On 8th February 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in the fourth day of the Committee stage. The Bishop of Gloucester spoke in favour of amendment 105, tabled by Baroness Lister, which would remove restrictive wording in clause 32 of the bill, especially with regards to victims of trafficking:
“The amendment would remove the narrow restrictive and requirement in Clause 32 that, in order to qualify under the “particular social group” grounds of persecution for recognition as a refugee under the convention, two conditions must be met. The amendment would replace this with an either/or condition.” Hansard
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 105 and the intention to oppose Clause 31 standing part of the Bill. I too am grateful to Women for Refugee Women and others for their briefings and support.
In the New Plan for Immigration and the briefings for the Bill, the Government have argued repeatedly that the existing asylum and refugee system is weighted against vulnerable women. The Home Secretary has repeatedly made the point that the large majority of channel crossings are by men aged under 40, for example. Given this, there might be some expectation that the Bill would contain some good news or ambitions on the part of the Government for better reaching and helping the women and girls who make up 50% of the world’s refugees and displaced people. Unfortunately, I do not see any such commitments. As a sting in the tail, in Clauses 31 and 32 we find proposals that seem to significantly disadvantage women further.
I will not repeat but endorse the arguments that it is already disproportionately difficult for women, particularly survivors of gender-based violence, to have their claims for refugee protection status correctly determined. Clause 31 can only exacerbate this situation, which is a disaster for many vulnerable women. That is also true of Clause 32, unfortunately, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for laying out the issue here so clearly. I am very pleased to add my name in support of her Amendment 105.
I have no wish to take up time repeating the arguments, but it is critical to reiterate the point that the “particular social group” reason is an essential lifeline for survivors of sexual and gender-based persecution not otherwise covered by
“race, religion, nationality or political opinion”
in the reasons set out in the 1951 convention, as we have heard from other noble Lords. I will listen closely to the Minister’s response on this, but it is very difficult to see the justification for this move, which goes in the face of existing legal practice. It is so important for these survivors.
Many of my best memories of this place come from last year’s excellent debates on the Domestic Abuse Bill, which really showed politics in its best light. I know that this cause is taken seriously by the Government, but it seems that there is a blind spot on migrant women. We will discuss this again on later amendments, including my right reverend friend the Bishop of London’s forthcoming Amendment 140, but I end with a plea to the Minister to look again at these clauses and, if these amendments are not right, to present others that will ensure that vulnerable women are not further disadvantaged by this change.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con): I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that we are well aware of the particular issues facing women and survivors of gender-based persecution and, indeed, the asylum system is sensitive to them. The interview guidance contains clear instructions to interviewers in this area. We seek to offer a safe and supportive environment for individuals to establish their claims. Despite references to the decision of this House in its judicial capacity, in Fornah, those comments were obiter. I underline that there is no authoritative definition in case law of what is a “particular social group”, and that is why it is absolutely right for this Parliament to define it in this clause.
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