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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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