On 10th November the House of Lords considered the Government’s Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. Lord Dubs pressed again an amendment on child refugees and family reunion, his earlier amendment to the Bill having been rejected in a vote in the House of Commons. The Bishop of Southwark spoke in support of the amendment. Lord Dubs did not press it to a vote, accepting some concessions from the Government in its place.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I speak in favour of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In doing so, I speak not only on my account but also in place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who is locked down in the north-east and therefore, because of the procedures for consideration of Commons amendments, is unable to speak on this amendment, although that had been very much his intention.
Family life and kin relationships are vital in many parts of the world to ensure survival. Even in the UK, family means the difference between misery, destitution and poor mental health and a life where, even in the most difficult circumstances, there is practical care, support and love. Thus, I, too, welcome the Government’s steps towards ensuring safe and legal routes, including the commitment in case of a no-deal Brexit, to pursue bilateral negotiations on arrangements for family reunion, which I trust they will seek to ensure are equivalent to the Dublin regulations. I welcome the Minister’s commitments and await with interest her further comments following what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, just said.
However, a step in the right direction is not the end of the journey. While a review of safe and legal routes is welcome, these steps do not directly deal with what will happen when the UK leaves the Dublin system at the end of the year. Nor does a review safeguard existing routes, which we already know to be worth while and effective. These high standards and guarantees in refugee protection will fall away and the routes will close down.
Throughout the Bible, there is teaching on the necessity for our actions to match well-intended words. Thus, in the Old Testament, the prophet Micah reminds us that we are to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly, not just to speak of justice or mercy. I therefore point out that your Lordships are seeking action rather than reviews. We are asking for a concrete commitment to walk down the path of justice and mercy for those seeking refuge, most especially unaccompanied children.
There are many areas of government migration policy on which we already await reviews. In particular, we wait for one on asylum seekers’ right to work and another on the impact of hostile environment measures, to which the Government have already committed as part of their response to Windrush. In neither case is there as yet a clear timetable. A review is not action. A review without a timetable is not a review any time soon. In the meantime, the need is pressing and ongoing. We require action to fill the legislative gap that will otherwise open up in January to the detriment of some very vulnerable individuals.
Securing satisfactory family reunion rights is an important part of a wider picture, ensuring not only safe and legal routes but also an effective, functioning, humane asylum system. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, recognises this. As he has explained, his amendment seeks to remove a gap in provision. He is an individual of great sensibility and experience in these matters and commands widespread respect across the House. On an issue in which compassion and humanity must be at the forefront of our response, I hope that your Lordships will demonstrate the necessary independence of spirit which these children and their families require of us. I support his amendment.
Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con) [Minister]: …The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about Dublin ending and routes closing down. I have explained that, as we are leaving the European Union, Dublin will come to an end, but we will not close any of our existing routes. Just to illustrate some of the numbers, as I mentioned in my speech, we issued 6,320 family reunion visas in the year ending June 2020, which contrasts with 532 family reunion transfers under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of Dublin. All the routes that I set out earlier are and will continue to be in force.
Text of the amendment:
Moved by Lord Dubs
At end insert, “and do propose the following amendments to Amendment 4C—
4F: After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) Until such a time as the report under subsection (5) has been published and either any included recommendations on the position of unaccompanied children under subsection (3)(a) have been implemented or a reason has been given for non-implementation, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for protection claimants who are in a member State after 1 January 2021, and who would have been eligible to enter the United Kingdom under a relevant provision of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 if the United Kingdom remained a party to that regulation, to enter the United Kingdom.”
4G: In subsection (6) insert—
““Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013” means Regulation (EU) No. 604/ 2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council including the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);
“relevant provision” means any of the following articles of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013— (a) Article 8; (b) Article 9; (c) Article 10; (d) Article 16; (e) Article 17;””