Clause 30 - article 1(a)(2): reasons for persecution

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:13 pm on 26 October 2021.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:13, 26 October 2021

I beg to move amendment 49, in clause 30, page 31, line 47, leave out “both” and insert “either”.

This amendment would mean that – in order to be defined as a particular social group for the purposes of the Refugee Convention – a group would only have to meet one (not both) of the conditions set out in subsections 3 and 4.

I have a short but important point to make. The clause concerns the definition of a particular social group, which is an important concept in refugee law and has been crucial to its ongoing relevance across many decades. The clause is controversial because it makes an important change to how a particular social group is defined. In the House of Lords case of the Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Fornah, a long-standing argument about whether the tests in subsection (3) of the clause should be cumulative or alternative was addressed and it was decided that there was no need to meet both of those conditions; one or the other would suffice. However, in the Bill, the Government have decided to change that approach. It now demands that both conditions are met, and that seems to contradict established case law in this country. I simply ask the Government to explain why they have taken a more restrictive approach.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Clause 30 aims to clarify an area where there has been a degree of contradiction and confusion. There is a clear mismatch between how the concept of “particular social group” is set out in current legislation, Government policy and in some tribunal judgments, against the interpretation taken in some case law. That is unhelpful for all those working in and engaging with the asylum system, and who most of all want clarity and consistency. Defining how key elements of the convention should be interpreted and applied is vital in creating a robust system that can generate consistency and certainty, which ultimately will drive efficiency. I trust that members of the Committee will agree with that principle. The historical confusion demonstrates perfectly why what we are doing in this clause is so important and is a desirable law reform.

I cannot agree to the change proposed by the hon. Gentleman. First, it is important to state that the conditions set out in the clause reflect current Government policy; it is not a change. The amendment would mean that a group need only meet one of the conditions to be considered as a particular social group. That significantly broadens the scope of who may be covered by the convention. It would erode the concept that people deserve and need protection based on fundamental characteristics that go to the core of who they are, such as their faith or sexuality. It proposes instead to broaden the definition to cover potentially transient factors that can perhaps be changed, but that fundamentally misunderstands the very basis of what it means to be a refugee, as envisaged by the refugee convention, and why we have a system to offer protection. I hope my explanation has reassured colleagues across the Committee, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned established case law on the correct definition of “particular social group”, so I will say something briefly about that. As with many of the key concepts of the refugee convention, case law has developed over the years on how to apply the term “particular social group” for the purpose of considering whether a claimant has a convention reason. Despite significant judicial interest in the interpretation of “particular social group” in case law, there is no established case law on the point. There is, however, conflicting tribunal-level case law and obiter comments by the House of Lords in the case of Fornah. Consequently, the clause seeks to provide clarity on the UK’s interpretation of a particular social group, to ensure that it is applied consistently among decision makers.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I agree with the Minister that we need clarity, but there are two different ways of providing clarity: we can either combine the requirements or use them as alternatives. I say that we should provide clarity by using them as alternatives. That is how the House of Lords interpreted the convention in the case of Fornah, and that is what the tribunal did recently as well, so I wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 29 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 30 - article 1(a)(2): reasons for persecution

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 7.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clauses 31 to 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.