On 8th November 2016, the House of Lords considered the Government’s Children and Social Work Bill at its Report Stage. They debated an amendment co-sponsored by the Bishop of Durham and Lord Dubs on the welfare and protection of unaccompanied migrant children. Lord Watson of Invergowrie moved the amendment on behalf of Lord Dubs and the Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke on behalf of the Bishop of Durham. The Bishop welcomed the Government’s commitment to publishing a strategy to implement the substance of the amendment. In her response, Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State for the Home Office, paid tribute to the work of the Church:
The Bishop of Leeds My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham is unable to be here and sends his apologies, but he wishes to add his voice to those that warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to publish the strategy to ensure the safety and welfare of unaccompanied children coming from Europe and beyond.
The UK has been generous in pledging over £2.3 billion to aid those affected by the crisis in Syria and that region. It is evident that in our local communities people are showing great generosity and hospitality in welcoming those, especially families with children, who are brought here for resettlement. We recognise that while local authorities are understandably nervous of the nature of the commitments involved, they are rising to the challenge well. It is very encouraging that the Local Government Association fully supports this amendment.
Clearly, resourcing will be needed as this strategy is brought into play, and the Government have committed to “review funding regularly”. The words of the amendment clearly have more to do with the provision of adequate funding than with the reviewing of it, but no doubt the Government will not allow their strategy to go unimplemented in any respect simply for lack of funds.
The provision of proper care of children through fostering, and of some through supported accommodation, is a key area in the promised strategy. We register that there is a wealth of experience and commitment in community and faith groups, as well as established charities, in this area; it is to be hoped that the Government will draw on that experience as we go forward.
The inclusion of an element of independent oversight through the Children’s Commissioners is another welcome element in the strategy. Whether or not the useful suggestion of an independent guardian for each child is taken up, it is important that, as in other areas where vulnerable people are dependent on statutory bodies for their well-being, there is a significant element of independent scrutiny and advocacy.
We on this Bench are pleased to learn of the Government’s intentions and wish them well in doing justice to the full content of the present amendment.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: [extract] I echo the right reverend Prelate’s words about the work that the Churches do—they do sterling work—especially, as I mentioned earlier today, the role they have played in the community sponsorship scheme, a scheme in which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury also is engaged. Schemes such as that are very beneficial indeed to some of the people coming to this country.
The full debate on the amendment can be read here. Although the mover of the amendment and the Bishop of Leeds did not believe it necessary to press it to a vote, other Peers decided to. In the Division the amendment was defeated by 68 votes to 203.