My Lords, I begin by saying how sad I am to see the Home Secretary depart from her job today. I had very high regard for her; she brought great legal expertise and determination together. At the same time, I wish Grant Shapps well in his new job as Home Secretary. He was my neighbour in Hertfordshire and is a long-standing friend of mine. I hope that he will pursue with equal diligence the obligations we have and the commitments that we had in our manifesto.
However, there is little point in tidying up the law in the way that we are doing today if the law itself can be turned inside out by the courts. It is pretty clear that that is what has happened time and again in recent years. As a result, we have some 250,000 rejected—failed—asylum seekers in this country who, since 2005, have not been returned to their countries or removed from this country. That is in addition to the 125,000 who have been granted asylum.
The rate of acceptance on first application in this country suddenly doubled after the Windrush scandal, although it is hard to see what the logic of that doubling was. The effect is that we now accept twice as high a proportion of asylum seekers on first application as does France, on the other side of the channel—which is doubtless one reason why people choose to leave France and come here, even by dangerous routes.
Can I just deal with three or four delusions, illusions or mistakes that are very prevalent? The first is that we have no safe routes into this country. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made some very sensible points, particularly about the constant change in the regulations we face. We have some 13 different routes and they have exploded in numbers over the last year. We have seen the best part of 300,000 people arrive in this country and be accepted by safe migration routes, including 150,000 from Ukraine. That is a wonderful way we are responding to the problems in Ukraine and almost all of them want to return if and when peace returns to Ukraine. Sadly, that may not be immediate and many of them will put down roots in this country, so will add to our population. They are wonderful people, but we have to take into account the fact that we have a massive increase in our population. There were 120,000 from Hong Kong—again, one understands why—and 20,000 from Afghanistan. All arrived by safe routes. So when President Macron says that the problem with Britain is that is has no safe routes, he is simply out of touch with what is happening in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said that there can be no doubt about the desperation of people who cross the channel in small boats to come to this country. Let us be quite clear: they are coming from France, Germany and Belgium. If they are desperate, what is it about those countries that makes them desperate? They are not coming here from Afghanistan or Iran by boat; they are coming from France and Germany. One of the reasons can be that they have applied or could apply in those countries but know they would be rejected, whereas here our system—having been degraded by constant legal undermining of the rules—makes it much more likely that they will be accepted, even if other countries would not consider them legitimate asylum seekers.
The third point I want to make is that it is an illusion to say we have taken back control of immigration. Over the last year we have given over 1 million visas to people to come and settle in this country. Where are the houses going to be?
Lord Paddick: Great.
Lord Lilley: “Great” says the Liberal Democrat noble Lord.
Lord Paddick: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was agreeing with him about the numbers who have been given visas—a tiny fraction of whom are asylum seekers. I am not applauding the millions of people who are being given visas; I was agreeing with him that that was happening.
I misinterpreted his “Great”; he was saying that I am great rather than that the number is great. That is good.
It is an extraordinary thing: 1 million people. The problem with immigration is not that immigrants are different from us, but that they are exactly the same. They need homes to live in, medical facilities, schools and everything else. We have not got enough for the existing population, so we ought to be thinking very clearly: is it wise to issue 1 million visas for people to come and live in this country?
Finally, it is constantly asserted that migration is good for economic growth. In the last decade and a half, we have had the highest rate of immigration to this country in our history and the slowest growth in productivity. I rest my case.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine:
My Lords, I want to briefly make some observations about the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and ask the Minister one or two questions of clarification. Before I do, I point to my interests in the register and make it clear that I am speaking in a personal capacity.
On the observation about safe routes so rightly alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in my understanding there is no rule in refugee and asylum status requiring that you are not permitted to come from a safe country. Leaving aside the fact that some countries are deemed to be those from which we are meant to accept refugees according to the UN system, the UN does not seem to implement a declared safe country status. Is the Minister able to clarify this for me, because I have been asking different people that question but never seem to get a clear answer?
I will make a point to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, on his comments about refugees coming from France and Germany. I have lived in both countries and am familiar with routes of migration into those countries. I also declare my interest of working in the Commonwealth Secretariat, so I am also familiar with people from the 55 other member countries of the Commonwealth coming to, or wishing to come to, the UK. The singular point made by people who come to this country from France and Germany is that they have a system of identification—ID cards or ID documents of one kind or another—that prevents refugees who arrive there disappearing into the ether. We know that in the UK, for example, many people who overstay their visa—in other words, who are not refugees or asylum seekers, but who simply add to the pressures on housing and all the other things the noble Lord talked about—are people who come here by the route of tourism and do not leave the country. This is because, previously, we never counted them out.
The bottom line is that his party and the Liberal Democrats—although I must confess that I probably voted with the latter at the time—vetoed the now Opposition’s attempts in 2006 to bring in ID cards. The fact that we do not have any form of identification in this country to identify whether people are legal, other than using landlords as a means of keeping people out of rented accommodation, is problematic. Perhaps if we addressed the overstays of visas, all the other things—the population, housing and education pressures that the noble Lord talked about—could be dealt with. In France, I was checked numerous times going about my normal business—I did not particularly like it—to see whether I was legal in France or not. Had I not been found to be legal, there would have been a different way of dealing with me, but at least they knew who was there through that system, which we do not have here.
Lord Lilley: First, we do have a system of numbers in this country. Does the noble Baroness not know about the national insurance number? You cannot get a job without it. Secondly, I was strongly against identity cards—
Viscount Younger of Leckie: I would be grateful if my noble friend addressed the House rather than turned behind when speaking.
I apologise; I am still a new boy, really.
In addition, I was not including overstayers in any of the numbers that I mentioned, so they are in addition to all those numbers.
Lord Lilley: I am sorry if I was unclear. I said that of those who make a claim in France, only half as many are granted asylum on first application as in the UK.