BISHOPS in the House of Lords have been adding their weight to a string of amendments to the multi-faceted Nationality and Borders Bill, which reached the third day of the report stage on Tuesday. The debate ran for more than ten hours, and was adjourned at 1.57 a.m.
Feelings ran high around its treatment of children. Clause 51 calls for an age-disputed person to be treated as an adult “where the physical appearance and demeanour strongly suggests that they are over the age of 18”. It was designed to ensure that, where doubts were raised, these applicants would not be placed alongside children in schools or accommodation.
Baroness Neuberger was concerned that the clause allowed the Government to introduce regulations specifying debatable scientific methods to be used to assess age, including “examining or measuring parts of a person’s body”, and the analysis of saliva, cells, or other samples.
“We should not be introducing methods that may add to the pressures on children and young people’s already often fragile mental and physical health,” she warned.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that the needs of children had been “starkly unaddressed” in so many areas of the Bill.
“The child and their best interests, rather than deterrence, must be the starting-point in designing these policies,” he said. “I support the amendment because it is imperative that such assessments are up to standard and based on scientific evidence.”
The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, said that there was “hardly a sentence in the Bill about the prosecution of human traffickers — something we all wish to see. . . Despite the number of exploited child victims who are traumatised, the Government have brought forward provisions that have no specific recognition of children.”
She wanted to see clauses 57, 58, and 62 removed from the Bill, “because they would make it appreciatively more difficult for people to be recognised as victims of modern slavery and receive support”.
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, was concerned that clause 59 was effectively raising the reasonable-ground threshold for identifying a victim of modern slavery.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, had doubts about proposed new clauses to bring additional sanctions pressure on Russia.
She told the Lords: “I arrived in this country seeking refuge and safety shortly after the Islamic Revolution swept through Iran, many years ago now.
“I was fortunate quickly to be given refugee status, and to receive a welcome that, in time, has allowed me to begin contributing back to the society that provided me with a new home. However, I cannot help wonder what the impact might have been had these amendments been part of the law then. After all, I came from a country that was undoubtedly regarded as something of an international pariah, a risk to peace and security in the Middle East, and, arguably, more widely.”