Andrew Mitchell supports efforts to stop people trafficking across the English Channel, but tells MPs that he believes the Rwanda scheme will not work and instead outlines four things the Government should do to solve the problem.
I draw the House’s attention to my registered interests.
I want to try to be constructive with the Minister this afternoon. I do not believe the Rwanda scheme will work, but I am full of good will towards the Home Secretary when it comes to trying to stop this ghastly, deathly channel trade. The Minister asks those who think that the scheme is impractical, ineffective and extraordinarily expensive what we would do. He is right to ask that, so let me try to answer.
There are four things we must do. The first, exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) said, is to employ more staff. We need to ensure that we process these asylum claims more rapidly. In Rwanda, it takes three months to process an asylum claim. We ought to have a much more streamlined system in this country, and ought to try to do away with all these lawyers, who extend and prolong the process unnecessarily. That is a point the Government should definitely address.
Secondly, we need to put right our dreadful relationship with France, our neighbour just 22 miles away. The relationship is not what it should be. There are plenty of senior officials and people of good will who have a much better relationship with France, and we need to address that point and repair the relationship. Nothing can be achieved in tackling this evil trade without our having a far better understanding with France. We need, if not its active support, then its passive acquiescence at the very least in the measures that need to be taken.
Thirdly, we need safe and legal routes. I asked the Minister to set out what those routes are, and of course he was not able to.
Does my right hon. Friend share the concern that many of us have who wish to see the Government succeed in their endeavours, which is that the legal test for anyone opposing immigration control is not that there are safe and legal routes in general, but that a person specifically had access to a safe and legal route but chose not to use it, which may undermine some of the objectives we wish to see? Safe and legal routes need to be much broader if they are going to work as an effective tool as part of this policy.
My hon. Friend absolutely puts his finger on the point, and he knows of what he speaks because he has dealt with these matters a senior councillor.
It was Lord Kirkhope who amended the Bill in the other place. He was Home Secretary Michael Howard’s Immigration Minister, and I think he holds the record as the Immigration Minister who has deported the most people needing to be deported from Britain. He also knows of what he speaks, and he made it clear that if we do not have safe and legal routes, we will not be able to make this system work. By definition, if we do not have such routes, anyone arriving on our shores will be arriving illegally, and that point needs to be addressed.
The fourth and final thing that needs to happen is that we need a new international convention. The 1951 convention, which Britain played a big part in setting up, is now completely out of date. That is because, since then, as colleagues will appreciate, there has been a revolution in travel. We also now have the tremendous push of climate change, which is pushing migration up very high. So we need a new international convention. I put this point to the Prime Minister on 25 July last year, and he described it as an “excellent point”, but I fear that since then nothing has been done. Britain needs to use its leverage and its experience at the United Nations as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, and it also needs to use its brilliant diplomatic experience and knowledge to negotiate a new convention.
Those are the four key things that have to happen, and I hope the Minister will consider them before embarking on a scheme that, as I say, is impractical, ineffective and extraordinarily expensive. Rwanda is a safe country and a beacon of stability in Africa, but we should not export our problems in this way to a country that already tries to do its very best to help people who are caught up in humanitarian jeopardy.
Could my hon. Friend set out for the House what the safe and legal routes are, apart from the now closed route from Syria, the route under the scheme from Afghanistan and the current Ukraine scheme?
In terms of various schemes, as I say, we have a rich and proud history in this country of providing sanctuary to people from around the world who require it. That has included 40,000 people being sorted out through the family reunion route, 20,000 Syrians and 100,000 Hong Kongers. Also, 20,000 Afghans are eligible to come and 60,000 Ukrainians so far have had visas granted. I think that is a record that we can be very proud of as a Government, and it is one we will continue to build on in the years ahead.