Nationality and Borders Bill: Bishop of Durham speaks in favour of greater protection for children and vulnerable groups

On 2nd March 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in the second day of the report stage. The Bishop of Durham spoke on several amendments to the bill, including:

  • Amendment 35, which would prevent offshoring of asylum seekers
  • Amendments 40-45, moved by the Bishop of Durham on behalf of the Bishop of Gloucester, which relate to the standard of proof applied to vulnerable people seeking asylum
  • Amendments 48 & 49, which would promote more safe routes for asylum seekers and targets for resettlement

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in rising to support Amendment 35 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, to which I have added my name, I declare my interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset and set out in the register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, for the way she introduced this amendment, and I fully support all her points.

I set out my reasons for supporting this amendment in Committee. However, a significant concern for me now is that the Minister was not able to give assurance that children in families would be excluded from offshoring, nor that families would not be split up in the process. This is deeply concerning. I appreciate that the policy document of 25 February sets out that exemptions will depend on the country where people are being offshored and tat publicising exemptions will fuel the movement of the most vulnerable not subject to offshoring.

However, I would set out that, for children, onward movement to any country after an often traumatic journey to the UK, in addition to the trauma in their country of origin, is simply never in their best interests. All the concerns I set out in my Committee speech regarding the monitoring of the practice of offshoring processing centres are especially true for children.

The Home Office has processes to confirm identity and actual family relationships, which it uses for a range of visas as well as in the asylum process. It would seem that, if this is the concern, there are ways to avoid children being used in this way. Given the deep harm that offshoring would do to everyone, particularly children, I fail to see why the Minister cannot give this commitment.

I am deeply concerned that throughout the Bill, where we have highlighted the deep harm of policies on the most vulnerable, we are told that guidance and discretion can be applied on a case-by-case basis. I understand the logic of that, but what worries me is that it does not speak of any standardised process where everyone can be confident that there is equal treatment.

I further ask whether an economic assessment of the costs of offshoring has been properly made, and, if so, what the outcome of that assessment has been—and if it has not, why not? I ask these questions while fully supporting the need to remove this clause of the Bill in its entirety.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Horam (Con): The problem of dealing with cross-channel migration is undoubtedly very difficult, but it is not impossible; we have had some success in dealing with the problem of people coming across in lorries, which is one of the reasons they are now coming by sea. But the reason I cannot go along with my noble friend Lady Stroud is that if you are dealing with a very difficult, protracted and visible problem like this, you need to consider all the options available. Some of them will turn out, on closer analysis, to be impractical. It will turn out that you simply do not want to do some of them because of the reasons raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about some of the ramifications. Some of them may simply be politically impossible to do, but it is an obligation on the Government to explore every avenue to resolve this very difficult problem.

Also, this is clearly an international problem. It is not only Britain that is dealing with this issue; it is Greece, Italy, France, Spain and so on. One thing I am sure noble Lords have said in the past is that, when looking at this, we should not simply confine ourselves to what we think is right. We should look abroad to see how other countries have tackled it. Some countries have had some success, some have had less success, but it would be foolish to ignore what is happening abroad and what methods they are trying.

Lord Etherton (CB): My Lords, I entirely agree with and support what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. Offshoring while an asylum seeker is having their claim assessed is wrong in principle, oppressive in practice and, critically, lacking sufficient safeguards under the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, mentioned Australia’s policy of offshoring as a successful process, as he did on Monday. On the contrary, from a humanitarian perspective, Australia’s offshoring shows all the defects and injustices of such a policy.

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): Before I turn to the amendments, I will update the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on the letter. I will not assert that it was sent at 3 pm, but that is my understanding. Given my record on letters in this place, I know that the noble Baroness will come back to me if she has not received it—

The Lord Bishop of Durham: I say to the Minister that 3 pm today is far too late for this debate, and we have not received it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I do not deny that 3 pm is too late, but that was my understanding. I will chase it, if indeed it did not go. I am glad I did not assert that comment, because I have been proved—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston (C0n): My Lords, it may assist my noble friend to know that I have received the letter.


Lord Paddick (LD): On a point of clarification, the Minister said that the Minister in the other place had given an undertaking that children would not be offshored under this scheme. Does that mean that if a family arrives on UK shores the parents of the child could be sent overseas—offshored—while the child remained in the UK, because of that undertaking?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thought that I had made it clear that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children would not be offshored.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: Can we be absolutely clear: the Minister is not saying that children could not be offshored if they are members of a family?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I have gone as far as I am willing to go by confirming that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children would not be subject to offshoring, but on some of the wider vulnerabilities it would be wrong to be drawn at this point.


The Lord Bishop of Durham: 40: Clause 31, page 34, line 45, leave out “first”

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 40 to 45 in place of my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who greatly regrets that she cannot be in her place. She is very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Chakrabarti, for their support, and to Women for Refugee Women for its briefings.

Amendments 40 to 44 relate to Clause 31. They are being brought back at this stage because the Government’s response stopped short of providing the reassurances we hoped for. Some 27 organisations with significant expertise in supporting people seeking asylum support these amendments to Clause 31.

In Committee, the Minister stressed that Clause 31 was necessary to provide clarity and consistency of decision-making, the argument being that proving a status of persecution on the basis of reasonable likelihood is too vague and inconsistently applied. Clause 31 seeks to resolve this apparent lack of clarity by instead inserting the balance of probabilities test and a new fear test. This will raise the standard of proof for gaining refugee status, which will have a disproportionate impact on certain vulnerable groups. For women fleeing gender-based violence and those seeking asylum on the grounds of sexuality, providing this increased proof 3will be difficult and is likely to be highly traumatising, particularly given what we already know of the Home Office’s culture of disbelief and approach to such victims. For this reason, the UNHCR and, indeed, UK courts have consistently applied the reasonable likelihood test. Clause 31 will put us consciously and deliberately out of step with the way the UNHCR believes that the convention should be interpreted and how our own courts, notably the Supreme Court, have interpreted it.

What is most odd, and the reason for pressing this again, is that the Government believe this change will provide clarity. It is not clear why this should be true. There is already a problem with disbelief in the Home Office, which can be readily shown by the fact that 48% of appeals against the Home Office’s decisions to the First-tier Tribunal are successful, and 32% of judicial reviews are settled or decided in favour of claimants. Clause 31 does not seem to provide any additional clarity. Adding two different limbs to the test with different standards of proof seems a recipe for creating more confusion, making it harder for legitimate victims and so inevitably prompting more appeals. Amendments 40 to 44 therefore look to keep the status quo standard of proof and keep us aligned with the UNHCR and existing UK case law.

I turn briefly to Amendment 45, which relates to Clause 32. This was discussed at length in Committee and I will not go over the old ground, but in short, the interpretation of the convention applied in Clause 32 seems punitive towards women and other victims who use the particular social group reason without any clear or positive purpose. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, argued in Committee, if Clause 32 is necessary to clarify the “particular social group” definition, there is no reason it could not be provided by clarifying once and for all that the two conditions are alternatives, not cumulative, as has been the understanding in UK law since Fornah and was recognised by the Upper Tribunal as recently as 2020. This would provide clarity without disadvantaging women and other vulnerable groups.

More than 40 organisations in the ending violence against women and girls and anti-trafficking sectors have supported this amendment to Clause 32. This week, three UN special rapporteurs released a statement on the impact of the Bill, in particular Clause 32, on women. I urge the Minister to listen to their plea. As of 2019, only 26% of asylum applications have come from women. Why would we want to make it harder for legitimate victims of gender-based violence and other gender-related forms of persecution to seek help? Might the Minister say why gender is not mentioned in Clause 32 in the way that sexual orientation is, since it is mentioned in the EU directive on which the Government seek to rely?

Clause 32 not only reverses UK case law but does so against the UNHCR’s standards, following an interpretation of EU law that was rejected by our own Upper Tribunal in 2020. The Home Office did not appeal that decision; nor was that change included in the New Plan for Immigration. It seems to have come from nowhere with little scrutiny or expert oversight. As with Amendments 40 to 44, Amendment 45 is not radical. It simply asks that the Bill continue to operate with the status quo interpretation of the 1951 convention, which is well understood and used by UK courts. The alternative is an unnecessarily punitive barrier being put in front of vulnerable groups. I beg to move.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who propose these amendments: the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, speaking through the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I agree of course with the importance of the UK carefully assessing whether asylum seekers have a well-founded fear of persecution, as required under Article 1(A)(2) of the refugee convention. However, we do not agree with these amendments which, when taken together, will effectively maintain the current standard of proof for all elements of the well-founded fear test.

There are other undesirable implications of the amendments which I will set out briefly. The House has heard short speeches supporting a number of these amendments. I have obviously got to reply to all of them, so I hope that the House will indulge me. I will try to address them in a comprehensible order, because some of the points are related and some are discrete.

I come first to the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who asked how Clause 31 would produce clarity. Clause 31 is drafted to introduce a step-by-step process for decision-makers, considering whether an asylum seeker has a well-founded fear of persecution. The central point I would make is that currently there is no such clearly structured test.

As I said in Committee, there is international precedent that supports our decision to raise the threshold for assessing the first part of the test, the facts that a claimant presents, on a balance of probabilities. Both Canada and Switzerland have systems which examine to this higher standard at least some elements of a claimant’s claim. Although I heard the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham say that this makes us out of step with the UNHCR and our own courts in their decisions to date, ultimately, as I explained in Committee, interpretation of the refugee convention is not a matter for the UNHCR or the courts, in the sense that the UK, as a signatory to the convention, is entitled under the Vienna Convention to interpret the words of the refugee convention bona fide. Of course, the UK does that through this Parliament—and I am not using the word “Parliament” as some sort of euphemism for “Home Office”. Indeed, I think the results of the votes in this Report stage would indicate that certainly this House is not an extension of the Home Office. I was stating that as a neutral point—noble Lords might think that is good, bad or indifferent.

I want to respond to the concern expressed in Committee about the impact the clause would have on vulnerable groups—particularly, for example, female claimants fleeing gender-based violence—and to respond to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. Victims of gender-based violence may still be considered to be members of a particular social group for the purposes of making an asylum claim if they meet the conditions in Clause 32(3) and (4). In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, this clause does not therefore mean that women who are victims of gender-based violence are less likely to be accepted as a member of a particular social group: all cases are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

I cannot say, of course, that all women fleeing gender-based violence will always be found to be refugees, if that was the nature of the point that was being put to me. What I can say with certainty is that the structure of the definition does not preclude it. I think I heard, in the way the noble Baroness put the question, that the example was of a woman with “good grounds”. If she is asking, “Will this application be accepted?” good grounds is not the test and therefore, if good grounds is part of the question, I am afraid that that is why I necessarily gave the answer I did. I think if the noble Baroness looks at Hansard, she will see that I have now, again, answered the question directly.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very full and considered response and all noble Lords for their contributions. The strength of feeling is strong and again I make the point that these clauses are overly punitive towards women and victims of gender-based violence. I fear that that concern was not answered in the very full answer we were given. In particular, I still do not think that the responses given take any awareness of the trauma of so many of the women who come forward. I fear that to talk about “sufficiently detailed interviews”, as the Minister did at one point, would raise hackles on that front.

I have no doubt that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester will read Hansard very carefully and may well write off the back of that. I thank the Minister for making the promise to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—I was about to ask him to, but he got in there before us. It is rather regrettable that we have not been able to persuade the Government on these points, and the Bill will not now adequately protect those who are subject to gender-based violence. That is the deep concern. That said, with deep regret, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 40 withdrawn.

Amendments 41 to 44 not moved.

Clause 32: Article 1(A)(2): reasons for persecution

Amendments 45 and 45A not moved.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in rising to speak to Amendment 48 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, I declare my interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset, as set out in the register.

I support Amendment 48 as one of a range of safe routes needed to give people seeking asylum an alternative to using criminal gangs. People will do whatever it takes to reach family. I simply endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the case for family reunion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I urge the Minister to consider this proposal as a pragmatic response to the need to find durable solutions to desperate people dying on our borders in order to reach their family. This route will prevent some from ending in the traffickers’ hands.

I now turn to Amendment 49. I support it because we need a target for the global resettlement scheme, to ensure that it is operational to a level which provides a real alternative to people forced to use criminal gangs, and that it reaches countries such as Iran, Eritrea and Sudan, from which the majority of those arriving on small boats originate. We had the annual target of 5,000 for the Syrian resettlement scheme, and that is indeed the number who came, in a controlled, predictable and prepared way. We currently do not have a target for the global resettlement scheme, and just 1,587 came in 2021.

A target enables local authorities, charities, faith communities and the wider community, including businesses, to create and maintain the infrastructure needed to provide good welcome and ongoing support. This infrastructure also makes emergency response easier, as we have needed with Afghanistan and now Ukraine. It becomes less a crisis-to-crisis response and rather a strong infrastructure that can scale up when needed.

I note for the Minister that community sponsorship is deliberately not named in subsection (2) of the new clause proposed by this amendment, as there has been an earlier commitment made by Her Majesty’s Government that those coming through community sponsorship should be seen as additional to those in any set target. However, it is named in subsection (3). The Minister has previously spoken of her strong support for community sponsorship, so I hope that she will take this opportunity also to reaffirm Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to the growth and development of community sponsorship widely, as well as the welcome announcement for it with Ukraine. Further details around that would also be welcomed, particularly by Reset.

It is welcome to see the Home Secretary committing to the humanitarian pathway for Ukrainians. We wait to learn the detail of this and the expected capacity. The point is that over five years, the number coming through on community sponsorship is 700, for the reasons that were named. It takes time. That capacity is growing and building strongly, but it will not answer the Ukrainian question quickly.

Returning to the need for a clear resettlement target, I conclude that without one, I fear that the global resettlement programme will be sidelined, and refugees will have no alternative but to use criminal gangs as what they perceive as their route to safety.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Coaker (Lab): We support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and the global resettlement programme that she announced. When the noble Baroness was talking, I wondered whether, in the light of what has happened in Ukraine and the movement of people in all parts of the world, there are the statesmen and stateswomen who could come together to create another 1951 refugee convention. It strikes me that perhaps it is time for the world to come together to understand what we should do about the movement of people across the globe, whether that be through war or famine or whatever. Essentially, this group of amendments—and the issue the Government are wrestling with—is about how we respond to that. The various amendments before us are seeking, in their own ways, to deal with that problem.

Above all, none of us could fail to be moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs. The passion and power that he brought to this issue moved us all and was a challenge to us all. Whether we agree with the amendment or not, what are we going to do about what is a very real situation? As we stand here in this Chamber and debate this, there are unaccompanied children who have nowhere to go. There are people fleeing persecution and war, people facing genocide, who have nowhere to go. That is the reality of what we face and what we are seeking to deal with.

To be fair to the Government, I know that the Minister will describe what they are doing about this issue and refer to the extension to the Ukraine scheme, which we all welcome. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, we obviously need to understand the details of the Government’s proposal. Interestingly, following pressure from this House and the other place, the Government have incrementally improved and extended their offer, which shows the importance of debate and discussion.

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for tabling Amendment 48, which is about safe routes for those seeking to claim asylum in the UK, including unaccompanied children, to travel from countries in Europe to join family in the UK. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, also support this proposed new clause, but I cannot. It tries to create a scheme similar to the EU’s Dublin regulation in UK law with respect to those who are in a European country but have family members in the UK. However, unlike the Dublin regulation, where the asylum claim is initially made in the EU country they are in, this new clause attempts to introduce a route for those who are in safe European countries to come to the UK to claim asylum.

On the Dubs scheme, we did not end it; we completed what we set out to do, which was to take 480 children under the Dubs scheme. On family reunion under Dublin, noble Lords will see in the table I sent the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and which I distributed to all Members of your Lordships’ House, that Dublin had about a tenth of the number of our refugee family reunion scheme over a similar period. The noble Lord also talked about the Safe Passage cases. I understand that the Home Office asked him to send details of them. We would be very happy to receive them should he see fit to send them.

Both amendments 48 and 49 brought to a vote and agreed.

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