My Lords, it is the right of every sovereign nation to control its borders. We in this country have a real problem with a complete breakdown of the UK’s ability to control its borders and to enforce its own laws. As the Minister said at the beginning of the debate, more than 45,000 people arrived in small boats last year. Many of those who crossed here were economic migrants—some from safe countries such as Albania—yet arrivals by boat accounted for almost half of those applying for asylum last year. We already have an accommodation problem, with 50,000 asylum seekers living in 400 hotels, costing £6 million a day. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, acknowledged that there is a problem and that it needs solving. Perhaps in the spirit of the Labour-Liberal alliance we now have, he will talk to his almost noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who said that this is a problem that is incapable of solution and that there was no point in trying.
Some say that we should just let illegal immigrants work here, but surely that would not work; it would simply increase the pull factor of the UK to those wanting to come here. Who gets to come to this country and in what numbers is a legitimate political question. All eyes are on small boats at the moment, but there is also the much larger question, numerically, about the extraordinary recent surge in legal immigration. Last year, there were nearly 1.1 million arrivals—a net migration figure of over 504,000. There is no economic case for mass migration on that scale. These numbers are not sustainable. Our housebuilding target of 300,00 a year, which has not yet been met, probably ought to be well over 400,000 or 450,000.
Noble Lords have talked about safe routes to asylum. Legal migration is more likely to be accepted generally if we manage to control illegal immigration. At the moment, we have a situation where it is often difficult to remove migrants whom the legal system has found have no right to be here. The Bill addresses that question —that is the question and problem we have.
The heart of the Bill is Clause 2 and the provisions that give the Government the right to remove those with no legal right to remain here. It makes an asylum claim for any individual here illegally inadmissible. It should not be forgotten that the aim of the Bill is to deter. If a robust system can be established, there will be fewer boats and less need for flights to Rwanda. The Bill has been described as a threat to the rule of law, but it should be remembered that, when the Government introduced their plan to remove illegal migrants to Rwanda, our courts considered the legalities of the plan, and all courts up to the Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction to a group of migrants to stop them being put on a plane. But then, at that moment, Strasbourg issued a rule 39 interim ruling, and that is why the Government have taken powers to disregard interim rulings from the ECHR.
I am sure that noble Lords will listen very carefully to the many distinguished lawyers in this House, especially the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, but many legal experts—including Sir Geoffrey Cox and my noble friend Lord Howard—have said that only final rulings, not interim rulings, of the Strasbourg court are legally binding. Martin Howe KC has even gone so far as to say that the real threat to the rule of law comes not from the Government in the Bill but from Strasbourg exceeding its jurisdictional powers.
The Bill gives the Home Secretary broad discretion; it does not require the Home Secretary to ignore rule 39 interim measures. The Government have also said that they are engaged in constructive dialogue with the ECHR, which they intend to continue, on reforms to the process by which interim measures are considered.
I agree that there are other difficult issues in the Bill; I will mention only two. The first is the removal of unaccompanied children. I am sure that Ministers would rather not contemplate being in a situation where they have to deal with such a problem. It is difficult to imagine a more awkward issue. The Immigration Minister in the Commons said that this could happen
“only in the most exceptional circumstances”,—[
The second issue relates to Clauses 21 to 28. These disapply elements of the protection against modern slavery. Again, the Immigration Minister referred to cases where individuals are, as he put it, considered a threat to public order or have claimed in bad faith to be victims of slavery. This was queried, but the Minister claimed plenty of evidence and undertook to provide it, and the Minister speaking here today quoted some statistics, which I am sure the House will wish to probe. He quoted a figure of 73% of illegal immigrants applying for asylum, but in fact I think that figure refers to those in detention, and we have been told by other experts that the figure of those who have come here illegally applying under the slavery provisions is only 6%, so I am sure the House will wish to probe that.
Politics is sometimes described as the art of the possible. Perhaps more accurately, it should be described as the art of choosing between the incredibly difficult and the unbelievably difficult, but we have to make hard choices; to govern is to choose. One problem with ever-expanding human rights is that one person’s rights may clash with those of another. The rights of the individual matter deeply, but the ability of the Government to act as the trustees of the rights of the individuals who make up this country also matters. We have an acute problem which needs solving. Let us do it in a humane, legal way, but let us not duck the difficult choices.
I hope that this House will not fill the Bill with so many loopholes, exemptions, exceptions and get-out clauses that it actually becomes unworkable. We have a problem to solve, it needs solving, and this Bill is part of the solution.
My Lords, a refugee convention refugee can never—I repeat, never—be illegal. I have the unhappy duty of speaking as both the child of migrants and as a human rights lawyer. While the latter may be a cause for derision among senior members of the Government, I fail to see that it is any less noble than being a lawyer to the wealthy or an investment banker.
None of our political traditions commands a historical monopoly of virtue when it comes to the treatment of immigrants in general, or refugees and asylum seekers in particular. Low points have included: Home Office obstruction of safe passage for so many fleeing the Nazis; the racist treatment of the east African Asians in 1968; virginity testing of Hindu brides at Heathrow Airport in 1979; and, of course, the still unresolved Windrush scandal of more recent times. This is not to deny prouder moments, but to acknowledge our mixed record and the importance of legal protections for the most vulnerable people—or at least of not baking vulnerability and discrimination into our statutes for the sake of cheap headlines that tickle the base.
The politics of the Bill are a populist, divisive distraction from economic turmoil caused by mismanagement and greed. Increasingly, this is a desperate electoral strategy of culture war. Notwithstanding the inevitable cruelties that would be caused to even the most genuine refugees, this will not stop the boats. However, it is as a believer in the international rules-based order and the domestic rule of law that I have the gravest concerns. In its current form, the Illegal Migration Bill would live up to its name—assuming that the adjective describes the second noun. It would put this country, a country that was at the heart of negotiating the post-World War II international settlement, in violation of the ECHR of 1950, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 2005 anti-trafficking convention and, perhaps most shamefully of all, given the events that led to its creation, the 1951 refugee convention and its protocol.
I do not criticise the Minister—an alternative “activist lawyer”—for making a Section 19(1)(b) statement that he cannot confirm ECHR compatibility. Such an honest position was always envisaged by the scheme of the Human Rights Act so as to facilitate parliamentary debate over whether, for example, in a state of emergency Parliament should be prepared to legislate contrary even to lawful derogation from the convention. However, I note that both the drafters of the human rights memorandum to the Bill and the Home Secretary, in the other place, adopted cake eating in the extreme with their confident assertions about the compatibility of the Bill while simultaneously ousting various aspects of the jurisdiction of both the Strasbourg and domestic courts.
The domestic duty to read legislation compatibly with rights is replaced with a duty to do the Government’s bidding, in a grotesque parody of the separation of powers. Interim relief, which is so vital in expulsion cases, will no longer bind the Government’s hands, even where either the European Court of Human Rights or UK courts believe that a person might be trafficked, tortured or killed pending a full and final hearing of their case. The provisions narrowing suspensive claims would appear to allow removal in potential breaches of rights to life and of protections against inhuman and degrading treatment in a number of cases.
There will be no bail for those caught in the wide net of this Bill for 28 days. There will be no judicial review of immigration detention decisions. All of this is in breach of the right against arbitrary detention so embedded in our common-law traditions. Further, in the absence of viable deals with safe third countries, people may be interned in legal limbo indefinitely. In addition, the Bill would apply retrospectively to people already here who have made a claim for asylum in good faith.
The core of the evil—that is not a word I use lightly —of this measure is the notion of punishing some of the most genuine refugees on account of the necessarily clandestine nature of their escape. This was not lost on the former Prime Minister and right honourable Member for Maidenhead in the other place, who was with us this morning. It was not lost on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It is not lost on me. Still, I cannot quite believe that our values have sunk to this.
My Lords, as the previous speaker has said, this Bill brings shame on our country. The UK was once one of the most compassionate countries, welcoming victims of oppression and violence, upholding human rights and championing the causes of the oppressed. The British public have shown their generosity in welcoming war victims.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said that there was public support for this Bill. But members of the public whom I have spoken to do not support the removal of protections for child imprisonment or the removal of rights for trafficked people in this Bill. She talked about equal treatment of genuine asylum seekers being the same as for imposters, but that is what is happening at the moment because so many claims have not been processed. Under this Bill, there would be no assessment; they would simply be imprisoned and moved somewhere else. So I think that, once the generous and fair-minded British public understand what this Bill contains, there will be no support for it from them.
As areas of conflict increase across the world, the numbers of people seeking sanctuary from violence and persecution are massively increasing. Yet the UK, claiming to be an influential global player on the world stage, is unwilling to take its share of responsibility for finding solutions to the worsening humanitarian plight of so many people fleeing conflict.
The Government are abdicating their international obligation to play a full part in worldwide efforts to address the growing numbers affected by war and violent persecution, failing to comply with long-standing international agreements and conventions. Worse still, as others have said, are the utterances of senior members of Government who are fuelling racial intolerance and painting a false picture of what is happening.
Ministers’ assertions that we are taking our fair share of asylum seekers and refugees can be seen to be untrue if we look at the performance of our European neighbours. When it comes to granting refugee status to asylum seekers, seven EU countries issued more positive decisions than the UK in 2021. These included Germany, with 59,000; France, with 33,000; Italy, with 21,000; Spain, with 20,000; Greece, with 16,000; Austria, with 12,000; compared with the UK, with 10,000. These are massive differences.
As the UNHCR says, the Bill all but extinguishes the right to asylum. To claim asylum, refugees have to be in the country where they are claiming asylum, but Clause 2 effectively removes this right, as any refugee entering the country under this Bill will not have the right to be assessed. There are no safe routes to the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that the problem would be worse if there were safe routes because people would go underground, but many people will go underground as a result of this Bill if it becomes law. So why are we not receiving information about safe routes from the Government at the same time as they are trying to enact this Bill?
The Bill does not, as Ministers say, protect trafficked people; it removes from them rights afforded to them by previous legislation. It means that, instead of being offered protection and support, as is the duty required by the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, a potential victim will face detention and arrangements for their removal will commence.
So far, as others have said, the only third country willing to receive asylum seekers from the UK is Rwanda. In light of the Government’s confrontational approach, might not other third countries be unwilling to co-operate with the UK?
The Bill requires that any illegal immigrants be detained until they can be removed. The UK does not have sufficient accommodation for people who are already here—as many noble Lords have said, this is being provided at great cost. How then are we going to find accommodation for the increased numbers that will result if this Bill is implemented?
The Children’s Commissioner has raised major concerns about the current quality of accommodation for keeping children safe and 200 children are currently missing from Home Office accommodation. It is clear that many children have urgent health needs which are not being met in existing accommodation, as well as severe mental health problems, having lost family and witnessed scenes of horrifying violence. More children, including unaccompanied minors, are now to be detained under the terms of this Bill and there is no doubt that on current performance this will be in horrifically substandard accommodation.
So, it is no surprise that I agree with my colleagues that this is an appalling Bill that should be prevented from reaching the statute book. I hope that other noble Lords of the same view will stand up and be counted this evening and join us to vote for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Paddick.
My Lords, this Bill fails to respect our international obligations and will therefore undermine the reputation of this country and our influence across the world. For this reason and others, I believe this House has a moral obligation to prevent this Bill from reaching the statute book unless it is very severely amended.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees makes the point that there are virtually no ways to claim refugee protection before arriving in the UK—with the obvious exception of people from Ukraine and Hong Kong. Anyone arriving without having already obtained refugee status will be regarded as arriving irregularly and will be locked up before being deported. This Bill therefore amounts to an asylum ban for victims from most unsafe countries.
Particularly shocking is the fact that these inhumane provisions apply even to unaccompanied children, who will be removed at the age of 18. To make matters worse, people will not be able to apply for immigration bail for the first 28 days, nor will they be able to obtain a judicial review regarding the lawfulness of their removal.
As others have said, the Bill drives a coach and horses through the Modern Slavery Act; we have to address this, along with many other issues. The idea behind the Bill is to deter people from coming to the UK in boats across the channel—but, as well as being inhumane, the Bill will not achieve this objective. The assumption is that people can be quickly returned to their own country. However, most people who come here as asylum seekers come from unsafe countries—Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, et cetera—and the Bill prohibits people from being returned to such countries. There are other countries, of course, defined as safe which imprison people who are non-believers simply because of their lack of faith. An obvious option would have been to remove asylum seekers to EU countries—safe countries they may have come through on their way to the UK—but the Brexit withdrawal agreement makes this impossible.
When the Government’s own statistics and research show that the deterrent model they have chosen does not work, can the Minister explain why they have failed to bring forward a Bill to tackle the business model of the people smugglers operating in the channel—an approach that would undoubtedly succeed in stopping the small boats and would, in fact, tackle the villains rather than the victims? The fact is that there are alternatives. In disliking this Bill, we are very clear that there are perfectly good alternatives.
What will be the cost to the UK of this policy? It will require a massive expansion of the detention estate—10,000-plus beds, according to the Refugee Council. The quality of those detention facilities will surely be appalling. The Home Office regards the approach used on the Greek islands of Chios, Lesvos and Samos as the right model for the UK’s response to asylum seekers, but Médecins Sans Frontières describes the accommodation in those facilities as “deplorable” and points to appalling suffering, exacerbated by the daily stresses and constant fears of the asylum seekers involved. Is this really the model that the UK Government wish to adopt? I do not think so. I fear that we have a Home Secretary who may be out of line with others.
Finally, I turn to the mental health consequences of the Bill. The people detained under it will have had a high prevalence of trafficking, torture and sexual and gender-based violence. The Royal College of Psychiatrists rightly points out that the Bill is likely to precipitate a significant deterioration of mental health problems in most cases. The consequences for children, with both mental and physical symptoms, are particularly distressing.
This Bill is cruel, immoral and unworkable. I call on the Government to accept the need for far-reaching amendments and, if necessary, withdraw the Bill wholesale at Third Reading.
My Lords, despite support in the other place, the Bill has come under a good deal of criticism, both in your Lordships’ House this afternoon and outside Parliament. If this House is not able to or will not offer that criticism but bends silently before the exhortations of the Home Secretary, we may as well pack up and go home. It seems to me that our constitutional duty is to warn, advise and seek to persuade the other place to think things through with care and in a less fevered atmosphere than was apparent when the Bill was debated in the other place. It is in Committee that we can look carefully at the Bill. With the greatest respect to him, I do not think that following the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, into the Division Lobby is the answer to this question.
The aims of the Bill are not in the least bit difficult to understand. They are to deter illegal entry into the United Kingdom; to break the business model of the people smugglers and save lives; promptly to remove those with no legal right to remain in the United Kingdom; and to make provision for setting an annual cap on the number of people to be admitted into the United Kingdom through safe and legal routes. I fully accept that all of those are legitimate policy aims, and in a pre-election period they are just the sort of policy aims that a Government who wish to remain in office through demonstrating their desire to protect their citizens from the expense of illegal immigration and from their having to see on their television screens images of thousands of people arriving in rubber dinghies, and who want to blame “the others” for failing to stop them before they set off, would espouse. However, while simultaneously claiming to be welcoming and compassionate, and portraying the United Kingdom as the victim of others’ failures, or of far-away political upheavals or moral ineptitude, is easy if somewhat lazy politics—and certainly not novel—it runs the risk of creating or encouraging a form of sectarianism.
In the context of the last presidential elections in the United States, sectarianism became a highly moralised political identity that saw the other side as contemptible. The moral component was fundamental. You believe that you are a member of a select group, and you fervently believe that only you know the moral truth and that the other people are hopelessly and irredeemably wrong. That is the tenor of the thinking we see across the American political divide nowadays. That is the way Donald Trump electioneers and how he describes the people who disagree with him.
This divisive political system has three main components. The first is what is known as “othering”—labelling these people as so different from us that they are almost incomprehensible. The second is called “aversion”—the idea that they are not just different but dislikeable. The third is “moralisation”, whereby they are morally bankrupt. Now sectarianism cuts both ways and moral rectitude does not belong only to one side of the argument. However, there are questions that need to be asked about whether, for example, it is acceptable to redefine one’s relationship to the law or to a long-standing convention on refugees, or to claim that judges who apply the laws enacted by Parliament—this Parliament—are “lefty lawyers”. Is it right to argue that what you think is in your immediate political interest is what is best for democracy? If the stakes are high enough, anything goes. To see where we may be heading, one has only to look at the clauses in the Bill relating to suspensive claims and serious harm; or at Clause 1(5), relating to the disapplication of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act; or at Clause 4, on the disregarding of certain claims; or at the Section 19(1)(b) statement on the face of the Bill. I have been described, I am sure, as many things, but no one I think could describe me as a “lefty lawyer”, and government by insult is not encouraging.
I am truly sorry that I have not been able to agree with my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, but I do suggest that we all study with some care the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, given at the outset of our proceedings.
What is less easy to understand is how the Bill’s four aims are to be achieved in practice. I have no doubt that a Home Secretary could articulate in a persuasive and evidence-based manner how each of those aims can and will be met within the rule of law and in compliance with our existing treaty obligations, most obviously under the refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. There may be both a political and legal case for this Bill and the measures it demands. I genuinely look forward to hearing it, because so far, I have not.
My Lords, I am minded to vote in favour of the amendment and to oppose Second Reading of this disgraceful Bill. Other speakers have explained and will explain that the Bill is immoral and will cause much unnecessary pain and suffering, and it is far from obvious that it will achieve its stated objectives; but I am going to speak directly to the amendment and suggest reasons why it is right and necessary for this House to refuse to consider the Bill further.
No one doubts that the House of Commons has a democratic mandate and is entitled to pass whatever legislation it wishes. The issue here is the role of the second Chamber when presented with legislation that is so egregiously bad as this Bill.
The political reality is that there is no way that this Bill will or could be revised to make it better. It is intrinsically bad and, having read the debates that took place in the Commons, it is quite clear that the Government are opposed to any meaningful amendment.
Various threats have been made as to the consequences for this House if it refuses to pass this Bill, although today’s article in the Times is more measured, but we need to recognise the role in our constitution of the Parliament Acts. Any Government with a majority in the Commons can overrule this House, and if they think it is right to do so, they should do so. That does not require us to accept their proposals.
Earlier speakers have tried to suggest that for this House to refuse to consider a Bill is “unconstitutional”. Clearly that is nonsense; we have the constitutional right to refuse a Bill. I quite understand that noble Lords may not be greatly interested in my views on the matter. However, they may be swayed by the words of Sir Winston Churchill. I refer noble Lords to his speech in the Commons on
Sir Winston’s position on this matter is interesting, as in 1911 he was, in his own words, a “radical” and an active proponent of the legislation that limited the power of this House by restricting it to a two-year delay. Then, in 1947, he opposed Labour’s proposal to reduce the period of delay to one year. Much of his speech was devoted to setting out why two years was right and one year was too short, which, while interesting, need not concern us. There was also much political knockabout, although his comment that
“No Government has ever combined so passionate a lust for power with such incurable impotence in its exercise” has contemporary relevance.
The burden of his speech, and what is relevant to us here today, is his forceful argument as to why and when, in accordance with our constitution, this House was entitled, even under an obligation, to refuse to consider a Bill, even when it had been passed by the Commons. The crucial point is that, as a great democrat, he argued the case for this House taking such action on the grounds of democracy. He said, in terms:
“The spirit of the Parliament Act, and the purpose of that Act, were to secure the intimate, effective and continuous influence of the will of the people upon the conduct and progress of their affairs”.
In other words, he argued that our power to delay should, when this House thought fit, be used in the interests of democracy. He asked:
“Is the party opposite really to be entitled to pass laws affecting the whole character of the country in the closing years of this Parliament without any appeal to the people who have the vote and who placed them where they are?”
In other words, our role is to make the Commons think again and, towards the end of a Parliament, make the Government seek a new mandate. His conclusion was:
“The object of the Parliament Act, and the spirit of that Act, were to give effect, not to spasmodic emotions of the electorate, but to the settled … will of the people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/1947; cols. 205, 204,214, 206.]
This Bill is clearly based on “spasmodic emotions” and we should, on the grounds set out in the amendment, use our constitutional powers to decline to give it a Second Reading.
My Lords, it is a privilege to add my voice to this debate. I echo much of what has already been said, including by my friends the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I will focus my remarks on the impact of this Bill on women, including victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence—all of it set, as you might expect, within my belief that every person is created in the image of God. We are talking here about people with names, not faceless numbers.
I hear the Minister’s concerns about the statistics around modern slavery but this issue needs much more careful analysis, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said. Other noble Lords have highlighted many of the issues around modern slavery. Surely it cannot be right that no one who arrives here by irregular means will be eligible to receive modern slavery support. As we have heard, this Bill proposes that victims of modern slavery will instead be subject to detention and removal. This seems wrong on so many levels, not least morally, but it will also be a substantial law enforcement issue. Why would anyone come forward as a victim of modern slavery and risk being sent to Rwanda? My right reverend friends the Bishops of London and Bristol will be following these issues with interest and concern.
There are many crossovers for victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. For five years, the SEREDA Project at the University of Birmingham and across other international universities has been researching refugees’ experiences of displacement from the Middle East and north Africa to the point at which people seek refuge. These academics warn that this Bill will increase vulnerability and the risk of exploitation, and will unfairly punish survivors who have unknowingly come to Britain. Safe countries, even some of our closest neighbours, are not necessarily safe for a woman who has been sex trafficked to that country or abused by smugglers in-flight. She will want to put as much distance as possible between her and the perpetrators. There is nothing in this Bill to ensure that such victims will receive the support that they need in these countries to prevent the resumption of abuse.
If this Bill is enacted in its current form, Albania will be added to the list of safe countries from which people will never be accepted. There are questions there for me around gender disparity. If a large percentage of male asylum seekers from Albania are sent back but the vast majority of women are accepted at present, surely that implies that it may not be safe for them there.
I add my voice to those speaking against the indefinite detention of pregnant women. I strongly support the call from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for the 72-hour time limit to be reinstated. The impact of detention on this group may include considerable, extremely serious health repercussions, including for their unborn children, who may be harmed by the stress and trauma of detention.
Across all these points, I see a worrying failure to recognise the trauma experienced by victims. I will not say more at this point—so much has been said—but I hope that we will pick up on many of these issues in Committee, so that we ensure that we shape our legislation in a way that enables our country to be an appropriate place of sanctuary, not harm.
My Lords, this debate has focused largely on legal issues. I do not doubt the importance of such issues, not least those just raised by the right reverend Prelate, but I would take the lawyers more seriously if they recognised that there is a problem and suggested solutions rather than arguing as if neither law nor treaties nor their application need to change. Ultimately, the Government and Parliament of this country must be able to decide how many people, and for what reasons, are granted refuge in this country.
I had hoped that the lawyers would explain why British courts and administrators reject only 26% of initial asylum claims, whereas France rejects 75%, Germany rejects 55%, and both Sweden and Spain reject 71%—especially since, in addition, Britain goes on to accept a majority of those who appeal. If lawyers do not admit that our system is too credulous, why do they not criticise our EU neighbours for being too harsh? Does not this disparity explain why, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth pointed out, some people are willing to risk their lives to escape safe EU countries to claim asylum in the UK?
At the heart of this debate is a challenging moral and political question: to how many and to which categories of people should we offer refuge in this country? The most reverend Primate, in his great speech on his Motion to Take Note before Christmas, said that
“I make … absolutely clear and underline” that Britain neither can nor should
“take everyone who flees such devastation”.—[
I was going to say that everyone agrees with him, and that everyone accepts that we cannot accept all those who would like to find refuge in this country, until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, state that we should not even attempt to limit the numbers, only handle the flow in a more orderly fashion.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord. What I said was that we need to manage the flow of those seeking asylum into this country rather than close the gates and try to seal off the country from all people seeking asylum. I said that we should be managing the flow. I did not say that we should accept everyone.
The great difference between what the noble Lord actually said, which is that we should not even try but should just manage the flow, and what he has just said now, is too fine for me to appreciate. At least I have his original version.
The noble Lord has had his go. His original version at least had the merit of being breathtakingly honest. However, the implications of just “managing the flow” rather than trying to limit it, when this country already has a catastrophic housing problem, are obvious, and from a party that is notorious for opposing every new housing development across the country, the Lib Dem policy is breathtakingly hypocritical.
Many noble Lords have spoken of the importance of creating more safe and legal routes for immigrants. Presumably they will therefore welcome the clauses in the Bill, under which the Government and Parliament will agree an annual quota of people to be accepted under such routes. That raises several questions, the first being, “How many?” That question is contentious but is to be answered in the light of circumstances each year.
Secondly, who should be allowed in under such safe and legal routes? Clearly, we should prioritise the most vulnerable, as we do with the UNHCR for refugees from Syria, and those with the greatest right; for example, those who are related to people who are already here or whom we have obligations to, as with the Afghan translators. We can be pretty sure that there will be little overlap between these groups, who we think should have priority, and those currently arriving in small boats. The latter include the better-off members of their national communities, who can finance the tens of thousands of pounds to get here, the more audacious and usually young men who are willing to take risks, and those who have been, or expect to be, refused asylum in the EU.
Thirdly, from which countries should we enable people to come legally and safely? Presumably it is those coming directly, or as near as directly as possible, from the place where they suffered persecution. Surely it would not be to give priority to those who are already in safe countries; that is, our EU neighbours. Allowing illegal immigration across the channel to continue would mean that they will continue to jump the queue and absorb all the available accommodation in hotels, barges, barracks or otherwise, which will be needed for those coming on safe and secure routes.
Fourthly, how will we restrict those who will still want to come illegally by boats across the channel? As the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, pellucidly explained, unless we allow unlimited numbers to come by safe and legal routes, there will always be some who, having been refused legal access, will wish to come illegally by the boats. So far, none of those who accept that we cannot take everyone who wishes to come to this country has proposed any concrete alternative to the proposals in the Bill.
My question to those who condemn the Government’s plan as immoral is: why is it perfectly moral to pay the French to prevent people leaving the beaches of Calais but immoral to try to deter people from landing on the beaches of Dover? Both measures would help us save the lives of those who risk being drowned in the channel, and both leave migrants free to seek asylum in the EU if they do not wish to do so in Rwanda. I will not hold my breath while waiting for a convincing answer.
My Lords, I will speak plainly. I believe the Bill to be a thoroughly reprehensible piece of legislation that would be more suited to a party of extremists than the party that saw one of its greatest leaders, Winston Churchill, among the architects of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. How utterly ashamed I believe Churchill would be today of the Bill.
I am not alone in my concerns, and I am indebted to all organisations that have written to me and others about the Bill and the consequences for those seeking sanctuary and asylum: people who are among the most vulnerable, damaged, dehumanised and misrepresented —individuals who should command our support, understanding and compassion. But they are warned that they will instead be stripped of the most basic human rights by this Government, whom I call the Tufton Street mob. I am indebted particularly to Amnesty International for its briefing, as well as the Bar Council, the Royal Society of Psychiatrists, the British Red Cross and LGBT group Time to be Out.
I deeply regret the introduction of the Bill, which seeks to oust judicial control of executive powers, deny refugees their right to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, exclude victims from modern slavery protections, and strip some British children of their rights to British citizenship.
It plainly risks—and, I believe, seeks—conflict over the European Convention on Human Rights and the court. The Bill is a deliberate and carefully designed vehicle to put the UK on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights, to further the ambition of the Tufton Street mob to whip up hatred of the court in support of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Convention on Human Rights. In that regard, the Bill is utterly cynical and an act of bad faith.
The Government argue in pursuit of a singular purpose, stated in Clause 1. It is
“to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes”,
as the Bill describes them. By citing this purpose, Ministers show a remarkable disregard for people’s real lives, real-world events, this country’s international obligations concerning these matters, and even Ministers’ own policy as it relates to these issues. Sadly and reprehensibly, in promoting the Bill, this lack of respect for law, fact and people’s innate dignity has led to Ministers expressing themselves in terms that are indecent and racist, and they have quite rightly been criticised by members of their own party.
The Bill is plainly not compliant with international human rights law—no doubt something that this Government, the Tufton Street mob, are proud of— nor is it compliant with basic principles of legality and constitutionality. I believe that it is a blight on the reputation of the United Kingdom as a civilised, law-abiding, constitutionally sound and democratically accountable nation. It is my profound belief that Parliament is better than this vicious, far-right piece of legislation, and that the British people are better—a people known for compassion, understanding and basic human decency.
We will deal in greater detail with the brutal injustices of the Bill, but I will name just some. Several provisions, in effect, oust judicial oversight. Clauses 31 and 52 deny refugees their basic right to seek asylum and put minorities, such as LGBT people, at greater risk, as brilliantly expounded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.
The Bill excludes victims from modern slavery protections; it can deprive British children of their citizenship rights, as I said before; and there are new powers to indefinitely detain pregnant women. Women for Refugee Women’s research has found that most women seeking asylum in the United Kingdom are survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, yet these women arriving through so-called unsafe and illegal routes will be detained and sent to so-called safe third countries.
As I read this, I find it unbelievable that I am doing so inside a British Parliament and that this Bill and its intentions originate from a British Government. How quickly we can be debased and reduced by those eager to misrepresent the most vulnerable as a threat to our culture and way of life, and as cannibalising our values, and to whip up public opinion against them. How reminiscent it is of the 1930s, and how I so agree with Mr Gary Lineker and his denunciation of the language used.
In conclusion, I paraphrase Shakespeare and a play that he co-wrote, “Sir Thomas More”. The strangers have made their way from Calais to Dover, and on to London. The citizens of London, whipped up by the mob, become unruly. Thomas More stands before them and someone in the crowd shouts: “Remove them!” He replies: “You bid that they be removed, the stranger with their children upon their back, their families at their side, their belongings at their feet. You bid that they be removed. Imagine you are the stranger, with your children upon your back, your family at your side, your belongings at your feet. Imagine you are the stranger and bid that they be removed and show your mountanish inhumanity”.
Such inhumanity is within the Illegal Migration Bill, and we should consign it to the dustbin of far-right politics.
The reason that some years ago I supported the Conservative-Liberal coalition was the pledge that the imprisonment and detention of children on immigration purposes would be abolished. Now, the possibility of that is to be reintroduced.
The Government will say that this is what the British people want. Thursday’s local government election, with over 1,000 Tory losses, shows that there is no great clamour for the sort of action proposed, which is aggressive and inhumane. The Home Secretary dreams of planes deporting refugees to Rwanda. I believe this is not a dream shared by the majority of the British people, who are more likely to dream as Martin Luther King did of justice and fairness for all people. Once again, not a single Tory councillor was elected in many of our larger cities—none in Liverpool, Manchester or Newcastle. You may say, “What about the places most affected by the people in small boats?” On the south coast, the Tories were down five councillors in Dover and more than that in Folkestone. The people do not want this.
The Coronation concert showed how much we appreciate the diversity of those from many different backgrounds. This Bill has no place in the law of the United Kingdom. I am certain that every concerned Peer in the House today will join me this evening in opposing this squalid Bill.
My Lords, the only thing I really like about the Bill is the honesty of its title—it is indeed an illegal migration Bill. It bans even asking for asylum if you are coming from Khartoum, Tripoli, Tehran, Myanmar or Yemen because there is no regular, legal approved route from there. We are being asked to agree to a blatant repudiation of our commitments under the 1951 convention, as the UNCHR, the custodian of the convention, has confirmed. We are being asked to approve of indefinite detention for all such arrivals by decision of the Secretary of State, without legal oversight and with no appeal. The Secretary of State’s decisions cannot be questioned in any court or tribunal. That is astonishing, but that is what new paragraph 3A, to be inserted by Clause 12(4), says. When the Minister states in the Bill that he cannot say it is compatible with European convention rights, that is the truth but not the whole truth. The incompatibility is obvious.
That is not all. Like others, I struggle to see how this Bill can be squared with our promises under the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, or the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005, which only the Russians have not ratified. It is not just about small boats, although that is how it is being sold. It is about trucks, London airports, trains, victims of modern slavery, and students, businessmen or tourists from Khartoum or Tehran who when here chose to seek asylum. Their claims cannot be heard if this Bill passes; they have to be locked up sine die until the Secretary of State can find somewhere to send them. That is astonishing in my view.
I have two interests to declare. First, I was, until recently, a trustee of the Refugee Council. The Government have produced no impact assessment on the Bill but the Refugee Council has, and, as others in this debate have already mentioned, its verdict on its impracticability is damning. It puts the cost of detention over the first three years at some £9 billion. More importantly, it points out that it will not work: it will not crack the small boats problem. What might work would be for our Government to accept the repeated French offer to let us set up processing centres in France—and that is my answer to the very legitimate question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
I have a second interest to declare. For five years I headed the Diplomatic Service, which thought it was its duty—I am sure it still thinks it is its duty—in the national interest to speak up for the rules-based international system, which is now under such challenge from the likes of Trump and Putin. This Bill would disarm our diplomacy. When we remonstrate with rule-breakers, they would fling this back in our faces. Do as we say, not as we do is not a winning diplomatic gambit.
It is an honour to serve in this Parliament, and we must all do what we can to sustain its reputation. In almost 20 years here, I do not think I can recall a more disreputable Bill than this one. It victimises the vulnerable, and if we enact it, the country breaks its commitments and trashes its traditions. It takes perseverance to keep honour bright, and this House should ask the Government to think again. We should send the Bill back to the other place in a form which does not purport to legitimise illegality.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord who, as always, spoke with such sense. He certainly knows what he is talking about, and we would do well to listen to what he said.
I look forward to this legislation being improved in your Lordships’ House—there is certainly scope for that. There are some very real concerns about this legislation. I do not doubt the need to control immigration, nor indeed do I doubt the need for a properly regulated system of asylum. However, it is a complex global issue. It does not follow that, because we have a problem, any action is appropriate, justified or to be welcomed. It is not. This Bill does not deal with the asylum backlog, nor does it do anything to bring to book traffickers, who are the real villains who should be centre stage in any system of governmental action. I question whether this legislation will have the deterrent effect that is argued for, and I look forward to hearing evidence of that.
It is legitimate to ask what we would do instead, and I will come on to some of the things that could be done. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has just talked about processing in France, which is a real way of tackling some of the problem.
At the centre of my concerns is the statement in the Bill made by the Home Secretary that in her view she is unable to make a statement that the provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill are compatible with the convention rights. That goes to the very centre of what makes us great as a nation: a belief in the rule of law. This is the post-war settlement coming back at us. Do we really want to ally with Trump and Putin? That is what we are doing if we turn our backs on the very fundamental problem that this is illegal. That statement is a concern, and I assume it concerns the Minister. I look forward to hearing more about how he thinks we are on the right side of the law here.
I would also appreciate it if something were to be said about the impact of this legislation. We are told, and I agree, that there is a problem and we need to do something about it, but we are entitled to ask what the costs of this measure would be. Part of the answer, apart from the processing, is more safe and legal routes. That does not mean we are giving way to massive inroads into the country, but it would take pressure off illegal, costly and hazardous routes.
I am concerned about the prevention of asylum for anyone entering the UK irregularly, because people will come in irregularly, particularly because we are closing down safe and legal routes. We are, as the refugee convention has made clear, in danger of extinguishing the right for refugees to seek refugee status here. Is that what we really want as a country?
I am concerned too at our turning our backs on the modern slavery legislation—the withdrawal of protections that we passed recently with such great pride, and in contravention of international law. Is that what we want to do as a country? I do not think we do. How does the withdrawal of the rights of modern slavery protection help our country?
I am concerned also about the rights of children. The treatment of children refugees is another massive area of concern, specifically a power given to the Secretary of State to deport child asylum seekers.
The thrust of this legislation should give us pause. We should be dealing with traffickers and providing protections from modern slavery and for children. We should uphold the principle of asylum, which needs to be restated.
I listened with great interest to the contribution from the most reverent Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was right to say that he would be bringing forward proposals in Committee to deal with some of the concerns that exist about the convention and the need to update it, as well as things to be done at an international level. I hope the Government will engage with him. We should take that offer positively so that we can improve this legislation, because there are massive improvements that need to be made.
My Lords, 87 people originally signed up to speak in this debate, and I was one of them. There are slightly fewer now, but I know that if 187 had signed up I would still have wanted to add my name to those speaking on this issue, since its importance can hardly be exaggerated.
I share with noble Lords the fact that I am part of the delegation from the British Parliament to the Council of Europe, and I sit on its migration committee. I never thought that saying that would leave me feeling as if I should declare it as a conflict of interest, and yet today, faced with this legislation, I feel that the Council of Europe’s position is conflictual with the spirit of it.
Two or three years ago, I was asked to write a report to celebrate and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1951 convention. I consulted widely with people from the UNHCR and other United Nations agencies, as well as NGO bodies such as Amnesty International and others, and from countries around Europe. I produced my report; it was unanimously accepted by the migration committee and then went to a plenary session of the Council of Europe in Rome, where again it was accepted unanimously. Even at that time, it was possible to see and recognise—and to note in the report—that the arrangements of the 1951 convention were under pressure in various places, and in some countries were being eroded. But at that time it was possible to stand up, as a United Kingdom spokesperson, and feel that we could contribute positively to the need to do the necessary forms and tidying-up.
At the heart of the report are three basic principles: that when a refugee seeks refuge in this country, or any country, there should be, first, no penalisation; secondly, no discrimination; thirdly, no refoulement—no pushback. It would not be difficult, in the time remaining to me, to show how in this and previous legislation every one of those core principles has been either threatened or undermined, or quite simply pushed to the side. It is time for us to look again at our commitments. I am not a lawyer; I cannot do this from a legal point of view. But I believe that I and every Member of your Lordships’ House can understand those three principles without any difficulty, yet all of them are under threat and even worse.
Since I presented that report, the Ukraine war has happened. When I look at the considerably more than one million refugees in Poland and Germany as a consequence of that war, I almost feel ashamed at hearing the way that we cavil about the small number who are coming here. When the convention was drawn up, and largely at the hands of British lawyers in its present form, there followed its coming into being a meeting of what were called—quaintly—plenipotentiaries. Again, there was a significant British presence among them. They were clear that while the convention spelled out contractual arrangements to deal with the migration that everybody was having to look at, there should be generosity on the part of those furthest from the problems to help shoulder the burdens of those nearest them—the front-line states. Honestly, if that was true then, I cannot believe it is not true now.
As an accident of geography, we have a channel separating us from mainland Europe. We are already insured against the sorts of figures that I have mentioned for Germany and Poland. We pride ourselves on the number of people that we are taking in from Ukraine; it is nothing compared with what others are taking. Indeed, most international migration is dealt with by neighbouring countries absorbing the problem and taking people in. Turkey, a country for which I have mixed feelings, is doing heroic work in this regard.
We have not had pre-legislative scrutiny for the Bill, but only in February one of the Select Committees of this House produced its report, All Families Matter: An Inquiry into Family Migration. Clearly in there is a direct criticism of the direction of travel of our House and our Parliament on these issues now. Treat that as a piece of pre-legislative scrutiny and observe its strictures, and we would be far better off.
I must close. They say a Methodist minister preaches for at least 25 minutes, but I do my best. In the Times this morning and all over the radio we had the headline: “Don’t defy will of the people on migration bill, Peers warned”. The will of the people was expressed last Thursday, and it was not favourable to the people putting this Bill forward now. I suggest that it is time we recognise how radically this proposed piece of legislation eats into the spirit and values of the country we should all be proud to belong to.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and not only because we share a family background in south Wales. Given my legal background, I am going to focus on one issue. It is a legal issue, but an important one highlighted by my noble friend the Minister in opening this debate.
Last year the Government attempted to remove a small number of people to Rwanda. The group applied to court for an injunction to prevent their removal until the full challenge to the removal order had been adjudicated. That claim for interim relief failed three times. The Government won in the High Court, won again in the Court of Appeal and won for a third time in the Supreme Court.
However, the claimants applied to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. On
The Government acted consistently with that rule 39 interim measure indicated by the Strasbourg court and did not remove the claimants. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, charges that in this Bill the Government seek to act contrary to the rule of law and their obligations under international law. So far as the Strasbourg court and rule 39 are concerned—my focus today—that is wrong for at least three reasons. The first reason is grounded in international law, the second reason is grounded in domestic law and the third reason goes to what the Bill actually says.
First, on international law, when we signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, we signed up to a written document that set out our obligations clearly. One of those obligations is in Article 46(1). We have to abide by a final judgment given by the Strasbourg court against the UK. But an indication under rule 39 is not a final judgement against the UK. Indeed, as the Strasbourg court recognises—see the rule 39 factsheet on its own website—in the convention itself, there is no jurisdiction to grant interim measures. That is not surprising. In 1949 a draft version of the convention included a power to grant provisional measures, but that did not find its way into the final text. As with Sherlock Holmes’s nocturnal dog that did not bark, sometimes it is the clause which is not in the contract which is in fact the most important. Rule 39 indications therefore rest on the court’s own decision in 2005 by a majority that it has jurisdiction to make them—overturning, I might add, the same court’s more forthright previous decisions that it did not have jurisdiction to make them.
The first point is that the Strasbourg court’s jurisdiction to grant rule 39 indications is itself questionable. That, no doubt, is why they are called indications and not injunctions or orders. I invite my noble friend the Minister to confirm that, although historically the UK has taken on board the indications of the Strasbourg court under rule 39—no doubt for good political reasons—that is not because we have a treaty obligation to do so. We do not.
Secondly, not abiding by a rule 39 indication is not a breach of our domestic law. The Strasbourg court attempts to ground rule 39 indications in Article 34 of the convention, but the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the convention into our domestic law, deliberately excluded Article 34. To pick up a point made by Professor Ekins KC in his recent Policy Exchange paper, that is important. A civil servant is bound by Acts of Parliament, and it is no answer for a civil servant to refuse to do something ordered by a Minister, on the authority of this Parliament, because it might, or might arguably, involve a breach of international law. We are a dualist state, and international treaties have no application in domestic law, unless and until they are given effect by this Parliament.
Thirdly and finally, the Bill does not require a Minister to refuse to give effect to a rule 39 indication, although I accept that the default position is that the duty to remove takes priority. The Bill gives a Minister discretion that is to be exercised personally. As my noble friend the Minister pointed out, Clause 53(5) sets out specific points to which the Minister should have regard. These include whether the UK was given an opportunity to make submissions before, or after, the rule 39 indication was made; the “form” of the measure; and its “likely duration”. These are all pretty basic points, you might think, but they have to be made because they are currently not part of the procedures of the Strasbourg court. Were it to adopt the fairly basic procedures that we have in this jurisdiction surrounding the making of injunctions, a large part of the problem would go away. Therefore, the solution is likely to be, at least in part, in a reform of the procedures of the Strasbourg court. I noted with interest that Robert Jenrick indicated that the Government now have a renewed and focused engagement with that court, which I welcome very much.
However, for the reasons I stated, the Bill’s provisions on interim measures engender no breach of the rule of law, no failure to meet our international commitments and no requirement for Ministers to ignore the decisions of judges. For those reasons, if the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pushes his amendment to a vote, I urge the House to reject it.
My Lords, on Saturday morning, I watched the Coronation. The ceremony affirmed that we are an inclusive and humane country that aspires to be a community in which people of all religions and ethnicities live harmoniously together. The King swore to govern the people with justice and mercy. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London read, from St Luke’s Gospel, of how Christ came
“to heal the brokenhearted … to set at liberty them that are bruised”.
The ceremony was uplifting and made me proud to be British. On Saturday afternoon, I turned to considering what I might say about the Illegal Migration Bill. It was depressing and made me ashamed of our Government.
The Bill is merciless. It removes modern slavery protections and deprives people fleeing suffering and persecution of any realistic possibility of refuge in our country. The Home Secretary prated of our “proud and extensive tradition” of offering refuge, even as she introduced legislation that repudiates that tradition. Under pressure from MPs, the Government have said that new safe and legal routes for asylum seekers will be opened; we will see what they offer. They have made it clear that they will not set up a scheme for people fleeing Sudan, and they are making it as difficult as possible even for Sudanese entitled to family reunion in the UK. The Bill as it is creates a Kafkaesque regime under which asylum seekers who enter the UK illegally are immediately to be deported and never again permitted to apply for asylum here, while there are no safe and legal routes for entry for almost all asylum seekers.
The Bill is particularly cruel towards children. Asylum seekers under the age of 18 will be separated from their parents; they will be detained until they are 18 and then deported. During their detention, they will be subject to a special regime administered by the Home Office. The Home Office does not have the skills to look after children. Too much of what we know about the character of the Home Office and its contractors tells us that their so-called care of these vulnerable children will be brutal.
We have been shocked by reports of the squalid and demoralising conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to exist: in seedy hotels, with filthy food, in enforced idleness and, on occasion, besieged by racist mobs. The prospect the Bill provides is of traumatised, frightened people warehoused in putative detention centres for far longer than the 28 days envisaged, while official incompetence perpetuates their limbo. If the Government succeed in deporting these poor people, it will most likely be to Rwanda, a country with a terrible history of racial strife and where human rights are not respected. Only this Government could describe Rwanda as a safe country.
The Prime Minister is obsessed with “stopping the boats”. Presumably, this is a dead cat tactic to distract attention from the Government’s failure to turn the tide of net migration running at half a million a year. He calculates that it will make his party popular among red wall voters, readers of red top papers and people who have been given to understand by the Home Secretary that the arrival of asylum seekers in small boats is an “invasion”. The stratagem did not seem to work last Thursday in the local elections.
I remind the proponents of this legislation that Mrs Thatcher used to say that, in politics, you have a choice: you can appeal to the better part of human nature or the worse. She was no softy, but she did not practise cruelty out of a cynical notion of electoral expediency. She would have understood that the policy will not work at any level. The asylum seekers will not be deterred from getting into the boats, because they will not know what our law is, and the people traffickers will continue to take their money and shove them out to sea.
True leadership would remind us that we have a duty of compassion and help to people thus broken-hearted and bruised. It would also explain that, historically, our country has been greatly enriched by immigration, that we now need an influx of young, enterprising, resilient people to eke out the demographic imbalance of our ageing population, and that we should therefore invest in the asset that asylum seekers are. On that basis, a leader can decently accept that both the pace and amount of immigration must be controlled and go on to acknowledge that there are indeed problems with the operation of the European Court of Human Rights and with the open-ended commitment of the UN Convention on Refugees, framed in very different circumstances in 1951. The way to address these problems is not to breach international law or, in effect, to secede but to engage in serious negotiations to achieve reform.
I am ashamed, too, of the Government’s attitude to justice; the Bill reprises their familiar contempt for the courts and their resentment of judicial review. In this legislation, the Home Secretary is seeking to make human rights claims inadmissible, to remove the practical possibility of appeal, and to curtail the oversight of our domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights. If we consider the brazen statement by the Home Secretary that she cannot certify that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, together with the obvious breaches in the Bill of the UN Convention on Refugees and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is clear that the Government disdain the rule of law. The Bill is disgusting and demeans us all.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. I will address the Minister’s introduction to the Bill, when he stated that, if the Bill is to be effective as a deterrent, the extreme measures in it are necessary. So the Bill is, very clearly, the Government’s response to address their often-stated, firmly-held belief that, in the argument of pull versus push factors in the reasons for migration, the pull factor is most relevant. In short, the Government believe that people risk life and limb, of themselves and their families, and get into flimsy boats to the UK without serviceable life jackets because the pull factors of life in the UK are irresistible.
However, this argument is deeply flawed. I say that that because every study that has ever been carried out on the subject clearly shows that, while the argument holds some truth when applied to voluntary migration, it utterly falls apart when applied to those who are escaping the unimaginable horror of conflict, famine and persecution. The Government’s own research shows this but, inexplicably, this research is no longer available online. In November 2021, the Guardian reported that the then Home Office Minister, Chris Philp, argued that accepting asylum seekers
“creates a pull factor where migrants are incentivised to undertake dangerous and illegal journeys”,
but the Home Office refused to release the report that that statement was based on. In response to this refusal to publish the evidence, a Médecins Sans Frontières spokesperson said
“The reality is that ‘pull factors’ are a myth - people who are fleeing persecution or conflict don’t need any further incentive to look for safety. It is hard to see why the government would refuse to share evidence that supports its plans - the only conclusion to draw is that they know their arguments don’t stand up”.
In fact, previous Home Office research into asylum seekers’ decision-making appears to undermine the pull factor argument for harsher policies, saying that asylum seekers
“are guided more by agents, the presence or absence of family and friends, language, and perceived cultural affinities than by scrutiny of asylum policies or rational evaluation of the welfare benefits on offer”.
The link to this report appears to have been taken down. Will the Minister look into this? In fact, it would be informative if the Government would publish all reports and advice, including legal advice, on which the Bill was put together, as requested also by my noble friend Lord German.
What we do know, however, from sector analysis, partly based, in fact, on the Home Office’s own data, is that more than two-thirds of people who cross the channel in small boats are judged to be genuine refugees and, on appeal, are allowed to remain—contradicting a government claim that 70% of small boats arrivals
“are not genuine asylum seekers”.
A compassionate Government would put in place genuine safe and legal routes for these genuine asylum seekers, and then seek to break the business model of the people smugglers. The Bill seeks to do neither.
I spent a lot of time in the Calais Jungle before it was demolished and burned to the ground in 2016. The people I met there, mostly from Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria, had no other thought than to get to the UK. They had overcome unbelievable odds to reach the English Channel and they would not be defeated now that they were within sight of its shores. Their logic was simple. The smugglers were the ones they trusted, because they wanted to help them in their aim; the French were their enemy, because they wanted to stop them, often quite brutally; Britain, in contrast, they believed, wanted them. What were they supposed to believe, when each DfID—as was, now FCDO—sack, box or pallet is emblazoned with a union jack and the words “UK Aid”, ensuring all recipients knew whom to thank for their charity?
They were right in one respect: the British people are overwhelmingly supportive of refugees. The Bill is not representative of British people. Britain is a country that has shown, time and again, that it welcomes refugees. If the Government truly want to do the right thing, they will work with international bodies, such as the IOM and the UNHCR, to support decent refugee camps in the affected regions, camps that offer the dignity of work, education and health facilities. They should make a serious effort to address the real cause of the misery of people forced into such desperate actions, the push factors behind the mass movement of people today—push factors such as desertification, flooding and extreme weather events the like of which we have never seen before. They should invest urgently in mitigation and adaptation measures against the ravages of climate change.
My Lords, I declare a specific interest as a member and former chair of the Cambridge Woolf Institute’s independent Commission on the Integration of Refugees. I resigned as chair to be able fully to participate in the proceedings on this Bill.
I have listened with great care to all the speeches we have heard so far. I particularly agree with those of my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier. I recognise that the numbers of unprocessed asylum seekers and refugees speak for themselves. There should not be so many; there should not be a backlog of the kind that we have. I agree with the Government to this extent: we need changes in asylum policy, management and possibly the law. However, I agree with others that the changes to the law proposed in this Bill are neither necessary nor proportionate.
I listened with great care to the interesting and persuasive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, on rule 39 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That should be changed not through this Bill but through discussion in the Council of Europe, which is the appropriate organisation. Knowing his skill as an advocate, I can imagine him persuading courts that the British Government have been right in many cases to stick to decisions given under rule 39 because of the precedent they have set in doing so. This is not the place to deal with it.
I was concerned to hear some highly respected Peers whom I admire enormously suggesting that, because the House of Commons has passed this Bill, we are obliged to do so. Indeed, it led me during the short adjournment to play the game of cross-examining ChatGPT to see whether I could get it to agree with any of those propositions. I am sorry to say to those Peers that I failed; ChatGPT has consistently come up with something like, “The Members of the House of Lords are appointed to provide scrutiny and review of legislation passed by the House of Commons. They also act as a consultative body, providing expertise in various fields to assist in decision-making. Additionally, they may participate in debates and question government Ministers on policy issues”. Perhaps even former Cabinet Ministers should turn to ChatGPT before they decide to join your Lordships’ House. We have the duty, never mind the right, to do just what ChatGPT has insisted to me that we should.
Surely it is an imperative of sound public policy that it should enjoy an unimpeachable ethical and legal foundation. Where on the moral ground does this stand? The noble Lord, Lord German, reminded us of the title page of this Bill. If he or I in moving an amendment in Committee said, “I am unable to say that my amendment is compatible with convention rights but nevertheless I wish the Committee to proceed with it”—exactly the words on the front page of the Bill—the Minister, whoever it was, would shout me down for the effrontery of trying to break the law during a debate. But that is what the Government are doing. They should not get away with it. They are deliberately breaking the law.
How big is the problem we are dealing with? Has it been exaggerated by political rhetoric? My noble friend Lord Green, perhaps an unlikely source, reminded us that asylum seekers are a small proportion of immigrants, and the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, referred in her excellent speech to the figures in other countries, such as France, Germany, Italy and, above all, the United States. Why do we have this problem? Has it come upon us secretly in the night? Of course not; it is the result of years of failures by the Government to deal with the predictable and to reform the processing of refugees within existing law. To reform the law, they want to break the law—a most extraordinary proposition, particularly to the revising Chamber. Surely breaking the law should be the last resort.
We should not flatter totalitarians by imitating their addictions. I think we should have a Committee stage on this Bill, during which we will show the Government how this work can be achieved much more empirically and efficiently. I hope to be able to play a part in doing so.
My Lords, illegal small boats crossing the channel see desperate people putting their own lives, and those of their families, at risk, and profit criminal organisations. It is clear from all contributions to this debate that our immigration and asylum system needs significant review. I acknowledge that the Government are attempting to address some of these problems in this Bill, and that it is an incredibly complex situation.
In order for the measures in this Bill to have a chance of success, there are two fundamental issues to be addressed. The first issue is the unacceptable backlog of immigration and asylum claims. There are many reasons to regret this—the human cost for those claiming asylum and for the local authorities and communities trying to cope with long and unjustifiable waiting times, and the spiralling economic cost to the public purse and the impact this is having on our international work, as aid funding is diverted. Dealing with the backlog is essential, both so that this long delay does not act as a pull factor and to free up capacity at local and national level to provide sanctuary to those most in genuine need. Can my noble friend the Minister provide any update on what progress has been made towards the Prime Minister’s pledge to clear the backlog by the end of this year?
The second fundamental issue is that of safe and legal routes. Of course we cannot and should not take in all of those who wish to come to the UK, but we can and should continue to play our part in helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people. I am sure my noble friend the Minister will point to our generous schemes for Ukraine and Hong Kong, and indeed they are to be commended, but we must not forget about the rest of the world. Here, our recent record is not so impressive. Last year, only 1,185 people were resettled in the UK under the UNHCR global resettlement scheme; that includes the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which has resettled only 22 people in the UK. In his opening remarks my noble friend used these examples and others of existing safe and legal routes, but the ones he listed do not work and are not sufficient.
The Government have made some progress on this issue in the other place, thanks to Tim Loughton MP and others, though I hope to hear more about how the mechanisms will work as the Bill progresses. I agree that we need practical and thought-through plans, but without clearer ambitions and proper support for local authorities I worry that we will end up doing less than we can and should do.
I acknowledge that safe and legal routes will not stop the demand for illegal boat crossings, but that does not make them irrelevant to this Bill. We must not be in a situation where, because of this Bill, we are closing our borders without opening proper safe and legal routes. I look forward to discussing improvements to the Bill to ensure that these routes function appropriately.
I hope that during the passage of this Bill we can make progress on the detention of children and pregnant women. As we have heard, the Bill removes the prevention of routine detention of children and their families which has been Government policy since 2011 and was enshrined in law in the Immigration Act 2014. That was an achievement that had cross-party support and should be left as it is.
I hope the Government will seriously consider deleting from this Bill the power for the Secretary of State to remove an unaccompanied child. I appreciate that the Government have made some amendments on child detention, again thanks in no small part to Tim Loughton MP. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for confirming that details on detention time limits for children will be set out during the passage of the Bill. I hope that this will be a direct replacement of the 24-hour limit that was put in place by the Immigration Act 2014. Can my noble friend the Minister say if we will also see the details of the circumstances under which unaccompanied children may be detained, and the progress on how and where the Government plan to accommodate those children once identified?
As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, since 2016 there has been a 72-hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women. This ended the practice of detention for weeks, and sometimes months, which caused huge harm to women and their unborn babies. This Bill removes that protection. Will my noble friend consider amendments to retain it?
Finally, can my noble friend the Minister say whether any progress has been made on the consideration of arguments made in the other place by Theresa May MP and others on exempting victims of modern slavery? I understand the need to ensure that the legislation is not used to make false claims by those crossing in small boats, but we must ensure that actual victims who are being exploited here in the UK are able to report this abuse without fear of deportation.
Finally finally, as I have a little extra time, my noble friend will be well aware of the concerns from many eminent Members of your Lordships’ House, the UNHCR and many others that, as the Bill stands, it would breach the UK’s obligations under international refugee law. I hope that during the passage of the Bill the Government will be able to reassure noble Lords that it does not breach international law or international obligations, including the European Convention on Human Rights. That is not a position we should be in.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, and I agree with a very great deal of what she said. I simply emphasise again some particularly disturbing elements of the Bill, declaring an interest as an advisory board member of the British Institute of Human Rights. The word “illegal” does indeed characterise it. Even the Home Secretary considers that it “may be incompatible” with the Human Rights Act. It also contravenes an astonishing number of legal instruments we are party to, as well as our own laws. To instance the most egregious, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees describes
“a clear breach of the Refugee Convention” in the disqualifying nature of the mode of arrival, as my noble friend Lord Dubs noted.
As a former trustee of UNICEF UK, I note that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’s concept of the “best interests of children”, incorporated into our law, is so drastically qualified as to be undermined by Clauses 2, 3, 4, 21, 22 and 31. The common-law right of access to justice and its reflection in the European Convention on Human Rights provisions for a fair trial is impaired in numerous ways in the Bill, not least with the power of removal and prohibition of ever applying for asylum or even entering the UK. The undermining of the Modern Slavery Act in Clause 21 arguably means that a trafficked person can either go to the authorities and be removed or stay with the trafficker and let the abuse continue. The Bill is even retrospective in its application, which is another departure from a principle of justice.
What has prompted this extraordinary and unprecedented break with tradition and the rule of law, which we usually see as a conservative principle? The Prime Minister cites the small boats crossing the channel. But, of course, the Bill’s reach goes far beyond those to any arrival by so-called irregular means, whether or not a safe legal route is available, which there is not, apart from in the case of Afghanistan, to a degree, Syria, Ukraine and Hong Kong. I ask the Minister—he is not in his place, but I hope that somebody is noting this—what the legal route is for people fleeing well-grounded fears of persecution in Iran, Eritrea or Sudan.
My noble friends Lord Dubs, Lord Rooker and Lord Browne of Ladyton referred to humanist refugees. How can the Government describe Nigeria as safe for a humanist refugee when the Nigerian Government maintain the death penalty for blasphemy—along with 10 other countries on the Bill’s “safe country” list in Schedule 1—and when they have sentenced the president of the country’s humanist association to 24 years in prison?
This law’s apparent departure from conservatism has not escaped several Conservative Members of the other place. They may be thinking of their 2019 manifesto, which said:
“We will continue to grant asylum … to refugees fleeing persecution”.
My noble friend Lord Coaker, in his stirring speech, cited former Prime Minister Theresa May and former Attorney-General Sir Geoffrey Cox KC suggesting that Parliament was being asked to approve a deliberate breach of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Outside Parliament, the Children’s Commissioner, appointed by this Government, said:
“My worry is it will make traffickers even bolder”.
Yet again, undemocratically wide powers are given to the Executive, in eight clauses by my reckoning, some of which amount to arbitrary power. Surely the real abuse in our dealing with asylum is the horrific backlog in clearing applications, which are anyway very many fewer than in comparable western countries. This is itself, arguably, a denial of rights—and it is so incompetently managed.
The laws that this Bill seeks to overthrow were not made to add bureaucracy. They were hammered out by the governments and peoples of the world to shape how we deal with crises without losing essential values. Those values, of fairness in the application of law, of recognition of people’s essential needs and of our common humanity, are not the ones expressed by this Bill. This Government should not assume that they share the values of the British people. I am not sure that they even share mainstream Conservative values. What does the noble Lord the Minister think?
Finally, the Bill is at odds, as it stands, with practical sense. Practical ways to deal with the quest of refugees for safety would include safe legal routes, as so many noble Lords have said, thus undermining recourse to people smugglers, and competent processes to deal with applications in a timely fashion. Surely we are capable of that.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I will focus today on how this Bill will affect some of the health and medical decisions relating to asylum seekers. I thank the many organisations that have provided briefings.
Given the worrying nature of the Section 4 support under this Bill, can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that basic but proper healthcare will be provided to prevent a repetition of last autumn, when Suella Braverman stopped the dispersal of asylum seekers from the Manston and Jet Foil centres? The Minister will remember well that, as they became overcrowded and diphtheria and scabies spread rapidly, it became clear that there were not adequate health resources—until there was a major crisis and a public scandal.
“Governance of health care processes was weak … The care pathway lacked coordination or clinical leadership and there were no policies, protocols or governance of clinical standards.”
Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that this will never happen again?
As highlighted by other speakers, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, this Bill is also severely problematic for pregnant refugees. The previous Government’s 72-hour time limit on detention of pregnant women not only protected them and their unborn babies but resulted in the number of pregnant women in detention falling dramatically. This Bill would remove that limit and offer no exemption for those who are pregnant. Doctors and healthcare staff are horrified. There is also a real concern that the Bill in its current form is likely to increase the number of pregnant women in the UK who are charged for their maternity care, and we know that that impacts on maternal and foetal health. Doctors are also very concerned that offshoring—whether Rwanda or barges—is disruptive and possibly dangerous for women’s access to safe antenatal and postnatal care.
To turn now to the health of children, it is well documented that children seeking asylum are likely to face the worst childhood experiences possible, including physical and sexual violence, persecution, torture, xploitation, separation from parents and even witnessing parental death. In the Lancet, experts in child and adolescent health said:
“Rather than supporting these children, the UK’s new migration policies could cause further harm. The Illegal Migration Bill will violate the rights of children seeking asylum, undermine the Children Act, create safeguarding risks, and exacerbate the toxic stress experienced by children seeking asylum who arrive in the UK by irregular routes. As a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK risks reneging on its commitment.”
On mental health, Dr Adrian James, the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says that
“this new legislation will have potentially devastating consequences for the mental health of those seeking asylum in the UK. Many of these people will have experienced significant trauma in the countries from which they have fled.”
He goes on to say that not only is the Bill incompatible with the 1951 refugee convention but it
“is not compatible with the fundamental medical principle of doing no harm and we therefore consider it to be unethical.”
Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, talked of a teenage asylum seeker with some soft stubble, and Clause 56 on age assessments proposes that biological tests be carried out to assess age. Last year, the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, convened a committee of experts to assess whether biological tests, including X-rays, could confirm whether someone was 18 or under. The resulting report from the expert committee warned that there was
“no infallible method for either biological or social-worker-led age assessment that will provide a perfect match to chronological age”.
This was confirmed by the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who said:
“Paediatricians have said time and time again that age assessment by examination and X-rays is imprecise and unethical. Scientific evidence shows that pubertal assessment and bone age assessment are unreliable indicators of age and therefore cannot be used … I think it is highly questionable whether consent can even be freely given in these types of situations”.
Who will decide this highly contentious medical matter, and why are the Government not following the advice of their own expert committee, which believes that it does not and cannot work?
This Bill is not just morally unacceptable, although it is. It does not deal with traffickers and smugglers. Is the Minister serious that the Bill will stop them? It does not speed up the Home Office process of assessment of applications, which is urgent and long overdue. It does not create safe and legal routes, but it clearly breaches the 1951 convention. Our Government should be ashamed. Doctors tell us that it is unethical and unworkable. This Bill is inhuman and a danger to those who are fleeing for their lives. It is not how our country has responded to refugees for hundreds of years, and it should not progress. I will support my noble friend’s amendment tonight.
My Lords, these are unprecedented times. Last year, we had more than 40,000 illegal immigrants arriving in small boats. This year, the numbers will undoubtedly be greater. We cannot stand by and do nothing. It is not fair on those who seek to come here lawfully; it is not fair on the local authorities which have to accommodate people who have no homes to which to go. If we do not adopt some form of firm deterrence, the numbers will magnify. Those coming pay money to smugglers which is then recycled in organised crime. That chain has to be broken.
We all have sympathy for the circumstances which many leave, but that does not justify jumping the queue or pushing this country beyond its practical limits, especially when, in many cases, they come from safe countries. We owe duties of care to those who come here lawfully and to our own citizens.
First, I suggest that the Government accelerate forcefully the rate at which they process asylum claims. The rate at which it is done is lamentable and painfully slow. That is a practical step which has nothing to do with the Bill.
The Government are none the less right to act. Let me address just a few of the concerns raised. First, there is the question of treaty obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. I refer, of course, to Rule 39 interim orders. It cannot be that the Strasbourg court should grant an interim order of indefinite duration without hearing from the British Government either first or at least soon after as to why such an order is inappropriate. That is contrary to how we do things in our jurisdiction under common law, contrary to our traditions and contrary to fairness. An affected party should be heard either before an order is made or, in a case of urgency, at least as soon as practicable thereafter, and that is a lamentable gap. Importantly, following on from that, the Bill does not oblige the Minister to ignore the interim order, but it will give him or her the option. Nor, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, will that make the Minister in breach of international law. Fortunately, we have also heard that the Government are engaged in constructive dialogue with the Strasbourg court on reforms to the process, so I hope this will be resolved, but we should not be afraid of that provision in the Bill.
Next, I turn to modern slavery. I ask the Government to look again at the amendment advanced in another place by the right honourable Members for Maidenhead and for Chingford and Woodford Green. In particular, those who are already here must not be trapped in true slavery; they must not be trapped underground and abused by criminals and others.
Lastly, I address safe and legal routes. Global safe and legal routes are available for people from any country, and some 50,000 people have come here via those safe routes since 2015. Country-specific safe and legal routes—the schemes for Afghanistan, Ukraine, Hong Kong and Syria—have together provided for some 430,000 people in the same period. The Government must work to expand that network. Only when numbers moderate, however—and I am talking here of the asylum seekers whom the Bill addresses—can we treat new arrivals with the welcome which we would wish. We just have too many to cope with.
To conclude, the Bill addresses complex and difficult problems. This House must not run away from working to solve them, and I am afraid that too many speeches I have heard today point to the difficulties which we face and some of the legal problems which the Bill raises but do not provide constructive solutions. This Bill is the way forward, but no doubt it can be improved. While we examine it carefully, we must not wreck it. The problems are too great and too important to be left untouched. We cannot go on as we are; this Bill must go forward.
My Lords, this is a Government of divide and rule. Although they have not had many successes over the past few months, they have been moderately successful in that. They attack the leftie lawyers and judges who uphold the law, and they attack environmentalists for their common-sense demands of ensuring a safe, secure future for planet and people. Above all, they attack the immigrants, the foreigners, because they hope it will win them votes. I am afraid it does not, and I should have thought, judging from the local election results last week, the Government would know that their policies are not popular any more.
This Bill is one of the worst in a constant stream, a slurry, of bad Bills, and it really needs to go under. I will be voting for the fatal amendment. I understand where Labour is coming from with its idea about improving it, but if we push it back today, it cannot come back for 13 months, which is worth doing because, who knows, this Government could be out of power by then, and Labour would obviously not bring in anything like this.
There are four huge problems, which I will outline. First, the Bill breaks the law. It is not just that this Government are out to break the Geneva convention and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to both of which Great Britain was a founding signatory; it is not just that the Government are trashing a British tradition of welcoming those fleeing war, terror and persecution but it is the ecstatic glee with which the Home Secretary watches the building of barracks in Rwanda and dreams of locking up those who have committed the crime of being desperate and vulnerable.
Theresa May pointed out that we would be encouraging crimes. She said that
“we are shutting the door on victims who are being trafficked into slavery here in the UK”.—[
“This would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud”.
So it breaks laws, international and domestic—so much for the party of law and order.
Secondly, let us put aside for a moment the humanitarian considerations in the Bill, even though the Bill is cruel, inhumane and just plain nasty, and will inflict pain and suffering on thousands of people. Let us be practical. The Bill will not work. The whole thing is dubious in the way it will be operated. Do the Government seriously think that they are going to deport hundreds and thousands of people without protest and opposition? It just will not happen.
The former head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt—the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt—has attacked the Government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda, saying that Rwanda is still living under the “shadow of genocide”. He was in Rwanda as Chief of the General Staff in 2009 and sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on War Crimes, which looks into those who participated in the Rwandan genocide. He has argued that it is
“unwise to send people from all over the world to a nation still recovering from the political violence that ravaged it in the 1990s”.
That sounds like a disorganised country to me; it certainly does not sound safe. Perhaps the Minister could explain his criteria for a safe country. I would argue that, when you face opposition from someone who is a pillar of the establishment, you have a problem.
I am sure that the Government have done their sums on this—including on detention, accommodation, flights, payments to other countries and policing protests —to me, it sounds extremely expensive. I would like to know what the cost is per person if all this works out.
Thirdly, the Bill is the opposite of what the UK needs. These asylum seekers could be a drain on resources—but only if your country is not short of a million workers, which we are. These immigrants are a burden only if you do not let them work and pay taxes. Do they cause longer queues for the NHS in hospitals and GP surgeries? No. In fact, these people seeking a new life are part of the solution to the NHS waiting lists. Dr Waheed Arian, an NHS medic and himself a child refugee and trauma survivor, says:
“It’s immigration that’s keeping the NHS just about alive”.
The Government have fooled some people into thinking that we are full up and that too many resources would be used by asylum seekers but the pressure on our NHS, our schools, our public services and our asylum system is coming from deliberate underfunding and careless privatisation by the Conservative Government. We have an ageing population and not enough young people coming through to pay our pensions or keep the economy functioning. We need immigration.
Fourthly, the Bill breaks our democratic system. This Government try constantly to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of their measures, both with this Bill and with others. They subvert democracy to make it easier to enact laws that would be deeply unpopular, giving power to Ministers when they should really be held to account by Parliament. We have had this argument many times in the past few years, with more and more skeleton Bills coming through that allow Ministers incredible freedom to decide for us all.
The BMA has said that it
“supports the development of a single, fair, humane and effective refugee system, in keeping with our obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including rights to necessary and appropriate health care irrespective of an individual’s route into the UK”.
Before the Minister asks whether we Greens have an alternative, let me say this: well, yes, of course we do. We have a fair and humane refugee and asylum policy, which is the result of a long period of research and is fully costed—possibly unlike the Government’s scheme. Noble Lords should remember that Greens are actually very good on finance and the economy because we have so little money and we spend it extremely wisely.
In short, the Bill is not the solution to any problem. It is impractical, expensive, cruel and undemocratic, with criminal tendencies. It will not work. I suggest that the Government have a rethink.
My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest as someone who has experience of fleeing their home and country of origin.
I share my noble friend the Minister’s desire to see a fair, safe and controlled immigration and asylum system. I am grateful to him for speaking to me about the Bill. However, I do not believe, I am afraid, that the Bill is likely to be successful in its stated goals or is moral at its core.
I have three particular concerns: on modern slavery; on the rule of law; and on our international standing and commitments. First, modern slavery is an area where this party and this Government have led the way in the past. As other noble Lords have already warned, the provision to remove modern slavery protections for migrants is deeply worrying. Our former Prime Minister, Theresa May, who delivered much of our modern slavery legislation, noted that, as it stands, the Bill
“will consign victims to remaining in slavery” and
“will give the slave drivers and traffickers another weapon to hold people in … slavery and exploitation”.—[
It will remove protections from the very people most at risk of being trafficked and force them underground, preventing them from coming forward to report. Rather than providing a deterrent, it would make it harder to identify and prosecute people traffickers who bring people into the United Kingdom illegally.
Secondly, on the rule of law, I am concerned by the limits that the Bill places on judicial oversight, both domestic and international. I am alarmed by any measure that gives the Government unchecked power to detain—including children, reversing a measure implemented by the coalition Government—and deems human rights claims inadmissible in courts. Restricting the oversight and appeal role of the British courts is a worrying precedent. Threatening to ignore judgments of the European Court of Human Rights breaches our international obligations and undermines an important institution that was created by British lawyers in the aftermath of the atrocities of the Second World War and which has been at the forefront of efforts to uphold the rule of law across Europe, including in relation to Russia.
The UN Refugee Agency has been clear that by, in effect, banning asylum claims in the United Kingdom and removing all safeguards on refoulement, the Bill breaches the UK’s international legal obligations under the refugee convention, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and international human rights law, and would significantly undermine the international refugee protection system. It is also worth stressing that the Bill, building on the Nationality and Borders Act, does not only prevent people who arrive on small boats accessing the asylum system; it prevents people who arrive by perfectly safe methods—even those who come with a visa—from claiming asylum. In practice, it closes down the UK’s asylum system.
This feeds directly into my third point, which is about the effect of the Bill on our international commitments and international co-operation. Two months ago, the Integrated Review Refresh 2023 noted that the United Kingdom
“has a higher interest in an open and stable international order … based on respect for the UN Charter and international law”.
It recognised that this
“creates the optimum conditions in which the UK can secure its interests” and
“helps us deal with challenges like migration”.
Undermining the jurisdiction of international courts and ignoring our international legal commitments does not serve our interests. The only way to tackle global, transnational challenges such as immigration is through international law, co-operation and shared responsibility. Leading a race to the bottom where we all try to offload our obligations on to others will not help, bearing in mind that 74% of all refugees worldwide are hosted by low- and middle-income countries with far fewer resources than our nation.
In March, the Home Secretary said that
“there are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws. Let us be clear: they are coming here”.—[
She must be aware that more than half of that population are internally displaced people who have not left their country of origin. Of the 34 million refugees globally, three-quarters are hosted by neighbouring countries. When the alternative is torture, death or starvation, refugees will seek to cross whatever obstacles are placed in front of them. If we want to reduce the pressure on our borders, we need to put more energy into diplomacy, international partnership and co-operation to address the conflicts and other root causes that are forcing people to flee.
Just over a year ago, I led a debate calling for increased support for Ukrainian refugees. I said:
“No one wants to become a refugee or to leave their home; it is a journey of fear, uncertainty, peril and loss”.—[Official Report, 6/4/22; col. GC 295.]
I reflected on the extraordinary support that I received 30 years ago and which I saw being extended by people across the United Kingdom to Ukrainian refugees. I hoped that we could take the lessons learned from our compassionate response to Ukraine. Instead, we face an outright ban on asylum. For most refugees, safe and legal pathways to the United Kingdom do not exist.
We should seek to build an asylum and immigration system based on the rule of law and dignity, of sustainable systems which could be replicated globally. His Majesty’s Government should always defend international law, which makes us all safer, including the right to asylum. We should create the long-promised safe routes for refugees, address the asylum backlog so that decisions are made quickly and firmly but fairly and not arbitrarily, and strengthen international co-operation to reduce the push factors, from climate change to insecurity, which drive people to make perilous journeys in search of safety. That is how we will end the dangerous channel crossings.