Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I very much thank the Minister, who has taken a very welcome personal interest in this matter, which is very encouraging. The government amendments are interesting and represent some progress, but they are unspecific for EEA citizens, and there is still that discretion, not certainty, that the Secretary of State “may” but not “must” do this.

As I said in Committee, I was grateful for the concession, announced by the Minister and which she has just talked about, to the effect that the Government would

“amend the Immigration Rules … to disapply any requirement for a Lounes dual national”—

this area is littered with technical terminology—

“to have held CSI in order to sponsor applications by relevant family members”

for settlement. I would be very grateful, as we asked in Committee, to know whether there is any further knowledge of what progress there is on that change to the Immigration Rules.

So far, so good—but on the other two arms of my amendment, on registration of children as British citizens and naturalisation as British for an EEA settled person, both without looking at past CSI history, as my amendment asked for, the Minister said in Committee that

“it would not be right to single out EEA nationals”,

and she has repeated that. We are slightly in the same territory as we were on the Chagos amendments, whereby the Government say that they cannot do something specifically for this group. The Minister also said in Committee that

“it would not be right to treat certain nationalities differently”—[Official Report, 1/2/22; col. 794-95]

and she is maintaining this approach.

However, EEA nationals are being treated differently. They have resided previously in this country, often for a long time; a large chunk of an international treaty, the withdrawal agreement, is devoted to them and to their counterparts, British citizens in the EU, and legislation specifically covering them; and there are various arrangements for monitoring and supervising how they are treated. So they are a special case. I would just mention that some children who should have been born British were not, and now have to be registered at a cost of more than £1,000 because of the specifics of the situation of EEA nationals.

After the meeting of the UK-EU joint committee last week—the committee on the withdrawal agreement—Vice-President Šefčovič recalled that

“it was a commitment from both of us that we will do our utmost for the UK nationals in the EU and the EU citizens staying in the UK.”

An EU official was reported as saying that the Commission would consider whether to launch consultations on citizens’ rights, and could ultimately trigger an arbitration process. I am not saying that those remarks were targeted at this specific problem, but that reminds us that there is an oversight mechanism for the fate of EEA citizens.

The CSI issue affects only EEA citizens, nobody else, so removing it entirely from being a virus—I called it “snakes and ladders”—in our immigration regime, would simply bring EEA citizens into line with all other migrants, who do not have a CSI problem. When Prime Minister, Theresa May said:

“The requirement for comprehensive sickness insurance is an EU requirement, and as long as we are members of the EU, it will continue to be there. Once we leave, we can indeed remove it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/6/2017; col. 315.]

It is true that the Government removed it for applicants for settled status but, as I hope I have explained through the passage of this Bill, the problem is that it pops up later. You do not get rid of it; that is why I call it a virus. You do not get rid of it—it sort of comes back.

What is not to like about removing red tape? I suggest that while the new government amendments represent some progress—again, I thank the Minister—they still rest on discretion and do not treat EEA citizens on the fair, legally secure basis that I believe they deserve under the withdrawal agreement. I hope that the Government can do more and ward off any possible action from the European Commission and enforce a slightly more secure basis.

If I cannot get what I really want—acceptance of my amendment—I ask the Minister to confirm at least that, when implemented, the guidance will be updated to always state that the Secretary of State will always exercise her discretion in favour of applicants by not inquiring as to whether they had CSI and by treating self-sufficient persons, students and their family members as not having breached immigration laws. That should be in guidance as a firm commitment. Otherwise, I would like to hear the Minister further.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, we support much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has just said and some of the questions she has put forward. No doubt, the Minister will respond to those questions. It has to be said that the Minister has come forward with some amendments that do improve the situation.

Can I just emphasise the important points the Minister made and clarify, in the light of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that she said it would apply to all residents, not just EU residents? That is an important point that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, made, and the House needs further clarification on what “all”—not to be pedantic—actually means in these circumstances for clarity of legislation.

Having welcomed the step forward the Minister has clearly made, I think that what “exceptional” means is also important—so that the Secretary of State will not use the power to prevent somebody without CSI gaining citizenship other than in exceptional circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, again, is right to ask for greater clarity about how “exceptional circumstances” will be defined and whether there will actually be guidance that any future Home Secretary will have to take into account in determining whether leave to remain should be changed to a full citizenship status in the particular circumstances with which this group of amendments is dealing.

I thank the Minister for coming forward with those amendments and trying to meet many of the concerns that were raised in Committee and before. I look forward, with the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, I am sure, to the answers to the important questions that have been raised, notwithstanding the amendments before us this afternoon.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank both noble Lords for the points they have just made. I did refer to guidance in the points I was making in introducing. Yes, the guidance will make things clear.

In terms of “all”, “all” means all nationalities; the provisions will apply to all nationalities. I know the noble Baroness says this is a particular EU problem, but we are trying to make provisions that apply to all countries.

In terms of that point about “may” and “must”, “may” rather than “must” reserves the “may” for the most exceptional cases where it would not be appropriate to take that more generous approach. The provisions will be applicable to the vast majority of applicants, apart from those “may” applicants where a generous approach would not be appropriate—for example, criminality. I hope that explains it to the noble Baroness.