James Sunderland backs the Bill’s key objectives, namely to increase the fairness of the immigration system to better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum, deter illegal entry into the UK and enable those with no right to be in the UK to be removed more easily.
Since I was elected to Parliament, one of the issues that I have been left in no doubt about whatsoever by many of my constituents is that the UK must take back control of its borders and deal with the tide of illegal immigration. We have all seen the sad and appalling scenes—images of asylum seekers making the perilous journey across the channel in small boats, on dangerous tides. Frankly, it is suicide, and it needs to stop, for all the reasons that have been debated today. The UK has shown itself over many years to be more than generous and hospitable, but there cannot be an indefinite blank cheque for those who come here illegally.
The Bill, as we know, has three main objectives. The first is to increase the fairness of the system—I emphasise the phrase “fairness of the system”—to better protect and support those in need of asylum. The Bill deters illegal entry into the United Kingdom, thereby breaking the business model of people-smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they wilfully endanger. The Bill also enables those with no right to be in the UK to be removed more easily. The UK’s legal immigration system is being reformed by the ending of free movement and the introduction of a new points-based immigration system. In my view, this Bill is intended to tackle illegal migration and asylum seekers and to control the UK borders, and it fulfils the manifesto promise that was made in 2019.
Let me set out some of the facts. The number of asylum seeker cases is growing. We must assess the current system and innovate to create a fairer and more efficient, modern system. There were 29,500 asylum applications in 2020 alone, and many more continue to arrive. Contrary to popular perception, the UK will continue to resettle genuine refugees directly from regions of conflict and instability. That has protected over 25,000 people in the last six years, more than any other European country.
The proposals in the Bill will rightly create a differentiated approach. How someone arrives in the UK will impact the type of status they are granted in the UK if their asylum claim is successful. Ministers rightly argue that that approach will discourage irregular entry into the UK, such as entry across the channel via small boats, as we have discussed, which, again, increased significantly in 2020.
Even on its own terms, that will not work. There is not a shred of evidence in the world that tinkering with the asylum system discourages people from coming to claim asylum. In fact, parts of the Bill are already in force, including the six-month palming off of complaints, and of course we already have Napier and Penally barracks, yet still the number of crossings continues to rise. It just will not work. People will still come. They will not be put off coming to Britain; they will just be put off claiming asylum because of how bloody awful this Government are making the system.
I am pretty clear that the Bill is designed to do exactly what I said it is designed to do. What we have to do is disincentivise the ongoing passage across the channel. We have to break the cycle. If asylum seekers know that entering the UK illegally via that method is not going to result in a successful claim for asylum, then it may stop. That will also discourage those gangs from wilfully imposing their own selfishness on these vulnerable people.
Let me move on to immigration enforcement. The Australian experience has shown what can be done legally and fairly with state intervention. The Bill will provide our border force with additional powers to search unaccompanied containers located in ports for the presence of illegal migrants. It will seize and dispose of vessels intercepted and encountered, including disposal through donation to charity if appropriate, and it will stop and divert vessels suspected of carrying illegal migrants to the UK, and, subject to the agreement of the relevant country, such as France, return them to where their sea journey to the UK began. Almost all these migrants have passed through many other countries, which should by rights have offered them asylum, to get to the UK, which, clearly, people perceive to be a soft touch, and that has to end.
Currently, there are more than 109,000 asylum cases in the system, 52,000 of which were awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2020. Around 5,500 have an asylum appeal outstanding and approximately 41,000 cases are subject to removal action. These figures are completely outrageous and point not to any failure by the Home Office, but to the sheer numbers of people who continue to seek the UK as a soft touch. Doing nothing is no longer an option. I therefore welcome the measures outlined in the Bill, and I am clear that our current asylum system is unequivocally in need of reform.
In conclusion, this is not a moral or an emotional judgment, but a pragmatic one. Although I urge the Government to ensure that implementation is as humane, kind and hospitable as possible, as we have seen for many years, it is time for change and I shall be voting this Bill through tonight.