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Illegal Migration Bill

Volume 830: debated on Monday 12 June 2023

Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

Clause 29: Entry into and settlement in the United Kingdom

Amendment 98ZA

Moved by

98ZA: Clause 29, page 36, line 13, at end insert “or another international agreement to which the United Kingdom is a party”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment ensures that due regard is given to other international agreements when indefinite leave to remain is considered by the Secretary of State under Clause 8AA(5).

My Lords, I am going to do two things that the Government Chief Whip does not like. First, I am going to take a little time over my remarks in moving this amendment. Secondly, I am going to read my speech, because these are very complicated matters in Clauses 29 to 36 and I want to be sure that I am covering what are quite dense political points. What we are doing at the moment is not just a question of opining on an issue of the day; we are actually analysing crucial legal provisions in a piece of legislation so I do not apologise.

I shall speak once in a single contribution covering my clause stand part on every clause in this section of the Bill and my Amendments 98ZA and 98EA to Clauses 29 and 35 respectively. The clauses are extremely important and, in my view, regrettable provisions. They are pernicious in depriving refugees who ever met the four conditions in Clause 2 of any chance, long term, of integrating into and contributing to our society by denying them any prospect of settlement or citizenship, with few exceptions. British citizenship enables a person to live and work in the UK permanently, vote, hold public office and participate fully in British life in a way that no other type of status allows.

The amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, focus specifically on those entitled to various kinds of British citizenship who need to register to secure recognition of that, and I pay tribute to their work on this, which I know has a particular focus on children.

I am taking a global view of the operation of this section of the Bill, whether on entry, leave to remain or any kind of citizenship, whether by registration or naturalisation, because the issues are interrelated. The clauses impose lifelong prohibitions on lawful re-entry or gaining leave to remain in the UK and on grants of citizenship, as opposed to the maximum 10-year re-entry ban under the current Immigration Rules. They are an extension of the whole deterrence agenda and are in conflict with several international obligations. The clauses breach Article 8 of the ECHR and the right to private and family life because they are axiomatically disproportionate. A blanket ban allows for no individual consideration whatever, such as in no possible circumstances could you ever be granted status. The UK has, for instance, certain positive obligations under Article 8 to allow family reunification, such that failure to allow a relevant individual to reunite with their family members by entering or settling in the UK could breach those obligations. The breach of Article 8 ECHR could even escalate to a breach of Article 3, which bans torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. It is also unclear, as a practical matter, where the Home Secretary has determined that a human rights claim or asylum claim is inadmissible by virtue of Clause 4, how an individual could apply to the Secretary of State for an exception to be made in their case. Perhaps the Minister could put me right on that point.

The Bill is in a multitude of ways incompatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects the right of children to a nationality, prohibits discrimination and requires that the child’s best interests are counted as a primary consideration in actions concerning them. The Bill is also incompatible with current UK law, such as the Children Act 1989.

The JCHR, which I thank for its excellent report published yesterday—in which, as I am no longer on the committee, I had no part—highlights the legal problems with the Home Secretary’s discretionary exception-making powers. Giving her discretion to act in accordance with the UK’s international obligations also means giving her power to act in breach of them, and a refusal to exercise discretion may not be capable of an effective challenge. The UNHCR says:

“In order to bring this section of the Bill into line with the UK’s obligations under international law, the exceptions to the ineligibility for all forms of leave and for citizenship should be based on compliance … with European Convention on Human Rights and other international agreements and those decisions should not be left to the discretion of the Secretary of State”.

Where a breach of the UK’s international obligations would otherwise occur, the Home Secretary should surely be under a duty to make an exception, rather than have a discretion to do so. If a person entered the UK by irregular means but could not, for whatever reason, be removed, Clause 29 in conjunction with Clause 4 would prevent them from regularising their stay in the UK, leaving them in perpetual immigration limbo and would of course be the prelude to their having no chance of access to citizenship. Depending on the length of the delay and the private and family ties they have generated during that delay, this could violate the UK’s positive obligations under Article 8 of the ECHR, the refugee convention, the convention against statelessness and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to name but the most obvious ones.

UNHCR comments that, as at present the UK is effectively unable to remove asylum seekers to third countries:

“It is entirely foreseeable—and in Clause 29-36, expressly foreseen—that many refugees and stateless people who will be ineligible for any form of leave to remain will nonetheless remain in the UK for extended periods of time, if not indefinitely, trapped ‘on the margins’ of society”.

Throughout proceedings on the Bill, beginning with Second Reading, many of us have raised this worry about people being left in limbo. Because we lack the impact assessment from the Government, we all have to go on the one from the refugee commissioner, which estimates that there could be 200,000 people within three years, marginalised, in limbo, destitute—really healthy for our society.

Even if the Home Secretary exercised her discretion to grant some form of leave eventually, anyone who had ever been subject to the removal duty would be permanently ineligible from becoming a British citizen through several of the main routes available under the British Nationality Act 1981. However, Article 34 of the refugee convention requires contracting states as far as possible to

“facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees”.

The impact on children of a lifelong prohibition on re-entry or gaining leave to remain could be particularly severe and is difficult to reconcile with the UK’s international and domestic obligations. Consideration of the best interests of an individual child is absent from Clause 29, but how can a blanket ban be in the best interests of a child for the purposes of either Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or, domestically, the Children Act 1989 or Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009?

The Government have acknowledged that children affected by this Bill

“will rarely qualify for citizenship”

if they or a relevant family member are subject to Clause 2. The JCHR considers that this seems to contravene Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the discrimination or punishment of a child on the basis of the status of or activities of their parents or guardians. Where the child, as will of course be the case, will have had no control over their parents or the decisions which led to them arriving in the UK irregularly, the automatic imposition of a lifelong ban which they then have to convince the Home Secretary to reverse seems to fall within the definition of a punishment. Can the Minister tell me how Clause 29 is compliant with the Supreme Court case of Zoumbas and subsequent case law on the issues concerning children’s best interests in an immigration context? How can routine application to children of a blanket ban on entry and leave to remain without consideration of their particular circumstances possibly be lawful?

I am on my last page. The Home Secretary’s discretion under Clause 29 when deciding whether to lift a ban on limited leave to remain has to be exercised so as to avoid a breach of the ECHR or any other international agreement to which the UK is a party but, in a similar situation with regard to a grant of indefinite leave, only conformity with the ECHR is said to be relevant. Perhaps the Minister can explain the contrast between those two situations in Clause 29, because I have not managed to pin down the rationale. My Amendment 98ZA in any case adds in other international agreements so as to align the two legs of Clause 29 on leave to remain.

Many children, either because they arrived unaccompanied as a small child or because removal has not been possible in practice, may be born or spend their entire childhood here and have a solely British identity. The Bill would mean previously acceptable routes to citizenship, such as the discretionary route or the settled route, being either blocked or fundamentally altered. The 10-year route would be possible in theory but, for children whose parents were irregular entrants, those parents could be prohibited from obtaining leave to remain, citizenship and employment, thus creating instability and poverty in the child’s life.

The Bill would also put stateless children at significant risk. If a relevant family member was an irregular entrant subject to Clause 2, they and the stateless child would be subject to mandatory removal, jeopardising the child’s years of residency and potentially condemning the child to a lifetime without citizenship. Clause 35 as originally introduced would in fact have allowed the Home Secretary to make an exception and grant nationality if there were compelling circumstances or it was necessary to comply with the UK’s obligations under not just the ECHR but any other international agreement to which the UK is a party. However, unaccountably, that latter part has been removed, risking the UK being in breach of its legal obligations under those other international agreements.

Even if ECHR grounds are not established, the UK’s legal obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child may be breached under the prohibition of discrimination or punishment of a child on the basis of the activities of their parents; I have referred to this. This backwards redrafting appears to have eliminated an avenue for stateless people, refugees and others to obtain British nationality in reliance on the refugee convention, the statelessness conventions and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Can the Minister explain, therefore, why the Government have narrowed the available exceptions between the original draft of the Bill, as considered in the other place, and the Bill as it came to this House? I hope that, unless a convincing answer can be given, this House will see fit at a later stage to seek to restore the grounds for making exceptions under Clause 35 to the version introduced in the other place; namely, on the grounds of both the ECHR and any other international agreement.

I hope that I have explained sufficiently why these Benches have tabled amendments and clause stand part notices, which would remove all the clauses in this part of the Bill and at least bring the Home Secretary’s exercise of discretion in line with international law. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to speak to a number of amendments in this group in my name; namely, Amendments 98A to 98H. I also oppose Clauses 33 and 34 standing part; those notices stand in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and I have added my name to them. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for each of my amendments and the clause stand part notices. This is a coherent suite of amendments: they do one thing but are necessary to do that thing throughout a whole section of the Bill that, in essence, covers Clauses 30 to 36, which stand together as a form of deprivation. I am grateful to Amnesty for its assistance in drafting these amendments; I should also say right at the outset that I am grateful to the Minister, my noble friend Lord Murray, for the time he gave to a meeting in advance for us to discuss them.

The essence of what is happening is that the Bill has a two-step deterrence mechanism. It is frankly and openly deterrent, designed to deter people from setting off on a certain course. The first step in that deterrence, and to my mind a very powerful one, is the prospect of rapid removal from the United Kingdom to another country. Coming on top of the money that people have paid, as they have in many cases, to cross the channel or for whatever their mode of arrival, I would have thought that the prospect of immediate removal is a very significant deterrent indeed.

However, the Bill does not stop at that. In Clauses 30 to 36 it adds a further level of deterrence. That is a denial of—a ban on—acquiring UK citizenship. That ban falls into two distinct parts: one is a ban on acquiring citizenship by way of naturalisation and the other is a ban on acquiring citizenship by way of registration. While the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, spoke in broad terms about these clauses—equivalent to taking a mallet to them—noble Lords will realise that I am getting narrower and narrower. Perhaps I am approaching this more with a scalpel, because I am concerned with the question not of naturalisation but of registration.

The first reason is that naturalisation is a concession granted by the state to foreign nationals to allow them to become British. Except in very limited circumstances, we have no international obligation to grant naturalisation to people; it is entirely a matter for our Parliament and the laws that we make. It is inevitable that Parliament will impose conditions on who it allows to be naturalised; indeed, we already impose conditions, such as passing examinations, going through certain procedures, residence requirements, and so on. It is inevitable that Parliament will impose conditions on naturalisation and, if Parliament chooses to impose this condition, whether we like it or not, one might object to it politically, but it is not a great constitutional matter. Noble Lords will have noticed that my amendment does nothing to limit the Secretary of State’s power—indeed, duty—to remove persons from the jurisdiction who qualify under the four criteria set out in Clause 2.

This brings us down narrowly to the question of registration. Registration is not a concession granted by the state. It is a process that was, in fact, introduced shortly after the Second World War by the Attlee Government to allow people who are already British to register that nationality because it is not patent or obvious on the surface. The laws of citizenship are complex; people fall between the cracks. The history of Empire and Commonwealth means that people sometimes have difficulty demonstrating their British nationality or their UK citizenship because they have been born in other countries or documents are not always available. It is an evidence-based process, so it is a matter of showing the evidence, proving the descent and providing a certain level of documentation. Then it is for the authorities to make a decision based on that evidence, on a balance in some cases, on whether the person in question is entitled to British citizenship—not whether they may apply for it, not whether it may be given to them as a concession, but whether they are already British. It is this process that the Bill wishes to see people banned from pursuing.

Not all routes to the registration of British citizenship are eliminated by the Bill but four routes are specified. Each has its own clause, which is why a number of amendments are necessary to separate them out. They relate to British citizenship, British Overseas Territory citizenship, British overseas citizenship, and a very small group, if it exists at all, known as British subjects. It is impossible to say how many people would fall into these categories; it probably is not a very large number, but we know that a large percentage of them are likely to be children. I am not going to dwell on that further at the moment because I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, is going to make some comments in that regard.

This raises a paradox and a question of principle. The paradox is that we will have deported from this country people who might, at a later stage, be able to demonstrate that they had a right of access to this country. We are depriving them of the ability to demonstrate that they had that right of access, though they may not have known it—documents and evidence may not have been available—at the time that they were deported. Therefore, the Secretary of State would have been wholly excused in not knowing it either—why would the Secretary of State have known it if the person did not know it? It is a very odd paradox that it works reflexively, so to speak, but does not allow a correction of that reflexive punishment.

I hope I anticipate correctly that one of the things my noble friend the Minister might say is, “Do we really want, as British citizens, people who would behave in such an indecent way as to turn up on Dover beach in a small boat? Surely they should have applied in the correct and appropriate way”. But that goes to the heart of the principle: that time and again we find this Home Office mentality that British citizenship to which one is entitled is a reward for good behaviour. It is not. British citizenship to which one is entitled can never be a reward for good behaviour.

My argument is fairly straightforward. These provisions are unnecessary because the deterrent effect of deportation seems to me sufficient. Not only are they unnecessary but they are paradoxical in a slightly bizarre way, because they prevent someone acquiring something that they are entitled to but which, in so acquiring, would have nullified the original sin, so to speak. Just as much, the provisions cheapen through their mentality British citizenship. If something to which one is entitled is little better than a library ticket or a voucher for sweeties then what really are we saying about British citizenship?

If the Government wanted to accommodate some of the concerns raised in your Lordships’ Committee over the past few days, this would be the perfect item for my noble friend to accommodate. It would have no detrimental effect on the operation of the Bill, it would strengthen notions of British citizenship as something valuable, enduring and an entitlement, and it would please many noble Lords in the Committee.

My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 98I on the status of Hong Kongers with British national (overseas) status. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who cannot be in his place this evening, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans —I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham may be deputising for him—and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for signing this amendment. I particularly thank the Hong Kongers who have talked to us, Amnesty International and the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens for their assistance. In the spirit of co-operation, I wrote to the Minister last week setting out the problem that many BNO passport holders face to give him advanced notice.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, talked about the amendments that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, have tabled as focusing right down. I am going even further down to one highly specific group where a problem has emerged which seems to breach the British Nationality Act. I hope to be proved wrong and that the Minister can give us some assurances, but the experience of these BNO nationals who have had children born in the UK recently, most of whom are under five years old, is that they are being told by government officials and staff that their children must apply to Chinese diplomatic missions for Chinese travel documents as they are not entitled to any other form of travel document provided in the UK because their parents are not yet full British citizens, even though they are BNO nationals who are waiting to complete the necessary time before applying for settled status and thereafter, as is their right under the law, becoming full UK citizens. Even if that were not the case—if for any reason their parents did not go for that—these children, because they are born here, would be entitled to apply for UK citizenship after being here for 10 years. One official told a Hong Konger parent that their child would have to take the UK citizenship test.

That is clearly mad. Whatever Border Force and Home Office immigration officials are saying, it is utterly confusing. This is a small community who relied on the United Kingdom, which ran their country for many years and allowed the status of BNO to signify that we accepted that status, with everything else that follows from it, including the right to settled status and, in the slightly longer term, the right to UK citizenship.

To be clear, Section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act provides the child with the right to be registered as a British citizen if either parent becomes settled or a British citizen. To be generous, perhaps this is confusion among officials about the gap before the parents are recognised as being settled. However, that application must be made before the child turns 18. Section 1(4) provides the child with the right to be registered as a British citizen if the child remains resident in the UK until the age of 10. Some absences during those first 10 years are permitted. I am saying that because the officials are also telling these parents that if their children leave the UK, they will not be entitled to anything, which is contrary to the British Nationality Act.

Registration under either of these is by right. It is not for the Home Secretary’s discretion. If the requirement is to exercise that the rights are met, the Home Secretary is required to register the child as a British citizen. Can the Minister confirm the earliest point at which a child born in the UK to a BNO national en route to settlement can expect to be able to secure their own connection to the UK, and by what means? Surely the answer is in Section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act 1981.

There is another related matter. There are dependents of those with BNO passports who arrived with HKSAR passports before the current BNO scheme was fully devised. For some, their passports are likely to expire before they achieve their five-year route to settlement. At the moment, they are getting the same response from immigration officials as parents with newborn children regarding their status—that they should approach the Chinese authorities for travel documents. It seems that for dependents with HKSAR passports there is another gap in the system. Quite often these are vulnerable people, sometimes elderly dependents or parents who have come with their children. They are not expecting to return to Hong Kong now.

There is another important point. Many of the Hong Kongers who have arrived here under this status are here because they are perceived as dissidents in Hong Kong under the new regime. Yesterday, in Southampton, two Hong Kongers were attacked by three pro-Chinese Communist Party men, allegedly Chinese students at the University of Southampton, where this happened.

We know, because of the behaviour of the Chinese consulate in Manchester some months ago, that these people are at real risk of attack. For any UK official to tell them to go and get documents from the Chinese is the most extraordinary thing I have ever heard. So I am looking forward to hearing from the Minister and hope that officials need to be briefed. If that is not the case, perhaps he could set out exactly why not. But most importantly, I wonder whether the Minister will meet with me, other signatories to my amendment and some BNO passport holders to further discuss this issue, so that the Home Office understands what is going on.

My Lords, I rise to speak in support of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and also in the clause stand part debates, to which I was pleased to add my name. He has made the case so clearly and powerfully that I need say only a few words, but I do want to emphasise the significance of these amendments, from the perspective of both citizenship—the practical and symbolic importance of which we debated last year during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill—and of children, who are, as we have heard, the main victims of these clauses that deny citizenship rights in perpetuity.

As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, said in the Supreme Court, the “intrinsic importance of citizenship” should never be played down. I thus agree with the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, of which I am a patron, and Amnesty that the provisions are “profoundly misconceived and harmful”. A theme running through our proceedings has been the Bill’s failure to give primary consideration to the best interests of children, as required by the UN convention and Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. The Bill’s citizenship provisions, which really have no place in a Bill focused on irregular migration, target children in a way that is both discriminatory and punitive. Not surprisingly, this is of profound concern to the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, which advises that this is a

“fundamentally discriminatory approach to citizenship acquisition”

and potentially, as we have already heard, in breach of Articles 8 and 14 of the ECHR. Babies and children will be subject to a “harsh and life-determining penalty” for an immigration breach when they were minors.

Of course, it is deemed to be immaterial that the breach was due to their parents’ rather than their own actions. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission warns that the provisions risk discriminating against a child for the actions of a parent, contrary to Article 2 of the UNCRC—a warning echoed in the JCHR report. I also congratulate the JCHR on getting this out so quickly, especially as the Home Secretary apparently did not answer until the last second. In fact, we had already started in Committee before the committee received her reply to its questions, sent some time ago, I believe.

The UNHCR makes a similar point in arguing that punishing a child for the actions of a parent in this way runs counter to Article 34 of the refugee convention, Article 32 of the 1954 convention, and Articles 3 and 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is an example of how the Bill puts at risk the safety and welfare of children.

I will just give an example—a hypothetical example of how it might work—from the Project and Amnesty. Thomas is brought to the UK as a child. He is so neglected or abused by his parents that the local authority is compelled to apply for, and is granted, a full care order. He is now growing up in the care of the UK state, and his future properly now lies here, meaning that he may be registered as a British citizen under Section 3(1). However, if his entry to the UK was without permission, he will be permanently excluded from his citizenship rights by Clause 31(2). You can hardly blame the child for what has happened.

Both the UNHCR and the JCHR argue that Clause 35 —which, as we heard, gives the Secretary of State the power not to treat a person as ineligible for British citizenship if this is necessary to comply with the ECHR—should be not discretionary but based on compliance or otherwise with the ECHR. The PRCBC and Amnesty argue that the link here is inappropriate —they may well be right—but, if it is going to be made, it should revert to the original wording, as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in Amendment 98EA. The JCHR expresses puzzlement as to why the Government chose to narrow the available exceptions originally listed, thereby risking contravening international law obligations other than those arising from the ECHR. So, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked, can the Minister now explain the justification for doing so?

In conclusion, once again this Government are showing disregard for the importance of citizenship and for the best interests of children. As they have made one welcome concession in this area, I hope that they will accept the strength of the case for removing entitlement to citizenship entirely from the Bill, or, at the very least—and it is the very least—reverting to the original wording of Clause 35.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for tabling Amendment 98I, and I thank Amnesty International and the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens for their steadfast support for those who wish to register as British citizens. My friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who added his name, was here earlier in the day but was unable to stay through to the evening.

This amendment aims to tackle a matter of great significance that affects the lives of many individuals residing in the UK under British national overseas visas. They include many people from Hong Kong who are rightly entitled to British citizenship but face serious uncertainty about their legal status. Many Hong Kongers have reported appalling responses from immigration officials regarding their children born here, being told that they cannot have any travel documentation and even querying whether they are allowed to become British citizens in the future.

We all know the turmoil and uncertainty that has plagued the people of Hong Kong in recent years—many have been subjected to unimaginable hardships, fearing for their safety and the future of their families—so it is concerning that so many face anxiety about the citizenship status of their children. The people of Hong Kong have shown immense courage and resilience against Beijing’s totalitarian regime, and many of those who have come to the UK face profound challenges, including concern about the safety and security of their families living abroad. The nature of the treatment of protesters and dissidents by the Chinese Communist Party means that many of them are now permanently settling in the UK. This amendment is, simply, testament to our support for the people of Hong Kong, and it ensures that their status is not subject to further confusion.

All the way through Committee, it has appeared that the Minister and his team have set their face against accepting any amendments whatever. Here, I suggest, are two—the well and clearly argued one from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and this one from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton—on which they could really give something tonight.

My Lords, as noble Lords will see, my name is attached to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I support it. I am a patron of both Hong Kong Watch and another human rights organisation, The 29 Principles, relating to what is happening in Hong Kong and China. I, too, have been lobbied by many young people and Hong Kong families here, who have fled because of the threats to their safety back in Hong Kong. They face great difficulties and uncertainties around the status of their children. I will not rehearse all of the arguments that noble Lords have heard.

Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, make an eloquent argument about the whole business of citizenship, and listening to my noble friend Lady Lister, I support this clause stand part proposition. Our special relationship with Hong Kong, and our special duties and responsibilities concerning those people, should be at the forefront of this Government’s mind.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 95EA in the name of my noble friend Lady Ludford. The amendment seeks to ensure that all UK obligations under EU law are considered when persons are considered for ineligibility in terms of the rights to entry or citizenship.

As my noble friend said, the consideration of rights under the ECHR raises a number of concerns, such as in relation to Articles 2, 3 and 8. This includes, for example, the right to family reunion, the right for individual circumstances to be considered, and even the rights of safety and not to be tortured. The need to consider the best interests of children is a priority under the ECHR as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indeed, the Government have acknowledged that children affected by the Bill will rarely qualify for citizenship, so it is difficult to see how provisions in the Bill are in the best interests of children, as required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The right to citizenship is the means by which an individual is able to construct a life, settle, earn a living and feel at home in their circumstances. However, individuals fulfilling Clause 2 conditions will be denied those things. They will most likely be kept in a form of limbo, waiting to be moved elsewhere. Ineligibility for citizenship is particularly important for children, who, in effect, will be denied a future by this Bill through no fault of their own.

The Bill does not comply with many of the UK’s international obligations and penalises the most vulnerable and threatened people. The safeguards of ministerial discretion to protect people from breaches of international law are inadequate, as the report of the JCHR makes clear in its recommendations. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to those recommendations.

We have heard from noble Lords some of the punitive measures in the Bill, so how could any of us support what the Government propose in terms of treatment of children? How can it be right to punish children for the activities of their parents? That is unjust and insupportable. To flout international law is deplorable, as it condemns many who have already suffered to more injustice. The Joint Committee has exposed the inadequacy of the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will consider its recommendations.

As others have said, the systematic wrecking of long-supported safeguards for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers is totally unacceptable. The potential for the contravention of international obligations has been clearly established by the JCHR, and is the basis for Amendment 98EA and many other amendments in this part of the Bill, which deserve our support. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Ludford has fully explained our reasons why Clauses 29 to 36 should not stand part of the Bill. The lifelong prohibition on status is disproportionate; extending the prohibition to children, who may not have had any choice in their irregular arrival in the UK, is both unfair and unlawful.

As my noble friends Lady Ludford and Lady Janke have said, these provisions will produce a permanent underclass who are unable to work and reliant on the state. We believe that these provisions are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989.

We also support the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and my noble friend Lady Brinton, on the narrow issues affecting citizenship by registration and British national overseas citizens, particularly the children of those settling here from Hong Kong and their inability to acquire travel documents.

We believe that Clauses 29 to 36 should not stand part of the Bill, and we also support my noble friend Lady Ludford’s Amendment 98EA, to ensure that the Home Secretary has to comply with all international agreements and not just the European Convention on Human Rights.

My Lords, as we have just heard, Clauses 29 to 36 place a permanent bar on those who fall within the scheme outlined in Clause 2 from lawfully travelling to the UK or securing settlement or British citizenship through naturalisation or registration; this is subject only to exceptions to comply with international agreements or where there are compelling circumstances. If the Bill fails to succeed in its aim of removing people, there will likely be a whole class of people stuck in the UK for extended periods without access to a system through which they can obtain lawful status. Therefore, they will be unable to work or rent a home. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, expanded on this point eloquently. To sum up the noble Baroness’s speech: she wants compliance with international law. We support her Amendment 98EA.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, gave a clear exposition of the Government’s intentions with this Bill, and on the different statuses on the second step, as he put it—the ban on acquiring citizenship by naturalisation but also by registration. As he said eloquently, registration is not a concession or a reward for good behaviour but an entitlement. His amendment seeks to address that point, with particular examples given in his speech.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also spoke about the specific cases of Hong Kongers and BNOs, and how this Bill could cut across—or seems to cut across—their potential rights. My noble friend Lady Lister, who added her name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, attacked the problem from the perspective of concern for children who could be subject to this ban because of the actions of their parents. As she rightly argued, this is not fair on those children; she wants to revert to the original wording of Clause 35.

We support the amendments in this group. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. It has been particularly illuminating; I have noted the quality of the speeches and hope that I can answer the questions that have been put in relation to these clauses.

Clauses 29 to 36 prevent a person who has entered the United Kingdom unlawfully, and meets the conditions in Clause 2, being able to lawfully re-enter the UK, secure settlement or become a British national through naturalisation or most registration routes. A person who arrives in the UK illegally should not be able to make the UK their home and eventually settle here. Settlement in the UK confers significant benefits, such as the freedom to study, work and access healthcare and public funds; of course, it is also a pathway to British citizenship which, in turn, confers further benefits.

Allowing someone who arrives in the UK illegally to settle clearly creates an incentive for people to make those dangerous journeys. It is a vital part of the deterrent effect that those categories should be included. This is because people taking advantage in that way is unfair. It is unfair on those who play by the rules and come here legally, it is unfair on those who are genuinely in need, as it constrains our capacity to help, and it is unfair on the British public.

Clause 29 precludes people who meet the conditions in Clause 2 from ever settling here and, once removed, being able to re-enter. This is achieved by preventing them from being granted any form of permission through the immigration system. We do, however, recognise there will be occasions when we will need to waive the bans and grant permission; for example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, noted, where not granting permission would contravene our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Clause 29 balances our need to disincentivise people from making dangerous journeys to the UK by ensuring that there is no benefit to be gained from entering the UK illegally, while recognising there may be a limited number of scenarios in which it is appropriate to grant permission. I put it to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that this is a proportionate and balanced provision. Therefore, I do not recognise her description of the Bill as “wielding a sledgehammer”.

Clause 30 sets out that a person will not be eligible for British citizenship, British Overseas Territories citizenship, British overseas citizenship and British subject status if they enter the UK unlawfully and meet the criteria in Clause 2. The ban will also apply to someone who enters a Crown dependency or British Overseas Territory unlawfully in a similar way. We have included the other types of British nationality as we do not think it is right that illegal entry should allow a person to acquire any form of British nationality, but also to prevent a person using it as a stepping stone to register as a British citizen. Illegal entry into the UK, a Crown dependency or an overseas territory will have the same effect. We do not want people to be able to enter illegally in any of those locations and use that as a way to acquire citizenship and, ultimately, a right to enter and live in the UK.

Clauses 31 to 34 set out the routes to which the citizenship ban will apply. The key citizenship route which will be affected is naturalisation, as my noble friend Lord Moylan noted. This is the main way in which adults born outside the UK can acquire British citizenship and British Overseas Territories citizenship. The ban will also apply to certain registration routes. However, those applying under provisions that address historical inequalities in British nationality law will not be affected. This includes people born before 1983 to British mothers, those who missed out on citizenship because their parents were not married or those applying on the route for descendants of Chagossians.

Clause 35 allows us to exempt a person from the citizenship ban if treating them as ineligible for citizenship would contravene our obligations under the human rights convention. This means that if a person can demonstrate that, for example, their right to a family or private life can be met only by us considering a grant of citizenship, we will not exclude them from applying. We do not think that acquiring citizenship will usually be essential to allow a person to have a private or family life in the UK; other options, such as leave to enter or remain, may satisfy that. However, in very exceptional cases where considering a grant of citizenship is needed to prevent us breaching our ECHR obligations, Clause 35 may apply. We will publish guidance for nationality caseworkers setting out how to assess human rights in the nationality context.

The amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Moylan would remove registration routes for British citizenship and British Overseas Territories citizenship from the ban so that it applies only to naturalisation. They would also remove the bans on becoming a British overseas citizen and British subject through registration. My noble friend Lord Moylan has described registration as an “evidence-based process”, with decisions not based on the Secretary of State exercising discretion. I am afraid to say that I disagree with my noble friend as this is not universally the case: some registration routes are dependent on ministerial discretion and there is no automatic entitlement.

Let me explain this further. As my noble friend Lord Moylan said, not all registration routes are included in the ban. Those that allow people to acquire British nationality they missed out on because of previous unfairness are not included; nor are the specific routes for children born in the UK or stateless persons. However, registration routes that rely on residence or specifically for children born outside the UK are included in the ban, as we expect people who want to become citizens to have followed a compliant pathway, including having entered lawfully.

For example, Section 4(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 allows people who already hold another form of British nationality to register as a British citizen on the basis of five years’ lawful residence in the UK. The residence requirements mirror those for naturalisation: the only significant difference between the routes is that other British nationals wanting to register under that route do not need to meet the knowledge of English and life in the UK requirements. Given that the residence requirements are the same as for naturalisation, it would be appropriate for them to be subject to the ban in the same way as naturalisation applicants. This is the route that BNOs can use if they come to the UK under our scheme and become settled: they can go on to apply for citizenship. It is right that those who apply and come through legal routes should have the right to become citizens, but we do not think it is right that those who enter unlawfully should benefit.

The registration routes for children who are subject to the ban include two routes for children born abroad to British citizens by descent. Both have a residence element: either that the parent lived in the UK for a period of three years before the child was born or the family lived in the UK for the three-year period before applying to register the child. We do not anticipate that children of British citizens would be brought to the UK on a small boat when there are routes available to them as family members, but should that happen, the child will not be able to register as a citizen.

The other child route that is included in the ban is registration of children at the Home Secretary’s discretion. The only statutory requirements are that the child is under 18 and is of good character if over 10. However, guidance sets out expectations about when a child will be registered. The normal expectation is that the child will be settled in the UK, and that the parents will be British, or at least settled. It is unlikely that children who enter the UK unlawfully would be able to meet the normal expectations of having a British or settled parent, being lawfully present and having completed a period of residence, as under the Government’s proposals, children who have entered illegally will be removed. The citizenship ban will, however, prevent a child being registered under this provision unless there are ECHR grounds. This fits with the Government’s intention to discourage parents from bringing children to the UK via dangerous methods, including crossing the channel in a small boat, and that such a child cannot become a British citizen and create a means for the family to stay.

My noble friend raised, quite rightly, the issue of compassionate cases. As I have said the ECHR exemption will allow us to consider registering, in rare and exceptional cases, where a person meets the statutory requirements and granting citizenship would be essential to allow them to exercise their family or private life.

I have two short questions. First, how can a child be culpable? The whole point of the Bill, as I understand it, is that people should not be encouraged to come by illegal means, they should not jump the queue, et cetera. We disagree about that, but none the less, in that conversation about culpability, how can a child be culpable? Secondly, why should the ECHR take on the slack of compassion? There are many members of the Minister’s Government who do not think we should even be signatories of the ECHR any more, and now the ECHR is being relied on for discretion and for slack and compassion. How can that sit well with this Government?

On the first point, there is no suggestion that these measures impute culpability in the way that the noble Baroness suggests. On the second point, I would have thought that the noble Baroness would approve of the fact that the statute relies upon the convention rights as being the pressure valve for exceptional circumstances in the way that I have described.

It may be that I have not quite understood what the noble Lord is saying, but the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and I specifically asked the kind of question that was posed by the JCHR. Why have the Government narrowed the reference down from the original wording of the clause to the ECHR, when originally it was to any other international agreement to which the United Kingdom was a party? Why has that gone?

The answer, which I will turn to in a moment, is that it was considered that greater clarity and concision was needed. In that respect, it is the Government’s view that the test set out in Clause 35 meets that requirement. That was the reason for the change.

Turning now to Amendment 98ZA—

Before my noble friend turns to that amendment, I am of course not a lawyer but really quite a simple soul, who is struggling to catch up in some ways with the things he has explained to us. But it seems—forgive me if I have grasped this entirely wrongly—that we are now talking about two quite separate Bills. In one Bill, if your pestilential foot is set upon English soil the Home Secretary, as the Secretary of State, has a duty to remove you forthwith. That duty having been satisfied, the question might arise in your mind: are you in fact entitled to registration as a British national on the facts of your case? I fully accept that a degree of discretion is always involved in judging these facts, because they will rarely be compelling either way. You would be doing this, presumably, from your new home in Rwanda or whatever country it is to which you have been safely deported.

On the other hand, the Bill my noble friend is describing is one through which these people will, having landed illegally, already have acquired some sort of settlement here—the Home Secretary, presumably, having failed entirely in the duty that we are imposing on her to remove them. They will be exploiting the advantages of that settlement and clocking up hours on the clock, qualifying increasingly for British nationality, which my noble friend thinks—I rather agree with him—is a little unfair because you are getting ahead of the queue by getting in illegally. Then the clock is running and you would be accumulating all the benefits. Which Bill are we discussing here? The Bill I thought I was discussing was one through which the vast majority of the people who would be making a claim for registration of British nationality, with very few exceptions, would already have been subject to the duty to remove. How many does my noble friend think will not have been subject to it?

I thank my noble friend for that contribution. The position, as he outlined in his speech, is that the deterrence effect takes its force from a number of sections in the Bill: the first, obviously, being the detention and removal, as he rightly identified; the second being the bans on the ability to settle or stay here, the idea being that that disincentivises people from entering illegally using dangerous routes. I do not accept that there are two Bills in the way that my noble friend identifies. The reality is that the question of registration of citizenship, which he raises, is unlikely to arise in as many cases as the naturalisation circumstance—I think we can agree on that—so it is natural that what we are talking about is probably an exceptional state of affairs, in any event. That is potentially why my noble friend perceives a dissonance between the deterrent effect and the two factors, but in fact there is no such distinction.

Amendments 98ZA and 98EA, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, seek to expand the circumstances in which the bans on settlement and citizenship are to be disapplied. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, also touched on this issue. We consider that the circumstances in which a grant of settlement or citizenship would be an appropriate remedy are wholly covered by the ECHR, so our view is that the addition of other international agreements is unnecessary, hence the amendment, as we have already canvassed.

I turn now to Amendment 98I tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. This seeks to provide a broader protection for those holding British national (overseas) status. We do not believe this is necessary. The clauses which prevent people from obtaining various forms of British nationality already do not mention British national (overseas) status. This is for the simple reason that no one has been able to obtain that status since 1997 and, consequently, there is no need to ban people from obtaining it should they arrive illegally.

We already have in place a dedicated migration route for people from Hong Kong and, as the noble Baroness knows, it has been a significant priority for the Government and the department to offer this route to British national (overseas) people from Hong Kong in response to the situation there. We have done a great deal for the citizens of Hong Kong and hope to continue to do so. As cited in my response to my noble friend, Lord Moylan, a route to citizenship exists under Section 4(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981. There should therefore be no reason for a person holding British national (overseas) status to arrive illegally in the manner which would mean they fall under this Bill’s provisions.

I was just going to posit to the noble Lord that some of these people having to flee are aged 16 and 17 and were involved in demonstrations and so on and then fled by unusual routes out of Hong Kong. Some of them are making their way via Europe to join family members here in the United Kingdom. Would they automatically, under this Bill, be deprived of ever joining their families?

I thank the noble Baroness for raising that. In fact, I was just turning to that very issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked a couple of specific questions about the children of BNO passport holders—the issue that the noble Baroness now raises again. These address issues which fall outside this Bill; none the less, I can advise the noble Baroness and others interested in this topic that dependants of BNO status holders who themselves do not hold BNO status do not need a valid Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport to renew their BNO visa. However, I am afraid that renewal of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports is not something the UK Government can assist with and until they qualify for British citizenship, such children are not eligible for a British passport.

The Government’s view is that this is not relevant to this clause, but I am, however, very interested in this topic and can entirely understand the concern that has been expressed. I would be content to meet the noble Baroness and perhaps the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and some BNOs to discuss this issue because it is obviously important. I suggest that this amendment is not the mechanism for us to discuss this, but I entirely understand that clarification and explanation is needed.

I am very grateful for the Minister’s answer. One of the reasons why I wanted to lay this probing amendment is that BNO paper-holders feel they are getting a clear message from Border Force and immigration officials that their children do not have that protected status. It is that hole that we are trying to get the answer to, and we have not had it yet. I am very grateful for the meeting, but they need to know because at the moment some of them are being told that their children have no rights and should have Chinese travel documents. If the Government’s officials are saying that, surely that is wrong.

My Lords, clearly this needs to be looked into and I hear what the noble Baroness says. After the conclusion of the Committee we can have that meeting, explore the issue and I can respond in full. I am certainly not unsympathetic to the points raised.

The benefits of permanent settlement and British citizenship should not be available to those who come to the UK illegally. These clauses serve to underline our core message that if you come to the UK unlawfully, you will not be able to build a life in this country. I commend Clauses 29 to 36 to the Committee and invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, our debate on this group has given me a new respect for nationality law, which is at least as confusing as I ever imagined. It has always been a rather “Here be dragons” subject for me; that has been fully confirmed by this debate. I need to try to make sense of my scribbles.

One thing still puzzles me: I do not really understand why the Government are excluding registration for some forms of British citizenship but not for others. I remain bemused by that; I shall have to read exactly what the Minister said in Hansard. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, grasped that explanation better than I did.

I have sympathy with the particular issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on registration. I happen to think that there is more commonality with the issue of excluding routes to naturalisation than the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, wishes to acknowledge or give any quarter to, but on the issue of registration he made some important points. I wish him well in his pursuit of those issues with the Minister, but I also believe that there are serious issues around excluding people from the right to remain and a route to citizenship.

I did not grasp the Minister’s explanation of why the phrase “other international agreements” was taken out by the Government. Why did you—I do not mean the Minister personally; I mean the Government and the Home Secretary—put it in the original draft of the Bill a few months ago and then take it out if it did not meet the tests of clarity and concision? I think that was the Minister’s explanation. I accept that taking out those few words makes the clause more concise, but I do not think that doing so makes it clearer because we are then left wondering how the Government are going to secure compliance with those other international agreements —including the refugee convention, the statelessness conventions and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—which are not referred to in the Bill.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the Minister tried to explain that hanging fast to the ECHR was some new discovery by the Government. As I said last week, we tend to find it quite confusing as to when the Government like the ECHR and when they do not. They appear to act rather fast and loose on this subject.

I applaud the probing amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Brinton. I hope that she gets a fruitful meeting with the Minister because, as she and other noble Lords said, this issue seems to be the subject of considerable muddle and is having a severe impact on people’s lives. It is giving them extra anxiety. They have had to leave home and come to this country, but now they are being given the runaround by Home Office staff.

I was left unclear, it has to be said, on the situation raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. What will happen to the dependants of BNO status holders who are having to leave Hong Kong irregularly and perhaps also arrive in this country irregularly? I am not clear whether we are sure about how their welfare and status will be assured. The Minister said that BNOs are not covered by this Bill, but if somebody who is not a BNO but is a dependant of one arrives in this country irregularly, surely they will potentially be subject to the Clause 2 duty to remove.

Also—and almost finally—the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, highlighted a very interesting contrast between the Government wanting a duty to remove people but wanting only a discretion to be fair to them in legal and human rights terms. That does not seem very consistent. So I end by saying that I still feel very firmly that the duties under Clause 29 and 35 should be expressed in terms of not a discretion but a duty to obey our international legal obligations under the ECHR and other international treaties that we have signed.

Very lastly, I flag to the Minister that I did not get an answer as to why there is that inconsistency within Clause 29. I cannot remember which way around it is, but it is about limited leave to remain and indefinite leave to remain, and for one of them the discretion covered only the ECHR and for the other it covers other international agreements. My amendment tried to address that. I do not know whether I will get an answer from the Minister—I do not expect him to pop up now and tell me—but perhaps he could find an opportunity to check whether he covered that point in his response. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 98ZA withdrawn.

Clause 29 agreed.

Clause 30: Persons prevented from obtaining British citizenship etc

Amendment 98A not moved.

Clause 30 agreed.

Clause 31: British citizenship

Amendments 98B and 98C not moved.

Clause 31 agreed.

Clause 32: British overseas territories citizenship

Amendments 98D and 98E not moved.

Clause 32 agreed.

Clauses 33 and 34 agreed.

Clause 35: Disapplication of sections 31 to 34

Amendment 98EA not moved.

Clause 35 agreed.

Clause 36: Amendments relating to sections 31 to 35

Amendments 98F to 98H not moved.

Clause 36 agreed.

Amendment 98I not moved.

Clause 37: Suspensive claims: interpretation

Amendment 99

Moved by

99: Clause 37, page 40, line 30, leave out “or citizen”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 5, line 38.

Amendment 99 agreed.

Debate on whether Clause 37, as amended, should stand part of the Bill.

I warned your Lordships that I would keep popping up this evening, but I am glad to say that the cavalry is coming to my assistance. On the Bench opposite there are all my legal heavyweight friends who are going to row in on this issue. In moving that Clause 37 should not stand part of the Bill, I shall speak similarly with regard to Clauses 38 to 42 and in support of my Amendments 114 and 115 as well as all the other amendments in this group.

At the moment, under existing law, a human rights claim would effectively suspend a claimant’s removal; the suspensive effect of a human rights claim is a crucial safeguard against individuals being removed to face human rights abuses before the validity of their claim has been established. As was referred to in earlier groups, we on these Benches believe that pursuing a claim from another jurisdiction is likely to be very difficult and in some cases impossible. We were talking about trafficking victims earlier, but I contend that it applies to anyone trying to pursue a claim from abroad. The European Court of Human Rights has held that the right to an effective remedy under Article 13, taken together with Articles 2 and 3, guarantees the ability to present an asylum claim effectively. We would say that you cannot do it effectively if you are outside the country.

Clause 4 of the Bill makes it clear that the Clause 2 duty on the Secretary of State to make arrangements for removal will still apply to a person making a claim that removal would violate their human rights. The continuing application of the duty means that, under the Bill, these claims would all be non-suspensive. The Bill provides narrow exceptions to this non-suspensive effect by establishing two categories of suspensive claims that prevent the removal of the claimant while they are ongoing: the serious harms suspensive claim and the factual suspensive claim. These are the only ways in which anyone who satisfies the Clause 2 conditions—whether they are seeking asylum, have been trafficked or have otherwise come without permission—would be able to challenge their removal before it takes place. Even a successful claimant will remain subject to the Secretary of State’s removal duty and prohibition on getting leave to enter or remain under Clause 29, as we have just been discussing, and will thus remain in a state of limbo regarding their immigration status—at least theoretically still awaiting removal—so it does not necessarily solve the problem. Most human rights claims will stay non-suspensive and have to be pursued from outside.

I turn to the test for these suspensive claims, which I think is where some of the amendments come in. The test established in the Strasbourg court is where substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person in question would face a real risk. However, this appears to mean that individuals who can establish a real risk of treatment contrary to Articles 2 or 3 but cannot establish that it is imminent would still be removed under this Bill and left to pursue their claims from overseas. The JCHR says, and we on these Benches agree, that this would likely breach the Government’s obligations under the ECHR—the convention to which the Government are newly converted.

Another problem is that a serious harm suspensive claim would have to contain compelling evidence that the serious harm condition is met. This appears to be a new evidential standard created by this Bill. Freedom from Torture told the JCHR that this amounts to

“an extremely high evidential threshold which may, in fact, be higher than ‘real risk’ or even ‘the balance of probabilities’. How an individual who has just fled persecution could provide evidence to this threshold is unclear”.

The next problem is that the Bill retains a power for the Secretary of State to make provision about the meaning of “serious and irreversible harm” in regulations. Our Constitution Committee considers that

“the implications of this definition are so significant that it should be amended only by primary legislation unless any delegated power to do so is limited to prevent fundamental risks of harm being removed from the definition”.

The committee supports my proposition that Clause 39 should be removed from the Bill or heavily circumscribed.

This is also the subject of criticism by the JCHR. Not only does the committee

“urge the Government to reconsider its decision to make human rights claims non-suspensive, and the extremely high threshold imposed to establish serious harm suspensive claims”

but it believes:

“The meaning of ‘serious and irreversible harm’ should not be open to amendment by regulations”


“Clause 39 should be removed from the Bill”.

Lastly, timeframes are the subject of my Amendments 114 and 115. In the Bill, the Government are imposing very tight timescales: the lodging of a claim within seven days following receipt of the notice, a decision within three days and appeal to the Upper Tribunal within six days. My amendments aim to increase both the claim and the decision deadlines to 30 days. All in all, my amendments in this group, with the support of other noble Lords, are designed to restore better fairness to the possibility of people appealing against removal. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to a number of amendments in my name in this group: Amendments 100, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107, 108, 109, 111 and 112, all of which are supported by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew, who is a co-signatory. I am grateful to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who has also supported one of them. I am also grateful to the Minister for a remote meeting with me to discuss my amendments, which I appreciated.

We are here dealing with the situation where a person claiming refugee status has been given a third country removal notice. That notice will be for removal to a country specified in Schedule 1, and the refugee claimant has a well-founded fear of persecution if they are removed to that country. Under the Bill, the removal notice can be challenged only by a serious harm suspensive claim. The serious harm condition is defined in Clause 38(3): the person claiming refugee status must, within a specified period called “the relevant period”,

“face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm if removed … to the country or territory specified in the third country removal notice”.

The majority of my amendments in this group focus on the inappropriateness of the requirement to show an imminent risk of “irreversible” harm within a specified period.

The first point to note is that, by way of general observation, whereas the serious harm suspensive claim focuses on the situation of an individual claiming refugee status, the well-established approach both internationally and under our own jurisprudence is to ask, in the case of a “particular social group” within Article 1A(2) of the refugee convention, whether the members of that group have a well-founded fear of persecution by virtue of being a member of that group.

Secondly, that change in approach is explained by the appearance, for the first time, of a requirement for an individual claiming refugee status to be able to resist removal to an otherwise unsafe country only if they can additionally show that they would personally suffer serious and irreversible harm. There is no such requirement in the refugee convention or in any jurisprudence of our own courts or, so far as I am aware, those of any other country.

Confusion is compounded by the reference to “suspensive” in serious harm suspensive claim, which indicates that this is, in some way, an interim situation. The actual situation is hidden in the complexity of the language used in the Bill and it is desirable to take this slowly, step by step.

Under the refugee convention, a person is a refugee if, among other things, they are a member of a particular social group under Article 1(A)(2) of that convention and if the members of that group have a well-founded fear of persecution. Under Rule 39 of the rules of the European Court of Human Rights and its jurisprudence, a person claiming to be a refugee can claim interim relief where, in the absence of such relief, there would be an imminent risk of irreparable damage to that claimant. To be emphasised here is that such interim relief is to protect the claimant refugee, who claims that their rights would otherwise be infringed.

In the Bill, however, the requirement to show an imminent harm becomes an additional requirement. Every member of a particular social group who has a well-founded fear of persecution has to prove that for their refugee status to be honoured by the United Kingdom.

We can see this if we look at what would happen in practice if, for example, a member of the LGBT community was served with a removal notice to a country in Schedule 1 that persecutes LGBT people, of which, as I said on a previous occasion, there are many. The LGBT person would make a serious harm suspensive claim, as that is the only way to challenge the removal notice under the Bill. If the Secretary of State rejected the claim, there would be a right of appeal to the Upper Tribunal. In order to succeed before the tribunal, the claimant refugee would have to show three things: first, membership of the particular social group comprising those in the LGBT community; secondly, that he or she, as a member of that social group, has a well-founded fear of persecution; plus, thirdly, that he or she has an imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm to him or her before the end of the “relevant period”, as defined—that is, time to make a human rights claim in relation to the removal notice, for it to be determined by the Secretary of State and for judicial review proceedings to be completed.

It can therefore be seen that, in the plainest contradiction of the convention, the Bill, in effect, rewrites the definition of a refugee to include an additional requirement of imminent and irreversible harm. I have to ask the Minister whether that is really the Government’s intention. There is, in fact, nothing suspensive about this at all, because the refugee status of the claimant would be established in the course of an appearance before the tribunal.

I turn to a different issue: what is irreversible harm, under the Bill? My Amendments 105 and 107 are directed to Clause 38(5)(c) and 38(7), which say, in essence, that the fact of the better healthcare in the United Kingdom than in the country or territory specified in the removal notice will not or is unlikely to constitute serious and irreversible harm. This is far too sweeping. I gave the example in my explanatory note to Amendment 105 of a gay man living with HIV/AIDS who is given a removal notice specifying a country or territory where there is no access to appropriate medication. To remove him to such a country might well result in death even if not within the “relevant period” as defined.

I ask the Minister: what would be the Government’s approach to that situation in the context of a serious harm suspensive claim? It is also to be noted in this context that the Home Office’s August 2016 asylum policy instruction on sexual orientation issues in asylum claims states that, among other things, lack of access to health services may give rise to discrimination amounting to persecution.

The second issue is this. The Supreme Court case of HJ (Iran) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which was reported in 2011, overturned the test applied by the Court of Appeal that a person would not qualify as a refugee if he or she would not be persecuted in their home country if they acted with discretion. The Supreme Court said that it was sufficient to qualify as a refugee for the purposes of the refugee convention if LGBT people who lived openly there would be liable to persecution. Will the Minister please confirm that there is nothing in the Bill, including particularly the provisions relating to serious harm suspensive claims, that would undermine that test as laid down by the Supreme Court?

Finally, and similarly, will the Minister confirm that there is nothing in the Bill, including particular provisions relating to serious harm suspensive claims, that would undermine or qualify the UNHCR’s guidance on internal flight or relocation alternative? That expression, as I am sure the Minister is well aware, refers to a specific area of the country in question where there is no risk of a well-founded fear of persecution, and where, given the particular circumstances of the case, the individual could reasonably be expected to establish himself or herself and live a normal life.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to those specific questions.

My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. I declare an interest as a former and retired Home Office lawyer and therefore there is a small pension that is being administered by some private company. The important point about that declaration is that when I was a Home Office lawyer in the 1990s, working on matters that included asylum, there was a moment when a particular failed asylum seeker who was removed was shot on arrival in their home country.

I make that point because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has made the detailed, forensic point so clearly, but as we move into this part of the Bill and start considering non-suspensive appeals, interim relief and what should happen to someone while there is a dispute about the safety of the place to which they are being sent, that is the story that hangs in my mind, and that is really the best contribution that I can make to the Committee’s thinking when we think about non-suspensive and suspensive appeals, and when we think in due course about my own group of amendments, which is about interim relief from domestic courts and international courts.

To facilitate the swift progress of the Committee I will do something that seems counterintuitive. The Government Chief Whip, who is returning to her place, gave us some very good advice about the Committee not liking reading. Which day was that on exactly? Was it Wednesday or Thursday? Was it this year or last year? I understand that point but this is not a filibuster; this is a very short, pithy quote from the JCHR report, which makes the point better than I could about what is wrong with the particular provisions dealt with in this group.

Noble Lords will find the quote on page 105 of the blockbuster JCHR report, which we will not all be able to read in its totality. Paragraph 333 says:

“Making human rights claims ‘non-suspensive’”—

non-suspensive means that you can appeal from the place you say are not safe in; it is perhaps not the place you say you will be shot but the place you might be sent to where you will be shot or otherwise persecuted—

“can only be consistent with our human rights obligations if pursuing those claims from the destination state is viable”.

This is from the JCHR, which is an all-party committee of both Houses. It continues:

“We are concerned that this has not been established for the states deemed safe for removals”.

That was one of the many excellent points made by the noble and learned Lord. It goes on:

“The threshold required to establish a suspensive claim based on serious harm under the Bill, and the requirement for ‘compelling evidence’ to support it”—

for those desperate refugees—

“puts at risk of removal those who have genuine human rights reasons why they should not be removed. Furthermore, allowing the Secretary of State to redefine ‘serious and irreversible harm’ by regulations opens up the possibility of increasing disparity between the protections against refoulement in domestic law and those to which the UK is committed in international law, including”—

the Minister’s favourite—

“the ECHR. We urge the Government to reconsider its decision to make human rights claims non-suspensive, and the extremely high threshold imposed to establish serious harm suspensive claims. The meaning of ‘serious and irreversible harm’ should not be open to amendment by regulations. Clause 39 should be removed from the Bill”.

My Lords, I have three amendments in this group: Amendments 101, 110 and 113. Two of these amendments, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has added his name, are about the meaning of words. They are words to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, drew attention in her opening remarks on this group.

Amendment 101 directs attention to the definition in Clause 38(3) of the serious harm condition. The Bill says that this requirement will be satisfied if the person faces a

“real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm if removed from the United Kingdom … to the country … specified in the third country removal notice”.

Amendment 113 directs attention to the requirement in Clause 41(5) that a serious harm suspensive claim must

“contain compelling evidence that the serious harm condition is met in relation to the person”

making the claim. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for drawing our attention to the reference in the JCHR report to the word “compelling” and its consequences.

So far as

“real, imminent and foreseeable risk”

is concerned, we suggest that that phraseology is unnecessarily complex. If a risk is imminent and foreseeable then one would say it must be a real risk and not a hypothetical one. Conversely, if the risk is real then it would follow that that is because it is imminent and foreseeable. These words are unnecessarily complex. It would be better, we suggest, to delete the words “imminent and foreseeable” or, alternatively, delete the word “real”. The real question is whether the word “real” adds anything if the other two words are satisfied.

As for the word “compelling”, there is an important question in addition to the fundamental point raised in the JCHR report as to what exactly “compelling”, in Clause 41(5), is dealing with. Clause 41(5) is telling the asylum seeker what his or her claim must contain. There are various requirements set out, and the first is that it

“must … contain compelling evidence that the serious harm condition is met”.

The first question is who is to judge that the evidence in that claim is compelling? The clause begins by telling us that the Secretary of State must consider the claim, before the end of the decision period, and make one of the following decisions:

“that the serious harm condition is met … or … that the serious harm condition is not met”.

The obscurity caused by the fact that that is set out in a separate subsection from subsection (5) is around what standard the Secretary of State is to apply in deciding that the evidence is compelling. That drives straight to the point raised in the JCHR’s report that this is a new, possibly very high standard and, if so, one that would be very difficult to reach. Normally, one would expect the standard in a matter of this kind to be on balance of probabilities. Is the position here that the Government are requiring that the condition be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt? If not, what is the word “compelling” telling us must be satisfied, and who is to form the judgment?

These are important questions to understand how the structure of this particular clause is intended to work. I hope the Minister can explain more fully how the Secretary of State is to apply his mind and whether the standard is, as has been suggested, a very high standard beyond the ordinary one of beyond reasonable doubt. Is it beyond even the standard of beyond reasonable doubt and not just the standard of the balance of probabilities?

The other amendment in this group is Amendment 110, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has added his name. This has to be read with the list of examples of harm that constitute serious and irreversible harm for the purposes of the Bill in Clause 38(4). We make no criticism of the examples set out in that subsection, all of which are entirely appropriate for inclusion on this list, and of course they borrow heavily from the European Convention on Human Rights itself. Our concern is directed to the power given to the Secretary of State by Clause 39(1) by regulation to amend Clause 38 to

“make provision about the meaning of ‘serious and irreversible harm’ for the purposes of the Act”.

The words “make provision about” are so wide; they are without any qualification whatever, and that raises serious doubts about the extent of the power and the circumstances in which it might be exercised.

We do not go so far as the JCHR has. We are seeking to qualify the power to at least make it clear that it cannot be exercised in a way to remove from the list any of the examples that are set out in Clause 38(4). We assume that that is not the intention, but it is a possibility because of the wide wording of the provision as it stands. The safer course is to make it absolutely clear that the power cannot be exercised in that way. Perhaps the Minister would be kind enough to give us a little more explanation as to the circumstances in which the power would be exercised and the extent of it. If it is not the intention to remove any of the examples set out in subsection (4), I would have thought that a proviso to make the exact position entirely clear would be perfectly acceptable. That is the point we make in Amendment 110.

My Lords, I will speak briefly to the amendments in this group. In so doing, I refer your Lordships to my entries in the register of interests, particularly as patron of the AIDS and HIV charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust.

I particularly support the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, who brilliantly explained the reasoning behind them. As he says in his explanatory statement to Amendment 105, the current wording of Clause 38(5)(c) is too wide and would preclude

“a human rights claim pursuant to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights”,

which the Government are suddenly clinging on to. It would also preclude a protection claim pursuant to the refugee convention. I am not a lawyer, so I will not dwell too much on those matters; however, I support the argument that what is proposed in this clause is not in conformity with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and not in accordance with the jurisprudence of the United Kingdom.

At the heart of this provision is the removal to the so-called safe countries in Schedule 1. As your Lordships will know, I am not alone in my concerns; they were discussed with great concern on the first and third days in Committee and today. Indeed, the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, tried to reassure me and others that the list was really an amalgam and that the countries, where people who might be subject to discrimination because they belong to a particular social group will be going, might perhaps say, “We don’t want them”. That is a wonderful hypothetical answer, but my reply is: what if a person who is HIV positive is sent to a country, such as Uganda, where that person, if they are lesbian, gay or bisexual, would have to say to their medical practitioner that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual? That medical practitioner, if they did not reveal that information to the Government, would face two years’ imprisonment, while the person receiving treatment themselves could be criminalised. That is just one country from a huge range of countries, not only around the world but particularly within the Commonwealth. Some 80% of the countries of the Commonwealth currently criminalise people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Because of the lateness, I will now take my place. But for the reason I have just cited, and many more, I heartily and unreservedly support these amendments, particularly those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.

My Lords, I will speak in support of both my noble and learned friends, who sit to my right in the Chamber. I am particularly grateful, as I think the whole Committee is, to my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton for the very clear exposition he gave of the law and of the consequences of these provisions which change the law.

I will put my very short analysis of this into “faults” and “conclusions”. Clause 38 is word soup, full of tautology and contradictions—the sort of thing that makes fortunes for lawyers if they can get in front of judges, like my noble and learned friends in the very senior courts, and make esoteric arguments based on an analysis of the text. The word soup is most certainly not a consommé clarified by the use of egg whites, so that you can see through it to the bottom of the bowl. It is more like a sort of mad minestrone, into which the draftsman has thrown every word vegetable that he or she could find.

Let us look at Clause 38(3), where the “serious harm condition” is in inverted commas. I was taught at school never to use inverted commas, if you could avoid it, because they show a weakness in your argument, unless it is a quotation that someone said. It says:

“The ‘serious harm condition’ is that P would, before the end of the relevant period, face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk”.

Supposing we missed out the words “real, imminent and”, what difference would it make if it simply read,

“before the end of the relevant period, face a … foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm”?

If one missed out the words “and irreversible”, would it mean less if it read:

“The ‘serious harm condition’ is that P would, before the end of the relevant period, face a … foreseeable risk of serious … harm if removed from the United Kingdom”?

What are they trying to gain by the word soup—the possibility of making bizarre submissions in front of the senior courts in which my noble and learned friends sat?

After those comments, if you were asked, “What does all this mean?” by a lay man who might be up at 10.10 pm looking at parliamentary TV or and fascinated by every word in this debate, you would say to him, “Just go and have a look at Clause 38(5)(c)”, which refers to

“where the standard of healthcare available to P in the relevant country or territory is lower than is available to P in the United Kingdom”.

They—or at least those who were well informed enough to be sitting up at 10.10 pm, watching parliamentary TV—would immediately say, “This is deliberate discrimination against gay men”. What else is this for?

We should be ashamed of ourselves if, at least when it comes to Report, we allow this kind of provision to remain in the Bill and do not help my noble and learned friends to pass their amendments. But I hope that we do not have to reach that stage, because this word soup should seem as ridiculous to our noble friends the Ministers as it does to some of us.

My Lords, this has been an interesting, if not bewildering, debate—at least to us non-lawyers. My lay interpretation of the provisions we debated in this group is that they highlight the danger of asylum seekers being removed to countries where they could come to harm by making the level of proof required to suspend removal so high, and by making the evidence required to prevent their removal so compelling—within impossibly short timescales—as to make the likelihood of a successful claim diminishingly small. If it turns out that it is not diminishingly small enough, the provisions allow the Secretary of State to redefine what “serious and irreversible harm” means to make sure that the tap is turned off almost completely.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, questioned whether such an approach is compatible with existing law. It is quite clear what the Government are trying to do here: make it impossible for anyone to resist removal from this country under the provisions of the Bill. That is why we do not believe that Clauses 37 to 42 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, this was an interesting debate. I thought I was with lawyers, but then, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I realised that I was also struggling to be a chef.

The serious point was well summed up by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and it was interesting—it answers the point of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, about people who may be watching parliamentary TV, and certainly members of the public who read our deliberations. The legal dissection of the clause done by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Etherton and Lord Hope, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and others is of immense benefit. But the real point for members of the public reading our proceedings will be what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said: there can be no other interpretation of how these clauses are laid out and, essentially, the Government are trying to make it as hard as possible for an individual to stop their removal from the country when they are subject to the provisions in Clause 2. There can be no other interpretation—this is designed to make it almost impossible. The key question for the Minister is: why is that wrong? Why is it not the case that the Government are seeking to make it as difficult as possible for people to leave?

A couple of points have not been raised. Notwithstanding how you define “compelling”, “serious” and “irreversible”, I want to take the Committee through the timescales as I understand them. Suspensive claims, despite being a complex part of immigration law, will be given a fast-tracked hearing. Individuals must lodge a claim within eight days of receiving a notice of removal, and the Secretary of State must decide on the suspensive claim within four days of receipt. How have those timescales been arrived at ?

If the original eight-day deadline for the decision-making process is missed and the Home Secretary decides that there are not compelling reasons for this, the person will only have seven more working days to apply to the Upper Tribunal. I know that this may be drifting into points for the next group, but the Upper Tribunal has eight more working days to determine its appeal application. Can the Minister comment on this, or at least say that this will be answered in the next group? It goes back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the timeframe. Many of us think that the Government are simply creating a complex legal situation to make it practically impossible for anyone to fight removal, no matter how compelling their circumstances.

My Lords, Clause 37 provides for two types of suspensive claims, which have the effect of suspending a person’s removal—a factual suspensive claim and a serious harm suspensive claim. A factual suspensive claim is a claim that a mistake was made in deciding that a person meets the four conditions set out in Clause 2. A serious harm suspensive claim is a claim that a person would, before the end of the relevant period, face a risk of serious and irreversible harm if they were removed from the UK to a country other than their country of origin. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, noted, the risk must be real, imminent and foreseeable. The serious and irreversible harm test is designed to be a high threshold, reflecting the test of the European Court of Human Rights when considering whether to indicate an interim measure under Rule 39.

These amendments seek to change how Clause 38 defines the risk of harm, lowering the threshold for a serious harm claim to succeed. In responding to the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, I start by making the general observation that suspensive claims are relevant to people who have received a third-country removal notice. In this context, an asylum claim would not be relevant. Therefore, they do not impact the definition of “refugee” in the way that he suggested.

Amendments 100 and 108 would remove the requirement for the harm to occur in the period that it would take for any human rights claim or judicial review to be determined from the third country. If accepted, these amendments would enable people who receive a third-country removal notice to raise serious harm suspensive claims against their removal, based on a risk of harm that many not materialise for many months, if not years, after the person’s removal to the safe third country. This cannot be right. We cannot have a position whereby a person’s removal from this country is prevented based on a risk that does not currently exist and may not exist until a significant amount of time has elapsed after the person is removed.

Amendment 101 would remove the need for the risk of harm to be imminent and foreseeable. If accepted, this would have a similar effect to Amendments 100 and 108, enabling a person to successfully challenge their removal based on a risk that may occur a long time in the future.

A great deal of research has gone into the risks associated with countries where the law still criminalises homosexuality. The research of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has shown that those countries permit levels of murder of gay men and women, violence towards them and discrimination against them in many different forms. The violence experienced by people who are part of the LGBT+ community in those countries is exponentially greater than anywhere else, even in countries known for high levels of violence. The idea the Minister is talking about—risk that is far down the line and many years ahead—is not what we are talking about here. For many people going to those countries, there will be risks almost immediately.

The noble Baroness makes an entirely fair point. In those cases, of course, it would be an imminent feature. As she points out, in those circumstances that is something the courts would be able to have regard to.

The inclusion of “imminent and foreseeable” is intended to prevent the courts from considering risks that are dependent on a series of hypothetical events before the harm might occur. That is the reason, as I understand it, that “imminent” features in the European Court of Human Rights practice direction on interim measures. We cannot allow illegal entrants to be able to thwart their removal based on an unknown risk that cannot be foreseen and may not even arise for many months or years, if at all.

Amendments 102, 103, 104, 109, 111 and 112 would remove the requirement for the risk of harm to be irreversible. These amendments would significantly lower the threshold for a serious harm suspensive claim to succeed and undermine the purpose of the Bill to deter illegal entry to the UK. Again, I point out with the greatest of respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that

“a real risk of serious and irreversible harm”

is the test applied by the Strasbourg court when considering applications for Rule 39 interim measures, as he alluded to during his speech.

Amendments 105, 106 and 107 would remove specific examples of harm, relevant to the availability of healthcare and medical treatment in a third country—a passage that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, drew the attention of the Committee to—in circumstances that do not or are unlikely to constitute serious and irreversible harm. There is existing case law that indicates that claims based on harm resulting from differing standards of healthcare fall short of the Article 3 threshold. It is simply unjustifiable for those who enter this country illegally to be able to remain here indefinitely and have unlimited access to our healthcare systems solely on the basis that they may not receive the same level of medical treatment in the country or territory they are rightly removed to.

For these reasons, Clause 38 makes it clear that a serious harm suspensive claim based on a risk of harm relating to differing standards of healthcare cannot succeed and, as a result, will not prevent that person’s removal to the safe third country. Clause 38 also makes it clear that a claim based on pain or distress resulting from a lack of medical treatment is unlikely to succeed. By including specific examples of harm that do not or are unlikely to constitute serious and irreversible harm in Clause 38, it is ensured that the courts take a consistent approach in their consideration of the risk of serious and irreversible harm and go no further than intended.

The Bill provides a fast-track process for the consideration of a claim which may temporarily suspend a person’s removal from the UK. Clauses 41 and 42, as the Committee has noted, set out the procedure and timescale for making a suspensive claim and the timescale for a decision to be made on a suspensive claim.

Amendment 113 would remove the requirement for a serious harm suspensive claim to include compelling evidence of the risk of serious harm that a person would face if removed to a third country, as noted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. Reducing the evidential burden in this way risks the process being abused through spurious and unmeritorious claims, similar to those that we have seen in other immigration applications. Evidence that is compelling is defined as that which is reliable, substantial and material to a person’s claim. I suggest that this is a reasonable requirement and necessary to ensure that the suspensive claims process is not open to abuse.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting out an explanation of the word “compelling”. He used three adjectives and my impression is that that explanation is intelligible; it is not quite as alarming as “compelling”. Would it not be better to substitute the three words that he quoted for “compelling”? “Compelling” could be read as setting a very high standard indeed, which I do not think the three adjectives that he mentioned do.

I am grateful for that suggestion from the noble and learned Lord. If I may, I will take a moment to reflect on that and will revert to him in relation to it.

Amendments 114 and 115 would significantly increase the timescales for making and deciding a serious harm suspensive claim, undermining the fast-track process that we have created in the Bill and our ability swiftly to remove illegal entrants. Where the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to do so, it will be possible to extend both the claim period and the decision period. Legal aid will be available to assist a person in receipt of a removal notice in making a suspensive claim. With these safeguards, I suggest to the Committee that it is reasonable to expect a person to bring a suspensive claim within the time periods set out in the Bill. I hope that that addresses the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.

The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that illegal entrants are removed as quickly as possible. Extending the decision and claim periods to a total of 60 days for all cases increases the risk that immigration bail would be granted by the First-tier Tribunal and, where bail is granted, that a person would disappear into the community in order to frustrate their removal. The use of detention is therefore necessary to make sure that they are successfully removed from the UK, and our ability to detain a person is dependent on any suspensive claim being both considered and decided quickly. The timeframes outlined in the Bill send a clear message that if you arrive in the UK illegally you will be swiftly removed.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred to the Constitution Committee’s recommendation that the regulation-making power in Clause 39 should be removed from the Bill. We are considering that committee’s recommendations and will respond before Report stage. I would, however, comment that the Delegated Powers Committee did not comment on this power.

The amendments put forward would undermine the suspensive claims procedure and the timeframes outlined in the Bill, where what this Government need to do is send a clear message that if you arrive in the UK illegally you will be swiftly removed. For the reasons that I have outlined, I ask that noble Lords do not press their amendments.

Before the Minister sits down, there were two specific questions that I raised at the end of what I said that I would like an answer to. I do not believe that he has answered them at the moment.

The first is confirmation that there is nothing in the Bill that in any way derogates from the decision of the Supreme Court in HJ (Iran) that a person qualifies as a refugee under our jurisprudence if they would face persecution living openly as an LGBT person. This is relevant to the question of serious irreversible harm, the question being whether it is the Government’s view that you would have to, if necessary, act discreetly and that, if you acted discreetly, the harm would not be suffered. Is it intended, through the Bill, to undermine this landmark decision of the Supreme Court?

The second point on which I would like a specific answer was similarly in relation to the UNHCR’s latest advice—from 2023, I think—about what constitutes an appropriate flight alternative. Where would it be appropriate to deny refugee status because there is a place within a territory or country where there would be no persecution and where it would be reasonable for the person in question to live in an ordinary way?

I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating those questions. He is entirely right that I should have answered them; I apologise for not doing so.

The short answer is that this is a separate strategy regime to the one that the case of HJ (Iran) was decided under. Of course, although the findings in that case and the line of cases concluding in that case would be relevant, the decision will always be taken on the facts of each case. I cannot, I am afraid, give the noble and learned Lord an undertaking on what he might perceive to be an inconsistent decision in relation to that case. I am happy to look into it further and will write to him about that, but that would certainly be my instinctive reaction.

In relation to the further report from the UNHCR, again, each of these matters is fact-sensitive to each serious harm suspensive claim. It would not be right for me to try to predicate at this Dispatch Box what the outcome might be.

I am sorry to come back on this, but it is important. The Government must give some guidance to the judges of the Upper Tribunal who try these cases with these novel and, if I may say so—I am adopting the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile—complicated provisions. These are new provisions that are not found anywhere else in our jurisprudence or in anybody else’s. We are talking about a special type of irreversible harm that has to be predictable. Any guidance that we can give on how the existing jurisprudence and UNHCR advice would still apply will be extremely important for the actual mechanics of delivering justice in these cases.

I can only repeat that the Supreme Court decision in HJ (Iran) and the other documents provided by the UNHCR are not relevant in this context because they do not deal with the same mechanics. Those cases were asylum or protection claims, whereas this deals with the specific statutory category of serious and irreversible harm. Of course, although there may be some crossover in the arguments deployed, ultimately they address a different issue. I cannot provide the type of assurance that the noble and learned Lord seeks, I am afraid.

My Lords, if two noble and learned Lords and one learned with a small “l” noble Lord—if I may call the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that—are frowning and struggling to understand what the Minister has just said, there is no hope for me. I must confess that I found it pretty difficult to understand. I would be most grateful if the Minister could put the letter that he has promised the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, in the Library so that the rest of us can try to understand.

It would be of great concern if the worry that the noble and learned Lord raised was to be shrouded in doubt in terms of the status of the Supreme Court case, which said that you cannot expect a gay person to have to live in a closeted fashion—that is, you would expect them to be able to live openly for a country to be considered safe. If that precedent were to be put in any doubt, it would have serious implications, as would the concerns that were raised about healthcare; I am not sure what point we have precisely got to on that subject.

The overall concern, if I may put it like this, is if it ain’t broke there is no need to fix it. The courts seem to have got a handle on these issues, and what the Government are doing with their word salad is creating quite a lot of instability and confusion in something that is being handled pretty competently by the courts. They have reached some position on how to assess issues such as risk, foreseeability and reality of risk—and here the Government come, like a bull in a china shop, trying to upset and disturb all that. I am rather minded to think that the Government would do better just to leave it to the courts.

The Minister was not very persuasive in his argument that the wording in the Bill is necessary to stop projections of hypothetical risk. Surely, the courts can be relied on to filter out fantastical imaginings when they assess the reality of risk. I am afraid I found his responses on this group pretty unpersuasive. He keeps coming back to this hoary old chestnut that the use of detention is necessary to ensure swift removal. The idea that this Government are going to ensure swift removal of a lot of people strikes most people living in the real world, to use that phrase again, as for the birds. However, with that said, I shall not oppose the clause standing part.

Clause 37, as amended, agreed.

Clause 38: Serious harm suspensive claims: interpretation

Amendments 100 to 108 not moved.

Clause 38 agreed.

Clause 39: Meaning of “serious and irreversible harm”

Amendments 109 to 112 not moved.

Clause 39 agreed.

Clause 40 agreed.

Clause 41: Serious harm suspensive claims

Amendments 113 to 115 not moved.

Clause 41 agreed.

Clause 42 agreed.

Clause 43: Appeals in relation to suspensive claims

Debate on whether Clause 43 should stand part of the Bill.

Yes, I am sorry, it is me again. I am looking forward to the next group, when someone else will be in charge.

I shall speak to the question of whether various clauses should not stand part of the Bill. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on Clauses 49 and 51, the ouster clauses. The situation at the moment is that, generally, immigration and asylum decisions can be appealed to the First-tier Tribunal with a further appeal to the Upper Tribunal on a point of law, but under the Bill, the rejection of a suspensive claim may be appealed only to the Upper Tribunal, bypassing the First-tier Tribunal. The fear is that while reducing appeal rights may speed up the process, it could be at a significant cost to justice. As with the suspensive claims themselves, the Bill requires the notice of appeal to be supported by compelling evidence, and this could result in a notice of appeal being rejected despite there being evidence that, while not coming under the definition of “compelling”, is nevertheless sufficient to establish the normal tests that the Upper Tribunal would apply.

Also, if the Secretary of State certifies that the claim is clearly unfounded, there needs to be permission from the Upper Tribunal to appeal to the Upper Tribunal and this will be granted only if the Upper Tribunal considers that there is compelling evidence that the serious harm condition is met, with the additional requirement that serious harm is “obvious”. This could result in the Upper Tribunal refusing permission despite being satisfied that the serious harm condition is met. It could have to refuse it on the grounds that it is not obvious serious harm, which could expose the claimant to a risk of irreversible harm in breach of the convention.

We come to the denial of the right to judicially review the decisions of the Upper Tribunal. Justice said in its evidence to the JCHR that since vulnerable individuals will be

“restricted to one, fast-tracked hearing, it is even more important that there is proper oversight from experienced judges”.

The Bill therefore denies the right to judicial review even where an error has been made in reaching the decision. It insulates decisions of the Upper Tribunal from any kind of judicial oversight or correction by the higher courts. This is a cause of considerable worry. The risk to those removed despite having a human rights claim pending is extremely serious. If appeal rights in suspensive claims are limited, there should at least be effective judicial supervision and the Bill should be amended to remove the unnecessary ouster of judicial review.

One of the briefings we received drew attention to the previous attempt by the Government to introduce a clause that created a single-tier tribunal and ousted the supervision of higher courts. This was in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill in the 2003-04 Session; that is, two decades ago. This was condemned by Peers as

“contrary to the constitutional principle on which our nation is founded, that Her Majesty’s courts”—

as they were then

“must always be open to all, citizens and foreigners alike, who seek just redress of perceived wrongs”.

In the Chamber it was referred to as

“a constitutional outrage and an affront to the rule of law”—[Official Report, 15/3/04; col. 72.]

and “shameful”. That last comment from came from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who is otherwise occupied. Faced with strong resistance in the House of Lords in 2004, the Government relented and permitted oversight by the Administrative Court. So that is one up for a previous Government and, perhaps, a good precedent that the present Government might prefer to pursue.

Not only will decisions of the Upper Tribunal be final, so they cannot be challenged in any higher court, but the risks that they might be wrong, with error baked in because there is no subsequent judicial review, are increased by the fact that Clause 50 promotes all First-tier Tribunal judges sitting in any chamber—they could be doing something completely different, such as employment law, for instance, rather than immigration —to the Upper Tribunal. We should remember that judges in the Upper Tribunal have the status and standing equivalent to High Court judges. This would bypass the normal process of appointment by the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Furthermore, government Amendment 115A provides for the Lord Chancellor to make the first set of rules for the new committee, bypassing the independent expert Tribunal Procedure Committee, which has been set up to create rules through an open and careful procedure.

Basically, we have a Government stepping over the line that separates the powers under our constitution by usurping the roles of the independent Judicial Appointments Commission and the Tribunal Procedure Committee. Arguably, they downgrade the quality and standing of the English and Welsh judiciary in relation to First-tier Tribunal judges. Others know exactly what this is all about but even I can grasp that, if you have people currently sitting at a lower tier and you bypass all the normal assessment and appointment structures and make them, with perhaps no experience at all in immigration or asylum, able to sit in the Upper Tribunal, with a status equivalent to High Court judges, there is something rather odd going on here.

All in all, there are issues of serious concern about appeals, the appointment of judges and lack of higher judicial scrutiny on all these matters where, again, the Government seem to be revolutionary in their approach, to no obvious good effect. These clauses are no worthy part of the Bill.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Ludford has clearly explained why Clauses 43 to 51 should not stand part of the Bill. The Government just seem to dismiss all the safeguards around access to justice and making sure that the court process has integrity, to speed up any sort of appeal process against decisions under this Bill, to the extent that they are destroying the whole principle of justice. That is why we do not believe these clauses should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for explaining this really quite complex area. The only thing I was going to ask the Minister was whether he could explain the timeframes within which the appeal must be lodged: seven days for the Upper Tribunal and then 23 days for a further appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Court of Session. Are those timeframes standard in these types of cases? How have they arrived at them?

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, expressed the case very fully and I thought the way the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, summarised it was a fair comment about the accessibility of these processes to people taking part in them.

My Lords, Clauses 43 to 51 are an essential part of the scheme of the Bill, just like Clause 54 on legal aid, which we discussed earlier. I think by now your Lordships are very familiar with the scheme of the Bill but, just briefly, for the record, I will try to outline these clauses and answer the questions that have arisen as we go through.

The first thing the Bill does is to render certain claims —protection of human rights and modern slavery claims—non-suspensive so that making them does not delay the removal of an illegal migrant to a safe third country. However, the Bill then provides safeguards for removal in two cases: where there is a serious harm suspensive claim and where there is a factual suspensive claim—there has been a mistake as to whether the conditions are met.

Then the Bill goes on to provide that if the Secretary of State refuses those claims there is then an appeal to the Upper Tribunal. In general, the Government’s position is that that provides proper safeguards. It does not dismiss safeguards—if I may use the phrase just used by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—it strikes a fair balance between expedition and fairness to the migrant. It does not in any way destroy justice because the ultimate decision in relation to the suspensive claims is in the hands of a very respected and senior judicial body and legal aid is available in order to bring those claims.

The basic timetable, to answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is that there are seven working days from receipt of the notice of removal to bring the claim, subject to the possibility of an extension if that is necessary to secure justice in a particular case. The 23-day period—I think I am right although I will correct myself in writing if I am wrong—is for the Upper Tribunal to take its decision. Those time limits for appeals are specific to this Bill. This is an expedited procedure that provides strict time limits, but in the Government’s view they are fair time limits.

One should make it clear that we have two situations. The first is where the Secretary of State certifies that the claim is clearly unfounded. In that circumstance, the person concerned has to apply for permission to appeal. That is the current approach, as I and the Government understand it, in the asylum and human rights system. It is effectively to weed out unmeritorious appeals as those designed to do no more than frustrate removal. Those cases are decided by the tribunal on the papers. Similarly, if you make a late suspensive claim—a claim out of time—it will be considered only if there are compelling reasons. That is at the level of the Secretary of State but if they consider that there are no compelling reasons, you can go to the tribunal and say, “There are compelling reasons why I was out of time”. Again, that is for the tribunal to decide on the papers.

These provisions are designed to ensure that claims are made at the earliest opportunity and prevent late claims being used to frustrate removal, undermining the overall effectiveness of the claims process. Once a claim has been made to the Secretary of State but not refused, and then to the Upper Tribunal as well, the whole process is suspended until the tribunal has taken a decision, so there is protection during that period.

Clause 47 also deals with another problem that constantly arises in this kind of case, where somebody tries to raise something new at a late stage. Again, there is a procedure for dealing with that: effectively, that the new matter can be considered by the Upper Tribunal only if there have been compelling reasons for it not to have been raised earlier. In relation to late claims, claims out of time and new matters, there are those checks to prevent the system being abused.

Clause 48 then requires the various timeframes to be respected. It places a requirement on the tribunal procedure rules to secure that those timeframes are respected. As I have just said, there are seven working days for the submission of a substantive appeal—I think that is in Clause 48(1)(a)—and a 23 working-day period for the tribunal to decide that substantive appeal. Those timeframes may, as I say, be extended. What we have here is a process that, in the Government’s view, is essentially a fast-track process but none the less a fair and balanced one.

These very short timescales are no doubt part of the deterrent effect which the Government are seeking to put in place through the Bill. What estimate have the Government made about the workload on the tribunal process? Is it really sustainable to have such short timescales?

My Lords, the Government have been working closely with the senior judiciary to ensure that we have the relevant judicial manpower and resources to deal with the workload. I am not, as of this moment, in a position to give specific details but one of the reasons for allowing the judges of the First-tier Tribunal to sit in the Upper Tribunal, which gives us a pretty wide pool to draw upon, is that it enables us to draw upon recorders, retired judges and others. The Government are at the moment satisfied from the discussions they have had that there will be sufficient judicial capacity to meet any reasonably foreseeable workload, but that is a perfectly good question and I thank the noble Lord for raising it.

I will come in a moment to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, about judges in general, but I will first deal with government Amendment 115A, which provides for the first set of tribunal rules effectively to be made by the Lord Chancellor rather than, as would normally be the case, by the Tribunal Procedure Committee. That committee normally takes quite a long time to make new rules—maybe 12 months or more—so, since we are working to implement the Bill as soon as practicable, government Amendment 115A provides for the first set of tribunal procedure rules, including these time limits, to be made by the Lord Chancellor so that we have the relevant tribunal procedure rules in place as soon as possible after Royal Assent.

To make those rules, the Lord Chancellor will have to consult the Lord Chief Justices of England and Wales and of Northern Ireland, and the Lord President of the Court of Session. These rules will be subject to the “made affirmative” procedure—that is, they will take effect but lapse after 40 days unless approved by both Houses of Parliament. It is a temporary measure; the matter will then revert to the Tribunal Procedure Committee. This is similar to a procedure adopted under the Justice and Security Act 2013 where a similar situation arose; rules were made by the Lord Chancellor and they have been in place ever since, as no one has objected to them. That is the basis on which the Government put forward Amendment 115A. There is an equivalent Amendment 115B relating to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, so that those rules can similarly be in place in good time.

Having dealt with those points, I will comment on Clause 49, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to as the ouster clause. It simply provides that there is no further appeal from the tribunal in relation to a refusal of permission to allow an out-of-time claim or to entertain new matters. That is all it is doing. In the Government’s view, that is in line with contemporary practice; these are particular decisions where you need permission but have not got it—where you have had two bites of the cherry, as it were, and are trying to appeal out of time or to introduce late matters. That is what Clause 49 deals with, although, even then, if the tribunal has in some way acted in a procedurally defective way, those exclusions do not apply. There does not seem anything particularly unusual in the Clause 49 power.

Clause 50, as I have said, enables the flexible deployment of the senior judiciary. It will be for the judiciary to ensure that there are sufficient judges with appropriate training, standing and expertise. The Senior President of Tribunals will be in charge of that, so we should have no fear about the quality and availability of judges to decide these matters.

All in all, this is a coherent and logical framework for appeal. It is true, if I may use the word colloquially, that it is relatively tough in terms of time limits, subject to the possibility of extension, but the procedures are essentially fair and will result in just decisions.

I thank the Minister for his responses. I am not really persuaded by his answer on Clause 49: that these are just some little minor issues that cannot be JRed from the Upper Tribunal. Subsection (3) states that

“the Upper Tribunal is not to be regarded as having exceeded its powers by reason of any error made in reaching the decision”.

So the fact that it has made an error is apparently not subject to judicial review, which seems to me not particularly minor. An application for judicial review can be made if the tribunal

“has acted … in bad faith or … in such a procedurally defective way as amounts to a fundamental breach of the principles of natural justice”.

I do not suppose those crop up very often, and I would imagine that bad faith would be very difficult, if not impossible, to establish, so I do not think there is much wiggle room in Clause 49—but those who know more about how these things work might have other thoughts, and if they do I would be grateful if they would share them with me in due course.

I do not think the Minister covered the point about First-tier Tribunal judges being appointed to act as Upper Tribunal judges. If he did not—I will check what he said—perhaps he could write to me with any answers.

I will happily write to the noble Baroness. I thought I had covered it when I said that it was creating a pool. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, nods. It is creating a pool of judges so we have enough judges of relevant standing and experience to decide what are essentially factual questions. These are relatively limited factual questions.

I apologise. I was clearly inattentive as I was trying to look at the other groups that are coming up. Even so, I think concerns remain about promoting, and possibly overpromoting, people before they are ready. What the Government are proposing to do seems a little odd.

On the tribunal rules, I note the Minister’s citation of a precedent, but at one point he said that the problem is that the committee works too slowly. I would have thought that if processes do not work very well or do not work in a reasonable timeframe, the way to resolve that is to work with the relevant bodies to speed them up rather than to grab power from them. However, I find that this Government seem to have an appetite for grabbing powers from everybody else, whether it is the courts, other agencies or indeed Parliament. I worry that the Government are getting rather too big for their boots. Perhaps one day they will even come a cropper. That said, I think I have probably taken these issues as far as they can go.

Clause 43 agreed.

Clauses 44 to 48 agreed.

Amendment 115A

Moved by

115A: After Clause 48, insert the following new Clause—

“Procedure for Tribunal Procedure Rules(1) The first time after the passing of this Act that Tribunal Procedure Rules are made for the purposes of any of sections 43 to 48 (appeals in relation to suspensive claims), the Rules may be made by the Lord Chancellor rather than by the Tribunal Procedure Committee.(2) Before making Tribunal Procedure Rules by virtue of subsection (1), the Lord Chancellor must consult—(a) the Senior President of Tribunals,(b) the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales,(c) the Lord President of the Court of Session, and(d) the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.(3) The Lord Chancellor is not required to undertake any other consultation before making Tribunal Procedure Rules by virtue of subsection (1).(4) A requirement to consult under subsection (2) may be satisfied by consultation that took place wholly or partly before the passing of this Act.(5) Tribunal Procedure Rules made by virtue of subsection (1) are to be made by statutory instrument.(6) A statutory instrument containing Tribunal Procedure Rules made by virtue of subsection (1) must be laid before Parliament after being made.(7) Tribunal Procedure Rules contained in a statutory instrument laid before Parliament under subsection (6) cease to have effect at the end of the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the instrument is made unless, during that period, the instrument is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(8) In calculating the period of 40 days, no account is to be taken of any whole days that fall within a period during which— (a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or(b) either House of Parliament is adjourned for more than four days.(9) If Tribunal Procedure Rules cease to have effect as a result of subsection (7)—(a) that does not affect the validity of anything previously done under the Rules, and(b) subsection (1) applies again as if the Rules had not been made.(10) In this section “Tribunal Procedure Committee” means the committee of that name constituted under Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause provides for the first Tribunal Procedure Rules made after the passing of the Bill for the purposes of any of Clauses 43 to 48 to be made by the Lord Chancellor and to be subject to the made affirmative procedure.

Amendment 115A agreed.

Clauses 49 and 50 agreed.

Clause 51: Special Immigration Appeals Commission

Amendment 115B

Moved by

115B: Clause 51, page 53, line 35, at end insert—

“(b) in subsection (9), at the beginning, insert “Subject to subsection (10),”;(c) after subsection (9), insert—“(10) A statutory instrument containing the first rules made for the purposes of section 2AA (appeals in relation to the Illegal Migration Act 2023) must be laid before Parliament after being made.(11) Rules contained in a statutory instrument laid before Parliament under subsection (10) cease to have effect at the end of the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the instrument is made unless, during that period, the instrument is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(12) In calculating the period of 40 days, no account is to be taken of any whole days that fall within a period during which—(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or(b) either House of Parliament is adjourned for more than four days.(13) If rules cease to have effect as a result of subsection (11)—(a) that does not affect the validity of anything previously done under the rules, and(b) subsection (10) applies again as if the rules had not been made.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides for the first rules made by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under section 5 of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 for the purposes of section 2AA of that Act (inserted by Clause 51(5)) to be subject to the made affirmative procedure.

Amendment 115B agreed.

Clause 51, as amended, agreed.

Clause 52: Interim remedies

Amendment 115C

Moved by

115C: Clause 52, page 53, line 40, after “court” insert “or tribunal”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and the amendments in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 54, line 1 and page 54, line 7 modify Clause 52 so that a tribunal (as well as a court) may not grant an interim remedy that prevents or delays, or that has the effect of preventing or delaying, the removal of a person from the United Kingdom under the Bill.

Amendment 115C agreed.

Amendment 116

Moved by

116: Clause 52, page 54, line 1, at beginning insert “Providing the procedure set out under subsection (3A) has been followed,”

My Lords, this may be the graveyard shift, but I will do my best to keep the Committee awake for a little longer. I give huge thanks to all members of the Committee for being here for whatever reason—under pain of whipping, out of love for human rights or whatever it is. I thank you for being here.

The whole Bill is a clash between politics—I would say rather tawdry, populist politics, but politics none the less —and human rights. But this group—Amendments 116 to 119 and the issue of whether Clauses 52 and 53 should stand part of the Bill—is not even about human rights. It is about something that precedes both human rights and democracy itself: the rule of law. In our country, the rule of law came before we had even democracy. I would argue that no civilised society, let alone a democracy, can be sustained anywhere in the world without the rule of law.

Clauses 52 and 53 are, in effect, about ousting the jurisdiction of domestic and international courts to grant interim relief—interim injunctions in our domestic courts and interim measures in the European Court of Human Rights. They deal with some of the concerns that have been raised in previous groups about what you do when you have not actually considered the person’s substantive claim yet. They say, “You send me to Rwanda, Uganda et cetera. I will not be safe there. Bad things might happen to me there and/or I might be sent on to the country from which I originally came, where I feel I would be killed or tortured”. This is about interim relief: whether the courts should be allowed to grant it and whether our Government should respect that. All other parties to litigation have to respect the decisions of courts in relation to interim relief when there is an arguable case and a real risk.

If noble members of the Committee will forgive me, I will take the clauses backwards to make my point better. I will start with Clause 53, work backwards to Clause 52 and come to the amendments last.

Clause 53 deals with the European Court of Human Rights, and I am delighted to see the Foreign Office Minister in the Chamber to hear this. I am very grateful for that, because this is a matter of foreign policy and our relationships with the Council of Europe and the wider world, as well as a domestic legal matter.

Noble Members of the Committee will remember Rule 39 of the European Court of Human Rights jurisdiction, which was, interestingly, raised earlier; to that we shall return. The court says about its own jurisdiction:

“The European Court of Human Rights may, under Rule 39 of its Rules of Court, indicate interim measures to any State party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Interim measures are urgent measures which, according to the Court’s well-established practice, apply only where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm. Such measures are decided in connection with proceedings before the Court without prejudging any subsequent decisions on the admissibility or merits of the case in question”.

This applies in the meantime, before the court has had time to consider the substantive case. Of course, because the substantive case has not been decided, it will only grant interim relief if it has to. Otherwise, the case would become totally hypothetical because the person who says they are going to be extradited or deported—these are usually expulsion cases—back to wherever will be killed, and there is no point in having the substantive case. That is what these interim measures are all about.

I say to noble Members of the Committee that it is pretty rich that a few moments ago—or was it hours or days ago in this Committee? Who knows? It is that kind of a place—Ministers opposite were praying in aid the very high threshold the Court of Human Rights uses before it will grant this interim relief. That is what the Minister was saying in relation to his tests for these non-suspensive claims when the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, were concerned that the test was too high. The noble Lord was saying “No, no. It is fine. It is the test used by the European Court of Human Rights”. The incoherence and contradictions, not just in this legislation but in the arguments put in support of it, are really quite something.

We were told a short while ago—if anyone is awake enough to remember—that that is the appropriate test and there should be a real risk of serious or irreparable harm before somebody should be able to have a non-suspensive claim. This means the ability to have a claim considered here rather than when they are in Rwanda on a Zoom call or whatever is being proposed.

However, in Clause 53 of the Bill, Ministers will be given permission in domestic law to ignore interim relief indication measures given by the European Court of Human Rights. Why? It is because we do not really care about the European Court of Human Rights, which we were told was so important five minutes ago. Is the test too low? The test was good enough five minutes ago. This is the kind of game that is being played with this Committee. This is the kind of swindle that is being perpetrated by this Government on the British public and on this Committee, I would suggest.

We know politically what this is about. This power of Ministers in His Majesty’s Government—this Government and future Governments of different stripes—to ignore interim relief from the European Court of Human Rights is because of the Rwanda case. It is because interim measures were indicated in that case and that stopped the plane. Senior Ministers were having dreams not even about the plane taking off but about a photograph on the front page of the Daily Telegraph of the plane taking off. That is what this is about.

Because of that rather tawdry anti-rule-of-law politics, we are now going to give Ministers in His Majesty’s Government the power to ignore interim measures indicated by the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe—Churchill’s legacy and all that. I have said it before so I will not bore the Committee with all that, but it is really important history. We talk a lot about our proud history; the truth is that it is a chequered history, but that post-war moment is a very proud part of that chequered history. It is a particularly proud moment, if I may say so, for the Conservative Party, because it is Churchill’s legacy.

It is because of the Rwanda case that noble Lords opposite, and the Government, say that they need the power to ignore interim measures indicated by the European Court of Human Rights, even in expulsion cases. This is notwithstanding the fact that there are currently interim measures in place against Russia, saying that servants of the Russian state and the Russian military should not execute prisoners of war in that conflict. Once more, that very dangerous conflict started on this continent, like last time and the time before, with all the threats to our world, let alone to the rule of law.

Perhaps noble Members of the Committee will say, “So what? The European court has made these measures in relation to Russia, which is out of the Council of Europe anyway”. I say that it does matter, because there will be some people, even in the Russian Federation, who know that this war will not last forever. When the war is over, there may have to be a reckoning, including in the International Criminal Court. Anybody who perpetrated an execution of a prisoner of war in this conflict needs to be on notice that there is a relationship between interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights and what may one day be an indictment in the International Criminal Court. This stuff really matters.

To be fair to noble Lords opposite, during various Questions in recent weeks and months some compelling points have been made about process—about how it ought to be possible, when an applicant makes an application for interim relief because they say that they will be shot or refouled or whatever it is in the other jurisdiction, for His Majesty’s Government, or the Government of any other member state, to challenge that afterwards. If there was an ex parte application that was made and granted urgently, for example, it ought to be possible for that to be revisited—there ought to be refinement of the Rule 39 process. That is fine. I have heard friends of mine on the Benches opposite make that point, and I agree with them. That is the duty of the noble Lord the Foreign Office Minister and indeed the Prime Minister.

If the United Kingdom was so influential in the creation of the Council of Europe and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, it can be influential in its reform, to everyone’s benefit. I have no problem with that, but that kind of diplomacy—the kind that we saw in the Prime Minister’s excellent speech in Reykjavik—will be undermined by clauses such as this in legislation such as this. I urge the Government to consider that, negotiate any changes that need to be made to the process of Rule 39, and do not give Ministers of whatever stripe in His Majesty’s Government the power to ignore interim relief from the European Court of Human Rights.

I turn now to Clause 52, which is not about an international court of human rights; it is about our courts—British courts. Because we have taken back control, we obviously care about British courts, do we not? Ironically, there are more contradictions here in the politics and law of this draft legislation. British courts are being ousted with even greater vigour than the European Court of Human Rights, because in Clause 53 only Ministers are given a power to ignore interim relief from the Strasbourg court. However, domestic courts cannot grant the relief at all. Take back control? Whose control? That is why this is a rule of law question, because our constitution is not about executive domination; it is about a careful balance and relationships, not only between the Executive and Parliament but between the courts and Parliament. To oust the jurisdiction of His Majesty’s judges to grant interim relief in expulsion cases is a total disgrace.

What about the contradiction that I pointed out? There is some respect to the Strasbourg court—although much diluted—but no respect at all to our domestic courts. Some of us who are human rights lawyers and public lawyers occasionally get irritated—because lawyers are like that—when commercial lawyers suddenly become born-again human rights lawyers when they come to the House of Lords, Parliament or wherever else. However, to be fair and to make a point against myself, there is some cross-fertilisation. Commercial practice and human rights practice are very different practices, and they are certainly differently remunerated; however, there is some cross-fertilisation in relation to things such as court procedure.

Our test for interim relief in English common law is much lower than the Strasbourg one. It comes from a very famous commercial case from the 1970s called American Cyanamid, which addressed when you should grant interim relief. There were two parties suing each other, and they wanted an interim injunction, because they said that damages would not be enough. So if the court does not stop whatever this thing is—a breach of contract or a tort—and if it does not grant an interim injunction, the case will become practically hypothetical, because the damage will be done, and it will be irreparable.

The test, in a nutshell, is that there should be underlying cause of action. That is not a problem in a case when someone says, “I will be refouled” or “I will be tortured”; there is an underlying cause of action there. However, there is a serious question to be tried if it concerns someone’s persecution or life, where damages will not be adequate. In these most grave human rights cases, damages will not be adequate if the first country a person is sent to is one in which they will be very badly treated. That is the test, and these are the courts that will be ousted, in total, with no exception under Clause 52.

I do not believe that any Government of this country should engage in that kind of ouster of jurisdiction. Instead, we should respect due process and our courts. By doing that, you make interference by the European Court of Human Rights and Strasbourg much less necessary. They will not need to intervene, because they will know that there are domestic courts well capable and respected all over the world.

Finally, these clauses should not stand part, but the amendments are an alternative. It is a poor alternative, but it is one none the less, in the spirit of Committee. Amendments 116, 117, 118 and 119 say, “If the Government are really going to do this in a particular case because they have very good reason, as they think they do in the Rwanda case, they should trust their politics, believe in democracy and take that proposition to the House of Commons and have a vote”. We know that they do not trust the courts, even on the gravest human rights issues that are so important to the rule of law—but do they trust Parliament and the House of Commons? They cannot have executive fiat. We cannot have Ministers behaving in this way today or tomorrow, in this Government or any Government of any stripe. As a poor alternative to taking these two odious clauses out of this odious Bill, if noble Lords and Ministers say that they will oust the jurisdiction of the international courts, the European Court of Human Rights or our domestic courts in an individual case, they should at the very least take that argument to the House of Commons and have a vote. I beg to move.

My Lords, I can be relatively brief. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for introducing her amendments so powerfully and with such knowledge. I agree with her that there is a curious disparity between Clauses 52 and 53, and my proposition is that they should be swept away and should not stand part of the Bill. As she said, the Home Office getting its act together and making decent decisions in the first place would be how to reduce the workload and what the Government seem to think is the overreach of the courts—I do not agree that it is overreach. If you get things right first time, you would not need to keep attacking the courts.

Clause 52 is a straightforward ban on domestic courts granting interim remedies to stop the removal of a person from the UK. We are familiar with this “courts are enemies of the people” stuff. The interim remedies are valuable because they allow the courts to maintain the status quo while a claim is considered. When the harm in question is a violation of human rights, the ability to freeze the situation is valuable. Denying the courts the ability to use interim remedies when justice demands it undermines the guarantees of Articles 2 and 3 of the ECHR. Clause 52 should be removed, and I am glad to say that the JCHR agrees.

Clause 53 is a different animal altogether. It is really rather peculiar, and it takes a strange and circuitous route to block interim measures from Strasbourg, by giving a Minister discretion to decide whether or not to disapply the duty on the Home Secretary to remove the person. Given the negotiations under way over the procedure for deciding interim measures, as reported in the press and alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, this clause appears to be more politics than law. It is strange, given that the Prime Minister was recently in Reykjavik, at the summit of the Council of Europe—and given that the JCHR’s recent report says:

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s recent reaffirmation of his ‘deep and abiding’ commitment to the ECHR”

and the European Court of Human Rights, made at that very recent summit.

Then, the Government propose in Clause 53 to give Ministers permission to act in direct violation of the UK’s obligations under the ECHR. Talk about right hand and left hand: it is not only incoherent but provocative. That does not seem wise, if the aim is open and good-faith negotiation on possible procedural reform. It is very reminiscent of the way the Government went about dealing—or rather, not dealing—with Brussels over the Brexit negotiations: always aiming to antagonise, then turning around and saying that they are punishing us.

Clause 53 is irresponsible and it is not going to progress any negotiations, in so far as they are necessary, and given the small number of interim measures issued by the Strasbourg court, it seems to be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Not only is Clause 53 likely to hinder discussions on procedural reform, if that is necessary; it makes broader conflict with the European Court of Human Rights all but inevitable. If there is dissatisfaction with the procedures in Strasbourg, the solution is to pursue reform at the European level—and there have been many instances of discussions in the Council of Europe about the processes of the convention and the court. It is not even saying, “We will never obey interim measures”; it gives the Minister the discretion to refuse to comply with our obligations by obeying interim measures. Surely, the UK’s interests are better served by remaining, in the Foreign Secretary’s words, a “serious player” on the world stage, rather than undermining its own influence in this way. I therefore believe that Clauses 52 and 53 should not stand part of the Bill.

I want to make a brief contribution on Clause 53. We cannot ask the Minister to comment on the impact assessment, because it is yet to be born, but we have the advantage of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. At paragraph 12, on page 121 of that report, in its recommendations and conclusions, it says that

“clause 53 gives Ministers legislative permission to act in direct violation of the UK obligations under the ECHR. Where a Minister chooses to ignore an interim measure and therefore breach Article 34 of the ECHR, clause 53 also prevents the courts from having regard to interim measures when considering proceedings under this Bill. This clause therefore permits deliberate breaches of our obligation to comply with interim measures of the ECtHR. Clause 53 must be removed from the Bill”.

That is the conclusion of an all-party Joint Committee of both Houses of this Parliament, and I trust that, in his response to the debate, the Minister will respond and give us his reasons for not accepting that carefully considered conclusion of the committee in one of the largest reports it has ever produced—and in the time when they could have produced 20 impact assessments.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 119 and to the overall challenge to Clause 53. To be absolutely clear, there is no reason why the Government should not ignore and override an interim measure by the Strasbourg court. The requirement that Amendment 119 seeks to impose is also neither necessary nor appropriate. I regret to say that I disagree with the conclusion of the Joint Committee: what is proposed does not breach Article 34 of the convention.

Neither is Clause 53 a circuitous route to block interim measures. It permits Ministers to disapply the duty to remove a person to whom interim measures under Rule 39 have been asserted by the European court. Equally, the Minister will retain the power to ignore the interim measure if he or she so wishes. There are a number of reasons for this. First, as has been explained by my noble friend Lord Wolfson on previous occasions—I think he will add more later this evening—our treaty obligations have force in our domestic law only when Parliament enacts legislation to this effect, hence the Human Rights Act direct effect. Secondly, and of importance to others in this House who, like me, value this country’s good name and reputation, the interpretation which is now used to found this interim measure was placed only in 2005 on Rule 39 by the Strasbourg court. That decision was contrary to previous decisions of that court: in other words, it did not follow what we would call precedent. Indeed, it was contrary to the express intentions of those who drafted the convention, as a study of the travaux préparatoires would make plain.

Time does not permit tonight a lengthy exegesis, but for those who would benefit from further learning on this topic, I recommend the recent policy exchange paper, Rule 39 and the Rule of Law, by Richard Ekins KC (Hon), professor of law and constitutional government at the University of Oxford, with a preface by Lord Hoffmann, formerly a judge of the House of Lords, and a foreword by Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court justice. It is important for us all to understand that Rule 39(1) states:

“The Chamber or, where appropriate, the President of the Section or a duty judge appointed pursuant to paragraph 4 of this Rule may, at the request of a party or of any other person concerned, or of their own motion, indicate to the parties any interim measure which they consider should be adopted in the interests of the parties or of the proper conduct of the proceedings”.

That is just an indication of view or, as Lord Hoffmann says, a shot across the bows. It is not a power to make an order or direction against a contracting party. The court has not been given power under the convention to make an interim order binding on a party to the convention. The convention does not, in terms, as it would have to, confer a power to grant binding interim relief. The member states, including this country, made a deliberate decision in 1949, and subsequently, not to empower the court in this way.

I have already referred to Lord Sumption. He described Professor Ekins’s arguments as timely and powerful. In the preface to the paper, Lord Hoffmann explains that a ruling of a court such as the Strasbourg court is binding upon parties only if the court had jurisdiction to make it, and that not only is there nothing in the language of the convention which expressly confers such a power but that the usual aids to the construction of a treaty—the travaux préparatoires and the subsequent practice of the court—reflect a clear understanding that no such power exists. The court does not have jurisdiction.

What has happened in the court’s recent jurisprudence is that this advisory power—a sensible advisory power—has been assumed to be a power to grant legally binding interlocutory relief. In short, there is no breach of treaty obligations by the United Kingdom if it does not comply with an interim direction, so Clause 53 should remain and Amendment 119 is inappropriate.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, threw down a verbal gauntlet, so let me try to pick it up and answer the central question that she posed. That was this: why should the UK think that it does not have to abide by Rule 39 indications from the court in Strasbourg? The short answer is that the Strasbourg court does not have jurisdiction to grant those Rule 39 indications and certainly not in the manner in which they are currently granted. I will develop that point shortly, but the fact that it is a jurisdictional point—I would say, with respect, that jurisdiction ought to unite all lawyers, even commercial lawyers—means that whether the court has jurisdiction or not is pretty important. I will focus my remarks on Clause 53 and the amendments thereto. I yield to nobody in my respect for the rule of law.

There is a great danger, which happens here and in other places, of the following syllogism being rolled out: the rule of law is a good thing, this—whatever issue you are talking about—is a good thing and therefore this is part of the rule of law. Well, it is not always. Even what is incorporated within the rule of law is a matter of some debate. One can compare the famous work of Lord Bingham, which is expansive to the work of Sir John Laws, which is rather narrower. But this is not about whether we have respect for the rule of law. It is about whether the Strasbourg court in fact has jurisdiction. To put the matter in that way shows respect for the rule of law, because jurisdiction is fundamental to that. Certainly, as far as I am concerned—I am sure as far as the Minister is concerned as well— words such as “game” and “swindle” are not entirely appropriate ways of approaching this topic.

I spoke on this point on Second Reading; we are now in Committee and I am not going to give a Second Reading speech. I expanded on it for those few people who did not read Hansard in the Daily Telegraph a week or so ago. What happened since Second Reading —I touched on it in my piece in the Telegraph—is, as my noble friend Lord Sandhurst mentioned, a powerfully argued paper from Professor Richard Ekins at Policy Exchange. It is unfortunate that in opening the debate on this the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, did not engage with any of the arguments in that paper; I do not think that she even mentioned it. The paper is a fine piece of legal work. You can agree or disagree with the conclusions. I am going to be disagreeing with the conclusions of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That, I hope, does not indicate any disrespect or discourtesy towards any of the people who sit on that committee; I just disagree with their conclusions. But I am going to deal with their argument because, if I do not, it is difficult to see how the land actually lies. Again, as my noble friend mentioned, we have a preface and a foreword by Lord Sumption the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, two names that, frankly, should make any lawyer sit up and take notice. Even if one does not agree with the conclusion, one has to engage with the arguments.

The main thrust behind the amendments and the clause stand part debate is that the clause breaches international law. That raises the question of whether we have an international law obligation to abide by Rule 39 indications. The short answer is that, no, we do not. Why do we not? Because we have signed up in the convention to abide by judgments of the Strasbourg court against the UK and Article 46(1) where the judgment is of the full court. This is not a final judgment—it is not of the full court—so we have no obligation under Article 46(1).

The Strasbourg court then tries to ground its jurisdiction in Article 34. The reason why it does that— I will not repeat what my noble friend said—is that there is a history to this. There was a suggestion in the draft, back in the 1940s, that the court would have the right to give interim relief. That was deliberately excluded. People tried to persuade the court that it should have that power, but that was rebuffed. The court gave a series of judgments setting out that it did not have that power, but then it did a volte-face and by a majority—I think of one, but I may be mistaken—it held that it did have that power. Of course, the court can change its own jurisprudence, but what it cannot do is to arrogate to itself the jurisdiction. In international law, the court has only the powers that the member states have given to it.

What does the court do? The court seeks to ground its power in Article 34 of the convention. What is Article 34? It is the right not to have your right of access to the courts impeded. I accept that there will be cases where you could justify interim relief and Article 34; a death penalty case would be one of them, as you cannot unscramble that later on, for obvious reasons. However, there will not be many cases like that. The Rwanda case last year was not a case like that. That was a case where the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court had all held that the Government’s promise to bring people back if they were to win meant that there was no impedance of their human rights. That point was decided three times in this jurisdiction, so that was certainly not an Article 34 case.

It also does two other things. First, it shows that if the Strasbourg court is doing a balancing act under American Cyanamid, it is odd that it reached completely the opposite conclusion from that reached by three courts here when applying that approach. Secondly, it belies another point put to the Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in relation to Clause 52. She made the point that if courts here have the ability to grant interim relief, Strasbourg will not interfere. Three courts here heard the Rwanda case and Strasbourg still interfered. I am not sure that that argument works.

Where I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is that there is a procedural problem as well as a substantive problem. The procedural problem cannot solve the jurisdictional problem but makes it worse. Why is there a procedural problem? There is a procedural problem because the rules and procedures do not cater for this jurisdiction, as it has been created out of whole cloth. That is why we have a system at the moment where there is no effective natural justice, where these injunctions are given and indications are made without the state being heard and, importantly, without there being a proper opportunity for the state to put its case even after the indication has been made. That is why these orders are given by a single judge when—the detail is in Professor Ekins’s paper—under the structure of the Strasbourg court a single judge should not have and does not have the powers to do this.

Does this mean that there are no circumstances in which a Rule 39 order can be justified? No, I do not go so far as that. I have already identified a death penalty case as such a case. However, one needs to have a proper review of the court’s jurisdiction. One also needs to have a proper procedure; again, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, who said that it ought to be possible to create such a procedure. It ought to be possible and it must be possible. If one therefore has a Rule 39 indication with a proper procedure which is grounded in Article 34, which recognises the principle of subsidiarity that is now inherent in the court’s jurisprudence and which gives the state an opportunity to come back in a proper timeframe against the order that has been made, I suggest all of that is the way through.

I will take two minutes, if I may, to say something about the report of the JCHR, because it is an important piece of work and I have read it carefully. On page 45, there is a heading before paragraph 129:

“What are the legal implications of this clause?”

This is Clause 53. It goes on to say that some commentators have suggested that

“the UK is not bound to comply with”

Rule 39 orders. It goes on:

“This is particularly because Article 46 of the Convention, which concerns the ‘Binding force and execution of judgments’, only commits the UK to abide by ‘the final judgment of the Court’ and does not mention interim measures”.

I agree with that, except it is only judgments against the UK, but we will let that pass. It goes on to say that the Grand Chamber in Strasbourg

“has held that a failure to comply with interim measures would amount to a violation of Article 34”.

That is right; that is what it has held. It goes on to say, in paragraph 130:

“It is therefore a binding obligation, as a matter of international law, for the UK to act in accordance with interim measures”.

What is the force of that “therefore”? Because the Strasbourg court has held—in the last sentence of paragraph 129—that it would be a violation of Article 34, it is therefore a binding obligation. With the greatest respect to the Committee and whoever authored that part of the report, that is what—before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, banned the use of Latin in our domestic courts—used to be called an ipse dixit. That “therefore” is a conclusory statement; you simply cannot justify the jurisdiction by saying that the court itself says that it has jurisdiction. That is an entirely circular argument. If I could win all my cases with reasoning like that, it would be a very good thing, even though I am only a commercial lawyer.

I beg the noble Lord’s indulgence in standing up and asking him a question. I was piqued by a tweet by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who is not in his place. He intervened on a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, last Tuesday. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, was replying. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out:

“The member Governments of the Council of Europe, including our own, have repeatedly confirmed the binding nature of interim measures under Rule 39—in the Committee of Ministers, and in the Izmir and Brighton declarations. Is the Minister proud of the United Kingdom’s record of compliance with interim measures?”

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, replied:

“On the general point about acceptance in practice of the position of interim measures under the convention, there are two legal views”.—[Official Report, 6/6/23; col. 1244.]

The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, and others have talked about the paper by Professor Ekins for Policy Exchange and that is a view, but the Minister did not confirm last week that he shared that view. Clause 53 does not actually say that the Government think that interim measures from Strasbourg are not binding. The tweet by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, noticed that the Minister

“declined to commit to the long-standing governmental position that”

interim measures

“are binding in international law. Views can always change, but surely the government has one”.

What we have not established is what the view of the Government, as opposed to that of Policy Exchange and Professor Ekins, is on whether interim measures from Strasbourg are binding. Our long-standing practice has been to comply with those interim measures. That is what is more important. With full respect to Policy Exchange and Professor Ekins, that is all very interesting, but what is the Government’s view? I do not think that what we are getting out of this whole affair is finding, among this thicket of confusion, what the position of this current British Government is on whether interim measures from Strasbourg should be observed. Indeed, on the Rwanda case, they did observe them, so that is quite different from commentary from Policy Exchange.

I am grateful for that short intervention. I am now not sure whether I am intervening on the noble Baroness’s speech or she is intervening on mine but she made a couple of points. I do not know whether she has seen my notes because I was going to come to the state practice point in a moment. Frankly, I should not really give this away but that point is probably the best point against the arguments that I am running. I am a little surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, did not mention it but I shall do so; it is the best point. I am not speaking for the Government so I am not going to divine what is in the mind of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, or that of the Minister who will respond; they can speak for themselves and I will speak for myself.

What I was saying is twofold. First, I was not saying that there are no circumstances in which you cannot justify a Rule 39 order. I thought I had made it clear that, if you can justify it properly under Article 34 in the particular circumstances of the case—such as a death penalty case—and there are proper natural justice provisions, it could be justified. That is my first point.

My second point is that the mere fact that states abide by Rule 39 indications will not, I suggest, be enough for state practice as a matter of international law. The fact that a court tells me to do X and I do it does not show that I accept that the court has jurisdiction to tell me to do it. I might choose to do it because I do not want to pick a fight with the court. One has to find a more detailed and forthright statement that is sufficiently unambiguous, and then look at that coupled with everything else.

I have delayed the Committee long enough. On this point, I direct the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, to Policy Exchange, on which she is absolutely right. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, was picked up and dealt with by Professor Ekins in that report.

Before I give way, may I make one other short point? I respectfully suggest that state practice cannot give a court jurisdiction when it does not have it. All state practice can do is go to the interpretation of a treaty. It does not go to the creation of a power or a jurisdiction; that point may not be one to discuss as the clock strikes midnight, but now is a good time for me to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I draw his attention to the current, as of today, UK Visas and Immigration guidance, Judicial Reviews, Injunctions and Applications to the European Court of Human Rights. Where it deals with Rule 39, it says that

“a Rule 39 indication is similar to an Administrative Court … injunction but is”,

to state the obvious, made by the European Court of Human Rights. It goes on:

“Where you have been notified that a rule 39 indication has been made, you must … defer removal immediately”


“where the person is detained, make sure this development is considered in relation to any decision to continue with detention”.

In other words, in their current guidance on the subjects that we are concerned with, the Government regard these Rule 39 rulings as binding. That is what the guidance tells the members of the public who have bothered to look at the Government’s own website this evening, as I have.

I think that goes back to the point I was making a moment ago. With the greatest respect—I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is going to intervene; I will give way if he wants to do so, of course.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. It strikes me, in reading this clause, that it proceeds on the basis that the UK is bound by the decision. I greatly respect the analysis that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has given us—I am very much in sympathy with it—but, like it or not, the Government’s position has been that it is binding. That is why the clause is so carefully drafted.

On that, I entirely agree: the clause is very carefully drafted. The Government’s position—as I understand it and I will stop in a moment so we can actually hear from the person we want to hear from, the Minister—is first that they wish to, and will always, abide by international law. Secondly, it gives the Minister a discretion in some circumstances not to abide by Rule 39 orders. It seems to me that if one puts those together the Government’s position has to be that there are at least some circumstances in which you do not abide by a Rule 39 order without breaching international law; otherwise, the two propositions which I set out cannot be put together.

I hope that is an answer to the noble and learned Lord’s question. I am not sure whether the smile indicates it is or is not—

I think we really have to hear from the Minister, frankly. The clause does set out the various objections and by our jurisprudence the procedures are very defective and I can well understand why one is very uneasy about the whole structure of the rule. The Minister really has to explain the Government’s position and I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that that question needs to be answered.

In which case, I will give one final statement before I finish. On this we all agree—the answer to this issue, I suggest, lies ultimately in Reykjavik. The answer lies in the engagement between this Government and other Governments with the Strasbourg court to improve the jurisprudence, to set the jurisdiction on a proper footing and to improve the procedures. In that way, for those of us—and I include myself—who want this country to remain part of the convention and play a part in its jurisprudence, that is surely the way forward.

If I understand the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, correctly, he is saying that the solution is not Clause 53 but to engage with the court to ensure that proper processes are followed when it comes to Rule 39 rulings.

My point is that I am supporting Clause 53. It is not inconsistent to say that we will have Clause 53 and will engage with the court.

What I am hearing from the noble Lords opposite is that if the Government ignored Rule 39 it would not be a breach of international law. But the Government accept that Rule 39 is binding on them; otherwise, there would be flights to Rwanda, surely.

The other thing to say about the two clauses is the stunning silence about Clause 52—absolutely no comment at all. For the noble Lords opposite to say this is not about the rule of law when they have said nothing at all to defend Clause 52 is quite extraordinary.

I think enough has been said—and there has been a very interesting sideshow for 20 or 25 minutes from the noble Lords opposite—but it takes us no further forward as far as the arguments here are concerned. Even if one was to accept the arguments of Policy Exchange, there has been no argument about the fact that Clause 52 is contrary to the rule of law, and that is why we believe that neither Clause 52 nor Clause 53 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I think everybody is really waiting to hear what the Minister has to say about this. It has been a fascinating debate and, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, it appears that Government, whatever the rights and wrongs, accept Rule 39—the Minister made that very clear in what he read out—and yet we have had the silence about Clause 52. I do not think I can add anything of substance to the debate at this stage and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

My Lords, Clause 52 underpins the suspensive claims and appeals process by prohibiting the courts from granting interim remedies in relation to any other proceedings which would prevent or delay the removal of an illegal entrant subject to the duty. Amendments 116 and 117 would require the Home Secretary to provide a statement to Parliament, on a case-by-case basis, explaining why the courts should prevent the granting of an interim remedy and for this to be approved by the other place—and only the other place, I note—before the restrictions set out in Clause 52 could come into effect.

These amendments seriously risk undermining our efforts swiftly to remove illegal entrants from the UK. To prevent the courts granting an interim remedy and delaying removal, it would be necessary to seek parliamentary approval in every case subject to the duty to remove. This, I am sure the Committee will agree, is simply not practicable; nor is it necessary or appropriate.

These amendments are fundamentally misconceived. They proceed on the basis that there is an individual rationale for barring interim remedies in each case, but the rationale is universal; namely, that the Bill itself provides for a mechanism for a person subject to the duty to remove to challenge their removal and for removal to be suspended while the claim and any appeal to the Upper Tribunal have yet to be determined. That being the case, it is the Government’s contention that there is no case for the courts separately to grant interim remedies. The blanket approach taken by Clause 52 is therefore entirely appropriate, and I suggest to the Committee that that is an entire answer to the second point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Clause 52 will encourage compliance with the suspensive claims process. It also provides an effective safeguard against other types of legal challenges being brought in an attempt to thwart removal. This will ensure that our ability promptly to remove those with no legal right to be in the UK is not undermined.

Turning then to what may be seen as the main event, Clause 53, I want to make it clear from the outset that the UK is fundamentally committed to the international rules-based order and there is nothing in this clause which requires us to act incompatibly with our international obligations. Under Rule 39, an interim measure may be indicated by the European Court of Human Rights where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm. The inclusion of Clause 53 reflects the concerns we have raised with the Strasbourg court about its interim measures process, as identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

We want the interim measures process to have greater transparency and fairness to ensure the proper administration of justice, reflecting what we would apply in a domestic scenario, as identified by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. This includes clear and reasoned decisions and an opportunity to make meaningful representations before and after a decision is made. It cannot be right that our ability to control our borders is undermined by an opaque process conducted at the last minute, with no formal chance to put forward our case or to appeal that decision. This process risks derailing our efforts to tackle the people smugglers and prevent people making dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys across the channel.

Clause 53 affords the Home Secretary, or other Minister of the Crown, personal discretion to suspend the duty where an interim measure has been indicated. This will mean that a Minister may suspend removal in response to a Rule 39 interim measure but, crucially, is not bound by UK law to do so. This will be dependent upon the individual facts of each case. For broader context, I direct noble Lords to the recent and well substantiated paper by Professor Ekins of Policy Exchange, already discussed by the Committee, together with its valuable forewords written by Lord Sumption and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann. The key arguments made by Professor Ekins were helpfully summarised and powerfully expanded upon by my noble friends Lord Sandhurst and Lord Wolfson, who I know will have given great consideration to the Strasbourg court’s jurisdiction and procedural rules in their preparation for the Committee.

On the other side of the coin, we will study the JCHR’s conclusions on this issue, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. However, on our initial reading, we do not share these conclusions. Clause 53 sets out a non-exhaustive list of factors which a Minister may have regard to when considering the exercise of the discretion, including timeliness, transparency and the ability for the United Kingdom to make representations in that case. The Government expect the Minister to carefully consider the UK’s international obligations when deciding whether to disapply the duty.

Amendments 118 and 119 would again require the other place to approve, on a case-by-case basis, any ministerial decision not to make a determination under Clause 53(2). It would not be appropriate for a Minister to secure prior parliamentary approval for what is properly an executive decision. An additional stage in the decision-making process would also conflict with the aim of this Bill—namely the swift removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This would, in turn, weaken our ability to tackle illegal migration.

Furthermore, it is not clear what is to be gained by requiring Parliament’s approval, particularly when the factors that may be taken into account when reaching a decision about whether the duty is to apply are set out clearly in Clause 53, and when the Minister will be accountable to Parliament in the normal way for the exercise of their personal discretion.

Finally, I remind noble Lords that the suspensive claims process set out in Clauses 37 to 51, specifically the ability to make a claim based on a real risk of serious and irreversible harm, reflects the very test that the Strasbourg court applies when deciding whether to indicate interim measures. The Committee will not be surprised to learn that this is deliberate and designed to ensure that the UK is not out of step with Strasbourg. Where a claim is refused, the Bill ensures that there is judicial oversight of that decision through a right of appeal to the Upper Tribunal or, in a claim that is clearly unfounded, the ability to apply for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.

These clauses are essential to put a stop to the merry-go-round of repeated and late legal challenges to removal. For these reasons, I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, to withdraw her amendment.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in this debate—it was not that short—and even more grateful to those who sat through it without getting anything off their chest. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who pointed out, and I agree, that the double act of the noble Lords, Lord Sandhurst and Lord Wolfson, did not help the Government very much, nor was the Committee hugely assisted. To suggest that rulings of interim measures indicated by the court are not binding or important except sometimes is a very strange approach to any kind of court order or indication. If a court order is important only sometimes, we get into who gets to choose and when, which is not the way to develop any kind of trust between people, nations or legal systems.

Neither of the noble Lords mentioned the Russia situation or answered on whether it would be okay for the Russian Federation now to ignore interim indications that prisoners of war in the Russia-Ukraine conflict should not be executed. They also did not mention that, in an earlier group, the Government prayed in aid the Strasbourg test as the test that they want to adopt before anyone can have a non-suspensive claim. That is odd, because you would expect the Strasbourg court to trust Governments more than you would expect His Majesty’s Government to trust removal of individual people to places outside the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for pointing out that Clause 52, which is about our own courts, was totally ignored in the extensive vaudeville. We had the pleasure of the vaudeville but there was no mention of the ouster in Clause 52 of our own courts, and that is rather telling. However, I am grateful to the Minister. I think he got to the point of the debate between us in his closing remarks. He talks about the last-minute opaque process. With emergency interim measures, there is always the possibility for ex parte—get the judge out of the Garrick Club late at night or get the judge up in his or her pyjamas. The crucial thing is that I agree with the Minister that thereafter, even if that emergency relief has to be granted, even ex parte, there ought to be the possibility of looking again, with both parties represented. The Minister and I agree about that.

I think that Clause 52 is totally unconscionable. I think that Clause 53 is the Government’s attempt at negotiating. We are negotiating now by legislation—so we do policy by legislation and now we do negotiation with the Council of Europe via this legislation. I disagree about whether that is the right way to make friends and influence people, but it may be that I am wrong about that. Perhaps it will work, but if it has not worked by the time of Report I will be back, and I will be urging the Committee, and by that point the whole House, to reject not just Clause 53 but Clause 52 as well. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 116 withdrawn.

Amendment 116A

Moved by

116A: Clause 52, page 54, line 1, after “court” insert “or tribunal”

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 53, line 40.

Amendment 116A agreed.

Amendment 117 not moved.

Amendment 117A

Moved by

117A: Clause 52, page 54, line 7, after second “court” insert “or tribunal”

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 53, line 40.

Amendment 117A agreed.

Clause 52, as amended, agreed.

Clause 53: Interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights

Amendments 118 and 119 not moved.

Clause 53 agreed.

Clause 54: Legal Aid

Amendment 119A

Moved by

119A: Clause 54, page 56, line 7, leave out from “sections” to end of line and insert “43 to 48 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, or under Tribunal Procedure Rules made for the purposes of any of those sections.””

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment corrects the references to the Clauses in the Bill under which advocacy in the Upper Tribunal can take place, and adds a reference to the Tribunal Procedure Rules made for the purposes of those Clauses.

Amendment 119A agreed.

Clause 54, as amended, agreed.

Amendments 120 and 120A not moved.

Clause 55: Decisions relating to a person’s age

Amendment 121

Moved by

121: Clause 55, page 56, line 21, leave out subsection (2).

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment reinstates the right of appeal against age assessments in respect of putative children whom there is a duty to remove under the Bill.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 121 I shall speak to Amendments 122 and 126 in my name. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, for their support. My comments will also be in support of Amendments 124 and 125, which were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

Before I get going, I note that on the Nationality and Borders Bill the debate on age assessment took place at 2.30 am on 9 February last year. We now find ourselves at 12:25 am discussing age assessments once again. Age assessments are serious matters. I know that it was not designed that this has happened again but it is extremely unfortunate, and since we have more time on Wednesday, I think we could have moved this to Wednesday. However, we have not, so I will carry on.

I believe strongly that these changes need to be made to Clauses 55 and 56 if we are to ensure that the welfare and best interests of children are protected. I will try to be brief, but they are critical amendments that are worthy of full consideration. It is vital that we adequately scrutinise the impact this Bill will have on children; it is therefore a failure in their safeguarding responsibility for the Government not even to have produced a child rights impact assessment. They are asking this Chamber to agree to these additional clauses on age assessments, added on Report in the other place, which on their own admission are more likely than not to be incompatible with conventions under the ECHR—not on the rights of anyone here today but on the rights of children. We have a duty to ensure that their voices are heard. Will the Minister guarantee that an assessment will be published before Report?

The Home Secretary’s duty to detain and remove all those who meet the conditions laid out in Clause 2 does not apply to unaccompanied minors before they reach the age of 18. Therefore, it is clear that if the Home Office inaccurately assesses the age of a child and deems them to be an adult when this is not the case, and they are subsequently removed, the consequences would be irreversible. Can the Minister confirm that the removal of a child in these circumstances would be unlawful?

I was going to follow up by asking whether, in these circumstances, steps would be made to retrieve the child and bring them back under the child protection system in the UK, but the Bill also introduces no right of appeal for a child to challenge an age assessment and places significant limitations on judicial review, so we may not know whether a child has been deported unlawfully. I therefore ask the Minister: when a judicial review is ongoing and the claim is continued out of country and is successful, will arrangements be made for this child to be returned to the UK?

The lack of data required adequately to scrutinise this legislation has been a common theme throughout the Bill and is a prevalent issue for age assessments. The Government currently do not share how many age dispute cases are of children who have initially been sent into the adult system after a flawed decision on their age. However, even based on the incomplete data published by the Home Office, we can see that last year nearly two-thirds of all age dispute cases were found to be children—that was 1,042 children who, if this Bill had been in operation, would have been eligible for removal to a third country.

Numbers are important. The Minister of State justified the inclusion of Clauses 55 and 56 in the Bill by saying that

“around 50% of those people who are assessed are ultimately determined to be adults”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23; col. 777.]

Can the Minister confirm that this figure is misleading, given that it includes individuals subsequently found to be children after referral to a local authority? A detailed report by the Helen Bamber Foundation found that, of the 1,386 individuals referred to local authorities in 2022, 867 were found to be children and had therefore been placed at risk of significant harm when in adult-based accommodation.

It is not surprising that visual-age assessments by immigration officers can lead to inaccurate judgments. The Home Office’s own guidance for the National Age Assessment Board states clearly that

“physical appearance is a notoriously unreliable basis for assessment of chronological age”


“demeanour can also be notoriously unreliable and by itself constitutes only somewhat fragile material”.

Given this acknowledgement, can the Minister confirm that when an individual’s age is disputed, they will not be subject to removal before having met with a social worker and child protection team for a more comprehensive age-assessment process?

As of March 2023, the Home Office’s policy was not to use scientific methods in age assessments, even though it has the power to do so. The wealth of evidence collated over the years by medical experts is undeniable in its conclusion: there is no scientific method that currently exists which can determine accurately and consistently whether a person is a child. This includes a recent report, commissioned by the Home Office, which confirmed that scientific methods provide an age range rather than a precise age.

It is therefore understandable that errors may occur in age assessments, given that they are based on subjective judgment and imprecise methods. What is unconscionable, however, is not allowing judicial review on these grounds. Can the Minister say why disqualifying a potential child from judicially reviewing whether the age decision was wrong as a matter of fact was deemed an acceptable risk?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who will address the regulations that the Bill permits to automatically assume adulthood for those who do not consent to medical procedures, given that time is against us. Amendment 126 would prevent a child being presumed to be an adult if their refusal to consent was reasonable in all the circumstances. The other two amendments I bring forward do not relate directly to the age-assessment process, understanding that it is fraught with difficulty and must be undertaken with careful child-centred sensitivity. But, because of this fact, they propose to reintroduce basic legal safeguards for putative children to be given a right of appeal against an age assessment, and so that a judicial review can serve as a barrier to a child’s removal. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect these matters to be resolved before a potential child is removed from not only child support services but the UK entirely.

Let us be clear: if these clauses are left unamended then, taken alongside the removal of all constraints on the detention of unaccompanied children, a child may be detained and, on the basis of an unreliable visual Home Office age assessment, could be removed from the United Kingdom having not even had the chance to challenge the decision. The determination that an individual may be a child and therefore could deserve all the rights of a child should, and must, be reason enough to prevent their removal. The situation must not be allowed to stand and it is for this reason that I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendments 124 and 125 are in my name and they have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who cannot be here but wanted me to say that she strongly supports the amendments, and the right reverend Prelate. I also support other amendments to which I have added my name—indeed, all amendments in this group, including the propositions that Clauses 55 and 56 should not stand part of the Bill. My amendments are more limited and would simply remove the power through regulation to treat those claiming to be a child as an adult, should they refuse to consent to scientific age assessment, and instead stipulate that regulations must make it clear that refusal to consent to such an assessment should not be taken to damage credibility.

The Immigration Minister justified the introduction of these clauses by way of government amendment on the unevidenced grounds that

“a very large number of young adults do pose as children”

and that he did not want

“to see a situation in which young adults are regularly coming into the UK illegally, posing as children, and ending up in our schools, in foster-care families and in unaccompanied-minor hotels, living cheek by jowl with genuine children”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23; col. 777.]

The new provisions would, he concluded, help to “stamp out this evil”. Clearly, it was not such an evil that these provisions were included in the original Bill. Instead, they appear to be a response to an assertion in Committee from Ben Bradley MP, again unevidenced. Yet, as the JCHR points out, it is not clear why the Government are legislating again on the issue so soon after passing the Nationality and Borders Act, without first subjecting that to post-legislative scrutiny.

More detailed evidence published around the same time by the Helen Bamber Foundation and cited by the right reverend Prelate indicated that the Minister had “wildly”—its word—exaggerated the proportion of age-disputed children found to be adults; this was based on freedom of information requests. Just today, Full Fact reported that a claim made in Parliament by the Immigration Minister that up to a fifth of adult male asylum seekers pretend to be children on arrival was false. FoI data showed that, between January and November last year, the actual figure was 1%. Can the Minister explain the discrepancy please?

This all reinforces the evidence from a Refugee Council study last year, which found that only 14 out of 223 young people with whom it worked in 2021, whose age had initially been determined as “certainly adult” by the Home Office, were in fact found to be adult. The council expressed serious concern that the wrongful assessment of children as adults is causing long-term harm to children as well as significant safeguarding risks. More recently, some of the children it has helped, who are at risk of being sent to Rwanda because of wrongful assessment, spoke of their fear and shock.

A different form of evidence came last year from a highly critical report by the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on the processing of small boat arrivals. It said:

“The treatment of those claiming to be children was not child-centred …The age assessment process was perfunctory and engagement with the young people was minimal”.

As the interim Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee pointed out, safeguarding issues do not arise only when adults pose as children. It said in a report:

“There is an equally important safeguarding issue when minors are incorrectly aged as adults and so inappropriately placed in adult facilities where they may be at risk”.

The implications of all this have become that much more serious in the context of Clauses 55 and 56 and of changes to age assessment—rejected by this House last year, to no avail. Our main focus last year was the introduction of scientific assessment and, in particular, the use of X-rays, in response to considerable concerns voiced by health bodies such as the British Dental Association and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. The latter is particularly concerned about Clauses 55 and 56 in the current Bill, noting that

“The science on age assessment is not robust enough to accurately determine a person’s age, which could result in a child being incorrectly assessed as an adult”.

The interim advisory committee itself proposed a cautious approach given that:

“There is no method, biological or social worker-led, that can predict age with precision”.

It also advocated that

“Any methodology used for the assessment of age must respect and prioritise the dignity of the individual being assessed and should minimise physical or psychological harm”.

I would argue that these clauses do not respect and prioritise the dignity of the child, as they are based on the assumption that the child is lying.

Crucial here is the issue of consent, on which the committee’s recommendation was very clear, saying that the child

“should be provided with clear information explaining the risks and benefits of biological evaluation in a format that allows the person undergoing the process to give informed consent and no automatic assumptions or consequences should result from refusal to consent”.

The committee’s advice underlined that

“in cases of refusal, the applicant should not be automatically considered an adult”,

and that:

“The consequences of refusal should not be so disproportionately adverse as to bias the applicant towards consent”.

It advised that

“it should be accepted that there may be many reasons”

for refusal to consent to biological assessment, which reflect different backgrounds. For example, the child may

“have witnessed or experienced trauma from their own homeland’s government institutions and may view all authority with suspicion and fear”.

Critical too is the question of capacity for consent. Can the Minister say how capacity will be determined and what will happen to children who lack the capacity to consent to the use of scientific methods? The British Association of Social Workers makes the point:

“The question of whether the asylum seeker can consent to the medical intervention is completely separate from the question of whether they are a child”.

Yet Clause 56, which gives the Home Secretary considerable discretion through regulations, in effect conflates the two. In doing so, it undermines the possibility of genuine consent and risks further trauma for children.

In response to the interim advisory committee’s report, the CEO of the Refugee Council said:

“These children simply want to start rebuilding their lives after the traumatic experiences they went through. They put their trust in us hoping they will get the support they need — it’s vital that they are safeguarded and provided the care that they need as they go through the system. The government must not ignore the committee’s findings”.

Can the Minister explain why the Government have ignored the very clear advice of their own advisory committee on the question of consent?

Do the Government at least accept the Constitution Committee’s recommendation that

“The power in clause 56(1) has such significant implications for an individual’s legal rights that it should be subject to the draft affirmative procedure”,

and the committee’s suggestion that “indicative draft regulations” should be made available during the Bill’s passage? In a similar vein, the JCHR recommends that guidance is issued

“as soon as possible setting out what would constitute reasonable grounds for refusing consent”.

Can we expect to see this before Report?

The Constitution Committee also warned that Clause 55 raises serious legal and constitutional issues. Others are better placed to pursue these, but as Justice, among others, points out, it “drastically reduces the accountability” of the Home Secretary for complex decisions about age and permits a child’s

“deportation when they are still pursuing a legal claim that they are a child”—

the normal right of appeal having been abolished.

The supplementary ECHR memo states that the Government

“concluded that it is important to make this change to prevent individuals frustrating the aims of the Bill”.

Could the Minister explain how this mean-minded conclusion can justify the limitations on a child’s rights? As the JCHR points out, this is clearly not in any child’s best interests and is not, in its view, reasonable given the

“far-reaching consequences for their treatment, their lives and their rights”.

What is the Government’s response to the clear recommendation of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that age-disputed children should not be removed to a third country? What steps will be taken to ensure that, in the words of the memo,

“The appropriate support and facilities”


“in place in the country of removal to ensure that the individual can effectively participate in their judicial review from abroad”?

Even with Zoom et cetera, it is difficult to see how a child can participate effectively from afar.

In conclusion, I simply quote the Children’s Commissioner, who has said in no uncertain terms that it is unacceptable to treat a child as an adult on the basis of their refusal to consent to scientific methods. She asks how genuine consent is possible, free from duress, given the implications of not consenting. She concludes:

“Where a child’s age is disputed … those awaiting resolution should be treated as vulnerable children first and foremost”.

Instead, as elsewhere in this Bill, it is a case of migrant first, not child first and certainly not child foremost.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 123 and 140, following on the points made by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. Amendment 123 in the name of my noble friend Lord Anderson, and to which I have added my name, is directed to the provision about judicial review in Clause 55(5), to which the right reverend Prelate drew our attention. His amendments ask for subsections (2) and (4) to be taken out, while this amendment asks for subsection (5) to be taken out, so I am building on the very impressive speech he made earlier.

The provision we seek to have removed states that a court “may quash the decision” relating to a person’s age only on the basis that it was wrong in law, not because

“the court considers the decision … wrong as a matter of fact”.

That is a very considerable restriction. As the Constitution Committee pointed out in its report on the Bill, errors are normally made in this context,

“not because of an error as to the definition of ‘a child’”,

which should be an issue of law, but

“because of problems with evidence to prove that an individual is under 18”.

Indeed, it is very hard to think of any error of law, in the proper sense of that phrase, that might arise in the context of age assessment. The effect of this restriction is to exclude judicial review, even in a case where there is an error of fact which no reasonable decision-taker, taking reasonable care, would have made. That is quite an extraordinary situation to be created by a provision in a Bill of this kind.

The report of the JCHR, which has been referred to often in these debates, says:

“Given errors of fact are highly likely when conducting age assessments based on subjective judgment, this is extremely concerning and gives carte blanche to Home Office errors”.

Without elaborating on that point—instead, I endorse all the points made by the right reverend Prelate—we suggest, in this amendment, that the restriction in Clause 55(5) is unreasonable, given the nature of the assessments that have been made; therefore, it should simply be deleted from the Bill.

While Amendment 123 is about something to be taken out from the Bill, Amendment 140 raises a point referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. It is about the power in Clause 56(1) to make regulations about the effect of a decision by a person

“not to consent to the use of a specified scientific method for the purposes of”

that person’s

“age assessment … where there are no reasonable grounds for”

that decision. The scope of the power, as explained in Clause 56(2), extends to setting out the circumstances in which civil legal services—in other words, civil legal aid—is not to be available to that person, and the person

“is to be treated as if the decision-maker had decided that”

the person

“was over the age of 18”.

It is significant that the clause does not go so far as to say, without qualification, that, if there are no reasonable grounds for the person’s decision not to consent, the person is to be treated simply as over the age of 18. The approach, which I suppose is to be commended, is to say that it all depends on the circumstances—that is, the purpose of the regulation which will be designed to set out what those circumstances are. Nevertheless, the exercise of this power has serious consequences for the person in respect of whom the power is to be exercised, as the Constitution Committee pointed out in its report.

At present, this power to make regulations is subject to the negative procedure, which we suggest is not appropriate, given the nature of the power being referred to. So our amendment seeks to add regulations made under this power to the list of regulations in Clause 63(4) that

“may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”.

Given the wide scope of this power and the lack of definition of how it will be exercised, we suggest that it is entirely appropriate for it to be added to that list and not subject to the negative procedure. Those are the reasons that the Constitution Committee wishes to put forward, and I give them in support of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for what they said—they said most of what I wanted to say. I declare an interest as chair of University College Hospital’s foundation trust and the Whittington Hospital NHS trust, because it is relevant to what I will say.

When we debated, rather later than this, the Nationality and Borders Bill in February 2022, as the right reverend Prelate observed, we debated something that allowed the Government to introduce regulations that specified scientific methods that could be used to assess age, including examining or measuring parts of a person’s body and analysing saliva, cell or other samples and the DNA within them. As we heard, the use of scientific methods to assess age has long been the subject of debate, and professional medical bodies have been unequivocal in rejecting the use of dental X-rays, bone age and genital examination as extremely imprecise as methods for assessing age, quite apart from being singularly unpleasant. I have not yet met a health professional who thinks that we should use these methods to assess the age of children or young people.

Yet the legislation went ahead and is now being strengthened, and young people who do not consent will be assumed to be adults, which is really worrying for all sorts of reasons already stated in this House. But, of course, it also undermines the fundamental premise that people have to be able to give free consent to any medical procedure or examination and should not be pressured into undergoing them. In the way that these clauses, and this particular clause, are drafted, there is no way in which these young people are not being pressured into undergoing these examinations and procedures. We should take this very seriously because almost every medical and healthcare body would say that this is unethical.

We debated much of this only 15 months ago. Back then, I said that there was wide concern about age assessments among the various voluntary and statutory agencies concerned with young asylum seekers and among many medical, dental and scientific bodies. But, as I said last week, I chair a small family charity in memory of my parents that provides opportunities for education for young asylum seekers, most of whom are slightly older than the group we are discussing here—but a few have not been. Without exception, they all say that the worst of all this is not only the procedures they are being asked to undergo but the fact that they are not believed. It is almost as if there is an assumption that they are not telling the truth.

It is clear that the use of some of these procedures is unethical—certainly if it is not for the young person’s benefit. Since that is the case, can the Minister tell the Committee why a young person or child who does not give consent to these procedures should always be disbelieved, and why they should be regarded as an adult if they do not consent? As a parliamentary body, we have to look at this really seriously. If we do not trust young people at all to tell us the truth, we are making a terrible assumption about those who come to this country, often traumatised and very vulnerable, looking for a better future.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. In this group, I propose that Clauses 55 and 56 should not stand part of the Bill. I will not repeat the points or arguments made so eloquently by noble Lords, save to say to the Minister that I echo all the questions that they posed.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred to the errors with age assessment. Given those, for me one of the key points was made by the British Association of Social Workers, which said that social workers are currently responsible for compiling age assessments, known as Merton assessments, but they are designed to ensure that the children’s needs are met—not for immigration purposes. That raises an issue that many doctors have also raised: that these professionals are registered, and in that registration have to abide by the ethics committee of their registration body, and therefore the individual that they are serving. The problem with the proposals in Clauses 55 and 56 is that they will become the agents of the Government and will not be there to best provide for the needs of the individual concerned.

Doctors also make the point that it is absolutely unethical to expose anyone to radiation from X-rays that are not for clinical purposes. There are risks associated with overexposure, particularly for young people who are still growing. I know from my own familial experience that there is quite often a debate between doctors about the frequency of MRI scans and X-rays.

The other problem, also covered by others, is that, should a person refuse to have scientific assessments, they will automatically be deemed adults. That is balanced by the comments made by the Children’s Commissioner about Gillick competence. I have not heard anybody else ask the Minister what government body will be responsible for ensuring that anybody who is deemed an adult but in fact is not, and therefore should have been under local authority care, will be able to access medical treatment and any other care that they would have been given had they had looked-after status and been with a local authority. Perhaps the slightly shorter way of saying that is to return to the question that we have covered quite a lot of times here in Committee: what is the role of the Home Office in all this, when the status of the child—or potential child—is not understood?

At Second Reading, when I raised this issue about the technology and asked why the clauses should remain in the Bill, the Minister said that he agreed that the technology was not ready but asserted that the clauses should remain because it was quite probable that it would be ready in a fairly short space of time. All the evidence that we have had, including from the previous Home Secretary’s committee, says that it is not ready and that, although it might come, there is absolutely no clear date on the horizon.

From the perspective of these Benches, the science does not work and there is no firm data or technology to show that it will; all the professionals involved have ethical considerations about the registration bodies, and these two clauses would force them to move away from that; carrying out tests such as MRI scans and X-rays for non-clinical reasons could well damage the people undergoing them; and, finally, there is the question of whether the child can give consent, not just because of Gillick competence but because their language ability and the trauma they have been through might not allow them to do so under duress. That is why we believe the only solution is to remove Clauses 55 and 56.

My Lords, this is a very important group of amendments. I shall not speak particularly to my Amendment 127, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, because the debate has focused on some of the other amendments in the group and, given the hour, it is probably important to say a few words about those.

I start by saying to the Government that, unless they listen to some of the points that have been made by many noble Lords, children who deserve support will not receive it. That is the reality. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to look at what the Bill says and, at the very least, mitigate some of it and tighten up some of the various procedures.

I remind your Lordships that Clause 55 is new, as it was introduced during Report in the House of Commons. It provides that a decision on the age of a person who meets the full conditions of Clause 2 is made under Sections 50 or 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. The person cannot appeal the decision, hence the crucial Amendment 121, proposed by my noble friend Lady Lister along with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. It is an essential change to Clause 55(2) and (3). Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, tabled Amendment 123 to deal with a problem with Clause 55(5). These are essential changes to how Clause 55 will operate, in order to protect the interests of children. I hope the Minister will listen to what has been said and respond to it.

This lack of an appeal is the case, even if the age assessment is made for purposes other than removal. I also point out that any judicial review, under Clause 55(3), will not prevent or suspend the Home Secretary from exercising a power or duty to remove a person under this Bill. Therefore, if removed, the person whose age is disputed would have to continue their judicial review from overseas and may struggle to find the appropriate support and facilities effectively to participate in it. A court may only quash the decision, as we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on the basis of Clause 55.

In the ECHR memorandum, issued alongside the new amendments to the Bill, the Government have stated that, although the new clause was capable of being applied consistently with Article 6 of the ECHR, the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, would be unable to make a statement under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act in respect of Clause 55. Therefore, it is clear that there are substantial problems with the clause and with the Home Office’s method for age assessments.

It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to all the various points that have been made—but, at the heart of it, if the Government do not make some changes and bring forward some of their own amendments on the basis of the very real problems that have been identified in the Committee, we will see some amendments brought forward at Report. As my noble friend Lady Lister has pointed out, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, and the right reverend Prelate have said, we are talking about children here. Many will be denied the justice that they deserve if this is carried forward unamended.

My Lords, as we have heard, these clauses and amendments take us on to the provisions regarding age assessments. As I set out last week, the duty to make arrangements for removal in Clause 2 of the Bill does not apply to unaccompanied children until they reach adulthood. There is a power to remove them, but the Bill provides, as the Committee well knows, that this may be exercised only in very limited circumstances, such as for the purposes of reunion with a parent or where removal is to a safe country of origin.

Given that unaccompanied children will be treated differently from adults under the Bill, and the obvious safeguarding risks of adults purporting to be children being placed within our care system, it is important that we take steps to deter adults from claiming to be children and to avoid lengthy legal challenges to age-assessment decisions preventing the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults. Receiving care and services reserved for children also incurs costs and reduces accessibility of these services for genuine children who need them.

Assessing age is inherently difficult, as the right reverend Prelate identified. However, it is crucial that we disincentivise adults from knowingly misrepresenting themselves as children, given that unaccompanied children will be treated differently from adults under this Bill. Our data shows that between 2016 and March 2023 there were 8,611 asylum cases where age was disputed and subsequently resolved following an age assessment, of which nearly half—47%, 4,088 individuals—were found to be adults. Accordingly, Clause 55 disapplies the yet to be commenced right of appeal for age assessments, established in Section 54 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, for those who meet the four conditions in Clause 2 of this Bill. Instead, those wishing to challenge a decision on age will be able to do so through judicial review, but that review will not suspend removal and can continue from outside the UK after they have been removed.

In addition, Clause 55(5), identified by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—

The Minister referred to the figures increasing for disputed children, because the figures in 2021 had increased. I am looking at the information from the Helen Bamber Foundation. The foundation makes the point that in 2021, the Home Office started publishing statistics which included children who were being treated as adults by the Home Office after a short visual assessment only, but the actual data has not been disaggregated beyond that. Does the Minister recognise that it is apples and pears—it is not looking at the same thing? A different group of children were being included within the data.

I do not recognise those statistics, but I will of course look at the Helen Bamber Foundation report that the noble Baroness identifies. The facts are stark. As I have already identified, a large proportion of disputed age-assessment cases result in the applicant being found to be over 18.

Clause 55(5), as commented upon by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, seeks to ensure that age assessment judicial reviews will be considered by the courts on normal public law principles such as rationality, public law unreasonableness and procedural fairness. Such a challenge on these grounds is not as restrictive as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has suggested. However, Clause 55(5) will seek to ensure that the court does not consider age as a matter of fact and will not substitute its own decision on age, distinguishing itself from the position of the Supreme Court in the judgment of R (on the application of A) v London Borough of Croydon 2009.

Amendments 121 to 123, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, seek to negate these provisions by omitting Clause 55(2), (4) and (5). They are not amendments which I can commend to the Committee. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked whether a person would be returned to the UK if a judicial review was successful. This would depend on the nature of the court’s judgment and any associated order. We will, of course, comply with any order of the court.

Amendments 124 to 126, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, would similarly have the effect of neutering Clause 56. Clause 56 again seeks to disincentivise adults from knowingly misrepresenting themselves as children by making use of scientific age-assessment methods already employed in many other European countries, including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Specifically, Clause 56 will enable us to bring forward regulations to provide that a person is to be treated as an adult if they refuse to consent to specified scientific methods for the purpose of age assessment, and the clause already provides that this would be the case only if the refusal was without good reason. I assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Brinton, and other noble Lords that the regulation-making power will not be exercised until the science is sufficiently accurate to support providing for an automatic assumption of adulthood.

Given this, it would be premature to provide draft regulations as to the level of parliamentary scrutiny to apply to those regulations. We note the Constitution Committee’s recommendation that the affirmative procedure should apply—a point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—and we will respond in advance of the next stage.

Can I just pick up something before the Minister leaves this point? If I understood the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, correctly, she wanted to know how a child could consent to a scientific assessment that assesses their age.

They participate in the particular type of medical scan that is utilised. That is the practice adopted by our European partners.

Whether it is adopted by our European partners or not, Gillick competence is the key UK law that is used to decide whether a child can or cannot do it. It is not just Gillick competence; it is about whether they have the language to understand what is being asked of them. Could the Minister respond on the Gillick competence point, please? That is UK law.

The provisions in the Bill are clear, and, as I say, in due course draft regulations will be provided, and they will be subject to scrutiny by this House. I am afraid there is little point speculating in the abstract on questions of Gillick competence in the absence of the regulations. But the point is clear that it would be contrary to the purpose of these provisions if an applicant was able simply to refuse to participate in scientific age assessment and that were to have no consequences; that would rob such provisions of efficacy, as the noble Baroness would have to concede, I suggest.

It is quite astonishing to hear a Minister of the Crown say, from what I can understand, that a child can therefore be forced to comply with some scientific method of age assessment. In every area of public life in this country, the competence of a child to make a decision is structured in a way that takes into account the fact that they are children, even if, as in this case, they are potentially children. What the Minister is saying is quite astonishing. I have no idea what it means regarding how you assess the age of a child and ensure that that child in some way gives consent. Is there a social worker? Is there someone acting in loco parentis? Is there some sort of structure that means that you cannot just force a child to take part in some sort of scientific method that looks into their age?

I fear that we are speaking at cross purposes. I certainly would not compel any child to participate in age assessment.

The whole point is that they are, in effect, being compelled. This point was made by the interim age advisory committee—a committee set up by the Government. Why are the Government ignoring its advice? They are doing the opposite of what it says should be done. It said:

“The consequences of refusal should not be so disproportionately adverse as to bias the applicant towards consent”.

That is exactly what is happening.

It is difficult to debate these measures. As I say, in the event that the situation is advanced by the development of these scientific methods and regulations are brought forward, we can have further discussions about the provisions on that occasion. However, in principle, there is nothing wrong with having available a protection that would mark the fact that, if you have scientific age assessment, simply saying “I don’t consent” would provide you with an opportunity not to adhere to the scheme that applies to everyone else. For those reasons, at an abstract level, there is no reason you could not have a situation where willingness to undertake a scientific age assessment is given full weight by a decision-maker in a way that, if someone refused to participate, it might not be. It always depends on the circumstances in regulations.

I am sorry but can the Minister explain how this can be acceptable when subjecting young people—children—to investigations such as X-rays that are not at all for their benefit is inherently unethical? How can this be justified in the way he has just done?

I am not sure that I agree with the allegation that this is unethical because, as the noble Baroness may recall, on a previous occasion when the principles of age assessment were discussed in this House, my noble friend Lord Lilley observed that the radiation risk in taking an X-ray is comparable to that of a transatlantic flight. I suggest that, as long as the appropriate safeguards are in place, there is nothing in principle wrong with inviting an applicant who says that they are under 18 to participate in an X-ray procedure.

It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has expertise that the Committee is not aware of but the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is very clear that every single doctor registered with the GMC—and the equivalents for X-ray technologists and others—would be required, under the terms of their registration, to consider whether the work that they were doing was ethical. It is absolutely confident that it would not be, so one further question here—I do not want us to go into it now because we do not have time—is: how will the Government deliver this measure if all registered professionals are told by their registration bodies that they should not do this work?

As the noble Baroness rightly says, now is not the moment to discuss this hypothetical but it is notable that our European neighbours operate such schemes and clearly have professionals who participate. These are all matters that would need to be looked at in the event that the scheme—

The noble Baroness now invites me to embark on a discussion that she just said she did not want to have. I agree with her first position because it is not relevant to the amendment that she raises.

Amendment 127 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on scientific age assessment methods, the attendant scientific advice and the statistics relating to their use. The Home Office already publishes such information: quarterly datasets including age disputes are available on GOV.UK—we have heard references to those in Committee this evening—and, when scientific methods of age assessment are introduced, the Home Office will ensure that we report and monitor that information. The Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee continues to provide scientific advice to the Home Secretary and the Home Office’s chief scientific adviser. Their first report was published on GOV.UK, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, identified, and the Government will continue to seek advice from the committee. Given that we already publish the kind of information and data proposed by the noble Lord, I submit that his amendment is unnecessary.

What is the point of seeking advice if it is then ignored? While I am on my feet, because I was not quick enough earlier, the Minister gave some figures that the right reverend Prelate, other noble Lords and I disputed, but it is as if we have not spoken. The evidence we presented was just ignored. It suggests that government Ministers tend to wildly exaggerate the proportion of children who are wrongly assessed as adults presenting themselves as children. We want the Minister to engage, if not now then in writing, with the figures that we came up with. I am appalled that the Minister has not even read the Helen Bamber Foundation report, because that is the best report on age assessment that there is. I very much hope that at least his officials have read it, but I will leave it at that.

Of course we consider the advice provided by the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee and the Home Office’s chief scientific adviser, and we will continue to do so. It is because we are in the process of awaiting such advice that the age assessment process is not fully operational. That demonstrates that we take and appreciate the advice that we are given.

As to the information questions, I will look at the statistics that the noble Baroness raises. I do not recognise them immediately, which is not to say that they are not properly reflective. There are a lot of statistics published on the Home Office website, so I appreciate that there may be some conclusions to draw. I will certainly look at that.

Government Amendment 123C is a clarificatory amendment that simply ensures that Clause 55 applies to any decisions following the regulations made under Clause 56, which automatically assumes someone to be an adult as a result of their refusal to consent to a scientific age assessment. It includes a decision as to whether an individual has reasonable grounds to refuse consent to a scientific age assessment.

We cannot escape the fact that almost half of asylum seekers claiming to be children were found to be adults. Those seeking to game the system in this way create clear safeguarding risks to genuine children and delay their removal. Clauses 55 and 56 are a necessary part of the framework of the Bill to ensure that we can swiftly remove those subject to the duty in Clause 2. I therefore invite the right reverend Prelate to withdraw his amendment.

The Minister did not allow me to intervene earlier, so will he allow me to intervene now? In what world can he say that a child freely consents to a scientific assessment on the basis that, if that child does not consent, they will be treated as an adult and removed from the United Kingdom?

We have already canvassed these topics, but there are many ways for a decision-maker to take a refusal to consent into account. It need not be an automatic presumption that somebody is of age; it can be treated in a variety of potential ways, which will be described in the regulations. They will be subject to debate at that time. I am afraid that that is the answer to the noble Lord’s question.

I thank all noble Lords for contributing to the debate and for interjecting during the Minister’s response with many of the questions that I noted. I repeat what I said earlier: the Minister of State justified the inclusion of Clauses 55 and 56 in the Bill by saying that

“around 50% of those people who are assessed are ultimately determined to be adults”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/23; col. 777.]

To be fair, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, said just under 50%, which is a slight change.

However, I went on to ask whether the Minister could confirm that this figure is misleading, given that it includes individuals subsequently found to be children after referral to a local authority. He has not answered that question, but please do not try to do so now; please write. The Helen Bamber Foundation found that 1,386 individuals were referred to local authorities in 2022, of whom 867 were found to be children. That is about 62% to 63%. Clearly, several of us are going to read Hansard very carefully and we would like the Minister to go away and reflect on the figures a bit further.

For all the reasons that have been raised by colleagues, who I thank for all their support—I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his additional proposal, which makes complete sense—the Minister will not be surprised that we are likely to return to this on Report, because we think these things matter enormously.

I think there is an assumption made by the Home Office that it is adults pretending to be children; most of us come at it the other way round, and are worried about children who are deemed to be adults and are therefore placed in unsafe places. Somewhere, the two have got to meet and talk with each other and consider each other. I suggest that the Home Office has some very good conversations with the DfE, social workers and health professionals about how to understand children and how they work, including children who are 16 and 17 years old, because they are still not adults. However, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 121 withdrawn.

Amendments 122 and 123 not moved.

Amendments 123A to 123C

Moved by

123A: Clause 55, page 56, line 33, after “court” insert “or tribunal”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and the amendment in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 56, line 36 supplement references in Clause 55 to the court with references to the tribunal.

123B: Clause 55, page 56, line 36, after “court” insert “or tribunal”

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement in the name of Lord Murray of Blidworth at page 56, line 33.

123C: Clause 55, page 57, line 12, at end insert—

“(7A) For the purposes of this section, the cases in which a relevant authority decides the age of a person on an age assessment under section 50 or 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 include where a relevant authority is treated by virtue of regulations under section 56 of this Act as having decided that a person is over the age of 18.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment clarifies that the provisions in Clause 55 about decisions as to a person’s age apply to a case where a decision-maker is treated as having decided a person is over the age of 18 by virtue of regulations under Clause 56.

Amendments 123A to 123C agreed.

Clause 55, as amended, agreed.

Clause 56: Age assessments: power to make provision about refusal to consent to scientific methods

Amendments 124 to 126 not moved.

Clause 56 agreed.

Amendment 127 not moved.

Clause 57: Inadmissibility of certain asylum and human rights claims

Amendment 128

Moved by

128: Clause 57, page 58, line 41, at end insert—

“(iii) at the appropriate place insert—““national” includes citizen;”;”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment modifies the amendments to section 80A of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 in clause 57. The new amendment to section 80A inserts a definition of “national” which applies to references to a person who is a national of a State (in that section and section 80AA of that Act) so that citizens of that State are included. This is for consistency with the freestanding provision in the Bill.

Amendment 128 agreed.

Amendment 128A

Moved by

128A: Clause 57, page 59, leave out line 4

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to remove Albania from the list of “safe states” with reference to which asylum and human rights claims will be deemed inadmissible.

My Lords, Amendment 128A is also being proposed by the JCHR. I thank my noble friend Lord Cashman for his support, although I am afraid he has had to leave.

The amendment seeks to remove Albania from the list of safe states with reference to which asylum and human rights claims will be deemed inadmissible. I was prompted to table this amendment following a meeting with a group of young Albanians, which was organised by the Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit, MiCLU, and the Shpresa Programme. I am grateful to them, and to Professor Helen Stalford, for the information they have provided. All the young people had sought asylum in the UK. Some had been accepted, and some were still awaiting determination of their claims.

The young people had two clear messages. The first related to how they are talked about and perceived, by politicians and the media in particular, which frames discussions about the rights of Albanians to enter and stay in the UK. The young people talked about how hurtful and injurious to their identity it was to be constantly talked about as criminals with no right to be here.

One young Albanian asylum seeker quoted in the MiCLU briefing talked about having experienced racism:

“When you say you are from Albania, people distance from you. People have said I am a criminal and other words. It becomes hard for people to engage in society. Even people who have status”.

The second message, more directly related to this clause, was that Albania is not a safe country for many Albanians, yet policy is premised on the assumption that it is. For example, on our second day in Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, stated categorically that Albania is safe and that

“there is no good reason why a national from … Albania, should not be sent back to their home country”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1227.]

Once again, the evidence does not support the simplistic premises on which the Bill is built. There are many good reasons why it might not be safe to return an Albanian national to their home country. At an earlier meeting organised by the APPG on Migration, of which I am an officer, the head of the UK migrant protection and assistance unit of the International Organization for Migration, the UN migration agency, explained that

“Migration from Albania is a complex picture”,

but that nevertheless

“the claims about Albanians abusing the asylum and modern slavery systems are not supported by evidence, rather they are damaging and unhelpful”.

Binding country guidance case law, according to ILPA, confirms that there can be risk of persecution in Albania. Moreover, the Home Office’s own country and policy information notes, which contain factual, research-based information, explain why, in effect, Albania is all too often not safe, even if the Home Office notes reach a different conclusion. The notes identify trafficking, blood feuds, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and domestic violence against women as key factors. The JCHR raises particular concerns about the implications for Albanian women and children. As noble Lords will be aware, refugee status does not have to arise as a result of war or conflict; it can involve people fleeing from laws or practices which are in effect persecutory and threats from non-state actors where their home Government are unable or unwilling to protect them.

Research with young asylum seekers, conducted by Professor Stalford and colleagues, reported to the JCHR, found a complex

“mixture of exploitation, cultural blood feuds, trafficking and organised crime”

driving the search for asylum among young Albanians. A number of the Albanian asylum seekers it spoke to were unaccompanied children. As many as 424 unaccompanied children from Albania were granted leave to remain in 2022. Listing Albania as a safe country could well lead to such children’s claims being deemed inadmissible, and them therefore being returned to situations of significant risk.

The UNHCR’s legal observations on the Bill suggest that the inclusion of Albania on the list of countries from which asylum and human rights claims are deemed inadmissible

“raises concerns inter alia about a possible breach of Article 3 of the Refugee Convention, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality”.

It suggests that this is not permissible because it makes

“all asylum claims from citizens of Albania inadmissible in the absence of ‘exceptional circumstances’, in direct contradiction to the view of the UK’s country of origin information department and the specialist domestic tribunal charged with setting out ‘country guidance’ that certain groups of Albanian citizens may be at real risk of persecution”.

The JCHR warns that

“The automatic return”

of Albanians

“without any consideration of their claims could potentially place the UK in breach of the principle of non-refoulement in circumstances where individuals may face a real risk of persecution or a violation of their Convention rights upon return”.

It recommends that

“Clause 57 should be amended to include criteria for designating countries as ‘safe’ which is based on strict and objective criteria based on reliable information”.

I am aware that, coincidentally, the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report on Albania today, which no doubt the Home Office will pray in aid of its case because it concludes that Albania is a safe country.

It is a pity that the committee had not read the JCHR report, because it would have seen its observation that, while Albania may be considered to be safe in general, this does not guarantee safety for all individuals, particularly those who are members of a particular social group such as female victims of trafficking. I am sure that if my noble friend Lord Cashman had still been with us, he would have talked about the persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Albania.

Today’s Guardian quotes David Neale, a legal researcher with expertise in Albanian migration, who gave written evidence to the committee on how many Albanians are fleeing a cycle of blood feuds and revenge from which they do not generally receive adequate protection from the state. MiCLU has commented on the report in similar terms, with a reference to a range of groups—including members of the LGBTQ+ and of the ethnic Roma and Egyptian communities—who can be subjected to discrimination and violence. It responds to the report’s conclusion that there is no clear basis for the UK to

“routinely accept thousands of asylum applications from Albanian citizens”

by pointing out that no one has argued that we should. Instead, applicants’ individual circumstances should be considered in line with our international obligations.

MiCLU emailed me today to say that it will be publishing an open letter in support of our amendment that already has around 60 signatures from a range of refugee and other organisations, academics and clerics. Those signatories who provide professional support services for Albanian asylum seekers and victims of trafficking tell of how they have directly witnessed the fear and suffering faced by a group of people who, though in extremely vulnerable circumstances, often remain unrecognised as such by the wider society. To return to my first point, this is only exacerbated by prevailing narratives of criminality and abuse of the asylum system, which fuel rising xenophobia against Albanians. This is the premise underlying the inclusion of Albanians in Clause 57.

I will end by quoting a couple of young Albanian asylum seekers themselves:

“I feel scared, not just upset, because maybe they will deport me and people are killed there all the time”,


“Saying that Albanian asylum seekers are lying is just based on subjective opinions and not facts. Just because it is not at war like Afghanistan or Iraq does not mean that it is a safe place”.

Once again, non-evidence based policy-making rules OK. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise—when I get my papers in proper order—to support my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett in her Amendment 128A. As she explained, the purpose of this amendment is to remove Albania from the list of safe states in new Section 80AA on page 59 of the Bill.

As I rise, I am looking at the clock at 5.40 am—or rather 1.40 am; happily, we have not got as bad as 5.40 am, and it is certainly better than 4.20 am. I do regret that we are having to debate these important matters so late in the night. My sympathy, first of all, goes to the Ministers: they have had to work so hard on this matter. My sympathy extends to all those friends of the Minister sitting behind him. They seem to have left him now, but earlier there were hordes of them here. But this has happened and it is all part of a purge to get this Bill through in the summer—

My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful for his sympathy. I am delighted to be here, but we would move forward a great deal faster if we had not had so many repetitious speeches.

Well, my Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord thought my speech about sympathy was repetitious. I have not heard it yet today, and I give those words of sympathy with great sincerity.

The important thing is to look at the state of Albania. Albania was a communist state under a particularly vicious dictator, Hoxha, until the mid-1980s. Great steps have been made since then, and when the USSR broke its ranks many Albanians worked very hard in democracy. But things have not always gone right. For example, in 1997 the Government of Berisha, who was then the president of the country, collapsed in the wake of pyramid schemes and widespread corruption. More recently, in February last year the president was subject to impeachment proceedings which were stopped only by the Albanian constitutional court.

I mention that because in the number of years that I acted as an international arbitrator and conducted arbitrations arising out of activities in the former countries of the USSR, time and again one came across very serious corruption which led to feuds and sometimes to heinous blood feuds. Corruption is a matter of great concern, and one wonders exactly how the list of safe states was drawn up; in that list are other countries of similar background to Albania—Bulgaria and Romania to name two. One looks at the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act to see what the test is, according to that Act, for the Secretary of State to take their decision. In new Section 80AA(3) it says:

“The Secretary of State may add a State to the list only if satisfied that … there is in general in that State no serious risk of persecution of nationals of that State”.

How strictly has that been applied, if it has been applied at all?

As my noble friend Lady Lister said, there is a lot of evidence of significant and outstanding issues in Albania relating to corruption, trafficking, blood feuds, discrimination and violence against the LGBT community, and stigma and discrimination against ethnic Roma and Egyptian communities and so forth. There are real grounds to be concerned whether, on any definition, Albania is properly placed as a safe country. That view is supported in our own Home Office’s work in 2022 when the UK granted protection status to 700 Albanian nationals, including 60 unaccompanied children.

For all those reasons, I hope your Lordships will feel that they should be on the safe side and remove Albania from the list of safe states.

My Lords, I will speak to the proposition that Clause 57 should not stand part of the Bill. Before I do, let me say that there are various myths arising around this Bill, one of which is that the Government are going to deport vast numbers of people, and another is that speeches from this side of the Committee are repetitious. I think it is regrettable that that sort of claim is being made. I referred at the beginning of proceedings today to the fact that this Bill got almost no scrutiny in the other place. As Dr Hannah White, the director of the Institute for Government, said last night on the radio, it has just come to expect that we will do that job.

Yet when we try to do our job, we are abused, bullied and intimidated, quite honestly, as we were until 4.20 am last Thursday. It would be perfectly possible to have an agreed, more rational timetable for this Bill. For instance, I do not know why we are starting at 11 am on Wednesday when we will have only eight groups left to do. Quite honestly, I do not appreciate the behaviour of the Government over this Bill.

Anyway, Clause 57 expands the inadmissibility provisions generally, not just in respect of individuals caught by Clause 2, so that non-EU EEA countries and, most notably, Albania are added to a list of so-called safe countries of origin. Secondly, the Secretary of State may add to this list relatively easily. Again, who is taking back control? It is certainly not Parliament. Thirdly, human rights claims as well as asylum claims made by individuals from listed countries must be declared inadmissible. All this gives rise to serious risks that individuals will be exposed to refoulement.

I agree with the objection to putting Albania on to the list of safe states. A large number of well-founded asylum claims by Albanian nationals are likely not to be considered. The figures are, apparently, that the initial grant rate for Albanian women last year was 85% and for Albanian children 87%, so to say that there does not seem to be any validity to Albanian claims does not seem to be borne out by the figures.

The UNHCR makes a very interesting and important point, which certainly resonates with my experiences as an MEP working in part on immigration and asylum matters. When we were in the EU, the interpretive principles that were developed concerning asylum seekers from EU countries were confined to EU member states. The presumptions of safety reflected their inclusion in a shared system of refugee and human rights law. That is what we did. We all participated, including in the Council of Ministers in which this country was represented by government Ministers, in the establishment of this common body of law that not only set high minimum standards but was known to British courts, was published in English and applied throughout the EU.

Deviations from those standards were visible to UK courts and decision-makers, as they could be seen in the judgments of the European Court of Justice and in procedures under the treaties under Article 7—for instance, against Hungary or Poland. It was kind of known what the situation was in the countries which were on the safe country list, but once you expand the list beyond the EU, countries may be included whose laws and systems are not as effective at protecting fundamental rights, and this may not be fully understood by British decision-making. There is a clear risk that the presumption that the country’s human rights system is so effective that little individualised scrutiny is required will not be correct.

Clause 57(2) renders inadmissible all human rights claims from citizens of listed countries. It may be contrary to Article 3 of the refugee convention and Article 14 of the ECHR because human rights claims, unlike asylum claims, are not necessarily linked to or determined by the country from which they arise. If you have a young child separated from their parents, it is not going to have less of an adverse impact on that child simply because the parent faces removal to a country within the EEA or Albania; that has nothing to do with the human rights case that the child would try to make. So, basically, Clause 57 is not well drafted.

Lastly, making all asylum claims from Albanian citizens inadmissible appears to conflict with the views of the UK’s country of origin information list, where reference is made to a Home Office Country Policy and Information Note: Human Trafficking, Albania, February 2023. There are valid concerns even from within the Home Office that Albania is not a safe country for everybody, although it may be for some people. Therefore, some individuals or groups of Albanian citizens may be at real risk of persecution, so the blanket approach of Clause 57 is completely inappropriate if we are really going to respond to human rights claims.

My Lords, I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say to many of the questions raised. We will then consider what to do between now and Report.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken: the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Hacking.

The measures in Clause 57 aim to deter claims from nationals from safe countries who seek to abuse our asylum system and do not need to seek protection in the UK. It will consequently reduce pressure on our asylum system and allow us to focus on those most in need of our protection.

Treating asylum claims from EU nationals in this way is not new, as I think all noble Lords recognised. It has been a long-standing process in the UK asylum system and is also employed by EU states. However, EU states are not the only safe countries. It is right that we expand these provisions so that they apply not only to nationals of the EU but to other safe countries that we have assessed as generally safe. At this time, the list has been expanded to include the other European Economic Area countries, Switzerland and Albania. This clause also includes powers that would allow us to expand this list further to other safe countries of origin in future.

Furthermore, these provisions will expand this approach to include human rights claims. If a country is generally safe, it stands to reason not only that asylum claims should be declared inadmissible but that any related human rights claims should be treated likewise. If a person has other reasons for wishing to come to the UK, they should apply through the appropriate routes. People should not seek to use our asylum system to circumnavigate those routes.

However, even if a country is generally considered safe, it is acknowledged that there could be exceptional circumstances in which it may not be appropriate to return an individual. If the person does not meet the conditions of the duty and makes an asylum or human rights claim, and there are exceptional circumstances as a result of which the Secretary of State considers that a claim ought to be considered, then their claims will be considered in the UK. If a person meets the conditions of the duty and makes a protection and human rights claim, and the Secretary of State accepts that there are exceptional circumstances which prevent removal to their country of origin, they will instead be removed to a safe third country. Therefore, it is considered that these provisions incorporate appropriate safeguards to ensure that we will not return an individual where it would not be safe to do so.

Amendment 128A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, seeks to remove Albania from the list of safe states for the purposes of Section 80A. For a country to be added to the list of safe countries of origin, it must be assessed as safe, as per the test set out in new Section 80AA of the 2002 Act. We are satisfied that, in general, Albania—a NATO member, an ECAT signatory and an EU accession country—meets that test. Indeed, the cross-party Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Dame Diana Johnson, said in its report published just yesterday:

“Albania is a safe country and we have seen little evidence that its citizens should ordinarily require asylum”.

Furthermore, as already set out, the provisions incorporate appropriate safeguards, should it be accepted that there are exceptional circumstances why an Albanian national should not be returned there.

As I have indicated, these sensible extensions to the inadmissibility arrangements which currently apply to EU nationals will help to reduce the pressures on our asylum system and enable us better to focus on those most in need of protection. I commend the clause to the Committee and invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to those who have spoken, especially my noble friend Lord Hacking; he has been extremely noble to stay this late to speak, and he speaks from his first-hand experience of Albania.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, said that if there had not been so much repetition, we would not still be here at this time. However, the Minister, in his reply, has shown why sometimes there is repetition: because there is no evidence that the Minister listens. I talked about the Home Affairs Committee and why the response to it was not good enough, but he read his speech about the Home Affairs Committee as if it had not been mentioned. This happens time and time again. The main repetition I heard this evening was from the Government Benches giving very detailed information about the Policy Exchange report over and again. We could have done without that.

It is late, and I do not think that we want to go beyond 2 am, if we can possibly help it; I am shaking with tiredness. The Minister has not engaged at all with the arguments put that, while Albania may be a safe country for many people, it is not safe for everyone. It is just not good enough to say, “Well, in exceptional circumstances, their claims can be considered”. There are some very vulnerable people—people who have fled extremely difficult circumstances that none of us would want to face—who have sought asylum here and been granted asylum here for good reason. I sometimes wonder what the point is of us standing up saying these things, when the Minister then stands up and gives us a response that takes no account whatever of what has been said. That said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 128A withdrawn.

Clause 57, as amended, agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 1.59 am.