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UK News

Bishops debating 'uncompromising' illegal migration bill until 4am: Calls for 'appropriate hours'

by Sophie Drew

The Bishop of Southwark has called for more reasonable hours to be upheld in the House of Lords after debating amendments to the illegal migration bill until 4.15am.

Rt Rev Christopher Chessun spoke four times as part of the proceedings, as the government races to clamp down on small boat crossings in the Channel.

He was speaking in favour of amendments posed by the Bishop of Durham, who wants further protections for vulnerable migrants, such as pregnant women and children.

He told Premier the reason for the debate running into the morning was “entirely the fault of the government front benches,” saying: “It will be perfectly possible to add an extra day of parliamentary business, which would allow very important matters to be discussed at a time which was a little bit more conducive to the well being of those in the debating chamber.

“The government, for its own reasons, is not doing that.

“So my plea, even at this late hour, is can we please have sensible hours? Can the government please realise that it does need to listen to the voice of people who have real concerns about the Constitution or legal, moral, personal impact of this legislation? And can we please go about it in an orderly and appropriate way?”

It’s an issue that bishops in the Church of England – and particularly the Bishops of Southwark and Durham, have been outspoken about.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the bill on a number of occasions, and previously accused the government of shirking their responsibilities following plans to send migrants to Rwanda for processing.

Rt Rev Chessun said: “The Government's intention is to address widespread concern for all sorts of reasons about numbers crossing the Channel and small boats, and to do this by increasing the sense of deterrence. So treatment on arrival will be a deterrent that deters people smugglers from selling routes of entry. That, I think, is a fairly honest statement of the intention of the government.

“But actually, the issue last night is that statutory protections, for instance, for pregnant women and children, are affected by this - are taken away - and the when issues were put in place, they didn't actually decrease e the number seeking to cross the channel, but the bill removed service provisions.

“The only person defending the bill was the government minister alone, and he was defending the indefensible.

“So these issues are really very important for our future. Should the powers rest in the Secretary of State, for the Home Secretary, determining these things? Or should there be accountability in the courts or other means of deciding these matters?

“We looked upon designated places of detention, I spoke about that; about the rights and wrongs of detaining children upon which I spoke, and not a single peer has spoken in favour of that detaining vulnerable people detaining pregnant women; and the use of force on pregnant women and children, whereas there should be a need to consider medical opinion, especially when concerning someone who's detained with mental health issues.

“These have a massive impact on the type of society we are and claim to be. And of course, they have a moral impact as well. Because what is it saying about the state of the soul of this nation, if we are prepared to legislate in such a harsh, uncompromising way?”

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