Peers find fault with many aspects of nationality and borders bill, in particular proposal to divide refugees into classes
Priti Patel’s nationality and borders bill has been ripped apart for a second time by the House of Lords as the government suffered more than 10 defeats over controversial proposals to tighten immigration rules.
Peers supported proposals to ensure that the bill complied with the 1951 Refugee Convention and challenged the government’s plan to redefine refugees into two classes based on how they arrived in the UK.
They also voted to allow asylum seekers to work if their case had not been resolved within six months; to require formal returns agreements with third states to ensure safe returns; and to allow unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Europe to join a family member legally in the UK.
A succession of votes went against the government as the session in the House of Lords crept towards midnight. Amendments on protection and support for victims of modern slavery passed – one by just a single vote.
After 12 defeats, the only vote to go in the government’s favour was over whether the best interests of a child must be the “primary consideration” in decisions about under-18s.
The defeats, following similar rejections in the upper chamber earlier in the year, mean that ministers could be forced to make concessions if they are to ease the bill through the second chamber amid an increasingly tight legislative logjam.
The government is expected to prorogue parliament later this month, but still has a number of major bills to take through both houses.
The usual convention is that the Lords is expected to give way if MPs make it plain they do not back amendments from peers. But the lack of remaining time means a miscalculation by the government could force concessions or cause the bill to fall.
Peers defeated the government in demanding extra safeguards over a measure that would allow people to be stripped of their British citizenship without warning.
In another government defeat, peers backed by 163 votes to 138 to remove a broad provision making it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, limiting it to only those who breach a deportation order.
In yet another blow to the Conservative administration, a demand for unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Europe to be allowed to join a family member legally in the UK was backed by 181 votes to 144.
The Conservatives’ Lord Cormack, who was an MP for 40 years, said the bill was “largely unnecessary … narrow, mean minded and at times approaches the vindictive” and is “in danger of breaching international law but also international humanity”.
A motion put forward by Labour’s Lady Chakrabarti received support from several senior Conservative peers. She argued that the UK courts should have a role in ensuring that the bill is compliant with the UN 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees.
“As a public and constitutional lawyer, I take the primacy of the other place very seriously. This is neither a money nor manifesto matter. It gives effect to the government’s own stated policy of refugee convention compliance in times when this could not be more important. No reasonable government should object,” she said.
Crossbench peer former lord chief justice Lord Judge and crossbencher former supreme court justice Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood both supported her amendment. Brown said: “Several of these provisions flagrantly breach our obligations as interpreted by the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees].”
Tory frontbencher Lady Williams of Trafford defended the move to create a criminal offence for unauthorised entry to the UK.
“There is a need to seek prosecutions where there are aggravating circumstances and where prosecutors agree that this is in the public interest,” she said.