My Lords, this debate has focused largely on legal issues. I do not doubt the importance of such issues, not least those just raised by the right reverend Prelate, but I would take the lawyers more seriously if they recognised that there is a problem and suggested solutions rather than arguing as if neither law nor treaties nor their application need to change. Ultimately, the Government and Parliament of this country must be able to decide how many people, and for what reasons, are granted refuge in this country.
I had hoped that the lawyers would explain why British courts and administrators reject only 26% of initial asylum claims, whereas France rejects 75%, Germany rejects 55%, and both Sweden and Spain reject 71%—especially since, in addition, Britain goes on to accept a majority of those who appeal. If lawyers do not admit that our system is too credulous, why do they not criticise our EU neighbours for being too harsh? Does not this disparity explain why, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth pointed out, some people are willing to risk their lives to escape safe EU countries to claim asylum in the UK?
At the heart of this debate is a challenging moral and political question: to how many and to which categories of people should we offer refuge in this country? The most reverend Primate, in his great speech on his Motion to Take Note before Christmas, said that
“I make … absolutely clear and underline” that Britain neither can nor should
“take everyone who flees such devastation”.—[Official Report, 9/12/22; col. 370.]
I was going to say that everyone agrees with him, and that everyone accepts that we cannot accept all those who would like to find refuge in this country, until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, state that we should not even attempt to limit the numbers, only handle the flow in a more orderly fashion.
Lord Paddick: I did not say that.
Lord Lilley: The noble Lord did say that. He can check Hansard or his notes. If he wishes to tell me what he did say, I will give way to him.
Lord Paddick: I am very grateful to the noble Lord. What I said was that we need to manage the flow of those seeking asylum into this country rather than close the gates and try to seal off the country from all people seeking asylum. I said that we should be managing the flow. I did not say that we should accept everyone.
Lord Lilley: The great difference between what the noble Lord actually said, which is that we should not even try but should just manage the flow, and what he has just said now, is too fine for me to appreciate. At least I have his original version.
Lord Paddick: My Lords—
The noble Lord has had his go. His original version at least had the merit of being breathtakingly honest. However, the implications of just “managing the flow” rather than trying to limit it, when this country already has a catastrophic housing problem, are obvious, and from a party that is notorious for opposing every new housing development across the country, the Lib Dem policy is breathtakingly hypocritical.
Many noble Lords have spoken of the importance of creating more safe and legal routes for immigrants. Presumably they will therefore welcome the clauses in the Bill, under which the Government and Parliament will agree an annual quota of people to be accepted under such routes. That raises several questions, the first being, “How many?” That question is contentious but is to be answered in the light of circumstances each year.
Secondly, who should be allowed in under such safe and legal routes? Clearly, we should prioritise the most vulnerable, as we do with the UNHCR for refugees from Syria, and those with the greatest right; for example, those who are related to people who are already here or whom we have obligations to, as with the Afghan translators. We can be pretty sure that there will be little overlap between these groups, who we think should have priority, and those currently arriving in small boats. The latter include the better-off members of their national communities, who can finance the tens of thousands of pounds to get here, the more audacious and usually young men who are willing to take risks, and those who have been, or expect to be, refused asylum in the EU.
Thirdly, from which countries should we enable people to come legally and safely? Presumably it is those coming directly, or as near as directly as possible, from the place where they suffered persecution. Surely it would not be to give priority to those who are already in safe countries; that is, our EU neighbours. Allowing illegal immigration across the channel to continue would mean that they will continue to jump the queue and absorb all the available accommodation in hotels, barges, barracks or otherwise, which will be needed for those coming on safe and secure routes.
Fourthly, how will we restrict those who will still want to come illegally by boats across the channel? As the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, pellucidly explained, unless we allow unlimited numbers to come by safe and legal routes, there will always be some who, having been refused legal access, will wish to come illegally by the boats. So far, none of those who accept that we cannot take everyone who wishes to come to this country has proposed any concrete alternative to the proposals in the Bill.
My question to those who condemn the Government’s plan as immoral is: why is it perfectly moral to pay the French to prevent people leaving the beaches of Calais but immoral to try to deter people from landing on the beaches of Dover? Both measures would help us save the lives of those who risk being drowned in the channel, and both leave migrants free to seek asylum in the EU if they do not wish to do so in Rwanda. I will not hold my breath while waiting for a convincing answer.