I end by saying this. I was brought up to do the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing or the technical thing about the territorial boundaries of where a child in need is. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. It sends a message about the morals of this country: that we open our hearts and our arms to those in greatest need. We do not turn our backs on vulnerable children.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, including my noble friends who have managed to restrain themselves from speaking—that is probably all of them—I want to say that the word “vulnerable” is overworked but entirely apt; this is not just about the youngest children. I have heard it said that a 14 or 16 year-old who has made his way from Afghanistan or Eritrea all the way across Europe is not a child. Well, he will certainly have had a lot of life experiences. Children come in a lot of shapes, sizes and ages, and a 14 year-old who is caring for his eight year-old brother still has the needs of a 14 year-old. The number of children who have disappeared must give us more than a hint of the abuse, exploitation and trafficking to which children can so easily fall prey. Even those who have not disappeared are unlikely to have avoided abuse and criminality entirely.

The Government have also claimed, although I do not think it has been referred to today, that accepting unaccompanied children risks separating them from their families. But the proposal, as I understand it, would apply to children who have been registered by the UNHCR as having no identifiable family in Europe or in their country of origin.

I turn to the pull factor. I will simply put it this way: there are so many push factors that we do not need to think about the pull factor. Something that has shocked volunteers working in northern Europe is the number of children involved, including some very tiny ones—their ages vary somewhat between the camps. This is not to deny the importance of assisting those who are in the camps in the Middle East, but to accept this amendment would be to acknowledge the huge public concern. When the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the contribution of refugees welcomed almost 80 years ago, I could see the nods of agreement right round the Chamber.

As to the mandatory nature of the amendment, I agree that it is not desirable to use legislation for a purpose for which it is not needed, but it would not have taken the form of an amendment if the Government had shown more movement towards the objective. Although the children in question may have rights in another European country, the situation surely is such that the UK should take the lead towards some sort of resolution.

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2105

I mentioned abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, did not mention the Modern Slavery Act, but I suspect that it was in her mind. The Government are proud of that legislation, which addresses exploitation, abuse and trafficking. Let us join up the dots.

5.30 pm

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, estimates from Save the Children and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggest, as has been said, that there are some 24,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Europol estimates that more than 10,000 unaccompanied children registered after arriving in Europe over the past 18 months to two years have disappeared.

The Government’s policy is to provide assistance to help those in Syria and those from Syria who have moved to adjacent countries. That is welcome, but it does not answer the question of what will happen to those unaccompanied refugee children already in Europe and what effective help will be directed towards them. Are we really going to say, based on an unsubstantiated argument, that relocating just 3,000 such unaccompanied refugee children to the UK will act as a serious pull factor for more children to be sent by parents and that we intend to do nothing to help along the lines called for in the amendment?

Where children have been identified as being unaccompanied, on their own and having fled from a country ravaged by civil war, where tens or hundreds of thousands have died, with many being brutally murdered, is it really still the Government’s policy to overlook them as far as any relocation to the United Kingdom is concerned because they landed on their own on a Greek island, for example, rather than being in or near Syria? Should we, as a European nation, not accept responsibility for some unaccompanied children already in Europe? Doing nothing will not mean that those children will return to where they came from. It will simply mean that they will become more likely than ever to be exploited and abused by people traffickers and others of ill intent.

We support the amendment. If, having heard the Government’s response, my noble friend decides to test the opinion of the House, we will vote for it.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I preface my remarks with a few comments. First, no one doubts the situation that many of these people find themselves in and the enormous humanitarian crisis unfolding across the world. As all people agree, it is the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War and it is happening right on Europe’s doorstep. There is no question, in any shape or form, of the Government not getting it; this is an enormous crisis.

Secondly, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who not only is a great parliamentarian but speaks with great moral authority in this area because of his personal story. We acknowledge that. I know from meetings with the Home Secretary that she takes a personal interest in this, because Sir Nicholas Winterton was a constituent of hers until he sadly died last year.

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2106

She has been a great supporter both of him and, of course, of the wider Kindertransport tradition, and of what that says about the generosity of spirit of this country, which has been repeated on a number of different occasions, whether in the case of the Ugandan Asians or the Vietnamese boat people.

Thirdly, I want to say something about Save the Children. No one doubts its analysis, which is at the centre of the debate, the quality of that organisation or the incredible work that it is doing, which I have had the privilege of seeing for myself in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. I had the privilege of visiting those camps and seeing what they were doing. It had a transformative effect on me, not least because it inspired me to come back and walk 518.8 miles to raise money for Save the Children to help in those very camps. So I am not critical. Nothing here understates the crisis or seeks to take away from the great moral authority and history with which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs introduced his amendment, and nothing that I am about to say takes away from our admiration for the work that Save the Children does on this campaign.

The area that we take issue with was probably summed up by the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. She said that this report by Save the Children came out in September and that since then the Government have basically sat on their hands and done nothing about it. I put on record that, in September, the Prime Minister announced that we were going to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the lifetime of this Parliament. When we were in coalition we struggled ever to get more than a couple of hundred under the Syrian resettlement programme. Of that 20,000 who have come so far, 51% have been children. One can therefore extrapolate that what the Government announced in September is more than three times the number of children the amendment seeks to support.

Moreover, the Prime Minister has led the charge in raising funds to help people in the refugee camps. Oxfam’s latest report, which is entitled Syria Refugee Crisis: Is Your Country Doing its Fair Share? and was published in February 2015, highlights a figure of, I think, 227%. That is how much of our fair share the United Kingdom has placed in financial support to Syria. So when people start talking almost as if we should be hanging our heads in shame at the Government’s record in responding to the crisis, I simply say that the facts do not add up to suggest that. We are doing an incredible amount. The Prime Minister led that excellent summit in February, which raised a further $11 billion for the crisis in Syria. Of course, further work is ongoing.

In the specific instance when the Prime Minister was asked about this case—I think by Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats in December in the Commons—he said that he would go away and look at it. Again, the suggestion was somehow that the Prime Minister went away, shrugged his shoulders and forgot all about it. Far from it: he said that he would talk to the UNHCR, with which we work closely in the region, to put the best interests of children first.

We listened to its advice and concerns and we came back with an interim report in a Written Ministerial Statement on 28 January by James Brokenshire, which

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2107

said that we were first looking at whether we could introduce a scheme not that far away from what my noble friend Lord Lawson, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, talked about. We said that we would look at that and discuss it with the UNHCR. That is exactly what we are continuing to do. The UNHCR has just enabled us to receive that report; it was received by James Brokenshire. We are now considering it and we will come forward with our proposals on how to respond to it. We need to be clear when we talk about the numbers that those numbers were an estimate. Save the Children recognises that when it said 26,000, it was an estimate of the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children that had made their way through Italy and Greece in the period up to August 2015. That was an estimate. It is not as though those people are waiting in a particular area inside Europe.

My second point relates to age. This is a material point, because our Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, which has brought 1,000 Syrians to this country already and has pledged to bring 20,000, is aimed at the most vulnerable. Questions can be asked, and I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said about age, but we need to consider that 61% of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive in the UK are aged 16 or 17. We know that the prime country from which they come is not Syria but Albania, followed by Eritrea, Afghanistan and then Syria. The majority, 90% of those who arrive in this country as unaccompanied asylum seekers, are male. The central focus of the Government’s strategy in supporting Syrians has been the protection of women and girls in particular. Therefore, again, the question is whether we are helping the right people.

My next point concerns the pull factor. I am not going to get into that kind of language, but here is what Europol says. Europol says that of the people who arrive in Europe seeking asylum, 90% have got here through a criminal gang. These criminal gangs are vast money-making machines exploiting human misery. I would have liked to have heard a great deal more moral anger directed at those criminal gangs and the way that they are exploiting these children and encouraging them to put their lives in peril by embarking on that journey. I would have liked to have heard a bit more about that. We have set up a task force to seek to clamp down on those criminal gangs that are at work and causing so much misery.

Are people from Syria arriving in the UK? Yes, they are. Every week they are arriving in the UK. They are arriving at airports such as Glasgow and Newcastle, they are arriving into London and they are being welcomed and hosted by British people. They come here not on their own but because we invite them in family units. They come here not to sleep in cardboard boxes but into local authority social housing, and they are provided with care and support, including healthcare and psychiatric care, and with the opportunity to work and earn a living. I think that that is in best traditions of what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, called for in this country and it is happening day in, day out in this country and it will continue. It may well be that it will actually continue at a faster pace as a result of

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2108

the Prime Minister’s initiative in asking us to look again at the report that Save the Children did and engaging with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

What is my central argument on this amendment? Basically, I question whether it identifies and provides help to the right people. The people who are in Europe, wherever they are in Europe, have the right to claim asylum here. The people most at risk, most vulnerable, are those who are still in the region. That is why our scheme is designed to take people directly from the region to the UK. Noble Lords may seek to belittle some of what the Government are doing, but compared with our European colleagues, we are doing a great deal. We have relocated 1,000 already, as the Prime Minister said we would by Christmas. There was some scepticism as to whether he would deliver on that pledge; he actually exceeded the pledge and we are continuing to do it. In the whole period, the 27 other countries in Europe have managed to resettle 650. Only six countries actually take children, so when there is moral outrage at what the UK is doing in response to the Save the Children report that asked us to take our fair share, I hope that that moral outrage is being directed also at the 21 countries that have not actually taken one Syrian refugee.

5.45 pm

This country is doing a significant amount. Could it do more in the face of the crisis? Of course, it could do more in the face of the crisis, but is it working diplomatically? Yes; it is at the heart of the diplomatic efforts. Is it working on security? Yes; we have boats and ships in the Mediterranean seeking to stop people. We have people trying to clamp down on the people smugglers. We announced a new £10 million fund just last month—the debate proceeded as if it had not even happened—from the Department for International Development to help identify children at risk who have come to the European Union. That £10 million will be spent on helping to identify children at risk. We are dispatching the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to visit the particular reception centres referred to as the hot spots with child protection officers and come back and give us a report.

Lord Richard (Lab): I have listened to what the noble Lord has said about how well the Prime Minister and the Government are behaving. Do I take it that it is the Government’s position that they will not take any of the children who are identified by Interpol as being loose in Europe? Yes or no?

Lord Bates: The noble Lord presses me to say yes or no. I am about to give him a yes-or-no answer, which is to say, no. We have a principled objection. The people most at risk are in the region. That is why we have doubled the amount of aid we are giving, which was already 227% of our fair share, from £1.1 billion to £2.3 billion. We did it because we wanted to help, as we are helping—keeping 223,000 people in schools, providing 2 million bits of medical assistance, helping 600,000 with livelihoods and medical care there in the region, because we believe we can do that. We believe that we should not be doing anything that encourages

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2109

one child to make that perilous journey, where they fall into the hands of the criminal gangs and put their lives at risk to cross those seas to get to Europe. We want the action to be taking place there. That is our principled objection to this amendment.

The noble Lord may disagree on that but we are clear where we stand. I hope the House will recognise, and that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will recognise when he responds to this debate, that the Government are not immune to the argument that has been put forward. We are not doing nothing in the crisis; we are doing a great deal more than any other country in the world to respond to the initiative that is happening. We will go on doing so, not because of the amendment but because it is the right thing to do. I will be very grateful if the noble Lord will do two things when he winds up. First, will he comment on my analysis of the numbers and the vulnerability? Secondly, will he say something about other countries in Europe which are not doing a fraction of what this country is doing?

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford talked about the generosity of British people. I work with Richard Harrington, whom we have appointed a Minister, by the way, to look after the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and I know that every day he has a battle to persuade local authorities to take the children we already have coming through that scheme. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, in a previous debate, undertook to write to other dioceses to encourage them and their local authorities to come forward and offer spaces.

We currently have an 8,000 shortfall in the number of foster parents required, so all the offers to provide foster care are welcome. We desperately need those places for young people everywhere but there is no surfeit of people registered as foster parents waiting to take people in. As I say, there is a shortfall of some 8,000 that we definitely need to fill. I hope that the noble Lord will respond to the points I made about local authority capacity, what other countries are doing, and to the questions I raised about the numbers and how they have been arrived at by Save the Children, and consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. It has been an emotional debate, which is not surprising as the subject is very emotional. I shall deal with only a small number of the points that were made as most Members of the House supported the amendment.

Of course we all condemn the gangs who have caused a lot of the tragedies in the Mediterranean and other tragedies and exploit vulnerable people for financial gain. They cannot be condemned enough and I agree entirely with the Minister on that point. As regards the numbers and the point made by, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, the amendment talks about children. If, in seeking to co-operate with Save the Children and the UNHCR, the Government can identify the younger ones, there is nothing in the amendment which says that they should not concentrate on those. There is a figure in the amendment simply because we need to get the Government to respond clearly, as it were. If the amendment said simply “take some”, there would

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2110

be no pressure on the Government. It is better to have a number in the Bill. If the Government choose to focus on the under-14s, that would be perfectly acceptable in terms of the amendment. After all, although the Minister talked about 60% being over 16, that means 40% are under 16, which is still a fair number, and enough for us to get on with.

Some other countries—Germany has become the conscience of Europe in the last year or so—are doing a great deal. Others are not. But surely as a country we have set our own standards on how we should adopt a humanitarian approach to this enormous crisis. It is because I want Britain to take a lead in humanitarian action that I am keen that the House should pass this amendment. I appreciate what the Minister said about foster parents. He also commented on this issue in Committee. People have said to me in other parts of the country—not just south London—“We want to respond”. Given that response, I believe sincerely that if the Government and local authorities said that they were looking for qualified foster parents who have passed the local authority vetting process—as they must—and who would play their part, the people of Britain would respond handsomely. A typical example could be a family with two children who want to take another child. I pay tribute to the Minister, who has done a lot of good work for Save the Children. Indeed, he went on a sponsored walk. I should have said at the beginning that I appreciate that, and he deserves credit for it.

The Minister said that some of these people were Albanians. I have said emphatically that we are talking about refugees—children who qualify under the 1951 Geneva Convention as having a well-founded fear of persecution, torture and death. They are surely the priority and they are the ones on whom we ought to concentrate. We are faced with an important decision. Our country will be judged on the decision we make tonight. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

5.54 pm

Division on Amendment 116A

Contents 306; Not-Contents 204.

Amendment 116A agreed.

Division No.  1


Aberdare, L.

Addington, L.

Adonis, L.

Afshar, B.

Ahmed, L.

Alderdice, L.

Allan of Hallam, L.

Allen of Kensington, L.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Anderson of Swansea, L.

Andrews, B.

Armstrong of Hill Top, B.

Armstrong of Ilminster, L.

Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.

Bach, L.

Barker, B.

Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]

Beecham, L.

Beith, L.

Benjamin, B.

Best, L.

Bhatia, L.

Bichard, L.

Blood, B.

Blunkett, L.

Boateng, L.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Boothroyd, B.

Bowles of Berkhamsted, B.

Bradshaw, L.

Brennan, L.

Brinton, B.

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2111

Bristol, Bp.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookman, L.

Bruce of Bennachie, L.

Burt of Solihull, B.

Butler-Sloss, B.

Cameron of Dillington, L.

Campbell of Pittenweem, L.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Carlile of Berriew, L.

Carter of Coles, L.

Cashman, L.

Chandos, V.

Chelmsford, Bp.

Chidgey, L.

Christopher, L.

Clancarty, E.

Clark of Windermere, L.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Clement-Jones, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Collins of Mapesbury, L.

Condon, L.

Corston, B.

Cotter, L.

Coussins, B.

Cox, B.

Cunningham of Felling, L.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Desai, L.

Donaghy, B.

Donoughue, L.

Doocey, B.

Drake, B.

Dubs, L.

Dykes, L.

Elder, L.

Evans of Temple Guiting, L.

Evans of Watford, L.

Falconer of Thoroton, L.

Falkland, V.

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Faulkner of Worcester, L.

Fearn, L.

Featherstone, B.

Filkin, L.

Foster of Bath, L.

Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Fox, L.

Gale, B.

Garden of Frognal, B.

German, L.

Glasgow, E.

Glasman, L.

Goddard of Stockport, L.

Golding, B.

Goldsmith, L.

Gordon of Strathblane, L.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Grantchester, L.

Greaves, L.

Greengross, B.

Greenway, L.

Grender, B.

Griffiths of Burry Port, L.

Grocott, L.

Hamwee, B.

Hannay of Chiswick, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harries of Pentregarth, L.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Harris of Richmond, B.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haskins, L.

Haughey, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayman, B.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Hennessy of Nympsfield, L.

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hollick, L.

Hollins, B.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Howarth of Breckland, B.

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Howie of Troon, L.

Hoyle, L.

Hughes of Stretford, B.

Hughes of Woodside, L.

Humphreys, B.

Hunt of Chesterton, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Hylton, L.

Irvine of Lairg, L.

Jay of Paddington, B.

Jolly, B.

Jones, L.

Jones of Cheltenham, L.

Jones of Moulsecoomb, B.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Jordan, L.

Jowell, B.

Judd, L.

Kakkar, L.

Kennedy of Cradley, B.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L.

Kidron, B.

King of Bow, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Kinnoull, E.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Knight of Weymouth, L.

Kramer, B.

Lawrence of Clarendon, B.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Lee of Trafford, L.

Lennie, L.

Lester of Herne Hill, L.

Liddell of Coatdyke, B.

Lipsey, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

Listowel, E.

Livermore, L.

Livingston of Parkhead, L.

Loomba, L.

Low of Dalston, L.

Ludford, B.

McAvoy, L.

McCluskey, L.

McDonagh, B.

Macdonald of Tradeston, L.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

Maddock, B.

Mallalieu, B.

Manzoor, B.

Mar, C.

Marks of Henley-on-Thames, L.

Masham of Ilton, B.

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2112

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maxton, L.

Meacher, B.

Mendelsohn, L.

Monks, L.

Morgan, L.

Morgan of Ely, B.

Morris of Aberavon, L.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

Murphy of Torfaen, L.

Neuberger, B.

Newby, L.

Northover, B.

Norwich, Bp.

Nye, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Ouseley, L.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Pannick, L.

Parminter, B.

Patel, L.

Pendry, L.

Pinnock, B.

Pitkeathley, B.

Plant of Highfield, L.

Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.

Prashar, B.

Prescott, L.

Primarolo, B.

Prosser, B.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Quin, B.

Quirk, L.

Radice, L.

Ramsbotham, L.

Randerson, B.

Rea, L.

Redesdale, L.

Rees of Ludlow, L.

Reid of Cardowan, L.

Rennard, L.

Richard, L.

Roberts of Llandudno, L.

Rochester, Bp.

Rooker, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Rowlands, L.

Royall of Blaisdon, B.

Sandwich, E.

Sawyer, L.

Scotland of Asthal, B.

Scott of Needham Market, B.

Scriven, L.

Sharkey, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sheehan, B.

Sherlock, B.

Shipley, L.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Simon, V.

Skidelsky, L.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Clifton, L.

Smith of Finsbury, L.

Smith of Gilmorehill, B.

Smith of Newnham, B.

Snape, L.

Soley, L.

Somerset, D.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stephen, L.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Strasburger, L.

Stunell, L.

Suttie, B.

Taverne, L.

Taylor of Blackburn, L.

Taylor of Bolton, B.

Taylor of Goss Moor, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Thornton, B.

Tomlinson, L.

Tonge, B.

Tope, L.

Touhig, L.

Triesman, L.

Truscott, L.

Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]

Turnberg, L.

Tyler, L.

Tyler of Enfield, B.

Uddin, B.

Walker of Gestingthorpe, L.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.

Walpole, L.

Warner, L.

Watkins of Tavistock, B.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

West of Spithead, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Whitty, L.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.

Wills, L.

Winston, L.

Wood of Anfield, L.

Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Worthington, B.

Young of Hornsey, B.

Young of Norwood Green, L.


Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Altmann, B.

Anelay of St Johns, B.

Arbuthnot of Edrom, L.

Ashton of Hyde, L.

Astor, V.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Balfe, L.

Barker of Battle, L.

Bates, L.

Bell, L.

Berridge, B.

Bew, L.

Blencathra, L.

Borwick, L.

Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Bowness, L.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Brady, B.

Bridgeman, V.

Bridges of Headley, L.

Brookeborough, V.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browne of Belmont, L.

Browning, B.

Buscombe, B.

Byford, B.

21 Mar 2016 : Column 2113

Caithness, E.

Callanan, L.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

Cathcart, E.

Cavendish of Furness, L.

Chadlington, L.

Chisholm of Owlpen, B.

Colwyn, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Cormack, L.

Courtown, E.

Craigavon, V.

Crathorne, L.

Crickhowell, L.

Cumberlege, B.

De Mauley, L.

Deben, L.

Deighton, L.

Denham, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dobbs, L.

Dundee, E.

Dunlop, L.

Eaton, B.

Eccles, V.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Evans of Bowes Park, B.

Fairfax of Cameron, L.

Farmer, L.

Faulks, L.

Fellowes of West Stafford, L.

Fink, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Finn, B.

Flight, L.

Fookes, B.

Fowler, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freud, L.

Gardiner of Kimble, L. [Teller]

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Geddes, L.

Gilbert of Panteg, L.

Glenarthur, L.

Goodlad, L.

Goschen, V.

Grade of Yarmouth, L.

Green of Deddington, L.

Green of Hurstpierpoint, L.

Hague of Richmond, L.

Hailsham, V.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Harding of Winscombe, B.

Harris of Peckham, L.

Hay of Ballyore, L.

Hayward, L.

Helic, B.

Henley, L.

Heyhoe Flint, B.

Higgins, L.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Holmes of Richmond, L.

Horam, L.

Howard of Lympne, L.

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Howe, E.

Howell of Guildford, L.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Inglewood, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jopling, L.

Keen of Elie, L.

King of Bridgwater, L.

Kirkham, L.

Lamont of Lerwick, L.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Lansley, L.

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Lindsay, E.

Lingfield, L.

Liverpool, E.

Lupton, L.

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O'Shaughnessy, L.

Palumbo, L.

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Perry of Southwark, B.

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Ridley, V.

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Selborne, E.

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6.12 pm

Schedule 10: Support for certain categories of migrant

Amendments 117 and 118 not moved.

Amendment 119

Moved by Lord Bates

119: Schedule 10, page 168, line 26, at end insert—

“(1) Section 166 (regulations and orders) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (5) (regulations subject to the affirmative procedure) for the “or” at the end of paragraph (c) substitute—

“(ca) section 95A, or”.

(3) After subsection (5) insert—

“(5A) No regulations under paragraph 1 of Schedule 8 which make provision with respect to the powers conferred by section 95A are to be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.

(5B) Subsection (5A) does not apply to regulations under paragraph 1 of that Schedule which make provision of the kind mentioned in paragraph 3(a) of that Schedule.”

(4) In subsection (6) (regulations subject to the negative procedure) for the “or” at the end of paragraph (a) substitute—

“(aa) under the provision mentioned in subsection (5A) and containing regulations to which that subsection applies, or”.”

Amendment 119 agreed.

European Council: March 2016


6.12 pm

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council, which focused on the migration crisis affecting continental Europe. The single biggest cause has of course been the war in Syria and the brutality of the Assad regime. But we have also seen huge growth in the number of people coming to southern Europe from Afghanistan, Pakistan and north Africa, all facilitated by the rapid growth of criminal networks of people-smugglers. More than 8,000 migrants are still arriving in Greece every week and there are signs that the numbers using the central Mediterranean route are on the rise again. So far 10,000 have come this year.

Of course, because of our special status in the European Union, Britain is not part of the Schengen open border arrangements—and we are not going to

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be joining. We have our own border controls and they apply to everyone trying to enter our country, including EU citizens. So people cannot travel through Greece or Italy onward to continental Europe and into Britain and that will not change. But it is in our national interest to help our European partners to deal effectively with this enormous and destabilising challenge.

We have argued for a consistent and clear approach right from the start: ending the conflict in Syria; supporting the refugees in the region; securing European borders; taking refugees directly from the camps and neighbouring countries but not from Europe; and cracking down on people-smuggling gangs. This approach of focusing on the problem upstream has now been universally accepted in Europe, and at this Council it was taken forward with a comprehensive plan for the first time.

As part of this plan, the Council agreed to stop migrants leaving Turkey in the first place; to intercept those who do leave while they are at sea, turning back their boats; and to return to Turkey those who make it to Greece. There can be no guarantees of success but, if this plan is properly and fully implemented, in my view it will be the best chance to make a difference. For the first time we have a plan that breaks the business model of the people-smugglers by breaking the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe.

I want to be clear about what Britain is doing—and what we are not doing—as a result of this plan. What we are doing is contributing our expertise and our skilled officials to help with the large-scale operation now under way. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship ‘Mounts Bay’ and Border Force vessels are already patrolling the Aegean. British asylum experts and interpreters are already working in Greece to help to process individual cases. At the Council I said that Britain stands ready to do even more to support these efforts. Above all, what is needed—and what we have been pushing for—is a detailed plan to implement this agreement and to ensure that all the offers of support that are coming from around Europe are properly co-ordinated. Our share of the additional money, which will go to helping refugees in Turkey under this agreement, will come from our existing aid budget.

But let me also be clear what we are not doing. First, we are not giving visa-free access to Turks coming to the UK. Schengen countries are planning to give visa-free access to Turks but, because we are not part of Schengen, we are not bound by their decision. We have made our own decision, which is to maintain our own borders, and we will not be giving that visa-free access.

Secondly, visa-free access to Schengen countries will not mean a backdoor route to Britain. As the House knows, visa-free access means only the right to visit. It does not mean a right to work. It does not mean a right to settle. Just because, for instance, British citizens can enjoy visa-free travel for holidays in America, that does not mean that they can work, let alone settle, there. Nor will this give Turkish citizens those rights in the EU.

Thirdly, we will not be taking more refugees as a result of this deal. A number of Syrians who are in camps in Turkey will be resettled into the Schengen

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countries of the EU but, again, that does not apply to Britain. We have already got our resettlement programme and we are delivering on that. We said that we would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over this Parliament, taking them directly from the camps, and that is what we are doing. We promised that 1,000 would be resettled here in time for last Christmas and that is what we delivered.

The other 27 EU countries agreed to two schemes. One was to relocate 160,000 within the EU, but by the time of last December’s Council, only 208 people had been relocated. The second was to have a voluntary resettlement scheme for 22,500 from outside the EU, but by the end of last year just 483 refugees had been resettled throughout the 27 countries.

We said what we would do and we are doing it. Britain has given more money to support Syrians fleeing the war, and the countries hosting them, than any other European country. Indeed, we are doing more than any country in the world other than the United States, spending more than £1 billion so far, with another £1.3 billion pledged. We are fulfilling our moral responsibility as a nation.

Turning to the central Mediterranean, the EU naval operation that we established last summer has had some success, with more than 90 vessels destroyed and more than 50 smugglers arrested. HMS ‘Enterprise’ is taking part and we will continue her deployment throughout the summer.

What is desperately needed is a Government in Libya with whom we can work, so that we can co-operate with the Libyan coastguard, in Libyan waters, to turn back the boats and stop the smugglers there, too. There is now a new Prime Minister and a Government whom we have recognised as the sole legitimate authority in Libya. These are very early days, but we must do what we can to try to make this work. That is why at this Council I brought together leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Malta to ensure that we are all ready to provide as much support as possible.

Turning to other matters at the Council, I took the opportunity to deal with a long-standing issue that we have had about the VAT rate on sanitary products. We have some EU-wide VAT rules in order to make the single market work, but the system has been far too inflexible and this causes understandable frustration. We said that we would get this changed and that is exactly what we have done. The Council conclusions confirm that the European Commission will produce a proposal in the next few days to allow countries to extend the number of zero rates for VAT, including on sanitary products. This is an important breakthrough. It means that Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the tampon tax. On this basis, the Government will be accepting both the amendments put down to the Finance Bill tomorrow night.

My right honourable friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green spent almost a decade campaigning for welfare reform and improving people’s life chances and he has spent the last six years implementing those policies in government. In that time, we have seen nearly half a million fewer children living in workless households, more than a million fewer people on

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out-of-work benefits and nearly 2.4 million more people in work. In spite of having to take difficult decisions on the deficit, child poverty, inequality and pensioner poverty are all down. My right honourable friend contributed an enormous amount to the work of this Government and he can be proud of what he achieved.

This Government will continue to give the highest priority to improving the life chances of the poorest in our country. We will continue to reform our schools. We will continue to fund childcare and create jobs. We will carry on cutting taxes for the lowest-paid. In the last Parliament, we took 4 million of the lowest-paid people out of income tax altogether and our further rises to the personal allowance will take many more out, too. Combined with this, we will go on with our plans to rebuild sink estates, to help those with mental health conditions, to extend our troubled families programme, to reform our prisons and to tackle discrimination for those whose life chances suffer because of the colour of their skin. In two weeks’ time, we will introduce the first ever national living wage, giving a pay rise to the poorest people in our country. All of this is driven by a deeply held conviction that everyone in Britain should have the chance to make the most of their lives.

Let me add this. None of this would be possible if it was not for the actions of this Government and the work of my right honourable friend the Chancellor in turning our economy around. We can only improve life chances if our economy is secure and strong. Without sound public finances, you end up having to raise taxes or make even deeper cuts in spending. You do not get more opportunity that way; you get less opportunity that way. When that happens, it is working people who suffer, as we saw in Labour’s recession. So we must continue to cut the deficit, control the cost of welfare and live within our means. We must not burden our children and grandchildren with debts that we did not have the courage to pay off ourselves. Securing our economy and extending opportunity, we will continue with this approach in full, because we are a modern, compassionate, one-nation Conservative Government. I commend the Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

6.24 pm

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister earlier today. I have to say that it was not quite the Statement that we were expecting after the media noise over the last day or so. She may have noticed when she was speaking that noble Lords were flicking through the Statement that was released, because the last part that she read out was not released to the Opposition or to your Lordships’ House in the usual way. I do not imply any discourtesy, but I suspect that the crescendo that we heard in defence of compassionate Conservativism at the end probably had not been written in time for the printed copy.

As MPs and Peers left Westminster on Thursday evening, no one could have foreseen the events of the weekend. Clearly, problems were simmering at the heart of the Government, which led to the dramatic

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resignation of the Work and Pensions Secretary on Friday evening, just as many of us were about to turn in for the night. In the Statement, the Prime Minister paid fulsome tribute to Iain Duncan Smith for his work in government. But for those who read his resignation letter and watched him on TV yesterday, it is clear that his concerns and the reasons for his resignation are deeply held. Although some feel that this had been building up for some time, others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, took to the airwaves to condemn it as a more recent conversion. We may never know the truth.

I genuinely welcome the fact that, despite these distractions, the Prime Minister was able to focus on what was an extremely important EU Council, on which I want to focus. Europe is facing the most severe migration crisis since the Second World War. Many have observed that this is the biggest challenge that the EU has ever faced. Given the scale and the seriousness of the crisis, and the importance of the EU Council meeting, I find it disappointing that internal government political problems dominated the weekend’s news coverage.

Before we get into the detail, we should just reflect on how the human misery at the heart of the crisis is too often lost in the language of EU agreements and treaties. This is nothing less than a matter of life or death for the people involved. You just have to imagine being a parent and paying your life’s savings to someone you know full well to be a criminal just to try to possibly escape the horror that has convulsed your country, with no real prospect of peace in sight. We have seen this in Syria, Afghanistan and north Africa. Many of these families know that they face a great risk, but they believe that staying is a greater risk for them. We just have to imagine and think how absolutely desperate they must be. They have not packed suitcases to go off on holiday, nor have they have been able to sit down and make a rational choice to leave their homes. They feel that there is no alternative but to seek refuge and a better, safer life for them and their children elsewhere.

In 2015, more than 1 million people made that dangerous journey to Europe in a desperate search for safety. Upon arrival, if indeed they make it that far, despite the best efforts of charities, the authorities and volunteers, they all too often face appalling conditions. There is no proper access to all those things that we take for granted: homes, food, sanitation, healthcare and schools. They do not have them in the way that we expect to have them. This is a humanitarian crisis on the most enormous scale. Talk of migrants—especially “bunches of migrants”, a phrase that we have heard—merely dehumanises each and every individual tragedy that we are faced with. Perhaps we should all try to remember that and think about how we speak.

It is right that our response to a crisis of this magnitude is an EU-wide response. It is also right that, through the EU, we engage with Turkey. The need for Europe-wide co-operation underlines the case for remaining in the EU. Labour supports Turkey’s application to join the EU, but we also recognise that this is certainly not an immediate prospect: important issues have to be addressed first and conditions met. We want to be satisfied with regard to human rights,

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governance, free media, the rule of law and Turkey’s relationship with Cyprus. However, the agreement reached over the weekend, if implemented properly and fully, could relieve some of the pressure that both Turkey and Greece are facing. I welcome the clarification on Turkish visas and Schengen. We also pay tribute to those from our Armed Forces and military engaged in the EU naval operations for their vital work on this issue.

However, questions remain both on refugees and on the wider issues, which I hope the noble Baroness can address in her response. For those seeking refuge who are to be returned, what measures will be taken to ensure that they do not again fall into the hands of traffickers and that they are protected by international law? What measures are guaranteed for those claiming asylum in terms of access to interpreters and to legal advice and representation? Is the noble Baroness able to confirm whether Turkish travel documents have a sufficient level of integrity and security in line with EU standards, including on fingerprints? In repeating the Statement today, she gave some figures on the number of refugees who have settled in the UK. If she could update those figures, that would be helpful.

What progress has been made with ensuring that Turkey fully respects the Geneva Convention on human rights, to ensure that all those arriving from other countries receive formal international protection? What steps are being taken to ensure that those arriving in Turkey do not simply shift via other routes—for example, through Libya? What support is being given to Greece to enable it to execute the terms of the deal at such notice?

Finally, on the other issue that the Prime Minister mentioned, the tampon tax, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Primarolo, who is in her place. She tells the story of how, as a Treasury Minister, she sought and, in 2000, succeeded in reducing VAT on female sanitary protection to the then lowest level of 5% from the higher level that we as a Government inherited of 17.5%. It was not easy. She was told the justification for why it could not be reduced to the lower level of 5% in a scene worthy of “Yes Minister”. She was told: “But Minister, it is only for essential products”. When she asked for examples of what those could possibly be, she was told, “Well, Minister, essential products like razor blades”.

Today, we welcome the progress made and recognise the efforts of my noble friend in getting us to this point. The right decision has been made. The Chancellor said last week in his Statement that the money raised from that 5% VAT would go to charities. Does that mean that charities will not receive that income, or will the Chancellor find some other way to make up the deficit of the money that they were expecting? I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to answer my questions.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness (LD): My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. Given that much of it was about Turkey, I am sure that she and the House as a whole wish to place on record our condolences to the families of those who have been the victims of recent terrorism atrocities in both Ankara and Istanbul.

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Faced with such an immense challenge, it would be unreasonable to doubt the good faith of those who have strived to reach some agreement between the European Union and Turkey over the past few days, but it should not come as a surprise when I say that we on these Benches have serious misgivings about the EU-Turkey deal which has emerged from the European Council meeting. The United Kingdom should be leading by example in the response to the refugee crisis. We should be using a significant influence to fight for an EU-wide response that is fair, just and respect the values that this country holds dear. Credit where credit is due: where this Government have played a leading role, such as in encouraging humanitarian relief in Syria and the region, we have been successful, not least at the Syria donor conference in London last month.

However, when we look at the agreement and the Statement from the Prime Minister, we find it shameful that the United Kingdom is demonstrating such reluctance to stand up for vulnerable refugees who have fled from war and terror. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, gave very clear substance to what those people are facing. Our continued inaction does not do justice to Britain’s history and values.

When one reads the Prime Minister’s Statement, one finds that we will not be taking more refugees as a result of this deal. Put that in a context where people are facing misery and need. One wonders whether this is really a manifestation of compassionate conservatism.

Safe and legal routes are crucial for moving the current process forward. The vast majority of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq choose to stay in the region, as close to their homes as possible, but for those who cannot survive in the region, routes must be available to apply for asylum not only in the United Kingdom but in other countries as well. On these Benches, we support the measures set out by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees on 4 March: humanitarian admission programmes, private sponsorships, family reunions, student scholarships and labour mobility schemes. Direct resettlement from the region is part of that, and we should be scaling up our resettlement programme. Twenty thousand people over five years is insufficient. The United Kingdom should use its leadership in Europe to encourage other European countries to scale up their own programmes of direct resettlement.

We also need a system in place for those already in Europe, including the estimated 26,000 children who arrived in 2015, 10,000 of whom are now missing. In the vote in the earlier Division, the House made its view very clear on that.

On previous occasions the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and other Ministers have tried to argue that, by accepting those seeking asylum who have travelled the fraught journey to continental Europe, we are only encouraging more people to do so. I have always thought that it was a bit like saying that the Good Samaritan should really have passed by on the other side because, by stopping to help, he was only encouraging more acts of highway robbery on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. If, as the Statement hopes, the agreement breaks the business model of the

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people smugglers, what reason is there then for us not taking an equitable share of those who are already in continental Europe?

Clearly, the Dublin system is not currently sufficient to deal with this crisis. Instead, the United Kingdom should encourage the European Union to develop European-wide systems of responsibility for asylum seekers, including setting up a system for asylum requests to be distributed equitably across EU member states which takes account of different demographic projections, such as the high net migration in the United Kingdom, compared to forecast population decreases elsewhere.

Turning to the specifics, many people and well-recognised organisations have expressed concern that the proposals as they stand seek to address only the short-term concerns over European borders. Serious questions were raised after the 7 March proposals were published as to their standing in European Union and international law. Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House give the House the Government’s assessment of the international legal position in relation to this agreement? Can she give details of how full and proper asylum determination procedure will be carried out in Greece in full compliance with European Union law? The agreement states:

“People who do not have a right to international protection will be immediately returned to Turkey”.

Can the noble Baroness provide more detail on who that covers? What provision is made for families and children, given that children and women now make up 60% of those crossing to Europe? Will those who have the right to international protection be granted asylum only in Greece, or will they be relocated elsewhere?

The one-for-one arrangement appears to apply only to Syrian refugees. What is the position regarding other nationalities, such as Iraqis and Afghans, who are also fleeing conflict areas? Not surprisingly, Greece is having great difficulty processing the number of people through the relocation provisions, so can the noble Baroness give us some detail as to how quickly people will be assessed and indicate what provision the United Kingdom is making for the assessment process?

There appears to be little in the way of concrete proposals to tackle trafficking within Turkey and other launch points, including Libya. Although we would like a full investigation into the cash flows of the smuggling businesses, in the mean time, can the noble Baroness assure the House that the money provided by the European Union to improve humanitarian conditions for refugees in Turkey will be closely monitored and, where possible, be funded through international organisations, including UNHCR, UNICEF and other NGOs?

Finally, the EU-Turkey statement reaffirms a commitment to re-energise the accession process. We have supported Turkey’s application, but I do not think that anyone can be under any illusion that, however important it is, it will be a difficult and probably long process. Can the Leader of the House assure us and confirm that, given some of the actions of the Turkish authorities in recent months, there will be no watering down of the justice and rule-of-law requirements of EU membership?

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In conclusion, we have seen in recent days the real colour of this Government on this and other issues. Whether it is in relation to the incredibly vulnerable unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge in Europe or the Chancellor of the Exchequer trying to pay for his bonus for the wealthy by punishing disabled people, it appears that, time and again, this Government’s choices are driven by cynical politics and public image rather than economic necessity or indeed humanitarian concern.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord for their responses. First, I join the noble and learned Lord in his tribute to and concern for the people in Turkey who have suffered at the hands of recent terrorist attacks.

I start by emphasising that a major development came out of the Council meeting last weekend. For the first time, there is now a serious and comprehensive proposal to deal with this very serious migration and refugee crisis in Europe. We, the United Kingdom, played a part in getting the programme in place, and we are proud that we are at the table and doing just that. As has been acknowledged, if it is properly implemented, the deal with Turkey will break the business model of those very wicked people, the people smugglers, by breaking the link between getting in one of their boats and getting resettlement in Europe. The purpose of that is to deter the most desperate people—the noble Baroness is absolutely right—from embarking on a very perilous journey to find refuge. This European Union programme for refugees in Turkey is comprehensive, and builds on the bilateral support that the United Kingdom is already providing to the many Syrian refugees in Turkey. One thing that is important for me to acknowledge, which is in a way a response to some of the points that have been raised by the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord, is the generosity of the people of Turkey in providing that refuge to so many people in their country. What we and the European Union are doing by introducing this programme and providing the financial support for Turkey is for that money to go very much to providing respite, refuge and an alternative, albeit temporary, way of life, until those very desperate people can return to their country.

The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord asked how we could ensure that this new programme could comply with international and European law. Of course, there is no way that we would sign up to any scheme that was not compliant with international law—and nor would any member of the European Union or the European Union itself. Of that we can be confident. As for the support to those who arrive in Greece and seek refuge and asylum there, the new processing centres or hotspots will include interpreting advice and ensure that they are all treated as individuals, in terms of their cases, as international law requires.

The noble Baroness asked about Turkish travel documents. Clearly, most of the people coming from Turkey are from Syria, but there are people coming through that route from other countries who are not from Syria. For the one-for-one scheme to apply, when a refugee from Syria is returned to Turkey, another

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refugee has the opportunity to be settled in Europe. Those who use that route who are not from Syria, whether they come from Afghanistan or Pakistan, will be returned to Turkey but not be part of that scheme.

The noble and learned Lord asked how quickly people would be processed. I do not have any further details on how the scheme will be implemented at the moment, except to say that the implementation phase now is under way, which is one of the things that the United Kingdom is contributing to—actually getting that expertise there on the ground, to assist Greece in being able to process people. The noble Baroness asked about support to Greece so that it can handle this situation. That is very much part of this arrangement, and we have contributed additional funds to Greece for that purpose.

We can be confident that this programme is a response to the leadership that our Prime Minister took in Europe to come up with a plan very much targeted at addressing the root cause of the terrible situation and crisis in Europe at the moment. We have to deal with the political situation in Syria, clearly, but we have to support people as far as we can in countries close to their own country and break this terrible, wicked scheme, which criminals are making money out of and which puts so many people at risk.

On the other points that were raised, and on what the noble Baroness said about the tampon tax and VAT on sanitary products, and the story that she relayed from the time of the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, in the Treasury, I find that absolutely shocking. I cannot believe that razor blades are considered essential and sanitary wear not. I also find it quite surprising to hear men on the television and in Chambers such as this using the word “tampon”. I still find that in itself quite a revelation, but I am pleased that finally after all this time we have been able to address that unfairness and do something about it.

In response to some of the points that the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord made about recent events, as I said in concluding the Prime Minister’s Statement, I say again that this is a one-nation Conservative Government, and we are very much determined to support everybody in this country. I make it clear to your Lordships’ House how proud I am to be a member of this Government, alongside everybody who sits around that Cabinet table.

6.45 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): Would it be fair to say that this is a very important moment for the European Union, having for the first time agreed something concrete, if very difficult to implement, in this Statement? It goes to show that, when we are at the table, we can play a positive part in the deliberations of the European Union, as a country, and the result in this case is one that we would not have been able to contribute to if we had not been a part. Therefore, the moral of the story is very clear: whether or not we were part of the problem, we are certainly shaping up as a European Union, together, to be part of the solution.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I certainly agree with the noble Lord that it is because we are there at the table that we have been able to be influential in coming

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up with this comprehensive plan to deal with this very serious situation. Not only is that good, because it makes sure that we can fight for Britain’s interests in coming up with a solution, but also, if we were not at the table, this problem would still exist, and we would not have been able to ensure that in its design we would protect the United Kingdom’s interests as well as supporting these very desperate and poor people who need Europe’s support.

Baroness Ludford (LD): Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House explain why, notwithstanding her remarks just now, the Government stubbornly refuse to put their own efforts—their laudable humanitarian aid contribution and rather less admirable resettlement offer—squarely into a European policy framework, and then add a relocation effort under the criteria that my noble and learned friend mentioned? Surely, EU asylum policy is part of the European security agenda, on which the Prime Minister has rightly declared an intention to lead. Why cannot what we are doing be squarely in the European framework?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Because, my Lords, we work in Britain’s overall best interests, and we are seeking to assist Europe in making sure that, in the package as a whole, what Europe does in protecting its borders and supporting people is very much in line with what we believe is the right thing to do, while retaining control of how we support these refugees. That will in future be very much in line with what Europe is doing. It is Europe that is following our lead—but what we are able to do is to retain control ultimately of the number of people who come into this country. That is what the British people want us to do—to be able to influence but retain control. That is why, to coin a phrase, it is the best of both worlds.

Lord Baker of Dorking (Con): Could the Minister say whether she thinks that the Turkey deal is realistic? After the assessment of immigration status has been approved—either genuine refugee status or none—those who have been declined could amount in Europe to hundreds of thousands. They will have to return to Turkey, but suppose they just sit there and refuse to go to Turkey with their wives, their children and their sick parents. Will there be forcible repatriation? Whenever we have had to do this in Britain, there has been only a handful of cases a year and they are always very difficult. I should have thought that with hundreds of thousands it is well-nigh impossible.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am sorry that my noble friend is quite pessimistic about the chances of this scheme working. It clearly requires a lot of expert planning to make sure it works properly. It will be regularly reviewed to ensure that it works. One of the main planks of this plan is for Turkey to protect its borders and ensure that people are not leaving there in the first place. The plan is not just about dealing with people once they get to Greece. It is about limiting the number who leave Turkey in the first place and about being very proactive in the water in terms of turning boats back before they have left Turkey’s shores. This is a comprehensive plan, and it has to be executed in a very comprehensive way.

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Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, as the weather improves, the longer sea routes from Libya to Lampedusa, Sicily or Malta will increasingly be used. There may be a new Government, albeit a feeble Government, in Libya, but ISIS controls a substantial part of the coast, including the port of Sirte. How can we possibly hope for progress without the military defeat of ISIS, which plans to send jihadists from Libya to the European mainland? Can there be any serious progress without the military defeat of ISIS in Libya? What plans, if any, have we to do that?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord is right to highlight that the root cause of all this is ISIS, or Daesh, and the appalling atrocities that it is performing in that part of the world. There is now a new Prime Minister in place in Libya and a new unity Government have just been established. The Foreign Secretary has already been in touch with the new Prime Minister. We stand ready to assist in Libya, but we will not take any action there without it being in response to a request. Clearly, if there was any extension of any activity in that part of world, the Prime Minister would want to return to the House of Commons. In the mean time, we have increased our presence as part of the NATO regime off the coast of Libya to try to do more to tackle smuggling before people leave the Libyan coast.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, I confess my heart sank slightly when the first sentence of the Statement said that this was a migration crisis affecting “continental Europe”. However, since the rest of the Statement said that it is quite clearly a crisis that affects the whole of Europe, I think we can pass that over in silence.

The Government have until now attached and still attach huge importance to taking Syrian refugees only from countries such as Jordan and Lebanon with the co-operation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I think it is a bit excessive that they refuse even to contemplate those who reach Europe. Does the Statement mean that from now on they will accept refugees in Turkey who are registered as being genuine refugees? Will our 20,000—I am not seeking to raise the issue of numbers—include refugees taken from camps in Turkey and thus, of course, be helpful to the commitments that the European Union has entered into to help Turkey handle the increased number of refugees it will get when many are returned from Greece?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Yes, my Lords, we will of course take refugees from Turkey. Some of the refugees we have already received as a consequence of the Syrian crisis will be based in Turkey because they will be in some of the camps which are outside Syria on the border with Turkey. I can certainly reassure the noble Lord on that.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, following the events of the weekend, I wonder whether the Leader of the House can imagine with what delicious schadenfreude we on these Benches recall Mr Osborne’s comment in the Budget that he had abolished the Liberal Democrats. I bet he is

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missing us now for we could be relied on in government whereas it is perfectly clear that his shambles of a party cannot.

Turning to refugees, the Government’s case for refusing to assist a single refugee currently fleeing from the Syrian battlefield has been that to do so would encourage more to come. Since by the Government’s own admission the Turkish scheme overcomes that problem, will we play any part in it and, if not, what dishonourable fig leaf of an excuse will they now raise in order not to assist a single refugee coming now from the Syrian battlefield?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I completely reject the way the noble Lord has described what we have done and what we are committed to do. We are supporting refugees from Syria in two very clear ways: first, by providing financial support and aid to those who are based in these camps at a rate unmatched by any country in Europe and second only to the United States. Our resettlement programme, which we put in place last year, has already started to deliver refuge to people who were in camps near Syria to a greater degree than that of those countries in Europe which were party to the relocation scheme. It is working.

If children who have fled from Syria and are in mainland Europe and have claimed asylum have family ties to the United Kingdom, our policy is to assist them in being reunited with their family, but they have to claim asylum in the country they are in. That is the policy, but it also reflects how much support we want to give.

As to the noble Lord’s comments on the Liberal Democrats, the Budget did a huge amount to ensure that we are supporting future generations of this country. We have increased funding for our schools, we have taken yet more low-paid people out of tax, we have frozen fuel duty to help hard-working people and we are helping the poorest to save. We have done all that on our own in government, and we will continue to do that and to deliver our long-term economic plan because that is what people voted for, that is what they want from us and that is what will secure their future and that of everybody in this country.

Lord Mawhinney (Con): My Lords, I suspect I am not the only one in your Lordships’ House who is grateful to the Prime Minister for having reminded us of the decisions of the two previous EU Council meetings and the number of people who were going to be helped as a result of those decisions and for telling us of the paltry number of people who actually have been helped. Given that stark contrast, does my noble friend really believe that the decisions taken this time are in practice going to turn out to be effective, as the other two sets of decisions have apparently not been?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I believe they will be. The proof will be once this is fully implemented. The reason why I believe it will be effective is because this new European programme reflects the programme that we have already adopted, which is seeing better results than that which has been already used in Europe.

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I would refute what the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said about the Budget. All independent commentators say that it will exacerbate intergenerational strife.

In relation to the Statement, I do not think the noble Baroness has answered the question from my noble friend Lady Smith on the number of people who have already been welcomed to this country. I personally welcome the agreement with Turkey, but I am concerned that little or no heed seems to have been given to the situation in Turkey itself in relation to human rights, good governance, free media and the rule of law. Of course I deeply regret the violence that is now taking place in Turkey, but the Turkish Government must always pay heed to their obligations under international law, not just to the refugees, who are hugely important, but also to their own citizens.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Baroness is right. That is why progress will not be made on the part of the deal that includes Turkey’s accession to the EU until Turkey has complied with all the demands laid out for it to meet, and they have been in place for a very long time now. All Europe—including the UK, which has long been a supporter of Turkey’s accession to the EU—recognises that Turkey has a huge amount to do before it would qualify for that membership. On the concerns that the noble Baroness raises about Turkey more generally at this time, yes, there are issues that have been raised, such as freedom of speech or the arresting of journalists, and we have heard about some of them and debated them in this Chamber. Those are all of great concern, but at the same time that does not detract from the generosity that Turkey has shown to the people of Syria. We need Turkey to continue providing that refuge to people. Yes, we need to continue to apply pressure on the matters that concern us regarding human rights, but we must not do so in way that somehow undermines the very positive work that Turkey is doing in support of very desperate people.

Lord Balfe (Con): My Lords, to follow up on the previous question, I read in the press cuttings this morning that a proposal has been brought forward by the Turkish Government that politicians and journalists could also be prosecuted for abetting terrorism if they say anything that even mildly suggests there might be two sides to the story. I speak as a long-standing friend of Turkey, but urge the Government not to lose sight of the increasing authoritarianism that I detect in that country. It is in our interests to firmly remind our friends in Turkey that the properly applied rule of law is an absolute precondition not only for coming into the EU, which is self-evident, but for being a part of the international polity of nations.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My noble friend is right to highlight these issues. As he will understand, it is not inconsistent for this Government both to raise concerns about any kind of abuse or human rights issues that exist in Turkey and at the same time to work with that country in order for it to provide the support that we think is essential to the people fleeing Syria.

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Lord Green of Deddington (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is an important legal snag that has been overlooked? European legislation requires that those now being dealt with in Greece should have a right of appeal. That is in the reception directive. Will the Government therefore take steps to get that directive amended?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord raises a point of detail that I am sure is being properly addressed in the normal processes. If I have anything I can add to that, I will of course write to him.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): Will the noble Baroness explain how the agreement will effectively break the smugglers’ business model, when it appears that it will do little to reduce the underlying demand for those smugglers? Would it not be more effective, and more in line with human rights principles, to introduce safe and legal routes, as mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, including the expansion of family reunion, which we will be debating shortly? Would such an approach not do more to make the smugglers redundant?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: This scheme is all about making those smugglers redundant. We do not want people to think that the only way for them to leave the camps and find refuge in Europe is to get into a boat and pay money to criminal gangs and put their own lives at risk. We want to ensure that in the neighbouring countries, whether Jordan or Turkey, those camps provide a suitable way of life, albeit not at all what anyone would actually want, temporarily for them until they can go back to their own countries. Ultimately we want to see a thriving Syria. We want Syria to be back up and running in the way that it was before this terrible war and outbreak of terrible atrocities took place. If we encourage everyone to come to Europe, that is not going to work.

Lord Scriven (LD): My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will know that Turkey does not apply the Geneva convention to non-EU citizens. Do the full rules of the Geneva convention apply to the scheme that has just been agreed and, if not, which protections are not given to those people who are sent back?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I will have to write to the noble Lord about that.



7.06 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Statement made in the Commons by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The Statement is as follows.

“It is a privilege to stand here at the Dispatch Box as the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. First, I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, the right honourable Member for Chingford and Woodford

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Green. My right honourable friend came into this job six years ago with a real sense of mission and purpose to transform people’s lives for the better, and he achieved some remarkable things. I intend to build on this success.

As a one-nation Conservative, my vision is to support everyone to achieve their full potential and live independent lives. That means people having the stability and security of a decent job, and children growing up in a home with the benefit of that stability. There are now over 2 million more people in work than in 2010, and almost half a million more children now grow up seeing a mum or dad go out to work each day. We are ensuring that these opportunities extend to all those in our society, including disabled people.

Today, there are more than 3 million disabled people in work. In the last 12 months alone, 152,000 more disabled people have moved into work, 292,000 more over the past two years. That represents real lives transformed as we support people with disabilities and health conditions to move into work and to benefit from all the advantages that that brings. But we are also supporting the most vulnerable, and are determined that those with the greatest need are supported the most.

Our reforms have seen support for disabled people increase. In the last Parliament, spending rose by £3 billion. We are now, rightly, spending around £50 billion on benefits alone to support people with disabilities and health conditions. Devoting this level of resources is the mark of a decent society.

Personal independence payments were introduced to be a more modern and dynamic benefit to help to cover the extra costs faced by disabled people, something that its predecessor benefit, the DLA, did not do. PIP is designed to focus support on those with the greatest need, and we have seen that working. For example, 22% of claimants are receiving the highest level of support, compared to 16% under the predecessor benefit, DLA.

Before Christmas, the Government held a consultation on how part of the PIP assessment works in relation to aids and appliances. As the Prime Minister indicated on Friday, I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward. I am absolutely clear that a compassionate and fair welfare system should not just be about the numbers. Behind every statistic there is a human being, and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that.

I can also confirm that after discussing this issue over the weekend with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will focus on implementing.

I want to turn directly to the welfare cap. First of all, it is right that we monitor welfare spending carefully. The principle of introducing a welfare cap is the right one, given the huge increases in welfare spending we saw under previous Labour Governments—up nearly 60%. The reality is that if we do not control the public finances, it is always the poorest in society who pay the

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biggest price, so we need that discipline. The welfare cap strengthens accountability and transparency to Parliament—something that simply was not in place under Labour. We make no apology for this. As we are required to do, we will review the level of the cap in the Autumn Statement when the OBR formally reassesses it, but I repeat that we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will focus on implementing.

Against this backdrop, I want to build on the progress we have made in supporting disabled people. We made a manifesto commitment to halve the gap between the proportion of disabled people in work compared with the rest of the labour market. As I have outlined, we have made good progress in supporting disabled people into work, but to go further will require us to work in a way that we have not done before, to think beyond the artificial boundaries of organisations, sectors and government departments to an approach that is truly collaborative. That is why today I want to start a new conversation with disabled people, their representatives, healthcare professionals and employers. I want the welfare system to work better with the health and social care systems. Together we can do so much better for disabled people.

This is a hugely complex but hugely important area of policy to get right. Disabled people themselves can provide the best insight into how support works best for them. So I am determined that all views are listened to in the right way in the weeks and months ahead. I will be personally involved in these discussions. The events of recent days demonstrate that we need to take time to reflect on how best we support and help to transform people’s lives. That is the welfare system I believe in. I commend this statement to the House”.

That concludes the Statement.

7.13 pm

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement and for advance sight of it, and I welcome unreservedly the Government’s dramatic change of heart on this matter. However, I would like to know how we got to this point. Last Thursday, at Questions, I asked the Minister specifically about the fact that the single biggest revenue raiser in the Budget Red Book was a £4.4 billion cut over five years in personal independence payments awarded to people who need aids and appliances to get dressed or manage their continence. The Minister defended it, claiming that those people did not in fact have extra costs and, anyway, it was not really a cut because the total cost of PIP was rising, even though 370,000 people would have lost up to £3,500 each per year as a result of the change. Of course, the total cost of any benefit is a combination of case load, value and running costs. If the total cost starts to rise but a Minister then decides to change the rules so that some people will not be eligible any more, thereby saving £1.2 billion a year on the anticipated bill, that is undeniably still a cut, not least for the 370,000 disabled people affected.

However, everything has changed since our debate last Thursday. What a difference a weekend makes. Since then, the boss of the noble Lord, Lord Freud,

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Iain Duncan Smith, has resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, saying that repeated cuts to working-age benefits,

“just looks like we see this as a pot of money, that it doesn’t matter because they don't vote for us”.

I will not even start on what his junior Ministers said about him, or indeed about each other, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who has behaved with considerable propriety in this. The House should commend him for that. However, to offer him one small piece of advice, it might be wise to stay indoors during break time over the next week—just until the storm passes. I hope that he is having an entertaining time in the DWP at the moment, if not an easy one. Joking apart, caught in the middle of all this chaos are some confused and worried disabled people, in work and out of work, who depend on PIP, so I hope that we will be able to get some clear answers to questions today.

First, does the Minister now accept that it was wrong to propose taking £4.4 billion from disabled people to fund tax cuts that mostly benefit those on higher incomes and those with much greater wealth? Secondly, disabled people will be relieved to hear that the cut in PIP announced by the Government has been cancelled, but I think we all want to know where the money will come from to plug the £4 billion hole in the budget that it leaves. Can the Minister assure us that it will not be taken from anywhere else in the DWP budget? I am very glad to hear that it will not come from benefits, but will he assure us that it will not come from the department’s budget elsewhere—for example, from the Work Programme, or other important activities the department will undertake? Also, the Minister has been trailing for a long time a major White Paper on disability. Can he confirm that this Statement means that no changes to benefits payable to disabled people will be considered in that White Paper?

The Statement says that support for disabled people rose in the last Parliament. It does not say that spending on disabled people is falling in this Parliament. The IFS says that it has fallen by 3% in real terms, and House of Commons Library research shows that, taking all disability benefits into account, the fall is over 6%.

Disabled people have suffered greatly at the hands of this Government. They remain among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country. If the new Secretary of State is indeed a one-nation Conservative and committed to helping disabled people to thrive, should he not start by reconsidering the repeated cuts that his predecessor made to their benefits? Perhaps he could help those who have lost their Motability cars, those suffering because of the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the two-thirds of bedroom-tax victims who are disabled, or those who will get £30 a week less in ESA in future because of legislation that we recently passed. I welcome this change unreservedly, but until those questions are addressed, it is very hard indeed to believe that we really are all in it together.

Baroness Manzoor (LD): My Lords, I wish the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions every success in his new role—I mean that sincerely—and I am sorry

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that the Government find themselves in a difficult place. In fairness, however, they have had significant notice that there was much wrong with the way the welfare reforms have been tackled and are to be implemented.

As the Minister knows, we on these Benches have seen the welfare reforms through the prism of work, so we opposed cuts to tax credits, cuts to universal credit, the removal of support for people with disabilities, and measures that increased child poverty. We on these Benches want to ensure that government policy enables a fairer and more compassionate society, where the weak and the vulnerable are protected and people are supported to work, and supported in work when their incomes are low.

The Government have led us to believe that the weak and the vulnerable are being supported, but the events of the weekend say that this is not only about ensuring adequate support for disabled people but has been—as Iain Duncan Smith’s letter says—about unnecessary cuts to hit a politically motivated target. If that is the case, I am sad to say that the Government may have lost their moral compass. Do the Government accept IDS’s criticism, and do they not therefore owe disabled people an apology for being used as pawns in a cynical political game? I am pleased to note that the reassessment for PIPs will now be kicked into the long grass, but that is not good enough. The entire PIP cuts plan should be stopped. Will the Minister confirm exactly what the intentions for changes to PIP are? Are they to be fully stopped, as the Minister indicated, or just paused for the next six months or so?

Finally, given that the Government consulted on these proposals and until last Friday were saying that they were about giving the right support to disabled people, what is the Government’s actual view on the use of aids and adaptations by disabled people? If they have changed their mind for political reasons, does that mean that the foundation for the Government’s original claims was false, and—as IDS says—just an excuse to cut money? I am concerned about how the Government have treated the consultation process. Should there not be a review into whether they have made misleading claims in order to justify the cut, while ignoring the outcome of the consultation process?

We all have a duty of care to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to preserve their dignity and to help them live full and independent lives. All Governments should take that responsibility very seriously. To that end, I am pleased to note that the Statement says that the Government have no plans to make any further cuts in welfare, but can the Minister confirm that this applies throughout this Parliament? I am also pleased that they are re-setting the conversation, which is vital. I hope that this new conversation about welfare, health and social care will benefit the majority.

Lord Freud: There were a number of questions there. One of the main questions is about what is happening to PIP in terms of costs—various claims have been made. I reassure noble Lords that in this Parliament we are seeing an increase in the DLA PIP budget in real terms. I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, said; namely, the contrast between the

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PIP process we were undergoing last week and the tax cuts was wrong. This is almost history, but the reality was that we were looking at the issue in its own terms, following a report by an independent review that said there was a problem in the PIP process. Fundamentally, putting the two together has caused a great deal of upset. Indeed, Iain Duncan Smith raised that very point himself.

I shall not spend the whole time going through the PIP issue. I assure noble Lords that we have now stopped the PIP adjustment, full stop. It is not being delayed; rather, it is not happening. The question—a suspicious question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock—is: where is the money coming from? I see. The answer is that we are not seeking to replace that money within the welfare budget. That is the point of the very explicit statement, which was made twice, that, looking ahead, we are not looking for welfare savings.

The noble Baroness asked about the White Paper process. That would be a reform process; there may be changes in the way we do things and how we support people, but that is following a consultation on what will work best and is not to do with the savings process that I described. There is no intention to use it in that way.

I shall pick up some of the other issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, including, for instance, whether we will reconsider other things. There are 24,000 more people on Motability than at the start of 2013. They may be different people, but the process is being directed at the people who need it. The independent living fund was a transfer. The noble Baroness uses one set of statistics on who is disabled and the RSRS. The numbers come down very considerably when one looks at them on ESA. The final issue she raised was the ESA and WRAG. I remind noble Lords, and her, that that was voted on repeatedly in another place.

On the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, I reiterate that there is a full stop here; we are not moving things around on PIP changes. I defend the consultation process that we undertook. We made some changes as a direct result of the consultation, although we did not use four of the options. We went to one and then adapted option 5. I think I have now dealt with the Front Bench questions.

7.26 pm

Lord Fowler (Con): My Lords, I welcome entirely what my noble friend said about disabled people and the one-nation ambition. However, in looking at the challenge for the new Secretary of State, surely we should remember that there has always been tension between any social security Secretary and any Chancellor of the Exchequer. There have been rougher Chancellors than Mr Osborne. In future, it might be better to sort out the differences, as we did, without the intervention of spin doctors and anonymous briefers.

As to the substance and the issue of raising money, surely the time has come, with the new Secretary of State, to look again at payments such as the winter fuel allowance which, all too often, go to people who by no stretch of the imagination should be receiving social security benefits.

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Lord Freud: I take that point from the noble Lord, who is very well informed in this area, on advisement. I accept his point that George Osborne is a pussy cat compared with some previous Chancellors sitting not very far from me.

Lord Low of Dalston (CB): My Lords, as the Minister has confirmed, events at the weekend have made it clear beyond any doubt that the Government’s welfare reform programme has run out of road. Its contradictions stand revealed for all to see. Since exactly the same criticisms apply to the cuts to the employment and support allowance enshrined in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as apply to the cuts to the personal independent payment, I repeat the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock: will the Government now reconsider implementation of the cuts to the employment and support allowance? They may have been voted through, but it is still open to the Government to reconsider the matter, as they have with the personal independence payment.

Lord Freud: The welfare reform programme is massive and we are pushing ahead with it. At its heart is universal credit, which is now moving at a pace. As I speak, more than 400,000 people have made an application for universal credit. We have a lot more to do, and we have a lot to do to implement the Bill that we have just passed. I have to disappoint the noble Lord by saying that there are no plans to reconsider the changes to ESA WRAG that we put through in that Bill.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester (LD): My Lords, it is excellent news that the cuts announced in the Budget have been abandoned, but there is an existing cut that urgently needs to be reversed. It has had less attention but is badly affecting working-age claimants of PIP. I refer of course to the 20/50 metre issue in the “moving around” section of the PIP assessment, which is resulting in 400 to 500 Motability cars a week having to be handed back. Will the Minister ask the new Secretary of State to look at this again, not least because reversing the cut would save money by helping many disabled people to get into work and pay taxes?

Lord Freud: At one level, the new Secretary of State will clearly look at his whole portfolio with a critical eye. At another level, there may be changes in who gets the higher-rate mobility component to allow them to qualify for the Motability scheme. More people are on the higher rate under PIP than was the case under DLA. Indeed, more people with mental health issues are going on to PIP than would have received DLA. So, while there is a change in who gets the top-level mobility component and is therefore entitled to the Motability scheme, the absolute number qualifying for the Motability scheme is now moving up. As I said, there are now 24,000 more people on the Motability scheme than there were in 2013.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, the Minister will recall that we recently debated issues around rent restriction policy and local housing allowance changes for supported accommodation. There is a commitment in the Statement that there are no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the substantial

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savings legislated for recently. Are the proposed changes to supported accommodation now off the table, and does the commitment also run to pensions and pensioner benefits?

Lord Freud: Supported accommodation is a vital issue and I am grateful for the noble Lord’s question as it gives me a chance to offer the industry as much reassurance as possible. We have delayed two of the changes—the rent reductions and the LHA cap on supported accommodation—for a year because that will give us time to really understand the sector. In the short term, I expect to get a report on how the sector works so that we can look at how to support it most efficiently with funding and finance. The noble Lord will probably not remember how it is financed, as I do not think that anyone knew at that time. It has been quite a complicated issue. As for his question about the commitment and pensions, the pension element is growing rather rapidly, so, far from cuts, that becomes an irrelevant consideration.

Lord Lansley (Con): My Lords, those of us who know Stephen Crabb well are very hopeful about the approach that he will bring to this very important and challenging task. From these Benches we should pay tribute to Iain Duncan Smith for what he achieved as Secretary of State and indeed even before he became Secretary of State in his ambition to help the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Coming back to the questions that arise today, will my noble friend confirm that the OBR forecast published alongside the Budget now appears to indicate that the anticipated disability benefit budget, having risen by about £4 billion since 2010, will rise over the next four years by about another £2 billion? That highlights that, if we are to achieve meaningful reform in the future, it is not about, as my noble friend said, changing the amount of money paid to people with specific needs but about helping people back into work. The focus of welfare reform should be not diminished but refocused on the work and health programme and halving the disability employment gap.

Lord Freud: I am grateful to have the opportunity to pay tribute to Iain Duncan Smith. He was a remarkable champion for reform in the welfare state. I say with feeling that there is a reason why no one has transformed the system in the last 70 or 80 years and that is that it is very difficult to do. He had the political guts to get on and do it, and I am very proud to have supported him in getting the programme as far as it is. I think that he will go down in history for that achievement.

As my noble friend said, the OBR forecast shows that we gave more money to the disabled in the last Parliament, and the same is projected for this Parliament. In particular, a real-terms increase in the area of PIP/DLA is now baked in. My noble friend is of course right that the next step in the process is the need to find the right way to help disabled people back into the workplace and to achieve our objective of halving the disability gap.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord gave an assurance that the DWP will not replace the £4.4 billion of savings from the PIP

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programme, which it is now going to abandon, with cuts elsewhere in the DWP budget. However, he has not answered the obvious and important question of how those savings are going to be compensated. Surely there are only three possibilities. They will have to be compensated by spending cuts in other departments, by tax increases or by an increase in the fiscal budget being run by the Government. Which is it, or will it be a combination of all three? Surely it is the height of fiscal irresponsibility simply to announce that £4.4 billion of projected savings will no longer be arriving without any idea at all of how they will be replaced.

Lord Freud: My Lords, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State are saying that at the Autumn Statement we will look at the whole picture and at how the finances of the country should be organised. At that stage, there will be lots of moving parts and we will be able to see how this fits in.

Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB): My Lords, I agree with the part of the Statement that says that disability is very complex. There are very many different disabilities and many of them involve extra expense, such as extra food to keep fit. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, about Motability. If you live in a rural area and do not have a car, you cannot get to work and are therefore stuck. Another very important issue is the people who do the assessments, about which there has been a lot of criticism. Can the Minister arrange better training for the people doing the assessments?

Lord Freud: I accept that one of the issues around the disability element is that we have a fairly one-size-fits-all approach. One thing that the new Secretary of State will be very interested to hear is how best to manage the process in the light of that complexity—I know that he is very aware of it. I have tried to deal with the Motability issue. It is different people who are getting that and it is based on a better test; PIP is a better test than DLA. We are putting a lot of resource into assessments and their quality is now showing some good improvement.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD): My Lords, I am pleased that the Minister paid tribute to the outgoing Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He is a man I have known over many years and he had a sense of mission, which I think we should acknowledge. I hope that the new Secretary of State will have an equal sense of mission, particularly in relation to universal credit, which was, I think, what drove the past Secretary of State to distraction and out of his office. To me, universal credit is the most important thing that the Government still have to deliver. Will the Minister assure the House that the conversation that the new Secretary of State has announced in relation to disability will not delay the forthcoming White Paper process too long? I am in favour of consultation, and I am also in favour of the Government paying attention to consultative responses, but can he assure the House that the White Paper is still on track?

Lord Freud: I have known Stephen Crabb for a time. He was a Whip for the department and then he was in Wales, where he dealt with welfare issues. I have

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high hopes for him in pursing the reform agenda. He is up for it and he will be pretty effective at it. I look forward to providing him with all the support that I possibly can in this agenda. Clearly, in getting this reform going, the conversation has to be balanced with the speed. He is conscious of that and will look to get something going at the fastest possible speed, commensurate with making sure that we get it right and get the views of quite a complicated set of constituencies.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, as my noble friend said, I think the whole House recognises the honourable way in which the Minister has behaved over recent days. I would like to associate myself with her remarks to that effect. However, I want him to return to the answer that he gave to one of her questions: she asked whether he would accept that the original decision to cut PIP was wrong. Listening to the Minister, I think he appeared to suggest that what was wrong—he used the word “wrong”—was its conjunction in the Budget with reduced wealth taxes for the better off. Do I understand from that that according to the Minister, had it not been conjoined with those Budget changes benefiting the better off, he would have supported, welcomed and gone ahead with the PIP changes?

Lord Freud: The noble Baroness deals me a compliment with one hand and a blow with the other in the way that I enjoy so much, as a masochist. I am not sure it is worth chewing over what I thought last week. We could do it, but I am not sure that it would be a valuable use of Hansard inches.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: To clarify, it was what the Minister said—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, this is not a debate; it is a Statement. The noble Baroness has asked her question and my noble friend is responding to it. He will respond to it in one go and then we will move on to the next question.

Lord Freud: We were told by Paul Gray, who did a study of this, that there was something going wrong with the way that the aids and appliances element was adding up. There were eight different categories and the points were tiered up. He thought that that was not going right and that a large number of people were getting PIP purely on this one category—that the figures were adding up in an odd way. That is what the consultation was about: it was driven by the need to make sure that it worked. When it got wrapped up into a debate on savings, that was not the driving force and it became something that was not acceptable to Conservatives in the Commons. It was decided, therefore, that we would not go ahead with it. That is the honest and full answer.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Statement. When he said that there would be no further social security cuts looking ahead, does that mean that there will be no further

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cuts for the lifetime of this Parliament, as was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor? Having paid tribute to his former boss, could the Minister say whether he agrees with him that the reduction in the welfare cap following the election was arbitrary and that therefore he—Mr Iain Duncan Smith—no longer could support it?

Lord Freud: The Statement said—and I think I need to stay very close to the Statement—that there will not be any further welfare savings. That is the Statement and I will leave it at that. What happened with the review of the level of the cap was that it came down post-election. However, that was not arbitrary: it reflected the level of welfare payments in those categories and was fixed at that level with a projection that ran the same way. If that sounds complicated, it is because it is quite complicated.

Immigration Bill

Report (3rd Day) (Continued)

7.47 pm

Amendment 120

Moved by Lord Hylton

120: After Clause 63, insert the following new Clause—

“Family reunion: persons with international protection needs

(1) Rules made by the Secretary of State under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control), shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, make provision for—

(a) British citizens and persons settled in the UK to be enabled to sponsor their children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, spouses, civil or unmarried partners, or siblings, who are persons registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or with the authorities responsible for the protection of refugees in the State in which they are present, to come to the UK on terms no less favourable than those under rules made under that section which apply to family members of persons recognised as refugees, save that it may be provided that those sponsored shall have no recourse to public funds; and

(b) applications for refugee family reunion from the children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, spouses, civil or unmarried partners, or siblings of persons recognised as refugees or who have been granted humanitarian protection in the United Kingdom.

(2) An order shall be made by the Lord Chancellor under section 9(2)(a) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (general cases) in respect of family reunion for the persons described in subsection (1) within six months of the passing of this Act.”

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who have both signed my amendment. When we debated family reunion in Committee, the only crumb of comfort that the Minister could offer was that the relevant application form had been simplified and better guidance provided for caseworkers. For that small mercy, I am grateful.

Since the official text of the Dublin III regulation, which I have seen, runs to some 13 or more pages of official prose, it is very difficult for laypeople to understand. It was disappointing that the Government saw fit not to accept the very mild amendment from the Labour

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Front Bench that simply asked for a review of the rules governing family reunion to be laid before Parliament. For this reason, I feel fully justified in bringing back my earlier amendment. This benefits only those people already registered as refugees or in clear need of international protection. It therefore chimes in with government policy to help the more vulnerable people to come to Britain.

The effect of Amendment 120 would be to assist families that are already split, with some members here and others overseas. By widening the categories it would prevent additional families becoming split; for example, by the current exclusion of children over the age of 18. It seems important to make family reunion possible for children of all ages—including adopted children, who are often currently refused. It should be possible also for parents, grandparents, siblings and civil spouses. In all cases, it could be a condition that there be no recourse to public funds. Your Lordships may have noticed the case of Mrs Myrtle Cothill, aged 92, who recently won the right to remain here despite Home Office opposition. Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause is important for securing legal aid for this category of refugees.

It can hardly be said that the Dublin process has been a resounding success. How are refugees to know about it? Let us take as an example those in the north of France. Most of them cannot speak French, and anyway distrust all officials, whether French or English. They and other split families need a simple, well-publicised procedure that overcomes a lack of knowledge of where close family members are and how to contact them.

Ideally, those in Britain should be able to sponsor their next of kin, while those overseas should be enabled to contact a central clearing house. This would prevent what the Minister calls “hazardous journeys”, both cross-channel and from further afield. It would prevent people falling into the hands of traffickers and supply safe and authorised routes.

It may be argued that the Secretary of State already has discretionary power to give exceptional leave to enter or remain outside the normal rules. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out earlier, that power is used very sparingly, with only 12 cases known in 2014. Has the Minister a more recent figure than that? Once again, I ask: how can split families know that such a power exists? Further difficulties arise over access to British embassies and consulates, travel to which can be expensive or impossible. Even those who can reach our posts face heavy fees for visas and problems of documentation.

The British Red Cross laid out eight feasible improvements in its briefing dated January of this year. Have these been discussed and, if so, with what result? When I put down a Written Question calling on the Government to meet the Red Cross, the reply was, “We are constantly in touch”. I think that we are entitled to know what has happened.

There is strong support for the amendment throughout the country. It is backed not only by the Red Cross but by Save the Children, Amnesty International, the Refugee Council and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. Taken together, these organisations have more members and supporters than the Conservative Party. I said in Committee that increasing family

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reunion provides a triple benefit: to the families themselves; to social cohesion in our communities here; and to the Government by increasing family incomes and reducing demands on statutory services. The Government’s offer to take in 20,000 Syrians who have been approved by the UNHCR looks good, but will they ask the UN body to give priority to family reunion cases, even where the relationship may be more remote than is set out in the amendment? We want happy families, not just families who will be sad and isolated when they come here.

I realise that this amendment may be too widely drawn and is sure to draw the fire of my noble friend Lord Green of Deddington. If that is the case, I urge the Minister to take the amendment away. Either he can give us positive assurances that the procedures for family reunion will be radically improved without delay or he can undertake to come back with a text for Third Reading which puts the matter beyond doubt. I would particularly like to hear the Government’s thinking on involving the UNHCR in family reunion and on the chances of having a clearing house for applications from overseas. I do not propose to press this amendment, but I understand that Amendment 122A, which I also support, may well go to a Division. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, my Amendment 122A, which my noble friend Lord Hylton has just referred to and to which he and the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Roberts of Llandudno, are also signatories—to whom I am grateful—seeks to address the inadequacies of the existing rules on family reunification to prevent families being torn apart and loved ones left behind because of age. It is an issue which we debated extensively in Committee and, in returning to it, I will try to be succinct and simply tell the House what makes this amendment different from that just described.

The Red Cross has provided me with case studies which eloquently illustrate why such a change is necessary, and I am happy to make them available to any Member of your Lordships’ House but particularly to the Minister, who I know has not only been doing sponsored walks for Save the Children, as we heard in relation to an earlier set of amendments, but has done a sponsored walk for the Red Cross as well, walking most of the way across China. So I know that he has great admiration for those organisations. I shall not take the time of the House this evening by going through those examples, but I commend them to him. My noble friend has also set out the points about Dublin III and how the rules apply in that context, so I shall not exhaust the time of the House on that either.

Like the amendment tabled by my noble friend and those tabled in the other place—I pay tribute to the right honourable Yvette Cooper MP and those who have championed this cause in the House of Commons—Amendment 122A seeks to reunite those families but through a very different approach from that proposed in the amendments tabled previously. Instead of expanding the categories of family members who would qualify under the existing family reunion route, the amendment proposes a limited resettlement scheme based on schemes already operated, such as the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. The scheme would be specifically

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for the purposes of reunited family members and priority would be made for those family members who are currently unable to access existing routes to family reunification.

Amendment 122A seeks to address a key concern of the Government: the difficulty in determining how many refugees might be entitled to come to the UK if eligibility for family reunion were widened. The amendment provides for a managed and limited programme of resettlement specifically for the purposes of family reunification and it would provide a legal, safe route for families to be reunited while limiting the number eligible through such a route. Indeed, Amendment 122A is intended for family members in clear need who have no route to reunion under the existing rules. It states that those covered should include children—adult or minor, grandchildren, parents, spouses, civil or non-marital partners and siblings, and that the scheme should apply to family members of both refugees in the UK and British citizens whose family member has fled conflict or persecution.

The amendment would apply to refugee family members in Europe, such as those in Idomeni or Calais, as well as in Syria and other regions. Your family remains your family, whether in Beirut or Calais, and as the Red Cross and others will testify, the need is no less great.

Under this provision, the Secretary of State would be able to set a limit on the numbers accepted through this route after consultation, and surely that is the key concern of people like my noble friend Lord Green. He has raised the point during our proceedings. Clearly this goes nowhere near as far as the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Hylton, but it is a genuine attempt to meet the Government’s concerns about open-ended commitments. Any number set would be in addition to the existing commitment to resettle 4,000 a year for five years from the camps around Syria.

It has been noted that the family reunion rules provide for a discretionary category which can sometimes apply to other family members in compelling and compassionate circumstances. Ministers have taken a position that these rules are sufficient to reunite those families which do not fall within the existing narrow categories, but the reality is that this has always been an exceptional and little-used category. The number of family members admitted through this route has in fact fallen during the refugee crisis. In 2011 some 77 were admitted in this way, and as my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have pointed out, in 2012 that number had fallen to just 12.

8 pm

Viscount Hailsham (Con): Would the noble Lord clarify subsection (3) of the proposed new clause, where I see that the word “may” is used? Is it contemplated under this amendment that those persons falling within the categories shall be admitted, or is it contemplated merely that the power to admit is discretionary?

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am happy to reassure the noble Viscount that it is the latter. That is why it does not use the word “must”; it is purely discretionary. It is

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deliberately designed in that way to meet the concerns that the Government have expressed. It does not go as far as I personally would wish it to and it does not go as far as the amendment moved by my noble friend, but it is an attempt to open up the possibility of helping families in this predicament.

Let me conclude by saying that this is an exceptional measure for exceptional times. It does not seek to change the rules in perpetuity; rather, it would provide a solution for those families which have been torn apart by the present crisis. It would provide a managed route to reunite refugee families and to allow British citizens who are desperately worried about loved ones stuck in conflict regions or makeshift camps across Europe the opportunity to be reunited. It also leaves the final decision, reverting to the point made by the noble Viscount, in the hands of the Secretary of State. I hope that if the Government are unable to accept my noble friend’s amendment, they will respond to this amendment in the spirit in which it has been tabled.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, I rise to support the amendment. I was going to talk about the human rights implications, but given how the time is getting on I shall simply quote from one of the many emails that I am sure we have all received imploring us to support one of these family reunion amendments. This email rather touched me: “I have a very personal reason for my concern in that my family were privileged to foster a 14 year-old boy from Afghanistan for five months. He has now moved to an area of England where there are other people who speak his language, but he became such a special part of our family and we remain in very regular contact with him. His story was truly heart-breaking. His mother had been killed and he had been injured by the Taliban when he was 10 years old, and then in recent months his village in eastern Afghanistan had been targeted by Daesh/Islamic State who were forcing teenage boys to fight for them. His father felt there was no choice but to arrange for him to leave, otherwise he faced almost certain death. We have the utmost admiration for this boy. His courage and determination are just amazing and he is trying so hard to make a new life for himself. We are extremely proud of him and know he will be an amazing asset to this country. His sadness at being parted from his family is beyond comprehension, however, and that is where I would like to appeal to you”. I replied and in the response I received the lady said: “I have never before felt moved to contact anyone in this way, but this subject has affected me hugely”.

I take great heart from the fact that there are members of the public with direct experience and who care so much. I hope that we will do the right thing if it comes to a vote.

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, I have one brief question for the Minister, who is going to rehearse the various stages of the resettlement schemes over the past few years going back to before he came to the Front Bench. Is it not the case that the Government dragged their feet rather with the original UNHCR resettlement scheme, which would have been very similar

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to the scheme before us? Could he not therefore make up the ground, because I think the Government have already made their decision?

Lord Green of Deddington (CB): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has correctly anticipated the thrust of my response to his amendment. There are of course provisions in the Dublin regulations for uniting refugee families and they are being implemented, albeit very cautiously—I accept that—but this amendment throws caution to the wind.

Subsection (1)(a) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 120 provides for almost any relative of a person settled in Britain to be treated as a refugee and admitted to the UK. All he or she would need to do would be to register as a refugee with the UNHCR, so there would be little of the careful investigation of individual circumstances that applies to those who claim asylum in Britain. We would in effect be outsourcing decisions on refugee status as well as risking the development of very large numbers indeed. The second part of the proposed new clause, subsection (1)(b), is not much better. Almost any relative of someone granted refugee status in Britain would automatically be admitted, irrespective apparently of their particular circumstances.

Let us not forget that, in the past 10 years alone, some 87,000 people have been granted asylum or humanitarian protection in Britain. This amendment would throw open the door to literally hundreds of thousands of people, whether or not they themselves were in danger. Let us not forget either the question of cost, which in this context I will raise. The costs are huge. Those granted refugee status are entitled to full access to the benefits system, to the National Health Service and to social housing, where they tend to get priority because their needs are probably greater than those of many of the indigenous population. I find it surprising, actually, that such a proposal should be made when Europe is almost overwhelmed by enormous numbers of refugees and asylum seekers making their way to this continent.

I think that the amendment should be firmly resisted, but Amendment 122A is a much more realistic proposal. The fact that it uses the word “may” rather than “must” is a help, and it sets a number, which is also a help. We have to recognise that whatever limit is set would come under pressure, but it seems to me a viable start, whereas Amendment 120, in my view, is not.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in the absence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who is a co-sponsor of Amendment 120. I will not repeat the cogent reasons for the amendment set out so well by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, but I will offer one observation which I think also applies to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

There is one outstanding reason for these amendments. It is that stable families make stable societies, which in turn make for a more stable world. Do we appear to believe this? A visitor from another planet attempting to understand our Immigration Rules—it would need to be a very intelligent life form to do so—but it would be unlikely to conclude that we did all we could to

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enable family reunion; quite the reverse. What sort of system permits refugees to be reunited with children aged under 18 with spouses or partners, but children who are recognised as refugees have no similar right to be reunited with their parents? They must rely on discretionary provision, which is frequently not given. Hence a child granted refugee status may have to endure prolonged family separation. The argument for this anomaly, which is the most polite way of referring to it, is that to grant family reunion will feed the practice of people smuggling and may cause hazardous and dangerous journeys to be undertaken. The probability must surely be that illegal means of travel and entry are more likely to be attempted than less.

Reuniting a family creates the sort of economic, social and emotional support that people need. It may well save money from the public purse that would otherwise be expended on dealing with the traumas and mental unhappiness caused by enduring family separation. I believe that the present rules do families no service and do our society no good. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the spirit of these amendments and upon the value of family life as well.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 122A, since my name is associated with it. Some 2,000 refugees are currently arriving in Greece on barely seaworthy boats every day. According to the UNHCR, the majority are now women and children, fleeing the fighting in Syria and around the Iraqi border. Some 4.8 million Syrians have been displaced since the war began.

The existing rules on family reunion simply were not designed to cope with such a mass and, at times, chaotic exodus of people, which tears families apart and potentially leaves individuals in pretty desperate circumstances. Under the Immigration Rules, people granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK can apply to be joined by family members still living in other countries. However, there are a number of restrictions about which family members qualify for family reunion. For adult refugees in the UK, only partners and dependent children under the age of 18 will usually come under the definition of “family”. As a result, families can be left with the invidious choice of whether to leave some members behind.

Amendment 122A seeks to provide an immediate route to reunite, in a managed and controlled way, those families caught up in the crisis. The Secretary of State would specify the numbers to be resettled through the scheme after full consultation with key stakeholders. The amendment would provide for that in a managed way on the basis of current resettlement programmes. It allows British citizens, as well as recognised refugees in the UK, to be reunited with family members through the programme, but, crucially, any number specified would be in addition to the Government’s existing commitments on resettlement.

The amendment does not distinguish between refugee family members who have made it to Europe and those stuck in the region—people do not cease to be part of a family based on where they are in the world. It would help to prioritise those cases of family members who fall outside the existing rules and find themselves in desperate situations. We believe that Britain can do,

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and should be doing, more in this unprecedented crisis, which the amendment would enable the Government to do through the Secretary of State. Four thousand Syrian refugees resettled a year—none from within Europe—is certainly a start and I do not wish to stand here and suggest that it is not a real contribution, but one is entitled to ask whether it is enough when that number arrives in Greece over the course of just two days.

We support the amendment and we will vote for it if the mover, having heard the Government’s response, decides to test the opinion of the House.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, my name is to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I prefer it to the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but either is considerably better than the current situation. If the noble Lord, Lord Alton, decides to divide the House, we on these Benches will be with him. It seems to me that the Section 59 referred to in his amendment is designed for exactly this sort of situation, had anyone been able to envisage it. Children without their parents who have got to the UK alone are refugees, so by definition cannot return to their country of origin, but their being unable to be with their parents is a situation that I am sure no noble Lord would want to envisage.

When we debated the matter in Committee, the Minister gave a number of defences to the current position, including:

“Our policy is more generous than our international obligations require”.

The vote on the previous amendment—a comparison was made in the debate on that between our generosity and that of others—answers that point. The Minister also said:

“Allowing children to sponsor their parents would play right into the hands of traffickers and criminal gangs and go against our safeguarding responsibilities”.—[Official Report, 3/2/16; col. 1881.]

The issue of safeguarding can be argued either way; there are problems of safeguarding whether you do or whether you do not in this situation. I prefer the right reverend Prelate’s logic.

On family sponsorship, where the more distant family of a refugee is here, it seems illogical in many ways not to allow aunts, uncles and so on to sponsor people to come here because it must lead to much faster integration, address the numbers to an extent—given the numbers, we should use what opportunities there are—and be obviously the right thing to do. There would be fewer safeguarding issues in that, although I would not claim that there are none.

Finally, I should not ask a question at this stage unless I know the answer, but I understand that family reunion is a matter of international law—despite my pile of papers I do not have all the detail with me. If the Minister can assist the House on that I would be grateful.

8.15 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for enabling this debate. We have had another passionate debate about refugee family reunion, as we had in Committee

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and, of course, as we had on the previous group of amendments. It is a central part of the UK’s asylum policy and of our approach to the collective effort needed across Europe and beyond to manage the consequences of the conflict in Syria and elsewhere as well as we can. We recognise that families may be separated due to conflict and persecution and the speed and manner in which asylum seekers often flee their country. Of course, we understand the motivation of those in the UK who want to be reunited with their extended family members.

We already have several ways in which a family can be reunited in the UK, including existing resettlement schemes, so we are not persuaded of the need for another resettlement scheme. First, our refugee family reunion policy allows immediate family members of those granted protection here, who were part of the family before the sponsor fled their country, to reunite in the UK. This reflects our obligations, to which the noble Baroness referred, under the refugee convention. We also work closely with the UNHCR to resettle families together under the Syrian resettlement scheme, which will benefit 20,000 of the most vulnerable people. Under this scheme, family reunification is one of several vulnerability criteria used by the UNHCR, meaning that those with family links to the UK are among those prioritised for resettlement. On 28 January, the Government announced that we will work with the UNHCR on a new scheme to resettle unaccompanied children from around Syria and conflict areas where it is in the children’s best interests to do so.

In addition, British citizens and refugees in the UK can sponsor family members who themselves are recognised refugees under our mandate resettlement scheme. Under our refugee family reunion policy, we have reunited many refugees with their immediate family and will continue to do so. We have granted more than 21,000 family reunion visas in the last five years, from 2011 to 2015. That is not a small number and it is likely to increase in line with the numbers of recognised refugees in the UK. That is an essential but also a responsible and sustainable part of our overall asylum policy and our contribution to supporting those affected by the conflict in Syria and elsewhere.

Alongside these provisions, the Immigration Rules enable British citizens and persons settled in the UK to sponsor their spouse or partner and children under 18 to join them here, where they make the appropriate entry clearance application and meet the relevant criteria. This reflects our obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The family rules also cover those with refugee leave or humanitarian protection status to sponsor a spouse or partner with whom they formed a relationship after they fled their country of origin. Where an application fails to meet the requirements of the rules, our policy requires consideration of exceptional circumstances or compassionate factors for granting a visa outside the rules. This can include reasons why extended family members should join a refugee here. This is an important addition and I give a commitment today that we will review the policy guidance rigorously to make sure that it is clear for caseworkers that this includes some of the exceptional cases that have been highlighted here.

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The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned that he has had some case studies from the British Red Cross. We would be very interested to receive those and to look at them. This policy is already more generous, as has been mentioned, than our international obligations require and than many other countries provide. Some EU countries require up to two years’ lawful residence before an individual becomes eligible to sponsor family members, and impose time limits on how soon family members must apply. There are indications that some EU countries are moving towards more, not less, stringent requirements in this regard, because they understand the impact this is likely to have on where someone chooses to claim asylum.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and others made a powerful case based on compassion. It is right that such arguments should weigh heavily in this debate, but the Government are charged with the responsibility of maintaining the viability and effectiveness of the UK’s asylum system as a whole. We must consider the interests of genuine claimants relying on us to decide their protection claim in a correct and timely fashion. It is because of that principle that the Dublin regulations make specific provision to unite children who claim asylum in another member state with their parents or other relatives, where they can take care of the child and it is in the child’s best interests to bring them together. It is clearly in the best interests of asylum seekers, children or adults, to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach so that they can be provided with assistance there and do not seek to travel further across Europe.

Our policy prevents children with refugee status sponsoring their parents to join them. It does so for very good reasons. We simply cannot create perverse incentives for children to be encouraged or even forced by their families or others to risk hazardous journeys to the UK. As Save the Children points out, many children are feared to have fallen victim to human traffickers and people smugglers. These criminals will seek to exploit the very compassion that lies behind the proposed amendment, and allowing child refugees to sponsor relatives would play right into the hands of the criminal gangs and undermine the safeguarding responsibilities that we seek to uphold. We must not create a situation that encourages children to risk hazardous journeys to and across Europe, which have already, tragically, cost so many lives.

Turning to some of the questions I was asked during the debate, the noble Lords, Lord Hylton, and Lord Alton, asked whether the current process for applying for family reunion is too complex. We are currently reviewing the process for dealing with family reunion applications, in consultation with the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have already accepted recommendations made by the British Red Cross in its report, published on 9 July 2015, Not So Straightforward: The Need for Qualified Legal Support in Refugee Family Reunion, on simplifying the application form and providing consistent, accessible guidance. We are improving our guidance to caseworkers and redesigning the application form to ensure that applicants better understand the process behind it.

Questions were asked whether the Dublin arrangements were working. The UK has fully implemented the

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Dublin III regulation and we think that the arrangements are the right way to provide consistency of approach across the whole EU in dealing with asylum applications. The European countries in which they arrive have a duty to provide adequate protection to those in their territory. If they claim asylum in another EU country and have close family already in the UK, the family reunion provisions of the EU Dublin regulation provide a route for asylum seekers to join them.

We recognise that some European countries face particular pressures on their asylum and border systems, which is why the UK has been active in providing practical operational support, bilaterally and via the EU and its agencies, to countries such as Greece, Italy and Bulgaria. This support includes more than 1,000 days of asylum experts deployed as part of the European Asylum Support Office.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked why British citizens cannot sponsor a family member under the family reunion criteria. Only those with refugee or humanitarian protection status are entitled to sponsor immediate family members under family reunion provisions, which means that they do not need to meet the same financial or language requirements as those applying under the family rules. This policy recognises that refugees may need more time to integrate into society following the grant of refugee status. Family members of British citizens can apply for entry clearance to come to the UK under the family Immigration Rules. Where an entry clearance application does not meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules, the entry clearance officer must consider whether there are exceptional circumstances or compassionate reasons, such as I have previously referred to, to justify granting entry clearance outside the rules.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich talked about family reunion. We are certainly of one mind in saying that families are crucial and that, except in exceptional circumstances, the children’s best interest is always to remain with the family. That is one of the reasons why the UNHCR, which very much concurs with that view, proposed that family members would do better to seek refuge in the region within their family rather than one member of that family coming to another country. Therefore, the policy that we have developed for the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme is that of bringing families together. I would have thought that would be widely welcomed, because we do not just look after one person but bring the whole family together. Of course, that very much helps them to integrate into the local community and gives them that support network. Equally valuable is encouraging children to be reunited with their families in the region, if that is practical. We work with the UNHCR in seeking to do that.

In answer to a specific question about why we treat children differently from adults, effectively the policy is determined on the basis of dependency. A child is obviously dependent on their parents, so that drives the policy that says that they ought to be reunited. Of course, the parents are not necessarily dependent on the child in the same way. That is the reason for the difference in approach. The amendment proposes to draw that boundary even wider than parents being able to bring in their children. It could allow a child

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who arrives in the UK to bring in probably not grandchildren but certainly parents, a spouse, civil or non-marital partners and siblings, which is a significant widening of the scheme.

We discussed what other assistance the UK has offered to Syria in previous debates, and I will not go through it at length. Suffice to say that we have on record the very significant financial contribution that we have made and the comparative effectiveness of our resettlement programme in having brought 1,000 people to this country, whereas the European resettlement programme has managed to resettle only half that number among 27 countries in the European Union.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether there was a managed resettlement system for refugees. An avenue is already available under the existing resettlement programmes mandate and the Syrian resettlement scheme. Allowing child refugees to sponsor relatives would play right into the hands of the criminal gangs and undermine the safeguarding responsibilities that we are seeking to uphold. We must not create a situation that encourages children to risk hazardous journeys to and across Europe. Equally, we already have resettlement schemes providing a route to the UK for the most vulnerable of those affected by conflict. These are, by design, focused on offering resettlement from regions in conflict instead of from the safety of other European countries, and that has to be the right approach. We do not, alas, have infinite resources and public services, so we must strike the right balance, and we have done so, with the particular proviso in relation to the Red Cross that we have considered very carefully the points raised about the operation of the scheme and whether there is a need for a better application process and clearer understanding. We are working with the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Red Cross and others to develop that. In the light of those changes and the reasons I have given, I ask noble Lords to consider withdrawing the amendment.

8.30 pm

Baroness Hamwee: I may have missed it, but the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked the Minister whether he had an update on the figures for grants outside the rules on the basis of exceptional, compelling, compassionate circumstances. The year before last it was 12. Can the Minister tell us the updated figure?

Lord Bates: I do not have those updated numbers, but I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness. I mentioned a figure of 21,000, but that referred to the whole group of family reunion cases that came to the UK between 2011 and 2015.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. He gave me one more small crumb of comfort when he spoke about a government review of cases and the discretion that is available to entry clearance officers. On the review, I ask Members of your Lordships’ House, and of the other place, to send into the Home Office the maximum number of difficult, hard and compassionate cases. I hope that the organisations outside this House that have supported this amendment,

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and that tabled by my noble friend, will do the same. I hope that entry clearance officers will get clear instructions to consider the best interests of any children they may come across who are applying through them.

I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 120.

Amendment 120 withdrawn.

Amendment 121

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

121: After Clause 63, insert the following new Clause—

“Conditions for grant of asylum: cases of genocide

(1) A person seeking asylum in the United Kingdom who belongs to a national, ethnical, racial or religious group which is, in the place from which that person originates, subject to the conditions detailed in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, shall be presumed to meet the conditions for asylum in the United Kingdom.

(2) The adjudication of whether the group to which the person seeking asylum belongs meets the description specified in subsection (1) shall be determined by a referral to the High Court after consideration of the available facts.

(3) Applicants for asylum in the United Kingdom from groups designated under this section may submit their applications and have them assessed at British missions overseas.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, serendipity, or the way the dice fall, means that the House is having to hear rather more from me than I—or, no doubt, the House—would wish at this time. I thank my noble friend Lady Cox, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for their support on this amendment, either today or when we discussed it in Committee on 3 February.

Before setting out the case for the amendment, I draw the attention of the House to one important change in the wording since Committee, following the helpful advice of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Hope of Craighead. They suggested that the consideration of evidence of genocide and the declaration that genocide has been committed should be made by the High Court, rather than the Supreme Court. We have therefore incorporated that change into the text. I also thank the Minister for meeting me to discuss the amendment.

During the debate on 3 February, I cited the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to declare the atrocities which had been committed by ISIS—Daesh—against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria to be a genocide. The very next week, the European Parliament decisively passed a similar resolution, recognising the killing of minorities in the region as genocide. Since our Committee debate, on 9 March Congress and the State Department received a 300-page report detailing more than 1,000 instances of ISIS deliberately massacring, killing, torturing, enslaving, kidnapping or raping Christians. It had similar evidence about the plight of Yazidis, along with the findings of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

Last week, the American House of Representatives, by 393 votes to zero, declared that grotesque and targeted beheadings, enslavement, mass rape and other

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atrocities against Christians and other minorities indeed constitute a genocide. I will not read the entire resolution of the House of Representatives but the last phrase says that,

“the atrocities committed against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities targeted specifically for religious reasons are, and are hereby declared to be, ‘crimes against humanity’, and ‘genocide’”.

Later in the week, on behalf of the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry, said:

“Naming these crimes is important”,

and that Daesh, in targeting these minorities with the purpose of their annihilation, is,

“genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions”—

in what it says, what it believes and, indeed, what it does. He called for criminal charges to be brought against those responsible.

On Friday last, in a leading article, the Daily Telegraph urged the British Government to recognise the reality of what is under way, saying that the West has a “moral duty” to name this genocide for what it is. It said:

“Sadly, the British government still refuses to do this, insisting that it is up to judges to define genocide. Next week a group of peers will table an amendment to the immigration Bill triggering just such a judicial decision. Government opposition to this amendment would seem odd following Mr Kerry’s intervention”.

For many months, much of the same evidence that Congress and the European Parliament have seen and acted upon has been available to the United Kingdom Government and this Parliament. It has been catalogued in Early Day Motions tabled in another place, during evidence-taking sessions here, and in letters to the Prime Minister from distinguished and eminent Members of both Houses, including the former Lord Chancellor. Anyone who has heard first-hand accounts from Yazidi women of enslavement and rape or read the reports of mass graves, abductions, crucifixions, killings and torture cannot fail to be moved, and I know we will hear more on that from the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicholson and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who have both met Yazidi women.

Last week, Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, said that two-thirds of Syrian Christians had either been killed or driven away from his country. Zainab Bangura, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, has authenticated reports of Christian and Yazidi females—girls aged one to seven—being sold, with the youngest carrying the highest price tag. Last May, one 80-year-old Christian woman who stayed in Nineveh was reportedly burned alive. In another Christian family, the mother and 12 year-old daughter were raped by ISIS militants, leading the father, who was forced to watch, to commit suicide. One refugee described how she witnessed ISIS crucify her husband on the door of their home.

Nearly two years ago, on 23 July 2014, I warned in an opinion piece in the Times:

“The last Christian has been expelled from Mosul … The light of religious freedom, along with the entire Christian presence, has been extinguished in the Bible’s ‘great city of Nineveh’ … This follows the uncompromising ultimatum by the jihadists of Isis to convert or die”.

I said that,

“the world must wake up urgently to the plight of the ancient churches throughout the region who are faced with the threat of mass murder and mass displacement”.