This week I had the pleasure of speaking in the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill where I called for a compassionate immigration system that is humane, efficient and well-resourced. I also stressed the importance of integration and called on the Government to build on the success of the resettlement scheme. You can read my full contribution to the debate below:
Compassion and robustness go hand in hand when it come to the way in which we manage our borders. Our common humanity requires that we update our approach as the challenges we face in the world develop. Every Government in every era and every generation have looked for a system that is more efficient, that is safer for those seeking refuge, that is cheaper for taxpayers in the United Kingdom and for the communities taking in refugees, and that is more humane in the way it supports people who have faced some of the most terrible circumstances.
The website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that, although our debate is very much about what is happening in the European neighbourhood, the issue is challenging Governments, countries and populations across the world. In Westminster, it is an issue that Parliament has wrestled with since—[Inaudible] —by the post-war Labour Government in response to the retreat from empire.
Most of us, as constituency MPs, will know that our constituents have a very wide range of views on the issue. On the doorsteps campaigning in elections, we will all have heard a good deal of concern from constituents and voters about the impact of migration on the UK. As a constituency Member of Parliament, I have had umpteen contacts from constituents asking me to intervene to prevent the deportation from the UK of someone who has been found to be an illegal immigrant in my constituency who they know, who their friends know and who lives in the neighbourhood. I am yet to have a single contact letting me know about an illegal immigrant that someone wants to see removed. So there is a conundrum in this debate, which is that our voters and constituents are in general very concerned to see that our borders are effectively managed, but tend to have a very positive view of the migrants and refugees they know in their community and in their neighbourhood.
Perhaps that reflects the fact that the UK is not a particularly popular destination for asylum in Europe. UNHCR figures indicate that Germany has about 10 times as many refugees as we do in the UK and that the UK is a middling destination in our European neighbourhood for asylum seekers. However, the UK is particularly active in resettlement. That is something that this House and the Government should rightly be proud of, in creating safe, legal routes for people who we have identified as displaced because of war and conflict, and who can be resettled in the UK. For me, it is an essential principle that we build on the success of things such as the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which cut out the people smugglers from the system and enabled communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to welcome refugees without any of the challenges we faced with some of the parts of the asylum system.
We also know that of those who arrive by any route outside of resettlement, about three-quarters are granted asylum under UK law, which shows that most do have a well-founded claim, however they arrive into our country. So we clearly need to tackle the major problems that are inherent in the routes by which people arrive. The smuggling of people into our country and the rest of Europe is helping to fund terrorist organisations in parts of the world, which are making money out of the deaths and misery of many, many thousands of vulnerable people.
There are criminals closer to home, and we have seen some particularly hideous cases in the United Kingdom where large numbers of refugees have died in the hands of those criminals because of the way in which they are being smuggling into our country. I personally saw, on a visit to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, smugglers driving around offering what is essentially a rate sheet: “If you can pay this many euros, you are allowed to break into a lorry. If you can pay significantly more, we will smuggle you into the UK in a British-plated car with a British driver.” It is an absolutely evil trade and we have no idea how many people have lost their lives in the waters of the English channel trying to get to refuge in our country, so we must tackle that.
It is clearly critical that we have a really effective programme of safe and legal routes. Those safe and legal routes need to work in both directions. This is not just about people who may be fleeing persecution who need to come to the UK. We need, post-Brexit and the loss of the Dublin arrangements, to have routes in place with other third-party safe countries. It is critical, in my view, that we get a clear assurance from Government that we will have that in place to make a real success of the proposed arrangements.
Fundamentally, we need to ensure that we retain public good will and confidence. We need to consider the way in which this operates in the UK. Asylum seekers were first treated separately from the wider benefit system under the Labour Government of Tony Blair in the early 2000s. Dispersal was created under Andy Burnham, then the immigration Minister and now the Mayor of Greater Manchester, in 2005. There are lessons from that system. We need to be wary of trying to do it on the cheap. Unaccompanied children and dispersal demonstrate that engaging communities is difficult when we do it on the cheap, whereas the Syrian resettlement scheme, which was costly, garnered a huge amount of public good will and was much more effective in securing public confidence because it was demonstrated in advance that people had a well-founded claim to be in the United Kingdom. It is not a matter of law, but the House will need to be vigilant to ensure that the system is resourced so that the ambitions that are set out can be achieved.
Let me turn to the question of how we achieve that. The plumbing and wiring of the system clearly need to work right. The concept of effective advocacy and advice for refugees at the point of entry to enable them to lodge a really effective claim is critical. We need to ensure that the way in which we work at the border enables us to understand the circumstances of the asylum seeker as fully as possible. If we are to have a two-tier system that treats people differently according to their means of transit to the UK, we need to recognise that in some parts of the world it may, for example, have been necessary to pay a people smuggler to get out of immediate danger and then to make the rest of the journey by another route. We need to consider how our courts will carry forward decisions on that process. There have been a number of steps in a positive direction, including the recent announcement about working visas for those seeking asylum.
The House needs to balance the views and needs of all parts of our country. When it comes to migration, that means balancing the needs of the businesses in my constituency that are crying out for new workers to enable them to make the most of opportunities with those communities already under pressure for housing need and social challenges, for whom new arrivals may be seen as an unacceptable burden. If we go local, engage communities and recognise complexity, we have a chance of making the system much more effective.