Nationality and Borders Bill

Debate between Chris Stephens and Chris Philp
Tuesday 20th July 2021

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I must finish soon. I apologise.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) asked about the legal system, which also needs reform as it is open to abuse. People make repeated human rights claims to asylum and modern slavery claims, which are often strung out over many years in an effort to avoid removal. Very often those claims are later found to be without merit. For example, in 2017, 83% of the last-minute claims that were raised in detention to frustrate removal were later found to be without merit. I have seen terrible examples of murderers and rapists making last-minute claims, without merit, to avoid deportation. It is not just me saying that. Let me quote what the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, said in a judgment last October:

“Late claims raised shortly before…removal have been endemic, many fanciful or entirely false…It is a matter of regret that a minority of lawyers have lent their professional…support to vexatious representations and abusive late legal challenges.”

In those remarks, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales is saying that change is needed.

The Bill also contains measures on age assessment. We are the only European country not to use scientific age assessment. Recent evaluations in Kent concerning 92 people claiming to be children later found that half were not. There are obvious and serious safeguarding issues if men who are 23 years old, for example, successfully pretend to be under 18 and get housed or educated with 16-year-old girls. We cannot tolerate that.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The Minister has referred to Glasgow’s dispersal area, but there are also individuals who have come over on false passports because that is what they were given to flee their country of origin. They are children, but their passport says they are adults. What assistance will the Home Office give those individuals?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Where somebody claims to be, or says they are, under 18, if there is any doubt, there is already a system—and in future there will be a better and more rigorous system—for properly assessing someone’s actual age. There are risks in both directions. If we wrongly assess someone to be over 18 there is a risk, but equally there are risks in the other direction, and it is time those risks were recognised.

On modern slavery, I pay tribute to the work done by my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). The Bill will ensure that we identify genuine victims of modern slavery and avoid unmeritorious claims that are designed to delay removal or deportation. Where someone is a genuine victim, we will ensure that they are properly looked after. This policy will make it clear for the first time in legislation that confirmed victims with recovery needs stemming from their exploitation will be entitled to a grant of leave, where that is necessary to assist them in their recovery, or to assist a prosecution. We hope that by encouraging people to bring their claims upfront in one go, asylum claims and matters involving modern slavery and human rights will be identified early and properly, and that we avoid some of the abuses that we have unfortunately seen all too often.

Some Members raised questions about detention, claiming that it was indefinite. That is not the case. We do not have indefinite detention, and 75% of people spend less than a month in detention prior to removal. The Hardial Singh case law principles mean that someone cannot be detained if there is no reasonable prospect of removal. There are frequent opportunities to apply for immigration bail, in addition to the protections afforded by article 5 of the ECHR. On the Dubs amendment that we have seen in the past, we prefer to prioritise, not people who are in safe European countries, but those who are in dangerous places.

The public expect us to look after those in genuine need. We will do so, but the public also expect us to protect our borders from illegal immigration and to promptly remove those with no right to be here. The Bill delivers those objectives. When the Labour party votes against it in a few minutes, it is voting against border control, and against removing dangerous foreign criminals who pose a threat to our constituents. The Labour party may not be prepared to protect our borders, but the Government are. I commend the Bill to the House.

Protection of Retail Workers

Debate between Chris Stephens and Chris Philp
Monday 7th June 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is vital that more people report such offences and that we support the retail community to take steps to detect such terrible crimes that are being committed. The national retail crime steering group—of which the Policing Minister is a co-chair or leading member—is doing exactly that kind of work. The Home Office has also invested £40,000 in the ShopKind campaign, which aims to move in the direction mentioned by the hon. Member for Easington.

On the reasons why people do not report incidents—and why only half of victims report them to the police—there is some data in the Home Affairs Committee survey. By the way, I commend the Select Committee for putting that together. It found 3,444 people who did not report their incidents. That is a lot of people. Of the reasons given—people clearly gave more than one—the top one, cited by 35% of those victims who did not report, was:

“I did not believe the employer would do anything about it”.

That is terrible. The first thing we need to do is to say to employers, “If your employee is assaulted in any way, it is your duty as an employer to make sure that it gets reported to the police.”

Secondly, 32% said:

“I believed it was just part of the job”.

Clearly, it is not. That is obviously a terrible perception, so we need to send out a clear message that assault of anyone is unacceptable. Others said:

“I considered the incident too minor to report”,

so we need to make sure that such assaults are criminal offences and that they are aggravated when the victim is providing a service to the public. Another reason, given by 28% of respondents, was:

“I did not believe the police would do anything about it”.

The Policing Minister is working on that. Of course, every time one of those incidents gets reported, the police should take action.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I do not usually make much of a case for employers, but the British Retail Consortium and 65 CEOs in the United Kingdom are asking the UK Government for a specific law for retail workers. Why does the Minister believe that to be the case?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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As I laid out in the first half of my comments, the laws exist already. The law criminalises every example of the behaviour—terrible behaviour—that Members have laid out this afternoon. They are criminal offences already, each and every single one. Most of them, including the two examples given by the shadow Minister, would not be prosecuted under the new Scottish law; they would be prosecuted as more serious assaults. The criminal offences exist and they are, in the Sentencing Council guidelines, already aggravated where the victim is a retail worker or, indeed, a transport worker. In any case, if we passed a measure focusing only on retail workers, it would obviously neglect train and bus drivers and everyone else. However, they are already covered by those aggravating factors.

What is clearly needed is not to criminalise the behaviour; it is criminal already. It is not to elevate the penalty given to those people who are convicted; it is elevated already. What we need to do is to get more convictions, and that starts with reporting. That is the work that the national retail crime steering group is doing. I have participated in this debate from the Ministry of Justice point of view, while the steering group and policing sit with my hon. Friend the Policing Minister, so I will take away a clear message for him and the national retail crime steering group: these terrible offences, which have an enormous impact on retail workers, need to have a significantly elevated focus, in terms of getting more reporting, as we have just talked about, and making sure the police follow them up in every case. The Government obviously agree that these are serious offences and that they need to be investigated and prosecuted. I can give a firm undertaking to hon. Members that I will take that message back to the Policing Minister.

Immigration Rules: Supported Accommodation

Debate between Chris Stephens and Chris Philp
Wednesday 16th December 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right in the sense that the system does not work currently in the way that it should. People are able to make repeated, unmeritorious and sometimes vexatious claims to frustrate the system and prevent removal. For that reason, we will legislate in the first half of next year to make sure that the system is fundamentally fixed and fundamentally reformed in a way that will give his constituents the confidence they have every right to expect.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The Minister will be aware that Glasgow has housed and accommodated asylum seekers for almost 20 years—something of which we are very proud. Can he say a bit more about how those who may be considered to be inadmissible under the new rules will be supported and accommodated? Will they, for example, be placed in detention centres, camps, barracks and hotels—he will be aware that a group of doctors has written to the Department with concerns about the conditions for asylum seekers in these sorts of accommodation—or is he going to rule out those sorts of accommodation going forward?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Glasgow does accommodate a large number of asylum seekers. We work very closely with Glasgow City Council and the Communities and Local Government Secretary in the Scottish Government on that topic. Glasgow is the only Scottish authority to receive asylum seekers. It would ease the pressure on Glasgow, and indeed across the United Kingdom, if other Scottish local authorities were able to accommodate asylum seekers as well. In terms of the type of accommodation provided, the inadmissible cohort, although inadmissible, will be entitled to accommodation, as I have said, and the support that goes with that. We will make sure that the support they receive fully complies with all our legal and moral obligations.

Immigration

Debate between Chris Stephens and Chris Philp
Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his second speech. I must say to him—I will be quick, for time purposes—that there is a great Ahmadi community in Glasgow, of which we are very proud. All I can say to him, based on my experience of dealing with asylum claims, is that asylum claim abuses are few and far between compared with those seeking genuine asylum.

Touching on the hon. Gentleman’s point, I would want asylum seekers to be given, after a certain point, the right to work so that they are embedded in the community. That must be looked at. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) has a private Member’s Bill on that matter, and there must be serious discussion about allowing asylum seekers the right to work.

I am proud to have an office manager who is a refugee, who had family members murdered by Saddam Hussein’s regime. When she came to this country, her father was working. Far from the rhetoric that we heard about the Labour party being left wing, it was the Labour party that took my office manager’s father’s national insurance from him. The then Labour Government changed the law to stop asylum seekers having the right to work. I hope the hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) will seriously consider that in his Bill and consider that asylum seekers, after a certain period, should have the right to work so that they can make the contribution that he wants them to make.

As a party, we believe that the Home Office’s response to the recent channel crossings displays a complete disregard for human suffering that is both shocking and shameful. Responding to the crossings in a dystopian, quasi-militaristic way, with surveillance technology, appointing a clandestine channel threat commander and positing the idea of bringing in the Royal Navy—later condemned by the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organisation for Migration—only reinforces the headlines that liken that failure of leadership to an invasion.

Contrary to the Department’s remarks, the reality is far from being the crisis the newspapers suggest it is. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in the UK said recently:

“The UK is far from the epicentre of the real challenge.”

Asylum claims in the UK—as I have said, and I will say it again—have fallen in 2020, as confirmed by Abi Tierney, the director general of UK Visas and Immigration, to the Select Committee on Home Affairs in September.

The response to the petition describes channel crossings as “unacceptable behaviour”. The Department seems unable to understand—or perhaps fails to mention—that it has already closed and is closing more safe legal routes for refugees to reach the United Kingdom. That is leaving extremely vulnerable individuals who are often fleeing unimaginable conditions, as the hon. Member for Strangford rightly pointed out, with little choice but to place their fate in the hands of criminal gangs. Furthermore, a report last year by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which the Home Secretary was a member at the time, said:

“In the absence of robust and accessible legal routes for seeking asylum in the UK, those with a claim are left with little choice but to make dangerous journeys by land and sea.”

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I assume the Minister is seeking to make an intervention, because there was a lot of noise there as I was making those remarks. I am happy to give way to him.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He said that migrants are compelled to cross the English channel to claim asylum. I respectfully point out that they are in France, typically northern France. France is a civilised and safe country with a well-functioning asylum system, and should anyone in northern France feel they need to claim asylum, they are perfectly able to do so there. They do not need to make one of those dangerous crossings.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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That may very well be the Minister’s view. He will have an opportunity to say that, and I will perhaps make an intervention—[Interruption.] The Minister is harrumphing from a sedentary position. I am concerned for his welfare. He seems rather excitable, Sir David. Perhaps you can pass him a note and have a word just to calm him down. Thank you, Sir David.

The staggering leaked UK Government documents only prove that the Tory hostile environment towards immigration and immigrants is still alive and kicking. In response to the petition, the Home Office said:

“The UK has long been a sanctuary for those in need of international protection”.

Leaked documents provided evidence that the Home Office was considering wave machines to deter boats, nets to clog boats’ propellers and the transportation of asylum seekers more than 4,000 miles away to Ascension Island for processing. Those are preposterous suggestions and show how far the Government will go to drive home and engender the Brexit ideology that has already poisoned some of the political discourse in this country.

The Refugees Council policy manager, Judith Dennis, said that the UK must treat refugees and asylum seekers with dignity. Instead, those ridiculous proposals set an unsettling precedent, firing the starting gun of a race to the bottom in terms of treating refugees and asylum seekers with any humanity and compassion.

I believe that the asylum system must be fair and compassionate, but it must also be professional. I hope the Minister answers the question for which I have been trying to seek debates—unfortunately, I seem to be missing out on the ballots for either Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate—about why a private company has been called in to process asylum claim interviews in the last couple of weeks. In secret, with no statement, either written or verbal, provided to hon. Members, a private company has been called in by the Home Office to carry out asylum claim interviews.

Is it Serco? It would not surprise us, let us be honest, if it was Serco, a company that has certainly been mentioned as carrying out these asylum claim interviews. What training and expertise does it have to carry them out? It really is, I suggest, quite ludicrous that a private company, be it Serco or any other, is being asked to carry out a quasi-legal process, which asylum claim interviews should be, under the aegis of a pilot programme. I hope the Minister will address the concerns that I and many Members of the House have on that issue.

I am conscious of time, and I want to allow the two other Front Benchers to speak. We keep being told that the asylum system is broken, yet the Government have had 10 years—over a decade. Does that mean that they have broken the system, and what are they going to do to fix it? I respectfully disagree with those who have signed the petition, and with all due respect to the hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken, I disagree with most of their remarks as well.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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It is a great pleasure to serve, once again, under your chairmanship, Sir David, which is, as the shadow Minister said, always infallible. I thank the shadow Minister for his balanced remarks in summing up. It is fair to say no one would ever accuse him of being a Trotskyite, sadly something that one cannot say about every Member of his parliamentary party.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) on securing the debate and presenting it on behalf of more than 100,000 petitioners, a majority of whom, we discovered, come from Redcar and Cleveland. My hon. Friend laid out a compelling, passionate and well-articulated description of why illegal immigration is a huge problem for our country. It undermines the rule of law, it undermines legal and safe routes, and it renders purposeless the routes that we, as a Parliament, have developed to decide who comes into the country and who does not. All those are undermined.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) powerfully and passionately pointed out that immigration can be an enormous force for good, when done within the rule of law. His own family story, which he set out, is a moving and powerful illustration of the enormous contribution that legal migration can make to our society, strengthening and contributing to it, as his father and his whole family have done. Our country is better, stronger and richer, in every sense, for the contribution made by my hon. Friend’s family and millions like them, who have made their home here legally.

Illegal migration undermines all of that. It undermines public confidence in the system, it puts immigration in a negative rather than positive light, and it makes it much harder to allow legal immigration if the whole system is undermined. In all honesty, we must admit that the small-boats crisis that has unfolded this summer is a sad and appalling example of illegal immigration undermining confidence in our system. The Government find it completely unacceptable and we are determined to stop it. We make no apology at all for saying that.

Illegal immigration is unacceptable for three reasons: it is dangerous, illegal and unnecessary. That it is dangerous is powerfully demonstrated by the tragic death earlier today, or yesterday, of a man believed to be aged between 20 and 40, and the sad death a few weeks ago of a Sudanese gentlemen aged 26. Those sad deaths in the channel demonstrate how dangerous the crossings are. We have a moral and a compassionate duty to prevent those crossings.

Secondly, these crossings are illegal. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) suggested the contrary, but let me say clearly that it is illegal to enter the country without leave under section 24(1)(a) of the Immigration Act 1971. The hon. Gentleman referred to provisions in article 31 of the refugee convention that say an entry to a country for the purposes of claiming asylum should not be a criminalised if someone has come “directly” from a dangerous territory. I submit that France is not a dangerous territory, and therefore the prohibition in article 31 of the refugee convention 1951, renewed by the 1967 protocol, does not apply. France is not dangerous and these crossings are categorically illegal.

They are not only dangerous and illegal, but unnecessary. Anyone wishing to claim asylum, or genuinely wishing to seek protection, can do so in one of the safe countries previously passed through. Clearly, there is France—everybody who crosses on a small boat has been in France—and typically people will have travelled through other countries, often including Germany, Italy, Spain and others. There will have been ample opportunities to claim asylum and protection previously. There may be reasons why people might prefer to claim asylum in the United Kingdom, such as the language, but those are not reasons of protection. Those are choices rather than a necessity. We should be clear: these journeys are not necessary for the purpose of securing protection.

I will come to the compassionate and safe routes in a moment. Before I do, let me briefly talk about some of the things that we are doing to prevent these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings. We are working with our colleagues in France on developing ever-increasing tactics to try to prevent the crossings. The French have been deploying larger numbers of gendarmes, police aux frontiers, brigades mobiles de recherche and others in northern France, and that is yielding fruit. This weekend, large numbers of interceptions have been made to prevent embarkations. On Saturday, just two days ago, the French police intercepted 220 people who were attempting a crossing. Yesterday, on Sunday, the French authorities intercepted 211 people. Only 62 got across, so the French successfully intercepted about 70% to 80% of the people who attempted a crossing. I pay tribute to them for the law enforcement work that they have been doing.

We have appointed a clandestine channel threat commander to co-ordinate United Kingdom activities—Dan O’Mahoney, a former Royal Marine, entered his post in August—and we are doing huge amounts of law enforcement work. We have so far this year made 89 arrests of people who committed offences in that regard, and we have disrupted 24 organised immigration crime groups that have been facilitating cross-channel traffic. A huge amount of work has been going on, and let me say that we intend to intensify and increase that activity. We intend to legislate next year to tighten up our system, but the legislation will have two elements to it. It will be firm, because it will take tough action against illegal immigration, but it will also be fair, in the sense that it will provide safe legal routes for genuine refugees.

Let me say a few words about the work that the United Kingdom has done so far on those safe legal routes. Since 2015, we have run a resettlement programme whereby we have taken people from conflict areas—for example, around Syria—and brought them directly to the United Kingdom. Rather than seeing people come from France, Italy or Greece, which are safe European countries—that is what the Dubs amendment did, by the way—we have gone directly to conflict zones, where people are in genuine danger, and brought them here. In that five-year period, 25,000 people have been brought directly to the United Kingdom. Over the five years, our resettlement programme is larger than any other European country’s resettlement programme.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised some points about that. I must say that I agree with him, in the sense that the resettlement programme focused, as Members will understand, largely on people of Syrian nationality. It did not reflect the pre-conflict population of Syria, because Christians were severely underrepresented. The hon. Member for Strangford and I led a debate back in July 2019 on the persecution that Christians suffer around the world. Indeed, Christians are the most persecuted group of any, globally, and I would like to see our future resettlement activity better reflect the persecution that Christians suffer around the world.

We offer many other legal and safe routes. We offer family reunion routes, which I think the hon. Member for Glasgow South West referred to. Even as we most likely leave the Dublin regulations in two and half months, the United Kingdom’s immigration rules provide for the family reunion of children joining their parents and, where compassionate and compelling circumstances exist and where the child’s best interest is served, reunion with aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings. That safe and legal family reunion route does exist, can be used and is used.

Last year, we received roughly 3,700 applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country. We are currently looking after more than 5,000 UASCs. Both those numbers are higher than the equivalent figures for any other European country, including Greece. People talk about the Dubs amendment and bringing UASCs from Italy to the UK, but we already look after more UASCs than either Italy or Greece does. We do it very well—we look after them extremely well.

The shadow Minister mentioned overseas aid. We have not abolished overseas aid; we have merged it with the Foreign Office so that better co-ordination is possible. Since he mentions overseas aid, it is worth putting on record that we are the only G8 country to meet 0.7% of gross national income as spending on overseas aid. That amounted last year to some £14 billion. Not only do we have the top direct resettlement numbers of any European country and not only do we welcome more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children than any other European country; we are also the only European country to meet that 0.7% of GNI target. So anyone who suggests that the United Kingdom is not a generous and welcoming country is clearly not apprised of those facts.

However, with the compassion and fairness for which this country is famous, and which it will continue to demonstrate, comes an obligation to be firm on illegal immigration, for the reasons that my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich, for Wakefield, for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and for Redcar (Jacob Young) outlined so persuasively. I am afraid there is a lot more work to do, because our system is in many respects broken. It is possible for people who should not be in this country, including dangerous foreign national offenders, to submit very late claims that are essentially vexatious, with the purpose of preventing their removal. I have become painfully aware in my six months, so far, as one of the two Immigration Ministers, of a number of cases in which very dangerous foreign national offenders have repeatedly—five, six or seven times—over a number of years, at the last minute before the moment of removal or deportation, lodged claims that are subsequently found by the court to be wholly without merit. None the less they succeeded in frustrating the removal. We need to legislate to prevent that kind of abuse, because it brings our system into disrepute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich mentioned a recent flight that was due to return to Spain, as required by the Dublin regulation—the European Union’s own regulation—people who had tried to claim asylum here having claimed asylum there previously, when a slew of last-minute legal claims, many of which subsequently proved to be without merit, caused the flight to be cancelled. Such abuse of the legal process—and I will be direct; it is, frankly, abuse—is not something that the Government are prepared to countenance any more. Therefore we shall legislate next year to fix that problem and other problems.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I want to take the Minister back to the subject of foreign nationals—particularly the criminal aspect of the matter. He makes a fair point, but does he agree that it is not the fault of so-called do-gooders and lawyers? Does he agree that the Government need to roll back on the rhetoric that we have heard from them against lawyers who represent asylum seekers?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Lawyers are clearly entitled—indeed, obliged—to represent their clients to the best of their ability, but there have been examples, including what was reported by The Times last week, of immigration lawyers encouraging their clients to make vexatious claims. In the example reported by The Times last week the Solicitors Regulation Authority quite properly took disciplinary action against those solicitors. We sometimes hear lawyers talking about pursuing politics through the courts, and that is not helpful.

Of course I accept that barristers, solicitors and other representatives are obliged and entitled to represent their clients to the best of their ability within the law, but last-minute meritless claims that are designed to frustrate the process do not help the system at all, and we need to put things on a better legislative footing to prevent the legal abuse that there has been. However, I of course do not dispute, as I have said, the right of lawyers to represent their clients to the best of their ability. Indeed, they are obliged to do so.

I do not wish to detain Members longer, given that the main event is happening on the Floor of the House as we speak. Let me reiterate that the Government are determined to protect our borders, determined to end these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings, and determined to end illegal immigration, but at the same time we are determined to ensure that we are fair and compassionate, and that those who genuinely need our protection around the world receive it.

Channel Crossings in Small Boats

Debate between Chris Stephens and Chris Philp
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments. We understand and share the anger that his constituents feel, and he is a very effective advocate for them. We are doing work at the moment at pace to develop legislative options to achieve the outcome he desires, which is to properly control our borders.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Unlike the ghastly rhetoric we have heard from some on the Government Benches, the Minister is well aware that refugee charities have asked the Government to protect trafficked women detained in hotels in Glasgow, a call that has fallen on deaf ears, and the same campaigners are calling for the Government to create safe, legal routes for asylum seekers, but instead we get a shameful response. Not doing enough to help refugees is inhumane and indefensible.

When will the Minister and the Department end their dangerous rhetoric and the hostile environment, and start treating refugees detained in hotels or on boats in the channel with respect, dignity and compassion?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No one is detained in a hotel: they are given free hotel accommodation. In relation to modern slavery, the national referral mechanism provides extremely comprehensive protection to those people who have suffered from the appalling crime of modern slavery.

Covid-19: Support and Accommodation for Asylum Seekers

Debate between Chris Stephens and Chris Philp
Monday 29th June 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I can categorically confirm that. The safety of our citizens is this Government’s highest priority. Where people, including asylum seekers, commit very serious offences, we will take appropriate action through the criminal justice system. But if someone who has been granted asylum commits a very serious offence, we are able, consistent with the refugee convention, to seek to remove that person. If somebody comes here and accepts our welcome and our hospitality but then commits a very serious criminal offence, endangering the public, it is right that that person should be eligible for removal, as allowed by the law.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words to the people of Glasgow. It was a tragic and horrific scene, and it was a traumatic experience for those injured and those caught up in it who were living in the hotel, many of whom have had traumatic experiences in their lives, coming from war-torn countries or as trafficked women. I thank the Minister for committing to a meeting—the quicker the better, as far as I am concerned. I ask this question in general terms, not about the incident on Friday. Can he confirm what Mears confirmed in a press conference on Thursday morning: that those who were placed in hotel accommodation did not have a vulnerability risk assessment? Does he think it is right that trafficked women have been in hotels for 12 months?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The 321 people moved into hotel accommodation in Glasgow have been there for around three months. As I said, work is under way, including this afternoon, between Home Office officials and Glasgow City Council to get them moved back into more regular accommodation as soon as is logistically possible. In terms of risk assessments, I mentioned before that all asylum seekers are interviewed at great length, including about various vulnerabilities, at the point when their asylum claim is made. In terms of ongoing vulnerability assessments, perhaps when people are being moved from A to B, I will have to look into that and get back to the hon. Gentleman.

Covid-19: Asylum Seeker Services in Glasgow

Debate between Chris Stephens and Chris Philp
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I was just about to come to that point. When the decision was taken on 27 March to suspend the cessation of support policy—I am grateful that Opposition Members welcomed that move—it was announced as being effective until the end of June. To be clear, no eviction notices have been issued. We are going through the process of thinking carefully about how we transition back to a more normal state of affairs as the coronavirus epidemic abates, and we are doing that in a thoughtful and considered way. We are thinking carefully about all the angles, and we will talk to the relevant authorities, including local government, and take public health advice seriously. This matter is being considered and thought about carefully, and we will proceed in a careful way that gives proper attention to the various considerations. As I hope Members will have seen from our decision, we are determined to be responsible and careful in the way we handle this issue, and I believe our conduct has reflected that.

Let me say a word about the implications of our decision. Although we suspended the cessation policy, we still have intake because people are still claiming asylum. Either they present as cases under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, or they make fresh claims for asylum. Those claims are not at the level they were before coronavirus, but the level is still quite high. The number of people who are being accommodated in asylum support is going up a lot. Indeed, in the past 10 weeks, it has risen by about 4,000—a significant number. We are working night and day to find accommodation for those extra 4,000 people, and the numbers are going up on a weekly basis. Members will understand that trying to find extra emergency accommodation is difficult, particularly in the middle of a pandemic, but we have done it. We have risen to the challenge, and I thank local authorities, and Home Office officials, for their tremendous work in finding those 4,000 extra places at short notice and in difficult circumstances.

Some questions were asked specifically about the city of Glasgow, which is well represented in the Chamber this evening. As the hon. Member for Glasgow South West said, a decision was taken in late March in relation to 321—he said 300—people who were in temporary serviced apartments. For a variety of reasons, it was decided that those apartments were not appropriate in the context of the coronavirus epidemic—they were not safe to stay in, and as a consequence, people were moved into hotel accommodation. Let me be clear that that is a temporary measure and is categorically not permanent. As soon as circumstances allow, if those people are still receiving asylum support, they will be returned to the sort of accommodation they were in previously.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned cash savings. Over the past 10 weeks, the additional cost of accommodating those extra 4,000 people has run into tens of millions of pounds, and possibly more than that. I assure him that no cost saving is being made anywhere in that part of the Home Office budget. The hotels provide three meals a day that meet dietary requirements. In terms of cultural sensitivity, Korans and prayer mats are provided, and during Ramadan, late evening and early morning food is provided for those who observe it.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned connectivity. Each room has a TV and, critically, wi-fi, and 24-hour reception staff are available, as are translation services and staggered meal times to cater for social distancing. There is full access to the building for cleaning and repairs. Laundry facilities are available on site; there is space for NHS staff and medical consultation, and full provision of things such as towels, soaps, sanitiser, bed linen, toiletries, and feminine hygiene products—all those things are provided. If any areas require further attention, the hon. Gentleman is welcome to write to me and I will happily address those matters.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I have only a minute left, but I will take a quick intervention from the hon. Gentleman who secured the debate.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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Will the Minister commit to meet Glasgow MPs, because there are major discrepancies between what he is saying, and what we are being told? I would be obliged if he would meet us.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Of course—I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to discuss any specific concerns. It would be helpful if he could write to me in advance to lay those concerns out in writing, so that I can come with answers, rather than reply off the cuff. If he writes to me first, I would be happy subsequently to meet him and go through his specific concerns.

This country takes its responsibilities very seriously. As I said, we granted 20,000 asylum and protection orders last year, and we have one of the biggest overseas aid budgets in the world. We can be proud of our record, and I am happy to stand here and defend it this evening.

Question put and agreed to.