Debates between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 10th Feb 2020

EU Settlement Scheme

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Wednesday 7th July 2021

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments: obviously, he has a unique perspective on these issues, given his chairmanship of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. It is always worth reflecting that on the day the French system opened for applications for UK nationals living in France, the EUSS had already received over 4 million applications. That just shows the scale of the scheme, and most people had the ability to apply from home, using an app on their smartphone to verify their identity in conjunction with their national passport. We are very pleased, and we hope that others will learn lessons from our success at getting so many applications in and so many settled and concluded already when it comes to how they approach the position of UK citizens living in their own nations.

To be clear, any application posted on 30 June is also considered to be in time. In recognition of the time it can take for post from all parts of our Union, especially the highlands and islands, to be delivered, we will assume any application received in the post until midnight tonight was posted in time. This is to ensure there is no prospect of an in-time application being ruled out purely on the basis of when it was delivered to the Home Office. Overall, these numbers are significant just in themselves: despite all the warnings about our potential willingness and ability to deliver, literally millions of EU citizens in the UK and their family members now have their status protected and their rights secured under UK law.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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The first question I asked was how many applications the Home Office estimates have fallen through the net. Is it tens or hundreds of thousands? The Home Office must surely have an estimate.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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Our determination has always been to get as many as possible to apply, first by the deadline and now that it has passed. I repeat the message I gave at the end of last week: if people have not met the dead- line, do get in touch. We will look to help and to resolve the situation, rather than taking a particularly hard view on what constitutes a reasonable ground.

Of course, there was never a scheme to register as a European economic area national—we have never had the concept of identity cards in this country, certainly not since the end of world war two—and some who remain eligible to apply for the EUSS, such as joining family members, inherently live abroad even though they are eligible. We do believe that given the sheer scale of applications, the vast and overwhelming majority of those who live here in the UK have applied. However, it would be impossible to put a final figure on it, not least because of those abroad who could still apply; because of the issue, which I will come on to in a few minutes, of children who are yet to be born who may also be able to get status; and also because some of those people are non-EEA nationals. Some people think that eligibility for the EUSS equates to the EU population here in the UK, but it does not. There are many non-EEA nationals, as the hon. Member will know, who qualified for status under the EUSS, through routes such as the Surinder Singh rights that existed under free movement.

A comment that I have been keen to make quite regularly is that the EUSS is the lesson learned from the Windrush era. What happened to members of the Windrush generation was an outrage, and we must apply every lesson that we have learned from the scandal to ensure that our immigration system functions fairly and effectively, and the EU settlement scheme is no exception. It provides clear status and secure evidence of that status, which people will need for years to come, and they can be confident that their rights will be protected under it. By contrast, a declaratory system with status granted automatically but, crucially, with no individual evidence of that would risk repeating the difficulties faced by the Windrush generation, and that is not something that we can allow to happen again.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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The Minister knows full well that that is not what we are advocating. We are advocating a declaratory system with a system that provides proof, which would be the settlement scheme. The only difference is that we have the settlement scheme, but we also have the automaticity in law, which provides so much reassurance. It takes away so much of the stress and anxiety that this is causing to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of EU nationals.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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This is where we disagree. It will not give EU nationals great comfort if, in years to come, there is a status that they will have to try to prove backwards, having realised that there was something that they should have applied for. We believe that the approach of having a clear deadline, but with reasonable grounds for late applications, gives that certainty of when they need to make an application, and an ability to ensure that those who are not entitled to the benefits of EUSS—those who did not move here before 31 December 2020—are not able to take advantage of these generous provisions. The figures are a testament not only to the work that has gone into this scheme, which ensured that it was simple to use, but to the efforts of more than 1,500 dedicated staff working on the EUSS, and I was pleased to hear the comments of the hon. Member about them.

Let me turn now to the issue of the work in progress. As of 30 June, there were around 570,000 pending applications, which were classed as “in time”. As we have made clear, a person’s existing rights continue to be protected in law pending the outcome of an application made by 30 June. This is achieved by the Citizens’ Rights (Application Deadline and Temporary Protection) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. It is not just a guarantee from me here at the Dispatch Box, but is written into law. In the meantime, they will be able to rely on their certificate of application, which they can use if they need to prove their immigration status for any reason, such as taking up a new job or renting a new property in England. We have also published updated guidance for employers and landlords that makes that clear.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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This is a fundamental point. The legal guarantees are absolutely very welcome, but, given that the guidance was published only a couple of weeks before the deadline, realistically how many employers, landlords and even public servants does the Minister think are remotely aware of what they need to do to check somebody who presents them with a certificate of application and a bit of digital code? What are the Government doing to monitor that and to take action to make sure that there is greater awareness?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I thank the hon. Member for the overall tone of his question. First, we have made it very clear that landlords and employers do not need to make retrospective checks. We have been saying that for a long time. If they accepted a passport or an ID card from an EEA national for right to work or right to rent checks in England, they do not need, as of today, to start going back through the process to see who has EUSS status and who does not.

None the less, we have been looking at our systems and seeing how people use them. For example, the view and prove service allows users to view their immigration status online. These are not particularly new systems that we are bringing in. Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2021, the service had seen more than 3.9 million views by individuals and more than 330,000 views by organisations checking immigration status. We have also seen banks checking identities. It should not come as a huge surprise that, in the middle of the current situation, some people have found it quite helpful to be able to prove their status in a digital way online rather than presenting physical documents face to face. We will, of course, monitor this. We are certainly clear that there should not be discrimination on this ground. Many of those with status under the British National (Overseas) visa, which we created as a settlement route for those in Hong Kong, also rely on purely digital status. Again, we are keen to ensure that employers are well aware of what is there. We have published guidance that makes it clear what an employer should do if they discover that one of their staff does not have EU settled status—to be clear, the employer does not need to terminate the staff member’s employment immediately, but can give them 28 days and secure a statutory excuse in the way that has been set out—and what signposting can be done.

We have had quite a bit of conversation about applications that are outstanding. Given the millions of applications that had already been received a year ago, it is worth noting only about 6,000 have been left outstanding for more than 12 months. More than 5,000 of them are being held at what we refer to as the suitability stage. In virtually all cases, it is because the applicant either has pending prosecutions, which means that a decision cannot be made until that criminal justice matter is resolved, or has been referred for consideration of deportation action in relation to criminal justice matters and criminal records.

When it comes to communicating, we have so far invested nearly £8 million in public communications about the EUSS to encourage EU citizens who are eligible for the scheme, and their family members, to apply. Our communications and engagement work will continue with a focus on groups who may not yet have applied, and on the marginalised. It is probably worth my saying from the Dispatch Box that we appreciate the support we have had from the devolved Administrations in that area, particularly the Scottish Government’s “Stay in Scotland” campaign, to reach out and communicate with people.

Plenty of support is still available for applicants who need it. Seventy-two organisations across the UK have been provided with up to £22 million in Home Office funding to help vulnerable people apply to the scheme. Eleven of those organisations are in Scotland, including Airdrie citizens advice bureau, Edinburgh CAB, Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey CAB, Perth CAB, Community Renewal, Feniks, Fife Migrants Forum, Perth and Kinross Association of Voluntary Service, Positive Action in Housing, the International Organisation for Migration and the Simon Community. We very much appreciate their work.

Those 72 organisations have among them helped more than 310,000 vulnerable people to apply to the scheme. That includes victims of human trafficking or domestic abuse, those with severe mental health conditions, those without a permanent address and those who are elderly or isolated. As I have touched on, the organisations are funded up to 30 September, and we will review the demand over the summer to see what the position should be beyond 30 September. I note the comments of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East about that.

The EU settlement resolution centre is open seven days a week to provide applicants with assistance over the telephone and by email, and the assisted digital service provides help over the phone with completing the online application process. We continue to support local authorities to ensure that all eligible looked-after children secure their status under the scheme, and we are providing practical help in several ways in addition to the extra funding that has been made available for this work following a new burdens assessment. I confirm to the House that as of 23 April, which was two months before the deadline, applications for the EUSS had been received for 2,440—estimated to be 67% —of the 3,660 looked-after children and care leavers that our survey identified as eligible for the scheme. We have since been working with local authorities on the remaining cases across our Union. For example, we have had confirmation that all looked-after children identified as eligible in Northern Ireland have had applications made for them well before the deadline. We have also made it clear that we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to applications made after the 30 June deadline.

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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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All the work to encourage looked-after children to have applications made on their behalf is absolutely welcome, but an issue that I did not have time to touch on was that some of these kids might actually be entitled to register as British citizens. Can we make sure that people are not missing out on their entitlement to British citizenship and going for settled status instead?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. To be clear, if someone is a British citizen and entitled to go through that process, they cannot be granted status under the EUSS. Certainly, we would look to work with local authorities to see whether the person was eligible to be a British citizen or to be granted EU settled status. That is not something that local authorities are unused to working with, because there may well be non-EEA nationals in a similar position, but the point is well made.

As was touched on during the hon. Gentleman’s speech, we have published quite extensive but non-exhaustive guidance on what may constitute reasonable grounds for making a late application. For example, someone who is under 18 or does not have mental capacity to apply themselves—in essence, someone who relies on someone else to apply for them—is an obvious example of where we will see a late application as inherently based on reasonable grounds. I would also emphasise that there is no specific time period for reasonable grounds or a deadline for them. As I have often said in this House, we would consider it reasonable grounds for a child who is aged five today to apply in 13 years’ time on reaching 18 if, when going for their first job, they realised that an application had not been made for them. Each case will be considered according to its particular circumstances, so that we arrive at the appropriate and proportionate outcome in each case.

As has been touched on, a process is also in place to prioritise late applications where the person may be at risk of destitution or where other compelling grounds exist. We are building on our work with local authorities, grant-funded organisations and others to identify and expedite such cases. Also, Members should be familiar with the process through which they bring cases to me that they believe should be expedited in the wider visa system, and we will also ensure that when Members of Parliament make representations, that will be done on a similar basis.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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I think we have come to the crux of the argument here, in that the guidance about late applications is pretty generous—it is much more generous than it could have been, and that is welcome—but if the Government will go that far, why not just remove the reasonable grounds from the application altogether? Who exactly do they want to be able to refuse on the ground of being unreasonably late? Why not just scrap that test altogether?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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It is a part of the EUSS, and it would be odd if we said that we would accept unreasonable grounds. It would seem a bit weird to put that in the immigration status. As I have said, we did not want to take a tick-box approach. Neither did we want, for the sake of argument, to say that an application from someone who was aged 17 and 364 days was definitely late, and instantly to say no to someone who was 18. We have taken the view that such an approach would be proportionate.

Yes, the guidelines on reasonable grounds are generous, as is the approach we have taken to postal applications, in assuming that any that are received in the post up to today will be considered to be in time, rather than asking for posting certificates or looking at when the envelope was franked by the Post Office. We recognise that not every area or community has a postal collection beyond 9 am, and it would produce some quite harsh outcomes if we required people to take a selfie of themselves posting something at 5 o’clock in the evening.

Touching on the point around pregnancy, we have already changed nationality law to provide for a grant of British citizenship when a child is born to someone who subsequently secures settled status based on a late application. That is based on the notion that they had reasonable grounds for missing the 30 June deadline but met the requirements for status at that time and before their child’s birth here in the UK. This provision also applies to anyone whose child is born between 1 July and their in-time application being decided and resulting in a grant of settled status.

Our focus will remain on encouraging those eligible for the EU settlement scheme to apply for and obtain their status, and we will continue to look for reasons to grant people status rather than to refuse it. Those currently receiving benefits who have not yet applied will not see their payments stop immediately. The Home Office is working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to reach out to people who may be eligible to apply. It is important that anyone who has not applied to the scheme does so, to ensure that their payments do not stop, but we would reassure them that help in applying remains available, including through our grant funded network.

Finally, in this area, if somebody who may be eligible for the scheme but has not made an application is encountered by immigration enforcement, they will be given another opportunity to apply. They will be issued with a notice giving them a further period, generally 28 days, in which to apply, and the notice will signpost them to the port available to do so. These safeguards have been built in to protect those who have not yet applied but who may still be eligible, and we believe that it will mean that everybody will be able to get the status they deserve.

As always in a debate on my brief inspired by the SNP, we see its ultimate desire tucked away at the end of the motion. While a debate on the EUSS, and this time for Members to reflect on the millions of applications it has received and statuses granted, is very welcome, the final line of the motion points to the ultimate goal of those who sit on the separatist Benches: a border for people between England and Scotland.

We always see that presented as just a chance to give Scotland’s employers an opportunity to recruit at the minimum wage on a European or perhaps even global basis, rather than offering the rewarding packages that many of Scotland’s key workers deserve—or perhaps as a way to avoid dealing with the underlying issues that drive people to abandon the world-famous natural beauty of the Scottish highlands and islands to find opportunities for work elsewhere. It does not take much to work out that, as the furlough scheme winds down, many of our fellow neighbours may face the need to find new employment, hence the support packages that the UK Government are putting in place to help those who may need to retrain. Should immigration policy really be the go-to option for roles where the work-based training requirements can be completed in a shorter time?

Similarly, it is a depressing vision for the future of Scotland—or some of its most beautiful parts—to suggest creating a system that makes the main attraction or selling point of a future Scotland not better prospects, higher skills and being at the cutting edge of scientific research, but the fact that it is a place where someone will need to spend a few years before qualifying for indefinite leave to remain, which will then allow them to move elsewhere.

As we know, for every problem, the SNP believes a border with England is the answer. Our approach is clear: to create a migration system that is not focused on the politics of division and separatism, or where someone’s passport is from, but judges people by their skills and what they have to offer, and has at its core a vision of a higher-wage, higher-skill, higher-prosperity Scotland, delivered by being part of our United Kingdom—a Union greater than the sum of its parts.

That means that our focus is to deliver an immigration system that works for Scotland’s workers, universities, businesses, events and future economic growth. It can never be a magic bullet for issues and problems that are the responsibility of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government, much as we wish it could be, but Scotland’s interests have been at the heart of each stage of recent changes.

Those changes include setting the general salary threshold for our key economic migration route within £20 of the Scottish median salary; harmonising the rules for settlement with the requirements for the skilled worker visa to encourage those who have come to work here to stay here for good; reform of the permit-free festival system to move towards a more proportionate approach; allowing short-term study via the visitor route; simplifying processes and expanding opportunity; changes to the student route in support of the ambitions of Scotland’s universities; removing the need to apply for ATAS—academic technology approval scheme—permission for our closest allies when studying relevant courses; broadening the skills threshold to reflect not just academically focused careers; allowing permitted paid engagement leave via entry through Ireland, removing the need for a Dublin band to fly via Paris to do a gig in Glasgow; and, over the coming year, introducing biometric reuse on more routes to reduce the need to travel to a service centre when applying for further leave to remain.

All those things have been driven by direct engagement with Scotland and its businesses, universities and community groups. While the SNP attacks the points-based system, it is worth noting that its own plans for separation back in 2014 included such a system—one it presumably would have enforced, despite its regular comments about such things.

The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. We opened the EU settlement scheme in March 2019, on a basis rightly much more generous than the withdrawal agreement requires, to ensure that resident EU citizens—our friends and neighbours—were able to secure their rights under UK law. Our message to EU citizens in the UK, and something that I think none of us would disagree on, is that we want them to stay. The fact that so many of those eligible for the EU settlement scheme have chosen to apply and secure their rights is something to be proud of and something that will support our nation and our Union for years to come.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Monday 22nd March 2021

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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We expect the highest standards from our providers and have instructed them to make improvements following the interim report from the independent chief inspector. In future, a core part of avoiding the pressures that result in the need for contingency accommodation will be fixing our broken asylum system, so that decisions are fair, prompt and firmer, and those whose claims are not genuine can be removed more easily.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Home Secretary said to the Select Committee that

“advice around dormitories and the use of the accommodation was all based on Public Health England advice”.

However, the inspection report reveals that Public Health England had advised that opening

“dormitory-style accommodation at Napier was not supported by current guidance”.

Ministers have claimed that the barracks are

“good enough for the armed services and they are certainly more than good enough for people…seeking asylum.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 10.]

However, the report says that they are “impoverished, run-down and unsuitable”. When will those statements be corrected, and, more importantly, why did the Home Office not grasp that the use of dormitory accommodation in the middle of a pandemic was utterly reckless?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I note the hon. Member’s points, but I have already outlined that we expect the highest standards from providers and have instructed them to make improvements. A core part of being able to end the use of contingency accommodation in hotels and barracks is having more options and locations for dispersed accommodation. Sadly, Glasgow is the only location currently providing it in Scotland. Part of the solution might be for his council in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East to agree to be next on the list—something I hope he will reflect positively on.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is well and good for the Minister to ask providers to make improvements, but it is a blindingly obvious fact that whatever is done with dormitory accommodation will not protect against coronavirus. I agree that to fix asylum accommodation, local authorities must have the powers and the funding they need for the job. The Home Affairs Committee has said that several times. If the Home Office agrees to do that, instead of launching the horrendous large-scale warehousing of vulnerable people, more local authorities will get on board and I will, indeed, encourage it. Will the Home Office make sure local authorities get the powers and the funding they need?

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 (Consequential, Saving, Transitional and Transitory Provisions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

General Committees
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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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It would be good to rename my constituency for the benefit of colleagues, but it is good to see you in the Chair, Mrs Murray. I hope you can hear me okay. Colleagues might prefer not to hear me, but I will have my say anyway.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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Always a pleasure.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Minister.

I am grateful to the Minister for the way he introduced the regulations. I concur with 99% of what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Halifax, had to say. It will be no surprise to the Minister that we, too, oppose the regulations. The SNP very much regrets the end of free movement. We believe that the hostile environment is a disaster. It is important to say that the regulations do not really end free movement; they are about extending the hostile environment. The two do not have to go together.

We have always argued for a declaratory scheme, and we maintain that that would have been a much better approach. However, there is no point going over all that old ground again. We have debated these points a million times and we are where we are. It is incumbent on us all to try to make the arrangements the Government have decided to put in place work as best we can.

When the Minister came before the Home Affairs Committee recently, I think it is fair to say that we had a fairly constructive exchange about how EEA citizens would be able to access the NHS and other public services in various hypothetical scenarios. In that vein, I want to probe him on another four brief scenarios. If he cannot answer the questions today, it would be useful to have the answers in writing. The shadow Minister said that these are very complicated regulations—I will come back to that point in a bit—and I genuinely do not know the answer to all these questions, despite my best efforts.

The first scenario is that in January—in the grace period, but after the transition period—two EEA nationals, an uncle and a niece, who could have applied to the settled status scheme but have not yet done so, go to rent a new property. The uncle is a worker, so his rights are protected by the grace period regulations, but the niece is not and does not have comprehensive sickness insurance. Arguably, she was therefore not exercising her treaty rights prior to the end of the transition period. As I understand it, that means she has no protection under the grace period regulations.

My first question is: is it the case that the worker—the uncle—would be able to rent, but not the niece? I understand that in the past, the Government have said, “We will not ask employers and landlords to make these checks,” but legally speaking, is it the case that the regulations would exclude the niece from the right to rent? Secondly, if they realised that they needed settled status and applied for it, would that situation remain the same, regardless of the fact of their application, until such time as a decision on the application was reached? Similarly, am I right in thinking that the uncle could access homelessness assistance, if he qualified for it—ironically he does not need to because he has the right to rent—whereas the niece could not access it, even though she is the one who would need it because she would struggle to access the right to rent?

The second scenario is the same as the first, except that it takes place in July, which is outside the grace period. In this case, as I understand it, neither the uncle nor the niece can rent or access housing assistance. Let us say that they can prove that they were negligently advised by lawyers that they did not need to apply for settlement because of a misunderstanding about nationality law—something I very much hope the Home Office would accept as a reasonable excuse for a late application. They make a late application, arguing that they have a reasonable excuse. Is it the case that while they wait for the application—even if it takes six week, eight weeks or two months—in the meantime neither of them would be able to rent and, similarly, they would not qualify for homelessness assistance?

Scenario three of four is the same as scenario two, but it is now July and one of the couple—the uncle and the niece—needs two small operations. They are not lifesaving, but they will fix some pretty serious pain. The first of the two operations happens just before they make the late application and it costs £10,000. The second happens after they make the application and it costs £15,000. Am I right in thinking that because of separate regulations made on 3 December—just last week—even the making of the late application means that the person continues to qualify for NHS treatment? Therefore, even while they could not rent or access homelessness assistance under the regulations that we are debating today, they could access the NHS.

If my understanding is right, why is there the inconsistency that while an application is outstanding, someone can get NHS treatment but not homelessness assistance? Is it not arguable that the regulations before us infringe the withdrawal agreement, particularly article 18(3), by not making a similar provision where a person has an outstanding late application? As I say, the Department of Health and Social Care published regulations last week that seemed to acknowledge that it has to give rights to those with outstanding applications, even if they are late; the Home Office does not appear to have recognised that.

Am I right in understanding that the £15,000 operation would not have to be paid for, because it happened while the application was outstanding? What about the £10,000 operation that happened just before the application went in? Even if the uncle and niece subsequently do get settled status, will they still be chased to pay the £10,000 for the operation that happened just before they submitted their application?

The fourth and final scenario again concerns a couple in a very similar position: they were badly advised and did not apply in time, so they have a reasonable excuse. Late next year, the Home Office charges them with illegal working. They apply in September for the settled status scheme and that is granted late. However, is it the case that the couple were, legally speaking—regardless of what practical answer the Home Office comes up with—guilty of a criminal offence from July, after the end of the grace period, until the application was decided? Because settled status is not retrospective, there would be a gap where they did not have status.

As I say, this is all very technical and I might have completely misunderstood some of the scenarios, but I have no doubt that we could go through every single one of the 60 or 70 regulations and conjure up scenarios that involve similar complications and technicalities. There are ways that the Home Office could make this easier. A declaratory scheme would be one, but putting that aside, there are things the Home Office should think about.

First, if a public body is approached by an EEA national without settled status and it appears that they could still apply for that settled status, perhaps we should put a duty on the public body to signpost them to the scheme. Rather than just saying, “You are not entitled to support,” there would be a duty on people to say, “Just now you are not entitled to support, but if you put in an application, you would be able to access it.” At the very least, I hope that is something the Home Office is encouraging of all people who are involved in checking immigration status, of whom there are many.

Secondly, if a person makes an application late—a situation I have alluded to—the Home Office should provide them with a certificate of application that makes it clear that they continue to be entitled to access support and all their rights while the application is outstanding. If there are clearly no reasonable grounds for the late application, the Home Office will be able to refuse immediately and no damage would be done. Otherwise, my view is that there is little to lose and much to gain from ensuring that they continue to be able to access all these rights while the application is outstanding. That seems to be the approach the Department of Health and Social Care has taken in the NHS regulations that were published last week, so I do not understand why that approach cannot be taken in the regulations before us today. It seems to me that that is arguably required by the withdrawal agreement.

Thirdly, if such a late application is successful, why do we not make settled status backdated so that there is not a break in the continuity of residence? When he was before the Home Affairs Committee, the Minister talked about how he was looking to ensure that that did not impact on nationality—for example, in the case of kids born during that period. I am aware that the Home Office is alive to this issue, but why not just make it retrospective in a blanket way, so that there is no gap in status?

I have one final request of the Minister. At the Home Affairs Committee, he was generous in agreeing to meet a couple of organisations. One to add to that list is the3million. It is a very sensible, pragmatic organisation. It accepts where we are at, and is just keen to work through all the scenarios and to work with the Government. If he is happy to meet it, that would be very helpful.

There are a million other issues I could raise today, such as access to national insurance numbers, which appears to be incredibly challenging for EU nationals.

I emphasise what the shadow Minister said about the complexity of the regulations. That is why we opposed the sweeping Henry VIII clauses when we debated the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020. It is why my party proposed an equivalent to the Social Security Advisory Committee. This issue is so technical that we need experts on housing law, marriage law, family law, social security law—it covers such a huge range of subjects. The regulations are much more detailed and technical than the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, yet we have 90 minutes to consider them, with no witnesses and no access to experts, whereas the Bill essentially went through Parliament twice and we had lots of expert evidence to help us.

I have tried my best to scrutinise the regulations. Indeed, I think there might be a typo in regulation 12, if the Minister wants to note it down. The placing of the quotation marks and the stray “(3)” to my mind means that part of that regulation has no effect or has the opposite effect of what was intended. That is why this sort of regulation, which has important consequences, needs line-by-line scrutiny. I think that there is a mistake, but I do not know how we fix it, because we cannot amend the regulations, unlike the Bill.

My final question is: why rush this? Much as I hate it, free movement is coming to an end. Even if the regulations—or 90% of the regulations—were not passed until late next year, free movement would still end; it would simply mean that all these aspects of the hostile environment would not be applied to EEA nationals. There could be mistakes in here and we need to think about it much more carefully. Again, I echo what the shadow Minister says: let’s put this off and do it properly. As MPs, let us do our job of scrutinising the proposals properly by withdrawing the regulations and bringing them back as a Bill.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I am sorry to hear that description of the EUSS that has already had 4.26 million applications. I give the hon. Gentleman a tip that it is about to hit another milestone in numbers of applications. We think that it is working fairly well. For most people, making an application is a 15-minute job at home, using a smartphone.

We want to take the lessons from how the EUSS has worked into the wider immigration system. Hon. Members may not have picked this up, but in the skilled worker route, an EEA national can use their smart phone from home to apply rather than making a trip to a visa application centre. Building on the experience of the EUSS, we have been able to provide secure identity checks from home. For obvious reasons, I will not go into all the details of what we do to verify identity, but this has been a real success and I am sorry to hear that description of it.

To reassure my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire, we will have a range of circumstances listed along non-exhaustive lines. The longer the delay, the more there is a chance that someone knows that they do not have entitlement under the withdrawal agreement, but is claiming that they do. We want decision-makers to have flexibility and to treat this as faces, not cases. There will be a list, but it is not exhaustive.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East always makes well thought-through contributions, even though we have fundamental policy disagreements on this and a range of other issues. I will provide a detailed written response to him and the Committee, but I shall deal with a couple of points now. He mentioned two EEA nationals. Let us assume that they are in England, because as he will know the right to rent checks do not apply outside England. If they were renting before 30 June a landlord is perfectly entitled to accept an EEA passport or national identity card as proof that they meet the compliant environment checks. If anyone has concerns, they can regularise and make their application via the EUSS straight after. We will not be asking landlords to make retrospective checks if they have accepted an EEA passport or identity card, just as we would not expect employers on 1 July suddenly to check that every member of their staff has EUSS status. Up until that point, landlords and employers cannot insist on it, provided that someone has presented an appropriate document. They can, of course, use it and we are finding that it is very popular. Between April and June there were 400,000 checks under the new improved service, 100,000 of which were to look at EUSS status. Those who have it are already finding it a handy and convenient way of meeting the checks.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will set these things out in writing, and I get that the Home Office is not requiring landlords and employers to do those checks. I would like clarity on this: is the Home Office saying to landlords, “You do not need to do that check even though in the niece scenario she does not have the right to rent?” I am concerned that there is a danger in saying to landlords, “You don’t need to worry about the fact that you are renting to someone who does not have the right to rent.” Given everything that we know about how the right to rent operates, is that not just going to ramp up professional indemnity, so that landlords will take the safe course and not touch these people with a barge pole?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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My next point relates to that example. He gave a clear example of a worker here in accordance with the EEA regulations on free movement. His second example was of someone who did not have retained rights because they were not here in strict accordance with those regulations. As he will know, the criteria for the EUSS is not strict compliance with EEA free movement regulations – it is residence in the United Kingdom. He would support the notion that it would produce some harsh outcomes if we based it purely on the free movement regulations. The situation that he has described would be that of the landlord in England who is renting today. He is talking today about someone who is not here strictly in accordance with the free movement regulations and who does not have free movement rights to be retained at 11 pm on 31 December – although I accept that someone could get a job and create new free movement rights before 31 December. It would be exactly the same legal position in January. No one has fewer rights or less ability in January than they have at 11 pm on 31 December. However, beyond the transition period new free movement rights cannot be created. That is the core difference.

Moving on to what would be a reasonable excuse for a late application, on some of the finer points – for example, someone being badly advised – it would probably be better for clarity to respond to those in writing.

I met representatives of We Belong last week. It was a productive conversation and we look forward to taking forward some changes. The3million group is on some of the Home Office’s advisory panels that are regularly engaged at official level. Once we have published the new guidance on the next milestones for the EUSS – the late grounds guidance – we will review ministerial engagement with the groups. I will be looking to meet the3million group at that stage – although by then we may have hit another milestone in millions of applications. We very much welcome all the applications coming in. We genuinely welcome all groups that promote the message that it is time to get in applications. If people have any concerns about their position in the United Kingdom beyond 1 July next year, now is the time to get in their application. Support is available on the phone, online and through our grant-funded organisations if people have any queries or concerns, or genuinely need assistance with the application.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said that it would be no surprise that, as a member of the Scottish National party, he will opposing the legislation. No, it is not. I recognise that the SNP has a long and fairly solid policy on free movement. I was slightly more surprised at the position being adopted by the Labour party, given that we are only a few days away from the anniversary of the general election, in which an inability to respect the referendum result became a decisive moment for many former Labour Members of Parliament. This SI is about ending the references to free movement in UK law. Free movement is ending. There will not be a reciprocal arrangement on the continent of Europe beyond the end of the transition period. We published a draft of this regulation while the Bill was being debated in the House in order to allow more time for scrutiny. We accepted that just publishing it under the usual SI rules would not be the best way of ensuring good scrutiny and debate. We do not imagine that some of the changes – for example, designating every registry office as a designated place – will be particularly controversial, given that it will make life easier for many non-EEA citizens to get married in the UK. It is a surprise to see the resistance to ending free movement, and to having a single immigration system that judges people by what they have to offer to the UK and their talents, not by where their passports were issued, continuing a year after the general election, but I am sure that it will be noted with interest across the now blue wall.

There are many areas of law to be changed. We joined the European Union – or the EEC as it was called then – in 1973. That means that, unsurprisingly, there is a large number of references across legislation to free movement. Any immigration law that has been passed since then by Governments of both colours will inevitably have referred to the fact that EU citizens had free movement rights. That free movement is coming to an end. That policy has been supported and it was clearly part of our manifesto commitment. In terms of the civil service rules, it is right that someone who works in the civil service has the appropriate immigration permission for the UK, as was of course covered by the withdrawal agreement. I want to reassure anyone who is working in the public service, who is an EEA national and who will inherently have free movement because they are working here, that the EUSS is there for them and we very much look forward to them making an application.

It is a surprise that, a year later, we are still hearing reasons from the Labour party why they do not support this core part of implementing the referendum result. I accept that other parties have a clear view on continuing freedom of movement, but I was not aware that the Labour party did: one day it argues that it does, and other days it argues that it does not. For this Government, the focus is on ensuring a functioning statute book, that we have an EUSS that is effective in protecting the rights of our friends and neighbours who have come to this country and who make a huge difference to it, and that we move forward and deliver our promises. Therefore, I ask the Committee to support the regulation.

Question put,

Draft Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2020

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

General Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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To be clear, the eligibility for the charge is based on the immigration status, rather than what tax or national insurance people have paid. We were clear in our manifesto, which was firmly endorsed in the December general election, that we would base it on the average cost of treating charge payers. Of course, when they come to achieve indefinite leave to remain, they are no longer liable to pay the charge. As I say, it is subject to the £1 discount, because £624 is more divisible than £625.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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A quick question: is the working for the £624 estimate available anywhere? I cannot see where to find it.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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My understanding is that that has been published, but I will certainly be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the Committee with more details about how the DHSC arrived at that figure.

Students, dependants of students and youth mobility scheme applicants will continue to pay the discounted rate, which will increase from £300 to £470 per person. The Government are aware that the charge has a greater financial impact on family groups than on individual applicants. To support families, therefore, the charge for children under 18 at the date of application will also be set at £470, in line with the discounted rate set for students and the youth mobility scheme.

In specifying the new amount of the charge, the Government have considered a range of health services available without charge to those given immigration permission to be within the United Kingdom, and, as I have touched on already, have considered the cost to the NHS across the four nations of treating those who pay the charge. Also considered is the valuable contribution that migrants make to our economy and the need to ensure that the UK remains an attractive destination for global talent.

I turn to the exemption for tier 2 health and care visa applicants. On 21 May, the Prime Minister asked the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to work together to exempt NHS and health and care workers from the immigration health charge. Consequently, this order amends schedule 2 to the principal order to provide exemption for tier 2 (general) health and care visa applicants and their dependants.

The tier 2 (general) health and care visa was launched on 4 August, and a large number of applications were received and permissions granted. It is a fast-track visa offer with a reduced application fee for eligible health professionals, including doctors, nurses and allied health workers. It covers not only people working in the NHS directly but those working for organisations commissioned by the NHS to provide essential services and those in the relevant professions who work in the adult social care sector, which is the basis of their application and their visa. Until a formal exemption is in place for that group, the Secretary of State has waived the requirement for them to pay the health charge.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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Again, some of those costs are up front, then followed up by having to pay for healthcare treatment. One thing that is unusual and which is really good about this country is the level of free-at-point-of-need healthcare that we have across the nations of the United Kingdom, dating back to 1948 and the introduction of the NHS. That is not replicated in many other countries, where there is either a social insurance system or there is still co-payment for many areas.

Ireland was another example given and we have had a quick look at the position for someone who has moved there. In my understanding, there is a charge levied more generally, not just on migrants, where people pay €100 if they attend an accident and emergency department without a referral letter from the doctor. Again, we do not have those sorts of charges here and neither will we look to have them. Similarly, there can be charges for being an in-patient in a hospital in Ireland. Again, that would not apply to someone here who has paid the immigration health surcharge or who has indefinite leave to remain and therefore is exempt.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to have this debate, but I will say two things. First, can we see the analysis that I referred to earlier that the Department of Health and Social Care has done on this point so we can have the debate in full knowledge of that? Secondly, in terms of Ireland, migrants there are being charged on the same basis as local residents, but here people are being asked to pay the tax—as local residents do—and the dreamed-up £600-odd fee, for which we have are yet to understand the full basis.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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We are happy to supply how we come to the costings. As we said in our manifesto, it is the cost of treatment to those who are covered by the health charge element. I think the situation is different. We rightly have got a social contract in the UK that those of us who are long-term residents or who have been here for a period of time pay taxes year in, year out. That is not dependent on whether we have been ill and not dependent on how much we have needed to use the NHS; we all pay that fee.

It is not unreasonable to ask those who have moved to the United Kingdom specifically at a point in their lives, who will not necessarily have that long-term payment of tax and other contributions, to make their contribution for the period, as some of them will have limited leave. Then, when they make the commitment that indefinite leave to remain represents—that is, permanent settlement—they become exempt. That has been the basis.

I appreciate that the Scottish National party has a very different view on this particular area despite its having produced £120 million of funding for Scotland’s NHS in its period of operation—and it will continue to produce income for Scotland’s NHS. We believe it is the right approach that when someone has just arrived, they make a payment that reflects the fact that others who have been here—permanent UK residents—have made contributions over a period of time, on average.

I heard the comments by the hon. Member for Streatham. The basis is that some need it more or less. That is, of course, the basis of how the NHS, which is taxpayer funded, works. We would not want to link that to how much someone uses the NHS, although I accept that in other countries people face direct healthcare charges, including those who are permanent residents and sometimes those who may not have built up the level of social insurance payments of a longer-term resident. As for the expression that it is unique to a certain Government, it is certainly not unique for those migrating to other nations to face either up-front charges or the prospect, if they become unwell, of having to find money to fund their treatment. That is a prospect they will not be facing here in the United Kingdom.

As for further details on reimbursement, I mentioned in my speech that the Department of Health and Social Care intends to launch that in October and to publish the figures shortly. That is for those who are not automatically exempt as a result of qualifying for the health and care visa and, similarly, those who are applying to renew their migration status.

The hon. Member for Halifax used the example of how a doctor can seek to apply—if they are on tier 2 —for the health and care visa if their migration status is coming up for renewal. She also made points about when sponsors change. To reassure her, we are looking to make some changes under the new points-based system  from 1 January to make it slightly easier for people to move between sponsors if they are doing fundamentally the same job. That also partly responds to legitimate concerns about ensuring that employees are not wholly tied to one employer.

Obviously, the NHS overall is a unique organisation, but if someone is absolutely tied to one employer for their migration status in the United Kingdom, that can present some challenges. We will make it slightly easier for people here in the United Kingdom to move between employers, subject to the workplace role still being fundamentally what their status was based on.

The debate has been a useful opportunity to scrutinise the order. It sounds like, in the Labour party’s immigration policy, I have some Christmas reading to look forward to from the hon. Member for Halifax. I very much recommend that she bases it on the policies the Government put out on 13 July. There will be further details about the new points-based system, which will be a very firm base. The hon. Member for Streatham has her view on whether the immigration health surcharge should in principle be part of the immigration system in the future, and I look forward to hearing the view of the hon. Member for Halifax.

The order is the right approach, based firmly on our manifesto commitment and on reassuring the UK taxpayer that, as a whole, our migration system exists to support our health services and make a contribution to them. I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put.

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

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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Can the Minister give us a rough outline of when a review of the pilot scheme will take place and when any sort of decision can be expected on how it will look in the future?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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We expect to undertake that evaluation later this year and then announce the results as part of confirming the final details of the future migration scheme. If the hon. Gentleman’s next question is about whether we will take into account the unique circumstances this year, the obvious answer is yes, given the restrictions on travel. We have found that the net is going wider in trying to recruit. Just creating migration opportunity does not automatically bring workers to the United Kingdom, as we have seen with free movement—for example, it used to be common for people from parts of western Europe to come here to do this work, but now it is not. Again, migration cannot be seen as an alternative to providing attractive terms and conditions that will encourage people to wish to do the work. Our intention is to make that announcement later this year and then confirm our intentions, in good time for next year’s season.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs already conducts quarterly seasonal labour in horticulture surveys, explicitly looking at the questions of supply and demand of seasonal labour in horticulture. I am therefore not persuaded that a further annual MAC report would significantly add to our knowledge on this matter, especially when the MAC will in future have more ability to work on matters of its own choosing, including an annual report on the migration system, in which it can choose to cover the areas suggested in the new clause. If we are giving the MAC the ability to choose what it sees as the priorities in its annual report, with debate in the House on that report, it seems strange to give it that freedom and then compel it to do a number of reports by primary legislation. With those reassurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Halifax will feel able to withdraw her new clause.

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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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I can be very brief. I echo and support what the shadow Minister has said. I am not going to repeat what I said on clause 2; that is a welcome clause, although we have one or two concerns about the detail. What this whole debate has shown us is that, even though we are told that the common travel area pre-existed the European Union and everything is fine, in actual fact it is hard to discern what precisely is involved in the CTA and precisely what rights it confers on individuals.

My understanding from the debate we had last week is essentially that the Government propose to progress this in a rather piecemeal way, changing bits and bobs of the legislation on different subjects to ensure that Irish citizens will continue to enjoy equivalent rights in this country. Okay, that will get us to where we want to be, but it does prohibit us from having a comprehensive overview of what progress has been made and what exactly we are trying to achieve by restoring the common travel area and making sure that there is not a loss of rights because of the loss of free movement.

The new clause would be genuinely be helpful for MPs to understand what the CTA is all about, what exactly the Government are trying to achieve and what progress they are making towards that. It is a genuinely helpful suggestion.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for Halifax for tabling new clause 27 because it gives me a chance briefly to outline the Government’s commitments to maintaining the common travel area arrangements, including the associated rights of British and Irish citizens in each other’s states, and the status of Irish citizens under the EU settlement scheme arrangements.

For brief background, the common travel area is an arrangement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as well as the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. It allows British and Irish citizens to travel freely between the UK and Ireland, and to reside in either jurisdiction. It also facilitates the enjoyment of several associated rights and privileges—in effect, by forming one area for immigration entry purposes.

As mentioned when we debated clause 2, both the UK Government and the Irish Government have committed to maintaining the CTA. The CTA is underpinned by deep-rooted historical ties, and maintaining it has been and continues to be a shared objective of both nations. Crucially, it predates the UK’s and Ireland’s membership of the European Union. It has been agreed with the EU that the UK and Ireland can continue to make arrangements between ourselves when it comes to the CTA.

Irish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Ireland will continue to have access to their CTA associated rights. Both Governments confirmed that position on 8 May 2019, when we signed a common travel area memorandum of understanding, which I have mentioned previously to the Committee. It is worth noting that that also builds on our commitments in the Belfast agreement that are part of international law.

The Government continue to work closely with the Irish Government to ensure that our citizens can access their rights as set out in the memorandum of understanding. This has been and will continue to be taken forward through bilateral instruments, and we have committed to updating domestic legislation. This is why we are proposing clause 2 of this Bill, which will ensure that Irish citizens can enter and remain in the UK without requiring permission, regardless of where they have travelled from, except in a very limited number of circumstances, which we debated under clause 2.

New clause 27 would also 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 European economic area citizens who are resident in the UK by the end of the transition period and eligible family members seeking to join a relevant EEA citizen in the UK after that time. EEA citizens and their family members can apply under the EU settlement scheme for UK immigration status, so that they can continue to work, study, and, where eligible, access benefits and services such as free NHS treatment. We continue to make every effort to ensure that people are aware of the benefits of applying to the EU settlement scheme.

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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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Given what the Minister says, people will have to decide whether they want to apply for the EU settlement scheme, or whether they want to continue to rely on their CTA rights. They could make that decision much more easily if they knew precisely what their CTA rights would be. Can he say anything about when the Government will take forward a programme of work to ensure that Irish citizens continue to enjoy the rights that they have now? When can people can see this on the statute book, rather than just hear it being spoken about? People are describing these as rights written in the sand.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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Clause 2 explicitly puts Irish citizens’ rights on the statute book and removes the anomaly by which an Irish citizen is treated differently depending on how they enter the country—whether they arrive on a flight from Dublin or a flight from Brussels, whether under EEA free movement or CTA rights. That difference is removed completely by clause 2; it makes it clear that the same position applies, however an Irish citizen arrives in the United Kingdom.

I am very much a supporter of the provisions of the Belfast agreement, under which a person can identify as British, Irish or both. Effectively, in the United Kingdom, the person will be treated as if they were a British citizen, in terms of their rights, including their right to live here, and the services they can access. There is a very tiny number of exceptions. On this Committee, we have all struggled, as have the witnesses, to find in recent times and under modern legislation an example of an Irish citizen being deported from the United Kingdom. The position outlined in a written statement in 2007—and yes, I know who was in government in 2007—still stands, and we have not had any representations from the Irish Government on changing that. I suspect that if we looked to behave in an unreasonable way towards an Irish citizen, the Irish Government would be very clear in their response.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is obviously doing his bit by putting clause 2 into the Bill, but what I am really asking—I suspect that he does not have the answer today—is what other work is under way across Government to make sure that Irish citizens have rights on housing, health and everything else on exactly the same basis as before, and to make sure that the loss of free movement rights does not mean that they will be in a worse position. Some sort of timetable on what is going on, and how the change is being processed, would be useful for lots of citizens.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I thank the hon. Member for quite a constructive intervention. He obviously will appreciate that those arriving after the transition period would not have free movement rights, but those arriving before are covered by the withdrawal agreement. I am more than happy to get a letter to him setting out how we will make sure of the position that he mentions. I suspect that his concern is that when an Irish citizen is in the United Kingdom, talking to a person at a Department for Work and Pensions office, or a landlord, and presents them with an Irish passport, it should be understood inherently that it has exactly the same status in terms of renting, or accessing a service or employment, as a British passport, particularly given the different commentary. I am more than happy to set out in writing to the Committee the work that will be done on that point.

In summary, the Government have already made clear the rights available to individuals under the common travel area and the EU settlement scheme following the end of free movement, and we will continue to do so. I therefore respectfully ask the hon. Member for Halifax not to press the new clause for the reasons I have outlined.

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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, I fully support and echo much of what the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston has said. If anything, I would argue that the review requested in the new clause should be slightly broader and encompass not only student recruitment but staff recruitment, because that is an important issue for our universities. I also suggest that the report needs an urgent timeframe, because the clock is ticking down to a new academic year and a new recruitment period, but she made all sorts of valuable points.

Some changes made to the Government’s original White Paper have improved matters, such as the reduction in the salary and skills thresholds, but there remain lots of challenges, and of course just now universities are under immense pressure in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout. I have spoken with Universities Scotland about the review suggested in the new clause, and what follow are some of the issues it raised. What steps are the Minister and the Government taking to get the visa system working again—lots of visa processing centres remain closed—and how can alternative measures be put in place to ensure we can recruit students at the moment?

What steps will the Government take to ensure that students can start courses online with confidence—for example, by extending the window from three months to six months so that people can have extra time to arrive in the UK from when their visa becomes valid? What steps are being taken to ensure that online study does not disqualify students from the graduate route, and will the Minister consider increasing the graduate route length to three or four years and promoting it intensively, because as we he heard awareness rates are still very low?

Finally, the report should also look at whether consideration has been given to waiving tier-4 visa fees for one year only? In the longer run, what steps are being taken to ensure that our visa fees are competitive and allow us to compete with countries such as Canada and Australia, which have such strong offers in terms of fees and post-study work. These are all things the Government should think about as part of the report, and we think the new clause would be a welcome addition to the Bill.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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The new clause provides the Committee with a useful opportunity to consider the important issue of international students in the UK, and I am grateful to hon. Members for tabling it.

I want to start by picking up on the point made about Erasmus by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston. My constituency sees a large number of Erasmus students, and we very much welcome it. At the moment, the scope and content of EU programmes post 2020, including Erasmus, is being negotiated within the EU institutions and has not been finalised. The Government have made it clear that the UK is ready to consider participation in certain EU programmes, in particular Erasmus+, once the EU has agreed the baseline in its 2021-27 multiannual financial framework. Given that that has not yet been agreed, we are preparing for every eventuality and considering a wide range of options with regard to the future of international exchange and collaboration in education and training if it is not possible to secure a deal on Erasmus+. I want to give reassurance that the will is there. Once the EU has agreed its baseline, we will look to continue to be part of that valuable programme.

The Government strongly welcome international students, as I know Members across the Committee do. We see the academic and creative energy they bring to communities across our Union, including Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, Birmingham and Exeter. The Committee will be pleased to hear that the UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for international education, and hundreds of thousands of talented students choose to come to the UK’s world-leading institutions.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency has found that the total number of international students in higher education in the UK increased by 10% between 2014-15 and 2018-19, with the latest data suggesting that around 140,000 EU domiciled and 340,000 non-EU domiciled students enrolled in higher education institutions in the UK. The most recent set of immigration statistics show some very welcome growth in the number of people studying at our institutions from China and India in particular.

I want to reiterate that the Government place no limit on the number of international students who can come to study in the UK and have no intention ever to introduce any such limit in future under the new migration system. Indeed, as set out in the “International Education Strategy”, published last year, it is the Government’s ambition to increase the number of international higher education students studying in the UK to 600,000 by 2030. However, I recognise that we must not stand still if we are to continue to be a leading destination for international students. The Minister of State for Universities recently announced a new international education champion, Sir Steve Smith, to spearhead the UK’s efforts in the international student market. The Minister and I liaise regularly about the role that the migration system can play in facilitating that.

In summer 2021, we will launch a new graduate route, which will enable international students who have successfully completed their degree to remain in the UK for two years post study to work or look for work at any level, in order to kick-start their career. That will ensure that the UK continues to attract the brightest and the best and that our offer to prospective international students remains competitive internationally. I know that this policy change has significant cross-party support. It was even one of the first requests made by an SNP MP in a recent Opposition day debate on migration, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and I took part, and I am pleased that it has been welcomed by the education sector.

I want to respond to the points made about eligibility for this route. We have published guidance, which confirms that those having to study overseas by distance learning due to the current circumstances will still be eligible for the graduate route. I do not blame Opposition Members for not having seen it, because it came out this morning, so I do not make that point to have a go at them. That followed discussions that the Minister of State for Universities and I had.

We will not penalise people for circumstances that are beyond their control, and we are working to finalise some of the details. Particularly for those on a one-year course—who will predominantly be postgraduate students, where we probably have a record of compliance and they have a very high skill level—we will be working to find that they have spent some time in the United Kingdom. For those starting three-year courses, we will not hold against them an absence from the United Kingdom caused by having to do distance learning, as a general principle.

We are looking at a range of other measures we can take to facilitate applications for tier 4, particularly from those who are applying to a new course having already been in the United Kingdom, many of whom are postgraduates or have done foundation courses. We have had strong representations on the extension to six months. It is clear that that will not be a huge advantage to someone looking to start a course in late September or October, given that it is now mid-June, but we are looking at where we can make some appropriate changes to the migration rules to reflect the unique situation. We will of course continue to work with Universities UK to ensure that those changes are appropriate. As I say, we have today published some guidance, which I am sure Committee members will find interesting. I will make sure that a link to it, or perhaps a copy of it, is sent round, to make one or two of these points clear.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I thank the shadow spokespeople for their comments and the constructive way in which they have put forward the new clause, which hits on an important point. Certainly neither I nor anyone else in government wants businesses to fail due to an unavailability of labour, although, sadly, as many outside this room would note, the impact of covid-19 on our economy means that not many people would see that as a likely issue over the coming period, for all too obvious reasons.

It is precisely for that reason that the Government are bringing forward the new points-based immigration system. It will be a single global system that will treat everyone alike and will allow people to come to the UK on the basis of their skills and the contribution they can make, not their nationality or where their passport is from. It will be a fair system, and we are introducing a number of important elements, such as reducing the skills and salary threshold below those in the tier 2 system, and abolishing the cap and resident labour market test, which will remove a lot of bureaucracy for employers engaging with the system.

The system will also be flexible. We are making it points-based, precisely so that we can facilitate the entry of those with the greatest skills or those who are coming to fill jobs where there is the greatest need. The system will be kept under careful review.

I do not think anyone would disagree that it is profoundly important to look at the effect that immigration is having on the labour market. That means looking at the situation for employers and the impact on UK workers seeking employment. The new clause, focusing as it does solely on employers, would give only one side of the story, leaving workers’ interests at a disadvantage. I also do not believe that the Government are best placed to look at this issue; this type of request is why the independent Migration Advisory Committee exists and is commissioned to produce expert, independent reports on the interplay between immigration and the labour market. I do not believe that what it produces could be further improved by another report from the Government. As part of its work, the MAC already looks at which occupations in the UK are currently experiencing a shortage of workers and, crucially, where it thinks it would be beneficial to fill vacancies through immigration. We maintain shortage occupation lists to recognise that.

The work of the MAC and the reports it produces go beyond the narrow scope of the work proposed by the new clause. The MAC looks at the whole immigration system, rather than just changes to the immigration rules. The MAC also looks at the impact of all migration, rather than limiting itself to EEA and Swiss migration, as the new clause seeks to do, although I accept that the wording is probably because of the scope of the Bill. The future immigration system will be a global one, where an EEA citizen has the same basic rights to migrate to the UK as someone, for example, from the Commonwealth.

The new clause would simply result in duplication of work already being undertaken by the pre-eminent labour market economists and migration specialists of the MAC. Parliament regularly debates the MAC’s reports. I hope that the MAC’s annual reports will help to inform regular, structured debates on migration—something to which Opposition Members alluded—allowing us to take a more considered view, rather than simply reacting to particular proposals or events. I have outlined the role that the MAC will play. I hope that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East will feel able to withdraw his new clause.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 41

Children in care and children entitled to care leaving support: Entitlement to remain

‘(1) Any child who has their right of free movement removed by the provisions contained in this Act, and who are in the care of a local authority, or entitled to care leaving support, shall, by virtue of this provision, be deemed to have and be granted automatic Indefinite Leave to Remain within the United Kingdom under the EU Settlement Scheme.

(2) The Secretary of State must, for purposes of subsection (1), issue guidance to local authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland setting out their duty to identify the children of EEA and Swiss nationals in their care or entitled to care leaving support.

(3) Before issuing guidance under this section the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the relevant Scottish Minister;

(b) the relevant Welsh Minister; and

(c) the relevant Northern Ireland Minister

(4) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to ensure that personal data relating to nationality processed by local authorities for purposes of identification under subsection (1) is used solely for this purpose and no further immigration control purpose.

(5) Any child subject to subsection (1) who is identified and granted status after the deadline of EU Settlement Scheme (“the Scheme”) will be deemed to have had such status and all rights associated with the status from the time of the Scheme deadline.

(6) This section comes into force upon the commencement of this Act and remains in effect for 5 years after the deadline of the EU Settlement Scheme.

(7) For purposes of this section, “children in the care of the local authority” are defined as children receiving care under any of the following—

(a) section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (Provision of accommodation for children: general);

(b) section 31 of the Children Act 1989 (Care and Supervision);

(c) section 75 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (General duty of local authority to secure sufficient accommodation for looked after children);

(d) section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (Provision of accommodation for children);

(e) Article 25 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (Interpretation); and

(f) Article 50 Children of the (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (Care orders and supervision orders).

(8) For the purposes of this section, “children entitled to care leaving support” means a child receiving support under any of the following—

(a) paragraph 19B of Schedule 2 Children Act 1989 (Preparation for ceasing to be looked after);

(b) s.23A(2) Children Act 1989 (The responsible authority and relevant children);

(c) s.23C(1) Children Act 1989 (Continuing functions in respect of former relevant children);

(d) section 104 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (Young people entitled to support under sections 105 to 115);

(e) sections 29-30 Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (Advice and assistance for young persons formerly looked after by local authorities) as amended by s.66 Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Provision of aftercare to young people); and

(f) Article 35(2) Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (Persons qualifying for advice and assistance.).’—(Dame Diana Johnson.)

This new clause aims to ensure that the children of EEA and Swiss nationals who are in care, and those who are entitled to care leaving support, are granted automatic Indefinite Leave to Remain under the EU Settlement Scheme to ensure they do not become undocumented.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

Absolutely. Once someone has their status under the European settlement scheme, they join another—why, we have had over 3 million decisions taken on granting status. That will be part of how our border system will operate in future. One of the lessons learned from the past is this—status was granted under an Act of Parliament, but then in several decades’ time it has to be explained to someone how their status was under a different approach from how status is granted to those who are in the same cohort, in terms of nationality and citizenship. That is not helpful to anyone. That is one of the lessons learned, of course, from the experience of the Windrush generation. That Act of Parliament was in 1971. The status was granted on 1 January 1973 and the issues then started to be encountered 30 years later, and not just since 2010— the first case mentioned on the front of Windrush lessons learned review is from 2009. Again, it is about how those issues are created.

A declaratory scheme as proposed in new clauses 41 and 58, under which those covered automatically acquire UK immigration status, would cause confusion and potential difficulties for these vulnerable young people in future years, with their having no solid evidence of their lawful status here. They will need evidence of their status when they come to seek employment, or access to benefits and services to which they are entitled. A declaratory system would leave them without that evidence, struggling to prove their rights and entitlements over decades to come.

I listened carefully to the comments made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, in which she outlined the process local authorities could go through to list the children and send those lists to the Home Office. I thought, “If local authorities are going to go through all this, then the logical thing for them to do is make the applications that are required under the EU settlement scheme, and ensure the children they are listing have the status they need.” It is hard to see what the benefit to councils would be if we introduced a different process that did not produce a better outcome. If that is what we are going to ask people to do—arrange a working identifier—the next stage is to ask them to make quite a simple application to the European settlement scheme to get the status that child deserves.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister must accept that a declaratory system does not leave people without a means of proving their status. They have every incentive to apply to the settlement scheme to get the document they need to access the services the Minister has referred to, and would have the facility to do so.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

Again—here we go—this would mean that someone who had a status could not be distinguished from someone who did not have a status, and would then have to make an application. We have been clear that we cannot allow people to have a status without going through the process, but that we have some generous provisions in place. Similarly, physical documents that are decades old, that date from when someone is a child, are unlikely to be particularly convincing proof in many instances. That is why we need to move towards a digital system that is a permanent record, and if the children are being identified—as Opposition Members are suggesting—the next stage is to make that application, make it simple, and get their status secured. That means the children are then secure for the rest of their life, which is a better outcome.

Fundamentally, changing a system that is working well overall would have the exact opposite effect to that which the new clauses appear intended to achieve, leading to confusion and uncertainty. We have also made it clear that where a person eligible for status under the scheme has reasonable grounds for missing the deadline—for example, if their council did not apply to the EU settlement scheme on their behalf—they will be given a further opportunity to apply. We will ensure that individuals who have missed the deadline through no fault of their own can still obtain lawful status in the UK, which I suggest is a far better response to the concerns expressed by Opposition Members than the new clauses they are proposing. That is why the Government will not accept them.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

It is probably worth saying that many European welfare schemes are based on slightly different premises—for example, social insurance schemes. As we reflected on when we talked about healthcare costs, people accessing healthcare services in other European countries may be required to pay for things that the NHS provides free at the point of need to UK nationals. It is hard to give different examples, but there are protections in the withdrawal agreement for UK citizens living in the EU before the end of the transition period. To be fair, many countries have been good in wanting proactively to support UK citizens living in their nation. I cannot give a list of each countries’ individual migration system off the top of my head, but it is probably safe to say that it is relatively common around the world for those who have newly arrived in a country to be unlikely to be able to access and qualify for a range of welfare provisions.

EEA citizens who apply under the EU settlement scheme secure their rights in UK law, so they can access benefits and services on at least the same basis as before they were granted that status. The Government have provided guidance for local authorities to enable them to support vulnerable EEA citizens in making an application under the scheme. The Government have also made available to local authorities and charities a further £8 million, in addition to the £9 million announced last year, to help them to assist vulnerable EEA citizens in making applications.

New clause 56 would risk impacting the Government’s ability to make regulations under the power in clause 4, the importance of which I have set out previously in Committee: to ensure that our laws operate coherently once free movement ends; to align the immigration treatment of newly arriving EEA citizens and non-EEA citizens from 1 January 2021; and to make relevant savings and transitional provisions for resident EEA citizens that cannot be made under powers in the 2020 Act.

New clause 59 would require the Government to publish a report on the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition on certain groups of EEA nationals. This is not necessary; the Government are already required to consider the impact of policies on all those to whom they apply, not just certain groups.

On new clause 62, I share the interest of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North in ensuring the wellbeing of children, but I do not believe the new clause is necessary. Immigration law already provides that local authorities may intervene where required, regardless of the immigration status or nationality of the child or parent. The safeguards in place for the vulnerable will be retained, but it is only right that the future immigration system continues to play a part in ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are protected for the residents of the UK, whose money it is, and in assuring them that immigration continues to benefit the country as a whole and is not based on creating new costs and burdens for public resources.

I understand and appreciate the intentions behind new clause 62, but it would provide EEA citizens with greater access to benefits in the UK than they currently have under UK law. Generally speaking, under EU free movement law, EEA citizens may currently access benefits when they exercise a qualifying EU treaty right—for example, through employment or self-employment, or when they have become permanent residents. The new clause would remove that qualification and provide that any EEA citizen in this country with a child, for whatever period and in whatever capacity, may qualify for welfare benefits.

We believe that a general qualifying threshold of five years for access to benefits in immigration procedures is the right one, as it reflects the strength of a person’s connection to the United Kingdom and the principle that people should come to the UK to contribute, rather than to take advantage of, and place pressures on, taxpayer-funded services and welfare payments. Non-EEA migrants who come to live in the UK are currently expected to provide for any children they have without recourse to public funds. There can be no reasonable justification for adopting a different principle for EEA citizens arriving in the UK when the new immigration system is introduced, given that we have now left the European Union.

Finally, new clauses 59 and 62 incorrectly reference the immigration health surcharge. The immigration health surcharge is not a public fund. It is a contribution made by temporary migrants towards the costs of the NHS services they can access from day one. These new clauses would undermine the intention to establish a unified immigration system that builds public confidence in its operation, and therefore the Government cannot accept them.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

People do not come to this country to take advantage of the social security system; they come here to work or because they are family members of British citizens or settled persons. Having asked them to come to work or join family members here, I regard it as unfair that we do not extend the same social safety net to them. We are not arguing for a discriminatory system.

As the Minister knows, we are limited by the scope of the Bill. I feel that we have not got to the fundamental principle of why we can ask people to contribute on the one hand and yet not provide them with the same safety net. This is particularly urgent in relation to the coronavirus, and we need fast action. The Minister referred to this matter being under review, but we are several months into the crisis and we will have to revisit this issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 46

Family reunion and resettlement

“(1) The Secretary of State must make provision to ensure that an unaccompanied child, spouse or vulnerable or dependant adult who has a family member who is legally present in the United Kingdom has the same rights to be reunited in the United Kingdom with that family member as they would have had under Commission Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013.

(2) The Secretary of State must, within a period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—

(a) make regulations amending the Immigration Rules in order to preserve the effect in the United Kingdom of Commission Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 for the family reunion of unaccompanied minors, spouses and vulnerable or dependant adults; and

(b) lay before both Houses of Parliament a strategy for ensuring the continued opportunity for relocation to the UK of unaccompanied children present in the territory of the EEA, if it is in the child’s best interests.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “family member”—

(a) has the same meaning as in Article 2(g) of Commission Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013;

(b) also has the same meaning as “relative” as defined in Article 2(h) of Commission Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013;

(c) also includes the family members referred to in Article 16 (1) and 16 (2) of Commission Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013.

(4) Until such time as Regulations in subsection (2) come into force, the effect of Commission Regulation (EU) No 604/2013 for the family reunion of unaccompanied minors, spouses and vulnerable or dependent adults with their family members in the UK shall be preserved.”—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause would have the effect of continuing existing arrangements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, spouses and vulnerable adults to have access to family reunion with close relatives in the UK.

Brought up, and read the First time.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

The Government are committed to the principle of family reunion and supporting vulnerable children. We recognise that families can become separated because of the nature of conflicts and persecution, and the speed and manner in which people are often forced to flee their country.

We will continue to provide safe and legal routes for families to reunite in the UK. We have a proud record of providing protection to those who need it, including children, and of reuniting families under the existing immigration rules. The new clause fails to take into account our negotiations with the EU, which I will come to later.

The UK continues to be one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. We resettle more refugees than any other country in Europe and are in the top five countries worldwide. Since September 2015, we have resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection through our refugee resettlement schemes, with around half being children. We can be proud as a country of our ambitious commitments and achievements. The Government are delighted that their overall approach was endorsed in the general election in December by the British public.

Furthermore, the UK already has a wide range of provisions in existing immigration rules that allow UK-based family members to sponsor children and other relatives to enter the UK for family reunion purposes. Those rules apply to a sponsor who is a refugee, a settled person or a British citizen. All those rules are unaffected by the UK leaving the EU and they will continue to be available after the transition period ends.

Our refugee family reunion policy is intended to allow those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK to sponsor pre-flight, immediate family members to join them here. Where appropriate, our policy includes scope to allow other family members to reunite with refugees in the UK. This may be on an exceptional basis or simply under a different route.

The new clause fails to distinguish between the very different circumstances of sponsors who are refugees and those who are asylum seekers—those seeking refugee status. It is important that the sponsor already has refugee or humanitarian leave in the UK before they are able to sponsor family members to join them. Allowing individuals to sponsor family members to join them in the UK before a decision on their asylum claim is made creates greater uncertainty for families, who may be unable to remain in the UK.

Very careful consideration is required before we extend family reunion provisions, to guard against significantly increasing the number of people who could qualify for family reunion, but who do not necessarily need protection themselves and who may be making unfounded claims of our protection systems for economic migration purposes. That could reduce our capacity to assist the most vulnerable refugees.

In the year ending March 2020, over 7,400 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK, which—hon. Members may be interested to know—is 37% more than in the previous year. There are further provisions in the immigration rules that allow those with refugee leave or humanitarian protection to sponsor adult dependant relatives living overseas to join them. This is where, as a result of age, illness or disability, a person requires long-term personal care, which can only be provided by their relative in the UK, without recourse to public funds. The same approach is applied to British citizens who wish to sponsor such relatives.

Furthermore, under part 8 of the immigration rules, children with relatives in the UK with refugee status or humanitarian protection are able to apply to join them in the UK, where there are serious and compelling family or other considerations that make exclusion of the child undesirable and where suitable arrangements have been made for the child’s care. In addition, appendix FM of the immigration rules already provides routes for British and settled sponsors, and those with protection-based leave, to sponsor family members to join them in the UK. We are aware that financial and other requirements are in place in those rules, which have been upheld as lawful by the Supreme Court. It is appropriate that all those who seek to sponsor a family member under these routes can meet a consistent set of requirements.

The new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East is based on the Dublin regulation, which is an EU provision. The UK is no longer an EU member state. As a sovereign country, we already have our own routes for adults and families to be reunited in the UK, which are substantial, as I have just set out. As a sovereign state, it is important that we do not seek to recreate EU laws unilaterally, without considering what we want the UK’s migration and humanitarian protection system to look like. Importantly, we have been very clear that, while we are no longer in the EU, the UK and the EU have a long history of working together and we have recognised that it is in our best interests to continue to do so. That is why we are pursuing, through formal negotiations, new reciprocal arrangements with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in either the UK or the EU with specified family members in the EU or the UK, where it is in the child’s best interests.

We published our draft legal text as a constructive contribution to the negotiations. A negotiated agreement for a state-to-state referral and transfer system would provide clear and consistent processes between the UK and EU member states, ensuring appropriate support for the child and guaranteeing reciprocity, yet these guarantees cannot be provided for in domestic UK provisions alone because they are inherently reciprocal. In addition, subsection (2)(a) of the new clause would require immigration rules to be made by regulations. That is not how immigration rules are made; they are made under the procedures set out in the Immigration Act 1971.

Finally, the new clause would require the Government to lay before Parliament a strategy on the relocation of unaccompanied children. The scope of this strategy is ambiguous. It is unclear whether it relates only to family reunion or whether it covers asylum-seeking children. The explanatory note accompanying the new clause suggests that it is solely about family reunion, but that is not reflected in the drafting. Therefore, for the reasons that I have outlined, the Government are not able to accept the new clause.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I welcome the fact that the Government are committed to the principle of family unity. Indeed, the Minister was right to point out some of the good work that has been done in recent years, particularly in terms of resettlement. Currently, some of that tends to be forced upon the Home Office, rather than being designed and promoted within it, but nevertheless it is welcome and that has been a success.

In other senses, I fundamentally disagree with the Minister. He cited some rules that had been deemed lawful by the Supreme Court. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement, but, nevertheless, it is clear that some of the rules he was referring to and the financial requirements are absolutely impossible—so impossible that the rules are almost worthless.

The SNP wants the UK to go further on family unity. My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) had the endorsement of Parliament to expand the family reunion rules and, of course, the Government managed to use the system to ignore that vote. Given what we have heard today and in previous weeks, including the publication of that text, I fear that we are in danger of going backwards, and not just in terms of Dublin. We urgently need to hear what the future of resettlement will be, so we will be watching carefully.

In the meantime, Mr Stringer, we will revisit this matter on Report. Meanwhile, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 51

Immigration Detention: Removal from Association

“(1) Section 153 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (2) insert—

‘(3) Rules made under this section must prohibit the involuntary removal from association of any affected person detained in a removal centre save for where that is—

(i) reasonably necessary to protect that person or another person from immediate harm; and

(ii) for no longer than is necessary for this purpose and for no longer than maximum 24 hours.

(4) For the purposes of this section—

“affected person” means any person whose rights are affected by repeal of legislation by or under Schedule 1 of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination Act 2020 or by regulations made under section 4 of that Act.

“removal from association” means any restriction on a person associating with others that is not common to all persons then detained at the same removal centre.’” .(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause seeks to prohibit removal from association with others in detention save for removal where that is necessary.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I had originally anticipated that this would be part of a much wider debate on immigration detention, but it looks like we will be having that on Report instead of in Committee. I am grateful to Medical Justice for flagging up the continued use of segregation in immigration removal centres, which we believe risks causing severe and permanent damage to detainees. In the past decade, at least two deaths in IRCs have been directly linked to the use of segregation. Segregation has played a role in four High Court cases in which a detainee’s detention or conditions of detention were found to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of article 3 of the European convention on human rights. Countless more detainees have suffered the negative impacts of segregation on their mental and physical health.

What we are really talking about is the practice of keeping a detainee separate from the rest of the IRC population. It is usually done by placing the detainee in a special unit at the centre, either alone or with other detainees being held under similar conditions. Segregated detainees can be locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, with severe restrictions placed on their activities and interactions with others.

In short, segregation is one of the most severe and draconian measures used in any detainment setting. Detainees can be held for an initial period of 24 hours, but that can be extended to seven days and 14 days with the authorisation of the Secretary of State. It can then be subsequently renewed, if required.

The effects of segregation on physical and mental health can be devastating. It has been found to lead to increased rates of anxiety, social withdrawal, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Even after relatively short periods of time, the damage done to a person’s health can be long-lasting and in some cases permanent. Research has shown that segregation can have a negative effect on the health of anyone who experiences it, and the risk for those with pre-existing mental health conditions or other vulnerabilities is particularly high. People who have been held in similar conditions in the past as part of torture, for example, may find the experience extremely re-traumatising.

The stated justification for the use of segregation in IRCs is the interests of safety and security or for refractory or violent detainees. However, a report from Medical Justice in 2015 showed that segregation is being used as a form of punishment and to house individuals with mental health issues that cannot be adequately managed in detention, including to manage detainees at risk of self-harm.

Inspection reports from independent monitoring boards and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons continue to raise concerns about the use of segregation in IRCs. Examples of such practices include detainees inappropriately segregated for months and years, with one detainee being segregated more or less continuously for 22 months. Another detainee was only transferred to psychiatric hospital following 80 days in segregation, and yet another was segregated more than eight times during her 800 days in detention. The issues are ongoing. Segregation is not helping people, but is, on the contrary, making things much worse.

The key point is the availability of segregation, which perpetuates the inappropriate detention of those who often end up subject to it. It allows for problem individuals or vulnerable individuals who cannot be managed in detention to nevertheless still be detained. Despite their detention being inappropriate, the Home Office knows that there is always a possibility of placing them in segregation, should their condition deteriorate or their behaviour grow increasingly difficult to manage. Once these vulnerable detainees end up being segregated, they are housed in an environment that is totally unsuited to their needs. They are placed in forced isolation, removing them from the support of their peers, as well as limiting their visibility and access to organisations that could provide help.

If the use of segregation was not an option, proper attention would need to be paid to whether it was appropriate for the individual to be in detention at all, whether they can be managed safely in an IRC or whether an alternative approach should be sought with more appropriate support in the community. That is why the safeguards and protections in place under rule 40 and rule 42 can never be adequate. We need to abolish the practice altogether.

The new clause would still allow and make provision for crisis intervention where there is an imminent risk of harm to the individual or other individuals in the IRC, but that should be the purpose of those interventions, and that should be it. Too often, that intervention is being used and abused by the Home Office. People who belong either in police custody if they have breached the criminal law, or in a mental health institution should not be detained in IRCs in inappropriate conditions for days on end. I hope the Minister will address those points and seriously look at the issue I have flagged up, because the situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for the opportunity to debate this topic. As he will be aware, in recent years the numbers in detention overall, excluding the current period, have been declining, but a process obviously still needs to be in place to manage the detentions, the detention centres and the detention estate, as we still have it.

--- Later in debate ---
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am optimistically—and perhaps naively—attempting to spark a sensible, measured and constructive debate on laws relating to deportation, and the balance and interaction with family and private life. It is my fault, but I think the headings on the new clauses should probably be the other way around. The one relating to family is more closely linked to private life and vice versa.

Of course, there are people who commit serious crimes and have no connection with the UK, and they must be deported without any real hesitation. However, there are also many other cases where the impact of any such decision has such serious consequences—not just for the individual, but for the family member—that deportation is not appropriate in the minds of most reasonable people. Once a person has completed the punishment provided for by our criminal laws, they resume their life in this country.

There is also a second category of case, where to all intents and purposes the Home Office is not deporting foreign national offenders. In reality, it is deporting British people—people who have lived pretty much all their lives here and have no connection with the place to which they are being deported, other than the passports that they have never used or used only once when they were toddlers. From time to time, we need to be brave enough to confront the question of where we draw the line. I make the case that the line has been drawn in the wrong place, and that powers of deportation are now used too often and in inappropriate circumstances. That is a challenge to MPs on both sides of the House, because much of our deportation legislation has been in place under Labour Administrations as well as Conservative Administrations.

I turn first to new clause 53, where other family members are affected. As hon. Members will be aware, those from EEA countries and Swiss nationals and their family members cannot generally be deported, except on grounds of public policy, public security and public health, and where their conduct poses a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of our society—a forward-looking assessment that allows for consideration of competing family life considerations. By contrast, people from outside the EEA are subject to automatic deportation if sentenced to imprisonment of 12 months or more. No consideration is given to whether a person continues to pose a risk, and those sentenced to less than 12 months can also be deported if the Secretary of State believes it to be conducive to the public good.

Consideration of matters relating to family has been seriously restricted. There are only two very narrow circumstances in which issues of family will trump deportation. A person must show that they have either a genuine and subsisting relationship with a qualifying partner, or a genuine and subsisting parental relationship with a qualifying child, and they must show that the experience of deportation for the partner or child would be unduly harsh. The test is even higher where there has been a sentence of four years or more, but where very compelling circumstances must be shown.

The new clause concerns children, and we argue that the test set out just now is unduly restrictive and not in the best interests of children. Instead of requiring unduly harsh circumstances, the new clause would stop deportation where it would be unreasonable for a child to leave the UK or to remain in the UK without the parent. It is important to appreciate just how demanding the current test is. Home Office policy states that the words “unduly harsh” must be given their ordinary meanings. It notes that the Oxford English Dictionary defines “unduly” as “excessively”, and “harsh” as “severe” or “cruel”. In short, Parliament has put in place a regime that allows for child cruelty; only where that child cruelty becomes excessive do we think again.

It is little wonder that judges have sometimes expressed great sympathy with appellants and surprise at the effect of the legislation that this place has enacted, but their hands are tied. As Lord Justice Baker remarked in the case of KF Nigeria:

“For those lawyers, like my Lord and myself, who have spent many years practising in the family jurisdiction, this is not a comfortable interpretation to apply. But that is what Parliament has decided.”

Two tribunals had found that KF should not be deported because of the significant impact it would have on his son, despite a three-year sentence for burglary and robbery. Being a parent does not exempt someone from facing the criminal justice system if they break the law, but deportation goes further; it can effectively and summarily end a child’s family life for at least the duration of their childhood. There are well-documented long-term negative impacts on a child’s upbringing, education and social behaviour, with repercussions for their communities. There are also, of course, implications for a partner left behind in the United Kingdom, who is now responsible for bringing up the child alone.

I am not submitting that parents can never be deported; I am submitting that we need to be much more careful and sensitive about the circumstances in which it happens. This is not about people escaping justice, because they will still face the criminal justice system; it is about protecting innocent children. Deportations would still be possible, even where a child was involved, but only where a court assesses that it would be reasonable for the child to leave the UK along with the parent, or for the child to remain in the UK without the parent.

I turn to new clause 54, which challenges the Government on the criteria used to decide on the deportation of people who have significant connections with the United Kingdom. The issue was summarised by the former prisons and probation ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, in his 2018 review of treatment of vulnerable adults in immigration detention, which was commissioned by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). He reported that, time and again, those he met who were being held under immigration powers after serving custodial sentences were long-term British residents who had often been brought to the UK as young children and who were, to all intents and purposes, British.

To quote Stephen Shaw’s review:

“I find the policy of removing individuals brought up here from infancy to be deeply troubling. For low-risk offenders, it seems entirely disproportionate to tear them away from their lives, families and friends in the UK, and send them to countries where they may not speak the language or have any ties. For those who have committed serious crimes, there is also a further question of whether it is right to send high-risk offenders to another country when their offending follows an upbringing in the UK.”

It bears remembering that some of those individuals would have been entitled to British citizenship had they been aware, or not been priced out of it by the Home Office, to reference my earlier amendment on that subject.

I agree absolutely with Stephen Shaw, and I have personal experience of representing, very occasionally, clients who faced deportation. I remember in particular one Glaswegian lad—and he was Glaswegian—who was 18 years old and had been in this country since the age of four. He had been essentially abandoned, and passed from pillar to post around the care system. Persistent fairly low-level offending resulted in custody. In those circumstances, it was outrageous to deport him.

Some of the people on the charter flights to Jamaica in February 2020 were in that cohort, including young men whose offending involved belonging to county lines operations, which we all know are closely associated with coercion and modern-day slavery. Some were deported for offences committed a long time ago, with no account taken of rehabilitation.

A terrible example of that type of case is the ongoing saga of Osime Brown, a 21- year-old who is severely autistic. He arrived in the UK at the age of four from a country to which the Home Office now wants to deport him. I urge Members to have a look online at the facts and circumstances of the case and to say, hand on heart, that they have no problem with what the Home Office is up to.

The new clause changes the exceptions so that greater consideration is given to people established here at a young age and the reality that they are usually, to all intents and purposes, British, even if they do not hold that passport. It adds exceptions for people who were born in the UK, or who arrived in the UK under the age of 18 and have lived here for seven years or more. It also establishes a presumption that if a person was born in the UK, or arrived in the UK aged under 18 and has lived in the UK for a continuous period of seven years or more, they are considered socially and culturally integrated into the UK—albeit that that presumption would be rebuttable. The person would still have to show that there are very significant obstacles to reintegration.

The 33rd recommendation of Stephen Shaw’s review was:

“The Home Office should no longer routinely seek to remove those who were born in the UK or have been brought up here from an early age.”

Instead of commissioning reviews, it is time for the Government to start implementing the reviews that they have already heard from. For those reasons, I urge the Committee to look favourably on the new clauses.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

The new clauses concern the principles that a court or tribunal is required to take into account when assessing what is in the public interest for the purposes of determining whether a foreign national offender’s deportation breaches article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The article 8 ECHR right to respect for private and family life is a qualified right, which can be circumcised—[Interruption.] I will have to ensure I write that one out again next time. It 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. The new clauses seek to alter those exceptions and therefore undermine Parliament’s clear position on what the public interest requires in such cases.

New clause 53 would amend the exception at section 117C regarding foreign national offenders who have been sentenced to less than four years’ imprisonment, and who have a genuine and subsisting relationship with a qualifying partner or child, meaning that 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 that applies when the effect of the deportation on the partner or child would be unduly harsh.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that point. Many of the enforcement mechanisms that we use originate from before 2010. There is a little amnesia among some of the people who were here and voted for them. It is right that there are protections in place around public welfare benefits and suchlike. That has not been particularly controversial for parties of all colours over the past 10 to 20 years. We need to consider carefully the lessons learned review. In the Wendy Williams report there is a 2009 case of someone who was unable to return to the United Kingdom, even though they had a status granted under the Immigration Act 1971 as someone who had been settled in the UK before 1 January 1973.

As with many of the amendments that we have debated, the new clause is at odds with our commitment to the British people to introduce a single global migration system. New clause 55 is unnecessary, unworkable, and risks being detrimental to the cohort in question. As we have been clear before, free movement is ending, and from 1 January 2021 EEA and non-EEA citizens will be treated equally. Under the new system, everyone will be required to obtain the correct immigration status, and we will clearly distinguish between those who are here lawfully and those who are not, regardless of their nationality. Allowing EEA citizens to rent accommodation or exempting them from other measures, even if they do not have lawful immigration status, would contradict the Government’s stated position. It would in practice result in different rules applying, depending on a person’s nationality. This would be inherently discriminatory, given that there would be no justifiable reason for them after the end of the transition period.

New clause 55 would also weaken the UK’s new points-based immigration system. The measures in question are designed to encourage individuals to comply with UK laws and rules, and they have all been approved by Parliament. In the future, once free movement has ended, it is right that these measures will apply on the basis of whether or not someone has lawful status, rather than on the basis of their nationality, although I appreciate that the wording would probably be done to bring this within the scope of the Bill.

EEA citizens are already subject to the universal eligibility checks carried out by employers, landlords and the NHS, as these checks apply to everyone regardless of nationality, including British citizens. I had to show my own passport recently, when renting a flat. Disapplying the measures for a certain group would increase the scope for illegal migration and place taxpayer-funded services at risk of abuse.

It is not clear how new clause 55 would actually work. To exempt an EEA citizen from an eligibility check, it would first be necessary to establish that they are part of the exempt cohort. It would not be possible for those carrying out the checks, including employers and landlords, to do this without checking everyone, as they do now, to establish eligibility. Alternatively, they would have to second-guess who was in a particular cohort, which brings the obvious risks of leading to potential discrimination and unfair treatment.

I recognise that the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Halifax wish to ensure that EEA citizens and their family members who are currently resident in the UK are not adversely impacted by such measures. This is why we have set up the EU settlement scheme, making it free and easy to get UK immigration status and to enjoy the same rights as now. That is why I believe it would be unhelpful to accept the new clause, and the Government will not do so.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, but I feel he rather skirted around getting to the heart of the issue, and he knows full well that the new clause is as it is because of issues of scope. When he talked about how this would not work because there would have to be checks on whether an EU national was seeking to take advantage of this new clause, he spoke about the dangers of guessing whether an individual may or may not be an EU national. That is exactly the problem with the right to rent scheme at the moment, in that some landlords and landladies are guessing people’s nationality when they are approached with inquiries about accommodation. I am glad that he has recognised that there are dangers in the scheme that causes such judgments to be made. Yes, there are problems with the wording of the new clause because of scope, but I shall drop it for now and think about this again in advance of Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 57

Data protection

“(1) For the purpose of this section, a person (“P”) is defined as any person who, immediately before the commencement of Schedule 1, was—

(a) residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016;

(b) residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with a right conferred by or under any of the other instruments which is repealed by Schedule 1; or

(c) otherwise residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with any right derived from European Union law which continues, by virtue of section 4 of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, to be recognised and available in domestic law after exit day.

(2) Regulations under section 4(1) may not be made until the Government has made provision to ensure that P has safe and confidential access to essential public services by ensuring the Secretary of State, or any other individual or body on his behalf, must not process personal data, by any means, for the purposes of immigration control or enforcement, where that personal data has been collected in the course of the data subject accessing or attempting to access the public services identified in subsection (3).

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), the relevant public services are—

(a) primary and secondary healthcare services;

(b) primary and secondary education; and

(c) the reporting of a crime by P, where P is a witness to, or the victim of, the crime, any investigation or prosecution of it.

(4) The prohibitions contained in subsections (2) and (3) do not apply where the data subject has given his or her explicit and informed consent to the disclosure of the personal data, for the purposes of immigration enforcement.”—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause seeks to limit use of data gathered by key public services for immigration enforcement control or enforcement.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am pleased to speak to new clause 57, which brings us to another discrete example of the broader hostile environment and the ever-expanding powers of the Home Office to gather information and require information to be shared with it. The new clause requires that the Government take measures to prevent the sharing of data for immigration purposes where that data has been collected or provided in the course of a person accessing healthcare and education or reporting a crime.

The fear of information being shared with the Home Office can have a pernicious effect on people’s willingness to seek help or to access vital public services, and of course it can also lead to injustice, as we saw in the Windrush fiasco. This is about supporting the survivors of serious crimes—such as domestic abuse, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation—to report them to the police, seek healthcare and escape to safety.

Essentially, the new clause challenges us about our priorities. Is our priority to ensure that people can feel safe when reporting crimes, and that they do not have to be anxious when sending their children for education and do not have to be in two minds about seeking healthcare when that is required, or is our priority to provide the Home Office with endless additional powers to snoop and gather information on the off-chance that it might be able to detain and remove another few individuals, even if that comes at an incredibly hefty price, including injustices such as Windrush? I say absolutely clearly that my priority is protecting safe access to vital public services, and that is why I am moving new clause 57.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I do understand his concern that those who come to this country should have safe and confidential access to essential public services. However, new clause 57 would restrict the ability of the immigration authorities to use data that has been collected in particular circumstances for immigration enforcement purposes, as far as those who now benefit from freedom of movement are concerned. In so doing, it would maintain the status quo for those cohorts as far as the use of such data collection is concerned. However, the crucial difference is that they would now be subject to the same measures of immigration control as people from the rest of the world subject to the same restrictions.

The new clause would severely restrict the ability of the immigration authorities to take enforcement action against that cohort. It would thereby result in differential treatment in respect of a migrant whose data would be collected in the same way, but which would continue to be used for immigration enforcement purposes when deemed appropriate, as it is now. It would also weaken the effect of the immigration system, as we are concerned to encourage compliance with immigration laws as approved by Parliament. We welcome the contribution made to the United Kingdom by those who are lawfully present, but it must be in accordance with the laws and rules that have been set out and agreed. No cohort should be exempt from measures that are put in place to ensure compliance with those laws and rules.

On the prohibition on sharing data collected by the police in respect of witnesses or victims of crime, we believe that could lead to unintended consequences. It could prevent those with unresolved immigration status, particularly those who are vulnerable, from being brought into the immigration system, regularising their status and receiving necessary support. In some cases, such as where someone has been the victim of domestic abuse, it could prevent the Home Office from providing information to the police on known vulnerabilities or safeguarding concerns, thereby reducing a perpetrator’s ability to control or coerce their victim. Engagement with immigration enforcement could, for example, reveal previously undisclosed evidence of domestic abuse, which the Home Office could then pass on to the police, leading to the provision of support from a specialist domestic abuse team and potential access to a refuge. Data sharing in those circumstances would be proportionate and necessary, and in the best interests of the victim. Data sharing also enables the Home Office to trace missing families and protect children who may be at risk, working collaboratively with social services, the police and local authorities to ensure safeguarding actions are taken. We will always have due regard for the safety and best interests of any children.

The Home Office has robust safeguards and controls in place to ensure data are handled securely, lawfully, ethically and in accordance with relevant data protection regulations. It must have a legal basis for processing data, and comply with the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 when doing so. Individuals’ rights are protected by the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s independent body which upholds information rights. I remind the Committee of the comments I made at one of the last Home Office oral questions that were held physically in the Chamber before the current arrangements. When asked, for example, about whether the details of those approaching the NHS for treatment for covid-19 would be passed on to immigration enforcement, we were clear that, purely for the purposes of immigration enforcement, that would not be something we would be doing. Our approach is proportionate.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The purpose of the new clause, and what it says expressly, is that information cannot be shared with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration control or enforcement. To my mind, that does not mean, for example, stopping the police making inquiries with the Home Office about whether somebody has been the victim of domestic abuse. I therefore think that is a rather unfair interpretation of what we are proposing.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

Part of how we respond to victims and others is sometimes to look to resolve their immigration status as well. I would say it is quite proportionate that two parts of the Home Office work together on the enforcement of the UK’s laws, subject to it being proportionate and appropriate to do so. I think people would find it strange if that did not occur.

For the reasons we have outlined, with the robust safeguards in place, and the proportionate and legitimate aim of ensuring our immigration laws are not completely undermined, the Government will not accept the new clause.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am not sure I agree with his reasoning on what the new clause would or would not allow, but I will take that away and give it further thought. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 60

Report on the status and social security entitlements of UK nationals in the EU member states

“(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish quarterly reports on the progress being made by EU member states on the migration status and social security entitlements of UK nationals in their countries.

(2) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than a month after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.”—(Kate Green.)

This new clause would require the Government to update the House of Commons on the progress being made by the EU27 countries on the implementation of protections for UK nationals in their countries on a quarterly basis.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. On the powers under clause 5, the Government have been given clear advice that they are necessary, particularly when we look at the ongoing negotiations. There are two parties to the negotiations, and the purpose of having a wider scope is to reflect whatever the outcome of the negotiations is. Hopefully, we will quickly be able to implement an agreement, in the same way that we have an agreement with Ireland bilaterally in terms of the co-ordination of social security, given the unique position of Irish citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Ireland, who are considered settled from day one. That is where we are.

One of the examples Opposition Members gave was of those protected by the withdrawal agreement. It is worth noting that this measure looks towards those who arrive after the end of the transition period and starts to look towards changes there, rather than at those who specifically have their rights protected by the withdrawal agreement.

In terms of the scope and whether the powers would be used in a devolved area, the UK Government continue to respect the devolution settlement. We are in discussions —officials certainly are, and I and my colleague in the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to the relevant Scottish Minister last week to set out where we are. We hope to have a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament, but we have also set out what the position is if we do not get an LCM—for the Committee’s benefit, the Government would amend the Bill on Report to remove the powers in relation to devolved matters in Scotland.

Fundamentally, the clause is intended to ensure that we can implement powers and make the changes necessary, as outlined, to deliver the specific policy changes that we made clear in our manifesto, particularly around the export of child benefit, and also to ensure that we do not end up in a bizarre position where the UK is trying unilaterally to implement what is meant to be a reciprocal system, should we not be able to get a further agreement or if we have an agreement but are not able quickly and promptly to implement it.

Again, I would point out that using the affirmative procedure means that both Houses of Parliament will scrutinise any regulations and will have the opportunity to block them if they felt they were inappropriate. To be clear, if a Minister made wholly inappropriate regulations, such matters in secondary legislation, unlike primary legislation, can be reviewed in the courts as well.

It is therefore right that we stick with the clause as it is, certainly to ensure that we can implement whatever the outcome of the agreement is, including if we need to look at putting in place a system that reflects the fact that there has not been a further agreement.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just want to clarify whether the Minister would at least consider putting in a requirement that, before UK Ministers exercise these powers in relation to devolved competencies, they would consult Scottish Ministers. A cross-party Scottish Parliament Committee made that recommendation this time last year. It is surely at least worthy of consideration before Report.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

To be clear, we will continue with our position of respecting devolution in areas of social security, hence the respect we have shown to the Scottish Government by consulting them about the Bill. We have also set out the Government’s position, were there not a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament, in the letter we sent last week to the relevant Scottish Ministers. Obviously, separate discussions are going on with the Executive in Northern Ireland.

This is the right process. Parliament still has the appropriate ability to scrutinise how the powers are used and, if it wishes, may block the use of those powers under the affirmative procedure. This is about ensuring clear certainty that we can deliver whatever we can agree with the European Union on, we hope, a continuation of a reciprocal arrangement, which we cannot do if we do not have the powers in the clause. In other areas, powers are more restricted.

These are wide powers, but that reflects the wide range of outcomes that are still possible in the next six months. It is right to have a functioning and effective social security system and co-ordination of it. That is why the Government have brought the power forward in this Bill, as in the previous one. We maintain that the clause and the attached schedules are appropriate to the Bill.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

Perhaps the point has been made, then, that this is not about having an immigration system based on a council area, but about having one for an area smaller than that of a council. I think that that would lead to confusion, with multiple areas.

There are many issues across large stretches of the highlands, and also rural parts of the rest of the United Kingdom. The fact that there are challenges in ensuring that younger people in particular have opportunities, and options to stay, is a facet of the issue that is not unique to parts of Scotland. However, if we do not deal with the core issues, most of which fall under the remit of the devolved Administration in Edinburgh, those pull factors will still exist, and the migration system is not a magic cure for them.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a question of having strategies in place to address the challenges, but I want to pin the Minister down on the question of the remote areas pilot. That is a recommendation from the MAC. Can the Minister say categorically that this morning he is ditching it, and that there will not now be a remote areas pilot scheme? That would be really bad news.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

We made it clear in the policy statement that we put out in February that we were not planning a remote areas pilot. Again, the thing that we must focus on is that many of the pull factors exist. It is within the competence of the Scottish Government to deal with those issues, and to create something and tackle them.

I have seen how Members of Parliament in the north-east of Scotland, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), are pushing for the creation of those economic opportunities that they want in parts of rural Scotland. Perhaps the one hope that we have on this point is that there is a Scottish Parliament election coming next year. I hope that there will be a more business-focused, opportunity-based Administration in Edinburgh, which will be focused on developing Scotland, not separating it.

--- Later in debate ---
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister do us the favour of explaining how his immigration policies will make the challenges easier rather than harder for Scotland?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

The first thing that our immigration policy will do is provide a points-based system on a global basis, based on RQF3 and on having a shortage occupation list. Businesses in Scotland can recruit globally on that basis. Also, we can look at the first reform, which we have already carried out—a route that I was pleased to launch in Glasgow. I have seen it at first hand—the best talent being brought into our universities, and particularly into the University of Glasgow. Under that system, on a global basis, teams can be recruited to tackle and research some of the most challenging questions that mankind faces. On the occasion in question the issue was tackling malaria, and the huge impact of that.

Those are the sorts of benefits we want: high value and high skill—the attractions are there. It is a vision for Scotland, whose natural beauty is second to none, based on skills and the attractiveness of a high-skill, high-value economy—not on saying that the main thing Scotland’s economy needs is the ability to put more people on the minimum wage on a global basis.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister mentions his visit to Glasgow all the time. While he was there, did he speak with Universities Scotland, which is among the organisations that has spoken out in favour of a differentiated system? This is not just coming from the SNP. The Minister has also spoken about the benefits of his new system, but his own risk assessment says that it will cause levels of immigration to Scotland to fall. How is that in Scotland’s interests?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

We engage strongly with partners, particularly our high-compliance Scottish universities that are sponsors of tier 4 visas. We very much welcome the contributions they make, as well as those that they make as part of wider groups, such as the Russell Group, that operate on a UK-wide basis.

There are two visions, I suppose. There is one that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and his colleagues from Scotland bring us: a high-productivity, high-value Scotland, an attractive place to live with a thriving economy, recruiting on a global basis. Then there is the Scotland that the Scottish National party brings us; the only reason someone would go there would be to pay low wages or recruit at, or near, the minimum wage on a global basis. That, to me, is not a particularly inspiring vision.

Many of the powers to deal with the pull factors that lead to depopulation in rural areas are already in the hands of the Edinburgh Administration. As with so many other things—this has been touched on in relation to social security—it is time to see the Scottish National party getting on with the job of governance, rather than the job of grieving or looking to separate the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East will not be surprised to hear that the Government’s position has been made very clear on this issue, but I will briefly set it out again. Immigration and related matters, such as the free movement of persons from the EU, are reserved matters, and the immigration aspects of the Bill will therefore apply to the whole United Kingdom. The Government are delivering an immigration system that takes into account the needs of the whole of our United Kingdom and works for the whole of it, not for the political needs of those whose goal is its separation.

We do not believe that it would be sensible, desirable or workable to apply different immigration systems in different parts of the United Kingdom, and the independent Migration Advisory Committee has repeatedly advised that the labour markets of the different nations of the United Kingdom are not sufficiently different to warrant different policies. That was an independent report—the type that people seem to want, but then do not seem to want to listen to.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

No, I have given way many times. As we heard in the evidence sessions, the simplistic argument saying that Scotland is different from England for political reasons ignores the variation within Scotland itself, given the strength of the economy in Edinburgh compared with the economies of more rural areas.

I do not propose to address new clause 33 in detail; as I say, we have seen the MAC’s conclusions on this issue. The Government’s objection is one of principle: immigration is, and will remain, a reserved matter. We will introduce an immigration system that works for the whole of our country and all the nations that make up our United Kingdom by respecting the democratically expressed view of the people in the December 2019 general election and the 2014 vote of the Scottish people, which rejected separation. Both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon used the phrase “once in a lifetime” or “once in a generation” about that vote; now, only six years later, we see how short a generation has become. Free movement will end on 31 December, and we will introduce a points-based immigration system that ensures we can attract the best talent from around the world to Scotland, based on the skills and attributes they have, not where their passport comes from.

It will come as no surprise that SNP Members and I will have to agree to differ, as we regularly do on issues that relate to the constitutional future of Scotland. I obviously hope that the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Argyll and Bute and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West will withdraw their amendments—although I have a sneaky feeling that they may not—and I particularly hope that others on this Committee who have also voiced their opposition to separatist politics will join the Government in opposing these amendments if they are put to a vote.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I sort of thank the Minister for at least making a contribution, but I have to say that, having shadowed about six or seven immigration Ministers for five years, I think that is probably the most regrettable speech I have heard from any of them at any time; the second most regrettable was the one the Minister made during the Opposition day debate a few months ago. It might play well with some MPs in this place, but I watched the faces of some Scottish Conservative MPs that night, and they were not impressed.

The Minister is speaking not just to the SNP, but to business groups and public service organisations—a whole host of concerned organisations in Scotland. He might get away with it in this Committee, but he cannot really get away with dismissing their concerns as “nationalist nonsense” or “separatist rubbish”. These are very serious people with very serious concerns about the implications of his Government’s migration system for Scotland. It seems to be not so much a case of, “We hope it will be all right on the night”, but one of, “We don’t care—stuff you!”

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I am only too happy to do so and to put the Government’s thanks to him on the record. He provided an inspiration and a ministry that will be remembered for a very long time, and he broke the mould of what people expect from someone in such a senior position in the Anglican communion. Such contributions are very welcome and we want them to continue. We want to see that sort of person, particularly from the worldwide Anglican communion, as well as from the See of Rome—we have seen some amazing people come and be part of that community here in the United Kingdom. It is well worth paying tribute to such an example of someone who has achieved amazing things and revealed what he saw as God’s purpose for him as Archbishop of York. I am sure that we all wish him a very long retirement—not from holy orders, of course, which are a calling for life, but from his duties as archbishop.

I have heard the concerns expressed today about those who come to the UK for a very short term to provide cover while the incumbent minister is on holiday. It is worth pointing out our visitor rules, which will extend to EEA nationals as they currently extend to non-visa nationals, as I indicated earlier. In the immigration rules, the list of permitted activities specifically states that visitors may

“preach or do pastoral work.”

That allows many faith communities to hear inspiring preachers or hear about their faith’s work in other countries, especially in support of overseas aid and development work. Visitors are permitted to lead services on an ad hoc basis, which may provide a solution for communities that wish to invite visiting clergy to cover short-term absences, although they may not be paid for it—in many religious communities, that would not necessarily be a bar to providing a period of short-term cover.

It is worth my reminding the Committee that we have confirmed that EU citizens, who are the focus of the Bill, and EEA citizens more widely can continue to come to the UK as visitors without a visa, without prior approval, and use e-gates, where available, on arrival in the United Kingdom.

I hope that the SNP will consider its position on amendment 11. I say gently that we all need to reflect on whether it is appropriate to have faith communities led by those without a command of English adequate for the task—not least at a time when we need to come together more, not be separated by barriers of language. I therefore believe that the review that the amendment would put in place is not necessary. I invite the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East to withdraw the amendment, but I am always more than happy to discuss further how we can ensure that our faith communities are supported and that there is clarity on the three routes that I have outlined for ministers and those involved in faith communities to come to the United Kingdom and play the role that many have done in an inspiring way over many years.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for their detailed contributions to the debate, and to the Minister for his response. We are back in much more convivial and consensual territory, and I much prefer it; I feel much more comfortable there. I am particularly grateful for the Minister’s offer to meet the Bishops’ Conference, which I am sure will be very welcome. This debate has helped us clarify how close we are to making sure the system works for all interested parties.

I scribbled down the fact that the Minister highlighted two routes, but of course there are three. Tier 2 is much more about the longer term, and affects ministers who want to come and settle, and the tier 5 route is not for people who will lead worship. Then there is the visitor category, but, as the Minister said, it does not allow for payment to be made, and the organisations that I have spoken to say that if somebody is here for a couple of months, there are challenges if they cannot offer to pay.

We are close, but those three routes do not quite resolve the difficulties that we have highlighted. If the Minister is able to engage with the bishops’ conferences and other religious organisations, we may be able to tweak one of the three existing routes or come up with another one. It is probably better to fix the three than to come up with a fourth. I hope we will find a resolution, and I am glad that the Minister is engaging positively. For that reason, I see no reason to press for a vote, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In terms of intention, I think everybody in this room is at one. The Minister provides assurance in relation to people who miss the deadline through no fault of their own. Would that include people who, because of their complicated immigration nationality situations, had not appreciated that they needed to apply for the scheme?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I think it is safe to say that the list will not be an exhaustive one. There will need to be an element of discretion as we cannot list every single possible situation that might reasonably cause someone to be late in their application, but if, for example, they have had a difficult court case or something that meant they had not been able to apply, and a status had then been granted, it is likely that that would be seen as a reasonable excuse. It will be set out in guidance.

Our intention is to set out a list of situations that are not exhaustive but indicative. We can all think of circumstances that would be perfectly reasonable. For example, in the case of a child in the care of a local authority, we would expect the local authority to have made efforts to get them registered. We could make a very long list and still not get to an exhaustive level. The list will demonstrate grounds, but it will not be an exhaustive list of the only situations that we would accept as reasonable grounds for failing to apply on time.

As I say, we will take a flexible and pragmatic approach with those who miss the deadline. We have more than a year to go before the deadline. If people feel that they might need to make an application, the best thing to do is to find the information and make the application. That is our absolute focus at the moment. We are working closely with support groups to ensure that we can reach out to vulnerable communities who might need assistance. We have kept a range of support services running throughout the recent period and have now reinstated all routes for application, including paper applications that are made available to those with the most complex needs.

We want to encourage applications before the deadline. That will ensure that EEA citizens can continue to live their lives here, as they do now, without interruption. To make a commitment now that we would also consider all late applications would undermine that effort.

Where there are reasonable grounds for submitting a late application, 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. That includes the consideration of conduct committed before the end of the transition period on the grounds of public policy, public security and public health, and of conduct committed thereafter under the UK conduct and criminality thresholds. As I have mentioned, we will publish guidance for caseworkers on what constitutes reasonable grounds, to ensure consistency of approach. Again, however, with more than a year until the deadline, it is premature to do so now, for the reasons I have given.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for tabling new clause 12 and the hon. Member for Halifax for tabling new clause 42, both of which relate to the immigration health charge, and for the opportunity they provide to debate this issue.

The background, for members of the Committee, is that the immigration health charge ensures that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a fair contribution to the NHS services available to them during their stay. Income from the charge contributes to the long-term sustainability of our fantastic health service across our Union, although certain groups are exempt from the requirement to pay the charge and others benefit from a discounted rate.

The health charge is designed to help support the NHS services that we rely on throughout our lives. It raised approximately £900 million in much-needed income for the NHS from its introduction in 2015 to the end of the 2018-19 financial year—income that, I will be clear, has been shared between the four devolved health administrations in line with the Barnett formula, helping to fund the NHS across our United Kingdom.

Turning to the future, all migrants will be treated the same under our new points-based immigration system. The expectation is therefore that all nationals applying, including EEA citizens, will pay the charge if staying for temporary periods of longer than six months, unless an exemption applies. Of course, EEA citizens who are resident in the UK before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 are not subject to the immigration health charge. That was agreed as part of negotiations on the withdrawal agreement with the EU, which also protects the rights of UK nationals in the EU.

To touch on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, now we have left the European Union, it would be rather hard to defend having an exemption for EEA nationals alone, given that we no longer have freedom of movement in place and will no longer members of the EU, and then applying this to the rest of the world. I respect the SNP’s point—they have made it regularly and I am sure they will make it again at regular intervals—and their principled view on this issue overall, but it would not make sense to have an exemption for one group applying under the points-based system rather than another, based on nationality alone. I appreciate the point and it will be interesting to hear what conclusions the hon. Member for Halifax comes to as part of her review.

The Government believe that new clause 42 is unnecessary. As has already been said, hon. Members will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to exempt NHS and social care staff from the charge. The exemption will apply to the relevant applications regardless of nationality—as I say, we are moving to a global points-based system—once that system is in place.

Officials are currently working through the detail of the exemptions; sadly, I will have to disappoint the hon. Member for Halifax and say that I cannot go into the full details today of where it will be, but hon. Members will appreciate that that is because we want to get this right and are working with our colleagues in the DHSC to do that.

There was a point made about renewals for doctors currently in the NHS. It is worth pointing out that those who are currently working in the NHS as doctors, nurses or in a number of health professions, are subject to automatic extension for a year. If they get an automatic extension for a year, that also waives the immigration health charge. It is not just the visa fee that goes, but the immigration health charge. Someone currently working for the NHS whose visa is due for renewal is getting a free year, and certainly by this time next year we will have the detailed guidance out there for them. I hope that provides some reassurance about the position as we stand here today.

I recognise the concerns about the financial impact of the health charge on people migrating here, including those who contribute to the NHS through tax and national insurance payments. The health charge provides comprehensive access to NHS services regardless of the amount of care needed during a person’s time in the UK, and includes treatment for pre-existing conditions.

The IHS not only represents excellent value when compared with the alternatives, but ensures that individuals do not need to worry about insurance or how they will pay for unexpected treatment while they are here. It compares favourably with the type of health insurance or other health care costs that those migrating to other countries might well face in order to get the same level of services that our NHS provides to all at point of need, free of charge, here.

As I said earlier, the Government is exempting NHS and care workers from the charge in recognition of the enormous contribution they make to the NHS directly. It is, however, only fair to expect people arriving in the UK to work in non-health-related roles to contribute to the range of NHS services available to them, given that they will not have the history of making contributions towards it that most long-term UK residents will have. It is also worth remembering that those who receive indefinite leave to remain—that is, settlement—are exempted from the IHS, in recognition of the long-term commitment to our United Kingdom this represents.

Finally, the Government are in the process of negotiating reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU, and it is important that we do not undermine the integrity of those negotiations through this Bill. I therefore invite the Members from the Scottish National party to withdraw the motion.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. We are essentially debating a fundamental point of principle here: we have different views about the appropriateness of this charge.

To respond to the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby’s intervention, I am of course constricted in what I can table as an amendment or new clause. I would scrap the charge for everybody, not just EEA nationals, but the scope of the Bill prohibits me from tabling a broader amendment. I think that if an assessment of the NHS surcharge’s impact on black and minority ethnic people were carried out, it would make for interesting reading, but that is a debate for another day. I stand by my party’s position that this is a double tax that is completely unjustifiable, and will therefore push new clause 12 to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I am grateful to the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Argyll and Bute for tabling new clauses 13, 36 and 37, which provide the Committee with the opportunity to consider fees charged in respect of applications made by those who will lose the right of free movement under the Bill for citizenship, leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, the immigration health surcharge, the immigration skills charge and sponsorship licences. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentlemen’s diligence in going through all the points that they wished to highlight.

It may be helpful to provide some background information for the Committee. Application fees for border, immigration and citizenship products and services have been charged for a number of years, and they play a vital role in our country’s ability to run a sustainable system. To put them into context, the current charging framework across the operation delivered £1.98 billion of income in the financial year 2018-19. That income helped to deliver the funding required to run the borders, immigration and citizenship system, and it substantially reduces the burden on UK taxpayers, as I am sure members of the public would rightly expect us to do.

The immigration health charge ensures that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a fair contribution towards paying for the NHS services that are available to them during their stay. As was touched on earlier, income from the charge directly contributes to the long-term sustainability of our fantastic health service across our United Kingdom. Certain groups are already exempt from the requirement to pay the charge, and others benefit from a discounted rate.

The immigration skills charge is designed to incentivise employers to invest in training and upskilling the resident workforce to move away from reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity, technology and automation. Income raised from the charge will be used to address skills gaps in the UK workforce, and that will be of benefit to businesses in the long term. Any fees to be charged are already approved by both Houses of Parliament.

New clause 13(1) is designed to limit the Secretary of State’s power to charge a fee for applying for British citizenship to the cost of processing. That would apply to anybody who has enjoyed free movement rights at any point. Imposing such a provision would cut across the existing statutory framework for fees and would risk undermining the funding and coherence of the whole current and future system.

Additionally, making fee provisions that are specific to certain nationalities as part of the Bill would be unfair to all users of the border, immigration and citizenship system, and it could lead the Home Office to discriminating on the basis of a person’s nationality. That clearly goes against our policy, although I accept that part of the rationale for that was to get the new clause into the scope of the Bill.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, that is absolutely the case. This does not apply even to every EU national exercising free movement; it applies to EU nationals who have the right to British citizenship through registration. It is a very specific subset, to which hugely different considerations apply; they are not in the same position as folk who have chosen to turn up and apply through naturalisation. They have a right, under an Act of Parliament, to British citizenship.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I re-emphasise that having this type of provision in the Bill would cut across and create a new precedent. We would be talking about someone whose right of free movement was removed by the Bill. That would create incoherence, particularly once we have left the European Union, with provisions based on rights from being in the EU—a situation that does not now exist. We have put in protections that are appropriate and proportionate.

New clause 13(2) is designed to prevent the Secretary of State from charging the child of a person who has exercised free moment rights a fee to register as a British citizen, if the child is in receipt of local authority assistance. “Local authority assistance” is too broad a term and could include those who access a range of financial and practical support measures offered by local authorities. For example, a child may receive assistance from a local authority if they attend day-care facilities while they are not yet at school. That is quite different from a child who is looked after and in the care of the local authority by way of a care order made by a court, or a voluntary agreement with the parent to accommodate the child.

It is important to remember that any child, irrespective of nationality, who is looked after by their local authority can apply for limited and indefinite leave to remain without being required to pay application fees, ensuring that no child in local authority care is unable to access leave to remain. Although many will choose to pursue British citizenship, having citizenship, as opposed to an award of indefinite leave to remain, is not essential for any individual to work, live, study or access services in the UK .

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I urge the Minister not to pursue that line, which was pursued by a previous Prime Minister and Home Secretary. No one would say to anyone in this room, “You don’t really need British citizenship. Why not just settle for indefinite leave to remain?” The Minister is missing the point—I am talking about people who have as much right to British citizenship as anyone in this room. It is not a substitute to say, “Just become a migrant in your own home country and apply for immigration status here.”

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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To respond to my shadow, the hon. Member for Halifax, as we touched on at some length earlier, there would be grounds for reasonable excuse as to why someone had filed a late application. We will set out the criteria; it will not be an exhaustive list, because it would be impossible to come up with an exhaustive list of things that would be reasonable in many individual circumstances.

It is worth noting that the scheme has now been open for more than a year. The first group who started to apply to it were NHS workers, and there has been some very welcome work by NHS trusts and employers to make sure their employees are aware of it. For those very skilled people working in our NHS, it is worth remembering that what we are talking about is using an app on their phone with chip checker technology—it is a relatively simple and appropriate process. Certainly, any enforcement will be proportionate throughout the system, as people would expect.

New clause 15 intends to exclude all EEA citizens from the criminal offence of working illegally created by the Immigration Act 2016, as stated by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. I am grateful to him for the opportunity to debate this important topic. Again, as he would expect me to say, the amendment is at odds with our commitment to introduce a single global migration system. I accept that he wants to pick the issue up in the scope of the Bill, but that is a core reason why the Government believe it is right for us to have a single system.

Under the new system, everyone will be required to obtain the correct immigration status, and we will clearly distinguish between those who are here lawfully and those who are not, regardless of where their passport is from. Working illegally is a key driver of illegal migration and we are determined to tackle it. Illegal working results in businesses that do not play by the rules undercutting legitimate businesses that do. It encourages people to break our immigration laws, leaving people vulnerable to exploitation, and means that they are paid under the legal minimum wage.

The offence of illegal working applies if an individual works in the UK when they are or have reasonable cause to believe that they are disqualified from working because of their immigration status. The new rules will be clear and will set out what is expected of people as well as their entitlement. Any person who wants to work in the UK will need to have the correct status before starting a job.

EEA citizens with EU settlement scheme status will continue to enjoy the right to work and access the same services as they do now. As I have already said, we will continue to encourage applications to the EU settlement scheme before the deadline, and will implement the new points-based system that treats EEA and non-EEA citizens equally.

The new clause would discriminate in favour of EEA citizens, which is not justifiable after we have left the European Union. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s principled position in the provisions. I have touched on the provisions that are implemented proportionately, where they are applied. There is enforcement, particularly against employers who seek to exploit people. I hope that, in the light of those points, he will withdraw the clause, because it is not one that the Government can support.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to hon. Members for discussing the subject, but I do not think we really got into the meat of it. I do not think that only EEA nationals should be exempt from the criminal offence of illegal working; there are good grounds for getting rid of it altogether. I wanted to find out whether the Government have done any analysis about how it has helped in any way and, in contrast, about the unintended consequences, such as making exploitation more serious and more significant. We will perhaps return to some of those issues when we debate other aspects of the hostile environment later. I might write to the Minister to try to press again for answers to some of the questions that I raised at the outset. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 16

Immigration Rules Advisory Committee for Immigration Rules for EEA and Swiss nationals

‘(1) The Secretary of State must establish an Immigration Rules Advisory Committee to consider relevant Immigration Rules.

(2) In this section “relevant Immigration Rules” mean Immigration Rules that apply to persons whose right of free movement is ended by section 1 and schedule 1 of this Act.

(3) The function of the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee shall be to give advice and assistance to the Secretary of State in connection with the discharge of his functions under this Act and in particular in relation to the making of relevant Immigration Rules.

(4) The constitution of the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee shall be set out in regulations.

(5) The Secretary of State shall furnish the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee with such information as the Committee may reasonably require for the proper discharge of its functions.

(6) No relevant Immigration Rules may be made by the Secretary of State, until the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee is established.’—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause would require an advisory committee to be established in order to provide advice on immigration rules for EEA and Swiss nationals.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In a sense, this debate echoes the one we had on the immigration health surcharge. I support everything that the shadow Minister has said, but I would push the Labour party to go a bit further and scrap the whole scheme.

I have nothing against the principle that employers should pay a contribution towards the cost of training and developing the skills on which businesses rely, but why should it apply only to those who recruit from abroad? That is not in any way a proxy for determining which businesses, companies and employers are not doing enough training in their own right. In fact, very often the opposite is the case: many of the businesses, companies and employers who recruit from overseas are also the ones who invest considerable sums of money in training and upskilling their workers.

However, skill shortages often arise at very short notice. For all the workforce planning that they do, and for all the training that they invest in, employers regularly have a need to recruit from abroad. As I say, it is a very poor proxy for trying to target companies that are not properly investing in training. The whole thing needs rethinking.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Members for Halifax and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for tabling the new clauses. The objective of the immigration skills charge is to incentive UK-based employers to take a long-term view of investment and training, and it is designed to address the UK’s historical underinvestment in training and upskilling. The income raised is allocated to the Department for Education and the devolved nations to address skills and training gaps in the resident workforce.

We can all agree that immigration must be considered alongside investment in, and development of, the UK’s resident workforce, and it is only right that we provide those workers with opportunities to develop skills in order to further their careers and to contribute to the future economy. That is with particular reference to the situation we see at the moment in our country, where many people might need to find new employment opportunities due to the economic impact of covid-19.

The Committee may also wish to note that the introduction of the charge was supported by the independent Migration Advisory Committee as part of its December 2015 review of the tier 2 route.

The Migration Advisory Committee also recommended that the charge be extended and retained to cover employers of EEA citizens in the future immigration framework. In its September 2018 final report on the impact of EEA migration in the UK, the MAC said:

“We believe that extending the ISC to cover EEA citizens under any post-Brexit work-permit scheme would, on balance, be appropriate.”

It would also make no sense, now that we have left the European Union, to apply exemptions based purely on being an EEA national, as this suggests.

On new clause 22, the Government recognise the vital nature of the health and social care sector to the United Kingdom. Health and social care will be at the very heart of the UK’s new points-based immigration system, and we are doing all we can to ensure that the new system is fair, attractive and welcoming to the best and brightest overseas migrants. The new skilled worker route will be open to a broader range of roles in the sector—following the expansion of the current skills threshold—than the tier 2 general route.

As I mentioned earlier, the income for the immigration skills charge is used to address skills and training gaps in the resident workforce, including the healthcare sector. It is right, therefore, that we focus on providing UK resident workers with the opportunity to develop skills that will enable them to become the healthcare heroes of tomorrow—the revenue from the immigration skills charge does that. For those reasons, the Government are not prepared to accept the two new clauses.

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

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for speaking to his further amendments on clause 4. Amendments 5, 6, 8 and 9 deal with the parliamentary procedure for regulations made under the clause 4 powers, as has been outlined. The made affirmatory procedure is needed in the event that there is a short window between the Bill’s Royal Assent and the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. This is why the provision for the affirmative procedure that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Halifax have suggested would not work. Free movement must end on 31 December at the end of the transition period, and it is important to ensure that regulations made under this power align the treatment of European economic area and non-EEA citizens who arrive in the UK from 1 January 2021.

To clarify, under the made affirmative procedure, Parliament will be asked to approve the regulations within 40 days of their being made to enable them to continue in force, so Parliament does have scrutiny of the use of this power. If either House does not approve the regulations, they will cease to have effect, but subsection (10) preserves the effect of anything done under these regulations before that point to ensure legal certainty—in essence, for someone who is granted immigration leave after applying under a rule that would come into effect on 1 January.

Using this power does not mean avoiding parliamentary scrutiny. The secondary legislation to be made under this power is still subject to full parliamentary oversight under the established procedures, although I expect the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East may actually be disappointed at just how limited and benign they end up being. 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 delivering that and ensuring that it can be done, with the new system in place, on 1 January 2021. We therefore cannot accept these amendments.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I am not convinced that there will be a time problem between the Bill coming into force and the end of the transition period, so I insist on pressing amendment 5 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

This has been a useful debate. As has been pointed out, amendment 16 would require the Government to establish a declaratory system for those eligible for residence rights under the withdrawal agreement or the immigration rules for the EU settlement scheme. That was touched on by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, who speaks for the SNP. It is a familiar argument we have been having over the last couple of years, and I suspect we will continue having it over the next year or two.

As the hon. Member alluded, EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK by the end of transition period and their family members can secure their rights here through the EU settlement scheme and through applications that are free of charge to make. So far, more than 3.5 million applications have been received and more than 3.2 million concluded, despite the efforts of one or two people to encourage people not to take part, as my hon. Friend the Member for Moray highlighted. This is with still more than a year to go before the deadline for applications on 30 June 2021 for those resident here by the end of the transition period on 31 December.

It is worth pointing out that the UK’s immigration system has long been predicated on individuals applying to the Home Office to be granted leave to enter or remain, under what we call a constitutive system. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that the constitutive system, introduced through the EU settlement scheme, is the best approach to implementing the citizens’ rights elements of the withdrawal agreements. It provides EEA citizens and their family members with clarity about what they need to apply for and by when, and with the secure evidence of their status that they need.

A requirement to apply for individual status by a deadline provides a clear incentive for EEA citizens living here to secure their status in UK law and obtain evidence of this, whereas a declaratory system, under which individuals acquire an immigration status under an Act of Parliament, would significantly reduce the incentive to obtain and record evidence of status. Indeed, the amendment does not include any requirement to do that, so in decades to come it could result in some of the issues we saw in the Windrush scandal: people with a status that has been granted, but for which there is no clear or recorded evidence.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to take on board what the Minister says and redraft the amendment to include, for example, a £50 fine if somebody does not have a document proving their settled status. That would be much less serious than leaving them without any right to be in this country at all. Would he consider a declaratory system on that basis?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

Well, I do not think I would. Like I said, we would be reasonable in accepting late applications—for example, if somebody did not have EU settled status because they were a child in care or mentally incapable at the time when they should have applied. I suspect that when we publish the guidance those two situations will be among the list of reasonable reasons for late applications. It would be rather odd, however, to then issue them with a £50 fine. We think it right that at some point a line be drawn, although we would be reasonable in respect of the circumstances of a late application. Certainly, in the early stages after the deadline, it is likely that the bar to cross will be fairly low, in terms of what is a reasonable reason for not having made the deadline.

As was touched on, we are up to more than 3.5 million applications already. It has been a very successful scheme. It is slightly ironic that the organisation representing EU citizens in the UK calls itself the3million, because the Home Office has already found 3.5 million and there is still a good stream of applications coming in every day, as there has been throughout the recent period. The Government are confident that we have already found many more than 3 million, and all of them are our friends and neighbours. We want them to stay, and we welcome the fact that they have taken the opportunity to apply to the European settlement scheme to guarantee their rights.

The Government are adamant that we must avoid a situation where, years down the line, EEA citizens who have built their lives here find themselves struggling to prove their rights and entitlements in the UK. That is why we have set up this system. I fundamentally believe that changing a system that is working well would have the opposite effect to that which the amendment is intended to achieve. It would reduce the certainty of a grant of status under the EU settlement scheme, which has already been given to more than 3 million EEA citizens and their family members.

The amendment provides that a right of permanent residence would be automatically acquired by EEA citizens resident here before 5 March 2020—when the Bill was introduced—regardless of how long they had been continuously resident in the UK. I do not wish to speculate about why the amendment is designed to exclude people who arrived on 6 March, or about why the Bill being introduced is a more significant moment than the end of the transition period or the day that Britain left the European Union. The general requirement under the EU settlement scheme to have been continuously resident here for five years before becoming eligible for a right of permanent residence—settled status—reflects the rights under the free movement directive, which are protected by the withdrawal agreement. To reassure hon. Members that we are talking to people who work with the EUSS, there will be efforts put in place, using the contact details provided to the EUSS, to prompt people should they be approaching the five-year period.

It is right that someone should demonstrate sufficiently long residence in the UK, in line with our current EU law rights, before being eligible for all the benefits and entitlements that settled status brings, including access to those provided by public funds. The amendment would mean that any length of residence in the UK prior to 5 March 2020, however short, would be sufficient. I do not believe that is the right approach. It is a rather strange date to choose, even though it is the introduction. Why would that be logical? It is worth explaining why someone was not covered on 6 March but was covered on 5 March. I therefore suggest to the Committee that we should not accept the amendment; we should stick with a system that is working and doing a great a job at getting those who are our friends and neighbours the status they need for the long term and the surety that brings. I therefore suggest that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East withdraw his amendment.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. The amendment would not negate the good work that has happened in managing to process applications from EU nationals and provide them with digital proof of their status; it would build on it.

The Minister always insists that such a system would give people less of an incentive to apply, but that is just not the case. We would not say to anyone who was a victim of the Windrush fiasco that they did not have an incentive to apply for documentary proof. In fact, all the Windrush citizens had the right to be in this county, but that was not enough. They had to get documents, and the result of not being able to access documents was that they went through absolute hell. That is a lesson that we must learn. If we make the system declaratory, people will still apply because they need digital proof of their status to access work, social security, education and whatever else.

I do not accept the Minister’s explanation of why we retain the constitutive system. If he wants to talk about incentives, there is a big problem for anyone who misses the deadline of 30 June 2021. When they find out that they have missed it, they suddenly think, “I thought I was British, but I am not. I thought I had rights here because I had status under the old EU system, but it turns out I don’t.” Those hundreds of thousands of people will be absolutely petrified of applying to the Home Office because they have no assurance that they will be granted status here. There are vague words about being reasonable, but that did not really cut it for the Windrush generation, and this is a much bigger problem. I will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

Thank you, Sir Edward. I just thought I would be courteous, in case there was another hon. Member who wished to speak.

Amendment 18, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and his colleagues, would remove paragraph 4(2) from schedule 1 to the Bill, which disapplies provisions of the workers regulation, which conflict with domestic immigration law. This would mean that the UK remained bound by EU law in relation to the rights of EEA citizens to access the UK’s job market, which might in part be the hon. Gentleman’s intention, given his well-known view on that subject.

The Government, therefore, cannot support this amendment, because it would effectively result in free movement rights for workers and their families continuing after the end of the transition period. The Government are committed to ending the free movement of people now that we have left the EU, so therefore this proposal is incompatible with that. The Government are committed to ending the free movement of people now that we have left the EU, so therefore this would be incompatible with that.

We have made it clear that we will bring free movement to an end on 1 January, and introduce an effective and fairer points-based immigration system that takes into account the needs of the whole of our United Kingdom and works for the whole of our United Kingdom. It will be a system that reflects the skills and contributions that someone has to offer, not where the person comes from.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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The Minister is right that I would love to see all these rights retained, but that is not the motivation behind this amendment. I accept that the Government want to go about repealing some rights, but the Bill does not really do that. It says, in a peculiar way, that the rights are “sort of repealed” and one has to check back through immigration legislation for decades to work out to what extent. Why has it been done in this way rather than setting out specifically which rights are retained and which are not?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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The answer is partly that it is not possible to draw up an exhaustive list of directly affected law in terms of the EU because court judgments will affect that. One reason for the wording is to make it clear that it relates to the Immigration Act 1971 and does not create a wider enabling power around the workers regulation. I am also clear that those who are subject to the withdrawal agreement are covered by those provisions.

During the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 we discussed in great detail the provisions for protecting the rights of EEA citizens resident in the UK by the end of the transition period, which is 31 December this year. The EU settlement scheme, which was fully opened on 13 March 2019, was specifically introduced for this purpose. One of the rights protected by the status granted under the scheme is equality of access to employment, benefits and services, in the manner outlined by the workers regulation.

Retaining sub-paragraph (4)(2) of schedule 1 will in no way compromise our commitments to upholding the rights of resident EEA citizens already working in the United Kingdom. It will simply ensure other provisions of the workers regulation, which are not specific to immigration, do not have ongoing effects on UK immigration law, but continue to have their effects for other purposes, hence the wording of the sub-section. Otherwise the UK would be required, for example, to provide all EEA citizens with an offer of employment as though they were British citizens, meaning they could not be subjected to any restrictions on access in the UK labour market, directly undermining the new points-based immigration system, which will not provide preferential treatment for EEA citizens.

The changes made by sub-paragraph (4)(2) only relate to immigration aspects of the workers regulation and will not affect any other rights provided by that regulation. For example, the right to equal treatment in respect of positions of employment and work, and the right to join a trade union are unaffected by the provision, because this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle in which to consider them or to look for a power to alter or amend them.

It is less than six months since the British people voted to take back control of our borders and introduce a new points-based system to control immigration, which will deliver for the UK for years to come. This provision, ending the immigration rights provided by the workers regulation, is one the steps needed to pave the way for the new system. For those reasons, the Government cannot support this amendment and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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I thank the Minister for his explanation. I absolutely understand what the Government are trying to achieve and that some of the rights in the workers directive have been put in legislation, including in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. However, that is not the point that this amendment is trying to make. The point is about how the Bill is—or is not—going about repealing the workers directive.

It is essentially a point about the rule of law. When I intervened, the Minister said that it would not be possible to draw up an exhaustive list of exactly how these rights were affected by Immigration Acts and other provisions. If the Government cannot do that, how on earth is the ordinary citizen supposed to be able to tell what their rights are? I think we should take this paragraph out of the schedule and, if the Government are unhappy with the implications that has in leaving things on the statute book, they should come back on another occasion with a clear list and fix it that way. I would like to push the amendment to a division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

--- Later in debate ---
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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Given what the Minister and shadow Minister have said, I can, I hope, be helpfully brief. I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position on deportation, but the shadow Minister raises a reasonable point. The Minister has clarified the policy— but why not put it on the face of the Bill? I very much welcome the Minister’s confirmation of how Irish nationals will be able to come from outside the CTA with family members. It is a welcome clarification.

I want briefly to refer to the broader issue of common travel area rights. We are often told about the historic common travel area, and the fact that the rights go back many decades. That is true, but in recent years most of those rights have become embedded in and entangled with free movement rights. In the Bill, we are repealing those rights but not replacing them with common travel area rights. The Government keep talking about reciprocal rights, but we need them to be set down in statute.

So far, as the Minister said, there seems to be a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the Government of Ireland, and a Government position paper, setting out the fact that there will be rights to work, study, social security and healthcare access, and vote. For the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, essentially those CTA rights are “written in sand” and for the Committee on the Administration of Justice the CTA can be characterised by loose administrative arrangements of provisions that can be altered at any time. So we need to return to this issue of when we will actually see a detailed scheme of rights for the common travel area.

There is some urgency about this matter, because at the moment, for example, there are people in Northern Ireland who choose to be Irish citizens and who have the option of applying under the EU settled status scheme, but they will have to make that decision without really knowing how the benefits of the EU settled status scheme compare with the benefits of the common travel area scheme, because that has not been spelled out in great detail yet. There are practical issues that have been flagged up by the organisations I have mentioned about cross-border rights to access healthcare and education, and so on. All these questions need to be answered, and fairly urgently.

Finally, I will echo what the shadow Minister said about Alison Harvey’s evidence on the right of abode, and I would be interested to know whether the Government are considering achieving some sort of resolution of these issues by using the right of abode. However, we will return to these issues when we debate the new clause that the shadow Minister has tabled.

I welcome clause 2, but we still have a considerable way to go in making sure that the common travel area persists and works properly, and that folk know where they stand.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I thank the SNP and Labour spokespersons for their overall support of the clause. I think I have been clear that there is a very strong commitment to the common travel area. Elements of its operation are inevitably required due to the provisions of the Belfast agreement, which is actually international law; it is a treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, so it is not something that can just be amended on a whim. Far from it—it is underpinned by the strong consent of both communities, north and south, as expressed in referendums at the time it went through.

The commitment of both Governments to the common travel area has persisted for decades and will continue to do so. Irish citizens can apply to the European settlement scheme. I do not see any detriment that would come to them from doing so, but neither is there a requirement for them to do so, given the clarity that the clause brings to their rights within the United Kingdom. To be absolutely clear, the clause looks to remove that difference in the technical definition between an Irish citizen who has arrived in the United Kingdom on, for the sake of argument, the Eurostar from France, as opposed to arriving in the United Kingdom on a plane from Dublin.

It is probably worth saying that it would be interesting to work out how that definition could have actually affected someone’s life, apart from some of their more theoretical rights. However, I will be clear on that front that the Bill removes that difference. For an Irish citizen within the United Kingdom, it applies regardless of which country they travel from—whether they have travelled to the United Kingdom from within the common travel area or, for example, from the United States of America—[Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Halifax was reassured by that.

Effectively, Irish citizens become identified —I accept that this is perhaps a slightly controversial thing to say in the context of people’s identity—as British in our system of migration. Effectively, their Irish passport becomes equivalent to a UK national’s passport.

As for the provisions around deportation, I was asked whether there was a particular example. My officials in the Home Office have spent some time over the last week or two trying to find an example under current legislation —not under legislation, perhaps, from previous eras—of someone being deported from the United Kingdom to the Republic. We struggled; so far, I cannot find a specific example. I do not see any Member of the Committee who is about to jump up and give me an example, in order to contradict me on that point.

In particular, we are not aware of there ever having been, even at the heights of the troubles, a particular stream of deportation from Northern Ireland into the Republic. Partly, that is because we would all have to question the practical effect of deporting someone from County Londonderry to County Donegal; how on earth would anyone effectively enforce that in any way? Also, however, the spirit between the two Governments has been very much that we respect the rights of those who are there and, to be clear, that is set out in a 2007 written ministerial statement. That was not done under a Government formed by my party. The written ministerial statement has been there for 13 years. I wrote to the Irish Government about the fact that the provisions were in the Bill, and we have not received negative representations. The minimum threshold would have to be an offence that carried a 10-year prison sentence, so we are talking about very serious criminal offending, or the court would have to recommend it.

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

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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Q Ms Sankey, may I turn to you? You have spoken already about how rules around detention will apply to people impacted by the Bill. May I ask you about deportation powers, which became topical a couple of months back, with flights to Jamaica in particular being a source of controversy? How will the Bill impact deportation powers in relation to EU nationals, and what would you like to see changed about it?

Bella Sankey: Thanks very much for the question. The Bill will mean that, for the first time, EU citizens will have the deportation laws that currently apply to non-EU citizens applied to them. Those rules are blunt, they are harsh and they are dehumanising. In 2007, the last Labour Government brought in a power of mandatory deportation for anybody who receives a sentence of 12 months or longer. In 2014, when Theresa May was Home Secretary, the coalition Government introduced additional legislation that meant that if somebody was seeking to resist deportation on the grounds that they had a loving parental relationship with a child in the UK, or a child who was a British citizen, they would only be able to do so if the effect of their deportation would have an unduly harsh impact on that child.

The Home Office defines “unduly harsh” as “excessively cruel”, so at present it is insufficient, if you are a non-EEA national, to show that the impact on your child would be cruel; you need to show excessive cruelty. The effect of that provision means that child cruelty is legislated into our primary legislation. It means that the courts, when they are making these decisions, are forced to allow a deportation to go ahead even though they may find on the evidence that serious psychological harm will be done to a child. The courts are clearly very uncomfortable about that and have said explicitly, in terms, that immigration law can no longer be reconciled with family law principles, because family law principles require the best interests of a child to be taken into account in all public decision making.

That is the situation as it stands. The impact of these laws over the past decade or more has been to cause untold trauma and pain, particularly to Britain’s black community, who are disproportionately impacted because, as is well-known, they are a community that is over-represented in the criminal justice system and subject to social and economic deprivation.

The issue from earlier this year that you mention was, of course, a charter flight to Jamaica. The majority of the people booked on to that flight by the Home Office had drugs convictions—a lot of them when they were teenagers or a long time ago. The law as it stands did not allow any of that to be taken into account, because of the automatic and mandatory power to seek deportation of those individuals.

A number of our clients were victims of modern-day slavery, grooming and trafficking, but again, they found themselves in detention without an opportunity to raise the fact that they had been subjected to that, and of course the large majority of them had been in the UK since they were two or three years old and had been in primary school here and secondary school here. I see the Minister does not seem to be agreeing with this account.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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No.

Bella Sankey: But it is all there on the public record. As I say, the law as it stands has applied in a blunt and discriminatory way against the black community, and this Bill now proposes to extend those harsh provisions to all EU citizens.

I spoke only recently to a woman who was actually removed to Poland on 30 April, leaving behind an 11-year-old child here. She felt that the system had already become unbearable. She was taken into detention following a conviction for theft, and when she was in Yarl’s Wood, without legal aid and without help and assistance, she decided that it would be easier for her and less traumatic for her 11-year-old son if she just went back to Poland. This Bill is going to bring about thousands more Sandras, thousands more family separations, in completely unjust circumstances.

Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Tuesday 24th March 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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No, I want to see more getting the compensation they are entitled to. That is why we are bringing the Bill forward and why we would have looked to have done more engagement events to reach out to those affected, as she touched on in her remarks. That has been inevitably curtailed by the situation we face. We have extended the scheme for another two years—it was to end in April next year, but it has been extended to April 2023—because we want more people to come forward and apply to it.

I will come in a moment to some of the ways in which we are looking to engage and get to more people. Hopefully, the next set of statistics produced will show that, for example, some more significant compensation awards have been made since the first statistics were produced. We are careful not to put out statistics that could identify an individual and what they may have received, because that is not an appropriate way to go about things as a Government.

Let me return to new clause 1. Moving the operation of the compensation scheme from the Home Office would risk significantly delaying payments to claimants. That is because the first stage in deciding a claim for compensation is to confirm an individual’s identity and eligibility, which is linked to an individual’s immigration status. It would be difficult to decouple this process from the Home Office, which is the Department that confirms this status. We have, though, established an independent review process for those dissatisfied with their compensation offer. The independent review is conducted by the Adjudicator’s Office—a non-departmental public body that is completely independent of the Home Office. The adjudicator can look at, among other things, whether the Department has followed its policies and the use of discretion by the Windrush compensation scheme.

New clauses 2 and 4 seek to require the Department to launch public consultations on applicants’ experiences of the application process, and on the scheme’s limits, tariffs and caps. I reassure Members that our approach to designing the scheme was informed by 650 responses to a call for evidence and nearly 1,500 responses to a public consultation. We also held several public events, and the previous Home Secretary appointed Martin Forde QC—an experienced barrister on all aspects of health law—to advise on the design of the compensation scheme. There are 13 categories under which people can claim compensation. The scheme awards compensation according to actual losses, as well as tariff-based awards. Although some categories of award have an upper limit, there is no overall cap on the amount that an individual can receive in compensation under the scheme, nor a set budget limit on payments to be made.

New clause 3 would see the scheme left open indefinitely. Let me reassure the House that this Government are committed to ensuring that all those who wish to make a claim are able to do so. This is why we announced last week that we were extending the duration of the scheme until 2 April 2023. It is also why we announced the launch of a national communications campaign and a £500,000 fund for grassroots organisations to promote the Windrush taskforce and Windrush compensation scheme. However, as I said on Second Reading, there is a balance to be struck between setting a date far enough in the future to enable people to feel confident that they have time to make their claim, but soon enough to encourage people to put in their claim and get the compensation that they are due. The Government believe that the two-year extension provides this, but there remains the option to extend the duration if that is required. I say in response to the point fairly made by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East that we would not close off consideration. However, we think it is right to have a timeframe in order to encourage people to come forward and make their claims.

New clause 5 intends to allow applicants to recover their legal costs in applying to the scheme. The team have worked proactively to ensure that the design of the claim forms is simple and easy to understand, and they were tested with users to ensure that legal assistance is not required. The introduction of this clause might serve to encourage organisations to take advantage of potentially vulnerable individuals and to charge them for unnecessary support to complete a claim. Should claimants need support, the Home Office already has provision for a contract with Citizens Advice to provide free independent advice. We will soon be launching a procurement tendering process to select an organisation to provide free independent advice and support to claimants for the duration of the scheme up until April 2023, and the £500,000 fund for grassroots organisations announced last week to promote the compensation scheme includes provision for advice services.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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I take the Minister’s point about the work that has been done to try to make the scheme simple, and to have a tendering process for services that will provide advice. But this is not just about the form; it is about the process of putting together sometimes complicated evidence, particularly for the bigger awards. Surely there is a possibility that the Government could consider making available even a small panel of certain firms with expertise in this area—for particularly difficult or high-value claims. That is just something to think about.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point. That was one of the areas covered when I met the independent adviser, and his advice is clear: he believes that the system is set up in a way that means people do not need specialist legal support to make a claim. The compensation team will work with the claimant to look at things such as HMRC data on past employment and to access Government records—for example, on immigration fees that may have been paid in the past when someone should not have needed to pay them. At the moment, we are satisfied that this gives people the opportunity to engage, and we are keen that this is about working with the person to find out how they were affected, rather than getting into the type of adversarial legal process that could have been the alternative to the approach that we are adopting.

New clause 6 seeks to prevent the Home Office from reducing compensation awards due to criminality or the timeliness of actions to resolve status. In response to direct feedback from claimants and stakeholders, the Home Office has already made changes to the scheme’s mitigation policy. Individuals are no longer expected to show that they took immediate steps to resolve their status, and that was clarified in new guidance published on 5 March.

While it is reasonable to expect individuals who encountered difficulty in evidencing their lawful right to be in the UK to have taken some steps to try to resolve that, the Home Office will now consider any evidence of steps that someone took to resolve their situation, even if those steps were not taken as soon as reasonably practical when an individual lost their job or took place before an individual encountered difficulties. For example, that could include writing to a Member of Parliament rather than approaching the Home Office directly. That change means that some people may qualify for higher awards, particularly where it relates to loss of employment.

With regard to criminality, those with criminal convictions are not precluded per se from making a claim for compensation. However, being mindful of the Government’s obligations towards taxpayers’ money, we may reduce or decline an award if a claimant has a record of serious criminality. I was asked to explain why we would do that. There may be a claim for loss of employment due to a person not being able to show their migration status. If that claimant then had a serious criminal conviction shortly afterwards or during that period, it would not inherently flow that their employment would have carried on but for the migration status issue, because that serious offence would almost certainly have cost them their employment. But as I say, that does not preclude, and it is not a bar. We are always open with this process, as we work with stakeholders and the independent adviser in particular, but that explains why that would be done—because it seems unfair to compensate with taxpayers’ money when that employment may well have been lost anyway following a particular type of conviction.

New clause 7 seeks that no requirement be made of claimants to demonstrate a level of proof beyond the balance of probabilities for claims for actual losses under the scheme. The scheme awards compensation according to both actual losses and tariff-based awards. Evidential requirements have been designed to be straightforward and not too onerous. However, we do ask claimants to provide as much evidence as they can, so that the best assessment can be made. Caseworkers will work with applicants and contact other Government Departments, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, on their behalf where there may be evidential gaps. Where awards are tariff-based, caseworkers will make decisions on the balance of probabilities. Where awards are for actual losses, it is right that we seek to obtain an appropriate level of assurance that those losses were incurred, in order to fulfil our duty to properly manage money.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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I ask the Minister to look at that again. I get the point that caseworkers have to be very careful and seek as much evidence as possible when it comes to certain types of losses, including loss of earnings, but to phrase it as “beyond reasonable doubt” seems pretty controversial. All I am asking is that he goes away and thinks about that and perhaps consults Home Office solicitors, because it seems very unusual to demand that standard of proof. I understand the need for evidence, but “beyond reasonable doubt” seems very strange.

Deportation Flight to Jamaica

Debate between Kevin Foster and Stuart C McDonald
Monday 10th February 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - -

Normally, the definition of a serious offence would be one that has attracted a sentence of 12 months in prison. On persistence, the nature of the offences would be considered. There is not a particular number that somebody would have to hit; it would be about the nature of their offending patterns. As my hon. Friend says, the public would expect serious or persistent offenders who are liable to be deported under the 2007 Act to be removed from this country unless the exceptions apply.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree that it is hugely troubling that the lessons learned review has not yet been published. It is totally unacceptable that this charter flight could proceed before all the lessons of Windrush are learned. Windrush should change everything; instead, the Home Office carries on as if nothing has changed.

Will the Minister admit that the flight will include people who were entitled to British nationality—including one individual who was in the care system—but could not access it because of complicated and expensive nationality procedures? When will access to British citizenship finally be made affordable and simple? Does the Minister accept that many on the flight have a far stronger connection to Britain than to Jamaica? As Stephen Shaw would put it, many are more British than they are Jamaican. Will the Minister confirm that the flight will leave 41 British children separated from their fathers and nine British citizens without partners or husbands? Is it not time to look at the legislation again?

Finally, written answers confirm that the Home Office has taken absolutely no interest in what happened to the people on its last charter flight to Jamaica. Is that not the height of irresponsibility?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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Again, I am clear that we have checked that there is no one on the flight who would be eligible for British citizenship or nationality. We would not be able to deport them if they were. The cases have been through the courts. Again, I should make it clear that the law is very clear, the offences committed are very clear and we are very clear that the Home Office applies the rules based on the criminality, not the nationality, of the offender.