On 4th April 2022, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Bishop of Durham tabled Amendments 53B to 53D, and spoke in support of several other amendments:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in rising to speak in support of Motions G1 and J1, I declare my interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset, as set out in the register. I continue to be of the view that Clause 11 is the most inhumane part of the Bill. I therefore continue to support both Motions C1 and D1; I also support Motions E1 and F1.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, would have liked to move Motion G1 but is unable to be in the Chamber today, so we have worked together on this. When people arrive on our shores seeking protection, we have a responsibility to treat them as we would wish to be treated if indeed we had to flee for our lives. It is right that we have a process to determine who meets the criteria for refugee status but, while we determine this, we are responsible for people’s safety, welfare and care. If we move them to other countries for the processing of their asylum claims, I very much fear that a blind eye will be turned to their treatment; the Nauru experience in Australia sadly points that way.
The inhumanity of this part of the Bill is my primary concern. There are, however, significant practical and financial concerns related to the passing of Clause 28 given that we do not have details of how or where this offshoring would operate. Although this was acknowledged by many MPs supporting the legislation in the other place, they were of the opinion that the Home Secretary should have these powers available to her if needed. On that basis, Motion G1 would allow the Home Secretary these powers while introducing much-needed transparency and a check on the introduction of an offshore processing and detention system. This would allow proper consideration by both Houses of the appropriateness and safety of the host country proposed, and whether it meets the Home Secretary’s assurance of being a safe third country for the asylum seekers transferred there, including whether it can provide safe, humane and appropriate accommodation and processing of asylum claims.
Offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers is likely to be many times more expensive per person than alternatives that would see asylum seekers processed in our communities in the UK. This amendment would ensure that parliamentarians can ensure that the offshore system proposed provides value for money for the British taxpayer, that spending on the system is proportionate to the issue addressed, and that the same goals cannot be better served by an alternative approach on our own shores.
The Home Secretary is committed to the option of transferring asylum seekers offshore and at this time she has the support of the majority of her party. She should therefore be confident that an additional check and degree of transparency will not obstruct that policy but reassure her party and the public that offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers is the best approach. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and I are grateful to the Minister for the conversations and contact we have had regarding this over the past few days. We remain willing to engage in further dialogue to help Her Majesty’s Government reach a positive conclusion to our proposals. I hope that the Minister may still change her mind. I have one other question: will the Minister confirm that discussions are already at an advanced stage with at least one nation?
I turn now to Motion J1, in relation to Lords Amendment 11. Again, I have tabled this Motion is association with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope. The fundamental premise of the Bill is that people seeking safety in the UK should arrive by safe and legal routes, rather than by making irregular journeys. My concern in tabling this amendment is that there are not sufficient safe routes from the countries where the majority of asylum seekers arriving in the UK originate. For these countries, the UK resettlement scheme offers a safe route, but the numbers currently remain small. The Syrian resettlement scheme offered an orderly pathway to protection and integration for the most vulnerable refugees. I was therefore encouraged when Ministers set out in their Explanatory Notes to the Bill that the Government intend to enhance resettlement routes to continue to provide pathways for refugees to be granted protection in the UK. The reality, however, is that we are still awaiting further policy proposals around better and fuller safe routes.
During Commons consideration of the amendments, Ministers asserted that the number of refugees resettled each year must be based on our capacity and assessment of the international situation. What we know from the Syrian resettlement scheme is that political commitment and leadership generated political buy-in at a local level and enabled a well-functioning and correctly costed system which was successfully delivered. However, since that target number was reached, resettlement numbers have dropped significantly—partly, we accept, because of Covid. Without political commitment, we see that resettlement drops as a priority. The result is that, for the three top countries of origin for those arriving on small boats across the channel, there is currently no effective safe route. For example, in 2021, only four people were resettled from Iran and 112 from Iraq.
I acknowledge that we have opened our doors to an uncapped number of Ukrainian refugees. This is very welcome, but it has highlighted the need for robust mechanisms to be in place. Are the Government now saying that their assessment of the wider international situation is that resettling refugees in low numbers from some of the most dangerous conflict zones reflects the UK’s ambition to take its fair share? Amendment 11B seeks to address the objections of the Minister and seeks compromise on expanding safe routes by simply calling on the Government to publish a flexible target for resettlement each year. It specifies that the Government must properly support local authorities to deliver the benchmark. The Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration in the other place stated that
“what is really needed to deliver refugee resettlement is not a number but an approach—an approach that is compassionate and flexible.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/22; col. 188.]
This amendment, with its revised wording, does precisely that. It represents, though, an advance on the current status quo.
I take the Government at their word. The proposal in this amendment aligns, almost identically, with what the Home Office claims it wants to achieve in unlocking new safe routes. I hope that the Minister will consider what we are proposing very carefully and recognise that this reform aims to address a significant gap in our responsibility to those seeking refuge globally. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and I are grateful for the contact and engagement that we have had, and we remain willing to engage further.
To finish, I express my support, as I did at Committee and Report, in relation to Motions H1 and K1. In relation to Motions G1 and J1 in my name, I live in hope that, even at this stage, the Minister might accept them both. If she does not, I will be minded to test the opinion of the House.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): The Minister set out the terms of Motion K1 at the beginning of our debate and explained what it does. At Second Reading, she challenged us—quite rightly—to come up with safe and legal routes, and that is what this genocide amendment seeks to do. I should say in parentheses that I am grateful to the noble Baroness, not least for the support and consideration that she gave to the amendment that I moved earlier in proceedings on this Bill, on the position of young people in Hong Kong who did not qualify under the BNO scheme but who now, under the regulations which the Government will introduce, will do. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I also applaud what the Government have done in the case of refugees from Ukraine. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, however, I ask the question: should we not make the same provision, as far as the right to work is concerned, for all those who seek asylum in this country?
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con): My Lords, I rise briefly to speak to Motions J and J1, to support the Government in respect of Motion J and to suggest that the House reject Motion J1, the revised amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I accept that this amendment, like the former amendment, is exceptionally well intentioned, but I think its practical results may not be as the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend hope.
Lord Paddick (LD): My noble friend Lady Hamwee has dealt with Motion E1 on the right to work, and Motion H1 on family reunion, which we also support. We hesitate to support Motion G1 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, because it leaves offshoring on the face of the Bill. We totally, absolutely and completely disagree with offshoring but my understanding is that we are running out of options other than double insisting on the removal of the provisions from the Bill, which, I am told, would have serious consequences. Therefore, we will vote for Motion G1 to force the Government to secure the approval of both Houses for each country they propose to use for offshoring, by means of the affirmative resolution procedure once they have laid before Parliament the estimated first two-year costs for operating such a system for each country. Once Parliament has seen the countries that the Government propose to use for such an abhorrent practice, and the costs involved, we hope that no Parliament would approve such a practice.
The Ukrainian refugee crisis and the lamentable shambles created by insisting that those fleeing Putin’s war must have a visa to enter the UK, with the Home Office being unable to cope with the numbers of applications, clearly demonstrates the need for there to be appropriate resourcing, infrastructure and support for local authorities permanently in place to cope with such crises before they arise. Before Ukraine it was Afghanistan, before Afghanistan it was Syria; we need systems and processes in place to deal with these crises. The Motion in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham seeks to achieve this without the previous set annual numerical target, instead allowing the Secretary of State to set the target and to put in place such measures as are necessary to achieve that target. Of course, we also support the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, in his Motion K1 in relation to those fleeing genocide.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, that less than 20% of immigration to the UK in recent years has been asylum seekers, and the Bill deals only with that 20%. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Horam: where are the provisions that specifically target people smugglers in the Bill? These policies target what he himself described as victims, and only the victims.
Lord Rosser (Lab): On Motion G1, on offshoring, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s new amendment provides that, before a country can be used for offshoring, a proposal must be laid before Parliament detailing the costs of running such a scheme. Campaigners claim it would cost less to put asylum seekers in the Ritz than run an offshoring policy; I cannot vouch for that, as I do not happen to know what the cost of staying in the Ritz is. I am sure the Ritz is extremely grateful that I have never tried to stay there. Experience elsewhere, not least in Australia, suggests that the costs of such a scheme would be considerable per person and not cost effective, even assuming that the very concept of offshoring asylum seekers to another currently unknown country while their claim was pending was acceptable and that that third country would have similar standards and values as us when it came to looking after people and how it treated them.
On Motion J1 on resettlement, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s revised version of the amendment no longer specifies 10,000 a year. Instead, it requires the Secretary of State to publish the number of refugees the UK will resettle each year and provide appropriate resources and infrastructure to support local authorities in delivering this. The key point here is planning and infrastructure; we need to be ready to respond to immediate need when it arises, such as with Ukraine. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme took months to get up and running. The British public and MPs, including those on the Government’s own Benches, have been frustrated by Home Office failures and delays on Ukraine. This amendment is about making sure we are always ready to play our part in the international effort.
Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): Motions F and G deal with inadmissibility and overseas asylum processing respectively. It is vital that we have strong measures in this Bill to deter people from making dangerous journeys and to encourage them to seek asylum in the first safe country that they reach. We cannot agree to measures that would undermine these measures, either by restricting our ability to work on a case-by-case basis on returns or making the job of our negotiators more difficult. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham not to press their amendments.
On the question the right reverend Prelate asked me about what advanced discussions are taking place and the point that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about Rwanda, all I can say at this point is that the Government are talking to a range of partners. I am sure that Parliament will be fully informed when any of those discussions are concluded.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has the respect not just of me but of the whole House. Turning to Motion H, I know how strongly he feels on the subject behind his amendment relating to family reunion, but there are risks that the proposed new clause creates a very broad duty that was not intended.
Moving on to Motion J, I also understand the strength of feeling on having a target number for refugee resettlement, noting in particular the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I also reflect in this context on Motion K and the amendment concerning genocide tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. But I can only say again that we already have generous family reunion offers, that we have numerous safe and legal routes to the UK, and that a person fleeing genocide is already likely to qualify for protection, as I said, under either the refugee convention or the ECHR.
The UK is firmly committed to protecting ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. We raise this regularly with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and we continue to monitor the situation of the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq. But I will take back again those comments on religious bias, because it is not the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has raised them with me.
I do not think that the amendments tabled to Motions H, J and K are necessary, so I invite the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not to press their amendments.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: At end insert “and do propose Amendments 53B, 53C and 53D in lieu—
53B: Page 88, line 14, leave out “falling within subsection (2B)” and insert “prescribed by an order under subsection (2B)”
53C: Page 88, line 15, leave out “A State falls within this subsection if” and insert “The Secretary of State may by order prescribe a State for the purposes of subsection (2A) if”
53D: Page 88, line 31, at end insert—
“(2BA) No order under subsection (2B) may be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(2BB) The Secretary of State must not lay before Parliament a draft of an order prescribing a State under subsection (2B) unless the Secretary of State has first laid before each House of Parliament a proposal setting out—
(a) the estimated costs, for at least the first two years after the order is to come into effect, of any arrangements made with that State in respect of the removal of asylum seekers from the United Kingdom to that State; and
(b) the estimated costs, for at least the first two years after the order is to come into effect, of any additional aid provided to that State as a result of any such arrangements.””
The Lord Bishop of Durham: I beg to move, partly because this issue was not properly debated in the other place, and I wish to give it an opportunity to explore it fully in this amended form.
Motion G1 was voted on and agreed.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: At end insert “and do propose Amendment 11B in lieu—
11B: Insert the following new Clause—
“Refugee resettlement schemes
(1) The Secretary of State must publish a numerical target for the resettlement of refugees to the United Kingdom each year.
(2) The target under this section must include the numbers of people resettled under—
(a) dedicated schemes for the evacuation of people from a geographical locality, such as a specific third State,
(b) a general UK resettlement scheme, and
(c) other routes as appropriate.
(3) The Secretary of State must put in place appropriate resourcing and infrastructure to support local authorities to deliver the target under subsection (1).””
Motion J1 was voted on and agreed.