4C: After Clause 2, page 2, line 22, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion
(1) The Secretary of State must review, or arrange for a review of, the ways in which protection claimants who are in a member State are able to enter the United Kingdom lawfully.
(2) For the purposes of this section a “protection claimant” is a person who—
(a) has made an application for international protection to a member State, or
(b) is not a national of a member State and is seeking to come to the United Kingdom from a member State for the purpose of making a protection claim.
(3) The review under subsection (1) must, in particular—
(a) consider the position of unaccompanied children in member States who are protection claimants and are seeking to come to the United Kingdom to join relatives there, and
(b) include a public consultation on that aspect of the review.
(4) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement providing further details about the review under subsection (1) and, in particular, about the aspect of the review described in subsection (3).
(5) After the review, the Secretary of State must—
(a) prepare a report on the outcome of the review or arrange for such a report to be prepared, and
(b) publish the report and lay it before Parliament.
(6) In this section—
“application for international protection” has the meaning given by Article 2(h) of Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on standards for the qualification of third country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted;
“protection claim” has the same meaning as in Part 5 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (see section 82(2) of that Act);
“relative”, in relation to an unaccompanied child, means a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child;
“unaccompanied child” means a person under the age of 18 (“the child”) who is not in the care of a person who—
(a) is aged 18 or over, and
(b) by law or custom of the country or territory in which the child is present, has responsibility for caring for the child.”
4D: Page 5, line 33, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (1A),”
4E: Page 5, line 34, at end insert—
“(1A) The following provisions of section (Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion) come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—
(a) subsection (4);
(b) subsections (2) and (6) so far as relating to subsection (4).”
My Lords, I turn to the issue of family reunion, which relates to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in Amendment 4B and his most recent Motion A1, which seeks to amend the Government’s Amendment 4C, agreed to in the other place.
I accept the spirit of the noble Lord’s amendment. I reiterate that this Government share the noble Lord’s sincere concerns about refugee and asylum-seeking children. We are determined to continue our proud record of providing safety to those who need it, and supporting vulnerable children remains a fundamental tenet of this. Within this, we also recognise the importance of family unity, which I know is such a vital issue for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords who will no doubt speak today. The Government absolutely share those concerns.
I take this opportunity to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht today. It was Kristallnacht that effectively gave birth to the Kindertransport scheme, which enabled 10,000 refugee children to come to the UK in the 1930s, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I am of course extremely proud of what the UK did then and continue to be proud of what we are doing now and our record in government.
The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe, receiving more claims than any EU member state in 2019 and 20% of all claims made in the EU and the UK. There are more than 5,000 unaccompanied children being looked after in English local authorities alone. Our resettlement schemes were the largest in Europe over the last five years, directly resettling over 25,000 people from regions of conflict and instability, half of whom were children.
I turn now to family reunion, with which the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is concerned—and on which, I hasten to add, Commons Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E also include significant commitments. On 1 January 2021, the UK will cease to be bound by the Dublin regulation. Instead, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe with family members in the UK will be able to apply to join eligible sponsors, such as those with refugee leave or who are beneficiaries of humanitarian protection, those with British citizenship or those with settled status under the Immigration Rules. Anyone who might currently have been transferred under Dublin will have a route through which they can apply, where the sponsor has the relevant status. I will make sure that guidance is updated to ensure that this is clear and transparent.
While these routes are already available to them now, historically, the Dublin regulation has been the preferred transfer route. This is not surprising where children have been in the care of a member state which can refer cases to other states via Dublin. Noble Lords and others have raised concerns that our existing Immigration Rules may not provide precisely the same routes for unaccompanied children to reunite with family members in the UK as the Dublin regulation currently does. I want to reassure noble Lords about what our existing rules do and the opportunities they provide for children to reunite with their families.
The rules already make provision for a child to be reunited with a parent in the UK, either under the refugee family reunion rules or via Appendix FM, depending on the immigration status of the parent. There are no financial requirements or fees for applications under our family reunion rules. In addition, paragraphs 319X and 297 of the rules are extremely flexible provisions that already allow for children to apply to join a wide range of family members who are not their parents, if there are serious and compelling family considerations and those relatives can maintain and accommodate the child. Under these rules, we do not restrict the range of those family members. For example, an uncle or aunt with refugee status or British citizenship, or who is settled in the UK, could sponsor a nephew or niece to join them here where those basic requirements are met.
It is important to say that these rules are global; it could be a child coming from Syria, Lebanon, France or Greece. Noble Lords may also wish to note that the vast majority of unaccompanied children who came to join family members under Dublin in 2019 joined British citizens, refugees or those granted humanitarian protection, or settled persons.
Following our departure from the Dublin regulation, I expect to see a greater number of applications for unaccompanied children to reunite with family members in the UK under our existing rules. While applications must be considered on a case-by-case basis, I anticipate unaccompanied children in the EU whose best interests would be served by reuniting with family members in the UK who can support them—where they cannot reunite with family elsewhere—clearly to be strong candidates to meet the criteria.
I know that noble Lords have raised concerns about the requirements of these rules. However, the Dublin regulation also has requirements. While the processes are different, the Dublin regulation and our Immigration Rules both rightly examine safeguarding and welfare issues. For example, any Dublin transfer must be in the child’s best interests, and the rules also consider the child’s best interests in our decision-making. Both Dublin transfers and the rules also require evidence of family links, which is essential for safeguarding purposes. For a child to join extended family members—which make up the majority of cases—under Dublin, the sponsor must be able to take care of the child, which is very reasonable. Under Dublin, trained social workers conduct family assessments at the sponsors’ home, including assessing their accommodation, to ensure that these requirements are met. It is also right that our rules examine, for example, whether a child can be accommodated in a home that does not breach housing laws.
However, unlike Dublin, which simply provides for their transfer to the UK to have their asylum claim processed here, our rules grant children a form of leave—that distinction is very important. A child granted leave under family reunion rules will also immediately be provided with a route to settlement, or may even be granted settlement on arrival, depending on the immigration status of the sponsor. Under the refugee family reunion rules alone, we issued over 29,000 refugee family reunion visas in the last five years, and around half of these were for children. This includes 6,320 visas issued in the year ending June of this year. That is over 10 times the number of all family reunion transfers under the Dublin regulation in 2019.
Importantly, there is also discretion for immigration caseworkers to grant leave to enter outside of the Immigration Rules, where a refusal under the rules would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences, or on the basis of Article 8 of the ECHR, on family life. This discretion is also used where other family requirements cannot be met, such as accommodation and maintenance. Use of discretion will be considered in every case where a child has applied under the rules to join a family member.
However, we are not complacent about the safe and legal routes that our existing rules provide, including for family reunion for unaccompanied children. That is why we have made generous statutory commitments in our substantive amendment in lieu, Amendment 4C. The amendment commits to: a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; a public consultation on those legal routes for family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; laying a statement providing further detail of this review and consultation before Parliament within three months of the immigration Bill achieving Royal Assent; preparing a report on the outcome of the review, and to publishing and laying that report before Parliament. Amendments 4D and 4E concern commencement of the commitment in Amendment 4C to lay a statement before Parliament: they specify that this will come into force within two months of Royal Assent.
Due to the scope of the Bill, the government amendments in lieu refer only to legal routes for those who have made an application for international protection in an EU member state, or are seeking to come to the UK from a member state to claim protection here. However, I can confirm that the review which we conduct will be concerned with legal routes from all countries, not just EU member states. This is in line with our new, global approach to the future immigration system. Noble Lords will remember that I have already committed on the Floor of this House that the UK will pursue bilateral negotiations with key countries of mutual interest on post-transition migration issues, which will include family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I trust that noble Lords will agree that the Government’s Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E—agreed in the other place—in addition to my commitment on bilateral discussions, are a generous package of commitments providing for a full consideration of our future approach to safe and legal routes as part of our new global immigration system, including on family reunion for these children. It clearly demonstrates how seriously this Government take the issue of family unity for vulnerable children and recognise the importance of these routes, to discourage vulnerable children from making dangerous and illegal journeys that can result in the kind of tragedy that we saw last week.
Amendment 4B, and Motion A1 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would also require the Government to replicate the Dublin routes for adults and families to join family members in the UK. Our family reunion rules, part 8 of the rules and appendix FM all provide existing routes for adults and accompanied children to join immediate family members in the UK. Again, there is discretion for caseworkers to grant leave to enter outside of the Immigration Rules where a refusal under the rules would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences, or on the basis of Article 8 of the ECHR, on family life.
It is essential that the Bill receives Royal Assent without further delays if key elements of the Government’s future border and immigration system, including the new skilled workers route as well as social security co-ordination, are to be implemented as planned. Any further delay puts at risk the ending of free movement at the end of the transition period, a central manifesto commitment that the British people voted for and which has been strongly supported by the other place, and it risks free movement continuing on an unreciprocated basis.
In view of this, and in view of the fact that we have issued 6,320 refugee family reunion visas in the year ending June 2020—our record speaks for itself—as compared to 532 family reunion transfers under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of Dublin in 2019, I am sure that noble Lords would agree that there is no need for this amendment. I ask that noble Lords agree the Government’s Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E, which have been endorsed in the other place, and respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, not to divide the House on his Amendment 4B and Motion A1. I beg to move.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
4F: After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) Until such a time as the report under subsection (5) has been published and either any included recommendations on the position of unaccompanied children under subsection (3)(a) have been implemented or a reason has been given for non-implementation, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for protection claimants who are in a member State after 1 January 2021, and who would have been eligible to enter the United Kingdom under a relevant provision of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 if the United Kingdom remained a party to that regulation, to enter the United Kingdom.”
4G: In subsection (6) insert—
““Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013” means Regulation (EU) No. 604/ 2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council including the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);
“relevant provision” means any of the following articles of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013— (a) Article 8; (b) Article 9; (c) Article 10; (d) Article 16; (e) Article 17;””
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement and I am grateful for the civil conversations I had with her over the weekend about it. I very much welcome the review that the Government have initiated, and I obviously look forward to seeing the outcome.
I appreciate what the Minister said about the anniversary of Kristallnacht; she also talked about Kindertransport children arriving here. All I would say is that, as one of them, I have always been enormously grateful to this country for the safety and the opportunities it has given me. I only want to achieve for other children coming here in similar circumstances the same sort of opportunities I have had in the United Kingdom.
The purpose of the amendment was to seek assurances that the ending of the family reunion provisions under the Dublin treaty on 31 December would not disadvantage refugee children who were seeking a route to this country. The amendment simply seeks to put in place interim arrangements for refugees seeking to reunite with family members in the UK after the transitional period is over, until the government review is completed, so that there should not be a gap in the provision for refugees seeking to reunite with their families.
Clearly the Minister’s wish was to make it unnecessary for me to pursue my amendment, so let me deal with that in a little detail, although, as I have said, I welcome the Government’s plans to review the whole issue. I remind the House that we are talking about children, many of them in Calais, Dunkirk or on the Greek islands, sleeping rough and at the mercy of traffickers. We have seen the tragic consequences of what the traffickers do to make money while risking the lives of very vulnerable people. It is my belief that the British people are essentially humanitarian, and that the majority of people in this country support our being generous to child refugees—not all, but the majority —so we are not flying in the face of the majority of public opinion in what we do for child refugees.
I listened very hard to t the Minister and I welcome many of the things that she mentioned. Let me put three questions to her. If there are to be changes in the Immigration Rules—maybe there are not, but if there are—could the Minister arrange for these first to be published in draft form, so that we have the ability to suggest possible changes? My understanding is that normally Immigration Rules are like subordinate legislation, and we cannot simply amend them—we can either reject or accept them.
Therefore, the possibility of influencing changes in the Immigration Rules by having them first published in draft form would be a sensible measure, and I hope the Minister will agree. I believe it has been done before on occasion. We do not want to be in the position of having to either accept or reject them without having first had the chance to debate and, possibly, influence them. If these changes to the Immigration Rules are to happen, I imagine they have to happen by 1 January 202, to give effect to the policies that the Minister just described.
Secondly, the Minister referred to policy guidance to give effect to the Immigration Rules. Obviously, I welcome that, but can it be published in due course—that is, before the end of December—so that we can see the nature of the guidance? The difficulty is that the Immigration Rules are more restrictive than the Dublin treaty provisions. The problem is whether what the Minister said will enable an element of flexibility in the interpretation of the Immigration Rules by officials to be achieved. If that can be done, all well and good.
I hope the Minister will indicate that the Government’s aim is that no child should be disadvantaged by any restrictions in the Immigration Rules tighter than those contained in the Dublin treaty. If the Minister can do that by the end of December, we have a positive way forward for the interim, until the Government’s review is completed, when some of these discussions can happen again. I beg to move.
The following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark.
My Lords, I support the position taken by my noble friend the Minister in her Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E. As noble Lords will know, I am not entirely in favour of the Bill. I do not like the fact that it applies to migrants from the EU only and, with other noble Lords, I sought amendments to the new system. For example, I remain unhappy about permitting those coming to work here to take jobs that have not first been advertised to talent here in the UK. This is perverse and will simply serve to increase unemployment. I am astonished that the trade union interest is so unconcerned about this.
However, the Bill is already overdue and, across the House, we all have an interest in getting it on to the statute book in time for people to understand the new rules when transition ends. I cannot support continued ping-pong and I ask the Opposition proponents of the proposals on unaccompanied children to show more responsibility. If they cannot—I detected a certain softening from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—I hope that others across the House will do so and that this latest attempt at ping-pong will fail.
The fact is that the Government have made very substantial concessions—further than I would have gone, with experience of these matters from Downing Street in the 1990s. In particular, they have promised a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and committed themselves to meeting various parliamentary milestones. They have also promised bilateral negotiations with key countries on post-transition migration issues. That will be especially important in the unlikely event of a full breakdown of the FTA with the EU.
The government package should be accepted now and we should avoid the embarrassment of another round of ping-pong. To inform the review and thinking today, I make the following observations. Although I, too, celebrate the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are no longer in the 1930s. In the Bill, we are talking about children coming from the EU—all countries that observe decency and freedom and are subject to the EHRC. Moreover, in the UK, despite beating ourselves up on occasions, we have a good record. There are various avenues for entering the UK as a minor. My noble friend the Minister has explained these in detail and why Dublin is not the only route. I will not repeat what she said, but I emphasise that since 2010, we have granted protection or other forms of leave to more than 44,000 children seeking protection. In 2019, we received 3,775 asylum claims from unaccompanied children—more than any other EU member state.
The latest tragedies in the channel do not change any of that. They do, however, underline the view, shared by us all, I think, that we need a system that encourages safe and legal routes and does not encourage child trafficking of any kind. However, we know from Swedish and US experience, which I am happy to share, that special arrangements for admitting unaccompanied minors can, sadly, be counterproductive. Done in the wrong way, they can mean that the criminals have an incentive to separate children from their relatives, and then they can, unfortunately, end up being trafficked for sex or as drug runners. Some have also suggested that where children come on their own—for example to link up with an aunt or a sibling—it often does not work out and they end up in care. Despite the best efforts of many well-run local authorities, this, as we know from a series of appalling metrics and individual cases, is the worst possible place for a good start in life.
A review, as now proposed by the Government, is needed before further changes are made. Moreover, as I argue on everything from pensions and agriculture to coronavirus, a proper costing must be done and resources identified to make any change of policy a success. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that a defeat today for the Government on this will not help them with the important negotiation on these and other issues currently taking place with the EU. I thank the Minister for the amendments tabled by the Government and urge noble Lords to let the Bill get on its way to Royal Assent.
My Lords, I speak in favour of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In doing so, I speak not only on my account but also in place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who is locked down in the north-east and therefore, because of the procedures for consideration of Commons amendments, is unable to speak on this amendment, although that had been very much his intention.
Family life and kin relationships are vital in many parts of the world to ensure survival. Even in the UK, family means the difference between misery, destitution and poor mental health and a life where, even in the most difficult circumstances, there is practical care, support and love. Thus, I, too, welcome the Government’s steps towards ensuring safe and legal routes, including the commitment in case of a no-deal Brexit, to pursue bilateral negotiations on arrangements for family reunion, which I trust they will seek to ensure are equivalent to the Dublin regulations. I welcome the Minister’s commitments and await with interest her further comments following what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, just said.
However, a step in the right direction is not the end of the journey. While a review of safe and legal routes is welcome, these steps do not directly deal with what will happen when the UK leaves the Dublin system at the end of the year. Nor does a review safeguard existing routes, which we already know to be worth while and effective. These high standards and guarantees in refugee protection will fall away and the routes will close down.
Throughout the Bible, there is teaching on the necessity for our actions to match well-intended words. Thus, in the Old Testament, the prophet Micah reminds us that we are to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly, not just to speak of justice or mercy. I therefore point out that your Lordships are seeking action rather than reviews. We are asking for a concrete commitment to walk down the path of justice and mercy for those seeking refuge, most especially unaccompanied children.
There are many areas of government migration policy on which we already await reviews. In particular, we wait for one on asylum seekers’ right to work and another on the impact of hostile environment measures, to which the Government have already committed as part of their response to Windrush. In neither case is there as yet a clear timetable. A review is not action. A review without a timetable is not a review any time soon. In the meantime, the need is pressing and ongoing. We require action to fill the legislative gap that will otherwise open up in January to the detriment of some very vulnerable individuals.
Securing satisfactory family reunion rights is an important part of a wider picture, ensuring not only safe and legal routes but also an effective, functioning, humane asylum system. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, recognises this. As he has explained, his amendment seeks to remove a gap in provision. He is an individual of great sensibility and experience in these matters and commands widespread respect across the House. On an issue in which compassion and humanity must be at the forefront of our response, I hope that your Lordships will demonstrate the necessary independence of spirit which these children and their families require of us. I support his amendment.
Does any other noble Lord in the Chamber wish to speak? No. In which case, I shall call the speakers listed, the first of whom is the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. When we travel on the London Tube, there is a warning to “mind the gap”. In their contributions, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, have said that there is potentially a gap in provision between Dublin III and whatever is brought forward for January of next year. It is right that we should mind that gap.
On 21 March 2016, by a margin of 306 votes to 204, your Lordships carried an amendment on unaccompanied child refugees. Four years later, the noble lord, Lord Dubs, valiantly keeps us focused on the plight of refugee children. Four years ago, the noble Lord asked me to be a signatory to what in shorthand became known as the Dubs amendment. I readily agreed. I said at that time that the repeated use of the argument about the so-called pull factors—some of which were mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—cannot, in the case of children, outweigh our duty to do all in our power to safeguard and save any child at risk. Not to do so would leave a lasting stain on our reputation.
In the four years since we first considered the Dubs amendment, we have seen shocking reports of children dying, abandoned, disappearing, trafficked or exploited during perilous journeys. The recent death of two little children in the English Channel, after their boat capsized, simply underlines yet again why it is crucial that we find these safe and legal routes, and long-term solutions that hit hard the criminal gangs that profiteer and exploit desperation, while tackling the root causes that create such phenomenal displacement.
In 2015, we were all deeply affected by the harrowing picture of a little Syrian toddler, washed up like so much flotsam and jetsam on a beach near Bodrum. The tragic deaths of a five year-old and an eight year-old in the English Channel starkly remind us that little has changed since then.
The Dubs amendment will not save the life of every child. Family reunions provided for in the Dublin III regulation are, at best, a safety net. But its absence after 31 December—the gap mentioned—could make a bad and tragic situation even worse.
Against this background, the House of Commons has once again returned this amendment to your Lordships House. I know that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, believes that the plight of children should be a top-tier priority for the Government—in her remarks a few moments ago, she used the phrase “a fundamental tenet”. She is justifiably proud of the help we have given. Thanks to parliamentary pressure, the Government have been able to tell a better story today than might otherwise have been the case. Surely that shows the importance of parliamentary debates such as this. However, she must also accept that the talk and rhetoric from others of nets and water canon to disable or push back boats and of the use of oil rigs or remote islands to lock up migrants, and the absence of any international initiative—ideally led by the United Kingdom—to tackle the root causes, are deeply dispiriting.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of the 79.5 million people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes, nearly 26 million are refugees. The UNHCR estimates that 40% are children and 68% come from just five countries. It cannot be beyond our wit—our collective genius—to drive this issue to the top of Governments’ agendas. Even if they do not accept that there are altruistic and humanitarian reasons to act, there are plenty of self-interested reasons why they should do so.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us, today we commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht—the night of broken glass—which included the destruction of 267 synagogues. Eleanor Rathbone MP established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. Two years later, on 10 July 1940, in a six-hour debate, she intervened on no fewer than 20 occasions to insist that Britain had a duty of care to the refugees being hunted down by the Nazis. She said that a nation had an obligation to give succour to those fleeing persecution—in her words,
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/1940; col. 1212.]
She said that discussions about asylum seekers and refugees
“always begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles—fear of anti-semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us”.
In 2020, nothing much has changed, and it is hard not to see the parallels.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was one of the few rescued by Kindertransport, and his commendable determination for us to remain focused on the needs of refugee children was born in those shocking times.
The clock is ticking towards 31 December. The Government’s amendment legislates for a review on safe and legal routes in the new year, including specifically on family reunion. I welcome that, but, on 1 January, children will potentially have impaired access to family reunion, and many may be left stranded alone in Europe. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, adds a requirement that current family reunion laws are kept until the review and report are complete, so that no child loses out from accessing this vital safe and legal route.
Like the noble Lord, I am pleased by the spirt and tone of everything which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has said this afternoon. However, I would prefer to see this written in the Bill, and I will follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—metaphorically anyway—into the Lobby and vote to send this back to the Commons one final time if he does not believe that the Government’s assurances go far enough.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, safe routes are needed now. We know that people will not and cannot wait. And who can blame them?
I want to question the Minister about the review, particularly to seek an assurance about one aspect. Proposed new subsection (1) in the amendment refers to the review of ways in which protection claimants can enter the UK lawfully. This suggests that the review is to be limited to considering existing ways, when what is needed are proposals to enable safe mechanisms for family reunion without the current hurdles and restrictions. Siblings must be able to reunite and close family members—not only parents—able to sponsor entry without having to find fees or demonstrate that they have the means to look after the child.
I am concerned that there is no stated objective for the review; that seems to be missing. Also missing, as the right reverend Prelate has said, is a timetable for the completion of the review. The three months mentioned is the period within which the Government are to give further details. Can the Minister help us with the wider timetable and consultation, which surely needs to be wider than just unaccompanied children?
Reference has been made to the use of guidance. Can guidance achieve what is proposed? It cannot override the rules. I endorse and support the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about the importance of seeing drafts both of rules and guidance. Parliamentarians can then have input and amendments can be gently suggested, if not formally proposed. We cannot do this with unamendable rules.
It is beyond me that what is necessary now is to show
“serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”,
in the words of the rules. Putting it that way round, rather than the converse, has always seemed perverse to me. So, too, is the policy that an application under Article 8 of the European convention, on the right to family life, will not succeed unless there are “exceptional circumstances” with refusal resulting in “unjustifiably harsh consequences”.
On the timetable again, one of the government amendments refers to two months from the date of commencement, which is beyond the end of the year. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be no lacuna as a result and that work on plugging the gap, as it were, will start immediately and apply notwithstanding the commencement date? If there needs to be a change, can it be made in the Commons? I appreciate that that would require the Bill to go back to the Commons.
In practice, it is very difficult to show that a child is in an unsafe environment. Other current problems that need to be considered are getting a child to a visa application centre to make an application under the rules, and the fees which, under one of the paragraphs of the rules, are well over £3,000. I make these perhaps slightly random points because, alone, they show the importance of consultation on the whole situation.
The Minister in the Commons referred to
“dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/9/20; col. 182.]
I stress “unnecessary”. Would the crossings be made if they were? And was it appropriate to refer to lives lost and profit made by criminals as if they were of equal weight?
The noble Baroness referred to bilaterals. If she can give us an update, it would be welcome, but I appreciate that it may be difficult to refer to negotiations with the EU at the moment. Bilaterals would have to come after the end of the year, but we should not depend on them being in place for some time yet.
I realise that I am not taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as I should, who always succeeds in using the most moderate language. He started by welcoming Amendment 4C, so I will end by confirming that these Benches are pleased that he has again pointed the way forward. We support him. If he decides to divide, we will certainly go with him. In any event, like him, we will continue to seek a much more satisfactory arrangement for asylum seekers, who want the most natural thing in the world: to be with their family.
We welcome the government amendment providing for a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and for a report on the outcome of the review to be published and laid before Parliament—which I hope will be within a matter of months, rather than years.
The concern that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dubs seeks to address is what will apply in the interim, between the end of the transition period—and thus the end of the Dublin regulations—and the introduction of any revised or amended arrangements on legal routes to the UK, following the outcome of the review. In other words, there needs to be provision for those, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who would have come in successfully under the Dublin regulations—had they still been in existence after the end of this year—still to have an equally accessible and achievable safe and legal route in that interim period, which would continue to enable them to come to the UK.
My noble friend Lord Dubs raised some questions arising from the wording on this point in the Minister’s statement. We await to see whether, following the Government’s response, my noble friend considers the wording of the Minister’s statement sufficient to enable him to withdraw his amendment or he seeks a vote. Either way, he will have our full backing and support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The gap was mentioned. I hope that I outlined in my speech the substantial number of routes available, whatever people’s circumstances, to apply to come here and seek our refuge and asylum.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked me three specific questions. The first was whether, if there are changes to the Immigration Rules, we can publish them in draft form. The answer is yes. He asked whether we could publish the guidance before 31 December. I said in my speech and will reiterate that I will ensure that the guidance reflects the position and update it if necessary. I would be happy to update it if changes are needed by 31 December. I am also happy to take his views on the review process on board. I think that was it from him so, in a nutshell, I am happy to do all those things.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe stressed the importance of safe and legal routes, not the child trafficking that we see at the moment. She talked about the cost of these things being important. Of course it is; it will be considered in due course.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about Dublin ending and routes closing down. I have explained that, as we are leaving the European Union, Dublin will come to an end, but we will not close any of our existing routes. Just to illustrate some of the numbers, as I mentioned in my speech, we issued 6,320 family reunion visas in the year ending June 2020, which contrasts with 532 family reunion transfers under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of Dublin. All the routes that I set out earlier are and will continue to be in force.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about children who are dying, trafficked and missing, and the criminal gangs who exploit them. I could not agree with him more, but this exists as Dublin does, so the safe and legal routes are absolutely essential. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is completely focused on this. I can also confirm this afternoon that the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme will restart as soon as possible. It has to be safe to do so, but it will restart. I have some lines on it but I cannot find them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about the review being linked to safe mechanisms. That is why we are doing it: for safe and legal routes. We could not be clearer. She made an interesting point, asking why we are mentioning lives lost and criminals together. We are mentioning them because that is why people die—because criminals encourage them to take dangerous routes across the very dangerous English Channel and other seas. That is why they die. She also asked about the wider timetable, which we will include in the Statement that we are committed to. She asked whether the consultation is wider than just UASCs and, yes, it is. Family reunions for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is just part of the wider issue. She also talked about getting people to visa application centres. This morning I talked about that issue to my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister, who is looking at it.
I hope that I have demonstrated how the gap will be filled, and have demonstrated my commitment to all the things that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has asked of me, and that he can withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, giving evidence to support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that parliamentary debate is a good thing, which clarifies issues and highlights our concerns, and is therefore an essential part of our democratic process.
I will make a few brief comments before getting to the nub of what the Minister said. I believe firmly that, if there are safe and legal routes, fewer people are trafficked, and fewer people want to be trafficked. I heard of a refugee child, I think near Calais, who apparently said: “Does it mean that there will be no safe of getting to the UK after Brexit to join my family?” As Brexit has happened, he probably meant the transition period. Clearly he was concerned that, if there was no way of getting to join his family, he would be forced to do the dangerous thing of crossing the channel. I appreciate that the Minister quoted some numbers, but many of those have come as the result of trafficking. We want a safe and legal route so that children can come without the awful risk to their lives, a proper way of bringing them over without everybody arriving in Kent, which is a burden on the local authorities. However, I am sure that we will scrutinise the Minister’s words very carefully. They will be subject to forensic analysis, to see what the Government are saying.
The Minister did not say that she would publish the guidance but that it would be updated. One argument in favour of publishing it is that the Immigration Rules give officials a lot of discretion, and a concern underlying my amendment is that this discretion has in the past been used against the interests of refugee children. If the guidance ensures what I believe is the main aim of this debate—that no child should be disadvantaged through the ending of the Dublin regulation—then we are there. If the Minister can only assure me that the guidance will be published and that, while it cannot guarantee it in every case, it will aim to ensure that no child will be disadvantaged, I would be persuaded. Can the Minister comment in the middle of my speech?
I am quite happy to speak now if the noble Lord will take the intervention. He and I spoke last night, when he asked me for that commitment that no child be disadvantaged. Clearly, I cannot speak on every single case that may or may not happen. As I told him last night, I would be lying if I said that I could make a judgment on every case. I hope that I have outlined clearly—although I start to doubt myself, given that some noble Lords have come back on it—that there are clear routes and humanitarian grounds on which we can accept children. Therefore, I hope that through the commitments that I have made to him today, any person who has applied under Dublin will have a route open to them, as long as the sponsor has the relevant status. I hope that that comforts the noble Lord.
I am grateful to the Minister. We had three conversations yesterday, and I recall her saying that. I take the point, but my niggle or concern is that the interpretation of Immigration Rules will still be with officials, who may not be as generous in their attitude as the Minister is. That is why I am keen to see the guidance. If the officials are going to interpret the Immigration Rules for this interim period in the same spirit as the Minister has addressed the House today, I can rest content.
I am delighted that the Minister said that the vulnerable persons refugee scheme will be revived, as that was a very good scheme as well. If the Minister’s assurance is to be accepted by me—and I think I will accept it—I do so on the understanding that the House will carefully scrutinise what happens, that we shall raise individual cases where we feel that the assurances have not been acted upon, and that we will look to the review and the future legislation—there is another Bill coming next year—to have further scrutiny of the arrangements for unaccompanied child refugees. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.
Motion A agreed.
Consideration of Lords message
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendment 4B. If Lords amendment 4B is agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
Lords message considered forthwith (Programme Order, 19 October).
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4B.
Lords amendment 4B relates to family reunion and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I am sure that hon. Members will have in mind the tragic events in the channel last week. Let me reiterate very firmly that the Government are determined to end these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings to ensure that lives are not lost and that ruthless criminal gangs no longer profit from this criminal activity.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently announced at the Conservative party conference, we intend to reform our broken asylum system to make it firm but fair. We intend to bring forward legislation next year to deliver this, allowing for a wider debate on the subject. Our reformed system will be fair and compassionate towards those who need our help by welcoming people through safe and legal routes. It will also be firm and stand up for the law-abiding majority by stopping the abuse of the system by those who raise no founded claims through protected routes but do so purely to frustrate the implementation of our immigration law and procedure.
Let me reassure hon. Members that the Government remain committed to the principle of family unity and to supporting vulnerable children. We have a very proud record of providing safety to those who need it through our asylum system and world-leading resettlement schemes, and we are determined that that continues. We have granted protection and other leave to more than 44,000 children seeking protection since 2010. The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe, receiving more claims than any EU member state in 2019, and 20% of all claims made in the EU are in the UK.
The Government understand the importance of this issue, and it is right that we continue to debate it. Lords amendment 4B is well-intentioned in seeking to ensure that adequate protection is in place for vulnerable asylum-seeking children. However, we have made a credible and serious offer to the EU on new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. It remains our goal to negotiate such an agreement. As my noble Friend Baroness Williams announced in the other place on 21 October, in the event of no negotiated outcome, we will pursue bilateral negotiations on post-transition migration issues with mutual interest countries, including on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Government policy has not changed on this matter.
However, it is worth noting that the UK already provides safe and legal routes for people to join family members in the UK through our existing immigration rules, all of which are unaffected by our exit from the EU, as they apply globally. In the year ending June 2020, the Government issued 6,320 refugee family reunion visas and have issued more than 29,000 in the last five years. This shows that our existing refugee family reunion routes are working well, and these routes will continue to apply, including to people in the EU, after the transition period. Our resettlement schemes were the largest in Europe over the last five years, directly resettling more than 25,000 people from regions of conflict and instability, half of whom were children. During the debate in the other place on 21 October, the Government committed, as part of this vital work, to conduct a review of safe and legal routes into the UK, including those for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in EU member states to reunite with family members here in the United Kingdom.
The substantive amendment that the Government have tabled in lieu, amendment (a), makes important statutory commitments, demonstrating the Government’s assurances to review legal routes to the UK for people seeking protection in EU member states or seeking to come to the UK to make a protection claim, including for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to join their family members here in the United Kingdom; to publicly consult on legal routes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the EU seeking to join family members in the UK; to lay a statement before Parliament providing further details of that review and public consultation within three months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent; and to prepare a report on the outcome of the review, publish it and lay it before Parliament. Amendments (b) and (c) concern commencement of the commitment in amendment (a) to lay a statement before Parliament and specify that it will come into force within three months of Royal Assent.
I trust Members will agree that amendment (a) in lieu is substantial and clearly demonstrates how seriously this Government take the issue of family unity for vulnerable children. It is important that we consider these routes, to discourage vulnerable children from making the dangerous and illegal journeys that can result in the kind of tragedy we saw last week. Due to the scope of the Bill, amendment (a) refers only to legal routes for those who have made an application for international protection in an EU member state or are seeking to come to the UK from a member state to claim protection here. However, I can confirm that the review we conduct will be concerned with legal routes from all countries, not just EU member states. That is in line with our new global approach to the future immigration system and ensures that there is no advantage to making a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, often organised by criminal trafficking gangs. Those granted permission under these routes can instead travel safely—via scheduled air services, for example—to the United Kingdom.
The Minister tells us that the system is working well and that it would be dangerous to change it, and for that reason, the Government are not going to change it. What purpose is served by a consultation in those circumstances?
We are happy to look at a proper review of the rules. Our current rules apply alongside Dublin for those who are within the EU. We think it is appropriate to take stock, as we are doing with the rest of our migration system, as our arrangements fundamentally change with the European Union. We are happy to make the commitment to review them for the future; that is part of the general stock-take we are doing. It is not unreasonable to highlight our record on resettlement and this country’s commitments and the actions it has taken, compared with the commentary we sometimes hear. I am sorry to hear that the right hon. Member does not see a review of the rules as the way forward, but I am sure that he and his colleagues will look to proactively and positively engage with the discussion that this amendment and the review will engender.
It is now essential that the Bill receives Royal Assent without further delay if key elements of the Government’s future border and immigration system, including the new skilled workers routes as well as social security co-ordination, are to be implemented as planned. Further delay would put at risk the ending of free movement at the end of the transition period, which means the UK would effectively continue to have free movement, but unreciprocated by the European Union, into 2021. We cannot accept a delay to that key manifesto commitment. I therefore hope that, for all the reasons I have outlined today, the House will now support our amendments (a), (b) and (c) in lieu, and the statutory commitments they contain, and disagree with the Lords in their amendment 4B.
I want to start by thanking the Minister for taking the time earlier this week to explain the Government’s amendments in lieu, and for writing to me and others today with further details. Although we do not have a problem with the Government’s amendments—on the contrary, we welcome the opportunity to review all the safe and legal routes available to those fleeing war, torture or persecution and who have grounds to seek asylum in the UK—the review offered still falls a long way short of the commitment that we have asked for in Lords amendment 4B.
The review is a welcome addition to the Bill, but the fact that it is to be introduced through an amendment in lieu of ours makes it feel somewhat hollow by comparison. The Minister will be aware that support for our amendment in the only slightly varying drafts in the other place, spearheaded so ably by Lord Dubs, has resulted in two significant Government defeats, and efforts in the Commons have consistently had support from Members on his own Back Benches. I want to thank them for their work on this, not least the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). He and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), through their work on the Home Affairs Committee, have championed the merits of continuing the routes for unaccompanied child refugees.
We ask the Minister one more time to reflect on why adopting the Dubs amendment in its entirely is not just critical but time-critical. We debate the amendment today with 56 days to go until the Dublin regulations end, and with them the lifeline they offer, and we fall back on the immigration rules. We also debate the merits of our amendment, as the Minister has already said, in the shadow of such tragedy in the English channel this year. The sinking of just one of those insecure boats just last week resulted in the loss of life of four people, two of them children who were just six and nine. A further 15 people were taken to hospital, and three more are missing, presumed dead, including the 15-month-old baby of the Iranian Kurd family who died. It is a truly harrowing reminder that people are making more and more desperate decisions as this Government’s squeeze on safe and legal routes continues. It demonstrates that the morally bankrupt traffickers, who allow children and adults alike to get into their dangerous boats and set off to sea in bad weather, will continue to exploit people in the worst possible ways unless we reopen and continue those safe and legal alternatives, family reunion being one of them.
The deliberations and ping-pong between the two Houses on the matter of family reunion or the question of accepting unaccompanied child refugees should not be politically contentious. We are a decent and humanitarian country that takes seriously the requirement, enshrined in international law, to consider asylum claims and offer refuge to those fleeing persecution and destitution, and the Minister has rightly spoken of our country’s proud record on that.
When the House previously considered Lords amendments to the Bill, the Government rejected Lords amendment 4—the earlier version of this amendment—citing financial privilege, as is so often the parliamentary way. I am inclined to agree with Lord Dubs when he said:
“Given the time we spent on the issue and its importance, to say that the technicality of financial privilege is sufficient to dispose of it…falls short of being humanitarian”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 October 2020; Vol. 806, c. 1595.]
I heard the Minister’s contribution and read his letter earlier today, and it remains the Government’s goal to seek new arrangements with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied child refugees. However, when he responds, could he update the House further? We understand that the Commission simply does not have a mandate from the member states to enter into negotiations on this issue with the UK, so those talks simply cannot progress as things stand. With that in mind, the Minister will know that his review does not commit to continuing the route, and he has offered no substitute to bridge the gap between the European co-operation ending and the possible restart of routes or any new routes that result from his proposed review. The Government’s rhetoric on the anticipated sovereign borders Bill has not given us hope on that front, but if he is serious about finding a way forward and continuing the family reunion co-operation that we are currently committed to, I urge him to support the amendment.
The number of child refugees who have come to the UK throughout the history of the Dublin regulations has been far from overwhelming, but for those who have been able to use them, they have been life-changing. Between 2016 and 2018, after Dublin III introduced mandatory provisions, family reunions—both children and adults—to the UK were carried out at an average rate of 547 people annually. Come 1 January, those provisions will cease to exist. In fact, 25 councils around the UK are working with Safe Passage and have pledged more than 1,400 places for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe if the Government can provide a safe and legal route for them to come here.
Following the devastating fire at the Moria camp on Lesbos in September, my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary wrote to the Government, urging them to join Germany, France and others to offer refuge to just some of the children who have lost everything. The Greek Government have been appealing for help from other countries to assist in taking asylum-seeking children since last October. Thirteen countries, including Norway and Switzerland, which are not EU members, have joined the international effort, but the UK is yet to offer any assistance, and we are yet to receive a response to our letter.
Additionally, the Government have been keen to say that the immigration rules will be sufficient. The Minister knows that the immigration rules are not open to legislative scrutiny and are not amendable by parliamentarians, so we lose a range of protections when we revert to them. This amendment is our last chance to take the corrective action required before the Dublin regulations time out at the end of December.
According to Safe Passage, 95% of the young people and children it has supported through the Dublin III legal pathway would be unlikely to qualify under the immigration rules alone. The welfare and rights of child refugees should not rest precariously on the Government’s seemingly stagnant negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The Government have promised that talks on this matter will resume on a bilateral basis on post-transition migration issues with key countries with which we share a mutual interest. Without concrete alternative provisions in place, the fear is that a countdown on family reunion will be one more tactic used by smugglers to encourage people into their boats before 31 December.
The current situation in refugee camps is dire. There are more than 1,600 unaccompanied children on the Greek islands, and many do not have their basic needs met. Children on Samos have been sleeping on the floors of windowless containers or in derelict buildings, as the number of people has grown to 3,745 in a camp built to house 640 people. Refugee Youth Service reports that the youngest unaccompanied children currently known to them are just 11 years old. They are at extremely high risk of exploitation and violence.
The terms “unaccompanied child refugees” and “asylum seekers” are quite technical, but we are talking about children with no one who have had to flee their homes alone. We know that we can work together to alleviate some of that suffering quickly. In the midst of a global pandemic, when we are all at risk of a highly infectious and deadly virus, the cramped and destitute conditions that house—if it can be called that—most of those fleeing their homes are unimaginable to most of us. We implore the Government to respect this addition to the Bill, adopt Lord Dubs’s amendment 4B and allow those children, who have had some of the worst possible starts in life, to reach sanctuary in the UK.
I am going to call the Minister at 6.27 pm, and the questions will be put no later than 6.32 pm. There are a number of MPs on the call list, so please show some self-discipline in order that we can get in as many as we can.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 4B. I was disappointed to hear the Minister dismiss it as just well intentioned. I think it is absolutely essential. With just eight weeks to go before the Dublin arrangements for family reunion fall, we have had the tragic drownings in the channel recently; mercifully, but surprisingly, such cases are rare.
Here we go again. This is the last remaining amendment that has come back from the Lords, and it has done so with a vengeance. It was a big defeat for the Government in the other place, by 320 votes to 242. Lord Dubs has led the charge on this ably and eloquently over many months, and he spoke with huge passion. The debate in the other place was just about financial privilege; as he put it, that
“falls short of being humanitarian and falls short of respecting the opinions of this House.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 October 2020; Vol. 806, c. 1595.]
Many in this House think we must do better, and I find it extraordinary that the Government are still digging their heels in for the sake of about 500 highly vulnerable children.
The Government have produced their own amendment. I have no objection to it; it is perfectly innocuous. It commits to a review of safe and legal routes, and that is welcome. It is the least that can be expected, however, because it is what the Government have promised all along in the light of the welcome overhaul of the immigration system and the continued suspension or non-renewal of previous safe and legal routes. Simply adding the Government’s amendment to the Bill will not guarantee the replacement for the Dublin family reunion scheme that we have been promised for so long—despite the fact that, as the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) has said, there is no negotiating mandate from EU member states.
The amendment gives no timescale for when measures may be introduced, if they are to be. Neither does it give details about how extensive a replacement scheme may be, given that the Government’s separate refugee family reunion scheme is much more restrictive about family members who can reunite. Part 11 of the rules applies only to pre-flight children seeking to reunite primarily with parents, and provisions on reuniting with uncles or aunts, for example, are subject to very strict criteria and high evidential thresholds.
Let us look at those thresholds by considering the ability of a young teenage boy on the Greek islands to reunite with an aunt or uncle in the UK—a case that we raised with the Minister in the Home Affairs Committee this morning. The Minister made it sound as though that would be no problem, but it will not work in practice for most cases. That child would have to apply under rule 319X, which technically allows children to join uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings or any other family member who is not a parent and who has the refugee status of humanitarian protection. However, the requirements that have to be met are very onerous, and there are strict evidential requirements.
The child would be able to apply under 319X, but only if the uncle or aunt is a refugee, not if they are British or have other status, unlike in the Dublin regulations. The child can apply only if the uncle or aunt can maintain and accommodate them. That is a very high threshold, and it is much higher than the one in Dublin. The child can apply only if they can show that
“there are serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”—
that is a very high test that is hard to meet, and there is no such test under the Dublin regulations—
“and suitable arrangements have been made for the child’s care”.
The child can apply only if the uncle or aunt can afford the £388 fee to make the application. The uncle or aunt cannot be a refugee with indefinite leave to remain; they must only have limited leave to remain as a refugee. That is an absurdly high bar to meet, and I suspect the Minister knows it. Frankly, it is no substitute for the safe and legal routes that are available now, which have worked well and have been responsible for saving hundreds of highly vulnerable children.
That was the only alternative scheme that the Minister could offer the Home Affairs Committee this morning. He claimed that some 7,400 refugees—it fell to one of the officials to look this up on the computer in front of them—had been issued family reunion visas in the year to March 2020. But they are from outside the EU. The scheme is welcome, as is the fact that we have brought those people in. The Government are to be applauded for targeting some of the most vulnerable families and children, who are genuine refugees from some really dangerous parts of the world, and that has worked exceedingly well. They are all from outside the EU, however, so the scheme does absolutely nothing for the children we are talking about. As things stand, on 1 January 2021, an unaccompanied child in a squalid French refugee camp or on the streets of Italy, or any of the 1,600 unaccompanied children on the Greek island of Lesbos—where a refugee camp recently burned down, as the hon. Member for Halifax mentioned —or a child orphaned because their parents were killed by a bomb in Syria, by terrorists in Afghanistan, or by disease or famine in sub-Saharan Africa, will have no obvious mainstream means of applying to join a last remaining sibling, aunt, or other relative in the UK. Safe Passage, to which I pay great tribute for its work on this issue, says that some 40% of the cases that it supports in France are of siblings trying to reunite. That is the reality.
Given that, I am afraid that all the assurances given by the Minister at the Dispatch Box and at this morning’s session of the Home Affairs Committee pale into absolute insignificance and irrelevance. I have set out what the position will be on 1 January 2021, in eight weeks’ time, unless a deal is negotiated and agreed before then—and a deal on a Dublin replacement is not even being discussed at the moment.
I have asked previously for a serious replacement for Dublin III, and a Dubs 2 scheme; the previous Dubs scheme did an extraordinary job of rescuing 480 very vulnerable unaccompanied children from dangerous parts of the world. I ask the Government, as a last-ditch effort to show their good will and commitment to a practical scheme that we know works, to roll over the terms of Dublin, at least until a new scheme is in place. I also ask them to give the go-ahead to the more than 30 councils across the country that have offered places to over 1,400 refugees like these refugee children, and to provide the financing for that.
We are not talking about a huge number of children. We are, however, talking about some of the most vulnerable children, who find themselves in hopeless and dangerous circumstances through no fault of their own—the sort of children we have a proud record of helping, and the sort of children whom we helped through the Dublin scheme, and can continue to help if the Government will make this concession. The Lords amendments would achieve that. Let us not let those children down.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). We provide safe, legal routes so that fewer people feel compelled to try the more dangerous alternatives, with all the tragic consequences that they can entail, as we saw recently. The simple fact that should determine how we vote tonight is this: if the Government successfully resist Lord Dubs’s amendment, there will be fewer, not more, safe, legal routes for people from the start of January.
Bilateral agreements that might replace some features of Dublin are months, if not years, away. There is no prospect of a negotiated settlement with the EU on this issue by the end of December, so in just a few weeks, people who could previously have reunited with family members in the UK will not be able to. They will turn to people traffickers and smugglers instead, or attempt other dangerous crossings themselves.
The Minister has pointed to the domestic immigration rules on family reunion. While some who will lose rights under Dublin will be able to use those rules, very many will not. Those domestic rules are indeed very different from Dublin and more restricted in scope, and often include significantly more difficult legal tests and evidential hurdles, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham set out.
I think the Minister knows that the domestic rules are not a substitute for Dublin, so he pointed to the possibility of a review. I thank him for speaking to me about that earlier this week; we will engage constructively with that, but the offer of a review is too little, too late. It simply holds out the possibility that something might appear further down the line to fill the gap left by the loss of the Dublin rights. First, we should be sceptical about whether anything robust enough will ever appear. Even the Government’s proposal to the EU for a post-transition successor to Dublin was in reality a significant watering down of Dublin, under which children’s rights would be subject to the Government’s discretion and appeal rights would be abolished, while other individuals would lose their rights altogether.
Secondly, even if the Government were to come up with something acceptable down the line after this review, the gap between the start of January and that replacement appearing will be hugely damaging in itself. People are not going to wait to see what might happen. From January, with the safe Dublin route closed, more vulnerable people in Europe with family here in the UK will be tempted by and driven towards the traffickers and the dangerous routes. If the Government want a sensible compromise, and it has already been suggested a couple of times in this debate, at the very least they should offer to keep the Dublin routes open for now until the promised review takes place, and alternative proposals come forward and are approved.
Finally, can I ask the Minister the following about the review? Why is there not a date given by which the review has to be completed, and when do the Government intend that that review be completed? While public consultation on the position of unaccompanied children is welcome, will there be public consultation on the other aspects of the review and will the results be published? Moving to an issue already raised, why in his letter has the Minister written to tell us that the family reunion rules are already effective and fair before that review takes place, because many of us think the rules could be made significantly more fair? Fundamentally, what is the Government’s overall objective from this review? In particular, can he reaffirm that the Government are still committed, as they have said previously, to putting in place something that closely follows the Dublin rules?
We should continue to support family unity and protection of vulnerable children. The Lords amendment does that; the Government’s amendment in lieu does not.
This Lords amendment should not be a point of party political disagreement. I agree with every word that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said. He is a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee, and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) is also a member of the Select Committee. We may disagree on many things, but on this we are in strong agreement, as we are with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch).
When in the past we have helped child refugees, we have done so on a cross-party basis—be it, generations ago, with the Kindertransport or, in more recent years, with the Dubs amendment put forward by Lord Dubs, himself a child of the Kindertransport. We have done so with the investment through the aid budget supporting refugees across the regions, and with the resettlement scheme, which many of us called for and the Government rightly brought forward, to help many Syrian families restart their lives. The same principle should apply here as well.
We have always had cross-party agreement that we should do our bit to help children and teenagers who are alone with no one to look after them, and who have fled conflict and persecution but have family here in the UK who can care for them, put a roof over their head, try to make sure they get back into school, look after them and give them back a future. It is something that every one of us would want for our own families if we, for a moment, just think about walking in others’ shoes and about the awful plight of families in this situation, torn asunder by conflict or by persecution. I have teenage and adult children and, like so many of us, I would want them to be back together or to find others who could care for them from within our family if something terrible happened.
While the Government’s proposed review will, I hope, be important in looking at safe and legal routes to sanctuary, it is not an alternative to the Lords amendment. Reviews take time and consultation takes time. All of those things take time, and we do not know yet where it will end, but at the moment the rules change in January, and therefore it is not an alternative for the children and teenage refugees who may be in need of support to rejoin family now.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham set out clearly why the current rules do not suffice to provide that support, but Safe Passage provided us with the reason why there is so much at stake when it described the case of a 14-year-old teenage boy on the streets of Paris, whose brother is here. Safe Passage had worked with him to get him off the streets into secure accommodation, to get him support from social services and to get him into the legal process to apply to rejoin his adult brother, who is in Scotland. However, the boy and his brother became deeply anxious that the rules were about to change at the end of December, and he has now left that accommodation. He has absconded, and nobody knows where he is. The message he left behind said, “I have heard that the law will change. What will happen to me?” The huge risk is that he may now end up in the arms of people smugglers or people traffickers, trying to make a really dangerous journey. We have seen the consequences of those awful, dangerous journeys in flimsy boats, with lives having been lost so recently—children’s lives have been lost as well.
I urge the Minister to think again and go with the spirit of the things he told us this morning about wanting to be compassionate towards child and teenage refugees. I urge him to keep these provisions in place, to accept the Lords amendment and to recognise our continuing obligation to reunite desperate families. If he wants to look at this again once his review is in place, he will have done no further harm to those families in the meantime.
For the sake of these teenagers and young people, whose safety and lives may otherwise be at risk, I urge the Minister to accept the Lords amendment.
I very much welcome the Minister’s restating of the commitment to safe and legal routes, which we all recognise are critical to tackling the risks of trafficking. I also very much welcome the commitment to existing family reunion routes.
One issue that has not received enough attention in the debate around child refugees is the humanitarian issue of what happens to them after they arrive in this country. It is important that I ask the Minister to consider some of those wider implications, because they are enormously significant in making a decision about the UK’s attitude to so many of these questions. They are vital to our care system, to local authorities and, of course, to local communities, because the children and young people we are talking about in the context of this specific amendment and debate are a very small proportion of the number the UK is involved in supporting. Indeed, from 2015, we saw around a doubling of the annual number of unaccompanied children and young people coming into the care of local authorities in the United Kingdom under the terms of the Children Act 1989, partly as a result of the Government’s commitments, but also in recognition of the fact that determining the narrow legal status of a child refugee before they arrive here and ensuring that is sustained after their arrival is something with which this debate and the legislation struggle.
One of the big challenges I have always found, having worked with the noble Lord Dubs on these issues for some time, is that the idea that Dubs created a very specific route that opens up an opportunity often turns into an illusion for these children once they arrive,. I have personally come across many examples of young people who have been lined up to come here to be reunited with a family member only for it to transpire that the family member is in no position to care for them, and that young person is, in fact, simply being lined up to be taken into the United Kingdom care system. That, of course, is the ultimate destination for many unaccompanied child refugees, because that is what our legislation requires.
Although I very much agree with the points raised by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), we need to consider not that Dubs is unique in and of itself but that, actually, it concerns a very small, flexible and variable number within a much larger number of child refugees who are coming into the care of the United Kingdom.
When the Minister looks at the wider capacity picture, he should speak to the 30 councils that have come forward and said they would like to take Dubs children. He should ask them why they are not willing to make those places available to the large numbers of existing asylum-seeking children who are in the care of local authorities while looking for openings under the national transfer scheme. That would enable many of these children, many of whom may turn out to be Dubs eligible anyway, to move into the care of a local authority in a different part of the country. That is a critical question.
In conclusion, I welcome much of what the Minister said. I simply ask him to provide in his response a commitment on the future of global resettlement. We all recognise that this is a very small part of that much bigger picture. A clear commitment from the Government about when the scheme will commence and what its resourcing will look like would provide assurance of what the future framework is for so many vulnerable people around the world and maintain the UK’s reputation as providing a safe and honourable route to a safe haven for those who genuinely need it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds). I have heard him speak on this matter in the past, and he does so with clarity and some experience and authority. Of course, he is right to bring these problems to the attention of the House. I would observe in passing, however, that the problems he highlights are, relative to the problems we will have if we remove the Dublin scheme, easy problems to have. The state, as we all know, is not a good parent. We have seen that not just in relation to refugees, but in relation to our own constituents. Frankly, however, those are problems that can be solved when you have used the safe legal route to get children here. That is really what is at stake here.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) was absolutely forensic and clinical in his dissection of the Government’s policy and response. It was an absolute masterclass that should be played to future generations of new Members. He is absolutely right. He laid bare the paucity of the position the Government have taken for reasons that I still fail to understand. The Minister said we would doubtless engage proactively with the consultation he referred to. Of course, he is absolutely right. We will do that. My colleagues and I will never pass up an opportunity to put the case for the creation of safe and legal routes. However, it is no substitute for the House now stepping up to the plate and meeting its obligations and responsibilities, moral and legal, in providing those safe and legal routes.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Select Committee, said that we should walk in the shoes of those who find themselves in this position. She is absolutely right about that. I do not know if I am the only person in the Chamber at the moment who has ever gone to sea in November in a gale. Having been born and brought up on Islay and representing Orkney and Shetland, it is just part of what you do. It is absolutely terrifying. Being at sea when a gale blows up is absolutely terrifying. I remember one occasion waiting on a pier to go on a ferry with my own children. I decided I would not take them. It was a modern ferry. It was well-equipped and would have had every rescue availability if something had gone wrong. It was a ferry that would only go to sea because it had a responsible captain who felt it was safe to do so. But I was not going to put my children through that, because they were young and they would have been terrified.
So how bad have things got to be before any parent would consider the possibility of going to sea at this time of year, knowing the possible consequences that we saw in the channel so very recently? That is what at stake here. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is absolutely right. We should put ourselves in the position of those who find themselves in that position. If we do, the Dubs amendment looks like a very modest proposal indeed.
Rasoul Iran- Nejad, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, their daughter Anita, eight, their son Armin, six, and their 15-month-old baby, Artin—just the latest people to have lost their lives attempting an unsafe passage across the English channel. They are real people, not just a statistic. The Institute of Race Relations research found that 292 people have lost their lives crossing the channel to the UK since 1999, with the numbers steadily increasing since 2013. Those statistics are tragic enough, but behind each one lies the story of a human being so desperate to escape war, famine, destitution or persecution that they will take unimaginable risks to reach what they believe will allow them security and a safe life. It is not enough to express sadness, or thoughts and prayers as the Home Secretary did, because actions speak much louder than words.
At the same time, we read reports that the Home Secretary was considering ideas such as putting obstacles in the channel, linking boats to create a barricade, and fitting vessels with pumps to generate waves to force dinghies back into French waters. There was the much-publicised proposal to construct offshore migrant centres thousands of miles away on Ascension Island—a proposal that has still not been ruled out by the Government—and the demonisation of lawyers who offer support to migrants as “activist lawyers”, leading to attacks on them. That is the logic of the policy introduced by the Government in 2012
“to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.
Not only is it not illegal to seek asylum in this country, but we cannot ignore the fact that many of those asylum seekers are fleeing the devastating consequences of wars in which we as a country have participated directly or indirectly. They are desperate enough to put their lives in the hands of traffickers who exploit their vulnerability, but they should not pay for that exploitation with their lives, as the 39 Vietnamese asylum seekers did last year.
I will not be the only MP in the Chamber whose largest caseload comes from asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Yemen—countries that, through war, have destroyed the homes and lives of their citizens and left them destitute. If those people safely reach the UK, they face extensive delays in processing their applications, are housed in the worst conditions and are denied access to work or to public funds. The system leaves them vulnerable and without dignity, support or certainty. We need to return to the tolerant and humane society that we prided ourselves on being. We urgently need to protect family reunion and safe and legal routes for refugees, especially unaccompanied children. That is why I urge the House to support Lords amendment 4.
Order. Before I call Tim Farron, I would like to say that at 6.27 pm and no later, the Minister will be up on his feet. You know that Jim Shannon is on the list and it would be nice if you could at least ensure that he is able to make a contribution.
It is a pleasure to follow so many well-informed, logical and compassionate speeches in this important debate. In the Home Secretary’s party conference speech a few weeks ago, she talked about the vast importance of refugees using legal routes to come to the UK. I think all hon. Members present agree and all—or most—are bemused as to why she would close off a route such as this, which is relatively modest, as has been said.
The ire that is focused on criminal gangs is absolutely justified, but we push people into the arms of those criminal gangs if we close off safe and legal routes. Wherever the negotiations with the EU end up, the chances are that we will need to bring in our own domestic policy that offers young people and families the opportunity to be reunited on these shores.
I will make four quick points. First, the numbers are few. The reaction of some newspapers, and from the mouths of some Ministers and others, is a colossal overreaction to the numbers of people actually travelling. Yes, it is more than we would want—it is a sign of something utterly heartbreaking—but we are not talking about the tens or hundreds of thousands that some of us have seen in south-eastern Europe over the last few years. The numbers are few, so let us not overreact with the sabre-rattling rhetoric that we sometimes hear from the Government and the Conservative party.
Secondly, the stakes are high, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) encapsulated. I remember being on the shores of Lesbos a few years ago as a boat came in, and talking to a family afterwards—a five-year-old girl, three-year-old girl, mum and dad. The dad ran a garage in Syria and the mum was a nursery schoolteacher. They were relatively comfortable, but they took a colossal and unspeakable risk, because staying was more risky. The stakes are high, so how dare we put barriers in their way?
Thirdly, the objections are poor. I often hear people talk about the pull factor, but there is a push factor, for pity’s sake. Those people will try to find a way to our shores by a safe and legal way, or by utterly brutal and dangerous ways, unless we provide those safe routes.
Finally, this is not worthy of us. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) rightly talked about our national character. I think it was a couple of days ago that Sir Ben Helfgott was honoured in the Pride of Britain awards. I am massively proud of Ben Helfgott because he is one of the 300 Windermere boys. There were 300 young people—mostly children—rescued from the death camps after the end of the second world war who came here and were resettled literally on the shores of Lake Windermere. They were accepted, brought back into some kind of civilised existence and set on their way, and they achieved wonderful things like Ben did. That is the Britain that I know and love. Accepting refugees from Uganda, from Kosovo—that is what makes Britain Britain. It is just beneath us to be finding reasons and excuses not to say yes to the entirely reasonable Lords amendment that provides a safe and legal route for family reunion, and prevents people from being pushed into the arms of dangerous criminal gangs.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for gently asking the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) to leave time for me to speak; I thank the hon. Gentleman for doing so. I will take no more time than anybody else. I also thank the Minister for the discussions that he has had with the Democratic Unionist party, particularly with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who said that they were very useful.
I have concerns about the long-term detention of mentally ill people, who would be vulnerable detainees. Will the Minister outline in his response how he believes the Bill addresses the deficiencies highlighted in the troubling cases of ASK and MDA in 2019? I am sorry that I did not have the chance to give the Minister these notes in advance; I intended to do so, but overlooked it. Concerns have been expressed to me that at-risk adults do not have sufficient protection, and everyone who has spoken has highlighted the importance of full protection, which is even more necessary for vulnerable people.
Like other hon. Members, I have some concern about children who have lost parents—children who are in France, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) mentioned, with a relative in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that those families can be reunited; we should be trying to do that.
The Minister and I have talked on many occasions about immigration issues and the rights of European economic area nationals to come over here to work on fishing boats. I understand that the issue is not for this Bill, but the Minister indicated some time ago that we would have a meeting. In fact, if it had not have been for covid-19, we would have had that meeting in Portavogie in my constituency of Strangford over Easter. I feel very strongly about the issue and want to make sure that it is on the Minister’s horizon. I know that he was keen to have that meeting. I was also very keen, along with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and other Members who wanted to address the same issue, which is why I wanted to put it on the record again.
Let me quickly mention another issue. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. We have asked the Minister and the Government to consider allocating a proportion of places to people who are fleeing countries in, for example, the middle east. I am thinking of Christians from Syria, Iran and Iraq. I would like to see whether it is possible to specify a percentage who could come to the United Kingdom. I thank the Minister and the Government for the relocation of some Syrian refugees, who were able to integrate into my constituency of Strangford. They came in from Syria with absolutely nothing—some were not even able to speak the language—and the whole community came together to ensure that they were looked after, including the Housing Executive, church groups, community groups and everyone else. That is a lovely example of how things can work. The Government enabled it to happen, and I thank them for that. However, there are other Christians and Christian families who, I believe, should have the opportunity to come and relocate here as well.
A nation is marked by its compassion for others. Every one of us in this Chamber for this debate, including the Minister, wants to see that compassion used in the legislation to ensure that those who our hearts burn for are able to come here.
It is always a pleasure to follow my good friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and to reflect on his comments. It would be a bit out of scope for me to get on to fishing, but I recognise his campaigning on freedom of religious belief. He raises again the points we make about the challenges that are still faced globally by those fleeing persecution, merely because they express the same faith that he and I, and many in this Chamber, share. He also talked about how those who relocated from Syria or the region had resettled and been integrated into life in Strangford, with excellent support, I am sure.
That brings me on to the interesting speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds). I know he has long engaged with this issue, both since his arrival here and, crucially, beforehand, through his work as a councillor and through the Local Government Association. His reflections were interesting, particularly when he made the point about offers being mentioned, and asked why were they not actually made, in order to support Kent? Also, when we hear about offers being made in Europe, I think that it reveals the differences in the debate. The Government’s view is that now that we have left the European Union and the transition period is coming to an end, we are moving away in our wider immigration system from the idea of a two-tier approach to non-EEA and EEA. Why not offer places as part of our resettlement programmes more generally or offer them up to those coming straight from the region? This is one of the reasons why I have had very interesting conversations with the Lord Bishop of Durham about the idea of talent beyond borders, looking at how we can open some of our economic migration routes for those who are skilled migrants—who have skills and abilities—who are currently in camps in the region and have been identified as potentially even having skills that are in shortage in this country.
That is where the core of the discussion goes. We have left the European Union. Is it really sensible to carry on in a system that will replicate a unilateral system that effectively applies only to those who are in a collection of safe and democratic countries that we have now left? Yes, negotiations are ongoing. It would probably not be right for me to give a blow-by-blow account at the Dispatch Box. As we have said, if we cannot achieve a reciprocal agreement with the whole European Union, based on the generous offer that we made earlier this year, we will look to talk to individual countries within the European Union where there is a mutual interest in having an arrangement between us both.
Let me turn to why the Government will not and cannot accept Lords amendment 4B. Part of it requires the Government to lay a strategy for the relocation of unaccompanied children from Europe. Again, this would be rather difficult to deliver and is very broad in scope. My hon. Friend touched on this. Local authorities are already caring for over 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—146% more than in 2014—and any move in a policy sense has to be balanced in terms of ensuring what offers are made locally. My local council, not controlled by my party, wrote to me earlier this year saying that we should be doing more for refugees across the world in resettlement, particularly in Europe. I asked them, “What was their offer?” Answer: nothing—after quite a bit of chasing about places. We do need to ensure that what we are offering up is backed up, when people arrive here, by resources and an ability to make a life here.
The amendment in lieu sets out a clear path for a review of our migration rules and is about creating safe and legal routes, including from the region directly. This is not just about avoiding a dangerous trip across the channel; it is about avoiding it and having no reason for a dangerous trip across the Mediterranean as well. That is why I am proud that we are one of the global leaders in resettlement and proud of the record that we have as a nation. When we do this review, we will take forward that reputation and ensure that we have a functioning system, but this time based on our having a global set of migration rules and not on a system that we were part of due to being a part of the EEA.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4B.
Lords amendment 4B disagreed to.
More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the proceedings were interrupted (Order, 19 October).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 4B.
1A: Because Skills for Care and the Migration Advisory Committee already have the remit to report on matters relating to social care and the immigration system.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to move Motion A1.
In the Commons on Monday, the Government chose to describe your Lordships’ amendment calling for an independent report on the impact of the end of free movement on the social care sector as “well intentioned”, but went on to claim that it was “unnecessary”—
My Lords, if I may intervene, I was going to give a speech. Would the noble Lord bear with me while I speak?
I did call the Minister, but she sat down, so I presumed she had finished. No? Baroness Williams of Trafford.
I was very politely waiting to be asked, then the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, came in. Shall we start again?
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will turn to Motion A, Amendment 1, and Amendment 1B in lieu, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which would require the Secretary of State to publish an independent report on the impacts of ending free movement on the social care sector. I start by acknowledging the work of noble Lords in the scrutiny of this important Bill, which ends free movement between the EU and the UK, and the passion and commitment with which your Lordships have spoken on a number of issues. We have debated many issues, and although there are some areas on which we may still disagree, I always come back to the focus of this Bill: ending free movement and delivering on the Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce a firmer, fairer points-based immigration system.
Amendment 1B requires the Secretary of State to publish the response to the independent assessment within two months of publication and make a statement to Parliament within seven sitting days of publishing the response. I recognise the good intentions behind Amendment 1, but the other place disagreed to it because independent reporting already exists in this area through Skills for Care and the Migration Advisory Committee. The Government remain committed to improving social care, focusing on increased funding and training opportunities and improved recruitment practices. I will reflect further on a few related points.
The Department of Health and Social Care funds Skills for Care to deliver a wide range of activity to support the Government’s priorities for the social care sector. This includes programmes to support employers and the workforce with skills development, promote and support recruitment into the sector and support leadership development. The DHSC’s funding also supports the development of Skills for Care’s adult social care workforce data system, which forms the national minimum dataset for social care. Skills for Care publishes two annual reports: on the size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England, and the state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England. In addition, Skills for Care makes available national and regional data through its website. The DHSC uses the data produced by Skills for Care, and the trends identified, to inform its policy development to support the adult social care sector to recruit, train and develop its workforce.
As I have said, the independent Migration Advisory Committee now has an expanded remit to examine any aspect of the immigration system and provide annual reports. The Government continue to reiterate their continued commitment to keeping all policies, including the skilled worker route, under review. The MAC is a world-class independent body and has the means and the will to ensure that the views of interested stakeholders and users of the system are fully considered. In doing so, the MAC’s consideration always goes beyond its core economic expertise.
Noble Lords will have heard me say a number of times during the passage of this Bill that the immigration system is not the solution to all issues in the social care sector and we must not continue to rely on migrants coming to the UK when the domestic workforce can help to address shortages. Training, recruitment, and retention of staff are the key; we must ensure that these essential workers feel valued. That is why the Government are focused on working alongside the sector, including through Skills for Care, to develop new career pathways within the sector and ensure that the workforce can meet the increasing demands and continue to deliver quality compassionate care. It is also why the Government are committing record funding and investment.
Under the UK’s new points-based system, as is now the case, there will be routes for people with general work rights, such as dependants, those joining family or those on youth mobility visas, who may choose to work in the social care sector. I have made this point before, but even with free movement between the EU and the UK, the majority of workers in the social care sector are British citizens, which we must continue to encourage, and non-EEA citizens outnumber EEA citizens, without a specific immigration route. We also intend to review which occupations are eligible for the health and care visa, expanding its remit and benefiting more main applicants and their family members.
Noble Lords will see from what I have said that there is already independent reporting on social care. However, I am prepared to go further and commit today that we will agree to publish an independent assessment of the impact of ending free movement, which will comprehensively cover the impact on the social care sector, within six months of this Bill being passed. We therefore believe that Amendment 1B is unnecessary, although it is very well intentioned. However, I would like to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, how we take this forward to ensure that we get the detail right, strike the correct level of scrutiny and clarify some of the definitions that he uses. As the noble Lord has requested, I am happy to give a commitment to carry out the terms of his amendment. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will not insist on his amendment or divide the House on Motion A1.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
1B: Insert the following new Clause—
“Impact of section 1 on the social care sector
(1) The Secretary of State must commission and publish an independent assessment of the impact of section 1, and Schedule 1, on the social care sector within six months of this Act being passed.
(2) The Secretary of State must appoint an independent Chair to conduct the assessment.
(3) The assessment must consider the impact of provisions in section 1, and Schedule 1, on—
(a) the social care workforce
(b) available visa routes for social care workers;
(c) long-term consequences for workforce recruitment, training and employee terms and conditions; and
(d) such other relevant matters as the independent Chair deems appropri-ate.
(4) A copy of the independent assessment must be laid before both Houses of Parliament within fourteen days of its publishing date.
(5) The Secretary of State must publish a response to the independent assessment within two months of its publishing date.
(6) The Secretary of State must make a statement to Parliament within seven sitting days of publishing the response under subsection (5).””
I thank the Minister for what she has just said about my amendment, which started off life in Committee, being moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, albeit not with exactly the same words. As I understand it from what the Minister has just said, the Government are not prepared to accept the amendment to the Bill but are giving a commitment to carry out the terms of the amendment in full, and that must, therefore, include the timescales laid down in it. If that is the case—and the Minister gave a commitment to carry out the terms of my amendment—then I will not seek pursue my Motion to a vote.
I note that the Minister said that she wished to discuss with me how we ensure—I I think that was what she said—that we get the detail right, and, of course, I am happy to do that within the context of the Government having committed to carry out the terms of my amendment in full, including the timescales laid down in it. I do not think I misheard what the Minister said: I certainly heard the phrase “give a commitment to carry out the terms of his amendment” being used with no caveats added. Therefore, on the basis that the Government are committing themselves to carry out the terms of my amendment in full, then I would be prepared to withdraw my Motion when the time comes.
However, I would like to add one further comment. Within the terms of the amendment, it is, of course, left to the Government to decide who will undertake the
“independent assessment of the impact of section 1, and Schedule 1, on the social care sector”.
These relate to the ending of free movement. From what the Minister has said, I suspect that a candidate will be the Migration Advisory Committee, whose views on even the single issue of funding social care for higher wages have been ignored “for some years”, to use the MAC’s words. That does not suggest that it is a body whose views on that issue carry much weight with the Government. It will be vital for the independent assessment to have a significant and meaningful input from people of influence who understand fully the way in which the social care sector functions and the constraints under which it operates. Although it is a matter for the Government, I hope they will ensure that that vital, significant and meaningful input occurs.
On the basis that I have understood clearly what the Minister has said on behalf of the Government—namely, that she has made a commitment to carry out the terms of my amendment, and that this must be in full because there were no caveats added—then I would be prepared not seek to pursue the matter to get it written into the Bill. I beg to move.
The following Member in the Chamber has indicated that he wishes to speak: the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
I thank the Minister for her response this afternoon and her agreement that an independent assessment would be undertaken. I endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Rosser. At the end of the day, whatever the worthy work of Skills for Care has been and whatever the recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee, we have a big problem with the social care sector in relation to the workforce challenges. The intention that, basically, most care workers cannot meet the criteria in the new health and care visa means that, from the beginning of next year, further pressure will be leant upon the sector.
Given that the sector is almost totally dependent either on government funding or on self-funders—who are already hugely overstretched because they sometimes pay more than £1,000 a week for their care—this will not be solved simply by saying that we can rely on the UK population. There will have to be an injection of resources; this is inescapable. In thanking the Minister, which I do very much, for her response this afternoon, I remind the House that the social care sector faces many huge challenges, and, in the end, the Government are going to have to come up with the necessary if we are going to get it out of the problems that it now faces.
Does anyone in the Chamber wish to speak? We have not received any requests as yet. Does the Minister wish to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt? No? Then I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
I am, of course, pleased to hear the Government’s decision on this. From and on behalf of our Benches, I added my name to the previous versions of this amendment. The point has been made throughout the Bill that the amendment is unnecessary, but, given that its proposers have kept on pressing, clearly they have not been satisfied. This is good news, but one always has to think around the subject, and I wonder what the correct level of scrutiny is. To me, it involves stakeholders very widely and the context for consideration of a proposal, which, in this case has to be more than just the immigration provisions which may apply. One thing on which I agreed with the Commons and with others who have spoken is that the social care crisis cannot be solved through immigration alone: it is much wider than that.
The correct level of scrutiny involves the organisation being scrutinised—in this case, the Government and their proposals—not being committed to its initial proposition but being prepared to listen to the responses. We are always faced with statutory instruments where there is no possibility of making a change. It would be tragic—I do not think that is putting it too highly—if the opportunity is not taken on this occasion to adopt a much more open-minded practice. Having said that, I welcome what the Minister has said.
I apologise to noble Lords; I keep wanting to pop up at the wrong time during this debate. However, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this part. First, I come to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and absolutely commit to the timescales set out in his amendment. He asked, with a certain degree of cynicism, I think, who will carry it out and suggested the Migration Advisory Committee. It must be a hot contender for it, but I take his point about the skills of the people who carry it out.
When settling on the proposals for the new points-based system, we did not do it in isolation; we conducted an extensive programme of engagement with stakeholders— as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, alluded to—across the whole of the UK, including in the social care sector, listening to people’s concerns and hearing about the unique challenges they face.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have in different ways pinpointed that the workforce challenges are not single silver-bullet issues—they will not be solved by continuing along the trajectory of low pay. It is incumbent on employers in what has been, throughout the last few months and years, a very valued occupation not to continue to rely on low-paid workers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, social care cannot be solved just by immigration; progress needs to be made with a whole plethora of interventions in this area of a much-needed, well-respected and very much appreciated workforce.
In the light of what the Minister has said, which I appreciate and welcome, I shall withdraw my Motion. Obviously, I do so on the basis of the Government having given a commitment to carry out the terms of my Amendment 1B in full. I am happy to participate in the further discussions which the Minister has said she wishes to have with me, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.
Motion A agreed.
2A: Because the Commons consider it appropriate to ensure equal treatment of family members of all UK nationals under the immigration system.
My Lords, Amendment 2, in its previous form, was also disagreed to in the other place. It seeks to continue certain family reunion arrangements provided by EU law—the so-called Surinder Singh route.
Amendment 2B, tabled in lieu by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require the Government to provide the right for British citizens resident in the EEA or Switzerland by the end of the transition period to return to the UK accompanied, or joined, by their non-British close family members on current EU free movement law terms until 31 December 2040—that is, for a period of 20 years from the end of the transition period. They would retain preferential family reunion rights for that period. For the next 20 years, family members of British citizens living in the EEA or Switzerland would continue not to be subject to the same Immigration Rules as family members of other British citizens. This would perpetuate a lack of parity, which the Government cannot accept.
Family members of British citizens resident in the EEA or Switzerland at the end of the transition period are not protected by the withdrawal agreements in terms of returning to the UK, but we have made reasonable transitional arrangements for them. British citizens living in the EEA or Switzerland will have until 29 March 2022 to bring their existing close family members—a spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner in a long-term relationship, child or dependent parent—to the UK on EU law terms. The family relationship must have existed before the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, unless the child was born or adopted after that date, and must continue to exist when the family member seeks to come to the UK. Those family members will also then be eligible to apply to remain in the UK under the EU settlement scheme.
Family members will be able to come to the UK after 29 March 2022 but will then need to meet the requirements of the family Immigration Rules. Those rules apply to the family members of other British citizens, irrespective of where they come from, and reflect the public interest in preventing burdens on the taxpayer and promoting integration. This is a fair and balanced policy. It was announced on 4 April 2019, so those affected will have had almost three years to decide whether they wish to return to the UK by 29 March 2022 on current EU law terms and, if they do, to make plans to do so.
The Government’s approach strikes the right balance between providing sufficient time for British citizens and their family members living in the EEA or Switzerland to make decisions and plans for returning to the UK, and ensuring equal treatment of the family members of British citizens under the Immigration Rules as soon as is reasonably possible once free movement has ended. We must be fair to other British citizens, whether they are living overseas or in the UK. The same rules should apply to all, not continue for the next 20 years to give preferential treatment to those relying on past free movement rights, which will have been abolished. That is what a fair global immigration system means.
I hope that noble Lords will not insist on their Amendment 2 or agree to Amendment 2B in lieu. I beg to move.
Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)
2B: Page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations made under subsection (1) must make provision to enable UK citizens falling within the personal scope of—
(a) the Withdrawal Agreement,
(b) the EEA EFTA separation agreement, or
(c) the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement,
to return to the United Kingdom before 31 December 2040 accompanied by, or to be joined in the United Kingdom before 31 December 2040 by, close family members.
(5B) Regulations under subsection (1) may not impose any conditions on the entry or residence of close family members of UK citizens which could not have been imposed under EU law relating to free movement, as on the day on which this Act comes into force.
(5C) For the purposes of subsection (5A)—“close family members” means—
(a) children (including adopted children), and
(b) other close family members where that relation subsisted on or before 31 January 2020 and has continued to subsist;
“Withdrawal Agreement”, “EEA EFTA separation agreement” and “Swiss citizens’ rights agreement” have the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 (interpretation).””
My Lords, I am moving an amendment similar to that moved at a previous stage but with a change to meet one of the points made against it.
It came as a shock to me to learn that there will be restrictions on, and conditions applying to, a UK citizen wishing to return to the UK with a non-British family. In Committee, I asked what the Minister would advise a couple with elderly parents in both countries, for both of whom they wanted to care. This rather follows on from the previous amendment. Following that, I received many emails describing many, varied families affected. They all explained the anxiety they felt.
The minimum income requirement will apply, as the noble Baroness said, after March 2022 as it applies now to a UK citizen wishing to bring a non-UK—currently non-EEA—family to this country. I have always felt that the MIR is very harsh. It presents real difficulties, including as regards the spouse’s contribution to the household income. In the 21st century, most households are necessarily two-income households. In response to the point that these families should be treated the same as families that include non-EEA citizens, I say that it should not apply to them either, but that would not be within the scope of this Bill—although I would have liked to have taken that opportunity. Those families will, in very many cases, have been aware of the situation when the family unit was created.
I understand the Government’s concern that EEA citizens should be treated the same as citizens in the rest of the world after the end of free movement, but the situations are not exactly the same. When marriages were made and families created after we had acquired rights of free movement, who would have given a thought to what might happen if those rights ended, or indeed given thought to whether those rights might end? And who in the British military who met their spouse when they were serving abroad would have contemplated this situation? I do hope that the Secretary of State has read their letters.
The provision may not be retrospective in a technical sense, but in an everyday sense it is. This is not something that is widely understood, even now. The Government’s original proposal in June 2017 did not deal with the issue. As the noble Baroness said, the public announcement of the 2022 date came out in a paper in April 2019 and was presented as a concession. The paper said that the Government recognised that UK nationals needed certainty—this was after we were supposed to have left the EU.
I wondered whether I had missed something here, so I checked on what had been done, and when, to make people aware of the position. Had the Foreign and Commonwealth Office attempted to draw this to people’s attention? Had our embassies raised it in local town hall meetings abroad? One, rather dry, comment made to me was that, if these citizens had voting rights, the embassies would have been able to make direct contact with them. I understand that the targeted FCO campaigns have focused largely on rights in the host country, advising people to register and to change their driving licence, for instance.
On the “Living in France” and “Living in Italy” pages on GOV.UK, I clicked on “Ending your time living abroad” and, after a couple more clicks, found—because I was looking for it—“bringing your family”, which told me that a visa would be needed for them. One might easily stop there. Immigration rules required further clicks, and so on. I understand that all this is still coming as a surprise, and of course a shock, to those who happen to trip over it.
An EU citizen here now or by the end of this year can bring in family members—and quite right too. But is it not right for our own compatriots? This is discrimination against UK citizens. It is not as if what we propose would open any floodgates. It is self-limiting: no-one would qualify after free movement had ended; it is not a “perpetual” or “for ever” right, as it has been badged.
Criticism was made on Report that there was no cut-off date by which a UK national must return to the UK. Ministers say that three years gives a reasonable period to plan. This version of the amendment includes a cut-off date—deliberately long—of 20 years after the end of the transition period. By then, most of those affected, who will have formed settled relationships and families, are likely to be over 50 with parents of 70 or 80, so their families would be in a better position to know whether returning to the UK was likely to be necessary. The Minister in the Commons presented the 2022 date as reflecting a need
“to be fair to other British citizens”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/20; col. 804.]
as if there is something “other” about UK people who have married people from the EEA. He also said that the Government would keep the policy “under review”, so I would be grateful if the noble Baroness the Minister could expand on that today: when, how, with whom? She has described the policy as simple fairness. We disagree. What we are proposing is what I would describe as fair, and I will wish to test opinion of the House.
The following Members in the Chamber have indicated a wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates. I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.
My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has said. The Minister said that the arrangements that the Government have made are “reasonable”, but one has also to think of the reasonable expectation of British citizens who may have moved abroad, married, set up partnerships and had families with citizens from elsewhere in the EEA. They would have had no reason to suppose that the conditions and rules under which they did that would change—after all, the promise of a referendum in 2015 came somewhat out of the blue; it really was not expected. My noble friend’s amendment would accommodate fairly those reasonable expectations while meeting the Government’s apparent objection that they do not want a period which is unlimited.
The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 general election promised to legislate for “votes for life” for Britons living abroad. That has not happened, but, at the time, the Conservatives rejoiced at scrapping what they called the previous Labour Government’s “arbitrary” 15-year rule. I think that one could also describe the Government’s three-year rule in this scenario for UK citizens living in the EU as arbitrary.
Mr Chris Skidmore, who at the time was Minister for the Constitution, said:
“British citizens who move abroad remain a part of our democracy and it is important they have the ability to participate … Our expat community has an important role to play.”
One can deploy that statement in this context. These were valuable sentiments about Britons living abroad. I would transfer them to say that British citizens residing elsewhere in the EEA should have the right to participate not only politically but economically and socially in this country. To put them now in a quandary of having to decide by March 2022 what their family circumstances with parents and children could be in the decades ahead is an unnecessary, arbitrary and unreasonable imposition. Twenty years is a highly reasonable proposition.
The Conservative Party has long claimed to be the party of the family. Please can it demonstrate that it is the party of families of UK citizens who chose, in reasonable expectation of free movement rights continuing, to live and set up home and families with citizens from the rest of the EEA. They are now placed in extremely difficult and worrying circumstances. It is not fair play to them to do that. My noble friend has given the Government an opportunity to find a way a through this which preserves honour and fairness all round.
My Lords, I shall speak only briefly because my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford have comprehensively set out the injustices that will be visited on thousands of British citizens and their families if the Government’s policy stands. I shall make just two points.
First, the argument that to retain the existing rights of UK citizens with EEA spouses or families is somehow discriminatory or unfair as against UK citizens with non-EEA spouses has no merit. I speak as a UK citizen with a non-EEA spouse. When we made decisions about our lives, we did so in the knowledge and understanding of the rules at the time, just as UK citizens with EEA spouses made decisions about their lives on the basis of the rules at the time, which they could have had no reasonable expectation would change. The only way in which one could say that discrimination would occur would be if this amendment suggested that UK citizens forming relationships with EEA citizens going forward should be afforded different rights, but that is not what it says.
Secondly, yesterday, your Lordships’ House passed two amendments in lieu on agri-food standards. They were important and I was pleased to support them, but this amendment, I venture, is much more important, because it is about people’s lives. If it is not passed, huge misery will be inflicted on a large number of people. I do not think that we have really understood the level of suffering that will be inflicted. Frankly, it is wrong and heartless, and we should not allow it to stand.
We do not minimise the importance of this issue any more than we minimise the importance of any of the amendments and the issues they covered which this House sent to the Commons and which the Commons rejected. As has been said, British citizens who moved to other EU countries will lose the right they had to return to this country of birth with a non-British partner or child, perhaps to look after an ageing parent, unless they can meet financial conditions that will be beyond the reach of many. While British citizens who have moved to the EU or EEA before the end of 2020 will face these restrictions, EU citizens who have moved to the UK before the end of 2020 will not.
However, while this issue of the right for UK citizens to return with their family was referred to by some speakers during the Commons proceedings on Monday, it was not taken to a Division. This rather indicates that we have now taken this matter as far as we can at present, having sent it to the Commons once. For that reason we will abstain if Amendment 2B in lieu is taken to a vote. In the Commons on Monday, the Government said they would
“continue to keep this area under review”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/20; col. 804.]
We call on it to continue to look further at this issue, in which I declare a personal family interest, outside the Bill and well before the deadline date of 29 March 2022 for bringing existing close family members to the UK on current EU law terms.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I start with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who rightly points out that the Commons did not divide on this matter on Monday. We should remind ourselves that the British people voted to leave the EU in 2016; we are now four years on from that point.
I will answer the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee: of course we keep all legislation and policy under review, and we are assisted by MAC in that endeavour. We recognise that UK nationals who moved to the EU expected free movement rights to continue. That is why we have provided for these transitional arrangements, but we have to be fair to other UK nationals whether they live overseas, beyond the EU, or in the UK. The UK family Immigration Rules reflect the public interest in preventing burdens on the taxpayer and promoting integration. UK nationals protected by the withdrawal agreement because they are living in the EEA before the end of the transition period do, of course, have lifetime rights to be joined in their host state by existing close family members. This mirrors the rights of EEA citizens living in the UK by then.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, challenged me about the date of 29 March 2022 being arbitrary. It represents three years after the date when the UK was originally supposed to leave the EU. For me, it strikes the right balance between providing sufficient time for UK nationals and their family members living in the EEA or Switzerland to make decisions and plans for returning to the UK, and ensuring equal treatment of the family members of UK nationals under the Immigration Rules as soon as reasonably possible, once free movement to the UK has ended.
I am of course grateful to my noble friends who supported this amendment. I hope that I never give my noble friend Lady Ludford cause to look up what I have said in the past. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Oates, who—if you will—embodies the point I was making about the differences between those who married EU citizens, not knowing what was coming down the road, and those in his position.
I am disappointed in Labour’s response to this because it is a legislative opportunity to get this sorted quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I asked about keeping the policy under review, but it sounds from the Minister as if this is no more than the normal keeping of a policy under review: no detail, no particular plan, no timetable. What she said is not a reason not to pursue this amendment. As my noble friend says, this is not fair and I beg to test the opinion of the House.
Motion B agreed.
3A: Because local authorities are supporting children in care and those entitled to care leaving support to obtain UK immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
I ask that this House do not insist on its Amendments 3, 6, 7, 8 and 10, as set out in Motions C, F, G, H and K respectively, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 3A, 6A, 7A, 8A and 10A.
I will speak to Motion C on Lords Amendment 3, which provides for children in care and care leavers who lose their free movement rights under the Bill to obtain indefinite leave to remain—or settled status—under the EU settlement scheme where they apply to the scheme or a local authority does so on their behalf. This would be regardless of how long the child or young person had been in the UK. I will also address Motions F, G, H and K, covering Lords Amendments 6, 7, 8 and 10, which cover a time limit on detention.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be disappointed with me on the position taken by the other place on Lords Amendment 3, but I reassure him that the Government agree as to the importance of protecting the rights of children in care and care leavers and other vulnerable groups as we end free movement. The Home Office continues to provide extensive support to local authorities, which have relevant statutory responsibilities for this cohort, to ensure that these children and young people, like other vulnerable groups, get UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme. This includes the Settlement Resolution Centre, which is open seven days a week to assist local authorities with this work. It also includes grant funding over last year and this year of up to £17 million to organisations across the UK to support vulnerable groups in applying to the scheme. The number of organisations funded for this work has now been increased from 57 to 72.
A recent survey of local authorities by the Home Office has so far identified fewer than 4,000 children in care and care leavers eligible for the EU settlement scheme, with over 40% of these having already applied for status under the scheme. Most of those who have applied have already received an outcome of settled status. Local authorities are making good progress to identify and support relevant cases.
The Government have made it clear that, in line with the withdrawal agreements, where a person eligible for status under the EU settlement scheme has reasonable grounds for missing the 30 June 2021 deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. We have also made it clear that those reasonable grounds will include where a parent, guardian or local authority does not apply on behalf of a child. Therefore, if a child in care or a care leaver misses the deadline, they will still be able to obtain lawful status in the UK.
The Government are not therefore persuaded of the need for this amendment, which also presents some technical problems that the Government cannot accept. It effectively exempts this cohort from the suitability requirements of the scheme when there is absolutely no reason to do so. It also seeks to backdate the settled status granted following an application made after the 30 June 2021 deadline. This runs completely counter to the general operation of the Immigration Rules made under the Immigration Act 1971, under which status has effect from the date on which it is granted.
I hope noble Lords will agree that, while understanding and supporting the motivation behind this amendment, the House should not insist on this amendment.
I shall now address Motions F, G, H and K on Lords Amendments 6, 7, 8 and 10, which relate to introducing a detention time limit on EEA and Swiss citizens. Detention is a very important issue that merits debate, but it is not directly relevant to the purpose of this Bill, which is to end free movement. The central point of the Bill is a commitment to a global immigration system, and equal treatment of immigrants from all nationalities as we exit the transition period. These amendments seek to impose a time limit on detention only for EEA and Swiss citizens, which would lead to a discriminatory position for those who are not. It is important to acknowledge that the other place disagreed to the amendment for these reasons.
On the substance of the amendment, to impose a 28-day time limit on detention is not practical and would encourage and reward abuse. No European country has adopted anything close to a time limit as short as that which is proposed in these amendments, and countries such as Australia and Canada have not gone down this route at all. We need an immigration system which encourages compliance but, where people refuse to leave voluntarily, we must have the ability to enforce that removal. We do not detain indefinitely; there must always be a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable timescale, and this is a complex process that requires a case-specific assessment to be made for every single person for whom detention is considered.
A time limit would allow those who wish to frustrate the removal process to deliberately run down the clock until the time limit is reached and release is guaranteed. Under these amendments, any person in scope who is detained for 28 days will automatically be released, regardless of the facts of their case, including some foreign national offenders who present a genuine threat to public safety.
The Home Office operates a number of safeguards to review detention and prevent anyone entering detention who would otherwise comply with a removal from the community. Some 95% of people who are liable for removal from the UK are managed in the community while their cases are progressed. The detention gatekeeper and case progression panels are key operational safeguards. Where detention is deemed necessary, there is judicial oversight through bail applications to the tribunal, and the continuing detention of any individual remains under regular review by the Home Office.
Everyone in immigration detention is protected by these safeguards, which entitle them to apply for bail hearings at any point, to appeal against any refusal of asylum and to have access to legal representation. If we accept a 28-day time limit, it will enable these people to exploit the immigration system, making unmeritorious claims to avoid their removal. In the current immigration system, it is only in the most complex cases that detention exceeds 29 days. A time limit would cripple the function of the detention system, exposing it to abuse, undermining our capacity to enforce removals and potentially endangering public safety. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this amendment is not only unconnected with the main purpose of this Bill but unsupportable, and I urge them not to insist on this amendment, which would lead to unfair treatment between EEA and non-EEA citizens. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much regret the rejection of the clause to which your Lordships had agreed regarding children in care. The Minister said on a previous occasion that we were united on children in local authority care needing a secure status. But insisting on this being achieved for this cohort—and we all understand the difficulties—through the EU settled status scheme rather than on a declaratory basis seems to indicate that the Government are more concerned not to acknowledge that the scheme cannot perfectly deal with every situation rather than to acknowledge the special situation of these children and young people.
The Commons formal reason is that local authorities are supporting this cohort, and the Government are funding support. Well, good—but what do the Government have to lose? The Minister in the Commons said that the idea of applying such a provision retrospectively runs counter to the general operation of the Immigration Rules. But when it is not a tightening of the rules, I do not understand the comment—but there it is.
I also of course regret the rejection of applying a time limit to the detention of asylum seekers and others. The suite of amendments applies clear criteria for detention, and national security would disqualify a detainee from the time-limit provisions. I do not think that it is right to use the position of foreign national offenders as if all detainees were offenders. The amendments would also prevent cat-and-mouse redetention.
The great majority of detainees are released eventually into the community, but they do not know when this will be. Again, the Commons Minister said that it was not possible just to detain someone indefinitely “as such”. That misses the point that there is no time limit, and that means a loss of hope. For months, people in the UK whose lives are restricted to some extent have been saying that they need to know when all this will end, which is understandable—and there is something of a read-across.
The Commons formal reason is that there are already procedural safeguards to ensure the lawfulness of the period of detention. They work so well that, as my right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael observed, £7 million in compensation was paid out last year for 272 cases of wrongful detention.
But I can at least use this opportunity to say how much we welcome the Court of Appeal’s judgment today quashing the judicial review and injunctions policy on the application of medical justice, with the intervention of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the good work of the Public Law Project—not, if I have the Minister’s word correctly, an “unmeritorious” application.
We shall not pursue this matter today, but we will be back soon on the issue, because it is a matter of fairness and humanity.
My Lords, the decisions taken by the other place on all these issues are most disappointing. I thought my noble friend Lord Dubs made a convincing case, but sadly it was not listened to in the other place, as is so often the case now. I hope the Government will take a constructive attitude in working with local authorities to protect vulnerable children. Many local authorities have considerable pressures on them in terms of looking after children in care, and I hope the noble Baroness will confirm that there is a positive attitude from the Government to address these concerns, even if they are not prepared to accept my noble friend’s amendment today.
I note the comment—the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also made the point—that the other Motions in this group make reference to all these dangerous criminals who would potentially be released into the public. I think we have to accept that the people we are talking about here are vulnerable people, and that if there are people who are dangerous criminals, there are other procedures to deal with them. We should not be wrapping people up like that: these are vulnerable people who need our help and support. There is an issue about people being locked up in detention when they have done nothing wrong and not knowing when they will get their release date.
The noble Baroness may well say that they are normally released into the community. That is obviously really good news, but if you are locked up in a cell or in a detention centre and you do not know when you will be released, the fact that you will be released at some point in the future may not be a huge comfort to you. Again, we are not going to pursue these issues any further today, but the fact that the Government rely on those arguments underlines the weakness of their case in this respect. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that we will return to these issues at a later date, but we will not be pressing any of them today.
I thank noble Lords for their comments. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, initially challenged me on what the Government have to lose. It is not really about what the Government have to lose; it is a demonstration that, throughout this process, we have constantly articulated just what the Government are doing to ensure that children in care, or other vulnerable people, are able to register for the EU settlement scheme. We have put in quite a lot of resource to ensure that that happens. We have increased the number of organisations helping in this regard from 57 to 72 and we will put significant funding in place to ensure that people eligible to apply do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that we are acting as though all detainees are offenders, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about the number of people detained who are vulnerable. In fact, a snapshot of offenders from the EU detained at the end of March 2020 found that if a 28-day time limit were in place, we would have been required to release into the community 166 foreign national offenders being held under immigration powers to effect their deportation. Of these offenders, 35 had committed very serious crimes, including murder, rape, offences against children and other serious sexual or violent offences. There is no indefinite detention, but it is necessary sometimes to keep people detained, particularly serious offenders and those frustrating their removal.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I shall put the question.
Motion C agreed.
4A: Because it would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, Lords Amendment 4 and Amendment 4B in lieu, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, relate to family reunion and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I ask noble Lords to note that the other place highlighted that Lords Amendment 4 would engage financial privilege. Amendment 4B in lieu would remove the previous restriction on charging a fee for applications for leave to enter under the proposed new route; however, there remain a number of costs with this amendment. These relate to family reunion applications—not just the cost of processing the application but the cost of providing asylum support and accommodation for asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their claim. Clearly those costs could not and should not be recouped via an application fee.
Turning to the substance of the amendment, we had many interventions on this issue on Report and I confirm the Government’s commitment to the principle of family unity and to supporting vulnerable children—we take their well-being very seriously. We have a proud record of providing safety to those who need it, through our asylum system and world-leading resettlement schemes. We have granted protection and other leave to more than 44,000 children seeking protection since 2010. The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe: we received more claims than any EU member state in 2019, and 20% of all claims made in the EU and UK.
We have made a credible and serious offer to the EU on new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. It remains our goal to negotiate such an arrangement. I reaffirm my commitment to further constructive engagement to identify ways to level up access to safe and legal work pathways for talented displaced persons. I once again thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and Talent Beyond Borders for discussing this with us and I look forward to continuing to work together to attract the best and brightest talent to the UK, regardless of background. Furthermore, as the Home Secretary made clear in her speech at the Conservative Party conference, safe and legal routes are a core part of our proposed reforms to the asylum system to ensure that it is both fair and firm.
I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, not to insist on his amendment, or to divide the House on Amendment 4B in lieu. I beg to move.
Motion D1 (as an amendment to Motion D)
4B: Insert the following new Clause—
“Leave to enter: family unity and claims for asylum
(1) For at least such time as a relevant agreement has not been concluded and implemented, a person to whom this section applies must be granted leave to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of making a claim for asylum.
(2) This section applies to a person who—
(a) is on the territory of any relevant Member State;
(b) makes an application for leave to enter for the purpose of making a claim for asylum; and
(c) would, had that person made an application for international protection in that Member State, have been eligible for transfer to the United Kingdom under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 by reason of a relevant provision if the United Kingdom remained a party to that Regulation.
(3) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements to ensure that applicants receive a decision regarding their application under subsection (2)(b) no later than two months from the date of submission of the application.
(4) A claim for asylum made under subsection (2)(b) must remain pending throughout such time as no decision has been made on it or during which an appeal could be brought within such time as may be prescribed for the bringing of any appeal against a decision made on a claim or during which any such appeal remains pending for the purposes of section 104 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (pending appeal); and a claim for asylum remains one on which no decision has been made during such time as the claim has been made to the Secretary of State and has not been granted, refused, abandoned or withdrawn.
(5) The Secretary of State must, within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, lay before both Houses of Parliament a strategy for ensuring that unaccompanied children on the territory of a relevant Member State continue to be relocated to the United Kingdom, if it is in the child’s best interests.
(6) For the purposes of this section—
“applicant” means a person who makes an application for leave to enter under this section;
“claim for asylum” means a claim for leave to enter or remain as a refugee or as a person eligible for a grant of humanitarian protection;
“Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013” means Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council including the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);
“relevant agreement” means an agreement negotiated by a Minister of the Crown, on behalf of the United Kingdom, with the European Union in accordance with which there is provision for the transfer of a person who has made an application for asylum in a Member State of the European Union to the United Kingdom which is no less extensive than Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 insofar as that regulation operated to enable the transfer of a person to join a child, sibling, parent or other family member or relative in the United Kingdom before exit day;
“relevant Member State” means a Member State for the purposes of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013;
“relevant provision” means any of the following articles of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013—
(a) Article 8;
(b) Article 9;
(c) Article 10;
(d) Article 16;
(e) Article 17.””
My Lords, in moving the amendment in my name, I shall comment on the Commons reason for rejecting an amendment from this House, which states:
“Because it would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.”
Given the time we spent on the issue and its importance, to say that the technicality of financial privilege is sufficient to dispose of it in the eyes of the Commons, I think falls short of being humanitarian and falls short of respecting the opinions of this House.
When I was in the Commons, there were some colleagues who made themselves experts on parliamentary procedure and were virtually walking Erskine Mays. I have no wish to follow them down that path, but I note the issue of financial privilege seems to occur only when the Government do not like something to do with child refugees. If I can take the House back to 2016, we passed an amendment to the then Immigration Bill; when it got to the Commons the Government used financial privilege as a technical reason, so when it came back to this House we changed the wording and eventually it passed again and the Government accepted it.
Financial privilege, as defined in relation to this amendment, is merely a footnote to Erskine May. Still, it may be important to the Government. However, normally when an amendment involves some financial expenditure, a charge on public funds, the Government waive the issue of financial privilege. But they did not do so for this amendment or the one in 2016. I would contend that the majority of amendments passed by this House are inevitably bound to involve some charge on public funds. As I said, the Government normally waive this argument, but have not done so in this case.
However, with colleagues from Safe Passage and other NGOs who have been helping me with this, we looked at the amendment that the Government took exception to on the grounds of charge to public funds and removed from it the reference that there should be no fee for the making of a particular application. That has been removed, so there will be a fee.
Furthermore, the Government have said that they put forward a proposal—which we considered very weak and would exclude most of the children who ought to be eligible—which would itself involve some recourse to public funds. The Government must have been prepared for this. Frankly, I am not persuaded by this argument. The merits of the case are much too important to be sidelined on what I regard as a bit of a technicality.
I turn very briefly to the substance of the amendment, as a lot of the arguments have already been well rehearsed in this House in Committee and on Report. The Government are keen to say that the Immigration Rules might be sufficient. I contend that that will not do. The Immigration Rules are a blunt instrument; they are not susceptible to amendment by this House, and when changes are put forward again, they are on a “take it or leave it” basis. The Immigration Rules are not a sufficient excuse for saying this amendment is unnecessary.
It is also possible to apply for family reunion outside the Immigration Rules. This is a highly exceptional procedure that does not often happen. It is not a reason for rejecting the rights of a number of children who are desperate for safety.
We have only 10 weeks to go before the end of the transition period, and it does not look as if there will be any agreement on child refugees, even on the basis of the Government’s rather weak proposals, which I understand are not under discussion. The last chance we have before 1 January next year is to pass this amendment. We have seen and know of the difficulties facing young people who are sleeping rough under the trees in Calais or in the camps on the Greek islands. We have seen the terrible tragedy that befell the Moria camp when it was burned down. What will happen to the children and other people there? It seems to me that when other EU countries are willing to offer safety to some of the children in the camps on the Greek islands, the least we can do is to do likewise.
We are talking about a small number of young people, many of whom in the end make their way here across the dangers of the channel, either on the back of a lorry or in rubber dinghies. For some, there are tragic consequences—maybe they drown in the channel—but others manage to make it here. If we keep safe and legal routes open, there is at least a chance of having an orderly process which is fair to the young people involved—and to this country as well, because it means the process can be managed and they do not all arrive in Kent, putting a lot of pressure on the local authority there.
This is a really important issue. How we deal with family reunion for unaccompanied child refugees is crucial to whether we are a humanitarian country or not. I believe we are. I also believe, although not all people in this country will agree, that if the argument is put the majority will still say, “Yes, we should do the right thing by unaccompanied child refugees.” If passed, this amendment will give hope to a small number of very vulnerable children. I beg to move, and will wish to test the opinion of the House unless the Government agree to the amendment.
My Lords, I have not received any indication that any Member wishes to speak who is not listed. Does any noble Lord in the Chamber wish to speak at this point before I move on? In that case, I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
My Lords, I support most strongly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which provides for refugee children to come to the UK from EU countries if they have family here with whom they can reunite.
The Government say they have proposals to deal with family reunion, but as the noble Lord has pointed out—I will not repeat his explanation—those proposals would not provide a secure route for child refugees to join their families here in the UK. Why is this country so much less willing than our neighbours in Europe to accept these vulnerable children? Germany stands out as the most generous and morally correct European country on this issue, having taken 71,000 children in 2019, but we do not even measure up to France, Greece or Spain—and two of those countries are a great deal less well off than we are.
It is important to note that local authorities, if adequately funded, are willing to welcome refugee children from Europe and, as my noble friend Lord Kerr pointed out on Report, the Government will have public support if they accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Surely the Government want some public support, do they not? They have enough problems on other issues at the moment. The British public understand the importance of refugee children being able to join their families, whatever the reason they became separated in the first place.
In her introductory remarks, the Minister referred to the costs of housing asylum seekers. Will she clarify that the Government would not have to fund the housing of unaccompanied children who come over here to live with their relatives? It is quite important that there is not that financial hit for the Government.
If the Government reject this amendment and children are not able to join their families under the Government’s proposals, many will inevitably resort to the traffickers and the rubber dinghies, with inevitable loss of life. Surely, it is only a matter of time before the Government are challenged under the Human Rights Act, in particular Article 8, on the right to respect for your family life. I would be grateful if the Minister responded to that point.
As the Minister will recognise, this amendment has huge cross-party support and public support across the country. I hope she can persuade her colleagues to accept it.
My Lords, at every stage, tributes have been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—rightly so, but I imagine he must sometimes be shouting at his screen, while on mute, “Forget the tributes, just accept the amendment.”
The Commons reason is that leave to enter to make an asylum claim, and a strategy to ensure that an unaccompanied child can be relocated in the UK if it is in the child’s best interests, would be, in their words, as the noble Lord said, a “charge on public funds”. Like him, I appreciate that this is a standard response, but it in no way reflects the debate. They trust that we will regard it as sufficient; it is not a sufficient reason.
We were told that it would not be right to undermine negotiations with the EU, with which, it must be said, agreement on this issue shows no sign of life at all. Domestic legislation must be the least threat in this context. It is still not too late to do the right thing.
Our Immigration Rules are inadequate, and applications outside them rarely successful. The Government have announced that they are looking at safe and legal routes for those seeking sanctuary next year. We on these Benches will not subscribe to the notion that this is an issue for next year. The routes are unsafe now, and we could make them considerably safer. We support the amendment.
Currently, the only legal way to reach this country from the EU in order to claim asylum, including for unaccompanied children, is through the Dublin III regulation on family reunion. That route, as we know, will cease to be available at the end of the transition period in a few weeks’ time. The Government have no comparable proposals to replace Dublin III, since their alternative removes the mandatory requirement to facilitate family reunion, removes a child’s right to appeal against refusal and further narrows the definition of “family”, since a child or teenager would no longer be able to join, for example, an aunt, an older sister or someone who could look after them when they have been separated from their parents
Safe Passage, to which reference has already been made, which supports child refugees, has said, I believe, that more than 90% of the young people and children it has supported through the Dublin III legal pathway would be unlikely to qualify under the Government’s alternative system. The numbers involved are not large and are very small indeed compared with the numbers of those from outside the EU whom the Government, by choice, each year, have enabled to come to this country. Before the mandatory Dublin III provisions came into effect, about 10 or 11 children per year came to this country under the scheme. Since 2016, when it became mandatory, the average number of children per year has been just over 500.
We support the amendment in lieu, Amendment D1, moved by my indefatigable noble friend Lord Dubs, which represents the guaranteed continuation of a decent and humane approach, particularly to children and young people in real need, including in real need of a safe and legal route to safety.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who makes this plea so genuinely and passionately. I hope, at this late stage, he might consider withdrawing his amendment to the Motion when he hears what I am going to say. First of all, we do not just use financial privilege for child refugees. That is not the case at all, but I think he knows that. The wording—
“trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient”—
is standard parlance.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in response to her question, that it is true that the state does not have to fund children who are living with relatives, although, of course, it is different for children who are living in local authority care. I go back to the point I made earlier, which is that the Home Secretary made it absolutely clear in her speech at the Conservative Party Conference that safe and legal routes are a core part of our proposed reforms to the asylum system to ensure it is both firm and fair. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that very thing today in his speech. I can confirm that, as an integral part of that work, the Government will conduct a review of safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, refugees and their families, which will include reviewing routes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to reunite with their family members in the UK. As noble Lords will recollect, we intend to bring legislation next year that will deliver those reforms.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about bilateral negotiations. I understand noble Lords’ concerns about the risk of a non-negotiated outcome on asylum and illegal migration, and I can, today, make a commitment to the House that in the event of a non-negotiated outcome, this Government will pursue bilateral negotiations on post-transition migration issues with key countries with which we share a mutual interest. This will include new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I hope noble Lords listened carefully to what I have just said.
As I was leaving the Home Office today, the Greek Minister for Immigration and Asylum was in the Home Secretary’s office, and I hope that is a clear demonstration of our commitment to these issues. I will also commit, on the back of that, to report back to the House in good time regarding our intentions to make progress in this area. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords who have heard my words just now will feel that, at this point, he can withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation and to other noble Lords who supported the amendment.
The Minister referred to the Home Secretary’s commitment that she wants safe and legal routes for family reunion of children. Of course, that is an aspiration, but it has to be made effective, and I am not convinced that anything the Government are doing will actually give effect to the Home Secretary’s commitment. The Minister also said that even after 31 December, the Government will continue to talk to achieve bilateral arrangements. That is well and good, but that is a long way ahead, and the Government have, in the past, given undertakings, and, frankly, nothing much has come of them.
This issue tests our humanity; it tests whether we are willing to do something now, not at some point in the future. It is a test of whether we are a decent, humanitarian country. We are talking about a small number of highly vulnerable people, the majority of whom are children who want to join family here. What could be more humanitarian or more in our traditions than allowing young people to join members of their family who are here and find safety down that path. I beg to test the opinion of the House.
5A: Because it would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, Amendment 5 and Amendment 5B, tabled in lieu and proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, require a physical document to be offered to any EEA citizen who applies for it and who has been granted leave under the EU settlement scheme. The other place has rejected the previous amendment submitted by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, as they considered it would incur significant costs. The amendment in lieu removes the provision prohibiting charging a fee for the physical document. However, this does not fully address our concerns about the cost of this proposal.
To allow the now nearly 4 million people who have been granted status under the EU settlement scheme to apply for physical documents, we would have to incur significant up-front costs. These costs would include setting up and designing the application process to issue a secure biometric document, some caseworking resource and significant communications costs; much of this cost would be incurred regardless of how many people applied for a physical document.
As we would not know how many people will apply, we would not be able to set an individual application fee that covered these costs without that being beyond the reach of most applicants. Much of the concern expressed in this House relates to the most vulnerable, and I really do not think we would want to pass on to them the costs of setting up this process. The cost of producing a biometric immigration document is about £75, but that fee does not cover the costs that would be incurred in setting up the process and communicating it. Therefore, being able to charge a fee does not in and of itself fully address the reasons given in the other place for rejecting the previous amendment.
We cannot accept the amendment, but that does not mean that the Government do not understand the concerns raised. We are committed to working with this House and with stakeholders to ensure that measures are in place to support those who may find the transition to digital services difficult. We will run a campaign to ensure that third parties understand how to check a person’s immigration status and the need not to discriminate when doing so. In some cases, the check will be directly with the Home Office, and we are confident that this system will reduce the scope for error and better ensure that people have access to the services they are entitled to.
The Government have clearly set out their ambition to move to a system which is digital by default. That will produce a better system for migrants and will make it easier for them to prove their status where all migrants, not just EEA citizens, will have online access to their immigration status. Other countries, such as Australia, have had a system like this in place for some time, so we know that it works.
This amendment is well intentioned, but it will have an adverse impact on our plans for modernisation and digitisation of our immigration system. These plans include the support services we need to provide to migrants for the future. It will also adversely impact employers and landlords, who would still need to conduct manual checks to authenticate a document and go through the process of photocopying it, signing and dating it and then filing it away in a cabinet.
The Government recognise that digital processes represent a major change for some people. However, as I have outlined in this House, we will provide a physical document in the form of a written notification of their permission to stay in the UK, which they can print off and store as a record. We will require EEA citizens to use the online system to prove their immigration status to employers and landlords only after 30 June 2021, to give them time to adjust, and we will continue to provide information and support to enable them to do so. Many thousands are already successfully using the service now to evidence their status in the UK, as I pointed out during the passage of this Bill.
I am aware that many noble Lords are worried about the impact of digital by default on the elderly and the vulnerable, but I reassure them that we are taking steps to ensure that those individuals are not disadvantaged by the move to digital services, particularly in accessing public services. System-to-system checks with other government departments and the NHS will mean service providers, such as healthcare and benefits, will check status directly with the Home Office at the point at which the person seeks to access them. This will reduce the number of occasions where individuals need to prove their rights, where such information can be made available directly to the service provider on their behalf.
In moving to a digital system, we recognise that there are people who cannot access online services and will need additional support. We are committed to delivering a service that reflects the diverse needs of all users. Help on how to use the online service and share status information is already available through our telephone contact centre, and we provide a free-to-use assisted digital service where those applying to the EU settlement scheme, or others making online applications in the UK, are able to get support. We continue to improve the support services to ensure that they are inclusive and available to all who need them, and we would welcome continued discussions on what additional support we would need to provide to address the concerns that many noble Lords have raised.
We want a robust and secure system that is efficient as well as convenient. Migrants will be able to access details of their immigration status online at any time and from anywhere, with a variety of devices, such as a smartphone or laptop. The Government want a better immigration system, and we believe that the move to a digital service is an important part of that. The amendment would prevent our moving in that direction and would require significant expenditure, which would be better used in supporting those using the services. I hope noble Lords will not insist on this amendment. I beg to move.
Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)
5B: Insert the following new Clause—
“EU Settlement Scheme: physical documented proof
The Secretary of State must issue physical proof confirming pre-settled status or settled status to all EEA and Swiss nationals and their families who have been granted such status under the EU Settlement Scheme and who request such proof.””
My Lords, in moving Motion E1, which includes Amendment 5B, I give notice of my intention to test the opinion of the House, unless the Government are willing to change their position on this issue. I express my thanks to all noble Lords on all sides of the House who have so steadfastly and consistently supported this cause, in particular the original signatories to the amendment: the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Kerslake and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride.
We have discussed this issue frequently over a number of years, but it appears that the Government have not been listening. Either that or perhaps I have not been listening properly, because I am still at a loss to understand the arguments that they have put forward to justify their decision to deny EEA nationals alone, among all the people residing in the United Kingdom, physical proof of their right to do so.
This issue, as we have said before, has no partisan flavour. It has been supported by Peers across the House of all parties and of none, commanding one of the largest majorities in your Lordships’ House of any amendment on this Bill. It involves no Brexit arguments; it may be happily supported by any Member, whatever their position on those past arguments. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do to alleviate the anxieties and hardship that will otherwise be visited on millions of people who have made their home with us in the United Kingdom.
In Committee, the Government appeared to advance three principal arguments against our amendment: that a system with both digital proof and physical proof would be confusing; that a digital proof is better than a physical proof because a digital proof cannot be lost; and, lastly, that the Government intend to move to a digital-by-default system in future and therefore that it makes sense for the new settled status scheme to adopt a digital-only model from the outset.
On Report, a new argument was raised—or at least advanced more vigorously—and that was of cost. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government, in rejecting our amendment, have claimed financial privilege, advancing no other argument against it. Therefore, to address the issue of financial privilege and to tackle the Government’s concerns over cost, we have removed the requirement that physical proof must be provided free of charge, which was in the original amendment. It should be noted, therefore, that this amendment in lieu requires only that the Government offer physical proof of status to those who request it; that it allows the Exchequer to charge for such a document; and that the charge is permitted under the terms of the withdrawal agreement.
The Minister told us on Report that if 89% of those with settled status sought a physical document, it would cost £100 million—I think that was at col. 472 —which, by my calculation, would mean, in order to cover costs, a charge of £28.09. I therefore question the Minister’s statement just now that the cost would be £75, and I wonder how she marries that up with the figure she gave us before. Perhaps she will say, “We would have to take into account the setting up of a whole new process”—but I do not understand that. There is a process for issuing biometric residence permits, so there is no need to set up a new process. Indeed, non-EEA citizens who are granted settled status via their spousal relationship are given biometric residence permits—so I do not understand that at all.
I would much prefer that there was no charge for a physical document—not least because our citizens abroad are being issued physical proof of status without charge, as I understand it. Nevertheless, if this is the only way that EEA citizens who have made their homes here can be given the surety and confidence that they seek, I suspect that they would probably regard the fee of £28.09 as money well spent. I hope, therefore, that this addresses the issue of costs and privilege.
As to the response to the Government’s other arguments, I shall try to be brief, both because they have already been well rehearsed in this House and because even the Government do not seem to have the heart to argue them convincingly. First, on the argument that it would be confusing to people to operate a digital system as well as physical proof of status, it remains unclear to me why the Government make this claim. It is exactly the system that exists for non-EEA citizens with indefinite leave to remain, who can access a digital proof of status and can apply for a physical document. Landlords, employers and others who are expected to check for immigration status already operate under such a system, so I fail to understand who the Government think will be confused. What is likely to be confusing, therefore, is not the presence of a physical document but its absence.
Secondly, the Government claim that digital proof is better than physical proof because digital proof cannot be lost. The answer to this is the same one we have given every time the matter has been debated. We are not suggesting the removal of digital proof or digital records; we are simply arguing that physical proof should complement digital status. None the less, on Report I questioned the Government’s repeated claims about the resilience of the digital system. I will not list all the examples that I and many other noble Lords gave of allegedly infallible systems failing, but I will simply say that almost every occasion of a failure of a major system has been preceded by claims about its robustness and the impossibility of what subsequently happened happening. Even temporary failures, however short lived, are very likely to give rise to permanent effects, because employers or landlords unable to access the system at the point when they have to decide between potential employees or tenants are very likely to give the job or rent the home to someone who can provide physical proof.
The last of the Government’s arguments was that they intend to move to a wholly digital system in future, and therefore that it makes sense for this new settled status scheme to adopt a digital-only model—except that it does not. If a digital system is to be adopted—and I have no objection to that—it should be extensively trialled in advance with widespread pilot schemes. Australia seems to be a popular country for the Government to compare itself with at the moment. Australia is, as the Minister said, just about the only country in the world to go entirely digital. It did so over a number of years. Indeed, it trialled the system over nearly two decades. So I repeat, as I have every time we have discussed this matter, that we should not conduct an experiment with the lives of millions of people who are in receipt of an entirely new status and who are understandably nervous, given the Government’s declared intention to violate the very treaty on which their status is based.
The one trial that the Government have undertaken which involved non-EU citizens who had the back-up of a physical residence card found:
“There is a clearly identified user need for the physical card at present, and without strong evidence that this need can be mitigated for vulnerable low-digital skilled users, it should be retained.”
The trial also made clear that “digital by default” does not mean “digital only”.
I asked the Minister in Committee and on Report to explain to the House what had changed since the Government made that assessment in 2018. She either could not or would not—but certainly she did not. Nor could she tell us on either occasion when the policy equality statement, which the Government have confirmed exists, will be published, beyond the entirely unsatisfactory “shortly”. I highlight again how unacceptable it is that we are being asked to decide on legislation that will affect millions of lives when the Government withhold such vital evidence.
As I said on the previous amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, yesterday we agreed two amendments in lieu on the issue of agri-food standards, and I was pleased to support them—but this amendment, like that of my noble friend before, deals with people’s lives. As I said on Report, ultimately the argument is not about technology, documents or computer systems but about people’s lives and whether they can feel secure in their status. This amendment would alleviate the huge anxiety which the Government’s refusal to listen and make this minor change is causing to EEA nationals, particularly the elderly, the vulnerable and those who lack technology.
In conclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, stated that the Labour Front Bench could not support my noble friend Lady Hamwee’s earlier amendment on the grounds that the matter had not been divided on in the Commons. I will draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact, which they will be aware of, that this issue was divided on in the House of Commons, and in this House received, if not the largest then one of the largest majorities of any amendment on the Bill. So I hope that my friends in the Labour Party and, indeed, my friends across all the parties in this House, and no party, will continue to support EU citizens in the virtual Lobbies tonight.
The Windrush Lessons Learned Review made it clear that a huge part of the problem was the Home Office’s refusal to listen to outside voices. Those outside voices are speaking loud and clear. I hope that this time the Government will learn the lesson and open their ears. I beg to move.
Five Members have indicated that they wish to speak at this point: the noble Lord, Lord Polak, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I call the first of those speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Polak.
My Lords, I have no intention of delaying the House as I have made my views on this pretty clear. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, has been very clear and precise. I believe that the Government are sticking their heels in for no good reason.
I should make it known that this morning there was a power outage at the police national computer centre in Hendon—run, of course, by the Home Office. As a result, police forces across the country were not able to access the police national computer. I do not need to explain to noble Lords that power outages of this sort have a serious effect on police operations. Following the technical issue that affected our voting on 30 September and this issue today, surely those EU citizens who request physical proof should be able to receive it like any other citizen.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, tabled the amendment in lieu to deal with the cost element that the Minister brought up on Report. I agree with him, because non-EEA citizens now receive physical proof, so I really fail to understand what the up-front costs that the Minister referred to are. It is an existing scheme. EU citizens deserve to be treated equally and the amendment deserves to be accepted. This is a matter not of policy, but of process. Non-EU citizens can obtain physical proof of settled status, so EU citizens will be the only group without that physical proof. I fail to understand why the Government are unable to accept the compromise amendment that now deals with the financial question.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Oates’s excellent speech, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, with whom I worked on the EU Justice Sub-Committee. The Minister referred to people being able to use their smartphones for this purpose. A friend of mine could not open the link in the email she received confirming her settled status. She had to go to an internet café to do so. I am not quite sure what went wrong there.
I will refer to a report published yesterday by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union in the other place called Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: Citizens’ Rights. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at it, but it backs the amendment so that EU citizens should have
“the option of … a physical document to evidence their residency status … in addition to their digital status.”
I am very pleased indeed that it has given that support. It refers to a number of reasons why this should be accepted. It talks about
“examples of people getting assistance from unregulated immigration advisers to make their application, then the third party retain the log-in details necessary to access the platform”
and make a
“charge to send on details to employers.”
I hope that is something the Home Office might look into.
The committee also talks about how, because the online product
“remains linked to the physical document, such as a passport, used by the individual in their application … If the passport is changed, then the applicant has to update the online system.”
That is an issue that will recur. The committee also says that
“accessing the online profile is not straightforward for people not fluent in IT”—
something we have discussed a lot on this subject—so they
“end up relying on the pdf document they receive informing them that a status has been granted”.
The Minister referred to that being put in the desk drawer. It is, of course,
“not a substitute for actual evidence of status”,
but unfortunately it might be used by some people who are confused by the online environment, which is a recipe for some difficulty.
Then, of course, the person asking the EU citizen to demonstrate their status has to understand it. The Minister referred to support for the holders of settled status. I am not sure whether she plans to give lots of tuition to prospective landlords, employers and so on. She talked about the NHS. It was not quite clear what that system will be. The Public Law Project has listed nine steps that a third party such as an employer would have to take to check the status of an EU citizen. It is worth quickly mentioning them:
“Request the code from the applicant … Wait for an email with a link to arrive … Open and read the email … Search, identify, and open the correct website”,
because apparently there is no link in the email,
“Start the checking process … Enter the share code from the email … Enter the applicant’s date of birth … Enter their company name”—
I am not sure what happens for an individual landlord—and, lastly,
“Check that the photo on their screen looks like the person applying for the job and keep a secure copy of the online check, either electronically or in hard copy.”
All this requires reliable access to the internet. If you do not have access to wi-fi, which you might not in an empty flat that you are showing it to a prospective tenant, a person would have to rely on mobile signal, which is honestly not great, even in London.
Also, the committee’s report says that apparently
“the lack of a physical document has contributed to the confusion over eligibility for benefits, because claimants have been unable to show a photo ID card showing their status … it was unclear how some decisions have been made by the DWP in terms of using settled status as a proof of eligibility.”
It is quite a serious point that even the DWP does not seem to have got this right.
The report says that
“the option of a physical card would give an additional layer of safety against criminal attempts to ‘hijack’ someone’s status.”
We are being warned all the time about cybersecurity, and the dangers of malware, hacking and so on. The report says that, in a recent survey of 3,000 EU citizens, apparently more than 10% had been asked
“to provide proof of settled status, and that the digital only status was deterring some from applying.”
It was actually putting them off. The report continues,
“physical proof came right at the top of concerns of EU citizens: 89% said that they would like an option, not compulsory, of physical proof.”
Having gone through all that evidence, it is hardly any wonder that the committee in the other place backed this sincere, reasoned request for EU citizens to have the option of a physical document. I know the noble Baroness cares about people and people’s lives, but it really seems the Government ought to find a way to accede to this request.
My Lords, here we go again on this one. I have not been persuaded any more by my noble friend—whom I hold in very high regard—this evening. She regurgitated the brief from last time, with a few little gildings, and did not convince me at all.
We are dealing with EU citizens. As my noble friend Lord Polak said very forcefully, they are being discriminated against in comparison with other foreign citizens resident in this country. This amendment asks for an option. If there was a weak point in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, in the previous debate and a strong one from my noble friend on the Front Bench, it was over the issue of cost. The noble Lord has dropped that, and he is wise to do so. Frankly, people who want this physical proof will, I am sure, be glad to pay for it, whether it is £28 or, to take my noble friend’s figure, £75. There are ways and means of ensuring that those who cannot afford £75 are able to do it.
We must not stumble on this particularly weak, faulty argument of the Government. I say “of the Government” because I like to think that my noble friend the Minister, who is held in genuine high regard in this House, is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said a few moments ago, a woman who has demonstrated that she does care. She has not been given a kind brief. She is acting as a mouthpiece for a government department that does not have a history of great humanity.
Windrush was mentioned. If many of those people who suffered as a result of maladministration—and that is what it was—had had this sort of physical proof, we would not have gone through those agonising moments, and months, and years. This is common sense.
As far as the fallibility of the technology is concerned, my noble friend Lord Polak gave an up-to-the-minute example. We have heard many examples in your Lordships’ House since our last debate. One day last week, we had to adjourn for albeit not a long period, because the system had malfunctioned in some way.
We also must bear in mind that many of those about whom we are talking are of the generation that many of us in this House belong to. We are behaving in a rather arrogant way towards people who are not used to these systems. It is not a crime to be not particularly technological; if it were, I should be locked up for life. One sees the same sort of arrogance creeping in with those who say that we should have no more cash or cheques with which to pay our bills. We need to recognise that the whole of our society should be treated in a fair and equal way. What is being suggested this evening by the Government is that they should not be treated in a fair and equal way.
I appeal to my noble friend, who cannot—and does not, I know—believe in discrimination and who believes in fairness and equity, to do as I urged her to do last time: for goodness’ sake, tear up the brief and accept the argument. I know that these things are formulaic—I sat in the other place for 40 years—but the only reason the Government can dredge up is cost. Well, we have dealt with that one through the revised amendment.
Let us move forward. I will certainly vote for the revised amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, as I voted for his last one. I hope that I will not need to; I hope that none of us will need to. I hope that, if we do need to and it goes back to the other place, the other place will have the guts and the gumption to realise that we are not driving a coach and horses through any party-political policy and that we are not doing anything against the Government because they are a Conservative Government—a slightly odd one, but that is another matter. We are making a plea for people who, in many cases, are extremely vulnerable; who have made a real contribution to our society; who have lived in our country and made it their own in many ways; who love the place and who have served it, many of them with great distinction.
Please, let us be sensible. Let the Government be sensible. If it is necessary, let us give the noble Lord, Lord Oates, another thumping majority tonight.
My Lords, there are three strong arguments that support my noble friend the Minister’s position and the Government’s decision to seek to reverse the Lords amendment.
The first is the cost, which, as we heard on Report, might be more than £100 million. I know that £100 million seems like tuppence ha’penny after discussions about Covid but it is a very large sum. The movers have brought the cost down by proposing a charge, which the Minister says will be £75 on that basis. We must accept the Government’s figure; I know that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, argued that the cost is less but I am sad to say that, in my experience, government estimates are usually under-estimates rather than the reverse.
The second argument—this is the one that I feel most strongly about—is that there is always a risk of error and enhanced fraud with two versions of the truth, with one online version and one paper version. I do not think that that issue has been addressed properly in our debates.
The third argument, which this House may not like, is that digital is the way of the future; in my experience, everyone emphasises that unless they are pleading for a special case. In the words of my noble friend the Minister, digital by default is what we need because it gives access from anywhere from lots of different digital devices. It is precedented: as we have heard, digital ID has been used in Australia. Moreover, none of us worry about US ESTAs, which have the merit of providing one version of the truth. My noble friend also committed the Government to giving extra support to those who need help coping with the system; I am sure that DWP will also help.
I am afraid that I must disagree with the other noble Lords who have spoken. We should look forward, not back, and reject this proposal.
My Lords, I am tempted to support this amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, as we both approach the anniversary of our entry into this House, five years ago. I urge my noble friend the Minister to keep an open mind on this amendment and to agree to it.
As I reminded my noble friend, in 2014-15, the Government—at that time, it was the Defra department —tried to introduce a digital-only farm payments scheme. It was scrapped because it simply could not be delivered and the department reverted to paper-only applications. I remind the House that many of the applicants will live in rural areas—they will not all live in inner-city areas and major towns—where broadband is woeful. Many existing not-spots do not have the capability to carry this scheme. The Government acknowledged this recently and are backing down from their commitment to universal coverage by 2025, so they recognise the limitations of their digital by default-only policy.
I remind the House that on 16 October, the National Audit Office reported that broadband users in rural areas are being left behind in major network upgrades. The Home Office should recognise that there is not universal coverage of the broadband and internet technology that will be required to deliver the digital service by default. While I have the greatest regard for both my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and the Minister, we have to accept that some 5% of people are living in the hardest-to-reach areas. In my view, this digital-by-default policy is being driven by an unelected adviser whose respect for the rules and the law is less than exemplary, and I think that he should join the real world with regard to some of the policies being brought forward.
The other difficulty I have with this policy is a very real one. I remind the House that my mother became a naturalised Brit, having come over to Britain from Denmark via Germany in 1948. What grieves me most about the policy that we will end up with without the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, is that most of the applicants do not have English as their first language; it is not their mother tongue. In the words of my noble friend Lord Cormack, why are we seeking to discriminate against people in this way? I therefore urge my noble friend to show the big heart and affection that she has for these people and make sure either that we adopt the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, in lieu of his earlier amendment for the reasons he has given, or that the Government should come forward with an amendment of their own. Digital by default in these circumstances is not going to work.
I know that almost everyone in the Chamber has spoken to the Motion, but I have to ask whether anyone else wishes to contribute at this point. Silence being the case, I shall move on to the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
My Lords, I shall speak in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Oates. He has removed the only apparent government objection to his original amendment —that no fee could be charged—and, in her opening remarks, the Minister produced a few rather more minor costs. However, he undermined that argument, so perhaps she can clarify that point in her summing up.
As I understand it, this amendment will do no more than bring EEA nationals into line with all other immigrants residing in the UK. The Government have argued in relation to many amendments to this Bill that they are determined to treat EEA nationals in exactly the same way as other people who are resident in this country. Surely the Minister cannot then argue in relation to this amendment that EEA nationals should be treated differently when compared with immigrants from other countries. If she does not accept this amendment, can she explain this apparent inconsistency of approach?
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, has cogently set out the case for this amendment and his arguments need no repetition. For me, the two most powerful are first, that, as others have mentioned, IT system failures and technical faults are all too frequent, while the second is that large numbers of people have limited IT skills. The Minister responded to that point by saying, “That will not be a problem because there will be department-to-department communication.” Let us suppose that someone goes to a doctor needing medical help, but the Home Office system has gone down or some other technical problem has arisen; the doctor cannot treat them. I do not think that it is good enough to say, “Oh, do not worry, it will all be fine on the night.”
Just imagine, as an example, that we no longer had physical passports, merely an entry online to prove our UK citizenship. We could arrive at an airport and not be entirely confident that our details would be found to enable us to board an aircraft. How many of us would be comfortable with that? I certainly would not be. I wonder, when the Government talk about these things, whether they are actually planning to abandon physical passports, because that would be the logic of this situation. I will support this amendment if it is put to the vote.
My Lords, it is rare for a campaign to take off in the way that the call for physical proof has done. The Government have made their arguments over a number of stages and those who have been calling for this have not been satisfied—they certainly have been following what is going on. I regret that the Minister in the Commons did not address the issue but, apart from the standard financial privilege response, said that the issue had been debated many times. Yes, it has, but no one seems to have changed their position.
The Government again seem more concerned about not appearing to draw back from their policy of digital by default. Accepting the amendment tabled by my noble friend would not be a failure on the part of the Government because it would not be a failure to acknowledge that changes like this to the system take time, as the Australians have found. It would actually be a success to respond to public feeling and not to treat our EU friends in the UK as a convenient test phase for all-out digital. I hope that the House will support my noble friend.
My Lords, we may all have different views of this Government. While some might think that they are useless and incompetent, others might take a different view. However, I think that we would all agree that they certainly make many strange decisions—often ludicrous, inconsistent, contradictory and largely disappointing. This is one example. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, a consistent argument has been made about this issue, but the Government are just not listening. That is much to be regretted on the part of the Government because they should have given way on this point, but it is quite clear that they are not going to do so. I do not know if that is down to unelected advisers, the Home Secretary, or the general attitude of the Government as a whole. However, it is clear that they are not going to give way and that is most disappointing. For that reason, we are not going to support sending this issue back to the other place again because I do not think that the Government will change their position.
However, I have a few other comments to make. A few days ago, we had a debate about the costs to enable British children in care to get their British citizenship. The Government were happy to charge over £1,000; there was no issue about that at all. That is many hundreds of pounds more than the cost, so apparently there is no issue there at all. Here, of course, the Government have raised the issue of cost, saying that they are not sure and that it could be too much for people. I have equally made the point by asking for years why we cannot stop council tax payers having to subsidise planning applications. But no, the Government say that we have to continue letting those taxpayers subsidise such applications. That is completely ludicrous, contradictory and inconsistent, but that is what we have before us again today.
In all of these debates, I have never had an answer to this question. The point is made about how we cannot have certificates because they are not needed, everything is now digital, and we should not be worried about it. Yet, at the same time, we are handing out certificates to people who become British citizens. This is done in ceremonies in town halls up and down the country. You have to hand them out, they are signed by the Home Secretary of the day, and you tell the person that the certificate is really important. You hand it to them, a photograph is taken, and off they go with a document that at the moment is signed by Priti Patel. I have handed out hundreds of these things over the years, but I do not believe that those certificates are biometric. I think that they are a piece of paper. I might be wrong about that; perhaps they are biometric now and I do not know. Again, this is from the same department, so it is inconsistent and completely ludicrous. It is a real shame that the Government have not listened and that they are not going to do so. I think that that is much to the regret and shame of the Government.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment—in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who moved it.
One of the first areas of disagreement that he raised was on costs. We have used published costs for enrolling biometrics and issuing a BRP, which are £19.20 and £56 respectively. They cover only the casework in the applications and not the significant set-up costs. There are costs of issuing and replacement, and one-off costs of upgrading pre-settled status cards. There is a cost of communication of the change and, of course, of facial technology.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, suggested that the system should be trialled. The fact is that people are using it now. It is not going live on 1 January; people are already using it to prove status. That is proof of the success of the “trial”, as he puts it. Surely the fact that 4 million applications have already been made suggests that the system is working. This takes me to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, regarding the difficulties of the system. I have seen how the application process works. It is very easy; I have suggested previously in this place that noble Lords take time to look at just how easy it is to set up.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, also stated his dismay that the PSED has not been published. I do not have any update on my previous statement that we intend to publish it.
On discrimination, the BNO route will be launched in January. Applicants will receive digital status using the technology based on the EU settlement scheme. People receiving that status will be required to use it from January, so the system relates not just to people from EU member states but to our BNO friends who we expect to come here from then. The system is therefore not discriminatory in the sense that our BNO friends will use it from January as well.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe is absolutely right: although it might not be the way forward for older people, digital by default is the way forward. It is completely retrograde to talk about physical documents when in fact, to date, the system appears to be working well. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, talked about physical documents being less open to abuse. They are more open to abuse and far easier to forge than a digital status that an employer or landlord can access.
Finally, regarding a power outage at the PNC, I should tell my noble friend Lord Polack that our back-up systems are very robust, as I have previously explained.
I do not think that I will convince some noble Lords—indeed, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, intends to divide the House—but it is a retrograde step to talk about returning to physical documents. I remember my noble friend, joined by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, talking about the importance of physical identity, which we fully intend to take forward. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, will withdraw his amendment but I do not think that he will.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response. I do not understand the issue with set-up costs; a system exists. I also do not understand the point about casework costs for people who already have settled status.
All the arguments have been aired extensively. I very much regret that the Labour Front Bench is unable to come with us, not least because of the strong arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for exactly my position. However, I hope that, despite the view of the Front Bench, my friends on the Labour Benches will support us, just as my friends on the Conservative Benches will do. I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their support and I appeal for their support again. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Motion E agreed.
6A: Because procedural safeguards already exist to ensure the lawfulness of the period of any detention.
Motion F agreed.
7A: Because procedural safeguards already exist to ensure the lawfulness of the period of any detention.
Motion G agreed.
8A: Because a detained person can apply for immigration bail at any time.
Motion H agreed.
9A: Because the Commons consider it appropriate, once free movement ends, for EEA or Swiss nationals who are confirmed victims of modern slavery to be considered for a grant of leave in the same way as such victims who are not EEA or Swiss nationals are considered currently.
My Lords, this Government are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery, which has no place in our society. We are now identifying more victims of modern slavery and doing more to bring perpetrators to justice than ever before, and we are committed to supporting victims and helping them to rebuild their lives.
Lords Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lord McColl, would require arrangements to be made in the Immigration Rules for the grant of leave to remain for confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA citizens in specified circumstances. I am therefore pleased to see that he has tabled Amendment 9B in lieu, which reiterates the Government’s commitment to him in this area.
The original Amendment 9 is unnecessary and should not be insisted upon for the following reasons. Currently, confirmed victims of modern slavery who are foreign nationals from non-EEA countries and who do not already have immigration status are automatically considered for discretionary leave to remain. By “automatic”, I mean that they do not need to apply for it. Our national referral mechanism arranges for that consideration after a decision has been reached that there are conclusive grounds to believe they are a victim of modern slavery. EEA citizens are currently not automatically considered in this way.
However, in line with assurances given in the other place, following the end of free movement, EEA confirmed victims who do not already have permission to stay in the UK, for example through our EU settlement scheme, will be treated in the same way as other foreign national victims and therefore receive automatic consideration for a grant of discretionary leave. The published policy will be amended to make this clear.
The published policy already provides for a grant of leave in cases where the victim is supporting the police in an investigation; is to be a witness in court; is pursuing compensation for the exploitation that they have suffered; requires medical treatment that needs to be provided in the UK; or because there is a risk they may be retrafficked if they are required to return to their country of origin. This is substantially the same as the qualifying criteria set out in the original amendment.
I hope that, in the light of the assurances I have given, the House will agree that Amendment 9 and Amendment 9B in lieu should not be insisted on. There are further issues to take forward about how we can best identify and support victims of modern slavery and I have undertaken to discuss these matters in further detail with the noble Lord, Lord McColl. However, it is important that, for immigration purposes, EEA victims are treated in the same way as other victims from abroad once free movement ends. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should make it clear from the outset that I will not be pressing the amendment in lieu to a vote. I am very grateful to the clerks who have advised me through the intricacies of ping-pong procedure, enabling me to speak today to thank those noble Lords who supported my amendment on 6 October, and to put on the record my response to events in another place on Monday and various undertakings that have been given by the Government.
I have decided not to move a Motion today to insist that what was Clause 12 be reinstated into the Bill for two reasons. In the first instance, I am very grateful for the Minister’s assurance that the Government will amend the guidance on discretionary leave to remain for victims of modern slavery to make it clear that, from 1 January, all confirmed victims who are EEA nationals should be automatically considered for DLR. This is very welcome. While it will not address the fact that many non-EEA confirmed victims of modern slavery will be able to access additional recovery routes, including asylum and humanitarian protection, it means that, as far as DLR is concerned, EEA and non-EEA confirmed victims of modern slavery will be treated in the same way. I thank the Government for this clear commitment.
My amendment in lieu effectively demonstrates what the Government have committed to doing in relation to automatic consideration and, for this reason, I will not be pressing it to a Division. I very much hope that, under this new arrangement, the Government will publish statistics on the immigration outcomes for all confirmed victims of modern slavery following their automatic assessment for DLR. I also welcome the assurance of the Minister in the other place that being a confirmed victim of modern slavery will be considered an acceptable reason for late application for settled status; that again is very positive.
The second reason I have decided not to move an amendment to reinstate Clause 12 is that the Government have agreed to a series of meetings with the right honourable Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, and me on our Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill to work through the issues with the objective of trying to identify common ground around victim support. I particularly welcome this.
The commitment to further talks is vital because, although I welcome the Government’s commitment to consider EEA nationals automatically for discretionary leave, I remain concerned that EEA victims will be left with a discretionary system as their one and only route to remaining in the UK. This is particularly concerning when one has regard for the fact that a previous Minister described granting DLR as possible only when there are
“exceptional or compelling reasons to justify a grant”
and when FoI data suggests that the proportion of confirmed victims getting DLR is just 8% to 9%.
As a firm supporter of Brexit, I believe it is absolutely right that we are ending free movement based on treaty rights, which grant all EEA nationals residency, immigration status and recourse to public funds. It does not follow from that, however, that we cannot provide recourse to public funds, ongoing support and immigration status for a limited recovery period to those confirmed victims of modern slavery who need it.
The truth is that our modern slavery legislation needs to be updated to take proper account of Brexit, which, even with automatic consideration, will leave confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals worse off than they are today and with fewer recovery options than confirmed victims who are non-EEA nationals.
The people of this country are endowed with a keen sense of fair play. Many find it strange that, while someone who is confirmed to be a refugee gets with that status five years leave to remain, a confirmed victim of modern slavery gets no leave to remain at all. Our approach to recognised refugees in this regard should not change, but our approach to confirmed victims of modern slavery should, and this is a particularly important message in the week in which we mark Anti-Slavery Day.
I conclude by thanking the Home Secretary for the following commitment in her foreword to the 2020 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery, published on Monday. She says:
“My message is clear: I will not tolerate the despicable exploitation and abuse of innocent people through modern slavery, and I will not stop until this terrible crime is finally consigned to the history books.”
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Alton, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith for all their help in this work. I am most grateful.
Given the commitments of the Government that I have set out, and with thanks to them for those commitments, I beg to move.
My Lords, I have received no notice of unlisted speakers. Does anyone in the Chamber wish to speak? No. In that case, I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and hope that she has been unmuted.
This stage does not need a long speech, so I will say only that I understand why the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is not pursuing matters today. I know that he will continue to press for all the things his Bill covers with regard to victims of trafficking and exploitation, and no doubt many other things as well. Of course, we support him. We, too, are concerned about this dreadful crime and the importance of supporting all those who have been victims of it.
My Lords, I was pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, has received assurances. I am particularly pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, has given him assurances regarding what she will do to help progress this, and it was also good to hear that he has accepted them.
We all know that the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, is highly respected, not only by me but by the whole House. He is a wonderful Member of this House, both in his previous professional career as a surgeon and in his work on the Mercy Ships. While I have been in this House for the past 10 years, he has consistently campaigned on violence against women and violence against people in general and on modern slavery. As I have said before, it is high time that the Government agreed with the noble Lord and moved things forward. The noble Lord’s Bill, which he referred to, which he and Iain Duncan Smith are promoting in the other place, is reasonable, sensible and practical, and the Government should be proud to support it. I hope that, in the not too distant future, we will see the Government give active support to the Bill because, sadly, it has left this House twice only to be wrecked in the other place by a group of people who seemed to get pleasure out of wrecking good Private Members’ Bills, so I hope that will stop and that we will get the Bill through. In his Private Member’s Bill he asks only that people are treated with dignity and respect and that if you are accepted as a victim of modern slavery in England and Wales, you should be treated exactly the same as you are treated in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, because their legislation is superior to ours, and we want it all the same.
I am therefore delighted that there will be a discussion and that the Minister and the noble Lord will be involved in that, and I hope that we will have some good news in the weeks and months ahead.
Motion J1 withdrawn.
Motion J agreed.
10A: Because it is consequential on Lords Amendments 6 to 8 to which the Commons disagree.
Motion K agreed.
Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 4 and 5. If any Lords amendment engaging financial privilege is agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
After Clause 1
Impact of section 1 on the social care sector
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, and amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree with Lords amendment 3.
Lords amendment 4, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 6, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 7, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 8, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 11.
I am sure colleagues will see that a large number of Members wish to contribute to this debate. We have had two quite lengthy statements, so there is pressure on time. That means we will be imposing an initial six-minute limit on speeches from Back Benchers. I hope that Front Benchers will keep their remarks as brief as possible in the circumstances to allow others to contribute.
This Bill delivers on a key manifesto commitment to end the EU’s rules on free movement, and to deliver our fairer and firmer points-based immigration system. I am pleased the Bill has passed its Third Reading in the other place, led by my colleague Baroness Williams of Trafford. For such a short Bill, there has been substantial debate on a wide range of immigration issues. There are issues on which Members disagree with the Government, but we must now enact this Bill and deliver on our promise to the British people. I will speak to each amendment in turn.
Lords amendment 1 requires publication of an independent report on the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector. Although it is well intentioned, the amendment is unnecessary because we already have independent reporting in this area through Skills for Care and the Migration Advisory Committee, which is now free to work to its own commissions in addition to those given to it by the Government.
The Department of Health and Social Care funds Skills for Care to deliver a wide range of activities to support the Government’s priorities for the social care sector. This includes programmes to support employers and the workforce with skills development, promote and support recruitment into the sector, and support leadership development. The Department of Health and Social Care uses the data produced by Skills for Care and the trends identified to inform its policy development to support the adult social care sector to recruit, train and develop its vital workforce.
The social care sector is a typical example of where cheap EU labour has been brought in to undercut our own labour force. The public are really worried that, as EU migration has declined, so migration from other parts of the world has increased. I want the Minister to give a categorical assurance that, whatever happens with these negotiations, we will get a grip on migration from other parts of the world and we will not undercut our own workforce.
We have been very clear that we will have a points-based system that will respond to the needs of the United Kingdom’s labour market and workforce, and that our migration system will not provide an alternative to investing in and rewarding those who work in critical sectors such as social care.
As Members will know, I have previously spoken at length about the role of the Migration Advisory Committee, which now has an expanded remit to examine any aspect of the immigration system and to provide annual reports that Parliament can, and almost certainly will, debate. I have also outlined the Government’s continued commitment to keeping all policies, including the skilled worker route, under review. We do have the flexibility to adapt and adjust on the basis of experience and evidence. Hon. Members will have heard me say before that the immigration system cannot be the solution to issues in the social care sector. We must not continue to rely on people coming to the UK when the focus should be on the domestic workforce to address shortages in the sector. As was just touched on, migration policy should not be an alternative for employers to offering the type of rewarding packages that care staff deserve.
To deliver change to the social care sector, we need to make changes to the way that we train, recruit, attract and retain staff. The Government are focused on working alongside the sector, including through Skills for Care, to ensure that the workforce can meet the increasing demands and continue to deliver quality, compassionate care. Immigration must be part of our overall strategy for this sector’s workforce, not a handy alternative for employers to—
The Migration Advisory Committee has effectively recommended a significant increase in the pay of social care staff, which they urgently need—and they have been under immense pressure this year. Will the Minister accept that recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee?
The right hon. Member will have seen the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, and I know that my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care will consider them closely. I certainly hope that if she is keen on the MAC, she will support the Government’s position on the amendment in the Lobby later.
I am conscious that I need to make progress.
Lords amendment 2 seeks to continue certain family reunion arrangements provided by EU law—the so-called Surinder Singh route. It would require us to provide lifetime rights for British citizens resident in the European economic area or Switzerland by the end of the transition period to return to the UK accompanied or joined by their non-British close family members on current EU free movement law terms. In effect, that means that these rights would continue perpetually. Family members of British citizens resident in the EEA or Switzerland at the end of the transition period are not protected by the withdrawal agreement in terms of returning to the UK. However, we have made transition arrangements for them. British citizens living in the EEA or Switzerland will have until 29 March 2022 to bring their existing close family members—a spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner in a long-term relationship, child or dependent parent—to the UK on EU law terms. The family relationship must have existed before the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 and continue to exist. Those family members will also then be eligible to apply to remain in the UK under the EU settlement scheme. Now that we have left the EU, we have to be fair to other British citizens, whether they are living overseas or in the UK, and to UK taxpayers who can be called on to pay the costs when family life is not established sustainably in the UK. In the long run, the same rules should apply to all, not continue indefinitely to give preferential treatment to those relying on past free movement rights that have been abolished. This is what a global immigration system means. However, I respect the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) has made to me, and, as with other things, we will continue to keep this area under review.
Lords amendment 3 provides for children in care and care leavers who lose their free movement rights to obtain indefinite leave to remain. I pay tribute to the noble Lord Dubs, who sponsored this amendment in the other place. The Government agree on the importance of protecting the rights of children in care and care leavers, and other vulnerable groups, as we end free movement. I have also appreciated the points made in a letter I replied to from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). We are providing extensive support to local authorities, which have the statutory responsibilities for this cohort, to ensure that these children and young people, like other vulnerable groups, get UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme. This support includes the settlement resolution centre and grant funding of up to £17 million, to cover last year and this year, to organisations across the UK to support all vulnerable groups in applying to the scheme.
A survey of local authorities by the Home Office has so far identified fewer than 4,000 children in care and care leavers eligible for the EU settlement scheme, with over 40% of those having already applied for status under it, and with most of those who have applied having already received an outcome of settled status. The Government have made it clear, in line with the withdrawal agreement, that where a person eligible for status under the EU settlement scheme has reasonable grounds for missing the 30 June 2020 deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. We have also made clear that those reasonable grounds will include where a parent, guardian or local authority does not apply on behalf of a child. Therefore, if a child in care or a care leaver misses the deadline, they will still be able to obtain lawful status in the UK. There is no time limit to what may be reasonable, so an application today from a person who is a child aged eight would be reasonable if they discovered at age 18 that their local council had not applied for them.
The Government are not, therefore, persuaded of the need for this amendment. Applicants under the age of 21 are already granted immediate settled status under the EU settlement scheme where a parent has that status. The idea of applying such a provision retrospectively runs counter to the general operation of the immigration rules.
I have to make progress.
I will now turn briefly to Lords amendment 4, which relates to family reunion and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I understand the important issues that this amendment seeks to address, and confirm the Government’s commitment to the principle of family unity and supporting vulnerable children. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), recently announced at the Conservative party conference our intention to reform our broken asylum system to make it firm but fair, and we intend to bring forward legislation next year to deliver on that intention. Our reformed system will be fair and compassionate towards those who need our help by welcoming people through safe and legal routes; it will, though, be firm in stopping the abuse of the system by those who misuse it— especially serious or persistent criminals—simply to prevent their removal from this country.
We have a proud record of providing safety to those who need it through our asylum system and resettlement schemes, and we have granted protection and other leave to more than 44,000 children seeking protection since 2010. The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe, receiving more claims than any EU member state in 2019 and 20% of all claims made in the EU. However, now we have left the European Union, it does not make sense in the long term to have a different set of provisions for those in fundamentally safe and democratic countries than for those in the rest of the world, unless those provisions are based on effective reciprocal agreements relating to returns and family reunification. We have made a credible and serious offer to the EU on new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and it remains our goal to negotiate such an arrangement, but the UK does provide safe and legal routes for people to join family members in the UK through existing immigration rules, all of which are unaffected by our exit from the European Union, such as the provisions under part 11 of the immigration rules.
Lords amendment 5 would require the Secretary of State to offer a physical document free of charge to any EEA citizen who applies for leave or has been granted leave under the EU settlement scheme. As announced earlier, this amendment engages financial privilege, so I will not debate it specifically, but I will point out that the House has considered that proposal on a number of occasions, and has declined it each time. We have made such a move across our migration system: in particular, we are looking at the British national overseas visa route, which will also use an electronic system. Again, that is similar to other countries: for example, Australia has had such a system since 2015.
I am going to have to start making some progress.
Lords amendments 6, 7 and 8 relate to detention time limits—an issue that is not directly relevant to the purpose of the Bill, which is to end free movement. In addition, at the heart of the Bill is a commitment to a global system and equal treatment of immigrants of all nationalities as we exit the transition period. On the broader point, imposing a 28-day time limit on detention is not practical and would encourage and reward abuse, especially of our protection routes. No European country has adopted anything close to a time limit as short as that proposed in these amendments, and comparable nations have not gone down this route at all.
However, I recognise the point made by those who are concerned about this issue. As I said when we discussed a very similar amendment tabled on Report, we want to reform the system so that it makes a quicker set of decisions, and for our position to be clear that detention is used when there is no alternative, or when there is a specific need to protect the public from harm.
My hon. Friend will be aware that many of us across the House are concerned about the fact that there is not a limit. He is absolutely right that what is required is an international convention and international agreement on this issue. Nevertheless, for some people to be detained indefinitely having committed no crime is a matter of concern, and I would like my hon. Friend’s commitment that he will keep this matter under review within the Home Office.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his constructive intervention. We will absolutely keep it under review. I gently say that it is not possible to detain someone indefinitely as such; they can apply for immigration bail, and we have to meet a test that says there is a reasonable prospect of their removal. My right hon. Friend will appreciate that, similarly, there are instances where it is out of the Home Office’s hands, or even this jurisdiction’s hands, and we cannot immediately remove someone by a particular day.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the law on detention is very similar to that pre-2015, when he was in the Cabinet. Immigration detention is part of our rules, but we have been reducing its use over recent years; again, it should be a last resort when other methods cannot be used. However, I say again with regret that introducing a 28-day limit would allow people to exploit the system and would actually run contrary to our ability to run an effective system.
I turn to Lords amendment 9. I appreciated the chance today and over the weekend to have significant conversations on this subject with my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who have had a strong passion and commitment to this area over a long period. Lords amendment 9 would require arrangements to be made in the immigration rules for the granting of leave to remain to confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA citizens, in specified circumstances. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary, for reasons that I will briefly set out.
Currently, confirmed victims of modern slavery who are foreign nationals from non-EEA countries and who do not already have immigration status are automatically considered for a grant of discretionary leave to remain. By “automatically” I mean they do not have to apply for it. Our national referral mechanism arranges for that consideration if, after a decision has been reached, there are conclusive grounds to believe that someone is a victim of modern slavery. EEA citizens are not automatically considered in that way, as many are likely to be exercising free movement rights and therefore do not require a grant of discretionary leave under UK immigration rules. They may, however, apply for discretionary leave if they wish.
However, to address some of the points that have been made, following the end of free movement, EEA confirmed victims who do not already have permission to stay in the UK, for example though our EU settlement scheme, will be treated in the same way as other foreign national victims and therefore receive automatic consideration for a grant of discretionary leave. The published policy will be amended to make that clear beyond 1 January 2021; the recent publication reflects the guidance that needs to be followed today, with free movement rights still in place.
My hon. Friend knows that I spoke overnight to the Home Secretary and we agreed that this was an anomaly and needed to be sorted, so I am pleased that he now commits to doing it. Will he also, however, commit to having a full and proper set of discussions with Lord McColl, me and others about the possibility of introducing modern slavery victims support legislation to iron out many of these anomalies?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his constructive intervention. Yes, certainly; I am more than happy to engage with him about how we can look at this process. He will realise that it is not just in this area where there has traditionally been a difference, because EEA nationals have freedom of movement rights, so it would be odd to grant them status under immigration rules, but I am certainly happy to have that conversation. I also reassure Members that we would consider someone’s being held as a modern slave as reasonable grounds for a late application to the EU settlement scheme. I say gently that it would be unhelpful to have two very similar sets of criteria, one under the immigration rules and one under policy, so we do not accept Lords amendment 9.
Having been through the more contentious areas, I hope that Members support Lords amendment 11, which was introduced in reaction to feedback in the other place. I hope that Members accept the reasons I have outlined why the Government cannot accept the Lords amendments that we ask the House to disagree with, but I hope that they have a sense of the Government’s commitment to the issues raised.
It is a pleasure to be at the Dispatch Box for the return of this incredibly important piece of legislation. I thank peers in the other place for their detailed work on the Bill. We welcome the amendments that have been secured, most of them with significant majorities; several of the improvements before us today demonstrate cross-party support.
Lords amendment 1 would require the Secretary of State to commission and publish an independent assessment of the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector. The Government’s intransigence on this matter has been beyond disappointing. This Bill has been an affront to those migrant workers working on the frontline in social care. To have clapped them on a Thursday night and then told them that they are unskilled and therefore not welcome on a Monday is both disrespectful and shameful.
Members on both sides of the House have witnessed the vulnerabilities across our health and social care sector, which, despite the best efforts of its dedicated workforce, has been pushed to the limits over the course of the pandemic. Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, represents our dedicated public sector workers, including social care workers, across the UK. We have worked closely with Unison, which has supported and represented workers throughout the pandemic. With its in-depth knowledge of the sector and foresight, it has articulated its vision of social care in its “care after covid” campaign to address the fault lines that were so exposed throughout the last six months. To propose a Bill that will make radical changes to the recruitment of social care workers without considering the impact is simply negligent and careless governance.
The Minister referred to the Migration Advisory Committee; in its recent report, commissioned at the request of the Home Secretary, it expressed concerns about the social care sector and argued that if necessary funding and pay increases do not materialise urgently, it would expect the end of freedom of movement to increase the pressure on the social care sector. That would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when so many care occupations are central to the covid-19 pandemic frontline response.
These remarks should unsettle the Government and spur them into action, and I fully expect that if the Government do not listen, on the day that the new points-based immigration system is implemented we will still be deeply entrenched in the battle against coronavirus. If we do not do our due diligence by adopting this amendment, the Bill is set to undermine social care recklessly at a time when we can least afford it, so we urge the Government to reconsider their position, commission the impact assessment and understand the impact of the Bill on the social care workforce, on visas and on the consequences for recruitment, training and staff terms and conditions.
Amendment 4 would ensure there are safe refugee family reunion routes after Dublin III ceases to be available in the UK following the end of the UK-EU transition period. I want to place on record my thanks to the brilliant and inspirational Lord Dubs for his tireless work and leadership on this amendment in the other place.
A great deal has been said about immigration over the summer and we on the Labour Benches want in the strongest possible terms to distance ourselves from the Home Secretary’s dangerous rhetoric and to thank those lawyers who play such an important role in ensuring that the UK is upholding its international and legal obligations. The amendment demonstrates the future for one of the safe and legal routes we have all advocated for over the summer.
The Dublin III regulation is for family reunion and represents legal routes to safety from Europe for children seeking to come to the UK. Family reunion under Dublin III is currently the only legal pathway to reach the UK from the EU for the purposes of claiming asylum. It will no longer apply after the transition period. If we do not seek to address this issue, I fear that we will see more images of people making precarious and life-threatening journeys on dinghies across the channel.
The Government will say that they have a draft proposal for family reunion; however, it is apparent that their proposal is woefully inadequate. The proposals remove all mandatory requirements to activate family reunions. They remove the child’s right to appeal against refusal, and some children would not be covered by the narrower definition of family which Parliament passed in a 2017 Act.
Other safeguards have been removed, too, such as deadlines. According to one non-governmental organisation, 95% of people helped by NGOs to obtain a right of passage would fail the test proposed by the Government. Existing immigration rules also fail to cover this specific area, and therefore this amendment gives Parliament a chance to enshrine in law the basic principle of family reunion.
This issue is incredibly salient and our thoughts are still fixed on the suffering and horrors caused by the fire at the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos. The scale of that tragedy could have been minimised.
We all heard the pleas before the incident to the Greek Government for help with numbers at the camp, yet the calls were ignored by the people in power.
It is worth noting that the number of people who have come in under Dublin III has historically been very small. Up to 2014, there were 10 or 11 a year, and since 2016, a little over 500 have come in under it. We hear about the Government’s proposed fairer borders Bill on asylum, but those children cannot wait. We are asking the House to use its power to give transformative opportunities to innocent children who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves fleeing persecution and destitution.
Lords amendment 6 would limit the maximum length that an individual can be held in immigration detention to 28 days. As well as implementing that backstop, the amendment would ensure that re-detention cannot be used as a matter of routine and will instead only be justified where there is a material change in the detained person’s circumstances. The Secretary of State’s decision to detain a person would, after 96 hours, be subject to judicial scrutiny at a bail hearing. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the Secretary of State should only detain a person if they are in a position to set removal directions and carry them out within 14 days of the initial bail hearing.
This amendment commands cross-party support and has done so throughout the Bill’s passage in both Houses. It is overwhelmingly apparent that serious systemic problems exist in our current detention system. The courts and all parliamentary and inspectorate investigations in recent years have found fundamental failings. Long-term detention of mentally ill and vulnerable detainees remains a serious problem. The adults at risk policy does not provide a sufficient level of protection.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, defenders of the current system have stated that detention for more than 28 days is limited to those who have committed serious offences. That simply is not the case. In reality, we have seen examples of people with no offending history, including survivors of trafficking, detained for periods exceeding 28 days. On the basis of human rights alone, the amendment should be accepted, but this is also a question of the general efficacy of our detention system. It causes unnecessary human pain, and it is a waste of resources to trap people in detention indefinitely with no definitive answer provided on their immigration status. That is why we and so many others feel so strongly that the case for immigration detention reform is long overdue.
Lords amendment 3 would fast-track settled status for children in care and care leavers. I think all Members would agree that the Government must do all they can to ensure that everyone who is eligible to apply for settled status via the EU settlement scheme is aware of the scheme. There is a profound and well-founded fear that EEA and Swiss children in care may be left behind. The Home Office has estimated that there are 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers in the UK who will need to apply under the EU settlement scheme, yet analysis from the Children’s Society has found that 153 out of 211 local authorities across the UK have identified only 3,612 EEA and Swiss looked-after children and care leavers, with only 11% having so far secured status.
The Government have produced non-statutory guidance for local authorities on the EU settlement scheme regarding their roles and responsibilities for making or supporting applications for looked-after children and care leavers. Nevertheless, many local authorities are unaware of those responsibilities and also blissfully unaware of the stark consequences and immigration enforcement measures that face children in their care if they fail to register under the EU settlement scheme. That risk is now compounded by the coronavirus crisis, as local authority resources are being diverted elsewhere. Identifying and assisting children in care who need to apply for immigration status, which is seemingly non-urgent, will inevitably be deprioritised. Implementation of this amendment would facilitate local and national Government working together to ensure that no child in the care and responsibility of the British state becomes undocumented.
Lords amendment 2 would guarantee the right of UK citizens who have moved to the EU to return home to the UK, accompanied by their close family, without financial restrictions. Under the Bill as introduced, British citizens who moved to other EU countries while the UK was a member will lose their right to return to their country of birth with a non-British partner or child unless they can meet financial conditions that are beyond the reach of many. If they need to return to look after an ageing parent—an example shared with us on numerous occasions—thousands will now have to choose between returning to the UK alone, leaving their family behind or abandoning their parent to stay with their non-British family overseas. Nobody should have to face a choice like that, especially in the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic, which has caused stress and anxiety for so many people.
The Government plan to use the ending of free movement as an opportunity to make British citizens meet the minimum income requirement for family reunion for the first time. The minimum income requirement is such a significant barrier that a study found that 40% of UK workers would not reach it.
Without Lords amendment 2, we would end up in the perverse situation of the Government discriminating against their own citizens. While British citizens who have moved to the EU or EEA before the end of 2020 will face these new restrictions, EU citizens who have moved to the UK before the end of 2020 will not. They will have the right under the withdrawal agreement to bring family members here for life, as well as keeping their existing right to return to their country of birth with families they have made in the UK.
Lords amendment 5 offers a sensible method of safeguarding the rights of all EEA and Swiss citizens registered through the European Union settlement scheme by providing them with physical proof of their status. In the largest survey to date on EU citizens’ experience of the EU settlement scheme, carried out by the3million, 89% expressed unhappiness about the lack of physical proof. Simple physical proof would provide citizens with definitive reassurance and provide instant recognition of settled status, meaning that people could continue to live in the country seamlessly following the transition period.
I warmly endorse the last intervention the hon. Gentleman took. Governments of all stripes surely have enough experience of digital disasters to know that people need to have something tangible on which they can rely if they request it and if they feel insufficiently confident that a digital system guarantees that they can prove their status.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We need to ensure that there is documentation, because we have seen the failings of other IT systems in the past and cannot allow that to happen again, especially on an issue as important as people’s rights.
Although we are open to the Government’s aspiration to move towards a digitally-focused system for all UK immigration, we are also aware of the internal failings that prevail within the Home Office. With that in mind, we urge the Government to think again about adopting Lords amendment 5.
Lords amendment 9 would give EEA and Swiss nationals who are victims of trafficking at least 12 months’ leave to remain and access to benefits during their period of recovery after being confirmed as victims of modern slavery. I thank Lord McColl for all his work on this issue and congratulate him on garnering considerable cross-party support. There is an unfortunate absence of domestic statutory provision in England and Wales for confirmed victims of human trafficking on their rights to support and assistance. Over the years, that deficiency has been filled by EU law.
As things stand, following the end of the UK-EU transition period on 31 December, human trafficking victims will be left in an undefined legal vacuum. Following the end of the EU settlement scheme, victims of human trafficking who are EEA or Swiss nationals will be able to apply only for discretionary leave to remain. The criteria for that are very narrow and it is unclear whether the same treatment as that for non-EEA nationals will apply.
Lords amendment 9 would provide much needed refuge and support to people who have suffered unimaginable uncertainty and abuse. We hope that the Government will support it. We must tackle the systemic factors that lead to modern slavery, provide support to those who are affected, and encourage more people to come forward to end the perpetual cycle of abuse and crime. I heard what the Minister said, and we wait with interest to see what the Government will come up with, particularly in respect of support for victims of modern day slavery.
To conclude, this is a bad Bill: it is reckless and ignores the evidence. The Lords amendments, many of which have cross-party support, are a genuine attempt to address those failings. If passed unamended, the Bill will lead to staff shortages in our care system at a time when it is perilously close to collapse; encourage dangerous crossings, as it fails to address safe family reunion routes after Dublin III; and lead to a lack of safeguarding and support for victims of modern day slavery. The amendments have been well debated both here and in the other place, and I urge the Minister to accept them.
I am grateful to be called to speak at this particular point, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was the Centre for Social Justice, which I set up and had the fortune to chair, that published the original document that pushed the Government into passing the first modern-day slavery legislation, a matter of which they are rightly very proud, and that made the UK the first country in the world to bring forward such legislation. That legislation now needs overhauling. That has been the case for some time. The recent report, “It still happens here: Fighting UK Slavery in the 2020s” states:
“For many, having no recourse to public funds poses further barriers to moving people on safely, putting victims at risk of homelessness and destitution, and making it more likely that they will fall back into exploitation and trafficking.”
The one thing that we can learn from recent events in places such as Leicester, where we have uncovered the most appalling abuse of individuals who have been victims of slavery, working for a pittance and living in terrible accommodation, is that we really do not want to see that repeated in the UK. That is the point that I want to make in my speech today.
There must be some kind of recourse to public funds for victims of modern slavery, which will make them more secure than they are at the moment. We need to make that case in legislation. I am pleased that the Government have moved on the issue of European economic area nationals and recognised that there was some contradiction in what they were proposing in their guidance. I notice that a paragraph was inserted into the guidance after Lord McColl’s amendment had been passed, which, had it been there originally, might have meant that there would have been no need for this particular amendment. Two contradictions were made but I do not have the time to go through them now, so Members will have to read about them themselves. None the less, I am pleased that the Minister said from the Dispatch Box that the Government have now rectified that matter and that non-EEA and EEA nationals will now be treated the same when it comes to discretionary leave to remain. That is a really important move. Having spoken to the Home Secretary and got that guarantee from her, it is a great pleasure to hear it from the Dispatch Box.
There has always been a problem with discretionary leave to remain and it was made worse by a Minister back in 2017 saying that there must be exceptional or compelling reasons to justify granting it. The bar has been set too high, and it is really important for us to recognise that people who come here having suffered the real persecution of slavery need to have a little more consideration shown for their position. They are not in the same boat as pure asylum seekers. In fact, those people can get a much longer period of time; whereas somebody who has genuine problems and who has been abused finds their time curtailed. That is why we need to look further than just at what the Government are doing here. I recognise that, perhaps today, this Bill is not the right way to try to press this matter forward, but I do say to the Government that there is another way.
I recognise also that the problem on that score is that a confirmed refugee can get five years’ leave to remain, but a confirmed—I repeat “confirmed”—victim of modern slavery gets no leave to remain at all. It seems to me that we have got ourselves in a twisted position, not because the Government—or any Government—want to be there, but because we have an anomaly, which we now need to rectify. That is the point that I really want to make in the short time available.
It is expensive for us to take someone through the national referral mechanism, conclude that they are genuine victims of modern slavery, but not provide adequate care. Those people remain very vulnerable and are quickly re-trafficked. As I said earlier, Leicester is a very good example of that, but there are other cities in the UK where people are drifting into these terrible conditions because they have nowhere else to go, or, for that matter, going into the national referral mechanism but facing uncertainty over ongoing care. They do not have the capacity to give evidence in court against their traffickers and that is the one thing that we want them to do. We need to be able to prosecute the traffickers to make sure that they never do it again. We need to think about this very carefully, so I have an ask of the Government—I said this when I intervened on the Minister. He needs to make sure that the change to the guidance is included and seen in the other place and that, critically, Lord McColl and others recognise that this has been done and that it is not just a gesture.
Secondly, I ask the Minister seriously—he said he was prepared to do this—to bring all this together in a new Bill that deals with the problems that we have now found. This is a good Bill, but we now find problems coming through relating to the abuse of people who are confirmed as having been brought in under modern-day slavery conditions and who we need to give support. I recognise that the Government are worried about people using modern-day slavery provisions as a route in, but the numbers coming in and getting a claim are so tiny that we can surely manage this. I understand the position in respect of failed immigration and people on asylum, but this is a very peculiar group that needs our care. If the Minister can commit to a discussion about future legislation with myself, Lord McColl and others in this place who would wish to be part of that, we may be able to make some progress on that.
I just want to end by saying this: it is the mark of a civilised and decent society that when people have been tortured and persecuted and they flee—to this country of all countries—they get treated well. Why? Because that is who we are. Everybody from Karl Marx through to Garibaldi came to the UK when they ran into difficulties and were persecuted. Can we please today give our commitment that we will open our doors and welcome those people who are proved to be victims of modern-day slavery?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who always speaks so expertly on issues of modern slavery.
The Lords amendments ask three important questions of MPs. First, are we going to protect and promote fair treatment for families and family unity? Secondly, will we look out for the most vulnerable? And thirdly, do we listen to legitimate concerns raised by communities impacted by migration policy? If the answer to those questions is yes, as it should be, we must oppose the Home Secretary’s motions and support the amendments made in the House of Lords.
Let me start my whistle-stop tour with Lords amendment 2, which is designed to protect families. The fact is that in the UK we have some of the most restrictive family visa immigration rules in the world, splitting up tens of thousands of British citizens and children from their spouses and parents. Sadly, that regime is now to be extended to British citizens and settled persons who happen to fall in love with European nationals. There is now little we can do to stop that, but we can stop the rules applying to British citizens who are already living elsewhere in the EEA with non-UK spouses and their families.
When such citizens left here and established family life elsewhere in the EEA, they had absolutely no reason ever to suspect that their ability to return would be restricted. This is not, as the Government have tended to suggest in some debates, about avoiding or circumventing rules; it is about British citizens having a legitimate expectation of an unrestricted right to return with their family. The Government should respect that expectation. On the one hand, the Government have, to an extent, recognised the particular circumstances of this group by providing a grace period, which is good in so far as it goes, but the grace period does not solve the problem; it simply postpones this deep unfairness for a couple of years. Basically, the Government are saying to many families, “You need to decide by March 2022. You can come back before then, uprooting your family, even in the most difficult of circumstances; otherwise, you will need to stay away altogether.” What the Government should do instead is simply remove the unfairness altogether and exempt this fixed and finite cohort from the rules forever. I really cannot see why that is such a difficult ask of the Government.
Lords amendment 4 is also about the importance of family unity. It is about protecting some of the most vulnerable people out there: people, including unaccompanied children, seeking asylum. It is not just common sense but common decency that says that this is the right place for an asylum claim to be considered if the applicant has a family connection here or if it is in the best interests of a child. As Lord Dubs said in the other place, this is not about the UK taking responsibility for all unaccompanied children; it is about taking our fair share of responsibility.
The Dublin system is far from perfect, but so many families have benefited from it, and indeed the UK has benefited from the system as well through the contribution that those asylum seekers and refugees have made. Alternative options in immigration rules, such as the exception route, are way too limited in scope and just will not do as an alternative. Whatever is or is not happening with negotiations, these people should not be the victims or the latest bargaining chips.
Lords amendment 3 would benefit another vulnerable group—children in care and care leavers—by fast-tracking their access to the settled status scheme. It would allow all children in those groups to proceed to fully settled status, rather than creating another cliff edge for a later date with pre-settled status. The Government have themselves acknowledged—the Minister acknowledged it today—that fewer than half of eligible children in those categories have applied to the settlement scheme with just eight months left to go.
The new approach in the Lords amendment is a practical, reasonable and now, I would say, urgent compromise, after Government arguments against an earlier iteration of the amendment that referred to deemed leave. It is just a practical way to assist the Government in achieving as broad a reach as possible for the EU settlement scheme. Having said that, I echo what Lord Dubs said when moving the amendment, which was that local authorities and the Home Office must also make sure that children entitled to British citizenship have full access to that without unnecessary fees and barriers. Although welcome, it is not enough for the Government to state that late applications from these groups would be accepted; although that is better than not accepting such late applications, we should be doing everything possible to avoid any period of their being undocumented, and all the huge difficulties and stresses that that can entail. So we support this amendment, and my amendment (a) would simply increase its scope to include another group of care leavers under legislation in Scotland, something that the Scottish Government have written to the Minister about.
Lords amendment 9 relates to a group of people who could not be any more vulnerable: the victims of the awful crimes of modern slavery. I pay tribute to Lord McColl and various other members of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, including the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, for their relentless pursuit of this issue. Our party will always support immigration leave being granted where that is required for such victims to put their lives back together, and that is exactly what Lord McColl’s amendment seeks to do. I agree with the observations of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green—I was listening to the exchange between him and the Minister, and we will follow the progress in that regard—that we need to go further still. There are rights being lost for the victims of modern slavery from the European economic area, and we have not got ourselves into a place yet where those rights are being adequately replaced.
On the detention amendments, too many victims of modern slavery, far from being given a short grant of leave to remain to help rebuild their lives, end up instead in our hideous immigration detention estate, along with scores of others who should never be there. During the pandemic the numbers detained have dropped significantly and we should be aiming to keep numbers as low as possible. As the Minister said, detention should be a matter of last resort, and it should be for the absolute minimum period necessary, but the figures show that a majority of people detained are simply released again into the community. It is a badge of shame that the UK continues to be an outlier in failing to place any defined limit on detention. We are dealing with basic but fundamental principles: the right to liberty and the requirement for speedy judicial oversight of any deprivation of liberty.
Lords amendments 1 and 5 highlight the Government’s failure to listen to serious concerns. As we have heard, Lords amendment 1 flags up the huge danger that an end to free movement and the design of the future immigration system pose to the care sector. It is similar to an amendment tabled when this Bill was first in this place by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). It is totally wrong to talk of cheap labour undercutting the resident workforce here; we should be expressing our gratitude for the amazing work that EEA citizens are doing in our social care workforce. The danger to the care sector has been spelled out by the sector and by the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee, not just last week but repeatedly. Yes, the long-term future of care will require greater investment and better pay, but the Government have shown no indication or inclination to suggest that they are going to fix that any time soon, never mind in the two and a half months between now and the end of free movement. So to take this step in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic is just jaw-droppingly reckless. As the MAC said, ending free movement will
“increase the pressure on the social care sector, something that would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when…care”
“central to the… pandemic frontline response.”
The Government are not listening to the MAC, but perhaps a review that would follow this amendment would force them to listen.
Finally, let me close by discussing Lords amendment 5 and paying tribute to those in the3million campaign group for their perseverance, even when it seems that the Government do not listen. Now their modest ask is that they are not used in the Home Office’s moves to go digital; they are simply asking that, like everybody else, they are provided with the physical means of proving their status here. The Minister referred to the example of Australia, but it spent five to 10 years trialling that system with a physical document as back-up. This is first about technology: the fact that someone’s legal status and rights can be verified only by a Home Office system, and all the risks inherent in that.
Absolutely, and it would be the perfect trial of the Home Office system; if it really works as the Home Office anticipates, there will not be a demand for it. If the Home Office has confidence in the system, it should have nothing to fear from this. It is about not just technology, but human nature. We know that discrimination is a feature of the hostile environment policy, as private citizens are forced by the Government to do checks. They face harsh penalties if they get those checks wrong, so they will, as a result, play it safe. The danger is that a property will be let to, and a job will be offered to, a person with a passport and a visa, instead of to a person with a piece of digital code, all other things being equal. The3million is simply asking to have the same reassurance that everybody else has access to, and we should provide that.
The amendments could have a transformative effect for many marginalised and vulnerable people. They would enhance family unity and provide additional reassurance for those most directly impacted by Brexit. They could be a small silver lining on what we regard as an awful Bill. We should stand by the House of Lords’ amendments.
I rise to speak to a number of amendments. I declare my interest as co-chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, which I chair with the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss from the other place.
I will not repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, because I agree wholeheartedly with every word, but, if I may, I will add to his comments. Just today, the organisation ECPAT published a freedom of information request which found that just 28 children who were confirmed victims of trafficking were granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK between 2016 and 2019. I therefore say to the Minister that the statistics do not stack up with the words we are hearing from the Dispatch Box. I know he is a good man and he wants to do the right thing, but we need to deliver as a Government so that the statistics back up what is being said.
The key point here is that we want to see prosecutions. We will not break the cycle of this horrendous crime if we do not bring the perpetrators to justice. That means having victims here in the United Kingdom who are able to testify, able to give evidence and able to bring the perpetrators to justice. It is incredibly important that the Government bear that in mind, because, as with all hidden crimes, without support given to the victims, who are the most vulnerable people imaginable and who have been through the most hideous experiences, we will never break the cycle and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I urge the Minister not just to support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said about support for victims, but to implement all measures from the Modern Slavery Act 2015. That was an excellent, groundbreaking and world-leading Act—we are using lots of clichés—but so much of it has not yet been implemented. If it was implemented fully, we would see so much more success with prosecutions, which is what we all want.
I will speak very briefly on Lords amendment 3. I urge the Government to deliver on this matter. Communication is absolutely key. We need to ensure that people who are entitled to claim settled status know about it. The international reputation of the United Kingdom is at risk here. Getting this wrong will not enhance the view of us by others in the world. We need to make sure that we get it right.
I want to focus the majority of my time on Lords amendment 4. I thank all Ministers for their engagement over the weekend. I spoke to Minister on the Front Bench—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster)—and to other Ministers in the Home Office. I know there is concern to make sure we get this right, but again it goes back to the point that we must help the victims, because we can never break the cycle of crime that is getting people to the point where they are in Calais, Dunkirk and Zeebrugge unless we can help the victims.
I gently say to the Minister—he is not guilty of this, but I gently say it to all Ministers—that we must not think of victims as good victims or bad victims. When a constituent who has been the victim of a fraud or other crime comes to our surgery, we might well think to ourselves, “Well, buyer beware, and you should have realised when this too-good-to-be-true offer was put in front of you. Maybe you should not have accepted it or given your bank details,” or whatever else it might be. However, we do not judge. We do not say, “We are not going to take your case, because you’re a bad victim who brought it on yourself.” Instead, we say to our constituents, “Of course we will take your case to Parliament. Of course we will raise it with Ministers. Of course we will take it to the highest authorities.” The same applies to the victims of traffickers. If somebody has been trafficked to Calais, Zeebrugge or Dunkirk, it is because they believe there is a chance of a better life. Whether they are educated and should have known better or whether they are very vulnerable victims, they are still entitled to be listened to and heard. It is clear from so many hidden crimes that until victims are believed and listened to, we cannot break the cycle.
It is absolutely vital that we have a safe and legal passage available, and we do not have that at the moment. When we are out of Dublin III, what will the safe and legal passage be? We need to make sure that there is one. Just last week, the APPG took evidence on the role that traffickers play in the migrant crisis in the channel ports. It is clear that the organisations that operate on the ground have had the most success when there is a scheme to which they can direct people. The reality is that very few end up using the scheme, but they come forward to authority—they come and trust authority—and these are people who have been abused by authority. So if we want to stop the small boats and if we want to stop migrants being under the wheel arches of vehicles—if we want to deal with this—we need to do so by making sure that there is a safe and legal passage.
To quote Bishop Desmond Tutu:
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
I urge the Minister to work with the Home Office and the newly created Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to make sure that upstream, we are dealing in source countries with how we stop people falling into the river, because we cannot deal with that problem just in the channel.
I am very pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), and I agree with the points that she made.
Last month, the Home Office published its comprehensive improvement plan in response to the Windrush scandal, with a big focus on listening to what outside organisations say, presumably with the intention of taking some notice of it. Simply ignoring the concerns that people have raised and ploughing on regardless is the reason why we ended up with the Windrush scandal in the first place.
In her foreword to the comprehensive improvement plan, the Home Secretary said:
“Today, the Home Office is already a very different place. We are listening to community leaders and organisations and urgent change is underway”.
I was hoping that that was not just hot air, but there is absolutely no hint of that change of heart in what the Minister has said to us this afternoon. He has rejected out of hand all the Lords amendments. He was speaking for the old Home Office, not the new Home Office that we have been promised in the comprehensive improvement plan.
I will focus my short remarks on one of the amendments in particular—Lords amendment 5—which was raised in the excellent opening remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), as well as by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), the SNP spokesperson, and it was supported in interventions by Members on both sides of the House. Support for the amendment has been underlined by a community organisation in my constituency. I will refer to that in a moment but I underline again that, as elsewhere in the Bill, community organisations, trade unions and businesses all agree. I quote in particular what the business group, London First, said about Lords amendment 5:
“With so much immigration control now being delegated to banks, landlords, and employers, the complicated system being proposed (involving websites, emails, passport numbers, passcodes, and security questions to prove one’s status) leaves everyone in an uncertain position. Legitimate migrants will struggle to prove their status and employers, service providers, and landlords will be reluctant to take part in, or to trust, such a convoluted procedure. A piece of physical proof that can be produced on demand would give everyone the certainty they need.”
London First is absolutely right. Why is the Minister, contrary to the assurance in the comprehensive improvement plan for the Home Office, not taking a blind bit of notice? This is purely about administrative convenience for the Home Office.
Support for Lords amendment 5 has been highlighted to me by the Roma Support Group, a long-established organisation doing excellent work in my constituency. The EU settlement scheme statistics show that Newham, the borough I represent, had a total of 91,000 applications submitted—the biggest number of any local authority—and within that, Romanians account for the biggest cohort, at about a third of the total.
The Roma Support Group pointed me to the European Commission’s digital economy and society index 2018 country report on Romania, which shows that by 2018 only 61% of Romanians were regular internet users—the EU average is 81%—and, looking at basic digital skills, the figure is 28% for Romanians compared with 57% for the EU average. The assessment of the Roma Support Group is that only 3% of its clients, and it has over 5,000 in my borough, are able to complete an online EU settlement scheme application independently, and it also estimates that only 20% of the families it deals with have an IT device, such as a tablet or laptop, available to them at home.
The Roma Support Group has told me about a Newham resident, Nicoleta, a single mother working in the hotel industry. She paid somebody to help her make the EU settlement scheme application in 2019. She did not know that free support was available. After she was granted status, the third party she had paid gave her a confirmation letter from the Home Office and told her that that paper would be the confirmation she needed. In July this year, she realised that the status she has is only digital and that she does not have the details needed to access her online account. She had to get somebody to call the Home Office and change the details on it.
Nicolaie works in the construction industry. In April this year, his work stopped due to the pandemic and he was told to make a universal credit application. He was asked to provide his EU settlement scheme details, for which he had applied with help from a local organisation, and he got into trouble as well because he could not access his digital status statement.
Of course, everybody can see the benefits of moving in the direction the Government want to, but the fact is there is a large number of people—thousands of people—who will not be able to make this work in the short term. I do say to the Minister that he should heed what he has signed up to in the comprehensive improvement plan, and accept Lords amendment 5.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). I declare an interest as a barrister who has worked within the care system for many years.
I am delighted to be speaking in this debate at all, because it is further evidence of the fact that this House is making the necessary laws and arrangements for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The Government were elected on a mandate to deliver departure from the EU in clear terms, and reform of the present broken immigration system is very much part of that mandate. I receive many emails from my constituents in Derbyshire Dales who are pressing for such reform.
The primary purpose of this Bill is to end the free movement of persons in UK law, and to make EU citizens and their families subject to UK immigration controls. It is the Government’s clear intention that, at the end of the transition period, citizens of the EU and their families will require permission to enter and remain in the UK. For me, this is the logical result of our leaving the EU and becoming independent once more. I should mention that the Bill protects the immigration status of Irish citizens once free movement ends. This is only proper, and it is enshrined in a long-standing Ireland Act 1949 and subsequent legislation.
As is often the case, the Lords amendments seek to water down or negate the purpose of this important and good piece of legislation. I am of the view that if the amendments are passed, I would be letting down my electorate in Derbyshire Dales. I therefore oppose the amendments and wholeheartedly support the Government this evening. It is time for a clear and logical reform of the present broken immigration system.
I would like to turn to the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector. Lords amendment 1 requires the Secretary of State to publish an independent assessment of the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector within six months. This is wholly unnecessary. The Government already work with Skills for Care, which carries out independent reporting, and rely on the information of the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which will be providing annual reports on our new immigration system will be working. I am of the view that immigration is not the solution to the challenges the care sector faces. The solution to those problems rests at home. The Government are investing vast amounts of money, including £1.5 billion more funding in adult and children’s social care, and have launched a national recruitment scheme in this sector, which I support. The covid-19 pandemic has shown us how important this sector is and how important it is to treasure, train and retain social care workers in this country.
No, I will not give way. Our focus needs to be investing in this country for more young people and older people to be retrained to work in this sector and to be valued with proper wages. We have a fantastic resource at home. In Derbyshire Dales, I have spoken to several care workers. They all work incredibly hard and we treasure them. For those reasons, I oppose Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 2 would amend clause 4 of the Bill. I cannot go into as much detail as I would like because of time constraints, but the change suggested would provide preferential family reunion rights under EU free movement law indefinitely. The people of this country did not vote to leave the EU to go on to grant such indefinite rights. It would provide an unfair situation for all other UK nationals who wish to live in the UK with family from outside the EU. The suggested creation of a lifetime right for one group of nationals over another—UK nationals living overseas who have families from other parts of the world—would be grossly unfair to our citizens. We are not leaving the EU and taking the EU’s broken immigration rules with us. European Union free movement simply needs to end.
Lords amendment 3 relates to children in care. The proposal is over emotive and simply not necessary. The Government are providing extensive support to local authorities, which have a legal responsibility already for applying on behalf of eligible children in care to get UK immigration status under the settlement scheme. In my practice at the Bar representing guardians, children, parents and local authorities, I witnessed such circumstances frequently. Furthermore, the Government have made it clear that they will accept late applications. The amendment is just political and wholly unnecessary.
I am not going to be able to spend much time talking about Dublin III, but it is worth remembering that this country is now a sovereign country and we can make our own laws. We have a strong record of supporting vulnerable children, refugees and asylum seekers, and we will do that. We have an admirable record internationally, and I do not accept the naysaying and doom that we hear from the Opposition. The fact is that we have an electoral mandate to fix the problems that exist in our broken electoral system, and I very much look forward to the great ideas of the Government for new legislation in that area next year. We will continue to provide a safe haven to those fleeing persecution and oppression and tyranny, but we will not allow organised criminals to continue to exploit people, and we will have to stop what is happening in bringing people who are exploited across the channel.
Briefly on Lords amendment 5, I say that we do not need to rely solely on written documents. Physical documents can get lost, stolen and are often tampered with. The online scheme is safer and more reliable. I therefore oppose the amendment. As I am running out of time, I cannot go into detail, save to say that a time limit is necessary to be able to control immigration, and any suggestion otherwise is fanciful. I have no hesitation in supporting the Government in opposing the amendments today.
Can I say to the Government that I am disappointed that they are resisting all of the amendments from the Lords? Clearly, immigration legislation is needed, and new immigration rules are needed in time for January when the transition ends, but the purpose of Lords amendments is to try to improve those rules and the legislation.
I would say to the hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines) that that is what this debate is all about—for the UK to decide what principles it wants to embed in the immigration system for the future, and many of the Lords amendments are about establishing principles around compassion and drawing on the history the UK has long had of supporting refugees and also supporting the vulnerable.
It is disappointing that the Government are not responding to the mild request to have a social care impact assessment. It is only a limited request, but it is the right response to the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation that something needs to be done. It recommended a pay increase, which I would strongly like to see. In the absence of that, it said that social care should be added to the shortage occupation list to make sure that that vital service is not overstretched as we go through another difficult winter. The Government have provided no response to that at all.
Lords amendment 3 supports some of the most vulnerable EU citizens: children in our care system. Many of them may not even know that they are not British, but nobody has put in an application for them on their behalf. The Minister said that there are fewer than 4,000 children and 40% have applied. That means that 60% have not applied. We are talking about more than 2,000 children, which is not that many from the point of view of the Government’s system, but for every single one of those children, it could have a huge impact on their lives for many years to come if they find that, in fact, they do not have the entitlements in place.
The Minister said, “That’s okay, it’ll be fine. The Home Office will sort it in future.” Unfortunately, the legacy of the Windrush scandal proves that the Home Office has not historically been good at resolving such things many years in the future when policies have moved on and institutional memory has been lost. That is why I support the powerful words of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on why we should have a physical document—to learn the lessons from the Windrush scandal and what went wrong there.
I particularly urge the Government to look again at Lords amendment 4, which was put forward by Lord Alf Dubs, who came here as a child refugee as part of the Kindertransport when the UK rightly did its bit to support children fleeing persecution. The children and teenagers whom we are talking about are those who have fled conflict or persecution, and who have family here who could look after them. Some are in camps in Greece and some are sleeping on the streets in France, but they should be in a safe home with relatives who can care for them.
Safe Passage, which the Government have rightly worked with to support child refugees in the past, has warned that 95% of the children and young people that it has supported through the Dublin route to rejoin family members would be unlikely to qualify under the system that the Government are now proposing to replace the Dublin arrangements. The immigration rules that the Minister wants to fall back on prevent a child or teenager joining an aunt, older brother or someone who could look after them when they have already been separated from their parents—from those whom they love. It is not just inhumane to deny that small number of children the chance to rejoin a family who can look after them; it is also counterproductive and dangerous, because it puts them at the mercy of being exploited by trafficking gangs and criminal gangs that can otherwise suck them into exploitation.
Safe Passage has already said that some of the young people it has been working with in Europe, to urge them to go to the legal system to apply for asylum in those countries and then, where necessary, apply to rejoin family in the UK, are instead starting to panic because they think the system is being changed and they are starting to abscond. That means that they are starting to be sucked into the arms of those smuggler gangs. We all know that those boats coming across the channel are really dangerous. We should be taking action to prevent those lives being put at risk. That includes making sure that where there are young people who have family to care for them, they can do so legally.
Finally, I support the words of the right hon. Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who talked about the importance of providing support for victims of trafficking and modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 put forward by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), when she was Home Secretary was immensely important, but it is not working in practice if some victims of trafficking and modern slavery simply do not get the support that they need. It is possible to have a new immigration system that provides support for the most vulnerable and those who are victims of slavery. The Government should do that.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Like others, I would like to thank all those in the other place for their time and their attention to the Bill. The amendments that they have sent to us are undoubtedly significant improvements and, like the right hon. Lady, I regret that all we have had from the Government is a de plano refusal of them. There are not even any amendments in lieu, which would have shown a level of engagement.
This is particularly true in relation to Lords amendment 1, an eminently modest proposal that has elicited the quite remarkable assertion that, somehow or another, the purpose of immigration is to keep wages and salaries low in the British care sector. I have to say that I struggle with that somewhat. I just do not buy the idea that, if we were to increase the level of pay in the care sector, we would see a flood of local labour going back into it. Notwithstanding that, it is quite remarkable to think that the Government would not want to have an impact assessment for an area of public policy with whose financing we have struggled for almost as long as I have been in this House. Indeed, I cannot remember a time, in any part of the United Kingdom, when we did not struggle with its finances.
I want to touch briefly on Lords amendment 5, which was promoted in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Oates. Various points on this were made exceptionally well by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). The promise made by the Government at the election last year was that there would be some sort of evidence-based settlement scheme, but now we are told that it will be enough just to rely on a digital provision. I strongly suspect that, inside the National Audit Office, there are alarm bells and lights that flash every time a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that there will be a digital solution to a problem. In my experience, any digital solution generally creates a new problem, especially for those who are older and those who are digitally excluded, for whom this is going to create a further and unnecessary level of exclusion.
I want to focus the bulk of my remarks this evening on Lords amendments 6 to 8 and 10, which were promoted in the other place by my noble Friend Baroness Hamwee. Subject to your agreement, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that we might test the opinion of the House in relation to these amendments later this evening. It is worthy of note that the United Kingdom is the only country in Europe that locks people up indefinitely for immigration purposes. Detaining people for months on end without giving them any idea of how long they will be there is clearly inhumane, but it is also expensive and unnecessary.
I have long since given up trying to plead with Home Office Ministers on the basis of humanity and compassion, but I would have hoped that a case based on economy and efficiency would find some favour. However, even that seems not to be the case. When I made an intervention on the Minister, he deftly ignored my point that £7 million was paid out last year and that there were 272 cases of wrongful detention. That is the scale of the crisis in this area. It really worries me that there is so little concern about the fact that no fewer than 272 people were detained wrongfully. That is wrong, it is inefficient and it is expensive. Surely for those reasons at least, the Government should be looking to find a better and more humane basis for doing this.
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He says that he has given up asking the Home Office for compassion, but I wonder whether he has seen, in the comprehensive improvement plan, that theme 2 involves a more compassionate approach.
That is indeed the case. However, the rhetoric and the reality do not always provide a perfect match in this regard. But in fairness, and at the risk of playing with semantics, it would not be that difficult to achieve a more compassionate system because we are currently starting from an exceptionally low base. At the end of June this year, even in the midst of the pandemic, there were 40 people who had been in detention for over a year and four people who had been in detention for more than two years. This has particular importance when one considers the other areas that we have discussed, such as the right to family reunion for child refugees. To pick up the point from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) in relation to amendment 9, I endorse his views on human trafficking. The problem in all these cases is that we do not get upstream because we do not get the necessary co-operation from the victims themselves. If the focus in our system was on catching those who are responsible for the trafficking, and not those who are the victims of it, we would be in a much stronger position. The issue of unlimited detention goes right to the heart of that. It is about which end of the telescope we see the problem through.
The amendments that are before the House this evening are all significant improvements. I hope that the Government, on reflection, will find a way to engage with this in a more constructive and compassionate way.
It is difficult, in six minutes, to do justice to such an important piece of legislation, with such a diverse set of amendments. I want to speak primarily to Lords amendment 3—the old new clause 2 that I proposed on Report—and Lords amendment 4, which is the old new clause 29 on the Dublin replacement. However, I also support Lords amendment 6, previously proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and Lords amendment 9, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) spoke so eloquently about.
On Lords amendment 3, we had previous arguments about lots of children in care going under the radar. There are now just eight months to go until the end of the EU settlement scheme. The Home Office originally told us that it estimated that there were some 9,000 EU children in care and care leavers in this country, but now, after a survey completed by 90% of local authorities, it suggests that the figure is under 4,000. Why the drop? At a similar time, it estimated that the number of EU adults who would register to qualify for the EU settlement scheme would be 3 million, but it has turned out to be over 4 million. Why does the number for children in care go down and yet the number for adults has gone up?
These children are of course already in this country. Not a single additional child will be brought into this country under this legislation. It is about regularising status and giving those children safety and giving confirmation to children already in this country. That is why the amendment is still very important. We risk another Windrush scandal for a particularly vulnerable set of children growing up in care who inevitably have more chaotic lifestyles than most people.
Recent research by the charity Coram, “Children left out?”, highlighted the mixed practice among local authorities in identifying and supporting children in care through the EU settlement scheme, with fears that some authorities are making no attempt to identify children in their care who need to regularise their status. Of course, there is no incentive for authorities to regularise that status through citizenship when it costs £1,012, for every child, to do that.
My hon. Friend is drawing attention to a very important issue. Does he agree that the crucial point is that a local authority may have the statutory duty as the corporate parent, but if the child does not have documentary evidence proving their nationality—not their residence, which the local authority can prove easily, but their nationality—the local authority is unable to take forward the application at all? I hope the Minister will be able to address that issue when he responds to the debate.
That is absolutely right. It is very difficult to replace documents, and many people come here without any documents. We are relying on the timescales of high commissions and embassies in various EU countries, and it is not exactly a priority of social workers, who are snowed under with all the other safeguarding work they have to do.
This is a really important amendment. Interestingly, there was a judgment by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman against Liverpool Council. A care leaver complained that the council had failed to regularise his immigration status and failed to secure him British citizenship and a passport, which meant he could not travel or work. That complaint was upheld. The Government did not vote against the amendment in the Lords, so what has changed between then and tonight? This is a great opportunity for the Government to show why such a provision is necessary, without adding a single additional person to the immigration figures, if that is what they are actually worried about.
Given events of recent days and weeks, Lords amendment 4 on family reunion is more necessary than ever. It was strongly supported in the Lords, by 317 votes to 223. Many Members, including me, supported the same amendment in the Commons. We were told before that there was no need to put such amendments in Brexit legislation, as it would bind the hands of the negotiators. Then we were told in June that we could leave it to the negotiators and it would be part of negotiations, despite the fact that in May the Government produced a Command Paper which removed all the mandatory requirements on the Government to facilitate family reunions and will make a child’s right to join their relatives entirely discretionary. The text of the Command Paper intentionally avoids providing rights to children, has no appeal process and attempts to be beyond the reach of the UK courts.
As we have heard, before the mandatory Dublin III provisions were brought in, just 11 children per year came to this country under the scheme. Since 2016, the average number rescued—because that is what they are—has been over 500. It worked well, so we need a mandatory scheme, but there is no mandatory scheme up for negotiation. A new agreement with the EU to replace Dublin III is not under discussion in the negotiations and has not been for some time, as the EU has no mandate for member states—and of course, as of last week, there are no negotiations. We are at risk of leaving a large vacuum.
We need a scheme that is as good as Dublin III. The Minister says that we will use the UK scheme available for reuniting families from the rest of the world, but the UK scheme is restricted to unaccompanied children joining parents. If a child has fled Syria because their parents have been killed, they have no parents, so they would not qualify. A brother, sister or uncle who happens to be in the UK may be the only surviving relative of some of these kids. The UK scheme as it stands, without a replacement for Dublin III, would ignore all those children.
My right hon. Friend is right. I have met many of these children in camps in Calais, in Zaatari in Jordan and in some of the less well-run camps in Greece. These are real children, bereft of parents in many cases, with just a link in the UK. Without this amendment—without a replacement for Dublin III—those children have no obvious safe and legal route to get to the UK.
The Minister rightly says that we have been very generous in this country through various other schemes, and I agree. Some 7,400 family reunion visas were issued in the year to March, and there is also the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and the hugely successful Dubs scheme, under which 480 children have come here. Like everybody, I pay tribute to Saint Alf Dubs for the fantastic work he does for this cause. It was a privilege to go to the United Nations and the Zaatari camp in Jordan with him. Of course, the Dubs scheme is full, and none of those other schemes is currently operating. From 1 January, there will be no effective mandatory family reunion scheme either, and there will be no safe and legal route for these children to come to the UK.
I am tough on the illegal migrant channel crossings. I think many of those people who can afford to pay people smugglers are effectively jumping the queue ahead of those who are in refugee camps, who are going through due process and who are abiding by the rules. If we are going to be tough—and, gosh, we need to be tougher on those routes, which line the pockets of people smugglers—we need to make sure we have alternative safe and legal routes for those genuine vulnerable refugees, particularly children, to whom we have a duty of care and can offer a safe haven in this country.
Of course, this has come at the worst time, as we heard from the Labour Front Bencher, after the fires in Lesbos at the beginning of September, in camps that were already five times over capacity, with over 13,000 people residing in a centre built for 2,757. There are now more than 1,600 unaccompanied children on the Greek islands, many whose basic needs are not being met, and many of these children have chronic illnesses. As of last week, there were more than 300 covid cases on Lesbos alone, with a hospital that has capacity for just 50 people. These are deeply vulnerable children, dangerously exposed to people traffickers and other exploitation.
Some 7% of these children are under the age of 14, yet we have no scheme to deal with them, despite having taken many reunification cases earlier in the year for such children. France has taken 350, Portugal 500, and Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia are taking these children. What are we doing about it, Minister? The Government have said we do not have places for them, but more than 30 local authorities have identified 1,400 places if the Government will make the scheme work and will pay the cost of it.
We need a Dubs 2, and we need a family reunion scheme, regardless of Brexit. We need it. We have a great tradition of saving these children; if we do not have it in this Bill, come 1 January, we will have no safe and legal route for very, very vulnerable children.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who made a powerful contribution not only on amendments 3 and 6 but right the way through his comments. It is a testament to the House that almost every contribution thus far has been on the right track and has exuded the compassion that we want to show as a country, and none more so than that of the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley); I was greatly enthralled by what she had to say and agree with the sentiments she expressed.
On amendment 5, the Government have engaged financial privilege. They are asking this House to disagree on the grounds of the financial implications of the proof of status document and for no other reason: engaging financial privilege means that is the rationale for asking us to disagree to amendment 5. I ask the Minister to reflect on that in his comments. If the only issue is finance—if he recognises that a biometric residence permit, for example, is available for less than £20—I hope that, should there be a subsequent attempt in the other place to insert a similar amendment without proposed subsection (2), the Government will agree to it, because the argument is not only about digitalisation and the difficulties associated with online information, but about people’s sincere desire to hold a permit outlining their status. The Government should engage with this issue thoughtfully.
I have spoken on a number of occasions in this House on indefinite detention, and the Minister knows that I have quite a rigid position on the issue. I supported more keenly amendments that were previously before this House that at least gave the opportunity for an extension of an additional 28 days. I thought that gave Government more latitude in exceptional circumstances, but I still believe that indefinite detention is immoral and unjustified. I have not heard a justifiable rationale for it yet; it is unjustifiable.
We hear about the difficult and hard stories and we hear about the excessive cases. If someone breaks the law in this country, then we should arrest them and put them through due process. If somebody is going through an immigration application process, we should not put them in custody without any sense of how long the process will take. We should treat them as we would wish to be treated: humanly and humanely.
I will use the remainder of my speech to touch on amendment 9. I am pleased to speak in support of this amendment, which was supported in the other place through a powerful speech made by my colleague Lord Morrow, who as a private Member in the Northern Ireland Assembly brought through our seminal Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. To those who talk about the United Kingdom Government bringing forward modern slavery legislation that is the best in the world, I say that it started in Northern Ireland. We are proud of that record. We are the first devolved Administration to bring forward such legislation, and we are proud of what was achieved.
I listened carefully to the opening remarks made by the Minister. I am grateful to him for a telephone conversation we had earlier today, and for the subsequent correspondence that he has shared. I think he knows from the tenor of contributions made by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and others that there is still work to be done on amendment 9, and on changing the terms of the guidance available. I recognise the development that he has brought forward this afternoon, but I am still not sure from what we have heard that we should be convinced that that is a good enough reason for this House to agree with the Government and disagree with the Lords amendment.
The challenge is that any trafficked person from an EEA territory who arrives in the UK after 31 December will only have one long-term route to recovering discretionary leave to remain, whereas today, they have two. While the commitment to automatic consideration is progress, it does not change the fact that the then Government Minister spoke to the Select Committee on Work and Pensions in 2017 as part of that Committee’s inquiry on victims of modern slavery, and said that there must be
“exceptional or compelling reasons to justify a grant”
of discretionary leave to remain. One has to go through freedom of information requests—it should not be so difficult to get this information from the Home Office—to establish that 8% to 9% of applications from those certified as victims of modern slavery get discretionary leave to remain. That is far too low, and it is something that the Government need to consider. I fail to see why confirmed victims losing their right to recovery through treaty rights will be particularly reassured by the commitment that they will automatically be considered for something that, unlike recourse to public funds through their treaty rights, is only given in an exceptional situation.
The other difficulty with the idea that the introduction of automatic assessment for discretionary leave to remain is an effective replacement for recourse to public funds through treaty rights is that discretionary leave to remain is discretionary. It is not a right, but clause 12 makes it a right; Lords amendment 9 makes it a right. If a confirmed victim of modern slavery who is an EEA national meets the criteria in subsection (2), their access to leave to remain will no longer be discretionary, and that is what we should strive to achieve.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who speaks with such compassion. As a child, I remember being told, “Virginia, life just isn’t fair”, but why can life not be fair? I believe in fairly rewarding people for the hard work they do. I believe in using our hard-earned taxpayers’ money fairly and responsibly to honour the effort that has been put into generating it, and I believe we must fairly give our gratitude to those who help others, such as Roy Fyles and the many hidden heroes who do so much for others in my constituency.
While we have been a member of the EU and have been abiding by the principle of free movement of people, we have been unable to make our immigration system fair, but that is now changing. As we near the end of the transition period, we are greeted with many new opportunities: from 1 January, we will give priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talent—scientists, engineers, academics and other highly skilled workers—so that we are better equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, whether those be the need for increased numbers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals, or of doctors.
As the Member of Parliament for Ynys Môn, I receive many letters and emails from my constituents who simply cannot get an appointment with a doctor in Holyhead. These services are vital for their health and wellbeing. One of my constituents, Mr Barry Smith, wrote in desperation: “There are two GP surgeries in Holyhead, Longford and Cambria, who for some time have not had consistent or regular doctors. Is there anything you can do to bring forward a solution to the dire shortage of GPs in Holyhead?”
What is the solution? Keith Amos, head of service for managed practices, and his team at Betsi Cadwaladr have been working hard to ensure that my constituents can access the healthcare support that they need on the island, whether that is e-consultation, paramedics or occupational therapy, but there is an ongoing struggle to recruit GPs. Today, he told me: “In north Wales we are desperately short of GPs. The key is that we recruit doctors with the right qualifications.” However, a long-term solution is in sight. I am pleased to say that Bangor University’s new four-year graduate entry medical degree with Cardiff University is unique, and the pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching said that she is delighted to be working with Cardiff on that step change. But what about the here and now? How can I help my Ynys Môn constituents get access to a GP?
Let me conclude by saying that we have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and I pay tribute to everyone in it. The Bill will give us flexibility to recruit medical professionals from abroad and in specific areas.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who speaks with expertise and passion about healthcare in her constituency. It is a privilege, too, to speak to Lords amendment 1, which would require an independent assessment of the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector.
It was not so long ago that everyone in this House hailed our key workers as heroes and we stood on our doorsteps and clapped for our carers. It is care workers, cleaners, cooks and delivery drivers who keep this country running, but they are also the people this Bill would keep out of the country. One in five health and social care workers was born outside the UK. When I was a care worker, I worked alongside talented and dedicated carers from Zambia, Spain, Italy; we worked long hours to look after elderly people, yet the Government have the cheek to call them low skilled and to say that they do not belong here.
When I went back to work during the pandemic, I had to retrain. My day would look like this: getting up at five; making notes during handover; administering medication; dealing with someone who had had a fall; hoisting someone twice my size, and being alert at all times to small changes that might indicate a serious medical problem. I would try my best to brighten someone’s day and make them feel valued, knowing that I would probably be the only person they saw that day, all while meticulously recording everything that happened on every call.
Our key workers are not low skilled; they are underpaid. They should be rewarded with a pay rise, not threatened with deportation. The purpose of the Bill is to close our borders with Europe. Those who make over £25,600 a year will be allowed in, and those who are paid less will be kept out. That is what a points-based system looks like. It is free movement for those who can afford it and a hostile environment for everyone else.
This Bill will not solve the problems my community faces. It is not foreigners taking away jobs; it is this Government refusing to extend the furlough scheme. It is not migrants running the NHS into the ground; they are keeping it going. If the Minister is so committed to increasing wages, I urge him to listen to the Migration Advisory Committee and increase the wages of care workers to at least £10 an hour. Whether you are a retired miner from Mansfield, a Deliveroo rider in Nottingham or a Bulgarian mum who cleans this very building, we have more in common with one another than we ever will with those who try to divide us. We all want to protect our families. We all want to contribute to our communities. We all know what it is like to have no power, and we all know that it is Ministers who are making people powerless.
We have an enormous privilege as Members of this House, but being paid £80k a year does not make our lives worth any more than those of people being paid £8.72 an hour. We have a responsibility to vote for these amendments and to treat people—our neighbours, our friends, our co-workers—who were born on a different soil in the way that we would want to be treated ourselves and the way that we would want our families to be treated.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome), who spoke so eloquently about the impact of Lords amendment 1 and the importance of wages for people who do some of the most important work in our country.
I will speak to Lords amendment 6, which would place a time limit on immigration detention and was moved so well by the noble Baroness Hamwee in the other place. Immigration detention is the ghastliest aspect of the failed immigration system we inherited from the last Labour Government. However, we can no longer apportion the blame to them, because it was so very long ago.
This amendment provides an opportunity for the Government to start to modify the worst aspect of immigration detention, which is that we never tell people when they will come out. That is the most atrocious thing to do to anyone. Those of us who have been through the national lockdown or quarantine know how psychologically debilitating it can be. Imagine being in that position and never knowing when you will come out.
This is an opportunity to make change. This is an amendment that the Government could have adopted. It is an amendment that screams, “We can do better. Please accept this.” The Minister said in his opening remarks that 28 days was a very short limit. Of course, the Government had the opportunity to put in their own limit, if they had wished to. They did not do that. It is another indication of the lost opportunity we see with this amendment today.
Unfortunately I do not compliment the Minister on this too often, but I was very pleased that he did not use the usual Home Office trope that putting a time limit on immigration detention would let out the rapists, the murderers and all the other people they like to scare others about. As he well knows, that argument does not hold water. There were 24,500 or so people in detention in 2019, of whom 26% were detained for more than 28 days. That is 6,373 people—a vast number—who were detained for over 28 days. That has nothing to do with failures in the criminal justice system in processing people’s immigration claims while they are in prison.
As the Minister indicated in his speech and as others have said, we are looking towards a new system that promises to speed up application processes and make our asylum system more effective. I say gently to him that the Government cannot speed up a broken immigration system without causing more harm. It is better first to recognise the failures in the system we have before seeking to speed the process up, thinking that that will somehow provide a solution.
It is for that reason that I am so disappointed the Government have not taken this opportunity to put in a time limit or to say, “We understand the psychological problems that come when we detain someone without telling them they can leave.” As the Government come forward with the new system, I want them to say, “When someone comes here to claim asylum, we will provide them with access to the best psychological resources, so that we can understand what underpins why they have sought asylum.” I want people to have the best access to legal aid and legal rights so that their claim can be made with the greatest precision and so that honourable claims for asylum have the best chance of being heard and recognised.
Like other hon. Members, I rise to speak to Lords amendments 4 and 5. Lords amendment 5 would ensure that EU citizens received physical proof of settled status if they request it.
The Government have responded to calls for physical proof by saying that digital status
“cannot be lost, stolen, damaged or tampered with.”
What a great argument. Why don’t we move to digital passports next? For EU citizens living in the UK, their settled status certification could soon have similar importance to a passport. Also, the Government’s response is simply not true. Digital data is regularly lost and stolen. It is also not true that digital data cannot be damaged or tampered with. The3million has heard of just that from an EU citizen—the photograph of her digital status has been swapped with another, without her knowledge or consent.
Some 22% of people do not have the essential digital skills for day-to-day life in the UK. Those who struggle with digital skills will not be able to access their status when they need it without further help. It will mean widespread discrimination in a number of areas from finding employment or a place to live to opening a bank account. A survey from the Residential Landlords Association found that 20% of landlords are less likely to consider renting to EU or EEA nationals simply because it is becoming very complicated. Is it any wonder that the lack of physical documentation is causing real anxiety? Digital simply does not work. Lack of physical documentation will have very real consequences for EU citizens living in the UK. Amendment 5 simply ensures that EU citizens have the same quality of life, housing and employment. The callous disregard of this Government for people and their rights because we have left the EU has been sickening, and I simply do not believe that that is what the British people voted for.
I urge Members to protect children and families by supporting amendment 4. I simply cannot understand the cruelty that has driven this Government to decide not to guarantee family reunion. What has become of this once tolerant nation whose rules were based on a humane response to tragedy and hardship? All too often, it is now children who lose their lives in the dangerous attempts to be reunited with a family member. Those children are already traumatised by conflict, loss of family members, destitution and fear for their lives. Families must be together, and the UK should guarantee that. Removing safe and legal routes to the UK is cruel and counterproductive. Again, this is such a shame given that we once had a humane and compassionate response to people in hardship. It simply increases the risk of dangerous journeys and exploitation by criminal gangs and we have already heard much about that this evening.
Research from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shows that children are especially likely to resort to people smuggling when access to family reunion is delayed or at risk. What is more, our communities are ready to support unaccompanied children, to give them a home and a chance to rebuild their lives. Councils have pledged 1,400 places for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe if only the Government would provide them with a legal route. It is inexplicable that this Government are not prepared to support the efforts of councils and local people whose hearts are simply in the right place. We have a choice about the sort of country that we want to be: do we callously turn our backs on those most in need, or do we uphold the values of compassion and humanity? I have not given up on urging the Government to listen to compassion and humanity. I urge the Government and Members across the House to please do the right thing.
I welcome this Bill, which ends free movement, takes back control of our borders, delivers on people’s priorities and paves the way for a modern, fairer, points-based immigration system that will welcome skilled workers from across the world to contribute to the United Kingdom’s economy, communities and public services.
I want to consider the amendment that proposes that children of EEA and Swiss nationals who are in care or entitled to care leavers’ support are granted automatic indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme. The Government have legislated through the EU withdrawal agreement Act to protect the residence rights of EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members who are in the UK by the end of the transition period. In addition, the Government fully opened the EU settlement scheme to such citizens and their family members in March last year.
The concern is that if eligible children are not identified and supported into the scheme, they will be at risk of being left here unlawfully through no fault of their own. This amendment would give EEA and Swiss children who are currently in the UK a default safety net to qualify under the EU settlement scheme if it were later found out that the necessary paperwork had not been lodged at the appropriate time by either a social worker or a local authority. No matter the circumstances in which these children find themselves here, they are innocent and, on the face of it, this amendment would be a sensible and humane measure to take. We cannot have another Windrush-type situation where children who have been legally in the UK for most of their lives apply later for a job or for accommodation as adults, only to find that there is no trace of them through no fault of their own.
It is of concern that looked-after children and care leavers who currently call the UK home are at risk of being left undocumented if they do not receive settled status through the EU settlement scheme. The Government have acknowledged that just 40% of identified looked-after children and care leavers have had applications made on their behalf some 18 months since the launch of the EU settlement scheme, which is extremely worrying. However, the Government have confirmed that they have focused on working closely with local authorities to ensure that vulnerable groups get UK immigration status under the scheme. I urge them to continue to support local authorities in those endeavours.
The Government issued guidance this year regarding children in care and care leavers. They have emphasised their commitment to provide protection for all vulnerable children. I have been reassured that Ministers have been clear from the start that, under the EU settlement scheme, where an eligible person has missed the deadline, the Home Office will accept late applications where there are reasonable grounds for doing so. Therefore, under the EU settlement scheme, if a child in care or care leaver misses the deadline, they will still be able to obtain lawful status in the UK.
The Home Office has said that late application cases will be considered on their individual merits, that it will take a pragmatic approach and that guidance for case- workers will be published to ensure that cases are considered consistently. The situation might be in the forefront of our minds now, and those of Home Office caseworkers, but might not be in 10 years’ time, so I urge the Home Office to ensure that the guidance actually details that, in the case of looked-after children and care leavers, if the necessary EU settlement scheme paperwork has not been lodged at the appropriate time by a social worker or local authority, those are reasonable grounds and, as such, the late application will be accepted.
I am honoured to speak in this important debate in support of the Lords amendments, particularly Lords amendments 4 and 5, which are reasonable amendments that were supported by great majorities in the Lords. Amendment 5 provides an option of providing physical proof of immigration status under the EU settlement scheme to prevent disenfranchisement of EU citizens.
In Wandsworth, there are 41,000 EU nationals, which is 13% of my constituents, so this is a big issue for my constituents in Putney. Two of those constituents, who have lived in the UK for 30 years, are French citizens and classical musicians with settled status in this country. They have written to me and said: “We are very concerned by the fact that we have no physical way of proving our status when we come back from holidays or trips abroad, and we are afraid that at any moment a similar situation to the Windrush population might happen to Europeans who’ve settled in this country.”
Moreover, Citizens Advice Wandsworth workers who support EU citizens are concerned about that aspect of the Bill. Access to proof of settled status requires digital skills, access to the internet and a suitable device. Time and again, they have seen that vulnerable people find it difficult or impossible to view or prove their status. That means that they are unable to prove their rights in the UK when they are seeking job opportunities, finding a place to live or even getting treatment in hospital. They find that they are discriminated against in those circumstances because they cannot have the physical documentation that they need to prove their status. That cannot be right.
Lords amendment 4 allows unaccompanied children and vulnerable adults to claim asylum in the care and context of their family, which will prevent dangerous journeys from being taken to join them. I have been to the camps in Calais—they were not really camps; they were a lot of bushes in an area near Calais—and I have seen the traffickers circling the area. I know that if any of my children were in that camp and their siblings were just across the channel waiting and able to protect them, I would do everything I could to reunite my family members. To narrow it down to just parents is not fair when many have lost their parents—that is why they fled their country and why we can rescue those children and show compassion.
On 20 December last year, the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and stated that the Government were “absolutely committed” to continuing family reunion. A Home Office statement on 15 January used exactly the same language, saying it was
“absolutely committed to the family reunion of refugee families”.
There has been commitment after commitment to family reunion, yet it is not in a good enough state in the Bill. That will leave children such as Lili, who fled Eritrea and was found by Safe Passage on the streets of Rome, in a highly vulnerable situation, instead of being reunited with her brother as she was. She wants to be a computer engineer. That is compassion—to allow those children to be here.
To conclude, unless we act tonight, 2021 will be the year in which child refugees in Europe lose the only safe legal route to sanctuary in the UK. Voting against this amendment would be quite wrong. I urge Members on both sides of the House—we have heard good arguments from Members on both sides for this—to think of children such as Lili, do the right thing and vote for Lords amendment 4. It is time to show our British values of compassion and justice, and to deliver for refugee children.