I beg to move amendment 133, page 40, line 7, at end insert—
“(2A) A suspensive claim, or an appeal in relation to a suspensive claim (only as permitted by or by virtue of this Act), shall be the only means through which a removal notice may be challenged.
(2B) Accordingly, other than claims identified in (2A), there shall be no interim relief, or court order, or suspensive legal challenges of any kind, available which would have the effect of preventing removal.”
This amendment intends to ensure that the only way to prevent a person’s removal is through a successful suspensive claim.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 76, page 40, line 8, leave out from “means” to the end of line 12 and insert—
“(a) a protection claim,
(b) a human rights claim, or
(c) a claim to be a victim of slavery or a victim of human trafficking.”
Amendment 77, page 40, line 22, after “a country or territory” insert
“where there are, in law and in practice—
“(i) appropriate reception arrangements for asylum seekers;
(ii) sufficiency of protection against serious harm and violations of fundamental rights;
(iii) protection against refoulement;
(iv) access to fair and efficient State asylum procedures, or to a previously afforded refugee status or other protective status that is inclusive of the rights and obligations set out at Articles 2-34 of the 1951 Convention.
(v) the legal right to remain during the State asylum procedure; and
(vi) if found to be in need of international protection, a grant of refugee status that is inclusive of the rights and obligations set out at Articles 2-34 of the 1951 Convention and”.
This amendment changes the definition of a “third country”.
Clause stand part.
Clause 38 stand part.
Amendment 78, in clause 39, page 41, line 19, leave out “not”.
Amendment 79, in clause 39, page 41, line 22, leave out “no” and insert “a”.
Amendment 134, in clause 39, page 41, line 28, leave out subsections (3) to (5) and insert—
“(3) The Secretary of State must declare as inadmissible any human rights claim, protection claim, application for judicial review, or other legal claim which is not a suspensive claim or an appeal in relation to a suspensive claim, and which, if successful, would have the effect of preventing the removal of a person from the United Kingdom under this Act.”
This amendment intends to ensure that the only way to prevent a person’s removal is through a successful suspensive claim, as defined in clause 37.
Amendment 80, in clause 39, page 41, line 37, leave out “no” and insert “a”.
Clause 39 stand part.
Amendment 81, in clause 40, page 42, line 10, leave out from “and” to the end of line 16 and insert
“decide whether to accept or reject the claim.”
Amendment 82, in clause 40, page 42, line 17, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment 83, in clause 40, page 42, line 30, leave out “compelling evidence” and insert
“evidence that there is a real risk”.
Amendment 84, in clause 40, page 42, line 34, leave out from the start of paragraph (b) to the end of subsection (5).
Amendment 85, in clause 40, page 43, line 1, leave out “8” and insert “21”.
Amendment 86, in clause 40, page 43, line 3, leave out “4” and insert “7”.
Clause 40 stand part.
Amendment 87, in clause 41, page 43, line 20, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment 88, in clause 41, page 43, line 28, leave out “compelling evidence” and insert
“evidence on the balance of probabilities”.
Amendment 89, in clause 41, page 43, line 31, leave out from the start of paragraph (b) to the end of subsection (5).
Amendment 90, in clause 41, page 43, line 40, leave out “8” and insert “21”.
Amendment 91, in clause 41, page 43, line 42, leave out “4” and insert “7”.
Clause 41 stand part.
Amendment 92, in clause 42, page 44, line 18, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) in the case of a serious harm suspensive claim—
(i) the grounds in section 84(1) or (2) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, or
(ii) the grounds that the person is a victim of slavery or a victim of human trafficking;”.
Amendment 93, in clause 42, page 44, line 25, leave out
“contain compelling evidence of such ground” and insert
“set out the grounds for appeal”.
Amendment 94, in clause 42, page 44, line 27, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 95, in clause 42, page 44, line 30, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 96, in clause 42, page 44, line 34, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert
“whether to allow or refuse the appeal”.
Amendment 97, in clause 42, page 44, line 41, leave out subsection (7).
Clause 42 stand part.
Amendment 98, in clause 43, page 45, line 14, leave out from “considers” to the end of subsection (3) and insert
“there are reasonable grounds to believe that the claim is not bound to fail.”
Amendment 99, in clause 43, page 45, line 20, leave out
“there is compelling evidence that”.
Amendment 100, in clause 43, page 45, line 30, leave out subsection (7).
Clause 43 stand part.
Amendment 101, in clause 44, page 46, line 4, leave out “compelling” and insert “good”.
Amendment 102, in clause 44, page 46, line 5, insert at end
“or if the risk of serious and irreversible harm faced by the person is such that the claim ought to be considered despite it having been made after the end of the claim period”.
Amendment 103, in clause 44, page 46, line 6, leave out “compelling” and insert “good”.
Amendment 104, in clause 44, page 46, line 10, leave out “compelling” and insert “good”.
Amendment 105, in clause 44, page 46, line 12, leave out “compelling” and insert “good”.
Amendment 106, in clause 44, page 46, line 15, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) set out the good reasons for the person not making the claim within the claim period, and”.
Amendment 107, in clause 44, page 46, line 18, at end insert
“unless the Upper Tribunal considers that an oral hearing is necessary to secure that justice is done in the particular case”.
Amendment 108, in clause 44, page 46, line 22, leave out subsection (7).
Amendment 109, in clause 44, page 46, line 30, leave out “4” and insert “7”.
Clause 44 stand part.
Government amendment 67.
Amendment 41, in clause 45, page 47, line 21, at end insert—
“(2A) In cases where subsection (2) applies to a person who has made a protection claim or a human rights claim, that claim may no longer be considered inadmissible.”
This amendment stipulates that where a person has successfully made a suspensive claim against their removal from the UK, any asylum or human rights claim made by that person can no longer be classed as inadmissible.
Government amendment 69 and 68.
Clause 45 stand part.
Amendment 110, in clause 46, page 48, line 1, leave out subsections (3) to (10).
Clause 46 stand part.
Amendment 111, in clause 47, page 48, line 34, leave out “7” and insert “10”.
Amendment 112, in clause 47, page 48, line 41, leave out “23” and insert “28”.
Amendment 113, in clause 47, page 49, line 7, leave out “7” and insert “10”.
Amendment 114, in clause 47, page 49, line 11, leave out “7” and insert “14”.
Amendment 115, in clause 47, page 49, line 18, leave out “7” and insert “10”.
Amendment 116, in clause 47, page 49, line 22, leave out “7” and insert “14”.
Clause 47 stand part.
Amendment 117, in clause 48, page 49, line 32, leave out “or refuse”.
Amendment 118, in clause 48, page 49, line 35, leave out “or refuse”.
Clause 48 stand part.
Amendment 119, in clause 49, page 50, line 17, leave out from “provision” to the end of subsection (1) and insert
“to ensure compliance with interim measures indicated by the European Court of Human Rights as they relate to the removal of persons from the United Kingdom under this Act.”
Amendment 122, in clause 49, page 50, line 30, at end insert—
“(2A) Regulations under subsection (1) may not make provision so as to deny or undermine the binding effect of such measures on the United Kingdom under Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
This amendment would recognise that the UK is bound to comply with interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights, and would ensure that any regulations made under clause 49 do not undermine this. This amendment is consistent with recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report on the Bill of Rights Bill.
Clause 49 stand part.
Amendment 120, in clause 50, page 51, leave out line 21.
Clause 50 stand part.
Amendment 179, in clause 51, page 53, line 3, leave out from “must” to the end of subsection (1) and insert
“within six months of this Act coming into force, secure a resolution from both Houses of Parliament on a target for the number of people entering the United Kingdom each year over the next three years using safe and legal routes, and further resolutions for future years no later than 18 months before the relevant years begin.”
This amendment seeks to enhance Parliament’s role in determining the target number of entrants using safe and legal routes.
Amendment 177, in clause 51, page 53, line 3, leave out “maximum” and insert “target”.
The purpose of this amendment is to set a target, rather than a maximum, number of entrants through safe and legal routes.
Amendment 180, in clause 51, page 53, line 6, leave out “making the regulations” and insert
“securing the resolution mentioned in subsection (1)”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 179.
Amendment 173, in clause 51, page 53, line 7, after “authorities”, insert—
“(aa) the United Nations High Commission for Refugees,
(ab) the Scottish Ministers,
(ac) the home affairs select committee of the House of Commons,”.
The purpose of this amendment is to broaden the scope of consultees on setting the target for the number of entrants using safe and legal routes.
Amendment 176, in clause 51, page 53, line 12, leave out “exceeds” and insert
“is greater or less than 10% of”.
The purpose of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to explain the reasons why, if the target for entrants through safe and legal routes is not met.
Amendment 178, in clause 51, page 53, line 17, after “exceeds” insert “or falls short of”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 176.
Amendment 137, in clause 51, page 53, line 29, at end insert—
““Persons” means a person over the age of 18 on the day of entry into the United Kingdom;”.
This amendment would exclude children from the annual cap on number of entrants.
Amendment 72, in clause 51, page 53, line 31, at end insert
“under section [Safe and legal routes: regulations]”.
Amendment 149, in clause 51, page 53, line 31, at end insert—
“(7) Regulations under subsections (1) and (6) must come into force no later than three months from the date on which this Act comes into force.”
This amendment seeks to require that regulations to establish the cap on the number of people permitted to enter the UK via safe and legal routes must be in effect by three months from this Bill’s entry into force.
Clause 51 stand part.
Government new clause 11—Judges of First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal.
Government new clause 12—Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
New clause 3—Refugee resettlement target—
“(1) The Secretary of State must make an order by statutory instrument setting an annual target for the resettlement of refugees to the United Kingdom.
(2) An order under subsection (1) must set an annual target of no fewer than 10,000 people.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to set a resettlement target, by order, each year of at least 10,000 people.
New clause 4—Humanitarian travel permit—
“(1) On an application by a person (“P”) to the appropriate decision-maker for entry clearance, the appropriate decision-maker must grant P entry clearance if satisfied that P is a relevant person.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), P is a relevant person if—
(a) P intends to make a protection claim in the United Kingdom;
(b) P’s protection claim, if made in the United Kingdom, would have a realistic prospect of success; and
(c) there are serious and compelling reasons why P’s protection claim should be considered in the United Kingdom.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(c), in deciding whether there are such reasons why P’s protection claim should be considered in the United Kingdom, the appropriate decision-maker must take into account—
(a) the extent of the risk that P will suffer persecution or serious harm if entry clearance is not granted;
(b) the strength of P’s family and other ties to the United Kingdom;
(c) P’s mental and physical health and any particular vulnerabilities that P has; and
(d) any other matter that the decision-maker thinks relevant.
(4) For the purposes of an application under subsection (1), the appropriate decision-maker must waive any of the requirements in subsection (5) if satisfied that P cannot reasonably be expected to comply with them.
(5) The requirements are—
(a) any requirement prescribed (whether by immigration rules or otherwise) under section 50 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006; and
(6) No fee may be charged for the making of an application under subsection (1).
(7) An entry clearance granted pursuant to subsection (1) has effect as leave to enter for such period, being not less than six months, and on such conditions as the Secretary of State may prescribe by order.
(8) Upon a person entering the United Kingdom (within the meaning of section 11 of the Immigration Act 1971) pursuant to leave to enter given under subsection (7), that person is deemed to have made a protection claim in the United Kingdom.
(9) In this section—
“appropriate decision-maker” means a person authorised by the Secretary of State by rules made under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 to grant an entry clearance under paragraph (1);
“entry clearance” has the same meaning as in section 33(1) of the Immigration Act 1971;
“persecution” is to be construed in accordance with its meaning in the Refugee Convention;
“protection claim” in relation to a person, means a claim that to remove them from or require them to leave the United Kingdom would be inconsistent with the United Kingdom’s obligations—
(a) under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees done at Geneva on 28th July 1951 and the Protocol to that Convention (“the Refugee Convention”);
(b) in relation to persons entitled to a grant of humanitarian protection; or
(c) under Article 2 or 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms agreed by the Council of Europe at Rome on 4th November 1950 (“the European Convention on Human Rights”); and
“serious harm” means treatment that, if it occurred within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, would be contrary to the United Kingdom's obligations under Article 2 or 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (irrespective of where it will actually occur).”
New clause 6—Safe Passage Pilot Scheme—
“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument establish a humanitarian travel permit scheme.
(2) The scheme under this section must come into operation within 3 months of the date on which this Act is passed and must remain in operation for at least 12 months.
(3) The scheme under this section must permit persons from designated countries or territories (see subsections (3) and (4) below) to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of making a claim for asylum immediately on their arrival in the United Kingdom.
(4) The regulations under subsection (1) must designate countries or territories from which nationals or citizens may be considered for humanitarian permits under this section.
(5) Countries or territories designated under subsection (4) may include only countries or territories from which the proportion of decided asylum claims which have been upheld in the United Kingdom in the 5 years before the date on which this Act is passed is at least 80 per cent.
(6) Regulations made under subsection (1) are subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament.
(7) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an evaluation of the humanitarian travel permit scheme under this section not later than 15 months from the date on which this Act is passed.”
New clause 7—Refugee family reunion—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within 6 months of the date on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in the rules (the “immigration rules”) under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control) to make provision for refugee family reunion, in accordance with this section, to come into effect after 21 days.
(2) Before a statement of changes is laid under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult with persons as the Secretary of State deems appropriate.
(3) The statement laid under subsection (1) must set out rules providing for leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom for family members of a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection.
(4) In this section, “refugee status” and “humanitarian protection” have the same meaning as in the immigration rules.
(5) In this section, “family members” include—
(a) a person's parent, including adoptive parent;
(b) a person's spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner;
(c) a person's child, including adopted child, who is either—
(i) under the age of 18, or
(ii) under the age of 25 but was either under the age of 18 or unmarried at the time the person granted asylum left their country of residence to seek asylum;
(d) a person's sibling, including adoptive sibling, who is either—
(i) under the age of 18, or
(ii) under the age of 25, but was either under the age of 18 or unmarried at the time the person granted asylum left their country of residence to seek asylum; and
(e) such other persons as the Secretary of State may determine, having regard to—
(i) the importance of maintaining family unity,
(ii) the best interests of a child,
(iii) the physical, emotional, psychological or financial dependency between a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and another person,
(iv) any risk to the physical, emotional or psychological wellbeing of a person who was granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, including from the circumstances in which the person is living in the United Kingdom, or
(v) such other matters as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(6) For the purpose of subsection (5)—
(a) “adopted” and “adoptive” refer to a relationship resulting from adoption, including de facto adoption, as set out in the immigration rules;
This new clause would make provision for leave to enter or remain in the UK to be granted to the family members of refugees and of people granted humanitarian protection.
New clause 10—Safe passage visa scheme—
“(1) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament statements of changes to the immigration rules to make provision for a safe passage visa scheme (referred to in the remainder of this section as the “scheme”).
(2) The purpose of the scheme referred to in subsection (1) is to enable a qualifying person to travel safely to the United Kingdom in order to make an application for asylum (within the meaning given by paragraph 327 of the immigration rules) or a claim for humanitarian protection (within the meaning given by paragraph 327EA of the immigration rules).
(3) A person is a “qualifying person” for the purposes of subsection (2) if the person—
(a) is present in a member State of the European Union when the person makes an application to the scheme;
(b) is not a national of a member State of the European Union, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland; and
(c) would, on securing entry to the United Kingdom, be able to make—
(i) a valid application for asylum in accordance with paragraph 327AB of the immigration rules; or
(ii) a valid claim for humanitarian protection in accordance with paragraph 327EB of the immigration rules, which would not be clearly unfounded.
(4) For the purposes of determining whether the conditions in subsection (3)(c) above are satisfied, the following are disapplied—
(a) the conditions in subsections (4) and (5) of section 80C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; and
(b) the duty in section 2(1) of this Act.
(5) Changes to the immigration rules made under this section must also make provision for—
(a) applications to the scheme, including—
(i) identification of the relevant gov.uk webpage through which applications must be made;
(ii) the provision of relevant biometric data by the person;
(iii) the supplying of relevant information and supporting documentation related to applications;
(iv) confirmation that applications will be without cost to applicants; and
(v) provision for legal aid in relation to applications made to the scheme;
(b) any additional suitability requirements for applications to the scheme, including matters referred to in Part 9 of the immigration rules;
(c) entry requirements for those granted entry clearance under the scheme, including the requirement that the person be provided with a letter by the Secretary of State confirming that the person can enter the United Kingdom;
(d) limitations on the entry clearance granted under the scheme, including provision that clearance is provided solely to enable the person to make an application for asylum or a claim for humanitarian protection and requiring that such an application or claim be made immediately on entry into the United Kingdom; and
(e) appeal rights for those denied entry clearance under the scheme, including legal aid to be made available for persons making such appeals.
(6) The scheme referred to in this section is to be specified as a “safe and legal route” for the purposes of regulations referred to in section 51(6) of this Act.
(7) In this section “immigration rules” means rules under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971.”
New clause 13—Safe and legal routes: regulations—
“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations specify safe and legal routes by which asylum seekers can enter the United Kingdom.
(2) The routes specified must include—
(a) any country-specific refugee and resettlement schemes already in operation on the day this Act is passed; and
(b) safe and legal routes additional to those in subsection (2)(a).
(3) The regulations must set out which routes specified under subsection (2)(b) are available to—
(a) adults, and
(b) unaccompanied children.
(4) The regulations must make provision about—
(a) who is eligible to access the routes specified under subsection (2)(b); and
(b) the means by which such persons may access the routes.”
New clause 17—Safe and legal routes—
“(1) The Secretary of State must within six months of the date on which this Act is passed lay before Parliament a report setting out—
(a) all safe and legal routes which individuals from relevant countries may take in order to apply lawfully for asylum in the United Kingdom; and
(b) the numbers of applicants in each of the last five years who have followed each of those safe and legal routes.
(2) The report must be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(3) A person originating from a relevant country may not be removed from the United Kingdom unless a safe and legal route from that country has been set out in a report under subsection (1).
(4) For the purposes of this section “relevant countries” means—
(a) every country or territory not listed in the Schedule; and
(b) in relation to all applicants other than men, those countries listed in the Schedule in respect of men.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to set out a comprehensive list of safe and legal routes to the UK from countries not listed in the Schedule, as the latter are by definition countries the Government considers “safe”. A person could not be removed from the UK to a country not listed in the Schedule unless a safe and legal route from that country to the UK exists.
New clause 19—Refugee family reunion—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within two months of the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in the rules (the “immigration rules”) under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulations and control ) to make provision for refugee family reunion, in accordance with this section, to come into effect after 21 days.
(2) The statement made under subsection (1) must set out rules providing for leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom for family members of a person—
(a) granted refugee status or humanitarian protection,
(b) resettled through Pathways 1 or 3 of the Afghan Resettlement Scheme, or
(c) who is permitted to enter the United Kingdom through a safe and legal route specified in regulations made under section 51(1) (see also subsection (6) of that section).
(3) In this section, “family members” include a person’s—
(a) parent, if the person was under the age of 18 at the time they made an application for protection status within the meaning of subsection (4) in the United Kingdom, including adoptive parent;
(b) spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner;
(c) child, including adopted child, who is either—
(i) under the age of 18
(ii) aged 18 or over and dependant on the person;
(d) sibling, including adoptive sibling, who is either—
(i) under the age of 18, or
(ii) under the age of 25 but was either under the age of 18 or unmarried at the time the person granted asylum left their country of residence to seek asylum; and
(e) such other persons as the Secretary of State may determine, having regard to—
(i) the importance of maintaining family unity,
(ii) the best interests of the child,
(iii) the physical, emotional, psychological or financial dependency between a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and another person,
(iv) any risk to the physical, emotional or psychological wellbeing of a person who was granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, including from the circumstances in which the person is living in the United Kingdom, or
(v) such other matters as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(4) For the purpose of subsection (3)—
(a) “adopted” and “adoptive” refer to a relationship resulting from adoption, including de facto adoption, as set out in the immigration rules;
(b) “best interests” of a child is to be read in accordance with Article 3 of the 1989 UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.”
New clause 23—Asylum processing for low grant-rate countries—
“(1) Within 60 days of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must issue regulations establishing an expedited asylum process for applicants from low grant-rate countries who have arrived in the UK without permission.
(2) Within this section, “low grant-rate countries” are defined are countries with a grant rate for asylum applicants below 50% in the 12 months preceding the initial decision being taken.”
This new clause requires the Home Secretary to establish a process to fast-track asylum claims from safe countries.
New clause 24—Safe and legal routes: family reunion for children—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within three months of the date on which this Act enters into force, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in the rules (the ‘immigration rules’) under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provision for regulation and control) to make provision for the admission of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from European Union member states to the United Kingdom for the purposes of family reunion.
(2) The rules must, as far as is practicable, include provisions in line with the rules formerly in force in the United Kingdom under the Dublin III Regulation relating to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.”
This new clause seeks to add a requirement for the Secretary of State to provide safe and legal routes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with close family members in the UK, in line with rules previous observed by the UK as part of the Dublin system.
New clause 25—International co-operation—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within three months of the date on which the Illegal Migration Act 2023 comes into force, publish and lay before Parliament a framework for new agreements to facilitate co- operation with the governments of neighbouring countries, EU Member States and relevant international organisations on—
(a) the removal from the United Kingdom of persons who have made protection claims declared inadmissible by the Secretary of State;
(b) the prevention of unlawful entry to the United Kingdom from neighbouring countries;
(c) the prosecution and conviction of persons involved in facilitating illegal entry to the United Kingdom from neighbouring countries;
(d) securing access for the relevant authorities to international databases for the purposes of assisting law enforcement and preventing illegal entry to the United Kingdom; and
(e) establishing controlled and managed safe and legal routes.
(2) In subsection (1)—
(a) “neighbouring countries” means countries which share a maritime border with the United Kingdom;
(b) “relevant international organisations” means—
12. the European Union; and
13. any other organisation which the Secretary of State may see fit to consult with.
(c) “relevant authorities” means—
(i) police forces;
(ii) the National Crime Agency;
(iii) the Crown Prosecution Service; and
(iv) any other organisation which the Secretary of State may see fit to include within the definition.
(d) “international databases” means—
(i) The Eurodac fingerprint database;
(ii) the Schengen Information System; and;
(iii) any other database which the Secretary of State may see fit to include within the definition.
(e) “controlled and managed safe and legal routes” includes—
(i) family reunion for unaccompanied asylum- seeking children with close family members settled in the United Kingdom; and
(ii) other resettlement schemes.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a framework on new agreements to facilitate co-operation with the governments of neighbouring countries and relevant international organisations on matters related to the removal of people from the United Kingdom.
New clause 26—Equality Impact—
“The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an equality impact assessment of the measures in sections 37 to 51 of this Act with, in particular, an assessment of the extent to which people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 will be particularly affected by the changes to legal proceedings and by the cap on numbers of entrants using safe and legal routes.”
Government amendment 66.
Amendment 73, in clause 57, page 57, line 2, at end insert—
“(o) section [Safe and legal routes: regulations]”.
Amendment 74, in clause 57, page 57, line 7, at end insert—
“(7) No regulations may be made under subsection (1) until regulations specifying safe and legal routes have been made under section [Safe and legal routes: regulations].”
Amendment 75, in clause 1, page 2, line 13, at end insert—
“(i) establishes and defines safe and legal routes to be open to refugees and asylum seekers with a legitimate claim to be able to come to the United Kingdom legally.”
Amendment 131, in clause 1, page 2 , line 29, at end insert—
“(6) Provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect to notwithstanding any judgement, interim measure or other decision, of the European Court of Human Rights, or other international court or tribunal; and notwithstanding any international law obligation.”
The intention of this amendment is that the provisions of the Bill should operate notwithstanding any orders of the Strasbourg court or any other international body.
Amendment 132, in clause 1, page 2, line 29, at end insert—
“(7) Section 4 (declaration of incompatibility), section 6 (acts of public authorities) and section 10 (power to take remedial action) of the Human Rights Act 1998 do not apply in relation to provision made by or by virtue of this Act.”
This amendment would disapply other provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 in addition to that already disapplied by clause 1(5) of the Bill.
I voted for the Bill on Second Reading because it was most emphatically going in the right direction, but I emphasised that we wanted to be sure that it would actually work in the national interest by preventing illegal immigration. The Bill is getting better with the amendments proposed by the Government today, for which all credit to the Home Secretary, the Immigration Minister and the Prime Minister. The number of Back Benchers who are supporting our constructive amendments, including mine, is growing.
This Bill to stop the boats is both legally and politically necessary, because illegal migration is out of control, partly because of a failure to distinguish between genuine refugees and others who are illegal and economic migrants. This is not only a real problem in the UK; increasingly, it is a real global and European problem as well, as can be seen from the dreadful tragedies in the Mediterranean in the last few weeks and months.
This legislation sets out a fair regime for dealing with people who have arrived here illegally. It gives them a reasonable but limited ability to raise any exceptional reasons as to why it is unsafe for them to be sent to Rwanda or another safe country. These are known as suspensive claims, and they are clearly defined in clause 37. Those claims ensure that we are compliant with our international obligations and that we would not send somebody overseas if they were not medically fit to fly or if they would face persecution in the destination country.
The success of this scheme depends on it working predictably and quickly. Those who come over on small boats need to know that they will not be able to stay here and that the vast majority of them will be removed to Rwanda or elsewhere. If courts intervene in unexpected ways, it removes the deterrence and the whole scheme breaks down, along with our ability to control our own borders.
However, this is also a procedural, legal and judicial issue, because under the Human Rights Act 1998, the UK courts have not been given suitable guidance by Parliament via statute to draw the appropriate boundaries that are needed in the national interest. As I pointed out on Second Reading, for example, the international refugee convention does not apply between the UK and France, because France is not a country where asylum seekers fear persecution, yet the European Commission is by all accounts refusing to make legal changes to EU law to allow returns of illegal asylum seekers from the UK to France. There are also provisions setting out other named safe countries. I ought to remind House what happened when the Dublin regulation was torn up by Angela Merkel and 600,000 or so refugees were allowed to pour into Europe.
When the Human Rights Act was passed in 1998, I was in the House of Commons. Human rights lawyers and activists claimed that the Act was a “constitutional Rubicon” enabling the courts to override parliamentary sovereignty. This was a massively overstated and exaggerated claim that is refuted by clear statements, which I hope those on the Labour Front Bench will take on board, made by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, in the House of Lords on its Second Reading on
“It maximises the protection of human rights without trespassing on parliamentary sovereignty.”
He also stated that
“the remedial action will not retrospectively make unlawful an act which was a lawful act—lawful since sanctioned by statute.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 582, c. 1229.]
But the question remained: what does statute provide?
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. In that context, “takes into account” is what the courts have to do with respect to the convention, but not necessarily to obey the Court. That is precisely what happened there.
In the House of Commons during the passage of the Human Rights Act, the Home Secretary Jack Straw made similar observations. The Government rejected giving the courts the power to set aside an Act of Parliament, which was being considered. This was a Labour Government rejecting giving the courts the power to set aside an Act of Parliament. He stated that this was because of
“the importance which the Government attaches to Parliamentary sovereignty”.
The White Paper at the time made that abundantly clear, even in respect of declarations of incompatibility by the courts, and furthermore made it clear that declarations of incompatibility would not necessarily lead to legislation.
I was glad to note, in principle, clause 1(5) regarding the application of section 3 of the Human Rights Act. In the context of parliamentary sovereignty, it is clear from the pre-eminent authorities that, in respect of section 3 of the Human Rights Act, any suggestion of a limitation of Parliament’s sovereign will would be permissible only to the extent that in doing so the courts give effect to the intention
“reasonably to be attributed to Parliament” in enacting section 3. It must surely be clear to all of us, in the case of illegal immigration, that Parliament would never intend to condone illegality or criminality.
This analysis that I have put forward as to the interpretation of the Human Rights Act clearly requires further discussion with the Government. Furthermore, the pre-eminent authority also states that
“the Courts are thus not empowered to construe legislation compatibly with the convention at all costs” and must not cross the constitutional boundaries, which would include not endorsing illegality.
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, expounding a very Anglocentric view of sovereignty, but I will leave that to one side for the moment.
Is it not a legal flaw in the hon. Gentleman’s argument that at least some of the people who come to this country in small boats come not as immigrants but to seek asylum? The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says this Bill
“would amount to an asylum ban—extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how…compelling their claim may be”.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that?
As I just said, I believe it is very important properly to protect genuine refugees. The problem we have been presented with over the last couple of years or so is that it is blatantly obvious that quite a significant number—I cannot put a precise figure on it, but it is very substantial and runs into the tens of thousands—have a serious case to answer in respect of their status.
Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, the facts simply do not support what he is saying, because the majority of people arriving in small boats who have had their asylum claim resolved have had their claim granted. That is the evidence.
That is certainly the case, but it is equally the case that we have 160,000 unresolved asylum cases. It is also true that there is no persecution in France on this account.
As the Government have rightly said, the Labour party voted against the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, wants to scrap the Rwanda deal and opposes the Government’s Bill to detain and remove people swiftly from the UK. This amounts to demonstrating that the Labour party is in favour of open borders and is not on the side of the British people, who want us to deal with this problem.
The current Leader of the Opposition, in an article in Counsel on
I tabled an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill in December 2021 that had a clearly expressed “notwithstanding” formula. The amendment was strongly supported by Conservative Back Benchers and would have greatly helped to ensure the flights to Rwanda. With this new Bill, we have a further opportunity to tackle the problem of illegal migration. This Bill is necessary because of the smuggling and criminality of the unscrupulous gangs that exploit migrants and cause death.
In addition, because of the consequences of the failure to control illegal migration, we have endured monumental expenditure of up to £6 million a day, disruption to local services, hotels, health services and social housing, and instances of criminality. It does no good to perpetuate a situation with such adverse consequences for our constituents and our voters, and the Government understand that.
Indeed, I am confident that, when the Bill is enacted, the courts will apply it and court procedures will be adapted accordingly, provided the intention of the words used in the Bill, as enacted, are clear, express and unambiguous, as I propose. It is not appropriate for the current situation to continue to the point where, as I have indicated in the past, the number of illegal migrants is growing exponentially.
My amendments, and further discussion with the Government, are conducive to resolving the issues properly, fairly and reasonably—with an appeal system and other measures, as I shall mention in a moment, and in line with domestic and international law—and to removing the unintended and unexpected legal consequences of the Human Rights Act and the courts’ rules in respect of illegal migration in small boats, which together have led to the breaching of our borders on an unprecedented scale. That is emphatically not in our national interest, and it was not anticipated when the Human Rights Act was originally passed. My amendment would ensure that what Parliament intends actually happens.
The Illegal Migration Bill is designed to be both fair and efficient. Those who believe that there is some special, fundamental reason why they should not be sent to Rwanda or another safe country can put their case before a judge, but that should be part of a comprehensive legislative scheme that sets out permissive routes of challenge. These permissive routes of challenge—the suspensive claims—are carefully calibrated and fair. They include ample provision for late claims, new evidence and compelling circumstances. Other judicial review claims are still allowed in the usual way; it is just that they cannot prevent removal. That is the right balance between fairness and deterrence.
We do not want or need lawyers and judges to invent new blocks on removal with judicial activism. The statutory block on interim relief would prevent them from doing so. It would prevent situations similar to that last year when courts unexpectedly issued injunctions preventing the flight to Rwanda and when cases were referred back to the Home Secretary for review.
Multiple cases have made it clear that the power to grant injunctions can properly be restricted by statute. We are not in the business of shutting down access to the courts. All we want is for the regime of access to the courts, as provided by this Bill, to be properly and securely bounded. The Government have already made that clear in their legislative scheme; we just want to make sure that the decision is secure and effective in legal terms. The Human Rights Act was not intended, as I have said, to protect illegality, and in the specific context of the small boats problem, the Bill, if amended further following discussions with the Government, can be improved to achieve its ultimate objectives in that national interest.
It is important to note that there is explicit case law from the most pre-eminent jurists that although there are many reasons why Parliament would take into account our obligations in international law when it legislates, the courts are not empowered to hold an Act of Parliament void on the grounds that it contravenes general principles in international law, as was made clear in the case of Mortensen v. Peters, and nor may a court hold an Act invalid because it conflicts with a treaty to which the UK is party, as set out in the case of Cheney v. Conn. That is what makes it vital to use express, clear and unambiguous wording in an Act of Parliament, as is intended by the amendments and by reference to what I said earlier on the question of the construction of an interpretation of provisions. Words such as “notwithstanding” were included in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to guarantee the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.
“the principle of parliamentary sovereignty has been recognised as fundamental in this country not because the judges invented it but because it has for centuries been accepted as such by judges and others officially concerned in the operation of our constitutional system. The judges did not by themselves establish the principle and they cannot, by themselves, change it.”
He also quoted and endorsed the words of the celebrated Australian constitutional authority Jeffrey Goldsworthy, who is pre-eminent in this field, in chapter 10 of his book “The Sovereignty of Parliament”.
We must stop people making these hazardous and lethal journeys in small boats. We must stop the criminality and stop illegal migration, its costs and its impact on our local and national resources. With my amendments today, along with those tabled by my hon. Friend Danny Kruger and my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke, as well as those that will be debated tomorrow, tabled by my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis and my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes, I believe that the Bill can achieve that objective with good will.
The amendments are also supported more broadly, including by experts such as Professor Richard Ekins and former First Parliamentary Counsel Sir Stephen Laws in their Policy Exchange report. We have asked the Government to engage with us constructively and give us firm assurances today on the Floor of the House that they will improve the Bill in the light of our amendments. On the basis that they do give such assurances, which I understand that they will, I will not press my amendment to a vote.
I start by reiterating the point that I made in closing the debate on Second Reading: we on the Labour Benches are absolutely clear that we must bring the dangerous channel crossings to an end, and that we must destroy the criminal activity of the people smugglers. Indeed, Labour has a five-point plan to do just that. It is a plan based on common sense, hard graft and quiet diplomacy, as opposed to the headline-chasing gimmicks that are the stock in trade of those on the Government Benches.
Our opposition to the Bill—and our introduction of the amendments on which I am about to speak—is based on the fact that it will serve only to make it harder for the Government to achieve their stated aims. The central premise of the Bill is that it will act as a deterrent by banning the right to asylum and replacing it with blanket detention and removals policies. For a deterrent to be effective, it must be credible, and the Bill fails the credibility test because there is nowhere near enough capacity to detain asylum seekers in the UK, there is no returns agreement with the EU, and the Rwandan Government are agreeing to commit to take only thousands at some unspecified future date. That means the boats will keep on coming, the backlog will keep on growing, and the hotels will keep on filling, all of which leaves the House in the somewhat surreal position of debating a Bill that everyone knows is not really worth the paper on which it is written, and yet we must all go through the motions and pretend that we are participating in a meaningful process.
Nevertheless, I assure you, Dame Rosie, and the entire House that Labour Members will do all that we can to amend and improve the Bill in a concerted effort to limit the damage that it will inflict on the international reputation of our country, on the cohesion of our communities, and on the health and wellbeing of those who have come to our country in the hope of sanctuary from the violence and persecution from which they are fleeing.
Is the hon. Gentleman implying that Labour Members will not oppose the Bill any further on these matters, because they want to improve and enact it, but no more?
I think I was crystal clear that we oppose the Bill. It will be entirely counterproductive and make all the challenges that we face worse. Labour Members believe in supporting legislation that addresses the substance of an issue rather than one that chases tabloid headlines.
The competition for the most absurd aspect of this entire process is pretty stiff, but the programme motion is a strong contender. Ministers in their infinite wisdom decided that we should debate the second half of the Bill on the first day, and the first half on the second day. Whatever the rationale for that, I suppose that there is something strangely appropriate about the idea that we should consider the Bill back to front given that so many of its provisions put the cart before the horse.
The other point that I wish to make at the outset is that the refusal of the Home Office to publish a full set of impact assessments ahead of Second Reading—and they still have not been published—is completely unacceptable. Surely, as a matter of basic respect for this House and for our constituents, Members should be entitled to expect to be given the opportunity to have an informed debate, based on comprehensive assessments of the impact that the Government expect their proposals to have.
The fact is that the Government’s entire handling of this shambles of a Bill has been utterly chaotic, while Ministers’ statements have generally been incoherent, inconsistent or simply incomprehensible. I spoke earlier in my point of order about the Government’s conjuring up statistics to suit their needs that have now been rubbished by the statistics watchdog. However, we are where we are, and on that basis I will move on to consider some of the substantive issues.
It is with regret that, given the time available, I will have to limit my remarks to our own Front-Bench amendments tabled on behalf of the Opposition. I begin with our new clause 25, which sets out how Labour would approach these matters if we were in government, in order to deliver meaningful progress on a range of issues, from border security, to authorised safe routes, as part of a comprehensive strategy to stop the crossings and keep people safe, in line with our international commitments. In particular, new clause 25 calls for a multifaceted overarching strategy for securing the agreements with international partners that our country urgently needs.
We have already come to agreements with international partners and we are signing more all the time—a new deal with the French, a new deal with the Albanians—but we have had 480,000 asylum places granted here since 2015. How many hundreds of thousands more people does the hon. Gentleman want coming to the country?
It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s notice that when the botched Brexit negotiations took place we left the Dublin convention, which is crucial for returns. We have to find a deal that replaces it. That is about protecting our borders, because it is about returning people when their asylum claims are not successful.
A strategy for securing Britain’s borders must begin with a clear and honest recognition that we cannot solve these problems unilaterally. This is a collective international issue that requires a collective international solution, so closer co-operation with our nearest friends and neighbours must be our starting point and our No. 1 priority. That means urgent action, which will be taken forward from day 1 of a Labour Government, to negotiate a returns agreement with the EU to replace our previous participation in the Dublin system.
That is just the start, however. We also need to restore access for our law enforcement agencies to the treasure trove of information—from biometrics to travel history—that Eurodac and other databases provide in support of efforts to ensure that the removal of asylum seekers from the UK to safe EU countries is possible.
Out of interest, the Labour party talks about safe and legal routes, so does it support a cap on the numbers coming through those routes? If so, how would it prioritise refugees, bearing in mind that there are hundreds of millions of people across the world who would like to move here and could conceivably get refugee status?
Yes, we do support a capped scheme for safe and legal routes, and it has to be based on prioritisation according to, for example, high grant rate countries and family reunions.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is all very well, but the reality is that those on the Government Benches have completely burned every relationship with our partners and allies across continental Europe and, as a result, we have left the Dublin convention. There is a direct connection between the massive surge in numbers coming on small boats and the Government’s botched Brexit negotiations.
Solving these problems also means establishing formal working arrangements to put the UK at the heart of international efforts to crack down on our real enemies here, the people smugglers, by relentlessly hunting them down and ensuring that they are brought to justice. The Labour party has set out a more targeted approach than the Government are currently undertaking; we would recruit a cross-border specialist unit in the National Crime Agency to go after the criminal gangs upstream, working with French experts and Europol. Finally, it means working closely with our European friends and allies to develop new safe and authorised routes from EU countries to the UK for those who are most in need of our help.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about making more safe and legal routes available and has suggested he would be supportive of a cap. At what level would he support such a cap, and what would he do to manage those people who continue to arrive once that cap was exceeded?
I do not know how many negotiations the hon. Lady has been in, but people do not generally go into negotiations by putting all their cards face up on the table. It is absolutely clear that a deal has to be done with the European Union. We do not do that deal from the Dispatch Box; we do it with hard graft, common sense and quiet diplomacy, none of which the Conservatives are capable of. That is why they need to get out of the way so that a Labour Government can fix the problem.
Clause 51 stands as evidence that vague promises from Ministers are not to be taken seriously. I find it particularly telling that, in drafting the clause, the Government were not even able to come up with a definition of a “safe and legal route” or how one should work. Nor do they appear to have any idea of who such routes should apply to, when the measures might be introduced, how many people would be included or exempted from the cap, or who—other than local authorities —the Government may consult. The Opposition’s amendments would address those challenges.
On Second Reading, I said that under this Government, Ministers had done
“little more than pay lip service”—[Official Report,
Vol. 729, c. 640]
to the principle of authorised safe routes for refugees and others in protection. I stand by that assessment.
Does the shadow Minister agree that, when it comes to honouring statements that we have made, we have an obligation towards those from Afghanistan who served alongside British soldiers? Some are in the system but are yet to be processed. Would the shadow Minister ensure that those from Afghanistan who are stuck in Pakistan and in Syria get here as asylum seekers, which is very much what they are?
The hon. Member is absolutely right. The performance on the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme has been abject. Under pathway 2 of that scheme, 22 Afghans have come over in the last year. They are being told that they can come only once they have accommodation, and they are being treated with a total lack of respect when we owe them a debt of honour and gratitude.
That is one of the many myths that the Conservatives peddle—my right hon. Friend is absolutely right—and those myths need to be debunked. It is absolutely clear that the small boat crossings have to be stopped, but the key point is that the Bill will not achieve that objective. Our new clause 25 would actually put some flesh on the bones of something that might work, rather than chasing headlines and doing government by gimmick.
The hon. Gentleman must give up on his ridiculous argument that this Government have not taken safe and legal routes seriously. As my hon. Friend Bob Seely said, almost half a million humanitarian visas have been issued since 2015. In Europe, we are second only to Sweden for resettlement; in the world, we are fourth only to Canada, the United States and another for UNHCR-sponsored humanitarian schemes. Some 45,000 people have come across on family reunion visas. We need no lectures on playing our part as a generous and compassionate country.
Of course, the Ukraine scheme, the British national overseas scheme and the Afghan scheme—when it used to work—are very welcome; there is no debate about that. But I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman keeps making that point. That is not the point of this debate; the point of this debate is how to address the challenge that we currently face. As hon. Members have pointed out, many people are fleeing war and persecution in the world, and this Government have utterly failed to offer them safe and legal routes. As a result, they come by unauthorised routes—that is a simple fact of life. The other point, of course, is that the Government have allowed the backlog to get completely out of control. The idea that they are making life better and easier for people fleeing war and persecution is for the birds.
I also want to mention areas in which Members on both sides of the House are broadly in agreement, not least because the list is quite short. The Opposition support the principle of Parliament’s having a say each year on the quota or cap for safe and legal routes, as envisaged by clause 51. Every country has a responsibility to do its bit, alongside other countries, to help those fleeing persecution and conflict. However, we also believe that the Government’s policy on safe routes cannot begin and end with caps alone.
The Bill presents us with a rare opportunity to have a serious debate about how best to live up to our international commitments to offer protection to those most in need, especially those fleeing persecution and war. The fact that so many detailed, well thought through proposals have been put forward by hon. Members in amendments and new clauses speaks to the depth of cross-party support for making safe routes work and providing genuine alternatives to dangerous crossings.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely scathing about the Bill, but he will be aware that, as recently as last summer, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change was writing about a solution to the small boats crisis that involved annual quotas, new safe and legal routes, an absolute prohibition on any arrival by a small boat, and only out-of-country rights of appeal. That is identical to what effectively appears in this Bill. It was written by somebody called Harvey Redgrave, who cites himself as the Labour party’s home affairs policy adviser between 2011 and 2015.
As I have just said, we support clause 51; I do not know whether the hon. Lady was listening. We support the idea of safe and legal routes that are capped. What she needs to understand is that for people escaping war and conflict, the idea of being detained in a deterrence centre that does not exist or of being removed to other countries when no removal agreements are in place is not a deterrent. For a deterrent to be effective, it has to be credible. The Bill has zero credibility because it is impossible to operationalise. That is the key point that the hon. Lady seems to fail to understand.
I am going to make some progress.
A range of proposals have been put forward, including by my hon. Friend Olivia Blake, who has a record of huge commitment to addressing these matters. Mr Carmichael and Tim Loughton also have a long history of working diligently on these issues.
The number of new clauses, including one of my own, that seek to build on and expand access to family reunion visas for refugees clearly reflects the high level of support for such schemes among Members on both sides of the House. In speaking to new clause 24 on behalf of the Opposition, I make it clear that providing better safe routes for unaccompanied children with family in the UK is not just right from a moral point of view; it will also demonstrate to our European neighbours, whose support on issues from returns to tackling people smuggling is so fundamentally important to this country, that we are serious about making progress in negotiations on the range of issues that I outlined in relation to new clause 25.
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point about the lack of an impact assessment for children, but there is a broader point about the lack of impact assessment full stop. It is completely and utterly unacceptable that we in this House should now be debating a Bill with no impact assessment having been published in advance. That shows a sort of disrespect to the House that really needs to be put on the record.
I am having to limit my time to discussion of the Opposition Front Benchers’ amendments, so I will not be able to raise my many questions and concerns about some of the provisions on legal proceedings in clauses 37 to 49. Some clearly appear to pose a real threat to due process and to our respect as a country that upholds the rule of law. The entire Bill is shot through with inconsistencies, unresolved questions and bizarre contortions of logic that can only have the effect of worsening the very problems the Government say they are trying to solve.
Just one example of that is highlighted by amendment 41, which I tabled as a means of probing the Government’s thinking on a measure that simply does not appear to have been properly thought through. Clause 45 states that where an appeal against a removal notice is upheld, the duty to remove that person no longer applies—so far, so sensible. The problem is that nothing in the Bill says that any asylum claim made by a person in such a situation would then be considered: those claims would continue to be inadmissible. That means we will end up with situations where there are people who cannot be removed, because a court has ruled that doing so would pose unacceptable risks to their safety, but who also cannot lawfully remain in the UK because of the Government’s refusal to accept their claim for asylum. The law would effectively be saying that a person can neither leave nor remain in this country. If the Minister has an answer to the question of what then happens to a person in that situation, I would love to hear it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the points he is making. I want to return to the point about detaining children, however, because we know that under this Government, hundreds of children have gone missing, and for some of them—hundreds, in fact—we still do not know where they are. Is it not right for children who come to this country to be placed immediately under the care of local authorities, which can then put proper safeguarding in place to protect those most vulnerable people?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She points to a broader failing, and to a clear indication of the shambles and chaos that we have within the broader asylum system. The backlog in the system is out of control, there are massive safeguarding issues, and really it is just more grist to the mill for the people smugglers and the traffickers. That is why this issue has to be addressed.
To sum up, this is a dog’s breakfast of a Bill, and this debate feels like something of a charade, because everyone knows that not only is the Bill unworkable, but it is not even intended to work. Nevertheless, we hope that colleagues across the House will support our amendments and new clauses in the Division Lobby this evening, because let us be clear, Madam Deputy Speaker: Ministers know full well that this Bill is an entirely counterproductive piece of legislation, but they do not really care. In fact, they will be more than happy to see it failing, because then they can blame our civil servants, the EU, the lawyers, the judges, the Labour party, the football pundits, or whoever they can think of.
Why are the Government doing this? Well, the answer is staring us in the face: they know that come the general election, they cannot stand on their record of 13 years of failure, so instead they will whip up division, stoke anxiety and fire up the culture wars. Our constituents know where the buck stops, though. They want solutions, not soundbites; they want the Labour party’s common sense, hard graft and quiet diplomacy, not government by gimmick; and when this Bill fails, they will know that only a Labour Government’s five-point plan for asylum will stop the dangerous crossings, fix our broken asylum system, and get our country back on track after 13 years of Tory failure.
Forgive me: I should have reminded Members at the beginning of the debate that when we are in Committee, it is customary to either call me by name or address me as Madam Chair, rather than Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a very common mistake, don’t worry; I should have reminded Members at the beginning of the debate.
I call Tim Loughton.
Thank you very much, Dame Rosie. I rise to speak to six amendments that stand in my name and those of right hon. and hon. colleagues: new clauses 13 and 19 and amendments 72 to 75. I am glad to hear the Minister refer to his support for safe and legal routes, because that is the basis of these amendments. I look forward to some warm words from him later on.
This is a very heated subject and a very controversial Bill, so I will start with something that I hope we can all agree on: coming across the channel in small boats is the worst possible way to gain entry to the United Kingdom. We need to be ruthless against the people smugglers who benefit from that miserable trade. We want to continue to offer safe haven for those genuinely escaping danger and persecution, and in a sustainable way. That is why safe and legal routes are the obvious antidote to that problem. The migration system, as it stands, is broken. Whatever we think about this Bill, it is only one part of the solution that we need to bring forward, and the Home Office needs to beef up the processing times and the removals of those who do not have a legitimate claim. We also need more return agreements.
An overnight solution, as we know, would be for the French to stop the boats leaving the shores of France in the first place, or intercepting them at sea and returning the passengers to France, so that they will have paid people smugglers £3,000 or £4,000 for an expensive return trip. The problem is that the French will not agree to do that, despite the latest encouraging and helpful settlement with them involving a considerable amount of money. To anybody who just says, “We need a more constructive dialogue with the French and European partners,” I say that that is what is happening and has been going on, but we still do not have a resolution to the problem, so we have to come up with practical solutions.
The reality, as the Home Affairs Committee found when we were last in Calais in January, is that the French authorities do not arrest a lot of the people trying to cross the channel; they turn a blind eye. These people are therefore not registered and the authorities do not have a record of who many of them are. They only show an interest in arresting and recording somebody who has come from a country with whom they have a returns agreement, where there may be a reasonable chance to return them. Otherwise—surprise, surprise—the French authorities’ problem becomes our problem if those people then get into boats.
Those are things that I hope we all agree with across the House, whatever our stance on this Bill. We also need to challenge some assumptions. Not all asylum seekers coming across the channel have a credible asylum claim. We are told, “Other countries do more,” but when we look at the totality of the issue, and the amount of people to whom we offer safe haven and support outside of the United Kingdom in refugee camps—those people who just want to go back to their own countries—it is more generous than virtually any other country in the world. We need to look at the totality.
Coming to the UK is not always the appropriate solution for many people. The resettlement schemes that we have generously operated already, particularly with regard to Ukraine and Hong Kong passport holders, are potentially huge. In the case of Hong Kong, it could be up to 2.9 million people. We have also heard the criticism from the French that we are too generous. They describe us as “El Dorado”, which is why so many refugees apparently want to come across to the UK.
The other reality is that even if we wanted to, we cannot take an unlimited number. The fact that almost 10,000 Afghan refugees legally brought here after the airlift from Kabul in the summer before last—more than 18 months ago—are still in hotels is testament to the fact that we have an accommodation problem. Whatever we come up with, we need a system that is disciplined, orderly and sustainable so that we can make sure that people are processed quickly and put in appropriate accommodation, because hotels for young children for a sustained amount of time, be that with their families, let alone on their own, are frankly just not the most appropriate place for them to be.
None of this is ideal, but when people arrive in their hundreds—one day last summer it was more than 1,000—and all of a sudden become the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government, there is a practical limitation on what accommodation is available physically to house them. That is why our hotels are being taken over and are full and why various military bases have been used, with mixed success. It is why the Government are having to look at other solutions. However, we have a serious problem accommodating our own constituents, as we all know, because of the shortage of local authority accommodation, and we just have to be realistic about how we can properly look after people coming across the channel.
This is not just about illegal migration. The population of this country is growing in net terms, as a direct result of illegal and legal migration, by something like a quarter of a million a year. That cannot long be sustained. Over 10 years it is 2.5 million people, which is the size of many significant cities. That cannot go on, because the housing situation for all of those people is an insuperable challenge.
I think I have made the point that whatever migration system we run needs to be effective, efficient and sustainable, but at the same time we need people to fill job vacancies in this country, and many of the people who have come here are self-sustaining. I had a meeting this afternoon with about 60 Hong Kong British national overseas passport holders who came here in flight from Hong Kong, and they are making a good go of starting a second life in this country. However we think we should operate migrant numbers, the numbers are not the important thing. It is being able to look after people safely and sustainably for all of our community that is the major consideration.
The other truth that is put about that we need to challenge is that the European convention on human rights is everything. If we look at the record of the judgments issued under the ECHR by the European Court of Human Rights in the last 10 years, we see that 47% of them—almost half—have not been complied with. In certain countries that figure is higher. For example, 61% of judgments again Spain from the European Court of Human Rights have not been complied with, and for Italy it is 58%, while for Germany it is 37%. In many cases—particularly France, where the figure is a little bit lower—they are mostly for non-compliance with immigration laws. So let us not try and kid ourselves that the measures in this Bill are in some way completely absurd and out of court compared with what other countries have been doing.
Having said all that, doing nothing is not an option. It allows people smugglers to continue the human misery. It is condoning bogus asylum seekers, and it is allowing those bogus asylum seekers to bump the queue of genuine asylum seekers to whom we do have a duty of care that the vast majority of people in this country want to see carried out. So we need to get the balance right on continuing our generous tradition of allowing safe haven for genuine asylum seekers escaping danger with much more robust action to clamp down on those who have no legitimate claim to be resident in the UK. They are gaming our system, taking advantage of the UK taxpayer’s generosity and, worst of all, queue-jumping over the genuine asylum seekers who need help.
This is where safe and legal routes and the main amendment I am putting forward today come in, and I will be prepared to press it to a vote unless I have some substantial reassurances from the Government, because this is nothing new and it is not rocket science. It is actually something that the Prime Minister has quite rightly committed to in principle. My new clause 13, which is the basis of the safe and legal routes amendments, would require safe and legal routes to be part of this legislation. The regulations referred to in the Bill would have to set out specific safe and legal routes by which asylum seekers can enter the United Kingdom in an orderly and sustainable way.
The routes specified must include any country-specific schemes that we have already. Specifically, we have routes for Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine and Hong Kong, but we need additional ones. Additionality is key to this, because as the Bill stands, the Government could just say, “Well, we’ve got those safe and legal routes, and we can just tinker with those.” However, let us take the example of the 16-year-old orphan boy from east Africa —he is not from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria or Hong Kong—who has a single relative legally settled in the United Kingdom. There are precious few opportunities for him to be able to come to the UK on a safe and legal route. It is in such cases that we need to offer an opportunity, capped in numbers and capped with all sorts of considerations. We need to offer such people a realistic opportunity that they may be able to get safe haven in the United Kingdom.
I very much support what the hon. Gentleman says. Indeed, I support the need for such amendments to this Bill, probing or otherwise, to clarify what a safe and legal route is and how such routes will operate, because that seems to be at the heart of whether this legislation can actually achieve anything that it claims to set out to do. Does he therefore agree with me that we need clarity, because this Bill does set out where it considers it is safe to be from and, by definition, everywhere not listed in proposed new section 80AA is unsafe? We therefore need clarity about what would be a safe and legal route from the locations not listed in that proposed new section, because otherwise we will end up with “safe” or “unsafe” being ill-defined in legislative terms, and that does not help anybody.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I have drawn up new clause 13 and the accompanying amendments in a way that is not overly prescriptive. It puts the onus back on the Government to come up with schemes, some of which will be safe and legal route schemes that we have run before. The family reunion scheme is something we have run for a long time, although it needs to be adapted outside of the Dublin conventions. I have also suggested a Dubs II scheme and, again, the Dubs scheme was very successful in bringing 483 unaccompanied single children from genuine danger zones safely to the United Kingdom. Those are the sorts of examples I mean. They do not need to create something completely new. We need to adapt what we already have.
That is why additionality is key. These need to be routes on which people from outside the four existing resettlement or asylum schemes can come here. The Government must set out those routes for both adults and children—I think most of us would agree that children need to be dealt with slightly differently—and the means by which those people can access those routes. It may be from the countries from which they are fleeing or from refugee camps, in a scheme like those we have had before jointly with the UNHCR. I think that is what has been mooted in the newspapers—it did not come from me—about 20,000 people being able to come here through agreement with the UNHCR, and that is another possibility. It may be through using reception centres that we have in other countries, including France, where a limited number could possibly apply, subject to a cap. Again, that is all for the Government to decide—I do not want to be overly prescriptive.
As ever, my hon. Friend is making an incredibly interesting and important speech. There have been, in the last decade, 10 safe and legal routes, six of which are country-specific and four of which are general. Of the six, the Syrian one is now shut, but there are two for Afghanistan, two for Ukraine and one for Hong Kong, and there are four other non-specific safe and legal routes. If I understand correctly, he is arguing for a fifth safe and legal route. Can he explain and delineate how that fifth safe and legal route would be different from the other four that we already have?
Those four existing routes are country-specific for certain emergency situations that arose—for obvious reasons, Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and the rather prolonged emergency we are seeing unfold in Hong Kong. There will be other such cases that come up, and I believe the Bill as it stands gives the Home Secretary the power to determine, if there is a new emergency in a certain country and a sudden wave of refugees genuinely fleeing danger to whom the UK Government may want to give a commitment, to enable us to take some of those people, and I think everybody would agree with that. However, in between such a country-specific scheme and the four existing country-specific schemes, the numbers able to come here are minimal. If we look at the just under 500,000 who have come here since 2015, we see that almost 400,000 of those are accounted for by those from Hong Kong and Ukraine alone.
Apologies if I was not making myself clear. Out of those 10 schemes in the last decade, four are non-country-specific safe and legal routes. My hon. Friend is arguing for a fifth, an additional safe and legal route. While I am not arguing against his case, I am asking how his fifth safe and legal generalised route will be different from the other four we currently have, which are non-country specific. We also have six country-specific schemes, one of which—Syria—has been shut.
I think I have given my hon. Friend two examples. The family reunion scheme, certainly in the terms in my new clause 19, is non-country specific. A Dubs II-type scheme is non-country specific. At the moment, if you are not country specific, you have had it, largely, particularly for young children. The numbers, I am afraid, do not add up.
There is another consideration that I should have mentioned earlier. We are told that everything used to be great and fine in terms of us being able to return failed asylum seekers to the EU and that it has all gone pear shaped since Brexit. In the last year that we were covered by the Dublin regulations and still within the terms of the EU, the UK tried to return 8,500 failed asylum seekers to the EU. Of those, 105 were admitted. So it did not work before. This is a long-standing problem, which we have not had any help in solving from our EU partners. That is why we need to take more proactive and robust action now and why the Bill, controversial though it is, is so necessary.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument for additional safe and legal routes, but the Bill is designed to try to prevent illegal migration. Although I understand that those few people affected by his new safe and legal route may be deterred from illegal migration by the fact that they are part of that scheme, there will still be many other people who will not be. How will creating a few more safe and legal options for a small number of people prevent people coming across the channel who are not affected by those schemes?
We are not going to eradicate people coming in boats across the channel totally, unless the French agree to intercept and return them. However, we can limit it to those people who do not stand a credible chance of claiming asylum in the United Kingdom. One problem in the courts at the moment, with the many failed asylum claims that then go through the appeals process, is that there was no other way of getting here, other than on a boat. If the safe and legal route amendment, and everything that goes with it, goes through, that will not be an excuse because anybody could apply through a safe and legal route and, if they are turned down and then turn to a boat, that is not a defence.
I am very grateful. My hon. Friend makes the most important point in this debate. Judges and tribunal chairs are looking for factual reasons on which to refuse applications. I cannot think of a better one than the availability of, in a controlled way, more safe and legal routes. At the moment, without further action, and without concurrent action from the Government in passing this Bill and creating safe and legal routes, we are opening ourselves up to the risk of more people making those claims and of not being able to control the situation in the way we all want.
I am grateful for that intervention from my right hon. and learned Friend, with his huge legal expertise and experience from his former roles. That is the point. We need to isolate the bogus asylum seekers who are paying people smugglers. We do that by making it clear that we are open to genuine cases of people fleeing danger, and there is a legitimate, practical, and usable route for them. If people do not qualify for that, they should not try to get in a boat because they stand no chance of having their claims upheld if they make it across. I am just trying to achieve a balance. If Members want the Bill to go through, we need to have safe and legal routes in it to make it properly balanced. If you do not like the Bill but you want safe and legal routes, you need to support the Bill to get those safe and legal routes. This is mutually beneficial to those on either side of the argument on the Bill.
New clause 19 outlines how a refugee family reunion scheme would work. It includes a wide definition of close family members, including people who are adopted. Again, this is nothing new but it is a generous scheme that would do what it says on the tin.
Amendment 74 is an important consideration. The Government have said that they want the Bill to go through to be able to clamp down on the small boats. I have no problem with that. There are some things in here that are not quite as moderate as I would like, but I think it is necessary for the Bill to go through so I am trying to improve it. However, the Government have said that they will consult on safe and legal routes—we need to consult on safe and legal routes because local authorities, and others, will bear the brunt of how we accommodate many of these candidates—and then come up with some safe and legal routes. That is not good enough. The two sides of the Bill must be contemporaneous. We must not to be able to bring in these tough measures until those safe and legal routes are operational so people can have the option to go down the safe and legal route, rather than rely on people smugglers.
The Government will say, “We need to consult.” Well, start that now because we need to consult with local authorities about how we get more people out of hotels now and into sustainable accommodation for the long term. The Government should be getting on with the consulting now, so that when the Bill eventually goes through—I suspect it may take a while to get through the other place—those safe and legal routes are up and running and ready to go. So amendment 74 is important.
Amendment 75 would add safe and legal routes as one of the purposes of the Bill in clause 1. Clause 1 is all about clamping down on illegal migration—quite right—but it should also be about the balance of providing those safe and legal routes. I want to put that in clause 1, at the start of the Bill. Amendments 72 and 73 are contingent on all of the above.
That is all I am trying to do. Lots of people are trying to misrepresent and cause mischief about the Bill, and in some cases on safe and legal routes. I will end on my own experience when I appeared on the BBC “Politics South East” two weeks ago. I was talking about safe and legal routes and I was challenged, “Why are you supporting this Bill when you were so keen on safe and legal routes and challenged the Home Secretary?” I said, “Because this Bill contains provisions for safe and legal routes.” It does. It talks about “safe and legal routes”, capping numbers and everything else. The following week on the same programme, with no recourse to me, the presenter read out an email from the Home Office, having got in contact with it, unbeknownst to me, to ask about my claim on safe and legal routes. The Home Office apparently replied:
“Nothing in the Bill commits the Government to opening new safe and legal routes or increasing the numbers.”
That was news to me, news to Home Office Ministers—[Laughter.] Hold on, Stephen Kinnock may not be laughing in a minute. I was accused of being misleading. When I challenged that, it turned out that the Home Office communiqué actually said that the routes to be included as part of the approach set out for the new Bill would be set out in the regulations, which would depend on a number of factors, including the safe and legal routes that the Government offered at the time the regulations were prepared and, that, as the Prime Minister said, we would “get a grip” on illegal migration and then bring in more safe and legal routes. So actually that is provided for in the Bill.
The BBC completely misrepresented my comments and, I am glad to say, yesterday issued an apology and gave me a right of reply. Let us stick to the facts. Let us not get hung up on all the prejudice about this. We have a problem in this country, which is that last year just under 46,000 people came across in the most inappropriate and dangerous manner. We do not have the capacity to deal with people in those numbers, many of whom have unsustainable claims, and we have to get to grips with it. The Bill is a genuine attempt to get to grips with that issue. It would be much more palatable and workable if it contained a balance that has safe and legal routes written into it that come in at the same stage. I would challenge the Opposition to say that they have a better scheme for how we deal with this dreadful problem. Simply voting against all the measures in the Bill is not going to help anyone.
Do we support international human rights protections or do we not? Are we steadfast in our adherence to the European convention on human rights, the refugee convention and other international treaties we have signed up to, or are we not? To me, it is extraordinary that those simple questions are even apparently subject to debate, but those simple questions are precisely what this appalling Bill is asking of us, including in the clauses we are debating today.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been clear that the Bill breaches the refugee convention. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has written to us all today to warn it is:
“essential that Members of Parliament…prevent legislation that is incompatible with the UK’s international obligations being passed”.
Our view is that, because the Bill rides roughshod over international human rights law, it should be scrapped entirely. Short of that, the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss and colleagues try to restore at least some level of respect for international law.
This is not only an abstract issue of international law. This is about the Afghan lieutenant we read about in The Independent on Sunday yesterday, who flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban and was praised by his coalition supervisor as being a “patriot to his nation”. Now he is in a hotel and threatened with removal to Rwanda. It is about LGBT people fleeing outrageous criminal laws in Uganda, whose Parliament last week voted for further draconian legislation, imposing endless imprisonment and even death sentences on LGBT people, as well as on those who do not report them to the police or even rent a room to them. This is all about trafficking victims, victims of torture and many more vulnerable people. The question is: are we committed to meeting our international obligations to those people? For me and my SNP colleagues, the answer must clearly be yes, but the Bill says no.
We therefore absolutely oppose clause 49 and the Government’s attempt to undermine the role of the Court of Human Rights. Clause 49 empowers the Home Secretary to ignore, and even to compel our courts to ignore, interim measures from the Court. It is said to be a placeholder clause, but here we are debating it with only a select bunch of Conservative Back Benchers apparently any the wiser as to what the Government’s intentions are with respect to it. The clause, as drafted, is totally unacceptable, but so, too, is the way the Government are treating Parliament. As the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights states in his letter to us:
“interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights, and their binding nature, are integral to ensuring that member states fully and effectively fulfil their human rights obligations”.
We therefore believe the clause should be taken out, or that either our amendment 119 or amendment 122, tabled by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry, should be supported to ensure that power is used consistently with the convention. The Prime Minister should stop dancing to the tune of the anti-ECHR minority. He should have the guts to put international human rights before internal party management.
I turn next to safe legal routes, which many amendments and new clauses understandably address. The lack of them and, in the case of the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, their poor and slow implementation, is clearly a contributor to irregular arrivals. Expanding them would help to tackle that issue, as Tim Loughton eloquently set out. Clause 51, as it stands, is completely inadequate. It provides for a limit not to be exceeded, rather than providing a target to aim for, and it allows the Home Secretary, instead of Parliament, to set the definition of “safe legal route”. Our amendment 179 and related amendments replace the cap with a target, and a longer-term target too, and seek to improve Parliament’s role in setting that goal and holding the Home Secretary to account for her efforts to meet it. We support other new clauses and amendments that seek to achieve similar aims. We support the various new clauses that highlight particular safe legal routes, such as the humanitarian travel permit, safe passage visa schemes, refugee family reunion and Dublin-style safe legal routes for children in the EU. The key point is, as has been said, that these routes should be a priority and an urgent part of the overall response, not an afterthought to be looked at a little way down the line.
On the remaining clauses relating to legal proceedings, frankly, most of the provisions in the Bill essentially dehumanise people who seek protection here, so that no matter what horrors they have endured, their individual circumstances are to be ignored and their ability to access rights and protections set out in international treaties is to be decimated. Instead, they are to be detained, locked up and either removed or left in permanent limbo. The clauses on legal proceedings buttress that regime by seeking to snuff out the ability of anyone to get to a courtroom to challenge what is going on before their removal takes place.
What is most fundamental about this regime is what you cannot use as grounds for a suspensive challenge prior to removal. The Afghan who fought alongside our pilots against the Taliban cannot challenge his removal to Rwanda on the grounds that he is a refugee, and the trafficking victim cannot prevent his or her lengthy detention and removal on the basis of being a victim of trafficking.
Our amendment 76 makes the fundamental point that if a person makes a claim to be a refugee or makes a human rights claim, or if there are grounds to think they may be a victim of modern slavery or trafficking, that should be considered before any action is taken to remove. That is basically how things used to be, that is basically how things have been until now, that is how it should be, and that is generally what is required to live up to our obligations under international law. We also believe it is a requirement of simple common humanity.
As the Bill stands, not only is none of that possible, but the limited ability to challenge on grounds that serious and irreversible harm is risked is made incredibly difficult by the way the clauses are drafted. It is made more difficult because of ludicrously restricted grounds for challenge and appeal, and high evidential burdens. It happens because of red tape and deadlines that will simply be impossible to comply with. The challenges are provided by more ouster clauses and restricted appeal rights. That happens because the Bill gives the Secretary of State significant and unwarranted control over those processes. In short, access to justice and the rule of law are being pulverised. Our various other amendments are designed to pick away at that and restore appeal rights.
Why have the Government decided on
“real risk of serious and irreversible harm” as the test for a suspensive claim? Yes, I acknowledge that that is the backstop test for interim measures under the European convention on human rights, but it is a high and unusually difficult test, and it risks the removal of people in circumstances where significant harm will occur to them. Why, in particular, is the Secretary of State left to define the concept, rather than Parliament, including the ability to lower the standard if she is unhappy with how courts interpret it?
We are particularly concerned with clause 40(5) and the requirements for making valid suspensive claims. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify the implications of a claim not meeting those requirements. Often, if an application is not in a prescribed form, it means the Home Secretary simply does not look at the claim at all. That means there will not even be a refusal that can be appealed. I ask the Minister: is that the case in these circumstances?
Most concerningly, listed alongside the necessity to be in the “prescribed form”, is a requirement for the application to contain “compelling evidence”. Again, I ask the Minister: does that mean that if the Home Secretary simply decides there is no compelling evidence, it is as if no application has been made at all and, therefore, there is no right of appeal? If that is the case, that means the Secretary of State can simply close down any possibility of a challenge by deciding no application has been made. I would genuinely appreciate clarity from the Minister on that point.
I notice the Minister is listening very carefully indeed.
Why is there a “compelling evidence” requirement? More importantly, is that not totally inconsistent with the test of real risk? That is the point of amendment 83. The danger is that even a probability of “serious and irreversible harm” will not be enough because of the type of evidence that can realistically be provided in the ludicrously tight timescale provided for.
On timeframes, we have various amendments to challenge the time periods that have been formally set out by the Government. The notion that eight days is enough time for an application is for the birds, as we know from the chaotic processes used during previous attempts to remove people to Rwanda, when many who were served notice barely understood what was happening. Language barriers, difficulties in access to solicitors and legal aid, the requirements of prescribed forms and demands for compelling evidence in the application mean that eight days will never happen. Those processes give rise to the risk that even those who could in theory make a challenge will miss out unjustly.
On that very important point, can the Minister provide clarity on how he will ensure that legal advice is accessible and, importantly, what his Government’s position is on the availability of legal aid? Those are hugely important issues that are not really touched on in the Bill.
Given the ludicrously restricted timeframes, the restrictions on “out of time” claims in clause 44 are frightening. Our amendments from amendment 101 onward seek to challenge that. This time “compelling evidence” of a “compelling reason” for missing the eight-day deadline is required. What on earth does that mean? Is an inability to understand the notice, language difficulties or the impossibility of finding a solicitor sufficient? More fundamentally, are the Government saying it is okay to remove someone who is certainly going to face “serious and irreversible harm” just because they were a few hours late with the paperwork and did not have a decent excuse for that? It makes absolutely no sense.
The seven-day timeframe for appeals to be lodged in clause 47 is equally absurd for all those reasons. Again, how will access to legal advice and legal aid be ensured? Who did the Government consult when putting together that challenging timeframe? Why have the Government chosen to bypass the first-tier tribunal? Why are the Government suggesting using first-tier employment law judges to assess difficult issues of removal and serious harm?
Some will have an even more difficult route to challenge a refusal if the Home Secretary decides that a claim is “clearly unfounded”. The clauses do not seem to make any sense. If, as seems to be the case, to make a valid application someone needs to provide compelling evidence of harm, it is difficult to see how any valid application containing such compelling evidence can be deemed clearly unfounded. Going beyond that, the grounds for appeal to the upper-tier tribunal are, again, objectionably difficult. Just to get permission to appeal, compelling evidence of serious or irreversible harm is required, assessed on the papers with no further right of appeal. Our amendments to clause 43 seek to rectify that.
We object to the Bill instructing the tribunal how to do its work, in particular how to make assessments of fact. Judges—not the Secretary of State—should determine what new matters can be considered, and what evidence and facts are relevant to their decisions. Our amendments to clauses 46 and 47 and various other clauses seek to protect the independence of the tribunal. We object strongly to the ouster clause in clause 48, in particular the restrictions on the supervisory jurisdiction of the Court of Session.
Amendments 100 and 108 seek to challenge restrictions on onward rights of appeal. These are serious and significant issues of profound importance. Removing the oversight of the courts is unacceptable and unconstitutional. We had a well-developed and functioning system of appeals and judicial oversight. The Government should stop dismantling it. Instead, the Bill will leave most people seeking to assert their rights able to do so only after they have been removed. The notion that such challenges can be successfully undertaken from thousands of miles away is absurd.
The fundamental question is, what happens if someone is successful in making a suspensive case? All that clause 45 states is that they cannot be removed; it does not allow them access to the asylum process or any other assessment of their case. They, like tens of thousands of others who cannot be removed simply because there is nowhere to remove them to, will be left in limbo—a limbo that is disastrous for the taxpayer but life-destroying for the individuals involved. A desperate outcome from a desperate Bill.
Finally, although we support almost all the other amendments and new clauses tabled by Opposition Members, we have concerns about new clauses 23 and 25. New clause 23 would require the Secretary of State to use her broad discretion to put in place a fast-track asylum procedure for so-called “low grant-rate countries”. It contains an amazingly wide definition of a low grant-rate country, which would include nationalities where 49% of applicants had successfully sought asylum.
New clause 25 has aspects that are fine, but crucial to what it tries to do are co-operation agreements for the removal of people who have had claims declared inadmissible. However, there is no definition of “inadmissible” separate from the definition in clauses 2 and 4. That goes to the heart of all of the problems with the Bill. We will continue to listen carefully to what is said about those new clauses, but we are concerned that they need further work.
In short, we oppose every aspect of the Bill. We object to the outrageous timeframe for its consideration and to the lack of impact assessment before we debate it. Our amendments try to mitigate some of its worst aspects but, ultimately, it remains an unlawful Bill completely and utterly beyond repair.
I rise to speak to amendment 132, which appears in my name. Together with amendments 131, 133 and 134, it has been drawn up with the express purpose of ensuring that our legislation does what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has rightly said should be our priority: stopping small boats and the evil trade that sustains them.
We are fortunate to live in one of the greatest countries on earth. Unless we believe in a literally unlimited right of immigration, in any sane legal order, we in the United Kingdom must have the ability to effectively control our borders. It is only by having such control that we can maintain democratic consent for both legal migration and our system for allowing asylum to those in need, as we have done rightly and generously for those fleeing the repression of the Chinese state in Hong Kong, the bestiality of the Taliban in Afghanistan or the cruelty of Putin’s war in Ukraine. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration said from the Dispatch Box, almost half a million humanitarian visas have been granted by this country since 2015, of which 50,000 came from existing global safe and legal routes.
At the moment, we do not exercise the control to which I alluded a moment ago. Contrary to what Opposition Members may pretend, no amount of operation with the French or investment in our infrastructure at the border—welcome though those things are—can deter people attempting the crossing in the tens of thousands each year.
My right hon. Friend makes a fantastic point about this nation being hospitable and generous, particularly over the last few years. Does he agree with the point raised by my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes that there is a problem not just with illegal routes and illegal immigration, but that over time we have had more and more legal migration? I am afraid that our population is now rising so quickly that it is fundamentally undermining our ability to provide public services.
I certainly believe that, vitally, we will only have democratic consent for legal migration if it is clear that that happens at the behest of and with the consent of this House and, critically, that we do not have an illegal immigration situation that is beyond this House’s control.
The reality is that if we are to effectively deter the evil trade of people smuggling, we need to tackle the incentives. That means making it crystal clear that coming here illegally will lead to swift detention and removal. It is neither compassionate nor sustainable to allow what is an abuse of our immigration system to continue. I can testify that, having sat in meeting after meeting with the Home Office as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the cost to the Exchequer of millions of pounds each day for hotels to house asylum seekers is not something that we should take lightly. That is, in part, why I tabled my amendments.
Bitter experience teaches us that Tony Blair’s Human Rights Act will otherwise act to frustrate the will of Parliament. The Government have therefore rightly drafted the Bill to disapply section 3 of the Act. However, I believe that other sections of the Act will be engaged too, and they should also be disapplied for the express purpose of this legislation. I say that not on my own authority but on that of Professor Richard Ekins of Oxford University and Sir Stephen Laws KC, the former First Parliamentary Counsel. As they argue in their February Policy Exchange paper:
“New legislation should expressly disapply the operative provisions of the 1998 Act, specifying...section 3 (interpretation of legislation), section 4 (declaration of incompatibility), section 6 (acts of public authorities) and section 10 (power to take remedial action)”.
They go on to say:
“Without legislative provision to this effect, it is inevitable that claimants will challenge the Home Secretary’s understanding of the legislation, inviting the courts either to interpret the legislation to read down her duty to remove persons from the UK (or reading in new procedural requirements) or to declare the legislation incompatible with Convention rights and thus authorising ministers to change it by executive order and ensuring that political pressure would be brought to bear to that end.”
Having disapplied section 3 on the basis that it leaves open the possibility of systemic legal challenge, I can see no legal, philosophical or practical argument against doing the same where a similar risk exists.
Ultimately, we know that our best—and probably only—chance to avoid this legislation being entangled in human rights law is for this place to be absolutely clear and unambiguous about our intentions. My amendment flows in that spirit. We should show the determination now—not after the fact, if and when the fears of many of us in this House have been realised—to make our intentions clear in the Bill.
I wish to speak briefly in favour of amendment 131, tabled by my hon. Friend Danny Kruger, which has a comparable aim to my amendment in respect of the ECHR. I do so for the reasons set out by the Lord Chancellor at the time that the United Kingdom entered into the convention. He said:
“The real vice of the document, therefore consists in its lack of precision. I should be unable to advise with any certainty as to what result would be arrived at in any given case, even if the judges were applying the principles of English law. It completely passes the wit of man to guess what results would be arrived at by a tribunal composed of elected persons who need not even be lawyers, drawn from various European states possessing completely different systems of law, and whose deliberations take place behind closed doors.”
In a nutshell, that is the risk to which we expose the legislation if we proceed without that protection.
I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take these amendments seriously and work with us, over the course of the crucial weeks ahead, to ensure the legislation respects the will of the House and, I believe, the will of the British people.
First, I add my voice to the concerns already raised by a number of Members about the lack of an impact assessment, an equality impact assessment and a children’s rights impact assessment, as we commence the Bill’s important Committee stage. In the Home Affairs Committee report on small boats and migration, we made it clear that:
“There is no magical single solution to dealing with irregular migration. Detailed, evidence-driven, fully costed and fully tested policy initiatives are by far most likely to achieve sustainable incremental change that deters journeys such as dangerous Channel crossings.”
So it is regrettable that we do not have all the information, including the costing and the impact assessments, when debating these clauses today, particularly when the Bill is being rushed through the Commons.
The right hon. Lady has rightly called for a number of assessments, but is the real test of the Bill not the impact assessment of newspaper headlines? That is all it is about.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of confusion in the House about the small boats issue. It is worth reflecting on the fact that currently the largest number of people coming across in small boats come from Afghanistan and that the backlog in the Home Office system—now over 166,000—has been growing for some time, creating a knock-on effect on how quickly the system can deal with people arriving in this country, process them and remove those who should not be here.
It is also worth reflecting on the Home Affairs Committee report on the small boats crisis, published last summer, which said that the Government needed to address four things: clearing the backlog and speeding up the processing of people arriving in small boats; the issue of safe and legal routes, which I will say a little more about in a moment; the need for international co-operation; and the need to deal with the criminal gangs and to have return agreements with other countries in place. I remain worried about the argument that the Bill will deter people from getting into small boats, which goes back to my concern about the lack of evidence.
Tim Loughton referred to the Home Affairs Committee trip to northern France in January. One key thing I remember from that trip is that if someone is standing on the beach in Calais or northern France, with the British coastline visible just 30 miles away, it is too late; they are going to take their chance and get into a boat.
I worry about the Home Office’s capacity to deal with the momentous change that the Bill will bring. It has not been very good at dealing with the asylum applications that have been building for many years, and I worry about its capacity to deal with the large-scale detention of people, families and children that the Bill will introduce.
My amendment 137 is on the issue of establishing a cap on the number of migrants using safe and legal routes. It will be difficult for the House to identify and make provision for crises that will unfold in the year ahead. In 2010, we could not have known the true extent of refugees from the first Libyan civil war or from South Sudan, or the number coming from Syria in 2011 or from Ukraine just one year ago. We cannot know what global challenges we will face in the next year, so an arbitrary target could be seen as a restraint on Governments being able to respond dynamically and appropriately.
Who will be included in the cap, and will it include children? Every child has the right to protection from persecution, discrimination and violence. That is a cornerstone of international and domestic law. Turning away a child fleeing a war zone or a genocide because of a cap decided months earlier in this House, could undermine the key principles of the international child protection frameworks that we have signed up to, including our own Children’s Act 1989, which gives clear focus to our international obligations in domestic legislation. The Government say that clause 51 will allow them to exceed the number set out in the cap each year if needs be. In that case, it is not really a cap, is it? It might be a target, but one that would have difficulty dealing with what is happening internationally.
We should reflect on and acknowledge the willingness of the British people to step up to the plate when crises appear, as thousands did last year when they took in displaced Ukrainians, and the wholesale support for unaccompanied children being given shelter when we debated the Dubs amendment a few years ago. If the Government are determined to introduce the cap, children should not be included and “people”, as set out in the clause, should be defined as those over 18 years of age. Setting a cap on the number of children who can claim asylum could result in one child being turned away while another is chosen—it is a “Sophie’s Choice” regulation. I ask the Minister to think again, and recognise the special position of children and our obligation to them.
The most obvious and appropriate way to support refugee children is to ensure they have access to safe and legal routes, which are clearly set out and defined. That is why I have added my name to new clause 13 and amendments 72 to 75, tabled by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. I also support new clause 17 in the name of my hon. Friend Stella Creasy.
Our Home Affairs Committee report made it explicitly clear that ensuring that there are accessible, safe and legal routes to the UK is a key plank of an asylum system that is both fair and effective, and also provides a clear disincentive and deterrent for illegal routes. I agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham about the need for additionality. We cannot just say that the current schemes are sufficient, welcome as they are. There must be a package of measures to deal with the current situation, along with clearing the backlog. It cannot be right that that is left until some future date when we will know what the safe and legal routes are. That needs to be up front as part of the Bill, so that we have both the deterrent and the options around safe and legal routes.
New clauses 8 and 10 are about safe passage visa schemes. The Home Affairs Committee report mentioned using reception centres in France to allow people to make asylum claims from France—the Government rejected that idea, but some imaginative thinking about how we can assist people to make claims would be helpful. That is why it is worth the Government considering what new clauses 8 and 10 would mean. We have juxtaposed checks on passports and customs with the French, but there may be more room for negotiations with the French about making claims in France directly. New clause 8 is a little more prescriptive than new clause 10; that might be helpful as well.
I have added my name to amendment 122, which was tabled by Joanna Cherry. The amendment would clarify our legal responsibilities and fulfil the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Last year’s Home Affairs Committee report underlined the importance of strong international co-operation and relationships in dealing with migration issues. I believe that those would be weakened by walking away from our international legal obligations.
In conclusion, the Government must ensure that the Bill does not undermine our legal or moral obligations. They should clearly establish safe and legal routes in the Bill. If they are determined to tighten our refugee provisions, we must not turn our back on child refugees by arbitrarily placing a cap on, or excluding, those vulnerable children who turn to us for support.
I rise to speak to amendment 131, which stands in my name and in the name of colleagues. I am grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for their very constructive engagement in recent days; on the basis of the commitment that I hope we will hear from him this afternoon, I do not propose to press my amendment to a vote this evening. I also thank my hon. Friend Sir William Cash; I am very glad that he has just returned from his cup of tea, because I am about to make a great speech in defence of parliamentary sovereignty in his honour.
The fact is that we need a new asylum system in our country. Indeed, the world needs a new framework for protecting the rights of refugees in an age of mass migration, with the huge people movements that we are seeing. Part of that is safe and legal routes, which are the natural corollary of the Bill; I support the principle described by my hon. Friend Tim Loughton and set out in his amendments to that end. I particularly endorse the work that has gone on in the Home Office—I want to see more of it—around community sponsorship. It is one of the existing global routes that we have, and we want to see it widened significantly. Even more fundamentally, the new framework that we need must honour the founding principle of both the European convention on human rights and the refugees convention: that the primary responsibility for managing asylum rests with the nation state. That is the purpose of the Bill and of my amendment.
It is worth stating why, as part of the new framework that we need, we need a law requiring the removal of people who arrive here illegally. The fact is that even if we had the best safe and legal route in the world, we would still have thousands of people—tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands a year—seeking to come here by unsafe, illegal routes. We simply cannot accommodate all those people. That is why it is absolutely right that this Bill creates a limit, with a cap on the total number of refugees we will receive. What that cap should be is up for debate, but the need for one is clear.
Unless we want open borders—Opposition Members deny that they want them—we have to do something about the many, many people who will still try to come once the cap has been reached. The only logical answer is to deny leave to stay to people who enter illegally, to detain them and to remove them somewhere safe and free: either back to their own country or to a third country that is willing to have them. That process must be swift and unquestioned. Nothing but the certainty of detention and speedy removal will deter illegal migrants and break the business model of the smugglers.
That power of removal was established in the Nationality and Borders Act, but as we know, a judge in Strasbourg was then woken in the middle of the night by a lawyer acting for an assortment of campaign groups. The judge—sitting in his pyjamas, for all we know—issued an interim order that caused the Home Office to stop the policy before the first plane took off.
What the hon. Gentleman has just described is the process of getting an interim injunction in England or an interim interdict in Scotland. Is he not aware that that happens just about every day of the week in our domestic legal systems?
The difference is that our domestic legal systems should not be subject to the findings of a foreign court. Moreover, the process should be transparent, it should be possible to appeal and the Government should have been able to be involved in the process. For action to take place in that way is profoundly undemocratic.
Let me explain myself more clearly. There are two things profoundly wrong with what happened last June. The first is the explicit tolerance of illegality—the claim by activists, backed by Opposition politicians and by judges, that people who break into our country should be allowed to stay and settle here. The second is the idea that the laws of the British Parliament can effectively be struck down by courts claiming a greater sovereignty, in deference to a higher power than parliamentary statute: the power of international law.
The United Kingdom has signed up to many international treaties. Why do we sign up to treaties if we are not going to allow them to be implemented or follow them?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that this is a treaty to which we have signed up. Under a treaty we have certain obligations, but those obligations do not include obeying such interim orders. There is no legal basis for us to obey them; that is a recent convention, and it is not in statute that we should obey such an order. Moreover, even if it were a substantive judgment, it does not give direct effect to what the British Government do. We need to change these things. That is why this Bill is necessary: it will mandate, not merely permit, the Government to remove illegal migrants, so that there can be no doubt in the mind of Ministers, officials or contractors what the law requires them to do.
What about the courts? I know the Government hope and expect that the new mandate to remove will be enough—that plain primary legislation passed in this place will persuade judges, whether in Strasbourg or in the UK, not to stand in the way of Parliament. I hope that they are right, but I do not think that we can rely on hope. I do not think that we can rely on assurances that the Government may have received from Strasbourg that judges there will respect this law in a way that they did not respect the last.
We need to go further. We must not just permit removals, as per the Nationality and Borders Act, and not just mandate removals, as per the Bill, but actively block the frustration of the removals policy. The primary means by which the policy will be frustrated is the European Court of Human Rights. My amendment would ensure that the policy of removal could go ahead
“notwithstanding any…decision…of the European Court”.
No more pyjama injunctions in the middle of the night—the so-called rule 39 orders.
One of the reasons why Winston Churchill helped to set up the European Court of Human Rights was to protect citizens across Europe, including in the UK, from overbearing Governments who did not have respect for the role of courts in keeping them honest. With the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, let us see some honesty: is he saying that he, in contrast to the Prime Minister, wants us to leave the ECHR? If the amendment were passed, it would mean our having to, and we would be in the same position as Belarus. Will he be honest: does he want us to be Belarus?
The hon. Lady mentions Winston Churchill, who of course had no intention for the UK to sign up to the European convention. It is true that he sent some lawyers over there, but actually the original intention was for the UK not to sign up. There was no need for the UK to sign up to it. We did so, but at that time there were no rule 39 orders. There was no opportunity for judges, in the middle of the night, to issue these interim orders and stop UK policy. That was not the case then, and it should not be the case now.
Even substantive judgments, with which I accept we need to comply—Opposition Members are quite right about that—should not have the direct effect of halting removals. A substantive judgment against the UK would simply start a process of negotiation like the one we had after the Court ruled against us on prisoner voting. My amendment would put Strasbourg and the ECHR in their proper place: as a treaty partner, not a higher power or a superior lawmaker to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Opposition Members seem to think that the ECHR has a power superior to the sovereignty of this House. I invite them to stand on that platform at the next election: by all means go ahead and suggest that this House is not sovereign.
I come not to bury the ECHR but to praise it. The convention is a noble document—as we know, it was written with the help of British Conservative lawyers—but really it just codifies the liberties enjoyed under English common law and statute. We should not have done so, but sadly we have put ourselves under
“the supervisory jurisdiction of the European Court”.
We should not be dictated to when it comes to the control of our borders. I challenge any hon. Member who thinks that the judges in Strasbourg have superior jurisdiction to that of this Parliament. My amendment would restore the proper balance of power.
The heart of the matter, and the reason passions run so high around the Bill, is what kind of country the UK is, or what we think it is. Opposition Members think that this country is a cruel, petty, small-minded small island that ignores its responsibility to the most vulnerable people in the world. That is what they think this country is, but our side of the House does not think so. We know that we have obligations to the world’s refugees and we are determined to fulfil them, but we think the first and foundational principle that defines the UK—the source and basis of all our generosity and our engagement with the problems of the world—is that we are a law-governed nation and that the laws that govern us are made here, in this building, by the representatives of the people. That is the principle that holds everything together. That is why Britain is respected abroad. That is the basis of our peace and prosperity, and our extraordinary history. It is why, directly or indirectly, so many people from other countries want to come and live here, whether they come legally or illegally—because we are a safe, prosperous, law-governed and sovereign nation. No human rights framework, no international convention, can dictate to us that we should tolerate illegality, let alone illegal entry to our country and all the privileges of residence here.
We need, with this Bill, to remember the people who sent us to this place and what they expect of us. They expect us to defend the interests and the values of the law-abiding citizens of this country, and to put the laws that we make here ahead of the interpretation of a foreign court. Statute is sovereign. Parliament is sovereign. The public expect us to have the courage to discharge our duty and take back control of our borders, as we promised we would when we left the EU. I believe the Bill will do that, with some strengthening. I know that the Government share my view, and I look forward to working with them ahead of Report to make the Bill watertight.
It is a pleasure to follow Danny Kruger, with whom I agree about the source of human rights. Sometimes we need to have an arbiter, a human one, who will prevent us from being our worst selves, and I fear that the Government are being their worst self in this instance. I fear that the Bill, with its flagship title—no pun intended—will not stop the boats. I want to stop the boats, because every person who gets into a rickety boat on the French side of the channel and takes the risk of crossing it is a potential tragedy. We should all want those boat crossings to stop. However, I am convinced that the Bill will do nothing of the sort.
This Bill is dozy and it is dangerous. It is dozy because it will not work and will be counterproductive; it is dangerous for genuine refugees—we will not know who they are unless we seek to assess them in the first place—and it is dangerous for Britain’s reputation and therefore to our power overseas, soft or otherwise, thus undermining our sovereignty. It fails the moral test, not just because of the impact on those who seek sanctuary on our shores, but because it is based on a hysterical and bogus pretext. The context is important here, and so is the language. The fact that the Home Secretary and other refer to the UK’s being “swamped” by refugees is an outrage as much as it is totally and utterly inaccurate. In a league table of European countries, the United Kingdom ranks 20th among those taking refugees, per capita. It takes a third of the number taken by France, and a quarter of the number taken by Germany.
The bogus premise on which the Bill is based is set out clearly and obviously. Intelligent Conservative Members—and I am sure they are all intelligent—understand that, yet they continue to promulgate this nonsense. Nevertheless, language has consequences. Do Conservative Members not realise that when far-right protesters stood on the pavement screaming abuse at some terrified person fleeing persecution and simply awaiting an assessment, that was caused in no small part by the incendiary language used by politicians and people in the media? It is outrageous.
And I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has given way. Does he not realise that we are in this position because the left wing-supporting lawyers have taken us to this point? When I knock on my constituents’ doors, they ask, “Who is running this country? The Government, we who voted you in, or the left wing-supporting lawyers?” We are in this situation because left-wing extremists are trying to stop our democracy from functioning.
I thank the hon. Lady for articulating the case so clearly. When all is said and done, we should ask why we have a problem. I have set out irrefutable numbers showing where we are in the world, and in Europe, in terms of the number of asylum seekers we receive on our shores: far fewer than most European countries, far fewer than many smaller European countries, and an absolute blinking fraction compared with the likes of Lebanon, for instance. Nevertheless, we have a problem, and why do we have a problem? Because the Home Office is dysfunctional.
It is outrageous that there are people sitting in hotels and hostels being jeered at by right-wing protesters, wound up by those on the other side of the House who have used—if I am being generous—intemperate language. Why are there so many people in those places? Because the system is broken. We are not “swamped” by refugees; we have an asylum system run by an incompetent Government, and what is perhaps the most morally outrageous aspect of this whole debate is the fact that these people, whether or not they are genuine asylum seekers—and we will not know whether or not they are unless we blooming well assess them—are being blamed for the Government’s incompetence. What a moral outrage. There is, of course, a case for making changes in the law, and I do not believe in open borders, but what the Government are proposing is uncontrollable borders. As I have said, language has consequences, and we should be careful about how we use it.
We in the Home Affairs Committee heard from Dan O’Mahoney, the clandestine channel threat commander, that the number of arrivals on small boats with any identifying documents is almost zero, because the people smugglers encourage them to dispense with all “pocket litter”, as he described it—passports, phones and SIM cards—on the basis that it will confuse those at the Home Office and make it impossible for them to distinguish between asylum seekers who are genuine and those who are not. Is not one of the problems experienced by the Home Office the fact that it is confronted with people who cannot prove who they are? Is not that, and the direction given by the people smugglers, at the root of this issue, rather than Government incompetence?
In which case, the hon. Lady would propose a Bill that aimed to stop the boats and undermine—
I am trying to respond to the hon. Lady’s first point. [Interruption.]
If the hon. Lady really wanted to deal with the issue that she has just articulated, she would do something to undermine the business case of the people smugglers. Of course these people are doing what they are guided to do—
The hon. Gentleman is challenging the Government to pass legislation that requires the arrivals to produce documents. The last Labour Government tried that with the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004, which made an asylum claim contingent on the provision of adequate documents. I do not know what has happened to that legislation—perhaps the Labour Front Bencher who winds up the debate can illuminate us—but the truth is that successive Governments have tried to require the provision of identification documents, but 20 years later people are still arriving without them, and are being given asylum on the basis of what the Home Office cannot prove.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s intervention, but if she really wanted to achieve that, she would support safe and legal routes. That is the way to tackle those problems. The simple fact is that we are dealing with a political issue. Why? Because the Government have failed to retain control of the asylum process. They do not trust their own process. I believe in assessing people to establish whether they are genuine asylum seekers or not, and then returning them if they are not. I want a system that is fair and tough, but the Government are proposing a system that is unfair and weak.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, but we also need a system that is timely and does not leave people hanging on for years and years. The Government say that they have cut the backlog by 50%, whereas the UK Statistics Authority says that it has increased by 777% on the Government’s watch. We cannot have an honest debate when the statistics are so badly skewed.
Exactly. It is very easy to make the case that the Government are making when these are all faceless people, but a couple of months ago, I met an Afghan citizen in the constituency of my friend and neighbour Simon Fell. This guy had been waiting 13 months to have his case heard. He had been an interpreter for the British forces in Afghanistan, and we had left him behind. His wife and two children were hiding back in Afghanistan, waiting and rotting. That is not due to the fact that we do not yet have the Bill; it is due to the fact that we have a Government who are incompetent and uncaring when it comes to people who have served our country and whom they have let down badly.
Is not an obvious sign of the Government’s failure the fact that only 22 Afghanistan citizens have been resettled under the Government’s resettlement scheme, while thousands are waiting in danger?
I thank the hon. Lady for making that important and powerful point.
Let us deal with another of the dozy charges aimed at those of us who think this Bill is at best mistaken. We are asked why people would want to come here, escaping from war-torn France. Why do they not stay in France, as it is not a dangerous country? I could make some quips about the current state of play over there, but I will not. Let us remember that 86% of people fleeing their homes go to the neighbouring country and stay there, so only about 14% of refugees go beyond their neighbouring country, and a fraction come to Europe. In case Conservative Members need a geography lesson, we are at the end of the line; we are on the other side of the channel, at the far west of Europe. We are the place that they get to last. We have already established that France takes three times as many refugees as we do.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent case. On the question of figures, is this not part of the bogus nonsense being spouted by the Government when the Secretary of State goes on television to say that 100 million people are making their way to the United Kingdom and then someone else goes on television to say that about 1 billion people are making their way to the United Kingdom?
Yes. There are arguments for stricter or less strict measures for dealing with migration and asylum, and it is important to discuss those, but it does not help when we have bogus nonsense figures being spouted, sometimes in this place. That just creates more heat and no light.
Let us deal with the charge that France is a safe place, that people should not be allowed to come here from there and they should just stay there. France could say that to Italy and Spain—
I will not give way again, sorry. I have taken loads of interventions and I am testing everyone’s patience; my speech is now 11 minutes in.
France could say the same to Italy or Spain, and then Italy or Spain could say, “Stay in the sea.” What we are seeing now is an attempt to undermine Britain’s part in the globe. We were told by some Conservative Members that we were leaving the European Union but not Europe, and that we would now be “global Britain.” Ignoring for a moment the moral obligations we have to people seeking sanctuary, let us remember what message it will send to our neighbours, friends and allies around Europe and elsewhere if we unilaterally decide that we are not going to play the game. This undermines our soft power and our sovereignty. This is why we support new clause 3, which deals with setting a target and gives a clear sense of Britain stepping up to the plate and being part of a global operation.
The Government talk about deterrence, but the Bill fails to understand the horrors that people have been through. People who have left Sudan or Eritrea often go through Libya, and I would ask Conservative Members to spend a moment to research what it is like for a refugee passing from the horn of Africa, for example, through to Libya and then crossing the Mediterranean. What are their experiences? We tell those people that it will be scary and that we are not going to treat them very nicely when they cross the channel, but that is nothing compared with their experience of crossing Libya. I ask Members to inform themselves about that in particular.
The Bill is clearly not aimed at tackling the criminal gangs. The simple fact is that the criminal gangs’ business model will remain alive and well. Why? Because people will arrive on these shores and then not claim asylum. They will go under the radar, which fuels modern slavery and criminality. More people will be exploited, especially women and girls. There is no question whatsoever that this Bill will do anything to tackle the business model of those gangs—it is clearly not intended to, which is another outrage. It is indeed a traffickers’ charter. It will therefore lead to more deaths in the channel. It is a recipe for uncontrollable borders, because there will be nobody applying for asylum. They will just slip under the radar. If the Government had done an impact assessment, they would know that. Maybe they did, but they have not shared it with us.
The simple fact is that we need safe and legal routes. People from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria or Hong Kong stand a chance, one way or another, of having a safe route to the United Kingdom. But if you are a young Christian man seeking to avoid being conscripted in Eritrea, a woman seeking sanctuary from Iran or a person from a religious minority in Sudan, you have no chance whatsoever of getting here. That is morally outrageous. We are turning our back on our long-held principles and obligations. That is why new clause 6 is so important and why, with your permission, Dame Eleanor, we will push it to a vote tonight.
New clause 6 would ringfence asylum seekers from those countries that already have an 80%-plus grant rate—places such as Sudan, Eritrea and Iran. It proposes a pilot scheme for 12 months—this is measured, small and not all that ambitious—just to give the Government an opportunity not to be duplicitous about this and to show that we are at least providing an experimental and evidence-based safe route. I urge the Government to accept the new clause; otherwise, we will seek to divide the House. New clause 4 talks about a humanitarian travel permit, and new clause 7 deals with refugee family reunion.
If the Government seriously want to make the case that the Bill is going to undermine the business case of the people traffickers, evil as they are, they will fail to do so unless they provide meaningful, tangible, credible safe and legal routes. Those routes do not currently exist, and these new clauses allow the Government the opportunity to create them. If they will not accept them, this will prove that they do not have a plan to stop the boats and that they are just getting into the gutter to grub for votes.
To be fair, I think the Government have misjudged those who seek sanctuary here. I have met many of them. I have been to Calais and other places, and I have had to interrogate why people would choose to come to the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Devizes set out many of those reasons, but I have never discovered among those people any who have heard of the national health service or our benefit system. The lie that they are somehow coming over here to sponge off or threaten us is just that: it is simply untrue.
But those people have heard of something: they have heard of a Britain that is safe, where they can raise their children, where they can be who they are and have whatever faith they may be and whatever political views they may hold—a place where they can raise and feed their family in safety. I cannot imagine anything making me more proud than that being the reputation of this country. No amount of small-minded attempts to change the law by this “here today, gone tomorrow” Tory Government will dent that reputation. I think the Government have misjudged not only the asylum seekers, but Britain too.
Let me tell the House a story about my constituency, and then I will shut up. Let us be honest, the Lake District is not the most diverse part of the United Kingdom, yet in August 1945 half the children who survived the death camps, including Auschwitz, came to Windermere to be rehabilitated and to start their lives afresh, because that is who we really are. That is who Britain really is and we should be proud of that. Let us absolutely stop the boats, but let us do so in a way that makes sense and that is neither dozy nor dangerous.
It is conventional in this place to say that it is a delight and a joy to follow the preceding speaker, and generally one does so as a matter of convention, but I am always pleased to follow Tim Farron, even though I disagreed with almost everything he said. I know that he speaks with integrity and that he believes in his heart what he has said today, but I have to tell him that his purity—if I may put it in those terms—and his absolute Christian dignity have got the better of his reason in respect of this issue.
The hon. Gentleman’s constituents, like mine, expect this House to be where power lies, for it is this House that is answerable to them. He owes his political legitimacy to his relationship with the people he described in his constituency, as I do to those in mine. When other powers in other places supersede the authority of this House, in the way the European judges did when they held up the planes for those being sent to Rwanda, our constituents feel not only frustrated but let down. They feel let down because they see the will of this House and the will of our Government being impeded, and indeed frustrated, by those overseas powers.
I will happily give way to the hon. Lady, who is deeply confused about the difference between treaty law and statute. Perhaps she will explain that.
I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s mind to the 1970s when, in this country, a Conservative Government passed legislation saying that a married woman, or any woman, coming to this country had to go through a virginity test, and it was the European Court of Human Rights that overturned that British legislation. Are you really telling me that you think that legislation was correct?
I never knowingly defend the Heath Government, so I will not accept any connection with their measures. Indeed, it was Edward Heath who, against the interests of the British people, took us into the European Union in the first place, but I will not go down that road as it is not relevant to the amendments before us.
In the spirit I have just outlined, I will address the significance of the Bill and the amendments before us, in the context of the Government’s determination not only to tackle the issue of immigration per se, but to deal, in particular, with illegal immigration in the form of boats arriving in Dover. Just as we won the referendum campaign with the simple slogan “Take back control,” so it seems to me we will win this argument with a similar slogan: “Stop the boats.”
When I arrived in this country as an immigrant in October 1978, I was bowled over by the hospitality and kindness I came across. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that, in order to maintain the British people’s welcome for outsiders coming here, we have to deal with illegal migration? That is why it is so important that we support the Bill this evening.
My hon. Friend is right, of course. In a sense, his comments reflect the remarks of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, but the spirit, character and reputation that Britain enjoys depend on both lawfulness and propriety. It is not unreasonable to suggest that our generosity should be defined by proper rules and standards.
When my hon. Friend Laura Farris challenged the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale on the issue of people not bringing documents, I was left to wonder, as others may have been, why on earth a legitimate asylum seeker who is pleased to come here on the basis he outlined would want to discard the documents that would prove their case. Why would they do that? That is the kind of question my constituents ask me. I have to conclude that many people disguise their identity and discard their documents not because they want to make it more straightforward for the Home Office to deal with their claim, for clearly it would not make it more straightforward, but because they have something to hide.
Last year, 33% of the people arriving in small boats were from Albania. That proportion has now fallen because the Government have done something about it. So much for inefficient Ministers and the inefficient Home Office. They dealt with the Albania issue, and they will now deal with this issue with equal alacrity and skill.
I fear the right hon. Gentleman may have misread the statistics, because it was Afghans who made up 33% of arrivals. Between October and December 2022, only 9% of small boat arrivals were Albanian.
Perhaps, as a general principle, we should not try to process claims in the Chamber. We should look at the evidence. Many of us who deal with asylum seekers have had that conversation, about why papers are missing, and we have been told very clearly that the traffickers tell them to tear up and remove their papers because that makes it easier for the traffickers. When was the last time the right hon. Gentleman spoke to someone who came to the UK by an irregular route and who did not have their paperwork? What did they tell him? Can he tell us about the evidence he has from actually working with these people and understanding the pressures they are under?
The hon. Lady informs many of her arguments in this place with anecdotes, sometimes with undue success, but I will not be drawn into an anecdotal debate because I want to address the issue in a rather more serious way—I do not mean to disparage her, of course.
In addressing amendments 133 and 134 in the name of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, amendment 131 in the name of my hon. Friend Danny Kruger and amendment 132 in the name of my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke, I want to be clear about the purpose of this Bill and why these amendments make sense. The purpose of the Bill is to deal with this matter as definitively as it can reasonably be addressed. The purpose of the Bill is to tighten the arrangements in respect of illegal immigration, and the amendments strengthen that aim. Our job, against a backdrop in which people are arriving in small boats and breaching our borders with impunity, is to re-establish the sovereignty of this country and the integrity of our borders by delivering legislation that does just that.
These amendments are designed to do two things. First, they would give the Government more power to achieve this objective. Secondly, they would limit the opportunities, which we know will be taken, to frustrate the Government’s will and, by extension, Parliament’s will to do more to address this matter.
I commend the Minister and the Home Secretary for their work on the Bill, but I am certain that the expectations it creates, the time it absorbs and the opposition it will undoubtedly generate, mean that, if it fails and the Government are found wanting, Conservative Members will pay a heavy price. The Minister knows we have been down this road before with the Nationality and Borders Act, which we were told would do the job. I do not think Ministers were deceiving us—they genuinely believed it would do the job—yet, although we did exactly what I described by devoting time and political capital, raising expectations and bringing about opposition, we found that we could not achieve what we wanted to and that we needed additional legislation to do so.
We will not be given a third chance. This is our second chance to deal, once and for all, with the boats arriving at Dover and with the tidal wave—the Home Secretary described it as a “swarm”—of people who know they are arriving illegally and are breaking the law, for they know they have no papers and no right to be here. They therefore make a nonsense of an immigration system that must have integrity if it is to garner and maintain popular support.
Of course, people enter and leave countries, but they need to do so legally. Surely it is not too much to express that simple statement. It is not too much to expect a Government to maintain lawful control of our borders, yet I constantly hear from Opposition Members that this is militant, unreasonable, extreme. It is anything but. It is modest, moderate, just and virtuous to have a system that ensures the people who come here do so lawfully, and that people who arrive here seeking asylum are dealt with properly. That is a modest aim, and it will be made more achievable by the amendments in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Stone and for Devizes and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
Given that the Minister is an old, trusted and good friend, I hope that, when he sums up the debate, he will agree to enter into a dialogue with those of us who speak for the people. We claim no more—no greater plaudit—than that we are the spokesmen of the hard-working, patriotic, lawful majority of the people of this country. In speaking for those people, we hope that he will enter into a dialogue with those of us who have tabled and supported these amendments with the aim of improving the Bill, of doing his work with him and for him, and in so doing honouring the pledge that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have made to the people of this country. Honouring that pledge is the right thing to do, the just thing to do and, indeed, the virtuous thing to do.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dame Eleanor. It is convention to say that it is a pleasure to follow the previous speaker, but I find it hard to say that because I do not agree with anything that Sir John Hayes said. It is an extraordinary proposition to say that, to use his words, it is virtuous and just for the United Kingdom to pass legislation that is in breach of our international obligations. These are not obligations that have been imposed on us from above. They are obligations to which we freely signed up. If the Government and Conservative Members do not like the obligations to which they freely signed up, they should have the courage of their convictions and join their chums in Russia and Belarus as non-signatories to the European convention on human rights. [Interruption.] They do not like it, but it is true: those are the other two countries in Europe that cannot live with the obligations in the European convention on human rights.
I want to make another preliminary point before I go any further. The right hon. Gentleman does not speak for my constituents—he does not speak for the people of Edinburgh South West. The contents of my mailbox and my conversations with constituents show that he does not speak for them. He does not speak for other voters in Scotland, either. We are proud of our international obligations, and we would like to remain a signatory to the European convention on human rights.
There is widespread concern about this Bill, and not just from lefty lawyers, to whom Lia Nici referred earlier.
No, I will not at this stage; I want to develop my point. I have been a lawyer for many years, and it pains me to say this—because I am a lefty lawyer —but if the hon. Lady knew much about the legal profession she would know that most lawyers are actually not lefties. However, what most lawyers do have, in contrast to the Conservative Members who have spoken so far today, is respect for the rule of law and for legal obligations freely entered into. Nobody took the hand of the United Kingdom and forced it to sign the convention. We did so freely, of our own volition. I repeat that, if Conservative Members do not like the obligations any longer, because they occasionally throw up results they do not like, they should have the courage of their convictions and leave the convention.
I want to develop my point. I will take interventions in a moment. I do not want to take up too much time.
I rise to speak mainly to amendment 122, which is in my name, and to support the amendments tabled on behalf of the Scottish National party by my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss. I also add my support to the excellent and forensic points made, as always, by my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald. It is a great pity that the Minister chose to take no notes while my hon. Friend was speaking, because he made some very good points and it would be really nice to hear why the Government disagree with them. At the end of six hours of debate, it is going to be difficult for the Minister to answer those points, given that he paid no attention to them and did not make any notes.
I tabled amendment 122 in my capacity as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and I am very grateful to those hon. Members who have lent their support to it. I am not going to press it, because the Committee has only just commenced its legal scrutiny of this Bill. That is not because we are dragging our feet, but because the Bill has been bounced on us at such short notice. We have very little time to undertake that scrutiny, but we hope to report before the Bill has finished its passage through the Lords. At that point, I hope we will be able to recommend some detailed amendments.
Amendment 122 is a probing amendment that gives me the opportunity to explain to the Government the legal basis of our obligations to obey the interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights, because an awful lot of what we in Scotland call mince—which is a technical legal term—has been spoken about that so far.
As a preliminary point, I also want to stress the widespread opposition to this Bill. Our own Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Council of Europe all have severe concerns about this Bill’s impact on our international legal obligations. The UNHCR also has severe concerns about it, as have the Law Society of England and Wales, the Law Society of Scotland, many other very respectable civil society organisations and many of our constituents.
Over the weekend, I received a number of letters from primary 7 pupils at Oxgangs Primary School in my constituency of Edinburgh South West. The gist of their letters was that we are a wealthy nation—Danny Kruger, who is no longer in his place, referred to the United Kingdom as a wealthy country; it is not a country but a union of nations—and we need to do more to help refugees. As other hon. Members have said, the majority of displaced people in this world just go to the country next door. It is only a very tiny fraction who come to the United Kingdom, looking for our help. I think that what those young people were trying to say is that we have a moral obligation to them. I think they were also making the point that human rights are universal. The Government need to remember that. This Bill seeks to carve out certain categories of people to whom human rights will not be applicable in the same way as they are to me and my constituents. That is simply wrong.
The purpose of amendment 122, which relates to clause 49, is to ensure that we recognise that the United Kingdom is bound to comply with interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights, and that any regulations made under clause 49 do not undermine that principle. The amendment is consistent with the unanimous recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights when we reported on a similar provision in the Bill of Rights Bill.
It is important to set out the legal basis on which the United Kingdom is bound to comply with those interim measures, and I will take a couple of minutes to do so. Under rule 39 of the rules of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court may indicate interim measures to any state party—not just the United Kingdom—that has freely signed up to the convention. They are usually sought in connection with immigration removal or extradition cases, and they amount to a requirement that the removal or extradition be suspended—not stopped—until the case has been fully examined. Case law from the Court has established that requests for interim measures are granted only exceptionally, when applicants would otherwise face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm. They are granted from time to time against the United Kingdom, but in fact that is very rarely the case. In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights received 1,020 requests from across the Council of Europe for interim measures and granted 625 of them. However, between 2019 and 2021, the interim measures under rule 39 were applied for in 880 cases against the UK, but granted in just seven of them.
This rides a coach and horses through our freely entered into international legal obligations in respect of interim measures—it really is taking a hammer to crack a nut. Interim measures appear in the rules of the Court rather than in the convention itself, which has led some commentators—including some Conservative Members —to argue that the UK is not bound to comply with them. This is particularly the case because article 46 of the convention, which concerns the
“Binding force and execution of judgments”,
only commits the UK to abide by final judgments of the Court, and does not mention interim measures.
However, the Grand Chamber of the Court has held that a failure to comply with interim measures amounts to a violation of article 34 of the convention under which the high contracting parties undertake
“not to hinder in any way the effective exercise” of the right of applicants to bring their claims before the Court.
The Court itself has said that a failure to comply with interim measures is a breach of article 34 of the convention. We all know that the reason why the Government are so exercised about this issue is that interim measures were indicated by the European Court in relation to the Government’s attempts to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda, despite the domestic courts not granting an injunction. Clearly, that has caused severe concern in the Government, because the interim measures were issued without the United Kingdom having made submissions—without having a chance to be heard—and without a reasoned judgment.
If there are good faith and meaningful negotiations going on between the United Kingdom and the Council at the moment, I hope that it will be discussed whether, in future, there might be an opportunity for the UK to be heard before an interim measure is granted. Lawyers in the Chamber will know that, frequently, Governments and other big bodies that are often sued lodge with the courts in the English, Welsh and Scottish systems what is called a caveat, so that if anybody applies for an interim order against them, they get the right to be heard. I think that that would be a reasonable reform of the Strasbourg system. However, the mere absence of that provision at the moment would not justify our ignoring either the obligations or the convention that we have signed up to, as interpreted by the Court. Anyone in the Chamber who is used to dealing with litigation will know that interim measures—both interim injunctions in England and interim interdicts in Scotland—are frequently granted without the other party being heard, because they are interim measures to preserve the status quo while a lasting decision is made.
If a person faces being removed from this country to Rwanda, having come here seeking sanctuary, an interim measure pending the full determination of the impact that it might have on them is actually rather important. For example, LGBT people were mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. There are no anti-discrimination laws in Rwanda protecting same-sex attracted people or transgender people. They can be discriminated against, refused accommodation and refused a job on the basis of their sexuality or their gender identity. I think that we are all agreed that that is not acceptable. As my hon. Friend said, imagine the position of somebody fleeing the regime in Uganda, where even to state their sexuality or gender identity is now unlawful, coming here to seek sanctuary and then facing being deported to Rwanda. They might be very grateful for interim measures being granted while their human rights were fully explored.
I will not press amendment 122, but it is important that we conduct ourselves in this Parliament on the basis of a proper understanding of the legal position, rather than populist slogans.
I wish to say something about sovereignty. Sir William Cash—I am tempted to call him my hon. Friend—is an expert on the sovereignty of this Parliament. When he talks about sovereignty, he talks about a very distinctively English concept. The notion that Parliament has unlimited sovereignty is a distinctively English principle that really has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law.
I will give way in a moment. I just want to develop my point and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I know that we have been arguing about this for years. This is an important point to make.
It is sometimes assumed that this Parliament just took on the character of the English constitution when it unified with the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps it is worth considering that there are other notions of sovereignty. In my country, the people are sovereign, not the Parliament, and they can choose to share their sovereignty with, for example, the Edinburgh Parliament, this Parliament and other international institutions. The endless obsessing about the sovereignty of Parliament is not particularly helpful. Where I really disagree with the hon. Gentleman is in this: I think that the Human Rights Act was an elegant solution to fulfilling our rights under the convention, while also respecting the sovereignty of this Parliament.
I wish to reply to the hon. and learned Lady by saying that the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament rests with the United Kingdom Parliament. I know that she would quite like to leave it, but, on the other hand, she is bound by it, and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 specifies quite clearly that the sovereignty is guaranteed.
The Union between Scotland and England was freely entered into. I know that some people are under the misapprehension that now it is some sort of “Hotel California” situation, where we can check out but cannot leave, but that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Union. The views that I am expounding about sovereignty are not just my eccentric views, but the views that have been expounded by many well-respected Scottish jurists, as the hon. Gentleman knows. It is worthwhile sometimes to take a step back. With all due respect to some of my English friends, they get a bit hysterical about parliamentary sovereignty. Sovereignty can be shared and, ultimately, I believe that sovereignty lies with the people. I will just leave it at that.
It is genuinely a pleasure to follow Joanna Cherry. I will try to avoid too much mince in my own speech, but to continue in the respectful tone that she has struck.
I wish to take a little of the heat out of this debate and to say that I think the British people would recognise in the United Kingdom a country that has honoured its commitments since the launch of the 1951 refugee convention to offer sanctuary to those with a well-founded fear of persecution. The record of the past seven years, where close to half a million people have been granted asylum on humanitarian grounds, bears testimony to that.
I think that the British people would also recognise that there are peculiar and unique problems that have arisen with the small boat crossings. Five years ago, in 2018, 300 people made that journey; last year, it was 45,000. Of those, 80% were men aged between 18 and 40, all of whom had paid a people smuggler and all of whom had the physical strength and wherewithal to make a journey across continental Europe through the small boat route. We know that a third of them arriving last year were Albanian.
I just want to read what Dan O’Mahoney told the Home Affairs Committee—I see that the Chair is in her place—when he appeared before it last October. I am quoting verbatim. He said about the Albanian arrivals:
“The rise has been exponential, and we think that is in the main due to the fact that Albanian criminal gangs have gained a foothold in the north of France and have begun facilitating very large numbers of migrants… Whatever sort of criminality you can think of…there are Albanian criminal gangs dominating”— in this country—
“whether it is drug smuggling, human trafficking, guns or prostitution.”
He said that a lot of the Albanian migrants
“are not actually interested in seeing their asylum claim through… We typically put them in a hotel for a couple of days, and then they will disappear” into the underworld.
That unique and specific problem requires a unique and specific answer. We all agree on safe and legal routes. I will not improve on the remarks made by my hon. Friend Tim Loughton in his powerful speech. I heard from those on the Labour Front Bench, for the first time tonight, that they also endorse quotas, which is part of this Bill, and we agree with that.
In case my intervention earlier was not clear enough, I was simply saying that Harvey Redgrave, writing in a thoughtful piece for the Tony Blair Institute last July, talked about not only safe and legal routes, out-of-country rights of appeal and quotas, but an absolute prohibition on small boat arrivals. That really is the disputed issue in this legislation.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, many countries have a cap per se on immigration. In Australia, Parliament debates an annual cap; when David Cameron and George Osborne were running the Conservative party and my right hon. Friend Mrs May was Home Secretary, we said that that number should be counted in the tens of thousands. Perhaps that is what we should go back to.
It is certainly true that the promise inherent in the refugee convention—an offer to the world at large, conceived in an era before easyJet, before people going on holiday to any country and before mass migration—must be looked at through a different lens in the year 2023. Many of our international partners are now talking in that way, and we may have to have a debate on a different occasion to talk about the issue more broadly.
I am just going to make a tiny bit of progress, because I have not really started and there is not much time.
I want to respond to amendments 131 and 132, which would do slightly different things but have the same effect. I will look at you, Dame Eleanor, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes will not be offended if he has to look at my back. Amendment 131 would exclude the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and amendment 132 seeks to disapply the relevant sections of the Human Rights Act 1998 in so far as they may be relevant to decisions taken under this Bill.
I want to say at the outset that I understand the impulse that has brought my hon. Friend here—namely the frustration with the exercise of the rule 39 injunctive relief decision in July, which the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West covered so well in her speech. She will know as well as I do that rule 39 is not an inherent part of the European convention on human rights; she said in her speech that it is a rule of the Court.
That decision was taken by a single judge alone. The hon. and learned Lady is right to point out that that is common and standard in injunctive proceedings, but it is none the less somewhat surprising to see that matter go through in the eyes of the High Court, the Court of Appeal here and, finally, the Supreme Court, and then be overturned by the decision of a single judge in Europe. We do not even know who the judge was, but we know that Tim Eicke, our own British judge who sits on the European Court, has never sat as a High Court judge. He is a barrister. I say that with deference to his brilliance, and of course I am not criticising him; that is standard for the European Court of Human Rights. However, it is odd to see our own Supreme Court, with some of the most brilliant justices in the world, being overruled, under a Court rule, by somebody who is probably not of their status. I think that is a true statement.
I went on to say that in the case of Paladi v. Moldova, the Grand Chamber said that a failure to comply with interim measures amounts to a violation of article 34 of the convention, because the high contracting parties have undertaken not to hinder in any way the effective exercise of the right of applicants to bring their claims before the Court. Whereas it was originally in the rules of Court, the Grand Chamber has now said that failure to obtemper or comply with that would be a violation of article 34 of the convention.
I take the hon. and learned Lady’s point. We are obviously adhering to that, but as a rule of the Court.
Moving on, I was glad to read recently, whether in a press release or in a tweet—I cannot recall—the Home Secretary saying she was glad that constructive talks were now taking place between representatives of the British Government and members of the European Court of Human Rights, focused on resolving that issue. I say that is good because I think it should be possible to resolve that issue, since it is a rule of the Court rather than a principle of human rights. I hope we can move on from there.
If I may say so, with great respect, I do not accept that that decision in itself justifies these two amendments. I think both are weak for legal and constitutional reasons, and I will set out why. First, on amendment 131, my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke said that he had relied on a paper written for Policy Exchange by Richard Ekins and Sir Stephen Laws. I challenge the expertise of both those people—I question it. One of them has contacted me in the past, but neither are practitioners, and it shows in their writing that they are not regularly in court.
I will in a moment; I am going to make my points.
On the first element of amendment 132, which seeks to exclude the operation of the Human Rights Act, the only realistic basis for someone who arrived via small boat to challenge their removal to a safe third country under the Human Rights Act would be either article 2 or article 3 of the European convention—the right to life, or not to have one’s life endangered, and the right to freedom from torture.
However, it is important to note that that would not be the starting point for that kind of claim; in our domestic courts, it would be article 33 of the refugee convention, the non-refoulement principle. That is not just in the refugee convention; it is a principle at common law and part of our customary international law. Even if we abolished the Human Rights Act in so far as it applied to these cases, we would still have the same argument being advanced, that the person could not be sent to a country because of a fear of persecution.
I am sorry; I will come to my hon. Friend in a moment.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland and my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) wrote an article in “Conservative Home” today in which they said and endorsed:
“Individuals would not be removed if they are medically unfit to fly, or will face persecution in the destination country.”
That is the non-refoulement principle, which is at the heart of the refugee convention. One thing that shows the lack of expertise in this area is that the same principle ripples through the common law, the refugee convention and the European convention of human rights; it applies across the board. It is even set out in terms in this legislation. Therefore, it would be pointless to derogate from the Human Rights Act on that question, because the principle that protects people from persecution is so embedded in any event.
I just wanted to point out, in case other Members of the House do not know, that Professor Ekins is a professor of law at Oxford University and Sir Stephen Laws is a former first parliamentary counsel. I think those are rather good credentials compared with the views of what I would describe as ordinary barristers.
The hon. Lady and I do not agree about a lot of things, but I believe she has expertise in this area as a barrister—that is correct, is it not?
The hon. Lady has expertise and has practised in this area, so I suggest to her hon. Friends that her views deserve a degree of respect.
On the Government side of the House, I am probably the Member who has most recently been in the immigration tribunals, so I have an idea, but it is not my principal practice area.
The other thing that I think is relevant is that Parliament has in the past successfully recalibrated the interpretation of the convention and changed the way it is interpreted, and had no difficulty with that. The Bill already takes a number of novel steps in relation to established law. First, it creates an absolute duty of removal on the Home Secretary that applies irrespective of any human rights claim, with the exception of the non-refoulement principle. Secondly, the Bill expands powers of immigration detention, granting the Secretary of State a power to determine the period that is “reasonably necessary”, in some ways overriding established Hardial Singh principles. Thirdly, it limits the rights of appeal: the individual has a right of appeal, but that is capped at one. In my respectful submission, the Government must have the opportunity to see those clauses enacted, because I believe that they will be upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
Back in 2012, the coalition Government changed the immigration rules in relation to the deportation of foreign national offenders and the application of article 8, which is the right to respect for private and family life. Parliament took the view that that was too often being interpreted in favour of the ex-convict, and, as a result, set new rules—from paragraph 398 onwards of the established immigration rules—to make it clear that there were limited circumstances in which article 8 should be engaged. Parliament said in terms that the balance should be struck in favour of the overwhelming public interest in deportation, above any article 8 claim unless there were very compelling circumstances to the contrary. That was upheld in successive decisions by our appeal courts, beginning with MF (Nigeria) in the Court of Appeal.
The decision by Parliament to circumscribe the ambit of article 8 when it applied to criminals was taken to the European Court of Human Rights for years, but the court would not hear the issue at all until 2017 in the case of Ndidi. I reminded myself today of how that case was approached. In fact, a quite compelling article 8 argument was made: the person had arrived in the United Kingdom as a baby and had never been anywhere else, and the offending was quite low level—drug dealing rather than any harm to the person. The courts here had said that he must be deported to a country that he had never been to before. He challenged that in the European Court of Human Rights, which said, “No, the British Government are absolutely entitled to circumscribe the application of article 8 in the way that they have.” His claim was rejected.
My simple point is that we can do things—in the way that the Government are seeking through the Bill—that may well be compatible with the European convention on human rights, and I have struggled to find any example of the court overturning primary legislation, which is what the Bill is, or constructing it in a way that is disadvantageous to the member state. The fact that so many Members refer back to the prisoner voting case does not enhance their argument. That case is 20 years old and has been reversed. I accept without reservation that it was wrongly decided—I think there was overreach—but I have heard no example from the last 20 years to suggest that the Court is still making the same mistakes.
We have talked about the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 not being a success, but that was not because the European Court of Human Rights said that it was unlawful or overreached; we simply concluded that it did not yet work. For those reasons, I think that the Bill already goes very far and should be given the chance to work through.
This is a fascinating description of the three ways in which we can deal with this matter. One way is to leave the convention altogether, which is what I would favour but is not what we are proposing or debating tonight. The second is to have some kind of “notwithstanding clause” of the kind that has been proposed. The third is to assume, through the interpretation of the Court of the will of Parliament and Government, that we will have our way. My hon. Friend is making a good case for the third way, but the problem with that is that it places a great deal of faith—although she says that she does so on the basis of precedent—in the Court to honour the will of this House. I am not sure that I would have the same degree of faith. If she does not like the work of Professor Ekins and so on, I recommend that she look at the speech given at Cambridge University by the Home Secretary—when she was Attorney General —on the interpretative matters that my hon. Friend describes.
Order. I remind the hon. Lady that she should sit down when allowing an intervention.
I am sorry, Dame Eleanor.
To respond to my right hon. Friend’s intervention, it is dangerous to conflate what has been understood on the Conservative Benches to have been called “overreach” in the application of rule 39—on which I agree—with an overenthusiasm of the Court to involve itself in primary legislation, which is what the Bill will be. I see no precedent for that concern, so I hope that I can allay my right hon. Friend’s fear to some extent.
To add to the list of our right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes, is there not a fourth option in—call me old fashioned—ensuring that His Majesty’s Government meet our international obligations wherever that may be? That is option four, and one that I think commands quite strong support across the Committee.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which brings me to my final argument.
Wrenching change from either the applicability of the Human Rights Act or the jurisdiction of the Court is a dangerous path to go down. The European convention on human rights is fundamental to the devolution settlements in Wales and Northern Ireland, and it also plays a distinct role in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. As we are so near to the 25th anniversary of that agreement, I want to read out how the European convention on human rights was framed as an integral safeguard:
“There will be safeguards to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions and that all sections of the community are protected, including…the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)…which neither the Assembly nor public bodies can infringe”.
At the time of the conclusion of that agreement, there was a climate of deep scepticism about British courts following the establishment of, for example, Diplock courts and other things that were controversial. The European Court of Human Rights is not just something to which lip service is paid; it is integral to the proper functioning of that agreement.
I must mention our proud history in the formation and construction of the European convention on human rights—it is well known that David Maxwell Fyfe was a Conservative MP. It is unsurprising, then, that we are one of the states with the lowest number of adverse findings. We should be very wary of quick fixes. We said throughout the Brexit debate that we would be taking back control of our borders, but it is more complex than that. My point tonight is that leaving the convention, or derogating from it, is not the answer. That will not do the job and will undermine the effect of the Bill, which I think will be upheld as lawful by the European Court of Human Rights in the event that it is referred there.
I wish to reassure the Committee that I will speak only to the amendments that have been selected for this evening—I know that we have debates on other amendments scheduled tomorrow, and I have amendments in both selections.
I beg your leave, Dame Eleanor, to reflect on the fact that, while this important debate has been taking place, Jess England, a member of my staff, has just won parliamentary staffer of the year. Jess has first-hand knowledge of the things that we are discussing because she has for years helped me work with people seeking asylum—refugees from around the world who have come to the UK and have a connection to Walthamstow. I put on the record my gratitude to Jess, whose award is long overdue. If she were here now, she could bring much light to this debate as somebody who knows about the reality for people fleeing persecution.
It is a genuine honour to follow the previous speaker, Laura Farris. We may be in different political parties, but I recognise how brave she has just been to make that speech and to speak up for the importance of human rights, which has increasingly become an extreme view in the Conservative movement. I recognise the power of her speech and its many points, and the expertise that she put on the record. The House benefits from light, not heat, in such debates.
There is clarity in that there is not a single Member among us who wants to help the smugglers; not a single Member among us thinks that small boats crossing the English channel is an acceptable or reasonable way to proceed. The difference is in how we address the issue; whether we pour oil on that fire or seek, in our amendments, to recognise the best of Britain—to be the actual patriots in this Chamber. So far, we have talked so much about the ways people travel, but not about who is travelling.
Different statistics have been bandied around. We know that the vast majority of people in those boats are from seven countries, so let us recognise first and foremost why it matters that the legislation meets the test not of the mode of travel but of who is travelling. People fleeing persecution do not form orderly queues at the border when there is a war. When they are facing persecution for their political or religious beliefs, they cannot turn to the state to ask for their paperwork to be put in order and emailed to them so that they may cross the border with copies of it.
I reflect on the fact that the former Member for Blackburn, who was responsible for incorporating the Human Rights Act into UK legislation used to say to me, “There was left and right in Parliament, and then there were those people who dealt with the UK Border Agency and those who did not.” When dealing with people who have fled persecution, we know at first hand that it is not a simple, straightforward linear experience that accommodates well the kind of bureaucracy and administrative process that Sir John Hayes wishes for. That is why the refugee convention itself says that refugees should not be prosecuted for destroying their documents, for issues around immigration fraud or, indeed, for their mode of travel, recognising the reality that when the decision is life or death, life matters. I see no irony in suggesting that.
My hon. Friend is making a really important point, which is not pertinent only to the small boats. We witnessed exactly the same issue with Ukraine. People were fleeing Ukraine in fear of their lives; we opened up safe routes, but many of those people had to leave all their important documentation behind.
I agree. Some of us are still dealing with people from Afghanistan—people who put their lives on the line to help British forces but have not been able to come here. They listen to the Minister talk about the idea that somehow we have taken 25,000 people under the schemes. We have not—their families are still stuck. If the Minister wants the casework, I have raised on the record before the case of a family who were split up on the way to the Baron hotel.
The hon. Lady cannot trade in anecdote rather than facts. The facts of the matter are that the scheme has taken 25,000 individuals since just before the fall of Kabul. Those are the facts. As I always say to the hon. Lady, I am very happy to look into individual cases. But in this Chamber, we should deal in facts—not fiction.
The Minister knows that that is not how the scheme has worked; he knows that only 22 people have been resettled. He already has in his inbox the case I mentioned—it is long overdue his attention. Every single day, I think about that family. They were told that they should go to the Baron hotel. They could not get there because there was an explosion. They are now separated—the family are in hiding and the father is here, desperate and out of his mind about what to do. He was promised a safe and legal route by this Government, but of that promise there came no reality.
That is why I cannot support this Bill in its current form. First and foremost, it does nothing to the smugglers themselves. We all agree that the smugglers are the people we want to stop. Why is there not a single measure in the Bill that directly affects them? The idea that we can cut off their market does not recognise that we have seen these kinds of measures before. All that happens is the prices go up. People disappear; modern slavery increases.
When we tackle illegal immigration, we are doing several things. We are attacking it at source by getting to the smugglers, we are dealing with the issues in the channel and on the coast, and we are creating a legislative framework fit for purpose. They are separate parts of a strategy.
I look forward to having a debate with the right hon. Gentleman tomorrow about my amendment 293, which would remove the word “Illegal” from the title of the Bill. It is not illegal to seek asylum. What he is talking about is not what the Bill will do. I have tried to urge him before not to process people’s claims in the Chamber; this is about the evidence of what we see.
I have multiple anecdotes about people who have been failed by our asylum system, the processing and the promises they were given of a safe and legal route. That is why this evening I wish to speak to the amendments about safe and legal routes. If the Government think this legislation is about illegal migration, by default there must be a legal process—so those safe and legal routes deserve much more scrutiny and attention. The Government have failed to provide a children’s rights assessment and equality impact assessment. It is so worrying that they are asking us to trust them when they cannot set out how they think people who are entitled to seek asylum because they are fleeing persecution should do so.
When I look at this Bill, I see that it needs a drastic overhaul even to meet its own ambitions or the pledges in article 31 of the refugee convention that somebody destroying their documents should not be penalised by the suggestion that their claim must be malicious. We should look at the actual evidence as to why smugglers encourage them to do that. The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings suggests that somehow the Bill will do what the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 failed to do and what this Government’s policies keep failing to do. Let us learn from Einstein—that most famous refugee, who this country turned away. He said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
My new clause 17 is a probing one, on that basis. If the Government talk about safe and legal routes, we should know what those are intended to do. It simply says that the Government should set out what a safe and legal route is and which countries are therefore unsafe and require a legal route. After all, the Bill sets out countries considered to be safe. Ergo, all the countries not listed must be unsafe. The Government should tell us in Parliament how people should be able to access those routes and therefore not make dangerous journeys.
I also support new clause 13, tabled by Tim Loughton, and the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend Olivia Blake in new clause 10. We would all agree that all these new clauses need further work, but they all get towards a simple principle: to ask what is the role of a safe and legal route in this legislation. If the Bill is about illegal migration, what is the point of safe and legal routes? My amendment 138, which will be debated tomorrow, is about how that might then play a role in asylum processing itself.
There is a simple message in all this work. I agree with Sir William Cash; that might surprise people, and I am sorry he is not in the Chamber to hear it. He said that the processing and assessing of claims matters. Absolutely, and that is why the failures we have seen for a number of years have not been to do with the refugees themselves but to do with the politicians and their failure to get to grips with this. That is why it matters that the Government are not using the correct figures from the statistics authority. They are not showing us the true scale of the problem, which legislation has consistently failed to deal with. That is why we need to do something different, such as clarifying what a safe and legal route is and how it fits into the refugee convention and our processing. In a war, there are not simple processes of admin and bureaucracy that we can push people towards, so it matters all the more that we respect and recognise that in how we treat people who still think that life is better than death and who still choose to run.
I say to some Conservative Members that one of the top countries from which the people in the boats come is Iran. I have sat in this Chamber and heard people call out the Iranian Government and speak of their concern about the persecution of people in Iran. Not half an hour later, those people talk about how awful anybody in the boats is, although Iranians are the third most common country represented in them. There is no safe route from Iran.
The Minister needs to be clear about how those people have been identified. There are people tonight in Tehran at direct risk of harm and needing our help. The challenge with this legislation is that it refuses to set out a safe and legal route, saying that it will be done in secondary guidance. None of us can therefore be confident enough to say to those people, “Hold up—wait for the queue and the bureaucracy. There is somewhere for you to go. Don’t worry, because help is coming.”
The Government must connect with international organisations and uphold the international rule of law. The honest truth is that the only way the world will be able to stand up to dictators and persecutors and against war is by collaborating. We have seen that in such a powerful way in Ukraine, yet we do not seem to be capable of learning the lessons by setting out schemes and being able to say to people, “Actually, there is a way forward, and we will all share the burden of standing up for these values.” That is what a sensible asylum policy would do, because it would be effective. We would cut off the boats at source by having proper, safe and legal routes for people so that they would not need to get on a boat to claim in the first place. Irregular routes are inevitable because of why people are running in the first place.
I also want to speak briefly to amendments 131 and 132—I pay testament to the Member who spoke to me previously about them—which are about our role in the European Court of Human Rights. I am sorry that Danny Kruger is not here, because I was hoping he might want a chance to clarify his earlier remark, in which he genuinely tried to suggest that Winston Churchill opposed us being part of the European Court of Human Rights. As somebody who served on the Council of Europe and repeatedly saw pictures of Winston Churchill—
I will, if the hon. Gentleman will let me finish my sentence; I am sure he wishes to hear what I have to say. I thought it was worth hearing from the man himself, because his argument for a European Court of Human Rights was that:
“In the centre of our movement”— don’t tell anybody that he wanted a united Europe—
“stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.”
What Winston Churchill saw then, we still see now, which is overbearing Governments who do not respect the courts of law and do not want the scrutiny of law. These amendments speak to precisely that fear: that legislation in this country might be poorly drafted, burdensome or, indeed, oppressive. What we all want, and what we would find common cause with Winston Churchill on—that does not happen often—is the importance of keeping politicians honest by putting them up to the scrutiny of the courts. Now I will happily give way, to see how the hon. Gentleman feels he can be honest and whether he wants to support these amendments and take that point away.
I will attempt to answer on behalf of my colleague, Danny Kruger, who I spoke to earlier about this. One of his key points was that what the late Sir Winston Churchill signed up in 1950 did not involve rule 39 audits. The way in which the situation has evolved means that what we are dealing with today is totally different from the situation that faced this country in 1950, so to make that comparison is crude, and it is wrong. I am sure that when my hon. Friend comes back and makes a further intervention at some point, either today or tomorrow, he will powerfully deal with the critique that the hon. Member has just put in front of him.
I hope that the hon. Member for Devizes is at dinner, because after having made that speech, I am sure he needs something to eat. I simply say that that was not what Winston Churchill stood up for—as those of us who have served on the Council of Europe and read his speeches in detail know—let alone subsequent Conservative Governments. Those Governments were part of the development of the Council of Europe, where we did not just scrutinise the judges but helped appoint them and vote for them: we had a direct role in choosing them. That does not accord with what the hon. Gentleman was arguing, which was that this is out of kilter. Every single step of the way, the United Kingdom has been part and parcel of developing the European Court of Human Rights—and rightly so, frankly, because the libertarian in me speaks up for the Court. If given the temptation to be overbearing, without scrutiny and without the courts to keep them honest, Governments of all colours will do things that none of us think right.
Is it not an unassailable truth that the fundamental principles that drove Churchill, the Conservative party and this place to support these initiatives remain as true today as they did those years ago? Of course, it has been a living, iterative, organic process, but the fundamental underpinning principles that established it still remain true, and if Churchill were here today, he would be making precisely that point.
I think we have all expounded quite clearly on how that the interpretation that the hon. Member for Devizes sought to set out of what Churchill thought might not be an entirely complete representation of what that gentleman—he made sure that we were among the first signatories to the European Court of Human Rights, and he continued to campaign and lobby for it and its development and evolution up until his death—would in fact have thought.
The thing I am having difficulty understanding is this. We signed the European convention on human rights, and we have signed many other international conventions. If we are not going to abide by the rules of those conventions, why did we sign them?
My colleague sets out the other, more pragmatic point that I would like to put on the record, which is that actually it does not matter what Churchill thought. If we want to resolve how people are travelling around the world to seek safety and sanctuary because they are fleeing persecution—if we want to be a grown-up on the world stage—not upholding international law is not the best way to make sure that we are in the room when decisions are made about how to share that burden.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister himself has said that he has no plans for us to leave the European Court of Human Rights, because I think it does reflect a recognition that we need to uphold international law and to be part of those conversations. The answer to the Government’s concerns is not this legislation; it is to go to the Council of Europe and be part of those debates and discussions about the role of the Court and how it operates; it is to show that we are prepared to fight for our values, not just here but internationally. We can then arrange the kinds of schemes that will be inevitable in making sure that we, as a world, can deal with the conflict and disruption that means that there are more people fleeing persecution. It is to say that this is not to do with somebody’s nationality or how they travel, but the risk that they face. That is the most simple and, frankly, patriotic point.
As such, when I hear the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings—again, I am sad that he is not in his place—say that he speaks for the British people, I know that he does not, because I watched the British people stand up for the Ukrainians, and I saw their frustration at the bureaucracy of the Government when it came to that scheme. I watched them fundraise for the people affected by the crises in Turkey and Syria, and share compassion and horror at what happened to Alan Kurdi. That is why I am proud to be part of this country, and it is why I know this legislation does not speak to the best of the British people—the same British people who were proud to be part of seeking peace in Europe, and who are proud today to work internationally to stand up for those values. They do not turn their back. They see on television the pictures of people hiding from the bombs and know that the right thing to do is not to say, “Wait your turn”, but to say, “How can we help?”
This legislation will not do anything to tackle those challenges. It will not clarify what those safe and legal routes are. It will not stop the smugglers: the people will still come, and we will be here for months if not years to come, debating what else could be done. Einstein was right. This country turned Einstein away; if we had had a modicum more of the dignity that he had about being a refugee and that intelligence, we might not be in this position today. Certainly, it is insanity to continue doing the same thing and not seek to make this legislation actually reflect our values, since all of us in this House say that we do care about refugees.
I hope that the Minister will recognise the concern that the safe routes are simply not there in this legislation, and that the safe routes that this Government have set out to date have, in our experience, been found wanting. I hope that, rather than shaking his head or dismissing those concerns, he will look at why those people are still at risk. If we can crack that, maybe we will be on to something. As it stands, this legislation will make that harder, not easier. I fear for the people who are now waiting and being told by the smugglers, “Nobody is coming to help you, because look at what the UK is doing now.” That is not something to be proud of.
Order. There are 14 people trying to catch my eye. The last two speakers spoke for 22 minutes and 19 minutes. If everybody contributes that far, not everybody will get in—it is up to you.
I am pleased to follow Stella Creasy. I have heard your strictures, Mr Evans, and I shall try to be as brief as I possibly can. I rise to speak in support of the amendments to which I am a signatory, and I will focus in particular on amendment 131, which has been the subject of so much of the debate this evening.
Illegal migration is a severe problem, and one that is causing increasing concern to constituents of most, if not all, hon. Members. Speaking from my own experience as the Member of Parliament for a semi-rural constituency in north Wales, many hundreds of miles away from the channel beaches, I can say that I receive more correspondence about this issue than virtually any other national issue. Over the years, the people of this country have shown themselves to be generous and welcoming to those who are genuinely in peril—that is borne out by the warmth of the welcome they have given in recent years to Ukrainians fleeing from Putin’s aggression, and to Hongkongers escaping China’s anti-democratic oppression. Equally, however, they are incensed by the rapidly rising influx of illegal migrants, who are themselves the pitiful currency of the loathsome trade of people smuggling. As such, the Prime Minister is quite right to make plain that stopping the small boats is at the top of his list of priorities, and this Bill is therefore highly welcome.
The Government have taken a robust approach to the problem, and that robustness will be highly welcomed by the people of this country, whose patience has been tried too, and beyond breaking point. There is a concern, however, that the Government’s perfectly proper aim of breaking the business model of the people smugglers might be frustrated by the human rights legislation that is routinely and, frankly, cynically abused by those who wish to degrade this country’s ability to defend its own borders and territorial integrity. In clause 1(5) the Government recognise that concern. That provision excludes the operation of section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides that so far as is possible, legislation must be read and given effect in a way that is compatible with the European convention on human rights.
Excluding section 3 is itself a bold step for which the Government are to be commended, but given the severity of the problem, as Professor Richard Ekins and Sir Stephen Laws have pointed out, it remains debatable whether clause 1(5) alone will be sufficient to safeguard the Bill’s measures against cynical procedural attacks via the European Court of Human Rights. It is for such purpose that amendments 131, 132 and 133 are framed. Anyone doubting the need for such amendments should consider the case of N.S.K. v. United Kingdom, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend Danny Kruger. To repeat, in that case a duty judge of the European Court of Human Rights made an order, on
That order was made ex parte, without any opportunity for the UK Government to argue against it. Furthermore, the order was made after both the High Court and the Court of Appeal had rejected applications for interim relief. The Supreme Court in fact went on to refuse an application for leave to appeal. Remarkably, however, the rule 39 order was made the day before the Supreme Court announced its refusal, apparently contrary to the rule that domestic proceedings must be exhausted before applications to the European Court will be entertained. The position therefore is that the most senior judges in the land had considered the merits of the applicant’s case and found against it, yet a European judge made an order frustrating the removal of the applicant without considering the merits of the Government’s case and apparently contrary to the European Court’s own rules.
Interim measures are not strictly legally binding, but the European Court’s own jurisprudence, as has already been pointed out, asserts that any failure to comply with them amounts to a contravention of article 34, by hindering an applicant’s right to apply to the Court alleging a breach of the convention. The possibility—arguably, the probability—is that domestic British courts will feel constrained to act in compliance with interim measures and, indeed, to follow other judgments of the European Court, and that alone could prove fatal to the aims of the Bill. I do not believe that the Government or this House should allow that to happen.
Appropriate further safeguards should be introduced to the Bill to ensure its effectiveness, and it is for that purpose that amendment 131 was tabled. It would ensure that the legitimate and proper aim of the Government to protect our national borders is not frustrated. Put simply, the people of this country will not thank us if the Bill does not work, and there is a distinct danger, if the European Court is allowed, that that is precisely what will happen.
I believe that amendment 131 is absolutely necessary, and for similar reasons I support the other amendments to which I have put my name. It has already been pointed out that those amendments will not be pressed to a vote, but I very much hope that my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, when he winds up, will confirm that he will engage in dialogue with those of us who are concerned about the absence of those amendments and seek a way forward that will ensure that the Bill will work, which is what every hon. Member of this House should want.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I direct the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I receive help from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project for my work in this area. I also co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on migration, so I have spent a long time thinking about these issues. I have taken a long look at our history, and it is interesting to hear us talk about Winston Churchill. I doubt that Government Members know that he crossed the Floor on the issue in 1904 to oppose the Aliens Act 1905 and lead a rebellion against it. He was quoted at the time talking about
“the old tolerant and generous practice of free entry…to which this country has so long adhered”.
Just to add some more spice to the discussion about the history of this place and our role within migration policy, it is important to recognise that.
I rise to speak specifically to my new clause 10, which I am pleased to say enjoys a wide range of cross-party support. I thank all Members who have engaged with me on this amendment. It is meant to be a serious contribution to the debate about the humanitarian crisis in the channel. However, I worry that that seriousness is not shared by everyone in this Chamber.
Since arriving in Parliament in 2019, I have tried not to become too jaded or too cynical, but I must admit that at times it has been difficult. Today, debating this Bill, is one of those times, because we have repeatedly been told that these proposals are about stopping the boats. The Prime Minister even had it printed on his lectern. To be clear, it is a moral outrage that people need to get in a blow-up boat, risking life and limb, to exercise their rights under the refugee convention to claim asylum here. We need a solution to this humanitarian crisis in the channel, but that is not what the Bill offers. Instead, it doubles down on the same failed hostile environment framework that has characterised the Government’s approach to asylum and migration. It is simply not working.
Since 2018, 56 people have tragically drowned in the channel—brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins to many families already in the UK—yet the number of dangerous crossings has risen, even after the Government’s Rwanda policy was announced, and that announcement in itself was deemed to be a deterrent. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 has become law and people continue to make these journeys.
I am proud that my city, Sheffield, calls itself a city of sanctuary. The people I meet who support refugee rights often quote the lines of a poem called “Home”, by the Somali-British writer Warsan Shire:
“no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”,
“no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
Those lines are important, because they explain why people attempt these crossings.
We have heard a lot of talk about families today. I regularly engage with and talk to asylum seekers and refugees in the system, whose family members are being persecuted because of them leaving the country. They have brothers who have been arrested by the police on spurious grounds, or their parents have sadly been murdered as a result of their identity. We really must shine a light on how the Government’s strategy is doomed to fail and, perhaps more importantly, why the success of that strategy would be a horror. The only way that the deterrence framework can work is if the hostile environment it creates is worse than what people are running from.
That is why I feel jaded. I do not think this is really about stopping the crossings and saving lives. These proposals are not about how people come here to claim asylum; they are about stopping people from claiming asylum at all. This is not about fairness. It is about populist electoral politics, throwing red meat to a section of hard-line, anti-refugee opinion. What better example is there than the cruelty of stripping away the modern slavery provisions of asylum seekers who have survived human trafficking? This legislation, as it stands, would persecute the persecuted and criminalise the victims of crime.
To be frank, I suspect there are some of the Conservative side of the House who think it is a good thing that the Bill violates the UN conventions on international human rights law. The Government’s credibility is so shredded that they believe the only route to future electoral success is to wage a culture war, gleefully reciting pre-rehearsed lines about lefty lawyers, while the situation of some of the most vulnerable people in the world gets worse and worse.
However, the Government could prove me wrong, and I give them that opportunity. A start would be supporting and looking into the proposals of new clause 10, which builds on the proposals of the PCS union and Care4Calais, two organisations working at the frontline of the crisis. It offers a practical solution to a humanitarian crisis in the channel by creating a safe passage visa. The visa would give entry clearance to those already in Europe who wish to come to the UK to make an asylum claim.
I think that one of the disconnects and the paradoxes of the Government’s policy as it stands is that there is no way for the many thousands of people who have already started their journey to get on to a safe and legal route. That is a paradox. You cannot reduce the number of boats if the people who are going to try to make that journey are already on their journey and have no alternatives to come to the UK. That is why a safe passage visa is so important; those journeys are so dangerous.
The proposals also draw inspiration from the successful Ukrainian resettlement schemes. By no means are those asylum schemes perfect, and we can debate that, but equally, no Ukrainian refugees have needed to make the dangerous crossing in boats to get here. I think we have to ask the question: why is that the case? And I think we know the answer—because there was a safe route available to them. They did not need to make an application, or the application could be made online for safe passage beforehand. They got permission to travel here. The safe passage visa would work in a very similar way, with documents and any biometric information being uploaded on to an online portal, for example, as in the Ukraine scheme, or, where there need to be further checks, those being done in person.
To be clear, this is tightly focused on granting someone safe and legal access to the UK from Europe, because they would have a valid asylum claim, as set out in the current immigration rules, when they arrive. Once they have arrived in the UK, they would go on to an asylum processing centre and submit their applications as normal, meaning that most of the screening and processing would happen as normal in the UK. It would mean that we would not have to look into costly measures of arrangements with other countries, and that we would take ownership of our responsibilities for these people, who are going to make these journeys anyway.
Alone, this will not fix the asylum system, but it does provide a humane response to the issue of small boats. It focuses on that group of people who have already made the journey and are already making their way across—one that will often get forgotten and one that will continue to contribute to the small boats, as they have no alternative. The vast majority of people who come here irregularly make asylum claims and overwhelmingly those applications are accepted—70%, 80%, 90%, depending on the country they come from. They make that dangerous crossing not because they are more likely to be refused, or they are more likely to not have a valid claim. They make that journey because there is no other way for them to enter the UK. By providing them with an alternative, we can remove the need to risk life and limb.
Ministers have a choice. They can go on demonising refugees and genuine asylum seekers, talking up this threat that billions of people are coming here when that is just an absolute falsehood, and daubing “Stop the boats” on Government lecterns. That might generate headlines for a short while, but it will not help anyone and it will not stop anyone making that crossing. There is another option: the Government can prove they are serious about ending the life-threatening crossings, drop the securitised fortress Britain rhetoric, uphold international law and embrace a humane approach that tackles the underlying causes of the dangerous boat journeys. In doing that, we can save lives; in doing that, we can meet the obligations we have; and in doing that, we can be a fairer country and one that I know my hundreds of constituents who have emailed me against this Bill truly believe we should remain and continue to be.
I am pleased to contribute further to the debate on this vital Bill, which promises tangible action to address the frustrations of my constituents. As I have said previously, I very much support the actions of this Government and the Prime Minister in taking a tough new approach to tackling illegal migration. I want to challenge some of the things Opposition Members have said, particularly Tim Farron, who is not currently in his place. He spoke about there not being any safe and legal routes beyond those country-specific schemes. In fact, 50,000 people have come since 2015 through routes open to any country. Those include the refugee family reunion scheme, the UK resettlement scheme, the community sponsorship scheme and the mandate resettlement scheme. In total, that means that 480,000 people have come via safe and legal routes since 2015.
Stoke-on-Trent has been more generous than most other places in the country, and many feel that their generosity has been taken for granted and that their genuine concerns about irregular migration have been ignored, or even held in contempt, particularly by the Labour party and the lefty activist lawyers who are determined to frustrate the democratic will of the people. Because their determination to frustrate the will of this elected House is so strong, we need at this Committee stage to close all potential loopholes.
The amendments to which I have attached my name are those that I felt would make this a “belt and braces” Bill against scurrilous actions. The amendments in the name of my hon. Friend and neighbour Sir William Cash will ensure that a successful suspensive claim will be the only way to prevent removal —no ifs, no buts, and no tying it all up in challenges to circumvent the intended will of this Parliament. Time and again, we have been shown that any lack of crystal clarity will be exploited by activist lefty lawyers. The danger is that people will lose faith in the democratic process, and in mainstream parties, if democratic mandates and Acts of Parliament are constantly frustrated by loopholes we have left.
Unprecedented pressure necessitates unprecedented actions, and the actions in the Bill will break the people smugglers’ model of taking money to get people illegally into Britain, with what has been a relatively small chance of ever being removed under the overwhelmed legacy system that this Home Secretary is having radically to reform. I hope those actions will be properly resourced, not just financially but in terms of available skills and workforce professionals, including some of those who will be based at the Home Office hub in Stoke-on-Trent. But our job today is to make this Bill unambiguous in confirming its intent to enable the removal of illegal migrants and ensure the primacy of this House in delivering on the democratic will.
Small-boat people smuggling is a dangerous and unacceptable trade in human lives, and only by smashing the traders’ business model can we really bring it to an end. That means we must also frustrate the business model of activist Labour lawyers who look for any loophole or ambiguity for their own political ends of making borders irrelevant and impossible to protect. Therefore, in addition to supporting the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Danny Kruger and my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke. The Human Rights Act should not be misused to remove control of our national border and the same applies to the European Court.
I welcome that the Government have stipulated in clause 1 the intention that the Bill will be exempt from section 3 of the Human Rights Act, and in line with the belt-and-braces approach that is necessary. As my right hon. Friend for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who is not in his place, said, it makes sense to disapply sections 4, 6 and 10 to close the loopholes of any supposed incompatibility where it is impossible to use section 3.
My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job of standing up for the people of Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire. He has proudly put his signature to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Danny Kruger on the ECHR, which I have also signed. Let us be crystal clear about what that amendment will do. It is about making it perfectly crystal clear to UK courts that rule 39 orders that come from the European Court of Human Rights and are not based in law, are not to be taken into judgment by UK courts when it comes to the removal of illegal economic migrants who have come from safe, mainland France. We are simply reconfirming what was in the original convention back in the 1950s, when rule 39 orders did not even exist, or were not even mentioned. We want to ensure that we deliver on the will of the people in places such as Stoke-on-Trent that my hon. Friend serves so well.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I entirely agree. The people of Stoke-on-Trent absolutely want robust action on this. We will not continue to tolerate the powers of Strasbourg and the European courts overriding the decisions of this House and our British courts.
If we do not stop illegal entry and misuse of the asylum system, we will not be able to give proper attention to those in genuine need. Nor will we enjoy the support of the general public. The Bill is about fairness and ensuring that resources are available for those in genuine need, but it needs to have belt and braces to ensure it does not end up in a lucrative legal battle for activist lawyers. Real change is needed to tackle the unprecedented pressures and to look to the improvements that are needed. I look forward to those constructive discussions with Ministers. We must never again allow our generosity and compassion as a nation to be abused by people smugglers with dangerous small boats.
That was a much shorter contribution, so things are looking brighter to get everybody in.
Bills of major constitutional significance are usually treated on the Floor of the House in a Committee of the Whole House. The Government refused to send the Elections Bill and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill to Committee of the whole House and sent them upstairs to Public Bill Committees, yet they find time for this Bill, which stretches any claim to reflect what was in the Tory manifesto, to have its Committee stage here in the Chamber. I wonder why that is. One effect, of course, is that there is no opportunity to hear from stakeholders by taking evidence on the Bill. Perhaps that is not a surprise because there does not seem to have been a single briefing or intervention from anyone with any interest or experience in the field of immigration, asylum policy or law that is actually in support of what the Government are proposing.
The only people cheering on the Bill are the populist hard-right elements on the Conservative Back Benches—and, I suppose, the Cabinet—and their friends in equally right-wing media outlets. Even then, it seems that this is a Bill that pleases no one. The range of amendments tabled from the Back Benches, on both sides of the Committee, shows the risk the Government are taking and the damage they are doing by pursuing wedge-issue and dog-whistle politics. The Brexiteers, seemingly with the tacit support of the Home Secretary, are seeking to use their amendments to expunge any last vestige of what they see as European influence in the United Kingdom by taking us out of the ECHR.
Meanwhile, on the Opposition Benches, many of us, including my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), are proposing a wide range of amendments that seek to reduce or negate some of the worst aspects of the Bill. Amendment 76, for example, on which I hope we will be able to test the will of the Committee, would make it much clearer that the need for protection, the experience of human rights abuses, or being a victim of slavery or human trafficking would be grounds for a claim to suspend a deportation process. Amendment 77 puts much stronger restrictions on the definitions of a third country to which asylum seekers could be deported. Many other SNP amendments have similar effects. They aim to introduce some element of fairness and respect for human rights, whether on the time available for appeals and considerations, or the grounds on which such claims can be made.
The key issue in this evening’s grouping is that, if the Government really want to stop people arriving here on small boats, they have to provide safe and legal alternatives. The reality is that at the moment for the majority of people who currently arrive here and successfully claim asylum, such routes do not exist. What are the safe and legal routes for someone from Eritrea or Iran? That question has been asked multiple times and has not been properly answered. If there were safe and legal routes available, people would not be coming. Incidentally, the Bill is supposed to have a deterrent effect and is backdated to
Even where schemes for safe and legal routes exist, such as for Afghanistan, like the proposals in the Bill, they go nowhere near far enough. My amendments, including amendments 177 and 179, make the point that it is far better to think in terms of targets than caps for safe and legal entrants. This country is crying out for people to come here and help make our health service, social care system, hospitality industries and agricultural sector work more effectively and efficiently, but too many people who could be—and want to be —productive are left sitting in hotels at the taxpayer’s expense, when they could be earning a wage that pays for their accommodation and contributes back into the tax system.
Amendment 173 states that the Secretary of State needs to consult Scotland’s Government about any target that is set for safe and legal arrivals. There is clearly cross-party consensus on that. Many constituents in Glasgow North support new clause 10 tabled by Olivia Blake, as I do, which would establish safe passage schemes. The Government need to pay attention to that and to other amendments that have been tabled, not least those of Tim Loughton.
The Committee would be within its rights to push every single clause of the Bill to a vote over the next two days. If the Tories really want the Bill to become law, they should be made to work for it. Staying up late in this place to walk through the Lobbies is barely a minor inconvenience compared with the hardship and horror that most people seeking asylum in the UK have faced and continue to face before and after they reach these shores.
People who come here seeking asylum are fleeing wars in which this country has supplied, manufactured or sold the weapons; natural disasters when this Government refuse to take climate change seriously; and hunger and disease when this Government are slashing the aid budget that could fight those challenges. If the Bill is not amended beyond recognition, it will undermine any claims by this Government to uphold the global treaties and conventions that have maintained stability and respected human rights around the world since the second world war. The vast majority of people on these islands—certainly the residents of Glasgow North—want to live in an inclusive, diverse and welcoming society. If this Government undermine that, they will build that society themselves in an independent Scotland.
I rise to speak to amendments 131 to 134, which seek to strengthen the Illegal Migration Bill by preventing spurious claims—whatever they may be—being used to resist the removal of those arriving in Britain illegally. The amendments aim to close any potential loopholes that would limit the Bill’s effectiveness.
I have listened carefully to many thoughtful and technically excellent speeches from hon. Friends and hon. Members across the Committee for whom I have the greatest respect. I cannot match their legal expertise and detailed understanding of the legal complexities of the Bill, but I want to argue for the principle of strengthening the Bill, which I think the Government have accepted, to ensure that it is effective. It is essential that it be effective, because more than 40,000 people arriving illegally on small boats in a year is a serious safety issue, national security issue and economic issue, with £6 million a day being spent on hotels to house migrants. It is a crime issue, with many illegal immigrants engaging in illegal activity or being drawn into slavery and exploitation. It is also a sovereignty issue. Many ask: who is really in control of British borders—our elected Parliaments or foreign courts?
If the Bill does not work and does not result in the swift deportation of those who arrive here illegally, it will not have a deterrent effect and we will not stop the boats. The objective of the amendments is therefore to strengthen the legislation to significantly reduce the likelihood of unjustified legal challenges that use human rights legislation that was never meant to provide cover to international gangs.
I thank Ministers for their consideration of the intention of the amendments. Some of those who oppose them and the Bill will cite compassion. I wholeheartedly agree that those who are genuinely fleeing war and persecution deserve our compassion. Many should be—and are—offered a home here in the UK. Our compassion should be directed at those who are genuinely helpless and without agency—such as children—but not those who have a choice about whether they leave their home country, or those who choose to exploit others through international human trafficking.
In many ways, this debate epitomises the great argument of our times between those whose understanding of human rights is that anyone should, more or less, do whatever and go wherever they want, and those who believe that strong boundaries, firm rules and proportionate restrictions are essential for strong families, communities and nations. It is an argument between those who think that, as a wealthy country, we somehow have unlimited resources and who do not acknowledge that population growth over recent years has seriously limited and stretched our capacity, for example on housing, and those who realise that even though we are in a wealthy and fortunate position, there are serious limits on our resources.
Many of those who argue against strong borders and strong action against illegal immigration are not personally affected by illegal immigration. Their wages are not threatened by the black market economy, they do not rely on essential local resources that are taken up with housing migrants, their children are not sent to school with young men who are clearly not children, and their sense of agency and national identity does not rest on the integrity of our borders or the sovereignty of our Parliament.
For those whose lives and culture are not negatively impacted by thousands of people arriving here on small boats, it makes sense to argue for open borders in the name of compassion, but for many people, including many of my constituents, those are luxury beliefs. The reality is that high and clearly visible levels of illegal immigration are a threat to ordinary people’s safety, security, identity and sense of fair play. Believing in and upholding strong borders and firm boundaries is not uncompassionate or bigoted; it is a prerequisite for a fair, safe and cohesive nation.
Ultimately, when boundaries are not upheld or laws not enforced, it is always the vulnerable that suffer, as criminals exploit loopholes and drain much needed finite resources away from those in genuine need. [Interruption.] I will not give way because I have been given a five-minute limit by the Chair.
We all want genuine asylum seekers to be able to find safety here in the UK. As the Minister said, this country is surpassed by only three other nations in our acceptance of refugees from UNHCR schemes. But the exploitation of our borders and laws by those who are not in genuine need and, worse, by abhorrent international people-smuggling gangs is neither fair nor compassionate and it must end. A strengthened Illegal Migration Bill will deter people from making the treacherous journey in small boats, and give us the resources and focus to go after those safe and legal routes that everyone in the House agrees should be there.
I rise to speak against the Government clauses before the Committee today and in favour of several amendments that seek to limit their horror and inhumanity.
The changes made by clauses 37 to 48 to the legal and human rights of asylum seekers breach the UK’s human rights obligations. The proposed timescales and tests, combined with the lack of judicial oversight, build in unfairness and undermine access to justice. It is difficult to see how a vulnerable and traumatised person will be able to engage with the process, especially as the provisions do not set out any right to legal advice and representation.
That is one of the many reasons that I support new clause 26 in the name of my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy, which would require an equality impact assessment about how people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 will be impacted by the Bill. Indeed, protections for vulnerable people, pregnant women and children are being tossed aside in favour of new powers to indefinitely detain people at greater risk of harm, including survivors of torture, trafficking and modern slavery.
The new and sweeping powers of arbitrary detention are nothing short of spine chilling. The Bill will increase the number of people detained, while removing the bulk of the essential safeguards that were put in place to protect people, adding to the inherent harm caused by indefinite detention. That is despite the UK’s immigration detention system being plagued by mismanagement, profiteering by private companies and incidents of systemic and direct abuse and neglect, including the scandals reported at Brook House immigration removal centre, the Manston short-term holding facility, Harmondsworth IRC and many others.
What is the purpose of this sweeping and illegitimate restriction of people’s liberties? What is the crime that such individuals have committed to be treated worse than serious criminals and to have fewer rights? Today, this Government propose to punish people for seeking asylum. Not satisfied with that, they seek to ensure that those people cannot challenge this injustice—all essentially to deter anyone else from coming to the UK to seek sanctuary. They are literally planning to persecute the already persecuted.
Denying access to asylum on such a basis undermines the very purpose for which the refugee convention was established. The convention explicitly recognises that refugees may be compelled to enter a country of asylum irregularly. The United Nations Refugee Agency has said:
“Most people fleeing war and persecution are simply unable to access the required passports and visas. There are no safe and ‘legal’ routes available to them.”
The reality is that the UK offers safety to far fewer refugees per capita than the average European country, such as France or Germany, and to far fewer than the countries neighbouring those from which 70% of the refugees from the global south flee. That is why I support new clause 10 tabled by my hon. Friend Olivia Blake, which sets out a requirement to introduce a safe passage visa scheme. She has spoken eloquently about the stories behind the numbers and statistics—the people with real lives, hopes and dreams.
If the Government seriously wanted to protect the lives at risk from small boat crossings, they would back more generous family reunification rights and support safe, functioning routes. Instead, the Bill is the latest in a long line of measures that form their hostile environment and the toxic, racist and xenophobic narrative that is taking hold in many parts of the world, based on fear and the manipulation of that fear. It is immoral, deeply cruel and divisive. It breaks international law, it crushes human rights and it is shameful.
I have waited for a very long time to speak on the Bill. On Second Reading, I think I waited for four hours but did not get called. I have waited for a good amount of time today, too, but it has only made me more determined to get my points across.
I did not sign any of the amendments before the Committee, but I have sympathy with many of them, particularly amendment 131 in the name of my hon. Friend Danny Kruger, amendment 132 in the name of my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke, and amendments 133 and 134 in the name of my hon. Friend and very senior colleague Sir William Cash. Although it might surprise some people, I have a little bit of sympathy with amendments 72 to 75 in the name of my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, but I do not think that now—before we have sorted out the scourge of illegal immigration and its impact in this country—is the right time to pursue such amendments.
In a general sense, it will not surprise people to know that I welcome the Bill. We have 45,000 people a year entering the country illegally. They are mostly young men, as has been statistically proven; many are from safe-origin countries; and every single one of them has gone through France and multiple other safe European countries but has refused to claim asylum. They have decided to shop between different safe European countries, and they have come here. Being an economic migrant and moving to the UK because there are job opportunities here is a very noble dream, of course, but my advice to them is to engage with our legal migration points-based system, and we will make a determination as to whether their dream and our needs meet.
We are the party that believes in controlling our borders. We are the party that believes in strong border controls. Labour Members get incredibly sensitive whenever anybody suggests that they believe in open borders, but I simply say to them, “Show me the evidence. Show me the evidence that you believe in controlled immigration. Show me the evidence that you don’t believe in open borders. When I look at your record, every single thing you vote on is against precisely those things, so I don’t think it is unreasonable for me and colleagues to come to the conclusion that you are opposed to all border controls. As I say, show me the evidence.”
I turn to amendment 131. When the Rwanda policy was first introduced, a lot of us supported it because we saw what had happened in Australia. Australia had had a massive problem with illegal immigration, but it went down the route of offshore processing, and today it no longer has that massive problem. It is quite simple. A few Opposition Members are saying, “Australia did not work”, but we looked into this in detail and met Australian officials, and it did work. We think that going ahead with the Rwanda policy, if it were given a chance to work, would provide a significant deterrent. It would save lives at sea, and would enable us to operate the compassionate, controlled asylum system that virtually all of us in this place want.
It was incredibly frustrating for us when, despite the Brexit referendum in which a majority of people in the country expressed a wish to take back control of our borders, and although we had an elected Prime Minister seeking to implement a policy to do precisely that, at the very last moment—even though our own courts had OK’d it—a foreign judge in another land thwarted the whole thing, gumming it up in the courts for nearly a year. My constituents can see how much that has damaged our democracy. It is, in fact, deeply damaging, and it is an unsustainable state of affairs for us, as a sovereign country, to be in a position in which that is allowed to happen.
We were promised that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 would resolve all these issues, but we are still standing here, and tens of thousands of people are still entering the country illegally every year. That foreign judge was able to ensure that the flights to Rwanda did not get going—and how many channel crossings have come about as a result? The High Court took six months to reach a conclusion, although hopefully the Appeal Court will give the scheme the green light next month, and if the Supreme Court does not call it in, there could be flights going off next month. Then we will see whether the approach works or not; I think that it will.
Many Members on both sides of the Committee have discussed whether there is public support for the Bill, but it is clear from what I have heard that there is overwhelming support for it in the country. We all engage with our constituents, and I have engaged with mine, so I know that the support for the Rwanda policy is also overwhelming, as is the anger. I will not speak about the amendment on hotel accommodation that will be debated tomorrow—well, I will, briefly. There has been extremely strong opposition to the use of a hotel in my constituency. At a time when many of my constituents are struggling to get by, struggling to pay their energy bills, they see people who have entered our country illegally—mainly young men—staying in a four-star hotel. Twenty-eight of my constituents who worked in that hotel were pressured to resign, and there is also the wider economic impact of the lack of bed space in the town. My constituents are appalled by this.
Others, of course, take different views. Last weekend a number of Labour councillors and a prospective Labour parliamentary candidate supported the use of a hotel by those who enter our country illegally. That is an interesting view and one that I would advise those people to change, given that according to surveys I have carried out, many people who still intend to vote Labour—I do not know why—have hardline views on immigration. I suspect there is a risk that this conflict might be exposed, and, of course, I will be playing a role in that.
We often hear Labour Members say, “If we have safe and legal routes, all these problems will go away.” It was fascinating to hear, for the first time, a shadow Minister say that Labour supports a cap on safe and legal routes. We do not know what the cap would be, but we do know that many people would fail in that regard, and would probably still try to enter our country illegally in small boats. What would the Labour party do with those individuals in those circumstances? They do not know, of course.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham spoke earlier about safe and legal routes, and I think that that is a place we need to get to, but I also think that we have to take the public with us. Right now, understandably, the majority of people in the country are furious about illegal migration. They are furious about people jumping the queue. We need to deal with that, and once we have dealt with it we can move to that place where we talk about safe and legal routes, but I think that right now is too soon.
There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who would like to move to our country—[Interruption.] Of course there are hundreds of millions who would like to move to our country and who could conceivably get refugee status, so if we talk about a cap and safe and legal routes, we need to talk about prioritisation. The question is: is it right that we prioritise young, single men from Albania over, for example, some of the refugees I met two weekends ago? Where was I two weekends ago? I was at the Rohingya camp in Bangladesh. It was the third time I had been there. Do you know who I spoke to? Overwhelmingly women and children who had fled directly from Myanmar. Some of the women had been raped, some of their dads and their brothers had been killed, and when I asked them what they wanted, all they said was that they wanted to go home safely. They do not have a choice about shopping between different European countries or about where they go. They do not have that choice.
I want us to have compassion as a country, I want us to have a cap and I want to have safe and legal routes, and once we get control of the system I might be happy with that cap being quite high. I might want us to play our role, but realistically, with limited resources, every person who comes in illegally from somewhere such as Albania means one less person that we can support from somewhere like that Rohingya camp. They are working directly against the interests of some of the most vulnerable in the world. That is a fact.
I am incredibly pro genuine refugees. Once we get the small boat situation sorted out and once we tackle illegal migration, we can put in place a cap, driven by compassion. If there is an unforeseen disaster somewhere, such as a huge earthquake in another country, I am sure we will be able to come back to this place to ask our elected Chamber to extend that cap, and I think most people in the country would support that. But where do we want to get to? We want to get to a place where we take a large number of some of the world’s most desperate people, but to get there we have to get control of the system and deal with the people smugglers.
I know that this Bill seems tough, but it is the only way. It is the only plan, and I am proud to speak in favour of these amendments, particularly amendment 131 tabled by my hon. Friend Danny Kruger. The Opposition have brought up Winston Churchill, but the idea that if he was around today he would support a situation where our democratic Chamber was thwarted by foreign judges undermining the law brought forward by our elected Government is for the birds. That would not be the case.
I rise to speak in support of new clause 10, tabled in the name of my hon. Friend Olivia Blake, but before I do, I want to reflect on the unusual circumstances in which we once again find ourselves. This is the second time in only a few weeks that we have assembled to scrutinise a Bill in a Committee of the whole House. Both this and the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill are extraordinary pieces of legislation that threaten to break with international law and long-standing human rights conventions, which this nation once took great pride in championing, as the Home Secretary herself admits on the face of this Bill.
The Bill before us today is perhaps unprecedented in the scale and ferocity of the criticism that is attracted, not just in the UK but in the wider international community. The UNHCR has said that
“the effect of this Bill…undermines the very purpose for which the 1951 Refugee Convention was established”,
yet the Government have given Members just 12 hours to consider the Bill at this stage without any opportunity for taking evidence or for the kind of detailed, forensic scrutiny that would normally be found in Committee. By contrast, the Immigration Act 2016, which my party rightly opposed, represented a far less dramatic departure from international norms than this Bill, yet it went through 15 Committee sittings and received 55 pieces of written evidence. As the director of the Institute for Government has rightly observed, the Committee of the whole House is a useful mechanism to legislate on the most sensitive of matters, particularly those relating to the Northern Ireland Executive, but in the hands of this Prime Minister it has become a tool to steamroller through legislation and stifle dissent, which I fear will prove to have disastrous consequences.
Members of the House have the right to be afforded the time we need to scrutinise legislation properly, but that right counts for little compared with the rights of refugees fleeing unimaginable horrors in the pursuit of safety. I would not wish to give the House the impression that I believe this Bill is reformable in any way, far from it. This is an utterly hateful piece of legislation, the central purpose of which is to criminalise and demonise desperate men, women and children fleeing conflict and persecution.
As the Archbishop of York has rightly said, these proposals represent “cruelty without purpose.” We are entering the endgame of a dying Government who are devoid of any plan for the future of our country, who long ago lost the trust of the British people and who now believe their only hope of clinging to power is to stoke division, fear and xenophobic hatred, and to lay the blame for their own failings on innocent refugees.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam does not wish to press new clause 10 to a vote, but I have no doubt that she, like me, wishes to see the Bill in its entirety consigned to the scrapheap. She raises an incredibly important point about the necessity of establishing safe and legal routes for those who want to claim asylum. Without the promise of safe passage to the UK for those seeking sanctuary, the plans before the House today are destined to fail, as Ministers know all too well. They understand this Bill is little more than an attempt to stir division and to compound the misery of refugees for cheap political gain.
More importantly, I make it clear that I will never support the principle of differentiating between refugees based on how they arrive in this country, which is a clear violation of their convention rights. Establishing safe routes to Britain is the only way we can guarantee that no one is ever again forced to risk their life and the lives of loved ones on a small boat in the channel.
Finally, I remind the House that more than 230,000 visas were issued to Ukrainians last year. I have said many times that we should be doing far more to assist those fleeing the war in Ukraine but, to date, not a single Ukrainian has been forced to resort to small-boat crossings or people smugglers to reach the UK. Mercifully, not a single Ukrainian life has been lost in the channel. We have a model that already works, and it is time to ensure that everyone seeking refuge is able to get here safely. It is time to extend safe routes for all.
I rise to support the more than 50 amendments in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. We do not believe that this Bill, which is abhorrent in how it rips up people’s human rights, is fixable. Contrary to what Miriam Cates suggested earlier, human rights are not a luxury. They are for everybody, everywhere, all at once. We should not try to remove them from anyone, particularly those who have suffered serious trauma.
We tabled our amendments to highlight the Bill’s many and varied deficiencies. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald, who has been incredibly diligent in going through the Bill to see what we could take out to try to reverse some of its more harmful aspects.
In clause 37(7), for example, we aim to set tighter rules for the kinds of countries to which we might want to return people, because not all third countries are particularly safe. We should be much tighter about where we return people, which is a point to which I will return tomorrow.
Clauses 40(4)(a) and (b) outline the assurances the Government claim they will take into account in considering a serious harm suspensive claim:
“the Secretary of State must take into account the following factors—
(a) any assurances given by the government of the…territory specified in the removal notice; “
I guess the Government will just take it on trust when another Government say they will not do any harm to a person who might be a critic of that Government. They will just have to say, “Oh, no, it will be fine. Just return that person, and we will look after them.” We will not find out whether they will actually be looked after until after they have been returned.
Clause 40(4)(b) lists
“any support and services (including in particular medical services) provided by that government”.
I have had constituency cases of people receiving HIV/AIDS treatment in this country that has got their condition under control, but the Government cannot guarantee that they will be able to continue their treatment if they are returned to another country. In some cases, returning to a country where that condition cannot be managed is tantamount to a death sentence. A constituent of mine who is waiting for a decision on her case is in renal failure, but she cannot make progress with her treatment because the Home Office will not get its finger out and give her a decision. This is a very pressing issue. The Minister squints at me, but if he actually turned to any of the cases that I raise with him, we would make some progress.
We also want to amend the incredibly short and absolutely unrealistic claim periods outlined in the Bill. This Government do not do anything in four days or eight days, so it is entirely unrealistic to suggest that they will make any decisions in that time. In a practical sense, it will make it very difficult for people to make a claim and to access a solicitor. Many people who come to this country seeking asylum have experienced considerable trauma, so they are unable to do things in the Government’s suggested timescale. Anybody who understands considerable trauma will appreciate that it will not be possible over a couple of days to extract from those people all the things that might, in the Government’s view, be compelling evidence.
Victims of torture, victims of trafficking, people who have been forcibly recruited and people who have been told to rape members of their family and in some cases their neighbours cannot disclose all those things just like that. They will need time to work through this. They will need specialist expertise and support to make their claims. They will not be able to make their best case under pressure over a few days. The Government, I suspect, know that, because they are going to make it as difficult as possible for people to make those claims. That is the very purpose of why they are short-circuiting the process.
Had the Government given us time to hear proper evidence, we would have heard from experts from Freedom from Torture and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. A submission to Members notes:
“A claim for suspension of removal must be made within seven days of a notice of removal, which may present challenges for people who are traumatised or otherwise in vulnerable situations, do not speak English, or lack adequate legal advice.”
By making the timescales so short, the Government are trying to prevent people from being able to make claims. It is a deliberate strategy.
Last week I had the privilege of meeting the Rainbow Sisters, part of the Women for Refugee Women group. They told me in great detail how difficult it was for them as lesbians to describe to a Home Office official why they were making a claim. In the countries they came from—I will return to this tomorrow, but they are listed at the back of the Bill and include Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria—they were not allowed to describe the feelings they hold, because they could have been prosecuted, imprisoned or whipped for being gay. They do not have a language to describe their experiences or any evidence to describe their sexuality, yet we expect them to do so in order to provide compelling evidence for their claim. Sending them back to those countries would put them at risk, and in such circumstances it is impossible for those women to describe their situation. Yet the Home Office expects that to happen.
I have sat in an immigration tribunal in which a constituent of mine was asked to provide half a dozen people to testify to her sexuality. Even though she had been here for several years, it was difficult and traumatic for her to do that. Imagine people being asked to provide that evidence when they have just arrived. It would be incredibly difficult for anybody to do under any circumstances, and particularly so for women in those circumstances. Again, I suspect the Government know that.
In clause 50(3), on page 52, proposed new section 80AA(3) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 says:
“The Secretary of State may add a State to the list”— which is described in subsection (1)—
“only if satisfied that…there is in general in that State no serious risk of persecution of nationals of that State”.
This is a list to which the Secretary of State can add whenever she so feels. The words “in general” are doing a lot of heavy lifting in that proposed new section. In general there may be no risk, but, specifically, there might be a significant risk to that person, to somebody of that sexuality, or to somebody with a particular protected characteristic. Again, the Bill overlooks the protections that the Government should be giving to people who are seeking asylum here.
Let me turn now to the cap on the numbers. Members on the Conservative Benches have been quite excitable about the idea of a cap, but there is no capped number in the Bill. It is for the Secretary of State to decide on that at some other point. The Secretary of State could set that cap at zero if she so wished.
As the Minister well knows, it is to be set in regulations, which this Parliament cannot amend, so it is not for Parliament but for the Secretary of State. He knows how statutory instruments work in this place, as do we, and he knows that this is not something that this House can amend. He is being a bit economical with the truth if he is suggesting that the House can amend it; it cannot. He knows that.
What we are looking to do in amendment 179 and in the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend Patrick Grady is to expand the list of those who should be consulted on this and to set a target, not a cap. It is not enough to set a cap. I ask Members to imagine that they are the 101st person with a cap set at 100. It could separate a family, separate siblings or separate a husband and wife who do not meet the threshold; they could just fall on the wrong side of the cap threshold. The Government need to do a whole lot more to make sure that we are actively doing our bit in the world, and setting a cap is nowhere near doing our bit in the world.
I do not wish to detain the House for much longer, because I will be speaking again tomorrow, but I wish to mention the issue around documents. It has been raised by several Members, including Sir John Hayes, who is no longer in his place. When Afghanistan fell, I was contacted by constituents who were terrified for their family members still in the country. Some 80 families in my constituency had relatives in Afghanistan, but I am aware of only two of them who were able to be reunited with their families. Clearly, the Government did not do enough. These are people who have family in this country, who could be safe and who could be out of Afghanistan, and they are not.
People in Afghanistan had documents. If the Taliban had found those documents on them, they would have seen that they had worked for British forces and that would have been a death sentence, so people in Afghanistan burned those documents. That is why people turn up here with no documents—those documents would have been their death sentence had they been found in their possession. Members on the Conservative Benches who seem to think that not having documents is some kind of admission of guilt fail to understand the very real pressures that asylum seekers face when they make these dangerous journeys, and when they try to seek sanctuary here to regain the relationships with the people whom they know. They will run and run and keep running until they find safety. That is the reality, and that is what the Bill denies people.
I wish that I could say that it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, as I normally do, but I am actually incredibly sad about having to do so. The Bill is one of the most repugnant pieces of legislation that this Government have tried to pass through the House. First, this Government and the Home Secretary know that they are breaching human rights laws, and also that this legislation will not work. They want to go ahead with the Bill because they want to throw red meat to some of their voter base. They want to appeal to some of the hard right-wing voters in our country—the people who will be voting for the Conservative party when they see this legislation go through.
I do not make those allegations lightly. I have been here since the beginning of this debate and heard the justifications that Conservative Members have given, with “lefty lawyers” somehow being used as a term of abuse. I am a barrister—I spent many years studying to be one—and I find this Bill repugnant, so hon. Members might want to call me a lefty lawyer, but I spent 14 years doing nothing else but prosecuting. I worked for the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuting criminals, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and all sorts of really obnoxious people. Now I and people like me, if we are not supporting this Bill, are to be called “lefty liberals” or “lefty lawyers” or “woke” as a form of insult. Those who have to resort to that type of terminology are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. They have no argument left—if they had any proper argument, they would be making it.
We have heard much discussion of the European convention on human rights. It is surprising to hear everybody say, “Oh, the European Court did this to us.” Hang on, wake up—we actually signed up to the convention on human rights. We signed up to the refugee convention. We are a signatory to the NATO treaty. When states are signatories to those conventions, they are supposed to abide by them and, within the European convention on human rights, the European Court of Human Rights is part of the process. For the Government to think they can pick and choose what they do not like from it is outrageous.
Sir John Hayes denigrated the European Court of Human Rights earlier. I asked him directly about the fact that in the 1970s a Conservative Government had legislation requiring virginity tests for young women applying to come into this country, and it was the European Court of Human Rights that declared it to be unlawful. When I asked whether he disagreed with the European Court of Human Rights, he side-stepped it and said he could not defend the Heath Government—but that was not my question. My question was fairly and squarely about whether he disagreed with that particular decision of the European Court of Human Rights, and the reason he avoided it was that he knows that decision by the Court was absolutely correct.
The European convention on human rights, as we know, was incorporated into the British Human Rights Act 1998. Section 19 of that Act says that every piece of legislation that comes before our Parliament must have a declaration on it to say it is compatible with human rights law. The Home Secretary knows full well that this legislation is not going to be. That is why, on the face of the Bill, she states that the Government are not sure whether it is compatible with human rights law—but when she goes on the television, she says, “Oh yes, it is compatible with human rights.” I would like her to tell us which one she thinks it is, because I can tell her that it is incompatible with any human rights convention and with our own Human Rights Act, passed by this Parliament.
I really think that Conservative Members should use a better argument. But what argument do they use? I have found it sickening, not just on this Bill, but in the whole debate on immigration and asylum for the last number of years, to hear politicians such as the Home Secretary saying that we are being swamped and invaded, and other hon. Members saying that we have 100 million people coming. Sometimes they say 1 billion people. Come off it! Everybody knows there are not 1 billion people trying to come into this country, nor 100 million refugees, because 84% of refugees normally go to the country nearest to them.
Moreover, of the people who have been coming on the boats recently, more than 75% were successful in their asylum claims. This narrative that Government and the media, the Daily Mail, the Express and The Sun, are running, that somehow they are all bogus asylum seekers, is a load of rubbish as well. I expected the media to talk rubbish—I expected them to lie—but it really pains me when elected Members of Parliament use that kind of divisive language.
It is because of that sort of divisive, disgusting language that we have had incidents of assault on people living in asylum hostels and incidents of others attacking them, swearing at them or protesting against them. That is because of the language that is used in this country in the discourse on immigration. I have to say to every hon. Member here, especially on the Government Benches, and the media, if they are listening, “Please, for God’s sake, just temper your language and do not peddle untruths.” That is what they are—untruths. A lot of those people are coming on boats because there is no alternative.
The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, mentioned five constructive proposals to deal with the boat crisis, but guess what: this Government are not doing that. Every single Conservative Prime Minister and Home Secretary since 2010 has said, “We’re going to control migration; we’re going to reduce asylum seeking; we’re going to do this and that,” but guess what: we are 13 years down the road since the Conservatives took charge, and they have done zilch—nothing. On the people whom they have been able to return, the numbers are abysmal. When Labour left office, 18,000 people were awaiting asylum decisions; the number now stands at 160,000. In the 13 years that your Government have been in control, what have you done? Nothing. It is all rhetoric; it is all talk.
Order. The hon. Lady needs to be quite careful with her language when she says “your Government” and so on.
Thank you for reminding me, Dame Rosie.
The Conservative Government have had control for the last 13 years, but they have not been able to deal with this. Instead of making proper constructive proposals, they have gone for the best headline in the Daily Mail—or should I say the “Daily Hate”? They do not think it is worth it. This legislation is absolutely horrendous. I am really sad that we are here again. A few years ago, we had the Nationality and Borders Bill and others. With every such Bill, it is said that we are going to control illegal migration. But guess what: nothing happens. It is all hot air; it is all smoke and mirrors. It is trying to fool the people of this country that you are trying to deal with something when you know you are not doing—
I am sorry, Dame Rosie.
Many Members have spoken about various safe routes. Many suggestions have been made about how to deal with the small boats. Colleagues have spoken about the legal side of it. If there is any humanity in this Government, they should think about withdrawing the Bill and actually dealing with the small boats, and will they please stop trying to appease populist sentiment?
I rise to speak to the Liberal Democrat new clauses 3, 4 and 6. I struggle to put into words my dismay about the Bill. I have been listening since the beginning of the debate and, apart from a few Members who have spoken with real insight, Conservative Members cannot hide their frustration that, three years on from Brexit, we still do not control our borders and that we are in fact further away than ever from doing so. That shows a fundamental misunderstanding. Britain is only ever part of a global community—we do not rule it—and we get what we want only through co-operation; we will succeed in stopping illegal immigration only by co-operating, not by breaking international agreements.
No one can be opposed to stopping people traffickers who are exploiting desperate men, women and children, but the Bill is no way to go about that, and it will not be successful in preventing the boats from coming. All that it will achieve is to punish those who least deserve it. Will the Government finally listen to what we on the Opposition Benches have said for such a long time, which is that we must create safe, legal and effective routes for immigration if we are serious about a compassionate and fair system of immigration?
New clause 6 would facilitate a safe passage pilot scheme. New clause 4 would require the Home Secretary to set up a humanitarian travel scheme, allowing people from specified countries or territories to enter the UK to make an asylum claim on their arrival. The only way to ensure that refugees do not risk their lives in the channel is to make safe and effective legal routes available.
My inbox has been full of constituents’ outrage at the Government’s plans to abandon some of the most vulnerable people in the world. In Bath, we have welcomed refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, and we stand ready to do more. Meanwhile, the Government are intent on ending our country’s long and proud history as a refuge for those fleeing war and persecution.
The Home Secretary has been unable to confirm that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights. Clause 49 allows the Secretary of State to make provisions about interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights; the Law Society has raised concerns that that shows an intent to disregard the Court’s measures and break international law. The Government’s promises that people fleeing war and persecution could find a home in the UK through a safe and legal route must be true and real—they must not promise something that does not happen. Now is the time to put action behind the words. So far the Bill has not even defined what a safe and legal route is; on that, I agree with Stella Creasy.
Let me give one example of why it is so important that we have safe and legal routes: Afghanistan. Just 22 Afghan citizens eligible for the UK resettlement scheme have arrived in the UK. The Minister said that we had taken thousands before the invasion of Kabul, but we are talking about a resettlement scheme set up in 2022, a year ago. Only 22 people have been resettled through that scheme. That is the question—we are not talking about what happened in 2015 or before the invasion of Kabul; we are talking about the safe and legal routes that the Government set up. The reality is that 22 Afghans have been resettled under the scheme, and the Minister cannot walk away from it.
It is a shameful record. Women and girls especially were promised safety, but have been left without a specific route to apply for. We cannot leave them to their fate. Every day we hear about the cruel way the Taliban treat women and girls, who are excluded from education and jobs. They have to do what they want to do in hiding and they are not safe. The Government have promised them safety, but they cannot come. We must ensure that this new promise of safe and legal routes cannot be broken.
The Bill sets out a cap on the number of refugees entering via safe routes, but it does not use a specific figure. There is also no obligation on the Government to facilitate that number of people arriving. The Government’s current record does not inspire confidence. The UK grants fewer asylum applications than the EU average. In 2022, only 1,185 refugees were resettled to the UK, nearly 80% fewer than in 2019. That is why the Government should support new clause 3, which requires the Secretary of State to set a resettlement target of at least 10,000 people each year.
Refugees make dangerous journeys because they are in danger. If we are serious about stopping illegal people trafficking, we must provide safe routes for refugees first, not punish refugees who have the right to be here first. As it stands, the Bill criminalises desperate people making perilous journeys to seek safety—refugees who are coming because they believe they will find sanctuary here. We must show them compassion. We must not show them our backs.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank the Secretary of State for being here at the beginning of the debate and the Minister for being here now to hear our contributions. The issue has proven incredibly contentious in this Chamber and on social media. We have heard the views of so many—some more distasteful than others; I say that respectfully. The principle is that we have a clear responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable, but we cannot extend the invitation to everyone, with no questions asked. We need to discuss the steps we can take to perfect our asylum system. I will speak to new clause 6 in relation to safe passage, and to new clauses 24 and 25, which refer to Northern Ireland.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has raised significant concerns about this Bill in relation to parallels between trafficking, slavery and asylum. The Bill will have an unintended, but nevertheless devastating, impact on victims of modern slavery. The Committee has stated that illegal immigration is often used as a weapon to exploit people for profit, and that criminal gangs are often the ones luring vulnerable people on to boats and into the UK. Some 5,144 modern slavery offences were recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 51% from the previous year. In addition, poverty, lack of education, unstable social and political conditions, economic imbalances, climate change and war are key issues that contribute to someone’s vulnerability and to becoming a victim of modern slavery. We cannot close the door on genuine victims of trafficking and slavery, and we cannot allow the Bill to undermine the security of victims.
I want to give a Northern Ireland perspective on this debate, if I can. According to recent Home Office statistics, nearly 550 people were potentially trafficked into Northern Ireland last year, an increase of 50% from 2021, when the figure was 363. In the past four years, the number of people referred through the national referral mechanism in Northern Ireland increased by 1,000%, so we have an issue—maybe we do not have the numerical amounts that are here on the UK mainland, but for us in Northern Ireland, these are key issues. I also wish to highlight new clause 19, which refers to the Bill’s extension to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to new clauses 24 and 25, which refer to Northern Ireland taking on three particular provisions relating to trafficking and exploitation. I believe it is important that we have the same opportunity to respond in a way that can help.
There is no doubt that detention due to asylum is going to have an incredible impact on some migrants. We are often too quick to group asylum seekers under the same label, forgetting that a large proportion of the women and young children who come here illegally come from war-torn countries, where they have been ripped away from their families and displaced, with no other option but to get out and to make the best of a potential life somewhere else. There are real, genuine cases out there—there are families who need legitimate help—and as a big-hearted country, I believe that we have a duty to provide that help.
Under the new legislation, the Home Office would be given new powers to provide accommodation for unaccompanied children, but those provisions only apply to England. I ask that they be extended to other areas of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as is being considered. When it comes to detention, there is no doubt that we do have to compare circumstances. There is a difference between those people who I just mentioned—the women and children who are displaced—and those who come with no children and no family, and who are usually young. They have the ability to build a new life elsewhere if possible, because they are healthy, whereas for women and children who have been forced out, detention policies need to be different.
To conclude, in order to keep within the time limit that others have adhered to, I am in support of some of the aspects of this needed Bill. I respect its contents and the Minister’s efforts to come up with a solution that strikes the right balance, but I think we all need some assurances about how it addresses the issues of modern slavery and trafficking, which too many people are forced into each year. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State, the Minister and their Department will do all they can to ensure that this issue is dealt with, but given the sheer volumes and the impact that they are having on our country—on our great nation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—I urge that this be dealt with as a matter of national security and a matter of urgency: the quicker we get it sorted, the better. Let us also ensure that those people who are genuine asylum seekers are given the opportunity to come to this country. That is something I wish to see happen as well.
Let be me clear: this Bill is inhumane. It is not an illegal migration Bill: it is an anti-refugee Bill, and an extension of the failed hostile environment policy introduced by the Conservative party.
No, I am not going to give way at this point; I have waited since 5.30 pm. Sorry, Bob.
Anti-refugee MPs have been emboldened by the Home Secretary’s rhetoric of hate, as we can see from the amendments and new clauses and by what we have heard from many Government Members. Unbelievably, the Bill has the potential to be even worse than when it came to the House on Second Reading. Let us not forget that the day after an immigration facility was attacked—it was firebombed—the Home Secretary spoke of an “invasion” of southern England. It has been reported today that the Home Secretary even fuelled a rebellion against her own Bill in order to introduce tougher amendments.
I put it on record that no migrant or refugee is responsible for the state our country is in right now. The crisis in our education system, in housing and in our NHS has been caused by the Government and 13 years of Tory failure, not those fleeing from conflict and climate change, who deserve our compassion, not our contempt.
Thankfully, my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum), for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) and for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) have tabled a number of amendments and new clauses to drastically improve the Bill, and they deserve the Committee’s full support. New clause 10, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam, sets out a requirement to introduce a safe passage visa, which would give entry clearance to those already in Europe wishing to come to Britain to make an asylum claim. Critically, that could end the crisis in the English channel by providing refugees with safe passage and safe routes.
The Bill relies on the idea of deterrence to stop small boat crossings, but we have seen time and again that deterrence does not work. There is no robust evidence to support the idea. Dangerous crossings have continued, even since the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Rwanda asylum plan.
There is also an issue of parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill may have significant implications for Britain’s asylum system, the European convention on human rights and our international legal obligations, but we have only two days in which to debate it, which is not acceptable for a major piece of legislation. Detailed scrutiny is invaluable at picking up potential problems, of which this Bill has many. Government Members have no right to speak about parliamentary sovereignty when they are rushing this piece of complicated legislation through with minimal scrutiny.
I think about those 27 people who tragically died crossing the channel in November 2021, as well as those who have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean seeking refuge. Their deaths could have been avoided if safe passage and a humanitarian corridor had been in place. We have the opportunity this evening to do that—to introduce an amendment that provides safe passage for our fellow human beings and to reject the potentially fatal elements of this Bill.
This has been an excellent debate covering the provisions of the Bill relating to legal proceedings, the cap on the number of refugees to be admitted through new safe and legal routes, and safe countries of origin.
Let me deal briefly with the substantive Government amendments in this group. First, new clause 11 enables the Senior President of Tribunals to request first-tier tribunal judges, including employment tribunal judges, to sit as judges of the upper tribunal. This amendment extends existing deployment powers, which are an important tool for the judiciary to manage the fluctuations in demand in our courts and make best use of their time.
We have also brought forward new clause 12, which enables appeals under the Bill to be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission rather than the upper tribunal in appropriate cases. That is necessary to safeguard the sensitive material that would cause harm to the public or individuals if it were revealed in open court. The test for certifying suspensive claims will require that the Home Secretary certify that the decision being taken relies partly or wholly on information that in her opinion should not be made public. I hope that those Government amendments will receive the support of the Committee of the whole House.
I thank the Minister very much for giving way. He will recall that, at the beginning of the debate, I raised a point of order about the fact that he, on
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for looking out for me. It is understandable that there would be confusion on this point because, as I think the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, said on Second Reading, the situation that we inherited in 2010 was a complete shambles. Indeed, a former Labour Home Secretary described the Department as “not fit for purpose”. What we were referring to was John Vine, who was the chief inspector of borders and immigration. He conducted a report into the shambolic handling of immigration by the last Labour Government, and he said:
“In 2007, the UK Border Agency created the”— euphemistically titled—
“Case Resolution Directorate…to conclude approximately 400,000-450,000 unresolved legacy records.”
“Such was the inefficiency of this operation that at one point over 150 boxes of post, including correspondence from applicants, MPs and their legal representatives, lay unopened in a room in Liverpool.”
That room, I am told, was colloquially known as the “room of doom”. Well, we are fixing the system, and I am pleased to say—
No, I am not going to give way again. The hon. Member has had his moment. I am pleased to say that, as a result of the work that the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and I have already done, the legacy backlog is falling rapidly, and we intend to meet our commitment to clear it over the course of the year.
I will not give way to the hon. Lady.
I do not want to detain the Committee for too long, so let me turn to the key points that have been raised tonight. First, with respect to the powerful speeches from my hon. Friend Danny Kruger, my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke, my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes and others relating to the important question of injunctive relief, rule 39, and how we as a sovereign Parliament handle ourselves and ensure that we secure our borders, I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for their contributions and I recognise the positive intention of the amendments they have tabled. I am keen to give them an undertaking that I will engage with them and other colleagues who are interested in these points ahead of Report.
We are united in our determination that the Bill will be robust, that it will be able to survive the kind of egregious and vexatious legal challenges we have seen in the past, and that it will enable us to do the job and remove illegal immigrants to safe third countries such as Rwanda. I would add that the Bill has been carefully drafted in collaboration with some of the finest legal minds, and we do believe that it enables us to do the job while complying with our international law obligations. However, we are going to engage closely with colleagues and ensure that the final Bill meets the requirements of all those on our side of the Chamber.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Let me speak briefly about the point raised by a number of colleagues about rule 39 and the events of last summer. The Government share the frustration, certainly of Conservative Members, about what happened with the Rwanda flight in June. A case was conducted late at night at the last minute, with no chance for us to make our case or appeal its decision. That was deeply flawed. Joanna Cherry was right when she said, in a thoughtful contribution, that that raises concerning issues. I think it raises issues of natural justice that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and others in Government are taking up with the European Court of Human Rights. We want to find a more satisfactory way for the Court to behave in such circumstances in future.
Let me turn briefly to the swathe of amendments tabled by the Scottish National party. At this rate, there will be more SNP amendments to the Bill than there are refugees whom they accommodate in Scotland. Instead of pruning the already excessive forest of legal challenges that we find, Alison Thewliss proposes a Kafkaesque array of new ones. She wants to turn the robust scheme in the Bill into a sieve, and we cannot allow that to happen. The mandate of the British public is clear: they want us to stop the boats. That is what the Bill does, and that is what we intend to achieve.
I thank my hon. Friend Tim Loughton for his contribution. We have listened carefully to his arguments. As the Prime Minister said, it is precisely because we want to help genuine refugees that we need to take full control of our borders. Safe and legal routes, such as those we have brought forward in recent years, which have enabled almost half a million people to come to our country for humanitarian purposes since 2015, are exactly how we will achieve that. I commit to engage with my hon. Friend and other colleagues ahead of Report on setting up safe and legal routes, if necessary by bringing forward further amendments to ensure that there are new routes in addition to the existing schemes, and accelerating the point at which they become operational, with our intention being to open them next year. I also confirm that we will accelerate the process of launching the local authority consultation on safe and legal routes at the same time as the commencement of the Bill. I hope that satisfies my hon. Friend.
As a former Secretary of State for local government, one provision in the Bill—it was mentioned by a number of colleagues on the Conservative Benches but curiously not by those on the Opposition Benches—is extremely important to me. Government Members will not make promises in this place at the expense of local authorities and our constituents. For the first time, not only will we bring forward more safe and legal routes, but we will first consult with local communities and local authorities, so that those routes are not virtue signalling, but are wedded to the genuine capacity and ability of our communities to house people, to find GP surgery appointments and school places, and to bring those individuals into the country while ensuring that community tensions are not raised unnecessarily. That is a critical distinction.
The hon. Gentleman should read the Bill. We have been debating it for the past five and a half hours, but he does not seem to have read it. The Bill says, for the very first time, that before we create a safe and legal route we will consult with local authorities. We should all see that as a good step forward. The public are sick of hotels being filled with illegal immigrants and they do not want the wellbeing of illegal immigrants put above that of the British public. That is a crucial change we are making.
I shall close by making the simple point that the choice ahead of us today is this: is it for the British Parliament to decide who enters this country or is it for the people-smuggling gangs? On the Conservative Benches, we believe that without border controls national security is compromised, the fabric of communities begins to fray and public services come under intolerable pressure. We believe that while we should always be generous to those in need, there are limits on how much support we can provide. We believe we should prioritise our finite resources—as my hon. Friend Tom Hunt said in a powerful speech—directly on those in conflict zones, not on those who are fit enough, well enough or wealthy enough to get to a safe country like France and then cross the channel. It is Conservative Members who are on the right side of the moral argument.
What of the Labour party, led by Keir Starmer? He campaigned to close removal centres. He wants to scrap our Rwanda partnership. He is the human rights lawyer who sided with foreign national offenders over the law-abiding British public. He is the prosecutor who votes against tougher sentences for the people-smuggling gangs. It is clear for all to see that the British public cannot rely on the Labour party to stop the boats. It does not have a plan, because it does not think there is a problem. Labour Members are too naive to understand what this country is up against and what is at stake, and they are too weak to take the tough but necessary measures to deter the crossings and fix our broken asylum system. That is why we brought forward the Bill. That is the determination and commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I. We will stop the boats. This Bill begins that.
Thank you for allowing me to speak again, Mr Evans.
What we have had today is an absolute disgrace of a debate. The timetabling of this really important Bill has been absolutely shocking. Whatever side of the debate we are on, we must understand that it is of incredible constitutional significance. There are questions here about whether we are breaking some absolutely fundamental treaty obligations, yet we have been treated to nothing more than a few slogans and not a single effort to address any of the amendments we tabled in good faith. Those amendments were not just tabled off my own bat, but in consultation with the Law Society, the Law Society of Scotland, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association—lots of respected organisations that deserve to have their voice heard here and deserve to be treated with respect by this Government. The whole process has been an absolute embarrassment to Parliament. Where is the impact assessment we should have had before the Bill? That is just as disgraceful as the lack of respect for the amendments tabled today.
What we have had today is not a serious debate. We have had slogans and dog-whistle rhetoric. We have a Government who have shown that they are all slogans and absolutely no respect for Parliament.
Order. I am anticipating four Divisions and I will try to assist the House as to when they are likely to happen. First, we go to Sir William Cash.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: 76, in clause 37, page 40, line 8, leave out from “means” to the end of line 12 and insert:
“(a) a protection claim, (b) a human rights claim, or (c) a claim to be a victim of slavery or a victim of human trafficking.”—(Alison Thewliss.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.