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House of Lords supports Archbishop Welby’s intervention on Illegal Migration Bill

06 July 2023

Peers also approve plan to reinstate the right of appeal against child age assessments

Parliament TV

Archbishop Welby addresses the Lords on Wednesday. Bishop Butler can be seen to the right

Archbishop Welby addresses the Lords on Wednesday. Bishop Butler can be seen to the right

THE Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for an “ambitious” ten-year strategy to tackle the refugee and human trafficking crises beyond the political agenda has been agreed in the House of Lords.

His amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill was passed by a majority of more than 50 votes during the continuation of the Report Stage on Wednesday afternoon.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, was the first to speak during the five-hour debate.

Moving an amendment to reinstate the right of appeal against age assessments of “putative” children whom the Bill in its current form has a duty to remove from the UK, he said: “The Bill significantly restricts any legal avenues for challenging an incorrect age determination. The appeal mechanisms instituted by the Nationality and Borders Act, though they have not yet been implemented, will be disapplied.”

The implications of the Home Office inaccurately assessing a child to be an adult — which he said had happened previously — “would be disastrous and irreversible”, he warned. “A child would face entering an adult system alone, where they would be detained with adults before potentially being removed to a third country with no safeguards in place.”

Lord Murray (Conservative) said that he could not support the amendment but that “age assessments will, as now, be undertaken in a careful and professional manner”.

The amendment was agreed within the hour by 235 votes to 185.

Bishop Butler later spoke to another amendment which would ensure that “any cap placed on safe and legal routes would exclude current named schemes already in operation.” The term “safe and legal routes” had not been tightly defined in the Bill; why, then, he asked, were the Government leaving the possibility that people who are not granted refugee status could be included within the cap.

Lord Murray said: “Exempting routes from the cap is not in keeping with the purpose of the policy, which is to manage the capacity on local areas of those arriving through our safe and legal routes.”

The amendment was not moved.

Continuing the debate, Lord Lilley (Conservative) said that there was “no way” that safe and legal routes would stop the boats. He noted the letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York published in The Times that morning, and accused Archbishop Welby of “not coming forward with a policy” in either the letter or his amendments.

He was interrupted by Archbishop Welby, who said that his policy had been “set out very clearly” in a debate which he led in December as well as a Times articles a few weeks ago.

Lord Lilley insisted that this was a “non-policy. His [the Archbishop’s] policy for other people to have policies is not a policy.” The only way forward was a “the policy of deterrence or prevention”.

Archbishop Welby did not move his amendment for another hour — it called for the Government to develop a ten-year strategy on refugees and human trafficking. This should be done through a series of policies, the first of which must be made within a year of passing the Act, the second within another 12 months. The amendment was a combination of two put forward by the Archbishop at Committee stage which had not gained government support.

Archbishop Welby told peers that the UK needed “a long-term vision and strategy that reaches beyond short-term electoral cycles and allows this issue to be taken out of an entirely political agenda. The 1951 refugee convention is a fundamental basis for the care and protection of refugees. The convention should be built upon and added to, in collaboration with other signatories and international partners for the particular context that we face today, to ensure that we share responsibility fairly and work together effectively across borders.”

Ministers had argued during committee stage that this would “tie the hands of future governments” — but Archbishop Welby said that there were existing long-term policies in other areas, including security and climate change.

A long-term strategy would, he said, “consider actions in these areas right across the piece, joining up government in every area. The fact that we are here debating a second migration Bill in as many years suggests that this might well be useful.”

There was “much wisdom in this House” to make this work.

Archbishop Welby concluded: “I want to stress that this amendment does not wreck or damage the Bill, or set intentions for the Government to follow. . . This amendment is a positive and constructive suggestion, whatever I or others may feel about the Bill in general.

“I urge the Government to develop a strategy that is ambitious, collaborative, worthy of our history and up to the scale of the enormous challenges we face.”

Several peers spoke in support of the amendment. Lord Green (Conservative) said that he had intended to vote against the proposal but had been persuaded by the Archbishop that it was a “useful” one. He warned that “the public are very angry” about the migration crisis and it would be a problem for future governments, too.

Baroness Lawlor (Conservative) was among those to disagree. “The Bill is to deter and prevent illegal entry into the UK,” she said. “It is not a Bill about international agreements into which the UK may enter in the future, modify or make. It is for the Government of the day to propose a policy, not the unelected Chamber.”

Bishop Butler urged peers not to presume public intolerance on the issue. “The will of the people is to be a compassionate, welcoming nation to refugees and asylum seekers, as we have seen demonstrated by the welcome to Ukrainians and Afghans, and as I see demonstrated regularly. The will of the people is also that we find ways of stopping the boats — I agree. That is exactly why we need to get on with doing a 10-year strategy.

“It is about trying to bring all those people together, who can be compassionate and want to stop the boats at the same time. This is the right and proper time to do that, off the back of the Bill. . . What the people want is for us to get the refugee thing out of party-political toing and froing and find a way forward together.”

Lord Ponsonby (Labour) said that it had been a “remarkable” debate, not least because several peers appeared to have changed their attitude to amendments.

Archbishop Welby moved the amendment. It was agreed by 186 votes to 131. The margin was similar to those of amendments to the Bill supported by Bishops and approved by the Lords earlier in the week (News, 4 July).

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