On 22nd July the Government’s Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill was debated at Sec0nd Reading in the House of Lords. The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, and the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol, spoke in the debate, highlighting modern slavery, work eligibility, EU citizens, visas for ministers of religion, tariffs, and children’s welfare.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, the introduction of this Bill in another place is a signal opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government comprehensively to reset the legislative basis for immigration control in this country, to set out a vision for doing so, and to rationalise and streamline the more than 1,000 pages of immigration legislation under which we labour. It is surprising, therefore, that, as other speakers have pointed out, this Bill is so narrow in scope.
The Government have separately published intentions for their policy on the Immigration Rules which extend neither refuge, welcome nor the means of integration, but instead offer a system that meets the labour demands of business and is therefore entirely different from the Australian points-based system. The Bill is silent on the issue of EU citizens in the UK—another immigration crisis in the making. We now know that the estimate of the numbers of EU citizens here was too low and that the campaign to get them to apply for settled and pre-settled status has been solely in English. The Home Office has cut its funding to NGOs which would help reach those who have not applied, and what about those who think they need not apply, whose English is still poor, or who are children in care in this country?
Following the Government’s recent announcement on their points-based system, I asked the noble Baroness to respond to the concerns around visa routes for ministers of religion and other religious workers, which are particularly exercising for the Roman Catholic Church and black majority churches, where cost is a major factor. Additionally, definitions of “ministers”, “religion” and “religious workers” are leading to confusion. The Church of England would be willing to offer help around definitions, and if the Government would consider the issue of cost, that would be well received by those affected.
There is a strong moral case for the tariff on visas and other fees to be confined to administrative costs. The current system is an unwarranted and burdensome levy on migrants, which is iniquitous. Those who come here to work already pay tax and national insurance to fund our public services. Why must they pay a health surcharge as well? I trust that the waiving of this surcharge during the pandemic is a sign that the Government are having second thoughts on this regrettable manifesto commitment. A migrant applying for indefinite leave to remain in the UK must pay £2,389, whereas the average cost to the Home Office to process such an application is a mere £243.
We should welcome applications to become British citizens and not saddle applicants with debt. Scandalously, the fee for a child is over £1,000, although the High Court found last year that the Home Office had failed to assess the best interests of children in setting this fee. Will the Minister update the House on the implementation of this ruling?
There are two amendments that I would likely be ready and willing to support. Time and again in my diocese, I am told of asylum seekers who are massively disadvantaged by the current ban on paid working. Furthermore, I will support an amendment that sets clear limits on periods of detention. We ignore the relational aspect in the delivery of any public service at our peril. I hope the Government will commit to immigration reform on just principles.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, migration is a natural part of life and an experience shared between all living things on our planet. Moreover, for those of us who trace our faith back to Abraham, migration has been a continuous and inescapable feature of our human history.
In this context, I welcome any debate to discern together what guiding principles and moral framework should underpin a new system for managing migration. However, given the narrowness of the Bill, I hope we will not lack further opportunities for healthy public debate, and that the reservation of so much to secondary legislation will not hide future policy from scrutiny and discussion.
Research indicates that a hostile immigration environment does not deter migration. Rather, it makes migrants more vulnerable to abuse. I record my particular concern about the lack of provision for victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the Bill. Indeed, this legislation could see crucial protections for the most vulnerable in society being lost, without appropriate replacement. I think in particular of the EU anti-trafficking directive, as the noble Lords, Lord Morrow and Lord McColl, indicated.
However, it is not just victims of modern-day slavery who are extremely vulnerable. Asylum seekers and refugees continue to be denied the right to work. It seems very strange that the Government continue to deny people waiting on a decision from the Home Office the opportunity to support themselves—and to pay taxes.
Meanwhile, the Government are keen that the United Kingdom should attract the brightest and best from overseas. Many people displaced by conflict or persecution have valuable professional skills in areas such as medicine and engineering but are stuck in refugee camps, unable to use those skills to support their families and rebuild their lives. I welcome the Government’s openness to considering a displaced talent visa to level up access to labour market mobility for those displaced from their homelands. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and I look forward to further discussions in Committee.
Finally, I highlight the lack of provision for children in the Bill. According to Children’s Society research, many local authorities are not aware of how many children in their care will be affected by our exit from the European Union. This would leave an already vulnerable group of children and young people without recourse to public funds liable to immigration detention or forced removal from their home and the country they have grown up in.
Migration is a constant feature of our nation’s story. Our shared task is to discern how we can create a system that benefits all.
Bishop Christopher’s speech was addressed by the Minister in her conclusion of the debate:
Baroness Williams of Trafford: I turn now to another sector, that of ministers of religion, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark asked about. We greatly value the contribution that migrants make to faith communities in this country, and that is why there are two routes for religious workers within the current immigration system which will be continued under the future points-based system. When we made changes in 2019, the then Immigration Minister hosted a round table with representatives of all the major faiths, and just in the past week the current Immigration Minister hosted a further meeting with representatives of the Catholic church.
Bishop Vivienne’s comments were reiterated by the Minister and Shadow Minister and by Baroness Kennedy of Cradley:
Baroness Kennedy of Cradley: The second issue I want to touch on is EU children in care. I echo the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. Thousands of children in care and care leavers could be at risk of being left unlawfully resident in the UK next year without co-ordinated action between central government and local authorities. The Government are the corporate parent of these children and should act as any parent would. They have a responsibility to ensure that all children in their care receive the settled status to which they are entitled. Applying under the EU settlement scheme is not simple and straightforward. For children in care and care leavers, gathering the required evidence has been a challenge.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I support the calls of a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, to support the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich. It is a very good Bill, and I have supported him many times in the past. It would be good to bring the protection afforded to victims of modern slavery in England and Wales up to the same standards we have in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to address the issue of victims of modern slavery and why the Government are just not engaging with it. The loss of important EU protections is a risk to victims of modern slavery, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol said.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol talked about looked-after children. I think I am repeating myself, because I just mentioned that in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley. We are liaising very closely with local authorities…
Quite a few noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, my noble friends Lord Randall and Lord McColl of Dulwich, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, spoke about modern slavery. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham also spoke to me yesterday about this. Modern slavery and human trafficking have no place in this society, and we are committed to fortifying our immigration system against these crimes while ensuring that victims are protected and offenders prosecuted. Decisions made through the national referral mechanism regarding whether someone is in fact a victim of modern slavery are not affected by their nationality or their immigration status. In fact, I might say that many victims of modern slavery are citizens of the United Kingdom. Support for suspected victims is provided through the NRM regardless of nationality and, although the UK has left the EU, our core international obligations to victims remain unchanged.