Amendment 13

Illegal Migration Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:19 pm on 5 June 2023.

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Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

13: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Negotiating objective: migration removal agreements(1) It must be a negotiating objective of His Majesty’s Government to negotiate with relevant States formal legally binding agreements to facilitate removals required under section 2.(2) Relevant international partners include (but are not limited to) the States listed in section 57.(3) Within the period of one month beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and every three months thereafter, the Secretary of State must—(a) publish a report outlining the status of negotiations with relevant States on the establishment of formal legally binding agreements to facilitate removals, and(b) lay the report before both Houses of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would require the Government to seek formal return agreements with other states, including Albania and EU member states, and to report regularly to Parliament on the status of those negotiations.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Murray—and the Committee will know straightaway that this is obviously a probing amendment, but it is none the less significant, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s visit to Dover this morning and some of the comments and announcements made there. It is particularly important, because some of our objections to the Bill deal with not only some of the principles but some of the practicalities and what we regard as the unworkable measures within it. With this amendment, I hope to concentrate more on the practicalities and on how some of this is simply unworkable, or certainly needs more justification from the Minister. Groups of amendments that we may debate later today or on another day deal with many of the principles underlying criteria for returns and those who are detained before they are returned. But, through Amendment 13 in particular, I hope we can deal with how all this will work.

I will cite a number of facts, and I am particularly keen for the Minister to understand that I am using Home Office figures. It is always helpful to use the Government’s figures to highlight some of the points because, presumably, they do not question their own figures, although sometimes I wonder whether that is the case. To help the Minister, I say that these are the latest figures—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, is always keen for us to use the latest figures—from 25 May 2023. If the Minister has any from after that, some of what I will say clearly may not be as accurate as it might be—but it is important to confirm the context within which we debate the returns agreements.

The number of asylum seekers awaiting a decision is now 172,758, and it continues to rise. The number of asylum seekers waiting for more than six months for a decision is 128,812. Of these, 78,954 are legacy cases. On small boats, starting with 2022—I know that the Prime Minister was keen to talk about 2023—can the Minister explain to the Committee how on earth the Government have got themselves into a situation where we need an illegal migrants Bill when, of the 45,000 people who crossed in small boats last year, only 1% have been processed? How on earth is that a policy? It does not matter what policy you have if the systems do not work, or only process that amount. How on earth are we supposed to get on top of this problem, which we all want to deal with?

So far, 7,610 people have come across in small boats this year. Where are the 4,657 people who have come across since 7 March detained? What is the Government’s presumption about where they will be returned to? Let us start with the small boats that have arrived since 7 March. We will come to discuss the wider issues much more, but I hope that noble Lords can see some of the context.

As I have already asked, if all the people who have arrived irregularly since 7 March are to be removed, where will they be removed to? Where are they staying now, and how much is it costing? Can the Minister confirm the House of Commons Library figure that, as of June 2022, there were 38,900 people waiting for removal? That number is before we even get to the figures on illegal boats; we cannot even deport or remove people whose asylum claims were presumably refused years ago. What has happened to them and where are they? Do the Government know? What is the actual figure if that figure is wrong? Where are they being returned to? Are we ignoring them, or are they being returned? Do we have returns agreements for them?

Can the Minister comment on the interesting dilemma of who will be returned first: the people who have come irregularly since 7 March or the people whose asylum claims were refused and are subject to deportation before this legislation? Presumably, some of those people have been waiting for detention for a considerable period of time.

Can the Minister say, in practical terms, how he expects the returns agreements to cope? I reassure him, again, that I am citing the Government’s 25 May document. How will the Government cope with the returns agreements, given that the number of enforced returns in 2022 was 46% lower than in 2019? Significantly, of those enforced returns, many were EU nationals or foreign national prisoners. Can the Minister also confirm the government figures that say that the number of case workers dealing with asylum claims fell between January and May 2023? As I have said, at the heart of my amendment are the huge numbers waiting to be returned already.

The Government are to detain all people arriving irregularly and then have agreements to return them, which are supposedly in place. Given the contentious figures we have seen in the media over the weekend, what is the Government’s planning figure for the numbers that they expect to detain? The Prime Minister can announce, in Dover, that there are two more barges coming, even though he has no idea where they are or what size they are. While I hope that the Minister can prove me wrong, why can the Prime Minister announce that without the Minister giving us the full detail, as we debate the Bill, as to where people will now be detained? More importantly, given that detainment is the first stage, where will they then be returned to? What is the Government’s estimate of the total cost of those detain and return figures? Is the figure of up to £6 billion over the next two years wrong or not?

According to the briefing that was helpfully published for us by the House of Lords Library,

“Researchers at UK in a Changing Europe have argued that ‘the most significant change’ to asylum policy recently occurred when the UK left the EU”— which we did. It continues:

“This meant the UK was no longer part of the Dublin Regulation, also referred to as Dublin III. This EU legislation sets out which member state handles the examination of an asylum application, often the country where an asylum seeker first arrives. No agreement between the EU and UK on asylum policy was made when the UK left Dublin III”.

The significant sentence from that briefing is that no returns agreements have since been made, although the UK says that it intends to agree bilateral arrangements with EU member states for the return of asylum seekers—unless Albania counts, although it is not a member of the EU. Can the Minister tell us how that is going? Can he list for us what those returns agreements are, and how many returns each of those various EU countries will get?

This morning, the Prime Minister himself made much of the Anglo-French agreement, saying that it was a great step forward that would no doubt help us. He said that progress has been made, and, because we obviously do not want people crossing the channel in that way, arrangements were made between France and the UK. Unfortunately, as the House of Lords briefing points out:

“A further agreement with France, in which the UK agreed to fund enforcement measures, was signed on 10 March 2023. However, this agreement does not enable the UK to return asylum seekers to France”.

Can the Minister say whether there are ongoing negotiations on that, and where have they got to?

These are detailed questions, but I hope noble Lords will see that much of the debate in this amendment is, quite rightly, about principle. It is about who should be returned or not, what their rights should be, what the human rights should be and whether potential victims of modern slavery or trafficking should be included. I have tried to highlight the fact that the Government’s whole asylum policy is in chaos. It is unclear exactly who is going to be returned and to where, and where the Government are going to detain people before they are returned. Is it not clear that much of the Illegal Migration Bill is simply unworkable and that the Government in practice will not be able to remove significant numbers of people seeking protection in the UK?

At its heart, how many claimants are there from before 7 March who have been refused asylum and are waiting to be deported and where do the Government expect them to be deported to? How many people assumed to be inadmissible since 7 March are waiting to be deported? Where do the Government expect them to go to? What planning assumptions are the Government working to? They will exist within the Home Office. What budget are the Government expecting to use for dealing with all this?

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 3:30, 5 June 2023

My Lords, to help the Minister with the questions he has just been asked, can I add a quite straightforward and simple one? Is it the Government’s intention that return and removal agreements will be made with every country in Schedule 1 to the Bill to which they are seeking to remove people?

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My question is even more simple: where is the impact assessment? I think the purpose of impact assessments is to inform the legislative decision. We hear that there will be an impact assessment and it will be produced shortly, but it seems unlikely to be produced while this Bill is being considered in this House. I think that is rather insulting, particularly as the Government rest their intellectual case on the deterrent effect. They say that the numbers will go down as word gets about of how people are to be treated, what “inadmissibility” means and how it is to be applied.

I am strongly against that on legal grounds—I think we should honour our international commitments—and humanitarian grounds, but it is impossible just to consider this argument on its merits if we cannot see the assumptions underlying the Government’s judgment of the impact. The questions from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, are all extremely apposite and I look forward to the answers to them, but it seems to me that in relation to the deterrent effect, the impact assessment—wherever it is, whenever we will see it—will have to consider why people leave their home country and seek asylum far away. Why are they coming here? Will they be deterred by talk of us getting more brutal? We are going to get more brutal if we pass this Bill, but we are not going to get half as brutal as the conditions of the countries from which they are fleeing—75% of those seeking asylum in this country are found by the processes to have a well-founded fear of death or persecution back home.

Talk of pull factors is all nonsense: it is all about push factors. They are fleeing from horrors, from famine, from massacre, from murder and from war. It is difficult to see the deterrent factor as likely to be to be large, given the scale of the factors that are bringing about the flow. The impact assessment may prove me wrong. Certainly, the Government should, if they have the courage of their convictions, produce the evidence and the assumptions that underlie these convictions, and they should do it before we finish considering the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that one of the underlying provisions that we should know about is the safe and legal routes that we are told will deal with any number of people? Situations change so fast. I am not sure we had quite started the Bill when Sudan flared up as it did. There is an awful lot we need to know in order to know how the Bill will work.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I am grateful to the noble Baroness; I should have mentioned the point myself. I am concerned that the Government keep saying that the UNHCR runs safe and legal routes and that it is perfectly possible for someone in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan to register with UNHCR, which will see them right. It is simply not true. UNHCR has again said so, formally and on the record. It does not run a clearing house. It does not run a general scheme open to all. It is able to cope with approximately, it says, 1% of the demand.

It is the case that if you are a persecuted young woman in Iran, there is no safe and legal route by which you can come to this country. If you are fleeing in Sudan from the war that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to, there is no safe and legal route to the United Kingdom. UNHCR does not stand up the Government’s story that it is the fallback, the clearing house, that we can always turn to. It says it cannot do that. Obviously, it cannot do that; it is not resourced to do that. I agree that the impact assessment, in considering the deterrent effect on what the Government call illegal immigration, must address the question of how people from war-torn, famine-struck, civil war countries can achieve a legal route.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, it is an absolute privilege to follow such a distinguished former Permanent Secretary to the Foreign department. To return to my noble friend’s amendment, it may seem a little counterintuitive or surprising for me to welcome a probing amendment about removal and about a duty to negotiate removal agreements, but I do. The reason is that there is actually a greater and stronger link between the principles that we have been discussing and the practice that my noble friend is considering here, because in this neck of the woods, in particular, the two go together.

I say, with respect to the Committee, that it would have been wise for the Government to have thought about a duty to negotiate removal agreements before they proposed to legislate for a duty to remove. The sin is to have duties to remove with nowhere to remove people to, and duties to detain with no ability to remove, because that leads to indefinite detention.

There were all the arguments that we had on the last illegal Bill, and the arguments that we will have again about whether refugees and asylum seekers should be allowed to work after a period of time. People argued about pull factors, and some of us said that there were push factors, not pull factors. But if people’s claims were being considered quickly, including of those who did not qualify for asylum—who were genuinely illegal migrants and never qualified for asylum—some of us would have no problem with the principle or practice of having a short period of arrest and detention for the purposes of facilitating a lawful removal.

My noble friend Lord Coaker has really hit the nail on the head. What is the practice here? If there is no practical agreement to remove people to whichever country they are from, and people are in practice irremovable, that is where the cruelty comes in. That is a cruelty towards people who are detained for lengthy periods, quite possibly at great public expense, in inappropriate accommodation; this could include accompanied or unaccompanied children not being housed or detained appropriately, not being educated, and so on. That is the sin—the terrible maladministration and lack of good practice, which is then translated into this culture war via more draconian legislation for a general election that will no doubt be sloganed, “Stop the boats”. We do not stop the boats, but we do not welcome the vulnerable people either, so we perpetrate this great swindle on the British people. We toxify a debate that needs to be handled much more temperately, and we do not achieve anything very much at all.

The final link between principle and practice in this area is that, in this amendment, we are talking about a duty on the Secretary of State to negotiate these practical removal agreements for those people who do not meet the tests and do not qualify in the end as refugees. In this probing amendment we are talking about that duty and asking whether it does not need to be a duty because the Secretary of State genuinely wants to negotiate. To go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said before the break, whether that is the case or not, who will negotiate with us? We have heard some flummery from the Benches opposite about how international law is not real law—“We have a dualist system and let me not give you a law lecture, but it’s not real law, it’s only international law”. If our word is not our bond, who will negotiate with us?

There is currently a contradiction at the heart of government between those who want to be leaders on the world stage, with all the challenges that have to be met internationally at the moment, and those who want a culture war. My understanding is that the Prime Minister is now saying not only that we are going to be part of the Council of Europe and honour our international commitments but that we are going to be the architects of new ones. London is apparently going to be at the heart of regulating artificial intelligence—this is where it is all going to happen. But why should anyone allow us that moral leadership on the world stage, if we will not honour international law?

I look forward to the answers to my noble friend’s questions about the moment when principle really does need to meet practice.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, perhaps the Minister can help us here. Is not it the case that, without removal agreements, the Bill is likely to make the current situation worse in terms of costs to the Exchequer? As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has said, if people are not able to work, and they are not allowed the right to remain but cannot be removed, they will have to be looked after by the state. The difficulty that the Minister has is that, without an impact assessment, there are all sorts of organisations that are filling that vacuum. The vacuum was filled at the weekend—and the estimated additional costs of this Bill were £3 billion to £6 billion in additional accommodation needed to detain those people who could not be removed.

Can the Minister explain how international agreements to resolve the global migration issue are likely to be entered into when other countries see the UK appearing to adopt a policy of preventing all but a handful of asylum seekers claiming refugee status in the United Kingdom? I accept that the Government are hoping that the Bill will act as a deterrent. I wonder whether the Minister has seen the Times today and the article titled:

Rishi Sunak’s migration plan ‘based on demented assumptions’”.

According to the Times, Home Office research last year concluded that there was “no evidence” that hostile policies changed the behaviour of migrants. Can the Minister confirm or deny that they are accurate quotes from Home Office research?

Photo of Lord Verdirame Lord Verdirame Non-affiliated 3:45, 5 June 2023

My Lords, I hesitated to come in before and I apologise for not participating at Second Reading, but I followed the debate closely. I must declare an interest: I have been instructed before by the Government as a member of the Bar on matters relating to the subject matter of the Bill. But I can speak freely on Amendment 13 because it is not anything on which I advise. I wish to speak in support of it.

The negotiation of removal or readmission agreements is, of course, a matter for the Government and not for Parliament. But there are many examples in treaty negotiations of Governments invoking pressure from their parliaments—or even from their courts—as a reason for not being able to make a concession or for insisting on concessions from the other side. It seems to me that it might end up strengthening the hand of the Government in these negotiations if they are able to say that Parliament is insisting on them.

The most difficult negotiation is, as we have heard, with the European Union. The European Union is not opposed to readmission agreements. On the contrary, it concluded a number of them with many countries, from Turkey to Belarus. Incidentally, the readmission agreements with Belarus and Russia have been suspended, quite rightly, because of the situation that has arisen. A number of us, I think, would have regarded those agreements as problematic from a human rights point of view even before that.

The reason why a readmission agreement with the UK is difficult is that the UK is a country from which European Union member states would have to take people back, rather than send them back. The Government published a draft readmission agreement for negotiation with the EU in the summer of 2020. That text is still available on the government website. If the EU had accepted that treaty, it would have allowed the UK to send people back to EU member states—not only permanent residents and nationals, but also third-country nationals who have transited through an EU member state. The provisions in that draft treaty proposed by the UK were identical to a number of provisions found in readmission agreements concluded by the European Union, including the one with Turkey. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong about this, but I think that negotiations with the EU on the Government’s draft proposal never took off.

It is worth noting that both the UK and the EU—and that includes the EU in its own capacity and EU member states—are subject to quite wide-ranging treaty obligations on both migrant smuggling and human trafficking. These treaties impose various obligations of international co-operation, including, in the case of the migrant smuggling protocol, the obligation to

“cooperate to the fullest extent possible to prevent and suppress the smuggling of migrants by sea”.

Generally speaking, these are obligations of conduct rather than by result. They do not oblige the EU to accept the terms of the treaty proposed by the UK. They do, however, require the EU, EU member states and all parties to those treaties to engage in good faith negotiations with the UK on readmission, particularly where very similar treaties have been concluded in other contexts. It would be a very unattractive position for any party to these treaties to take the view that they are open to readmission agreements only when they are in their interest and not when they are not.

It seems to me that Amendment 13 would bring some of these questions to the surface by requiring the Government to update Parliament on the status of these negotiations and on the reasons why these negotiations might not be progressing. That is outlined in subsection (3) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 13. It would not be a case of government and Parliament speaking with separate voices; on the contrary, it would be a case of Parliament adding its voice and adding pressure for the purposes of achieving an objective that both Parliament and government consider important.

My final point concerns the language of “formal legally binding agreements” in subsection (1). It is broadly right that this should be the optimum arrangement—the formal legally binding agreement—but it is also the case in this sort of practice that states will often conclude agreements that are not binding. The European Union has two such agreements with Guinea and the Gambia. For various reasons, those agreements, in some cases, are more appropriate. My understanding—and the Minister will, again, correct me if I am wrong—is that the arrangement with Albania that was announced a few weeks ago is actually part of a non-binding arrangement that was built on an existing treaty. The treaty itself is the one from 2021, but the further agreement that was announced by the Prime Ministers at their recent meeting is an example of such a non-binding agreement that can, in certain circumstances, be a better way of achieving that same objective. I would agree, however, with the notion that the formal and legally binding agreement is the gold standard in this kind of situation.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, this Bill sets out a duty on the Secretary of State to make arrangements for the removal of a person who has arrived in or entered the UK illegally and satisfies the four conditions set out in Clause 2. In the majority of cases, formal returns agreements are not required in order to carry out removals. Most countries co-operate with returns, and these relationships are managed through official-led engagement with immigration counterparts in receiving countries and through consular services based in the UK. Returns agreements can be a useful tool to solidify or improve returns co-operation and are sometimes requested by the receiving country. We carefully consider whether it is beneficial to enter into negotiations to formalise a returns relationship, having regard to the potential requests that the other side would seek to incorporate into an agreement, such as a liberalisation of the UK visa requirements in respect of their nationals.

As of May 2023, the Home Office has 16 returns agreements in place. Recent additions to the list include Albania, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Just last week, the Prime Minister announced the start of negotiations on a new returns agreement with Moldova. A number of these agreements are sensitive, and receiving countries might withdraw co-operation if they are publicised, so it would be detrimental to formalise and publish all such agreements. There are also some countries where the existing security and country situation might prevent returns taking place, such as Sudan and Afghanistan. We continue to monitor the situation closely in those countries with a view to resuming enforced returns as soon as is practicable and safe.

I should add that, while returns agreements have a valuable role to play, they are not silver bullets. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has, in terms, accused this Government of ripping up the Dublin convention, but may I just remind the noble Lord that the UK was a net recipient of migrants under the Dublin scheme? As my honourable friend Tim Loughton said in the other place:

“In the last year that we were covered by the Dublin convention, before the pandemic struck, we applied to the EU for 8,500 returns under that returns agreement and only 105 were granted—that is 1.2%—so what he says is complete nonsense. It did not work when we were in the EU, and he is now expecting to magic up some agreement that the EU will not give us anyway”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23, col. 792.]

Mr Loughton was, at that time, intervening on the speech of Stephen Kinnock in the other place.

In addition to the returns agreements, we also have our world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda. I remind the House that there is no limit on the numbers that can be relocated to Rwanda under the partnership agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, cited various figures, including in relation to the current asylum backlog. I remind noble Lords that, under Clause 4, any asylum claims made by persons who meet the conditions in Clause 2 are to be declared inadmissible. It is, of course, important to deal with the current backlog. The Prime Minister announced today that the initial decision legacy backlog is down by over 17,000, but there is no correlation between these legacy cases and the cohort to be removed under the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked about the impact assessment for the Bill. We have already published the equality impact assessment, and we will publish an economic impact assessment in due course. Noble Lords will have to wait patiently for the economic impact assessment. In the interim, I do not propose to comment on impact assessments issued by NGOs or leaks in the media.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

I have a very important question. The noble Lord and government Ministers keep saying from the Dispatch Box, here and in the other place, that certain things will happen if the Bill goes through. Has the Home Office actually completed an impact assessment which clarifies exactly what the Minister is saying?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Certain things will happen when the Bill goes through; the system described within it will take effect. I assure the noble Lord that this is something that the Home Office expects to happen—that is, that returns will be effected in accordance with the duty imposed on the Secretary of State.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

If the impact assessment is to be provided in a timely way—or if not—will the Minister ensure that it contains an estimate or assessment of the number of people who would have been granted asylum but will not be because they are excluded as a result of the blanket effects of the Bill?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is not for me to dictate what is in the impact assessment. The department will provide the impact assessment in due course—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will come back to the noble Lords in due course, but I need to make progress.

The broken asylum system costs the UK £3 billion a year, and that is rising. There seems to be an impression that, without the Bill, those costs will not continue to rise at an alarming rate year on year. Doing nothing is not an option.

In conclusion, I agree with the noble Lord that returns agreements have a place, and we will seek to negotiate these where appropriate. By their nature, any such negotiations involve two parties. The UK cannot compel other countries to enter into such agreements; they are a two-way process. Moreover, it will not enhance such negotiations to require their status to be set out in a three-monthly report to be laid before Parliament.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, if I may, I remind the House that it is not required for a Minister to give way. However, your Lordships may like to recall that we are in Committee, and the normal procedure of Committee is that someone can intervene again. However, I think it is always helpful for the House to allow the Minister to complete his remarks—and then, doubtless, the noble Lord may wish to comment on them.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I say, this will not advance our negotiating position—quite the contrary. This amendment could well make such negotiations harder. It does not help the UK’s negotiating position to be setting out its negotiating strategy in public. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

May we return to something that the noble Lord said a few moments ago? He said that it is not for him to dictate what appears in an impact assessment. If it is not for a Minister—either this Minister or one of his noble or honourable friends, either in this place or another—to dictate what appears in an impact assessment, for whom is it to determine what appears in one?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:00, 5 June 2023

The noble Lord and I appear to be talking somewhat at cross purposes. My answer was that it was not for me as the Minister to inform the contents and the conclusions of the impact assessment; it is of course for the Minister to ask broadly for the topics that the impact assessment should cover.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

Does the Minister understand that, if he answered the questions that your Lordships are asking, he would not experience this number of interventions? It is a rudeness not to answer our questions.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

To take the noble Lord back to the question that was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, has the economic impact assessment been completed or not? If it has been, why do we not have it? If it has not been, surely it should have been informing the Bill itself.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can do no better than say that the impact assessment will be published in due course.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

How do the Government justify not having an impact statement until presumably the whole of this House has completed its dealing with the Bill? It seems to me outrageous. How can the Government justify that?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I say, I am afraid the impact assessment will be published in due course.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My noble friend must accept that the Bill can be expedited and the House can be satisfied if a proper impact assessment is produced in time for Report. The whole purpose of Committee is to probe, as we are doing this afternoon and so on. However, when it comes to Report, when the House has to make significant decisions on the most sensitive piece of legislation that has been before Parliament for a very long time, it is crucial that we have all the facts at our disposal.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

Regardless of when the impact assessment will be published, the Minister keeps restating issues as fact. I therefore ask: have those facts been determined by a completed impact assessment that he and his colleagues have seen and signed off?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid I cannot do more than say that the impact assessment will be published in due course.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

The Minister really should say whether an impact assessment was produced. I apologise for reverting; I was the one who raised the question of the impact statement. I am not terribly happy with the message that the Minister is conveying. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, put her finger on it. Presumably the Government did their own assessment of the impact of the policy that is reflected in the Bill; therefore, an impact assessment of some kind existed. If it did not exist, I do not know how the Government could have decided to adopt this policy. If it does exist—I am sure it does, in some form or another—the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, are surely right. We are being asked to take a decision without knowing its effect. We do not know—other than breaking humanitarian law and international commitments—what practical effect the Bill will have. Therefore, before we finish Committee, the Minister should change his line and let us have it.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that I must disagree with the noble Lord. The point about the Bill is that we know that deterrence has effect, and we have seen that, as the Prime Minister announced this morning, in relation to the effect of our returns agreement with Albania.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

I am grateful to the Minister for his patience. Could I try this another way in relation to the debate on the impact assessment? If I am wrong about this, I want to be set right. This is not a rhetorical question; this is a genuine question about the process and purpose behind these impact assessments. I had been thinking that the purpose of these various assessments by the department was that they become part of the case for the legislation in Parliament. The department does the drafting and the policy and that is the Bill, that will be law; and to back it up, it has its case based on the evidence that it has marshalled.

If I am right about that, that gives rise to the concerns about why we are going further and further down the legislative process before the court of Parliament—if you like—without the evidence base. Of course, that is particularly important in the case of so-called illegal migration, because public expense is such a concern in the public debate about immigration: cost-benefit economic analysis is always a keen part of the debate in the Committee, in Parliament and in the public square.

Finally, on this same point about process and the impact assessment, the Minister said earlier that it was not for him to dictate what would be in the impact assessment, and I do understand that, because no Minister would want to dictate that. However, if I am right, and the purpose of these assessments is that they are part of the Government’s case for the legislation, surely it is for the Minister and his colleagues at ministerial level to sign off on the quality of this work and the soundness of the proposition in it. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that. It is not a judicial process; it is an executive process of marshalling the economic case for this legislation.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

There is no statutory requirement to have a public impact assessment in relation to items of public legislation. Indeed, as I understand it, many pieces of legislation do not have one at all; so it is not a statutory requirement, as perhaps the noble Baroness seemed to suggest. Clearly, there is work done in the department behind the development of policy, and an economic impact assessment is certainly not an essential part of that process; nor is it a fundamental part. It is a part and, as I say, it will be published in due course.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, surely this is not just about statutory requirements. Will the noble Lord contrast this with the way in which the right honourable Theresa May presented to Parliament the modern slavery legislation? That was dealt with by pre-legislative scrutiny, by consensus being developed across the political parties in another place, and by getting bicameral as well as bipartisan agreement around a similarly controversial question, much of which informs this particular Bill. Will the noble Lord accept, therefore, that the expressions that have been voiced around the Chamber are as much about the integrity of Parliament and the way we do things as they are about the substance of the Bill?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Well, I always listen intently to the noble Lord’s measured contributions. Of course, the key distinction between this Bill and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is that this Bill is to address an emergency presently affecting our country and to stop people drowning in the channel. That is why this measure has to be taken through Parliament at pace—in order to put in place a deterrent effect that stops those journeys being made.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister has made reference to the reduction in the number of Albanians using the cross-channel route, which is the object of this Bill. I think many of us strongly welcome and support what the Government did to negotiate with Albania and return people who are economic migrants. But would he not recognise that all that is happening under powers in the Nationality and Borders Act? It is nothing to do with the legislation before us. It is not relevant, frankly, to the case of Albania. So, it would be best not to pray in aid the welcome reduction in the number of Albanians crossing the channel, which is being dealt with under existing legislation. Is that not true?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Hesitate as I do to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, relates to returns agreements. We have negotiated with Albania an effective arrangement allowing for the return of Albanians. It is more to do with that, I suggest, than with the 2022 Bill, although of course it all plays its part. It is an example which demonstrates that deterrents work.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, the Committee is entitled to ask what the Minister means by “in due course”. Specifically, will the impact assessment be available before Report? My thinking is that the House should not allow the Bill to begin Report without the impact assessment being available.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hear what the noble Lord says. I will take back his comments, and those of others, and we can reflect on them.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, can the Minister write to him, and put a copy of the letter in the Library, on whether the impact assessment will be published before Report,?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I say, I will take the mood of the Committee back to the department.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

My Lords, as an economist I am aware of the fallibility of economic forecasts. The Governor of the Bank of England had to admit recently that the forecast for the inflationary effect was 30 years out of date. We should be wary of placing too much reliance on economic forecasts as part of any impact assessment.

Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has just said, there must be some understanding of what the likely effect will be, based on international evidence and so forth. The Government have not gone into this totally blind. Nevertheless, we are talking here about a novel situation. We just do not know what is likely to happen as a result of a deterrent effect. We do not know what effect the Nationalities and Borders Act has had, and we do not know what effect this will have. We should therefore be a little guarded about the value and importance of an impact assessment in this case.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am very grateful to my noble friend for that intervention; he makes a very good point, with which I agree. Economic assessments are guarded with caveats, like any other economic forecast.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour

My Lords, I will be very happy to agree or disagree with whatever impact assessment arises, when I see it. How can we possibly take the advice just offered and make an opinion about something that might or might not be accurate until we see what to base our judgment on? It is an extraordinary, circular argument, from someone who wants to give a fig leaf to the Minister.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hear what the noble Lord says, but in any Bill the economic impact assessment—where one is provided, which is not in every case—is only ever one piece of the documentation that is available in support of a Bill. The impact assessment will be published in due course; I am afraid I cannot give the noble Lord any more information. I hear what he says, and the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and will take their comments back to the department.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, on 24 May, the Minister said the same thing: that he would take our concerns back to the department. There have been nearly two weeks for the department to reflect and act on our concerns about the economic impact assessment and the child rights impact assessment—which some of us consider to be even more important.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that I have nothing to add other than that it will be published in due course.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am sure that the Minister did not mean to ignore the questions that I put to him. Perhaps he has not had the chance to read today’s Times. Can he write to me on the veracity of the reports in today’s Times and, while doing so, respond to the article in the Telegraph saying that the Home Office has failed to identify sufficient detention spaces as required by the Treasury?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As the noble Lord well knows, it is not government policy to comment on leaks. That is a fairly long-standing convention. I do not propose to do so now.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:15, 5 June 2023

My Lords, I think the Government and the Minister are in a mess on this, particularly given the fact that the Minister cannot reassure us about the impact assessment.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, put it at the beginning but I was going to finish by saying that the reason I put forward Amendment 13 was to try to get some of the detail that is necessary for parliamentarians to actually make decisions about whether or not a law is fit for purpose. The Minister is now in real trouble through the rest of the Committee, not just on this amendment, which I particularly posed around returns. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned that a number of questions were asked, including by me, and that the Minister failed to answer virtually any of them—apart from those on the Dublin III agreement, which, if I might say, was something that would have been in the impact assessment. The Minister said that what I said was “complete nonsense”. I would not have used that term about another noble Lord, but he called what I said complete nonsense. Having said that, the impact assessment is crucial.

Nobody has a clue what “in due course” means. My noble friend Lady Lister made the point that I have got written down: on 24 May, the Minister committed himself to taking back the concerns that there was not an impact assessment. Can the Minister confirm that he has taken those back already? If so, why is he saying that he is going to take back the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others mentioned today? His answer should have been that he had already taken the concerns back and they are being discussed in the department.

Shall I tell the Minister why this is so serious? I know from my own ministerial times—as I am sure that others here who have served either as civil servants or Ministers will know—that there will be planning assumptions in the department. They have not just made it up—a few people from here, a few people from there; there will be planning assumptions. That is where the figure in the Times which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to has come from. Whether or not it is a leak, there is a figure of between £3 billion and £6 billion as to the cost over the next two years of the Government’s policy. There will be assumptions about the numbers of detainees and assumptions about the numbers who are going to be removed. All of those assumptions are available and in the Home Office. The Minister will have had some discussions about that. Of course he should be involved in the impact assessment. He will take the advice of civil servants but, in the end, with the Home Secretary, he will have to sign it off. The impact assessment will be signed off by Ministers. He will not write it but he will sign it off, or other Ministers will.

The Minister has available to him facts and figures that this Committee does not have. How on earth can you properly legislate on that basis? How can we say that the Minister, as he will have on some things, has a good point? I will say something and then he will say, “Lord Coaker hasn’t thought about that; if he had seen these facts, he would know that”. I would have to concede, because there are facts.

We are not yet in a Trumpian world of competing facts; we have facts. That is what every single noble Lord in this Chamber has asked the Government for. In order to make proper decisions, whether about returns agreements as in my Amendment 13 or other decisions, it is a convention that those facts are made available. At the very least, they should be made available before Report—they should be made available now. You can have an impact assessment and an economic impact assessment, or you can put the two together.

In effect, we are whistling in the dark. We have no idea what half of this means. I asked the Minister how many people are currently waiting to be deported, both pre 7 March and post 7 March, and how many the Government assume will be able to be returned. Where are the returns agreements? It is perfectly reasonable to ask the Minister responsible for the operation of the Illegal Migration Bill to say practically how it is going to work.

I said that the debate about principle will have to come but I am also interested in the unworkability of what has been said. The Minister took me on about Dublin III. What about the rest of it? Where are all the other facts and figures? This Committee has no idea. The Minister will have them; I read them out from his own statistics. Why did he not just repeat the public facts available about the Bill?

I know that we need to move on. I understand that and it is fair comment that I am now going on too long. But it is of such importance that we have the facts normally made available as a convention, a courtesy and a good way of doing legislation. They should be put before parliamentarians as they make decisions, debate, discuss and argue. Opinions will clash. People will think that some of what I say is rubbish and complete nonsense, but that is what happens in a debating chamber. It cannot happen if one hand is tied behind our backs. The Minister needs to publish that impact assessment as soon as possible. To do that “in due course” is not good enough. He needs to go back to the Home Secretary and tell her we need it to be published because we need to see the facts as we discuss the legislation. That is what every one of us thinks is important, and it should happen as soon as possible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Clause 3: Unaccompanied children and power to provide for exceptions