Clause 37 - Illegal entry and similar offences

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 28th October 2021.

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Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 11:30 am, 28th October 2021

I beg to move amendment 110, in clause 37, page 36, line 4, at end insert—

“(C1A) A person who—

(a) is required under immigration rules not to travel to the United Kingdom without an ETA that is valid for the person’s journey to the United Kingdom, and

(b) knowingly arrives in the United Kingdom without such an ETA, commits an offence.”

This amendment inserts a new offence into the Immigration Act 1971 of a person knowingly arriving in the United Kingdom without a valid electronic travel authorisation (ETA) in circumstances where they require such an ETA.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 111 to 117.

Amendment 188, in clause 37, page 37, line 17, 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 devolved criminal justice functions and bodies in Northern Ireland and Scotland, including but not restricted to those of—

(a) the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland;

(b) the Lord Advocate;

(c) the Police Service of Northern Ireland;

(d) Police Scotland;

(e) the Northern Ireland Prison Service;

(f) the Scottish Prison Service;

(g) the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service; and

(h) the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.

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

(a) an assessment of the how the functions and bodies listed in (10) will be affected by this section;

(b) the financial implications for those bodies;

(c) the implications for existing devolved criminal justice and related policies;

(d) details of any consultation and engagement with those bodies; and

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

This amendment would require the Government to report on the implications of clause 36 for bodies involved in devolved criminal justice functions and to obtain Parliamentary approval for such a report, before the clause enters into force.

Clause stand part.

Government amendment 125.

Clause 60 stand part.

Government amendment 120.

Government new clause 21—Electronic travel authorisations.

Government new clause 22—Liability of carriers.

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

Amendment 110 will add to the other offences in the clause the additional offence of knowingly arriving in the UK without an electronic travel authorisation where that is required. The current offence of knowingly entering the UK in breach of a deportation order or without leave dates back to the Immigration Act 1971, and is no longer considered entirely apt, given the changes in ways that people seek to come to the UK through irregular routes, and in particular the use of small boats.

Many of the individuals involved are intercepted in UK territorial seas and brought to the UK. They arrive in, but may not technically enter, the UK. However, we need to deter migrants from risking their lives and those of their families by taking such dangerous routes to the UK, and to take back control of our borders. We are committed to strengthening our border security by ensuring that everyone wishing to travel to the UK, except British and Irish citizens, seeks permission to do so before travelling.

The clause introduces new arrival offences to deal with the issue. I reassure the Committee that we do not seek to criminalise genuine refugees who come to the UK to seek asylum, but safe and legal routes can be used for that purpose, without risking lives.

Government amendments 111 to 117 and 125 are consequential amendments; they ensure that where the clause and schedule 5 cross-reference to the offence of arrival in the UK without the required entry clearance, they also refer to the new offence.

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

The Minister has slightly skirted over the most fundamental point in all this, which is that lots of refugees who come to seek asylum in this country will be criminalised by the provision—a good 60% or 70%, even according to the Home Office’s explanatory memorandum. How can he possibly feel comfortable about criminalising them through an offence that could see them imprisoned for up to four years?

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

Clearly, any such cases would be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service or the relevant prosecuting authorities. They must make a judgment as to whether it is in the public interest to pursue such a prosecution. I will say more about that in due course, but it is important to highlight that point.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but he may want to reflect on this now, although he might have been about to do so in due course. He referred to the CPS, but in July the CPS confirmed that, following an agreement made by prosecutors, police, Border Force, the National Crime Agency and the Home Office, it will no longer prosecute illegal entry.

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

As I said—I will come on to this in more detail—it is for the prosecuting authorities to decide whether it is in the public interest to pursue a particular case.

On amendment 188, I reassure the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East that consideration of the issues he has listed is already taking place. I fully recognise that, while immigration offences are a reserved matter, the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland have responsibility for their criminal justice systems, and decisions on prosecutions are independently taken by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland.

My officials have been in contact with the Scottish Government criminal justice division, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Department of Justice Northern Ireland, and have shared information about potential impacts and costings. The amendment would add an extra and unnecessary layer of parliamentary scrutiny to a process that is under way at official level. It would also have a critical impact on the commencement of the clause; it would add delay, but we need the measures in place to respond to the expected surge in dangerous small boat crossings when the weather improves in spring next year. I urge the hon. Member not to press his amendment.

On clause 37, the UK is experiencing a very serious problem of small boat arrivals; illegal migrants are crossing from the continent in small craft that are often equipped with only an outboard motor. They are unseaworthy and wholly unsuitable for a crossing of a minimum of 21 miles across some of the busiest sea lanes in the world. Many of the vessels break down and are intercepted by UK personnel on the grounds of safety of life at sea. The rescued migrants, including pregnant women and children, are generally brought to Dover.

The maximum sentence of six months does not reflect the seriousness of the offence of entering in breach of a deportation order. Increasing the maximum sentence to five years will disrupt the activities of foreign national offenders involved in criminal networks, including organised immigration crime.

The current offence of knowingly entering the UK without leave is ineffective and does not provide a sufficient deterrent to those wishing to enter the UK illegally by small boat. We accordingly propose increasing the maximum sentence from six months’ to four years’ imprisonment.

We also intend to create a new offence of arriving in the UK without an entry clearance where that is required. While some migrants seek to evade immigration control, for example by landing on a deserted beach, many more now arrive in the UK after being rescued at sea. It would not be right, and would be perverse, to have to let migrants take the risk of completing their journey without assistance, and of landing at a small beach, rather than rescuing them at sea, just because under current legislation, the act of intercepting them and bringing them to the UK could cast doubt on whether the migrants entered unlawfully.

It is worth repeating that we are not seeking to criminalise those who come to the UK genuinely to seek asylum, and who use safe and legal routes to do so. We will be targeting for prosecution those migrants in cases where there are aggravating factors—where they caused danger to themselves or others, including rescuers; where they caused severe disruption to services such as shipping routes, or the closure of the channel tunnel; or where they are criminals who have previously been deported from the UK or persons who have been repeatedly removed as failed asylum seekers. The increased prison penalty will allow appropriate sentences to be given to reflect the seriousness of this behaviour.

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

The Minister is at his most reassuring when he tells us, basically, “Don’t worry; we are not really going to apply the full provisions of the clause.” The key point is that none of this is in the Bill. I want to remove these measures altogether, but could we at least put some of the restrictions in the Bill? Otherwise, we are putting in statute a law that criminalises the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers coming into the United Kingdom.

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

I hope I will be able to provide the hon. Member with further reassurance by going on to say that, of course, the decision on whether prosecution is in the public interest rests with the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland. In many cases, we will continue to seek the illegal migrant’s removal, rather than their prosecution.

The amended and new offences will apply to all types of unlawful entry and arrival, rather than being limited to entry via small boats. We should not limit our response to the evasion of proper immigration procedures and controls depending on the method of entry employed. Doing that would risk causing displacement to another, potentially equally dangerous, route. The offences will therefore also apply equally to other means of evasion, such as concealment in a lorry.

We are also amending the offence of assisting unlawful immigration to the UK in breach of immigration law, known as facilitation, to include arrival in the UK. That will ensure that the offence of facilitation also applies to those assisting the new offence of arriving without a valid entry clearance.

Clause 60 is one of the six clauses drafted as marker clauses at introduction. As indicated in the explanatory notes and memorandum for the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, it was drafted as such in the interest of transparency—to make clear our intention of bringing forward substantive provisions on electronic travel authorisations. New clauses 21 and 22 are intended to replace clause 60.

Amendment 120 ensures the provisions in new clauses 21 and 22 can be extended to the Crown dependencies by Order in Council, should they wish to introduce their own electronic travel authorisation scheme by amending the Bill’s extent provisions in clause 69. As I noted earlier, the Government are committed to strengthening the security of our border by ensuring that everyone who wishes to travel to the UK—except British and Irish citizens—has permission to do so before they travel. The Government will introduce an electronic travel authorisation scheme—the ETA scheme—to close the current gap in advance permissions, and to enhance our ability to prevent the travel of those who pose a threat to the UK.

At present, non-visa nationals coming to the UK for up to six months as visitors, and in limited other categories, can travel to the UK solely on the basis of their nationality, evidenced by their passport or other travel document. That information is sent to the Government by the majority of carriers as advance passenger information shortly before the individual embarks on their journey. The ETA scheme will allow security checks to be conducted and more informed decisions to be taken at an earlier stage in advance of travel. The introduction of an ETA scheme is in line with the approach that many of our international partners have taken to border security, including the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

New clause 21 would insert proposed new section 11C into part 1 of the Immigration Act 1971, which will allow the Secretary of State to make immigration rules to administer an ETA scheme. Those rules will include, but are not limited to, who must apply for an ETA, what that application must contain, how long an ETA will be valid for, and when an ETA should be granted, refused, varied or cancelled.

Additionally, new clause 21 also inserts proposed new section 11D into part 1 of the 1971 Act, allowing the Secretary of State to administer an electronic travel authorisation scheme on behalf of a Crown dependency, if requested to do so, in the event that a Crown dependency chooses to operate its own ETA scheme. It also enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to recognise an electronic travel authorisation issued by a Crown dependency as valid for travel to the UK, in line with the UK’s commitment to maintaining the integrity and security of the common travel area.

To enforce the ETA scheme, new clause 22 builds on the existing carriers’ liability scheme by incentivising carriers to check prior to boarding that a traveller holds an ETA—or another form of permission, such as a visa in electronic form—or risk a civil penalty. Such checks are necessary to enforce our requirement for everyone, except British and Irish nationals, to get permission to come to the UK before they travel.

At present, carriers are incentivised to check for the presence of a valid immigration document that satisfactorily establishes identity and nationality or citizenship, and any visa required. New clause 22 incentivises carriers to check that all passengers have the appropriate permission— including by checking with the Home Office, if that permission may be held only in digital form—or risk a penalty. The new clause also provides a statutory excuse against the imposition of a penalty, to cater for circumstances where it has not been possible for the carrier to check for the presence of an ETA, or another form of permission, through no fault of their own.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I will call Mr McDonald first, because he has tabled an amendment that is in this group.

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

Thank you very much indeed, Sir Roger.

I will speak in support of amendment 188 and against the clause. To respond to what the Minister said, and to build on one of my interventions, the Committee has to debate the clause as it appears before us, not as the Minister envisages it being implemented. As it stands, the clause is one of the Bill’s low points, as it places in an already bleak Bill an extraordinarily broad criminal offence that will criminalise pretty much everyone who seeks asylum—many of whom are refugees—as well as survivors of trafficking. That will help to strengthen the control that traffickers have over their victims, rather than helping those victims.

It is unbelievable that should a Syrian, a Uyghur, a persecuted Christian convert, an Afghan interpreter, or a victim of the horrific crime of trafficking arrive seeking our protection, instead of being championed, they would be prosecuted and imprisoned by the regime put in place by the clause. Taken alongside the removal of the protections in the convention for asylum seekers in clause 34, this is a hugely retrograde step. It is also, again, utterly against the spirit and the letter of the refugee convention and the convention on trafficking, an issue that the Minister did not touch on.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 11:45 am, 28th October 2021

Notwithstanding what I have already said about the prosecution services taking a case-by-case approach, the hon. Member inquired about aggravating factors not being added to the Bill. The factors for prosecution when someone comes to the UK may change depending on the circumstances. We need to be able to react flexibly, so putting the factors in primary legislation would be too restrictive. I return to the point that I would expect prosecution services to look carefully at individual cases and to take all factors into account, so I would not accept his depiction.

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

I take a small crumb of comfort from the fact that the Minister does seem to be evidencing some discomfort about how the clause is drafted. He is trying to reassure us by saying it will not be implemented as it is set out now, but that is not satisfactory. We parliamentarians are concerned with what is in the Bill. It is fine for the Minister to say that; I do not know how long he will be in office—hopefully many years—but there will be other Immigration Ministers to come, and they may take a completely different approach.

It may be challenging to put restrictions or a statutory defence in the Bill, but the Minister has to try. He must try much harder. We cannot leave such a broad criminal offence in the Bill simply on the basis of reassurances. I am absolutely of the view that the measures should be removed—for the reasons relating to the refugee convention, and that is even before we get to the ethical considerations and the impact the measures will have on asylum seekers and trafficking victims.

What the clause actually says will make it infinitely harder for refugees or trafficking survivors who eventually make it all the way through the horrendous new system to integrate, put down roots and rebuild their lives. There are questions about how the measures would operate in practice; they raise the spectre of families being separated on arrival if one member is accused of committing this criminal offence. How much harder will it be for somebody to get a job in due course if they have this criminal conviction and spend years in prison? UK citizenship will essentially be near impossible for them.

As we have heard repeatedly, particularly from the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, all of this will achieve absolutely nothing. As Tony Smith, the borders expert, told us in the Committee’s evidence sessions, use of the criminal justice system just has not worked. For smugglers and traffickers, it absolutely has, but not for their victims.

I have a question on scope. Will the Minister clarify whether someone who arrives with an entry clearance that is invalidated because it turns out that it was applied for on a false basis—for example, somebody who has secured a visit visa, when they are arriving to claim asylum—will have committed a criminal offence under the clause, because the leave to enter was obtained fraudulently? From the wording, I guess that they will, but it would be useful to hear the Minister’s clarification.

On amendment 110, we broadly support the ETA regime and encouraging carriers to ensure that the conditions are met, but we are still not absolutely convinced of the need for yet another criminal offence. Why can the remedy for turning up without an ETA not simply be to require that person to leave, or to send them back again? What group of people are being targeted here who are not already impacted by one of the other offences?

Even the wording on the state of knowledge of the person committing the offence raises questions. It says the person must “knowingly” arrive here without the ETA or entry clearance. The required knowledge seems to relate only to knowledge of arrival without the ETA or entry clearance, and not knowledge of whether he required that ETA or entry clearance. If we put that together with the fact that the measure will apply to people arriving in the UK rather than entering it, there is a danger that this will cover people who rock up in ignorance at airport border security, rather than anyone who is trying to do anything sinister. Simple ignorance and a mistake could lead to years in prison. I might be wrong about that; it would be useful to have clarity. Why is a criminal offence necessary?

Our amendment 188 was tabled to prompt discussion about consultation with the devolved criminal justice systems and the personnel in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Again, it gives me some comfort that the Minister has had some of these discussions—at least, the Home Office has—and there has been the important recognition that decisions about public interest will be for devolved prosecutors. It is important to acknowledge that, and it is welcome.

In short, as clause 37 stands, it sets out a framework for arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning several thousand asylum seekers, refugees and trafficking victims every year. Is there an estimate of what the cost will be, regardless of how it is implemented in practice? What will that do the backlogs in courts struggling to recover from covid, and what would be the impact on prison capacity? Putting all that to one side, the fundamental issue is the impact on asylum seekers, refugees and trafficking victims. The clause, as drafted, will compound the already slow and needlessly painful process of securing protection and add a criminal sanction. It is going to achieve absolutely nothing except more human misery.

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

It will not be a shock to hon. Members that I fully support clause 37, which has absolutely the right intention. Ultimately, as we have discussed—we have heard the evidence from His Excellency the Australian high commissioner—if we are to deter people from making this dangerous journey, we should be making sure that the deterrents are strong enough.

We have part of that already: if somebody enters this country illegally, that obviously counts against their asylum claim. Now we are saying that the right thing is that if someone chooses to enter this country illegally, that could lead to a criminal prosecution with a strong prison sentence. That is exactly what the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke want to hear at the end of the day, because 73% voted to leave and wanted to make sure that we took back control of our borders. We are a part of the asylum dispersal scheme already, with over 1,000 currently within the city region. We are happy to welcome them, but we want to see a change.

For example, we would love other parts of Scotland, not just Glasgow, to take on asylum seekers as part of the asylum dispersal scheme. Obviously, Glasgow is fully supportive, but other places voluntarily choose not to take part. We would like Labour-run Islington Borough Council to participate: by the end of 2020, it had not taken a single refugee.

The city of Stoke-on-Trent is expected to bear the burden of a large load and is taken advantage of, because ultimately we are an area that has been forgotten. The Labour party is still checking its Ordnance Survey map to find where the city of Stoke-on-Trent actually is—Captain Hindsight sent out a search party, and it got stuck in North Islington having chai latte and avocado on toast. Meanwhile, Conservative Members are more interested in delivering on the people’s priorities. We are delivering on that in making sure that this provision is strong.

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

I would be more than happy to hear if the search party has found Stoke-on-Trent.

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

It is a wonderful image, but there is only one thing I cannot bear to eat and that is avocado—I just cannot bear it.

The hon. Member is talking about the good people of Stoke-on-Trent, but I remember that they voted for a manifesto, which got him elected, that included not cutting our armed forces and not cutting our aid. Can he explain to the people of Stoke-on-Trent why his party has done exactly that, which leads to more people making the crossing?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. No, I am afraid the hon. Gentleman cannot do so in the context of this Bill. It would not be in order.

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

Thank you, Sir Roger. I would love to find a way of answering that question, and by the way the people of Stoke-on-Trent would love to see the foreign aid budget cut entirely, and I fully support that as a long-term measure—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. The same admonition applies to the hon. Gentleman. Can he please stay within the confines of the Bill?

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

I appreciate your patience, Sir Roger, and of course I will.

I will wrap up quickly by saying that clause 37 tells people that if they enter this country illegally, it will count against them. That is exactly what we should be doing, and I look forward to seeing that progress. Ultimately, we have illegal economic migrants making the journey across the English channel from Calais. The French need to do more, and the threat from the Home Secretary of not sending the additional £54 million has clearly worked—suddenly, I have never seen so many videos and photographs of French activity on their shores to try to prevent the small boats from leaving. It is about time that the French stood up and did what was right, because it is British taxpayers’ money that is funding the additional support they need.

This is about stopping the illegal economic migrants who are funding criminality by putting money into the hands of criminal people-smuggling gangs. That is probably funding wider criminality in the United Kingdom, particularly drugs in our community, and therefore it is right that we stop them. Let us not forget that 70% of those making these illegal crossings are men aged between 18 and 35, whereas we want to be protecting women and children. We have done that in Afghanistan and with Syria: the safe and legal routes are the appropriate way of doing it.

Clause 37 is saying to those illegal economic migrants that we need to make sure they go through those safe and legal routes, or, as Baroness Scotland—the former Labour Minister, back in the years when the Labour party was electable—said, they should be claiming asylum in the first safe country they reach. There is nothing wrong with Greece, Italy or France. I am more than happy to holiday there, and I am sure anyone in mainland Europe would be more than happy to make such a place their home.

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

It is very interesting to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, but I will not rise to the bait.

Clause 37 is one of the most controversial new provisions in part 3 of the Bill. It expands the existing offence of illegal entry so that it encompasses arrival in the UK without a valid entry clearance. It also increases the maximum penalty for those entering without leave or arriving without a valid entry clearance from six months to four years’ imprisonment. I have a question for the Minister. On Tuesday we debated clause 35, which reduced the penalty for a particularly serious offence from two years’ imprisonment to one year. Is it the Government’s intention to make entry a particularly serious offence for the purposes of the Bill? That is what the clause could do.

In effect, the Government’s proposals criminalise the act of seeking asylum in the UK. The Opposition wholeheartedly oppose the measures and urge the Government to consider the following facts. First, clause 37 breaches article 31 of the refugee convention, which prohibits penalisation for irregular entry or stay when people are seeking asylum. The new offence of unlawful arrival is designed to—and will in practice—penalise refugees based on their mode of travel. That goes against everything that the convention stands for.

Article 31 of the refugee convention says that states

“shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees…where their life or freedom was threatened…provided they present themselves without delay…and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

Clause 37 clearly violates the non-penalisation clause in the convention and is therefore in breach of the UK’s obligations under international law.

When taken in combination with clause 12, which excludes UK territorial seas from being considered a place of claim, clause 37 has significant implications for access to protection and the risk of refoulement. Under the proposed changes, those who arrive irregularly, including through a safe third country, could be prosecuted and imprisoned for between one and four years. That is because it is not possible to apply for entry clearance for the purpose of claiming asylum in the UK, and yet an asylum seeker must be physically in the UK to make a claim. Bearing that in mind, 90% of those granted asylum in the United Kingdom are from countries whose nationals must hold entry clearance to enter the UK.

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

This is more a point of order than an intervention, Sir Roger. I have been contacted with a correction to the record: Islington has actually taken refugees, contrary to what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said. Does my hon. Friend congratulate Islington on its record in taking refugees and asylum seekers, contrary to the inaccurate—I was going to say “deceitful”, but I am not sure whether that is parliamentary language—and I am sure accidentally misleading comments from the hon. Gentleman?

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

I congratulate all local authorities that take asylum seekers. All local authorities should take their fair share—not just in Stoke-on-Trent or Islington, but those across the country.

In practice, someone with a well-founded fear of persecution arriving in the UK intending to claim asylum will be committing a criminal offence if clause 37 is implemented. Even if they have a visa, they will be committing an offence because their intention to claim asylum will be contrary to the intention for which the entry clearance or visa was issued. We have heard the example of students: if a student entered on a student visa and claimed asylum in the UK, they would be in breach of that visa. The clause will impact tens of thousands of people, leading to people with legitimate cases serving time in prison for these new offences, followed by continued immigration detention under immigration powers. In this context, the Government are proposing to criminalise asylum-seekers based on their journey—which, in all likelihood, was the only viable route available to them.

Secondly, the proposals are unworkable. While criminalising those we should be seeking to protect, the Bill also fails to introduce safe and legal routes to claim asylum. Clause 37 comes amid a glaring lack of lawful routes for claiming asylum in the UK. Although we welcome things like the resettlement programmes, they are not a solution for those claiming asylum because they are so limited. They cover those who are already recognised as having the protection they need.

We strongly believe that those in need of international protection who reach the UK’s shores should not be criminalised. Under the Government’s proposals they will be because they have pursued the only viable route available to them. The fact that an individual is proved to be a genuine refugee and had no option but to arrive in the UK will provide them with no statutory defence.

However, it is “highly unlikely” that these provisions would be “enforced and prosecuted”. Those are not my words, but those of the Law Society. The Crown Prosecution Service has provided advice to prosecutors not to prosecute asylum seekers who are not involved in any criminal activity other than illegal entry, because they could

“usually be better dealt with by removal”.

It is therefore unclear whether these provisions are even enforceable. As the Law Society points out,

“Passing unenforceable laws undermines the rule of law and contributes to legal uncertainty, for no discernible gain.”

As I have explained, the proposals are inhumane, unenforceable and break international law. They must achieve something, surely. But no, they also fail to achieve the Government’s reported aims. The proposals in parts 2 and 3 of the Bill will push refugees into the hands of the trafficking gangs the Government say they want to stop. They will increase the number of journeys made by unsafe routes, allowing smugglers to charge more for yet more dangerous journeys.

The Bill will not, as the Government have claimed, break the business model of smuggling gangs; it may even help them. It is shocking that there is not a word in the legislation about increasing safe and legal routes—something that would break the business model of the smuggling gangs and prevent unsafe journeys.

Finally, criminalising people in this way is incredibly costly and resource intensive. The Refugee Council estimates that it could cost up to £400 million more per year than the current system, or up to £1.65 billion for four years of custody. The cost of imprisoning people who are seeking asylum in this way will cost a staggering five times more than accommodating them in the asylum support system. Instead of investing in making the asylum system fairer and more effective, the Government aim to waste taxpayers’ money punishing and detaining people who need help.

The Opposition oppose clause 37 in the strongest terms. The Government’s claim to be pursuing a firm and fair immigration policy is not borne out by the Bill. Many of its provisions are neither firm nor fair; they are flawed. If implemented, clause 37 will punish people based on how they arrive in the UK, criminalise those we should be seeking to protect and lead to vulnerable people with a right to protection in the UK being criminalised for pursuing the only option available to them. It will impact the most vulnerable—people who are desperately in need of international protection, from Syrians fleeing war to persecuted minority groups such as Uyghurs and Christians.

I note that there are currently 124 Hongkongers in our asylum system who are under 24 and do not qualify for the British national overseas visa. Will the Minister clarify whether those Hongkongers, depending on how they arrived, would also be criminalised for having pro-democracy views in China? That would be the effect of this legislation.

I have one other question for the Minister. Is it the Government’s intention to separate families at the border? If families arrive with children and the parents are detained, will the children be put into the UK care system?

I give notice that we will vote against clause 37.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 12:00 pm, 28th October 2021

I will pick up on a few points in concluding our deliberations on the clause.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East spoke about costs. We are working with the various UK criminal justice systems and we have shared estimates of costs at official level as part of operationalising the plan. He sought further clarity about that and I hope that has provided reassurance. He also asked about entry clearance invalidation. If the leave is valid on arrival and is subsequently cancelled, no offence would have been committed, but if it is invalidated prior to arrival and the person knows that, the offence would have been committed.

Finally, I reiterate the point about the application of offences in this area. It bears repeating that we are targeting for prosecution those migrants for whom aggravating factors are involved—for example, those causing danger to themselves or others, including rescuers; those causing severe disruption to services such as shipping routes or closure of the channel tunnel; or those who have previously been removed from the UK as failed asylum seekers. The increased prison penalty will allow appropriate sentences to be given to reflect the seriousness of this behaviour.

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

Has the Minister done an analysis of whether there are already criminal offences that cover the scenarios he has just outlined?

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

We believe that this measure is required so that we can take appropriate action to deal with the sorts of circumstances I have just set out. I have made that clear on several occasions, and Members will have heard what I have said. I fully expect that that will continue to be the case, and that will be made clear at every opportunity.

I go back to the point that prosecuting services must judge cases on a case-by-case basis. They must of course take all the factors relevant to the individual case into account in deciding whether to proceed with it. They must also decide whether that is in the public interest. That is a very clear and established position, and will continue to be the case.

I am comfortable that the proposed approach is the right one to take in addressing the issues I have set out, which are particularly egregious and concerning and which require further action.

Amendment 110 agreed to.

Amendments made: 111, in clause 37, page 36, line 5, leave out “or (C1)” and insert “, (C1) or (C1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 110.

Amendment 112, in clause 37, page 36, line 19, leave out “or (C1)” and insert “, (C1) or (C1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 110.

Amendment 113, in clause 37, page 36, line 29, after “(C1)” insert “, (C1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 110.

Amendment 114, in clause 37, page 37, line 2, after “(C1)” insert “, (C1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 110.

Amendment 115, in clause 37, page 37, line 4, after “(C1)” insert “, (C1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 110.

Amendment 116, in clause 37, page 37, line 12, after “(C1)” insert “, (C1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 110.

Amendment 117, in clause 37, page 37, line 15, after “(C1)” insert “, (C1A)”. —(Tom Pursglove.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 110.

Question put, That clause 37, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Division number 32 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 37 - Illegal entry and similar offences

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 7.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 37, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.