Asylum Seekers: Convictions - Question

– in the House of Lords am 11:35 am ar 8 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr 11:35, 8 Chwefror 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to review the criteria for the granting by Home Office officials of asylum status for individuals with previous convictions for offences committed in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 strengthened existing legislation and reduced the criminality threshold. From 28 June 2022, anyone convicted of a particularly serious crime resulting in a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, who is considered a danger to the United Kingdom, will be denied asylum and will be considered for removal from the United Kingdom. We believe this approach is the right one.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, the public are rightly concerned at recent cases which seem to indicate that our asylum system is broken and that we are unable to deport foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers due to bureaucratic inertia, judicial intervention and incompetence. Will my noble friend therefore commit to an urgent review of the criteria used in assessing asylum claims, including alleged religious conversions to Christianity, facilitated by the Church of England? Does he agree with me that, fundamentally, this and future Governments must decide between the safety and security of their own citizens and the perverse and damaging rulings of a foreign court?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, there are several reasons why a decision may be overturned at appeal, including new evidence that was not available to asylum caseworkers. Where a crime has been committed, it will be considered whether the person committing the crime poses a danger to the community and should be denied protection. As for the matter of Christian conversions that my noble friend raised, it is important to bear in mind that the Christian church—the Church of England—is not an arm of the Home Office, and that conversion is not a bureaucratic exercise but rather a matter of the operation of grace, such as we heard from the right reverend Prelate earlier.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Llafur

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this is absolutely nothing to do with foreign courts? If the system, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, is broken, there have been 14 years for this Government to put it right. Is it not correct that, from 2004 onwards, the restriction was already in place in relation to the removal of those who had committed crimes—including sexual crimes—enhanced, yes, by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022? Is it not the process, rather than anything to do with the law, that requires examination?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, any foreign national convicted of a crime and given a prison sentence is considered for deportation at the earliest opportunity. Under the legislation to which the noble Lord referred, the UK Borders Act 2007, a deportation order must be made where a foreign national has been convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months. As to the other matters raised in the question, it is important to remember that restrictions on returning persons to the countries from whence they came are also matters of our international obligations, including treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Convenor of the Lords Spiritual

My Lords, both the Church of England and my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury have repeatedly said that we want the boats to stop, criminal gangs to be prosecuted and people to be held accountable if they commit offences. We note that a prominent Member in the other place recently said that the Church is

“facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims”,

which has been widely reported in the press. Administering the sacrament of baptism is one of the core duties of the clergy. Given that, what is the evidence to substantiate claims that baptism is being used systematically and extensively to support asylum claims? If the Minister cannot give me that information now—I understand that it is a big ask—can he please write to me? We would like to see the evidence.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, I have already spoken on the nature of baptism, and I hope that what I said corresponds with the views of the right reverend Prelate on the matter. All asylum claims are considered carefully on their individual merits, including issues relating to the freedom of religion and belief and the credibility of a conversion. Indeed, on that last point, additional training is being rolled out to officials who assess matters of credibility in this context. I invite the House to reflect on the fact that the Home Office has for many years worked closely with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and the asylum advocacy group, and engaged with a wide range of faith groups to assist in training caseworkers.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

My Lords, I am sure that I am being charitable in assuming that the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, was motivated by his deep concern about violence against women in this country. With that in mind, can the Minister say any more about the Government’s strategy for dealing with the terrible acid and alkali attacks perpetrated by all sorts of people of different nationalities, including our own citizens?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her comment. It is important for us all to reflect on the fact that, wicked and despicable though this action was, it is not unprecedented. Indeed, I note that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who is in his place today, chaired the Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh in the case of Modiak in 1992, where a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment was upheld. He approved the wording of the trial judge, who described that act, of extremely similar circumstances to the one with which the House is concerned, as being of “unprecedented gravity”.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, further to that point, can the Minister say what monitoring of and protection from the public can expect in relation to somebody on the sex offender register? What progress has been made with the independent review that the Government undertook last year, and produced by the former chief constable of Derbyshire, on the very serious aspects of violence against women in this matter? He made recommendations that the Government certainly need to pursue, particularly on the identification of location.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, I undertake to write on the review to which the noble Lord adverted, not having the details of its scope and progress to hand as yet. I should have said that I will also write to the right reverend Prelate on the matter he raised. What I can I say is that all who claim asylum undergo a series of security checks against immigration and police databases. They are screened to identify individuals who have been involved in criminality, both inside and outside the United Kingdom, or are persons who engage the national security interest.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, if an asylum seeker is assessed as presenting no risk to the people of this country, even if they have committed crimes in the past, which may have been related to the persecution they faced in their own country, will they be granted asylum in this country?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, all applications will be treated on a case-by-case basis. The situation the noble Baroness described is one in which the individual circumstances will rule.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, following my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s excellent question, can the Minister comment on the following figures? There are 8,786 convicted foreign criminals with varied status living in communities. Half have been here for at least 12 months, with almost 4,000 for over five years. The inspectorate said that the Government had lost control and that this was

“no way to run a government department”.

As my noble friend asked, what will the Government do to look at implementing the existing process and get on with it?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, progress is being made. In the year ending September 2023, there were 5,506 enforced returns, an increase of 54% on the previous year. In that cohort, foreign national offenders make up the majority of enforced returns, at 62%.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Financial Services Regulation Committee, Chair, Financial Services Regulation Committee

My Lords, can my noble and learned friend comment on press reports that suggest that the Home Office has been following a policy of not returning people to Afghanistan? If that is the case, the arguments about this particular case and the criteria that were applied therefore seem to be irrelevant. Can he say what proportion of the cases that have come before the Home Office have resulted in people being returned to Afghanistan?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I am obliged to my noble friend for his question. First, I emphasise that it is not Home Office policy that dictates the return of persons to Afghanistan; rather, it is our adherence to international treaties, as I said earlier. On the specific figure my noble friend sought, in 2023 99% of Afghan applications were granted. That figure is up from 49% of applications from that country in 2020. It reflects our international obligations and the situation in that unhappy country.