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Small boats law set for showdown as peers inflict string of bruising defeats

28 Jun 2023 4 minute read
Photo Gareth Fuller PA Images

First blood has been drawn by peers in inflicting a string of bruising defeats against controversial UK Government plans to tackle the small boats crisis.

Changes being demanded by the House of Lords to the Illegal Migration Bill include modern slavery safeguards, a bar on backdating deportations and asylum help for unaccompanied children.

The flagship legislation, which has already been passed by the Commons, has met fierce opposition in the Lords.

The Bill aims to ensure those who arrive in the UK without permission will be detained and promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

Ministers argue action is needed to stop migrants making the dangerous Channel crossing but critics argue the draft legislation breaks international law and denies refuge to the most vulnerable.

The four Government defeats on the first of three days earmarked for voting in the Lords on the reforms sets the stage for a prolonged future tussle between the unelected chamber and Government during so-called parliamentary ping-pong, when legislation moves between the Lords and Commons.

There would have likely been further setbacks for the Tory frontbench but a technical fault meant more votes were deferred until Monday.


In recognition of the contentious nature of the legislation, which has led to a number of acrimonious late sittings, Lords chief whip Baroness Williams of Trafford urged peers at the start of proceedings to “acquaint” themselves with the rules of the chamber that state arguments previously made “should not be repeated at length”.

In the first defeat, peers voted by 222 to 179, majority 43, for a measure requiring the legislation to comply with the UK’s international obligations on protection of human rights, refugees and rights of the child, as well as tackling human trafficking.

It follows concerns the provisions in the Bill would put the UK in breach of long-standing commitments, damaging the nation’s global standing.

Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth accused peers of trying to derail the Bill, branding it a “wrecking amendment” that would make it unworkable.

In a further setback, peers demanded the duty to deport those arriving by unauthorised routes is not backdated to March 7 when the Bill was introduced in the Commons, but only come into force when the draft legislation becomes law.

The move to ditch the retrospective provision was supported by 219 votes to 177, majority 42.

Independent crossbencher and prominent lawyer Lord Carlile of Berriew, who previously served as an independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: “The evidence does not justify such broad and sweeping legislation which is seeking to apply penalties to those who cross the Channel to claim asylum to be retrospective in its entirety.

“It would set a dangerous precedent that the Government could legislate retrospectively based on no more than conjecture and anecdote.”

Lord Murray said: “The retrospective nature of these provisions is critical. Without it, we risk organised criminals and people smugglers seeking to exploit this, with an increase in the number of illegal arrivals ahead of commencement of the Bill.”


Later, in another defeat for the Tory frontbench, peers backed by a large majority a cross-party demand for modern slavery safeguards, which the Bill would remove.

The Lords voted by 210 to 145, majority 65, for a change that would ensure alleged victims of trafficking are not detained or deported before they can apply to a referral system for protection and support.

The Government had argued the modern slavery laws are being abused, but many dispute this.

Peers also defied the Government to demand unaccompanied children arriving in the UK should be able to make asylum and human rights claims to stay.

The move led by refugee campaigner and Labour peer Lord Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a child on the Kindertransport scheme, was backed by 185 votes to 133, majority 52.

Under the Bill, youngsters permitted to remain would only be allowed to do so until they turn 18 and would not be able to settle in the country.

The Government has said the provisions in the Bill aim to act as a deterrent against minors being taken on the dangerous Channel crossing.

Further votes on changes that would force the Home Secretary to consider asylum claims from people who had not been removed from the UK within six months and place restrictions on removal destinations for LGBT people were postponed.

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1 year ago

Once again the vote by many of the unelected in the HOL blocks the will of so many of the UK public. Is it time that those so opposed to efforts to control those undocumented immigrants open their own doors to offer safe refuge?Perhaps like Yvette Cooper their response would be lack of training to undertake such!!!!!

1 year ago

Although I have concerns about the HoL, especially in relation to how members are appointed, this shows how essential it is to have a second chamber to hopefully weed out some of the most horrendous pieces of legislation that a government can produce!

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Ann

Exactly. And the older I get, the more I realize this. They really do offer damage limitation.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

Passed by the Commons, just think what that means, what was at first the vile, mentally disturbed ERG has now become the mainstream. The UK is lower than a snakes belly but as the EU is content with the idea of committing every person fleeing Africa and all points East to a watery grave we must assume that the doctrine of the West has become a Godless cesspit…and the verdict of Nuremberg has been overturned and this post-diluvian period is only temporary, the odds on a second chance are slim, even God’s patience is finite…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

Rishi and Braverman do not need AI to subject children to every kind of iniquity…

1 year ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Sunak and braverman are like sooty and sweep
Puppets to the Tory / racist arm .

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

They are not puppets, they are paid up and active high priests of this evil cult…

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