All 11 Baroness Williams of Trafford contributions to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020

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Wed 22nd Jul 2020
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Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

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

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

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Moved by
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to bring this much anticipated—I will not say “most welcome” to some of your Lordships—and most important of Bills before your Lordships’ House. It will pave the way for the ending of freedom of movement for EU citizens and the introduction of a single, fairer points-based immigration system which treats people in the same way, regardless of their nationality.

It is now over four years since the British people voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. I know that not all noble Lords were happy with that result, but it was the clearly and democratically expressed will of the people of the United Kingdom, and I do not think that anyone can doubt that concerns about immigration played a part in the referendum. This Government believe that we must deliver what the people voted for, and that position was given added weight by the emphatic result in the general election last December.

The heart of the Bill is that it ends free movement. It does that by repealing EU immigration legislation that is retained by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as amended by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. By ending free movement, EEA citizens, including both EU citizens and those from EFTA countries, and their family members will become subject to UK immigration law and will require the same permission to enter and remain in this country as people from the rest of the world. This will pave the way for the introduction of our new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021, as we pledged to do in the general election manifesto that my party put before the people last December. The design of the new system was set out in the Government’s policy statement issued in February and further details were published on 13 July. I will say more about this new system shortly but, before I do that, I want to highlight some of the other key features of the Bill.

The first is about Irish rights. We are enormously proud of our deep and historic ties with Ireland and of the contribution that Irish citizens have made to the UK over many years, which is why this Bill will protect the rights of Irish citizens. The long-standing arrangements between our countries ensure that Irish citizens benefit from specific rights in the UK—the same rights that British citizens enjoy in Ireland. They include the right to work and study, to access healthcare and social security benefits, and to vote.

This Bill makes it clear that, once free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK to live and work as they do now, regardless of where they have travelled from. There will remain limited exceptions to this, as is the case now; namely, where an Irish citizen is subject to deportation orders, exclusion decisions or an international travel ban.

The wider rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in the UK that flow from the common travel area arrangements remain, as reaffirmed in the memorandum of understanding signed by the UK and Ireland last year. Both Governments are committed to preserving the unique status and specific rights in each other’s countries enjoyed for over 100 years.

The Bill also includes an important power to ensure that UK legislation remains coherent once free movement ends. This power permits amendments to primary and secondary legislation which become necessary after the end of free movement. It means that we can align our treatment of EEA and non-EEA citizens, and deliver a system that treats people fairly based on the skills they have and the contribution they make, regardless of where they come from.

The Bill will also enable us to make any necessary changes to our social security system as we align access to benefits for EEA and non-EEA citizens. These policies are led by my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and her officials in the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Bill contains powers for the UK Government and/or a Northern Ireland department to amend the retained EU social security co-ordination rules from the end of the transition period for those not in scope of the withdrawal agreement. Scotland will need to make its own primary legislation as appropriate to amend the retained rules in its area of devolved legislative competence.

We are currently in negotiations with the EU about possible new reciprocal arrangements on social security co-ordination. We have been clear that any future agreement on social security must respect Britain’s autonomy to set its own rules. We have already announced that we will end the export of child benefit, and the Bill will enable us to deliver on that commitment.

The UK is working to establish practical, reciprocal provisions on social security co-ordination in order to remove barriers and support the mobility of workers. Any agreement with the EU should be similar in kind to the agreements that the UK has with countries outside the EU. It could include arrangements that provide healthcare cover for tourists, short-term business visitors and service providers; arrangements that allow workers to rely on contributions made in two or more countries to access their state pension, including uprating; and arrangements that prevent dual social security contribution liabilities.

As I have indicated, once free movement ends, we will introduce a single immigration system that encompasses citizens of the whole world. It will be a system based around skills, with the greatest priority given to those with the highest skills who can make the greatest contribution to the UK economy, rather than giving privilege to particular nationalities.

It will be an evidence-based system. Noble Lords will be aware that we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise us on the design of a future system. We have followed its recommendations very carefully and I am pleased to have this opportunity to put on the record once more the Government’s appreciation of the thoughtful and considered work that the MAC does.

It will be a system that works for the benefit of all parts of the United Kingdom. We do not believe that any part of this nation would be well served by operating different immigration systems in different regions. Such an approach is a recipe for chaos and confusion.

Of course, it will be a points-based system, in keeping with the promise that we made to the electorate. Prospective migrants will be able to score additional points if they have particular skills or based on the nature of the job they are coming to do. This will ensure that it really is an immigration system that enables us to attract the very best migrants from around the world.

We are seizing the opportunity to change the entire system for the better, with simpler, clear and transparent routes. That is why we welcomed the Law Commission’s report into simplifying the Immigration Rules, and why we have accepted many of its recommendations. Cutting through the complexity and streamlining processes will be at the heart of our new system.

As well as working closely with the MAC, we have listened to businesses and stakeholders across the UK in designing the new points-based system, and we will continue to engage and work with employers to make it a success and prepare them for the changes. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and since the policy statement was published in February, the Home Office has facilitated over 50 events with a wide variety of stakeholders. They include the food and drink manufacturing, retail, automotive and transport, professional business services, agriculture, creative industries, broadcasting, education, public administration, defence, and air and water transport sectors. This is in addition to extensive stakeholder events held in 2019.

Our engagement has focused on those sectors most impacted and those who have previously had little interaction with the immigration system due to reliance on EU labour. We are engaging with advisory groups, a specific group focused on small and medium-sized enterprises, the devolved nations and parliamentarians, as well as holding external events. We have adapted our programme of engagement via increased use of remote technology and are keeping it under continuous review during the current Covid-19 situation to ensure that it remains effective.

We have designed a number of policies which will support the NHS and wider health and care sector to continue to access the best and brightest talent from across the world. We recently announced the introduction of the health and care visa from this summer, which will offer fast-tracked entry to the UK for eligible health and care professionals, reduced application fees and dedicated support through the application process. Those eligible will also be exempt from paying the immigration health surcharge.

In addition to this new visa, we have introduced a number of unprecedented measures to support health workers from overseas. These include: supporting NHS workers with a free, automatic one-year visa extension for those with six months or less left to stay on their visas; exempting all NHS workers, wider health professionals and social care workers from the requirement to pay the health surcharge; and, as we have clarified, refunding payments made since 31 March. Our EU settlement scheme also continues to enable EU citizens whose home is the UK to build their lives here, including those working in our NHS. We have now seen over 3.7 million applications, with over 3.4 million of them concluded. The scheme is simple and easy to use, and there is just under one year to go until the deadline for applications.

The events of recent weeks have also illustrated just what a crucial role the care sector plays in our society. Talented and dedicated social care workers have risked their lives on the front line in providing vital care to the most vulnerable. We truly value the work they are doing, which is why the Government set out steps in our Action Plan for Adult Social Care to support the workforce and ensure that we have the staff we need and that they feel both supported and valued. The Government’s long-term plan for social care is focused on investment in the sector and those employed in it who deliver compassionate and high-quality care.

The Department for Health and Social Care recently launched a new national recruitment campaign, Every Day is Different, highlighting the vital role that the social care workforce is playing during this pandemic and the longer-term opportunity for working in care. We have also commissioned Skills for Care to rapidly scale up capacity for digital induction training, provided free of charge under DHSC’s workforce development fund. This is free of charge for employers when accessed directly from Skills for Care’s endorsed providers. DHSC is also providing councils with access to an additional £1.5 billion for adults’ and children’s social care in 2020-21.

As the MAC identified in its own report, published earlier this year, the immigration system is not the sole solution to the employment issues in the social care sector. It would be a very poor reward for all of those who have worked heroically in the care sector if we were to set up an immigration route which had the effect of keeping wages in the sector at or near minimum wage—a point that the chairman of the MAC has made. As we implement the new immigration system, we want employers to focus on investing in our domestic workforce. The Government are working closely with the sector to go further to recognise the contributions of social care workers. This includes a widespread focus on training, increasing the prestige of our domestic workforce, and introducing a proper career structure to provide opportunities for those in the sector while making it an attractive profession for prospective carers.

In conclusion, there are many across this House who care passionately about immigration issues. It would be remiss of me not to mention my right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s Statement yesterday on the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and how we are progressing towards implementing the recommendations. We will undoubtedly have a very valuable and detailed debate on the breadth of these subjects this afternoon. However, the Bill is a simple one, focused on ending free movement. It enables the Government to deliver an immigration system that is firm, fair and fit for the future, supporting economic recovery and prioritising jobs for people here in the UK, while continuing to attract the brightest and the best global talent. I beg to move.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I thank noble Lords for all their contributions over the course of four or five hours, and I am sure that they will understand that I will not be able to answer every single question. We have covered a wide range of issues, and the fact that there has been either support for the Bill or comments such as “tragedy” and “squalid” shows that there is a wide range of views in this House. That demonstrates to me the importance attached to many immigration issues, and rightly so. I guess that there is a further irony, in that a first-generation Irish immigrant Front-Bencher is winding up the debate with a second-generation Irish immigrant; such is the importance that we attach to Irish immigrants.

My noble friends Lord Hodgson and Lord Lilley reflected on the trends of the last couple of decades—which are very important in the context of immigration —and the consequences that immigration has had for those trends, whether they be in housing or infrastructure or indeed in attitudes among society. I was most intrigued that both the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Green of Deddington, who are probably on quite different parts of the spectrum on a number of matters, put down the marker of the importance of getting this system right—or else. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, outlined—quite openly, I thought—the problems and consequences of immigration in the early 2000s.

Many noble Lords expressed concern about the detailed policies proposed under the points-based immigration system and the immigration delegated power set out in the Bill. It is important to note at this point that the Bill is narrow. It is focused on ending the EU’s rule on freedom of movement now that we have left the EU. It is a short, technical Bill that does just that and it does not deal with wider immigration issues.

I must also make it clear that the delegated power in the Bill will not be used to make wide-ranging policy reforms; it will merely switch off the free movement rights that EU citizens currently enjoy so that we can align the immigration treatment for EU and non-EU citizens. The Immigration Rules will continue to be used to set out the detailed requirements that a person must meet in order to live, work and study in the UK under the new points-based immigration system.

The Immigration Rules are well established and their use is based on the powers in the Immigration Act 1971. That process is therefore nearly 50 years old, so it is not a novel concept in this Bill. The Immigration Rules are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and enable flexibility, so that policies can be adapted to respond to changing circumstances—for example, as we have done during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bill does not legislate on the details of the points-based system, nor does it legislate on detention, asylum or compliant environment policies. These are important matters and I know that we will discuss them in Committee and on Report, whether they are in the Bill or not—I have been in this House long enough to know that. They are not part of the Bill, but I look forward to discussing them.

My final point in my introduction is that it is four years since the British people voted to leave the European Union. We must deliver on the will of the people, much as some people may not like it.

The topic that has probably been discussed most in this Second Reading debate is health and care workers. My friend, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, asked about the long-term social care plan. I am afraid that that is out of my powers. However, I know that down the other end of the Corridor, the various sides of the House are trying to come to some sort of consensus on the way forward. I should say that I got into local government more than 20 years ago, and it was a conundrum then and remains so to this day. All parties to the matter, whether from this House or that House, need to find a way forward on this. We should all be incredibly grateful for the work of health and care workers and for the lives that they have saved over the past few months in the fight against coronavirus. They should be valued more than they are.

The Home Secretary has introduced a free one-year automatic visa extension to approximately 3,000 key front-line health workers, including an exemption to the immigration health surcharge. The Home Secretary has also expanded the bereavement scheme to all NHS health and social care workers to include offering indefinite leave to remain for immediate family members and bereaved hospital support workers and social care workers.

On 29 April, we announced that we will extend the visas of NHS front-line workers and their families whose visas expire between 31 March and 1 October. We are working with all NHS trusts and the wider independent health and care sector across the whole of the UK to identify who will benefit. The extension to NHS visas will be automatic. There will be no fee attached and it will be exempt from the immigration health surcharge. We have extended this offer to more key front-line workers, including midwives, social workers and medical radiographers. Social care workers who are employed by NHS trusts, or independent health and care providers, and working in one of the defined occupations, will benefit from the automatic visa extensions offer where visas are due to expire between 31 March and 1 October 2020.

There has been much discussion about the ability of migrant workers to undercut UK workers. Much has been made of the idea that we cannot train people up between now and the end of the year. However, there is a challenge to employers across this country around the easy option of migrant labour, which has undercut our own home-grown workforce for far too long. I cannot remember which noble Lord it was who said that people in this country do not want to work in care, but I do not agree with that. Employers need to support this very worthwhile profession on which so many of us rely, both at the beginning of our lives and towards the end of our lives. That is a challenge for employers in this country.

I come next to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and family reunion. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, challenged me on this, as of course did the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—I am sure he will continue to do so. I have said it before and I will say it again: the UK has a long and proud tradition of providing safety to those who claim asylum and it will not be affected by our exit from the EU. We will continue to provide protection to those who need it, in accordance with our international obligations.

I have trotted out the statistics at this Dispatch Box time and again. Under national resettlement schemes we have resettled more people than any other state in the EU—we are incredibly generous to those who need our help. During the transition period, the UK will continue to reunite unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe with family members in the UK under the Dublin regulation. During the coronavirus pandemic, we brought over 52 people from the Greek islands, and I think we might be the only state in the EU that did that. We will continue to process all those transfer requests.

We have now presented a genuine and sincere offer to the EU on a new reciprocal arrangement for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. On 19 May, we published our draft legal text as a constructive contribution to negotiations. Additionally, children with immediate family members in the UK will still be able to join them under the refugee family reunion rules and part 8 and appendix FM of the Immigration Rules. These routes are unaffected by our departure from the EU. Finally, noble Lords will have heard the Prime Minister’s pledge to resettle a further 5,000 vulnerable people seeking refuge, from not just Syria but anywhere in the world. That actually goes way beyond the asks that some of the NGOs have made of us. I am proud of the record that we have.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, talked about children in care being denied EU settlement scheme status. Across government, we are working to ensure that all eligible children obtain the UK immigration status they are due. The Home Office has already spent £9 million funding third-party organisations across the country that support families and the hard-to-reach with the apps that they produce. In March, we announced a further £8 million to support this work. It is wrong to say that children will be subject to restrictive measures; they will not. Up to 31 March 2020, there have been almost half a million applications from under-18s. That is a really good figure. There is still plenty of time to apply before the June 2021 deadline.

In that vein, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, asked me about the EU settlement scheme grace period and reasonable grounds. We will publish the guidance on what constitutes reasonable grounds for missing the deadline; we intend to do so in early 2021. However, I will give her examples of what might be included. It will include children whose parent, guardian or local authority failed to apply on their behalf; people in abusive or controlling relationships who perhaps could not apply; and those who lack the physical or mental capacity to apply. I think that I might have talked to her about that earlier.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol talked about looked-after children. I think I am repeating myself, because I just mentioned that in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley. We are liaising very closely with local authorities.

The noble Lords, Lord Morrow, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, and my noble friend Lord Wei all asked about regional variation. Our new points-based system—I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I think it was, supported this—will work for all parts of the United Kingdom. We will not establish different visa arrangements for different nations or regions of the UK. The MAC has repeatedly said that the economic situations in different parts of the UK are not sufficiently different to warrant different immigration arrangements.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred to Northern Irish citizens and the Good Friday agreement. A person of Northern Ireland, as defined in the Belfast agreement, has the right to hold British and Irish citizenship, and the right to identify as British, Irish or both, as they may so choose. The Irish rights clause in the Bill is focused on protecting the rights of Irish citizens under existing CTA arrangements. Irish citizens in any part of the UK and British citizens in Ireland enjoy reciprocal rights. Maintaining these rights supports provisions in the Belfast agreement, specifically the right to identify as British, Irish or both.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and others asked about fees—I think maybe the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, did as well. On the face of it they seem high, particularly when we are talking about children, but application fees for border, immigration and citizenship services play a vital role in our ability to run a sustainable system. The income helps to deliver the funding requirements to run the border, immigration and citizenship service and substantially reduces the burden on UK taxpayers. I am sure that noble Lords and members of the public rightly expect that. Any decisions regarding future fees payable or funding of the system should be taken in the round and outside the passage of this Bill.

Lots of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy, Lord Dubs and Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and others talked about a detention time limit. The main rationale put forward for a time limit is that, in the absence of one, individuals are detained indefinitely. Although I know that noble Lords have cited cases, it is not the case that the law actually permits indefinite detention. A time limit is not only unnecessary; it would severely limit our ability to use detention as an effective means of removal. A time limit would encourage those who seek to frustrate the removal process—and there are those who do—to run down the clock until the limit is reached and release is guaranteed.

Quite a few noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, my noble friends Lord Randall and Lord McColl of Dulwich, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, spoke about modern slavery. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham also spoke to me yesterday about this. Modern slavery and human trafficking have no place in this society, and we are committed to fortifying our immigration system against these crimes while ensuring that victims are protected and offenders prosecuted. Decisions made through the national referral mechanism regarding whether someone is in fact a victim of modern slavery are not affected by their nationality or their immigration status. In fact, I might say that many victims of modern slavery are citizens of the United Kingdom. Support for suspected victims is provided through the NRM regardless of nationality and, although the UK has left the EU, our core international obligations to victims remain unchanged.

I had questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about specific sectors. The noble Lord asked about the creative industries and the noble Baroness asked about modern foreign language teachers. The shortage occupation lists are set on the advice of the independent MAC. It has considered the position of teachers in a specific report in 2017 and in a general view of the shortage occupation lists last year. Teachers of Mandarin are on the shortage occupation list, as I think the noble Baroness might have said, but the MAC did not consider that the case was made for MFL teachers. I can tell her and the noble Lord that the MAC is currently undertaking a further review of the lists and will keep them under regular review so, if they have concerns about this and the sector, I would encourage them to submit evidence to the MAC.

I turn now to another sector, that of ministers of religion, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark asked about. We greatly value the contribution that migrants make to faith communities in this country, and that is why there are two routes for religious workers within the current immigration system which will be continued under the future points-based system. When we made changes in 2019, the then Immigration Minister hosted a round table with representatives of all the major faiths, and just in the past week the current Immigration Minister hosted a further meeting with representatives of the Catholic church.

I turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, on data. This means that I now have a third friend in the House of Lords who is interested in this subject. On a much more serious point, however, the data that we collect on people coming into this country and going out again, along with noting the number who have applied for the EU settlement scheme—a figure that is much higher than we first thought—is absolutely crucial to some of the retrospective and future decisions that we make. We do not agree that Home Office data on immigration is poor. It may be criticised, but we publish some of the most comprehensive immigration statistics of any country and their quality is overseen by the UK Statistics Authority which has been clear that the data is good. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made a point about exit checks. These are crucial to enhancing the robustness of our data and I believe that we have been collecting data on them since 2015.

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, and a number of other noble Lords talked about physical proof of status. I smiled a little at that point because, just the other day, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe were absolutely adamant about digital proof of status. We are developing a broader immigration system that, going forward, will be digital by default. As I told the noble Lord on a previous occasion, individuals will receive notification of their immigration status by email or letter. However, the one thing about digital status, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, pointed out, is that you cannot lose it.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, asked about the data for higher education and he noted that the vast majority of students return to their home countries after they have completed their studies. They do that and they are incredibly compliant. He quoted from published Home Office statistics. I agree that it is true for the current crop of students that the current sponsorship is working well. We do not want to return to the pre-sponsorship days, when there were significant concerns about the quality of some of our education establishments, particularly in the FE sector.

I have probably come to the end of my time. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, and I look forward to considering in Committee some of the issues that I know will be brought forward, whether they are in this Bill or not.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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

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Department: Home Office

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

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 7th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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As has been said, our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and our Constitution Committee have expressed themselves in pithy and forthright terms about the sweeping powers that the Government are seeking to grab under this Bill. We await the Government’s response to this group of amendments with interest.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for her thoughtful amendment. I understand noble Lords’ concern about the repeal of EU law relating to free movement set out in Schedule 1 and how that will be enforced. Before I address that, I want to pick up a question from my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who wanted confirmation that the Bill was non-discriminatory. The whole point of this immigration Bill is that the whole world is treated the same, so I can confirm that.

Schedule 1 sets out a list of measures to be repealed in relation to ending free movement for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, with the intention that both EEA citizens and their family members will fall within the scope of the Immigration Act 1971 and become subject to the UK’s immigration control—for ease of reference, I will refer to this group as “EEA citizens” during the committee debates. This will create a level playing field for EEA and non-EEA citizens. Those EEA citizens and their family members who arrive here after the end of the transition period from January 2021 must have leave to enter or remain. The Government want EEA citizens who are resident in the UK before that date, and who wish to do so, to stay, and our focus has been on helping them to apply for that status. They can apply online for the EU settlement scheme free of charge. As of 31 July, we have received 3.8 million applications, with plenty of time until the deadline of 30 June 2021.

In order to protect those living in the UK before the end of the transition period, we propose to use the power under Section 7 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to save free movement rights otherwise repealed by Clause 1 of the Bill and Schedule 1 so that those EEA citizens and their eligible family members resident by the end of 2020 but who have not yet applied to the settlement scheme will continue to be treated the same until 30 June next year. This will ensure that they are able to apply to the EU settlement scheme by the deadline and retain their existing rights in the meantime. This includes pending the decision on their application after that deadline and pending the outcome of an appeal against any decision to refuse status under the EU settlement scheme.

During this grace period, immigration officers who encounter EEA citizens who are still able to apply under the EU settlement scheme will not take any enforcement action but may encourage them to apply by the deadline. Furthermore, we have always been clear that where EEA citizens and their family members have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. We will take a flexible and pragmatic approach to this, and those who need it will be supported through the application process.

Ultimately, however, we are aiming to reach the position where EEA citizens who do not qualify for leave are treated in the same way as non-EEA citizens. As such, if they require leave to enter or remain in the UK but do not have that leave, they will be liable to the same sanctions and enforcement measures. These enforcement provisions are set out in the Immigration Acts and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe has mentioned that those cover the rights of access to work, renting property and banking services. It would take a long time for me to list all the relevant provisions here, but I would be happy to write to my noble friend to set those out.

In response to my noble friend’s question on whether this Bill can be used to amend the legislation, I do not think this is the right Bill in which to make any changes to enforcement provisions, which would need to cover both EEA and non-EEA citizens because it is limited to immigration changes as a result of EU exit. However, we are actively exploring legislative options to ensure that key elements of our immigration system, including around enforcement, can be tightened up. This work is at an early stage.

My noble friend also asked me about who the enforcement authorities are. They are primarily those of the Home Office Border Force and immigration enforcement, working in partnership with the police and other government departments, including the DWP, HMRC and the Ministry of Justice.

With regard to my noble friend’s question about available resources for enforcement using technology and the economics of charter flights, which she was right to ask, planning is under way to factor in the requirements of the new points-based system and ensure that all aspects of operational resourcing, recruitment and training are fully delivered. These plans include the redeployment and/or recruitment of new staff where appropriate to deal with applications from EEA citizens. Part of our long-term vision has always been to make better use of digital technology and greater automation to improve the passenger experience while maintaining security at the border.

In terms of staffing, we will always ensure that the Border Force has the resources and the workforce needed to keep the border secure. We will also introduce electronic travel authorisations—or ETAs—for visitors and passengers transiting through the UK who do not currently need a visa for short stays or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling. I hope that answers the question of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. This will allow security checks to be conducted and more informed decisions to be taken on information obtained at an earlier stage as to whether individuals should be allowed to travel to the UK. Therefore, the ETA scheme will add an additional security measure while also providing individuals with more assurance at an earlier point in their time about their ability to travel. The noble Lord also asked about longer-term visit visas for EU citizens, and he is right. Arrangements for longer visas will be set out in the Immigration Rules for people coming to the UK.

On my noble friend’s question about charter flights, the majority of returns take place on commercially scheduled flights. Where a chartered flight is required, the Home Office procures the use of chartered aircraft through a broker to ensure competitive pricing and access to different aircraft and contractors depending on the requirements of the operation. We think that this blended approach provides the best value for money for the taxpayer. However, I will take her point back and ensure that it is made. I also assure noble Lords that the Home Office will be updating its published enforcement policy with regards to EEA citizens at the end of the transition period.

The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, pressed that point about enforcing laws on illegal working, as did my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. The overarching ambition of the illegal working strategy to tackle illegal working is to work with businesses to deny access to the labour market and encourage and ensure compliance. The illegal working strategy is intelligence-led and it focuses on three main areas: deterring illegal migration, safeguarding the vulnerable and protecting the UK economy,

The further report this amendment requires is unnecessary because policy guidance on enforcement is already published on the GOV.UK website. I can hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, virtually moaning from behind the screen on referring her to the website. However, I am sure noble Lords will join me in encouraging all those who are eligible to apply before the deadline expires next June. On that note, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.

I turn now to the opposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in total to Clause 1. The clause introduces the first schedule to the Bill, which contains a list of measures to be repealed in relation to the end of free movement and related issues. Noble Lords have asked whether it is needed at all. It fulfils a purely mechanistic function to introduce the schedule. Without Clause 1, we cannot deliver on the will of the people in the 2016 referendum result; we cannot end free movement without repealing Section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988.

In line with long-established practice, the detail of this future system will be set out in the Immigration Rules rather than in this Bill and it will be in place from January 2021. It is of paramount importance that, as an independent sovereign state, the UK must have the ability to forge its own immigration policy and depart from EU law. The people of the UK gave us the mandate to end free movement when they voted to leave the EU and the Government gave a commitment in their manifesto to deliver on that mandate. The people are now expecting us to uphold that commitment; Clause 1 is essential to doing so and this House should not stand in the way of delivering what is a priority for the people of this country. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, withdraws her opposition to Clause 1.

I turn now to Amendments 3 to 6. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for speaking to their amendments. Their purpose is to retain rights derived directly from EU law after the end of the transition period. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that, unlike Caligula, I am not going to put the law up at a height and in small writing so that people cannot read it.

However, I know that the noble Lord has an issue with paragraph 4(2) of Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the Bill, which disapplies directly effective provisions of the Workers Regulation where they are capable of altering the interpretation, application or operation of any part of the Immigration Acts. His amendment seeks to remove this paragraph, meaning that provisions within the Workers Regulation, which may be inconsistent with those in the Immigration Acts, will continue to apply.

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I am sorry to keep repeating this, but I specifically asked the Minister what the various data sources were to confirm time spent in the UK, to ensure that EEA citizens do not stay for more than six months if they use the e-passport gates or to stop them effectively having a continuous six-month rolling period by going out of the UK for a day and coming back again. She has not referred to that. In particular, I asked her what data sources would enable an EU citizen who had not left the UK after six months to be tracked down and, if necessary, deported.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Lord asked about the lead-up to 2025 and the ETA. It is a new immigration system—there will be a pragmatic approach to people coming in and out of this country, because it is a whole new system and will take some time to bed in. The ETA will give both security and certainty on people coming in and out of this country.

In terms of data sets, we obviously now use exit checks; if someone has a visa, it will be on their visa how long they are able to stay. The noble Lord talked about the person who literally went in and out of Lille in one day in order to update their boarding card. He makes a very good point.

This system will take some time to bed in. I will write to the noble Lord about some of the very specific supplementary questions he has asked; I am just giving him the answers that I know off the top of my head. As for sanctions for someone who has not complied, obviously it is easier for someone with a visa, and less easy for someone doing a series of short stays.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I am very sorry to correct the Minister, but she made a statement earlier that was incorrect. In response to my noble friend Lady Bennett, she said of retaining—or not taking away —freedom of movement that it was the will of the people and what the people voted for with their Brexit vote. That is absolutely not true. We voted—I voted—for Brexit for many different reasons, and freedom of movement did not particularly come up as a reason. Quite honestly, none of us understood that the Government were going to make such a shambles of it. We could not have predicted that it could be so badly handled. So please, it is not the will of the people, and it was not what people voted for with Brexit. They voted for a variety of reasons.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, we did vote to leave the EU, and I do not think anyone can be in any doubt about some of the reasons. People voted for a variety of reasons, but the noble Baroness will totally understand that I am not going to get into a debate about why people did or did not want to leave the EU. I will leave it there.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her careful response to Amendment 3. It was very thoughtful—not a response off the top of her head. I am also grateful for the offer of a meeting, which I will happily take up.

The Minister gave an example of a provision in the regulations that she said was inconsistent with the immigration Acts. I accept that there may well be many such provisions. My point is very simple: spell them out in Schedule 1. Do not use this vague language of drafting which means that people cannot identify what their rights and obligations are. My amendment is not designed to keep or remove any particular right; it is simply designed to require the Government to instruct the parliamentary draftsman to produce a provision that implies basic standards of legal certainty. I hope the Minister has noted the substantial concern around the House at this lack of certainty in the drafting of Schedule 1. It is simply not good enough and it needs to be addressed. I look forward to discussing this with the Minister prior to Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I totally understand the point that the noble Lord makes about certainty. In addressing this, I should like to meet him, because I totally get what he is saying. He is not being difficult; he is just asking that we lay out the law and provide certainty.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this catch-all group of amendments. There have been some very high-quality contributions. In particular, I thank my noble friend for her careful and full answers; they have got us off to a good start.

I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, quoting the insights of the sociopath Caligula. However, I think he—and other noble Lords—made some good points about clarity of drafting and the complexity of immigration law, which makes its fair, efficient and firm enforcement more difficult. It also creates a great deal of work for lawyers. That is not an unvarnished advantage.

The noble Lords, Lord Beith and Lord Rosser, rightly referred to the use of secondary rather than primary legislation, and I am sure we will come back to that when we come to scrutinise Amendment 9.

We heard good support for the two practical amendments on minors visiting the UK using identity cards and on e-gates. The response was a bit disappointing on identity cards, but there were some very good points made about e-gates, and the Minister will obviously answer the more detailed questions on that from the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Adonis.

The most powerful intervention about robust enforcement was from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, whom I call a friend. He made a number of practical suggestions. I am not sure I have heard quite enough about how the Bill will be enforced or its “integrity”, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I will talk to the noble Lord, Lord Green, and we may return to the issue on Report, in the same or in some alternative form, because enforcement of the law is very important. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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I hope that the Government will reflect further not on their apparent aim for a much better-paid social care sector, but on their view that we can achieve that better- paid, resourced and valued and increasingly professional care sector at the drop of a hat in a few months’ time simply by cutting off the supply of staff from overseas. We cannot. We need a period of time, as provided for in Amendment 57, to sort out the increased funding, the finance for the better pay the Government envisage, and to find, recruit and train—from within this country—the hundreds of thousands of increasingly professional staff with an aptitude and a desire to work in the care sector that are going to be needed. I hope the Government can give a positive reply to this group of amendments.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, says that we are a contradictory lot and I do not disagree with that, but what we are all consistent on is that this is a matter that, through Covid, we have seen as incredibly important. We need people with these skills; they are valued and their careers can progress in this sector. He raised a very pertinent point around the turnover. I think you can tell the state of a sector or indeed a business by its turnover. Turnover is high; it is estimated to be around 31%. That is a high turnover in anyone’s book. I will confirm that figure because it is one that I have on the top of my head but my officials might disagree with it. If it is any different, I will confirm that in writing.

The amendments cover a range of issues, all of which relate to health and social care. They can be broadly split into three themes: the need to review the effects of the new immigration system on the health and care sectors, dedicated visa routes for health and social care workers, and immigration routes for those who do not meet requirements under the future skilled workers route. I am grateful to the noble Lords who tabled the amendments because they give us an opportunity to discuss a very important issue. It might be worth reflecting that there is nothing more important than how we, as a society, look after the most vulnerable people, be they young or old.

I will say another general thing about the health and social care sector, not as a Home Office Minister or even a Member of your Lordships’ House but as someone who formerly led one of England’s major metropolitan councils—which, as with all local authorities, was a significant user of care services, which consumed a substantial portion of the council’s budget. I became leader in 2004; it was an issue then and it is even more so now. I assure noble Lords that the Government very much appreciate the contribution of the social care sector, and its value to this country has never been better demonstrated than during the Covid crisis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said. The Government are working alongside the sector to ensure that the workforce has the right number of people to meet increasing demands with the right skills, knowledge and behaviours to deliver quality, compassionate care.

I will respond to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. The Department of Health and Social Care has recently launched a new national recruitment campaign, called “Every Day is Different”, to run across broadcast, digital and social media. The campaign highlights the vital role that the social care workforce is playing right now during this pandemic along with the longer-term opportunities of working in care.

The Government have commissioned Skills for Care to scale up capacity for digital induction training, provided free of charge under the DHSC’s workforce development fund. This training is available for redeployees, new starters, existing staff and volunteers through 12 of Skills for Care’s endorsed training providers.

Finally, of course, I must mention—and I am sure noble Lords have heard me saying this before—that the Government are also providing councils with access to an additional £1.5 billion for adults and children’s social care in 2021. This is a significant funding uplift.

On the amendments, I will start by addressing Amendment 2 from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Amendment 93 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, which are similar in intent. Both would require an independent review of the effect of our new points-based immigration system on the care sector. I very much agree that it is essential that policies are kept under review, particularly when the Government are introducing a new, points-based immigration system from January. Independent scrutiny and review are a good thing, but I am not sure that we need to legislate to provide a whole new mechanism.

We are very fortunate in already having the Migration Advisory Committee, a body that is widely recognised for its expertise and impartiality. It is testimony to the MAC’s standing that it has operated under a Labour Government, a coalition Government and Conservative Governments. In each instance it has been valued for the quality of its advice, and its recommendations have been accepted. Noble Lords should be in no doubt about the close interest that the MAC takes in the health and social care sectors. To put it into context, social care featured prominently in the MAC’s report from January of this year on salary thresholds and the points-based immigration system, just as it did in its report from last year on the shortage occupation lists, where there was a dedicated section on the sector, and in its 2018 report on EEA migration. I can assure noble Lords that the MAC will continue to look at these issues, particularly as the effects of the new immigration system start to be felt.

I also remind noble Lords that the Government has expanded the MAC’s remit. It is no longer constrained to reacting only in response to specific commissions from the Government; it now has licence to consider, and comment on, any aspect of immigration policy. To that end, we have asked it to start producing annual reports that not only cover issues such as its budget or staffing but provide a commentary on the operation of the immigration system. The MAC has accepted this challenge with customary gusto, and I understand we can look forward to the first such annual report later this year.

Therefore, while I totally understand the sentiment behind Amendments 2 and 93, they are not necessary. We already have a world-class, independent body to review the operation of our immigration system. Accordingly, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

I turn to Amendment 47 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Amendment 57 from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and Amendment 66 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham, Lady Finlay and Lady Thomas. I join noble Lords in having been profoundly moved by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. These amendments seek to introduce a dedicated route for health and care workers to come to the UK. I do not think that any of us would disagree about the value of the work that migrants and all staff working in the health and care sector do, and I recognise that these amendments were tabled to highlight and enhance this vital sector. That is obviously of great importance to those individuals with severe disabilities and care needs, who will rely even more on the support of health and care workers.

That is why I am pleased to be able to confirm that the Government launched the health and care visa on 4 August. The visa is available to health and care workers, and their families, from all parts of the world, not just EEA and Swiss nationals. Applicants pay a visa fee of £232 for a visa lasting less than three years, and £464 for a visa lasting more than three years. Applicants, and their families, are also exempt from having to pay the immigration health surcharge. Finally, most applicants for the health and care visa can expect a decision within just three weeks of enrolling their biometrics.

That leaves two further points for discussion. First, if inserted into the Bill, these amendments would require the Government to establish a scheme to admit care workers. I am not sure that that would be a wise way to proceed. The decision not to offer a general immigration route for those who do not meet the skills and salary thresholds is not one the Government have taken lightly. We have done so on the advice of the MAC which, as outlined earlier, are the Government’s independent advisers on migration issues. We also need to respect the wishes of the people of the UK, as expressed in the referendum vote four years ago.

The MAC has been very clear that the solutions to the challenges which the care sector faces do not lie in migration. My noble friend Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Green, made this point, as, largely, did my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I draw your Lordships’ attention to the evidence which the chair of the MAC, Professor Brian Bell, gave to the committee in the other place. When asked about a visa route for care workers, he said:

“If people say that the response to the social care issue should be, ‘Well, employers should be allowed to bring in as many migrants as they want at the minimum wage’, first, that does not sound like the low-wage problem of the social care sector is being dealt with and, secondly, it suggests that one of the groups that will really suffer from that is the social care workers. You are saying that you are going to keep on allowing their wages to be held down by allowing employers to bring in workers at the minimum wage, whereas we want to see wages rising in that sector.”


That is a telling point. It would be a very odd position for this Government and for noble Lords to take if we were to conclude that the best way to reward those working in the care sector—the vast majority of whom are British—for their selfless and unstinting actions over the past few months was to institute a visa regime which, as the MAC chair has indicated, has the effect of depressing their wages.

Amendment 57 from the Official Opposition suggests putting in place a scheme for three years to tide the sector over and allow for some adjustment. Again, it is worth reflecting on the wise words of the chair of the MAC—this time when he appeared before the Home Affairs Committee in June. On the issue of some sort of temporary or transitional scheme for those working in social care, Professor Bell said:

“The risk is that you say that there needs to be a temporary arrangement for social care to make sure it can still access workers at usually minimum-wage wages from the rest of the world. That often then becomes a permanent solution”.


Indeed, I note that Amendment 57 explicitly contains a provision to allow it to be extended beyond its three years.

In the very next question, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee asked Professor Bell whether there would be a transitional scheme for social care workers, something my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lady McIntosh of Pickering talked about. He explicitly said that he did not advise that course of action. He went on to say:

“If unemployment rises very substantially in the next few months, of which there is certainly a risk when the furlough scheme unwinds, there will be a large supply of workers in the UK looking for work. If social care is ever to succeed in attracting workers, that is a pool of workers that they should be able to attract. If they can’t, I go back to my point that there is something fundamentally wrong here and it is nothing to do with immigration.”


These amendments seek to exempt health and care sector employers from paying the immigration skills charge. However, we consider it is right that the immigration skills charge continues to apply. In its September 2018 report on the impact of EEA migration in the UK, the MAC supported continued application of the immigration skills charge, without exceptions for particular sectors, alongside salary thresholds, as a way to protect against employers using migrants to undercut the domestic workforce, as my noble friend Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Green, said.

The Government stand by this requirement, given our desire for immigration to be considered alongside investment in, and development of, the UK’s resident workforce. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts made the point very strongly about the sector taking responsibility here; my noble friend Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Green, also made these points. This has only become more important due to the uncertainty that many UK resident workers will face as a result of the current pandemic.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, says, I often speak as first-generation Irish and he speaks as second-generation Irish, so I think one could say that we have a personal interest in getting this right and reiterating those rights in the Bill. Both the UK and Irish Governments have committed to maintaining the common travel area, which I will now call the CTA. It is underpinned by deep-rooted, historical ties and, crucially, predates our membership of the European Union.

It has been agreed with the EU that the UK and Ireland can continue to make arrangements between themselves when it comes to the CTA. This means that we will continue to allow British and Irish citizens to travel freely between the UK and Ireland and reside in either jurisdiction, and commit to protecting a number of wider rights and privileges associated with the CTA. These include the ability to work, study and access healthcare and public services. Both Governments confirmed that position on 8 May last year, through signing a CTA memorandum of understanding, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. The Government has included Clause 2 in the Bill to ensure that Irish citizens can enter and remain in the UK, without requiring permission, regardless of where they have travelled from, except in a limited number of circumstances.

Amendment 58 also seeks to require the Government to publish details of the rights and benefits provided by the EU settlement scheme. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 protects the residence rights of EEA citizens and their family members for those individuals who are resident in the UK before the end of the transition period and for eligible family members seeking to join a relevant EEA citizen in the UK after that time. By applying for UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme, they can also continue to work, study and, where eligible, access benefits and services, such as free NHS treatment, as they do now.

While Irish citizens resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 can apply to the EU settlement scheme if they want, they do not need to. Their eligible family members can apply to the scheme, whether or not the Irish citizen has done so. However, Irish citizens resident in the UK by 31 December this year may wish to apply to the scheme to make it easier to prove their status in the UK in the event that they wish to bring eligible family members to the UK in the future.

The Government have therefore already made it clear that both the CTA and the EU settlement scheme provide Irish citizens with a number of rights following the end of free movement, and we will continue to emphasise that commitment. I hope that that gives the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, comfort enough not to move Amendment 58.

Turning to the question of deportation raised by either the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, or the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—it is getting late—Amendment 8 seeks to make additional provision with regards to the deportation of Irish citizens and their family members. First, subsection (6) seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State may not conclude that the deportation of an Irish citizen is conducive to the public good, unless she concludes that, due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, the public interest requires deportation.

Subsection (7) seeks to ensure that the family member of an Irish citizen can be deported only on the grounds that their family member is or has been deported, where the Secretary of State has concluded that the deportation of the Irish citizen is conducive to the public good and, due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, the public interest requires their deportation.

I use this opportunity to reiterate our approach to deporting Irish citizens. While Clause 2 disapplies the right to enter and remain in the UK, without leave, for those Irish citizens who are subject to a deportation order, in light of the historical, community and political ties between the UK and Ireland, along with the existence of the CTA, Irish citizens are considered for deportation only where a court has recommended deportation or where the Secretary of State concludes that, due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, deportation is in the public interest—much in the way that was pointed out by the noble Baroness.

The Government are firmly committed to maintaining this approach. Irish citizens were exempted from the automatic deportation provisions in the UK Borders Act 2007 by the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid in February 2019, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out.

Under the Immigration Act 1971, the family member of an Irish citizen would not be considered for deportation on the grounds that their family member is or has been ordered to be deported, unless a deportation order was made in respect of that Irish citizen. The amendment also seeks to prevent the deportation or exclusion from the UK of an Irish citizen if they are among the “people of Northern Ireland” entitled to identify as Irish citizens by virtue of Article 1(vi) of the British-Irish agreement of 1998.

I make it absolutely clear that the Government are fully committed to upholding all parts of the Belfast agreement, including the identity provisions which allow the “people of Northern Ireland” to identify as Irish, British or both, as they may so choose, and the citizenship provisions which allow the “people of Northern Ireland” to hold both British and Irish citizenship. Recognising the citizenship provisions in the Belfast agreement, we would consider any case extremely carefully, and not seek to deport a “person of Northern Ireland” who is solely an Irish citizen. Exclusion decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis by Ministers. Exclusion of a person from the UK is normally used in circumstances involving national security, international crimes—including war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide—serious criminality or corruption and unacceptable behaviour. It is essential to the security of the UK that Ministers retain the power to exclude in such serious circumstances, although of course all cases are considered extremely carefully.

I hope that with these explanations, the noble Baroness can withdraw her Amendment 8.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister was unsure whether points were made by my noble friend Lady Ludford or by me. I cannot speak for my noble friend, whom I am very happy to be confused with, but speaking for myself, I cannot claim any Irish family connections, although I have a lot of friendships. Amendment 58, calling for a report, begs the question of what would happen if the report showed that the current position is inadequate, as I think it would. That is the thrust of Amendment 8, and why it is seeking to use the opportunity of the Bill to set the position in stone rather than sand.

The Minister’s response seemed to confirm the points that I had made. She talked about the common travel area memorandum, but it is only a memorandum. The Bill has the effect of weakening the legal protections. It does not reflect the spirit of the Belfast agreement.

I thought it was telling—and frankly embarrassing and even shaming—to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, reminding the House that the protection depends on EU law. She made the point that it is not possible to make an informed choice, which is also extremely telling because, as she said, the common travel area arrangements are written in sand. I had not thought of that when I tabled my amendment, but it is intended to ensure that those sands do not shift.

I do not disbelieve what the Minister has said, but she has talked about the Executive attitude, not the legal position. While of course I do not question her integrity, she will know as well as I do that Executives change, as do their views. I am sorry that we have not been able to make more progress on this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, this group of amendments is concerned with the purpose, scope and extent of delegated powers conferred on Ministers by Parliament. I am grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its report on the Bill and to the members of the committee who have spoken, including their chair, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.

The report raises serious concerns about the inappropriateness of the delegation of powers to the Executive and proposes changes which I fully support and endorse. However, it is disappointing that, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, highlighted, the committee has over some considerable time produced such reports but then the next Bill has come along and the same issues have been identified.

During the Brexit campaign, we kept being told about taking back control and the sovereignty of our Parliament, but here lots of things are being passed on to Ministers and that does not quite seem to me to be taking back control. It is a bit like the pledge about the NHS on the side of the leave campaign bus that has quietly been forgotten about.

Amendments 9 and 10 seek to deal with the first two points raised by the committee by removing the word “appropriate” and inserting “necessary”, and removing the words “or in connection with”. They are amendments to which I have put my name and which I fully support.

Amendment 11 seeks to put on the face of the Bill what the power to make regulations is intended to do. I look forward to hearing the Government’s explanation if they are not prepared to accept this.

Amendment 13 again adds “only”, seeking to ensure the powers taken are used only for what they are intended to do. That seems sensible to me. I hope the Government will accept it.

Amendment 32, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, also seeks to ensure that the Bill does only what the Government say they want it to do. Like other amendments in this group, that seems a very sensible and proportionate measure, and I hope the Government will support it.

Amendment 35, which I have signed, seeks to implement the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and ensure that SIs under Clause 4(1) are affirmative. Amendments 36, 37 and 38 follow on from that. The clause takes considerable powers for the Executive, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords tonight. These powers are not justified, and I support those noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Rosser, who have opposed the clause standing part of the Bill.

Your Lordships need only look at some of the points raised by the committee to see why noble Lords have tabled their opposition to the clause standing part. In paragraph 19, the committee is “disturbed” that the Government would use words to grant and confer permanent powers on Ministers to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate. In paragraph 26, the committee argues that

“transitional arrangements to protect existing legal rights … should appear on the face of the Bill”.

In paragraph 28, its expressed view is that

“clause 4(1) contains an inappropriate delegation of power”.

I hope that, in the response to the debate, we will see considerable movement from the Government and that they take on the comments from the committee, which I fully support.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I think I get the committee’s views on the delegated powers in this Bill, and they are not pretty. However, I thank the committee for making them.

I first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for speaking to this group of amendments and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for speaking to Amendment 32. These amendments seek to limit the scope of the regulation-making power in Clause 4 and address the parliamentary procedure for the regulations. It is right that Parliament pays close attention to the provision of delegated powers. I have noted the recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its latest report of 25 August.

I am pleased that we have been able to share draft illustrative regulations to be made under this power later this year, subject to Parliament’s approval of the Bill. The draft regulations—which I understand will not be subject to any significant change, to answer the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, from tonight and the other day—will, I hope, provide some reassurance as to how the Government intend to use the regulation-making power in Clause 4.

There are clear constraints on the use of the power in Clause 4. It can be used only to make regulations that amend primary or secondary legislation

“in consequence of, or in connection with”

Part 1 of the Bill on ending free movement and protecting the rights of Irish citizens. It cannot be used in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU more generally or to make wider immigration changes.

Amendment 9 seeks to limit the use of the power to making changes that are considered “necessary”, not “appropriate”. Amendment 10 seeks to limit the power to changes that are only a consequence of Part 1 of the Bill and not in connection with it. I invite noble Lords to consider the illustrative draft of the regulations and take comfort that this power is specifically to deliver the end of free movement; it is not to be used for general changes to the immigration system.

The regulations will make the statute book coherent on the repeal of free movement, align the treatment of EEA citizens arriving from next year with that of non-EEA citizens and implement our obligations to afford equal treatment to those within scope of the residence provisions of the withdrawal agreement—nothing more than that.

Furthermore, Amendment 10 prevents the Government making changes required to align the treatment of EEA and non-EEA citizens in the immigration system, which would undermine the new global points-based system. We cannot, therefore, accept these amendments.

The Government have made every effort to specify in the delegated powers memorandum the type of changes to legislation required as a result of ending free movement and protecting the rights of Irish citizens, and to make provision for them in draft regulations. However, Amendment 11 would prevent the Secretary of State from making appropriate provision and would unacceptably narrow the scope of the power. Amendment 13 would have the effect of restricting the scope of the power to the powers listed in Clause 4(3).

Amendment 32, tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, seeks to confine changes to fees and charges to EEA and Swiss citizens. That is already the principal purpose of Clause 4(5). However, the amendment would then prevent us from applying the skills charge to non-EEA family members of EEA citizens and from exempting from the skills charge a non-EEA family member with rights of residence and equal treatment under the withdrawal agreement. It would amount to a breach of the UK’s commitments under those agreements, and for that reason alone we cannot accept the amendment.

It is the will of the British people that we bring free movement to an end. This means ending the bias in our immigration system that favours EEA citizens over the citizens of any other country, which is the primary purpose of the Bill. Limiting the Government’s ability to apply a skills charge to EEA citizens in the same way as they apply to non-EEA citizens would mean that certain elements of free movement had not been fully repealed by the Bill, and that EEA citizens still had an advantage in our immigration system. That is not an outcome that the Government can accept.

On Amendments 35, 36, 37 and 38, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has spoken, the first set of regulations made under this power will be subject to the “made affirmative” procedure, whereby they must be approved by both Houses within 40 days of being made if they are to remain in force. The “made affirmative” procedure is needed in the likely event that there is a short window between Royal Assent to this Bill and the end of the transition period. For that reason, the affirmative procedure proposed by the noble Baroness does not work.

The people of the UK voted to leave the EU and take back control of our laws and our borders. It is therefore imperative that this House helps to deliver on that democratic mandate by ensuring that free movement is brought to an end by 31 December. It is important to ensure that regulations made under this power commence by then. Under the “made affirmative” procedure, both Houses will be asked to approve the regulations within 40 days of them being made for them to continue in force, so Parliament has scrutiny over the use of this power. If Parliament does not approve the regulations then they will cease to have effect, but subsection (10) preserves the effect of anything done under them before that point in order to ensure legal certainty. Using this power does not mean avoiding parliamentary scrutiny—far from it—as the secondary legislation to be made under the power is subject to full parliamentary oversight using established procedures.

I think it is right that Parliament should set the scope of the power in Clause 4 in terms that are appropriate to the purpose of the Bill in ending free movement and protecting the rights of Irish citizens. It is also right that Parliament should retain appropriate oversight over the exercise of this power. However, the Government are committed to ending free movement now that we have left the EU, and this parliamentary procedure is an essential part of delivering that. I hope the noble Baronesses and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe have been assured of the content of the draft regulations and the explanation of how the Government will use the delegated power. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Furthermore, some noble Lords have spoken to oppose that Clause 4 stand part of the Bill. I must emphasise the importance of this power for the effective implementation of the Bill. I trust that sight of the draft regulations provides further reassurance that the power does not give Ministers a blank cheque to make wide-ranging changes to immigration policies. The power can be used only to make provision as a consequence of or in connection with Part 1 of the Bill on the ending of free movement and protecting the status of Irish citizens, but without the power we cannot align immigration treatment between EEA and non-EEA citizens, and cannot then build up our global points based system.

The regulations will be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny using well-established procedures. Free movement must end on 31 December and the “made affirmative” procedure is needed to ensure regulations made under this power align the treatment of EEA and non-EEA citizens who arrive in the country from 1 January 2021. It is important to debate the appropriate use of delegated powers, but the Government are committed to ending free movement now that we have left the EU and this clause is an essential part of it.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendments 12 and 83 provide that regulations under Clauses 4 and 5 respectively cannot make a provision that is inconsistent with the withdrawal agreement. Amendments 18 and 19 alter the language of Clause 4 to bring it in line with the 2018 and 2020 withdrawal Acts. The wording of the Bill does not appear to preclude the concerns which these amendments seek to address. Indeed, Clause 4(1) states that

“The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument make such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of, or in connection with, any provision of this Part”,


namely Part 1 of the Bill.

Clause 5 deals with the power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination, and again appears not to provide for the limitations sought in Amendment 83. Presumably it is not the Government’s intention to nullify or weaken the terms or protections of the withdrawal agreement, or the terms or protections of the withdrawal Acts, by regulations that avoid the full and proper parliamentary scrutiny and challenge that is achieved only in respect of primary legislation. That should become clearer from the Government’s response, which will be interesting in the light of media reports today of their allegedly negative attitude to keeping to the terms of the withdrawal agreement. Whether there is any significance to the wording in Clause 4(4) being different from the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 will also become clear.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for speaking to this group of amendments, which concern the scope of the delegated regulation-making power under Clause 4 and, in the case of one of the amendments, Clause 5. As I have said, it is right that Parliament pays close attention to the provision of delegated powers, and to assist we have shared draft illustrative regulations to be made under Clauses 4 and 5, subject to Parliament’s approval of the Bill.

Amendments 12 and 83 prevent the Government from using the powers in Clauses 4 and 5 to make regulations which are inconsistent with the EU withdrawal agreement. We already have a legal obligation to comply with that agreement, which also has direct effect in domestic law in accordance with the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. These amendments are unnecessary and would call into question why they are not included in every other item of legislation across the statue book.

I turn to Amendments 18 and 19. Clause 4(4) allows the regulation-making power to make provision for those who are not exercising free movement rights at the end of the transition period. This group may nevertheless be eligible for status under the EU settlement scheme and are therefore still affected by the repeal of free movement. Clause 4 does not allow changes to the statute book for migrants from the rest of the world, who are not affected by the repeal of free movement. The suggested amendments are unnecessary and would add confusion and hinder our ability to make appropriate provision for those affected by that repeal.

It is right that Parliament should set the scope of the power in Clause 4 in terms appropriate to the purposes of this Bill in ending free movement and protecting the rights of Irish citizens. It is also right that Parliament should retain the appropriate oversight over the exercise of that power. The Government’s intention here is simply to ensure absolute clarity of purpose.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, mentioned some issues that I have already addressed, namely comprehensive sickness insurance and the form versus the digital form. Article 18(1) explicitly provides that a document evidencing status may be in digital form. She also talked about children and the EU settlement scheme, specifically children whose parents—or indeed institutions in which they live—may not have signed them up. We will provide for reasonable excuses; I believe that we will come to that later in the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, with her knowledge of pension provisions, for contributing to this debate. My noble friend said that I must have been prescient in tabling this amendment. I think it was more about a continuing, underlying, and rather generalised sense of anxiety—not about resiling from the withdrawal agreement, which had not struck me as a possibility until a few hours ago.

The Minister has given us some reassurance; I hope that I have heard correctly over the airwaves about the legal obligation to comply with the withdrawal agreement. I suppose that this does not mean there will not be an attempt to change that legal obligation in some way. Anyway, that is not for tonight and certainly not for after 10.15 pm. Probably the best I can do at this moment is to beg leave to withdraw Amendment 12; I do so now.

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

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

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

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 9th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 121-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (9 Sep 2020)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Amendments 14, 15 and 16 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford, seek to bring more clarity to the powers that the Government are taking to make regulations, and that, for me, is a very good thing. As we have heard, words such as “supplementary” and “transition” and the phrase

“to make different provisions for different purposes”

are very unclear, wide-ranging and open to interpretation. These probing amendments today will give the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, the opportunity to add some clarity to the situation and set out for the record the intention and the scope of the powers that the Government are seeking from Parliament. As for Amendment 17, which would remove Clause 4(4), again an explanation from the Minister as to why the Government need the new power would be very welcome.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made some very good points and made them very clearly. As she asked when referring to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, what instructions were given to the parliamentary draftspersons? We need to understand that because clarity is important when you are deciding on legislation. Without it you get yourself into all sorts of problems: courts can get involved and there can be all sorts of other difficulties. What we have been hearing from the other end of the Corridor—certainly the comments from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—about where we are going to be on certain things gives us particular worry. That is why clarity is so important. I look forward to the Minister putting the matter right for us.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for speaking to the amendments in this short debate. I agree that clarity is absolutely necessary when scrutinising the scope and extent of any Bill, as your Lordships do. Amendments 14, 15 and 16 would restrict the scope of the power by removing what are standard provisions in regulating powers concerning transitory and supplementary provisions. Because both the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked what they mean, I shall go through them.

The current illustrative draft instrument does not contain a transitory provision, but it is standard legal drafting to include scope for such a provision should it be identified as necessary. Examples of supplementary provisions can be found where we are retaining some of the references to regulations transposing EU law in benefits legislation. Supplementary provisions update the references to reflect amendments to those regulations, so references to the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 become references to the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, et cetera. I hope that clarifies the provision on “transitory” and “supplementary”.

I come to Amendment 17. As I explained in response to Amendment 18 and 19, Clause 4(4) allows the regulation-making power to make provision for those who are not exercising free movement rights at the end of the transition period but who are eligible for status under the EU settlement scheme and are therefore still affected by the repeal of free movement. The regulation-making power in Clause 4 is restricted to matters that are as a consequence of or in connection with the ending of free movement. Subsection (4) needs to be read in conjunction with subsection (1). It does not allow changes to the statute book for migrants from the rest of the world, who are not affected by the repeal of free movement. Amendment 17 would hinder our ability to make appropriate provision for all those affected by that appeal.

I hope that with those incredibly clear clarifications, noble Lords will feel happy not to press their amendments.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I did email; I do not know where it has gone. Oh sorry, I did not email Question Diary.

I thank the Minister for explaining how certain words have been used in previous legislation, but it would be helpful if she could write to me and place a copy in the Library of the House with some examples, just so that we are absolutely clear. I know she was able to give an example now, but that would be very helpful.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I gave an example of “supplementary”; I did not give any examples of “transitory”. I will write a list and send it to noble Lords.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I should be particularly interested to see examples of what “transitory” is. The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, was also concerned about this. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, used the phrase “open to interpretation” and that is exactly the problem, because it allows activist lawyers to come and question. We are really on the side of the Government here, because the clearer the legislation, the easier it will be for them to enforce it, but there we go: that is not my business really, is it?

The Minister said that these are standard provisions. I had a very quick look at the internal market Bill shortly before this session started, because I had picked up that there are some issues in this territory—sorry, no pun intended. I could not find them, but it seems to me that the standard provisions get longer and longer. People get worried about whether a word is absolutely precisely on the point, and more words—adjectives, mostly—get added.

If the House agrees—we may come back to this at the next stage—that “appropriate” and “in connection with” are not appropriate for legislation because they are not clear enough and are too wide, as the rest of the clause comes under those overarching words, we will have got rid of the rest of the problem. But that is not for now and, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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My Lords, the email problem has not been resolved entirely, but we do have a short- term solution. Members, whether in the Chamber or participating remotely, who wish to speak after the Minister on this amendment or indeed subsequent ones, can use the alternative email address, relating to the Grand Committee, that is in the guidance notes that govern today’s session. If they send their request to the Grand Committee email address, that will find its way to the Table here and they should be included in the requests to speak after the Minister. Let us hope that works. We were about to hear from the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments. If the new email system does not work—although I am not presuming that it will not work— I am very happy, retrospectively, to write to noble Lords who were going to speak, did not manage to, and therefore did not have their supplementary questions or requests for clarification answered.

These amendments obviously concern the use of Clause 4 powers to make changes in relation to fees and charges. Regulations made under this power may modify legislation relating to the imposition of immigration fees and charges only where they relate to a person’s immigration status and where that is as a consequence of, or connected with, the provision in Part 1 of the Bill. That confirms the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It enables the application of fees and charges to EEA citizens, who are currently exempt from them by virtue of free movement law, such as the immigration skills charge paid by employers.

The effect of Amendments 20 and 21 would be to prevent the Government aligning the treatment of EEA citizens with non-EEA citizens from January of next year. It is not our intention to use the power to increase fees. Fee levels will continue to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny via the existing fees orders and regulations.

To briefly touch on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, we do not make an overall profit on fees. While they may be different in different countries, they go towards the operation of the border.

It is the will of the British people that we bring free movement to an end. This means ending the bias in our immigration system that favours EEA citizens over the citizens of any other country, which is the primary purpose of this Bill. Limiting the Government’s ability to apply a skills charge to EEA citizens as they apply to non-EEA citizens will mean that certain elements of free movement will not have been fully repealed by this Bill and that EEA citizens will still have an advantage in our immigration system. This is not an outcome that the Government can accept. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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My Lords, we have not received any requests to speak after the Minister. Therefore, I call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, to reply.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare a family interest in the issue raised by the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Flight, said, the wording in the Bill means that British citizens who moved to the EU or EEA while we were a member will lose their right to return to this country—their country of birth—with a non-British partner or children unless they can satisfy financial conditions that many may well find difficult or impossible to meet. Amendment 23, to which I am a signatory, seeks to address this situation.

I do not wish to repeat the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, in moving this amendment. I agree with everything that he said. I hope that as well as responding to the arguments that he made, the Minister will also comment on his point that the change is, in effect, retrospective, since it is our country and our Government who are changing the rules that apply to our citizens on this issue. When they made their personal decisions to move to the EU or EEA, the rules, as they currently apply, may well have been a factor in making that decision; it is our Government who are now apparently seeking to change those rules.

No doubt the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will also comment on a further point made by the noble Lord, Lord Flight. He said that it appears that the new UK rules that will apply to British citizens in the situation that we are talking about will be much tougher in their terms than those that apply to EU citizens with settled status in respect of their ability to bring their dependants to join them in the UK. No doubt the Minister will confirm, in the Government’s reply, whether that is the case.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend, Lord Flight, for his Amendment 23, which refers to a specific cohort of people relating to what is known as the Surinder Singh route for family immigration. It would require the Government to make provision in regulations made under Clause 4 for lifetime rights for UK nationals resident in the EEA or Switzerland by the end of the transition period to return to the UK accompanied, or to be joined, by their close family members. These family members would thereby continue indefinitely to bypass the Immigration Rules that would otherwise apply to family members of UK nationals.

The Surinder Singh route, so-called after the relevant judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union, refers to arrangements whereby family members of UK nationals who have resided in the EEA or Switzerland with those UK nationals while they exercised their treaty rights are able to return with them to the UK under EU free-movement law. Surinder Singh family members are not protected by the withdrawal agreement but, as a matter of domestic policy, the Government have decided that UK nationals resident in the EEA or Switzerland under EU free-movement law by the end of the transition period will have until 29 March 2022 to bring their existing close family members—a spouse, civil partner, durable partner, child or dependent parent—to the UK on EU law terms. That is three years after the date when the UK was originally supposed to have left the EU. That says to me that it is not retrospective, but if my noble friend wishes to intervene after I sit down, I would be grateful if he would let me know whether I have satisfied that point.

The family relationship must have existed before the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, unless the child was born or adopted after this date, and must continue to exist when the family member seeks to come to the UK. Other family members, such as a spouse, where the relationship was formed after the UK left the EU, or other dependent relatives, have until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 to return to the UK with a qualifying UK national on EU free-movement terms. If they return to the UK with the qualifying UK national by the relevant date, all these family members will then be eligible to apply for status to remain here under the EU settlement scheme. If they do not return to the UK with the qualifying UK national by the relevant date, they will need to meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules then applicable to family members of UK nationals if they wish to come to the UK.

We hope this is a fair and balanced policy. It was developed after we listened to the concerns of UK nationals living in the EEA and Switzerland. The policy was announced on 4 April 2019, as I said, giving UK nationals almost three years to decide whether they wished to return to the UK by 29 March 2022 with their existing close family members and, if so, to make plans to do so.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I simply ask the Minister what she would advise a couple, one British and one an EU national, who both have elderly parents. She is suggesting that they should pick between them for future care by the end of 2022. Is this really a humane approach?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for the slight discontinuity of speakers to the disbenefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Three years after we were supposed to leave the EU, and indeed some six years after this country voted to do so, we are giving people time. There are immigration rules in every country of the world, and we are trying to be as fair as possible. We have listened to the concerns of UK nationals living in both the EEA and Switzerland.

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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I simply repeat my request that the Government might look at this territory in a little more detail and should arrange things such that British citizens have a slightly better deal to come and live here than non-British citizens. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, I hope the Government’s response to this amendment, and indeed to the next two, might reveal something about their intentions and objectives as far as the new points-based immigration system is concerned.

I feel there is a lack of consistency on behalf of the Government about how crowded or otherwise they believe this country actually is. When it comes to the planning White Paper, and the opposition there appears to be to it from within the ranks of the Government party, one of the responses you get is that it is only a very small percentage of this country that is being built on. Yet when it comes to an immigration system, one senses that the Government base it on the fact that this country is too crowded. There appears to be a contrast, depending on whether they are talking about the planning White Paper or the immigration system, in what their view is on how crowded or otherwise this country actually is at present.

I hope that when the Government reply we shall find out a bit more about their statement that their points-based immigration system will reduce migration. An answer on that might address some of the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. The Government have never told us the basis on which they reached that conclusion—in spite of the comments of my noble friend Lord Adonis, and the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, at Second Reading, which suggested that the contrary would be the case.

Over the past decade we have heard policy statements about reducing migration to below 100,000, but those statements—I will not go into whether they were sensible or otherwise—were followed by a rise in net migration, including, and not least, from outside the EU, where freedom of movement does not apply.

I hope that when the Minister responds to this amendment we will get a very clear statement from the Government as to exactly why and how they happen to believe that their new points-based immigration system will lead to a reduction in migration—if that, rightly or wrongly, is their policy objective. Such a clear statement is badly needed, and could be given right now.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and pay my respect to the deep expertise that he brings to this subject. The House benefits from it every time he speaks. As he said, his amendment would reintroduce an annual limit on the number of people that might be granted permission to enter the UK to take up skilled employment. The existing cap, which the Government are committed to suspending, is set at 20,700 and is administered monthly to those seeking entry clearance as skilled workers.

Currently, applications are held till the end of each allocation month. If applications exceed available places in any month, priority is given to occupations on the shortage occupation list and PhD level occupations. Thereafter, priority is broadly determined by salary, with higher-paying jobs getting first preference. On the face of it, this sounds like a sensible measure to control and limit migration to the UK, and is consistent with the aim of prioritising the brightest and best to come to the UK. However, it adds to the burden on business, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, slows the process of recruiting a skilled migrant and creates uncertainty among employers. It also creates a situation in which a migrant might be perceived as of value one day and not the next, which is what inevitably happens when a cap binds.

We want the UK to be a great place to do business, and we want to reduce uncertainty for UK employers and businesses—which imposes costs and prevents forward planning—while ensuring that we do not put unnecessary obstacles in the path of those who want to operate and contribute, so that the UK’s economy continues to prosper. As noble Lords know, we also want to create a simple global immigration system that focuses on skills and talent and the contribution migrants can make to the UK, rather than on where they come from.

We should be imposing a cap only if we think it would genuinely offer extra protection to resident workers and can be implemented in a way that mitigates uncertainty for businesses and employers across the whole of the UK. The Government do not think that that is so. That view is based on the clear economic advice of the independent MAC, supported by evidence from a wide range of stakeholders.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I think reference was made earlier to the position of trade unions vis-à-vis this amendment. I certainly cannot speak on behalf of trade unions, but I say as an individual that I get the impression that trade unions will probably push more than anyone else to have a better trained workforce and for spending more money on training by employers. They have not always received the response they should have to those representations and that pressure.

As for the specific terms of this amendment, it has been said there has been a demise as far as the resident labour market test is concerned. I await with interest to hear whether Government agree with that, because that is what is being said, and if the Government accept that that is true, to ask why they think that has been the case and what they think the impact of that, if it is true, has been on the employment of British citizens. I will also be interested to hear from the Government’s reply whether the use or non-use of the resident labour market test will be used to reduce or increase migrations, since I think I understood from the noble Baroness’s reply to the previous amendment that it would be the Government’s intention to use the salary threshold and the immigration skills charge—presumably by increasing or raising the threshold or by increasing or lowering the immigration skills charge—to have an impact on the level of net migrations. I will be interested to find out, when we hear the Government’s response to this amendment, whether the use or otherwise of the resident labour market test will also be used by the Government to seek to control levels of migration.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for tabling this amendment and all noble Lords who have spoken to it. As noble Lords have said, this amendment would have the effect of reintroducing a resident labour market test for EEA citizens, otherwise known as the RLMT. The RLMT requires a job to be advertised in the UK for 28 days to establish whether there is anyone suitable in the domestic labour market before the job can be offered to an overseas migrant. Again, on the face of it this is a very sensible measure, but it would add to the burden on businesses and would considerably slow the process of recruiting a skilled migrant.

We want the UK to be a great place to do business and to ensure we do not impose unnecessary obstacles in the path of those who want to operate and contribute, ensuring that the UK’s economy continues to prosper. We also want to create a single, global immigration system, focusing on skills and talents and the contribution that migrants can make to the UK, rather than where they have come from. We should be imposing an RLMT only if we think it would genuinely offer protection to resident workers, and the Government do not think at this stage that that would be so. That is not just the Government’s opinion but is based on the clear economic advice of the MAC: of course, the MAC consults very widely with stakeholders before producing its recommendation.

I shall quote from a report published in September 2018 on the impact of EEA migration. The MAC said it was,

“sceptical about how effective the RLMT is”

in giving settled workers the first opportunity to fill jobs. It went on to say:

“We think it likely the bureaucratic costs of the RLMT outweigh any economic benefit”.


Finally, the MAC said:

“We therefore recommend the abolition of the RLMT”.


Equally pertinent is the MAC’s next paragraph:

“We do think it important to have protection against employers using migrants to under-cut UK-born workers. The best protection is a robust approach to salary thresholds and the Immigration Skills Charge and not the RLMT.”


The Government agree, which is why we are maintaining a firm requirement in the new points-based immigration system for migrants who are coming under the skilled worker route to be paid a salary that does not undercut domestic workers.

As outlined in the Government’s February policy statement, we have accepted the MAC’s recommendations on salary thresholds set out in its 28 January report on salary threshold and points-based systems. Building on this, the Government have set out additional detail on likely salary thresholds in the July Further Details document, so noble Lords can see exactly the approach we are taking and how we are ensuring that migrants cannot come in on the cheap. I remind noble Lords that, again on the MAC’s advice, we are retaining the immigration skills charge, which has to be paid by all employers of skilled migrant workers. The requirement to pay that charge, the proceeds of which contribute directly to the UK skills budget, helps ensure that employers are unlikely to employ a migrant when there is someone suitable to undertake the role within the domestic labour workforce. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I think I am in a very similar position to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in wanting to hear the Government’s reply.

I notice that the Government have been told that we are heading for a policy shambles, and I notice that the Minister has been told by those behind her that we are making too many changes. Obviously this is something that inevitably happens when we have a Bill with no proper scrutiny of what the Government can do.

Having made that comment, I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say and to whether she agrees that we are heading for a policy shambles and with the other concerns that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, and all noble Lords who spoke on these amendments. For the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others, I will circulate the current rules for new entrants—rather than send everyone to sleep with the old rules and the new rules—so that they can compare and contrast.

The amendment seeks to put in place separate parliamentary approval for regulations allowing EEA and Swiss citizen new entrants to the labour market to be paid less than other skilled workers. Minimum salary requirements are a key part of our new skilled worker route. They serve three main purposes: first, as an indicator that a job for which a UK employer wishes to recruit a migrant worker is indeed a skilled job; secondly, to ensure that a migrant worker is paid a fair wage; and thirdly, to prevent employers using migrant workers as a source of cheap labour, undercutting wages for resident workers. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we must have confidence in setting the salary requirements for skilled workers at the right level, balancing the need to control immigration effectively and ensure that the UK’s economy continues to prosper, and not setting them so low that they do not achieve these objectives.

As I said ahead of outlining proposals for the UK’s points-based immigration system, the Government sought independent economic advice from the MAC. In its January 2020 report, A Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds for Immigration—which I am sure everyone has read—the MAC addressed the need for a range of salary thresholds and made recommendations for new entrants. The Government have accepted the recommendations in that report. Our salary requirements for skilled workers are based on national earnings data for UK workers. The MAC identified that new entrants—defined essentially as those at the start of their careers—typically earn around 30% less than experienced workers. Setting lower salary requirements for new entrants reflects this reality and means we avoid setting the requirements at an artificially high level. Reduced rates for new entrants have been part of the immigration system since 2013. While we intend to continue the new entrant salary rate, in future the new rules will set a more consistent 30% reduction across all occupations. As the MAC identified, the differences in the current system are very large for some occupations. New entrant quantity surveyors, for example, may be paid 69% less than more experienced migrant workers in the same profession.

The noble Lord is also right there should be parliamentary scrutiny of these requirements, but there is already a long-established procedure for this. The Government are required to set out their immigration policy in the Immigration Rules. This includes salary requirements, which can determine whether an immigration application succeeds or fails. Changes to the rules must be laid before Parliament under the procedure set out in Section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971. Either House may disapprove the changes by negative resolution within 40 days of them being laid and the Secretary of State may make any changes that appear to her required in the circumstances. Any such changes will be laid before Parliament within a further 40 days.

I do not think that it is necessary or proportionate to introduce a separate procedure for salary requirements for new entrants. As I have said, lower salary requirements for new entrants are not new. Skilled workers in the existing immigration system are subject to minimum salary requirements and the current Immigration Rules already provide for lower salaries for new entrants. Furthermore, there seems no particular reason for the procedure for new entrant salaries to be different from the procedure for the general salary requirements, or indeed any other requirements for skilled workers, such as the need for a sponsoring employer, a job at the appropriate skill level and the ability to speak English to an accepted standard. The nature of our points-based system is that all these requirements are closely interlinked.

Additionally, our salary requirements, including those for new entrants, are based on UK earnings data. We intend to update them regularly in line with the latest available data, ensuring that migrant workers’ pay keeps pace with that of resident workers. The procedure set out in Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 enables us to do so quickly and responsively, while maintaining an essential element of parliamentary scrutiny. Bringing forward draft regulations under an affirmative procedure would lessen this responsiveness.

We may also wish to amend the criteria used to identify new entrants in future. By way of example, we will be removing the option relating to university milk round recruitment to reflect the removal of the resident labour market test. We have also agreed the MAC’s recommendation to include options relating to those working towards professional qualifications or moving into post-doctoral positions. Similar changes may be needed from time to time, which this amendment would make more difficult by placing the new entrant criteria in the Bill.

As outlined in the February policy statement, the Government are committed to continuing to refine the system in the light of experience and will consider adding further flexibility. Specific parliamentary arrangements that risk splitting up interconnecting policies should not prevent this.

For the reasons I have set out, including that we will continue to lay before Parliament the full details of requirements—including those for new entrants—I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, that was a short but interesting debate—interesting because very few people in the Committee had much idea of what is proposed. The Minister loyally read out what she had been advised to say, but there are just one or two little points. One is that this was based firmly on MAC advice. As I have mentioned, the MAC is a very competent bunch of people, but they are all economists. There seems to be no political common sense engaged in examining its recommendations. What is more, they were made in January, before the Covid crisis struck us, and so was the February policy statement to which the Minister referred. All these things were cooked up before we faced the very serious crisis that we now face. I therefore hope that the Government will be light on their feet and not wait for this to run out of control before they take some action to lower what is bound to be a highly attractive route, which will be, without question, to the detriment of our own young people, who will not have the work experience of a 24 year-old from overseas. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I will be very brief, since I would only be repeating what has already been said, but I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett on her determination on this and, indeed, other related issues. EEA and Swiss nationals will shortly be joining the queue of those having to pay visa fees or fees when seeking a right to British citizenship. As we know, the Home Office currently makes a very substantial surplus in relation to this kind of applications following the major cuts in the department’s budget over the last decade. We believe that visa fees should not exceed the cost price.

Amendment 30 provides that regulations under Clause 4

“must ensure that no fee is charged that may deter or prevent registration of an EEA or Swiss national as a British citizen.”

Amendment 68 provides that no person who has lost their free movement rights under this Bill may be charged a fee for registering for British citizenship over the cost of processing their application.

Reference has been made to the British Nationality Act 1981, which contained provisions in respect of payment of fees relating to a child with an entitlement to register for British citizenship. For children with a parent who had free movement rights, Amendment 68 seeks to protect this position by providing that, if they are in care, they may not be charged any fee to register—if they are eligible—for British citizenship and that, otherwise, they may not be charged fees that they or their parent, guardian or carer cannot afford.

I simply conclude by expressing support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Lister. I share the concerns that she expressed about the seemingly very casual attitude to citizenship shown by the Government in the debate in the Commons on this issue. I hope we hear a more understanding response from the Government tonight.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so passionately in this debate, but I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. If nothing else, she is utterly consistent. I was going to describe her focus as laser-like but I think terrier-like is probably a good additional description.

I will address the court judgment first for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been given leave to appeal on that, and we expect a judgment in the autumn. Therefore, the noble Lord will totally understand that I actually cannot even speak about this.

However, putting that aside, I will address the concept of citizenship fees being profit making. The overall income from citizenship fees is £2.09 billion; the cost of BICS, the borders, immigration and citizenship system, is £3.18 billion, so it does not even meet its cost overall. Far from making a profit, it still subsidises the overall cost of BICS. I might add that the principle of charging above cost has been in place for more than a decade: that clearly includes all three main political parties represented here in your Lordships’ House. A consultation was run at the end of 2013 on charging principles, which are included in the Immigration Act 2014. We have continued to apply these charging principles, agreed by Parliament, in any proposed fee changes. That said, the Government’s intention is that EEA and non-EEA citizens will be treated the same under the future immigration system. This means that under the new system, the intent is that existing fees, waivers and exceptions will be applied equally.

The issue of fees charged to EEA citizens has been discussed here and of course, as noble Lords have said, in the other place during the passage of the Bill. Throughout, the Government have been clear that decisions regarding future fees payable or funding of the system should be taken in the round and outside of the passage of the Bill, but I totally understand—I would probably have done the same had I been the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—that this is a good opportunity to discuss it. A legislative structure for application fees, with long-standing appropriate checks and balances is already in place. Any changes by way of amendments to the Bill would obviously undermine the existing legal framework, with its purpose of providing the ability to set fees and exceptions in secondary legislation. It would also reduce clarity in the fees structure by creating an alternative statutory mechanism for controlling fees.

Amendment 30 would have the effect of creating a two-tier system and would not deliver the required funding to the system, or indeed deliver the policy intent of FBIS, the future borders and immigration system.

Turning to Amendment 68, this is clearly an important matter and one which has been discussed during the passage of the Bill in the other place. The aim of subsection (1) of the proposed new clause is to limit the Secretary of State’s power to charge a fee for British citizenship applications to the cost of processing the application for anybody who has enjoyed free movement rights, alongside the wider context of charging fees to register as a British citizen. As I have already noted, imposing any amendments to fees as part of the Bill would cut across the existing statutory framework for fees and would risk undermining the funding and coherence of the current and future system, but I think the noble Baroness knows that; we are simply having a discussion about her feelings and the feelings of others on the level of the fees.

Subsection (2) seeks to prevent the Secretary of State charging a fee to register as a British citizen to the child of a person who has exercised free movement rights if the child is in receipt of local authority assistance. The noble Baroness and other noble Lords will know that local authority assistance is a broad term that could include those accessing a range of financial and practical support measures offered by local authorities, including citizenship fees. The Government offer fee exemptions that allow access to limited and indefinite leave to remain to be obtained free of charge for those who are looked after by a local authority. The ability to obtain citizenship may therefore be delayed, but not removed entirely.

Subsection (3) seeks to remove fees to register as a British citizen for children of those who have exercised free movement rights, where the child, child’s parent, guardian or carer is unable to afford the associated fees. This raises similar points to those in subsection (1) and Amendment 30, and I refer to my responses on those points with regards to maintaining a sustainable current and future immigration system and there already being suitable legislative structures in place.

Implementing subsection (4) would require the Secretary of State to take steps to make persons who have exercised free movement rights aware of their rights to obtain British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981. The Government have made it clear, when explaining the rights afforded by settled status obtained via the EU settlement scheme, that this may include a right to apply for British citizenship, providing that eligibility requirements are met. The information about becoming a British citizen is available on GOV.UK and we are committed to ensuring that information of this nature is fully accessible for all.

I hope that, with those explanations, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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The Minister talked about the service being far from making a profit, yet we have heard from the Government on previous occasions about the surplus that is achieved from individual payments and fees. Will she write to noble Lords after today’s debate explaining in only as little detail as is required what the finances of this service are in order to square those two statements?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I could go through them tonight, but I think the Committee is probably getting quite weary, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, so I will write and explain.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am very grateful to all noble Lords who added their names to this amendment or who spoke from across the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about being a member of the infantry. With infantry like this, who needs generals? We have had such powerful, passionate, well-informed speeches from across the Committee. I think they all came from the heart, and that is what made them so powerful. It is clear that everybody feels very strongly about this, particularly when talking about the implications for children.

The right reverend Prelate used the word “iniquitous”, which is unusually strong, given his measured approach. This is iniquitous and we should take note when someone such as the right reverend Prelate uses that word. It is a tragedy that we are having to come back to argue this again. The Windrush scandal is hanging over it all like a spectre. It is important that we do not repeat that shameful episode in our country’s history.

I thank the Minister. I am relieved that she did not try to argue that citizenship is not important—I think she realised that she was on hiding to nothing if she tried to do that. Apart from that, however, I am disappointed that there is no sign of any give in the Government’s position.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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I thank noble Lords and apologise for my lateness; I am having a very bad day with technology. I tried to send the email about 30 minutes ago.

I join other noble Lords in being very disappointed given the powerful and wide-ranging contributions from all sides of the Committee, both spiritual and temporal. In asking my question, I think I need to declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I wonder whether the Minister can offer us one concession tonight or whether she will go away and think about making this concession. I refer to Amendment 68 and to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause which refers to children in the care of a local authority. I do not need to tell noble Lords that local authority funding is extremely stretched and extremely fragile and that there are huge demands on children’s services. As a responsible institutional parent, a local authority would surely want to secure citizenship for a child in its care, but that would be taking money away from other services, so will the Minister consider at least thinking about ensuring that if there is no waiving of fees, local authorities are recompensed for the cost of those fees?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Baroness has just demonstrated that it is really beneficial to be here throughout the whole of the debate, because I covered that aspect on local authorities in my speech. If she reads Hansard, it will clarify the matter for her, and if she would like to come back to me again, I would be very happy to respond.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I was saying that I found the Minister’s response disappointing. Yet again, when she talked about the cost of the immigration and citizenship service, she seemed to be conflating immigration and citizenship. Part of the point that we are making is that they are different and that it is irrelevant what the overall cost of the immigration and borders system is, because these fees should not be paying for that system. They should simply be paying for the cost of registering a right of citizenship that already exists. That was disappointing, and she might want to look again at that.

The Minister said that EEA and non-EEA people would be treated the same in future. That is not very reassuring because we have been going on for years about how badly the non-EEA people are treated in this area. She talked about a two-tier system not delivering the required fund or policy intent, and I was not sure what she meant by “policy intent”. As she is going to be writing a letter to us anyway, perhaps she could clarify that.

I was also very puzzled—this might be partly what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was referring to—that subsection (2) of the amendment does not refer to local authority assistance. That was an original amendment that was put down in the Commons. The Minister in the Commons pointed out that this was a very vague term, so we deliberately put in this amendment the words

“looked after by a local authority.”

I do not quite know whether the Minister was speaking to an amendment that was laid in the Commons rather than the amendment that is before her now. We are talking very specifically about looked-after children, not any child who gets any kind of assistance from a local authority. Perhaps she could clarify that when she writes her letter.

I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who talked about the importance of doing the right thing. That is why we are all still here, in this echo chamber, and we will continue to be here until the Government do the right thing. The only dispute I have with the notion of an echo chamber is that echoes tend to fade away. This echo is not going to fade away: it is going to get stronger. The more the Government try to resist it, the more we will be coming back. It might not be part of this Bill, because clearly the amendment is not going to pass, but there will be ample opportunities and we will not let this go. We will, of course, wait to see what will happen in the appeal, but I hope the Government will remember the importance of doing the right thing, because the Government are now doing the wrong thing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

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

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 14th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 121-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (14 Sep 2020)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, this debate has focused on several new clauses which are to be inserted after Clause 4. I have signed up to Amendments 39, 40, 41 and 94, along with my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Hamwee, who opened this debate last Wednesday. I am also supportive of Amendment 70, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

The risk here—it is all about risk—is that many people will not have their status sorted and will not have put a claim in, and are then at risk of detention. Immigration detention is something that should happen only in the most necessary cases and for the shortest period of time possible. My noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett set out, with examples, the effect of detention and the damage of not knowing when you are going to be released on individuals and their mental health. We need to think about that: we can all accept that being locked up and not knowing when it is going to end is not a good place to be.

Taking that into account, can the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, when she responds to the debate, tell us what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the minimum number of people are detained and for the shortest possible time? The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said she expected to be told that most people are released from detention after a short period of time, but we need to think about those who are not.

There is also the risk of redetention: when a person reports who is required to do so and then finds themself detained by the authorities. How long will it take for an application to remain to be considered? As we have heard, Amendment 39 would impose a strict time limit of 28 days and ensure that detainees could not be redetained unless—I emphasise “unless”—there has been a specific change in circumstances.

Amendment 40 sets out the conditions for a person to be detained in the first place and Amendment 41 provides for bail hearings during the initial detention period of 96 hours. Amendment 94 brings in the provision six months after the Bill comes into force. This gives the Government time to get all the procedures and regulations correct. I agree with the comments made in that respect by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

As I said earlier, I am supportive of Amendment 70, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others. This amendment raises the issue of those individuals in immigration detention who are segregated and at risk of being locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. I fully accept that there must be rules and that people must be protected from either themselves or from others, or from causing harm to others. However, we also must be mindful of the effects that detention—of being locked in a cell for long periods of time—can itself have on someone’s mental health. Again, my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett made reference to this in her contribution. I look forward to the response from the noble Baroness.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said in his contribution that these people have committed no crime. They themselves may be the victims of horrific crimes, and periods of detention can be long and re-detention is a real risk. When considering these amendments, we have to think about the effect of the risk of being re-detained on individuals who may, in the end, be given leave to remain in the United Kingdom. We must remember that these people have committed no crime here in the UK.

I will leave my remarks there; I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. To address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about regretting the hybrid procedures, I am very glad of them; they protect noble Lords from the numbers, which are clearly going up.

This is another group of amendments that are not relevant to the Bill. I am sure that noble Lords know that, and I know that they are keen to discuss this issue. They feel very strongly about immigration detention, which has been discussed at great length in this Chamber, but that makes it no less important.

We must have an immigration system which encourages compliance and protects the public. Where people no longer have the right to be in the UK, we must be able to carry out their removal if they do not take the opportunities we provide them to leave the UK voluntarily.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, talked about the concept of unlimited detention. The noble Lord asked me to list the safeguards to ensure that decisions to detain and to maintain detention are not unlimited. When someone is referred for detention, an independent detention gatekeeper assesses that person’s suitability for detention. Since 2016, the gatekeeper has rejected more than 2,300 referrals for detention. After an individual is detained, their continued detention remains under regular review at increasing levels of seniority, especially where there are any significant changes in circumstance.

Anyone detained can apply to either the Home Office or the courts to be released on immigration bail at any point during their detention. In addition, independent panellists and specialists within case progression panels provide really important oversight of the appropriateness of anyone being detained under immigration provisions at three-monthly intervals. Automatic referrals for bail also occur at the four-month detention stage for non-foreign national offenders, providing additional external oversight of detention decision-making. Immigration removal centres also provide those who are detained with access to legal advice should they need it.

The introduction of a detention time limit would severely limit our ability to remove those who refuse to leave voluntarily, as the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, pointed out. It would encourage and reward abuse and, as I have said, there are a number of measures in place to safeguard against any prolonged or unnecessary use of immigration detention.

The decision to detain people who no longer have the right to be in the UK is an integral part of the removal process, but we do not detain indefinitely. There must always be a realistic prospect of removal—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, shaking her head—within a reasonable timescale, and this requires a case-specific assessment to be made for every single person whose detention is considered. It is already used sparingly: 95% of people who are subject to removal from the UK are at liberty in the community, and the detention estate is now almost 40% smaller than it was five years ago, with 8,000 fewer people entering detention in the year ending December 2019 than in 2015.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I thank the Minister for her detailed explanation. The problem that I have here is that this Bill will become an Act of Parliament, things will move along very happily and then, many years from now, when we are all no longer doing what we are doing now, all these problems will arise whereby things are not done properly. We could have immigration centres with Italian and French citizens, people who have lived here but have not regularised their situation, being locked up and held for days and things—and that is just an anathema. My worry is that sometimes things are done and then, many years later, different people come along, things are not done so well, and there is a problem.

I am concerned about the innocent people. I am not concerned about people who have committed offences, who need to be dealt with—this is about innocent people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. They potentially could have been our friends and neighbours, living in our country, who have not regularised their situation. Unfortunately, mistakes happen, for all the assurances, and people find themselves taken away, probably quite unfairly, locked up and stuff. I want to hear a bit more about how we are going to deal with those sorts of situations. I am talking about the innocent people. How are we going to look after those people, who have done nothing wrong? We are all agreed on those who are criminals and have done bad things, but what about the innocent people, who are treated unjustly? That is what I want to hear about.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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We will be talking about the EU settlement scheme in future groups. As I will go on to explain, the scheme does not end, in the sense that, if people are here, certainly between now and 2020, and want to regularise their status, they can do. Of course, the reasonable excuses rule will go on indefinitely as to why people have not regularised their status.

Obviously, these amendments have nothing to do with the Bill, but I hope that I have outlined the various degrees of safeguards that will guard against people being detained indefinitely. We will go on to talk about the EU settlement scheme and some of the safeguards that go around that, particularly ongoing, with people who have missed the boat. I hope, with those explanations, the noble Lord is happy.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is absolutely right about the numbers of people who may find themselves in a situation—and not even be aware of it—which is not regularised. Yes, we will come on to talk about the settlement scheme, and perhaps we will pick up the Minister’s words about the possibilities of applying some way into the future.

The Minister started as I expected, by saying that these amendments are not relevant to the Bill and that if we were to include them, we would be discriminating against people who are not from the EEA or Switzerland. It is entirely open to the Government to apply these provisions to everyone, as I think they should be. They are relevant to the Bill. My noble friends Lady Barker and Lord Paddick made it clear on an amendment last week.

We started debate on this group of amendments late on Wednesday and as a result some noble Lords were unable to take part, or cannot participate today. Two have asked me to make a short comment on their behalf. I hope noble Lords will indulge me if I include them now.

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

I do not know what is going to be included in the Government’s response to these amendments, but we have heard today, as we have on previous days in Committee on this Bill, that an amendment or group of amendments is not relevant to the Bill. I am assuming that that is being said purely as the Government’s view, since presumably, through the changes that it does or does not make to a government Bill, it is for Parliament to decide what should or should not be in a Bill and is therefore relevant to it. So I would be grateful if the Government could confirm that when they say an amendment or group of amendments is “not relevant” to the Bill, they are simply expressing a view and accept that that is an issue that Parliament will have to determine.

Amendment 42 in this group would exempt EEA and Swiss nationals and their dependents from the right-to-rent immigration checks by landlords under the Immigration Act 2014. Amendment 50 would exempt EEA and Swiss nationals and their dependents from some provisions under the Immigration Act 2014, including the NHS surcharge and immigration checks on opening bank accounts and holding a driving licence. It would also exempt them from provisions in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, which disallows a person from being employed if they do not have a valid immigration status. Amendment 71 would exempt EEA and Swiss nationals residing in the UK immediately before the commencement of the Act from a variety of immigration provisions, including checks on renting, bank accounts, driving licences and illegal working.

We understand the concerns that these amendments seek to address. The experiences of the Windrush generation, when lives were ruined and families torn apart, simply highlighted the failures of the hostile environment policy, particularly the culture that it led to in the Home Office that determined how the policy was applied, and as reflected in the terms of the Immigration Acts in 2014 and 2016. Against that background, it is understandable why there is concern among EEA citizens living in this country about the impact that changes to their status following our withdrawal from the EU could have on their position in relation to the application of the terms of the Immigration Acts.

The Government could have used the Bill to signal the end of the hostile environment policy in reality, not just in name, and in so doing convince EEA citizens that their concerns were without foundation. The Government have chosen not to do so, and consequently these amendments seek to do what the Government have failed to do, by giving EEA and Swiss citizens exemption from some of the more contentious parts of the Immigration Acts, including in particular those parts of the now rebranded hostile environment policy that were effectively farmed out to private individuals and private companies to implement, such as the checks in relation to the renting of property or opening of a bank account.

I hope that when we hear from the Government, as we are just about to, we will hear some hopeful response to the thrust of these amendments and that the Government are equally determined to address—and how they intend to do so—the concerns that the amendments have raised.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, in thanking noble Lords for speaking on these amendments, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that I am going to argue not that they are irrelevant to the Bill but that that they are discriminatory, in their own ways. They would undermine the commitment to the British people to introduce a single global system. They would also weaken the immigration system by reducing the incentive to comply with the UK’s rules and laws.

On right-to-rent checks, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that immigration does not begin and end at our borders; it is more far-reaching than that. Under our new immigration system, everyone will be required to obtain their current correct immigration status, and we will clearly distinguish between those who are here lawfully and those who are not, regardless of their nationality. The measures in question concern migrants’ eligibility to rent accommodation, to work, and to access healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences. These measures have all been approved by Parliament. They contribute to our efforts to tackle illegal migration and those who seek to profit from immigration offences, while protecting taxpayer-funded services. Exempting from these measures EEA citizens and their family members, including those who do not have lawful immigration status, would undermine the integrity of the new immigration system1 which we have promised to deliver.

Amendment 42 specifically relates to the right-to-rent scheme, the legality of which has recently been upheld by the Court of Appeal—to echo the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. By disapplying these checks to all EEA citizens and their family members, this amendment would significantly compromise the right-to-rent civil penalty scheme. Under the current system, when a landlord is found to be letting to a disqualified person, the Home Office can issue a civil penalty of £3,000. A scheme that does not require evidence to be obtained for every tenant would render unworkable the Government’s ability to impose criminal and civil sanctions against unscrupulous landlords, as this exemption would serve as a blanket defence.

It is not clear how Amendments 42 or 71 would work in practice. Eligibility checks by landlords, employers and the NHS apply to everyone, including EEA and British citizens. Those carrying out the checks would not be able to ascertain who was part of the exempt cohort, as set out in these new clauses, and so would need to check everyone anyway. Alternatively, landlords and employers would have to take, at face value, a self-declaration of anyone who claims to be within this particular cohort. Amendment 42, for example, would make the right-to-rent scheme inoperable, as migrants who are unlawfully present or ineligible could self-declare as an EEA citizen, which could prevent the landlord from requesting further evidence of eligibility.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked who will check whether someone has UK immigration status. Particularly after the grace period, EEA citizens granted leave under the settlement scheme will use their digital status information to demonstrate to employers their right to work, to landlords their right to rent, and to other government departments and local authorities their right to access benefits and services—if they meet the relevant eligibility criteria. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out the various documents that would be required. I am wondering whether he was questioning whether they were up to date, but I am sure he will come back to me on that if I have not made that clear.

For Amendment 50, I will focus on two aspects of the new clause. As noble Lords know, illegal working is a key driver of immigration offending. The ability to work without lawful status encourages people to take risks and to break our immigration laws, and leaves people vulnerable to exploitation—I refer to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—including being paid under the legal minimum wage. We are determined to continue to tackle illegal working, but this amendment would hinder our progress.

The proposal to prevent the application of provisions relating to healthcare charges to EEA citizens and their dependants would also have a significant negative impact. The immigration health surcharge is designed to help support the NHS, ensuring that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a fair contribution to the wide range of health services available to them. By exempting such a large cohort, including those in the UK unlawfully, from being charged for accessing healthcare, this new clause would increase the financial pressure on the NHS considerably.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for expecting me to speak after her. I have two points. The first is that we seem to be playing a whack-a-mole game about whether the amendments are relevant to the Bill or discriminatory. Let us hit the other one on the head: the only reason these amendments are restricted to EEA and Swiss nationals is that the clerks would not allow broader amendments, because they would not be within the scope of the Bill. They are not discriminatory; they aim to get rid of the hostile environment for everyone. That is the first issue.

Secondly, on the specifics, I apologise to the Minister for not making it absolutely clear which group of people I was talking about when I was saying that the right-to-rent scheme did not work. I was talking about EEA and Swiss nationals, at the end of the transition period, and all those other nationals who can now use the e-passport gates to enter the United Kingdom for six months without a visa.

I demonstrated in my speech that these individuals could rent for up to 12 months without a landlord being in peril of a civil penalty or any other penalty. Indeed, if during that 12 months they produced another ticket, boarding pass or travel booking—or a copy of any of those—they could further extend their rental with the landlord, because they had produced evidence that they had arrived in the UK within the previous six months. Therefore, you can see that they could extend and extend their rental of a property, completely undermining the right-to-rent scheme. Only those nationals who can use the e-passport gates, who get six months’ visa-free travel, can circumvent the system in that way. Those other foreign nationals who require a visa cannot do that because the landlord has to check digitally with the Home Office. The Minister may say that eventually everything will be digital, but this will not be digital. There will not be a digital way to check the rights of people who have six months’ visa-free entry to the UK. It will still be done on the basis of passports, tickets, boarding passes and bookings. That is the point I am trying to make.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I see the noble Lord’s point. We need a further discussion or, indeed, an exchange of letters on this before Report. The first letter that I sent him clearly did not do the trick, so we will have further discussions on this.

I know exactly why noble Lords have tabled amendments that refer to EEA and Swiss nationals, because it puts them within the scope of the Bill. It does not make it any less discriminatory technically and legally, however, but I get his point.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, having a “non-Anglo-Saxon-sounding name”, to use the terminology used by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I am very conscious of the position. The Minister is, of course, quite right about why we had to confine the amendments to EAA and Swiss citizens, but it is disingenuous to say that we are being discriminatory. I said on the last group of amendments that we take opportunities where we can. We are very happy to invite the Government to apply the amendments to every nationality. Sadly, this is not open to us; as there are no Private Members’ Bills at the moment, our opportunities are pretty limited.

My noble friend Lord Paddick is not into whacking moles—because he is kind to animals, apart from anything else—but he may be very challenging to the Minister. I think it is wise to try to bottom out this issue after this stage.

Reference has been made to the black economy and how people who do not have status are driven into it and are vulnerable to exploitation. There is a big difference between our position and that of the Government. We see that as the outcome of the hostile environment provisions, not as a driver for them. I am intrigued by the points about forgeries that have been made, because it is the Government’s position that physical documents for the EU settled status scheme would open up the possibility of forgery, but we will come to that later.

We have done what we can, for the moment at any rate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for the points that they have made on these amendments. Perhaps I may address Amendments 43 and 72 together, as they both concern data protection.

I appreciate the concerns to protect data subjects’ rights and to ensure that data sharing for immigration control or enforcement purposes does not prevent people living in this country accessing public services to which they are perfectly entitled. However, I cannot agree to these new clauses, because they would not be proportionate or constructive amendments to the Bill, or indeed address the concerns behind the amendments, and I shall say why.

They would restrict immigration authorities in performing their lawful duties in respect of immigration control, including being able to confirm a person’s immigration status, and they would be unable to prevent potential prejudice to the immigration system. Essentially, the new clauses would expressly prohibit the Home Office from using a necessary and lawful exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018, should it have cause to do so. The immigration exemption has been debated previously in this House and concerns raised have been addressed on those occasions.

The exemption applies to restrict specified data subjects’ rights where the maintenance of effective immigration control, or the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control, are likely to be prejudiced. Rightly, it should apply to anyone who is subject to immigration control, including EEA and Swiss citizens. The new clause proposed in Amendment 43 would therefore constitute a difference in treatment on the grounds of nationality. We do not believe that that can be justified, as one purpose of the Bill is to ensure that there will be no difference in treatment between EEA citizens and those from the rest of the world when it comes to immigration policy.

Amendment 72 would have a similar effect in creating a difference in treatment based on nationality. The effect of the amendment in the clause would be to maintain the current position, so that one particular aspect of the compliant environment—data sharing—would not apply to those who now benefit from free movement. The amendment would have no effect as far as non-EEA citizens are concerned, and data collected in relation to them could still be used for immigration control or enforcement purposes, thereby treating them unequally under the law.

With regard to the immigration exemption dealt with in Amendment 43, it might help if I expand on the safeguards built into the Data Protection Act. The exemption can be applied only on a case-by-case basis and only where it is necessary and proportionate to do so. It cannot be, and is not, used to target any group of people, be they EEA citizens or otherwise. Nor does the application of the exemption set aside all data subjects’ rights; it sets aside only those listed in paragraph 4 of Schedule 2. A further limitation is that the exemption can be applied only where compliance with the relevant rights will be likely to prejudice the maintenance of effective immigration control. This “prejudice” test must be applied first, and, as a result, the situations in which the exemption can be used are significantly limited. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, asked me to give numbers. I cannot do so at this point, but I will see whether I can access them.

Furthermore, the exemption may be applied only so long as the prejudice can be seen to be evidenced and must be removed thereafter. It is not used to restrict access to personal data that would allow a person to further a claim; it is used only where we need to restrict access to sensitive data—for example, details of ongoing enforcement operations.

The exemption has been found to be lawful by the courts, and the ICO has issued robust guidance on how and when it may be used—guidance that the Home Office adheres to. Furthermore, the Home Office has robust safeguards and controls in place to ensure that data is handled securely, lawfully, ethically and in accordance with all relevant data protection regulations. I say again that the Home Office must at all times comply with the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 when data is shared.

Similar to Amendment 72, Amendment 74 seeks to limit the use of data. To reiterate the points that I made to noble Lords during the recess, I reassure them that the services that we provide to third parties for checking immigration status information about EU settlement status can be accessed and used only to check an individual’s immigration status and the rights associated with that status.

I will explain how users can view and prove their immigration status under the EU settlement scheme. Individuals can authenticate securely on the “view and prove your settled or pre-settled status” online service, where they can view their immigration status information and choose to share it with third parties for a variety of reasons. To take the example of right-to-work checks, the individual selects the option to share their right-to-work information and is given a time-limited code, which can be emailed or given to the employer. The employer uses the share code, along with the individual’s date of birth, to access just the information needed to confirm the individual’s eligibility to work, via the “view a job applicant’s right to work details” service on GOV.UK. The information provided to the employer can be previewed by the individual and contains only information relating to their right-to-work entitlements, along with the individual’s name and facial image for verification purposes and the expiry date of the leave, where appropriate. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who asked me to reiterate this point, is satisfied with my explanation.

For other services such as health, benefits and banking, users can share basic information about their status under the settlement scheme and the process works in exactly the same way. Checking organisations can access the information on a time-limited basis, via the “check someone’s settled or pre-settled status” service. The information provided in this service represents the minimum amount of data required for those checking organisations to perform their duties, and again includes the individual’s name, facial image, the leave they have been granted and the expiry date where applicable.

Third parties do not have access to the immigration database. An individual must choose to share their immigration status through the “view and prove” service before it can be viewed by third parties such as employers. Picking up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the police do not have access to the EU settlement scheme or the immigration database, but we are working with other parts of government to develop system checks to share immigration status for specific purposes such as health and benefits. For example, we will provide information to the National Health Service to support it in establishing whether an individual is entitled to access free healthcare.

I hope that noble Lords are now assured that we are committed to delivering immigration status services for the purposes of checking immigration status information only. These services have been designed to protect the personal information of those with EU settled status and have been built around GDPR principles, including that of data minimisation, ensuring that the information available to third parties is only what is absolutely necessary. I hope that, with those words, the noble Baroness is happy to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answers but the first is, again, the disingenuous objection that the amendment focuses only on Swiss nationals and is therefore discriminatory on the grounds of nationality. I repeat something that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has said at least twice: it is up to the Government to extend it to all migrants if they wish.

Can the Minister tell us—she may have to write to me—whether any other EEA countries have exempted immigration data in their implementation of the general data protection regulation? Also, she said that the Data Protection Act was compliant with GDPR, but that remains to be seen. I think it is doubtful because that regulation, which I worked on as an MEP, provides no blanket exclusion of immigration data. The Minister did not respond on the prospect of a data adequacy decision from the European Commission. Winning this decision is of huge significance to our security and our businesses.

The combination of this part of the Data Protection Act, not retaining the charter and constant noises about the European convention is not designed to increase the confidence of the European Commission in granting a data adequacy decision. Not getting that will seriously prejudices the chances of the cross-border police co-operation that is vital to this country. The UK has made a huge contribution in that area in building up the EU justice and security measures, as was shown when Theresa May was Home Secretary about six years ago and we had the mass opt back in to all the vital measures. If we are unable to continue that, we will not be able to access information required to catch serious criminals and it will prejudice the security of British citizens. Also, if we do not get a data adequacy decision, it will be much more difficult for businesses to transfer data across the EEA—tech businesses are particularly reliant on data—using other, clunkier routes.

Already, a shadow has been cast on the ability to get a data adequacy assessment by the surveillance provisions in the Investigatory Powers Act and others; that has been the subject of several court cases in Luxembourg and Strasbourg. It is dangerous to undermine further the chances of a data adequacy decision. There are higher things than the Home Office’s wish to have constant access to this data.

Hope springs eternal. I thank the Minister for what she said on Amendment 74, which I will read carefully in Hansard. Unfortunately, she is not giving me any comfort on the other amendments, including Amendment 43, which I moved. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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First, we welcome the work that has been done on the EU settlement scheme so far, and the number of people who have been able to access it. We hope that the scheme proves successful, but that remains to be seen.

I will speak to Amendments 52 and 96, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark. Amendment 52 seeks clarity on the rights of EU citizens who have the right to apply for settled status but have not yet done so. What are their rights in the “grace period” between the end of the transition period and the deadline for applications?

The Government have now published a draft of the citizens’ rights (application deadline and temporary protection) (EU exit) regulations 2020—we might call it the grace period SI—during this stage of the Bill, which is helpful. This SI, made under Section 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, would specify 30 June 2021 as the application deadline and provide that certain provisions of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016—the regulations that provide for free movement rights—will continue to apply during the grace period for relevant persons, despite the revocation of those regulations under this Bill.

In essence, the government factsheet tells us that the SI will temporarily “protect the existing rights” of EU nationals who are eligible for the settlement scheme during the grace period. Regulations 5 to 12 of the SI specify which provisions will continue to apply. Can the Government confirm to the House that the full existing rights of EU citizens will be carried into the grace period by this SI and there will be no substantive changes or loss of rights? We welcome the clarification that the person’s existing rights continue during the entirety of the processing of their application—even where, for example, they apply late in June and the deadline passes while their application is being considered.

We welcome the Government’s aims in the SI to provide legal protection to these rights. However, questions remain over how they will be protected in practical terms. If an EU national tries to open a bank account, rent a home or enrol their child in school during that period, what are the Government doing to ensure that their continuing rights are widely understood—because people are generally not aware that they have that right and there could be a difficulty?

Regulation 13 of the SI states:

“Where any question arises as to whether a person is or was lawfully resident in the United Kingdom at a particular point in time … it is for the individual in question to prove that they were”.


That is to say that they must prove that they were lawfully resident in the United Kingdom. Can the Government say in which situations they expect that people will have to prove their ongoing status and how they envisage people will do this? What documentation might they need, for example? Crucially—since one can see there might be some difficulty in being able to prove it—what support will there be for a person who runs into this kind of difficulty and who may well, in fact, be perfectly lawfully resident in the United Kingdom?

I am sure there will be many other questions that arise in relation to the draft SI, but I will move on to Amendment 96, which seeks more information on late applications to the settlement scheme. The Government have repeatedly said there will be “reasonable grounds” on which a late application will be accepted, but of course I am sure we would all acknowledge that the word “reasonable” is subjective. Different people will have different interpretations of what is reasonable. When can we expect full guidance on late applications? If a person was completely unaware that they had to apply, will that count as reasonable grounds? Would this also apply to a person who just made a mistake and missed a deadline? At one time or another, most of us have made such a mistake.

However, our main question is on the immigration status of people who miss the deadline. An NHS doctor, for example, misses the deadline but continues to go to work. If they are then granted status in, say, 2022, they will—presumably—have been officially unlawfully resident in the UK for a number of months. Will they be considered to have been working illegally and, if so, will there be consequences for that? What status will they be deemed to have had between the June 2021 deadline and the granting of status in 2022?

Another example might be an elderly person who missed the scheme entirely because they are not digitally literate—something I can empathise with—and who continues to use healthcare services before any application is organised on their behalf. Will they be liable for high NHS fees because they did not know that their right to use those services lawfully had lapsed?

I hope the Government will be able to provide answers to the questions that I and other noble Lords have raised—either in their response or subsequently—and, not least, to the points on CSI made by my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the concerns expressed over the potential implications for the future of the high percentage of those who have been given pre-settled status.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and rightly probed me on some of the detail of what the Government are intending to do across all the various issues that are raised in these amendments. I am pleased to say that, on most points, I think I will be able to reassure noble Lords on the issues they raise.

On Amendments 44 and 96, both concern how the Government will deal with late applications to the EU settlement scheme. Both are incredibly well-intentioned, as they concern how we ensure that those eligible for the scheme obtain status under it. There is plenty of time for those EEA citizens and their family members resident here by the end of the transition period to apply for status under the EU settlement scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021. Furthermore, in line with the citizens’ rights agreement, they will be able to apply after the deadline where they have reasonable grounds for missing it.

I think noble Lords will find that, throughout my response, I will outline how the Government intend to take a very pragmatic approach to all these issues. During the Second Reading debate, I confirmed that, early in 2021, the Government will publish guidance on what constitutes missing the deadline. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I say that the timescale is appropriate because, for the time being, our priority has been to encourage all those who are eligible to apply to the scheme to do so before the deadline. We do not want to risk undermining that effort by inadvertently encouraging people to put off making the application.

Amendment 44 would cause confusion over the deadline for a scheme which has been designed to be simple and straightforward. We must also deliver on our promise to the people to end free movement and, from 2021, introduce the new global points-based immigration system. However, as I said earlier, the EU settlement scheme does not close on 30 June 2021. It will continue to operate thereafter for applications by people with pre-settled status applying for settled status and by those who are joining family members in the UK as well as by those with reasonable grounds for applying after the 30 June 2021 deadline. A report setting out proposals for dealing with late applications—as sought by Amendment 44—is not needed because we have been clear that we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to late applications and will be publishing that guidance early next year.

Amendment 96, concerning such guidance, is also unnecessary. Our guidance on reasonable grounds for applying after the deadline will be indicative and not exhaustive. I think noble Lords will agree that this is the right approach; we will consider all cases in light of their individual circumstances. A person with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline who subsequently applies for and obtains status under the scheme will enjoy the same rights from the time they are granted status as someone who applied to the scheme before the deadline.

The withdrawal agreement obliges us to accept late applications indefinitely where there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline. This and other rights under the agreements now have direct effect in law via the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, so this commitment is already effectively enshrined in primary legislation agreed by Parliament.

The Government are also doing all they can to raise awareness of the scheme and ensure support is available. In March, we announced a further £8 million of funding, in addition to £9 million last year, for organisations across the UK to help vulnerable people to apply. Plans for a further burst of national advertising are under way because we are determined that no one will be left behind. My noble friend Lady Altmann specifically asked about this point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in a more indirect way.

I will take a moment to outline what we are going to do between now and next year. With less than a year to go until the deadline, we will continue to update our communications approach. We will have further and future national advertising, which will have adjusted messaging and emphasis to ensure that it speaks to the remaining audiences still to apply.

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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I will have to read what the Minister has said when I pore over Hansard, but I do not think that I am reassured in relation to the grace period SI. This SI refers to how the provisions of the EEA regulations 2016 continue to have effect despite the revocation of those regulations by this Bill—but it is the EEA regulations, unlike Appendix EU for the settlement scheme, which require CSI.

In accordance with the promise made by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2017, CSI would not be required as part of a settlement scheme application, but the grace period SI, by referring to the EEA regulations, as opposed to the rules under Appendix EU, that is EU settlement scheme rules, appears to be reintroducing the requirement for CSI. This is complicated and perhaps I have not properly understood it, and I will have to pore over what the Minister says.

Representatives of the 3 million were told by an official at the end of last week that there appeared to be a mistake, although this is only hearsay—perhaps this official did not understand any more than I did—but immigration lawyers who are trying to advise EU citizens on this think there is a problem. Referring to the EEA regulations incorporates a requirement for CSI—that is to say private health insurance—which has not been required during the settlement scheme application to date, but suddenly, in the grace period, it will be. Citizenship will also be required, but there is a discretion for that. Unlike for citizenship, there does not even appear to be a discretion to exempt it for settled status.

Clearly, the Minister, who is shaking her head at me, thinks I have continued to misunderstand this, but I remain less than reassured, and I hope I will manage to get it clearer in my own head. Perhaps more importantly, people whose profession it is to understand the EEA regulations and the settlement scheme, as opposed to a mere legislator, might be reassured by the Minister’s words, and I will defer to her.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I hope the noble Baroness takes a look at Hansard. These are not the easiest things that we are discussing, but I understand the grace period SI does not affect the criteria for the EUSS status. The SI is protecting the EEA rights of those who have them at the end of the transition period. I know we will speak further, and I know that she will read Hansard, but I hope in reiterating that point again, she will feel happy that the amendment is withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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I thank noble Lords. I, too, will supply myself with some hot towels and read through all that. We have another opportunity to discuss the grace period on Amendment 80, but I, like my noble friend, feel less than reassured. The issue is whether, without having sickness insurance, one has the relevant rights. The arguments seem to have moved over the past few months as to whether having CSI is necessary to exercise the rights or, in other words, whether you have been the exercising right to free movement or the treaty rights.

Some very pertinent points and questions have been posed during this debate. I wish my noble friend Lady Smith had not reminded me about tax returns and the amount of filing I have to do, but she was right and explained my reasoning on Amendment 45 better than I did. There has been a focus on individuals throughout this. I agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves that it is not about the numbers of people. What matters matters to 100% of each individual.

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Ending the Dubs scheme and Dublin III will not stop unaccompanied children fleeing conflict and seeking to reach this country to be with those they know. Surely, the Government accept that this is the reality, and that we ought, accordingly, to ensure safe routes rather than accept the existing dangerous routes which will continue to flourish if we do not make that change. This, surely, is why the terms of Amendment 48, so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, are sorely needed.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken with such passion on these amendments; I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, of course, although I am not sure that I agree with his summation of our history of providing refuge for the most vulnerable children across the globe. The Government have an excellent humanitarian record in assisting vulnerable people, including children. We are one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. Under national resettlement schemes, we have resettled more refugees than any country in Europe and are in the top five countries worldwide. In contrast to some of the things noble Lords have been saying, we have resettled more than 25,000 refugees since 2015, around half of whom were children. We can be proud as a country of our ambitious commitments and achievements.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, stated that France and Germany have more asylum claims than us. That is not the case. We received 3,651 asylum claims from UASC in 2019, more than any other EU state and 20% of all claims made in the EU and UK. I hope that I have set that record straight.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked what we have done during the pandemic. It is absolutely fair to say that it has been very difficult to resettle children for all the reasons that the pandemic has brought; however, the UK has remained open to receiving Dublin transfers. I remember that, very early on in the pandemic crisis, Minister Philp was in talks with Greece. Three group flights have taken place from Greece in recent months, on 11 May, 28 July and 6 August. We continue to make arrangements with Greek officials to facilitate transfers of people we have accepted under the regulation. I must make it clear that all arrangements to complete the transfer are the responsibility of the sending state.

There are 5,000 unaccompanied children in local authority care. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, says that he knows that there are councils which would take more. I have pressed him for the last four years to tell me which councils these are and whether they would come forward to offer those places. Of course, Kent is struggling at the moment, but if there are more local authorities who can provide that protection, we would really like to hear from them.

We have given protection to nearly 45,000 children since 2010, including over 7,000 in the past year. We also issued over 7,400 family reunion visas in the year to March 2020. I do not think that is a sign of a mean country but a sign of a very small country that has done everything in its power to help the most vulnerable. In addition, once we have delivered our current commitments under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme—with almost 20,000 to date, and we will get to 20,000—we will consolidate our main schemes into a new global UK resettlement scheme. Our priority will be to continue to identify and resettle vulnerable refugees in need of protection, as identified and referred by UNHCR.

The proposed new clause does not recognise the existing routes in our immigration system for reuniting families, nor that we are pursuing new reciprocal arrangements with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We have tabled draft legal text for a negotiated agreement for a state-to-state referral and transfer system which would provide clear and consistent processes between the UK and EU member states, ensuring appropriate support for the child and guaranteeing reciprocity. These guarantees cannot be provided for in UK domestic provisions alone. We have acted in good faith and hope that the EU will do the same. The draft has not been rejected but—just to correct another statement made tonight—is still on the negotiating table. We will continue to provide safe and legal routes to Britain to bring together families of refugees through our refugee family reunion policy. Additionally, family members of British citizens or those granted settlement in the UK can apply to join them under Part 8 and Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules. All these routes remain in place at the end of the transition period.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord is, unsurprisingly, based on recreating the Dublin regulation. This is obviously an EU provision, and we have now left the EU. We are a sovereign state with our own family reunion routes, which are substantial, as I have just set out. We must avoid creating further incentives for people, particularly children, to leave their families and risk those dangerous journeys. This plays into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people, and it goes against our safeguarding responsibilities. Allowing individuals to sponsor family members to join them in the UK before a decision on their asylum claim is made creates great uncertainty for families, who may be unable to remain in the UK. We must also guard against significantly increasing the number of people who could qualify for family reunion while not necessarily needing protection themselves, and who may be seeking to make unfounded claims on our protection systems for economic gain.

Finally, the proposed amendment would require the Government to lay before Parliament a strategy on the relocation of unaccompanied children from EEA states. The Government have no intention to lay such a strategy. It would be incredibly challenging to deliver, not least because of the pressures already faced by local authorities that are currently caring for over 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. That is an increase of 146% since 2014. As I said earlier, in 2019 the UK received the highest number of asylum claims from unaccompanied children in Europe, and 20% of all such claims made in the EU and UK. We only have to look at the situation in Kent in recent weeks to realise the pressure that some local authorities face. Alleviating that pressure and ensuring that unaccompanied children already in the UK receive the care they need has got to be our priority. In the longer term, we need to ensure that there is a fairer allocation of caring responsibilities across the entire country.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, in July the Government announced they had successfully completed the transfer of 480 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece, France and Italy under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. Parliament was very clear then that this was a one-off scheme, which is now complete. We are pleased to see other countries now stepping up to support Greece by taking in unaccompanied children, and we stand ready to offer advice and guidance to member states who wish to develop their own schemes.

On that note, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken so supportively and passionately in favour of the amendment. I am grateful to the Minister for having laid out the Government’s arguments and responses. I am sure that we will come back to this on Report, but I would like to make some very brief comments. I do not want to bandy figures too much; I think we can probably deal with that between now and Report stage.

The Minister mentioned the Section 67 scheme in the 2016 Act. The Minister said it was a one-off scheme, but it was only one-off because the Government arbitrarily closed it. There was no number given in the amendment; the Government quite arbitrarily said that there were no more local authority places. I think the Government stopped that one.

The Minister mentioned the children who came and how generous we have been but, according to the figures she quoted, the majority of these children came illegally. They crossed the channel, either in dinghies or in the back of lorries. I believe that, had they had legal paths to safety, they would not have come that way. The figures would have been the same, but some of them would have had a safe and legal crossing, instead of the terrible dangers of crossing the channel.

I will certainly get back to the Minister with indications of those local authorities—it was some time ago that we did the check—that I know are able and willing to take child refugees, so we can take the argument to that point.

The Minister mentioned the global UK resettlement scheme. Fine, I am all in support of that, except of course that this will not take a single child from Europe, as I understand it; it will be ones from the region. I welcome that they will be taken from the region, but I do not welcome the fact that the scheme will not cover any from Europe, which is why we need this particular amendment.

With regards to push and pull factors, I remember talking to a Syrian boy who fled from Damascus or Aleppo. He told me very vividly how he had seen his father blown up by a bomb in front of him. That is an experience which will mark a child for life, and that is a real push factor if ever there was one. A lot of the children I have spoken to have had the most terrible journeys in order to try and find safety. They are coming because they want to find safety somewhere in the world. The majority of them have gone to Germany, Sweden and other EU countries. Some have come here, and I hope more will come.

As I say, I believe we can return to this on Report. I repeat my gratitude to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.

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Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves (LD)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many very clear and excellent speeches, starting with my noble friend Lord Oates and including my old friends, the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Hain. I listened to both of them and thought, “They got some good training when they were kids, didn’t they?”

It is interesting that, of all the things that people such as the3million group and lots of other European citizens who are concerned about settled status and so on do not like, this is the one thing that they are almost all united in thinking ought to be changed. A lot of them put it at the top of their list of priorities, partly because it is such a simple and obvious thing for the Government to do.

I have been in this place for 20 years—I have to pinch myself but it is true—and I have noticed over the years that sensible Governments do not just lie down and do everything that your Lordships’ House wants them to do, although we have the debate and they listen. Occasionally they say, “Yes. There’s sense in this. We’ll take it away and sort it, and will come back.” I think that this is one of those issues. The great advantage that Governments have of doing that here and not in the House of Commons is that the Opposition do not then start shouting “U-turn” and so on at them; they say, “We thank the Government for their sensible thoughts and actions on this. Good for them.” This is one issue where the Minister, who has a reasonable amount of clout in her department and in the Government—not as much as some people but a reasonable amount—

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves (LD)
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There are shadowy figures who get appointed and seem to run things but never appear in this or any other House, but I am sure that the Minister could do it if she wanted to. I think that this is a single thing that the Government could do.

Various people have talked about it being a two-tier system. My noble friend Lord Paddick said it would mean that people with settled status would be in a position different from that of other people. They would be, and they would sometimes be worse off in some respects compared with some citizens of the European Union. For example, those who come here to work after the end of June next year will need a work visa. As I understand it, they will have a passport and the work visa will be stamped in it. They will be okay. They will say, “Look, I can work”, whereas those with settled status will have to go through the long and complex system that has been described to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.

My other question concerns transactions, whether relating to employment, housing or other things—odd jobs and so on, with people doing work for others. If the European Union person with settled status, who might be on either side of the transaction, is the provider of the facilities or services, will they have to show that they are entitled to be here and to provide those services to their customers or whoever they are providing them to? That is a question for the Minister.

It seems a bit ridiculous in some cases, such as odd-job men. Somebody comes around—they may be a traveller or just an ordinary odd-job man—and says they will mend your roof by putting the tiles back on or will set up a window-cleaning round. If you employ them to work for you, and pay them to do it, but they are not entitled to work in this country, will you be breaking the law in some way—or is it all on the side of the person providing the service?

I have been trying to get my mind around the worst-case scenarios. If you want to rent a new flat and you are leasing it from a big landlord, who is highly reputable and provides high-quality accommodation, you will be okay. They will have all the computer systems, will know how to do it and be used to it. It will just go through. But you may be renting an attic from an old lady who has lived in the house all her life but does not know what a computer looks like or how to operate that kind of system. She does not work through an agent or anybody like that; she just does it. You may be a lodger or a tenant. Under those circumstances, you need a physical document.

I can think of loads of others. Think of the gig economy. Lots of it is highly organised and computerised, and will easily be able to cope—driving for Uber, running webinars or whatever it is. But a lot of the gig economy is short-term jobs, such as working at a bar, doing delivery rounds, music gigs or all sorts of things, as we all know. We should not expect this system to work under circumstances where people do not have a physical document. It is simply not going to happen; it is not going to work.

Then there is the question of self-employed people—your classic Polish plumber, or whoever it is, whatever they are doing. As I suggested before, they may have come to mend your roof or sort out your heating. This is a self-employed person, a sole trader. They may or may not be operating properly within the tax system, but there are loads of such people. How will they cope with this? Some of them have devices with them, but lots will not want to worry about computers. If you are employing these people, as I said before, is it your responsibility to check that their settled status is bona fide?

The more I think about, the more circumstances there are where it will simply not work. It might work in 90% of cases, but there are lots where it will not. Simply having a physical document means that the system can work. It does not mean it will, but it means that it can, so that people on all sides of the transactions can cope. I return to what I said before: this is simple. I cannot understand why the Government will not do it. They should go away, design a scheme, come back and tell us what they are doing, and we will cheer them to the rooftops.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank you all, including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who made a rousing speech, but I fear we will go over old ground here. However, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Rosser, for providing the House with the chance to discuss the amendments on physical documents. I do not think they are necessary. I would like to reassure noble Lords that we already provide people who are granted settled or pre-settled status with a formal written notification of their leave. It is sent in the form of a letter, by post, or a PDF, by email, and sets out their immigration status in the UK. They can retain the letter, or print it, or electronically store the PDF and keep it as confirmation of their status for their own records and use it if they wish when contacting the Home Office about their status. I must say, it is not proof; it is confirmation. This should reassure individuals about their status when dealing with the Home Office in the future, but it should not be necessary because they will always have online access to information about their status, stored electronically by the Home Office.

Other countries, including Australia, as the noble Lady, Lady Hamwee, mentioned, issue physical documents in the form of biometric cards as they can otherwise be lost, stolen or tampered with.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about how the EU settlement application works, I had a session on this with noble Lords and I am happy to share that presentation with her. We are developing an immigration system whereby all migrants can demonstrate their immigration status via an online service, which they can access securely via the view and prove service on GOV.UK. It is accessible to them at any time and it allows them to share relevant information with third parties who need to check their status, such as employers and landlords, as noble Lords have mentioned. If necessary, EEA citizens can show third parties their written confirmation of status, so the person checking is made aware that there is an online service. Where there is a checked status, written confirmation must not be accepted by third parties as evidence of immigration status.

We are also developing services to make the relevant immigration status information available automatically through system-to-system checks at the point at which the person seeks access to public services such as healthcare and benefits. This will reduce the number of occasions when individuals need to prove their rights or need a document to do so.

In moving to a digital system, we recognise there are people who cannot access online services and will need additional support. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, cited cases and others were cited, such as the Roma community or indeed another category of people altogether. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, spoke about those in coercive or abusive relationships. We are committed to delivering a service that reflects the diverse needs of all users. Help on how to use the online services and share status information is available through our contact centre, and we provide a free assisted digital service where applicants to the EUSS or others making online applications in the UK are unable to get support. The assistance is tailored to an individual’s circumstances.

We provide a telephone helpline for landlords and employers in order to provide guidance on conducting right-to-work and right-to-rent checks. We are exploring additional support for those using our online services to ensure they can demonstrate their rights in the UK.

We will require EEA citizens to use their online evidence of immigration status only after 30 June 2021. We have designed the service to be easy to use, but guidance will be available should it be required. It will include guidance on those who care for vulnerable users and on use by a range of stakeholders working with local groups, including vulnerable groups.

The full package of measures that I have described will be available before EEA passports and national identity cards cease to be valid for proving rights in the UK after 30 June next year. In answer to the point on two systems that was made by the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Paddick, we will replace physical and paper-based evidence of status with digital products for all migrants, starting with EEA citizens, in the next few years. These changes are being introduced gradually in a way that builds confidence for users and provides opportunities for adaptations and improvements informed by user feedback. At the same time, we are developing an extensive package of communications to ensure that everyone, from individuals to employers, landlords and other third parties, is fully aware of the move to digital and how online immigration status can be accessed and used.

Right-to-rent and right-to-work checks are not new. I have double-checked and right-to-work checks have been law since 2007. That is 13 years since they were introduced—14 by the time that online evidence of immigration is mandatory in June 2021—albeit they will now be in an online format. This move to become digital is not new. The UK public has learned to access many government services online, from applying for a UK passport to paying their vehicle excise duty. In July this year, 87% of vehicle tax renewals were made using the digital service, dispensing with the need for a physical disc on your car. The feedback from users indicates high satisfaction. UK driving licence holders are able to share online with third parties, such as car rental companies, whether they have driving-related convictions.

Employers are able to conduct right-to-work checks on foreign national employees remotely, without the need for physical documents to be handed over. Holders of biometric residence cards or biometric residence permits have already been able to prove their right to work to an employer by using an online service, instead of using their card, since January last year—the first step in our journey to make evidence of immigration status accessible online. The “view and prove” service is popular with users. In the last reporting period, from April to June this year, there have been over 400,000 views on the service by migrants. In the same period, there have been over 100,000 views of EU settlement status by organisations checking status. The average user satisfaction is very high, at a positive 88%.

It is hard to imagine how a country would have coped during Covid without the digital technologies which have enabled so many of us to work from home, shop and obtain government services remotely. We have seen a sharp uptake in digital provision by service providers and digital adaptation by the general public. Most visa applications are made online. Providing immigration status information online has enabled us to simplify and standardise the system of checks for employers, by providing information about an individual’s status in a format that is easy to understand and accessible to all users, removing the need for employers and others to interpret myriad physical documents, complex legal terminology or confusing abbreviations.

The EU settlement scheme has been at the forefront of the transition from biometric residence cards to secure online access to immigration status information. The online system is operating in parallel with existing document checks of passports or identity documents. This approach is helping employers, landlords and EEA citizens to transition from using physical documents to online services. Ultimately, all migrants coming to the UK, whether from other European countries or the rest of the world, will have access to online services which will enable them to show their immigration status without needing a document or biometric card.

On resilience, digital services are designed to be highly resilient, with rigorous testing to build assurance before services are seen by a user. Multiple security controls are in place to protect against cyberattacks and we have employed third-party organisations to conduct vulnerability and penetration testing to provide additional assurance that our online services cannot be compromised.

I shall not detain the House much further, other than to say that we will always send a formal written notification of the individual’s immigration status by email, in the form of a printable PDF document, or by post where a paper application has been made. As set out previously, I can assure noble Lords that we are committed to delivering an online service that reflects the diverse needs of all users. We recognise there are vulnerable people, such as the victim of domestic abuse and coercive control that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about or others in the Roma community that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about, who may need additional support to use our online service to share their status.

Finally, on the policy equality statement that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, asked about—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned it as well—I am very sorry to say that I cannot add to other Ministers’ comments. The statement will be published shortly as outlined by them.

I hope that with those comments the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation. She started and ended by talking about the letter that is sent to people about their status, which can be saved on their computer as a PDF. The Government have said, time and again, that, as proof of the recipient’s immigration status, these letters are not worth the paper they are printed on. It is disingenuous of the Minister to pray in aid these letters in answer to these amendments.

I know the Minister is going to write to me regarding previous amendments. Perhaps she could add whether or not, at any stage in the future, the Government intend to provide digital proof that an EEA or Swiss national who is on a six-month visa-free visit to the UK is here legally.

Finally, the Minister talked about vehicle excise licences going digital and said that no physical disc is now necessary. Can she tell the House what the increase in evasion of vehicle excise licences has been as a result of going completely digital?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think the noble Lord knows very well that I cannot give him that figure. However, I take his point that the letter is a confirmation and not a proof—I think I said that in my remarks. The digital proof is a very good way of sharing specific information with people such as employers or landlords as proof of status, but I conclude that we will not agree on this one.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I do not think that anyone in this debate spoke out against the digital rollout or suggested that it was somehow new to require people to provide evidence of their right to rent a property or to work. What is new is that European citizens living here will be required to provide that evidence very shortly.

The Minister did not address at all my points about the staggering inconsistency of the Government. They issue certificates to all British citizens at citizenship ceremonies —hard, paper-copy certificates signed by the Home Secretary. Everyone has them handed out; I have handed out many. At the same time, the same Government and department will not issue any paper certificates to people with settled or pre-settled status. Will the Minister please go away and find out why the Government are acting so inconsistently? If she could write to me I would be happy to receive that letter, but it is ludicrous that there are those two things from the same department at the same time.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Yes, I would be happy to do that.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. They all made important contributions and have provided consistent support on these issues over the extended period we have been discussing them. In view of the time, I will not go through all the contributions but I want to thank my noble colleague, if I may call him that, the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for his support and for the clear and eloquent way in which he spoke in support of the amendment. As he said, this is not a partisan issue; in reality, it is a practical and simple measure.

When I spoke earlier, I asked the Minister to consider putting aside her brief and walking in the shoes of the people who will have to work the system. I am afraid that she absolutely did not do that, and I am deeply disappointed. She said of physical documents, “I do not think they are necessary”. With respect, what matters is not what the Minister thinks but what the people who will have to live under this system think. They think they are necessary, and I do not blame them, because if I were a permanent resident in another country, I would want physical proof of my status. I suspect that many people in the Government would too. On previous groups, the Minister spoke at great length about discrimination between EEA citizens and non-EEA citizens, but that is exactly what the government scheme proposes and would do. She talked about how physical documents could be lost, stolen or tampered with. Then why on earth are the Government issuing such documents under the settled status scheme to non-EEA citizens who gain their rights through family relationships?

I asked the Minister what had changed since her own Government’s assessment of the digital right-to-work scheme found, as I said, that:

“There is a clearly identified user need for the physical card … and without strong evidence that this need can be mitigated for vulnerable, low-digital skill users, it should be retained.”


She did not enlighten the House. We heard instead much about the Home Office’s apparent plans to digitise the whole system. My noble friend Lord Paddick asked the Minister whether the Government intend, for example, to abolish the physical driving licence. I do not think he got an answer but I wondered about the status of the famous blue passport, which has caused such excitement in some quarters recently. Do the Government really intend to abolish it in favour of a digital status? If so, I would not fancy being the Minister who has to explain that to the Daily Mail.

However, there is a really serious point here. The Minister read out a brief that addresses none of the important questions that were raised. She referred to the important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, about those who may be fleeing domestic abuse and whose partner may have been the person who controlled the email address and applied for the settled status scheme. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, got an answer but I did not hear what it was.

When Michael Gove appeared before the European Union Select Committee of this House in May, in answer to a question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, about documentary proof for EU citizens in the UK, he told us that

“the moral and social case for it remains as strong as ever, and I shall reinforce that argument.”

I hope the Government will think about those comments by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. To give them time to do so, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, Covid has proved a desperate situation in so many different ways. One of the telling impacts is on individuals who have no recourse to public funds, not just for them as individuals but, as other noble Lords have said, in the context of public health, if they have to go to work, or to collect food from a food bank or other donors. The position is diametrically opposed to the UBI universal benefit, to which reference has been made. There is a lot to be said for that.

On Amendment 73, it occurred to me to ask what the policy aim is, because it reads as a hostile environment measure. What is the purpose of applying the no recourse rule to people whose future clearly lies in the UK? It is hard not to come to the conclusion that it is about starving them out.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke on this group of amendments concerning exemption from no recourse to public funds. I will reply to Amendments 53 and 73 together because they are quite similar in nature. I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue, particularly in the light of the challenges that many people face as a result of the current pandemic, as noble Lords have talked about. I genuinely welcome noble Lords’ desire to ensure that those most in need, particularly children, are supported at this time but I am afraid that I cannot accept these amendments. I will go through the reasons why.

As noble Lords will know, most migrants visiting, studying, working or joining family in the UK are subject to a no recourse to public funds condition until they have obtained indefinite leave to remain. Individuals here without leave are also subject to the condition. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked for numbers. I am afraid that these numbers are not part of the published statistics, but I know that Home Office analysts are looking at the data to determine what figures could be reduced.

The noble Baroness also talked about the provision of data. In his letter to the UK Statistics Authority, the Home Office chief statistician committed

“to further investigate the administrative data we hold to assess whether it can provide any meaningful information on the issue of hardship specifically”.

However, given the fluid nature of migration, it is quite difficult to provide an accurate figure of how many people are subject to NRPF, but we will do our best to get some meaningful figures.

The policy is based on the well-established principle that migrants coming to the UK should be able to maintain and support themselves and their families without posing a burden to the welfare system. It is designed to assure the public that controlled immigration brings real benefits to the UK and does not lead to excessive demands on the UK’s finite resources. In exempting a significant cohort from the no recourse to public funds condition, even for a limited time, the new clause proposed by Amendment 53 would undermine this policy and increase the pressure on those resources. Depending on how far into 2021 and beyond this new clause continued to apply, it may also act as an incentive for EEA citizens who are not covered by the withdrawal agreements or other immigration leave to attempt to come to the UK to access benefits and services to which they would not otherwise be entitled.

Nevertheless, the Government absolutely recognise the importance of supporting those in genuine need. Existing exemptions and safeguards are in place to ensure that lawful migrants who are destitute or at imminent risk of destitution can receive support, including the option to apply to have the no recourse to public funds condition lifted. During the pandemic, as noble Lords will know, the Government have gone further by introducing measures such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme—the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to this—and the self-employed income support scheme to support people, including those with no recourse to public funds.

More than £4.3 billion has been allocated to local authorities in England to support them in delivering their services, including helping the most vulnerable, with further funding for the devolved Administrations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, alluded to, the Government have also temporarily extended the eligibility criteria for free school meals to support families with NRPF, in recognition of the difficulties that they may be facing during these unique circumstances.

Those individuals with leave under the family and human rights routes can apply to have the condition lifted through a change of conditions application. The Home Office is prioritising and dealing with these applications compassionately, as shown by the 89% of 5,665 applications accepted in the second quarter of 2020, due to exceptional changes that some individuals faced in their financial circumstances. We cannot say what percentage of these with NRPF the 5,665 represents.

I turn to Amendment 73, which would extend the exemption beyond the current pandemic. Under our new global immigration system, EEA citizens coming to the UK will be subject to the same requirements as non-EEA citizens, including the same conditions restricting access to public funds. The effect of this proposed new clause would be to maintain an immigration system that provides preferential treatment regarding access to benefits and services to EEA citizens over most non-EEA citizens. This is not the Government’s intention, creating a system that is not fair and does not reflect the will of the British people, demonstrated by the EU referendum and, more recently, the general election.

To answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I can say that those EEA citizens who are already resident here, or who are resident by the end of the transition period, can apply to the EU settlement scheme. This allows them to access benefits and services in the UK on at least the same basis as they were before being granted that status, so EEA and Swiss nationals with pre-settled status are not subject to NRPF. That significantly reduces the need for these amendments.

I understand the need to protect the vulnerable, especially during this time, and particularly in cases involving families or children, but there are already measures in place to provide this support. These proposed new clauses would also undermine the intention to create a global unified immigration system which treats EEA and non-EEA citizens equally. For the reasons I have set out, I hope that noble Lords will be happy not to press their amendments.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised to hear me withdraw the amendment, but there are one or two comments I would like to make in reply. The first is to thank her for responding to the question I asked at the beginning. That answer confirmed that an EEA or Swiss national with pre-settled status would be able to apply for benefits and would not be restricted in being covered by NRPF—at least that is what I took from her response.

The Minister has confirmed—I am sure she will correct me if I am being unfair—that the Home Office does not really know how many people are affected by NRPF. At least, if it does know, it is still pondering whether to reveal the figures. On behalf of the Government, she said that, of the 5,665 who had asked for assistance for the NRPF conditions to be lifted, 89% had had that agreed. I do not know from that answer how much they were seeking and how much they actually got. If it was not very much or nowhere near what most people would regard as adequate, 89% would frankly not mean a great deal. It would be helpful if the Minister indicated, either now or subsequently in correspondence, what the average payment was and whether, in making the application, people had indicated how much they needed and the extent to which that need had been fully met.

I will not labour the point because in much of what I said I was not producing new arguments; I was quoting what other organisations have said about the effect that the pandemic is having on families with “no recourse to public funds”. The Children’s Society, Citizens Advice and indeed the Home Affairs Select Committee and Work and Pensions Select Committee have referred to the immediate impact on those affected of “no recourse to public funds” during the pandemic. Basically, they say that action needs to be taken now as far as the pandemic is concerned.

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

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

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

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 16th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 121-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (14 Sep 2020)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I fully support Amendment 56, moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, which would add a new clause to the Bill. This clause would provide for children who are EEA and Swiss nationals and in care, along with those entitled to care-leaving support, to be granted automatic indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme.

This amendment has wide cross-party support. The idea behind it had support in the other House, and it has that today. Every speaker so far, from different sides of the House, has spoken in support of the amendment. I am sure the Minister has taken that on board and will want to give us a positive response.

As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, there are vast numbers of these children and the amendment would ensure that none of them become undocumented. Identification is a serious problem, as my noble friend outlined. The different practices adopted by different local authorities is a real problem in itself.

The amendment would speed up the process and enable social workers, who do a fantastic job—we all know that they are under extreme pressure—to apply directly to the Home Office without having to deal with consulates and embassies and all the bureaucracy you have in dealing with another country when trying to get the right documents identified. You would avoid all that work, paperwork and bureaucracy, and go straight to the Home Office.

My noble friend Lord Dubs also asked the Minister about the safeguards in place for children who have pre-settled status, and that question deserves a careful response. As the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, this is a sensible amendment that really deserves a positive response from the Government.

I agree with all the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, on this amendment. It is the decent thing to do for these children. We are talking about a relatively small number of children, but it would ensure that nobody falls into the trap of becoming undocumented. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, said, children in care face all sorts of additional challenges; they are not with their parents and the local authority in effect is looking after them. All this amendment seeks to do is to ensure that they do not have further issues to deal with; a young person leaving care, or in many years’ time, may have the problem of being undocumented and unable to establish their identity properly. This is a very small measure which the Government should give way on.

Like my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett, I commend the work of the Children’s Society to identify and raise the plights of these children. The society has campaigned to ensure that they have protection and that their problems are not added to by becoming undocumented. As I say, it is the decent thing to do. Equally, I am sure that we will get a response from the Minister on the amendment, and on the issue in Lesbos.

I should also draw the attention of the House to the fact that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Local authorities do a fantastic job. Certain authorities, particularly Kent, are under particular pressure regarding children’s issues, but they generally do a fantastic job. This is one small measure which the Government could accept to help authorities and make it a bit easier for them in the work that they do. I hope that the Minister can give a positive response to us today, and maybe we can come back to this on Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for moving his Amendment 56, which calls for children in care and care leavers who have their right of free movement removed by the Bill to be granted indefinite leave to remain.

May I say at the outset that I absolutely agree with the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Kennedy, and others that no child should be undocumented, and with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we should not create any cracks? So that I do not disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, yet again, I will immediately address the issues that he raised.

First, he asked if we should do as the Germans do. I think we should do as we do. As far as reputational risk is concerned, I do not think we should help these children because it has an influence on our reputation; I think we should help children because it is the right thing to do, and in fact this country has a very long history of helping children who need our support.

The noble Lord asked me if I agree that it is an emergency. Absolutely, I agree that it is an emergency. Of course, I also agree that it is a humanitarian issue. One could not fail to be moved by the plight that these children and their families sometimes go through.

The noble Lord then asked me the million-dollar question: what the Government are doing about it. On 22 April, the UK and Greece signed a joint historic migration plan that reaffirms our commitment to closer co-operation with Greece on a range of migration issues. On the direct help for some of those people on the Greek islands, we have given £500,000 for urgent humanitarian help for the most vulnerable.

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Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB) [V]
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I am grateful to the Minister for responding to my questions. I guess that I am rightly rebuked for suggesting that a relevant factor in considering what we should do about the victims of Lesbos is our reputation around the world. I suppose it is a case of déformation professionnelle. I used to be a diplomat and I am therefore keen on our trying to recover some of our lost reputation. Perhaps the Government—less the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen—are less keen today. Perhaps they do not recognise the extent of the reputational damage. Anyway, I agree that that is not strictly relevant.

The Minister agreed that there is an emergency case for helping and an overwhelming humanitarian case for helping. But—I hope the Minister will forgive my saying so—she seems to be saying that we propose to do nothing at all about it. Everything that she cited—the money in April and the flights in July and August—took place before the fire on the island of Lesbos and before these 14,500 people, who are now sleeping rough, were displaced. If she accepts that there is a new urgent humanitarian case then it would be very good if the Government could do something about it.

I note that a number of people spoke on the same lines as me about this problem, so I hope the Minister will take back to Whitehall the idea that there seems to be a feeling in this House that we ought to be doing something to help the victims of Moria.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord can probably tell that I have never been a diplomat. However, I take his point in absolutely good faith. It is probably both reputational and our duty to help those in need around the world.

I spoke to the noble Lord about the joint historic migration plan, which confirms our closer co-operation with Greece. I was speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, before we even began this Committee stage, and I think that we all need to get together and work out solutions for upstream work and to help the desperate people in the regions who will never even get to Europe. We need to tackle some of the drivers of the terrible criminality that goes on, which has no intention of helping the most vulnerable people at all.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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I was not sure whether the Minister was talking about money that had been paid to Greece to help, or money that was going to be paid. Clearly, money is needed—I am in no position to think how much that might be—but it is not just about money.

I commend to noble Lords the BBC Radio 4 programme “More or Less” this morning, which objectively dealt with where the UK comes in comparison with other nations in taking refugees and assisting asylum seekers. The tables I have in front of me show that, combining both resettled refugees and asylum seekers, we take less than a quarter of the number taken by Greece and less than 10% of the number taken by Germany. This is not a competition, except a competition to do better. I wanted to put that on the record.

I also want to respond to the points the Minister has just made. The best upstream action is to provide safe and legal routes. She mentioned that in her first response, and I commend her for that. That is where the focus needs to be.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I do not disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee: we need to provide safe and legal routes, and through our resettlement schemes we do provide them. We are all in danger of agreeing violently, because we want to help the most vulnerable and we want places like Greece, that need our support, to get it.

The noble Baroness asked whether the money had been paid or would be paid. It has been paid. She will of course remember that, back in the day, we put quite a phenomenal amount of money into helping people in the region who will never get out and who will never make the journey over to Europe.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I do not think that we, as a country, have been backward in coming forward to other countries that need our help. We are working closely with Greece. As I said, we have given it money to deal with some of the most vulnerable people on its islands, and we will continue to do that.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but what I heard in the first question from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was about taking refugees from the camp in Lesbos. She talked exclusively about unaccompanied children. Germany had initially agreed to take 400 unaccompanied children, but has now changed that decision and will take in 1,553 refugees from Lesbos, making up the difference in the numbers with adults. Can the Minister clarify that the Government’s position on not taking adult refugees from anywhere in Europe has not changed despite the disaster in Lesbos?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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What I said was that we did not participate in the EU relocation scheme; I am not sure whether we ever have. I am saying that we will absolutely meet our obligations under Dublin, and if a request comes from the UNHCR for us to take displaced people from Greece who are eligible to come under Dublin, we will of course consider that.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand her position to be that the amendment we are discussing is not necessary and could make the situation worse. Apparently the Home Office supports the aims of the amendment but it is not going to act, because there are measures already in place to deal with this question, and it does not want any children to end up undocumented. Maybe I am wrong, but I am sure that if I am, the Minister will correct me. If I am correct, is she giving a cast-iron assurance that the Home Office will not let any of those children become undocumented, and that in the period ahead it will not take decisions that undermine what she has said to us today?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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What I am saying is that the Home Office, in conjunction with other departments, will ensure that we can identify every child, or indeed adult, in that vulnerable category and that they are assisted where possible. As I said the other day, the EU settlement scheme will not close and reasonable grounds for late applications will not end, so if any people—either adults or children—are identified in future as coming into the category that noble Lords have spoken about, they will be documented.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her amendment and my noble friend Lord Dundee, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I turn first to Amendment 62 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I note that she has raised this amendment to probe the need to expand the UK’s refugee family reunion rules. I will address each part of the amendment in turn.

Paragraph (a) of the proposed new clause seeks to allow refugees to reunite with their dependent children under the age of 25, as long as they were under 18 or unmarried at the time their parents left their country. The refugee family reunion guidance is clear that where a family reunion application does not meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules, caseworkers must consider whether there are any exceptional circumstances or compassionate factors that may justify a grant of leave outside the Immigration Rules. To this end, particular reference is given in the guidance to the example of children over 18 who are not leading an independent life and would otherwise be left alone in a dangerous situation. I can confirm that this discretion is used to allow dependent adult children to reunite with their parents in the UK where appropriate.

Paragraph (b) of the proposed new clause relates to refugees sponsoring parents. The noble Baroness will know that the Government have been very clear on their established position on this issue, as we are very concerned that allowing children to sponsor their parents would lead to more children being encouraged—even forced—to leave their families and risk dangerous journeys to the UK. However, discretion can be applied where a caseworker feels that a refusal of entry clearance would breach Article 8 of the ECHR or result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant or their family. Furthermore, Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules already allows refugees to sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can be provided only by relatives in the UK.

Paragraph (c) of the proposed new clause relates to refugees sponsoring dependent siblings under the age of 25, as long as they were under 18 or unmarried at the time their sibling left their country. I draw noble Lords’ attention to paragraph 319X of the Immigration Rules, which allows extended family, including siblings, to sponsor children to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances. Again, consideration will also be given to any factors that might warrant a grant of leave outside the rules, where the rules are not met.

I hope this reassures the noble Baroness that there are vehicles within the existing policy framework to reunite the family members her amendment seeks to cover. An expansion of the policy could significantly increase the numbers who could qualify to come here from not just conflict regions but any country from which someone is granted protection. This would mean extended family members who themselves do not need protection being able to come here, which risks reducing our capacity to assist the most vulnerable refugees.

On numbers, I highlight that the UK has now issued over 29,000 family reunion visas in only the last five years, with more than half of those issued to children—a substantial number that should not be underestimated.

I agree with the intention of compassion and humanity that motivates Amendment 64, proposed by my noble friend Lord Dundee. However, we do not support this amendment, which seeks to create a humanitarian visa for EEA and Swiss nationals. It is unclear to me and the Government why those citizens have humanitarian needs that cannot be addressed by their own European country.

The Government have an excellent humanitarian record in assisting vulnerable people, including children. The UK is one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states, resettling more refugees than any other country in Europe, and is in the top five countries worldwide. Since 2015 we have resettled more than 25,000 refugees, around half of whom have been children.

Once we have delivered our current commitments under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, we will consolidate our main schemes into a new global UK resettlement scheme. Our priority will be to continue to identify and resettle vulnerable refugees in need of protection, as identified and referred by the UNHCR. The focus of our humanitarian record is on those most in need, and I suggest that today’s amendment does not cover those most in need.

I turn to each proposed condition of the humanitarian visa in detail. Overall, it is unclear why, regarding the condition set out in subsection 3(a) of the proposed new clause, the UK should pick up healthcare provision for EEA and Swiss citizens, whether they are residing in their country of nationality or not, as these countries have excellent healthcare systems. However, our current discretionary leave policy allows us to grant leave to remain to individuals who do not qualify for leave to remain under the Immigration Rules but where there are exceptional or compassionate reasons for allowing them to remain in the UK, including on medical grounds and ill health.

The discretionary leave policy can, for example, address the needs of those who face a real risk of being exposed to a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in their state of health as a result of the absence of appropriate medical treatment in their home country. The policy also allows us to balance this care, and our international obligations under the ECHR, with the need to protect the finite resources of the NHS. The threshold for a person to be considered for discretionary leave on the basis of their medical condition is very clearly set out in our policy on medical claims and is intentionally high for this reason.

Furthermore, we are already dedicated to ensuring that vulnerable groups can access the NHS without charge. There are several groups applying for leave to remain in the UK who are exempt from the requirement to pay the immigration health charge, including asylum claimants and victims of modern slavery who apply for discretionary leave to remain. Those who are exempt from paying the IHC, or for whom the requirement is waived, are entitled to use the NHS generally without charge.

On the condition set out in proposed new subsection 3(b), the Government are committed to supporting vulnerable children. This amendment fails to recognise the safe and legal routes in the current immigration system for reuniting families, including the previously mentioned refugee family reunion rules, as well as Part 8 and Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules, all of which will remain in place at the end of the transition period.

The proposed amendment would also require the Government to create a new visa route for orphaned children who are EEA or Swiss nationals to come to the UK to be placed in local authority foster care where it is in their best interests. It is unclear why an orphaned child who is German, Italian or Greek, for example, should come to the UK on humanitarian grounds and be placed in local authority care here. These are safe European countries, and it is not appropriate for the UK to take children out of care in their own home countries and bring them here. Local authorities in the UK are already facing significant pressures, currently caring for over 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, which is an increase of 146% since 2014.

On the condition set out in proposed new subsection 3(c), child dependants of those with leave in the UK are very well catered for in the Immigration Rules, which means that there is no need for primary legislation to create provision that already exists.

Turning to Amendment 79, I appreciate the noble Baroness’s intent behind the amendment, which seeks to create a means whereby, in the future, EEA and Swiss citizens will be able to join a spouse, partner, parent or a child in the UK who is either a British citizen or holds valid leave here, but without being subject to the current and established financial requirements for family migration.

There are a number of additional factors that I would like to turn to, which are also reasons for objecting to this amendment. I remind noble Lords that the minimum income requirement is based on in-depth analysis and advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. It did not find any clear case for differentiation in the level of the minimum income requirement between UK countries and regions. A single national threshold provides clarity and simplicity. Data also show that the gross median earnings in 2019 exceeded the minimum income requirement in every country and region of the UK. So it is true to say that the minimum income requirement is set at a suitable and consistent level and promotes financial independence, thereby avoiding burdens on the taxpayer and ensuring that families can participate sufficiently in everyday life to facilitate integration into British society.

In all family cases, the decision-maker will consider whether the Immigration Rules are otherwise met and, if not, will go on to consider whether there are exceptional circumstances that would render refusal a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR because it would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant or their family. Each application is considered on its merits and on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the individual circumstances. The rules also give direct effect to the Secretary of State’s statutory duty to have regard, as a primary consideration, to a child’s best interests in making an immigration decision affecting them. In the future, British citizens and settled persons who want to be joined by family members who are EEA or Swiss citizens will benefit from these considerations without the need for Amendment 79.

Amendment 79 undermines the sound basis on which family migration to this country has been placed in recent years. It would circumvent the need for family migration to be on a basis whereby families are financially independent and able to contribute to the UK. It is for this reason that the income requirement was set out in the Immigration Rules. The Supreme Court has upheld this requirement as lawful and judged that it is not discriminatory. The amendment therefore seeks to contradict this ruling. There is no justifiable reason to avoid this requirement in the future by giving preferential treatment to family members based solely on their nationality. It is also unlikely to be lawful to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked if I had figures on the numbers who are affected, or who are projected to be affected. I do not have them on me. If we have them, I will provide them for her.

I hope that, on that basis, noble Lords are happy not to press their amendments.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
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I have received one request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I do not always agree with the Home Office, but I do commend the answers that the Minister has just given on these three amendments.

I want to make some brief comments on Amendment 79. As the Minister just pointed out, the present income threshold for a spousal visa is designed to ensure that those coming to the UK for family reunion have enough resources to play a full part in British life and do not become a burden on the taxpayer. That is surely a sensible approach. As she mentioned, this has been to the Supreme Court, which ruled the policy to be lawful. Indeed, far from removing the threshold, there are, in certain cases, strong arguments for raising it.

The Migration Advisory Committee has said that, on average, for the family income to cover the cost of all public services, a higher threshold is required: namely, £25,700, rather than the current level of £18,600—a difference of £7,100. Even that threshold would not be enough, it says, for a non-EU household to make a net contribution to public finances. For them, the figure would be £38,000 a year. We must have in mind the impact of changes to these rules on the taxpayer and the reaction that they may have to that.

Finally, it is perhaps important to note that a reduction in the threshold would run entirely contrary to the Government’s 2017 election manifesto, which promised to raise the level of the threshold. That, of course, has still not been done.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I pretty much agree with him on every point.

On the higher threshold, the MAC will not be passive in commenting on the various aspects of the new immigration system, and I am sure that the threshold will be one of them.

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Windrush has been mentioned. Subsection (2)(c) raises the spectre of the destruction of records—the amendment seeks to quash it before it can be raised properly—which in the case of Windrush happened simply so that the building could be vacated. Duties to encourage, to promote, to facilitate awareness and to exercise the right of citizenship are all things that we support.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have partaken in this debate. I do not disagree that people should have their rights communicated to them and generally should feel part of the communities in which they live, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, says.

At this stage, it is worth decoupling two distinct matters: one is the end of the transition period and the other is the consideration of whether someone is British or should become so. However, I do not think the latter is at issue. For the former, which is the subject of this Bill, we have made extensive arrangements to ensure that the rights enjoyed by those who have resided here under free movement can continue until the end of this year.

British citizenship, as noble Lords have said, is determined by the British Nationality Act 1981, which sets out how someone may already be British—for example, through their birth here—and, for those who are not, the means by which a person may seek to become so. This might be through naturalisation or registration, depending on the individual’s circumstances and connections. Any applications submitted will utilise information that we already hold on an individual as far as possible, although there may always be circumstances in which further information may be needed. We treat all applications to become British equally, regardless of the nationality that the applicant may currently hold. The important consideration is whether they meet the requirements set out in statute. Equally, our guidance on the application process is published and available to all.

Last year we received nearly 175,000 nationality applications, which indicates that people generally are aware of the application process, the benefits of becoming British and what it might mean to individuals when they are ready to apply. That does not mean that we cannot consider alternative approaches. Noble Lords will remember, and a noble Lord referred to the fact, that the Home Secretary announced on 21 July in a Statement that alongside the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, she proposed—along with evaluating changes to immigration and nationality laws to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today’s world—to make sure that the changes were now communicated effectively where they had not previously been so. Many of the speeches touched upon that aspect of things.

While there has not been a suggestion by noble Lords that it is a change of law per se that is of concern to them—I absolutely get where noble Lords are coming from—but perhaps more general awareness for a group who may have previously not considered becoming British, I am happy to put on record that I will ask the Home Secretary whether raising awareness of citizenship more generally could form part of that ongoing process and to consider ways how that might be achieved. I will also pass on the request from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to meet the Home Secretary, but any change should be for all people potentially affected, not only those who would lose freedom of movement rights—I do not think he was suggesting otherwise. He also asked how much the legal cost of court appeals had been. He will not be surprised that I cannot recall that off the top of my head, but I do not disagree with the general principle that an awful lot of money on all sorts of sides is spent on court cases. I hope that with those undertakings, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her reply. I understand from what she said that she has undertaken to discuss the issue of further raising awareness with the Home Secretary. I also thank all noble Lords who spoke in support of the amendments in this group.

I think I am right in saying that the Minister did not respond to the question as to what the numbers are of those who are still entitled to British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981 but have yet to apply. If we are not aware of the number, that in itself is a real case. I know that the Minister has undertaken to look at this matter further, but it makes the real case for making sure that we raise awareness as much as possible to people who might be in that situation to urge them to consider exercising their right to British citizenship. Surely we need to ensure that all those entitled to register for British citizenship either have it confirmed that that is already their status or are advised that they can register for that citizenship to which they are entitled under the 1981 Act.

We are, after all, talking about an entitlement—a right—to British citizenship, as I know the Minister has recognised. Surely, as people who are proud to be British, we should actively want to ensure that all those who have that entitlement are made aware of it and encouraged to exercise it, with the key responsibility for doing so and facilitating that entitlement to citizenship resting clearly with the Secretary of State and the Government. I hope very much that the discussions that I believe the Minister has said that she will have with the Home Secretary will lead to further very strenuous efforts to raise awareness of this right. Indeed, I hope that the Government will go further, as proposed in Amendment 67, to encourage people to exercise their entitlement and to do their utmost to facilitate matters so that the entitlement can be exercised with ease. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I fully support Amendment 81 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. Like others, I pay tribute to him for his work in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in your Lordships’ House, combating the evil of modern slavery and human trafficking.

The noble Lord made a very compelling case for the Government to agree to his amendment today, and I do hope the Minister will be able to give us some hope that the Government will meet the issue that the noble Lord addressed the House on. I equally agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, and again commend the work he has done on combating modern slavery.

The new clause, as we have heard, seeks to ensure that proper consideration is given to the impact of the new regulations on the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. It is most important that we consider the effect on victims that these changes will make. That is really very important. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, rules, regulations, processes and overdue immigration procedures must work to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking and, obviously, not weaken the position at present.

The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, again referred to the anti-trafficking directive, and the risk of what is going to be lost on 1 January. I do hope the Minister will address that. It is a huge concern, for many noble Lords, that at any point next year we will find ourselves with weaker provisions and weaker laws that will benefit only criminals and criminal gangs, and really harm victims.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, for all his work. It is high time that the Government stood up and backed the noble Lord. His Private Member’s Bill is absolutely right: all he is asking for is that England and Wales have the same provisions that endure in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Bill sailed through this House, but then what happened to it? It crashed on the rocks in the other place. The Government did nothing to support it last time, and it is wrong. The Government really should stand up now and back the noble Lord on his Bill.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I will start by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that I am not going to trot out the line that he suspects I am. Moreover, I will actually thank him for his contribution to this incredibly important debate, and for his continued commitment to the really important objective of ensuring the impacts on victims of modern slavery are considered in changes to the Immigration Rules following this Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said an interesting thing just before she closed, which is that we should consider modern-day slavery across legislation. I think it is absolutely crucial that we consider it across government, because it affects and infects almost every aspect of modern-day life. Noble Lords mentioned William Wilberforce, who is actually one of my heroes. It is over 200 years since we abolished slavery, and yet we have the terrible blight of modern-day slavery in our society. We are committed to tackling this terrible crime. We are now identifying more victims of modern-day slavery and doing more to bring perpetrators to justice than ever before. I will just say to the noble Lords, Lord McColl and Lord Kennedy, that there is going to be no diminution in directly affected rights.

We will replace freedom of movement with a points-based system. We remain committed to protecting individuals from modern slavery and exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers. I will not answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because I cannot. Has there been an increase in trafficking during Covid? I think we can all safely say is that there has been an increase in a lot of behind the scenes-type activity that is unpalatable to us all, including things such as domestic violence. I am sure that will reveal itself as time goes on.

We are definitely committed to considering the impact of our policies on vulnerable people, including by fulfilling our public sector equality duties under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. As the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, said, on 13 July we published an equalities impact assessment on the points-based system, which considers the impact of our policy on protected characteristics. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I can send that to him if he wishes. We will continue to iterate this document. Our work ensures that we keep at the forefront of our minds the potential consequences of our policies on those who may be susceptible to exploitation.

Across the board, it is crucial that we understand the groups and communities affected by our policies. As the Home Secretary highlighted in her Statement to the House on Wendy Williams’s Windrush Lessons Learned Review on 21 July, she has set out clear expectations that she expects officials to engage with community organisations, civil society and the public and to provide evidence in all advice to Ministers. To answer the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who asked if I would meet him: of course I will meet him to discuss his Private Member’s Bill.

Through the Home Office’s advisory groups, we have undertaken engagement with organisations on the design and development of the future immigration system, including those representing potentially vulnerable individuals. These groups, which include experts on modern slavery, including the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, have been fundamental in helping us to shape our policies and to design the future system. I understand that the Home Secretary has asked officials to facilitate a dedicated session with members of the Vulnerability Advisory Group and experts from the modern slavery sector, to better understand the possible impacts of the new immigration system on potential victims of modern slavery.

The noble Lords, Lord Morrow and Lord Alton, asked me about the seasonal workers pilot. A key objective of the pilot is to ensure that migrant workers are adequately protected against modern slavery and other labour abuses. It requires operators to ensure that all workers have a safe working environment—I think he alluded to that—that they are treated fairly, paid properly including time off and breaks; that they are housed in safe, hygienic accommodation; that their passport is never withheld from them; and that robust systems are in place for the reporting of concerns and rapid action. The operators of the scheme are and must remain licensed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

In addition, the Home Office and Defra also monitor the scheme closely to ensure that operators adhere to the stringent requirements set out for ensuring the safety and well-being of seasonal workers. We work with the sector, including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, to achieve these aims. Should either of the selected operators fall short in their duties as a sponsor, action will be taken, up to and including the revocation of their sponsor licence. Other criminal sanctions will be considered as well, as appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, asked me what the Government were doing to ensure that EU exit does not adversely affect efforts to tackle modern slavery. We already exceed our international obligations to victims under the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which will not be affected by EU exit. We will continue our work with European partners to eradicate modern slavery, no matter what shape our relationship with the EU takes. This is an international problem, not just a UK problem, and it is in everyone’s interest that we reach an agreement that equips operational partners on both sides with those capabilities that help protect citizens and bring criminals to justice.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, questioned pre-settled status in terms of the right to benefits. Pre-settled status maintains the right to benefits, and a person would not need discretionary leave to remain under the modern slavery provisions because they would have five years’ leave to remain.

I hope that those explanations satisfy noble Lords and that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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The mover of the resolution, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has explained the background to this amendment and what has prompted it. As has been said, Section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 provides an exemption against deportation where it would be “unduly harsh” on that person’s partner or child. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, explained, the amendment seeks to give what I would interpret as more specific and relevant weight to the impact on a child of the deportation of somebody who may be a foreign criminal with a genuine and subsisting parental relationship with that British child, or other qualifying child, when considering an exemption.

I await with interest the Government’s response, during which I hope it may be possible for the Government to provide information on the number of such exemptions against deportation given under Section 117C of the 2002 Act in each of the last three years for which figures are available. Also, what estimate, if any, have the Government made of the increase, if any, in the number of such exemptions per year that would result from the change provided for in this amendment becoming applicable—a change which, frankly, in the light of some of the legal cases to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred, would seem quite reasonable?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, next time I stand here, I will bring a series of numbers because the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others have foxed me on numbers this afternoon. However, but I will get for him, if I can, the number of exemptions under Article 8. I thank the noble Baronesses for bringing forward Amendment 82A on family life.

The Article 8 ECHR

“right to respect for family and private life”

is a qualified right, which can be circumscribed where lawful, necessary and proportionate in the interest of a number of factors, including national security, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 provides that when assessing whether deportation breaches Article 8 of the ECHR, the deportation of a foreign national offender is in the public interest, unless certain exceptions apply. These amendments seek to alter these exceptions and diminish the importance placed on the public interest in deporting the most serious offenders.

The proposed new clause amends the exception at Section 117C(5) for foreign national offenders—or FNOs—who have been sentenced to less than four years of imprisonment and have a genuine and subsisting relationship with a qualifying partner or child so that their deportation would not be in the public interest if it would be unreasonable for the child to leave the UK or to remain in the UK without the foreign national offender. That would be in addition to the existing exception which applies where the effect of the deportation on the partner or child would be unduly harsh.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for raising this important issue. The review highlighted how many of the Windrush generation suffered so much, starting with stress and anxiety and leading too often to loss of livelihood and even separation from home and family. It therefore seems a fitting way to end the Committee stage, because it is a reminder to all of us of the consequences of getting immigration policy wrong.

When the review was first published, the current Home Secretary said she was “shocked” to discover the extent of the insensitive treatment that the Windrush generation and their families suffered. However, it is not good enough to be shocked after the event. We should all have known what was going on, taken responsibility for policy-making and been responsive to the people who were telling us that something was wrong. I think, along with my noble friend Lady Lister, that the decision to spend 10 years prioritising hostility in immigration policy should weigh heavily indeed.

As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, Wendy Williams called the desperate results of the scandal “foreseeable and avoidable”. That is a reminder, as the Government push this Bill through, that people will have to live in the world this legislation will help to frame. We should keep that in mind.

I add my voice to the questions asked by my noble friend Lady Lister and others. The Home Secretary accepted all the recommendations of the review, including changing the culture of the Home Office, and gave an early update before the summer. Has the comprehensive improvement plan promised for September been published? Can the Minister give us an update on how many people have now applied to the compensation scheme, and how many have received and accepted a compensation offer? When will we get another update on progress made so far? We all need to learn the lessons of the Windrush review.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment. I concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, that this is a fitting end to Committee, although some of our views on how to prevent another Windrush scandal differ—for example, on the declaratory scheme versus the constitutive scheme for settled status.

Noble Lords have acknowledged that the Home Secretary has made it clear that we accept the review’s findings. She updated the other House last month on progress towards implementing its recommendations. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, we will publish a comprehensive improvement plan in September—so, this month. I look forward to updating the House.

As part of our response, we are reviewing every aspect of how the Home Office operates: its leadership, culture, policies and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the community it serves. It must be said that while urgent and extensive work is taking place across the Home Office on all the recommendations, fundamental change takes time to deliver. Culture shift is like turning an oil tanker round; I think noble Lords accept that point. To rush for the sake of making a headline would be the wrong approach. If noble Lords could stand in my shoes, they would see how much the Home Office and the Home Secretary talk about Wendy Williams and the lessons learned. The culture is already starting to change but it is not a quick change. Wendy Williams made that very point: we should not rush, first, to respond to the review or, secondly, implement some of the changes suggested in it.

Delaying the end of free movement until the changes are implemented would prevent us moving to a new skills-based immigration system. That new system means people will be treated equally and fairly, and delaying it would undermine the Government’s clear position on ending free movement. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know I cannot accept the amendment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about the evaluation, the terms of reference and whether we had engaged any external experts. The team is actively engaging with internal and external organisations, as well as with staff at all levels. We are engaging with the unions, with support networks and with the department’s race board to determine the best way to implement the findings of the review.

Of course, it is fair to say in conclusion that the findings of Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review affect all migrants in the UK, not just EEA citizens. The tenet—to use the word used by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—of her review was a fairness and a humanity within the way that the Home Office operates, and I can totally concur with that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked me for an update on the compensation scheme. I do not have the facts and figures—another deficiency in facts and figures this afternoon—but I will certainly write to noble Lords on where we are up to. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, questioned the high number of appeals that are upheld. This is all down to when appeals are lodged, and that can have an impact on appeals granted. With that, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am sorry to deter the noble Baroness; I think there was a delay in my request getting from here to there. I thank the Minister for answering most of my questions, but could I just push her a bit further? If the review decided that the only way to address the problems created by the hostile/compliant environment would be to reform the legislation, such as right to rent, is it within its power or terms of reference to be able to recommend that kind of legislative reform?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I am not being obtuse, but the noble Baroness is talking about hypotheticals. I do not think that that is the case, but perhaps we could speak further about it after Committee.

Amendment 95 withdrawn.

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

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

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

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

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 121-R-II Second marshalled list for Report - (30 Sep 2020)
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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Amendment 1 calls for a report to be laid before Parliament on how the provisions under Schedule 1 to the Bill are to be enforced. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and other noble Lords have expressed concerns about the level and extent of immigration enforcement. I agree that proper, responsible enforcement is essential and that people need to have confidence in the immigration system.

Coming at it from a slightly different angle, we have seen the consequences of poor enforcement—from a broken detention system which can hold indefinitely people who have suffered abuse, while failing to deport criminals, to the Windrush scandal, in which law-abiding citizens had their lives shattered by an unacceptable Home Office culture. I, too, await with interest the Government’s response to this amendment.

On Amendment 26, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his explanation of the purpose and reasoning behind it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response in the light of the noble Lord’s meeting with the Minister.

Amendment 2, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would remove from the Bill Clause 1, which repeals the main retained EU law relating to free movement. I will say it: the amendment is effectively a wrecking amendment, since the overriding purpose of this Bill is to end rights to free movement. It would rerun the argument over the basic premise of the Bill.

The primary role of your Lordships’ House is as a revising Chamber. It is not for us to vote down the clause that is central to the purpose of this Bill, whatever our individual views. Our focus today is on a number of vital issues on which we can apply pressure, and on attempting to make concrete changes to the Bill which, if this House agrees to them, the Commons would give serious consideration to and might even support. We have to be realistic about the changes we can make to this legislation. I note the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said she would be voting for Amendment 2. If it is put to a vote, we will not support it but abstain.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I particularly thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for bringing back her amendment, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, about how the repeal of EU law relating to free movement set out in Schedule 1 will be enforced. I strongly support the premise of the amendment, but I hope I will be able to explain why it is not necessary to divide the House.

The premise of the amendment is particularly important in a post-Brexit era. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I assure noble Lords that the Home Office will be updating its published enforcement policy with particular regard to EEA citizens and their family members who, having arrived here after the end of the transition period, from January 2021, must have leave to enter or remain. She pressed me on the legislative options. She will understand that I cannot pre-empt these, but I am sure they will become clear in due course

The guidance will make it clear to immigration enforcement officers that no enforcement action should be taken in respect of those EEA citizens who can apply for the EU settlement scheme until the deadline of 30 June 2021. This includes while an application is outstanding after that deadline and pending the outcome of any appeal if the decision is to refuse status under the EU settlement scheme. Instead, officers should encourage EEA citizens to apply during the grace period. We have given a clear commitment that, where EEA citizens and their family members have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. The Government will publish guidance on what constitutes reasonable grounds for missing the deadline in early 2021, as I articulated previously.

As I set out during our earlier debate on this amendment, we are now moving towards having a level playing field for EEA and non-EEA citizens, where they will be treated equally and will be covered by the same published guidance regarding the application of sanctions and enforcement measures if these are relevant. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe has previously said that she wants to see robust enforcement and highlighted a number of practical suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. I hope I can provide at least some assurances in these areas.

Enforcing the UK’s immigration laws is critical to a functioning immigration system and effectively implementing the Government’s policies. Tackling illegal working, targeting those in the country illegally and removing dangerous foreign criminals is an absolute priority. The fall in returns in the latest year was largely due to very few returns in the last quarter because of Covid. In addition, the Home Office has been operating against an increasingly challenging legal landscape in recent years, which the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, referred to. In some cases, this has constrained its ability to return individuals, and this has been coupled with a noticeable increase in levels of abuse designed to delay and frustrate our processes, reducing the removals achieved.

In term of performance on deporting foreign criminals, more than 55,000 have been returned since 2010. To pick up on my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s point about returns from the EU, of the 3,791 foreign national offenders—FNOs—returned from the UK in the year ending June 2020, two-thirds were EU nationals. We will also pursue action rigorously against individuals living in the community, actively monitoring and managing cases through the legal processes and negotiating barriers to removal. Despite logistical issues with flights in the current pandemic, the Home Office will continue to take these forward with routes currently available, and as further routes return.

The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, made suggestions in Committee about illegal migrants destroying their documents and linking the issuing of visas to countries readmitting their own citizens. Visas are a border and national security tool. The UK keeps its visa system under regular review. Decisions on changes are always taken in the round and reflect key facets of the bilateral relationship with the country concerned. These will vary globally, but often include security, compliance, returns and prosperity. On his point about restoring the detained fast-track system for some asylum claims, unfortunately this process had to be suspended following a finding by the courts that the fast-track procedure rules were unlawful. However, we continue to explore options on tightening up key elements of our immigration system, including around asylum, appeals and enforcement.

Finally, the noble Lord mentioned the difficulty of preventing EU visitors and non-visa nationals working while in this country. Illegal working, as noble Lords will know, is a key driver of illegal migration; it encourages people to break our immigration laws and provides the practical means for migrants to remain in the UK unlawfully. This encourages people to take risks by putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous people smugglers; it leaves them vulnerable to exploitative employers and results in businesses that are not playing by the rules undercutting legitimate businesses that are. It also negatively impacts on the wages of lawful workers and is linked to other labour market abuses such as tax evasion, breach of the national minimum wage and exploitative working conditions—including, of course, modern slavery in the most serious cases.

Immigration enforcement teams take the threat of illegal working extremely seriously and work with employers to deny illegal workers access to jobs by making it straightforward to check a worker’s status and entitlement as well as providing a range of charged-for training and advisory services. Where employers do not follow the rules, we will apply a range of sanctions, from civil penalties to closure notices and, ultimately, the prosecution of criminal offences.

Turning to specific questions, a number of noble Lords mentioned the PAC report. We will, of course, respond to that in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, unsurprisingly referred to our meeting and the issue of e-gates. People cannot use repeat visits to live here legally and obtain the same rights as residents to work and obtain benefits. He talked about visitors repeatedly passing through e-gates after 31 December 2020. Those who do not have another form of UK status may be granted six months leave to enter but will not be able, as I say, to work or access benefits and services. They will, of course, be expected to leave the UK or extend their stay before their leave to enter expires, and they may, as I said, face enforcement or removal if they do not. Any EEA national arriving to work or study will need to apply under our new system and obtain prior permission, just like any other non-visa nationals. Without such permission, they will not be able to demonstrate their entitlement to remain in the UK for anything other than a visit.

We had what I thought was a very constructive conversation about how people might be currently trying to game the system, and about what the situation might be beyond January 2021. He asked me how the B5JSSK countries were chosen. There was an assessment of factors, including volumes and security and the issue was debated in both Houses. He also made the point that the countries were all white countries. Japan, Singapore and South Korea may not be, but I do not know how he defines “white”. I will leave it at that, since it is a subjective matter.

I will repeat that a parliamentary report on enforcement, as required by this amendment, is unnecessary because policy guidance on enforcement is already published. I hope my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has clearly passed on to his grandson the importance of contributing to service in its widest sense. I very much agree with his analysis but then I almost always do.

By definition, members of the largest cohort in the social care sector do not fall within paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 but are very much affected. They are certainly part of the social care workforce and are impacted by the availability of social care workers employed in the sector. I mean, of course, the many people who support and care for someone older, disabled or seriously ill at home. According to Carers UK, one in eight adults—6.5 million people—are so engaged. The carer’s allowance is around £67 a week. I could go on but I do not get the impression that noble Lords need to be convinced of the importance of the sector, including those who do not have formal, paid-for care at home or in a care home. The informal carers and those for whom they care are impacted as well as those in public or private employment. The number of those in private employment is considerable. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to the NHS.

That is not the only reason we support the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in Committee, reminded us that there are 115,000 European nationals in the social care workforce, despite high vacancy rates. It is, as other noble Lords, have said, a skilled profession with some skills that cannot be trained into a person and come from one’s personality and often culture, and include physical fitness, as we were reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. At a previous stage of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said that he would have supported similar amendments but for the absence of a reference to training, which is now included in the amendment—rightly so—because training in practical and technical matters is important. However, that does not detract from my observations about personality.

The need for carers will not diminish. My noble friend Lady Barker reminded us, although I do not need reminding, that many of us are ageing and do not have children to shoulder the work—and it is work —done by families, however lovingly. She gave us the figure of 1 million but one should add families with a disabled child, for instance.

Like my noble friend Lady Smith, I have a lot of sympathy with Amendment 30 and many of my comments apply to it. In Committee, the Minister relied on the MAC having licence to consider any aspect of migration policy. However, when prompted by yesterday’s report, I looked at the website—it may have been changed now—which referred only to commissions by the Home Secretary. However, the committee’s pursuit of the matter is welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, will note that in quoting the chair’s reference to the

“struggle to recruit the necessary staff if wages do not increase as a matter of urgency”,

I am relying on a press release, not the 600 pages of the report.

As regards the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, it is right that the assessment should be commissioned by the Home Secretary, because she should own the work. We are not “incurious”, as the right reverend Prelate said, and will support the amendment.

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

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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I said that we would have been having this debate but the pandemic made it worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I have received no requests from noble Lords wishing to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to reply.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, I agree with the intentions and objectives of Amendments 4 and 5 for the reasons given by all noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.

Amendment 9, to which my name is attached, as is that of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, provides for a sunset clause on the powers set out in Clause 4 of the Bill. It stipulates that regulations can be made only under subsection 4(1) for six months after the end of the transition period. Clause 4(1) states:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument make such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of, or in connection with, any provision of this Part.”


The part in question is Part 1, which contains the measures relating to the end of free movement. The Government maintain that the Henry VIII powers in Clause 4, which are so wide-ranging in the way they are worded that they would enable the Government to modify by unamendable statutory instrument both primary immigration legislation and retained direct EU immigration legislation, are to address only necessary technical changes to primary legislation arising from the ending of free movement.

I put a similar amendment down at the Committee stage, but the difference is that that amendment provided for a longer sunset clause. I have now reduced it to six months in the light of the Government’s response in Committee which was—I shall heavily paraphrase—that we will have used the powers in Clause 4(1) for the required consequential amendments regulations relating to the end of free movement within the next few months, if not by the end of the transition period, and that therefore there is no need for a one-year sunset clause. The Government went on to say that they needed to retain the power to make regulations under Clause 4(1) because—I shall paraphrase once again—they might find that, at some stage, they have overlooked the necessary consequential amendment and would not want to be faced with the prospect of having to pass further primary legislation to rectify the problem. In other words, these Henry VIII powers which are being handed to the Secretary of State cannot be time-limited because the Government are not confident of their own ability to identify the required consequential amendments in good time.

The Government have also argued that, since the powers in Clause 4(1) relate only to the ending of free movement, the passage of time itself will eliminate the need to use these powers. I would argue that having a sunset clause, now reduced in this amendment to six months in the light of the Government’s response at the Committee stage, would help to concentrate the mind of the Government in making sure that they had correctly identified all of the consequential amendments related to the end of free movement. Knowing that the power to continue to use Clause 4(1) is there for however long it is needed is surely not conducive to effective and properly thought through legislating. Instead, it is conducive to sloppiness over legislating if the prospect of having to go through a further stage of primary legislation to correct an oversight that should have been avoided is removed. I also think that giving these considerable powers to the Secretary of State without any time limit for the reasons the Government have given is, to put it very politely, an incorrect application of the purpose for which such powers were envisaged and intended.

Although I am not going to call for a vote on my Amendment 9, I hope that the Government will be prepared to reflect further on this and come back at Third Reading with an alternative approach.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for speaking to their amendments, which concern the regulation-making power in Clause 4. I shall reiterate the point I made in Committee, which is that it is absolutely right that parliamentary scrutiny should include the scope of delegated powers in the Bill. The debate in this House was helpfully assisted by the latest report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the intervention of its chair, my noble friend Lord Blencathra, for which I am grateful. The Government have considered the recommendations made in the report carefully and I have written to my noble friend and other Members of the Committee.

I shall address first Amendments 4 and 5 in the name of the noble Baroness. The purpose of Amendment 4 is to limit the use of the power in Clause 4 to make legislative changes that are “necessary” rather than “appropriate”. The purpose of Amendment 5 is to limit the power to changes that arise as a consequence of Part 1 of the Bill but are not “in connection with” it. The Government have now shared an illustrative draft of the regulations which are to be made under this power later in the year, subject to Parliament’s approval of the Bill. As I explained in my formal response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

“In so doing, the Government’s intention was to demonstrate the necessity of having the power in clause 4, as it is drafted, and how it will be used in tandem with the power in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to end free movement in a way that is coherent, comprehensive and fully meets the requirements of the withdrawal agreements.”

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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No. In their contributions, the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, referred to think-tank reports. I will be interested in the reports from those think tanks. I should declare that I am the treasurer of a think tank—the Fabian Society—but I am a bit concerned about these bodies because, unlike the Fabian Society, a lot of them are quite opaque. We do not know who funds them, where the money comes from or who is behind these reports, so I would be a bit more interested in what those bodies had to say if we knew who paid for what. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, will speak on the next group, so maybe he can tell us who funded the report to which he has referred many times. I will be interested to hear that.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made an important point about the number of EU migrants coming to the UK. In fact, that number has fallen. I carefully read the debate in Committee on this and on many points I found myself in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and I have heard nothing so far in the debate to persuade me otherwise.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for retabling his amendment; I acknowledge and respect his expertise in this area. I also apologise for allowing the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, to intervene because I have now set a precedent. I should never have done that. No one is allowed to intervene.

The amendment effectively intends to reintroduce an annual limit on the number of people who may be granted permission to enter the UK to take up skilled employment. The existing cap, which the Government have committed to suspending, is set at 20,700, and is administered on a monthly basis to those seeking entry clearance as a skilled worker. As outlined in Committee, this sounds like a very sensible measure to control and limit migration to the UK, but we cannot know how many people will seek to come to the UK using the new skilled worker route. The impact of some of the key changes, including the expansion of the skills threshold and the reduction of the general salary threshold, is also unknown. Where possible, Home Office analysts have tried to predict possible impacts, and the points that the noble Lord, Lord Green, made so eloquently may well come to pass.

The amendment provides an opportunity for me to reinforce the importance of implementing a flexible immigration system. Our proposals will do that and ensure that the system can be adapted and adjusted, subject to social and economic circumstances—to which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, alluded—but we cannot get away from the fact that the amendment would add to the burden on businesses, considerably slow the process of recruiting a skilled migrant, and create uncertainty among employers.

Any cap, including the one we have at present, creates an odd dynamic when it binds us to consider a migrant a valuable addition one month but unwanted the next. This may only be a perception based on the mechanics of a cap, but it is a perception that we want to address, instead focusing on our commitment to continue to attract those with the skills and talents that we need.

The noble Lord highlighted three issues with suspending the cap. The first issue is that an estimated 7 million UK jobs will be open to new or increased international competition. However, these jobs are currently under more competition due to freedom of movement. The imposition of any control, instead of allowing free movement to continue, protects those jobs. Ending free movement and requiring an employer to meet the requirements of being a Home Office licensed sponsor and pay relevant immigration charges, including the skills charge, makes the employment of a resident worker the simpler option. Again, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the Migration Advisory Committee’s September 2018 report on the impact of EEA migration in the UK. It said that it did

“not believe that the welfare of existing residents is best served by a cap for two reasons. First, the cap, when it binds, constrains inflows of a group of migrants which the evidence suggests are the most economically beneficial … Second, the cap creates unpredictability when it binds as there can be sharp increases in the minimum salary threshold that skilled visa applications face.”

The salary requirements rise as this is the mechanism for selecting which roles are granted permission.

The noble Lord’s second issue is that the number of potential applicants is huge. That has always been the case. The advancements in education around the globe and the increase in populations inevitably mean that more people can qualify as skilled migrants. Addressing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the MAC also said:

“We believe that if the Government wants to reduce migration numbers it would make more economic sense to do so by varying the other aspects of the scheme criteria”.


Therefore, we have retained the immigration skills charge in the future system and will continue to operate a range of salary thresholds.

Thirdly, the noble Lord advocates that there would be a great incentive for employers to go for cheap, competent, non-unionised workers. To this end, we are maintaining the position in our new immigration system that those under the skilled worker route be paid a minimum salary level, which has been calculated so as not to undercut domestic workers. The level and operation of salary thresholds has been based on the advice of the MAC. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that considering the impact of policies on the UK’s economy is an area that the MAC excels in.

Maintaining a sponsor licence also requires compliance with UK employment laws on treating employees equally. We completely accept that the first stage in our plans for the points-based system will need monitoring to assess the impact of the changes on the resident labour market and key sectors, and we are committed to doing just that. On the basis that we are maintaining robust protection for resident workers and providing certainty for UK businesses and employers, and because the key expert advisers have said that we should not apply an annual cap on skilled workers, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Green, is happy to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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There are no requests to speak after the Minister, so we return to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for the return of this amendment, on which we had an interesting and mixed debate in Committee; it has been no different on Report.

As I outlined in our previous debate on this matter, this amendment would have the effect of reintroducing into regulations a resident labour market test for EEA and Swiss nationals and reversing a government decision to abolish this test under the UK’s new points-based immigration system. I have to say to noble Lords that the Government did not take this decision lightly or indeed in isolation. On the face of it, it sounds absolutely fair and sensible to require a job to be advertised in the UK for 28 days to establish whether there is anyone suitable in the domestic labour market before the job can be offered to an overseas migrant. However, we should be imposing a resident labour market test only if we think it would genuinely offer extra protection to resident workers and, in turn, support UK employers and organisations to access the skills and talents they need. The Government do not think that is the case. Not only does it add a burden on business and considerably slow down the process of recruiting a skilled migrant, without any guarantee of a vacancy being filled from the resident workforce, but it does so at a time when we are seeking to streamline and simplify the system and give UK employers and organisations the certainty they need.

My noble friend Lord Lilley—I am glad he is in the Chamber—rightly drew our attention in Committee to his experience of visiting Nissan, highlighting its enthusiasm and drive for training and retaining people in the UK. I am sure all noble Lords would agree that this is something to be celebrated and encouraged. Indeed, it fits with the Government’s clear assertion that immigration must be considered alongside investment in and development of the UK’s resident labour force.

However, I recognise the valid point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who is not in the Chamber today, about the immigration system not being the way to enforce and encourage training of domestic workers. Where I would respectfully stray from her view is to say that while our immigration system should not be considered a silver bullet, it absolutely has its part to play in supporting businesses and ensuring that they invest in training to encourage staff retention. We must achieve a sensible balance.

That view and the decision to abolish the existing resident labour market test is not just a government opinion; it is based on the clear economic advice of the Migration Advisory Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Green, and others in this House are correct in saying that the MAC’s expertise is focused on economics, but one strength of the MAC is that it does not represent any one sector or industry. The MAC is well used to running large-scale consultations and assimilates evidence from many employers, businesses and sectors to produce carefully considered conclusions that apply to the best interests of the whole of the UK. This is exactly what the MAC did in reaching its findings and recommendations in its September 2018 report. I note the point that the noble Lord, Lord Green, made about the MAC’s view on the salary threshold at the time.

The decision to abolish the resident labour market test was not simply a U-turn undertaken given pressure from businesses. I highlighted this during our debate on this subject in Committee, but it is worth reasserting what the MAC said given the concerns of many Peers—which I and the Government share—around the uncertainty that many UK workers will face as a result of the current pandemic.

In addition to the economic arguments, as part of its September 2018 report the MAC said:

“We do think it important to have protection against employers using migrants to under-cut UK-born workers. The best protection is a robust approach to salary thresholds and the Immigration Skills Charge and not the RLMT.”


The Government agree, and that is why we are maintaining a firm requirement in the new points-based system for migrants who come under the skilled worker route to be paid a salary which does not undercut domestic workers.

We are also retaining the immigration skills charge. The requirement to pay that charge—alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—the proceeds of which contribute directly to the UK skills budget, helps ensure that employers are unlikely to employ a migrant when there is someone more suitable to undertake the role within the domestic labour force. Given the expansion of the skills threshold and the fact that UK employers will no longer be able to rely on recruiting EEA citizens coming to the UK under free movement, we consider it very likely that the charge will create an appropriate barrier and will result in businesses thinking twice before looking immediately to the overseas labour force.

On the basis that we are maintaining robust protection for resident workers, and because the key expert advisers have said that we should not apply a resident labour market test, which echoes views heard by the Government from extensive engagement with stakeholders across the UK, I hope that the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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There are no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the mover of the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for retabling his amendment and all noble Lords who have spoken in support or opposition.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, seeks to put in place separate parliamentary approval for regulations allowing EEA and Swiss nationals who are new entrants to the labour market to be paid less than other skilled workers. I recognise the intention behind this amendment. He is absolutely right that, in using salary thresholds as a mechanism to control immigration, protect the domestic workforce from being undercut and ensure the UK’s economy prospers, we must have confidence that salary requirements are set at the right level. It is for these objectives, in addition to ensuring that migrant workers are not exploited and that a skilled migrant is coming to the UK for genuine skilled employment, that a system of salary thresholds will form a critical part of our new skilled worker route.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe spoke about the risk of losing control of our borders and disadvantaging young people and the unemployed in the UK. The noble Lord also mentioned the Government’s recently launched Kickstart programme and his concerns that its benefits would be reduced due to our young people facing further difficulties and unlimited competition from those overseas migrants who meet the new entrant definition. I hope I can reassure noble Lords that this is simply not the case. Our salary requirements for all skilled workers are based on national earnings data for UK workers. Furthermore, while new entrants will benefit from a reduced salary rate, recognising these individuals should not be disadvantaged by the fact that they typically earn around 30% less than experienced workers, they will still need to meet other mandatory requirements to be successfully granted leave. Namely, along with all other skilled workers, they must have a sponsoring employer, a job at the appropriate skill level and be able to speak English to an accepted standard. Furthermore, the new entrant rate is not an indefinite offer. It is designed for those essentially at the start of their careers.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, also voiced concerns about settlement, given that the new skilled worker route will be a route that allows this, subject to meeting relevant requirements. While this is indeed the case, I can confirm that individuals will need to be paid at least the going rate for their occupation by the time they reach settlement. While it may not sway the views of some noble Lords, the Government did not agree this proposal in isolation. We sought independent advice from the MAC, outlined in its January 2020 report on salary thresholds and a points-based system and, following careful consideration of its findings and our own extensive engagement, accepted its recommendations.

I should like to put on the record that reduced rates for new entrants are not new; they have been a part of the immigration system since 2013. While we intend to continue the new entrant salary rate, in future the Immigration Rules will set a more consistent 30% reduction across all occupations. As the MAC identified, the differences in the current system are very large for some occupations. New entrant quantity surveyors, for example, may be paid 69% less than more experienced migrant workers in the same profession.

Turning to the crux of this amendment, the noble Lord is right that there should be parliamentary scrutiny of these requirements, but there is already a long-established procedure for that. The Government are required to set out their immigration policy in the Immigration Rules. This includes salary requirements and reduced rates for new entrants which can determine whether an immigration application succeeds or fails. Changes to the rules must be laid before Parliament, either House may disapprove the changes by negative resolution within 40 days of them being laid and the Secretary of State shall make any changes that appear to her in the circumstances to be required. Any such changes will be laid before Parliament within a further 40 days. I do not think it is necessary or proportionate to introduce a new procedure for salary requirements for new entrants, particularly at a time when the Government are committed to simplifying and streamlining arrangements. Furthermore, there seems to be no particular reason for the procedure for new entrant salaries to be different from the procedure for the general salary requirements or, indeed, any other requirements for skilled workers.

Additionally, as is made clear in recently published policy statements on the UK’s new points-based system, measures will be introduced in a phased manner and we will retain the ability to make adjustments based on experience and, crucially, to respond to the needs of the UK economy. New regulations under an affirmative procedure would lessen this responsiveness and could risk splitting up interconnected policies which together create a robust element of control, protect domestic workers and ensure that those who have the skills and talents that we need and who want to make a positive contribution can come to the UK.

For the reasons that I have set out, and on the basis that we will continue to lay before Parliament the full details of the requirements, including those for new entrants, I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that full account of the Government’s policy, which we will study in detail. It is not feasible to do that on the hoof. Let me say first that I certainly did not intend to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, or the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, do not care about working people. Clearly, they spend much of their lives among working people and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was actually a trades union official for some time. However, I think they have not correctly judged the likely effect of the measures the Government are bringing forward, and I fear that—from everyone’s point of view—it is going to go pear-shaped. I am grateful for the powerful support of the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

In the end, this comes down to a question of judgment about the raft of measures that the Government are bringing in in January and applying to the whole world. We have dodged some of the technicalities, but we are not talking about applying these things to EU citizens only. We have a brand-new, massively new system and it is very dangerous for the stability of public opinion on this matter. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, hit the nail on the head with some very wise words. She said that this looks as though it is going too far with too many changes at once. That was simply put but none the less powerful, relevant and to the point. In the end, we will see what the numbers do. It will be a while before they take off, but my instinct is that they will, and at a very awkward time for the Government. That is their problem, but they have been warned. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, late applications are indeed very important, and guidance will be essential. There is a lot of concern about what may lie behind an EU citizen not having applied for settled status, not with the intention of somehow evading the authorities or doing anything sinister or underhand. For instance, as we have said before, people may believe that an application is not necessary because they have a permanent residence document. Many reasons are cited, and no doubt there are many which none of us has thought of. After all, that is the human condition.

There are people whom the Home Office information has failed to reach or who have not understood it. I am aware that the Home Office plans to step up its communications after the end of the year to try to reach those who have not applied. However, it is worth mentioning again that, when the UK switched to digital television, there was an enormous campaign which was generally accepted as successful, but even that success left 3% of households not switching and finding overnight that their televisions did not work, and that was a much more straightforward subject than this is.

The point made within the amendment, and by the noble Lord, about status in the interim period is hugely important, and I hope to come back to that later in this Bill. They have got to be secure in the interim; it would be an enormous breach of faith if that was not the case. In Committee, the Minister sought to reassure noble Lords that there is plenty of time to apply under the EU settled status scheme, but that is not the point; it is what the Government’s “compassionate and flexible approach” will amount to in practice in their pragmatic take on this.

I confess that I had hoped to get an amendment down on comprehensive sickness insurance—essentially, what the position is on the grace period—in time for today, but it defeated me. I refused to be completely defeated and, with a little more energy, got back to it and it has been tabled, but too late for today, so we will have an opportunity on Monday.

We have the Government’s SI in draft in what I understand to be close to its final form, but those who know this subject inside out—and I do not—are still poring over it. That includes the3million, which is doing the most impressive job on all of this subject, both at a technical and at a human level. It is entirely appropriate to seek an assurance that the draft regulations provide the protection that we, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would expect to see during the grace period.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to remind us of the particular position of children who have not been able to exercise treaty rights, if I understand the position properly. The guidance needs to be as extensive as is appropriate or, to hark back, as is necessary. I say that because on a different matter, on 9 September, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, from the Dispatch Box, said that an amendment which I was speaking to was not necessary, and referred the Committee to the draft illustrative regulations proposed under Clause 4(1), which, as he said, do not include any provisions relating to the subject matter I was discussing. They do not. But reading that afterwards—and I do not think the noble Lord meant it as cynically as I then read it—it was tantamount to saying, “It is not necessary because we are not doing it.” I did read the passage through two or three times.

I have my concerns, as I have said, about the whole of Clause 4, but I am not sure it is appropriate to hold back on all the regulations until this temporary protection is sorted out. But then, frankly, I am not here to help the Government sort out that type of thing. I am glad the noble Lord has tabled this amendment, spoken to it and drawn the potentially precarious position of a number of people—possibly quite a lot of people—to our attention, and I support him.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for his amendments. I hope that what I will say will reassure him and that he will feel happy to withdraw them. Both amendments seek to prevent the Government from making regulations under Clause 4 until we have published guidance on late applications made under the EU settlement scheme, the grace period statutory instrument and guidance on its operation.

I turn first to Amendment 10, which concerns the publication of guidance on how the Government will treat late applications to the EU settlement scheme. The Government have made clear their commitment to accepting applications after 30 June 2021, where there are reasonable grounds for missing this deadline. This is in line with the withdrawal agreements, which now have direct effect in UK law via the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, so this commitment is effectively enshrined in primary legislation.

As I mentioned during Second Reading and more recently in Committee, the Government intend to publish guidance on reasonable grounds for missing the deadline in early 2021. This will be well in advance of the deadline. For now, our priority must be to encourage those eligible to make their application before the deadline. This will ensure that they can continue to live their lives here, as they do now, with the certainty that status granted under the scheme will provide them. We do not want to undermine those efforts and risk inadvertently causing people to delay making their application.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd—humanitarian that he is—supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about vulnerable people, particularly children. The Government are doing all that they can, using all available channels, to raise awareness of the scheme and ensure that vulnerable groups are helped to apply.

The published guidance, when it comes at the beginning of next year, will be indicative, not exhaustive. All cases will be considered in the light of their individual circumstances. Apart from asking for the reason for missing the deadline, the application process will be the same; we will consider the application in exactly the same way as we do now, in line with the immigration rules for the EU settlement scheme.

A person with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, who subsequently applies for and obtains status under the scheme, will enjoy the same rights from the time they are granted status as someone who applied to the scheme before the deadline. However, they will not have those rights in the period after the missed deadline and before they are granted status, which is why we are encouraging and supporting people to apply as soon as possible. It is very pleasing that over 3.9 million people have done so.

In addition, it is important to remember that the regulations under the Clause 4 power include provisions relating to the rights of those with status granted under the EU settlement scheme. To delay those provisions, as envisaged by this amendment, would therefore be counterproductive in our collective effort to protect the rights of those resident in the UK by the end of the transition period, as well as Irish citizens.

Amendment 13 would require the Government to publish the draft statutory instrument that will temporarily protect the rights of EEA citizens who are eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme but have not done so by the end of the transition period, together with accompanying guidance. That instrument, as noble Lords know, is the Citizens’ Rights (Application Deadline and Temporary Protection) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which I will refer to as the grace period SI. An illustrative draft was shared with this House before Committee. Since then, on 21 September, the Government have formally laid the SI in Parliament.

The purpose of the grace period SI is to set the deadline for applications to the EU settlement scheme as 30 June 2021 and to protect the existing rights of resident EEA citizens and their family members during the grace period. It will save relevant legislation otherwise repealed by Clause 1 of and Schedule 1 to this Bill at the end of the transition period. This will mean that EEA citizens can continue to live and work in the UK as now throughout the grace period and pending the resolution of their application to the EU settlement scheme, providing they apply by 30 June 2021.

I reassure noble Lords that EEA citizens’ rights to live and work in the UK will not change during the grace period, nor does the grace period SI change the eligibility criteria for the EU settlement scheme. Therefore, there is no change to the Government’s policy that comprehensive sickness insurance is not required to obtain status under the EU settlement scheme.

Noble Lords asked me about the scope of the regulations. People need to exercise free movement rights to benefit from the savings in the grace period SI. We are not inventing rights of residence to save them, because that is not what the withdrawal agreement says. The statutory instrument will be subject to debate and approval by Parliament and will need to come into force at the end of the transition period. Where relevant, Home Office guidance will be updated to reflect the statutory instrument before the grace period commences.

I hope that I have explained that clearly and that, therefore, the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for their contributions to this brief debate, and the Minister for her response, which I shall read carefully in Hansard. At the moment, I am not entirely sure whether I have had the reassurances that I sought; maybe I have and I shall realise that when I read her reply.

I raised the issue of someone who applied late and ended up with a gap of some months between the deadline and the date when they applied, in which they did not have a legitimate immigration status in the UK. I sought an assurance that, once a person in that situation applied and was accepted, they would be considered to have that status to which they were entitled for the entire period since the deadline. I am not quite sure whether the Minister was saying that they would, or not, but I shall read her reply very carefully.

I was not entirely clear again whether the Minister accepted the view of the3million organisation that the regulations would exclude a cohort of people from having a legal basis to live in the UK during the grace period or whether she was saying that would not be the case. Again, I shall read her response carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, I will not go through and repeat all the arguments in favour of this amendment, so eloquently put by many noble Lords. I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said. I want to read from one of the emails that I have received. It says: “I am a British citizen, born and bred in England, who currently lives in France with my Dutch partner and our 12 year-old son. My ageing parents still live in the UK and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that at some point in the future, I would like to return to live in the UK, principally to be closer to my parents and to help look after them in the autumn of their years. I was horrified to learn that, as things currently stand, from 2022, I would face a means test in order to return to the UK with my family—a means test to return to the country of my birth and of which I am a fully fledged citizen. I am sure you can appreciate what an absurd situation this is. Like all other British citizens who moved to the EU while Britain was a member, I had and expected to keep a right to return to the UK with my family. At the time I left the UK, my parents were safe in the knowledge that I could always come back, should the need arise. Many of us met a non-UK partner while living in the EU and made a family with them, believing that our family would remain united wherever we lived. Unless this Bill is amended, our right to return home with our families will be removed from 29 March 2022, leading to impossible choices for me and thousands of families like mine. This would be a completely inhumane situation.”

I shall read just the last sentence of another email I have received. It says simply: “Unless this Bill is amended, the right of UK citizens to live in their own country with the partners of their choice will be negated for no obvious benefit to anyone. Is this a humane or necessary approach?” No doubt that is a question that the Government will answer in their reply, but I say now that if this amendment is put to a vote, we will be supporting it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for speaking to Amendment 11, which seeks to continue the current family reunion arrangements provided under EU law, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, pointed out, by the so-called Surinder Singh route. This amendment was tabled by my noble friend Lord Flight in Committee. It would require the regulations made under Clause 4 to provide a lifetime right for UK nationals resident in the EEA or Switzerland by the end of the transition period to return to the UK accompanied or to be joined by their close family members under current EU free movement law terms. The amendment seeks to provide this cohort with preferential family reunion rights under EU free movement law indefinitely. The result would be that the family members of such UK nationals would forever bypass the Immigration Rules that otherwise apply to the family members of UK nationals.

Family members of UK nationals who are resident in EEA states and Switzerland at the end of the transition period are not protected by the withdrawal agreements. However, the Government made the decision to provide arrangements for them. They will have until 29 March 2022 to bring their existing close family members —a spouse, civil partner, durable partner, child or dependent parent—to the UK on EU law terms. The family relationship must have existed before the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, unless the child was born or adopted after this date, and must continue to exist when the family member seeks to come to the UK. Those family members will then be eligible to apply for status to remain here under the EU settlement scheme. Family members will, of course, be able to come to the UK after 29 March 2022 but will then need to meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules applying to family members of UK nationals, irrespective of where they come from.

A number of noble Lords asked me to advise them on what choices they would make. For a number of reasons, I cannot do that, not least because I am not an immigration lawyer. But it is not the case that UK nationals who wish to return to the UK from living in the EEA after 29 March 2022 will be required to abandon family members overseas. Those families will have to meet the requirements of the UK family rules, as I have just said, the same as family members of other UK nationals who already have to do this. This is a matter of simple fairness.

In Committee, my noble friend Lord Flight, was concerned that we were affording lesser rights to UK nationals than to EU citizens in this regard. Under the withdrawal agreements, EEA and Swiss citizens have lifetime rights to be joined here by existing close family members, but only if they are resident in the UK by the end of the transition period. UK nationals in EEA states and Switzerland have the same rights of family reunion in their host countries. By contrast, the amendment does not specify a date by which the UK national must return to the UK, meaning they could return at any point in the future and continue to benefit from EU family reunion rules. Such preferential treatment is unfair and cannot be justified in relation to the family reunion rights of UK nationals outside of EU law. The rights for those affected by the end of free movement should, after a reasonable period to plan accordingly, which our policy provides, be aligned with those of other UK nationals who have always resided in the UK or who seek to bring family members to the UK after a period of residence in a non-EEA country. To do otherwise would perpetuate a manifestly unfair situation for all other UK nationals wishing to live in the UK with family members from other countries.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Bennett, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and my noble friend Lord Flight touched on the minimum income requirement. I appreciate the concerns that noble Lords raised in Committee. We think that the threshold is set at a suitable and consistent level and promotes financial independence, thereby avoiding burdens on the taxpayer. The MIR, as it is called, has been based on in-depth analysis and advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. The Supreme Court has also endorsed our approach in setting an income requirement for family migration which prevents burdens on the taxpayer and ensures that migrant families can integrate into our communities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, referred to something that I mentioned in Committee. I am not sure that I am going to get this right. If I do not, I shall write to her or we can come back to it again. She was talking about £25,700. I understand that the minimum income requirement for a partner or spouse is £18,600, rising to £22,400 for sponsoring one child and the same again for sponsoring another. Can we speak after Report, or I will write to her after looking at Hansard?

My noble friend Lord Flight and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, talked about Catch-22 in meeting the minimum income requirement. It does not exist as noble Lords described, as the minimum income requirement is generally to be met from the UK national partner rather than from the foreign national partner.

I know that I shall not have reassured noble Lords, because many of them tell me that they are going to vote on this, but that is my explanation of the logic of what the Government are doing. I hope—but I doubt—that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for the new clause proposed by his Amendment 14. I also thank the noble Lords who spoke to it.

We are all absolutely united on one thing: that children in local authority care need secure status just as much as any other EU citizen needs secure status. On that, we are absolutely as one, I think. However, the amendment does not provide for the fast-tracking of children through the EU settlement scheme because subsection (1) of the proposed new clause says that a relevant child

“is deemed”—

that is the word used; we assume that it is a declaratory system—

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

It therefore bypasses the EU settlement scheme by giving indefinite leave to remain without the need for any application to the scheme—that is, no secure evidence of status is documented and the child would have to prove constantly that they were in the scope of this declaratory system. The only way to prove status is through the EU settlement scheme, in my view.

A near-identical new clause was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in Committee. It called for children in care and care leavers who have their right of free movement removed by the Bill to be granted ILR—indefinite leave to remain; that is, settled status—under the EU settlement scheme automatically, removing any requirement for a local authority to apply on their behalf.

I am afraid that those good intentions—they really are good intentions—will not be well served by this proposed new clause. I am trying to be helpful rather than resistant to what noble Lords are saying because Windrush has shown us that a declaratory system under which immigration status is conferred on people automatically, without providing secure evidence of it, does not work. We need to learn the lessons of that.

The proposed new clause would place a vulnerable group at greater risk of ending up without secure evidence of UK immigration status. That is not an outcome that the Government can accept or one that your Lordships would want. We are focusing our efforts on working closely with local authorities—I will go into more detail on that—to ensure that these people, like other vulnerable groups, get UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme. This will provide them with secure evidence of that status and ensure that they can prove their rights and entitlements here in the years ahead. That really is the right practical approach.

We have discussed and agreed with local government its role and responsibilities towards children and care leavers under the scheme. Local authorities and, in Northern Ireland, health and social care trusts are responsible for making an application under the scheme on behalf of an eligible child for whom they have parental responsibility by way of a court order. Their responsibilities in other cases to signpost the scheme and support applications have also been agreed, including where care leavers are concerned. That is reflected in the guidance issued to local authorities regarding their role and responsibilities for making or supporting applications to the scheme in respect of looked-after children and care leavers. We have also provided a range of support services—such as the Home Office-run EU Settlement Resolution Centre, which is open seven days a week—to ensure that local authorities can access help and advice when they need it.

We have heard estimates of the number of children in care. In the absence of local authority data, the Home Office made some broad initial estimates. These were based on data from the ONS, which put the proportion of EEA citizens per local authority at 5.8%, and on government data on the volume of children in care and care leavers per local authority. The resulting figures—of around 5,000 children in care and 4,000 care leavers—provided a reasonably generous basis for the new burdens assessment.

We have also recently conducted a survey of local authorities across the UK as part of the support that we are offering them with this very important work. The survey asked them to provide an assurance that they have so far identified all relevant cases. Just under 80% of local authorities have responded so far, and I thank them for that, given the pressures which the pandemic has placed on them. The emerging picture is that actual volumes of eligible cases might be significantly lower than the overall estimate of 9,000. The results are still being collated, but we have so far identified fewer than 5,000 children in care and care leavers eligible for the EU settlement scheme, with around 40% of these having already applied for status under the scheme and most of that group having already received an outcome of settled status.

Obviously there is more work to be done to check and analyse the results, but the initial indications are that local authorities have the work to identify and support relevant cases well in hand. We will be sharing that data from the survey with the EU settlement scheme safeguarding user group, comprising experts from local authorities and the voluntary sector, to help them discuss the scheme’s progress. As noble Lords will know, we have also given money to voluntary organisations, and earlier this year we announced a further £8 million for this work in 2020-21. In addition, the withdrawal agreements oblige us to accept late applications where there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline of 30 June next year—a matter I talked about earlier.

I think noble Lords can see that the Government are doing everything they can not only to identify these children but to ensure that, through the EU settlement scheme, not through a declaratory scheme, these children will have the secure status that they rightly deserve. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I have received requests to ask short questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I hope I made it very clear at the beginning of this debate that I want each child to have secure status, and a declaratory system does not ensure that, both now and in the future.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just to pursue that point, can the Minister set out why that is the case? If you have the children—you know who they are and you have their details—the Government can then set out that the children have settled status, and then you would have records. The problem with Windrush was that there were no records, and that was the dispute, but if the Government actually set out to create records then you have got that system there.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Lord will appreciate that an application to the EU settlement scheme is an application, with a result of settled status being either confirmed or not. A declaratory scheme confers a deemed leave on a sort of blanket basis, as opposed to each individual applying to the scheme. Therefore, children in years to come might have to prove that they were in the scope of that declaratory scheme; that is what I mean. We are not seeking different ends in this; we are just talking about different ways of going about it. I am trying to explain why an actual application is a more secure way of going about it.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part and contributed to the debate, even if one or two of them posed a few questions, which I shall try to deal with. I am also grateful to the Minister for her positive attitude to the end we all seek, even if the path to that end may differ in her view from our view. I emphasise that this amendment had cross-party support in the Commons and has cross-party support here, so there is a wide level of support for this.

On the question of declaratory or granted and so on, my understanding is very clearly that the intention behind it was that children would be granted settled status—not declaratory status, but settled status. The fear was that if any of them were undocumented and slipped through the net, they would be in the Windrush situation, not the other way around.

The process is, I believe, as follows: the social worker would be able to contact the Home Office directly about the individual and their background, the result of that application would be that settled status would be granted, and that would be indisputable and there could at no point in the future be any doubt about it. That seems to me pretty clear. The danger that the amendment refers to is that if there is no settled status, and the child is undocumented, then trouble can begin. In many cases, I agree that that would be picked up, but it may not be picked up in every case, and the dilemma for any young person who finds that they are undocumented and have all sorts of difficulties seems to me awful. That is the purpose of this amendment.

I might be persuaded by the Minister if she said that at Third Reading she will put forward an amendment which will deal with this apparent difficulty—I do not think it is a difficulty. I repeat that the purpose of the amendment is simply to say that they should be granted settled status—not declared to have a status, but granted settled status. That seems to be absolutely clear, and that will be the result of the social worker approaching the Home Office. In the circumstances, I beg leave to press the amendment.

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

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

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

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Monday 5th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 121-R-II Second marshalled list for Report - (30 Sep 2020)
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, unless action is taken now, the arrival of 2021 will see child refugees in Europe lose safe and legal routes to the UK since neither a right to family reunion nor access to the Dubs scheme, under which lone children had a legal route to sanctuary in the UK, will then be available. Family reunion under Dublin III regulations is currently the only available legal pathway to reach the UK from the EU for the purposes of claiming asylum. That pathway will no longer exist after the end of the Brexit transition period in three months’ time.

The Government gave assurances to Parliament at the beginning of this year that they would protect family reunion for unaccompanied children. The Government have since removed any mandatory requirement to facilitate family reunions, making it simply discretionary. Including the terms of Amendment 15 in the Bill will ensure that routes to safety through family reunion and relocation remain, which means that families can reunite and children can reach safety.

Between 2009 and 2014, before mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, family reunions to the UK, for both children and adults, were carried out at an average rate of 11 people annually. Between 2016 and 2018, after mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, family reunions to the UK were carried out at an average rate of just under 550 people annually, which strongly indicates that families remain separated without mandatory requirements on government to facilitate family reunions. As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, the figures also suggest that the numbers involved under a mandatory requirement are very small, certainly compared with the hundreds of thousands of people whom this Government, without any free movement requirement to do so, do not have any issues with freely allowing to come to this country each year from outside the EU.

As my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said, research has shown that of the 12,000 unaccompanied children granted asylum by the UK over the past decade, some 10,000 came to the UK by dangerous routes on lorries and small boats, probably via people smugglers, because they could not access a legal route. That lack of access to a legal route is going to become absolute from the end of this year for the reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and the consequences, in respect of risks to their safety, for those seeking to join their families and for unaccompanied children, are simply going to get even worse. Action is needed now to address the situation that is imminent. If it is put to a vote, we will support Amendment 15.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for tabling Amendment 15. This Government are equally as concerned as all noble Lords about the well-being of vulnerable children and are committed to support them wherever we can. As the Home Secretary announced yesterday, the Government are intent on reforming our broken asylum system to make it firm but fair, and we will bring forward legislation next year to deliver that commitment. Our reformed system will be fair and compassionate towards those who need our help by welcoming people through safe and legal routes. The noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, asked me what those safe and legal routes would look like. I think the Home Secretary will set that out in due course. It will be firm because we will stop the abuse of the system while standing up for the hard-working, law-abiding majority of people who play by the rules.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said that the Home Secretary said that we would turn away people who arrive here illegally. No; we will absolutely target people who traffick other human beings illegally. We want to help people who are desperate and need our protection so it is quite the opposite, even though they are basically being exploited by criminals. We have a proud record of providing safe haven to those in need and fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny through our asylum system and our world-leading resettlement schemes. I assure noble Lords that this will continue.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister said it would not be right to undermine negotiations with the EU by domestic legislation. Would it not be possible to include a provision in the Bill, such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—this would be our only opportunity to do so—but not to commence that provision if it is overtaken by the agreement with the EU?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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We do not want to pre-empt it with domestic legislation. I recall that, way back when, your Lordships’ House, and in fact Parliament, were pressing us to unilaterally agree the settlement scheme for EU nationals. We made it quite clear then that it was very important that both sides, if you like, played their part, but on this I do not think that domestic rules can ensure it. Therefore, the negotiated agreement is the optimum goal.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the Minister for her courtesy in responding to my point. I want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding between us. I did not challenge the statement in her letter that

“it remains our goal to negotiate”

new arrangements. I said that there is no current negotiation of these new arrangements. I recall the proposal the Government made before the summer; my view of it was similar to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in this debate. However, the important point is that the EU had no mandate to discuss it and it is not being discussed.

I have two questions. First, does the Minister agree that there is now no negotiation of Dublin III successor arrangements for the United Kingdom? Secondly, does that mean that there will be no family reunion arrangements on 1 January unless we pass this amendment?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think I quoted the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, saying that he did not think it was a priority for the Government. He made a point about there being no mandate. I cannot comment on the minutiae of negotiations; all I can say is that there is a sincere and genuine offer on the table, and we stand ready to progress those negotiations.

The noble Lord asked me to confirm that there will not be a successor to Dublin III. We are not trying to create Dublin; we are trying to create a system in which we can bilaterally—by which I mean between us and the EU—ensure the transfers of people.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) [V]
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My Lords, I fully support my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and others, and endorse her comments on the rights of children to register as British citizens and exercise their rights.

I find it shocking that the Government have not given way on the level of the fee and the particular problem of looked-after children. Frankly, it beggars belief that we have not made progress on this during consideration of the Bill. The fact that the previous and present Home Secretaries have raised concerns about the level of the fee should mean that we have some progress. The Home Secretary is the one person who can do something about this, but it appears she will not.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, I am persuaded by the evidence and the contributions of many noble Lords in this debate. Let us be clear: these children are entitled to British citizenship. I always thought that British values were those of decency, fair play and justice, but I am afraid none of these is on display here today. What is on display is meanness, unfairness and a failure to act justly. It is an unjust position which has no place in modern Britain. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, having rights is no good if no one tells you that you have them and you are not encouraged to take them up.

Points were made previously about why the amendment could not be accepted, such as the technical point that this is only about EEA and Swiss nationals. Unfortunately, it is; that is because of the scope of the Bill. On the question of finances, how the Government need a fee to cover the costs of the process and ensure the effective running of the department in this area, they cannot have it both ways; for many years, like many other noble Lords, I have been arguing with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that all we want is fees to cover the costs of planning. We were repeatedly told that we could not have it and that planning has to be subsidised by the council tax payer. I am afraid you just cannot have that. We do this either everywhere or nowhere at all. On settled status as opposed to citizenship, there is no question which is the better status. If you are entitled to citizenship, you should be able to get it.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, set out the wholly reasonable nature of this amendment. It is asking only for the Home Secretary to lay before this House and the other place a report—nothing else, just a report—which must address the issues as set out in the amendment. I really do not understand why the Government are resisting this. As the noble Lord said, surely with the vulnerable position of these children, particularly looked-after and Roma children, no one could suggest that they are not disadvantaged people who need our help and consideration.

The Government’s reaction to this amendment is more than just disappointing; it is very worrying. We can discuss the hostile environment and Windrush, we can hear the apologies and the assurances they will not happen again, but having heard the Home Secretary’s speech yesterday, I for one fear that no lessons have been learned and that, instead, we are prepared to let these children be at risk. That is unacceptable.

I implore the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for whom I have huge respect—I have worked with her closely many times—at least to give a commitment to the House that she will go away and explain to the Home Secretary the strength of feeling across the House and hopefully, on this one issue, be able to come back on Third Reading having accepted what people are asking for.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for tabling her amendment. I note that it takes a slightly different approach to those previously discussed in Committee, this time concentrating on an initial assessment of how aware the affected groups are of their citizenship rights and, equally, their ability to exercise them. It specifically seeks to highlight those aged under 25 with potential vulnerabilities as warranting particular attention.

Several noble Lords have referred to the Roma community as particularly vulnerable in terms of ensuring their status, certainly throughout the transition period and going into the future. I am very mindful of that. Noble Lords will recall the various voluntary sector organisations I have spoken about which are there specifically and precisely to provide tailored help to those who might slip through the net in terms of their status going forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, talked about Wendy Williams; the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me where we were up to in taking forward some of the recommendations. She may or may not know that last week the Home Secretary set out a comprehensive plan to take forward the recommendations and reaffirmed her plan for cultural shift in the Home Office.

I know that the amendment does not fit the Bill, if you like, but that does not mean we cannot discuss the various things that noble Lords have raised. I gave an assurance last time that I would write to the Home Secretary to consider what might be required in this area and ensure that she is aware of this House’s feelings. I am taking this forward, but it will take some time to consider; the level of detail in this amendment will be a clear guide to the areas and individuals which the noble Baroness feels require the most support. I am very happy to meet her to discuss these matters. I have already confirmed that I would like to meet the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

A number of noble Lords mentioned things such as “belonging”, which we talked about the other day, and people falling through the gaps and feeling that they really do not belong in society. I completely acknowledge the points that the noble Baroness makes about citizenship costs; I will not tell her that you do not need citizenship to live here, because your Lordships will not accept that sort of answer. I would like and intend to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness to take forward some of these broader issues around societal cohesion, in a way, and integration.

I hope that there can be some reassurance that part of the same commitment made by the Home Secretary was to ensure that nationality laws are fit for the modern day. This is an ongoing process. We have made sure that the process is easier and simpler by moving application forms online, but I know that that is not the point that the noble Baroness is getting at. In terms of accessibility, it is easier, but we are talking about a wider point than just the amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, challenges me on the costs of mounting appeals; obviously, I will not talk about the one in hand. I think that, in asylum, immigration and all sorts of areas, the lawyers are making an awful lot of money in these processes.

I will welcome the discussion that we are going to have. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment and, with that, I will sit down.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I thank all noble Lords who spoke in support of the amendment, from right across the House, and who very much strengthened the case. Some important points were made and I pick out just two. One is that, over and over, people emphasised the modesty and reasonableness of the amendment and pointed out how carrying out a review like this would be very much in the spirit of both the lessons learned review and the recent Public Accounts Committee report, helping to provide the evidence that it said was lacking. Here—just thinking about the Trump terrier—we are not talking about fake evidence; we are talking about real evidence, based on people’s experiences. There is a sort of incomprehension that the Government cannot accept this modest, reasonable amendment.

That said, I welcome the Minister’s tone and her acknowledgment that there is absolutely no point in trotting out the arguments that have been trotted out up to now, because we simply will not accept them in this House. I feel that we have made progress on that score. I welcome her willingness to talk about it further and I welcome the fact that she has committed to take it back to the Home Secretary. The point about the review that we have asked for is that it requires a report to come back to Parliament. We do not have a clear channel that will ensure that we have an opportunity to come back to this, to say, “Okay, the Minister has agreed to look at this further and to discuss it with the Home Secretary”—I would be very happy to give way if the Minister could say in what way we can then hold her to account in this House on that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Noble Lords never fall short in holding me to account. I would quite like to do a sort of task-and-finish activity, but one of the ways I can take this forward is to think about how we can then bring that back to the House, if that is sufficient for the noble Baroness.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. That is very welcome. While obviously I am disappointed that the amendment has not been accepted, I feel that we have made progress this evening. That is partly because of the strength of support from noble Lords across this House. I am very grateful to them, I am grateful to the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) [V]
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My Lords, Amendments 17 and 25, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and others are ones that I fully support. To deal first with science and research, in this instance I agree with the Prime Minister: I want Britain to be a science superpower. That is a wonderful idea and aim, and if we delivered it we would ensure that the wonderful work of our innovation continued. My problem is that we seem to be doing everything possible to ensure that it does not happen. I bet that our competitors in the United States, France and Germany cannot believe their luck given how Britain is acting, as we are doing everything possible to drive people away—the innovators and scientists, the people who want to come to develop new drugs. Look at all areas of work and business; they are being driven away by the attitude of the Government. I find it frankly astonishing that we have to have this debate. It is of course one of the many benefits of Brexit. It keeps on giving, and I find it astonishing that we are here.

I also remembered the words of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, in Committee, when he told us that we should not forget that:

“What we do to others will be done to us”.—[Official Report, 9/9/20; col. 876.]


We are going to find ourselves in all sorts of difficulties, and I will miss what we had. It gives me no pleasure at all to see what Britain is doing.

With regard to the arts, again, it is hard to overestimate the amount of money the arts bring in, and many noble Lords spoke passionately about them. I wanted to mention somebody who changed my life. Franz Busuttil was my music teacher at school; I met him when I was 11, and he taught me how to read music and play musical instruments. I did my Associated Board exams and he opened up my life to the world of the arts and music. Franz was Maltese, of course; he probably would not be allowed in under the present regime, but he changed my life and, when I go to the Globe or a concert, I always think about how Franz did that for me and his contribution to this country as an immigrant.

When you sit in a theatre, such as the Globe, and look around, people from all over the world are sitting there, watching Shakespeare being performed in a theatre very close to where it was performed originally. People often come to Britain—and we want tourists to come here—but they do not often come for the weather; they come for the art, the culture and the fantastic experience they can have. Look at the Edinburgh Festival, the greatest arts festival in the world. That is what this country is all about.

Again, with the decisions we will take here today on this Bill, we are just cutting our nose off to spite our face; it is absolute madness. I fully support these amendments and hope that the noble Baroness can see the passion of many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and give a positive reply.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I start by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that people do not come to this country for the weather. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, who has engendered a very thoughtful debate, and I am glad to say that I agree with most of the points that noble Lords have made tonight about migrants working in the research, creative arts and entertainment sectors, whose presence in the UK is often facilitated through short visits and who are crucial for this country; it is important to protect them. I also agree that international collaboration and movement of people are very important for these sectors to really thrive.

When noble Lords were making their speeches, I was thinking about the discovery of graphene by two Russian scientists in Manchester. What a difference it has made, not only to Manchester but to the future of innovation in this country and internationally. Our immigration system recognises this fact. I believe that the two sectors that have featured in tonight’s debate already receive what might be considered preferential treatment in the system.

Currently, visiting artists, entertainers and musicians can perform at events, take part in competitions and auditions, make personal appearances and take part in promotional activities for up to six months without the need for formal sponsorship or a work visa. They can also receive payment for appearances at permit-free festivals for up to six months—or for up to one month for a specified engagement—under the visitor route.

Artists wishing to come to the UK for longer-term work will need to do so under the points-based system. However, we will maintain a dedicated immigration route for creative workers under tier 5 of the immigration system. This route will continue to cater for the sector as it does now, permitting a broad range of creative workers to live and work in the UK for up to 12 months at a time. Noting what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, about musicians who want to come for two years, I understand that they can stay for up to two years if the sponsor signs for it.

As non-visa nationals, EU citizens will benefit from the concession for temporary creative workers looking to remain in the UK for up to three months, without the need to apply for a visa in advance, provided they first secure a certificate of sponsorship. We will also keep the global talent immigration route, which I will say a bit more about when I talk about the research sector, but I mention it here to demonstrate to noble Lords the breadth and range of immigration routes available.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Oates, has given us an authoritative, commanding, clear, direct and confident explanation. The noble Lord can do that because of the power of the case he presented: it is simple, clear, and it is just the right thing to do. We on the Labour Benches will support the noble Lord when he divides the House.

As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, EU citizens need to be treated fairly, properly and with respect. The Government have provided nothing to justify what they are proposing to do. I also note that there has been only one speaker tonight in support of the Government, and that is out of not only the Members of the Opposition but the eight speakers from the Government Benches tonight.

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, reminded the House of the problems you can get yourself into if you are a landlord. There are serious penalties if you have not checked documents to ensure the person you are renting your property to is somebody who is entitled to rent the property. If you are an employer, you have to check documents to ensure that the person you are employing has the right to be employed. If you get those wrong, you face serious penalties.

I know that if I was in the position of these individuals, I would want a physical document, physical evidence or physical proof that I could put away and, if there was a problem, some years later get out and then justify that I actually had the right to live and work in the United Kingdom. I think we should not underestimate the stress and the worry—we have all seen from the emails we have received how concerned people are about the position of the Government. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, gave a very powerful case on the question of domestic abusers and how abuse is often about control. Here we are, potentially putting people at risk again, having to go back to their abuser to give them that control over their lives again. We need to be very careful here.

Noble Lords who were at the debate in Committee will recall me explaining that I live in Lewisham, and I have done very many citizenship ceremonies where somebody becomes a British citizen. They get a letter from the Home Office and they are told to contact their local authority, and they ring up Lewisham Council—where I live—and they book a place at the next available ceremony. They come along, they bring their letter from the Home Office and they have it checked. I am there as one of the people who officiates at the ceremony, and the registrar—the person who normally does births, marriages and deaths—explains to people how important what they have done is and how proud they should be to be a British citizen. We sing the national anthem, the members swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty, and in the final part of the ceremony the individuals come up one by one and I hand them a paper certificate. These are signed by the Home Secretary; I have handed them out from Theresa May, Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd. I am absolutely confident that today in the Home Office there are people running off certificates signed by Priti Patel. That is the ludicrous situation we are in.

The Minister did not answer this point when she replied in Committee, but I hope she can address this point tonight. Can she please explain, for me and the House, the logic of and justification for the Home Office refusing individuals who have been granted EU settled status a physical document but, exactly at the same time, requiring those individuals to be granted British citizenship, to attend a ceremony, and at that ceremony be handed a certificate and be told by the official at the ceremony how important this document is? They are told, “You must check it before you leave, it is a really valuable document and you need this”, and how important it is. I cannot see the logic of that argument—it is nonsensical and ludicrous—and I do hope the Minister can address that point. At exactly the same time, not only the same Government but the same government department—talk about facing two different ways at once—are creating this ridiculous position.

I hope that the noble Baroness can step back and look at this farcical situation that the Government are seeking to justify here tonight. As many other noble Lords have said, she is highly respected. I like her very much. As a Minister, she has always been willing to engage with me outside the House and I have been able to raise things with her. I have appreciated that very much. However, I hope that she can go back to the Home Office, speak to the Home Secretary and explain how ridiculous this situation is. These certificates have been handed out with the present Home Secretary’s name on them.

In conclusion, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. We risk appearing to go out of our way to make the lives of our fellow citizens as difficult as possible. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, sai