There is a lot of conflation and confusion around the various types of immigration, but once a person has embarked upon a route to claim asylum, that is the only one open to them, because, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) said, other avenues are no longer open. That is why it is important that a claim be processed promptly through a due legal route.
Also, given the predilection of the hon. Member for Redcar for pointing out Members who are not in this debate, I am keen to enable him to get back and join all my colleagues who are in the other debate on immigration, on the Floor of the House, lest his absence from it should be pointed out.
I have been disappointed by the Government’s response. The Minister knows me well enough to know that I make that point sincerely. Some of these issues need to be addressed. The first is the abolition of the Department for International Development. Arguably, doing that removes the support needed to address some of these issues at their source, and I have not yet heard a valid reason for why the Government have chosen to merge it with the Foreign Office.
We have also had these ludicrous proposals about Ascension Island and Saint Helena—I had to read it twice when I saw it in The Sunday Times, lest it was a reference to St Helens. Either would be preposterous, frankly. That shows a lack of strategy at the heart of Government around how we will get a grip of this issue.
I am fond of the Home Secretary, whom I know well and with whom I share interests in horse-racing and many other things—I am glad that none of my Back-Bench colleagues are here to hear that—but she should reflect on the divisive rhetoric that she has used. I am not sure it does justice to her or ministerial colleagues when she talks about the traffickers, the do-gooders, lefty lawyers and the Labour party as defending the broken system. To group together lawyers and Labour Members with human traffickers is really offensive and insulting. At first, I thought it was inappropriate and a bit beneath the dignity of the office of Home Secretary—one of the great offices of state—but subsequent events have proven it was quite dangerous. It has led to incidents where lawyers have felt their safety threatened. Human rights is not a bad word but something at which this country has been at the cornerstone of, through our role in the Council of Europe, the United Nations and other multilateral organisations throughout the world. We need to be careful about mistaking process issues with ad hominem attacks on individuals.
The frustrating thing is that, in spite of the rhetoric, the Home Office has not even been successful in achieving its commitment to deter these crossings. The closing down of other routes to the UK brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has caused exceptional pressures, but the number of migrants who crossed the channel in small boats in August 2020 was more than four times that of August 2019. It might be worth pointing out to hon. Members who arrived here with great gusto in December 2019 that we have had a Conservative Government, in whole or part, for 10 years, so all the criticisms made about the asylum system are suitably addressed to the Minister rather than the Opposition.
We need a practical, even-handed and realistic response. Many migrants arriving in Calais have legitimate claims for asylum, but they do not have practical or legal means to reach the UK. The strategy of deterring crossings from taking place is not working, so we need a renewed strategy. I am sure the shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), would be happy, as he has offered, to discuss the ways in which we can work together to deter crossings and ensure that the system functions adequately for those in need. The strategy must therefore ensure that legal and pragmatic routes continue to function for those with legitimate claims for asylum—that due process.
Back in June, in response to an urgent question on asylum, the Minister told the House that last year the UK made 20,000 grants of protection or asylum. Those are cases in which, against strict criteria, the Government deemed that asylum should be granted in the UK. However, we must ensure that those safe and legal routes do not drive those whom the Government recognise as having a case to be heard into the arms of human traffickers, who profiteer on the back of human suffering. We must protect the route to allow legitimate attempts for those who seek to reunite with family in the UK. That is currently protected in the Dublin regulation, which we will not be part of once we leave the EU. I am therefore keen to hear what the Government propose to do, because if we do not do our bit, as per the Dubs scheme and the amendments being considered on the Floor of the House tonight, to ensure that unaccompanied children in dangerous situations are given safe haven, what kind of country can we claim to be? We should be proud of the role we have played throughout history in providing safe refuge, particularly to children who have fled the most awful horrors of war, famine and poverty.
As I have said, this is a complex situation that demands rational and reasonable solutions. It is a topic that provokes strong reactions among our constituents. We have heard that from Government Members, I have heard it in my constituency and many of my Labour party colleagues feel it too. However, I think most reasonable people would agree that the current situation, whereby migrants are forced to make hazardous trips across the channel to stand any chance of claiming asylum, is untenable. That is why, as I hope I have made clear, Labour is committed to ensuring that we protect and improve the pre-existing legal routes, that we do more to meet our international obligations, that we address illegality and that we command the confidence of the British public.