My Lords, I really welcome this debate and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, for bringing it before the House. Of course, my thoughts are also with all those affected by the terrible tragedy in the channel yesterday. She talked about the serious problem with our immigration control. There were 84,132 asylum applications in 2002; in 2019, there were 35,737, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said. In the year ending
The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, said that people want to come here because English is easier to learn. I found any foreign language other than English the most difficult language to learn, and other people probably think the same. Surely English is a lot of these people’s second language, and that is why they want to come here. Or, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, they have family members here or some other connection to the UK. She said that they are not locked in—it was a comment also made by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington—but they are given free accommodation, free food and £39.63 a week, which they do not get if they run away. Of course, if they did run away, they would have no chance at all of being granted asylum in the UK. By the way, they get £43.50 in France. She talked about the cost to the UK taxpayer. Would it not be a good idea if we allowed them to work, and then they would become taxpayers?
The noble Baroness talked about the shortcomings of the Home Office, especially in the immigration section. I absolutely agree. In 2004, 88% of applications were refused at initial decision; in 2019, it was only 48%. There were 125,000 work-in-progress applications at the Home Office in June 2021, double what there were in 2014. She talked about lawyers making money; of those 125,000 outstanding applications, only 5,900 were awaiting appeal. Again, we are looking at the very small bits rather than the big issue.
The noble Baroness also raised French co-operation. In 2020, the UK had six asylum applications per 10,000 of population. In the EU as a whole, it was 11 applications per 10,000. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, if you put us in a league table with other EU countries, we come 17th at accepting applications.
I fully understand why people voted for Brexit. It was a democratic decision and I completely accept it. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that one of the benefits was supposed to be taking back control of our borders, yet EU citizens can still use the automatic gates—not only that, but the Government threw open the automatic gates at airports to another 10 countries. I know that you can take back control of your borders and then decide to throw them open, but I do not think that was quite the idea. One of the consequences is that we do not have Dublin III or the Schengen Information System, which showed us whether someone had made an application for asylum in another country, so there are downsides to Brexit. People must accept that this is the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that the majority of those seeking sanctuary are granted asylum by the Home Office because they are genuine asylum seekers. My noble friend Lady Hamwee said that most people crossing the channel have no choice, because they cannot claim asylum in the UK unless they are in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said that only the middle class and well-off can afford to migrate—that seems to contradict the argument that these people are economic migrants. He said that, once here, they will never be deported; I absolutely agree. The National Audit Office estimates that the number of illegal immigrants in the UK is between 600,000 and 1.2 million. As well as the large numbers involved, the fact that the range is between 600,000 and double that shows the lack of government control over immigration.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry said that we need to put the people smugglers out of business. We do that by having safe and legal routes and resettlement schemes. The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, talked about people smugglers. Clare Moseley, who works for Care4Calais, said on the Radio 4 “Today” programme this morning that people traffickers are a symptom, not a cause of the problem. It is because there is no other way to claim asylum in the UK other than to come here illegally—there are no safe and legal routes at the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said. We need safe and legal routes from the worst parts of the world, where people are really suffering.
The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said that we need a humanitarian solution. The other alternative he mentioned—sealing the borders—is not possible. Looking at the length of the French and UK coastlines, you cannot seal the borders; we need a humanitarian alternative.
As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, let us celebrate the success of immigration. Look at the diversity of the Cabinet. I think I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, say in the past that this island is becoming overcrowded. I am not sure how many people are leaving; I am not sure that 680,000 people coming into the UK is a net figure—there must be some people leaving as well. If our island is becoming overcrowded, let us turn the tap down on the 94% of immigration that is not asylum seekers.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, talked about sharing the resettlement between areas of the UK. We need to share the resettlement of asylum seekers across the globe. That means the UK takes its fair share. That is not what is happening at the moment.