Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)

Nationality and Borders Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 4th April 2022.

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Baroness Chakrabarti:

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

At end insert “and do propose Amendment 5B in lieu—

5B: Insert the following new Clause—“Interpretation of Part 2For the avoidance of doubt, the provisions of this Part are compliant with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, and must be read and given effect as such.””

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, while supporting a number of other Motions in this group, I beg to move Motion C1. The refugee convention is both a memorial to Hitler’s victims and an essential component of the post-1945 rules-based order. It offers protection as of right, not dependent on executive largesse to pick and choose which refugees should be saved and which continent or conflict these should be escaping from.

Renowned jurists in your Lordships’ House and beyond say that the Bill violates the convention; Ministers disagree. Our intention is to resolve the argument with a modest but vital insurance policy, ensuring, for the avoidance of doubt, that our courts will resolve disputes of interpretation and action compatibly with the convention.

As a public and constitutional lawyer, I take the primacy of the other place very seriously. This is neither a money nor a manifesto matter. Indeed, it gives effect to the Government’s emphatic policy of refugee convention compliance in times when this could not be more important. No reasonable Government should object. If your Lordships’ House were not to insist on its inclusion in the legislation, we would fail in our duty to protect the international rule of law.

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. It is perfectly obvious that the Commons reasons tell us that it agrees that the legislation should be compliant with our international obligations. The Minister has just told us that everything that we do will be compliant with them. I regret that a number of us take the view that these provisions do not so comply. The decision will ultimately be made by a court. If the Commons is right, that is well and good—fine, there would be nothing to argue about—but, if we are right and the view of the Commons is wrong, the judge would be bound by this legislation to disapply the convention and the protocol. No one would be able to say, “Ah, but the Commons reasons say that it is compliant”. The Commons reasons will not be in the legislation.

It is very simple: we respectfully suggest that the Commons should be asked to think again and reflect on the consequences if the advice that it is receiving is wrong and the advice that we are suggesting is right, and to avoid the problem that its own expressed legislative intention—that the legislation should be compliant—will prove to be wrong. It is very simple—all doubt can be avoided by this amendment.

Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct

My Lords, my focus in this group will be on Motion C1 of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, but I crave your Lordships’ indulgence to make one or two introductory remarks.

There could never be a good time for this particular Bill, but we can quite sure that there could hardly be a worse time. Make no mistake: the Bill will affect our standing on the world stage. It seems to me fairly obvious that the Bill was drafted with one particular major objective in mind: to make asylum seeking in the UK as unattractive as one can, to deter and discourage as many prospective refugees from coming here as one can and to refuse such claims as one can.

Of course I recognise that we have special refugee resettlement schemes for a number of substantial groups from around the world, from Syria, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and now—if, alas, somewhat delayed—Ukraine. I also recognise that there is a real and growing problem with a number of refugees—not, of course, those profiting from these schemes—so desperate as to risk their lives in the tragedies of crossing the channel. The draconian measures proposed here will not solve that problem and are not justified—as if aspiring refugees will henceforth say to each other, “Don’t bother coming to the UK. It is very unwelcoming and inhospitable. Just read this Bill”. I do not believe that for all the world and, frankly, I regard it as entirely fanciful. Unless noble Lords believe that this will solve the problem, we should continue to resist at least the most objectionable of the measures being promoted.

As to these, coming to Motion C1, my focus as an ex-judge who used to decide quite a lot of these asylum cases is above all on the legality of these proposals. I truly believe, as do many others, that several of these provisions flagrantly breach our obligations as interpreted by the UNHCR, the body responsible for that under the convention. That is why Motion C1 is all-important. Several later clauses in this part of the Bill purport to define or redefine our obligations under the convention. Of course, as my noble and learned friend Lord Judge says, the Government assert that they do so absolutely fairly and that they give effect to the convention, but that is not the view of a great number of respected bodies besides the UNHCR, such as the Bingham Centre, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and so forth.

On Report, we passed the amendment which Motion C1 is designed to replace and effectively reproduce. Having passed it, we did not go to the lengths of voting down the individual substantive clauses that redefine all the various ingredients of our obligations under the convention. Instead, we inserted that amendment and that is what we must do again. The Government’s objection to it is no more and no less than that it is not necessary, because they are going to comply with the convention anyway. I always think that the weakest grounds for objecting to any clause is that it is not necessary. I respectfully suggest that here it is crucial. I must explain why and noble Lords must forgive me as I do so.

On 28 February, during Report, the Minister then promoting the clause of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, rightly said of the proposed new clause—the Baroness Chakrabarti clause, if I may call it that—that it

“potentially leaves the nature of obligations and terms under the convention open to the interpretation of the courts, removing the certainty that we are trying to achieve.”

I then intervened before the Minister sat down, because that rang a great red bell with me. I asked whether I rightly understood him as saying by that that, without this amending provision, the courts would be excluded from considering whether the Bill correctly implements the convention obligations. That he confirmed, rightly observing that the courts

“are not there to go behind legislation”.—[Official Report, 28/2/22; col. 609.]

As I suggest, we then wisely passed the amendment introducing the new clause by 218 to 140, a majority of 78.

We come then—I am anxious not to bore the House, but it is necessary to get this point across—to the Commons debate on the Lords amendments on 22 March. That makes depressing reading when you consider how cursorily—and, dare I suggest, superficially —our various amendments, passed after long, painstaking hours, were summarily rejected. Here, one finds that, in response to the suggestions of some Members that it would indeed be a good idea to leave the amendment in, because some of us were saying that the legislation would otherwise be in flagrant breach, the Minister said:

“I … make the crucial point that we have an independent judiciary in this country, and it is open to people to bring points of challenge where they believe that there are grounds for doing so.”

This the Minister described as a

“cornerstone … evolved over centuries”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/22; col. 185.]

I do not for a moment suggest that the Minister was intentionally misleading the House, but the plain fact is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, had rightly agreed at Report, Mr Pursglove was quite wrong to suggest that there was no need for this amendment because the courts would anyway deal with the challenge to the legislation based on suggested non-compliance. I repeat: the amendment is vital. The courts otherwise cannot go behind the definitive clauses in the Bill and would have to apply them, compliant or not. Without this clause, the lead argument is pre-empted and foreclosed, as the substantive clauses operate, if I may use the term, as ouster clauses of the courts’ jurisdiction. I urge your Lordships not to accept them.

Finally, at Third Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for whom I have the greatest respect and no little liking, cautioned us, with some justification I felt, against a tendency to treat those opposed to this Bill, as we are, as “kind and generous” in feeling and those promoting and supporting it as uncaring and ungenerous. Indeed, I for my part would accept that, on occasion, some of us do seem to fall or succumb to the temptation of what I think we can call virtue signalling, rather than facing up to harsh realities. However—I really cannot overemphasise this—I assert that standing up for the rule of law, internationally as well as domestically, is not virtue signalling, but rather our constitutional duty. The only way to achieve this in the Bill and to even have the opportunity of testing the Bill for compliance in future is by including this clause, the subject of Motion C1. We need to stand up and be counted. I support this group as a whole, but if ever one cannot afford to lose a provision, this is it.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 6:15 pm, 4th April 2022

My Lords, after two such learned speeches and such fireworks, I fear it falls to me to make an unlearned speech on the Motion in my name, Motion D1. Most of my arguments have just been pre-empted, of course, because the case for Motion C1 applies in full to Motion D1. I would not dare to go into the law as powerfully as the two previous speakers have done. However, it is perfectly clear that the 146 states party to the refugee convention, the courts of the United Kingdom and the UNHCR have all applied the convention in one way up to now and, if we pass this Bill, we will have decided that it should be applied in a different way. There is nothing in the refugee convention about how the individual reaches the country in which he seeks sanctuary. There is nothing in the refugee convention which provides a basis for differentiation and the creation of two classes of refugees, which Clause 11 of the Bill introduces. The only question one asks is: does the would-be asylum seeker have a well-founded fear of persecution back home? If so, under the convention, he is entitled to seek our protection and, since 1951, we have been committed to providing it. That, in layman’s terms, is what is wrong with Clause 11 of this Bill and that is why we struck it out by a large majority.

What happened then is really rather bizarre—and very similar to the description from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, of the debate on Clause 9 in the House of Commons. The arguments that have just been made by two distinguished learned Members of this House, and the argument that I am making, had been advanced over several days of debate in this House. They were dismissed in three sentences in the other place. The Minister simply said, without attempting to refute anything that had been said here, that the new differentiated approach was needed to deter dangerous journeys to this country. That is not so. We all know that the way to stop tragedy in the channel is to open a safe route. We all know that if somebody from Kyiv, desperate and despairing of our creaking bureaucracy, were to turn up here without a visa it would be quite wrong to refuse her full rights to refugee protection. Her well-founded fear of persecution would be all too obvious, yet Clause 39 might criminalise her and Clause 11 would guarantee that, if she were accepted as a refugee, she could be only a class 2 refugee, subject to offshoring and all the nastiness that follows in the subsequent clauses of the Bill, and those who had helped her could face criminal charges. With respect, the Minister in the other place was wrong. Clause 11 would not deter her from coming here; it would simply penalise her for doing so. I do not believe that the country would think that right.

The same goes for those coming from Kabul. Like from Kyiv, there is no direct route, so they automatically all fall into class 2, as with those fleeing famine in Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Yemen, the great majority of those now trafficked across the Channel. Since we do not issue humanitarian visas, there is no official route open to them. The way to put the traffickers out of business is to open such a route. For us to treat with group 2 inhumanity those who the traffickers have exploited and endangered would be rather immoral and would certainly be a breach of the refugee convention. I think we got it right the first time in taking the clause out. I think the concern across the country about the way that the Government are treating the victims of Putin’s war in Ukraine shows that we are more in tune with the national mood than the Home Office.

I have been advised, however, that I should offer a compromise, hence Motion B1, which concedes to group differentiation but only if it does not rob group 2 of any of their rights under the convention. It would permit the Secretary of State to privilege group 1, if she so wished, but it would mean that we did not betray our traditions or breach international law. I hope that, given another chance, the other place may be willing to consider the legal arguments so thoroughly explored in this House and by the two preceding speakers.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

I shall be brief. I have not really spoken on this Bill before. I sat with increasing disappointment and sadness through the debate on Report and I became increasingly convinced that this largely unnecessary Bill is narrow and mean-minded and at times approaches the vindictive. I did not vote in the 10 votes that we had, but I feel moved to get up and say a few words this evening, largely because of the powerful and commendably brief speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. We have had some excellent speeches since which make one essential point: do you wish to be in danger of breaching international law and also international humanity? That is what fundamentally it is all about.

The other place treated your Lordships’ House with disdain. The way in which it dismissed amendments that had been carefully argued and, in many cases, passed by large majorities was not worthy of a House of which I was proud to be a Member for 40 years. I was thinking of this and it dawned on me—although it should not have dawned on me and I should have been very well aware of it—that there is no scrutiny at the other end of the Corridor. The timetabling of every Bill is, I am afraid, the fault of the Labour Government provoked by the Conservative Opposition in 1997. I made a promise on behalf of the Front Bench on behalf of the Conservative Party that, come a Conservative Government, programming would be done away with. Of course when we first had a coalition Government and then a Conservative Government, programming was very convenient and so it was maintained. So there is no proper scrutiny. Sometimes important chunks of Bills are not even discussed. There is scrutiny at this end of the Corridor. Very occasionally, there is a little glimpse of filibustering, but not very often, and we try to look at these things in depth and with care. There are various watchwords which should guide us in what we do: do not give powers to your own Government that you would not wish an Opposition Government to have; err on the side of caution; be careful not to do to others what you do not want them to do to you. Those of us with a Christian background feel that very acutely.

What are we talking about here? We are talking about some of the most persecuted and endangered of humanity who are not motivated by legislation when they catch the train or drive their car or get into boats but are motivated by a desire to enjoy a freer and better way of life. Of course they come from all sorts of backgrounds, but at the moment we have a particular group uppermost in our minds. They are fellow Europeans and we can identify with them. When we see the blitzed remnants of their flat or house, we know it is the sort of place that we could live in.

We have a duty, which has been embraced with an extraordinary fullness of compassion by the Poles and other nations in Europe, to make it as easy as possible for those who want to come here to do so. They do not want to be here for long. It is their desire to go back to Ukraine that motivates them. It is not a question of asking the Commons to think again, since they have not thought, but of asking them to think. If tonight we pass the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, we are saying, “Please, do consider, and also consider your country’s reputation and your Parliament’s reputation as an upholder of the rule of law, nationally and internationally.” If they send it back, we will have to think again, but for the moment, we have a duty to support Motion C1. I will certainly do so.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 6:30 pm, 4th April 2022

My Lords, there is a danger for a Green such as me in agreeing so strongly with two noble Lords from the opposite side of the Chamber—the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Horam—but it is not my fault; they have moved towards my position, just to be clear. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made a wonderful speech.

I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on the other place having treated this House with “disdain”. It is worse than that. It is contempt. It is real contempt that they have not read what we have done. I say to the Minister that here we have some incredible legal advice, from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Brown. It is free and it is good, so why are we not taking it? Why do the Government still resist that we are breaking the law if we allow the Bill to go through?

The brilliant Twitter lawyer, David Allen Green, often mocks the use of “for the avoidance of doubt”, because well-drafted text should not allow any doubt in the first place. However, the Government seem not to understand that this is what they are doing. They are opening an option for a lot of court cases, and they have slashed the amount of money that is going into the legal system anyway, so it will be very difficult to do those court cases. They are not just avoiding taking the advice of this House but allowing themselves to break the law. I do not understand why any Government would think like that.

If we are to comply with our duties and obligations to the refugee convention, we must vote for Motion C1.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I might offer a slightly different perspective. One of the difficulties that we have had with the Bill throughout is that we are considering things back to front. Normally, when there is policy proposal, you get a White Paper, then a period of consultation, then you come down to the details of the Bill when you can see in law what the proposals are and discuss them in detail. Here it is the opposite way round. We have a Bill, but we do not know what the policy is. Essentially, the Bill has come forward as an enabling Bill to allow the Government to address the issue of illegal crossings of the channel, so we are doing things the wrong way round. It is even worse than that; old hands here will remember the halcyon days when we had Green Papers, which proposed a certain progress of action. We would then have a White Paper setting out a government policy, and then we would have legislation. Here, we are doing it the wrong way round.

The reason is a fairly practical one, as I understand it. In this case, dealing with cross-channel migrants, we must deal with foreign Governments. We must have agreements, certainly with the French and possibly with the Belgians, Dutch and other countries that we want to deal with. That is the problem, and the practical reason why we are doing things the wrong way round.

It leads to a difficulty in that the Opposition rightly have questions which they want answers to, but the Government cannot answer the questions because they do not yet know what the policy will be. There is a package of measures, some of which we can imagine would work and some that would not work, but we do not know what those practical measures are. Equally, the Government have difficulties. They cannot answer some of the questions that are being put by the Opposition because they do not know what the policies are either. Certainly, we Back-Benchers are in darkness. There is a real problem there.

That has a bearing on the arguments which have taken place and which we cannot entirely resolve in this sort of debate. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made the point, which I think is the Opposition’s principal position, that the problem would be solved if we could open legal routes to all the refugees who wish to come to this country. The problem would be resolved that way if we had enough proper legal routes.

The Government’s position is clearly that this probably would not work, because even if you had large numbers of legal routes, if traffickers were still able to give the clear message to their victims that they could get into this country and could stay, work and have a life here, they would still be in business. That is a matter of practicality and judgment. Would having enough legal routes solve the problem? Remember that the traffickers deal not just with human beings but with drugs and all sorts of criminality. If they remained in business, doing business across the channel, you would still have this trade in human beings. That is the practical, judgmental issue at the bottom of this, and we do not know the answer because we do not know the package of measures that the Government will come forward with. We are looking only at the enabling legislation.

I fully accept the additional point that we must look at the effect on refugees of international law. I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, that there is a significant issue here. However, those who make that point must accept that the Government are equally sincere in thinking that there is an issue here on which they remain fully compliant with the 1951 convention. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, gave a very well-organised defence of the Government’s position, setting it out very clearly. I am not a lawyer so cannot comment on that. All I can do is accept the Government’s advice that they are compliant with the convention.

Finally, I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that there is a problem with the House of Commons considering these issues because of timetabling. This is a pervasive issue in the House of Commons. It has been there for years, and they have found no real solution to it. Just as we can go on for as long as we want and for as long as time and patience permit, they are timetabled for six hours or whatever it may be and, therefore, inevitably, immensely important and worthwhile issues such as this as compressed, very often into a few moments, with a ministerial response of a few minutes. This is wholly unacceptable. We have found no way round that, but we must deal with a situation as we have it. For example, in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the vote in the House of Commons was a majority of 98 against his proposal that there should be differentiation between group 1 and group 2—that decision to differentiate passed by a majority of 98 in the House of Commons.

That is a massive majority and reflects not just questions of law but the justified concern of the House of Commons about human trafficking across the channel. I am sure that we are all concerned about refugees not only from Ukraine but from other countries —everyone is concerned about that—but how we stop illicit human trafficking across the channel is a separate issue. Everybody is trying to do their best here; in some cases, the procedures that we have to adopt are very unsatisfactory but I hope that people accept that the Government are trying to do something that, in their judgment, is a practical answer. Even those who do not agree with them should understand that this is a matter of judgment. We will not know the full consequences for some time to come, until the Government’s policies are clear—but not to allow them to pursue their policy with the flexibility and elbow room that they need would in my view be a grave misjudgment.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative

My Lords, I speak in support of Motion E1 in my name, and refer to my entry in the Members’ register of interests and my connections with RAMP. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the constructive way in which she has engaged with me since we last debated in this House the right of asylum seekers to work after six months. I will not rehearse all the arguments for extending the right to work as we have done that on multiple occasions, but I want to address some of the arguments that have been put forward by the Government. I am grateful to the Minister for sharing some of her concerns with me; I will briefly address three of these.

First, there appears to be a concern that, if we extend the right to work for asylum seekers, we will extend that right to those who are convicted criminals in their home country. Although only a tiny proportion of those who apply for asylum fall into this category, it is a legitimate concern. However, I do not believe that it should stand in the way of right-to-work reforms because all those in this category should be held in immigration detention anyway and would be unable to work by virtue of that status.

Secondly, there is a concern that this may encourage more mendacious claims; again, I believe that this has become an exaggerated argument. The figures as they stand find that 72% of people who apply for asylum get accepted on the initial decision before any appeals process has begun. This is a sign that the vast majority are not applying with mendacious claims but are genuine refugees. There is a danger that, in our current system, we are penalising these people by not allowing them to work and unnecessarily putting significant stumbling blocks in the way of their integration.

Thirdly, there is a concern about incentivising the pull factors; we have heard an awful lot about this. I once again believe that this is exaggerated, based on anecdote rather than raw empirical data. I also think that this adjusted amendment before the House today addresses any possible concern by introducing a four-year trial period with a review three years in to determine whether indeed there is any pull factor. This has the pragmatic benefit of meaning that we will be able to address existing labour shortages in the immediate term while giving the Home Office an opportunity to assess whether concerns that this contributes as a pull factor have any backing in meaningful empirical data. There are no studies that currently back this perspective.

In summary, the Government say that the amendment is not needed because, in the new system, all those coming by legal and safe routes would have an immediate right to work—but this actually supports the amendment. Why are we happy to give an immediate right to work to Ukrainians but not to others who come to this country? The Government say this is not needed because in the new system, even including appeals, the process will take only six months. That is great, but we are not there yet and, to my knowledge, we have never been there. The Government say this is not needed because the new system will be so clear that they will be able to focus on the backlog and on those who come in via alternative routes. Again, this sounds great but, at this moment, all evidence is to the contrary.

Even the new system for Ukrainians cannot flex or adapt quickly enough and already shows signs of significant strain. No one more wants the system to be sorted than me or other noble Lords, but we have waited many years to see it happen. There are between 60,000 and 80,000 people who need to be able to work; they should be experiencing a Britain that enables asylum seekers to rebuild their lives and create their own pathway from poverty to prosperity.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop 6:45 pm, 4th April 2022

My Lords, in rising to speak in support of Motions G1 and J1, I declare my interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset, as set out in the register. I continue to be of the view that Clause 11 is the most inhumane part of the Bill. I therefore continue to support both Motions C1 and D1; I also support Motions E1 and F1.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, would have liked to move Motion G1 but is unable to be in the Chamber today, so we have worked together on this. When people arrive on our shores seeking protection, we have a responsibility to treat them as we would wish to be treated if indeed we had to flee for our lives. It is right that we have a process to determine who meets the criteria for refugee status but, while we determine this, we are responsible for people’s safety, welfare and care. If we move them to other countries for the processing of their asylum claims, I very much fear that a blind eye will be turned to their treatment; the Nauru experience in Australia sadly points that way.

The inhumanity of this part of the Bill is my primary concern. There are, however, significant practical and financial concerns related to the passing of Clause 28 given that we do not have details of how or where this offshoring would operate. Although this was acknowledged by many MPs supporting the legislation in the other place, they were of the opinion that the Home Secretary should have these powers available to her if needed. On that basis, Motion G1 would allow the Home Secretary these powers while introducing much-needed transparency and a check on the introduction of an offshore processing and detention system. This would allow proper consideration by both Houses of the appropriateness and safety of the host country proposed, and whether it meets the Home Secretary’s assurance of being a safe third country for the asylum seekers transferred there, including whether it can provide safe, humane and appropriate accommodation and processing of asylum claims.

Offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers is likely to be many times more expensive per person than alternatives that would see asylum seekers processed in our communities in the UK. This amendment would ensure that parliamentarians can ensure that the offshore system proposed provides value for money for the British taxpayer, that spending on the system is proportionate to the issue addressed, and that the same goals cannot be better served by an alternative approach on our own shores.

The Home Secretary is committed to the option of transferring asylum seekers offshore and at this time she has the support of the majority of her party. She should therefore be confident that an additional check and degree of transparency will not obstruct that policy but reassure her party and the public that offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers is the best approach. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and I are grateful to the Minister for the conversations and contact we have had regarding this over the past few days. We remain willing to engage in further dialogue to help Her Majesty’s Government reach a positive conclusion to our proposals. I hope that the Minister may still change her mind. I have one other question: will the Minister confirm that discussions are already at an advanced stage with at least one nation?

I turn now to Motion J1, in relation to Lords Amendment 11. Again, I have tabled this Motion is association with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope. The fundamental premise of the Bill is that people seeking safety in the UK should arrive by safe and legal routes, rather than by making irregular journeys. My concern in tabling this amendment is that there are not sufficient safe routes from the countries where the majority of asylum seekers arriving in the UK originate. For these countries, the UK resettlement scheme offers a safe route, but the numbers currently remain small. The Syrian resettlement scheme offered an orderly pathway to protection and integration for the most vulnerable refugees. I was therefore encouraged when Ministers set out in their Explanatory Notes to the Bill that the Government intend to enhance resettlement routes to continue to provide pathways for refugees to be granted protection in the UK. The reality, however, is that we are still awaiting further policy proposals around better and fuller safe routes.

During Commons consideration of the amendments, Ministers asserted that the number of refugees resettled each year must be based on our capacity and assessment of the international situation. What we know from the Syrian resettlement scheme is that political commitment and leadership generated political buy-in at a local level and enabled a well-functioning and correctly costed system which was successfully delivered. However, since that target number was reached, resettlement numbers have dropped significantly—partly, we accept, because of Covid. Without political commitment, we see that resettlement drops as a priority. The result is that, for the three top countries of origin for those arriving on small boats across the channel, there is currently no effective safe route. For example, in 2021, only four people were resettled from Iran and 112 from Iraq.

I acknowledge that we have opened our doors to an uncapped number of Ukrainian refugees. This is very welcome, but it has highlighted the need for robust mechanisms to be in place. Are the Government now saying that their assessment of the wider international situation is that resettling refugees in low numbers from some of the most dangerous conflict zones reflects the UK’s ambition to take its fair share? Amendment 11B seeks to address the objections of the Minister and seeks compromise on expanding safe routes by simply calling on the Government to publish a flexible target for resettlement each year. It specifies that the Government must properly support local authorities to deliver the benchmark. The Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration in the other place stated that

“what is really needed to deliver refugee resettlement is not a number but an approach—an approach that is compassionate and flexible.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/22; col. 188.]

This amendment, with its revised wording, does precisely that. It represents, though, an advance on the current status quo.

I take the Government at their word. The proposal in this amendment aligns, almost identically, with what the Home Office claims it wants to achieve in unlocking new safe routes. I hope that the Minister will consider what we are proposing very carefully and recognise that this reform aims to address a significant gap in our responsibility to those seeking refuge globally. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and I are grateful for the contact and engagement that we have had, and we remain willing to engage further.

To finish, I express my support, as I did at Committee and Report, in relation to Motions H1 and K1. In relation to Motions G1 and J1 in my name, I live in hope that, even at this stage, the Minister might accept them both. If she does not, I will be minded to test the opinion of the House.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate. I have one question about offshore processing. Can she comment on the suggestion that the country designated for offshore processing is Rwanda? The Minister looks surprised; I wonder if she would care to comment on whether that is under discussion.

I am in agreement with all these amendments, but I will talk particularly about Motion H1. The Commons reason for rejecting Lords Amendment 10 is:

“Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.”

No, it is not sufficient. This argument about financial privilege has been used before. I remind the Minister that, in 2016, I moved an amendment that was passed by this House; when it got to the Commons, the Commons again used the argument of financial privilege. Although I had been in the Commons for years, I actually did not know what financial privilege was. It is always a pleasure when I talk to a university student of politics to challenge them on whether they know what financial privilege is—I am pleased to say that none of them ever does, until I explain it to them.

The point is that what this reason says, in effect, is that the Government choose whether to use financial privilege to oppose a particular noble Lord’s amendment —or whether they choose not to; quite often, they waive that argument. As far as I can see, they use it only when they cannot be bothered to put forward a sufficient reason. If the argument about financial privilege is to be used against Lords amendments, we become unicameral, because so many of our amendments involve financial expenditure. It seems to me that this is not a sensible or tenable position. I agree that the Minister gave some reasons and does not hide behind this financial privilege point, but there is an argument about our procedures if the Commons is going to do what it has done in this case.

I will go back just a little bit: in 2017, we passed an amendment about family reunion, which is of course the subject of Motion H1. There, we were concerned that the Dublin treaty, particularly Dublin III, worked quite well to achieve family reunion, so that children in an EU country could join relatives in another EU country. This relates to those who are claiming asylum. That worked quite well and, in order to safeguard the matter, this House passed an amendment, which I moved, that the Government should negotiate to continue the provisions of the Dublin treaty even after we left the EU. It was passed by this House and accepted by the Commons. But then came the 2019 legislation and the Government withdrew the provision. I had various meetings and, on one occasion—I have mentioned this before, but I will mention it again—I was invited to a meeting with three government Ministers and seven officials in order to persuade me that everything was all right and we did not need this particular amendment. They were trying to explain to me why they were withdrawing it.

I was given assurances that, notwithstanding that, there would be plenty of opportunities for children to achieve family reunion with relatives in this country. This was not borne out by the facts. When we got the figures last year, no child from France was able to come under that provision and there were only two or three from Greece. This was a massive drop in what the figures had been when the Dublin III provisions were in effect. Although I was given assurances that everything would be all right and I need not worry, in fact those assurances do not apply. While, in theory, there are a number of ways in which children can be reunited with their families here, it hardly works in practice. The evidence is those figures, which are so low. It does not work—we have gone backwards in that respect. Their assurances did not work.

I have quoted something like it before, but I will quote again what the Home Office said in rejecting an application. The Home Office has argued that a child being alone in France or Greece is not “serious and compelling” enough to warrant a visa. When referring to one case, the Home Office said:

“You currently live in a shelter for unaccompanied Minors … I note you have provided no evidence why this arrangement cannot continue or any serious and compelling considerations in your case.”

If those are not sufficiently compelling reasons, I do not know what can be. If that is the way in which the Home Office turn down applications, I am afraid that I do not have confidence that the existing position is satisfactory. This is why I put forward this Motion and why I urge the House to support it. I also believe that this would lessen the dangerous journeys that young people make to join their families—it might eliminate them altogether, but it would certainly lessen them. If we believe that traffickers should not have opportunities, surely the right thing to do is to provide a safe and legal route. I cannot think of a matter more compelling than for a child to be allowed to join their relatives. Family reunion is surely fundamental to what a civilised society should support. This is why I hope that, when we get to it, this House will support Motion H1.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 7:00 pm, 4th April 2022

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I entirely agree with what he has just said, and I associate myself with the other amendments in this group in speaking to Motion K1. I also refer to relevant all-party parliamentary groups of which I am an officer, and my role as a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response.

The Minister set out the terms of Motion K1 at the beginning of our debate and explained what it does. At Second Reading, she challenged us—quite rightly—to come up with safe and legal routes, and that is what this genocide amendment seeks to do. I should say in parentheses that I am grateful to the noble Baroness, not least for the support and consideration that she gave to the amendment that I moved earlier in proceedings on this Bill, on the position of young people in Hong Kong who did not qualify under the BNO scheme but who now, under the regulations which the Government will introduce, will do. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I also applaud what the Government have done in the case of refugees from Ukraine. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, however, I ask the question: should we not make the same provision, as far as the right to work is concerned, for all those who seek asylum in this country?

Of course, I am disappointed that the all-party amendment on genocide, which had its origins in the Yazidi genocide that began in 2014, has not been accepted by the Government. I place on record my thanks to those Conservative Members of Parliament, including former Ministers, the Opposition Front Benches and other Members of the House of Commons, for their strong and welcome support. I must admit to sharing some of the frustration that has been expressed during this debate—even bewilderment—as we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Horam.

I spent pretty well two decades as a Member of the other place, and I read with perplexity the debate on 22 March when the guillotine was imposed after just three hours. That was three hours of debate on amendments that had been considered one by one in your Lordships’ House in great detail and with great scrutiny: Amendments 1, 4 to 9, 52, 53, 10 to 20, 54, 2, 3, 43 to 51, and 21. All these amendments were taken together in an inevitably disjointed debate in which Members ranged across multiple issues. By way of example, in the case of the genocide amendment, it was linked with Amendment 11, on the issue of numbers coming into this country, so it was impossible even to vote with any differentiation between those amendments.

As the Minister told us earlier, the Minister in the Commons, Tom Pursglove, opposed the genocide amendment, because, he said, “many thousands” would apply for asylum. Confusingly, however, he admitted that the amendment as it left your Lordships’ House contained a cap on the numbers. Then he said that that it would put the lives of our officials in our embassies at risk. These are victims of genocide whom we are talking about. They do not pose a risk: they are hunted down by the perpetrators. It is the victims, not British officials, who are at risk. Mr Pursglove went on to argue that bespoke schemes were a better approach, but there has never been a bespoke scheme for the Yazidis or other victims of the ISIS genocide. This demonstrates that this, too, is a straw man argument.

I received an email just two days ago from one of those who works for Yazidi interests, and she told me that she believes that there is bias in the implementation of other programmes because of the exclusion of people from minorities in the leadership and oversight of these programmes. It is an issue I have previously raised, as the Minister knows, with the Home Office. My correspondent copied in the Bishop of Truro, whose excellent report is being reviewed by the Foreign Office this year. This lady said:

“We failed Yezidis who have been left to rot in tents; only 8 are recorded as resettled from Iraq and 44 from Syria, although without knowing who they are we cannot say they are truly Yezidi. I doubt the Home Office would know the difference.”

Quoting Home Office guidance about ethnic and religious minorities, she says:

“Recognising their vulnerability and ACTUALLY including them in these schemes are obviously two different things.”

For years, the Government have emphasised that Yazidis have been facing horrific atrocities, especially when Ministers have met Nadia Murad and other victims. But opening doors in “a bespoke scheme” to welcome at least some from their community simply did not happen. Let us contrast that with Canada and Germany, among others, which have provided protection.

One of those who spoke in favour of the amendment in the House of Commons was the former Conservative Minister, Tim Loughton. He and I are two of the seven parliamentarians who have been sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party for raising what the Foreign Secretary has described as the genocide of the Uighurs. During a very helpful and encouraging meeting which sanctioned parliamentarians recently had with the Prime Minister and Elizabeth Truss, the Foreign Secretary, we were told that the Government would look again at this country’s response to genocide. I put this on record and greatly welcome what they have said. It is significant progress. Accepting today’s amendment, which would place on the Home Secretary a duty within one year to publish a report on the Government’s approach to the treatment of genocides—at least as it pertains to those seeking asylum—would be a good start. Failing that, I hope that the Minister will at least commit the Home Office to taking part, which has been promised by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, in looking again at the duties that are laid out in the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide. That requires us to prevent and protect, and to punish those responsible. Given what has been said to me, I am willing to take back this amendment this evening and not take it to a Division. Needless to say, of course, I will keep pressing the Minister until progress is made on what I regard as an incredibly important issue.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I hesitate to rise after that excellent contribution from my noble friend Lord Alton, but I just want to express very strong support, obviously, for Motions C1 and D1 and, indeed, all the amendments in this group. I want to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and support her Amendment E1 on the right of asylum seekers to work. She made a very powerful speech, and I certainly will not repeat any of the words that she said. We can do without repetition—everybody wants to get to the votes—so I will take one minute maximum.

The main argument of the Government against this amendment is that it would be a pull factor, attracting asylum seekers to come here. It is worth mentioning at this point that there have been fully 29 academic papers assessing whether a more generous right to work has anything to do with a pull factor for asylum seekers. All those 29 academic papers showed that there was no correlation whatever between the right-to-work aspect and asylum seekers’ attraction to this country. It is also worth saying that even if this amendment passes, we would still be the toughest of all European nations—there would be seven nations then—with a six-month ban on asylum seekers seeking work. All the rest of the European countries are more generous: they have shorter bans. That is incredibly powerful.

It costs money to do this. Is it really sensible to spend an unnecessary £300 million stopping people working; albeit we only pay these people—what is it—£5.75 or something a week, plus a bit for utility bills? We could save £300 million: is that not worth doing, just to be no more ungenerous than any other country in Europe? I suggest that we should support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, from these Benches, I want to speak just to Motions E and H; my noble friend Lord Paddick will speak for us on the other amendments in this group. The Commons reasons on asylum seekers’ right to work seem to be completely circular: asylum seekers should not be permitted to work because they should not be permitted to work. In a way, I cannot argue with that.

The condition that the noble Baroness has added to her amendment is completely sensible. Ministers speak about undermining our economic migration schemes. I am aware that a great many asylum seekers disappear into the black economy. That undermines an awful lot of things.

The asylum seekers in question are impelled by significant push factors. I take issue with people who find it difficult to accept that. There is a distinction between what prompts fleeing one’s own country and choosing where to go. I accept that the English language plays a part in that second matter, but it really does not deal with the Government’s position.

Leaving aside—though I do not leave it aside—the importance of work to self-worth, dignity and so on, the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers in our country, and no doubt in others, want to play their part in society and want to pay tax. They have skills they want to use and which we should want them to use. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has talked about the financial interests. I absolutely agree with her, and I am not going to repeat that. But it is in the interests of our society to allow asylum seekers to work. We support Motion E1 very enthusiastically.

With regard to family reunion, I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, regarding the Commons reasons and with others who have made comments on Commons procedure—it is not up to us, I suppose, to comment on it—and the importance of scrutiny. I doubt that the Commons reasons would go down very well with those many British people who have responded to the powerful images of, and other information about, families in Ukraine and leaving Ukraine which are incomplete, without husbands or fathers. The noble Lord has narrowed his amendment down, and I congratulate him on finding a way to bring it back. The crisis for Ukrainians is no different from other crises in conflict zones in countries where actions and the threat of actions against individuals are so extreme.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, my noble friend Lady Ludford and I have made it clear on a number of occasions, including in the various Private Members’ Bills, that what is being proposed today is the bare minimum. It is not even, in my view, the least we can do. But it is what we must do, and we support Motion H1.

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

My Lords, I rise briefly to speak to Motions J and J1, to support the Government in respect of Motion J and to suggest that the House reject Motion J1, the revised amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I accept that this amendment, like the former amendment, is exceptionally well intentioned, but I think its practical results may not be as the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend hope.

We were reminded in Committee on 8 February by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that we needed to see refugees as human beings. Of course, she is right. We have to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already spoken powerfully this afternoon about the tragic cases around the world: 80 million, 30 million of them children, with horrifying stories to tell and urgent needs to be answered. My doubts are as follows.

The first is the potential inflexibility implied by the revised amendment. It suggests we must publish a numerical target for the resettlement of refugees in the United Kingdom each year. This is only half, or a quarter, or a slice, of the issue that this country is facing about the increase in our population, which is going up by between 250,000 and 300,000 every year. If we were to tackle this issue as we should be tackling it, we would take the right reverend Prelate’s amendment and say that the Government should set out their belief about what the total amount of new arrivals in the country should be. No Government have been prepared to grasp that particular nettle.

The Government have established a number of safe and legal routes, much called for by noble Lords in earlier stages of the proceedings on this Bill—routes, as some noble Lords have said, to help such disparate groups as Afghan citizens, those seeking family reunion, Hong Kong citizens and, latterly and tragically, citizens of Ukraine. Given this, I am not quite sure what this amendment adds. If I was going to be harsh—and I do not wish to be harsh to the right reverend Prelate—I might say it is an example of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said is virtue signalling and of no real practical impact.

Also, many Members of your Lordships’ House have expressed the belief in the past that hard numbers have no role to play in this particular debate and debates like this. For example, my noble friend Lord Horam has on occasions ventured to suggest that one approach would be to agree a figure for total admissions in a year. I am afraid he has been treated on most occasions with derision. If my noble friend Lord Horam is wrong and this cannot be done, I do not see anything different in principle between what my noble friend is asking about the total number of admissions and what the right reverend Prelate is asking about the numbers in respect of refugees.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has rightly reminded us of the needs and views of millions of refugees and asylum seekers. But we must not forget the needs and views of another group of people: the 66 million people who make up the current population of the United Kingdom. They are intrinsically a generous and hospitable people, but they need to give what might be called their informed consent to policy decisions such as these that are the focus of this and some other amendments. Regrettably, the trade-offs inevitable in population growth and the informed consent required have been overlooked by successive Governments and parties over these past 20 years. No Government, including that of my party when it was in power, as it is now, have been honest enough to debate publicly the central issue of how many additional people this country can reasonably absorb every year. Once that debate has been held, we will be in a position to see how we split them up between the various categories—asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants—and we can have an informed debate that carries the country with us.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who I am glad is in his place, speaking in the debate on 8 February, compared this country’s record on refugees unfavourably with that of Canada. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, that is an unfair comparison. I gently remind him that by 2040, England will have become the most densely populated country in Europe, having overtaken the Netherlands, and there will be 4 million more people here, equivalent to one and a half cities the size of Manchester, where my noble friend the Minister comes from. We will have 400 people per square kilometre in England. There are four people per square kilometre in Canada.

Nobody underestimates or does not understand the agonising, horrifying position of so many people around the world. However, we need to step back and take a strategic, long-term look at this difficult and sensitive issue. Writing a target or an ambition into primary legislation will risk compounding the policy errors of the past and, once again, taking the informed consent of the British people for granted. That is why I cannot in truth support the right reverend Prelate.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 7:15 pm, 4th April 2022

My Lords, in the interests of time I will forbear from commenting on the geographical and climatic differences between the UK and Canada.

I offer Green support for all the amendments from Motion E1 onwards; my noble friend has already spoken on Motions C1 and D1—that is, on all the non-government amendments. On Motion E1, I will simply say that I wish to strongly applaud everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, said. It was plain common sense about the best outcome for asylum seekers and for the UK, and I commend her bravery in working on this issue.

I find Motions F1 and G1 the most difficult. I entirely understand and sympathise with the desire to make the Bill less bad in this area, but they still condone third-country processing. About the Australian third-country processing that this was modelled on, Human Rights Watch commented that the

“abusive offshore processing policy has caused immeasurable suffering for thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers”.

It noted that

“seven people have committed suicide” in this process and said that

“children have been terribly traumatized”.

If we even pass a law that allows third-country processing, whether or not it is ever actually implemented, this will be a stain on Britain’s international reputation, as the practice has been a huge stain on Australia’s international reputation. The Government talk about global Britain; the globe will look at Britain and say that Britain is doing something utterly unconscionable if we even move to allow it, let alone actually implement it.

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

My Lords, in Motion C the Government claim that the provisions in Part 2 are compliant with the UN refugee convention—in which case, they should have no objection to Motion C1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which puts such an assertion on the face of the Bill to ensure that the courts are able to test Part 2 against the UN refugee convention. In accordance with the Government’s claim in Motion C, the Government must surely agree with Motion D1 that, whether the Government categorise a refugee as falling into group 1 or group 2, as set out in the Bill, none the less, both groups must be given all the rights under the UN refugee convention. If not, Part 2, contrary to the Government’s claim in Motion C, would not be compliant with the UN refugee convention.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee has dealt with Motion E1 on the right to work, and Motion H1 on family reunion, which we also support. We hesitate to support Motion G1 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, because it leaves offshoring on the face of the Bill. We totally, absolutely and completely disagree with offshoring but my understanding is that we are running out of options other than double insisting on the removal of the provisions from the Bill, which, I am told, would have serious consequences. Therefore, we will vote for Motion G1 to force the Government to secure the approval of both Houses for each country they propose to use for offshoring, by means of the affirmative resolution procedure once they have laid before Parliament the estimated first two-year costs for operating such a system for each country. Once Parliament has seen the countries that the Government propose to use for such an abhorrent practice, and the costs involved, we hope that no Parliament would approve such a practice.

The Ukrainian refugee crisis and the lamentable shambles created by insisting that those fleeing Putin’s war must have a visa to enter the UK, with the Home Office being unable to cope with the numbers of applications, clearly demonstrates the need for there to be appropriate resourcing, infrastructure and support for local authorities permanently in place to cope with such crises before they arise. Before Ukraine it was Afghanistan, before Afghanistan it was Syria; we need systems and processes in place to deal with these crises. The Motion in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham seeks to achieve this without the previous set annual numerical target, instead allowing the Secretary of State to set the target and to put in place such measures as are necessary to achieve that target. Of course, we also support the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, in his Motion K1 in relation to those fleeing genocide.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, that less than 20% of immigration to the UK in recent years has been asylum seekers, and the Bill deals only with that 20%. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Horam: where are the provisions that specifically target people smugglers in the Bill? These policies target what he himself described as victims, and only the victims.

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

My Lords, I will attempt to be brief, as I am sure the House would now like to hear the Government’s response rather than listen to me at any great length. On Motion C1, proposed by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, as has just been said, if the Government are convinced that Part 2 is compliant with the convention and indeed agree with the principles that it should be so compliant, why should they be opposed to nailing their colours to the mast on this crucial issue and making this clear in the Bill by accepting this amendment?

On Motion D1 on differential treatment, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, spoke, as well as a number of other noble Lords, this new version of the previous Lords amendment disagreed to by the Commons deletes the subsections which provide for differential treatment of refugees. Instead, it provides that the Secretary of State must guarantee both group 1 and group 2 refugees all their rights under the convention and ensure that family unity can be maintained. I only make the point—I do not want to repeat all the points that have already been made—that under the Government’s plans for the Bill, a person who had fled Ukraine and travelled across Europe to get here could not be a group 1 refugee because they would have passed through other countries rather than “coming here” directly. At best, they would be group 2 refugees and could be treated as having committed a criminal offence for having reached this country without prior authority or a pre-approved claim. That is the reality of what differential treatment of refugees, which the Government are so determined to implement, can actually mean in all its harshness in respect to people currently fleeing for their lives from a war happening now in Europe.

On Motion E1 on the right to work, the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud and indeed other noble Lords have more than covered all the arguments in favour. It is just interesting that the Government have always argued in other situations that people should be in employment rather than requiring benefits, even though a considerable percentage of those in work also qualify for benefits because of low pay. The Government have reversed their stance with asylum seekers since the Government deny them the ability to work for 12 months and then only in specific circumstances, even though many asylum seekers want to work, have the skills to work and would be contributing further through paying taxes and not claiming more than minimal benefits. Reducing the qualifying period for being able to work for six months would also encourage the Government to work harder at providing the necessary resources to determine a much higher percentage of asylum applications within a six-month period.

I need to speak a little longer on Motion F1. I have put down a new version of our Amendment 8 that still provides that the Government may not commence their inadmissibility provisions until they have safe, formal returns agreements with third states. This time, though, our amendment has a sunset provision, since we have to put down a different amendment, which means that it delays the commencement of Clause 15 to allow time for international agreements to be put in place, but after five years that protection will lapse so it does not block the plans indefinitely. However, frankly, if the Government have not managed to negotiate any international agreements over the span of five years, one would hope they would take a hard look at the plausibility of their plans in the first place—clearly, they intend to use Clause 15 and its provision on a significant scale, or at least one must assume so.

The Commons and government reasons for disagreeing sound pretty absurd. The Government’s reason is that they do not think it is appropriate that Clause 15 be dependent on international agreements having been reached, yet the provisions on the safe return of a person making an asylum claim to another state where the claimant has a connection is reliant on such agreement with other states. Safe, reciprocal returns agreements whereby an asylum seeker may be returned to another country where they have already been offered asylum or are in the claims system are a recognised part of international asylum arrangements. What is not recognised is unilaterally keeping our system stagnant for months at a time while looking to see whether a person could be sent to a country they may have briefly passed through or never been to.

The cost of doing that for six months before starting to consider the asylum application will be considerable, because accommodation and sustenance will have to be provided for each person concerned for up to six months at the expense of the taxpayer, before starting processing their asylum claim six months later than it could—indeed, should—have been. This, in the continuing absence of returns agreements, will be very expensive and a complete and unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money by the Government, at a time when money for our basic overstretched public services is in short supply. The Government are proposing a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, and they must know it.

On Motion G1, on offshoring, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s new amendment provides that, before a country can be used for offshoring, a proposal must be laid before Parliament detailing the costs of running such a scheme. Campaigners claim it would cost less to put asylum seekers in the Ritz than run an offshoring policy; I cannot vouch for that, as I do not happen to know what the cost of staying in the Ritz is. I am sure the Ritz is extremely grateful that I have never tried to stay there. Experience elsewhere, not least in Australia, suggests that the costs of such a scheme would be considerable per person and not cost effective, even assuming that the very concept of offshoring asylum seekers to another currently unknown country while their claim was pending was acceptable and that that third country would have similar standards and values as us when it came to looking after people and how it treated them.

Motion H1, which my noble friend Lord Dubs spoke to, is not asking for something new, since it is a replacement for something we have recently lost—what was being provided by the UK while we were under the Dublin III arrangements. As the Conservative MP Tim Loughton said in the Commons during the debate on the Lords amendment on this issue:

The Home Secretary did say some time ago that she wanted to see a generous equivalent replacement for Dublin III as we came beyond Brexit. I want to hold her to that promise, but I fear what is contained in the Bill does not hold water.”

This amendment would expand family reunion so that unaccompanied children in Europe can easily join family members in the UK, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings because for some children—perhaps many—these are their closest surviving relatives. Incidentally, Tim Loughton went on:

“The Government have also argued that there is discretion to allow family reunion outside the rules in certain circumstances, but it is not right that children who had a clear official route to safety and family reunion under the EU’s Dublin III regulation are now reliant on Government discretion.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/22; cols. 220-21.]

On Motion J1 on resettlement, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s revised version of the amendment no longer specifies 10,000 a year. Instead, it requires the Secretary of State to publish the number of refugees the UK will resettle each year and provide appropriate resources and infrastructure to support local authorities in delivering this. The key point here is planning and infrastructure; we need to be ready to respond to immediate need when it arises, such as with Ukraine. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme took months to get up and running. The British public and MPs, including those on the Government’s own Benches, have been frustrated by Home Office failures and delays on Ukraine. This amendment is about making sure we are always ready to play our part in the international effort.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke to Motion K1. Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to his determination and doggedness in continuing to pursue this issue, certainly not entirely without success—far from it; there have been some considerable successes along the way. Frankly, we have reached an unfortunate position when the stated argument that the Government and Commons produce against a genocide amendment is a very weak financial privilege one, behind which they seek to take refuge.

Along with other noble Lords, I await the Government’s response to this group.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 7:30 pm, 4th April 2022

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, might think the House does not want to hear from him, but it certainly does not want to hear from me either. It never likes what I have to say.

There have been a few disparaging comments about our approach to Ukraine. I have just looked on Twitter, and this is the first comment from President Zelensky:

The United Kingdom is our powerful ally.”

It must be acknowledged that we have done much to assist Ukraine over the years. We have now issued over 20,000 visas and done some other fundamental things for our friends in Ukraine. We have been training 22,000 troops for years; we have given them 2,000 NLAWs, or, as President Zelensky calls them, “in-loves”—apparently, on their launch, people in Ukraine shout “God save the Queen”. We have also provided them with the Starstreak missile. We have been terribly generous and supportive to Ukraine and will go on being so.

My noble friend Lord Horam said there had been no pre-legislative scrutiny; it may seem a long time ago but, I guess by way of a White Paper, the New Plan for Immigration was published—I know we do not do Green Papers these days; that stopped years ago.

Motions C and D deal with the refugee convention and our policy of differentiation. We have been clear throughout the development of this policy that it fully complies with all our international obligations, including the refugee convention. I will not go over my noble friend Lord Wolfson’s comments, but I know he wrote to noble Lords setting out our legal position on this. However, I should clarify that a person in group 2 would, to gain that status, necessarily already be recognised as a refugee in the UK and would not subsequently have, or be eligible to have, their claim processed overseas. We intend that prosecutions follow only in egregious cases. I therefore ask noble Lords not to insist on their amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, not to press theirs.

It has long been our position that when someone who is claiming asylum has been waiting for a decision on their claim for more than 12 months, through no fault of their own, they should be able to take up one of the jobs on the shortage occupation list. Motion E deals with this issue and, although I have a great deal of respect for my noble friend Lady Stroud and we have spoken at some length over the last few days, we cannot agree to reduce this period to six months, for the reasons I have set out previously. There is not much more I can add to my previous comments other than to point out academic evidence suggesting that economic factors are in play in secondary movements. For all those reasons, I invite my noble friend not to press her amendment.

Motions F and G deal with inadmissibility and overseas asylum processing respectively. It is vital that we have strong measures in this Bill to deter people from making dangerous journeys and to encourage them to seek asylum in the first safe country that they reach. We cannot agree to measures that would undermine these measures, either by restricting our ability to work on a case-by-case basis on returns or making the job of our negotiators more difficult. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham not to press their amendments.

On the question the right reverend Prelate asked me about what advanced discussions are taking place and the point that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about Rwanda, all I can say at this point is that the Government are talking to a range of partners. I am sure that Parliament will be fully informed when any of those discussions are concluded.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has the respect not just of me but of the whole House. Turning to Motion H, I know how strongly he feels on the subject behind his amendment relating to family reunion, but there are risks that the proposed new clause creates a very broad duty that was not intended.

Moving on to Motion J, I also understand the strength of feeling on having a target number for refugee resettlement, noting in particular the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I also reflect in this context on Motion K and the amendment concerning genocide tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. But I can only say again that we already have generous family reunion offers, that we have numerous safe and legal routes to the UK, and that a person fleeing genocide is already likely to qualify for protection, as I said, under either the refugee convention or the ECHR.

The UK is firmly committed to protecting ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. We raise this regularly with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and we continue to monitor the situation of the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq. But I will take back again those comments on religious bias, because it is not the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has raised them with me.

I do not think that the amendments tabled to Motions H, J and K are necessary, so I invite the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who spoke in such a vital debate. The House will forgive me for not waxing lyrical by way of summary—out of respect for noble Lords, self-discipline and the need to get on and vote. I just say that I heard not a single constitutionally or legally coherent argument against the vital overarching protection for the refugee convention in Motion C1. With that, I ask noble Lords to agree Motion C1.

Ayes 189, Noes 151.

Division number 2 Nationality and Borders Bill - Commons Amendments — Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)

Aye: 189 Members of the House of Lords

No: 151 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Motion C1 agreed.