Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 18th May 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 5:09 pm, 18th May 2021

My Lords, the new plan for immigration will, we are told, increase the asylum system’s “fairness and efficacy”. We certainly need more fairness and efficacy, but the Law Society and refugee and human rights groups warn that this plan spells the opposite, with

“dire consequences for children and young people”,

according to the Children’s Society.

I can do no better than to cite the UNHCR’s devastating critique. This

“discriminatory two-tiered approach … will undermine the 1951 Convention and international protection system, not just in the UK, but globally.”

A commitment to resettlement and improved safe and legal pathways, which are urgently needed but for which there is no detail, cannot,

“substitute for or absolve a State of its obligations towards persons seeking asylum at its borders”.

The inferior temporary protection status offered to irregular entrants who stay in the UK is incompatible with international refugee law. We are told that the

“human consequences …will be very serious’.

The UNHCR has offered to work with the Government

“to adopt a more sensible, humane and legally sound” approach. Could the Minister tell us the Government’s response to this offer, how their plan will work, given the reported refusal of all EU countries to co-operate, and what are the plans to open up safe routes?

More positive is the commitment to correct what is described as

“historical anomalies in British Nationality law which have long prevented individuals from gaining British citizenship or registering for citizenship, through no fault of their own.”

This is a real injustice suffered by the children of British Overseas Territory citizens of a certain age, denied citizenship simply because their parents were not married. It should have been rectified years ago.

With regard to registering for citizenship, there has been a long-standing concern across the House about the barriers faced by children who were born or have grown up in the UK who have to register their entitlement to citizenship because of their parents’ immigration status. In February, the Court of Appeal ruled that the exorbitant fee is unlawful because it was set without consideration of the best interests of the child. Can the Minister assure us that the consequent Section 55 best interests assessment will be published, and say when?

This shameful policy reflects the failure to put children’s best interests at the heart of policy-making. Twice during the Queen’s Speech debate, ministerial responses have ignored calls for a Cabinet-level Minister for children. I trust this will not happen today. Among other things, such a Minister would help to ensure that children are treated as a priority for the levelling-up agenda.

Given the prominence of that agenda, it is incomprehensible, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has commented, that there is no sign of the employment Bill, which we were promised would protect and enhance workers’ rights. The Government have responded that the Bill will be introduced when the time is right. But surely, if we are to “build back better” from the pandemic, this parliamentary Session is exactly the right time: the right time to address endemic insecurity, especially among the lower paid; the right time to introduce promised leave, which needs to be paid, for around 5 million informal carers who juggle paid work and care and who have borne such a heavy burden during the pandemic; and the right time to reform shared parental leave, so as to ensure greater paternal involvement, as mothers have paid the price during the pandemic due to increased childcare responsibilities. When will the responses to the long-standing consultations on both carers’ and parental leave finally be published?

The briefing note on the speech includes a welcome acknowledgement that levelling up involves living standards. This means that it must address poverty and in particular child poverty, which is worsening in terms of both numbers and depth. We need investment in what the Biden Administration term the “human infrastructure” of financial support. At a minimum, the Government should now commit to maintaining the £20 UC uplift and its extension to legacy and related benefits, and to improving support for children, given the mounting evidence of how families with children have suffered disproportionately over the past year. The forthcoming levelling up White Paper must address these issues—