On 26th April 2022, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Bishop of Manchester put forward two amendments, Motion F1 and H1. Motion F1 was disagreed with on division, and motion H1 was not moved following debate:
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I confess that I thought I had finished with ping-pong when I laid down my bat as table tennis captain of my college at university more than four decades ago. This is my first time at it in this rather different setting.
I rise to speak in support of Motions F1 and H1 in my name. I am extremely grateful to my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham for his excellent previous work on these Motions. He is unable to be in his place today, so we worked on them together. I am also grateful for a letter I received this morning from leaders of many of the main Christian denominations in the United Kingdom, urging me to continue to press on these matters.
Clause 11 continues to be the most challenging part of the Bill in the way it differentiates the treatment of those who seek sanctuary in the UK. Therefore, I continue to support Motions B1 and C1. I also support Motion D1 and pretty well all others in this group.
It is a long-established principle of UK law that, when removing an individual to a third country, the UK has an obligation to ensure that this will not violate the person’s human rights or the UK’s obligations under international law. It is also a long-established principle, affirmed by the Supreme Court, that it is not enough for the third country to have signed international human rights treaties; it must respect them in practice.
Motion F1 would ensure that the UK can transfer an asylum seeker to another country only if that country is genuinely safe, both in law and in practice, for the individual being transferred, and where that individual’s rights under the refugee convention and human rights law will be respected. The Motion would also prevent transfers under agreements such as the recent Rwanda-UK memorandum of understanding, which as I understand it is not legally binding on either party, where the standards of treatment in the receiving country are unspecified and unenforceable in any court. It is essential that clear minimum standards are set to ensure the UK does not send people we consider to be refugees, both legally and morally, to a country where they may be denied protection and put at risk of refoulement.
I listened to the Minister’s assurances earlier and am grateful for them, but the UNHCR is clear:
“Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention”.
In its latest annual report, Amnesty International set out that in Rwanda:
“Violations of the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and privacy continued, alongside enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and excessive use of force.”
Moreover, the Home Secretary’s response to understandable concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record that were raised in the other place demonstrates the risk that the designation of a particular country as safe may not be simply because it is safe but may become politicised or be influenced by broader foreign policy concerns. It is right that this country has foreign policy concerns, but they must not bleed into decisions about what is a safe country to which an asylum seeker could be sent. We need a clear, independent and enforceable legal standard.
My right reverend friend the Bishop of Chelmsford set out in a recent letter to the Home Secretary that the current plan to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda
“treats the most vulnerable in our midst in a cruel and inhumane way”.
My most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury has put it even stronger, in words I will not remind the House of this afternoon.
Without the provisions set out in this amendment, the only bar to relocating an asylum seeker to a country with which they have no connection would be for each individual asylum seeker to demonstrate that removal there would violate their human rights under the European convention. Furthermore, demonstrating a risk of refoulement from a third country requires demonstrating that its asylum provisions are inadequate. This is something that requires expert knowledge. That is not practical for the vast majority of asylum seekers to demonstrate in their individual cases.
I turn to Motion H1. My colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, has previously said:
“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.”
Nobody wants little boats in the Channel. The problem is, he goes on to say, that
“there are not sufficient safe routes from the countries where the majority of asylum seekers arriving in the UK originate.”—[Official Report, 4/4/22; col. 1890.]
I listened carefully to the Minister’s numbers earlier when she introduced this group of Motions, but in 2021, 43% of asylum seekers arriving in the UK were from the Middle East—a large number from Iran, Iraq and Syria; that is the highest proportion and number ever recorded. The UK resettlement scheme does provide a safe route, but the numbers that have been processed are pretty small and totally inadequate for the level of legitimate need that is out there. For those who are not Hong Kongers, not Afghan, not from Ukraine or not subject to a special rule, it is deeply concerning that at this very late stage no plan has been set out for how the Government intend to enhance their resettlement routes. A practicable but flexible resettlement target, published each year, would enable the Home Office to respond swiftly to immediate and intractable refugee crises. Indeed, the creation of an ongoing resettlement programme would also remove uncertainty. It would incentivise providers across the system to forward-plan and retain resettlement infra- structure that can be strengthened as needed, sometimes at fairly short notice.
I urge Her Majesty’s Government to commit to setting out safe and legal routes and a numerical target, as set out in Motion H1. I urge the Minister to accept both Motions F1 and H1, but if she does not, and subject to my listening carefully to the continuance of this debate, I am presently minded to test the opinion of the House on Motion F1.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Viscount Hailsham (Con): My Lords, I shall speak to Motion F2, which stands in my name. Perhaps I might make three preliminary points. First, I apologise to your Lordships for having come late to this debate. I was moved to table Motion F2 by the Government’s announced decision to enter into the agreement to offshore responsibility for asylum seekers to the Government of Rwanda; that is what has moved me to participate. Secondly, as alluded to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, the substance of Motion F2 is in fact drawn from the Motion moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, which successfully passed in this House on 4 April. Lastly, on a point alluded to by the right reverend Prelate, Motion F1, which he tabled, is of course to be considered before F2. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate, and certainly myself, will listen very carefully as to the sense of the House, as to whether there is support for either or both and, if so, in which order; that doubtless will influence us in deciding whether to test the opinion of the House.
The position of the Government as set out on the Order Paper is that it is not necessary to make the designation of a safe state by order dependent upon a statement as to costs. That was the position in the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham but it is not the position today, because the requirement for an assessment of costs has been removed from Amendment F2, which stands in my name.
Lord Horam (Con): My Lords, I shall add a little balance to this debate by speaking on behalf of the Government on this particular Bill. I speak in particular to Amendment C1 from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, Amendment B1 from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and Amendment H1 from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I say straightaway that I have great sympathy for the point of view they put forward in those three amendments. In particular, t is almost certainly the case that there are not enough legal routes for genuine refugees to this country. I recognise what the Minister said about the extent to which we have already accommodated refugees and the figures she quoted, but I still think that we do not have enough legal routes for the generality of refugees, leaving aside those from Hong Kong, the Afghans and Syrians and so forth.
Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): I turn next to the speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I repeat that the UK is a global leader in resettlement. We have provided a route to resettlement for more than 100,000 people.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: At end insert “and do propose Amendment 53H in lieu—
53H: Page 88, line 11, leave out paragraphs 1 and 2 and insert—
“1 In section 77 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (no removal while claim for asylum pending), after subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) This section does not prevent a person being removed to, or being required to leave to go to, a third State, where all of the following conditions are met—
(a) the removal is pursuant to a formal, legally binding and public readmission or transfer agreement between the United Kingdom and the third State;
(b) the criteria for removal are public, transparent and non-discriminatory;
(c) the State is a safe State, as shown by reliable, objective and up-to-date information, in that there are, in law and practice—
(i) appropriate reception arrangements for asylum-seekers;
(ii) sufficiency of protection against persecution, threats to physical safety, violations of fundamental rights, and other serious harms;
(iii) respect for human rights in accordance with international standards;
(iv) protection against refoulement;
(v) fair and efficient State asylum procedures, with sufficient capacity to process asylum claims fairly and in a timely manner;
(vi) the legal right to remain during the State asylum procedure; and
(vii) if found to be in need of international protection, a grant of refugee status that is inclusive of the rights and obligations set out at Articles 2 to 34 of the Refugee Convention;
(d) the person will have access to such fair and efficient asylum procedures, or to a previously afforded refugee status or other protective status that is inclusive of the rights and obligations set out at Articles 2 to 34 of the Refugee Convention;
(e) it has been determined following an individualised assessment in which the person has an effective right to participate that it is reasonable for the person to go to that State in light of their individual circumstances, including—
(i) their ties to the United Kingdom;
(ii) their vulnerabilities and specific needs, including but not limited to their sexual or gender identity and any history of modern slavery, torture, or gender-based violence;
(iii) the prospects of their long-term integration into the receiving State; and
(iv) any reasons that the State may not be safe for them; and
(f) the person is not a national of that State.
(2B) The Secretary of State must in each year lay a report before both Houses of Parliament which includes—
(a) the number of people who have been removed to a third State while their asylum claim is pending;
(b) the cost of removal per person.”””
My Lords, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Division on motion F1 – 216 content, 221 not content. Motion F1 disagreed.
Motion H1 Not moved.