80 Lord Blunkett debates involving the Home Office

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 9 and address Amendment 12 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Carlile, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham. I will be brief, because the equivalent amendments were discussed in detail in Committee. I am also very grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead for how he has dealt with pre-emption, which, your Lordships willing, may allow both groups of amendments to stay alive.

Amendment 9 would allow Ministers, officials and courts to depart from the presumption that Rwanda is safe when presented with credible evidence that it is not. Amendment 12 would remove various detailed barriers to that course. Their combined effect is to reverse two of the most revolutionary—I do not use that word in a positive sense— aspects of the Bill. They are the requirement for decision-makers, including courts, to stop their ears to any evidence that does not agree with the Government’s position and the requirement that they should do so for an indefinite period, even if things in Rwanda—as we all hope that they do not—take a turn for the worse.

If noble Lords are in any doubt about how truly remarkable Clause 2 is, I invite them to look at subsection (4). It does not matter how compelling your evidence is of what could happen to you and people like you when you get to Rwanda, it must not even be considered if it questions the proposition that Rwanda is safe.

Subsection (5) sets out the legal principles that have to be ignored to make this clause work—not just the Human Rights Act and international law but

“any other provision or rule of domestic law (including any common law)”—

an insight into the sheer range of legal protections, ancient and modern, that may have to be disregarded in the interests of avoiding the impartial scrutiny of the courts.

If Rwanda is safe, as the Government would have us declare, it has nothing to fear from such scrutiny, yet we are invited to adopt a fiction, to wrap it in the cloak of parliamentary sovereignty and to grant it permanent immunity from challenge—to tell an untruth and call it truth. Why would we go along with that? Clause 2 takes us for fools. Subject to anything that the Minister may say, when these amendments are called, I fully expect to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. I am glad that this evening I have started to understand the processes of the House of Lords, having been here only eight years. Therefore, I will not speak to Amendment 6, which had to be withdrawn in order to vote on Amendment 7, even though Amendment 6 was in group three, but there we go.

I can be even briefer than I intended to be, by just saying that when something is a nonsense, it remains a nonsense at whatever stage we happen to be voting on it. Crucially, in terms of what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has rightly said, when circumstances change, most people change their minds. If minds are not allowed to be changed when circumstances change, then we are all extremely foolish.

I heard the noble Lord, Lord Howard, on the radio this morning explaining in great detail why Parliament had primacy over the courts. In many respects, as with the doctrines of Lord Jonathan Sumption, I agree. However, when the Government step outside the norms of international conventions which Parliament has ratified and signed up to, then the courts obviously continue to have a substantial role, because those are the checks and balances we have built in.

This evening, we are trying to make sense of a nonsensical piece of legislation. No doubt the House of Commons will just nod through the Government’s rejection of these amendments, but in times to come, when historians look back, I think they will ask: “Where were you and what did you do?” If you cannot answer that in a way that makes you comfortable about your grandchildren seeing it, then do not do it.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, for whom I have great respect, but telling asylum seekers to “suck it and see”—to find themselves in Rwanda and, if we have made a mistake, we might be able to do something about it—is frankly ridiculous.

The Minister clearly has a terrific job in reading out something he did not agree with. When he mentioned resettlement routes, which used to exist, the resettlement was from other dangerous parts of the world to the UK, not from the UK to other countries. This afternoon, in the brief time available, I will address that issue, because others have addressed and will address the questions of convention rights, morality, the reputation of this country and the clash between the different parts of our constitution. I happen to take a Jonathan Sumption view of the balance between Parliament and the courts.

One thing is absolutely clear in the Nationality and Borders Act, in the Illegal Migration Act, and now in this so-called Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill—this is nothing to do with finding solutions. It is everything to do with virtue signalling, with “virtue” in quotes, to a particular part of the electorate and finding scapegoats for government failure. The scapegoats are, of course, the Opposition, the courts themselves and this House.

This House cannot fall into elephant traps by allowing the Government to say that, if only they had been able to process this Bill, they would have shown the British people that this worked, but because this House declined to give a Second Reading, they were not able to. It is a very silly and old elephant trap, and anyone who falls into it needs to take a degree in politics.

I will say this about the issues before us today. It seems that Tory Members of the House of Commons did not understand the issue of the one-way ticket to Rwanda. You can understand the electorate not understanding something that we have never done before. In fact, we have said the opposite—time and again, the Government have said that asylum seekers should have chosen to claim asylum in the last country they were in. This is the last country they will have been in when they are sent to Rwanda and refused by the Illegal Migration Bill the right to claim—only to claim in Rwanda. In his wind-up, will the Minister say what they will be claiming—will they be claiming asylum in Rwanda? What happens if they choose not to claim asylum in Rwanda, having chosen to claim asylum in the United Kingdom under their convention rights? If they do not claim asylum, will they be at risk?

The UK judiciary are in massively short supply, by the way. I met a barrister this weekend who is defending an individual four years on from the alleged crime. Our judiciary, courts and criminal justice system are in meltdown, and we are going to send people over there to try to ensure that this is safe. When someone has their asylum claim processed and is duly accorded refugee status, why are they not allowed to come back to the United Kingdom?

If Giorgia Meloni, who is addressing African leaders today, can say that her offshoring proposals would allow return to Italy, Lord help us: the Brothers of Italy can do it, but our Tory Government in 2024 cannot. What sort of country are we? If they cannot return, then all the risks being debated on this Bill kick in, including what happens to the most vulnerable when they do not get proper treatment and support after their claim has been approved.

When their claim is approved and they are allowed to settle in Rwanda, what would stop them, in time, being able to come to the United Kingdom? Surely, they would have travel rights, or are they imprisoned in Rwanda? These are questions that I hope will be addressed at the end of this debate; but let us make no mistake, we are not dealing here with practical issues.

Yes, the Albanian agreement was a success, quite rightly; it is entirely responsible for the drop in numbers. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the threat to asylum seekers—it is not a threat to traffickers—is not the reason that we have had the drop so far. What will achieve that drop is Britain getting its act together: securing the borders, ensuring the processing and, yes, reaching further agreements with the French. What will not do it is the safety of Rwanda Bill, which is shoddy and less than this country deserves.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken today and shared their thoughts on this legislation. We have heard many thoughtful speeches from many noble Lords, but I welcome particularly the valued insights of my noble friends Lady Goldie, Lady Verma, Lord Wolfson, Lord Dobbs, Lord Horam and Lord Murray. It is clear from across the Benches that there is common ground in needing to find a solution to the challenges we face. Just for the record, of course I agree with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on the worth of individuals.

Stopping illegal migration is an important issue for both the public and the Government. Parliament and the British people want an end to illegal migration, as my noble friend Lady Stowell powerfully argued; therefore, we need a deterrent. As noble Lords will have heard me say last week, we made progress towards stopping the boats but we must do more to break the business model of the criminal gangs and deter illegal migrants. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that there is evidence of deterrence—and that it works. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Udny-Lister and Lord Horam for reminding us of Albania and the Australian example.

The dangerous channel crossings are often made by young, fit men in search of better life opportunities. Many of those have travelled through safe countries to reach the UK, as my noble friend Lord Hannan set out, and they have paid substantial amounts of money to the criminal gangs to facilitate their journey. As my noble friend Lady Goldie highlighted, these criminal gangs could not care less about the safety of migrants; they care only about the money. I think noble Lords are in agreement that we cannot let this continue.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and other noble Lords were right to place the Bill in its moral context, but proceeding with it is the moral course, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell powerfully noted. We must put a stop to the dangerous channel crossings that are putting lives at risk and to this mass trafficking of people in order to save lives. That is the humane thing to do, and it is the fair thing to do, as my noble friend Lady Verma argued.

By delivering our key partnership, relocating those with no right to be in the UK to Rwanda and not allowing them to stay in the UK, we will deter people from making these journeys and we will save those lives. We also need to ensure that we are meeting our international obligations, so the treaty the Home Secretary signed in December last year sets out to Parliament and the courts why Rwanda is, and will remain, safe for those relocated there. The Bill makes it unambiguously clear that Rwanda is safe and will prevent the courts second-guessing Parliament’s assessments.

The Prime Minister has been clear that he will not let a foreign court block flights. We simply cannot let Strasbourg dictate our border security and stop us establishing a deterrent.

I turn to the matters raised in the debate, including the points addressed in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord German. A number of noble Lords asked why the legislation seeks to confirm that Rwanda is safe when the treaty simply sets out the aspirations of what should happen, and the measures are not in place. The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future which could address the conclusions it came to. We have been working closely with Rwanda on these changes. The partnership with Rwanda is now set out in a new treaty, binding in international law, with specific provisions to address the court’s findings.

Since the evidential position considered by the UK domestic courts in summer 2022, we have obtained further specific information, evidence and assurances from the Government of Rwanda explicitly to address the challenges raised by the claimants and the UNHCR in the litigation, and the findings of the Supreme Court, following its judgment in November. This primarily takes the form of detailed standard operating procedures, reviews of contracts for services that the Government of Rwanda have procured—for example, with accommodation, facilities and medical insurance companies—and new and revised training programmes.

The noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Coaker, mentioned this all in the context of the UNHCR. Rwanda has successfully hosted over 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers in collaboration with the UNHCR and other organisations. That is not including the nearly 2,000 supported in Rwanda by the emergency transit mechanism to evacuate to safety refugees and asylum seekers trapped in or fleeing civil war in Libya. That is also supported by the EU, which will support the operation of the ETM until 2026, and the EU announced a further €22 million support package for it. As recently as December 2023, the UNHCR evacuated 153 asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda, and the European ambassador to Rwanda described the scheme as:

“A crucial life-saving initiative to evacuate people facing major threats and inhumane conditions in Libya to safety in Rwanda, It is a significant example of African solidarity and of partnership with the European Union. We are grateful to the Government of Rwanda for hosting these men, women and children”.


Regarding our agreement with Rwanda, we have taken crucial steps forward to respond to the Supreme Court findings, which recognise that changes could be delivered to address its conclusions. Both the Court of Appeal and the High Court found that the principle of relocating individuals to safer countries for their protection claims to be assessed was consistent with the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, and the Supreme Court did not disturb this.

It is imperative that we continue to work at pace to stop the boats, save lives and break the business models of the evil criminal gangs. The fundamental accusation that Rwanda is incapable of making good decisions and is somehow not committed to this partnership is wrong, as my noble friend Lady Verma pointed out. I disagree with that. Rwandans, perhaps more than most, understand the importance of providing protection to those needing it. At this point, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the monitoring of all this is of course dealt with by the treaty, which we debated at some length last week.

I turn to the early intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on the Motion set down by this House not to ratify the treaty. Your Lordships will be aware that a resolution made in this House on the treaty does not necessarily stop its progress. The International Agreements Committee report did not fundamentally find anything objectionable in the treaty itself. The report was about implementation, not any flaws in the treaty. The treaty will therefore follow the usual process with regard to scrutiny and ratification. Ultimately, the Minister responsible can decide to issue a statement declaring that the treaty should be ratified in any event, and the Home Secretary will confirm the Government’s position in due course.

The noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Purvis, also asked about the timings of the Bill. This reflects an answer I also gave last week. Both the treaty and the Bill need to progress their respective paths through Parliament in the usual way before they can be ratified or receive royal assent respectively. Rwanda will also need to adjust its legislation and ratify the treaty on its side. Once these things have happened, the Bill and the treaty will be operable.

The noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord German, asked about the Government’s safe and legal routes. The UK is a generous country. We are proud of that fact, and we are proud of the fact that we have helped so many refugees to safety. The Government have made it clear that we will continue to provide sanctuary to those most in need, but we can act only within our capabilities. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that it is not about “I’m all right, Jack”; it is about capability and capacity. While the compassion of the UK is unlimited, our capacity is not. Local authorities have played a vital role in delivery of our safe and legal routes, but they are feeling the pressures caused by both legal and illegal migration. We can bring people over on safe and legal routes only when local authorities are able to receive them. We remain committed to looking at new or expanded safe and legal routes to the UK for those most vulnerable, but only once we have drastically reduced the unacceptable number of illegal, dangerous and simply unnecessary small boat crossings, which are putting a huge amount of pressure on our public services.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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Perhaps the Minister can answer the simple question which I put early in this debate. If that is true, why do the Government not accept that those who are accorded refugee status through the process that this Government wish to apply in Rwanda should be allowed back into the United Kingdom?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I will come back to that.

On 20 October 2023, the Home Office launched the consultation on the cap on safe and legal routes, to understand local authority capacity. This consultation closed on 9 January 2024. Home Office officials are currently reviewing those responses and are planning further engagement with the respondents through a series of regional dialogues to validate responses and to determine a capacity estimate. We will produce a summary of the consultation by the spring and, in summer 2024, the Government will lay a statutory instrument in Parliament which will then need to be debated and voted on, before the cap comes into force in 2025. Therefore, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, we have to wait for all those things to take effect. I have no doubt that this matter will be up for debate again after 2025.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Brinton, asked how we can deem Rwanda to be safe if we are granting Rwandan nationals refugee status in the UK. Rwanda is a safe country, which is what this Bill asserts. The meaning of a “safe country” is set out in Clause 1(5). However, our obligation when an asylum claim is lawfully lodged and admitted to the UK asylum process for consideration is to carry out an individualised assessment of a person’s particular circumstances. If, after that assessment, there is found to be a reason why a person, based on these individual circumstances, cannot be returned to their country of origin, then it is correct that we grant them protection. It is important to stress that people from many different nationalities apply for asylum in the UK and this includes—

Rwanda: Asylum Arrangements Treaty

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Tuesday 21st November 2023

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Again, as I said yesterday, in answer to the second part of the noble Lord’s question, the answer is yes. As regards the costs, I have no knowledge of that.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, this proposal is both an expensive distraction and a delusion. Is it not true that even the far-right Prime Minister of Italy has proposals that would mean processing offshore but with Italian immigration officers, and those adjudged to be legitimate asylum seekers would then be returned to Italy? If we cannot manage something the far right in Italy can, what sort of people are we?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am not sure I would characterise the Prime Minister of Italy as far right, to be perfectly honest.

Family Migration (Justice and Home Affairs Committee Report)

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Wednesday 20th September 2023

(9 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I should remind the House that he was never known as a Tory wet. The speech he has made this afternoon indicates that in this House, and across parties, we still retain an understanding of the critical importance of our humanity and how we should treat each other internationally as well as locally. I thank him for his speech.

I reinforce the point that the noble Lord made about the unanimity of the committee, on which I have been pleased to serve and will do so for another three months. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on her chairmanship and the resilience that she has shown in being here this afternoon, because I know how ill she has been. I thank her for her words.

I shall reinforce two or three of the points that have been touched on. It is extremely worrying that our Select Committee system, in this House and the other place, is not treated with the respect that would be helpful to the Government and to the health of our democracy in the way that all of us would wish. It is highly unusual for a Government to simply ignore or dismiss all recommendations put forward by a Select Committee. The terms “brush-off” and “cloth-eared”, used by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are polite when it comes to what can only be described, sincerely, as contempt from the Home Office for anyone, any organisation or any Select Committee that has the temerity even to raise minor criticisms of how it operates.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to the simplification and alignment of different pathways and processes. The rules are applied at the moment in all kinds of contradictory ways that make it difficult for the staff of the Home Office to operate appropriately, not just administratively but in terms of their understanding of the impacts on individuals, and the humanity that goes with that. We also had clear evidence that in local government there was deep confusion about the role that it had to play. That meant that it had to develop an expertise that was not readily available. Although some local authorities shared that expertise, there was little if any understanding by the Home Office about what happens on the ground, at the coalface, for those who face continuing separation and have to deal with the consequences.

We dealt with an issue that has not been touched today: the question of the burden on the “public purse”. It is often said, and often believed, that family reunion will somehow add substantially to the costs for the Government, but we have had clear evidence that, far from doing that, the reunion of families can help directly. If an incoming partner, spouse or other close family member is able to get a job, they can contribute directly and lift other members of the family out of reliance on the public purse. They can also contribute to childcare, which is increasingly expensive. The Government themselves indicated that in their forward programme, in the last Spring Budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in terms of the expenditure that we have already in this country.

We all say that we believe in families—all families—and that all families matter. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that seems to stop when it comes to the genuine uniting of families from across the world. Of course we need rigorous rules and of course they must be enforced both fairly and, often, in a way that can obtain public support and respect for the system, but at the moment that is not the case because of the way in which the rules are drawn up and applied. There is confusion relating to why there should be different rules from those of bespoke pathways. Why were the Government not prepared even to countenance taking a look at how the recommendations might cut costs both at the Home Office and in local government? That might improve the processing system itself, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we do not have time to deal with today. That could all be run more smoothly while still adhering to the Government’s overall principles in relation to migration.

The report needs to be taken seriously. I hope that at some future juncture it will be possible to pull Government Ministers back to a future Justice and Home Affairs Committee or the Liaison Committee to try to get them to seriously address what was in the report rather than what they thought of in the first place.

Asylum Seekers: Channel Crossings

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Thursday 7th September 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The House will recall that yesterday evening and yesterday morning we canvassed these topics previously. I can reassure the noble Baroness that the House is considering the judgment of Mr Justice Chamberlain in that case, and steps are being taken to ensure that the national transfer scheme operates efficiently. As the noble Baroness will appreciate, once the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is in force, the numbers crossing the channel will be lower and the numbers of UASC entering through the channel route will be reduced. Therefore, the problem should ameliorate.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister rightly drew attention to the agreement to return Albanians to their home country. The Government themselves claim that 30% of previous arrivals were from Albania. If we take those Albanian returns out, the statistics that have been enunciated this morning are very different from the ones that the Minister was seeking to present, given that the latest stats I have are that, last year, only 10% of those arriving were processed but of those some 86% were granted asylum. That puts a very different picture on the rhetoric that is coming from the Government at the moment.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As I say, the history of effecting returns has been difficult hitherto, as it was under the previous Labour Administration. However, I am glad to say that returns are now being effected very successfully to those countries with which we have an agreement, such as Albania, as identified by the noble Lord. Further work will be done in relation to that. Of course, once we have the outcome of the Supreme Court litigation, and the avenue of removal to a safe third country is available, one would anticipate that the number of removals will increase.

Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for what he said. Like him, I will be brief.

Immigration and asylum, as the long series of debates on this Bill has shown, is an extraordinarily divisive issue. Speaking as someone who has been deeply embedded in east Kent for more than a decade now, I know from experience the extent to which communities are divided and individuals are torn between their desire to do what they know is right and care for those arriving, and their apprehension about the impact on local communities. One understands both those feelings very well.

When this amendment was tabled in its previous form last week, it produced considerable reconciliation and unity across the House. It was agreed that this is a massive, international issue on a generational basis and that tackling it needs profound thinking on a long-term basis. Legislation and strategy must be fitted to the problem, not the problem to the legislation. That is not how it works. For some things we do not debate strategy or have strategy on the face of a Bill, but it is impossible to imagine that we can solve a problem of this kind by taking short-term view after short-term view. It is essential that the solutions, as we go forward, bring together the whole of politics, all sides of both Houses, and unite our country instead of using this as a wedge issue to divide things.

This is a moment of reconciliation and an opportunity for profound long-term thought. This happens with climate change, on which there is legislation about 2050, never mind 10 years’ time; it happens with defence, where documents are produced that look at our proposals out to 2030; it happens with spending plans, where we have three-year committed views on spending because we know that you cannot do it in 12-month sections.

Secondly, this provides accountability. I could not agree more that a legislature is not operational, but it is the place in which the operational Executive is held to account, never mind which party it is. That will be as inconvenient to any other party in government as it is to the current party and there will be moments, if another party is in government, when it will not like it. That is the nature of our constitution. This provides for accountability; Ministers and Secretaries of State must come to both Houses and allow their view of the world to be tested, challenged, informed and improved.

Thirdly, it enables flexibility. The strategy shifts and changes as circumstances shift and change. Most of your Lordships will know Keynes’s remark:

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”


Of course we will need to change our mind as time goes on—if the boats are stopped, if new threats emerge to do with migration and if there are new issues.

The 10-year strategy will enable the whole country, united, to understand where we are going, what the sacrifices are and how they will be mitigated. This is not a party-political issue but one in which we must work together: if we work separately, we will fall separately. Finally, it puts us back into leadership globally. Without leadership, we cannot lead as this country should do and as we have so often shown we can. This is an international issue. We have enormous clout. It does not involve only the UNHCR, who I think are among the most extraordinary people I meet, but so many other groups. We need to see how that leadership is being exercised.

If this Motion passes this evening or if I have eloquently persuaded the Minister to stand up and say that he has changed his mind—I am not that hopeful—there are, of course, other ways of doing it. Before we come back for the next bit of ping-pong, I would be very happy and open to talk about alternative, but solid and dependable, ways of achieving the same ends for our country: reconciliation over this issue, accountability for this and future governments, flexibility in strategy, and leadership in the world. There may be other ways, and I am very open to those. I beg to move.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, as someone who rarely goes to bed after 11 pm, I will be incredibly brief. I will comment on both propositions and give my support to my noble friend Lord Coaker and to the most reverent Primate.

We reached an agreement with the French 21 years ago that tackled organised criminality, not its victims. For a time, it was successful. The business model changed, and we must change with it. The National Crime Agency, working with its counterparts in France, could do a similar job, with the Government negotiating with the Government of France. We could pay for a licensing scheme in France that would make it a criminal offence for anyone to purchase, transport or sell a boat without a licence. Our agencies and theirs could then work together to tackle the organised criminal fraternity, who are bringing such misery.

In support of the most reverend Primate, if we ever needed a long-term strategy of 10 years rather than 10 months, one geared not to a general election but to solving a problem, and to dealing with it internationally, on a long-term basis, we need it now. That is why this House should support both propositions.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, today the Government heralded a reduction in the vacancies in the social care sector. This was achieved mainly through the arrival of 70,000 overseas workers in the last year, while the Bill tries to stop 45,000 people desperately seeking sanctuary in the UK. We on these Benches support Motions X1 and Y1. In a Bill devoid of any measures that target people smugglers, Motion X1 is the very minimum required. It is remarkable that stopping the boats is one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities, and yet it is not one of the Home Secretary’s strategic priorities for the National Crime Agency.

The most reverend Primate has made a compelling case in Motion Y1. The Government have set out in legislation the need for a climate change strategy. But, again, on one of the Prime Minister’s five top priorities, there is no need to set out in legislation the need for a strategy in relation to the movement of refugees and human trafficking. How can the Minister possibly say that that is a consistent position for the Government to take? We on these Benches will support both these Motions if the noble Lord and the most reverend Primate decide to test the opinion of the House.

Electronic Passport Control Systems

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Wednesday 7th June 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister probably does not want to use the word “cyberattack”, but I have a specific question. Will he go back and ask the department if it can open discussions with those producing and designing the technology to make it possible for those with little or no sight to use e-gates? At the moment, the design is so bad and the equipment so inadequate that it is not possible to use them.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point. I will certainly look into that.

Migrants: Housing

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Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they will list all facilities they plan to build to house: (1) new migrants entering Britain via the English Channel, (2) migrants currently awaiting first determination on their asylum claim, (3) migrants who have been refused their asylum claim on first determination, and (4) migrants currently in hotels but designated for transfer to other accommodation.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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I can advise the noble Lord that the Home Office is planning initial asylum accommodation at surplus military sites at Scampton and Wethersfield to accommodate asylum seekers entering the United Kingdom illegally on small boats. We are exploring proposals to use a non-military site in East Sussex and a further military site at Catterick garrison for asylum accommodation, alongside an accommodation barge in Portland Port in Dorset. We are developing immigration removal centres at Haslar and Campsfield.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord. A week ago, in broadcast interviews, the Home Secretary was asked a simple question: how many places are the Government seeking to provide in this endeavour to lock up those coming across the channel? I am afraid intellectual internal struggle proved futile and, in the end, she reverted to saying simply, “Well, it will not be 45,000 places we will need”. The Minister will have had a chance to think about the obvious question: just how many secure places for migrants are the Government actually intending to provide?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The answer is that the Government will keep the situation under review and see how many places are required, because the effect of the Bill, when it is passed through this House and the other place, will be to deliver a deterrent effect. Furthermore, those who cross the channel illegally will be removed within 28 days, as is planned in the structure of the Bill. Therefore, the need to detain people will be kept under review and, it is hoped, be limited in number.

UK-EU: Revised Passenger Requirements

Lord Blunkett Excerpts
Tuesday 21st March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the decision by the European Commission to delay the introduction of the Entry/Exit System (EES) and European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) until the end of 2023, what steps they intend to take to facilitate a smooth transition for travellers from the United Kingdom wishing to enter the European Union under the revised passenger requirements.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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The Government are engaging both the European Commission and the French Government through officials holding routine technical meetings to understand and influence the implementation plans of the new system. This includes working with port owners and operators to understand and support their plans, in order to mitigate the impacts from EES and ETIAS at the border. However, ultimately it is for EU member states to implement the new system.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister’s final words were the ones used by the previous Home Secretary when appearing before your Lordships’ Justice and Home Affairs Committee. However, three weeks ago, in a Question about overcrowding and difficulties at the border, the Minister then said:

“our own electronic travel authorisation scheme … will accelerate the rate at which people can cross the border.” [Official Report, 28/2/23; col. 126]

What is the electronic scheme that was referred to three weeks ago, and would it not be sensible to have a scheme like the US ESTA scheme whereby people can have their fingerprints and documentation taken before travelling, rather than being held up at the border?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Let me explain. The European Union has chosen to implement something called the European Entry/Exit System. This replaces passport stamping and requires non-EU nationals entering and exiting the Schengen area to provide a digital photograph and fingerprints on entry and exit. That is different from the electronic travel authorisation that the UK will be implementing in due course; that requires only a digital photograph. That is what will accelerate the rate at which people pass through passport controls into the UK, over which we have control. We have, sadly, no control over passport controls into the EU, and the EES will apply in that sphere.

Baroness Casey Review

Lord Blunkett Excerpts
Tuesday 21st March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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From a broad point of view, I of course agree with the noble Lord. I do not personally approve of the politicisation of policing. However, I shall go back to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, who said:

“A dysfunctional relationship has developed between the Met and MOPAC”.


Under those circumstances, I would say to the noble Lord that it works both ways. I also think that whatever he is seeing locally is best dealt with locally. I shall of course raise his concerns with the chairman of my party, but the fact is that these are not Home Office points—they are made by the noble Baroness herself, when she says that a “dysfunctional relationship has developed”. That dysfunctional relationship needs to be resolved.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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I was not going to say this, but now I shall. First, I declare an interest because the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime was my special adviser 20 years ago and remains a very close friend. Those who have taken responsibility in this area—and, of course, I have—will be aware of the real difficulty of holding the police force to account. Yes, there may have been a dysfunctional relationship, spelled out in chapter 8 of the brilliant report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, who deserves a medal for what she has done over these months. But what the noble Baroness was pointing out was the real difficulty that any mayor has—and this applies to the Home Secretary as well—in a situation where the force is so defensive. This is illustrated in the report time and again: the force is so defensive that any criticism at all is taken personally, and people go on the defensive to the point where you cannot have a sensible or rational conversation.

From now on, perhaps the Minister would take it back to the Home Secretary—and, of course, to the mayor and the mayor’s office—that it is time to stop the police hiding behind operational responsibility and to understand that somewhere and somehow they have to be held to account. At this moment in time, we are doing so, but on the back of years of failure. If we are to avoid that in future, we will have to have transparency and honesty in a way that we have not had.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I defer to the noble Lord’s extensive experience, of course, and I actually agree with everything that he has just said. The fact is that the report also identified an “evasive” culture and a culture that is overly defensive when it comes to perfectly justified criticism. I have confidence that Sir Mark will change that culture and do so very quickly—but, of course, he needs to be held accountable for doing that. The noble Lord is completely right: this cuts both ways, and for this situation to become less dysfunctional both sides have to operate in a much more functional way.