All 1 Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020

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Wed 15th Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, the compassion in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, makes it extremely difficult to oppose him —but oppose him I do. Despite the wonderful statements by Cross-Benchers of enormous eminence who know more about children’s law than anyone else, my work in international children’s care tells me that this way lies danger. I have worked with children on all continents of the globe. I used to be a director of Save the Children and have worked with almost all international children’s organisations, and perhaps the heartland experience that I wish to offer the Minister is on child trafficking.

When I was fortunate enough to be the rapporteur for Romania, and when working in other countries on this, I saw the deep underbelly of the filthy trade that happens when you begin to move children away from their own jurisdiction. Whether a child is deemed to be a refugee or is labelled as part of a family, child trafficking is the fastest-growing sector of organised crime on the globe today. The European Union legislation has not only failed to protect those children but has, in some ways, made things worse. I will give a clear example of a Member of the European Parliament—from France, incidentally, although this is not a criticism of France as such. When we were having this debate in the European Parliament, he could not understand why the free movement of children should not take place, since the European Union allowed the free movement of camions. Noble Lords will remember that “camions” means lorries.

That is exactly what happens: once you start moving children around, there is no stopping it. It does not help to say that they are coming to the United Kingdom. One of the most traumatic cases I had to deal with was that of a child from Romania. When I went there, there were 30,000 children who had been trafficked in eight years: no names, no pack drill, just numbers on a computer. One of them was a boy who came as a refugee to London on a false passport. In London, that false passport was changed and he managed to get an American passport. When he arrived in America, he was met by eight men, and he has never been seen again. Thanks to one of those wonderful efforts by the FBI, the CIA, Scotland Yard and the Romanian police, 11 men were captured. They were said to be the biggest child trafficking ring for pornography on the globe.

I beg the Minister to retain Clause 37. We need to protect these children, to help them to stay in their own jurisdiction, not to move them around like this. They are unprotected as soon as they leave their own jurisdiction. We cannot manage it. We in Britain are very poor at managing unaccompanied children of our own. Look at the ones in the Midlands, for example. We have thousands of children coming in every year from countries trying to dump their children here. Others then pick them up and sell them.

I have another very good example, although there are too many to give all of them. When I went to Bucharest originally, there were 12 trafficking agencies—

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
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I will give way. I will have difficulty, as I cannot hear, as noble Lords know. Somebody will have to tell me.

In Bucharest there were 12 trafficking agencies, and when we pushed them out, they went over the border to Moldova, and they are now bringing in children from China.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
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Will the noble Baroness give way?

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
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If noble Lords will forgive me, I will ask someone to interpret for me, because I was born deaf and will not pick it up.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
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I have been to Calais and met unaccompanied children: on one occasion my noble friend Lady Bennett and I were together in Calais. Does the noble Baroness accept that the children most at risk are the unaccompanied children? The children we are talking about are coming to their families. They do not have a jurisdiction; they do not have a family unit. They are coming to their families.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
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Lack of a jurisdiction is not quite the case. They have not lost their own jurisdiction, unless they have been signed out of it. You can therefore get them back home to their own jurisdiction. That is why my work, and the work of most people who, like me, work internationally, is to try to look after those children at home, to support the families and to bring clean water and food and everything else. Of course children can be signed out—by their own judges, for example—but most of the children that the noble Baroness is describing will not have been signed out at all; they will just have moved.

So I will merely say that we know all too well what happens to children when they are moved around. We in this House should not do anything to encourage that movement. That is why, from the heart, and from all my experience, I urge the Minister to retain Clause 37.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I have sat and listened to the debate on the Bill in this House, which has been wise—and sometimes entertaining, sometimes depressing, depending on one’s view of leaving the European Union. For the past two days I have stayed quiet and reflected on what has been said. For me it has been a surreal debate at times. Last night we had a debate in which all sides of the House pleaded with the Minister to keep one single market in the United Kingdom, and the Minister could not agree that that could be guaranteed. Earlier today there was an amendment about the rule of Parliament, and taking back control of the sovereignty of Parliament and not the sovereignty of the Executive. In the previous debate the Minister said that our hands should not be tied in negotiations—but the Government are tying their own hands by putting a false deadline on the negotiations.

However, I have to stand up now, because we have moved from a surreal debate to a cruel and heartless debate. Now we are talking about children who have family in this country. They are segregated; they will have seen war and persecution; some of them may have seen their mothers raped; some will have seen things that we cannot understand. And we already have a law in this land that says that, as a guarantee and as a matter of principle, they will come here now. Clause 37 takes that away. The Minister shakes her head, but it does. Basically, it says that rules will be laid before Parliament in two months’ time. It stops the existing provision and tries to put in a new provision—and we know not what that new provision will be.

Sometimes in politics, you just do the right thing. You do a thing as a matter of principle. I see nothing at all wrong in bringing here, as fast and as safely as possible, unaccompanied children who have family in this country. It is the right thing to do practically, and it is the right thing to do in principle. I must say to the Minister that this is a political decision. It is not a legal decision; there is nothing impeding negotiations. What is more, it is the right thing to do. I do not care what the other 27 countries do. As a British citizen, I want my values to be that we accept these children as a matter of principle. If the other 27 do not wish to do that, that is about their values—but this country, and this Parliament, should stand steadfast in saying that this is the right thing to do, and we want it to happen now.

I tried to think why the Government would not just allow this to happen. Why would they want to put a two-month staging post in place? Do they not want to do it? The Minister and the Government keep telling us that they do want to do it, and that it will happen. Fine. Are they not quite sure how it will happen, so they want to change the rules and the policy? The Minister shakes her head. So why have they not shown us what the new policy will be? Why the two-month gap? What are we waiting for? If nothing is going to change, the existing provision should stand.

Are we saying that we are putting in a provision for a two-month wait and nothing will change? Yet there are children across the country who need our support and help. Or are we going to use these young, vulnerable children as a negotiating chip? What a disgraceful position for us, as a country, to get ourselves into—that we could use the most vulnerable of the vulnerable as a negotiating position to try to get the other countries to agree to do something, we know not what? There is no reason for this clause—other than the possibility that there is something, however slight it may be, that the Government wish to change. I do not believe that that is the British way, I do not believe that those are British values, and I do not believe that that is what the British public will support.

I will end with what Robin Walker said when he was a Brexit Minister in the other place. He said that this was a matter of principle. I agree: it is a matter of principle—and it is time to put principle into action and stop the fake negotiation.