All 4 Baroness Williams of Trafford contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 14th Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 15th Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords
Mon 20th Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Tue 21st Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 14th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-II Second marshalled list for Committee - (14 Jan 2020)
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would grant an automatic continuation of pre-exit-day rights and immigration status for EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom. This is a position that the Labour Party has consistently supported. Indeed, the party put forward amendments to that effect when the original Article 50 Bill was considered. However, the then Prime Minister resisted any amendments to that Bill on this issue.

The Government waited a long time to announce that they would unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK, even in the event of a no-deal exit. However, regarding this amendment, the reality is that the settled status scheme has now been operational for some time and the withdrawal agreement was negotiated on the existence of such a scheme. As such, while we sympathise with the thrust behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, we believe that a better approach is to reform the current system, as the next group of amendments aims to do.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord McNicol, for their comments. The initial points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, were about Immigration Rules. There will be an update in March. He made some points about Big Ben; I was not sure what they were. He also talked about gloating, but I do not observe any member of your Lordships’ House gloating over the Bill and I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that comparing the UK on 31 January to Nazi Germany is a step too far.

To get to the point of what the noble Lord eventually said, we reject the proposed new clause in Amendment 1. It is well intentioned but unnecessary; it conflicts with our general implementation of the withdrawal agreement, the EEA EFTA Separation Agreement and the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement. For brevity, I will refer to these as the agreements. My references to EU citizens should likewise be taken to include these EEA/EFTA and Swiss nationals, and their family members.

Citizens’ rights have been a priority in negotiations and the Government have delivered on that commitment, reaching agreements that provide certainty to EU citizens in the UK and to UK nationals in the EU that they can continue to live, work, study and access benefits and services broadly as now. Clauses 5 and 6 create a conduit pipe, which makes the rights and obligations contained in the agreements available in UK law. This is intended to replicate the way that EU law applied in the UK while the UK was a member state, and these clauses ensure that the rights contained in the agreements are available to EU citizens in the UK. The agreements provide certainty and protect the rights of EU citizens lawfully resident in the UK before the end of the implementation period. Existing close family members, including children of those covered in the agreements, will also have a lifelong right to family reunion. The as-yet unborn children of EU citizens will also be protected. This protection applies equally to UK nationals in their member state of residence and is guaranteed by the withdrawal agreement.

The UK has already introduced the EU settlement scheme, which is the means for EU citizens to obtain the status that confers rights under the agreements. The scheme provides a quick and easy way to do this, and it is a success. According to the latest internal figures, over 2.8 million applications have been received and 2.5 million grants of status made. The Home Office is processing up to 20,000 applications a day. We are working tirelessly with communities up and down the country to raise awareness and keep up this momentum. The scheme already allows EU citizens protected by the agreements to obtain UK immigration status, which enables them to remain here permanently after exit. The proposed new clause is therefore unnecessary, as it conflicts with the purpose and operation of the scheme.

Finally, the proposed new clause makes reference to those resident in the UK on exit day, at the end of this month. As the noble Lord should know, rights under the agreements are conferred on those resident in the UK at the end of the implementation period, which is at the end of this year. The proposed new clause therefore does not align with our obligations under the agreements. I hope that has reassured the noble Lord on the concerns expressed through this new clause and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will certainly withdraw the amendment and I am glad that the Minister discovered the error that I had made when it was too late to correct it. I thank her for that but, as I said, it is not a carefully honed amendment; it is an amendment to declare a principle. The Minister says that it declares the principle behind what the Government are doing. That is clearly not the case. It is the case in many areas, but not in all. As for the settled status scheme, it is certainly the most efficient Home Office scheme that I have come across in recent years—although that does not say very much—because of the effort that has been put into it. I thank her for that. The Minister said, and the Government keep saying, that the rights of European citizens will be broadly as now. It is “broadly” that is a weasel word.

Finally, I did not compare this country to Nazi Germany and obviously I would not do so; that would be ridiculous. What I am saying is that some of the conditions that exist in this country are similar to those that existed in Germany between the wars before the Nazis came to power. You can think that that is right or that it is wrong, but I believe it is the case. Look at the amount of racist abuse there is on social media, while if you listen to pub conversations, you can hear people saying things that perhaps three, four or five years ago they would have kept to themselves. There is an amount of abuse by a small minority of people that is not being stopped by the social controls that previously existed. That, I am afraid, is the position.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend Lord Cashman puts it very well. To the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I say that, on the contrary, the rights of British citizens across the European Union are of the utmost importance, and I believe that their position can be negotiated over the coming months. I was referring to people who have chosen to move to this country to work, live and bring up their children, who go to our schools, and who help in our hospitals. The Government of this country, and all of us, have a responsibility to look after and do right by these people, but not by way of punishing British citizens who have chosen to live abroad.

We will discuss appeals in the next group of amendments, but there are too many examples of the current settled status scheme falling short of expectations. As we have heard, those who get settled status receive it digitally, rather than in the form of a physical document. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, a piece of paper, not a code, gives so much reassurance. It does not feel as though it is too much of a step to move to a physical document rather than something in the cloud or on a computer. While the Government more generally are trying to shift services online, there is evidence to suggest that the lack of physical documentation leads to an increased level of discrimination. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Cashman, there is also a risk of temporary outages of online systems and hacking, which could compromise the data of hundreds of thousands—or millions—of EU citizens. It is not too late for the Government to change their approach. This would provide reassurance to law-abiding EU citizens legally resident in the United Kingdom.

The motive for both these amendments is probably best summed up in a note from the3million. As the Government have stated, those who fail to successfully apply by the deadline can be deported. They become fully illegal immigrants overnight: by simply remaining in the country, they commit a criminal act. They have no right to reside, to keep their jobs or to access benefits or healthcare. In closing, I support Amendments 2 and 3.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate on this group. I take note of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about the 500 civil servants who could end my career—I am surprised I have lasted so long, given that there are so many people out to get me.

I commend noble Lords for what they seek to achieve in their amendments, because they do not seek to achieve anything different from the Government: to reassure those highly valued EU citizens already resident here that they will have the right to remain after exit. However, the amendments take a slightly different approach to getting there, and we think they undermine the whole approach under the EU settlement scheme in the creation of a declaratory system.

Under the proposed new clause in Amendment 2, EU citizens would be able to apply for a document confirming their residence status if they wished, but would have to provide evidence of their rights if they wanted to access benefits and services. This is inconsistent with our international obligations under the withdrawal agreement. Alternatively, the proposed new clause in Amendment 3 would make provision for rights to be automatically conferred and enable EU citizens to register for a document confirming their residence status only if they wished to do so. This change in approach would cause confusion and uncertainty among the very EU citizens who we are trying to protect, including the over 2.8 million people who have already applied under the EU settlement scheme.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister’s flow, but how many people who have already registered have sought hard copy or physical evidence of their registration and status?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

If you apply and are successful for either pre-settled status or settled status, you will receive a letter. That is not in itself proof of your status, because your status is a digital one, but you will receive a letter to confirm the success of your application.

Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry, but that is not my point. How many people have applied for a document saying that they have settled status, which they can show to a GP or a landlord?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I do not have the numbers for how many people have applied for a document that confirms settled status, but I can find out. The fact that 2.5 million people have been successful should partly satisfy noble Lords that the system is working well. Also, there have been only five rejections on the system so far. I will come to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, later, but that is quite a decent statistic when you think about the—

Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way. Does she agree that many of the 2.5 million people who have registered have done so resentfully and unhappily, because the process that they have been made to go through is effectively applying for a status that many of them have for decades felt that they should have had automatically? Even though I accept that the system might be working successfully, and I applaud that, there are still some reassurances to be given—the soft power, if you like—to those, many of whom I know in my own diocese, who have applied with a great deal of resentment and unhappiness.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I have spoken to my noble friends beside me and I have not had any feedback on resentment. I have had feedback on the fact that we have made the scheme free, which was a noble thing for the previous Home Secretary and Prime Minister to do. The fact that so many people now have a status they can prove can be only a good thing.

We are processing 20,000 applications every day. We are working with communities—sometimes on a one-to-one basis because some people find the filling-in of any application process difficult.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure whether I am hearing this right, but I think the Minister is responding to the amendments as if the proposal was to replace digital with documentary evidence. In fact, it is proposed that the documentary evidence would be supplemental to the digital provision.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I would not agree with two systems because that really would confuse people. If I could get to the end of my comments, I would be grateful.

The scheme already allows EU citizens protected by the agreements to obtain UK immigration status to enable them to remain here permanently after exit. Both EU citizens with pre-settled status and those with settled status will be able to continue to live, work and access benefits and services in the UK after the end of the implementation period on the same basis as now. If individuals with pre-settled status go on to acquire settled status, they will then be able to access benefits and services on the same terms as comparable UK nationals. This is consistent with the approach taken under EU law, and we will assess individuals at the point they apply for benefits or when accessing services such as the NHS.

The proposed new clauses would interrupt the flow of a system which is already working well and achieving precisely what it was designed and implemented to do, providing certainty to those people who have made their lives here.

Under the future immigration system, EU citizens who are in the UK before the end of the implementation period will have different rights compared to those who arrive afterwards. It is essential, therefore, that EU citizens have the evidence they need to demonstrate their rights in the UK. This is also why many other member states are planning to take exactly the same approach and establish a constitutive system for UK nationals living in the EU. I shall come on to UK nationals in the EU shortly.

The EU settlement scheme means that those who have built their lives here do not find themselves struggling to evidence their rights in the UK or having to carry around multiple bits of paper and documents to evidence their previous UK residence. As I pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, we are legally required to issue all successful applicants under the scheme with formal correspondence setting out their immigration status, and this status can also be viewed online and shared with others. We do not want to go back to issuing physical documents when our vision for the future is a digital status and service for all migrants.

I should perhaps make a point about data protection, on which some noble Lords are very keen—certainly on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Under the digital system, employers, immigration control or whoever it might be will have access to the information on a need-to-know basis: not everything will be written down on a piece of paper, which is an important consideration. A continued declaratory system in the form suggested by noble Lords in Amendments 2 and 3 would force banks and other service providers either to wade through various documents, which they perhaps have no right to see, to establish for themselves whether the person is protected by the agreements or has been granted rights while they complete the registration process as envisaged in Amendment 2.

Additionally, Amendment 3 would grant EU citizens automatically conferred rights under the agreements, creating two groups of EU citizens: those with a registration document and those with no evidence at all of their status. There is therefore a high risk of inadvertent discrimination, particularly for those with no evidence at all in years to come.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There was controversy not very long ago about allegations that the settled status database would be shared with outside organisations, perhaps abroad. Is that completely untrue?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

The noble Lord outlines the point that I have just made about information being seen by people who are entitled to see it for the purposes for which it should be seen.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Data Protection Act protects all data whether written or digital. Therefore the argument is nonsensical.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think my noble friend is forgetting that immigration data is not protected under the Data Protection Act put through last year or the year before. I think there is litigation going on about that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

The point I am making is that if you have a physical document which outlines everything, people have access to everything. When people go into banks, they do not necessarily know which documents to bring. Under the digital status, employers and landlords are entitled to see only the data which they need to see.

Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister moves on, sticking with this issue, I am totally confused—more than usual. The Minister said earlier that, if I have been sent my letter from the Home Office describing my status, I can then apply for another document of some kind that I can produce to other people who want the other document. That seems to be an alternative to the code. Will the Minister explain what is the difference between the letter and the other document that I can apply for, which apparently I can use to satisfy someone that I am entitled to something?

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister gets up, I do not think I heard her answer the question about whether the settled status database is going to be available outside the Home Office, within government and to third-parties outside government. Will she answer that very precise point?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I shall start with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. The letter is confirmation that you have been successful. It is not evidence of your status, but it is there for anyone who wishes to have a physical document to say that they have been successful.

On the digital status—this comes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—if you want to rent, it could be accessed by the landlord. There is access to the data for people who need to see it for the purposes for which they need to see it.

Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The second document—

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Regarding the document that I apply for after my first letter—the Minister is saying that there is a second document—why would I apply for something that I already have?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, you automatically get a letter confirming that you have been successful. There are not two documents. You have online status and you get a letter confirming that you have been successful. There are not two documents.

Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is rather a critical issue. Is the Minister saying that the document I have can be used? It apparently cannot be used to satisfy landlords and GPs, so what is the person going to do if the landlord, the GP and everybody else is not satisfied with the Home Office document?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the document that the noble Lord refers to is a letter confirming that a person has been successful. Anyone who is successful in obtaining the status could show that letter to a landlord and say, “There. Go and look online to confirm that I have the status”. However, it is not a proof; it is a confirmation. Does that help the noble Lord? I see that it does. Thank goodness.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can I ask another question?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

No. I am going to continue, and the noble Lord can speak when I have finished if he wishes.

I want to move on to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, made about the criminalisation of people who do not apply by the deadline. That is a very important point—made also, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. An EU citizen who fails to apply to the EU settlement scheme before the deadline will not be acting unlawfully in the same way as an illegal entrant or overstayer would be. They will not have knowingly entered the UK in breach of the Immigration Act or overstayed their leave. That is an important point to make. Once free movement has ended, they will need leave to remain in the UK—there is an important distinction there. We set up the EU settlement scheme to provide a quick and easy way to secure that leave, confirming their status in the UK.

We have been very clear that we will take a pragmatic approach, in line with the agreements, to provide those who have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline with a further opportunity to apply. I hope that that helps the noble Lord. He might want to intervene to ask what constitutes reasonable grounds for missing the deadline. We have deliberately not published a list of acceptable grounds for missing the deadline. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, requested, we will send reminders to those with pre-settled status six months before their leave expires so that they can apply for settled status. In the first instance, we want to continue to encourage people to apply. We do not want to provide an exhaustive list as we want to give ourselves the maximum possible flexibility when this situation arises. Examples of people in such a situation might include a child whose parents or guardian failed to apply on their behalf, people in abusive or controlling relationships who are prevented from applying or from obtaining the documents they need, or those who, as I said before, lacked the physical or mental capacity to apply.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pressed me again on the automatic reminder. I have previously confirmed that there will be an automatic reminder. In fact, in the EU Settlement Scheme: Statement of Intent, published in June 2018—quite some time ago—we committed to reminding people ahead of the expiry of their pre-settled status and it remains our intention to do so. That is not in place yet, as it will not be needed until five years after the first granting of pre-settled status, if that makes sense, so it will be September 2023 at the latest. The noble Baroness is looking puzzled. That is because March 2019 was day one, so it will not be needed for another five years.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If they had already had two years, they would not need another five years.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I think that my last statement was wrong, but I shall confirm that to her in writing.

The noble Baroness talked about people struggling, and I think that I have outlined some of the ways in which we are trying to help people to make their application. She will have heard me say previously how we have put money into various centres around the country to help people.

The noble Baroness also asked whether we are still granting permanent residence. Yes, we are.

On the question of why settled status is better than permanent residence, you do not have to be exercising treaty rights to get settled status; there is a more generous right of return—so five years rather than two years permitted absence—and there is an automatic entitlement, as a UK national, to benefits for those with settled status. However, that does not stop people from applying for permanent residence, and they do.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, talked about UK nationals in the EU. I recall the discussion that we had about unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, but they asked about UK nationals in the EU. The withdrawal agreement that we have reached with the EU provides reciprocal protections and certainty on citizens’ rights. The agreement applies equally to EU citizens here and UK nationals in the EU, in their member state of residence, by the end of the implementation period. Ministers and officials have already engaged extensively with UK nationals across the EU and will continue to do so. I am very pleased to hear about the good experiences of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in Portugal.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Does she agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, however, that the EU will treat British citizens in the EU as foreigners who are unable to travel from one EU country to another? Surely, if we had balanced these negotiations, we might have been able to wring that concession out of the EU so that our citizens living there could travel from one country to another.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I agree with my noble friend; of course, that will be a matter for future negotiations. In the meantime, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I should correct myself. The Minister was kind enough to say that she would have another look at that reminder system. After all, people could have four years and 300 or whatever days, just not five years. That system needs to come in a lot sooner; they might need a reminder in the next few months. Also, I do not quite understand—it may just be that I do not understand immigration—why the Home Office is twin-tracking settled status and permanent residence. I take the point that for settled status you do not have to be exercising treaty rights and perhaps simply have to meet a tougher standard for permanent residence. However, I do not see the value, either to the applicant or to the aim of simplicity and understanding of the immigration system, to have these two systems running coterminously.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I ask the noble Baroness to understand that perhaps they might not be EU citizens.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I did not get an answer to my question about the numbers. I have checked: there were 2.6 million at the end of November; there are now 2.8 million. Of the extra ones, does the Minister have a breakdown between settled and pre-settled? Should she not have the answer now, it would be helpful if she could let us know.

Secondly, something has occurred to me while listening to all this about documents. If I want to order a railway ticket in advance, I order it on my computer and print it off. Some might not, but I do. People do different things; they take their devices with them and even buy tickets. Regardless, I can print off a railway ticket. If I have settled status and I want to prove it, why can I not bring it up on my computer, take a screen shot and use that? What legal validity would that have?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, by preference I do my tax online and get an email confirmation. If I book a train ticket, it is on my phone. In fact I rarely take my credit or debit card out any more; everything is on my phone. However, if the noble Lord is honestly suggesting screenshotting your settled-status proof online and then printing it off, I suggest that that might be forgeable.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. This discussion, and even the confusion from the Dispatch Box about some of the rules, demonstrates the issues that are going to be faced by EU citizens if there is not even clarity in this House.

I want to pick up on a number of points. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, talked about reciprocity. As the Minister has explained, Part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, on citizens’ rights, applies equally to UK citizens in the European Union. I was a little astonished because I thought I heard the noble Lord arguing for free movement. He is notably not a pro-European so I am a little baffled by that. I can only guess that because, I understand, he has Liberal politicians in his ancestry, perhaps he has a genetic disposition to Europhilia that he cannot escape from.

A more serious point is this: the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary made a categorical, unequivocal commitment to European Union citizens. It was not based on whether the EU did this or that; it was a categorical statement. The noble Lord, who sits on the Conservative Benches, seems to be saying, “It’s absolutely fine—we should use EU citizens as bargaining chips”. I am glad that the Government have not done that; it is absolutely the wrong approach. All the bodies representing UK citizens in the EU that have been in contact with me and, I am sure, many other noble Lords in this House have always made the point throughout these negotiations that Britain should act early and unilaterally. I am glad that we did eventually but goodness me, it took a long time.

The Minister said that it was a very noble decision of the former Home Secretary to waive fees on this scheme. I find that an astonishing statement. EU citizens had rights in this country that they were going to lose as the result of a referendum in which they had no say whatever, and then we were planning to charge them for the privilege of retaining any rights. To call it “noble” to not charge them I find astonishing.

Physical proof has been discussed at length. The Minister said that two systems would confuse people. It is not two systems—it is one system that has a digital output and a physical one. That is pretty common and it is not confusing. While the Minister says we should not have these two systems because they are confusing, she then tells us that we do have two systems: the European Union settled status scheme and the permanent residence scheme. If we want to avoid confusion, perhaps we should address that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, made the important point that we have to live in the real world of how these things work. I know this from experience because my partner is not a citizen of the UK—not a citizen of the EU, I should say—but a citizen of the United States. He has in his passport his permanent residence stamp that he can show to people. That is quite a simple thing and I am sure that we could apply such a system as well. Doubtless, it is also on an official computer system somewhere—I hope so.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I added my name to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group. I have one or two other amendments in this group. One is on the judicial review point, and I am perfectly happy to leave the lawyers to argue the case on that, which they know far more about than I do.

Amendment 6 relates to Clause 11(1), on appeals against citizens’ rights immigration decisions, which says:

“A Minister of the Crown may”—


I would prefer “must” but I accept that “may” means it is probably going to happen—

“by regulations make provision for, or in connection with, appeals against citizens’ rights immigration decisions of a kind described in the regulations.”

Clause 11(2) defines a “citizens’ rights immigration decision” for the purposes of the Bill and it talks about various kinds of entry clearance, decisions in connection with leave to enter or remain, a deportation order, and

“any other decision made in connection with restricting the right of a relevant person to enter the United Kingdom”.

That all seems fairly comprehensive. What I do not understand, which is why I tabled Amendment 6 to probe this, is what is meant by

“of a kind described in the regulations.”

Does it mean that some of the things listed will not be covered by the regulations and the right to appeal? If so, what is the Government’s thinking about which ones they may be, or do they intend that they will all be covered, in which case why does the kind have to be described in the regulations since it is set out here in the Bill?

On the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, and other noble Lords, it is fairly clear that many people who have been given pre-settled status because they have not been living in the United Kingdom for five years or, in some cases, cannot prove that they have been doing so. There is also a significant number of people—I have no idea how many—who have been living here for five years but whose applications have been found difficult, for some reason or other. Rather than refusing them, the scheme is giving them pre-settled status because establishing the true facts would take a lot of time, energy and workload and, as the Minister said, millions of people are applying. It would be helpful to know what proportion of the people who have got pre-settled status have been, or say they have been, living here for more than five years—in some cases, they have been here pretty well all their lives—and have been given that status to give them something without prolonging the argument. In those cases, does the provision that they will automatically get settled status once they have been here for five years still apply?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. We cannot support them, and I will outline why. The Government will provide for a right of appeal against citizens’ rights immigration decisions. While I commend noble Lords for their commitment to citizens’ rights, these amendments create unnecessary changes to the wording of Clause 11 and, at worst, undermine our ability to provide for a right of appeal in all circumstances and ensure consistency for judicial review, and even create perverse incentives to appeal decisions to gain the benefits of indefinite leave to remain.

Amendments 4 and 9 are unnecessary. EU citizens who are appealing a decision on residence must be able to appeal if refused leave, or given what they believe is an incorrect status under the EU settlement scheme, under our international agreements. It is also damaging, as a power is required to implement the numerous situations requiring appeals.

Amendment 5 is at best unnecessary and, at worst, could prevent the provision for necessary appeals. This Government will provide for a right of appeal against citizens’ rights immigration decisions. This is an essential part of our commitment to protecting the rights of EU citizens, EEA EFTA and Swiss nationals under the withdrawal agreement, the EEA EFTA Separation Agreement and the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement.

On Amendment 6, the current wording of Clause 11(1) allows the Government to make sufficient regulations in relation to appeals against citizens’ rights immigration decisions. It fulfils our commitment in the agreements and provides certainty to EU citizens that they shall have a right to appeals. Moreover, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recently commended the powers in the Bill as,

“naturally constrained by the scope of the particular matter contained in the Agreements”.

As such, Amendment 6 is unnecessary.

As for Amendment 7, it is in the public interest to make reviews of exclusion directions made in respect of those protected by our implementation of the withdrawal agreements consistent with how similar reviews are treated now. This power enables us to do this, but Amendment 7 would remove that ability.

Amendment 8 would make it harder for EU citizens to challenge an exclusion direction, would prevent the Government being able to prevent removal unless the appeal is certified and would create a perverse incentive for individuals to launch appeals to gain access to the benefits of indefinite leave to remain.

Amendment 10 seeks to limit the power in Clause 11 in relation to judicial review. It is in the public interest to make reviews of exclusion directions made in respect of those protected by our implementation of the agreements consistent with how similar reviews are treated. This power enables us to do this, but the amendment would remove that ability.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my noble friend give way?

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I will, but first I reiterate that appeals processes will be set out in the regulations to be made under the power in Clause 11. The regulations will be made in the last week of January, to answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I may now be answering my noble friend’s question, because he asked whether we have a power to make changes to reviews, including judicial reviews. This limb of the power will be used to ensure that the legislation that interacts with new citizens’ appeal rights continues to function appropriately. It ensures that we can amend Section 2C of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 to provide that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission can hear reviews in respect of those protected by the agreements in the same way as they hear reviews in other cases, such as the most sensitive immigration cases. We will not be restricting the availability or scope of judicial review.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like just a little more clarity, although my noble friend has given quite a lot. Do I understand that what the Government are thinking of doing is procedural only, and they are not seeking in any way to curtail the substantive rights that presently arise under judicial review?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I can confirm that.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in the debate on this group of amendments and the Minister for her response. Mistakes can be made in any process and, as the Minister said, the Government will be moving to provide the right of appeal. These amendments seek to put that right of appeal in the Bill and ensure that it is dealt with properly at this stage. With that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 4, but I will continue to push the points that have been made.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (15 Jan 2020)
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to explain why Clause 37 should not stand part of the Bill. There is very little to add after the dozen contributions and the eloquent speech by my noble friend Lord Dubs, so I shall keep this short as we wait to hear from the Minister. I hope that her words will be positive.

The Government’s inclusion of Clause 37, which reneges on their previous binding commitment to seek to negotiate reciprocal agreements with the EU to facilitate the safe passage of child refugees with family in the UK is unnecessary and unjust. We will shortly be told that the Government’s commitment has not changed and that their policy remains the same. Your Lordships’ House was not convinced by this argument during consideration of the withdrawal Bill, which is why it voted overwhelmingly to insert the negotiating objective, and I am sure this House will not be convinced by the argument now, although we wait.

The provisions in the 2018 Act have been in place for 18 months and were not opposed by the Government. That surely means that they cannot be considered hostile or as examples of Parliament unfairly asserting itself over the Executive. The closest parallels I can see to the Dubs provision are the environmental ones in Section 16 of the 2018 Act. These required the Government to do something. Ministers fulfilled the requirement and that section has now been replaced. Ripping up prior commitments in the face of such opposition is not how a new Government should start their term in office. It is not too late for the Minister to accept the amendment or to bring forward the Government’s own text ahead of Report. I hope the Government will do the right thing. However, if they do not take note of this debate, we will certainly bring back the substance of it on Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I have had many discussions with him, as he outlined. We do not always agree on how we are going to get to places, but we certainly agree with the end. I think Parliament and the Government are in absolute agreement that we are all fully committed to the principle of family reunion and to supporting the most vulnerable children in the world. Our policy on this has not changed. I want to underline that point because noble Lords seem to think that perhaps the policy has changed. It has not. On the point the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made on the manifesto commitment, it is writ large in our manifesto:

“We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution”.


We intend to keep to that commitment, and I am sure Parliament will hold us to account if we do not.

Clause 37 underlines that. We could have just deleted Section 17 and, by turn, Clause 37. We did not because we wanted to outline that commitment again in legislation. The commitment builds on the Government’s proud record of providing protection to vulnerable children. Since 2010, the UK has granted protection to 41,000 children—7,500 of them in the year ending September 2019—most of them because of our obligations under the refugee convention and the wider commitments that we have made. It is mostly nothing to do with EU structures.

More than 5,000 unaccompanied children are being cared for by local authorities in England alone—an increase of almost 150% since 2014. The noble Lord referred to local authorities, and he knows that the Government wrote to local authorities in good faith, and that whenever we heard about additional places being available, we took note and upped our number under Dubs. We have granted 27,000 family reunion visas under the refugee family reunion Immigration Rules over the last five years. This is not a mean Government or a mean country, and I am very proud of our record.

In 2018, the UK received more than 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied children, accounting for 15% of all such claims across the EU. That makes ours the third highest intake in the European Union. On national resettlement schemes, we take more children than any other country in the European Union. It is worth saying this because sometimes, if you listen to debates in this House, you would think that we do not do anything. It is important to outline our record, which reflects the unique importance of protecting unaccompanied children and preserves the principle of family reunion, which will continue. I commend this House on its strength of feeling on this issue—we are all humanitarians, and I assure noble Lords that the Government share an undiminished commitment to addressing these issues.

Clause 37 concerns only whether there should be a statutory duty to negotiate an agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children who have applied for international protection in an EU member state, and who have family in the UK, and vice versa. The debate is not on wider issues relating to refugees, asylum or family unity. It does not represent a change of Government policy—as I said at the outset—it simply removes the statutory requirement to negotiate. We remain fully committed to providing protection to vulnerable children, and noble Lords might note that we have already committed to taking 5,000 people from beyond the MENA region, in dangerous areas of the world with vulnerable children, in the next year alone.

Noble Lords will be aware that, as part of the negotiation and making of treaties, including international trade agreements, this is a function of the Executive. It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said in the previous group that he did not want to tie the Government’s hands, but in the group before that, the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Howarth of Newport, said that Parliament should not tie the Government’s hands. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern made a good analogy with the Prorogation decision.

A statutory negotiating objective is neither necessary nor the constitutional norm. It is unnecessary because the Government have already written to the European Commission on 27 October to commence discussions on this issue. It is vital that the Government are now able to get on with it. The UK has existing and extensive legal provisions to guarantee family reunion, and one noble Lord—it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, but I apologise if I am wrong—spoke of no guarantees going forward, yet this legislation already exists, and is not affected by EU exit in any way. Furthermore, the UK will continue to be bound by the Dublin regulation during the implementation period, as my noble and learned friend pointed out.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a bit perplexing. If the guarantee is already in law, what is this clause about?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

The noble Lord hits the nail on the head, because one might ask what Section 17 was about in the first instance. I said at the beginning of my speech that Clause 37 could not have existed, and we could have deleted Section 17, but Section 17 is, in most part, as it was originally, and is amended to include the reporting to Parliament and not the seeking to negotiate. It goes above our obligations and commits the Government to lay that Statement to Parliament on our policy regarding future arrangements with the EU for the family reunification of unaccompanied children seeking international protection, providing Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise our progress.

The clause makes it clear that supporting the most vulnerable children remains a priority, along with restoring the traditional division of competences between Parliament and government, as the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Butler, pointed out. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said that Parliament cannot give the Government their marching orders in negotiations. I hope that I have quoted him correctly.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As long as the Minister does not suppose that I do not fully support the spirit of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dubs.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

No, I was not making that inference. I was trying to point out both consistency and inconsistency within some of the debates we have been having today, as noble Lords seem to have contradicted themselves depending on what the issue is. On the division of competences between Parliament and Government, noble Lords will have seen, and will continue to see, changes being made across the Bill. It does not undermine our policy intent and rightly ensures that Parliament is informed of our policy intentions in respect of our future arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that we have already written to the Commission, and that is correct. It shows our intent and commitment in the coming year.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spoke of Clause 37 killing Section 17. It does not; it amends it, as he went on to outline.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Could she be clearer about this correspondence with the Commission? The Minister said in the meeting we had yesterday, and again just now, that a letter went to the Commission in October, to which there has been no reply. It is perhaps not surprising, since the Commission does not have a mandate to negotiate until after we have left the European Union. Perhaps that is a perfectly innocent explanation, but surely the amendment being moved will actually strengthen the Government’s hand when they come to negotiate in March or April, by demonstrating the high priority which Parliament gives to it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

The reason we have not had a reply is probably, as the noble Lord pointed out, to do with the fact that we have a new Commissioner. I do not agree with the noble Lord’s point—this amendment ties the Government’s hands in negotiation, and we do not wish to see that. We want to articulate our commitment through the manifesto and in Clause 37.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not quite clear on how it ties the Government’s hands. If we leave what is now on the statute book in place, there is an obligation on the Government to seek to negotiate. The Government say that they have already started seeking to negotiate, so I am not sure how it ties their hands.

I am left suspicious. I am with the noble Baroness and am prepared to agree that policy has not changed. I reject dog whistles and dead cats, and I believe the Government’s policy has not changed. What bothers me is that I do not know what priority they attach to it in the coming negotiations, and I fear that we are into bargaining chip country, which is really offensive.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

The fact that the Home Secretary wrote to the Commission underlines our commitment, as does the fact that we put it in the manifesto and in Clause 37. The amendment to Section 17, to which the noble Lord referred, was an instruction to the Government, and I do not think that the Government should be bound by that.

I want to pick up on the noble Lord’s point about bargaining chips. Section 17 of the 2018 Act talks about seeking to negotiate. In one context—the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, puts it—that is noble, and I have absolutely no criticism of his intentions. On the other hand, when the Government say that they will write to the Commission and seek to engage with the EU in the coming year, that is seen as using children as a bargaining chip. I am not entirely sure how the Section 17 amendment, which talked about seeking to negotiate, and what the Government are proposing, which the noble Lord feels very sceptical about, are in any way different when it comes to bargaining chips.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the Government say, as they did on Monday night, in terms, that that amendment will not do because it is vital that the Government are not legally constrained in these discussions, that seems to imply that the Government might not pursue this point if the EU 27 decide to strike some sort of bargain with us which entails our not pursuing this point. If the statute book remained unamended—if the 2018 Act, which binds the Government only to seek to negotiate, remained in force—in what way would the Government be legally constrained unless they intended to negotiate in bad faith, which I do not think is the case, or to regard this as a lower priority, as a card that could be played? I find that very offensive.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I would find it offensive if the Government saw children as bargaining chips. I do not think that any Member of this House or the other place sees a child as a bargaining chip. The Government are seeking to undertake an arrangement in which there is reciprocity. It makes absolute sense that we have reciprocal arrangements with Europe. We might be leaving the EU but we are certainly not leaving Europe, and children here will have family in the EU, just as children in the EU will have family here. We are seeking reciprocity, and Dublin III, as my noble and learned friend said, will be ongoing to the end of the implementation period. Please let us have no more comment about bargaining chips, because the legislation seeks to do the best by all children, whether they be in the EU or the UK.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister moves on, I do not understand the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, although perhaps reading it will help. None of us wants to think the worst of the Government over this matter. It might be helpful if noble Lords could see a copy of the letter that went to the Commission in October. It has been referred to several times but I do not think that it has been seen by any noble Lord.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I am not sure that I can give that undertaking but I will certainly request it. I will also come on to the noble Baroness’s question about the words “best interests” appearing in subsection (1)(a) but not in (1)(b). The phrase “equivalent circumstances” in subsection (1)(b) duplicates that. She might like to take a look at that and, if she is not content, I will be happy to go through it with her.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talked about the gap, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay pointed out that Dublin III will exist until the end of the implementation period. My noble friend Lord Elton asked for the definition of “relative”. I think that there has been another misunderstanding—that all the relatives were listed in Section 17 but do not appear in Clause 37, although they do. A relative in relation to an unaccompanied child means

“a spouse or civil partner of the child or any person with whom the child has a durable relationship that is similar to marriage or civil partnership, or … a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child”.

That is quite an extensive list and I hope that that helps my noble friend.

I shall finish on the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. Section 17 in and of itself gives no rights to children. Through Clause 37 we are attempting to lay out our intentions. We have done so in the manifesto and have already started talks with the EU on this subject. Our commitment to children has not changed.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few brief words. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has been quite illuminating in the main, but perhaps I may comment on two or three specific points.

First, I want to refer to what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said. I very much respect her important work with Save the Children and other organisations overseas, but I think she is quite wrong on the trafficking argument. Where there are no legal routes to safety, people will allow themselves to be trafficked and will come illegally. Surely, by having legal routes to safety, we are making the position of traffickers much more difficult and making it much easier for people to achieve safety. Therefore, I am sorry but I do not agree with her on that.

Perhaps I may also return to the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, made. I do not have the wording of Section 17 of the 2018 Act in front of me but it has been referred to. It says that the Government should seek to negotiate on a particular basis. We have already talked about Clause 33 of this Bill, which would add something to the 2018 Act. It says:

“A Minister of the Crown may not agree in the Joint Committee to an extension of the implementation period.”


That is telling a Minister of the Crown exactly what he or she may or may not do, which is totally at variance with the argument that we have heard on Clause 37. I do not understand. On the one hand, the Government are saying in their own Bill that Ministers may be told what to do; on the other hand, they are using that as an argument against my amendment.

I am sorry to quote the Minister’s letter again but one paragraph seems to be at variance with other points and I wonder whether the Minister would like to withdraw it. It includes the words,

“so that the traditional division between Government and Parliament be restored”—

that is, by removing Section 17—

“and the negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas.”

That goes a lot wider than what we have been talking about tonight. It seems to me that this is meant to talk about some relationship between government and Parliament, which in any case Clause 33 disproves, and it refers to

“an appropriate manner across all policy areas.”

I am sorry but I cannot interpret that in the way the Minister suggests.

I want briefly to make two or three other comments. I agree that the manifesto talks about a commitment to refugees but it says nothing about child refugees. It says nothing at all that would enable the Government to invoke the Salisbury convention against my wish to remove Clause 37 from the Bill. If the Minister would like to meet me to talk about local authorities, I would be very happy to do so. I know that local authorities are very helpful. I know of Northern Ireland organisations that will want to help now that the Government there has been restored. The debate is going on in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, although no decision has been made there yet. It seems to me, however, that there are more local authorities. In addition, Safe Passage, one of the NGOs with which I am working closely, has written to all local authorities and we have got quite a lot of positive answers. This shows that local authorities are willing to take more.

When we debated Section 67 in 2016 and the amendment that I put forward about child refugees with no people here, there was a fierce battle. I was asked time and again to withdraw my amendment. The Home Secretary asked me to withdraw my amendment. It got through, despite the Government’s wishes, and it got through the other House, despite their wishes. Then we had the amendment to the 2018 Act that we are talking about now. Again, there was a big vote fairly late in the evening; the Government did not want it. In opposition, we had to argue for amendments on behalf of refugees and now the Government seem to be taking credit for that. I am sorry, but that is not the way the world has been. I appreciate that the Minister is totally sympathetic to refugees, but that is not how the Government have behaved. They have resisted all these amendments and all we have in opposition is the chance to move amendments in the hope of making our point. That is why we have had these arguments.

I shall not press this issue tonight, but particularly in the light of the discussion, I might wish to return to it on Report.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for moving Amendment 33, which has provided an opportunity to discuss an aspect of the future relationship that rarely receives the attention it deserves. As my party’s Treasury spokesman in this House, I recognise that our future trading relationship with the EU is of vital importance. However, it is not the only future relationship up for negotiation; nor is it the relationship that will keep British citizens, and our streets, safe.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that this is a vital area, in which we must do well, and which we must all understand. The political declaration includes a commitment to agree a

“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership.”

However, we should remind ourselves that although it is referenced in the withdrawal agreement, that declaration is non-binding. As well as lacking legal force, it is short on detail—largely, we understand, at the Government’s request.

Although Mrs May was misguided to threaten the withdrawal of security co-operation if the EU refused to grant us favourable trading terms, her Administration did at least provide an indication of what a future security partnership might look like. We have not had the same indication of what a Johnson-led Government wish to negotiate—and it seems that the Bill, which strips out the original requirement for proper engagement with, and scrutiny by, Parliament, means that we are unlikely to find out any time soon. If we do not know, it is highly doubtful that our police forces or security and intelligence services can be any more confident that the Government will preserve UK participation in the EU agencies and data-sharing protocols that are so important in their day-to-day work.

In the Commons, my Labour colleague Nick Thomas-Symonds outlined the risks that we face from any loss of access to EU databases, such as the Schengen Information System, meaning that

“information that today can be retrieved almost instantaneously could take days or weeks to access.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/1/20; col. 509.]

Modern crime, whether cyber or terrorist attacks, requires quick decisive responses. As we have seen time and again in recent months, organised crime increasingly takes place across borders, taking advantage of any vulnerabilities that exist. Those vulnerabilities are best identified and addressed by working alongside our neighbours.

To lessen our degree of co-operation with our EU neighbours would be reckless. But, given the Government’s determination to conclude both our economic and our security relationships with the EU in just 11 months, it feels almost inevitable that there will be a diminution of the benefits that this country and its security agencies currently enjoy. I hope the Minister will be able to provide at least some of the detail so sorely lacking to date. I repeat my support for the principle underlying the amendment. If the Minister’s response is lacking, we may return to this issue at a later stage.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I thank noble Lords for their comments. I support them in drawing my and the Government’s attention to the various elements of co-operation that are so crucial in keeping our citizens safe.

It has never been in doubt that it is in everyone’s interest to maintain that strong relationship with the EU in this area. The political declaration provides the framework for the strong relationship, including co-operation on the specific capabilities that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has set out in his amendment. However, the precise details that noble Lords seek will be a matter for the next phase of negotiations that will be carried out, I hope with flexibility, in this and other areas. A statutory requirement to negotiate—a matter discussed quite vocally in this Chamber today—is neither necessary nor appropriate.

On the role of Parliament, I refer noble Lords to the strong commitment given by the Prime Minister that Parliament will be kept fully informed of the progress of the negotiations and will have the opportunity to scrutinise any legislation required to enact the future relationship. Therefore, a reporting requirement is not needed.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made a point about Norway and Iceland and their extradition agreement with the EU. Apparently, it is now in force as of 1 November last year.

I am sorry that I cannot fill in any detail but no detail is yet forthcoming. However, I hope the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his support and his perspective, from his experience in the Home Office, on how important this issue is. He made an important point about the Government acknowledging the weakness already of the UK criminal justice system without losing these EU mechanisms. I am also grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.

It is all very well for the Minister to keep putting matters off by saying, “This is going to be negotiated and I can’t say what the details of the negotiations will be.” Time is running out. That excuse will not be available in less than 12 months’ time and we are concerned that our law enforcement agencies will be handicapped as a consequence of losing some, if not all, of these EU mechanisms, as the National Crime Agency lead for Brexit told us in a briefing a few years ago.

I am grateful for the correction on the modified European arrest warrant arrangements with Norway and Iceland, which apparently came into effect on 1 November last year. That means that they took 18 years to come into effect. If that is the kind of timescale we are looking at to get a similar agreement between us, as a third-party country, and the EU, we are in serious trouble. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Northern Ireland Office

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting
Monday 20th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-R-II Second marshalled list for Report - (20 Jan 2020)
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their comments in the debate.

The amendment to Clause 7, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and supported by myself and other noble Lords, is a variant of that tabled in Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, previously outlined, we are far from convinced by the responses we have heard from government—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said that the Government were “unconvincing”.

Indeed, there have even been a number of contradictory statements from No. 10 in response to Friday’s comments by the European Parliament’s Brexit lead, Guy Verhofstadt. He claimed that the Secretary of State had provided assurances over the provision of physical documentation, as well as confirming a policy of no forced deportations if individuals fail to apply for settled status by the June 2021 deadline. However, the newspapers carried a contradictory quote from a government official, who said of the meeting:

“They discussed their respective position on physical documents. There weren’t any offers or changes from yesterday’s meeting.”


A statement from the Home Office later added:

“There is no change to our digital approach. It has always been the case that people could print a copy of their confirmation letter, but this can’t be used as evidence of status.”


The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said that this could lead to ID cards. The response to that is that people will be asked for physical documentation that proves their status now—as I will come on to, people are already being asked for it. If the Government could make this small change, we would be able to move on.

We should look at the last statement from the Home Office. When we travel abroad and hire a car on the continent, before we go we can print out a document from the DVLA which is proof that we are legally able to hire a vehicle and that the driving licence is covered. While the DVLA holds that documentation on computer, we can get physical documentation that proves the position. Again, it would be fantastic if we could see a little movement by the Government on this.

Under the evidence, we are not satisfied that the Government will provide assurances on physical documents, although I hope they will, or that they will verify the policy of no forced deportations for those who do not apply for settled status by the deadline. As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, touched on, a new poll of EU citizens living in the UK found that an overwhelming majority of 70% would favour physical documentation. These are people who have chosen to make the UK their home and to live, work and play in and thus be part of our countries and our society. On this evidence, the Government are going against good practice and the wishes of EU citizens currently living in the UK.

I shall go back to the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. As many as 11% say that they have already been asked for proof of their status, and there have been warnings from private landlords that the new system could introduce the risk of discrimination.

Why would the Government implement a system that puts people who contribute greatly to our society at the risk of facing discrimination? Are they saying that the current proposal for a digital-only system is risk free? The arguments on documentation and deportation at the end of non-registration or non-agreement to pre-settled or settled status were well rehearsed in Committee and we have heard a number of contributions to that effect today, so I will leave it there. We recognise that the Government have provided some comfort as regards the appeals procedure, but there is too much uncertainty about other aspects of EU citizens’ rights. A representative of the3million campaign group has rightly pointed out that far from providing certainty, the current system is best described as giving an “unsettled status”.

We continue to believe that the declaratory system is the best way forward and that EU citizens should enjoy the same rights as many UK citizens living on the continent. Negotiations have already started and hopefully further talks will secure the position as we go forward. If the Minister is unable to promise to table a suitable government amendment at Third Reading and if the noble Lord, Lord Oates, chooses to push his amendment to a vote, we will support stronger protections for the millions of EU citizens who have made this country their home.

I shall touch briefly on the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. He said that the Government should take every reasonable step to ensure that EU citizens who choose to make the UK their home are treated fairly, and the simple safeguards set out in the amendment would achieve that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for his explanation of the amendment, but he will not be surprised to learn that we reject it. The amendment would require the Government to establish a declaratory system for those eligible for residence rights under the withdrawal agreement, the EEA EFTA separation agreement or the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement, which for the sake of brevity I shall call from here on in the agreements. References to EU citizens should likewise be taken to include EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals and their family members.

The noble Lord has continued to press for this change in the belief that it will reassure EU citizens already resident here. The Government have already provided this certainty through the EU settlement scheme—not as a proposal, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, has suggested, but as something that is up and running and which the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, acknowledges is working well.

Fundamentally changing a system that is working well would have the opposite effect to that which I believe the noble Lord is trying to achieve. Amendment 1 would create a declaratory system under EU law, whereby EU citizens may apply for a document confirming their residence status if they wish but do not have to do so. The Government do not agree that this is the right way to secure the status of EU citizens resident in the UK at the end of the implementation period.

After the implementation period, free movement will end and those who are not British or Irish citizens will require a UK immigration status to enter and reside in the UK. The EU settlement scheme is a vital part of transitioning the UK from free movement to a new, points-based immigration system that starts in 2021.

--- Later in debate ---
Viscount Ridley Portrait Viscount Ridley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise for interrupting. On that very point, I was not reassured by what the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said. It seems to me that if landlords or other authorities are already beginning to ask for proof of settled status, this would get worse if there were known to be a system where they could produce a card. It would then de facto become a card that they had to produce.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Ridley. His point about ID card creep is also part of this point. It is exactly what happened to the Windrush generation. The Government are adamant that we must avoid a situation in which, years down the line, EU citizens who have built their lives here find themselves struggling to prove their rights and entitlements in the UK.

The approach suggested in the amendment is also unnecessary. Managing the end of free movement in the UK and providing certainty for resident EU citizens during that transition has been an absolute priority. We firmly believe that the current, constitutive approach under the EU settlement scheme is the right one. According to the latest internal figures, more than 2.8 million applications have been received and 2.5 million grants of status have already been made. The Home Office, as I said the other day, is processing up to 20,000 applications a day.

We are working with communities up and down the country to raise awareness of the scheme and keep up this momentum. It already allows EU citizens who would be protected by the agreements and other people the Government have chosen to protect, such as many non-working spouses and primary carers not covered by the agreements, to obtain a UK immigration status, enabling them to remain here permanently after the end of the implementation period. This status will mean that their rights and entitlements under the agreements are guaranteed. However, the new clause would interrupt the flow of a system that is well under way, already working well and achieving precisely what it was designed and implemented to do: providing certainty to those who have made their lives here.

EU citizens resident in the UK before the end of the implementation period will have different, enhanced rights compared with those who arrive afterwards. It is therefore essential that these citizens have the evidence they need to demonstrate their rights in the UK. This is also why we are seeing many other EU member states planning to take exactly the same approach and establish a constitutive system for UK nationals living there.

The EU settlement scheme means that those who have built their lives here will not find themselves struggling to evidence their rights in the UK, or have to carry around multiple bits of paper to evidence their previous UK residence. We are legally required to issue all successful applicants under the EU settlement scheme with a written notification of their UK immigration status, and all successful applicants are given a letter confirming their status. The status can be viewed online and shared securely with others, but as noble Lords have said it is not proof but confirmation.

Access to the online status service is via secure two-factor authentication using the document, such as a passport or national ID card, which the individual used to prove their identity and their date of birth. The user is then required to input a one-time use code, sent to their mobile number or email address. This ensures that no one else can access the individual’s information without their permission. Once in the service, users can view their information and update their details, and can choose to share their status information with third parties. This might be with employers, to prove their right to work, or with other service providers, to prove their right to access public services, benefits or the NHS.

When an individual chooses to share their information, they share only the content that is specific and relevant to the checks in question, as I went through the other day. This will include their name, their image and any information that is relevant to that particular purpose. This supports data minimisation, ensuring that only the information required is made available, which is not possible with a single physical document.

All our digital services are designed and developed to be robust and reliable, with extensive internal and user testing before launch to ensure that they perform as expected. We will monitor services to ensure that any issues are identified and acted upon. Mechanisms are already in place for users to report any technical issues with the service. We continue to refine and improve these processes, and all data will be treated in compliance with data protection law.

We do not want to go back to issuing physical documents, which, as we know, can be lost, stolen or tampered with. Our vision for the future is a digital status and service for all migrants. The continuation of a declaratory system would force employers, banks and other service providers to wade through various documents to establish for themselves whether the person is indeed protected by the agreements. Such an approach would be burdensome, for the citizens and others, and for the very systems we have committed to protect.

I will pick up a number of questions which noble Lords asked. Several noble Lords talked about airports. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, gave the example of a friend who was questioned at the airport, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, talked about the border, too. What happens at the border is proof of identity to cross the border, as opposed to proof of status to be in the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, talked about hiring a car abroad. In doing so, he inadvertently proved the point that, with the dispensing of the paper part of the licence, all one needs when abroad is a code to prove that you can hire a car. You do not need the physical document, you need only the code—as I learned to my peril when I did not realise that that was what you had to do.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I must correct the Minister. Having had great faith and gone abroad with my code, on attempting to rent a car in the United States and Spain, I found on both occasions that the process failed miserably. Only the fact that I had a piece of paper with me enabled me to rent the car. I hope the Minister will reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who asked what the back-up is when it goes wrong or there is a cyberattack.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

I will of course respond to my noble friend, and to other noble Lords who raised that point, but the point I was trying to make is that we have not had a paper part of the licence for some years. Whether it worked for the noble Baroness or not, to hire a car one gets a code from the DVLA. We do not have a paper part of the licence.

Lord Cromwell Portrait Lord Cromwell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There appears to be a certain amount of confusion and a lot of people are gesturing to show that they have a plastic card in their hand. I think we have plastic driving licences; we have not done away with them.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

That is not the point that I was making. We used to have paper accompaniments to the licence and we no longer have them. We used to have a paper part of the licence and it was phased out, but to hire a car you need a code.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness is correct that the paper part of the licence has been phased out, but when you go abroad you need proof for the insurance to hire a car. The noble Baroness might well be correct that you can just use a code but, as we have heard, if you go with just a code there is no proof with it. I, many other noble Lords and many other people would print out proper documentation and proof that you have that code with the DVLA’s name at the top of it. That is what we are saying: it does not just show it when you hire a car, but proves it.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, while the noble Baroness is still sitting down, would it be possible, or is it anticipated, for government agencies in the EU 27 countries concerned to have access to our official databases so that they can look up and access data to confirm all these relevant issues, whether for borders or for whatever reason?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

The point I was trying to make was that any agency that has access to information about proof of digital status has access only to the information for the purpose it is required to prove, such as right to work or right to rent. Data is given only for the purpose for which it is required.

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, talked about deportation and criminality for those failing to apply by the deadline. I explained in Committee that EU citizens who failed to apply to the scheme by the deadline will not be acting unlawfully in the same way as illegal entrants or overstayers and will not be subject to automatic deportation—they will not have knowingly entered the UK in breach of the Immigration Acts or overstayed their leave. Once free movement has ended, they will need leave to remain in the UK. That is why we set up the EU settlement scheme. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and my noble friend Lady Altmann said, we have been clear that we will take a pragmatic approach. In line with the agreements, those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline will be given further opportunities to apply.

On the reliability of IT systems, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, and my noble friend Lady Altmann that immigration decisions have been securely recorded and stored digitally since the turn of the century, so this is nothing new. I ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for her response, but I must say that I am utterly bewildered by it. This really is not a complicated issue. Millions of EU, EEA and Swiss national citizens are desperately concerned and asking for physical proof.

In Committee, the Minister said that to provide them with physical proof would be confusing and create a two-tier system. We have a system of permanent residence in this country for non-EU citizens; my husband is one of them. In his passport is a Home Office sticker, a nice colourful thing with watermarks and all sorts of anti-fraud protection, which gives him permanent leave to remain. It is physical proof. Doubtless it is also recorded on some Home Office computer system—I certainly hope so. There is no complication about this; we can do it. We just need the same scheme. The complication with a system where there is no physical proof is that landlords, employers or others who may be used to having physical proof may not accept, or find it difficult to deal with, people who do not have it.

Let me pick up on a few points. The Minister talked about the driving licence issue. We have a physical driving licence. The Minister is indicating that I have missed her argument but the licence is proof of my right to drive. All these people are asking for is physical proof of their right to residence, which the Government are not providing. The Minister also said that there was a danger of ID-card creep; I do not think there is any danger of that. Again, we already have a system for permanent residence in which physical proof is provided.

The Minister said that the system is working well because a large number of applications have already been made. I will say two things about that. First, the argument that we have always made about why we need a declaratory system is to do not with the number of people who have applied by now but with the number of people who will not have applied by the cut-off date. That is what concerns us. Secondly, the Minister says that the system is working well, but I refer her to the information provided by the Public Law Project from freedom of information requests. It shows that 90% of those decisions to give people pre-settled status under the scheme—rather than settled status when they have come under administrative review, at a charge of £80 to the people applying for it—have been found to be wrong.

In summary, people having the right to physical proof is a critical issue. It is absolutely essential that the Government honour the commitments that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary made at the time of the referendum. In view of how important this issue is, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-R-II Second marshalled list for Report - (20 Jan 2020)
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke before lunch. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach have said, the British public rightly support our need to help the vulnerable children who most require our refuge. Parliament and Government feel this too. No one group or party has a monopoly on humanitarianism.

I must first correct some statements that noble Lords made this morning. The first was by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who said that if it were not for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the Government would not have done anything. I will outline why that is not the case—without, of course, diminishing the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, over the years. As my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom pointed out this morning, our record over the last 10 years clearly demonstrates that the Government are committed to protecting vulnerable children.

I reiterate our proud record, much of which goes back before the 2018 Act. More than 41,000 children have been granted protection in the UK since 2010, most of them under obligations through the refugee convention and wider commitment to resettlement, rather than through EU structures. More than 5,000 unaccompanied children are being cared for in England alone—a 146% increase since 2014—and we received more than 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied children in 2018. That, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton also pointed out, was the third-highest intake of any EU member state, and accounts for 15% of all asylum claims from unaccompanied children across the EU. There is also our commitment to resettle 5,000 people from the wider region in the next year alone.

Our refugee family reunion Immigration Rules provide an existing route for children to join refugee family members granted protection in the UK, with more than 27,000 family reunion visas issued over the last five years. Three thousand were issued to children, enabling them to reunite with family members under this route, in the last year alone.

The second point I must correct is what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—that in the end we agreed to “let in” only 480 children, rather than 3,500, as demanded by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his previous amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, might be confusing our obligations under Section 67 with the clause that the amendment before us would delete, which considers only unaccompanied asylum-seeking children family reunion, on which I hope that I have demonstrated our commitment over the years. I reiterate that that policy, in relation to UASC family reunion, has not changed.

This Government were elected on a manifesto which includes a commitment to

“continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution”.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, might be dancing on the head of a pin—

None Portrait Noble Lords
- Hansard -

Oh!

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

If noble Lords will hear me through—when he says that it excludes children. I suggest that if that were challenged in court, the court might come to a different view.

Furthermore, the UK will continue to be bound by the Dublin regulation during the implementation period, which means that unaccompanied children in the EU and the UK will continue to be able to reunite with family members during 2020. We will continue to process family reunion cases referred before the end of the implementation period.

Our record reflects the unique importance of protecting unaccompanied children and preserving the principle of family reunion, and that policy has not changed. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay provided some clarity on the effect of both Clause 37 and Section 17 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Section 17 does not grant family reunion rights to unaccompanied children but concerns only negotiations on this matter, although I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, expressed disgust at the notion of negotiating. As per the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which became Section 17, the Government remain committed to seeking a reciprocal agreement for the family reunion of unaccompanied children seeking international protection in either the EU or the UK—that is, to ensure that these vulnerable children can reunite with family members in the UK or the EU.

Clause 37 concerns only the removal of the statutory duty to negotiate an agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children who have applied for international protection in an EU member state and who have family in the UK, and vice versa. This debate is not on wider issues relating to refugees, asylum or family unity. Indeed, the Home Secretary wrote to the European Commission on 22 October, as I outlined in Committee, to commence negotiations on this issue, seeking to negotiate, as Section 17 set out. I assure noble Lords that the Government are intent on pursuing an agreement no less than that which we would have pursued under the original Section 17, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, posited earlier, although I confirm that I am unable to share the letter.

However, a statutory negotiating objective in primary legislation is not necessary nor the constitutional norm. We are restoring the traditional division of competences between Parliament and Government when it comes to negotiations, and similar changes have been made to negotiating obligations across the Bill. Furthermore, rather than removing Section 17, we have gone beyond the original amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and provided a statutory guarantee that the Government will provide a statement of policy within two months of the withdrawal agreement Bill’s passage into law. This demonstrates our commitment to report in a timely manner and guarantees Parliament the opportunity to provide scrutiny. As I have said, we have already commenced negotiations. We will continue to deliver this negotiating commitment while removing an unnecessary statutory negotiating obligation, restoring those traditional divisions of competencies and going above and beyond to provide Parliament with an additional opportunity for scrutiny with Clause 37.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the point about best interests. There is no intended or actual legal difference between the phrasing about how and when the best interests of the child should be considered for child family reunion transfers from the UK to the EU and vice versa. Both in the original Section 17 and in Section 17 as amended by Clause 37, there will be a consideration of whether it is in the best interests of the child to transfer from the EU to the UK in order to reunite with a family member, and vice versa. Neither Section 17 nor Clause 37 ever intended to consider whether it was in the child’s best interests to transfer to or from the UK separately from the consideration of whether it was in their best interests to join a family member. In addition to that, our existing statutory obligation in Section 55—

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness makes a characteristically careful and conscientious speech—I learned a lot and for that I am very grateful. Could she just tell us why Clause 37 is in this Bill?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

As I explained in Committee, Clause 37 is in this Bill because the Government wished to reiterate their commitment. It is similar in almost every way to Section 17, except that it does not instruct the Government to do something—it merely states the Government’s intention to do something.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With respect, it waters down that commitment by making a completely different commitment to make a Statement to the House rather than seek to negotiate a deal in Brussels.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - -

That is correct. If the noble Lord has finished his intervention, I ask noble Lords to reconsider their intention to divide the House because I hope that I have provided the clarity necessary.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for at least having stated, again, the Government’s position, but I still do not understand it. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, explains why it was difficult to follow. For all the time we spent on it, it is not clear to me or many noble Lords, including on the Government Benches, why the Government are doing what they are doing. Part of the Minister’s speech could have ended up with her saying yes, and that she supported the amendment—part of it led to that conclusion. Somehow, she changed course and said no. She talked about an unnecessary statutory obligation. By that, I believe she means the provision in the 2018 Act—an obligation accepted by the Government in the Commons after we passed it in this House. I do not know why it was okay then but unnecessary today; that has not been explained.

Above all, it seems to me that there is a very clear proposition on family reunion: unaccompanied child refugees should be able to join family members here. All we ask is for the Government to take that and negotiate on that basis with the EU. We cannot predict the outcome; it could not be more modest. All we are saying is, “Please do it”. But the converse, by the Government saying, “We are not going to do it”, sends a very difficult signal. Some people have called the Government mean and nasty. If the Government want to disprove that accusation, surely they should accept this amendment. It is very simple: we do that and then we are in line with what we decided in 2016.