Kevin Foster contributions to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2019-21


Tue 30th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
Report stage: House of Commons
11 interactions (1,699 words)
Thu 18th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Seventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
28 interactions (3,546 words)
Thu 18th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Eighth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
51 interactions (6,440 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fifth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
34 interactions (5,101 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Sixth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
59 interactions (9,506 words)
Thu 11th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fourth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
31 interactions (6,338 words)
Thu 11th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Third sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
32 interactions (3,118 words)
Tue 9th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
27 interactions (2,618 words)
Tue 9th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Second sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
45 interactions (4,527 words)
Mon 18th May 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
Programme motion: House of Commons
Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
3 interactions (1,774 words)

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

(Report stage: House of Commons)
Kevin Foster Excerpts
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Like many others, I have been inundated with briefings and questions regarding the Bill, and I understand the importance of us all getting things right today, if possible. We certainly must, at all costs, protect our social care sector.

I was very happy to add my name, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), to new clauses 3 to 10, in the name of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I hope that he presses these amendments to a Division and that the Government perhaps will accept them, even at this late stage. I feel strongly about the time limit on immigration detention. New clause 3 would hopefully change that to protect people by having a period of 28 days. The other proposals relating to bail hearings, the criteria and duration are also important, and it is so important that we get this right.

I have seen the existing pressure on the social care workforce in my constituency, and one thing is certain from their side: there is not the staff or structure to carry all that is required. The social care workforce will need to expand to deliver the Government’s laudable commitments. It is important to note that the number of staff needs not only to rise to reduce the over 120,000 vacancies that currently exist, but to increase considerably over a sustained period to meet the Prime Minister’s pledge to give every older person the dignity and security that they deserve. The current system leaves a large number of vulnerable people going without any help.

Research by the Nuffield Trust indicates that providing just one hour per day to older people with higher needs who currently get no help would require approximately 50,000 additional home care workers in England alone, never mind Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and providing two hours per day would require 90,000 extra workers.

Although it can be argued that the economic impact of covid-19 will pull in more domestic workers, it is far from clear that that will create the permanent step change needed to deal with the loss of migration, fill the vacancies and grow the workforce all at once. In her new clause 29, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has put forward a solution, and I hope that there is a cross-section of people in the House who will pursue that.

Analysis of the data by the Nuffield Trust shows that, from 2009-10 to 2018-19, almost half—46%—of the expansion in the social care workforce across the UK was accounted for by people born outside the United Kingdom. That is a case for why we need an immigration system that enables those people to come in and help our social care system. In regions with the greatest projected future need for social care, such as London, not only has the proportion of EU staff increased over time, but migrant staff now make up a large proportion of staff, with more than two in five care workers from abroad.

I remind the Minister very gently and respectfully that countries such as Australia and Canada have long employed points-based immigration systems and have introduced a range of special migration programmes out of necessity, including to help the long-term development of the domestic workforce. New Zealand has an agreement with the residential care sector under which it may offer more generous visa terms, such as longer stays, for a range of key jobs, including personal care assistants and care workers. In exchange, employers develop plans to boost the domestic workforce.

Having seen vulnerable people struggling to care for themselves, and yet knowing the difficulties of securing an adequate care package, I welcome this opportunity to speak on this matter. I hope that the Government listen to Members’ pleas in relation to the new clauses that have been tabled. They were tabled for the right reason—to do what is right today.

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Hansard

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). It is a pleasure I have had on many occasions since joining the House. Overall, this has been a good debate on a wide range of issues relating to immigration. Members will appreciate that, in view of the time remaining, I will be unable to respond in detail to every new clause and amendment. However, I would like to address some of the more prominent issues that were raised during the debate.

I know that Members were restricted by the narrow scope of the Bill, but I would like to put on the record that most of the new clauses and amendments, if implemented, would lead to a discriminatory immigration system with differential treatment between EEA and non-EEA citizens, which cannot be justified and is not in line with the Government’s approach of having a single global migration system in the future. However, I accept that the reason for the wording of the amendments was to get them in scope.

I turn to the 31 Government amendments in relation to social security co-ordination, which is dealt with by clause 5. As social security co-ordination is transferred in respect of Northern Ireland and partially devolved to Scotland, clause 5, as currently drafted, confers powers on a Scottish Minister or a Northern Ireland Department to legislate in areas of devolved competence. As is required, we sought legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Social security is reserved in Wales.

The relevant Northern Ireland Minister has indicated that a recommendation will be put to the Executive to bring forward a legislative consent motion in the Assembly; however, the Scottish Government confirmed on 19 June that they would not recommend legislative consent. The Government amendments therefore amend clause 5 and schedules 2 and 3 to restrict the powers in the Bill in relation to Scotland so that the clause does not now engage the legislative consent process in the Scottish Parliament. I therefore hope that Members will be prepared to agree to the amendments.

Turning to one of the more substantive issues raised, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) started the debate around new clause 1. I recognise that Members across the House care deeply about the health and social care sector. I am pleased to again place on the record the Government’s thanks and recognition of the fantastic job that those working in health and social care do for the whole of our United Kingdom.

That is why we will introduce a health and care visa, details of which will shortly be confirmed, which will provide eligible health and social care workers with fast-track entry and reduced visa fees. To confirm, the salary thresholds under that system for doctors, nurses and a range of allied health professionals will be based on the relevant national pay scales. More widely, senior care workers will also qualify under our points-based system. We will also look into exempting eligible workers in health and social care from having to pay the immigration health surcharge, as announced by the Prime Minister.

Break in Debate

Mr Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker - Hansard

I have been listening to the Minister very carefully, and I repeat my earlier praise: he has a tough job to do. I do recognise that this Bill relates to the withdrawal agreement, and I can tell him that I will abstain on the amendments I have signed, and I shall vote with the Government on the rest of them.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. Certainly, the Government look forward to working with him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, because this is an area where we want to see better outcomes for everyone—a better outcome for those who end up in the immigration system, and a better outcome for the taxpayer and the public as well.

Moving on to new clause 2, I welcome the opportunity to speak about the important issue of how we best protect the rights of vulnerable children in care and care leavers. Since the full launch of the EU settlement scheme in March last year, we have had agreements and plans in place with local authorities to ensure that relevant children and care leavers receive the support they need in securing their UK immigration status under the scheme. Local authorities and, in Northern Ireland, health and social care trusts are responsible for making an application under the EU settlement scheme on behalf of an eligible looked-after child for whom they have parental responsibility by way of a court order. Their responsibility in other cases to signpost the scheme and support applications has also been agreed.

The Home Office has implemented a range of support services to ensure local authorities and health and social care trusts can access help and advice when they need it. This has involved engaging extensively with relevant stakeholders such as the Department for Education, the Local Government Association, the Ministry of Justice, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and equivalents in the devolved Administrations. Guidance has been issued to local authorities regarding their role and their responsibilities for making or supporting applications under the scheme.

The Home Office will be conducting a further survey of local authorities across the UK shortly, as part of the support we are offering to them with this important work. This survey will ask local authorities to provide the assurance that they have so far identified all relevant cases. We will share relevant data from the survey with the EU settlement scheme vulnerability user group, comprising experts from the local authority and voluntary sectors, to help it to discuss progress in this important area and to focus our efforts in supporting local authorities with this work.

To be clear, new clause 2 does not facilitate applications to the EU settlement scheme but proposes a declaratory system under which those covered automatically acquire UK immigration status. This would cause confusion and potential difficulties for these vulnerable young people in future years, with their having no evidence of their lawful status here. They will need evidence of their status when they come to seek employment or access the benefits and services that they are actually entitled to access. This is not something we can allow to happen. However, to reassure hon. Members, the withdrawal agreements oblige us to accept late applications indefinitely where there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline. This and other rights under the agreements now have direct effect in UK law via the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, so this commitment is already effectively enshrined in primary legislation.

We have therefore repeatedly made it clear that where a person eligible for status under this scheme has reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply—to give a specific example, where a parent, guardian or local authority does not apply on behalf of a child. This will ensure that individuals who missed the deadline through no fault of their own can still obtain lawful status in the United Kingdom. I am happy to underline this commitment at the Dispatch Box where children in care and care leavers are concerned, and this is not just for a five-year period, as suggested in this new clause.

Some Members have spoken about the Government’s “no recourse to public funds” policy during the covid-19 pandemic, and there are some new clauses relating to this. Let us make it clear that a range of safeguards are in place to ensure that vulnerable migrants who are destitute or at imminent risk of destitution and have community care needs, including issues relating to human rights or the wellbeing of children, can receive support.

We recognise and are immensely grateful for the contributions made by so many migrants, especially during the recent pandemic. We have provided more than £3.2 billion of additional funding in England and further funding in the devolved Administrations to support local authorities to deliver their services, including helping the most vulnerable. We have also made it more straightforward for those here on the basis of family life or human rights to apply to have the “no recourse to public funds” condition lifted, with change of condition decisions being prioritised and dealt with compassionately.

It is worth noting that those with no recourse to public funds have also been able to benefit from the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employed income support scheme and other measures introduced by the Government, such as protections for renters and mortgage holidays.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms - Hansard

Will the Minister give way?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I will not be able to; I just do not have the time.

Moving to new clause 29, I have listened carefully, and I assure all Members that the Government are committed to the principle of family reunion and supporting vulnerable children, as set out in a letter I sent to all Members of Parliament this morning. We recognise that families can become separated because of the nature of conflict and persecution and the speed and manner in which people are often forced to flee their country. However, new clause 29 does not recognise the current routes available for reuniting families or the negotiations we are pursuing with the EU on new reciprocal arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in either the UK or the EU, as set out in the draft legal text.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper - Hansard

Will the Minister give way?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I am afraid I do not have the time. A negotiated agreement for a state-to-state referral and transfer system would provide clear and consistent processes between the UK and EU member states, ensuring appropriate support for the child and guaranteeing reciprocity. The new clause seeks guarantees that cannot be provided for in UK domestic provisions alone.

The current immigration rules also include routes for family members wishing to enter or remain in the UK on the basis of their relationship with a family member who is a British citizen or settled in the UK, as well as those who are post-flight family of a person granted protection in the UK. Those routes will remain in place at the end of the transition period.

The new clauses on the devolution of migration policy are another unsurprising attempt by the Scottish nationalists to fulfil their ambition of setting up a passport control point at Gretna to fulfil an agenda of separation. We are delivering an immigration system that takes into account the needs of the whole of the United Kingdom and that works for the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will not put an economic migration border through our country. As Members who have spoken pointed out, serious discussion needs to be had about how Scotland can attract more people to live there, work there and be a vital part of the community, and many of those issues are absolutely in the hands of the Scottish Government to address.

Finally and very briefly, we had reference to comprehensive sickness insurance. To be clear, the rules have not changed in terms of the EEA regulations. The insurance would not block someone getting through the EU settlement scheme and we would be happy to hear any such examples. With that, I have explained why the Government does not accept the new clauses.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara - Hansard

Very briefly, I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. I thank Robert McGeachy of Camphill Scotland on a personal level for all the help he has given me, and I thank the Minister for replying to the debate, although I am very disappointed he has refused to accept new clause 1. It is beyond me why a Government would refuse an opportunity to say to the health and social care sector and its users that they understand the concerns, they have a plan, they know what they are doing and they would welcome transparency.

New clause 1 gives the Government the opportunity to make up for not having done a proper impact assessment and not having put in place any mechanism whatever for this House and other Parliaments across these islands to be able to assess and measure the effectiveness or otherwise of the Bill. For that reason, I will test the will of the House this evening and press new clause 1 to a Division.

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

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Kevin Foster Excerpts
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:42 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward. I can be relatively brief because the shadow Minister has spoken to the National Farmers Union of Scotland and represented its interests pretty well. There is real concern about shortages in the labour market for agriculture, particularly in relation to seasonal workers. Research on seasonal migrant labour from 2018 showed that in Scotland alone the number of seasonal agricultural workers required in any year is not far short of 10,000.

More recently, the NFUS and the UK farming unions have given evidence to the UK Government, demonstrating that for the whole UK around 70,000 seasonal staff are required in the horticultural sector and 13,000 seasonal staff are required in the poultry sector every year. That is obviously many times more than the number of places in the current pilot.

Challenges in recruiting seasonal workers have already been seen in recent years. In 2018, the NFUS conducted a survey of its horticultural membership in which every single respondent reported being “concerned” or “very concerned” about the impact worker shortages would have on their businesses in 2018 and beyond. Almost 60% of respondents said they were “likely” or “very likely” to downsize their business and the remaining 42% said they would have to cease current activity.

The NFUS was opposed to the end of free movement but, even while free movement was retained, farmers increasingly needed to look beyond the EU to fill such posts, with countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Moldova already supplying a significant proportion of the workers required. The seasonal agricultural workers scheme pilot has been described as a step in the right direction, but it does not provide nearly enough permits if shortages such as those experienced in recent years are going to continue.

The NFUS is calling for a seasonal scheme that is open to both EU and non-EU workers, with capacity to provide farmers with access to returnee employers. It also calls for the scheme to be open to a wide number of labour providers and direct recruiters. Some concerns have been expressed about the expense and the somewhat laborious processes that are involved in taking advantage of the scheme.

The NFUS has also expressed concerns that the future immigration system proposed by the Government is not based on realistic expectations of the ability of the UK to fill the jobs currently carried out by migrant workers. It says that

“to maintain the productivity of the agricultural sector, immigration policy must allow recruitment on a seasonal basis for workers from both the EU and non-EU, at a non-restricted level.”

I echo what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Halifax, said about the SAWS scheme and how we always have to be cautious about the need to carefully protect workers against exploitation. She was right to highlight concerns raised by Focus on Labour Exploitation during the passage of the Bill last year.

To come to the rescue of the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, the gangmasters legislation was very welcome, but so too was the introduction of the director of labour market enforcement in 2016, under the Conservative Government, which may have been what he was thinking about. Those are both welcome moves, but we have a long way to go to build on the creation of those posts in ensuring that migrant workers—and workers generally—are properly protected.

One criticism of the new clause is that it is not just on seasonal workers that we need to have a report; we need a broader report on the impact on access to labour in the agricultural industry. The concerns of organisations such as the NFUS go further than seasonal work, and include the cost of sponsorship under tier 2, which it has described as

“prohibitively expensive in terms of both financial and administrative burden.”

It is fair to say that the NFUS has welcomed some of the recent developments, for example the decrease to the salary threshold that has been introduced by the Government, but it asks how non-salaried roles will fit into the points-based system; how the revised shortage occupation list will generally take account of the range of occupations that exist in agriculture; whether the Government will consider targeted routes for remote and rural areas—unfortunately, from what the Minister said the other day, it sounds as if it will be disappointed in that regard—and how the expense and bureaucracy of the system can be improved. It simply calls for close engagement as we move towards the implementation of the new system.

The new clause is sensible and will contribute to our understanding of what is going on in a future debate about labour in the agricultural sector.

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Hansard

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I welcome the general tone of the debate that we have had so far.

As the Migration Advisory Committee—or MAC—has already made clear in its report of September 2018, agriculture is an exceptional case, as we believe the labour market is totally distinct from the labour market for resident workers. For this reason, although the MAC recommended against a dedicated route for recruiting workers based on paying at or near the legal minimum—advice that this Government accept—it did consider that the position was different in respect of the UK’s world-leading agricultural sector.

Accordingly, on 6 March last year the Government announced the implementation of a nationwide pilot to enable non-EU migrant workers to undertake seasonal work on UK farms. The seasonal worker pilot admits temporary workers from outside the European Union to work in edible horticulture for up to six months. The pilot scheme ran last year on the basis of 2,500 places, and on 19 February, in line with the commitment made in our election manifesto, we increased the annual quota for the second year of the pilot from 2,500 places to 10,000 places.

To be clear, the pilot is not designed to meet the full needs of the farming industry. It is designed to test the effectiveness of our immigration system at supporting UK growers during peak production periods, while maintaining robust immigration control and ensuring that there are minimal impacts on local communities and public services. A thorough evaluation will be undertaken before a final decision is made on the future of the scheme. The evaluation of the pilot will also help to inform our thinking as we move towards our future immigration system.

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

Can the Minister give us a rough outline of when a review of the pilot scheme will take place and when any sort of decision can be expected on how it will look in the future?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:50 a.m.

I am grateful to the Minister for those assurances. We welcome the increased flexibility that the MAC will have. I wonder whether there will be an opportunity for Opposition parties and MPs to cast a particular spotlight on an area, so that MPs can feed into that process with the MAC.

It is in everyone’s interest that we continue to see the wide availability of fresh fruit and veg for families. I accept the point made by my friend the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East that we would like to see any assessment of this sector be broader than seasonal agricultural workers and take into account the requirements of the workforce right across the food sector.

Having said that, I do not intend to push the new clause to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 25

Report on status of EEA and Swiss nationals after the transition

“(1) This Act shall not come into effect until a Minister of the Crown has laid a report before each House of Parliament setting out the impact of the Act on EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK.

(2) A report under subsection (1) must clarify the position of EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK during the period between the end of the transition period and the deadline for applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.

(3) A report under subsection (1) must include, but not be limited to, what rights EEA and Swiss nationals resident in the UK on 31 December 2020 have to—

(a) work in the UK;

(b) use the NHS for free;

(c) enrol in education or continue studying;

(d) access public funds such as benefits and pensions; and

(e) travel in and out of the UK.”—(Holly Lynch.)

This new clause would require Government to provide clarity on the rights of EU nationals in the EU in the grace period between the end of the transition period, and the closure of the EU Settlement Scheme.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

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

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

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

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

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

New clause 27 would also require the Government to publish details of the rights and benefits provided by the EU settlement scheme. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 protects the residence rights of European economic area citizens who are resident in the UK by the end of the transition period and eligible family members seeking to join a relevant EEA citizen in the UK after that time. EEA citizens and their family members can apply under the EU settlement scheme for UK immigration status, so that they can continue to work, study, and, where eligible, access benefits and services such as free NHS treatment. We continue to make every effort to ensure that people are aware of the benefits of applying to the EU settlement scheme.

The Government have always been clear that Irish citizens will not be required to do anything to protect their common travel area rights, and that is confirmed in clause 2. While Irish citizens resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 can apply to the EU settlement scheme if they wish, they do not need to. Their eligible family members can apply to the scheme, whether or not the Irish citizen has done so. However, Irish citizens resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 may wish to apply to the scheme to make it easier to prove their status in the UK in the event of their wishing to bring eligible family members to the UK in the future under the provisions of the withdrawal agreement. After the transition period, once free movement rights end, Irish citizens will continue to be able to bring family members to the UK on the same basis as a British citizen.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 12:01 p.m.

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 12:03 p.m.

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 12:04 p.m.

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

I welcome the fairly constructive way in which the Minister has engaged on this point. The points made in intervention by my friend from the SNP, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, do still stand. I reinforce that there will continue to be a desire and unanswered questions in this area. There are certainly merits to committing more of what we have discussed to primary legislation, but I will not press the new clause at this point. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 28

Annual review: Higher education

(1) The Secretary of State must commission an annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee on the impact of the provisions of this Act on the number of overseas students in the UK from the EEA and Switzerland.

(2) The report must be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as possible after it has been completed.

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

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

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

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 12:30 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the wider response, we have extended leave, free of charge, for those students who are unable to travel home. We have also temporarily given more institutions the ability to self-assess English language, permitted distance learning and allowed students to make in-country applications when they would otherwise not have been able to do so. We will launch a new student route later this year, as part of the new points-based system, and EEA citizens who wish to come to the UK from 1 January to study will need to apply under that route and meet the requirements in the same way as non-EEA citizens. However, to be clear, those who arrive before the end of the transition period will be able to apply to the European settlement scheme and benefit from the protections of the withdrawal agreement.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 12:34 p.m.

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

The new clause is not unlike some of the other proposals we have made in this sitting to ask the Government to go away and develop an evidence base, shining a spotlight on certain sectors, which we hope would then inform more concrete proposals. This proposal has a particular focus on the creative industries, temporary migration and visa requirements for working arrangements.

We understand that the Government are currently negotiating a reciprocal agreement with the EU that would allow UK citizens to undertake some paid business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. However, the precise details, including the range of activities, the documentation needed and the time limit, are all still to be negotiated; certainly the details are still to be put into the public domain.

One sector directly affected is culture, music and the performing arts. The creative sector contributes over £100 billion a year to the UK economy and employs over 3 million people, according to the Confederation of British Industry. There are growing concerns in this sector about the lack of progress on a reciprocal agreement being reached before the end of the transition period, and whether it would guarantee short-term work and visits for EU nationals, all of which is critical for the survival of the music profession.

Britain’s music industry has long attracted world-class artists, entertainers and musicians to perform in the UK, but this is all very precarious if visa issues are not resolved by the end of the year. This is also one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus, as events and performances will no doubt be one of the last elements across society to return to normal.

Working in the European Union, whether that involves performing, recording, teaching or collaborating, is an essential part of the music professional’s ability to earn. The music industry is very transient and often there is not enough work available in the UK for musicians to sustain livelihoods, but going abroad has often provided a solution. We are not talking about performers earning megabucks, although of course we want the UK to be an attractive stage for them and for our international talent in the rest of Europe—for example, UK performers who may go to work in a holiday resort for two months of the year, or may tour venues in a number of European countries.

If the UK leaves without a comprehensive arrangement in place, musicians could very quickly find themselves trying to navigate the entry requirements for each of the 27 EU member states, which risks causing major disruption to the UK’s music industry. Without effective reciprocal arrangements, the UK may see a decline in skilled culture sector workers entering the country from the EU. If the music industry is to survive and we are to continue attracting the best talent from across the world, musicians and performers must be able to continue travelling abroad to work with ease after the transition period. It is the same for many other businesses and industries.

The Home Office previously pledged that it would allow EU bands to enter the country freely for gigs post Brexit, and that it would continue to include special arrangements for creative workers. A potential solution might be a multi-entry touring visa valid for about two years and EU-wide, covering all 27 member states, which I know is the preference of the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

I hope the Minister agrees that the UK must continue to attract musicians and performers from all over the world with an immigration system that is fit for purpose. Providing the best possible situation to do that would be achieved by commissioning the report set out in new clause 29.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
19 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

It might help if I briefly outline how the current system for those visiting the UK for business purposes operates. I note the shadow Minister has focused on creative purposes, but the wording in the new clause is “business visitor”.

The Government welcome genuine visitors to the UK, and this is not going to change once free movement has ended. We want to ensure legitimate travellers who support our economy and enrich our culture can continue to come to the UK smoothly in future. The UK’s current immigration rules for visitors are already fairly generous. Visitors can, in most cases, come to the UK for up to six months, and take part in a wide range of activities beyond simply tourism, or visiting family and friends.

Visitors can attend conferences, carry out independent research, undertake work-related training and maintain and install equipment where there is a contract with a UK company. We also allow audit activity and knowledge transfer where these take place in an intra-company setting. Visitors can undertake creative and sporting activities, and there are also some exceptional instances in the visitor rules whereby we allow payment by a UK source for certain activities, including performing at a permit-free festival, such as the Edinburgh festival. There are also provisions for paid performance engagement—or PPE, as we call it—whereby an individual who has been invited by a creative organisation can be paid for a short period for performing in the UK.

Those are already available to non-visa nationals, such as Canadian, Australian, Japanese and New Zealand citizens, and we have made it clear that EEA and Swiss citizens will not need a visa to undertake these activities, and will be able to travel and enter the UK on that basis. The EU has already legislated so that UK nationals will not need a visa when travelling to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, as opposed to our slightly more generous provisions for visitors.

The Government recognise that it is desirable for UK nationals to have greater certainty about what they can do when travelling to the EU on a temporary or short-term basis, hence future arrangements on entry and temporary stay in the EU are subject to ongoing negotiations. Further, we look forward to reaching agreement on the future entry and temporary stay of natural persons with Switzerland and the EEA-European Free Trade Association states. For obvious reasons, we cannot legislate that the 27 member states of the EU offer a deal to the UK, but we hope we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

The UK’s visitor rules are kept under regular review. In our points-based system policy statement from February, we committed to

“continue our generous visitor provisions, but with simplified rules and guidance”.

We have engaged with stakeholders to understand how the rules can be simplified and improved and will continue to do so once free movement ends. For these reasons, there is no requirement for an additional report, and the new clause would be an odd addition to the Bill, for reasons I have set out in response to previous new clauses. I would therefore ask the hon. Member for Halifax to consider withdrawing the new clause.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. At this stage, we will continue to follow the negotiations on the additional reciprocal arrangements, and on that note I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 29.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 30

Procedures for amending Immigration Rules

“(1) The Immigration Act 1971 is amended in accordance with subsection 2.

(2) After section 3(2) insert—

“(2A) Any statement of the rules, or of any changes to the rules, which affect the rights and obligations of persons who will lose their right of freedom of movement under the provisions of the Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act may not be made or have effect unless the Secretary of State has complied with subsections (2B) to (2F) below.

(2B) If the Secretary of State proposes to make changes to the rules under subsection (2A) above, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a document that—

(a) explains the proposal; and

(b) sets it out in the form of a draft order.

(2C) During the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the document was laid under subsection (2B) (the “60-day period”), the Secretary of State may not lay before Parliament a draft order to give effect to the proposal (with or without modification).

(2D) In preparing a draft order under section (2A) above, the Secretary of State must have regard to any of the following that are made with regard to the draft order during the 60-day period—

(a) any representations; and

(b) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order.

(2E) When laying before Parliament a draft order to give effect to the proposal (with or without modifications), the Secretary of State must also lay a document that explains any changes made to the proposal contained in the document under subsection (2B).

(2F) In calculating the 60-day period, no account is to be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is not adjourned for more than 4 days.”—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause would amend the Immigration Act 1971 to ensure that any changes to the UK’s Immigration Rules which affect EEA or Swiss nationals must be made under the super affirmative procedure.

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

Question negatived.

New Clause 32

Annual report on labour market

“Within 12 months of this Act coming into force, and every 12 months thereafter, the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament setting out how any changes made to the Immigration Rules for EEA and Swiss nationals have affected the extent to which UK employers have adequate access to labour.”—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause would mean the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament on how changes to Immigration Rules for EEA and Swiss nationals are affecting access to labour.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

I lend our support to the new clause. I anticipate that the Minister will reflect on the developments with the MAC, in that plans are afoot for an annual assessment of labour requirements across the UK, which will influence our immigration approach. However, I echo what my friend from the SNP, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, has said. We would very much welcome that report being placed before both Houses, so that there can be further debate across this place.

We have called for reports on the sectors we are most concerned about, which we have debated and discussed this morning, but there will be so many others. As with any change like this, there will be unintended consequences. We want the opportunity to mitigate the impact of the end of free movement, and to debate that in Parliament. That would, we hope, lead to much more dynamic decision making on changes to mitigate the impact of the ending of free movement on further sectors. We welcome the new clause.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 41

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

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

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

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

(a) the relevant Scottish Minister;

(b) the relevant Welsh Minister; and

(c) the relevant Northern Ireland Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Kevin Foster Excerpts
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:11 p.m.

I would welcome that in the event that there is no alternative and that some of the more regular items of documentation are not available. In taking that route, however, we are still asking children to go away and gather a potentially enormous amount of information and documentation. When we know that such children are eligible, why can we not just deal with this issue in a streamlined way through local authorities and the Home Office?

I hope I have satisfied the Minister’s reservations about this approach. We are talking about a cohort of children and young people who are our responsibility; we the state are acting as their legal guardians. Let us do the best we can for them and at least give them confidence in their immigration status, in the hope that they can go on to overcome all their challenges and build happy lives here in the UK.

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Hansard

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I will speak to the two new clauses that have been moved. I appreciate the intentions behind them, and the concerns and genuine points that have been raised. That is why, from the outset, there have been arrangements in place to ensure that the EU settlement scheme is accessible to all, including looked-after children and care leavers. Prior to the full launch of the scheme in March 2019, agreements were reached and plans put in place with local authorities to ensure that relevant children and care leavers receive the support they need in securing their UK immigration status under the scheme.

Local authorities in Great Britain, and health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland, are responsible for making an application under the EU settlement scheme on behalf of an eligible looked-after child for whom they have parental responsibility by way of a court order. Their responsibilities to signpost the scheme and support applications in other cases have also been agreed. They concern children for whom there is no court order but where the local authority has a clear interest in supporting the best interests of the child—for example, children accommodated by the local authority, children in need and care leavers.

The Home Office has implemented a range of support services to ensure that local authorities and health and social care trusts can access help and advice when they need to. We have engaged extensively with relevant stakeholders, such as the Department for Education, the Local Government Association, the Ministry of Justice, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and equivalents in the devolved Administrations, to understand and address the needs of looked-after children and care leavers, and to ensure they are all supported. Guidance has also been issued to all local authorities on their role and responsibilities for making or supporting applications under the EU settlement scheme for looked-after children and care leavers. The Home Office is holding regular teleconferences specifically for local authority staff who are responsible for making relevant applications, in order to support them and provide a direct point of contact for them within the Home Office.

A new burdens assessment has been conducted, and funding has been issued to local authorities that have responsibilities for carrying out specific duties in relation to looked-after children and care leavers, to ensure they are adequately funded to do such work. Along with the Minister for Children and Families in the Department for Education, I have written to lead council members to underline the importance of the work that their local authorities are undertaking to ensure that eligible looked-after children and care leavers make applications to the EU settlement scheme, and to highlight the support available. Home Office caseworkers are directly working with local authority staff who are responsible for making applications, as well as with organisations that specialise in working with children, such as the Children’s Society and Coram.

Additionally, the Home Office has provided £9 million of grant funding to 57 voluntary organisations across the UK in order to support vulnerable citizens in applying to the EU settlement scheme. They include several organisations specialising in support for vulnerable children and young people. We have now committed a further £8 million for such work, allowing charities and local authorities to bid for grant funding to provide support to vulnerable people and help ensure that no one is left behind. To reassure the Committee, we are continuing the existing arrangements until new arrangements and a new bidding process are completed.

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) - Hansard

I am listening carefully to all the steps that the Home Office is taking, but is the Minister now in a position to publish the information about the number of children affected by needing to apply for the EU settlement scheme? I understand that his Department has already undertaken that work.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

It is probably worth saying that, as of today, we cannot publish a final list of all who will be eligible under the EU settlement scheme because the transition period extends to 31 December this year. Therefore, people may yet arrive in the country who would be eligible to apply under the scheme. As part of the quarterly statistics publication—not the monthly one—we publish the number of applications from children. A large amount of work is going on, but it would be impossible today to have a definitive number of all who will finally be eligible, because eligibility, along with freedom-of-movement rights, runs up to 31 December.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard

Is it not also the case that there may be children claiming to be EEA citizens who may turn out to be, for example, from Albania, so publishing a figure based on what people claim would not be the true figure?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, there is always that possibility. For example, one of the reasons why we will not look to accept EEA identity cards in the long term at the border and internally for certain right-to-work checks is that some EEA identity cards are very prone to abuse, unlike secure passports. There are always going to be such claims, but certainly there is strong work going on. However, as we touched on, the core reason is that we cannot produce today a final list of who will be eligible, but we are working closely with local councils. Of course, each day children come into care, sadly, so again, snapshots do not reflect the work that needs to be done.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab) - Hansard

I do think that a running total—albeit one that would be changing from quarter to quarter—would give us a sense of the scale of the challenge, especially as we are now within six months of the end of the transition period and a year from the end of the extended period in which applications can be made. This point was raised, I think, a year ago in a debate in Westminster Hall when the Government first gave the undertaking to collect the data, and to do so through local authorities, which ought to give us a bit more confidence about its validity than if children or their families were simply providing it themselves. I say to the Minister that it would reassure Parliament if such information as is available were made public as soon as possible, although we understand that it is a bit of a moving feast.

I remind hon. Members that interventions should be brief and to the point.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
19 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I have outlined the work that we are doing with local authorities to identify who is eligible. As the hon. Lady said, it is a moving feast, and we particularly want to make sure that those responsible for making these applications are aware of how to apply and who qualifies, and that they then proceed to do so.

I understand the concerns expressed by hon. Members about looked-after children and care leavers, and we must ensure that their corporate parents secure the best possible outcomes for them.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison (Bishop Auckland) (Con) - Hansard

Does the Minister agree that the best way that we can support looked-after children is by ensuring that they can take full advantage of the EU settlement scheme through local authorities, rather than having a two-tier system?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:19 p.m.

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:24 p.m.

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:24 p.m.

I am disappointed by the Minister’s response to new clause 41. It is also disappointing that the Minister is not able to update the Committee with some information, recognising that that information about numbers may be changing over time. This is a matter that will not go away, and rather than test the opinion of the Committee today, I may wish to return to it on Report. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 45

Immigration: no recourse to public funds

“Section 3(1)(c)(i) and (ii) of the Immigration Act 1971 cannot be applied to persons who have lost rights because of section (1) and Schedule 1 of this Act, until such time as may be specified in a resolution passed by each House of Parliament.”—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause seeks to delay application of No Recourse to Public Funds rules during the current pandemic and until such time as Parliament decides.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:35 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under you this afternoon, Mr Stringer. I wish to speak to new clause 62, on the no recourse to public funds policy and to support new clause 59, tabled by my hon. Friends.

New clause 62 would exempt EU, EEA and Swiss nationals with dependants under the age of 18 from being subject to any NRPF condition that would otherwise be placed on them under the immigration rules. Many believe that these protections should apply to all families, regardless of their nationality, but for the purposes of the Government’s tightly drawn Bill, the new clause is limited in the way I have described.

Many find it astonishing that this condition is applied to children at all. Having NRPF means that the life chances of thousands of children are dictated by their parents’ inability to access support from the social security system because of their immigration status, even though the children themselves might be British.

I know that the Minister will use his concluding remarks to say that limiting access to public funds for these children and families is in the public interest and that they should be paying in to the system before they benefit from it. He will know that many of the families affected are those of key workers, who are at the frontline at this very moment in the fight against coronavirus. We are talking about NHS hospital cleaners, and about people who work in food preparation or social care, but they are being denied the same access to the safety net that they are working within. These families are paying income tax, council tax, immigration application fees and the health surcharge. It is calculated that if a family started their 10-year settlement journey in 2012, assuming they were not successful in getting fee waivers, and fees did not increase again, a single mum with two children would be expected to pay more than £23,000 for the family to settle in 10 years. A family of five—a couple with three children—would be expected to pay more than £39,000 to settle in the UK.

The NRPF does the opposite of making work pay, because families may end up forced into destitution if parents try to work but cannot access benefits. Working parents, single mums, mothers fleeing domestic violence, parents who have children born in the UK and children with British citizenship currently cannot access benefits to which they should be entitled. For children and families, that includes not being able to access benefits to support children’s upbringing and families’ wellbeing, to ensure that children have the same life chances as their peers.

As we have already heard, in May 2020, the Unity Project and Project 17 supported an eight-year-old British boy in taking the Government to court over the policy. The court ruled that the NRPF policy breached article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which prohibits inhumane and degrading treatment.

Applicants can apply to have their NRPF condition removed if they are likely to become destitute, but the process is time-consuming and requires specialist advice, which is difficult to obtain, especially during the current pandemic. NRPF families may be able to access support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which is often the only safety net available. That is payable, as we all know, through local authorities, but the pressure of austerity and cuts to local council budgets have left councils largely unable to offer much support.

Section 17 is often referred to by the Government as the basic safety net for migrant families with NRPF, but there is little support—sometimes as little as £3 per child per day—which makes it nearly impossible to meet the basic needs of a child, let alone support them to have a healthy, happy childhood. We have to acknowledge that that, again, puts an unnecessary strain on stretched local authority budgets.

Most, if not all, services that support migrant families with NRPF state that having no recourse to public funds increases the risk of families becoming trapped in a cycle of extreme poverty, vulnerability and abuse. Many children in NRPF families go without things that other children get to enjoy and that are important for their development, including, for example, days out as a family or school trips. One example that the Children’s Society gave me was of Hamid, who said that if his son’s classmates were going on a school trip, he would not take his son to school that day, because he did not want him to see his friends going while he stayed behind because they just could not afford it.

Other Government Departments are beginning to recognise the consequences of NRPF. The Department for Education has temporarily allowed children with NRPF to access free school meals, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has instructed local authorities to house homeless people with NRPF. In the longer term, the solution lies with the Home Office, so I ask the Minister to give an assurance to the Committee that safeguards will be put in place to ensure that more families will not be forced into destitution as a result of a condition placed on their leave to remain.

The Government have made it clear that they want to wrap their arms around everyone during this time of crisis. Vulnerable children are at the heart of the Government’s agenda, so the new clause will ensure that that can happen. I commend it to the Committee.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:44 p.m.

After the end of the transition period, EEA citizens coming to the UK will be subject to the same requirements as non-EEA citizens and the same conditions restricting access to public funds under our new global immigration system. The new clauses would maintain a system in which EEA citizens, including those arriving in future, continued to enjoy preferential treatment over non-EEA citizens in relation to their access to benefits. That is not the Government’s intention, nor would it be fair, and it is not something that the British people would support, given the mandate that they have given to the Government.

New clause 45 would delay the introduction of the no recourse to public funds condition to EEA citizens until Parliament had decided on the matter in the light of the current pandemic. However, as has been touched on by some Opposition Members, to their credit, the Government have already made provision to support people through the pandemic, including those subject to no recourse to public funds, and are keeping the situation under review.

It should also be noted that the no recourse to public funds condition does not bar access to all benefits, as pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. People covered by it may still, for example, access contribution-based benefits and statutory sick pay. Exceptions are also made for vulnerable migrants, such as refugees and those granted humanitarian protection. Those granted leave on the basis of their family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights can apply to have the conditions lifted if they would otherwise be destitute.

New clause 56 would enable EU citizens already resident to continue to access public funds in the future on the same basis as they currently can. I understand the sentiment behind the proposal from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, but I cannot agree to it, as we have now left the European Union. The Government have given clear and firm commitments to protect the entitlements of EEA citizens resident in the UK before the end of the transition period. We have delivered those protections through the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, and by establishing the EU settlement scheme, about which we have talked regularly in Committee.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend know whether any other EU countries have extended to UK citizens living in the European Union the type of benefits proposed by the new clauses?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:46 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:50 p.m.

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

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 46

Family reunion and resettlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3 p.m.

In speaking to new clause 46, I want to be clear that this is not about placing additional burdens on the Home Office or Government; it is about asking the Government not to water down their obligations to child refugees, but instead to carry on doing what they already do.

As we have heard, new clause 46 is intended to ensure that the safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees with relatives here and for unaccompanied children without family are protected in domestic legislation. I gently say to the Minister that he may well talk about the Dubs scheme—I know that all the places on the Dubs scheme have been filled—but I do not think that that discharges us of our moral duty to help children on the continent.

Indeed, Lord Dubs says that some of the conditions that he has seen in camps in Europe are worse than those in the region, because of the utter lack of hope of those living in those camps. We can give them hope by adopting the new clause and showing that we are not turning our back on child refugees just a few hundred miles away. In all his campaigning on these issues, Lord Dubs has always maintained that he believes that public opinion is behind him when it comes to child refugees. It is heartening to know that recent Ipsos MORI polling suggests Lord Dubs is entirely right in his assessment of British feeling on this. Some 79% of people polled said that children should be able to reunite with parents, and over half said children should be able to reunite with siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The British public supports refugee family reunion and I hope the Minister will do the same.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:01 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
19 Jun 2020, 12:07 a.m.

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

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

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

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 51

Immigration Detention: Removal from Association

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

(2) After subsection (2) insert—

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

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

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

(4) For the purposes of this section—

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
19 Jun 2020, 12:09 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:14 p.m.

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

The arrangements for removing immigration individuals from association with their fellow detainees are set out in rule 40 of the detention centre rules 2001. The day-to-day operation of rule 40 is, in turn, governed and supported by the published Home Office detention services order—DSO—of February 2017, which Home Office and contractor staff working in immigration removal centres are obliged to follow. Any decision to remove a detainee from associating with other detainees should not be taken lightly.

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:23 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote Stephen Shaw’s review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

The new clauses concern the principles that a court or tribunal is required to take into account when assessing what is in the public interest for the purposes of determining whether a foreign national offender’s deportation breaches article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The article 8 ECHR right to respect for private and family life is a qualified right, which can be circumcised—[Interruption.] I will have to ensure I write that one out again next time. It can be circumscribed where lawful, necessary and proportionate, in the interest of a number of factors including national security, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 provides that, when assessing whether deportation breaches article 8 of the ECHR, the deportation of a foreign national offender is in the public interest unless certain exceptions apply. The new clauses seek to alter those exceptions and therefore undermine Parliament’s clear position on what the public interest requires in such cases.

New clause 53 would amend the exception at section 117C regarding foreign national offenders who have been sentenced to less than four years’ imprisonment, and who have a genuine and subsisting relationship with a qualifying partner or child, meaning that deportation would not be in the public interest if it would be unreasonable for the child to leave the UK, or to remain in the UK without the foreign national offender. That would be in addition to the existing exception that applies when the effect of the deportation on the partner or child would be unduly harsh.

When assessing whether the effect on a child of deporting a foreign criminal is unduly harsh, consideration may already be given to whether it is reasonable to expect the child to leave the UK, taking into account the child’s nationality and length of residence in the United Kingdom, as well as whether it is reasonable to expect the child to remain in the UK separated from one parent. That is a higher threshold than in non-criminal cases, because of the greater public interest in deporting serious or persistent foreign criminals.

Break in Debate

On late applications, the Minister has said that he will provide a list of the reasons that would allow for a late application still to be considered, but we all accept and appreciate that he will never be able to foresee every set of circumstances. However, if the same decision makers and procedures that oversaw the really bad calls made for the Windrush generation are in place, we simply cannot consent to any extension of the hostile environment to this cohort and we will support new clause 55.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:46 p.m.

I would like to start by reassuring Opposition Members. We are making plans for what will be a major restart of engagement and promotion of the European settlement scheme in a face-to-face way. Work is still being done online. The latest statistics have been published and we always use those as an opportunity to promote the scheme and make it clear to people what their entitlement is. We still have a good flow of applications coming in even during the lockdown, which partly reflects the fact that the vast majority of people are applying by using an app on their phones. So strong work is being done there.

On the list of reasons for late applications being accepted, as I said on Tuesday it will be a non-exhaustive list because, as the hon. Member for Halifax rightly says, we cannot predict every single circumstance that would be a reasonable reason for being late. A common reason would be a child in care where the council did not apply, but the list will be non-exhaustive because no one could write all the reasons that we as individuals might find reasonable. So far, the scheme has operated by being flexible and pragmatic in working with those applying. That is why the grants of status are in the millions and the refusals in the hundreds.

I am grateful to hon. Members for their contributions. I share their desire to ensure that EEA citizens and their family members who are currently in the UK lawfully are not denied access to work, healthcare or anything to which they are currently entitled.

Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con) - Hansard

Does the Minister share my frustration when Opposition Members talk about the hostile environment? It was in fact a former Labour Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), who, in May 2007, introduced the new immigration regulations that created a hostile environment in this country.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:48 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 57

Data protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) primary and secondary healthcare services;

(b) primary and secondary education; and

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

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

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

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:55 p.m.

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:58 p.m.

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:58 p.m.

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 4 p.m.

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 60

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

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 4:10 p.m.

Of course, Mr Stringer; that is very helpful guidance. These are matters on which I hope the Minister may be able to give some immediate answers about the Government’s current actions, but obviously the report to the House would be able to demonstrate the effect on UK nationals in the EU of our withdrawal from the European Union, which I think the public as a whole will be concerned about. As I go through further remarks about possible effects, I will naturally seek to come back to the point that I seek the approval of the Committee on regular reports on these matters being made to the House, including on the suggestion by British in Europe and the3million that they should be able to attend the specialist committee on citizens’ rights of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee.

There are other uncertainties for UK nationals who are not covered by the withdrawal agreement. Jeremy Morgan of British in Europe agreed in our oral evidence session last week that UK nationals resident in the UK but who own second properties in the European Union will potentially now be caught by the 90 out of 180 days rule under the Schengen arrangements. It is not clear whether the UK Government have given up on negotiating up to 180-day stays for UK citizens visiting the European Union, so it would be useful to have regular reports to the House on whether negotiations are continuing, or on the impact if they are not.

The concerns I have outlined so far affect UK nationals who already live, work or own property in the European Union, but there will also be concerns about UK nationals moving to the EU in the future after the end of the transition period. In our evidence session on 9 June, Jeremy Morgan of British in Europe drew attention to whether UK nationals will be able to buy property in certain EU countries after the transition, which again I think would be of interest to the House and the wider public, and future reports on that would be welcome.

On Tuesday, we debated the implications of clause 5 and the draft social security arrangements published by the UK and the EU. I am grateful to the Minister for the letter he sent me late yesterday evening, which I think has been copied to all Committee members, in response to a number of issues I raised in that debate. The analogy drawn in the letter with other treaties between the UK and third countries simply exposes the more limited protection that those treaties provide, and that such treaties seem to be the model for our future arrangements with the European Union—for example, on aggregating contributions, sharing information or healthcare. If those are to be a model for future coverage for UK nationals in the EU, again I think that is something that should be drawn regularly to the attention of the House.

The draft social security agreement attached to the free trade agreement published in February makes it clear that the Government envisage that short-term visitors would be covered, but what of those who go to work or make their home in the EU in future? The Minister’s letter says that contributory employment and support allowance will be available for four weeks. I note in passing that a decreasing number of people get contributory ESA anyway, and that that four-week grace period will be of no use to disabled people moving abroad, or even visiting for five, six or seven weeks. I think the House would like to be aware of the implications of new arrangements for disabled people.

Similarly, on healthcare, the Minister’s letter may try to gloss over this, but for those who are not going to be covered by the withdrawal agreement, the S2 will be scrapped, so they cannot in future go abroad and have treatment paid for in the EU, even if the NHS cannot provide that treatment. Importantly, we will lose the mutual recognition of prescriptions, which could have quite significant consequences for some UK nationals.

My assessment is that, for those UK nationals moving to the European Union after the transition, the unspoken thrust of the letter sent by the Minister last night is a levelling down of protections and rights, which I feel the House should want to track on a regular basis. I recognise that a number of bilateral reciprocal arrangements—some going back many years—between the UK and certain member states may fill in some of the gaps in social security co-ordination arrangements in the future, but it is unclear whether either country will regard them as remaining effective. In any event, many of the arrangements offer only very limited protection. Again, I think it would be useful for the House to be updated on the standing of, and application of, these bilateral agreements.

If no agreement is secured with the European Union and the Minister hopes that instead a series of new bilateral arrangements might be negotiated between the UK and each individual member state, there may be a fear in those member states that that could impinge on the co-ordination arrangements that apply in relation to other member states, and that fall within the scope of European Union co-ordination regulations. It would be useful for the House to have regular updates on that.

The picture that I have painted suggests at best confusion, and at worst the prospect of less favourable protections for UK citizens in the European Union—those already there, and those who move to European Union countries in future. The UK Government have an obligation to look after the welfare of their citizens wherever they are located. Quarterly reporting to Parliament will make it possible to conduct scrutiny of the way in which the Government meet the obligation.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 4:11 p.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for moving new clause 60, which is well intentioned but ultimately unnecessary. The Government are monitoring closely the implementation of the withdrawal agreement for UK nationals in the EU and information on citizens’ rights in each EU member state is already provided by the Government on our “Living in” guides on gov.uk.

Having ratified the withdrawal agreement and legislated for it domestically in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 in January, the Government are now closely monitoring the progress of member state implementation during the transition period, via our network of embassies, high commissions and consulates across Europe. We are committed to providing UK nationals overseas with clear and appropriate information and are working with member states to ensure that any introduction of, or changes to, administrative procedures that are in line with the withdrawal agreement will be communicated to resident UK nationals.

The EU’s social security co-ordination rules will continue to apply in full to individuals in full scope of the withdrawal agreement, including UK nationals living and/or working in the EU, and EEA citizens living and/or working in the UK by the end of the transition period. Those rights are protected for as long as they remain in full scope of the withdrawal agreement.

Information is available via our “Living in” guides on gov.uk, and UK nationals should sign up for the latest information on the actions they need to take. The “Living in Europe” guide, which is also on gov.uk, provides further information on citizens’ rights to UK nationals in the EU.

Beyond that, we also have a governance structure established by the withdrawal agreement to monitor the correct implementation and application of the withdrawal agreement. The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has already met twice, on 30 March and 12 June.

The Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights, co-chaired by UK and EU officials, met on 20 May. As set out in the joint statement following the meeting, both the UK and the EU exchanged updates on the implementation of the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement and discussed preparatory work for future meetings. The Government and European Commission share the objective of ensuring the correct and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement to provide certainty to UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. The Committee will therefore meet regularly during the transition period and thereafter.

Finally, I reassure the Committee that we are calling on the European Commission and all member states to ensure timely implementation and clear communications to UK nationals in the EU, in line with what has been agreed in the withdrawal agreement.

I will briefly cover some of the points that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston made. The Government are continuing their negotiations with a view to a future partnership. We have already looked to extend our generous visitor visa provisions to EEA nationals from 1 January, on the same basis as we have to many of our traditional international friends and allies, such as Canada, the United States and Japan. We continue in discussions to seek a productive partnership. However, I am sure that the hon. Lady will appreciate that it is not possible for us, in domestic UK immigration measures, to legislate for what other nations should offer the United Kingdom.

On that basis, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her new clause.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green - Hansard

I feel that the Minister’s response has rather missed some of the points that I was trying to make. In seeking a report to Parliament, I am asking for something a little bit different from information to UK nationals about what they should be doing at any given time, whether or not they moved to the EU before or after the end of transition. Intergovernmental discussions—or discussions between the UK Government and the European Union—taking place in the joint committee are very important, but they are not a parliamentary event that ensures full public information and scrutiny of those discussions. My point on the bilateral treaties was also about thinking of protections for UK nationals, which, if I may say so, are in the gift of the UK Government. The signs are worrying when looking at the Government’s draft agreement, published earlier this year.

I will not press the new clause to a vote, but I gently suggest to the Minister that keeping the House updated on such matters is not only important to hon. Members, but of considerable importance to our constituents. We have found at times that Ministers are quite tardy in coming to the House to inform us about the progress of negotiations with the European Union, at least in relation to these important matters. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices to encourage his colleagues to keep us as well informed as possible. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

New clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

On a point of order, Mr Stringer. I thought it appropriate to thank you and Sir Edward for your very effective chairmanships and for keeping us all in order—even me, with the interesting slip that I managed to make earlier today. I hope that it did not cause too much hilarity in the Committee.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

Oh, it did!

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I am sure it did. I should also thank the shadow Minister and the SNP spokesperson for the spirit in which we have debated the Bill, put on the record a number of important points and explored a number of issues of concern to a range of constituents. I am sure that hon. Members would want me to express gratitude to the Clerk, who has ensured that the Committee was conducted professionally and well. I also thank my officials at the Home Office and those at the Department for Work and Pensions who have supported me both by preparing for the Committee and by preparing briefings on a range of amendments.

I can imagine how you will rule on this point of order, Mr Stringer—probably in line with every other point of order that has ever been raised in the five years that I have been here—but I wanted to put those few comments on the record as we come to our conclusion.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

On a point of order, Mr Stinger. I echo the Minister’s sentiments—I am grateful for the points that he just made. I thank my Committee colleagues, not least the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston—I am eternally grateful for her support on a personal basis; her experience in this subject area is second to none—the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North and Coventry North West, and our Whip, the hon. Member for Ogmore, for their support. I also thank you, Mr Stringer.

I echo the Minister’s sentiments: the Clerk has been incredibly helpful to Members across the Committee and her efforts have been nothing short of herculean, often responding to emails in the early hours of the morning. We are eternally grateful to her for that. I also put on the record my thanks to my staff members, Jamie Welham and Charlotte Butterick, as well as to Heather Staff in the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston.

Putting politics and the subject matter to one side, we can always collectively breathe a sigh of relief when the intensity and pace of any Bill Committee comes to an end. I very much look forward to returning to some of these issues on Report and Third Reading.

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

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Kevin Foster Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office

Obviously, we will maintain social distancing. Like last week, the Hansard reporters would be grateful if Members sent copies of their speeches to hansardnotes @parliament.uk. We will continue line-by-line consideration of the Bill—the selection list is available in the room.

Clause 5

Power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:25 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. Given the nature of the clause, I will spend a few minutes outlining its impact to the Committee. The clause and associated schedules 2 and 3 provide an essential legislative framework to ensure that the Government can make changes to our social security system when the transition period ends, alongside the launch of the future immigration system. The provisions will enable the Government to amend the retained European Union social security co-ordination rules and to deliver policy changes from the end of the transition period.

The clause provides a power to the Secretary of State, the Treasury or, where appropriate, a devolved authority to modify the social security co-ordination regulations. Those EU regulations provide for social security co-ordination across the European economic area, and will be incorporated into domestic law by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 at the end of the transition period. Clause 5(4) gives the Government the ability to make necessary consequential changes to other primary legislation and other retained EU law to ensure that the changes given effect by the main power are appropriately reflected. That power may be used, for example, to address technical matters, inoperabilities or inconsistencies. Schedule 2 sets out the power of the devolved authorities under clause 5.

This social security co-ordination clause confers powers on Scottish Ministers and the relevant Northern Ireland Department to amend the limited elements of the social security co-ordination regulations that fall within devolved competence. It is important that we provide the devolved Administrations with the powers that they need to amend the aspects of the regulations for which they are responsible, just as it is right for the UK Government to have the powers for the laws that affect the UK as a whole. The powers are equivalent to those conferred on UK Ministers and will allow the devolved Administrations to respond to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in areas of devolved competence, either to keep parity with Westminster or to deviate in line with their own policies.

Without the powers in the Bill, the devolved Administrations would need to bring forward their own parallel legislation to give them equivalent powers to amend the retained EU social security co-ordination regulations in areas of devolved competence. Before the Bill was introduced, letters were sent to the devolved Administrations to seek legislative consent in principle, in line with the Sewel convention.

Schedule 3 provides further detail on the form that regulations will take under the clause, whether as statutory instruments, statutory rules or Scottish statutory instruments. The schedule provides that the use of the power is subject to the affirmative procedure. It also gives clarity on the procedures that the devolved Administrations will need to follow. Paragraph 5 permits other regulations, subject to the negative procedure, to be included in an instrument made under the clause.

Without the clause and associated schedules 2 and 3, the Government and relevant devolved authorities will have only the power contained in the 2018 Act to fix deficiencies in the retained system of social security co-ordination, restricting our ability to make changes. I reassure the Committee that the power in the clause will not be exercised to remove or reduce commitments made either in relation to individuals within the scope of the withdrawal agreement, for as long as they remain in the scope of that agreement, or in relation to British and Irish nationals moving between the UK and Ireland.

We are currently in negotiations with the EU about possible new reciprocal arrangements on social security co-ordination, of the kind that the UK has with countries outside the EU. The clause will enable the UK to respond to a variety of outcomes in those negotiations, including when no agreement is achieved by the end of the transition period. The clause will be necessary to deliver policy changes to the retained regime that will cover individuals who fall outside the scope of the withdrawal agreement, to reflect the reality of our new relationship with the European Union.

The Government have been clear that there will be changes to future social security co-ordination arrangements, including, as announced at Budget 2020, stopping the export of child benefit. The social security co-ordination powers in the Bill will enable the Government to deliver on that commitment and to respond to the outcome of negotiations with the EU to deliver changes from the end of the transition period. I therefore beg to move that clause 5 stands part of the Bill and that schedules 2 and 3 are agreed to.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:30 a.m.

Good morning, Sir Edward. It is a pleasure once again to serve under your chairmanship. Social security arrangements set out in EU regulation 883 of 2004 and elsewhere are currently directly applicable in the UK. They cover the co-ordination of social security, healthcare and pension provision for people who are publicly insured who move from one EU state to another.

The regulations ensure that individuals who move to another EEA are covered by the social security legislation of only one country at a time and are, therefore, liable only to make contributions in one country; that a person has the rights and obligations of the member state where they are covered; that periods of insurance, employment or residence in other member states can be taken into account when determining a person’s eligibility for benefits; and that a person can receive benefits that they are entitled to from one member state, even if they are resident in another.

The co-ordination regulations cover only those social security benefits that provide cover against certain categories of social risk, such as sickness, maternity, paternity, unemployment and old age. Some non-contributory benefits fall within the regulations but cannot be exported, and benefits that are social and medical assistance are not covered at all. Universal credit, for example, is excluded.

As we heard from Jeremy Morgan of British in Europe in his oral evidence to the Committee last week, most UK nationals resident in the EU are of working age. It is important to note that the number of people claiming the working-age benefits that are covered by the regulations—jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance—has declined sharply since the introduction of universal credit. We might therefore expect social security co-ordination arrangements to apply to a declining number of working-age adults. The regulations will, however, still be of importance for a sizeable number of individuals, and not least for pensioners.

The co-ordination regulations also confer a right on those with a European health insurance card to access medically necessary state-provided healthcare during a temporary state in another EEA state. The home member state is normally required to reimburse the host country for the cost of the treatment. Under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, protection of healthcare entitlements is linked to entitlement to cash benefits.

Clause 5(1) provides an appropriate authority with the power to modify the co-ordination regulations by secondary legislation. The power is very broad, placing no limits on the modifications that appropriate authorities are able to make to the co-ordination regulations. By virtue of subsection (3), the power explicitly

“includes power—

(a) to make different provision for different categories of person to whom they apply…

(b) otherwise to make different provision for different purposes;

(c) to make supplementary…consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provision;

(d) to provide for a person to exercise a discretion in dealing with any matter.”

The power is further enhanced by subsection (4), which provides for the ability to amend or repeal

“primary legislation passed before, or in the same Session as, this Act”

and other retained direct EU legislation.

Since the UK left the EU at the end of January this year, the relevant EU regulations pertaining to social security, pensions and healthcare have been retained in UK law by section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I accept that the Government need to be able to amend co-ordination regulations to remedy deficiencies in them resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU, but the 2018 Act already contains a power in section 8 to modify direct retained EU law. Indeed, the Government have already exercised this power for four of the co-ordination regulations. Any changes that do not fall within the scope of the power in section 8 of the 2018 Act must necessarily, therefore, not relate to any ability for the law to operate efficiently or to remedy defects, but be intended to achieve wider policy objectives. I think the Minister acknowledged as much in his opening comments.

I was, however, surprised that the Minister said that only the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 provided such powers. My reading of the legislation is that the Secretary of State has further powers as regards social security, healthcare and pension rights for those who are protected by the withdrawal agreement under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. Section 5 of that Act inserts new section 7A into the 2018 Act so as to secure withdrawal agreement rights in domestic law, and that protection is buttressed by section 13 of the 2020 Act, which confers a power to make regulations in respect of social security co-ordination rights protected by the withdrawal agreement. Given the powers that already exist under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act, as well as the fact that those powers have already been used by the Government, why does the Minister feel they are inadequate?

Paragraph 30 of the delegated powers memorandum is instructive. It states that the Government want to use the power in clause 5 to

“respond flexibly to the outcome of negotiations on the future framework and make changes to the retained social security co-ordination rules.”

Break in Debate

As far as I can see, the issue raised this time last year has not been addressed in the Bill, which has simply been reintroduced as before. Will the Government comment on that and consider committing to amending the Bill so that there is at least a duty on UK Ministers to consult Scottish Ministers before choosing to exercise the clause 5 powers in relation to devolved social security competencies? I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in that regard.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:47 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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

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

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

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

Does the Minister anticipate, in the event of an agreement and treaty before the end of this year, a further piece of primary legislation to give effect to that? If so, would it not be possible at least to encompass the principles agreed into that primary legislation?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

A lot would depend on the nature of the agreement. If it is part of a wider treaty, we may well see further legislation. However, our understanding is that if we can achieve agreement on this area, we would look to implement it rapidly through regulation, which is why the power is in the Bill. Our priority would be to avoid a situation where something is agreed of benefit to both UK citizens going to live in the European Union and EEA citizens coming to live here, with which we and the European Union are happy, but we are unable to provide that benefit because we are still going through a parliamentary process to implement it. That is why we believe the clause to be appropriate. It allows us to react to circumstances as necessary.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Edward. I will briefly outline our position on amendment 17 and new clause 33. We are entirely sympathetic to amendment 17 for the reasons that have just been outlined, seeking to protect Scotland from the impact of this hard stop on free movement without a plan for mitigating the effects on key sectors. On more rural areas, our focus will continue to be on finding a solution for the whole of the UK rather than just Scotland. We understand that the Scottish National party has not given up on its aspiration of independence for Scotland, but I am afraid that that is where our parties diverge. To have an immigration system for Scotland that is different from that of the rest of the UK without that broader sense of a more regional approach affecting every area of the UK would open a raft of further questions around the management of that system and the means of enforcing it geographically. We say this in the spirit of loving Scotland and wanting it to stay and prosper as part of the United Kingdom. On that basis, we cannot support amendment 17.

We welcome the approach behind new clause 33 in principle, but again feel that it misses the opportunity to consult with the English regions as part of the process. Richard Burge of the London chamber of commerce said in last week’s evidence session that the MAC was slow and unwieldy. He said that it needs

“to involve business much more directly and that, it is hoped, will enable it to be much more responsive”.––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 12, Q18.]

Frustration with the MAC and a genuine and well-founded scepticism that, without radical reform, we would not be able to respond in anything like realtime to emerging workforce issues and skill shortages was a recurring theme in the evidence session and has been throughout our engagement with stakeholders ahead of the Committee. With this in mind, we are inclined to agree that one way of making immigration rules and shortage occupation lists more responsive would be to grant the devolved Administrations a greater say.

As I have already said, however, the glaring omission in new clause 33 is that it does not propose to consider the needs of the English regions in quite the same way. As a Yorkshire Member, it would be remiss of me not to reflect on the fact that the population of Yorkshire is comparable to, or greater than, those of the devolved nations. We hope that a report of the kind outlined in new clause 33 might take into account our needs and those of other regions, alongside those of the devolved Administrations. As a party, we will be looking to review the MAC and the shortage occupation list process in their entirety, shaping our own proposals for transformation in due course. On that basis, we broadly support new clause 33, but we will be shaping our own proposals in the coming months.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:15 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and his hon. Friends for tabling the amendment and new clause. Having said that, there was a certain predictability about them given the SNP’s aim of separating our United Kingdom and wish for borders to be created across this island.

I turn to some of the more specific points. I have had direct contact with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. He is very passionate about the Gaelic language and the role it plays in contemporary life. I have also had representations from Ministers and Members in Wales about the strong role that the Welsh language plays in our culture today, enriching our Union as a whole. Certainly, we will see what we can do to incorporate Welsh, Irish and Gaelic into our migration system. It is probably worth noting that the vast majority of fluent speakers of those three languages are either citizens of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, and therefore effectively not subject to migration control; they have rights to live and work within the United Kingdom and settle in any part of it they choose.

It was interesting to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Halifax, my Labour shadow, about how separate systems would be enforced. Like me, she does not want to see an economic version of Hadrian’s Wall between England and Scotland, although I recognise that others on the Committee perhaps do.

We are looking at how to make the Migration Advisory Committee’s role responsive and how it can choose some of its own reports—we will come on to that when we discuss some of the new clauses. The issue is not purely about a commission. I am thinking particularly about how the MAC can send out a more regular drumbeat of reviews, and commentary on reviews, for the shortage occupation list. That should fit in with our wider labour market policies rather than being considered apart from our skills and training policies. I hope we can find some sensible consensus on that.

The MAC has launched its call for evidence for the shortage occupation list and the advice that it is going to give Ministers about the new points-based system. I hope people will engage with that; there is certainly good strong engagement from many businesses. It would be good to see the Scottish Government promote the idea that businesses in Scotland should be getting involved and positively engage in the process—not least given that the MAC has indicated its intention for there to be shortage occupation lists for each of the four nations of the United Kingdom. It will probably not be a great surprise if many of those are very similar, given the similar types of skill shortages across the United Kingdom.

I was interested to hear the comments from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, in particular the idea that we could start having immigration policy for individual council areas. That is interesting. It is worth saying that the MAC suggestion was about remote areas. We both went to see the first HM naval base on the Clyde, in his constituency; as he knows, he is not exactly remote from the vibrant heart of culture and economy that is Glasgow—that is rather different from the concept of, let us say, eastern and western Australia in terms of distance.

I will be very clear: a range of powers is available to the Scottish Government. If the same pull factors that created the challenges today still exist, this look into the migration system is not going to provide a solution. With other Members from Scotland, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray, we have looked at the fact that there is a determined drive—luckily, the Scottish Government have the powers around economic development—to create those strong opportunities in communities. Ultimately, if we create a migration opportunity but the pull factors are still there and have not been addressed, the situation will become a revolving door. That is why we have to look at those core issues first —why people are moving out—and not just look to a migration system as a magic bullet for those problems.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara - Hansard

At the risk of giving a geography lesson, I point out that when the Minister visited Argyll and Bute he visited the easternmost tip of the constituency, nearest to Glasgow. The constituency spreads over 7,500 sq km, has 26 remote island communities and is not part of the vibrant central belt hub. That is why it and many other areas of the highlands and islands of Scotland need a bespoke solution. The problems we face in Argyll and Bute are not those that many large conurbations in the United Kingdom face. There is a need to recognise that.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross - Hansard

I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister’s point about the number of factors that are within the remit of the Scottish Parliament and on which the Scottish National party Government of Scotland have failed.

We have heard from SNP Members that they want their own immigration system. Indeed, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute said that they would design and tailor one. Does the Minister share my concern that we heard similar reassurances from the SNP Scottish Government about social security—yet they had to tell the UK Government that they could not take those powers because they could not implement the changes quickly enough in Scotland?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

My hon. Friend, as always, hits the nail straight on the head with his arguments. Yes, we had many demands for devolution of policy, but then the Scottish Government did not want to take them up. Suddenly there was a new group of Unionists wanting the United Kingdom Government to deal with something in Scotland.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:29 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

Will the Minister give way?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:29 a.m.

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:29 a.m.

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

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

Break in Debate

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:45 a.m.

I support the sentiments expressed by the hon. Members for Argyle and Bute and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. There have been considerable benefits to our faith communities from their ability to take advantage of freedom of movement and welcome EEA nationals into their communities. Faith communities, especially Churches of all denominations, have congregations with many EEA nationals among their membership and they are also often individuals who act as pastors, counsellors, youth workers and musicians.

As we have heard, many faith organisations have needed EEA nationals to cover short-term or sometimes longer-term appointments into leadership positions. That is especially true in areas where it has been hard to recruit. Free movement has also allowed faith communities some flexibility in terms of shared mission work, with UK nationals working overseas, undertaking mission trips, musicians performing in Europe at faith-based events or running camps and youth conferences. Faith communities have been able to bring EEA speakers and volunteers to help communities and to run events without the associated costs and rules around visitor visas and the tier system.

There will be a number of consequences for those communities as a result of the loss of free movement. First, while many faith groups have been effective in pointing their members to the EU settlement scheme where that is relevant, uncertainty remains about the scheme, what it means for families, for continuity of residence and for faith communities who are trying to keep people in their communities.

Faith communities looking to employ or to bring in volunteers from the EEA will now have to navigate the tier system, as they would for non-EEA nationals. As we heard, that brings complexity. With the greatest of respect to the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, I do not think it is the case that all faith communities have found that an easy system to navigate or to get the relevant approvals. There are also significant additional costs for sponsorship licences and visas. Indeed, it will not be cheap, especially when we include the additional NHS surcharge. A religious worker will be able to stay for up to two years. The cost for a one-year visa before administration costs is around £244, plus the NHS surcharge of £624, added to that the sponsorship licence fee and associated costs. On top of that, the community will have to fund any dependant costs and may also be providing the cost of flights, accommodation and training for the religious workers, and sometimes a small stipend. For smaller faith communities, that starts to become a very significant expense.

Many faith communities that rely on overseas workers tend to be found in the poorer parts of the UK. Poorer communities and poorer congregations are part of a poorer overall landscape and so the faith organisation itself will be less well resourced. It cannot draw on a wealthy congregation. That has a particular impact on smaller denominations and diaspora Churches, which will find that the loss of free movement will mean that poorer communities, who could benefit most from additional pastoral support, will feel the impact the harshest.

Proof of savings is difficult for some orders, which have vows of poverty, making it difficult for individuals to prove they can sustain themselves even if the order will cover all their living arrangements. If a person is needed quickly to cover a gap—the hon. Members for Argyle and Bute and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East talked about the potential absence of a priest for a range of personal reasons—the procedure will now mean that there will be delay in bringing in that cover. I am not talking here about roles that fall short of being a full minister of religion, but there are roles that will still involve some level of religious duty. For example, there continues to be uncertainty about those coming in to work with children, and about pastoral work and preaching, and an understanding of the definitions of what those roles encompass, which is a particular issue with some particular faiths of particular traditions.

There is also a concern, as I have said, among faith communities that bring in musicians who may be self-employed and who may work in multiple settings. As the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East pointed out, seminaries that conduct formation in English are not necessarily regarded as meeting the English language requirement.

I hope the whole Committee will agree about the benefits of facilitating religious workers to come in to support our faith communities. In that spirit, I will ask the Minister a number of questions. What assessment have the Government made of the level of upscaling needed in the Home Office to process additional sponsorship licences for the purposes of ministers of religion or religious workers, or charity workers and faith communities, due to the removal of free movement?

Echoing the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, what conversations are the Home Office having with faith groups regarding preparation for the immigration system that will affect them post-December? What help will be provided with regard to navigating sponsorship licences and understanding the costs that faith communities will have to meet?

At times, non-EEA nationals who have wanted to come to the UK for a short-term conference or to speak at an event have been denied visas; I have seen that in my own constituency. What assurance can the Minister give to faith communities that EEA nationals entering the UK for a conference or event for short-term study will not be restricted from doing so, and that appropriate decision-making will take place?

Will the Minister commit to reviewing the definitions of “minister of religion” and “religious worker”, and actively consult a wide variety of denominations and faith communities? What will the Home Office do to improve faith literacy among decision makers? I have to say that the asylum system has not given me much confidence that religious literacy in decision-making is where it needs to be.

What assessment have the Government made of the impact on creatives, such as musicians used by faith communities? Will they still be able to come to the UK? Will those in a different visa route be able to transfer if they take on a role in a faith community? For example, could someone who has arrived in the UK as a student transfer routes if they become a religious worker? Will it be possible for individuals to come to the UK as volunteers in faith communities and, if so, what restrictions will be applied to their activities? What discussions have the Government had with faith communities about their responsibility to carry out right-to-work checks?

This is an important issue for an important element of all our communities. I do not think the Government intend the impact of the removal of free movement to harm the operation of our faith communities, but the changes will cause real difficulties across a range of faiths, and particularly in those communities that most need the support that visiting religious workers can provide. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the Committee.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:53 a.m.

I genuinely thank the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for tabling this amendment. He always speaks with real passion, even when we disagree, as we did in the last debate, and his comments on this amendment have been no exception. We can perhaps be slightly more consensual now, even if the Government do not agree with the amendment.

I will deal briefly with a couple of points that have just been raised. First, in relation to decisions that would be taken on visitor visas for EEA nationals visiting faith groups, we have already made it very clear that EEA nationals will be non-visa nationals. Therefore, those looking to make visits to the United Kingdom would not be required to apply for a visa. They would be able to come through the e-gates and their visiting experience would be very similar, for example, to that of a New Zealander, a Canadian or a Japanese citizen at the moment, who can come through the e-gates and be granted visit leave. In a moment, I will come on to speak in a little more detail about the range of activities that a visitor can perform.

As a constituency MP, I have similarly sometimes been involved in decisions about faith communities, particularly a couple of years ago, when there needed to be some representations about how the income of Paignton parish church was considered, and whether a medieval church was an established organisation. I was only too happy to vouch that a church built in the 13th century is an established organisation, and that it was not set up for an immigration purpose, for pretty obvious reasons. I am genuinely always happy to hear representations from particular communities about that, as I did in that instance as a constituency MP.

We published the impact assessment for the Bill. I am clear that a lot of the Churches’ right-to-work checks will be the same as now anyway, because they have to do that for EEA citizens and UK nationals. When there is a right-to-work check, every one of us should be asked to present evidence that shows our right to work, as with right-to-rent checks; I recently had to show my passport to comply with those requirements, and rightly so. We are clear that there should be no discrimination there; those checks should be applied irrespective.

On the other points made, similarly, many faith communities, and certainly the larger faith communities present in the United Kingdom, are already sponsors. Much of that will transfer into the new system, so in many ways the experience of non-EEA nationals—non-visa nationals, to be absolutely clear—will be transferred over with the various concessions and opportunities, such as pay, performance, engagement and other items.

On the specific point made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, I do not have officials’ or my predecessors’ diaries to hand, in terms of meetings, but as I met other faith communities at the invitation of Members of Parliament, I am certainly more than happy to meet the Scottish Catholic bishops representatives and to engage and have a conversation with them. They are a key partner. I certainly recognise the valuable social role that many Catholic churches play in communities across the United Kingdom. I am always happy to have a conversation about some of the definitions, particularly around visitor, tier 5 and tier 2. Some things, as I will come on to in a minute, will actually be covered by our visitor provisions, as well as under tier 5. Again, I am happy to have a conversation with them on those points.

I am genuinely grateful to the SNP for initiating this debate, because it gives me the opportunity to put on the record how the Government value the role faith communities play in this country, and more importantly, the contribution that many people who have migrated here have made and are making to the functioning and wellbeing of our faith communities. Faith communities enhance our national life, and they are stronger because people from around the world come and contribute to every aspect of their work, not least in bringing their skills to leadership in communities across the UK, hence why, in our future points-based immigration system, there will continue to be routes for those connected with faith and religion to come to the UK. Within the current immigration system, there are two routes specially designed for them, and this will continue in the future, to assist with consistency.

As referred to already, the tier 2 route for ministers of religion—effectively a skilled worker route—is for religious leaders such as priests, imams and rabbis, as well as missionaries and members of religious orders, taking employment or a role in a faith-based community. They can come for up to three years initially, which they can extend to six years, and they may qualify for settlement—indefinite leave to remain—after five years. Again, those who receive indefinite leave to remain are then exempted from the immigration health surcharge and will also have a permanent unlimited status within the United Kingdom.

Additionally, we have the tier 5 religious workers’ route. It should be clear to the Committee that this was designed with a very different purpose in mind. It permits stays of up to two years and caters for those wishing to undertake supportive, largely non-pastoral roles. In common with all tier 5 categories, as it is temporary at core, there is no English language requirement.

That last point is crucial. As I indicated, we welcome faith leaders from around the world, and in many communities regular conversations and events bring faith communities together in opposition to those who wish to sow the seeds of division between them. It is therefore right that those who want to lead a faith community, which involves both preaching and helping the faith community to interact with the wider community in their leadership role, should have a proper command of English to enable this—especially the valuable inter-faith work that goes on in so many communities.

I think of what happens locally in Torbay, and of the type of exchanges facilitated in the midlands, particularly by Coventry cathedral, given its background in different faiths. Those exchanges really cannot be facilitated if there is not a good command of a working language within the local community.

Last year, we changed the rules to provide that those who come as ministers of religion should be required to use the tier 2 route. I accept that the fees are higher for tier 2 than for tier 5; that is because tier 2 migrants can stay for longer, with the potential eventually to settle here, as many inspiring faith leaders have done and as I hope they will continue to do. I am sure we can all think of examples in our own constituencies.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11 a.m.

Will the Minister pay tribute to John Sentamu, the recently retired Archbishop of York, who came from Uganda during the time of Idi Amin and has made a fantastic contribution to religious and general life in our country?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:02 a.m.

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

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

“preach or do pastoral work.”

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:04 a.m.

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

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

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Kevin Foster Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office

Just before we begin, I should say that if members of the Committee wish to take their jackets off, they have my permission to do so. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson have spoken. If no Back Benchers indicate that they wish to speak, I will call the Minister. I remind the Committee that with this we are also discussing the following:

New clause 10—Extension of registration for EU Settlement Scheme—

‘(1) The EU Settlement Scheme deadline shall be extended by a period of six months unless a motion not to extend the deadline is debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament.

(2) Any motion not to extend, referred to in subsection (1), must be debated and approved no later than three months before the deadline.

(3) In this section, “the EU Settlement Scheme Deadline” means the deadline for applying for settled or pre-settled status under the Immigration Rules.’

This new clause would ensure the EU settlement scheme was not closed to new applications until Parliament has approved its closure.

New clause 11—Application after the EU Settlement Scheme deadline—

‘(1) An application to the EU Settlement Scheme after the EU settlement scheme deadline must still be decided in accordance with appendix EU of the Immigration Rules, unless reasons of public policy, public security, or public health apply in accordance with Regulation 27 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 (as they have effect at the date of application or as they had effect immediately before they were revoked).

(2) In this section—

“an application to the EU Settlement Scheme” means an application for pre-settled or settled status under appendix EU of the Immigration Rules;

“the EU Settlement Scheme Deadline” means the deadline for applying for settled or pre-settled status under appendix EU of the Immigration Rules.’

This new clause would ensure that late applications to the EU settlement scheme will still be considered, unless reasons of public policy, public security or public health apply.

New clause 25—Report on status of EEA and Swiss nationals after the transition—

‘(1) This Act shall not come into effect until a Minister of the Crown has laid a report before each House of Parliament setting out the impact of the Act on EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK.

(2) A report under subsection (1) must clarify the position of EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK during the period between the end of the transition period and the deadline for applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.

(3) A report under subsection (1) must include, but not be limited to, what rights EEA and Swiss nationals resident in the UK on 31 December 2020 have to—

(a) work in the UK;

(b) use the NHS for free;

(c) enrol in education or continue studying;

(d) access public funds such as benefits and pensions; and

(e) travel in and out of the UK.’

This new clause would require Government to provide clarity on the rights of EU nationals in the EU in the grace period between the end of the transition period, and the closure of the EU Settlement Scheme.

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Stringer. These new clauses give us an important opportunity to consider the position of EEA citizens—those who are already here and are covered by the EU settlement scheme, and those who will come to the UK under our future points-based immigration system.

Before the break, I was asked a couple of questions. I can assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby that we are looking at a range of communications materials, and have already done so, in a number of common European languages. We have engaged with diaspora media, and are looking particularly at how we can work with them over the coming year, as we approach the deadline next year, to ensure that as many people as possible hear the message—not just those who need to apply, but their friends and families, so that people feel familiar with the system and realise that it is actually a relatively simple process. The vast majority of people do it via an app on their phone.

I was grateful for the question from the hon. Member for Halifax. She asked what the position would be if someone applied on 20 June 2021 and their application was still outstanding on 1 July 2021. That is a perfectly reasonable issue to raise. As set out in the withdrawal agreement, the rights of someone who has made a valid in-time application to the EU settlement scheme will be protected while that application is pending. The regulations under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 will save relevant rights in relation to residency and access to benefits and services for those who make an application before 30 June 2021 until it is finally determined.

The Home Office will clearly not take immigration enforcement action against an individual whose application is pending. That reflects some of the other principles in the migration system. Committee members may be familiar with 3C leave—the concept that if someone has extant leave and applies, their leave is extended until their application is determined.

I assure Members that the statutory instrument making the regulations will be subject to debate and approval by Parliament, and will need to come into force at the end of the transition period. The Government are currently developing those regulations, which will be debated and made in good time prior to their entry into force at the end of the transition period.

On the linked question of what happens in relation to status checks and other things, let me be clear that an individual undergoing an eligibility check while their EUSS application is pending will have the same entitlement to accommodation, work, benefits or services that they had before the grace period ended. The Home Office will confirm whether an application is pending when an eligibility check is carried out—for example, if someone has to prove their status to their employer. Given that it is a digital-only system, it will be very similar to the process that people would use if they had been given pre-settled or settled status. I hope that is of use. Given the nature of the issue, I will set that out in writing for members of the Committee. They may wish to refer to it later.

New clause 9, moved on behalf of our friends in Plaid Cymru by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, seeks to delay the ending of free movement and the introduction of the new points-based immigration system for as long as possible. That is no surprise, given the views of the hon. Gentleman and Plaid Cymru.

My response on behalf of the Government is simple: we must accept the wishes of the people of our United Kingdom. Free movement is ending now that we have left the European Union. It is just six months since the general election, during which my party said that we would introduce a points-based immigration system that will enable us to bring in the best talent from around the world—based on the skills that a person has, not where their passport is from. The Government will therefore reject any attempt to perpetuate free movement or delay the implementation of the new points-based immigration system. The Government have a mandate, and we will fulfil our pledges to the people. We will introduce our new firmer and fairer points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021, when the transition period ends.

Having said that, I appreciate the importance of proper data and information. It is precisely for that reason that the Government have published a detailed impact assessment to accompany the Bill. It was published on 18 May and can be found on gov.uk and the Parliament website. Copies were also placed in the Library, and I know it has been referred to at times during the debates we have had so far.

The impact assessment is slightly unusual because it is not confined simply to the scope of the Bill, which, as Sir Edward and you, Mr Stringer, have reminded us on a number of occasions, is relatively narrow. Instead, it seeks to map out the consequences that will flow from the introduction of the points-based immigration system that was set out in the policy statement, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published on 19 February.

The impact assessment sets out the likely implications for both EEA and non-EEA citizens of the changes that we will make, and it deals with many of the issues raised by the new clause. In particular, it makes it clear that we will develop plans to evaluate policies under the future skills-based immigration system. I remind the Committee that we have expanded the role of the independent Migration Advisory Committee. Not only will the MAC respond to specific commissions from the Government; it will also be able to consider any aspect of immigration policy that it chooses.

We have also asked the MAC to produce an annual report, which will give it the opportunity to comment on what it believes is working well and anything it thinks is working less well in our system. Although it is for the MAC—as I have said, it is independent of Government—to decide how to exercise its new responsibilities, I would be surprised if it did not want to comment on the operation of the new points-based system once it is fully up and running, so that there is further assurance for the public and for the movers of the new clause. For those reasons, the Government cannot accept the new clause.

I will now speak to new clauses 10, 11 and 25, which concern the EU settlement scheme and the grace period that will run from the end of the transition period to 30 June 2021. New clause 10 is designed to extend the deadline for applications to the EUSS by six months, which would happen unless and until Parliament debated and approved a motion not to extend the deadline.

I share the aim of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East to ensure that eligible EEA citizens are able to obtain the UK immigration status they need to continue to live and work here. As we constantly say, they are our neighbours and friends—we want them to stay. However, I do not think that is best achieved by the new clause, which has the effect of shifting the deadline for applications to the scheme potentially indefinitely. That would cause confusion. Instead, a clear deadline of 30 June 2021 will encourage applications to the scheme and ensure the greatest number of resident EEA citizens secure their status in a timely manner.

Furthermore, new clause 10 is ambiguous. It is not clear whether it is intended to be a one-off extension of six months or a rolling extension of a six-month period until such a time as Parliament votes to close the scheme with just three months’ notice. Having a clear and well-publicised deadline by which eligible citizens need to apply ensures that the maximum number do so rather than putting it off due to the impact of new clause 10, which could mean that a deadline is set with three months’ notice. The new clause could also mean that applicants face difficulties and delays in demonstrating their rights and entitlements in the future, as they would not be able to distinguish themselves from EEA citizens who arrived after the end of the transition period.

The Government have made it clear that we will continue to support eligible citizens in applying to the EU settlement scheme. In addition, as we have shown with all aspects of the scheme, we will take a flexible and pragmatic approach and allow people with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline a further opportunity to apply. We will set out further guidance on this issue in due course, but with over a year to go until the deadline, our focus is on getting as many applications before it as possible.

On new clause 25, we will bring forward a statutory instrument under powers in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to set the deadline and save the residency rights of people who are eligible to apply to the scheme and who do so before the deadline. I am not sure whether this is the intention of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, but the effect of new clause 10 would be to breach our obligations under the withdrawal agreements. The deadline of 30 June 2023 applies only to EEA citizens and their family members who reside in the UK by the end of the transition period. Their close family members outside the UK at the end of the transition period—where the relationship existed before then and continues to exist when they seek to come here—and their future children have a lifelong right of family reunion with the resident EEA citizen. A universal deadline makes no provision for this group, whether it is 31 December 2021 or any other date, and it would be inconsistent with the provision to enable them to apply within three months of their arrival, as set out in article 18(1)(b) of the withdrawal agreement.

New clause 11 is intended to require the consideration of all applications to the EU settlement scheme made after the application deadline, unless reasons of public policy, public security or public health apply. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the withdrawal agreement requires late applications to be considered

“if there are reasonable grounds for the failure to respect the deadline.”

As I said earlier, the Government will adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach to the consideration of late applications. Where an eligible EEA citizen or their family member has reasonable grounds for missing the application deadline of 30 June 2021, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. This approach gives people a clear deadline and incentive to apply while also protecting those who are unable to do so through no fault of their own.

Our collective focus must be on encouraging applications to the EU settlement scheme before the deadline.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:11 p.m.

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:01 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, it is not clear how new clause 11, which is about considering all late applications, fits with new clause 10, which is about continuing to extend the deadline until Parliament agrees to impose it. Both have the undesirable effect, however, of encouraging individuals to put off their applications to the EU settlement scheme and, with that, the certainty that status granted under it will provide them.

Break in Debate

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard

Thank you, Mr Stringer. The point that I was working up to was that by having an exemption only for EU citizens, we are discriminating against a large number of people who would wish to come and work in the UK from around the world. The ethnic mix of those particular groups would indicate that allowing the new clause would give a land bloc where the majority of people are white an unfair advantage over the rest of the world. I understand the aspiration to abolish the charge completely globally, but if we were to agree the new clause, we would end up in a situation where black and minority ethnic people from around the world would be at a great disadvantage to predominantly white people coming in from the European Union, EEA countries and Switzerland.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:34 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:44 p.m.

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

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

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

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:49 p.m.

We support new clauses 13, 36 and 37, which were tabled by the SNP and address immigration and citizenship fee charges that fall within the scope of the Bill. We believe that visa charges should not exceed the cost price, for all the reasons that have already been set out.

Subsection (1) of new clause 13 would prohibit EEA and Swiss citizens from being charged a fee for registering as a British citizen that is greater than the cost of the registration process. As we have already heard, there is enormous cross-party support for this approach.

The Home Office makes a profit of up to 800% on immigration applications from families. The fees are now £1,012 for children and £1,206 for adults, which are really quite significant sums. We have all had constituents come to us because such fees are causing a huge amount of anxiety and stress after a change in circumstances. We have all had casework in which applications have been turned down on technicalities, which we have been able to challenge through our parliamentary offices. Families are often forced to make further appeals and further applications, and to pay again.

EEA and Swiss nationals will soon join the rest of the world in having to pay visa fees or fees for starting the journ