Debates between Lord Macdonald of River Glaven and Lord Coaker during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 14th Jun 2023
Illegal Migration Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2

Illegal Migration Bill

Debate between Lord Macdonald of River Glaven and Lord Coaker
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Kerr, will be pleased with my remarks because this is my plea for the impact assessment.

I am delighted to see that we may get a different answer because we have a different Minister, although I have to tell the Minister that if he says “in due course” or “on the first day of Report”, he will get the reaction that his noble friend Lord Murray got. I say, half in jest, it was not great knowing that the Minister was going to reply to this point about the impact assessment, given what happened when he was replying to me yesterday with respect to the Public Order Bill, when the Explanatory Memorandum was published the day after the other place discussed the public order regulations and I received it at 2.27 pm for a 7.30 pm debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, having learned from that, is now on the case to ensure that the impact assessment will be with us well before Report.

The serious point is that all noble Lords are saying to the Home Office that it is simply unacceptable that we are flying in the dark here. We need the information before us. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, can come up with another phrase which gives us more hope and expectation, because that is the serious point here.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for his support for Amendments 134 and 135, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for her support for Amendment 138. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, what we have here is an attempt to bring accountability and review into the system. This is about Home Office operational efficiency. The asylum system is in chaos. If it is not in chaos, I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me what word he would use for the enormous backlog, the increase in the time that any decision is taking, the drop in the number of people being returned, the surges in people coming across the channel, and the individual injustices. I remind noble Lords, if they have not seen it, that 616 migrants crossed the channel on Sunday. I am not sure whether there have been any since, but on Sunday they came.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was right: if I had known about Amendment 132—also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—requiring an independent review of the management and operation of the Home Office, I would have added my name to it. If we cannot get the bureaucracy, the applications and the decision-making process right, we will have a problem. No law will work if there is bureaucratic inefficiency, so I very much support that amendment.

Amendment 134, requiring the Government to publish an impact assessment of the financial consequences of the Bill, is a probing amendment, but you can see why we require one. We had more information from the Times newspaper about the potential cost of the Government’s reforms, when it went from £3 billion to £6 billion, than from the Government. All the Government can say is, “We don’t comment on leaks”. How on earth can we legislate when all we have to operate with are newspaper stories? We have no way of knowing. If the Government say this is not the case, then what is the case? What is the projected cost? Hence, there is Amendment 134.

Amendment 135 would require the Government to publish an impact assessment on the use of hotels and so on after the Bill has been enacted. Every now and again we read that the Government have bought a couple of barges; that certain hotels are not going to be used; that “it’s not going work at that military camp, so we’re going to try this one”. Then, suddenly, a disused liner sails into Weymouth. This is fag-packet policy. What are we doing? What is the plan? We have tabled this amendment because, clearly, the Government have a plan. In the Home Office, there will be an assessment of what is needed and how it will be done. There is a secret plan, which the Government will not share with us. If that is not the case, and instead it is a case of, “Goodness me, we’ll have to buy a barge”, then buy “Barge News” and see what is available next week. “Oh, I know: there’s a liner coming in”—

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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Has it occurred to the noble Lord that there may not even be a secret plan?

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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It had not occurred to me—but it has now.

The serious point is that there must be a plan. It cannot just be a question of, “I know—we will buy a barge, get a liner or buy this military camp”. There must be some sort of strategy, secret plan, non-secret plan or memo saying what the Government are going to do, yet we are not allowed to see, share in or understand it. I have never known anything like it. This is a flagship government Bill. It is an important way of dealing with a challenge that we all know must be dealt with, yet we are having to deal with it in this way. It is nonsensical.

There is another reason why we need to know this. As noble Lord after noble Lord has said, the whole premise of the Bill is that every single migrant crossing the channel or entering illegally will be detained and subject to removal. That must mean that the Government have a figure for how many detention places they will need. If not, can the Minister say, “We have no idea what we will need”, “This is what we think we will need”, or, as would normally happen, describe the worst-case and best-case scenario, or best guess? We have no idea. How many detention places are the Government assuming they will need for their Illegal Migration Bill to work?