The Government are committed to delivering an asylum system that continues to protect individuals from persecution, including that based on sexual orientation and gender identity. At the same time, we remain determined to tackle illegal migration so that we deter individuals from risking their lives making dangerous channel crossings.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I ask this Question in relation to assurances given during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill through your Lordships’ House, in particular on LGBT+ asylum seekers. I remain deeply concerned given the recent statements made by the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, in the United Kingdom and the United States and the misrepresentation—indeed, the belittling —of the discrimination experienced by women and LGBT+ people, which, I believe, undermine the assurances given. Therefore, having given the Minister sight of my Question because I believe that we need to detoxify this issue, I ask the Government for an unequivocal reassurance that they will abide by the commitments made to this House and will maintain the principle of assessing the risk of persecution faced by women and LGBT+ people, which is established in law and which I believe forms the basis of a humane, comprehensive asylum policy.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me sight of his Question in advance. I can assure noble Lords that the cornerstone of the asylum consideration process remains the requirement to establish a well-founded fear of persecution for a reason set out in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 refugee convention and enshrined in last year’s Nationality and Borders Act. There has been no downgrading of the threshold. We do not return asylum seekers to their home countries if their sexuality or gender would place them at risk of future serious harm or persecution. This is of course the principle derived from the case of HJ (Iran), which we discussed during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill. Nor would we relocate someone to a safe third country if there was a real risk of their suffering serious and irreversible harm if they were removed from the United Kingdom.
My Lords, is it not the case that many LGBT people seeking asylum do not have access to legal advice to help them prepare for interviews in which they must explain convincingly why they fear persecution in their own countries? Has the Home Office made any assessment of the impact that speeding up asylum processing will have on those who lack legal advice as they prepare for their interviews?
Legal advice is certainly an issue we are aware of, and assistance is provided to those making applications. It may be of note to my noble friend that the number of LGB claims in 2022 almost doubled—an 89% increase compared to 2021. Thus, in 2022, 2% of asylum claims in the United Kingdom—1,334 claims—included sexual orientation as part of the basis for the claim. There do not appear to have been any issues concerning representation, given the increase in the number of such claims.
As the noble Baroness will recall, as part of the structure of the Illegal Migration Act detention forms an important part of the deterrent effect to dissuade people from crossing the channel. Of course, detention should only be done when it is necessary. In these circumstances the Government take the view that it is.
My Lords, while the Minister’s earlier remarks were very welcome, feeding the culture of disbelief in the Home Office, as the Home Secretary did, too often means that women who claim asylum on the basis of sexual orientation have their claims wrongly refused. What steps will the Government take to tackle this damaging culture of disbelief?
I do not accept that there is a damaging culture of disbelief. Asylum claims are taken very seriously by the department, as can be seen from the grant rates in asylum cases. We also have a very elaborate appeal structure to independent members of the judiciary, so I do not accept the premise of the noble Baroness’s question.
My Lords, I am slightly troubled by some of the remarks made by the Home Secretary, to be perfectly frank. There is a phrase, “performative utterance”. By creating a space in which it is possible to doubt and to sow that doubt you are therefore making it discomforting for those who might seek asylum in this country and all the good things which we have stated. I would like to believe that the Home Secretary did not mean what she said. Is the Minister sure that she did mean that?
I am unsure what my noble friend has deduced from the Home Secretary’s speech. She merely observed that the European Court of Human Rights could be more transparent and accountable in how it interprets rights. The Government do not believe that it is necessary to leave the ECHR in order to deliver major priorities such as tackling illegal migration. I can only commend her speech to noble Lords. It repays careful reading.
My Lords, does this not go to the heart of the problem the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, has just outlined? The Minister gives us reassurances from the Dispatch Box and, as my noble friend Lord Cashman said, we had many reassurances during the passage of the Illegal Migration Act. However, it does not alter the fact that the Minister’s boss, the Home Secretary, stated that claiming asylum on the basis of persecution for being gay or a woman would not be sufficient. Who are we to believe? Is the Minister making up policy different from that of the Home Secretary, or will he now go back to her and say that this House demands an asylum system based on the principles we have always had—that where anybody faces persecution, this country offers a safe haven?
I fear that the noble Lord has not read the Home Secretary’s speech closely enough. She asserted that there exist interpretative shifts away from persecution in favour of discrimination, and from well-founded fear towards a credible or plausible fear, and there may be a need to tighten the definition of who qualifies for protection.
My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, refers to ill treatment and sexual orientation. When I steered through this Chamber the same-sex marriage legislation relating to Northern Ireland, a friend of mine was sat in the Public Gallery who would have qualified under that law, being an Ulsterman. He had been subjected to conversion therapy. Can my noble friend please convey a message back to the Government that a large number of people in this House would welcome a conversion therapy Bill being introduced in the King’s Speech?
I am afraid that, just like my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, I do not know what will be in the King’s Speech, but I will certainly take that point back. The Government remain committed to upholding the rights of LGBT+ people and stand with those around the world facing persecution in relation to their sexuality or gender. No one should be persecuted because of their sexuality or gender identity.
On two occasions during this session of Questions, interpretations have been put, one way or the other, on utterances of the Home Secretary. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, has argued his case, and the Minister is doing the same. Can we deduce from these differences of understanding that the Home Secretary has mastered the art of studied ambiguity and is able in her speeches to say just enough of an unacceptable nature to persuade people that that is the policy of the Government she represents? Could the Minister perhaps have a little word with his boss to indicate that people are broadly getting the message that all her speeches need to be interpreted, because none of us understands much about where she wants to go with her political career?