‘(1) The definitions in subsections (2) and (3) have effect for the purposes of section 37, this section and sections 38 to 50.
(2) A “serious harm suspensive claim” means a claim by a person (“P”) who has been given a third country removal notice that the serious harm condition is met in relation to P.
(3) The “serious harm condition” is that P would, before the end of the relevant period, face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm if removed from the United Kingdom under this Act to the country or territory specified in the third country removal notice.
(4) The following are examples of harm that constitute serious and irreversible harm for the purposes of this Act—
(b) persecution falling within subsection (2)(a) or (b) of section 31 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 (read together with subsections (1) and (3) of that section) (Article 1(A)(2) of the Refugee Convention: persecution) where P is not able to avail themselves of protection from that persecution;
(d) inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
(e) onward removal from the country or territory specified in the third country removal notice to another country or territory where P would face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of any harm mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (d).
(5) The following are examples of harm that do not constitute serious and irreversible harm for the purposes of this Act—
(a) persecution not falling within subsection (2)(a) or (b) of section 31 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 (read together with subsections (1) and (3) of that section);
(b) persecution falling within subsection (2)(a) or (b) of section 31 of that Act (read together with subsections (1) and (3) of that section) where P is able to avail themselves of protection from that persecution;
(c) where the standard of healthcare available to P in the relevant country or territory is lower than is available to P in the United Kingdom, any harm resulting from that different standard of healthcare (including, in particular, a less favourable medical prognosis).
(6) Subsection (7) is an example of harm that is unlikely to constitute serious and irreversible harm for the purposes of this Act.
(7) Any pain or distress resulting from a medical treatment that is available to P in the United Kingdom not being available to P in the relevant country or territory.
(8) For the purposes of subsections (4) and (5)—
(a) protection from persecution can be provided by—
(i) the government of the relevant country or territory, or
(ii) any party or organisation, including any international organisation, controlling the relevant country or territory or a substantial part of it;
(b) P is to be taken to be able to avail themselves of protection from persecution if—
(i) the government, party or organisation mentioned in paragraph (a) takes reasonable steps to prevent the persecution by operating an effective legal system for the detection, prosecution and punishment of acts constituting persecution, and
(ii) P is able to access the protection.
(9) In this section “relevant period” means the total period of time that it would take—
(a) for P to make a human rights claim in relation to P’s removal from the United Kingdom under this Act (see section 39 (relationship with other proceedings)),
(b) for the claim to be decided by the Secretary of State, and
(c) for any application for judicial review in relation to a decision of the Secretary of State to refuse the claim to be exhausted.’—(Robert Jenrick.)
This new clause contains an expanded definition of the meaning of “serious harm suspensive claim” for the purposes of the Bill.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 19—Credibility of claimant: concealment of information etc.
Government new clause 20—Legal aid.
Government new clause 23—Electronic devices etc.
Government new clause 24—Decisions relating to a person’s age.
Government new clause 25—Age assessments: power to make provision about refusal to consent to scientific methods.
Government new clause 26—Interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights.
Government new clause 22—Interim remedies.
Government new clause 8—Report on safe and legal routes.
New clause 1—Detainees: permission to work after six months—
“(1) Within six months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act the Secretary of State must make regulations providing that persons detained under this Act may apply to the Secretary of State for permission to take up employment, including self-employment and voluntary work.
(2) Permission to take up employment under regulations made under subsection (1)—
(a) must be granted if the applicant has been detained for a period of six months or more, and
(b) shall be on terms no less favourable than those upon which permission is granted to a person recognised as a refugee to take up employment.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations within 6 months of the passing of the Act allowing those detained under measures in the Act to request permission to work after 6 months.
New clause 2—Arrangements for removal: pregnancy—
“The duty in section 2(1) and the power in section 3(2) do not apply in relation to a person who the Secretary of State is satisfied is pregnant.”
This new clause would exempt pregnant women and girls from the provisions about removals.
New clause 3—Effect of this Act on pregnant migrants: independent review—
“(1) The Secretary of State must commission an independent review of the effect of the provisions of this Act on pregnant migrants.
(2) The report of the review under this section must be laid before Parliament within 2 years of the date on which this Act is passed.”
New clause 4—Independent child trafficking guardian—
“(1) The Secretary of State must make such arrangements as the Secretary of State considers reasonable to enable an independent child trafficking guardian to be appointed to assist, support and represent a child to whom subsection (2) applies.
(2) This subsection applies to a child if a relevant authority determines that—
(a) there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child—
(i) is, or may be, a victim of the offence of human trafficking, or
(ii) is vulnerable to becoming a victim of that offence, and
(b) no person in the United Kingdom is a person with parental rights or responsibilities in relation to the child.”
Based on a Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation (1st Report: Channel crossings, migration and asylum, HC 199,
New clause 5—Immigration rules since December 2020: human rights of migrants—
“(1) Regulations bringing any provisions of this Act into force may not be made before publication of a report under subsection (2).
(2) The Secretary of State must commission and lay before Parliament an independent report on the effects of the immigration rules on the human rights of migrants since December 2020.
(3) The report under subsection (2) must include, but is not limited to, an analysis of the following areas—
(a) safe and legal routes,
(b) relocation of asylum seekers,
(d) electronic tagging,
(e) legal aid, accommodation, and subsistence,
(f) the right to work, and
(g) modern slavery.”
New clause 6—Effect of this Act on victims of modern slavery: independent review—
“(1) The Secretary of State must commission an independent review of the effect of the provisions of this Act on victims of modern slavery.
(2) The report of the review under this section must be laid before Parliament within 2 years of the date on which this Act is passed.”
New clause 7—Effect of this Act on the health of migrants: independent review—
“(1) The Secretary of State must commission an independent review of the effect of the provisions of this Act on the physical and mental health of migrants.
(2) The report of the review under this section must be laid before Parliament within 2 years of the date on which this Act is passed.”
New clause 9—Accommodation: duty to consult—
“(1) Section 97 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (supplemental) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3A) insert—
‘(3B) When making arrangements for the provision of accommodation under section 95 or section 4 of this Act, the Secretary of State must consult with representatives of the local authority or local authorities, for the area in which the accommodation is located.
(3C) The duty to consult in subsection (3B) applies to accommodation including hotel accommodation, military sites, and sea vessels.
(3D) The duty to consult in subsection (3B) also applies to any third party provider operating within the terms of a contract with the Secretary of State.’”
This new clause would add to the current law on provision of accommodation to asylum seekers a requirement to consult with the relevant local authorities when making the necessary arrangements.
New clause 10—Expedited asylum processing—
“(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 specified countries who have arrived in the UK without permission.
(2) Within this section, “specified countries” are defined as those countries or territories to which a person may be removed under the Schedule to this Act.”
This new clause requires the Secretary of State to establish a process to fast-track asylum claims from specified countries.
New clause 11—Accommodation: value for money—
“(1) Within 90 days of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament—
(a) all procurement and contractual documents connected with the provision of asylum accommodation and support provided by third-party suppliers under sections 4 and 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;
(b) an updated value for money assessment for all asylum accommodation and support contracts currently in force.
(2) Any redactions to the documents provided under subsection (1) should only relate to material that is commercially sensitive.”
This new clause seeks to require the publication of key documents relating to asylum accommodation and support contracts held by private companies.
New clause 12—Border security checks—
“(1) The Secretary of State must appoint a named individual to conduct an investigation into the effectiveness of security checks undertaken at the UK border for the purposes of enforcing the provisions of this Act.
(2) This individual may be—
(b) another individual nominated by the Secretary of State.
(3) The first investigation conducted under this section must be completed one year after the date on which this Act is passed, with subsequent investigations completed every year thereafter.
(4) Findings of investigations conducted under this section must be published within three months of completion of the investigation.”
This new clause seeks to require an annual investigation into the effectiveness of security checks undertaken at the UK border for the purposes of enforcing the provisions of this Act.
New clause 13—Asylum backlog: reporting requirements—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within three months of the date on which this Bill was published, and at intervals of once every three months thereafter, publish and lay before Parliament a report on the steps taken and progress made toward clearing the backlog of outstanding asylum claims, within the preceding three-month period.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, “the backlog of outstanding asylum claims” means the total number of asylum applications on which an initial decision had not yet been made as of
(3) In preparing the reports required by subsection (1) above, ‘progress toward clearing the backlog of outstanding asylum claims’ may be measured with reference to—
(a) the number and proportion of applications on which an initial decision is made within six months of the submission of the application;
(b) changes to guidance for asylum caseworkers on fast-track procedures for straightforward applications;
(c) measures to improve levels of recruitment and retention of specialist asylum caseworking staff; and
(d) any other measures which the Secretary of State may see fit to refer to in the reports.”
This new clause would require regular reports from the Secretary of State on progress toward eliminating the asylum backlog.
New clause 14—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”) undersection 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 previously observed by the UK as part of the Dublin system.
New clause 15—Border security: terrorism—
“(1) The Secretary of State must make arrangements for the removal of a person from the United Kingdom if the following conditions are met—
(a) the person meets the first condition in section 2 of this Act; and
(b) the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person has been involved in terrorism-related activity, as defined by section 4 of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011.
(2) If the Secretary of State cannot proceed with removal due to legal proceedings, they must consider the imposition of terrorism prevention and investigation measures in accordance with the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay a report before this House on activity under this section every 90 days.”
This new clause places on the Secretary of State a duty to remove suspected terrorists who have entered the country illegally, or consider the imposition of TPIMs for such individuals where removal is not possible.
New clause 16—International pilot cooperation agreement: asylum and removals—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within three months of this Act coming into force, publish and lay before Parliament a framework for a 12-month pilot cooperation agreement 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 prosecution and conviction of persons involved in facilitating illegal entry to the United Kingdom from neighbouring countries, including with regards to data-sharing; and
(c) establishing capped controlled and managed safe and legal routes, including—
(i) family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with close family members settled in the United Kingdom; and
(ii) other resettlement schemes.
(2) In subsection (1)—
(a) “neighbouring countries” means countries which share a maritime border with the United Kingdom;
(b) “relevant international organisations” means—
(iv) the European Union; and
(v) any other organisation which the Secretary of State may see fit to consult with.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a framework for a new pilot co-operation agreement with the governments of neighbouring countries and relevant international organisations on asylum and removals.
New clause 18—Suspensive claims and related appeals: legal aid and legal advice—
“(1) The Secretary of State must make arrangements for legal aid to be available for the making of suspensive claims and related appeals under this Act.
(2) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to ensure that legal advice is available to support persons making suspensive claims under this Act.”
This new clause seeks to ensure legal aid and legal advice are available to persons for making suspensive claims and related appeals.
New clause 21—Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme: reporting requirements—
The Secretary of State must, no later than
This new clause would require reports from the Secretary of State for each quarter since the publication of this Bill on the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, including Pathways 2 and 3.
Amendment 44, in clause 1, page 2, line 14, leave out subsection (3).
This amendment and Amendment 45 would require the courts to interpret the Act, so far as possible, in accordance with the UK’s international obligations contained in several international treaties.
Government amendments 111 to 113, and 77.
Amendment 45, page 2, line 28, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) So far as it is possible to do so, provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with—
(a) the Convention rights,
(b) the Refugee Convention,
(c) the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking,
(d) the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(e) the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.”
This amendment and Amendment 44 would require the courts to interpret the Act, so far as possible, in accordance with the UK’s international obligations contained in several international treaties.
Amendment 46, page 2, line 31, leave out clause 2.
Government amendment 89.
Amendment 17, in clause 2, page 3, line 9, at end insert “, and—
(a) was aged 18 years or older on the date on which they entered or arrived in the United Kingdom, and
(b) is not—
(i) part of the immediate family of,
(ii) a family member as defined by section 8(2) of this Act of, or
(iii) a person who otherwise had care of, an individual who was under the age of 18 on the date on which they entered or arrived in the United Kingdom where that individual is physically present in the United Kingdom.”
This amendment would exempt children and, where they are accompanied, their immediate families from removal duty contained in clause 2 and other related duties or powers, ensuring the existing safeguarding regime in relation to these children is retained.
Amendment 47, page 3, line 38, at end insert—
“(10A) The duty under subsection (1) does not apply in relation to—
(a) a person who was under the age of 18 when they arrived in the UK;
(b) a person (“A”) who is an Afghan national where there is a real risk of persecution or serious harm to A if returned to that country;
(c) a person who is a refugee under the Refugee Convention or in need of humanitarian protection;
(d) a person (L) where there is a real risk of persecution or serious harm on grounds of sexual orientation if L were to be removed in accordance with this section;
(e) a person who, there are reasonable grounds to suspect, is a victim of torture;
(f) a Ukrainian citizen;
(g) a person who, there are reasonable grounds to suspect, is a victim of trafficking or modern slavery;
(h) a person who has family members in the United Kingdom;
(i) an person who meets the definition of an “adult at risk” in paragraph 7 of the Home Office Guidance on adults at risk in immigration detention (2016), including in particular people suffering from a condition, or who have experienced a traumatic event (such as trafficking, torture or sexual violence), that would be likely to render them particularly vulnerable to harm.”
This amendment would exempt certain persons from the Secretary of State’s duty to remove, including children, refugees, victims of modern slavery and other vulnerable people.
Government amendment 185.
Amendment 1, page 4, line 4, at end insert—
“(d) the person enters the United Kingdom from Ireland across the land border with Northern Ireland.”
This probing amendment would provide an exemption from the duty to remove for people who arrive in the UK from the Republic of Ireland via the land border with Northern Ireland.
Amendment 5, in clause 3, page 4, line 8, leave out
“at a time when the person is an unaccompanied child” and insert
“where the person is an unaccompanied child or is a person who arrived in the United Kingdom as an unaccompanied child”.
This amendment seeks to remove the obligation on the Secretary of State to remove a person where the person has ceased to be an unaccompanied child.
Amendment 181, page 4, line 9, leave out subsections (2) to (4).
This amendment removes the power for the Secretary of State to remove an unaccompanied child before they turn 18.
Government amendments 174, 106 to 110, and 175.
Amendment 48, in clause 4, page 4, line 35, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment would ensure the duty to remove under clause 2 did not apply “regardless” of a person making an application for judicial review in relation to their removal.
Amendment 49, page 5, line 2, leave out from “(2)” to end of line 2 and insert
“must be considered under the immigration rules if the person who made the claim has not been removed from the United Kingdom within a period of six months starting on the day the claim is deemed inadmissible.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to consider protection and human rights claims if removal had not been completed within 6 months of the declaration of inadmissibility.
Amendment 184, page 5, line 8, after “if” insert—
“the Secretary of State considers that there are reasonable grounds for regarding the claimant as a danger to national security or a threat to public safety, or”.
This amendment would prevent a person who meets the four conditions for removal in clause 2 and who is considered a threat to national security or public safety from making a protection claim or human rights claim.
Government amendment 176.
Amendment 182, in clause 5, page 5, line 36, after “child” insert—
“and where a best interest and welfare assessment carried out in the three months prior to that person turning 18 concluded it was appropriate for them to be removed”.
This amendment would add an additional requirement that a best interest and welfare assessment would need to have been carried out before the duty to remove applies to someone who was previously an unaccompanied child.
Government amendment 177.
Amendment 132, in clause 7, page 8, line 24, at end insert—
“(1A) P may not be removed from the United Kingdom unless the Secretary of State or an immigration officer has given a notice in writing to P stating—
(a) that P meets the four conditions set out in section 2;
(b) that a safe and legal route to the United Kingdom from P’s country of origin existed which P could have followed but did not follow;
(c) that the safe and legal route specified in paragraph (b) has been approved by both Houses of Parliament in the previous 12 months as safe, legal and accessible to persons originating in the relevant country; and
(d) the number of successful applications for asylum in each of the previous five years by persons following the safe and legal route specified in paragraph (b).
(1B) Any determination by the Secretary of State to remove P from the United Kingdom based on information provided by the notice referred to in subsection (1A) may be subject to judicial review on the basis that the information was flawed, and the Secretary of State may not remove P from the United Kingdom while any such judicial review is ongoing.”
This amendment would prevent the Home Secretary removing a person from the United Kingdom unless and until the Secretary of State has confirmed that a safe and legal route existed but that the person nevertheless chose to follow an alternative route which resulted in them arriving in the United Kingdom without leave.
Government amendments 79 to 83.
Amendment 50, in clause 8, page 9, line 36, after “family” insert “who arrives with P and”.
This amendment would limit the power to issue removal directions to family members, to those family members who arrived with the person being removed.
Government amendments 90, 91 and 139.
Amendment 51, page 13, line 10, leave out clause 11.
Government amendments 140, 134, 141, 142 and 135.
Amendment 2, in clause 11, page 14, line 46, at end insert—
“(2H) Sub-paragraphs (2C) to (2G) above do not apply to any person who—
(a) entered the United Kingdom as an unaccompanied child;
(b) has at least one dependant child; or
(c) is a pregnant woman.”
This amendment would prevent an immigration officer’s detention powers from being used to detain unaccompanied children, families with dependant children or pregnant women.
Government amendments 143 to 145, 136, 146, 147, 137 and 148.
Amendment 3, page 17, line 15, leave out subsection (11) and insert—
“(11) Subsections (5) to (10) above do not apply to any person who—
(a) entered the United Kingdom as an unaccompanied child;
(b) has at least one dependant child; or
(c) is a pregnant woman.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State’s detention powers from being used to detain unaccompanied children, families with dependant children or pregnant women.
Amendment 52, page 17, line 18, leave out clause 12.
Government amendments 149, 86, 150, 87, 151 to 157, 85, 88, 84, and 158 to 160.
Amendment 53, page 22, line 30, leave out clause 15.
Amendment 183, in clause 15, page 22, line 39, at end insert—
“(5) Subject to subsections (6) to (8), an unaccompanied child may not be placed in, or once placed in, may not be kept in, accommodation provided or arranged under subsection (1) that has the purpose of restricting liberty (“secure accommodation”) unless it appears—
(a) that the child is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and
(b) if they abscond, they are likely to suffer significant harm.
(6) A child may not be kept in secure accommodation for a period of more than 72 hours without the authority of the court.
(7) Subject to subsection (8), a court may authorise that a child may be kept in secure accommodation for a maximum period of 3 months.
(8) A court may from time to time authorise that a child may be kept in secure accommodation for a further period not exceeding six months at any one time.
(9) In this section, “significant harm” includes, but is not limited to, a high likelihood that the child will be at risk of trafficking or exploitation.”
This amendment would clarify the circumstances under which an unaccompanied child accommodated by the Home Office, rather than a local authority, can be accommodated in secure accommodation. It would require the child to be at risk of harm if they absconded, including at risk of being trafficked or exploited.
Amendment 7, page 23, line 1, leave out clause 16.
Government amendments 124 to 131.
Amendment 54, in clause 19, page 24, line 27, at end insert—
“(a) in the case of Wales, with the consent of Senedd Cymru,
(b) in the case of Scotland, with the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and
This amendment would ensure provisions in relation to unaccompanied migrant children could not be extended to devolved nations without the consent of the devolved legislatures, as appropriate.
Amendment 55, in clause 21, page 25, line 17, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—
“grounds of public order prevent observation of the reflection and recovery period, or if it is found that victim status is being claimed improperly.”
This amendment seeks to align provisions in clause 21 relating to exclusion from trafficking protections (a reflection period and leave to remain) to those in article 13 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking.
Amendment 12, page 25, line 22, after “decision”” insert—
“, unless the decision relates to the person being a victim of sexual exploitation”.
Amendment 4, page 25, line 32, at end insert “either—
(aa) the relevant exploitation took place in the United Kingdom; or”
This amendment is intended to exempt people who have been unlawfully exploited in the UK from provisions which would otherwise require their removal during the statutory recovery period and prohibit them being granted limited leave to remain.
Amendment 16, page 26, line 2, at end insert—
“(3A) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply in relation to any person who is a national of a state which—
(a) has not ratified the relevant international legal agreements; or
(b) the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe may not be effectively enforcing its obligations under the relevant international legal agreements; or
(c) the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe may not be able or willing to prevent the person from becoming a victim of slavery and human trafficking upon their return to that country.
(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), “relevant international legal agreements” means—
(a) ILO Conventions 29 and 105 on Forced Labour;
(b) the European Convention on Human Rights;
(d) the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking;
(e) any other relevant agreement to which the United Kingdom is a party.
(3C) In determining whether paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (3A) apply, the Secretary of State must consult with, and pay due regard to the views of, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.”
This amendment stipulates that the duty to remove victims of modern slavery does not apply to nationals of countries which have not ratified international agreements relating to human trafficking, or which the Secretary of State has reason to believe may not be effectively enforcing its obligations under those agreements.
Government amendment 95.
Amendment 56, page 26, line 25, leave out subsections (7) to (9).
This amendment seeks to protect those victims of trafficking and slavery granted leave to remain under s65(2) of the Nationality and Borders Act from the power of the Secretary of State to revoke that in certain circumstances.
Amendment 57, in clause 22, page 27, line 11, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert—
“grounds of public order prevent observation of the reflection and recovery period or if it is found that victim status is being claimed improperly.”
This amendment seeks to align provisions in clause 22 relating to provision of support to trafficking victims in England and Wales to those in article 13 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking.
Amendment 13, page 27, line 14, after “person” insert—
“, unless the decision relates to the person being a victim of sexual exploitation”.
Amendment 58, in clause 23, page 27, line 24, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—
“grounds of public order prevent observation of the reflection and recovery period or if it is found that victim status is being claimed improperly.”
This amendment seeks to align provisions in clause 23 relating to provision of support to trafficking victims in Scotland to those in article 13 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking.
Amendment 14, page 27, line 28, at end insert—
“unless the person is a victim of sexual exploitation”.
Government amendment 96.
Amendment 59, in clause 24, page 29, line 6, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—
“grounds of public order prevent observation of the reflection and recovery period or if it is found that victim status is being claimed improperly.”
This amendment seeks to align provisions in clause 24 relating to provision of support to trafficking victims in Northern Ireland to those in article 13 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking.
Amendment 15, page 29, line 11, at end insert—
“unless the person is a victim of sexual exploitation”.
Government amendments 97, 114 to 119, 161, 162, 104, 105, 122, 92 and 163.
Amendment 8, in clause 30, page 35, line 31, leave out “has ever met” and insert— “is aged 18 or over at the time of entry into the United Kingdom and meets”.
This amendment seeks to provide an exemption from the ban on obtaining citizenship for family members of people who are subject to the “duty to remove” if they were either born in the UK or arrived in the UK as a child.
Government amendments 164 to 166.
Amendment 62, in clause 31, page 36, line 31, leave out paragraphs (a) to (d).
This amendment and amendments 63 to 65 seek to remove provisions which would prevent persons accessing British citizenship.
Government amendment 167.
Amendment 63, page 37, line 3, leave out sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii).
This amendment and amendments 62, 64 and 65 seek to remove provisions which would prevent persons accessing British citizenship.
Government amendment 168.
Amendment 64, in clause 32, page 37, line 17, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).
This amendment and amendments 62, 63 and 65 seek to remove provisions which would prevent persons accessing British citizenship.
Government amendment 169.
Amendment 65, page 37, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (i).
This amendment and amendments 62 to 64 seek to remove provisions which would prevent persons accessing British citizenship.
Amendment 66, page 37, line 39, leave out clause 33.
Amendment 67, page 38, line 1, leave out clause 34.
Government amendments 123, 170, 171, and 33 to 35.
Amendment 68, 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.”
This amendment seeks to ensure that consideration of protection claims, human rights claims and slavery and trafficking cases would suspend removal under clause 45.
Government amendments 172, 173, and 36 to 43.
Amendment 69, in clause 43, page 45, line 30, leave out subsection (7).
This amendment seeks to reinstate onward rights of appeal against a decision of the Upper Tribunal under this clause.
Amendment 70, in clause 44, page 46, line 22, leave out subsection (7).
This amendment seeks to reinstate onward rights of appeal against a decision of the Upper Tribunal under this clause.
Government amendments 18 to 32, and 186.
Amendment 71, in clause 52, page 53, line 11, leave out sub-paragraph (i).
This amendment would ensure rules on inadmissibility of certain asylum claims were not extended to human rights claims.
Amendment 72, page 53, leave out line 33.
Amendment 75, in clause 53, page 55, line 11, 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 a target number of entrants using safe and legal routes.
Amendment 76, page 55, line 15, after “authorities” insert—
“(aa) the United Nations High Commission for Refugees,
(ab) the devolved governments,
(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.
Government amendment 11.
Amendment 9, page 55, line 37, at end insert—
““persons” means only individuals aged 18 or over on the day of entry into the United Kingdom;”
This amendment would exclude children from the annual cap on number of entrants.
Government amendments 178, 98 to 100, 120, 187, 133, 179, 180, 93 and 94.
Amendment 10, in clause 59, page 58, line 27, at end insert—
“but see section (Immigration rules since December 2020: human rights of migrants).”
This amendment is consequential on NC5.
Government amendments 103, 138, 101, 102, 121 and 188.
Amendment 73, page 59, line 19, at end insert—
“(4A) Section 23 comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint, provided that the Scottish Parliament has indicated its consent to the section coming into force.”
This amendment would require Scottish Parliament consent before disapplication of its legislation making provision for support for modern slavery and trafficking victims in Scotland could come into force.
Amendment 74, page 59, line 19, at end insert—
“(4A) Section 24 comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint, provided that, if a Northern Ireland Executive has been formed, the Northern Ireland Assembly has previously indicated its consent to the section coming into force.”
This amendment would require Northern Ireland Assembly consent before disapplication of its legislation making provision for support for modern slavery and trafficking victims in Northern Ireland could come into force.
Government amendment 189.
Government new schedule 1—Electronic devices etc.
Government amendment 78.
On behalf of the Home Office, I pay tribute to those Border Force officers who nobly volunteered to serve in Sudan this week, to support British nationals and others as they are processed and swiftly returned to the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary and I praise their professionalism and their sense of service and duty.
Before I address the key Government amendments, it is worth reminding the House of why the Government introduced this vital Bill. A sovereign state must have control of its borders. Quite properly, we have an immigration system that determines who can come to the UK lawfully, whether to visit, to study, to work or for other legitimate reasons. Our immigration and asylum system also makes generous provision in providing sanctuary for people seeking protection. Indeed, we have offered such protection, in different ways, to nearly half a million people since 2015.
But the people of this country are rightly frustrated if a self-selected group of individuals can circumvent those controls by paying people smugglers to ferry them across the channel on a small boat. Why would someone apply to come to this country for employment if they can instead arrive on a small boat, claim asylum and then, as one amendment suggests, acquire the right to work here after 12 months?
Illegal migration undermines the integrity of our immigration system. It puts unsustainable pressure on our housing, health, education and welfare services, and it undermines public confidence in our democratic processes and the rule of law. That is why we want to stop the boats and secure our borders, and this Bill is dedicated to that goal. It will send a clear message that people who enter the United Kingdom illegally will not be able to build a life here. Instead, they are liable to be detained, and they will be removed either back to their home country, if it is safe to do so, or to a safe third country, such as Rwanda.
Is the Minister really asking the House to believe that such an amendment would act as a pull factor? Is he saying that people will come here because of the possibility that we might pass an amendment giving asylum seekers the right to work? If that is his case, it is particularly poor even by his standards.
It is a pull factor to the UK that individuals can work in our grey economy, which is a cause of serious concern. If we were to add an additional pull factor, by enabling people to work sooner, it would be yet another reason for people to choose to come to this country. I will return to that point in responding to other questions before the House today.
I will not give way at the moment.
The vast majority of people arriving on small boats come from an obvious place of safety—France—with a fully functioning asylum system, so they are choosing to make that additional crossing. They are essentially asylum shoppers, even if they originally come from a place of danger, and they are doing that because they believe the United Kingdom is a better place to make their claim and to build a future. Their ability to work is obviously part of that calculation, as our north European counterparts frequently say.
Let me make some progress, and I will return to those Members who want to intervene.
It is important that we get the Bill right. I understand the complexity of the legal and operational challenges we face. In enacting this legislation, we must be alert to those who seek to use every possible tactic to thwart and frustrate its operation. We have seen that with our groundbreaking partnership with Rwanda, and we will see it again with this Bill.
Since its introduction, we have continued to examine how to make the Bill as robust as possible, as well as reflecting on the debates in Committee last month. The Government amendments before the House today reflect that further work and consideration. We have repeatedly made it clear that, as we reduce the number of illegal immigrants arriving on small boats and through other forms of clandestine entry, we will free up capacity for more people to come to this country through safe and legal routes.
We know that, in 2021, 71% of asylum claims were successful, and that a further 47% were successful on appeal. This is not illegal migration. If those claims were successful, why are we not allowing people to work? Is the Minister trying to make it illegal for anyone to come in, thereby reducing our standing on the rule of law?
There are a number of points there. There is a legitimate point of view, as I have said on a number of occasions, that those seeking a determination should have the right to work, but we disagree, because we want to reduce the pull factors to the UK, not add to them. As I have said throughout my time in this role, deterrence has to be suffused throughout every aspect of our approach. Creating a situation where individuals could quickly access the UK labour market is not sensible if we want to reduce the number of people coming here in the first place.
Let me return to the issue of safe and legal routes—
Let me make my remarks on this and then I will come to the hon. Gentleman. That issue is clearly of interest to many hon. Members on both sides of the House. In particular, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, with whom I have had a number of significant conversations in recent weeks. He is keen to see early progress on this front. The Government accept the need for greater clarity about the safe and legal routes available to those seeking refuge in the UK, while reiterating that it is simply not feasible for this country to accept all those who may seek to come here. That is why I am happy to commend to the House his new clause 8 and amendment 11, which would, first, require the Home Secretary to lay before Parliament, within six months of Royal Assent, a report detailing existing and proposed additional safe and legal routes for those in need of protection. We will aim to implement the proposed new routes as soon as practicable and in any event by the end of 2024. Secondly, the amendments would require the Home Secretary to commence the consultation on the annual number of people to be admitted through safe and legal routes within three months of Royal Assent.
I am happy to answer that question. We have consistently said that those seeking sanctuary should do so in the first safe country. On the developing situation in Sudan, the United Nations is operating in most, if not all, of the countries surrounding Sudan. Last week, I met the assistant commissioner at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, when we discussed exactly this point. The best advice clearly would be for individuals to present to the UNHCR. The UK, like many countries, works closely with the UNHCR and we already operate safe and legal routes in partnership with it. That safe and legal route is available today. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s point directly, let me say that the UK is the fourth largest recipient in the world of individuals through routes operated by the UNHCR. So his central contention that the UK is somehow not a generous and compassionate country and that we are not working with organisations such as the UNHCR in this regard is factually incorrect. We are working with them closely.
In addition, we have a family reunion scheme, which has enabled more than 50,000 refugees to come to the UK in recent years and to meet up with their family members who have also sought refuge in the UK as refugees. That scheme is available all over the world. So if the young person in the hon. Gentleman’s example had family in the UK, that individual could come here through the family reunion scheme. In addition, the point made in the Bill is that we will expand those safe and legal routes over the course of the next 12 months or so, so that even more individuals can make use of them.
“UNHCR wishes to clarify that there is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the U.K. There is no asylum visa or ‘queue’ for the United Kingdom.”
Would he like to correct the record?
With all due respect to the hon. Lady, I met the assistant commissioner of the UNHCR and had this conversation directly with her. So whatever the hon. Lady may be quoting from her iPhone, I would prefer to take at face value what I have heard in discussion with the assistant commissioner. The point is that the UNHCR selects individuals who have registered with it and to whom it has given refugee status to go to other countries on existing safe and legal routes. It currently has discretion as to who it puts in the direction of the United Kingdom. That was a choice made when the UK established that scheme, because the then Conservative Government took the perfectly legitimate view that we would offer complete discretion to the United Nations to select the people it felt were the most vulnerable in the world and help them to come to the UK. We have already opened the conversation with the UN on how we will establish a new safe and legal route, and there are a range of options on how we might configure that.
I wonder if I might assist my right hon. Friend on this issue of the UNHCR, because I too have seen that quote. As far as I can see, the UNHCR is saying that somebody cannot just turn up at the UNHCR and say, “I want to go and have asylum in the UK.” The UK has an arrangement with the UNHCR whereby we say that we will take a certain number of refugees or asylum seekers, and we ask it please to identify those who are most vulnerable and therefore those who should be coming under our scheme. There is not that incompatibility that is being suggested.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. Of course, how we structure any safe and legal route, whether we work with the UN or indeed any other organisation, is a choice for the UK. It is not impossible for the UK to say that we wish to take individuals from particular countries or regions, but the choice made in the recent past, which as I say, was a perfectly valid one, was to give that discretion to the experts at the UNHCR, rather than to fetter their discretion.
I am not right honourable, but I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Let me take him back to the issue of people in Sudan at the moment, because he referred to brave officials from his Department who are out there. What is the advice being given where a family member has children under the age of 18, who, for all sorts of complicated reasons at the moment, may not be properly documented given the situation in Sudan? Will they be able to get on an aeroplane? Will they end up with some kind of determination having to be made when they get to Cyprus? What will be the situation?
So far, we have been calling individuals and families forward in order of priority; those in Sudan should check the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s published advice to see that. There is discretion for Border Force officers where British passport holders, or those who have leave to enter the UK, present with minors and there is credible evidence that those children are their own, and this is so as to ensure that the family unit stays together wherever possible. That is the right approach. We have worked closely with Border Force to ensure that the group of officers we have in Sudan have the correct guidelines to operate that policy. To the best of my knowledge, we have not encountered any issues, but of course we are getting regular updates to ensure that that is functioning properly.
I wish to draw the House’s attention to another safe and legal route that exists at the moment, the community sponsorship arrangement, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend Mrs May when she was Home Secretary. It enables communities to welcome refugees from around the world. Does he agree that it is a good model and that we should expand it in future?
I do, and I commend that arrangement wholeheartedly. I took part in what is, in one sense, a successor to that scheme, the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience for me and my family. The principle at the heart of that is that it is not purely a matter for the state to provide support; individuals, groups, churches, synagogues and mosques might want to come forward to gather support and funding to meet the state halfway and assist those people to come to the UK. That scheme is available. We would like more people to take part in it. It is exactly the sort of scheme that could be considered alongside the future expansion of safe and legal routes.
If I may, I will make some more progress, but I would be pleased to revert to Stella Creasy in a moment.
Let me turn to the other issue that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised in Committee, which is that of unaccompanied children. Again, we have listened to the points that he and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised. As I have said repeatedly, this is a morally complex issue. There are no simple answers and each has trade-offs. Our primary concern must be the welfare of children, both here and abroad. We need to ensure that the UK does not become a destination that is specifically targeted by people smugglers specialising in children and families.
Let me make some progress.
I am also acutely concerned that we balance that with the very real safeguarding risks posed by young adults pretending to be children. This is not a theoretical issue; it is one that we see every day unfortunately. Today, a very large number of young adults do pose as children. In fact, even with our current method of age assessment, around 50% of those people who are assessed are ultimately determined to be adults. We have seen some very serious and concerning incidents in recent months. There are few more so than that raised in this House by my right hon. Friend Conor Burns when one of his constituents, Thomas Roberts, was murdered by an individual who had entered the UK posing as a minor and, during his time in the UK, had been in education, in the loving care of foster parents and in other settings in which he was in close proximity to genuine children.
The Minister has raised the awful case of Thomas Roberts. I have asked him repeatedly why it was not known that the murderer was wanted for murder in Serbia and why it was also not known that he had already been turned down for asylum in another European country. Why did the authorities and Border Force not know that information?
As I said in answer to an Adjournment debate on this issue, I have commissioned a review of all of the circumstances surrounding that most serious case so that we can understand the multiple failures that may have happened while that individual has been in the United Kingdom and what lessons we need to learn. Separate to that, I have taken further steps to enhance the security checks that are conducted when individuals arrive at the Western Jet Foil and at Manston, aided by the change in the law that I made earlier in the year so that we have, in extremis, up to 96 hours in which to hold individuals in that setting while we conduct those security checks. I am working closely with the security services, police and the National Crime Agency in that regard. If there are other things that we need to do, we will do them, and if there are other databases that we should be arguing for access to we will certainly do so, because it is critical that we secure our borders in this regard.
Let me make some progress if I may.
We have been clear that the power to remove unaccompanied children would be exercised only in very limited circumstances: principally for the purposes of effecting a family reunion or to return someone to their safe country of origin. Government amendment 174 makes this clear in the Bill while futureproofing the Bill against the risk that the people smugglers will seek to endanger more young lives and break up more families by loading yet more unaccompanied children on to the small boats.
On the face of it, I, too, welcome Government amendment 174 on the limitations to the removal of children and the prescription that is put within it. However, my right hon. Friend has alluded to the fact that, further down in that amendment, it sets out that the Home Secretary can pass regulations to set out any other circumstances at a later date. Is he referring to changes in the way that people smugglers may operate? Will this be an affirmative procedure in Parliament, and what sort of circumstances does he anticipate that we may be dealing with?
What we do know is that this situation is fast moving and that the people smugglers are individuals and businesses that will stop at nothing and stoop to any low. We want to retain a degree of discretion, of course accountable to Parliament, and we would ensure that it is an affirmative procedure, giving Parliament at least an opportunity to debate it should there be concerns with the approach of any Home Secretary. But let me be clear that the Government’s position is that we see the use of this power only for those two very limited, but understandable and sensible, suggestions. They are two routes that are used today judiciously. We do—although it is very hard to do—seek to reunify unaccompanied minors with their family members, and succeed in a small number of cases. We also remove minors from the UK back home to safe countries, always making sure that social services or appropriate authorities are awaiting them on their return. Those things happen today and we want to see that they continue and, if anything, that we take further advantage of them.
Nobody in this House would disagree that we need to stop the people smugglers, but I worry that the Government focus too much on the people smugglers, rather than on the damage that is caused to vulnerable children who are already traumatised. The whole process that the Government are proposing is retraumatising already deeply traumatised young people.
On the broader point, let me reassure the hon. Member that, as a parent, I, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister gave these questions a great deal of thought and our motivation was the best interests of children. We do not want to see children put into dinghies and their lives placed in danger. When we do see that, it is a harrowing experience that lives with us. We have to take these steps to ensure that, when we operationalise the scheme at the heart of the Bill, the UK is not then targeted by people smugglers specialising in families and children.
On the question of children, I think everyone agrees with the compassionate view that the Minister has expressed but, in Kent, we take and look after the majority of unaccompanied children. Does he agree that the safest place for those children is in the care of the French authorities and not on those boats in the first place, and how will the Bill assist with that?
The key element at the heart of the Bill is deterrence. We want to deter individuals, families or adults from going into these dinghies, putting themselves at the behest of people smugglers. Ultimately, that is the way that we protect children. If we allow this issue to escalate—that is not the intention of those who oppose the Bill, but it is the logical conclusion—it will simply see more children placed into these boats and we have to stop that. That is what we are setting out to do here. As my hon. Friend has raised the point, I would praise the authorities in Kent, which have gone above and beyond to support young people. I have recently visited the facilities there.
I do not want to see pregnant women placed in a difficult or compromising position. The scheme is structured in such a way that a suspensive claim can be brought where there is serious or irreversible harm, which, in most cases, is physical harm, that would prevent an individual from being placed on a flight either back home to their own country, if it is a safe place, or to a safe third country like Rwanda. The usual fitness to fly procedures will apply. Therefore, a pregnant woman would not be placed on a flight to Rwanda or elsewhere unless it was safe to do so. There are long-standing conventions of practice on how we would make that judgment.
On the issue of detention of unaccompanied children, I understand the concerns that a number of hon. and right hon. Members have raised about the prolonged detention of children without the authority of a court. I thank those Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, for their very constructive engagement with us on that and other matters. As a result of those discussions, we have introduced Government amendments 134 and 136 to enable a time limit to be placed on the detention of an unaccompanied child where the detention is for the purposes of removal.
I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s and other hon. Members’ concerns—indeed I share them. I commit to working with him and others, including my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford, with whom I have had a number of conversations, to set out the new timescale under which genuine children may be detained for the purposes of removal without the authority of the court and what appropriate support should be provided within detention, recognising the obligations under the Children Act 1989, an important piece of legislation.
I can also confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and others that it is our intention that, where there is no age dispute, children are not detained for any longer than is absolutely necessary, with particular regard to the risk of absconding and suffering significant harm. I trust that those amendments and commitments will assuage the concerns that he raised in Committee and that he will not feel the need to press his amendment 138 on this issue.
As the Minister says, amendments 134 and 136 bring in the opportunity to introduce regulations for setting time limits. In the past, when there has been a contentious issue such as this across the House, it has often been the practice for the Government to bring forward draft regulations before the end of the Bill’s passage through both Houses. Can he give us an assurance that we will be able to see the detail of what the Government are thinking?
I am not able to give that assurance today, but I will give it careful consideration and come back to the right hon. Gentleman. We must ensure that we give this careful consideration and get these difficult judgments right, and that we learn the lessons from when children have been detained in the recent past. I know he is very aware of that and through his constituency duties has been very involved with the immigration removal centre in his constituency.
We want to ensure that we only detain children in the most limited circumstances and in the right forms of accommodation, with the correct scrutiny and accountability. I have recently spoken with the Children’s Commissioner and asked her to assist us and give us her expert opinion in the further policy development that we intend to do. I am keen to work with any hon. Member across the House who has expertise to bring to bear on the issue.
I turn now to the question raised in Committee regarding modern slavery and to amendment 4 in the name of my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith, supported by, among others, my right hon. Friend Mrs May. They are both international champions of this issue and have played critical roles in establishing the UK as a leading force in modern slavery prevention and the protection of those who have proven to be victims. This issue of modern slavery is also addressed in amendments 12 and 16 in the name of Yvette Cooper and amendments 73 and 74 in the name of Alison Thewliss.
The Bill is intended to stop the boats. People are risking their lives by making dangerous crossings and putting unprecedented pressure on our public services. Amending these clauses to create exemptions that could lead to abuse of modern slavery protections, and risk undermining the very purpose of the Bill, is something that we must think very carefully about.
I understand, of course, that in the preparation of their amendments my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green and for Maidenhead, and others, have thought in particular about how we can prevent individuals who have been in the UK for a sustained period from being exploited by human traffickers, or, if they are already being exploited, from being deterred from escaping that modern slavery, or raising concerns with civil society or law enforcement bodies. Those are serious issues, and I want to take them forward with my right hon. Friends, listening to their unrivalled expertise through the passage of the Bill, to see whether there are ways we can address and assuage their concerns. For that reason, we will look at what more we can do to provide additional protections to individuals who have suffered exploitation in the UK.
I remind my right hon. Friends that the modern slavery provisions in the Bill are time-limited, recognising the exceptional circumstances we currently face in respect of the illegal and dangerous channel crossings. Unless renewed, the provisions will expire two years after commencement. They take advantage of an express provision within the European convention on action against trafficking, which foresaw that there might be circumstances in which there was a sufficient risk to public disorder, or a crisis that merited taking this kind of action. The Government would argue that we are in that moment now, and for that reason we need to apply that limited exemption.
The Minister has rightly singled out two of my colleagues with flattery to try to help him—but he did not single me out, so he is going to get it in the neck. Suppose a 16-year-old in Moldova is told that she has a job in a restaurant in Belfast. She is provided with a Romanian passport. She comes across here on an aeroplane, with false documents, but when she gets to Belfast, she does not get a job. She is put in a terraced house and forced into prostitution; the lock is on the outside of the bedroom and she is effectively repeatedly raped. The police break that ring and rescue her. What happens then? At the moment, she gets protection, she is looked after and she helps with the prosecution. This Bill changes that. Can the Minister please tell me why? This person has been trafficked, not on a small boat, and exploited here. Why can he not accept the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith? It seems to me that there is no risk. I want his Bill to succeed, but this is—
I apologise to my hon. Friend for not praising his long-standing interest in this issue and the very good conversation that he and I had recently, in which he made exactly the point that he has just made on the Floor of the House. We are concerned about those kinds of cases and about those individuals who are exploited within the United Kingdom, but we are keen to ensure that that is not inadvertently turned into a loophole that would undermine the broader scheme.
One of the existing protections within the Bill for an individual such as the one my hon. Friend mentions is the provision that, if someone is co-operating with a police investigation, the duty to remove will be suspended. Therefore, if somebody was in exactly the position he described, they should of course go to the law enforcement authorities. At that point, the safeguard that we put in the Bill would apply and they would not be removed from the country.
I will speak to my amendment shortly, I am sure, as will my right hon. Friend Mrs May and others, but I want to raise one particular point. The Minister used the word “inadvertently”, but I wonder whether Government amendment 95 is inadvertent when it gives sweeping powers to the Secretary of State to decide whether somebody is genuinely giving evidence to the police. I am also puzzled by the wording of proposed new subsection (5A) to clause 21, that
“the Secretary of State must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State”,
which is the same person, I think. I am not sure how that achieves the desire to be balanced on this.
That provision ensures that where an individual has presented to the authorities and the police may have opened an investigation, the police would then make a submission to the Home Secretary, who would then decide whether that was sufficiently advanced for the provisions in the Bill to apply. That is a sensible safeguard, but this is exactly the sort of issue on which I am happy to continue working with my right hon. Friend.
Picking up on the point made by my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith, I think that we were all surprised to see Government amendment 95, because it says not that the police can make an application to the Secretary of State, with a nice order and so on, but that the Secretary of State “must assume” that the person cannot stay in the United Kingdom unless there are “compelling circumstances”—determined initially and endorsed by the Secretary of State—for them to stay.
I will make some progress because this is a short debate and it is important that we enable people to make—[Interruption.] Well, it was only a few moments ago that SNP Members were saying that the debate was too short. I gently remind them that in both days in Committee we ran out of speakers, including on the SNP Benches.
I really should make progress because I worry that we will run out of time.
I will say a few words in response to new clause 15 and on the issue of suspected terrorists. I welcome the shadow Home Secretary’s belated, albeit limited, endorsement of the duty on the Home Secretary to make arrangements for the removal of persons who enter the UK unlawfully—presumably including removal to Rwanda. That duty applies across the board, save in the case of unaccompanied children, so in our opinion, new clause 15 is, again, unnecessary. Protecting the public is the Government’s first priority, and the Bill includes powers to detain illegal entrants and, where necessary, release a person on immigration bail. There are existing powers to apply terrorism prevention and investigation measures where appropriate. They give the security service and the police powerful measures to help manage the risk of terrorism. They are, of course, considered case by case and used as a last resort if prosecution or deportation are not possible. We therefore judge that new clause 15 does not add anything to the Bill’s provisions or to existing counter-terrorism powers.
I have more sympathy for amendment 184, tabled by my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke, in that she is seeking to make a constructive contribution to the debate on how we manage the clear risk posed by terrorism. It is already the case that all asylum claims must be declared inadmissible under the Bill. That is the case for any human rights claim in respect of a person’s home country. Where we are seeking to remove someone to a safe third country, it is right that they should be able to challenge that removal where they face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm—although that is a very limited ground—and the Bill provides for that, but we will always seek to effect removal as soon as possible, particularly where somebody poses a real risk of harm to the British public. I can assure my hon. Friend that, should removal be delayed, appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that the public is properly protected. She is one of the foremost Members of this House in issues related to tackling small boat arrivals, owing, of course, to the particular concerns of her Dover constituents. I am grateful to her for tabling amendment 184, and I look forward to continued work with her as we work through these challenges.
A number of other Government amendments address the concerns raised in Committee by, among others, my right hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) and for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), and my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Devizes (Danny Kruger), who rightly want to ensure that the scheme provided for in the Bill is as robust as possible and not open to exploitation and abuse by those who seek to frustrate removals.
I would like to reciprocate, if I may. In my 39 years in the House, I had not had an opportunity of the kind that has been offered by the Government on this occasion for a good, proper and robust but none the less effective dialogue on these incredibly important matters. I put on record my thanks to the Government for that.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind words. We value his expertise, knowledge and commitment on this issue. He has made the Bill better, stronger and more likely to succeed in our objective, which is to stop the boats and restore the public’s confidence.
It has always been our intention that the only claims that could delay removal would be the factual suspensive claims and serious harm suspensive claims provided for in the Bill. All other legal challenges—be they rights-based or other claims—would be non-suspensive. New clause 22, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, makes it crystal clear not only that any judicial reviews will be non-suspensive, but that it will not be open to the Court to grant interim remedies that have the effect of blocking removals pending a substantive decision on a judicial review.
In a similar vein, new clause 24 makes it clear that any legal challenges relating to a decision about a person’s age are also non-suspensive. Through new clause 25, we are taking a power to make regulations setting out the circumstances in which it can be assumed that someone who refuses to undergo a scientific age assessment is an adult. I can assure the House that we will make such regulations only once we are satisfied that the scientific models are sufficiently accurate so that applying an automatic assumption will be compatible with the European convention on human rights. On that question, I thank in particular of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings, who has worked closely with the Government to achieve our shared objective.
On interim relief, we are replacing the marker clause relating to interim measures indicated by the Strasbourg Court. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated on Second Reading, the Strasbourg Court is itself carrying out a review of the rule 39 process at the encouragement of a number of member states, including us. The former Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Dominic Raab, who was then Lord Chancellor, and the current Attorney General, have had constructive discussions with the Court about reform, including on rule 39. However, we can and should do more.
New clause 26 will confer on the Home Secretary or any other Minister of the Crown a discretion, to be exercised personally, to suspend the duty to remove a person where an interim measure has been indicated on an individual case. The new clause sets out a non-exhaustive list of considerations to which the Minister may have regard when considering the exercise of such a discretion in that case. The Minister will be accountable to Parliament for the exercise of that personal discretion. The Government expect that the Minister will carefully consider the UK’s international obligations when deciding whether to disapply the duty.
It seems to me that new clause 26 effectively introduces a presumption that the UK Government will breach international law when interim measures are handed down by the Court in Strasbourg. The Home Secretary has already said on the face of the Bill that she cannot certify that it is compatible with the ECHR, but she has declined to give evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights to assist our legislative scrutiny of the Bill. Can the Minister explain to the House why the Home Secretary is so reluctant to come to the Joint Committee to justify her admission that the Bill is not compatible with the ECHR?
The Government believe that the Bill is compatible. We believe there are strong arguments, and of course there will be legal debate, but were any aspect of the Bill to be challenged, we look forward to defending it robustly. We take our treaty obligations—
I will not give way to the hon. and learned Lady a second time, if she does not mind. We have been very clear that we take our treaty obligations seriously. In respect of the ministerial discretion in the clause, the Home Secretary, or whichever Minister of the Crown exercised that discretion, would of course take those obligations seriously and judge the individual case.
Is my right hon. Friend not in effect asking the House to give legislative sanction to at least the possibility that a Minister of the Crown will deliberately disobey this country’s international law obligations? Is not that really the effect of what is being asked?
No. As I have already said, we take our treaty obligations very seriously and the Minister who exercises this discretion would have to do so. This discretion would be exercised highly judiciously and would ultimately be judged on the facts and be very fact-dependent.
A Minister always has the ability to ignore an indication under rule 39, because there is no obligation under the convention for the Government to heed one—it is an indication. Why, then, does it need legislation if what is not in fact being asked is that this House should approve, quite consciously and deliberately, a deliberate breach of our obligations under the convention? That is the truth. The Minister could ignore an indication and it would be a matter between states, but the provision invites this House to give legislative authority to the Minister who does that, if she chooses to ignore it. Is that not the position?
My right hon. and learned Friend is correct in saying that rule 39 indications are just that, and that there are circumstances in which Ministers have chosen not to apply them—a small number of circumstances, but a number. The clause does not mandate a Minister to ignore rule 39 indications; it says clearly, to ensure that there is no doubt whatsoever, that the Minister has the discretion to do so. It gives a non-exhaustive list of reasons that they should consider, and in doing so they would clearly, as I have said on a number of occasions, take their treaty obligations very seriously.
Let me move on. As I have said, the Bill provides for two kinds of suspensive claims and sets out a fair but rigorous timetable for the submission of any claims, their determination by the Home Office, and any appeals. It is important that those who receive a removal notice should be able to receive appropriate legal advice to help them to navigate this process; accordingly, new clause 20 makes provision for legal aid. I trust that this new clause at least will be welcomed by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, given that it covers similar ground to her new clause 18. The provision of legal aid will reduce the opportunities for challenges and speed up removals.
On serious harm suspensive claims, new clause 17 augments the existing provisions in clause 38, which enables regulations to be made about the meaning of serious and irreversible harm for the purposes of the Bill. We consider it important, and indeed helpful to the courts, to provide them with guidance as to what does or does not amount to serious and irreversible harm, albeit that ultimately the judgment will be for the upper tribunal, to be taken on a case-by-case basis. New clause 17 also makes it clear that the serious and irreversible harm must be “imminent and foreseeable”, which aligns the test in the Bill much more closely with Strasbourg practice.
Amendments 114 to 119 relate to foreign national offenders. In the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, we legislated to disapply certain modern slavery protections to FNOs who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more, and to certain other categories of persons who present a risk to public order. The amendments introduce a statutory presumption that the public order disqualification applies to FNOs who have been given an immediate custodial sentence of any length.
Finally, let me address new clauses 19 and 23 and new schedule 1, which seek to ensure that we have the necessary broader powers to tackle illegal migration. The new schedule confers new powers on immigration officers to search for, seize and retain mobile phones and other electronic devices from illegal migrants, when it appears to an immigration officer that they may contain information relevant to the discharge of their functions, including a criminal investigation. In addition, new clause 19 will put it beyond doubt that credibility should be damaged if a person who has made an asylum or human rights-based claim refuses to enable access to their mobile phone, or fails to produce or destroys identity documents without reasonable excuse. On this important change in the law, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Laura Farris, who is one of the Members of this House most experienced in immigration matters and who made the case strongly.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I wonder whether he can comment on a matter that has been brought to my attention while he has been on his feet. Greater Manchester police has released the following urgent update about Programme Challenger, which is the programme the force operates for dealing with serious and organised crime:
“As a result of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, changes came in to effect in February 2023 which have had an immediate impact on potential victims. This has seen positive first stage decisions drop from around 95% of all submissions to 18% of submissions between February 20th and March 31st. This means that 4 in 5 potential victims are not able to access immediate support from the national modern slavery and human trafficking victim care providers.”
Is my right hon. Friend as worried about that as I am? If he is not worried, is it because he feels that the 2022 Act is already having an impact? In which case, why does he need modern slavery provisions in this Bill?
It is difficult for me to comment on remarks that are read out that I have had no sight of; frankly, my right hon. Friend would not have done so either when she was a Home Office Minister. She and I have a disagreement on the current impact of modern slavery on our system, but to me the evidence is very clear that unfortunately—this was never the intention of the framework that was created—there is significant abuse. We see that in particular in the number of individuals who are coming forward with modern slavery claims in the detained estate when we seek to remove them from the country. Such last-minute claims currently account for 70% of individuals. I am afraid that, among other evidence, that shows that we have a serious problem and we have to take action.
I am not giving way, because time is very limited.
I have summarised the other Government amendments, which are more detailed and technical in nature, in a letter to Stephen Kinnock, and placed a copy of it in the Library of the House. I stand ready to address any particular points in my winding-up speech, if necessary. For now, I commend all the Government amendments to the House and look forward to the contributions of other Members. I will respond to as many of those as I can at the end of the debate.
I start by associating myself with the comments of the Immigration Minister about the outstanding work that our armed forces have done in Sudan. I wish all who are there a speedy return home.
I want to make one thing absolutely clear, and it is a point with which I am sure every Member of this House agrees: the dangerous channel crossings must be stopped. Those extremely perilous journeys have tragically led to lives being lost, and the only people who benefit from that trade in human misery are the criminal smuggler gangs and people traffickers, who are laughing all the way to the bank at this Government’s failure to arrest and prosecute them. Labour has a comprehensive and workable five-point plan that will defeat the people smugglers and fix our broken asylum system. Our plan is expressed through the amendments and new clauses to this Bill that we have tabled, which I will speak to in due course.
Government Members repeatedly state that they wish to stop the dangerous channel crossings, but the fact is that they are completely and utterly failing to do so. Every single measure that Ministers announce turns out to be either an expensive and unworkable headline-chasing gimmick or a policy that succeeds only in making things worse, or indeed both. In the case of this legislative sham that we are debating today—this bigger backlog Bill—it is definitely both. Under the Conservatives, channel crossings have skyrocketed from 299 in 2018 to 46,000 in 2022. Throughout that period, Ministers have subjected the country to a seemingly endless stream of nonsensical proposals that have all been given pride of place on the front pages of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, only to be swiftly consigned to the dustbin of history where they belong.
For a deterrent to be effective, it has to be credible, and of course, our credibility is severely diminished every time we fail to follow through on a commitment that we have made. Let us take a quick canter through some of the posturing and empty threats that this shambles of a Government have engaged in over the past few years. They told us that the British coastguard would be instructed to push back dinghies in the channel, which would have breached the law of the sea and potentially led to further deaths of refugees and innocent children. Then they said they were going to build a giant wave machine in the English channel—I do not know where they would find a wave machine around here, given that the Conservatives have closed down most of England’s swimming pools, although I suppose it is possible that the Prime Minister might have a spare one back at his place.
The Government then said that they were going to fly asylum seekers to Ascension Island, 4,000 miles away, and they even fantasised about sending them to Papua New Guinea, which is literally on the other side of the planet. That brings us to the Government’s latest cunning plan: they went to Kigali and paid £140 million for a press release, and 12 months later they have managed to send more Home Secretaries to Rwanda than they have asylum seekers. One could be forgiven for finding all of this quite comical, but the fact is that it is deadly serious, because a vast amount of taxpayers’ money is being squandered on a profoundly unethical policy that is designed to fail on its own terms.
Even if the Rwanda scheme does get up and running, which the Government admit is unlikely to happen until at least March 2024, the Rwandan Government have refused to commit to taking more than around 1% or 2% of those who arrive here on small boats. We are talking hundreds of removals, rather than the thousands per year that might have a chance of deterring asylum seekers from crossing the channel. It will fail to stop the small boat channel crossings, because if a person has experienced personal tragedy, fought their way across continents and handed their life savings to a people smuggler so that they can endanger their own life crossing the channel, a 1% chance of being sent to Rwanda is simply not going to represent a level of risk that they might be averse to.
On the Rwanda scheme, apart from paying £150 million to deport maybe 200 people, under the agreement we have to take people back from Rwanda as well.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which I will use as a prompt to also talk about the Israel scheme. Of course, Israel and Rwanda did a deal. What happened with that scheme? Every single one of the people who was sent from Israel to Rwanda had left Rwanda within a matter of weeks and was on their way back to Europe, so it is a very expensive way of giving people a round trip, and I would not recommend it as a deterrent.
Then, just to add to the general sense that the Government have lost the plot, we had the bizarre and frankly appalling spectacle of the Home Secretary jetting down to Rwanda with a carefully vetted gaggle of journalists to indulge in a photo shoot that was akin to a “Visit Rwanda” tourist promo. I may have missed something, but I thought the idea was to deter the channel crossings by using Rwanda as a threat. I am not quite sure how that tallies with the Home Secretary likening Kigali to the garden of Eden. One minute, Rwanda is the perfect place imaginable for a person to rebuild their life; the next, the threat of getting sent there is being deployed as a deterrent.
It is a truly farcical state of affairs, but it is also of central importance to what we are debating today, because the entire Bill is predicated on the Government being able to remove those who arrive here on small boats to a safe third country, and right now Rwanda is the only safe third country they have. As such, the fact that the Rwanda plan is unworkable, unaffordable and unethical renders this entire Bill unworkable, unaffordable and unethical.
This is an issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised before. As I said during the Bill’s earlier stages, when the Home Affairs Committee went to Calais in January and we met all the people involved in patrolling the beaches and the local officials, they told us that when the Rwanda scheme was announced, there was a surge in migrants approaching the French authorities about staying in France, because they did not want to end up on a plane to Rwanda. There was a deterrent effect; the trouble is that it has not actually started yet, but if it did, it would have an impact. That is the point.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I am not sure I follow the logic of it. He said that there was a deterrent effect, but it has not started yet, which suggests to me that there has not been a deterrent effect. If we look at the numbers, channel crossings continue to skyrocket, so I think what matters to this House is results and outcomes. As things stand, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Rwanda scheme has acted as a deterrent.
This bigger backlog Bill is rotten to its very core, because it prevents the Home Secretary from considering those who arrive here on small boats as asylum seekers, and instead obliges her to detain and remove them. However, there is nowhere to detain them, and there is nowhere to remove them to either. We already have 50,000 asylum seekers in around 400 hotels, costing the taxpayer an eye-watering £6 million every single day, and on average, each asylum seeker is waiting a staggering 450 days for a decision. The backlog now stands at 166,000, more than eight times larger than when Labour left office in 2010, when it stood at just under 19,000. Incidentally, I am still waiting for the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration to apologise to the House and correct the record on that point.
My hon. Friend mentioned detention, and a number of amendments have been tabled today on that topic. I listened carefully to what the Minister said about detaining unaccompanied children, but I also wanted to ask my hon. Friend for his views on detaining children, families with children and pregnant women. This House has made very clear in the past its view about safeguards being required for the detention of the vulnerable groups I have just described. Does he think that we now need to think again about the detention of pregnant women and families with children?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent intervention. She is absolutely right to highlight this issue, and she has tabled a compelling amendment to deal with it. Members on both sides of the House fought very hard for these legal limits, as she rightly pointed out, and when we are talking about the detention of pregnant women, removing those limits and paving the way for vulnerable individuals to be detained individually is morally wrong, wrong-headed and deeply counterproductive. I have not heard any argument from Ministers to justify it.
New figures reveal that this bigger backlog Bill could end up putting an extra 50,000 people into permanent taxpayer-funded accommodation this year, with hotel costs rising to more than £13 million a day, which is more than £4 billion a year during a cost of living crisis. That is because, according to the Government’s own forecasts, 53,000 who cross on small boats will be classed as inadmissible, without any prospect of being removed. What is particularly astonishing is that the Government made this same mistake last year by including similar inadmissibility provisions in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. The result is a cost of £400 million to the taxpayer in just six months, with only 21 people returned to their country of origin.
This bungling Government just keep doubling down on their own incompetence. The more posturing they do, the more small boats we see. The longer they govern, the longer the asylum backlog grows, and the more our constituents will ask themselves, “With record-high immigration figures and a record-high asylum backlog, are our borders more or less secure under the Tories?”
I understand why the Minister did not want to give way on this issue, despite saying that he would, but my hon. Friend raises the question of people being in hotels. Does he agree that the Government need to be honest with their own Back Benchers about the statutory instrument that they tried to slip out at the end of the previous Session that will remove the licensing laws from houses of multiple occupancy for asylum seekers? That will presumably prevent local authorities from refusing to license those places, and it will also have the consequence of meaning that we no longer require places where we are expecting families, pregnant women and small children to live to have fire alarms, smoke alarms or running water. Does he agree that the Government need to be honest about how awfully they wish to treat asylum seekers and how they will avoid local authorities being part of that conversation?
I thank my hon. Friend for that powerful intervention. She is absolutely right. We are talking about basic standards of decency and humanity. Houses of multiple occupancy need to be properly regulated. They need a basic floor of certification and registration and of health and safety, particularly when we are talking about families. The Government should consider being more transparent and straightforward on that point.
Fortunately, we on the Opposition Benches care about secure borders, and we will clear up the mess by delivering a firm, fair and well-managed system that will stop the dangerous channel crossings, because we know that good government is not about chasing headlines; it is about common sense, hard graft and quiet diplomacy. Those are the qualities that underpin our new clauses and amendments to the Bill.
I intervened on the shadow Minister in Committee, and I found out that apparently the Labour party supports a cap for safe and legal routes, which was news to me at the time. Has he had any time to think about what that cap level would be? Bearing in mind how many people would like to try to get to our country, what would the approach be to those who failed in their application, but had still travelled here illegally and got here? Would any potential future Labour Government be open to deporting those individuals?
The cap has to be determined in consultation with local authorities and Parliament—that is absolutely right. In terms of removals, what we need is a processing system that actually works, so that we can get to a decision. People from safe countries who should be removed need to be swiftly removed from our country, and those who are genuine asylum seekers should be granted leave to remain, so that they can get on with their lives and we can start to clear up the abject mess that this Government have made of our asylum system.
The first part of our five-point plan is to repurpose and redirect the funds currently being wasted on the money-for-nothing Rwanda plan into a new, elite, cross-border, 100-strong police force that will relentlessly pursue the ruthless criminal smuggling gangs upstream. The latest £500 million payment that the British Government have made to the French Government will be having some effect on reducing the crossings, but the reality is that we will not succeed if we focus all our efforts on the hundreds of kilometres of French coastline, where resources are bound to be spread thin. We also need sophisticated operations with the British authorities working with EU member states, Europol, Interpol and Frontex to tackle the gangs upstream. New clause 16 instructs the Government to lay before Parliament a framework for a 12-month pilot co-operation agreement with those Governments and agencies to do just that and secure the prosecution and conviction of persons involved in facilitating illegal entry to the United Kingdom from neighbouring countries.
New clause 16 also incorporates the second part of our plan: securing a returns agreement with the European Union, which is essential. Since the Conservatives botched the Brexit negotiations and Britain left the Dublin convention, which had provided agreements on returns, the number of channel crossings has gone up by an astonishing 2,400%. For every one person crossing the channel in a small boat in 2019, 24 are crossing now.
There are three vital points to make on getting a returns deals. First, international challenges require international solutions. Secondly, we need an agreement with our nearest neighbours that must include returns. Thirdly, we will only strike a returns deal with the European Union if we bring something to the negotiation, and that should include a proper plan for capped safe and legal routes for bona fide asylum seekers located in mainland Europe. We suggest that Britain prioritises unaccompanied children with family in the UK, and new clause 14 reflects that.
I would like the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that when President Macron made his assertions about returns to France, the following day the European Union said it would countenance no such proposals; the EU simply does not agree about returns. Furthermore, France is not a place that people associate with persecution or threats of irreversible harm. What is his argument all about?
My argument is about a negotiation. We clearly have to do a returns deal; it is an important part of the deterrent effect. We do not get a returns deal unless we have something on the table. There is a clear link between policies on safe and legal routes and getting a clear position in terms of negotiations with the European Union. The reality is that it is the only deterrent effect that will work. We are dealing with people who have risked their lives, fought their way across Europe and are prepared to spend their life savings to pay people smugglers to cross the channel. We will not deter them unless they know there is a returns deal in place, and one reason that the Dublin convention worked is that it acted as a deterrent. How else can we explain that the numbers have gone through the roof since we left the Dublin convention?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is just nonsense. In the last year that we were covered by the Dublin convention, before the pandemic struck, we applied to the EU for 8,500 returns under that returns agreement and only 105 were granted—that is 1.2%—so what he says is complete nonsense. It did not work when we were in the EU, and he is now expecting to magic up some agreement that the EU will not give us anyway. Stop misleading the House about those figures.
I find the hon. Gentleman’s response bizarre, because there are some simple facts, which are that we left the Dublin convention, and since then the number of small boat crossings has gone through the roof. It is not rocket science; it is a simple fact of mathematics. The point is that we cannot solve an international problem without international co-operation. We have to recognise the flow of asylum seekers coming across the European Union. The idea that we just say to the EU, “You can take them all; we are not going to take any” is for the birds. It is fantasy politics, and I am stunned that Government Members do not seem to understand that simple political fact.
If Mrs May does not mind me mentioning her, I remember that when she was Prime Minister the first letter that she wrote to the European Union in trying to trigger article 50 said that we wanted a security treaty with the EU. That is what I would dearly love us to have. One of the great flaws of how we have left the European Union is that we have not ended up with that. Surely this measure should be part of that security treaty, so that we have better relations with Interpol, Europol and Frontex and proper sharing of information, so that we know all the details of anyone arriving in the UK. Is that not where we need to go?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We know from our long period of being in the European Union that, in order to get a deal with the EU, there has to be a quid pro quo. There has to be a negotiation based on a grown-up conversation about how to tackle the challenge we face, and an all-encompassing security agreement could be a very good way of opening that door, because of course the EU knows that the United Kingdom is a very important security partner for all sorts of reasons. I agree with my hon. Friend entirely on the very strategic point he has made. Although we support the Government’s new clause 8 on safe and legal routes, we believe it should be linked to securing a returns deal with the European Union. As I said, our approach is based on hard graft, common sense and quiet diplomacy, and we urge the Government to start thinking and acting in the same vein.
Our third commitment is that Labour will fix the problems with current resettlement programmes. This includes the broken Afghan schemes, and our new clause 21 instructs the Government to report every three months on progress—or lack thereof—in meeting their own targets in supporting those loyal-to-Britain Afghans who sacrificed so much to protect our servicepeople and to stand up for our liberal values in Afghanistan. All resettlement routes need to be properly controlled and managed, of course, and they therefore cannot be unlimited, but they do also need to work.
Fourthly, Labour’s long-term international development strategy will include tackling the root causes of migration upstream through increased humanitarian assistance and greater emphasis on conflict prevention and resolution programmes. This is slightly beyond the focus of the Bill, but an important aspect of migration policy—and a lesson that needs to be learned from Afghanistan in relation to Sudan, of course, which was mentioned earlier—is that if we cut aid and cut the right kind of aid, we will end up increasing the challenges around the dangerous channel crossings and hurt British values and interests.
Our comprehensive plan will also fix what is perhaps the Conservatives’ most astonishing failure of basic governance: the failure to clear the backlog. It is truly staggering that just 13% of small boat asylum claims are being processed within five years, and it is deeply troubling that, while around half of the huge 166,000 backlog is down to small boat crossings, another 80,000 has built up organically under the Conservatives since 2010.
This is no coincidence. Home Office decision making has collapsed. In 2013 the Conservatives downgraded asylum decision makers to junior staff, hired by literally going from a Saturday job one minute to making life or death decisions the next. No wonder this resulted in worse decisions, often overturned on appeal, and it is deeply troubling that the staff attrition rate in 2022 in these teams stood at an astonishing 46%. There is little prospect of improvement, given that Home Office statistics published on Monday show that this year the number of decision makers has decreased.
So let us be clear: the incompetence and indifference of consecutive Home Secretaries since 2010 have brought the basic functions of government to a grinding halt, and during this cost of living crisis the British taxpayer is paying the price. Our new clause 10 therefore sets out how the Government should get on with expediting asylum processing for the countries listed in the schedule to this Bill. If an applicant has no right to asylum in the UK, they should be removed, safely and swiftly, to the safe country from which they have come, such as Albania.
Further to new clause 10, our new clause 13 instructs the Home Secretary to publish a report every three months on the progress she is making on clearing the backlog.
I am sorry to interrupt the shadow Minister’s flow, and I wholeheartedly support him, as we have time and again, with regard to the criticisms of the Government’s lack of processing of cases, including the lack of staffing resources. On new clause 10 and the proposal for an expedited asylum process, can my hon. Friend reassure me that there will be no lessening of the legal rights of asylum seekers, of access to legal representation and of the application of international human rights treaties and conventions?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Absolutely, the proposal is that there are a number of countries with very low grant rates and that must therefore be where we triage, and put them into a category where the processing can be expedited. However, all the processing must be done on an individual, case-by-case basis, in line with our treaty obligations; we cannot have block definitions of any particular category of asylum seeker, which of course is one of the main issues concerning the legality of the Bill, and that includes access to legal aid. So I can absolutely reassure my right hon. Friend on that point. We have to get the balance right: we must focus on the efficiency and effectiveness of dealing with the backlog—which must be based on triaging, giving much more support and upgrading the staff in the Home Office—but that must be underpinned by the provisions to which my right hon. Friend refers. Of course, the return on investment for improving the quality of decision making would be rapid and substantial, because quicker processing means fewer asylum seekers in hotels.
That brings me to our amendments on accommodation for asylum seekers. Bad decisions on the location of accommodation means that the process then slows down due to legal challenges and the whole system gets even more clogged up. It would be far better to consult local authorities early in the process, and our new clause 9 instructs the Government to do just that.
I was rather disappointed by the fact that the Foreign Secretary and Simon Hoare, among others, failed to join us in the Division Lobby in Committee when we voted for the equivalent clause. I am aware that they have pushed back against ham-fisted Ministers trying to steamroll them on this matter, and I also note that they have sided with their local Conservative councils against their own Government, but they are certainly not the only Members on the Government Benches who have urged the Home Office to do better on this point. And, of course, all accommodation must be value for money, as our new clause 11 indicates: we cannot keep having private companies making these huge mark-ups at the expense of the taxpayer.
If this quiet diplomacy was not as successful as the shadow Minister hopes and a lot of these return agreements did not materialise, and all these people who arrived here illegally were green-lighted if a Labour Government were ever in charge, would there ever at any point be any policy whatsoever to deport to a safe third country?
As I have just pointed out, we are proposing, for example, a fast track for people from safe countries. We absolutely are of the view that people whose asylum claims are not successful or legitimate should be rapidly and safely sent back to their country of origin. I hope I have understood the hon. Gentleman’s point; I am not quite sure what it was.
Members on both sides of the House have raised concerns about the way in which this Bill will undermine our ability to crack down on modern slavery, and we do have to ask why it is that the Prime Minister has taken the attitude he has towards trafficked women and young girls being sold as sex slaves and is so accommodating to terrorists and other criminals on the other hand. We just need to look at his tweet of
Then we should look at the Prime Minister’s shocking record on deporting foreign criminals. Astonishingly, 19 terror suspects are currently living in taxpayer-funded British hotels because the Government have failed to remove them. Labour’s new clause 15 places a duty on the Secretary of State to remove suspected terrorists who have entered the country illegally or to consider the imposition of terrorism prevention and investigation measures upon them.
Deportations of criminals have fallen off a cliff since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. They plummeted by 66% to 5,000 a year before the pandemic and to just 2,100 in 2021. This is an insult to victims, and it again proves what we all know: Labour is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but under the Conservatives criminals have never had it so good.
The Minister for Immigration was appointed to his position as the moderate voice who would curb the more fanatical tendencies of his boss, but that simply has not happened. Instead, it appears that he has either been kidnapped by the hard right of his party, or he has willingly hitched his wagon to it because he thinks that is the way the wind is blowing. However, the Minister is not alone, because his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also appears to have caved in to the Home Secretary and the Trumpian faction she leads. He has caved in by adding Government new clauses 22 and 26 to the Bill, thereby completely torpedoing his own negotiations with the European Court of Human Rights. It really is quite extraordinary that Conservative Prime Ministers never seem to learn from the fate of their predecessors: the more they appease the extremists, the more they demand. The Prime Minister is weak, and he is being played. This weakness did for his predecessors, and ultimately it will also do for him.
Arguably the most shocking part of this whole sorry tale is this Conservative Government’s contempt for taxpayer cash. Aside from losing billions to fraudsters during the pandemic, dishing out overpriced contracts to their mates for unusable personal protective equipment and crashing the economy to the tune of £30 billion, the Government’s asylum policy stands out as a prime example of Ministers scattering taxpayer money to the four winds and receiving absolutely nothing in return—chasing headlines while buying failure.
There are so many vital questions to be answered. Why, for instance, have the Government failed to publish an impact assessment? For example, do Ministers have any idea of the increase in detention capacity that will be required because of this Bill? The Home Secretary was completely unable to answer this simple question during her car crash of an interview on the radio this morning. How much will these additional detention places cost? How much will the Government pay Rwanda per asylum seeker, and how much will each flight cost? We still do not know the answer to that question one year after the £140 million was given. Our constituents deserve to know, as these decisions impact directly on their communities and on the state of our public finances. It is outrageous that the Government are not providing an iota of information about the impact of a Bill with such huge financial and community impact implications.
So we are bound to ask: what are Ministers afraid of? If they truly believe that this Bill will succeed in achieving its objectives, surely they would happily have published the impact assessment well before Second Reading, and they would have been delighted to stand at the Dispatch Box to defend it. However, there is of course another possibility, which is that Ministers have not even attempted to assess the impact of this bigger backlog Bill because they are utterly terrified of what they would reveal if they did. They are terrified of seeing the cost of their own incompetence. They are horrified by the thought of being transparent because transparency reveals the truth, and the truth is that this Bill will just make everything worse. It will boost the profits of the people smugglers. It will add tens of thousands to the backlog. It will add hundreds of millions to the hotel bills. It will tarnish Britain’s reputation as a country that upholds the international rules-based order. It will further inflame community frustration and tension, and it will add to the desperate misery of those who are seeking sanctuary from persecution and violence.
Many Conservative Members agree with every word of what I have just said, and I urge them to support our new clauses and to join us in the No Lobby when we vote against this deeply damaging and counterproductive Bill this evening.
Order. We have had some very long opening speeches, and I have over 20 people wishing to contribute to the debate. That means that, in order to get everybody in, everybody would need to take about six minutes, if not less. We will prioritise those who have tabled amendments. That is just my guidance for the moment, because we also have the SNP spokesperson to come in.
I rise to speak to amendment 4, in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is essentially about clause 21. Since tabling it, I have realised that the Government have a new amendment—amendment 95—which I am afraid makes quite a lot of what we are trying to achieve with our amendment 4 almost impossible to deliver. However, I will go through the purpose of our amendment and then deal with the new Government amendment.
First, a lot of this is foreshadowed by the already existing Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and we still wait to see what its impact is on a lot of this. There is some clear evidence already that it is tightening up the areas that the Government want to tighten up when it comes to those suffering from modern slavery. Therefore, first and foremost, I question the necessity of these provisions about modern slavery in the Bill at all. Frankly, I do not want to be too broad; I want to focus on this problem quite carefully.
I think, and I hope, that the Government may recognise—my right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned that that is the general direction of his thinking at the moment, and I really hope that is the case—that there are unintended consequences of what they have to tried to do with the changes they are making in clause 21, and that the clause would be damaged without our amendment. It is interesting that my right hon. Friend Mrs May intervened with some very new evidence that the police are now saying that the effect of this, even though it is not in the Bill, is to concern people who might well give evidence that would lead to the prosecution and conviction of those guilty of trafficking. Can I just say that I think the whole purpose of this is to get the traffickers, prosecute them and put them inside? That is one of the deterrents against other traffickers doing such business, and I understand that the purpose of the Bill is to stop the business model of the traffickers, so this fits with that. The problem, as a counterpoint to that, is that clause 21 seems to move in the opposite direction and is actually now beginning to discourage people from the idea of giving evidence.
It is very important to remind everybody, because they get confused, that human trafficking is distinct from people smuggling. We tend to blur the edges of this, but human trafficking is about people who, against their will—when brought to this location or while in the UK—are themselves abused. All the issues were talked about earlier, but the reality is that this is against their will. They do not wish to do it, and we need categorical evidence of that. It is because this is dealing with the trafficking side rather than the people smuggling side that I am really concerned about it.
Remember that a majority of the potential victims referred through the national referral mechanism are exploited in the UK in full or in part. Mostly, those are non-UK nationals, but UK nationals are caught up in it as well. The majority of these cases are not relevant to those coming across on the boats; they are here. They have been trafficked, they are here and they are now involved in modern slavery, and they are possibly prepared to give evidence to the police in that regard. It could be sexual exploitation, or it could be criminal exploitation. When I was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, we saw evidence of that with people brought over to stake their claims to benefits, and then they would disappear off, trafficked into brothels and various other places. I want to say that it is important that we distinguish between that and the issue of the boats.
Many of those people are likely to have arrived in the UK illegally under the terms of this Bill, whether by small boat or lorry, or with leave obtained through deception such as false documents, including deception by their exploiter. Instead of being given temporary protection in the UK, these victims—under clause 21, as now amended by amendment 95—will be subjected to removal and detention under this Bill and denied access to the statutory 30-day recovery period of support for modern slavery victims. Victims will be driven even further underground—this is our fear and the fear of those who deal with them—by the fear of deportation and trapped in the arms of their abusers. Why would that be the case? The answer is simple. If one looks at the wording of clause 21, we see straightaway a clear shift in balance: it is left to the Secretary of State to judge whether victims are going to give evidence or are giving evidence that is relevant.
Then there is Government amendment 95, which I am really concerned about. It shifts the whole rationale in the opposite direction. Instead of there being a judgment about that, under clause 21, it is clear that the premise of the Secretary of State’s decision making is now reversed:
“The Secretary of State must assume for the purposes of subsection 3(b) that it is not necessary for the person to be present in the United Kingdom to provide the cooperation in question unless the Secretary of State considers that there are compelling circumstances which require the person to be present in the United Kingdom for that purpose.”
I raised this point earlier. In doing that,
“the Secretary of State must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”
That looks to me like a bit of a closed advice section, which will come up with the same decision at the end of the day. Government amendment 95 amends clause 21, which we already had concerns about.
Our amendment 4 gives protections. It exempts an individual from the Home Secretary’s decision if the
“relevant exploitation took place in the United Kingdom”.
That is critical, but even that now, it seems, becomes a problem because the reality is that the Secretary of State “must assume” it is not necessary for the person to be present in the UK to co-operate, which makes it even more difficult to exempt an individual in that position.
I raised that point with the Minister for Immigration. It is very important that we look at this issue carefully. It may well be necessary for the other place to rectify that because it sends a terrible signal to anybody who is being exploited. They will be told by the traffickers, “Don’t worry, they’re going to kick you out regardless. What’s the point of even helping to give evidence, because we’ll get you on the other side if you finger us?” That is what will happen.
Despite the right hon. Gentleman’s best efforts, and he is a model of clarity on this, it is still like trying to knit fog. Does not the fact that we are dealing here with an amendment he has tabled that has subsequently been affected by a Government amendment to the original Bill illustrate the total inadequacy of trying to deal with a Bill like this in this way?
It is a concern because we have clashing amendments. We know that. The point of this debate is to rectify that. We do not have a lot of time, so the right hon. Member will forgive me if I tentatively nod in his direction but at the same time pursue my own purposes. I will try to keep my remarks narrow. I do not want to go wide because other people wish to speak.
Amendment 4 is needed because victims of modern slavery experience inhumane torture and abuse. They are deprived of their liberty and their dignity. They are exploited and abused on British soil. Whether a UK citizen or a foreign national, they deserve care to recover and we cannot leave them subject to that exploitation. The point I keep coming back to is that victims in this category hold the key to the prosecution of the very traffickers we are after. We should not lose sight of that. If the inadvertent result of these changes to the Bill and the Bill itself is that victims are fearful of coming forward to give evidence, partly because the presumption is that they will leave the country, and partly because they do not have enough time to feel settled and protected to be able to give evidence—I think the police know this and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead has quoted from a police statement—it will reduce the number of prosecutions, damage our case and act as an opponent, as it were, of the idea of sending a message to traffickers that their game is up.
All the evidence shows that, with appropriate consistent support, more victims engage with investigations and prosecutions, providing the vital information that brings criminals to justice. Support needs to come first to create that stability, otherwise they will not feel safe. If we put ourselves in their situation, we would not give evidence either if we thought that the next stage would be to go out of the country, where the traffickers would catch us and our families and others being abused. So it will get harder to get convictions.
I am pleased my right hon. Friend the Minister accepted there may be consequences, although we need to go further than “may”. There will be consequences as a result of the legislation. I do not believe that the Government want victims of modern slavery to be trafficked. I do not think they want the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to be damaged. In the minds of those in the Home Office, I think there is a genuine dislike of that legislation and a wish to blame it for excesses, but there is no evidence of that. Only 6% of those who claim to be victims of modern slavery have come across on boats.
First and foremost, there is not a huge, great swell. Secondly, the Nationality and Borders Act that preceded this Bill has tightened up on all the elements that claimants have to provide to show that that is the case. The rules are already tighter, and I suspect that will lead to fewer cases already. The question is, what is the point of putting these elements into the Bill, because they are in the previous Act, and we have still not seen the effects? We are putting at risk the prosecution of all those traffickers and bringing them to justice, for something that almost certainly will not happen. If it did happen, there is plenty of scope for that evidence to come forward through statutory instruments if necessary, but I do not believe that will be the case.
I am told endlessly that people will come and give false claims, but let me remind Members that referrals can be made only by official first responders who suspect that the person is a victim. In 2022, 49% of referrals were made by Government agencies— it is ironic that the Government themselves decided who were the victims. The idea that any person could come forward and suddenly say, “I’m a victim,” and therefore get lots of time, is not the case. The test of evidence is tough.
We should remember that our amendment is about those who are trafficked and abused here in the UK. That means that the evidence base will almost certainly be incredibly strong, because it is based around what we know to exist here in the UK. I understand that it is difficult when people are trafficked from abroad, but we are talking about people in the UK and their evidence is clear to all of us. Under the changes made to the national referral mechanism statutory guidance on
Other Members want to speak, so I will conclude my comments by saying that we should proceed with caution when it comes to modern day slavery. I am deeply proud of what we did and what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead brought through, because it deals with victims, who cannot speak for themselves and are being used and abused by others. We were the first country in the world to do so, and others have followed suit. We need to send the right signals. The problem with the Bill is that it unnecessarily targets a group of people who are not the problem. They will suffer and, ironically, we will fail as a Government in home affairs because the police simply will not be able to get those prosecutions. On every ground, it is wrong.
Government amendment 95 is a disastrous attempt to make it almost impossible for anyone in the country to feel confident before they give evidence. I ask the Government to make it clear at the end of the debate that they will take this issue away, genuinely look at the unintended consequences and make that case to us, before we vote on their amendment.
I will speak to the amendments that stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. It is interesting to follow Sir Iain Duncan Smith. Given his concerns about the Bill, I hope that he will join us in the Division Lobby later, because I do not expect that he will get the assurances that he hopes for from the Minister.
The Bill remains an affront to human decency and to our obligations to our fellow human beings. It rips up hard-won international protections and is in breach of the European convention on human rights, the refugee convention, the Council of Europe’s convention on action against trafficking in human beings and the UN convention on the rights of the child. The Children and Young People’s Commissioner of Scotland has said that the Illegal Migration Bill
“represents a direct assault on the concept of universality of human rights and the rule of law.”
Organisations have lined up to condemn the Bill, from the UNHCR, Liberty, Amnesty International, trade unions and medical bodies. It seeks to turn ships’ captains and train drivers into border guards, and it creates a sub-class of people in immigration limbo forever.
This refugee ban Bill is based on myths, mistruths and the myopic pursuit of clicks and tabloid headlines. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the wild claims made by the Home Secretary and her acolytes. The Bill will not meet its stated aims, but it will cost lives. It fails to provide safe and legal routes, and it will cause untold suffering. It diminishes the UK in the eyes of the world and it yanks on the thread that will unravel refugee protections across the world.
The Bill delivers people who have been trafficked back into the hands of those who would exploit them. In his article published this morning in ConservativeHome, the Immigration Minister descended yet further, speaking of those with “different lifestyles and values” cannibalising compassion. That is not a dog whistle but a foghorn.
The process by which the Government have brought forward the Illegal Migration Bill is an insult to democracy and to the House. It has been rushed through without a full Committee stage or evidence sessions—no evidence whatsoever from the Government about the things they have put forward. Swathes of Government amendments have been brought forward today in haste, but there has not yet been an impact assessment, even at this very late stage. It is unacceptable that we are being asked to vote on something without an impact assessment.
My hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald has requested an impact assessment umpteen times in the House and via a freedom of information request, but nothing has yet been forthcoming. I know Thangam Debbonaire has also been tirelessly pursuing an impact assessment of the Bill. It is testimony to the Government’s dogged evasion of scrutiny, not to their lack of effort, that that has been fruitless.
As Members of Parliament, we are guarantors of rights. The SNP’s amendment 45 seeks to hold the UK Government to their international obligations—how utterly bizarre and reprehensible that we even have to introduce an amendment to ensure that—and to attempt to have the provisions in the Bill line up with convention rights in the UN refugee convention, the European convention on action against trafficking, the UN convention on the rights of the child and the UN convention relating to the status of stateless persons.
Anyone reading the UNHCR legal observations on the Illegal Migration Bill can plainly see how far the UK Government are deviating from international norms. Those observations say:
“The Bill all but extinguishes the right to claim asylum in the UK…breaches the UK’s obligations towards stateless people under international law…would lead to violations of the principle of non-refoulement…would deny refugees and stateless people access to their rights under international law.”
They go on to say that the Bill violates article 31(1) and 31(2) of the UN refugee convention and international human rights law,
“puts at risk the safety and welfare of children” and
“would increase the pressure on the UK asylum system”.
What an atrocious mess this Government are making.
Further to this condemnation from the UNHCR, the Council of Europe’s group of experts on action against trafficking in human beings stressed that, if adopted, the Bill would run contrary to the United Kingdom’s obligations under the anti-trafficking convention to prevent human trafficking and to identify and protect victims of trafficking, without discrimination.
The Home Secretary appears to misunderstand the very nature of modern slavery and human trafficking, as right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches have outlined. Perhaps that could be accounted for by the lack of an independent anti-slavery commissioner, as the post has now been standing vacant for a year. The previous holder of the post, Professor Dame Sara Thornton, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee last week on how the national referral mechanism actually works. I suggest the Immigration Minister should have read that evidence before coming to the House with such proposals as he has today.
New clause 26 replaces the placeholder clause 51 and gives the Government the power to ignore interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights and remove people who would otherwise have not been removed. The clause hands powers to Government Ministers to unilaterally decide whether the UK should uphold its international obligations. Liberty has described this as a concerning shift of power away from Parliament and towards the Executive. Yet again we are seeing the stripping away of crucial checks and balances—another Westminster power grab that has become a hallmark of this Government.
I tell you what this is really about, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is about setting up a fight with the European Court of Human Rights. It is about setting out to breach international law. It is about sleight of hand and deflection from the Conservatives’ failure to get a grip on the immigration backlog that they created. They think that if the public are somehow distracted by judges in their jammies, they will forget about the incompetence of the Minister. I give my constituents and people up and down these islands more credit than that—their heids don’t button up the back.
One of the most egregious aspects of the Bill is its impact on children. The Children’s Commissioners are crystal clear about the harm that it will cause; the Minister should heed their calls. The Scottish National party is happy to support new clauses 2 and 3 on pregnancy, given the impact on both the mother and the child in the circumstances; amendments 2 and 3 and new clause 14 on safe and legal routes and family reunion for children; amendment 5 on unaccompanied children; and new clause 4 on an independent child trafficking guardian.
I commend to the House the work of the Scottish Guardianship Service in Scotland, which is run by Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council. It does a diligent job of advocating for the young people in its care. It is beneath contempt that the UK Government would seek to overrule the Scottish Parliament’s obligations to children and young people, effectively preventing the service from carrying out its work of rebuilding the lives of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Our amendment 54 would prevent the UK Government from extending their harmful proposals on unaccompanied children to the devolved nations without their consent. We want to do better by our bairns, and it is despicable that the UK Tory Government would block our democratically elected Government from doing so.
Government new clauses 24 and 25 on age assessments are utterly ridiculous. They seek to treat people automatically as adults if they refuse to consent to an age assessment method, which goes against the Home Office’s own advice from last year. The Government calls those methods scientific, but the reality is that they are highly contentious. The British Dental Association has challenged the pseudoscience of such methods, saying that the dental checks
“fail basic tests on accuracy and ethics”.
“Scientific evidence shows that pubertal assessment and bone age assessment are unreliable indicators of age and therefore cannot be used.”
Gemma Jones, the chair of Unison’s science, therapy and technical occupational group, said that the plans
“break the code of conduct of radiography staff and their legal duties for radiation protection by instructing them to expose vulnerable individuals to ionising radiation without consent and without any medical need, for a procedure that is not reliable to determine age.”
That is important because such methods will determine whether children get thrown in with adults—a clear safeguarding risk.
The appeals process is practically impossible and the consequences can be catastrophic. The Scottish Guardianship Service has given the example of Shireen, who was 13 when he fled Afghanistan in 2008. When he arrived in the UK two years later, the Home Office treated this 15-year-old as an adult and refused his case. He has said:
“That time was very difficult for me…I didn’t know where I could go or what I could do. I had nothing. And nobody believed my case.”
The Scottish Guardianship Service was able to support Shireen and help him to rebuild his life. Under the Bill, that would not be possible.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that it works both ways? I have a constituent who offered her home to a “17-year-old” asylum-seeking young man. He had all the benefits of being under 19, but then he revealed that on his next birthday he would be 24. We need to talk openly and fairly about the safeguarding issues, both for our own children and for children coming from other countries.
The hon. Member makes an interesting point, but the fact is that the medical professionals just do not support the methods that the Government are suggesting to determine age.
The hon. Lady will know that I tabled an amendment in Committee which the Government have now refashioned and tabled on Report, precisely because there is a pedigree for such testing across European countries. Many European countries routinely use such testing to establish whether children are actually children and to avoid the eventualities that my hon. Friend Lia Nici has just mentioned.
The British Dental Association, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Unison’s experts disagree with the right hon. Member. These are professionals. [Interruption.] The Minister is laughing on the Front Bench and denigrating a trade union. Given the Government’s current position with respect to industrial disputes, I do not think that that is particularly wise of him. He might want to think about that.
I acknowledge Government amendments 134 and 136, but I am afraid I have real problems trusting the Government, because detaining children is wrong: that is the fundamental point here. The Government want to make regulations specifying the circumstances in which unaccompanied children should be detained, and further regulations on time limits. They do not have the courage to put those proposals into the Bill, and they know that we cannot amend statutory instruments should they deign to introduce them at some point in the future. We do not trust them to do the right thing here, because children are children, and it would be extremely harmful for them to be detained.
We tabled amendment 47 to try to humanise the Bill. Much has been said about hordes of people coming here and trying to claim asylum, but this, fundamentally, is about individual people, many of them fleeing circumstances that Conservative Members cannot even imagine. Accordingly, the amendment seeks to disapply the provision in clause 2 from people in a range of categories. The first, in subsection (a), covers
“a person who was under the age of 18 when they arrived in the UK”,
such as Shireen, whom I mentioned earlier, and many others like him.
Subsection (b) refers to a person from Afghanistan
“where there is a real risk of persecution or serious harm…if returned to that country”.
In Committee, I tried to personalise my amendments by putting a name to each of them. I could call this “Sabir’s amendment”, after Sabir Zazai, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council. He came here as a child in the back of a lorry, but he would be prevented from so doing, criminalised and removed to Rwanda if the Government had their way. He makes an outstanding contribution to Scotland. He has two letters which he said he would put on the wall in his house. One is from the Home Office, saying, “You are a person liable to be detained and removed.” The second was sent on behalf of the royal family when he was awarded the OBE.
Subsection (c) specifies
“ a person who is a refugee under the Refugee Convention or in need of humanitarian protection”.
That would cover many people who are currently fleeing from Sudan. Earlier, the Minister failed to identify a proper “safe and legal” route—
No, the Minister did not do that. What he has done is push this on to those at the UNHCR, who say that it is not their job. They have also said that the tiny minority, the 1%, who manage to gain access to its relocation scheme are not suitable, in that there is not enough in that very small scheme to replace a functional asylum system.
My constituent Ilios is a British citizen whose wife and son are trapped in Sudan and are unable to obtain their documents because the British Embassy staff are out of the country, although they now have the right to travel. Will they be able to come to the UK safely through some other mechanism? Will it be possible for people who happen to be in Sudan with refugee travel documents, perhaps with family members visiting there, to be evacuated by the UK forces? The position remains unclear.
Subsection (d) refers to
“ a person…where there is a real risk of persecution or serious harm on grounds of sexual orientation if” that person
“were to be removed in accordance with this section”.
I recently had a call with LGBT rights activists in Uganda, which is introducing brutal laws to persecute LGBT people, up to the point of the death penalty. People are terrified over there. They are talking about mob justice, and of families being at risk as a result of even knowing that their loved ones are LGBT. If they were able to escape Uganda and come here, there would be no means under the Bill to prevent the Government from sending them back rather than protecting them, so we seek to put that protection into the Bill.
Subsection (e) covers
“a person who, there are reasonable grounds to suspect, is a victim of torture”.
In Committee I mentioned Kolbassia, who founded Survivors Speak OUT. I talk to people in my constituency surgeries who have been victims of torture. They deserve protection; they do not deserve this Bill.
Subsection (f) refers to “a Ukraine citizen”. There is no Ivan or Oksara who needs to come here in a boat, because there is a safe and legal route: they can come here perfectly legally, without having to resort to that. We should be making that route available to more people.
The right hon. Lady may not be as well-informed as she hopes she is. Every single local authority in Scotland took people under the Syria scheme and they were proud to do so. We took a greater proportion than the rest of the UK. We would be willing to take more people if the Home Office would only honour its side of the bargain. The Minister is looking at me askance, but the Home Office is choosing where people go. The Home Office is booking hotels. The Home Office is not working with local government in Scotland to do this properly, and I can tell him that it is not working properly with local elected Members. I am aware of plans to put an asylum hotel in my constituency—[Interruption.] The Minister asks me if I am opposing it. I would not know, because he has not given me the details of it. I have known about it since January, but he has not even bothered to get in touch with me as the local elected Member to discuss it. It is absolutely ridiculous.
Subsection (g) of amendment 47 relates to
“a person who, there are reasonable grounds to suspect, is a victim of trafficking or modern slavery”.
I mentioned at a previous stage of the Bill that this could be Eva’s amendment. She is a survivor who was helped and supported by the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance —TARA—in my constituency. She came here and ended up being trapped in sex work. Those people deserve particular help and support, but it will be denied to them under this Bill. Services such as TARA will find it difficult to operate once the Bill passes.
Subsection (h) refers to exempting
“a person who has family members in the United Kingdom”.
We could call this Ibrahim’s amendment. He is a constituent of mine who had family stuck in Iran. He has found it very difficult to get them here. People should not have to wait in situations of danger for the Home Office eventually to get round to processing their applications, because for many it is a situation of life and death. They cannot wait for the Iranian authorities or the Taliban to come and find them. They cannot wait to be persecuted or tortured or killed. People are fleeing for their lives and the Home Office’s very slow decision making puts people at risk.
Subsection (i) refers to a
“person who meets the definition of an ‘adult at risk’ in paragraph 7 of the Home Office guidance on adults at risk in immigration detention (2016), including in particular people suffering from a condition, or who have experienced a traumatic event (such as trafficking, torture or sexual violence), that would be likely to render them particularly vulnerable to harm.”
I have talked previously about Priya, a trafficking survivor who was detained in Yarl’s Wood when she was pregnant and unable to access the services that would have kept her safe. There are many people like that, and under this legislation we will see more women, including pregnant women, being locked up in immigration detention.
Government amendment 95 states that
“it is not necessary for the person to be present in the United Kingdom” to give evidence regarding trafficking. Professor Dame Sara Thornton, the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, gave evidence on this to the Home Affairs Committee last week. She said that asking people to give evidence after they had been removed from the UK would be “astonishingly difficult operationally”, “complex and complicated” and “very challenging indeed”. I would question the very efficacy of this process, because there is no recognition of the difficulties that it would cause. Co-operation with people once they have moved away will be practically very difficult, as will dealing with police forces in other parts of the world. It is unclear what level of co-operation will be required to get some kind of exemption to this requirement to give evidence after removal. What will those “compelling circumstances” be? There is also no recognition of the trauma that this will cause to people.
Dr Katarina Schwartz of the Rights Lab presented evidence to the Home Affairs Committee this morning on the impact that this proposal could have on prosecutions. She said that
“if a survivor is heavily traumatised and being questioned by the police, they will not be able to give good testimony”.
She also said that
“the impact of decreasing support for survivors on both their own experiences of recovery and integration and on their inability to testify is enormous”.
She spoke about the benefits to the person, to the prosecutions and economically to the UK of doing it right and of having people come through a process and do well from it.
This is a dangerous, atrocious Bill. It rips up rights, it undermines our international obligations and it rides roughshod over devolution. It puts children at risk and it places those who have been trafficked more firmly than ever back into the hands of the exploiters, who will more easily avoid prosecution due to the measures in this tawdry Bill. It will not work. We will amend it, but we know that amendments are not enough to fix this unfixable Bill. We know in Scotland that better things are possible, and we wholeheartedly reject this Bill. We are appalled at its imposition against the will of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. We on the SNP Benches say it loud and clear: refugees are welcome here. We reject this fascist, dystopian assault on human rights.
Before I do so, I want to say a word about evidence. The Minister has indicated again today that, in his view, there is evidence that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is being abused. I apologise for doing this to him again, but he might wish to look at the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee this morning by a representative of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, basically saying there is no evidence to support the claim that the national referral mechanism is being abused. On the contrary, the evidence is that there is a low level of abuse. They went on to say that the biggest problem with the NRM is not abuse but the big delay in finding an answer for victims, which is of course within the Government’s control because it is about the length of time that officials are taking to consider cases.
I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me last week to discuss the concerns I raised in Committee. I welcomed the Government’s apparent attempt to improve the Bill for victims of modern slavery, and their willingness to look at that, but then I saw Government amendment 95. Far from making the Bill better for victims of modern slavery, the amendment makes the Bill worse. I believe the Minister was talking in good faith, but it is hard to see Government amendment 95 as an example of good faith. It is a slap in the face for those of us who actually care about victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.
Equally concerning, Government amendment 95 suggests that those who are responsible for the Bill simply do not understand the nature of these crimes or the position of victims. The Minister wants to see an end to human trafficking, and he wants to stop the traffickers’ business model, as do many of us on both sides of the House, but the best way to do that is by identifying, catching and prosecuting the traffickers and slave drivers.
Government amendment 95, by making it an assumption that victims do not need to be present in the UK to assist an investigation, makes it much harder to investigate and prosecute the traffickers and slave drivers. It has been shown time and again that victims’ ability to give evidence is affected by the support they receive. They need to feel safe and they need to have confidence in the authorities.
As Detective Constable Colin Ward of Greater Manchester Police says:
“If we get the victim side right first, the prosecutions will eventually naturally follow, alongside us doing the evidence-based collection of that crime.”
Support for victims matters in catching the slave drivers. Sending victims back to their own country, or to a third country such as Rwanda, will at best make them feel less secure and, therefore, less able or less willing to give the evidence that is needed, and will at worst drive them back into the arms of the traffickers and slave drivers.
Again, the representative from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe made the point today at the Home Affairs Committee that the UK has been leading the world in identifying victims exploited by criminal activity. That tells us that these people are vulnerable, because they have been compelled by traffickers to engage in criminal activity. Disqualifying them from our ability to rescue them will mean the UK is no longer able to identify them, and it will leave them to the mercy of the traffickers. Far from helping, Government amendment 95 flies in the face of what the Minister and the Government say they want to do to deal with the traffickers and slave drivers and to break their business model.
The Government have previously used clause 21(5) to tell us that they are providing more support for victims of slavery. Government amendment 95 reverses that by making it even harder for victims to get the support they need, which I think would be a setback in the fight against the slave drivers and traffickers.
My right hon. Friend is making a good speech. The reality is that amendment 95 poses a threat. Straightaway, its assumption is that someone goes, rather than that they have to prove anything; they go first and then somebody has to prove that they have to be here. What are they going to do when they look at that? They are going to say, “We’re off, so why would we give evidence?”
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that this is an unintended consequence of the Government’s amendment, but I fear, given that they tabled it, that they knew all too well what they were doing with this amendment, because they just want people to leave the UK. As he says, assuming that where somebody is identified they are going to have to leave the UK means that they are less likely to give evidence, and we will not catch and prosecute so many traffickers and slave drivers. Sadly, all too often those individuals will return to a country where they will be straight into the arms of the traffickers and slave drivers again.
The purpose of amendment 4 is simple: to ensure that victims who are being exploited, in slavery, here in the UK are able to continue to access the support they need, which will enable them to find a new life here or indeed in their home country. Not everybody who has been trafficked here for slavery wants to stay in the UK. Many of them want to return home, but they need to be given the support that enables that to be possible.
Amendment 4, if accepted, would ensure that it would be more likely that the criminals were caught. This Bill says, “If you are a victim of modern slavery who came here illegally, we will detain and deport you, because your slavery is secondary to your immigration status.” It has always been important to separate modern slavery from immigration status. Modern slavery is not a migration issue, not least because more than half of those referred to the national referral mechanism here in the UK for modern slavery are UK citizens here in the UK.
Modern slavery is the greatest human rights issue of our time. The approach in this Bill will have several ramifications. It will consign victims to remaining in slavery. The Government will be ensuring that more people will stay enslaved and in exploitation as a result of this Bill, because it will give the slave drivers and traffickers another weapon to hold people in that slavery and exploitation. It will be easy to say to them, “Don’t even think about trying to escape from the misery of your life, from the suffering we are subjecting you to, because all that the UK Government will do is send you away, probably to Rwanda.” The Modern Slavery Act gave hope to victims, but this Bill removes that hope. I genuinely believe that if enacted as it is currently proposed, it will leave more people—more men, women and children—in slavery in the UK.
As I have said, another impact of the Bill will be fewer prosecutions and fewer criminals being caught and put behind bars. I apologise to the Minister for bouncing him with the Greater Manchester Police evidence that I cited earlier, but it is very relevant and he needs to look at it. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 already means that people who are in slavery—the figures on those who get a positive decision from the national referral mechanism show this—are not coming forward because of the evidence requirement now under that Act. That is having a real impact and it means fewer prosecutions of the criminals.
I wish to mention the impact on children, and I urge the Minister to listen carefully to the concerns of the Children’s Commissioner. Other Members of this House, including my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, have long championed, through the process of this Bill, the issue of children. My concern is particularly about those children who are in slavery in this country and being cruelly exploited, as victims need support.
The Children’s Commissioner has cited the example of Albin, a 16-year-old Albanian national who came to the UK in September via a boat. He was trafficked for gang and drug exploitation. It was clear to the Border Force that he was young and malnourished, and that he had significant learning difficulties. He was provided support, including from the Children’s Commissioner’s Help at Hand team, but the point the commissioner makes is that
“without the NRM decision…he would have not been processed through the immigration/asylum route as quickly and he would have not received the adequate support to meet his needs.”
Upon receiving the positive decision for the NRM, the social care team was able to transfer him to a suitable placement. That 16-year-old would otherwise have potentially been detained and deported by the Government.
It is important that we consider the impact on children who are victims of slavery. I put the arguments earlier about making it harder to prosecute the slave drivers, and that covers child victims as well, but there may well be an added element for the traffickers to use to keep children enslaved, by which I mean the situation in Rwanda. UNICEF said:
“In Rwanda, over half of all girls and six out of ten boys experience some form of violence during childhood. Children are usually abused by people they know—parents, neighbours, teachers, romantic partners or friends. Only around 60% of girls in Rwanda who are victims of violence tell someone about it, and the rate is even lower for boys.”
I recognise that that quote relates to children in Rwanda being abused by people known to them, but the environment is hardly conducive to the good care of children.
Amendment 4 would remove the problem by ensuring that those identified as being exploited into slavery here in the UK could still access the support provided under the Modern Slavery Act. We have led the world in providing support for those in slavery by what we have done here in the United Kingdom. The Bill significantly damages the operation of that Act. It is bad for victims, bad for the prosecution of slave drivers and bad for the reputation of the United Kingdom.
I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for saying from the Dispatch Box that he was willing to talk and listen to us to see whether we can find a way through this. I say to him quite simply that the best way to do that is through amendment 4. That is what removes the problem in relation to the victims of modern slavery, so I hope the Government will be willing to look very carefully at that amendment and to listen to what we have said. What we are talking about is not just what we say, but what those who are identifying and dealing with the victims of modern slavery are experiencing day in, day out. They worry that more people will be in slavery as a result of the Bill.
Order. I will now announce the result of the ballot held today for the election of the Chair of the new Energy Security and Net Zero Committee. A total of 384 votes were cast, none of which was invalid. There were two rounds of counting. There were 362 active votes in the final round, excluding those ballot papers whose preferences had been exhausted. The quota to be reached was therefore 182 votes. Angus Brendan MacNeil was elected Chair with 188 votes. He will take up his post immediately. I congratulate him on his election. The results of the count under the alternative vote system will be made available as soon as possible in the Vote Office and published on the internet.
I now call Dame Diana Johnson, after whom I shall have to impose a five-minute limit on speeches.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mrs May. I thank her for highlighting the evidence that we heard this morning at the Home Affairs Committee on the issue of trafficking and modern slavery, and I again pay tribute to the work that she did on that pioneering piece of legislation in 2015.
I think the right hon. Lady is right that the Government do not fully understand the law in this area of modern slavery and trafficking. I support what she said about amendments 95 and 4. I noted that, at the start of proceedings, the Minister said that it is important that we get the Bill right, and it is absolutely important that we do so. As we enter this final stretch for the House to have the opportunity to debate and amend the Bill,
I wish again to express my concerns about the lack of an impact assessment for the Bill. The impact assessment is now seven weeks late, and it is wholly unacceptable that the House is being forced to pass this very significant legislation with no firm analysis on whether it will work or what the cost will be. According to the Refugee Council, the Bill could cost as much as £9 billion over the next three years.
I again refer to the Home Affairs Committee report on small boat crossings, in which we were very clear about the need for evidence-based policy making. It is regrettable that this Bill is being forced through at breakneck speed with no time for pre-legislative scrutiny. I know the Minister has had to table a lot of Government amendments to deal with issues that perhaps should have been thought through before, and we have heard that he will reconsider issues around modern slavery and trafficking as well.
As I move on to the amendments tabled in my name, I want to raise two particular issues. The Home Affairs Committee, in the report I just referred to, made it very clear that international co-operation, respect and trust are essential to building a joint framework with other countries to tackle the problem of irregular migration. I am disturbed that the Government are hardening their stance on the ECHR and I strongly oppose the latest amendment on interim relief, new clause 26, which I believe will breach international obligations.
We have heard from two eminent lawyers in this Chamber, Joanna Cherry and Sir Geoffrey Cox, who are united in what they think the new clause will do—indeed the latter, the former Attorney General, said that it was setting out legislation to allow the deliberate disobeying of our obligations.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the amendments she has tabled and the work she does with the Select Committee. Does she agree with my constituents who have written to me, precisely on this issue, to say that the Bill risks our reputation internationally for providing a safe haven for those who are fleeing persecution, and that we must do all we can to ensure that that reputation is maintained?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Reputation is important in this area, and the approach taken on this particular point will hurt our country more than it helps us. For example, it will not help us to get a returns agreement with EU countries, which I think we all agree is necessary if we are to start to tackle irregular migration.
I welcome the fact that the Government are introducing provisions for legal aid in the Bill, which I think is a positive step forward, but I am concerned that they do not acknowledge that there are currently legal aid deserts across the country that leave genuine asylum seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking without access to legal advice. The sector is on the point of collapse and access to advice regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner is really hard to come by for the many people who desperately need it. I hope the Minister will set out how people will be able to access that legal advice and assistance.
At Committee stage, I raised several concerns with the Minister about the lack of consideration for vulnerable children within the Bill. The Bill creates broad powers to detain unaccompanied children, removing essential safeguards and time limits that had previously been enacted by this House.
I know the Minister said in his opening remarks that he was going to support the amendments tabled by Tim Loughton, and I am pleased to hear that. However, unfortunately, the Bill as currently drafted will still allow the unlimited detention of pregnant women, ending the current 72-hour time limit—a limit put in place by the Government in 2016.
The Bill also abolishes necessary safeguards for children who are accompanied, undoing the protection put in place by the Government in 2014. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Children’s Commissioner and the Refugee Council have all raised serious concerns about those proposed changes, and I agree completely with the issues that they have raised.
That is why I have tabled amendments 2 and 3 to uphold the existing detention limits for children, families with children and pregnant women. They were introduced by this House for very good reason and should be upheld. Limits on detention deliver essential safeguards for the most vulnerable people who arrive on our shores, ensuring that while we process their claims we keep them safe, we treat them with care and we do no further harm. The UK has been a stalwart of that decency, but these specific detention measures are a major step backwards for families, for children and for pregnant women.
I welcome Government amendments 134 and 136, and the support for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, but even with those changes, the Bill does not extend the appropriate protection to children with families or to pregnant women. My amendments have cross-party support, including from the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, and from the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes. I hope that the Minister will, even at this late stage, consider again whether anything can be done on the amendments. If he is not minded to do that, I will, if necessary, test the opinion of the House on that important issue.
I also welcome the Government’s change of heart on the ban on future citizenship for children born in the UK to parents who meet the conditions in clause 2. That delivers on at least half of my amendment 8. However, I firmly push back to the Minister that it still cannot be right that an eight-year-old child brought here by their parents would be forever barred from citizenship as an adult. I raised that point in Committee. It seems completely illiberal to punish a child for the actions of their parents or carers. Will the Minister look again at amendment 8?
I have tabled several other practical amendments underlining the protections and considerations for children, which I believe need to be addressed. Those amendments are all supported by the Children’s Commissioner, and some have foundations in the Home Affairs Committee report on channel crossings. I hope that the Minister will consider them in that vein.
The Government’s approach to tackling migrants in the Bill remains problematic in respect of children. There are several measures and amendments before the House that could be adopted while still allowing the Government to deliver—arguably more effectively and practically—on their stated aims. There are other, less headline-catching measures that will also uphold the essential safeguarding provisions that the House has put in place over the years to protect victims of trafficking and modern slavery, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, asylum seekers and refugees.
Finally, the Home Affairs Committee has started an inquiry on slavery and trafficking. We were very fortunate to have had evidence from Baroness Butler-Sloss last week, and from the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sarah Thornton, both of whom took the view that the Bill will not help victims of modern slavery and trafficking; it will do the exact opposite. I again ask the Minister to listen to the experts in the field. It is notable that two Conservative Members—the right hon. Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and for Maidenhead—made compelling arguments on why the provisions relating to modern slavery and trafficking need to be considered once again.
The other place may take further views, but does the Minister seriously want to make it harder for victims to come forward? If—as Dame Sarah Thornton said—a woman is trafficked into this country after
Order. Hon. Members will have noticed that we are endeavouring first to call those who have tabled amendments. After that, I or my successor will accommodate as many Members as possible.
The stop the boats Bill is important to my Dover and Deal constituency because it focuses specifically on the problems of small boat arrivals by dramatically reducing the pull factor that draws people to the United Kingdom—namely, that once people are here, it is very hard to remove them. The Bill cuts through all that. It says, plainly and simply: “If you’ve arrived here illegally, you won’t be allowed to stay.”
I have long said that the small boats crisis will end only when migrants and people smugglers alike know that they will not succeed. Stopping the boats is the right and compassionate thing to do. It will save lives that are being risked in the channel. The Bill and today’s amendments, particularly new schedule 1, will send a clear and unmistakable message to would-be channel migrants: “If you are thinking of breaking into Britain in a small boat, don’t bother. Save your cash and stay safe on land.”
Let me turn to the details of amendment 184. Clause 4, to which the amendment relates, sets out the circumstances in which human rights and other protection cases can be excluded. Put simply, if a person arrives through the small boats route, they will not be allowed to try to prevent their removal through endless legal appeals paid for by the British taxpayer.
The amendment focuses specifically on those who would put our public safety or national security at risk. This approach is in line with the UN refugee convention and the European convention on human rights, which has always allowed countries to protect themselves from those who would cause the most serious risk of harm to them and their countrymen and women.
The amendment would apply whether or not the country of origin can be identified—for example, if someone is undocumented, perhaps because they have eaten their identity papers or thrown their passport in the channel, or, as border officials tell me has shockingly been the case, if someone has taken razor blades to their fingers to damage and destroy their fingerprints to avoid identification.
At the frontline of my constituency in Dover and Deal, this is not a matter of open-borders fervour or pro-migration ideological dogma, as some of the contributions today have suggested; it is a matter that directly affects my constituency and our country’s safety, security and peace of mind. A key reason why the small boats Bill and amendment 184 matter is that when Dover and Deal residents raise matters of concern, the official Opposition do not back them and do not even believe them. When migrants ran amok and broke into a woman’s house, before being apprehended in a bedroom, the leader of the Labour group on Dover District Council went on TV to cast doubt on residents’ accounts, dismissing them as misreportings. He said that we should be “more generous” to illegal channel migrants.
The reality is that Labour’s new clause 15 is a smokescreen for allowing more legal challenge and more taxpayer costs —more potential loopholes to allow those who would wish our country harm to stay here. New clause 15(2) would require a Secretary of State to consider imposing TPIMs on illegal migrants who are suspected of terrorism, if they cannot remove them, but as the Minister has said, the Government are doing that anyway. The Government will always act to protect the country’s national security.
If Opposition Members want to ensure our country’s safety and security, they should back the Government’s “stop the boats” Bill and they should back swift removals. New clause 15 pretends to be tough, but in fact it would result in slower appeals than the fast-track process the Government have set out. In my constituency we see Labour’s true colours: it is an open-borders, pro-immigration party. It does not want to stop the boats. Just like Brexit, so on small boats: Labour cannot be trusted and does not listen.
I thank the Minister for engaging with us on amendment 184. I have had the reassurance that I sought, as have my right hon. and hon. Friends who support the amendment, so we will not press it to a vote today. I look forward to continuing to engage with the Minister to stop the boats.
Let us be very clear: demonising refugees will not tackle the cost of living crisis in this country, but it might create some local election leaflets, just like this piece of legislation. We know that this legislation will not survive the other place, thankfully, so the question for us today is: what messages do we need to send to our colleagues in the other House as they scrutinise and hold to account this Government, given that the Government have systematically failed to provide the time for scrutiny in this place?
First, we need to tell the Lords that this Government have no idea how to solve the problem that we all want to fix, which is stopping the boats and stopping the traffickers. Nothing in this legislation targets the traffickers themselves: there is no increase in deterrence for them. There is no increase in sentencing—nothing about joint enterprise, for example—and nothing about those people who are illegal overstayers here, which could have been brought in to deter the traffickers. I agreed with Mrs May when she said that the Bill will simply help those who engage in trafficking, because it will allow them to threaten the people who might come forward.
Secondly, the Bill tells us that the Government do not respect the role of the international rule of law, or understand why international co-operation matters if we actually want to address these concerns. Imagine if every country took the approach that the Minister did when he was trying to say that no one should claim asylum in the UK; they should go and do it somewhere else. The whole system would collapse. It is by working with other countries, upholding the European Court of Human Rights, and doing our bit that we will manage this issue better.
Thirdly, the Bill tells us that this Government have no idea at all what modern slavery is, although, frankly, I am not sure they really care, given their reaction: time and again, they talk about evidence but produce none to back up their claims.
Fourthly, the Bill tells us that the Government do not really care about the children who are already on our doorstep. I am glad to see Tim Loughton doing the work that he has done, but I have to tell him that I am very sceptical that there will be meaningful change, whether for children who are accompanied or those who are not, because every refugee child in this country is vulnerable. The children in the hotels in my constituency who were sexually assaulted were with relatives; those children who have gone missing have family who are looking for them. The Children’s Commissioner is terrified, which is why I have tabled my amendment to remove children and pregnant women from clause 2, but I will also support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson. I will also mention the age verification processes that sound like something out of a Margaret Atwood novel, yet Government Ministers want to support them, and the removal of the independent family review panel.
This Government clearly do not understand that we need a focus, not on travel, but on the threat that people face, if we really want to tackle this problem. That is why safe and legal routes matter. The Minister can rumble on at the Dispatch Box, he can avoid questions, he can remove basic protections and decency standards so that we are waiting for refugees to live in Grenfell Tower perhaps, without smoke alarms, without—
The Minister has not explained why he has put forward that statutory instrument. People will still come because it is still better than the death that they face in the country they are fleeing from. We see that with the Sudanese. The Minister said earlier that he would listen to the UNHCR when it came to taking Sudanese refugees; in that case, he needs to tell us how many he will take because right now, there are people facing that very same situation. There are no queues in a war zone.
With the greatest respect, I have listened at length to the hon. Member for Stone and have yet to find any common ground on these issues.
Frankly, it is about time that we stood up for the importance of the international rule of law and helping people when they are facing these situations. There are no queues in a war zone, there is no administration or bureaucracy: there is fear, terror and persecution, and those people who are in Sudan now will be asking those questions. If the Minister wants to answer them and give those people hope that, if they make it to the border or to one of the refugee camps—they may find one of those UNHCR people who does not think that the UNCHR has that relationship with the UK but thinks the Minister is prepared to do that—we will take a certain number of people, that might stop them fleeing. This legislation will not do so.
More people will keep coming, including from Afghanistan, where the Government have failed to bring in a safe and legal route, and where they still fail to listen to those of us who have constituents who have been affected by that fact. They will come from Eritrea. They will come from the war zones and places of persecution—those people whose religion means that they are at risk. They will come because they see what we did with the Ukrainians; they see this country, and they know that there is a better way of doing it. The Lords will take this legislation on—that is probably the point of it for the Government—but let nobody be under any illusions: the Bill is just about
It is difficult to know in five minutes how to address the five amendments with my name at the top, including the two that have been leapfrogged by the Home Secretary. I have spent many hours cossetted with the Minister for Immigration and others to try to get some of the adjustments being made, and I am grateful for the time he has spent to try to get us to a better place. I certainly do not have time to respond to the extensive assurances that he aimed to give me from the Dispatch Box earlier.
I support safe and legal routes. I am glad we will now have them on the face of the Bill. We need a balance. I support this Bill, but if we are to be tough on the abusers of our immigration system, we also have to ensure we are open and generous to genuine asylum seekers, to whom we owe a duty of care. The amendments on safe and legal routes are also timely because we needed to address the question that I posed to the Home Secretary some months ago about how the 16-year-old orphan from east Africa with relations in the UK would make it to the UK. This week, that apocryphal scenario became a reality. The measures that the Immigration Minister will be bringing forward need to address that question.
It is essential that the Immigration Minister consults local authorities about capacity, but he also needs to consult refugee organisations and others about the type of schemes with which we will come forward. How will they operate? Who will qualify for them? How will people access them? Let us make sure that those schemes are in place sooner rather than later in 2024, although I would have liked them to be contemporaneous. We have a deal on safe and legal routes, but we need to see some real workable details in the coming months and as the Bill goes through the Lords.
I have no time to talk about amendment 181 on the return of children or amendment 182 on best interest and welfare checks. My real concern has been on child detention, so I was grateful for the assurances that the Immigration Minister gave me, because the measures as they stand do not differentiate between children and adults in detention terms. They ride roughshod through the safeguards on child detention under the Immigration Bill 2014, through which this Government specified the 24-hour limit, and the Government have not even offered to put the maximum detention times for children in this Bill. That is a must when it comes to any amendments that the Minister can bring forward in the House of Lords.
I very much agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes in support of children. Does he also agree that we need absolute clarity on the responsibilities under the Children Act 1989 in all circumstances where a child is on these shores, and in particular where the Home Office itself has some responsibility?
That is absolutely right. It is notable that three former Children’s Ministers are behind the measures we are trying to push today. It is essential that any child in this country, whether a refugee here temporarily or someone here for the long term, is covered by the welfare considerations of the Children Act. I am grateful that the Minister referred to the Children Act. As it stands, despite the measures that mean there will be a differentiation between children and adult detention—we do not know what yet—under the Bill a 12-year-old child claiming asylum could still be in a Home Office detention centre facility for 27 days. That is not a good look, and it must not happen.
I add my voice to the chorus of former Children’s Ministers on this issue. Does my hon. Friend agree that the period for which a child could be detained when they first arrive to find them suitable accommodation needs to be a matter of days, not weeks, and that that needs to be in the Bill?
That is what we put in the Immigration Act 2014 with the then Immigration Minister, now the Transport Secretary. What has changed between 2014 and 2023 that means apparently we have to detain children indefinitely? We need timescales in the Bill, as we had in 2014. I appreciate there are practical problems about age verification for those who are challenged. We may have to have a two-tier system, but certainly those children who are recognised generally as children should not be locked up in detention centres and Home Office facilities, and that has to be made absolutely clear when this Bill goes to the Lords.
We also need to know how and where the Government plan to accommodate those children once identified. The accommodation does not exist at the moment, and the Government have only a few months to magic it up if we want to get this legislation through in a matter of months. I share the Children’s Commissioner’s concerns. She said:
“The Bill is unclear on what the state of the accommodation will be for children while awaiting transfer to local authority care or removal from the country…What regulations will be in place for Home Office provided accommodation? If the accommodation is regulated which body will inspect them?”
There are a lot of questions to be asked. We are taking the assurances from the Minister on trust. We will not continue with a lack of detail when the Bill gets to the Lords, but for the moment we will not force it, because I trust the Minister to do the right thing before the Bill goes through its final stages.
I rise to speak to a range of amendments and new clauses seeking to protect people from the attacks on basic human dignity that are before the House today. I am supporting new clauses in the name of my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy about the ongoing human rights breaches that migrants endure, which have been happening for some time, but today I shall focus on how the legislation treats those who are pregnant, because not only will the Bill persecute and imprison people fleeing torture, war and oppression, but it will put the health of some of the most vulnerable of them—pregnant women—and the life of their unborn children at risk. That is why I have tabled new clause 2 seeking to exempt pregnant women and girls from provisions about removals. My new clause 3 seeks to require an independent review of the effect of the provision on pregnant migrants, and my new clause 7 is about a review of the effect of the measures on the health of migrants.
I am also supporting related amendments to prevent an immigration officer’s and the Secretary of State’s detention powers from being used to detain unaccompanied children, families with dependent children, or pregnant women, as tabled by my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson.
In order to cut through the dehumanising othering that too often plagues debates on migration—I note the awful nature of the comments made earlier today in response to Alison Thewliss about the dental testing of young migrants, which I find dehumanising and an othering of different communities—I would like to draw the House’s attention to a real-life example to illustrate the human reality of what is being debated today.
Najma Ahmadi and her family fled from the Taliban and made 20 attempts to cross into Greece from Turkey—20 attempts. On two occasions, Najma nearly drowned, once while pregnant with her baby daughter. She finally arrived in the UK last July on a boat, her terrified one-year-old baby girl clutched against her. Najma and her family were entitled to asylum, which was granted last December, but we must not forget those pregnant women escaping persecution who have died seeking refuge. For example, Yohanna, an Eritrean woman thought to be about 20 years old, who gave birth as she drowned alongside many others, when the boat she was travelling on, trying to get to safety, capsized. And there are many other women who remain unnamed.
These women are not criminals, but this Government are proposing today to treat them worse than criminals, despite knowing that such women are in fact victims of foreign policy failures and the simple, indisputable fact that there were no safe routes for them. They are fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, which has barely had a mention today. As I said during the previous stage of the Bill, as of last month, 22 people had been granted asylum through the Afghanistan resettlement scheme. If that figure has changed, I would be more than happy for the Minister to address it in his closing remarks, but that is such a small number—unless of course the Government have changed tack and do not think there are women trying to escape the Taliban in Afghanistan and believe that they do not deserve safe routes through which to escape.
Not only will the Government refuse sanctuary to those who survive these horrors, but clause 11 will enable the Home Secretary to condemn them to indefinite detention. The Bill will therefore see migrant women who should have finally escaped persecution facing pregnancy and birth alone, without adequate medical support and with the fear of potential separation from their baby.
There is a wealth of information and evidence that the imprisonment of any pregnant women is wrong. We know that pregnant women in prison are almost twice as likely to give birth prematurely and are five times more likely to experience a stillbirth. Yet pregnant refugees are to be placed in circumstances worse than the already inhumane situation of pregnant women in UK prisons such as Manston, where there are outbreaks of illness and disease, reports of assaults and drug use by guards, and which last year was estimated to be detaining thousands of people arriving in Britain via small boats, some for as long as 40 days or more. No one should be detained in such places, never mind those who are pregnant.
The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives, and Maternity Action have all raised that healthcare in immigration detention is often very poor. In 2014, some 99 women were locked up in Serco-run Yarl’s Wood detention centre while pregnant, and research by Medical Justice found they often missed antenatal appointments—
There are many things one could say about this Bill, and certainly my extensive backstory of dealing with asylum and migration issues means that there are many elements to which I think it is appropriate to draw the House’s attention. However, it is important to start by saying, as many colleagues have said, that we all share the aims this Bill sets out to achieve. We cannot allow a situation to continue in which, in the English channel, significant numbers of people are putting their lives at risk, and in some cases tragically losing their lives. We need to find a better, more robust and effective way of managing our migration process.
I would like to focus my attention in the short time available on a couple of issues of principle and a couple of practical issues that I hope Ministers will give attention to and that I am sure will be the focus of debate in the other place. I certainly commend the work that has been done by my hon. Friend Tim Loughton and my right hon. Friend Mrs May, and I very much welcome the assurances that have been received in response to the work they have done.
I will start by mentioning age assessments, the impact of local authority duties under the Children Act 1989 and the need to ensure that, by the time this Bill completes its passage and gains Royal Assent, we have absolute clarity about what we expect of our local authorities and about how that process will interact with both this Bill and other legislation such as the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, which imposes specific responsibilities on local authorities in respect of all young people, regardless of their immigration status.
Those who have read what the interim Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee has said—its report has been published by the Home Office on its website—will be clear that the scientific methods proposed envisage at best a minimum age range that could be assigned to an individual. It envisages that the Merton-compliant local authority age assessment process will continue as necessary and required.
We need to ensure that we do not end up in a situation where a local authority or other public body is judicially reviewed for failing to carry out its duties under, for example, the Children Act or the Children (Leaving Care) Act, while seeking to be in compliance with its duties in respect of immigration under the Illegal Migration Act. I am pleased, having met the Minister on this issue, that he has said he will return to me on a number of those points, but it is important, if we are not to undermine public confidence in the effectiveness of this legislation, that we address that issue expeditiously.
The second issue of principle to which I would like to draw the House’s attention is the impact of the so-called rule 39 point—the interim relief provided by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Brighton declaration some years ago was a recognition by the European Court of Human Rights of the concerns of a number of member states about areas where the actions of the Court had departed from some of the things perhaps originally envisaged in the treaty or specifically enshrined in law. Therefore, there is clarity that the Strasbourg Court and its judges recognise that there is concern about the operation of some of these matters.
However, it does seem to me concerning that the Bill envisages that the only circumstances in which such an interim measure would be relevant is where the Home Secretary considers it to be so. The default position is that we will always ignore our international law commitments unless we choose to follow them, and that is something that, as a party that seeks to uphold the rule of law in all cases and all circumstances, we should be concerned about.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in that on my next point, which is our links with other countries and in particular returns agreements, I have had the benefit of a lot of research support looking at the United Kingdom’s relationships with other countries. Clearly, if we are not to create a situation in which significant numbers of people find themselves, at very significant taxpayer cost, in detention in the UK for long periods of time, we need to go immensely beyond what is envisaged in the Rwanda agreement and establish returns agreements, particularly with EU neighbours and with other countries as well.
It is my understanding from the assurances I have received from Ministers and the Government that all of those points will be addressed during the passage of this Bill. In order to achieve that, which is a wish we all share, I will be supporting it tonight.
I hate the crossings. I hate every single aspect of the crossings. For a start, it is a traffic that turns people, in particular extremely vulnerable people, into a commodity. I have heard stories that traffickers often deliberately buy dinghies that are more dangerous, because they are hopeful they will be picked up by other people. That is despicable. They are deliberately putting other people at risk. They are also a sign of a failure of international diplomacy in other parts of the world, most notably in Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. No doubt we will have people from Sudan in the not too distant future, too. They are chaotic and unregulated. There is no opportunity for justice or proper priority for those who are most in need, so I absolutely hate them.
Emotions run extremely high, most notably emotions on behalf of those who are being trafficked. They are in fear for their lives. They are terrified of being spat at, of being hated, of being in an environment they do not know and where they do not speak the language properly, and all the rest of it. Also, many people in this country watch with compassion that is mixed with anxiety and fear. That is why the language that we use is so, so important. I say very gently to the Minister that I really did not like it when, in a previous debate, he started using language about breaking into this country, and his using the word “cannibalise” today is very, very unfortunate. I know he is a decent man; I urge him to think about that language.
I do not, incidentally, buy the fundamental premise of the Bill either. If it really were trying to provide some kind of deterrent, it would have been thought through much more carefully. I do not believe that deterrent is really the matter of it. The push factors to the UK are far more significant than the pull factors in determining who ends up on a boat. Insofar as there is any evidence as to what the pull factors are, they are: that we speak English in the UK and lots of people are more likely to speak English than French, German, Italian or Spanish; that people already have family connections in the UK, so they think they might be able to base themselves here more easily; and that we have the rule of law. Those three things are not going to change.
I passionately dislike the Bill’s interaction with UK modern slavery legislation. Mrs May said it far more effectively than I can, but I just look at Government amendment 95. It is the worst piece of gobbledegook I have ever seen introduced:
“The Secretary of State must assume for the purposes…that it is not necessary for the person to be present in the UK…unless she considers that there are compelling circumstances…In determining whether there are compelling circumstances…the Secretary of State must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”
She is going to be in endless discussion with herself! It is just preposterous and completely undermines the good efforts, made over many years, to try to ensure we really can crack down on the traffickers. The best person able to reveal a trafficking ring is a victim of that trafficking ring. Without willing co-operation from those people, we simply give more power to the traffickers.
I also dislike the interaction with our international commitments. The former Attorney General, Sir Geoffrey Cox, made the point earlier that, in essence, the Bill is asking us to say deliberately that a Minister can breach our international commitments. As somebody who has probably been the longest standing critic of President Putin in this House and has been saying this for a very long time, I do not want us to be in a very small group of countries with Russia and Belarus who have left the European Court of Human Rights. That, in the end, would do a terrible disfavour to British prosperity in the world.
What the former Attorney General said—I thought it an extraordinarily contradictory contribution to our affairs—was that these judgments were not compelling. We are not compelled to abide by them—indeed we did not in respect of prisoner voting—yet he complained that there was something wrong with saying in law that we are not compelled to do so. Either we believe we are obliged to follow the judgments or we do not. The truth is that we should not be following them.
There are times when we want to disagree with a Court ruling. The Labour Government certainly did over whether prisoners should have the right to vote. There was a lengthy process, and I cannot even remember where we ended up. I am not opposed to a disagreement with the Court—that can sometimes happen—but the Bill, and especially the amendments in the name of the right hon. Gentleman and others, deliberately ask the Government to front it up with the European Court and the European convention on human rights. In the end, that will do us long-term harm. When we want to have a conversation with China about abiding by international rules-based order, it will be more difficult for us to do that when we are offending our own treaty obligations.
Labour MPs are often asked the perfectly legitimate question: “If you don’t believe in this Bill, what would you do?” As I said earlier, first, I want a comprehensive security treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union. I think that was what we always wanted at the beginning of the Brexit process—the right hon. Member for Maidenhead was quite right to argue for it. I do not know why that is not on the table again now. It would solve many of the problems that we are seeking to address. Secondly, we should make it easier to arrest the traffickers. We need to devote more time, energy, money and international co-operation to making that happen. Thirdly, we need to process the backlog faster. The more people stuck in the backlog for months, the more the cost to the British people from hotels or whatever other arrangements are made. That is wrong.
Finally, I honestly do not think that anyone will be proud of this legislation in five, 10 or 20 years’ time. I hope that it will all be undone by a future Government. I do not even think that the immigration Minister will mention it in his memoirs.
Edmund Burke said:
“Justice is itself the greatest standing policy of civil society;
and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.”
Defending our borders and our ability as a sovereign nation to remove people who have no legal right to be here is a matter of justice—it is legally just and socially just. So is our right as a Parliament and a Government to say how many people should come here lawfully. I suggest gently to the Minister that he needs to look next at legal immigration—the record numbers of people coming here and the visa system that allows that. All that matters to my constituents. I humbly propose that it matters just as much to the constituents of Members of this House from Ruislip to Rhondda, and from Worthing to Walthamstow.
Every poll or test of public opinion says that the British people want to stop the boats crossing the channel. As Sir Chris Bryant said, not only does that endanger the lives of the people in the boats, it offends the principle that I just set out that a nation is no nation if it cannot control its borders. Despite the rhetoric that we have heard, Opposition Members are paying lip service to immigration controls. I believe, as do the vast majority of the people I represent, that there has been too much immigration into Britain for too long. Immigration is a salient for them in a way that it is just not for many Opposition Members.
Outside this place, the shrillest opponents of this legislation and the fiercest critics of the Home Secretary include those who are deluded and those who are devious. They are deluded in refusing to accept the reality that many of the people arriving in the boats are economic migrants, gamed by dodgy interest groups and devious lawyers to support spurious claims exploiting the capricious perversity of European judges, who no one in my constituency chose and who are not accountable to anyone in this Chamber or this country. The trouble is that some people do not believe in the integrity of our borders because, in essence, they do not believe in the integrity of our nation.
I gave the example of a case that was not about immigration but about something as vivid as the issue of immigration: prisoner voting. Successive Governments—Labour and Conservative—opposed prisoner voting, and in the end the matter was dropped. That is a very good example of where the European Court of Human Rights was dismissive of the traditions and character of how we do things here.
I commend the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary for strengthening the Bill further by a variety of means, for that means we can ensure we deliver on our promise. New clause 22, in the name of the Home Secretary, will restore the kind of common-sense justice that the British people are crying out for. It will stop courts granting interim remedies that delay the removal of people who should not be here and who the public rightly expect the Government to remove.
New clause 26 will ensure that the Home Secretary has the power to remove people who have entered the country illegally and have no recourse to stay. When the British people see the human rights lawyers making a 4 am dash to stop planes of people being deported, they know that our system is broken and they want it fixed. They wonder why those with power seem powerless to challenge all that. That exposes—indeed, it epitomises—the gulf between the prejudices of the liberal establishment and the sentiments of the people their power affects.
The British people elected us, in this Chamber, to make laws that keep them safe. New clause 25 refers to essential age assessments, which will help such safety. What angers people is the unfairness whereby economic migrants claim to be younger than they are, in order to game asylum rules. Just a week ago, the press reported the story of an illegal immigrant who smuggled himself into Britain claiming to be 17 years old. He was actually aged 42 and a former ISIS member. According to the story, he spent up to a week in a local authority residential facility with children under 18 before his lies were exposed. That does not keep people safe.
Scientific age assessments can be carried out, and they are carried out in countries as varied as Finland, France and Sweden, as well as in other European nations. They are well established and they work.
I will not because time does not allow.
The amendment I tabled in Committee, which has now been brought forward by the Government, will put in place scientific tests to establish beyond doubt the age of claimants.
Almost 90,000 people have come here in small boats in recent years. It costs £6 million a day to accommodate them in more than 300 hotels. The Government and this House must re-establish the faith of the British people that we understand their concerns. It is as simple as this: we must deliver the legislation because we must stop the boats.
I am interested to know whether I am part of the liberal establishment. As a working-class girl from Yorkshire, I am struggling a little with that concept. I wonder whether Mrs May is part of the liberal establishment that has been spoken about.
We on the Opposition Benches are clear that the tide of illegal migration to this country must be stemmed. We are also clear that the appalling rise in the number of people risking their lives in small boats to cross the channel is a damning indictment on this Government’s failure to secure our borders. Deflecting blame for their failure on each and every person who gets in a boat, at great risk to themselves, because they have no other option, is shameful and wrong.
I rise to support amendments 2 and 3, in the name of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, in the hope that Ministers will recognise the inherent injustice in this blanket approach and that they will reflect on the need to address the issue on the basis of what works, not what they believe will reverse their poor poll ratings on immigration.
The truth is that people are sick and tired of hearing from successive Tory Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries that they are finally going to get tough and sort out the mess that they themselves have made of our immigration system. If we want to address the growing cynicism in the country about promises made from the Dispatch Box that turn out to be hollow, Ministers have to give up their addiction to divisive and dangerous language and headlines, and get serious about the issue of illegal migration.
I agree wholeheartedly. I sometimes worry, on many levels, about the language used in this place and its impact on the outside world. My hon. Friend Sir Chris Bryant has made that point very well. We all need to think about the language we use, the words we say and the impact that they can have on people outside this House.
What we need is a thorough, workable and deliverable plan. That is what the Opposition have put forward, as the shadow Immigration Minister, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, has articulated brilliantly this afternoon. What distinguishes Labour’s plan is not only that it is practical and tough on the real criminals, but that it is rooted in justice and fairness.
I note that the Minister has described the Bill as
“the morally just thing to do”.
I beg to differ. There is absolutely nothing fair or just about detaining children, and nor will the Bill do anything to deter the criminal gangs. Equally, as we have heard, imprisoning pregnant women and those with dependent children undermines the moral basis of the policy without achieving any benefit. That would be true whether or not the Government had a good record of protecting vulnerable people, either in detention or in Home Office accommodation, which clearly they do not.
Justice and fairness cannot be cast aside lightly. They are at the heart of what makes us all proud to be British. They underpin our values. They should be the guiding principles behind everything we do in this House. Unless the system is both just and fair, it will fail, like every other so-called crackdown that has done nothing to stop the boats. Not only will it fail to work, but it will fail to convince the public that the Government are serious about stemming the flow of illegal immigration. I therefore urge the House to support our amendments.
As I said on Second Reading, I support the premise of the Bill. Too many people’s lives are put at risk on small boats, and it is important to break the model of the people traffickers. We are also spending millions of pounds—indeed, billions—of our aid money on hotels for tens of thousands of people in the UK. That money should be spent on helping millions of people elsewhere in countries such as Sudan. I have just met representatives of Save the Children from South Sudan, who told me of their expectations that children who need help will be coming across the border. Without help, such countries will become even more unstable. More people will be forced to flee their homes, so more people will try to get on the small boats.
The small boats route is also extremely unfair. No country has an unlimited capacity to support asylum seekers. Those who arrive by illegal routes reduce and limit our capacity to provide the safe and legal routes that will help the most vulnerable. As I said on Second Reading, the introduction of new safe and legal routes needs to go hand in hand with closing down illegal routes. I am extremely grateful to the Government for listening to that point, and I have co-signed new clause 8.
On the issue of how children should be treated, I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration for meeting me and my hon. Friend Tim Loughton and listening to our concerns. I know that the Minister takes the welfare and safeguarding of children very seriously. I understand that we must be careful not to create perverse incentives for people traffickers that force them to target even more children and send them on small boat crossings, but depriving a child of their liberty is a very serious issue.
We have very strict rules in this country regarding the protection of children. I am very proud of those rules, many of which were introduced by this Conservative-led Government. Depriving a child of their liberty can have a serious and long-lasting effect on their mental health, so there need to be very strict rules. That is why I am a signatory to amendment 183, which makes it clear that a child’s liberty can be restricted only for a very limited period.
I am grateful to the Minister for listening to my concerns on the subject and to those of other former children’s Ministers. I listened closely to what he said at the Dispatch Box. I thank him for his assurance that he will work with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham to set out a new timescale on the deprivation of liberty issue. That timescale needs to be clear, and it needs to be set out in the Bill. It should be a handful of days, not a number of weeks. That is necessary to make sure that children are prioritised, because children are often those who are most at risk.
I agree that we need to be wary of the risk of creating an increased incentive for more adults to claim to be children. I recognise that some of those who claim to be claiming asylum are actually adults. However, roughly 50% of those whose ages are in dispute are children, and many of them will be very vulnerable. We need to ensure that there are short timescales for genuine, known children, but also that there is proper safeguarding for those whose age is disputed.
Another point of concern that has been put to me is that children who know they could be removed when they turn 18 may be at increased risk as they near their 18th birthday. They may be tempted to abscond from care, and may then fall into the hands of deeply worrying people and become subject to the modern-day slavery about which my right hon. Friend Mrs May speaks so eloquently. Members need to consider these risks, and to ensure that the Bill and the way in which it is implemented will not make vulnerable children even more vulnerable.
New clause 1, which stands in my name, would give those detained under measures in the Bill the right to work in the UK after six months. I am pleased that it has received cross-party support and the backing of the Welsh Refugee Council. Words matter, and I hope to be as balanced as possible in my language, although there is much in this Bill that I find utterly abhorrent.
Those seeking asylum in the UK are currently effectively banned from working while awaiting a decision on their asylum claims. Permission to work is granted only in respect of jobs on the shortage occupation list, and then only after an asylum seeker has waited longer than 12 months for a decision, provided that the delay was not the fault of the asylum seeker. Once someone has been granted refugee status, that person has permission to work in the UK in any profession and at any skill level.
The Bill does not treat detainees as asylum seekers, and states that their asylum claims cannot be considered under the immigration rules. The spirit of new clause 1 is to do away with that false categorisation, and to recognise that these so-called detainees are asylum seekers. In doing so, it effectively removes the work restrictions that they would face if they were indeed classified as asylum seekers under the Bill. This builds on previous attempts to introduce a right to work after six months for asylum seekers, through proposed amendments in the other place to the Immigration Act 2016 and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.
The present ban means that the majority of people seeking asylum in the UK end up living on £5.66 a day to cover almost all their needs, as they are excluded from mainstream benefits. That places them more than 70% below the poverty line. It cannot be right that asylum seekers are frozen in destitution while waiting for months, if not years, for a decision. Of the cases in the asylum backlog in December 2022, two thirds—nearly 110,000 people—had been waiting for more than six months, up from 44% of cases in December 2017, and that number will only grow as the Bill effectively freezes the asylum processing system altogether. If any Members present take issue with giving asylum seekers the right to work after six months of languishing in unsuitable accommodation and in poverty—that low, low-paid poverty—I say this to them: reject the Bill, and focus on rebuilding the asylum processing system so that people do not have to wait more than six months to receive an asylum decision.
We know that the majority of people who cross the channel will succeed in their claims to be refugees, and will eventually be able to work unrestricted once they have obtained their refugee status, provided that their asylum claims have been processed quickly and humanely. Asylum seekers have told me how the ban is affecting them. Seeye from Cardiff, for example, says:
“I am losing hope. All I want is a bright future. I am young, I can work. I am ready to start tomorrow and fund myself.”
Doesn’t he sound like a young Tory?
Overturning the ban has widespread public support, with a 2020 petition to the Home Office reaching 180,000 signatories and a 2022 poll showing that 81% of the public support people seeking asylum in the UK having the right to work.
The right hon. Lady is making an excellent point. In fact, the Government should take this on board because we are told that one of the reasons for wanting to curb this is the cost to the public purse of maintaining people, but if they are allowed to work, we would not have to pay them to be in accommodation or pay them benefits. It is a win-win situation.
Indeed it is.
We know that our economy is suffering from chronic labour shortages, and that is in part down to Brexit. Why can we not think out of the box? Why can we not stop looking at people as a problem and start looking at them as part of the solution? I know this because Ysbyty Tywyn in my constituency has closed its wards because it cannot get staff. I represent an area with an older demographic, and we cannot get carers. And yet we are a week away from the local elections in England and this is what we are talking about. We are not thinking sensibly in the 21st century. Meanwhile highly skilled asylum seekers are sitting idle in detention centres, eager to work and keen to contribute to our society but banned from doing so.
There are 1.2 million job vacancies in the UK. Businesses are crying out for workers, and 70% of businesses want to give asylum seekers the right to work after six months. New clause 1 would allow those people detained for six months or more to apply for permission to work, including self-employment and voluntary work. This could do so much; it could be such a boost for our economy when we are suffering after Brexit. The right to work is a fundamental human right and it is crucial for the wellbeing of asylum seekers and their integration into society. It is also beneficial for the economy, as businesses want to be able to access the skills and experience of asylum seekers.
I call on the Government not to look at asylum seekers as a political threat but to see this as the thing that the United Kingdom is proud to do well. We should be proud to do this well and proud to hold our heads up high within the global order. These people are always a potential, not a threat, and we should be working with that potential as best we can.
I spent considerable time in the last debate addressing the European convention on human rights, and the House will be relieved to hear that I am not going to do the same thing again today, but I will just say one thing. My right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes is correct to say that we have no say on who sits in the European Court of Human Rights, but no MP has any say on who sits in the Supreme Court in this country either, and the reason that nobody can give me an example of the European Court interfering with a material change to our domestic immigration laws is because there isn’t one.
I want to congratulate the Government on reaching an agreement with my hon. Friend Tim Loughton on new clause 8, which I think gives the Bill moral clarity. The aim of this Bill is to extinguish a route, not a right. The Bill says that if someone enters the United Kingdom by small boat or any other illegal route, they cannot claim asylum now or ever, but we are maintaining compliance with our legal obligations under the refugee convention only when we can say in parallel that there are safe and legal routes that they could and should have taken as an alternative. It is already clear that this was envisaged by the Bill because it is dealt with in the provisions in clause 53 in the context of annual quotas agreed in conjunction with local authorities. It is plain that this is the direction that not only the United Kingdom but all our European neighbours are moving in, faced with the mass migration flows of the modern day that simply could not have been envisaged when the refugee convention was drafted.
I also want to talk about new clauses 22, 19 and 23 to 25. My first observation is how closely they resemble laws that were tried but ultimately failed under the last Labour Government. That is not me scoring a political point; this is difficult stuff. A lot of this is in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 but it never really worked, and here is why I say that this is important today. I want to talk about identification documents, mobile phones and age verification, all of which I have experience of in immigration tribunals. All these things boil down to one critical principle: that he who asserts must prove.
I refer the House to the evidence of Dan O’Mahoney, the clandestine channel threat commander, to the Home Affairs Committee in September 2020. Asked about the number of small boat arrivals who have identification documents, he said:
“I can’t give you an exact figure, but I can tell you that it is almost none—very, very close to none. Generally speaking, encouraged by the facilitators, they will get rid of any sort of documentation …phones, SIM cards, anything…before they are intercepted by Border Force… They literally arrive in the clothes that they are wearing.”
I invite the House to contrast that with Operation Pitting. Every single person who left Kabul in haste in the summer of 2021 arrived in the United Kingdom with an identification document.
The lack of identification documents is a major problem, because it means the Home Office is entirely reliant on language tests and interviews to ascertain background facts. The best it can do is guess whether a claimant is genuine, which leads to a lot of economic migrants being given asylum when they probably would not have proved their case if they had documents. That has contributed to a huge degree of abuse in the system.
The same principle applies to mobile phones. In an era of mass technology, in which smartphones are as commonplace in sub-Saharan Africa as they are in London and in which 5 billion people use social media, it must be right that a negative assumption is reached about any individual who does not provide access to their phone as a way of establishing their identity.
I repeatedly dealt with age verification at the tribunal, the appeal tribunal and the High Court. It is not good enough to rely purely on a Merton-compliant test. Until very recently, we had no scientific method by which to establish a person’s age. Of course small children do not go through age verification, but the vast majority of children who arrive claim to be around the age of 17. We now have the technology to allow age verification, so it cannot be left as a matter of discretion or as an option for the applicant. If they say they are under 18, they must be obliged, as these new clauses require, to undergo proper age verification.
Before I begin, I direct the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which outlines the support I received from the RAMP project.
I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson. These amendments attempt to mitigate the damage the Bill will do to some of the most vulnerable people, by requiring reports on how it will affect the pregnant, victims of modern slavery and the health and human rights of refugees.
New clauses 2 and 3 would safeguard pregnant women and girls from removal. I have spoken to people working on the frontline in detention centres who feel deeply uncomfortable and ill-equipped to deal with pregnant women in such settings, so these amendments are vital. In fact, every woman who arrives in a detention centre is given a pregnancy test because staff recognise that where they work is not appropriate for pregnant women.
New clause 4 would support young people under the age of 18 in their interaction with the asylum system. This stands in stark contrast to the Government’s obsession with trying to discredit and dehumanise children, either by proposing bogus scientific assessments to determine their age—I say that as a biomedical scientist—or by bizarrely claiming that granting safety to children is some sort of pull factor. Lobotomies were once widespread across the globe too, but that does not mean they were scientifically valid, accurate or moral. Just because someone else is doing it does not mean we have to do it here, especially when the evidence for the accuracy of these tests is so poor.
It is a damning indictment of this Bill that my hon. and right hon. Friends have needed to table this extensive list of new clauses. The protections they are attempting to introduce are outstripped only by the litany of rights that this Government are attempting to remove from some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The Government’s contemptible proposals have been tabled for entirely cynical reasons. We all want to stop the boats. But when the Government say, “Stop the boats”, it is not because they want to end the crisis in the channel, because they want to have safe borders where people do not die on them or because they want to end the suffering of people who are trying to come here to claim asylum. It is not even because they want to end the horror of people drowning as they attempt to reach refuge in the UK. It is because they are intent on vilifying people who have survived some of the most harrowing and worst things human beings can go through. I know that because I have spoken to many, many refugees and asylum seekers who have come here on boats. The Government are taking this approach because on these big issues they have no answers, so they are resorting to scapegoats.
It is clear that that has been an agenda long before this Bill was presented and that the Government are being pushed around by a very small and extreme group within the Conservative party, as we see when we look at Government new clause 22. It shamefully bars UK courts from interim measures to stop someone from being deported if they bring a legal challenge. The Government claim that they are considering fairness and the rule of law, and that that is a key British principle and value, but this measure sheds that. The Government are only too keen to undermine these principles if it helps them in the scapegoating of the most vulnerable. They want to bypass the European Court of Human Rights and harm Britain’s standing in the world, eroding the foundations of the international refugee systems and the refugee convention, all to appease their Back Benchers and throw red meat to a small portion of their base.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does she agree that part of this dog-whistle politics is about what the Conservative party deputy chairman said, which is that the next election is going to be fought on woke, culture and trans issues. Of course, stigmatising refugees is part of that.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is worth reflecting on the fact that in this week alone the horrifying news about Sudan has reached us and we have seen the horrific circumstances being faced by not only British and dual nationals, but everyone there. While Britain is working hard to evacuate our citizens, we are not talking about safe routes for Sudanese refugees or a homes for Sudan scheme, and there are no dedicated resettlement routes and no numbers confirmed in respect of what countries the UNHCR should be prioritising in trying to help with what the Minister was outlining earlier. Even with Government new clause 8, the best this Bill could offer is a commitment to a report on safe routes, but with no actual, tangible commitments to open new ones. What are people fleeing war and persecution in Sudan, or anywhere else, supposed to do with that? By the time anything comes from this report, it will be too late for them, they will be on their way.
The amendments I cited earlier have been tabled because no serious attempt has been made in this Bill to ensure that vulnerable people are protected. That has been outlined well in the discussion we have had on modern slavery, so I will not add to that. The purpose of the Bill is the complete opposite of providing safe and legal routes for people to claim asylum. At their core, these proposals are not about helping anyone or making anyone safer, and they are not about making our borders safer; they are simply about attacking the rights of refugees, for the sake of electoral expedience and managing unruly Government Back Benchers. At the centre of this is a paradox: how can someone claim asylum if they are not on UK soil and they have to be on UK soil to claim asylum? How can they take a safe and legal route if there is no safe and legal route that works for them or is available to them? How can they claim safety in the first country they get to if that country persecutes them because they are LGBT, or they have a disability or religion—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish to start by asking a big question: what is this Bill ultimately going to achieve? The European convention on human rights was introduced in the 1950s, and at that time I would have agreed with every word that has been said in respect of its application to the holocaust and to genuine refugees. However, what we have witnessed recently has been the phenomenon of this small boats problem, which does not just affect the UK. It also affects Italy, and Madam Meloni, whom I gather is coming over to see the Prime Minister tomorrow, is certainly going to have something to say about that. The problem is endemic and has to be dealt with.
I now move to the question of how we do it: we have to pass an Act of Parliament, which is what we are doing now. The next question is, what is the impact of parliamentary sovereignty on the interpretation by the courts of Acts of Parliament? I was in the House in 1998 when we debated the Human Rights Bill. As it happens, the Conservative party voted against its Second Reading, which people often forget. As things have progressed, we need to bear in mind what, for example, Jack Straw said—I am speaking now to those on the Labour Front Bench—when he talked about the importance of the sovereignty of Parliament: he said it was one of the “profound strengths” of our system. He referred to it as the fundamental position established in our constitution. Derry Irvine said much the same in the House of Lords. The reality is that the sovereignty of Parliament is not confined to the European Union question; it also applies to human rights questions and the Labour party was explicit about that at the time.
When the legislation was eventually passed, we arrived at a point where the legal sovereignty continued to rest with Parliament, and the Government, in the words of one Labour supporter, said they had retrieved the first constitution of democratic socialism by ensuring the sovereignty of Parliament.
New clauses 17 and 22 are about restricting interim relief. They also deal with the question of “serious harm” and its interpretation. Lord Bingham, who by any standards is the greatest jurist of the last few generations, made it clear—absolutely explicit—in chapter 12 of “The Rule of Law” that it is not for judges to make law; it is for judges to apply the law as passed by Parliament. I think that that is something that all of us here, on both sides of the House, understand.
We ask, what is the manner in which new clause 17 will be interpreted in the courts? I am slightly surprised that that matter is being raised for the first time at the end of the debate. It is about what is or is not to be regarded as “serious harm” in respect of persons who have been given a third country removal notice. That is when the crunch comes home in respect of the courts and the application to any individual who is affected by the Bill. I am 100% in favour of the Bill. I would have preferred the “notwithstanding” clause—we all know that—which goes back a very long way in parliamentary drafting tradition, but I am prepared to accept that, after a great deal of discussion, the distinctions between what is or is not regarded as “serious harm” have been set out by a series of examples, which will restrict the courts and the manner in which they make their decisions on these very important questions.
I do not have time to go into the detail, but I simply say that, by introducing a measure to restrict interim relief, the Bill will make it clear to the courts the intention that only in-country claims, other than factual suspensive claims, should be under the narrow exception provided by the Bill. In other words, where people face a real and imminent risk of “serious and irreversible harm” in the specific country to which they are being removed, this provision will apply and the courts will be restricted in the manner in which they apply that interpretation to the individual in question. That will ensure that all other legal challenges must be “non-suspensive”. In other words the courts can still hear an individual’s case out of country—
I am not sure I fully completed my hon. Member for Stone bingo card there, but we certainly got most of the greatest hits.
I am not sure whether Mrs Elphicke is aware—I apologise to her if she was not—that a cross-party delegation of MPs visited the port of Dover last week with the Industry and Parliament Trust. We learned that in 55 BC illegal migrants from Rome, possibly led by Julius Caesar, were pelted from the White Cliffs with sticks and rocks. It is just as well that none of the Ministers from the Home Office was on that delegation, because it might have given them ideas for further amendments to the Bill, permitting the throwing of stones at craft attempting to land—or perhaps they would be instructing Border Force to seize the bronze age boat from Dover Museum in an attempt to track down any descendants of illegal migrants from 3,000 years ago.
We also learned about the Border Force processing facility in Dover. Despite the myths of an invasion of small boats washing up on beaches across the south of England, in reality most small boats are diverted directly from channel shipping lanes, where of course they are a major risk to larger vessels, and from there people are processed and sent directly to Marston or elsewhere. There is no invasion; there are no thousands of people prowling the streets. There are just human beings so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives to get here.
Although the provisions of the Bill are designed to be retroactive from
“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.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 730, c. 777.]
Yet now it is the Government who have tabled a forest of amendments, with an amendment paper running to 73 pages. Of course, if the Government had tabled just one amendment, that would be more than the number of asylum seekers they actually seem to want to accommodate in this country.
If people are looking for Kafkaesque amendments, they should turn to Government new clause 26 and its consequential amendments. Picking and choosing which parts of the ECHR they want to apply at any given time betrays the true agenda of the Home Secretary and her cheerleaders on the Tory Back Benches—to take us out of European, and eventually global, human rights frameworks altogether.
The same applies to the Government amendments, which will undermine their own previous legislation on human trafficking and modern slavery. Those measures will be counterproductive; as the Trades Union Congress has said, the proposals will mean that,
“modern slavery victims who are trafficked…for exploitation will first be denied refuge, then returned to their country of origin and almost certainly back to the criminal gangs who trafficked them in the first place.”
Where the Government have been forced into making concessions, they are nowhere near adequate. I have heard from many constituents in Glasgow North who want refugees to be welcomed here, to have the right to work so they can contribute to our economy and society, as Plaid Cymru proposes in new clause 1, and to be able to come here by defined, safe and legal routes that are established and workable—not a vague pledge to publish a plan for a review of a consultation in a few months’ time, as suggested in new clause 8.
In fact, what constituents in Glasgow North want to see is the Bill defeated at Third Reading and scrapped altogether. Failing that, the Government should adopt the wide range of amendments tabled by the SNP, which aim to bring at least a vestige of humanity into the system, as our amendment 45 would do by requiring courts to make sure the Act is interpreted in line with our international treaty obligations, and to ensure it still resembles an actual asylum process rather than deportation charter, which is why we have tabled amendment 46 to delete clause 2 in its entirety.
I have asked this in this House before, but how often have Home Office Ministers, or their Faragiste fanboys on their Back Benches, sat down with asylum seekers and people who have come here on small boats to listen to their stories? There is an open invitation to any of them—Front Benchers and Back Benchers alike—to come to Glasgow North and meet the inspiring members of the Maryhill Integration Network, who have come here fleeing war and persecution and who, despite being met by the most hostile of environments created by the Home Office, are determined to make a new home in Scotland and make our society a better place for everyone to live in.
That is what an effective asylum system should be designed to produce: people in genuine need being supported and welcomed to rebuild shattered lives and strengthen our society as a whole. The Government’s amendments today to an already inhumane Bill move us even further away from that ideal. However, it is an ideal that constituents in Glasgow North and across Scotland will continue to aspire to, and it will be the foundation of our own independent asylum and immigration system when Scotland too breaks free of the UK’s hostile environment.
I am very pleased to have listened to this interesting and useful debate. I rise to speak to new clauses 22 and 17, which clarify the means by which a suspensive claim may be made to stop a removal from this country.
In that context, I will reply briefly to my hon. Friend Laura Farris, who made a good speech in Committee opposing the amendment that I had tabled to disapply the operation of the European convention on human rights as a means to prevent removals. Her point was that English law already includes protections that could be used in the same way as the ECHR. Of course, she is quite right: the jurisprudence of the UK has a set of remedies against unfair treatment, and they still apply. Indeed, they are clarified in the Bill.
In contradiction to what Olivia Blake was saying, the remedies for a suspensive claim against a removal are clarified in the Bill, particularly the principle of non-refoulement, which is in our common law—we would have it even without European rights law. So this policy does not contradict that principle. Indeed, it strengthens it with a clear protection for people who would suffer harm by being returned to their own country or any country. Now that that relief is clarified in the Bill, we need to block the spurious use of other domestic remedies that are no longer necessary.
I thank the Minister and the team for their constructive engagement. I am very happy about where we have got to in the Bill. I will quickly explore the issue at the heart of the debate, which is not migration but the sovereignty of Parliament in making law, including laws about this essential issue. It has been established in recent times—particularly by the judgment in the case of Thoburn in 2002—that some laws in this country have more weight than others and, indeed, are not subject to implied repeal. They essentially have the status of constitutional documents. Of course, the European Communities Act 1972 had that status until Brexit. The other Act that has that constitutional status is the Human Rights Act 1998, which requires and enables the British courts to apply the ECHR. The doctrine of implied repeal does not apply to the 1998 Act either, and that Act requires the courts to follow the judgments made in Strasbourg.
I can live with anomalies. We do not want a hasty, destructive, ideological or populist rejection of the status quo in the legal arrangements of this country—that is not the British way; it is not the Conservative way. We can live with an eccentric inheritance from the post-war era. The problem is not when it is eccentric, but when it is deeply problematic, as it was in June last year, when the European Court put a stop on our removals policy. To respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, that was an occasion on which the European Court exercised an interference in our immigration policy.
I accept that that was just a rule of the court, which, in my view, we could have ignored, but the Government seemed to accept the legal advice that they were obliged to give immediate effect to that ruling. I am very pleased that new clause 26 will give the Home Secretary the power to disregard rule 39 interim orders from Strasbourg, but we remain subject to article 46 of the convention, which obliges us to comply with final judgments.
For me, there are two profound problems in our membership of the ECHR. First, we have an in-built ratchet with Strasbourg rulings and the treatment of the ECHR as a living instrument to be interpreted in the light of whichever cultural ideas are prevalent or appealing to the judges. Thanks to the Human Rights Act, those rulings form part of English law. At the same time, there is a willingness among lawyers in the UK to employ the ECHR to frustrate the will of Parliament and to refer the laws that we make to some higher authority—to an abstract morality rooted not in custom or the habitual allegiances that we have to each other as citizens of the same country, but in their own liberal fantasies.
I also believe in a higher authority that respects the dignity and value of every human being. Let us call it the natural law. I believe that that higher authority is the source of all our liberties and rights, and indeed of the ECHR and every other noble-sounding document in the west. It is the source of our morality, but the way in which that morality works in practice is not through abstract theorising from on high but through the accumulation of case law and the statutes passed in this place.
I do not propose that we come out of the ECHR now. I am suggesting that, if there is a further challenge to British sovereignty and the supremacy of Parliament—be it in Strasbourg or through the British courts applying the convention—we have no superior obligation to remain in the ECHR. The superior obligation is to our own sovereignty and the supremacy of this place. This debate has exposed a difference between those of us who believe in nation states and the customary laws of nations, and those who believe in abstractions to be interpreted by unaccountable judges—whether or not they are in their pyjamas. I am content with where we have got to with the Bill, which I support unreservedly.
I thank and commend right hon. and hon. Members from all parties for what has been a measured and thoughtful debate over the course of this afternoon. The Bill before us is probably the most significant immigration Bill in my lifetime; for that reason, it is important that we get it right. Today’s debate has centred on a number of significant issues. I will not reprise all my earlier remarks, having spoken then for the best part of three quarters of an hour and taken many interventions, but I will touch on the five principal areas that were discussed by Members on both sides of the House and attempt to provide any further reassurance that is required.
The first significant issue was the removal of minors. As I said earlier, the Government’s approach in respect of children is one in which we take the interests of the child extremely seriously. These are morally complex issues, and I and all the Ministers involved in the Bill’s preparation have thought very carefully about how we can protect children, both at home and abroad, as we have produced the Bill and the scheme that underpins it.
I hope that the ways in which we will approach the removal of children are now clear, thanks to the work we have done with several right hon. and hon. Members, including in particular my hon. Friend Tim Loughton and my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford. We will seek to remove unaccompanied children only in exceptional circumstances. As we have now made clear, the two principal purposes are for family reunion and for a child’s safe return home to the loving care of social services in their home country.
We have taken the issue of the detention of children extremely seriously, because we do not want to detain children. We will do so only in the most exceptional circumstances. The circumstances that we have now clarified in the Bill and in the debate, again with the helpful guidance and support of right hon. and hon. Members, are for the purposes of initial processing when children and families arrive irregularly in the United Kingdom in small boats or via other forms of clandestine entry, and then for the limited and defined purposes of removal from the country that I mentioned a moment ago. We understand the desire of many Members for there to be carefully thought through and limited time limits on detention. I hope that the amendment we tabled and my remarks today give reassurance that we will bring forward that regime and that it will be as short as practically possible.
There is a significant exception to that rule, which is, of course, for those cases in which there is a serious age-assessment dispute. In such cases, the undoubted desire to limit the amount of time for which a child is ever detained by the state has to be balanced against the equally important safeguarding issue of young adults posing as minors—indeed, not all so young, as my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes said earlier with regard to the recent allegation about a 42-year-old posing as a minor. We have to get the balance right so that young adults do not regularly pose as minors and create an enormous and very concerning safeguarding risk for our young people.
I rise simply to say that the engagement we have had with my right hon. Friend and his Department throughout this process has been exemplary. It has been a model for how good scrutiny can improve legislation. I thank him and, in particular, the Home Secretary for the stand they have taken.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and return the compliment. It is important that we in the Government listen to the expertise we have among Members from all parties. I hope Members will agree that that is the approach we are taking to these sensitive issues, of which age assessment is certainly one. I do not want to see a situation in which young adults are regularly coming into the UK illegally, posing as children, and ending up in our schools, in foster-care families and in unaccompanied-minor hotels, living cheek by jowl with genuine children. That is an evil that we have to stamp out, and the approach we are taking in the Bill will help us to do so.
The third issue that was the subject of debate and, again, a high degree of unity—certainly on the Government Benches, but perhaps more broadly—is the approach to safe and legal routes. We want to stop the boats; we also want to ensure that the United Kingdom continues to be one of the most respected countries in the world for the way in which we provide sanctuary to people who are genuinely in need. We are doing that already, as evidenced by the fact that since 2015, half a million people have come into our country legally on humanitarian grounds. We have safe and legal routes today, but I appreciate the views of a number of right hon. and hon. Members, including most notably my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.
That has led us to the agreement that we will rapidly bring forward the consultation with local authorities that grounds the desire of this House to be generous with the reality on the ground in our communities and councils. Within six months, we will bring forward the report that will result from that consultation, and as soon as possible over the course of next year, we will set up or expand the existing safe and legal routes so that the UK can be an even greater force for good in the world. [Interruption.] Alison Thewliss laughs at that—of course, Scotland could step up to the plate as well. Since she tempts me, I will just say that her and her colleagues asked for an extension to today’s debate, but as far as I am aware, only two spoke in it. Fewer SNP Members spoke in the debate than could fit into Nicola Sturgeon’s battle bus.
Is the Minister aware of the fact that other SNP Members had put their names in for this debate because it was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but the Government changed the timing at the last minute?
I find that rather unconvincing, given that so many were able to turn up earlier. It does rather reinforce the point that the Scottish National party’s approach to these issues is entirely performative: they talk the talk, but they do not act. On this occasion, we did not even get the talk.
I will not give way to the hon. Lady.
The fourth serious issue that was raised, principally by my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was about our mutual desire for the good work they did in office to establish our world-leading modern slavery framework to live on, to continue supporting genuine victims—in particular, those victims of modern slavery who have been in the United Kingdom for a sustained period of time and who have been the subject of exploitation here, rather than in the course of their passage, whether in a small boat or otherwise. While it is clear that we will not be able to settle the matter today, I hope that my right hon. Friends —as they kindly said in their remarks that they would—will work with the Government throughout the continued passage of the Bill to ensure we get the balance right.
My intervention is very brief: can I just suggest that the Minister does not move amendment 95? I do not think the House is in favour of it, and it will end up being removed in the House of Lords. It would satisfy both the right hon. Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—who are nodding behind him—if he just did not move it.
I am not going to do that, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for the advice. The amendment to which he refers enables the Government to ensure that those individuals who are the subject of a police investigation, or are participating in a police investigation with the aim of bringing their traffickers to justice, can have that investigation conducted in the United Kingdom, or—if it is safe to do so—can have their contribution to that investigation conducted while in a safe third country, such as Rwanda.
Amendment 95 does not say that people who are participating in an investigation can be here in the UK and enabled to continue to take part in that investigation and provide evidence; what it says is that the assumption must be that they will be removed from the UK, and it is only if the Secretary of State reads her own guidance on compelling circumstances that she will enable them to stay in the UK. The amendment reverses the original subsection (5) of clause 21. It goes back on what the Government originally said they were trying to do.
My right hon. Friend does not, I think, agree that Rwanda is a safe place for those who are victims of modern slavery to be supported. The critical point here is that of course we want to support those individuals, and we have no intention of removing them, whether home to their own country or to a safe third country, unless that is a place where there are sufficient safeguards to ensure that they are protected. That is the nature of the agreement we have struck with Albania and the one we have struck with Rwanda, which was upheld by the High Court and we hope will be upheld by the Court of Appeal. It is natural, therefore, that in many cases individuals can go to those countries and participate in any law enforcement activity from there.
I will not give way to the hon. Lady, but I thank her for her suggestions.
The last issue that was the subject of debate centred around the questions raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and others about how we strengthen the Bill, particularly regarding the interim measures. I will say again, as I said in answer to the former Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Cox that this ministerial discretion will be exercised judiciously and in accordance with our treaty obligations. We take international law and our treaty obligations extremely seriously.
I will not dwell on the Labour amendments today because, as in Committee and on Second Reading, Labour offers no credible policy to stop the boats. The truth is that tweaks to our system will not suffice. In an age of mass migration, only a significantly more robust approach can end the injustice of illegal migration. The totality of Labour’s policy on illegal migration is to accept more people into our country and as quickly as possible. That is weak, and it is also frankly dangerous. We have yet again seen today that Labour is decades behind when it comes to illegal migration. It is 20 years behind the views of the British public and 20 years out of date with its policy proposals. That perhaps comes as no surprise when the shadow Home Office team is being led by Yvette Cooper, whose own colleagues say should have left politics 20 years ago. One briefed the papers that
“she knows where the door is”.
Given Labour’s record on immigration, we can assume it is an open door.
While Labour Members are fighting each other, the Conservative party tonight has been united. We are united in fighting the people-smuggling gangs. Only the Conservatives are taking the tough but necessary action to stop the boats, because it is only this party that is ultimately on the side of the British public. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said, from Worthing to Walthamstow, the British people want to stop the boats. The only way to stop the boats is to sever once and for all the link between crossing the channel illegally and being able to live and work in the United Kingdom. That, at its heart, is what this Bill does. Nothing else will cut it; we have tried it all before. The British people demand that we stop the boats, and only the Conservative party will do so.
Before I start putting the questions, maybe I can help with a little bit of process. I am anticipating five votes between 6 and 7 o’clock. The first vote will clearly take 10 minutes, but every subsequent vote will be eight minutes, so my strongest advice to everybody is to stay within the parliamentary estate in order that the votes can be taken as efficiently as possible. Owing to the number of votes, I will put the Tellers in place as quickly as I possibly can.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order,
Question agreed to.
New clause 17 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (