Disputed bills pass Parliament before prorogation deadline

Published by Scott Challinor on April 29th 2022, 6:06am

The government’s Nationality and Borders Bill received the backing of the House of Lords on Wednesday night and will now become law, ending months of deadlock between peers and the Commons over the status of refugees.

Also on Wednesday, the Elections Bill and the Judicial Review and Courts Bill both went through despite friction between both Houses.

The passing of the three contentious pieces of legislation came in time for them to avoid being discarded before Parliament is prorogued on Thursday. The Bills will now become law, and the Houses will next return on May 10 for the Queen’s Speech.

Within the Nationality and Borders Bill, ministers wanted to include provisions to offshore the processing of asylum seekers and make it a criminal offence for foreign nationals to intentionally enter the UK via illegal routes.

Peers have repeatedly rebuffed the Bill with various amendments, but MPs refused to back the changes until the Lords eventually relented on Wednesday.

Although Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford supported the government’s view that the Bill was compatible with international law around refugees, other peers were upset by it having passed both chambers.

Baroness Chakranarti, the Labour former shadow attorney general, said that the Commons had shown “two fingers” to the Lords by refusing to support peers’ amendments.

Human rights campaigners have since stated their intent to challenge the Bill. Over 200 charities have said in a statement that the legislation “rips up internationally recognised rights for people fleeing war and persecution and will criminalise thousands of refugees”.

Amnesty International UK's Refugee and Migrant Rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said the passing of the Bill came as a "bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution" and accused the legislation of being rooted in xenophobia and being "ruthless to victims of repression, torture and exploitation."

He added: “If the asylum measures in this Bill are implemented, people entitled to sanctuary will become even more vulnerable to people smugglers and abusers while the UK’s reputation is dragged through the mud.”

However, the government has insisted for some months that a “firm but fair” asylum system is required to prevent a multitude of migrant deaths in the Channel and put a stop to the activities of criminal people-smuggling groups.

Home secretary Priti Patel hailed the passing of the Bill as a "huge milestone".

She said: "While there is no single solution to the global migration crisis, these new laws are the first step in overhauling our decades-old, broken asylum system.

"We will now work tirelessly to deliver these reforms to ensure we have an immigration system that protects those in genuine need while cracking down on abuse of the system and evil people-smuggling gangs."

On the Elections Bill, the government succeeded in pushing through plans to introduce photo ID for voters, despite concerns around people being turned away from polling stations for not having appropriate identification.

Cabinet Office minister Lord True talked up the government’s flexibility on which forms of ID would be permitted, arguing that its position was not “static” on the issue.

The Lords also backed down on its reservations over plans for Parliament to oversee the Electoral Commission, the body which is responsible for the smooth running of the UK voting system.

Labour peer Baroness Hayman was among those worried that the move could undermine the Electoral Commission’s independence, but the Lords eventually backed the Bill.

Elsewhere in the Bill, there were inclusions for the scrapping of the 15-year limit on British citizens living overseas being able to vote in UK elections.

In the passing of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, peers U-turned on an amendment which would have guaranteed that during inquests involving public bodies, legal aid provided to bereaved families would be funded by the state.

The government successfully argued that the change would have been “premature” on the grounds that a consultation is currently ongoing around legal aid access.

Elsewhere, some Bills have been carried over into the next parliamentary session to avoid being lost. Some of those which will continue on through the Houses include the Online Safety Bill which will more tightly regulate companies online; the Product Safety and Telecommunications Bill which includes provisions for the extension of 5G coverage; the Higher Education Bill which plans to protect free speech within universities in England; and the Animal Welfare Bill.

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
April 29th 2022, 6:06am

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