On 8th March 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in its 3rd day of reports. The Bishop of Durham tabled amendments to the bill and spoke in support of other amendments:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I support Amendment 64A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, to which I have added my name.
I declare my interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset as set out in the register. I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Lister, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for outlining all the arguments for why this amendment is the right route to take. On Amendment 64, I hear the words about safeguarding but it is a dangerous route to take.
The needs of children have been starkly left unaddressed in so many areas of the Bill. The policies proposed to determine the age of the child are particularly concerning. The child and their best interests, rather than deterrence, must be the starting point in designing these policies. I support the amendment because it is imperative that such assessments are up to standard and based on scientific evidence. We should be seeing help for local authorities to improve their practice through multiagency working so that social workers conduct these assessments and that they are better supported with appropriate funding and training. Making the process stricter will lead to more children being treated as adults. This is extremely concerning given that they will then be placed alone in adult accommodation, with no support or safeguarding.
We have been assured that they will have the recourse of appeal at the tribunal. However, as we are hearing in other debates, the focus of the Home Office must be to get decisions right correctly at the first instance in a timely manner. We should not be introducing policies which will add to backlogs and lead to lengthy appeals. Our tribunal system does not need this, and neither do the children. I simply support this amendment, which sets out what an expert and fair age assessment should look like from the expertise of a coalition of more than 60 organisations, all of them professional, in this field.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Coaker (Lab): My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 64A in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Hamwee, my noble friend Lady Lister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I will not repeat all the concerns, but clearly there are safeguarding issues that a number of noble Lords have raised. I give one quote from the British Association of Social Workers, which warns that
“any age assessment proposals must recognise that although there is a risk when adults are wrongly assessed and treated as a child, there is a much greater risk when a child has been wrongly assessed and treated as an adult. It is predominately children who are wrongly sent and dispersed as adults, sometimes to unsafe accommodation and detention”.
As a last comment on Amendment 64A, it does not seem to me that there is any dispute about the need for age assessment, but the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, has set out that, if we are to have age assessment, which is clearly needed at times, let us do it on the basis of science and not of subjective judgments, whoever is making them.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con): I am reminded that the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Durham, raised points about the manner in which assessments are carried out, and I again emphasise that the persons carrying them out are trained social workers, and it is not anticipated that that will change.
Amendment 64A agreed.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, forgive us for having two Bishops in a row. We do not normally do this—it is the way the groupings have fallen out. I support Amendment 70ZA tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to which I have added my name with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I declare my interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset. My interest comes from my ongoing engagement in the House with issues concerning children and their well-being and safety, and ensuring that their best interests are central to legislation.
I am deeply concerned that the protection of children identified as victims of modern slavery or human trafficking is not of primary concern in the Bill. I note again that not all children who are in modern slavery or human trafficking are brought into this country from outside. Some are born and raised here but find themselves held in slavery. This is a safeguarding matter, not an immigration matter, and the legislation should recognise that children require special protection. They are covered by the Children Act 1989, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, pointed out earlier. Why on earth is there no specific provision for the greater protection of children despite all our international and domestic obligations? As with many other parts of the Bill, it is simply not satisfactory for a Minister to rely on unscrutinised guidance at a later date, applied on a case-by-case basis. Safeguards must be built into legislation so there is no doubt that children receive the protection they deserve and that this is not left to chance. Can the Minister say when the guidance will be produced so that it can be properly scrutinised, and how can he reassure us that children are properly protected?
Extracts from other speeches on amendment 70ZA:
Lord Coaker (Lab): Turning to Amendment 70ZA, in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I do not understand why something in the Bill would treat children in exactly the same way as adults. It is just beyond belief that the Government consider doing that. Indeed, in Committee, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, said
“it would be wrong in principle to create a carve-out for any one group of individuals, and to create a two-tiered system based … on age”.—[Official Report, 10/2/22; col. 1845.]
I do not often fundamentally disagree—well, I do—but on this issue, I cannot say how much I disagree with that comment. I just cannot understand it. The noble Lord is a distinguished lawyer and barrister. The law treats people differently on the basis of age; why? It does so for reasons that are well established, yet in this Bill, with respect to slavery we are treating people of any age in exactly the same way. It is nonsensical; it generates disbelief. I cannot understand why anybody would do it. Should the House divide, I hope that noble Lords will support it.
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con): Those amendments, and Amendment 70ZA, do not make sense from the point of view of making the NRM an efficient, transparent and fair process. They display a lack of understanding about how the NRM works, where, in line with the low threshold for referral—I will come back to the thresholds later—we simply require relevant information at an early stage, even of a limited nature, to enable key issues to be identified from the outset. That allows early access to support and gives decision-makers a clearer picture of the individual’s experience, which in turn means a more comprehensive decision, to be taken in the round, including, crucially, the victim’s age when the relevant exploitation took place.
Perhaps more than any other group, children will benefit from early identification and protection, and from having decisions made in respect of their status and their support with as full an awareness of relevant facts and context as possible. In response to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, we see no benefit to child victims in them raising modern slavery issues after any asylum or protection decisions have been made. That would only delay their ability to access the support and protection that they need.
I have read widely the briefings which I and other noble Lords have received, and seen that critics have argued, as has been said, that the clause will stop victims from coming forward. We do not see how a clause that encourages early disclosure of information and early identification, where any negative credibility implications are non-determinative and apply only when there are no good reasons for delay, would discourage victims from coming forward. As to evidence, I say again that the measure will allow for early identification, and we do not want victims to have to describe the same events repeatedly.
Amendment 70ZA agreed.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in rising to support Amendment 83, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, to which I have added my name along with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I declare my interests as set out in the register.
I set out my reasons for supporting this amendment in Committee. We should simply not have a situation whereby people, including children, are excluded from the citizenship to which they are eligible because they do not have funds. It is nonsensical for the Government to put up a barrier to people being, and feeling, fully part of our society. The Government rightly talk about the importance of integration, community cohesion and levelling up. This policy works against all three of those.
Being a British citizen is completely different from indefinite leave to remain, and this must be constantly recognised. If people are eligible to be citizens, cost should not be a barrier. The registering of British people’s citizenship should have no revenue function, and fees should be removed altogether for children in care and for those whose registration is provided to correct a historical injustice.
I simply urge the Minister to hear the strength of feeling in the House, accept this amendment and deal with it once and for all.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Coaker (Lab): My Lords, I join other noble Lords and various noble Baronesses from across the House in welcoming Amendment 83, as tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Lister. There is universal agreement that fees should not be a barrier to citizenship. I think the Government probably agree with that, so the only plea I make is that they act on it to make sure that fees do not act as a barrier. The Government have the power to do something about this. They can hear what people think about the importance of citizenship as a social glue in our society, and the reverence we all have for it, yet a barrier is placed because of the fee. The Government have it in their power to resolve it. Let us do it.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling Amendments 83 and 84, concerning the fees that may be charged in relation to registration of British citizenship. Please be in no doubt that we recognise the strength of feeling on this subject, which I know is of particular importance to my noble friend, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I say at the outset that the Government recognise that the acquisition of British citizenship is a significant life event and offers particular value to those able to obtain it, particularly children. All noble Lords agree with this point and have observed it.
Apart from allowing a child to apply for a British citizen passport, British citizenship gives them the opportunity to participate more fully in the life of their local community as they grow up. It also offers specific practical, legal and intangible benefits, including the right to vote on reaching adulthood, of course, and the particular sense of identity and belonging that results from knowing that the country that you have grown up in is your own.
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con): My Lords, I am humbled by the level of support expressed in the House this evening and outside the House from the Law Society of Scotland, the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and Amnesty International UK. I pay tribute to the long-standing work of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the support that I received this evening from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. Very seldom do the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and I agree, but on this occasion I am delighted to have her support and that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, and others. I am particularly pleased to welcome the support of my noble friend Lord Hodgson, who speaks with great authority on these matters. As he described it, the Government are going in the right direction, but I argue that, this evening, I do not believe that they have gone far enough. Therefore, regrettably, I wish to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 83.
Amendment 84 not moved.