Immigration Bill — Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge 9:00 pm, 1st April 2014

My Lords, I want to add just a word or two with reference to Amendment 16, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, which would insert a new provision dealing with “the best interests of children”. In supplement to what he said, the Supreme Court has paid a lot of attention over the four years of its existence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which this country is a signatory. Almost at every opportunity where the issue has arisen, it has stressed the need to promote the best interests of children in dealing with immigration issues, so the point is of some general importance.

The point I wish to draw to the Minister’s attention concerns proposed new Section 117A(2), inserted by Clause 18, which contains the phrase:

“In considering the public interest question, the court or tribunal must … have regard”— to the provisions that follow. Those words remind one of the words in Section 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The noble and learned Lord may recall that there is some debate going on as to the extent to which the courts in this country must feel themselves bound by decisions of the Strasbourg court or whether in performing the Section 2 duty of having regard to—I think the wording of the Act is “take into account”—they can rate what they see and weigh it up but not necessarily feel themselves bound to follow it. The question is: which of these two alternative lines is the Minister contemplating by the use of the phrase “must have regard to”? Is this something that is in the form of a duty, which gives no leeway to the court and therefore it must follow the language precisely as it finds it in the succeeding subsections, or is it, as some people would say about the Strasbourg court, that one can see what is said but there is room for manoeuvre at the same time?

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, explained the point very clearly. When one is considering any public interest considerations that involve children, one will have regard to the existing jurisprudence, the convention rights and so on. The fact that children are not mentioned expressly, except in the very helpful new clause coming in via Amendment 58, does not mean that the court cannot have regard to their best interests. If the Minister would confirm that, that would be extremely helpful, given the nature of the language in proposed new Section 117A(2).

As I hope the noble and learned Lord will appreciate, there will be some read-across from the way the jurisprudence has developed with reference to the Human Rights Act to how one starts the whole exercise that this new clause is dealing with. It is really very important to be clear about how one approaches the entire package in understanding the various criticisms that have been made.