Amendment 25

Nationality and Borders Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:28 pm on 28 February 2022.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering:

Moved by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering

25: Clause 11, page 13, line 33, leave out “a refugee is a Group 1” and insert “a person is a”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment ensures equality of treatment by removing the distinction between Group 1 and Group 2 refugees.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, when I tabled these amendments, I had sought to seek a greater reassurance from my noble friend the Minister than I achieved in Committee. Obviously, I realise, given the result of the last few votes, it may be that Amendment 28, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and others, will find greater favour with the House. However, I shall take this opportunity to set out my opposition in principle to what the Government are seeking to do here: it is not just the fact that two groups are being created, but the way in which those two groups will be treated differently.

Perhaps the most offensive provision in Clause 11 is subsection (5). The Explanatory Notes refer to it as

“differential treatment of refugees based on their group. Differences may, for example, apply in terms of the duration of their permission to remain in the UK, the availability of routes to settlement, the ability to have recourse to public funds, and the ability of family members to join them in the UK. There is no obligation for these powers to be exercised and discretion may be applied.”

The greatest difficulty that I have is that it is not clear that there will be discretion or, indeed, how that discretion will be applied.

I hate to say it to my noble friend, but I find it offensive that this differential between groups 1 and 2 has been created. In taking the two groups out and substituting the general term “person”, I draw attention to Amendment 27, which asks for “reasonable discretion” to be exercised. I believe that is the key to all the amendments before us. This comes directly from the advice that I have received from the Law Society of Scotland as to how the provision will apply, if the original clause is left unamended. It says:

“We take the view that how a person enters the UK should not impact on family reunion. Safe and legal routes have been reduced since the UK left the European Union with the removal of the Dublin III Regulation. This provision appears to be actually reducing the prospect of families using one of only the two safe and legal routes the Asylum seeker has i.e., refugee family reunion – the other being UNHCR resettlement. Fewer safe and legal routes are likely to result in more unsafe and perilous journeys.”

Given the new situation arising daily in Ukraine, and the dreadful humanitarian crisis that we see there, I hope that the Government will resist the provisions in the clause and look favourably on my amendments and think again—but I fear that perhaps the House will favour the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, but we need to do a belt-and-braces job here. I am afraid we have to go back to the issue of compatibility and “Oh yes it is; oh no it isn’t.”

In Clause 11, we are introducing something entirely new. This two-class categorisation of refugees—the real refugees who came direct and the class 2 refugees who did not—is not anywhere in the refugee convention. None of that is in the refugee convention. The Government say that it is all perfectly compatible with the convention and assert that it is our right to interpret the convention in this new way, differently from the way that it has been interpreted up to now by our courts, differently from the way that the UNHCR, the custodian of the convention, interprets it in its authoritative judgment on our Bill, and differently from the way in which 146 signatory states interpret it.

We did the “Oh yes it is; oh no it is not” game at length in Committee and the Government stuck to their view, but I think it is fair to say that the Committee found it rather hard to understand the Government’s view. I wondered whether the Minister perhaps let the cat out of the bag when he told us:

“It may … be”— to be fair, he did put it tentatively—

“that a convention entered into in 1951 is not absolutely suitable for the world of 2022.”—[Official Report, 8/2/22; col. 1463.]

Tonight, we heard the Minister seeming to hint that it might be time to review the convention as if it was in some way out of date. I could not disagree more.

I refute the Minister’s contention in one word: Ukraine. Life itself—zhizn’ sama, as a Russian would say—refutes the Minister’s contention. In the world of 2022, we see these hundreds of thousands of people—now over 500,000, the UNHCR says—abandoning their homes, trudging the motorways, crowding on to the trains, fleeing the tanks and rockets, and streaming into Poland and Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania. Are they refugees? Yes, of course they are refugees, just like the Hungarians in 1956 and the Czechs in 1968. Are they entitled to refugee convention rights? Yes, of course they are. But if the Bill, including Clause 11, is enacted or had been enacted, any of them who wanted to come to this country could be only group 2 refugees, without full convention rights, because they had not come directly from Ukraine and could have asked for asylum in Poland or Hungary. That is even though there are no direct flights from Ukraine, and even though we say Ukrainians have to have visas to come here—although we do not issue visas to asylum seekers.

The key point for the House tonight is that there is nothing in the convention or, as I understand it, subject to correction from the legal authorities round me, anywhere in international law requiring an asylum seeker to apply in the first safe country they reach. This, the rationale for Clause 11, is a Home Office invention. The convention sets only one test: not how the refugee got here, but why. What was it that drove him to come here? Was it a well-founded fear of persecution back home? That is the question. But if Clause 11 is approved, that question or test becomes redundant and irrelevant because, no matter what horrors he is fleeing from, if a refugee did not come here directly he could be only a group 2 refugee, subject to the harsher regime, detention and offshore processing set out in all the subsequent clauses that we are also going to have to look at closely, in my view. This just will not do.

My concern is with the refugees but also for the reputational damage we do to ourselves, if we go down this road, and the practical consequences for the refugee convention. Suppose our new invention caught on and other countries started following suit. Well over 20 million refugees are in countries contiguous to their homelands—just across the border—and nearly all these countries are developing countries. Suppose the convention were in future to be interpreted by all and sundry to mean that the exiled Syrians and Iraqis must always stay just across the frontier in Lebanon or Jordan, and that the Afghans must always stay in Pakistan, but the developed world can wash its hands of these problems and leave it to the Jordans and Pakistans, because the refugees could never move on and obtain asylum elsewhere. The only places they could obtain asylum were in the Jordans and the Pakistans.

What would the consequences of that be? They would be disastrous for the first host country; there are 1.5 million people in Lebanon from Iraq and Syria, and more than that from Afghanistan in the camps around Peshawar in Pakistan. We would be saying that Pakistan and Jordan are going to be stuck with that for ever, as far as we are concerned. It would be disastrous for the refugees, too.

If this doctrine caught on—if it were the general reading of international law that first hosts had sole responsibility—anyone seeking to flee persecution would find the gates of freedom clanging shut in their face. If we leave Clause 11 in the Bill, we do not just betray our values and trash our reputation, we could kill the refugee convention, sadly, though we need it in the world of 2022 as much as ever. I propose that Clause 11 be deleted.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

My Lords, we had a long debate on this subject in Committee, so I shall be brief. We ought to remember throughout what the Bill was originally about. It is fundamentally about stopping, or curbing, the channel migrants. Obviously, we hope to do it in a sensible way. If we could have an agreement with the French, the Belgians or the Dutch to deal with this in a bipartisan way, that would be ideal, but none of us is very optimistic, particularly before a general election in France and so on.

We need other options: a plan B, or maybe a plan C. I agree that some of them stretch the credibility of what any Government would want to do, because the problem of the cross-channel migrants is indeed very difficult to deal with. You have to deal with them separately because, however sympathetic one may be with people in the hands of traffickers coming across the channel for whatever reason, it is a difficult way to come across. It is unsafe, they are clearly behaving illegally—it is against the law to enter this country in that way—and they are doing so in a very public way. Every night on television, you can see people coming across the channel and on to the beaches in Kent and so forth. They add to the number of people the Government have agreed to accept by proper routes—the Chinese from Hong Kong, the Afghans and, now, Ukrainians. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I hope we will have a generous scheme to allow Ukrainians who wish to come here to do so, just as I hope that Europe will have a generous scheme. I suspect and hope that they will come here only temporarily.

Coming across the channel is an open-ended and uncontrolled method and, if successful, encourages even more to come. Last year, 29,000 came; the prediction is that 60,000 will come this year. That is more money for the traffickers. The traffickers now make more money out of human beings than they do out of drugs, which will increasingly be the case. If we allow that to carry on uncontrolled, it makes it more difficult for local authorities, which have to deal with these people—housing them, making welfare arrangements, schooling their children and dealing with their families.

They add to the problems in the most disadvantaged parts of the country. It is not the leafy areas of Hampstead where these people end up; it is in places such as Blackpool, Stoke-on-Trent, Middlesbrough and Doncaster. I was talking to a red wall MP from the north-west. Blackpool has five of the eight poorest wards in the country; it has real problems. There is fury on the streets of Blackpool at the way they are being dumped on with people such as the migrants who come across the channel. They do not understand why they have to receive them.

The levelling-up agenda, which is central to this Government, is set at nought when that situation is arising in the areas of this country which need to be levelled up. It makes a proper, organised, rational immigration policy more difficult. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said in a previous debate, informed consent—the consent of the people—is essential for a rational, substantiated and long-term immigration policy. If we do not have a policy that people are comfortable with, in the long run, we will not sustain it.

It also makes it more difficult for the immigrants because, if they are dumped in a place such as Blackpool or some other city because there is nowhere else to go, it causes resentment among other people who find that they are pushed further down the council waiting list for a home. That is a problem.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke mentioned in a debate we had in Committee, if you do not deal with this problem, you run the risk of having real right-wing parties, as fortunately we have avoided in this country; we do not have a Le Pen or a Zemmour or the German equivalent of Alternative für Deutschland and all the rest of them. We do not have such a party in this country. We have managed to keep it within the bounds of the usual national parties. If there is no attempt to deal with this problem, that is a risk you run.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, also said that it goes outside the refugee convention and that there is no example anywhere in the world of this happening. But in Australia, of course, they are doing precisely this. We are trying to take that as a model. In Australia, 10 years ago, exactly this kind of legislation was passed. Since then, it has had the campaign to stop the boats, and it has been highly successful. Where there were 50,000 people a year going by boat into Darwin and so forth in the north of Australia, now there is none, and there has been none for many years. Both the major parties—the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia—support this policy because it is successful. That is, I imagine—I do not know as I am not privy to government thoughts on this matter—a possibly alternative if negotiations with the French is our main purpose and this is enacted.

There are examples in the world of highly successful policies which are presumably inside the refugee convention—I am not aware of Australia being sanctioned or penalised by the UNHCR. The facts are that this is an alternative which the Government are looking at. It is a difficult alternative—I agree that it is well beyond what Governments would normally look at—but, in these circumstances, the Government here are laying the legal framework for the possibility of enacting this. To take it out of the Bill would be hugely destructive and deeply irresponsible.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop 7:45, 28 February 2022

My Lords, if the names had not been filled on Amendment 28 then I would have added my name to it. I remind the House of my interests as set out in the register, both in RAMP and Reset.

In Committee I laid out the understanding of the two groupings proposed and argued that almost no one will actually qualify as being in group 1. I had no repudiation offered to that argument. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, Ukraine is currently illustrating the problem precisely. I was also concerned in the response to the debate in Committee by some of the language of discretion within the two groupings.

We need a simpler, more efficient asylum system, and I continue to be convinced that what is proposed will provide a more complex, slower process. Fundamentally, I am with all those who oppose the two-group system, as it creates a fundamental injustice for fair treatment of all refugees, regardless of how they arrive.

Today, a letter signed by over 1,000 leaders from all the major faith communities of this country was delivered to the Prime Minister. I quote from that letter:

“Dear Prime Minister, As leaders within faith communities across the UK, we are horrified and appalled about the potential repercussions of the Nationality and Borders Bill. We urge you to reconsider the proposals even at this late stage.”

It goes on later to say:

“Currently, Clause 11 sets out the differential treatment of refugees. This separation of refugees into ‘Group 1’ or ‘Group 2’ undermines the longstanding and widely understood expectation that a person’s asylum application is decided on the individual merits of their case and whether they would face serious threats to their life or freedom if they were not to be granted refugee status. The artificial manufacture of a two-tier system creates two different classes of refugees. This would not be based on needs or merits but would depend on the ability of a person to arrive in the UK via a ‘regular’ route of travel. This is a clear breach of the principles of the Refugee Convention, and we have seen no credible evidence that it will stop irregular migration across the English Channel; it is therefore, policy made without a basis in evidence or morality. Criminalizing and punishing vulnerable asylum seekers who have little choice but to arrive in the UK through ‘irregular routes’, when the majority are subsequently able to prove that they have a legitimate basis for their asylum claim, is a disgraceful and dishonourable policy, and should be abandoned.”

The letter says some more about other clauses, but concludes:

“What we need now, is political leadership which acknowledges and allays the concerns of the public while promoting the importance of compassion, human life and dignity. We remain willing to assist in any way we can to this end, and ask that key representatives on this issue from the government would agree to meet with faith representatives to explore what both we, and the government, can do to help address some of the concerns we have raised.”

Just to be clear, Members on these benches who are engaging in the debates during the progress of the Bill made a conscious decision not to sign that letter because of our privilege of being able to speak here. If we were not here, we would have all signed it. It has over 1000 signatures of those from all major faiths. I doubt the Minister is going to agree to withdraw all of Clause 11, but I sincerely hope that she will ask the Prime Minister to respond positively to the letter and recognise that faith leaders representing faith communities across the land should be heeded and not ignored.

If I may add that, on the Australia example, it is not as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, has suggested. There are many in Australia who will tell you that the system is not working and has not stopped the problems; indeed, I think Novak Djokovic might tell you of his own personal experience of how it is not working because of the people he met in the hotel that he was held in, some of whom have been held for a very long time. There is another simple reason it does not work: geography. The United Kingdom is in a very different geographic setting from Australia. I long that we remove Clause 11.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate, and I am totally in support of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and his amendment.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate: all the evidence we have from Australia is that it is not working. I have talked to people in Australia who say that we should not go down this path because it is not sensible and it does not work.

I shall be extremely brief. The idea that, at this stage, we start renegotiating the 1951 Geneva convention—presumably on the basis of clauses such as Clause 11—is a frightening prospect. This is no time to be tearing up one of the most fundamental human rights documents that we have, which protects vulnerable, innocent victims of war and persecution. This is no time to be saying that we will change that. If the Government are not proposing to do it that way, why have this clause?

It seems to me that there are too many examples—whether it is Afghans who have got to neighbouring countries but cannot get any further, or Ukrainians who have got to neighbouring countries—that give the lie to the idea that, somehow, you can get here by the sort of route that the Home Office approves of. It is complete nonsense. It is not workable and it diminishes this country in the eyes of the world.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

I was so annoyed by what the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was saying, because part of it was absolute nonsense. Australia is actually riven with debate on the whole system of asylum that it offers to refugees, and the offshoring is extremely contentious, not to mention inhumane. Plus, of course, what he has described as all the problems that we have with refugees are actually failures of the Government. Why does he not ask his Government to set up safe systems for refugees to arrive in Britain? That is the real problem: we do not have them.

I shall go back to what I want to say: compliance with the refugee convention seems absolutely part of what we should be doing as an honourable country. We should not think in terms of interpreting it in our own way. Just as countries all over Europe are throwing open their doors to Ukrainian refugees and refugees from other countries who have found themselves in Ukraine, we are putting up walls and nailing doors shut, rather than being honourable about the situation. Imagine people from Ukraine being subject to the two-tier refugee system, as the so-called legitimate ways of escaping Putin’s violent invasion are cut off and Ukrainian refugees have to use so-called illegitimate ways of getting to the UK. The Bill harms those refugees.

If people do get here from Ukraine or other countries, are they to be left homeless and begging on the streets because there is no recourse to public funds and they are banned from work? These people are professionals: they are teachers, nurses, skilled engineers and tradespeople with lifetimes of hard work behind them. They are all banned from contributing in this country, and it makes absolutely no economic or social sense. When Ukrainians claim asylum, do we lock up the women and children in detention centres if they are struggling to find the right paperwork?

If this Government were brave, they would go out and celebrate the asylum system and create one that was fit for purpose and champion the UK as a place of refuge. But this Government are not brave: they pander to the far right and use national rhetoric to divide and rule. At this point, the Government ought to reflect on the whole Bill and realise it is not appropriate for the circumstances we are in. It is cruel, it is inhumane, and quite honestly, the invasion of Ukraine should be a turning point for us. The Government should abandon the Bill and perhaps start thinking about a “refugees are welcome” Bill.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee

My Lords, may I just ask my noble friend a question, based on listening to this debate and looking at Clause 11 as it stands? Subsections (5) and (6) say that the Secretary of State “may” treat group 1 and 2 refugees differently. My interpretation is that this clause is introducing an element of discretion to the Home Secretary to deal with a situation in a way that allows some difference of treatment, should she see fit—not a requirement that she must do so.

On the point the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just made in response to my noble friend Lord Horam, I say that the Government are not seeking not to comply with the refugee convention, but seeking to allow for some flexibility and discretion to deal with some of the changing situations in this context, which are very different now from when the convention was introduced 50 or so years ago.

Photo of Lord Etherton Lord Etherton Crossbench

My Lords, I entirely endorse and support what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, has said. I do not want to develop this as a lawyer, because the issues can be very well understood by anybody with any degree of common sense. The starting point is that the English courts have reached a view about the meaning of “directly” in the convention, and the contrary view that has been rejected by the courts is the one found in Clause 36; and Clause 11 is to be read with Clause 36. I take issue with the proposition that the introduction of “may” in some way or other alleviates this problem. It does not. The Government have adopted a view about the meaning of the convention, and the meaning of “directly” that is critical to the division between groups 1 and 2, which has been rejected. Perhaps more importantly even than the fact that it was rejected expressly by the English courts is that it has not been adopted by the UNCHR either, which has followed the English jurisdiction since the expert round-table conference in Geneva in November 2001, set up specifically to discuss and agree Article 31.

In Committee, on Report today and in a letter sent at about 5 pm today, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, said that in effect—and this is a critical part of the Government’s presentation of this issue—it is up to each member state to decide what is meant by Article 31. You do not need to be a lawyer to know that this is a very misleading statement. Treaties must be interpreted in accordance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. They must be interpreted in good faith, in accordance with their ordinary meaning, in their context and in the light of their object and purpose. This is why Lord Bingham said in the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords that

“the Refugee Convention must be given a purposive construction consistent with its humanitarian aims”.

What is the object of interpretation? The search is for a construction and interpretation which was intended by the makers of the treaty, which is why an investigation always starts with the travaux préparatoires. That is true not just in this country but in every country signed up to this treaty. In that exercise, particular weight obviously must be given to the view of the UNHCR, because that is the supervisory body which has been appointed to oversee the implementation of the refugee convention. Furthermore, the significance of the view of the UNHCR on this issue is reinforced by the requirement in Article 35 of the convention, which requires member states to co-operate with the UNHCR. That obviously means co-operating in relation to the implementation in accordance with a particular approach to the meaning of “directly”.

Furthermore, the adjudication of disputes between member states about the convention by the International Court of Justice, which is provided for in Article 38 of the convention, presupposes a common set of values and obligations. You cannot have a court determining something if there is no agreement by anyone, or agreement by only a few people, because they are all following their own interpretations at any one moment in time, according to the government policies of the individual states. All this is a matter of common sense and pretty obvious. People have referred to Ukraine. This is the paradigm example of why this whole approach of the Government’s will not work in relation to “directly”. We are expecting the countries immediately surrounding Ukraine, particularly Poland, to absorb the 500,000-odd people, whereas this country, we are told, will accept an amount of just hundreds who have a close connection with a relative here. Is that consistent with the humanitarian aims of the convention? You would be a very strange person to say that it was. This is a plain breach of the convention—as plain as could be—which must be excluded from the Bill.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 8:00, 28 February 2022

My Lords, I was not intending to speak in this debate but, rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I was prompted to by some of the interventions from behind the Front Bench, so as a non-politician I will speak briefly about the political context used to justify some of this rather egregious legislation.

I have the privilege of being the only non-political member of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is nothing to do with the EU. It is the foremost human rights organisation in our continent, with 47 countries until Friday, when we ejected Russia, so we are now down to 46.

Although I am independent, and I am not a politician, to function there you have to be part of a political grouping, so I sit with what happens to be the political grouping of the Government of the United Kingdom of today: the Conservative Party. The political grouping it is in is called the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance. The group that we—all the Conservative MPs and Peers and I—sit in when we are in Strasbourg contains some of the political parties that the noble Lord, Lord Horam, referred to by name, saying we did not want to go that way.

In Strasbourg, the Conservative Party sits with the AfD, the laughingly named Sweden Democrats, who are effectively neo-fascists, and, from my wife’s native Italy, the Fratelli d’Italia, who are the direct descents of Mussolini, and the Lega Nord, led by the wonderful Mr Salvini, usually seen on the beach. These are not good bedfellows. Some of the comments that I hear from politicians, particularly from another place but also from some members of the Cabinet, are remarkably similar to some of the views I hear in the meeting room in Strasbourg when some of these individuals are speaking—views which most of us would find pretty horrendous but one steels oneself to listen to because, I suspect, they are probably reflecting pretty accurately the views of the people who voted them into office.

I will briefly refer to being in office. My great-grandfather, who was Prime Minister three times, said, “You are not elected into power; you are elected into office. You are elected into office as much to represent those who didn’t vote for you, or who didn’t vote at all, as those who did vote for you”. What we are hearing is a sort of “I’m all right, Jack” view of the world.

My wife’s native country of Italy is a contiguous country, in the way referred to by my noble friend Lord Kerr. Italy’s citizens did not want or vote for a large migration from north Africa to come. They may not like it, but they have accepted it; they really do not have any choice. Part of the reason that they are having a lot of problems and they are quite cross with countries such as ours is that we have completely and utterly refused, as have most other EU countries, to share the burden equally. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I have been to Jordan, another contiguous country. We went to Zaatari, the largest refugee camp for Syrians, in northern Jordan, where some 80,000 men, women and many children are huddled in reasonable conditions, thanks to the UNHCR. In Lebanon and Turkey no citizen voted for this, but that is what they have ended up with. We are a very long way from being contiguous but we are behaving in a way which, frankly, I find shameful.

The great-grandfather I referred to earlier was involved in raising the equivalent of about £34 million in 1939 after the Kristallnacht in Germany, which enabled a great many Kindertransport children to come to this country—that is what the money was used for. He would be ashamed by what is going on in this Chamber tonight.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I will just say a word in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said, about public opinion. We have to be careful here. A substantial slice of public opinion is concerned about the scale and nature of the inflow of people claiming to be refugees, and the shambles in the channel at the moment is no help. We need to bear that in mind in all our discussions. I do not think that the policy itself will work, and I do not think that the division into this or the other class of refugee will help. But let us not, for goodness’ sake, get carried away by our own righteousness and forget that there are a lot of people in this country who are not in situations as comfortable as ours who look to us to make sure that, in so far as there is an input of refugees, they are genuine.

Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Judge

My Lords, I would not want that to be quite the last word. The speech made by my noble friend Lord Kerr was not merely powerful, it was compelling and irrefutable. As a matter of law, I have spoken on this before in Committee. I am not going to repeat all that, but do we really believe that the inhabitants of Blackpool, Doncaster or the deprived towns spoken of by the noble Lord, Lord Horam, and reflected in the contribution of my noble friend Lord Green, are so much less understanding, less sympathetic or less kind than the Poles, who are welcoming these vast hordes of people? We are not going to be asked to take that sort of number.

It is a dismaying thought that we really believe that our fellow countrymen, at this crisis in world events, would turn their backs, which is, in effect, what is being suggested. Are we really going to condemn, as Clause 11 is designed to do, rafts of asylum seekers—genuine refugees—to the loneliness, isolation, desperation, destitution and failure to be able to bring their families that it is suggested we now must to stop people crossing the channel, or to appease those in our deprived areas who do not want vast numbers of more refugees? I fervently suggest not. I would have hoped that, in this ghastly moment of history, the Minister would say, “This is not a moment to promote a Bill like this. We must withdraw it and think again”. No doubt, that is above his pay grade: indeed, considering that he is unpaid, that is not a very high bar. However, I really urge those responsible for this grotesque piece of legislation not to try to persist in it at this juncture.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, if those seeking asylum in the UK are genuine seekers of sanctuary from war and persecution, they are entitled to all the rights afforded to refugees under the refugee convention. Even if they are eventually found not to be genuine refugees, they are entitled to have their claim considered and their welfare safeguarded while it is being considered. A number of noble Lords have talked about public opinion. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, who appears to think that this is all about people crossing the channel, Clause 11 would make Ukrainian refugees who made it to Poland and then flew to the UK second-class refugees. If—I say “if”; I am not saying that this is the case—there is concern in public opinion, it is a concern about immigration, not a concern about refugees.

This is a very generous nation. If you speak to people in the towns and cities that the noble Lord, Lord Horam, has mentioned, the vast majority will say, “Of course we want to help those people fleeing the war in Ukraine”. They are concerned about being overwhelmed by immigrants, but only 6% of immigration in recent years has been by asylum seekers. That is why Clause 11 is not right and not necessary. Once asylum seekers have presented themselves and their claim in the UK, they are entitled to have their claim considered without fear or favour, regardless of where they came from and how they got here. They should not be treated differently on that basis. We should take Clause 11 out of the Bill and, when the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, tests the opinion of the House, we will be voting with him.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

Before the noble Lord sits down—

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, under the rules of Report stage, one is allowed to speak only once during the debate.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, as has been said, Clause 11 is about differential treatment of recognised refugees. There is the distinction that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to between refugees and immigration generally. We believe that Clause 11 contravenes the 1951 refugee convention: it sets a dangerous precedent by creating a two-tier system—group 1 refugees and group 2 refugees—and, frankly, it is also inhumane.

Under the Bill, the Home Secretary will be given sweeping powers to decide asylum cases based on how someone arrives in this country and their mode of transport, not on the strength of their claim, contrary to the 1951 refugee convention, of which Britain was a founding member. The different ways those two groups could be treated is not limited in any way by the Bill, although Clause 11 provides examples: those who travel via a third country, who do not have documents or who did not claim asylum immediately will routinely be designated as group 2 refugees.

The clause goes on to set out how the length of limited leave, access to indefinite leave, family reunion—that is, whether family members, mainly women and children, are entitled to join them—and access to public funds are likely to become areas for discrimination against group 2 refugees. A state of complete uncertainty over their future will be deliberately created for these group 2 refugees.

The refugee convention, which was enshrined in UK law in 1954, I think, contains a single unitary definition of a refugee. It defines a refugee solely according to their need for international protection because of feared persecution on the grounds of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Anyone who meets that definition and is not excluded is a refugee and entitled to the protection of the refugee convention.

The Commons Committee considering the Bill heard in evidence from the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the UK that Clause 11 and the Bill were inconsistent with the UN convention and international law. Commenting on the Bill, the UNHCR also said:

“Requiring refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach would undermine the global, humanitarian, and cooperative principles on which the refugee system is founded.”

This is a matter not just of law but of fairness and humanity. Most refugees—I say again that we are talking about refugees—have absolutely no choice about how they travel. Is it really the Government’s intention and desire to penalise refugees who might, as a matter of urgency, have had to find an irregular route out of Afghanistan, for example, or, perhaps more relevantly at this precise moment, Ukraine? Of the first 5,000 people who came in 2020 by boat, well over 90% were deemed by the Home Office to be eligible to apply for asylum. They were genuine asylum seekers, but they will become illegal if the Bill is enacted. Clause 11 envisages group 2 status for them, and will stigmatise them as unworthy and unwelcome, maintain them in a precarious status for years, deny them access to public funds unless they are destitute, and restrict their access to family reunion. I say again: we are talking about recognised refugees. Yet the Home Office identifies secure immigration status as a key outcome indicator for stability, which is

“necessary for sustainable engagement with employment or education and other services.”

Clause 11 is at least in part about saving the standing of a Home Secretary and Government who previously promised their supporters that they would stop people crossing the channel irregularly only to see the numbers subsequently increase. As a result, Clause 11 is largely silent on addressing the continuing and apparently expanding horrendous activities of the people smugglers, and instead concentrates on hitting the victims, nearly all of whom are recognised as genuine asylum seekers.

We now have a clause and a Bill under which individuals who have been recognised as refugees will be given inferior treatment based on the way they came to the UK. That is contrary to the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, and inconsistent with the right to a private and family life and the prohibition against discrimination under the ECHR. Clause 11, with its two-tier system, should be removed from the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 8:15, 28 February 2022

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke to these amendments. At the outset, I will dispel one widespread misapprehension about this clause. Under Clause 11, those who meet the terms of the refugee convention will be granted refugee status. There is no question of this clause making it harder to be a refugee or otherwise enabling the Government to refuse refugee protection to those who need it. That is simply not true. What the clause does is enable the Secretary of State to distinguish between refugees based on whether they came directly and claimed without delay, but anyone considered under this policy will be a refugee.

The status of Clause 11, as a deterrent, is closely tied to secondary movements and the first safe country principle. In Committee it was claimed that, for a number of reasons, the UK must allow people to choose to come here from other safe countries to claim asylum, if they wish. This is not sustainable. It has also been posited that requiring refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country would undermine the global humanitarian and co-operative principles on which the refugee system is founded. I categorically reject this. In fact, it would strengthen them, because more countries would have the capacity for resettlement via safe and legal routes. Quite simply, if spontaneous intake falls, our ability to bring over refugees from regions of origin increases.

I will also reiterate at this stage that the first safe country principle is itself internationally recognised. Not only does it underpin the Common European Asylum System but there is a long-standing safe third country agreement between the USA and Canada which means that, barring certain exceptions, anyone arriving at the Canadian border is ineligible to make a claim. As my noble friend Lord Horam might have mentioned, Norwegian legislation similarly sets out that an application for asylum may be refused where a person has travelled to Norway after having stayed in a place where they did not face persecution. Australia—much mentioned this evening—also has those statutory powers to designate countries as safe, with the effect that anyone from that place will be barred from claiming asylum. In Australia, they have almost entirely stopped small boat crossings.

The evidence on which such policies are based is not only the fact that certain safe countries are clearly more popular than others as a destination for asylum seekers but comes from academic analysis. To be clear, I am going to talk about the reasons for secondary movements from one safe country to another, not why people leave their countries of origin in the first place. The two are clearly not the same. Secondary movements were assessed in a comprehensive analysis by Takle and Seeberg in 2015. An important part of their conclusion was that “future possibilities” play a crucial role in explaining secondary movements:

“For the individual migrant, it makes sense to ask: ‘If I make it through the waiting period and if I gain protection in this country—will I have the means to survive here? Will I be able to work, to find adequate housing, to fulfil my family obligations, to complete my education, to find friends, to belong: will I have a life? If not, where might I be better able to build myself a new life?’”

These are entirely sensible and understandable things to ask oneself. However, every last one of those things can be found in France and other safe countries without the need for a dangerous journey to the UK.

Another study concerning secondary movements of Eritreans between Italy and Norway by Brekke and Brochmann in 2014 noted the following:

“National differences in the quality of the reception system, in welfare policies, and in labour market opportunities motivated the secondary migration of asylum seekers and refugees in Italy.”

They also observed:

“The UK, Norway, and Sweden stood out as attractive destinations for the Eritreans. One informant stated: ‘There you get everything if you are accepted: housing, pocket money, education and work.’”

Again, this is totally understandable. The notion, as I have heard repeated in this House, that people are motivated by singular and discrete “pull factors” unrelated to economic considerations is therefore reductive and misleading. In fact, commonly cited pulls, such as language, family, and diaspora links, are not only intrinsically valuable but instrumentally valuable to improving future possibilities, including work and education. I repeat: France offers perfectly good future possibilities. There is no need to take a dangerous journey across the channel to improve future possibilities. We must do everything within our powers to stop this, including putting Clause 11 into law.

Briefly, the “without delay” element of Clause 11 is intended simply to deter other unwanted behaviours that we see in the asylum system. This includes making late claims without reasonable excuse, often in response to a negative immigration decision to delay removal. This is intended primarily to improve operational efficiency, enabling us to focus resources on those most in need and to carry out quick and cost-effective returns of those who have no right to be in the UK.

Distinguishing between different refugees forms part of the refugee convention itself. For example, the entire structure of entitlement under the refugee convention rests on different levels of attachment, with physical presence and lawful presence distinguished for the purposes of various entitlements. Article 31 does not contain a blanket prohibition on the imposition of penalties on refugees who enter or are present illegally. Article 31 prohibits penalties only in respect of refugees who either are coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened or present themselves without delay to the authorities, and who show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

We think that differentiation is not a penalty, taking into account that the convention does not explicitly define “penalty” and the fact that there is no unanimity on the definition of penalty. In any event, the convention does not prohibit differentiation and the clear implication of Article 31 is that states are entitled to impose penalties on refugees who enter their territory illegally when the three conditions are not satisfied. I have already spoken at length about the broad and flexible nature of the powers under Clause 11, which I have consistently argued enable the Secretary of State to exercise sensitive and compassionate discretion in each and every case.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham stated that nobody would be in group 1. That is not true. Those who could not be reasonably expected to claim in another safe country may well be in group 1 if, for example, they were trafficked. This goes to my noble friend Lady Stowell’s point: despite a number of misleading media and NGO reports, there is a vanishingly low risk that anyone who has, for example, suffered sexual or gender-based violence, is coming to terms with their sexuality or is the victim of trafficking will face differentiated entitlements.

Our definitions of concepts such as “come directly” and “without delay” are drafted in a manner that is responsive to those who may have legitimate reasons for being unable to comply with the standards set out and, as per my noble friend’s amendments, as drafted already enable us to use reasonable discretion when considering imposition of differentiated entitlements—again, a point that my noble friend Lady Stowell made. Indeed, there is no obligation to impose any particular condition on group 2 refugees. There is ample room for people to show that they could not reasonably have been expected to claim asylum in another safe country or that they could not claim as soon as reasonably practicable.

Group 2 refugees will still be protected and receive relevant entitlements in accordance with the refugee convention so that the object and purpose of the convention are upheld. Accordingly, Clause 11 is considered a good faith, compatible interpretation of the refugee convention.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering lamented the diminution of safe and legal routes. We have not diminished such routes; I have set them out and distributed them to noble Lords. Some of those routes are not capped—for example, the BNO and refugee family reunion routes. On that note, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary stated today the ability of Ukrainians to come fee-free via the family reunion route. Potentially 100,000 Ukrainian refugees will come here, and we will be very glad to see them. On the point about visa waivers, I think it is very important that we continue to have the simple security checks that my right honourable friend talks about, because there is evidence that people who would do us harm are masquerading as Ukrainian refugees.

Just to finish, I have a point on Jordan, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, mentioned. The standards of housing, recourse to public funds, education and healthcare in Jordan are not comparable with the UK. I shall say no more about that, but it is a difficult one to compare the UK with Jordan in terms of the infrastructure and facilities for Jordanians.

I think that every concern from noble Lords thus far has been met with a very clear and reassuring answer. This clause strikes a robust balance between firmness and fairness, with a firm policy response to the evidential picture about secondary movements and upholding the first safe country principle, but fair in its acknowledgement that we absolutely must be sensitive to the vulnerabilities of certain asylum seekers. I hope that, on that note, noble Lords do not press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 8:30, 28 February 2022

My Lords, obviously I am disappointed that my Amendments 25, 26 and 27 have not found favour with the Minister or the House. My noble and very good friend Lord Horam said that he hoped that France and Belgium would take some of the asylum seekers and refugees back. That would indeed have been the case if we had managed to negotiate that we stayed within the Dublin III convention—so that is another source of disappointment.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated yesterday in a very holy place that the UK would be very generous with Ukrainian refugees, but I regret to say that I do not hear how that is going to be applied in what I heard from the Front Bench this evening. However, I shall not press my amendments, because I believe that Amendment 28 carries more favour, so I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 25 withdrawn.

Amendments 26 and 27 not moved.