Tier 5 Religious Worker Visas — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 3:00 pm, 4th July 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered changes to Tier 5 Religious Worker Visas.

It is, as always, an immense pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gapes. I thank colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate; it is greatly appreciated. I also pay tribute to my co-sponsors, my friends the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) and for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen). I have always believed that our politics is better when we work cross-party to tackle injustices, so I am particularly grateful to them for joining together on this occasion.

More than 70 right hon. and hon. Members expressed support for this Backbench Business debate, and I know from conversations with colleagues across parties that the changes introduced by the British Government have caused great consternation in constituencies and parishes all across these islands. For example, my hon. Friend Martin Docherty-Hughes, who cannot be here today, has been inundated with correspondence from more than 120 constituents in three Catholic parishes because they are particularly concerned about the changes. Likewise, Sir Edward Leigh wanted to put his opposition on the record, but for diary reasons he cannot make it to the debate.

This is an opportunity to air those concerns with the Minister, who I know will listen attentively before responding. Before I go any further, I express my sincere thanks to Anthony Horan from the Catholic Parliamentary Office in Edinburgh and to the Bishops’ Conference for an excellent briefing in advance of the debate. We have only 90 minutes and I want to ensure that all colleagues get a good opportunity to air their views, so I will confine my speech to around 10 minutes, but I will of course be happy for colleagues to intervene.

Concerns about changes to religious worker visas were first raised with me by my good friend Father Liam McMahon, the parish priest at St Michael’s in Parkhead. Essentially, at the tail end of last year the British Government introduced a change in regulations that meant that visiting clergy could no longer enter the UK via the tier 5 visa route and would instead have to apply via tier 2. The changes, which came into force on 10 January, are causing something of a headache for a whole host of religious organisations, but particularly the Catholic Church, which requires visiting clergy to cover for periods of illness, holidays, religious retreats and even for priests who are away on pilgrimage with their parishioners.