Moved by Lord Green of Deddington
That this House regrets that the Statements of changes to the Immigration Rules (HC813, HC1043 and HC1248), published respectively on
My Lords, I originally laid three Regret Motions in protest at the Government bouncing through a huge change to the immigration system with minimal discussion in this House. In the new Parliament, they have now been consolidated into the single Motion before us. Statutory instruments have long been used for the endless and minor adjustments to the Immigration Rules that become necessary from time to time, but this was a massive reform of the entire system. Furthermore, it was a matter of considerable public concern and should therefore have been properly scrutinised.
I will focus on the trenchant report by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee on HC813, which deals with immigration matters; I will not deal with asylum today. This report considers the statement of changes in Immigration Rules, which runs to 500 pages, with an Explanatory Memorandum of 50 pages. My Motion declares that these documents do not provide a clear and comprehensible description of the changes proposed, nor of their likely effect.
The scrutiny committee had three major criticisms: first, that major developments of policy should not be included in such instruments; secondly, that it had proved difficult to identify the actual intent of the policies; and thirdly, that it was difficult to see whether any important protections had been lost. On the first point, these are not just major policy developments; they amount to the most significant change in our immigration system for half a century.
On the second point, the actual intent of these new policies is now clearer from the Government’s New Plan for Immigration, which was published two days ago. It is, indeed, a cause for concern. For example, the level of skills required is to be reduced from degree level to A-level. At a stroke, this massively increases the pool of labour from abroad on which employers can draw. The Migration Advisory Committee has called this requirement “very important” in practice. Furthermore, the general salary threshold is to be considerably reduced to £25,600 a year. An even lower threshold—£20,500—will apply to so-called new entrants. That salary is only just above the national living wage. The effect, therefore, can only be to reduce the incentive for employers to train British replacements.
As for the loss of important protections, one example is that employers will no longer be required to advertise in the UK before looking to fly in workers from around the world. This comes at a time when UK unemployment, especially among the young, may well be increasing rapidly. Overall, the scale of the changes to the work permit system is simply huge. They involve opening up approximately 7 million UK jobs—I have said that before, and I say it again: 7 million UK jobs—to new or increased international competition from all over the world.
The Government have declined to say the number of people worldwide who would meet the new and lower requirements, but it must run literally into hundreds of millions. Obviously they will not all come, but the Government’s impact assessments have, in our view, rather limited credibility. Nor does any of this take account of the Government’s undertaking to accept, including for settlement, as many as 5.4 million British nationals overseas now in Hong Kong, who might decide to move to the UK at some time in the future.
The upshot is that we are being launched on a course with very serious economic and political consequences, but without any effective discussions in this House, as I keep saying. Given all the uncertainties, it would surely be common prudence to have measures available to bring the numbers under control.
The Government have repeatedly promised “firmer control” of immigration. Indeed, during the last election the Prime Minister confirmed on television that this meant reducing it—yes, reducing it. Meanwhile, a recent opinion poll finds that nearly 60% of the public—nearly 30 million people—think that the level of immigration to the UK has been too high over the past decade. It is therefore very concerning that the Home Secretary, when presenting her new plan for immigration, refused to say whether the result would be an increase or decrease in net migration. She said that she did not want to get into “the language of old”.
This comes after a period of 20 years in which foreign net migration has averaged nearly 300,000 a year and has accounted for over 80% of our population increase. Even today, it requires us to build 300 new homes every day to accommodate the new citizens. The truth is that the arrangements incorporated in these statutory instruments are much more likely than not to lead to a considerable increase in net migration and regrettably to deep concern among those most directly affected.
Finally, I fear that it looks as though those who voted in the expectation that immigration would be effectively controlled and reduced, whether at the time of Brexit or in the 2019 so-called red wall election, will all be very disappointed. I am afraid they may well feel that they have been deceived.
My Lords, I agree with the wording of the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green, although not with many of the views that he expressed. He is surely right that such major changes to our Immigration Rules, whether for immigrants or asylum seekers, require proper and constructive debate that is not carried out in an hour and a half in the late afternoon, without our ability to come to terms with the real issues involved.
From my experience of both Houses, the Immigration Rules have always been difficult for Parliament to deal with, but we have never had such a problem as the noble Lord described. They have been difficult because they are normally unamendable, which means that we cannot properly engage with the issues. We cannot easily identify the changes or make our voice heard if we disagree. My plea, which I have expressed before to the Minister, is that if there are to be changes to the Immigration Rules—I assumed that they would be more modest than the ones we face today—they should be published in draft and debated by the House before they are presented in their final form. That gives us a slight chance, at any rate, of influencing the outcome. These proposals should never be put forward in a way that such major changes have to be taken, as it were, in one gulp.
We await the sovereign borders Bill, but it is not totally clear which of the Government’s proposals will be only in the rules, in the Bill or in both. That is another cause of confusion. Are we to await the sovereign boarders Bill in the hope that we can make more impact? That would be when the noble Lord, Lord Green, would be able to have his say on the arguments he has put forward.
There can be no doubt that people smugglers are vile, and that catching them and preventing them from doing what they do—risking people’s lives—is very important. But I have to take a different view from the Government. I do not think that the proposals put forward to us will deter traffickers; indeed, they may well encourage them. This is now a well-worn argument, but if we close legal routes to safety for people seeking asylum, the only recourse they have is to go to the traffickers. The traffickers will be rubbing their hands with glee at the Government’s proposals.
I urge the Government to be more sympathetic to family reunion, especially in the case of children who want to join family members here. We know that there are children in northern France, in what has replaced the “jungle” near Calais, and on the Greek islands. Some of these young people have family links with the UK. What is to become of them now that the Dublin III provisions have stopped? Will there be any way in which they can apply to come legally? After all, they reached the Greek islands and northern France before they knew of the Government’s proposals—although I doubt that that would have had any effect.
The Government are saying clearly—and regrettably —that an asylum seeker will be inadmissible if they have travelled through or have a connection with a safe third country. But—I repeat—what about those who have a connection to this country? Have the Government reached any agreements yet with other countries to take people who will be refused on the basis of their proposals? Can we have a list of the countries that have said that, yes, they will take them on the basis of our policy? I doubt that the Government will find any. In any case, if we say that they have not travelled the way we would like them to, what about those who have a connection with this country? Would not the French or other people say, “Well, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”—or whatever the expression is—“and surely, if they are following that policy, why shouldn’t we?” I just think it is unworkable. In any case, it does not take much thought to realise that, if all European countries had followed that policy, the million or so Syrians who went to Germany would still be in Greece, Italy or Malta. We cannot allow the accident of geography to put such enormous responsibilities on some countries without the costs being shared.
Furthermore, I would argue that it is against the 1951 convention to penalise refugees for unauthorised entry to a territory. It is expressly forbidden. The Government say that they legally have right on their side. Well, I have talked to the UNHCR—which, as far as I am concerned, is the custodian of the 1951 Geneva convention—and it seems to me that we will be in for some legal battles to resolve that. Frankly, I think that the Government are wrong on this.
Some of the briefing we have had explains that the Immigration Rules concede that leave outside the rules is “theoretically possible”. The question is how to make this possible. In the words of the Home Office, such leave should be granted where refusal
“would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences”.
How can this be challenged? It is an argument of a Home Office official or Minister against the applicant. That is not a workable way forward.
I fear that another consequence of the Government’s proposals will be an increase in the backlog of applicants. The Home Office is already grappling with an enormous backlog. Frankly, I think this will make the situation worse.
To end on a positive note, where I can agree with the Minister, I think community sponsorship is a good idea, but it has to be worked out and the Government have to publicise the scheme and help to make it less bureaucratic.
My Lords, many of your Lordships will have had great pleasure from reading a book by the American author Bill Bryson called Notes from a Small Island. It is an apt title: we are a small island. When the American forces came to England in the Second World War, the troops were briefed about our country. The first line of the briefing was, “Think South Carolina”—because it is exactly the same size as England. Of course, the big difference is that South Carolina, even today, has only 5 million inhabitants; we have 56 million inhabitants in England.
We are a very crowded country, so population policy is very important to us. Since net immigration accounts for about two-thirds of population growth, immigration policy is especially important. That is one reason why I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Green, has put down his regret Motion today, and I support him in doing so.
The UK has always had a substantial amount of immigration, and many people who originated overseas, or whose parents did, have made brilliant contributions to this country in many different fields—business, academia and, most recently, healthcare. Until 20 years ago, all this was accomplished with a net immigration level of no more than 50,000 a year which, although there were a few incidents, was largely accepted. The change came when the Blair Labour Government introduced, without consultation, a whole raft of measures to increase immigration, as a result of which the net annual rate soared from less than 50,000 to over 300,000 a year. This is not just immigration; it is mass immigration.
The difficulty has been that the new immigrants went into poorer, working-class areas, because that is where housing was affordable. The result was devastating for many working-class communities. The effects on Dagenham, for example, are described by the Labour and trade union activist Paul Embery, a native of that area, in his book, Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class. The local people appealed to the Labour leadership for help, but it did not listen—which is one reason why the Labour Party has lost so much working-class support.
That is a problem for Labour, but it became a problem for the whole country when immigration became such a big issue in the European Union referendum. There was a direct line between the neglect of immigration issues by the liberal elite and the vote to leave the European Union, which has had such momentous consequences for our country and is so deplored by that same liberal elite.
Since 2010, the coalition and Conservative Governments have had the task of dealing with this problem. So far, they have not done well. The numbers had not come down before the pandemic. But I do believe that the present Home Secretary, unlike so many of her predecessors, understands the problem and is giving it the attention it needs, most recently in this week’s strategic document.
This is a sensible basis for policy-making, but I would add a number of riders. First, the issue of immigration is looked at almost exclusively from an economic perspective at the moment. The members of the Migration Advisory Committee are almost all economists. I am an economist myself, so I am not likely to underplay their importance, but this is wrong. There are demographic, social and environmental viewpoints which are equally important in looking at this issue. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, we need a democratic authority staffed by demographers, social scientists, environmentalists and climate change experts as well as economists, and they should be asking, “What is the right number of people for these crowded islands?”
Secondly, we should wind down as soon as feasible the separate health and care visa. Why are we, a rich country, continuously recruiting doctors, nurses and care workers from poorer countries that have fewer of them per head of population and need them more than we do? Where is the morality in that? Should we not think of the effect we are having on these countries by taking their skilled workers, as well as our own selfish interest? Why have the NHS and medical colleges so totally failed in their manpower planning that more than 40% of doctors in the UK come from overseas? In Germany and France, it is less than 10%.
Finally, a cap should be set on the number of work visas issued, just as it is in other countries such as Australia and Canada that use the same points-based system as we do. We need that cap, because we need employers to concentrate not on the lazy option of recruiting overseas but on improving the skills of the settled population. Improving people’s skills, particularly in left-behind areas, is at the heart of the levelling-up agenda. Just at the point where we are making real progress in the number and quality of apprenticeships and the funding of further education, it would be foolish to take the pressure off employers in this area.
Of course, I accept that the current immigration situation is rather unreal as a result of Covid, but the Home Secretary has promised a review next year of how the new system is settling in. When that happens, I hope that my noble friend and the Home Secretary will look carefully at the points I am making, because they are certainly supported by many Members of this House, and by even more Members of the other House. If they are properly taken into account, we will have a policy which works in the long-term interests of the British people in this small island of ours. That is what the people themselves have for a long time been calling for, and this time they should be listened to.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for securing this important debate on his Motion to Regret. Last year, several Members of your Lordships’ House cautioned against the major extension of the Government’s capacity to make law with minimal recourse to Parliament in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act. Today, at the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and not of Her Majesty’s Government, we have 90 minutes to examine three statutory instruments relating to the Immigration Rules, one of which runs to 507 pages. All three were subject to the negative resolution, which involved little or no scrutiny of such important areas of life. Your Lordships’ House last defeated Her Majesty’s Government by praying against a negative resolution 21 years ago. Is the Minister satisfied with the level of scrutiny that these statutory instruments have received? Would she agree with me that it would have been better to publish them first in draft and to seek the views of both Houses in a debate?
My detailed comments are confined, because of time, to HC1043. They revolve around three questions to the Minister. First, do these rules meet the Home Secretary’s aspirations for her department’s handling of cases post Windrush? Secondly, are they feasible to implement? Thirdly, are the rules in HC1043 consonant with our obligations under the convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees?
We read in the Explanatory Notes to HC1043 that the purpose of this instrument is to
“Enhance our capacity to treat as inadmissible to the UK asylum system asylum claims made by those who have passed through or have connections with a safe third country.”
I should be grateful if the Minister would explain how an automatic presumption of refusal is compatible with the Home Secretary’s ambition, in her response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, for a Home Office that
“sees the ‘face behind the case’.”
On returning people to such safe countries, we did not negotiate to remain part of the Dublin regulations. We have no bilateral agreements with any European country with which to enforce these rules. In the absence of Dublin, are the Government engaging in blarney? The Home Office today published statistics for the first quarter since the rules came into effect, alerting us to the fact that 1,053 people were issued with notices of intent, meaning that the department is looking at the possibility of return for these people. It records that none has been returned on inadmissibility grounds. Will the Minister explain the mechanism for returning such individuals in conformity with the rules but in the absence of any agreement to do so? Will she concede that the rules on inadmissibility are unworkable?
I should say, before I ask my final question, that I understand the Government’s animus against people smuggling—that is terribly important. Lastly, it is reasonable to suppose that most people seeking safety find refuge in the first safe country they reach, and they do. However, there are always reasons why some do not. What the Home Office might consider safe is not universally experienced as such. There are also linguistic, cultural and family ties to be taken into consideration in seeking a destination, as well as access to routes. Furthermore, the refugee convention makes no such requirement of those fleeing persecution that they must do so in a specified geographical radius. To do so would be to burden many countries already dealing with enormous refugee issues.
Therefore, by making in law an automatic presumption against any claim from someone who has not arrived in the UK, except in a prescribed manner and prescribed place, is the Minister confident that we meet our obligations under international law? Would it not be far more effective to establish effective and legal routes which asylum seekers can readily access? That would reduce the demand upon which organised crime is currently feeding. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s response.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, has ploughed a lonely furrow on immigration for many years; not just a lonely furrow but a furrow that many Members of your Lordships’ House think it is quite improper to plough. But outside, in the real world, the issues that lie behind the noble Lord’s prayer and his comments reflect the real concerns of our fellow citizens, as repeated surveys and opinion polls have shown. It is always easiest to run with the crowd and bask in the rumbles of approbation from around your Lordships’ House, but I fear that, from time to time, we have to be prepared to consider inconvenient truths. That is why I am speaking this afternoon in support of the noble Lord.
I have two points to make, the first of which flows from my chairmanship of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and picks up some of the points that other noble Lords have made. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and our sister committee, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, under my noble friend Lord Blencathra, have a number of concerns about the way that secondary legislation is being handled, not just here—I am not trying to get at my noble friend on the Front Bench—but generally in the Government. These are skeleton Bills; they are unduly long and complex regulations; and there are inadequate Explanatory Memoranda and impact assessments. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, these regulations introduce changes that should more properly be introduced in primary legislation, with its higher level of scrutiny.
I am also afraid to say that the statutory instruments that the noble Lord has prayed against have a number of deficiencies in them. We have already heard about the length of HC813 and the range of subjects it covers. We have heard about HC1043, and the fact that the guidance was put on the government website only one hour before the regulations came into effect. We can, do and should argue and discuss immigration and its implications, but not many people around your Lordships’ House would disagree that it is an important subject. As has been pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, five and a half months after these came into effect, we have 90 minutes to discuss them and no chance to make any changes—we are to just wave them away after a 90-minute debate. We can and we should do better than that.
My second and final point is entirely personal. Some Members of your Lordships’ House will be aware of my interest in demography—the study of changes in our population, up or down, and the consequent impacts on the lives of all of us. Last year, I published a pamphlet, kindly referred to by my noble friend Lord Horam, entitled Overcrowded Islands?—the question mark is important. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for giving a plug for the pamphlet at Question Time, on Monday last. I am agnostic about the conclusions, but I argue strongly that we fail to consider the impact of these policies in sufficient depth and over a sufficiently long period into the future. I ask Members of your Lordships’ House not to pigeonhole these remarks as an attack on immigration. I fully recognise that some immigration refreshes and reinvigorates our cultural and economic life, and fulfils some of our moral duties to the world as a whole. But it is about scale and the consequent impact of that scale on the lives of all of us.
The latest ONS projections, adjusted for the pandemic and for Brexit, suggest that by 2040, in the half century since the Blair Government opened up the country to widespread immigration, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Horam, the population will increase by 13 million people, which is just over 20% of the population. Should we be worried about this for ourselves? More importantly, should we be worried about this for those who come after us? We might be worried about risks to our supplies of food and water. We grow only 50% of our food, and the Environment Agency says that by 2035 we shall be running short of water. We might be worried about risks to our ecology; our songbirds have declined by 75% in the last 40 years. We might be worried about risks to our environment; we are currently tarmacking over our countryside at the fastest rate in history. And in our rush to build fast, we are creating identikit housing estates built to low standards, devoid of any vernacular style and, too often, devoid of any sense of community. Do the economic benefits really accrue to us all? Or, as many of us fear, do they accrue to the already better-off and the new arrivals themselves? And good luck to them.
In none of these challenges is population growth the only factor, but it is the most significant factor connecting and linking them all. If the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Green, are realised—and I sincerely hope they are not—the magnitude of all the above challenges will multiply exponentially. That is why the noble Lord has done the House a single service by tabling this regret Motion today.
My Lords, I agree with a substantial amount in the speeches that have preceded me, and I agree wholly with the process objections to the way these statutory instruments are being handled. I think there is merit in trying to stimulate the wider debate about what the Government’s immigration policy actually is, which the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson, have both launched into.
I was a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee at the time we considered these instruments, and our very able officials who looked at these huge documents complained that even the Explanatory Memo on the first of the instruments—the 507-page one—
“was not clearer on the policy aims of these changes and what the impact will be.”
On the second of the instruments, they complained about
“insufficient information to gain a clear understanding” of what the Government were trying to do. So, we look forward greatly to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, so she can elucidate what this is all about.
If I could just make a political remark about Brexit, the whole debate on immigration was about taking back control. It is clearly not control by the British Parliament, is it? Surely, the Minister must recognise that. It is hardly, I suspect, taking back control to Ministers, because I doubt many of them will have gone through these 500-page statutory instruments in great detail. All we are talking about is Home Office officials trying to interpret what Ministers want in these statutory instruments. I suspect that the record of the Home Office, in the way that it has mishandled other questions, will prove to be repeated in this instance.
On the substance of the issue, clearly, the referendum was won on the basis of cutting back EU immigration. All the time, however, non-EU immigration was always higher than EU immigration, yet it was completely neglected in the public debate. Where are we going on non-EU immigration now? There is clearly something of a circular effect on EU immigration, as people who came here for economic reasons are going back, at least to some extent, because prospects are not so good as they once were.
However, what is going on regarding non-EU immigration? Is what the noble Lord, Lord Green, says true, which is essentially that immigration is being opened up to people with level-3 qualifications from all over the world? We deserve an answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. If that is the case, it is a huge change of policy that ought to be debated fully in hours-long debates in Parliament because it is the kind of issue that the public are concerned about. I believe in immigration, and I am quite liberal on immigration questions. In a diverse country, we win more from it than we lose. However, one has to have immigration control. One cannot just be open to the world. The question is: what numbers are the Government contemplating? Will they give us an answer on that?
A criticism of the Home Secretary is that she likes to pretend that she is pursuing a tough immigration policy. One gets all this stuff about how people who arrive here claiming asylum who have not come by a legal route are going to be sent back. It is not clear, of course, whether any country is prepared to take them back and I very much doubt whether any European countries through which the asylum seekers have travelled would be prepared to do so. There is a lot of bluster about the toughness of the Government’s new asylum policy, but is it a cover-up for the fact that, actually, our borders are being opened up in a totally unprecedented way to non-EU citizens? The British people deserve an answer to that question.
My Lords, I want to highlight how immigration has been great for Great Britain. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for giving us this opportunity. As an immigrant myself, I have seen that benefit first-hand. I am the first ethnic minority president of the Confederation of British Industry.
I have seen how immigrants helped grow the UK economy. A study from Oxford Economics showed that immigrants have made a positive net contribution to UK GDP. On average, each migrant European worker, for example, will, over the lifespan of their stay, contribute £78,000 more to the economy than British citizens. The majority of migrants who have come to the UK are of working age. Data from the Migration Observatory showed that, in 2020, 16% of the working population was born abroad. Foreign workers bring different skills that have a positive impact on business productivity. They are able to fill skills gaps and labour shortages in the jobs market that would otherwise be left unfilled or taken by underqualified staff. Migrants also fill shortages in the higher-skilled sectors that have fewer specialist individuals, such as in IT, engineering and accounting. Migrants bring specialist knowledge and international experience that improve businesses’ existing products and processes. That allows businesses to do more work in a more effective way by sharing knowledge across teams, which increases profit.
I have seen the power of a diverse workforce in my own business by building Cobra Beer, which is a household name in this country, from scratch with just two people and building a team that became a mini united nation with people from all over the world. They had different backgrounds and different mindsets. That diversity made a buzz and innovation, made us more creative and resulted in high growth.
Migrants’ international connections are highly valued by businesses and allow firms to tap into foreign markets. Deloitte’s surveys have shown that more diverse companies are more innovative. McKinsey’s surveys have shown that the companies that embrace diversity and inclusion are more profitable, with the top quartile being 39% more profitable than the bottom quartile. So immigration works.
The new points-based immigration system is an opportunity for UK business to attract the brightest global talent. The system has many different routes, including a skilled-worker route that will ensure that the best and most skilled workers have the chance to come and work in the UK, and contribute to our society and economy. The system will help create a firm but, we hope, fair system that will contribute to creating a high-wage, high-skilled and high-productivity economy.
However, the reality is, as we have seen at the CBI, that businesses are not engaged with this new points-based system as much as they would have liked to be because of the disruption caused by Covid-19. We are making clear to the Home Office that it should make sure that the system is easy and simple to use for business in time for many more users to begin to engage with the system, and we will be watching that carefully and feeding back to government.
I am president of UKCISA, the UK Council for International Student Affairs. The new graduate visa system launches this year. Last year more than half a million international students came to study at UK universities, many of them studying for masters and PhDs. International students are an export and an import. They bring inward investment and contribute £26 billion to our economy. They are one of the UK’s strongest elements of soft power, with more world leaders educated at British universities than in any other country except for the United States of America.
From this summer onwards, businesses can employ students for up to two years on the post-graduate work visa and three years for PhD students. This gives the students a great opportunity to get work experience. On
Looking ahead to the next academic year, I am chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and we are concerned about the international students coming in, particularly from what might be red-list countries at that time. Will we be able to offer all our international students vaccinations when they come to the UK? I believe that the Government have agreed to this. Can the Minister confirm that all international students will be able to be vaccinated in the UK on arrival, if they have not already been vaccinated? Furthermore, will the Government ensure that international students do not have to quarantine in hotels even if they come from red-list countries? Universities are prepared to make quarantine preparations on their campuses. International students pay so much to study over here, with fees, living costs and travel costs. Spending almost another £2,000 for quarantine is unaffordable. Where is the capacity of the Government to house tens of thousands of internationals students that may be coming from red-list countries at the time? The capacity does not exist. Universities have shown that they can create a Covid-safe environment for their students, including with mass testing. Let us allow them to do that and give confidence to students that when they come to study here in the next academic year they will be in a safe and secure environment at their universities.
To conclude, without immigration, Britain, with just 1% of the world’s population, would not be one of the sixth largest economies in the world. Immigrants have enriched and always will enrich our country in every way.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I find myself in the rather curious position of greatly regretting elements of the SIs we are debating now, particularly HC 1043, while entirely disagreeing with the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Green, in introducing them. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, and seek not to repeat it but just to associate myself and the Green group with his comments.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, just indicated, the UK is a nation of immigrants. About 9% of the UK population, or 6.2 million people, are immigrants—and if anyone perhaps is on a crackly remote line and cannot hear my accent, to be clear I declare that, yes, I am one of them. It is also worth noting that 5.5 million Britons live in other countries around the globe. It is about an equal balance. We are a nation of emigrants as well as immigrants.
Listening to the noble Lords, Lord Green, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson, I found myself feeling that I was trapped in another age. The world has changed but we are back in the old ways of thinking. We know that a significant number of people have left the UK since Covid and Brexit, perhaps 1 million EU citizens and a significant—probably very large—number of Britons have chosen to leave as well. Just this morning I spent my time at two sessions—first with the Westminster Forum on food security, then with Building magazine talking about retrofitting our homes. Both those industries are tearing their hair out, saying, “Where are we going to find the workers? Where are we going to find the skills?” I very much agree that we need to train and develop our own workforce, but the numbers simply do not add up. We are in a situation, as the UK has been for decades and centuries, of looking around the world for people to come because we need them.
To address the point by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, about the environmental impact: the UK lives a three-planet lifestyle. We have to cut consumption, particularly by the wealthiest. Consumption and inequality are our issues. That is where the environmental action needs to be.
All those people who have been invited and welcomed to the UK, and then they face a dishonest, discriminatory and often chaotic hostile environment. I will focus particularly on those likely to be affected by HC 1043, because those seeking refuge are most likely to be affected. The invaluable Refugee Action briefing for this debate noted that with the current backlog of asylum claims, 76% of people are waiting for more than six months. Many have been in limbo for years. What does that mean?
I often think back to a young woman I met in Southampton. As a 19 year-old, she had been forced to flee Zimbabwe; she had been persecuted and abused by the security forces there. She had been in the UK for a decade, waiting to get status in an uncertain immigration situation. She said to me, “I feel like I am in a cage. I am locked into this tiny cage, and there is a person walking past outside this cage with the key for the cage hanging from their belt. I’m pretty confident that one day they will pick up that key and open the cage, but I’ve been a decade—a third of my life—waiting for the cage to be unlocked.” I very much fear that HC 1043 will bring in the same situation for many more people. If asylum claims are treated as inadmissible on the basis of the method of arrival, people are going to be left in indefinite limbo. There are not return agreements, and it looks very unlikely that there will be. Then there is case-by-case negotiation, using many resources.
The Government say they want to tackle people trafficking and are concerned about this situation. On Monday I heard some powerful testimony from young people from the Safe Passage international young leaders scheme, the Hummingbird young leaders scheme and the Kent Refugee Action Network youth forum. I asked those young people, “As you were coming here and reached the UK, what sort of decisions did you make? What sort of information did you have? What sort of choices did you have?” They said, “When you’re dashing out the back door in fear of your life and the police or the army are coming through the front door, you just dash.” Of course. All the way along the line, they have had to make calls to just seek safety. That is what people are doing and what our lack of providing them with safe routes to reach the UK is forcing them into. That is the practical reality.
My very brief final point is that, as the Freedom from Torture briefing points out, HC 1043 is in contravention of Article 31 of the refugee convention. It is a moral and practical wrong to bring this in. We are in a world in which the rule of law is under grave threat. Look at Belarus, Hungary or many other nations. We need to defend the rule of law, not go back on agreements that we have previously made.
My Lords, it is not evident from my accent, unlike that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that I was only a few months out of Ireland when I was born. So, I was almost an immigrant, and my father most certainly was.
My first point goes back to that made by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and others: what is Parliament for when we are debating things that are so far past? I understood not only that we were taking back control but that the function of the British Parliament was to debate major changes in law and practice before they came into operation. That has most certainly not happened. I ask the Minister to take back to her department —and to her Government, because this is not just a Home Office matter—the way we feel we are being treated. We are being treated not as legislators but as rubber stamps, and that is not acceptable.
In my long career in politics I have never known debates on immigration to be either clear or popular. They are not clear because people get confused between asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and legal migrants, and they are seldom without emotion because people project their fears on to others, and the others are often those migrant communities. People feel threatened. I noticed, when I was in the Labour Party many years ago, how threatened many working-class Labour supporters felt by migration. We should not get away from that. One of the problems that the Labour Party has now—if the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, as its sole representative on earth, does not mind me saying so—is that many people at that level feel that there are some subjects they can no longer talk about within the political framework, and I am afraid that will have to change.
I draw attention to the huge number—I believe my noble friend Lord Horam referred to this—of doctors and nurses that we strip out of the third world. We let them be trained there and then we bring them into this country. Of course, they do valuable work but they do it away from the communities in which they grew up, which are often far less well-endowed than us. Any approach to immigration needs to be accompanied by an expansion of training places for those skilled migrants that we are pulling in, particularly from the third world.
I turn to the 2016 vote and what came out of it. People got completely confused. When I was canvassing for Remain in Cambridge, I was stopped by someone who was very angry with me and said: “Look, we don’t want these Nigerians here.” That was a total misunderstanding of what it was all about.
Now, without a second thought, we have signed up for something like 5 million citizens from Hong Kong to come and live here. There has been no debate about it. We have various prognostications as to what we want in the way of new housing, but no one mentions where 5 million new citizens are going to go. Will it be like Canada, where Vancouver has become a south-east Asian city? It could well, but we need a debate about it.
We also need a debate about illegal migrants and asylum seekers and the difference between the two. As the Minister will know, I have asked on numerous occasions how come we cannot stop boats crossing the Channel. How come it is apparently not an offence to illegally enter the country? People suddenly appear here and, frankly, it is worth taking the chance, but it should not be worth it. That is something we need to tighten up on because there is a world of difference between people-smuggling and immigrants and migrants coming into the country and leaving. On balance, I tend to be closer to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, than to the noble Lord, Lord Green: the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has outlined the advance and contribution made by migrant communities, and it is enormous.
The biggest attraction of the United Kingdom is the English language. Wherever you go in the world, if people know a handful of words outside their own language, they will be in English. We are seen as a magnet because we have a reputation for being a free, decent and incorrupt country. We should not sacrifice freedom, decency or our lack of corruption, so we have to make a policy and a framework that will work within that, and that will encourage genuine migrants but crack down on the illegal businesses that are flourishing.
My Lords, it is not often that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, but to the following extent I do. The changes to the Immigration Rules contained in these statements are, as many other noble Lords have said, complex and bewildering. The Home Secretary heralds such changes as simplifying immigration law, but that is akin to simplifying pi by rounding it to the first 500 decimal places. It is only the most glaring changes that stand out, unless you are an immigration lawyer. How can Parliament hold the Government to account in such circumstances, when the changes have already come into effect and the other place has not even debated them yet? I am talking about more than just scale and complexity. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, the Home Office has the ability to make substantial changes through these statements.
Many of us were outraged that the Government, in their New Plan for Immigration, sought to treat genuine asylum seekers who have a legal right to claim asylum in the UK less favourably, just because they arrived in the UK by irregular routes. However, in these changes to the Immigration Rules, the Government have gone further, so that the Home Office does not even have to consider whether there is any merit in the claim, if the refugee has travelled to the UK through any so-called “safe” third country—unless, after six months of desperately trying to deport the refugee, it has failed to do so.
Previously, under EU Dublin III, if a refugee had claimed asylum in another EU country, their application could be ruled inadmissible and they could be returned to the country where they made their first claim. Under these new rules, an asylum claim can be ruled inadmissible just because the refugee travelled via a so-called “safe” third country, whether or not they have previously claimed asylum, and whether or not any of the countries through which they have travelled is willing to take them back. In fact, the rules allow the UK to send a refugee to any “safe” country in the world that is willing to take them, even a country the refugee has never been to and has no connection with.
Can the Minister confirm that, for six months, the substantive claim for asylum will not even be considered in such cases? The noble Lord, Lord Frost, has confirmed that the European Commission is not allowing bilateral agreements between the UK and EU member states, so all this means is that genuine refugees who arrived in the UK via irregular routes will be kept in the UK at taxpayers’ expense for an additional six months before their application is even considered.
The explanatory notes say:
“A stronger approach to disincentivise individuals is needed to deter claimants leaving safe third countries such as EU Member States, from making unnecessary and dangerous journeys”.
I have heard first hand from young asylum seekers who have made it to the UK, and their testimony is clear that places such as Italy and France are not safe, particularly for young unaccompanied refugees. Also, refugees are often English speaking, some with family already in the UK.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, there are no longer any “safe and legal” routes for refugees to take. The few routes that were open to some of them involved having to be identified by the UNHCR while they were in refugee camps, then often waiting for two years or more, undergoing numerous interviews, before finally being accepted. For many it is too dangerous to wait in such circumstances, so they make their own way.
Many of these refugees have endured years of suffering in their own country. Some have been tortured. They have faced dangerous journeys, extending over many months and hundreds of miles. Do the Government seriously think an extra six-month wait, albeit in inadequate Army barracks in the UK, will deter them? As a result, in the past six months, over 1,500 applications have been placed on hold and, despite a 24% drop in applications over the last 12 months, more than 50,000 have now been waiting over six months for their asylum applications to be determined—an increase of 71% on the year before.
There are also important questions arising out of these changes to the Immigration Rules concerning EU citizens in the UK who are awaiting the outcome of their settled status applications or who have applied late. But this totally inadequate means of holding the Government to account—with six-minute speech limits—means I cannot even raise these important questions on the Floor of the House. The whole process, and what the Government are trying to do around immigration, is a disgrace.
My Lords, I refer to the register of interests and my role as a research fellow on modern slavery at the University of Nottingham. It is an honour to make my first contribution from the Opposition Front Bench. I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her usual courtesies in welcoming me. I look forward to our future discussions.
The three instruments before us include 640 pages of policy changes. I have six minutes to speak, which would optimistically work out at over 100 pages per minute. Whatever our differing views, the whole House—including the noble Lord, Lord Green—is perhaps united on the way these changes have been made, which has lacked transparency and made scrutiny harder. The instrument published in October 2020 covers everything, from the simplification of existing rules to citizens’ rights after transition and the Afghan interpreters scheme. As the SLSC reported, its scope is “wholly unjustifiable” and makes the law less accessible. What do the Government say to that and what will they do differently going forward?
The Minister knows of our disappointment that the health and care visa did not cover significant numbers of care workers, who, alongside other key workers, kept this country going through the pandemic—though I note that “senior care worker” has now been added to the shortage occupation list. Where is the Government’s detailed plan on social care?
On the BNO route, Labour has pushed the Government to ensure this scheme is genuinely accessible. Does the support package announced earlier this year cover issues including recourse to public funds and tuition fee status? Can the Minister give an update on routes for younger people in Hong Kong born after 1997—for example, ensuring that the existing youth mobility scheme can offer a clear path to citizenship?
I turn to the EU settlement scheme. The
The report from the3million says that people in the middle of university admissions or mortgage applications are finding themselves impacted by the Home Office’s delay. Can the Minister please give an update on how many hundreds of thousands of applications are currently held up? What will be done to prevent people losing rights while their application is pending?
According to the latest figures, fewer than 50% of EU looked-after children and care leavers have secured settled status, with one-third yet to apply—that is only the children who have so far been identified. Could the Minister therefore give an update on efforts to identify and support looked-after children?
Buried—this is why more debate is important—in the first instrument are the really concerning powers to deport a person solely on the grounds of being homeless. Have the Government used this power during the pandemic?
The Statement published on
“may imperfectly achieve their policy objectives.”
We agree. The Government’s two-tiered plans for asylum take their eye off people smugglers and instead seek to penalise the refugees exploited by them.
On enforcement, how many—if any—of the international agreements needed for this policy are now in place? How many people smugglers have been successfully prosecuted since 2019? The UNHCR says that the plans are damaging, expensive and will not work, so what conversations have Ministers had with the UN and other partners since the policy was announced?
What is so far missing is the crucial information on safe and legal routes, which are vital for people fleeing situations that we can barely imagine. How many refugees will be welcomed under the new UK resettlement scheme? Where are the detailed plans for family reunion? I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Dubs for all his work on this issue. Safe Passage reports that, despite this Government’s assurances, children are facing ever-longer waiting times since Dubs and Dublin closed.
There are so many other issues that I and many other Members, whatever our views, would have wished to have had the time to cover. I close by briefly welcoming the expansion of the Afghan interpreters’ ex gratia relocation scheme and the introduction of the ARAP, which we hope we will be able to continue to discuss in future debates. Really, a debate as important as this needed more time.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for securing this debate. To any noble Lord who thinks that this issue will not be debated time and again in your Lordships’ House, I say that that is quite wrong. This House is very good at scrutinising all aspects of government policy, and I fully expect that, when we come to the sovereign borders debate, we will spend days on end discussing this issue.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to his place on the Front Bench. It is slightly strange to respond to him with my noble friend Lord Kennedy—he is my noble friend—sitting on the Front Bench, but I know from my brief chat with him that he will be a very good addition to it. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will be a great Chief Whip for the Labour group.
I start with the substance of the debate. Our new plan for immigration is driven by three objectives. The first is to increase the fairness of our system so that we can protect and support those in genuine need of asylum. The second is to deter illegal entry into the UK, breaking the awful business model of people smugglers—I do not think that any noble Lords have in any way tried to lessen the severity of what they do—and protecting those people whose lives are in danger. The third is to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.
We will continue to provide safe refuge to those in need and strengthen the support for those arriving through safe and legal routes. People coming to the UK through resettlement routes will be granted indefinite leave to remain, and they will receive more support to learn English, find work and integrate. The Government will also act to help those who have suffered injustices.
I will pick up on the point that I think was made by the both the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Dubs, welcoming our attempts to expand community sponsorship, because I think that is a fantastic way of always being an advocate of it. I am sure we will have more discussions about that during the next few months. We will also amend British nationality law so that members of the Windrush generation, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and others, will be able to obtain British citizenship more easily.
The plan marks a step change in our approach as we toughen our stance to deter illegal entry and the criminals that endanger life by enabling it. For the first time, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses —I know some noble Lords are not happy about that, but it is to deter criminality—and on their status in the UK, if that claim is successful. We will deem their claim inadmissible and make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally, having travelled through a safe country first in which they could and should have claimed asylum. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that this will be a good thing for people smugglers. We intend to really crack down on them.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said that for the first time we will be opening the economy to the whole world in terms of applying for jobs. He also mentioned as a side issue—it is not a side issue at all, but a side issue to this debate—about international students getting vaccinated. I confirm that immigration status is not a bar to vaccination.
I will go back to the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, which was also talked about by the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Paddick, about the complexity of these rules making parliamentary scrutiny very difficult. We do not agree with that. The October rules made essential changes which delivered on the Government’s people’s priorities commitment to introduce a new global immigration system. The new rules are shorter, are easier to read, in a predictable structure and written in plain English. We wholeheartedly welcome and support parliamentary scrutiny; I know we will be scrutinised on this at length. We published a detailed response to the Law Commission’s report in March 2020 and provided a lengthy and comprehensive Explanatory Memorandum to support the rules.
The new rules, which, I might say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, were actually made in the same way as they were when he was a Home Office Minister, have been structured and written so that they are easier to understand and navigate. We are trying to strip back complexity and ensure that the requirements are clear to applicants, employers and other users. This an ongoing process and we will continue to improve and develop the rules. It includes consolidating immigration legislation in line with the Law Commission’s recommendation. It is not a process that can be completed overnight, but we are determined to make progress so that the system is easier to navigate and understand for all users.
In response to the specific points in the 33rd report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which criticised the length of the rules change, it should be remembered that the introduction of the new points-based system at the end of free movement was an extremely significant milestone in this country’s approach to immigration. Those were important and wide-ranging reforms that had to be delivered before the end of the transition period. While the Immigration Rules are the technical underpinning of the immigration system, there is no expectation that applicants would need to understand them in minute detail, because they can find that clear and straightforward information on GOV.UK.
The noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Paddick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about the new rules on inadmissibility. Those who fear persecution should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. Inadmissibility is a long-standing process designed to prevent secondary movement across Europe, and these measures have been introduced to support this principle now that the UK is no longer bound by the Dublin regulation.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Balfe’s point on accepting claims made by those who enter the UK on small boats, it has to be said that too many people risk their lives to get to the UK using unseaworthy vessels, putting not only their lives but those of our Border Force and the people who rescue them at risk. We are determined to send a clear signal that it is completely unacceptable for individuals to travel through multiple safe countries to claim asylum in the UK. I have said time and again that the only people who benefit from this are the criminals, who have no regard for human life at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, and, I think, the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Coaker, asked how inadmissibility provisions can work without returns agreements. The inadmissibility provisions in the Immigration Rules give us the legal basis to declare an asylum claim as inadmissible where a person has a connection to or has passed through a safe country. As I have said, we are very determined to send that clear signal that people should not travel through multiple safe countries to claim asylum in the UK. Now we are outside the confines of the EU structures, we can be much more flexible about the evidence that we use to underpin a return.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as I knew he might, asked how we will return people to the EU without Dublin, and a number of other noble Lords asked how some of the conversations are going with other countries. We are seeking to negotiate readmissions arrangements with key EU member states that have a mutual interest in protecting against secondary movements. Unlike Dublin, the new returns agreements we seek will return an individual to any safe country—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said he objects to that—that they have a connection to or has been present in and could have claimed asylum in, making it much more straightforward. We have also made a political commitment to pursue new bilateral negotiations on post-transition migration issues with third countries with which we share a mutual interest. This includes new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
On our international commitments, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark asked about, we are very clear that the new rules comply with our international obligations under the refugee convention. We will only ever return inadmissible claimants to countries that are safe. If we cannot return an inadmissible claimant to a safe country within a reasonable period of time, we will consider their claim in the UK.
“it creates uncertainty among employers and it makes little sense for a migrant to be perceived as of value one day and not the next which is what inevitably happens when the cap binds.”
The MAC has said—I think I said this the other day— that if the Government want to reduce migration numbers it would make more economic sense to do so by varying the other aspects of the scheme criteria, such as salary thresholds and the level of the immigration surcharge. On the issue of numbers overall, the Government have been quite clear for a number of years now that it is not about numbers but about a fair system and people not taking illegal journeys to this country when it is dangerous to do so.
The noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Coaker, talked about BNOs. I will have to provide the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, with some more information, because he made so many points that I did not quite have a chance to write them all down. We are aware that a potentially significant number of individuals plan to move to the UK via this route. We have made available £43 million of dedicated support for Hong Kong BNO status holders and their families who choose to settle in the UK. As for recourse to public funds, I am under the assumption that because they will have leave to settle in the UK, they will have recourse to public funds, but I will double check that. I will also answer the noble Lord’s question on the Youth Mobility Scheme in writing, because I am not entirely certain of the answer.
The noble Lord also asked about the shortage occupation list. As he knows, it contains skilled occupations where there is a national shortage of workers which can sensibly be filled, in part, through migration. The MAC recommends changes to the SOL where there are skilled jobs with an identified national shortage that it would be sensible to fill, at least in part, through immigration—these are set out in the shortage occupation list. The noble Lord mentioned senior health workers, and he is absolutely correct. Changes to the immigration rules in March of this year give workers in key health and care roles greater opportunity to come to the UK. Pharmacists, lab technicians, senior care workers and nursing assistants are among roles that were added to the shortage occupation list.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, stated that we are opening up jobs to the whole of the world—I would have thought that might be quite in line with his EU free-movement credentials. I think it is fair that people who have the sufficient skills and salary to come to this country should be given the opportunity, across the piece, to do so.
The Government promised to take a common-sense approach to controlling immigration, both legal and illegal, and we will deliver on that promise. I look forward to further debates on this issue in the coming weeks and months. I thank all noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Green, for taking part in this debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for providing time for this debate, albeit a little late in the day, and to the Minister for her responses. I was, however, alarmed that she should say that immigration policy is not about numbers; they are surely a major part of all this, for reasons that were very well explained by the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson. At the same time, of course, there is a clear case for immigration, expressed very eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, although perhaps it was a little rosy at times.
Finally, for my part, my concern is not with immigration but with the scale of it. When travel, and indeed life, returns to normal, I shall be watching the numbers very carefully, whether or not they are “the language of old”. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
House adjourned at 6.04 pm.