With this it will be convenient to discuss:
Lords amendment 9B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 23B, and Government motion to disagree.
Amendments 36A and 36B, and Government motions to insist, and Lords amendments 36C and 36D, and Government motions to disagree.
Lords amendment 33B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 56B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 102B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 103B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 107B and 107C, and Government motions to disagree.
I will first make a few opening remarks.
This House sent back to the House of Lords its 20 amendments to the Bill, many of which simply drove a coach and horses through the fabric of the legislation. We brought forward reasonable amendments where it was sensible to do so and it is disappointing, to say the least, the some of those have been rejected. I welcome the fact that the 20 issues that we debated last week have now been whittled down to nine, but the issue now before us is whether the clearly expressed views of this House, the elected Chamber—not just in the votes last week, but throughout the earlier passage of the Bill—should prevail.
We believe that inaction is not an option, that we must stop the boats and that the Bill is a key part of our plan to do just that. The message and the means must be absolutely clear and unambiguous: if people come to the UK illegally, they will not be able to stay here. Instead, they will be detained and returned to their home country or removed to a safe third country. There is simply no point in passing legislation that does not deliver a credible deterrent or provide the means to back it up with effective and swift enforcement powers.
We cannot accept amendments that provide for exceptions, qualifications and loopholes that would simply perpetuate the current cycle of delays and endless late and repeated legal challenges to removal. I listened carefully to the debate in the other place, but no new arguments were forthcoming and certainly no credible alternatives were provided.
I thoroughly endorse what my right hon. Friend says. This is a matter of extreme national interest, as is reflected in the votes of constituents throughout the country. They feel very strongly about these matters. Does he not agree that it is time for their lordships to take note of the fact that the British people want this legislation to go through? They want progress, given the extreme difficulties this is presenting to the British people.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has noted the remarks of Lord Clarke, who is not a particularly vicious right-wing creature. He said this Bill is entirely necessary and that we have to get on with it.
I also wonder whether my right hon. Friend has looked at today’s remarks by Lord Heseltine.
Lord Clarke and Lord Heseltine seem to have come up with a sensible option. We should go ahead with this Bill. We have to have much better European co-operation and, really, we have to build a wall around Europe. [Interruption.] And we have to do much more—this is what the Opposition might like—in terms of a Marshall plan to try to remove the conditions of sheer misery that cause people to want to leave these countries in the first place.
I read the remarks of the noble Lord Clarke, and I entirely agree with his point, which is that, having listened to the totality of the debate in the House of Lords, he had not heard a single credible alternative to the Government’s plan. For that reason alone, it is important to support the Government.
I also agree with Lord Clarke’s broader point that this policy should not be the totality of our response to this challenge. Deterrence is an essential part of the plan, but we also need to work closely with our partners in Europe and further upstream. One initiative that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I have sought to pursue in recent months is to ensure that the United Kingdom is a strategic partner to each and every country that shares our determination to tackle this issue, from Turkey and Tunisia to France and Belgium.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. I believe that the Bill should go through, as we have to do something about the deaths in the channel, which is an important moral purpose.
I bring my right hon. Friend back to Lord Randall’s amendment on modern slavery. We agree quite a lot on this issue, and the Government have said that they will do stuff in guidance, so Lord Randall has taken the words spoken by my right hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box and put them on the face of the Bill—this amendment does exactly what my right hon. Friend promised the Government would do in guidance. The Government have not issued the guidance in detail, which is why the amendment was made. Why would we vote against the amendment today when my right hon. Friend’s words and prescriptions are now on the face of the Bill?
First, the Lords amendment on modern slavery goes further by making the scheme, as we see it, much more difficult to establish. There are a number of reasons but, in particular, we think the complexity of the issue requires it to be provided for in statutory guidance rather than on the face of the Bill, in line with my assurances made on the Floor of the House. One of those assurances is particularly challenging to put in statutory guidance—where an incident has taken place in the United Kingdom, rather than an individual being trafficked here—and that is the point Lord Randall helpfully tried to bring forward.
We are clear that the process I have set out should be set out in statutory guidance, because the wording of the amendment is open to abuse by those looking to exploit loopholes. Those arriving in small boats would seek to argue that they have been trafficked into the UK and that the 30-day grace period should apply to them, on the basis that they qualify as soon as they reach UK territorial waters. The proposed provision is, for that reason, operationally impossible and serves only to create another loophole that would render the swift removal we seek impossible or impractical. The statutory guidance can better describe and qualify this commitment, by making it clear that the exploitation must have occurred once the person had spent a period of time within the UK and not immediately they get off the small boat in Kent. For that reason, we consider it better to place this on a statutory footing as guidance rather than putting it in the Bill.
The Democratic Unionist party is concerned about the trafficking of children and young people. My question is a simple one. We see economic migrants who are fit and healthy but none the less make that journey, and we see those who have had to leave their country because they have been persecuted, discriminated against or been subjected to brutal violence, or because their family members have been murdered. My party and I want to be assured that those who flee persecution have protection within this law, because we do not see that they do.
We believe that they do, because at the heart of this scheme is the principle that if an individual comes to the UK illegally on a small boat, they will be removed back home if it is safe to do that—if they are going to a safe home country such as Albania. In determining that the country is safe, for example, as in the case of Albania, we would have sought specific assurances from it, if required. Alternatively, they will be removed to a safe third country, such as Rwanda, where, again we would have sought sufficient assurances that an individual would be well-treated there. As the hon. Gentleman can see in the courts at the moment, those assurances will be tested. So it is not the intention of the UK Government to expose any genuine victim of persecution to difficulties by removing them either back home and, in the process, enabling their refoulement, or to a country in which they would be unsafe. We want to establish a significant deterrent to stop people coming here in the first place, bearing in mind that the overwhelming majority of the individuals we are talking about who would be caught by the Bill were already in a place of safety. They were in France, which is clearly a safe country that has a fully functioning asylum system.
Let me take the right hon. Gentleman back to the criticism he was making of the other place, because if the elected House is about to break international law, it is entirely fitting that the other place should try to prevent that from happening. The Minister has stood at the Dispatch Box telling us that this Bill is about deterrence, whereas the Home Office’s own impact assessment has said:
“The Bill is a novel and untested scheme, and it is therefore uncertain what level of deterrence impact it will have.”
As a raft of children’s charities have pointed out, once routine child detention was ended in 2011 there was no proportional increase in children claiming asylum. So will he come clean and accept that this Bill absolutely will have the effect, even if it does not have the intention, of meaning that people trying to escape persecution will not be able to come here, because there are not sufficient safe and legal routes?
I am not sure exactly what the hon. Lady’s question was. If it was about access to safe and legal routes, let me be clear, as I have in numerous debates on this topic, that since 2015 the UK has welcomed more than 500,000 individuals here—it is nearer to 550,000 now—for humanitarian purposes. That is a very large number. The last statistics I saw showed that we were behind only the United States, Canada and Sweden on our global United Nations-managed safe and legal routes, and we were one of the world’s biggest countries for resettlement schemes. That is a very proud record. The greatest inhibitor today to the UK doing more on safe and legal routes is the number of people coming across the channel illegally on small boats, taking up capacity in our asylum and immigration system. She knows that only too well, because we have discussed on a number of occasions one of the most concerning symptoms of this issue, which is unaccompanied children who are having to stay in a Home Office-procured hotel near to her constituency because local authorities do not have capacity to flow those individuals into safe and loving foster care as quickly as we would wish. That issue is exactly emblematic of the problem that we are trying to fix. If we can stop the small boats, we can do more, as a country, and be an even greater force for good in the world.
Will the Minister set out how my constituent will be protected? He is Albanian and has been subjected to modern slavery by gangs from Albania. He has three bullet holes in his body and, if he returns, perhaps those gangs will give him more. How will he be protected?
The existing arrangement that we have secured with Albania—incidentally, Albania is a signatory to the European convention against trafficking— enables us to safely return somebody home to Albania, with specific assurances to prevent them being retrafficked to the United Kingdom and to enable them to be supported appropriately upon arrival.
On the broader issue of modern slavery, the Bill makes a number of important protections when we establish the scheme. If they are party to a law enforcement investigation, their removal from the country will be stayed. We have said that we will bring forward statutory guidance, giving them a 30-day period, allied to the period set out in ECAT, to come forward and work with law enforcement, which is extendable if that enforcement activity goes on for some time. We would then only remove that person either back home to a safe country, such as Albania, or to a country, such as Rwanda, where we have put in place appropriate procedures to ensure that that Government, in turn, looks after them.
I point the hon. Lady to the judgment in the Court of Appeal that made some criticisms of the Government’s approach, but did not say that the arrangements in Rwanda with respect to modern slaves were inappropriate; it supported the Government in that regard. We will clearly put in place appropriate procedures to ensure that victims, such as the one she refers to, are properly supported.
Many opponents of the Bill seem to support uncapped safe and legal routes. The reality of that would be that potentially over 1 million people could get the ability to come here. Does the Minister agree that those proposing that should be open and honest about it, and explain what the dramatic consequences would be for public services and community cohesion in this country?
I completely agree. Anyone who feels that this country has sufficient resource to welcome significant further numbers of individuals at the present time, should look at the inbox of the Minister for Immigration. It is full of emails and letters from members of the public, local authorities and Members of Parliament, on both sides of the House, complaining that they do not want to see further dispersal accommodation and worrying about GP surgery appointments, pressure on local public services and further hotels. I understand all those concerns, which is why we need an honest debate about the issue.
That is why, at the heart of the Bill, there is not only a tough deterrent position for new illegal entrants, but a consultation on safe and legal routes, where we specifically ask local authorities, “What is your true capacity?” If we bring forward further safe and legal routes, they will be rooted in capacity in local authorities, so that those individuals are not destined to be in hotels for months or years, but go straight to housing and support in local authorities. That must be the right way for us to live up to our international obligations, rather than the present situation that, all too often, is performative here, and then there are major problems down the road.
Let me reply to issues other than modern slavery in the amendments before us. On the issue of detention, we believe that a necessary part of the scheme, provided for in the Bill, is that there are strong powers. Where those subject to removal are not detained, the prospects of being able to effect removal are significantly reduced, given the likelihood of a person absconding, especially towards the end of the process.
We have made changes to the provision for pregnant women, which I am pleased have been accepted by the Lords, and unaccompanied children, but it is necessary for the powers to cover family groups, as to do otherwise would introduce a gaping hole in the scheme, as adult migrants and the most disgusting people smugglers would seek to profit from migrants and look to co-opt unaccompanied children to bogus family groups to avoid detention. That not only prevents the removal of the adults, but presents a very real safeguarding risk to children.
On unaccompanied children, we stand by the amendments agreed by the House last week. They provided a clear differentiation between the arrangements for the detention of adults and those for the detention of unaccompanied children. The amendments agreed by this House provide for judicial oversight after eight days’ detention where that detention is for the purpose of removal.
On the standards of accommodation, I have been clear that unaccompanied children, including those whose age is disputed, will be detained only in age-appropriate accommodation, and that existing secondary legislation—the Detention Centre Rules 2001—sets out important principles governing the standards of such accommodation.
Last week, some Members asked whether unaccompanied children would also receive age-appropriate care while in detention. The answer to that is an emphatic yes. The operating standards for immigration removal centres contain provisions around the treatment of children, including requirements on the education and play facilities that must be provided for children.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making it clear that, if there is any doubt about the age of an unaccompanied child, they will be treated as a child. I also thank him for saying that, if a child is detained, it will be in an age-appropriate centre. However, on the issue of what is age-appropriate, I will just say that I have looked at the operating standards to which he referred. It is an 82-page document. It has no mention of unaccompanied children. It talks about who looks after the locks and hinges and where the tools and the ladders are to be stored, but there is nothing about how we keep these children happy, healthy and safe from harm. I point him instead to the guidance for children’s care homes and ask him gently if we could update the rules on detention centres to make sure that they look more like the rules we have for safeguarding children in care homes.
My right hon. Friend makes a number of important points. The guidance is very detailed, but I am sure that it would benefit from updating. Therefore, the points that she has made and that other right hon. and hon. Members have made in the past will be noted by Home Office officials. As we operationalise this policy, we will be careful to take those into consideration. We are all united in our belief that those young people who are in our care need to be treated appropriately.
Let me turn now to the Lords amendment on modern slavery—I hope that I have answered the comments of my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith. This seeks to enshrine in the Bill some of the assurances that I provided in my remarks last week in respect of people who are exploited in the UK. However, for the reason that I have just described, we think that that is better done through statutory guidance. In fact, it would be impractical, if not impossible, to do it through the Bill.
The point that my right hon. Friend made earlier is that, somehow, those people will be able to get into the UK and make a false claim. However, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 already provides for that, so anyone found to have made a false claim will be disqualified, and disqualified quite quickly. The critical thing is to prosecute the traffickers. That way, we can stop them trafficking more people on the boats. My worry is that this provision will put off many people from giving evidence and co-operating with the police for fear that they may still be overridden and sent abroad while they are doing it and then be picked up by the traffickers. Does he give any credence to the fear that this may end up reducing the number of prosecutions of traffickers as a result?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s position, and it is right that he is vocalising it, but we do not believe that what he says is likely. The provision that we have made in the statutory guidance that I have announced will give an individual 30 days from the positive reasonable grounds decision to confirm that they will co-operate with an investigation in relation to their exploitation. That should give them a period of time to recover, to come forward and to work with law-enforcement. That is a period of time aligned with the provisions of ECAT, so we rely on the decision of the drafters of ECAT to choose 30 days rather than another, potentially longer, period. That is an extendable period, so where a person continues to co-operate with such an investigation, they will continue to be entitled to the support and the protections of the national referral mechanism for a longer period.
I just want to make it clear that under the new regulations, the Secretary of State can still feasibly decide that, even if someone is co-operating, they do not need to remain in the UK for that. That is the critical bit: they live under the fear that they can be moved somewhere else to give that evidence. Does the Minister not agree that that will put a lot of people off giving evidence?
I hope that that is not borne out. It is worth remembering that we will not remove anyone to a country in which they would be endangered. We would be removing that person either back to their home country, if we consider it safe to do so, usually because the country is an ECAT signatory and has provisions in place, or to a safe third country such as Rwanda, where once again we will have put in place significant provisions to support the individual. I hope that that provides those individuals with the confidence to come forward and work with law enforcement to bring the traffickers to book.
I am particularly interested in the arrival of unaccompanied children in this country, because obviously the Minister has tightened up the eight-day period for them on exit. I believe that he just agreed with me that the standards for age-appropriate accommodation in detention centres need to be updated to look more like those for children’s homes. Is he prepared to concede that no unaccompanied child should be put in such a detention centre until that update of the rules has been undertaken?
I understand the point that my right hon. Friend makes, but I am not sure that that is necessary, because the Detention Centre Rules 2001 are very explicit in the high standards expected. They set the overall standard, and underlying them will no doubt be further guidance and support for individuals who are working within the system. If there is work to be done on the latter point, we should do that and take account of her views and those of others who are expert in this field, but the Detention Centre Rules are very explicit in setting high overarching standards for this form of accommodation. That is exactly what we would seek to live up to; in fact, it would be unlawful if the Government did not.
In a children’s home, we would expect there to be the right to access a social worker and advocacy, and for the child to have the care that they particularly need. We would expect Ofsted to oversee that, not prison inspectors.
I am grateful for those points. Social workers will clearly be at the heart of all this work, as they are today. Every setting in which young people are housed by the Home Office, whether it be an unaccompanied asylum-seeking children hotel, which we mentioned earlier, or another facility, has a strong contingent of qualified social workers who support those young people. I am certain that social workers will be at the heart of developing the policy and then, in time, operationalising it.
Their lordships have attempted but failed to smooth the rough edges of their wrecking amendments on legal proceedings, but we need be in no doubt that they are still wrecking amendments. They would tie every removal up in knots and never-ending legal proceedings. It is still the case that Lords amendment 1B would incorporate the various conventions listed in the amendment into our domestic law. An amendment shoehorned into the Bill is not the right place to make such a significant constitutional change. It is therefore right that we continue to reject it.
I will not, because I need to close my remarks; this is a short debate.
Lords amendment 9B continues to undermine a core component of the Bill: that asylum and relevant human rights claims are declared inadmissible. The Lords amendment would simply encourage illegal migrants to game the system and drag things out for as long as possible, in the hope that they would become eligible for asylum here.
Lords amendment 23B brings us back to the issue of the removal of LGBT people to certain countries. The Government are a strong defender of LGBT rights across the globe. There is no question of sending a national of one of the countries listed in the amendment back to their home country if they fear persecution based on their sexuality. The Bill is equally clear that if an LGBT person were to be issued with a removal notice to a country where they fear persecution on such grounds, or indeed on any other grounds, they could make a serious harm suspensive claim and they would not be removed—
I will not, because I need to bring my remarks to a close now. They would not be removed until that claim and any appeal had been determined. As I said previously, the concerns underpinning the amendments are misplaced and the protections needed are already in the Bill.
On safe and legal routes, Lords amendment 102B brings us to the question of when new such routes come into operation. The amendment again seeks to enshrine a date in the Bill itself. I have now said at the Dispatch Box on two occasions that we aim to implement any proposed new routes as soon as is practical, and in any event by the end of 2024. I have made that commitment on behalf of the Government and, that being the case, there is simply no need for the amendment. We should not delay the enactment of this Bill over such a non-issue.
Lords amendment 103B, tabled by the Opposition, relates to the National Crime Agency. Again, it is a non-issue and the amendment is either performative or born out of ignorance and a lack of grasp of the detail. The NCA’s functions already cover tackling organised immigration crime, and men and women in that service work day in, day out to do just that. There is no need to change the statute underlying the organisation.
Finally, we have Lords amendment 107B, which was put forward by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This country’s proud record of providing a safe haven for more than half a million people since 2015 is the greatest evidence that we need that the UK is already taking a leading international role in tackling the refugee crisis. This Government are working tirelessly with international and domestic partners to tackle human trafficking, and continue to support overseas programmes. We will work with international partners and bring forward proposals for additional safe and legal routes where necessary.
However well-intentioned, this amendment remains unnecessary. As I said to his grace the Archbishop, if the Church wishes to play a further role in resettlement, it could join our community sponsorship scheme—an ongoing and global safe and legal route that, as far as I am aware, the Church of England is not currently engaged with.
This elected House voted to give the Bill a Second and Third Reading. Last Tuesday, it voted no fewer than 17 times in succession to reject the Lords amendments and an 18th time to endorse the Government’s amendments in lieu relating to the detention of unaccompanied children. It is time for the clear view of the elected House to prevail. I invite all right hon. and hon. Members to stand with the Government in upholding the will of the democratically elected Commons, to support the Government motions and to get on with securing our borders and stopping the boats.
On Tuesday, I described the way in which this Government have
“taken a sledgehammer to our asylum system”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 736, c. 218.]
I outlined the massive and far-reaching costs and consequences of 13 years of Tory incompetence and indifference. I described this bigger backlog Bill as a “shambolic farce” that will only compound the chaos that Ministers have created. I urged the Government to accept the amendments proposed by the other place and to adopt Labour’s pragmatic, realistic and workable five-point plan to stop the boats and fix our broken asylum system.
I set out how the Bill’s unworkability centres on the fact that it orders the Home Secretary to detain asylum seekers where there is nowhere to detain them. It prevents her from processing and returning failed asylum seekers across the channel to their country of origin, instead forcing her to return them to a third country such as Rwanda. However, Rwanda can take only 0.3% of those who came here on small boats last year. The Rwanda plan is neither credible nor workable, because the tiny risk of being sent to Kigali will not deter those who have already risked life and limb to make dangerous journeys across the continent.
Yet here we are again today, responding to the realisation that, in their typically arrogant and tin-eared fashion, Ministers are once again refusing to listen. They are once again closing their eyes and ears to the reality of what is happening around them and choosing to carry on driving the car straight into a brick wall. But we on the Labour Benches refuse to give up. We shall continue in our attempts to persuade the Government to come to their senses. I shall seek to do that today by setting out why the arguments that the Immigration Minister has made against the amendments from the other place are both fundamentally flawed and dangerously counterproductive.
If the principle of removal to a safe third country is not an adequate deterrent, why was that principle the flagship of the last Labour Government’s immigration policy in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002? What was the point of section 94—its most controversial provision—if it was not about the swift removal of failed asylum seekers?
The crucial point is that for a deterrent to be effective, it has to be credible. A deterrent based on a 0.3% risk of being sent to Rwanda is completely and utterly incredible. The only deterrent that works is a comprehensive returns deal with mainland Europe. If someone knows that, were they to come here on a small boat, they would be sent back to mainland Europe, they will not come and they will not pay €5,000 to the people smuggler. The only way to get that deal is to have a sensible and pragmatic negotiation with the European Union based on quid pro quo—give and take. That is the fundamental reality of the situation in which we find ourselves, but unfortunately those on the Conservative Benches keep closing their ears to that reality.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again—I will not take long. Does he not accept that, in reality, there is no such thing as a returns deal with mainland Europe? The reason the Dublin convention was such a disaster and never resulted in us removing more people than we took in was that it was so incredibly difficult to get European countries to accept removals and make that happen. It is just an unworkable suggestion.
Surely the hon. Lady sees the direct connection between us crashing out of the Dublin regulation because of the utterly botched Brexit of the Government she speaks for, and the number of small boat crossings starting to skyrocket. There is a direct correlation between crashing out of the Dublin regulation and skyrocketing small boat crossings. I hope that she will look at the data and realise the truth of the matter.
We have had this conversation before. The hon. Gentleman knows that when we were covered by Dublin—before we came out of it through Brexit—there were more than 8,000 requests for people to be deported back to an EU country, and only 108 of those requests, or about 1.5%, were actually granted. So there was not some golden era when it worked under Dublin; it was not working then, and it certainly will not work now.
The hon. Gentleman is right, we have had this conversation before, and he consistently refuses to listen to the fact that the Dublin regulation acted as a deterrent, so the numbers that he talks about were small. The number of small boat crossings was small when we were part of the Dublin regulation. We left the Dublin regulation, and now the number is large—it is not rocket science. There is a clear connection, a correlation, a causal link between the two.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with his time. The reason the small boats problem has grown exponentially is that we dealt with the lorries issue. We closed the loophole when it came to lorries and the channel tunnel in particular, and that is why people are now resorting to small boats. It is nothing to do with Dublin. Surely those are the facts.
I simply say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that last year, we had 45,000 people coming on small boats and goodness knows how many on lorries—of course, those coming by clandestine means in the back of a lorry are far more difficult to detect than those coming on small boats, so the small boats crisis is, by definition, far more visible. It is true that that juxtaposition and the new arrangements have had a positive impact, but we still do not know how many are coming. I have been to camps in Calais and spoken to many who are planning to come on lorries rather than on small boats—not least because it is a far cheaper alternative. The reality is that a very large number of people are coming to our country through irregular means, but it is also clear that that number was significantly smaller when we were part of the Dublin regulation. That is because it was a comprehensive deterrent, compared with the utterly insignificant power of the Rwanda programme as a deterrent.
I will make a little bit of progress, and then I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene.
I will turn first to Lords amendment 1B, intended to ensure that the Bill is consistent with international law, which Labour fully supports. Last week, the Minister deemed the same amendment unnecessary, because:
“It goes without saying that the Government obey our international obligations, as we do with all pieces of legislation.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 736, c. 198.]
That comment was typical of the Minister’s approach. He is constantly trying to calm his colleagues’ nerves by fobbing them off with that sort of soothing statement, but we all know that he does not really believe a word of it. He knows that the very first page of the Bill states that the Government are unable to confirm that it complies with our legal obligations. He also knows that the Government are more than happy to break international law—just look at how they played fast and loose with the Northern Ireland protocol. If the Minister really thinks that we will simply take his deeply misleading words at face value and trust him and his colleagues to uphold our legal obligations, he has another think coming.
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman did not mean to use the phrase “deeply misleading”. Knowing that he is an honourable gentleman, I suggest that he might want to use a slightly different phrase—“inadvertently misleading”, perhaps?
As always, Madam Deputy Speaker, you are very gracious.
The late, great Denis Healey famously advised that when you are in a hole, you should stop digging. [Hon. Members: “Quite right!”] Hang on. He would certainly have approved of Lords amendment 9B, which goes right to the heart of the fundamental unworkability of this bigger backlog Bill and seeks to prevent it from becoming the indefinite limbo Bill.
Let us be clear: the current state of affairs represents both a mental health crisis for asylum seekers and a financial crisis for British taxpayers, who are already shouldering an asylum bill that is seven times higher than it was in 2010, at £3.6 billion a year. Indeed, the mid-range estimate for the hotels bill alone is greater than the latest round of levelling-up funding, and three times higher than the entire budget for tackling homelessness in this country. The only people who benefit from the inadmissibility provisions in the Bill are the people smugglers and human traffickers, who are laughing all the way to the bank. As such, it is essential that this House votes in favour of Lord German’s amendment, which seeks to ensure that inadmissibility can be applied to an asylum seeker only for a period of six months if they have not been removed to another country.
A major concern throughout the passage of the Bill has been its utter disregard for the mental wellbeing of unaccompanied children. Many of those children will have had to see their loved ones suffer unspeakable acts of violence, yet despite the Government’s concession, the Bill will mean that when they arrive in the UK, they will be detained like criminals for up to eight days before they can apply for bail. We are clear that that is unacceptable, and are in no doubt that the Government’s amendment is yet another example of their liking for performative cruelty. We urge the Minister to accept the compromise of 72 hours contained in Lords amendments 36C and 36D.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way. The best thing for any person’s mental health, especially children, is to not put them on a dangerous small boat across the channel. Does the hon. Member agree that the best thing for any child’s mental health is for them to not make that dangerous journey, but instead use one of the many legal and safe routes? This Bill and its clauses will make sure that fewer children make that awful journey.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the only people who benefit from the small boat crossings are the people smugglers and human traffickers—that has to be brought to an end. Where we fundamentally disagree is about the means. Labour believes that the deterrence of the Rwanda scheme simply will not work, for the reasons I have already set out, and that the solution lies far more in pragmatism and quiet diplomacy, working with international partners to get the returns deal that I talked about, than in all the performative cruelty that is at the heart of this Bill.
Likewise, the Government should show some humility and support Lords amendment 33B, which states that accompanied children should be liable for detention only for up to 96 hours. This is a fair and reasonable compromise, given that Lords amendment 33 initially set the limit at 72 hours.
While we are on the subject of children, how utterly astonishing and deeply depressing it was to hear the Minister standing at the Dispatch Box last week and justifying the erasure of Disney cartoons on the basis of their not being age-appropriate. Quite apart from the fact that his nasty, bullying, performative cruelty will have absolutely no effect whatsoever in stopping the boats, it has since emerged that more than 9,000 of the children who passed through that building in the year to March 2023 were under the age of 14. Given that a significant proportion of those 9,000 would have been younger still, I just wonder whether the Minister would like to take this opportunity to withdraw his comments about the age-appropriateness of those cartoons.
No. Well, there we have it. This whole sorry episode really was a new low for this Minister and for the shameful, callous Government he represents.
We also support Lords amendment 23B, a compromise in lieu of Lords amendment 23, which seeks to protect LGBT asylum seekers from being removed to a country that persecutes them for their sexuality or gender. The Minister last week claimed that that was unnecessary because there is an appeals process, but why on earth would he put asylum seekers and the British taxpayer through an expensive and time-consuming appeals process when he could just rule out this scenario from the outset?
Nothing illustrates more clearly the indifference of this Government towards the most vulnerable people in society than their treatment of women being trafficked into our country for prostitution. I have already described this Bill as a traffickers charter—a gift to the slave drivers and the pimps—because it makes it harder for victims to come forward and therefore more difficult for the police to prosecute criminals. The Immigration Minister last week repeated the false claim that the UK Statistics Authority recently rebuked him for. It was his second rebuke this year by our national statistics watchdog for inaccurate claims made to this House. Thankfully, Mrs May, who is not in her place today, called him out on it. She correctly pointed out that the proportion of small boats migrants claiming to be victims of modern slavery stands at just 7%. This was a profoundly embarrassing moment for the Minister, but I do hope he will now swallow his pride, listen to the wise counsel he is receiving from those on the Benches behind him and accept Lords amendment 56B in the name of Lord Randall.
The hon. Member is right that I misspoke when citing those statistics on an earlier occasion, but in fact the statistics were worse than I said to the House. What I said was that, of foreign national offenders who are in the detained estate on the eve of their departure, over 70% made use of modern slavery legislation to put in a last-minute claim and delay their removal. However, it was not just FNOs; it was also small boat arrivals. So the point I was making was even more pertinent, and it is one that he should try to answer. What would he do to stop 70% of people in the detained estate, who we are trying to get out of the country, putting in a frivolous claim at the last minute?
Sir Robert Chote of the UK Statistics Authority said clearly that the figure is only 20%, not 70%. I do not know whether we want to invite Sir Robert to clarify those points himself, but the rebuke the Minister received from the UK Statistics Authority was pretty clear.
It is vitally important that the Minister’s position on this is not used as the basis for a policy that could cause profound harm to vulnerable women while feeding criminality in the United Kingdom. I therefore urge him to reflect on what he is trying to achieve, the proportionality of his actions and the unintended consequences he may be facilitating. Lords amendment 56B states that victims of trafficking who have been unlawfully exploited in the UK should be protected from the automatic duty to remove and should continue to be able to access the support currently available to them, but only for the duration of the statutory recovery period, which was set by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 at 30 days.
On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead argued that the Bill as drafted would
“drive a coach and horses through the Modern Slavery Act, denying support to those who have been exploited and enslaved and, in doing so, making it much harder to catch and stop the traffickers and slave drivers.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 730, c. 886.]
We strongly agree with her concerns and wholeheartedly support Lords amendment 56B, which I remind the Minister goes no further than to maintain the status quo of the basic protections and support currently available to all victims of trafficking and exportation.
I will now turn to the amendments that are underpinned by Labour’s five-point plan: end the dangerous small-boat crossings, defeat the criminal gangs, clear the backlog, end extortionate hotel use, and fix the asylum system that the Conservatives have spent 13 years destroying.
Presumably it is the hon. Gentleman’s most devout hope if he takes power in 15 months’ time, but charming as he is, it is a mystery to me why he thinks when he asks President Macron to take these people back, he will do so. Of course he won’t! Nothing will happen. May I gently suggest that, if there is a Labour Government, they will quietly adopt this Bill once it is an Act?
I will come to that in my comments, but as the right hon. Gentleman will know, any negotiation requires give and take, quid pro quo. As I said in response to one of his hon. Friends, to get that deal with the European Union we of course have to do our bit and take our fair share, and that will be the negotiation that my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer will be leading on when he becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, following the next general election.
We are determined that the National Crime Agency will be strengthened so that it can tackle the criminal gangs upstream. Too much focus by this Government has been on slashing tents and puncturing dinghies along the French coastline, whereas Labour has set out its plan for an elite unit in the NCA to work directly with Europol and Interpol. The latest amendment from Lord Coaker, Lords amendment 103B, attempts to strengthen the NCA’s authority, and we support it without reservation. We are also clear that there is a direct link between gaining the returns agreement that we desperately need with the EU, and creating controlled and managed pathways to asylum, which would allow genuine refugees to reach the UK safely, particularly if they have family here. Conservative Members refuse to make that connection, but we know it is in the interests of the EU and France to strike a returns deal with the UK, and dissuade the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who are flowing through Europe and ending up on the beaches of Calais. The EU and its member states will never do a deal with the UK unless it is based on a give-and-take arrangement, whereby every country involved does its bit and shares responsibility.
On his visit to Calais, the hon. Gentleman will have met people who were trying to get to this country. Did it strike him how utterly desperate many of them were, and how they are fleeing from wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and other places? Does he think that we have to address the wider issue of the reasons why people are fleeing and searching for asylum, not just in Europe but all over the world?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. As he rightly points out, the key point is that these people are already fleeing desperate situations and have risked life and limb to get as far as they have. The idea that a 0.3% chance of being sent to Rwanda acts as a deterrent is clearly for the birds. In addition, he makes important points about the need for international co-operation, and finding solutions to these problems alongside our partners across the channel.
The hon. Gentleman clearly thinks that the Rwanda plan will not work or be a deterrent, but why not give it a go? If he is so confident that it will not work, let it get through. It could have got through months ago, and he could have come back to the House and proved us wrong. At the moment it comes across as if the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party are scared that it might work, and that is the problem.
I suppose the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck, and the Rwanda plan is so clearly and utterly misconceived, misconstrued and counter-productive. Labour Members like to vote for things that are actually going to work, which is why we simply cannot support that hare-brained scheme.
With the Minister last week reiterating a deadline of December 2024—18 months from now—to lay out what safe and legal routes might look like, and by stating that those routes will not deal with the challenges facing Europe directly, he appears to be reducing the chances of getting the returns deal with the EU that we so urgently need. Let us not forget that this Government sent Britain tumbling out of the Dublin regulations during their botched Brexit negotiations, and it is no surprise that small boat crossings have skyrocketed since then. This Government must prioritise getting that returns deal. We therefore support Lords amendment 102B, which demands that the Government get on with setting out what these safe and legal routes might look like, not only to provide controlled and capped pathways to sanctuary for genuine refugees, but to break that deadlock in the negotiations with the EU over returns.
I note that the Minister loves to trot out his lines about the Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghan resettlement schemes, but he neglects to mention that there are now thousands of homeless Ukrainian families, and we have the travesty of thousands of loyal-to-Britain Afghans who are set to be thrown on the streets at the end of August. More than 2,000 Afghans are stuck in Pakistan with the right to come here, but they are not being allowed to do so. He simply must fix those resettlement schemes.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is an important point that all Members of the House should appreciate. The No. 1 reason why we are struggling to bring to the UK those people in Pakistan—we would like to bring them here, because we have a moral and historical obligation to them—is that illegal immigrants on small boats have taken all the capacity of local authorities to house them. If the hon. Gentleman truly wanted to support those people, he would back this Bill, he would stop the boats, and then he would help us to bring those much-needed people into the United Kingdom.
It beggars belief that the Immigration Minister says that, when he speaks for a party that has allowed our backlog to get to 180,000, costing £7 million a day in hotels. He should just get the processing system sorted out. The Conservatives downgraded the seniority of caseworkers and decision makers in 2013 and 2014. Surprise, surprise, productivity fell off a cliff, as did the quality of decisions. That is the fundamental problem, but we have to recognise that these Afghans have stood shoulder to shoulder with our defence, diplomacy and development effort in Afghanistan, and we owe them a debt of honour and gratitude.
Does the hon. Gentleman know how many asylum seekers are housed in his constituency, or would he like me to tell him? It is none. There are no asylum seekers accommodated in Aberavon. If he would like us to bring in more people, whether on safe and legal routes, or on schemes such as the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, he should get on the phone to his local council and the Welsh Government this afternoon.
The Minister is talking absolute nonsense. I am proud of the fact we have many Syrians in our constituency. We have Ukrainians in our welcome centre. Discussions are ongoing between the Home Office and the Welsh Government. The incompetence of his Government means that they are not managing to house them. Wales is ready to have that dialogue with the Home Office.
I find it a shocking admission from the Minister—we are fighting for the relatives of people in Afghanistan whose lives are at risk—that these Afghans are being blocked by him because he is not making available those safe routes to bring them to constituencies such as York, where we welcome refugees.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. There are real concerns about the safety and security of those Afghans now in Pakistan. It is possible that they will be sent back. It is up to the Home Office to facilitate their transfer to the United Kingdom under ARAP and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, but like so many things with this Home Office, it is just a catastrophic failure of management.
In trotting out the lines about the schemes that I mentioned, the Minister conveniently ignores the fact that none of those schemes help those coming from other high grant-rate countries in the middle east and sub-Saharan Africa. Neither he nor the Home Secretary have been able to answer questions from their own Back Benchers on that precise point.
The final point of our plan is to tackle migration flows close to the conflict zones where they arise through targeting our aid spending. That is a longer-term mission, but it is no less important than any of the other steps we need to take to meet these migration challenges. I therefore see no reason for the Government not to support Lords amendment 107B in the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which would instruct the Government to develop a 10-year plan to manage migration.
I have lost count of the number of times we have come to the Chamber to debate the Government’s latest madcap Bill or hare-brained scheme. Not one of those Bills has helped to stop a single boat, and the Government have sent more Home Secretaries to Rwanda than they have asylum seekers. They are wasting their own time and the time of the House, and they really are trying the patience of the British people. It really is desperate stuff, and it has to stop.
In stark contrast to the hopeless, aimless and utterly self-defeating thrashing around that has come to define the Government’s approach to the asylum crisis, Labour recognises that there is a way through: a route based on hard graft, common sense and quiet diplomacy. It comes in the form of the Labour party’s comprehensive plan, based on core principles, with a commitment to returning asylum processing to the well managed, efficient, smooth-running system we had prior to the catastrophic changes brought in by Conservative Ministers in 2013, which downgraded decision makers and caseworkers, leading to poorer results. With that, we have a commitment to go further in fast-tracking applications from low grant-rate countries so that we can return those with no right to be here, and fast-tracking applications from high grant-rate countries so that genuine refugees can get on with their lives and start contributing to our economy, enriching our society and culture. A third, key principle is the need for international co-operation, as I have set out.
This is not rocket science; it is just sensible, pragmatic, serious governance. It is working in the United States, where the Biden Administration are winning the battle. They have introduced a combination of swift consequences for those who cross the border illegally; orderly paths and controls on which migrants can apply for asylum and where they do so; sensible, legal pathways for high grant-rate nations; and strong co-operation with Mexico. The result is that they are bringing numbers down significantly and quickly. The challenge is not over yet, and we would not see President Biden being foolish enough to go boasting at the border, but that shows that progress can be made.
The Labour party is not interested in performative cruelty, chasing headlines or government by gimmick. We have a plan that will stop the boats, fix our broken asylum system and deliver for the British people. In contrast, the Conservative party has run out of ideas and run out of road. It should get out of the way so that we can get to work.
We have only one hour left for the remainder of the debate, so I have to impose an immediate time limit. I was going to say six minutes, but I will have to say five minutes.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always an experience to follow Stephen Kinnock. It was once said that someone who had just met his father had just spent half an hour having a five-minute conversation with him. We have just had a half-hour speech, but I am afraid that we did not get five minutes of anything remotely new in that.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to raise my father and what he might or might not have said when he is not in the Chamber to defend himself?
It would be better not to do so. There is no hard and fast rule, since the right hon. and noble Gentlemen is no longer a member of this Chamber.
I will happily withdraw that, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I can have my minute back. I declare an interest as the chairman of a safeguarding board of a children’s company.
I was rather surprised to read in papers over the weekend that, according to the briefings, my right hon. Friend Mrs May and I are some sort of ringleaders against the Bill. May I make it absolutely clear that I support the Bill and want it to go through as quickly as possible, and that I support the Rwanda scheme? Objecting to some of the Bill’s trafficking measures is about protecting victims and prosecuting traffickers, not undermining the Bill. Greater safeguards on how we look after children who have arrived here would not undermine the Bill; they would strengthen it. Safeguards to ensure that safe and legal routes are in place for genuine asylum seekers would not undermine the Bill; they would strengthen and justify the measures against those who are gaming the system, to whom we do not have a duty of care.
In my limited time, I want to concentrate on the amendment tabled by Baroness Mobarik. I also thank Baroness Stroud and Lord Randall for the amendments on trafficking and safe and legal routes. The fact is that the Government’s amendments to clause 12 will give a child on their own in the UK the chance to apply to be bailed from detention after eight days, but that will apply only if they were detained to be removed, to be united with family or to be returned to their home country. That will not apply to all unaccompanied children when they first arrive in the UK; it will impact on only a small group of children. Other separated children not subject to removal will be detained for at least 28 days, and there is still no statutory limit on detention for any separated child.
Under the Government’s proposals, separated children affected by the Bill can still be indefinitely detained. That is the truth of the matter. It is imperative to include a time limit on child detention in the Bill. If the Government intend to detain children for the shortest possible time, they can reinforce that message by enshrining a time limit in the primary legislation, as we have asked for all along. Although the Minister has given some concessions, we are still not there.
The Government still do not explain what would constitute an age-appropriate detention facility. At the same time, they have introduced broad new powers to allow the Home Secretary to designate a place as an immigration detention centre. It is worrying to read that the Government are still unclear on the status of separated children who are detained, and claim that they will not require support from local authorities under the Children Act 1989. Those children should, therefore, have access to support and rights afforded under the Act. It is concerning to see the effective creation of a two-tier system, where a group of children might be denied protections just because of their immigration status and mode of arrival, despite the fact that they are all entitled to protections under the Children Act.
The Minister has said that he wants to detain children for the shortest possible time. I agree, so any codifying of that would surely be a beneficial win. We need reassurances on the type of detained accommodation: accommodation that meets children’s home standards and is subject to the same sort of inspections as children’s homes.
I missed the Minister’s friendly chats over the weekend, which I have enjoyed for the past few weekends. I am not sure why I was missed out. He did, however, send round some clarifying points, but they do not clarify the still too many outstanding questions. He has said:
“Where there is no dispute that someone is under 18, they will be transferred to the local authority accommodation estate as quickly as possible.”
How quick? Where does it say that? He has also said:
“Where there is doubt about whether a person is indeed under 18 as they claim to be, they will be treated as a child while an age assessment is undertaken.”
Where? How? He has said:
“Such a person will be detained in age-appropriate accommodation, as the law already provides.”
Where will that happen? He has also said:
“If no such accommodation is available, they will not be detained and instead will be transferred to a local authority as soon as possible.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 736, c. 201-202.]
Good. Where does it say that in the legislation? That is a problem.
The Minister has quoted various inspection reports of Yarl’s Wood, going back to 2008, in defence of what the Government are trying to do. That inspection report said:
“The plight of detained children remained of great concern…an immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for children and we were dismayed to find cases of disabled children being detained and some children spending large amounts of time incarcerated… Any period of detention can be detrimental to children and their families, but the impact of lengthy detention is particularly extreme.”
It also said that centre was “brighter and better decorated” that on the last visit—clearly, some cartoons were still on the walls there. The problem is that there have been concessions, but there are still too many unanswered questions. We need those extra assurances.
I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.
We should oppose all nine Government motions, which is precisely what my SNP colleagues and I will do this evening. Let me say again that this Bill is so appalling that the House of Lords should stop it in its tracks. However, Baroness Jones was the one speaker who had the guts to say:
“we should be stubborn about not allowing the Bill to go through.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 831, c. 1814.]
As I asked last week, if the Lords will not consider halting this Bill, which Bill will it be? This Bill is about locking up kids, forcing trafficking victims back to their exploiters, mass detention, closure of the UK asylum system and the trashing of international laws. If the Lords will not use their powers to block this Bill—a Bill that also runs totally contrary to what was in the 2019 Conservative manifesto—what is the point of their powers, and what is the point of the House of Lords? Let us hope that we can salvage something from these final proceedings.
On Lords amendment 1B, if the Bill is consistent with our international obligations, the Government cannot have any objections to the amendment. On the other hand, if, as the Government have at other times argued, it wrecks the Bill to have to be read consistently with international law, then the problem is with the Bill, not the amendment. That is a good reason in itself for the whole Bill to be stopped in its tracks. The revisions to the amendment mean that arguments about allegedly incorporating international laws have been addressed, despite the completely unsubstantiated assertion from the Minister. We have heard lots of strong words about protecting a dualist system of law, but given that the Government could not even make the normal human rights compatibility statement, we need strong action to protect fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
The grouped amendments 7B and 90D are also important in upholding the rule of law. They preserve judicial oversight, so that illegal decisions by the Government can be properly challenged before they are implemented. It really is as simple and fundamental as that. The Government keep talking about loopholes, but access to courts, the rule of law and fundamental rights are not loopholes; they are fundamental principles that we should be upholding.
Lords amendment 9B is another crucial amendment. It now includes safeguards to assuage the usual Government concerns about gaming the system, but retains the vital protection that if a person cannot be removed to Rwanda even after six months, they will then have their case assessed here. It simply preserves the status quo and is an essential protection. It remains an appalling prospect that people who are refugees will be left in limbo forever by the Government; never allowed to have their claim heard here and never able to contribute, even if removal is a near impossible prospect.
Indeed, it is also ludicrous that there will be people with totally unfounded claims for asylum who will get to remain here in limbo, often at considerable taxpayer expense, because of the Bill. The Bill stops unfounded claims being dealt with, just as it stops well-founded claims being dealt with. The end result is that thousands of people will need to be detained and accommodated in perpetuity. Many more will disappear underground, as they will have no reason to stay in touch with the Home Office. It is the end of the UK’s contribution to the refugee convention. Again, if the Government are not willing to move on that, their lordships should hold up the whole Bill.
On mass and limitless detention of children in inappropriate accommodation, of course we continue to support all efforts to curtail the horrendous new powers and to limit the extraordinary harm that we know—and the Home Office knows—detention causes to them. We therefore support Lords amendments 36C, 36D and 33B. As I said last week, the Government’s amendments in lieu really represent a pathetic non-concession. A theoretical right for some kids detained for removal to seek bail after eight days is just not remotely acceptable. At the very least, we need short, hard and fast limits, and those limits should be automatic and not dependent on a child being able to navigate the bail system and accessing the legal support that would be required to do that. And the time limits should apply to all kids, whether accompanied or not, and regardless of which particular powers they were detained under. The Government make claims about creating incentives to play by the rules, but, as with most of their claims, they offer absolutely no evidence. There is no suggestion, for example, that the introduction of strict time limits by David Cameron’s Government had the impact suggested here. It is just another myth.
As Members on both sides have said, the Bill is a serious threat to victims of modern slavery and trafficking, and yet again it totally ignores devolved powers on this subject. Those being exploited are the ones who will suffer, not the traffickers, whose power over their victims will only be enhanced by the withdrawal of any route to safety for those they are exploiting. We therefore support Lords amendment 56B and anything that will undo some of the damage that the Bill will do to modern slavery and trafficking provisions. Without 56B, the damage the Bill will do to slavery and trafficking laws across the UK is yet again sufficient to justify holding up the whole Bill.
On Lords amendment 23B and protections for LGBT people, we fully support everything Lord Etherton said in support of his amendments. Put the fact that these countries are not safe for LGBT people on the face of the schedule. Anything that builds on the flimsy and almost certainly unworkable system of “suspensive claims” should be welcomed. LGBT people should not have to go through that process in the first place. If the Government are committed to safe legal routes, they should have no problem with Lords amendment 102B. On the archbishop’s amendments 107B and 107C, a 10-year strategy is utterly sensible—indeed, it is essential. Long-term thinking is as necessary for issues surrounding forced migration as other pivotal challenges such as climate change.
Ultimately, the amendments can only add a little polish to an odious Bill that is utterly beyond redemption. It should be stopped in its tracks entirely and any parties that still send people to the relic of a second Chamber should be using their influence to see that that happens. Otherwise, this is all just for a show and very vulnerable people will suffer as a result.
Edmund Burke said that what matters
“is not what a lawyer tells me I may do;
but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do.”
In considering the Government’s response to the Lords amendments, it is important to re-emphasise that the Bill is about fairness; about affirming the integrity of our nation by defending our borders from those who seek to arrive here illegally. We must have the power to remove those entrants from our country. To do so is just and fair. It is what the British people expect, what they voted for in 2019, and what they chose in the Brexit referendum.
Considering the arguments made in the other place, I was struck by the absence of a credible alternative to the Government’s proposal; there seems little sense there of the need to control our borders, stop the boats, save lives, and to make our immigration system fairer, more reasonable and more just. Sadly, much of the debate on the amendments in the other place has been characterised by a combination of denial and detachment from the popular will—denial about the urgency of the problem, and detachment from the sentiments expressed by my constituents and the constituents of other Members on both sides of this Chamber. Those arriving in small boats must be detained securely and removed swiftly, and it must be a straightforward process, for only through that process will we deter more people from arriving.
I will not, because of the time—I apologise to the hon. and learned Lady.
As the Minister has made clear, the Government’s response to Lords amendments 1B, 7B and 90D is rooted in the understanding that those amendments are unnecessary. The Government take our international obligations very seriously. Indeed, all three Appeal Court judges agreed that the Government’s commitments were in tune with and compatible with international law.
As for the motion to disagree with Lords amendment 23B, we must keep this matter in perspective. There is no evidence whatsoever that the vast majority of people coming to this country in small boats, or indeed a significant number of them, are seeking shelter from persecution because of their sexuality, and it is a distortion to pretend otherwise. In respect of the motion to disagree with Lords amendment 102B, this business of “safe and legal routes” is, again, a distraction, and a detachment from the urgency of this problem. The amendment is unnecessary and seems to constitute legislative grandstanding, for under section 1 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the functions of the National Crime Agency already extend to combating all types of organised crime, including organised immigration crime.
Finally, let me deal with the motion to disagree with Lords amendments 107B and 107C, which propose the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “ten-year strategy”. I approve of having the Lords Spiritual in the other place. They are otherworldly—the Lord Bishops understandably take a view about an infinite, eternal future. However, those of us who are elected and answerable to the people directly have to deal with this world, here and now; and in this world; people demand that we control our borders, and they do so justly and reasonably.
“The secret of success is constancy to purpose.”
This Minister and the Home Secretary have been constant in their purpose of controlling our borders. Let us have less sanctimony and more common sense; less self-righteousness and more selfless commitment to the people’s will; less soul-searching and more heartfelt advocacy of the interests of hard-working, law-abiding, decent, patriotic Britons who support this Bill and oppose the Lords amendments.
I regard Sir John Hayes as a friend in the true sense of the word, but I say that it is a pleasure to follow him this evening—not least because it means that he has stopped talking.
There is a real sense of déjà vu about this debate, and not just because of the proceedings in relation to this Bill. We have heard all these arguments before, almost word for word. Everything that the Minister said at the Dispatch Box this afternoon had been heard in relation to what is now the Nationality and Borders Act 2022—and what progress has been made as a consequence of that? None.
I followed closely your exchange with the shadow Immigration Minister, Madam Deputy Speaker, in relation to the question of the Minister being misleading. I should say that I do not think for one second that the Minister was in any way misleading. I cannot speak for his intention, of course—only he knows about that—but I certainly was not misled. To any reasonable-minded person, it must surely be obvious what the Government are about today.
Look at the broader context. Net migration figures are going up and up, and today there has been an announcement that construction workers are to be added to the shortage occupation list—something that runs contrary to virtually every piece of rhetoric that we have heard from Government Back Benchers and the Treasury Bench.
What we have here is a piece of doubling down at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The Minister spoke about late and repeated challenges—well, to have a late or repeated challenge, there would have to be some decisions first: there must be a decision before it can be challenged. As of
It is unfortunate that Sir Iain Duncan Smith is not here. He made the point perfectly that the modern slavery amendments under consideration today would simply put the Minister’s own words into force in the Bill. When Conservatives were in opposition, they used to shout about that all the time; they seem to have lost their appetite for it in recent times. The comments of Tim Loughton about the detention of children were absolutely on point. We all saw for ourselves—I certainly did—the human consequences and harsh realities of the detention of children when that was part of our immigration system. It beggars belief that we should be returning to that.
The question of safe and legal routes is again a classic example of the Government saying to us that we can have jam tomorrow but not today. How is it that the high politics have to be in the Bill but the actual practical workable solutions, which will, to borrow the Minister’s three-word slogan, actually “stop the boats”, are somehow too difficult? They always have to be left—not because they are practically or administratively too difficult but because they do not fit the unpleasant political rhetoric and narrative on which the Government rely to speak to a base that, frankly, should be confronted and not appeased. That is why my party will vote against the Government motions to disagree and we urge their lordships to stick to their guns.
The Minister can relax; I am not going to bang on about RAF Scampton—not least because I have put in for the Adjournment debate on Thursday when I can deal with it in more detail. I just ask the House to accept that my constituents are, more than any others in the country, victims of this farce—this debacle—of trying to house 2,000 people in one place. That is not good for the people and it will overwhelm our social services.
There is now an argument to be had about the future of the House of Lords. There is no point in our having these endless debates about whether it should be elected or not. It should be a proper revising Chamber. When it is given a Bill such as this, its attitude should be, “How can we improve it? How can we make it work better? How can we remove these legal glitches, which will have unintended consequences?” It seems to me that so much of the debate in the House of Lords and so many of the amendments have just been designed to drive a coach and horses through the Bill and to give human rights lawyers even greater chances to develop ever more legal arguments to stop anybody from being deported.
I have some sympathy with what Mr Carmichael said. What is a bit of a mystery to me is that we went through this whole process last year. We had the ping-pong on the Nationality and Borders Bill. We got it through Parliament and were told that it would solve the problem—but we still have the same problem. I prophesise that, actually, this Bill will become law. The Labour party does not want to set a precedent for the unelected House of Lords to block legislation, so it will give in and the House of Lords will deliver the Bill. It will become an Act of Parliament, and I have a horrible feeling that, this time next year, we will be in exactly the same position. Can we rely on the Supreme Court to agree that people should be deported to Rwanda?
What are we going to do? Is it crueller to detain people as soon as they arrive or to do nothing and have a tragedy in the channel? Is it cruel to continue letting people smugglers get away with what they want? Of course, I have enormous sympathy with what my hon. Friend Tim Loughton says about children, but the trouble is that so many of these people who claim to be children are not children—they have to be assessed. One of the problems we face at Scampton is that there are so many of these people, 20% of the population coming into the camp, which means there will have to be an army of social workers to determine whether they are children.
I have enormous sympathy for persecuted LGBT people, but the truth is that the moment we create an exception saying that we cannot deport a person to an African country with a dodgy record on LGBT, everyone will claim to be LGBT—of course they will. I would do the same. If I were coming from Iraq, I would say I am a Christian. If I were coming from Syria, I would say I am gay. This is the problem we face. Every time we try to do anything, human rights lawyers drive a coach and horses through all our efforts.
So what are we going to do? I have said for two or three years now that the only solution—I suspect the Government will be dragged into this within a year—is to have a derogation, if necessary a temporary derogation during a national crisis, from the refugee convention, which prevents us from detaining people who claim to be asylum seekers. We will also have to have a derogation from the European convention on human rights.
I am a member of the Council of Europe, and I value the work of the Council of Europe, but the European Court of Human Rights is not a supreme court like our Supreme Court. It is not a supreme court like the American Supreme Court. It is a fundamentally political body, appointed on political grounds.
Until we have freedom of manoeuvre to have a real deterrent that tells the world, “If you land illegally on our shores, you will be detained and, ultimately, you will either have to go back where you came from or be deported,” we will never stop this problem. It is all right for the Labour party to talk about safe and legal routes, and about what it will try to do, but we all know that that did not work for the Dublin convention and it will not work if Labour takes power. President Macron will not suddenly change his mind. He will not take anyone back. We will be in this exact position in 15 months’ time if there is a Labour Government, and I predict that, if there is a Labour Government, they will simply leave this Act on the statute book pretty well unamended.
My constituency is a victim of all this, so what is the House going to do? This is utterly debilitating. We cannot go on like this. Please, can we have a plan?
It is sadly not a pleasure to follow Sir Edward Leigh. Talking about leaving or having derogations from human rights law is exactly what is wrong with the Government’s approach to this issue and what is wrong with this vile Bill.
With overwhelming support from across the political spectrum, and backed by Conservative peers and by religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the other place is absolutely right to have inflicted a string of defeats on this vile, illegal Bill.
Lords amendment 1B, in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti, should be easy for any decent Government to accept, because it simply asks for compliance with the rule of law, which is the bedrock of our democracy. But the Government are attacking that foundation, forced to admit on the face of this immoral Bill that they are unable to say it is compatible with the 1950 European convention on human rights. By moving a motion to disagree to Lords amendment 1B, the Government are seeking to deny UK judges the right to interpret this law and to check it against compliance with the UK’s obligations under no fewer than five international conventions that we should be defending, not undermining.
The Minister in the other place tried to argue that a previous version of this amendment was trying to incorporate international law into domestic law and that, in doing so, it was an unacceptable change to our legal framework. I do not think that that is what the previous version did, but, for the avoidance of doubt, in this version Lords amendment 1B is explicit in calling for the interpretation of international law to ensure compliance with our international obligations. Indeed, Ministers will be aware of the contribution from Lord Hope, who served as deputy president of the Supreme Court and last week said that this amendment is a
“pure interpretation provision…entirely consistent with the way the courts approach these various conventions….it is entirely orthodox and consistent with principle.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 831, c. 1817.]
Adhering to the refugee convention, the European convention on human rights, and other international laws we have signed up to should be non-negotiable. What a terrible state of affairs it is that the Government want to vote down an amendment seeking compliance with the rule of law.
The Government’s argument is that stripping vulnerable people of asylum and other human rights will stop other vulnerable people falling into the hands of the people traffickers. That is both morally bankrupt and utterly bogus. It is morally bankrupt because human rights are not earned or contingent on a person’s conduct or character, or on whether upholding those rights might affect someone else’s actions. Human rights are attached to a person by virtue of their humanity. Vulnerable people, including children, are being punished because of presumed future actions of adults. Furthermore, by disagreeing with Lords amendment 1B, Ministers face the charge of hypocrisy, as they disrespect international law and undermine migrants’ rights at a time of unprecedented international turmoil. Just last week, the Prime Minister was at a NATO summit absolutely saying that we need to uphold international law against the grotesque breaches by Putin in Ukraine. Yes, we do need to do that, but let us have a little moral consistency.
As well as being immoral, the Government’s argument about a deterrent effect is bogus and unevidenced. The Home Office’s own impact assessment, published just last month, is peppered with caveats about how undeliverable this policy is. It includes an admission that:
“The delivery plan is still being developed.”
The lack of evidence on deterrence in that document is glaring. It says that the Bill is “novel and untested”, so we do not know what impact it will have on deterrence. As I said earlier, a raft of children’s charities have pointed out that once routine child detention was ended in 2011, there was no proportional increase in children claiming asylum. Beyond that, there is a strong evidence to show that it is the precisely the hostility towards refuges exemplified by this Bill and the Government’s rejection of Lords amendments to it that fuels the grim and terrible trade in small boats that they claim they are against.
So any Member who votes to block the Lords amendments should admit that in doing so, they degrade the rule of law, dehumanise vulnerable refugees, attack our modern slavery laws, put LGBT refugees at grave risk, and that their approach will lead to the unconscionable mass detention and treatment of children, with no stated time limit to that detention—it is sickening. I will be voting to uphold the Lords amendments, because this Bill shames and degrades our country, our democracy and this House.
I want to speak mainly about Lords amendment 1B, and to follow up on the remarks made by Caroline Lucas and Sir Edward Leigh. I heard him make exactly the same argument in the Council of Europe, when, to the consternation of most of its members, he argued that Britain had to criticise and walk away from the European court of human rights because one case was found against Britain. Many more cases have been found against almost every other country that signed up to the European convention on human rights and, therefore, the Court.
I support Lords amendment 1B because it gives some protection under the 1950 European convention, the 1951 UN convention and the conventions on statelessness, on the rights of the child and on action against trafficking. The Lords amendment will mean that any decision has to be taken in accordance with those conventions. If the Government are opposing those, what message are they giving, other than that they have no respect for international law and for the conventions we helped to write and sign up for, and that they want to walk away from them? Walking away from them will mean that we have no regard for the rights of people seeking asylum if the European Court of Human Rights finds us to be wanting in that respect. Therefore, should any other country want to walk away from the European convention on human rights, for example, Turkey, Poland or Hungary, all of which have issues with their legislation in respect of the convention, we will be in no position to criticise anybody ever again. The idea that this country is facing a crisis so severe and so serious that we have to walk away from conventions that were hard fought for and have served the human rights of people across Europe very well is simply ridiculous. On a global scale, the numbers of people involved are enormous, because of economic stress around the world, wars, environmental degradation and destruction, and human rights abuse. That is why people seek asylum.
The Opposition spokesperson, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, made it clear that he had been to Calais. I have also been to Calais and talked to people there. They are utterly desperate, which is why they are trying to seek a place of safety. People who have sought a place of safety in this country and been granted permanent residence here have made an enormous contribution to our society. They are working in education, health, transport and the care sector. We have a massive labour shortage in almost every industry, so it seems to me rather odd that we are preventing people who have been granted at least the opportunity to apply for asylum in this country the chance to work and make a contribution to the society they have chosen to come to.
Other countries have far larger numbers of asylum seekers than we do. Germany has taken in far more asylum seekers than this country has, as has Italy. Outside Europe, where all the discussion is taking place, it is usually the poorest countries neighbouring a conflict that have to take in very large numbers of people. For example, Bangladesh has taken in well over 1 million Rohingya people from Myanmar because of the activities of the Myanmar army, and there are other examples around the world.
There has to be a global response. The answer is not to put up barbed wire, have surveillance, use gunboats and all the rest of it; surely the answer is some degree of international co-operation that recognises our obligation to all people around the world, as a global community, and that does something about the causes and sources of people seeking asylum, rather than the approach that the Bill takes.
I suspect the Bill will end up being completely ineffective. Possibly, nobody will ever be removed to Rwanda—I hope that is the case. I would rather we stopped it here and now, and at least passed amendment 1B. That would give those whose duty it is to protect people’s rights a recognition of the conventions that we have signed up to and have spread around the world, saying how good we are at signing up to those conventions. Let us stick to our word, and stick to those conventions.
As we did not have the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and it is being pushed through Parliament very quickly, I am pleased that the Lords have sent back amendments so that we can look again and consider the unintended consequences of parts of the Bill.
I will speak to the amendments on modern slavery. Evidence presented to the Home Affairs Committee revealed the urgent need to open up more escape routes for trafficking victims, including ending the current industrial-scale sexual exploitation, with women advertised on pimping websites up and down the land, in every Member’s constituency, on websites such as Vivastreet, which allows women to be raped multiple times a day. Under this legislation, if those women come forward to the authorities, they will not be offered help and assistance but will be detained and removed. Removing those modern slavery protections will do nothing towards doing what we all want to happen: to bring the organised crime groups orchestrating that abuse to justice. So I support Lords amendment 56B to maintain the status quo.
Secondly, I am disappointed that the Lords amendments on children have not been accepted. Children constitute a small minority of those making the crossing in small boats, often arriving frightened, frequently traumatised and always vulnerable. Such were the concerns of the Home Affairs Committee about the current treatment and experience of children who claim asylum in the UK that we recommended the Government commission an independent end-to-end review of the asylum system as it applies to and is experienced by children. However, instead of that, the Government are hurrying through a Bill to reduce children’s rights. No one in this House would want such treatment for their own children, which is why I support Lords amendments 33B, 36C and 36B remaining in the Bill.
Thirdly, a year ago the Home Affairs Committee published the results of our inquiry into channel crossings and identified a slew of robust measures that the Government could deploy to stop small boat crossings and create a fair and efficient asylum system. They included the creation of safe and legal routes and international initiatives by the National Crime Agency to combat people smugglers, both of which are the subject of Lords amendments under discussion today.
Stopping the people smuggling gangs will require a raft of carefully crafted, costed and evidence-based strategies, such as the ones put forward by the Home Affairs Committee. It is for that reason that I firmly support Lords amendment 102B on safe and legal routes, Lords amendment 103B on the National Crime Agency, Lords amendments 107B and 107C on a 10-year strategy and Lords amendment 23B on removal destinations for LGBT people and other persons. These measures and the Bill as a whole must be implemented in accordance with our international obligations, as is set out in amendment 1B.
A constituent contacted me recently and said that I seemed to be speaking an awful lot in the Chamber about immigration and asylum issues. I suppose that that is correct, but then that is because the Government allocate so much time in the Chamber to immigration and asylum issues. This is the third major piece of primary legislation on immigration since 2015. However, the majority of constituents—hundreds of constituents—who get in touch with me on each of these pieces of legislation tell me just how disappointed, if not horrified, they are at the Tory UK Government’s attitude to people who come here seeking refuge.
In rejecting all the Lords amendments before us today, the Government are showing just how hostile an environment they want to create—not just for asylum seekers, but for almost anyone who wants to make their home here in the UK. The fact that they will not accept Lords amendment 1B, which is a considerably softer version of what we discussed last week, demonstrates that. If the Government are truly committed to the international conventions listed in the amendment—particularly the 1951 refugee convention—they really should have no problem agreeing that they will form part of the interpretation of the Act when it comes into force.
I have also heard from constituents who want to ensure that LGBTQ people who arrive here from places where they can face imprisonment for simply being who they are cannot be removed to those countries. That is what the Lords are seeking to achieve in Lords amendment 23B. Accepting that amendment would save time and public money because otherwise, by the Minister’s own admission, claimants would have to make suspensive claims against removal to their country of origin. That is what the Minister says he wants to avoid. He wants to avoid loopholes and needless court cases. In that case, he should support Lords amendment 23B.
The amendments that seek to protect children from indefinite detention and that maintain human trafficking protections speak for themselves, as does the Government’s insistence on rejecting those amendments. The Government keep asking those of us who are opposed to the Bill for alternative proposals for dealing with irregular arrivals, and these are clearly outlined in Lords amendment 102B and in the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury’s amendments 107B and 107C. The Minister keeps saying that he wants to establish safe and legal routes. Well, that is what Lords amendment 102B will require him to do. I have met many asylum seekers through the Maryhill Integration Network and elsewhere who would much prefer to have come here from Eritrea, Iran or other countries that have been mentioned today through a safe and legal route, rather than the risks, costs and desperation of coming on lorries and boats.
The archbishop’s proposals for the development of a strategy on refugees and human trafficking are perhaps the most straightforward and easily implementable of all the clauses and amendments so far. The Government regularly accept amendments requiring them to publish strategies and reviews on all kinds of legislation. Perhaps they do not want to support this one because the transparency and accountability that would come with requiring the Government to undertake a long-term analysis and make a long-term plan in response to global population flows would reveal the true hollowness of the rest of their proposals—the inhumanity and the self-defeating implications of the hostile environment.
Millions of people will be on the move in the coming years and decades. They will be fleeing wars that we have financed and climate change that we have helped to cause. Experiences in southern Europe and the American midwest this week suggests that they will not just be moving from the southern hemisphere either. Nobody is saying that the United Kingdom should have completely open borders and take unlimited numbers of migrants, but we have to be prepared to take our fair share, just as other countries welcomed refugees fleeing famine and clearances on these islands not that many generations ago.
If Government Ministers and Back Benchers truly respect the role that the House of Lords is supposed to play in the UK constitution, they really ought to listen to the messages that their lordships are sending today and will send in the days to come. As it stands, people in Glasgow North and across Scotland are listening to the rhetoric of the Conservative Government and deciding that they want no more of it. They will be seeking the safe and legal route to independence as soon as possible.
I will begin by putting on the record my complete opposition to this horrendous Bill in its entirety. It is cruel and inhumane. It will put people at serious risk of further exploitation. It is stoking division within our society, and it undermines constitutional principles and human rights.
We are here today to focus on amendments, so I will briefly say that I support all the Lords amendments before us, particularly Lords amendment 1B, which others have already spoken about, in the name of my friend Baroness Chakrabarti. The amendment sets out the Bill’s intention to comply with a host of human rights conventions, including those with regard to the protection of human rights and the rights of the child, and against trafficking human beings.
It is vital that we underline our commitment to human rights, and, to quote the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford,
“provide a warm welcome to all of those who seek sanctuary”.
That is particularly important as accommodation sites that have been identified by the Home Office for asylum seekers become targets for protests by the far right. That is happening in Wales at the moment. Amendment 1B is a modest and uncontroversial amendment. The Lords have backed it twice. More than 70 organisations have stated their support. The Government must yield and stop voting it down. If the Government are, as they say, confident that the Bill is compatible with the UK’s international law obligations, there is nothing to fear from the amendment.
I also support Lords amendment 102B in the name of Baroness Stroud, a Conservative peer, which provides for a duty to establish safe and legal routes. This is, again, a modest and uncontroversial amendment that could make an unsupportable Bill slightly better. We need to go much further. We need to expand safe routes, as organisations such as the Refugee Council, Care4Calais and the Public and Commercial Services Union have argued, in line with the amendment. We also need to tackle the backlog with a fair, humane and speedy processing system.
The Government have lost control over the asylum system. Their “stop the boats” rhetoric will not stop the boats because people are genuinely seeking asylum from war and poverty, and nobody would go on a boat, risking their life, unless they were desperate. We should be welcoming people to our country. What is contained in the Bill does not represent the type of country that I want to live in, or that I want my children or grandchildren to live in. What I and millions of others want is a country and society that is based on care, compassion, kindness, generosity, respect, inclusivity and, yes, solidarity.
I support today’s Lords amendments, which should be accepted, but if the Bill is passed this week, I and many others in this House—and, more importantly, outside it—will continue to oppose and campaign against this appalling piece of legislation at every opportunity.
I have to reduce the time limit to four minutes. I call Claudia Webbe.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The provisions of the Bill are inhumane and punitive. It has not improved with the Government’s amendments sent to the other place, which the other place has rightly rejected, proposing their own counter-amendments.
The Government remain determined to allow themselves to detain and deport even unaccompanied children; to disqualify many refugees from even attempting to apply for asylum or to appeal against unjust decisions; and to give the Home Secretary sweeping powers to make new rules or apply them as the Government see fit. Even if every amendment proposed by the Lords was passed, this would remain an odious Bill, and one that shames this House and shames this country, but the latest Lords amendments would at least mitigate some of the worst harms of the legislation—legislation that the Home Secretary cannot even say is legal under international law.
For those reasons, I support all the amendments sent back to this House by the other place, but I wish to speak particularly on the following. First, the Government have rejected an amendment that would place a statutory duty on them to provide safe and legal routes for refugees to reach the UK to apply for asylum, on the basis that they have already said that they will introduce such routes. However, a promise to do something is not the same as a legal obligation to do it, and it is clear that this Government can barely be trusted to comply with their legal obligations, let alone their promises, as can be seen in the unlawful deportation of members of the Windrush generation and the very fact that safe and legal routes do not already exist.
We know the Government can provide safe and legal routes when they wish to. We are talking about people fleeing war, conflict and torture, with British-made bombs forcing desperate people to flee their homes. I am surprised to hear the Minister admit that the Government are holding up refugees in Pakistan who have fled Afghanistan and who need to be here, and I believe it to be unlawful. If the Government are serious in intending to establish safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum, they have no need to fear or avoid taking upon themselves a legal duty to do so. Promises of a better tomorrow are no substitute. This is not a non-issue. I therefore put on record my support for Lords amendment 102B.
Secondly, this month more than 150 children’s charities, faith leaders, medical bodies and others wrote to the Government to demand that they scrap plans to detain refugee children—an abhorrent notion that disgraces this House and brings dishonour on the UK. It is a deeply inhumane and harmful provision of this Bill. The idea of detaining children, especially indefinitely, has horrified even some members of the Conservative party. Earlier this year, Tim Loughton said that the Bill
“amounts effectively to indefinite detention of children of any age anywhere that the Home Secretary considers it appropriate.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 730, c. 945.]
The Prime Minister has called this Bill decent and humane. It is clearly neither. I therefore support Lords amendments 36C, 36D and 33B, which would restrict the detention of children.
I want to apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I do not think I indicated clearly enough that I wanted to speak. Thank you for your generous dexterity in finding time for me.
I want to say one simple thing about the assurances given so far on the detention of children: they are not sufficient. There are large numbers of children who will be detained. The definition of age-appropriate and child-appropriate accommodation is not clear enough.
I remind the House of my experience with Harmondsworth detention centre in my constituency before 2014, when we legislated to prevent children being detained in detention centres. That detention centre was also meant to be age and child-appropriate, but what happened? It simply had a wing with a school and so on, and children were locked up in there for months on end. We saw the reports of individual civil society organisations that assessed the mental health implications of the detention of children at that stage.
So far, the Minister has told me that there is no Government intention to detain children in detention centres again, but, as I said to him before, intention is not good enough. We need legislation to prevent that from happening again. My fear is that, under pressure, Government Ministers will decide that there will be some appropriate decoration of some sections of Harmondsworth and it will be opened up for children again.
I was a house father at a children’s home in Hillingdon. It was one of the traditional children’s homes, run effectively as a family unit. I pursued my own career, and my wife was the house mother in charge and I was the house father. It was like a large fostering unit, basically, and we took in children who had been detained in Harmondsworth. Even before it was of the prison style that it is now, those children were, I believe, scarred for life. I did not think that we would ever return to locking children up in that way. The children we looked after often came to us after they had been lost within the system while their cases were being processed over a long time. They were often separated from their families, who came through other routes. I think the damage was a scandal of this country’s treatment of human beings.
That was why, from 2010 until 2012, we ran a campaign—across all religious groups, and with civil society organisations such as the Children’s Society—and published report after report. David Cameron came forward heroically and said, “We will never detain children again,” and we legislated for that in 2014. We are now going back to detaining children almost indefinitely for some categories. We have not got the assurances that we need about where they will be detained or about the care, comfort and succour that they will have to support them. As a result, if we allow this legislation to go through, it will be a stain upon this House and upon society overall for a long time to come.
I ask Members to think again. We now go back into ping-pong with the other House, which is calling simply for a realistic time limit on the detention of children so that they are not damaged beyond repair in the way they were 10 years ago. I do not think that a simple amendment to set a time limit on children suffering in detention when they arrive in this country is an awful lot to ask of the Government. They often come from countries where they have suffered enough; we should not impose even more suffering on them.
With the leave of the House, let me say a few words to close this short debate.
As I said at the outset, when we met and voted 18 times last week, we supported the Bill time and again. In each of those 18 votes, we in this democratically elected Chamber voted to stop the boats, secure our borders and enable this important Bill to move forward. Now is the time for the other place, which is, at its heart, as a number of colleagues have said—
I will not—we have heard from the hon. Gentleman a number of times.
The other place is ultimately a revising Chamber, and it is now time for it to support the Bill. Today’s debate has, like some of the others, been short on new arguments and completely short of any credible alternative. I go back to the arguments made in the other place by many distinguished Members of that House and former Members of this House, most notably the noble Lord Clarke, who said clearly that he was not able, having listened to the debate for hour after hour, to discern a single credible alternative to the Government’s plan. It is incumbent on those who want to vote against the Bill to bring forward alternatives, but we have not heard a single one.
I used to say that Labour Members do not have a plan to stop the boats, but that is not true. They do have a plan, but it is one that is so dangerously naive that it is a recipe for even more crossings and even greater misery. They would create a massive pull factor by giving economic migrants crossing the channel from a safe place such as France the ability to work sooner. They would attempt to grant their way out of the problem and sacrifice the remaining integrity of the system. They would create bespoke country-specific routes for every instance of instability in the world, which would impose more and more pressures on local communities.
Is it not the most telling fact in this debate that today, in the shadow Immigration Minister’s own town of Aberavon, there is not a single asylum seeker? If Members want more asylum seekers, they should have the honesty to have them in their own constituency. From the letters I receive from Labour MPs, I assume that they would house asylum seekers even more expensively than we do today, with no regard to the taxpayer. I am not clear how they would remove illegal migrants when their own leader, Keir Starmer, campaigned to close an immigration removal centre, tens of Labour MPs have opposed the reopening of two other centres, and the Labour party’s own membership recently voted to abolish them altogether.
The fact is that as its Members vote against the Bill today, Labour’s message to the law-abiding people of this country—from Stoke to Blackpool to Peterborough—when it comes to illegal migration is quite simply “Put up with it.” Its message to the British families who have to wait longer for social housing or GP appointments is “Tough luck”, and its message to the hard-working taxpayer faced with the ever-rising costs of the system is “Cough up.” It is only the Conservative party that can see the fundamental injustice of illegal migration—that it ultimately affects the poorest people in society the most—and has the determination to fix it. That is why the Bill is so important, and it is why the Lords now need to back it.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 1B, 7B and 90D.
The House divided: Ayes 298, Noes 213.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendments 1B, 7B and 90D disagreed to.
More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order,
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (