Bill read a third time.
My Lords, at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, said from the Government Front Bench:
“Nobody could fail to be moved by the thought of close family living in conflict zones or dangerous situations.”—[Official Report, 10/9/21; col. 1117.]
Indeed, and it is not just the thought. We are seeing images of families separated at the Ukrainian border and of incomplete families without fathers and sons. That must prompt a greater understanding of how important it is that families are together. It is inevitable that some people, including children, will arrive in the UK alone. That is not new.
Whether as a matter of procedure I can thank my noble friend Lady Ludford, I am not sure, but I do. I know that she was very much helped by the Families Together coalition and in the preparation of the Bill by Jon Featonby of the British Red Cross, as I was with my similar predecessor Private Member’s Bill. I wish I could think that this Bill would sail through the Commons to Royal Assent before the end of the Session. I am certain that many British people, shocked by what is happening on our continent, would say the same. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
My Lords, I regret not having been able to speak earlier. As noble Lords know, I spoke passionately on this issue on the Nationality and Borders Bill. I do not think that it is too late for the Government to think about reintroducing this into that Bill on Tuesday in the other place. I hope that they might do so.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for bringing the Bill to the House and wish her a speedy recovery. She has provided us with the opportunity to debate the UK’s refugee family reunion policy provisions. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for moving the Motion on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.
The Government welcome the generous spirit behind the Bill, but I am afraid that the provisions it would introduce would inevitably create challenging burdens for the Home Office, local authorities and wider public services, as well as risk creating incentives for more children to be encouraged or even forced to leave their family and risk hazardous journeys to the UK.
In particular, I remind noble Lords that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers family and private life, is a qualified right, not an absolute right. The Government are therefore required to carry out a balancing exercise between their Article 8 ECHR obligations in terms of interference with family life and the wider public interest, which will include consideration of factors such as the impact on public services and so forth. This is in line with the internationally recognised principle of proportionality and, moreover, is explicitly provided for in Section 117B(3) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. I am afraid that provisions enabling, for instance, children to sponsor their parents and wider family members may well create an exceptionally large burden in this regard and it is therefore not right that we should put such routes into law.
However, in addition to enabling family unity between pre-flight immediate family members, our policy, which is set out in paragraph 352D of Part 11 of the Immigration Rules, does not preclude any refugee sponsoring an immediate family or extended family member who is not in scope of those rules. We continue to retain discretion flexibly to grant cases exceptionally outside the Immigration Rules and believe that that is the right approach to ensure that we are properly assessing Article 8 rights as set against important and serious considerations about the impact on public services.
Our policy also makes it clear that there is a discretion to grant visas outside the Immigration Rules which caters for extended family members in exceptional circumstances, including young adult sons or daughters who are dependent on family here and living in dangerous situations. There are separate provisions in the rules to allow extended family to sponsor children to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances. Refugees can also sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can be provided only by relatives in the UK. Finally, to strengthen our existing policy, we have committed to providing additional clarity in the Immigration Rules on the exceptional circumstances where we would grant leave to a child seeking to join a relative in the UK.
I conclude by thanking noble Lords for their many and wide-ranging contributions to the debate on the Bill, the Families Together coalition and, in particular, the British Red Cross, for their continued work on this issue.
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.