Amendment 1

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:47 pm on 7th September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative 2:47 pm, 7th September 2020

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 1 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. I start by thanking my noble friend the Minister and her team for the briefing sessions arranged since Second Reading and the substantial package of materials circulated last week, including some illustrative statutory instruments, which I always find helpful in understanding how Bills will work. We will come on to those in later groups.

I know from all the legislation that I have made as a civil servant and as a Minister, and complied with as a businesswoman and a citizen, that how a new law is enforced and the resources devoted to it is almost as important as the law itself. Our amendment, the first in this group, is a probing one designed to elicit detailed information on enforcement ahead of Report. I note that there is very little in the Bill, no doubt because the enforcement provisions, penalties, powers of entry and enforcement officers responsible sit in existing legislation, but we need a road map. We need to know as much as possible now and, failing that, we need a public report to Parliament within six months, as stated in my amendment—the way the excellent Bill clerks thought that we could ensure the provision of adequate information.

As discussed at Second Reading, my general approach is that government policy should align itself more closely with the majority of public opinion, which has consistently held over many decades that more rigorous controls are needed and that the rules should be enforced fairly and firmly. This was shown unequivocally in the Brexit referendum.

There are a number of troubling issues with enforcement implications. The number of migrants seeking ever more novel ways to get into the UK illegally is growing. Last week, it was reported that a record 416 migrants exploited fine weather to make the crossing from France to England in one day, arriving on beaches all along the south coast. Immigration law can be enforced by tightening border controls or by deporting those without a right to remain in our country, yet we see repeated reports of the failure of government steps to remove migrants who have already sought asylum elsewhere or have no right to remain for other reasons. Last week, a charter flight took off for Spain that was meant to carry 20 such migrants; in the event, only 11 boarded the plane, after late legal challenges. The week before, the Government abandoned a similar flight with 23 migrants on board, after last-minute legal action. Many thousands are attracted to dangerous ways of entering the UK, because the authorities are known to be useless at enforcing the law.

We have passed many laws and regulations in recent years, including in 2014—when I had the pleasure of supporting the then Home Office Minister, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach—but enforcement has been weak. As a result, businesses, banks and landlords play a big part in policing the rules at very considerable cost to themselves—as I remember well from Tesco. Yet immigration continues to increase. There are large numbers here illegally, both putting pressure on our public services and housing and risking ill treatment and exploitation—for example, in modern slavery or in dangerous low-paid working environments.

The Bill focuses on the EEA and Switzerland, and migrants arriving from those countries are not exempt from the problems that I highlighted. There is never-ending pressure on the EU’s southern and eastern borders, and the growth of hotspots of deprivation in EU urban centres. This phenomenon, most shockingly shown by the queues across Europe a few years ago, helped to bring us Brexit. The Bill must provide the powers we need to tackle these issues properly or we will never be forgiven.

Against this background, I have some questions. First, where are the enforcement provisions that will apply to the Bill and regulations made under it? What are the fines and criminal sanctions that apply and to whom? Secondly, the Bill contains powers to amend primary legislation elsewhere. Can that include enforcement provisions and how would such powers be limited? Thirdly, what are the enforcement authorities—the Border Force, the police, local authorities, the Home Office or the DWP?

Fourthly, what resources are available for enforcement and how much will they be increased? For example, the UK points-based immigration system, set out in CP 258 and at the useful briefing arranged by my noble friend the Minister, requires a huge new administrative structure post Brexit and an ESTA-style system involving millions of individuals every week. According to the department’s interesting impact assessment—thank you to the Home Office for doing one, by the way—there were 142.8 million passenger arrivals in 2018. That included nearly 41 million from the EU and 20.5 million non-EEA citizens. That necessitates a lot of checking. Add to that the pressure on our authorities of the illegal attempts I described earlier, the complications of Covid and post-Brexit trade, and you have a case for much more resource.

Fifthly, what scope is there for the use of technology to ease the obvious pressures on our enforcement? Does that also have downsides too that have been anticipated?

Finally, will the Minister take another look at the economics of deportation flights? At Second Reading, I suggested the Government take advantage of the current market to buy some small planes for this purpose. Having some experience in this area, I was not happy with the response in the Minister’s letter. Given the failure rate and the apparent ability of lawyers to delay deportation on flimsy grounds, I am sure it would be cheaper, in the longer term, than charter flights. I am clear that, given media coverage and public concern, the public would not put up with the use of scheduled or mixed flights for that purpose. This approach would generate more confidence, and we need that. I urge the department to work with the Treasury if necessary to do a proper cost-benefit analysis, rather than applying some narrow procurement mantra.

In conclusion, I support Clause 1. However, we need to be clear about the rules for enforcement and entry. The other amendments in this group cover other aspects, and I look forward to colleagues making the case for these, although I must to admit to reservations about some of them.