Amendment 33

Nationality and Borders Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:37 pm on 2nd March 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Neville-Rolfe:

Moved by Baroness Neville-Rolfe

33: Clause 18, page 22, line 36, at end insert—“(6C) This section also applies to failure by the claimant to produce identifying documents when entering the United Kingdom or when intercepted in the territorial waters of the United Kingdom.”

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I rise to move my Amendment 33 and thank my noble friend Lord Green of Deddington for his support. This amendment would add the failure to produce identifying documents as a factor that could be taken into account in an asylum or human rights claim and might damage a claimant’s credibility.

The background to this is my concern that migrants, especially those coming across the channel in boats, are destroying any documents they have because they believe—usually on the advice of the people smugglers— that they will secure better treatment under the asylum system. I fear that the system we operate makes this a reality.

My concern increased when I saw the results of a freedom of information request by Migration Watch UK, which showed that just 2% of the thousands who have made their way to the UK in small boats across the channel are in possession of a passport. Between January 2018 and June 2021, there were 16,500 such arrivals, and only 317 were found to have a passport at the time of being processed in the UK. This figure also dropped from 4% to 1% during that period, so something was happening.

Asylum claimants found to have destroyed their documents can be prosecuted under a 2004 law passed by the then Labour Government, but there were only two prosecutions in 2019—a sharp decline since 2013, when there were 49 prosecutions, 44 of which were successful. The fact is that by destroying their documents, migrants make it harder for the authorities to identify the claimant and assess their claim.

In responding to a similar amendment in Committee, the Minister, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, emphasised the case-by-case nature of decision-making, which I think was welcome to noble Lords. Clause 18 of the Bill before us adds two new behaviours to Section 8 of the 2004 Act: providing late evidence without good reason and not acting in good faith. He hinted that the destruction of documents would be an example of the behaviour that a deciding authority might think was not in good faith and concluded that my amendment was not necessary. However, when pressed by my noble friend Lord Green, he refused to confirm the documentation example and wished to leave the matter to decision-makers and the courts. This is not always the safest or cheapest approach.

Against the worrying factual background that I have been able to set out today, I believe that this is much too uncertain and likely to lead to a continuation of the current deplorable practice. The lack of clarity is an invitation to the people smugglers to persist with their wicked advice, and their wicked and dangerous trade. My Lords, what are the Government going to do about it?

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

This is a thoroughly nasty amendment. That is all I have to say about it.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I will not be quite as brief as that, but I will try to be brief.

I rise to support Amendment 33 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, which I have co-sponsored. It is surely right that the failure to produce identifying documents should be a factor—I put it no stronger than that—in assessing the credibility of a claimant. The destruction of identity documents has long been a means of undermining our asylum system. As I mentioned in Committee, we overcame a similar problem for those arriving by air simply by photographing the documents before they got on the plane, so if they stuck them down the loo, it was not going to help them, and that had been going on for some considerable time.

It is no accident that today, 98% of all cross-channel arrivals, whether by truck or boat, have no documents. Indeed, it is not in dispute that people smugglers instruct them to destroy any documents to reduce the risk of being returned to their home countries. In many cases, the applicants are making fools of us. Surely, the least we can do is to specify in law a requirement to take into consideration the absence of documents as a factor in judging the applicant’s credibility. I can think of no reason why that should not be the case and I strongly support the amendment put down by the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

I rise briefly to support this amendment. I had an opportunity years ago, when we were part of the European Union, to participate in an inquiry about FRONTEX and to go to Heathrow Airport to see the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Green, has just addressed. We were asked to be there at 8.30 in the morning to see what happened when people arrived at Heathrow on the overnight flights. Issues that have since been cured, largely, were then putting the immigration officers under enormous strain.

For example, on the day that we were there, a young man from Australia arrived who claimed to be British, but he came without any documentation; and a man from Brazil arrived for a holiday but without any money, so he was obviously going to work. Most significantly, a man on a flight from Nigeria claimed that he could not speak any of the languages available through interpreters at terminal 3, which is quite a wide range. I asked the reason for that, and they said that he will not speak until the flights back to Nigeria have left, and then he will start to speak, because otherwise he will be put back on the next flight to Nigeria. This was a prevalent issue, but I think it has now largely been tackled for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Green. It was a huge gap in our ability to provide control. Those measures are not applicable to channel crossings, but we do need to find ways to tackle this issue, just as the noble Lord, Lord Green, described how we tackled it at airports. In the absence of that, we need to make it clear in law that the lack of clarity referred to by my noble friend when she moved the amendment should be taken into account by immigration officials.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 4:45 pm, 2nd March 2022

My Lords, I invite the noble Baroness who moved this amendment and her supporter to consider the actual conditions of refugees who have passed through Europe and managed to get somewhere near our shores. They usually face closed frontiers. They probably live rough over a considerable period, being chased, for example, by the French police and the garde républicaine de sûreté. They are tear gassed, pepper sprayed and so on. Can they always be expected to have retained their correct documentation?

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

My Lords, I have been following this Bill since its inception. I have not spoken up to this point, but I have been increasingly concerned about the effect of this particular legislative initiative and its potential impact on our reputation internationally, which had been very good in this area up to now, largely because of our role as one of the founding signatories of the refugee convention.

The present situation is one about which the Government are clearly not being frank with the public and the House. My noble friend Lord Rosser quoted chapter and verse very effectively just now when he quoted the Minister saying that at one point she was in favour of, and at another point against, having reciprocal return agreements with other countries. If she wants me to give way to her, I am happy to do so. We should know the answer to that. We should know the answers to things we do not know the answer to. For example, in this country, are we committed to not breaking up families? Can we assume it is a guiding and regular principle that we will not break up families? If we do break up families of asylum seekers or otherwise, we shall be acting completely outside the pale of civilised behaviour. That would be extremely worrying to an awful lot of us.

The Government are known, in international rumour, to be in negotiation with a number of African countries—Rwanda, for example—on establishing some sort of camp or facility to take failed asylum seekers from this country, but we do not know what the terms of such an arrangement would be. The Government have not been frank enough to tell us. There are a lot of rumours going around, most of which are very unattractive. I hope the Government might do something about that.

There is a fundamental weakness at the root of what the Government are trying to structure here. People who have come in small boats and hidden in lorries have been accused of coming here illegally. Logically, one can see the reason for that accusation, but there is no way in which they can come legally, as far as I can see. The Government should think about setting up an office in, say, Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer so that there will be some direct contact with these potential illegal immigrants. It would not cost that much. They could make some progress in filling out forms and getting an initial reaction from the bureaucracy to their claim. That might be helpful all round.

The fact is that the Government are proceeding in their own way and have not always been very straight- forward with us. I hope that changes. I think all of us remember from our school days the Spartans in ancient Greece. They led a terrible life and were third-class citizens.

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

My Lords, with great respect, is the noble Lord actually referring to the specific amendment under discussion?

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

I am endeavouring to do so but I shall not stand here for very long.

The ancient Spartans were helots. Their problem was that they had no rights—they had a growing population but no rights at all. I am very much afraid that if we take on board illegal immigrants and send them to some place in Africa, they will have no legal rights. It would be very worrying to have a population with no rights at all in a country that believes that that is firmly based on the law.

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

No. My Lords, this is Report. First, we are allowed to speak only once during a debate. Secondly, even if noble Lords were not here for Second Reading or Committee, they should not be making Second Reading or Committee speeches on Report.

We cannot support this amendment because there is no differentiation between documents that are genuinely lost or stolen. We know that people smugglers control the people they are smuggling, including stealing and taking their documents away from them deliberately, so it may not be the fault of the asylum seeker that they do not have a document. This amendment and the other provisions in the Bill seem to ignore the fact that officials and tribunals are quite capable of deciding, on the basis of the evidence, what weight they place on the evidence that is provided to them and what should be considered in terms of the credibility of the claimant, without what is contained in the Bill or in this amendment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said, on the basis of a freedom of information request, that only 2% of asylum seekers were in possession of a passport. Only four in 10 Americans have a passport. Is it any wonder that those fleeing war in less developed countries, often when normal government services have completely collapsed, do not have passports? If you are fleeing war, if you are being bombed, if you are being persecuted because of your sexuality or your political views, the first thing on your mind is to get out of that country, not to go to the Government and ask for a passport.

This amendment and the related clauses in the Bill that seem to be telling officials and tribunals what interpretation they should put on evidence should not be supported by this House.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, under Clause 18, where an asylum seeker provides late evidence, this should damage their credibility. Amendment 33 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, would provide that a person’s credibility should also be damaged where that person fails to produce ID documents when they enter the UK or are intercepted at sea. We do not support the clause or believe it should be part of the Bill, so we do not support the addition to it. A person’s credibility should be based, as it always has been, on the full picture and the worth of the evidence that is submitted.

As we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, where people are fleeing the horrors of war and risk to life, they may not bring the right documentation, or it may have been lost or stolen along the route. As we can see from recent horrors around the world, I am not sure that it would be anybody’s first priority to go back to wherever they were to find any documentation they might have—it would be to get out of danger. However, under the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Green, they would be penalised: it would be a failure by the claimant to provide identifying documents. Such a carte blanche failure to produce identifying documents would mean that such people seeking asylum would automatically be excluded from doing so. I do not think that that would be something that the country or, indeed, this Chamber would want.

There are other issues I wish to raise that are more relevant to the next amendment; however, if this amendment is put to a vote, we will vote against it.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for raising the issue and of course I understand the concerns that lie behind it.

Clause 18 adds two new behaviours to the existing credibility provisions in Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. It introduces the principles that providing late evidence without good reason or not acting in good faith should be damaging to the claimant’s credibility. Where, conversely, there are good reasons for providing evidence late, that would not affect the claimant’s credibility.

The concept that certain conduct should be damaging to credibility is not new. Decision-makers must already consider the claimant’s conduct. It is then open to the Home Office or the courts to decide the extent to which credibility should subsequently be damaged. The focus of Clause 18 is, therefore, the Home Office and then the judicial decision-making process. It is intended to address the issue of late evidence raised in unfounded protection and human rights claims and put beyond doubt that behaviour designed to abuse the system will be taken into account. Clause 18, therefore, is intended to apply to those individuals who have made a protection or human rights claim and have been issued with an evidence notice as per Clause 17. It is not intended to apply, for example, to individuals immediately when intercepted in the territorial waters of the United Kingdom.

Against that background, I suggest that Amendment 33 is unnecessary. The destruction, alteration or disposal of a passport without reasonable explanation, or the failure to produce a passport on request to an immigration officer or to the Secretary of State—again, without reasonable explanation—are behaviours to which Section 8 already applies. The good faith requirement in the Bill is intended to address behaviours such as those mentioned in the amendment, as well as any other behaviours that a deciding authority thinks are not in good faith. Specific instances of a lack of good faith are necessarily caught by the broader provision that refers to good faith: the greater includes the lesser. Therefore, there is no need to single out the behaviours prescribed in this amendment.

As to the detail of the amendment, I say that verification of someone’s identity normally takes place on land. However, should a claimant be in possession of their passport or identity document and fail to provide this when requested by an immigration officer, Section 8 will apply, as I said. Moreover, where evidence is provided late following receipt of an evidence notice in a protection or human rights claim—again, without good reason—this should be taken into account as damaging the claimant’s credibility.

As this amendment refers to specific examples of behaviour designed to abuse the system, and that type of behaviour as a whole is already caught by the provisions of the Bill, I respectfully suggest that the amendment is necessarily unnecessary. For those reasons, I respectfully invite my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I thank those who have spoken in this brief debate. The very real problems of refugees, noted by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and of course the fact that some people do not have passports are very well understood by me. That is why my proposal is to add an extra factor that needs to be taken into account, not least to reduce the power and profiteering of the traffickers. As has been said, tribunals and officials can then take a fair view.

Having said that, I think that there seems to be a chink of light in some of the comments from my noble friend Lord Wolfson on how this would work. Perhaps we could discuss further before Third Reading what the Government’s approach will be, the associated regulations and so on. I am very conscious that we need time for many votes today, especially as the electronic system seems a bit slow, so for today I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Clause 25: Late provision of evidence in asylum or human rights claim: weight