Government makes concessions as it wins 18 votes, but Labour says they do not offer enough
Image credit: UK GovernmentAs expected, the Government successfully won all votes in the Commons as all of the Lords' amendments to the Bill were rejected by MPs.
A series of 18 divisions took place over 3.5 hours.
The joint closest division of the day saw MPs vote by 284 to 242 to reject the amendment by the Lords to limit the detention of unaccompanied children. 15 Conservative MPs voted for the amendment and against the Government.
In what is known as ping pong, the Bill now returns again to the Lords.
The Government did, however, make a number of concessions to the Lords and Conservative rebels, including on detention for children and pregnant women, on modern slavery, and on the Bill applying retrospectively from its introduction rather than when it becomes law.
On the concessions made on detention, the immigration minister Robert Jenrick told the Commons yesterday: "Detention has attracted a great deal of interest from Members from all parts of the House, as indeed it did in the other place. … Lords amendments 31 and 35 to 38 seek to restore the existing 24-hour limit on the detention of unaccompanied children and the 72-hour limit on the detention of pregnant women. I recognise that there are particular sensitivities around the detention of those cohorts, and we debated those at some length in earlier proceedings in this House. Recognising the health concerns around the detention of pregnant women and the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children, we have brought forward amendments in lieu that maintain the existing 72-hour limit, extendable up to a week with ministerial authorisation, on the detention of pregnant women, and that enable the first-tier tribunal to consider granting immigration bail after eight days for unaccompanied children, rather than the 28 days provided for in the Bill."
The concession on retrospectivity means the duty on the Home Secretary to swiftly remove a person arriving in the UK without permission will only apply to those who arrive after the Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law rather than after its introduction on 7 March.
Robert Jenrick said: "I turn to the first issue of substance, which is Lords amendment 2. That would provide that the duty to make arrangements for removal applied to persons who entered illegally from the date of commencement of clause 2, rather than on or after 7 March 2023, as originally provided for in the Bill. We acknowledge the position advanced by some in the other place and in this House about the retrospective effect of the Bill, but these Lords amendments go too far in resetting the clock. The closer we get to commencement of the Bill, the greater the risk that organised criminals and people smugglers will seek to exploit that, and we will see an increase in crossings as the deadline looms, which would only put more people at risk. To guard against that, we have brought forward amendments in lieu to move the application of the duty from 7 March to the date of Royal Assent. The date of 7 March, however, would continue to apply for the purpose of the Secretary of State's power to provide accommodation for unaccompanied children and for the purposes of the bans on re-entry, settlement and citizenship."
A division in the Commons on Lords amendment 56 regarding modern slavery was equal closest of the day, being rejected by 285 votes to 243. Sixteen Conservative MPs voted against the Government.
In response to strong criticism, including from former prime minister Theresa May, over the Bill's impact on victims of modern slavery, the Government committed to bringing forward new statutory guidance.
The immigration minister said the guidance is being drafted and told MPs: "The operation of the exception for potential victims of modern slavery to remain in the United Kingdom for the purpose of co-operating with law enforcement agencies in connection with the investigation of a trafficking offence will be subject to statutory guidance. The guidance will provide that an individual who has arrived in the UK illegally and has a positive reasonable grounds decision based on an incident that has taken place in the UK, will be afforded 30 days from that positive decision to confirm that they will co-operate with an investigation relating to their exploitation. They will not be removed within that period, which accords them with protections that are equivalent to those set out in the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Should they continue to co-operate with such an investigation, they will continue to be entitled to the support and protections of the [National Referral Mechanism]. Should further time be required in addition to the 30 days, that period is extendable so that the police and the victim have the time necessary to ensure that traffickers are brought to justice."
Theresa May said the Government's concession offered only limited change in guidance and not in the Bill. She added: "The Government want to deny certain victims of modern slavery support, which will deeply damage the operation of the Modern Slavery Act. The alternative is to let Lords amendment 56 stand. If the Government persist in disagreeing with Lords amendment 56, I will have to persist in disagreeing with the Government."
During the debate, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock spoke in support of amendments made by the Lords and said the Government's concessions do not offer enough. Kinnock said the Bill had been brought forward against a "backdrop of crisis and chaos" in the asylum system and it would only make a terrible situation worse.
Kinnock told the Commons: "Far from cleaning up the awful mess that has built up over 13 years of ineptitude, it will simply grow the backlog, increase the cost and ensure that people smugglers are laughing all the way to the bank.
"At the heart of the Bill are two instructions to the Government—to detain and remove every asylum seeker who comes to the UK via irregular routes—but with our asylum accommodation capacity already at breaking point, where on earth will the Home Secretary detain them? And with her unworkable Rwanda plan in tatters and with negotiations with the EU on a successor to the Dublin regulation nowhere to be seen, where on earth is she going to remove them to? We therefore commend the work of all the Lords and Baronesses who have sought to improve this profoundly flawed and counterproductive Bill. They really had their work cut out for them, given that the Government were defeated a staggering 20 times in the other place."