On 19th July 2019 the House of Lords debated at Second Reading the EEA Nationals (Indefinite Leave to Remain) Bill, introduced by Lord Oates. The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, some hundred yards down the road from my cathedral in Rochester there is an establishment known variously as La Providence or the French Hospital. It is an alms house-type foundation established for those of Huguenot descent. After it was bombed out of its previous premises in the 1940s, a predecessor of mine, the late Bishop Christopher Chavasse, who was himself connected with that community, found premises for it in Rochester—and that is where it remains. That building, which I walk past several times a week, is for me a kind of visual reminder of the spirit of generous welcome shown to that earlier generation of European migrants.
Like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill and thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for bringing it forward. It seems to seek to give practical and statutory expression to that spirit of generous welcome which I referred to, and what it proposes has the benefit of fairness and simplicity: the presumption that a person should be here, and that being here they should remain—in contrast to the scheme we now have where, as others have indicated, whatever its intention, it can feel as if it starts from the opposite presumption, and people are having to prove that they should be here.
These matters are of particular concern to my friends in the Roman Catholic community. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales estimates that, of the 3 million, some 60% would claim some form of Catholic connection or heritage, or active practised faith. However, even in my own Church of England diocese, despite being part of an English Church, I have clergy who are European nationals, and clergy spouses who are European nationals and who are having to go through these processes, and I find more and more people in my congregations—200-plus congregations across west Kent and south-east London—who are EEA nationals, brought here very often for work purposes. They indulge me by allowing me to speak French to them occasionally in various congregations around the place—and German, at which I am rather less proficient.
These are among the people who are making hugely valuable contributions economically and socially in our society, as other noble Lords have already observed. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I had cause to be treated by the NHS earlier this year, and the consultant who looked after me post surgery was a Polish Catholic who has been here for 30 years—just one example of the kind of people who have committed themselves hugely to the life and well-being of our nation and people.
Many, such as that gentleman, have been here for decades, or even generations. Many are, as we know, closely related to British citizens. We need these folks and it behoves us to make it as easy as possible for them to stay. Indeed, there is an argument of national self-interest here: if we do not make it easy for them to stay, we may be the ones who suffer.
I have a particular question for the Minister to which I hope she will be able to respond. It has been brought to my attention by the Children’s Society and concerns those children and young people who are looked after—who are in care—when we leave the EU. If the noble Lord’s Bill were to pass, it would automatically include them and give them the right of abode. Can the Minister give some assurance about how those incredibly vulnerable children and young people will be treated even if the Bill does not pass?
We have already heard about the complexity of the documentation required. For some of those young people, it is almost impossible to find the documentation to secure the right to remain. There is evidence that local authorities, who are responsible for them—in part, no doubt, because of resource issues—are not always pursuing applications on their behalf, where that is necessary, with the alacrity needed. Legal advice in these cases can be complex and hard to come by. I hope that for this group of vulnerable people in our midst, for whom we have a particular responsibility, the Minister may be able to give some assurance as to how things will stand.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op): [extract] The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester was right when he said that the Bill has fairness and simplicity at its heart…
Baroness Barran (Con): [extract] …We are also working closely with local authorities and others to ensure we reach looked-after children, who were mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. …
Lord Oates: [extract] My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for having taken part in this debate and for the long-standing commitment of many of them. As well as my noble friends on these Benches, I particularly note the commitment that has been shown on the issue of EU citizens’ rights by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Kerr, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. …