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Bishops back Lords amendments on rights for immigrants

16 October 2020

PA

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by Border Force after a small boat incident in the Channel

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by Border Force after a small boat incident in the Channel

BISHOPS contributed to a series of defeats for the Government’s post-Brexit Immigration Bill in the House of Lords last week, supporting amendments that included ensuring that unaccompanied child refugees could be reunited with close relatives in the UK.

Votes took place in the Lords on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, on the Government’s Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill. Eleven bishops took part in eight separate votes, supporting amendments, all but one of which were passed. The amendments will now be considered by MPs.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, had put his name to an amendment to ensure “that family reunion rights currently covered by the Dublin III Treaty, will continue and that unaccompanied child refugees in Europe will have a legal route to sanctuary in the UK”. The amendment was also tabled in the name of Lord Dubs, Baroness Hamwee, and Lord Kerr.

Bishop Butler was unable to attend the debate on the amendment; so the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke to it. Bishop Chessun said: “Sometimes, the choice we all face is whether or not to exercise generosity of heart.” He acknowledged that the Government had sought to provide refuge to vulnerable children, but called for EU Regulation No. 604/2013, which “considers the best interests of the child”, to be incorporated into domestic law.

The amendment was passed by 317 to 223 votes. The Bishops of Carlisle, Oxford, Rochester, and Southwark, voted for it.

Bishop Chessun also spoke to an amendment that sought to “ensure successful applicants for leave to remain have physical, not just digital, proof of their settled and pre-settled status in the UK”.

His inbox had been “inundated”, he said, “with the pleas of EU citizens and their spouses for this amendment”. Providing only digital proof to migrants carried risks, such as “inaccuracies” on the screen, the system’s not working properly, and applicants’ not remembering the email address with which they had registered. “What of those, especially the elderly and perhaps more vulnerable, who might have relied on a neighbour or a charity who used an email address unknown to them?”

Bishop Chessun continued: “There is simply no need to do this, and we should not do it. In designing a system for administrative convenience rather than accommodating the realities of daily human life, we risk visiting unnecessary and avoidable difficulties on many of our fellow citizens.”

The amendment was passed by 298 votes to 192. The Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishops of Bristol, Gloucester, Leeds, Rochester, Southwark, and St Albans voted for the amendment.

Bishop Chessun also spoke to an amendment, also tabled in Bishop Butler’s name, which places an upper limit of 28 days on the time that an EEA or Swiss national may be held in immigration detention (News, 18 September).

“The Government are right in saying that detention is subject to the courts,” he said. “However, although the application of common law brings many benefits . . . those who are subject to sudden detention are not the sort of people who can summon the resources to apply to a court for redress. That is a key failing of any attempt to justify the present arrangements.”

The amendment passed by 184 to 156 votes. The Bishops of Rochester and Southwark voted for the amendment.

On the same day, in the Lords, Bishop Chessun called on the Government to resume its refugee-resettlement programme, which was suspended in March because of the pandemic (Comment, 4 September).

Baroness Williams of Trafford, replying for the Government, said that “when things become more normal, resettlement will resume in the way that we would want it to.”

On Tuesday of last week, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, spoke in support of the Government’s Debt Respite Scheme Regulations. He called on the Government not to delay the regulations’ implementation date, however, but for it to be “protected with vigour”.

Voluntary debt-advice services, such as Christians Against Poverty, “need to be sustained, and, of course, funded, if these regulations are to achieve their intent”, he said.

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