All 17 Baroness Williams of Trafford contributions to the Nationality and Borders Act 2022

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Wed 5th Jan 2022
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Tue 8th Feb 2022
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Wed 2nd Mar 2022
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Tue 8th Mar 2022
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Tue 26th Apr 2022
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Wed 27th Apr 2022
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Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today in what has been quite a long debate. I know noble Lords will understand if I do not respond to every single point that has been made, but I thought it would be a good idea to summarise, very briefly, what has been talked about today.

I hope I can divide the House into those who think we have gone too far with the Bill and those think we have not gone far enough. There are an elite few here who support the Bill. There is quite a contradictory view on the EU as being either the best thing since sliced bread or, contrarily, as not being regarded by some as a safe area for migrants, but there is also the Groucho Marxism that my noble friend referred to—I will not call it LibDem-ism—which says, “Whatever it is, I’m against it”. I will call out two noble Lords for actually suggesting solutions. One is the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the other is my noble friend Lord Balfe. Solutions have been in very short supply this afternoon, and although I may not agree with them, they actually suggested solutions.

We are a nation of immigrants—I have said that before at this Dispatch Box—and I am a first-generation immigrant. Immigration has made this country the place that it is today. It rebuilt it after the war and we provided protection for those fleeing persecution, both during the Second World War and in the decades since. What comes to mind is the Ugandan Asians and now, of course, the people from Afghanistan. We have just resettled more than 20,000 people through the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and we will go on to resettle 20,000 people under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme.

The other word that has been used quite a lot today, by quite a few noble Lords, is “inhumanity”. The inhumanity I see is the treatment of migrants by criminal gangs: the inhumanity of making your way to our shores being based on your ability to pay those criminals; the inhumanity of the fact that if you are a woman or a girl—women and girls have been mentioned by quite a few noble Lords this afternoon—you are very unlikely to be in one of those boats, because most of the people in them are men or boys; and, finally, the inhumanity of using people as commodities in the grim industry that those criminals engage in. They do not see the people in those boats as human beings at all. That, for me, is the inhumanity of all this, and I do not think noble Lords would actually disagree with those points.

My noble friend Lady Stowell said that illegal migration matters to the people of this country. It does, not because they are racist but because they have a great sense of fairness. We should be careful when we use the word “racist”. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned an email she received today relating to the Front Bench, and retracted from that accusation. Someone from my background or that of my noble friend Lord Wolfson would never countenance that—and I do not accuse her of asserting that at all.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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I should like to make it clear that my correspondent said that she does not think that the Front Bench is racist.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, and I know she would not have made that suggestion.

We are talking today not about the lawful migration which has so enriched our country, but about illegal migration, which only makes it harder for us to do what we all want, which is to protect those in greatest need of our help.

As I said, I cannot touch on every point that was made, but I hope to touch on some of the key issues. To quote my noble friend Lord Wolfson again, we have to start with the basic reality that the current system is not working. We need real, practical solutions, not just another outline of the problems, so I offer particular thanks to noble Lords who have today shared some suggestions of what we can do. Reform is desperately needed, and the Bill will enable us to deliver it.

I turn first to the deprivation of citizenship, because that has been so widely mentioned, including by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Paddick, Lord Blunkett, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Lord Dubs, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate and Lord Hannay of Chiswick; the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox of Buckley, Lady Chakrabarti, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Lister and Lady Uddin; and my noble friends Lord Balfe and Lady Warsi. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, that, irrespective of his name—mine also starts with a “W”, so I know where I stand—I listened to his concerns on the clause very carefully. I assure him of the Government’s continuing commitment to righting the wrongs of Windrush. We have been very clear on that, so, to echo what was said explicitly in the other place, the Bill does not widen the reasons for which a person can be deprived of their British citizenship. The change is about the process of notifying the individual.

Picking up on some of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, in particular, the clause is necessary to ensure that we avoid a situation where we could never deprive a person of their British citizenship just because there is no way of communicating with them, or where to make contact would disclose sensitive intelligence sources, including a last known address—if we even have one. This is vital to protect the security of the UK from those who would wish to do us harm.

Rightly, this power is reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK and those who obtain their citizenship by fraudulent means. Decisions are made following careful consideration of advice from officials and lawyers, and in accordance with international law. It always comes with an appeal right. The Government do not seek to extend deprivation powers—I want to make that absolutely clear. The grounds on which a person can be deprived of their citizenship will remain unchanged. We also do not want to deny a person their statutory right of appeal where we have made a decision to deprive, and the Bill preserves that right. The change is simply intended to ensure that existing powers can be used effectively in all appropriate circumstances and in no way represents a policy change in this important area of work. Instead, the scaremongering that we have seen around this clause from some quarters is unacceptable, irresponsible and highly regrettable.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, made some thoughtful contributions on the importance of organisations such as the RNLI, and I share their sentiments about them. I want to reassure noble Lords that the Bill does not change the Government’s approach to existing obligations under international maritime law, including that first duty to protect lives at sea. I might say that I am delighted that the RNLI has received additional contributions, because I see the work that it does down in Cornwall. The Government tabled an amendment to the Bill in the Commons on Report to make absolutely clear that organisations such as HM Coastguard and RNLI will be able to continue to rescue those in distress at sea, as they do now.

Perhaps I may move on to differentiation. The noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti, Lady Ludford, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws and Lady Uddin, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke about provisions that differentiate between groups of asylum seekers. I know that there is a difference of opinion about these provisions, but I do not make excuses for doing everything possible to deter people from making these dangerous crossings. I should like to provide reassurance that family reunion, which I know is an issue of particular concern, will be permitted for those in group two where refusal would breach our international obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I should also like to pick up specifically on the comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, on female judges from Afghanistan. She and I have talked about that and how they will be considered under the new differentiated asylum policy. As she set out, in August we announced the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history, with up to 20,000 people at risk being given a new life in the UK. The scheme will explicitly prioritise those who have assisted the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech or the rule of law. I hope, therefore, that I can assure the noble Baroness on that. The scheme includes women’s rights activists, journalists and prosecutors.

Individuals granted settlement under the ACRS will not be subject to any differential treatment and will be granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. That sits alongside our other safe and legal routes, including the UK resettlement scheme and community sponsorship, which I am delighted the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford mentioned, because it is a scheme that I am very keen on and I hope to have more discussions with her on it. Other safe and legal routes include the mandate resettlement scheme, the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the immigration route for BNO status holders from Hong Kong.

I move on to modern slavery. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord McColl, the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Rooker and Lord Morrow, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London asked about Part 5, which relates to modern slavery. The Government are totally committed to tackling this terrible crime, one that seeks to exploit and do harm. This requires active prosecution of the modern slavery perpetrators.

Noble Lords asked why we are legislating for modern slavery in this Bill. The fact is that there is an overlap between some individuals who enter the immigration system and the national referral mechanism, so it is right that we make sure that those individuals have their full set of circumstances considered together. We also want to make sure that vulnerable individuals are identified as early as possible so that we can ensure that they have access to the right support.

That is why this Bill makes clear, for the first time in primary legislation, that where a public authority, such as the police, is pursuing an investigation or criminal proceedings, confirmed victims who are co-operating in this activity and need to remain in the UK in order to do so will be granted temporary leave to remain. The legislation also makes it clear that leave will be granted where it is necessary to assist an individual in their recovery from any physical or psychological harm arising from the relevant exploitation, or where it is necessary to enable them to seek compensation in respect of the relevant exploitation. It is right that leave is granted only to those who need it. This is both firm and fair.

Additionally, as part of our ongoing commitment to victims, we will continue to explore opportunities to enhance our support for victims through the criminal justice system through our review of the modern slavery strategy. Having as clear a definition as possible of the relevant eligibility criteria is the best way to give victims the clarity and certainty they need.

I assure noble Lords that we remain in line with our international obligations and will continue to support, via a grant of temporary leave to remain, those who have a need to be in the UK to assist with their recovery from physical and psychological harm caused by their exploitation. All those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of tailored support will receive appropriate individualised support for a minimum of 12 months. We will set out further details in guidance in due course.

I turn to the concerns about the steps we are taking regarding the wording of the reasonable grounds threshold in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Our purpose here is to ensure that this mirrors our obligation under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. We remain committed to ensuring that the NRM effectively identifies and supports genuine victims to recover.

Lastly, I turn to the specific questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on the recent joint statement of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner. I assure him that we are fully considering the issues raised and that we are currently engaging with both commissioners on these important issues.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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I am sorry to do this to the Minister, but the context of the Bill has to be seen in the light of the pronouncements of the Home Secretary. When I was Home Secretary, I knew and was reminded constantly by my special advisers that what I said constituted government policy, the direction of government and the context within which legislation was provided. I need her to assure the House that what I read out five and a half hours ago as being the views of the Home Secretary in November either constitutes the view of the Government or is refuted by her.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I cannot read the mind of the Home Secretary, but the noble Lord is absolutely correct that that was a quote from her. On the point that she was making, I think the article he referred to was in relation to the Liverpool bomber. I think the Home Secretary gave that as an example of someone whose asylum claim had been refused. That person then went on to do potential harm to the people of this country. In fact, through the actions of the very brave taxi driver, he blew only himself up, but she was reflecting on the harm that a broken asylum system can do to the people of this country. That is why we need to give refuge to those who need our refuge and to make sure that we deter illegal migration and come down hard on those people who would wish this country harm. I hope that encapsulates my right honourable friend’s estimation of the situation and satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.

In terms of the impact of provisions on women, which I touched on earlier, I was very interested to hear the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Coussins, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, about the experiences of women and girls including those fleeing sexual violence, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the experience of vulnerable people who may be experiencing physical or mental ill health. These must be quite traumatic experiences, particularly if you are in a war-torn country.

We recognise that people who have experienced those traumas may feel unable to provide evidence relating to their protection or human rights claim. That is why the Bill makes very clear that, where late evidence is provided and there are good reasons for that, the credibility penalties relating to late evidence will not apply. We will set out in guidance what can constitute good reasons to allow decision-makers the flexibility to take a case-by-case approach depending on a person’s specific situation and vulnerabilities. Looking at the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and his potential case study, it might apply in that case.

We have heard many views expressed on our proposals to make it possible to remove protection claimants to a safe country while their claims are processed. I note in particular the speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord German and Lord Dubs, and my noble friends Lord Horam and Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate. While people are placing their lives at risk making perilous journeys, every possible option must be considered to reduce the draw of the UK. The Government have made their position clear throughout the debate: people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. That is the fastest route to safety. We are also clear that this Bill is fully compliant with all our international obligations and we will not act in such a way which means that a person’s life is at risk or which places a person at risk of persecution, torture, inhumane or degrading treatment.

I move on to the British Hong Kong service personnel. I hope noble Lords will indulge me for an additional minute or two because I was intervened upon. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, raised concerns about the former British Hong Kong service personnel, and I think, to be fair to him, has been doing so since I have been a Home Office Minister, so I must give him credit for that. We remain extremely grateful to those former British Hong Kong service personnel. Under the British nationality selection scheme, a limited number were settled in Hong Kong and could apply to register as British citizens, as he knows. I can confirm, as he requested, that the Government have identified a potential solution to this issue and are currently investigating proposals that could see this cohort treated in a similar way to other non-UK service personnel. That would be in addition to other pathways that they may already be eligible for. There is considerable work to be done to fully scope the ramifications and impact of the policy; however, we aim to provide further details as soon as we can with a view to a solution being provided before the end of this calendar year. Given that he has waited nearly six years—under my tenure anyway—I know he has got an awful lot of patience.

More broadly in terms of international co-operation, my noble friend Lord Balfe, the noble Lords, Lord Reid, Lord German, Lord Davies, Lord Liddle and Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, have spoken eloquently about the need for us to work with our international partners to tackle what really are shared global challenges. I totally agree; all countries have a moral responsibility to tackle the issue of illegal migration. Most countries have got the challenge of illegal migration.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I apologise for creating a slight extra delay, but I have listened in the last 21 minutes to the noble Baroness several times referring to “illegal migrants” or “illegal migration”. This Bill is about asylum seekers and refugees. We may differ on the legal issue of people arriving or entering irregularly, and our interpretation of the refugee convention, but under the Government’s own terms this Bill is not about illegal migrants; it is about asylum seekers.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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It is also about illegal migrants.

Going back to international partners, we expect them to engage with us and we have tried to work with them to build on our good current co-operation and continue to highlight the importance of having effective returns agreements to stop people making perilous crossings. This is an established principle of any functioning migration relationship, and it enables us to maintain public confidence in our immigration system.

We have already signed agreements with India and Albania. There are more people here illegally from India than from any other country, and there are more foreign criminals from Albania than from anywhere else. It is now easier to return criminals and people with no right to be here to both countries. Beyond this, we will seek to negotiate readmissions arrangements with key EU member states which have a mutual interest in preventing asylum seekers moving between safe countries. Where we do not have broad returns agreements, we will seek returns on a case-by-case basis. We will continue to work with our international partners to meet this joint challenge.

We have heard a range of views on international conventions. I note the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Neuberger, and the noble Lords, Lord Green of Deddington, Lord Dubs, Lord Coaker, Lord German, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Lord Oates and Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. This Government remain committed to our international obligations, including the 1951 refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. Those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country they reach. That is the fastest route to safety.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, we will have hours of debate on this in Committee, but that is our premise. The first safe country principle is widely recognised internationally. It is indeed the fundamental feature of the common European asylum system. Without any enforcement of it, we simply encourage criminal smugglers to continue to exploit vulnerable migrants.

Today’s debate has shown that there is no silver bullet when it comes to fundamental reform. We are overhauling a decades-old system, but the whole package of measures within the Bill and the wider reforms that sit alongside it will help to put people smugglers out of business and deter illegal entry to the UK.

I finish by reiterating the key objectives of the Bill: to make the system fairer and more effective; to deter illegal entry to the UK; and to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here. As my noble friend Lord Wolfson said earlier,

“the need for reform could not be clearer. The public are not prepared to accept the current situation, and neither are the Government.”

We are backing those words up with action. The Bill will help us deliver lasting, meaningful change. I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I hope that, at the end of my response, they will feel that I have at least given a partly positive response. I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, did not refer to this at Second Reading, but I am very grateful for the discussion we had—I think only yesterday—about this and other matters. I found it very helpful.

I, too, understand the strength of feeling being expressed. I both sympathise and empathise with the residents of the Chagos Islands about how they were treated back in the 1960s and 1970s. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that return and citizenship are two different matters in relation to the Chagossians.

We recognise that some former residents of what is now the British Indian Ocean Territory missed out on rights to British nationality when legislation was last passed in 2002 to address the nationality of the Chagossians. Section 6 of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted British Overseas Territories citizenship and British citizenship status by descent to any child born on or after 26 April 1969 and before 1 January 1983, where the mother was a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies by virtue of her birth in the British Indian Ocean Territory. This measure reflected the removal of the Chagossians from the British Indian Ocean Territory and the fact that the mother of a British Overseas Territories citizen could not pass on her citizenship to a child born outside of the UK or a UK territory. The Chagossian community, however, has criticised this provision because it did not provide for circumstances where women left the BIOT before 26 April 1969 in anticipation of being required to leave, nor did the provision allow children to inherit citizenship from an unmarried BOTC father.

Here is the partly positive response to these concerns. I am pleased to say that the Nationality and Borders Bill currently makes provision to extend BOTC and British citizenship rights to any second-generation Chagossians who were not able to acquire citizenship through their mothers or unmarried fathers, due to discrimination in nationality law.

The issues are complex. As one noble Lord pointed out, some family members in the same generation hold British nationality while others do not. I agree with my honourable friend the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, who stated in the other place that the Government are keen to consider what more we can do to support families seeking to settle here under the current system. Minister Foster has said that he is open to considering how we might use the FCDO £40 million fund package to support the Chagossians settled in the UK.

I must point out the position that successive Governments have expressed on this point. Amendment 11 would undermine the principle in our nationality law that applies to all other descendants of British nationals. Second and subsequent generations, born and settled outside the UK and its territories, do not have a right or entitlement to register as British nationals. I know that the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, seeks, as she said, to limit the right to register as a British national to current generations who must apply within a limited timeframe. This does not alleviate the Government’s concern that offering this right is contrary to long-standing government policy. It goes further than the rights available to many other descendants of British nationals settled elsewhere around the world.

The noble Baroness requested that I meet her and others interested in this matter. I always follow up on requests from noble Lords and I am very happy to meet her. We will consider the point raised by my noble friend Lord Horam about what more we can do to address concerns about the Immigration Rules. My noble friend Lady Altmann raised a point about citizenship. Of course, those without citizenship become overstayers. These are complex issues. As I said in reply to my noble friend Lord Horam, we are happy to consider what more we can do through the immigration system.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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In the light of the eloquent and compelling speeches made in this debate, does the Minister concede a distinction between people who leave a territory to settle elsewhere and people who are forcibly evicted from that territory?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I do not think that anybody in this Committee would say that what happened to the Chagossians was, by any means, acceptable to them personally. I do not think I was trying to make that case.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. It is fair to say that there is unequivocal support across the Committee—perhaps not for the exact wording of the amendment, but for what it is trying to achieve. Noble Lords spoke very strongly. It is unusual for nothing to be said in opposition to what is trying to be achieved.

The Minister expressed her sympathy and empathy. I am afraid that butters no parsnips when it comes to what the Chagossians rightly want. As other noble Lords have said, this is a question of justice and human rights. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked a pertinent question about the distinction between those who choose to leave a British territory and those who are forced out. The Minister has accepted that a wrong was done. Whichever Government were in power—I know it was my party—we share the shame. Here is an opportunity, not to put it right but at least to do something tangible that will go some way towards putting one aspect of it right.

I am desperately disappointed that the Government are still using the argument that, because the Chagossians are in the wrong place, they are subject to a long-standing principle of British law. What other group of people has been forcibly evicted in this way? As I said, we are not setting a precedent because I assume we are not planning to evict anybody else.

I thank the Minister for the offer of a meeting. Perhaps we could take a cross-party delegation to reflect the strength of feeling across the House. I hope she will think again. If not, I shall want to bring this back on Report.

My noble friend Lady Whitaker has been supporting the Chagossians for many years; I am relatively new to this issue and the legal position is extremely complicated. I may not have it completely right but there is a principle of justice and human rights, which has been recognised across the Committee. We must use this legislation to put it right. As a number of noble Lords have said, there is no better place than this part of this Bill, which is about putting right historical discrimination in nationality and citizenship law. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment for now.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I would like in particular to add our support for Amendment 14 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. We hope that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, is feeling a lot better very soon.

Labour’s shadow Minister raised this issue in the Commons and received disappointing answers. As we have heard, the amendment would put right a discrepancy in our nationality law and adoption law. Currently, an adoption order can be made where a child has reached the age of 18 but is not yet 19, but the same adoption order can confer British citizenship only where the child is under 18. In the same order, our law provides that a person is a full member of their adopted family but also that they are not, because they cannot share citizenship with them.

The answers given by the Minister in the Commons were that 18 year-olds are

“capable of making their own life choices”,

that they can

“purchase alcohol, accrue debt, join the Army, or vote in an election”,

and so they are

“fully fledged and can theoretically live independently of other family members”.—[Official Report, Commons, Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, 19/10/21; col. 190.]

On that basis, is the Government’s argument that at 18 someone is young enough to be adopted and provided for in our adoption law, but at the same time too old to really be an adopted child and be recognised in our nationality law?

The Minister in the Commons also argued that this change would be “out of step” with existing nationality law. One can only comment that this amendment is not seeking to make a general change to our law. By its nature, it is a completely limited, clearly defined provision for a small number of children who are going through our adoption system. It is difficult to see why this would be controversial rather than a common-sense change.

I also welcome the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and her questions to the Government. We await the response with interest. We welcome Clause 7 and recognise that its aim is to provide a means to correct further injustices, but our concerns are, first, to make sure that the clause is used and is not just a token power which the Secretary of State “may” choose to action. That is probed by Amendments 16 and 20. Will the Minister clarify whether it is the Government’s intention that the Secretary of State may choose not to allow for a person to be registered as a citizen in a case where they have been subject to a historical injustice?

Secondly, we wish to be sure that this clause is rightly a reactive and fleet-of-foot mechanism to respond to newly identified problems but that it is not an excuse to avoid making further changes in the law where these are necessary. Where a further injustice or any flaw in our nationality law is identified, the Government must amend the law to rectify that. No doubt, the Government could say in their response whether that is their intention.

On the question of the inclusion of British overseas citizens in the provisions of Clause 7, addressed by Amendment 24, the ministerial response in the Commons was unclear. At the same time, the Minister seemed to claim that the clause needed to be as flexible and unfettered as possible but also that it was right to put limits on it; to not include cases which may arise on British overseas citizenship. That would appear somewhat contradictory.

We support the amendments and await answers to the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I hope the Minister will also respond to my questions on this group of amendments.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for tabling these amendments to Clause 7, which will allow the Home Secretary to grant British citizenship to those who would have been, or been able to become, a British citizen, but for historical legislative unfairness, either an act or omission of a public authority or their exceptional circumstances. It also creates a similar route for governors in overseas territories to grant British Overseas Territories citizenship on the same basis.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this late Thursday afternoon, and those who tabled Amendments 25, 26, 27, 28, 32 and 33, for their contributions, which have made it a very lively debate. Some 14 noble Lords talked about wider deprivation, which is obviously not in Clause 9, and five noble Lords spoke on Clause 9 itself. I would like to address some of the most irresponsible scaremongering surrounding Clause 9 that I have probably ever heard. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts says, there have been some quite overblown comments today.

It is very important to be clear about what Clause 9 is and what it is not. It is not, as my noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Hunt of Wirral said, an amendment to the deprivation power that has been in force for 100 years. It does not allow the Home Secretary to remove citizenship on a whim. I look forward to a conversation with my noble friend Lady Mobarik, as I was concerned by her level of fear on this. Clause 9 will not strip 6 million people of their British citizenship without warning. It is not targeted at particular ethnic minorities, and it does not change the reason why a person may be deprived of their British citizenship. It does not remove the right of appeal against a decision to deprive law-abiding British citizens, like my noble friend Lady Mobarik, of their citizenship; they have nothing to fear from Clause 9, nor does the mother of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, or the grandparents of my noble friend Lady Warsi. They could not be deprived because they have done nothing wrong.

I might add here that the people who need to declare any interest or concern are not those of the Windrush generation, not Jews, not Muslims, and indeed not Catholics such as myself with dual nationality, but terrorists—people who would actually do us harm. I glean from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that she does at least support the removal of citizenship in fraudulent applications, if I understood her correctly.

I will start by addressing the amendments relating specifically to Clause 9, and then move on to the amendments that focus on the wider deprivation power. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for Amendment 28. I reassure him that the Government have repeatedly made clear that all deprivation decisions are taken carefully, after full consideration of the facts, and in accordance with domestic and international law. I do not think he disputes that. The decisions are, as he knows, already subject to judicial oversight via the statutory right of appeal, and individuals are also able to seek judicial review proceedings, where appropriate, on any aspect of the decision-making process not captured by the statutory right of appeal.

In addition, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has a wide remit to inspect any aspect of the immigration and nationality system, and at any time can review the use of deprivation powers. The Home Secretary can also commission specific reviews, as desired, which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to, particularly with regards to their frequency. I look forward to speaking further with him on that that before Report. He will also be aware that the Supreme Court of Appeal and SIAC, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, have recently affirmed the Home Secretary’s competence to decide on matters of national security.

The noble Lord commented, as did the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on the number of cases in 2017 and the status of figures since then. The rise in 2017 is due to the large increase in global terrorism. More broadly, I want to assure the noble Lord that the Home Office is committed to publishing its transparency report into the use of disruptive powers, and will do so in due course. I look forward to continuing to engage with him on this matter and others pertaining to this Bill.

My noble friend Lady Warsi asked about the numbers, and I think others did, since 2010. There was an average of 19 between 2010 and 2018. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, also asked about the comparison with Australia and New Zealand, and kindly shared his papers on this with myself and my officials. I have listened to his points extremely carefully, and I intend to consider them carefully and to continue to engage with him outside this Committee.

Amendments 25 and 26 would mean that we could not deprive a person of British citizenship purely because we did not know where they were and could not get the notice to them. We would be reliant on people whose conduct is serious enough to warrant deprivation keeping in contact. It is not correct to say that we will not ever have to notify someone of deprivation. Of course, if they come back to the UK—and most of them are outside the UK—they will find out; if they do not, one presumes that they did not try to when they came back or do not care.

I move now to the amendments relating to the wider power to deprive someone of citizenship. This is an extremely serious matter and is rightly reserved for those whose conduct involves very high harm or poses a threat to public safety, or those who obtained their citizenship by fraudulent means. The UK Government are absolutely clear that no one citizen should have the right to destroy the lives of other citizens in this country.

As I have mentioned, it cannot be right that we risk the UK’s interests to make contact with dangerous individuals who wish us harm, nor is it right to allow them to exploit a loophole in legislation and retain the benefits of British citizenship simply by removing themselves from contact with the Government or relocating to a place where we could not reasonably send them notice. Amendment 32 would completely remove the ability of the Home Secretary to make a deprivation decision in relation to those high harm individuals. Deprivation would then be possible only where a person has obtained citizenship by fraudulent means.

We have sadly often seen the effect of terrorist attacks on our way of life or the impact of serious organised crime on the vulnerable. The threat picture, as noble Lords have spoken about, is in direct correlation to deprivation—in other words, an increase in the threat picture leads to an increase in the number of deprivations. The 464 figure that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, cited combines both the fraud and conducive to the public good figures. It cannot be right that these people keep their British passports and remain free to come in and out of the UK as they please. It is the Government’s duty to keep the public safe, and we do not make any apologies for seeking to do so.

But I understand the concerns about “secret” decision-making. Deprivation decisions are made following very careful consideration of advice from officials and lawyers and in accordance with international law. Some of that consideration involves sensitive information and evidence, as noble Lords might be aware, and it would not be in the public interest if that evidence were made public. For example, it could jeopardise ongoing criminal investigations or undercover operations and thus harm those working on behalf of the Government to keep us safe. That is why appeals against a deprivation decision relying on such evidence are heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, or SIAC. Amendment 33 would remove the ability to rely on this sensitive evidence, because with no means to securely air it at the appeal stage, the Government would not be able to take deprivation decisions in these cases. Also, removing the public interest test for certification of deprivation decisions into SIAC risks creating an anomaly within the immigration and nationality system as grounds for certification are the same regardless of case type, and the special advocate system and rules of court ensure that any evidence which can be heard in open court is done so.

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Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, I think my noble friend has been misadvised in characterising Amendment 27 as imposing any new or further restriction on the power to deprive in the event of obtaining nationality by fraud. That simply is not so; they have misconstrued that clause. Can I ask her a very narrow question? She referred in her speech to the use of deprivation in cases of serious organised crime. Did she mean serious organised crime apart from terrorism?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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It could encompass both, but in the context of what I am talking about, some serious organised crime is outside of terrorism.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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Can I just a question that relates to that? A picture has been painted of a group of people darting over borders with their passports, getting away with serious organised crime and terrorism. I wondered why somebody did not stop them if they were involved in serious organised crime or terrorism and bring them in, as it were. What about those people involved in serious organised crime and darting over borders who do not have a parent or grandparent that means they are potentially able to live in another country? Are the Government suggesting that the harm British citizens are being protected from is all committed by people who are coincidentally related to somebody which means that they can go and live somewhere else? Are there no home-grown, with nowhere else to go types doing any of this harm that threatens British citizens?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Of course there are home-grown people trying to do harm to our British citizens, but this is one of a number of powers to try to reduce high harm activity against the people of this country.

Baroness Warsi Portrait Baroness Warsi (Con)
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As a follow-on from the noble Baroness’s question, I have a question that I asked in my initial intervention. Why should they be treated differently? Say one person is involved in serious organised crime, such as major drug dealing, child trafficking or sex trafficking offences, and another person commits exactly that same offence, and say both of them were born in the United Kingdom, raised in the United Kingdom, have never lived anywhere else and have never taken citizenship of any other country. If they commit exactly the same crime, why should one be told to leave and the other not?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, what I think I have tried to explain today—and it will be obvious that are clearly differences between us—is that, where the highest harm individuals can rely on another citizenship, the Home Secretary has within his or her power the ability to remove that citizenship. Of course, the one citizenship that is protected is when someone is only a British citizen and of no other territory.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, this debate has been very moving in parts and extremely thoughtful, and I thank everybody across the House who contributed.

I, for one, am not unsympathetic to what the Government are trying to do. To tackle my noble friend Lord Hunt full on, I think he said that if Parliament does not accept Clause 9 then the Committee, or Parliament, will try to stop the Government from doing it. From what I have heard from the debate today, I think that is precisely the mood of the Committee and the conclusion that we have reached.

There are a number of alternative amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, have come to blows, if you like, as to the purport of Amendment 27. There are parts of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that I find attractive, in particular removing the whole of Clause 9.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, my name has been added to the proposal to oppose Clause 10 standing part of the Bill, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. As has been said, Clause 10 is intended to disentitle stateless children in the UK from their statutory right to British citizenship. It proposes amending and restricting a vital safeguard in British nationality law that prevents and reduces childhood statelessness. Under our international obligations, we have safeguards that mean that a child who was born in the UK and has always been stateless can acquire British citizenship after five years of residing here.

Through Clause 10, the Government now propose to restrict and amend that obligation. Clause 10 requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that a child was unable to acquire another nationality before being permitted to register as a British citizen. That creates an additional and unjustified hurdle to stateless children’s registration as British citizens, which could be difficult for a child or those acting on their behalf to prove.

Rather than helping such children attain citizenship, the Government are intent on putting up more barriers and making it more difficult for children under 18 to be registered. They seem to want to try to deny citizenship, particularly citizenship of the place where the child was born and lives—in fact, the only place they know. No doubt the Government will explain what substantial wrong they consider this clause addresses and what hard evidence there is that that wrong is actually significant, as opposed to it being claimed as such.

Clause 10 can only be highly damaging to a child’s personal development and their feelings of security and belonging, with this exclusion and potential alienation being inflicted in their formative years. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to the serious implications that can have. There has been no assessment made by the Government of the impact this proposal will have on those children affected, which suggests that this issue does not trouble the Government. As my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said, how can this be in the best interests of the child? This issue is addressed in Amendment 31, reflecting a JCHR recommendation.

In the Commons, we supported an amendment to Clause 10 which sought to ensure that the Government act in compliance with Article 1 of the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Government having failed to protect the existing safeguards, which are in line with international law, in this Bill. The amendment altered Clause 10, so that British citizenship was withheld from a stateless child born in the UK only when a parent’s nationality was available to the child immediately, without any legal or administrative hurdles. That is as per Amendment 30, moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, which also reflects a JCHR recommendation.

I am probably being overoptimistic in hoping that there will be a positive government reply to this stand part debate. At the very least, if my fears are justified and we do not get a positive reply from our point of view, I hope that we will be told what the hard evidence is that Clause 10 actually addresses a significant wrong, rather than one being claimed as such.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for tabling Amendments 30 and 31 to Clause 10, which requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that a child aged between five and 17 cannot reasonably acquire another nationality in order to be registered under the stateless child provisions. I also note the opposition to and concerns about this clause of the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, should they not be satisfied by my response. In an ideal world, we would not need to include this clause, but current trends mean that we feel we must.

That goes to the question that the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, asked about the figures. In 2017, in the case of R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, even though the applicant was eligible for the grant of British citizenship under paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 to the BNA 1981, and despite the fact that they could acquire the nationality of their parents, the judge recognised that his conclusion

“opens an obvious route to abuse”.

The figures bear that out. In 2010 there were five cases; in 2018 they peaked at 1,775. There is obvious evidence that this is happening. I rest my case there.

Clause 10 has been developed in response to concerns that a number of non-settled parents, many of whom did not have permission to be in the UK at the time of their child’s birth, have chosen not to register their child’s birth with their own authorities in order to qualify under the current child statelessness provisions. This in turn can impact on the parents’ immigration status.

Amendment 30 would add a new condition to Clause 10, so that a child is defined as being able to acquire a nationality from birth only if there were no legal or administrative barriers to them doing so. That would mean that the parents I have talked about could, in theory, benefit from the stateless child provisions by not registering their child’s birth. In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, it is very easy to register a child’s birth. The parents simply need to complete a form and provide supporting information about their identity, status and residence and the child’s birth. I do not think that is difficult.

I appreciate that the noble Lord’s use of the term “barriers” might have been intended to suggest something more significant and assure him that the clause already reflects our expectation that children who cannot reasonably acquire another nationality should not be excluded. The UNHCR’s document Guidelines on Statelessness no. 4: Ensuring Every Child’s Right to Acquire a Nationality through Articles 1-4 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness recognises that the responsibility to grant nationality to children who would otherwise be stateless is not engaged where a child could acquire the nationality of a parent through registration or a simple procedure. The genuinely stateless child will not be affected. This is about those who can reasonably acquire another nationality. It is not about the Windrush generation—they are entitled to be British.

We do not think it is fair that parents can effectively secure a quicker route to British citizenship by choosing not to register their child’s birth. In doing so, they are depriving their child of a nationality, which is not only about identity and belonging, as I heard one noble Lord say, but can allow them to acquire a passport or identity document and the ability to travel overseas to see family, for example.

They are also taking advantage of a provision intended to protect those who are genuinely stateless. We want them still to be able to benefit, but we want to change the registration provisions so that parents cannot effectively choose statelessness for their children and then benefit from the provisions. We think it is appropriate that families should take reasonable steps to acquire a nationality for their child. We will set out in guidance the sort of steps that we think are reasonable, and applications will be considered on their individual basis.

Amendment 31 would mean that we could not regard a child as being able to acquire another nationality, and so decline their British citizenship application, if it would not be in the best interests of the child to gain that nationality. Noble Lords have pointed out the value they see in a child being able to secure and acquire a nationality, and it is difficult to see why parents might argue that it is not in their child’s best interests to share their status. We have already taken into account that some countries’ nationalities may be problematic for a child to acquire. The proposed clause reflects our expectation that a parent should not need to try to acquire a nationality for their child if it is not reasonable for them to do so.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, can the Minister clarify something? She gave us some figures; I did not have a chance to write to them down. She talked about the figures peaking at, I think, somewhere around 1,700 cases. Is that the number of stateless children born in the UK who are granted British citizenship, or are they cases where parents deliberately chose not to register their child’s birth in order to take advantage of the system?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I assume that it is the latter, but I will write to the noble Lord with the details of the figures I have here. In particular, I will give him more detail about the countries from which these cases derive.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I want to follow up, because the Minister has answered the question I was going to ask. She mentioned that the 1,700 figure—I cannot remember what year it was for—was evidence of abuse, and as she just replied to my noble friend, she is assuming that the parents in those cases could not apply. It seems to me that there is no evidence of abuse. I am thinking of the strengthened safeguards in Amendments 30 and 31, especially Amendment 31. The Home Secretary must be satisfied that “in all the circumstances” it is reasonable, et cetera. The Minister referred to circumstances where parents cannot access the authorities of the relevant state. One can think of dozens of countries around the world in conflict, civil war or whatever chaos. Adding the words

“without any legal or administrative barriers”

would go with the flow of the Home Secretary having to be satisfied that it is reasonable to refuse, and I really cannot see why the Home Office cannot accept Amendment 30, even if it is claiming that Amendment 31 is unnecessary because it already cares about the best interests of the child.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I shall write to noble Lords about this in more detail, because it is quite detailed, and explain where the figures have derived from. I was actually quoting the judge in his conclusion that an “obvious route to abuse” would be opened. I shall send the figures to the noble Baroness. On case sampling, many of the cases have a poor immigration history, with 79% of the parents having no leave at the time of the birth and only 16% having such leave, but I will outline it to noble Lords in greater detail and they can draw their own conclusion.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, I have tried to follow the Minister’s reply, and I am bound to say that I too am a little confused about these figures. I think she has just not yet made her case. Please could she give us more information before we get to Report? If not, we will not be persuaded by this. I may not have been quick enough to pick up all the nuances—I do not think any of us were, really; it was quite difficult. I look forward to getting more information from her; we shall have to listen to what she has to say. I am grateful to noble Lords who contributed to the debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Nationality and Borders Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 82-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2022)
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, we support Amendment 34, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. We raised this issue in the Commons and pushed it to a Division in Committee. I will not repeat all the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, have made.

I want to make a few observations. This is an opportunity for the Government to clear up an obscure, largely technical anomaly which is having real-world consequences for a number of people. CSI was not required for any EEA or Swiss citizen to live in the UK and to be able to access the NHS. However, it was not generally communicated that this was an additional requirement. Most people now being impacted by this relatively obscure provision had no idea about it.

I do not believe that this should be controversial; it is a sensible change. There are two reasons for that. First, when the Government designed the EU settlement scheme, they chose not to include CSI as a requirement, so they have already decided that this requirement was not necessary and to waive it entirely. Secondly, the Government openly acknowledge that this is causing problems because they have introduced guidance, as we have heard, for caseworkers that some degree of discretion might be exercised where there are compelling grounds for granting citizenship. The amendment simply but constructively builds on that, rather than leaving it up to a vague discretionary power, the flaws of which have been discussed.

This is a simple, clear change to the law to reflect the reality of the situation that prevails in the UK. It is very much in the spirit of rectifying obscure anomalies and barriers in our nationality law, which the early clauses of the Bill, notwithstanding those that are controversial, attempt to do.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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I thank both noble Lords for their comments and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for tabling this new clause about comprehensive sickness insurance, or CSI, which, under EU free movement law, was needed by EEA nationals in certain circumstances in order to reside lawfully in the UK. I was most grateful to have the chance to discuss this with the noble Baroness last week, as she said.

The EEA regulations set out the requirements that EEA nationals had to meet if they wished to reside here lawfully as a qualified person exercising free movement rights. Those who were working in the UK, or indeed who were self-employed, did not need CSI to be here lawfully, but students, the self-sufficient and their family members did. That requirement was set out in published guidance.

I note the noble Baroness’s comments about EEA nationals being able to access the NHS. Under UK legislation, all EEA nationals here under free movement had the ability to access state-provided healthcare on the basis of their ordinary residence, but the requirement to hold CSI ensured that the financial burden of providing free state-funded healthcare did not fall on the host member state, as is the clear objective of free movement law. Therefore, having access to the NHS did not equate with the requirement for CSI, although it could include the European health insurance card, otherwise known as the EHIC, issued by the EEA national’s home state.

The first part of this amendment would amend the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 so that a person is treated as having had CSI if they had access to the NHS in practice or held a CSI policy. However, there is no mention of CSI in the rest of that Act, nor is there any requirement for CSI in the residence scheme immigration rules—the rules for the EU settlement scheme in Appendix EU—for an EEA national to obtain status under the scheme.

Consistent with the citizens’ rights agreements and the relevant EU case law, a so-called Lounes dual EEA/British national can currently sponsor relevant family members under the EU settlement scheme where that national was living in the UK in accordance with free movement law, including any requirement for CSI, before they also acquired British citizenship. However, I am pleased to be able to inform the noble Baroness that the Government have decided that, as a matter of fairness, they will amend the Immigration Rules for the EUSS and the EUSS family permit at the next appropriate opportunity to disapply any requirement for a Lounes dual national to have held CSI in order to sponsor applications by relevant family members.

None Portrait A noble Lord
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Hear, hear.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think that is one of the only times I will get a “hear, hear” over the course of this Bill, so I will milk it for one small second.

This will mean that such family members will in practice be treated in the same way as an EEA national or their family member in applying to the EUSS or for an EUSS family permit. Their eligibility will not be affected by any past lack of CSI on the part of their sponsor.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I do not want to sound churlish at all by asking this question. The “Hear, hears” were probably not as loud as they might have been for Hansard to pick them up; I hope that it does. My question will display my lack of grip of the EU settled status scheme. The Minister said that the Immigration Rules will be changed at the next appropriate opportunity. Am I right in thinking that 29 March is a significant date for those with pre-settled status? As I said, I have a lack of grip of this and an even greater lack of grip in pulling the bits together in my head but, if it is a significant date, then it is a significant question to ask whether the change will be made before 29 March.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I do not have the exact detail on the date. I understand her point about 29 March being a significant date; noble Lords will all be informed in due course of when the changes will come about and I will let the noble Baroness know.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, just to follow that up, the Minister will understand that I am concerned that some people may fail to qualify because the rules are not changed by that date, so I wonder whether she could come back to us well before then.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I will of course do that.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall be exceptionally brief as we had a number of significant debates on statelessness last week and we are only too aware of the crucial issues that we need to reach today.

As we have heard, the 1997 convention provided a series of general principles relating to nationality, including non-discrimination and governing principles on statelessness. I gently point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that no Government of any complexion have ratified it since 1997. The Labour Government in 2002 was referred to, but no Government since have ratified it either. That is just a general point.

It would be helpful and constructive for the Committee at this stage of the debate, if the Minister could confirm the following points. These are very detailed, so, to be fair, the noble Baroness may wish to write to us. Do the Government have any plans to consider ratifying the treaty or intend to do so in the near future, and is that under consideration? Have the Government made any assessment of the specific elements of the treaty that they may be opposed to and, if so, could the Minister tell us what they are? Lastly, what are the existing provisions in UK law that are currently outside the provisions of that treaty? It would be helpful to have a bit more detail about the convention, where it relates to existing law and where there are any gaps or points that we may wish to consider in future.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for their brief and succinct points in speaking to the amendment.

British citizenship affords benefits and privileges; the vast majority of us enjoy the freedom that they bring, while of course respecting the rights of others and the rule of law, but there are high-harm individuals who do not share our values. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is right that no Government since 1997, including the coalition Government of 2010-15, have ratified the convention, and he is right that we are not going to. The convention does not address the modern threat from global terrorism, among other things, and I would add that Spain, Belgium and Switzerland have not signed it either, perhaps for the same reasons.

The convention on nationality is at odds with domestic law. The Government do not consider it right that our sovereign powers to deprive a person of citizenship should be constrained by signing the convention, as the amendment would oblige us to do. That would severely limit the ability of the Home Secretary to make a deprivation decision in relation to high-harm individuals and those who pose a threat to public safety. Sadly, we have seen too often the effect of terrorist attacks on our way of life and the impact of serious organised crime on the vulnerable. It cannot be right that the Government are not able to use all the powers at their disposal to deal with today’s threats to our way of life.

It is the Government’s duty to keep the public safe and we do not make any apology for seeking to do so. I hope that, with that, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I shall be brief because I regard this amendment as an amuse-bouche, if you like, before the very substantial groups to come. I am sure the Minister recognised that this was a probing amendment, as I was asked to find out what the Government’s view was. I think that together we have fulfilled that task. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I have been requested to confirm that I did not send a note to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. I confirm that I did send him a note. There is no law against it, and I am not sure why I was asked. I sent him a note to tell him that he was right.

I welcome my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke to this debate; I am very pleased to see him here and welcome his comments. The Committee will be very well served by listening to him, to my noble friends Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, although she concluded that she was not sure that she could support Clause 11. The points that they made around how generous, warm and welcoming this country is and how we must be careful to take public opinion into account are pertinent. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said that if you asked the British public, they would bring back hanging; actually, it was because of public opinion that hanging was abolished in this country, so I do not agree with her premise.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, this group is not, largely, about the 1951 convention but about the point on differentiation. There will be three groups further on dealing with the 1951 convention, but I will answer a couple of points on it now. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, said that we should be working with UNHCR. Other noble Lords have made the point that UNHCR disagrees with us. We do not think that there is only one interpretation of the refugee convention. It is for Parliament to decide, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that I do not think that is eccentric. It is democracy. It is for Parliament to decide, subject to the general principles of the Vienna convention on the law of treaties.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, referred to Article 31 flowing from Asfaw and Adimi, and asked why we were altering that. Parliament’s original intention regarding Article 31 is clear in Section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 that a refugee will not be determined to have come directly if they stopped in a third country outside the United Kingdom unless they can show that they could not reasonably have been expected to be given protection under the convention in that country. The courts have interpreted this more generously and we are therefore taking the opportunity to reset the definition to the original intention of Parliament.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, made a point about the proposed interpretation of “coming directly” under Article 31 of the convention in Clause 36 not being how it was intended by the convention. We have been very clear that people seeking protection must claim it in the first safe country they reach. That is the fastest route to safety. We will not tolerate criminal smugglers exploiting vulnerable people to come to the UK when a claim could easily have been made in another safe country. The convention does not explicitly define what is meant by coming directly and therefore, it is ultimately for our sovereign Parliament to set out its interpretation of international obligations subject only to the principle of treaty interpretation of the Vienna convention.

The noble and learned Lord also talked about LGBT+ communities, which again we will come to later. We know that they can have difficulties in making and evidencing a claim. That is why our policies and training are designed to support claimants in being able to explain their claim in a sensitive and safe environment.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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If I understand the noble Baroness aright, there is nothing to stop this sovereign Parliament setting out how it interprets the refugee convention in future. She enumerated four Members of the Committee who had spoken supportively. I think it is the case that none of them argued that the Bill was not a breach of the convention. We had some powerful legal advice that it was a clear breach of the convention. I ask her to remember that the last time this House was asked to pass a Bill that broke an international commitment was on the internal market Bill, and it took the very clear view that pacta sunt servanda mattered and that we should stick to our word.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I was not clear about the noble Baroness’s reference to me. The fact that I did not actually say that I believed Clause 11 breaks the refugee convention does not mean that I do not think that it does, because everybody else had said it. I was not quite clear what she meant.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think what I was trying to say, maybe clumsily, was that the noble Baroness was trying to get back to the amendments.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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The clause breaches the refugee convention, in my opinion. I agree with many people who said that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I was not making that point, but I accept the noble Baroness’s point.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, just said that the four Members did not argue that the clause is not a breach of the convention. The four Members I singled out for mention were trying to explain public opinion in the round and the need to take note and do something about their concerns, notwithstanding the fact that the British public are warm and welcoming. We are a nation of immigrants. I think my noble and learned friend wants to intervene.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Lord Clarke of Nottingham (Con)
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Yes, as I am having various motives attributed to me. As I said, I came here with a dilemma. I do not think we will turn British public opinion round to the views I personally would like to support if I thought we could. I wait to be persuaded that the Government’s package will actually work and make the problem any easier. I reject the simplistic solution that all we have to do is provide safe and easy routes and accept that many more people will come, because they undoubtedly will if some of the things that have been proposed are accepted. That would cause very nasty further damage to our society and the level of our political debate. I am not convinced that Clause 11 and Clause 9 are a satisfactory solution to that yet. That is what I hope to hear my right honourable and noble friend persuade me of the course of this winding-up speech.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Unfortunately, I am not right honourable, although you never know. I hope to persuade my noble and learned friend, but no one piece of legislation will be the silver bullet to solve all the problems. I do not think I have ever made any secret of that, but I thank him very much indeed for his points.

To get back to the LGBT+ community, it can have particular issues with claims. There is sensitivity about this. Our guidance on sexual orientation and gender identity was developed to take these issues into account. The UNHCR, Stonewall and Rainbow Migration contributed to its development and we are most grateful to them. We will review and update our training and guidance where necessary to support people who are LGBT+.

I would like to get back to the first safe country principle, which is internationally recognised. In fact, it underpins the common European asylum system, particularly the Dublin system, which I note that a number of noble Lords are separately seeking to replicate through the Bill. Broadly speaking, the first safe country principle defines countries which are presumed safe to live in, based on their stable democratic system and compliance with international human rights treaties. Dublin therefore functions on a twofold logic: first, that first countries of entry are safe and should normally be responsible for determining an asylum claim; and, secondly, that burden sharing can then take place where there is a family connection in another safe country. In essence, the first safe country principle removes asylum seekers’ ability to choose where to go—and undertake dangerous journeys in the hands of criminal smugglers to do so—in favour of safe, orderly, and regular management of flows. That is a reasonable approach.

To demand that the UK do more to share the burden, but also to hold that asylum seekers have the right to choose where to claim—the point that my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts made, this concept of forum shopping—is simply contradictory. On this logic, the number of people who claim in the UK is exactly the right number and there is nothing more that the UK needs to do. Conversely, the reason that the Bill enshrines the idea that asylum seekers ought not to choose where they claim, by setting out various measures in defence of the first safe country principle, is precisely because removing that choice enables us to do more on burden sharing from regions of origin. In what is decidedly a more ambitious approach than anywhere in the EU, such a policy would provide far more generosity, fairness, and control in managing global asylum flows. Can I turn now to pull factors?

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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The Minister has not addressed the UNHCR’s point that if every country insisted on the first point of entry as the sole thing, it would completely undermine the entire international system.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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As I have said, we disagree with the UNHCR on that point. If I can turn to pull factors—

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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Excuse me, why? Why do you disagree? I am sorry but it is not enough to simply say “We disagree”.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I hope that, through the course of my response here, I will lay out the rationale for why we are doing what we are doing. We disagree with the UNHCR and we feel that, as a sovereign nation, it is up to us to interpret the 1951 convention.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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If the Government’s argument is to be that they have a different interpretation, it is not clear why we should accept their interpretation over the UNHCR’s interpretation. I asked if the Government would publish the legal advice on which their interpretation rested. Then we can judge against other interpretations.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think the noble Baroness knows that we do not do that. I am not going to commit to publishing the legal advice. I am, however, going to come to her questions later if the Committee will be patient.

Can I get on now to pull factors? They are complex, but it is reductive to claim that asylum seekers do not ever make decisions about their destination based on policy calculations. They are like the rest of us; they do not simply respond to one or two factors such as family or language in making a choice. Many more factors come into play in this respect, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts mentioned, and one of those will very naturally concern how to rebuild the life they lost after being forced to flee their country of origin. But to defend the first safe country principle for the reasons I have set out, we must do everything we can to deter dangerous secondary movements from countries that are already safe and provide perfectly good means for a flourishing life.

Noble Lords have mentioned Denmark, Australia and Japan. We have seen large reductions in spontaneous intake in both Denmark and Australia, following similar approaches to that which we intend to take. In fact, Australia resettles the single largest number of refugees in the world.

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Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I apologise to the Minister, but it will not do. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, corrected a misapprehension earlier. The numbers she is citing for resettlement are the numbers from the resettlement schemes run by UNHCR. She is not citing the number of people who have come to Turkey, to Lesbos, to Italy or to Spain and have been settled across Europe. It is a narrow definition of “resettlement” that is most misleading. We are taking relatively few, relative to our size, compared to others across Europe.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I was at pains to say that this is under national resettlement schemes. I have not tried to mask the figures. I have been very clear about how many people we have taken under national resettlement schemes.

I was about to hold up a prop, although I know that is not done in your Lordships’ House. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who had to go, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Fox; she apologised for that. I wrote to noble Lords about the safe and legal routes, and I think the reason that some noble Lords do not want to acknowledge it is that they do not accept what we have done. I have looked at how many different family reunion schemes we have. We have four, including refugee family reunion. I will spend a moment to really spell this out, because some noble Lords just seem to not want to hear it. We have granted over 39,000 refugee family reunion visas since 2015, of which more than half were granted to children. Comparing that to the Dublin scheme, under the Dublin regulation, we transferred 714 people to the UK in 2019. In the same year, we issued 7,456 visas under our family reunion rules. It does not take a genius to work out that is 10 times the amount. Part 8 of the Immigration Rules—paragraph 319X—allows relatives to sponsor. We also have paragraph 297 and Appendix FM. Under Appendix FM, in 2020 there were 40,255 family-related visas granted. Please do not keep talking about us undermining family reunion, because we just have not. It is not true. I ask noble Lords to refer back to the letter that I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—I think that was last week.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I hope the Minister would acknowledge that—speaking only for myself—what I was doing was objecting to the restriction. I did not criticise the existing record, although my proposed Private Member’s Bill would expand the scope. The objection is to the poor proposed treatment of group 2 refugees under family reunion. I was not talking about the numbers to date.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, noble Lords have repeatedly talked about undermining family reunion. I confirm to the noble Baroness, and for Hansard, so that noble Lords do not come back at me again and again to make this point, that group 2 refugees will be afforded the entitlements in a way that is compatible with the refugee convention, including family reunion, compatible with the ECHR. Most importantly, they will be provided with protection against refoulement. I make that point again: group 2 refugees will be afforded the entitlements in a way that is compatible with the refugee convention, including family reunion. I hope noble Lords will not come back to that point—well, they will do so, but I have made my point, I hope.

If I can, I will continue on the generosity of the great British public and this Government. Over 88,000 BNO status holders and their family members—almost 90,000, as my noble friend said—have chosen to apply for the BNO route, with over 76,000 granted it so far. Meanwhile, we led Europe in airlifting some 15,000 people out of Afghanistan to the UK from mid-August under Operation Pitting. If any noble Lord wants to stand up and say we were not generous in that situation, I beg them to do that now. That is over and above the earlier transfers of around 2,000 locally employed staff and their families under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. Our new Afghan citizens resettlement scheme also aims to welcome a total of 20,000 people. These people, who noble Lords were talking about earlier, are the most vulnerable people in the world today and our generosity has been exemplary.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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Can I just clarify a point? The Minister has said it is not true that family reunion rights are going to be restricted. But as I understand it, the Government’s New Plan for Immigration did give a detailed indication of what different treatment might look like for group 2 refugees. I am perfectly willing to stand corrected if what I am saying is wrong, but as I understand it, the New Plan for Immigration said, in relation to group 2 refugees who will be granted temporary protection:

“Temporary protection status will not include an automatic right to settle in the UK, family reunion rights will be restricted and there will be no recourse to public funds except in cases of destitution.”


Is that quote from the Government’s new plan wrong? In other words, is it not correct that family reunion rights will be restricted?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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It is not correct to say that family reunion rights will be restricted for group 2 refugees. They will be afforded the entitlements in a way that is compatible with the refugee convention, including family reunion. If someone, be they a group 1 or group 2 refugee, is deemed a refugee, they will be afforded family reunion rights compatible with the ECHR.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, I—

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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Can I just carry on? I will then of course allow an intervention from the noble Lord; he is always courteous to me.

I want to further reassure the noble Baroness that, even where a refugee or a family member is a group 2 refugee, “reasonable discretion” will be exercised with respect to the determination of differentiated entitlements. We have built this notion into current drafting by ensuring that the determination of whether a refugee is in group 1 or group 2 will depend on whether they could have been reasonably expected to claim asylum in another safe country, and their asylum claim in the UK was made as soon as is reasonably practicable. Our view is that these standards provide adequate discretion to take into account particular facts of an individual case when determining tiering and therefore whether they are granted differentiated entitlements. Would the noble Lord like to intervene now?

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would because I am getting thoroughly confused, which is something I perhaps do quite frequently, I accept. I will read out again from the JCHR report. It says:

“The policy paper that preceded the Bill, the Government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, gave a more detailed indication of what different treatment may look like, as it proposed that instead of fully fledged refugee status, Group 2 refugees would be granted ‘temporary protection’ for a period of no longer than 30 months ‘after which individuals [would] be reassessed for return to their country of origin or removal to a safe third country.’ Temporary protection status ‘will not include an automatic right to settle in the UK, family reunion rights will be restricted and there will be no recourse to public funds except in cases of destitution.’”


Those are quotations from the Government’s New Plan for Immigration policy statement. In relation to group 2 refugees, who are being created by Clause 11 —that is the new bit and what the Bill is doing—it quite clearly states:

“family reunion rights will be restricted”.

I ask again: is that correct or incorrect? If it is not, why is it written in the JCHR report? If the Minister is going to tell me that the JCHR has got it wrong, please say so clearly now.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that I can clarify: everyone gets ECHR-compliant family reunion rights. Having clarified that, on the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, on Article 8, family reunion will be permitted only where refusing would be a breach of our international obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On how the restrictions for all group 2 refugees will look and whether they will be indefinite or will not apply in certain circumstances, the power under Clause 11(5)(d) of the Bill enables the Secretary of State to differentiate in respect of leave to remain for the family of group 2 refugees. The power is flexible and there is no duty to impose such a condition. Policy will be set out in guidance in the Immigration Rules in due course, but family reunion will be granted to group 2 refugees where a refusal would breach our international obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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To comply with the ECHR means complying not just with Article 8 but with Article 8 read with Article 14, which means respecting the right to family life but also not discriminating in that context. How can it not be discrimination when the whole purpose of Clause 11 is discrimination between group 1 and group 2? It is blatantly a breach of Articles 8 and 14 read together.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - -

It is differentiation rather than discrimination. The two are quite different.

Amendments 44, 45, 47, 51 and 52 seek to remove the powers to differentiate entitlements. As we have noted elsewhere, these powers are broad and flexible; they do not require the Secretary of State to act in a particular way. Equally, there is ample discretion available in respect of whether a person is granted group 1 or group 2 refugee status. While the detail will be set out in rules and guidance in due course, suffice it to say that the exercise of the powers in question will be sensitive to vulnerabilities and individual circumstances. That enables us to balance the need to take a tough approach with the need to protect the most vulnerable.

We have been clear that our starting point in respect of the length of leave will be a grant of no less than 30 months. Similarly, settlement will be available by virtue of our long-residence rules. We have gone further in our defence of refugee family reunion, noting that we will continue to uphold our international obligations under Article 8, but in any event, there is no requirement to apply such entitlements in each and every case. I repeat that we fully intend to be sensitive to vulnerabilities and individual circumstances in that respect. That is why we have retained a considerable amount of discretion in the drafting.

Turning to Amendment 55, I do not think it would be appropriate or right for us to step outside of the existing power to make immigration rules under the Immigration Act 1971. This is the same power that we use to implement most other aspects of UK immigration policy, including but not limited to asylum policy. Indeed, areas in which we regularly use Immigration Rules to administer the system include the type of leave to remain, the length of leave to remain, the routes and conditions of settlement, and family reunion. It would be inappropriate to do otherwise in this case. The rules are the appropriate vehicle: they have a long-standing and clear procedure, with the appropriate level of scrutiny built in. As I have noted, however, I am absolutely committed to this policy being exercised sensitively with a view to protecting the most vulnerable. There will always be discretion in our policies to make the right decisions in each case, and that extends to the Immigration Rules.

I cannot agree to Amendment 39, which would remove the requirement for a person to claim without delay to be a group 1 refugee. That means that anyone claiming asylum, regardless of whether that was done at the last moment to defer removal, could be a group 1 refugee. That would undercut the entire purpose of the policy and embolden those seeking to abuse our rules. There are already safeguards within the legislation enabling discretion to be exercised, such that a claim should be made as soon as reasonably practicable.

Amendments 43 and 50 would amend the list of ways in which we can differentiate from a non-exhaustive list to an exhaustive one. We must keep all options on the table to prevent dangerous journeys from safe countries, and we can do that only by retaining flexible powers to respond to situations as they arise.

Amendment 48 would prevent the ability to differentiate in respect of family members. This is primarily about coherent policy. We should ensure that, where appropriate, family members of refugees are not treated more or less favourably than the lead applicant, but the flexibility that we wish to retain will also enable us to respond sensitively to particular circumstances as appropriate, including in respect of how we treat family members. For example, let us say we discover that a child has been a victim of abuse by their parents and needs to be taken into care. The flexibility in the powers would enable us to respond to such a tragic situation by granting a more generous entitlement to that child compared to their parents, in order to sympathetically reflect the need in those individual circumstances.

Amendment 53 would remove the ability to differentiate in respect of requirements for settlement for family members. We must keep all options on the table to prevent dangerous journeys from safe countries, and we can do this only through retaining flexible powers to respond to situations as they arise. That said, I anticipate that many if not most families will receive the same length of leave to remain to ensure that all qualify for settlement on the same terms at the same time. However, we want to retain the ability to respond flexibly to challenging situations that might require us to do otherwise in respect of length of leave for a refugee and their family.

I turn to Amendment 41, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. I hope I can offer some reassurance that his concerns have already been accounted for in the policy, so there need be no further amendments to the Bill in this respect, as I outlined earlier. We envisage that the provision will apply in cases where a refugee meets the first two limbs of Article 31— that is to say, they came direct and claimed “without delay”—but, at the time of the claim, they had entered or were present in the UK unlawfully, having, for instance, overstayed an economic migrant visa.

To illustrate, let us say a person overstayed their visa and then lodged an asylum claim. Because they had entered the UK directly and ostensibly claimed without delay, they might be eligible for group 1 refugee status but, due to having overstayed, we would also check whether they had

“good cause for their illegal … presence”

at the point of claim. If they had no good reason for having been in the UK illegally, they might be liable for group 2 status. An example of where good cause could be shown might be if a person had overstayed their visa and then lodged an asylum claim—a very similar situation to that described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. If their reason for overstaying and lodging an asylum claim while in the UK illegally was on the grounds that they feared presenting to the authorities because they were homosexual, in such a case this may well amount to a good cause.

Suffice it to say that the powers in the Bill are broad and flexible and therefore enable us to exercise discretion where appropriate, including with respect to “good cause”, which will be reflected in guidance to caseworkers.

I turn my attention to Clause 11 as it currently stands. These powers are primarily intended to uphold the “first safe country of asylum” principle. Clause 11 provides a power, as noble Lords have pointed out—they are not very happy about it—for the UK to differentiate according to whether people satisfy certain criteria based on those in Article 31.1 of the refugee convention. The Government have set out their interpretation in Clause 36. I will not distract the Committee from the issue at hand by going through the provisions of Clause 36, because they will be debated in full.

If I may just pick up the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Chakrabarti, on Article 31, the criteria we use as the basis for differentiation are not based expressly on one’s method of arrival. Instead, they are based on the criteria within Article 31 of the convention: whether someone came directly and claimed without delay, and, where applicable, had

“good cause for their illegal entry or presence”.

The clause acts on our commitment to do everything we can to deter individuals, as I have said, from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys through safe third countries, often putting lives at risk. I hope I have fully explained the Government’s rationale and addressed noble Lords’ questions. If I have missed anything out, I am very happy to follow up in writing but I hope that noble Lords will feel happy to withdraw or not press their amendments.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, what a debate this has been. I thank all those who have contributed to it. It has certainly laid bare the points of difference that are going to have to be resolved at a later stage in the consideration of this Bill. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that the lipstick is back in my pocket and the piglet is running free.

I appeal to the noble and learned Lords who have so helpfully intervened in this debate. I made the case at Second Reading that I was hearing two legal positions established that I, as a non-lawyer, could not reconcile. I was hoping that noble and learned Lords would bring all their pals in to help us see the basis on which the Government’s legal judgment is reached, since the Government do not choose to reveal this; perhaps they do not do so habitually. I said that this would help those such as me to understand. The UNHCR statement I read—all 72 pages of it—is very clear, it really is. I have not heard what convinces me that an opposite case can equally be true. I think we are going to need some help. I implore noble and learned Lords not to go on holiday before Report, please.

So we come to the end of this long debate. I thank the Minister for her spirited response. It is no joke standing there and defending yourself against what you perceive to be the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but she did it with some courage. I also thank all those who intervened on her because, in this way, we have opened matters up. Before Report, some of us are going to have to do some serious thinking and come back in a focused way to take this matter further in a way that satisfies all of us.

Is it not incredible that the Prime Minister is, this very day, in Kiev in Ukraine, arguing that Britain honours its international agreements directed towards those at the far-flung edges of Europe? I would that he come back in his plane via Turkey, Greece, Spain and Italy to show how he is equally committed to the international agreements and treaties we have entered into in respect of the way we treat refugees. With all that said and a little bluster on my part, I am glad to put the piglet running and out of the way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Nationality and Borders Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 82-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2022)
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said in moving this amendment, Clause 11 provides that to be a group 1 refugee you must have presented yourself to the authorities “without delay”. This amendment would provide that vulnerable groups are not subject to this time constraint. As one sees from reading the amendment, this would include, though not exclusively, children, survivors of torture, sexual violence and gender-based violence, LGBT refugees, victims of modern slavery and disabled refugees. This is a probing amendment to find out more about how the “without delay” provision will work in practice. As has been said, traumatised people, for example survivors of sexual or gender-based violence, who are largely, but certainly not exclusively, women, do not always feel —to put it mildly—in a position to unburden themselves to the first complete stranger or border, immigration or other government official that they meet on arrival.

The position of single men and sexual orientation has also been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, referred to the article in the Times about single men who arrive from across the channel being detained and locked up. In a previous debate, I asked whether the Minister could say whether that Times article was true. I ask again: is that article true or false? It is important that we get an answer because it relates to this amendment as well.

As well as answering that question, I hope the Minister will give some indication of how the “without delay” provision will work in relation to the vulnerable groups covered by the amendment, what kind of leeway or otherwise the Government intend there to be and what exactly “without delay” means in this context.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for what have been very thoughtful contributions. I will directly address the question that the noble Lord asked me in the previous group about locking single males up. I have not seen the Times article. If he will allow me, I will look at it and respond in due course.

Although the policy is intended to deter dangerous journeys and encourage people to claim asylum in the first safe country, I assure noble Lords that we have been very careful to strike the right balance between how the policy achieves its aim and protecting the most vulnerable, which is what noble Lords have spoken about this evening. Before I explain why I think statutory exemptions are probably not needed, I will offer a few thoughts in relation to how the “without delay” element of Clause 11 is anticipated to operate.

There are two broad categories under which I envisage the exercise of discretion is most likely to be appropriate. The first is where a person finds themselves unable or unwilling to present themselves to the authorities for any reason that pertains to their proposed asylum claim. In such instances, there will need to be very careful consideration of whether it was reasonably practicable for that person to have claimed without delay. For example, if they had been tortured—noble Lords have given this sort of example—suffered sexual violence at the hands of state authorities or, indeed, feared admitting their sexual orientation due to state persecution on those grounds, this sort of situation would trigger very careful consideration.

The second category is where a person was simply not in control of their actions. In such circumstances, we would also be very careful to consider the facts of that case when determining whether it was reasonably practicable for that person to have claimed without delay. I think primarily of victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied children, and those suffering serious physical or mental disabilities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about statistics. I do not have them to hand, but I will try to get them.

On the guidance and training, one of the things that I looked into in great detail way back, when we talked about LGBT people in the detention estate, was how practitioners went about establishing claims made on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. It is fair to say that, back in the day, “clunking” would probably have been a charitable word to use—some of the ways people were questioned were on the verge of being inhumane. We really went to extraordinary lengths to try to change that and make it a much more humane process. It is now about establishing the reasons why someone is making a claim, not proving it, so our policies and training are now designed to support claimants in being able to explain their claim in a very sensitive and safe environment. Our approach, I can confirm, is trauma informed.

Our guidance on sexual orientation and gender identity, as I said previously, was developed to take these issues into account—UNHCR, Stonewall and Rainbow Migration contributed to its development—and we will review and update our training and guidance where necessary to support people who are LGBT+. I confirm again that this will take people’s experiences into account, including the trauma that they have suffered. I thank those organisations, particularly Stonewall, Rainbow Migration and UNHCR, that have helped to make the process far more humane so that people’s very difficult journeys and experiences are eased somewhat by our attitude and approach.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I thank noble Lords very much for their support for this amendment—their willingness to apply some lipstick to the pig that I think we would all like to be rid of. Some very powerful speeches made the case very strongly for why the groups which are listed may well have good reasons for delay. I take the point that any asylum seeker is, by definition, likely to be vulnerable, but we are talking here about those who have particular vulnerabilities.

I thank the Minister for giving more of a sense of what will happen. It is late and I need to read what she said, but I think that the powerful speeches from noble Lords and the Minister’s response justified our taking this as a separate amendment. As I have said, it was not interrogated in the Commons; this has given us a chance to do that.

I thank the Minister for saying that she will look into the statistics—it was I, in fact, who raised it; I think Women for Refugee Women would value having whatever statistics are available. However, just last week, the British Red Cross produced research suggesting that, for all the better training and guidance, women asylum seekers are still treated very badly, with a lack of gender sensitivity and trauma sensitivity. I would encourage the Minister to read this research, think about it and see what more needs to be done.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, one of the ways that the Government can differentiate under the Bill between group 1 and group 2 refugees is to apply “no recourse to public funds”. The two probing amendments in this group would remove that provision. I listened with interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, had to say, as I did to my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett in moving the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, asked what the policy intent of NRPF is—I think she asked that twice during her contribution. Having heard the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, I will be interested to hear what the Government’s view is of the policy intent behind no recourse to public funds being applied to group 2 refugees.

We fully agree with these amendments, which are probing. A question was put to the Minister, and I simply want to support that ask of the Minister to set out in detail when the Government would consider this an appropriate differentiation to use, and in what cases. To whom within group 2 refugees do the Government expect this differentiation on no recourse to public funds to be applied, and in what circumstances? Against what criteria will that decision be made?

We are not talking about applying no recourse to public funds to persons without a valid refugee claim or economic migrants. Clause 11 applies solely to people the Government recognise as refugees with a valid right to be here and to seek safety. Bearing that in mind, it would be interesting to find out in what circumstances they think it appropriate to apply no recourse to public funds to people in the group 2 category.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for explaining their Amendments 46 and 54. As I have said elsewhere, I hope I can reassure the Committee that the powers under Clause 11 are both broad and flexible.

To come first to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, there is no obligation to exercise the provisions and, where they are exercised, there is no requirement to do so in any particular way. We will of course produce guidance and rules in this respect in due course, but those products will reflect the flexibility in the clause by providing appropriate discretion to take into account people’s individual circumstances.

The same therefore applies to no recourse to public funds. Details will be set out in due course, but I reassure noble Lords that we will take particular care to take into account relevant factors when considering the imposition of the condition, if it is imposed at all, including the impact on families, children and other vulnerabilities that have been raised elsewhere. In addition, we are mindful of potential impacts on local authorities and wider civil society. The policies in the Bill are of course subject to an impact assessment in any event. I stress that no one will be NRPF if they would otherwise be at risk of destitution. If they are, they can apply for a change of conditions to remove the condition.

I shall pick up on a few points. The first was about the policy intent, which is to disincentivise dangerous journeys. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral is right: we have to disincentivise people from risking their lives.

My noble friend Lady Stroud talked about safe and legal routes. She was probably not in the Chamber when I laid out absolutely all of them. I refer her to the letter I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, setting all of them out, including several routes for family reunion; I hope she will take a look at that. I commend her on coming up with the solution, yet again, of working with the French. I agree that we need to work not only with the French but with other countries because this is a global problem that now requires a global solution from each and every state on the globe.

I turn to push factors versus pull factors. Push factors do not explain secondary movement, there is no doubt about that. If push factors were all, people would stop in the first safe country that they reached—that is an absolute fact. We must keep all options on the table to stop illegal migration. I hope, but doubt, that I have reassured the noble Baroness that I appreciate and understand her concerns, and the requisite levels of discretion and sensitivity will be exercised with respect to—

Baroness Stroud Portrait Baroness Stroud (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend for giving way. I would like to clarify one point. I think she is saying that the removal or application of, or access to, public funds is discretionary. If that is the case, who has the discretion to apply or withdraw them? It is unusual for the welfare state to be quite so discretionary and, in effect, subject to subjective judgment. It would help to have clarity as to who can say this person will have access to public funds and that person will not.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister answers—I am sorry to prolong the debate; I was going to leave this point until group 8 on the right to work—she talked about pull factors being an absolute fact, but the Migration Advisory Committee said in its annual report in December:

“To the extent that the Home Office has robust evidence to support a link between the employment ban and a pull factor, they should of course make this evidence publicly available for scrutiny and review. That is how good policy is made.”

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, but I disagree.

To answer my noble friend’s intervention about who decides, it is caseworkers.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I may have misunderstood the thrust of what the Minister has said on behalf of the Government, but it came over to me that the reason why we have no recourse to public funds is to disincentivise dangerous journeys—that is, people will know that there is no recourse to public funds, and if they know that it may make stop them making those journeys.

If that is the case, why cannot the Government tell us the circumstances in which no recourse to public funds will apply? Their response has been, in effect: “Someone will draw up guidelines later on, but we do not know at the moment what they will say or the circumstances in which there would be no recourse to public funds.” In that situation, it just is not credible to say that something where the Government do not know how it will be applied would act as a disincentive on dangerous journeys.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Yes, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is not unusual for guidelines to be drawn up after legislation has been brought in.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is true that it is not unusual for guidelines to be drawn up subsequently but, presumably, in including the provision in the Bill, the Government had at least some idea of the circumstances in which it would be applied. The answer I am getting now is that they cannot tell us any circumstances in which it will definitely apply.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

It might be helpful to the noble Lord if I outlined situations in which it might be applied, as opposed to putting them in the Bill. I am very happy to go away and look at that and write to him with some examples of where it might be applied—I get his point on that.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. There have been some very powerful arguments for the amendment. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud: she put it better than anyone else could, drawing on her knowledge of these issues. I thank the Minister but I must say that I am disappointed. The whole point of the amendment was to try to get a bit of clarity—my noble friend Lord Rosser has been trying, without success—but, to be honest, I am none the wiser now than I was at the beginning as to who will and will not be subject to the “no recourse to public funds” rule.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, made the point that discretion involves subjective judgment. I have been involved in social security for a long time. There was a reason why we reduced the element of discretion in it: because subjective judgment may be used in ways that we do not feel very happy with. It can be negative as well as positive. All that we know about the culture of disbelief in the Home Office, the refugee system and so on does not fill me with great hope.

I am glad that the Minister said that she will write to my noble friend; I hope that she will copy it to everyone who has taken part in this debate. I hope that she will look at Hansard and the questions I asked to see whether she can answer some of them. If she cannot, it suggests that, as my noble friend said, this has been put in the Bill without a clue as to what it will actually be used for—and that is not good.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
As well as responding to the amendments, no doubt the Government will also say in their reply whether the accommodation centres will meet the conditions sought by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which I have referred, and precisely who the accommodation centres are intended to house.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford)
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My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I will clear up two things before we start.

Noble Lords will recall that, yesterday, at Questions, I made an apology—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was not actually in his place—having been quite insistent that I had sent a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and that everyone had received a copy of that letter. I had cleared the letter, but it had not gone out. I apologised to the whole House, in the noble Lord’s absence, and thanked him for bringing it to my attention. I understand—I will not assert it—that the letter has now gone out, so everyone in the Committee and the House will get a copy of the safe and legal routes. I am sure the noble Lord will intervene on me if it has not arrived in noble Lords’ inboxes.

The second point to clear up was on something mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, before he sat down, in the Times article. I had not seen it at the time, but I have looked at it now. It is speculation, but I will confirm two things: we detain only for the purposes of removal and to examine claims.

I want also to clarify a third thing: Manston is not going to be an accommodation centre. The plans are for it to be a short-term holding facility for a maximum of five days’ stay.

Noble Lords have pointed out that the asylum accommodation state is under huge strain—there is no doubt about that. We are currently relying heavily on the procurement of hotel rooms, which is not sustainable. Noble Lords have alluded to that in previous questions and debates. The use of accommodation centres will provide additional capacity and ensure that adequate housing is available to everyone in the asylum system who needs it. The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Green, are right, although they come from different sides of the argument: the numbers are large, with 125,360 in the system to June last year. There is no doubt that processing claims more quickly will free up the system.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the average time to process. We prioritise claims involving individuals who are either high-harm, vulnerable, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children or in receipt of asylum support, and we are working on implementing an improved service standard.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the noble Baroness leaves that point, is she able to give an average time to process these claims? I recognise some will be in different categories.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think I said right at the outset that I do not have a figure at this point in time. In terms of speeding up claims and decision-making, we are dealing with a sustained high level of new asylum claims, including from those who arrive in small boats who noble Lords have been talking about. That is creating an additional pressure on the asylum system, but we are committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay and that those who need protection are granted it as soon as possible. We have in place a transformation programme. We are developing existing and new technology. We are digitising casework. We are building a high-performing team, and we are investing in training and supporting staff in professional development to aid staff retention, which we so desperately need.

A key objective of setting up accommodation centres is to resolve asylum cases faster by putting casework and other services on-site. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots said, there is no rationale per se for restricting the number of people in each site to 100, as Amendment 56 seeks to do. It is only likely to make it much more difficult and expensive to set up the centres, meaning that fewer asylum seekers will benefit from the efficiencies that we are trying to achieve. There is also no reason that unrelated residents of accommodation centres cannot share sleeping quarters provided they are the same sex, as this is already allowed in the asylum accommodation system. I take the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about the noise and probable brightness within the facilities, and I will most certainly take that comment back.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to interrupt, but I was so struck when we took evidence about sleep deprivation from people who had been in Napier. It really got me, as someone who hates being deprived of sleep, because it clearly is such a fundamental issue for their mental health. It is not just noisy. They cannot sleep because of the noise.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Baroness and I share more in common than I thought, because sleep deprivation, which I have been a bit subject to recently, is not something I find very easy at all. I am going to take those comments back and provide more commentary, on the back of the right reverend Prelate’s questions, on what we were doing and what we are doing now, if the noble Baroness will bear with me.

As I said, there is no reason that unrelated residents of accommodation centres cannot share sleeping quarters. In fact, the right reverend Prelate conceded that some people like sharing sleeping quarters with others. It is the peripheral issues that he has brought to my attention that I will take back.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was simply in pairs. That was quite clearly stated to us. Two in a room was quite welcome, but more than that was objected to.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Okay, I thank the right reverend Prelate for being so specific. However, I do not think that, fundamentally, there is a reason that unrelated residents cannot share. This amendment clearly provides effective action to alleviate this burden and seeks to restrict the introduction of efficiencies, already mentioned, to the system.

Amendment 57 is unnecessary because there are no current plans to place those with children in accommodation centres, and all other individuals will be placed in an accommodation centre only following an individual assessment that it will be suitable for them and they will be safe.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister at this point make a firm, absolute assurance not only that there are no current plans—I get very suspicious when I hear that, because a plan can be thought up in a few weeks’ time—but that no children will be placed in such centres?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I do not think I can go further than saying that there are no current plans because if a child was destitute and there was a place for the night, I could not say we would not put the child in an accommodation centre.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Minister at least give an assurance that, except in the most exceptional circumstances, no child will be put in such a centre? I hope she can understand why saying that there are no current plans is not sufficient to satisfy us.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I understand the noble Baroness’s point. I cannot go beyond saying there are no current plans, but I can think further about the point she is making and perhaps give her more detail on it, if she will allow me to do so, but that is as far as I can go. She might be further comforted by some of the things I am going to say about vulnerability, et cetera.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, if the Minister is coming on to that, perhaps I should sit down, because I was going to stress welfare as distinct from safety.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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That is what I am going to come on to, if noble Lords will accommodate me—no pun intended—for a short period of time.

Whether an accommodation centre is suitable for individuals who share the characteristics listed in the amendment will depend on a number of factors, including their personal circumstances and vulnerabilities and the facilities available at the particular site or area. This goes to the points made by both noble Baronesses.

I now turn to Amendments 58 and 59, which seek to limit stays in accommodation centres to 90 days. The amendments attempt to disapply a key part of Clause 12. One of the aims of Clause 12 is to enable wider flexibility to ensure that individuals are supported in accommodation centres for as long as that form of housing, and the other support and arrangements on-site, is appropriate for their individual circumstances. We intend to provide vital services and support co-located within accommodation centres. Reducing individuals’ access to these vital services by restricting them to a 90-day stay would not be acting in their best interests.

We do not think Amendment 60 is necessary because we are not proposing to use the power in Section 36 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, so there is no need to amend it.

Moving to Amendment 61, I would like to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his contribution to this debate. The Home Office is already required to provide accommodation to destitute asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers in a way that is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and the requirements in the Equality Act 2010. Our policies also recognise that we need to take account of the individual’s safety and welfare—to take the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—in considering the type of accommodation that is suitable for them.

There are no plans to use accommodation centres to house all asylum seekers. I slightly wondered whether there might have been some conflation with that in today’s debate. Some will be identified at the outset as unsuitable for that type of accommodation, and some will need to be moved out of the centres as new issues emerge. All individuals in the asylum support system have access to an advice service from Migrant Help, a voluntary sector organisation that we fund for this purpose, and are able to put forward reasons and evidence why they need a particular sort of accommodation.

Moving to Amendment 62, I need to be clear on this. As my noble friend Lord Horam said and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts asked, accommodation centres are being set up to provide housing and other support for those who require it because they would otherwise be destitute. The judges mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, may not in certain circumstances need this type of accommodation; I am not making a presumption, but they may not. These are not detention centres, of course. Individuals are free to move out of the centres if they can obtain their own accommodation, for example through friends or family.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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The point was made very clearly that these centres should not be places of detention. I was waiting for some assurance that the ability to come and go would be recognised. The Minister has just said that people will be free to leave if, for instance, they need to go and do something specific. To me, that sounds very different—it may just be a trick of the language—from an assurance that these will not be places of detention subject to specific allowances to leave for specific purposes.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I repeat that these are not detention centres. There may be specific conditions—for example, if an asylum seeker needs to attend an interview about their claim, they will be required to be there—but they are not detention centres.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to interrupt—I know that there is a lot to cover—but I want to follow on from that important point. Again, we were given an example of a specific reason. The person may just want to go for a walk. They may want to go into the local town, if they can get there. Will they be free simply to go out when they want to?

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can assist the Minister here.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We saw and talked to people who were going out into Folkestone for a walk and coming back. So if the system is modelled on Napier as it is now, they were absolutely free to come and go. I think the Minister is saying that, if a specific appointment is made, they will be required to attend it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I know that the Committee will believe a holy man over me—so, yes, God’s representative on earth is absolutely correct.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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One of many. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely correct and put it perfectly.

Where was I? I will talk about standards and all the stuff around Napier in more detail in a second but, for now, I will move on to Amendment 63. This would effectively give local authorities a veto over any proposals to set up accommodation centres in their areas. We do not think that is appropriate. We fully accept that local authorities should be consulted on such proposals and on their views about any impacts on local services. This is already provided for in the way that the Home Office arranges accommodation for destitute asylum seekers who need it. Accommodation providers are contractually required to consult local authorities on any proposals to use accommodation that has not previously been used to house supported asylum seekers. We hope that this consultation leads to agreement, but it is not realistic to assume that this will always happen. It is, however, vital that we provide housing and support to those who would otherwise be destitute. Local authorities cannot be given the option to turn these people away as an inconvenience. I am sure that the Committee would not want that.

I want to address directly the questions asked by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. He asked, first, whether there would be added recreational activities and appropriate medical expertise on site. The simple answer is yes. I know that he saw such an example when he was at Napier the other day. As I have said, accommodation centres will meet all statutory and legal requirements. We expect services in and around the centres to include spaces for exercise, religious activities and appropriate healthcare provision.

The right reverend Prelate asked about community cohesion—a very appropriate question. We will work with local authorities to ensure that community cohesion aspects are addressed; I am sure that the Church will engage on that as well. He also asked whether there would be effective processes to ensure that the most vulnerable are not housed on site. Again, the answer is yes. People will be able to disclose reasons and evidence for why they should not be accommodated in a centre. I was also asked to confirm that no children would be accommodated in these centres. I refer back to my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

The right reverend Prelate asked whether specific learnings from Napier would be applied in future. That is a totally reasonable question. Offering residents Covid vaccinations and personal cleaning kits is one of the things that we will do. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the Covid outbreak. Lateral flow tests are available on arrival and twice a week thereafter for people at the accommodation centres. There are communications on Covid in 10 different languages, and there are people and messages encouraging Covid compliance.

NGOs have also been introduced on site to provide assistance and support. There is free travel to medical appointments and a visiting dentistry service. There are weekly meetings with residents to identify and act on concerns. Sport and recreational activities have also been introduced. I took the noble Lord’s point about the hard football pitch, but then I thought that, in some parts of the country—such as where I live—having a grass pitch might preclude them from playing football for six months of the year, so it is probably appropriate, depending on the area.

The right reverend Prelate also asked whether sleeping areas would be limited to two people. I think I have covered that. There is no reason why unrelated residents of accommodation centres cannot share sleeping quarters, provided that they are of the same sex. This is already allowed for in the asylum accommodation system.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive answers. Report after report has highlighted the importance of ESOL.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - -

I was going to come on to that, and I shall do so now. The right reverend Prelate has mentioned ESOL, which of course is used in either a work context or a life context. He mentioned that there were NGOs providing language assistance for people in accommodation centres. I am not aware of plans to introduce ESOL, but I would say that that is maybe further along the chain of the claim and therefore the granting of asylum.

I hugely support learning the English language for all aspects of these people’s lives, not least in order to integrate, for their children to get educated and for them to be able to access basic things such as healthcare if and when they are granted asylum. So I will think about that—actually, I will not just think about it but take it up with the department.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister may recall that some years ago I came to see her, with the then Minister Brandon Lewis, specifically about the teaching of English. I declare an interest in that my wife is a volunteer, working in the north-west of England on the very kinds of projects that the right reverend Prelate mentioned, teaching English. She and I agree with the Minister that having a command of the English language gives access to everything, while not having that command is a major disadvantage. So, whether or not it is ESOL, resources are required, certainly for volunteers, to ensure that they have available to them all the necessities required if you are a teacher.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - -

I do not think there is any disagreement here. I have seen some great examples—particularly in the north-west of England, and I think the noble Lord and I talked about them at the time—of English language learning for people new to this country. I am not in disagreement in that area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, who also mentioned the Shaw review, talked about children, those with vulnerabilities and, of course, our LGBT community. I stress that we will accommodate people in a centre only after an individual assessment that it will be suitable for them and that they will be safe. There are no plans currently to use the centres to house families. Beyond that, the centres will be used to accommodate only those who require support because they would otherwise be destitute. Those who obtain accommodation with friends or family will not be affected by the measures.

With regard to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the provision has nothing to do with unaccompanied minors. The provision is about adults in the asylum system and their dependants who are accommodated by the Home Office under powers in the Immigration Acts. Unaccompanied minors are not accommodated under those powers.

On the question about accommodation centres generally not being suitable for certain individuals, I repeat again that there are no plans to accommodate asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers who are not destitute in this kind of accommodation. Those who can obtain accommodation with friends or family will remain unaffected; that goes to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Individuals will have the opportunity to disclose information and supporting evidence for why they should not be housed in accommodation centres, and I say again that we have no current plans to accommodate those with dependent children. However, it is not possible to completely rule out placing those with children in accommodation centres in future if, for example—this is a point that I made earlier—there are no available flats or houses to house them. In certain situations, this might be a better option than using hotels. In terms of educational opportunities, all children who are resident in the UK in whatever circumstances can access the state education system in the same way as British children.

I think we have gone over the question of why these are not detention centres.

On the mental health point that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, mentioned, we have later amendments on that issue. Individuals will have access to health services, but we will discuss the issue of mental health in later groups. However, I agree with his point.

Lord Cashman Portrait Lord Cashman (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was also particularly in relation to LGBTQI people placed in those situations.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - -

Yes, I totally concur with the noble Lord’s point.

I turn to the judgment on Napier, mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. The judgment on Napier was reached on the basis of the conditions on site prior to the significant improvement works we carried out and the measures we put in place as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The court did not make any findings that the accommodation centres were unsuitable for providing support to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. Indeed, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 specifically provides for this type of accommodation. The Napier site provides full-board facilities with meals and other essential items provided, as well as access to essential local services such as healthcare. I have been through the improvements that have been put in place. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for reporting back on his visit there last week. He did not have me wandering around after him showing him the best bits; he was free to go in, report and make suggestions to me on the back of that visit.

I hope I have given a fulsome response to the Committee, for the reasons that I have outlined, about the need to ensure that we can support asylum seekers appropriately but also encourage—

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is valiantly dealing seriatim with the qualms that so many of us have about accommodation centres, but I have not yet heard an answer to the fundamental question: why accommodation centres? What is the purpose of this? Why would it improve the asylum system? Is it cost savings? I hope it is not deterrence. Is it the advantages for the Executive of the concentration of cases in one particular place? If we are going to deal fairly with asylum seekers, surely the best thing to do is to speed up the process of hearing their cases and get more of the initial decisions right so that fewer go to appeal.

Surely the accommodation should be empty local authority housing. Why are 12,000 of the 16,000 August Afghans still in hotels? Is there some hold-up in the system which means that local authorities, some of which are quite keen to get some revenue from the presently empty accommodation, cannot deal with them? Is that not the answer, rather than building these concentration centres—or is there some reason that I have just completely missed that would make an accommodation centre the answer? What is the underlying rationale of the proposal?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord for asking that question. When someone arrives in this country, they go first into initial accommodation and then into dispersed accommodation. Depending on whether their claim is allowed or denied, either they are welcomed here as an asylum seeker with their claim accepted or, if their claim is rejected, they might ultimately be asked to leave. These are initial accommodation centres; this is not move-on or follow-on accommodation. I hope that helps to explain the difference.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As long as the queue is three, four or five years long, it is not really just a question of initial accommodation. This is pretty long term.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - -

The noble Lord is absolutely right, and this goes right back to the beginning of this discussion. We need to process claims quickly, grant asylum if the claims are valid, and ask people to leave if they are not. He is absolutely right and we agree with each other on this point: people’s claims need to be done expeditiously. Without making excuses, I say that the pandemic really held back the smooth running of our asylum system, as I am sure it did in other countries. I hope the noble Lord is satisfied. For the reasons I have outlined—so that we can both support asylum seekers appropriately and encourage that throughput that he was just talking about, by freeing up spaces in the asylum spaces— I hope noble Lords do not press their amendments.

Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my noble friend agree that there must be a limit to the resources available to deal with the increasing potential scale of this problem?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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There is a limit to both the resources and the geography of this country. That is why the system needs to run in a way that accommodates the most vulnerable people. People whose claims are not upheld need to leave.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank Committee Members for their kind words and, more importantly, those who made strong contributions in support of these amendments. It is not appropriate to cover them all in detail, but what is important is that the case was made for decent accommodation for asylum seekers that promotes their welfare and is based on a recognition of their common humanity.

While to an extent it is true that, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said, I am not opposed to accommodation centres in principle, I am opposed to what I think is envisaged. I am sorry if I did not make that clear. It is one thing to have small, homely centres; it is another to have things based on military barracks or their equivalent.

I will refer to what two noble Lords said before turning to the Minister. First, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, asked me a specific question about why 100 residents. To be honest, I do not know the answer. The British Red Cross suggested 100 and I have great respect for its work in this area, but the specific number is not important. What is important is that people at such a centre can feel that it is their home for a while. That point was made powerfully by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. There is a real danger that big centres—this is what HOPE not hate is afraid of—will attract the kind of hostility that residents of Napier have faced. The noble Lord made the point that it would be easier to accommodate families, but the Minister herself said that this is not the intention; these are not appropriate for families. I have not come up with an actual answer, but the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, also had the grace to acknowledge that his argument was based on anecdote that people might prefer to be in larger groups. But I have been using the evidence from both research and organisations working on the ground.

I also want to pick out what the right reverend Prelate said, partly because he made an important point at the outset about how, not in all but in many cases, we are talking about future citizens. He made a wonderful remark: he said that we should treat them as

“a gift to us rather than a problem”.

Too much of this debate has been based on the assumption that these people are problems. Please bear in mind what the right reverend Prelate said.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I say to the noble Lord, Lord Green, that, at the end of the day, of course you want to speed the system up. No one does not want to speed up the asylum application process—to say that would be ridiculous, because of course everyone does. What I am saying is that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has just said, at the same time, for the purposes of community cohesion and all the other things that we have heard, allowing asylum seekers to work while their application is being processed is actually a sensible thing to do. But the Government will not publish the evidence for why that is a pull factor, when the policy has been in place since 2001 or 2002 or whatever and has not made any significant difference at all. So all sorts of people and organisations support the right to work, which seems a sensible and reasonable thing to do.

I will finish by saying one simple policy to the Minister. I like to see people off benefits; I do not want to see people languishing on benefits. I thought that was a Conservative Government policy. One of the ways of doing that is allowing people to work: it aids community cohesion and is good for the individuals concerned. I simply do not understand why the Government are turning their face against what is a sensible policy initiative that would do a lot for community cohesion.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I again thank noble Lords who have spoken on these two amendments. The fact that there were only two amendments in this group did not make the debate any less fulsome.

I will say at the outset that the conclusion on right to work was made primarily on the grounds not of the pull factor but of the integrity of the labour market, and an impact assessment will be published on this in due course. But the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is absolutely right that the policy has been in place since 2002. He says that things have not changed in that time in terms of people still wanting to come to this country, but I think that the global situation to draw people to this country probably has changed since 2002. I do not say that in a mischievous way at all—the world has changed and, therefore, people are more likely to want to come to this country, particularly when the economy is so good.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, talked about polls, but I will not go into the merits and demerits of them: they are what they are and, as the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, it depends on the question that you ask. But the biggest poll that we have had in recent years was of course the 2019 general election, and that point about taking back control of our borders was at the heart of it.

Our current policy allows asylum seekers to work in the UK if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months, through no fault of their own. However, as the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Alton, were absolutely right to say, the best way to deal with people’s claims being outstanding for 12 months is to speed the process up in its entirety.

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Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I support these amendments, because they are good economics and good social policy, but if the Government resist them and insist that those people may not work, we are under a duty to make sure that sufficient subsistence money is paid to them to keep them alive. We pay them about £40 a week. Could the Minister get by on £40 a week? I know that I could not. It is £39.63 today; it is going to go up to the princely sum of £40.85 a week, an increase of 17p a day. My elementary maths makes that an increase of just about 3%; inflation is running at about 5.5% to 6%. Why have we increased it by such a small sum?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, it is based on a calculation. I shall not try to bluster my way through what that calculation is, but I shall get the details to the noble Lord. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, people who are destitute will have things like council tax and utility bills paid for them by the Home Office.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I hate to say it, but I have just checked my phone and there is no evidence there of that letter having arrived.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, we often say that we will not provide a running commentary, but I will provide a running commentary on said letter. When we break for the Statement at 3.30 pm, I shall look to the Box as to the whereabouts of the letter —which I did clear some time ago.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, we have the famous Dubs letter; I do not know why others have not—maybe it was sent to selected recipients.

I thank all noble Lords from all sides of the Committee for their support for these amendments—with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, whose case seemed to be that public opinion polls in the future might turn on their head from where they are now, with 70% of the public supporting asylum seekers being able to work, and that might be a minority rather than a majority.

I am losing patience with the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. When he intervened on my opening remarks he accepted that, from 2012 to 2019, the majority of asylum seekers were successful in their applications and that, in 2019, 65% were successful. But in his speech, he maintained that the majority of asylum seekers’ claims were not accepted. It is getting difficult.

The Minister talked about an impact assessment in due course on the effects on the labour market of this change. What is the Migration Advisory Committee for if it is not to advise the Government on the likely impact of changes in migration policy? The MAC recommends that asylum seekers are allowed to work. The Minister claimed that if the amendments were accepted, it would go against what people voted for in 2019. Is she really saying that in 2019 people voted not to allow asylum seekers to work, particularly in the light of the evidence of opinion polls showing 70% support for the contrary?

The Minister seemed to claim that allowing asylum seekers to work was a pull factor, but then said it was complicated and more research was needed. If there is evidence that allowing asylum seekers to work is a pull factor, what is it? She talked about other countries making the UK appear more attractive to asylum seekers, yet we have already heard that the UK is an outlier in terms of most other European countries allowing asylum seekers to work. How does that happen? She also said that European countries that allow asylum seekers to work still provide them with accommodation. Asylum seekers could pay for the accommodation that they are provided with if they were allowed to work.

The Minister’s explanations are not acceptable and we will return to this issue on Report. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, again, I thank noble Lords who have made points. I will attempt to assist the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on the extension. First, I will say that I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is in his place—I hope noble Lords will indulge me; because different amendments are bleeding into different groups, I know noble Lords will not mind. The basic approach to the asylum support calculation is based on the essential needs of the claimant—but I will get him more detail and perhaps more of a breakdown if that is what he would like.

I also say before we start that I agree with my noble friend Lady Stowell: I disagree with many points that people make, but I hope I always approach the House with courtesy. I know the Committee generally does not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, but I must admire his tenacity in coming to this place, week in and week out, and making points that a lot of people do not agree with—I feel like that sometimes. That is a light-hearted point, rather than a point for debate.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, perhaps I could just explain to both noble Baronesses that it was facts that were in dispute, not opinions. I actually agree with a lot of what the Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, says about immigration as a whole, and I would not want that misconstrued.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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That is not in dispute; I was just echoing the point made by my noble friend Lady Stowell about respect, because I think it is always a good thing to be promoting.

I too listened to “More or Less” yesterday—the programme that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to—and I think the conclusion was that it depended on how you looked at it. So everyone was right and everyone was wrong, all at the same time; I think that was the conclusion. But I very much enjoyed listening to that calculation.

Anyway, before I cause any more controversy, I will start by saying that it is very clear that individuals leaving asylum support following a positive immigration decision receive the assistance that they need to obtain other housing and apply for other benefits, such as universal credit, that they are entitled to. We do not think it is sensible to increase the length of time they remain eligible for asylum support from 28 to 56 days, and I will explain why.

The asylum accommodation estate is under huge strain and demand for normal asylum dispersal accommodation —that is to say, flats and houses obtained from the private rental market—is exceeding supply. The only way to meet this demand has been to use hotels, and there are currently around 26,000 people accommodated in them. A programme of work is under way to drive down the use of hotels by obtaining more dispersal accommodation and introducing accommodation centres. This clause would impede this work—I hope that answers the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about “Why not 56 days?” In simple terms, the longer that successful asylum seekers remain in asylum accommodation, the fewer beds will be available for those entering the asylum system, including those temporarily accommodated in hotels at great expense to the taxpayer.

We are aware of reports that some refugees do not access UC, as it is called, or other benefits or adequate housing within 28 days. The reasons for this are complex, but the problem is not solved by increasing the 28-day move-on period, for reasons I have explained, and that is why our focus has been on implementing practical changes with the aim of securing better outcomes for refugees within the 28-day move-on period. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, talked about some of the things that have been done during the pandemic that have actually improved the situation. These include ensuring that the 28-day period does not start until refugees have been issued with a biometric residence permit, the document that they need to prove that they can take employment and apply for universal credit, and that the national insurance number is printed on the permit, which speeds up the process of deciding a UC application.

We also fund Migrant Help which, as noble Lords will know, is a voluntary sector organisation that contacts refugees at the start of the 28-day period and offers that practical, move-on assistance, including advice on how to claim UC. I think this is a big change from the last time the noble Baroness and I spoke on the subject. We offer advice on the importance of an early claim; on other types of support that might be available; on booking an early appointment at their nearest DWP jobcentre, if needed; and on how to contact their local authority for assistance in funding alternative housing. We did evaluate the success of the pilot scheme that booked an early appointment with the local jobcentre for those who wanted one. The evaluation showed that all applicants for UC in the survey received their first payment on time—that is, 35 days from the date of their application—and that those who asked for an earlier advance payment received one, although I take her point about the advance payment. This assistance is now offered to all refugees leaving asylum support and is provided by Migrant Help, which again, as the noble Baroness knows, is a voluntary organisation funded by the Home Office.

Asylum accommodation providers are under a contractual duty to notify the local authority of the potential need to provide housing where a person in their accommodation is granted refugee status. Refugees can also apply for integration loans which can be used, for example, to pay a rent deposit or for an essential domestic item or work equipment, or for training.

We have a proud history of providing protection to those who need it, and I can reassure the Committee that this Government are committed to ensuring that all refugees are able to take positive steps towards integrating and realising their potential. We keep the move-on period under review, but we must consider the strong countervailing factors that make increasing it very difficult at this stage. For the reasons that I have outlined, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who spoke in support of the amendment, and I thank the Minister. I did ask some questions that she did not answer. I will not push them now, but I would be grateful if she could write to me, particularly about the potential implications of the Bill for the numbers affected—but I am conscious that we all want our lunch so I will not press her to reply now.

I said that hope springs eternal, but hope constantly gets dashed, does it not? It is the same old arguments. I was aware that there had been improvements since I last raised this with the Minister, so I asked the British Red Cross to brief me on what those improvements were and what the effects had been—and, yes, they have had some effect. But there are still problems, otherwise the British Red Cross would not be asking us to put this amendment. So why does the Home Office think that everything is hunky-dory? I take the point about accommodation, although, as I pointed out, if you leave newly recognised refugees without accommodation there are knock-on costs for other statutory services. But that point is not valid for UC. So even if one accepted the point about accommodation —which I do not—why cannot newly recognised asylum seekers receive asylum support for longer before they get UC?

It is not complex; it is quite simple. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, just do the maths. It is simple arithmetic: there is not enough time. I actually think it is a territorial issue about who is paying. I ask the noble Baroness—I am sorry, I need my lunch and I am sure the Minister does too—the Minister to take this back to her department and the DWP and look again at the basic incompatibility with universal credit. If nothing else, I think there is a strong case for continuing financial support for longer than 28 days to ensure that people can claim UC. I will leave it at that, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
So, in answering the questions around this amendment and the inclusion of the territorial seas of the UK, and the specifics of me saying “What does that actually mean?”, perhaps the Minister at some point, if she cannot answer now, may wish to write to us, and include all Members in this—maybe a general all-Peers letter, given its importance and the controversy around it—and say categorically what actually is the Government’s policy with respect to pushbacks. Is the Ministry of Defence right or is the Home Office right, or will it have to be adjudicated by the Prime Minister?
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for speaking to these amendments. In terms of territorial waters, yes, I understand it to be 12 nautical miles at low tide. In terms of pushbacks, of course I agree with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and we are developing a range of tools to tackle the illegal and very dangerous crossings in the channel.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I absolutely understand why the Minister has said what she has with respect to the Home Secretary. Nobody, including me, expects the Minister to get up and say that she disagrees with the Home Secretary—for obvious reasons. But that is not the point. The point is: what is the Government’s policy? The Ministry of Defence is saying one thing—including the Minister who speaks for defence matters from the Dispatch Box—and the Home Secretary is saying something completely different. It is not good enough.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord and I will clarify the point on this issue. He knows that I will clarify that for him.

Amendment 67, if we can get on to that, seeks to weaken the message that this Bill strives to send. People should not risk their lives using unseaworthy vessels—I do not think anyone would think that they should—to reach our shores when they have already reached safety in a country such as France. It puts their lives at risk, and those of Border Force and rescue services. Events in recent months have all too starkly demonstrated the devastating human cost of undertaking these journeys. This provision is just one of a host of measures which aim to deter illegal entry to the UK. It is right that we prioritise protection for the most vulnerable people rather than for those who could have claimed asylum elsewhere.

Parliament has already had an opportunity to scrutinise these measures when they were placed in the Immigration Rules in December 2020. It has been a long-standing practice in place for many years to only accept claims for asylum in person at the individual’s first available opportunity on arrival in the UK. These provisions simply seek to place these long-standing requirements on a stronger statuary footing.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his intervention. From memory—and I have to say, no pun intended, that I am finding it difficult to keep my head above water with this Bill—we come on to pushback in a later group. Maybe the Minister might be able to say more when we get to the appropriate group on that issue.

But on this issue, there are lots of things in Immigration Rules that are not in primary legislation, and I do not understand why this particular issue is different. If it is simply to put something that has been for a long time been in Immigration Rules on a more secure statutory footing, why are we not seeing many more Immigration Rules being put on a firmer statutory footing by putting them into primary legislation? This leads me to believe ILPA—that there is some other motivation behind it related to pushbacks, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said.

But there will be an opportunity to revisit this when we come to the groups debating pushbacks, so at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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My Lords, I support the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to exclude Clause 15 from the Bill, for a wide variety of reasons.

First, if a claim is deemed to be inadmissible but to satisfy the convention, that seems effectively to be saying that the person is not a refugee within the convention. That does not make sense. If they satisfy the definition of refugee within the convention, they have a claim. It can be dismissed, and then there will be a right of appeal. What cannot be said—which is effectively what is being said here—is “We’re not going to hear you at all, even though you are a refugee within the strict terms of the convention”. So I take issue with the very idea of inadmissibility with no right of recourse at all by way of an appeal.

Secondly, the terms of Section 80C to be inserted into the 2002 Act in relation to four and five seem completely contrary to both the wording and principle of the convention. My understanding of Clause 4 is that it is, in some way or other, intended to be made analogous to the Dublin III regulation.

There are a number of points to be made about that. First, we are no longer part of the EU or of the Dublin regulation. Perhaps more importantly, EU member states themselves have recognised that the Dublin regulation has failed. On 23 September 2020, the European Commission adopted what they called the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, following consultations with the European Parliament, member states and various stakeholders. The PR notice from the European Commission, which is available on the internet, states:

“The new pact recognises that no member state should shoulder a disproportionate responsibility and that all member states should contribute to solidarity on a constant basis.”


It has failed because the effect of the Dublin regulation, when strictly applied, means that certain states are overwhelmed with refugees because they are inevitably the first state on the way through to somewhere else. What is happening at the moment is that the Commission is proposing to replace the Dublin III regulation with a new regulation on asylum and migration management. So, frankly, there is no point in referring to the Dublin III regulation. It has failed in practice, and we should not be emulating it.

Furthermore, proposed Section 80C(4) is inconsistent with the terms of the convention itself. There is nothing in the convention, in Article 31 or anywhere else that makes this “connection” mean that a refugee claim would fail.

I have another point about condition 4, and I would welcome clarification from the Minister on it. The description that would render a connection with the state, and therefore the claim, inadmissible is exactly the same as the definition of arriving “directly” for the purposes of Clause 11. Clause 36 effectively amplifies Clause 11 and paragraph 1 of Article 31 of the convention. It says:

“A refugee is not to be taken to have come to the United Kingdom directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened if, in coming from that country, they stopped in another country outside the United Kingdom, unless they can show that they could not reasonably be expected to have sought protection under the Refugee Convention in that country.”


On this particular approach, you are never going to get anywhere near Clause 11 because you will be knocked out under Clause 15—so I do not understand that contradiction. Once you fall within condition 3, which is the same as condition 4—which is the same as not arriving directly under the definition in Clause 36 —you are knocked out. So which is it—are you knocked out or do you still have some right under Clause 11, admittedly, to show that you could with good cause fall within either group 1 or even group 2? I am left confused by that.

Condition 5, on which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others have eloquently spoken, provides

“that, in the claimant’s particular circumstances, it would have been reasonable to expect them to have made a relevant claim to the safe third State (instead of making a claim in the United Kingdom).”

Nothing in the Dublin regulations says that, even if they were to apply—and there is certainly nothing in the convention that would make such a condition apply to exclude a claim.

So I support the suggestion that Clause 15 should be excluded because, with respect, it seems to be a muddle in a whole series of different respects—legally, practically and in principle.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords again for speaking to this group of amendments. I appreciate the thoughtful and well-meaning intent of Amendment 68, but we cannot accept it. The definition of “persecution” is well established and must be on the basis of a refugee convention reason—namely, race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. It is reiterated in Clause 30(1)(c) that persecution can be committed by

“any non-State actor”

where the state is

“unable or unwilling to provide reasonable protection”.

Given the level of protection afforded to EU nationals, through fundamental rights and freedoms, EU countries are inherently safe, and individuals are exceptionally unlikely to be at risk of persecution. If individuals experience discrimination, they can seek protection from within their country of nationality.

That said, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, might be comforted to have it confirmed that our processes already acknowledge that it may not be appropriate to apply inadmissibility to EU national claimants in exceptional circumstances. The list of exceptional circumstances included in the provisions is not exhaustive; it looks to protect individuals in the very rare circumstances that a member state is at risk of a serious breach or where there exists a serious and persistent breach of the values under the Treaty on European Union, including equality.

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Briefly, on the Minister’s previous point in response to the right reverend Prelate about refugees being able to fly here instead of making perilous crossings, will she make a commitment that the Government will not slap transit visa restrictions on jurisdictions that produce a lot of genuine refugees because of what is happening over there, and that they will not use carriers’ liability as a deterrent for people trying to escape through that safer method?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Can I write to the noble Baroness on that? I suspect that I will misspeak if I try to answer because there are several things in that question that I am thinking about. I hope that she is okay for me to write to her.

The definition of a safe third state is already set out in the clause. It ensures that, even if a country is not a signatory to the refugee convention, the principles of the convention should be met if we are to remove an individual to that country. It defines safe third countries as states where an individual will not be sent to another state where they would be at risk of persecution or a breach of their Article 3 ECHR rights. This is consistent with our obligation under the refugee convention to ensure that individuals are not subject to refoulement; I keep pronouncing it as “refowlment”, which is completely wrong. This definition has been part of our previous legislation on safe countries and is a widely recognised definition of a safe third state; it is used in EU law under the procedures directive.

I want to come to point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the UNHCR says that we are breaking the refugee convention. There are three groups of amendments on this in Committee—not today, but shortly, so I will not go too much into the convention. We have already touched on it. We think that everything we are doing complies with our international obligations, including the convention. The first safe country principle is the fastest route to safety and widely recognised internationally. It is a fundamental feature of the Common European Asylum System. It is self-evident that those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country and that is the fastest route to safety.

There are different ways in which an individual may be protected and not all of them require entitlements that fall under the refugee convention. To define a safe third state in the way that is suggested by these amendments ignores the fact that other forms of protection are available to individuals which ensure that these countries are safe for them to be removed to. We will only ever remove inadmissible claimants to countries that are safe. Using this definition is not a new approach. It has been part of our previous legislation on safe countries. I do not think these amendments are necessary.

On Amendment 70, the ability to remove an individual declared inadmissible to any safe country has formed a part of our inadmissibility process since the changes to the Immigration Rules in December 2020. This amendment would remove a provision that Parliament has already had the opportunity to scrutinise. The aim of these provisions is to disincentivise people from seeking to enter the UK by dangerous means facilitated by criminals. They send a clear message that those arriving via an irregular route may be eligible to be transferred to another safe country, not of their choosing, to be processed.

I do not agree with the premise of Amendments 71 to 73A and 195. Agreements by a safe third country to accept an asylum seeker may not always be via a reciprocal or formal arrangement. It is right to seek removals on a case-by-case basis where appropriate. Doing so has formed a part of our inadmissibility process since the changes to the Immigration Rules in December 2020. I do not think that these provisions are unworkable without formal agreements in place. That said, I do not disagree with the need to get formal agreements in place. Without providing that running commentary, that is what we are working on doing.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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Will the Minister confirm that to date we do not have an agreement with any country for the return of the people she is talking about?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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There are countries that we can return people to but, as I said, I will not provide a running commentary on ongoing discussions. Of course, there are countries that we return people to, or else we would never have returned anybody in the last two years, and we have.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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If I remember rightly, we returned only five last year. It is partly to do with Covid, I fully accept that, but it is also because there simply are not the agreements in place with the countries that we want to return those people to.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I am not disagreeing with the need to have formal arrangements in place to return people. On that we are at one.

We also acknowledge that it might not always be appropriate to apply inadmissibility to all claimants who have travelled via or have a connection to a safe country. The provisions as drafted already have flexibility that allows us to consider if an individual has exceptional circumstances to warrant consideration of their asylum claim through the UK asylum system. That includes consideration of the best interests of any children affected.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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How does case-by-case work? If we are not going to have agreements and the Minister says it is much better to do it case by case, how does that work? The diplomatic post in the capital in question goes in and says, “We have Mr X in an accommodation centre in Kent. We’d like to send him to you because we think he has a connection to you and we don’t want to let him have asylum here.” What happens if the country in question says, “Well, if he’s with you, he’s your problem”? Do we just put him on a plane and tell him to take his chances at the other end, or are we negotiating his terms of entry into the third country?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think it is both. We need to assess people on a case-by-case basis and we need to have return agreements in place. It is not an either/or. I fully acknowledge the need to have return agreements in place. We could not return someone to a country that said it would not accept them; that simply would not be on. That underlines the need to have formal return agreements in place.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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Does that mean that the Government accept that Clause 15 is pretty meaningless without such agreements in place? There is no argument about that, then.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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No, I do not accept that Clause 15 is meaningless. I am agreeing that we need to have return agreements in place. I do not think anyone would disagree with that point.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If we do not have return agreements in place by the time this clause comes in, we will end up with a lot of people being here for six months while the Government try to find out if they can send them back to another country. If you have no agreements with any other countries, you know before you start that that is a further six months wasted before the Government seek to do anything meaningful. Clearly the clause is meaningless without those agreements in place.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I was going to go on to say that if no agreement is possible within a reasonable period, the individual’s asylum claim will be considered in the UK, but I am not disagreeing with the point that return agreements need to be in place. I think I have made that quite clear. Similarly, this is a global challenge, so every nation in the world has to be mindful of the fact that they will be in similar positions as the months and years go on.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No other country is in this position because other countries believe that the refugee convention means what it says. I am uneasy, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, must be right, but what makes this particularly peculiar is that we are considering inadmissibility here. Suppose there were an agreement in place. Suppose we were handling a case—the Minister says that it is best done case by case—but we have not done anything except say, “This is inadmissible.” We do not know anything about this chap. He has not had an appeal turned down and has not been categorised in group 1 or group 2; he has simply been declared inadmissible. What does the diplomatic post in the intended recipient country have to go on?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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That is a very good point. I think we talked about this the other day, in terms of returns. We actually took far more than we returned under Dublin. At this juncture, I would say that we do not need formal agreements in place.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness should be careful. I quite agree that it was an interesting point, but it is a point that works for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, not for the Minister. While there was a Dublin agreement and only 10%—I do not vouch for the figure, but the noble Lord, Lord Green, may be right—what do we expect to happen when there is no agreement? Do the Government expect a higher acceptance rate from the French and Germans when there is no agreement, when they are declaring the guy inadmissible?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I do not know if the noble Lord heard my last point, but we do not necessarily need formal return agreements in place. We can do returns without formal agreements. The point about Dublin is that the formal arrangements that were in place did not necessarily work. It is important to try both—formal and informal, diplomatic and otherwise. It works both ways and, as I said, this is a global challenge. It is not that it is not an EU problem either.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can I just be clear? Will this then work on the basis of some ad hoc arrangements that will be determined through diplomatic channels, in which other countries take people whom we have declared inadmissible? As I understand it, the number of people we are likely to declare inadmissible will be high. Will all that be done by ad hoc arrangements? Will there not be any agreements and will these countries come forward and say, “Yes, that’s fair enough. You declared the claim inadmissible; of course we will take them back”. Is that how it is going to work?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am saying that there are a number of ways in which we can seek to secure this—formal, informal, diplomatic and otherwise. I am not saying there is a single solution to returns. Therefore, Clause 15 still needs to be in place.

It might not always be appropriate to apply inadmissibility to all claimants who have travelled via or have a connection to a safe country. The provisions that we have drafted already have flexibility that allows us to consider whether an individual has exceptional circumstances to warrant consideration of their asylum claim through the UK asylum system. As I said, this includes best interests. We also have the family reunion provisions that I mentioned earlier so, if individuals have family members in the UK, they should apply under those provisions. The inadmissibility provisions should not be used to circumnavigate those provisions and create a back door to enter the UK by dangerous means.

Furthermore, if an individual has not been recognised as a refugee, but has been provided with a different form of protection from refoulement, that country is safe for them to be removed to. To define a “safe third State” in the way suggested by the amendments ignores the other forms of protection available to individuals, which ensure that these countries are safe for them to be removed to.

Regarding Amendments 74, 73B, 74A and 75B, the UK should not be obliged to assess the substance of an asylum application where the applicant, due to a connection to a safe third country, can reasonably be expected to seek protection in that third country, or where they have already sought protection in a safe country and have moved on before the outcome of that claim, or where a claim has already been granted or considered and refused. This is a necessary part of achieving the policy aim of deterring those unnecessary and dangerous secondary movements. We are not alone in operating this practice. These amendments ignore the other forms of protection available to individuals that ensure that these countries are safe for them to be removed to. Amendments 75, 75A, and 76 would significantly undermine the aim of these provisions. The provisions as drafted send that clear message for those who could and should have claimed asylum in another safe country to do so.

I commend the spirit of Amendment 76, which would introduce a new clause to strengthen our inadmissibility provisions and deter irregular entry to the UK, particularly where that means of entry indicates that individuals have travelled to the UK via a safe country. I agree with the premise of this amendment—that access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need and not driven by criminal enterprise. The provisions in the Bill send that clear message. However, this proposed new clause probably goes too far, and would breach our international obligations. It could place individuals in indefinite limbo, which would be against the object and purpose of the refugee convention. The provisions as drafted ensure that individuals are not left in limbo, with their asylum claim neither considered in the UK nor another safe third country. If after a reasonable period it has not been possible to agree removal of the individual to a safe third country, as I said earlier, their asylum claim will be considered in the UK. The introduction of Clauses 14 and 15 as they stand aims to strengthen our position on inadmissibility, further disincentivise people from making dangerous journeys, and encourage them to claim asylum in the first safe country.

I will leave it at that. I hope that noble Lords will be happy not to press their amendments.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister said that two issues were widely recognised internationally. One was the definition of a safe third country and the other was on the first safe country principle—that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked for the definition, in the amendments, of a third safe country, so it does not agree that it is a widely recognised international definition. The UNHCR also says that it does not recognise the first safe country principle and that there is nothing in international law about it. Does the Minister accept that, even if she says that these things are widely recognised internationally, they are not recognised by the UNHCR?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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We have had wide discussions about the UNHCR’s opinion on this and think that we are complying with international law. It is up to each state to interpret the refugee convention. I know that the noble Lord and most of this House do not agree but it will ultimately be for Parliament, through the passage of the Bill, to interpret what Parliament thinks of the refugee convention.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I will not move Amendment 76 and will consider the Minister’s comments on it.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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My Lords, I add my name to that of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in giving notice of my intention to exclude Clause 28 and Schedule 3 from the Bill. To move an asylum seeker to a detention or reception centre offshore while their claim is being assessed is wrong in principle, oppressive in practice, contrary to the 1951 convention and lacking sufficient safeguards under the Bill. Many speakers referred to Australia’s policy of offshore processing, as an example both of how awful it can be and, by one speaker, of a successful operation to deter unlawful immigration. It is worth putting a little flesh on the Australian experience.

In 2013, Amnesty International published a report, This Is Breaking People, highlighting a range of serious human rights concerns at the Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, immigration detention centre. In an update, Amnesty International reported that, in two days in February 2014,

“violence at the detention centre led to the death of … a 23-year-old Iranian man, and injuries to more than 62 asylum seekers (some reports suggest up to 147 were injured).”

It said in the report:

“There are credible claims that the asylum seekers … were attacked by private security guards, local police and possibly other contractors working at the centre. The response by security guards and local police to protests by asylum seekers was brutal and excessive.”


Amnesty’s report raised a number of concerns about living conditions, including overcrowding, cramped sleeping arrangements, exposure to the elements, as well as a lack of sufficient drinking water, sanitation, food and clothing. The update said:

“Since the violence on … February 2014, Papua New Guinean nationals no longer enter the compounds for catering or cleaning … Asylum seekers are delivered meals in take-away packs for self-distribution and also bear sole responsibility for cleaning the ablution blocks.”


At the time of Amnesty’s site visit in March 2014,

“ablution blocks in all compounds were dilapidated, dirty, mouldy, and”

some latrines were

“broken and without running water.”

Amnesty International expressed concern about the issue, saying:

“Australian and Papua New Guinean authorities are deliberately denying asylum seekers’ right to access lawyers and human rights organizations.”


In an article published by the Australian Institute of International Affairs in February 2017, it was said:

“LGBT asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable … and face significant disadvantages and dangers. In detention they experience discrimination, harassment and violence from other detainees and from members of staff. The detention environment has serious long-term effects on their mental and physical well-being.”


From time to time, Ghana and Rwanda have been floated in the media as places to which asylum seekers in the UK might be transferred, although Ghana has officially denied any such possibility. The appropriateness or inappropriateness of such locations for LGBTIQ asylum seekers is manifest. In Ghana, same-sex sexual acts carry a potential sentence of up to 25 years. There is a current proposal to raise the minimum sentence to 10 years and to require conversion therapy. LGBTIQ people face homophobia, physical violence and psychological abuse.

In Rwanda, same-sex sexual relations are not unlawful, but there are no anti-discrimination laws relating to sexual orientation or gender identity, including in relation to housing, employment and access to government services, such as healthcare. A 2021 report on Rwanda by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada cites sources disclosing discrimination and stigma facing LGBTIQ people in religious and civil society, the media and business, harassment by the police and the use of indecency and vagrancy offences against transgender and gender-diverse people. The experience in the offshore detention centres I referred to in Australia and the position in Ghana and Rwanda show the inappropriateness of holding asylum seekers in offshore detention or reception centres.

In particular, the following are not answered in the Bill, the Explanatory Notes or any other guidance from the Government. First, how will asylum seekers have access to legal advisers with knowledge of the law and practice relating to UK asylum claims, assuming that they are being processed under UK law, which is complex and difficult? Secondly, legal aid and advice is available to refugees in the UK, but there is nothing to suggest that it will be available to refugees in offshore holding centres. Thirdly, and as has previously been pointed out, if conditions in the proposed offshore centre are so bad as to cause physical or mental harm to refugees, whether through physical conditions in the centre or—in the case of single women or LGBTIQ members, for example—because of discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence from staff or other asylum seekers, will they be able to have recourse or bring proceedings in the UK, or will they be restricted to such remedies as might be available in the foreign country?

Until these fundamental questions are answered and set out expressly in the legislation, there should be no question whatever of exporting refugees to offshore holding centres. To do so would be inconsistent with the spirit and the letter of the refugee convention and the UK’s own history of welcome to genuine asylum seekers over the centuries.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, and I thank my noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate for tabling his Amendments 100, 101 and 102.

On the back of my noble friend’s point, it might be helpful to clarify the definitions of “asylum seeker”, “refugee” and “economic migrant.” An asylum seeker is a person, either in transit or awaiting a decision, seeking the protection of a state under the terms of the refugee convention. A refugee is a person who meets the definition of “refugee” in Article 1 of the refugee convention—they do not have to be recognised by a state to be a refugee—and so it follows that a “person with refugee status” is a person who meets the requirements under the UK Immigration Rules to be granted refugee status.

The term “economic migrant” is inexact. It may, of course, refer to a person who is using or looking to use economic routes, such as FBIS, to enter a state. However, there will be people who meet the definition of Article 1 of the refugee convention but are looking to enter the UK and choosing it over other countries purely for economic reasons. One of the objectives of the New Plan for Immigration is to ensure that the most vulnerable can be protected, which in turn means that those attempting to enter the UK for economic reasons should use the appropriate routes.

Changes within Clause 28 via Schedule 3 are one in a suite of critical measures designed to break the business model of people smugglers and are the first step in disincentivising unwanted behaviours—for example, by dissuading those who are considering risking their lives by making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK in order to claim asylum. By working to establish overseas asylum processing, we are sending a clear message to those who are risking their lives and funding criminal gangs both here and abroad or abusing the asylum system elsewhere that this behaviour is not worth it. We must make it easier to ensure that such people are simply not allowed to remain in the UK.

It also might assist noble Lords—and indeed my noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate—to know that for nearly 20 years, it has been possible under UK law to remove individuals from the UK while their asylum claim is pending if a certificate is issued under Schedule 3 to the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, so this is not a new concept. What this measure does is amend our existing legal framework to make it easier to remove such individuals. I do not know which noble Lord asked this, but Schedule 3 also defines the term “safe third country”.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness for those points. Generally, in the asylum system in the UK, when someone is about to turn 18, their status changes.

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right; I did not answer questions about all children in all situations. On the previous day in Committee, I went at length through the routes by which children and families can come to the UK—there are several routes, and I think I cited four.

My noble friend Lady Stroud asked about victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. We will only ever act in line with our commitments under our international legal obligations, including those which pertain to potential victims of modern slavery.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has made me even more disturbed. She has not said—and neither has anyone in the other place—that families and children will not be offshored.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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As I have just said, I will not go any further than my honourable friend did in the House of Common, save to say that people who—

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand that the Minister may be unable to respond immediately to the extremely valid question the right reverend Prelate has asked. Presumably, however, the Government as a whole know the answer to his question. Why does the Minister not agree to write to us and tell us what those answers are?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I have said I will write, but to be more explicit than my honourable friend was in the Commons might risk exploitation on routes taken by children. Therefore, this is as far as I will go today. I will lay out the various safe and legal routes through which children can come to this country and reiterate what my honourable friend said in the House of Commons.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am very sorry but the noble Baroness is not answering the right reverend Prelate’s question. It is not about safe and legal routes but about who will and will not be offshored, which is an awful term. She seems to be saying that children who are accompanied, who are in families, could well be offshored. Is that correct? The Minister in the Commons refused to answer the question and avoided it; I am afraid that is what the Minister is doing here.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am not trying to avoid it; I am saying that that is about as far as I can go. However, I will try to outline any further detail that I can in writing to noble Lords. Noble Lords will know—

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I will not take the intervention just yet. I do not generally make misleading comments standing at the Dispatch Box. I will further write.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am most grateful and apologise. Can my noble friend say whether she expects that, by the time we reach Report, she will be able to answer that question? Can she also say whether there are any countries with which we are close to agreement and, if so, what countries those are?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I cannot say what countries we are in discussion with, other than confirming to my noble friend Lady Stroud that we are having some very positive discussions with France. On the other question, I cannot acquiesce to going further at this point, because I do not want in any way to make comments that might put children in danger. As I have just said to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I will write in as much detail as I can following Committee.

Baroness Stroud Portrait Baroness Stroud (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend for giving way. I think I heard that her concern is that saying that children with families would be exempted from being offshored could lead to a fuelling of the trafficking of children to ensure that those families who wanted to travel to the UK would be accepted here. Is that what my noble friend is saying? Some clarity on that would be really helpful, as well as some distinctions in that policy, which obviously she wants to mitigate, and the policy around families who are obviously families—who have proof of it—coming here. Would the Government split them up, let them remain here or be offshored?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to strike that balance between abuse of the system and providing refuge to those genuinely in need, but she will also know that we have several family reunion routes, which I went through the other day in Committee. With all that, and the commitment to write to the right reverend Prelate—

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to intervene just when the noble Baroness thought she had finished. She said that there is already a power to remove asylum seekers while their claim is being considered. Is she referring to when the Secretary of State issues a certificate to say that a claim has no merit and someone can therefore be deported before their appeal is heard? In that case, that is a limited number of people and a very different system from the one proposed here. Can she tell the Committee how many people have been issued with such a certificate and been deported during their application process in that way, compared with the numbers the Government anticipate will be affected by this new proposal?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Lord talks about deportation; we generally refer to deportation in the context of criminals. No, it is not under those provisions.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sorry, but a whole range of noble Lords asked a question, in different ways, about what happens to the asylum seekers if they are granted refugee status in the country to which they have been offshored. Are they allowed back into this country or are they just left there? If they are left there, they have, in effect, been deported.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I do not have the answers before me, so I will write on the questions that I have not answered, if that is okay with the noble Baroness.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her responses and all noble Lords for their very important contributions on a really significant part of the Bill. I stand by what I said in my remarks, and I think that others will do so too, despite assurances that we may have received. I would be very grateful if the Government would perhaps be prepared to discuss this matter further between now and Report. On that basis, without further ado, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Of course that is right. That is why there was such a row about the cut in the aid programme. It is why we all believe that of course we have to try to prevent war, famine and all those things. Not to do that would be ridiculous. The sources of many of our problems are war, famine and disease, and all of those things, so of course we have to prevent them.

However, it is also important in the debate we have in this country about asylum and refugees—not immigration—to stand up to the view that “We take the lot”. The idea that it is this country that has to deal with the situation, no other decent country in the world does it, we are the country that has to take them all and we are the weak link in it all is just not true, however unpopular it is to say so. Sometimes the way that you change public opinion is by arguing with it.

People will say, as no doubt the Minister will, “We won the election and therefore this is what the public think”, but on asylum and refugees there is an argument for saying, “Of course we don’t want open borders but there is a need for us to act in a way that is compassionate and consistent with the values that we have always had”. Sometimes that costs you, as I know, but that does not mean you should not do it. Public opinion can therefore be changed, and the subject is debated. Indeed, policy and opinion can change in this Chamber, which is the point of it. In the interests of time, I will stop there.

Amendment 114 is exceptionally important because of the need for international action. To apply it to our own situation here, we will not deal with the migrant crossing problem in the channel without co-operation from France and the rest of Europe.

I want to talk about the importance of Amendment 113, and I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Green, on this. It is not an open invite to everybody to pile their children—I paraphrase, but if I get it wrong then no doubt the noble Lord will correct me—into the EEA because that means they can all then come to the UK. The amendment clearly lays out that it is about people who already have a family member present in the United Kingdom. It is about family reunion and trying to ensure that unaccompanied children in the EEA who have a family member in the UK get the opportunity to be reunited with them.

I will finish with this point, which I know the Minister will agree with. The problem we have is that sometimes Ministers have to speak to Governments, to the computer and to the Civil Service and say, “This bit of the Bill is wrong. It does not work.” Both Ministers have done it before on other Bills in other places where the Bills were wrong. On this issue of family reunion, the Government have got it wrong; they are not right. Nobody thinks that children who are unaccompanied in other parts of the EEA, for example, should not be able to reunite with their families in a way that is consistent with the values of this country, and it beggars belief that the Government would stand against that. It is not about an open door; it says quite specifically who should deal with it. I think if that were explained to the people of this country, and debated and argued with them, they would support it, because they are compassionate and decent, and in the end the compassionate and decent side will win. I think the Ministers are compassionate and decent, so let us have a Bill—in this aspect of it—that reflects that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments. I hope in what I am about to say that there will be at least some acknowledgment of the compassion and decency that we have shown as a country in the last few years—actually, the last few decades. It is such a hallmark of us as a nation. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Believe it or not, we like each other very much—we just disagree on quite a lot. But we have worked together in a civilised and friendly manner over the last few years, and long may that continue.

On the point about decency and compassion, Amendment 112 aims to expand the scope of the refugee family reunion policy. Under that policy, we have granted visas to over 39,000 people since 2015, over half of them being children, as the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, pointed out. So, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we have looked into our hearts. We already have several routes for refugees to bring family members to join them in the UK, and it is important to carefully consider the impact of further amending our policy.

Family unity is a key priority, but noble Lords will know that we have a range of aims further to this, including ensuring that we have reasonable control over immigration and that public services such as schools and hospitals—and I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, who talked about the infrastructure of this country—are not placed under unreasonable pressure. However, I recognise that in some cases there will be exceptional and compassionate circumstances which warrant a grant of leave. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the guidance on exceptional circumstances will be published in due course. That is why our policy ensures that there is always discretion to grant visas outside the Immigration Rules, which may cater for the sorts of cases that do not immediately fall within our legal framework.

In terms of allowing child refugees to sponsor family members under this proposed clause, noble Lords will at least grant that I have been consistent in opposing that sort of policy, because of its negative consequences. It is highly likely that this would create further incentives for more children to be encouraged—or even, sadly, forced—to leave their family and risk extremely dangerous journeys to the UK in order to sponsor relatives. Such an approach would open children up to a huge exploitation risk, which completely contradicts the hard work and commitment of the Home Office in protecting children from modern slavery and exploitation. We refuse to play into the hands of criminal gangs, and we cannot extend this policy to allow child refugees to sponsor family members into the UK.

Beyond this, many of the conditions set out in this new clause are already included in our current family reunion policy and are taken into consideration when decisions are made inside or outside the rules. All noble Lords in Committee should have a copy of the various routes. Our prime consideration in all cases is the best interest of the child in question—and so it should be. As the number of visas we have granted under this policy reflects, we are committed to maintaining family unity for refugees. Caseworkers are encouraged to use discretion in considering whether entry may be granted in family reunion cases. By setting out conditions in primary legislation, we would lose the individuality of consideration, and the discretion of caseworkers would be void. I can assure the Committee that all relevant elements of each case are thoroughly considered on their merits under this policy, and there is no need to set it out in statute.

I turn to Amendment 113, on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors. I cannot support this proposed new clause. It tries to recreate the EU’s Dublin regulation in UK law with respect to unaccompanied children who have claimed asylum in an EEA state but have family members in the UK. When the UK sought to raise these matters with the EU, our proposals had very clear safeguards for children. This proposed new clause has none. It creates entitlements to come to the UK to claim asylum if the minor has specified relatives but it fails to consider the individual needs of the child. It does not consider whether the UK relative can actually take care of the child or whether the child would be better placed with a relative, potentially an even closer relative, in another safe EEA state.

The other point about this proposal is that it does not work unilaterally. I am sure the noble Lord will concur with that. It requires co-operation from EEA states. It is not possible to legislate through this Bill to take children out of other countries’ care and support mechanisms or their asylum systems. That requires agreement between states, which might not be possible and is certainly unlikely in the timescale of six months set out in the clause.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is about to stand up. Might I finish this point about the EU before he does? As he knows, we sought to negotiate with the EU on UASC family reunion and continue to talk to it on this important issue. However, at this point I cannot comment further.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I hate to go over the past, but the whole point of having the Dublin III treaty in the 2017 Act—which was taken out in the 2019 Act, as I said—is that it has to be based on reciprocity. That was a sensible way forward; it is why we wanted to go down that path. That was the path blocked by the Government in the 2019 Act.

Lord Hylton Portrait Lord Hylton (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness has twice in my hearing given the figure of 39,000 humanitarian visas for family reunion. Between Second Reading and Committee, I asked a Written Question on how many of those had been taken up, because I foresaw that force majeure, poverty or some other reason would prevent many of them actually being used. I got one of those answers saying, “We really cannot find or give you any figures.” Can the noble Baroness be a little more helpful on the real results of those visas?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Going back to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, first, I did not disagree with his point about reciprocity but I made it clear at the time that we were of course leaving the European Union. I have consistently said, and repeat now, that we will try to negotiate with the EU on UASC family reunion, whether that is across the EU or bilaterally with states. I cannot go any further on the negotiations, but we continue to try to do that. I hope that answers his question.

On family reunion visas, we can grant them, but the noble Lord asked about tracking whether people use them or not. I assume people apply for the visas because they need them and want to reunite with family in the UK, and whether they use them or not—I have just received an answer: all 39,000 have been taken up, so I hope that satisfies the noble Lord. I was just wondering how we could track whether someone had used a visa or not, which might be quite difficult.

I move to Amendment 114, on returns. Once again, we have a number of safe and legal routes to the UK that did not require a negotiating mandate. Our resettlement schemes have provided safe and legal routes for tens of thousands of people to start new lives in the UK. In particular, the mandate resettlement scheme recognises refugees who have a close family member in the UK who is willing to accommodate them. This is a global scheme and there is no annual quota. These routes work alongside the UK Government’s commitment to increasing co-operation internationally, and we continue to seek to negotiate on returns with EU member states, as I have just said to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, our Amendment 119E, seeks to put a global resettlement scheme on a statutory footing. In that sense, it is very similar to the new Dubs scheme, if I can call it that, for unaccompanied children. I also speak to Amendment 116, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate.

The Government’s stated intention through this Bill is to prevent people risking their lives taking dangerous journeys to the UK, but instead of talking about differential treatment, inadmissible claims, pushbacks, offshoring, reinterpreting the convention and other measures, we should be talking about safe and legal routes. If a person fleeing conflict, torture and persecution has a safe route by which to get here, they will take it. If they do not, they will take other, dangerous routes. Suggesting that other measures have or may have any deterrent effect is frankly not an answer when there is no international evidence, and the Home Office has recognised that asylum seekers often have no choice in how they travel and face exploitation by organised crime groups. If the Government want people to travel here by safe, alternative routes and break the business model of the people smugglers, their efforts need to be focused on providing those routes, which the three amendments I refer to do.

I will concentrate the rest of my remarks, which will be brief, on resettlement schemes. The argument for the Dubs scheme has been made before and was made very powerfully again tonight by my noble friend Lord Dubs. Initially, the Dubs scheme, passed into law by a Conservative Government, was envisaged to take 3,000 unaccompanied children who had fled unimaginable horrors and were travelling or in refugee camps on their own. It has been said tonight that, in reality, the scheme was capped at 480 children, and fewer children were actually resettled before the scheme was closed down. Where is the Government’s commitment to taking unaccompanied children who are in desperate need of safety? Does the Minister accept that, without this route, some children will have turned, and will continue to turn, to people smugglers instead?

Our earlier Amendment 114, Amendment 116 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, and my Amendment 119E all deal with a global resettlement scheme. Amendment 119E seeks to put the UK resettlement scheme on a statutory footing and would require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the operation of the scheme and the number of people resettled under it. For now, it does not include a target, unlike Amendment 116. As the Opposition, we have raised concerns that the 5,000 people due to be resettled under the Afghan resettlement scheme may not be enough of a commitment in response to that crisis.

So there are questions about how a target would be designed, but the aim is the same as Amendment 116. It is, first, to create an active global resettlement scheme that can respond flexibly and at speed to needs, as they emerge; and, secondly, to ensure some kind of mechanism to hold the Government to account. This is to ensure the scheme is actually resettling people at the rates and numbers expected and is not simply announced in a press release then left to lie dormant or underperform.

Announcing the UK resettlement scheme, which was launched after the closure of the Syrian scheme, the then Home Secretary confirmed that

“the UK plans to resettle in the region of 5,000 of the world’s most vulnerable refugees in the first year of the new scheme”.

Since that announcement, as I understand it, the scheme has settled less than a fifth of that number each year, with an annual average of 770 people. How do the Government expect the other 4,230 of the world’s most vulnerable refugees each year to travel here? Do they expect them to go elsewhere or not go at all?

If we share the aim of ensuring people who are fleeing the worst can do so safely—and I am sure everyone in this House does—we need to work together to provide a reliable, active, responsive route to do so. Currently, the Bill is silent on this and, in answer to questions from the Commons, the Government gave no details about their plans. I hope the Minister is able to give more detail tonight.

The Government should, in this Bill or alongside it, commit to an expanded proactive resettlement route. The mechanism for doing that is provided in both Amendments 116 and 119E.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in what has been quite a full debate. Amendment 115 seeks to introduce a safe route for unaccompanied children from countries in Europe to come to the UK. We all want to stop dangerous journeys in small boats and avoid a repeat of the distressing events of 24 November last year in the channel, where 27 people tragically lost their lives. We all know that children were impacted by that event, and I am sure that every noble Lord in this Committee is concerned about vulnerable children.

I think we can also agree that European countries are safe countries. Together, EU countries operate the Common European Asylum System, which is a framework of rules and procedures based on the full and inclusive application of the refugee convention. Its aim is to ensure the fair and humane treatment of applicants for international protection. There is no need for an unaccompanied child in a European state who needs protection to make a perilous onward journey to the UK, because that protection is already available to them.

I therefore argue that these proposed clauses would put vulnerable children in more danger by encouraging them to make dangerous journeys from outside Europe into Europe to seek to benefit from the scheme. They would create a new pull factor, motivating people to again entrust themselves to smugglers. While they might avoid the danger of a small boat, we know that journeys over land—for example, in the back of lorries—can be equally perilous. We cannot and must not do anything that supports the trafficker’s model. I am resolute on that. I know that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, intends, but it is the reality of this proposed new clause.

The UK does its fair share for unaccompanied children. According to the latest published statistics, there were 4,070 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being cared for in England. In 2019, the UK had the most asylum applications from unaccompanied children of all EU+ countries and had the second highest in 2020. The Government met their one-off commitment to transfer 480 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children —we did meet that commitment—from Europe to the UK under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, which is referred to as the Dubs scheme. This is essentially that scheme again in all but name.

The clause also fails to take into account the reality for unaccompanied children entering the UK domestic system right now. I am very grateful to the many local authorities who have been able to provide support on a voluntary basis to the national transfer scheme, introduced to enable the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from one local authority to another, which aims to deliver a fairer distribution of unaccompanied children across the UK. Due to the extremely high intake of unaccompanied children over recent months, particularly as a result of small boat crossings on the south coast, and pressures of entry on local authorities, the national transfer scheme has been unable to keep up with demand. The unprecedented demand resulted in the exceptional decision to accommodate new arrivals of unaccompanied children in hotels to ensure that their immediate safeguarding and welfare needs could be met, pending their transfer to longer-term care placements. It is not ideal and it is not in the interests of those children who are currently waiting in hotels for local authority placements to agree to this clause. We need to prioritise finding long-term placements for those children already in the UK and ensure that we have a sustainable transfer scheme to deliver long-term solutions.

I must pick up the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on one point. He talked about 1,500 places being pledged. He will know that, over the years, I have constantly challenged local authorities to come forward to the Home Office if they have places, and those numbers have not been forthcoming. Unfortunately, places pledged to a charity do not necessarily translate into places. His comments do not reflect our experience on the ground, given that we are using hotels for some newly arrived UASCs while urgently seeking care placements. The Government have mandated the national transfer scheme to ensure that we prioritise care placements for those unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are in the UK.

Turning to Amendment 116, I understand the desire that Members of this Committee have to establish a minimum number of resettled refugees each year. Our current schemes are non-legislative, operating outside of the Immigration Rules and on a discretionary basis. Operating in this way has seen us resettle over 26,000 vulnerable people since 2015.

It is important that we take into account our capacity in the UK to support people, so that we can continue to resettle people safely and provide appropriate access to healthcare, education, housing, et cetera, without adding to the significant pressure that those services are already under. This amendment seeks to bring in a statutory minimum of 10,000 refugees each year within one month of Royal Assent. We already have over 12,000 refugees and people at risk who we are in the process of resettling permanently and integrating into society.

I turn now to Amendments 118 to 119B. I assure the Committee of my support for the humanitarian intentions behind these proposals and sympathise with the many people across the world who currently face danger and persecution. For resettlement, the UK works according to the humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality, which means that we do not take into consideration the ethno-religious origin of people requiring citizenship, as we resettle solely on the basis of need. That is not to in any way decry what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has said, but we settle on the basis of need, as identified by the UNHCR.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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I am very grateful to the Minister for responding to some of the points that I made earlier, but would she accept two things—first, that this is not about people who are vulnerable but about people who are subjected to genocide, and we have legal commitments in international law under the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide? I would be most appreciative if she could take that back to her officials so that we can look at it further. Secondly, I asked her specifically whether she could identify, under the existing arrangements, whether we had taken a single Yazidi or Assyrian from northern Iraq as a consequence of them not being able to enter through the existing routes. I would appreciate it if she could write to me on that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I will probably refer to my colleagues in the FCDO for further information on that, but I shall certainly take those points back.

It is important at this stage to take into account our capacity in the UK to support people, as I have said, so that we can continue to resettle people safely and provide that appropriate access to healthcare, et cetera. Sorry, I have just gone back on my speech; I was talking to the noble Lord about the VPRS and the whole issue of genocide. I shall provide further information on all that—but I would add that we cannot support these amendments, which would create an uncapped route, whereby anyone anywhere could make an application to enter the UK for the purposes of making an asylum claim. The UN estimates there to be around 82.4 million displaced persons worldwide. Under these proposals, UK caseworkers, who already have a stretched workload, would be bound to undertake an in-depth examination of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of individuals’ circumstances to assess the likelihood of their protection claim being granted, as well as seeking to understand factors, including the individual’s mental and physical health, their ties to the UK, and the dangers that they face. This suggestion is totally unworkable.

I remind my noble friend that the number of people we are able to support through safe and legal routes depends on a big variety of factors, including local authorities’ capacity for supporting refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, acknowledged that, and acknowledged the extreme stress that they are under. An unlimited, uncontrolled scheme such as that which my noble friend proposes would overwhelm our already very strained asylum system, as well as our justice system, and put significant pressures on to our local authorities.

Finally, Amendment 119E seeks to bring the UK resettlement scheme into statute and produce a report on refugees resettled through the scheme annually. In a non-legislative way, we have already done resettlement schemes operating outside of the Immigration Rules and on a discretionary basis, providing the flexibility to respond to changing international events. As demonstrated through the VPRS, we have stuck to and exceeded our commitment, and we will continue to build on the success of previous schemes; the numbers resettled annually will depend on a variety of factors. I hope, with that, that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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At Second Reading, we were encouraged to come forward with proposals for new routes and so on. We have done so. It is not good enough for the Government to say that we need more safe and legal routes, and then knock down every idea that we present and not present alternatives themselves. Will the Minister undertake to give us some examples on Report of safe and legal routes that the Government will support? She knows what we will do otherwise.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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What I encouraged noble Lords to come up with at Second Reading were solutions, not new routes. I have consistently said, and written to noble Lords on this, that we have a number of very good safe and legal routes.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Before the Minister sits down—to use the convention, although I am glad she is resting for a moment—she talked about this group being about uncapped routes and visas, but many, if not most, of these amendments are probing, as she will appreciate. She will also appreciate, because of her experience in the department, that visas do not have to be uncapped. For example, my noble friend Lady Kennedy’s amendment about emergency visas for human rights defenders is probing that the Secretary of State must do something in the rules about human rights defenders; it is not saying that every human rights defender in trouble around the world must be allowed in as if it is a new human rights defenders convention—my noble friend is just probing and asking the Government whether we can do something in the rules or in some kind of statutory form. The Minister has this massive brief, and I sympathise with her. On the police Bill, she has taken special measures for front-line emergency workers to get extra protection—

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Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all Members who have contributed to the debate and to the Minister for her stamina in continuing and continuing. I am sure she will go on until the early hours with great strength.

I will comment very briefly, as is my right. First, we had a very unusual thing happen tonight—

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I am sorry to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, but I should respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, because I think he is about to wind up. We have generally done specific schemes for specific purposes and in responding to specific crises. We have the VPRS, the VCRS, the UK resettlement scheme and the ARAP scheme, and we will be doing the ACRS. They have all been non-statutory and I was trying to explain that we will be continuing in that vein for specific purposes, so that we can accommodate the most vulnerable. I hope that partly answers her question.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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I had already begun saying my thanks and praising the Minister for her stamina. I will comment very briefly that something amazing has happened this evening. Amendment 116, in the name of four Conversative Members of the Committee, is much more radical than anything produced by the Cross-Benchers, the Lib Dems, the Greens, the Labour Party or the Bishops’ Bench. It is amazing and I wonder what is happening to the Conservative Party here. I welcome Amendment 116.

I will comment very briefly on my Amendment 115. It very clearly says, “in consultation with local authorities”. There is no number set and no obligation, other than to consult with local authorities and set the number accordingly. Of course, I welcome the national transfer scheme. It should not be instead of the principles in Amendment 115, but it is very important that not all the pressure is on Kent and Croydon.

Lastly, the Minister mentioned the large number coming in lorries across the channel, but the figures will show—I am sorry that I do not have the full figures here—that, in recent years, the number coming in the back of lorries has been higher, but they have been replaced by the ones coming on boats. The total numbers are actually fewer, even though the ones in boats are more obvious.

I again thank Members of the Committee for the part they played in this debate, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I thought it might be helpful to slightly unpick the two types of workers—the difference between domestic workers in households and those who work for UK-based diplomats. Obviously they are different groups with different needs, the latter being served by the temporary worker international agreement route, which permits dependants. This is not the only aspect of our domestic immigration system that already provides what the amendment proposes. Both groups of workers are free to change employers; in fact, our existing arrangements already go further than the amendment proposes, and I will outline why.

We do not expect domestic workers to register with the Home Office because we want a worker to be able to leave as soon as their mind is made up to do so, so we must avoid anything that may act as a barrier to exercising that right. Imposing an extra condition now risks undermining changes that have been made for the better. We have already made provisions under which both groups of domestic worker can obtain a two-year extension of stay if they are found to be a victim of modern slavery. I think these arrangements strike the right balance, ensuring that those who find themselves in an abusive employment situation are able to escape it by, first, finding alternative employment and, secondly, encouraging them to report that abuse through the appropriate mechanism.

On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on overseas domestic workers who are not slavery victims, very similar to the case that she has pointed out, but are actually exploited, the Immigration Rules are deliberately designed to prevent the importation of exploitive practices—for example, they set out that they should be paid the national minimum wage. I hope that helps on her point. I appreciate that the case she outlined seemingly falls between the cracks, but the Immigration Rules are very clear on that.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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The fact is that I do not think it is an unusual case; I asked Kalayaan for a recent case study and that is what it came up with. The Immigration Rules are not working in that respect. We have overseas domestic workers who are being exploited but, even when they are referred to the NRM, are told that it is not slavery or trafficking. Would the Minister be willing to look at that again? There is a problem, as she put it, of some people falling through the cracks.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I am not going to look at it again but I will perhaps explore it further and see why what is happening is happening. That is probably fair enough.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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Is the Minister aware that, in some countries, applicants choose those families that come to London regularly in the summer, with a view to leaving them after a month or two and settling, legally or otherwise, in the UK? The system needs to be fairly tight to avoid trouble on that front.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Between what the noble Lord has just outlined and what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has just said, that probably explains both ends of the system in different ways.

On visa extensions, although I fully support the noble Baroness’s determination to improve protections for migrant domestic workers, rewinding the clock and reinstating the features of a route that were deliberately removed almost a decade ago is not the answer—probably, in part, for some of the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, outlines.

The overseas domestic worker visa caters specifically for groups of visitors who by definition stay for short periods. That visa allows private domestic staff to accompany their employer where that employer enters the UK as a visitor and where they intend to leave together. Approximately 20,000 visas are issued every year on that basis, and the vast majority leave well within the validity of their visa.

The amendment seeks to reintroduce features of the route which were removed for good reason. We must not forget that abuse existed before 2012 and be mindful that allowing overseas domestic workers to stay could inadvertently create a fresh cohort of recruits for traffickers. We must avoid a route that could be used by criminals to entice victims to come to the UK.

Noble Lords have referred to the report, commissioned by the Government, by James Ewins QC, which, crucially, did not establish a direct link between the length of stay and the likelihood of exploitation. Years later, this picture remains. There is no greater risk if a domestic worker is here for two weeks or 12 months, so increasing the length of time that they can stay will not afford them greater protection from being exploited.

I think that the noble Baroness and I share the same objective of the delivery of a safe and appropriate system for a very vulnerable category of workers. However, for all the reasons that I have given, we do not agree on the means of achieving it.

I am aware of comparisons that have been made between those employed in the healthcare sector who are exempt from the health charge and those who come to the UK as volunteers. However, there are very clear and important distinctions between workers and volunteers on the charity worker visa. The route should not be used to fill gaps in the labour market, even on a temporary basis. To answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, yes, we have been engaging with charities. The Government think that appropriate immigration concessions are already in place, which support volunteers on this route. The charity worker visa offers a low fee, compared to other work routes, and sponsors pay a lower licence fee, in recognition of their charitable status. While the charity worker route is the main route for volunteers, it is not the only way in which volunteers can be recruited to support the work of charities.

I note the concern of the noble Lord, Lord German, that the immigration health charge might deter volunteers from coming to the UK. Published figures indicate that, for the years immediately preceding the pandemic—clearly the years after that are very unusual—the number of charity visas granted remained broadly consistent. This indicates that volunteers are not being deterred by having to pay the health charge.

The NHS must continue to be properly funded and the immigration health charge plays an important role in that. It has generated almost £2 billion for the NHS since its inception, and it ensures that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a direct contribution to the comprehensive range of NHS services available to them during their stay. Those who pay the charge can, from their point of arrival in the UK, use the NHS in broadly the same way as a permanent resident, without having to make any prior tax or national insurance contributions. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord German, will not press his amendment.

On Amendment 183, I hear noble Lords loud and clear. I recall the debate that my noble friend Lord Faulks and I had during the Criminal Finances Bill. I also completely acknowledge the point about those relying on funds that have been illegitimately acquired. It is because of those concerns that we have committed to a review of visas issued under the route between 2008 and 2015. We are finalising the review, if noble Lords can be patient, and we will publish it in due course—I knew there would be a sigh from behind me and in front of me when I said that.