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Bishops seek to influence migrant Bill

18 September 2020

The House of Lords discusses the fairness of proposed taxes


A group of people thought to be migrants run from an inflatable boat at Kingsdown beach, near Dover, Kent, where they arrived after crossing the English Channel, on Monday

A group of people thought to be migrants run from an inflatable boat at Kingsdown beach, near Dover, Kent, where they arrived after crossing the Engli...

THE Prime Minister’s experience of being treated for the coronavirus by nurses from overseas should cause him to question the fairness of imposing additional taxes on migrants who work in the UK, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, has said.

Bishop Chessun spoke in the House of Lords on Monday in support of amendments to the Government’s Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, in its third day in Committee. The amendments sought to make the European Economic Area, and Swiss nationals who come to the UK to work as healthcare or social-care workers, exempt from the Immigration Health Charge.

“I had hoped that the pandemic, which continues, and the clarity with which the Prime Minister addressed his own condition, and the part played in his recovery by a Portuguese and a New Zealander, might have at last persuaded the Government to review this burden by which we additionally tax migrants beyond what they have already paid,” Bishop Chessun said.

“We are talking about people who pay National Insurance and income tax. Yet for a person from abroad entering employment — for example, in health or social care — with a partner and two children, they must, in addition to extraordinarily high fees for a three-year visa, pay in advance for those years’ surcharge. That is currently £4800 for four of them. In the projected hike of the surcharge this autumn, this will become £6564.”

He continued: “How is this affordable? How is this morally justifiable? What country have we become that we think we can burden migrants in this way, yet we expect certain standards of other nations in how they treat people within their borders?”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in support of amendments that sought to limit the time for which a person could be detained for immigration purposes, and to define those purposes.

Bishop Butler said: “The effect of indefinite detention, which lasts, in some cases, for months or even years on end, is devastating on the mental and physical health of detainees. Hopelessness, promoted by a lack of knowledge over what comes next, and flashbacks to past trauma, are common experiences.

“These amendments do not dispute that detention can serve a valuable, even critical, purpose, including — in a small number of cases — the protection of the public. What these amendments would do, however, is demand that the purpose of detention is clear and justifiable in each case, and cannot be of unlimited duration or used repeatedly in ways which have been shown to be immensely harmful to detainees.”

Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State at the Home Office, replied: “We take protection of the vulnerable extremely seriously. . . The adults at risk in immigration detention policy has strengthened the presumption against the detention of vulnerable people, ensuring that people are detained only where evidence of their vulnerability is outweighed by immigration considerations.”

Bishop Butler also spoke in support of amendments that sought to ensure that unaccompanied child asylum-seekers who had reached Europe would continue to be reunited with their families in the UK after Brexit.

He said: “Many of us will share a conviction, whatever values or beliefs it is based on, that human life is precious, and that each person carries a unique, incalculable value. How do we choose to recognise that in the question before us of children separated from their families?”

Bishop Butler acknowledged the sincerity of government assurances that it took its humanitarian obligations seriously, but he noted “with regret that the UK’s refugee resettlement scheme appears still to be paused while other countries have restarted theirs. I also note that the Dublin arrangements will soon lapse, and that, in any case, there are precious few safe and legal routes for those seeking sanctuary to arrive here.”

Baroness Trafford replied: “It is absolutely fair to say that it has been very difficult to resettle children, for all the reasons that the pandemic has brought; however, the UK has remained open to receiving Dublin transfers.”

As is usual in Committee, the amendments were not pressed to a vote after debate, although some issues may be returned to at a later stage.

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, asked the Government, on Thursday of last week, whether its Gambling Commission (News, 5 July) was resourced adequately. Speaking in the Lords, Dr Smith asked whether the Government was “content with the commission reducing its staffing to make savings at the very point when it needs to take additional action to regulate online gambling?”

Baroness Barran, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, replied: “In relation to recent stories about redundancies at the commission, it is always reviewing ways to become more agile and responsive.”

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, took his seat in the Lords on Monday of last week. A statement from Manchester diocese said: “He will have a particular brief among the bishops to speak on issues of housing and international trade.”

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