Debates between Lord Green of Deddington and Baroness Brinton during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Mon 19th Feb 2024
Wed 14th Jun 2023
Illegal Migration Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Debate between Lord Green of Deddington and Baroness Brinton
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I signed Amendments 54 and 55. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for introducing them. I will not repeat their important comments and scene-setting.

I will also pick up on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, about deterrence. To say that a trafficker or smuggler of a 14 year-old child in north Africa wanting to come across the Mediterranean will be deterred by the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is extraordinary. However, I will not focus on that.

Amendment 54 seeks to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within families who may go to Rwanda. I asked at Second Reading about special educational arrangements for children being sent with family groups to Rwanda, because it is not evident from what we have seen of the accommodation in Rwanda under the treaty that appropriate education is provided. I commented that, while Rwanda thankfully now has a good and fairly widespread primary system, it does not have a secondary system at all. As I have no idea, can the Minister tell us what arrangements will be made for this very small number of children—given that the number of people going to Rwanda will itself be very small—to continue their education, which, I remind your Lordships’ Committee, is their right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Will they be living in an environment that is right for family groups and not in the sort of detention arrangements we have in the United Kingdom? Does he know what the living arrangements will be for this small number of family groups?

I will spend the rest of my time talking about Amendment 55 and all the issues, which have been laid out, around a child deemed to have been an adult in the UK. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I tabled regret amendments in November to an SI that arose from the Illegal Migration Act on the use of age assessment techniques, and I continue to have great concerns about the medical use of those assessments. But it is not just that—it is also visual assessments and, frankly, guesswork by the people assessing them.

The report she referred to, Forced Adulthood, spoke very clearly about the fact that some age assessments that happen as young people arrive in our country may take 10 minutes, which also includes discussions about how old they say they are. Forced Adulthood says that, quite often, the wrong interpreters have been provided for the young people; we do not even know if they are getting a proper and effective translation that would support them.

A couple of references have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, and possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, to support for young people going through the process. It was not at all clear from the SIs or the debates on the Illegal Migration Act that the sort of protection you would expect for somebody who is, or claims to be, a child—which we see in many other European countries that carry out this age assessment—would be provided for by the Bill or the SIs we covered on 27 November last year. I am very happy to see the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, in his place, as we frequently had this debate.

Can the Minister say what age assessments are being used now, given that the SIs have come into force? Do they include the medical assessments that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to? If so, are they happening under the terms the noble Lord, Lord Murray, outlined at the Dispatch Box? These included that the Home Office would ensure that the individual has the capacity to fully understand the process and is communicated with in a child-friendly and clear way, and that interpreters would be available to assist with understanding information. I could go on. The key phrase was that it would be Merton-compliant.

Young people who say that they are children are now arriving in this country; the Government may disagree with them. Therefore, can the Minister confirm that those processes are now under way? Do the children have—as we fought for but did not win—independent representatives to support them in the process to help them with appeals? For all the other reasons that all noble Lords have spoken about in the debate, once a child arrives in Rwanda, they will find it extremely hard to appeal as—given the process—they are deemed to be an adult upon arrival. This amendment in particular is important because there may be a few who are able to articulate that and are finally believed, but who fell through the net.

There are consequences of getting it wrong. The Forced Adulthood report, which was published in January and refers to figures for last year but builds on figures from previous years, talks about local authorities’ concerns when they have received those deemed to be adults into hotels, but it quickly becomes clear that they are actually children. The consequences of them perhaps being abused and trafficking themselves from those hotels are unconscionable. We must do everything we can to make sure that everyone who is, or believes they are, aged 18 or under gets the support they require—including the transitional support the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was looking for in his Amendment 46.

I hope the Minister will be able to give us some detail that might provide reassurance on that. Even with that, however, we need a clear pathway back for anyone who has been misdiagnosed as an adult and gets to Rwanda, where it becomes apparent that they are a child. Perhaps the Minister can outline exactly how that will happen.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I shall be brief but I will widen my remarks beyond just children. The Committee has made a very thorough examination of the Bill. I admire the quality of contributions from our legal colleagues. The debate has, however, been rather one-sided. The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, is the only person who has touched on the wider issues, which is what the debate is about.

We are not dealing with saints. We are dealing with people entering our country illegally and on a considerable scale. This raises policy issues which are not part of this debate but are very important. Just the backlog of claimants, as I have mentioned, is enough to fill Wembley Stadium. Roughly 80% of the claimants are males aged between 18 and 40. I accept, of course, that children need special treatment, but most of them are young men and virtually all have destroyed their documents, and all have come from a country where they were already safe, mainly France or Belgium.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I apologise for not being able to rise to intervene. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

The Government have claimed that in almost half the age-disputed cases, the people in question were found to be adults. This figure, however, fails to include the many hundreds of children deemed to be adults by the Home Office who were subsequently referred to local authorities and then found to be children. It is children we are talking about in this group of amendments.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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I understand that but I said at the beginning of my speech that I was going to range more widely. There are difficulties concerning children, but the point of the Bill is deterrence. If the Government can deter people from coming here, they are saving themselves a lot of difficulties. If the Government can deter people from sending their children here, often alone, they can avoid the difficulties the noble Baroness and her colleagues have so rightly described.

I have just one other point to make. The British public are very angry indeed. Some 68% want to see effective action; I sympathise with them and would like to find a way to deal with the problem. The Bill clearly has some serious difficulties and it has been strongly attacked in this House without much attention given to the real issue facing the Government—and the next Government—of how to deal with the inflow and the state of public opinion.

In reviewing where we have got to, I have looked at the amendments being discussed. There are at least nine that would render the Government’s policy completely ineffective; they would torpedo it and, therefore, later in this process, will have to be addressed. I am referring to Amendments 1C, 8, 20, 36, 39, 48, 57, 81 and 90. Most of those would pretty much destroy the Government’s policy.

I conclude with a quotation from the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who wrote in connection with a paper produced by the CPS:

“The British public are fair-minded, tolerant and generous in spirit. But we are fed up with the continued flouting of our laws and immigration rules to game our asylum system. And we’ve had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This must end. Saying so is not xenophobic or anti-immigration”.

I recognise that that is a different note and I am quoting the former Home Secretary, but a lot of people outside this Chamber would agree with that.

Illegal Migration Bill

Debate between Lord Green of Deddington and Baroness Brinton
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak in support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s Amendment 128B, in particular the reference to removing BNO nationals from the safe and legal routes. I do so because the Government’s own document on safe and legal routes, in its description of Hong Kong British national (overseas) visas, says that the scheme

“was developed following concerns about erosion of human rights protections in Hong Kong, but it is not an explicitly protection-based scheme. Eligibility is not based on the person’s risk of persecution in Hong Kong. Rather, it is a way of making it easier for Hong Kong BN(O) status holders to migrate to the UK compared to the general work, study, and family visa rules”.

As we discussed on Monday night—I will not rehearse those points again—BNO holders of course have rights under the British Nationality Act 1981, in that they can arrive and move to settlement without having to seek the discretion of the Home Secretary to make them a British citizen; it comes with the package of holding a BNO status. That then means that they and their dependants, after they have been here for the right amount of time, can move straight to that status.

I ask the Minister this question because it relates not just to BNO holders. If the Government seriously want to propose caps to safe and legal routes, why is there one group in there which, under our British Nationality Act 1981, does not have to be capped? Any such capping would inevitably mean that people fleeing from other countries would have their numbers reduced in order to protect BNO status-holders, who also have rights and should be able to come here, given that most of the 144,000 who have arrived did so because they or their families are dissidents under the rule of the CCP in Hong Kong.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I will be extremely brief. I suggest that we look at these issues, which have now been dealt with in great detail, in a wider context. The fact is that the asylum system is a shambles; I will not go into that any further—we all know that. However, we need to be very careful before we make further commitments on safe and legal routes.

The wider reason is that, last year, we had overall net migration of 606,000. Of those, roughly 200,000 were refugees of different kinds—I am putting it in the most general terms. If that is allowed to continue, and if we fail to reduce the other elements of immigration which are also rising very quickly under this Government, we will have to build something like 16 cities the size of Birmingham in the next 25 years. Nobody has challenged that, because it is a matter of arithmetic.

We face a huge problem. Therefore, I suggest that whatever the arguments for this particular category may be, we need to keep well in mind the wider impact on the scale and nature of our society. That should not be overlooked.