Bill sent back to the Commons tonight and promptly sent back to the Lords
For the third time, the House of Lords has failed to agree to the wording of the Nationality and Borders Bill and it was sent back to the House of Commons tonight with new amendments, as ping-pong between the two Houses continued today. The Commons was quick to reject the amendments in a late sitting tonight and the Bill now returns again to the Lords tomorrow.
Image credit: UK GovernmentThe House of Lords was today debating last week's amendments to the Bill made by the Commons. A fresh set of motions amending the Bill, available here, was voted upon by the Lords.
Voting was much closer today than in the previous two debates in the Lords. Seven votes were held, which saw the Government suffering three defeats and winning four victories.
In the first vote of the day, Baroness Chakrabarti's amendment requiring the Bill to specify that it must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Refugee Convention was agreed to by the Lords by 244 votes to 219.
A further narrow defeat for the Government followed in the second vote. By 227 votes to 219, the Lords voted for Lord Kerr's amendment, which includes safeguards to prevent refugees losing rights under the Bill if they briefly stopped in another country on their route to the UK.
The third vote this evening saw the Government defeated by just one vote, with 220 voting for an amendment granting asylum seekers the right to work if they wait longer than six months for a decision, while 219 voted against.
The Government, however, successfully won the last four votes of the evening. The Guardian reported that the Conservatives had mounted a major whipping operation to try to secure the Bill before the current session of Parliament ends. Home Secretary Priti Patel was said to be among those personally lobbying Conservative Lords.
During today's debate, Lord Coaker highlighted that the House of Commons had only held an hour-long debate last week to consider the Lords' previous amendments. This lack of consideration for important amendments meant the Lords were perfectly entitled to ask the MPs to think again for a third time, Coaker said.
Coaker said the Lords may have to reluctantly give way if the House of Commons were to again confirm its support of the Bill.
Crossbench peer and barrister Lord Pannick QC noted that the overwhelming view of lawyers and informed persons is that the Bill breaches the UK's obligations under the Refugee Convection. He suggested that it was disingenuous of the Government to assert the contrary.
Pannick told the House of Lords: "If the Minister were to say to the House, 'This is our policy and we wish to go ahead with it, even though it breaches our obligations under the Convention', I would respect the honesty of the Government—but that is not their position. They are making legal assertions that simply defy credulity. This is an issue on which the House should invite the other place to think yet again, because it is an issue of the rule of law—and this Government and this Prime Minister have a poor track record, to put it mildly, on such issues."
Lord Pannick said that under previous governments and administrations, the Attorney General and Lord Chancellor would have stood up for the rule of law, but unfortunately in the current administration they have repeatedly been silent on rule of law issues. "Since they will not speak out, I suggest that it is the obligation of this House to do so," Pannick concluded.
Speaking for the Government, Baroness Williams said the Bill delivers what the British people want and the Government intends to deliver it. She encouraged the Lords to hear the will of the British people and of the elected House.
Following the three defeats in the Lords, the Bill went back to the House of Commons during a late sitting tonight. Unsurprisingly, the Government disagreed with all of the latest amendments by the Lords. Three votes were held to reject the amendments and all were comfortably won by the Government.
The Bill goes back to the House of Lords again tomorrow.
Both Houses will need to agree to the wording of the Bill before the current session of Parliament ends. This is due to happen on 28 April, but the Parliament website notes that this depends on the progress of business and is subject to Royal Assent being signified to all Acts.