Baroness Stowell of Beeston debates involving the Home Office during the 2019 Parliament

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. My noble friend Lady Verma has just given an exceptionally powerful speech, and I was very pleased to be in the Chamber to hear it. Like her, I have not heard as many speeches in today’s debate as I would have liked, because I have been attending to other parliamentary business in the Moses Room. However, I am quite sure that there will have been lots of speeches by distinguished noble Lords drawing on their expertise, and particularly their legal expertise. My own perspective paints a bigger picture; while it will, I am sure, go against the majority of opinion expressed in this House so far today, it is a perspective I would like to give.

Earlier this month in a debate about the standing of parliamentary democracy, I said that the Post Office scandal illustrates powerfully what is driving many voters’ disaffection: namely, that those of us in positions of authority do not listen or take seriously what voters are telling us when what they say or want does not correspond with what we have decided is right and want to do. The same is true in how we react to the majority’s demand for lower levels of legal immigration and an end to the large numbers of illegal migrants entering and staying in our country. Instead of working together over the last eight years to address one of the underlying causes of Brexit, we have decided that the real problem is that, at best, the voters do not understand why they are wrong and cannot have what they want, or, at worst, they are bigoted for their views.

As I have said before in other debates, people do not expect simple solutions to complex problems but they do expect people such as us to be motivated by the kinds of simple values that any decent, upstanding citizen instinctively shares. We evidence that to them by how we do our job, which must include listening and showing that we understand their experience of the problem that only we have the power to fix.

The travesty of our collective response to the public’s demand that we—the whole of Parliament—get a grip on illegal immigration is that, time and again, convinced that we know better, we have chosen to stand alongside those who enter our country illegally and about whom we know nothing over our fellow citizens who are affected by our decisions and who we rely on to pay their taxes, abide by the law and generally keep the country afloat. When it comes to immigration, our repeated efforts to thwart what the majority have voted for are the clearest representation of the division between insiders and outsiders that led to Brexit and all the other democratic shocks that have since followed. That a majority of Members of this House persist in obstructing at every and any opportunity all measures to deal with illegal immigration shows voters that we have learned nothing and nothing has changed.

To those who argue that a majority do not support this Bill, I argue that it is hardly surprising that people who want tougher action to prevent illegal immigration are losing faith in our ability to succeed. We have done nothing to show that we want to. To be clear, it is normal for people who are angry and want us to clamp down hard on illegal migration to be at the same time welcoming of those who come to this country via approved schemes. My friends and family in Beeston Rylands, the area where I grew up, and which has recently become home to hundreds of people from Hong Kong, are testimony to that.

Whether or not the Rwanda scheme is implemented, it will likely do little to change the Conservative Party’s prospects come the next general election. That is not why I support the Bill and doing whatever it takes to deter people from attempting to enter our country illegally. For me, this is about our duty to deliver what people voted for, regardless of our own politics. The fact that we are having to consider a Bill that is causing so much angst among noble Lords is, in my view, a result of our collective failure.

People go on about populism and populist politicians and how they need to be counteracted. Perhaps those same people should consider why people are pushed towards populism and populist politicians in the first place. Unless we start listening and taking seriously what the majority of voters want, and work together to improve conditions for them—because they are the people who uphold all that we as a country say we stand for—we should not be surprised if they deliver for us yet more electoral shocks.

Illegal Migration Bill

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Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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My Lords, many noble Lords have made very helpful and interesting points in this debate. Amendment 168A, moved by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, raises an interesting matter of policy, seeking as it does to introduce a new clause to require the Secretary of State to

“prepare a ten-year strategy for tackling refugee crises affecting migration by irregular routes, or the movement of refugees … through collaboration with signatories to the Refugee Convention or any other international agreement on the rights of refugees”.

Although I agree with much of the sentiment behind this worthy aim, I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment.

The Bill is to deter and prevent illegal entry into the UK. It is not a Bill about international agreements into which the UK may enter in the future, modify or make. It is for the Government of the day to propose a policy, not the unelected Chamber. Measures such as that which we are now debating tend to be part of general manifesto proposals, on which a Government is elected. They therefore have the authority of the people in whose name the Government are formed, and they reflect the democratic wish. Yes, such a policy may indeed become part of a future Government’s manifesto proposals, but I do not believe that it is for this Chamber to bind the current Government in such a way as Amendment 168A proposes.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I will make a few brief remarks. Clearly, the most reverend Primate will push his amendment to a Division, and from the contributions that have been made it seems likely that the House will support him in doing that. None the less, I want to offer a slightly different perspective.

There is much that is compelling and sensible about what the most reverend Primate has argued, and a lot of the points made by others in support of his amendment are worthy of serious consideration. I very much welcome what my noble friend Lord Bourne said about the need for us to revisit these issues, which have been in place since the 1950s. However, the wholesale approach to this question proposed by way of this amendment requires confidence from everybody to support our motives in taking that approach. We have to keep in mind that the kind of people who support the Bill and want the priority and exclusive focus now to be on stopping the boats are the kind of people who have lost a lot of confidence in the democratic process and in the institutions of this country.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I would like to open by addressing the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. To summarise what she said, one can have a strategy only when one has people’s trust, and this Bill is about stopping the boats; I think that was the gist of her argument. My argument, and the other argument I have heard in this debate, is that even if this Bill achieves its end completely, the most reverend Primate’s amendment would still be appropriate because we still need a strategy as the situation develops over the next 10 years. I think that addresses the point the noble Baroness made.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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As the noble Lord has referenced what I said, if I may, I shall respond to that point. What we have to understand is that people question our motives now because we have too many times behaved in such a way as to suggest that we do not want to take seriously what they are voting for.

None Portrait A noble Lord
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Order!

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I will finish this point.

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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Will my noble friend please ask the question?

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
I have been persuaded by the Government’s amendment, contrary to the arguments that I made in Grand Committee, and I hope that, collectively, we can let this thing move forward. What will be important is the detail of the rules under which the court will operate. I hope that the Government will be able to tell us today that those rules will come forward with all due speed.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to hear my noble and learned friend say that he has changed his position since we met in Grand Committee because I recall that, during those debates, he was strong in his view and mildly critical of those of us who had brought forward amendments.

I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 125H and 125J. I will speak to them but, before I do, I join my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier in welcoming the amendments tabled by my noble and learned friend the Minister. I am very pleased to see them; they go a long way to addressing the concerns that my committee—I declare my interest as chairman of the Communications and Digital Select Committee—has raised in our hearings on this topic over the past 12 months. As has been acknowledged, those amendments are confined to economic crime but that is because this is a Bill about economic crime, so I am happy to accept them as far as they go.

None the less, I want to highlight something that my amendments, the same amendments that I tabled in Committee, refer to—the power of deterrence with regard to the solicitors who represent those who bring forward these forms of legal action. I listened very carefully to my noble friend Lord Faulks introducing his amendment. Unlike my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, I find his arguments quite compelling, but at this point I am pleased with what we have here. The importance of deterrence and the link between the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s new fining powers, the tactics employed by those who bring SLAPPs and the new dismissal mechanism are where I want to focus my comments.

As we have heard, the Government’s amendments bring much-needed legal clarity about the definition of a SLAPP case. The new strike-out clause includes a likelihood test but not a requirement for the case to be shown to have merit. That is a bit of a gap. It suggests that well-to-do law firms could still threaten journalists with a defamation case that has no merit and force the journalist to deal with huge legal costs. As we have already heard, as long as the lawyers toe the line and are not too aggressive in their tactics, they are unlikely to be thrown out under the early dismissal mechanism, but just because a case is not thrown out at the start, that does not mean everything is fine.

Most SLAPP cases never make it to a court, as we have heard. They succeed by intimidating critics into dropping their investigation at a very early stage. In these circumstances, the early dismissal test will not even come into play. One of the best defences probably lies with the solicitors’ regulator. The SRA needs to have confidence that these amendments tabled by my noble and learned friend the Minister will give it a sufficiently robust basis to penalise solicitors and law firms that pursue SLAPPs.

I understand that the SRA has powers to take action against individuals and law firms for misconduct or failing to comply with the rules. I would be grateful for clarification from my noble and learned friend the Minister that the SRA’s new unlimited fining powers, which are already in the Bill, could definitely be used to deter and punish law firms facilitating SLAPP cases, even if the case is not thrown out by the early dismissal test or does not make it to court. Let us not forget that the lawyers are making huge amounts of money from this. They know exactly what they are doing and can be very clever about getting away with it. We need confidence and assurances that the regulator will be able to take robust enforcement action, as we in Parliament need to be able to set a clear expectation of the regulators that they will be proactive in asking people to come forward with concerns, process complaints speedily and investigate high-risk firms to put them on notice.

Above all, the SRA needs to enforce the spirit of the law, not just the letter, by demonstrating zero tolerance for those profiting from flagrant abuses of our legal system. From my noble and learned friend the Minister, I am looking for clarity at the Dispatch Box that the fining powers that the SRA now has in the Bill and this new definition of SLAPPs empower it to act against law firms if it considers it appropriate to do so because they have breached its codes and so on. We are not looking for a situation in which it is possible for the SRA not to do what is properly expected of it just because it has not been spelled out in words of one syllable in the Bill.

In my view, it is really important for any regulator or regulated sector to understand that the members of it and those who are regulating it have a responsibility to uphold the reputation of that sector. That is done by the way in which they conduct their business. It is important that that is made very clear if the Government bring forward this definition of SLAPPs, as they have, to try to prevent further use of this aggressive and abusive form of legal action, which is doing so much to undermine the Government’s overall intention to reduce economic crime.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and I welcome the amendment he has put forward. I want to make three quick points.

First, it is clear that the will of the House is that something should be done quickly. The remedy should be speedy, inexpensive and flexible. This leads to my second point. The right course is to allow the rule committee to develop this, but the rules must be flexible and must allow for the development to be made judicially, rather than prescribed in rules. That, in my experience, has generally been the way forward; we have tried this in relation to other matters and know that it is impossible to lay down too many detailed things in rules. Thirdly, I hope that the Government will make available the necessary resources to the judiciary, so that this can be dealt with by a High Court or other senior judge. Speed, effectiveness and determination will show whether this is a means that will work or whether we will have to resort to that which was suggested by the first amendment that was debated.

Nottingham Incident

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Thursday 15th June 2023

(10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I join all noble Lords in paying tribute to the emergency services and the people of Nottingham and offer my condolences to the friends and families of the victims of this terrible atrocity.

I will say more about the students in a moment, but I pay particular tribute to Mr Coates and his friends and family. From what we have learned about Mr Coates in the last 24 hours, he sounds like a remarkable man, a remarkable citizen and a proud citizen of Nottingham. Clearly our thoughts are with those who were injured as well during the attack in the city.

I have never had the honour to represent the people of Beeston, so I have studiously never spoken for them before. I hope it is not considered disrespectful in these tragic circumstances. The main campus of Nottingham University borders Beeston and, over the years, more students have chosen to live in the town. I feel that, alongside the heartfelt condolences of the people of Beeston to the families and friends of Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar, the people of Beeston would also want to reassure parents around the country whose sons and daughters are studying at Nottingham, and may be living in Beeston, that it is a safe town. Its residents offer students, wherever they come from, a warm welcome. That will clearly be something that they would hope to continue. As my noble friend has already done, I join him in supporting all that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said. I hope that my noble friend is able to agree with me.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am absolutely able to agree with my noble friend and I welcome her remarks. I am sure that she and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will work together in due course on making sure that future students have a very warm welcome when they arrive at Nottingham University. This gives me an opportunity to mention that Mr Coates, who has been referred to, was four months from retirement, which seems particularly poignant. I read the comments of his sons and was very moved.

Illegal Migration Bill

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I will not make the speech I was going to, because all the points I planned to make have been made. In the early hours of yesterday morning, I criticised the Minister for not listening to what had been said. There is sometimes repetition because of a hope that it will eventually be heard.

We have heard such powerful arguments today, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has expressed the humanity behind this amendment. We have heard that giving the right to work is about human dignity, and we have heard about people with lived experience of that. They keep asking why they cannot do paid work and saying, “This is what we want to do”.

I am pleading to the Minister to put away whatever briefing he has been given, which talks about pull factors and so forth, and address the points that have been made in this debate.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, some very powerful remarks have been made in this short debate so far, some of which I will respond to in a moment. At the start of my contribution, it is important to emphasise an obvious statement of fact that bears repetition: the Bill is about dealing with immediate and urgent issues—the current situation in which we find ourselves and the practice of boats crossing the channel. This has to stop, as it is unacceptable not just on the basis of illegal entry into the country by that route being wrong in principle but because of the threat to life involved in those journeys.

Often, important and powerful points are made as if we can just deal with them quickly or with them and bigger issues at the same time. I support what the Government are trying to do here: they are trying to deal with an immediate issue. Through this legislation, I would like the Government to deal—as I think they are trying to do—with that problem, which is vexing not just the Government but the country at large. It is causing a widespread sense of concern and disquiet. Once that has been dealt with and we are on top of the issue, some of the topics raised in these debates will merit proper consideration and further thought.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said in her opening remarks on this group—and I have heard her say it many times, as have other noble Lords who are raising objections to the Bill—that one of the problems with the Government’s approach to this legislation is that the assumption is being made that those claiming asylum must be accepted as asylum seekers and cannot be defined in any other way. Somehow, the fact that a lot of people are concerned by the legitimacy of that claim is not acceptable to many noble Lords. As I said at Second Reading—

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness as I will have a right of reply after the Minister, but I do not think I have said any such thing. I did not say that everybody who crosses the channel or comes in another way irregularly is entitled to refugee status. Obviously, they are defined as refugees under the refugee convention, but if they are seeking status in the UK, they have to go through a process and those who do not qualify should be removed—deported. That is what a rational, fair and proper asylum procedure looks like. Our objection to the Bill is its refusal to admit anybody to the determination process. I have never said, nor have any of my noble friends, that everybody who arrives should be allowed to stay, under whatever status. Of course you cannot run an asylum system in that way and we have never said that.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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What the noble Baroness does through many of her contributions is argue against anybody using the terminology “illegal immigrant” by virtue of the fact that they have come via that route and have claimed asylum. My understanding of what she is arguing is that their status as an asylum seeker should be accepted by virtue of the fact that they have made that claim.

I said at Second Reading that I based my remarks on conversations that I have had with people who work alongside immigrants in workplaces which are very different from the one we spend our time in. I said that if there was one way I could define the main message that they were seeking to make clear to me and to this House and to Parliament as we consider this legislation—I am quoting myself here—it was:

“Don’t assume or believe that everyone attempting to enter our country illegally is a genuine asylum seeker fleeing persecution”. —[Official Report, 10/5/23; col. 1814.]


I said that because I think that some of the arguments being made about being able to work are based on a desire for us to address that in a context where the noble Baroness’s perception of the situation is rather different from that of other people.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, invoked economic and productivity arguments in favour of allowing asylum seekers to work. Again, I can see where he is coming from and I do not in any way disagree with him or any noble Lord about the hard-working nature or enterprising disposition of people who come to this country. That is not something I would enter into any kind of discussion about. But I think that if we are going to raise economic arguments as a reason for the Government to accept these amendments and allow asylum seekers, at this current moment in time, to work in the way proposed, we must also remember that we have 5 million people on out-of-work benefits at a time when there is a record number of job vacancies.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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There are not 5 million people out of work on benefits. Universal credit applies to large numbers of people in work as well as out of work.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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The information I have is that there are 5 million people receiving out-of-work benefits. In my view, if they are qualifying for these, they are therefore out of work.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I will give way in a moment; let me just finish the point I am trying to make. An argument on economic and productivity grounds is not as compelling as some noble Lords are seeking to make it, given that, as I said, a large proportion of our current population are not in work but could be, and are in receipt of out-of-work benefits. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I appreciate that. Can the noble Baroness tell us what proportion of those people are not in work because of chronic sickness, disabilities that may get in the way of being in work, and caring responsibilities?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I cannot, and I am not here to get into a detailed discussion about that. I am simply trying to make this point. Noble Lords are raising the issue of productivity and the economy as a justification for accepting this right now in the Bill. As I said to the Committee earlier, there is some value and legitimacy, in principle, to some of the arguments being made. For instance, I would support the right reverend Prelate’s argument about ensuring that people who come to this country and are waiting for their application to be processed are able to make their contribution. However, we need to get to a position where the current rate of asylum seekers in the system is not that with which we are currently dealing.

Some noble Lords are arguing to be able to do both at the same time. Of course, I absolutely agree that the Home Office must be much better than it currently is at processing these things. I am not disagreeing with any of this. Unlike those noble Lords, however, I am saying that, for that kind of change to be accepted by the country at large, we have to take steps to get there. If you look at the bigger issue of immigration, part of what we are trying to do is to create a system that is acceptable and works for the country as a whole, and that everybody can have confidence in, so that they can feel much more in line with what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, would like everyone to feel and believe regarding the changes she wishes to see. We cannot do it all at the same time.

That is what I am trying to do. I am not trying to argue about pull or push factors; just that the Bill is about an immediate issue that the Government are rightly trying to respond to—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I will finish my point and then I will give way. I think that some of the matters that noble Lords are advancing should not be dealt with at this time. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I wonder whether she will answer the next question with a yes or no, because I am confused by some of the things I have heard from her. If a job is available and an asylum seeker is the only person available who can realistically fill it, does she agree that, after three months or so, the asylum seeker should be allowed to take that job?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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At the moment, if somebody is still awaiting a decision on their asylum status or their status as a citizen or resident of the country, they are not eligible for employment—no.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I was not here at the start of the debate, so I am embarrassed to stand up and will be extremely brief. I just want to support very strongly this amendment. I have spoken over the years about just how ludicrous it is that we have asylum seekers here who cannot work, however long the Home Office takes to consider their application. This is an incredibly important amendment. I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on the basis that surely this is one amendment that the Government should be able to support, and it will be in everybody’s interests if the Minister is able to do that.

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Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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I do not want to be unkind, but the rest of us manage to persuade the door- keepers to bring us glasses of water.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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May I? Forgive me, I am normally somebody who is a stickler for us keeping to the Companion—absolutely, for sure. However, if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, can contribute to this debate having not even been here at the beginning, when my noble friend was here at the beginning and nipped out to get a glass of water, I think we can hear from my noble friend. If the noble Lord is minded to object, I would hope he would have objected to his noble colleague speaking.

Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for raising this interesting point and for her proposed Amendment 133. The purpose of the Bill is to prevent and deter illegal migration, and it provides for swift removal, with very few exceptions. Therefore, I am not quite sure why a new clause after Clause 60 is necessary, particularly because, in respect of applications for work from asylum seekers who are already having their asylum claims processed, as far as I know—I am subject to correction here—those are covered under the 2016 Immigration Rules. Part 11B sets out the policy criteria, which can be found in paragraphs 360A, B and C.

I will also comment on various noble Lords’ claims about the potential contribution that asylum seekers can make to the economy. Yes, there may indeed be contributions which can be made, but perhaps we should also consider the costs, the compliance costs and the fact that the UK is trying to move to a high-skills economy, where people with higher skills or where there is a need already can apply to work here under the normal rules. I cannot see why we need this amendment to the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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I had not intended to say anything about this amendment, but I will say a couple of things. First, those of us who have met a number of asylum seekers have been very impressed by the high level of skills and enthusiasm for work that they exhibit. Secondly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, I understand the point that she is making about the objective of the Bill, but it has a very long Long Title and I doubt my noble friend would have been able to table her amendment had the clerks not agreed that it was in order.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I am not in any way trying—

None Portrait A noble Lord
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For God’s sake.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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Excuse me? Somebody said, “For God’s sake”. I do not know who that was. Okay.

I am not trying to suggest to the Committee that the amendment is somehow outside of scope and therefore inadmissible—that is not my argument at all. If you want to describe the point I am making as political, it is perfectly legitimate to do that. However, I am trying to make the case, in terms of the political aims of the Bill, that I can see that it would be unwise to try to introduce something that the noble Baroness is seeking to do in this legislation—so I was not in any way arguing that.

To the noble Baroness’s other points about the merits of anybody who is claiming asylum in terms of their capabilities, I do not question that either. That is not my point. My point is that I want a migration system that has the confidence of everybody in this country, and I think that we are going to have to do it in stages.

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I will let my noble friend the Minister respond on behalf of the Government to the noble Lord’s point but, as he was responding to what I had argued, I have to say that what he has just described makes my point, if I may be so bold.

I argue that, yes, there may be schemes that are authorised for the recruitment of people from outside the UK for specific jobs, but that does not justify that we make those who arrive outside those schemes eligible for work. That would make crossing the channel a route that is seen as attractive for those who might not want to come and do those jobs in particular but certainly want to come here for economic reasons.

As far as the specific working environments that the noble Lord talks about, if the problem in those industries is that wages are insufficient, whether it is in the care sector or the food industry, then I argue very much that the employers need to address the wage issues to encourage more people to apply, if that is part of the barrier to people going to work in them in the first place.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I am not sure whether she heard the evidence provided by my noble friend Lady Ludford from the Home Office report, which said that providing work was not a pull factor in the way that the noble Baroness has suggested.

Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Tuesday 13th June 2023

(10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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I think the noble Lord will know the answer, and it is no.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I start by joining the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in the comments that he made about my beloved home city. I also pay tribute to the Nottinghamshire Police and all the emergency services for their responses to the dreadful events in the city today. Clearly, I send my condolences to the friends and families of those who were dreadfully murdered.

I should also start by saying that I very much understand some of the frustration that has been expressed in the debate so far today, whether it has come from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, my noble friend Lord Hunt on behalf of the committee, or in various other speeches that we have heard. It is important that the Government produce good-quality Explanatory Memorandums. They have not covered themselves in glory in this particular situation. I care about procedure— I do, very much—but I also care very much about the way in which this House conducts itself and the relationship that we have between this House and the Executive. I feel that, over the last few years, it has deteriorated. It has become increasingly hostile, and that has been clearly evident in the way in which some of the debates that we have held on a range of legislation have occurred. Sometimes, we have made our points in ways that have not showed any sense of disrespect to the Government—because that is not for the House to worry about—but have too often, I feel, shown disrespect to members of the public who take a particular position on things that some of us may not agree with.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in what has been an interesting debate. I start by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, that nobody is saying that the current protests that we have seen are acceptable. We all agree that something needs to be done about it and that they are unacceptable. The whole debate about the instrument before us is around the appropriate way for the state to respond in balancing the rights of protesters and the public.

My contention is that the Government, through secondary legislation, are changing various measures that we only just passed in the Public Order Act—including, for example, the threshold that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred to, where “more than minor” was linked just to the particular offences of tunnelling and locking on. Indeed, I was rebuked when I said that that threshold was too low and we should have a higher threshold; it was said to me that it refers only to the offences of locking on and tunnelling. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope says, what the Government have done—they actually pray in aid the noble and learned Lord, who we have heard is very unhappy with the process—is extend that. That is what this is about.

There has been no opportunity for anyone in this House to say that that is inappropriate as a way of controlling protests. Nobody has been able to say that that threshold is inappropriate; we just have to accept it because it is done by secondary legislation and is unamendable. That is the point.

Then we come to the whole point of process, which is the point of my regret amendment and the point of debate for us all here. There are choices before us in how we respond to the fact that the Government have driven a coach and horses through the way that parliamentary democracy in this country works. There is absolutely no question that that is what they have done.

The convention does not say that you change primary legislation by secondary legislation. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee says that it cannot find another example of that being done. If you cannot find another example of it being done, it probably means that the convention is that you do not do it. Therefore, the convention must be that, if you want to significantly change legislation with respect to protests, you do so through primary legislation. I think that is the majority view—apart from one or two people shaking their heads at me, which is fine. The challenge before us is how we respond to the fact that the majority of people, I suggest, in this place think that the Government have acted inappropriately in dealing with this issue. That is the question.

You might say that we should do nothing about it and that it does not matter. The Tory Whip will say, “Pour in. Vote down Coaker’s amendment. Support the right to lock up all these Just Stop Oil people. It doesn’t matter. Convention doesn’t matter. The way the constitution operates in this country doesn’t matter. Pour in. Just vote it down. He’ll shut up in a minute, it’s fine”. But what has happened is absolutely outrageous. I say to noble Peers opposite that this is an opportunity for the Conservative Members of this House to abstain and say that they accept that this is the wrong way for Parliament to proceed with respect to this matter. Do not just pour in and say it does not matter. It fundamentally matters.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is giving a customarily powerful closing speech. Will the noble Lord at least acknowledge that it is not just, as he is alleging, the Government who have driven a coach and horses through convention over the past few years, but that Parliament, in this House and down the Corridor in the other place, has also done that? My contention earlier was that it takes two to tango. We have got to a situation here whereby the Government are being forced to do unconventional things because of the way in which we collectively have had to conduct ourselves. It should be for him and I to agree that we need to move on and find a better way in which to conduct business than we have seen of late. It requires us all to reflect and not just for the Government to do so—although I accept that they need to do so.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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That leads me nicely on to the point that I am trying to make. Conservative Peers have a choice to make as to how they respond to the way in which the Government have undermined the conventions of this House by abstaining on the vote. I have a choice to make and I am saying to my party from the Front Bench that we should respect the conventions of this House by not voting down the will of the elected House of Parliament. I am being criticised for not supporting the fatal amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, have just said, they think that I should be suggesting that to my party. That undermines convention and I will not recommend it to His Majesty Opposition; it is inappropriate. That is the way in which I am seeking to respect conventions of this House—by not suggesting to His Majesty Opposition that they oppose what the elected Government of this country have put forward.

I have to accept my responsibility and make suggestions on how my party should vote on this. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will have his view about how he thinks his party should vote. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has outlined how she thinks the House should vote. I am saying to Conservative Peers that they have an opportunity now, through the vote they make, to deliver their verdict on how the Government have operated with respect to the conventions of this House. I contend that they have driven a coach and horses through the conventions of this House, whereby primary legislation is not changed by secondary legislation.

At its heart, that is what my regret amendment is about—trying to respect the conventions of the House while expressing regret with respect to the way in which these public order regulations have been carried through. At the end of the day, that is a choice that people will have to make. I have made my choice with respect to my party. I am saying that we should abstain on the fatal amendment but support my regret amendment. Others will have to make their choice. I hope that they make the right one.

National Security Bill

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Much of my political life has been about protecting civil liberties for everyone—even people I do not agree with, and people outside on the street sometimes. Journalism is a key plank of any free society and, if we allow legislation that risks having a chilling effect on journalists doing their jobs and holding the Government to account, we are not doing our job here and the Government are not doing theirs. I strongly promote Amendment 18 and support the Lib Dem amendments. I would love to move my Amendment 72, but it is tougher and your Lordships might find it harder to accept than Amendment 18.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I will add a few remarks to what has already been said in the debate. My noble friend Lord Black comprehensively and powerfully set out the case for his amendment, which I support and have added my name to.

I emphasise that, like everyone else, I think, I support the Bill. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that I signed the Official Secrets Act when I was just 18 years old, on my first day as a junior secretary in the Ministry of Defence. I knew very little about the world that I had entered, but it was impressed upon me from the start that I would be in possession of information that could endanger lives. I learned from an early age about protecting any information that could be weaponised against the UK or our citizens.

I also learned that part of what makes us such a powerful and important nation is our freedoms, especially our free press. I learned that it is critical that we do not do anything that risks journalists not being able legitimately to expose serious failings or wrongdoing by government or public servants, especially when those government failings themselves could threaten the lives and well-being of British citizens.

In Committee, we heard some powerful examples that could be at risk of being exposed in the future, for the reasons that were set out. That is why I believe it is essential that we do not legislate to protect our national security in a way that could stop journalists doing their legitimate job, however inconvenient to Ministers or public servants the results of this sometimes are. Journalists should not be threatened with prison for exposing the truth about ineptitude, incompetence or corruption within government, whoever is in power.

I echo what my noble friend Lord Black and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said about the commitment of my noble friend the Minister, his ministerial colleagues and officials across Whitehall, who have given time and effort in trying to find a way forward. As the Minister laid out, the Government have come a long way towards addressing the concerns expressed during debates in Committee. Like others, I support all of the amendments that my noble friend tabled on behalf of the Government.

However, as my noble friend Lord Black explained, we need to go a little further and provide greater clarity than the Government’s amendments if we are to avoid a chilling effect on journalism, which could so undermine the public interest. That said, I fear that my noble friend the Minister may be unwilling to accept our amendment. That troubles me, because a Bill on national security and how a new offence could apply to journalism is not one on which I would like to see the House divided.

I can see why the Government might be struggling with the amendment or to come up with something else that provides the clarity that we need. As unthinkable and unlikely as it may be, I suspect that there is a fear within Whitehall that a journalist working for a recognised news publisher could collude with a foreign state seeking to do us harm and use this as a defence to get away with it.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I want to listen to what my noble friend the Minister says at the end of the debate. It is important that we give him the opportunity to speak very clearly about this. I remind my noble friend that his words at the Dispatch Box are incredibly powerful in legal terms if they are made deliberately with the purpose of ensuring that there is complete clarity and no ambiguity when it comes to the intention of legislation.

If he will not accept this amendment, I want him to be very clear about the explicit limits of this offence. Can he put beyond any doubt that no journalist doing a legitimate job of exposing wrongdoing and failure by the state will be caught by this future Act of Parliament —if that is what it becomes—if they are not working on behalf of a foreign Government or agency? As I said, I want to listen to him, and I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, my noble friend Lord Black and the rest of the House to do the same, because that is what I will do.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. I have also added my name to Amendment 18. I have very little to add to what has already been said by those who have spoken in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has given a very good summary of the ruling of Pepper v Hart, although there first has to be ambiguity for the Minister’s words to have particular effect. None the less, I entirely agree with her that we will listen with great interest, as indeed will the media in general, to what the Minister has to say, to see whether he can give the assurance that is genuinely needed.

All I will add to what noble Lords have said already is that public interest journalism is genuinely under threat. It is very expensive to undertake, and editors can easily be deterred by the possibility of a wild goose chase. It would be an additional impediment to their encouraging proper journalism if they felt that one of their journalists or their publication was in some danger of finding themselves contravening the provisions of this very important Bill, which I also support in all respects. That is why this is a very significant group of amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, citing Roosevelt, freedom of expression is fundamental. The press and the recognised publishers reflected in this amendment represent a very significant part of that freedom, and I hope that, in the Minister’s response to this group of amendments, we will get the reassurance that is so badly needed.

Security Threat to UK-based Journalists

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Tuesday 21st February 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I think the noble Lord has just, very aptly, described common humanity, and of course I completely agree. I would be straying well beyond my remit if I was to go into soft power and all its uses. Of course, speaking personally, I completely agree. As I pointed out, the FCDO is providing the World Service with significant amounts of funding. Reading between the lines, or perhaps not, I would imagine that indicates that it also believes in the soft power aspect of the World Service. For the reasons that the noble Lord describes, how can we not?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, this is clearly a very serious situation and I would not want to detract from that at all, but one thing my noble friend has not mentioned today is the Government’s national action plan for the safety of journalists. In light of this situation, are the Government looking to see whether that needs to be reviewed in any way? Also, what, if any, engagement might Ministers have with the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, which I believe was established just a few years ago? It seems quite relevant if the threats to journalists we are seeing now are growing in such a serious fashion. Alongside that, as the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, said, there are other kinds of threats being made and actions being taken against journalists, at a rate we perhaps have not seen in the past.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. I am afraid that I am not personally able to answer it, so I will make sure that she is written to. I think DCMS takes the lead on this area but I will make further investigations and make sure she is fully informed.

National Security Bill

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
This is a very difficult area for those of us who support the overall aims of the Bill but nevertheless wish to see it drawn sufficiently tightly to achieve those aims without going further to the detriment of personal liberty. The Bill needs tightening, with careful thought being given to this definition.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Communications and Digital Select Committee. It was because I was chairing a meeting of that committee that I was unable to speak at Second Reading.

I will speak briefly about the potential effect and unintended consequences of this important legislation on investigative journalism. Before I go any further, I should say that I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for the opportunity to debate this matter. As my noble friend Lord Black already explained, comprehensively and very powerfully, the potential chilling effect on legitimate journalism is of particular concern. That is real and we must find a way of avoiding it, without diluting the intentions and objectives of this Bill, which I, like other noble Lords, support.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for meeting me and others, with some of his officials, in December to discuss our concerns. I look to him for reassurance that the Government remain alive to this problem and open to discussion. I am not sure whether Amendment 66A from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is the answer to the problem; it may need to be combined with Amendments 65 and 66, which have already been debated. As my noble friend Lord Black already said, what we need here is a holistic approach to the point in question, which is around making sure that important investigative journalism is able to continue.

As a result of this very important legislation, I would not want, for example, deficiencies in military equipment that cost the lives of our Armed Forces not to be exposed. That example was put to me by some of the media organisations that have been in touch. They reminded me that that particular piece of journalism led to a change in the then Government’s commitment to defence expenditure and, subsequently, a ministerial apology—albeit several years later in a public inquiry. I do not want us to legislate in a way that risks journalists not exposing these important matters, if they fear that doing so would lead to them committing a crime that would attract serious penalties. I support the arguments that my noble friend Lord Black has put forward, and I look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s response and, as I have already said, to our continuing discussions on this matter.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, my name is on Amendment 70 and I want to speak to Amendments 68 and 71. I stress that, in getting this Bill right, we need to make sure that it does not lead to a level of overreporting that swamps the Home Office, with a great deal of cynicism and a negative reaction from those who are asked to do the reporting. In the last week, I have received a dozen representations, not just from media and academic sources—the liberal metropolitan elite, whom the Minister may regard as not terribly important—but from the City and commercial enterprises, which are as worried about the negative impact that the Bill could have on their international activities as those in universities are.

I admire the speed with which the Minister talks when he responds to our questions, but I hope that he is carefully considering the reasoned and sometimes expert criticisms that we have of this Bill, that he is more concerned to get the Bill right than to get it through and that, between Committee and Report, we will have some long, further conversations on particular aspects of the Bill about which the House has been concerned.

To expand on that a little, I thought the Minister was a little flippant about my suggestion that there were non-state threats from the right in a number of countries, including the United States. He may have been following the attempted coup in Brazil. The reports of it that I read suggested that the Conservative Political Action Coalition in the United States was actively tweeting in support of Bolsonaro and may well have provided funds, and that Steve Bannon and his organisation were also actively in support of Bolsonaro. These things should worry us as much as terrorist and state threats, and this is another dimension that we need to think about in this Bill.

We know that foreign money has come into this country, that there have been some very odd things, such as the Conservative Friends of Russia element, in which the right has appeared to work with what we regard as the foreign left. Those sorts of things need considering. I look forward to the letter that the Minister will be sending me shortly—I hope—on the question of spiritual injury, which the discussion last week suggested is unenforceable and almost undefinable, and therefore should not be in the Bill. I also hope that we will have further discussions on the impact on diaspora communities and dual nationals, because the extent to which our diaspora communities have relations with parties in the other countries to which they have links, and with the Governments of those foreign countries—be it Pakistan, Israel or wherever—is going to be complicated further by the Bill. We need to get to the end with an Act which commands public acceptance and public consent. Incidentally, it is likely to come into effect just before the next election, and if there was an adverse reaction to its implementation, the Government are likely to suffer.

UK Asylum and Refugee Policy

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Friday 9th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the most reverend Primate. I must start by commending him for his choice of topic and for giving us the opportunity to debate immigration and asylum today. I also commend him for his comprehensive opening speech, particularly his acknowledgement towards the end of the need to revisit the refugee convention.

During the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act earlier this year, several Peers justified their opposition to it by claiming that most voters who wanted greater immigration controls did so on a false understanding—basically, that these voters could be ignored because they were not sufficiently informed. According to YouGov’s latest tracker poll, published on Monday this week, 56% of all UK adults believe that the rate of immigration to the UK is too high. In my remarks, I want to focus on why more than half of us who contribute to our economy and our local communities take that view and are demanding action. Let us be clear: they are people of all colours, faiths and religions. Some are immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. They deserve to be heard and understood.

What we have learned about the divisions in our society exposed by recent democratic events helps us to understand what unites this diverse group. They are likely to work hard, do their best for their family, be good neighbours and enjoy living and working in a place to which they have a sense of belonging. Instinctively, they will share a commitment to social norms, standards of behaviour and common courtesies which support good order and represent fairness and the consideration of others. It is obvious stuff that costs nothing or very little, such as taking our turn and not jumping queues; being reliable and keeping our word; caring about the general upkeep of public spaces; or dressing smartly when the place or occasion deserves a demonstration of respect. These are important shared standards, because they are acts of self-discipline which demonstrate respect and help us to form bonds that cross boundaries and build trust. They are standards that are neither beneath anyone nor beyond anyone. People expect those of us in positions of authority—in politics, business, media or the Church—to help protect and promote these common standards by sharing them too.

But what have we relegated our common bonds in favour of? Something more exclusive. When did virtue signalling to one another within the elite become more important than keeping faith with the values we all have in common, regardless of our status? We have allowed criminal gangs and opportunists to weaponise our differences and endanger the lives of economic migrants in the process. If that is not bad enough, at the same time, we are increasing the divisions in our society by suggesting that the democratic wishes of the majority do not matter. That is why we need to get a grip of illegal immigration.

We should not be surprised that people become distressed by increased pressure on local services. When it comes to those who do unskilled work—in warehouses, distribution centres or factories—we fail to understand that what makes those jobs bearable, alongside decent pay and working conditions, is creating a sense of community through camaraderie, collective effort and friendship. A working environment that is attractive to people doing repetitive jobs is difficult to create when no one cares if the workforce can relate to each other and technology, not human beings, determines operational standards and whether someone is doing a good job.

No one expects or wants zero immigration, and people want to help and support refugees fleeing war and persecution. However, successful and effective immigration and asylum policy relies on us understanding the valid concerns of the majority of our citizens who are opposed to the current rates of people entering the UK. The first step has to be implementing tighter controls. High-minded pronouncements, hand-wringing and the free-for-all it is creating are what is putting lives in danger, not by not doing everything we can to deter people from illegally crossing the channel. I would support any further measure to that end brought forward by the Government, and I hope that serious consideration is given to the recommendations in the CPS report by Nick Timothy and Karl Williams published this week. I hope my noble friend the Minister will comment on that when he comes to wind up.

What I know is that dismissing people’s concerns fuels division and drives distrust in the democratic process. If we are serious about building a more prosperous and cohesive society, we need to show that we are proud to be living alongside the great people of this country, who are what makes us successful and whose good character is what attracts talent and like-minded people from all around the world.