Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 25th November 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds Bishop 8:00 pm, 25th November 2008

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for challenging the changes to the Immigration Rules and for raising the issues presented by them. I shall refer particularly to the ways in which rules based primarily on economic considerations can have deep cultural effects, which may be unintended but are nevertheless serious. That is one reason why I believe it would have been far better if these matters had been dealt with by legislation. We could have discussed and explored them at far greater length than we can tonight.

The loss of the working holiday immigration route will have deleterious effects on the ability of young people to come to this country to work alongside British young people and gain from and contribute to our culture. The youth mobility scheme, which replaces it, involves just four countries—Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand. The working holiday scheme has been a major way in which the young people of Commonwealth countries, particularly African countries, have met and contributed to their understanding of one another. I believe it to have been one way in which peace has been established, sought and developed between people of very different cultures, and I deeply regret the loss that I believe will happen as a result of these rules.

Similarly, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the restriction on charitable and religious workers will affect how people of faith from other countries come here and experience and contribute to the life of faith in this country. Christians from abroad influence and inform our own Christian growth, and it will be much more difficult to bring Christian ministers into this country to help us and them under these rules. Christian churches are not confined to a single country. International contacts and mutual support are crucial to the life of the Christian faith. That includes the ability for Christian ministries to move from country to country; it is by no means always true that a high-level knowledge of English is necessary for preaching and pastoral work to take place here. Our own links, in Ripon and Leeds, are with the church in Sri Lanka. We have gained much from clergy and others who have given of time and skill to come to this country to share with us, as we with them, although they may have very little English indeed. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that there will be continuing discussions with faith groups and charities before the powerful rules for tiers 2 and 5 are put into effect.

There are other concerns about these rules. The refusal of marriage visas to those aged 18 to 21 is portrayed as an attempt to prevent people being bullied into marriage. That I applaud—but this blunt instrument will also catch many genuine personal relationships. There is already legislation to prevent forced marriage. I do not believe that the refusal of visas will help anyone, and it will damage couples seeking to settle here in new, perfectly legal circumstances. Similarly, closing the way of entering for retired persons of independent means, means that elderly dependent relatives of people here may be allowed to come on compassionate grounds, while independent relatives will not be able to come. The provisions in both those examples give minimal benefit to anyone while damaging what is, admittedly, comparatively few people, but people who will suffer substantially. It must be no part of our rules to cause hardship and trauma to people, however few, without good reason.

Finally, I join the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in asking for a review of the provisions for migrant domestic workers, particularly in diplomatic households. There is real danger here of abuse behind closed doors, which will be enhanced without the right to change employer while in this country. I hope that they will be excluded from the tier 5 provisions and so retain the already very limited rights of other domestic workers.

I hope that your Lordships will disapprove these changes, thereby giving us all the opportunity to explore ways in which we can improve the humane immigration controls that the Minister and the Government desire.