On 21st March the House of Lords considered the Government’s Immigration Bill at Report Stage. Lord Hylton tabled an amendment, co-sponsored by the Bishop of Southwark, that would expand the rules on family reunion and asylum. The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, spoke in support of the amendment, and Lord Bates responded on behalf of the Government. The amendment was withdrawn after debate.
Moved by Lord Hylton
120: After Clause 63, insert the following new Clause—
“Family reunion: persons with international protection needs
(1) Rules made by the Secretary of State under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control), shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, make provision for—
(a) British citizens and persons settled in the UK to be enabled to sponsor their children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, spouses, civil or unmarried partners, or siblings, who are persons registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or with the authorities responsible for the protection of refugees in the State in which they are present, to come to the UK on terms no less favourable than those under rules made under that section which apply to family members of persons recognised as refugees, save that it may be provided that those sponsored shall have no recourse to public funds; and
(b) applications for refugee family reunion from the children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, spouses, civil or unmarried partners, or siblings of persons recognised as refugees or who have been granted humanitarian protection in the United Kingdom.
(2) An order shall be made by the Lord Chancellor under section 9(2)(a) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (general cases) in respect of family reunion for the persons described in subsection (1) within six months of the passing of this Act.”
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in the absence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who is a co-sponsor of Amendment 120. I will not repeat the cogent reasons for the amendment set out so well by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, but I will offer one observation which I think also applies to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
There is one outstanding reason for these amendments. It is that stable families make stable societies, which in turn make for a more stable world. Do we appear to believe this? A visitor from another planet attempting to understand our Immigration Rules—it would need to be a very intelligent life form to do so—but it would be unlikely to conclude that we did all we could to enable family reunion; quite the reverse. What sort of system permits refugees to be reunited with children aged under 18 with spouses or partners, but children who are recognised as refugees have no similar right to be reunited with their parents? They must rely on discretionary provision, which is frequently not given. Hence a child granted refugee status may have to endure prolonged family separation. The argument for this anomaly, which is the most polite way of referring to it, is that to grant family reunion will feed the practice of people smuggling and may cause hazardous and dangerous journeys to be undertaken. The probability must surely be that illegal means of travel and entry are more likely to be attempted than less.
Reuniting a family creates the sort of economic, social and emotional support that people need. It may well save money from the public purse that would otherwise be expended on dealing with the traumas and mental unhappiness caused by enduring family separation. I believe that the present rules do families no service and do our society no good. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the spirit of these amendments and upon the value of family life as well.
Lord Bates: [extract] The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich talked about family reunion. We are certainly of one mind in saying that families are crucial and that, except in exceptional circumstances, the children’s best interest is always to remain with the family. That is one of the reasons why the UNHCR, which very much concurs with that view, proposed that family members would do better to seek refuge in the region within their family rather than one member of that family coming to another country. Therefore, the policy that we have developed for the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme is that of bringing families together. I would have thought that would be widely welcomed, because we do not just look after one person but bring the whole family together. Of course, that very much helps them to integrate into the local community and gives them that support network. Equally valuable is encouraging children to be reunited with their families in the region, if that is practical. We work with the UNHCR in seeking to do that.