Modern Slavery National Referral Mechanism: Waiting Times

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Monday 13th May 2024

(2 months ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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Can the Minister answer the question about the discrepancy between women and men in the cases cited?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I apologise; I should have addressed that. I do not know the precise reason for those discrepancies, but I will look into the details and come back to the noble Lord.

Windrush

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Excerpts
Thursday 29th February 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I feel that there is little I can say that will deepen the feelings we have heard expressed, mitigate the experiences that have been described to us or strengthen the arguments that have been put forward by the noble Lords who have spoken before me. I do not want simply to offer a gesture of support. I can only undertake in my daily life to put into practice the high ideals that they set and to live by the tenets of justice to which they have appealed. In that respect, therefore, I do not expect to have much of substance to say in this debate, but I did not want to miss the chance to say even that.

I have to say that the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, and my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley—and, in a moment, the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, by anticipation—are people who have kept us on our toes. However, I want to say a word of respect for one other contributor to this debate from across the Chamber: the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. It takes a bit of guts when you are in government to speak from the Government Benches as openly and frankly as he has. Yesterday, he was in an audience to which I spoke, and he said nice things to me afterwards; I am so delighted to have the chance to return the compliment today.

In thinking about this debate, I was on two tracks as to any contribution I might make. The first was to take the report of Wendy Williams and make it the basis for our debate, but I would want to do that only if we went one at a time through the 30 recommendations she made to see what progress had been made in respect of each one. I know that we would pause at recommendations 3, 9 and 10 and possibly have rather longer debates there, but I would rather like to see how we measure the progress against all 30 of them. Granted, even 10 minutes each would not allow us to do that.

In the time available to me now, I can say only this: what a contrast it has been for me, as a member of your Lordships’ House, in the past three or four years as we have dealt with three pieces of legislation relating to immigration—the Nationality and Borders Act, the Illegal Migration Act and, soon, the Rwanda Act—which, when they were before us, commanded energy and support from the Benches opposite. Where there is a will, there is a way. The Government were definitely showing that they had a will: they therefore wanted to push matters through with energy and as quickly as possible. Contrast that with the length of time it has taken to deal with these proposals. Do not the Government feel that it would be a good thing to be able to say to the House, “Here are the proposals”—they may well be in line with those of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley—“and they will be enacted in the next year. We will put the same energy that we put into those other migration-related pieces of legislation into getting this sorted once and for all”? Would that not be simply wonderful? However, I suggest that noble Lords look at the well-peopled Government Benches today and ask themselves whether that will could possibly be mustered in respect of this matter.

Again and again in the debates surrounding the three Acts of Parliament that I mentioned, we have been told that it is important to stop the boats because the people of Britain want it. I do not know on what basis those who said those words really understood what they were saying but I know that, if we can get this matter wrapped up and dealt with quickly, it will be what the people of Britain want.

On that note, I am very happy, with four minutes of credit to everybody concerned, to take my place again.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, this time last week, I was in Strasbourg for meetings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—a body dedicated to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. On its first day, as is usual, there were two meetings of its various committees. I sit on its migration committee. We were pretty much preoccupied with the plight of abducted Ukrainian children being forcibly taken into Russia to be Russified and eventually turned back to fight against their own people—a horrendous situation indeed.

However, in the informal times between our business items, I was besieged by people from Parliaments across Europe who wanted to ask me about what was happening here last Monday. I explained the nature of that debate, and wished I had been here myself. There was a short gap in the proceedings that allowed me, with such technical ability as I have, to get the debate on my telephone screen. I was able to follow a small part of the debate that took place here last week, pretty much on the subject we are debating right now. I got only a snippet of the debate, but enough to make me think a great deal.

I saw an exchange, some might call it a spat, between the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, who is in his place—an honourable man of Tredegar, which is what confers the honourableness on him—and my noble friend, if I may be allowed to award him that accolade for the purpose of this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. The discussion was about the rule of law and the role of the UNHCR in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Sitting next to me was Andreas Wissner, the UNHCR official in Strasbourg.

The point at issue was the decision of the Supreme Court that the UNHCR is entrusted

“with the supervision of the interpretation and application of the Refugee Convention”.

I am getting my bearings from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, because it is he who was quoting. Later, it was said that the UNHCR’s guidance

“should be accorded considerable weight”.

The two words that the noble Lord singled out in his speech were “supervision”—that is, of the interpretation allowed to each member state to apply the laws and conventions according to the light of their own experience—and “guidance”. Both of these, he argued, offered a clear indication that the UNHCR was not entrusted with final or binding decisions but merely with the giving of critical advice and counsel.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was clear that the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson and Lord Murray—who is not in his place; I could have been complimentary about him but I am glad not to be given the opportunity—were both wrong in their suggestion that the UNHCR is not charged with the interpretation of the refugee convention. It is so charged, said the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the Supreme Court agreed with him. When lawyers, even distinguished lawyers, disagree—I am a minnow here, swimming for his life in a deep bowl—it is sometimes a good thing to turn to the way the point at issue has been applied in previous cases.

Indeed, Section 2 of the Human Rights Act requires courts to take into account the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in making their decisions. This is good advice, not only for courts but for distinguished lawyers speaking in your Lordships’ House. The UNHCR has given detailed attention to all three major pieces of legislation that have been before this House in the last short period. Its reports make most interesting reading and have been very carefully drawn up. We have to bear in mind the role of the UNHCR and, in looking to resolve the dispute that was on air last week, case law—the way the laws have been applied—needs to play its proper part. The advice was clear: the way we are going will involve a serious breach of international law and seriously damage the UK’s standing in the world.

As I did some thinking on these matters in Strasbourg last week, the battery on my phone ran out. The screen darkened, and so did my spirits lower, as I thought, “Next week I’ll be here trying to make some kind of contribution to what I believe is a fundamental aspect of what it means to belong to this country”. Nobody could have said it better than the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, in his welcome return to this House earlier—in three minutes, and, gosh, look at me. Well, to return to my meeting in Strasbourg—guess what? We were discussing migration and the rule of law.

Refugees: Notice Period for Home Office Accommodation

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Monday 18th December 2023

(6 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness asks me a good question. I am going to look into that, because I do not know. I assume that they are made aware of it, of course, but I have not been present when one of these notices is issued. I will find out.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, the most eloquent contribution to this short debate has been the silence of the Members on the Conservative Benches. Is it not a fact that, as was alluded to in the right reverend Prelate’s question, getting into the system for benefits and the rest of it requires more than the length of time that we are talking about?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I say to the noble Lord that that is not the case. You can start to apply for things like universal credit before you receive the biometric residence permit. I appreciate that that is not perfect, but it is certainly enough time to get into the system.

UK-Rwanda Partnership

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Excerpts
Thursday 7th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend makes a good point, as he did earlier this week when asking his Question. I must say, since answering it I have pored over the various publications one would normally expect to make remarks about such a potential outrage, and I have found that they are few, so my noble friend is quite right to make that observation. Obviously, it is not for a Minister to comment from the Dispatch Box on what other countries are doing, but I would observe that plenty of other countries in Europe and around the world are investigating similar schemes to the one we propose. We have those conversations on a regular basis, including with countries such as Germany and Denmark.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, may I rephrase—or re-present—the question put by the right reverend Prelate in respect of clergymen coming to this country, which was rebuffed on the grounds that the Church of England is rather wealthy, given its endowments, and should pay its vicars more? As a Methodist—we have no land or money to back us up, and our salaries are much lower than those of vicars—may I ask whether Methodist ministers will be allowed to benefit from whatever can be benefited from in this legislation?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that question. I would certainly make a personal observation: he has a much better case.

Asylum Seekers: Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Excerpts
Wednesday 25th October 2023

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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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?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid that I must disagree with the noble Lord. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is always admirably clear in her speeches, and there can be no doubt that the issues she discussed in the learned speech she gave in Washington are ones the House should consider closely.

Family Migration (Justice and Home Affairs Committee Report)

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Wednesday 20th September 2023

(9 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, as I was sitting here innocently awaiting my turn to speak, a whisper in my ear said that I would follow the Bishop. It is the entire story of my life as a Methodist minister that I have always been obliged to follow a bishop. I am always glad to follow this particular one, who has persistently argued his case and put the Government in a place where he and we expect answers.

I use the few minutes at my disposal to take an opportunity that is rarely afforded me. I am part of the delegation that represents our Parliament at the Council of Europe. I sit on its migration committee, which commissioned me to write a report to assess the impact of 70 years of the convention on refugees and displaced people from 1951. I did so three years ago, and that report was subsequently endorsed by a full meeting of the parliamentary assembly in Rome in November 2021.

In the work that I did then, I noticed a certain theme that could be traced through all the ups and downs of the migration question in the intervening years. I start by quoting a sentence or two from the decisions of the conference of plenipotentiaries, which met after the ratification of the convention in which the words appear. The conference recommended that the “unity of … the family” should be

“maintained particularly in cases where the head of the family has fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country”,

by extending the

“rights granted to a refugee”

to cover all the members of their family and providing special protection for

“refugees who are minors, in particular unaccompanied children and girls”.

That is how it started. The convention itself is of course more ample even than that.

In the report that I wrote and submitted, the following proposal appears:

“The Assembly … notes that recent Council of Europe action plans formulated in the migration sphere, which have focused on the protection of children and vulnerable persons, are set to conclude in 2025. For the period following that date, as part of a succession plan, the Council of Europe … should consider aligning itself with the UNHCR and its ‘Strategy on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways’. This strategy has set target figures for resettlement of one million refugees and two million others through complementary pathways such as family reunification or labour mobility schemes—targets to be achieved by 2028. A new pan-European action plan to support resettlement and enhance refugees’ self-reliance in the period from 2025 to 2028”


would allow great benefit to the countries involved. That recommendation was made and accepted.

As a cry of despair, really, I ask the noble Lord the governor—I apologise, I cannot even imagine how I could make such a mistake. I ask the lovely noble Lord the Minister: to what extent, and in what detail, does the Home Office look at what comes out of Strasbourg and use the fact that some of us have been there for the deliberations to engage in discussions on the pithy points being made at the heart of these recommendations? This was unanimously accepted: a pan-European approach to the whole problem, with reunification of families at the very heart of that recommendation.

These arguments were presented and the council deliberated in the shadow of the first of those two wretched Acts—the Nationality and Borders Act and the Illegal Migration Act. They have robbed our country of its authoritative voice in speaking to these issues in the meetings of the assembly.

Illegal Migration Bill

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am very grateful to my noble friend for that intervention; he makes a very good point, with which I agree. Economic assessments are guarded with caveats, like any other economic forecast.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I will be very happy to agree or disagree with whatever impact assessment arises, when I see it. How can we possibly take the advice just offered and make an opinion about something that might or might not be accurate until we see what to base our judgment on? It is an extraordinary, circular argument, from someone who wants to give a fig leaf to the Minister.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I hear what the noble Lord says, but in any Bill the economic impact assessment—where one is provided, which is not in every case—is only ever one piece of the documentation that is available in support of a Bill. The impact assessment will be published in due course; I am afraid I cannot give the noble Lord any more information. I hear what he says, and the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and will take their comments back to the department.

Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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I have a very short point to make. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, say that he was a great fan of the rule of law, but he, like the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, seems to think that it is something that can be moulded in accordance with political desire in Parliament. We should be quite clear about this, and the point is not a difficult one.

The rule of law is made up of various ingredients. One of those ingredients is compliance with international obligations. If you do not like the obligations and wish to comply with the rule of law, you either secede from the convention or international obligation or you change it. So long as it is there, you have to comply with it if you want to say that you are a country that observes the rule of law. We are a leading world democracy. If we do not abide by the rule of law, we place ourselves in the company of numerous rogue nations. This country deserves better than that.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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I feel a little intimidated to follow such an intervention. I am not a lawyer either, but I am a member, as I have said repeatedly in the past, of the delegation from this Parliament to the Council of Europe; and I can attest, from conversations I have had in its migration committee, plenary sessions and other meetings in Strasbourg and other parts of Europe, that there are a number of countries in Europe at the moment that are looking to us to uphold standards that will give them the courage to maintain their current position with regard to these conventions. It is a very perilous moment. Our role in Europe is key to keeping quite a lot of others on board, and I want to emphasise that.

I feel it almost impossible for me to want to give even a shred of support to a Bill that, as has been quoted, has as its preface a statement by the Minister that he cannot give any guarantee, et cetera. I find myself at a loss to be looking at a piece of legislation—a law that will go on to our statute books—that begins this process with this degree of ambiguity written into it. Can lawyers not give the rest of us a starting point more certain than that?

Finally, let me say at this point that, long before I got involved in European matters, I had a lot to do with migration from Haiti to the United States, which is not a signatory to the convention. The methods open to countries that are not signatories to the convention are not pleasant at all, and I simply would not want the United Kingdom to have the opportunities to behave in that way.

Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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My Lords, I oppose Amendments 2, 4 and 148 in this group because they would subvert and obstruct Clause 1, which sets out the purposes of the Bill and how they are to be advanced. I also oppose Amendment 3, because it would do so in a more subtle way, in requiring the Secretary of State to give guidance to Parliament on

“how the provisions … are to be read and given effect in a way that is compatible with the Convention Rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act”,

and it includes a new obstacle that this

“does not have effect until approved by each House of Parliament”.

In this Bill, the Government are proposing to tackle unlawful migration—people coming into this country via unsafe and unlawful routes. The Government have a duty to enforce the laws of this country. They also have a duty to ensure the security of this country, including the security of its borders. International rules require asylum seekers to seek refuge in the first safe country in which they are.

Shamima Begum

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Excerpts
Monday 27th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. Of course it is not the case, as the noble and right reverend Lord put in his Question, that Shamima Begum’s citizenship was refused. In fact, her citizenship was deprived from her by reason of the decision of the Secretary of State, which was reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and upheld. I do not agree with my noble friend that there is a risk of large camps of people being accrued who had been deprived of their nationality. If I might provide the figures, in 2019 some 27 people were deprived of their nationality; in 2020, it was 10; and, in 2021, it was eight.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked a Question last week relating to the British Government’s position over the use of capital punishment. Widespread comments from all sides of the House indicated that we had no truck with it whatever; quite right too. Since the Minister is not able to comment on a current case—and I respect that—could he ask himself, and assure the House, whether statelessness is not a form of capital punishment, in the sense that it deprives somebody of status forever? If it is for the rest of their lives, is that not just the breathing dead, so should we not be opposed to it on moral grounds and let circumstances dictate what might happen to her if she were brought back? Leaving her where she is is surely inhumane.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Clearly, the Secretary of State for the Home Office has to evaluate the balance of competing interests. Surely the principal interest and the principal duty of government is to keep the people safe. I can reassure the noble Lord that the United Kingdom takes very seriously its obligations under the UN statelessness convention. Decisions to deprive individuals are taken in circumstances where they would not be left stateless. This applies in all cases where decisions to deprive are made. In all cases, there is further detailed consideration as to the applicability of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to deprivation decisions. The Government are satisfied that all those deprivations have been actions which are compatible with our obligations under that convention.