Before Clause 11 - Compliance with the Refugee Convention

Nationality and Borders Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:47 pm on 26th April 2022.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

With this it will be convenient to consider:

Lords amendments 6D, 6E and 6F, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendments 7F and 7G, and Government motion to disagree.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I hope that this will be the final time in these proceedings around the Nationality and Borders Bill. I will first turn to compliance with the refugee convention. All measures in this Bill are compatible with our obligations under international law. We therefore cannot accept this amendment, which would put our duty to comply with the refugee convention on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

Does the Minister agree that the amendments on the Order Paper are very similar to the amendments that we debated only a few days ago? Will he therefore join me in saying to the other place that this elected House was given a mandate in the 2019 general election, as we were in the 2016 EU referendum, to take back control of our borders, and that it should allow this Bill to pass so that we do not have to continue this ping-pong?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The time has now come to get on, to pass this Bill and to make the changes that we so desperately need to shift the dynamic, to end these dangerous channel crossings and to put together an asylum system that is fit for the future and able to cope with the demand.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

I do not want to detain the House too long but, with all this talk of taking back control of our borders, why are we outsourcing that control to Rwanda?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman’s remarks are effectively a charter for doing nothing. What is unacceptable is for people to continue putting their life in the hands of evil criminal gangs whose only regard is for turning a profit—they do not care whether people get here safely. We have a moral responsibility to stop this, and we have a moral responsibility to act, which is precisely what we will do through this Bill.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

Will my hon. Friend accept my congratulations on the Patel-Pursglove plan vis-à-vis Rwanda? And will he ensure that, when people arrive here, they are on a plane as quickly as possible before some dodgy activist or fat-cat human rights lawyer can get their hands on them?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should rightly take a lot of credit for getting this new world-leading partnership over the line. My right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes has been a passionate advocate for this approach, and I am pleased we are delivering it. I think it will make a genuine difference in acting as a deterrent and ensuring that we have global solutions to a global challenge.

In that sense, I welcome the steps that have been taken in the last few days. I hope my right hon. Friend will be reassured to know that we are working hard to make sure this is operationalised without delay and that, of course, people are on flights as quickly as possible. What we do not want at any stage—this goes back to why we need fundamental reform of the asylum system—is delay in the system. We want people to have certainty either way.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

I warmly join my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes in congratulating the Home Secretary and the Minister on this fantastic legislation. On the amendments we are disagreeing with, does the Minister agree that this is part of a wider package, with offshoring, push-backs and deterring people by saying there will be differential treatment, that will be brought together? It is sad that the Labour party is happy to accept the status quo, allow people to risk their life, or die in the English channel, and put money in the hands of smuggling gangs.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I am afraid that we often hear long and convoluted explanations of why we should just accept the status quo, why we should do nothing and why all the interventions are wrong. We hear no credible alternative for putting right the problems in the system. Reform is required and is overdue. That is why we are determined to get on with delivering it.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

The Minister will recognise that, when we last debated the Bill, the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, pointed out that one alternative for dealing with the asylum backlog is investing in the current system.

The central premise of this Bill is that, as an alternative to irregular routes, there should be safe and legal routes. Aside from the specific programmes for Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong, will the Minister spell out clearly to the House what legal routes are available to asylum seekers?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I will not repeat the many, many occasions on which I have set out on the Floor of the House and in Committee during the Bill’s passage the many and varied safe and legal routes that exist. My hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, the Chair of the Justice Committee, has rightly touched on the need to reform the casework situation, which is precisely what we are doing through the new plan for immigration. I encourage him to be in the right Lobby this evening to help us get on with delivering on that priority, which is one priority among a number as we reform the system.

It is simply unnecessary, inappropriate and unconstitutional for the courts to have a duty to make declarations of incompatibility in circumstances where questions of compliance have already been determined by Parliament, so we cannot accept Lords amendment 5D.

On differentiation, Lords amendments 6D to 6F would make it harder to differentiate by placing significant evidential burdens on the Secretary of State. They would also set out our existing legal obligations on the face of the Bill, such as our duties under the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights, especially the article 8 right to family life. All of this is either unnecessary or unacceptable. We therefore do not accept these amendments.

Finally, the arguments on the right to work have been well rehearsed at several points in the passage of the Bill. In principle, we are concerned about the way in which this would undercut the points-based system, which we believe is the right system for facilitating lawful migration into our country—that skills-based approach, exactly as the British people voted for in the referendum in 2016. I go back to this point: our objective is to speed up caseworking, which then, of itself, ensures that we do not need to go down the route—

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Does the excellent Minister know the majorities the other place had for sending these amendments back to us? Given the large built-in anti-Government majority in the Lords, it seems to me that they must have been quite large.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

My hon. Friend probes me on this with good reason. Off the top of my head, I believe that one of them was won by one vote, one was won by eight votes and one was won by 25 votes. So they are not particularly hefty majorities. The time has come to get on and pass this Bill. This Government’s new plan for immigration will tackle illegal migration and reform the asylum system.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Minister was talking about delays in casework, but those are nothing new. My seven years as an MP have been marked with delays in Home Office casework. Some constituents have been waiting now for two years—not for a decision, but for an interview. Can he explain exactly when they will get interviewed under this system because I have seen no difference at all?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I refer the hon. Lady to the new plan for immigration and the steps we have consistently set out that we will be taking to improve the situation on caseworking. It is imperative that we do that, for two reasons.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

The hon. Lady can shout from a sedentary position, but perhaps she will listen to the answer, which is that we believe not only that it is very important that those who require sanctuary get it as quickly as possible, but that it is right that those with no right to be here are removed as soon as possible and without needless delay. That is why we are reforming the broken system. We have a Home Secretary and a ministerial team who are committed to doing just that. Again, I encourage the hon. Lady to be in the Division Lobby to support our measures tonight.

The Bill is an essential element of the plan, and the sooner it passes, the sooner we will be able to deliver the longer-term solutions we need to protect vulnerable people. I note again the lack of alternative being offered from other parts of the House. I therefore commend our Bill to the House.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Last week, the Home Secretary told the House that our asylum system is “broken”. Yesterday, her Minister, who is sitting before us today, again stated clearly that our asylum system is “broken”. We on the Labour Benches completely agree, but what Conservative Members seem to continually miss is the fact that the Conservative party has been in power for 12 years. The problem is that they never stand up and take responsibility; they always try to blame others—the civil service, the courts and even the media. It was revealed this week that the Home Secretary banned the Financial Times, The Guardian and the Mirror from the press delegation accompanying her to Rwanda. That was a truly Orwellian move—cancel culture at its worst.

The truth is that, with every decision this Government make and every ill-conceived scheme they put in place, they make fixing our broken asylum system ever harder. The first of these failures is on the asylum waiting lists. Under this Home Secretary, the Home Office is processing 50% fewer cases than five years ago—the result: 37,000 asylum seekers languishing in expensive hotels, costing the taxpayer an eye-watering £4.7 million per day. Labour would invest to save by increasing the number of caseworkers and decision makers so that processing times and hotel bills are radically reduced. [Interruption.]

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

Order. Come on, let us have a bit of reasonable behaviour. I appreciate that it is late, but it is simply rude to shout to such an extent that we cannot hear the hon. Gentleman. It is not reasonable. There is nothing wrong with a bit of banter, but it should not be at such a level that I cannot hear him.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is in this context that we are supporting Lords amendment 7F today, which would give the 60,000 asylum seekers on waiting lists the right to work, to be reviewed after two years, thereby reducing the burden on the British taxpayer and boosting the Exchequer.

Secondly, during his negotiations with the EU, the Prime Minister completely failed to replace the Dublin III regulation, which means that we can no longer return refugees to the country in the EU where they would have first sought asylum. Numbers have increased because this Conservative Government lost control of our borders by losing our long-held power to send people back.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 10:00 pm, 26th April 2022

The hon. Gentleman says Dublin III is about not returning people back to Europe. Does he not agree that those people—illegal economic migrants—leaving France should just be claiming asylum in France?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Well, of course, but they are not doing that. The reality is that if we had a returns agreement in place, which this Prime Minister completely failed to negotiate, that would be the deterrent effect that we all want to see. The deterrent effect of a returns agreement would be so much stronger than the threat of being offloaded to Rwanda, because it would mean that every small boat refugee would be returned rather than just a tiny percentage, which is the most we can hope for from the Rwanda deal.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many of those asylum seekers who came from France were returned to France in the period before we fully left Brexit?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it will be a hell of a lot more than what will be returned under the Rwanda scheme. He knows that it is forecast that 23,000 people will seek to make that dangerous journey. The Rwanda scheme will not even scratch the surface. That is the reality. The only way to deal with this problem is through a proper removal agreement.

Only the Labour party can reset the UK’s relationship with France and the EU, and from there strike a robust removal agreement that would truly act as a deterrent against the criminal people smugglers by breaking their business model. A Labour Government would also engage with Europol and the French authorities to create effective co-operation in the pursuit and prosecution of the criminal gangs who are running the people smuggling and human trafficking, rather than the constant war of words with our European partners and allies, which is all we ever get from this headline-chasing Government. Cheap headlines are all they care about, as everybody on the Labour Benches knows.

Thirdly, absolutely none of the Government’s safe and legal routes seems to work. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is not even off the ground. The Syria route has been ditched. The Dubs scheme for unaccompanied children has also been cancelled. The Ukraine scheme today had a queue three hours long in Portcullis House of MPs’ staffers fighting for Ukrainians on behalf of their constituents, because the visas simply are not getting processed. Somehow, the Home Secretary has managed to turn an inspiring tale of British generosity into a bureaucratic nightmare. Labour would make safe and legal routes work, which in turn would strike another blow against the people smugglers.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I have a lot of time for the shadow Minister, but he is on a really sticky wicket here. Can he just answer these two questions? Is it the Labour party’s policy that we should not take any migrants to Rwanda? Secondly, is he not then scared that by not doing that it will encourage the evil people smugglers in their work?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Secretary’s top civil servant has said that the Rwanda scheme will not work as a deterrent and it delivers no value for money whatever for the British taxpayer. What matters is what works, and that scheme will not work.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

The hon. Gentleman explained to me last week that he did not support the Rwanda scheme and he has just reiterated that. I am curious to learn. What is Labour’s plan to deal with illegal immigration in the channel?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

The hon. Gentleman has clearly not been paying attention. I set out Labour’s plan last week. I have just told him about the returns agreement and giving more resources to caseworkers and decision makers. If he would care to listen to the rest of my speech, he may not need to make another meaningless intervention.

Fourthly, in respect of the Government failures that I touched on earlier, the Bill is emblematic of the Home Secretary’s tendency to make the challenges of our asylum seeker system even harder to overcome. She claims that the Rwanda offloading plan will solve the challenges that our immigration system faces, but her Minister for Refugees dismissed the plan as impossible just a week before the announcement, saying:

“If it’s happening in the Home Office, on the same corridor that I’m in, they haven’t told me about it…I’m having difficulty enough getting them from Ukraine to our country. There’s no possibility of sending them to Rwanda.”

Up and down the country, the British people are counting the cost of this Government—£4 billion of failed or overrunning defence contracts under this Prime Minister since 2019 alone; £16 billion of covid fraud; and a £7-a-year increase on energy bills without any meaningful support whatsoever—and now British taxpayers are told that they have to foot the bill for this pie-in-the-sky Rwanda plan, which will cost at least three times the amount we currently spend on asylum seekers, and possibly even 10 times more.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposal to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda is not only extremely expensive but almost certainly ineffective? It is also inhumane. The evidence from Australia shows that offshore detention often has a massive impact on the mental health of people who are already vulnerable, and can lead to self-harm and suicide if no adequate support services are available. How can we, as a fair-minded and generous nation, stoop to this?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As we know, the Australia scheme ended up costing approximately £1 million per person. The Israel scheme on which the Rwanda scheme is based failed completely, with just about every single person who was sent to Rwanda leaving the country within days and many of them trying to come back to the place from which they were sent. It is an absolute farce.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

It would be useful, for the benefit of the House and of the country more generally, if the hon. Gentleman could confirm whether an incoming Labour Government—in the eventuality that there were to be one—would cancel the Rwanda plan?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

What I would contend—[Interruption.] I am going to tell him. What I would contend is that with the Rwanda plan the wheels are going to fall off the bus very soon, so we will not need to answer that question. It will completely fail. Rather than chasing headlines, the Minister should be doing the nitty-gritty work of negotiating a returns agreement, giving resources to caseworkers and sorting out safe and legal routes. It is about not the razzle-dazzle of Daily Mail headlines but getting the job done.

At Home Office oral questions yesterday, the Minister could not answer a single question that I asked him about the cost of the Rwanda plan. I asked him: how many refugees does he expect to send to Rwanda each year? The Prime Minister says “tens of thousands”; is that correct? What will the cost be per single refugee going to Rwanda? What will the £120 million sweetener being paid by the UK to Rwanda actually be spent on? How many asylum seekers can Rwanda’s detention centres house at any given time? Finally, given that the top civil servant at the Home Office refused to sign off on the Rwanda plan, citing concerns over value for money, when will the Minister publish a full forecast of the costs?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

The hon. Gentleman has outlined his opposition to the Government’s proposal, but will he confirm, in answer to the Minister’s question, whether an incoming Labour Government would cancel the plan or go ahead with it?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

We have made it absolutely clear that the plan is going to fail, as the Home Office’s top civil servant said, so the question will not arise. We will not need to deal with it; the wheels will fall off the bus. We certainly would not be spending £120 million on a press release.

The Rwanda offloading plan is not only a grotesquely expensive gimmick that is unlikely to deter people smugglers in the long-term, but deeply un-British. Dumping this challenge on a developing country 4,000 miles away, with a questionable record on human rights, raises serious concerns about whether this legislation complies with the UN refugee convention. That is why we will back Lords amendment 5D.

Another deeply un-British part of the Bill was the idea that the rubber dinghies could be pushed back out to sea. Yesterday, we witnessed the Home Secretary’s latest screeching U-turn—this time reversing a particularly unhinged part of the legislation. The Home Secretary’s pushback policy was almost completely unworkable, as she was told by the Border Force, by the French, by the Ministry of Defence and even by her own lawyers. As we learned from court documents published yesterday, she had actually agreed that pushbacks could not be applied to asylum seekers in the channel, but she tried to keep that secret so that she could keep up the bravado and tough talking. We hope that she will correct the record.

I have already pointed out—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

Order. I want to let the House calm down for a moment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced and efficient Member of this House, will know that he should not be making a general speech at this stage; this is not Second Reading. This debate is very narrow: we are discussing only the amendments that have just come back from the Lords, not general issues. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will now stick to the narrow matter before us—and so will everybody else.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Thank you for your wise counsel, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I have already pointed to the work and refugee convention amendments, but we also need to address differential treatment. Lords amendments 6D, 6E and 6F provide that a person can be a tier 1 refugee if they have travelled briefly through countries on their way to the UK, as somebody from Kabul or Kyiv would have to, or if they have delayed presenting themselves to the authorities for a good reason. They would also require compliance with the refugee convention and state that family unity must be taken into account. The Government should get behind the amendments. What in them can there possibly be to disagree with?

The channel crossings have been taken out of the Home Secretary’s hands and handed to the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy. The Ukrainian refugee scheme has been handed over to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This Sunday, the former director general of borders and immigration called for a new immigration Department to remove responsibility from the Home Office. With her Department now effectively in special measures, will the Home Secretary not just for once do the right thing and accept the amendments today, so that we can begin to repair some of the damage done by this deeply counterproductive legislation?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I will not delay the House unduly; my colleagues would not want me to. I just want to make two points. The first is that Stephen Kinnock is right: these matters should have been addressed earlier, by successive Governments—including Labour Governments, by the way. Our immigration policy has not been planned strategically, as it might have been. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point.

The hon. Gentleman also said that the system needs to be efficient. I spoke about Edmund Burke on Second Reading; he said that the test of civil society and the policy that relates to it was justice, and that when a policy ceased to be just it was barely a policy at all. For a policy to be just, it has to be ordered, efficient and consistent. Immigration policy has struggled with order, efficiency and consistency for a very long time. On that, the hon. Gentleman was also right.

However, the hon. Gentleman is fundamentally wrong about the amendments for the following reasons. First, the Lords seem unwilling to grasp a nettle that, as he described, previous Governments have also failed the grasp. That nettle is sorting out and amending a broken system to ensure that we can continue to give safe refuge to people in desperate need, and that the system cannot be routinely and persistently gamed—by people traffickers and, actually, by economic migrants pretending to be asylum seekers. That is the fact, and we have to face it and reform the system so that we can differentiate between the two. The Government are trying to do that. It is not an easy process, but the Lords seem to me to misunderstand the Government’s intention, which is to create a consistent, ordered and effective system.

In specific terms, the amendment pertaining to the Refugee Council is unnecessary because part 2 of the Bill is already in line with the Refugee Council. I am amazed to hear the hon. Gentleman say that asylum seekers should be allowed to work. What sort of signal does that send out to legitimate migrants who have come to this country seeking to perform a role in our economy to serve this country? What sort of signal does it send out to indigenous Britons—of all types and races, by the way—who are unemployed and seeking a job, when they are told they must compete with people arriving in the country as asylum seekers? That seems to be a nonsense, yet that is what the Lords amendment suggests.

I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Minister on at last grappling with an asylum system that is simply not fit for purpose. The Opposition would do well, in a measured and considered way, to back the Government in that respect, rather than backing these essentially destructive Lords amendments. They are destructive because they are not in tune with the spirit of the Bill, and they certainly will not assist any Government in reforming our broken asylum system.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:15 pm, 26th April 2022

I will start by recalling that what we are debating this evening is the fate of Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans, persecuted Christians, trafficking victims and others who seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom.

A rather perplexing set of votes in the other place means that we are down to just three Lords amendments. While the remaining amendments may be small in number, however, they are huge in significance. Assuming that this place fails to do its duty by agreeing to them, I hope the other place, unlike the Minister, will do its duty by continuing to insist on them.

With the exception of some welcome provisions on nationality, we continue to believe the whole Bill should be scrapped. However, for as long as it is before us, we support amendments that seek to ensure as far as possible that the Government act in accordance with the refugee convention and allow that compliance to be considered by the courts. That means accepting their lordships’ amendments on interpretation and on restricting the offensive clauses on differentiation.

The Government have totally lost the argument. The overwhelming weight of legal opinion, as well as that of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is on our side of this argument. No one with an ounce of common sense would just accept this Government’s assurances that everything accords with the refugee convention, nor would they give up the ability to test it in court—and we certainly should not. Today, it seems that the Minister’s argument is basically that it is Parliament’s role just to declare itself in compliance with the refugee convention. Of course that is absolute nonsense.

I reiterate SNP support for the right to work for asylum seekers, and pay tribute to the Lift the Ban coalition members, including in particular the Maryhill Integration Network and many others who have campaigned with passion and integrity on this issue. This policy is the right thing to do for integration, it is right for the public purse and therefore it is right for our citizens and overwhelmingly right for asylum seekers.

The evidence against the policy remains pathetically weak to non-existent, and warm words about deciding cases within six months mean nothing when that prospect appears as remote as ever. The reality is that people are being left in limbo for years, and excluding them from the labour market for years risks effectively excluding them from work forever and undermining integration.

The Home Secretary has repeatedly told us that she is all for safe legal routes. Indeed, last week she told my right hon. Friend Liz Saville Roberts, the leader of the Plaid Cymru group in Parliament, that this Bill

“actually puts safe and legal routes into statute.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2022; Vol. 712, c. 41.]

The Home Secretary has complained on various occasions that I have not read the Bill, but I am beginning to question whether she has read her own Bill, because that is clearly utter baloney. There is not a single sentence in the Bill as it stands that puts a safe legal route into statute. On the contrary, clause 11 empowers the Secretary of State to diminish safe routes for family members. Their Lordships’ amendments give just a little bit of protection for those rights.

The final argument I want to make relates, believe it or not, to the 2019 Conservative party election manifesto. In advance of this debate, I forced myself to look at that document; indeed, I forced an unfortunate member of my staff to look at it as well. As far as we can see, the words “asylum” and “refugee” feature in that manifesto only once, and in the following terms:

“We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.”

The manifesto also said:

“We will ensure no matter where in the world you or your family come from, your rights will be respected and you will be treated with fairness and dignity.”

This Bill not only breaches the refugee convention, but is utterly contrary to the 2019 Government manifesto. There is nothing in that manifesto about driving a coach and horses through the refugee convention. There is nothing about criminalising—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

Order. I stopped the shadow Minister, so I have to give the same advice to the spokesman for the SNP. We are not here to talk about manifestos and general matters this evening; we are here to talk about Government motions to disagree to amendments 5D, 6D, 6E, 6F, 7F and 7G, and only that. This Bill has been properly heard in general terms. We will stick to the exact points in front of us now.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The point I am trying to make, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I would be allowed, is that these amendments would bring the Government much closer to fulfilling their 2019 manifesto commitments than anything in the Bill today. The Bill rides roughshod not only over the refugee convention but over the Government’s own manifesto commitments. That is the point I am trying to make. It is an important point for this House, for the Conservative party and for this Government. It is also an important point for Members in the other place, because, yes, this is a Bill that breaches international law in egregious ways, and totally undermines the refugee convention and treats asylum seekers appallingly, but it is also, as I said, contrary to the Conservative manifesto. For that reason, if this is not the sort of Bill that the House of Lords should be using its modest powers to delay, then I really do not know what is.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

You are right, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the House is considering narrower and narrower aspects of the Bill, but despite the fact that this is the fifth time it has come to the House, still no Minister has been able to explain how the United Kingdom, which is surrounded by water, can ever be the first safe country of arrival for an undocumented asylum seeker.

The proposals in the Bill, and the Government’s determination to overturn repeated amendments of the House of Lords on this aspect, are literally inhumane. The Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that we fully comply with the refugee convention and therefore an amendment to put the refugee convention into the Bill is unnecessary. He is contradicting himself in his own terms. Instead the Government want to make criminals out of Eritrean human rights defenders fleeing for their lives, LGBT+ women and men from Rwanda seeking a more tolerant society in which to live, and Ukrainians who, for whatever reason, cannot get through the interminable Home Office visa processing system to reunite here with friends and families.

When the Minister winds up, can he explain whether the effect of the Bill and the agreement is that if a young Ukrainian man arrives at the UK border without documentation, he will be criminalised—or will he be sent to build a new life in Rwanda? Indeed, when an asylum seeker from Rwanda arrives here on a small boat, will they be sent back to Rwanda to seek asylum and rebuild their life? How is that possibly supposed to work? In what world could that possibly match with the provisions and duties that this country has under the terms of the refugee convention as outlined in Lords amendment 5?

It is not just the Archbishop of Canterbury who is speaking out on this—and incidentally he has every right to do so, because he is a member of the legislature as a Member of the House of the Lords—because religious leaders across the country have written to us. In amendment 7, the Lords calls once again for asylum seekers to be granted the right to work—not granted the right to work but for their right to work to be recognised, because the right to work is a fundamental human right that cannot be taken away. Using your labour to earn your keep is such a right. I echo the tribute that my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald paid to the work of the Maryhill Integration Network in this regard. Denying that opportunity to asylum seekers, along with the denial of access to public funds in some cases, is not only degrading to them but actively harmful to our own economy and to wider society.

This Bill has been of huge concern to constituents in Glasgow North who have followed it right the way through every single level of amendments that we have had from the House of Lords. Over the course of the Bill’s progress, I have had literally hundreds of messages, ultimately asking for the whole Bill to be withdrawn, but if not, then at least to try to humanise it wherever possible, as their lordships have tried to do this evening. If the Government will not listen to the House of Lords and will not listen to people in Scotland, where is the precious Union? Where is what we are supposed to be doing in working together? The Scottish Parliament is ready and willing to accept responsibility for immigration law, and the people of Scotland are ready to accept it and all the other powers that go along with being an independent country.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

I rise to speak in support of Lords amendments passed earlier today. It is clear that, even today, Members of the Lords have made efforts to table new text to find a route to conclude debate on this Bill. Let us remind ourselves that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that the Bill undermines the 1951 refugee convention and that its policies would risk the lives and wellbeing of vulnerable people.

I wish to support, in particular, Lords amendment 5D, moved by Baroness Chakrabarti, who has worked tirelessly in her opposition in tabling significant amendments to this horrendous Bill. This amendment sets out that the provisions of this part of the Bill must be read and given effect in a way that is compatible with the refugee convention.

I express my concerns about the Bill’s compatibility with our international obligations, particularly following the announcement of the memorandum of understanding between the Home Secretary and the Rwandan Government. Senior legal representatives have commented on that agreement, including Stephanie Boyce, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, who recently said that there are

“serious questions about whether these plans would or could comply with the UK’s promises under international treaty”.

We all know that the Government’s proposal of pushbacks of boats in the channel has been abandoned this week in the face of legal scrutiny in the courts. I put on record my thanks to the Public and Commercial Services Union—the trade union of Home Office staff, including Border Force staff—and the charities Care4Calais, Channel Rescue and Freedom from Torture for taking on this legal challenge. As PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, a fellow Welsh person, said:

“This humiliating climbdown by the government is a stunning victory for Home Office workers and for refugees. There is little doubt that lives have been saved.”

This action has demonstrated that the Government’s bluster about a legal basis for the pushback policy was just that. Are we now meant to take at the Home Secretary’s word that the “New Plan for Immigration” and the horrendous, inhuman, unethical Rwanda policy are just as legally watertight? Forgive me if I am sceptical.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

I remain totally opposed to this Bill. These proposals are deeply—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

Order. The hon. Lady is opposed to the Bill, and she was perfectly entitled to say so on Second Reading and on Third Reading, and I think she probably did, but at this point, her opposition to the Bill is of no interest to the House; we are talking about the specific amendments. Will she please stick to the specific amendments?

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

I therefore urge Members of this House to back the Lords amendments tonight.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

With the leave of the House, I will conclude by observing that we have long debated these issues. The other place asked us to reflect, and we have, repeatedly. This House has been crystal clear. What is also crystal clear is that unlike all the other parties in this House, we have a credible plan. We stand with the vulnerable. We stand against evil people smugglers. There must be no more delay. It is now time to act, and I call on all Members of this House to back the Bill and on the other place to let it pass.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 5D.

Division number 265 Nationality and Borders Bill — Before Clause 11 - Compliance with the Refugee Convention

Aye: 294 MPs

No: 205 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 296, Noes 206.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 5D disagreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 6D, 6E and 6F—(Tom Pursglove.)

Division number 266 Nationality and Borders Bill — Before Clause 11 - Compliance with the Refugee Convention

Aye: 293 MPs

No: 204 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 299, Noes 205.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments 6D, 6E and 6F disagreed to.

More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, 22 March).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83G).

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 7F and 7G.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Division number 267 Nationality and Borders Bill — Before Clause 11 - Compliance with the Refugee Convention

Aye: 284 MPs

No: 211 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 288, Noes 212.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments 7F and 7G disagreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 5D, 6D, 6E, 6F, 7F and 7G.

That Tom Pursglove, Scott Mann, Paul Holmes, Chris Clarkson, Stephen Kinnock, Chris Elmore and Stuart C. McDonald be members of the Committee;

That Tom Pursglove be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Question agreed to.

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.