On 15th January 2020 the House of Lords considered amendments to the Government’s European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill at its second day in Committee. The Bishop of Worcester, Rt Revd John Inge, spoke in support of an amendment in the name of Lord Dubs and the Bishop of Durham, to ensure the continuation of the refugee children and family reunification provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The amendment was withdrawn by Lord Dubs at the end of the debate, with a commitment to return to it at a later stage.
Clause 37: Arrangements with EU about unaccompanied children seeking asylum. Debate on whether Clause 37 should stand part of the Bill.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I am pleased to support this amendment, to which my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham has put his name. He is sorry not to be able to be in the Chamber today. A few weeks ago, we celebrated the story of Christmas. In the nativity, the happy events in a Bethlehem stable were followed by the more dramatic flight of the holy family to escape the violent persecution of King Herod. As we discuss this amendment, that story of the child Jesus and his parents fleeing from violence to a foreign land resonates loudly.
Children are among the most vulnerable victims of conflict, persecution and violence around the world. We all know that they do not choose to become refugees separated from their families. We as a nation can choose to reunite some families torn apart by conflict by offering children shelter, hope and a future. That is what I believe the majority of people in this country wish, and I am sure that is what the Government wish. This amendment seeks to ensure it by guaranteeing a safe, legal, effective and managed route for child refugees to join their families in this country.
As we prepare to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom has an opportunity to decide what kind of nation it will be and, very importantly, to communicate that to a watching world. The legislation we agree will send a powerful signal about what and who we value.
As has already been observed, this clause has provoked much concern. At a ministerial briefing yesterday, intended to reassure those of us who are concerned about it, I found myself puzzled. We were told of the Government’s excellent record, and that it will continue. That is good, but why then remove the family reunion obligation from primary legislation? We were told that the latter was constitutionally odd, and, further, that the Government need to ensure that their hands are not tied during Brexit negotiations. At the same time, we were assured that refugee children would not become bargaining chips in negotiations about anything else. We were told that there is a need for reciprocity, although the numbers of children going in the opposite direction, from this country to others, is minimal.
As I understand it, the Government maintain that this clause will not change anything. If that is the case, why not remove it? This amendment would reassure those who are nervous that this country will continue to be a place of safety and sanctuary for the most vulnerable refugees fleeing persecution and conflict: children. It would reassure everyone that the Government will uphold their commitment to those children and provide a measure by which we may all be held accountable for our shaping of this nation as a place of hospitality and welcome. That is surely worth a bit of constitutional oddity.
The story of Jesus and his parents fleeing their homeland for a place of safety is a story repeated millions of times over in our world today. Can we assure everyone that this country will continue to be a place of safety for children, especially those who have been separated from their families?
I commend this amendment and ask the Minister: will the Government reinstate their commitment to protect the most vulnerable of refugees: children?
Baroness Parminter (LD)…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who is not in his place, spoke movingly, in the debate on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about the Government needing to set out their vision for Britain in the post-Brexit world. He articulated it very well….