Amendment 15

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 4:03 pm on 5 October 2020.

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Lord Dubs:

Moved by Lord Dubs

15: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“Leave to enter: family unity and claims for asylum(1) For at least such time as a relevant agreement has not been concluded and implemented, a person to whom this section applies must be granted leave to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of making a claim for asylum.(2) This section applies to a person who—(a) is on the territory of any relevant Member State;(b) makes an application for leave to enter for the purpose of making a claim for asylum; and(c) would, had that person made an application for international protection in that Member State, have been eligible for transfer to the United Kingdom under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 by reason of a relevant provision if the United Kingdom remained a party to that Regulation.(3) An application for leave to enter under subsection (2)(c) shall be made in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe save that—(a) there shall be no fee for the making of such an application and no requirements may be prescribed that are unreasonable having regard to the purposes of this section and the circumstances of persons to whom it applies;(b) in relation to such applications, the Secretary of State shall make arrangements to ensure that applicants receive a decision regarding their application no later than two months from the date of submission of the application.(4) A claim for asylum made under subsection (2)(b) must remain pending throughout such time as no decision has been made on it or during which an appeal could be brought within such time as may be prescribed for the bringing of any appeal against a decision made on a claim or during which any such appeal remains pending for the purposes of section 104 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (pending appeal); and a claim for asylum remains one on which no decision has been made during such time as the claim has been made to the Secretary of State and has not been granted, refused, abandoned or withdrawn.(5) The Secretary of State must, within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, lay before both Houses of Parliament a strategy for ensuring that unaccompanied children on the territory of a relevant Member State continue to be relocated to the United Kingdom, if it is in the child's best interests.(6) For the purposes of this section— “applicant” means a person who makes an application for leave to enter under this section;“claim for asylum” means a claim for leave to enter or remain as a refugee or as a person eligible for a grant of humanitarian protection;“Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013” means Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council including the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);“relevant agreement” means an agreement negotiated by a Minister of the Crown, on behalf of the United Kingdom, with the European Union in accordance with which there is provision for the transfer of a person who has made an application for asylum in a Member State of the European Union to the United Kingdom which is no less extensive than Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 insofar as that regulation operated to enable the transfer of a person to join a child, sibling, parent or other family member or relative in the United Kingdom before exit day;“relevant Member State” means a Member State for the purposes of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013;“relevant provision” means any of the following articles of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013—(a) Article 8,(b) Article 9,(c) Article 10,(d) Article 16,(e) Article 17.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause aims to ensure that rights under UK law to family reunion, at present covered by the Dublin III Treaty, will continue after the transition period and that unaccompanied child refugees in Europe will have a legal route to sanctuary in the UK.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, this amendment is similar to the one I moved in Committee. It has cross-party support, and in due course I shall seek the opinion of the House on its merits.

The new clause aims to ensure that rights under UK law to family reunion, at present covered by Dublin III, will continue after the transition period, and that unaccompanied child refugees in Europe have a legal route to sanctuary in the UK. Our attitude to child refugees will help to define the sort of country that we are. Yesterday, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said that coronavirus had forced us to reflect on what is important to us in the UK: family, community and fair play. That is the focus of this amendment, although I am sure that her conclusions will differ from mine.

Child refugees are the most vulnerable of all refugees. One of our concerns must be to tackle trafficking and give child refugees legal routes to safety. If there are no legal routes to safety, the traffickers simply exploit vulnerable people, make a lot of money and endanger the lives of the children. Obviously, we cannot take all unaccompanied children in Europe, and I never suggested it, but I do intend that we should share responsibility for this with other European countries. The numbers are still relatively small, and the principle is important.

I visited the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos in Greece about 18 months ago. It was not only a camp, but also a powder keg waiting to blow up, and it has got worse since the fire. Clearly, that was an enormous tragedy. We have all seen the consequences. We also saw the Greek Government pleading with other countries for help with the numbers in Moria before the fire and repeating the plea after the fire. Despite all the arguments that are going on, I believe that if the arguments regarding child refugees were put to the British people, they would still basically be supported—not unanimously, of course, but I believe that there is a broad measure of public support for us being humanitarian and supporting child refugees.

I will develop some of these points. I mentioned Dublin III, and I shall go on to mention Section 67 of the 2016 Act, covering children who do not have family here. The Dublin III is for family reunion, and both represent legal routes to safety from Europe for children seeking to come to the UK. Family reunion under Dublin III is currently the only legal pathway to reach the UK from the EU for the purposes of claiming asylum. It will no longer apply after the transition period, so child refugees have only two and a half months to access a safe alternative to a lorry or a dinghy for crossing.

It is true that Her Majesty’s Government has a draft proposal for family reunion, but I contend that it is inadequate. It seems to have been rejected by the EU anyway, as there are no plans to take it forward during the current negotiations, but even if there were, there would be serious problems with those proposals. They remove all mandatory requirements to activate family reunions. They remove the child’s right to appeal against refusal, and some children would not be covered by the narrower definition of “family” which Parliament passed in the 2017 Act. Other safeguards have been removed too, such as deadlines. Indeed, according to an NGO, 95% of people helped by NGOs would fail the test proposed by Her Majesty’s Government, so I do not think that this proposal has much merit.

It has also been said that Immigration Rules are there, but they are limited and simply do not cover this contingency. However, in contrast to the vagueness and imprecision regarding their approach to family reunion, the Government have proposed very firm measures indeed to return failed asylum seekers, and there is a real contrast between what we do to remove people and what we do to accept people who have a legitimate right to seek asylum here.

Given the deficiency in the Government’s proposal, this amendment gives Parliament a chance to ensure the basic principle of family reunion. The numbers under Dublin III have in recent years been very small. Up to 2014, there were about 10 or 11 a year; since 2016, a little over 500 have come in under this. These numbers are important but are still very small compared with the movement of people and children into Greece, Italy, Malta and elsewhere.

Of course, we have all been appalled by the dangerous channel crossings—some of them involving children—but they are attempted only when the legal route is closed. Last year, some 3,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in the UK. Most of them came illegally. That imposes an enormous burden on Kent and Croydon. I will deal with a way forward a little later on.

Although we are out of the EU, when the transition period is over, we will still maintain the need for a future with European countries. In other words, we need a good relationship with Europe, we need to be on good terms and we need the good will of our European friends in these matters—indeed, in many other matters as well.

We were all shocked by what happened in Moria. I believe that we have a duty and a responsibility to help in such instances. In 2020, some 12,000 unaccompanied children have been granted asylum in this country, but more than 10,000 came via dangerous and illegal routes. Contrast that with Germany, which took 35% of child asylum claims; indeed, according to the UNHCR, it took 71,000 children in 2019. France, Greece, Spain: all have higher numbers than we have.

One can look at the list of countries that have offered to help the Greek Government in dealing with the consequences of the Moria fire and the other difficulties consequent on people fleeing across the Mediterranean for safety in Greece. Quite a few countries have stepped in to help. I have mentioned a few of them already but I will mention some of the others: Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Finland, Germany—which I have mentioned—Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Lithuania and Slovenia have all committed to welcoming unaccompanied child refugees. Even non-EU countries such as Switzerland and Norway have made such offers. It is rather disappointing that we have not yet made such an offer. We should join them in doing so. I do not know whether I mentioned Ireland in my list; if not, I should have done. There is an international responsibility, which we should share in. That is the proper way forward.

I turn to Section 67, the provision that enables unaccompanied child refugees who do not have family here to come here. A week or so ago, 21 council leaders urged the Prime Minister to support legal protection for refugees. I have mentioned the difficulties for Kent. I spoke to the leader of Kent County Council. Of course, all parts of the country should help; Kent should not have to bear the responsibility by itself. The national transfer scheme is sensible as far as it goes because it takes the pressure off Kent and Croydon and ensures, or helps to ensure, that other local authorities take a share of the responsibility. However, if we ask local authorities to take only national transfer scheme children, we block the route to safety for those children who are still in Europe. That means that we will encourage trafficking because we will be blocking a legal route. It is right that local authorities should be asked to play a part in the national transfer scheme but it is also right that local authorities play a part in taking children from northern France, the Greek islands and elsewhere.

Some time ago, 25 councils pledged more than 1,400 places for child refugees in Europe if the Government provided a safe and legal route for these children to come. I should mention that Scotland has played its part. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, wrote to the Home Secretary on 10 August. In the last sentence of her letter, she said:

“We stand ready to play our part again and urge you to take a humane and welcoming approach to the resettlement of these refugees on the Aegean Islands.”

We have commitments from a number of councils. Indeed, these councillors come from different parties. My amendment is a cross-party one. Support for child refugees—and the willingness to support them—comes from councillors of different political complexions, including Conservative ones. Councils prefer children to come via the legal route, of course, because then arrangements can be planned, the proper provisions can be made and it is not done in haste, as Kent must do if a dinghy arrives; it means that it can be done properly, which makes much more sense for local authorities.

We know that local councils have faced enormous financial pressures over the years—particularly recently—but as long as they are funded and supported adequately by central government, they are willing to welcome refugee children from Europe. We do not want children to arrive on our shores, on beaches in Kent and elsewhere, having gone across the most dangerous bit of water in the world. These pledges represent an enormous commitment that we should take advantage of.

On Section 67, the Government said that 480 was the maximum that local authorities could take; they therefore capped the number at that figure. However, the original amendment that gave rise to this measure did not use the figure of 480. Indeed, an earlier amendment said 3,000 but it had to be deleted for parliamentary and technical reasons, so the amendment was open-ended. The Government’s figure of 480 was arbitrary. If the Government say that the only reason for limiting the figure to 480 is because local authorities do not have places, we can demonstrate that local authorities can offer places. That is the way forward.

The arguments are well known to your Lordships. I will simply say this: some years ago, I was at Zaatari, the largest refugee camp in Jordan. It had 70,000 to 80,000 people in it. That camp was physically well maintained, with prefab buildings, sanitation and so on, but I talked to a young Syrian man there who had just finished school in the camp. I said, “What now?” He said, “I don’t know. I have tried to get a job in the camp. I have tried to get job outside the camp. I have no future.”

In my experience, human beings are able to put up with very difficult conditions if there is some hope at the end of the road for them, but where is no hope, there is only despair. Refugees and people wanting to claim asylum will do very dangerous things to find safety. If passed—I hope that it will be—this amendment will give hope to many child refugees in Europe. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 4:15, 5 October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, although he is also a bit of a pain because he has made such a powerful case that there is nothing really left to add. My speech should be seen as a footnote to his.

I declare my interest as a trustee of the Refugee Council. I followed the noble Lord there too; for a long time, he was the driving force and inspiration behind the Refugee Council. I want to get my revenge on him for stealing all the arguments that I was going to make by embarrassing him in telling the House that the Refugee Council now meets in its new headquarters in Alf Dubs House in east Stratford. I want to get that on the record just to embarrass the noble Lord.

At the end of the Committee stage, the Minister kindly wrote us a letter to pick up on some of our points. In relation to this issue, the Minister confirmed that it remains the Government’s goal to negotiate new arrangements for family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I should hope so, because we will fall out of the Dublin III regime at the end of the year and new arrangements will be needed if we are to fulfil our responsibility for these vulnerable children, stuck on their own in continental Europe, and unite them with their families here.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said and as my Refugee Council experience confirms, there is considerable evidence that the country would like to see us do so. Of all the asylum issues on which there is considerable public interest and support, family reunion is the one where public opinion is most strongly in favour of us doing our job.

I have to tell the Minister that her letter reads a little disingenuously. It repeats our government line, which has lost all credibility because there is no relevant ongoing discussion about new arrangements. There is no negotiation on this subject with the EU 27; the issue was not addressed in the first Frost-Barnier negotiations, which led to the withdrawal agreement; and it is not being addressed in the current negotiations, which might lead to a free trade agreement, and it now cannot be—Monsieur Barnier has no mandate to discuss it because our Government failed to include it in the joint political declaration a year ago.

The joint political declaration was, understandably, taken by the EU as the basis for the mandate for the present negotiations. We tore up the political declaration. We decided that on foreign policy, governance and, notoriously, on the level playing field, we no longer meant what we had subscribed to, but the other side took it as defining the negotiation that is now going on. Also, there was nothing about replacing the Dublin regulation in it.

So there can now be no bilateral UK-EU arrangement from January; nor can there be UK bilateral agreements with individual EU member states, because this is a subject on which we and they decided some time ago to empower the Commission to act on our behalf. Therefore, what will be needed is a new free-standing, EU-UK negotiating track. That does not exist now and will have to be established. We could of course have sought to establish it at any time but we did not, presumably because the subject was not particularly high on the list of the Government’s priorities. The amendment would change that, but we too can change it: we can put it on the Government’s priority list, bypassing this amendment, and I very much hope that we will.

Because the Minister would be very disappointed if I did not raise it, I shall say a word about the camp on Greece and the 400 unaccompanied children sleeping rough because the camp burned down. The Government’s line, as set out in the Minister’s letter, is that we are in regular touch with EU member states, including Greece, which are responsible for arranging transfers. That is the standard line, relying on the Dublin regulation, from which we are pulling out, and there is nothing proactive at all. There is nothing about going to find those of the 400 who would like to join their families here. It really is shaming when one thinks of what the Germans are doing, and it really is extraordinary given British public opinion on family reunion.

I strongly support the amendment and I hope that, when she speaks to it, the Minister will at last be able to tell us that we will do something about the unaccompanied children who are vulnerable and sleeping rough on the island of Lesbos.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop

My Lords, it had been the intention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham to speak to this amendment, tabled in his name as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and but for the hiatus in the voting technology when the House last considered the Bill on Report, he would have done so. He regrets that he is unable to attend today’s proceedings.

When we previously considered this amendment, in Committee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham reminded us of the story of the good Samaritan. It is not just, or principally, a story of instinctiveness goodness, or we would soon tire of hearing of it. It recounts several characters, including a person who needs help, those who do harm and those who have choices about their actions in response—doubtless all individuals who paid their taxes, counted their accomplishments, did well by their families and friends, and obeyed the law. It was the victim’s instinctive enemy who did right by him in showing compassion. Sometimes the choice we all face is whether or not to exercise generosity of heart.

We read in the helpful letter from the Minister of 30 September about the scale of refuge granted to vulnerable children proportionate to the European Union. Such welcome, especially to the most vulnerable, is to be acknowledged, as is the Government’s attempt to reach an agreement with the EU on post-transition arrangements. However, given the sheer scale of raw human need that exists in the area of vulnerable children and family reunification, will the Minister please explain to the House what she believes the disadvantages would be of importing into our domestic law the very wholesome provisions of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013? The regulation is entirely sensible and reasonable in requiring the Government to consider the best interests of the child.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, the earlier technical glitch means that we will be pressed for time in this debate. Also, the technical difficulties of the hybrid House, which I fully understand, mean that we cannot indulge in what I think we should be doing, which is having a proper debate. We are making statements in these debates. I understand why and that is what I have been doing in these proceedings, but, because I do not want to delay matters, I want to ask the Minister a question. Are there ongoing discussions, as she said in her letter, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, just said, is that not the case? That is really what I want to hear and I shall wait until the end of the debate to do so.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, in Committee I expressed dismay that in their negotiating proposals the Government seek to replace refugee children’s rights under Dublin III with a discretionary provision that provides vulnerable children with neither the certainty nor the security that they need. The Minister did not respond on that point and I would be grateful if she could do so today.

I also raised the question of when the Government plan to restart the resettlement programme, paused because of Brexit. Although she justifiably made much of Britain’s record on resettlement, she did not answer the question, which was also raised in the Private Notice Question by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. Last Monday in the Commons, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State explained that,

“as soon as we are safely and properly able to resume activity, we will do so.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/9/20; col. 10.]

Can the Minister tell us what criteria will be used to decide when it is safe and proper to do so? I am not sure that she answered precisely the right reverend Prelate when he asked a similar question on the PNQ.

Can the Minister also provide a firm assurance about the future of refugee resettlement when the current scheme ends next year? Resettlement also raises wider questions that were discussed earlier about safe and legal routes, the importance of which, as we have heard, has been acknowledge by the Home Secretary in order to avoid dangerous channel crossings. However, the Government are doing nothing to guarantee such routes. This amendment, as we have heard, offers such a route post Dublin III, yet the Government are rejecting it. Instead, the Home Secretary has now confirmed that legislation is planned for next year to exclude asylum seekers who try to enter through unlawful routes. Can the Minister explain how it is possible to assess whether someone is genuinely seeking asylum on the basis of the route taken, which seems to be the implication of what the Home Secretary is saying?

According to the charity Safe Passage, since 2010, nearly five out of six unaccompanied children who have been granted asylum in the UK were forced to come here dangerously—that is, illegally, because they could not access a legal route. That is a telling statistic on what we are talking about today. As has been said, we are doing nothing to provide a route for the children who have been traumatised by the terrible fire in Lesbos.

In Committee, noble Lords across the House made clear how strongly they feel about the need for the UK Government to act, not just by giving money and goods, which is of course of value, but by stepping up to our responsibilities as the Germans have done—as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out—and taking some of these children into sanctuary in the UK. The Minister did not explain in Committee why the Government are refusing to do this. Again, I would be grateful if she could do so now. We know from Chris Philp, the Minister in the Commons, that the reason is that apparently the UK is at “breaking point”. That is unbelievable, especially as we have heard that local authorities have already offered to take in refugee children transferred from EU nations through safe and legal routes.

We may be world-leading when it comes to refugee resettlement, but as Amnesty has pointed out, that represents only a minority of refugees. Instead, Amnesty suggests that we are far from being a world leader, or even a European leader, when it comes to hosting refugees more generally. On 22 September in Grand Committee, the Minister agreed, saying that

“how we treat those who need our refuge” is

“a reflection on us as a nation.”—[GC 499.]">Official Report, 22/9/20; col. GC 499.]

I am afraid that the Government’s failure to show humanity and compassion, as promised in their comprehensive improvement plan, in their response to the Lesbos fire and their refusal to contemplate this very reasonable amendment, reflects very badly on us as a nation. I think that some of us would want to say: not in our name.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 4:30, 5 October 2020

My Lords, my old and noble friend Lord Dubs has, with his usual firmness, introduced this amendment and the reasons for it very well indeed, and the intervening speeches have all put the position strongly. I want to add a word or two.

The first point I want to make is that as we consider this huge and grievous humanitarian challenge, it is just as well to remember that we are dealing with a tiny proportion of what is happening across the world. Repeatedly, in all parts of the world, there are stories of a similar kind which undermine the whole cause of decent humanity.

This also makes an important point that I cannot resist making: we are always dealing with the symptoms. Although these symptoms are very real and must be dealt with, there is a challenge here for the international community to root out and face the causes of the problem. That should start with us working with our European colleagues, but we need international strategies. It is an incredibly difficult challenge, but we need to do this, and we must not lose sight of it by becoming preoccupied with particular aspects of the whole issue.

It is very easy, when looking at the situation across the globe and reading harrowing accounts of what is happening, to begin to feel a sense of helplessness and ask what on earth we can do. However, here we can do something. It is only a beginning, and only a small part, but we can do something; that is important not only in itself but will send a signal to the international community.

It would be immensely strengthening for the role the Government keep saying that they want to play, of being an outward-looking member of the international community. We have some difficulty in believing that that is a real conviction on the part of the Government, but it would give them immense strength if they were to take this course.

I am sure that most noble Lords will feel the same way, but I simply cannot with ease contemplate the prospect of vulnerable children, who have been through God knows what kinds of traumas, trying illegally to get into the UK during autumnal storms and the cold winter months. They are not illegal immigrants—what they are doing may be illegal, but they are not illegal immigrants. They are vulnerable, desperate children seeking our support, care, love and concern. We can do something here, not least on the issue of children having to come here illegally by God knows what kind of dangerous route. We can play a really important part. I hope that there will be strong support across the House for this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Primarolo Baroness Primarolo Labour

My Lords, much has been said in the debate and I want to add a couple of quick points.

First, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made clear in introducing this amendment, it provides a way forward for the Government to plan what we are to do in responding to the humanitarian crisis we face with regard to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made it absolutely crystal clear to the House that there will be no route through by the end of December in negotiations with our European partners, either in collective negotiations with Michel Barnier or bilateral negotiations with EU member states. New negotiations will have to be started, but we will not be able to do that in time. My noble friend Lady Lister made an incredibly important point about the context and the misinformation that is being put forward about the ability of this country to provide safe sanctuary for those unaccompanied children who desperately need safe routes and have families here in the UK who could support them.

I do not want to go over the ground of other speakers. I want to ask the Minister, in her reply, to explain the way forward clearly to the House. During the debate on 22 September, on the European Union Select Committee report on Brexit, refugee protection and asylum policy, the Minister said:

The UK … provides safe and legal routes to bring families together through its … family reunion policy … under the family provisions in Part 8 … of the Immigration Rules.”—[Official Report, 22/9/20; col. GC 500.]

She offered this as protection for when the arrangements that we have through Dublin III fall away at the end of December. What she did not go on to say was that those rules are much tighter, which would mean that what was defined as “family” would be much smaller. It would exclude siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents, who play such a vital role, and it would curtail rights of appeal and other protections that are in place. Although the Minister may say in reply that there is scope in the Immigration Rules to grant leave outside the narrow definition in exceptional scenarios, these applications are very rare.

We know that local authorities have pledged places for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe and that, for the system to work properly, they need safe and legal routes to get here in the first place. That is what the Government must do: they have to organise a system so that we can plan and take these young people and children who have family here. As my noble friend Lady Lister said, this is not because we are taking huge numbers, because we are not. France and Germany, for example, take far more than we do. We are below the European average.

What we ask in this amendment is that the Home Secretary adopts these policies, so that, by the end of the year, the amendment will provide a way forward for unaccompanied children still to get here. From her speech and in the comments the Minister made earlier in the Private Notice Question, it seems that the Home Secretary is intending to make her announcements some time next year. The amendment provides a way forward in the gap between the end of this year and the Home Secretary bringing forward her plans. Indeed, it offers a structure for the Home Secretary to have a fair, safe and good humanitarian policy that defines Britain as a safe haven for those who desperately need our help, in partnership with others across Europe. I sincerely hope that, even at this late stage, the noble Baroness will indicate her willingness to take this amendment as a clear road map for how the Government should behave after the end of December.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 4:45, 5 October 2020

My Lords, I very strongly support this amendment and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on putting it forward in the first place. His personal experience of being part of Kindertransport in 1939 adds real texture to the amendment and makes it perhaps very personal. He is somebody who understands what it is like for these children. He came over legally, but many of these children are coming over illegally. However, the amendment is about family unity. Who can say that family unity is not a good idea? I would have thought it would be a central tenet of any Tory party manifesto, so I am staggered that there is any suggestion that this might not be a good thing.

The Government have recently made some fascinating announcements on asylum. New legal routes will be created; that is interesting. There will be more detention. As has already been pointed out, detention costs a lot of money and is very damaging to the mental health of people who are detained, so all in all more detention might not be the best thing. Our Home Secretary seems to mix up asylum seekers and foreign criminals. I have no idea why she experiences that sort of confusion, but it might be because the Government want us to fear asylum seekers and refugees. They are possibly creating this out of nowhere.

I am curious about how the Government can make announcements of this kind, without anything of substance in them. Lawyers, QCs and judges have looked at them and cannot find much of value, so why bother making such ridiculous statements? This is a question I would like the Minister to answer: are the Government and the Home Secretary completely out of ideas? In which case, accepting this amendment would be a very good idea, because it would ensure some stability in our asylum system and, I hope, would do less damage and make our country less inhumane and more welcoming.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Sub-Committee on Refugee and Migrant Children and Young People.

In Committee, my noble friend Minister explained how, early in the pandemic crisis, following talks between her colleague Minister Philp and Greece, three flights of children arrived in the United Kingdom from the Greek islands. All of us will be very grateful to the Government for this. She also referred to the United Kingdom’s humanitarian record in helping vulnerable people, including children.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, does not so much cast doubt on that or on our future good intentions; instead, and in view of Brexit, its new clause seeks the continuation of rights to family reunion under United Kingdom law, currently secured by the Dublin III treaty yet not necessarily guaranteed after the transition period. Equally, and for the same reason, it aims to ensure that unaccompanied child refugees in Europe will have a legal route to safety in the United Kingdom.

In Committee, my noble friend the Minister gave a number of reassurances. One is the Government’s present endeavour to pursue new reciprocal arrangements with the European Union for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Can she say what has been achieved so far and whether that level of progress may now stand to be advanced by the European Union’s paper last week on asylum?

Then there is the role of our local authorities. My noble friend has pointed out that 5,000 unaccompanied children are in local authority care. There may well be councils that would take more, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asserts. My noble friend has commented that, if that is the case, she would like to hear from them, also taking into account the extent to which Kent has to bear the brunt. Does she concur that an approach that is proactive without being coercive might work best? Therefore, should the Government perhaps be more in touch with local authorities to develop co-ordinated plans?

On the protection of vulnerable persons, my noble friend mentioned that current initiatives will be consolidated into a new global United Kingdom resettlement scheme. In outline, can she give us the aims and targets of this new scheme?

In promoting good practice, it goes without saying that internationally the United Kingdom ought to strive to take a lead. Post Brexit, let alone globally, does my noble friend consider that not least should the United Kingdom’s humanitarian standards be well demonstrated in Europe itself within the 47-state affiliation of the Council of Europe, where the United Kingdom remains a much-respected and prominent member?

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, has been unable to be contacted, I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, I put my name to the amendment on behalf of these Benches. To be saying at this stage—three months from the end of the transition period and very close to the practicable end date of the negotiations—that our draft agreement is still on the table, as was said at the previous stage, feels like a denial of reality, and I follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in that comment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Randall, I will be interested to know the up-to-date position.

Certainly a prudent Government would look for a mechanism to plug the gap, as the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, said, in case the draft slips off the table or is just not picked up—and this is the mechanism. I am very glad to support it, as I did in Committee when I too had an amendment on family reunion. At that stage, the Minister said that the Government had acted in good faith and that she hoped that the EU would do the same. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I cannot say that I regard the draft agreement as adequate. The principal obligations are not obligations—they are discretionary—but, whoever should take the blame for the stalemate, we must not let asylum seekers be the losers by being caught in the middle. They are not illegal, not unless and until their claim is refused.

This is likely not to be the first time that I will be taking a different view from the Minister about pull factors, especially when the push factors are so significant.

Of course we agree on the importance of safe and legal routes. That is the most important thing. Our view is that what is safest is to provide legal routes and deprive criminals of the opportunity to exploit people. It may be that our routes to that differ somewhat—perhaps they are not the means that the Home Secretary is considering—but that is not really for today. As has been said, our current rules are inadequate. The Government refer to that well-known paragraph 319X of the rules as providing the route that allows children to join relatives recognised as refugees, but the scope is very narrow, there are many restrictions and substantial fees are payable. As I understand it, the data does not separate out the categories or the basis of application, and those who take that route are included in the Home Office’s figures with other routes. Including all those routes, there were only 30 successful applications in 2018 and 54 in 2019. It is certainly not an adequate substitute for a successfully negotiated agreement on family reunion or a change in the UK’s rules, at least until an agreement or agreements are negotiated, as the amendment provides.

Working with the UNHCR and resettling people from the Middle East is not something we want to see replaced. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and others referred to the numbers in this plight across the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, we cannot take everyone but we can play our part. It seems to us that it is a policy decision for the Government whether to make it an “and” rather than an alternative.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, unless action is taken now, the arrival of 2021 will see child refugees in Europe lose safe and legal routes to the UK since neither a right to family reunion nor access to the Dubs scheme, under which lone children had a legal route to sanctuary in the UK, will then be available. Family reunion under Dublin III regulations is currently the only available legal pathway to reach the UK from the EU for the purposes of claiming asylum. That pathway will no longer exist after the end of the Brexit transition period in three months’ time.

The Government gave assurances to Parliament at the beginning of this year that they would protect family reunion for unaccompanied children. The Government have since removed any mandatory requirement to facilitate family reunions, making it simply discretionary. Including the terms of Amendment 15 in the Bill will ensure that routes to safety through family reunion and relocation remain, which means that families can reunite and children can reach safety.

Between 2009 and 2014, before mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, family reunions to the UK, for both children and adults, were carried out at an average rate of 11 people annually. Between 2016 and 2018, after mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, family reunions to the UK were carried out at an average rate of just under 550 people annually, which strongly indicates that families remain separated without mandatory requirements on government to facilitate family reunions. As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, the figures also suggest that the numbers involved under a mandatory requirement are very small, certainly compared with the hundreds of thousands of people whom this Government, without any free movement requirement to do so, do not have any issues with freely allowing to come to this country each year from outside the EU.

As my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said, research has shown that of the 12,000 unaccompanied children granted asylum by the UK over the past decade, some 10,000 came to the UK by dangerous routes on lorries and small boats, probably via people smugglers, because they could not access a legal route. That lack of access to a legal route is going to become absolute from the end of this year for the reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and the consequences, in respect of risks to their safety, for those seeking to join their families and for unaccompanied children, are simply going to get even worse. Action is needed now to address the situation that is imminent. If it is put to a vote, we will support Amendment 15.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for tabling Amendment 15. This Government are equally as concerned as all noble Lords about the well-being of vulnerable children and are committed to support them wherever we can. As the Home Secretary announced yesterday, the Government are intent on reforming our broken asylum system to make it firm but fair, and we will bring forward legislation next year to deliver that commitment. Our reformed system will be fair and compassionate towards those who need our help by welcoming people through safe and legal routes. The noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, asked me what those safe and legal routes would look like. I think the Home Secretary will set that out in due course. It will be firm because we will stop the abuse of the system while standing up for the hard-working, law-abiding majority of people who play by the rules.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said that the Home Secretary said that we would turn away people who arrive here illegally. No; we will absolutely target people who traffick other human beings illegally. We want to help people who are desperate and need our protection so it is quite the opposite, even though they are basically being exploited by criminals. We have a proud record of providing safe haven to those in need and fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny through our asylum system and our world-leading resettlement schemes. I assure noble Lords that this will continue.

We granted protection and other leave to over 5,800 children seeking protection in the year ending June 2020 and, as I have said before, more than 44,000 since 2010. There were questions from the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, about how many UASCs we got applications from. If I might give some Eurostat figures: Germany had 2,690 UASC claims in 2019, France had 755, Greece had 3,330 and the UK 3,775. I hope that makes it clear just how many children are seeking our asylum here.

I take this opportunity to express my sadness once again at the tragic fire that occurred in Moria camp on Lesbos. I can now confirm that the UK is standing by Greece and working with it to support those in dire need. The aid we are providing will help the most vulnerable families to stay safe and ensure they are able to feed themselves. I can also confirm that we remain fully committed to meeting our obligations under the Dublin regulation during the transition period, including for the family reunion of asylum seekers in Europe with eligible family in the UK. We are in regular contact with sending states, including Greece, to facilitate transfers; in fact, last Friday we announced the successful transfer of 28 asylum seekers from Greece to reunite with their family members here. I must, however, point out that the sending state is usually responsible for arranging the transfer.

This amendment is identical to Amendment 48 tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I would like to reiterate some of my concerns about it here, as well responding to the issues raised by noble Lords today. First, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is sceptical about this but the UK has made a credible and serious offer to the EU to agree new, post-transition arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and it remains our goal to negotiate such an arrangement. He asked me to provide continuous commentary on those negotiations and I cannot. I will say, in answer to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, that I can confirm that negotiations are continuing and that it would not be right to undermine them with domestic legislation such as this. A UK-EU agreement would be preferable to domestic Immigration Rules, as it would guarantee the support of sending states in the referral, transfer and safeguarding of children during the process. Domestic rules cannot ensure this. A negotiated agreement is therefore our goal and we do not want to pre-empt it with domestic legislation.

Secondly, this new clause also seeks to replicate in UK rules the Dublin regulation provisions for the family reunion of adults and accompanied children but we already provide those safe and legal routes for people to join family members in the UK through our refugee family reunion rules, as well as through Part 8 and Appendix FM of the rules, all of which are of course unaffected by EU exit. It therefore seems that there would not be much benefit in recreating EU law when we have appropriate domestic provisions already in place.

Thirdly, there is the issue of allowing individuals in the UK to sponsor family members to join them here before a decision on their asylum claim is made. These individuals and their families may end up being unable to remain in the UK if their asylum claims fail. This would create only greater uncertainty for these families. Furthermore, some of these individuals or their UK sponsors may not necessarily need protection themselves. We want to guard against facilitating entry for those who may seek to make unfounded claims of our protection systems for economic migration purposes. This would reduce our capacity to assist the most vulnerable refugees.

Finally, I reiterate the point I made in Committee regarding the additional requirement that this new clause imposes on the Government: to lay a strategy for a new scheme for relocating unaccompanied children from Europe who would not be joining family here. This would be incredibly difficult to deliver. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said and what my noble friend Lord Dundee tempts me to do, local authorities are already caring for over 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. That is 146% more than in 2014. Again, nobody can be blind to the pressure that Kent is under, illustrating the point that some local authorities are under incredible pressure. Our priority has to be to support them and the children already here first and foremost. We have never forced local authorities to take children and we will not. We are very grateful for the help that we have had.

My noble friend also asked me about targets for resettlement. He will remember that the Prime Minister talked last year about 5,000 per year in a whole-of-world scheme, from any area that needs our help and requires our asylum. That will be up and running just as soon as it possibly can. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, rightly asked when that point will be. Clearly, it will be when it is safe to do so; in other words, when PHE advises us that it is safe to bring people here. She also asked how we can assess whether someone is using a legal route. I think we know what an illegal route looks like and the danger that it puts people in.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, told me in Committee that he knows of a large number of local authorities which would be willing to provide care places for children. This type of ping-pong has been going on for some time but I have yet to hear from him with those details. We are always glad and very pleased to hear from local authorities if they can take more children. The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe. As I have just pointed out, it received more claims than any other EU member state in 2019 and 20% of all claims made in the EU and UK. I draw the House’s attention to the UK’s resettlement schemes, which have provided safe and legal routes, directly from conflict regions, for tens of thousands of people in the greatest need of protection.

Perhaps I may turn again to the unaccompanied children affected by the tragedy on Lesbos. First, it is my understanding that the offers from Germany and nine other EU member states to relocate 400 of those children account for nearly all the 407 children who had been living in the camp, but I have also outlined what we did on Friday in Greece.

Secondly, noble Lords have suggested that the UK should use our resettlement schemes to relocate children from European states such as France and Greece. I want to clarify that our resettlement schemes rely on referrals of recognised refugees from UNHCR, which refers cases in line with its global priorities. It does not currently advocate for resettlement within the EU.

Thirdly, in Committee, some noble Lords—including the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—contended that the draft legal text that we have tabled in negotiation with the EU on accompanied children is weaker than that of Dublin. I reassure the House that, under the terms of our draft text, the UK would of course act on requests from sending states where we are satisfied that the criteria for transfer, as set out in the proposed agreement, are met. Where they are not met, we should not be reuniting children, as it would not be in their best interests. This is the approach that we and the EU member states take under Dublin, and it is the right approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, contended that our text is not on the Government’s priority list. We would not have laid it if we did not see it as something very important to negotiate with the EU. With regard to the legal rights conferred by the draft text, any agreement reached with the EU would then be implemented in accordance with published policy guidance, and the UK courts will be able to hold us to account on our implementation of that guidance.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, stated during the debate on 22 September that

“UK Ministers … should take pride in, and be vocal advocates for, protecting refugees from persecution.”—[GC 473.]">Official Report, 22/9/20; col. GC 473.]

I say to noble Lords that I am very proud of all that we as a Government have done, and continue to do, to protect vulnerable people, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, through our asylum system and resettlement schemes.

In Committee, I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—who I know cannot be in his place today—for bringing forward an amendment on safe and legal work pathways for talented displaced persons. I am also grateful to all those who spoke in support of it. The Government are committed—and we have already spoken about this with the right reverend Prelate—to further constructive engagement on identifying ways that we can level up mobility for displaced persons across the labour market. I welcomed the opportunity to discuss those proposals with him and others, including Talent Beyond Boundaries, on 23 September. I look forward to continuing those discussions over the next 12 months and to working together towards solutions, so we can ensure that the UK attracts the best and brightest talent regardless of individuals’ backgrounds.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said that she thought the Home Secretary was confusing asylum and foreign national offenders. I do not think that she is confused about those two things at all. Central to her priorities is to take back control of our borders, restore trust in our immigration system and ensure that, overall, we have an immigration system that is fair and compassionate and continues to meet our international obligations.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has already said that he will divide the House. I do not think that I can dissuade him from that, but I hope he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Deputy Chairman of Committees 5:00, 5 October 2020

I have received two requests to ask the Minister a short question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I will call them in the order in which they were received, so, first, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, the Minister said it would not be right to undermine negotiations with the EU by domestic legislation. Would it not be possible to include a provision in the Bill, such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—this would be our only opportunity to do so—but not to commence that provision if it is overtaken by the agreement with the EU?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

We do not want to pre-empt it with domestic legislation. I recall that, way back when, your Lordships’ House, and in fact Parliament, were pressing us to unilaterally agree the settlement scheme for EU nationals. We made it quite clear then that it was very important that both sides, if you like, played their part, but on this I do not think that domestic rules can ensure it. Therefore, the negotiated agreement is the optimum goal.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 5:15, 5 October 2020

I am very grateful to the Minister for her courtesy in responding to my point. I want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding between us. I did not challenge the statement in her letter that

“it remains our goal to negotiate” new arrangements. I said that there is no current negotiation of these new arrangements. I recall the proposal the Government made before the summer; my view of it was similar to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in this debate. However, the important point is that the EU had no mandate to discuss it and it is not being discussed.

I have two questions. First, does the Minister agree that there is now no negotiation of Dublin III successor arrangements for the United Kingdom? Secondly, does that mean that there will be no family reunion arrangements on 1 January unless we pass this amendment?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I think I quoted the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, saying that he did not think it was a priority for the Government. He made a point about there being no mandate. I cannot comment on the minutiae of negotiations; all I can say is that there is a sincere and genuine offer on the table, and we stand ready to progress those negotiations.

The noble Lord asked me to confirm that there will not be a successor to Dublin III. We are not trying to create Dublin; we are trying to create a system in which we can bilaterally—by which I mean between us and the EU—ensure the transfers of people.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in this debate. I would take rather a long time if I commented in detail, because some important points were made, but I am grateful that they were made.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, my understanding has for some time been his understanding: although the Government want to negotiate, the EU is not showing any signs of reciprocating, but the outcome will be a total gap on 1 January.

I shall comment briefly on some of the Minister’s points. She said that the Home Secretary wants to get rid of the broken asylum system. We all do. We all have criticisms of the asylum system—the length of time that it takes to reach decisions and all the other things—but we went to mend it in a different direction from that of the Home Secretary. That is the purpose of this amendment.

Secondly, I welcome the fact that some small numbers of children and others have come under the Dublin III arrangements from Greece. That is a good thing. However, we have only till 1 January and, unless something happens, such as this amendment, there will be no way in which people, and these young people particularly, can come to this country.

Thirdly, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I do not understand why our saying that we will take unaccompanied child refugees through an Act of the British Parliament in any way undermines anything with the EU. This would be a humanitarian move and other EU countries are making humanitarian moves. Various countries—the Germans, French, Portuguese and Irish—have said that they will take people from the Greek islands. They do not undermine anything; they do it in a spirit of international co-operation.

I remind the Minister, before I come on to local authorities, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whom the Minister quoted with approval about helping the process, said recently that he supported Section 67 on taking unaccompanied child refugees and thought it was a good thing. I should have thought that that was an additional argument.

Lastly, on local authorities, let me just say that I have a list. I am not going to quote them all; some of the commitments were made about a year or two ago and we would not want to quote them unless they were willing to stand by those commitments in the new circumstances today. However, I shall mention a few of them. There is West Dunbartonshire Council, an SNP-Independent minority council, Dumfries and Galloway, which is Conservative, and Hammersmith, which is a Labour council. The London borough of Richmond was a supporter of legal routes—and then there are Dorset, Bournemouth and Brighton and Hove councils and, as I mentioned, those in Scotland. There are others. I shall write to the Minister and give her a list of local authorities that are willing and able to take unaccompanied refugee children.

I thank the Minister for her very gracious way of responding and her constant helpfulness in being willing to meet and talk to many of us about some of the issues. I appreciate that. I am afraid that on this occasion we will have to differ. I wish to put the amendment to a vote.

Ayes 317, Noes 223.

Division number 4 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) — Amendment 15

Aye: 317 Members of the House of Lords

No: 223 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 15

Amendment 15 agreed.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Deputy Chairman of Committees 5:34, 5 October 2020

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 16. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press the amendment to a Division should make that clear in the course of the debate.