Bishop of Southwark raises concerns about legality and effect of immigration rule changes

On 27th May 2021 the House of Lords debated the Government’s Immigration Rules and Statements of Changes to them. A Motion to Regret the Statements was moved by Lord Green of Deddington, though not put to a vote. His Motion read:

That this House regrets that the Statements of changes to the Immigration Rules (HC813, HC1043 and HC1248), published respectively on 22 October 2020, 10 December 2020 and 4 March, do not provide clear and comprehensible descriptions of the changes proposed, nor of their likely effect. Special attention drawn by the Secondary Legislation Committee, 33rd and 40th Reports, Session 2019–21.”

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for securing this important debate on his Motion to Regret. Last year, several Members of your Lordships’ House cautioned against the major extension of the Government’s capacity to make law with minimal recourse to Parliament in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act. Today, at the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and not of Her Majesty’s Government, we have 90 minutes to examine three statutory instruments relating to the Immigration Rules, one of which runs to 507 pages. All three were subject to the negative resolution, which involved little or no scrutiny of such important areas of life. Your Lordships’ House last defeated Her Majesty’s Government by praying against a negative resolution 21 years ago. Is the Minister satisfied with the level of scrutiny that these statutory instruments have received? Would she agree with me that it would have been better to publish them first in draft and to seek the views of both Houses in a debate?

My detailed comments are confined, because of time, to HC1043. They revolve around three questions to the Minister. First, do these rules meet the Home Secretary’s aspirations for her department’s handling of cases post Windrush? Secondly, are they feasible to implement? Thirdly, are the rules in HC1043 consonant with our obligations under the convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees?

We read in the Explanatory Notes to HC1043 that the purpose of this instrument is to

“Enhance our capacity to treat as inadmissible to the UK asylum system asylum claims made by those who have passed through or have connections with a safe third country.”

I should be grateful if the Minister would explain how an automatic presumption of refusal is compatible with the Home Secretary’s ambition, in her response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, for a Home Office that

sees the ‘face behind the case’.”

On returning people to such safe countries, we did not negotiate to remain part of the Dublin regulations. We have no bilateral agreements with any European country with which to enforce these rules. In the absence of Dublin, are the Government engaging in blarney? The Home Office today published statistics for the first quarter since the rules came into effect, alerting us to the fact that 1,053 people were issued with notices of intent, meaning that the department is looking at the possibility of return for these people. It records that none has been returned on inadmissibility grounds. Will the Minister explain the mechanism for returning such individuals in conformity with the rules but in the absence of any agreement to do so? Will she concede that the rules on inadmissibility are unworkable?

I should say, before I ask my final question, that I understand the Government’s animus against people smuggling—that is terribly important. Lastly, it is reasonable to suppose that most people seeking safety find refuge in the first safe country they reach, and they do. However, there are always reasons why some do not. What the Home Office might consider safe is not universally experienced as such. There are also linguistic, cultural and family ties to be taken into consideration in seeking a destination, as well as access to routes. Furthermore, the refugee convention makes no such requirement of those fleeing persecution that they must do so in a specified geographical radius. To do so would be to burden many countries already dealing with enormous refugee issues.

Therefore, by making in law an automatic presumption against any claim from someone who has not arrived in the UK, except in a prescribed manner and prescribed place, is the Minister confident that we meet our obligations under international law? Would it not be far more effective to establish effective and legal routes which asylum seekers can readily access? That would reduce the demand upon which organised crime is currently feeding. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s response.

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