22 March 2022
Andrew Mitchell speaks in the debate on the Lords amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill

Andrew Mitchell welcomes efforts to improve the immigration system, but speaks in support of amendments to the Bill that would reduce the time before an asylum seeker can work to six months, improve the safe and legal route options for people fleeing terror and persecution, and recruit more civil servants instead of expensive ‘offshoring’.

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

I take a rather different view from the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). I draw the House’s attention to my outside interests. I also want to make it clear that I think this is a most important piece of legislation and I completely agree with the aims of the Home Office. I congratulate the Home Secretary on her vigorous attempts to remedy a serious problem.

I want to raise three brief points. First, I point out to the House that when the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) agree so clearly, the Government should think carefully about whether they can move on the issue of 12 months coming down to six months.

The two Lords amendments I particularly want to raise, which would improve the Bill, are those tabled by Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate. They should be given very serious consideration. Lord Kirkhope was the Immigration Minister under Michael Howard, the former Home Secretary in John Major’s Government. Both are much respected and on the right of the Conservative party. Our former colleague Lord Kirkhope’s views are an important contribution to this debate. Furthermore, he has a long-standing interest and expertise in the handling of population movement in Europe from Calais to Moscow.

On amendment 11, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has already made clear the huge benefits that would come in if it were agreed to. It is designed to break the people-smugglers’ business model. The Government are quite right: people fleeing terror and persecution should only come here by safe and legal routes. We will only stop people in desperation coming over the channel—that is, set up the settlement pathway the Home Office rightly refers to and break the smugglers’ model—if, first, we have accessible and meaningful numbers, and, secondly, we are not restricted to one geographic area. The Home Office confirms that 87% of the 28,000 arriving illicitly in 2021 came from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, for whom there is currently no alternative legal and safe route to which they can apply to get to the United Kingdom. Endorsing resettlement is central to the Government’s new approach set out in the “New Plan for Immigration”, but Ministers have yet to bring forward any provision in legislation that would see the necessary safe and legal routes made available.

It is rarely popular among Conservatives to talk of specific targets. Any figure can be changed up or down by the Government to reflect international circumstances. I fear that we must do so if the Government’s laudable aim of stemming the dangerous flow of desperate people across the channel, exploited by evil traffickers, is to stop. The figure of 10,000 suggested by Lord Kirkhope equates to 15 per parliamentary constituency, or five families per local authority. The amendment makes it clear that this is inclusive of, not in addition to, the Afghan refugees, and having a target would enable local authorities to plan in a co-ordinated manner, as we have heard, and avoid the current system where so many Afghans whom we want to help are waiting to move out of inappropriate accommodation.

On amendment 9 and offshoring, this is the issue that Lord Kirkhope looked at so comprehensively before and reluctantly rejected. The Home Office is asking Parliament to grant it this power when it has no idea of where it would exercise it, when it could exercise it or if it can exercise it. We know that it would be incredibly expensive. Judged by the cost of Australian offshoring, the British taxpayer would face unprecedented costs per asylum seeker. It would be much cheaper to put each one in the Ritz and send all the under-18s to Eton. That would cost a great deal less than what is proposed. Much more sensible is to recruit and train several hundred new civil servants to process these claims more rapidly and, yes, to crack down on an over-lengthy appeals process exploited through unscrupulous lawyers.