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Lords Will "Fight" Government On Complying With International Law In Illegal Migration Bill


4 min read

Peers will introduce an amendment designed to force the government to comply with international law when the illegal migration bill returns to the House of Lords this week, in what one peer described as its next “fight” with the government.

The Illegal Migration Bill is due to return to the House of Lords at report stage tomorrow, with peers expecting there to be intense discussion on issues such as the legislation's adherence with the rule of law, rights for children, and how it tackles modern slavery. 

If accepted, the amendment would force ministers to ensure that controversial new legislation aimed at tackling illegal migration in the UK does not breach a number of major international treaties. The peers who have tabled it are concerned that a number of international laws are at risk of being broken by the legislation in its current form, including laws that protect refugees, children, and laws that protect against torture. 

The amendment aims to prevent anything in the new legislation conflicting with the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees including the Protocol to that Convention;  the 1954 and 1961 UN Conventions on the Reduction of Statelessness;  the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. 

The bill has attracted criticism from charities and a number of peers before now, with concerns that it will not protect vulnerable groups such as children or victims of trafficking. 

Those who have spoken out against it include the Archbishop of Canterbury, who in the Lords last month described the legislation as "isolationist" and "morally unacceptable". The report stage will give Lords the opportunity to vote on proposed changes they have put forward to the legislation, and could put them at odds with the Commons, should MPs not agree. 

“In the Lords we tend not to vote at committee stage we have our fights at report stage," Chakrabarti said.  

 “So this is Act One. Act one, Clause one, Scene one.”  

Earlier this month, PoliticsHome reported that peers had formulated the proposed change to the Bill, which would prevent the government from breaching five international treaties signed since the Second World War. 

It was discussed at the earlier committee stage, but as per the usual Lords processes, was not pushed to a vote then, and Chakrabarti has now confirmed to PoliticsHome that she intends to bring it back when the report stage begins tomorrow. 

"There is a general consensus in the House of Lords that the government has to 'care about' its international obligations, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Labour peer and signatory to the amendment," she explained. 

“What’s really important to peers across the House – Tories, Lib Dems, Labour, crossbenchers – is [...] firstly the rule of law whether domestic or international, and secondly international law,” the former shadow attorney general said.

“And these values are shared all across the House by most peers, not all. 

"There's been an influx of peers in recent times with different opinions, but it is still a sort of consensus opinion in the House of Lords [...] You have to care about the domestic rule of law and in these difficult times for the planet more than ever, the international rules,” she explained.  

“The first fight we're probably going to have is this amendment,” Chakrabarti added.  

Alongside Chakrabarti, former Conservative immigration minister Lord Timothy Kirkhope of Harrogate is a signatory of the amendment. He is confident that it will get the backing of the Lords, but thinks it will be the “one that we’re going to end up ping-ponging”. 

'Ping pong' is the term used to describe when a bill or part of a bill is  sent back and forth between the Commons and the Lords, usually if the two Houses cannot agree. 

Kirkhope told PoliticsHome  that “all” peers are asking for is that "whatever else it decides to do, the government should not go ahead and break international agreements and conventions”. 

He is also concerned that the bill could impact the UK’s international standing, and questioned whether other nations would sign agreements with the government if they do not make these promises to stick to the existing frameworks. 

“Why should they do that, if at the same time the British government is openly and with knowledge, moving to break international law, for the sake for the sake of a domestic law [...] that actually in our opinion isn't going to put right the issues that they've put up;  in other words, stop the boats.” 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have repeatedly set out their desire to reduce illegal migration as a government priority.

Earlier today, the Women and Equalities committee said there should be a “blanket” ban on detaining and removing asylum seeking children to Rwanda, in their report into wider government asylum policy.  

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