This month a Private Members Bill brought forward by Angus MacNeil MP passed its second reading in Parliament.
This is great news as there are real concerns that have been raised about family reunion rules and the effectiveness of their implementation, and a number of organisations have also called for there to be an expansion of the criteria.
I agree that more needs to be done to reunite families and I share concerns about the efficiency of the processes in place for those who are entitled to join family in the UK, particularly children. As we know, unaccompanied migrant children are highly vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse.
In the last Parliament, during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016, a number of attempts were made to review the rules around family reunion for refugees including options for extending the criteria. It is incredibly disappointing that the Government rejected these proposals and reiterated that it has no plans to extend the family reunion criteria.
The manifesto I stood on at the General Election last year promised to produce a cross-departmental strategy to meet our international obligations on the refugee crisis, and I hope this is something that the Government will consider. I have also spoken at many local and national refugee rallies to make the point that we must ensure families are reunited. I believe we need effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis and continue to uphold the proud British tradition of honouring the spirit of international law and our moral obligations by taking our fair share of refugees.
I am aware that the Government is currently undertaking a review of legal aid reforms in England and Wales, and the Government has stated that this will include an assessment of changes to the scope of legal aid for immigration cases. I will monitor developments in this area. However, legal aid is devolved in Scotland, and refugee family reunion applications remain under the purview of the Scottish Parliament.
It is very difficult to get Private Members Bills through Parliament, but I will be supporting this Bill as it makes its passage through the House.
Unfortunately, because Private Members Bills are debated on a Friday I, and many colleagues are often unable to take part. Fridays have become an extremely important day of the week for myself and many other Members. In particular, as an MP whose constituency is in Scotland, I place a huge responsibility on being able to conduct my weekly advice session on a Friday morning. I wrote to the Speaker of the House on this and requested that Private Members Bills be moved to a more suitable day.