All 1 Lord German contributions to the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill [HL] 2021-22

Fri 10th Sep 2021

Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill [HL]

Lord German Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 10th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill [HL] 2021-22 Read Hansard Text
Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am also pleased to be able to support my noble friend Lady Ludford’s Bill. It is a short Bill but, in the words of a famous BBC radio programme, it is the antidote to the Government’s behaviour. In fact, the Bill itself will have huge consequences for the lives of our young people. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, for reminding us about the 1951 convention, because that is also an antidote to the direction that the Government have been taking. One sentence in Article 33 of that convention obliges a state to consider an asylum seeker’s status and not simply return them to their home or a third country. That will become increasingly relevant as we consider the Government’s legislation that will come before us, because that article and that convention has been the foundation of where our rules have come from.

This Bill is aimed at finding a solution to bring children and their families together. I hope it will be met with sympathy by this Government—though I am not holding my breath—but they have, in a sense, the ability to give this Bill time. I hope that that is where we will end up: that this House will have the time to fully consider this in further stages and to take it forward. At its heart, this Bill is looking at how to turn round and support the lives of children currently without any hope of reunion—without any hope is really where they are at present—with their parents and siblings. This is a matter which can and must be put right, for moral, social and economic reasons, some of which have already been explained to the House by earlier speakers. This Bill seeks to rectify an injustice which should be at the heart of a compassionate country.

I want to focus on one element of the Bill only, which my noble friend Lady Ludford mentioned in opening: the Government’s rationale. What is the Government’s rationale for not permitting children to become family reunion sponsors? At present, sponsors must be 18 years old or more. Those under 18 cannot sponsor relatives, even parents, under the current rules. That is strange—or perhaps not, given this Government’s position—because this policy is out of step completely with all our neighbouring countries in Europe, including those in the European Union.

The review of the reunion applications published last year by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, states:

“Stakeholders have asserted that the UK is in breach of its national and international legal obligations, including the family reunification provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child … Recent research by stakeholders highlighted the heightened vulnerability and significant trauma children suffered when separated from their families and left in the care of the State.”

Tellingly, the chief inspector goes on to say:

“Home Office policy staff told inspectors that most major decisions about family reunion policy were made by ministers and ‘sometimes decisions taken are inevitably political.’”

That is the nub of this: we are talking about a political, not a humanity-based, decision.

The Government’s position, echoed in their response to the report—by the way, their response to an 85-page report was a very slim volume of four and a half pages—states the position that my noble friend outlined in her opening: that child sponsorships would encourage or force families to send their children to the UK. However, when challenged, the Government have failed to come up with any evidence to support this political assertion, and the Home Office officials were unable to supply any supporting evidence. Of course, evidence to the contrary has been supplied by many external bodies, such as Save the Children, Amnesty International and the UNHCR. I hope that the Minister can provide the source of the evidence that supports the Government’s case. Otherwise, it is simply an assertion, as is borne out by the discovery of its own chief inspector.

The way forward is making the rules clearer and more straightforward, as the Bill does, and keeping to our international obligations. It would be a major step in the right direction, and I am pleased to support it. I hope that the Bill will seek to achieve all of its ambitions during the course of this House’s consideration of this matter.