European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Exiting the European Union

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Lord Dubs Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th January 2020

(4 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (15 Jan 2020)
Omitting Clause 37 would ensure the continuation of the refugee children and family reunification provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, I will argue that Clause 37 should not stand part of this Bill. I think I have had three sets of discussions with Ministers about this, for which I am enormously grateful: once on the phone and twice in meetings face to face. I am grateful for the time they have given me. Indeed, I was quite flattered on one occasion that there were three Ministers and seven officials—I thought the odds were just about even on that one. At any rate, I have had plenty of chances to make my points.

Regarding the Salisbury convention, as it was mentioned in the last discussion, it is fairly clear to me that it would allow us to move this amendment—to do what we like—on unaccompanied child refugees, because they were not given any mention in the Conservative Party manifesto. Indeed, it was quite a shock to many of us when we saw the Bill that Clause 37 was there at all, as we had had no previous warning.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I am not sure that I can give that undertaking but I will certainly request it. I will also come on to the noble Baroness’s question about the words “best interests” appearing in subsection (1)(a) but not in (1)(b). The phrase “equivalent circumstances” in subsection (1)(b) duplicates that. She might like to take a look at that and, if she is not content, I will be happy to go through it with her.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talked about the gap, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay pointed out that Dublin III will exist until the end of the implementation period. My noble friend Lord Elton asked for the definition of “relative”. I think that there has been another misunderstanding—that all the relatives were listed in Section 17 but do not appear in Clause 37, although they do. A relative in relation to an unaccompanied child means

“a spouse or civil partner of the child or any person with whom the child has a durable relationship that is similar to marriage or civil partnership, or … a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child”.

That is quite an extensive list and I hope that that helps my noble friend.

I shall finish on the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. Section 17 in and of itself gives no rights to children. Through Clause 37 we are attempting to lay out our intentions. We have done so in the manifesto and have already started talks with the EU on this subject. Our commitment to children has not changed.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs
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My Lords, perhaps I may say a few brief words. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has been quite illuminating in the main, but perhaps I may comment on two or three specific points.

First, I want to refer to what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said. I very much respect her important work with Save the Children and other organisations overseas, but I think she is quite wrong on the trafficking argument. Where there are no legal routes to safety, people will allow themselves to be trafficked and will come illegally. Surely, by having legal routes to safety, we are making the position of traffickers much more difficult and making it much easier for people to achieve safety. Therefore, I am sorry but I do not agree with her on that.

Perhaps I may also return to the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, made. I do not have the wording of Section 17 of the 2018 Act in front of me but it has been referred to. It says that the Government should seek to negotiate on a particular basis. We have already talked about Clause 33 of this Bill, which would add something to the 2018 Act. It says:

“A Minister of the Crown may not agree in the Joint Committee to an extension of the implementation period.”

That is telling a Minister of the Crown exactly what he or she may or may not do, which is totally at variance with the argument that we have heard on Clause 37. I do not understand. On the one hand, the Government are saying in their own Bill that Ministers may be told what to do; on the other hand, they are using that as an argument against my amendment.

I am sorry to quote the Minister’s letter again but one paragraph seems to be at variance with other points and I wonder whether the Minister would like to withdraw it. It includes the words,

“so that the traditional division between Government and Parliament be restored”—

that is, by removing Section 17—

“and the negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas.”

That goes a lot wider than what we have been talking about tonight. It seems to me that this is meant to talk about some relationship between government and Parliament, which in any case Clause 33 disproves, and it refers to

“an appropriate manner across all policy areas.”

I am sorry but I cannot interpret that in the way the Minister suggests.

I want briefly to make two or three other comments. I agree that the manifesto talks about a commitment to refugees but it says nothing about child refugees. It says nothing at all that would enable the Government to invoke the Salisbury convention against my wish to remove Clause 37 from the Bill. If the Minister would like to meet me to talk about local authorities, I would be very happy to do so. I know that local authorities are very helpful. I know of Northern Ireland organisations that will want to help now that the Government there has been restored. The debate is going on in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, although no decision has been made there yet. It seems to me, however, that there are more local authorities. In addition, Safe Passage, one of the NGOs with which I am working closely, has written to all local authorities and we have got quite a lot of positive answers. This shows that local authorities are willing to take more.

When we debated Section 67 in 2016 and the amendment that I put forward about child refugees with no people here, there was a fierce battle. I was asked time and again to withdraw my amendment. The Home Secretary asked me to withdraw my amendment. It got through, despite the Government’s wishes, and it got through the other House, despite their wishes. Then we had the amendment to the 2018 Act that we are talking about now. Again, there was a big vote fairly late in the evening; the Government did not want it. In opposition, we had to argue for amendments on behalf of refugees and now the Government seem to be taking credit for that. I am sorry, but that is not the way the world has been. I appreciate that the Minister is totally sympathetic to refugees, but that is not how the Government have behaved. They have resisted all these amendments and all we have in opposition is the chance to move amendments in the hope of making our point. That is why we have had these arguments.

I shall not press this issue tonight, but particularly in the light of the discussion, I might wish to return to it on Report.

Clause 37 agreed.