Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, during the hybrid House my children thought that all I ever said in this place was “Please could the noble Lord unmute?” Now they think that all I ever say is, “Please could noble Lords be brief?” Contrary to what some noble Lords think, I am not against scrutiny and improvement of legislation, but this afternoon we have six groups of amendments left to the target on this important Bill, and significant issues to debate on the two remaining days in Committee. I am very grateful to those on the Front Benches for agreeing to sit beyond 7 pm today but, to make the best use of this time and to give all the issues raised by this Bill the attention that they deserve, and to allow Peers who are involved in the later groups to have their say, I ask all noble Lords from all Benches to ensure that their contributions are as brief and to the point as possible, and strictly related to the amendments. That way we will get the business done properly and get home at a reasonable time.
Clause 13: Requirement to make asylum claim at “designated place”
67: Clause 13, page 17, line 1, leave out subsection (7)
Member’s explanatory statement
Clause 13(1) requires an asylum claim to be made at a designated place. However, the UK territorial sea is excluded from being a place where a Home Office Immigration Officer is authorised to accept an asylum claim. This amendment would remove that provision.
My Lords, the Committee will be pleased to hear that I am not hangry any more. I would not like the Chief Whip to think that this speech is so short because of what he just said; it was going to be short anyway.
Amendment 67 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee seeks to take out an apparently innocuous part of the Bill that intends to put into primary legislation that the feet of the asylum seeker need to be on dry land in the UK before they can claim asylum. At present, this requirement, “UK terra firma” as I might call it, is contained in the Immigration Rules rather than in primary legislation. The concern of organisations such as the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association is that this strengthens the Government’s hand in any court case where Home Office actions are challenged as being contrary to the refugee convention, where the Government can now point to primary legislation as in some way overriding their international obligations.
Section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 provides that nothing in the Immigration Rules may lay down any practice that would be contrary to the refugee convention. Moving the UK terra firma condition from the Immigration Rules to primary legislation may be seen as an attempt to get around this requirement. The change is seen as integral to other quite abhorrent and questionably legal measures that we will come to later, giving Border Force and others the authority to board, intercept and drive away vessels containing asylum seekers crossing the channel.
Presumably this change that we are challenging is to stop asylum seekers being pushed back towards France from trying to claim asylum in the channel. Clause 13(7) may seem innocuous, but it is part of a greater evil and should be removed from the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a couple of questions for the Minister on Amendment 67. I will be interested to hear the debate on this amendment because the change in Clause 13(7) appears to be fairly innocuous, although quite significant. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has said, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association has raised concerns about it so we will all listen carefully to what the practical impacts of this charge are.
Can the Minister explain what “territorial sea” of the United Kingdom means? I take the Chief Whip’s point—this may seem a very detailed point, but that is the point of Committee. What does “territorial sea” mean with respect to the beach? My understanding is that territorial water is low tide to 12 nautical miles out. The target then becomes the low beach mark. How is that measured? This is pedantic, but important: how is that measured around the coast?
I looked up the Explanatory Notes for Maritime and Coastal Access Act 2009 and I do not understand what they mean:
“For the most part the territorial sea of the UK does not adjoin that of any other state. Where it does do so in the English Channel, the Territorial Sea (Limits) Order 1989 … sets out the limits of the territorial sea in the Straits of Dover in accordance with an agreement between the UK and France.”
Is that still in existence? The notes continue:
“In relation to the delineation of the territorial sea between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the situation is more complex, with no boundary having been agreed between the two states. Instead arrangements have been put in place under the Belfast Agreement for joint management of the Loughs that form the border (the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission’s Loughs Agency).”
I do not expect the Minister to answer now—this is not a trick question—but will she write a letter to explain what the legislation means for someone who may or may not be claiming asylum? The Explanatory Notes continue:
“Within the territorial sea, the UK has jurisdiction for the sea itself, the seabed subjacent and the air above.”
I do not know what the “air above” means. Will the Minister clarify that point?
I am confused—and the Government are confused—on another point. A row is clearly going on in government between the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office on pushback and this House is confused by the Government’s response.
Yesterday at the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Home Secretary was asked whether James Heappey, a Ministry of Defence Minister, was right to rule out pushback by the Navy. To be fair, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, ruled this out in this Chamber in answer to a question from me and other noble Lords. We were told by the Home Secretary, and this is really important, that the Minister
“gave a view … They are not facts. They cannot be facts, because the work—that operational work—is still under way. While I appreciate that he was responding to questions in Parliament, whether that was in Committee or in response to an urgent question, this is work in progress. It is wrong to say anything specific with regards to work operationally that is still being planned. That work has not completed yet.”
They cannot both be right, can they? If the Government have a pushback policy, they have a pushback policy and, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned, presumably including the seas helps with that. I do not know. What is the Government’s policy on pushback? We are debating the Nationality and Borders Bill and an aspect of it to do with territorial seas and I have no clue what the Government’s policy is.
The Minister, to be blunt, will not want to contradict the Home Secretary or the Ministry of Defence. But that is what the Home Secretary is reported as saying. This Chamber deserves to know what the pushback policy being pursued by Her Majesty’s Government actually is, so that we can take a view on it. But at the moment the Ministry of Defence has one view, the Home Office has another and this Chamber, which is supposed to hold the Government to account, particularly in Committee on the specifics of the Bill, has not got a clue what the Government’s official position is.
So, in answering the questions around this amendment and the inclusion of the territorial seas of the UK, and the specifics of me saying “What does that actually mean?”, perhaps the Minister at some point, if she cannot answer now, may wish to write to us, and include all Members in this—maybe a general all-Peers letter, given its importance and the controversy around it—and say categorically what actually is the Government’s policy with respect to pushbacks. Is the Ministry of Defence right or is the Home Office right, or will it have to be adjudicated by the Prime Minister?
I thank noble Lords for speaking to these amendments. In terms of territorial waters, yes, I understand it to be 12 nautical miles at low tide. In terms of pushbacks, of course I agree with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and we are developing a range of tools to tackle the illegal and very dangerous crossings in the channel.
I absolutely understand why the Minister has said what she has with respect to the Home Secretary. Nobody, including me, expects the Minister to get up and say that she disagrees with the Home Secretary—for obvious reasons. But that is not the point. The point is: what is the Government’s policy? The Ministry of Defence is saying one thing—including the Minister who speaks for defence matters from the Dispatch Box—and the Home Secretary is saying something completely different. It is not good enough.
I agree with the noble Lord and I will clarify the point on this issue. He knows that I will clarify that for him.
Amendment 67, if we can get on to that, seeks to weaken the message that this Bill strives to send. People should not risk their lives using unseaworthy vessels—I do not think anyone would think that they should—to reach our shores when they have already reached safety in a country such as France. It puts their lives at risk, and those of Border Force and rescue services. Events in recent months have all too starkly demonstrated the devastating human cost of undertaking these journeys. This provision is just one of a host of measures which aim to deter illegal entry to the UK. It is right that we prioritise protection for the most vulnerable people rather than for those who could have claimed asylum elsewhere.
Parliament has already had an opportunity to scrutinise these measures when they were placed in the Immigration Rules in December 2020. It has been a long-standing practice in place for many years to only accept claims for asylum in person at the individual’s first available opportunity on arrival in the UK. These provisions simply seek to place these long-standing requirements on a stronger statuary footing.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his intervention. From memory—and I have to say, no pun intended, that I am finding it difficult to keep my head above water with this Bill—we come on to pushback in a later group. Maybe the Minister might be able to say more when we get to the appropriate group on that issue.
But on this issue, there are lots of things in Immigration Rules that are not in primary legislation, and I do not understand why this particular issue is different. If it is simply to put something that has been for a long time been in Immigration Rules on a more secure statutory footing, why are we not seeing many more Immigration Rules being put on a firmer statutory footing by putting them into primary legislation? This leads me to believe ILPA—that there is some other motivation behind it related to pushbacks, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said.
But there will be an opportunity to revisit this when we come to the groups debating pushbacks, so at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 67 withdrawn.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14: Asylum claims by EU nationals: inadmissibility
68: Clause 14, page 17, line 41, at end insert—
“(c) fails to protect its nationals, including in particular those who have a protected characteristic within the meaning of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Equality Act 2010 which is innate or immutable, from persecution by third parties who are not agents of the member State.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that there are exceptional circumstances where, even though there is no overt persecution by the State or state agents, the conduct of others towards a person which the State has failed to prevent can amount to persecution within the Refugee Convention.
In moving the amendment in my name, I should say that I have also put my name to the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to exclude Clause 15 from the Bill—but I will wait to hear him and support him when he proceeds with that.
I will make a relatively short point in relation to Amendment 68. The provision relates to Clause 14 and the section of the Bill that deals with inadmissibility. Clause 14 is concerned with amending the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the exclusion in that Act, by way of amendment, of asylum claims by EU nationals. I am not certain why they have been selected for exclusion, but I assume it is because EU member states are bound by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the provisions of which, for the most part, mirror the European Convention on Human Rights and, in some respects, go beyond it. In Article 1A(2) of the refugee convention, persecution is obviously tied to the question of human rights.
The point I wish to make is simply that, under the new clause proposed by Clause 14—headed “Asylum claims by EU nationals”—to amend the 2002 Act, the Secretary of State
“must declare an asylum claim made by a person who is a national of a member State inadmissible.”
Proposed new Clause 80A(4) states:
“Subsection (1) does not apply if there are exceptional circumstances as a result of which the Secretary of State considers that the claim ought to be considered.”
Proposed new subsection (5) states:
“For the purposes of subsection (4) exceptional circumstances include”—
and then it lists a series of matters under proposed new paragraphs (a) and (b), with three proposed sub-paragraphs under (b).
Basically, short the point is that there can be persecution for the purposes of entitlement to refugee status under the convention even where the state itself is not the protagonist of the persecutory conduct but allows citizens, residents or others present within its territory to persecute particular groups or persons who otherwise fulfil the requirements of the convention’s definition of “refugee”. My amendment proposes adding to the exceptional circumstances in proposed new Clause 80A(5) the circumstance when the EU member state
“fails to protect its nationals, including in particular those who have a protected characteristic within the … Equality Act 2010 which is innate or immutable, from persecution by third parties who are not agents of the member State.”
This is not a fanciful matter. If we take the case of Hungary, which has been moving more and more to the right in political terms, we see a campaign that is based on undisguised anti-Semitism against George Soros’s support for universities there, and a constant encouragement by the Government there of homophobia and attacks on LGBTQI+ people. So it is not a fanciful point, and I suggest that it should plainly be added as one of the exceptional circumstances. That is the point. On that basis, I beg to move.
My Lords, notwithstanding the fact that we have touched on some of these issues before, we have to face them head-on in this group of amendments. The issue is whether an asylum seeker has to claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach, and we might as well deal with that head-on because it is fundamental to many of our criticisms of the Bill. Bearing in mind the Chief Whip’s request that we keep our speeches short, I shall endeavour to do that, but this issue is so important.
First, there is a practical issue in all this. If we had demanded that asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach, the result would have been that every Syrian who reached Europe would have had to have stayed in Greece, Italy or Malta. That is clearly not a practical way for the world to function. If we make demands on where asylum seekers should claim asylum, so of course can other countries. It is quite wrong in practice.
The principle is perhaps more important; that principle being the Geneva convention of 1951. I would have thought it would be widely acceptable to say that the UNHCR was the guardian of the 1951 convention, and if the UNHCR has a view on that convention then that should surely have some influence on the Government—after all, the convention has been fundamental to human rights for asylum seekers over the last 70 years or so. The UNHCR has made it very clear that it disagrees with the argument that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach, saying that:
“Requiring refugees to seek protection in the first safe country to which they flee would undermine the global humanitarian and cooperative principles on which the refugee system is founded”.
No country close to the main countries of origin of refugees would ever have considered signing a convention if it meant that they would assume total and entire responsibility for all refugees. These are responsibilities that the international community has to share, and that is implicit in the 1951 convention. Therefore, some of the amendments, although they are in my name, probably seem to be compromising a fundamental objection in principle to what the Government are seeking to do. For example, my explanatory statement on Amendment 70 says that
“asylum seekers should not be removed to a safe third State other than the one with which they are considered to have a connection.”
One can argue about that. The Bill says clearly what it means to have a connection, and some of its definitions are okay but some are not.
Amendment 71 says that there must be a return arrangement in place. Clearly, unless we have a return arrangement in place with other countries, we cannot even begin to consider returning people. I say to the Minister: do we have a return arrangement with any country? If people come from France, across the channel—we all deplore the people traffickers and how they endanger lives, and the tragic loss of life that we have seen in the channel—unless there is an agreement with France, what do we do? If they have come from France, can we send them back to France or not? The French will not accept that. Incidentally, judging from this morning’s papers, our relationship with France is getting worse and worse; that is something that should be put right anyway, regardless of other considerations. Surely there must be a return arrangement in place, otherwise we cannot even consider this.
Then comes Amendment 75, which proposes that a claim
“should not be … inadmissible on the basis of the Home Office’s view that it would have been reasonable to expect the claimant to have claimed elsewhere”.
That would be the Home Office saying, “Well, we’re not going to admit your claim, because you should have claimed elsewhere”. What do we say to the people who have come across from France, or to the refugees elsewhere in Europe, some of whom are seeking to come here? Incidentally, for every refugee in France who tries to come to Britain, there are three times as many who stay in France. There has to be a shared responsibility in all this.
My contention is that what the Government are seeking to do is unworkable in practice and wrong in principle. That is why we have these amendments. I hope that the Government will think again, because we cannot be the only country that tears up the 1951 convention like this and says that it does not matter. It matters a great deal.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that there has to be some shared responsibility in Europe. In particular, his point about Greece, Italy and Spain was well made. They have had to bear the brunt of the inflow of asylum seekers to a very difficult extent, and I understand their problems. The noble Lord was also right that, whatever other solutions may be forthcoming on this very difficult issue, we will eventually have to have some agreement with the French. I am rather hopeful that, with the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Frost, we may have a better chance of reaching agreement—I say that with no malice to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who I am sure did a very difficult job his way, but none the less, the fact that he has gone seems to me to be rather good news from the point of view of having a rather more diplomatic approach to France. I am glad that the Foreign Office in particular may now be in charge of that. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, will agree that it is probably better for the Foreign Office to have more say in this matter than under the previous arrangements.
What I am concerned about reflects what the Chief Whip said earlier on. Clauses 14 and 15 seem to do no more than bring into British law what we already had when we were in the European Union—that is all they do—using the Dublin regulations and the Spanish protocol. This is nothing more than a transfer. We have all the rights that we enjoyed when we were members of the European Union to take account of particular circumstances and difficulties which people may have in getting evidence and so forth. All these fairly extensive amendments are already taken account of by our existing rights, so I do not see how we can spend very long on these clauses, given that they really do no more than a transfer job.
My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord is right about EU arrangements. I remember as an MEP fighting hard on the inadmissibility provisions in EU directives. On the Dublin arrangements, my understanding is that the UNHCR is satisfied that those arrangements were compliant with the refugee convention. I contend that Clause 15 is not, hence I have put my name to some of the amendments in this group. My noble friend will propose that Clause 15 be removed altogether, as it fails to recognise the need to share asylum responsibilities with other countries in order for the international system to work effectively, but at least some changes to the clause are necessary, and so I have co-signed the amendments suggested by the JCHR, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
Amendments 69, 70, 71 and 75 all seek to restrict and improve the operation of the scheme proposed in Clause 15. I also support Amendment 68, and convey the apologies of my noble friend Lord Oates, who has a conflict with other business. Clause 15 is about proposals whereby the UK would attempt to persuade some other country to take responsibility for the asylum applicant if it considered that there was a connection to that state, broadly defined, or even if there was no connection at all.
Amendment 69 seeks to ensure that the definition of “safe third State” means it affords the protection and rights to which the person is entitled, so there is no real risk of them experiencing persecution, a violation of their human rights or refoulement, and that there is access to fair and efficient asylum procedures and refugee convention rights. Amendment 70 seeks to ensure that any removal should be only to a state with which the person has a connection. Amendment 71 requires that, unless formal and legal binding return arrangements are in place with the state in question—such as was the case with Dublin, which is why the UNHCR gave it its blessing—and removal takes place within a reasonable period. Absent those conditions, there must be no declaration of inadmissibility and the claim must be considered in the UK. Amendment 75 removes and rejects the suggestion that the UK can remove a claimant to a country in which the UK Government think it would have been reasonable for them to have made a claim, even if they had never visited that country.
As I said, even if these four amendments were adopted, Clause 15 would still be flawed. It would create yet greater delays, backlogs and costs in the asylum system. As we keep saying, the Home Office says the system is broken yet it wants to shoot itself in the foot by having ever-more complicated and long-winded procedures. It would also create greater anxieties for claimants and disruption to the international system. Therefore, Clause 15 must be at least amended, if not removed.
My Lords, unsurprisingly, I agree with everyone who has spoken so far except, I am afraid, for the noble Lord, Lord Horam. This is why: we are out of the EU now and have taken back control of our borders and laws. This is the Government’s policy. We are no longer in this family of nations, this bloc called the EU. Therefore, on what logical basis should we be saying that, by definition, we will never consider a claim made by an asylum seeker from that group?
It is one thing when you are in the EU to say that we do not need to be taking refugees from the EU because there is free movement in the EU and we are part of that bloc. You might well say that it will be inadmissible and that we do not consider refugee claims from within that family of nations of which we are a part, but we are not in it anymore. We have taken back control. Therefore, we are no longer able to assert pressure on others in that group to buck up their ideas about human rights or to threaten the Hungarians with being ejected from the EU if they do not sort out their human rights record. We do not have that leverage anymore. Therefore, it is our obligation as global Britain, as great believers in human rights and a signatory to the refugee convention, that if Hungarians are being persecuted we will consider their claims for asylum because we are better than them and we have taken back control in a lovely global Britain sort of way. It is totally illogical for Clause 14 to be part of the Bill.
More generally, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, made an important point about complexity and efficiency. In an earlier group, everyone in the Committee agreed that decision-making needs to be faster and better. That is in everybody’s interest, whichever side of the argument we are on. Creating lots of convoluted provisions about what is inadmissible, before you even consider whether someone is being persecuted, will only make life harder for caseworkers in the home department. I have seen Governments of both persuasions do this over the years. They think they are making it easier, but they actually make it harder by creating more convoluted hoops for people to jump through before their claim is even considered. It is better to have a clean slate and to consider somebody’s circumstances: do they qualify for asylum or not? It would be much easier without all these hoops, so Clauses 14 and 15 should go.
Just consider the claims: if countries are safe, they are safe. If people are not telling the truth, test their credibility and make that decision. Of course, I agree with everything my noble friend Lord Dubs said about safe countries, who has or does not have an association with one and the Government making the decision for them on a spurious basis.
Finally, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, it is a well-established principle of refugee convention jurisprudence the world over that you do not have to be persecuted just by agents of the state. States have a duty to protect all the people in their state. If they do not do it, there can be behaviour and persecution by non-state agents within that territory. If the state is not offering protection, if there is no effective rule of law, it is not enforcing the criminal law and is allowing Roma or gay people or whoever to be persecuted by fascist skinheads in Hungary or whatever it is, that is persecution for the purposes of the refugee convention.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti. I will be brief. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for moving Amendment 68 and associate my name with this amendment. It deals with a glaring omission. I hope the Government will accept the amendment because, as has been rightly said, the Bill states:
“The Secretary of State must declare an asylum claim made by a person who is a national of a member State inadmissible … For the purposes of subsection (4) exceptional circumstances”.
This is where Amendment 68 beautifully sits and deals with that omission because intolerance is on the rise on the grounds of many protected characteristics listed within the Equality Act not only in Hungary, but in Poland and other parts of the EU. Indeed, the EU is somewhat restricted in what it can do with independent member states on some of these issues. I hope that the Minister will indicate that the Government will move on this, and the other positive amendments within this group, because in the end we are dealing with issues of human rights.
My Lords, I am going to make a short speech about how the Government want to have their cake and eat it. One minute the EU is a place where there are lots of freedoms and protections for its citizens, and the next minute it is terribly repressive and we want to get out. Essentially, I support the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, but my feeling about these amendments is that that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, is right and that the best answer is to strike out the clause.
I am so sorry but would the noble Lord remove his mask for a moment so we could better hear his wisdom?
Was everything I said even more incomprehensible than usual? Basically, I am saying that we can amend and improve this a bit, but it would be much better to get rid of it.
I also have one point of detail. I am struck by the double reference to the definition of a safe third country, which I believe is irrelevant because the refugee convention says what it says. The definition is that a safe third country
“is one from which a person will not be sent to another State … otherwise than in accordance with the Refugee Convention”
and that is repeated later. Of course, there is absolutely nothing in the refugee convention about sending somebody to a safe third country, or sending somebody to any country, except there is the firm ban on refoulement, that is, sending somebody back to the country where he had the justified fear of persecution. I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has that phrase in his amendment. He is thinking about refoulement, but the Government, when they put it in the Bill, are not thinking just about refoulement. They are thinking about their doctrine of having to seek asylum in the first safe country. They are thinking about their strange reading of Article 31 of the refugee convention. They are not letting Article 1 speak for itself, and their reading of the convention is a quite different one, as was explained by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Etherton, Lord Brown and Lord Clarke, with a different definition from the one that has become the jurisprudence of this country.
I am nervous about having this phrase included. I support the amendment, of course, but it would be better if it was reworded to make it clear that the safe country was one which would not indulge in refoulement —sending somebody back—rather than using this phrase:
“in accordance with the Refugee Convention”.
If the Bill were passed in its present form, we would have bought all this doctrine, which is a completely wrong, expansive reading of Article 31 of the refugee convention.
My Lords, very briefly, my deep concern is that the Government’s proposal virtually rules out us ever being the first safe country in which to arrive, simply because of our geography. That is the fundamental problem I have with the whole proposal, because it feels like we are removing ourselves from being a front-line nation in receiving people. I believe the Minister does not actually think that, but this would be the impact. We need to strike these clauses out.
My Lords, my name is to a number of amendments in this group—including Amendments 69A, 71A, 71B, 73A and 73B—and they all come from the UNHCR. I had written down not “guardian” but “steward”, but it comes to the same thing—that is, stewardship of the convention. I am not suggesting for a moment that I would be happy—or that it would be happy—to see these clauses remain in the Bill, and I hope I am not too much in “lipstick on pigs” territory, but given that the UNHCR of all bodies has proposed these, I think it right that I speak to them, and I will do so reasonably quickly.
The UNHCR has reiterated that the Bill is fundamentally at odds with the Government’s avowed commitment to uphold the UK’s international obligations under the convention, and its long-standing role as a global champion of supporting and protecting refugees. It has reminded us that three safeguards are essential to any inadmissibility rules. First, they must not operate in a way that denies the fundamental right to seek and enjoy asylum, which is another way of saying a good deal of what has already been said. Secondly, they must protect rights under international law during the refugee process and once a refugee has been recognised. Thirdly, the aim should be to increase access to asylum globally. Clause 15 does not meet those tests; in the interests of time, I will not go through why.
The amendments in my name are to prevent the UK breaching international standards. They would mean that a safe third state must be safe in law—I should put that first—but safe in practice, and that a claim must be considered under the Immigration Rules, not as an optional matter; they broaden the circumstances in which the Secretary of State must consider the application and reduce the risk of an asylum seeker being sent to a country which is not a signatory to the convention and does not respect the rights of refugees under international law. The “connection” would be what most people would regard as a connection in ordinary language, and they define a “relevant claim” as a claim for protective status consistent with the convention. On Tuesday there was a lot of discussion about the importance of the convention as a matter of morality and, very importantly, as law. These amendments relate to both.
On the issue of formal returns agreements, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred, Amendment 195 would require a returns agreement before regulations were brought into force. I agree with that but with the condition that the agreements were acceptable. The amendment perhaps begs the question: I would like to think that it would be possible—it would be proper—for Parliament to have a role, which it will in an international agreement, and that amendments that are thought by Parliament to be required are made, so that the agreement is not just imposed.
My Lords, there are lots of issues here, but I start by making an overarching comment. A decade or more ago, the Home Office was dealing with many more applications for asylum than now. I am talking about initial decisions, not appeals. It was dealing with them more quickly and more effectively; the backlog was lower; and the successful appeal rate was lower. I try to be a “glass half full” person and usually fail miserably—but enough of my problems. Let me put it this way: the Home Office has proved in the past that it can deal efficiently and effectively with many more asylum applications than it is facing today. The fix for the current problems lies in the staffing systems and processes of our Home Office, not in the legislation or the number of asylum applications.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the Government are focusing on the wrong things in the Bill and doing nothing to address the things that need to be addressed. This group of amendments is about unfairly and unreasonably reducing the number of asylum applications rather than increasing the capacity of the Home Office to handle them effectively, as it has proved it is capable of doing in the past.
Clause 14 proposes that all claims for asylum from EU nationals must be ruled inadmissible and that, as it is not a decision to refuse a claim but a decision to refuse to consider a claim, there be no right of appeal. A claim can be considered in exceptional circumstances, but the examples given are where the EU state is at war and has suspended the European Convention on Human Rights, or is going off the rails to such an extent that the EU itself is taking action against it for not complying with the standards of human rights expected of a member state.
These exceptional circumstances do not go far enough, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, said. We have seen EU states fail to act or take sufficient action to protect minorities. He mentioned Hungary. In 2020, six Polish cities announced LGBT-free zones. It may not necessarily be the case that an EU state, or even a municipality within an EU state, is overtly persecuting minorities, but failing to protect some minorities may make it unsafe for them to be in a particular state and as such may amount to grounds for asylum in the UK. Surely Home Office officials can determine whether any application for asylum has merit, whoever it is made by and whatever part of the world the applicant is from, without blanket bans of this kind in primary legislation. Amendment 68 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, would be useful if the clause survives, but Clause 14 should not stand part of the Bill.
Another category of claim the Government want to rule as inadmissible is where the claimant has a connection, however spurious, with a safe third state. It just smacks of: “Let’s invent lots of excuses for rejecting someone’s asylum claim, however far-fetched they may be.”
In relation to the other amendments, if the clause remains part of the Bill, of course a safe third state must be safe—and that means safe for everyone, including minorities. It means that their rights will be protected and that the asylum system is compliant with the refugee convention. Of course the Home Secretary should not be able to remove a genuine refugee to any safe third state—to dump them anywhere in the world, whether they have any connection with that state or not.
On what planet does the following make sense? You establish some kind of connection between an asylum seeker and a safe third state, but you cannot send them there because you do not have a return agreement with that state. However, you still refuse to consider their application for asylum. So what are they supposed to do now?
Another amendment seeks to prevent the following scenario: even if the refugee has family in the UK, they could still be deported to a safe third state—“Sorry, lad, I know your parents are here but you’ve got a connection with Turkey because your grandparents are old and frail and could only make it that far, so off you go”.
The conditions for establishing a connection with a safe third state—we have seen this sort of thing before—look like an awayday board blast, where there are no wrong answers and anything you can think of is uncritically written on a flipchart. Can “Well, we think you should have made a claim elsewhere” seriously be a reason an official can give to rule a claim inadmissible, with no right of appeal?
Clauses 14 and 15 should not be part of the Bill, and we will support the other amendments only if those clauses remain.
I was going to speak to Amendment 76, which seeks to override
“all prior national and international law”,
but there is no one here to speak to it, so I shall decline.
I have the Clause 15 stand part debate and Amendment 195 in my name. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for their support in opposing this clause, and my noble friend Lord Blunkett for his support on Amendment 195.
Clause 15 puts in the Bill an existing immigration law on inadmissibility that makes any asylum claim inadmissible in a number of circumstances, including if the claimant has passed through a safe country or if they have a connection to a safe third country. The result of a finding of inadmissibility is that, unless the Secretary of State decides that there are exceptional circumstances, the claimant will be denied access to the UK’s asylum system for a “reasonable period”, currently defined as six months in Home Office policy, while the UK seeks to transfer them to “any other safe country”. With the huge backlog and delay currently in the system, it is impossible to understand how adding another six months to the asylum process will help an already dysfunctional system.
We believe that, as drafted, Clause 15 should not stand part of the Bill. It is just not acceptable or deliverable in practice. We have concerns on the definitions of “safe third state” and “connection” and the lack of relevant international agreements. Serious concerns have been raised by the UNHCR and the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights, among others. There is an absence of adequate safeguards against returning individuals to countries in which they will be denied rights owed to them under the refugee convention.
Safe returns, as part of an international asylum system, are not new and are accepted under agreed conditions. However, this clause does not provide for safe reciprocal return agreements. Even as it stands, the UK Government do not have return agreements with EU member states—namely the “safe third countries” that refugees are most likely to have passed through.
Instead, it provides for cases to be stalled and unilaterally declared inadmissible, without a requirement for a relevant returns agreement, and on the basis of dubious connections to another state, where a person may or may not be able to enter an asylum system.
The clause provides that a claim is inadmissible if a person has a connection to a third state; it then clarifies that a connection can be with a state that a person has never even been to. It further clarifies that a person can be removed to a completely different state other than the one they have been deemed to have a connection with. The UNHCR has described this as a
“significant and highly problematic departure from international practice and UK case law.”
So will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, clarify that this clause permits the Home Secretary to remove a person to a third state on the basis that the Home Secretary believes they have a connection to an entirely different state, despite the person applying for asylum never having visited either?
On our concerns over the definition of a safe third state in the Bill, will the Government accept amendments to clarify the level of safety that a state must provide? If not, why not? What does this clause lose by being more specific about the safety of where a person may be sent?
On the practicality of the clause, an inadmissibility regime of this kind came into force at the beginning of last year under changes to the Immigration Rules. The seemingly sole benefit of that so far is that it shows us in advance that it has not worked. From January to September of last year, more than 6,500 notices of intent were served to inform people that their cases were being considered for inadmissibility. Of more than 6,500 people, 48 people were actually deemed to be inadmissible, and only 10 people were removed. That comes from the Home Office’s own immigration statistics.
The current policy provides for a delay of up to six months where a person’s claim is still live but the Home Office takes no action on it. In practical terms, therefore, the actual result of this policy has been to add delay to thousands of cases for up to six months in a system where one of the Government’s key concerns—and a concern of this House too—is that it is fraught with delays. Since the Government now consider this policy successful enough to put into statute, despite the vast majority of cases having no realistic prospect of leading to removal, I have to ask: what is the intention of this clause, and by what measure will the Government think it a success?
Is delaying 6,500 cases for the removal of 10 cases from our system an acceptable balance and a good use of Home Office resources? If not, what would be an acceptable balance? Is the intention of the policy to reduce delays in our system? If so, the Government’s design is currently fatally flawed, as has been shown by the inadmissibility regime on which this clause is clearly based. Is the intention of the policy to act as a deterrent, as we believe it is? A version of this policy, as I have said, has been in action since January of last year, and there has demonstrably been no deterrent effect on the number of people seeking asylum in the UK, and the number of people risking their lives in dinghies has increased.
In order to have a safe reciprocal returns policy where necessary, the Home Secretary has got to put in the work on international co-operation and securing agreements. That, and not this clause, is the responsible approach, since this clause—Clause 15—is likely to return vulnerable people to unsafe countries and therefore breach international law and the refugee convention.
The clause is also clearly based on the presumption that the Government can persuade other countries to accept people from the UK: that is, that those who already take greater asylum responsibility than the UK will agree to relieve the UK of a substantial part of the modest responsibility we currently take. I suggest that the reality of Clause 15 is that no such agreements are likely to materialise.
Amendment 195 would provide that this clause cannot be commenced until the UK has working returns agreements that would allow the rules to function. Without them, the clause is meaningless. Your Lordships’ House would be asked to agree to a power which is not currently working and which cannot guarantee anything except further delays in our asylum system.
Finally, providing sanctuary to those fleeing war and persecution and to those trying to get their loved ones to safety, is an international effort. We are proud of that effort, but we by no means do more than our share. I simply ask the Government: what would happen if every state were to pass a clause absolving them of responsibility for months at a time in the hope that someone else might be able to deal with it?
My Lords, I support the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to exclude Clause 15 from the Bill, for a wide variety of reasons.
First, if a claim is deemed to be inadmissible but to satisfy the convention, that seems effectively to be saying that the person is not a refugee within the convention. That does not make sense. If they satisfy the definition of refugee within the convention, they have a claim. It can be dismissed, and then there will be a right of appeal. What cannot be said—which is effectively what is being said here—is “We’re not going to hear you at all, even though you are a refugee within the strict terms of the convention”. So I take issue with the very idea of inadmissibility with no right of recourse at all by way of an appeal.
Secondly, the terms of Section 80C to be inserted into the 2002 Act in relation to four and five seem completely contrary to both the wording and principle of the convention. My understanding of Clause 4 is that it is, in some way or other, intended to be made analogous to the Dublin III regulation.
There are a number of points to be made about that. First, we are no longer part of the EU or of the Dublin regulation. Perhaps more importantly, EU member states themselves have recognised that the Dublin regulation has failed. On 23 September 2020, the European Commission adopted what they called the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, following consultations with the European Parliament, member states and various stakeholders. The PR notice from the European Commission, which is available on the internet, states:
“The new pact recognises that no member state should shoulder a disproportionate responsibility and that all member states should contribute to solidarity on a constant basis.”
It has failed because the effect of the Dublin regulation, when strictly applied, means that certain states are overwhelmed with refugees because they are inevitably the first state on the way through to somewhere else. What is happening at the moment is that the Commission is proposing to replace the Dublin III regulation with a new regulation on asylum and migration management. So, frankly, there is no point in referring to the Dublin III regulation. It has failed in practice, and we should not be emulating it.
Furthermore, proposed Section 80C(4) is inconsistent with the terms of the convention itself. There is nothing in the convention, in Article 31 or anywhere else that makes this “connection” mean that a refugee claim would fail.
I have another point about condition 4, and I would welcome clarification from the Minister on it. The description that would render a connection with the state, and therefore the claim, inadmissible is exactly the same as the definition of arriving “directly” for the purposes of Clause 11. Clause 36 effectively amplifies Clause 11 and paragraph 1 of Article 31 of the convention. It says:
“A refugee is not to be taken to have come to the United Kingdom directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened if, in coming from that country, they stopped in another country outside the United Kingdom, unless they can show that they could not reasonably be expected to have sought protection under the Refugee Convention in that country.”
On this particular approach, you are never going to get anywhere near Clause 11 because you will be knocked out under Clause 15—so I do not understand that contradiction. Once you fall within condition 3, which is the same as condition 4—which is the same as not arriving directly under the definition in Clause 36 —you are knocked out. So which is it—are you knocked out or do you still have some right under Clause 11, admittedly, to show that you could with good cause fall within either group 1 or even group 2? I am left confused by that.
Condition 5, on which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others have eloquently spoken, provides
“that, in the claimant’s particular circumstances, it would have been reasonable to expect them to have made a relevant claim to the safe third State (instead of making a claim in the United Kingdom).”
Nothing in the Dublin regulations says that, even if they were to apply—and there is certainly nothing in the convention that would make such a condition apply to exclude a claim.
So I support the suggestion that Clause 15 should be excluded because, with respect, it seems to be a muddle in a whole series of different respects—legally, practically and in principle.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords again for speaking to this group of amendments. I appreciate the thoughtful and well-meaning intent of Amendment 68, but we cannot accept it. The definition of “persecution” is well established and must be on the basis of a refugee convention reason—namely, race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. It is reiterated in Clause 30(1)(c) that persecution can be committed by
“any non-State actor”
where the state is
“unable or unwilling to provide reasonable protection”.
Given the level of protection afforded to EU nationals, through fundamental rights and freedoms, EU countries are inherently safe, and individuals are exceptionally unlikely to be at risk of persecution. If individuals experience discrimination, they can seek protection from within their country of nationality.
That said, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, might be comforted to have it confirmed that our processes already acknowledge that it may not be appropriate to apply inadmissibility to EU national claimants in exceptional circumstances. The list of exceptional circumstances included in the provisions is not exhaustive; it looks to protect individuals in the very rare circumstances that a member state is at risk of a serious breach or where there exists a serious and persistent breach of the values under the Treaty on European Union, including equality.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned the EU. Poland and Hungary have already had Article 7 proceedings commenced against them. We would therefore not make those claims inadmissible until the criteria in the provisions are no longer applicable.
The amendment could see the UK accepting more claims from EU nationals coming from fundamentally safe countries. This would place more pressure on our asylum system and reduce our ability to focus our efforts and resources on those most in need of our help and protection. If EU nationals do not want to return to their home country, they are free to exercise their treaty rights in other EU member states. They should seek to do that rather than travel to the UK to claim asylum. It is right that we place that expectation on EU nationals to reduce pressure on our asylum system.
These provisions to consider asylum claims from EU nationals as inadmissible are part of a well-established process in the UK. This was previously provided for under the “Spanish protocol”, which provides that EU nationals claiming asylum in other EU member states can be considered inadmissible, and is currently provided for under our Immigration Rules. Parliament had the opportunity to scrutinise these measures when they were placed in the Immigration Rules, and considered them to be fair and just.
This Government are clear that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach rather than making dangerous journeys to the UK to claim asylum here. On that point, let me address at this juncture the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham that no one could come here as it would not be the first safe country. They can fly here directly, of course, or apply through safe and legal routes; the right reverend Prelate should have a copy of those in his inbox. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about joining family members, refugee family reunion is perfectly possible under several different Immigration Rules.
I understand the spirit of Amendments 69, 69A and 73A in seeking to define a safe third state to ensure that an individual removed to that country is provided with adequate protection, and that their individual rights as a refugee are recognised under the refugee convention.
Briefly, on the Minister’s previous point in response to the right reverend Prelate about refugees being able to fly here instead of making perilous crossings, will she make a commitment that the Government will not slap transit visa restrictions on jurisdictions that produce a lot of genuine refugees because of what is happening over there, and that they will not use carriers’ liability as a deterrent for people trying to escape through that safer method?
Can I write to the noble Baroness on that? I suspect that I will misspeak if I try to answer because there are several things in that question that I am thinking about. I hope that she is okay for me to write to her.
The definition of a safe third state is already set out in the clause. It ensures that, even if a country is not a signatory to the refugee convention, the principles of the convention should be met if we are to remove an individual to that country. It defines safe third countries as states where an individual will not be sent to another state where they would be at risk of persecution or a breach of their Article 3 ECHR rights. This is consistent with our obligation under the refugee convention to ensure that individuals are not subject to refoulement; I keep pronouncing it as “refowlment”, which is completely wrong. This definition has been part of our previous legislation on safe countries and is a widely recognised definition of a safe third state; it is used in EU law under the procedures directive.
I want to come to point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the UNHCR says that we are breaking the refugee convention. There are three groups of amendments on this in Committee—not today, but shortly, so I will not go too much into the convention. We have already touched on it. We think that everything we are doing complies with our international obligations, including the convention. The first safe country principle is the fastest route to safety and widely recognised internationally. It is a fundamental feature of the Common European Asylum System. It is self-evident that those in need of protection should claim in the first safe country and that is the fastest route to safety.
There are different ways in which an individual may be protected and not all of them require entitlements that fall under the refugee convention. To define a safe third state in the way that is suggested by these amendments ignores the fact that other forms of protection are available to individuals which ensure that these countries are safe for them to be removed to. We will only ever remove inadmissible claimants to countries that are safe. Using this definition is not a new approach. It has been part of our previous legislation on safe countries. I do not think these amendments are necessary.
On Amendment 70, the ability to remove an individual declared inadmissible to any safe country has formed a part of our inadmissibility process since the changes to the Immigration Rules in December 2020. This amendment would remove a provision that Parliament has already had the opportunity to scrutinise. The aim of these provisions is to disincentivise people from seeking to enter the UK by dangerous means facilitated by criminals. They send a clear message that those arriving via an irregular route may be eligible to be transferred to another safe country, not of their choosing, to be processed.
I do not agree with the premise of Amendments 71 to 73A and 195. Agreements by a safe third country to accept an asylum seeker may not always be via a reciprocal or formal arrangement. It is right to seek removals on a case-by-case basis where appropriate. Doing so has formed a part of our inadmissibility process since the changes to the Immigration Rules in December 2020. I do not think that these provisions are unworkable without formal agreements in place. That said, I do not disagree with the need to get formal agreements in place. Without providing that running commentary, that is what we are working on doing.
Will the Minister confirm that to date we do not have an agreement with any country for the return of the people she is talking about?
There are countries that we can return people to but, as I said, I will not provide a running commentary on ongoing discussions. Of course, there are countries that we return people to, or else we would never have returned anybody in the last two years, and we have.
If I remember rightly, we returned only five last year. It is partly to do with Covid, I fully accept that, but it is also because there simply are not the agreements in place with the countries that we want to return those people to.
I am not disagreeing with the need to have formal arrangements in place to return people. On that we are at one.
We also acknowledge that it might not always be appropriate to apply inadmissibility to all claimants who have travelled via or have a connection to a safe country. The provisions as drafted already have flexibility that allows us to consider if an individual has exceptional circumstances to warrant consideration of their asylum claim through the UK asylum system. That includes consideration of the best interests of any children affected.
How does case-by-case work? If we are not going to have agreements and the Minister says it is much better to do it case by case, how does that work? The diplomatic post in the capital in question goes in and says, “We have Mr X in an accommodation centre in Kent. We’d like to send him to you because we think he has a connection to you and we don’t want to let him have asylum here.” What happens if the country in question says, “Well, if he’s with you, he’s your problem”? Do we just put him on a plane and tell him to take his chances at the other end, or are we negotiating his terms of entry into the third country?
I think it is both. We need to assess people on a case-by-case basis and we need to have return agreements in place. It is not an either/or. I fully acknowledge the need to have return agreements in place. We could not return someone to a country that said it would not accept them; that simply would not be on. That underlines the need to have formal return agreements in place.
Does that mean that the Government accept that Clause 15 is pretty meaningless without such agreements in place? There is no argument about that, then.
No, I do not accept that Clause 15 is meaningless. I am agreeing that we need to have return agreements in place. I do not think anyone would disagree with that point.
If we do not have return agreements in place by the time this clause comes in, we will end up with a lot of people being here for six months while the Government try to find out if they can send them back to another country. If you have no agreements with any other countries, you know before you start that that is a further six months wasted before the Government seek to do anything meaningful. Clearly the clause is meaningless without those agreements in place.
I was going to go on to say that if no agreement is possible within a reasonable period, the individual’s asylum claim will be considered in the UK, but I am not disagreeing with the point that return agreements need to be in place. I think I have made that quite clear. Similarly, this is a global challenge, so every nation in the world has to be mindful of the fact that they will be in similar positions as the months and years go on.
No other country is in this position because other countries believe that the refugee convention means what it says. I am uneasy, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, must be right, but what makes this particularly peculiar is that we are considering inadmissibility here. Suppose there were an agreement in place. Suppose we were handling a case—the Minister says that it is best done case by case—but we have not done anything except say, “This is inadmissible.” We do not know anything about this chap. He has not had an appeal turned down and has not been categorised in group 1 or group 2; he has simply been declared inadmissible. What does the diplomatic post in the intended recipient country have to go on?
Surely the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right: there is no realistic possibility. The Minister keeps “not confirming” that there are no return arrangements in place yet; she lives in hope, but the reality is that there are none and it seems unlikely that there will be any in the near future. I know there are hopes for one with France after the presidential election; well, good luck with that.
The Government wanted Brexit, they got Brexit done and Brexit meant that we no longer enjoy the Dublin regulation. Realistically, the countries that she is talking about sending people back to are mainly EU countries. Frankly, the chances of having a readmission agreement with the EU are for the birds, so we are going to be seeking bilateral agreements—and none is in prospect. So Clause 15 is indeed basically window-dressing.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned that apparently 6,500 cases have been declared inadmissible. All we do by kicking the can down the road is create more people waiting, more people demoralised and more work for the Home Office. It is all completely unrealistic.
My Lords, I am not sure whether this is helpful to the Minister or not, but the Dublin agreement was just quoted. Over the last five years, we asked France and Germany whether they would take back 2,480 cases. They took 234, which is just under 10%. Let us not imagine either that the Dublin agreement was useful or that something similar will be in future.
That is a very good point. I think we talked about this the other day, in terms of returns. We actually took far more than we returned under Dublin. At this juncture, I would say that we do not need formal agreements in place.
The noble Baroness should be careful. I quite agree that it was an interesting point, but it is a point that works for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, not for the Minister. While there was a Dublin agreement and only 10%—I do not vouch for the figure, but the noble Lord, Lord Green, may be right—what do we expect to happen when there is no agreement? Do the Government expect a higher acceptance rate from the French and Germans when there is no agreement, when they are declaring the guy inadmissible?
I do not know if the noble Lord heard my last point, but we do not necessarily need formal return agreements in place. We can do returns without formal agreements. The point about Dublin is that the formal arrangements that were in place did not necessarily work. It is important to try both—formal and informal, diplomatic and otherwise. It works both ways and, as I said, this is a global challenge. It is not that it is not an EU problem either.
Can I just be clear? Will this then work on the basis of some ad hoc arrangements that will be determined through diplomatic channels, in which other countries take people whom we have declared inadmissible? As I understand it, the number of people we are likely to declare inadmissible will be high. Will all that be done by ad hoc arrangements? Will there not be any agreements and will these countries come forward and say, “Yes, that’s fair enough. You declared the claim inadmissible; of course we will take them back”. Is that how it is going to work?
My Lords, I am saying that there are a number of ways in which we can seek to secure this—formal, informal, diplomatic and otherwise. I am not saying there is a single solution to returns. Therefore, Clause 15 still needs to be in place.
It might not always be appropriate to apply inadmissibility to all claimants who have travelled via or have a connection to a safe country. The provisions that we have drafted already have flexibility that allows us to consider whether an individual has exceptional circumstances to warrant consideration of their asylum claim through the UK asylum system. As I said, this includes best interests. We also have the family reunion provisions that I mentioned earlier so, if individuals have family members in the UK, they should apply under those provisions. The inadmissibility provisions should not be used to circumnavigate those provisions and create a back door to enter the UK by dangerous means.
Furthermore, if an individual has not been recognised as a refugee, but has been provided with a different form of protection from refoulement, that country is safe for them to be removed to. To define a “safe third State” in the way suggested by the amendments ignores the other forms of protection available to individuals, which ensure that these countries are safe for them to be removed to.
Regarding Amendments 74, 73B, 74A and 75B, the UK should not be obliged to assess the substance of an asylum application where the applicant, due to a connection to a safe third country, can reasonably be expected to seek protection in that third country, or where they have already sought protection in a safe country and have moved on before the outcome of that claim, or where a claim has already been granted or considered and refused. This is a necessary part of achieving the policy aim of deterring those unnecessary and dangerous secondary movements. We are not alone in operating this practice. These amendments ignore the other forms of protection available to individuals that ensure that these countries are safe for them to be removed to. Amendments 75, 75A, and 76 would significantly undermine the aim of these provisions. The provisions as drafted send that clear message for those who could and should have claimed asylum in another safe country to do so.
I commend the spirit of Amendment 76, which would introduce a new clause to strengthen our inadmissibility provisions and deter irregular entry to the UK, particularly where that means of entry indicates that individuals have travelled to the UK via a safe country. I agree with the premise of this amendment—that access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need and not driven by criminal enterprise. The provisions in the Bill send that clear message. However, this proposed new clause probably goes too far, and would breach our international obligations. It could place individuals in indefinite limbo, which would be against the object and purpose of the refugee convention. The provisions as drafted ensure that individuals are not left in limbo, with their asylum claim neither considered in the UK nor another safe third country. If after a reasonable period it has not been possible to agree removal of the individual to a safe third country, as I said earlier, their asylum claim will be considered in the UK. The introduction of Clauses 14 and 15 as they stand aims to strengthen our position on inadmissibility, further disincentivise people from making dangerous journeys, and encourage them to claim asylum in the first safe country.
I will leave it at that. I hope that noble Lords will be happy not to press their amendments.
The Minister said that two issues were widely recognised internationally. One was the definition of a safe third country and the other was on the first safe country principle—that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked for the definition, in the amendments, of a third safe country, so it does not agree that it is a widely recognised international definition. The UNHCR also says that it does not recognise the first safe country principle and that there is nothing in international law about it. Does the Minister accept that, even if she says that these things are widely recognised internationally, they are not recognised by the UNHCR?
We have had wide discussions about the UNHCR’s opinion on this and think that we are complying with international law. It is up to each state to interpret the refugee convention. I know that the noble Lord and most of this House do not agree but it will ultimately be for Parliament, through the passage of the Bill, to interpret what Parliament thinks of the refugee convention.
My Lords, I will not move Amendment 76 and will consider the Minister’s comments on it.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for battling so valiantly in relation to all the points that have been raised, and am extremely grateful for all the amendments that have been spoken to. What has become clear from this discussion is that there are, on any footing, immense practical difficulties in relation to Clauses 14 and 15. In effect, I think the Minister accepted that it is not going to be straightforward to repatriate people with inadmissible claims to other EU countries without any agreement. The expression “window dressing” has been used. It is going to be very difficult.
I hope I correctly interpreted the Minister in getting my crumb of comfort from Clause 14. I think she reassured me that the exceptional circumstances specified were not closed. As a statement from the Dispatch Box in Parliament, recorded in Hansard, that is quite an important point. If Clause 14 remains, it will give at least some people some succour at any event, particularly in the circumstances I mentioned: an EU country which does not prevent those who are citizens, resident or present within the country, from persecuting others belonging to a social group, or for some other reason.
I am afraid that the overwhelming sentiment—and certainly my view—was that whatever may be said by the Government about adopting existing expressions which are generally used or have been previously used, in vital respects Clause 15 is inconsistent with the convention. This is not in a complex way, but in an obvious way. I am sorry to say this, but to my mind as a lawyer it is an egregious contravention of the convention. I ask the Minister about, for example, condition 5 in new Section 80C. Not only is that not in the convention, but I do not know where it comes from. I can see it is there as a matter of policy but it is not in the Dublin regulations, so far as I can recall. As I pointed out, in any event the Dublin regulations are being revised, so there is no point in going back to them.
There are a number of difficulties. There is one point I was hoping the Minister might be able to reply to that she has not. I would be grateful if she could explain perhaps in communication with me. How does one reconcile condition 4, which is failing to make a claim in the first country—thereby rendering you having a connection and the possibility of inadmissibility—with one of the requirements under Clause 11 to satisfy Article 31, which is arriving directly, because you never get there if you are rendered inadmissible? At the moment I do not see how the two fit together. I am not suggesting it is a straightforward and easy point; it is a lawyer’s point, but an important one. It shows a muddle somewhere along the line. But, on the basis of everything that has been said, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 68 withdrawn.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15: Asylum claims by persons with connection to safe third State: inadmissibility
If Amendment 69 is agreed I cannot call Amendment 69A because of pre-emption.
Amendments 69 to 71A not moved.
If Amendment 71B is agreed I cannot call Amendment 72 because of pre-emption.
Amendments 71B to 73B not moved.
If Amendment 74 is agreed I cannot call Amendment 74A because of pre-emption.
Amendments 74 to 75B not moved.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16 agreed.
Amendment 76 not moved.
Clause 17: Provision of evidence in support of protection or human rights claim
77: Clause 17, page 21, line 15, at end insert—
“(1A) The Secretary of State may not serve an evidence notice on a person who—(a) has made a protection claim or a human rights claim on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity;(b) was under 18 years of age at the time of their arrival in the United Kingdom;(c) has made a protection or human rights claim involving sexual or gender-based violence;(d) is a victim of modern slavery or trafficking; oron other categories of person on whom the Secretary of State considers it would be inappropriate to serve an evidence notice.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment probes the serving of an evidence notice on vulnerable groups.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rosser tabled Amendments 77 and 89. In this group we also very much support the important amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton; those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to remove the deadline; the crucial amendments of my noble friend Lord Dubs on the weight given to evidence; and indeed the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. This is another important group of amendments.
The Government are aware that there are extreme and widespread concerns over the impact of the late evidence provisions in this part of the Bill, particularly the impact on vulnerable groups of people. I am pleased that the Government agree, because in their equality impact assessment which goes with the Bill there are hundreds of quotes that could be used to support the amendments that have been put down by various noble Lords. I have picked just a couple out. For example:
“We will continue to consider ways in which to mitigate adverse impacts on vulnerable people.”
Astonishingly, it also admits that:
“Where we do not have data, we have made assumptions.”
One hopes that if they have made assumptions on legislation which we are going to presumably pass at some point, we will continue to look at how we mitigate these consequences.
Noble Lords will be particularly interested in a quote from the Government’s own evidence to themselves:
“There is a risk that our policies could indirectly disadvantage protected groups.”
That is the Government’s own evidence to themselves. They are worried about the impact on protected and vulnerable groups—they say so in their impact assessment. If noble Lords have not had a chance to read all if it, it is worth reading in great detail. If the Government come back and say that there is no need for some of these amendments, they are actually contradicting their own evidence. So I support the Government’s equality impact assessment of these amendments and hope that noble Lords will also support it, and that the Government will welcome the amendments for further clarifying their own impact assessment.
Crucially, the amendments seek to provide more clarity on how vulnerable groups will be considered and what will be accepted as, for example, a good reason for late compliance. It is well understood, but not particularly reflected in these provisions, that those who have experienced trauma may find it intensely difficult, if not impossible, to disclose their experiences on demand.
Amendment 77, in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser, would prevent evidence notices and the strict cut-off date for evidence being served on children, people seeking asylum based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, or survivors of sexual violence, gender-based violence or modern slavery and trafficking. I should declare again my interest as a research fellow at Rights Lab, at the University of Nottingham, in respect of modern slavery and trafficking. This amendment seeks to probe what the approach will be to these and other vulnerable groups.
I was struck by my noble friend Lord Cashman’s speech, on Tuesday, about somebody fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation. He said that when you arrive at a place of safety, your first thought is that you are safe, not whether you are complying with a notice of what you will be required to do by a certain date or else be in trouble; indeed, when you are fleeing from whatever it is you are fleeing from, you first thought is not whether you have picked up all the relevant papers. These are the sorts of things that we need to consider.
Crucially, the amendment is not limiting, as it allows the Secretary of State to recognise further vulnerable groups who should also be exempt from these provisions. There is always a problem when you generate a list that there is someone you do not include.
An LGBTQ+ asylum seeker may face obvious problems providing evidence of sexuality, given that they will have been forced to hide in their home country through fear of persecution or death. They have fled to seek safety. They may not be being interviewed through a translator, the fear has not left them, they may not have the language with which to express what they have been through, and they may be fearful for the loved ones they have left behind. I know many noble Lords will have met many victims and survivors. Part of the problem is the concern they have for people at home, back in the country they have fled. I use myself as an example, as I know other noble Lords might: I would not comply with an authority, even if I felt safe, if I thought that my sister, brother, uncle, husband, wife or whoever was going to be put in danger—I just would not. I sometimes wonder whether what the Government are suggesting complies with the real world in which we all live.
Women for Refugee Women, which supports women fleeing gender-based violence, has said that
“because there are so many legitimate reasons for why a woman who has survived gender-based violence may submit evidence late, we do not think there is a way in which these evidence notices can be implemented fairly in respect to these highly vulnerable individuals.”
The Government themselves recognise that these specific difficulties exist, yet now, if a vulnerable person cannot produce that relevant evidence by a fixed date, it will be considered to have less weight than it is actually worth. That is included in the legislation, as laid out in the clauses we are considering at the moment.
Particularly concerning is that victims of modern slavery and trafficking are included in these provisions. The Government’s own statutory modern slavery guidance says that victims may be
“reluctant or unable to self-identify … Victims may experience post-traumatic stress disorder and anyone interviewing a potential victim should be aware of the impact of trauma on the interviewee, for example difficulty recalling facts.”
Why then, on the one hand, does guidance recognise the impact of trauma in disclosing experiences, yet, on the other, the Bill includes provisions that penalise people for not being able to hand over a neat life story on a deadline? That is contradictory.
Can the Minister clarify—because it is not clear to me—whether these provisions will be applied to children? The number of children waiting for more than a year for their initial decision increased from 563 in 2010 to 6,887 in 2020. That is not because of a surge in applications; it is because of a breakdown in the asylum system. We need to be extremely careful that the Government’s answer to that huge increase is not to penalise children for a failure of the system.
The Bill provides for exemptions where a person has good reason for not complying on time, but we need more information, as we have heard in respect of other parts of the Bill, about what is meant in practice by “good reasons”. Is that a subjective judgment? Is it just left hanging? What does “good reasons” mean? Our Amendment 89 probes examples of what would be considered a good reason for providing evidence late for a PRN. The amendment includes examples of where there is evidence of post-traumatic stress and where it would potentially endanger a person to gather the needed evidence before the cut-off date. It would also require the Secretary of State to publish a non-exhaustive list of what would be accepted as a good reason. The Minister will understand that we are trying to understand what the Government mean by “good reasons”.
It is particularly interesting that the only answer to these queries that we had in the Commons was:
“Guidance … will be published and made available when these measures come into force.”—[Official Report, Commons, Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, Commons, 26/10/21; col. 357.]
We know how difficult it is for us to consider whether that is the appropriate way forward and or whether it satisfies this Chamber given that it is, “We’ll pass it, but don’t worry, the guidance is on its way, and we’ll deal with it”. I say with all respect to the Minister that that is not good enough. Parliament is being asked to pass this Bill now, and we need greater clarity and understanding about how it will function in practice.
Clause 25, on which there is the stand part debate, states that “minimal weight” should be given to late evidence. It is extremely problematic to give important evidence minimal weight based on a deadline rather than judging it on its merits. That is prioritising process over truth and factual evidence, and it will lead to bad decisions. It completely flies in the face of the established practices and procedures of this Parliament and our judicial system. I say again that the Government are prioritising process over truth and factual evidence and it will lead to bad decisions.
The system is currently not operating as it should. The proportion of asylum appeals that were successful in 2020-21 was 47%, so evidence is already not being given the weight it should be given because almost half the decisions are overturned on appeal, and it is leading to decisions that are incorrect. Why in this situation would we build in a mechanism to take evidence less seriously? It flies in the face of the reality that we are confronted with. We must ask how this measure complies with the legal requirement on the Government and all of us to act in the best interests of the child. Can it ever be the case that giving evidence of their need for asylum “minimal weight” is in their best interest?
We therefore strongly support my noble friend Lord Dubs’s Amendments 83 and 88 to remove, as recommended by the JCHR, the provision in Clause 25 that the deciding authority must have regard to the principle that minimal weight should be given to the evidence. It is quite an astonishing principle to establish in law that evidence should be given minimal weight rather than whether it is good evidence or bad evidence or whether it is truthful evidence or untruthful evidence. The noble Lord has been in court. I am sure that if he was giving evidence and somebody said, “Well, that’s minimal”, he would say, “Well, actually, it’s true.” I am not a lawyer, but I would hope that anybody representing me would put good evidence forward and the court would say whether it was good or bad, and you would hope to establish the facts.
Going on, the JCHR said:
“The Bill should be amended to remove the provisions that emphasise damage to credibility and weight of evidence as a result of delay. If the Government is intent on penalising late submission of evidence, it should only introduce penalties that do not impact on consideration of the substantive asylum claim. At the very least, the Bill must be amended to clarify that a failure to meet a deadline ‘may’ be damaging to the applicant’s credibility or to the weight given to evidence, rather than that it must.”
So, will the Government at least change “will” to “may”? These are some of the problems and some of the concerns that we have and that, no doubt, other noble Lords have in the amendments that they have put forward. In seeking to solve their asylum problem, once again the Government’s objective seems to be to penalise the victims. It is an unacceptable way forward. The late compliance provisions fail to recognise the reality of life for many fleeing persecution, war or famine. Once again, the Government have been found wanting in protecting the basic human rights of people in this country and beyond.
My Lords, we have Amendments 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 82A, 82B, 86A, 86B, 90 and 90A in this group. I have also put my name to Amendment 95A along with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I do not know whether she is planning to speak to it—it is the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins—but its thrust certainly falls within this group. Noble Lords will be pleased to know I am not going to speak precisely to each amendment.
I am slightly hesitant to raise this point, given the expertise of the noble Lord on the Front Bench and the noble and learned Lord sitting opposite, although it feels as if I have been sitting next to him through most of the passage of this Bill. Listening to the last exchange, is it something to do with the whole of our legal system that we place asylum seeker on one side opposite the state as the other party? The whole way this is designed is to have parties to proceedings fighting one another. I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, nodding at that. It has only just occurred to me.
This clutch of amendments addresses the period within which the claimant is to provide evidence. I hoped that the noble and learned Lord might be speaking ahead of me because I am sure I would be saying I agree with him. Why is the specific date a matter for the Secretary of State or the immigration officer? Different people will need different periods of time. That might be an argument for variability, but it should not mean that it can be an arbitrary date without there being a reasoned basis. The lawyers in the Chamber will tell me if I get this wrong, but I think one would usually expect to see time periods within tribunal rules with a possibility of applying for an extension, but the procedure rules are the subject of the next clause. I am concerned about whether this is a proper way to go about giving notice. It should be neutral and objectively appropriate, and Clause 17 gives the Secretary of State considerable power.
Under the new subsections introduced by Clause 18, the tribunal is required to make a statement as to whether the claimant has behaved in a way designed or “likely” to go to his credibility. When we tabled Amendments 82A and 82B, I was thinking about points noble Lords made and will make again and again about the impact of trauma on a claimant, and the difficulties someone may have—even someone who is not affected—in dealing with authority figures, accessing documents and so on. This point was very clearly made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, a couple of days ago. That is why I stress the word “likely”.
This gives me the opportunity to ask the Government why Clause 18 is included. It would be good to have that on the record. Others may have a different take on the reasons for some claims having taken the course they have.
In my Amendment 86A, I am not really seeking to amend the noble and learned Lord’s Amendment 86, just to add to it by requiring adequate time before a cut-off date in a priority removal notice. Amendment 86A would add more of the people about whom we have been concerned to the list; the same point is made on Amendments 90 and 90A.
I also have Amendment 86B in this group. I got into quite a circular argument with myself last weekend about this. I am not sure I resolved it, but I will not trouble the Committee with it this evening, given the time.
My Lords, I support Amendment 95 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who apologises for having had to leave early. This speech will be in two halves—although one will be rather bigger than the other. The first half is roughly what the noble Baroness would have said.
At Second Reading she spoke about the ways in which she believes this Bill places additional unacceptable barriers in the way of women refugees seeking asylum who are fleeing sexual violence and exploitation. The amendment seeks to remove one of those obstacles and to extend the benefit to other groups of asylum seekers who may be similarly disadvantaged, so that it is accepted that they have a good reason for a late claim.
As we understand it, the issue is that in the proposed legislation the authorities deciding an asylum claim or appeal are instructed to attach, as we have heard, only minimal weight to any evidence provided late by the applicant, unless there is a good reason for it being late. However, there is robust evidence to show that the trauma suffered by the victims of sexual violence or trafficking can impact on memory and the ability to recall information. The Home Office guidance itself makes this clear. The other categories she included in Amendment 95, such as victims of torture, modern slavery and trafficking, are just as likely to suffer the same effects on memory and should be protected in the same way. I strongly support what she would have said.
However, as the arguments from this perspective are very similar to those I made in support of Amendment 40 on Tuesday, I will focus on children, a group we have not talked much about so far, although I was very pleased that my noble friend Lord Coaker did so in introducing this group. It is the strong view of children’s organisations such as the Children’s Society—I am grateful for its help—that the Bill completely fails to protect children, a group in particular need of it. Despite recognition of this added need for protection, this Bill’s harsh reforms apply to children just as they do to adults, unless the Minister can tell me that I am wrong—I hope he can. This is not right; it is a serious failure of the Government’s duty to protect children.
We need only look at Clauses 25 and 17 to see the disproportionate impact many of these provisions will have on children and young people. Amendment 95 seeks to ensure that children are recognised as having a good reason for not providing evidence by the deadline and that any evidence they provide late is given due weight. We know from organisations on the ground that asylum-seeking children who have been forced to flee, who may have witnessed violence and the destruction of their homes or schools, or even death, and who may have endured traumatic journeys, might not be able to share all the details of their ordeal in the first instance to provide evidence to support their case. The particular difficulties children might face in providing prompt evidence are recognised by the JCHR.
The Government know this. Their only quality impact assessment, to which my noble friend referred, sets out how these clauses will have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable persons, including children. The Home Office’s Children’s Asylum Claims Casework Guidance makes it clear:
“Decision makers must take account of what it is reasonable to expect a child to know”—
“in their given set of circumstances”.
It is inappropriate for authorities to question the credibility of a child’s claim if they omit information, bearing in mind the child’s age, maturity and other reasons that may have led to those omissions. Requiring time-limited evidence and penalising children when they are unable to meet the deadlines goes against the Government’s own assessments and guidance and does nothing to protect children or, as we have heard, their best interests.
As one young person supported by the Children’s Society, which has long supported asylum-seeking children and young people, reminds us:
“This is not a joyful moment in our lives. We have to talk through the worst parts of our past. It is very traumatic.”
Children and young people need time and a sense of safety before they can begin to disclose their experience. They also need good, child-appropriate legal representation, which we know they often do not get, unfortunately. All too often, asylum-seeking children receive poor initial legal advice, which can lead to ill-prepared claims and to them not feeling comfortable about setting out their information. Due to legal aid funding cuts, quality legal advice is not readily available.
Another young asylum seeker supported by the Children’s Society described his experience:
“My solicitor did nothing, it was horrible. They didn’t even prepare a witness statement for my interview. I had to do everything myself. I had my social worker but she didn’t know how to help me with my asylum case. The interviewer told me she had no information and I had to tell her everything.”
The Children’s Society sees many asylum-seeking children who have to provide evidence at later stages of their claim, not because of any weakness in the claim but because of the trauma they have endured or the consequences of non-existent or poor legal representation. No doubt the Minister will assure us that these concerns will be addressed in guidance and on a case-by-case basis, yet, as was highlighted in the recent report, An Inspection of Asylum Casework, guidance is often neither followed nor implemented by Home Office caseworkers. Home Office staff themselves stressed that they
“did not have time to consider each case on its own merits, contrary to the guidance they receive.”
So the aim of Amendment 95 is not to tie the hands of decision-makers or legislate for every situation in which a person might provide late evidence. Rather, it is to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected in the Bill, because we cannot leave their safety and well-being to chance. That is consistent with this highlighted observation from the JCHR:
“It is crucial that decision-makers recognise the many legitimate reasons why asylum seekers may struggle to provide evidence in support of their claims within tight deadlines.”
If Clause 25 stands part—I have to say that I will support the proposal that will be put by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti that it should not—this amendment represents the minimum necessary to protect children, women, women fleeing gender-based violence and others in the most vulnerable circumstances.
I want to return briefly to what the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said. Given the Home Office guidance, we cannot see any logical or humane reason why the Government would not accept this amendment and establish on the face of the Bill that, in these circumstances, for these victims, any late evidence should always be accepted as being late for a good reason, and their application or appeal should not in any way be disadvantaged because of it.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 85 on the destruction of documents. I am a sponsor of this amendment, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who is unfortunately unwell and in isolation.
The purpose of these subsections is to indicate matters that might damage a claimant’s credibility in respect of an asylum or human rights claim. The destruction of documents is clearly one of these. Why else would this be done, except to make it much more difficult to identify the claimant and therefore much more difficult to assess their claims? Noble Lords will remember that claimants arriving by air used to cut up their passports and dispose of them in the aircraft’s toilet. That was dealt with by photocopying their documents before they boarded the aircraft. This time round, it is rather more difficult to counter, but it should certainly be regarded as relevant to an assessment of the validity of their claim.
My Lords, I will speak to the five amendments in this group—Amendments 83, 88, 90B, 95A and 137, and the question of whether Clause 25 should stand part—all of which I have co-signed or are in my name. The four I have co-signed are inspired by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. He has had to leave and has asked me to give his apologies.
The provisions whereby the presentation of evidence, after a date specified by the Home Office or in a priority removal notice, is required to be treated as damaging to credibility or to be given minimal weight are unfair, unjustifiable and should be removed. I agree with everything the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said.
I have also tabled Amendments 90B and 95A in the alternative, as it were. Under Clauses 21 and 25, the decision maker on priority removal notices or in an asylum or human rights claim would at least be obliged to consider whether the presumption of damage to credibility was fair, rather than looking solely at whether there were good reasons for the delay. Taking lateness into account should be rejected if it would be unfair.
The motivation for all these amendments is fair access to justice—both to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and, as set out in Amendment 137 about removal notices, to uphold a common-law right to access justice. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being at the Joint Committee on Human Rights session at which the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, gave evidence. We discussed having the common law as an inspiration, as well as the ECHR, in the application of human rights. I am sure the noble Lord will be able to tell me that the Government at least accept Amendment 137.
I do not need to say more because the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, put it very well. To say that evidence is not convincing is one thing; to say that, because it has not been submitted by date X it is incredible or has no weight, is putting process over substance.
My Lords, I shall speak against Clause 25 standing part. I agree with so much of what has already been said. This is a particularly tawdry little clause in an outrageous Bill, which, as we have heard, has been slammed by UNHCR, the custodian of the refugee convention, by the JHCR, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and everybody, it seems, except noble Lords opposite.
My noble friend Lord Coaker need not apologise for not being a lawyer. It is not necessary to be a lawyer to see how tawdry Clause 25 is and how it absolutely puts process over substance.
This area of the law is not about parking regulations, or the tax owed to the Revenue or even major civil or commercial litigation between powerful opposing forces. This is the David and Goliath situation referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. When an asylum seeker presents themselves to whoever—the Border Force or the Home Office—they are putting themselves in the trust of Her Majesty’s Government in the hope that this is the right place to be.
Noble Lords have been making arguments in Committee, and those opposite have been making arguments about forum shopping, wanting better lives and all those things as if they are terrible but, in essence, the refugee convention is about desperate people escaping and having a fair crack at being believed. They may not all be telling the truth. Whether they are or not, they may not all qualify for convention protection, but there should at least be a kind and fair reception and a fair crack of the whip. That means not taking tawdry little process points such as this.
I have been a refugee lawyer, in and outside the Home Office. When I worked as a lawyer in the Home Office—I am going back now to before the new Labour Government, when my first boss was the noble Lord, Lord Howard—we did not take tawdry process points like this. That was in 1996.
In a moment, the ever-avuncular and brilliant advocate, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, will get up and tell us not to worry, because this will come into play only when there are no good reasons. So, fear not, Women for Refugee Women, UNHCR, Amnesty International, ILPA and every other bleeding heart. The Home Secretary would call them activist human rights lawyers and they are perhaps almost as contemptible as refugees in her eyes. The noble Lord will say not to worry because, where there are good reasons, this does not come into play and there will not be an issue about evidence.
But why put this in the statute book? Immigration officers, the Secretary of State, the First-tier Tribunal, the Upper Tribunal and SIAC—these bodies are well capable of looking at evidence and credibility. It is an insult to their intelligence for them to look at whether there were or were not good reasons for late evidence. Sometimes late evidence is incredible and sometimes it is perfectly valid, because there are very good reasons—a host of good reasons, more good reasons than not—in relation to trauma.
Would the noble Baroness like to say whether evidence is ever deliberately produced late in order that it is impossible to remove people for whom such a decision has been made?
I have no doubt that that is sometimes the case, but my point is that you do not need Clause 25 to deal with that case, because the decision-makers listed here are well capable of looking at evidence whenever it is served. If the idea is that this is late, incredible or mischievous evidence, or the other concerns of the noble Lord, these decision-makers are capable of getting there by themselves. They do not need this insult to their intelligence that they must give it minimal weight. I never knew about this principle of minimal weight. It has been invented. Sometimes late evidence is good and sometimes it is bad, but this is asylum; refugees are at stake.
The noble Lord opposite always wants to talk about the numbers. He is very concerned about the numbers and I appreciate that, but this is not about numbers. It is about getting decisions right and protecting even the one claimant in a thousand who is the torture victim, who has been persecuted, who may be a child and who may have been trafficked. To turn this into a matter of a parking fine or commercial litigation, in which your case is prejudiced because you were only just advised that being gay is relevant and that you do not have to be afraid to say so, because this is Britain and Hungary, is tawdry. To make that process point, when we are talking about life or death—not big bucks or small bucks but life and death—is totally tawdry.
Clause 25 does not help. If anything, it will make life more difficult for the Home Office because, I promise you, there will be endless litigation about what good reasons are. That is why the amendments are helpful, because they are beginning to tease out what will eventually be the subjects of litigation. We do not need it. We all know that late evidence is sometimes an abuse and is sometimes incredible, but sometimes it emerges because people have only just got decent translators or lawyers, or country or other vital information, which is sometimes hard to get.
I am sorry to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is unwell. I am sure that the Committee will join me in wishing her a swift and full recovery.
On the point about identifying documents, let us go back to the history of the refugee convention. Some of the most genuine refugees have to escape without identifying documents, and some of the least oppressed people are the ones who have fantastic documents. That is why Amendment 85 has to go. This is not the biggest problem in a terrible Bill, but Clause 25 is a tawdry little clause, unworthy of Her Majesty’s Government; let us strike it from the Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti. I have deep concerns about Clauses 17, 19 and 25. Others have already expressed why, so I will not overly repeat myself. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Coaker on brilliantly moving the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser. Equally, I associate myself with the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, my noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.
The reality of what is sometimes the last line of defence, not only in LGBTQ issues but in other vulnerable situations, is that it is the last thing you want to have to deal with yourself. Sometimes the very notion of coming out to yourself is deeply painful, because the recognition in certain cultures, countries and religions means to shut yourself off, not only from a body of support, your religion or community, but from your family. Initially, to come out to yourself is a huge step. Then you have to make the decision, day in and day out, whether to come out in other, very ordinary situations. You are here and you have put in your claim, and someone might say, “How was your weekend? Did you spend it with your girlfriend?” You have to decide whether to lie or tell the truth. If you tell the truth, you may become isolated in the asylum community, and perhaps from your country or religion. This is the community that you associated yourself with, to give yourself support and belonging, in a country where you seek to belong. Then you come out in late evidence, with that last line of defence. If your claim is rejected, you are possibly putting yourself in danger at home, in that you could be returned to one of the seven countries where you are criminalised simply for the reason of being LGBTQI+, or to one of the 11 countries where you could face the death penalty.
I remember in the 1990s working on the case of an 18 year-old Iranian who came out in this country. His asylum application was going to be rejected. A group of us were privileged to intervene on his behalf. What that teenager had said publicly would have been recorded and noted back home. We were successful—I do not say this boastfully, but it is one of the few things I am proud of in my life—in preventing that young man being returned to Iran, where, like three other young men in the weeks before, he could have been hung by his neck on the gallows until he was dead. How will the Government deal with exceptional cases where people bring in late evidence in order to substantiate their claim?
When issues arise, such as those referred to in Clauses 17 and 18, on the evidence notice, what measures do the Government propose to deal with the fact that, in many instances, as my noble friend Lord Coaker said, when a person has fled their country and persecution, they divest themselves of evidence to prove that they are LGBTQ or have experienced gender-based violence? They fear that if they are stopped or arrested, then that information will criminalise them. How will we deal with situations around not only sexual orientation and gender identity but other vulnerable issues? How will we deal with the priority removal notice? It states that there are good reasons for it, but there is no definition of what those good reasons are, and I would like the Minister to elaborate on that. I have to say that the experiences of people within the Home Office in relation to their claims for asylum on LGBTQI grounds have not been positive, despite the fact that guidance is given to Home Office officials.
I promised I would not go on, but I must add my voice to those who express concern about the issue of minimal weight. The clause says that this considers whether a claim can be certified as unfounded or whether further submissions will be accepted, that there is an exception provided, and that there are “good reasons”. Again, I ask the Minister: what are those good reasons? It is unclear how claims from LGBT+ people will be treated. The equality impact assessment talks about mitigation in general terms. However, as I said before, the Home Office does not have a sufficiently positive record on decision-making in these issues.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 83 and 88, which I have co-signed, and Amendment 96, but there are some other superb amendments. I am not a lawyer—I am not going to apologise for that because I have had an interesting life— but I did get a lawyer to look at this for me; not yet a QC, but obviously it is a possibility. Their thoughts were that these evidence notices treat asylum seekers like criminals—in fact, worse than criminals; they treat asylum seekers as if they were dreadful criminals.
In a criminal case, late evidence might be treated as less compelling than if it had been raised earlier on, but evidence is evidence, and if evidence demonstrates a fact, then that is a fact. Facts do not care about your timescales. Rather than allowing a tribunal to determine how much weight to give the evidence, Clause 25 forces them to give minimal weight if the evidence is supposedly late. Even if it were the most compelling evidence, a tribunal would be forced to give it minimal weight. That really cannot be right; it is not justice. I cannot believe the Minister will stand up—in a few moments, we hope—and say that this is justice. This is an artificial exercise. It is not founded in justice. It is a purely political venture to make it harder and harder for people to claim asylum, and to make it easier for them to be deported. It must be stopped.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 82, 84, 86, 90, 91 and 96. I would like to start by taking up the point about the so-called principle specified in Clause 25(2) of the Bill
“that minimal weight should be given to the evidence.”
I am not aware of such a principle. Of course, there can be times when time limits are imposed in a court—and perhaps it can be done by statute—for evidence to be delivered, and if it is not delivered by that time it is excluded. But once evidence is before the court, as the Minister will appreciate, it has to be taken into account even if the relevant evidence—it may be documentary evidence—has been obtained improperly, when it should not have been disclosed or it has been disclosed inadvertently. Once the evidence is there, it is taken into account and given such weight as it is due. We do not have a principle in this country, so far as I am aware, of simply saying that if evidence is late we are not going to have regard to it. That seems to be a denial of justice. I certainly support all those who have spoken against that so-called principle.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his introduction to the difficulties faced by minority groups, particularly LGBTQI groups, in relation to the giving of evidence. In deciding whether there is good cause for late evidence, or for failure to comply in a timely manner with a priority removal notice and so on, all my amendments—apart from one—put forward that there be, on the face of the Bill, a provision so that the difficulties and particular situations of people who have a protected innate or immutable characteristic must be taken into account. I went into this, your Lordships will remember, on Tuesday in relation to Clause 11, and there is no need for me to repeat it. It has been put very well by the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Cashman.
Apart from all the difficulties of having discreet, secret lives—particularly in the case of the LGBTQI community—and therefore perhaps not having any evidence as such, seeking information when it is required, and corroboration, from people back in the country from which asylum seekers come poses great difficulties. An asylum seeker will not want to implicate his or her family or friends, because they could suffer as a result. There are all sorts of adverse consequences as a result of conduct that is disapproved of in the many countries that proscribe sex between same-sex couples. There is a combination of a whole variety of things, in addition to all those other points made by people about the difficulty of coming to terms with one’s sexuality.
The same applies for single women. They have many similar problems: the shame of having left an abusive relationship, the shame on the family, the consequences for the family, the clandestine nature necessarily required for those women to come here—and then they may face a male authoritative figure. All these grave difficulties have to be taken into account.
I explained why this ought to be on the face of the Bill, despite the fact that the noble Baroness the Minister said it would all be dealt with in guidance, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said, the record of the Home Office in relation to this is not good. I gave the statistics on Clause 11 earlier this week. In 2018, 29% of LGBTQI applicants were permitted asylum, but on appeal, taking the average from 2015 to 2018, nearly 40% of the appeals succeeded. That reality reflects the grave difficulties and the disbelief faced by these desperate people. That is why noble Lords will see in those amendments—apart from one; I will come to Amendment 91—that they are all to do with putting on the face of the Bill the need to take into account, wherever there is a reference to reasonable cause or what is practicable, the particular protected characteristic of the asylum seeker.
The one that is different is Amendment 91, which is one of the two amendments I have to Clause 22. Clause 22 provides for a new Section 82A to be inserted into the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and provides for “Expedited appeal to Upper Tribunal in certain cases”. For there to be an expedited appeal, the Secretary of State has to
“certify P’s right of appeal”—
that is, the person served with the priority removal notice—as being appropriate
“unless satisfied that there were good reasons for P making the claim on or after the PRN cut-off date (and P’s right of appeal may not be certified if the Secretary of State is satisfied that there were good reasons)”.
What is important is that, whatever the Secretary of State has to be satisfied about, they should be reasonably satisfied. My amendment is to impose a requirement that the Secretary of State can certify the right of appeal under this clause only if satisfied on reasonable grounds, so that there is some principle that can be examined in the light of the particular facts of the case.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee explained, Clause 17 has the potential for time limits to be placed on the submission of evidence in support of an asylum claim. I am immediately reminded of the criminal caution in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which says:
“You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.”
There is no time limit, you notice. I accept it is not a perfect analogy, because we have already established that asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants and, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, this should be an inquisitorial process not an adversarial one.
In this context, a notice served on a claimant saying something along the lines of “It may harm your claim if you do not provide evidence in support of your claim as soon as it is becomes available” seems reasonable. As in criminal cases, it should be left to the court, or in this case the tribunal, to place whatever weight it thinks appropriate on the evidence based on when it was submitted, and if it considers that the timing of submissions reflects on the credibility of the claimant or not. Placing a deadline for the submission of evidence seems completely arbitrary and unreasonable, hence Amendments 78 to 81. How long it takes to secure, collate, and submit evidence will be different in every case, and may be especially delayed in the case of vulnerable claimants for the reasons we discussed on Tuesday, and the reasons noble Lords have explained this afternoon, hence Amendments 78 and 82. Even if the Government want to instruct officials, why not do this through the Immigration Rules, as has always been done?
The rest of Clauses 17 and 18 seem superfluous. To instruct a judicial body by primary legislation what conclusions it must come to when it is presented with evidence appears unnecessary, unreasonable and unconstitutional. I say that not knowing anything about the constitution, but thinking in terms of separation of powers between Executive and judiciary.
Clauses 19, 20 and 21 relate to priority removal notices. These too set an arbitrary deadline that must be complied with—in this case, after which a person is liable to be removed and deported. I say that, but Clause 20(4) says:
“A priority removal notice remains in force … even if the PRN recipient ceases to be liable to … deportation”.
Amendment 87 asks why that is. I am guessing that it is to avoid having to serve a separate evidence notice.
All the previous arguments—about the deadline being arbitrary and how the time taken to put a case together will be different in different cases, particularly in relation to vulnerable applicants—also apply here. Again, a simple caution similar to the PACE criminal caution appears to me to be sufficient. Whether the timing of the submission of evidence has a bearing on the credibility of the claimant should be a matter for the tribunal, not the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has ranged fairly widely. I will try to cover everything in my response. I start with Amendments 77, 89, 90B and 95A, which were spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on behalf of Lord Rosser.
We acknowledge that there may be many good reasons why an individual is not able to comply with either the requirements of an evidence notice or the requirements of a priority removal notice. We also accept that those good reasons may often be linked to the trauma that they have suffered. Where such reasons exist, they will be fully considered by decision-makers on a case-by-case basis and thereafter by the judicial system, should a claimant appeal the refusal of a human rights or protection claim.
The key point here is that every claim is unique; that is trite to say but none the less true. I therefore suggest it is correct that case-by-case scrutiny is given to all individuals. The good reasons test therefore takes into account objective factors, such as difficulties in obtaining evidence, but it would also include subjective factors, such as an individual’s particular vulnerabilities—related perhaps to their sexual orientation, as the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, mentioned; gender identity; or, indeed, mental and physical health. I suggest that the good reasons test, which I think is appropriate, means that Amendment 77 is unnecessary.
To respond specifically to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who invited me to parse or gloss what good reasons are and are not, I respectfully say that the test is deliberately open, not circumscribed, to ensure that all relevant factors in the individual case can be considered. Specifically, I can confirm that LGBTQ+ protections will be dealt with in guidance that specifically addresses good reasons and how they may relate to LGBTQ persons and issues, because of course you can have an LGBTQ issue even if you yourself are not LGBTQ.
Further, under Amendment 77, a vulnerable individual who did not fall within the specified groups listed in the amendment may nevertheless be served with an evidence notice. If they provided late evidence, a decision would be needed on whether or not they had good reasons for that lateness; whereas at the same time an individual who happened to fall within the categories set out in the amendment would be free to raise evidence at any time. For reasons that may be entirely unconnected with the reason for their exemption, they would none the less be automatically free from any disadvantage under the system or the consequences in the legislation, based on what is essentially something of a tick-box exercise. I suggest that that would be unfair.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked how the test would apply to children. This was taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, speaking also on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. Guidance will be published setting out how decision-makers should consider the age of the child in the exercise of their discretion. This should be obvious but let me state it from the Dispatch Box anyway: evidence provided by a child will be considered in the light of their age, degree of mental development, and maturity, currently and at all material times previously. As part of our obligations under the public sector equality duty, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, equality impact assessments have been completed in respect of these clauses. Those assessments incorporate a consideration of the impacts on children.
We are concerned that Amendment 77 could also lead to perverse outcomes, whereby individuals who do not fall into one of the categories identified by the amendment could abuse the process by falsely claiming that they did. That would perpetuate the issues that these clauses are designed to address, to the detriment of genuine claimants, undermining their usefulness.
For similar reasons, Amendments 90B and 95A are unnecessary and would confuse the test to determine the acceptable reasons for something being raised late in response to an evidence notice or a priority removal notice. Unlike the good reasons test, which is fair and is an established principle in the assessment of credibility of an asylum or human rights claim, an unclear and, at least in practice, a rather subjective test of “fairness” risks inconsistent decision-making, which could lead to an increase in uncertainty for both decision-makers and claimants. For those reasons, I invite the noble Baroness to not move her amendments.
Amendment 89 introduces a requirement to publish guidance on good reasons within 30 days of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. This is an arbitrary deadline which is not necessary to include in the Bill. I have already said that good reasons will be set out in published guidance for decision-makers. This will be made available when the measures come into force. The amendment does not assist those in genuine need of protection and would in fact limit the discretion of decision-makers and undermine the effectiveness of the priority removal notices. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to not move those various amendments.
I turn to Amendments 84, 90 and 96. In accordance with the public sector equality duty, protected characteristics must be considered by decision-makers when they are considering good reasons for lateness following service of an evidence notice or a priority removal notice. However, it is not intended that the good reasons are limited to the characteristics listed in Chapter 1 of the Equality Act 2010. For example, mental health issues or past trauma do not amount to a disability under the Act, but they will also be considered. These may be as important, perhaps even more important, than a protected characteristic in determining whether or not someone has a good reason for lateness. Therefore, the amendment is not only unnecessary but could have the unwanted effect of leading decision-makers to believe that they should be prioritising a narrower range of factors than those already intended within the Bill itself. I invite that amendment to be not moved.
I turn to Amendment 85, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. Again, I associate myself with the remarks of other noble Lords: we wish her well. Clause 18 adds two new behaviours to the existing credibility provisions in Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. It introduces the principles that providing late evidence without good reason or not acting in good faith should be damaging to the claimant’s credibility. Where there are good reasons for providing late evidence, that will not impact on their credibility.
The concept that certain conduct should be damaging to credibility is not new. Decision-makers must consider egregious conduct by the claimant, and it is then open to the Home Office decision-maker or the court to decide the extent to which credibility should subsequently be damaged. The good-faith requirement is intended to address behaviours such as those mentioned in the amendment, as well as any other behaviours that a deciding authority thinks are not in good faith. Therefore, there is no need, I would suggest, to single out, as this amendment does, particular behaviours to highlight them specifically.
My Lords, is the Minister saying that in practice—I hope he is—if someone has quite clearly destroyed their documents, that will be taken into account when considering their claim?
I really do not want —as I said earlier—to get into a position of glossing the wording of the Bill. It is very important that decision-makers and the courts are able to look at the Act—I hope that it will become an Act—and not my gloss on it. What they will have to do is to ask themselves whether there are good reasons or other circumstances, and whether the claimant acted in good faith. Those are the tests which they will have to apply. Although it is tempting to do so, I am going to resist the temptation to say that this would be included and that would not be included, because my underlying point is that this has to be assessed on a proper case-by-case basis and the statutory tests applied. I am going to leave it there, because I think I have said it clearly enough.
Let me now turn to Amendment 86A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. For the priority removal notice to achieve its objective and operate efficiently, it is essential that those who receive the notice should raise any relevant claims and provide information and evidence before the date specified in the notice. That is to ensure that all claims can be considered sufficiently in advance of the person’s removal, reducing the extent to which removal can be frustrated, and to allow those, on the other hand, in need of international protection to be identified and supported as early as possible. For individuals who have received a priority removal notice, there will be standard timescales for recipients to respond, which will be set out in guidance. Guidance for decision-makers will also set out the circumstances where it would be appropriate for these timescales to be adjusted or extended.
When considering whether to extend the standard timescale, decision-makers will be required to take into account a wide range of factors and will not just be limited to the recipient’s experience of, or alleged experience of, sexual or gender-based violence or torture, or modern slavery or trafficking. The approach is certainly not arbitrary, to use the noble Baroness’s word. The guidance will, therefore, actually go further than these amendments and will require decision-makers to consider a wider range of issues when determining what is a reasonable and fair timescale for an individual to be able properly to respond to a PRN. For those reasons, I invite the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.
It should also be noted, while I am on this point, that all recipients of a PRN will receive a legal aid advice offer to support them in responding to the notice. Having experience of sexual or gender-based violence or torture, or modern slavery or trafficking, does not necessarily mean—I underline the word “necessarily”; I do not want to be taken out of context here—that an individual will acquire additional time or a longer period to respond. There are many factors and reasons why an individual may require additional time to respond. Again, each case has to be looked at on its own circumstances. Therefore, we need to adopt a case-by-case approach, and not the approach set out in this amendment.
Turning now to Amendment 87, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, a person who has been issued with a priority removal notice can be subject to the conditions of the notice while it remains in force. That is a 12-month period after the cut-off date or, where a claim is received prior to the cut-off, the 12-month period after they have exhausted their appeal rights. We suggest that that is a reasonable period, which recognises that personal circumstances can change over time.
I think the noble Lord actually made this point towards the end of his speech. Only those persons who are liable for removal or deportation may be issued with a priority removal notice. If a person raises a claim or matter that means they are no longer liable for removal or deportation—for example, an application to the EU settlement scheme—they will not, of course, be removed from the UK. But if that EUSS application is refused, it is important that such individuals remain subject to the priority removal notice. Clause 20(4), which the amendment is directed at, is therefore necessary to make sure that all individuals raise relevant matters up front and at the earliest opportunity, and to guard against abuse by those who seek deliberately to frustrate their removal from the UK.
If the amendment were accepted, individuals could raise a meritless claim or application purely for the purposes of removing their liability for removal while that application was considered. That would undermine the process and create a significant weakness that could be exploited. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
I turn to Amendments 78 to 81. It is not unreasonable, I suggest, to require evidence in support of a protection or human rights claim to be provided by a particular date. Doing so is the quickest way for claims to be determined and, where appropriate, for the necessary immigration status to be granted. It is in the interests of both the individual claimant and, indeed, the system for decision-makers to have all the evidence in support of a protection or human rights claim before them.
Without the inclusion of a specified date by which evidence must be provided, the evidence notice and the consequences of late evidence would be rendered ineffective. As I said earlier, where there are good reasons why an individual cannot provide all the evidence, that should rightly be taken into account and the consequences will not bite. But that does not mean that the starting point, which is that there should be a cut-off date, should be dispensed with. Therefore, I invite the noble Baroness not to press those amendments.
I turn to Amendments 82, 86 and 90, all in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. Guidance for decision-makers will set out the circumstances where it would be appropriate for the timescales in a relevant notice to be adjusted or extended. As I have said, decision-makers will have to take into account a range of factors, not just those in Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Equality Act. Therefore, the guidance will provide for consideration to be given to a wider range of issues when determining what is a reasonable and fair timescale. For those reasons, I respectfully suggest that the amendments are—
Is the Minister able to give an assurance that this guidance, which has been referred to a great deal, rather than putting what I would describe as cautionary provisions in the Act itself, will be ready before the Act comes into force and will be made sufficiently public so that there can be discussion and consideration of it by the general public?
My Lords, I think I was asked a similar question, in a different context, on the police Bill. I will give the same answer, not least because I am conscious that a lot of these provisions are actually Home Office provisions. I can assure the noble and learned Lord that I will write to him with the answer to that question, so that when this matter comes back he will be in possession of the answer—rather than make an educated guess, which might turn out to be slightly inaccurate, from the Dispatch Box. I hope that is sufficient.
My Lords, on that very important point, perhaps the Minister will take back to the Home Office that this Committee would very much like the guidance to be published in draft form in good time so that Members of the House and others can look at it.
I am sorry for interrupting, but I am becoming a little confused again, I am afraid, probably because we have been at this for a very long time and it is very late and so forth. Is the Minister saying that the deadline that is set for the submission of evidence will be set on a case-by-case basis, for example, if the applicant is particularly vulnerable? If vulnerabilities come to notice that were not initially brought to the notice of the decision-maker, will the deadline then be adjusted and perhaps extended as a consequence of that? Although there might be general guidance about what the deadline might be in every case, is it movable and adjustable in every case and might it be adjusted further as the case progresses? In which case, why on earth is this part of the Bill?
Let me come to that point in a second. First, let me say that I almost took it as implicit in the request from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that the Committee would like to have the guidance, but I have heard the point made, and I will certainly pass it on. I do not want to go over points I have already made, and I think when the noble Lord looks in Hansard, he will see that I have set out quite clearly why, first, we need to have a system whereby, in particular cases, the date can be extended or adjusted, but also, secondly, why that does not undercut the principle of actually having a date and having this structure. However, I am very happy to look again at what the noble Lord has just said. If, having read it, it seems to me that I can add to what I have already said, I will; otherwise, I respectfully direct him to what I said earlier.
It may be that, because it has been a long day, I have missed something, or it may be that I have jumped the gun and the Minister was about to come to this point, but I have not yet heard the justification for having Clause 25 at all.
There are a number of ways of skinning this particular cat because there are separate amendments but common themes. If when I am about to sit down, I have not dealt with it fully, I am sure the noble Baroness will intervene, but I will try to come to Clause 25 head on.
However, I was going to go next to Amendments 82A and 82B, both in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Different elements of Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 have different thresholds in how they are applied to the facts of a case and how credibility is consequently damaged. Clause 18 is drafted to take this into account, so that decision-makers will take into account the relevant thresholds on a case-by-case basis. Clause 18 will encourage claimants to engage with the process in good faith and, along with the measures relating to late evidence in Clauses 17 and 25, to provide evidence in support of their claim at the earliest opportunity. As I said earlier, we think that by encouraging people to bring all their evidence upfront in protection or human rights claims, we can protect those who need protection and identify any unmeritorious claims as early as possible.
Turning to Amendment 82B, the good faith requirement is intended, as I think is obvious, to address behaviours that a deciding authority thinks are not in good faith. Where an individual who makes a protection or human rights claim exhibits a pattern of non-compliant behaviour during their dealings with immigration authorities, their credibility should be damaged to reflect that behaviour. It is also designed to stop claimants deliberately obstructing the one-stop and expedited judicial process—for example, by not taking up our enhanced legal aid offer and then making a last-minute claim based on lack of access to legal advice. The good faith requirement therefore goes further than the behaviours currently described in Section 8 of the 2004 Act. It puts beyond doubt that past behaviour that is deliberately designed to frustrate or delay proceedings should be damaging to the claimant’s credibility. We think that is right, for the reasons I have outlined.
I turn to Amendments 83 and 88, which would remove the credibility provisions in Clauses 18 and 21. For the reasons that I set out earlier, we think that it is entirely reasonable to require evidence in support of a protection of human rights claim, or a claim of being a victim of modern slavery, to be provided in a timely manner, unless there are good reasons why that is not possible.
However, I underline that a person’s credibility is not necessarily determinative of their claim under the current rules and procedures, and the Bill does not change that. Decision-makers will still be required to consider credibility in the round, as they currently do, and, where a person has raised evidence late, which causes delay and wasted resource, it is right that decision-makers consider whether there is any merit in the reasons for that lateness.
I turn now to Amendment 90A, again in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. We recognise that, due to an person’s individual circumstances, it may be harder for them to provide material in a timely manner. Since this is essentially an amendment to Amendment 90 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, I respectfully direct the noble Baroness to the response that I gave to the noble and learned Lord.
As I am on the noble and learned Lord’s amendments, I will now deal with Amendment 91 on reasonable grounds. It is right that, where an individual has been assessed as a priority for removal or deportation, they should avail themselves of the associated legal aid advice offer and provide any matters listed within Clause 19(3)(a) before the cut-off date and they should provide reasons for lateness where a late claim is raised, under subsection (7).
Decision-makers cannot reasonably be expected to speculate on or investigate why an individual who has received a removal notice and associated legal aid advice offer would raise a late protection or human rights claim. If no reasons for lateness are provided, or if the reasons provided are not considered to be good reasons, it would be clear to the decision-maker that any appeal must be subject to the expedited appeals process. In answer to the noble and learned Lord, I say that the good reasons test is adequate and sufficient.
The clause already provides significant safeguards for recipients of a PRN in the form of the legal aid advice provision and the good reasons test for individuals who raise late claims. I set out earlier what those good reasons can amount to. It is a very open-ended test. Therefore, I respectfully suggest to the noble and learned Lord that the amendment is unnecessary and, indeed, would risk complicating an otherwise straightforward and, I suggest, suitable test.
I turn now to Amendment 95 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, but spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. By introducing a statutory requirement to provide evidence before a specified date, the Bill redresses the current balance. It is right that decision-makers should have regard to the principle —I underline “principle”—that minimal weight is given to evidence that is late, following receipt of either an evidence notice or a priority removal notice, without good reason.
I will come to the thrust of Clause 25 in a second, but I will first say that this amendment would place an obligation on decision-makers, not only in the Home Office but also the judiciary, to accept that there were good reasons for late evidence in all asylum and human rights cases where either the claimant or the claim type fell into one of the listed categories. That would remove the requirement that decision-makers should have regard to the principle that minimal weight should be given to the evidence. That would be the case even if the reason for lateness was wholly unconnected to the category of claim or the personal factors. No causal link between the two is set out in the amendment. I respectfully suggest that that is overly prescriptive and would tie the hands of the decision-maker. Of course, in all cases, the decision-maker can take these matters into account—
It is not my amendment so maybe it could be worded better. The noble Lord gave great emphasis to the case-by-case basis earlier, which sounds very reasonable, and he talked about subjective factors. Has he read the recent research from the British Red Cross about women seeking asylum? It found that frequently their claims are met with disbelief and they are not treated very well at all. There is a lack of recognition of gender-based violence that they may be fleeing from, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, talked about earlier. I suggest that the noble Lord and those responsible for this clause look at this research, because I worry about putting so much emphasis on subjective factors and the case-by-case basis.
I think I have received the email from the Red Cross, as I think it emailed everyone. I have set up a folder for all these briefings, so I do not want to say that I have read it, but if I have been sent it I certainly have it and will read it. However, due to pressures of other business, I cannot say that I have read all the material yet.
I absolutely understand—I do not think it was in its general briefing, but it produced a separate report last week or the week before, and it is worth looking at.
In that case, I will certainly read it over the weekend. I know that those in the Home Office responsible for this area are obviously looking at the debate and will have picked up what the noble Baroness has said.
I was just dealing with Amendment 95, after which I will come to Clause 25 itself. I lost count of how many times the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, used the word “tawdry”. It really is not, if I may say so. We obviously disagree, and I will make no comparisons either to parking fines or international commercial litigation. At one point it seemed to me that the noble Baroness was saying that, on the one hand, this clause was terrible and, on the other, that this is what tribunals do in any event and we can trust them to do the right thing.
I am saying that, if we trust—as I am sure the Government do—immigration officers, the Secretary of State, the First-tier Tribunal, et cetera, to be intelligent, effective operators in the system, they are by definition capable of looking at late evidence on a case-by-case, open-textured, well-reasoned basis and determining those occasions where there is a good reason and those where there is not. That goes without saying, so why do we have to have this diktat in the Bill, with “must” give it “minimal weight”? I suspect it is because, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, suggested, the Government are trying to dictate to the tribunals in particular what is and is not a good reason. That is the sinister aspect of this. It is also impractical, because you then have to have arguments about what is and is not a good reason. I promise the Minister that this will be litigated ad nauseam. It would be better, as he said to other noble Lords, to leave this to open-textured judgment and decision-makers who are capable of applying it.
As regards the in terrorem threat that things will be litigated ad nauseam, I am tempted to say that that is not really a change from the current position. More substantively, and with respect, to say that the clause sets out that the tribunal “must give … minimal weight” to the evidence, as the noble Baroness just put it, is not what it does at all.
It says that they have to have good reason.
It does not do that either.
It does not say that the tribunal “must give the evidence minimal weight”; it says that the tribunal
“must, in considering it, have regard to the principle that minimal weight should be given to the evidence”.
The tribunal is perfectly entitled to say, “Well, we’ve looked at that principle. Actually, we’re not going to apply it here”—for reasons A, B and C. There is no requirement and no fettering of the tribunal; there is no compulsion that the evidence be given minimal weight. What the decision-maker has to do is have regard to the principle that minimal weight should be given to any late evidence unless there are good reasons why it is provided late.
I promise that this is my final intervention on the Minister, but I do not understand why we have to have the provision at all. He is saying that it is perfectly open-textured enough, that good reasons do not have to be specified in the Bill because the Government are not going to put glosses on it or be overly prescriptive, that they can be objective good reasons or subjective good reasons, that it is only about having regard to the new principle that they are inventing et cetera. Why have this at all?
It is because there is absolutely nothing wrong with Parliament saying to a tribunal, “We want you to have regard to this principle, but of course the final decision is yours”. We do that in other areas of the law as well. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, kindly said, I gave evidence yesterday to her committee in what I hope was an interesting session. One thing we talked about was Section 12 of the Human Rights Act. The layout there was not a million miles away from this. It too gives a very clear direction to the court, but ultimately it is the court’s decision. I find it slightly surprising that, on the one hand, the noble Baroness is saying that this is tawdry and dreadful but, on the other, is saying, “Actually, you don’t need it all because the same result is going to eventuate”. Both points cannot be right at the same time.
As we all know, the asylum and the legal systems in this regard are overwhelmed. We see repeated unmeritorious claims at the very last minute designed to delay removal. This clause is a proper part of an overall system to make sure that we give protection to those who need it—I always put that first; that is the most important thing—and at the same time to identify unmeritorious claims.
Finally, Amendment 137 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, seeks to implement a recommendation made by the JCHR in its ninth report. Of course, we welcome the JCHR’s positive comments on Clause 45. Migrants who are subject to removal must be given sufficient opportunity to access justice. The clause improves and enhances the status quo. It gives a statutory guarantee that migrants will receive a minimum notice period of five working days. As a result, some migrants will get more time compared to the current policy. It introduces a separate statutory requirement for a notice of departure details to be provided to the migrant before removal.
On a practical level, Clause 45 will be supplemented by policy guidance that accords further respect to the common-law right to access to justice. I say respectfully that it is not clear to me what deficiency in Clause 45 Amendment 137 tries to address. I would genuinely welcome engagement from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to identify what offending aspects of Clause 45 there may be and how Amendment 137 would solve them.
Therefore, having taken probably too much of the Committee’s time already, I invite the various noble Lords to consider not pressing their amendments.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this very important debate. I also thank the Minister. Yes, it was a long reply, but it was an important one and it did not take up too much time. Sometimes long replies are needed, and the Minister was right to take the time that he took to respond. There are a large number of points on which I could reply to the Minister, but it is clear that we will have to come back to some of them on Report.
If the Minister does not mind me chiding him slightly, I will say that that was a bit of a “no worries, no problem” defence: “Everything is fine. It will all be sorted in guidance, although we will not see it until some future time. Do not worry about the children problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised, because we have all taken into account the sensitivity of children and how old they are. Do not worry about LGBTQI because they will all be very reasonable. Do not worry about the good reasons either—it will all be sorted. Good reasons mean good reasons. Nobody will do anything about it if the reasons are good.”
One example where the Minister was in trouble at the end essentially concerned Clause 25(2). When is a principle not a principle? Is it a principle when it is written down? I love the phrase “have regard to”; it is always put in. The Minister said that we do not have to take X or Y into account. In a sense, he agreed with the JCHR that a better word would be “may” instead of “must”. This is quite a significant change—something may be taken into account, or it may not be. At the moment, it says “must”. This is the problem with which he was trying to wrestle—first, whether there is a principle at all, and secondly, whether “may” or “must” should be used.
The Government are seeking to deal with the problem that the asylum system is in chaos. Half the decisions are overturned on appeal. Panic has broken out. The Government say, “We cannot have this. The public are going mad. Everybody is dissatisfied. We will get more and more of this. Everyone is making late appeals. They are not abiding by the rules. We have to do something.” A whole series of new measures is being taken to overcome a bureaucratic problem. In the end, it needs good—probably trained—decision-making, speedily done, to get a system that works. The Government will not address the very real problem in the Bill, particularly in respect of late priority notices, except on a piece of paper. In a year or two or three, there will be a Nationality and Borders Bill mark 2. If they are not careful, whoever is in government—I hope it will be a different Government—will be panicking in the face of it not working. They will bring in other measures.
Much of what has quite rightly been raised by noble Lords across the Chamber will have to be revisited on Report. I thank the Minister again for his courtesy and for the time and trouble he took to try to respond. Finally, the sooner we have a look at the guidance, the better. It is very frustrating when the Government say that they will publish the guidance and it is published after the Bill is passed. We deserve to see the guidance as soon as possible. I would be very grateful if the Minister could pass this on. I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Amendments 78 to 82 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clause 18: Asylum or human rights claim: damage to claimant’s credibility
Amendments 82A to 85 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19: Priority removal notices
Amendments 86 and 86A not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clause 20: Priority removal notices: supplementary
Amendments 86B and 87 not moved.
Clause 20 agreed.
Clause 21: Late compliance with priority removal notice: damage to credibility
Amendments 88 to 90B not moved.
Clause 21 agreed.
Clause 22: Priority removal notices: expedited appeals
Amendments 91 and 92 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 22 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I have put my name to the proposal that Clauses 22 and 23 should not stand part of the Bill. When I first saw the term “expedited appeals”, my antennae twitched. It sounds such a benign and helpful term but then so did “detained fast track”—the accelerated process for considering asylum claims introduced in 2002, involving detention immediately after the asylum screening interview, which was followed shortly by the substantive interview, with a decision the following day and two days to appeal. The High Court found that the DFT, as operated, carried
“an unacceptably high risk of unfairness”
to vulnerable or potentially vulnerable applicants, and to that extent it found it to be unlawful, and the Home Office eventually suspended it. Expedited appeals are not the same but some of the issues are really quite similar.
As we have been discussing, the Bill of course provides for priority removal notices to be served on anyone liable for removal or deportation; we have discussed the cut-off date for the provision of evidence. However, it does not set out the factors that may lead to a PRN being issued. That is left solely to Home Office guidance. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, just said about needing to see guidance—but only so far because guidance, by definition, can be changed and although we may be reassured in February 2022, come February 2025 things might look quite different, with the same Government or another Government producing rather different guidance.
Listening to the previous debate, I was concerned that for an appropriate date to be set, the Home Office needs to know whether somebody is vulnerable, but it will know that only after the event of the notice. I understand the difficulty of trying to start without a starting point, which is the point that the Minister was making. Without a date, you cannot look further, but the extension of that is important. I found it quite difficult to follow all that. I am mentioning it now because it is part and parcel of the same issue and certainly Hansard will require careful reading.
The PRN will remain in force until 12 months after the cut-off date or exhaustion of appeal rights. We have talked about whether or not there is a principle. Clause 22 provides for an expedited appeal route for appellants who have been served a PRN and have made a claim on or after the cut-off date but while the PRN is still in force. In that circumstance, the Secretary of State may “certify”—an interesting term in itself—that any right of appeal against a Home Office refusal will be to the Upper Tribunal instead of the First-tier Tribunal. The Secretary of State can also certify that she or he is satisfied that there are good reasons for making the claim on or after the date. I cannot think of an alternative to what is probably an inappropriate term about being judge and jury in your own case, but I think noble Lords will understand what I mean.
The result of an appeal being certified is that one tier of appeal—the First-tier Tribunal—is lost. Under the Bill, the rules must provide for expedited appeals in the Upper Tribunal to be determined more quickly than an ordinary appeal in the First-tier Tribunal and allow for the Upper Tribunal to make an order that the expedited appeals process may—I stress “may”—not apply
“if it is satisfied that is the only way to secure that justice is done in the case of a particular expedited appeal”.
When someone is subject to the expedited process, Clause 23 provides that any other appeals they may have, for instance
“in respect of protection and human rights claims … deprivation of citizenship … EU citizens’ rights”
and so on, are dealt with as a related expedited appeal.
Ousting the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal, and so prohibiting an appeal from a first-instance decision, is clearly a significant matter. It would give no one the right of appeal to the Court of Appeal and, necessarily, not to the Supreme Court afterwards either. As we have discussed, the appeals concerned involve international protection rights, human rights, European Union and EEA citizens’ rights and the deprivation of citizenship, all areas where the UK has bound itself to abide by international agreements. For such a fundamental right as the right not to be sent back to a country where one is at risk of persecution to be excluded from an onward appeal to the Court of Appeal—even if the decision of the Upper Tribunal contains an error of law or a breach of natural justice—is extraordinary. This is not a criticism of the Upper Tribunal in any way; it is just not how things should be done. Removing Clauses 22 and 23 would leave the existing appeals structure in place.
How will one challenge Upper Tribunal decisions if these clauses stand? My noble friend made a caveat about the use of “constitutionality” but I think that it applies here, as well as on the impact on the rule of law. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House said in its report:
“The House may wish to consider the effect of clause 23 on the functioning of the appeals process and consequently on access to justice.”
That is quite strong stuff for a Lords committee.
My Lords, I apologise but, in the war of attrition that this Bill has become, we seem to have lost any contributions other than from the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Front Bench.
Bearing that in mind, I will add to what my noble friend said rather than repeat anything she said. This clause smacks of the Home Office trying to remove or deport people before they have had a reasonable chance to appeal against a removal or deportation decision. No doubt it is embarrassing when repeated stories emerge of government charter flights taking off almost empty because the courts ruled that the majority of those with a seat on the plane should not be deported, but the answer is not to deport them before they have a reasonable chance to put their case before the courts. The answer is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Home Office to ensure that there is a cast-iron case for deportation that cannot be overturned in the courts at the last minute. Yet again, the Bill focuses on the wrong solution to the problem.
I am sure the Minister will agree that as the Home Office becomes better at making its decisions and more and more appeals are turned down, as opposed to the current situation where the majority are accepted by the tribunals, there will be fewer appeals as lawyers say to their clients “Look at what’s happening now. There’s absolutely no point in appealing.” That is the answer to this problem, not Clauses 22 and 23.
My Lords, the Bill’s system of penalisation includes curtailing appeal rights, as set out in Clauses 22 and 23. These clauses create an expedited appeal route for those who have been served with a priority removal notice and who have provided evidence or a claim after the PRN cut-off date. Most importantly, the right of appeal would be limited to the Upper Tribunal. However, where a person provides a good reason for lateness, they will not be subject to this clause.
Clause 23 wraps certain other appeals a person may have into the expedited appeals process, further restricting appeal rights. The Government say the reason this clause is needed is prevent delaying tactics, remove incentives for late claims and protect the system from abuse. It is probably fair to say that in this Bill, where so much of it is driven by the party-political considerations of the Government, they will be part of the so-called lefty-lawyers amendments—we have one or two others—who seem to have become the bête noire as far as this Government are concerned.
As has been said, I have added my name to the clause stand parts to Clauses 22 and 23, to start, at least, to probe concerns that have been raised about these provisions. The Law Society, the Public Law Project and Justice have recommended that these clauses be removed from the Bill. The UNHCR has raised legal concerns. I suggest that these are not concerns the Government should take lightly.
The UNHCR has said the expedited appeals process, as designed under Clause 22, risks “miscarriages of justice”. Its legal observations agree, as do we, that accelerated processes can be appropriate for
“manifestly unfounded or repeat claims, as long as they are sufficiently flexible and contain adequate safeguards to ensure that they can be determined fairly and justly.”
The UNHCR is, though, entirely clear that appeals
“should not be accelerated … for reasons that are unrelated to their merits.”
The widespread expediting of appeals under these sections is, in the words of the UNHCR, “arbitrary” and
“unrelated to considerations of justice or efficiency.”
It risks people having their human rights violated as a result of a truncated appeals process for asylum claims. The incorrect decision can cost an individual their safety, security and livelihood.
Clause 23 is particularly troubling on the “arbitrary” point as it joins certain pre-existing appeals to the expedited process, even where they pre-date the priority removal notice and were made entirely on time. I ask the Government: what in this clause actually targets the expedited process on vexatious and unmerited claims? That is the reason Ministers give for why the clause is needed but, as far as I can see, it is not what the clause as drafted achieves.
I will make a couple of further points. First, the Public Law Project has said that making a system quicker is patently not the same as making it efficient. In order to be efficient, a system must move both more quickly and more accurately.
Similar to my first question a moment ago, I must ask: can the Government point out to the Committee which provisions in Clauses 22 and 23 are specifically designed to make the decision-making process more accurate? The point has been raised, in this debate and in earlier debates, but it is particularly pertinent in this one. In recent years, almost 50% of appeals have been allowed. In 2019-20, only 52% of First-tier Tribunal asylum appeals were dismissed. That means that there are an exceptionally high number of decisions that the system is getting wrong first time. Should it not be the aim of this Government, and of any Government, to improve the rates of first-time decision making? Should that not be the focus of this Bill, rather than a package of provisions that require evidence to be taken less seriously—there appeared to be a bit of back-pedalling at the end of the discussion on the previous group—and limit opportunities to put decisions right?
Secondly, but still on the point of efficiency, concerns have been raised that far from making the system faster, this will lead to a backlog of cases in the Upper Tribunal. Can the Government say what estimation has been made of the impact of these provisions on the upper tribunal?
My Lords, in the last group I spoke at some length. This time I hope to be more brief. The principles have been discussed in some other groups and the points at issue are of relatively narrow ambit, although they are important.
Clause 22 creates a new expedited appeal that will be heard in the Upper Tribunal. Too often, those facing removal or deportation utilise delay tactics to thwart removal action, such as withholding relevant information in their initial claim, which can be used later if they are first refused, resulting in late and repeated claims and subsequent appeals. That is both costly and an unfair burden on the courts and tribunals system. With this clause, appeals in relation to late human rights or protection claims brought by recipients of a PRN are determined quickly, with decisions being final. That removes the incentive for bringing late claims.
Where a person provides good reasons for a late claim, their right of appeal will not be certified as an expedited appeal. Furthermore, the Committee will note in Clause 22(5) that the Upper Tribunal retains discretion and when it considers that the only way that justice can be done in an individual appeal is to remit to the First-tier Tribunal, that is what it will do. Therefore, while I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, that better decision-making is important and certainly part of the answer, I do not accept the implication of their contributions, that it is the only answer. This is also an important thing that we can do to improve the system.
Clause 23 works together with Clause 22 to ensure that individuals cannot utilise the appeal system as a tool for delay. Clause 22 provides expedited appeals to be determined quickly and finally by the Upper Tribunal. There may be additional rights generated by other claims that an individual may want to exercise in parallel with an expedited appeal. Those other appeals might usually be heard in the First-tier Tribunal. Therefore, without Clause 23, an expedited appeal might have concluded but there would be an outstanding appeal in the First-tier Tribunal, which would prevent removal. Clause 23 provides that the other related appeals will be heard by the Upper Tribunal at the same time, so provides a suitable one-stop shop. Again, there is a safeguard to ensure that in cases where the Upper Tribunal thinks that justice can be done only by continuing the appeal in the First-Tier Tribunal, it can do that. That is the burden of Clause 23(7).
For those reasons, which are brief but, I hope, persuasive, I beg to move that Clause 22 stand part of the Bill.
Clause 22 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clause 24: Civil legal services for recipients of priority removal notices
93: Clause 24, page 28, line 40, after “notice” insert “or a slavery or trafficking information notice”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would give effect to the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to amend the Bill to provide those receiving a slavery or human trafficking information notice with an equivalent amount of civil legal services support as for those receiving a priority removal notice.
My Lords, as I said in an earlier group, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is the lead signatory of these amendments, could not stay so I am moving our amendments in this and the last group.
Clauses 65 and 66 amend LASPO—the Legal Aid, Sentencing and something Act—to allow for people already in receipt of legal aid for an immigration, asylum or human rights claim, under the exceptional case determination procedure, to receive legal aid advice in relation to a referral into the national referral mechanism, whereby they seek a positive reasonable grounds decision as a potential victim of slavery or human trafficking.
However, these provisions help only victims who already receive legal aid and know how to ask for it. It does not cover all victims. Exceptional case funding for legal aid is very difficult to secure in practice, so Clauses 65 and 66 will help only a small number of people, not least, as the Anti-slavery Commissioner has noted, because it requires a lot of time-consuming work up front to get that exceptional case funding and the solicitor is paid only if the application is successful.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights supports the request of the Anti-slavery Commissioner that legal aid advice of seven hours—or preferably more, as my noble friend’s Amendment 94A probes—should also be available to those in receipt of a slavery or trafficking notice in the same way as for those in receipt of a priority removal notice, to avoid victims of severe trauma remaining unidentified and unassisted. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, like others in Parliament, as I know from these Benches, has also repeatedly expressed its concern about legal aid deserts, but that is a wider debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 94A in this group. I am sorry that I could not respond to the Minister on the previous group, but I am sure we will come back to that. I was going to observe that the Chamber seemed largely to have cleared, possibly because other noble Lords could not bear this Bill any longer today, but some noble Lords have rejoined us.
It is clearly better that legal aid is available than not, but I am aware, as my noble friend is, of the shortage of provision and some of the problems here. I would say that it is not a matter for today, but actually it probably is. It is very significant, because the words in the Bill will not provide the advice. The Minister has referred two or three times very confidently to the legal aid offer; we are concerned to ensure that that offer has substance.
I have heard over the years of the difficulties of solicitors—if you can find one—advising and taking instructions in immigration removal centres, with the restrictions there on time, of 30 minutes eaten into by the client having to be fetched and then returned. I do not need to say again, but I will in one sentence, that the client often needs a lot of time over a period to tell his or her story.
My amendment seeks to understand how the Government have landed on seven hours. The Minister gently chided me for the use of the term “arbitrary” before. I will acknowledge that my proposal of 20 hours is arbitrary, but it is my way of probing why the Bill provides for seven hours. I asked ILPA whether that would be sufficient, and the reply was:
“I do not think seven hours of legal aid is sufficient to advise on the notice, the person’s immigration status, the lawfulness of removal, and immigration detention. The immigration system is complex, and the Bill makes it more complex through the expedited processes, priority notices, and new definitions/standards … It is also of concern”
that the Bill
“would allow a power to alter that 7 hour time limit.”
There must have been evidence for coming to the seven hours. If that is so, what evidence would the Minister apply to reduce that figure—or indeed extend it? ILPA says it does not
“have a sense as to the specific number of hours needed for this advice, as it would be so case-specific,”
which is entirely understandable,
“including the immigration and procedural history of the case, novelty of any legal arguments, number of bases on which to raise a claim, the legality of detention”
and so on. So I hope that the Minister can flesh out this provision in the Bill so we can understand what the Government think can be achieved with the seven hours of scarce legal aid.
My Lords, we support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for the reasons my noble friend Lady Ludford has explained. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has explained, Amendment 94A is not to replace one arbitrary number with another but to probe how much legal aid should be provided in such cases. The Minister described, in a previous group, how cases are of different complexity and how people will be given more time to secure and collate evidence if they are from a vulnerable background. For example, if they come from an LGBTQIA background, they are less likely to be able to acquire evidence quickly, and therefore, the date on the notice they are given would change even during the process. Surely that points to the fact that each and every case is different and will require a different amount of legal aid, depending on how much aid is needed to advise in each particular circumstance. I understand that people who are in this situation do need legal aid, but surely the number of hours should be as case-specific and flexible as the deadline date of any notice for them to submit their evidence.
We too support the amendments we are debating. I suppose, in a sense, this clause is a rare section of the Bill, in that we welcome it but desire it to go much further, as has already been said. Amendment 94A is a probing amendment, but it is a very valid one, because, clearly, the Government have come to the view that the seven hours of support that will be available will be sufficient.
We need to look at this provision—I have no doubt the Government will describe it as an act of generosity—against the other provisions in the Bill; for example, changes that limit access to appeals, that speed up the removal process and that penalise late submissions of relevant evidence. So I do not think we should get too carried away, and I am not suggesting that we have so far in this debate, by this provision of seven hours. As has been said, the kind of people this is directed at are those who will not necessarily know too much about the intricacies of the legal system, who may have information that has to be gathered that is quite complex and who need a lot of advice and support. We have to remember, of course, that it is against a background of legal aid services having been decimated since the passing of LASPO—I will leave it at that and not try to remember what it stands for—and there is, frankly, something of a postcode lottery in what is available.
As I say, we support the amendment and the purpose behind it, but our initial feeling is that seven hours is not enough time for a legal representative to take instructions from, advise and represent individuals who are often among the most vulnerable people in society. That, I think, is the cue for the Government, in their response, to indicate how they came to the conclusion that seven hours was sufficient, and how they would argue, even though it may be an equally arbitrary figure, that 20 hours is excessive. I await the Government’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have contributed. These amendments obviously deal with matters of legal aid, and I remind the Committee that LASPO is the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, just to put everybody out of their misery—otherwise they will not be able to sleep when they get home. I will be quick, but I will just make one point: with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, this is not a matter of generosity. This is not about the Government being generous. I do not want to sound high-falutin’, but this is about the rule of law. Abiding by the rule of law is not a matter of generosity; it is simply non-negotiable, and this provision is in the Bill because it is a proper and necessary thing to do.
Amendment 93 and 94 seek to provide up to seven hours of free legal aid to individuals with a slavery or trafficking notice. They are unnecessary because existing legal aid rules will already ensure that individuals can receive more than seven hours of advice if they receive a slavery or trafficking notice. The key point to bear in mind—and I accept that this is complex—is that a slavery or trafficking notice can be issued only to individuals who have made a protection or human rights claim. That is relevant because it means that they are already within the immigration system and legal aid is already available in order to make that protection or human rights claim. So, in a case where an individual is in receipt of legal aid for their protection or human rights claim and they then receive a slavery or trafficking notice, they are already entitled to advice on that notice as part of their protection or human rights claim. Importantly, there is no limit on the number of hours that can be provided on someone’s protection or human rights claim. Legal advice is available until the matter is resolved, and it may well be for considerably more than the seven hours—or, indeed, 20 hours.
I am really sorry, I know we are looking at the clock, but if I have understood it, and I am sure the Minister is briefed to the hilt, the problem is that he who has, gets more, as it were. If you are already in the asylum system and then you get the notice, you will get even more legal aid—but what if you have not already made a protection claim? What about those people?
The noble Baroness must have had access to my notes, because that was just the point I was going to make. I have written down here that I know the Committee will ask about individuals who are not receiving legal aid for their protection or human rights claim—and sure enough, the Committee did. My answer is that there could be multiple reasons for an individual not receiving legal aid in those circumstances. The individual might not have passed the means or merits test, and those two tests, as the Committee will know, are there to ensure that legal aid is targeted at those most in need who cannot afford advice themselves. That is one possibility, and I will come back to that in a moment. Another possibility—and this does happen—is that the individual has just made an application to the Home Office by themselves and has not sorted out a lawyer. If so, I would strongly encourage them to seek out a legal aid lawyer, who would be able to provide more than the seven hours of advice that could be provided.
Turning to Amendment 94A, the short answer to why we have specified up to seven hours in Clause 24 is that a balance must be struck between giving free legal advice and using taxpayers’ money responsibly. Seven hours is intended to reflect that this is an opportunity for initial legal advice to help individuals understand what the notice is and what it is requiring them to. It is available on a non-means-tested and non-merits-tested basis. That means that anyone with a PRN is guaranteed access to legal aid for up to seven hours, but it does not mean that, after seven hours, there is no further access to legal aid. Some individuals will need further advice; it is not intended that seven hours will resolve every immigration issue. At the end of the seven hours, any individual who has an issue within the scope of the legal aid scheme and who passes the means and merits test will be eligible for ongoing legal advice funded by legal aid until the matter is resolved.
I am conscious that that gets us into the territory of means and merits tests. I answered an Oral Question in this area on Tuesday, when I said that there was a review of the means test under way at the moment, on which I have personally spent a lot of time. I hope very much that we will soon be able to go out for consultation on that. We are conducting a really thorough review of the means test.
Finally, I will address the noble Baroness’s concerns that the exceptional case funding scheme might not be up to standard. Respectfully, I disagree. That scheme is specifically designed to act as a safety net and to provide legal-aid funding to individuals who can demonstrate that, without it, their human rights might be breached. In 2019-20, of the immigration cases that applied for exceptional case funding, 80% were granted legal aid, so that shows that the system works. We are continuing to work with legal aid practitioners and the Legal Aid Agency to improve the scheme if we can.
For the reasons that I have set out, I hope that the noble Baroness, speaking also for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be content to withdraw the amendment.
Before my noble friend responds, could the Minister at least acknowledge that it is not just a matter of hours? It is a matter of the difficulties of finding a legal aid lawyer and the very clear existence of legal aid deserts and so on? Even when it is not a desert, there are difficulties which are, to a very considerable extent, related to the terms for the lawyers themselves. I do not know whether it ever occurred to the noble Lord that he might pursue a career in legal aid; he probably felt as guilty as I used to, when I was in practice as a solicitor, that my firm did not do legal aid, or at least it gave up doing it. That is partly because you need to specialise in legal aid, as well as the subject that you are dealing with, and that is very difficult for a lot of lawyers. It has led to two classes of lawyers, and that is a very bad thing.
The noble Baroness’s question is quite broad. She knows that we have had a number of discussions about legal aid, which will continue. I did not do much legal aid in my practice. I do not want to advertise from the Dispatch Box, but my brother-in-law is one of the finest criminal legal aid solicitors in London—I am sure that no one here will ever need his services, but he is absolutely brilliant, none the less.
More seriously, I am very conscious of the need to make sure that people have access to a lawyer with the relevant skill set, because a general right to legal aid is not much use if you cannot find a legal aid lawyer—I absolutely appreciate that. On Tuesday, I explained some of the efforts that we are making in this area. To say any more now might trespass on the Committee’s patience, but I am obviously well aware of this point.
I appreciate the care with which the Minister has responded to these amendments. Although he started by saying that they were unnecessary, he conceded that there is a group of people who do not get legal aid. We might differ in our views on how meritorious they are in any claim for legal aid, but he said that they could find a solicitor and get legal aid that way—but that might not be the easiest thing in the world, for reasons that include what was just discussed. I am afraid that I am not really persuaded.
I will read the Minister’s remarks in Hansard, but I do not think that he denied that there are people who do not get legal aid. The fact that the anti-slavery commissioner was on the case with the JCHR shows that it is not just these Benches over here that think that this is an issue. For the time being, I have to accept that the Minister has given his response and I cannot get any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 93 withdrawn.
Amendments 94 to 94A not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clause 25: Late provision of evidence in asylum or human rights claim: weight
Amendments 95 to 96 not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Clause 26: Accelerated detained appeals
97: Clause 26, page 31, line 38, leave out from “State” to end of line 39 and insert “is satisfied that—
(a) any relevant appeal brought in relation to the decision would be likely to be disposed of expeditiously; and(b) any relevant appeal brought in relation to the decision could be resolved within the time limits set out in subsection (3) without giving rise to unfairness or injustice.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would give effect to the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to limit the cases that are brought within the accelerated detained appeals process, to prevent unfairness or injustice arising.
This clause is about accelerated detained appeals. In moving Amendment 97 I will also cover Amendment 99, both of which I have signed. As I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is leading on these amendments, but he has had to leave.
I support the deletion from the Bill of Clauses 26 and 27 in order that claimants should retain a meaningful right of appeal. The Government are trying to revive, though with an even wider scope, the detained fast-track system, despite the fact that their arguments were rejected by the Court of Appeal in 2015 and later by the Tribunal Procedure Committee. These provisions would deny access to justice, including for the reason that five days is far too short for a claimant to prepare an appeal, particularly if they are detained—it is even worse if they are in prison or a detention centre. Clause 26 would apply to a greater number of people even than the detained fast track, including those facing deportation.
The Home Office has been struck down and rebuffed twice but is coming back for more. Its decision-making is frequently flawed and unlawful. As we have heard this afternoon, half of all appeals against immigration decisions were successful in the year to June 2019, so people must have access to effective means of appeal.
After the Court of Appeal declared the detained fast track unlawful in 2015, the Government tried to revive it in tribunal rules. However, the Tribunal Procedure Committee said that if the rules were to operate fairly, which is vital given the high stakes for the claimant, they needed procedural safeguards—an additional case management hearing, for example—such that there was no guarantee of a fast conclusion of the appeal. By trying short cuts, the Government are yet again creating more potential delays. Justice cannot be achieved with the kind of short cuts the Government are trying in this Bill.
There may be lack of legal aid, difficulty in getting medical or other expert reports or evidence when in detention, and delays by the Home Office in responding to subject access requests. Trying to cut these corners on process, could not only cut corners on justice but end up with the system being more clogged up.
Clause 27 seeks to remove all appeal rights, both in country and out of country, from persons whose claims are classified as “clearly unfounded”. However, as the organisation Bail for Immigration Detainees reminds us, the current out-of-country certification under Section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 was found to be illegal by the Supreme Court in a 2017 case, Kiarie and Byndloss.
Amendments 97 and 99 therefore tighten the conditions for an accelerated appeal. The Secretary of State would have to be satisfied of expeditious disposal within the time limit set in Clause 26(3) in the interests of “fairness and justice”. The tribunal must take an appeal out of the accelerated process—not just “may” but “must”—
“if … concerned that fairness or justice … cannot be”
delivered within it. That is obviously the whole tenor of these amendments; they are about fairness and justice. That is the only way to get real speed, not by these renewed gimmicks. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say this is the detained fast track brought back again, in effect. I simply say that this is a very good idea. Leaving aside the detail, if experienced officials can see that a case is really very unlikely to be a genuine one, there should be a fast track and the person should be detained. The details can be sorted, but it is the right way to go. It is what we need to do, given the enormous wave of applications we are now receiving.
I speak in support of the amendment in my name in relation to Clause 26, Amendment 98. It is that
“The Secretary of State may not give … certification if the appellant claims to have a protected characteristic … which is innate or immutable, and that the characteristic is relevant to the appeal.”
Cases in which the appellant is an asylum seeker who has an innate and immutable protected characteristic that is relevant to the appeal are not appropriate for the very short timescale set out in Clause 26(3). I think the noble Lord the Minister himself acknowledged, and the noble Baroness the Minister accepted earlier, that many of these cases raise difficult issues and that guidance that we wait to see will be issued to provide assistance. The paradigm case again is that of the LGBTQ+ asylum seeker. Establishing whether or not they are in fact LGBTQ, the adequacy of the evidence in support on that issue—whether or not there is a genuine fear of persecution because of that characteristic, whether what they have done in relation to pursuing their claim has been reasonable, even if it was not always in compliance with the required time limits—makes their appeal inappropriate for an accelerated appeal.
Once again I say, as others have said, that this conclusion is reinforced by the significant proportion of successful appeals that have been brought by LGB refugees. That is something we simply cannot ignore. Nearly 40% of appeals taken in the period from 2015 to 2018 succeeded.
My Lords, for the reasons I explained in a previous group, accelerating appeals processes is not the solution to the last-minute successful appeals against removal or deportation. Rather, it is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Home Office. Clause 26 is another clause with the wrong solution to the problem, and while Amendments 97 to 99 seek to limit the damage that accelerated appeals might cause, it is more lipstick on more pigs.
To my shame, I am struggling to keep my head above water on this Bill and asking that Clause 27 does not stand part of the Bill does not go far enough. Already the Home Secretary can certify that the decision to remove or deport can be appealed against only once the claimant has been removed or deported, which makes such an appeal more difficult. We should have tabled an amendment to remove that power, let alone Clause 27, which proposes to go one step further, allowing the Secretary of State to certify that a claim cannot be appealed against at all if she thinks it is clearly unfounded. That should be a decision for the tribunal and not the Executive.
In this group, I have the Clause 26 stand part amendment, and Clause 26 requires the Tribunal Procedure Committee to create a fast-track route for certain appeals made from detention. The accelerated process would apply where the Secretary of State “considers” that an appeal brought in relation to the decision would
“likely be disposed of expeditiously.”
Of course, that raises the question of the basis on which the Secretary of State will decide that an appeal brought in relation to the decision is likely to be disposed of expeditiously. Will it be done on a whim? Will it be done on the basis that we need to speed things up and this may be the way to do it? Will they be getting legal advice on whether they should consider that it is likely to be disposed of expeditiously? What happens if they do decide that an appeal brought in relation to the decision is likely to be disposed of expeditiously, and they then find that it cannot be disposed of expeditiously? What is the redress in that situation?
The Explanatory Notes state:
“This clause aims to establish an accelerated route for those appeals made in detention which are considered suitable for a quick decision, to allow appellants to be released or removed more quickly.”
As far as the Explanatory Notes are concerned, it is being done for the highest of motives, and nothing to do with simply trying to speed up the process.
The Law Society, Justice, the UNHCR and the Public Law Project have recommended that the clause be removed from the Bill. They raise that the fast-track system largely replicates, as has been said, a system that was already found to be unlawful in 2015 in a Court of Appeal ruling.
We support the amendments and concerns raised in this group, but I intend to speak only to the amendment in my name, which is to oppose Clause 26 standing part of the Bill. The concerns are very clear. As I said, various organisations have recommended that the clause be removed from the Bill. Their basis for saying so is that it amounts to a new detained fast-track procedure that was found to be unlawful in 2015 due to being “structurally unfair”. The Court of Appeal described the timetable for such appeals as
“so tight that it is inevitable that a significant number of appellants will be denied a fair opportunity to present their cases”.
It held that the policy did not sufficiently appreciate
“the problems faced by legal representatives of obtaining instructions from individuals who are in detention”,
nor did it
“adequately take account of the complexity and difficulty of many asylum appeals”
“the gravity of the issues that are raised by them”.
Since that ruling, the Tribunal Procedure Committee has repeatedly taken the position not to introduce specific rules in relation to cases where an appellant is detained. In its report of March 2019, the TPC concluded that
“a set of specific rules would not lead to the results sought by the Government. If a set of rules were devised so as to operate fairly, they would not lead to the increased speed and certainty desired.”
Following the clear and somewhat damning court ruling and the position of the TPC, the Government’s response has been, as we now see, to legislate to reintroduce a fast-track procedure by forcing the TPC’s hand and requiring it to create one.
The questions for the Government are fairly simple. What is it about this scheme that is significantly structurally different from the scheme that was found to be legally unsound? What about this scheme will prevent it having a timetable
“so tight that it is inevitable that a significant number of appellants will be denied a fair opportunity”?
Why, and on the basis of what evidence, do the Government disagree with the TPC when it says that such rules should not be brought in since they cannot both operate fairly and achieve the desired result of speed?
One wonders whether the Government are risking further judicial proceedings in replicating a scheme that has been found to be unlawful or, indeed, whether they would care too much anyway if there were such future judicial proceedings. I await the Government’s response.
My Lords, I will come to the amendments in a moment but, since we have had a number of references to the old detained fast-track scheme, I will start by saying a word about that.
Obviously we considered carefully the legal challenges to the detained fast-track. We are confident that the new accelerated detained appeals route will ensure fairness as well as improving speed. It is right to say that the courts have been clear, in upholding the principle, that an accelerated process for appeals made in detention, operated within certain safeguards, is entirely legal. We believe that the new accelerated detained appeals route will contribute significantly to the timeliness with which appeals can be decided. We will be able to remove swiftly people found not to be eligible to remain while those people with valid claims can be released from detention more quickly, which is also important.
So far as the Tribunal Procedure Committee is concerned, the Bill sets out a clear policy intent but, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, says, changes to tribunal procedure rules are for the TPC to draft and are subject to its statutory consultation requirements and procedures. We have already begun to engage with the TPC on the elements of the Bill that will require tribunal rules to be made or amended and will continue to do so as the Bill progresses and passes into law.
I turn to the amendments before the Committee. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and, in his absence, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for Amendment 97. I understand the motivation behind it. It is right that appeals made from detention should be dealt with in a timely way so that, as I have said, people are not deprived of their liberty for longer than necessary, but we recognise that not all appeals made from detention will be suitable for the accelerated detained appeals route. So Clause 26 specifies that if a decision is certified as suitable for an accelerated detained appeal, in those circumstances the Secretary of State must consider that any appeal to the decision is likely to be disposed of expeditiously. Importantly, the tribunal may remove a case from the accelerated detained appeals route if that is the only way to ensure that justice can be done in a particular case.
If the Secretary of State considers that any appeal of a decision is likely to be disposed of expeditiously, this suggests that the Secretary of State would expect the tribunal to take the view that, in this case, justice can be done within the accelerated detained appeal timeframes. But, ultimately, the tribunal has the discretion set out in subsection (5). It is therefore not necessary to amend the clause to specify that the Secretary of State must also consider whether any appeal could be resolved within the time limit without giving rise to injustice or fairness. That would be implicit in the Secretary of State’s decision that any appeal would be likely to be disposed of expeditiously. I can assure the Committee and state clearly that this will form part of the Secretary of State’s consideration.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his Amendment 98. To a certain extent, it covers ground we canvassed earlier. We will ensure, through regulations and guidance, that only suitable cases will be allocated the accelerated route. The requirements of the Equality Act, including protected characteristics, will form part of that consideration. I should clarify at this point that the regulations will not include provision for certification procedures, as was referred to in the department’s memorandum. We have written to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on this point.
Cases will be assessed on whether they are likely to be able to be decided fairly within the shorter timeframe, and individuals will be assessed for removability as well as vulnerability and other factors that may affect their ability to engage with an accelerated process. That, together with subsection (5), sets out that appropriate safeguards are in place. I therefore invite the noble and learned Lord not to move that amendment.
On Amendment 99, judicial discretion to remove cases is an important safeguard, as I have just said. Clause 26(5) provides that an appeal should be removed only when there is no other way of securing justice. The drafting makes it clear the Government’s intention that appeals should remain in the accelerated detained appeals route, where possible, to ensure that they are resolved in a timely way. I underline the point that that does not cut across ultimate judicial discretion. It invites the tribunal to make use of other case management mechanisms that may be more appropriate in a particular case than outright removal of the appeal from the accelerated route. Ultimately, that is at the tribunal’s discretion and is its decision.
Turning to Clause 27, protection or human rights claims that are certified as clearly unfounded are those that are so clearly without substance that they are bound to fail. The refusal of such claims can currently be appealed after the person has left the UK. By contrast, there is no right of appeal against the rejection of further submissions received after a protection or human rights claim has previously been refused, where those submissions do not create a realistic prospect of success. That of course is right: there should not be a right of appeal unless there is something of real substance for the tribunal to consider. This clause removes the out-of-country right of appeal under Section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 for those whose protection or human rights claims are certified as clearly unfounded and bound to fail. That brings it into line with how we treat further submissions that have no realistic prospect of success, and that, I suggest, is entirely right and proper. It will apply only to claims that are certified after the clause has come into effect.
I should be clear that removing the right of appeal does not prevent a person applying for a judicial review to challenge a certification decision. In practice, a right of appeal is rarely used; normally, judicial review is the avenue that people choose, and that also provides an effective safeguard.
For those reasons, I respectfully ask noble Lords in whose names the amendments stand, or on whose behalf they are speaking, not to press their amendments.
I may not have been listening as attentively as I should have been, but if the Minister has already said it I ask him to repeat the criteria under which the Secretary of State will make the decision that he or she considers that the appeal is likely to be disposed of quickly, which was a question I asked. Another point rises from something he said—that the clause now sets an extremely high bar for an appeal to be released from the scheme, and provides that it can be done only where
“it is the only way to secure that justice is done.”
Am I not right in saying that this has been amended by the Government during the Bill’s passage, and that the original language permitted the release of a case if the tribunal
“is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to do so”?
Why is it no longer the case that “the interests of justice” are a good enough reason to take action?
I shall reply to the second point first, if I may. The language in Clause 26(5) is essentially the same language as in Clause 23(7).
Is it the same or essentially the same? My understanding, and I may be wrong, is that the Bill now says that
“it is the only way to secure that justice is done”,
where previously it said
“that it is in the interests of justice to do so”.
They may be similar but they are not the same words.
My Lords, I think we are at cross-purposes. I was not saying that the language had not changed; I was saying that the test in Clause 26(5) is the same test as in Clause 23(7). On the question of whether the language has changed, I think the noble Lord is right. I will write to confirm the position—I do not want to get it wrong at the Dispatch Box—but I think there was a change in this clause. The test as set out is entirely proper. Is the only way that justice can be done to take the case out of this tribunal? If that is the only way justice can be done, it ought to be done. If this tribunal therefore, by obvious logic, can deal with the case justly, it should do so.
On the first question, I am not sure how much more I can say. The Secretary of State must consider, in order to certify a case as suitable for an accelerated detained appeal, that any appeal to that decision would be likely to be disposed of expeditiously and that the other conditions are met. In coming to that conclusion, the Secretary of State would obviously have to look at all relevant factors. I am not sure that I can take it much further than that, but let me look again at the noble Lord’s question in Hansard. If I can add anything more, I will do so, so he is in possession of everything I can say before we look at it again—no doubt on Report.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord again for his detailed responses. On the first point, on Amendment 97, I just hope that we do not find ourselves back in litigation. He asserts that the Bill avoids the pitfalls that the Court of Appeal found in 2015 and that the Tribunal Procedure Committee found later. Let us hope so, because obviously, resorts to litigation will also be something that gums up the system, which the Home Office already says is broken. Time will tell if this is going to stay as it is.
On Amendment 99, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right. If my memory serves, the wording has changed since the Bill was in the other place. Certainly, the JCHR would suggest that wording that says that the tribunal “must”—not just “may”—if the interests of justice and fairness require it, take an appeal out of the accelerated detained system is stronger than the wording that is there at the moment. It says that the tribunal “must” if—and it is a broader test—it is in the interests of fairness and justice. It is a better test, and a fairer and more just test, so I am disappointed that the Minister does not like that amendment—although I guess I am not terribly surprised. On that note, I can only withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 97 withdrawn.
Amendments 98 and 99 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27 agreed.
House adjourned at 8.56 pm.