Moved by Lord Carlile of Berriew
6: Clause 2, page 3, line 26, leave out “
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 6, which stands in my name. There are some other amendments associated with it. I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Chakrabarti, and my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton for putting their names to Amendment 6. I am also grateful to the many well-known organisations that have made representations on these matters, including Justice and a number of others; some of them will recognise their views in what I am about to say.
These amendments are about a tension between what is fair and proportionate and what is unfair and disproportionate. Despite the fact that all those who have signed this amendment are lawyers, I do not use those terms in a narrow legal sense but as ordinary language, which I invite your Lordships to use as the template for your judgment.
I suggest that the Government are attempting to negate the legality of the exercise of rights permitted by UK law long after those rights have been exercised, and that to do so is unfair and disproportionate. We had a little discussion about strangeness in judgments that were allegedly made. In relation to these amendments, the only organisation that is doing something strange is the Government, because they are doing something that is very unusual and that falls straight into the literal definition of strange, although it is not unprecedented. The whole issue is about proportionality, as I have said, and Governments unfortunately do strange things fairly often.
These amendments deal with parts of the Bill that are retrospective in effect. Retrospectivity is contrary to the legal certainty of which we are proud and other principles that underpin our law. The amendments deal with Clauses 2, 4, 5, 15 and 21. Clause 2(3) means that the duty to deport would apply to an individual who entered or arrived in the United Kingdom on or after
Clause 4(7) would disapply asylum or human rights claims which were made on or after
Clause 5(12) and (14) would extend the removal provisions applied to those who had made an asylum or human rights claim on or after
Clause 21(8) to (10) would allow the Home Secretary retrospectively to revoke limited relief to remain, granted lawfully, to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, thereby undermining commitments made by Theresa May—she was referred to earlier—when she was Prime Minister. They were very carefully considered, and rightly much vaunted, provisions to protect people from modern slavery and human trafficking.
I think we have already heard today, and I have certainly heard it at other times, that the modern slavery provisions have been abused. Yes, to an extent they have, but I would challenge anyone who has experience in the law to find any provision of a comparable nature that has not been abused and misused. That is what courts are there for: to deal with the misuse and abuse of such provisions.
The point about legal certainty is that it requires that individuals know what their rights are and how they can be implemented and enforced. This is especially important at a time when, as we have heard repeatedly from the Minister, the Government have decided that the UK’s international law obligations are dispensable and that the fundamental rights of individuals can be cast aside. The importance of legal certainty, and having very rare retrospectivity in our legal system and our common-law traditions, has been stressed repeatedly by the senior courts.
Those of us who have practised in the courts and the senior courts could tell your Lordships in detail what those judgments were. I have the references here if noble Lords are interested in them, but it is 9 pm so I will spare noble Lords those for the time being. We will have to wait and see what the Minister says because his punishment may be being reminded of, for example, the Oxford Shrieval lecture given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, in 2011, which in fact was a very wise piece of didactic learning that was carried through to the courts.
Retrospective law can itself be a breach of an individual’s right to a fair trial under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I am not simply putting forward my own argument; I could quote to your Lordships specific cases in which that was held. It is not only the courts. Maybe we think we are superior to the courts in your Lordships’ House, so perhaps I should tell your Lordships that on two occasions—in 2013 and 2022—the House of Lords Constitution Committee has raised concerns about retrospective legislation.
The conclusion one draws is that the legal requirements are that retrospectivity should be used only when there are compelling grounds in the general interest that the law should be clear and accessible and, most recently, that retrospective legislation should be passed only in very exceptional circumstances. I challenge the Minister to tell your Lordships what are the very exceptional circumstances that permit retrospectivity in relation to Clauses 2, 3, 5, 15 and 21. No compelling justification was provided by either the Home Secretary or the Immigration Minister during the stages of this Bill in another place.
We were reminded earlier that the Nationality and Borders Act was passed less than a year ago in 2022 and had the intention of addressing the same policy issue. But that provision was not predominantly retrospective —it was not really retrospective in any significant sense—and it is therefore unclear why a Bill dealing with the same issues, as we heard from the Minister a few minutes ago, requires retrospectivity.
Furthermore, there is no evidence whatever that the date on which immigration legislation comes into force has any impact on the number of small boat crossings in the English Channel. The number of channel crossings actually rose following the Nationality and Borders Act, and—let us make a real argumentum ad maiorem to the newspapers—the media have made it clear that nothing done by the Government has had any significant effect on boats crossing the channel.
This situation does not justify such broad and sweeping legislation, which seeks to apply penalties to those who cross the channel to claim asylum, being retrospective in its entirety. It is also extraordinary that the Government are seeking to apply the retrospective provisions to the Home Secretary’s powers over unaccompanied migrant children and the ability to retroactively cancel limited leave to remain granted to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. I am trying not to take up too much time, but this is therefore a completely unacceptable precedent and falls on the disproportionality side of the question I asked your Lordships’ Committee earlier.
I heap plaudits on the shoulders of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. That was worthy of a legal lecture. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, caught his plane, but that was a common-sense lesson in the law spoken with a great deal of humility. I will not call it a lecture because it was too humble and too articulate for that. I associate myself with all those remarks. I have signed only some of the amendments, but I am happy to endorse all the amendments that are against retrospection in the Bill. Our position on retrospection comes from common decency, common sense and common law before we get anywhere near ECHR obligations and other international obligations. Do not change the rules after the game has begun.
I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, is back in his place. He is a great one for the Clapham omnibus. I think this idea of changing the rules half way through the game is something that anyone on the Clapham omnibus or any lay person anywhere in our country would completely understand, and that is why all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, are so important. It is profoundly unfair to say to people who are already in this country, who have already come to claim asylum, whether they will eventually succeed in their claims or not, should be subject to this new, punitive, retrospective regime.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is clear and articulate, but he is also forensic because there are some extreme situations in which retrospection is permissible and even I would support retrospection. The famous one is marital rape. We know that once upon a time in our country it was not considered rape for a man to rape his wife. That position was changed in the courts in relation to a particular case. This had been brewing for some time. People thought the law was out of step with contemporary views on equal treatment of women and what is acceptable even within marriage. That was changed in a single case in which a man was successfully prosecuted for raping his wife. He took his claim all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the court said no, this rape is so profoundly contrary to our international accepted norms that in this case we will accept that retrospection did not offend the common decency principle that you should not punish people retrospectively.
That is the kind of case we are talking about, in which it is acceptable to do that—not in this context. These are very vulnerable, desperate people. Whatever the views of noble Lords in this Committee about the acceptability of this regime, and we will disagree about that, in my view and that of many Members, as we have heard today, applying this to people who came here in good faith, and in many cases in desperation, on the understanding that the refugee convention would be applied in one way, is punitive and discriminatory, contrary to the convention. Retrospection adds insult to injury. I hope the Committee will not accept it and will instead support all the amendments that deal with retrospection in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew.
My Lords, I am glad to have been able to add my name to the noble Lord’s amendments. I am grateful to him for introducing them so clearly. I am conscious that my name is among those of noted advocates in different contexts.
We are already in an Alice in Wonderland—although I am not sure it is really a wonderland—world, where we are told that asylum seekers will know enough about UK restrictions and provisions to be deterred from trying to get here. I do not recognise that proposition. Added to that is the idea that people who are already here should have known what is in the Bill even before most MPs had an opportunity to pick up a copy of it.
The noble Lord referred to legislation coming into effect when it gets Royal Assent. Yes, of course it does, but very often—almost invariably—in a limited way. Some clauses come into effect, usually the jurisdiction and that type of thing, but many of the provisions and most of the legislation that we deal with have to wait for secondary legislation: that is, the provisions that implement what is in the primary legislation.
I absolutely agree with what has been said about certainty, clarity, predictability and so on. This Bill displays a casual attitude, which goes against not only legal principles but, as I think has been said, common decency. If I were to ask the Minister what is so compelling about the Bill that it should be an exception to all this, I have no doubt that I would be told, “We’ve got to stop the boats”.
As the noble Lord just said, the Nationality and Borders Bill—now Act—had the same policy objective, yet the channel crossings kept on rising and they have gone on rising. If I wanted evidence that retrospectivity had an effect in practical terms, I would have expected to find that they had come down in number since
I have two amendments in this group; my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville also has her name to the first of these, Amendment 9, which proposes to leave out Clause 2(7). Subsection (7) provides that
“limited leave to enter or remain given” to an unaccompanied child “is to be disregarded”. It says, in effect that, for the purposes of Clause 3(1), we are to disregard what has already happened. It is another bit of retrospectivity. What use is the leave that is referred to in Clause 2(7)? To disregard it is unprincipled. Such leave should be taken into account in determining whether a child has leave to enter or remain; the Government have given it.
I will raise a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and myself, were discussing during the dinner break—it justifies our having had a dinner break, I think—and that is the question of adoption. I have not seen the comment made by the Children’s Commissioner, which no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, will talk about, but I understand it suggests that, in the case of a child who has been adopted, and who falls within the provisions of the Bill as currently set out, that adoption in some way could be undone, despite the fact that the child has become a member of a British family.
I would have thought that the four conditions would not have been met, but we must be absolutely clear about this. If someone with the credentials of the Children’s Commissioner suggests that there is an issue here, we must have an absolutely clear statement from the Dispatch Box that that is not so and, preferably, an amendment from the Government making it clear that it is not so.
Finally—well, not quite finally, actually—Amendment 10 concerns the basic principle that someone affected by a decision should know what that decision is and why it has been made. The amendment provides that someone who meets the conditions for removal must be notified and given details of the evidence on which the Secretary of State has relied. If the Government are not prepared to agree the amendment as tabled, what does the Home Office have in mind to meet these requirements? After all, they must be met. An explanation of why such steps as these are being taken is an absolute sine qua non, and I hope the Home Office understands that.
Amendment 11 is about the position of victims of trafficking and so on giving evidence. Of course, all that can be done to crack down on the criminality of smugglers who exploit asylum seekers in any way must be done, but co-operation with the police and prosecutors, which is the subject of the amendment, can be very difficult for the victims—this is not the first time that I have mentioned this in your Lordships’ House—and, of course, not only victims of trafficking and slavery.
If one thinks about the experiences that have been endured and the inevitable suspicion of, or at least unease with, authority figures that must be in the minds of so many victims in that position, one can understand that it is not a quick or easy process. Add to that the experiences that have affected them, many of them very significantly, and co-operation may—and, I suggest, often will—take time and considerable support.
I would always say that it is necessary to be in the UK to give that co-operation. Giving evidence from outside the UK is very difficult. I believe that it is difficult for the police and prosecution as well, and almost by definition there is no support for the victim—the witness, if you like—in this situation. I suppose my question to the Minister is: would the individual be allowed to return to give evidence in a trial, or before that to make a statement?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for having run a trailer for the question that I asked at a very helpful meeting that was arranged with the Children’s Commissioner.
Many of those coming here at the moment—apparently about 5%—are girls. They are generally in a much poorer state than the young men and boys, and many have been sexually assaulted or raped. I ask the Minister to be quite specific about this: in the event that one of these girls is pregnant and she decides either to give up the child for adoption or to keep the child herself, or in the event that she dies in childbirth either in this country or following deportation to Rwanda, and that child is then orphaned either in this country or in Rwanda, and that child is given up for adoption in this country, what is the status of that child? Would the child be at risk of being deported at the age of 18?
And what is the status of that child’s children, given that the child will have arrived in this country in utero, with no form of permission to come here, but would have had no choice in the process, and what is the position of the adopted parents? In the event that the child is not adopted but has been in foster care up until the age of 18, what is the status of that child? Can there be any retrospection applied to the ability of that child, who will have been completely brought up here, gone through schooling and had career prospects created in this country, simply because that baby arrived in utero?
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 12, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to which I have added my name. A very similar amendment was tabled in the House of Commons by my honourable friend Stephen Farry MP. Unfortunately, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, is unable to be present this evening, as she is in Brussels on a delegation, so she has asked me to speak to the amendment in her absence.
As the Minister knows, we had a debate along very similar lines yesterday evening on a regret Motion on the requirement for an electronic travel authorisation and the potential impact on tourism in Northern Ireland. Amendment 12 is primarily a probing amendment that would seek to exempt from Clause 2 of the Bill people crossing the border from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. I will highlight two particular concerns about Clause 2, as it affects the land border on the island of Ireland.
The first is the enforcement of the provisions contained under Clause 2. The issue of who decides whom to check and on what basis, given that routine immigration checks across the land border on the island of Ireland do not happen, is an area of very grave concern. Maintaining the freedom to travel north-south without restrictions remains a key element of the peace process, and any changes to this could constitute a breach of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. The Government have confirmed—and it was reconfirmed last night by the Minister—that Irish citizens will be exempt from the need to apply for an ETA when travelling to Northern Ireland. However, there remains a considerable amount of legal ambiguity for residents in the Republic of Ireland who come from a third country whose citizens currently require a visa to enter the UK and therefore Northern Ireland.
During the debate on this issue in the House of Commons, examples were raised about the impact of Clause 2 on individuals legally resident in Ireland who cross the land border from Ireland to Northern Ireland, perhaps to visit friends or to go shopping, but who have not applied for an ETA. During the debate yesterday evening on the introduction of an ETA, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Murray—said that,
“those who are legally resident in Ireland may instead, if required by a UK immigration official, present physical evidence that demonstrates their legal residence in Ireland”.
He added that the Home Office would publish guidance in July on what would be considered as acceptable evidence. Therefore, following his statement yesterday, will the Minister tell us what the consultation process will be in advance of publishing this guidance? Will there be an information campaign to ensure that people are aware of these requirements? He will, I hope, be aware of the sensitivities of requiring people to carry official documentation when there is supposed to be unrestricted north-south travel.
During yesterday evening’s debate, the Minister said that
“prosecutions for illegal entry offences will focus on egregious cases and not accidental errors”.—[
Can he say whether it is the Government’s intention to publish guidance on what is likely to be defined as an egregious case? Perhaps most importantly, what assurances can he give that random checks by UK immigration officials will not result in the creation of a border on the island of Ireland by stealth?
My second area of concern is the potential risk of racial profiling resulting from these random checks. Migrant-led organisations such as the North West Migrants Forum have been raising concerns about the impact of visa requirements on the land border on the island of Ireland. They have highlighted the disproportionate impacts on black and minority ethnic, and migrant, people. Clause 2 risks exacerbating these issues and further hardening the border on the island of Ireland for some communities. The Minister will know that, in response to these concerns, Alyson Kilpatrick, the chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, has called for all journeys into Northern Ireland originating from Ireland to be exempt from the ETA provisions in the Bill. Can the Minister say what measures will be put in place to prevent racial profiling as a result of random checks and, in particular, what steps the Home Office will take to ensure proper training of UK immigration staff in monitoring these random checks?
Finally, can the Minister clarify whether non-visa nationals entering Northern Ireland and the UK from the Republic of Ireland without an ETA will impact the validity of deemed leave, as set out under Article 4 of the Immigration (Control of Entry through Republic of Ireland) Order 1972? If he does not know the answer to that one immediately, I will be happy to receive a letter if it could be placed in the Library.
My Lords, I ought to apologise to the Committee. I failed to say that I was unable to speak at Second Reading; I listened to a great deal of it, but I had a commitment that I could not avoid. I also should have announced earlier that I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and a vice-chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
I totally support Amendment 6. The retrospective effect is shocking but it has been dealt with by other people, so I will move to two other amendments that I am very anxious to say something about.
There is a mantra about the best interests of children. It has, rightly, been followed throughout the United Kingdom for many years. It originates in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as has already been referred to. It is also incorporated in the Children Act 1989, in which I was very much involved. Consequently, the clauses in the Bill—not just the one with which we are dealing, Clause 2—are utterly shocking in their derogation from the best rights of the child.
It is truly worrying that this is happening. Clause 2 specifically includes, of course, children and the ability to remove them. Part of Clause 2 includes the possibility of children not being included, but it leaves it to the Secretary of State as to when to exercise that discretion. I am extremely concerned about this. It is not only in Clause 2; it arises in other clauses which I will speak about later, so I will not refer to them now.
The other two proposals that I am concerned about are dealt with in Amendments 9 and 11. I very much support Amendment 9, for the obvious reasons of its connection with children. Indeed, what has been proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Bakewell, about Clause 2, at page 3 on line 39, is replicated later in an amendment that I have put down.
I am also very concerned about Amendment 11. If one just thinks with a bit of reality about the Bill, one really important thing which is utterly underused is the prosecution of the perpetrators—not the people smugglers but the trafficking smugglers who are bringing in people for wicked purposes. If you are going to require a person who has been abused or exploited by a trafficker to go to Rwanda, and to give evidence from Rwanda, who on earth in their senses will be bothered to give evidence to help a prosecution in England if they are stuck in Rwanda? It is just not feasible.
It will have two major effects. First, we will not get the prosecutions because we will not have the witnesses. It is essential that we prosecute the perpetrators. It is an aspect of human trafficking and modern slavery that there are prosecutions, and there are not enough. Secondly, the person being trafficked is not going to come forward to say they have been trafficked if they are told by the perpetrators, their exploiters, that if they go forward and tell the police what has happened, they will be immediately deported to Rwanda or somewhere else. This is going to have a disastrous effect on the already far too small number of prosecutions in this country. It is crucial that we establish the ability to stop the perpetrators from their evil deeds.
The noble and learned Baroness makes a very strong case and I give her my full support.
My name is on Amendments 80 and 91 in this group. Amendment 91 is concerned with victims of human trafficking, but both fall at the hurdle of retrospection, as has been explained by the other signatories, in particular, my noble friend Lord Carlile, and by the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Hamwee. I have the luxury of being able to add virtually nothing to the arguments already made.
I think the best description of the case against retrospection is in my noble and learned friend Lord Hope’s explanation of Amendment 39, which
“seeks to give effect to the principle that, unless for good reason, legislation should operate prospectively and not retrospectively”.
What is the conceivable good reason? What are the very exceptional circumstances that the Constitution Committee suggested might excuse retrospection?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested that the Minister might try to say that stopping the boats is so exceptional as to justify retrospection. But there are a lot of other ways of dealing with that; for example, the safe passage visa argued for at Amendment 130. The Minister might say that that it is the cost of housing those who have come across the channel or in the back of a lorry and have been apprehended. But the costs of detaining and deporting those declared inadmissible under this Bill will be much higher.
That is the point the Refugee Council made in its impact assessment and estimate of the costs. It estimated a cost of £9 billion over the first three years. The Minister says that he does not recognise those numbers. That is not a sufficient argument. He needs to tell us what is wrong with those numbers and what his numbers are. It is not good enough just to sit there and say, “Well, I’m not going to engage in this debate because I don’t recognise the numbers”. I think retrospection is fundamentally unacceptable.
A few years ago, when I was driving up Headington Hill in Oxford, I forgot that, eccentrically, the set speed limit there is 20 miles per hour. I was required to present myself in Milton Keynes four months later for a speed awareness course, because I had been travelling at 27 miles per hour. Eccentrically, because I am a very eccentric person, I failed to ask my wife to see whether I could have a personal course. Nevertheless, I would have been very taken aback if, when I got to Milton Keynes—it was extremely hard to find the place and I was driving rather fast trying to find it—I had been told on arrival, “Actually, we have changed the penalty and we are going to export you to Rwanda”. I would have objected, and I object to retrospection.
My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said so far, but I will focus on the opposition to Clause 2 standing part of the Bill. This clause is, in many ways, the nub of the asylum ban to which the Bill gives effect. To place a duty on the Home Secretary to remove virtually all those who seek asylum through irregular routes is an unprecedented step going far beyond simply giving her the power to do so. Here we are talking about those arriving not only by boats but by any irregular route; the boats are used as a justification for the Bill, because the Government know that we all want to see an end to those very unsafe journeys. The fact that it is a power only when it comes to children is a small mercy, given that they will be removed when they reach the age of 18. However, I will leave the treatment of children to a later debate, because there is still a lot to be said about the impact on children.
Calling those affected “illegal migrants” does not alter the fact that the majority are exercising their right in international law to seek asylum. That goes back to the point that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford made earlier. In the words of the UN rapporteurs that I quoted earlier,
“the act of seeking asylum is always legal, and effective access to territory is an essential precondition for exercising the right to seek asylum”.
When she first introduced the Bill, the Home Secretary accused critics of naivety in suggesting that
“everybody coming here on a boat is a genuine asylum seeker fleeing for humanitarian reasons. The reality is that many of these people are economic migrants who are abusing our asylum system, and that is what this Bill aims to stop”.—[
No one is suggesting that everyone who comes here on a small boat has a genuine case for asylum, but we know that the majority are likely to have such a case. According to the Refugee Council’s analysis of official data, six out of 10 of those who crossed the channel in small boats last year stood to be recognised as refugees—yet they will no longer be able to make their case.
The Home Secretary has argued that the Bill’s critics
“ignore the fact that our policy does in fact guarantee humanitarian protection for those who genuinely need it”.—[
However, many of those whom she has given herself a duty to remove will genuinely need humanitarian protection. Yet there will be no mechanism for ascertaining whether that is the case before they are simply removed to be dealt with elsewhere, like a parcel marked “don’t return to sender”. To quote the UN rapporteurs again,
“any steps taken to legalize policies effectively resulting in the removal of migrants without an individualized assessment in line with human rights obligations and due process are squarely incompatible with the prohibition of collective expulsions and the principle of non-refoulement”.
The Government talk as if we take a disproportionate number of asylum seekers, yet the opposite is the case— that point was made earlier today, though it seems a long time ago now. As I asked earlier, what happens if other countries follow our lead and also put up the “no asylum seekers here” sign? The chances are that the numbers seeking asylum in the UK will go up, not down.
In practice, the general view, including that of the Law Society, is that removal of those deemed inadmissible will be very difficult in the absence of adequate third-country agreements, making the Bill, in effect, unworkable. The fear of the Refugee Council, the UNHRC and others is that it will mean many thousands left in semi-permanent limbo, at risk of destitution. As I said at Second Reading, the mental health implications are likely to be serious, as spelled out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which has many concerns about the Bill’s impact on mental health. For those who are removed to a third country, there is no guarantee that the country will be equipped to assess their asylum claim, so again they could be living in limbo, but out of sight and out of mind of the UK Government. How can all this be described as compassionate and humane, as Ministers repeatedly do?
My Lords, I do not wish to delay the House for long, especially given the excellent speeches we have already heard delivered on this group, but I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about retrospection. I add my support, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and those other noble Lords who have tabled Amendment 11, on which we have already heard the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
A succession of migration, public order and modern slavery Bills in recent years have drastically raised the length of sentences and the severity of punishments that can be brought to bear on people traffickers and smugglers. While this may look tough, it is difficult to say that it has had much impact; indeed, the entire purpose of this Bill is to try to put a stop to arrivals which have not, apparently, been impacted on at all by the deterrents that are already in place. Nor is this surprising, given the very low number of prosecutions and convictions for such offences. Regrettably, it seems that smuggling is a crime with enormous rewards but relatively little risk for the perpetrators. Instead, we seem to almost exclusively punish those who are smuggled, often in highly dangerous circumstances.
We know that securing prosecutions and convictions is incredibly difficult because it requires the willing co-operation of those who have been smuggled. This is no small thing, for they are often traumatised and often in significant debt to the smugglers. They may have friends and family abroad or here in the UK who will be put at risk if they come forward. That difficulty is only exacerbated by our migration enforcement policies, which also deter victims from coming forward for fear of the hostile environment, detention and removal—including potentially to Rwanda or some other third country with which they have no connection. There is little incentive to co-operate with law enforcement, and significant risk in doing so.
My fear is that the Bill as a whole will not improve this situation, but at the very least, Amendment 11 provides a modest mitigation of the damage, without undermining the effect of the Bill overall, by exempting those co-operating with law enforcement from the prospect of removal. I hope that Ministers will listen to this, or at the very least come back with detailed proposals for how victims, both of smuggling and of trafficking, slavery and other forms of abuse, can be better supported to co-operate and help bring down those who have abused them.
This group of amendments concentrates on the duty to make arrangements for removal of migrants trying to enter the country. My noble friend set out very clearly the arguments for the amendments to which she has added her name. Amendment 9 proposes that the whole of Clause 2(7) should be removed. This would ensure that the treatment of unaccompanied children will be considered under existing UK domestic legislation, whereby Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 puts a duty on the Secretary of State to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in any of their functions relating to immigration, asylum or nationality.
There have been previous exemptions for unaccompanied children. Current Home Office guidance on inadmissibility sets out boldly:
“Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are not suitable for the inadmissibility process set out in this instruction”.
I am concerned that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK ratified in 1991, are ignored by this piece of legislation. The UNCRC preamble indicates that a child warrants special “safeguards”, with Article 22 requiring that refugee children be treated similarly to any other citizen child on a non-discriminatory basis.
Other amendments to be debated later—I thought they might be reached this evening, but it will clearly be another day—will deal in more detail with the treatment of unaccompanied children, and I do not want to repeat myself. I will confine myself to mentioning a phrase which is repeated in many of the briefings I have received:
Another frequently used phrase in the briefings is
“extremely vulnerable children who have fled conflict, persecution and other unimaginable harms and are in desperate need of support”.
The words “unimaginable harms” strike to the very heart of the matter. I cannot begin to contemplate what the harms might be, but they will not be good.
We are country with a proud reputation of accepting refugees. Unaccompanied children do not just leave their country of origin for anything other than exceptionally dire circumstances. We should be protecting them, and removing Clause 2(7) is a start in the right direction.
My Lords, I speak in favour of the amendments in this group, including my Amendment 8; I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for adding his name to it. My amendment deals specifically with Clause 2(4) and would include persecution of a person on the basis of gender, sexuality and gender identity for the purposes of the third condition under which a person could be removed. However, I wish to now speak against Clause 2 and the duty to deport.
As we have heard from other noble Lords, the Bill seeks to give unprecedented powers to the Home Secretary to deport people without even a fair hearing of their case. The Home Secretary is in fact compelled to carry out that duty, even when it conflicts with human rights protections. The Bill seeks to limit the circumstances in which legal challenges could prevent a removal and allows the Home Secretary to add or remove countries to the list of so-called safe countries. This is even more worrying, looking at Schedule 1. At present, four of the countries on that list are not signatories to the UN convention, and some may not even have a functional asylum system. I will come back to this later on a further grouping but, if a person were deported or returned to most of the countries on the list in Schedule 1, they would face discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nigeria is one that springs to mind.
Without the requirement to make individualised assessments about whether it is safe to remove a person seeking asylum, and in providing very limited opportunities for individuals to present evidence of the risks that they could face, there is a real concern that many refugees will be deported to a country where their safety is at risk, or returned to their home country where their life could be threatened again, as I have said. The refugee convention makes it clear that return is prohibited to any country where a refugee could face persecution and not just their own.
I return now to the thinking behind my own amendment. In passing through a so-called safe third country, I refer to the internationally accepted definition of a refugee, which makes reference to five possible grounds for persecution: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion: UN General Assembly 1951, page 137. These grounds are also recognised as covering persecution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and gender-based human rights abuses.
Such examples also illustrate that persecution may happen where the state is not itself the perpetrator. Although some definitions have in the past required this, it is not universal. I believe it is therefore right to expand within the Bill the acceptance of individuals becoming refugees both when persecution is perpetrated by the state and where there is a failure of the state to provide protection against persecution by others. On that basis, I commend my amendment to noble Lords.
My Lords, I will quickly speak on Amendment 12, otherwise I fear there will not be a second voice in support of the very important issue of the potential impact of the Bill in respect of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has pointed out that the human rights memorandum does not include an assessment of compliance of the Bill with Article 2 of the Windsor Framework, so my first question to the Minister is: will that memorandum be amended to include such an assessment?
The Bill raises significant concerns about compliance with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and with the Windsor Framework, because the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law was an explicit commitment of the Good Friday agreement and was achieved through the Human Rights Act. The Bill would constitute a breach of two core elements of this commitment: the guarantee of direct access to the courts and the obligation to provide remedies for breach of the convention, under the relevant chapter of the agreement. That chapter extends to everyone in the community, which includes asylum seekers and refugees.
I believe the Bill is also inconsistent with obligations under Article 2 of the Windsor Framework, which details various equality and non-discrimination EU directives with which Northern Ireland must keep pace. This includes the victims’ directive and the trafficking directive. The potential for the Bill to lead to failures in identifying and supporting trafficking victims, as well as the provisions on detention and removal, would place Northern Ireland in direct contravention of those directives. I believe that the Government’s explainer document on the Windsor Framework, Article 2, acknowledges that its protections apply to everyone who is subject to the law in Northern Ireland. Asylum seekers are part of the community and therefore protected by the Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity chapter of the Good Friday agreement. I understand that in ongoing court proceedings—I prefer “continuing” court proceedings—the Home Office has not disputed the argument that the protections of the relevant chapter of the Good Friday agreement extend to asylum seekers and refugees.
The Bill instructs the Secretary of State to declare inadmissible any claim that removal of an individual would breach their convention rights, if that individual met the extremely broad criteria covered by the duty to remove. It says that this inadmissibility cannot be appealed, so if those provisions were applied to someone arriving in Northern Ireland, it would be a direct breach of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement because it makes convention rights inaccessible and restricts that individual’s direct access to the courts and remedies for breach of the convention. Also, the application of the Bill to land border crossings could constitute a breach of Article 2 of the Windsor Framework and indeed of its very objectives.
To try to compress all that down, it is a matter of considerable concern that there is a failure to address compliance with Article 2 of the Windsor Framework, and more broadly with the Good Friday agreement, in the human rights memorandum to the Bill. I will end where I started, which is to ask the Minister whether such an assessment is going to materialise.
My Lords, I have co-signed the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile or Berriew, and that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. I will make some very brief comments on both.
The principle against retrospection in statutory provisions is very long-standing and well-established because it upsets settled status and settled rights. It follows that it can, save in exceptional circumstances, operate both unfairly and so as to create legal uncertainty in the way that people conduct their affairs.
The best example of where retrospection would be appropriate is in relation to a finance Bill and Act giving effect to a Budget, with the time lapse between the two enabling people to enter into tax avoidance arrangements. But here it would be utterly impossible—certainly without any credibility—to suggest that those who are either crossing the channel or promoting that crossing unlawfully or illegally have organised their affairs, or were ever likely to organise them, on the basis of the complex provisions of this statute. I have never heard anybody suggest to the contrary. For my part, I can see absolutely no sound reason why the normal rule—which is one of fairness and certainty, as I said—should be upset in this case.
I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, because extending the definition of the third condition to include gender identity and sexual orientation brings to the forefront something which has plainly been ignored in the drafting of the Bill. There is absolutely nothing in Schedule 1 which excludes from the places to which people can be removed those LGBT people who would undoubtedly face extreme persecution, varying from sentence of imprisonment to death and assault. Raising this issue here will, I hope, direct the Government and the Bill team to a serious lacuna in the legislation.
My Lords, I can be very brief. I have one amendment in this group, Amendment 39, which raises the same point as Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, on retrospectivity. I support all the amendments in his name to that effect. The only point I would have added would have been to read out my explanatory statement, which my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard has already done, placing particular stress on “for good reason”. If the Minister is not going to accept these amendments, I hope he can give the good reason in each case.
My Lords, I am puzzled by Amendment 6 and the reasons given by some of your Lordships for opposing the start date of
Both amendments would remove clarity from the Bill, which will make matters clear to those to whom the provisions apply. The Bill aims to deter and prevent. A start date of the Bill’s First Reading is not only clear but fair and proportionate. Those coming to this country in breach of immigration control rules—often from France—know where they stand and what provisions will apply to them after
The noble Baroness has had quite a lot to say today about the wishes of the people of this country. Would she like to tell us what her evidence is that the wish of the people of this country is that people should be retrospectively affected by legislation of which they plainly had no awareness at the time when it had its First Reading?
I think the noble Lord is not aware of the very good access to news which people coming to this country have—and which people traffickers have. It was no surprise that this Bill had its First Reading on
I conclude on a point made earlier. This is not a Bill against asylum seekers; it is a measure to deter and prevent those coming to this country by unsafe and unlawful routes.
My Lords, I will go where I was going without being distracted. I am aware that there is no Green group name on any of these amendments, which is the result of an administrative hitch earlier in the week, so I will be very brief—I am also aware of the hour. I shall make just three points about this group of amendments.
First, we have discussed the issue of retrospectivity a great deal. I align myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, among many others, who talked about approaching this as a lay person, which indeed I do as a non-lawyer. However, I have had a lot of contact with the law through my time as a journalist, and one of the things you learn is that the nature of the law is that they do not make laws retrospectively. That is in the general public understanding of what is law, so I associate myself with all the anti-retrospectivity amendments.
However, I particularly want to address Amendment 91, to which there has not been much attention given, which aims to prevent victims of human trafficking and modern slavery from having their leave retrospectively revoked to permit their deportation. This is leave granted to people under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. I am sure many noble Lords taking part in this debate can think of victims of trafficking and modern slavery whom they have met. I am thinking of one in particular, whom I will not identify in detail. She was a person who had clearly been enormously mentally scarred by the experience of losing control of her own life and being a slave. To think that we would put them in this position again, having granted them status and then snatched it away, highlights the emotional damage that that would do to people.
Secondly, my favoured position is to write out this whole Bill but, if we do not do that, then that Clause 2 should not stand part. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, made a powerful speech on this point. I want to raise a point no one else has raised. I ask the Minister to answer, although I expect he will be reluctant to, so maybe some of the other legal minds in the Committee can be put to this. Let us imagine that, after the next election, we have a change of government, and there has been written into law a duty for the Secretary of State to deport people. There is going to have to be an emergency Bill passed as soon as possible to stop that. I very much hope that would be the case for whoever the next the Government are. But there is going to be a total legal mess, I would imagine, when the people of the country have elected a Government standing on a different platform—I would hope—but that is the law of the land. I am not sure where that would leave us; I do not know if anyone could help me with that one.
I also want to address why the duties to remove in Clause 2 should not remain. Some 90% of the people in need of international protection who come to the UK could not do so directly as defined by this Bill. The refugee convention prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees for how they have entered the country, because most people have no choice but to enter a country irregularly. The convention explicitly states that you do not have to come directly to the country; there is no requirement of “first safe country”. That is the convention, yet we are writing this piece of this Bill. This clause simply must not stand part.
Thirdly, I want to identify particularly with Amendment 8. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, have already made this argument very powerfully. All I want to say is that my Second Reading speech addressed this issue at some length, and I would like to stress the Greens’ support for Amendment 8 in particular.
My Lords, there are two matters in this group that are in my name, but I shall address just one of them briefly—the other matters having been covered by earlier speakers—and that is the issue about coming directly to the United Kingdom.
The UNHCR, in its legal opinion, says that the vast majority of people in need of international protection will meet those criteria of not being able to come directly to the UK. Almost 90% of people in need of international protection globally come from countries where it is impossible to come directly to the UK—there are no direct flights, nowhere to get a visa, nowhere to make any of the paper arrangements we have set up. We will come to the issue of safe routes later, but the question I have to ask relates to the role of the UNHCR in supporting those who are in need of protection.
Apart from the one relating to Afghanistan, the UNHCR states that there are only two active legal resettlement schemes in the UK. The first is the UKRS, which is the UK resettlement scheme. Since 2020, the UNHCR
“has been requested by the Government not to submit new cases other than in extremely compelling circumstances and on an ad-hoc basis, amounting to a handful per year”.
The second one is the mandate resettlement programme, which provides a pathway for refugees:
“An average of fewer than 25 people a year come to the UK on this route. … they must be identified and referred by UNHCR in accordance with criteria agreed upon with the receiving State”.
So, essentially, the UNHCR has been told that it can have probably about 25 and perhaps five or six more. That is the total—apart from the Afghani stream—from the resettlement schemes that are open. In his reply, perhaps the Minister could tell us how people can get to the UK directly from the places from which they are seeking refuge, and also how these people can be filtered so that only the 30 or so people who can currently come per year will be accommodated.
My Lords, this group covers a wide range of amendments concerning the duty to make arrangements for removal. To summarise, it shows that the Government have not thought through the issues that arise from Clause 2. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, have spoken compellingly about the unfairness and uncertainty of retrospection. My noble friend Lady Hamwee spoke about the impact on unaccompanied children affected by the retrospection caused by Clause 2. My noble friends Lady Suttie and Lady Ludford spoke about the extreme dangers around the impacts of Clause 2 on the arrangements between the north and south of Ireland. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke about the perhaps unintended consequences of impeding the prosecution of traffickers and perpetrators of modern slavery.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, spoke about neglecting issues around sexual orientation and gender identity, which could be an extreme risk to people if they were to return to certain countries; they are completely left out of the Bill. My noble friend Lord German raised the important point about what it means when somebody has not come directly to the UK, and what the higher courts in this country have said about that. It was debated endlessly during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act but goes even further in this Bill, which is why Clause 2 should not stand part of the Bill.
I very much welcome Amendment 6 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the points he made on the retrospective nature of some of what is included in the Bill. It was a very powerful contribution that the Committee will need to reflect on. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, about the need to reflect sexual orientation and gender identity, is important as well. On Amendment 7 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, this issue of what is a safe country, and not being able to transit through a safe country, bedevils the Bill. The Minister cannot answer the question of how somebody gets here without going through a safe country if there is not a safe and legal route without flying. It is not feasible or possible.
I have always found astonishing the argument that nobody can come here if they travel through a safe country. If you take that to its extreme, it will mean that countries such as Italy, Spain and Turkey would have every single asylum seeker there was, because hundreds of thousands come through those countries. Are we saying that they should stay there? It is a shared responsibility. In Africa, some of the poorest countries in the world take millions of refugees. It is just not a feasible or credible statement to say that if somebody comes from a country where they are not threatened, they should stay there and claim asylum. It would essentially mean that no one would ever come here or be able to arrive in this country. It is a nonsense statement.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lord Hacking for their support for my Amendment 11. I tabled it as a marker because it seeks to provide an exemption from the duty to remove for those people co-operating with the police on people smuggling. For the reasons that the noble and learned Baroness, the right reverend Prelate and others pointed out, that co-operation with the police is essential for us to get the criminals who are involved in people smuggling.
In Clauses 2 and 21 the Government talk about exemptions from the duty to remove for people who co-operate with the police on modern slavery and trafficking. One of the reasons I have tabled my amendment is because I want the Minister to spell out what that actually means, apart from the obvious. People need to know and understand that the Government are saying that, if the police believe that you have been trafficked or identify you as a victim of modern slavery, you will absolutely be exempted—no exceptions—from the duty to remove under Clause 2. It does not include people smuggling, which is why I have put it in my amendment, but it also tests, in Committee, what the Government mean by Clause 21 in particular, about exempting people with respect to modern slavery and trafficking. Does that mean exactly what it says—that those people will be exempt from the duty to remove? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, Clause 2 is the centrepiece of the scheme provided for in the Bill. At its heart, the Bill seeks to change the existing legal framework so that those who arrive in the UK illegally can be detained and then promptly removed, either to their home country or to a safe third country.
Clause 2 seeks to achieve this by placing a legal duty on the Secretary of State to remove those who come to the UK illegally. The duty applies where an individual meets the four conditions set out in Clause 2, which I will briefly rehearse.
The first condition is about the lawfulness of the person’s entry into the UK. This underlines the Government’s commitment to take all possible measures to stop people making dangerous journeys to enter the UK illegally, particularly across the English Channel.
The second condition is that the individual must have entered the UK on or after
The third condition states that the duty will apply to an individual who has not come directly from a country in which their life and liberty were threatened. That means that anyone entering the UK from another country where their life was not in danger will fall within the scope of the duty. This is consistent with our obligations under the refugee convention and upholds the principle that asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. There is manifestly no need for people to make those dangerous journeys when they are already in a country where they are safe or could, in the case of France, for example, claim asylum. It places themselves and others at risk and puts money into the hands of organised criminals.
The fourth and final condition is that an individual requires leave to remain but does not have it. The duty to make arrangements for removal is subject only to very limited exceptions signposted in Clause 2(11), which we will come on to at a later date when we come to a later clause.
The fundamental point is that, subject to these limited exceptions, the Home Secretary will be under a clear and unambiguous legal duty to make arrangements for the removal of persons from the UK who satisfy those four conditions. She should not be deflected from fulfilling that legal duty. These provisions make it very clear that if you meet these four conditions you will not be able to make a new life in the UK.
A number of the amendments in this group relate to the four conditions I have described. Amendment 6 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, relates to the second condition. In effect, this and other amendments tabled by the noble Lord seek to do away with the backdating of the duty to remove so that it applies only to those who illegally enter the country from the date of commencement rather than from
The explanatory note to the noble and learned Lord’s Amendment 39 sums up the position well, as was noted by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. It says:
“This amendment seeks to give effect to the principle that, unless for good reason, legislation should operate prospectively and not retrospectively”.
I was challenged by the noble and learned Lord to explain what that good reason was. The Government entirely agree with the explanatory note from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The Committee will know that it is not uncommon in exceptional circumstances for legislation to have retrospective effect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, noted. But as the noble and learned Lord has acknowledged, there must be good reason for such exceptions. I suggest to the Committee that there is good reason in this instance for retrospection.
I would say that the retrospective nature of these provisions is critical. Without it, we risk organised criminals and people smugglers seeking to exploit this with an increase in the number of illegal arrivals ahead of commencement of the provisions in the Bill. This would likely lead to an increase in these unnecessary and dangerous small boat crossings and could even place more pressure on not only our asylum system, but our health, housing, educational and welfare services, not to mention our services for saving lives at sea.
Can the Minister explain why in that case the Nationality and Borders Act does not have a retrospective clause? What evidence does the Minister have, having announced the retrospective elements and that the provisions apply from when the Bill was first introduced into the House of Commons? What deterrent effect have we seen in terms of reducing the number of boat crossings?
Certainly. The structure of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 was very different. It was not a Bill like this one, which focuses on a duty to remove and is targeted at creating a disincentive effect on people crossing the channel. This is a very differently structured piece of legislation and therefore the retrospective element is a vital and logical part of the scheme in the Bill.
As to the evidence of the deterrent effect taking effect from the date of introduction, this is seen potentially in the fact that—and one can only draw inferences from the figures—it would appear that the numbers are down on this time last year. I accept that the weather has facilitated a good measure of that, but it is certainly right to say that had there not been a retrospectivity measure in the Bill I would conjecture that the numbers crossing the channel would have been far higher. It would have been easy for people smugglers to advertise their services—and I will come to this in a moment—as something of a fire sale, saying, “Get across the channel now. Here’s your opportunity before these measures in the Government’s new scheme take effect”.
The provision in the Bill does not mean that all those who enter the country illegally on or after
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, noted that retrospectivity is problematic because it impinges on legal certainty. The key here is that we have been clear in the Bill and in the public messaging—for example, in the statement given by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the other messaging—that this is the date when the scheme will commence. That means that there can be no uncertainty about the Government’s intention. While I accept that this is unusual in our legal system, it is not unheard of. The Revenue sometimes announces intended changes to tax law which are then later introduced by Finance Bills but backdated to the date of the announcement. In those cases, it is usually to prevent a closing-down sale of improper tax structures. There, retrospectivity is designed to protect tax revenue. Here, it is to prevent a closing-down sale of dangerous, sometimes fatal, channel crossings in the lead-up to some prospective date. We do not take this step lightly but feel it is necessary to reduce this perverse incentive.
I say “reduce” advisedly. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has pointed out that migrants on the other side of the channel may not be as well advised as some taxpayers, but it is clear they are alive to changes in policy in the UK. For example, it is clear that announcements of a change in the approach to Albanian illegal migrants has led to a very significant dropping off of that cohort in the small boats, even before removals have begun at scale. This shows that the criminal gangs and migrants are aware of policy announcements in the UK, as my noble friend Lady Lawlor has pointed out. Similarly, the original announcement of the Rwanda scheme was known in the camps in Calais, with some suggesting in reporting that asylum seekers sought to go to the Republic of Ireland instead to avoid being sent to Rwanda. Indeed, the then Taoiseach Michael Martin noted a surge in applications and partly blamed the Rwanda announcement.
While clearly announcing the start date of the new scheme may not have had a decisive impact, it is important to do everything we can to discourage those dangerous journeys. Announcements such as this can have an impact on behaviour, and we hope they will reduce the incentive for a surge in dangerous crossings, perhaps at a time when the weather makes crossing very dangerous. To answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, these are the compelling and exceptional circumstances that justify this decision.
I apologise to the Minister for intervening at this late hour. If I understand him correctly, it will now be permissible to legislate retrospectively in any case of criminality because, by definition, it is very important not to have a fire sale. If we believe that certain conduct is wrong and there is a gap, whatever that conduct is, and if it is a serious enough matter to legislate in criminal terms, for example, it would now and in the future be permissible to legislate retrospectively.
My second point is that the Minister seems to suggest, like his noble friend Lady Lawlor, that because Ministers have announced a prospective change in the law, that should be good enough, because presumably we now believe that executive fiat and ministerial announcements and pronouncements are enough to suggest to people, not just in our own country but across the world, that that is what the law is and will be and always was. Have I understood the Minister correctly on this point?
No, I am sorry to say. Clearly the position is not that in every case where there is a change in the criminal law it should have retrospective effect to the date of the Bill’s introduction. That is absolutely not what I am saying. What I am saying is that, in this context, to prevent a rush of people into these dangerous vessels, crossing the channel at a time when there is potentially bad weather, those were the special circumstances that justified retrospection in these provisions. To go back to one of the last major Bills to go through your Lordships’ House, which became the Public Order Act, I would not dream of suggesting that the offence of locking on should have had retrospective effect to the date of the introduction of the Bill; there would have been no exceptional circumstances for that.
While I am on the topic of the speech just given by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, I would like to address her suggestion that limited retrospectivity will lead to refoulement. This is clearly not the case. I can do no more than repeat that this Bill does not allow refoulement. It does not allow the Government to remove individuals to places where they will be in danger—and that, quite rightly, is under the supervision of the courts.
In particular, I would refer noble Lords to the clauses in the Bill relating to suspensive claims—Clauses 37 to 50—which allow Upper Tribunal judges to determine whether an individual faces a risk of “serious and irreversible harm”. If such a case is made out, the individual will not be removed to that place.
Amendment 7 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, relates to the third condition and to the issue of whether a person has or has not “come directly” from a country where their life and liberty were threatened. It is right that we prioritise protection for the most vulnerable people arriving through safe and legal routes rather than those who are strong or rich enough to have journeyed through safe countries and paid the people smugglers before they reach the UK.
In answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord German, repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, people seeking sanctuary should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach. There is no uniform international interpretation of the many concepts of the refugee convention. However, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties provides the treaty to be interpreted “in good faith”. It is on this basis that we have set out our interpretation of “come directly” through Clause 2. I might add that, were Amendment 7—
The Minister is beginning to address the question that I have raised twice: why should we accept this Government’s interpretation of the refugee convention over and above that of the body that is given authority by the UN to interpret it for the international community? Every other organisation that has briefed us has followed the UNHCR in its interpretation and there are very real fears of refoulement. As a noble Lord opposite said earlier. the reason given seems to be “Because we say so”, as you would say to a child. That is not good enough. We want to know exactly why we should accept the Government’s interpretation.
I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. The reality is that the Government take legal advice. The UNHCR is clearly a UN body; it is not charged with the interpretation of the refugee convention. Some parts of the UNHCR have views on the Government’s position, but it is always worth recalling that the UNHCR itself maintains refugee arrangements and accommodation in Rwanda. In December, the High Court considered the submissions from the UNHCR and discounted what was said. So I invite the noble Baroness, rather than simply taking the Government’s word for it, to review the judgment of the Divisional Court, a careful and considered judgment, which considered the legality of the removal scheme.
The Minister has latched on to the wrong point—not the point that the UNHCR has made again and again that it is not compatible with the obligations of our membership to refuse to consider a request for asylum. It is nothing to do with Rwanda; it is to do with refusing a request for asylum. The Minister admitted earlier that there is no explicit provision in the refugee convention that permits us to do that. That is the basis of the UNHCR’s position. Frankly, his suggestion that there are differences of opinion in the UNHCR is pretty contemptible. The High Commissioner for Refugees has said he does not think this is compatible.
I am afraid that I again find myself at odds with the noble Lord. The reality is that the UN itself relocates refugees to Rwanda. As I say, there is no suggestion that people’s asylum claims will not be dealt with under this scheme; their asylum claim will be dealt with in Rwanda once they are removed, and that is entirely compatible with the convention. There is no requirement on a member state of the convention to determine asylum claims within its own territory. That is abundantly plain.
The Minister says there is no requirement in the convention for a convention state to handle an asylum request on its own territory, but surely the deal with Rwanda rules out our ever hearing these cases. In Rwanda, people are allowed to apply for asylum in Rwanda, but their case for asylum in the United Kingdom will never be admitted. Is that not correct?
If Amendment 7 were agreed, removing the third condition, the duty to remove would also apply to those who had come directly from a country where their life and liberty were threatened, and I am sure that is not what the noble Lord would want.
Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, also relates to the third condition. I put it to the noble Lord that the wording in Clause 2(4), referring to threats by reason of a person’s race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, reflects the definition of a refugee in Article 1 of the refugee convention. We have heard a lot today about adherence to the refugee convention and other international treaties. There may be a case for amending the definitions in the convention to reflect the world of today rather than what it was in 1951, but we should not put the cart before the horse and insert wording in the Bill at odds with the current wording of the convention.
I add that the reference to membership of a particular social group may, on the facts of a particular case, cover a person fleeing persecution on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Lastly, it is not right to suggest, as the noble Lord does, that the Bill removes individualised assessments. It does not. Officials will make assessments and those can be challenged, including by way of suspensive claims, as we have already discussed.
Amendment 9 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would remove subsection (7). This ties in with the fourth condition, which is that a person requires leave to enter or remain in the UK but does not have it. We will have a fuller debate about unaccompanied children later in Committee, but subsection (7) recognises that the duty to remove does not apply to unaccompanied children, and where they are not to be removed under the power conferred in Clause 3, the expectation is that they will normally be provided with temporary permission to remain in the UK until they are 18 years old under provisions to be made in the Immigration Rules. If subsection (7) is removed from Clause 2, an unaccompanied child given this temporary permission to remain would not then satisfy the fourth condition, thereby undermining our approach to unaccompanied children. As I say, we will have a fuller debate on this issue when we get to Clause 3, which feels like some time away.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also has Amendment 10, requiring the Home Secretary to inform people when it has been decided that the duty to remove applies to them. Such information would include providing details of any evidence relied upon to make that decision. We have already provided, in Clause 7(2), for a person to be issued with a removal notice detailing, among other things, their right to make a suspensive claim. It is implicit in these provisions that the issue of a removal notice follows a determination that the person satisfies the four conditions in Clause 2. The four conditions relate to issues of fact. A person in receipt of a removal notice will themselves know, or ought to know, whether the conditions apply. If they have compelling evidence that the Home Secretary has made a mistake of fact, they can submit a factual suspensive claim to challenge the removal notice. We will return to those provisions, too, in due course in Committee.
Amendment 11 was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others. As we will come on to in later clauses, we have made particular provision for potential victims of modern slavery who are co-operating with law enforcement agencies, and it is necessary for them to remain in the UK in furtherance of such co-operation. In later debates, we will address the wider issue of the progress being made by the NCA and others in tackling the criminal gangs that are not perpetuating human trafficking but are engaged in people smuggling. It is worth also noting, in response to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that if an individual who had been trafficked came forward, they would be sent only somewhere where they would be safe—whether their own home country, if it was safe, or a safe third country. In all cases, they would no longer be in the control of their trafficker.
A key purpose of the Bill is to break the business model of the people smugglers. That will not happen if we undermine the central tenet of the Bill: that if you come here illegally you cannot stay, and instead you will be liable to detention and promptly removed. If we build exceptions and loopholes into the fabric of the Bill, it will be undermined and will not work. If those coming over on small boats have information that will assist in the investigation of people-smuggling offences, they can provide it, but this cannot be a reason to delay removal. Any co-operation with law enforcement agencies can, if appropriate, continue from abroad. If the experience of the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that a lot can be achieved remotely. Indeed, our domestic courts and law enforcement are well used to this by now.
Finally, Amendment 12 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, deals with the issue of entry into the United Kingdom over the Irish land border. We discussed this at length during the dinner break business yesterday in relation to the recent SI on electronic travel authorisation. I note that this is a probing amendment relating to the concerns that have been raised regarding tourists and other people who inadvertently arrive in the UK from the Republic of Ireland via the land border with Northern Ireland. As is currently the case, tourists from countries requiring visas to come to the UK as visitors should obtain these before they travel. That is as it should be. That said, I recognise the issue she has raised and accept that some individuals may, entirely unwittingly, enter the UK without leave via the Irish land border, as I said yesterday.
We are examining this issue further. I would point the noble Baroness to the regulation-making power in Clause 3, which will enable us to provide for exceptions to the duty to remove where it would be appropriate to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked me about the status of a child born in the UK to a woman who meets the conditions in Clause 2. The short answer is that the child will not satisfy the conditions in Clause 2, but I will write to her with a more detailed explanation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked about compatibility with article 2 of the Windsor Framework. There is a later amendment to which she has added her name, Amendment 137, on this very issue. We will come on to that later in the Committee.
As I indicated at the start, this clause provides the foundations for the Bill as a whole. It is fundamental to the effective operation of the scheme and my fear is that the amendments put forward would serve only to weaken the effectiveness of the scheme. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, there was an issue about adoption of a child who came to this country, or came in the womb of somebody arriving in the country, into a British family. Are they at danger under the Bill?
Forgive me: as I thought I said, the status of a child born in the UK to a woman who meets the conditions in Clause 2 is that they would not satisfy the conditions in that clause. I realise that there were a number of hypotheticals in the way that that question was written. If I may, I would like to go away and think about them. I will reply by letter in due course, and obviously publicise that letter.
The Minister, not to my surprise, did not address my question about what happens after the election. I will phrase the question another way. In your Lordships’ House, we often ask about “must” and “may” provisions. Rather than a duty to remove, surely the Government could make it that the Secretary of State “may” remove. That would allow this Government to act as they wish but would not attempt to tie the hands of any future Government.
I am afraid the structure of the Bill is that it creates a duty on the Secretary of State. That is in order to send the deterrence message that entering the country illegally is unacceptable and to reduce the number of people crossing the channel. I am afraid to say that it is a logical step that if the Government were to change, then it would be open to that other Government to pass legislation of their own. That is democracy.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his patience, but it is not quite right that that is the reason for the “must”, is it? It is not to send a signal to all those people overseas who are reading our draft legislation; it is to give a direction to our courts. The Home Secretary is choosing to tie her own hands. It is really in order to oust the jurisdiction of the courts and their ability to say that where the Secretary of State has a choice, they should exercise that choice in compliance with international law.
Clearly, the intent is to send a message—that people really must not make these dangerous journeys across the channel. As I say, all the avenues of legal challenge are open but there are only two categories that will suspend removal. There are a number of provisions—I am sure the noble Baroness and I will be debating them at length over the coming days in Committee—and that is how the Bill will have its effect.
I will certainly place a copy in the Library of the House. I hope that suffices. I am sure that my private office can work out who is here and is participating.
Before the noble Lord stands up again, I feel I should bring this debate to a close. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, particularly those who supported the amendments in my name. A number of other very interesting issues have been raised. I have no doubt that we will be returning to a number of them on Report; I certainly will.
The reasons given by the Minister for what he recognises is the exceptional course of retrospectivity—I am using his words—involved conjecture: a conjecture that a very small change in the numbers, for whatever reason, of people coming on boats shows that the retrospectivity is working. I have been a Silk for 39 years. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, we have probably met more criminals than the rest of this Committee added together. My observation would be a rather less naive one than that made by the Minister. Criminals are infinitely adaptable. If the Government think that the boats are being stopped, it is not evidence that fewer people are coming into this country, because there are different ways and means of doing it.
From what we have heard today—maybe on Report we will hear something different—I really believe that the case for exceptionality is far from proved. I take the view, therefore, that we will have to come back to these subjects. I urge the Government to meet noble Lords who have spoken in these debates before Report so that we can see whether there is some common ground we can find that will make this a better Bill rather than a battleground in your Lordships’ House. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 to 12 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
House adjourned at 10.51 pm.