All 1 Baroness Smith of Newnham contributions to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 30th Sep 2020
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Wednesday 30th September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 121-R-II Second marshalled list for Report - (30 Sep 2020)
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, that was a very thoughtful and interesting contribution. I agreed with some of it, in particular the accolades paid to my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Hunt. They made such excellent speeches that I can be brief, given that many Members wish to speak today, and I have some sympathy for both Front Benches regarding the length of our sessions at the moment, not least on this Bill. However, I want to draw attention to one or two of the issues that have arisen.

Mention has been made a number of times of the Migration Advisory Committee. I heard Professor Bell on the radio yesterday making the perfectly reasonable case that, as my noble friend Lord Rosser excellently pointed out, it is important that care workers be paid more and respected more. I am fully in favour of trying to tackle head-on the understaffing, underpaying and undervaluing that currently constitutes the general attitude, despite all the sympathy often exuded towards those working in the care sector. However, Professor Bell eloquently made the point that I want to make: that you can get almost £1 an hour more working in general retail than in residential care, despite the enormous challenges arising during the Covid pandemic, as spelled out by the noble Lord, Lord Patel.

Here is a thought. I have it on the good authority of Professor Bell that, according to the Migration Advisory Committee, which concluded its main survey work in March, the consequences of the pandemic are twofold. First, yes, there will be greater unemployment, and that will be felt differently in different parts of the country and will therefore have a differential impact. I do not expect people to move for £8.70 an hour—which is the average pay in residential care, because that is the minimum wage across the country—given that they could not even afford to pay the rent; that is, if they have not been evicted by the time they get there because the moratorium has been lifted. We therefore have to have some common sense here.

There is no sign of the pay increase that should be taking place now, and the oven-ready deal promised a year ago has not yet emerged from the AGA—when it does, it will probably be grossly undercooked—so we will not have a solution. It is no good Professor Bell —I am very happy to debate him on this—going on the radio or producing a 650-page report saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the Government coughed up the money so that local authorities can pay increased rates?”, and that we should protect ourselves from exploitation. That is not happening. I pay tribute to the noble Lord who has just drawn attention to what I said in Committee about private equity investment in this area.

My noble friend Lord Hunt made the important point that there will be a cut-off point in three months’ time. Yes, of course we should be emphasising this and supporting people to take up jobs in social care. We should be training them properly and giving them a career pathway so that they can see the way ahead. Their career pathway is somewhat blocked at the moment by the fact that, the higher up you go, the more likely the Government are to allow someone from outside the country to come in and take the job. I tried to explain that on a previous occasion, but I do not think I was eloquent enough. I will use this example: you can come in and drive a BMW but you cannot come in to drive an elderly Robin Reliant that has rusted to the point where the brakes do not work and the doors are falling off. That is what happened in social care, as illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Patel. There is death and fear within the sector. You will not cure that in three months, nor persuade other people to move house to take up jobs because they have just been made redundant from quite well-paid employment in areas where they hope to take up training and other opportunities.

I therefore appeal for everybody, including the Migration Advisory Committee, to get real. I appeal to the Minister to go back to government—it is not her fault but that of the Treasury—and say, “In the next three months, we as a Government will not solve this problem. We will not be able to encourage sufficient people to take up these jobs. We know that the turnover rate is massive”—it is even greater than my noble friend Lord Rosser said—“that the vacancies exist and are unattractive, and that some people will be highly unsuitable.” So, for goodness sake, let us have a continuing review. That is all Amendment 3 asks for: to get this right and ensure that the consequences of closing the door to the other 27 members of the European Union on 31 December do not have a disproportionate impact on the care of those we are supposed to care about. This is why this debate is taking place, because of the new situation arising from the way we are treating those from the European Union and the EAA. Were that not to happen, we could have a more rational debate, as appealed for by the previous speaker, on how we adjust to ensure that we are not reliant in key areas —including, apparently, butchery—on drawing in people from across the world. That includes, of course, doctors and nurses, who, under the programme that has been laid out, will be allowed to be recruited into the country.

There are such contradictions and we are in such a cliff-edge position that I have gone on longer than I intended, because the more I think about it, the more passionate I am to ask for a bit of common sense.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 3. Personally, I have quite a lot of sympathy with Amendment 30, put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, which she referred to as “tougher and more radical”. I voted to remain in the European Union precisely because I recognise the importance of free movement of people. I agreed with virtually every word said by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and I shall be brief, because I am aware that we are only on group 2 and the target is to get to group 14 this evening.

The social care system is in crisis. All noble Lords who have spoken have referred to the difficulties that it faces—problems that have been made clear by your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee over the years. The Minister should not have to answer for the social care system. She is not the Minister for Social Care; she is Minister of State in the Home Office. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, is right: the equivalent of the Migration Advisory Committee should report to not just the Home Office but to the Department for Education, the department of health, the Treasury and BEIS because they all need to understand the skills deficits in this country.

The specifics of Amendment 3 are about the social care sector. This Bill is in front of us today because of Brexit but the social care sector is highlighted because of the Covid crisis. Today’s amendment would have been necessary even without six months of a global pandemic, but that pandemic has made clear to everybody both the importance of social care and the huge numbers of EU and third-country nationals in this country looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

It cannot be right to say that those people should not be here and should not be working. We value people being here. Although the noble Lord, Lord Horam, is undoubtedly correct that we need to ensure that British people are adequately skilled, can we really assume that we will suddenly go in the next 14 weeks from no training to saying that someone who is unemployed can take on a job in the care sector that is being vacated by an EU national who has gone home and will not be replaced by another EU national? There might be medium and long-term aspirations for change, but we must accept that the change on 1 January will be immediate.

For that reason, I ask the Government to take this modest amendment very seriously. In her letter to noble Lords earlier today, the Minister referred to Amendments 3 and 30. She stressed that the MAC is a “world-class, independent body” and that it will report. Well, it reported yesterday and expressed its concern about the social care sector. If she cannot give us an answer today, will she come back before Third Reading with some recommendation of how she plans to reconcile her letter to your Lordships, the MAC’s report and the importance of ensuring that, on 1 January, the social care system is not even more vulnerable than it is already? I strongly support Amendment 3.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 3 in particular and Amendment 30. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I want to follow up on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. I remind my noble friend the Minister that she will have encountered in her previous life many of the problems that are being rehearsed by noble Lords speaking to Amendment 3. I remember being a local MP. For the first 13 years, I did not have a jobcentre in my constituency; only in the last five years was I able to visit a local jobcentre in my constituency. When we got the figures on unemployment, I always asked for the figures on job vacancies. Inevitably, the majority of them were for social care workers and were the hardest to fill.

I know from personal experience of two care providers for young people requiring social care—there was Leonard Cheshire initially, then Wilf Ward, both of which do marvellous work; I pay tribute to them—that they are unable to match the basic starting salary of someone in a supermarket who may want to come off the current unemployment list to take any job. Stacking shelves in a supermarket is less demanding, less physically onerous and pays more. I do not know whether my noble friend the Minister shares my pessimism but I do not foresee a rush of people—who in any event may not be suited to be a carer. The clue is in the name: you have to care, to be incredibly patient and to be quite physically fit. Many will simply not qualify.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in one of the most thoughtful debates on the Bill. I want to reflect first on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who said that had it not been for the pandemic, we might not be having this debate. I honestly think that we would have been doing so in some form or other. I am not taking issue with what she said but I want to make a further point.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
- Hansard - -

I said that we would have been having this debate but the pandemic made it worse.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In that case, I agree with the noble Baroness. However, the main part of my point was related to the issue on which my noble friend Lady McIntosh challenged me. She asked whether, given my background, I could see the problems to which noble Lords are referring. I can absolutely see them. In fact, in 2005, when I was a new leader of a council, and David Cameron a new leader of the Opposition, he asked me what the biggest challenge was for local authorities. Straight off, I said social care, and, 15 years later, that remains the case. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referenced those who care voluntarily. There are so many that they save the state billions of pounds a year for the work that they do without being paid. I therefore join noble Lords in paying tribute to this sector, which has done so much, particularly during the pandemic. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, people in social care have given and lost their lives to the fight against the disease.

I turn next to points about the Migration Advisory Committee. First, I turn to the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, which he has made before, about the contradictory nature of what we are debating. In one sense, we highly value our social care workers and in another, as someone else said, they earn less, in some cases, than retail workers. That is the challenge at the heart of this: social care needs to be paid decently and seen as a decent career path for people to want to go into it.

I could stand at this Dispatch Box and give my view on the silver bullet that would sort this all out, but I am afraid that I cannot. It is not that it is above my pay grade but, as my noble friend Lord Horam said, this is a challenge for every department and government —and, actually, every one of us. I had a chat with my noble friend Lord Hodgson before this debate; he is probably sitting there very frustrated because he did not put his name down to speak, and I know that he would have wanted to talk about the report that the MAC issued yesterday on the review of the shortage occupation list. One of its key findings is that senior care workers, nursing auxiliaries and nursing assistants should be added to the UK-wide shortage occupation list. The Government want to take time to consider carefully what the MAC has said—as noble Lords I have said, it is a 650- page document—before we take any final decisions, and we will of course respond in due course.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, challenged me for a timescale, and “in due course” is about as far as I can go at this stage. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about the devolved Administrations’ part in all this. Of course, it is a reserved matter. The new system will work for the whole of the UK and we have a national advisory group, with which we are engaged on the proposals, but it includes the Welsh NHS Confederation, Social Care Wales, NHS Scotland and Scottish social carers.

I turn to the amendments at hand. Amendment 3 returns to issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in Committee, but it also incorporates a requirement to report on immigration routes for social care workers, which was raised during Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and goes to the essence of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in Committee, about a specific route for the social care sector. During our debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, rightly highlighted the significant shortages in the social care sector, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, amounting to around 120,000 vacancies. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, also talked about the high turnover, which I think I said was 31%, but he thinks might be even higher.

We must keep it in mind that that is the situation despite the fact that EEA and Swiss citizens have had, and continue to have, free movement rights up to the end of this year. The noble Lord also highlighted the fact that the social care workforce is made up of approximately 83% British citizens, 7% from the EEA countries and about 9% from non-EEA countries. What struck me as interesting about those figures is that a higher percentage of people from non-EEA countries than from EEA countries are working in social care, even though they have no dedicated route to do so. Currently, while social care workers do not meet the skills threshold, a range of other immigration routes are available to them which provide a general right to work, such as dependants, those on family routes or youth mobility.

As part of the UK’s new points-based immigration system, we are expanding the skills threshold, which will bring jobs such as senior care workers within scope of the skilled worker route. Increasingly, people of all nationalities will be able to benefit from this offer providing they meet the other requirements, such as salary threshold. However, I want to be clear that, as my noble friend Lord Horam points out, the Government do not see the immigration system as the solution to all issues in the social care sector. I think there is now general acceptance across your Lordships’ House that that is the case.

With that in mind, we are working alongside the sector to ensure that the workforce has the right number of people to meet increasing demands, with the right skills, knowledge and approach to deliver quality, compassionate care. The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a new national recruitment campaign called Every Day Is Different to run across broadcast, digital and social media. The campaign highlights the vital role that the social care workforce is playing during this pandemic, along with the longer-term opportunities of working in care.

The Government have also commissioned Skills for Care to scale up capacity for digital induction training provided free of charge under DHSC’s workforce development fund. This training is available for redeployees, new starters, existing staff and volunteers through 12 of Skills for Care’s endorsed training providers. The Government are committing record investment to the NHS, including the NHS long-term funding settlement, which has now been enshrined in law. At the Budget, the Chancellor outlined over £6 billion of further new spending in this Parliament to support the NHS. This includes £5.4 billion to meet our manifesto commitments of 50,000 more nurses, 50 million additional appointments in primary care, more funding for hospital car parking and establishing a learning disability and autism community discharge grant to support discharges into the community.

As my noble friend Lord Horam pointed out, we are also investing in social care. DHSC is providing councils with access to an additional £1.5 billion for adult and children’s social care in 2021. We have also announced £2.9 billion to help local authorities in response to the coronavirus crisis. The Department of Health and Social Care is also working closely with Skills for Care to help employers train new recruits and volunteers and to refresh the skills of its current workforce.

In Committee, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Masham of Ilton, highlighted that working in social care, especially when caring for people who have severe disabilities, requires much more than just technical skills. I totally agree. Social care jobs will not be for everyone. However, it is a sad consequence of the current pandemic that many people have lost their jobs. While not all of them will have the necessary caring skills, I think there are many people in the UK who really do care, and it is vital that we take the opportunity to emphasise the importance of social care work and ensure that it is a rewarding job for people.

The view that migration is not the solution to the challenges faced by the care sector is supported by the Migration Advisory Committee. My noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Lilley referred to that in Committee. We need to make changes to the way we train, recruit , attract and, crucially, retain staff in health and social care, but without making changes, the immigration system will continue to be used as a failsafe to maintain a broken system that relies on bringing people in on minimum wage and holding down wages.

The Government continue to commission and fund a range of training opportunities to help recruit people into the sector and develop leadership within social care. This includes the Think Ahead programme, which has taken on more than 400 applicants since it was launched in 2015. It trains graduates to become mental health social workers. There is also the workforce development fund, which helped nearly 2,800 establishments to support nearly 14,500 learners in 2018-19. This fund will continue to focus on key priorities in future.

Turning to the specifics of the amendment, it is of course sensible that policies are kept under review—something the Government stand by in the current system and will ensure continues under new arrangements. We already have the MAC, and its advice has been accepted by all types of Government over many years. I know that some noble Lords do not share my views on the expert advice provided by the MAC, but surely there cannot be disagreement that the MAC has repeatedly considered the needs of the social care sector, as referenced by the report yesterday.

We should not take for granted the Government’s own extensive engagement with stakeholders across the whole of the UK, and indeed the critical role that this House plays in scrutinising policies and intentions. So I do understand the intent of the noble Lord’s amendment to ensure the protection of a vital sector. We already have a world-class independent body with new autonomy to review any part of our immigration system, as referenced today, in the last 24 hours. I hope the noble Lord will therefore feel that Amendment 3 is not necessary and will be happy to withdraw it.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in the previous group of amendments, my noble friend Lady Hamwee suggested she did not want to do the Government’s job for them. On this occasion, I beg to disagree with her and hope that maybe I can begin to do the Government’s job for them. In Committee, there were criticisms of certain amendments being put forward because they related only to EEA nationals. In particular, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Lister of Burtersett, said that if they had been able to they would have created amendments that were holistic, but they were told that such amendments would be out of scope because the Bill is limited to immigration responding to the context of Brexit.

My starting point on reading this amendment was simply to ask why. If one had a normal debate in which one could intervene, particularly at an earlier stage—in Committee, not on Report—the obvious thing would simply have been to jump up and intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, moving the amendment and ask why. The question of a cap for EEA nationals raises all sorts of questions which I hope the Minister will say are not acceptable in the context of the Bill, because why should there be a cap on EEA nationals? Whether you believe in cakeism—as the Prime Minister does—or, like the noble Lord, Lord Horam, you are trying to find a way to meet the concerns of those people who want to limit immigration and those who want a more open approach to immigration, there is surely a question of why there should be a cap on EEA nationals. I can only assume that it is because those noble Lords who tabled the amendment could not bring in a cap more generally.

It will come as no surprise that, from these Liberal Democrat Benches, I am not in favour of a cap. In particular, some of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, seem to relate to questions of migration much more generally. We are talking about the context of the transition period ending on 31 December and a change from 1 January. Are we really anticipating that, all of a sudden, millions of EEA nationals who are not currently in the United Kingdom will want to rush to the United Kingdom to fill jobs? I do not think we are. Surely, if we are interested in fairness, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, talked about, we should think about everybody who might want to come to live and work in the UK. Why should there be a separate status in that sense for EEA nationals?

I cannot see a case for this amendment, and I hope the Minister might, for once, actually agree with me.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is not speaking on this amendment, so we will go directly to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Oates, was absolutely right. Do we want to be a society based on compassion and concern, or to become a nation without a beating heart on humanitarian issues of this kind? As far as the European Union is concerned, there is of course a special challenge because citizenship means citizenship, going right back to classical times, but we took away what people in good faith had come to understand as their citizenship and the rights that followed from it when they went to make lives, futures and careers overseas. They never dreamed that they were breaking links with their home base. Many of them wanted to return at some point and of course, as we have heard from one speaker after another, many have families rooted here for which they feel responsible; they want to be able freely at a time of crisis to return and succour the needs of such people.

It is altogether good news that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has moved this amendment; it represents the kind of Britain in which I want to live, given the values behind it. Do we believe that families are fundamentally important psychologically, for mental health more generally, for physical health and to the well-being of citizens, or not? Do families provide a unit of stability in the midst of an increasingly complex, demanding and unpredictable world, or do they not?

What are we doing with this Bill? It is almost impossible to understand how the Government have got themselves into this position. I hope we stand very firmly behind the noble Baroness this evening, or whenever it is we are allowed to vote on this matter.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
- Hansard - -

I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. That probably comes as no surprise to noble Lords.

I am going to do something that I normally try not to, and that is to rehearse one of the arguments that has been going on for years. For five of the six years that I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House we have been talking about having a referendum on leaving the European Union, having that referendum, and then trying to deal with the fallout from it. The debates that we were having in October 2015 have been rehearsed again and again. I have tried not to rehearse them; I recognise that the UK voted to leave, that we have left and that at the end of the transition period things will be different.

However, one of the points made during the debates on the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was the importance of enfranchising EU nationals resident in the UK but also UK nationals resident elsewhere in the EU. That was suggested precisely because those groups of people were disfranchised yet were potentially going to—I will not use “suffer”, as I realise that that could be seen by some as inflammatory—be more clearly affected than many of the rest of us who are not actively using our rights as EU citizens. British citizens who have opted to use their rights under EU law to marry, reside and exercise the right to family life as EU and UK citizens should not have those rights torn away from them.

We have heard many individual cases this evening, but I will take a slightly more general approach. When an EU national is working abroad in another EU country, family members also have the right to reside and work in that country, regardless of their nationality. That has applied to UK citizens. The Minister puts forward the idea that somehow people have 15 months to make a make-or-break decision: “You can come back now or stay away. You can’t come back with your spouse, your children, your in-laws, your close family members.” Is that really what people thought that they were voting for? Taking back control surely is about us making the right decisions. They do not have to be xenophobic or exclusionary, or choices that say no to people. Why should we make it harder for those British citizens who have chosen to live in other countries—because they were exercising their rights and living with people they loved—to be back in the United Kingdom after March 2022 than it will be for EU citizens with settled status? We should at least be as generous to our fellow British citizens who have used their EU rights as we are to EU citizens who will benefit from settled status. Can the Minister please talk to her colleagues in the Home Office and make the Government think again?

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I hope that the Government have already seen what course of action they should take. I can see absolutely no sensible reason for the proposals being as they are and, apart from the issue of acting in a civilised way towards individuals, I cannot believe that so many people or such high costs are involved, so I cannot understand why so far the Government have been stuck on this issue.

As we know, the purpose of the amendment is to preserve the rights of UK nationals living in the EEA and Switzerland who return to live in the UK in future to bring with them or to be joined by non-British family members on the same terms as at present. Unless this Bill is amended, British citizens who moved to the EU or EEA while the UK was a member of the EU will lose their right to return to their country of birth with a non-British partner or children, unless they can meet financial conditions beyond the reach of many. If they need to return to look after an elderly parent, thousands will now have to choose between returning alone and leaving their families behind or abandoning their parents to stay with their non-British families in the EEA. Nobody should have to face such a choice.

The problem is that the Government are using the end of free movement to make these British citizens for the first time meet the minimum income requirement for family reunion. The MIR has been roundly criticised, because it is so high that 40% of UK workers would not be able to reach it, and because of the Catch-22 rule that the non-British partner’s income can be taken into account only if they have been working in the UK for six months. How can they get into the UK if they cannot satisfy the MIR? The MIR is harsh but what makes it doubly unfair to apply it to this group of British citizens is that the change is, in effect, retrospective. When they left their homes in the UK to move to the EU or EEA, those people were safe in the knowledge that if they established a family while they were abroad they could bring them back to Britain, and the British parents they left behind had the same expectations.

It also leads to the perverse result that the British Government’s approach involves discrimination against its own citizens: while British citizens who have moved or will move to the EEA before the end of 2020 will face these restrictions, EU citizens who have moved or will move to the UK before the end of 2020 will not. They will have the right under the withdrawal agreement to bring existing family members here for life, as well as keeping their existing rights to return to their country of birth with families they have made in the UK.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which seeks, of course, to offer security to EEA children in care in the UK and those entitled to care-leaving support. The noble Lord and his colleagues have set out the case for the amendment very clearly and I certainly do not want to repeat their comments, but I want to add my support as someone who worked in mental health services for many years—decades, actually—originally on the front line. My recollections of the vulnerability of those children remain with me even after what is perhaps four decades.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her helpful letter explaining the Government’s position. I welcome her assurance that protecting the rights of EEA citizens who are resident in the UK has been the priority since the outcome of the EU referendum, and that the Government have been working with local authorities and others to ensure that vulnerable children obtain immigration status. It seems that the Government agree with the sponsors of this amendment that it is essential that children in care and care leavers have secure UK status.

The Government may have identified a weakness in our amendment—that it would not in fact provide these children and young people with the clear status we all want them to have—although I was very much reassured by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I hope the Minister can clarify this point, because it really is of fundamental importance.

If needed, I hope the Government will table their own amendment at Third Reading to make sure that the Bill fulfils what are not only our objectives, but theirs. I think the Minister would welcome the fact that the amendment places a duty on local authorities to identify which children in their care are at risk of losing their status when the UK leaves the EU, and therefore which children need support to get through the hoops to achieve settled status. This is so important, because local authorities do not routinely collect nationality data on children in their care. They may assume that none of their children are from the EEA and will not take any action on this important issue. It is easy to anticipate that, through no fault of their own, these children could end up undocumented.

The evidential burden for settled status is another problem, particularly when people are up against a deadline. By reducing the evidential burden, many of these vulnerable children will be rescued from having undocumented status after the transition period. The Home Office has previously stated:

“Children who do not apply because their parent or guardian did not submit an application on their behalf can submit a late application. This includes children in care and care leavers”.

If the Home Office is committed to the principle of late applications for these vulnerable children, why not support that principle through this amendment? Or does the Home Office have in mind that these children be given pre-settled or temporary status? If so, Ministers will know that this only defers the problem of lack of documentation when they come to apply for permanent status. I would be really grateful if the Minister clarified this point.

Finally, the numbers of children involved are perfectly manageable: 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers across the whole of the UK would need to apply to the EU settlement scheme. My preference would be for a government amendment, if necessary, meeting the precise objectives of this amendment, to be tabled at Third Reading. If, however, the Minister is unable to agree to work with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others to generate the right amendment for Third Reading, if necessary, I hope that he will press this amendment to a vote, and I will certainly support it.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I can be brief, because this amendment has cross-party support, but I have a couple of specific questions for the Minister. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I did not read the amendment as declaratory. My reading was that looked-after children should be given settled status. I assume from the Minister’s letter of earlier today and the comments on the declaratory scheme that the problem with Amendment 14 lies in proposed new sub-paragraph (1):

“is deemed to have and be granted indefinite leave to remain”.

Perhaps “is deemed to have” suggests that that person will not have any documentary evidence.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, suggested, if that is indeed what the Minister understands by the declaratory nature of the amendment, it would be helpful if the Minister considered a rephrasing in a government amendment that would have the import of granting settled status to looked-after children and care leavers. Then, they would have settled status and documentary evidence, since the only reason that such people would end up in a Windrush-style situation is if the Government left them there.