Posted on June 20th 2013
Yesterday, 19th June 2013, saw a Westminster Hall debate on the family migration rules. To start with a positive, there were in excess of 30 MPs who attended the debate for at least a part of it. This reflects the pressure ordinary people are putting on their MPs to deal with the injustices the rules are causing.
Virendra Sharma instigated the debate pursuant to the publication of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration’s report on the impact of the rules last week. The main focus of this report was a look at the impact of the income threshold of £18,600 which a sponsor must be earning before being able to bring their partner to the UK
There was collective eloquence of a dozen MPs with case studies galore, well versed in the iniquities of the immigration rules give forth. There was condemnations of the way income is assessed and queries why incoming spouses’ incomes cannot be considered in the rules, why third party support is now disqualified. Sarah Teather bemoaned the plight of the self-employed and what hoops they are expected to jump through to prove their income and stressed that the impact and future social cost of splitting up families and children from parents is simply not being taken into account. Joan Ruddock explained the situation of her constituent who married a Canadian who lived in the UK working as a teacher for three years and now cannot return as her partner, a British Citizen, has been made redundant. The couple are forced apart by the rules for their first wedding anniversary and Britain loses a teacher. She also stated that the policy “goes against all human rights and needs to be changed”.
The rules preventing elderly dependent relatives from joining their offspring in the UK are condemned as “a ban masquerading as a rule”, as Ms Teather quoted a lawyer she had spoken to. Jonathan Ashworth described a British woman who fled Syria with her children in fear of her life having to leave her husband behind because she wasn’t earning money in the UK. Couples working abroad and returning to the UK faced a similar refusal, although a tad less life threatening perhaps.
So much evidence, so many arguments presented to the Immigration Minister, and his shadow from the Labour Party. In the last twenty minutes or so Chris Bryant and then Mark Harper the shadow preceding the minister, spoke. They contrived, with differing agendas, to blunt, to nullify, to ignore most of what’s been said before.
Chris Bryant with characteristic pre-amble to dispense with the fast disappearing time of the debate then chose to reprimand Keith Vaz, a colleague from his own party, for calling the £18,600 income threshold an ‘arbitrary figure’. In the broadest sense, any figure chosen to fulfil the aim of negating any burden on the British taxpayer is arbitrary as for years any incoming spouse has had “No Recourse to Public Funds” emblazoned on their visas. Perhaps the high point of Bryant’s remarks was his complaint that some nameless campaigning organisation had encouraged people affected by the rules to write to him, and had flooded his inbox. He read a few excerpts from people at their wits’ ends desperate to reunite their families. But then, as Harper pointed out, Bryant spent a lot of time saying nothing and making no commitments. Such is the Labour Party’s strategy at present – say nothing of any substance on immigration, otherwise they will get the reputation of being soft on immigration slapped on them once more.
A tough act to follow in terms of intransigence and obstinate pig headedness? Mr Harper was up to the challenge. Although he claimed flexibility in looking at what form savings could be held in to be assessed in lieu of income – property or stocks and shares ISAs would be considered in future. He also said that for a handful of the more extreme cases of wealthy incoming spouses that Tier 2 of the points based system could be used to gain access to the UK. One could immediately imagine the cheers of the low income families torn apart by the rules seeing a light at the end of the tunnel – until they saw the price tag on the light. He failed to address the matter of elderly dependent entirely.
Harper ignored the pleas, the evidence and the case studies, he refused to address directly the points made. He retreated into the robotic government-speak on immigration and he refused to lift a finger to resolve any of the real problems that thousands of real people are currently facing.
It almost made you want to see Chris Bryant take his job. Almost.
MPs in attendance included:
Tories: Gavin Barwell, Mark Harper, Guy Opperman, Mark Reckless, Andrew Bridgen
Labour: Chris Bryant, Jack Dromey, Kate Green, Keith Vaz, Joan Ruddock, Fiona MacTaggart, Alan Whitehead, Kerry McCarthy, Mark Lazarowicz, Seema Malhotra, Roger Godsiff, Stephen Doughty, Alison McGovern, Jonathan Ashworth, Ann McGuire, Ann McKechin, Jim Cunningham
Lib Dems: Sarah Teather, Julian Huppert, David Ward, Dan Rogerson, Alan Beith, Tessa Munt.
Others: Jim Shannon (DUP)
Watch the debate here and download our briefing for the debate: