With 129 votes, the ‘ayes’ had it in the Commons this morning. Angus MacNeil’s Family Reunion bill has been passed to the next stage of the process of being written into law. The bill would see an expansion of the word ‘family’ in refugee family reunion cases. This would allow children under 18 claiming asylum to sponsor their parents to immigrate to the UK. It would also mean adult children or elderly parents of refugees could come to join their families as well.
The reading was quickly passed into a debate after a detailed, empathetic speech from MacNeil. He shared a story of an Eritrean refugee in Canterbury who was an apprentice welder. He also noted that welders are in shortage in the UK. Many MPs on both sides stood to provide other personal stories from their constituencies. Reports were given of child refugees struggling and the widespread support by communities across the UK.
The discussion lasted three and a half hours as MPs showed their support or raised their concerns before coming to a close. Notable comments include Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a co-sponsor of the bill who urged the house to vote with empathy for the people who were ‘fleeing war, persecution, terror on a scale beyond any of us could ever imagine’. Chris Law of the SNP also stated, ‘the overwhelming evidence finds that reuniting refugee families gives them the best chance of living settled and fulfilling lives’.
This bill was written with advice from five major refugee charities; Amnesty International; Refugee Council; Red Cross; Oxfam; and UNHCR. They have all been backing this bill in the run-up to its second reading and will now be preparing for the next stage.
With members from seven political parties, the support for the bill was also strong in the house. But disagreement came from Conservative MPs, including Ranil Jayawardena. Mr Jayawardena insisted that the bill would encourage parents to put their children in danger for a chance to enter the country after them. In the end, the no votes only totalled 42, meaning that the bill takes its next step.
Hopeful refugees across the UK watched with ‘hearts in their mouths’ as Mr MacNeil argued his case. Now they’ll be sighing with relief as the bill makes its way to the committee stage. This stage is where each clause of the bill is agreed, edited or removed. There is also an opportunity for advice groups and experts from outside the government to speak and give evidence.
The committee stage usually begins a couple of weeks after the second reading. Until then, many child refugees will have to integrate into their new communities without their family’s support.