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Government in face-off with House of Lords over migration bill

The government has faced strong challenges from peers on detention limits for unaccompanied children and modern slavery protections.

13/07/23

Government in face-off with House of Lords over migration bill

The government suffered a number of defeats over its Illegal Migration Bill on Wednesday evening.

Key to these defeats is the attempt by the government to extend the amount of time that children can be detained before being deported for arriving illegally.

Earlier this week, the government watered down some aspects of the Bill in an attempt to help the passage of the legislation. Lords backed 20 amendments to the Bill, however the government rejected the majority of these changes. On Wednesday evening, peers voted to reinsert these amendments back in.

The Bill has been approved by the House of Commons, where the Conservatives have a majority, but has faced strong opposition in the House of Lords. The House of Lords have the power to amend legislation, but cannot block it outright, setting off a process labelled ‘parliamentary ping-pong’.

Among the changes reinserted into the bill is a limit on the time that unaccompanied children can be detained. Currently children can be held for up to three days, but the government wants to extend this up to eight days – with a previous version of the bill proposing a detention time of up to 28 days.

The government says no one would be held longer than is "absolutely necessary" and that the powers are necessary to ensure that those due to be deported do not "disappear into the community".

Among the peers critical of the plans are the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who called on the government to accept to the Lords’ amendments.

“This is a massive international issue on a generational basis and it needs profound thinking on a long-term basis in order to tackle it,” Welby said.

“Legislation and strategy must be fitted to the problem, not the problem to the legislation. It’s not how it works.

“It is essential that the solutions we go forward to are those which bring together the whole of politics on all sides of both Houses and the unity of our country instead of using this as a wedge issue to divide things.

“So this is a moment of reconciliation and opportunity for deep and profound long-term thought, as happens for instance with climate change.

“This is not a party political issue, it is one in which we must work together, for if we work separately we will fall separately.”

The Bill will now be sent back to the Commons for MPs to consider.

Picture: Archbishop Justin Welby, courtesy Parliament TV

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