Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2020: Bishop of Southwark backs changes on child refugees, detention, documentation

On 5th October 2020 the House of Lords considered amendments to the Government’s Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2020 during the second day of its Report stage. The Bishop of Southwark spoke in favour of amendments to the Bill on

  • Child refugees and family reunion
  • Providing physical, not just digital, proof of settled and pre-settled status in the UK.
  • Placing an upper limit of 28 days on the time an EEA or Swiss national may be held in immigration detention.

The texts of his speeches are below. He and ten other bishops voted on these and other amendments to the Bill and the details are recorded here.

Amendment 15 (Ensures that family reunion rights currently covered by the Dublin III Treaty, will continue and that unaccompanied child refugees in Europe will have a legal route to sanctuary in the UK)

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, it had been the intention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham to speak to this amendment, tabled in his name as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and but for the hiatus in the voting technology when the House last considered the Bill on Report, he would have done so. He regrets that he is unable to attend today’s proceedings.

When we previously considered this amendment, in Committee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham reminded us of the story of the good Samaritan. It is not just, or principally, a story of instinctiveness goodness, or we would soon tire of hearing of it. It recounts several characters, including a person who needs help, those who do harm and those who have choices about their actions in response—doubtless all individuals who paid their taxes, counted their accomplishments, did well by their families and friends, and obeyed the law. It was the victim’s instinctive enemy who did right by him in showing compassion. Sometimes the choice we all face is whether or not to exercise generosity of heart.

We read in the helpful letter from the Minister of 30 September about the scale of refuge granted to vulnerable children proportionate to the European Union. Such welcome, especially to the most vulnerable, is to be acknowledged, as is the Government’s attempt to reach an agreement with the EU on post-transition arrangements. However, given the sheer scale of raw human need that exists in the area of vulnerable children and family reunification, will the Minister please explain to the House what she believes the disadvantages would be of importing into our domestic law the very wholesome provisions of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013? The regulation is entirely sensible and reasonable in requiring the Government to consider the best interests of the child.

Division on Amendment 15: Content: 317 – Not Content: 223

Amendment 15 agreed.

Amendment 18 (To ensure successful applicants for leave to remain have physical, not just digital, proof of their settled and pre-settled status in the UK).

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I too wish to speak in favour of the amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, together with the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Kerslake and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, to whom I express gratitude for their skilful drafting.​

I am still asked to provide evidence of my identity by means of a driving licence or a passport, or, upon entering the parliamentary estate, a parliamentary pass. The stated aim of the Government to confer settled and pre-settled status solely by digital means as a prelude to all immigration status being signified in this way is as curious as it is alarming. I say “curious” because it demonstrates a capacity for technological solutions from a department whose record in achieving them is mixed at best, and because it is being delivered to a House unable until today to vote by electronic means on its last slew of amendments. I hope that the Minister will take note of how heavily the Government have been defeated on each and every vote today. They are likely to be defeated again if the amendment comes to a vote, as it is another amendment that is not at all political and commends itself to common sense and human decency.

The Home Office was due to implement an electronic border system by 2011 for monitoring passenger data. This was put back to 2019, and I understand that the contract was terminated at one point. The Minister might advise us on how the system is going.

Last year, the Public Accounts Committee, reporting on matters to do with the Windrush scandal, picked up on its own prior concerns about the handling of electronic data at the department. It further mentioned that the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found that the department had wrongly identified some people as disqualified from having a driving licence or a bank account, but the department rejected the recommendation to cleanse its disqualified persons list of people who should not be on it, which is again curious.

I cannot be the only Member of your Lordships’ House whose email inbox has been inundated with the pleas of EU citizens and their spouses on this amendment—in fact, I know from this debate that I am not. We have to ask why this is the case. Why this particular amendment? As has been noted, Australia took 19 years to migrate one category to a digital status only. What of the inevitable inaccuracies of such a screen? What of when the system goes down, as it most assuredly will? What of those who do not remember the email address with which they registered? What of those, especially the elderly and perhaps more vulnerable, who might have relied on a neighbour or a charity who used an email address unknown to them? Such a person is trusted with a library card but not with something tangible—something that fits into a wallet or purse and identifies them more easily than the frailty of any app is yet able to do. Indeed, it is curious—my favourite word this evening—that we should go out of our way to make the lives of others so difficult. There is simply no need to do this and we should not do it.

In designing a system for administrative convenience rather than accommodating the realities of daily human life, we risk visiting unnecessary and avoidable difficulties on many of our fellow citizens. That is why I support the amendment and hope that the Minister will accept it.

Division on Amendment 18: Content: 298 – Not Content: 192

Amendment 18 agreed.

Amendment 20 (Places an upper limit of 28 days on the time an EEA or Swiss national may be held in immigration detention).

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I wish to speak in favour of Amendment 20, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—he regrets that he is unable to be with your Lordships today—has put his name to, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who has just spoken, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull.

The process of detention is an intensely dispiriting one. It is often accompanied by a physical denial of hope and attendant mental distress. We have heard of extensive periods of internment, just as we have heard from the Minister of expeditious dealing with detainees. We have heard, too, from her that detention cannot be indefinite because the Secretary of State’s power is constrained by common law. That is undeniably correct. However, for an individual who is affected by this and who might be unaware of how and when a caseworker will weigh the different elements of Hardial Singh, that is no comfort.

The Government are right in saying that detention is subject to the courts. However, although the application of common law brings many benefits—and there will be those in your Lordships’ House who will think it little enough used—those who are subject to sudden detention are not the sort of people who can summon the resources to apply to a court for redress. That is a key failing of any attempt to justify the present arrangements. The problem with the immigration and asylum system is not, as some allege, overtly complex legal safeguards for unworthy individuals; it is less contentious and more straightforward than that—it is simply that too few individuals have the resources to access the legal help necessary to ensure them fair consideration. The number of cases which the Home Offices loses and which go to tribunal demonstrates the human cost of that. It is an indictment that this inhibits the operation of justice for all.

The Government have had ample opportunity to bring forward their own amendment to put the terms of detention on a statutory footing. In the absence of that, I trust that the House will take the opportunity to give this amendment a generous consideration. I shall vote for it.

Division  on Amendment 20: Content: 184 – Not Content: 156

Amendment 20 agreed.


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