity on the mitigating factors that will be taken into account as part of the case-by-case approach, but we cannot agree to the amendment.
On Lords amendment 26, the Government’s unshakeable position is that support should be provided on the basis of need, tailored to the individual and their personal circumstances. During the passage of the Bill, we have committed that, where necessary, all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of specific support will receive appropriate tailored support for a minimum of 12 months. What still concerns us about this amendment is that it moves us away from taking an individualised, needs-based approach to the provision of support, so we cannot support it.
I recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns about this, but the main point to be taken from it—I hope to speak about this later—is the reality that right now this minimum period is interrupted constantly by reviews and inquiries and so they destabilise the ones we need to help. Will he look at this again before we go any further and discuss it with me, so that we may look at something stronger?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention and long-standing interest in this issue. He and I, along with other Ministers, share a common goal in wanting to bring to justice the individuals responsible for this heinous criminality of people trafficking. We are very willing to engage on this. One thing we have discussed in meetings is an openness and willingness to engage on the guidance in place on these matters. As I have said before in this House, there are further opportunities coming on the issue of modern slavery and we are keen to ensure that he is involved in that discussion and dialogue, along with the charitable organisations he works with, to make sure that we get this right, because there is a moral imperative to bring these people to justice. We all want to make sure that individuals are getting the care and support they need to help facilitate that important process.
Does the Minister agree that any legislation touching on modern slavery must recognise that it takes human beings time to process trauma and gain an ability to talk about it? By imposing arbitrary deadlines for victims to declare that they are victims, which many may not really understand themselves, the Government are punishing and further victimising, where they should be supporting. That is particularly true in respect of children or survivors of sexual trauma.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this point. I can give her the reassurance that at all times a trauma-based approach is taken when dealing with these matters, and rightly so, because the horrendous experiences that people have had are unthinkable and unimaginable. We have only to speak to survivors to realise the enormous impact that these events have on them. It is right that we respond in a way that is appropriate and sensitive to people’s circumstances. That principle will continue to underpin all the work we do. On the late provision of information, good reasons will apply at all times and proper account will be taken of individual circumstances and the reasons why individuals have not been able to provide timely information.
Let me conclude by addressing Lords amendments 53B, 53C and 53D. As colleagues will be aware, last week my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a world-first deal with Rwanda. The UK and Rwanda migration and economic development partnership addresses the shared international challenge of illegal migration and will help to break the business model of evil people-smuggling gangs. Those who make dangerous, illegal or unnecessary journeys to claim asylum in the UK may now be relocated to Rwanda, which will take responsibility for processing their claims and, if they are recognised as refugees, building their lives there.
The Minister says the proposal is to break the business model of people smugglers; he will know that his Department’s own impact assessment said that
“evidence supporting the effectiveness of this approach is limited”,
and went on to say that it was potentially counterproductive. Where is his evidence for the policy?
I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. He and I debated these matters many times in Committee and it is fair to say that the approach he advocates is in essence a charter to do nothing. I do not think it is acceptable to stand back, throw our hands in the air and say that this is all too difficult. We have to take action. The new plan for immigration is delivering meaningful change and I genuinely believe it will make a difference. Of course, such considerations often require consideration of the number of people who come here, the flow and all the pertinent and relevant issues. It is difficult to predict the number of people who will come at any given point in time. I believe we are introducing meaningful changes that will dramatically shift the dial and, ultimately, help to preserve lives.
The Minister knows, because we have discussed the matter several times since the announcement, that a lot of my constituents are very concerned about the Rwanda partnership deal, as am I, but the truth is that how we will operate the scheme is as yet unknown. Many have conflated the issue in respect of last week’s announcement with this Bill. Will the Minister assure me that the legislation that enables the partnership predates this Bill and this Government? Will he also reassure me and my constituents in respect of the screening programme and specifically how LGBTQ people will interact with it? There are many concerns about that and our friends in Rwanda.
My hon. Friend always raises pertinent issues on behalf of his constituents in Winchester. As the Home Secretary set out yesterday, the legal basis for the policy is the new Labour—I know it is not fashionable to talk about new Labour on the Opposition Benches—policies of 1999, 2002 and 2004, when the Labour party had a genuine and thorough position on these matters that I am afraid is not in place today, when we hear a lot of criticism but no meaningful alternative is brought forward to address the issues. For the reasons I have set out, I argue that we have to take action to address the terrible criminality that puts lives at risk. That argument underpins the legislation.
My hon. Friend asks whether there is an alternative to the Rwanda scheme, which I accept is not directly part of this legislation. The salary of an immigration tribunal judge—a first-tier tribunal judge—is £117,000. If we put on oncosts, even most generously we get £200,000. So far, £120 million has been committed to the Rwanda scheme; around 600 first-tier tribunal judges could be bought for that, or any number of hundreds of Home Office caseworkers. Given that the Cart legislation is now quite rightly being restricted, surely a constructive alternative would be to invest in the current system.
I agree with my hon. Friend in the sense that that is one intervention we need to make to improve matters considerably. We all want to see cases considered more quickly and to give people certainty either way as soon as possible. We are delivering that objective through the new plan for immigration—it is front and centre—but in itself it will not solve the issues. I genuinely believe that the approach that we are taking, through the comprehensive plan, will shift the dial, change the dynamic, and, ultimately, help us to shut down these evil criminal networks.
My hon. Friend is right to say that the evidence that we heard from the Australian representatives advocated the policy approach that was taken in that country. I would argue that the approach that we are taking in relation to these matters is important, too, and will help us to tackle this issue head on and help to disrupt the work of these evil criminal gangs.
On the reference to the screening process, I must go back to the fundamental point, which is that people will be relocated only if it is safe for them. That consideration will be taken in relation to every case, taking proper account of people’s circumstances. At all times, we will act in accordance with our obligations, through both the European Court of Human Rights and the refugee convention, and those obligations apply on the other side as well.
I will make this point quickly. Yesterday, the erstwhile Prime Minister made the point to the Home Secretary that any group identified as protected will then become incentivised to cross the channel, so, for example, if we say that families are protected, then that will create an incentive for families to cross the channel. How will my hon. Friend square that particular conundrum?
I will not say any more over and above that which I have already set out this afternoon. Moreover, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary provided further detail on this yesterday, and I refer the House to the points that she made.
This bespoke international agreement is in full compliance with domestic and international law. Rwanda is a state party to the 1951 refugee convention and the seven core UN human rights conventions, with a strong history of supporting refugees. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear yesterday that this partnership is the type of international co-operation that we need to make the global immigration system fairer, keep people safe, and give them opportunities to flourish. This is just one part of the system-wide reform that we promised to deliver in the new plan for immigration.
The objective of the Rwanda partnership announced last week is to create a mechanism for the relocation of individuals whose claims are not being considered by the UK—the inadmissible—to Rwanda, which will then process their claims. However, in future, we may wish to extend eligibility for overseas processing to those who have otherwise abused the UK’s asylum system, beyond undertaking dangerous or unnecessary journeys. That is the intention of this measure, which will make it easier for us to remove those who have pending asylum claims to another country for their claims to be processed.
Let me remind the House—I have set this out already, but it bears repeating—that the powers set out in clause 28 via schedule 3 are not new. For nearly 20 years, it has been possible under UK law to remove individuals from the UK while their asylum claim is pending if a certificate is issued under schedule 3 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004. The measure in the Bill amends existing legal frameworks to make it easier to remove such individuals without going through a certification process, provided the country to which they are being removed meets the safety criteria that we have set out in the Bill. It is important to bear in mind that the asylum system is already very expensive. At an annual cost of around £1.5 billion, it is the highest in more than two decades. Every day, the cost of the broken system on hotels alone is nearly £5 million. We therefore cannot accept these amendments.
I thank hon. Members from both sides of the House for their attendance at this important debate today. I urge them to consider that this Bill is what the British people have given us a mandate to deliver and to vote with the Government to send a message to the other place that what has been proposed is not accepted by this House. The Bill secures our borders, ensures that those who need our help will receive it and, as each of us here sincerely want, will save countless lives being risked crossing the channel each and every day when people traffickers realise that this is not a viable occupation for them any more.
Our country deserves an asylum system that offers the public confidence that the Government are in control of it, that is fair and consistent, and that is based on showing compassion to those who are fleeing for their lives. The legislation before us today fails not only to meet those basic principles, but to address the specific challenges we face.
The Bill will not deter dangerous journeys across the English channel. Indeed, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and top police chief have said repeatedly that it will make it harder, not easier, to prosecute people smugglers. It will not tackle the 12,000-long queue of Afghan refugees loyal to Britain who are currently languishing in hotels, alongside a further 25,000 asylum seekers, at an eye-watering cost to the British taxpayer of £4.7 million daily.
Frankly, that is a shameful state of affairs, exacting an awful cost on communities and placing an awful financial burden on the taxpayer. It is caused by this Home Secretary, on whose watch we have seen a staggering 60% drop in processed claims. Since the Bill was last before this House, the amendments have changed, but so has the context. The legislation before us today must now be debated against the backdrop of the Government’s Rwanda offloading agreement, which was announced last week in a desperate attempt to distract attention from all the lawbreaking in Downing Street.
I can give a very simple answer: the Labour party does not support the Rwanda plan, for reasons that I am about to set out.
Labour supports all the amendments before us today that seek to mitigate the worst excesses of this profoundly inadequate and mean-spirited piece of legislation, which reflects the toxic combination of incompetence and indifference that we have come to expect from this Home Secretary. The reality is that this Bill is an exercise in damage limitation—in essence, an attempt by the Home Secretary to deal with the awful mess she has been making since she was appointed in 2019.
The clauses on offshoring, inadmissibility, differential treatment and offence of arrival are symptomatic of a shambolic Government who have completely lost control of our asylum system to the extent that they are now seeking to dump their problems on a developing country that is 4,000 miles away and has a questionable record on human rights. The Rwanda offloading plan enabled by this Bill is extortionately expensive, unworkable and un-British.
Looking first at the price of what is being proposed, it is quite extraordinary that the Home Secretary is either unwilling or unable to provide any clarity on this point by publishing the forecast cost, but the Rwanda plan is estimated to cost in the region of £30,000 per person—and that feels optimistic. Contrasting that with the £11,000 that it costs to process an asylum seeker here in the UK, we start to see the impact on the public purse.
The Prime Minister has said that he expects to send “tens of thousands” of asylum seekers to Rwanda per year, so we are looking at around £1 billion of taxpayers’ money spent by a Government who are doing absolutely nothing for British people hammered by the cost of living crisis. Then there is the £120 million in development aid. What, precisely, is that going to be spent on? Apparently it will not go towards paying for Rwandan caseworkers, so is it just the eye-watering price that the Home Secretary has paid for a press release?
“Value for money of the policy is dependent on it being effective as a deterrent. Evidence of a deterrent effect is highly uncertain and cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty to provide me with the necessary level of assurance over value for money.”
Labour agrees wholeheartedly with Mr Rycroft. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the Rwanda plan will deter the people smugglers or the small boats, and there is therefore not a shred of evidence to demonstrate that it will deliver value for money.
To understand value for money, the Government must provide forecasts for a range of scenarios. That is why we are supporting Lords amendments 53B to 53D. The amendments provide that in order to offshore refugees to a third state, the Secretary of State must lay regulations specifying the identity of that state and have them approved by Parliament. Before the Home Secretary may lay those regulations, costings must first be laid before both Houses. It is critical that Parliament is given the opportunity to scrutinise both the offshoring and the offloading plans for value for money, particularly at a time when our constituents are facing a cost of living crisis.
If the Rwanda offloading agreement does not serve as a deterrent, then it is failing on its own terms and therefore also failing to provide value for money. But there is also a chance that the scheme may not even get off the ground as it will end up getting bogged down in the legal system. There can be absolutely no doubt that the Government’s claim that Rwanda is a safe country for refugees will be challenged in the courts given that thousands of Rwandans seek asylum in Europe every year, with 76 Rwandan citizens granted asylum here in the UK since 2017. It is well worth noting that in 2019 Israel cancelled its offloading agreement with Rwanda after it emerged that the vast majority of refugees sent to Rwanda left within days of arriving there and after it was revealed that it had led to immense suffering, including subjecting vulnerable people to human trafficking.
It is highly likely that the Rwanda offloading plan will unravel because it is both eye-wateringly expensive and unworkable, but it is also deeply un-British—because the decision to outsource our problems to a developing country halfway across the globe with a questionable record on human rights just does not feel right. It is just not the way we do things in this country. That is why we are supporting a number of amendments to bring the Bill closer to reflecting our values as a nation. Labour Members have continually made the case that the Bill must meet Britain’s obligations under the 1951 UN refugee convention, and we are supporting Lords amendment 5B, which secures this.
Our country’s historical commitment to offering safe haven to refugees leads us to support a number of the other amendments before us today. First, we support Lords amendment 6B, which seeks to ensure that all refugees are given their convention rights and that family unity is maintained, even if the Government are determined to introduce the utterly inappropriate differential treatment aspect of this Bill, which, shamefully, contravenes the UN convention.
Secondly, we support Lords amendment 13B, which, if accepted, rather than criminalising Ukrainians and other desperate refugees who arrive here without clearance, would criminalise only those who have already been deported. We should not be seeking to create a second class of refugee. Many of these people are desperate when they arrive on our doorstep, and the Government would do well to remember that.
Thirdly, we support Lords amendment 11B, which calls on the Home Secretary to set targets for taking in a number of refugees each year and would force her to finally do some medium-term planning rather than constantly scrambling to make it up as she goes along.
Fourthly, we support Lords amendment 10B, which provides for family reunion of unaccompanied refugees in Europe.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware, as I am, that the experience of local authorities involved in the resettlement of refugee children is that the majority of those brought to the UK on the basis of reunion with family are in fact coming straight into the care system because the relations in the UK are not able to look after them? It therefore seems to me that the Government are right to resist on this point and to seek an alternative and better way of managing the resettlement of unaccompanied children coming to the UK.
There are two dimensions to what the hon. Gentleman is questioning. The first is about the capacity and the capability here in the UK. There are of course examples of where families are not able to take care of children, but I do not believe that those are the majority, and where that is the case we need to ensure that local authorities are adequately resourced to be able to deal with the issue. The second is about the Government’s approach on this. The Minister argued that it is about taking a global approach, but we can clearly see that it is much more about the hostile environment and the basic mindset in the Home Office. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That is why the amendment in the name of Lord Dubs is absolutely the right way to go.
Fifthly, we support Lords amendment 25B, which seeks to undo the Government’s unlawful bid to, in effect, criminalise modern slavery victims who have been pushed into crime by human traffickers. We are clear that only criminals who have committed serious public order offences such as terrorism or other serious offences, as established via a Government consultation, should have their protection withdrawn.
The Home Secretary is desperately trying to clean up the mess that she has been making since 2018, and is rolling the dice on an extortionately expensive, unworkable and deeply un-British proposal. Instead of dreaming up headline-grabbing announcements and pie-in-the-sky ideas, she should listen to the Opposition’s sensible and practical solutions. First, the Home Secretary needs to invest to save, as the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, so correctly pointed out. She needs to hire more caseworkers and invest in the court system, so that we can process applications quickly and dramatically reduce the ludicrous £4.7 million a day that is being wasted on housing refugees in expensive hotels.
Secondly, on the small boat crossings, rather than dreaming up unworkable gimmicks, the Home Secretary should focus on engaging constructively with France and the European Union to negotiate a returns agreement and build effective security co-operation to combat the people smugglers. Rather than constantly seeking cheap headlines in The Daily Mail, as the Government like to do, Labour would use its stronger relationship with our European neighbours to reset the UK-France relationship, and would engage constructively to negotiate a robust migration and security agreement with the European Union. We would of course legislate to prevent people smugglers from using social media to advertise their services; that was the purpose of a Labour amendment that the Government shamefully rejected early in the passage of the Bill.
A lot has been said about the Rwanda announcement being timed to distract from partygate, but it is just as likely that the announcement was intended to distract from the litany of failures that has come to define the tenure of the Home Secretary. Over 200,000 people offered their homes to Ukrainians, and somehow the Home Secretary managed to turn this story of inspiring British generosity into a bureaucratic nightmare. Some 12,000 Afghans who so loyally and bravely served our country are languishing in hotels. We owe them a debt of gratitude, yet the Home Secretary has treated them with contempt. We have a Passport Office in meltdown, with delays ruining the well-earned Easter breaks of hard-working British families, who have been through so much over the last few years, and now we have the spectacle of this extortionate, unworkable and profoundly un-British Rwanda cash-for-offloading plan.
The Home Secretary certainly has a mountain to climb if she wishes to regain the trust of the British people, but if she were to instruct Conservative Members to join us in supporting the amendments this evening, it would at least be a start.
I am grateful to be called to speak so early, and I will be as brief as possible.
I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we have already had these discussions. In fact, the Government moved on the issue; they did so by putting proposals into guidance. The problem with guidance is that it is guidance—it is not obligatory—so the problem with Lords amendment 26B is that the Bill is incomplete, because until these measures are in the Bill, there is no support for confirmed victims after the national referral mechanism process is completed; it is all by judgment.
The current system is deeply destabilising for confirmed victims. I am talking about confirmed victims, not other people who have come over. These are people who we agree are victims of modern-day slavery, and we should be very generous to them. What else is there to do? They are victims. Confirmed victims currently receive support under the recovery needs assessment, or RNA, process. Under this process, many victims receive support only for short periods of time. There is no 12-month period, and they therefore undergo repeated needs assessments. The Minister should go through the system and see how painful this is for confirmed victims. It is destabilising and can be harmful to victims’ mental health; we know that. It requires victims to constantly provide “evidence” of need, with support available only for “needs arising from exploitation”. They are confirmed victims, and they do not know how long they will need support, which means that they are worried about what will happen if there is no agreement. That can put them back in the hands of the traffickers—the thing that we say we are against.
Justice and Care’s recent victim navigator study showed that when victims were given support for a minimum period, 89% of those supported by Justice and Care’s programme chose to engage with police investigations, and we got more prosecutions. One does not need a bleeding heart to see the sense of this. It will enable us to prosecute the traffickers. That is what I want my Government to do. Right now, the average percentage of victims who engage with investigations is not 89%, but 33%. People who are very worried, destabilised and uncertain about how long they will be supported for will not give evidence. They will not go to the police or engage with them, because they are frightened. If we give them a minimum of 12 months of support, we will get more prosecutions. As a result, we will both save money and provide some serious security for these victims. I genuinely beg the Government to make the change now, because it is decent, reasonable and the right thing to do. Can we please discuss the matter further before it comes up again, and can we do this?
Members on both sides of the House might agree that the Lords got it right when they said that the timetabling arrangements for this House left a lot to be desired. We have one hour to debate 12 substantive and important amendments, and we will end up voting on them for three hours. It makes absolutely no sense.
I could be very succinct and just say that the SNP position remains that this is an atrocious and horrendous Bill, and therefore we support everything that the House of Lords has attempted to do to rein it in, but I will not. However, out of deference to some of the very good speakers on both sides of this debate, I will try to stick to points on one or two of the amendments.
First, I turn to Lords amendment 5B, which simply states,
“For the avoidance of doubt,” part 2 is compliant with the refugee convention
“and must be…given effect as such.”
The Minister has said several times that that is precisely the Government’s objective, so why on earth does he have a problem with putting those words in the Bill? I suspect that there are two answers, the first of which is that in reality, part 2 does not remotely live up to the demands of our international obligations. Former Supreme Court judge Lord Brown said in the other place:
“I truly believe, as do many others, that several of these provisions flagrantly breach our obligations as interpreted by the UNHCR”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
We respectfully agree with Lord Brown.
I suspect that the second reason for resisting this amendment is that Ministers are desperate to keep those words out of the Bill to make it more difficult to ask a court to adjudicate on whether the Bill is, in fact, consistent with the refugee convention. As Lord Brown said—he was directly addressing something that the Minister said here at the Bill’s last outing—it was
“quite wrong to suggest that there was no need for this amendment because the courts would anyway deal with the challenge to the legislation based on suggested non-compliance. I repeat: the amendment is vital. The courts otherwise cannot go behind the definitive clauses in the Bill and would have to apply them, compliant or not.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
We agree; the Bill is fundamental to what we are doing here.
My hon. Friend is right that the amount of scrutiny time being afforded to this House is ridiculous. If the Government are not prepared to come to any kind of compromise with the House of Lords, would it not be even better for all these powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so that the people of Scotland could build the kind of humane immigration and asylum system that hundreds of constituents in Glasgow North have lobbied me to advocate for in this House?
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has just said.
I turn to Lords amendments 15 and 13B, which bring us back to the sweeping criminalisation of asylum seekers and others arriving in the UK. We are talking about Afghans, Syrians, persecuted Christians and Uyghurs. Those are causes that many in this House advocate and speak up for all the time, and yet when these people come to our shores, suddenly we are planning to let them down, offshore them, discriminate against them, treat them abysmally and criminalise them under this legislation.
The Minister has said today that the Lords have defined the criminal offence too tightly and he wants to go back to a sweepingly broad offence. He assures us that that does not really matter, because we will not use the provision against the Afghans and Syrians; it will be used only in egregious cases. We cannot pass criminal laws on the basis of wishes and assurances expressed at the Dispatch Box that we will be quite reasonable in how we use them. He has to come up with the tight wording for the criminal offence that he is aiming at. If he does not, I am afraid we cannot support it at all; in fact, we fundamentally oppose it.
We believe that the Bill represents completely the wrong approach, and we continue to support the House of Lords in all it is doing to try to rein in the worst aspects. I hugely regret that we have had such a pitiful amount of time to say what we have to say about the amendments. In deference to other Members, I will sit down now and do my voting later on.
I draw the House’s attention to my registered interests.
I want to try to be constructive with the Minister this afternoon. I do not believe the Rwanda scheme will work, but I am full of good will towards the Home Secretary when it comes to trying to stop this ghastly, deathly channel trade. The Minister asks those who think that the scheme is impractical, ineffective and extraordinarily expensive what we would do. He is right to ask that, so let me try to answer.
There are four things we must do. The first, exactly as my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill said, is to employ more staff. We need to ensure that we process these asylum claims more rapidly. In Rwanda, it takes three months to process an asylum claim. We ought to have a much more streamlined system in this country, and ought to try to do away with all these lawyers, who extend and prolong the process unnecessarily. That is a point the Government should definitely address.
Secondly, we need to put right our dreadful relationship with France, our neighbour just 22 miles away. The relationship is not what it should be. There are plenty of senior officials and people of good will who have a much better relationship with France, and we need to address that point and repair the relationship. Nothing can be achieved in tackling this evil trade without our having a far better understanding with France. We need, if not its active support, then its passive acquiescence at the very least in the measures that need to be taken.
Thirdly, we need safe and legal routes. I asked the Minister to set out what those routes are, and of course he was not able to.
Does my right hon. Friend share the concern that many of us have who wish to see the Government succeed in their endeavours, which is that the legal test for anyone opposing immigration control is not that there are safe and legal routes in general, but that a person specifically had access to a safe and legal route but chose not to use it, which may undermine some of the objectives we wish to see? Safe and legal routes need to be much broader if they are going to work as an effective tool as part of this policy.
My hon. Friend absolutely puts his finger on the point, and he knows of what he speaks because he has dealt with these matters a senior councillor.
It was Lord Kirkhope who amended the Bill in the other place. He was Home Secretary Michael Howard’s Immigration Minister, and I think he holds the record as the Immigration Minister who has deported the most people needing to be deported from Britain. He also knows of what he speaks, and he made it clear that if we do not have safe and legal routes, we will not be able to make this system work. By definition, if we do not have such routes, anyone arriving on our shores will be arriving illegally, and that point needs to be addressed.
The fourth and final thing that needs to happen is that we need a new international convention. The 1951 convention, which Britain played a big part in setting up, is now completely out of date. That is because, since then, as colleagues will appreciate, there has been a revolution in travel. We also now have the tremendous push of climate change, which is pushing migration up very high. So we need a new international convention. I put this point to the Prime Minister on
Those are the four key things that have to happen, and I hope the Minister will consider them before embarking on a scheme that, as I say, is impractical, ineffective and extraordinarily expensive. Rwanda is a safe country and a beacon of stability in Africa, but we should not export our problems in this way to a country that already tries to do its very best to help people who are caught up in humanitarian jeopardy.
I would like to use my three minutes, which have not come up on the clock yet, to focus on Lords amendment 6B. It is truly damning of the Government’s conduct that they oppose an amendment that merely seeks to guarantee refugees their rights under the 1951 UN refugee convention.
There is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker under international law, yet under the Government’s plans, unlike refugees who have arrived on officially sanctioned routes, group 2 refugees—I will focus on them—who are deemed to have arrived in the UK in an illegitimate manner will only be offered temporary protection status and will have no recourse to public funds. As chair of the all-party group on no recourse to public funds, I am only too aware of its devastating human impacts. The Bill would further expand the number of people without access to public funds such as welfare benefits and housing assistance, and thereby ensure that thousands more refugees a year fleeing war and persecution are at increased risk of falling into destitution and homelessness once they have reached the UK.
If this Government were truly interested in the wellbeing of refugees, they would build a support network and safety net to enable those who have sought refuge in the UK to live comfortably and have fruitful lives, rather than chip away at existing support and create a tiered system. I urge all Members to support Lords amendment 6B to ensure that refugees living in the UK are not forced into poverty and destitution.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall be quick and focus on Lords amendment 7. The question whether asylum seekers are able to undertake work after six months was raised in March, when the Bill was last debated in this House. Replying to our right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove, spoke about getting casework right. Will he confirm that the measures in the Bill, together with the UK and Rwanda economic development partnership, will mean that there should be no asylum seekers still in a state of limbo, waiting for their asylum status to be determined, after six months, and that such an amendment is therefore not needed?
I thank Members across the House for their contributions to this afternoon’s debate on issues that are of the utmost importance. I would argue that there is a moral imperative to act that underpins the Government’s approach in addressing the challenges. It simply is not good enough for people to say what they do not want and what they do not like: when criticising and arguing that something is wrong, they have to present a credible alternative plan, particularly if they have ambitions to govern. This Bill delivers our comprehensive plan—the only credible plan—to address these issues. Now is the time to get on and deliver it.
I have to give some information before putting the Question. I have been given an indication that there is likely to be in the order of 11 Divisions this evening. Ten minutes will be allowed for the first and eight minutes for every one following, so I advise people to stay near the Lobbies. Hopefully, we will get through this as quickly as possible.
One hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order,
The House proceeded to a Division.
Order. We understand that one pass reader is out in the No Lobby. They are going to try to reboot it before the next vote, but at the moment, like a parking meter, it has one of those hoods over it, so clearly do not use that one.