The 22nd – 25th of November 2021 saw the Bishop of Coventry’s second House of Lords duty week of the year. In the immediate aftermath of the migrant tragedy in the English channel, he made the following speech in a debate led by Baroness Hoey:
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, for securing this debate, especially at this time. I was helped this morning by the “Thought for the Day” from my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, in which he said that this is a time to dig deeper into our emotions and face the grief we feel at the loss of humanity. It is that sense of grief, our common commitment to the preservation and dignity of life, as well as to a passion for justice for those suffering the ills and evils of the world, which unites us. The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, demonstrated that.
Our shared grief is the proof we do not really need of the humanity and vulnerability that unites us. These common concerns, which underpin both our aim to stop migrants making dangerous journeys and our grief today, are the same concerns and moral instincts that require us to sit back and face the reality that a policy that does not go beyond deterrence is not sufficient.
I confess, notwithstanding everything that we have just heard, that I am not persuaded that deterring people from making dangerous crossings in the interests of protecting lives—as forthcoming legislation, among other things, proposes to do—without at the same time providing adequate and safe alternatives for migrants will work. I fear that in seeking to preserve life, it may not only fail to do so but also harm our underlying commitments to the dignity of life and the promotion of justice.
Many of those migrants, as we have heard, have so little to lose, will have suffered so much in their homeland and are so close to the finishing line that Britain will always be worth aiming for, no matter how difficult we make it for them. They will not be deterred by yesterday’s events—in fact, we know from today’s crossings that they are not—nor by our efforts to make things even more difficult for them. As we know, family connections, linguistic considerations and their trust in the deep traditions of British tolerance, sanctuary and human rights will always make Britain a worthy prospect for them. They are right to be hopeful that their applications for asylum will be successful; of the 400 people in Coventry hotels awaiting the result of their applications, we expect at least 60% to be successful. We would therefore need to stoop very low and become very hostile to make a journey to Britain truly unappealing to them.
We want to see an end to these crossings and the smugglers thwarted and, where possible, brought to justice, but we need solutions that tackle the problem in a more holistic way. We know that displacement is a global problem that will only become more severe as climate change does its damage. Therefore, I ask the Minister to use her good offices to call on the Home Office to be ambitious with the new UK resettlement programme and to bring the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme into operation as soon as possible, ironing out the difficulties with the scheme that I know from conversations some local officials are experiencing.
Secondly, we need at least to explore a regulated model, such as a humanitarian visa system, to allow people to enter directly from France. Thirdly, as we have heard, all this is too complicated a matter to deal with through the lens of domestic policy, too complicated for Britain to deal with alone. What role is the FCDO playing in re-engaging with the EU on this issue?
Yesterday’s events, to borrow a phrase used in 2015, are the result of a crisis of politics rather than numbers. They stem from a failure to acknowledge that we cannot deal with this issue in isolation through the mere securitisation of our borders. Doing justly by those suffering the world’s ills means working collaboratively to tackle the underlying causes of migration, all of which are staring us in the face.
In addition, he held meetings throughout the week with other members, and asked the following oral questions in the chamber:
On Monday 22nd, he asked Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State for the Home Office, about the importance of further training and education to ensure that police officers understand the significance of spiritual comfort at the point of death, and an increased role for police chaplaincy. You can read the full transcript here.
On Thursday 25th, he asked Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park about the government’s international development strategy, and particularly the need for it to be rooted in effective development principles like the Paris declaration and the Accra agenda. You can read the full transcript here.
Also on Thursday 25th, in advance of the debate led by Baroness Hoey, Bishop Christopher responded to the government statement on the English Channel migrant tragedy, by asking the Minister of State for the Home Office whether the UK would participate in high-level European crisis talks. You can read the full transcript here.