Amendment 20

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Lord Dubs:

Moved by Lord Dubs

20: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—“Reception of unaccompanied refugee children in Northern Ireland: regulations(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 provide for the reception of unaccompanied refugee children in Northern Ireland in accordance with that section.(2) Regulations under this section must be in force no later than 21 October 2019, subject to subsection (3).(3) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I shall be extremely brief given the hour. I think most Members of the House will be aware that the Government, under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, have a commitment to take unaccompanied child refugees from Europe. The Government say that there is a limit to how many we can take, because English local authorities do not have enough foster places. That is in dispute. What is not in dispute is that people in Northern Ireland are willing to make arrangements to take unaccompanied child refugees. I have talked to people in Belfast and Derry and they say yes.

The problem is that, until now, because there is no functioning Executive, it is not possible for anything to happen, because the civil servants who make the decisions have not felt it possible to agree to take unaccompanied child refugees. I think most people in Northern Ireland, with their traditional hospitality, would be sympathetic. It would be good for British policy. The Home Office would welcome it and, above all, it would be great for some of the child refugees trapped in terrible conditions on the Greek islands, in northern France and elsewhere.

I hope the Government will accept the amendment or at least the principle, so that something can be done to help these children and that Northern Ireland will step up to the mark in the way that other parts of the United Kingdom have already done. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 20A. I want to be brief, not because this subject is not deserving of a full debate, but because I have listened carefully to the previous debate and feel that the issues have been adequately covered. There must be a clear distinction—I know the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has pointed this out very clearly—between the victim-maker and the victim. Consideration of government proposals in the past has been coloured. I said that in the debate on Monday. There is dissatisfaction with people generally, but in particular with those who are campaigning for victims.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

It appears that we are still on Amendment 20, which needs to be debated before we consider Amendment 20A.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, I follow the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has frequently drawn attention to similar issues. I have no doubt that, as part of the United Kingdom, if it is a decision of the country to try to help people, it is reasonable that that is spread out as evenly as possible. However, I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that the structures of local government, in particular, in Northern Ireland are radically different. Local authorities have no locus in this at all. There are health and social services boards, a housing executive and housing associations, but their funding would have to come from Stormont. That is the conundrum we are confronted with. It is not that there is any lack of hospitality or willingness to play a part in a UK-wide problem. The structures are radically different, and all the social services and housing issues are funded through Stormont and not through local government. Members have to be aware that that is why there is an issue here.

On housing, as I said earlier with regard to welfare mitigation, part of the problem is that we do not have the appropriate housing units in many cases, so we rely heavily on voluntary organisations, Church organisations and others. However, there has to be funding stream for them to deliver their services and offer help. Members must understand that that is why we have a difficulty. It is not as if we can go to Sheffield or Coventry City Councils, which can provide services; I hope that Members understand that. We have Syrians and other such people coming to our shores from distressing situations. People are happy to rally round them, but getting funding flowing has to happen via Stormont. That is the obstacle in our way. Perhaps the Minister can address that in his response.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has been a consistent champion for child refugees in promoting their interests. I am very grateful to him for his continued commitment to such an important issue, which I know he has discussed with my noble friend Lord Duncan as recently as May. He deserves a reply. It will have to be fairly brief, which I am sure the House will be relieved to hear, but I hope that it is not too brief.

As the noble Lord will know, the UK has contributed significantly to hosting, supporting and protecting the most vulnerable children, including those affected by the migration crisis in Europe. Since the beginning of 2015, the UK has received asylum applications from 12,756 unaccompanied children. In 2018, we received 2,872 such applications—15% of all such claims in the EU. We are the third largest intake country of all the EU member states. I must pay tribute to the vital work of local authorities in looking after these children and providing them with the day-to-day care that is so crucial in enabling them to rebuild their lives.

The Government remain committed to relocating the remaining children up to the specified number of 480 under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. The Home Office continues to work closely with local authorities and strategic migration partnerships across the country. We remain very keen to receive offers of further placements.

As with other amendments, this amendment cuts across devolved matters. The relocation of children is also dependent on the availability of appropriate local authority care placements. I took note of the speech and comments of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on housing. In Northern Ireland the delivery of most of the required services, such as health, social care and education, is devolved.

The intention behind the proposed new clause is to provide for the allocation to Northern Ireland of children brought to the UK under Section 67. Of course, it is right that the ability to do so should exist; however, such a clause is not required. The regulations that it requires would duplicate existing ones in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and the Transfer of Responsibility for Relevant Children (Extension to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) Regulations 2018; they are therefore unnecessary. Whether Northern Ireland health and social care trusts accept children under Section 67 of the 2016 Act is very much a matter for Northern Ireland.

In conclusion, this is an important issue and, given that we are talking about children here, it is important that we, working with Northern Ireland, get this right. I would be happy to continue to discuss and explore our approach to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. For those reasons, I urge him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. I appreciate the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I am aware that this would be done not through local authorities but through the health boards in Northern Ireland; I did not want to go into too much detail about that so that I could be brief. The issue concerns unaccompanied child refugees; it is not about housing but about finding foster parents who are willing to have children placed with them through the health boards. It is therefore a fairly simple proposition at one level.

I just hope that there is some way we can unblock this, because I think we are well short of the 480 that the Government have capped under Section 67. There are children in a terrible situation in northern France and on the Greek islands. I thought that if we could just unblock this a bit and give the Northern Ireland people a chance to say, “We have some foster parents here who are willing to take a couple of child refugees,” we could move forward. That is all I am asking.

On the Minister’s assurance that we are going to take this further by discussion, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 20 withdrawn.