Woman speaking at an event organised by the Southampton & Winchester Visitors Group

Conservative peers lead push for global resettlement target

A key amendment to include a global resettlement target of 10,000 places per year, was debated on Tuesday night at Committee Stage in the House of Lords. Led by Conservative peers, the amendment received wide cross-party support. Getting the government to commit to a clear resettlement target is one of our two key priorities, for reforms to the Nationality and Borders Bill.

“…..the Minister will observe that the four named supporters of this amendment sit on the Conservative Benches. This is not because other Members of this House were not supportive, but because the strength of support on the Conservative Benches meant that we got there first.”

Baroness Stroud, Conservative Peer

Government cynically squeezes time for debate

While there are no votes at this stage, debate went long into the night because the Government squeezed the time available to scrutinise the bill properly – something opposition parties and our members are very concerned about.

Peers read from our briefing

Despite the time pressures, it is encouraging to see the amendment secured support from all sides of the House. Our arguments in favour of having a target, and setting it at 10,000 places a year, were echoed by Conservatives, cross-benchers, Liberal Democrats and Labour peers. Former Conservative immigration minister, Lord Kirkhope, led the charge, paving the way for others to hammer home why a target is so urgently needed. Many peers read directly from the joint Together With Refugees briefing that we had prepared. You can see an excerpt of Lord Kirkhope’s speech here.

Home Office Minister objects

Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams did not offer anything meaningful in response. She simply stated that she recognised Peers’ case to establish a resettlement target, but that the government objected on the grounds that UK didn’t have the capacity to resettle that many people. That’s sadly a reply we’re used to and perpetuates a Catch 22 situation where local authorities are at capacity precisely because they are not given certainty on how many people they are expected to resettle (or given commensurate funding to do so) in the absence of a clear resettlement target. We know that the successful experience of the Syrian resettlement scheme was in large part down to the political commitment and leadership connected to a predictable goal of resettling 20,000 people. And this generated political buy-in from local authorities which in turn enabled a well–functioning and correctly costed system.

Cross party support sends strong message to government

However, the level of cross-party support and the fact that our amendment was led by four Conservative peers sends a strong message to Ministers. It even prompted Lord Dubs to remark on how radical the reform is compared to what opposition parties have proposed. The conciliatory tone and powerful speeches in favour of the amendment means it is well-positioned to be re-tabled for report stage in early March where peers will for the first time, have the chance to vote on key issues within the bill. We now need to re-double efforts to bring opposition frontbenches onside and to commit to vote and ‘whip’ votes on our key priorities of differentiated treatment and a resettlement target.

Snapshots and quotes from the debate

Lord Kirkhope (conservative) more or less read out verbatim the joint Together With Refugees briefing, and landed some of our killer stats arguing that “a resettlement target of 10,000 a year would amount to around 15 refugees for each parliamentary constituency”

Lord Kerr (crossbench) did a very good job of providing further rationale behind why a target is needed and why it should be set at 10,000, focusing on the willingness of local authorities to participate in resettlement which was picked up by several other Peers.

Baroness Meacher (crossbench) also followed through on her commitment and emphasised how amendment 116 was one of the two top priorities of Together With Refugees “more than 300 refugee organisations” and that the Minister should therefore take it seriously.

Baroness Ludford (liberal democrat) emphasised her support for the amendment given the resettlement target also happens to be Liberal Democrat official policy.

In one positive sign our arguments had the intended outcome, Lord Horam (conservative) who has been vocally supportive of the Nationality and Borders Bill agreed on the logic of a resettlement target. He claimed that it would offer “sensible planning, frankly, and this could be a way forward” and “would give everyone, including local authorities, some confidence and certainty about what they are expected to do”.

The Bishop of Durham added his support stressing that the 10,000 target figure was “not a number plucked out of thin air but from looking at our fair share across the globe” and was backed “by huge numbers of refugee organisations.”

Baroness Stroud (conservative) as our other signatory present covered the remaining parts of our briefing not already mentioned by Lord Kirkhope. She fired a veiled warning shot by saying “the Minister will observe that the four named supporters of this amendment sit on the Conservative Benches. This is not because other Members of this House were not supportive, but because the strength of support on the Conservative Benches meant that we got there first.” Lord Dubs drove home the signal we wanted to send by saying “amendment 116, in the name of four Conversative Members of the Committee, is much more radical than anything produced by the Crossbenchers, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Labour Party or the Bishops’ Bench. It is amazing and I wonder what is happening to the Conservative Party here. I welcome Amendment 116.”

Those two remarks may have helped push the Labour frontbench into a slightly more promising position to commit to a firm target number with Lord Rosser (labour) outlining Labour’s own amendment on “For now, does not include a target, unlike Amendment 116”. Those comments seem to suggest the door is ajar for Labour to potentially back the amendment in full when it comes to vote.

If you are so inclined, you can read the full transcript of the proceedings starting at 9.15pm on Tuesday, 8 February 2022.

Tom Nguyen, Parliamentary Lead, Together With Refugees – 9 February 2022