My Lords, in the House of Commons there is no party like the party of Marine Le Pen in the Assemblée Nationale, like Alternative für Deutschland or like Vox in Spain. The reason for that is that the House of Commons is a sensitive barometer of public opinion. MPs understand their constituents, and their constituents believe, rightly, that there is a problem of immigration. MPs of all parties know that there is a problem of immigration. That problem has been discussed endlessly today: the problem of perilous journeys across the channel, drownings, traffickers, the gangsters arranging those journeys, the cost of coping with large numbers in this country and the particular pressure on local communities.
It is worth reminding ourselves that that is why the House of Commons sent us this Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said he would not be cowed by that, and I understand what he means, but it is a Bill that has come to this House from the elected House of Commons.
I do not know whether anybody else has said this, but the Prime Minister has been very involved in this Bill. I think that everyone across the House, whatever their party, would agree that he is a man who is serious, clever and decent and does detailed work, so we have to recognise that the Bill deserves very serious consideration
Of course the Bill needs to be scrutinised but, while the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said that he would want to make changes to it, I would have liked him to have gone a bit further and said he would not thwart the Bill or emasculate it. Some people in this House, such as the Lib Dems, would like to kill the Bill. The noble Lord does not, but it is important that the Bill is given a fair wind. It is important that the House approaches the Bill to make it more effective but not to destroy its purpose, but I suspect that that is some of the intention of what might occur in Committee and on Report.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who is not in his place at the moment, has expressed scepticism about the Bill, but he said that we should allow it to go through and see whether the Government can really make it work. That is the right attitude with which to approach the Bill. The point that I am making is simply that we must give it a fair wind.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury. He is a fellow Lancastrian and we always talk common sense, so I think what he said is entirely sensible.
The issue of illegal immigration by small boats, which is central to our discussion today, is not just a UK problem; it is a problem in western Europe. Greece, Italy and Spain, among others, are struggling with it, and no one is finding it an easy problem to resolve.
However, one country has actually cracked it. I refer to Australia. What happened at the beginning of this century was that people came from Papua New Guinea in small boats—quite large boats in some cases—to the northern shores of Queensland. The then Liberal Government decided that the way to tackle that was to pass an amendment to existing migration legislation, not dissimilar from the measures that my noble friend is introducing today, and at the same time establish, radically and newly, an overseas processing centre on the island of Nauru near the Solomon Islands. The boats stopped coming, and that was the end of the matter.
Subsequently a Labor Government came in who, interestingly enough, opposed all this. They dismantled it, and a second wave of boats came through. The Labor Government then changed tack and began to implement the Liberal policies that they had previously opposed, but it was too late: there was a general election, the Liberal Government were returned on a policy of national sovereignty and they produced a more thoroughgoing version of the original policy. As a result, the Labor Government changed their tune, and that policy, which stopped the boats completely, has cross-party support.
On the basis of that, Australia has produced a methodical and rational system of immigration, with total cross-party support, looking at the number of people each year that it wants to allow into the country, including those who want to come in as students, those who want to come for family reasons and those who want to come in to work. It is debated annually—a whole day’s debate in Parliament, rather like the debate we are having at the moment—and then decisions are made and the policies implemented. The numbers can go up and down. The latest interest is that the new Labor Government have decided to increase the level of migration, but within a framework that has solid cross-party support.
I will not pretend that there are not big legal and geographical differences between Australia and this country—obviously that is so—but none the less it is important to look not just parochially at what we do but across the world at what is being done. It seems to me that they have done something very wise that we could well implement. I have talked to them at some length over the past year about how they did it. They stress to me that it was essential, first, that they denied to illegal migrants the possibility of being an asylum seeker and, secondly, that they could then transfer them to the overseas processing centre near the Solomon Islands at great speed. That, in essence, is what we are trying to do here: to turn the situation around very rapidly within the framework of British laws, which are different from Australian laws.
Those who oppose the Government’s policy tend to argue that we need new pathways for legal immigration, and I entirely agree. What we have at the moment is rather unsatisfactory; it is too specific to particular countries and too narrow, and we need to expand it and have a more rational approach. However, the truth is that we need to do that while having policies to deter. We need both. We need—to use a Lancastrian term—a belt-and-braces approach to this issue, otherwise we will not succeed.
I made this point, incidentally, when we had the debate on
There is also a bigger picture that we ought to mention, which sometimes the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, rightly mentions: this is a small number; the big number is the 700,000 or so people who are coming across legally, and we have to have a look at them. I am sure my noble friend Lord Hodgson will elucidate on this in his remarks. We need to look at that bigger picture.
This is a small beginning but, if we can get it right and get public trust back, then we can also tackle the bigger problem.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Horam always talks a lot of good sense, and I am pleased to be able to follow him. The House will be aware that I have a long-standing interest in absolute numbers and whether there is a number that this country can sustain, either permanently or by absorbing it on an annual basis. It is not so much where they come from or who they are; it is just that they are people who make demands on our space, whatever our space may be. It will come as no surprise to noble Lords that a Bill such as this, which in Clause 1 offers the primary objective of restricting illegal migration to this country, has my support and seems to offer a good line of approach.
I am very much aware that this leads to one being described, at best, as heartless. I reject that; I am as aware as any other Member of the House is of the dreadful circumstances in which many citizens of other countries live. Nevertheless, however difficult or painful, we have to set this whole issue in context. Sadly, the debate about levels of migration, which are inevitable as a result of our increased population, has become rather lopsided and dominated by two groups, both of which favour increasing the rate. The first can be described as the moral case, which is the underlying background to a lot of the speeches today; the other is the economic case of people to fill the jobs.
Let me quote from a recent magazine article:
“The left hates talking about immigration because it thinks any kind of controls, anywhere, are racist; the right has been running an economy, in part, dependent on endless reserves of imported labour, which it doesn’t like talking about. However, few things are more corrosive of public trust than pretending a problem isn’t there. Sooner or later the public notices”.
Where did that come from? It is Mr Andrew Marr in this week’s New Statesman. I do not often quote the New Statesman or Mr Andrew Marr with approval, but they have got this bang on the button.
Both arguments have merit, of course, but what is lacking is any counterview expressed on behalf of the 67.3 million people already settled here, 18% of whom come from minority ethnic groups. Their concerns include economic worries, of course, but also a wide range of what I call quality-of-life factors: access to open space; damage to our ecology and our environment; an ability to achieve our climate change goals; our future food and water security; increased pressure on education, health and social services; and the impact on social cohesion generally. In February this year, I commissioned some polling on these points. If any Member of your Lordships’ House would like to see the polling, I will happily send it to them. The polling revealed that across all ages, all social grades, all regions of the United Kingdom and all voting preferences, about 60% were concerned about future population growth, 51% thought that there should be a cap on the level of net migration, and over 60% were concerned that the Government had no plan in place to consider this.
Since the Blair Government first allowed—perhaps encouraged—large-scale migration, the population of the UK has gone up by 8 million people, equivalent to three cities the size of Manchester. As year has succeeded to year, Governments—including my own—have explained away the successively higher figures as a series of one-off events, but these one-off events have kept on coming and the British people have been presented with a series of faits accomplis. If we as a Parliament do not find ways to address these concerns, wilder and less attractive spirits will inevitably begin to make the running.
In addition to the general direction of travel, the Bill begins to address the problem in two specific ways. First, in Clause 51 it institutes, for the first time, a total cap on numbers—a cap which will be drawn up after consultation with local authorities and debated in Parliament. In this connection, I pay a very sincere tribute to Stephen Kinnock, the opposition spokesman in Committee in the House of Commons, who gave the Labour Party’s support to the idea of a cap. Secondly, the Bill offers fairness. There will be no reward or advantage for an economic migrant who gets on a boat to cross the channel and so jump the queue. The British people as a whole are generous but they also place a good deal of reliance on fairness, and the Bill offers this.
The House can take one of two approaches. It can follow the line of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and deny the existence of any problem—or at least, deny its existence if only people like the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, would stop talking about it—and attempt to water down the Bill, so that it becomes ineffective, or it can recognise the deeply held views and concerns of our fellow citizens, and work to ensure that we respond to them.
My Lords, I am following four consecutive Conservative speakers and, with respect, I have more in common with the first of those four, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, than with the subsequent three. The noble Baroness rightly quoted the Statement that the noble Lord, Lord Murray, repeated in this Chamber on
“let us be honest: by some counts 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”.—[
But this was not honest, and the Minister clarified and corrected the record later in the proceedings.
Globally, at the end of 2022 there were 101 million forcibly displaced people around the world, the majority of whom are internally displaced within their own country —support for whom the UK has slashed its humanitarian assistance to by up to 60%. The global figure for those seeking asylum is 4.9 million; they are still not coming here. But the 1% who are seeking it come here against a narrative which, as my noble friend Lady Kramer so eloquently pointed out, states that they have values that are at odds with ours or that they will cannibalise our society. Now we are being asked to ban claims of asylum because of the method of their arrival rather than the merits of their claim.
The House of Commons Library has showed that the percentage of asylum applicants refused at initial decision reached its high point in 2004, at 88%. Since then, the refusal rate has been falling overall and was just 24% in 2022, its lowest point since 1990. Much of this debate has been about saying that we have an emergency crisis now, but we have the most successful level of justified asylum in 30 years. Some on the opposite Benches say that this is because of judicial activism but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, said at the commencement of this debate, we actually have tighter restrictions now than ever.
If you are a young Iranian woman threatened with being poisoned in a college, or a young Sudanese woman fleeing threats of rape by the Wagner Group in Sudan, the Government are now banning you from asylum because there are no safe and legal routes from those two countries. The Government need to be clear that there are no safe and legal routes, but their obfuscation comes time and again. I think the Government find it hard to defend the lack of safe and legal routes; that is why they are obfuscating.
The Minister referred at the start of this debate—he declined to take an intervention from me—to the global scheme, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who I greatly respect, has. He said that the UK scheme for resettlement of vulnerable refugees is open to anyone from around the world. It is operated through the UNHCR, but what the Government do not say is that the Home Office has asked the UNHCR to have that scheme prioritised for Afghans only, therefore limiting it for others.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact did a review and I will quote from its report in March:
“As a result, the UKRS has almost completely ceased processing vulnerable refugees for resettlement to the UK, in effect closing a rare safe and legal route to seek protection in the UK for refugees who do not fall under a nationality-based scheme”.
Not only are we asked, for the first time in our nation’s history, to end the ability to claim asylum, we are reducing UK support in the very troubled areas people are seeking safety from. The Government do not believe that there are consequences for this, either.
I want to raise something not yet mentioned in the debate. In the 1990s, the UK opposed scoring in-country support for refugees as overseas development assistance, but this is allowed for under ODA rules. Ten years ago, this was a negligible amount. In 2021 it made up 9% of all UK ODA. ICAI estimates that now this is one-third, because the Government—unique among all developed nations—are scoring all domestic support under overseas development assistance. This means that we are now, for the first time, spending more overseas aid in the UK than on bilateral programmes addressing the root causes of the issues that we have been debating today. Because of the unlawful 0.5% cuts, this is now capped.
When the Government and the Minister say that the country is “generous and welcome”, I agree with them; it is that. However, if you seek asylum—a shelter in a storm, as Churchill described it—and if you are a child, you will be denied and you will be locked up before you are sent away and we will not even listen to your case.
On “generous”, let me tell the House that, when it came to the Ukraine scheme, the Government quite rightly trumpeted their thank you payments for families of £350, which has now increased, per family hosting Ukrainian refugees. This is scored 100% on overseas development assistance, which means that the Government do not tell the family that the thank you payment has been cut from children starving in the Horn of Africa, or from those who are fleeing conflict abroad.
I think the Government know that the public are not on their side. That is why they are not giving the full picture. This Bill has no moral basis; we should not be legislating for it, and we are causing more damage around the world, which will make the problem even greater.
My Lords, I think we can all agree that this is a complicated and contentious issue that generates strong views. But maybe we can start with a part of the Bill on which there might be some agreement—the Government’s indication that they want to consider opening more safe, legal routes for those in genuine need of asylum in this country. The Bill states that, once it is passed and the number of illegal migrants starts to fall, the Government intend to look at possible new safe routes. An annual cap will be agreed each year, in consultation with local authorities, to determine what capacity there is, which is vital. In the event of any humanitarian emergency, it is made quite clear that the cap can be amended. This is surely as it should be, providing as much safety and support for those having to flee from threats, violence and maltreatment as we have the capacity to manage.
The biggest obstacle to this is the growing number of illegal migrants who arrive here. Some are in lorries, but most are in boats these days. If caught trying to enter the country—many are not—they often claim to be under threat in their home country, when in fact they are economic migrants, intent on taking advantage of what this country can offer. They paid huge sums to people smugglers to get them here, travelling through safe countries on the way—why do they not seek the right to settle in them?—and jumping the queue of those in genuine need who have been waiting their turn to come here.
The number of illegal migrants has quadrupled in the last four years. Last year, around 45,000 illegal migrants arrived by boat. That is slightly more than the equivalent population of two Cirencesters, the town near where I live. If we do not control our borders better, how will we keep finding more and more space every year, equivalent to two Cirencesters, to build extra accommodation for that number of illegal migrants, which is increasing every year?
Meanwhile, we read almost daily in our newspapers about the growing housing shortage. It is becoming a serious problem. Regarding our immigrant numbers in this context, there are those who are here legally and require housing—some 500,000 net over the past seven years—which is a major added pressure. There are also those many thousands who have no legal right to be here. They also have to be accommodated while their claims slowly work their way through the legal system, at huge extra cost and no benefit to the taxpayer. This is an example of how illegal immigration makes it more difficult for this country to make provision for the genuine legal asylum seekers whom we want to support.
We must put the people smugglers who encourage illegal migrancy out of business. Enforcing the new laws laid out in this Bill would permit speedy removal of all those illegal migrants they have brought here. As a result, fewer and fewer passengers would think that what the smugglers offered would be worth the huge amount of money they charged to bring them here. The dangerous risks attached to the journey would not be worth it, either.
The Prime Minister told a news conference back in March that, since a deal was agreed with the Albanian Government to take back Albanian illegal migrants—whom we now fly back promptly—the number of Albanians coming here illegally has fallen significantly. The change in the law to allow the prompt removal of illegal migrants in this country is central to how we go forward. They will either be flown straight back home if safe, or to Rwanda, which has been identified as a suitable alternative if they do not wish to return to their country of origin. Outstanding legal claims to live here in the UK will have to be taken up from where the claimants are resettled.
I would like to echo the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Sandhurst about the proposals concerning modern slavery. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether there is a possibility that those proposals can be reconsidered so that victims of modern slavery already in this country can safely report their condition without being sent home.
Finally, the general purpose of this Bill is to deter illegal migrants from setting out in the first place. No legal entry will be granted, except in special circumstances, to those who have already tried to enter illegally. We must deter them from trying and stop the smugglers making money out of misery. We need to change the law to do so. We cannot leave things as they are.
My Lords, in opening this debate the Minister said:
“Our broken asylum system is costing the country some £3 billion a year”.
I thought I would look up the list of Home Secretaries since
My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has covered the general horrors of this indefensible Bill. I am going to focus on some of the actual people, the individuals, who will be caught by it. They will be subjected to what can only be described as utterly unacceptable, inhumane and abusive treatment.
The Minister in his introduction said that 70% of the children arriving were aged over 16. So they would only spend two years or fewer warehoused here in the UK before it is time for “Happy birthday, your present is a deportation flight”. Of course, that means that 30% of cases will be facing more than two years in that situation of warehousing. For an eight year-old, 10 year- old or a 12 year-old, what would such a situation—the full knowledge of such a fate—do to their health and well-being? That that treatment breaks the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is only a statement of the obvious.
As the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Sugg, and others, highlighted, pregnant refugees are also trapped by this Bill—a small but important victory won by cross-party campaigns in 2016 to exclude them from immigration detention would be wiped out. Their babies will be born into indefinite detention. How long will they stay in that situation? How inhuman are the Government prepared to be?
There are people with mental health conditions and refugees who arrive here with conditions often induced by torture or war, or who develop them as a result of our hostile environment. I have a direct question for the Minister. Has he read the detailed forensic examinations of the impacts of the Bill from the Royal College of Psychiatrists? It quotes the Shaw review, which found that
“immigration detention has a negative impact on detainees’ mental health” and that
“the impact on mental health increases the longer detention continues”.
As many noble Lords have said, there are victims of modern slavery and trafficking. The Royal College report points out how frequently they, understandably, suffer from complex and difficult to treat PTSD. What will indefinite detention or removal to Rwanda do to them?
Picking up on that group, I am indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for some information from an impeccable source—unpublished Home Office information—that shows that there is already an outrageous and persistent slavery-survivor protection gap. Of the 11,137 confirmed cases—I emphasise that figure—of trafficking and modern slavery survivors being referred for consideration for discretionary leave to remain in the six years and nine months between April 2016 and December 2022, only 738, or 7%, have been granted leave to remain. Far from refugees gaming the system, we have a system that is already a lottery, and the Bill takes away any chance for those people to establish a secure life for themselves.
On people who will particularly suffer under the Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, mentioned LGBTQIA+ refugees. Rwanda is not safe for them, and neither are many of the other countries to which they might, theoretically, be shipped.
Some might say that the particularly vulnerable people I have listed are not the majority of refugees who reach our shores by non-orderly means. As the Minister said, the overwhelming majority of arrivals were adult males under the age of 40—that is a fact. They are men like the refugee now settled in Norway, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred. But what do the Benches opposite have against young men? Most of them were young men, once.
I finish with a couple of general points arising from the debate. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, asylum is a collective responsibility of all states, as the UNHCR and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, among many others, pointed out. If other nations followed the Bill’s lead, there would be a breakdown in the international system of refuge. Secondly, again highlighting the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, this is not a small boats Bill; its provisions would affect all who seek refugee status in this country. It is a comprehensive anti-refugee Bill.
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing”.
That is a useful reflection on the amendment to this Motion—the Liberal Democrats’ bid, which has whole- hearted Green backing, to stop the Bill in its tracks now. We have heard all the usual reasons and excuses for why we should not: “We are only a House of review”, or “We are only an unelected House”. I will repeat a question that I put on Part 4 of what is now the police Act, which explicitly targets Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. It is a direct question to those planning to vote against, or abstain on, the amendment on stopping the Bill. Is there nothing you would stop? Where do you draw the line? Surely you have a line.
My Lords, as other speakers said, we now live in an age of mass migration. As my noble friend Lord Hague often says, the population of Africa and the Middle East is expected to increase by about 1 billion people by the middle of this century. Of course this country has benefited over the centuries from immigration, but this is now an increasingly crowded island, with all that that means for our already hard-pressed housing and public services.
For many years, debate on this subject has often conflated economic migrants with genuine asylum seekers, which is why it is absolutely right that the Bill distinguishes legal from illegal migration. This very difficult issue is faced not only by this country, as many noble Lords know—you only have to look at Italy, Greece, France and Germany to see that—and our recent agreements with France and Algeria reflect an important recognition of that reality.
The Government recognise that the current asylum system is not working. As noble Lords heard, there is a backlog of 160,000 cases, more than £2 billion per year is being spent on accommodation, and, apparently, more than 80,000 people have illegally entered the UK since 2018, often having travelled through multiple safe countries to reach the UK, due to our so-called pull factor. So I welcome the Bill, as do a majority of our citizens. It is the Government’s genuine attempt to remedy our current broken system.
Today, we have heard plenty of outrage from various sections of this House but very little by way of alternative workable solutions to this admittedly very difficult problem. As an earlier speaker said, it is about deterrence —to cut off demand from the organised criminal gangs that are gaming and profiteering from our current system —and I agree with that. No doubt the Bill can be improved here, but it should not be mauled unrecognisably; in my view, that would not be understood or accepted by a majority of our citizens.
My Lords, I agree with little in the Bill, other than the broad premise that we must control the dangerous channel crossings and end the business model of the people smugglers. But the term “stop the boats” does not accurately reflect the Bill’s wide-ranging impact on asylum seekers and refugees, whichever mode of entry they take into the UK. This is a hugely complex issue, and it would be good to hear from the Home Office what strategy it is building to identify true need, rather than those wishing just to take advantage of the system, and what efforts are being made to establish safe and legal routes.
The current backlog in processing those already here and the cost to the taxpayer is clearly not acceptable, and it requires resource and efficiency on the part of the Home Office to clear. But if we seek to close our borders to those fleeing persecution without even allowing them a hearing, we are saying that we are outside the principles of international co-operation on which the global refugee system is based. We are in danger of criminalising, incarcerating and forcing statelessness, homelessness and destitution on genuine asylum seekers, many of whom are already traumatised on arrival.
There are 34 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world today, with millions more internally displaced people, and the vast majority are being hosted by countries that border the conflict areas. I have seen the Rohingya refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. I have seen the vast refugee container camps in Gaziantep, on the Turkish/Syrian border, and the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan—a country that has already hosted Palestinian refugees for many decades. International co-operation is key to solving one of the biggest issues that the world faces: the mass movement of people due to conflict but also because of climate change. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees categorically stated that, if the Illegal Migration Bill is enacted in its current form, it would break the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention and significantly undermine the international refugee protection system, which needs support from all members.
We cannot just throw up our hands and opt out of a system that we were front and centre in helping to shape because things have become difficult. Our international reputation must be preserved, because respect from, and collaboration with, the international community is paramount for the future success of Britain. We have always prided ourselves on our sense of fairness and capacity to protect those in need. I hope that we wish to leave this good reputation for future generations: our belief in the moral imperative to be open in minds, hearts and actions.
The Children’s Commissioner, who has a statutory duty to protect the rights of children in England, including those who have arrived in the country fleeing from war and persecution, has stated that the Bill undermines other legislation, such as the Children Act 1989. I say to my noble friend the Minister: let us not forget that it was a Conservative-led Government under David Cameron who ended child detention and quadruple-locked it into legislation in the Immigration Act 2014. The safeguards and protections under that legislation are being removed by the Bill.
The oft-held belief that many claiming to be children are over the age of 18, and thus adults, is flawed, as last year alone 850 children were wrongly assessed as adults and sent to adult accommodation and detention centres, which put them directly in harm’s way. The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium says of the Bill that
“the proposals will leave children locked out of claiming refugee protection; detained; removed; if unaccompanied, accommodated by the Home Office outside the established care system; if a victim of trafficking or child of such a victim, unprotected; and denied their citizenship rights. Children will be left in limbo for years, unable to access any form of status or to rebuild their lives”— and, I add, with the very real threat of being deported to Rwanda when they reach the age of 18. These most vulnerable young people are affected at a time in their lives when there are deep and lasting consequences. Similarly, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 enacted under another Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, is also compromised by the Bill.
In addition, some of the language used in the other place while debating the Bill has been deeply unhelpful; in fact, I am dismayed by the narrative that the Home Office has adopted. Stigmatising and stereotyping people, wherever they come from and under whichever circumstances, will do little to advance our aim to manage this most difficult issue. We all wish to see prosperity and security for our country but, I hope, with our principles and values intact. We must be on the right side of doing the right thing. The disquiet and discomfort that so many of us feel, whether we can adequately articulate it or not, is indicated by how many of us are participating at Second Reading. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take note.
My Lords, the more I listen to the debate—and particularly to my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew—the more strongly I am convinced that the Bill is morally questionable, legally doubtful and totally unworkable.
Setting to one side these wider challenges with the Bill, I will focus attention on the impact it would have on minors, whether accompanied or not. As we have heard, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, the Bill proposes that these children, if not immediately deported, may be accommodated by the Home Office outside the established care system. On reaching the age of 18, they will be deported to a third country, with which they most likely have no existing ties, and will face a lifetime ban from entering Britain. Accompanied children who are not given the right to remain will also be barred from the UK for life.
Despite this disproportionate punishment for the children, I do not believe that it would even act as a deterrent, even though the Minister said that the purpose of the Bill is supposed to be as a deterrent. People desperate enough to take to the boats will not be put off by a punishment that would be enacted many years into the future. To quote the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium:
“The Bill also undoes a decade’s worth of progress made under the Conservative government, reversing the ending of child detention and protections for child victims of trafficking”.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, complained that no one is providing solutions, but neither is the Bill a solution. It will not solve the migration crisis; it will just add to the massive backlog of cases waiting to be processed. I agree with my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard that the solution can be found in centres in France.
As we all know, there is a growing illegal migration crisis. We all know that something needs to be done about it, but to attempt a solution that penalises children is misguided in the extreme. This is not how a civilised society treats the most vulnerable.
My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to be part of a debate in your Lordships’ House, which, no matter which side one stands on the issue, marks the breadth of the expertise and opinion in this Chamber. I respect that expertise as well as the strength of feeling on the Bill from all sides. That strength of feeling exists because this House reflects the public debate taking place outside of Parliament. I will speak in support of the progress of the Bill, not because I take some pleasure in ever-more stringent asylum policy, but—and perhaps to answer the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—because I want to secure safe and legal routes based on humanitarian need; that provides a moral imperative for the Bill to succeed and to be improved.
Public policy must always rely on a contract with, and consent from, the British people; without that consent, the Government are powerless. The Government should be able to articulate the values of this country in welcoming humanitarian refugees in a constant, evolving policy based on humanitarian need. At the moment, this country’s asylum policy is in a state of stasis, or, at best, a reactive state; it is a reactive policy that requires a public response before the Government will act. A totemic tragedy, namely the shock when the body of two year-old Alan Kurdi washed up, galvanised the Government to institute a resettlement policy of 20,000 Syrians. Likewise, the Ukrainian and Hong Kong resettlement schemes, of which we are all proud, have both been implemented fully because of public consent and reaction. Meanwhile, the Afghan scheme for resettlement, which seemed so important to everyone in August 2021, seems to have stalled quite dramatically in its initial aims.
This start/stop policy of bespoke schemes does not represent the values or implementation of a truly humanitarian policy blind to race or geopolitics. Why do we think that our policy has fallen into this stop/start approach to asylum, and away from universal legal routes? The first reason is the failure of our asylum bureaucracy and the lack of resource to process claims. The Prime Minister is prioritising that process with extra staff and support, and that is to be welcomed. Backlogs not only create needless anxiety for those seeking asylum but destroy public confidence in the system.
That public confidence is, I am afraid, why this legislation is required. From 300 asylum seekers arriving in small boats in 2018, we have now reached 45,000. The toxin of this seeming lack of control and unfairness then denigrates all asylum seekers across the world. For those of us who want to ensure safe legal routes based on humanitarian need, it is very difficult to find the public consent necessary to permeate public policy beyond the bespoke schemes I have already discussed. Before 2018, there was an opening after the success of the Syrian resettlement scheme for wider schemes in conjunction with the UNHCR, but that discussion and debate has been paralysed by illegal crossings pushed by the malevolent people traffickers.
I accept that the Government must make every effort to stop the boats if we are to see an expansion of the legal routes on a humanitarian basis, which the vast majority of us in your Lordships’ House want to see. If we do not use all legislative tools at our disposal and rebuild public confidence, I do not believe that any Government, Conservative or Labour, or even a Labour/Lib Dem amalgam, will be able to fully implement a humanitarian legal route process with public consent. I hope my noble friend the Minister will be able to put further flesh on the bones of this legal route process to maximise support in this House.
As well as the survey of accommodation of local authorities to identify their cap, I ask that the Government give further commitments to work with the UNHCR, and that that work forms part of the regular statement that the Home Secretary lays before Parliament. I want a commitment to be given, as we progress the Bill, that routes will be identified to offer asylum to humanitarian asylum seekers, wherever they come from in the world. Transparency in a new process will provide the sunshine and hygiene required to build public confidence and rebuild pride in our humanitarian policy in this country. That is not to say that in the future there will not need to be bespoke policies responding to crises across the world, but they cannot be the basis for our asylum policy.
There are always going to be vulnerable people who will not have the media focus required to launch a bespoke scheme in this country. There must be a credible answer to the question Tim Loughton MP asked the Home Secretary at the Home Affairs Select Committee on routes for those outwith—to use a good Scottish word—the bespoke schemes. The Government will have to provide further assurance to get more support in your Lordships’ House. This Bill is sadly necessary if we are to help the most vulnerable across the world. I will not be able to support the fatal amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, later. Were it to be successful, I fear that the very people who need us to act for them would see safe and legal routes at the scale required becoming an ever more distant prospect.
My Lords, it is a bit much being lectured on what is and is not constitutional when this Bill, like so many other recent Bills, impinges on what ought to be the rights and duties of devolved Administrations. It is further evidence that the UK Government would happily undo the arrangements of the past 20-plus years and reduce or remove the powers of the other Parliaments. They might not be quite as ready as the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who is not in his place at this point, when he wrote recently on devolution that it was time to stop. His criticism was that the electors in Wales and Scotland kept voting for the wrong parties.
The spur towards devolution was the fact that, for many years, Scotland and Wales rejected the Conservative Party but had no way of mitigating the impacts of Westminster legislation until the referendums in 1997. The difference between the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the UK Government has never been as stark as in their approach to people seeking sanctuary through asylum and immigration. On this issue, the Conservative Party has no support outside—or outwith—its own ranks, and even many of them must be mortally embarrassed.
The rights established by the European Convention on Human Rights are written into Scotland’s devolution settlement and have been fundamental to the work of the Scottish Parliament over 20 years. The convention’s incorporation provides fundamental safeguards which ensure that, in Scotland, executive powers cannot be abused. Scottish Ministers cannot act in a way that is incompatible with the convention, and all its legislation must be compatible.
I think there is a consensus in this Chamber that the Bill will breach the convention and leave the Scottish Parliament in an invidious position under international law. Those involved in human rights in Scotland have described the Bill as creating an urgent human rights emergency. The Scottish Refugee Council condemns it as “morally repugnant” and “practically unworkable”, saying it
“will have severe impacts on women, men and children seeking safety”.
JustRight Scotland describes the Bill as “cruel, unnecessary and unlawful” and says it
“condemns people to living a life in limbo and strips them of all support”.
The Government’s delegated powers memorandum makes it clear that the functions of local authorities in respect of looked-after children are a devolved matter. This is recognised in Clauses 15 to 18, which state that they apply only in England, but there is a very real threat contained in Clause 19, which states that the Secretary of State may make regulations in future enabling Clauses 15 to 18 to apply in the devolved Administrations, again using secondary legislation. Clauses 23 and 24 will remove duties and powers that currently oblige the devolved Administrations to provide support and assistance to victims of trafficking and their families, including children. Instead, it will attempt to compel devolved nations to violate the duties set out in international law. This is contrary to Scottish legislation, as set out in the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015.
In almost all other countries, this Bill could not be tabled, as it breaches treaty obligations and is contrary to basic human rights. If the UK had a written constitution, this would be unacceptable. If the powers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were protected, this would not be allowed to happen. Under this Government, we are experiencing endless Bills that contravene natural justice and encroach on devolved powers. At some point, we have to say that this must stop. This Bill should be where we draw the line and say, “Not in our name”.
My Lords, one of the advantages of speaking relatively late on in a debate such as this is that it affords one the opportunity to hear so many contributions from noble Lords and the passionate positions that many, quite understandably, have. On the whole, this debate has been conducted in a very even-handed way, and I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on setting the tone right at the outset. A debate such as this was always going to be emotional and controversial—on that, at least, we can all agree.
Having looked at the fatal amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I will not be supporting it, although I think it includes some interesting points. I believe that the proper place for the Bill to go is Committee, where it can be properly scrutinised and, where necessary, improved. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who said that your Lordships should not be cowed or intimidated by the other place. It is surely our role to do exactly what we are about to do, otherwise it seems to me that we have no point at all—I do not think we need ChatGPT to tell us that. That having been said, I entirely concur with the view of my noble friend Lord Sherbourne, who pointed out that the Bill, with amendments, has already gone through the other place and is a key part of the Government’s policy to stop the boats. We should bear that in mind as we go into Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is in his place, spoke about one of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has in his fatal amendment, at paragraph (4), about the failure
“to include measures to eliminate the backlog of asylum cases”.
I want to press my noble friend the Minister on this, because it seems to me that this is one of the worst problems confronting us today. Our inability to process those who are already here is a stain on our national character, leaving many of them in a kind of no man’s land, waiting for their future to be decided in conditions that, frankly, in some places are deplorable. Is it because of the legal challenges that are mounted every time a case comes up and, if so, how will this Bill change that? Is it the incompetence of those tasked with processing this? Is it a lack of resources? If so, can the Minister commit to more resources, as any Bill should address those who are already here?
Point 5 in the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is on the failure to include measures to tackle people smuggling gangs. The whole idea of this Bill is that there will be no need for such gangs if we can get it out there that, once you come here illegally, you will not be able to come here again. However, we need to make sure that that message goes out loud and clear. I remember that the Foreign Office was tasked with endless campaigns all around the world to bring the human trafficking Bill to the public’s attention in the localities where it was based. Once this Bill becomes law, as I believe it will, the Foreign Office will be tasked once more with pointing out all around the world that if people come here illegally then they will not be able to stay.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us of the huge increase in the number of displaced people. Many millions more are anticipated by 2050 as a result of climate change or conflict. We see today what is happening in Sudan. If climate change gets worse, whole swathes of sub-Saharan Africa will become uninhabitable. We talk about the difference between internally displaced people and displaced people; I submit that, if they cannot live somewhere, soon those internally displaced people will have to seek lives elsewhere, creating huge migratory pressures.
The result of all this is that it is incumbent on us to have a fair and enforceable migration policy. Frankly, nothing I have heard this afternoon or since we started this debate suggests that any of those criticising this Bill have come up with a credible, workable alternative. We are left with a policy that is fair neither to those already here nor to those seeking to come here through legal channels. It is manifestly not fair to anyone.
The Greens seem to have something against Rwanda. Those of us who went there for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last year saw a very different country to that depicted by some whose knowledge of the country may be a little second-hand or out of date. It is known as the Switzerland of Africa; I believe it is well placed to receive asylum seekers. I would like to tease out from my noble friend the Minister a little more on the deal with Rwanda and what discussions the Government have had with its Government about the guaranteed freedom of people whom we are sending there and their ability, once they are there, to return to their homelands if that is what they seek to do.
For too long as a country, our successive Governments have shirked our responsibilities by failing to enact a fair and enforceable policy on asylum and migration. Difficult and controversial though aspects of this Bill certainly are, it is a positive move to address this. I therefore welcome the Bill and will support it. If not this, then what?
My Lords, I too fully support this necessary Bill. I thank the trade unions UNISON and the RMT for their briefing. I have noticed over the years that the Labour Party no longer seems to mention unions; it may be a bit embarrassed that it might win the next election and God knows what it would do with this Bill. This week it has backpedalled a bit on what it might do with legislation that our Government are passing.
It has struck me that so much of this debate has been about refugees and not much about the people who live in Britain. They are not racist or dislike people, but this is a matter of democracy; the people of Britain are fed up to the back teeth with a Government who appear unable to control the boats. It is as simple as that. They are not against legal migration or immigration, but they fail to understand how we can have a Government who cannot manage to stop a dinghy in the middle of a bit of sea. In many ways, this is a matter of democracy and fairness to many people. The people who have welcomed refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan have done so because they see them as legitimate refugees. These people are not.
We have heard a lot about international obligations. We had an international obligation to the European Union, but the people revolted against it. There are all sorts of international obligations—to NATO, the Council of Europe and the United Nations. While we are at it, I remind noble Lords that Churchill, who is always quoted as being for the Council of Europe, was basically pretty disinterested in it. All the work on it was done by Ernie Bevin, the Labour Foreign Secretary. Churchill showed virtually no interest in the Council of Europe, but he did admittedly read a couple of speeches which I doubt he understood. Let us get away from this idea that Churchill and Maxwell Fyfe were the great godfathers of international co-operation, which cannot be broken.
Time has moved on. The refugee system set up in the late 1940s was to deal with the forcible removal of citizens of German background from Poland and Czechoslovakia. It had nothing to do with migration from Africa or anywhere else like that. In my earlier years in this House, I sat on the EU External Affairs Sub-Committee, until the Whips decided to get rid of me. One of the things we looked at was Operation Sophia, the EU operation on migrants. The sub-committee titled its report Operation Sophia: A Failed Mission, because it found that we could not control the boats in the Mediterranean.
My main worry about this Bill is not that it is too stringent but that it will not work. The key to making it work is that the Government must somehow find a way of stopping the boats. It is as simple as that. If you cannot get across the channel, you will not try, but if you are told that you will wait for 10 years before being deported, of course you will come across, because you will think, “Oh, well, there’ll be a couple more government changes before then. They’ll probably get fed up and run out of money, and we’ll all be allowed to stay”. I say to the Minister that the key to this is working out a way of stopping the boats. Unlike Australia, we do not have a nearby island on which we can put people. We could try Ascension Island, but I do not think there is anything much closer. We have to make it clear that there is no future in landing in the UK.
On the two unions I mentioned, we must make it clear that the legislation will not give powers to anyone to ask social care workers, UNISON workers or railway workers to perform illegal acts. They cannot be subject to being asked to do things that are in any way dubious. I hope an indemnity will be written in for them if they are.
I am pleased to support this Bill. I hope it works, but the key is to stop the boats crossing the channel.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the wisdom of my noble friend Lord Balfe.
Defence of the realm is the first duty of government, so this Bill is essential if unpalatable. Without control over our own borders, Parliament, lawmaking and evidence-based policy become side-shows. It is not dehumanising for our Government to strain every sinew to stop the boats; we do not want anyone else dying in a flimsy boat in our waters. This trade is doing untold harm to our country as well as to those putting family fortunes and precious lives into the hands of people smugglers. What is being traded is not simply money for unsafe passage; it is also our physical and social infrastructure.
Many speaking against today’s Bill habitually, and rightly, hold this Government to account for lack of housing and access to essential services—particularly children’s social care but also family doctors, education and everything else our people rely on for quality of life. Can I ask my noble friend the Minister if he can provide any detail as to the current strain on children’s social services? Are there any projections of how this could worsen without action?
One of the first rules of economics is that wants are unlimited but resources to satisfy them are limited. The basic instinct of many here is to scoop up the dispossessed, especially vulnerable children, and give them the benefits of living in Britain. However, whilst we might want to do that, we need to pay attention to the electorate. It is not pandering to ask what people who voted for this Government want Ministers to prioritise; over two-fifths said their second-greatest concern, after the cost of living, is illegal migration routes such as small boats; more than those who said NHS waiting lists.
We are heading in the right direction in an incredibly difficult area of social policy, but we cannot be half-hearted. The small boats’ business model is ruthlessly pursued; therefore, this Bill must not be so watered down that the loopholes are big enough to drive an armada through.
The electorate are not closet little Englanders—and I choose my words carefully. Scotland has taken a disproportionately low number of asylum seekers, while England has stepped up to accept most of those entering through safe and legal global routes, on which we have a proud recent record.
We are certainly not ducking out of the United Nations refugee convention and the UK’s international responsibilities. As we have heard, our country-specific routes have provided refuge for 150,000 people from Hong Kong, 160,000 Ukrainians and 25,000 Afghans forced to flee the Taliban. Another 50,000 people have come to the UK via non-specific country routes, including through the family reunion route for those with a qualifying family member in the UK. Yet, as we have heard, 74% of illegal arrivals are adult males, many of whom came directly from safe countries such as Albania, and all travelled through safe countries such as France where they should have claimed asylum.
Neither are the electorate heartless, but they are concerned about the £6 million daily cost of housing illegal migrants, and other expenses like the manpower needed to deal with them. I am in and out of prisons, and one reason they find it hard to maintain staffing levels is that Border Force absorbs so many of their trained officers.
As mentioned earlier, people are particularly concerned about the already stretched social services backdrop for British children, such as the lack of foster carers and other pressures, which mean that many are placed far from home in residential settings. Those who argue that unaccompanied children should automatically become looked after by local authorities and certainly not be sent back need to be wide-eyed about the knock-on effect this is already having. Children who are sent on ahead to benefit from the British system further strain our social care infrastructure and make it even harder to address current failings.
Commons amendments mean that return happens only if unaccompanied children’s countries of origin are safe, or they are to be reunited with their parents. Putting it bluntly, if parents are not dissuaded from sending their unaccompanied children on these boats, smugglers will likely focus their trade on this new area of weakness. The vast majority of illegal migrants are not pregnant women and children, but that could change if we do anything to provide a magnet to attract them; we cannot tread so timidly as to be ineffectual.
Every day, people on the coast are dealing directly with this growing problem of illegal migrants, who have to be housed and medically treated, sometimes as a result of their perilous journey. I am sure this Bill will attract an abundance of amendments, but these should not be laid cynically to prevent progress on small boats before the next election. We, and the electorate, need action this day.
My Lords, it is good that one thing seems to unite the whole House, and that is the fact that we all deplore the backlog and agree on the need for it to be addressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned all of the Conservative ex-Home Secretaries who were responsible, but going back much further during the 13 years of the Labour Government we had exactly the same problem—I remember as a constituency MP this was one of the issues that came up time after time.
I will be supporting this Bill in its Second Reading tonight and will be opposing the wrecking amendment. It is important that the convention to allow government Bills to have a Second Reading is adhered to, no matter how strongly we may feel about the legislation. We will all have the right to amend this Bill—as normal, we can table amendments and vote on them— and I may put down some amendments myself. For me, the principal aim of this legislation is to act to stop the small boats coming here in the first place.
Around 18 months ago, I had a three-hour debate here on migrants, sadly on the day that 27 lives were lost crossing the channel, and much was said then about how that could never be allowed to happen again. Since then, the numbers coming over on dinghies have escalated: in 2021 when I spoke, around 28,500 people had come through already; in 2022, there were 45,755; and, from 2018 until now, nearly 100,000 people have arrived at Dover. It is legitimate to say that our country has lost control of our own borders—certainly that is what the public think when they look at the pictures on television.
Some of these new arrivals—not many, but some—have been identified as a terrorist threat, and many have disappeared with us having no idea where they have gone to or what they are up to. The security of our own country must be a priority of government, and so must the social cohesion of our communities. Moving hundreds of mainly young men—I often think “Where are all the women?”—into areas where they will not be able to intermix is a recipe for problems. The public are not stupid, nor are the vast majority prejudiced against genuine asylum seekers, but they see at first hand the impact on their community and know that it is unsustainable.
I visited Dover two years ago to see for myself how the arrivals are processed. We cannot ignore the fact that the way we treat arrivals is far superior to what happens in France or elsewhere. Therefore, we cannot ignore that there is a pull factor to the United Kingdom; otherwise, I cannot see why so many want to leave the safe countries that they have come to in order to come here. Of course, there are some with family connections, but we already operate a system that would allow legal entry for them—maybe that can be looked at to make it better.
Those who manage the boats—the people smugglers —are well acquainted with what happens in our own country. They know that there are at least five different avenues to challenge a negative asylum claim result, and if all that fails, another asylum claim can simply be launched in a fresh application. Then we see that when someone who commits a hideous crime such as murder here is being deported, one of the many agencies will assemble a mass of MPs, and probably noble Lords, to stop the deportation—all of which is usually paid for by public money and legal aid. We cannot go on with people being allowed to bring multiple claims and judicial reviews. It is a lawyers’ paradise, but it is the hard-working British taxpayer bearing the cost.
Making it clear, as the Bill does, that if you come here illegally you will not be considered for asylum and that you will be deported will be a deterrent. I want to see fulfilled the commitment given by the Home Secretary that, once the small boats have been stopped, the Government will look at more safe and legal routes for genuine asylum seekers. I want that to happen, and we will keep an eye on this to make sure that it does. However, we really need to differentiate between economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Even if some noble Lords do not differentiate, the public do, and that is what is important. It is also important to note that people have complained about the language used by some Ministers. Sometimes the language used by people supporting the Bill—who are making some quite rational and sensible points—is then almost portrayed as racist. We have to be careful about our language just as much.
In my view, the reality is that only tough and unambiguous legislation will stand any chance of succeeding and dissuading people from risking their lives by jumping into dinghies and heading for Britain in the expectation that, once here, they will be permitted to stay. We have to send a signal that we are not an open door, and that we will not continue to allow the industry of lawyers making millions from the whole asylum system to continue. The Government are unwise, I think, to seek to give the impression that the Bill will solve all our illegal immigration problems—it will not. However, it certainly is a start, and we have to try. The Bill is now with us, and with some improvements, it should be supported.
My Lords, “Stop the boats” is a worthy aim, and the Prime Minister is right to consider it a priority of the Government, but the Bill as currently written will not achieve it. Let me assure my noble friend straightaway that, although I have great concerns about this text, I will not be opposing the Bill’s Second Reading today. My concerns are numerous, and my probing questions require some clear answers from my noble friend. My remarks are made partly from my background as an Immigration Minister in the UK, partly as a former spokesperson in the European Parliament, and partly as a lawyer—not a lefty lawyer.
I begin by telling my noble friend that the ways chosen by the Government to alleviate the undoubted suffering of persecuted people fleeing tyranny will have the opposite outcomes to those suggested, and in implementation they will both break solemn laws and treaties and provide greater sustenance to the real criminals—the people traffickers and smugglers—who should be our first targets. The number of detected human trafficking offences has increased substantially in recent years, and we must not allow them to profit from vulnerable people. Why are we not doing more to catch these real criminals, some of whom are here in the UK?
As a lawyer, my noble friend must understand that I will never vote in favour of our Government breaking the law—and I trust that it is the same situation for him. The Government have claimed that they have taken advice from the “finest legal minds” in this country. Can he please name these fine legal minds? To clarify, I am satisfied, as is the UNHCR and other organisations, that no asylum seeker per se can be illegal. There is a clear difference, as my noble friend ought to know, between migrants who come here illicitly or deceitfully and are in breach of our tight Immigration Rules, and asylum seekers who present here and claim asylum under the strict criteria of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. In the first case, those who break our Immigration Rules should and must be deported speedily. In the second case, applicants for asylum should be quickly put to proof that they meet the fundamental criteria to be granted refuge. If they cannot, they should then be returned to whence they came.
When I was the Minister in 1996, I committed extra resources to the removal process, because I believed that our system must be seen by our people as firm but fair. We had to sometimes apply pressure on foreign Governments to achieve that. Those who succeeded in complying or proving their status were afforded the traditional and vital hospitality that this country was, until now, noted for. The Government are instead trying to recategorise asylum seekers as themselves being criminals, before their cases are even heard. They are using extreme rhetoric and, in implementing their Rwandan scheme, flagrantly ignoring laws—not only the 1951 refugee convention but other international agreements and, of course, the European Convention on Human Rights.
Regarding the Rwanda scheme, the Bill sets out to diminish the UK courts’ powers to suspend deportation and sets a dangerous precedent about the way in which they look at judicial review. As a lawyer, can my noble friend really defend this behaviour? When he replies, can he please give us the precise details of that part of the agreement which obliges the UK to take Rwandan asylum seekers back here? I refer him to section 16 of the memorandum of understanding.
Changes to the Bill were made in the House of Commons. Some were made in deference to extreme demands; one was also made relating to the issue of safe and legal routes to this country for asylum seekers. We are all aware of those routes, which come from UN programmes. Indeed, I was the Minister responsible for that from Bosnia in 1996. We are also aware of special UK programmes from favoured countries. Noting the wish of the Government to have an annual limit on such arrivals, how can my noble friend describe what the new arrangements might look like? The concession in the Commons does not really give us much to go on.
All UK embassies and consulates, in my view, should be a potential application post for entry where processing can take place. That is the least we should accept. Of course, the Foreign Office maintains a list of safe countries, and I accept that it will be more difficult for those from such countries to meet the criteria for asylum, but the opportunities for applicants must be spread across our presence, wherever in the world it might be. We need to increase our resources to deal with cases quickly.
Let us go back, finally, to the channel and the boats. I was a drafter of the Dublin agreements when we were in the EU; they at least made it easier to send back asylum seekers within the law. Since we have left the EU, we must rely on bilaterals with our neighbours. I welcome our discussions with the French, but these need to go further, with good will on both sides. Breaking international law certainly will not help. We also need to become reassociated with new EU initiatives to handle the large number of migrants who try to enter the Schengen area every year. Together, we have a better chance of achieving this.
There are various ways in which we can bring about change to protect lives and our borders at the same time, but that does not include breaking international law; leaving the European Convention on Human Rights; curtailing the powers of the UK courts; criminalising innocent victims; and harming as a result our race and community relations in the UK, which a lot of us have worked so hard over many years to improve.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, who made one of the best speeches we have had in this debate. He made it very clear why this is a bad piece of legislation.
“Across Europe, we live in times in which feelings that so many of us had thought outdated now appear to be re-emerging and spreading”. Pope Francis spoke those words when he reflected on the rising tide of intolerance on our continent. He went on to talk about the feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups who are judged to be different based on their ethnicity, nationality or religion. Britain will face a state of moral decline if bigotry, intolerance and hatred feel at home in our country. Intolerance of people because they are different will dehumanise our society.
Recently, we have seen politicians stoking up intolerance of refugees and migrants, but the Britain of my lifetime has been a beacon of freedom, tolerance and justice, and that is how I want it to remain. British people have actively built links across communities, challenging hatred, welcoming refugees and standing up for those who are victimised. I believe we have seen no greater evidence of this harmony, tolerance and community than the scenes we have witnessed across the country in the last few days following the Coronation of the King and Queen.
It is a privilege to sit in this place, but with that privilege goes a duty not to allow vile ideals to grow and spread without challenge. The great social reformer Leo Abse MP, who was a dear friend of mine, once said: “Tolerate everyone, tolerate everything, but never ever tolerate the intolerant”.
I believe we must seek to resolve the issue of migrants crossing the channel in small boats. Several of us from this House and the other place raised this matter when we met French parliamentarians in July, and we urged them to press their Government to work with ours to find a common approach and see what we can do. But I very much regret that this piece of populist legislation is no answer and will solve nothing. Rather, it will stoke up ill-feeling towards some of the most vulnerable and desperate people on the planet—refugees—and all for short-term gain. I ask the architect of this Bill to do one thing: to heed the words of Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who said:
“History is apt to judge harshly those who sacrifice tomorrow for today”.
My especial concern about this Bill is the awful impact it will have on unaccompanied migrant children. These refugee children not only have need of our protection but are entitled to it, because we have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet across our continent, the health and well-being of unaccompanied refugee children is being compromised, as I well know from a report I did when I was a member of the Council of Europe. Thousands of refugee youngsters are suffering; they are being abused, they are being trafficked, they are self-harming, and there is plenty of evidence that some are taking their own lives.
We must challenge those using toxic rhetoric about migration and displaying intolerance and prejudice which violates basic human rights. Political point-scoring about refugees, most especially refugee migrant children, should not be allowed to deny these children the help they need.
We should all be concerned about this Bill, because the Government do not have a good record of dealing with unaccompanied migrant children. Some 4,500 unaccompanied migrant children, some as young as 10, have been placed in hotels; 200 have gone missing and have not been seen again. Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 gives local councils alone statutory child protection powers, which include caring for unaccompanied migrant children. It does not give such powers to the Home Office.
There appears to be no legal basis for placing unaccompanied children in hotels operated by the Home Office. I twice attempted to discover which Act of Parliament has allowed the Government to do this; indeed, I asked the Minister last week. It is a simple question, and I ask it again: which Act of Parliament allows the Government to put these children in hotels?
This Bill will make the plight of unaccompanied migrant children even worse, denying them the right to claim refugee protection and making provision for them to be detained; and it will allow them to be removed from this country, despite their being youngsters unaccompanied by an adult. Is the United Kingdom seriously going to deport traumatised, in-need and unprotected children? If we do, shame, shame, shame on us.
My Lords, there is a legitimate debate to be had about how the UK manages its borders, and like every other noble Lord here, I have opinions on that too. However, it should exclude those who are already subjected to abuse through the heinous crime of modern slavery.
“It has always been important to separate modern slavery from immigration status”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23; col. 809.]
Regrettably, this Bill brings modern slavery into the heart of the immigration debate through Clauses 21 to 28, and it is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
The UK has had a proud record of seeking to protect victims, prevent modern slavery and prosecute traffickers—the three Ps, based on the UN Palermo Protocol. I am pleased to say that the Bill I introduced in 2013 in Northern Ireland, which passed in 2015, has played its part. It is therefore with great sadness and dismay that I contemplate the outcome of this Bill for victims across the United Kingdom and in Northern Ireland particularly. The Bill does not measure up to the three Ps: we are not protecting victims and we cannot prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, without which we cannot prevent exploitation.
The modern slavery strategies of the devolved nations will go up in smoke, without any consultation, and the ability to care for victims under devolved legislation is undermined by the Bill. The Minister may say that these measures are necessary to prevent abuse. We heard that last year in the debate on Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Act, which came into effect only at the end of January. We know that, since then, the number of victims who have received a reasonable grounds decision has plummeted. In the last quarter, where the Home Office’s new guidance applied for two out of the three months, only 49% of adults received a positive reasonable grounds decision, compared with 87% in 2022.
I expect the Minister might refer in summing up to the number of people who are referred into the NRM from immigration detention. The Minister, in response to a PQ tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, argued that it was individuals arriving by small boats who are referred from detention who are abusing the system. No one self-refers into the NRM; it is first responders who refer, based on evidence of exploitation.
Of course, we do not want people abusing the system. However, the number of people who are referred from detention is small, relative both to the number of people who come across the channel and to the number referred into the NRM. The Home Office admits that the number of decision-makers has not kept up with referrals, leading to long delays in decision-making.
All this leads me to conclude that Clauses 21 to 28 are disproportionate and will negatively impact genuine victims. I hope that the Minister will update the House on how many referrals there have been from detention in the first quarter after the NBA reforms.
Finally, I come back to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is of the view that the EU trafficking directive rights still apply to victims in Northern Ireland under the protocol. The Government have argued—wrongly, in my opinion—that they can deprive victims of support on public order grounds under the European convention against human trafficking. In Northern Ireland, victims have another recourse: Article 11 of the trafficking directive. I hope the Minister will address this issue as he sets out the Bill’s impact on victims in the devolved Administrations.
My Lords, it is no easy matter to follow so many of your Lordships, who have raised some difficult and problematic questions about the Bill. Can it, as it aims, prevent and deter migration, particularly by unsafe and illegal routes? Does it comply with UK and international law? Some noble Lords have raised interesting questions in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in wanting to see it gone.
I agree that this is a tough and apparently uncompromising measure: not only does it oblige the Home Secretary to detain and remove those arriving in breach of immigration controls, it prohibits a challenge on human rights or asylum-seeking grounds, disapplies some modern-day slavery protections, and bans those subject to Clause 2 from gaining immigration or citizenship status in future. It also seeks, as your Lordships have pointed out, to avoid the prospect of our own courts or the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg holding up removal.
However, the Bill is necessary and proportionate on a number of grounds: for the functioning of our democracy under the rule of law—laws made in Westminster; to take account of the changed circumstances since the 1950s and the new character of immigration into Europe in general; and for the effective working of the asylum system, as so many of your Lordships wish.
Our laws are made in Parliament. Our judges apply them and, where necessary, interpret them, but ultimately Parliament, not the judiciary, must legislate. It does so on the authority of the people, who vote and choose a Government with a particular mandate. The voters have made it clear on a number of occasions that they want the borders controlled, and on this Bill, the House of Commons has given strong backing, with a majority, as has been said, of around 60 in most Divisions. I follow some noble Lords in saying that it is not for this Chamber to reverse the direction of policy backed by voters, the Government and MPs, but of course there will be room to improve the measure.
Circumstances and costs have changed significantly since the pioneering agreements about which your Lordships have spoken so illuminatingly. Not only has international travel risen to mass proportions, but the costs of immigration have also risen, far beyond what we could have imagined in those pioneering days when Parliament first debated Beveridge’s blueprint for the welfare state. Then, in 1943, the premise was that benefit, and the benefit system, would depend on individual contribution. Each individual paid a contribution and benefit was linked to it, although there was discretionary provision for exceptional assistance. By 1951, the year of the convention, potential deviation from the contributory principle, even over such a thing as a qualifying period for old age pension, was a most serious matter of debate.
Today, the system is significantly different. It is more expensive and far more reliant on tax funding, with higher expectations for social security, healthcare and education. As families struggle to pay the bills, it is right to tackle the rising costs of illegal migration, for which we are all paying through an increased tax base for that and other things. I need not remind your Lordships that the UK is now at almost its highest tax extraction since the Second World War.
This is not a UK problem alone: the small boats may be, but not the general problem of people wanting to settle in western European countries. Already, as has been mentioned, Rule 39 of the European Court Rules is being reconsidered and reviewed, with representations from a number of member states. Although I wish the Government well with their transfer arrangements, there is less appetite for transfer or return agreements than may have existed 20 years ago. Immigration has moved centre stage in all our neighbouring countries. In France, President Macron’s immigration Bill is having a not very happy reception from left to right, with demonstrations in the streets. Earlier this month, the Italian Foreign Minister cancelled a trip to Paris because the French Interior Minister had said that the Italian Prime Minister was incapable of controlling migration. That was barely months after the dust settled on the diversion by Italy of a humanitarian ship carrying 300 refugees to France.
Those of us, and I am one of them, who want a safe and legal asylum system for people fleeing persecution and danger to life, and an immigration system that supports the UK’s economic needs, recognise that we must manage both effectively. Removing illegal migrants from this country while their applications are processed may sound drastic, but if the alternative is to billet them into local hotels or disused barracks, there is a danger of undermining social cohesion and the rule of law. The laws of this country matter. They are, and have been for centuries, fair and welcoming to those who flee persecution in their homelands, generous to the many thousands—including me—who came to this country to take advantage of its unparalleled opportunities.
Voters now want their borders controlled. I support this Bill because it is necessary to tackle a particular problem; because the UK, like its fellow European countries, must recognise the political imperative; and because it is a duty on all those responsible for fiscal and economic affairs to control expenditure. Above all, I support it because the laws which govern this country should protect the liberties of all its people, be fair and proportionate and have the support of the people in whose name the law is made.
My Lords, one of the few compensations of speaking so late is that it enables me to try to respond to some of the points made in this fascinating but, I think, worrying debate over the past few hours. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is not here, but I will come back to the challenge he raised right at the beginning when he asked whether those who oppose to the Bill were not concerned about the plight of these poor people coming over at perilous cost, often to their lives, in these small boats, having been exploited by these international criminal gangs. Of course we are concerned about those people, but on whether this Bill is the right way to deal with the issue I have very severe doubts. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, also challenged us to come up with a coherent alternative, which I think is somewhat disingenuous, given the scepticism that so many of us have about whether this Bill will actually achieve its stated intentions.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury really laid it out in the debate on
Secondly, I want to come back to a point made right at the start of the debate by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. He referred to the fact that, under the Immigration Rules, there is no asylum visa route for an individual refugee to enter the UK and claim asylum. This means that, unless the person falls within one of the four settlement schemes or asylum is sought by someone who is already legally present in the UK, a refugee’s arrival in and entry into the UK will inevitably be illegal. As the noble and learned Lord said, this is therefore not a “small boats” Bill. The provisions in it will affect all who seek refugee status in this country and are entitled to protection under the 1951 convention.
Thirdly, I want to refer to the Home Secretary’s extraordinary intervention this morning, in which she sought to tell this House what she considers to be our duty. I think that this House is well able to make up its own mind on that. For me, upholding the rule of law and our international law obligations, preventing unfettered power being given to the Home Secretary through this Bill, questioning the retrospective nature of some of the Bill’s provisions and seeking to retain the protections contained in the Modern Slavery Act are matters that should weigh rather more heavily on our deliberations than the Home Secretary’s crude attempt to distract from her own lamentable performance by indulging in dog-whistle politics of the worst kind.
Fourthly, I want to question the Minister on the Government’s assertion in relation to modern slavery that the Bill is needed to prevent people gaming the system. The leading modern slavery charity, Hestia, which supported more than 2,700 victims in London last year, says that it has seen no evidence to suggest that the Government’s modern slavery process is being exploited by individuals seeking asylum in the UK. This is backed up by a number of other modern slavery charities that have written to us over the past few days. Just look at what the University of Nottingham and the Human Trafficking Foundation said:
“Victims of modern slavery may not know they have entered the UK illegally; traffickers may deliberately withhold information and documentation as a means of control and may have offered to arrange travel on behalf of those they are planning to exploit. Potential victims therefore may be unaware of their status or need for entry documentation, believing traffickers have arranged this for them”.
Earlier, the Minister spoke of the generosity of the British people, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. I agree but I suspect that that generosity extends to wanting to retain the protections that we have in the Modern Slavery Act. Rightly, the Government took great credit internationally for the provisions in the 2015 legislation—I applaud them for it—but now, they are ruining that. They are throwing it away recklessly and, with it, the protections for some of the most vulnerable people.
I will end by commenting on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which he spoke to with such force. I must say, it is interesting that the Liberal Democrats have always questioned the legitimacy of this Chamber, yet they seem to have rather changed their minds and now feel that it is legitimate for us to reject a Bill. That is not what we do. We have the ability to scrutinise this wretched Bill thoroughly; I hope that we will do so.
My Lords, one of the striking things about this interesting debate is that, in many cases, noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber have spoken as if they were proceeding from a fundamental principle of great importance to them. For some, it was the vision of what our country is; for others, it was the universal principle of humanitarianism or a commitment to internationalism as a means of resolving problems. There were others, too, of course.
My fundamental starting point is more mundane: the international legal principle that no country is obliged to admit foreign nationals and that, if one does so, it may impose conditions on that entry. Of course, we in this country mitigate that right—our right to refuse to admit foreign nationals—in ways that we have chosen to do in the past. For example, when we were members of the European Union, we gave free access to this country to citizens of EU member states. Another way in which we have abridged that international right, of course, is by entering into the refugee convention. Inevitably, these sorts of arrangements involve some sort of international agreement and so can be categorised as falling under the heading of international law.
I am not a lawyer, nor making a legal point, but we must take account, as my noble friend Lord Balfe said—he has just disappeared—of the circumstances in which we entered into those arrangements and whether those circumstances continue to apply, because we have a degree of flexibility about how we apply them in the light of changing circumstances. The circumstances in which we entered the refugee convention contemplated broadly the care of often large numbers of people displaced by war and other catastrophes, usually in adjacent countries and on a temporary basis, until they could return safely to their home. A lot of people would ask how, by means of the same convention, we are having a debate this evening about transcontinental travel facilitated by profitable travel agencies that are run as businesses—they may be criminal enterprises, but they are profitable travel agencies that are run as businesses—with a view to permanent settlement. This is a very long way indeed from where we started.
Some people may say, “The world has changed since we entered the convention, and this is what it is like now. We should share our burden”. I fully accept arguments that Britain, as a leading international power, should share burdens. There are ways in which we can share burdens; by doing things for people who are displaced, not necessarily by their coming to this country but by helping them in the places where they are displaced. We could do more on that front.
I cannot resist saying that I find it very hard to accept comments from many noble Lords about the European Convention on Human Rights when we so lightly pass over the fact that the rights of our own people in Northern Ireland to a say in the laws that they live under is abridged by the Northern Ireland protocol and by the Windsor Framework that has followed it. When it suits us, we are all for the European Convention on Human Rights, but we are willing to blink it when it does not. There is a degree of double sightedness on that.
It is not all good news for my noble friend on the Front Bench; I have some concerns about the Bill, including that, as has been alluded to glancingly by some noble Lords, it deliberately catches some British citizens within its scope. It is possible to be a British citizen and still be an illegal migrant under the Bill, denied access to British citizenship by being an illegal migrant. That is because the drafters of the Bill—from the Home Office, I assume—as so often in the past, have deliberately conflated the concepts of naturalisation and registration. They have treated them separately, in separate clauses, but have imposed the same penalties and the same process. Not for the first time I remind noble Lords that the two things are entirely different. Naturalisation is a concession whereby the British Government gives citizenship to people of foreign nationality. Registration, introduced by the post-war Labour Government, is a process whereby the British state acknowledges an existing right to British citizenship which has been difficult to establish, either through the vagueness of circumstances or the want of proper documentation. It is akin to the sort of blunders that we fell into which led to the Windrush scandal.
The Bill needs to be amended and looked at very carefully to ensure that those entitled to British citizenship by way of registration are not denied those rights because they arrive in the country irregularly. I hope that other noble Lords will come back to this in Committee.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an immigrant— a proud immigrant. This country has given me so many opportunities; to build from scratch a consumer brand loved by this country, Cobra Beer, a household name in the UK; to be the youngest university chancellor in this country from 2005 to 2010, at the University of West London; to be the first Indian-born chancellor of a Russell group university in this country, the University of Birmingham, which is the third-largest university in this country; to join this House as one of its three youngest Peers, 17 years ago; and to be the first Zoroastrian Parsi to sit in this House. I hail from the smallest minority community in the world, the Zoroastrian Parsis. There are just 100,000 of us. We fled from Iran—Persia in those days—to escape religious persecution. We went to India, and I am proud to say that, over the centuries, per capita of achievement it is probably one of the most successful communities in the world.
That is because good immigration has always worked. The 14% of immigrants here contribute so much to make sure that this country, with 1% of the world’s population, is still the sixth largest economy in the world. The immigrants in this country and their children are reaching the very top. There is no better example than our Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.
“to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes, by requiring the removal from the United Kingdom”.
Yet, as we have heard from so many noble Lords today, the Bill creates a hostile image of immigration, even more so than Theresa May did. From 2010 to 2019, when she was Home Secretary and Prime Minister, she created a hostile image of, and approach to, immigration. For example, in 2012 she removed the two-year post-graduation work visa for international students, which I spearheaded in 2007-08. Boris Johnson brought it back, to start again in 2021.
The Bill is focusing on the boats, one of the Prime Minister’s five pledges. We all want the boats to stop. That is not the question. It is how we do it that matters: not in an inhuman way, not in a way that breaches international law, not in a way that breaches international commitments—the Bar Council considers that the Bill as currently drafted is incompatible with the principles which underlie the rule of law—and not in a way that removes this country’s centuries-old reputation for fairness and justice, which is respected around the world.
The Bill is meant to be a deterrent, but let us put this in perspective. The 45,000 people who came across in those boats last year make up less than 10% of the net migration of 500,000 people into this country. A fear of immigration is created—a fear that led to David Cameron and Theresa May wanting to bring it down to the tens of thousands. Where are we, in the tens of thousands? It is at 500,000. It is a fear of immigration created, for example, by Angela Merkel, when she said she would allow 1 million refugees to settle in Germany in 2015 at the height of the Syrian crisis. Whether we like it or not, that fear played a major part in the Brexit vote turning out the way it did.
Yet look at today: according to a study brought out by King’s College London on
Will the Minister please explain to me why our international students are included in the net migration figures? International students have now reached a record high of 680,000, and this is primarily because of the two-year post-graduation work visa being brought in. They are not immigrants; on the whole, they return to their countries. In fact, if you look at the immigration figures, the highest number is of students—it is higher than people who come to work. This is because the UN says that, within one year, you have to categorise people as immigrants. Even a one-year master’s degree means an international student is categorised as an immigrant. Other countries exclude them from their net migration figures.
Why are the Government making a rod for their own backs? Why are international students being used in this way? Is it being used to create a fear of migration? Is it being used to create a hostile approach to immigration? I just do not understand it. I am like a stuck record: in his winding up, please can the Minister address this point? I am co-chair of the All-Party Group on International Students and president for the UK Council of International Student Affairs. International students bring £30 billion into this country and are one of our strongest elements of soft power.
To conclude, of course we want to address the asylum claims: the backlog of 138,000 is unacceptable, and we need to process them quicker. Of course we need to address, tackle, and stop the illegal immigration and these awful, dangerous and tragic small boats crossing the channel. But let us never take for granted the good immigration that has benefited this country, and for which we should always be grateful and appreciative: the good immigration has made Great Britain great.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak following the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, particularly on this issue of illegal migration which cuts right to the core of who we are as a nation. I want to use my time to ask three questions. First, will the stated objective of this Bill be achieved? Secondly, do we have the right target in our sights? Thirdly, are there things that could be done to ensure the new system reflects the values of our nation?
First, will the stated objective of this Bill be achieved? As we have heard over and again, the purpose of this Bill is
“to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes”.
The fact that this Bill has very similar objectives to the previous one requires us to take a hard look at what we are doing and ask ourselves whether it will be effective.
I agree with the premise—as do most of us in this House—of both last year’s Bill and this year’s Illegal Migration Bill that we must take back control of our borders and break the business model of people-smuggling networks. However, my concern is whether a focus on deterrence will in fact achieve these objectives. The Government themselves have admitted that the evidence of the efficacy of deterrence measures is limited. So, presuming that this legislation has only limited efficacy and that channel crossings continue in some form or another after this Bill has been passed, I ask my noble friend the Minister to outline how His Majesty’s Government intend to implement the mass detention of irregular arrivals that will continue and how they will support those who are not able to be removed after 28 days of detention because of a lack of returns agreements.
In international terms, we are taking an unorthodox approach to our asylum system. It is clear that we are not confident this approach will be effective, so I also ask my noble friend the Minister whether he would include a review mechanism in this Bill so that Parliament has a chance to evaluate the success of this novel approach and, if it proves to be ineffective, to disapply it.
The second question is whether we have the right target in our sights. With this piece of legislation, our sights are firmly set on the asylum seeker and the trafficked, not the trafficker. If we were to put as much energy into targeting the real criminals, into imprisoning the criminal gangs, we would be standing on firmer ground. It is not illegal to cross a border and claim asylum —this is a protection set out in the refugee convention of 1951—we are choosing to make it illegal. Over 70% of the people who come via these routes are granted asylum by our own system and our own definitions.
But we are also dismantling much of the modern day slavery legislation by going after those being trafficked rather than the traffickers. The removal and exclusion from support of those victims who have been exploited in the UK will drive victims underground, making them less likely to come forward. This will not only hinder victims’ recovery but damage the chances for prosecutions. Without support and if removed to another country, most victims will be unable to co-operate with investigations. I believe that this House will want to pick up the amendments tabled by the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May in the other place.
But I also want to engage constructively with this Bill, so I ask whether there are things that could be done to ensure the new system reflects the values of our nation. We have always been a place that welcomes those who are genuinely in need. Our commitment to the refugee is founded on our Christian heritage. There has been much said during the passage of this Bill about safe and legal routes. In this Chamber, during the passing of the Nationality and Borders Bill, I supported an amendment that would make provision for 10,000 to come to the UK through safe and legal routes as a way of ensuring we created the infrastructure that would care for people properly rather than us lurching from one emergency situation to another. The Government have indicated they are willing to do this, but there are some factors that it would be worth us exploring together as part of this.
We will need assurance that these safe and legal routes will be set up to welcome those who need protection whatever country they come from, and will not just be country-specific schemes, be they for Afghanistan, Yemen and most recently Sudan. We need to work with the grain of local communities, not against them. A recent study from More in Common showed that, when community sponsorship of refugees is an option, a majority of people are in favour of accepting more refugees into the UK. I therefore encourage the Minister to explore safe routes that include schemes such as Homes for Ukraine that would save the taxpayer millions while also allowing refugees to integrate into British society.
Finally, as we have heard from others tonight, this is all part of a much bigger picture that will be resolved only as we reach for diplomatic solutions. Ultimately, stopping channel crossings and taking back control of our borders can be achieved only through diplomacy, not through domestic legislation. Therefore, I urge the Government to negotiate a returns agreement with France and the European Union and to lead the way in instigating a global solidarity pact with likeminded states that would update the international refugee system and make it fit for the 21st century.
I look forward to working as a House to support the Government to achieve their stated objective of stopping the boats, but doing so in a way that balances control with compassion. I believe we can find a way to put people smugglers out of business and end the exploitation of vulnerable people, while also ensuring that this new chapter in the story of the United Kingdom is founded on international responsibility and human dignity.
Your Lordships’ House will have an opportunity to scrutinise this very large and complex Bill and its details, so I will focus on general principles. Perversely, although I think this Bill is politically, constitutionally and morally an imperative, I agree with the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Green of Deddington, because within the wider context it is only because we have a failed and dysfunctional legal migration regime that such a Bill is necessary, notwithstanding the geopolitical refugee crisis affecting the rich world.
The British people did not vote to take back control of our borders in 2016 for any Government to preside over a net migration figure of more than 500,000 each year, for special pleading from big business for more cheap foreign labour, for 5 million people on out of work benefits, for £1.9 billion per week spent on social benefits for working age people, for welfare dependency and the stalling of social mobility and productivity, and for pay and training for UK citizens to be reduced over time.
Actually, I predicted this. As Member of Parliament for Peterborough in 2006, in the wake of the European Union free movement directive, I made it clear that there would be serious ramifications on the delivery of public services. For that I was met by hyperbole and allegations of racism and xenophobia and of being a Little Englander—but even Tony Blair conceded that that piece of legislation was in error.
I would rather not support this Bill, and I agree with other speakers who have said that the British people are decent, fair, compassionate and welcoming. One need only look at the figures that the UNHCR produced that show that we are the second most welcoming country in Europe for refugees. Who does not believe that it takes great courage to cross continents to seek a better life and a better future for one’s family and children? However, it is naive and irresponsible to ignore our obligation to propose solutions based on real-world experience. Responsible government is about difficult choices and competing interests, and that is why the Liberal Democrats’ fatal amendment is both irresponsible and an abdication of our duty to respond to legitimate public concerns about this growing migration crisis.
It is also naive and foolhardy not to recognise that of course people traffickers will abuse and exploit the loopholes around modern slavery. I have to say respectfully to my former colleague, the former Prime Minister Theresa May, that she perhaps should have a word with the Home Secretary who presided over the drafting of the Modern Slavery Bill in 2015, because to ignore the ramifications and that exploitation is wrong. That said, I think that the amendments that she has proposed and that noble Lords have proposed are certainly worth looking at.
It has to be said that this House has no mandate whatever to block or wreck the Bill. It is a manifesto commitment from the 2019 general election. It is popular, has public support and was passed by a significant majority in the other place.
I agree with the right reverend Prelates that we need to legislate with compassion, but those of us who support the Bill are no less caring or empathetic to the real-world horrors of modern slavery and people trafficking. Frankly, I have to say as an Anglican that I find it dispiriting that the leaders of my own church, who were silent over the impact of 20 years of uncontrolled immigration, should seek to mischaracterise those of us who have the courage to support these bold measures as morally deficient. That is not the case.
My penultimate point is this. Much talk has been made of breaking international law. We should not regard supranational legal entities and their obligations as shibboleths and theological tablets never to be questioned. It may be unusual, but our dualist treaty regime in this country preserves the rights and duties of legislators against an overmighty Executive and a potentially politicised judiciary, and this House is part of that durable and well-understood constitutional settlement. After all, our first duty is the safety of our own citizens, of whatever background.
In conclusion, today we have heard much criticism, exaggeration, outrage, some intemperate language and cries of “Shame!”—but very few, if any, real, workable alternatives. It is a perfectly noble viewpoint to believe in open borders, mass migration to a country with the highest population density in Europe, a housing crisis, infrastructure pressures and a debt mountain, but let us be honest about it: what does that policy really mean? The shame would be to do nothing, give sustenance to the evil people traffickers, betray the British people, betray those who came here legally and hope that it will all go away. Well, it will not. I welcome and support the Bill, and I wish Ministers well in its possibly quite difficult journey through this House.
My Lords, it has been a long day and I will not detain the House for too long before the winding-up speeches. However, opportunities to whole- heartedly support the Government on their legislation arise perhaps less often than I would ideally wish and, when I do so, the Government have developed a distressing habit of filleting or spiking the legislation afterwards. However, I am very confident that that will not happen on this occasion, so I want to take this opportunity to speak strongly in support of the Bill.
The basic principle that we must not forget is that a democratic nation state such as ours has, and should have, the right to control its borders and determine who gets to live here and on what terms. Until quite recently that would have been an uncontroversial statement—and, in my experience, it still is the further one gets from London SW1. Still, in recent years this country lost that right as regards EU citizens, and the general principle has been subject to sustained attack from those who perhaps do not always see the point of international borders at all. The result of all this has been the difficulty that the Government face in enforcing their immigration laws and, in recent years, very high and unsustainable levels of legal migration.
As my noble friend Lord Moylan pointed out, the basic principle of the right to control borders is of course shaped by the many commitments that we have taken on, such as our membership of the ECHR, the refugee convention and much else, including our own sua sponte commitments on modern slavery. However, all those commitments must and indeed can be implemented only in a way that is in accordance with practical reality.
Governments do not have the luxury of being content with just words; they must deal in reality, not concepts. One obvious reality is that tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of people could establish an asylum claim if they could get to this country, and many want to. So, if we acquiesce in illegal arrivals, the numbers will continue to grow. If we open new legal routes, they will quickly be overwhelmed and we will be back to the illegal ones. It is simply not possible to make what has amounted to an open, unlimited offer to anyone who can get here.
That is why the Bill is necessary and why, if it becomes law, no one who arrives in this country illegally, with some reasonable but limited exceptions, will be allowed to stay here. Contrary to what some noble Lords have said tonight, that specific principle is strongly supported in this country. Indeed, YouGov polling from March shows that it is supported by an absolute majority of public opinion.
We are told by some who we have heard today that to enshrine these principles in a Bill is in some way—these words have been used during the day—shameful, inhuman, immoral or even evil. I disagree with that and actually rather resent it. It is with the greatest trepidation that I debate morality with the high prelates of the Church, but I cannot agree that we are not living up to our moral responsibility if some of us, in this fallen world, come to different judgments about the implications of the words of Jesus in Matthew, chapter 25.
We are told by others on the Benches opposite that, because everyone who gets to these shores has a potentially huge contribution to make to this country, it is immoral and self-defeating to turn them away. Of course I agree that every person who comes here has the same potential as every other human being. I do not think any of us believes that asylum seekers are bad people; they are people doing the best for themselves and their families. But everyone who gets here imposes a burden as well as making a contribution, and it is true to say that some communities have integrated into British society and life better than others. It is the job of the Government and of the British people to decide where the line should be drawn, and the Bill draws one element of it. There is nothing immoral in that; if you think there is, you must think it is immoral for British Governments to pay proper attention to the views of their own citizens.
We have also heard that the right way forward is to renegotiate the international framework covering refugees. That is certainly desirable, but anyone who thinks it could be done in the short term—or perhaps at all, on terms that we would wish to see—is kidding themselves, I am afraid. The same is true of those who think that spending vast sums on development or on mitigating so-called climate migration is going to do anything to deal with the real problem we face now.
All the arguments against the Bill are, I am sure, based on deep reflection and conviction but, in the end, I cannot think that they deal with the real-world problem. The real-world choice that faces this Government is simple. It is to choose to put in place an organised set of provisions for a limited number of genuine refugees, in numbers that this country can cope with, and make clear that others will not be able to stay; or to live with the current and worsening situation of an open-ended but de facto constrained arrangement for refugee arrivals, constrained not by any rational arrangements or judgments but by the readiness of those poor trafficked people to travel, to pay and deal with criminals, and to bear terrible risks.
There will certainly be important technical improvements that we can make to the Bill, and this House should certainly give it proper scrutiny, but none of that removes the real need for the fundamental principles behind it. I urge the Government not to be deterred by the arguments they have heard today but to push on with the Bill, and strain all the sinews of the state to deliver on it when it becomes law.
My Lords, I thank the House for allowing me to speak in the gap.
Only days ago, the King made solemn commitments to justice, equity and mercy—and here we are, dismissing those values in this Bill. I find it repugnant to hear the spurious use of market-force values as an argument for the Bill: that the need to crush traffickers, the supply side, involves having to crush demand, as though the demand were not human beings with needs. They are often people who have been persecuted or who have watched other members of their family being slaughtered. They may have suffered torture themselves and witnessed the women in their family being raped. But we have to crush demand, so to devise a scheme as cruel and as vicious as possible is necessary to deflect people from crossing. We have to devise a scheme that has no due process—which has been one of the fundamentals in our rule of law—and we are going to lump together those who are asylum seekers with those among them who possibly might be here simply to better themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, has just talked about this, but described those people as being asylum seekers. The conflation of those who might be coming for economic reasons and those who are asylum seekers fleeing persecution is one of the problems of this Bill.
I want to speak to the fact that this Bill is having a huge impact on our global reputation. I am the director of an institute for the International Bar Association, so I travel to conferences regularly; I was only last week at the UN in New York. Judges and lawyers talk to me about their concerns with what is happening around issues of law in our country. They say, “What is happening to Britain—the Britain that led the world in championing the rule of law; that was the flagship nation in creating the rules-based order after World War II; that drafted the European Convention on Human Rights and was key to so many conventions, including the refugee convention, and created the model for the modern slavery legislation that is being taken up in other countries?” “We have always looked to Britain”, they say, “As a beacon that we have all been persuading our countries to follow, but what is happening?” We are putting at risk that reputation. Our stature in the world will be greatly damaged by Bills such as this and by our dismissal of our treaty obligations and commitment to international law. The fear expressed is that Britain, by showing a reckless disregard for law, will bring about the collapse of that rules-based system because in other countries authoritarianism is growing, as we know, and so many places will be only too happy to follow suit.
I remind us all of the law of unintended consequences: once you start unravelling these things—such as, for example, rule 39, which we have used since 2005; we used it only last year in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—it will be used as evidence that we have failed to comply with it when we come to bring people such as Putin before the international courts for war crimes. Please do not unravel law which has been so important in creating a unity across the globe that has been vital in securing justice and in our attempts to secure peace.
I advocate what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop has advocated: that we should cling to those international obligations and sets of principles, make use of them and engage with other countries to try to meet the challenges here. We should set up proper, swift systems to determine who are asylum seekers and who are not.
I hope this Bill will be amended out of existence because it is unworkable and unlawful, and it is immoral, I say to all of you. We have to ask ourselves: is this what we are standing for in the world?
I thank noble Lords for being provided with the opportunity to speak in the gap. It is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I will focus my comments on pregnant migrant women. A lot has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister, Lady Sugg and Lady Brinton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, and many others.
Like them, I am gravely concerned about the safety of pregnant women, new mothers and their babies. The legislation in its current form may result in them being detained indefinitely and being taken out of the UK. Pregnant women and new mothers are among the most vulnerable in society and we have a duty to safeguard them. We therefore need to provide them with the right nutrition, healthcare, and physical and mental health monitoring to detect problems.
Making them stay in overcrowded centres can increase the risk of infectious disease and result in poor mental health. They cannot be provided with the right care at the right time. Why cannot these small numbers of pregnant migrant women be housed in the community? I say that because, this morning, the Minister mentioned that most illegal migrants are men. What risks can these pregnant women pose in society? If I remember rightly, this morning it was mentioned that the measures in this Bill are needed to keep us safe.
The Government already have a terrible record on pregnant women who are detained. For example, women in prison have a probability of suffering stillbirth that is up to seven times higher than in the general population. Pregnant women returning from abroad during the Covid pandemic were put at risk when the Government made them stay in quarantine hotels. I remind this House of what happened to Amna Bibi: when she returned from Pakistan, she was in a quarantine hotel and asked for help, but someone decided that she had gone to the hospital too many times and, at 34 weeks, she lost her baby, nearly bled to death and was in intensive care.
As noble Lords will be aware, maternity disparities have had a lot of publicity. I declare an interest as the CEO of Muslim Women’s Network UK and an officer of the APPG on Muslim Women. We produced a report on maternity disparities that, like many other maternity reports and the statistics on maternity care, shows one thing very clearly: minoritised women and their babies have a higher mortality rate and are more likely to have a miscarriage. Women born outside the UK are more likely to have worse maternity outcomes.
The Government pledged to address these maternity inequalities, so how can they, on the one hand, say they will reduce harm for pregnant women, while, on the other, bring in legislation that will create a system that will cause harm to pregnant women and their babies? It is cruel, heartless and inhumane—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that I am using those words again, and I do not apologise for them. The medical and maternity experts all state that the government proposals are putting pregnant women and their babies at risk of physical and mental harm. Among them are the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, Doctors of the World, Maternity Action and many more. Disregarding expert opinion and safeguarding is shameful.
Timely, safe and adequate maternity care can be received only if pregnant women live in the community. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, mentioned that the UK could become a magnet for pregnant women—I respectfully and strongly disagree with that point. Therefore, I urge the Government to do the right thing and not to detain pregnant women.
My Lords, the House will forgive me for not namechecking individual noble Lords. I have heard it said a number of times of the Bill that “This is not who we are as a nation”. This is also not how I used to think of the Conservative Party; I rarely agreed with it, but I respected it. I look to the Government to lead, not to stoke up both prejudice and fear. These are human beings who, in very large part, are fleeing conflict, torture, persecution and danger. They are human beings as we are, but I see no attempt to walk in their shoes and see each as an individual with his own character and history, or to see each child as a child—many of them vulnerable.
The Minister wrote to Peers, saying:
“As you will know, over 45,000 people illegally crossed the Channel in small boats last year, abusing our laws and asylum protections”.
No, I do not know that 45,000 people did that, but I do know that this is victim blaming. I acknowledge Refugees Welcome and other support groups and individuals, who see asylum seekers as people in need of support.
I know that the Bill is immoral, although it is presented as moral: “We must save people from the dangers of the channel”. Of course, but even if it will, what about the dangers from which asylum seekers are escaping? The very presentation of some so-called safe countries, designated in the Bill as safe for men or women only, indicates that the Government know the human rights problems, but there are no nuances or caveats. Safe and legal routes are not irrelevant, as suggested; they should be the precursor to legislation.
The Bill is misconceived. It will not act as a deterrent to asylum seekers, so it will not deter the traffickers. It will create a new market for smugglers among people removed to countries which are not appropriate.
The Modern Slavery Act should be strengthened, not weakened. In January, changes were introduced to address false slavery claims by bringing into force the Nationality and Borders Act, but it is far too soon to assess those changes. Allowing a victim to remain in the UK just so long as is necessary for a prosecution says a good deal about the Government’s refusal, against professional opinion, to understand that few victims are able to produce a complete statement without considerable support and often over a long period. How is that trauma-informed?
Noble Lords have spoken of giving traffickers another tool; they will be able to say, “Go to the police and you’ll be removed from the UK”. Why cast asylum seekers as the wrongdoers? Overstayers, who had visas, know they have no right to be here; they outnumber asylum seekers by many times. Of course, we have heard a lot about total migration numbers. I am grateful for the mention of the report by the Select Committee, which I am lucky enough to chair, on the way the Government should go on immigration.
The Government used to be good at soft power. What a clever strategy: to seek to load things on our nearest European neighbours. This refusal to acknowledge the global situation and to address what might truly be a fair share is the very opposite of seeking global co-operation. It is more than a closed door; it is drawing up the portcullis.
There is deep concern about the impacts on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; it is not apparent that the Government considered or consulted on that. In addition, how is the Bill perceived by minority communities in the UK? Let us not forget community cohesion and integration. It is clear that the benefits of diversity passed the Government by.
The Bill is illegal, and the House will, as always, be glad of its lawyers. Let us take its retrospective effect. Legal certainty requires clarity at the relevant time—which is not, in this case,
“a requirement of good administration, by which public bodies ought to deal straightforwardly and consistently with the public”.
The Minister says that the Section 19 position is “legally untested”. I thought the Government were critical of people running off to the courts to test legality, and of the courts treading where the Government think they should not.
I confess that there is a good deal about the Bill that puzzles me: that there is a reliance on a writ of habeas corpus, which is about the lawfulness of detention, when the legislation makes the detention legal; and that the party that claimed to be good housekeepers does not focus first on the efficiency of the Home Office. Detention is used as instant punishment before any infringement is established. Legal avenues are blocked, and the courts are blocked from getting on with their job to a proper timetable. What happened to necessity and proportionality?
I could almost say, “Thank goodness the Bill will be unworkable” but for what it will mean for so many children and adults. It is not even as good as having a life on hold; they are driven towards exploitation, not protected from it, and driven to the underground economy. How much will we know of that? Presumably the numbers will not appear in the Home Office applications backlog, because the claims will be inadmissible and so not counted. It is immoral, misconceived and illegal.
Obviously, it is not possible to cover in a few minutes every point made, as the many organisations which have briefed us so extensively—and to which we will continue to look during later stages—will realise. A fundamentally unacceptable Bill does not become acceptable by amending it at the edges.
The Parliament Act is a red herring. Even if there were time to ram the same Bill through—it is not that straight- forward—there would be no time for implementation before the next election. To those who say that opponents of the Bill should be setting out their policy, I am sure that they would have said, in response to speeches setting out that policy, that this was not the time, especially given the Bill’s Short and Long Titles.
By the way, our policy is not to admit everyone. Like the most reverend Primate, my noble friend did not say we would.
Finally, perhaps the most egregious aspect of the Bill is that it deprives people of hope, and hope is so precious. My own default mode is to look for compromise and consensus, but I cannot do so here. I feel contaminated by the Bill.
My Lords, I too will not attempt to namecheck everyone who has spoken in this debate. It has been a fascinating but a worrying debate and I thank all the many organisations that have sent briefings, many of which have been referred to during the debate.
The headnote for understanding the Bill is that it attacks the ability of people to come to the UK irregularly and claim asylum or make human rights claims. It shuts them out and imposes a duty of removal. In the absence of agreements on removal or readmission to their home or third countries, these people will remain in the UK without status, either in detention, potentially for an indefinite period, or supported at public expense because they are unable to work. It will manufacture a growing and potentially permanent population of people in the UK who are, for all practical purposes, unremovable, and who are a burden on the public purse. It is ineffective and it breaches international treaty commitments.
The Bill contains a number of things that disrupt the established relationship between the Government and the courts. For example, it revises the ability to seek liberty from being unlawfully detained. It also removes protection from people who are victims of trafficking, in order that they may be treated as irregular arrivals as well. In the media, noble Lords will see that the motivation for the Bill is the problem created by people crossing the English Channel in small boats, but in reality the Bill affects all people arriving irregularly. It also extends to human rights claims made by EU citizens in the UK, and that can affect their family life and their private life rights—I think this was a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. I believe this will create additional problems in our relationships with EU member states.
All people in this House agree that small boat crossings should be stopped. Smugglers are profiting from the desperation of people risking their lives to reach our shores. Also, there is no doubt as to the size of the challenge in dealing with the number of asylum seekers already stuck in the system, as well as those making their way here right now. The main question we should address ourselves to when looking at the Bill is: will it make things better, or will it make them worse? Will it stop the dangerous crossings and lead to serious consequences for the people smugglers? Will it protect those most at risk from exploitation, violence and torture? Does it protect children? Does it help those we have made promises to, like the Afghan interpreters who missed the last flight from Kabul? Will it ensure that we create the safe routes that it is said asylum seekers must use instead of using channel crossings—safe routes that hardly exist at all? Does it deal with the large backlog of asylum claims which continues to build up, and will it prevent people from getting stuck in accommodation and hotels, waiting seemingly indefinitely for their asylum decision? Does it maintain our long-standing commitments to international co-operation and law? Does it maintain our international reputation as a fair country that takes our role in the international community seriously?
Members across the House have provided many answers to those questions. They have said that the Bill will not help, that it will hurt, and that it is indeed a worrying Bill. It will further damage our asylum system, trap more people in limbo within it, and result in even higher costs. It will hurt children, trafficked men and women and those fleeing war who are unable to take safe routes to get here. It will hurt our international reputation and our relations with countries across the world. It will not provide real consequences for the people smugglers profiting from human misery on our shores. We will work across the House to amend the Bill so that we maintain current levels of judicial oversight, live up to our international obligations and maintain the original principles of the Modern Slavery Act.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. It is a measure of the importance of the issue before us that there have been some 80 speakers in this debate. As we have heard from noble Lords across the House, as well as from my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, it is clear that we must stop the boats. That much, at least, is common ground.
Our approach is driven by a desire to do right by the people of this country and guided by that most British of principles—fairness. The present situation is anything but fair. The case for decisive action could not be clearer. I say again: ours is a generous and compassionate country. We will continue offering sanctuary and refuge to those fleeing persecution, conflict and tyranny, but we will not accept mass illegal migration to our shores. That is why we need this Bill: to stop the boats and address this challenge once and for all.
I turn to the matters raised in the debate, including the points addressed in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. First, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and other noble Lords were right to place the Bill in its moral context. Proceeding with this Bill is the moral course. We must put a stop to the dangerous channel crossings putting lives at risk and splitting families. We must end the callous exploitation of vulnerable people by the people smugglers, uphold the law and ensure fair play for those who abide by our Immigration Rules.
A number of noble Lords commented on the fact that, on the introduction of this Bill in your Lordships’ House, I made a statement under Section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act. I think it is fair to say that there has been a misunderstanding of the effect of such a statement. We have designed a scheme that is novel and ambitious; as a result, we have made a Section 19(1)(b) statement under that Act. This simply makes it clear that we cannot say definitively that we will win a challenge in Strasbourg. However, we are confident that Strasbourg will respect the will of Parliament and our domestic court processes. We make no apologies for taking this approach. This is what the situation demands and what the British public expect.
Section 19(1)(b) statements have been made by Governments of all stripes. One was made by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, when bringing forward the House of Lords Reform Bill in 2012. Similarly, Tessa Jowell made a Section 19(1)(b) statement in what became the Communications Act 2003. It is noteworthy that, when that Act was later challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, it found in the Animal Defenders case that there was no violation of the convention.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, argued that this Bill breaches our international obligations. There were some equally forthright contributions making the contrary and, in my view, very persuasive case from my noble friends Lord Howard of Lympne, Lord Lamont, Lord Wolfson KC and Lord Sandhurst KC, some of them drawing on the work of Professor Ekins KC and others at Policy Exchange, which has written extensively on this topic. The Government take their international obligations, including under the ECHR, very seriously. There is nothing in the Bill, including in Clause 53, that requires the UK to breach its international obligations.
In any event, it is not correct that a failure to comply with interim measures invariably involves a breach of international law. There are exceptional circumstances where non-compliance with an interim measure is not a breach of international law.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, among others, argued that the Bill breaches the refugee convention. I can assure the House that we are satisfied that the provisions in the Bill comply with the refugee convention.
It is a long-standing principle that those in need of protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity in the first safe country they reach. This is an established part of international asylum procedures and applied across the EU, such as through the Common European Asylum System. This concept seeks to ensure that migration from safe countries does not undermine concerted efforts to help those most in need. Plainly, all illegal arrivals across the channel come from a safe country, mostly France; as my noble friend Lord Dobbs, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, rightly pointed out, their lives are not in danger in France, and they are taking the place of those in genuine need.
In December, the High Court upheld the lawfulness of this principle—that those in need of protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach —concluding that the Government can relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda, for their claims to be determined by Rwanda rather than by the United Kingdom. We look forward to the Court of Appeal’s judgment on this question in the near future.
This addresses the concerns in this regard expressed by various noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton, Lord Howarth of Newport, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. We have always made it clear that no one will be returned or removed to a country where they may be persecuted, and this will not change.
The noble Lord, Lord German, argued that, in disapplying Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Bill was transferring powers from Parliament and the courts to the Secretary of State. However, the opposite is the case. The Human Rights Act, especially Section 3, has in some cases shifted the balance away from Parliament towards the courts. We are already proposing to repeal Section 3 of the Human Rights Act in the Bill of Rights Bill, so our courts will no longer be required by that Act to rewrite legislation passed by this Parliament. Ahead of wider reforms to our human rights framework, we are implementing this disapplication to the provisions of this Bill to avoid courts adopting an interpretation which is inconsistent with Parliament’s intentions.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Helic, have been labouring under a misapprehension that the Bill removes judicial oversight. I would gently invite those who think this carefully to read the relevant clauses of the Bill. In all cases, individuals will have the opportunity to make suspensive claims with judicial oversight in the Upper Tribunal—these claims are suspensive of removal.
In all cases, individuals can institute other legal challenges, including judicial reviews on human rights grounds, in the normal way. However, these claims are non-suspensive of removal. These claims can continue remotely, as they have done historically for other immigration claims, for example in the case of the refusal of a spousal entry clearance application. Additionally, the Bill provides for continued judicial oversight of detention as it will be open to any detainee at any time to apply to the High Court for a writ of habeas corpus or its equivalent in Scotland.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, questioned whether there is evidence of the misuse of our modern slavery protections. The modern slavery clauses are fundamentally about preventing dangerous and illegal crossings that pose a threat to public order. However, it is clear that the national referral mechanism offers world-leading protections to victims of modern slavery, and we must be alert to the risk that these protections will be used to frustrate removal action. Last year, 17,000 referrals took on average 543 days to reach a conclusive-grounds decision, making modern slavery protections susceptible to misuse.
Modern slavery referrals from detention and prison have also increased. In 2020, 27%—that is, 1,005—of the people detained within the UK following immigration offences were referred as potential victims of modern slavery, and only 1% of individuals detained within the UK following an immigration offence who made a modern slavery claim—I repeat, only 1%—were returned. The NRM referral rate for people arriving in the UK on small boats and being detained for return has risen from 6% of detentions ending in 2019—that is, 50 people —to 73% in 2021. The referral rate has since fallen slightly to 65% between January and September 2022. In contrast, where people were not detained for return, less than 3% of people who arrived in the UK on small boats in 2021 were referred to the NRM within three months of entering the UK. Modern slavery laws are, therefore, an inextricable part of an immigration system that is open to being misused in order to block removals.
My noble friends Lady Mobarik and Lady Stroud, as well as other noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, expressed concerns about the impact of the Bill on victims of modern slavery. The Government are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and supporting victims. The Bill ensures that individuals who arrive in the UK illegally will no longer have the potential to misuse modern slavery protections to thwart their removal from the UK.
The measures are not a blanket approach. If a person needs to stay in the UK to help support an investigation into and the prosecution of their people traffickers, they will be exempt. If someone is identified as a potential victim of modern slavery, the Government will ensure that they are safely returned to their home country where possible, or to another safe third country, such as Rwanda. This will mean that trafficking victims are given modern slavery support and that traffickers can be brought to justice, while preventing people from abusing our modern slavery laws. These provisions are consistent with our international obligations. Indeed, under Article 13 of ECAT, the UK has a right to disqualify individuals who pose a threat to public order. However, we recognise that this is a significant step, and that is why the modern slavery provisions in the Bill are time-limited; unless renewed, they will cease to apply after two years.
A good many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, argued that the solution to the small boats problem is to open up more safe and legal routes. I am sorry to say that this is of itself no answer. The UK has a long and proud history of supporting refugees, and we are committed to maintaining clear, well-defined, global safe and legal routes for people in need of protection. The UK, working with the UNHCR, currently operates a number of safe and legal routes which support people directly from regions of conflict and instability. In addition, we operate country-specific schemes for those who are eligible from Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong. But with worldwide refugee displacement now standing at around 100 million people, as observed during the debate, the United Kingdom cannot help everyone. I think there is agreement on that point around much of the House.
It is important to add that those seeking protection should claim asylum in the first safe country. This is the fastest route to safety. The Prime Minister has committed to introduce a cap on the number of people coming via safe and legal routes, which will be based on the capacity of our local authorities, agreed by Parliament and amendable in the event of humanitarian crises.
The Bill delivers this, and I welcome the support from the Front Bench opposite for the principle of a cap. I too well remember the most reverend Primate proposing such a cap during his debate in December. The cap is necessary if we are to ensure that the number of individuals we welcome through safe and legal routes does not exceed the capacity of the UK to integrate and accommodate them effectively—a point well made by my noble friend Lord Farmer in respect of stretched children’s services. This is the right way to ensure that we can continue to provide sanctuary to those in need of international protection as part of a well-managed and sustainable migration system.
As now provided for in the Bill, the Government will publish a report within six months of Royal Assent on current and any proposed additional safe and legal routes. I repeat: we will implement those new routes by the end of next year.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, argued for the exclusion of children from the duty to remove or the detention powers in the Bill. We also heard calls to exclude pregnant women from the detention powers. I am glad to tell the House that, to date, there have been very few pregnant women in the small boats. Let me say to the House that such a move would only serve to incentivise the people smugglers to target particular groups or those with certain characteristics. The result could well be that more children and pregnant women were put into flimsy boats, putting more young lives at risk, splitting up families and encouraging adults to make false claims that they are a child.
I can assure your Lordships’ House that families will be kept together wherever possible and that children will be detained for as short a period as possible in age-appropriate accommodation. Moreover, as we have already made clear, our policy is not to arrange to remove unaccompanied children before they turn 18, save in very limited circumstances, as now set out on the face of the Bill—for example, for the purpose of reunion with a parent or where removal is to a safe country of origin; and they may only be detained in specific circumstances, to be prescribed in regulations.
On the issue of detention more broadly, contrary to what a number of noble Lords opposite have said, the Bill does not provide for indefinite detention. It does enable detention for the purposes of removal, and in doing so codifies in part the long-standing common-law principles governing immigration detention, including that a person may be detained only for a period that is reasonable in all the circumstances. They will not be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, put it, interned in legal limbo indefinitely.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, expressed concerns regarding the provisions strengthening scientific age-assessment methods. It is critical that the Government take action to disincentivise individuals who are deliberately mispresenting their age in order to cheat the system, as well as to protect genuine children. Determining the age of a young person is an inherently difficult task, and we are aware that no single age-assessment method, scientific or not, can determine an individual’s age with precision. However, we believe that considering a wider range of evidence will enable more informed and robust decisions. I can assure the House that regulations under Clause 56 will not be made to introduce an automatic assumption of adulthood until the science is sufficiently accurate to support such a finding. Moreover, the assumption will only be applied in the circumstances set out in regulations if an individual refuses to undergo scientific age-assessment without good reason.
It is important to note that negative consequences such as automatic assumptions are applied, with variations, by ECHR signatories, including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. So it is the UK which is the outlier, as one of very few European countries that does not currently employ scientific methods such as X-rays as part of age assessments.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others asked about the detention capacity required to give effect to the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to deter people from coming to the UK illegally, as they know they will be swiftly returned to their home country if it is safe to do so, or to a safe third country. When the Bill is implemented, this will mean that numbers will start to come down, and that will reduce pressure on accommodation and services in the UK.
We are absolutely committed to making this legislation work and to find further solutions to scale up our detention capacity, but the first step is this change in the law, which is why we are focused on getting the Bill through the House.
Various noble Lords challenged the deterrent effect of the Bill. We have always said that there is no one solution to the global migration crisis, and certainly no overnight fix, but doing nothing is not an option. The Bill will remove the incentive to pay criminal gangs and attempt dangerous channel crossings in the hope of settling in the UK. Its provisions are designed to deter such dangerous and illegal activity.
My noble friend Lord Horam reminded us of the instructive Australian experience of what happens when illegal routes are rendered unviable, and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, correctly warned, every amendment to soften the Bill will weaken its objectives. My noble friend Lady Lawlor put it well: this Bill is stringent but necessary and proportionate, but it is not the only step we are taking. It comes alongside our partnership with Rwanda, bolstered enforcement action to bear down on the criminal gangs and the co-operation with France, as my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne rightly pointed out.
This Government will always act in the interests of the law-abiding majority. That means securing our borders, delivering a fair and effective immigration and asylum system, and stopping the boats. Enough is enough. The British people want this problem dealt with. The Bill will enable us to do exactly that, and I commend it to the House and invite noble Lords to reject the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
“undermines the rule of law by failing to meet the United Kingdom’s international law commitments and by allowing Ministers to ignore the directions of judges; … undermines the UK’s tradition of providing sanctuary to refugees by removing the ability of refugees to exercise their legal right to claim asylum, by removing protections afforded to modern slavery victims and by increasing the number of people in indefinite detention, including children; … fails to provide safe and legal routes for refugees; … fails to include measures to eliminate the backlog of asylum cases; and … fails to include measures to tackle people smuggling gangs”.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester for pointing out that when, in 2007, the former Labour Government passed the Fraud (Trials Without a Jury) Bill in the other place by a similar majority to this Bill, the House of Lords carried a fatal Motion at Second Reading. The Bill was never reintroduced. The list of those noble Lords who voted against its Second Reading is illuminating, and included two Bishops. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, who earlier today described overturning the will of the other place as a
“complete abuse of this House” and said,
“I do not think that any Member of this House who respects its values and its role could possibly go through the Lobbies and vote for that amendment”, must have had a road to Damascus experience.
The noble Lord will know exactly what Erskine May says about the Motion that was passed, which is that Parliament considers that to be a fatal Motion against the Bill. A hundred and 23 other Conservatives also voted to refuse the Bill its Second Reading, including 59 who are still sitting Members of this House. Perhaps they have also changed their minds and perhaps, when they find themselves in opposition, they will change their minds again.
If I thought that this Bill would stop the boats, I would not seek to divide this House, but it is not likely to do so. This Bill is all pain and no gain. This is a question of principle. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 76, Noes 179.