Clause 10 - Differential treatment of refugees

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 21st October 2021.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 87, in clause 10, page 13, line 40, at end insert—

“(10) Before this section comes into force, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the implications of this section for local authorities, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, and the report must be approved by a substantive vote in both Houses.

(11) A report under subsection (10) must include the following information—

(a) an assessment of the financial implications for the bodies listed in subsection (10);

(b) an assessment of the functions and powers of those bodies that will be affected by this section;

(c) details of any consultation and engagement with those bodies, and the outcome of such engagement and consultation;

(d) the Secretary of State’s findings, conclusions and proposed actions.”—

This amendment would require the Government to report on the implications of clause 10 for local authorities and the devolved administrations, and to obtain Parliamentary approval for such a report, before the clause enters into force.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment 161, in clause 10, page 13, line 40, at end insert—

“(10) Nothing within the Act or this section authorises any treatment or action which is inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.”

This amendment seeks to ensure consistency of clause 10 with the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The Opposition strongly oppose the clause. We believe that it contravenes the 1951 refugee convention, that it sets a dangerous precedent by creating a two-tiered system for refugees and that it is deeply inhumane. The clause seeks to dehumanise refugees in many insidious ways, and I believe that it threatens our very sense of who we are as a civilised nation. I will set out all the ways in which the clause does that, but before I begin, I would again like to thank the many organisations from across the refugee and asylum sector for their invaluable help in our scrutiny of the clause.

I will talk first about the differential treatment of refugees in groups 1 and 2. As all members of this Committee will know, at the heart of clause 10 is the creation of two tiers of refugee under UK law. Only those refugees who meet specific additional “requirements” will be considered group 1 refugees and benefit from the rights currently granted to all refugees by the refugee convention. Under clause 10 of the Bill, the requirements for group 1 refugees are that

“they have come to the United Kingdom directly from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened (in the sense of Article 1 of the Refugee Convention), and…they have presented themselves without delay to the authorities.”

The clause also states:

“Where a refugee has entered or is present in the United Kingdom unlawfully, the additional requirement is that they can show good cause for their unlawful entry or presence.”

Other refugees, who are not deemed to meet the criteria, will be designated as group 2 refugees. The Secretary of State will be empowered to draft rules discriminating against group 2 refugees with regard to the rights to which they are entitled under the refugee convention, as well as the fundamental human right to family unity.

To explain this differentiation between refugee groups further, clause 10 makes provision for different treatment of people recognised as refugees on the basis of how they travelled to the UK and the point at which they presented themselves to authorities. Those who travelled via a third country, do not have documents or did not claim asylum immediately would routinely be designated as group 2 refugees. The clause goes on to set out how the length of limited leave, access to indefinite leave, family reunion and access to public funds are likely to become areas for discriminating against group 2 refugees.

The Opposition strongly argue that such an approach is deeply flawed and fundamentally unfair. Furthermore, the attempt to create two different classes of recognised refugee is inconsistent with the refugee convention and has no basis in international law. The refugee convention contains a single, unitary definition of refugee, which is found in article 1A(2). That defines a refugee solely according to their need for international protection because of feared persecution on the grounds of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Anyone who meets that definition and is not excluded is a refugee and entitled to the protection of the refugee convention. We heard in evidence from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative to the UK that in her opinion this clause and the Bill were inconsistent with the UN convention and international law.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

The hon. Gentleman mentions the UNHCR, which is the guardian of the refugee convention. Does he agree with me that on that basis, if we are to listen to anybody’s opinion about this issue, it would be the UNHCR and that should be therefore the final word on it?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. It is not just the UNHCR. It is the custodian of the UN refugee convention, so we should listen to what it says, but many other commentators across the board have commented on how this clause and the Bill breach international law, and we need to heed what they say. I have yet to see the Government’s legal advice that says that they do comply with international law, but hopefully that will be available.

I will set out for the Committee the reasons why the distinction between groups of refugees is so unfair and inhumane. I will start by addressing the issue of distinguishing between refugees on the basis of how they arrived in the UK. By penalising refugees for how they were able to get to the UK, the Bill builds walls against people in need of protection and slams the door shut on many seeking a safe haven. Most refugees have absolutely no choice about how they travel, as people on all sides of the political divide understand.

Do the Government seriously intend to penalise refugees who may have found irregular routes out of Afghanistan? In fact, Government Ministers have been on national news programmes in recent weeks, urging such a course of action for those wishing to flee Afghanistan. Are the Government saying that people are less deserving of our support if they have had to take dangerous journeys? Is an interpreter from Afghanistan who took a dangerous journey to our shores less deserving than a refugee who was lucky enough to make it here on one of the flights out of the country?

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that those who fought alongside or were trained by UK forces, or who guarded our diplomatic personnel in Kabul, were betrayed in being left behind and are being doubly betrayed by the provisions in the Bill?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and he is absolutely right. People linked to my constituents are Chevening scholars who were told to go to Kabul airport. They got no assistance and are still stuck in Afghanistan, with no way to get out. It is deeply concerning, and they feel let down.

It clearly makes no sense to seek to penalise and, in some cases, even criminalise those who have been forced to take dangerous journeys. In our view, it is an insidious way of dehumanising a group of people who deserve our support—it is victim blaming of the most crass and immoral type. Penalising people for how they have arrived in the UK has particular implications for already vulnerable groups of refugees, such as women and those from LGBT communities. Women are often compelled to take irregular routes to reach safety, as we can see only too clearly in Afghanistan. There are simply no safe and legal routes that exist. Even the Government’s much-vaunted resettlement scheme relies on women escaping from a regime in which they are forbidden to walk around freely in the streets.

In many cases, even if the Government created new safe routes from dangerous parts of the world, they would simply not be available to all those in need of protection. Many women would not be able to safely reach an embassy or cross a border to access a resettlement programme, if those routes did indeed exist. Some women would be able to disclose their need for protection only once they reached a country that they considered safe. Under the proposed changes, however, women who arrive irregularly, including through a safe third country, would be penalised. Furthermore, a woman could be prosecuted, criminalised and imprisoned for one to four years. All these obstacles apply to those from LGBT communities as well. We simply ask the Government: how on earth does this draconian and inhumane treatment of vulnerable groups sit alongside British values of fairness?

Another huge flaw in this part of clause 10 is that many of the journeys facilitated by people smugglers are undoubtedly dangerous. Much attention has been directed by the Home Secretary and certain sectors of the press to the minority of people who enter the UK’s asylum system via boat crossings of the channel. However, that is far from the only dangerous journey that is made to enter the UK; the Home Secretary emphasised that when referring to the tragedy of the 39 Vietnamese people who lost their lives in a container found by Essex police in 2019.

Again, as the Home Secretary identified in her speech, the dangers are not limited to the journeys but are also a feature of the violent and exploitative treatment by people smugglers, traffickers and other abusers. Moreover, many of the people who make dangerous journeys to reach the UK from the continent will already have made dangerous journeys by land and sea, including across the Mediterranean.

The fallacy of the Government’s position in penalising people for making irregular routes to the UK is the same as the fallacy inherent in the stated objective of breaking the business model of people smugglers. Unless the Government can provide safe routes—they plainly have not done so in the case of Afghanistan and elsewhere—penalising people for making unsafe journeys is simply cruel. By not providing safe routes, the Government are also fuelling the business model of people smugglers and then penalising the victims they have a responsibility for creating. Do they not understand or are they simply willing to turn a blind eye? In America in the 1920s, prohibition drove the sale of alcohol underground, and a similar thing will happen here: more people smuggling will take place rather than less. The Government are fuelling the people smuggling business model.

It appears that Ministers and those advising them do not appreciate the compulsion to make these journeys, which is strange because they clearly acknowledge that the journeys are very dangerous and sometimes fatal. They are often highly traumatic, physically and mentally, and generally involve at some point extremely violent and cruelly exploitative people.

To give one example, it has long been documented that there is a practice among the women and girls seeking to cross the Mediterranean from Libya of taking contraceptive medication prior to the journey. That is because those women and girls anticipate that they will be raped. Do Ministers have any idea of the desperation involved in making the decision to take such medication? It is clear that although the women and girls fully understand the danger involved in the journeys, they are still compelled to make them, because the alternative of not doing so is even worse.

If people truly had a reason to believe that they were or would be safe where they are, they would not make the journeys. Simply making the journey more dangerous or the asylum system more unwelcoming will not change that. A salutary lesson ought to be taken from the example in 2014 when pressure from the EU, then including the UK, led to Italy’s decision to abandon its organised search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The immediate impact over several months before the Government relented was a huge increase in the number of people dead. The need for the journeys had not changed, so the journeys continued. The dangers of the journeys were greatly increased, so hundreds more people lost their lives. Discriminating against refugees obliged to arrive spontaneously will not prevent desperate people from making dangerous journeys. There is strong evidence that a policy focused on closing borders forces migrants and refugees to take more dangerous journeys and leaves them more vulnerable to traffickers.

That brings me to section 2(a) of the clause, which states that group 1 refugees must have

“come to the United Kingdom directly from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened”.

In other words, the Government are setting an expectation that to be a refugee who is supposedly deserving of the support usually afforded, the UK must be the first safe country in which they have sought asylum. I cannot state strongly enough how requiring refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach would undermine the global, humanitarian and co-operative principles on which the refugee system is founded. The UK played a key role in developing those principles 70 years ago when it helped draft the refugee convention, and, together with the other members of the United Nations General Assembly, it recently reaffirmed them in the global compact on refugees.

The proposed clause designed around the maxim that asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and can be penalised if they do not, including by being designated as group 2 refugees, will impact not only refugees but fellow host states and the ability to seek global, co-operative solutions to global challenges.

The expectation that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach is also unworkable in practice. The Government are aware that there are 34.4 million refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, and the vast majority—73%—are already hosted in countries neighbouring their countries of origin. Some 86% are hosted in developing countries. Low-income countries already host 86% of the world’s refugees compared with the UK, which hosts just 0.5%. To insist that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach would impose an even more disproportionate responsibility on the first safe countries both in Europe and further afield, and threaten the capacity and willingness of those countries to provide protection and long-term solutions. In turn, that would overwhelm the countries’ hosting capacity and encourage onward movement.

It is also worth noting that even within Europe most of the countries that refugees pass through on their way to the UK already host significantly more refugees and asylum seekers per population than the UK does. According to the Home Office’s own statistics, the UK is 17th in terms of the numbers it takes, measured per head of population.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that very few other countries resettle as many refugees as the United Kingdom or take as many through safe channels from United Nations camps in some of the most troubled parts of the world?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:15 pm, 21st October 2021

Since Dublin 3 ended, there are very few resettlement routes available. That is one of the problems. Unless there are safe resettlement routes, we are just fuelling dangerous journeys.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is repeatedly asserted that the UK has an exceptional record in terms of resettlement. It has a decent one; it is about mid-ranking in the European Union, in terms of the number it has taken per head of population over the years. Similarly, it is mid-ranking in terms of the number of asylum cases it assesses. It is good, but it is not exceptional and it is not a justification for the measures in this Bill.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Unless safe routes are developed, all that will happen is that there will be an increase in dangerous crossings, because that will be the only way in which people can reach the UK.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

As we have already discussed, the majority of the people who come to our shores come from France. There is a safe route from France. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting we should give these people Eurostar tickets?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

France takes three times more asylum seekers than the UK, as does Germany. As I mentioned, the UK is 17th by population in the number of asylum seekers it takes. The right hon. Gentleman is being slightly disingenuous. There are many other countries—Lebanon, for instance, has taken 1.9 million refugees from Syria. Jordan has taken 1 million over the last 10 years. Turkey has taken 4.3 million refugees. We are talking about a tiny fraction of those numbers. I think we need to stand up and take our share of the refugees. These countries will collapse if they are forced to take refugees because they neighbour countries where there is conflict.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a bit of a dichotomy here? People talk up the tradition and reputation of the UK at the same time as presenting legislation that undermines that reputation. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that global Britain seems less compassionate, less generous and less Christian than the Great Britain that proudly helped draft the refugee convention?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The refugee convention was enshrined in UK law in 1954 when Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister. It was one of his beliefs, and that of the Government of the day, that it was a very important part of the UK’s global position in the world. We should not do anything that would trash our reputation, because we will all be diminished by that.

The clause makes no practical or moral sense at all. Global provision for refugees could not function if all refugees claimed asylum in the first safe country they came to. As Members across the political divide know, most refugees are hosted in developing countries and the UK receives fewer asylum applications than most other European countries. Furthermore, it is an important aim of the refugee convention that there should be no penalisation of refugees who arrive irregularly. It is very important to make that point and to repeat the point that the refugee convention does not state that refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they come to; it permits refugees to cross borders irregularly to claim asylum.

Let me give the Committee an example to illustrate why this part of the refugee convention is so vital. This is a real-life scenario that faced a refugee to the UK, who, in this situation, I am going to call Aaron.

Aaron is a refugee who travelled to the UK via other countries. He was a young teenager when he had to leave Eritrea without his family. His father had been conscripted into the country’s brutal military service and came home to see his family. When he left again, he told his family that he was going back to his base, but he never showed up there. The family did not know anything about his whereabouts. The military came to Aaron’s house looking for his father and told Aaron’s mother that they would take her children, including Aaron, if they could not find his father. Aaron had no choice but to leave. He says:

“People really suffer. They don’t want to leave their country but their country forces them because military service in Eritrea is the worst thing. You have to serve the military forever. There is no life, there is nothing.”

He left Eritrea and spent two years looking for safety before arriving in the UK. He travelled via Sudan and Libya, both of which were very dangerous. He then went to Italy, where he felt unsafe sleeping outside under bridges, and to France, where he ended up in the Calais jungle. He explained:

“They didn’t treat us like human beings”,

Aaron came to the UK in the back of a lorry. “I wasn’t expecting anything,” he remembers,

“I just escaped to keep my life, to be safe. That’s the most important thing.”

He was initially refused asylum and had to submit a fresh claim. He was in the UK asylum system for seven years before finally being recognised as a refuge—and as having been one all along. He now plans to study IT.

Under international law, the primary responsibility for identifying refugees and affording international protection rests with the state in which an asylum seeker arrives and seeks that protection. The idea of seeking asylum in the first safe country is unfair, unworkable and illegal in international law.

That brings me on to the suggested strictures on group 2 refugees in clause 10(6), which sets out a non-exhaustive list of ways in which refugees who arrive irregularly may be treated differently, with reduced leave to remain, more limited refugee family reunion rights, and limited access to welfare benefits. The explanatory notes for the Bill state:

“The purpose of this is to discourage asylum seekers from travelling to the UK other than via safe and legal routes. It aims to influence the choices that migrants may make when leaving their countries of origin—encouraging individuals to seek asylum in the first safe country they reach after fleeing persecution, avoiding dangerous journeys across Europe.”

However, the Government have provided no evidence to show that the stated aim will result from the policy.

Evidence from many refugee organisations suggests that refugees seek asylum in the UK for a range of reasons, such as proficiency in English, family links or a common heritage based on past colonial histories. Many sector organisations have told us that refugees do not cite the level of leave granted or other elements of the asylum system as decisive factors. In fact, it seems likely that those are not even details refugees would tend to be aware of.

However, the proposed strictures will certainly result in a refugee population who are less secure, because they have a shorter amount of leave and are less able to integrate because they have reduced access to refugee family reunion. They will punish those who have been recognised, through the legal system, as needing international protection—girls fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, Christian converts fleeing theocracy in Iran or Uyghurs fleeing genocide in China.

These strictures are likely to retraumatise people who have already been subjected to horrific abuse. To take one example in more detail, clause 10(5) gives the Home Secretary broad discretion to set the length of any limited period of leave given to group 2 refugees, such that they may be indefinitely liable for removal. Both the new plan for immigration and the Bill’s explanatory notes confirm that group 2 refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution will be given only temporary protection status—no more than 30 months, according to the new plan—after which they will be reassessed for return or removal. The extreme uncertainty that this will cause, along with the inability for people to move forward with their lives, is tantamount to inflicting mental cruelty.

The explanatory notes also state that 62% of asylum claims in the UK up until September 2019 were from people who entered irregularly. This means the policy intention is to impose strictures on the rights and entitlements of the majority of refugees coming to the UK, even though we take fewer than comparable countries, as has been noted.

Furthermore, these strictures would deny recognised refugees rights guaranteed to them under the refugee convention and international law. They would also create a series of significant civil and criminal penalties that would target the majority of refugees who will seek asylum in the UK. Those penalties would target not just those who had entered the UK irregularly or who had made dangerous journeys, but all those who have not come directly to the UK—regularly or irregularly—from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened; those who have delayed claiming asylum or overstayed; and even those who arrive in the UK without entry clearance and who claim asylum immediately.

In short, these strictures can only be seen as cruel and as a way to obstruct integration. Barriers to resettlement in the UK would force refugees to live under the perpetual threat of expulsion, denied a chance to rebuild their lives. Subjecting refugees to no recourse to public funds conditions would leave refugees vulnerable to destitution and exploitation. Meanwhile, reducing family reunion rights interferes with the right to family life, and is cruel. It constitutes a reduction of safe, managed routes for people seeking sanctuary.

I will now look in more depth at the practical consequences of the strictures of group 2 status that have just been outlined. It is worth stating that this clause envisions that group 2 status will be imposed on recognised refugees—people who are at risk of persecution, who have been forcibly separated from their homes, families and livelihoods, and who in many cases have suffered trauma. The mental health challenges they face are well documented, yet this clause will stigmatise them as unworthy and unwelcome, and if the intentions expressed in the explanatory notes were carried out, it would maintain them in a precarious status for 10 years, deny them access to public funds unless they were destitute, and restrict their access to family reunion. Multiple studies have shown that that precarious status itself is a barrier to integration and employment, yet despite these challenges, the Bill would specifically empower the Secretary of State to attach a no recourse to public funds condition to the grant of leave to group 2 refugees, and according to the explanatory notes their status

“may only allow recourse to public funds in cases of destitution.”

The adverse consequences of no recourse to public funds conditions will fall not only on the refugees themselves, but on their families, including children who travel with them, who are able to join them later or who are born in the UK. Those consequences have been documented in numerous studies, as well as in the context of litigation. They include difficulty accessing shelters for victims of domestic violence; denial of free school meals where those are linked to the parents’ benefit entitlement; and de facto exclusion from the job market for single parents, largely women, who have limited access to Government-subsidised childcare, as well as significant risks of food poverty, severe debt, substandard accommodation and homelessness. These consequences in turn hinder integration and increase the financial cost to local authorities, which in many cases have statutory obligations towards children and adults. The Home Office’s own indicators of integration framework identifies secured immigration status as a key outcome indicator for stability, which is

“necessary for sustainable engagement with employment or education and other services.”

It is also worth noting that among the public relief measures defined as public funds in this context are those specifically intended to support children, such as child benefit, and the particularly vulnerable, such as carer’s allowance and personal independence payments. Moreover, children born to group 2 refugees in the UK normally have no right to British nationality for 10 years, or until their parents are granted settlement; given that refugees may put their status and perhaps their security at risk were they to approach the embassy of their country of origin to register their children, many would have no effective nationality at all. With the possibility of applying for family reunion foreclosed, more women and children are likely to attempt dangerous journeys, either at the same time as the men who might previously have sponsored them under current laws, or joining them afterwards. That risk has been recognised by the Council of Europe, among others, and has been borne out in Australia, where the abolition of family reunion rights for holders of temporary protection visas was followed by a threefold increase in the percentage of refugees trying to reach Australia who are women and children.

I will now turn in more detail to how clause 10 contravenes the refugee convention. As a party to the convention, the UK has a binding legal obligation towards all refugees under its jurisdiction that must be reflected in domestic law, regardless of the refugee’s mode of travel or the timing of their asylum claim. The obligations in the convention are set out in articles 3 to 34. They include, but are not limited to, the following obligations that are directly undermined by clause 10: providing refugees who are lawfully staying in the country with public relief on the same terms as nationals, which is article 23, and facilitating all refugees’ integration and naturalisation, which is article 34.

The Bill is inconsistent with those obligations in at least three significant ways. First, it targets group 2 refugees, not only for unlawful entry or presence but for their perceived failure to claim asylum elsewhere or to claim asylum promptly, even if they entered and are present in the UK lawfully. Secondly, it would empower the Secretary of State to impose a type of penalty for belonging to group 2 that is at variance with the refugee convention: namely, the denial of rights specifically and unambiguously guaranteed by the convention to recognise refugees. Thirdly, it would empower the Secretary of State to impose a penalty on group 2 refugees that would be inconsistent with international human rights law: namely, restrictions on their rights to family unity. There are many other ways in which the Bill as a whole contravenes the refugee convention in clauses other than clause 10, as we will discuss in later debates.

Taking the requirements of the refugee convention to facilitate all refugees’ integration and naturalisation with reference to clause 10 in more detail, it is disturbing that the official explanatory notes published alongside the Bill state that the intention is to grant group 2 refugees a precarious temporary protection status, with no possibility of settlement for at least 10 years. That would deliberately impede their integration and naturalisation, rather than facilitating it, as required by article 34 of the refugee convention.

Furthermore, the explanatory notes clarify that the Government intend to use the powers created by the Bill to restrict the rights of family members of group 2 refugees to enter or remain in the UK. That would be at variance with the right to family life and the principle of family unity, and would run counter to decades of international consensus, in which the UK has consistently participated,

“that the unity of the family, the natural and fundamental group unit of society, is an essential right of the refugee” and that refugees should

“benefit from a family reunification procedure that is more favourable than that foreseen for other aliens”.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 2:30 pm, 21st October 2021

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, once again, the Government will extend the number of people in the UK subject to no recourse to public funds conditions, requiring emergency support from councils and creating a new burden for local authorities of every political colour up and down the country, which will have to provide millions more pounds in support, when people could be supporting themselves and moving on with their lives?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The burden will fall on all local authorities looking after asylum seekers and their families; they will have no choice but to provide that service. The Government have stayed silent on what provisions they will make for local authorities. I am not sure how far they have even consulted local authorities as to whether they accept what has been proposed.

Clause 10(6) would give the Secretary of State the same power to discriminate against family members of group 2 refugees. At present, the Secretary of State’s powers in that regard are constrained by section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, which states:

“Nothing in the immigration rules (within the meaning of the 1971 Act) shall lay down any practice which would be contrary to the Convention”,

which would appear to preclude the adoption of some of the immigration rules set out in the explanatory notes.

It is worth restating that nothing in the refugee convention defines a refugee or their entitlements under the convention according to their route of travel, choice of country of asylum or the timing of their asylum claim. The Bill is based on the premise that

“people should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in”.

That principle is not found in the refugee convention, and there is no history of it in the convention.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

The shadow Minister says that there is no history of distinguishing between refugees depending on their route into the country, but that was not the approach taken by the previous Labour Government with the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. Baroness Scotland said:

“When a person leaves their country through fear, we consider that, as a general principle, such a person should seek protection in the first safe country where they have the chance to do so. It has been said that nowhere in international law is such a requirement imposed. There may not be such a law, but that does not dilute the argument that a person who is in genuine fear should seek shelter at the earliest opportunity.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 April 2004; Vol. 659, c. 1683.]

She was right, wasn’t she?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I do not know the context in which Baroness Scotland said that, but I disagree with her. I very much believe that that would have been breaching international law, as I have stated throughout my speech.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Perhaps Government Members would have greater standing on the issue if they were not betraying their own manifesto and cutting aid to countries where people might be able to seek support or stay longer if UK support was not retracted.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Just for the record, did the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate just say that the last Labour Government was breaking international law?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Nice try. No, I did not say that.

The clause represents a fundamental change to the principle of refugee protection in the UK, introducing a two-tier system where any refugee reaching the country who has not benefited from a place on a resettlement programme may have their claim deemed inadmissible and be expelled to another country, or eventually granted temporary status with restricted rights to family reunification and financial support.

It is worth pointing out here that the UNHCR, the guardian of the 1951 refugee convention and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees, tells us that the core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. That is now considered a rule of customary international law. Clause 10 therefore represents the shameful undoing of the commitment to the refugee convention and the British values that led to that commitment in the first place.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

It is clear to all on the Opposition Benches that if this goes ahead, we will be breaching our international legal obligations. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that in doing so, the damage done both to the UK’s reputation as a global legal centre and to its trade strategy will be immense, at a time when we really need to find new trading partners?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I very much share those concerns. It is clear that some countries wishing to trade with the UK may also insist on certain measures in relation to visas and access, and in some of the new clauses tabled by the Government more recently there is a suggestion that they would be willing to withdraw visas to some countries. I do not know who they have discussed it with, but that seems contrary to the intention of trading with other nations.

There is no doubt, therefore, that the clause stands in clear contravention of the refugee convention—no small thing, given that the convention, sometimes known as the Geneva convention of 1951, anchors the status of refugees in international law. Around the most desperate and terrorised people on earth, the convention throws the shield of international protection. Since the horrors of the second world war, it has been an article of faith for every decent society, as required today as it was 70 years ago by all those fleeing war, torture and persecution of all kinds, and by all those women and girls who undertake their journey in the knowledge that they may well be raped en route to finding safety.

The Opposition are clear that accepting this clause would set a dangerous precedent by creating a two-tier system for refugees that is deeply inhumane. Furthermore, we hold that its consequences, intended or not, would undermine our binding legal obligations to all refugees. We oppose it because we believe the 1951 convention and all that goes with it speaks profoundly to the core values of the British people. Given the multiple, deeply negative consequences of the clause—mental ill health, poverty, debt, substandard accommodation and homelessness, to say nothing of the financial costs to local and national Government—it should be removed from the Bill.

In short, group 2 status is not only inconsistent with the refugee convention; it is a recipe for mental and physical ill health, social and economic marginalisation and exploitation. The human cost to refugees and their families, including their children, is obvious enough, and it should shame us that this Bill would actively cause harm if clause 10 is adopted. We will oppose clause 10 stand part.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate on his comprehensive critique of clause 10. I want to add only a few points on what is clearly at the heart of the Government’s approach in this Bill: seeking to create a hostile environment for refugees and splitting them into the two groups of which my hon. Friend spoke.

I was interested to hear the Minister talk earlier about the Bill as just one part of a multifaceted approach to tackling the problem, of which international diplomacy was at the core. I would welcome his reflections, when he comes to make his remarks, on how far he thinks our position in international diplomacy is strengthened by a Bill that the UNHCR, the guardian of the 1951 convention, denounces in clear terms as

“The creation of an unlawful two-tier system in which most refugees are denied rights guaranteed by the Refugee Convention and essential to their integration”.

I think that our position in terms of how we play our cards in international diplomacy will be weakened by setting ourselves against the international community. This proposal appals all organisations that have worked with those coming to our country to flee war, terror and persecution, and Labour shares their view. However, I appreciate that this Government, in contrast with previous Conservative Administrations, revel in setting themselves against the international consensus and are happy tearing up treaties to which they have been signatories.

We should examine the clause in the context of the Government’s own objectives. They say it is part of a deterrent to break the business model of people smugglers by dissuading those seeking asylum from taking what the Government consider to be irregular routes. We are all agreed on the objective of breaking the appalling business model of people smuggling and we all agree that we want to end the situation that leads people to take the most desperate journeys across the channel. As I said earlier, and clearly the Minister struggled to respond to that point, even the Government’s own impact assessment says,

“evidence supporting the effectiveness of this approach is limited.”

I know that he had a problem with evidence when we were talking about clause 9 under part 1.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I look forward to the letter, but it would be useful to hear the evidence before the Committee is forced to vote.

As colleagues have pointed out, these plans will punish the victims of the crime rather than the perpetrators. The Government’s approach conveniently ignores the reality of seeking asylum—of fleeing persecution, danger, abuse and terror, and taking the extraordinary step of leaving your own country and having to flee because you are not safe in the land where you were born and brought up and where your friends and family live. Irregularity in that context is almost a certainty and with it comes a lot of chaos and unpredictability.

Others have mentioned the countless studies that have demonstrated that the preferred destinations of refugees are not identified solely or even primarily on the basis of migration policies devised by Governments with the explicit aim of reducing arrivals. The Home Office has confirmed that the nationality of those arriving irregularly are overwhelming those for whom the majority of their asylum applications will be upheld either at first instance or on appeal, and that includes those from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. The clause draws a differentiation between different kinds of asylum seekers. Not only is it inhumane and suggestive of bad faith as regards those taking these desperate journeys from the outset, but it is an approach that will not work and that risks making things worse.

The Conservative-led Foreign Affairs Committee warned in 2019 that

“A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.”

The Government’s own impact assessment warns that increased deterrence in this manner

“could encourage these cohorts to attempt riskier means of entering the UK.”

The Minister looks frustrated; perhaps he ought to pay attention to his impact assessment.

Central to the Government’s arguments for the clause is that they want to encourage the use of safe and legal routes. Where are they? It is worth looking at that in context. The Minister talked about his pride in the UK’s generosity to refugees. There was some exchange both ways on that because it does not match up to reality. Anything that this country does to accept those seeking to build a new life in the face of terror, conflict and persecution is welcome, but as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East suggested, we are middle-ranking in this area. Worldwide, as the shadow Minister said, we know that it is those countries on the frontline of conflicts, which are often least equipped to deal with the influx of significant numbers, who take the largest share of refugees, including Turkey, with around 4 million, Colombia, Pakistan and Uganda.

That is also reflected nearer to home, as we have acknowledged. According to the most recent data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 2019, Germany settled three times as many refugees as the UK. Indeed, according to the World Bank—its work on this is quite interesting—1.5% of Germany’s population are refugees, compared with 0.65% in France, 0.45% in the Netherlands and 0.19% in the UK; we are actually not middle-ranking, but in a European context, alongside comparable nations, we are well behind in our contribution.

If somebody wants to take a safe and legal route to refuge in the UK, what are the options? Aside from family reunion, the UK resettlement scheme is the primary route, about which there is little publicity available. In the first two quarters of this year, the scheme took a total of only 310 people, according to the Government’s own statistics. The Government also made big promises to those fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, as others have mentioned. I remember the Prime Minister on 27 August emotionally pledging to do “whatever it takes” to get as many people as possible out of Afghanistan after 31 August. That created enormous expectations among my constituents who have family members in Kabul and elsewhere in that country. They contacted me quickly to ask what the opportunities were and how those routes would become available. After a month of no route being available, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary to ask what I should say to my constituents. A month later I had no reply, but yesterday I got a reply saying that, at the moment, there is no route available. That is extraordinary duplicity, raising and dashing expectations.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 2:45 pm, 21st October 2021

It is not only the duplicity of that statement. My constituent’s family member is in Afghanistan and needs their passport to leave the country. Their passport is currently being held by the Home Office in the UK. The Home Office is denying them the opportunity to leave Afghanistan by refusing to be flexible. It could perhaps get that passport, through Qatari friends, to the chargé d’affaires in Doha and out to Afghanistan.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

Many of us could tell similar stories of hopes dashed by the mismatch, reflected in some of the Government’s language around this legislation, between their ambition and the reality as it affects people’s lives. We see safe and legal routes in name only, with the Government talking the talk but failing to walk the walk. On its own objectives, the clause will fail. It is a flawed policy. The Minister looks critical of what I say. I would love him to intervene on me to set out the programme of safe and legal routes that will be unfolded, because they are the principle that underpin the strategy in clause 10. Without that, clause 10 cannot stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

I doubt that what I am about to say on clause 10 will shock Members. It is a fantastic element of the legislation because it will act as a deterrent to one of the many pull factors that the United Kingdom has and why so many people are prepared to make the dangerous journey through mainland Europe—that is not war torn, as some would like to have it seen as—to try to make it here to our United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Sheffield Central talked about the hostile environment, but I remind him that in May 2007 it was Liam Byrne, the then immigration Minister in a Labour Government, who referred to a hostile environment in his announcement of a consultation document. He said:

“We are trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally.”

When that comment is added to the remarks of Baroness Scotland—cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South—that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, it does not take much to understand the demise of the Labour party in red wall seats such as Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. People in my constituency want to see tougher immigration control, and 73% voted for Brexit because they wanted us to take back control of our borders. Clause 10 is one method by which we will take back control, because it will say clearly to people that if they make an illegal entry to this country it will count against them. If people take a safe and legal route, the country will open its arms to them and bring them over here, as we have done for people from Syria and Afghanistan.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

The hon. Member keeps talking about people coming here illegally to apply for refugee status. Of the 5,000 people who came last year by boat, 98% were deemed by the Home Office to be eligible to apply for asylum. They were “genuine asylum seekers”, to use his words and they were not here illegally. They will only become illegal if the Bill is enacted.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. What I heard is that 5,000 people made illegal entry into this country, putting money into the hands of people smugglers, which ultimately funds wider criminality here and in mainland Europe. That is obviously negative, because it means that more people will be trapped in misery. Even Opposition parties accept that the system is currently broken and we need to fix it, but they seem to want to make sure that we have even more people come here—I heard the comparison to other European countries—rather than what people voted for this Government to do, which is to deter people from making those journeys so that they use safe and legal routes.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not listening when my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central outlined that the explanatory notes explain that the Bill will mean that some people are more likely to be forced to use criminal gangs. I am sure that he would not support that.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

I disagree. The clause will not force people to use criminal gangs. It is one strand of a wider idea of deterring people from using dangerous routes, including pushbacks, offshoring and a second status for those who enter the country illegally. All those factors brought together, as part of a wider policy, will act as a deterrent, as we heard from His Excellency the High Commissioner for Australia. This clause is one of those deterrents and will form part of a wider package, which has my full support.

I applaud the Minister for this fantastic piece of work. We will always accept people in this country who take safe, legal routes. We will do our utmost to make sure that those people who are most in need are protected. This country has a fantastic history of looking after such people. Stoke-on-Trent is the fifth highest contributor to the asylum dispersal scheme—a Conservative-run authority with three Conservative Members of Parliament. We are proud of our city’s history, but at the same time we also acknowledge that illegal crossings of the Channel are putting people’s lives in danger unnecessarily and causing huge strain on our systems. Such crossings also enable and make profits for the disgusting criminal gangs. The only way to stop that is to stop people wanting to take those journeys. The clause is one part of a wider strategy to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way, at least. He seems so determined to stop illegal crossings—not illegal people, illegal crossings—and I agree that no one wants people to take dangerous journeys. What are his thoughts and ideas on how we can expand and develop the safe and legal routes, on which the Bill is apparently based, as an alternative? If we have those routes, people will not have to take dangerous journeys.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

The hon. Lady has just promoted me to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office or the Home Office. I would be delighted if the Minister were looking for someone to join him in the Department, but I am sure my Whip would have something to say about that. It is a complicated situation. In Afghanistan, for example, we had a brief window for a safe and legal route to bring people out via the airport. Obviously, we cannot go into Afghanistan tomorrow; we would have to negotiate such an exit route with an Administration that I believe would be hostile to that—I do not believe they have good intentions—so we need to look to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan to see whether we can develop safe and legal entry routes in those other countries. I have full faith that the Government will come about that, but first we need the Bill in place to empower the Government to go forward and create those routes.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Does the hon. Gentleman not think it would be more helpful and more humane to have the safe and legal routes before we enact the Bill so that we do not have a gap for however long it takes when people who desperately need our help cannot get it? That could be months or years—it has taken a long time with Afghanistan, which is apparently a priority. Would it not be better to have the routes first before the Government do whatever they want with the Bill?

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

The problem is that we are not the only country looking for safe and legal routes from places such as Afghanistan. The world is struggling to come to a solution, and it is a world solution that we need to agree. I hope we will use our position as leader of the G7 for that going forward. However, there are a lot of refugees in mainland European countries such as Greece, Italy and France, which are perfectly safe and nice countries in which to start a new life, and people should absolutely claim asylum in them rather than making the journey to Calais, where they put funds into the hands of criminal gangs to fund criminality and come over here illegally. Remember that 70% are men aged between 18 and 35, which means that women and children—the most vulnerable groups—are being left behind in those countries.

Ultimately, it is more important that we ensure that they are protected and that we get to them, as we did in Afghanistan, rather than the illegal economic migrants who are crossing the Channel to enter the country illegally and putting a huge strain on our local authorities. That is why the clause saying, “If you come to this country illegally, that will count against you in your application” is a fantastic idea. Again, that is one strand of a wider strategy to help combat the shocking scenes we see in those Channel crossings, which are angering the people I represent in Stoke-on-Trent—and, to be quite frank, the nation.

The Bill is therefore long overdue. The Opposition accept that the asylum system is broken. Given that, I do not understand why what we are trying to do is not the right solution. The only thing I hear from the Opposition is, “We should have more people coming over here,” but that would create more pull factors to encourage people to make that dangerous journey.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be good to follow the model of the Syrian resettlement programme, brought in by David Cameron, in respect of Afghanistan? Indeed, countries such as Canada are considering many more than us, and, because their system is not clogged up with people arriving illegally, they can have much wider scope for the legal settlement schemes.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

My right hon. Friend makes a really good point. I go back to His Excellency the High Commissioner for Australia, who made it clear that Australia would not have been able to take the amount of Syrian refugees it did with public support had it not had control of its borders—and, because it did have that control, public support and empathy was massively increased when it came to helping people in desperate situations. Those people deserve to have some of the biggest and best countries around the world holding them dear and giving them a new life in safety and security.

The public are angry because they see an asylum system that is not working. They want to see control of the borders; then, when we have people from Syria and Afghanistan coming over, there would be much more public empathy.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:00 pm, 21st October 2021

The hon. Gentleman talked about the broken asylum system, but we actually have more people working in it and processing fewer cases. May Bulman, the journalist from The Independent, wrote an article recently in which she identified 399 people who have been waiting 10 years for their asylum claim to be processed. How can it be that the system employs more people but is processing fewer claims? How can it be allowed that people are waiting 10 years for their claims to be processed? That is the broken system. If it were a business, it would be bankrupt.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

The issue is that we inherited a ruinous backlog from the Labour Government, and we have gone through a multitude of challenges recently—covid, for example, which brought the very challenging situation of working from home. I understand—I am a constituency MP like everyone else. We all do our bit and write to the Home Office. We get frustrated by the time that certain cases can take to process, but ultimately, we are trying to fix the system. That is one strand, and there are other parts of the Bill that we will examine, such as offshoring, which I support. There are other methods to help to deal with the backlog and speed up the processing of asylum claims.

I am more than happy to welcome genuine asylum seekers; what I am unhappy about is the illegal economic migrants continually crossing our channel, coming to our shores and costing millions of pounds to the British taxpayer, and the lawyers obsessed with taking money out of the British purse to stop people being deported. Let us not forget, there are convicted criminals dragged off the plane at the last minute, leaving the UK taxpayer to pick up the tab. They are criminals who should not be here and rightly should be deported. Sadly, I see too many Labour Members celebrating those lawyers’ work to prevent those people from being deported from our country. It is a very sad state of affairs to see those letters written to the Home Secretary. I hope clause 10 will stay as is and will be a part of a wider strategy to deter.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

First, I will deal with the two amendments that we have debated. Amendment 87 seeks to make implementation of the differentiated asylum system contingent on issuing a report on its impact on local authorities and devolved Administrations. The report must also be passed by both Houses. Clearly, immigration is a reserved matter, so it is for Westminster to set policy in that regard. Local authorities and devolved Administrations have not only taken part in the public consultation, where they have shared substantive views, but have been included in targeted, ongoing engagement with the Home Office to discuss issues and implementation. I am afraid I do not see what further value such a report could offer, other than to delay the implementation of this important policy.

Amendment 161 seeks to ensure that nothing in the Bill or this particular section authorises any treatment or action that is inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention. This amendment is unnecessary because we are already under an obligation to meet our international obligations and, as I have continually set out, intend to do so in the Bill. Furthermore, section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 prevents us, in implementing this policy, from doing anything in the immigration rules that is contrary to the refugee convention. If we were to include such a provision in the Bill, the effect may be to suggest that in any other legislation where it is not included, the intention is not to comply with such obligations. I am certain hon. Members will agree that is neither desirable nor intended.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

The Minister has rather blithely dismissed our concern about the potential illegality of the measure. What is it that the Minister knows that UNHCR, Amnesty International, British Red Cross, UN Refugee Agency, Salvation Army, Refugee Council, Children’s Society, Law Society, RAMP or the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project, We Belong, Families Together Coalition, Refugee Law Initiative, British Overseas Territories Citizenship Campaign, Human Trafficking Foundation, Reprieve, Women for Refugee Women, British Association of Social Workers, Trades Union Congress, Mermaids, Stand with Hong Kong, One Strong Voice, Rights Lab, Public Law Project, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, Migrant Voice, Every Child Protected Against Trafficking or ECPAT UK, Justice and Peace, Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, Statewatch, Say it Loud Club, Logistics UK, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, European Network on Statelessness, National Justice Project, Asylum Seekers Advocacy Group, Helen Bamber Foundation, Modern Slavery Policy Unit, Centre for Social Justice, and Justice do not? They all say it is unlawful—what do they not know? Why does the Minister think they are all wrong?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for intervening again. I will come on to his point substantively when I speak to clause stand part. Meanwhile, I invite the Opposition Members to withdraw the amendments.

I do not intend to give a long stand part speech, because we have had a wide-ranging and substantive debate on the clause. It is fair to say that many views have been expressed. I do not remotely doubt their sincerity, but I hope that that acknowledgement of sincerity is extended to all Members, regardless of their views on the matter. When Members come to this House, at the forefront of their minds is wanting to do what they believe to be right. Members on the Government side have equally strongly and sincerely held views on the matters that we are debating, and we believe that the approach we are advocating is the right one.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am quite happy to say that all Members are doing what we think is right, though of course we might think each other misguided. I am concerned that the Minister is not going to go into detail about the issues—

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thought the Minister was suggesting that the debate would no longer go on.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

That is precisely the point that I wanted to focus on before concluding deliberation of the clause. Views have been expressed about differentiation in the way that we are proposing and about its compatibility with our international obligations. I do not agree with the assessment expressed by various Opposition Members: I argue that the differentiation policy is in line with our international obligations, including the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. Of course, it is for Parliament to determine precisely what is meant by our international obligations, subject only to the principles of treaty interpretation in the Vienna convention. That is precisely what we are doing in the Bill.

I want to say something briefly about people seeking asylum in the first safe country that they reach, the importance of that principle and its relevance in the international context, because there has been a lot of debate on the issue. It is self-evident that those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country that they reach. That is without question the fastest route to safety. The first-safe-country principle is widely recognised internationally, and has been for many years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South alluded to in his intervention on the shadow Minister, who slightly surprised me by being so willing to condemn the approach taken by the last Labour Government on that principle. It is a long-established principle, which successive Governments have had at the forefront of their minds when looking at and legislating on such matters.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Where does the Minister find this principle and what is it derived from? The overwhelming majority of refugees do claim asylum in the first safe country that they come to. Where exactly is he deriving the principle from?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

One thing that occurred to me throughout the debate was why any Member of this House would feel that it was necessary for anyone to get into a small boat on the French coastline in order to come to the United Kingdom. France is without doubt a safe country, and I like to think that we could recognise that across the House. Those journeys are completely unnecessary against that backdrop. I am staggered that that point is not recognised more widely. Based on some of the remarks we have heard, one might think that that was not the case. In my mind and those of my colleagues, there is absolutely no need for anyone to get into a small boat to try and cross the English channel or to take irregular journeys.

On the point about what this relates to, the principle is fundamental in the common European asylum system. Without enforcement of it, we simply encourage criminal gangs and smugglers to continue to exploit vulnerable people, and I make no apology for my determination, and that of the Home Secretary and the Government as a whole, to bring these evil criminal gangs to justice and to stop the dangerous channel crossings. We have to stop them, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North alluded to. We have a moral obligation to do that, and that is what the measures in the Bill, and the wider package of measures that we talk about very often in the House, are seeking to achieve.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The clause does no such thing. It actually encourages people to make unsafe journeys and to contact criminal gangs, because there are no safe routes. That is the crux of it. If safe routes were available, fewer people would make the journeys, but nothing that the Government have said creates any safe routes. Since Dublin III ended, there are no safe routes for people to come to the UK to claim asylum.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I am afraid that I just do not accept that characterisation. As I have said on several occasions in Committee, we continue to resettle genuine refugees directly from regions of conflict and instability, which has protected 25,000 people in the last six years—more than any other European country. It is central to our policy that we advocate safe and legal routes and put them at the heart of our policy making. I have talked about several of them. Of course, this is something that we keep under constant review as the international situation evolves and as needs require. I have no doubt that that will continue to be the approach that we take—establishing routes that are appropriate to the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Earlier today, I asked about safe and legal routes. The Minister said that by the time the Bill is enacted, a safe and legal route from Afghanistan will be up and running. I asked him about the other ones. Did he mean just the one route to which he referred, or did he mean routes across all countries where they might be needed? He said he could not answer at that time because the Chair would be annoyed, as we were talking only about the amendment on Afghanistan. Will he now take the opportunity to tell me whether those safe and legal routes will be available to anyone who requires them, to prevent them from making dangerous journeys, before the Bill is enacted?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I respectfully say to the hon. Lady that there are routes in place that people can avail themselves of in order to seek sanctuary in this country.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

We have now debated that with some regularity and in some detail. I do not intend to recover that ground, but of course we continue to offer family reunion, which has seen a further 29,000 people come to the UK over the past six years. As I say, the context in which we are debating these matters in Committee is that people are risking and losing their lives by making dangerous crossings of the channel. I argue that we need to do everything in our power to stop the criminal gangs and to break their business model.

Where people seek to join family or work in the UK, they should make an application via the appropriate safe and legal route. We are committed to safe and legal routes, which are the cornerstone of our immigration policy. They are one part of, but very central to, what we seek to achieve through the Bill, through our direct engagement with the French, and in our wider diplomatic programmes. With that in mind, I ask the Committee to agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:15 pm, 21st October 2021

I would like to respond briefly to the debate, which has been wide-ranging. I have to express some frustration, because the Minister said he would address in detail the reasons he thought the provision is in compliance with the refugee convention. I do not think he said anything at all about that. I appreciate that he has already undertaken to write several letters. Could he write another that explains how article 23 of the refugee convention, which requires equal treatment with nationals in access to social security, can possibly be consistent with a clause allowing the Secretary of State to treat people unequally? All the points we have made about the lawfulness of the Bill have not been addressed. I would be grateful if the Minister would do so.

During the debate we lost sight a couple of times of what we are talking about, which is people who are refugees. Sometimes people refer to genuine refugees, and we are talking about genuine refugees, who, by definition, have been assessed by the Home Office as such. The clause enables the Secretary of State to essentially treat them like trash—to withdraw access to public funds, to leave them in limbo and keep them separate from their families. While we support all reasonable measures to stop the crossings, we draw the line at treating the victims of these people smugglers like trash.

In actual fact, the British public are with us. Public opinion polling shows that people are sympathetic to refugees, and I think they will be upset when they find out that this is how refugees will be treated. I ask the Minister to engage with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the legality of the measures. These are hugely important concerns for a number of reasons, so I hope he will engage with him.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I have a meeting coming up with him in which I fully suspect we will talk about these measures.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have no doubt about it. That is appreciated. On the effectiveness of these measures, reference has been made to how this would disincentivise crossings. Again, there is no Home Office analysis to show that that would be the case. In fact, Home Office analysis is to the contrary. Where is the analysis to show that disincentives will work? We need to see analysis of what the Home Office think the incentives that make people do this are. As we have said, it is things like family, a history with the United Kingdom or speaking the language. None of those will be changed by the Bill. The Secretary of State will not change the incentives that bring people here in the first place.

The numbers are challenging, but in the grand scheme of things the number of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom is tiny. Most folk do not claim asylum here. That is not the issue. Yes, we want to stop them making dangerous journeys, because none of us want to see lives put at risk, but what has been proposed here goes way beyond what is acceptable.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 9 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 10 - Differential treatment of refugees

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Division number 10 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 10 - Differential treatment of refugees

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.