New Clause 49 - Disclosure of international agreements for prevention of unlawful border crossings

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 4 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:45, 4 Tachwedd 2021

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Through new clause 49, we hope to shed light on some of the murkiness that has existed in the Home Office in relation to agreements reached with agencies and other Governments to prevent unlawful border crossings and dangerous journeys. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to disclose the contents of any agreements with any international Governments or agencies reached in order to prevent unlawful border crossings, and for this information to be laid before Parliament within three months of any such agreement being entered into. This would mean that, for example, information pertaining to the UK-French agreement to tackle dangerous crossings in the English channel in July could be properly understood and scrutinised, including the use of £54 million of taxpayers’ money.

Information about that agreement and its impact has been limited, and although information has been limited, the confusion has been clear for all to see. There have been conflicting briefings between the British and French authorities regarding the use of £54 million of British taxpayers’ money. There have been reports, for example, that the UK is threatening to withhold the money. The Home Secretary appeared before the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee last week and this question was asked. The Home Secretary stated that the agreement is “based on results”, and includes preventing people getting to beaches, intelligence sharing, policing operations around the Belgian-French border, and technology.

For more than two years, the Home Secretary has repeatedly committed to stopping channel crossings in small boats by making the route unviable, yet unprecedented numbers of people have made the journey in this period, including a staggering 20,000 this year alone. Clearly, if we are working with the French authorities to disrupt people smuggling gangs and prevent dangerous crossings, it does not seem to be working very well, and parliamentary scrutiny of how taxpayers’ money is being spent is important if we are to learn more about the Home Secretary’s plans and why they have once again failed to deliver. For example, has anything been paid to France? Is the agreement for payment by results? If so, what are the metrics? How can we scrutinise whether this is value for money, or whether that money could be better spent elsewhere? It seems astonishing that the Home Secretary can just be given £54 million of public money to spend, but we do not know what on. There must be some accountability for that to Parliament.

I am sure all members of the Committee would agree that we need a strategy that includes tackling criminal gangs operating away from the coast of France, which are facilitating these dangerous crossings. Targeting those groups requires international co-operation, but the Bill does not lend itself to international co-operation. As we know, it effectively washes the UK’s hands of our international obligations under international human rights and maritime law. We have also heard at length from the Opposition about the importance of safe and legal routes to prevent people from undertaking these crossings in the first place, something the Government continue to neglect, with tragic consequences.

In summary, the Opposition’s new clause 49 hopes to probe unanswered questions about the Home Office’s operations and use of taxpayers’ funds. If accepted, it would require the Secretary of State to disclose the contents of any agreements with international Governments or agencies entered into to prevent unlawful border crossings, and to present that information to Parliament.