Campaign response: Will you back refugee resettlement and reopen safe routes to safety?
In recent weeks a number of a constituents have written to me concerning the future of refugee resettlement in the UK and the importance of protecting it so that we can fulfil our international humanitarian obligations.
I have always been clear that with Brexit, we have an opportunity to build a new and more effective immigration system that is fair and robust while being compassionate on those who most need our help and protection. That is why as Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration I continue to work hard with colleagues across the political spectrum to a seek a consensus on how we can legislate to build such a system, and why I have taken time to engage and meet with NGOs and charities representing the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
The UK has a strong track record on protecting and providing sanctuary to the most vulnerable refugees fleeing war and persecution. And this is a record we have continued to build on: In 2019, the UK received 3,651 asylum applications from unaccompanied children, a rise of 19% on the previous year and the highest intake of unaccompanied children since 2008. Additionally, under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), the Government is now close to hitting its target of resettling 20,000 vulnerable refugees affected by the Syrian civil war, with 19,768 vulnerable refugees resettled since September 2015. I am proud of this and will continue to support a compassionate approach in refugee resettlement.
I understand the natural concerns around the future of the funding of VPRS and other refugee resettlement routes. With Covid-19 the Government has had to take a range of measures to protect the UK’s economy – without which we cannot fund refugee resettlement in the first place. There are no doubt going to be difficult spending decisions ahead. The Government needs to be fiscally responsible in order that the state of public finances can be strong enough for us to embark on important initiatives like refugee resettlement in the long term. However given the strength of feeling that constituents have expressed on the issue, I will be seeking to speak to ministers responsible for refugee resettlement directly in the Home Office to ask for an update on the future outlook of refugee resettlement and to seek an assurance that they will continue to prioritise the most vulnerable refugees going forward.
Campaign response: Deportation of Anugwom Goodluck
My thanks to constituents who have recently emailed me concerning the case of Anugwom Goodluck.
Health and care workers continue to play a vital role in this global pandemic and I am pleased that the Government has announced a number of measures that will allow carers from abroad to apply for or renew their work visas in the UK more easily. In addition, the Home Office has exceptionally granted individuals who cannot return home due to coronavirus leave to remain until July 31.
I am sure Mr Goodluck has worked very hard to keep care home residents safe and that those who have received his care owe him a debt of gratitude for keeping them safe and well during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, there may well be perfectly valid and legal reasons for his visa application to be rejected. Without knowing the specific circumstances of Mr Goodluck and his application, it is difficult for me to comment further on his case.
This is because all non-UK nationals who are in the UK must follow our immigration rules, and this includes not continuing to work in the UK after applications for individuals whose visas have been refused. We would be setting the wrong precedent if we were to allow anyone who has overstayed their visa to work in the UK.
Campaign response: ‘DIY’ Abortions; Two women have died after using ‘DIY’ abortion services; Action alert
I am very grateful for constituents for emailing me regarding their concerns over the use of the so-called DIY home abortion services.
I am especially concerned to read recent reports of deaths of both mothers and newborns as a result of taking these abortion pills.
As a well-known pro-life MP, I am as keen as they are to see that the temporary measures for abortion that were put in place at the start of the pandemic do not become the norm.
On one level, I understand why the decision was allowed, given the extraordinary pressures on the NHS. I also note that the Government has re-iterated on a number of occasions that these are time-limited measures that will be lifted as soon as the current situation is over.
But prior to the lockdown, there was a strong indication from the Health Secretary at the Despatch Box that our abortion policy is not changing, so when this decision was announced I was surprised to say the least.
I have the privilege of serving the Health Secretary Matt Hancock as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, and I have spoken to him about the contentious matter of abortion as it is a conscience issue and MPs are free to vote based on their beliefs and personal views.
I know he is very much aware of this latest situation with DIY abortions and is consulting with the care minister and medical professionals urgently to look into the issues that have come to light.
The concern now is that abortion 'on demand' should become a norm. Constituents will no doubt be aware of efforts by pro-abortion MPs to push through an amendment to the Domestic Abuse bill that would have allowed both medical and surgical ‘DIY’ home abortions to take place on a permanent basis in any location if a woman is in an abusive relationship.
While I was pleased that this amendment was ultimately withdrawn by Diana Johnson, the MP who tabled the amendment, this came after government ministers made a commitment to a public consultation on the issue of home abortion.
I would urge all constituents who have written to me to express concerns over the safety and ethics behind DIY abortions to engage with this public consultation and make their views known to the government directly. More details on this consultation would be published in due course and I will of course keep all constituents up to date with the latest developments.
I will continue to do my best to make the case for in Parliament and elsewhere that we should see no further erosion of the restrictions of abortion. I work closely with a number of pro-life organisations and I am regularly briefed by them on the latest parliamentary movement of bills and regulations that relate to abortion.
Campaign response: Conversion therapy ban
A number of constituents have recently contacted me to express their concerns over plans to ban gay conversion therapy.
As a fellow Christian and a former church leader I fully understand the natural concerns that many Christians have over the potential implications this ban could have on the freedom of speech and religion.
The proposed ban is a response to the deeply-troubling accounts of conversion therapies expressed in the recent National LGBT survey.
‘Conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapies range from pseudo-psychological treatments to surgical interventions, and is known to include practices such as electroshock therapy and the administering of nausea-inducing drugs.
While I welcome the government’s intention to eradicate these appalling and abusive practices through outlawing gay conversion therapies, it is vitally important that the freedom of Christian churches and other faith organisations to express and exercise their beliefs is not stifled by this proposed ban.
I am also concerned that people who may be struggling with their sexuality and seek help, support and advice, are able to do so, including from churches and other Christian organisations.
The Government will be presenting more details for the proposed ban in the UK in due course. I will be following developments closely and will be speaking out in Parliament to ensure that this proposal does not undermine the work of faith groups that are seeking offer genuine and legitimate support to LGBT people, and their rights to express and exercise their beliefs.
Campaign response: People seeking asylum should have the right to work
Thank you to constituents for their emails regarding the right to work for asylum seekers.
My view on this is that asylum seekers who have been waiting on their asylum decisions for a significant period of time (many are having wait for more than 6 months) should be given the right to work because it will enable them to achieve the quality of life they aspire to, to contribute to and integrate with their local communities, and would enable the UK to benefit from the skills and abilities that they bring with them. In addition this would allow them to no longer pose an unnecessary burden on our welfare system and boost our economy through tax revenues generated.
This is an issue which I have previously raised with ministers, who have assured me that the Government is listening on the issue and will be doing work to review its position on asylum seekers to take up employment in the UK where they are unable to receive a prompt decision. I am aware that that the Home Office has had the ‘Right to Work’ policy under review since December 2018 and I do hope that they will be announcing the outcome of their review very soon, although I note that as a result of the global pandemic many of the key government decisions and announcements have had to be postponed.
It may also be of interest to constituents that in the past two years I have also been working with a cross-party group of MPs including Tim Farron (Liberal Democrats) and Kate Green (Labour) on various immigration, asylum and refugees issues, and through my participation on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration and on the RAMP Project I have been a supporter of the Lift the Ban campaign.
I will continue to monitor developments on this issue closely and speak up for constituents where possible.
Campaign response: Help protect people seeking asylum during the Covid 19 pandemic
In recent weeks some constituents have written to me about their concerns over the way that our asylum system is functioning and how asylum seekers are treated under the current pandemic.
I have always been clear we need not only a controlled and robust immigration system, but also one that demonstrates compassionate to those who most need our help.
In terms of our asylum system, I believe this translates into an effective border enforcement system that is complemented by an efficient asylum decision system, one that does not leave individuals and their families out in the dark about their immigration status for too long.
Constituents have asked me to raise three particular areas of action with the Home Secretary. The first relates to the need for asylum seekers to physically travel to regional centres around the UK physically to file their claim. I fully understand the difficulty and risks around travelling under these circumstances, but I can also see why the Home Office would require asylum seekers to be physically present at these centres in order for them to verify their identity and to prevent any risk of fraud or abuse in the system. As such I will be bearing this in mind when I next speak to ministerial colleagues at the Home Office to seek clarification on this area.
Secondly, on the point of increasing asylum support by £20 per week for 12 months, I have reservations that this would create perverse incentives for more to try to come to the UK to claim asylum, at a time when international travel of all forms are fraught with risks. As we look to embark on what could well be a very long road to full recovery from the impact of Covid-19, last thing that our NHS and our public infrastructure need right now is additional demand.
What I would instead suggest is that we need to be looking at ways to further expedite the decision-making within our asylum system, so that those who arrive here with often limited resources can get a quick decision on whether they are given the sanctuary (and with it, the right to work) in this country, instead of having to rely on government support for weeks and months on end. This is something that I have stressed with ministers before and I will continue to make this point.
On their third area of action relating to the adequacy of accommodation for asylum seekers, while I understand that constituents are concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers in shared accommodation, I note that many other citizens and residents in the UK such as are also living in shared spaces too without encountering any issues with social-distancing. It is obviously important that steps are taken to ensure that those who have contracted the virus are self-isolating and not putting others at risk. I am not aware of any particular issues with this, or with the supply of cleaning and hygiene products in asylum accommodation. But I will try to seek confirmation from the relevant ministers that the right steps are being taken whenever possible.
Campaign response: The Government's response to recent Channel crossings
My thanks to constituents for emailing me about their concerns over the Government’s policy to curb the illegal movement of people in the English Channel.
With Brexit we have an opportunity to build a new and more effective immigration system that is fair and robust while being compassionate on those who most need our help and protection. That is why as Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration I continue to work hard with colleagues across the political spectrum to a seek a consensus on how we can legislate to build such a system, and why I have taken time to engage and meet with NGOs and charities representing the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, such as JCWI (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants) – the organiser of this email campaign.
The UK has a strong track record on protecting and providing sanctuary to the most vulnerable refugees fleeing war and persecution. And this is a record we have continued to build on: In 2019, the UK received 3,651 asylum applications from unaccompanied children, a rise of 19% on the previous year and the highest intake of unaccompanied children since 2008. Additionally, under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), the Government is now close to hitting its target of resettling 20,000 vulnerable refugees affected by the Syrian civil war, with 19,768 vulnerable refugees resettled since September 2015.
However, a distinction has to be made between refugees who abide by the rules and seek sanctuary in the UK via the legal resettlement routes, and those who seek to come here illegally through opportunistic means.
The recent spike in the number of illegal crossings in the English Channel into UK borders has caused a significant amount of concern across the country. The vast majority of constituents who get in touch with me regarding this issue have expressed a concern that the Government’s approach has been thus far ineffective in ensuring security of our borders. Many of them also expressed concerns for the safety and wellbeing individual asylum seekers and their families who embark on these perilous journeys. They have told me that under the current pandemic these journey are even more risky and I agree with them. The UK Government is rightly determined to put a stop to these illegal and dangerous crossings, and all attempts to reach the UK clandestinely.
The bottom line is we already have a number of safe and legal routes for refugees to resettle or reunite with families here in the UK, which are functioning well and are helping us honour our international humanitarian commitments and remain as a world leader on refugee resettlement – Since 2016, Britain has resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU state. It is vital that we continue offering our assistance in the safest possible way.
Therefore, nobody should be making these dangerous journeys across the Channel and relaxing our border patrols and security cannot be the answer. The safest thing anyone can do is seek asylum in the first safe country they reach. The vast majority of people seeking to come into the UK illegally via this route are coming from French shores and would also likely have passed through countries such as Germany. These are perfectly safe countries with advanced asylum and resettlement systems. There should be no reason for these individuals to make a further journey to the UK when they can apply for refugee status in these countries instead.
It is right then that we make a distinction between refugees who have legitimate reasons to resettle in the UK – such as family reunion or qualification under VPRS, and economic migrants, who prefer to the come to the UK for better prospects rather than genuine humanitarian reasons.
I welcome the contribution of many who have migrated to the UK for economic reasons, but this movement across borders must be done legally and follow our immigration laws and rules. The Home Secretary and the Home Office is working in collaboration with the French Government and the relevant international law enforcement agencies to tackle this dangerous and illegal activity. It is bearing down on the facilitators and organised crime groups behind this illegal activity and taking all possible measures to return those who arrive here back to France.
This is the approach that would lead to the safest and best outcome for asylum seekers and refugees, and one that I will continue to support.
Campaign response: Take racial injustice seriously - 13 July 2020
Recently some constituents have written to me regarding structural racism and inequality facing people of BAME background.
Clearly the situation in the US and allegations of US police officers applying excessive force in response to protests have been concerning to many. Where there is an opportunity for Parliamentarians to debate the matter of racial equality, I will be of course be happy to do my best to speak up on behalf of constituents.
Let me be very clear: Black lives matter. There is no if’s or but’s to this statement. I am assured that the Prime Minister has made this very clear at the Despatch Box in June when the crisis in the US first came to light.
Whenever black people in our constituency have stepped forward to raise their concerns about how they are being mistreated as a result of their race or ethnicity, I have always gone out of my way to listen to them and take action on their behalf where possible, and I intend to continue to do this as long as I have the privilege of serving as your MP. If any constituent has any specific concerns regarding cases of racial injustice or inequality of any form, I would ask them to not hesitate in getting in touch with me to bring them to my attention.
I would go even further in saying that all lives matter. Racism anywhere of any form must be condemned. I will always seek to help and support all constituents whatever their race, colour, gender, religion or sexuality.
The right to peaceful protest is a key tenet of any democracy and I have spoken in favour of this essential right to be respected in places where there is clear state suppression of protest and dissent, such as Hong Kong. I do not condone the use of force against unarmed, peaceful protestors.
Some of these demonstrations in the US are by and large peaceful and lawful. But where protests turn violent and out of hand as a direct result of the actions of protestors, there are reasonable steps that I believe any democratic and law-abiding society need to take in order to prevent damage to property or people.
What is also clear is that unlike places such as Hong Kong, the US has a criminal justice system that allows for police officers to be held accountable and even prosecuted for their actions taken against civilians.
I also note that the Secretary of State for International Trade has now stated the following on this issue:
“UK takes its export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine each export licence application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.
The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework and require us to think hard about the impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. These are not decisions we take lightly, and we will not licence the export of items where to do so would be inconsistent with the Consolidated Criteria
We publish information of all export licences issued, refused and revoked on a quarterly and annual basis as official statistics on GOV.UK. The most recent publication was in April, on licences issued until the end of December 2019.”
Therefore, I disagree with constituents that we need to suspend the above export licences to the US. But I can assure them that I continue to monitor the situation in the US closely and ensure that my position on this matter is informed by latest developments.
I fully respect the right of black people or people of any colour to protest here in the UK.
I also care about their health and wellbeing just as much, and so I was alarmed to learn from a recent PHE report that confirmed BAME people are indeed statistically at greater risk of contracting the virus.
Therefore, while I fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter and the desire that many have to show solidarity with African Americans in the US, for the sake of their health and wellbeing, I would strongly urge anyone thinking of breaking lockdown and taking to the streets here in the UK to consider the current dangers brought on by Covid-19 and the potential public risks involved in mass rallies. We do not want to see any more people, particularly members of the BAME community, falling ill or dying from Covid-19 as a result of being exposed to the virus during these protests.
The situation in the US is radically different to that of the UK and I am pleased that we have not seen anywhere near the same degree of accusations of brutality and excess force being lodged against our police officers. British police officers are not themselves complicit in the murder of George Floyd and I am concerned to read recent reports that a number of them were attacked by supposedly peaceful protestors. Our police are our valued key workers, who are doing their very best to keep us all safe under the present circumstances.
Thank you again to constituents for writing to me about this important matter.
Campaign response – Abortion laws; Domestic Abuse Bill; Domestic Abuse Bill amendments - 8 July 2020
In the run up to the Report Stage and the Third Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the Commons on Monday, a number of constituents have written to me regarding New Clauses 28 and 29 – attempts by members of the opposition to make sweeping changes to abortion laws. NC29 would repeal 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, removing almost all current legal safeguards on abortion, up until when a child is capable of being born alive, with a ceiling of 28 weeks. NC 28 sought to allow both medical and surgical ‘DIY’ home abortions to take place on a permanent basis in any location if a woman is in an abusive relationship.
I was very pleased to hear the vast majority of my parliamentary colleagues speaking out against these amendments during the debate at Report Stage. In particular I would highlight the below contribution from my colleague and fellow pro-life campaigner Fiona Bruce MP, whom I believe has summed up very well the importance of the bill and the dangerous approach that the pro-abortion lobby is taking:
“This is a domestic abuse Bill; it should not be hijacked by those continuously campaigning on another issue and constantly looking for opportunities in this place to add badly worded amendments to Bills with unforeseen implications and complications.
We have already seen the outcome of such an approach with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. This House should, I hope, be very wary of repeating that. I support the Government’s endeavours to tackle domestic abuse: let us ensure that that is the focus of this Bill.”
In the end, NC29 was rightly deemed out of scope by the Speaker while NC28 was withdrawn by Diana Johnson, the MP who tabled the amendment, after government ministers made a commitment to a public consultation on the issue of home abortion.
I would urge constituents who have written to me about NC 28 and 29 to engage with this public consultation and make their views known to the government directly. More details on the consultation would be published in due course and I will of course keep constituents up to date with the latest developments on this.
We know that the provisions of NC 28 and 29 are completely out of line with where women stand on the issue of abortion.
Recent polling, conducted by Savanta ComRes, on whether time limits for abortion should be increased showed that only 1% of women wanted the time limit to be extended. In contrast 70% of women favoured a reduction in time limits.
Furthermore, a poll from March 2014, showed that 94% of women agreed that a woman requesting an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor. This current requirement in law would be removed under the abortion lobby’s plans.
I will continue to speak up for greater protection to be offered to the unborn child and their mother, instead of rolling back on existing safeguards.
Campaign response – Please oppose amending the Domestic Abuse Bill to make extreme changes to abortion legislation - 1 July 2020
Thank you to constituents for writing to me about the Domestic Abuse Bill and bringing my attention to attempts by certain MPs to introduce an amendment to bill which would alter our existing abortion legislations very significantly by repealing sections 58 & 59 of the Offences Against Persons Act.
I share constituents’ concerns and completely agree with them that the focus of this important bill should be on protecting those who suffer from domestic abuse. How anyone could argue that the issue of abortion is related to a bill aiming to tackle domestic abuse is simply beyond me. Even if an amendment is tabled to the bill, I trust that the Speaker will be able to exercise his judgement and deem it to be out of scope.
Abortion on demand for any reason beyond the current 28-week ceiling must be resisted and as a pro-life MP I will continue to speak up for greater protection to be offered to the unborn child and their mother, instead of rolling back on existing safeguards. In the unlikely scenario that such an amendment to the Domestic Abuse bill is selected to be voted on by MPs, constituents can have my full assurance that I will be voting against it.
Campaign response – Please support Amendment NC29 and save child refugees - 1 July
Thank you to constituents for writing to me about child refugees and New Clause 29 to the Immigration and Social Security Bill.
This is a matter I have written extensively on – I have been always been clear that we need a new immigration system that is both robust and effective, while being compassionate to those who most need our help.
The UK has a strong track record in protecting and reuniting vulnerable children with their families in the UK. For instance I am immensely proud of us giving sanctuary to thousands of Jewish children and families fleeing from the Holocaust during the War.
And this is a record we have continued to build on: In 2019, the UK received 3,651 asylum applications from unaccompanied children, a rise of 19% on the previous year and the highest intake of unaccompanied children since 2008. Additionally, under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, the Government is now close to hitting its target of resettling 20,000 vulnerable refugees affected by the Syrian civil war, with 19,768 vulnerable refugees – many of whom are children – resettled since September 2015. And lastly, we have almost delivered on our commitments in section 67 of the Immigration Act 216, with 478 children relocated to the UK, with the final two arriving once Covid-19 restrictions in Italy have lifted.
At the same time, I have been conveying a view that many in our constituency share to ministers, which is that we must deter those seeking to illegally enter the UK via the Channel from coming here in the first place and apply the full force of the law on human traffickers who are exploiting the situation. Illegal migration of any form must not be encouraged and this is a point I will continue to make.
However, unaccompanied child refugees and other vulnerable refugees are not illegal migrants – these people have not tried to cross borders illegally but have played by the rules and remained in refugee camps and other settings away from the UK. These have to go through a rigorous assessment and often time-consuming process involving multiple interviews with UK Home Office officials in order to ascertain their background and verify their status as refugees.
In January I met with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to discuss these issues and I look forward to working with them and other agencies to ensure that the UK’s policy on child refugees is fit for purpose.
During the current Brexit transition or ‘implementation’ period, the UK is continuing to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation, and we are continuing to accept transfers in spite of Covid-19. On 11 May, we accepted the arrival of 50 children and other family members coming from Greece to unite with family here. Furthermore, children in Europe with immediate family members who have been granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK will continue to be able to apply to join them under the refugee family reunion rules, Part 8 and Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules, which are routes unaffected by our exit from the EU.
At the end of the transition period, we will no longer be bound by the Dublin Regulation. However, the Government is committed to the principle of family reunion and to supporting vulnerable children.
The UK has now presented a genuine and sincere offer to the EU on a future reciprocal arrangement for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children where it is in the child’s best interests.
A legal text was published on 19 May as a constructive contribution to the negotiations.
Getting a reciprocal arrangement between the EU and UK is in the best interests of the children because it will maximise the number of children reunited with their families.
For the UK to act unilaterally now, as the amendment seeks to do, would restrict and undermine the negotiation now underway with the EU and make it less likely that we secure a reciprocal arrangement.
As such, I will not be supporting NC29 which will only do more harm than good in our negotiations with the EU on the issue of child refugees.
I hope constituents can be assured of the Government’s proven track record on this issue and that they have found my response helpful.