Debates between Lord Green of Deddington and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Tue 8th Mar 2022
Wed 2nd Mar 2022
Nationality and Borders Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage: Part 1
Wed 30th Sep 2020
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords

Nationality and Borders Bill

Debate between Lord Green of Deddington and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 80, which I have co-sponsored. The problem is that Covid has sent immigration statistics into a tailspin, to which the Government’s response has made matters worse. As I understand it, the Government suspended the International Passenger Survey that took place at all airports when Covid struck, mainly to protect the staff, who would normally have been interviewing people all day. That is fair enough. It was also the case that the number of international passengers fell through the floor, so it was not much of a guide to levels of immigration.

All this roughly coincided with efforts by the ONS to use existing statistical data to estimate migration flows. That effort has already run into trouble. In any case, it is by definition a year late because it relies on statistics that are looked at every 12 months.

The purpose of the amendment is in effect to call for the reinstatement of the International Passenger Survey, improved where possible, so as to have a clearer and more up-to-date indication of where we stand. I need hardly remind the Government that they promised to “take back control” of immigration. At present, they have very little idea of the present scale of immigration, and when they do find out they are likely to have an unpleasant surprise, with very little time to adjust their policy before the next election. That is their problem.

I will also speak briefly on Amendment 81, which concerns people crossing the channel. The Home Office has announced that it will publish the statistics on only a quarterly basis. I hope that is wrong and that the Minister will be able to say that it will be much more frequent than that.

There seems to have been a kind of fix between the Office for Statistics Regulation and the Home Office, whereby it was agreed that quarterly publication would ensure that the statistics were

“put into the longer term and wider immigration and asylum context and so better support the public debate and understanding”.

Well, “weasel words” does not describe it. What they are actually doing is insulting the public’s intelligence. If they go on with that policy, they are simply trying to keep the facts from the public on a matter of considerable public concern. So it is not surprising that a number of MPs have actually attacked this move, with one calling it an attempt to cover up failure while another said that it was “burying bad news”. I regret to say that that may very well be an accurate statement of the position. The Government clearly have a serious problem here, exacerbated by their previous promises, but they will have to deal with it, and deal with it honestly.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 80, which I am pleased to support—and I also support Amendment 81 very strongly as well. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe is a demon for data, as she has just demonstrated in the House, as a basis for good decisions and keeping the public well informed about what is going on around them while avoiding rumour and anecdote, which takes us to a bad place, particularly in areas as sensitive as immigration. Therefore, I particularly share her view, and the view of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, that the Government’s decision to reduce transparency about the flow across the English Channel is regrettable. It is clearly an area of considerable public concern and, for better or worse, we will not solve it by not publishing the figures—that is likely to make it worse.

I shall add one thing on the international passenger survey, when we come to relaunch, refocus and redesign it. I was once questioned as part of that survey, when I was travelling through Heathrow, and I was very pleased to answer the lady, who was very good and helpful. I went on and talked to her a bit about her job, and I can offer the House three take-aways. First, under no circumstances do you cross-question; so if someone says that they are coming here to be a plumber in Cardiff, a plumber in Cardiff they are—there is no question of whether they might be something else. That is not your job; you just write that into the form. The second was that you tended to have a predominance of older people answering the form. She said that younger people would be in a hurry, pushing on, and they tended not to want to stay and answer her questions —or there were not many of them. Older people seemed to have more time and, therefore, she felt that the survey was biased towards older people. Thirdly, and finally, on the issue of the early morning or transcontinental flights, known as the red-eye flights, unsurprisingly those people coming off those flights did not want to answer a survey—they wanted to get to a shower, a bed or their office. She told me that so difficult had it been that they had started reducing the number of staff who were on the early shift, and they brought full staffing on at about 8.30 am or 9 am, when people were in a more helpful mood—perhaps that is the best way of putting it.

I leave it to the House, and to my noble friend the Minister, but with that sort of anecdotal background, this can hardly be a system that inspires confidence as to the accuracy and value of the data that it collects. If we are going to relaunch it, we need to think much more clearly about how we are going to gather data in a way that creates confidence and trust.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Debate between Lord Green of Deddington and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I will not be quite as brief as that, but I will try to be brief.

I rise to support Amendment 33 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, which I have co-sponsored. It is surely right that the failure to produce identifying documents should be a factor—I put it no stronger than that—in assessing the credibility of a claimant. The destruction of identity documents has long been a means of undermining our asylum system. As I mentioned in Committee, we overcame a similar problem for those arriving by air simply by photographing the documents before they got on the plane, so if they stuck them down the loo, it was not going to help them, and that had been going on for some considerable time.

It is no accident that today, 98% of all cross-channel arrivals, whether by truck or boat, have no documents. Indeed, it is not in dispute that people smugglers instruct them to destroy any documents to reduce the risk of being returned to their home countries. In many cases, the applicants are making fools of us. Surely, the least we can do is to specify in law a requirement to take into consideration the absence of documents as a factor in judging the applicant’s credibility. I can think of no reason why that should not be the case and I strongly support the amendment put down by the noble Baroness.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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I rise briefly to support this amendment. I had an opportunity years ago, when we were part of the European Union, to participate in an inquiry about FRONTEX and to go to Heathrow Airport to see the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Green, has just addressed. We were asked to be there at 8.30 in the morning to see what happened when people arrived at Heathrow on the overnight flights. Issues that have since been cured, largely, were then putting the immigration officers under enormous strain.

For example, on the day that we were there, a young man from Australia arrived who claimed to be British, but he came without any documentation; and a man from Brazil arrived for a holiday but without any money, so he was obviously going to work. Most significantly, a man on a flight from Nigeria claimed that he could not speak any of the languages available through interpreters at terminal 3, which is quite a wide range. I asked the reason for that, and they said that he will not speak until the flights back to Nigeria have left, and then he will start to speak, because otherwise he will be put back on the next flight to Nigeria. This was a prevalent issue, but I think it has now largely been tackled for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Green. It was a huge gap in our ability to provide control. Those measures are not applicable to channel crossings, but we do need to find ways to tackle this issue, just as the noble Lord, Lord Green, described how we tackled it at airports. In the absence of that, we need to make it clear in law that the lack of clarity referred to by my noble friend when she moved the amendment should be taken into account by immigration officials.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Debate between Lord Green of Deddington and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Wednesday 30th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 View all Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 121-R-II Second marshalled list for Report - (30 Sep 2020)
Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am glad to support this useful and well-timed amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. As she has so clearly described, enforcement has long been one of the weakest points in our immigration system. Despite that, it has faced an 11% real-terms reduction in its budget since 2015-16. The Home Office says that it

“continually looks for ways to reduce costs, so as to improve efficiency and deliver better value … for taxpayers.”

However, as the noble Baroness mentioned, since our Committee stage the Public Accounts Committee has published its report on immigration enforcement. It pointed out that the returns of those who have no right to be in the UK are “plummeting”. The report also criticises the Home Office for having provided the public with no information at all about the scale of illegal immigration for 15 years and points out that the Home Office

“failed to complete 62% of the returns it planned from immigration detention in 2019, compared to 56% in 2018.”

This may of course reflect the ever more strident behaviour of the legal arm of the immigration lobby, some of whom use late and sometimes spurious asylum claims to frustrate removals. Nevertheless, the performance of the Home Office can hardly be described as “better value for money”. Recent official statistics reveal that the number of failed asylum seekers who are subject to removal has doubled from 20,000 in 2014 to over 40,000 now. Clearly, more resources must be diverted to the task of removal, and those resources must be more efficiently targeted and implemented with determination.

Let me also make this point: it is important that the officials themselves should feel supported by the public, as indeed they are. We should avoid constant negative criticism—I hope that I have not done too much of it—as these officials are carrying out an important and difficult task. They need and deserve to be affirmed. After all, they are following due process and enforcing the rule of law, thus making an important contribution to the order that we cherish as part of our civil society. A report to Parliament on enforcement following up on the PAC report, as proposed in this amendment, would be a valuable next step.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 1, which represents an important piece in the jigsaw of our new immigration system. We have just heard two very hard-hitting and detailed speeches from my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Green, about the vital role that enforcement plays and why it is so important that we check it is working effectively. In my few minutes, I want to focus on two aspects: transparency, to which the noble Lord has referred, and in particular fairness. The British public have a great interest in situations being fair, but both aspects will be needed in any enforcement regime that is to command public confidence over the longer term.

First, the present system is not fair to those people who try to come to the country legally. It cannot be right for other people to try to jump the queue with virtual impunity and at their expense. Good behaviour should have a proper reward. Secondly, it is not fair to the people who come here—these new arrivals—who will likely find themselves forced to work for below-standard wages in substandard accommodation, without any of the protections of the British state. It is modern slavery indeed. Thirdly, it is not fair to the British taxpayer who inevitably, in one way or another, usually hidden, has to foot the bill. Finally and most importantly, it is not fair to the members of our settled minority communities. Most but not all of the overstayers will be drawn from the races who make up our minority communities. Those members of our settled population, legally resident here and drawn from minority communities, are working hard to make a new life for themselves—and good luck to them. But they find their collective reputation damaged and undermined by a regime where many people are able to say that the system is not working and that they are somehow to blame.

How large is the problem? As is so often the case in this area, the data is imperfect. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe referred to that fact. I have not been able to find any Home Office assessment of the overall problem since 2005, which would now be very much out of date. However, the Pew Research Center, a well-regarded authority, suggested last year that there may be 1.2 million unauthorised migrants in the country, or about 2% of our population. Noble Lords may point out that those are figures from the world at large, but there are some statistics from the EU. As of 31 March 2020—six months ago—the Home Office reported that 171,000 Bulgarian citizens and 564,000 Romanian citizens had sought settled or pre-settled status in this country. However, other Home Office figures showed that, as of 30 June 2019, nine months earlier, there were supposed to be only 109,000 Bulgarians and 457,000 Romanians officially resident in the country. That is an underreporting of 168,000 from those two countries alone, which of course form part of the EU.