Nationality and Borders Bill: Bishop of Durham supports amendments proposed to ensure well-being and fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers

During a debate on amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill on 28th February 2023, the Bishop of Durham spoke in favour of several amendments:

  • by Baroness Hollins that sought to ensure the fair treatment of asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their cases by establishing a code of practice for professionals involved in the care of those seeking asylum, and introduce the need for a review of those services
  • by Baroness Stroud that would support of the right to work for asylum seekers awaiting decisions for longer and six months
  • by Lord Coaker that would reduce the waiting time for asylum decisions

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I fully support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and my noble and right reverend friend behind me here supports it as well. I will speak to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the two amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, which I fully support.

We may have 125,000 asylum seekers but let me focus on two. This is why I support both amendments. One is an asylum seeker who lives in my area who heard from the Home Office within the first three weeks of arrival then heard nothing for 12 months, in spite of inquiry after inquiry. That is why we need a code of practice. That is why we need better ways of working. It beggars belief what that says to him about how he is seen in our society and by our society. That is, of course, told time and again.

The second case is an Afghan who came out last summer on the planes and whose family is still in hiding in Afghanistan. Last week they were hunted by the Taliban; they escaped. He sent me through last week the letter he had just received from a Home Office official. It is four lines long, giving him the number that he has been allocated, with not one jot of sympathy about what he might be facing.

I accept that the official will not know or be able to verify the story that I have heard but the processes themselves do not treat people as people. They treat them as case numbers. We need the kinds of provisions that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, has proposed and we need to deal with these cases much faster. That means we employ more people and we upskill them. That is why I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. The right to work falls away, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, noted. That is not going to happen in a hurry, so we need the right to work now but we also need the other provisions.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Coaker (Lab): The really serious point about the amendment was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I apologise to the Chamber because I really should have put this down in Committee. It is more of an amendment for Committee than for Report, but it goes to the heart of the problem that we are trying to deal with. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Green, on much, but he often makes the point that, until the administration of the asylum system is sorted out, we are trying to knit fog. That is the basic problem. The Government are chasing this, as the previous Labour Government did, and there is a real problem with respect to it.

The example that the right reverend Prelate gave could have been given by most people in this House. As a Member of Parliament, I could have given example after example of people who have come here and claimed asylum and the system has lost them. Then they reappear a few years later, having been to school. It is unbelievable quite how the system has allowed them to operate and work within it, yet officially they are not supposed to be here; their claim is still supposed to be being sorted out.

My Amendment 53 is simply a way of trying to say that, unless we get a grip on this, in the next year there will be another asylum Bill and in two years there will be another. And then the Labour Government will come in with another asylum Bill. The reality is that, while each and every one of us is motivated by the desire to do the best thing by those fleeing persecution, in the way we have seen with refugees, the system simply cannot find a way of dealing humanely and properly with people who seek asylum in our country. You get euphemisms about accommodation centres, et cetera, and people having to report on a regular basis—all those sorts of things. That is why the business of being able to sort out whether people have a legitimate claim and are accepted by the system as asylum seekers or refugees, or not, is so important. That goes to the heart of it. (…)

I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham: you could say that, if the Government adopted Amendment 53, it would be a real incentive for them to get their act together, so that they did not have the situation where people had the right to work even though their decision had not been made, in the way that the noble Baroness’s amendment would indicate. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who pointed out that country after country has different arrangements with respect to the right to work and does not have the same problems as we do. I very much support that.

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